On Obeying the Traffic Signs (Part 2)
When we get into this kind of frame of mind, this need to hurry up and rush and get there, we miss everything that happens in between “here” and “there.”
In school, we cram for tests and immediately after forget everything we learned. In relationships, we force people into the expectations and assumptions we already laid out for them. In our spiritual lives, we speak and act according to the authority we recognize without ever considering for ourselves what we really think, how we really feel, and who God really is in our own experience.
Culture doesn’t help. We’re encouraged and even required to fill up our lives with busy-ness, productivity, activity, movement, achievement, and DOING without allowing for any space of quiet, rest, stillness, or being.
But sometimes, if we are attentive enough in the moment, we might notice signs alerting us that we are soon to be driving through a construction zone. We might be able to justify breaking the speed limit (just a little) in construction-free areas, but now the signs warn us of an extra consequence: traffic fines are doubled in construction zones.
Now we have to slow down.
As we begin to pay attention to the traffic signs in our lives, learn to slow down, and sometimes even stop altogether at the roadblocks in our lives, we may recognize — as I did — that we are being routed a whole new way.
My detour has been neither the shortest distance nor the fastest route to my destination. Rather, this detour I am on is the only way to the place where I am going. Without this detour, I would still be spinning my wheels at the roadblock, intent on taking the road I had chosen and ignoring all the signs around me telling me it was not the way.
In The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen talks about the phrase, Peregrinatio est tacere: to be silent keeps us pilgrims. Ironic that just at the time that I am finding my voice and learning to use it, I am also learning the value of silence in my own life as well as the value of my own silence in the lives of others. Silence keeps us moving down the path, keeps us walking toward God. In silence we learn the value of our words; we learn wisdom; we learn purification of the heart. To walk this path, the path toward God, we must be silent.
Nouwen also talks about the Greek word hesychia, meaning “the rest which flows from unceasing prayer, needs to be sought at all costs, even when the flesh is itchy, the world alluring, and the demons noisy.” Nouwen describes this kind of prayer as the prayer of the heart, “a prayer that directs itself to God from the center of the person and thus affects the whole of our humanness.”
The prayer of the heart, then, is prayer born out of silence and solitude, defined by a rest that keeps us moving forward toward God, and encompassing our whole selves — mind, body, and spirit.
This is what creating a holistic body theology is moving us toward: a full integration of our whole selves in pursuit of the God who created us a mind-body-spirit beings.
Over the next few months, I’ll be moving toward creating a more intentionally spiritual component to Holistic Body Theology Blog. While there will still be an emphasis on the categories of body theology as defined here, the blog will also be a work in progress toward fuller integration.
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I invite your thoughts, perspectives, and ideas along the way. You can always reach me in the comments section, on my Facebook page, or by email at bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.
The Compassionate Way (Part 1)
We’re coming to the end of Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.
Last week we looked at what it means to live a Compassionate Life through voluntary displacement. We established that displacement is not something to be achieved but to be recognized and that we can only recognize displacement within the community of God and when attentive to the loving voice of God in our daily lives.
But what does it look like to live a life of compassion through voluntary displacement?
Part Three: The Compassionate Way
Now the authors take their argument into the practical action of our daily lives. What does a compassionate life look like? In a word: discipline.
In the Christian life, discipline is the human effort to unveil what has been covered, to bring to the foreground what has remained hidden, and to put on the lamp stand what has been kept under a basket. It is like raking away the leaves that cover the pathways in the garden of our soul. Discipline enables the revelation of God’s divine Spirit in us. (88)
Learning to listen to the loving voice of God — and heed God’s unique call on our individual lives — is a practice that requires the discipline of patience.
Discipline is the effort to avoid deafness and to become sensitive to the sound of the voice that calls us by a new name and invites us to a new life in discipleship…The compassionate way is the patient way. Patience is the discipline of compassion. (89)
This is what Eugene Peterson would call A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Compassion isn’t something we can obtain through an easy three-step formula or a crash course. Compassion is a lifestyle choice, one that takes our entire lives to learn to live out effectively. In a world of quick fixes and instant gratification, the last thing we are drawn to is the discipline of patience. God’s call to the compassionate life is radically counter-cultural. Before we can hope to act compassionately toward those who are hurt by competition, we have to learn to live a life marked by patience.
But this patience practice is not one of passive existence but passionate action:
Patience means to enter actively into the thick of life and to fully bear the suffering within and around us….In short, patience is a willingness to be influenced even when this requires giving up control and entering into unknown territory. (91)
[T]he New Testament presents the discipline of patience as the way to a life of discipleship which makes us living signs of God’s compassionate presence in the world. (93)
We aren’t, by nature or by culture, very patient people. Especially Americans who are used to keeping careful track of time and valuing punctuality and efficiency above all — we are trained to push and rush and make deadlines and fill every moment of our time with busy productivity to earn and to accomplish and to succeed and to finish first. But as Christians, we are invited into a very different experience of time with a paradoxical definition of productivity and accomplishment:
The discipline of patience is the concentrated effort to let the new time into which we are led by Christ determine our perceptions and decisions. (93)
In God’s management of time, patience is productive:
[Patience] is the experience of the moment as full, rich, and pregnant. (96)
As long as we are the slaves of the clock and the calendar, our time remains empty and nothing really happens. Thus, we miss the moment of grace and salvation…. [T]hrough patience we can live in the fullness of time and invite others to share in it. (98)
[W]e are constantly preoccupied with our free evening, free weekend, or free month and lose the capacity to enjoy the people we live and work with day in and day out. (99)
The Compassionate Way calls us to learn to pay attention to life around us. When our lives are defined by the discipline of patience, we find more opportunities to hear God in the daily movements and activities of our lives and answer our unique call to voluntary displacement we might have missed in our rush from one busy productivity to another.
Our culture has done us a genuine disservice in this area, which is why developing cultural discernment is so important to body theology. When we allow culture to dictate our values and assumptions, the lens through which we view the world is skewed toward the value of competition. Even within Christian culture, our lenses could use a good cleaning:
[W]e have accepted the idea that “doing things” is more important than prayer and have come to think of prayer as something for times when there is nothing urgent to do. (101)
Prayer is an expression of the discipline of patience and is the medium through which we hear the loving voice of God and experience intimate relationship with God. Rather than a last resort or a convenient time-filler, prayer
as a discipline that strengthens and deepens discipleship, is the effort to remove everything that might prevent the Spirit of God, given to us by Jesus Christ, from speaking freely to us and in us…we liberate the Spirit of God from entanglement in our impatient impulses…[and] allow God’s Spirit to move freely. (102-3)
[P]rayer as a disciple of patience is the human effort to allow the Holy Spirit to do re-creating work in us…It involves the constant choice not to run from the present moment…the determination to listen carefully to people and events so as to discern the movements of the Spirit…the ongoing struggle to prevent our minds and hearts from becoming cluttered with the many distractions that clamour for our attention…[and] the decision to set aside time every day to be alone with God and listen to the Spirit. (104)
Prayer is hard work, but it is also as simple as sitting (or standing, or dancing, or running) with our bodies, minds, and hearts focused on attending to the Holy Spirit — the loving voice of God. Prayer as the mark of the compassionate life is a truly counter-cultural practice because it requires the most difficult voluntary displacement of all: prayer displaces our own voices, desires, and actions with the voice, desire, and call to action of God:
To listen patiently to the voice of the Spirit in prayer is a radical displacement. (105)
We cannot hope to be effective as the Mother Theresas of the world if we cannot first achieve this inner displacement through patient, disciplined prayer. We cannot act — rightly, timely, compassionately — if we have not first established a lifestyle of prayerful listening to the loving voice of God. Only through prayer are our actions molded to the compassionate way:
[Prayer is] a growing intimacy with God [that] deepens our sense of responsibility for others…requires deep and strong patience…[allows us to] discover a limitless space into which we can welcome all the people of the world…[and] is the very beat of a compassionate heart. (107)
To be concluded on Wednesday!
Forward Friday: Prayer for the Rhythm of God
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and time (and blog writing) got away from me. I’ve missed you lovely readers.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a few moments of stillness in the midst of all the busy-ness this weekend.
Take some time each morning this weekend to still yourself and enter into the rhythm of God. Notice how the prayer exercise below affects your body and your mind. How does it change the way you interact with the rest of your day?
Extra credit: Try this exercise each morning for the next week.
The following prayer exercise is from Body Prayer: The Posture of Intimacy with God by Doub Pagitt and Kathryn Prill (emphasis mine):
…[T]here is a rhythm of God — a rhythm that encompasses life, both the life we can readily see and the unseen life of the spirit. The rhythm of God beckons us, guides us, and dwells in us. When we discover the rhythm of God, we find the heart of God, the dreams of God, the will of God. As those who are created in the image of God, we are endowed with this rhythm. We can find it, step into it, and live in it. This is the kingdom of God — to live in sync with the rhythm of God….
[Pray this prayer aloud.]
The Lord our G0d
Sets our feet in spacious places,
Delivers us from evil,
Has given us freedom with the opening of his hand.
Let us lean into the future before us,
Let us follow the Way.
Begin by standing with your feet together and your arms hanging at your sides. With either your left or right foot, lunge forward far enough to feel the stretch in your thigh. If you can, lower the thigh of the leg in front to create a ninety-degree angle in the bend of your knee. Switch legs after a while if you need to. Feel the rhythm of God in your muscles as they strain, in your legs as you switch positions, in your breathing, and in the breathing and sounds of those around you [if you choose to try this prayer exercise in a group setting]. As you let the rhythm created in the room around you expand in your mind, consider how the rhythm of God is all around us.
Next week we will do some theological and spiritual reflection on Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison. Until then, lovely readers, may the peace of God be on you all.
Friday Forward: Guest Post on Letting Go
Tammy Waggoner is a recent grad of Fuller Theological Seminary. She enjoys writing about the things that affect her life and ministering to women who have been abused. She is a trailblazer in this area and enjoys helping other people understand the complexity of sexual abuse as well as helping survivors get freedom and true healing. For more from Tammy, check out her ministry, Fractured Wholeness, and read her blog.
On Wednesday, Tammy shared about having a healthy body image by letting go of lies we believe about ourselves in response to Monday’s post, “Against the Flesh, Part 1.” Now she’s back today to share her very own Friday Forward exercise with you lovely readers.
One way of letting go of lies and self-hatred and believing the truth is to get out post-its and a pen. First write down the lies. If you have a cross at home or at church put the post-it on the cross and ask God to take it. If you don’t have a cross at home or at church that you can use then rip up the post-it and as you do ask God to take this thought from your mind and to never let it in again.
Then (no matter if you have the cross or have torn up the post-it) ask God to show you or tell you what the truth is. Close your eyes and wait. If you have trouble hearing God pray this prayer with someone else in the room and ask them to listen for God’s truth as well. Once you hear the truth or are told the truth by someone else write the truth down on another post-it (I like different colors for lies and truth but use what you’ve got) and put the post-it somewhere you will see it daily. Ask God to remind you of this truth every time you see it.
I have done this activity or prayer in my ministry before and it is interesting how once the post-it was left on the cross and the truth was said aloud the lie could no longer be remembered. There was freedom in leaving it on the cross and the truth had already begun to sink in.
Letting go of self-hatred and the lies we believe about our bodies can open us to the freedom of loving ourselves and seeing ourselves as God sees us.
So, how’d it go? Come back and share your experience in the comments below.
Forward Friday: 4 Ways to Pray (Naked)
In keeping with tradition, we’re wrapping up this week’s theme on praying naked with four suggestions. Choose the one that best fits, and come back to share your experience.
1) Pray in the bathtub (centering prayer): As you remove each article of clothing, remove along with it some distracting thought. Allow the water surrounding you to remind you of the movement of the Holy Spirit within you. Don’t be discouraged by distracting thoughts, but allow your nakedness to remind you of your purpose, and continue to set distractions aside. Once you are centered (this can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes, so don’t rush yourself), allow God to speak to you. This might take the form of a recurring distracting thought, an old emotional wound, a nagging memory of an unreconciled relationship, a line of music or verse of scripture, or anything else. Whatever emerges, take it to God and experience God’s love, healing, forgiveness, acceptance, and renewal.
2) Pray in your room (intercessory prayer): As you undress, be aware of the vulnerability of your naked body. Allow that vulnerability to guide your conversation with God. As you become more comfortable with your nakedness–alone in your room–allow yourself to experience compassion for those whose vulnerability is taken advantage of. If that is not a natural experience for you, read Stacey’s post as an example, and ask God to open your eyes not only to your own needs but also to the needs of others.
3) Pray semi-covered (inner healing prayer): For those of you who have experienced trauma and may be triggered by the vulnerability of your nakedness, try undressing and then covering yourself with a towel, robe, or blanket. Allow the covering to be an intentional reminder of God’s protection over you. Read Gen 2:25, slowly, aloud, once every five minutes for 30 minutes. Between readings, sit quietly and allow God’s truth about your body to take root. As any shameful memories arise, offer them to God. Ask God to enter those memories with you and show you the truth about yourself. If you’re feeling too vulnerable at any point, try putting some of your clothes back on, one article at a time. Allow the act of getting dressed to be an intentional reminder of God’s protection over you.
4) Sleep naked (resting prayer aka letting-God-do-all-the-work): For those of you who find the whole conversation about praying naked to be uncomfortable or ridiculous (or if the above suggestions just aren’t for you), try simply sleeping naked tonight. Again, as you undress, be mindful that you are uncovering yourself before God. Ask God to enter your experience and show you something new. (If you sleep with a partner, be sure to warn him or her that you are sleeping naked tonight as a spiritual exercise, not as an invitation to sexy time. This is your chance to experience your sexuality within yourself and with God. Have sexy time tomorrow night.)
What Laywers, Parents, and Carpenters Have in Common
I had planned to write a post for today about ways to pray other than naked. (If you missed Stacey’s guest posts on praying naked this week, you can read them here and here along with my introduction.) But I got caught watching a video of Eugene Peterson’s recent talk “Practicing Sabbath” at Q with Dave Lyons, and I couldn’t get this excerpt out of my mind.
Nothing happens when you pray, you think. There’s nothing in prayer that gives you any satisfaction in terms of having accomplished anything. So learning to pray is learning to not do in the awareness that God is doing something and you don’t know what it is at that moment.
When people ask me how to pray, sometimes I’m tempted to tell them what I do that first hour in the morning [here he is referring to his daily devotional time of reading scripture and praying the Psalms], which I’ve done since I was 15. But I realized at one point, that’s not so. When I leave my study, close my Bible, that’s when I’m praying.
I pray all day. Prayer now is something that suffuses my life. Most of the time when I’m praying I don’t know I’m praying. Later on I realize I have been. But to get to think about prayer in a little more comprehensive way as the interior life that the Holy Spirit is breathing in us every time we take a breath suddenly changes prayer from being a practice like you practice the piano to being a practice like you practice being a lawyer or practice being a parent or practice being a carpenter. You’re doing it when you don’t know you’re doing it.
Don’t you love it when you’re around a really skilled craftsperson? They just do it beautifully and economically and you realize: that man is carving something, and he doesn’t even know he’s carving. He doesn’t think: “I’m carving. Isn’t this wonderful? I’m carving!”
My goal–and the witness of a lot of people I’ve read through the centuries–is not to pray in such a way that you’re conscious of praying but to live a life suffused by prayer so that your life becomes a prayer. But that’s not the kind of thing you can write a book about. It’s only a thing you can live and see other people live.
If “play” and “pray” don’t work together, both are diminished. That’s why both are necessary. Otherwise, they become duties that you have to perform.
Whether you pray by getting naked, going for a hike, reading scripture, interceding for others, contemplating or meditating, or any of the many, many other ways to pray–let prayer suffuse your life so that you experience the inspiration [read: breath] of the Holy Spirit with every breath.
How do you pray? Share your experience in the comment box below.
Bathtub Spirituality: Getting Naked Before God
I’ve always hated showers. Give me a glistening white tub full of sudsy warm water, candles on the ledge, and a glass of red wine. That’s the way to be clean.
Showers are for the hurried, getting clean all in a rush of water hurtling down and straight into the drain–like getting caught in a downpour and giving up any hope of finding shelter before you’re soaked. Showers are for standing; you’ve got someplace else to go–and you’re going to be late!
Baths are for lingering, resting, enjoying. No agenda. No interruptions. Only peace. Warm, scented, slightly alcoholic peace. Taking a bath is my favorite form of centering prayer.
I’ve had some very profound moments, naked among the bubbles and salts and dripping faucet. Moments when God speaks, when my heart breaks, when I am listening. Moments of forgiveness, release, understanding, wonder. Moments of experiencing God’s tenderness, mercy, lovingkindness.
In these moments I feel like nothing separates me from God. I can lie back in the water until my ears are covered and my hair swishes like seaweed around my head and feel held, encompassed, hemmed in. I can stretch my legs one over the other, stick my big toe in the leaky faucet and examine myself exactly as God knit me together–my skin softened by the soap and salts and getting wrinkly from the long soak.
I can be fully myself in these moments, alone in the sanctuary of my white bathtub. In these private moments I share my most intimate, sacred self with the Creator. No cathedral, chapel, prayer garden, or monastery compares to the holiest of holies that is my tiled bathroom–with the steamed-up mirror, flower-shaped bathmat, and humming air vent that occasionally creaks when one of the screws comes loose.
That is my sacred space. That is where I am most spiritual–and most physical. That is where I experience God–in the bathtub.
This week I’m honored to host a beautiful moment in my dear friend Stacey Schwenker’s journey through experiencing her sexuality as a single person. She’ll be sharing her experience of getting naked before God tomorrow.
Until then, how do you get naked before God?
Forward Friday: Bathtub Spirituality
For today’s Forward Friday, and to wrap up our two-week foray through Flora Slosson Wuellner’s Prayer and Our Bodies, I thought we’d conclude with another of her suggested guided meditations for daily living.
I have always been a big proponent of what I like to call “bathtub spirituality,” in which some of my closest and most profound encounters with God have come while I was in the bathtub. Maybe I’ll write a whole post about it sometime, but for today, let’s experience prayer with our bodies through the daily act of…
How precious is thy steadfast love, O God!…They feast on the abundance of thy house, and thou givest them drink from the river of thy delights. For with thee is the fountain of life. — Psalm 36:7-9
Thou visitest the earth and waterest it, thou greatly enrichest it. — Psalm 65:9
As you drink the morning’s first water, as your body cleanses itself inwardly through elimination , and as you wash your outer body, become appreciatively aware of this refreshing, pleasurable cleansing. These are healthy, holy experiences and are meant (as with any act of holiness) to be enjoyed. Water on the body is an ancient, sacramental symbol of God’s love and healing flowing out to human beings and to all living things. Many people find that they pray best and most fully and can feel God’s response most clearly when in the shower!
Try this simple mediation next time you’re in the shower, and leave a comment in the box below to share how it went. Blessings on your bathtub!
A Confession and an Open Door
Any assault, manipulation, depersonalization of our earth is even more destructive to our humanity than is the depersonalization of our own bodies. – Wuellner, Prayer and Our Bodies
I have a confession to make. I’m not a very good activist. I’m not politically-minded, and I don’t enjoy creating or participating in demonstrations or rallies. I believe that issues of social justice and creation care are important and that, as a Christian, I should work for them. But I’m not good at it.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to explore Wuellner’s book with all of you, and I’ve enjoyed and resonated with every chapter…except this one.
Chapter 9: Prayer for the Body of the Earth
As she did in Chapter 8 with the human body and embodied community, Wuellner draws parallels between the human body and what she calls “the body of the earth.” She writes, “Our earth body, with its atmosphere, its water, its soil, its shrubs, trees, grass, animal life, is as much a bodily self as we are.”
Wuellner suggests that, as we often do with our own bodies, humankind has treated the earth with disdain and disgust: “At best, we have taken it for granted, used it, manipulated it. At worst, we have assaulted it, ravaged it, and, for immediate gain, destroyed many forms of its life with careless unconcern, poisoning its air, water, and soil.”
That sounds like a social activist‘s speech, doesn’t it? Next, we expect to hear some pithy catchphrase like “Save the Whales.”
But Wuellner takes a different tactic. As a professor, ordained minister, and trained spiritual director, Wuellner is much less interested in taking up The Cause and much more interested in a holistic discussion of bodily prayer–one that includes prayer for the earth that Genesis tells us God gave into our hands to maintain.
In fact, Wuellner suggests that part of the empowerment we feel when we experience healing is a desire toward creation care: “As we relate anew to our bodily selves, we begin to feel an urgency to relate anew to the body of our earth.” She takes a step further to suggest that the “earth itself, even as our bodies, needs our healing and prayer as much as we need its healing and prayer.”
Wuellner takes care to remind her readers that concern with the well-being of the earth is not a new concept in Christian history and theology. She quotes a reflection from Hildegard of Bingen:
Does not humanity know that God
is the world’s creator?
With nature’s help,
humankind can set into creation
all that is necessary and life sustaining.
An Open Door
Are you an advocate for social justice and creation care? Would you like to share your experience? I’d like to establish an open door, through which any of you lovely readers are welcome to step by way of writing a guest post that explores the service aspect of body theology. This is a standing offer, at least for the time being. If you’re interested, please send me your submission at email@example.com.
Not ready for a guest post? Drop me a line in the comments below to share your story.
We’re Throwing a Healing Party–and You’re Invited!
It is impossible to separate the way we feel about ourselves from the way we feel about one another. – Wuellner
We’ve been touring Flora Slosson Wuellner’s Prayer and Our Bodies last week and this week, looking for insights to encourage our pursuit of holistic body theology. Just as body theology is about not only our own bodies but also what we do with them in the world, so Wuellner’s book encourages prayer not only with our own bodies but also with our community body. She writes, “The nurture, inclusiveness, and sensitivity which we try to bring to our own bodies is precisely the same nurture, inclusiveness, and sensitivity we are asked to bring to our community body.”
Chapter 8: The Healing and Renewal of Our Community Body
Being in community with others is hard work. As we learned through our discussion of Bonhoeffer’s ideas about community, prayer with and for one another is one of the best ways to come to love and respect each other. As Wuellner puts it, “The health of a community body depends so utterly on its tenderness and its honor toward all its members.”
A spiritual life, and a body theology, experienced entirely as an individual is deficient. We are not living out our participation in the incarnation of Christ if we are not participating in community:
It is in community that our true faith is revealed and tested. Just as our spirituality must be experienced in our personal bodies, so must it also be experienced in our community bodies. If our spirituality has become merely an individualistic exercise–if our whole self (body, emotions, spirit) is not part of our community context–we have missed the meaning of the incarnational life.
Wuellner acknowledges that it’s easy to overlook the difficult members of our community–the homeless, the disabled, the emotionally dependent: “How often is our politeness merely a way of distancing ourselves from honest encounter? If we learn honesty within our own bodies and hearts, can we at last begin to learn it with one another?”
She describes healthy community as having “not only nurture for its members but also openness towards new members, new ideas, new ways of living. A healthy family is not a closed circle; it reaches beyond itself in interest and concern or its spirit will die.” We cannot be exclusive and be a truly healthy community where “all are equally heard, valued, and nurtured.”
How often are we divided over issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation? How often do we hold grudges against past offenders, despise those who have wounded us (either individually or communally), and refused to be reconciled? Is this what it means to be the body of Christ?
What would it look like if we threw a healing party? Everyone in our community could come with their individual gifts and strengths, and we could celebrate being the body of Christ together. Then, before we leave the “party,” we could pray together for our community to be healed and become whole. Is there any better party favor than healthy community?
We can achieve healthy community, Wuellner suggests, through communal prayer:
Let us in our churches, prayer groups, and personal prayers begin with boldness to explore in depth these new frontiers of prayer for the radical healing of our family bodies, our church bodies, our racial, national, professional bodies.
If you and your community are ready to experience healing and wholeness as the body of Christ, I encourage you to throw a healing party. Begin to pray–individually and communally–for God’s healing to come. Wuellner offers this guidance as we enter into communal prayer:
- God is the healer. We are to be the transmitters, not the generators, of the healing light and energy.
- Face our true feelings about the person or the group or the situation. The feeling itself will never be a block to God’s work of healing if it is faced. We admit what we feel to God and let God do the loving.
- Our prayer is not meant to be either diagnostic or prescriptive. There will be changes, but they are not always what we expected, and they do not always come at the time we expect.