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Listeners who Shape the Story

Sticker from a recent Listener concert.

Sticker from a recent Listener concert.

Storytelling was my favorite class in seminary.  Out of all the classes I took, it was the one that scared me the most, stretched me the most, and inspired me the most.  In Storytelling, I discovered part of myself that I had never recognized or acknowledged before.  I found an untapped courage and an unheard voice.  In learning to the art of storytelling, I began to discover the truth underneath my own.

Telling our stories is powerful work.  Here at Holistic Body Theology, I write a lot about my own story.  I bare little bits of my soul, take a deep breath, and hit “publish.”  I share my story with you lovely readers because I hope that you will find something of yourself here, some bit of freedom or healing, some resonance or camaraderie or commiseration.  If nothing else, it is therapeutic, part of my own journey toward self-awareness, healing,  and wholeness.  I write the truth not just to share it with all of you but to keep the revelation fresh and conscious.  And I will keep on writing the truth until I convince myself.

But this blog is not just a platform for my own story.  It is also a forum for the sharing of all of our stories.  As I am finding my voice and learning to use it, I am also feeling a deep call to find my ears and learn to use them.  I am learning to be a listener.

Story-telling needs to be unhurried and unharried, so the listener must be willing to let the narrative unfold….Storytelling is also a dialogue, and sometimes the [listener] must become active in helping shape the story. – Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction

I have been becoming a listener for a long time, listening to the stories of others and joining them with my own as we shape together the unfolding story of God in our lives.  In a world crowded with words and noise and advertisements and cultural mandates and every message from everywhere demanding attention and primacy and response, the call to the contemplative life is something like a rising wind, blowing across the desert dunes with such force and persistence that the shape of the terrain is completely rearranged and made new.  Suddenly the lay of the land looks different, unfamiliar.  The path we have taken is wiped away.  We can’t go back the way we came.  We can only continue onward.

I want to listen to your stories, dear readers.  As I share with you the journey I am on, I hope you will join me on the way and help me shape the story we are all in.  The comment box is always open.  For sensitive stories, I am always available by private Facebook message or email at bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.  I am honored each time I hear from you, my dear companions on this journey.  We are all exploring this intersection of mind-body-spirit we call the human life.  We are all moving toward healing and wholeness together.

I am both listener and storyteller. 

I am both silent and engaging in dialogue.

I am both resting and moving forward.

I am both broken and becoming whole.

Holistic Body Theology is the art of balancing and honoring the mind-body-spirit connection that makes us who we are: human beings created in the image of God.  That is a story worth telling!

Forward Friday: Becoming Listeners

Peregrinatio est tacere: to be silent keeps us pilgrims.

I’ve been thinking about this quotation of Nouwen’s all week.  Why is it that silence is what moves us forward?  What is the value of silence to the spiritual life?

The answer hit me yesterday morning when I awoke before my alarm and lay listening to the gentle drops of rain on the window.  It rains so rarely here, and when it does, the rain is more like mist or drizzle.  You have to be really quiet, really still, to hear the rain against the window.

As I lay listening to the rain, I realized something very obvious and un-profound: we must be silent, we pilgrims on our spiritual walks toward God, because it is in the silence that we learn to be listeners.

The spiritual discipline of silence is about more than one individual act of listening.  It’s more than just creating space to hear from God in the moments we are seeking amidst the busy-ness of life.  In silence is where we learn humility, truth, grace, peace, conviction, compassion. Practicing silence is about changing our mode of operation, changing our orientation to the world, to life, to God.  Practicing silence is about cultivating a listening spirit, a listening heart.  It’s about becoming listeners.

Only then, in the silence we have cultivated, will we be able to hear the soft drops of rain glancing against the window, so easy to miss.  Only then, as listeners, will we be able to discern the way forward.  To be silent keeps us pilgrims.

This weekend, take some time to practice being both silent and in silence.  Try this exercise to get started:

  1. Find a quiet spot and a comfortable position. (Stillness is valuable, but you may find a steady activity like walking or swimming helpful as well.)
  2. Plan the amount of time you want to try to be in silence. If you’re new to it, try starting with one-three minutes.  For more experienced travelers, try working up to 15-30 minutes. If helpful, set a timer or alarm so you can relax into the silence without worrying about watching the clock.
  3. Be in silence.  If helpful, light a candle as a focal point or close your eyes.  If you’re walking, fix your eyes on a steady spot on the horizon.
  4. As you are in silence, acknowledge any thoughts, ideas, or feelings that surface.  Gently release them and return to your focal point.
  5. Notice what you hear around you or even perhaps within you, both inward and outward.  This is not a time for analysis or cognitive effort.  Just notice and pay attention to what happens in the silence.
  6. After your silence ends, take some time to reflect on your experience.  What was it like?  Were you distracted? Anxious? Bored? What did you notice during the silence, both about yourself and about what was around you?  Did you sense a message from God?  From your body?  Did you find yourself plagued by some doubt or pain you’ve been avoiding? What did you learn from your experience that might inform your practice of silence next time you try it?

Come back and share your experience in the comment box below.  Let’s talk together about what it’s like to learn to become listeners.

On Obeying the Traffic Signs (Part 2)

Read part 1 here.

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.

For more updates, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.

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.

Imaga Dei

My brother complained recently that my blog is too often about “women stuff.”  Well, he’s right. I write toward a holistic body theology from my perspective as young, white, female, married, member of the 99%, seminarian, and writer — just to name a few descriptors.  I don’t speak for everyone’s experience. I can only speak for my own and hope that some part of my story may inspire, inform, or challenge part of yours.

But lovely readers, today is an especially “women-stuff-filled” day, so prepare yourselves.  If you are a woman, perhaps you will find something of yourself in the post below.

If you are a man, I hope that you will keep reading and recognize within yourself as you do the way you feel as you read on.  Do you feel somewhat excluded? Do you find yourself doing some mental gymnastics to get at the part that relates to your own experience?  If so, then you are on your way to discovering what it’s like for women to experience God in a patriarchal framework.  My hope is that you will find the experience useful in your own spiritual growth.

*****

If you follow my profile on Goodreads, you’ll know that I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd‘s book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.  I could have quoted half the book for you, but the following passage stood out to me as particularly necessary to inform our holistic body theology.

In Christianity God came in a male body. Within the history and traditions of patriarchy, women’s bodies did not belong to themselves but to their husbands.  We learned to hate our bodies if they didn’t conform to an idea, to despise the cycles of mensuration–“the curse,” it was called.  Our experience of our body has been immersed in shame.

Let me interrupt to say that the understanding that patriarchy has had a negative impact on female body image is not a new idea for this blog.  We’ve touched on this idea here, for instance, and here and here, and even here.

This negative impact must be recognized as a lie and uprooted so there is room for planting new understandings of the body that are more in line with the truth about who we are as human beings: male and female, together we are created in the image of God. 

We’ve talked before about how the foundation of holistic body theology is our identity in Christ, but this truth is much more difficult for many women to embrace on a heart-level and experience in their own bodies than it is for men because we first have to break down the gender barrier.  We have to “enter into” our identity as the image of God “in a new way,” through an embracing of our physical selves.

Waking to the sacredness of the female body will cause a woman to “enter into” her body in a new way, be at home in it, honor it, nurture it, listen to it, delight in its sensual music.  She will experience her female flesh as beautiful and holy, as a vessel of the sacred.  She will live from her gut and feet and hands and instincts and not entirely in her head.  Such a woman conveys a formidable presence because power resides in her body. The bodies of such women, instead of being groomed to some external standard, are penetrated with soul, quickened from the inside.

I’ve been working on this process for a long time.  At my awakening to the need for this “new way,” I struggled to give voice to my experience and name my pain.  Now, I am still in the process toward accepting the truth about myself in my physical being and experiencing God in myself in this new way.  The journey is not complete.  There is more work to be done.  One day I trust that I will be able to see myself fully — both spiritually and physically — as the embodiment of God, the imaga Dei.   

This is where I am on my journey toward holistic  body theology.  Where are you?

What did this passage stir up in you?  Share your thoughts in the comment box below, or drop me a line on Facebook or via email: bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.

Is Farting Spritual?

No.

And yes.

How do we define what physical experiences are also spiritual experiences? It depends on our perspective, motivation, orientation, and intention.

In The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence talks about how he experienced God while doing something as mundane as scrubbing the big soup pots at the monastery:

So, likewise, in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to doing everything there for the love of God, and with prayer upon all occasions, for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy, during fifteen years that he had been employed there. (14)

Further, he talks about the denial of the flesh for the support of spiritual pursuit as having little positive effect in itself. Rather, it was his orientation toward God that had positive spiritual effect:

That all bodily mortifications and other exercises are useless, except as they serve to arrive at the union with God by love; that he had well considered this, and found it the shortest way to go straight to Him by a continual exercise of love, and doing all things for His sake. (15)

Not everything that happens in our physical bodies has spiritual benefit– and likewise, not everything that we attempt in our minds has spiritual benefit.  What makes our actions and efforts spiritual is not whether they take place in the physical or mental world but whether they are oriented toward God.

In this way, eating lunch can be spiritual — or not.

Reading scripture can be spiritual — or not.

Washing dishes can be spiritual — or not.

Going to church can be spiritual — or not.

Taking a walk can be spiritual — or not.

Praying can be spiritual — or not.

Having sex can be spiritual — or not.

Singing a hymn can be spiritual — or not.

Even farting can be spiritual — or not.

I don’t know about you, but I have had some of my most profound experiences of God while sitting on the toilet or lounging in the bathtub. It may not be the most “appropriate” setting for meeting the Creator, but our God is not as disturbed by our basic bodily functions as we might have been trained to expect.

When we engage our bodies and minds together in an orientation, a mindset, a focus toward opening ourselves to the counter-cultural and unexpected work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we might just be surprised at the avenues God uses to reach us with words of grace, mercy, conviction, and kindness.

Just like Brother Lawrence, we can learn to experience God while we are performing our least preferred tasks — like washing dishes.  God is ready and willing to meet us in whatever moment we are available and listening — whether we are sitting in the church pew or passing gas in the privacy of our boudoirs.  There is no situation in which God is not capable of entering and showing us more of who God is and who we are because of God’s presence in our lives.

So next time you let one go, take the opportunity to let God speak into and through the basic, bodily experience of being alive in Christ.

You might be surprised what God can do with a little breaking wind!

The Voice of Love

On Monday, we took a look at what Nouwen has to say about The Compassionate God in Part One of his book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life.

Today I had planned to dig into Part Two: The Compassionate Life, but I haven’t been able to get past the end of Monday’s post:

The obedience of Jesus is hearing God’s loving word and responding to it. (34)

We are poor listeners because we are afraid that there is something other than love in God….[Jesus] came to include us in his divine obedience. He wanted to lead us to God so that we could enjoy the same intimacy he did. (38)

We are poor listeners because we are afraid that there is something other than love in God.  We do not listen for God to speak because we have somehow internalized the lie that God does not love us, does not want our best, does not care infinitely more for us than we could ever hope or imagine. 

We see ourselves in our sinful state, like Jeremiah’s filthy sash, unworthy of God’s mercy and forgiveness. We see God as full of empty promises, all rules and demands and impossible standards.

We think we are not worthy, not able, not enough. We think God is not faithful, not gentle, not loving.

But God has a different message for our ears.  God has a different truth for our hearts.  We are enough, enough for God.  And God is loving, more than we can comprehend.  Our God is the God of chesed and lovingkindness, of agape, of John 3:16.

When we listen — really quieten our hearts and minds, still our bodies — to hear the voice of God, do we expect to hear a voice of love?

Maybe we expect judgment, condemnation, demand, criticism, disappointment, unforgiveness.  But these voices are not the voice of God in our lives.  These are the voices of the world, of culture, of people we know, of our own harsh expectations and guilt and shame, of the lies of the enemy.

When we listen to hear the voice of God and truly hear the still, small voice — that voice, the voice of our gracious and merciful God, is a loving voice.

Jesus shows us by example what it looks like to hear the loving voice of God and respond with obedience.  In the same way, we are enabled by our adoption into the family of God to hear that same voice — the loving voice of God — and are called to respond with the same obedience.

Dear lovely reader, if you hear anything other than love in the voice of God, if you are afraid there is anything other than love in God, know that there is freedom in accepting the truth of who you are and the truth of who God is.

The truth is that you are worthy, capable, and enough because you are a child of God.

The truth is that God is faithful, merciful, and loving.

The truth is that y0u can hear the voice of God — anyone can hear from God.  And that voice is trustworthy and gentle and full of all the chesed and agape you can possibly imagine.

[Jesus] came to include us in his divine obedience. He wanted to lead us to God so that we could enjoy the same intimacy he did. (38)

Let us allow ourselves to be included and led so that we can enjoy intimacy with God as we have been designed to do.

Okay, next time we really will look at Part Two: The Compassionate Life.

The Compassionate God

 

This week, we are reading through Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison.

Introduction & Part One: The Compassionate God

To be compassionate then means to be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition. (6)

But being compassionate toward others, especially the poor and marginalized to whom competition does the most harm, does not come naturally. We do not like to be around others’ pain and suffering, and we certainly do not like to give up anything we consider ours for the benefit of someone else — even in the name of fairness and justice, much less forgiveness and compassion.

Fortunately, we are not governed by our own desires and fears but by the movement of God in our lives:

God’s own compassion constitutes the basis and source of our compassion….[I]t is only in discipleship that we can begin to understand the call to be compassionate as our loving God is compassionate….[I]t is through these disciplines [of prayer and action], which guide our relationships with God and our fellow human beings, that God’s compassion can manifest itself. (8)

Their central argument is that Christians — as human beings who are by our very nature threatened by the idea of showing compassion to others (and thereby losing competition and identity) — are enabled to share in God’s compassion through the new identity we have been given as a result of our experience of the compassion of God in our lives through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This means the compassion that moves us to “be kind and gentle to those who get hurt by competition” does not come from our own nature; it comes from God.

It also comes from the example of a God who would make himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likenessBecause of the humble incarnation of Christ, the example of Jesus’ life, the choice to be obedient to death, and the miracle of the resurrection, we are able to experience the compassion of God for ourselves:

Jesus who is divine lives our broken humanity not as a curse…, but as a blessing. His divine compassion makes it possible for us to face our sinful selves, because it transforms our broken human condition from a cause of despair into a source of hope. (15)

The mystery of God’s love is not that our pain is taken away, but that God first wants to share that pain with us. (16)

Once we have experienced God’s compassion in our own lives, we are transformed by this new-found grace and freedom to live into the new identity we are given as children of God. Then we are able to follow the example of Jesus. Indeed, we are called to do so:

[O]nce we see that Jesus reveals to us, in his radically downward pull, the compassionate nature of God, we begin to understand that to follow Jesus is to participate in the ongoing self-revelation of God. (27)

Personally, this is where I get stuck.  I can agree all day that Jesus taught us to be servants and showed us by example how to live radically counter-cultural lives that defy competition in favor of compassion and justice for the poor and marginalized.

But what does that look like in my life?  Am I missing out on the will of God by not living in Calcutta or joining Shane Claiborne’s intentional community? What does it mean to be radically counter-cultural?

Radical servanthood is not an enterprise in which we try to surround ourselves with as much misery as possible, but a joyful way of life in which our eyes are opened to the vision of the true God who chose to be revealed in servanthood….[S]ervice is an expression of the search for God. (29)

That’s a beautiful line: a joyful way of life in which our eyes are opened to the vision of the true God who chose to be revealed in servanthood.

It’s not about finding the most misery.  We don’t all have to be Mother Theresa to be doing God’s compassionate work in the world.  It’s about a radical paradigm shift.  It’s about seeing with new eyes, eyes opened to who God is through service.

So how do we know what we are called to do in the world?  How do we know if we are Mother Theresas or mothers of three? Our wise authors remind us that it’s much simpler than we imagine:

The obedience of Jesus is hearing God’s loving word and responding to it. (34)

We are poor listeners because we are afraid that there is something other than love in God….[Jesus] came to include us in his divine obedience. He wanted to lead us to God so that we could enjoy the same intimacy he did. (38)

God is all about relationship.  God is all about intimacy.  When we relate to God intimately, we cannot help but see the world with new eyes.  We cannot help but be moved by compassion.  We cannot help but pray and act — those disciplines that guide our relationships with God and others.

On Wednesday, we’ll look at Part Two: The Compassionate Life.

 

Making God Visible

Nobody can say “I make God visible,” but others who see us together can say “they make God visible.” Community is where humility and glory meet. – Henri Nouwen

What I tried to say last week with so many words, Nouwen achieves (as always) with a few, well-chosen and profoundly accurate.

Without the body of Christ, we are just fingers and elbows and appendixes.  We need each other, not only for the value of being in community but also for the ability to be — collectively — the image of God in the world.

Participating in the community of God requires preferring the other — letting go of our need to be always right, always first, always best.  But when we are working together through the power of the Holy Spirit, we not only experience God ourselves, but we also create space and opportunity for others to experience God.

This is how we can glorify God and enjoy God forever.

This is how we have been created and designed to be.

This is body theology — the community of God making God visible in the world.

Forward Friday: Reflect [on] the Body [of Christ]

 

This week we talked about what we can learn from each other about God and what we can teach others about God.

This weekend, identify one person in your life who has taught you something about God.  How has that person’s presence and action in your life revealed the truth of God to you?

Extra credit: let that person know how they have impacted your life.  Write a thank you note or letter.  Take them to coffee.  Leave a shout out to them in the comment box below and send them a link.

Then, take some time to reflect on the role you have in the lives of those around you, both within the community of God and beyond.  How will you be the body of Christ in the world?

Come back and share your thoughts in the comment box below, or send me a Facebook message or email. I always love hearing from you!

Shalom, lovely readers! Peace be with you all.

 

On the Act of Creating Art

On Monday we talked about how something happens when we put tangible words on a tangible page, connecting the physical with the mental and spiritual.  But not everyone is inspired by words alone.  Sometimes we need something even more tangible, even more physical.

I don’t pretend to be an artist.  I know I am severely lacking in this area and choose to surround myself with artists to make up for my disability.  However, in the spirit of friendship with you lovely readers, I will share one of my poor attempts at collage — just to prove that sometimes it is simply the act of creating something physical even more than the finished product that affects us emotionally and spiritually.

The finished product below may not affect anyone else, but the act of creating it for me was a quite profound experience of emotional and spiritual breakthrough.

I’ll even tell you why.

In the act of creating this silly little collage out of scraps from a friend’s art box, I was able for the first time to fully accept myself as a physical being, with all my particular flaws and traits.

This is a piece of my story, from one of my journals, created my by own hand amongst friends on April 18th, 2009.

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