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Joan Chittister on being in community


Forward Friday: Double Belonging

I ran across the term double belonging during my training in spiritual direction in Arizona.  If you’re not familiar (I wasn’t), it’s a relatively new term used to describe people who ascribe to one particular religious tradition (e.g. Christianity) but also learn from another tradition (e.g. Buddhism).

You may have even heard people describe themselves as Jew-Bus (Jewish Buddhists) or Buddha-palians (Episcopalian Buddhists).  What would a Presbyterian Buddhist be called? Buddha-terian?

While I’m not advocating synchronicity, I do believe we have a lot to learn from each other, both within our own tradition and from people of other faiths.  Particularly with people whose spiritual paths involve meditation, there are many similarities between different religious practices.  Thomas Merton, for example, was well known for being influenced by Buddhist meditation techniques as he practiced and taught Christian contemplative meditation.

So let’s try a very simple and open-ended Forward Friday:

This weekend, take some time to explore other faith traditions in your area. 

You could attend a Jewish temple or try a yoga class.  If you’re not sure how to get started, try picking up a book from your local library on comparative religion or a specific tradition you’ve always been curious about.

Remember, this exercise is not designed to encourage you to embrace a new set of beliefs in place of your own or to create opportunities for proselytizing.  Just be curious, courteous, and conscious of what pieces of truth you might pick up along the way.

Happy weekend, lovely readers!  Come back and tell me all about it.

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.

Balance is not a tight-rope act

One of the goals of this blog is to keep thinking theologically about how to incorporate and engage the physical body in our mental and spiritual pursuits.  This balance is important not only for our spiritual lives but for our lives as a whole.

All things in moderation is a motto I remind myself of often when I indulge in fatty foods, exercise, even watching TV.

Even healthy pursuits can be bad for us in too-large quantities; likewise, less healthy pursuits can be good for us, too, in smaller quantities.

For example, having an alcoholic beverage from time to time can actually be a healthy source of antioxidants.  Working out too often or too hard can lead to muscle strains, shin splints, and even dysregulated metabolism.

When we start talking about things like work/school-life balance (for an excellent and thought provoking view, I highly recommend the recently published Why Women Still Can’t Have It All), spirituality-life balance, family-friend balance, conservative-liberal balance, or even productivity-rest balance, we can start to feel like holding everything in perfect tension is an overwhelming and perhaps even impossible task.

Here’s the good news: balance is not a tight-rope act.

Balance is not about taking one painfully tense step after another intensely stressful step on a thin wire above certain death.

Finding balance in life is a lot like contemplative prayer.  In contemplative prayer, there is no frustrating struggle for command over distracting thoughts.  There is, instead, the honest acknowledgement of the moment and cause of distraction and the disciplined, gentle return to focus on God.

In life, we often expend unnecessary energy beating ourselves up for spending too much time and attention here and not enough there.  We struggle and fight and end up in discouraging failure because the truth is we are imperfect people living imperfect lives.

Balance is about extending grace to ourselves in those moments where we step too far to the left or right or when life wears us down and we stop altogether to catch our breath and wipe the sweat out of our eyes.

Body theology is not something to beat ourselves with.  It is something to slowly begin to weave into the fabric of our daily lives so that we become

more mindful of the role of our bodies,

more discerning about the messages from the Church and culture,

more aware of injustice, and

more sensitive to the movement of the Spirit within and around us.

I like one lesson Elizabeth Gilbert learns in her memoir Eat, Pray, Love: sometimes we have unbalanced seasons  (where one aspect of our lives takes precedence and demands more time and attention while other important aspects may be neglected), but those seasons do not necessarily mean that we cannot have a balanced life.

A work commitment may take priority for a few weeks.  A newly married couple may spend more time together than apart as they build the foundation of their marriage.  The birth (or death) of a family member may require more emotional energy.

But when these seasons end (and they will), we have the opportunity to return our attention and intention — gently — to the healthy balance of spiritual, mental, and physical engagement in our life’s pursuits.

Balance is not about walking a tight-rope and hoping against hope not to tip or slip and fall.

Balance is about resuming the path toward becoming the healthy, whole people God has created us to be.

All things in moderation, lovely readers.  Pace yourselves.  Let’s keep walking this path together.

Forward Friday: Finding Your Spiritual Practice

This week we explored the spiritual practices of sleeping, eating, and exercising.  Sometimes we can experience spiritual significance through these simple, daily activities.  Other times, these activities in themselves can teach us about the value of maintaining spiritual practices as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

1) This weekend, identify one life-giving activity. 

It could be a daily walk, making dinner, reading a Psalm every morning, taking the scenic route to work, or anything else natural or intentional.

2) Notice what about that activity makes it life-giving for you. 

Is it a break from the hectic rush of your day?  Is it an activity to share with someone you love? Does it give you renewed energy? Does it affect your mood?

3) Consider ways to apply what you enjoy about this activity to other parts of your daily life. 

Should you share more activities with a loved one?  Do you need more alone time?  Would you prefer to increase the time spent in your life-giving activity?  Do you need to plan ahead to create space for more of the same or similar activities?

4) Come back and share your experience here. 

What life-giving activity did you choose?

The Spiritual Practice of Exercise

Now that we’ve thought together about the spiritual practices of sleeping and eating, let’s look at one more: exercise.

I am not an exercise kind of person.  I do not like going to the gym, walking on treadmills, lifting weights, or any other repetitive activity that takes place in a small, sweat-smelling room as a substitute for actual physical activity.  Give me a bicycle, and I’ll take a ride around the neighborhood, but what exactly is the purpose of a stationary bike?

If I’m going to get any exercise, I need to work it naturally into my normal routine.  Instead of finding the closest parking spot to the door, I’ll park in the back of the lot and walk a few extra steps.  Instead of rolling my groceries out to my car in the cart, I’ll carry them out. Instead of taking the elevator, I’ll take the stairs–two at a time.

At least, that’s what I did until I hurt my back last year, discovered I have scoliosis, and began a regimen of medication, ice packs, and chiropractic visits to manage the pain.  What I wasn’t very good about doing were my daily stretches and exercise-ball activities that my chiropractor recommended once the majority of the pain subsided.

I have the ball and the yoga mat, but they live under the stairs.  I have the Pilates videos, but they live in the DVD drawer.  I got out of the habit of exercising because of the pain, and I haven’t been able to get back into it.

My husband is forever encouraging me to go bike riding or hiking with him, but the pain in my back and leg win out over the benefit of exercise every time.  I know the pain would lessen if I exercised more, but I’m stubborn. I find excuses to stay in bed and watch TV.

Here’s what I’ve learned by refusing to exercise:

  1. Exercise is a choice. No one is going to make me do it.  It is for my benefit alone, and I am the only one missing out.
  2. Muscles atrophy with lack of use.
  3. Bad habits are hard to break.
  4. Excuses, rationales, and justifications are many and readily available.
  5. If I don’t make time for it, I won’t have time for it.
  6. Exercise is easier with a friend to keep you accountable (and company).
  7. I’m much more likely to take a walk on the beach in the evening to watch the sunset than I am to walk aimlessly around the block.
  8. Sometimes it’s worth paying for someone to train and guide me rather than trying to do it all on my own for free.
  9. If I don’t exercise, my body isn’t prepared for fun things like backpacking with the hubby or a day at the zoo.

Having a healthy body can go a long way toward adding to a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. But exercise isn’t just about the physical benefits.  It’s also a discipline we can learn and apply to our spiritual lives.

Some spiritual practices are easy and enjoyable. They fit with our personalities, natural giftedness, and interests.  Other spiritual practices are hard work. That’s why they’re called disciplines.

Not every spiritual discipline is necessary for vibrant spiritual growth and maturity, but sometimes we can benefit from learning a little self-discipline.  Who knows when that might come in handy?

How might your life benefit from a little more discipline?

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