Waiting – an afterthought on Advent

Waiting

Advent this year added an experiential dimension of waiting for me. My previous observances have been more about thinking about the season and going to activities. My twenty-something only child moved to Texas in September.  For the first time, she was not around for all the pre-holiday preparations.  After our first Thanksgiving apart, I marked the calendar counting down the days until she would arrive the Sunday before Christmas.

During that month, my husband and I made plans for sleeping arrangements, food and family get togethers.  We communicated with her via text and email and phone to be sure her fiancée would feel at home when the spent time with us.  As the time of her arrival grew closer, our excitement grew.

I “felt” Advent in a new way.  I realized that the seasonal customs are meant to help me look ahead expectantly to celebrating the arrival of Jesus as an infant. The living metaphor engaged my heart in a new way. While American consumerism and even mindless traditions can distract and cause more stress, this year I minimized where I could and focused on activities that helped me reflect more on what Christ’s coming means to me.

While checking bedding, buying groceries and checking with relative’s schedule, I had in mind the relational time with my daughter.  I knew certain “traditions” my daughter would value; quiet times with just the three of us, our “wake up” talks as well as car time conversations as we visit with friends.

As I scaled back on baking, made gifts more personal than impressive, I looked for moments in the midst of holiday chaos to meditate on how special Jesus’ coming was. I paused at Nativity scenes, stars and angels.  I wondered how pregnant Mary’s very first Advent felt.  I am continually awed that God became flesh.  I am amazed he chose to live among humans who use religion to impress others or to prop up their shaky self-esteem.  I am daunted that he would choose to live in poverty, be homeless and be available to masses of people.  When Jesus was living as divine-human, he was subject to human emotion, exhaustion and expectations.    Why would God take on all of the challenges of being human?  We all know “the answer”:  God so loved the world.  How often do you consider what means Jesus went through all that because God wants to be in a relationship with you?

This relationship is not like my distant aunt in California.   This is like my daughter and I who enjoy each other’s company, talk about everything and want time with just the two of us.  Of course we text, phone, email, send pictures and share Pintrests. When together, we enjoy just sitting together, sharing memories and planning for the future (a June wedding).

God also wants us to spend time with him.  Not just in a church crowd, though like a party, that is enjoyable.  He also wants to hear from us about what we are thankful for, our memories of how God has worked in our lives and our hopes and plans for the future.  God treasures the intimate times with us.   God waits for us too.

While we wait at Advent, we could focus more on our relationship with God than the activities of the season.  We wait for the transformation that takes place in us when we spend time with God.  We  wait to see the fruit of the Spirit more in our lives.  We wait to celebrate the King who was born in a barn so we could live as children who are immeasurably loved and cherished.

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Native Guard – theater that touches the heart

Native Guard

I had the pleasure of experiencing a poetic multi-sensory enactment of the Old South.  Native Guard is told through the voice of a “mixed” race woman whose grief over her mother’s death is mingled with racial wounds as old as this country.  In the lines of poetry, each wounded soul who has felt displaced is invited to grieve the devaluing of their losses.

The piece ranges from early 50s Mississippi to the Civil War.  A soldier’s voice tells of identities stolen and trauma repressed by the whites in power.  Black soldiers were seen as dispensable.  They were horrified at the atrocities of war and ambivalent about being the jailors for southern soldiers.  Trauma that requires disassociation creates a psychological exile.  When lies deny the wounds, the pain cannot be voiced.  To be whole, we must claim our history and ourselves as enough.

In our society, grief from death and losses of all kinds are often denied voice.  This piece invites the expression of grief.  From the “Remember” cards which each participant can create and post to the second act conversation, we were invited to speak our grief.  Being heard is healing.  The discussion educated each in the audience that cared to listen.

Evocative words introduced the “rough edge of beauty.”  Truly in this world, we have tribulation.  Native Guard invites us out of the morass of unspoken pain into community that holds our grief with us.  Learning to discover beauty in those rough edges helps us heal as individuals and a society.

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Want to experience God’s presence more?

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Interior spaciousness brings us in touch with God’s Presence.”

 (from The Life of the Body by Hess and Arnold)

Making space for God is a challenge in our culture.  Social media and busy lives crowd out our soul.  We tend to stay on a superficial level.  We get lost in the voices of interior critics, foul fears and relentless anxieties.  Often we try to quell this dark side in order to hear God.  We fail when we have limited our room for God in our minds, hearts and physical habits.   Sometimes our habits have become stale.  Mixing up our repertoire of connecting to God can create space for experiencing God’s presence anew.

Interior space refers to habits of the mind.  When we always think what we have always thought, we get what we have always gotten.  Retraining our mind takes practice just like building muscle strength.  If you overdo, you will quickly become discouraged.  Start small and try often.

                Quiet is a novel experience for most people.  Quiet allows are brains to “defrag” and makes space for new things.  Start with two minutes in a setting where you will not be interrupted.  Stretch the time slowly over weeks to 10 minutes.   People use mindfulness or a centering phrase to keep their thoughts quiet.  Mindfulness is turning your attention to the sensory details of what is around you.  Color, texture, smells and movement can be noticed as you watch flowers, trees or wildlife.  Experiencing more than the cognitive, opens us up and slakes the thirst of the soul.

                Time is often a barrier to those who seek God.  Already full schedules overflowing with to-do lists can dominate your life.  If you want to experience God’s presence, making time for spiritual practices is necessary.  Start small and build.  The refreshment that comes from the time spent with God will motivate you to prioritize time to focus on God.

                Ruminating on projects, problems or resentments are examples of mind habits that many of us never consciously developed yet they run our thought life.  You can literally distract yourself from that constant pressure by taking up spiritual practices that orient you to a more contented existence.  In some cases, mental or physical health issues cause racing thoughts.  Be realistic about how you start.  Becoming aware of when your thoughts feel negative,r pressured or self-critical is a good first step.

                After you have practiced awareness of your thoughts, try turning off any self critical thoughts about them or yourself.  I will guarantee self critical thoughts will reoccur.  I also believe that the more you notice and name them, the more power you will have for casting them out.  Fears and anxieties can be tamed.  This involves getting at the root causes, distraction techniques and replacing those thoughts with one’s that build your self esteem and your relationship with God.  The really cool thing is that if you make more space for God in your life, some of these will get nudged out. 

For some people making space in exterior ways will enlarge interior spaciousness.  Again this involves time and commitment to new ways of being.  You may try a variety of things before you encounter the practices that feed your soul.  In my life, I began mindfulness as an assignment for preaching class (Thank you, Anna Carter Florence!).  Sitting watching a tree for three minutes later became regular nature walks outside and in a lovely meditation garden my husband created in our backyard.  

Sitting silently for 15 minutes was a challenge to me when my Theological Reflections professor  (Bill Harkins) had us start each class that way.  Now I look for opportunities to spend silent time, on my porch, in the hospital chapel or lying on my sofa.  Sitting even if you are not completely silent, shows an intention to seek God.  “If you seek me, you will find me when you seek for me with your whole heart.”  (Jeremiah 29:13)

Worship music was an antidote to anxiety that I found early in my walk with the Lord.  The words become prayers.  The melodies can change my mood.  I do use a variety of types of music from Taize to Toby Mac.  I am not talented as a singer or dancer, yet I find both engage my body more fully in worship.   

                You can try different body postures for prayer.  Sitting, lying prone or on your back, hands raised or palms up on your knees, kneeling, yoga postures, standing and walking are some of many ways people pray.  Try something different.  Try something out of your comfort zone.  Doing something different can allow you to experience God in a different ways.

God is always with us.  We often do not have ourselves attuned to God’s presence.  Making space for God by practices of the body and heart gives the soul room to experience God’s constant presence.

 

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Risen with Scars

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                I have heard the saying that Jesus rose from the dead with His scars showing.  The context is a discussion about how we should live out of the “scars” of our life by allowing God to comfort others with the same comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).  In a nut shell, Christian community is enriched when we live transparently and authentically.  I believe this.

I question our habit of sanitizing our scars.  Even pictures of the risen Lord Jesus have scars in his hands, feet and side but not the scourging scars nor those the thorns would have left on his head.  I wonder if the sanitized version of our testimonies are as effective as the transparent version.  I do it all the time:  “My divorce…”; “My dance with addiction”; “sexual abuse” … which God has used.   Now I agree that the gory details do not have to be shared with anyone anywhere anytime.  The question is am I willing to be transparent when I am talking to someone who is struggling with the same experience.  Does the Spirit or my defenses dictate my response?

            Our society condones a “get over it” point of view of emotional recovery.  Those with multiple wounds, who need long term help coping with life, are marginalized.  Mental health resources are poorly funded and difficult to access.  Our culture condones masquerade.  Masks are a staple of our wardrobe. 

            Why do we hide our scars?  Why do we sanitize our stories?  If God values weakness, foolishness and teaching through adversity, why do we still hide behind fig leaves?

            If we saw the suffering of Jesus Christ authentically and did not shirk at the cost of forgiveness (yes, “the blood”) perhaps we would live with more compassion for all.  If we all lived “risen with our scars showing,” perhaps there would be less suffering in the world. 

 

 

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Body and Blood

Body and Blood

                It may be stretching the point to say that the sour wine offered to Christ “Intincted” his body and it is interesting imagery. As I watched “The Passion” on Maundy Thursday, I saw lips and tongue dipped into the sponge. I wondered if the imagery was intentional or my “sanctified imagination.”

                I “Googled” intinction and found a rip snorting argument (typical of theologians, Bible Scholars, critical judgmental denominationalists and humans in general). Many fall on the side that claims a separate bread eating and wine drinking are the Scriptural model. Critics say that the “separatists” fall short of the Scriptural model by not eating at a Passover table reclining.

                The timing of the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (belief that the elements become the physical body and blood of Christ after blessing) and the introduction of the practice of intinction by the Roman Catholic church are too close for the comfort of those who would avoid all things Catholic.

                As usual these arguments tend to throw out the baby with the bath water. I was raised Jewish. I like the Passover imagery of the Last Supper. Tradition has held that Jesus’ final days occurred during the Passover week. And there is something about the practice of intinction that appeals to me kinesthetically.

                I take the body/bread, actually tearing it from a loaf (sorry hygiene fans) and dip it in the juice/wine/blood. The image of Christ’s body shedding blood emerges. The dripping bread which I place in my mouth reminds me of Jesus’ body at crucifixion. Whether I am eating or drinking at that moment seems less critical than that I am taking in these elements which represent Jesus’ sacrificial death.

                When I “remember my baptism” by dipping water from a communion font and doing the sign of the cross on my forehead, I am not re-enacting my actual baptism. I was “dunked.” Those who were “sprinkled” had someone else applying the water to them.

                Literally we get in hot water when we are literalist. Just as we do not know the mind of God in full because God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8, 9), our interpretations of the Scripture are laden with our upbringing, our culture, our century and our church experience to name a few. I believe the Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit and that God guards its meaning and opens our eyes to Truth through it when we seek God’s guidance in interpretation. I also can clearly see that people hear the Scriptures differently.

                Jesus’ pre-death talk with the disciples on unity is the antithesis of theological divisions and denominational exclusivism. Christ’s body and blood were crucified together to make us one. Perhaps that why I like intinction: Bread and wine together visualizes this unity.

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Words of Life

Words of Life

Holy words long preserved for our walk in this world,

They resound with God’s own heart, O let the ancient words impart.

            Day after day millions of people in this world believe the words of pharmaceutical companies and doctors and take pills to improve their health.  (I am one of those.)  Did you know that the research on medications is never perfect?  What I mean is that the medication does not work all the time for all people in exactly the same way?  Fault can be found with the science, the advertising, or communication gaps between doctor and patient.  Yet daily prescriptions are filled and consumed to achieve better health.

            In the past century, it has become vogue to question the validity of the Bible and scoff at the “literalist.”  Surely historical criticism has brought into question blind acceptance of every “jot and tittle”, and somehow we have thrown out the baby with the bath water.  If we applied the same standard to medication, the health care industry would be tipped on its side.

            Convenience food is another area where we mindlessly followed the advertisers to what  was hoped to be a land of ease and satiated appetites.  Had we done half the research on the contents of what we are eating as the pharmaceutical companies do on medication, we would not be in an obesity epidemic.  Daily we consume additives that are far from natural but please the eye and taste bud and are without nutritional value. 

            The Word of God has value.  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16).  For the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).  Yes, that is the Word’s commentary on itself.  And it shows us what was on God’s heart when it was penned.  Each comma or word may be critiqued but the general idea is that the Word of God has value in our lives for spiritual growth.

            As a teenager who was converted from a Jewish hippie upbringing, I memorized lots of Scripture to renew my mind (Romans 12:2).  Through divorce, infertility, health problems and other trials, I have seen the power of the Word of God to sustain, comfort and transform me.  I credit the Word of God (Philippians 4:6-8) with calming my anxiety.  I could write testimonials for days of the effective power of the Word of God in changing my life and others for good. 

            There are days I doubt and days I just do not pay attention.  We often skip our medications (when they run out when money is tight) or eat whatever we please.  There are consequences in all of these choices for our well being. 

            The key, to me, is in the song:  “They resound with God’s own heart.” Someone once said, “The Bible is God’s love letter to his children.” I am convinced that time spent with the Word of God, reading, praying, studying, builds spiritual muscle.  The Word of God has power to change lives for good.  Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.  God reaches out to us through the Word.  Come with open hearts and let the ancient words impart life. 

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Gentle Grace

Gentle Grace.

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