Tag Archives: body

“Darkening Sky” Spirituality

old bridge (deposit photos).jpgChange. Say it soft and it’s almost like puking.

I used to dread Autumn.

About thirty years ago (college era) Seasonal Affective Disorder dawned in me. My love for distinctive Midwestern seasons got complicated.

Since then, good support and meds have helped attune me to my holistic health, but I’d be lying if I said the 4th quarter was easy.

I trust I’m not alone with clinical depression and a sense of guarding my emotional health when the weather turns cold and dark.

In the Midwestern USA where I’m from, there is no more intense earth season than fall to enact the disruptive, beautiful prospect of transformative change.

All through autumn we hear a double voice:
one says everything is ripe;
the other says everything is dying.
The paradox is exquisite.

Gretel Ehrlich

In the psalms, life comes naturally in waves, and each one is faithful unto itself. Right now, you may be in a season of great joy. Enjoy it; it will pass. You may be in the midst of freaked-out fear. Hang on; something different is on its way.

In 12 days, I’m hosting a free/tip call-in class called Deep Change and the Psalms: Navigating the Intensity of Harvest Time, and you’re all invited.

Is it possible to accept a life that includes melancholia? Can we prepare for seasons of disruptive change and frame them as good? Or at least understand them so we can make the best of them?

What I’m calling “Darkening Sky” spirituality is a psalm-centered faith. This is theology that honors our most intense moments of transition, acknowledging God smack in the middle of whatever slow-mo rotating stage we’re on.

The parts of life we judge as intolerably dire straits the psalms name holy. As my psalmentor Rev. Dr. Clint McCann says, these moments of honest suffering are not good, but normal. See also Ecclesiastes 3 and Jesus’ mystical ministry of disrupting pretty much every life he encountered.

Need some courage? Here are a few psalm-songs that might be good company for your holy life that might feel like it’s unraveling: (Note: these are NOT cheer-up songs, but psalm-honest cries for what’s happening in you).

As summer moves into autumn, we know earth seasons will turn as they always have. It’s something we know, but sometimes do not wish to allow.

Here’s to allowing change to ripen what’s in our heart-gardens, that Gretel Ehrlich’s exquisite season would bring us to fullness before moving into the next.

Register now for Deep Change and the Psalms: Navigating the Intensity of Harvest Time.


Holy Communion & Them

Pic by Bernadette Morris (creative commons)

Pic by Bernadette Morris (creative commons)

Sermon: Emanuel Lutheran Church, Strawberry Point, Iowa
August 23, 2015

John 6.56-69

Lutherans talk about two sacraments: Holy Baptism and Holy Communion— visible signs of God’s invisible love. In Baptism, what’s visible? (Water). But Martin Luther taught that it’s not really about water. It’s about God’s promise inwithandunder that water. (Cool expression, huh? Say it with me: InWithAndUnder.

In the same way in Holy Communion, what are the visible, tangible elements? (Bread and wine or juice). Lutherans tend to say it’s not magic food. It’s the mystical presence of Christ’s body and blood inwithandunder the elements of food that are important.

In both Baptism and Communion, we celebrate the invisible, unspeakable mystery with ordinary earthy stuff.

Today’s gospel reading seems to be an invitation to think about the question: What is Holy Communion? 

It’s more than a mini-Meal. It’s about being intimately woven into God’s love, connected to the wider church and living day to day at school, where you work, where you play and at your kitchen table.

Last week our confirmation students and their parents gathered to talk about what confirmation instruction might look like at Emanuel, and I was remembering when I was in middle school in Rochester, Minnesota going through my 3-year career of confirmation: Classes each Thursday night including lecture, memorization of Luther’s small catechism, writing papers, Bible study, class discussion.

What was that like? To be honest…

I kinda loved it.

It was an important time for me. My intellectual self was so ready to explore my faith. Someone brought up at our meeting that Martin Luther loved questions. As both a pastor and a professor, he framed religious education with questions. So in his Small Catachism, for example, we pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father, who art in heaven” and we stop there and ask: “What does this mean?” We think about the words, we wonder at their meaning. And then we move on with the next petition: “Hallowed by thy name.” And we pause again. “What could this mean? We study carefully and take it in, following our curiosity and allowing the mystery of faith to soak into us over a lifetime, our education never complete.

I think part of Holy Communion is being students sitting at Jesus’ feet over a lifetime. A holy communion— togetherness—all of us with Jesus. Asking our questions, feeling the richness of our ancient tradition and experiencing what’s brand new that God is doing in you and me.

But we don’t do this alone with Jesus. Holy Communion is also about being connected to one another.

And to me that means jokes.

You see, almost every Sunday, my friend Gabe and I find each other and share a joke. All week I’m on the lookout for a good one to tell him on Sunday. Sometimes he has one for me. Because one of my favorite things in the world is laughter, I love that Gabe and I are connected this way. So, Gabe, here’s my joke for you today. Musicians will appreciate this one.

What’s the most musical part of your body?

Your nose, because you can pick it and blow it.

[Wait for uproarious laughter and/or disapproving groans]

Communion is about community with one another. Laughing with Gabe. Knowing where people at Emanuel usually sit. That Elle will probably be at the organ, Cathy at the piano, Robbie strumming and one of our many brilliant singers helping to lead singing. Passing the peace and knowing that some of us don’t like to be touched so I can hold my hands together as a handshake-hug for them. Being in touch with Chuck’s cancer, the success of our youths’ 4-H showings at the fair. Feeling the newness of our life together as the call committee works to discern calling a new pastor.

Communion means we are doing life together. I’m grateful for where we are together and how God is leading us into the future.

But community is not only us in this room. Let’s pull the camera back. We in this room are part of a larger body, along with every other little church worshipping this morning— here in town, across the country and all over the world.

The Apostle Paul’s favorite metaphor for the church is one single body to which the many, many body parts belong (obviously) and where each body part belongs to the others. Picture a human body— male or female— with each arm, leg, ear, toe and pancreas are fully whole, each body part good, good, good and clearly belonging to the whole person. Where would we be, Paul asks, without any one part?

Holy Communion means we’re jerked out of our individualism and self-centeredness to understand we are part of something way bigger than ourselves. Something we’re not in charge of. It’s world-wide, made up of all kinds of people, most of whom do not have white skin, do not speak English and do not own a car. The church we are part of is embarrassingly wealthy, and it is dangerously poor. Our one church suffers, our one church rejoices. Our one church has AIDS, cancer, and gets shot at; our church celebrates birth, scientific discoveries and the teensiest sign of peace anywhere in the world.

Holy Communion means we claim one another– all the One Anothers to whom we belong. Beyond this room, beyond our personal preferences and prejudices, even beyond this time!

That’s another dimension of communion. We are surrounded, the book of Hebrews reads, by a great cloud of witnesses, beyond space and time. So we are part of the whole people of God that includes Abraham and Sarah, King David, Ruth and Naomi, Simon Peter and Mary of Magdella as well as our loved ones no longer with us.

Who comes to mind for you? Picture there faces, hear their voices.

We are the church that includes our ancestors going way back, our dearest companions of our lifetime as well as children and grandchildren yet to be born.

A Russian Orthodox theologian named Alexander Schmiechen puts it this way: Worship with our One Body never really begins or ends.

When we ring the bell here at Emanuel and start our service, we are simply joining the worship that has been going on continually for eons and that continues in other time zones when we at Emanuel Lutheran are finished. It’s like we just sort of step into a stream that has been flowing almost forever.

Because we are in Holy Communion.

Let’s close with John’s gospel today.

Jesus says again, “Eat and drink. But look deeper. It’s me. Eat and drink and make me part of you.”

Now people who heard this were starting to get what Jesus was about. And it made them nervous. Why? They noticed the people with whom Jesus ate and drank.

Treasonous, cheating tax collectors working for Rome.

People so sick there were laws against touching them and being close to them.

Prostitutes, and women of ill repute that didn’t have much standing in the community apart from a man.

People it was a waste of time to be with, so ridiculous a prospect to be seen with them that it truly effected the reputation of Jesus’ 3-year ministry.

Because Jesus touched them, ate with them, laughed with them, went to football games with them, quilted with them, hung out with them. He treated them like he didn’t know they were a Them. You could make the case that Jesus was killed because of who he ate and drank with.

So when Jesus said in a number of different ways, “Eat and drink me,” it began to dawn on his students what he meant. Their lives would have to change to be with those Them. The barriers between Us and Them would be dissolving into respect, compassion, maybe even handshakes and hugs.

It must have seemed impossible.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Jesus went on: “I’m telling you. This is the Only Way. God, the Holy One of your ancestors, is calling you.” (John 6.65)

This was the last straw for some followers, the gospel says. Reading from chapter 6 that we heard today:

“Because of this many of his followers turned back and no longer went about with him.

And Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

There was, I imagine, a pregnant pause. The twelve looking around at each other.

And out of the awkward silence Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.

We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6.68-69)

Can you feel a bit of what that must have meant to them?

And we sing those words from Peter’s mouth every Sunday around the gospel reading: “Alleluia. Lord, to Whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia.” Except what’s different about what we sing and what’s in the story?

No alleluia.

I imagine the tone of Peter’s words to be pretty heavy. Maybe even agonizing.

Like: “Jesus, this is hard. You’re asking for a revolution. A way to live where there is no Them? Nobody that’s not part of who we think of as Us?!  No male or female, no black or white, no gay or straight, no republican or democrat, no honor student or drop-out, no diseased or healthy. You want our whole lives to change to be about Communion— you even want to change the way we think!”

And the twelve men looked around at each other. And the women disciples who probably were there but weren’t counted. Restless silence.

“Jesus. A change that’s inwithandunder this meal like a contaminant? Jesus, a new world that’s somehow hidden within this world? Holy Communion with you and *Those* People— the Only Way? Outrageous. Impossible. So much at stake.

*Sigh*.

Maybe there were tears in Peter’s eyes when he said it:

“Where else can we go? You have the words of real life.”

And maybe, in considering his failures of the past and knowing so well his fear of the future… maybe Peter added under his breath: “Alleluia.”


Pregnant with Holy

Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography, Boise, ID www.garrisonphoto.orgThe Christian liturgical year spins the same every year. Advent marks the beginning, so by now the Christian community has already flipped its calendar. Identical seasons as ever, but, being a species of continual re-newal, it’s a time of discovery. If we’re paying attention, wonder even.

In Advent, we hear stories of Mary and Elizabeth, and some of us are uncomfortable.

In this most “feminine” of seasons, we hear stories of pregnancy and all the natural wildness that is creation emerging into the world. If you’ve ever been pregnant– and I know I haven’t– that season was marked by transformation in mind, body and spirit. Evident to the whole wide world, something changed in your life forever.

For our family, as our son Sam was ripening, Trish experienced freak-out as well as hope. Peace as well as terror. Her somewhat snooty vegetarianism found her eating beef and chicken, and life was out of control.

She felt the summons to surrender everything.

This is not a XX chromosome thing; this is a human thing. So– heads up, pastors and worship leaders– if we’re not emphasizing the spirituality of women in Advent, we’re missing something essential.

One text I wish were part of Advent is Psalm 27. (No one asked me). It has several distinct chunks. In fact, some scholars say it was originally two or three separate songs.

The last line goes,

Wait for God; be strong and take heart.
And wait for God.

I think our midwife spoke those words years ago during our home birth.

In Hebrew, the word translated wait could just as aptly be hope. In Advent, we are invited to prepare, wait and look forward. Good practice for life in general, right?

So.

What is ripening in you right now?

How is your community swelling with new life?

Does it feel joyful? Solemn? Scary?

Any of that would be expected in a life-changing endeavor.

There’s something alive, growing in you. Ripening in its time. Welcome to Advent, the perfect season to practice this pivotal time as holy.

May we pay attention as G-d brings us to term.

Listen now to “Wait For God,” a Psalm 27 belly-softening song for Advent hope.

Pic by Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography. http://www.garrisonphoto.org


New Year’s, The Point of the Church, and Johnny Depp

After the Twelve Days of Christmas is Epiphany. It kicks off the most important season of the church year– better than Christmas, stronger than Easter, able to leap Pentecost in a single liturgical bound.

At this point in the post, I pause for a number of you to scoot to the edge of your seat in fascination, and the rest to politely excuse yourselves to do anything else you can think of.

Bob Webber called Advent-Christmas-Epiphany “The Cycle of Light,” (unrelated to Tron). If Advent is about longing and preparing for Christ’s presence and Christmas rejoices in the eternal breakthrough of God-With-Us, then Epiphany is about manifesting the Christ.

Which, in my humbly-justified, sinner-saintly opinion, is the Point of the church.

It’s too bad only 11 percent of church-goers know what Epiphany is about. (Okay, I actually made that stat up. But shocking, right?)

The church exists to reveal, proclaim and embody the Christ. If that seems like a funky new theology, note that the New Testament people of God are collectively called the Body of Christ (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12). That’s a metaphor for the physical manifestation of presence.

It’s the Incarnation kicked up a notch.

We hear some strong stories in the Epiphany season, among them:

  • The Magi pilgrimage with gifts: devotion made manifest.
  • Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine! Your light has come… and nations shall come to your light.” We occupy with our lives what’s otherwise 99% invisible.
  • Jesus is baptized by his cousin John, J’s anointing revealed publicly. (The Baptizer played by Johnny Depp.)
  • At the Cana wedding party J does water to wine, saying something about “his time” coming, the first of seven signs of transformation in John.
  • J calls and trains the disciples– gathering, equipping, sending.
  • The Transfiguration. Glory in the ordinary leaves us sputtering in awe.

To me, all these stories are images of transformation, inviting us to imagine what’s possible in a life. What a great way to begin a new calendar year.

In these Epiphany stories, God is up to something brilliantly earthy and mystically intuitive: Christ is to be found in the ordinary, even enacted in you and me with all our uniqueness, embodied in us together.

Look up “Christ, Body of” in the dictionary, and you see a family picture of all of us (that’s all) with J. Our Celtic brothers and sisters would not leave out the earth itself, insisting we honor God ‘s presence in all of creation.

Of course, there are other ways to put it:

  • My “conservative” Christian friends speak in terms of evangelism, proclaiming God’s love to all the world. Yes, that’s it.
  • For my “liberal” Christian friends it’s the call to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world, making a difference in creation. Absolutely.
  • My Buddhist friends work with radical compassion, recognizing that everything is impermanent– the world can change, and we can be part of it. Amen and gassho to that.
  • My New Age friends speak about manifesting divinity in our lives. Sure, that’s it, too.
  • My Muslim friends are clear about his call to serve the world, enriching human fitrah.
  • I don’t have any close Jewish friends these days, but I am thinking how beautifully Hebrew Covenant is embodied in family, politics, religion, meal, prayer, story and song. Yes!
  • My pagan friends are committed to actively honoring the holy in each and every piece of creation.
  • For my atheist-leaning friends, there’s transcendent purpose in doing good on behalf of ourselves and the world.
  • Mr. Rogers taught me it’s good to share who you are and what you have. Our eleven-year-old knows it.

As the New Year turns, we take stock of last year and let it go. Then we turn, taking a deep breath with some hope and some trembling as we face another year. Our call as humanity has never been clearer: we are important to one another. We are designed– mind, body, soul and strength– to be of influence and to work/play together to be of even greater influence. This is the metaphoric Light of Isaiah and of the gospels. Didn’t J say not only, “I am the light of the world” but also, “You are the light of the world?”

In Epiphany, this is a moment to celebrate this is how the universe works. We might also meditate on the poignancy of just how connected we all are.

How might this Epiphany be a time of renewal for your local church? Time to celebrate your light that naturally shines, to consider how you are embodying the Christ, and how God is leading you more deeply in and in some cases farther out.

Here’s a short but juicy song for you and your community this Epiphany: “Your Light Has Come” crystallized from a great discussion with Marcia McFee‘s Worship Design Studio a couple of years ago.

The lyrics reflect a post-modern paraphrase of Isaiah 60:

Lift your head, raise your eyes, look around:
       Your light has come! your light has come!
Light the world, heal the earth, bear the Christ:
       Your light has come! your light has come!

Here’s to the New Year with a Eucharistic toast all together.

Download Your Light Has Come music resources from Worldmaking.net.


Dear Body

Dear Physical body,

It’s not that dislike you, it’s just that I don’t care to think about you very much.

Which is odd because one would think you’d be one of the most Undeniably Real and Present Things in my life. I can see you, touch you, hear you and (thank you very much) smell you. You are my closest partner in life. I have a voice and a face and a presence on Earth because of you.

God, thank you.

In most ways I Am you, and yet most of the time I feel behind you. Or alongside you. And pretty different from you. Is that why I don’t like to think about you very much? Do I think we’re at odds? Do I owe you money? Is there something we need to talk about?

Why is it I so often neglect to even think about what you’re like, what you want, or that you even exist? Am I fantasizing about the possibility of a disembodied life, like an angel with amnesia? My friends who subscribe to reincarnation say we’ve all had dozens of lifetimes with all kinds of bodies. Have I gotten snagged somewhere?

If I think about it, most of my adult life I have been taught conflicting beliefs about you. I’ve heard it’s bad to be self-centered, so in some seasons I’ve tried to ignore you, your desires, your drives and appetites. I feel sorry about that and what we’ve missed out on together. I’ve also heard that a body is one of our only assets in this life, so in other seasons, you’ve been in my thoughts with deadly serious disciplines of eating and exercise. Those days I’ve had “should” notes on the fridge, lists on my dresser, and guilt in my gut.

Thinking back through 44 years as a man, though, I’m not sure if you have cared much either way how I’ve thought about you. I think you’ve only wanted me to enjoy my life and to be kind.

You know I like to think of myself as a fairly enlightened person. It’s humbling to be confronted with blind spots. As strange as it seems to me that I’ve either thought way too much about you or deny you completely– kind of like insurance– it Does makes sense for only one reason I can think of:

I think I’m a little afraid of you.

Shut the front door. Is that possible? What’s that about?

Maybe you seem so powerful sometimes that I am scared of embracing you fully. Or rejecting you fully, for that matter. [Deep breath] What would happen if I gave myself to you all the way? What would it look like for me to be All In for this lifetime. With This body. Just as it is now, and as it will change. (That’s a question.)

There’s something here that’s important. Maybe you have a word for me about this. I will be listening.

To close, I thank you for 44 years of faithfulness in this marriage of mind+body+spirit+whatever. I am grateful for you being with me through so many years and seasons. You are my most wise teacher and partner in this life. [A deep bow.] Thank you for all you’ve led me into and followed me into.

Loving you,
Richard

  • Thanks to Kristin Noelle’s invitation to this practice via Trust Tending.
  • Listen to Trish’s song, Bodies.