Tag Archives: process theology

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

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To Give Yourself

When our ten-year-old son comes to ask me to play, I am sometimes more willing than others.

To be honest, sometimes I agree with an inward sigh because I want to be a good dad and putting in my time is important.

Other times, I fully give myself to Sam with a wide-open heart smile.

I give myself.

I let go of my agenda and allow myself to swept away. I’m clearly not in control and into it, whether it’s dominos, chess, a light saber duel or freestyle wrestling. Whatever the play, I am so There. I will not be a spectator this time. I will not be juggling the thoughts of my little projects. I am in it for a real encounter with my beloved boy, not to check a box when the task is done. Not this time.

There are two ways to approach the spiritual life:

1. Disciplined and goal-driven.

2. Mystical and Experientially-driven.

Neither is wrong. They are two sides of an important coin. However, I think the first mode is what our consumer society imposes, so the latter is more deeply needed in this time.

In the first case, our ambition and desire motivate change. Through discipline, we take the wheel with some measure of assurance that we have what we need to navigate the watercourses of our lives. The positive is that we draw from the strength of our personhood. In this current season of Lent, there are disciplines that may shape the design of a faith-full life. It’s good. Spiritual practice can show us it’s possible to live consciously, intentionally.

The downside of this perspective is that the sense of responsibility for one’s life makes us prone to feel either pain in failure or pride in success. Grace and mystery are kind of bottom shelf.

In the second mode, we are immersed in Great Mystery and, like a daddy with his kid, we give ourselves to It. We are All In. As one theologian puts it, God is shaping us “like water shapes a rock.”

Like a bride to her bridegroom, a mama nursing her baby, a passionate student to her studies, we give ourselves.

The downside is that mystics may be so good at opening, allowing and surrendering, that we neglect agency. (Talk to Neo about that.) Martin Luther wrote that even the will to make the tiniest choice originates from God’s Holy Spirit.

But in every spiritual tradition I can think of, there’s a dimension of surrender where we put ourselves in the flow of something we trust is bigger than ourselves and watch ourselves be part of it.

In Lent, I suggest there is more to give ourselves to than be in charge of. as we hear the stories of Jesus and soak in the Psalms, we might open our imaginations to what transformation looks like in us. There might be some work to do, but maybe most of it is allowing stuff to happen to us. One could make a case that the whole of Jesus’ ministry was about these two words: “Give yourself.” Give yourself to me and share abundant life. Give yourself away to one another and discover a large, round filled-to-overflowing life. You are seasoning for the earth and light for the planet, after all.

It’s human to want to give ourselves. We desire to see our existence expand past our perceived personal borders. A rich life means losing track of our individuality sometimes to know ourselves large, as Uncle Walt wrote.

Rumi:
“And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth,
‘You owe me.’
Look what happens with love like that.
It lights up the sky.”

What this means is that giving yourself is a spiritual practice. When we do it, we are magnetically drawn to Fullness and Goodness and Holy.

So we give ourselves to our kids and to our parents. We give ourselves to our neighbors, to our community, to our leaders because we witness life being more full.

We give ourselves to strangers, to the poor, to the widow, because that’s where we are most certainly present.

We give ourselves to the Samaritan, to the Muslim, to the bullied because we get clear on who we are.

We offer ourselves gift-wrapped to our unique and sometimes hard-to-explain callings.

When you eat, be mindful and completely savor. When you make love, be totally There. In fact, whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of Holiness.

Teachers, give yourself to your students. Nurses, give yourselves to your patients. Dentists, serve as unto the Holy One.

If you fish, consider yourself a fisher of humanity. Surrender to fishing, to the lake, to the fish. Make yourself part of the circle of life. Your life will lure the Holy, your fish will feed the world. Your heart, so present.

Like a gardener, full of hope and trust, plant seeds. Your nests will gather immigrants and strangers into Love.

We are up for anything the spirit of the Living God puts in our way today. We may set aside our preferences in order to serve. We may set aside our theological commitments to say yes to stretching and growing. We offer ourselves as students, disciples–  teachable, shapeable ones.

To One we lay ourselves open to service, open to healing, open to surprise and to an ever-emerging future.


Where Else Would God Be?

I heard him say, “The scandal of the Christian story is not that God became incarnate as a human. It’s that God is incarnate in every particle of creation. I mean… [dramatic pause] where else would God be?”

My Constructive Theology professor Dr. Eleazar Fernandez may never know how that woke me up.

“Where else would God be?”

The name Emmanuel means God With Us. The Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas is a recognition of God’s presence spun through creation. Now when church people talk about a particular day or season, it doesn’t mean it’s not real all the time. In this case, the Story of Christmas is that Holy breaks into our lives all the time, not just in late December.

But it’s good we have liturgical seasons to help us practice these kinds of things. Otherwise– for me, at least– all the rich bewilderment and awe of life would be hard to take in.

Most of us resist mystery to some extent. We gravitate toward literalism to help us bear the complexities of everyday life. Thank God for the artists, intuitives and mystics in our midst! If we’re not paying attention, our pet names for God tend to crystalize into an actual shape of God. Which most traditions call idolatry. (Sorry about that). In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis describes how the demons delight when their human patients come to revere an object representing the Holy-Beyond-Words instead of the Holy One.

A rich variety of language to describe the Divine Mystery primes our imagination for our own experience. Reminds us that G-d is greater than we can imagine, and will not be pigeon-holed. Poetry, art, music keeps us guessing, hungering, prying us away from literalism.

In the Biblical tradition, there are dozens of metaphors, images and models for G-d. Holding Scripture as revelation, we might notice the Holy One is likened to a Shepherd carefully guiding and protecting sheep. And also the breath and wind of the earth. A perfectly righteous judge. A nasty, crooked judge. Bread. Light. A wrestler who might take you down. A dread champion fighting for your life. A bird, a farmer, a song.

Jesus Christ!* There are tons of metaphors!  [*I enjoy a good non-blasphemous invocation, don’t you?]

It’s amazing to me that in all my years as a church-goer, I seldom have been invited into the wildly creative range we have access to.

I wonder why that is.

Sallie McFague suggests this model of God: the world.

Like a holy nest holding everything. Where nothing is left out and everything is sacred.

Take a moment to try that one on: G-d is the world, nothing more or less. A full incarnation here and now, nowhere where the Holy is not at work and at play.

– How would we treat the earth of we knew it to be Of God?

– How would we speak to one another if we considered each person a part of God’s very body?

– What if we knew God to have a full and universal presence, a continual and intimate influence?

– In this light, what would Christmas mean?

Fun to think about, huh? This brushes against what some theologians call Process Theology– God present in our seasons over time, God in the midst of change, God evolving and emerging as creation comes into our own.

Each icon has its limitations, but I offer you this one for this season of Advent when we know the Holy close. God in the manger. God in the cows. God within your wonderings and choices. God With Us here and now.

Where else would God be?

A song to celebrate and reflect:

The Body of God (click to listen with the lyrics)
From the CD Behold by The River’s Voice

i
God breaking through to our lives, but this is no great surprise
Babies and barns, green fields and farms
This is the body of God

A star in the dark sky we share, straw underfoot as we look up and stare
Each part of creation a perfect formation that lives as the body of God

Where else would God be but right here?
Inwithandthrough all we sense and we feel
God in the manger, God in the cows, God in the innkeeper’s mother’s eyebrows

ii
Sure was a marvelous night, the story of birth and new life
And the dreams and the fears of the new parents’ prayers were felt in the body of God

Just one more beautiful way God’s body blooms its array
Our Christmas story: one image of glory as we move in the body of God

Where else would God be but right here?
Transcendent and cosmic and at home in our tears
God in the common, God in the strange, God in Jesus’ very first diaper change

iii
These are unsettling times, and as I put my son down for the night
I can’t help but think how much kinder we’d be if we knew all of life, the world’s every plight
To be part of the body of God

Where else would God be but right here?
Under our noses and in the midst of our fears
God in our stories, God in the world, God in the pain and the Good News we’ve heard


On Men, Pregnancy and Advent

~ Act One ~

In Advent we track the stories of Mary and Elizabeth, divine Possibility ripening within their very bodies.

As a spiritual director, one of my favorite images for the spiritual life is being pregnant with Holy.

Meister Eckhart wrote that we are always pregnant with God, because God always wants to be born. I feel a Yes in me with that. Yet as imaginative as I might be, pregnancy– a basic mammalian fact of life–is something my XY-brothers and I will never fully understand.

That’s why men in particular need and long for the stories of women.

That’s one reason my favorite liturgical season is Advent.

The stereotype of men is that we are interested in fixing things (maybe because we break a lot of things), that we think we know it all (well, don’t we?), and that men don’t understand emotional intimacy (whatever).

Advent stories open up to men the validity and vitality of mystery, process and patient hope. These are central to any meaningful spiritual life, men and women alike. But maybe men need more practice.

Now, I tend to be a minimalist when it comes to gender differences. As different as men and women seem to be, we have common human experiences of life, just packaged and described in different ways. We grow in true humanity if we are ready to learn from one another instead of  treating the other gender as an interplanetary adversary.

So our ten-year-old son Sam knows exactly what happens in his mother’s body once a month. We’ve taught him– Trish and I together– because we want him to know what it means to be fully human. Trish’s moon cycle is a moment we acknowledge sensitivity and power that resonates with all gender identities. In the world-making endeavor that any parenting is, Trish and I are bent on creating a world where humans have respect for the feminine and masculine and everything else, too.

Men and boys are paying attention in Advent.

~ Act Two ~

There are literally dozens of models and metaphors for Divine Presence in what we call scripture. Yet in worship G-d is almost always portrayed in one way: a powerful, human, male authority figure. You’ve noticed this, right? The very premise of worship is built around this model. We may hear different kinds of texts on a Sunday morning and get the occasional gee-whiz non-“traditional” poetic, but on the whole, G-d is imagined as masculine (say, King, Lord, Father, Warrior or Judge). And the appropriate response to this kind of authority would naturally be worship and submissive obedience.

Now there are good and faithful reasons for this, most dear to me as a Psalmist being the ancient Hebrew reverence for G-d. If YHWH has a  name too sacred to be spoken, you get creative real fast about how to describe the mystery of covenant. You draw on the most accessible relationships of corporate goodness and power in current society, which for the most part, at least publicly, were male. That understanding is part of our heritage that some would say is inherently sexist. Either way, it’s here for us to work with.

For many American 21st-century Christians, in terms of God-talk, we eat what’s served. And what’s on our plate most every meal, even after all these years, is Big Man In The Sky. For many of us, though, even within the tight quarters of anthropomorphic images, that god is too small.

So I love Advent. Finally we get to hear about women, and the men who love them take a back seat. In these stories G-d has feminine patience and weaves stories of relationship like an auntie, like a matriarch. One that has no qualms about shutting a man up or sending an angel to open a can on him.

We are reminded in these four weeks that the essence of the Holy One of Israel is to seed, nurture, deliver, name, entrust, call and bless.

~ Act Three ~

Attention, worship leaders! Preachers, musicians, lectors, youth leaders!

This Advent, I implore you to deliver the feminine stories that are in our collective face. Be direct. In this season of the feminine, give the women the microphone.

  • As a call to worship, invite women who have been pregnant to describe what it’s like.
  • Show images of bodies bulging with child.
  • Invite your congregation to touch their own bellies during prayer, asking “What holy wonder is my life pregnant with?” and “How are we preparing for the Christ to be born in us today?”
  • Invite silent moments to watch and listen to a baby among you. Yep, right in worship.
  • Show ultrasound pics of a growing embryo on the screens each Sunday in Advent. How are we growing? Is our church Showing?
  • Invite moms and grandmothers to blog about their experiences of pregnancy and childbirth.
  • Initiate service projects serving women and babies
  • Living with the metaphor of pregnancy and birthing the Holy, invite the community to name the “baby: how do we describe what God is doing with our congregation, in our neighborhood, in our families, in our hearts. How would we name our calling?

You’re wondering if it’s too sexy.

Well, the Incarnation is about Emmanuel— God With Us–the scandalous Story that the divine would tabernacle among us.

So give it to us straight and real, and as human-body-earthy as it comes. The alternative would be to continue the strand of Christianity that is stoic and gnostic, separating heaven and earth, prying apart spirit and body, divorcing the Christ from creation. I say go with the disruption that pregnancy offers us in Advent. Let’s see what emerges at the end of term.

Penultimately, listen to a song for the season: Trish’s rendition of Amy Grant and Chris Eaton’s Breath of Heaven.

In closing, a seed of a song for you men and you women. I think it’ll be a waltz. Maybe the music will be married to it by next Advent.

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting

verse i
Wave upon wave of some kind of promise
I stand in awe of this Life
Like the last seed on a desolate planet
A promise inside that has its own light

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting

verse ii
So let it be with me just like all time
I give myself to this Life
Yes, I am here to give birth to the new Christ
Like everything else, bearing the Light

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting

bridge
Bending so low to usher the hungry to the fantastic banquet of Life
This whole world is a mother in labor, her darkness relieved by one baby light

chorus
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy

Some wonderful thing soon emerging
Pregnant with Holy, pregnant with Holy
Now all of the world hopes in waiting


When Your Theology Changes

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Carl Jung wrote that a Circle is an archetype for wholeness or God. We are always drawn toward it, June Singer said, yet “to fly straight into it would be like a moth darting into a flame.”

I guess, like Moses, we don’t look directly at the Holy. We circle around. We admire its posterior, its profile, its moving shadow.

At seminary I heard all theology is autobiography. True, I think. If we’re paying attention, all our life experiences are naturally integrated into a Story of what’s holding them together. We come up with integral symbols, signs and words that help us make sense of it all: theology. God-talk. The witness of Scripture is that. We’re designed to do that, too.

We are God-seeking, tower-circling, hungry-by-design, circumnavigating-Life-by-instinct creatures.

You’re a falcon circling.
When Rilke describes circling around the Tower, it’s what all of us are always doing.

Whatever language and symbols you have going right now for the Holy One, it hasn’t always been this way. Your autobiography has grown with your years on the planet, and your theology has developed with you. Each time you’ve crystalized a personal belief, it’s been merely a stepping stone of long-haul enlightenment.

In other words, your theology has evolved.

You’re a storm circling.
Like a scientist in the lab, when something interesting happens, our definitions are disrupted and our Story of God grows beyond its previous borders. Bill Moyers’ Genesis: A Living Conversation project suggested the narrative of the Older Testament is really the Story of God evolving in the human experience. Your story is a kind of scripture, too. Everyone’s is.

We know change happens, yet when seasons of transformation dawn, we pretend to be surprised. As if life is supposed to be stagnant and smooth, and moments of transition are really messing it all up. Humans are funny.

Pete Seeger said we can’t know the whole Truth. We can only circle round the gorse-berry bush hearing the rabbit, pointing and saying, “It’s in there somewhere.” Observe a sculpture with three trusted friends at the compass points, and you have access to four different views, all true, all different. The community, friends, church, sanga, is a vital thing in your God-Story evolving.

Paul Tillich said the word “God” is so old and tired, it should be banished from our vocabulary for about a thousand years. Then that word might begin to mean something again. We outgrow language sometimes.

When you come to a place where old words don’t work anymore, tell someone. Because that’s the Christ story unfolding: death and resurrection, and old wineskins breaking. When a season of questioning moves through, share that story of Christ emerging. Don’t circle alone, at least not for long. Your story– everyone’s story– is something we need to hear. I’ve been part of some communities over the years where seasons of deep questioning are avoided as a failure of faith. I’ve been part of others that treat these seasons as holy moments where faith is growing. I hope you have a sense of being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses where your Story of God is welcomed, honored and treated as revelation. After all, didn’t he say something about being born again? And again?

You’re a song circling.
Who are you? After a thousand years, maybe we can say with Rilke, “I still don’t know.” Maybe the point of a creative, juicy life is to lose track of ourselves and know ourselves to be In Holy Process. We think we know what the point is; we think it’s all about the tower. But what about the circumnavigated path you’ve worn? Your favorite beverage on the journey? The weather lo these many years of orbiting? The company and the conversations? These are all parts of a spiritual life. The experiences of a true Christ life cannot always be neatly filed.

To conclude, let’s stretch the metaphor with Rilke:

You are circling ’round the One Holy Tower– a falcon, a storm, a song.

You’re a lover dancing round your Beloved.

You’re a storyteller wondering about the twist at the end,
a hawk patrolling her valley,
a youngster on the playground with one end of the  jumprope, whirling, whirling with your friend.

You’re an explorer of God downloading continuously to a universal core.

When your theology is changing, you are in the midst of a Holy Endeavor.