On the Incarnation of Joy

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The birth of Christ is a miracle that happens everyday.  Likely, you have experienced it too.  After some stretch of darkness.  In the winter of the heart.  In the daunting face of a reality that we can finally open our eyes and behold.  Maybe with someone holding our hand.  Usually in some cold manger night, in some strange place, in a challenge that seems insurmountable.  Beholding begets humility.  It moves us from a place of denial, from a place of anger into the tenuous realm of acceptance.  Here looms the ominous threat of annihilation.   Can we survive the void?  The deep caverns of the unknown?  Are we strong enough to make the journey into new life?  

I stepped into that chasm about six months ago, when I resigned from my full time job as a youth minister in the Episcopal Church where I had worked for the past ten years and moved to Moorhead, Minnesota as my husband accepted a new teaching position here.  When I telephoned the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota (which includes the Fargo-Moorhead area) they sighed when I inquired about continuing my youth ministry work in the area.  I learned that this area (which is Lutheran country) is sort of an Episcopalian mission field.  Of the few Episcopal churches in the area (that makes three) most are made up of part time clergy and lay ministers who volunteer their time and talents.  And though I have talents and time to share (and will) I also need to help pay the bills.  And so my new career search began.

I had this dream, for years I have had this dream, of creating alternative liturgies to help heal the body.  Naturally I was drawn to the church.  I have considered ordination.  (I may still be considering it.)  But first, I needed to do something else.  I needed to work on my own healing if I wanted to help others heal.  So I wrote a memoir to work through the issues in my past.  And I began practicing yoga to work on healing my body.  When we moved to the great white north, I serendipitously began yoga teacher training.

The practice of yoga is more than postures (or asana).  Yoga means to “yoke” or “unite.”  Yoga is about wholeness.  It is not a religion in itself.  Practicing yoga is simply adding to your spiritual toolbox.  In asana, we practice uniting the breath (prana) with the movements of the body.  The Hebrew word for breath is ruach, and in the story of Genesis 1, it is the breath of God that creates the universe.  To be alive–to be filled with spirit–is to be filled with the breath.   When we are breathing deeply and fully we are bringing life healing energy into our bodies.  We are incarnating the Spirit as we open ourselves to receive the nourishment of our breath.  Just this very simple attention and practice of breathing and mindfulness can dramatically change our lives and our health.

I applied for jobs as a baby photographer, as a web designer, I even went looking for bar tending jobs.  I started to panic.  I began to reassess my dreams and goals.  I wasn’t interested in making money just to pay the bills.  I wanted to move on the dream in my heart.  And so I stepped out it faith.  And things started to happen.

Monday night I will begin teaching my first yoga class at The Spirit Room in downtown Fargo.  I am developing a class called Healing Yoga.  We will fill our bodies with restorative and energizing breath.  We will bring the breath into our fears and aches.  We will listen to our dreams, sing, chant, and move our bodies like liturgical movements that build to that most holy union of spirit and flesh.

I will also begin teaching at the Fargo YMCA (schedule to follow) which comes with the perks of free child care while I work.  I feel like I am beginning another journey into the unknown, carrying these seeds of hope.  I also feel carried by invisible hands and so supported by friends and family.  I am so grateful to be doing what I love and to witness the universe tending to our basic needs as I pursue the incarnation of my joy in the world.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!   I am praying that all of your joy may manifest in the world too.

 

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The Woman of the Light

EarthCreecher’ features another guest blogger, Mary Ann McDowell,  for our series in Advent reflecting on the incarnation.  If you would like to take some time in this busy season to stop and mediate on the energy and meaning of this season for you, we would love to hear from you too!  Submission guidelines can be found here
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Incarnation. I looked at the word on the page.

“Incarnation: a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit or abstract quality.”

Nope. Not me. No chance. This has been a year of change for me. I left an abusive relationship just over a year ago. At this time last year, I would not have named it that, but that’s what it was. A year ago, I was not the woman I really am. I cowered in corners, didn’t speak much, kept opinions to myself. I was stupid, I was weak, I was incapable. These were the voices in my head, and they mirrored the voices of someone in my life. I was terrified. I was convinced that those voices were right. I was going to fall on my face, and fail, yet again. My world was dark, and I was in so much pain, an almost constant dull ache that grew and swelled and subsided, but never really went away. Then something happened.

Through those pains and through the darkness, I could see a glimmer of light, a small pin prick in the distance. I turned towards it. It was far away. I felt the darkness closing in around me as I pushed my way towards that faint glow. It was a difficult road. So often I thought that I would not be strong enough to make the journey. The light seemed beyond my reach. But then, I could see someone in the light.

A woman beckoned me towards her. She was bathed in the light. I was immediately drawn to her warmth, her strength, her compassion, and her beauty. She gave me strength to escape the darkness, and as I did, she folded me into her being. I had given birth, and I had been born.

“Incarnation: a person who embodies a deity.”

No, that word didn’t fit….. My soul emerged from that darkness, into the light of a new day. I was reborn. Although I was still in the same old body, the rebirth of my soul certainly felt like a reincarnation. The world around me had begun to take on a new light, new colours emerged, new beauty. I was very much like an infant trying to make sense of her world. People began to see me in a new and different way; I really was a new person.  And as such, I began to live in new ways.

I began to be intentional in my life and in my living. I reconnected with many from my past who had been important to me, and I connected with others who quickly became important to me. They all saw something in me that I did not yet see, I was still struggling with the old voices; I was still living just on the edge of that darkness. These wonderful people in my life supported me when the darkness called again. They drew me out.  They helped raise this child.

There were times when I could see the beautiful woman from the light, beckoning me once again. She was there only fleetingly, and I began to feel the need to find her. She had rescued me, and I wanted to thank her. Then there came a time when I couldn’t find her anymore. She had shown me the way, and I was grateful to her, but she had disappeared when I emerged. I started to sense her, more than see her. She was with me, still elusive, but with me. The negative voices started to subside – all but one.

This voice was the voice in my head that said that I was unattractive, that I was ugly, that I was unworthy of love. When this voice spoke, all others were drowned out. So many people confronted that voice, and told it to go. It diminished, but it was still there. At times the woman from the light seemed completely absent. I would see her when the voice wasn’t there, but when the voice was strong, it seemed to drive her away. Then one day, quite by chance I saw her out of the corner of my eye, and she was close.

I looked again, and was in disbelief. She was here; she was in my reflection. “That couldn’t possibly be!” I thought to myself. “She is so strong, so compassionate, so warm, so beautiful. She is not me….” And then I stopped. I thought about all of the things my friends and loved ones had been saying. They were not describing the me that I had been seeing; they had been describing this woman who I felt had been eluding me all along. This woman, this divine woman who had saved me – this woman was me. I am the warm, strong, compassionate and even beautiful woman that had been here all along. Incarnation: the embodiment of the divine. Yes, I had given birth, and I had been born. The divine, which dwells in me had been born in me, and I in Her.

Mary Ann is a mom, food banker, part-time student, blogger, and seeker of the divine feminine.  Her blog can be found at mamcdowell416.wordpress.com and you can follow her on twitter @mamcdowell1.

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Advent Reflections: Pain is Determined to Be Heard, by guest blogger Kate Green

This is the first reflection offered in our advent series on our experiences of incarnation.  To submit a piece for consideration please email Jessica at jessicajcreech@gmail.com and see the guidelines here.

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Back in May, when my job involved being surrounded by little ones who were not my own, I hurt my neck. I assumed I slept on it wrong and pinched a nerve, but the sports med doctor I saw two months later assured me that, no, pain like I had doesn’t come about by sleeping, but by moving. It’s in the resting for hours later that my body had time and space to register the pain. And with that comment, a journey began in which God spoke clearly and distinctly to me, through me. Or rather through my body.

I started physical therapy a little nervous. I am in no way, and have never been (even when I played softball that one year in high school just because my sister did) athletic. I was feeling guilty and ashamed and sure the therapist would blame me for the pain I was in, due to my lack of caring for myself. I waited with trepidation until she called me back and we began. And she, well, she was amazing. She spoke words of life and encouragement and I knew, I just knew, that this was something way beyond becoming pain-free. This was something sacred.

“Don’t invalidate your pain. Don’t brush it off or think it isn’t a big deal. Don’t dismiss it by comparing it to others whose pain is worse.”

Yep. First session and she had me pegged as she spoke those words to me. A month later when the pain flared up again as I did some work in my son’s classroom, she reminded me that

“With movement, comes pain, and life involves movement.”

Life. Movement. Pain. There was something there and I needed to listen. I needed to start listening to my pain. It was telling me something, telling me that I was alive and that as one alive, there was pain. Pain that I was trying hard to brush away, to fix, to get rid off as fast as I possibly could. Deep emotional pain that was forcing itself on my body, determined to be heard.

I was thinking this morning of how I feel things so intensely in my body. How emotions move through me with power and force. When I am afraid, I am gut-wrenchingly sick-to-my-stomach afraid. When I am sad, each ragged breath is almost too much to bear. When someone I love is hurting, my heart literally aches for them. When my children valiantly walk their way through hurtful situations, I feel it deep in me. Pain is a felt thing for me.

I am learning that healing needs to be a felt thing for me. Many a day I’ve sat at my piano crying out to God with every movement of my fingers, feeling the release as they move along the keys. Too few mornings, I follow my PT regiment with purpose, feeling the release as each muscle pulls and relaxes. In quiet moments before the after-school rush, I breath deep, full breaths, feeling the release as my heartbeat slows and space for God to move opens up.

Having this body that moves and feels pain and breathes life, I am speechless when I remember

“And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

I close my eyes and try to fathom this Man feeling pain in His flesh. This Man walking, touching, laughing, crying, sleeping. This Man breathing life, one ragged breath after another. I think of how His Spirit moved through His body with passion, and at times with anguish, as the NIV says. I think of Him taking into Himself the pain of the world and really living that pain. Feeling that pain.

To live advent, to know Christmas, for me this year, is to let the Spirit have free reign in my body. I don’t know what God is birthing in me but I know that the same Spirit who hovered over Mary is doing something. When each step forward feels wrought with anxiety… when my soul burns within me… when my heart is stretched and pulled, I think of my therapist gently cradling my head in her arms, enfolding me with care, twisting and turning, not to inflict more pain, but to bring release, and I remember to surrender to the movement. I walked out of physical therapy pain-free but with the knowledge that staying pain-free was a precarious thing dependent in great part on listening to my body, leaning into what it is saying, and letting myself be fully alive in it.

Kate Green is a Jesus follower, mom, friend and neighbor who enjoys contemplative prayer, Coldplay, and the Detroit Tigers. She cares deeply about lgbtq inclusion and autism acceptance, and really can’t live without a constant supply of grace and coffee.  You can follow her on Twitter @cgmama.  

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Now receiving submitions for my advent blog!

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Calling all bloggers to submit a reflection on the incarnation for my blog this advent. Specifically share how you have experienced God in your body or conversely tell of your experience of the absence of God in your flesh. I love the theology of advent, particularly this idea that we are all created to be God-bearers. But I am curious about how one makes their body a sacred dwelling place in a culture that often devalues and objectifies the body. How do you handle this tension?  I also love the feminine implications of this reflection: let us all imagine ourselves pregnant with holiness. Write about how you carry and nourish what is sacred within.

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Download some sacred music for your Advent & Christmas season.

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December 1, 2013 · 7:50 pm

Are Men’s Bible Studies Killing the Church?

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The church’s cancer is insidious.  But we know it’s here, growing, consuming all that is sacred and if we don’t do something to stop it now, the fabric of our society and our world will be torn beyond repair and we will lose everything that is holy to us.  But let’s thank the Lord that we have the tools we need to direct the radiation and begin the treatment.

We know the feminists really messed up the God ordained structures of our society.  Our men were emasculated and our children were abandoned.  Suddenly men thought we really needed one another.  We thought that talking to others like ourselves would help us understand our unexpressed thoughts and feelings.  We needed the reassurance of our faith.  We needed to build up our trust in an all powerful God.  We needed more hugs and we began to call one another brother.  We needed family ministries because our families were falling apart.  The church doubled down and courageously survived the waves of feminism.  Thank the Lord, no one started praying to Sophia on Sunday or radically changed our time worn liturgies and languages to reflect that anything but the ancient belief that only the male sex can hold divine qualities.  Yes, some of us allowed girls to become pastors and priests–but only if these girls were able to support the powerful God-ordained patriarchal top down order of the church.  Sustaining this order is certainly the key to the church’s survival.  But here we are, having won the battle of the sexes and still: our churches are dying.  And it is with this understanding that I have come to realize how men’s bible studies have become the cancer that is infecting us all.  And because we can take it:  you can begin directing the radiation here.

Kate Murphey recently claimed that Youth Ministry is killing the church.  But let’s man up a little bit.  Children are an easy target.   Do we really want to send our kids to the front lines of this cancerous battle?  Maybe.  I’ll be the first to say it:  If we are going to cut youth ministry, then it’s time to surrender our men’s bible studies too.  We too have become our own sort of mickey-mouse eared church.  We are like a clique that lives to serve it’s own selfish purpose.   We have deep conversations that are meaningful together that no one else would understand.  Damn, we have even cried together.  But it’s time to grow up now and be a role model for our youth.  It’s time to get thicker skin.  I know that this will be difficult for us to do, and that’s when it hit me:  a radically reinvention of church is necessary.

I mean, we really can’t afford to hire a youth minister anyway, so let’s just be honest about why we think it’s youth ministry that is killing the church.  That certainly alleviates a lot of pressure.  After all it’s nearly impossible to find someone who is willing to work at such a low wage with no insurance, who actually has a theological education, who has been trained in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd or Godly Play and understands the spirituality of the child anyways.  Besides, even if we found someone willing to do this work, it would require the parish to embrace this spirituality of the child and we may have to radically change church in ways we can’t control.  Honestly, and let’s admit what we only post on other blogs anonymously: youth ministers are really just immature people who don’t really deserve our respect.  I mean, they work with children after all, children who are not even fully human and put very little into our offering plates on Sunday mornings anyways.

Whatever Jesus said about becoming like a little child to understand the heart of Christian spirituality is forgetting how much fun it is to practice a religion filled with masochistic guilt.  Our graying congregations have already figured out the secret to building a vibrant community and it’s not by self-serving anyone but our inner curmudgeon.  What little children need to understand is how to worship like grown ups.  They need to put down their iPhones and come rake my leaves.

It’s time to put a stop to all the tender feel good ministries of the church and get everyone back in their uncomfortable pews on Sunday morning.  It’s time to stop asking questions, stop having meaningful conversations with our peers.  We all should be forced into a community with people and that’s why no one is going to be allowed to pick their own seat anymore.  We’ll assign pews so everyone must sit by strangers because the most important thing about church isn’t being comfortable or welcoming, but perfecting the liturgy and keeping our bills paid.  (In fact, lets all invite our rich friends because the poor have become such a drain on us in this economy).  Let’s cut all the fluff ministries. No more kids programs.  No more men’s bible studies or women’s groups.  No more home visitations (what have they done for us lately?)  And yes, no more youth ministry.

But let’s be honest about why we’re doing this.  It’s because our overworked priest really gives us all that we need for one hour on Sunday.  The rest of us already know that we are not worthy and could never live up to our priest’s spiritual standards and that’s why we’d rather not get involved anyway.  And frankly, we’re quite happy to carry the burden of guilt because we enjoy suffering silently.  And besides, being passive aggressive is actually kind of an exciting way to live one’s life when you’ve got nothing better to live for.

It’s time to cut the crap and get our churches back on track.  And I’m willing to give up the ministries that feed my soul in order to do that.

–J. Creech  was an immature Youth Minister in the Episcopal Church for ten years,  who unwittingly helped kill the church by creating sacred spaces for children of all ages to respond to God at age appropriate levels.  

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An Ode to Candy Corn

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You are the Goddess of all Halloween candy

I don’t care what they say,

Don’t listen to Stephen Colbert, and the millions of consumers who cannot see your true artistry

Listen to me.

I see all of you.

And I will love you forever

In spite of your corn syrup and Red dye #40.

I focus on the positive

Your sweet delectable beauty.

Your white tips are like snow covered mountains,

That touch the sacred heavens,

A drop of milk from a mother’s breast,

You’re simply the best!

Your center, as brilliant as the orange leaves

That I saw for like 2 days before the Fargo winds

Ripped them down from the trees

And buried them deep in the earth.

Your golden base is a ray of light

That descends all the way into the dead

And rises again

After 8 months of f*cking winter.

You are the color of the yellowing grasses

I meditate on in the fall

Peed on by dogs

And dying in the cold

As I dread the first snow.

You come in the kiss of seasons

In the thin places

I hope to keep around my waist.

You are a holy undivided trinity of color

Of hope,

Of childhood nostalgia.

And so I will feast on you

My chalk-like manna,

Cloaked in confectioner’s glaze

And carnauba wax,

You are my wind, my rain, my tummy ache.

Now and forever,

Amen.

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