Tag Archives: spirituality

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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Contemporary Gnostic Churches Leave Incarnational Theology to Yoga & Meditation

meditating woman

I stared at the cobwebs in the corner of the church nursery this morning and wondered how many years of dust bunnies and bugs were burrowed inside of them.  The nursery was in the basement of the church, three levels down, closer to the underworld than the sun.  Many church nurseries are located in such distant places, far away from the adult activities which are usually located in much more lavish spaces.  This is a dead give away of how the church really feels about children, regardless of what they say.  This Lutheran church had two services happening in two lavish spaces at the same time!  And here we were, the visitors, stuck in the nursery with cobwebs and three kids–two who would much prefer to run rather than sit in church.  My husband flopped his dressed up self  into  a rocking chair and said, “It was HARD to get here.  And now I get to sit in the nursery and watch my own kids?  I could do that at home, in my underwear!”  I picked up a board book titled, Anger, Understanding Your Feelings and offered to read to him.

We watched a part of the service on the small screen TV hung in the corner with glitchy sound.  A handful of kids came up for the children’s message which involved the pastor making exaggerated movements with his hands, talking louder than usual, and making the parents laugh.

I wondered why so often children are used as adult props.  Tucked away.  Seen and not heard.  Or not seen at all.  Why children’s spirituality is still relegated to chucking marshmallows at Goliath or making some corn-syrupy snack that will send them home ready to bounce off the walls all afternoon.  

Despairing, we left.  And my husband got to watch the kids in his PJ’s at home (while I took a nap!  YES!)

Tonight I went to a different sort of holy gathering.  I went to a yoga studio and practiced my first guided meditation.  There were no bulletins handed out.  Just blankets and pillows. The studio was on the third floor of an old building with windows that looked out over the city of Fargo.  The sun was just beginning to set and the sheer white curtains softened the light.  We sat for the first five minutes and just breathed.  I listened to my heart beat slow down.  I let go of tension in my eyebrows and shoulders.  Then the teacher said, “Meditating may make your family, friends and coworkers upset with you.  Here you will learn to listen with your heart.  The heart doesn’t always go with the flow.  It doesn’t promote someone else’s agenda or business or family value.  Meditation is hard.  So many have used spirituality to escape their lives.  But we are going back into our lives and into our bodies.  Meditation is going into the places of pain so that our life can be released back into the world.”  I wanted to shout, “Amen!”

I listened to our teacher talk about the wisdom of the body.  “The body knows,” he said.  “And sometimes it’s easier not to know the things that the body knows.” I thought of my children.  I thought of the freedom they have in their bodies.  How the little ones love to run around naked with wide smiles on their faces.  How they have not yet learned shame or much pain in their bodies yet.  My eldest is on the cusp of puberty and growing more clumsy, like I did.  I didn’t know how to live in a grown up body.  Some days I still don’t.  I thought of how us adults have learned to wear masks.  Sometimes we forget that we are even wearing them.  Sometimes we become the mask.  Sometimes we have no idea what we really feel.  Sometimes we rather be told what to do so we don’t have to deal with the unknown.  And then I realized that this is why children’s spirituality (and my own) isn’t thriving in the church.  My hunch is that the church is generally afraid of the body’s wisdom (we go for the traditional).  It is afraid of sexuality (many are still arguing over whether or not to welcome LGBTQ, an easy target for our shadows).  We keep the embodied children far away (where moth and dust does destroy.)

In meditation I practiced scanning my body and allowing my breath to enter all the nooks and crannies.  I found pain in my stomach and lots of guilt for beginning to paving my own spiritual path outside of the church institution and my family’s values.  I sat with it  for longer than I am usually allowed to confess my sins in the liturgy.  I prayed.  I breathed.  I became aware of it, acknowledged it and it dissipated.  It was an in the flesh transformation.

After meditation no one stayed for coffee.  (They probably all went home and juiced kale.)  The whole experience was very private.  And wonderful.  And missing the community and relationships and children that are vital for spirituality too.  What I really want is this:  I want it all.  I want a spiritual community that values the body, children, women, LGBTQ, men, the old and the young and everything in between.  I had a seminary professor who used to say that the church today is Gnostic.  I never got it until recently.  Gnostics thought the body was bad.  They were more interested in the ideas and their secret wisdom.  And even after all the anathematizing and killing and Nicene Creeding, we still forget how important the body is.  People are going to yoga on Sunday mornings (or staying home to sleep or watch their kids in their underwear) because something essential is missing from church.  Something embodied.  It’s going to be hard to guilt us back into church.  Our lives are filled with guilt, anxiety and stress.  What we really need is a sip of living water, a taste of eternal (and gluten free) bread.  

So how do we live in an embodied spiritual community that truly values being transformed by love, where our spirits are nurtured and our flesh is healed in sacred spaces cleared of cobwebs?  This is a question I will continue to pursue both in and outside of the church.  I hope you will explore it with me too.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Great religions…

Great religions are the
Ships

Poets the life
Boats

Every sane person I know has jumped
Overboard

That is good for business
Isn’t it?

-Hafiz

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September 2, 2013 · 4:08 pm

God is not Dead. Religion, Maybe.

religion
Today I want to take on the simple task of redefining religion.

I feel bad for the word, frankly.  It’s become such a dirty word, a creepy complex, instant joy kill.  Many people (in whose company I much enjoy) prefer to wear the “spiritual not religious” name tag at social gatherings.  And I can understand why they want to distance themselves from the trappings of the “r” word.  It’s like hoping your abusive x-boy friend will give you everything you’ve ever dreamed of and more.

Many of us have been hurt by organized religion.  When religion isn’t meaningful, if the symbols no longer function, it dies.  (Thus my entry on Good Friday.)  Many of us have already gotten over that heart break and are not about to pick the scab off.

Nietzsche said God was dead.  But I want to argue otherwise:  Maybe it is the stench of religion that has not yet come out of the tomb.  Christianity is dying in America, despite the fact that most people still confess to believe in God or some Higher Power and are still interested in cultivating a meaningful life and putting their gifts of service into practice in the world.

If our daily and weekly practices–whatever they are–have become merely rituals void of transformation–or worse–kept us living in a grave or from making any connection to the numinous (this could include a bad job or a bad relationship), if our lifestyles leave us lifeless and loveless, if guilt and obligation are all we are getting out of it, then maybe God is not dead after all.  Maybe She’s just opening a farmer’s market down the road but we much prefer our old couch and our diet of frozen microwavables.

After the pity party, I decided not to buy my religion at Wal-Mart anymore.  I didn’t want the easy cheap grace.  I wanted something of quality and substance that didn’t make a profit off of abusing people within the organization.  So I went local, homegrown, organic.

“The Kingdom of God is Within You.”
–The Gospel of Thomas

And the strangest thing happened.  I fell in love with religion again.  I didn’t recognize her at first.  (I had accidentally once mistaken her for a TV evangelist with too much make up.)  She was so much more down to earth.  She led me to ancient practices and taught me new ones.  She became the hand made set of garden tools decorated by my children.  The mocha colored mud boots made of recycled materials.  She’s my favorite overalls, the old button up blue jean shirt.  Religion is the paisley gloves I put on to tend my spiritual garden so my dreams are not left at the cocktail party, but planted in my skin, in my heart and in the world.

Maybe church helps you do this or temple or mosque or yoga studio.  Maybe none of these do.  I hope you find something that does.  For the human journey is one of meaning making.  Spirit and flesh co-mingling, co-creating.  Religion is simply the practices in our lives that help us connect to the Divine. 

Sometimes other people can give us their spiritual tools and they work for us.  Sometimes we have to make our own.   Because our dreams belong in the world.  And when we are dreaming God’s dreams, not even death can stop the beautiful bloom.

So let me try that “r” word again.  Religion.  Your earthy garden garb.  Your greenhouse.  Your sacred texts.  Your yoga mat.  Your confession.  Your meditation.  Your morning cup of Joe.   Your night time bubble bath.  Whatever it is that makes you grow.

I’d love to hear how you are currently connecting with the Divine in your life.  And what you think about the “r” word.

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Hornets, Weeds, Water, Seeds

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image from acelebrationofwomen.org

There is a hornet in the room
and one of us will have to go
out the window into the late
August midafternoon sun.
-James Schuyler

A man stands in front of an audience of teenagers and asks, “How many of you have contemplated suicide?”  It is evident that he is a good speaker and has already won their trust because all of their hands rise into the air.  “We all do,” he says, “because change is always about something dying.”

When it’s time to change, death comes to us and asks,  “What needs to die?”  The answer is not our body.  Not our soul.  It’s whatever is holding us back.  It’s the hornet who has to go out the window, not us.

Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
-Fleetwood Mac

Sometimes I don’t know the answers to these questions.  But I try to remind myself that don’t have to know the answers.  Today, all I need to do is sail through the ocean tide of now.  To be present and to breathe.  If I can practice this today, and then again tomorrow, I can stop worrying about the future because I am cultivating a life of peace by tending these seeds.  And someday I’ll have a garden.  And fruit. And maybe some kale too.

So may we be gentle with ourselves today.  Pull the weeds that block the light. And soak in the river of life, the river beneath our feet.  It’s always flowing.  It’s always giving.  The tides may be changing, but we can open our roots, our hands and our windows.  Release the hornet to the wind and receive ourselves again.

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Bidden or Not Bidden the Goddess is Present

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There is no doubt Beyonce was worshiped last night.  My Twitter and Facebook feed lit up with praise and adoration, boys and men tweeted their longing for the Goddess, while women and girls posted props for her triumph of girl power.  As I behold the image above, I see how the two faces create a chalice in the center–a symbol of the divine feminine.

While Beyonce and all the alluring young women of our time will eventually grow old–the Goddess of Love will not.  She will continue to enchant humanity as She incarnates flowering and fiery young maidens throughout time.

The Goddess is bidden in American culture.  We worship Her in magazines, models and movie stars.  We use Her to sell ads and run our economy.  A part of us knows She’s not entirely human: She’s airbrushed, adorned and acted.  Still, we need Her with us.  Her beauty reminds us that life is worth living.  Her power ignites our dormant energy and calls us to unite and create new life together.

The Goddess is not bidden in Christianity.  The Apostle Paul and the early Church Fathers steered Hellenistic Christianity away from the Pantheon of Greek Goddesses.  It has been suggested that the earliest form of the Holy Trinity was derived from the Gnostics: Father (The Creator), Mother (Sophia) and Son (Christ).  Later Christianity removed the Mother and replaced it with Holy Spirit, who is called a He in the Nicene Creed that is recited each week by millions around the world.

A major theological stumbling block to donning the female form with divinity in the church has been the historic vilification of the flesh which is said to war against the Holy Spirit.  In Romans 7:18 the Apostle Paul writes, “I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is in my flesh,” a statement that would be very difficult for many pregnant mothers to make.  The 4th and 5th century theologian Augustine coined the term “original sin” which has gone on to shape humanity’s loathing self image–a move away from what is written in the book of Genesis, where it is written that God created male and female and called them “very good.”

When the flesh and the desires of the flesh were deemed sinful, so were women, sexuality and the simple joys of life itself:  nourishing food, comfortable clothes, a cozy home, a lover, a family all appeared frivolous distractions from a God who detested carnal impurities.  These values belonged to the silenced Greek Goddesses–Hestia, Demeter, Aphrodite.

Furthermore, this Christian God looks suspiciously Gnostic as it tries even today to escape the flesh rather than incarnate it as Christ has, descending into all the mire–even death–to show us that God is present everywhere–maybe even in a Superbowl half time show.

As I watched Beyonce’s gyrating hips I could not simply think this woman was merely dancing.  I remembered that there were once temples devoted to the Sacred Prostitute, places of initiation into the sexual mysteries.  As I watched the orchestrated movements, the flames, the unfolding ritual, it was clear that Beyonce embodied the ancient Priestess.

Is this really girl power, this way of being that is clearly not for young girls or the elderly, but women of a certain age range, and a certain look?  Are there any other kinds of power available to girls and women throughout their life time?  Many of us are unfamiliar with the other forms the Goddess presents to women of all ages, because we have been raised on male gods and their preferences.

In my church, the Episcopal Church, which has been known as one of the most progressive branches of the church for women and gay rights, this is image of God we worship every Sunday in the Rite II Eucharist (using Prayer D):

Frequency of Names for God used in the most recent edition of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, 1979 in the Rite II Eucharist with Prayer D.

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The highest frequency of names for God are male. The values of rule and power are thus equated with the Divine.  If this is what is said in our more progressive churches, I think it’s fair to say the average Christian church worships one similar or even more masculine.  Maybe this is why it’s so easy for us in American Christian society to ignore the teachings of Jesus and abide instead by Machiavelli’s ethos that might makes right.  We worship the winners and forget that Jesus hung out with the losers.

And maybe this is why it is so dangerous for women to speak of rape.  It challenges the power that male gods propagate.  (Does God’s visit to the young virgin Mary echo an old story of divine rape?)  If Beyonce was raped last night, would the same culture who praised her say she deserved it?  Would they say: look at how she was dressed, she was asking for it?  We all know where the pendulum goes: to the light and to the shadow.  (I once worked for a Catholic priest who either adored me or belittled me; he struggled to find equality and humanity with women.)  We may have left religion–but the Goddess is still present.  Even if her sexuality is still split from our spirituality.  Even if the church is dying–religion lives on, even unconsciously.

If being sexy for a general audience is the only power a woman has available to her in her lifetime,  then women will continue to loath their flesh and the creative life force within.  Many will cut themselves off from their sexuality to remain traditionally spiritual.  Others will cut themselves off from traditional religion, the pleasures of food, or their very own bodies in order to remain sexual.

We need the whole Goddess and all the stories she inhabits.  We need to say Her holy names week after week so that we can learn Her ways.  If we can excavate Her divinity from the annals of time, redeem her from the ground of our being, I believe we will create a more sacred space to raise our daughters, our dignity and our divinity.

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The Feast of Epiphany

Photograph by Kwon O. Chul, TWAN, for National Geographic

The zodiacal light towers over Africa as seen from the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in July 2009. Photograph by Kwon O. Chul, TWAN, for National Geographic.

“Then you will look and be radiant,
    your heart will throb and swell with joy”
-Isaiah 60:5

Where is the light in your life right now?  Where is your joy? For me this is a difficult season because someone I admired very much passed away during this time last year.  In fact, our community has lots of difficult anniversaries to walk through this year since many have so recently left us.  And instead of reflecting on the light, my mind is drawn into darkness.  And I ask the question that we all ask when unexplained bad things happen:  Why?  To which I can find no good answer.  I try to shift my thoughts.  I ask: Where?  Where is the light and the joy?  Let me follow where they lead.  Where can I shine a light today?

Today is the Feast of Epiphany when we remember a bright star that shone in a midnight blue sky, so brilliant that strangers from another land marveled at its mystery and followed it all the way to a distant, strange and humble place.

The light leads us all to humility.  To behold our many mangers.  To unexpected places where love can be born.  Through cities full of raging kings, through the tears of childless mothers, through mobs worried about money, through peoples’ judgements upon our lives, through it all so that we may know that light can shine in all these places.  Here, among us in our bleak midwinter, love is born.

Here is a blessing for you this day:  May you see and follow the light (however small) and the joy (however childish) that is shining in your life.  May you fear not the place to which you are called to go.  May you behold the child in the humble manger–the one with a face similar to yours.  May you hold this child, the incarnate light of God, so that all may see and know that no matter how dark a time is this:  love wins.

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