My Labyrinth Walk

Tonight I walked a labyrinth.

I first learned about labyrinths in seminary, and have wanted to walk one for years, and yet somehow I never have.

Tonight our pastor explained that some people like to view the labyrinth journey as one towards self-awareness, towards an inner understanding and union with God within. The journey towards the center can be viewed as a walk of petition, seeking guidance and accompaniment from God. The journey outward can be a walk of praise and thanksgiving, celebrating God’s presence in your life.

So I started in, full of expectation and hope for the spiritual awareness that was surely to arise deep within me…. and nothing happened. Step by step I trod, waiting expectantly for the awareness of the Spirit, for some divine revelation, for some knowledge of what I was going to get out of this experience. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I felt crowded. My personal space was invaded by quite a few women like me who also wanted to walk the labyrinth, meaning that through the twists and turns we were often turning sideways to avoid collisions, breathing in each other’s perfume, staring at each other’s bare feet.

Sometimes I don’t like people very much, which is quite ironic for a pastor. I’m an introvert. I often view spiritual activities as solitary activities. I wanted very much to find peaceful union and contemplation with God on my own on my labyrinth journey, and yet here were all these other people, walking and breathing and thinking and existing around me. It was very distracting.

So I started praying. God, help me discover what you want me to find. I focused on repeating the prayer a few times. A few steps later, a clear answer resonated within me. Seek me. Seek me. Seek me. With each step, I felt thus instructed.

So I started seeking. And suddenly, the Spirit was there. I could feel God in the soles of my feet as I strode across the canvas of the transportable labyrinth. I could sense God in the pleasant smell of the oil diffuser placed delicately out of the way. I could feel God in the gentle rhythm of my bones with each step I took. My body became aware of God’s presence, but my mind was still rejecting the bodies of the women around me.

Seek me. Seek me. Seek me.

I kept walking.

I don’t know how it happened, but by the time I was about to enter the center of the labyrinth, a realization hit me with heart-sinking shame: the bodies around me were not distractions from God. The bodies around me were God. God incarnate, the imago dei, all around me. It was as if Jesus himself suddenly appeared to me on my way to Emmaus, and I was shocked to learn he had been there all the while. And I had vainly and selfishly tried to push him away.

My sisters and I gathered in the center, forming a wordless circle, breathing in union, existing with God together.

And on the journey out, as I began walking, I felt a clear resonating mantra: The ground of your being is found on the journey.

I didn’t even know I was seeking the ground of my being. But I felt such immense relief in knowing where to find it.

You see, I’ve been feeling rootless lately. I’ve been in discernment regarding my call to ministry, and I’ve had trouble seeing a clear picture of the future. I’ve been reaching and yearning for a certainty, an end point, something I can look at and cling to and say, “This is my purpose in the world.” So God’s response on that labyrinthine journey was to tell me to look around at God’s glory in the present moment, to let tomorrow take care of itself, and to remember I do not walk alone.

May it ever be so.

Amen.

 

Thanksgiving Prayer for Standing Rock

God of the oppressed, God of the opposed, God of the losing side,

To the God who chooses the side of the lonely, the God who takes up the hopeless cause,

To the God who reveals yourself in the face of the neighbor,

To you we pray.

When your people say no to profit and yes to people, you are there. (We are your people, not your profit)

When your people say no to oil and yes to clean water, you are there. (We were born in water, not oil)

When your people say no to empire and yes to community, you are there. (We are neighbors, not subjects)

When your people dance and pray for transformation while rubber bullets rain down upon their skin, you are there. When arrests are made and people removed, and more begin to show up, like the multiplying fish and loaves, like the properly invested talents, like the pruned vine, you are there.When the dogs come snarling and biting, when the buffalo come stampeding, when the wind rises and the sun sets, you are there. When it is freezing and your people shiver in the face of the water cannon and stand firm, you are there.

When it seems hopeless you are there.

God, on this Thanksgiving Day, as millions gather around tables and symbolically proclaim unity and mutual respect with those unlike us, we pray you would make those symbolic gestures reality. When we celebrate the false historical narrative of Euro-Native relations around our Thanksgiving tables, remind us of the genocide perpetrated against Native peoples and connect that with what is happening in Standing Rock. Call us to action, to send prayers and aid, to call representatives and join the movement in voice and solidarity.

We ask that you would continue to strengthen those protecting their life’s water. Send your Spirit to dwell on Standing Rock. Transform the hearts of those more interested in profit than in human life and dignity. Only you can.

With gratitude and thanksgiving we pray to you now God, and we celebrate your miracles and blessings. We are thankful that you remain steadfast in your love of your people.

Amen.

A Prayer for the Earth in Honor of Earth Day

God of all things, out of a bush you called to Moses. Out of an ordinary plant made sacred to bear your image, you called him. And he was startled.

God, we remember the story of how you called your people forth from slavery in Egypt. But they were not yet free from the sin of the world. Many hardships were endured as they wandered in the wilderness. And when they found a land that was kind to them, that land soon became smeared with blood. We repent.

But you are still calling. Mother God, creator of all life, fierce and strong are you. You made the heavens and the earth to be your home. You made all creatures so that we may share in your abundance and live in peace and harmony with one another. You call to us out of the plants, the animals, and each other. You call to us out of Scripture, reminding us of our past and promising us good things for our future.

Maker, Redeemer, on this Earth Day we ask that you continue to guide us in this wild, fierce and beautiful world. Remind us to be kind to the land as it is what sustains us and continues to give us life. It is our home. Help us to heed your calling out of the ordinary made sacred.

It is in Jesus’ holy name, the one who came to bring us your message of victory over sin and death for all of Creation, that we pray these things.

Amen.

Lent 2014

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day we are reminded that we are from nothing more than dust, and to dust we will return.

It’s an uncomfortable thought, isn’t it?

A few months ago I wrote a post about bodies and the harmful Christian dualism that pits our bodies against our souls. We preach and teach as if our bodies are nothing more than temporary containment facilities that we can one day escape if only we deny our “fleshly desires” for long enough to make it to heaven. I wrote about how I thought that was the wrong way to go about loving ourselves and each other. I wrote that to shame ourselves and each other because of our embodiment was an act of isolation from God, who created all bodies. All we have to go on in the great mystery of life is accessed through our divinely given embodiment.

But, as I sit here on this Ash Wednesday, pondering my undeniably dusty past, and my eventual and inevitable dusty future, I wonder how to reconcile the fullness of embodiment with the fear of nothingness. This pondering begs the question of temporality: Where have we been? Where are we going?

Ash Wednesday serves to remind us Christians that we enter this world with nothing and we leave this world with nothing. From dust to dust. And this makes me anxious.

I’m anxious because I don’t have the answers. I have no lived experience apart from this body. I don’t know what it feels like to be nothing, to have no consciousness. I don’t know how to meet God apart from what I know of this earthly existence. And this anxiety leads to fear and uncertainty about what happens next.

But I believe that God reveals God’s self and God’s will to us in Scripture, in our traditions, in our reason, and in our experience. And I believe that our bodies crave this revelation. We seek it out in ways we don’t even always understand, through ritual, praise, thanksgiving, prayer, devotion, and deep intellectual study. We seek to see God in the bodies of those we love, in our families, faith communities, and in our neighborhoods. And in all of these revelatory encounters, one thing continues to reassure those of us with proclivities towards existential fear and uncertainty: Resurrection.

The New Testament hinges completely upon the promise of the resurrection. The gospels presuppose and proclaim it. Paul tells us that Christ is but the firstfruits of a promise for new life for all Creation. We are told that we are in the middle of this renewal right now, in this one life, in this very moment. But we know that we are still waiting for this promise to be ultimately fulfilled, that the Kingdom of God is here but also coming. We look around and see poverty, hunger, and despair, and we know this can’t be the end. We have to hope in God’s promises even just to make it to another day.

We are in the in-between. It’s a hard place to rest. To wait. To hope. To lament. To expect with great joy. But the season of Lent teaches us how to live into this space faithfully, patiently, expectantly. Because we believe in the promise of resurrection.

Because I believe fully in the power and wonder and mystery of new life for all, I am embarking upon this Lenten journey with fear and trembling. From dust I became aware of myself. From myself I became aware of the love of those around me. From the love of those around me I became aware of the love of God. From the love of God I became aware of the particularity of infinity, and the infinity of particularity. And that’s as far as I can go right now. So I have to pause. And in this pause the whole world waits for healing.

Come, Lord Jesus. Kyrie eleison.

Flesh or Spirit, Body or Soul?

I want to talk about bodies.

We could talk about sex, or food, or fashion, or exercise. We could talk about our favorite sounds or smells. We could talk about modern art, why I love it, why you hate it. Or how about we talk about our body backgrounds, like how our race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, etc., etc., affects the way we view our own bodies, and the way other people view our bodies, and the way we view the bodies of everyone else.

The fact is, whatever we talk about, we have no experience outside of our bodies. And we have no way of communicating our experience without our bodies. The act of talking requires a mouth. Writing requires a hand (or, thanks to the miracle of science, an eyeball to point at letters on a screen). Sign language requires both eyes and hands. Even Helen Keller sent and received communication through her body.

Everything we do, say, think, feel, see, smell, taste, hear is experienced from within our own body. How we interpret our experience affects how others receive that information through their own body, just as their interpretation of their own lived experience affects ours.

So, folks, if bodies are so, very important to us, why are Christians so apt to hate on bodies and bodily desires? Why on earth do we think our bodies are something to be ashamed of, or overcome, or sinful?

Why do we shame people for their God-given miraculous embodiment?

I have a bone to pick with whoever started this fad. And I blame Paul.

Oh, Paul, you wonderful, horrible, awe-inspiring, awful, confusing, maddening, loving, misunderstood man! So much of Christianity today is attributed to you. Even writings no one is sure you even wrote get blamed on you or uplifted in your name. Poor guy.

But you say some weird stuff.

 

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. -Romans 8:12-13

Y’all, I’m just not sure how to live any other way but according to the flesh. That’s literally all we have to live by. So here’s Paul telling us the only way to live is to live by the Spirit. We have to put to death the misdeeds of the body if we want to have any hope of living.

Paul, what is this Spirit you speak of, and how do I live by it if I can’t see it?

Here’s the problem. We read this passage and we immediately see a dualism. Flesh v. Spirit. And because of centuries of patriarchal and privileged interpretations, we’ve been made to believe that obviously the spirit is the better of the two. Which means flesh must be bad. So now we live in this crazy dualistic world where Christians truly believe we must be something other than our bodies, and that when our bodies die, we will be released from the cage of flesh and float up like a ball of beautiful light to another world where we will swirl around with other balls of light and everything is happy and nice.

Ew. I don’t wanna go there. BORING.

Let me posit something different. Let’s try, just for a minute, to shift our focus away from the clouds, away from the hope that we can one day get free of our bodies and our “sinful” desires and live pure, body-free lives in heaven. Let me say that I do not think that is in any way what God wants us to hope for, and I do not think that is what Paul means us to think.

Bodies can screw up. Absolutely! Addiction, torture, eating disorders, sexual assault, murder and capitol punishment… these things are all real and they are awful. But we have the good news of Christ, which is that these things can be overcome, that the death of sin, isolation, and despair have been defeated. This is not to say these things don’t happen or don’t matter, but, as Paul says, we have a responsibility to put these things to death. Not just in ourselves, but in our society. Maybe the misdeeds Paul talks about are not our Godly desires, but our social sins that ignore God’s will for our lives in community. We are called to put to death hunger, to put to death poverty, to put to death anything that separates us (not “me,” not “you,” but us) from the love of God. And we can do this because Christ showed us how. And we want to do it because Christ has reconciled us, and continues to reconcile us to God.

Perhaps the Spirit Paul talks about is not our own, individual non-body dependent spirits, but the Spirit of God, that prevenient grace that makes our relationship to God and to one another possible. And to live by that Spirit means we are required to care about what happens to our brothers and sisters, to our world, to all of the cosmos: to God’s beloved Creation.

We don’t live according to what we want because too often we want to ignore that fact that this world is hurting. We want to ignore the fact that we are supposed to do something about it.

It might help if I share something I recently posted on my facebook wall (tweeked a little):

I believe there are many truths to be found in the New Testament, one being that we have been made free to seek and to accept joyful relationship with the Triune God and with each other. This relationship requires the whole body: feeding bodies, clothing bodies, inviting bodies into community regardless of race, gender, class, age, ability, or sexuality. I do not believe bodies or their “fleshly” desires are negative or something to be overcome, but I do believe they can be abused, shamed, and humiliated when treated without respect. I think the spirit/body dualism throughout Christian history has caused much more harm than good and really just makes no sense to me or my theology. While there are certain elements of asceticism I find valuable, I do not think bodies or their desires are something to deny or work through. The miracle of the incarnation tells me that God values our bodies and seeks relationship with us through them. We are not balls of energy for a reason. We are flesh and bone and blood. We crave sex and food and touch and music. I find God in the experience of these things, not in the denial of them. There is a definite time for sacrifice and for an evaluation of how faithful I am living at any given moment. I am ever thankful for God’s grace and the Spirit’s guidance on this journey. As I prepare to wrap up my pentultimate semester of seminary, and look forward to a life of ordained ministry, I only hope I can participate with God in the healing that must happen of all those who have been told their God-given desires are wrong or bad or sinful.

Thanks be to God for our bodies. We are the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Sex is good. Food is good. Music and dance and movement and singing and hugging and feeding and clothing and nurturing are all GOOD.

So let’s stop telling each other our desires are sinful when what we desire connection with each other. But let us seek God in this connection, and listen to the Spirit when we make mistakes. And let us put to death those things that separate us from each other.

Amen.