Advent: Listening with our bodies

The spiritual life is full of different forms of waiting. It is so easy to forget the importance of waiting – what it does, what it is for, and who it leads us to become. When we forget the importance of waiting, we also usually forget that there are myriad practices associated with waiting that more greatly open us to the benefits of a process like this. The rhythms and rituals of the church calendar call our attention back to waiting, anticipation, listening, etc. as practices of worship and devotion. As with many life practices, we have gotten out of the habit of involving our bodies in the process. We allow our cerebral minds to consider and analyze life inevitabilities and processes. We observe our emotions dipping in and out of our thinking, and let our minds expand our hearts for the briefest of moments. Our spirits are involved in a very automatic way also, of course, as worship and devotion are meant to call out to the spirit in both whispers or shouts. But the body…what about the body?

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he says our bodies are living, dynamic containers for the Spirit of the living God –– temples. In a modern Western experience of Christianity, we have usually been told what not to do with our bodies, how they can get us into trouble. But we rarely talk about how beautifully our bodies can get us out of trouble. God is such an artist, however, that He has created these fleshy temples in which we can carry around His Living Spirit and worship him in the most ordinary and plain things. So often we pray for a miracle…but just like when you’re desperately searching for your lost keys then look down and find them in your hands, the miracles that we pray for are already in plain sight if only we can become still enough to pay attention and see.

The lighting, beholding, and enjoying of the Advent candles is a special but very ordinary thing. Though we only practice this rhythm once a year together in our spiritual communities, it is a very common thing––lighting the wicks of candles that sit in a simple circle. But when done with specific attention paid, it invites our whole beings into sweet attunement with the process of the no-matter-what with-ness of God.

Advent is the season we tend to most intentionally sit silently in life’s tensions, listen carefully, and wait for Jesus, the Light of the Cosmos, the being within the Divine dance who is called Emmanuel, “God with us.”

What vast expectation and eager anticipation might we experience if we were to fully grasp the infinitude of what God’s with-ness truly means?

God is so decisive about wanting exchange and unity with humankind that He brought visibility to invisibility, He revealed Himself in the flesh, and allowed Himself to be known in every possible human capacity and dimension: above in the heavens, below through Incarnation, in the depths of death, and the breadth of the entire universe. This is a God who wants to know and be known.

So. Each week for the next four weeks, another Advent candle will be lit. As the number of flames increase, so does the tension of our waiting expectantly. The portal between the flames and our attunement is the body. But I invite you to take this beyond the lighting of the candles on Sunday. How might you invite the mysteries of such a time into your whole being over the next four week on a daily basis? If He can form His own body from the body a virgin girl two thousand years ago, He can surely invite your particular body into the process of anticipating His ever-coming and ever-with-ness in you this season.

May God help us.

More Yoga, Less Spinning

This isn’t the first time some of you have heard me say this phrase, and it certainly won’t be the last! I have sort of a mantra for 2015: More Yoga, Less Spinning. I have to give credit for this phrase to my dear friend, Kelly Martin, who coined it while we shared with each other our intentions for this year.

Picture it. Have you ever been part of or peeked into a spinning class at the gym? In my opinion, it is the definition of intense. It’s like marine bootcamp on stationary bicycles. You hardly stop the whole class. You’re spinning from the beginning until the bitter end. And then the next day you pretty much immediately become a puddle on the floor when you try to step out of bed. I’m not saying spinning is all bad. I have a lot of respect for it – for those who choose to take part in it. But I feel like in many ways what I’ve been doing most of my life is spinning (metaphorically speaking). I am really good at pushing myself, not letting myself rest, feeling the burn, as it were. I haven’t been very good at resting, closing my eyes, and breathing.

In 2013, something in me changed and it’s really grown over the last year. As a mental health counselor, I began hearing clients & colleagues tell me personal stories of how mindfulness and intentionality had given them a significantly different perspective on life, and in turn markedly decreased their anxiety and mental & emotional pain. The proof was in the pudding. I didn’t love it first then saw it prove its worth, I saw its obvious worth and I grew to love it.

I’ve committed to doing a lot of yoga in the last several months. I have a teacher who I admire, respect, and adore. Yoga is–among many things–about being intentional. Every move you make is on purpose. You’re listening, smelling, thinking, realizing, observing the entire time. You move slowly and carefully. My favorite phrase my teacher Jake uses (especially after a challenging pose) is, “Let it go and feel what you feel.” That phrase is how I might sum up yoga and sum up the importance of mindfulness – and it’s the complete opposite of what I always thought “letting go” meant.

I grew up with the belief (for reasons I still don’t fully know) that “letting go” meant you have to shut out what happened to you, ignore its impact on your whole self, pretend that something didn't change you when it obviously did. This is (thankfully) completely untrue, so I've learned. It is a too-common belief that it’s impossible to hold two opposing truths together in the same space at the same time, but I’m here to tell you that just isn’t true. Something incredibly painful can happen to you, you can feel it cut you to your core and be speak very realistically about that experience...AND you can release it (after due process) so that you are empowered over it, not the other way around. One crucial step to this kind of release (however paradoxical it may seem) is to acknowledge and say out-loud/write, “This is how these experiences and people impacted me, made me who I am. This is how deeply I felt them and still feel them, how much they hurt me and heal me.” And release comes when you realize that saying those things out-loud somehow frees you into a place where you no longer need to control the outcome of things, that you are bigger than the experiences you’ve had, and that for better or worse, they are all quite important. And part of their importance is that in spite of them – maybe even BECAUSE of them! – you go on living, breathing in and breathing out.

Just tonight during my class’s Savasana (rest pose, complete stillness & release – one’s reward at the end of a yoga practice) I was visualizing two roads. I was thinking, “I wish I could see how two separate paths differ and how they will impact me before I make a choice about which one I will take.” As I thought about that and visualized it, I clearly saw that walking down one road necessitates releasing the other – that choosing one automatically means I can never know what happens on the other road, because choosing one means the second can never be. For so long I believed it impossible to choose one road and release the other. But now I see that this is absolutely the way it is. And that it's okay to not have both.

Making choices without knowing how it’s going to turn out and growing toward acceptance of things in our past are two of our most difficult yet important human jobs. No matter which paths we choose, there will be innumerable things we will get to experience that we have never heard, seen, smelled, or tasted before, and we have the privilege of experiencing them and absorbing them. And we get to enjoy these things without the pain of fruitlessly struggling for things we can never grasp or have. It's okay to feel sad or grieved about that. It's okay to also feel joy about what we chose. We are blessed to be allowed the freedom to both let it go and feel what we feel.

So whether or not you’re into “new years resolutions,” toward what are you more naturally bent: spinning or yoga? Do you like this about your life, about yourself? What are the barriers around intentional stillness in your life? What are the things in your story that you feel most fearful of releasing? Why?