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Centering Prayer

Centering Prayer

I was in a meeting some time ago and someone mentioned the song “Centering Prayer” by The Porter’s Gate. I was intrigued, listened to it on my way home, and was hooked. Something about it just hits me right in the gut. The lyrics begin with “I want to be where my feet are. I want to breathe the life around me.” Such simple words to describe a beautiful concept, and so much in me shouts “YES!” I want to be in each moment, to actually experience my life, live it in the here and now. So much in me shouts “YES!” and so much in me just struggles mightily against this. So much of me is pulled to anywhere else but right here and right now.

 

Present in the Moment

Anyone with a cell phone knows this! Have you ever tried to not pull out your phone when waiting in line? Just stand there and be a person that is waiting in line, not a person that is checking email or texting or scrolling endlessly through Instagram or your app of choice. Phones are constantly pulling us out of our bodies and turning us into people with limited attention spans and limited capacities for boredom and creativity.

I am a worrier, so even if I manage not to pull out my phone the minute there is a space in my day, my brain is constantly pulling me to the future. What if this happens? Or what if that happens? Have I thought through all the contingency plans? I believe God created me with this forward looking tendency, and it’s a gift I can use for planning and anticipating future problems. But if left unchecked, it becomes unhealthy to always live outside of the here and now.

Maybe you are like me, and a space to think and be quiet is a space to be far from the present moment and off in the future. Or maybe you are wired to be pulled back to the past when you have a quiet moment to relive your glory days. Or do you rehash difficult seasons in your mind, wondering what you could have done or said differently?

I wonder how many of us are gifted with the ability to be present in the moment.

 

Where God is Working

It isn’t that difficult for me to think about God moving and working in the past. In Malachi and in Hebrews, we are told that God is unchanging; he is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He created everything with just his word; he is the God who saw Hagar, who parted the Red Sea, and who powerfully defeated Israel’s enemies. He came to earth as a baby, sinlessly walked among his creation, and was punished for our sins. Even in my own life, with some time and perspective, I can often, not always, but often, look back and see how God has been moving and working in my life.

And it isn’t that difficult for me to think about God moving in the future…at least the distant future. I cling to Revelation 21! One day, our God will make all the sad things untrue in the new heavens and the new earth, and he will once again be with us in some sort of physical sense and there will be no more weeping or pain or death.

But it’s hard for me to see him as the God of right now. To see God with me in the traffic, the school pick-up line, and the making of dinner. To see God in the mundane when so much of my life is just so ordinary. I am a middle-aged mom. I am in bed by 9. I suspect many of us feel like our lives are so normal and plain that it feels a little crazy that the God of the universe would want to be with us in the here and now. Sometimes life is just so difficult that it’s hard to see God, and sometimes things are going so well that we forget about him, but often life just feels unremarkable.

As I began writing this, I took a little time to sit in Romans 8:38-39.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It even says “things present” cannot separate us from his great love for us. My ordinary life, the seemingly averageness of the present moment cannot separate me from his love.

What if we deeply believed that each moment we are being loved by God, by the one who created all and holds it all together? That he is with us. Right now. The God who will one day wipe away every tear from our eyes is with us in each moment, even the mundane, longing for us to know his love for us.

 

God’s Presence Every Day

At a Christ Community staff meeting we were challenged to think about the time in our day when we feel the most lonely, stressed, or feel God is not present. This was such a helpful exercise for me, so I challenge you to do the same. Think through your day, and consider when you most often feel alone, or that God is distant. Then imagine God there with you, loving you, delighted with your presence. What is that like? If you take the time to write down how it feels, like a prayer or a liturgy, you will have something to revisit as a reminder when you are in those spaces of “aloneness”.

I often turn to the song “Centering Prayer” as a liturgical element when I need a reminder of God’s presence with me. It ends with repeating the line “I wanna be where my feet are,” followed by “the ground below me is how you hold me.” I love that feeling and the imagery that God uses gravity to hold me close. I pray that we can learn to stop and be where our feet are. That we can be fully present in our bodies in the moment and know that we are fully and completely loved by our God.

The Beauty of the Church

The Beauty of the Church

I had the privilege of joining our high schoolers on the trip to the Dominican Republic this summer. What an incredible experience! I had so many takeaways from my time, but one thing I experienced so clearly is the beauty of the Church. The global church is something I haven’t had much opportunity to see in such a tangible way before. Situated right here in the middle of the country, it’s so easy to equate the-big-C-church with the American church and forget the diverse expression of the Body of Christ. I am so thankful for the chance to expand my understanding more fully, to glimpse the beauty of our worldwide church family. 

We began our week visiting a house church in Santo Domingo. Anna opened her home to us, and we more than doubled the size of their church that evening. The folding chairs multiplied like loaves and fishes as we all squeezed into her patio along with Napoleon and his family, Anna’s sister, Abuela, Gordy, and Bear. Anna led the majority of the service in English, and Nicole translated for us during discussion time so we could all understand one another. While the church service was so foreign in some ways, it was also so familiar. Communion bookended our time together; we took the bread at the beginning and closed the service with the wine. We sang familiar worship songs, and in between shared a meal. These “strangers” are our family. We have all been adopted by the same Father. These people we had not ever met are our brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandmothers. We share the same spirit and we could feel it. What a beautiful foretaste of heaven! 

Every day our group headed to a university in Santo Domingo to attend English immersion classes and help the students work on their pronunciation and grammar. Every day we packed our lunches and got there an hour before class to have conversations with the students. Tons of students came to talk with us. It was such a joy to make new Dominican friends, hear some of their stories, share some of ours, and the reason for our hope in Christ. 

One particular conversation really stuck with me. A woman came and sat on a bench next to me and we started talking. It quickly became apparent that I knew more Spanish than she knew English, and I do not speak much Spanish! But somehow we were able to semi-understand each other. She said that her 18-year-old daughter was a student at the university and each day this mother would walk her daughter to school. Somehow our “conversation” turned to faith and she said something along the lines of “El Dios es primero.” Forgive me Spanish speakers for my limited vocabulary and faulty memory, but it roughly means “God is first.” I agreed with her and we spoke of our love for God. I don’t even know her name but I just teared up and said “hermanas,” sisters. This woman, who I had never met and will most likely never meet again on this side of heaven, is my sister. Our day to day lives are so different, we could barely understand each other, and she is my sister. Someday we will stand before the throne together and worship.

Later on in the week we went out to dinner and I was not feeling well. Anna from the house church and her family joined us. When Anna realized how I felt, she offered to take me back to her house and care for me until I felt better. And she meant it! She was willing to take  a basically total stranger home, a sick stranger at that, and care for me. Because while we are strangers, we are also family! I didn’t take her up on her kind offer, and was feeling better the next day.

This experience with the Church got me thinking about my local church family and what it means to be family to those I see Sunday after Sunday. Sometimes it takes a shift in perspective to see what is right in front of you or be reminded of what is right in front of you. The people sitting in the worship center with me on a Sunday morning are my sisters and my brothers. In a very real sense. 

The New Testament is full of references to believers as family, and when those words were penned, your survival depended on your extended family. Everyone had to pitch in and work for the family to survive. Which really made me think about how I am caring for the people in my church. What have I sacrificed for their good? Am I willing to take a sick sister into my home and care for them? 

And, how are we all using our gifts and talents for the benefit and building up of the church? How are we meeting physical needs, spiritual, emotional? Letting others know of our needs so that they can be met? God has created each one of us uniquely and together we are the body of Christ. 

The big C church and the little C church needs all of us. It’s not meant to be a place where we spend an hour on Sunday and then go about our business. It is a family and we need each other. 

All the Fitness He Requires

All the Fitness He Requires

There’s a group exercise place close to my house that I have been wanting to try out. I have several friends who go there and love it, and when my kids were younger, I really loved working out with others. One of my friends has said she will take me whenever I want to go for a trial class. She has said this for over a year. But I have never taken her up on it, and it’s just for the dumbest reason. I don’t think I am in good enough shape to go to the place that is supposed to whip me into shape. I keep thinking that what I need to do is get into a really rigorous workout rhythm at home for a good 6 weeks and THEN I will be ready to go! So basically, once I don’t need the class anymore, then I will be ready to join. 

 

An Open Invitation

There is another open invitation that we tend to view the same way, which has deeper and more lasting implications beyond an exercise class. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus invites us to come to him…all of us who labor and are heavy laden, which feels like all of us, and he will give us rest. I know this, we know this, and yet…there are so many times when I continue to feel like I have to get my act together in order to be loved and accepted by my Savior. There are so many times when I am striving and struggling and instead of accepting the rest that Jesus offers me, I just double down. I turn to productivity books, reorganize my schedule and just plain try harder. I will get my act together and then come to Jesus, once I somehow achieve that rest that he so freely offers. Accepting grace feels more difficult than continuing to throw myself at a (metaphorical) brick wall. 

Works-based religions just make so much more sense to me, even though they are soul-crushing. In our Western culture, we are self-made women and men! We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. All we have to do is dream bigger and work harder and keep hustling, and all our American dreams will come true! We don’t want to owe anyone anything, we have our pride. Even when asking a friend for a favor, sometimes I find myself doing a quick mental calculation…have I asked this person to do more for me than I have done for them? Is the “favor scale” tipped too far in the wrong direction, do I owe them more than they owe me? If so, sometimes I won’t ask for what I need and what they would happily and lovingly do for me. Because then I would feel like a burden, a drain. 

 

Rest and Peace

And then there is our God. He has done everything for us – created us, given us everything that we have, died for us…there is nothing I could ever do to balance those “favor scales.” And all he wants is for me to come to him; he is standing there, arms open, waiting for me to give him my burdens, my worries, my fears, my sins, my shame, my pride (along with my joys, praise and my loves). And exchange it for his rest, his peace, his presence. 

I have loved Jesus as long as I can remember, and I still struggle to turn to him first, to continue to turn to him each and every day with each and every struggle and burden. I suspect I am not alone in that. But I think, just maybe, I am willing to set aside my pride and admit my need a little quicker than I did a few decades ago. Church, may we be a people who realize that clinging to our pride and self-sufficiency is a fool’s game. We are just causing ourselves such needless heartache and misery. Our God offers us rest, true rest. May we reach out and take it. 

Come, Ye Sinners

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
full of pity, love, and pow’r

Come, ye thirsty; come and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
true belief and true repentance,
ev’ry grace that brings you nigh

Let not conscience make you linger,
nor of fitness fondly dream;
all the fitness he requires
is to feel your need of him.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
lost and ruined by the fall;
if you tarry till you’re better,
you will never come at all.

I will arise and go to Jesus!
He will embrace me in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms

The Lord Is Near

The Lord Is Near

I’ve been feeling it again lately, the tightening in my chest, the tension that gathers there. It’s how my body lets me know that I need to slow down and pay attention. It’s my warning light. All is not as it should be. This is my sign that worry and anxiety are on the rise. This is my signal to get back to basics, do the things that I know are healthy for me; mind, body, and soul. So I make sure I am getting enough sleep, exercising and eating well, spending time outside and with friends and family. I make sure I am spending intentional time in prayer, I dig into the Psalms, and I return to my go-to Scriptures for times like these. I want to be clear that I am not talking about clinical anxiety; we live in a broken and fallen world and our bodies don’t always work the way that God designed them to. Medication is important and needed for many people to manage their anxiety, I understand that. Here I am speaking about average low-level anxiety. 

 

So I found myself reciting Philippians 4:6 again last week. “Do not be anxious about anything…” and for the first time, that word “anything” just brought me to a full stop. Wait, what? “Do not be anxious about anything.” Anything. Anything? It feels like there are a lot of things happening in our world today that seem very logical to be anxious about. War, gun violence, so much political division and anger, cancer, poverty…I could go on and on. It seems like this verse should say, “Do not be anxious about most things, but there are some things it’s perfectly reasonable to be anxious about.” But it says “anything.”  And, Paul wrote this while he was in prison. It seems like if anyone should get to fret it would be Paul. I even tried looking up the Greek to see if I could find a loophole. Nope. 

 

I am a worrier by nature, (an Enneagram 6 if you are into that kind of thing) and this verse has always been a challenge and an encouragement to me. But it just feels especially hard right now. So I sat with the “anything” for a while. Honestly, I am still wrestling with it. But I kept going, and I am so thankful that even though the word “anything” brought me up short, the verse does not stop there. God does not leave us with a seemingly impossible command without help. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In every situation we are to turn over our anxieties, our fears, our plans to God. Open our hands that are clenched into fists with anxiety and trust that He is good, He is sovereign and He loves us. 

 

This is not easy. Sometimes the darkness seems so very close. But we are to stop and present our requests to God. And thank Him for who He is and the blessings in our lives. And as we zoom out and read this along with the surrounding verses. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice (v. 4)” Always rejoice. “Let your gentleness be evident to all (v. 5a)” Be gentle to all. Living a life of rejoicing and gentleness doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for worry and fear. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (v. 7)” 

 

Sometimes I feel the peace of God and sometimes I do not. Sometimes I cannot seem to really trust that God’s good plans and purposes will prevail.

 

I think the key to all of this, the rejoicing and the thanksgiving and the being anxious about nothing, is verse 5b, “The Lord is near.” This could mean either close in proximity to us, or close in time, or Paul could mean both. But the Lord is near. I think the source of a lot of our anxiety is our impoverished view of God, and that definitely rings true for me. And our gracious God doesn’t leave us wondering who He is; He tells us over and over in His Word. A few examples…

 

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgressions and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7

 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

 

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. Psalm 147:4-5

 

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Your is the kingdom, O Lord and you are exalted as head above all. 1 Chronicles 29:11

 

This is just a small sampling that shows us the God who is near. Merciful. Gracious. Slow to anger. Abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Forgiving. Just. Gentle. Lowly. Giver of rest. Powerful. Creator. Omniscient. Glorious. Victorious. Exalted. 

 

He is good. He loves us. He is in control. We don’t have to be. 

 

We can rejoice always. We can be gentle to all. We can even not be anxious about anything. So during this time of heightened anxiety for me, this has become a breath prayer for me. “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious.”

 

The Lord is near.

Your Body Is a Gift

Your Body Is a Gift

I am a fair weather runner. Runner might be too strong of a word, but between April and November three to four times a week I lace up my shoes and run three to four miles. Starting up again in April is always hard. I am slow and my lungs burn and my legs ache. But I know it will be worth it, so I begin again. There is something that happens when I am out there, something I can’t quite explain, but my soul is somehow free-er. In the quiet and in my solitude I have my deepest times of prayer, of praise, of communion with God. There is this connection between the movement of my body and my spirit, a vivid reminder of how I was created. 

I am an embodied creature. 

I have been thinking a lot lately about embodiment and what it means. I have no startling insights or theological breakthroughs, and some days I struggle to see this particular body that God has given me as a good gift. It’s a little squishier than I would like and as the years go by it aches more and more and it tires more easily. But I do know that the bodies that God gives us are good gifts born out of His love. How do I receive this gift well? How do I best steward this body that was given to me? 

And how does it all work, this union between body and soul? When I am tired or hungry or sore from pushing my body too hard, I snap at my kids and my husband. My prayers are shorter, my Bible reading is perfunctory. Clearly, the condition of my body affects my spirit. When I am anxious, my body reacts with a frenzy of activity. I clean all the things and organize and accomplish all the things on my to-do list that have been sitting there for far too long. When I am sad, I feel physically tired, my eyes are primed for tears. Clearly, the condition of my spirit affects my body. 

Whenever God chooses to call me to himself, this body that I inhabit now with it’s limitations, it’s sicknesses and pains will not go with me, at least as it is now. Scripture tells me that I will get a new body (Philippians 3:21, 2 Corinthians 5), so embodiment is not temporary, it is part of God’s good creation plan. Adam and Eve had bodies before the Fall. My new body will be “like his glorious body,” the body of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. That I cannot conceive of, it is too great and marvelous for me. So if embodiment is eternal, perhaps I should give it more consideration in this life. 

As a follower of Jesus, I tend to think that I only need to nourish my soul (even at the expense of my body), but seeing the connection between the two more clearly over the past year has shown me that caring for my body can be just as important as caring for my soul.

Sometimes it’s the same thing. So I have become more gentle with my body, giving it more rest days and have found my soul renewed. I have, imperfectly, leaned into a weekly sabbath and found it to be life-giving. 

I linger over hugs with my children and my husband. Hugs are not things to be rushed. The physical act of touching another human being that I love in that prolonged way fills our souls. 

Whenever I can, I gather with friends. The eyes God has given me drinking in their expressions, feeling the God-given joy of togetherness, savoring the laughter, (the strange shaking of our bodies and ringing sounds in our ears), these physical expressions of delight. Finding wonder in the seamless connection between the physical and the spiritual. 

Of course in a culture such as ours, the temptation is always near to think of this body more highly than I ought, to put my hope in health and wellness or in looking a certain way. Finding my value in staying at a certain weight or being able to do x number of pushups or letting each new wrinkle tempt me to despair. Putting pressure on this frame that it was never meant to bear, by seeing this gift as ultimate instead of viewing it as a good gift given by a loving Creator. 

But I will continue on this life-long journey to steward this gift well, trying not to think of my body as something to be worshipped and molded into an ever-changing standard of beauty or something that has little worth, somehow inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. I will work to use my whole self, physical and spiritual in service to our great God, using what He has given me to glorify Him. I will get it wrong, I will stumble and fall, but through the grace of God I will keep going. And I hope to learn from those of you who are farther ahead on this path and those of you who want to consider with me what it means to honor God with our bodies.