Tuesday, August 22, 2017

"I am spiritual, but not religious..."

"Spirituality" can be a little abstract when you try your hand at defining it.
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"Religion," we get:  It's tied up in church buildings, prayers, doctrines, and creeds.  Many people (like me) engage with our religions as a reminder of our relationship with God, and as an organized, scheduled opportunity to spend time in His presence.  Our religious practices are strategies, or a kind of path, to keep up our connection with our Creator.  
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Each Sunday when I go to church, I am reminded of God's greatness, as well as His goodness.  I am in the presence of God and in fellowship with other believers.  I am reminded to spend my week loving Him and loving my neighbors.  I benefit from the generations of Christians before me who have traveled the same path that I am on, through the words of their hymns, the texts of the Bible, and the prayers and messages of the church leaders.  For me, church is a reminder, a fellowship, and an opportunity.
In An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, author Barbara Brown Taylor's message is that religion is only one strategy or path for connecting to God, and that innumerable other strategies exist through the everyday activities, places, people, and interactions of our lives.

IF we are paying attention.

Taylor's spirituality is grounded firmly in the physical:  We experience God via the bodies He has given us.  Taylor doesn't urge us to become "more fully spiritual"; on the contrary, she urges us to become "more fully human."

We do that by paying attention to certain practices we can employ and enjoy because we have bodies.  Our bodies become our vehicle for drawing closer to God.  "In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking," Taylor writes, "bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life." And not only that, but holiness surrounds us throughout our world, if we are willing and able to notice it.

From this point of view, Taylor formulates such bodily practices as "wearing skin," "walking on the earth," "getting lost," "encountering others," and "feeling pain," among others.  For her, spiritual treasure is found through the bodily experiences of human life on earth.  We just have to pay attention to these everyday experiences.

This book would appeal to believers who have wandered away from church, feeling that it is no longer a helpful means to grow in their relationship with God, whatever the reason.  But it appeals to me, too, because it helps me find ways to carry what I learn and experience in church on Sunday into my activities during the rest of the week.

As the Living Stones Women's Ministry uses this book for our twice-monthly discussions, I will write blog posts related to the chapters and our discussions.  I recommend this book for your personal library, but even if you choose not to read it for yourself, I invite you to read this series of blog posts to consider key points from Taylor's writing.

For your consideration:

Have you ever heard someone say, "I'm spiritual, but not religious" (or have you said it yourself)?  What does this mean to you, and how do you feel about the thinking behind the statement? How do you define "religious? How do you define "spiritual"?

As you read Taylor's book--and/or these blog posts--try to remain open-minded and attentive to the ways we can connect with God in our lives and our bodies in this world.

Just for fun, type "I am spiritual but not religious" in your browser, then click on "images," and enjoy the quotations, graphics, and opinions on this statement!

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Discovering Altars in the World

I am writing this blog post on the brink of a new beginning:  My family and I have bought a new home and are relocating to a new community. Though only 30 minutes away, the move will take my children to a new school, and open our lives to new neighbors and friends.  This change also means that the Living Stones Women's Ministry will be moving to a new location in July.  We will also be beginning a new book study.  Please read my introduction to our new book below, along with my invitation for you to consider joining us.  You can read more about the Living Stones Women's Ministry group by visiting the "At-a-Glance" tab at the top of the blog.
In her introduction to An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor recalls a priest who invited her to speak to the congregation of his church in Alabama. "Come tell us what is saving your life now," he suggested.  No formal teachings required. No orthodox creeds and ideologies expected. No ancient rituals to follow. Just an honest look at what gives meaning, feeling, connection, and life right now.

For Taylor, her answer now is not exactly the same as her answer during that speaking event.  But she continues to hold to the truth that the life of the spirit is inextricably linked to our physical experience in this world.  We find God here on earth, where we are, in what we are doing.

We may see God and draw closer to Him while on a pilgrimage, a mission trip, or a retreat. But these extra-ordinary experiences are not required.  We can, in fact, find God right here in even the most ordinary everyday activities.

What if we stop drawing such sharp distinctions between secular and sacred, physical and spiritual, body and soul? What if we start remembering that the whole world is the House of God? What if we don't have to choose between God and the world, but instead can experience the world as a place to encounter God?

"The treasure we seek," Taylor writes, "requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are." If we miss the "X" marking the spot of what we are looking for, she writes, it might be because we are standing right on top of it!

Taylor dedicates her book to people who are "tired of arguing about religion, tired of reading about spirituality, tired of talk-talk-talking about things that matter without doing a single thing that matters yourself." She wants to help us realize that there are altars all over this world... ordinary places where we meet up with God.  She offers us practices that require both our bodies and our souls, practices that will help us explore the idea that faith is a way of life.

"Earth is so thick with divine possibility," Taylor writes, "that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars."  I have found an altar in Springfield, in my family room, sitting around with an amazing group of women who seek to know and love their God better and more, who seek to support others through prayer and service.  I am now off to discover an altar in Berwyn, in a new family room, with some of the same amazing women, and hopefully new seekers, lovers, and pray-ers.

Come find an altar in the world with me!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Equipped for Doing God's Will

I am hesitant to tell people that God speaks to me. After all, the words, "The Lord told me..." are just as likely to send your audience backing out of the room as to draw them in closer to listen. But I am convinced that either I have a split personality with a very wise and authoritative "other half," or God has seen fit to communicate with me in surprisingly and blessedly clear ways.

I've been lolling around most nights over the past week, numbing my brain with Facebook, email, and real estate listings, with a little Pinterest thrown in for good measure. But the time 11 o'clock rolls around and I pull myself out from under my cat, I feel like I have made an incredible waste of yet another evening. Even though I can list the chores I've accomplished during the previous sixteen hours, I feel generally unfocused and unproductive.

Whenever I get that feeling about my days, ten times out of ten I can trace it to the fact that I haven't cracked my Bible in over a week. I still read verses and devotions with my girls, and I still pray throughout the day with them and on my own, but spending time reading the Bible--even if I don't do any kind of formal study--makes a complete difference in my entire attitude toward life.

You would think I would learn my lesson and, you know, read it religiously or something.

So last night, I opened the Bible to Hebrews 13 (because that chapter was referenced in a magazine article I had been reading, and I didn't have any other plan to go by).  I noticed right away that verses 20 and 21 sounded like a prayer, so in the margin of my Bible I restated them like this:
Lord, God of peace, equip me with everything good for doing Your will; work in me what is pleasing to you, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
After I did a little more reading, I went up for a shower, thinking how remarkable it is that a little Bible reading can make me feel so much better--like a vitamin or a shot of caffeine, if you'll forgive the poor comparison.  And that line: "Equip me with everything good for doing Your will," replayed in my mind. I stood there under the streaming water just beginning to form the prayer: "I love that verse, Lord. I pray that You would equip me..."  And just like that, across my brain flashed the thought, "I already have."

I already have equipped you with everything good for doing My will.

I feel thoroughly convinced that God cut me off mid-prayer to remind me that what I was asking Him for, He has already done. After those three God-breathed words, my own mind took over again, and I thought about how I:

  • have strong convictions related to people treating each other with the kindness, decency, and justice that Jesus displayed during his earthly ministry, but I have yet to take a leadership role in effecting change when I see those values threatened, 
  • have finished writing 3/4 of a book about Christian parenting based on what I've learned from experience and extensive research, but it sits in a tote bag with one section left unwritten and no plans in place for getting it to a publisher,
  • have a deep and long-standing love for writing and a desire to encourage people in their faith, but I have only a tiny platform on this blog for bringing these two things together,
  • have a craft room full of supplies and a head full of ideas, but I haven't brought them together to use my art for worship or to inspire others in their faith.

In each case, I see where God has equipped me with everything good for doing His will, but I haven't joined the effort with the ambition or stamina to put those gifts to use.

As I reflected on all of this, my first feelings were guilt and inadequacy--oh, how I am squandering my gifts and my advantages! How lazy I have been!

But there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; we are set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2). I am set free from feeling like a failure for what I cannot accomplish on my own. God didn't equip me with everything good for doing His will, and then send me off to figure out how to make it happen.

Instead, God supplies us out of His great sufficiency. As Paul reminds us, we are not competent (or sufficient) in ourselves, but our competence (or sufficiency) comes from God (2 Corinthians 3:5). His grace is sufficient for us, because our power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is in these moments--like the ones I was experiencing last night, when I feel weak--that I am actually strong (2 Corinthians 12:10) because I remember to turn to God and His power. Paul has so much to say about this gift to the church in Corinth. "God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work...you will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion (2 Corinthians 9:8, 11). Every time I pull away from God's Word, I lose my hold on this truth for my life.

I love how God is tough and loving at the same time. He interrupts my prayer--"Lord, equip me with everything good for doing Your will"--to deliver a truth that brings me humbly back to His grace. And out of that humility, He raises me up on wings like an eagle, renewing my strength to run and not grow weary and to walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31).

Today I thank God that He has already equipped me with everything good for doing His will, and that He doesn't send me out into the world with my gifts and talents and tasks and ideas and dreams and duties alone. Instead, He sends me with a Heavenly Father, a gracious Savior, and a guiding and holy Spirit to help bring His kingdom to earth as it is in Heaven.

This is not a truth just for me, of course. The same is true for you.

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