Three final breathing practices offering an even deeper experience of the Spirit of Life through our breath. Continue to experience a full breath and incorporate your breath into prayer.
Continue to learn what a full breath feels like through 3 more breathing exercises! Greater calm, clarity & creativity are offered to us by the Breath of Life, are we ready to receive such a gift?
Did you know that breathing can be a spiritual practice?
Discover how to welcome the Spirit of Life and receive the free gift of a deep, calm, relaxed breath. Over the next three weeks, I'll introduce you to nine simple (& fun!) breathing practices.
Or the imagination? How about touch?
Well the obvious answer is no one.
But many Christians act as though they are forbidden territory. If it's anything other than the Bible and words (and even those are under regulation) it's to be feared. When I mention Centering Prayer or Reiki there are those who say "Oh isn't that New Age or Eastern? I can't do that, it's dangerous, I could be opening myself up to the Devil."
I once heard a well-meaning pastor urge his congregation to trust God rather than the imagination thus setting the imagination in opposition to its Creator. It's not the imagination itself that is the problem, it's where we let it go. Saint Ignatius was transformed by God through his imagination in the 14th century and so developed spiritual practices to engage Scripture and prayer in this way.
Elijah did not hear the voice of God in the earthquake, wind or fire but in the sound of sheer silence. Jesus made seeking out a quiet place (to listen to the Father who spoke within him) a regular spiritual practice.
Jesus also touched people and they were healed (and the way he went about healing was different depending on the situation and person). He breathed on his disciples before telling them to receive the Holy Spirit (the name for Spirit in both the Hebrew and Greek can also mean "breath"). Much of his ministry looked more "Eastern" than "Western."
There are some religions and traditions that have done a better job incorporating things like silence and the body into their spiritual practices. Rather than allowing fear from keeping us from receiving a gift, we can learn from them. With discernment (sifting wheat from chaff), we can integrate, or more likely recapture, what's been missing in our own tradition. Questions arising from the Biblical narrative can help us with the sifting.
If we're to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, I think we need to humbly leave space for "holy envy." Theologian and scholar, Krister Stendahl coined this phrase, referring to the practice of recognizing and admiring elements in another religious tradition, even allowing those elements to enrich one's own faith tradition (or wishing it could).
As a United Methodist, I've experienced holy envy in denominations like Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and others. As a Protestant, I've experienced holy envy with Catholic, Orthodox, Celtic Christian and Saint Thomas Christian practices and beliefs. As a Christian, I've experienced holy envy in Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism (mystical Islam) and others. And without exception, the places of holy envy have invited me to a deeper awareness and experience of the love of God, neighbor and self.
No one owns breathing, imagination, silence, the body, or even truth (this is not to say that all religious truth claims are equal, but that truths are found in all religions). Rabbi Rami Shapiro closes his emails with "Alles iz Gott." He wants to remind me or whoever else emails him looking for wisdom that, "All is God" because God embraces, transcends and is the source of everything! And our Creator is amazingly generous (as Matthew 5:45 reminds us that the rain falls and sun shines on everyone).
So with your heart, mind, soul and strength listen and learn. Allow yourself to remain open to holy envy. Discern. Let go, discover anew, or integrate. And find yourself further on the path of Shalom, this already-not yet living into the Kingdom of God where individuals, communities and all of creation experience wholeness, peace and completeness...and a holy sigh of relief!
1. Spiritual direction is a New Age concept.
It's not new at all! Even though it may be for some Protestants, it's a lot older than the New Age label that emerged in the 1970s & 1980s! John Cassian formalized the practice of spiritual direction used in monasteries in the 4th-5th century and based it on Biblical "spiritual directors" such as Eli & Samuel, Jesus & the Disciples, Ananias & Saul, Paul & Timothy/Titus. The early church continued the practice with John the Evangelist (apostle), Polycarp of Smyrna (2nd c. Bishop), Saint Benedict (late 5th/early 6th c.), Saint Patrick (5th c.), Saint Igantius in the 16th century and more.
Unfortunately, spiritual direction was lost for Protestants during the 16th century's Protestant Reformation (as things often are in any kind of divorce). Years of suspicion and fear of anything Catholic combined with the tendency toward self-sufficiency kept Protestants from engaging spiritual direction. With the growing need for this kind of spiritual companionship, improved relations between Catholics and Protestants, and the admission that healthy spiritual practices were discarded in the divorce of the Reformation, recovery has begun in the past 40 years. Ancient practices like spiritual direction and Lectio Divina have emerged once more to be offered as a gift to the whole Church.
Spiritual directors are found in all religions. There are even interfaith spiritual directors! What sets apart Christian spiritual directors is that our practice rests on over 2000 years of Christian discernment and 3500-3600 years of Jewish discernment. So the Bible and Jesus-followers beyond the Bible shape our listening, questions and discernment.
2. A spiritual director is a guru who has all the answers or a mind-reader.
While spiritual directors may have gifts of discernment, wisdom, teaching and even prophecy, we neither have all the answers nor are we mind-readers. We come alongside others, bringing our gifts and presence to listen and discern the voice and action of the One who is the true Director, the Holy Spirit (symbolized by the third chair in the above photo). My friend and colleague, Scott Spradley, likes to say that we [spiritual directors] are "one of the two or three gathered to listen to the Spirit who is in our midst." Matthew 18:20
By the way, we, too, need spiritual direction. A healthy spiritual director meets regularly with a spiritual director!
3. Spiritual direction is the same thing as Christian counseling.
Although there is some overlap, we make it very clear to those who come to direction that it is not counseling. We are specifically looking at a person's spiritual life and growth. While we look at God's presence and invitations in all of life, direction doesn't focus on specific relational issues or problem-solving. So it is quite normal that during spiritual direction we may discern the Holy Spirit's "tap on the shoulder" saying, “It's time now, you have everything you need to deal with this specific issue in counseling.” Spiritual directors are trained to know when to refer directees to therapy.
4. Becoming a spiritual director and coming to spiritual direction is easy.
My supervisor says spiritual direction is "a sheer gift from God." However, while people are gifted for the work of spiritual direction, if a director hasn't at least gone through a two year process of certification from a reputable, accredited school (Seattle School, Perkins, Garrett, Shalem), I'd be a little wary. Besides being schooled in spiritual growth, formation, disciplines and practices, most of us have additional schooling in theology and psychology which broadens and deepens discernment.
As to whether or not being a spiritual director or coming to spiritual direction is easy...helping people befriend silence and other ways of recognizing the still, small voice can be a challenge for the director and the directee! Being fully present to a person can often be hard work! And spiritual growth can be painful even as it leads to freedom & life. There are some sessions we've got to allow directees to leave with things being messy or not feeling very good!
5. Spiritual direction is only for clergy, creatives, contemplatives, or older adults.
It's for everyone who desires companionship on their spiritual journey...I've met with church-goers, unchurched, those who've left the church, Southern Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Nazarenes, AME, stay-at-home moms, professors of psychology, engineers, chemists, men and women, high school students, LGBTQ, pastors and para-church workers, and I've worked in conjunction with a therapist with those who have mental illness. People of all ages and from all walks of life may want to deepen their spiritual life and discernment, a spiritual director is a good companion along this journey.
6. There is one way of offering formal spiritual direction and that is seated across from one another in a quiet room.
While I offer traditional spiritual direction as well as Skype spiritual direction, there are other directors who offer different formats. Scott Spradley offers spiritual direction in coffee shops and walking on a trail. Whitney Simpson combines spiritual direction with yoga for creating greater space to listen to the ways God is speaking in and through the body.
7. Spiritual direction is a fad.
As the response to the first myth states, spiritual direction has been around for a long time! However, anything of value can be in danger of becoming a fad when it is cheapened. It may become faddish to a certain individual who comes out of curiosity and leaves when the work of the spiritual life gets too vulnerable. Or in rare instances, a spiritual director may have become certified because it was something to add to their "spiritual collection" and not because of giftedness or calling. While the way of offering spiritual direction (like Skype) may change, spiritual direction offers "wisdom for the long walk of faith" as Henri Nouwen put it. Fads are here today and gone tomorrow.
A poem written several years ago with II Corinthians 4:7-8 and II Corinthians 12:9-10 in mind.
I'm thinking of Easter and eggs.
Not the bunny bearing baskets of rainbow treasure boxes brimming with jelly beans
hidden in tall grasses and behind euonymus bushes
But of resurrection and of fragility,
But we are the resurrection people already!
Yes, and not yet.
We are as fragile as a newly laid chicken egg.
Even the turquoise Easter eggs of the Ameraucana.
We choose to dress up our fragility in Faberge
or harden ourselves slowly
in a boiling cauldron of anger and jealousy.
Both crack when dropped or mishandled
revealing nothing or hardness.
But what if we admitted that we are still not yet
even as we are already?
Exposed our ordinary fragility that leaks life
when dropped or mishandled—by life.
What if we proclaimed that we all are broken,
the dozen cast aside by those seeking candy, elegance
or the sunny-side up?
What if we trusted
that our Creator chooses what is rejected?
Knowing that inside new life is already being formed
and the cracks will be a blessing when it's time
for it to be born.
During my first semester of college I was taught the "4 Spiritual Laws" at a nearby church and campus ministry. I couldn't believe how much sense it made! Why hadn't I seen this before?! It was so logical.
Being a Jesus-follower AND rule-follower, here were 4 spiritual rules about salvation that someone had culled from the Bible that I could not only believe in but easily explain to others. And I did for years, until...
My internal dissonance grew louder. This was experienced as confusion, anger, and not wanting to go to church or sing which led to guilt for feeling that way at all. Of course being a rule-follower and "good girl," I forced myself to go (although I no longer sang or shared this "Good News" with anyone). At the time I had no answer as to "why," but I started noticing something else.
My body kept trying to tell my mind something. Gone was the excitement my rational mind had that first year of college and the following eight years. Whenever singing, explaining or hearing this theology, I felt a growing tension in my chest, pit in my stomach, and increase in headaches. Unbeknownst to me, the "Good News" wasn't being recognized as good by other parts of me (this is important since we're to love God with not only mind, but heart and body as well).
It took me a long time to discern what was going on for there were several issues related to church and Christianity that God was intent on bringing to the surface to heal. Parts of me are still in this healing process.
Knowing my kids will be presented with this same theology at some point, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to get my young daughter's response to the 4 Spiritual Laws and the bridge drawing that goes along with it (seen above). I also tend to ask my kids their point-of-view when it comes to difficult theological concepts because they don't have the theological/church baggage I do and they know they have permission to offer an honest opinion.
After school one day I said to her, "Hey, I want to show you something that I was taught and get your opinion on it." After looking and listening to me talk about sinful humanity, a perfect God, sin separating us from this perfect God, and the cross as the bridge, here's what she said:
"That's a clever drawing! BUT, here's the problem (she pointed to the sides), the starting place is all wrong."
I asked her to say more.
"Well, that's only the starting place through a human's eyes, it's not the starting place through God's. It's like when I'm all anxious, I think no one understands me and I'm completely alone, but the reality is, I'm not. Same with God."
Wow. And there you have it folks.
That's why Jesus said to become like a child if you want to enter (or even recognize) the Kingdom! Leave it to a child to cut through all the theological, rational laws and offer a simple but profound apologetic. God is with us...period. And as my 10-year-old daughter went onto tell me, "Not seeing this is the beginning of 'missing the mark.'"
It's taken me years to get back to this starting point! Her intuitive theology resonates with that of King David in Psalm 139 (who needed no bridge for he knew God to be everywhere he was and went, inescapable within and without!). Whether we see it or not, God, the Ever-Present Love, is with us. Jesus the Christ and "the old rugged cross" is this message in vivid color!
May God give us the eyes of a child.
The following poem was spontaneously written in 2012. God knew I was exhausted by two young children and years of wrestling with atonement theology (unable to put into words my growing inner dissonance with the popular view of the cross). Not being a poet, I was shocked when out-of-the-blue, poetry began flowing. I literally had a pen in one hand barely able to keep up with the free-flow of words and a spoon in the other stirring the kids' macaroni & cheese! A couple of notes about this poem: Philosopher Girard refers to Rene Girard who said the scapegoat mechanism is the origin of sacrifice in all cultures and the Bible both reveals and denounces it. The last word of the poem brings together both John 14:6 and Psalm 119:105.
They speak of You
paying the price for
our sins, of this Ultimate
As if Your
were not enough
Our Creator, the Creator of all,
coming to this land a crying
baby boy and leaving
a bleeding and broken man
What more sacrifice
do we want?
What is left to be
In pain we look for
a purpose, the greater
the reason the more our
You say You delight
not in burnt offerings,
and You neither require
nor drink the blood of goats
But how can we trust
such words to be true?
Sacrifice and religion,
dare we separate the two,
even if it be a marriage of
and not of love?
We give such reasons
so scared for them to fail,
but what if we sacrifice reason
and find our scapegoating revealed?
I tell you philosopher Girard
was never so happy
as when he put to Western words
such ancient discovery!
To step outside sacrifice,
to see her for who she is,
tis like naming a covenant new
You indeed paid a price
Man of Sorrows, and told us
to follow You
Find life and eternal joy
by being well-acquainted
You died because of
in the manner of
It was not Your blood
that was needed in order
to make us right,
but it was Your blood
that showed You to be
and the Light.
Good Friday is coming in a few weeks and with it, some theology I simply cannot stand anymore.
It's found in many worship songs like Jesus Paid it All, In Christ Alone, One Thing Remains (Your Love Never Fails) and more. It's called substitutionary atonement or penal substitution in theological language. And it's heard so often, you might even think it's the only show in town when it comes to explanations and understandings of the cross.
Richard Rohr, writes in Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, “For the sake of simplicity and brevity here, let me say that the common Christian reading of the Bible is that Jesus 'died for our sins'— either to pay a debt to the devil (common in the first millennium) or to pay a debt to God the Father (proposed by Anselm of Canterbury [1033–1109] and has often been called 'the most unfortunately successful piece of theology ever written')..."
I could not agree more. No matter how sweet sounding the music, the image of God portrayed by such lyrics is a petty, powerless and/or blood-thirsty tyrant requiring some kind of payment or transaction before those He's created can be forgiven, loved, and rescued from eternal damnation. There are lots of problems with this theory. One major problem is that if we read the Hebrew Scriptures, like the Psalms and Prophets, we discover a long-suffering God who was forgiving and willing to forgive long before the cross occurred. Rather than a belief that Jesus' death on the cross was necessary to change God's mind about us, we can see how Jesus' life and death invited us to change our minds about God. Jesus was simply following in his Father's footsteps of relentless, sacrificial love. I have a problem with lyrics and theology that proclaim the opposite.
Given this theology is taught through song and sermon in many churches (I taught it years ago as a youth pastor!), we're not apt to actually stop and think through it ourselves. It took me a while to admit that something seemed "off." There would be songs that seemed fine up until the "wrath" or "debt paid" lyrics showed up affecting the whole song. As I questioned this dominant cultural voice in American Christianity, I realized there were others experiencing the same internal dissonance. I also discovered there were other views about the crucifixion (always have been) besides substitutionary atonement. And that one no longer represents my viewpoint...
The movie, Gran Torino, on the other hand does. Spoiler alert, if you haven't seen it and want to, you may want to stop reading, go watch it and come back later. And be aware, there's violence (although let's be honest, there has to be if drawing any kind of connection between it and Good Friday). Back to the movie, I did not see it coming, the ending of Gran Torino. In fact, I imagine I got a taste of being stunned the way the disciples might have been stunned on that Good Friday long ago...they simply never saw it coming. Yet the Gospels tell us Jesus did (and so did Clint Eastwood).
If you saw the movie but cannot remember the ending, go check out a Youtube clip of the end. The final scene is so rich in symbolism, I'm not even going to get into all of it (plus it would take away from your own disturbances and observations). All I know is that Gran Torino gave a pretty good glimpse of my view of Jesus' death on the cross in less than 5 minutes.
A quick overview of the movie...gruff Walt Kowalski (played by Clint Eastwood) is a recently widowed Korean vet. He's fairly estranged from his own family when he gets drawn into the drama of his Hmong neighbors. Young Thao tries to steal Kowalski's Gran Torino after being pressured by his cousin to join the neighborhood gang. You know that Eastwood is not going to let that happen! This event leads to Kowalski developing a relationship with the family and getting an inside look at the cycle of violence and poverty experienced by the Asian community in his neighborhood. He sees how his well-intentioned advice to Thao to get a decent job and stay away from the gangs simply doesn't work, no matter how hard Thao tries, he and his sister cannot escape the brutality and injustice. It requires something more to liberate Thao and his sister. And that's where we start seeing Kowalski's single-minded intensity and there's no mistaking he is planning something. What he's planning, we have no idea.
Although we know something is about to take place when one night he shows up at the house where the gang members hang out and begins to yell in order to provoke them. One by one they come out with guns drawn. We're expecting "an eye for an eye" moment thinking Eastwood will whip out a gun and give them the justice they deserve by picking them off all in a row. What we're not expecting from the foul-mouthed Kowalski is "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) And yet he does. And on purpose. His stunning and creative act of solidarity and sacrifice releases Thao and his sister from the cycle of violence. They were "saved" by his blood.
In a perfect world, the prison system would reform the perpetrators and they'd be "saved by his blood," too. It's not a perfect world and Walt doesn't rise again in three days, so there's only so far the comparisons can go but I think it's worth noting the image of Christ found in Walt's sacrifice.
First, let's admit that Walt himself could be a stumbling block for some. In which case, I ask us to ponder what one who "walks in the way that leads to Life" really looks like. Is it being a nice, moral citizen who tries to avoid or point out sin (but can have a habit of ignoring the cycles of violence and systemic injustice in his own "neighborhood")? Or might one resemble Walt, a crass, politically incorrect "sinner" who not only notices the violence and injustice, but steps into a Christ-like path which will set his neighborhood free? Setting his face like flint, he walks right onto that sidewalk for an act of love which will rescue his neighbors from being held captive by a cycle of violence they are powerless against. Sound familiar?
Jesus knew his message would provoke the authorities. He knew that such ire would inevitably turn him into a scapegoat (a person or people group on whom we unfairly pour out our wrath, making them "pay"). He knew it is human nature to look for a scapegoat. So much so, it becomes a religious necessity for nearly every culture (some even beating literal goats to death as the name suggests)! One can see how Jesus' bold message about what to do with friends and enemies does not fit, but in fact destroys both the necessity for and violent cycle of sinful and superstitious scapegoating.
Bigger isn't better in Jesus' view (even when it comes to God). Being the stronger bully or in the bully's gang never leads to the kind of life Jesus invites, it only adds fuel to the cycle of vengeance. However, many Christians have no problem with this because the image of God passionately sung about is a fickle, vengeful one (and remember, we become like the God we worship). Plus if we agree that Jesus paid it all, we're safely on the winning side. However, in the cycle of violence, there is no winning side. In a stunning reversal of what we would expect from a winning "savior," Jesus chooses solidarity with the suffering of the scapegoat and dies.
Jesus knew the pull of scapegoating loomed large. After his resurrection, knowing some of his disciples had a propensity for zealous anger (once they knew they were safely on the "winning team"), he headed off any plans to go after the ones who had killed him. The Gospel of John tells us Jesus meets his disciples in the room they were hiding in, breathes on them, tells them to receive the Holy Spirit then talks to them about forgiveness (20:21), a topic he talked to them about at the Last Supper and even voiced from the cross.
It seems the disciples had a choice (and so do we). Be chained to the cycle of violence or have hearts and minds freed up to carry out the mission Jesus began.
What is that mission?--a completely different way of being in the world (which includes the religious one!). It's the subversive, dangerous and life-giving way of loving God and our neighbors (whether they be Hmong, Muslim, Mexican, Irish, disabled, poor, or LGBT+) as we love ourselves (which includes parts of ourselves we like and parts we'd like to treat as scapegoats). It's that kind of love that frees. It's that kind of love that Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., the young Palestinian girl Malala Yousafzai, and Walt Kowolski knew would cost them something, perhaps even their lives.
If someone wants to write a song about that, I'll gladly sing it.
You name it. When the season of madness hits, what do you not have time for?
Yes the ball games are on at my house until late in the evening causing sleep-deprivation, but aside from those, I'm talking about a season when you're super busy.
Have you been running from one thing to the next, barely having time to breathe?—that's the kind of madness I'm talking about.
Even Jesus had days and weeks when no matter how hard he tried to find some peace & quiet, someone hunted him down and interrupted it (see Mark 1:35-39 or Mark 6:31-34).
As I look at my calendar, my March got busy rather quickly. I started getting that "hunted down" feeling. Holding my breath has been happening more often than I'd like this month. Spending time alone has been elusive. And I certainly don't have time to blog. So I'll keep this short.
Once upon a time I believed in balance. I quit believing in balance. I saw what striving for balance was doing to me and others...adding so much stress that the very things and people we were trying to balance ended up suffering!
Instead, I started believing in appropriately tending to each area of life. Each getting its turn. Equity rather than equality. Depending on school projects, health, extracurricular schedules and the like, there are some days (and even weeks) my daughter gets more of my time than my son and vice versa. It doesn't mean I like one of them more than the other (though they may accuse me of it!). However, if I consistently ignore one of them, clearly they are not being tended to appropriately. Same with housework and my husband (just to be clear, I do like the latter way better than the former!).
I'm a juggler. I don't throw all three balls in the air at the same time and try to keep them there. And I don't want to learn to keep plates spinning and balanced. That doesn't even sound remotely fun to me. I already learned that trying to keep life spinning and balanced causes a lot of crashes--that's no fun for me or anyone around me, especially if they were one of my "plates"!
Tending also offers the image of gardening. Not everything gets tended to at the same time and in the same way. The tomato seeds don't have to fret because the lettuce has been planted and tended to before them!
The next two weeks are really heavy on the work-side for me. My family knows this. They won't accuse me of being a workaholic (which I actually am a recovering one). They know I need to tend to the work I love and I'm called to do in this world. And they know it happens to have fallen rather thick at the end of March. Thus, March Madness. But I'm blowing the whistle. Even the Big Dance includes time-outs. Want to take one with me?
May we pause right now to take a slow, relaxed breath, receiving this unhurried Breath of Life. And may this Holy Breath be a reminder that the God who sustained Jesus when the crowds kept coming and the days grew long, can sustain you and me. May we allow this same Spirit of Life to show us how to tend to each part of and person in our lives in due season. Amen.
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.