Dust you are—(and dust He is too!)

IMG_1320

I finish my application. Before I send it, I pause, listening to the emotions warring inside of me. Excitement—“Jesus, I can hardly believe we’re here. I’ve wanted to do this for so long.” And fear—“Is it okay? Will they let me in?” It takes me about a minute to recognize that the question isn’t really about my application at all but about me. “Am I okay? Do you like the way you made me, like the way we’re writing this story together, or am I messing it up?”

They’re not new questions for me, but I’m learning to bring them to Jesus each time they surface instead of trying to push them away. Sometimes He reminds me of something He’s told me in the past, but often there’s some new, precious way He wants to love me in that same old place.

Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. The words drift into my awareness, words that have echoed through my story since the wee hours of that dark Kabul morning as I awaited the little plane to carry me to my first glimpse of the village that would be my home. But this time instead of just letting them echo in my head I look them up. This time I see who is calling.

“Listen! My lover!

Look! Here he comes,

leaping across the mountains,

bounding over the hills. . . .” (Song of Solomon 2)

He’s leaping and bounding—toward me!

I’m not sensing much of a hesitation here, no wondering whether I really am right for him after all. He’s gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice as though he can’t wait to see my face.

He’s been calling me to come and love Him with body as well as heart, soul, and mind; now He’s showing me how. Leaping, bounding, nothing held back.

The scene shifts and I watch as He hears my cry for help and runs to me, splitting the heavens, shaking the earth, stooping and reaching and lifting me to Himself, to this wide-open place of delighting in each other. (Psalm 18)

And then. . .

He’s done with allegories now, done with images. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am. (John 17)

He who is limitless Love takes flesh to have one more way to love me.

The Psalmist’s God stoops again, but this time into a womb.

And again, and I feel His touch as the water splashes over my feet and He dries them with the towel around His waist.

And once more as He kneels in the garden, sweating whole centuries of agony.

He kneels beneath the whip and the too-heavy cross and the judgment of His Father whose face, until now, has only ever looked on Him with pleasure.

One knee isn’t enough for Him; He’s down on both, again and again and again.

And when His feet are nailed so He can’t kneel, he spends the last of His strength lifting His body against the spikes to love his mother into the arms of another: Dear woman, here is your son.

To love the soldiers who had beaten raw his back, rubbing now against rough wood with each breath: Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.

To love His Father: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

And to love me, speaking the words which tell me that nothing now stands in the way of my being all His forever: It. Is. Finished!

 

Taking it deeper:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9; c.f. John 17:23)

What might it mean for you to walk with Jesus this week to the cross and watch Him loving you with all His heart and soul and mind and strength—loving you with the same intensity of love that exists between the persons of the Trinity? How might you want to respond?

 ______________

This is the seventh in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first six:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert

Dust you are: living the mystery together

Dust you are: a celebration

Dust you are: growing small

 

Dust you are: growing small

DSC_0047

I run past trees with limbs still winter-bare, each twig curled upward, reaching for heaven.

Some days you can reach and other days your limbs are limp and the longing gone and how then do you find the strength to lift the bare twigs of your soul heavenward?

____________

We gather to explore John of the Cross’s poem, “The Living Flame of Love.” It’s a poem that has been special to me, giving me words when I felt God calling me close with a longing that surprised me. It’s a poem that, even a few weeks ago when I signed up for this day, awakened in me an echoing longing. Did I want to go, she asked? How could I not when, reading even the first stanza, I felt this Love like an elastic band tying my heart to His, drawing me close once again with such gentle strength?

We meet in the living room for group prayer and teaching, then scatter to spend time alone with God. I’ve been offered a room with a double bed and a baby’s crib. I close the door and sit on the chair next to it. Across from me the window is covered with heavy dark fabric. I sit still for a while, then open my journal and write my sadness. The longing that I want to offer to God isn’t here. The poem isn’t drawing me in. Instead of passionate love and openness I find myself wanting to pull away from the burning. I slip to the floor, my back against the double bed.

Face to face with the crib, I sense God whisper, “Just be the baby.”

The baby I picture is small, too young to lift her arms to be picked up. Too young even to know why, exactly, she is crying. I watch as gentle arms reach down and lift her from the crib. I feel the ache in the bigger heart as its caverns echo with the cries of his daughter, welcoming and absorbing them, containing her pain. The small body quivers and relaxes as her sobs slowly settle and she allows herself to be comforted.

After the second group session I find myself back on the floor in front of the crib. The prayer prompt this time is to stay with the tender expressions that fill the poem, letting them orient my prayer to the loving expressions between me and God. I read the poem again. I feel nothing. Only sadness. Failure. I’m facing the crib again. “Just be the baby.” I guess this is the point of what Jeff has been saying. Can I stop trying to assess where I am and just trust that underneath everything God is at work transforming me even when I’m not aware of it? Can I be okay with it if I never get to the place of feeling what I want to feel? Can I let go and open my heart to God in this place, willing to trust that God’s delight in me, His work in me, is not dependent on my awareness of it?

Round three, and we’re asked to write a poem of response. I head for the bed, exhausted and so grateful I’ve been offered this room. For a moment I consider trying to write a poem lying down. “Just be the baby.” Right now the only way I can offer my whole self to God is through taking a nap. A few tears slip from my left eye as I let go of my expectations for this day. I haven’t been able to offer God any of the kind of strong love I’d hoped to be able to give, only my weakness and need for Him. I haven’t done any of the assignments as suggested. I’ve just received the gift of His presence as I let myself be the baby.

______________

A day later and the pastor speaks of Jesus’ words from the cross, “It is finished!” “What is finished?” he keeps asking.

Everything. The whole plan. The whole story.

“If the chief end of man is to glorify God, the chief end of man has been accomplished. That burden doesn’t rest on our shoulders anymore.” (Darrell Johnson)

There are moments of grace when we’re given love or longing to offer to God. There are moments of grace when we’re given the strength to lift bare arms heavenward, offering pain to be taken and emptiness to be filled. But perhaps the greatest grace-moments of all come when we can’t lift any part of ourselves at all and we’re given the grace to know ourselves carried.

It’s only later I realize: the crib and the bed for two share a room. I think this is what Jesus has been trying to show me: we can only know the places of deepest intimacy through growing small and letting Him carry us into union.

 

Taking it deeper:

Is there a posture that might express what your heart wants to say to Jesus right now?

 

____________

This is the sixth in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first five:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert

Dust you are: living the mystery together

Dust you are: a celebration

Dust you are: a celebration

DSCN5597

There are still three weeks to go in Lent, three weeks more of intentionally exploring what it means to be fully human followers of Jesus, not living just in our heads but living full-bodied fellowship and followership.

Some days I feel like I’m still digging my way out of an ice-drifted driveway and already my heart is wondering when the journey will be over. (“Are we there yet?”)

Other days it seems right that our word “Lent” is derived from the Old English word meaning “springtime.” Spring fever is in my blood and I’m not just walking toward the cross but running toward resurrection.

Spring calls us to be part of her, draws us into her so we shake the rugs and clean the closets and run outside to feel the sun’s face turned toward us, warm and overflowing with blessing. Spring insists that we join in with our whole bodies. She doesn’t just call, she puts out a hand, two hands, smelling of fresh-turned earth and daffodils, and tugs so we ache to dig in the earth or wish we had a child’s small hand in ours so we could skip down the road without anyone looking at us funny.

The claim of spring on our bones doesn’t always wait for Easter. It can stir even on the way to the cross. I watch Jesus step firmly towards His death, eyes on His bride. A woman kneels and anoints Jesus for burial, their dance tugging her to bend and wipe His feet with her hair. Jesus Himself stoops and lifts the feet of his disciples and washes them clean.

 “All of these bodily postures were postures of risk. They were postures that relinquished the control of a planned response; they were authentic responses to the Spirit working and moving physically in their midst. These physical postures of response reveal a wild God, one who breaks boundaries, etiquette, and our preconceived ideas of responding.” (Celeste Snowber Schroeder, Embodied Prayer, 133)

The sign in my bathroom declares, “I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing” (Hillel). It’s a reminder to this girl who clings to control: the point is not perfection but surrender and wholeness and Him.

I can’t help but grin as I remember this eighty-eight year old bopping her way down the front steps of her house. There are a host of ways to dance and mine won’t look like hers but this I know: I am body as well as soul and learning to let my body be part of my worship is one more step in surrendering my whole self to this wild and passionate Lord of the dance as He leads me out to wash feet, out through the cross and on toward resurrection.

IMG_0421_2

Photo by Tricia Herera

 

Taking it deeper:

Try it. Dance. (Yes, you. I dare you.)

If you’re itching to get started, please stop reading and go for it! If you have hesitations like I’ve had, maybe these few thoughts and practices that have helped me will help you ease into this practice too:

  • Too embarrassed? Close the blinds and give yourself space to dance alone. Or if that’s still too much, try dancing in your imagination. What posture might express what your whole self wants to say to God right now? The point is not to force ourselves into something unnatural but to stop shushing our bodies and learn to welcome them as they cry to be part of our worship.
  • Too down? Try dancing this lament. Let your body be part of expressing the cry of your soul.
  • Too sick? May I whisper a secret? This hard place might just be one of the best places to learn to dance as we let the impossible weight of our body surrender to the strength of Jesus’ arms and discover ourselves carried into the dance. And, as I discovered last week, sometimes joining in the dance doesn’t even mean moving from your chair but uncrossing your legs and opening your hands and listening to the music with your feet and knees as well as your ears.
  • No time? Who says I can’t wield that toilet brush or broom with a little rhythm as I surrender to the joy or longing of the worship music playing in the background and let my whole self open a little wider to God?
  • Guys—having seen you cheering for a goal, not just arms but whole bodies in the air, shouts erupting, I’m pretty sure your body is also eager to be part of worship. I’m also pretty sure you’ll have your own unique way of expressing it. Thoughts? What might it look like for you to let your body be part of worship?

_______________

This is the fifth in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first four:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert

Dust you are: Living the mystery together

Dust you are: living the mystery together

DSCN2736

There are three ministers sitting at the front behind the communion table. I’ve come full today, full of the sadness and fear and anger I’d tried to leave behind but couldn’t. And I’ve come empty, hungry for Jesus. I’m so grateful He calls me to come as I am.

The senior minister, Darrell, is in the middle with Andrea on his right and Abe on his left. Darrell stands, welcoming us all to the table and speaking the words of institution as he lifts the loaf and breaks it. I watch as Abe and Andrea pass the trays of bread to the servers to share with us. Darrell asks that we hold the bread until all have received and can partake “because we’re all in this together.”

Then, to his right, Andrea stands and lifts the cup. Her clear voice rings out, “And then He took the cup. . .” I was raised in a church where women couldn’t speak the words of institution or distribute the elements. My heart is in my throat. Something is happening and Jesus is in this place and we are on holy ground.

I expect her to suggest that we take the cup when we receive it as a sign that even though we are brought into the body we each come to Jesus individually. She asks instead that we wait once again and drink together. That breaks me right open and tears run down my cheeks because don’t we all have times we need to be reminded that this is the ultimate truth, that we really are part of Jesus’ body, all in this together, with each other and for each other and that’s how it’s meant to be?

We’re singing “Let the weak say I am strong” and part of that strength comes from sensing your fellow cells squished up against you in this living, breathing, growing body. There are moments Jesus’ life flows through you to feed them and warm them and hold them up and there are moments the flow is reversed. And often those moments aren’t very far apart.

I watch as the mystery unfolding in front of me deepens. Andrea returns from passing the trays of tiny cups to the servers. Darrell has stepped out from behind the table. He speaks to her a few words I can’t hear and she smiles and steps in behind the table, into the middle, into his place, and sits in his seat. Darrell sits in hers, then stands again to collect the emptied trays as the servers return.

This is the Lord’s table and I’ve just watched Him step out of His place and put me—a straggler and a struggler and a woman1 —in it, right in the middle of the Trinity where I can sit, surrounded and honored and safe and then where I can stand again—Jesus now wearing my flesh—and offer His blood and His body, His life and His strength, to my fellow ministers and to the world.

There are no words Darrell could have spoken which would have carried that message to my heart the way his action did.

There is truth that has to be embodied and joy that has to be laughed and grief that has to come out in wet and salty tears. There is love that has to be knelt and danced and lived and longing that can only be expressed as you lie clinging to the feet of Jesus.

Our body is not an accessory to our souls. It’s not a mere house for the more precious and lasting part of us. Rather, as Old Testament scholar Johannes Pedersen says, ‘The body is the soul in its outward form.”2

 

Taking it further:

Speaking of Genesis 2:7, Celeste Snowber Schroeder says,

“The Hebrew literally tells us that ‘God breathed in the nostrils the breath of life and the human became a nephesh,’ most often translated as soul. The passage does not say that the human was supplied with a soul as some other attachment to the body, but by the breath of God the human became a living body-soul, a living human being. So man and woman in their total essence are souls. As articulated by Old Testament scholar Johannes Pedersen, ‘Soul and body are so intimately united that a distinction cannot be made between them. They are more than ‘united,’: the body is the soul in its outward form.’ In the beginning of creation we were designed as one: body-soul.”3

What questions does this raise for you? What difference might this understanding of soul and body as two facets of the same whole make in your life (in your work, your decisions, your relationships, the daily practice of your faith and the way you read Scripture)?

 

Notes:

This is not to imply either that Andrea is a straggler or a struggler, or that women are in general any more so than men. We’re all dust, and the great mystery of grace is that Jesus puts any of us in this place where He wears our flesh and loves others through us. But since I’m a woman and have the church background that I do, the grace of Andrea being placed in that seat enabled me to glimpse and receive the grace more deeply.

Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), 171.

3 Celeste Snowber Schroeder, Embodied Prayer (Liguiori, Missouri: Triumph Books, 1995), 22.

______________________

This is the fourth in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first three:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert

Dust you are: Love in the desert


DSCN1766

In the middle of the desert it can be hard to remember that every bit of dust and stone is love spoken into place. That each blade of brave grass and every dark shadow cast by a towering rock is sustained by that same Love which holds you and breathes into you each breath.

Sometimes in the desert you have to look hard to find the love; other times it pours over you.

I watch as Jesus walks into the desert, sent by the same Spirit who had just descended and confirmed him beloved.

Sent from that baptismal river of blessing to be hungry and weary, alone with the wild animals and his devilish tempter, stretched to his limits for forty days until Satan left and angels came to tend him.

He’d just heard his Father speak His love over him.

Maybe it’s only in the desert that we test and prove that love, learn that that love is strong enough to carry us through every drought and sandstorm.

Maybe that is the love of the desert, the stripping away of everything else until we lean on that love with all our weight and discover that this love will hold us. That, yes, this love will lead us out of everything familiar, and sometimes we’ll see the pillar of fire and other times our eyes will sting from the smoke, but we will be led. Guided. Guarded. And fed by God himself.

Our call in the desert is to lean into that love.

I watch how Satan fights, each of his temptations, as Ross Hastings shows, an attack on Jesus’ ability to rest in his Sonship. And I watch how Jesus responds to each one by leaning into his belovedness. He uses all the tools he has been given: Scripture, first and foremost, and prayer, but also his body. He fasts.

Our bodies: thermostats and thermometers

A few months back I looked up all the references to fasting in Scripture. Often, fasting flowed from inner experience as an expression of the deep grief or longing a person or community was feeling. The Israelites fasted as they mourned the deaths of Saul and his army, and Nehemiah fasted as he mourned the destruction of Jerusalem (2 Sam 1:12 and Neh 1:4). David abstained from food as he pleaded with God for the life of his son, and the Jews expressed their kicked-in-the-gut sickness over the upcoming holocaust by fasting (2 Sam 12:16-23 and Esther 4:3). There are times your grief is so deep your whole body cries out to share in its expression; fasting is one such way.

Our bodies are thermometers, the pains, longings and actions (including fasting) of our bodies reflecting what is going on deep within us. They can also be thermostats, able not only to sense and reflect our temperature but to help us recover and maintain warmth toward God.

Sometimes God commands His people to fast as a way to help them awaken again to His love and turn their whole selves back to Him (Joel 2:12-13). Fasting is not a way of subjugating the body so we’re free to pray. It’s a form of integration, a way of becoming more, not less, embodied and unified and whole in our prayer. I realized this one day as I pictured my body slouched in a corner, back turned on my heart and soul which were filled with longing and grief. My body, feeling the same grief, was stuffing chocolate in its mouth, seeking comfort. Helping my body to put down the chocolate and come with my heart and soul to God can be a way of bringing all the parts of me into God’s healing presence and allowing Him to make me whole in His love.

Sometimes God calls His people to fast; other times He says, “Celebrate now and fast later” (Neh 8 and 9). God knows we’re human and the use of our bodies is a powerful tool: there are times we need to engage our body in repentance through fasting and there are times we need to savor flavors and celebrate together, using the thermostat of our body to help us press into joy, not to escape the struggle but to strengthen us for it. It’s like God said to Elijah when He sent him food as he was lying under a bush in the desert praying to die, “Eat, for this journey is too much for you” (1 Kings 19:7). Fasting and feasting (whether on food or music or natural beauty) can both be ways of using our bodies to help us turn back toward God. It all depends where we’re starting from and which way we need to be turned.

Leaning into love

Two weeks ago I sat, clinging to the cross, and leaned my head back, thinking it bare wall behind me. When we stood to leave the room, she took my shoulder and turned me to see what I’d been leaning my head against, what she’d kept seeing as the backdrop to my tear-stained face. One row after another of heart-rocks, each on its own rough, sandy backdrop. Each a reminder as she’d walked the several weeks along the mountain desert trail: even in the desert, the heart of God toward us is love.

photo collage courtesy of Karen Webber

photo collage courtesy of Karen Webber

Taking it deeper:

Can you hear the invitation for you this week? Are you needing to let your body help you celebrate and receive the joy of the Lord? (More thoughts on that soon but you can pray with me about this and look for ways to begin.) Or are you needing to let your body help you re-awaken to God’s love by fasting from something? Skip a meal; forego chocolate; unplug from facebook—watch where you turn to fill the empty space or satisfy loneliness and step away from it for a while, choosing to turn your body as well as your heart and soul to God instead. Notice both what your reaction to the discipline tells you about your internal state, and how it helps awaken and turn you back to listen for the Voice that calls you beloved.

__________________________________________

This is the third in a Lenten series of posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first two:

Dust you are: An Invitation

Dust you are: A Call to Pay Attention