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Posts Tagged ‘embodied spirituality’

city-of-god2As Ash Wednesday approaches (it will fall on February 10th this year), I am re-reading City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles, and I expect this will become a pre-Lent tradition for me. Somehow, Sara Miles wrote the words that were on my heart and helped me to better understand why I love Ash Wednesday so very much. Even in years when I had decided adamantly that I was done with church, I felt drawn to attend Ash Wednesday services. In the past few years, when church has become important to me, the litany of confession has brought me happy tears. Why? What happens in this observance?

Ash Wednesday is about repentance. Not about  guilt, or about saying sorry, but about changing. “Repentance requires paying attention to others, and learning to love, even a little bit, what God loves so much: the whole screwed-up world, this holy city, the people God created to be his own.” It is about changing in a way that brings us closer to other human beings, and closer to God, and leaving behind—fasting from—that which separates us from others and from God. This kind of change affirms that life is short and the time to love is now. This, for me, is powerful and energizing.

We spend a lot of time and effort trying to get things figured out (or, at least, trying to appear that we have everything figured out). And then on Ash Wednesday there is this slap of truth: ashes to ashes. Some people might think receiving ashes, hearing “you are dust and to dust you shall return” is a morbid ritual. Yet my experience has been that it is absolutely liberating. We are mortal. Somehow the ceremonial acknowledgement of this reality is refreshing. Where I live, in the U.S., so much of the culture is focused on a false sense of immortality: buy this and everything will be fine; you will be happy and you’ll live forever! (Not in those exact words, perhaps, but that really is the gist of all marketing.)

And it’s not true. Our time is limited and precious and, too often, we squander it. Ash Wednesday is a precious gift of reminder. In the words of Will Hocker, friend of Sara Miles and chaplain at San Francisco General Hospital, Ash Wednesday is a chance “to bow down in public and say, I’m not in charge; I’m not going to live forever.” We are not in charge of life and death, and that is ok. The truth can be scary, but the truth also can be a blessing. It can be freeing to lay down the burden of impossible control.

Throughout City of God, as Sara Miles walks her neighborhood and shares ashes, readers can see the importance of community, of gathering, of collective acts that demonstrate we all are sharing this journey. We must support one another with any small mercy we can offer.

Last year I posted a review of City of God, which highlights some other elements of this energizing, reflective book.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given, based on my own copy of the book. No fee was received.

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532945_10207362262240698_5530050580359190562_nThe health of our bodies is deeply intertwined with the health of our communities. In the U.S., we know the level of unhealthy living has reached crisis level, yet the problem can feel insurmountable. Restoring health to our communities requires not only institutional support, but also spiritual strength and a solid dose of inspiration. The latest work from author Stanley Porter, a Boston-based musician, minister, and inspirational speaker, will be a blessing to communities in need. Written with personal trainer Nikquisa Nunn, The Weight is Over: My Journey toward Faith, Fitness, and Freedom addresses the deep emotional and spiritual challenges that stand as obstacles to wellness.

As Porter says in a video for this book, “I’m hoping that we can hold hands through this book and help each other be all that we were created to be.” There is power in sharing our stories of overcoming challenges and emerging stronger. The testimonies of Nunn and Porter bring encouragement and hope.

With the aim of bringing their lessons into communities, where people can immediately receive inspiration and turn toward wellness, Nunn and Porter are raising funds for outreach. You can directly support their efforts, and receive a pre-release copy of The Weight is Over.

An official book release celebration in Boston is scheduled for July 25, 1-3:00, at Frugal Bookstore in the Roxbury Mall.

For another opportunity to read Porter’s inspirational words, I recommend Every Song Has a Story, which I reviewed here.

Disclaimer: This review is freely given, and no fee was received. I know Stanley Porter from my youth, when we attended high school together.

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We move through our days, many of us, with eyes on to-do lists, blissfully unaware that this moment, this very moment, could be our last. Yet, through the eyes of author Sara Miles, I have been reminded that it is profound and precious gift to remember our mortality. In City of God: Faith in the streets, we follow the author on Ash Wednesday, as she distributes ashes in a busy neighborhood of the Mission in San Francisco. For many Christians, Ash Wednesday gives us a chance, in the words of Episcopal priest Will Hocker, “to bow down in public and say, I’m not in charge; I’m not going to live forever.” This can be a freeing gift, and it reminds us of the most basic thing we have in common with one another: regardless of where you are from, what you look like, who you love, which religion you practice, you were born into a mortal body, and one day you will die. We all will. To acknowledge this is to notice the preciousness of our being here, now, together.

For the church, Ash Wednesday presents an opportunity to focus on repentance. In the words of Sara Miles, “Repentance requires paying attention to others, and learning to love, even a little bit, what God loves so much: the whole screwed-up world, this holy city, the people God created to be his own.” The city here means the author’s home in particular, but also every place any of us calls home; the people God created means all of us. We have an opportunity to leave indifference behind, and instead to turn to one another with love and compassion.

The day in the Mission is about being with other people and witnessing what God already is doing in the lives of others, through the bodies of others. As Sara Miles and her companions set out to meet others where they are, they experience God alive in everyone. There is an opportunity to connect with strangers, to share in the truth of our mortality as the words are whispered: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

We can go and do likewise. We can bless the places we live by paying attention to one another, by turning the excessive love that God has shown us into excessive love for our neighbors. The blessing is not merely within churches, but “has been set loose.” It is where we are, where we meet one another in love and tenderness.

The pages of this book are full of fierce joy and honest questioning. I particularly recommend City of God as a beautiful read prior to Lent. However, the book has a very special perspective that will be appreciated readers who are not religious as well.

This year Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, will be observed on February 18 in many denominations.

Disclaimer: No fee was received for this review. Review is written based on a personal copy of the book.

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“Fasting that does not lead to consideration of the poverty of others misses the whole point.”

Fasting by Scot McKnight is part of the Ancient Practices series from Thomas Nelson. In this helpful and interesting volume, McKnight emphasizes that in the Biblical tradition and in the early Christian church fasting was “a response to a sacred moment and not just an instrumental act used to get what we want.” He makes a convincing case for restoring this view, and renewing a powerful, embodied practice of responding to God.

Throughout the book, McKnight includes perspectives on fasting from Christian writers across the centuries, including Athanasius, Jerome, John Chrysostom, John Wesley, and many others. There are detailed footnotes for those who wish to read the original sources.

Thankfully, McKnight’s work does not romanticize a saintly vision of living without bodily needs. I am grateful that McKnight addresses some of the dangers of fasting, and that he repeatedly returns to the concept of holistic spirituality. We live in bodies created by God, and through our bodies we serve God and one another. While we should rightly resist gluttony and hedonism, we also must feed our bodies nourishing food.

McKnight writes with awareness of anorexia nervosa, a deadly disease rooted in unhealthy perceptions of one’s body, in which sufferers subject themselves to extreme fasting. He acknowledges that fasting undertaken for the wrong purpose is undesirable and potentially very harmful.

In McKnight’s understanding, fasting can be a valuable practice if undertaken for the right reasons, because it brings our whole selves into awareness and attentiveness before God. One might fast out of grief, a deep longing for closeness to God, a deep need for social justice and change. However, fasting cannot be the end of one’s practice. “If you go in prayer to the God who wants to bring justice, then you should be willing to spend your energies working for that same justice,” McKnight writes. Ideally one should come away from a fast with a renewed desire to love and serve others.

Recently I was made aware of the exciting work of 58, “a global initiative to end extreme poverty by living out Isaiah 58.” In this verse of the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Isaiah calls upon listeners “to loose the chains of injustice….to set the oppressed free….to share your food with the hungry…to provide the poor wanderer with shelter….when you see the naked, to clothe them.”

May all of us find a way, every day, to think of the needs of others and to work for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision.

This review was based on a volume from my public library. Hopefully my library system will obtain some of the other books in this series.

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