Love and Fear Dance Together

Today I read this post on Christine Sine’s blog. It was a great post and a wonderful addition to the recent synchroblog on Christianity and Immigration. At the end she quoted this poem by Michael Leuniq:

“There are only two feelings
Love and fear
There are only two languages
Love and fear
There are only two activities
Love and fear
There are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks,
two results.
Love and fear
Love and fear.”

As soon as I read this I had this picture in my head of love and fear dancing together. I thought about the Christian life as being a journey from fear to love. There’s a long phase of the journey where love hasn’t totally conquered fear yet, and so they dance together for a while. Sometimes love leads, and sometimes fear leads, but hopefully over the course of the journey love leads more and more often until one day fear is completely transformed and Love is all there is. I’ve been sitting with this picture all day.

Here’s a little something I wrote in response to all these thoughts:

Lord, I reach out to you in my darkness and there is fear.

I speak to you in my pain and there is fear.

In me is fear, around me is fear, from me is fear.

I am fear.

But, Lord, you reach out to me in my darkness and there is love.

You speak to me in my pain and there is love.

In you is love, around you is love, from you is love.

You are love.

Perfect love drives out all fear.

You come

And your love begins to dance with my fear.

And slowly, ever so slowly

Fear is driven out by love’s dance.

And you begin to whisper,

“Come, and do likewise!

Reach out your hand in love towards those in darkness

Speak out in love towards those in pain

Drive out fear from all places where it has made its home.

Be love to the other, as I have been love to you.”

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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Yoga as a Spiritual Practice

Yesterday Christine Sine posted another blog in her series “What is a Spiritual Practice?” It was written by Christina Whitehouse-Suggs and was about yoga as a spiritual practice. This is something that obviously caught my attention as yoga has (especially in the past two years) become a very dear part of my life and a very significant way that I relate to God.

Let me begin by specifying for all of you that yoga is not in and of itself spiritual. It is not a religion and it does not need to be practiced religiously. I know that there are those who think that yoga is part of Eastern religion and Hinduism in particular and that because of that Christian’s shouldn’t practice it. I strongly disagree with this, on two levels. One being that it’s just not true. Yoga is not religious in and of itself. Yoga is a philosophy. Like any other philosophy it can be incorporated with a broad range of religions or it can be followed or practiced on its own without religious connections. Secondly, I tend to think that even if it was really religious in nature there would still be things that we as Christian’s could learn from it. I think there are probably things that we could learn from a lot of other religions. Not that I think we should openly accept anything and everything that is out there, but I do think that an open and honest dialogue can never be really harmful and that we can glean much from people who believe and practice a faith that is different than our own.

That all being said I think that for me yoga, both the physical practice and the philosophy of yoga have become very spiritual and very closely connected with my religious experience. I have learned and continue to learn a lot about God and life and myself through yoga. And I have experienced God through my yoga practice. It stretches me and grows my faith and draws me into an experience of the divine just as any other spiritual practice does.

I have written off and on quite a bit about how I relate to God through yoga, giving examples of things I learn from yoga and even posting yoga routines that incorporate scripture and prayer and that have been powerful experiences for me. To share all these posts again would be way too much, but I did want to re-share a few of them that specifically talked about things I’ve learned about God and myself through yoga to compliment Christina’s wonderful posts about what she has learned through her yoga experience.

Here are both of Christina’s posts on yoga as a spiritual practice:

Becoming a Good Student – about the “five qualities that contribute to being a good student of yoga and how they relate to natural elements”. She points out that these are also significant qualities needed for being a follower or student of Christ.

Yoga & Jesus – about three of the paths of yoga and how they relate to the greatest commandment given by Jesus. l

Here are just a few of mine:

Lessons from Yoga: Headstands – about experiencing a tangible picture for the up-side-down and back-wards kingdom that Christ calls us to

Lessons from Yoga: Warrior Poses – about power and fighting for justice and standing up for ourselves

Lessons from Yoga: Savasana and Letting Go – about surrendering to God and letting go

Lessons from Yoga: Focus – about the difference that focusing on God instead of ourselves can make

Hope you enjoy some or all of these posts.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany

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What is a Spiritual Practice Blog Series

Christine Sine’s blog series on What is a Spiritual Practice has been going strong and there have already been a number of very interesting articles and the promise of more to come. If you haven’t been following this series, I encourage you to check it out. Here are the posts so far:

Jason ClarkSmoking to the Glory of God?

Mark ScandretteLove-Making as a Spiritual Practice

T FreemanThe Spiritual Practice of Apologizing

Brigid Walsh Gleaning as Spiritual Practice

Bowie Snodgrass Grief as Spiritual Practice

Thomas Turner Engagement as Spiritual Practice

Stan Thornburg Making Space for the Rabbi

Gary Heard Encountering the Stranger as Spiritual Practice and GPS Navigation as Spiritual Practice

Jason Fowler Listening for God’s Voice in Music

Sheila Hight Birdkeeping as Spiritual Practice

Steve Taylor Composting as Spiritual Practice

John O’Hara Anyone Can Cook – Spirituality in the Kitchen

Bethany Stedman – crying as a spiritual practice

Christopher Heuertz – Feeling close to God in the graveyard

Gerard Kelly – twittering as a spiritual practice

Tim Mathis – blogging as as a spiritual practice

Mary Naegeli – Writing a sermon as spiritual practice

Hannah Haui Cultural Protocol as spiritual practice

Jamie Arpin Ricci Pet Ownership as spiritual practice

Matt Stone – Listening to Enemies as Spiritual Practice

Dan Cooper – Washing Dishes as Spiritual Discipline

Maryellen Young – The spiritual practice of taking a shower

Christine Sine – virtual Eucharist: Is this a spiritual practice

christine Sine – Is Breathing a Spiritual Practice

I found today’s post “Smoking to the Glory of God?” to be particularly helpful to the dialogue as it reminded us that, “Everything can be a ‘spiritual practice’, but not everything is a ‘spiritual practice’.  It is the ends, the means, and the formation that takes place within our activities that determines what is ‘spiritual’.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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Lent and Easter are just Around the Corner

I’ve been wanting to repost the first blog I wrote about Lent sometime soon, but had forgotten about it with other things that have been going on (like another intensive yoga training this weekend). But, then this morning I had a little time and came across Christine Sine’s Invitation to join her in Getting Ready for Lent and Easter. She invited anyone who wants to participate to use her Lenten guide and also the guide she is doing for the Easter season this year. She also invited bloggers to join her in blogging about their experience with the Lenten guide and Easter guide and the ways in which they are entering into Lent and Easter. I LOVED this idea and of course was quick to jump on board – anyone else want to join me??

For those of you who don’t know much about Lent Christine has a great description here on her blog, or you can read my post on it from last year below (I changed a few things so that the dates would be accurate for this year):

Lent: An Introduction, a Little bit of History, and a Few Ideas

Ash Wednesday is on February 25th this year and will mark the beginning of Lent, so I thought I would share some thoughts I’ve had about Lent, some research and things I’ve learned about it and some ideas of ways to engage in Lent this year that I am contemplating putting into practice.

Lent has a long history. It began in the early church as a time for those who were going to be baptized (baptism happened only once a year on the day before Easter) to prepare themselves for baptism and full acceptance into the church. It was a time for fasting and prayer as well as a time for them to study and learn about Christ and the doctrines of the church. They were to prepare for the new life and new birth that would come with their baptism on Easter. Eventually the rest of the church joined in this practice (some say they did this as a way of showing fellowship with the new believers) and by the Council of Nicene it had become an official season of the church calendar and was established as a 40 day fast of repentance and preparation. It was a time to remember Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness, a time to remember the suffering Christ endured on the cross, and it was a time to remember the sin that put Christ on the cross and the sin in our own lives and world.

At its heart Lent is a journey to wholeness, a journey of joining God in his redemptive and redeeming work in the world. But, that journey begins with a journey through brokenness – we join God in his redemptive work of wholeness by first confronting the brokenness in our own lives and in the world around us. We confront the barriers that keep us from God, the barriers that keep us from each other and the barriers that keep us from God’s creation. This is not a onetime act. We do not overcome these barriers in a day or in 40 days, but the idea is that each year we go through this Lenten process and that at the end of it each time we find ourselves closer…closer to the goal of wholeness and of joining God in His loving work in the world.

Lent is not just about giving something up for a few weeks and it’s not just about focusing on our sin and repenting for a few weeks – it’s really about growth. The very word Lent means “Spring” or “springtime” and indeed just as spring is a time when we plant seeds and bury them in darkness it is a time when we plant ourselves in God and focus on and repent of the darkness in ourselves and in our world. It is a time when through repentance we grow and become a thing of beauty and restoration to the world around us. Lent is really about going through a process that should change us, that should bring us closer to being fully the people God has called us and created us to be.

The church has traditionally made this journey through an emphasis on fasting, almsgiving and prayer.

Fasting has a way of making us more aware of what’s really important in life, when we give up that which is not important we realize what is important. Traditionally in the church there was a lot of discrepancy as to how people should Fast and practice avoidance during Lent. Eventually the Western church declared lent to be 40 days long not counting Sundays. It was to include two days of fasting (ash Wednesday and good Friday) which meant that people were only able to eat one meal on those days (usually in the evening) though they were allowed 2 small snacks during the day to keep up their strength but these snacks could not add up to another full meal. For the Western church Lent also included days of “abstinence” on each Friday during Lent, this meant that ever Friday during lent the church community was not suppose to eat meat at all or drink alcohol, fish was an allowed exception to the no meat rule. In the Eastern Church Lent was also 40 days long but included Sundays and they held to much stricter observance of lent. For the Eastern Church all 40 days were days to abstain from all meat and from all dairy and eggs, basically they all became vegans for 40 days. They also abstained from alcohol during this time. In more modern days many protestants who do observe lent practice fasting in a very different way than either the traditional Western or Eastern church – they simply allowed their congregation to choose what they wanted to give up for the 40 days. But, indifferent to what type of fast is practiced the purpose is the same – to join in Christ’s suffering and in the suffering of the world.

But, fasting was never just for the sack of denial and self-discipline (though those things were part of it). There was a broader purpose to the fasting, a purpose to the denial that went beyond the spiritual development that this practice created and touched on a very practical purpose. The money saved during the fast was to be spent in almsgiving – in giving to the poor. This fast was a way to join with the suffering of the world and to play a part in diminishing that suffering. There was an emphasis during lent on giving to and suffering on behalf of the poor and needy in the world. This was the part of lent that I had known nothing of before and this is the part of lent that struck me most.

The third practice of lent is that of prayer. Christ came. He joined us in our suffering – so much so that he joined us in our death. And so at lent when we remember and dwell on the suffering of our Christ it seems only right that we would in thankful penitence turn our hearts and lives back to Him through prayer. It seems right that during this time of remembrance we would talk with him about our own sin remembering that he came and died not just for some distant purpose or person, He came and died for us each as unique individuals that he wanted to be near and connected to. It seems right that during this time of remembrance we would talk with him about the brokenness in our lives and in the world around us. It seems right that during this time of remembrance we would talk to him about the wrong being done in our world and cry out on behalf of ourselves, our neighbors, our nation and society and on behalf of all those around the world. Through Lenten prayer we confess our failure, confess the ways we fall short, confess and recognize our need for a savior. Through Lenten prayer we recommit ourselves to Christ, the His church and to the redeeming work He is doing and desires to do in the world around us. Through Lenten prayer we silence ourselves and listen to Christ’s heart for us and for the world.

I think as I have learned more about Lent I have learned most of all that Lent is not a means and end in itself… it is a beginning. During Lent we dwell on the suffering and hardships of Christ, the suffering and sin in our own life and the suffering and brokenness in our world and we do this in ways that change us. So that when Easter comes we have a real sense of the great glory that is found in Christ’s resurrection – yes our world is broken, yes our own lives are broken but Christ didn’t just suffer he rose and with his resurrection he brought new life for all of us. So after a time of penitence and brokenness we can come to Easter knowing fully the importance and necessity of Christ’s resurrection and rejoicing fully in the complete and eternal fullness of life that He brings. And we can move on from there hopefully further along in our journey, more fully in tune with Christ, with ourselves and with the world around us.

There is a lot of variety in how the church has practiced fasting, almsgiving and prayer during lent and I think as we enter lent it is important for each of us to search our hearts and figure out how best we can practice these Lenten themes in ways that according to God’s unique calling and work in our lives connects us more closely with the Man of Sorrows and the sorrow-filled world around us.

Here are some Ideas of ways to practice and engage more in the Lenten season this year:

          $2  Mutunga  Challenge

          Carry  a pocket size cross with you continually throughout lent as a reminder of the season

          Pray through the daily offices throughout lent

          Participate in the stations of the cross

          Fast and/or abstain from something

          Work through Christine Sine’s Lenten guide

          Volunteer somewhere

          Read some of the original church fathers as a way to learn more about the life, death and resurrection of Christ and the work of His church

          Spend some time memorizing scripture during lent

          Set aside time to pray

          Spend some time confessing your brokenness and sin to God and to another person

          Commit to praying for the poor, the brokenhearted, the prisoners, the hungry, and the sick around the world and in your own city/neighborhood

          Wear simple cloths and no jewelry during lent as a symbol of mourning the death and brokenness of our lives and the world

          If you find that you are really busy and don’t have time maybe make your discipline for Lent that you make time, that you say no to added activities and commitments and instead say yes to rest and spending time with God

          Find a charity that you believe in and donate to it financially during lent as a small way to mend brokenness in the world

          Take time to restore a broken relationship in your life

          Make a commitment to have a minimal impact on the environment during Lent in an effort to restore the brokenness of God’s planet – recycle more, walk more, take public transportation, re-use things in an effort to create less garbage, don’t buy a lot of “stuff”, etc.

          Go through the Lectionary as a way to read the Bible more during lent 

          Make a commitment to attend church services more often or at least gather with other believers more regularly during lent

          If you are married spend some quality date night time with your spouse during lent as a way to restore and refresh any brokenness in your marriage relationship

          Take time to clean out your house/closet and donate those things you don’t need to those who may need them as a way to restore (in some small way) some of the brokenness in the world

          Take time to educate yourself more about the human rights violations in the world, the injustice in the world, and in general the brokenness in the world and what you can do to participate in restoring wholeness and health to people

          Keep a journal during lent as a means for self examination and prayer

          Spent time meditating on Christ Crucified

           Place a cross somewhere where you will see it regularly during Lent and remember Christ’s sacrifice and his desire for us to sacrifice on behalf of others as well

          Pick a meditative phrase to repeat to yourself throughout the day during lent as a reminder of the meaning of the season – for example “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  Or “Lord, in my hand no price I bring; simply to the cross I cling.” Or some other phrase that helps you to focus on the Lenten season

–    Watch Christine Sine’s Reflections for Lent video

–    Participate in the assignment from spirituality2go site

–    Participate in the 40 day Jesus Creed Challenge 

          Set an extra place at your dinner table each night during Lent as a reminder to “pray that God would fill up the emptiness of those in need.” And as a reminder “that all (no matter their station in life) are invited to come as guests…as family.”Be creative and find ways in your life to remember the brokenness in the world and join God in restoring wholeness and health to all. I’d love to hear any other ideas you may have for practicing the season of Lent and partaking in the sacrifice of Christ. I personally have been really challenged by Lent this year and I look forward to engaging more in this sacred season of the church.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Beth Stedman

More thoughts on entering into Lent and Easter this year (2009) to come soon! Stay tuned.

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Round Up From Around The Web: Leadership and some other stuff

Once again it’s time for a round up from around the web edition J Now that we are back in Prague and starting to settle back into a routine (though it has been thrown off a bit by the jet lag) I have been able to catch up on some of the blogs I like to read and I found that there has been some very interesting blog entries while I was disengaged from the blogosphere.

We’ll start with Godspace. I actually wasn’t as behind on her blog because she hasn’t been writing much lately due to being involved in a new change of direction that the Mustard Seed Association is taking. She talks about it in this blog called Quaker Discernment. I found the blog very interesting – I like the idea of decisions being made in community, but it does sound messy to me and I think I would find it very difficult in practice. But, I think that if you are going to say that you value community and people and that you believe that God can speak to anyone and through anyone then it is important to show that through your actions and not just talk about it.  It’s an interesting blog and I encourage you to check it out. Another blog that I found interesting on Christine’s site today was this one talking about how the FDA has approved cloned meat as being safe to eat. I personally found this interesting partly because I have very little faith in the FDA and if they say something is ok then I’m likely to think they are wrong (they have made a lot of mistakes before). I also find this interesting because I have a chemical sensitivity and am allergic/sensitive to a number of different foods. I struggle enough with my health and with finding healthy safe foods for me to eat – I don’t need another thing to worry about when buying food or eating out at restaurants.

Another blog that I found really interesting also related to leadership and decision making in the church but in a more specific and detail oriented way then Christine Sine’s blog. It was this blog entry by Kingdom Grace called The Missing APEs.The blog is a discussion of this article  in Leadership Journal written by Alan Hirsch. I found Grace’s comments on the article and the story she shared of her own experience to be very interesting and enlightening. I found both Alan Hirsch’s original article and Kingdom Grace’s blog about it very helpful and challenging and they gave me new language to think of leadership in and I always like when people can give me words for expressing my thoughts and experiences.

In reading through Kathy Escobar’s blog, The carnival in my head, I came across this blog. The prayer in it really resonated with me.

Ok, that’s it for now. Enjoy!

Rejoicing in the journey –
Beth Stedman

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