A lot of what my mom said made me think of you, lilithchilde, because I know how much you hate that idea that spirituality is supposed to be about “transcending” the bad evil dirty world. (Though you know of course that i’ll point out that the idea is that you are supposed to be focusing on God and godly things, not on sex and money and everything. Those things are good in moderation of course, but they should not be the focus of your life. Though of course i’ll argue the other side as well. Eden, for example. God created the Earth, and it was good. We have to toil in it because we are Fallen, but the Earth is still good. Adam and Eve were made to be stewards of the earth. It is ours, though we should honor it. And anyone who says down with the pleasures of sex needs to read Song of Solomon.)
My favorite was the one on “Earthbound Spirituality.”
When you think of spirituality? What comes to mind? Perhaps prayer, Bible study, the ordained ministry. Maybe you cringe a little when you hear the word. I always used to think I wasn’t spiritual “enough”. Other folks were more spiritual. I always thought I should spend more time praying and in Bible study. Since I didn’t, I couldn’t be very spiritual.I was crying near the end of this. My mom wrote a poem when i was 10 months old about watching me grow into an independent being, and we both still treasure that poem. She also wrote a poem about that communion experience with my brother, which i have read numerous times though i still like my poem better :)
Traditionally, we have thought of spirituality in abstract terms. God seems far off. We call one another to do so-called spirtitual things: pray, study scripture, meditate -- basically to stop our lives for moments of spirituality, stop our lives so that we might find God. Does it never occur to us that God is our life?
Over the last year, I have been discovering a different kind of spirituality. It is different because for the first time I am coming to understand God through my body rather than my head.
I had a baby this past summer. There is nothing like having a baby to bring you down to earth. You can’t even think straight -- how can you possibly feel spiritual?
The experience of giving birth is often glorified as the greatest thing a woman can do. Just how much glory the mother herself experiences depends upon the woman and the situation. When George was born, I felt a wave of relief, and cried for joy; that was followed by extreme nausea. I think there is a message in that! I find the glory of parenting comes in moments, sacred special moments when you look at your child and realize that you really do love him, that God has given you a very precious gift. I very strongly believe that my children are not mind, they are God’s. My greatest, albeit bittersweet, joy, in becoming a parent, is watching my children grow up – becoming separate from me and independent.
When I was pregnant with George, I was very much aware of my body. More so than I can ever remember having been before, It was not a difficult pregnancy, but it was certainly not comfortable. It drew my mind away from abstract things and focussed me on my very concrete physical reality. I found that I could not think. That was very frustrating for an intellectually oriented person like myself, However, I also felt for the first time that there was a blessing in not thinking, simply living.
During advent, I identified strongly with Mary, and looking forward to the birth of Christ was particularly poignant as I felt new life growing within me. I felt like a living metaphor. And so I was. All those phrases we use: “new life” “growth”. That was very precious to me. How better to claim our faith than to truly incorporate it into ourselves, to physically experience these concepts.
I believe that most of us are called to live in the heart of this world. I have a button that says “Enjoy life: this is not a dress rehearsal.” I like it because I believe we are given this life to live; it is blasphemy to live otherwise. God gave ne this moment today and if this world is created by God, then my understanding of God must include this world
I am a great believer in quiet time, in meditation. I am strongly drawn to Ron’s teachings on prayer. Yet, that is only a part of it. When George and I came home, my only prayer, in any form, was “God, I need sleep.” I could not stand the stillness of my mind because I was too overwhelmed. If I were silent I would experience too much the pain and anger and frustration, so I watched TV until my eyes hurt. Some people may feel that that was not the way to “deal” with my feelings – but I felt too much in touch with my raw feelings; sometimes I think an overwhelmed system needs to rest in over to sort things out. However, even in this crazed state, I felt closer to God than ever in my life because God became more and more an ever present force. God hasn’t changed, but I have matured. In a beautiful book I have, Mister God, This is Anna, Anna realises that “God is in my middle” -- God is in the middle of everything. One cannot ever be without God because one would have to stop being at all to do so.
God made me to be an introspective sort of soul. I examine myself and the things around me very deeply. I also love deeply. I have known for many years that these are gifts. Although sometimes loving much can feel like a curse. Yet, I never thought that my spiritual life was grounded there. I guess I thought that was my “emotional center”, but had little to do with my spirituality. My spirituality always came form my head, not my inner being. Yet, my deep love allows me to see the love behind people’s fears. It allows me to see my own gifts.
The insight God gives me, and all of us, is what makes every act of life a spiritual one. When we were first home with our new baby, many, many people performed many small (and large) acts of kindness -- acting as the arms and hearts of God. To me, such things have become sacred acts. This is earthbound spirituality. Russ May once commented that “God ain’t gonna do it”. He did not mean to leave God out of the business of the church, but that God needs our arms and legs and strong backs as well as our worship. The business and physical upkeep of the church is sacred just as Sunday worship is sacred. The physical caring we do for one another is at least as valuable as our prayers.
Our good works are not only valuable but are spiritual as well. When we do not claim this spiritual aspect of our efforts, we deny ourselves, and others, a very deep connection with our very personal, nurturing, God.
When I was in the hospital, Patty brought me communion. As I took it, and heard the familiar words, I looked at that baby in my arms, nursing. Communion will never be the same for me. Christ said, this is my body, broken for you. I had literally been cut to give this baby life. And He took the cup saying, this is my blood poured out for you. There was George. Contentedly drinking my milk, poured out for him. This was earthly spirituality; my own body showing me Christ.
Parenting has brought me much closer to God, sometimes in sheer desperation when I clung to my faith in a loving God, who was with me, even in this. Sometimes by the hoy and wonder of it all. Sometimes my love runs so deep I am amazed. And then I realize how much God cares for me. I am God’s blessed child, even as I am mother to our children.
When I held George there in the hospital, I felt deeply moved, deeply blessed, very much in communion with God. It felt spiritual in every way. I believe, however, that our spirituality covers more than just those precious moments.
At other times, I have held George to my breast and cursed him for not being asleep. I have wept in sheer frustration. I have felt drained by his absolute dependency. And yet, I did nurse him, even then. I did care for him, even then. Perhaps I was even more in communion with Christ in those moments. These darker times. After all, Christ allowed Himself to be crucified, he poured out his blood, but I’m sure he did not enjoy it.
This deeper spirituality is not just through my son but also my husband. Especially my husband. He waited on me hand and foot for the last months of my pregnancy. He was with me during the delivery. He couldn’t do much, as you might imagine, but he was there. His physical presence was crucial to me. When I came home, I was, for several weeks “George’s mommy” and little else. He fed me. He let me sleep. He understood my dark moments when I felt that no one cared enough to call or visit, and he held me.
Finally, George began to smile and so did we. I don’t care why babies smile, but I think God that they do! When George smiled at us, in clear recognition, it warmed the heart, even the exhausted heart.
Parents sacrifice a lot for their children, they do it out of love, but not always with joy. Walking the floor with a screaming baby is not fun. Nor is sleeping five hours at night and being told, by well-intentioned souls, that you should be grateful. Yet most parents put up with the grief and they choose to do what must be done to nurture these precious beings.
This is where to find God in out lives, not by avoiding our lives, but by finding God in the very midst of our earthy existence. God is with us in the desperate moments when we are in tears, and in the joyful moments when we could take on the world.
Be a part of the earth, this world, this life. Do not seek to “rise above: this life. It is not a lowly, unworthy place., It is holy and sacred. Life does not always feel holy -- there are tedious jobs, angry relationships, sleepless nights. Yet, all is of God. If we believe God is creator, how can we treat this reality as unworthy. Seek God intentionally -- in every act of daily living
If we use our God-given gifts for reflection and insight into our experiences, then all of living becomes spiritual and filled with the sacred. Realizing that our existence is holy, our world is a holy place, by virtue not of our own doing but by God’s creation, moves us closer to an awareness of God which permeates our whole being. We are spiritual beings, no matter what we are doing. Claim your spirituality in each earthy moment of your life. God is with you always.
The parts about the value of physical effort on behalf of people made me think of the poem my mom sent me last year.
Mister God, This Is Anna. I brought this book back with me after Winter Break. (I loved it so much i bought my own copy some years ago.) I began rereading it after reading my mom’s sermon’s, but i’m not done, so it’ll get its own post in some time.
The 1992 one was on The Lord’s Prayer.
I have never been one for "sacred spaces" whether in terms of churches or the reverent "So-and-so walked here," so i really liked the idea of making ground holy by the spirituality that you enact in that geographical moment, that what is important is not the physicality but the spirituality. And that we can do that, that there is holiness within all of us.”When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.As I prepared for this morning, I kept pondering: what is prayer? Finally, I decided prayer is a mystery -- no more definable than God’s own self -- because prayer is participating in the presence of God. Then, as I reread this passage from the Sermon n the Mount, I realized that Jesus is offering an outline of what it means to pray. I think it is meant to be an outline or a guide because he cautions against vain repetitions where the worlds have lost meaning for us.
“Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation but rescue us from evil. [Matthew 6:7-13, RSV]
First Jesus begins:
Our Father in heaven
God is the Almighty Creator of all that has being, the Righteous Judge of History, greater than any image we can comprehend, yet, Jesus begins: “Our Father.” For our God is great, but God is, in relation to us, as intimate as a parent or a beloved partner. When we come into the presence of God, we are not to come in fear of God’s greatness, but in awe of God’s tender love for us. It is in the presence of God that we find peace and a love that passes all human understanding.
Next Jesus speaks of God’s holiness:
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
When we pray, we must be aware of the sacred ground on which we stand as we enter into God’s Holiness. Too often, we think that there must be special places for prayer -- for instance this church, with its awe-inspiring architecture. We have the notion that Heaven is holy, our earth is defiled, and never the twain shall meet. But Jesus said: “The kingdom of God is within you,” [Luke 17:21] and prayer is what opens this kingdom to us. Whenever and wherever you pray, you create holy ground. The holy ground of prayer is not a physical place, but a mystical place. To quote John of the Cross, a Spanish monk of the 1500s:I entered into unknowingOr, in the more familiar words of Paul to the Hebrews “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” [Hebrews 11:1].
Yet when I saw myself there
Without knowing where I was
I understood great things;...
That perfect knowledge
Was of peace and holiness
Held at no remove...
my spirit was given
An understanding while not understanding
Transcending all knowledge.
As i say so often, one of the biggest appeals of Protestantism for me is the direct connection with God, the idea that you can connect with God on your own terms without having to go through an intercessionary (either a priest or through prayers to saints) and without having to participate in ritual and without having to be in a certain place. Jesus says that wherever two or more are gathered in his name, he will be there, and there's a lot of valuable stuff to be gotten out of that statement/idea, but what is so much more important/central to me is that God Is Everywhere, all we have to do is notice. God is always watching us, and always wants to listen to us, to talk with us.
And there’s Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) which SNewby talked about during one class of Women Mystics last year. She said that all these people we had been reading had different conceptions of prayer, so if all of them were right about what praying was/could be, then really everything can be a kind of prayer and we really can “pray without ceasing.”