Wednesday, January 23, 2013

breathe deeply

Until recently, I've appreciated far too little the connection and unity God created in us:  body, soul and spirit entwined.  This infant new year has presented me with several ideas that I hope to gather into a whole (which I'll try to do here) to help myself recognize the whole package for what it is:  an extraordinary gift.

I've thought before about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit and, generally, how we want to be healthy to serve and honor the Lord.  But it is a new perspective for me to consider actually employing my body- movements and breathing (and senses, though I've pondered this before)- to deepen my attention to and awareness of the Lord's presence and promises to me.  

A simple pilates routine has become a great help to get me going in the mornings lately... so grateful for no impact, slow movements to stretch and strengthen me.  And since hearing from one fitnessy friend this weekend, I'm committed to paying more attention to breathing through my morning time.   Breathe deeply and control my body to move as slow as that internal pacekeeper.   Ann Voskamp's post came to mind too... (funny, I read this years ago and then she reposted it exactly today)  how the Hebrew name for God, YHWH, basically sounds like a breath.

(Side note:  I feel no loyalty or obligation to use the traditional names for the postrues and movements that are commonly used in yoga or pilates.  I'm renaming them:  'the down dog' becomes 'humble yourself', the 'sun salutation' could be 'lift up your eyes', etc.)

Soaking these early moments and exercises in Scripture highlights the sin I need to confess, the fears I need to release, the idolatry I need to turn from....  Exhale.  And Scripture guides me too to see the truth, the peace, the reality of His Presence that I want to receive as gift.... Inhale.    I'm not interested in a new-age spirituality of rootless "peace" and aimless "hope".  Every moment and movement is to be anchored in the Way, in the Word.  Every breath, every prayer is "from Him and through Him and to Him".

Haven't I wished a thousand times that I could lessen some physical effects (hormones, tiredness, the slugishness from grey pollution or a dull winter day) on my spiritual appetite?  Oh for fullness of the Spirit, the character of Christ in me, as I walk through my daily duties!  Oh how I need more fans to stoke the weary flickering flame of my heart!  Why not use my body in my pursuit of intimate abiding in the Vine?   Why not do all that I can to stimulate physical impulses to sharpen me towards my Chief End?

And too...  Breathing and praying as defense, a means to combat the attacks of panic and anxiety.  This dear friend of mine just shared her sweet story of this.

John Jefferson Davis has written an intriguing guidebook for Christians hungering for more than just an academic faith,  and he very much involves the body in his pursuit of communion with God through meditating on Scripture.  These selections below are from the first half of his book, which is more about "communion" than about employing the body towards that goal.... but this foundational stuff is just so good, I must share!

"In modern settings where church ministry is often conceived of in largely institutional and administrative terms (programs, committees and ministerial functions), theology ceases to be a "holy wisdom" and a disposition of the soul, and it becomes systematic theology, a set of courses in a seminary curriculum  specialized, technical knowledge for the minster that may or may not have deep connections with the minister's own spiritual formation.  For over seven hundred years it would seem, theology and "spirituality" have been going their separate ways, with academic theologians paying scant attention to the life of the soul, and those concerned with the life of the soul and personal devotion finding little sustenance from academic theology.  This present essay is a modest attempt to bring these two critical elements in the life of the church closer together, so that robust biblical theology nurtures spiritual practice, and spiritual practices are informed by a sound an robust theology." (p 29)

Davis points to the "remarkable fact in the New Testament, that because the Spirit has been poured out,  and because the age to come has dawned, believers no longer just go to a temple, but themselves have become a temple where God feels personally at home and lives in intimate contact with his people." (39)

And then he moves to the theme of adoption, for which he quotes J.I. Packer:  "Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption."  Davis continues,  "The forensic language of the courtroom, of being pardoned by the judge, is perfected and completed with the familial language of the home:  the forgiving judge in the courtroom adopts us as his own and welcomes us joyfully to a happy home (Luke 15:20-25, the Father's welcome to the prodigal son.)"

He continues:  "Both the images of temple and adoption, then, point to a new intimacy and closeness to God inaugurated by the advent of the Spirit.  We can approach God - and mediate on the Scriptures - not as those who are distant from God, but as those who are closer to God than Moses was in the tabernacle.  We are now not only servants of God, but as our dear Abba-Father's beloved sons and daughters we are really close to God, spiritually and emotionally, and can share the embrace of the Son in the very bosom of the Father."  (p 40-41)

These early chapters are arousing my appetite for this kind of intimate communion with God through meditating on his Word.  The juicy practicals are still ahead for me (the second half of the book) and I'm ready for these "cooking lessons";  I'm longingly anticipating the feast of His presence in His word.

In her poem "Breath," Luci Shaw writes:
When, in the cavern darkness, the child
first opened his mouth (even before
his eyes widdened to see the supple world
his lungs had breathed into being),
could he have known that breathing
trumps seeing?
(p 38, What the Light was Like) 
I don't know if breathing truly trumps seeing (though her poetry is mighty).  But I do know that a scripturally rooted prayer cycle of Release (confession, surrender) and Receive (His promises, His presence) must be purifying for the lungs and for the soul.

And I know this, and I want it:  "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

(I hope to share more soon as I finish this sweet book!)

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