Meals of Communion…a post by Joy

From my own experience, It really is true that to share a meal with someone is an opportunity of reminding us that we are in communion with Christ.

It’s interesting to me that a number of times in Scripture, including the story of the angels who appeared to Abraham to announce to him that he and Sarai would become parents in their ripe “old age”, this bit of news was delivered in a setting around the experience of a meal.

The first miracle performed by Jesus was in the venue of a wedding feast, a celebration with others. Yet to the other side of things, Jesus was reprimanded for having a meal with sinners, a condemnation by others for his choice of company. When the Prodigal Son came home, his father immediately gave instructions to his older son and servants alike to prepare the fatted calf for a meal; and most amazing is that the last significant act of community and communion that Jesus had with His disciples before the crucifixion was the “Last Supper.”

To eat a meal around the kitchen or dining room table is a place of physical nourishment AND a place of communion with each other for soul nourishment.

Many times I am reminded as I’m serving or eating a meal with family, friends or strangers too, even in the airport, that I am hosting the presence of Christ within my soul to serve a bit of Christ to others. And in the same way, I receive a blessing and a portion of who Christ is from other believers as they are living out their gifts from Him as image-bearers of Christ. We are being in communion with Christ, with others and with ourselves by doing this simple, life-giving act of eating our meals while being mindful of His life-giving presence in each of us.

Soul to soul, heart to heart, mind to mind, through the Holy Spirit we commune with each other and with the loving presence of God, the Father; God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit.

This Sacred holy practice of eating 3 times a day either alone with Christ or with others, is a reminder that we can intentionally and mindfully return to Christ these specific times per day (even if it’s 2 times/day.) We all participate in this ritual of eating like clock work because we are human and were designed to nurture our physical bodies this way. It’s a time for replenishing our energy levels for our bodies. Yet it’s also a replenishment for the care of our souls as we “gather all the parts of our selves” (whether the playful self, the rigid self, the hurting self, or the helpful self etc.) to a centering place with Christ. He could have created us to be nourished “on the run” ALL the time without having to take this time to be in communion with Him, with others, or with ourselves.

Yet, I am so very thankful He gave us this gift of sitting down with others to eat a meal, looking each other in the eye to express and be an example of what our communion can be with Him. A holy sacred space like this certainly includes space for laughter and sometimes tears as hearts are shared with each other.

DO ALL OF THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME,” is a command and a reminder of the work of Christ in us through His sacrifice every time we partake of the elements of communion. Yet, for me, it is also a reminder that when we participate in a meal with others, we are being mindful of His work in us through the communion that we have with others.

Babette’s Feast is a movie that I like to watch at least once a year and especially around the Thanksgiving season. It’s a wonderful story about a Parisian political refugee from the 19th century who is given opportunity to use her gifts in a unique way to bring healing to a hurting village through the experience of an incredible meal. To me, Babette is an example of a woman who was being mindful of the healing presence of Christ within her, not by her words, but by her act of communing with the people of the village through a meal.

May Christ be honored by the way we enter into a meal with one another as an act of communing with Him as we commune with those around us.

Real Butter…a post by Tom

Recently I journeyed with a 100-year-old woman as she neared death. When she died the family shared memories and reflections on her storied life. I find it fascinating how people focus in and remember the small things over the big. One of the grandchildren, of whom she was particularly fond, recalled going over to her grandma’s small apartment for movie night to eat popcorn made with REAL BUTTER. The grandmother did not have much materially speaking. She lived alone and worked as a waitress. However, when her grandkids came over she used REAL BUTTER! The children were accustomed to margarine at home but with grandma there was REAL BUTTER and this was astonishingly good and decadent.  The granddaughter, a successful professional on the West Coast, flew in and couldn’t stop talking about butter.  Among other things her candy dish was also exquisitely stocked with very good hard candies, the kind with fancy crinkly wrappers. These are the small lavish touches that can change everything. What are the ways we can reflect God extravagance towards us for others? How can we be lavish toward loved ones in small simple ways? Do we have to let a scarcity mentality dominate even our popcorn? It is in the small things that our lavishness or stinginess can shine. When it comes to us, God uses REAL GRACE lavishly.

Ephesians 1:7

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on us.

Let’s Get Physical…a post by Jim

 

This past weekend I had the honor and privilege of visiting my father who was turning 90 years old. He said he never thought he would make it to such an old age. But he is very grateful for the health that he has, the people in his life who love and care for him, and his interests that are still alive and well within his soul (he still loves to read, to paint, to work in his wood shop!).

While reminiscing with him and visiting with two uncles and aunts (all are close to 90 years of age) a number of things struck me. But perhaps what hit me the most was how much of these conversations focused on their bodies. Old age focuses the mind on the body!

Maybe that is not a bad thing. Yes, it is very hard to get old. Our bodies simply wear out and won’t do what we want them to do. It is hard to always walk with a cane, to worry about falling, to be restless through most of the night. But … taking our bodies into account is an important aspect of good soul care. We are EMBODIED souls.

This week I encourage you to pay attention to your body. What is God telling you through what you sense and feel (emotions are body states)? Do I need more rest? Do I need more activity? Do I sense God’s presence WITHIN my body?

Our bodies have much to teach us. So let’s get physical …!

Beacon of Light…a post by Joy

As a child I remember that my mother loved to light candles for many of our evening meals. For me, it made the meal time extra inviting along with the delicious food served, and the ordinary conversations of daily life. Time permitting, my father would tell a favorite story using the candles as a prop that we as children, and even as adults, loved to hear.

As a college student returning home for a visit, and when Jim and I were first married, I remember the candle light in the window welcoming us home.  It was as though it was a beacon of light guiding our way back into the open arms of family life lived there.

January is the month that my mother passed away 31 years ago.  I am especially mindful during this time of what I learned from her about living, loving, and dying. She loved Jesus Christ with a tender hearted passion.  She reflected the light of Christ to all who knew her.

Through the years, lighting a candle often makes me think of my mother and the tradition that I have integrated into my own family’s life. Yet, for almost 15 years now, I am also reminded of the presence of the Holy Spirit who lives within us as believers.   Christ, as the Light of the World, beckons us to reflect His light to others in every way that we can. Part of the journey of Christian Spiritual formation is to notice or pay attention to how Christ “shows up” for us in ordinary every day life. This simple act of lighting a candle is one such “noticing” for me.

Christ is the One who is the beacon of light for us daily. Thank goodness He will also welcome us home for that particular time when it is our turn to cross the divide between earth and heaven receiving us into “family life lived there.”

Home is where the heart is…a post by Jim

Home is where the heart is. Sounds encouraging. And it should be. Home should be the place where our souls are safe, encouraged, and loved. Home should be the best place to be.

But there is another way to think of the phrase, “Home is where the heart is.” And it isn’t necessarily good news. Because the state of our home, especially our family of origin when we are young, has a huge impact on where the heart is emotionally. And if the home system is not healthy or holy we will struggle when it comes to how close we can be emotionally.

Here are 8 Family Systems. What was yours and what do you think was its impact on your heart?

The Functional Family

  • Life is essentially defined by your role within the family system.
  • Persons understand their value and significance in terms of the task to perform and the amount of work they accomplish.
  • The experience of connectedness or intimacy is through the relational bonding that occurs in getting tasks done, and surviving against set-backs and obstacles.

The Dramatic Family

  • Life in the dramatic family system is continuously emotionally intense where someone is acting out some form of drama.
  • There is typically a crisis somewhere, and the family is emotionally structured around enduring, navigating, and occasionally resolving the drama. Only to have a new one emerge in due time.
  • The dramatic family is emotionally exhausting to some, while one or two dominant family members will sustain the drama.

The Traumatic Family

  • The traumatized family is one that is defined around surviving traumatic events be they natural disasters or financial devastation or drugs or disease or death or divorce or the adoption of a child with a Reactive Attachment Disorder.
  • Depending on the nature of the trauma such as sexual abuse a child will be adversely affected emotionally and the trajectory of the relational dynamics will also be deeply scared and distorted.
  • Trauma can serve to bring family together in an effort to overcome and strengthen the relational fabric of the family system or cause it to merely survive and maybe even disintegrate.

The Chaotic Family

  • The chaotic family is marked by confusion and the lack of adult leadership and authority and personal boundaries are not respected.
  • The adults in particular have abdicated their role of establishing order and ensuring that family practices such as appropriate grooming, sleep patterns, meal times, school attendance, proper attire etc. are established and maintained.
  • Often times within these family systems children have to fend for themselves and figure out life by themselves or along with peers.

The Moralistic Family

  • The moralistic family is the family focused on keeping the rules.
  • Without the rules the lawgiver is usually very anxious and if the rules are broken the rule-giver becomes angry.
  • The family typically disregards or dismisses what individuals are feelings. Feelings are typically unwelcome because they are unpredictable and messy. Children in this system are often compliant, at least until teen years!

The Authoritative Family

  • The authoritative family is dominated by an enforcer who is in charge and maintains control. The focal point is not primarily a moralistic framework, but the need to control.
  • So the enforcer may control not by issuing commands on right or wrong, but through anger, blaming, or physical force.
  • The enforcer is not bound to consistency, but may be orientated around his or her personal preferences on any given day or in any given circumstance.
  • The emotional atmosphere is unreliable and unpredictable.

Emotionally Entangled Family

  • The emotionally entangled family is marked by parents who use their children for their own sense of emotional stability and strength.
  • The parent(s) will often confide in their child inappropriate information about their marriage, or family problems. Emotionally entangled families often seek a child to be a mediator between parents.
  • The child will often suffer under the demand of being called upon to address adult needs that are beyond their capacity to hold and manage.

The Mature Inter-Dependent Family

  • Each member of the family is recognized as an individual. Family responsibilities are clear and role appropriate. Adults are adults and children are children.
  • Adults assign age appropriate tasks to children and have age appropriate expectations for teaching personal and family responsibilities.
  • Parents maintain authority, sustain clear boundaries, and demonstrate affection toward one another and all family members.
  • Poor choices have consequences and discipline is consistent.
  • Family members rely on each other for love, support, encouragement, and guidance that is role appropriate.
  • Members of the family understand differences between persons and accept differences.
  • Members of the family understand that no one is perfect. Apologies and forgiveness are extended and received.
  • Disagreements and conflicts are worked through to compromise, mutual understanding or a willingness to agree to disagree. But the fundamental relationships of love and support are not threatened or compromised.
  • Individual members are assisted in discovering their giftedness and encouraged to pursue their dreams and desires.

Thankfully, the Gospel is warm and strong enough to handle all of our defenses and dysfunctions. We come to Christ just as we are and, by his Spirit and his Community (the Church) we find forgiveness and healing. When HE is our home our hearts will be in a good place!

Escaping the Matrix…a post by Jim

 

God created us to be a complex mix of biology and experience. We are embodied souls who have minds that inevitably draw us into relationships. Gregory Boyd calls this complex interface a matrix (Escaping the Matrix). He explains what he means by saying, biologically, we are given billions of neurons that connect via trillions of neuro synapsis. We are also given the manner by which the brain is constructed to function (e.g. neurons firing together wire together). God created us this way and it is “very good” (and incredibly complex!).

Now what gets registered in our God-given neuro structures occurs within and through our relational experience with our world and particularly with other persons. The most primitive structuring of the neuro system is organized emotionally around experiences. It is the foundation for our earliest representation of ourselves and others and our outside world (i.e. how I see me, how I see you, how I see you seeing me). This takes place in and through our relationships be they safe (which leads to trust) or unsafe (which leads to mistrust).

Through our primitive emotional experiences and representations structured in early neuro mapping we are also learning, within this early mapping, our relational strategies of engaging others (i.e. primary attachment patterns). Our earliest neuro mapping is prior to the development of conscious cognitive self-reflection. It relies on our emotional experiences within our key relationships and becomes our ‘script’ for how we do relationships.

Because the nature of neurological mapping within our emergent self is so profoundly influenced by our emotional experience, to expect mere cognitive notions to be the fundamental means of transformation is ‘misguided’ (in light of God’s foundational created order of the human soul). So when we think about transformation we are entering the world of memory and imagination and emotion. There simply must be a new and better ‘order’ of things that captures our souls with its astounding beauty. And we must have experiences that re-order the false representations that we have inevitably developed in a fallen world.

This is where the Gospel story of God pursuing and drawing us to himself in Christ becomes crucial for change. IN Christ a ‘new’ order has come, changing the distorted reality of the fallen (created) order of things. IN Christ we can escape the old matrix of mistrust and distorted representations (e.g. of what ‘father’ means to us if we had a difficult dad). IN Christ we are introduced to the true reality of God being FOR us. IN Christ we find ourselves in the new community of faith that re-presents our deepest images of what it means to be loved and valued.

I Desire therefore I Am…a post by Jim

“What do you want me to do for you?” This was Jesus’ question to the blind man. Why ask that question. Isn’t it obvious what the man would want? It is. But Jesus asks about his desire because he knows it is critical for us to own and name and take responsibility for our desires. We must pay attention to our desires because they tell us something VERY important in the Christian life. Desire, more than our cognition, volition, or conscience, define what we believe is true, good, and beautiful.

Last week a community of devoted souls met for the fifth retreat of eight in the experience we call A Deeper Journey. It was a great couple of days of discussion around the topic of DESIRE. Rich and I proposed two basic propositions: 1) all of us have deep desires and 2) it really helps if our desires are motivating us in our Christian walk rather than working against us.

The desires we have look backward and forward. By means of memory desire have a reference point for what is true, good, and beautiful. The memories of our own experience (e.g a really good steak in the past sets the trajectory of the steak I want tonight!) as well as the primal memory we have of the Garden (“He has set eternity in our hearts” in Ecclesiastes 3:11). Desire needs memory to look backward to help tell us what is something really worth wanting. And by means of imagination desire has a future orientation. We image what the true, good, and beautiful could be in our future. It is ultimately a longing for heaven.

But both memory and imagination can create a lot of pain when we desire. We didn’t get what we wanted and we may not get what we hope for. So whenever we live alive with desire we can expect to feel both the delight of fulfilled desires and the pain of unmet desires. No wonder Ronald Rolheiser said Christian spirituality is what we do with desire. It must be informed by the history and heart of Scripture if desire is to be our ally in our walk with Christ.

“Lord, make me to be a person of deep desires. Help me to be aware of them, to name them, to feel them and ultimately to surrender them to you. Amen.”

Let’s Get Physical…a post by Jim

A couple months ago I wrote a post about the importance our bodies in spiritual formation. I’m coming back to the same topic because I just can’t get it out of my mind (and my body!). What Your Body Knows about God (Rob Moll …If you are interested in more on the body and its impact on formation I strongly encourage you to read it) is also at work in my reflections on the body. As I have read it (and pay attention to my own experience) I am more and more convinced that our bodies REALLY influence the trajectory of Christian transformation.

For example, spiritual disciplines are “activities within our power which bring us to a point we can do what at present we cannot do by direct effort” (Dallas Willard). Disciplines shape us so that we become the kind of people and do the kinds of things that Jesus wants of us. They change our being through our doing. Habits of the body shape habits of the heart. Grow in love, patience, hope, goodness and the like involve disciplined actions of our bodies. If I want to develop a kind heart I need to practice regular acts of kindness.

Neurologists tells us that what most fundamentally drives us is not directly accessible to us (no matter how solid our thoughts or determined our volition). Our instinctive feelings and emotions matter far more than rational ideas. This is not to say our frontal lobes aren’t important in regulating emotions and actions. Thank God we can reflect on and reverse a course of action that will get us in trouble. But Christian transformation will need the help of emotions that are sensitive to what is true, good and beautiful (from God’s perspective).

And that is where the body comes in. Emotions are body states. Spiritual disciplines that involve our bodies shape the emotional (instinctive) reactions we are likely to have. Any time we can instinctively follow God we will be in better shape than relying only on the executive, cognitive center to make us follow God. Rather than needing to choose them we can become people who desire them.

As any top athlete or musician will tell us, training the body to instinctive do at the highest level takes time. But a great game or great music requires people who have disciplined their bodies so that they can do something great. As Christians we cannot overlook the importance of our bodies in play the game/music of being loved and loving God, others, and ourselves.

It Takes a Body…a post by Jim

“Christianity is to have one’s body shaped, one’s habits determined, in such a manner that the worship of God is unavoidable” (Stanley Hauerwas). A spiritual discipline is “an activity within our power—something we can do—which brings us to a point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort” (Dallas Willard).

Practicing spiritual disciplines shape us so that we become the kind of person who more instinctively lives the kind of life that is pleasing to our Lord. That is to say, the change our being through our doing. They shape our souls through our actions. Or as neuroscientist Antonio Damasio puts it, “Mind is probably not conceivable without some sort of embodiment.” Our thoughts and desires arise in large part from the activity of our bodies.

This is Holy Week. The Gospel writers slow their narratives of Jesus to make sure we understand that what happened this week is absolutely crucial to the Gospel story. And as we read of Jesus activity during the week we see a man, among other things, given to communion with his Father (in prayer) and communion with his disciples (at the Last Supper). It is as if Jesus needs the influence and strength that comes from connecting with others.

Without the help of others, without a sense of touch and togetherness, it is very, very difficult to live out our calling in Christ. Like Christ we need healthy and hefty doses of communion. We need others to influence our body to the point of being the kind of person that is pleasing to our Father.

May God help us this week to follow the path of Jesus, the way of surrender no matter what the ‘ask’, so that we glorify our Father. To do that will require a connection that our body feels so that it can move us in that direction.

Every Body Matters…a post by Jim

Recently CrossPoint hosted Cohort #4 of our Soul Care Institute. About 25 soul care persons (pastors, small group leaders, counselors, coaches, etc.) are committed to meeting eight times over the course of two years to discuss matters that are crucial to Christian soul care. Over the course of the two and a half days we have some wonderful discussions and clarifications.

The topic for this cohort is “The Embodied Soul.” We explored the nature and role of the body in the process of sanctification. While we know we are to keep our bodies from sin we often do not spend much time thinking about how our bodies contribute to our growing connection with God and others. Our ‘body theology’ is often a little weak. But it shouldn’t be.

Our very salvation hinges on a human body. That is what the earliest church counsels and creeds made clear. Without Jesus being incarnate in actual human flesh there is no hope for salvation. The human body is that important in God’s plan of redemption.

The body is that important in God’s plan of sanctification as well. Our glorious, ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, ‘earthy’, engendered, enlivened by the ‘breath of God’, developing, ‘home of the soul’, capable and needy, emotion impacted body KEEPS THE SCORE in our journey through life and in our relationships with others.

Maybe you might pay extra attention to your body today. And if you really want to see the impact of the body in your life and relationships, do a ‘Body History’. Reflect on what your body has experienced and done over the course of your life. What might God be inviting you to in light of what your body has lived?