Saturday, August 16, 2014

Reimagining Prayer

prayer, noun
  1. A reverent petition made to God, a god, or another object of worship.
  2. The act of making a reverent petition to God, a god, or another object of worship.
  3. An act of communion with God, a god, or another object of worship, such as in devotion, confession, praise, or thanksgiving.
  4. A specially worded form used to address God, a god, or another object of worship.
  5. A religious observance in which praying predominates. ... definition found here.
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Do you have an image of prayer? Is it someone sitting with eyes closed, hands folded, in silence? Is it with a cup of coffee, a journal, the scriptures open as the sun rises? Is it something the minister or priest leads at the beginning or end of a weekend service?
In my mind, all these things are prayer. Sometimes they are my kinds of prayer. But lately, I've been participating in a different kind of prayer, a kind drawn from definition #3--an act of communion with God, a god, or another object of worship, such as in devotion, confession, praise, or thanksgiving.
In the past year I've read three books that have opened up my understanding of what prayer can be. As an avid practitioner of Holy Yoga, I already know that prayer doesn't have to live in a box. But these books have helped me to see that prayer is virtually any act of paying attention to what God is doing, expressing my gratitude to Him and being with the truth of who He is in such a way that I allow it to shape me.
An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton,
and Return to Our Senses: Re-imagining the way we pray by Christine Sine
Over the last few months, my prayers have looked like this:
Breath prayer, which I practiced as I watched my children frolic in the ocean surf.
Being with God in nature, noticing beauty.
Reconnecting with liturgical prayer.
Engaging scripture with creative lettering.
These ideas are bringing freedom to my prayer and meditation practice. I find myself looking forward to the time rather than it feeling like a "should." I'm grateful for a God who is accessible in a variety of ways, eager to receive my prayers.
What about you? What are your favorite ways to pray?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Redefining Beautiful: The trouble with my mummy tummy

"Your belly looks like there's a baby in it," said sweet five-year-old Daisy as we stood in a wide-legged downward facing dog.
"I know, but there's not," I said slowly, and as gently as I could.

"I know," she replied. But it LOOKS like there is," she said insistently.

"Yeah," I sighed.

I thought about the Pilates classes, the calorie-restricting diets, the “miracle wraps,” the practice of Uddiyana Bhanda, my Spanx, the “Slim & Sassy” essential oil, the transverse abdominal exercises, my drawer full of compression tops, my new and improved postural awareness.

"I've tried a lot of things to make it better, but it still is that way."

Luckily, my tiny yoga partner seemed satisfied with this, and as we shifted into plank pose, she changed the subject.

I didn't lose the conversation quite so easily, though.

The truth is, I understand what my little friend is saying. I don't like it, but I get it. I know that I look at least a little pregnant all the time. I've got what is termed a "mummy tummy," a stomach area that shows the effects of four pregnancies in six years and a digestive disorder that went undiagnosed for a long, long time. (Technically, it is called a diastis recti and you can learn great stuff about it here at my friend Christina’s blog).

It's been a while since I've been asked by an adult how far along I was (the Lord has shown me mercy). But Daisy doesn't quite understand the social faux pas it is to tell someone it looks like she has a baby in her belly when she doesn’t. She was just being honest.

I struggle with our culture’s expectations of what our womanly bodies should look like, despite age and childbearing. On the one hand, I think we ought to be able to grow older gracefully and allow our bodies to be made different by the incredible process of pregnancy and birth (we’ve made PEOPLE in there, for heaven’s sake!). On the other hand, I want to feel beautiful. I want to feel like other people think I’m at least moderately attractive, if not beautiful.

I struggle because I think that I am being judged because of my tummy. I think that people look at me and think that I must not eat right or work out or care enough. I think they think I lack self-discipline. I think they think I must be lazy.

There’s a compassionate voice inside my head, too. I tell me that I eat well, not rigidly (which is important for someone in life-long recovery from anorexia), I tell me to remember that I have been a vegetarian for more than 15 years (resisting bacon that long requires some kind of self-discipline, right?), that I am a yoga teacher and I highly value movement (but I’m not a gym rat, and that’s ok).

I remind myself that what I want most is to be a woman whose beauty comes from the inside. I want to be someone who is most appealing because of the light of Jesus radiating from her. I want to be a woman who is beautiful because of her gentle and tranquil spirit (1 Peter 3:4). I tell myself that if I had the flat, sleek stomach of a teen, it would not make me a kinder, wiser, more loving or prayerful person.

I think about my daughters and the way I want them to feel about their bodies. I want them to know that their bodies are the holy temples of God’s Spirit. I want them to know that beauty comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and that growing older should not bring shame. I want them to know (if they should choose) the miracle it is for your body to be home to a child as God knits him or her together (Psalm 139:13), and that there should be no remorse for your body carrying the evidence of such miracles.

I wonder if this temptation to glorify and vilify our own bodies is part of what John had in mind when he wrote this:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17.

Let’s break down the Greek a bit. Lust can be translated “desire, craving, longing,” and flesh is “the soft substance of the living body, which covers the bones and is permeated with blood.” In this sense, it seems possible that we can fall into a sinful pattern with our own bodies to desire, crave, long for them to be something different than what they are. We look at other people’s physical forms and wish we looked more like they do.
And pride…here’s one of the Greek definitions of this word: “an impious and empty presumption which trusts in the stability of earthly things.” When we trust other people’s opinions of our physical forms more than we trust what God says is true about us, we are trusting the stability of earthly things, friends.
When we cultivate the things that last, we honor God with our bodies. When we bow to cultural pressure to look or be a certain way, we serve a world that is passing away, we serve a world that will never accept us as enough, a world that will always ask for more, and will condemn and shame us even as it puffs us up with worthless pride.

And so, I thank God for my conversation with Daisy. I thank God for this belly that can remind me that I serve Him and not the world, if I let it. I thank Him that my true worth is not found in the shape of my tummy, but in the shape of my heart, a heart bent towards Him and the Kingdom of Love.

What about you? Do you have a part of your body that keeps you from feeling beautiful? What do you think is truly beautiful about you, beyond the physical imperfections? Does your perspective shift when thinking about your body as way to share the love of God with the world around you?
**submitted as part of the SheLoves Magazine August synchroblog

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A "Praise Be" Poem

I was never one of those little girls to sit around and write poetry in her journals. Reading back through my childhood diaries, I see I was more of a journalistic record keeper--what we did in school that day, what girl had kissed what boy, who I played with in the afternoon. I know I did write a lot of stories at one point, but there isn't much imaginative writing in anything I now have from my childhood writings.

I tried writing some poems in college. They were pretty much dismissed by a certain poetry professor, and that experience left me scared to try any creative writing at all. I decided to stick to technical writing.

Part of my journey over the last four years, however, has been to be willing to learn, to try new things, even if it means doing it scared. My beautiful and persistent writing teacher Maureen has gently encouraged me. She tells me that it doesn't matter much if a writer has talent, what matters is that she is willing to try and to learn. And so, I try and I learn.

Last spring, Maureen presented my class with a prompt called a "Praise Poem." The idea is that you descriptively list things for which you are grateful in the moment. Because part of my journey since 2010 has also been learning to be grateful despite circumstances, I instantly fell in love with this prompt.

A few weeks ago, I was up late in the evening to catch a glimpse of the "supermoon," sitting on my back porch, just looking and listening and be-ing. Gratitude for small things filled my heart, and I tapped out this poem on the backlit keys of my iPhone. In the spirit of doing it scared, I present my praise poem.

Praise be for the sterling moon
Full in the ebony sky

Praise be for the crickets that chirp from tree to tree
For the katydids and little birds
For the toads that croak

Praise be for the evening breeze
the furry dog asleep in my lap
Praise be for the lightning bug who dances
before the bushes

Praise be for the hum of traffic down the road
And the whir of the cargo plane above

Praise be for your presence, God,
On this summer evening
this anything but silent