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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Martin Luther and the Wellness Movement

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

The wellness industry is booming, and this is a good thing. It is a part of our calling to care for ourselves in mind, body and spirit.  The food we eat, and the way we exercise are not separate issues from our spirituality.  I am proud that Lumunos is a part of this development. 

But there is an element of the wellness conversation that you don’t see in the ads or hear at the workshops.  This is the part that has nothing to do with glowing skin and white teeth.  In fact, it is kind of the opposite. 

Eugene Peterson expresses it well when he translates the Beatitudes, familiar words from the Bible that begin with “Blessed are the poor in spirit…..”  I am going to add a translation to his translation, substituting the word “well” for the word “blessed:”

You’re well when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re well when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re well when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. You’re well when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. You’re well when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. You’re well when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.  (Matthew 5, interpreted)

We do our best to exercise, eat right, and have positive attitudes.  We try to manage our stress. But sometimes we don’t.  What of our wellness then?
The people that seem most well to me by Matthew’s definition are not necessarily the ones who are the healthiest looking.  Many of them are old with wrinkled skin and yellow teeth.  Some of them are in wheelchairs or are missing limbs. 
But these people I am thinking of have a deep trust in the presence and goodness of God.  They have what Richard Rohr calls a “Bright Sadness.” They know that life is hard and that suffering is real.  But they also know that God is real and trustworthy.  There is a kind of peace and contentment in them that I want for my life.
In the end we cannot ultimately make ourselves well or whole through our own strength or willpower.   As our friends in AA teach us, ultimately we need to depend on a Higher Power. 
It is a different take on wellness, one that doesn’t discount the importance of exercise, diet and stress management.  It just acknowledges that we need something or someone beyond ourselves to be well. 

Martin Luther and the Wellness Movement
This Sunday was Reformation Day, a holiday almost nobody cares about anymore. Amongst other things, it is a day to acknowledge Martin Luther, the ‘Father of Protestant Christianity.’  I am wondering if it should be changed to National Spiritual Wellness Day.
Admittedly Luther is not the first name that comes to mind when thinking about wellness. He was overweight, anxious, and (rumor has it) had some pretty significant GI issues.  Compared to the people with glowing skin and white teeth, Luther falls short of the mark. 

Luther learned the hard way that life isn’t about how hard you work.  After dropping out of law school, he became a monk.  He tried really, really hard to be the best monk he could be.  He drove himself mercilessly, seeking to earn God’s approval.  I am no psychologist or physician, but I have to believe that this contributed to his anxiety and GI issues.

Eventually he fell into the truth that was waiting for him and us all along—God’s grace is a gift, not something you have to earn.  It is free because we are God’s beloved, and there is nothing we can do to make God love us more.  Once Luther figured this out, it changed his life.  He became one of the most courageous and influential people in history, taking on the most powerful institution of his day.   Martin Luther became well. 

Exercise and eat well.  But don’t forget that when you get to the end of your rope, you are not necessarily unwell.  Maybe you are just making room for God. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Choosing to Not Look Away

by Lauren Van Ham

For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
Do not fear; I will help you.

Isaiah 41:13, NIV

Goodness knows there’s plenty to feel afraid about.  Real or imagined, we receive a steady stream of messages each day that offer huge helpings of fear: the spread of ebola, the stock market, our relationship with other countries, global warming, the state of education, our childrens’ future, the dangers of diabetes, add your fear *HERE*, and on and on.

How do you work with fear?  I’ve been told, more than once, that fear and love don’t comfortably cohabitate; and that, when I’m feeling fear, I should focus on love. 

Focus on love. 

It’s an instructive prompt, for sure; I like the sound of it, but when I’m in the grip of a well-fed worry or fear, sometimes love feels hard to reach.  In Isaiah we read not only read, “Do not fear,” but the follow up, “I will help you.”
Help?  Yes, I accept!  And, as a good parent or skilled guide, God says, “tell me about your fear.”  What is fear exactly?

Last week, I was devouring the words of one of my heroines, Terry Tempest Williams, who in an interview shared, “You know, a good friend of mine said, ‘You are married to sorrow.’ And I looked to him and I said, ‘I am not married to sorrow. I just choose not to look away.’" 

Sometimes, my fear is sorrow in disguise.  It’s a grief I don’t want to acknowledge because it will be hard to feel.  When I take God up on God’s offer to help me, I don’t have to look away.  I can be a little more curious; I can feel the sorrow; I can honor the change I was resisting; I can trust that whatever it is that is feeling so unpleasantly beyond my control and uncomfortably uncertain, will unfold in Divine Order…or it won’t, but I will have God to help me with that too.

As the Autumn winds kick up tropical storms in the South, and as leaves fall and temperatures drop in the North; as the season’s dark skies grow darker, I feel God’s invitation to receive God’s help and to bring curiosity to my fears. 

What, real or imagined, has you in fear’s grip?  Where is your curiosity greater than your fear?

About Lauren: Lauren lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as Dean at The Chaplaincy Institute (ChI), an interfaith seminary and tends her private practice as a spiritual director.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/

Monday, October 13, 2014

Of Course It Matters -- But, Maybe Not

by Tom Pappas

Last week I sent out 39 individual emails to fairly new members of our church; here are three responses from folks, far younger than me, who I invited to join a 6-week book study.

“Thank you so much for the invite, but honestly I don't even have time to read for fun anymore ha-ha! Maybe in a couple months once my body's adjusted to my new weird hours I'll be able to get involved.”

“Thanks for the invite, but it will not work for me at this time.   I just can't add another thing into the schedule right now (my little ones are 1 and 3).  It does look like a really interesting book though!  I may have to pick it up on my own.”

“Thanks so much for the invitation!  It feels good to be asked.  Right now might not be the best time for us, we are getting used to being first-time parents (our son was born 7-29-14) and our schedule is pretty out of whack.  We would certainly be interested some time down the road though.”

There are common elements, don’t you think? Polite and grateful. Stressed and hopeful.
Their answers caused me to reflect on how it was for me (us) many years ago.

Who among us doesn’t always need to prioritize and choose? Good for us when we use our resources of time and energy in ways that pay off in the long haul. Good for us when we listen well and drill down to the bedrock commitments that make us better, our families better and the world better.

Since receiving the responses I shared above, I have been reminiscing my yes’s and no’s as a person their age and in their position. That was a busy time and it’s possible I sometimes said yes under the guise of, “I will be a better dad/husband/Christian”, if I take that seminar, lead that class, or go on that retreat. I cannot say if that is, in fact, what happened.

Turning back to the present, it is my sincere prayer that my respondents who don’t do the study get full value in not doing it. May they be the best moms, dads and new employees on crazy schedules that they can possibly be.

Also in the present I argue with myself about the merits of supporting the institution and being a team player, or letting others be that person while I take care of what I think is a wiser personal choice. Truth be told, most of the time that I take one for the team, it ends up being worthwhile and I don’t regret it.

Of this I am completely sure. God is trustworthy. Jesus is the finest example of how to live and how to be fully alive. Trusting God offers assurance that God’s will can be achieved with either of two good choices – and don’t we all know stories of God redeeming lousy choices.   

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Prayer for Our Supersubstantial Bread

by Angier Brock

Give us this day our daily bread. How many times have I prayed those words, thinking that “daily bread” meant just that—a day’s worth of ordinary, every-day food for physical sustenance? It reminds me of the Hebrews who, as they wandered in the wilderness, were given manna to eat—but just enough for that day, for manna did not keep longer.  

I can also read “daily bread” metaphorically, so that it becomes an allotment of spiritual sustenance—a kind word, a timely sermon, a song, a glimpse of the beauty of the natural world, or any other experience that offers hope or other provision for facing whatever the day calls me to. In both physical and spiritual senses, the phrase “daily bread” seems straightforward enough.

But it turns out that the Greek word epiousios, which is the word behind the familiar “daily” in most translations of the Lord’s Prayer, is a rarer word than we might think. It appears only twice in the Bible, once in Matthew and once in Luke, in both cases attributed to Jesus in his instructions on prayer. It may have been found one other time in fragmentary writings from ancient Greece—but even that is debatable. And so it is a mysterious word; no one knows what it really means. “Daily” is perhaps as good a guess as any—but it is only a guess. St. Jerome (ca. 347—420 CE) had a different guess. He translated epiousios as “supersubstantial.”  

I discovered all this the other day while reading a book on the history of Christianity, and it stopped me in my tracks: Give us this day our supersubstantial bread? Wow! Really?  

I investigated further. Sure enough, though the internet, I found not only confirmation of what I had read but also various theological discussions about possible meanings of “supersubstantial.” (I confess that as a modern American, the phrase “super-sized” — as in, “Do you want fries with that?” — briefly crossed my mind.) I commend those discussions to you for your own further investigation.  
I also turned to my dictionary. The adjective substantial can mean real, not imaginary; ample, even hefty; considerable in degree. The prefix super, meaning over and above, greater than normal, even excessive, enlarges any word it is paired with. You can mix and match the various meanings to come to your own understanding of “supersubstantial.” 

But no matter what you take it to mean, “supersubstantial” differs from “daily.” “Daily” (which has Old English and Germanic roots rather than Latin ones) refers to frequency and perhaps reliability of occurrence. As far as I am concerned, daily bread is miraculous in and of itself. But it is enlarged ever further by “supersubstantial,” which refers to quality and/or quantity.  

Why had I not known that possible translation before?

And now that I know, what difference does knowing make?

I have just begun thinking about this matter, and I suspect that it is the kind of puzzle with which I could occupy myself for quite some time. Suddenly an old, familiar phrase has, like bread itself, been broken open.   

At the very least, it points afresh to mystery. If something so surprising could be hiding in a single word in a prayer I have prayed for more than six decades, who knows what might come next? And from now on, while my lips are saying, “Give us this day our daily bread,” in my heart of hearts, I will be pondering “supersubstantial.”