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Posts Tagged ‘communion’

Will You Fast?

prayer-and-fastingDuring lent, one of the practices we are asked to consider is fasting. Historically, fasting implies the cessation of eating. But over time, particularly in our culture, this has morphed into “giving up” something. And so we find people say they will give up soda or sweets or caffeine. Some people now give up other soft pleasures like Facebook or gaming or television. It’s an interesting development. I have done the same thing over the years. It’s not a bad thing per se, but we may have missed the point.

If I think about the many habits I have given up for Lent, most of them I should probably give up anyway. I mean, they’re not really good for me. I remember the first year I gave up diet soda. Well, for heaven’t sake, that should be a permanent thing, for who doesn’t know that diet drinks are terrible for the body? So, what have I done there? I’ve used a spiritual “practice” to motivate me to give up something I don’t need.

Instead, I think a better fast might be something else–a beloved or necessary thing. And for this reason, I have chosen to begin a full fast of food for a period of time and then clear liquids. I love to eat. I need to eat. But I want to be truly conscious and intentional in this season. I want to be uncomfortable and out of step with my normal routine. I want to experience a change within.

There are habits of mind that I would like to break: judgments and gossip and resentment. These require a mindfulness that only comes with breaking out of the norm.

A full fast is not for everyone. I get that. But I have fasted at length before and I know its benefits. But I also know its traps like hoping to lose a few pounds or to be perceived as “holier” than others. Beware or just be aware. That’s the plan.

Another aspect I am adding this time is daily communion. Last night during the Ash Wednesday service, after fasting all day, the taste of a small piece of bread and juice was a tangible reminder of Christ’s presence in my life, as Jesus answered his tempter in Matthew 4:4, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” For me, communion became the Word made flesh as I took it.

Amen.

 

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Are You Tired?

wearyI’m tired all the time. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am. I also know I’m tired because I keep carrying more of the load than I’m supposed to be carrying. I’ve done it all my life. No change there.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. [Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.] Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” [Matthew 11:28-30, The Message]

One day I will get it, I mean, really get it long term. For now, I still have great big heavy days until I remember again to set some of the stuff down and often, the next day is better. Vicious cycle of sorts, but it’s all I can manage these days.

One of sentences from the devotion today (by Cindy Lowcock) is so true: “When we take on Christ we become like Him: demanding our own control seems unimportant, aligning ourselves with Him becomes as easy as if we were professional dance partners.” This would be the best scenario of all, dancing with the Christ, knowing which way to turn just by a simple touch, a minute pressure. That takes lots of practice.

Painting by Alfred Gockel

Painting by Alfred Gockel

When I was younger, I used to tell my friends that I could dance all night. I never grew tired of the movement and the music. I was fully engaged. This is a great metaphor for being a follower of Jesus. There is freedom and even abandonment, but there is also structure and cadence. It’s one reason that many jazz dancers learn ballet first, to learn the precision and the control, before breaking out.

Being tired comes from misuse of my body, my mind, and my spirit. Unfocused and scattered.

It’s why I need the yoke of Christ really. For, like the young oxen that must learn how to work together in the field, I need to learn how to be in communion with God. I keep pulling away from that yoke. Sorry.

Thanks be to God, it’s never too late to start again. It’s time to suit up.

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holy_spiritFellowship has become a worn out word in Christian circles. Mostly, I am reminded of the 3 F’s: food, fun & fellowship. This was, for many years, the promise of the church. Fellowship meant talking and sharing and hanging out together. Then, in the eighties and nineties, believers started using “fellowship” as part of their new church names: Word of Life Fellowship, Bible Fellowship, Grace Fellowship, and Christ Fellowship, just to name a few. In more recent years, the word “Community” has replaced “Fellowship.” But the intent is the same, but now it’s Casseroles, Crusades, and Community at Christ Community Church, Grace Community Church, Bible Community Church, and so on. And why? To communicate how friendly we are, accessible, and inviting.

But the real fellowship, the one that counts, is the one we have within and with the Holy Spirit through Christ Jesus. You want authentic fellowship with others, then you’d better have fellowship with God in Christ.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. [I John 1:3-4, NIV]

This relationship is deeper and more intimate than the 3 F’s. It’s familiarity through undivided attention and conversation. It’s intentional. It’s persistent. It’s a priority.

Some people realize it’s prayer. But you can call it fellowship if you like. You can also call it meditation, or centering, or contemplation. As long as it’s the Holy Spirit that’s been invited into the core of yourself.

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Every endeavor has rules. I hate that. Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the sixties [age-alert] but there’s some part of me that wants to rebel just at the whiff of rules. But why? Why have they become limitations instead of opportunities for excellence?

II Timothy 2:5
Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.

In reality, it’s the rules or the finiteness of the task and the subsequent precision and commitment to working within that framework that separates the good from the great.

When Paul uses a sports analogy, the first sport that comes to my mind is diving. It’s so terribly precise. All those Olympic dives look wonderful to me until it’s replayed in slow motion and the announcer breaks down the movements and compares them to perfect.

I also think of ice skating, skiing, even ballet. The individual, in order to reach excellence, must ascribe to a certain set of standards. Ultimately, it is only after reaching the highest benchmark that rules can be broken or bent for the sake of creativity or experimentation or invention.

I remember, as a child, watching a clown on a high wire and I thought he was crazy to be on a high wire with so little experience. He always looked like he might fall off the wire at any moment. It was funny and scary at the same time. Only later, as an adult, did I learn that the clown must have the most precise technique and confidence in order to “play” on the wire. In the same vein, the jazz artist (whether dance or music) must know the fundamentals thoroughly or the modern artist classic proficiency before improvising.

So, in a way, it’s true, the rules are to be broken, but only after understanding and mastering the space between the rules. Once we learn to color inside the lines, then we can venture out.

Now, what has this to do with my faith in the Christ or serving God? What are the basics or rules of my faith? Isn’t it Christ crucified, resurrected, and engaged in human life thereafter through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to reestablish communion with God? And thereby I can walk out in love, light, truth, justice, and faithfulness because God is forever in our midst: Emmanuel. Yes, and so essentially, to live is Christ (the greatest mystery of all).

If Christ is exalted (manifest) in/through me [Philippians 1:20-21], then I am living loved and loving others, I am a light in dark places [Matthew 5;15], I am faith-filled and faithful [Luke 17:5-6], I am a spokesperson for truth [John 17:17], and, best of all, I can know, recognize and collaborate with the Holy Spirit [I Corinthians 6;19].

From here, I can improvise. I can be the clown for Christ. I can be a fool. I can be martyr. I can be a change agent. I can be human as God always intended.

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Like foot washing, head coverings and the like, the holy kiss has been discussed ad nauseum by many scholars and theologians. Generally, it is accepted that “kissing,” as a greeting is culturally based and not “required” in today’s church. We can just shake hands. But even that is going out of fashion.

I Corinthians 16:20
All the brothers here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

Oh yes, today, we know all about the germs. Those bad boys are putting a crimp in just about everything. And somehow, they seem to be getting worse than ever with each age. But never fear: we now have hand sanitizers everywhere, from the grocery store cart stand to the entrances of most public buildings and even the hallways of movie theaters.

People have become afraid to touch each other, much less kiss or drink from a common communion cup. Pretty soon, after the small plastic cups and tiny white dog biscuits are passed, they’ll follow up with a squirt of sanitizer.

Everything is becoming sanitized and impersonal when we’re face to face while intimacies flourish online. People say things in chat rooms, email, and texting that they would never say to one another in person. Some folks even participate in full blown virtual communities as “avatars” and in some of the worst cases, develop avatar-based intimacies and actually discuss in forums whether it’s cheating on a husband or wife if their avatars are having virtual sex.

Where is the simplicity in relationships?

A friend of mine once bemoaned that people don’t seem to know how to just “get together” and spend time together or just drop by and chat. Neighborhoods where people know each other and chat across a fence are becoming far fewer even though we are living closer and closer together.

The holy kiss greeting is a symbol of connection, a genuine touch of one person to another. This kiss doesn’t even have to be a lip to lip kiss, it can be as simple as authentic eye contact or a genuine hug or a gift of self.

To kiss in this way is to give. But if it’s not real, don’t bother. There are too many people who hug and kiss the air next to someone’s face because of heavy lipstick or some of other hair or make-up interference. Men have stopped kissing their children. I’m beginning to think more people are kissing their dogs than they are kissing other people.

A true kiss is an exchange, that’s all. I can kiss with my eyes, my fingertips, my nose, my feet. I can kiss with my lips. But if there is nothing behind the kiss, I have cheated the other person. If there is no true affection or desire to connect, then there really is no point in doing it.

In some fantasy books, if there is a true connection between people, something happens between them when they touch . . . like a small jolt of electricity. We have lost the ability to send ourselves through touch, through the kiss, through the eyes. How then can we pass Christ?

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Look inside and out before eating the holy meal. Communion is a combination of a corporate act [with other believers] and a personal examination. The encounter doesn’t work very well if we don’t really believe or accept that the bread & wine [or juice] have power.

I Corinthians 11:28-29
Let a {woman or} man [thoroughly] examine himself, and [only when he has done] so should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discriminating and recognizing with due appreciation that [it is Christ’s] body, eats and drinks a sentence (a verdict of judgment) upon himself.
[Amplified]

I encountered the word “examen” for the first time while reading Richard Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home some years ago. It’s no “navel gazing,” far from it. Foster says, “In the examen of consciousness we prayerfully reflect on the thoughts, feelings, and actions of our days to see how God has been at work among us and how we responded. . . . God goes with us in the examen of conscience. It is a joint search. . . . if left to our own devices . . . our tendency is for self-flagellation.”

Examen is not about tying ourselves to the whipping post, it’s about seeing ourselves in truth, with love. It’s the time when we can begin to lay down our burdens and failures at the feet of the Christ.

In recent times, I have taken to the practice of examen at the start of my devotions each day. I ask forgiveness for my mistakes [sins] and give thanks for the successes, those times I responded to situations and people in loving way. Only then, can I really begin to pray forward.

Communion should be the same, but perhaps a little deeper, a broader swipe over the time since the last opportunity to eat and drink of Christ.

What has gone before is the foundation of who I am today. And my future is built on both, the past and present. If I ignore the past, then I may be setting myself up for repeating it, doing the same things again and again? It was Albert Einstein who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I cannot change unless I know what part needs changing. I cannot go on a diet and lose weight if I don’t know my starting weight, otherwise, how will I know the difference? I must be willing to face and accept my authentic self. Like the recovering alcoholic, we too must “Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” [step 4 of the 12 steps]

The prayer of examen, particularly at the time of communion, is a photograph. I must let God see the true picture, not one that’s been airbrushed or “photoshopped.” And like a flipbook, only God gets to see the flapping of pages and photos that represent my progress over the years. God knows my whole story.

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Let us give meaning to the Bread and WineJesus loved to speak in stories, symbols and metaphors. The supernatural world is indescribable otherwise. Our language is unable to represent something we do not know or understand. The meaning is revealed over time.

I Corinthians 11:26
What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt. [The Message Bible]

Bread and wine were used throughout Jewish history, from manna to unleavened bread to the Temple showbread. But, at the last supper, Jesus takes bread and intentionally breaks it and shares it with the disciples (and probably everyone else who was in the room, since I believe there were women and servers there as well, and it was not a “private” event as is so often depicted). He is setting up a symbol to be repeated and to have meaning throughout history.

So often, we think of the “bread” (what we now call communion bread) as something he is doing for us. We are consuming it, we are gaining. But today, I am thinking about the implications for him. He is symbolically cutting up his body for the sake of others. His death and sacrifice begins that night.

And all that He asks is that we remember and keep remembering. “Touch me, smell me, eat me, drink me, and be whole,” He says through the sacrifice. The Jewish rituals of old had prepared people for the New Covenant. It was still the same: sacrifice for sin, offerings for forgiveness, awareness for new beginnings.

Contemporary Christians have lost the deep significance in the consuming of Christ’s symbols of body and blood. Plastic drink cups and dry crackers are poor substitutes. In this regard, it’s very possible that “high church” folks have it right.

On Memorial Days, we consider the sacrifices of the men and women who gave their lives. It’s holy and solemn and thoughtful. Should Christ’s memorial be any less from week to week or month to month?

The body and blood, the bread and wine, has the power to transform us. I want to remember. I want to really remember today.

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