Team launches new Vlog for Caregivers and Spirituality

Daphne Reiley  and Rev. Dr. Joe LaGuardia, co-authors of A Tapestry of Love: The Spirituality of Caregiving, are launching a new video blog on YouTube.  The channel is devoted to caregiver spirituality, caregiver resources, ministry helps, and ideas for care-receivers.

In their work with caregivers and care-receivers for over a decade, Daphne and Joe bring a unique skill that encourages others to grow in God, ground caregiving in the love of Christ, and pursue the Spirit’s ever-expanding, inclusive love.

Be sure to check out their first video, “like” it, and Subscribe to the channel.   Stay tuned, and grow with us…

The 4 Spiritual Hungers of Our Time

Image result for hungry baby birds

By Joe LaGuardia

Writing as far back as 1947, O. O. Boggess hits on four spiritual hungers in his article “Your Body, The Temple of the Holy Ghost” that resonate today. Although the article is a bit dated, these hungers still drive us to find meaning and belonging in community; they engage us and create a yearning that leads us to the spiritual; these four hungers drive us to do things that sometimes defy reason–often at our peril.

If we can articulate them, and then focus on fulfilling them in a healthy way, then perhaps these spiritual hungers can make us more effective in fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives. If churches can meet all four needs in equal measure, perhaps our pews may fill too!

The first spiritual hunger is for safety and security. This hunger begins at the very start of life, as our parents nurture us and create a sanctuary within a loving environment. This carries into our adulthood, and we continue to crave stability and predictability. I used to tell people in ministry that I, as a pastor, seek to be predictable, if not perfect — because people find solace in predictability from their leaders!

If trust in the institutions, norms, and surroundings in which we find ourselves diminishe, then fear increases and we begin to do and say things that are unhealthy. We see the world as a hostile, combative place in which we pit ourselves against others, winners and losers. We seek protection at the expense of urgent profession, and we spend more time looking over our shoulder than we do putting our arm around someone else’s shoulder to guide them to the care and love of Jesus Christ.

How many of our churches and institutions have given into fear by trying to satiate this hunger by placing their trust in the ways of worldly culture and weapons of war? Yes, we need to make our institutions and places of worship safe–to do otherwise is nearsighted and naive–but putting processes in place will not ultimately quench this instinctive hunger. Only placing our faith and hope in Christ–the only constant and certainty in our world–will fulfill this yearning.

The Bible warns us against putting a disproportionate amount of faith in our man-made systems. Psalm 44:6 says, “For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me; but thou hast saved us from our foes.” And the prophets warn Israel against making alliances with other nations. God is our source of strength, and the Holy Spirit our source of power. We should not give into the politics of fear.

The second hunger is for companionship. How many of us fall in love with the wrong people because we are searching so diligently for a sense of belonging? Again, we place our trust in each other, as if our love for others will somehow bring a relief to our beating heart once and for all. The old adage is true: There is a Jesus-shaped hole in our heart that only Jesus can fill!

Do not look for love in all the wrong places, and submit to the Holy Spirit so that you’re empowered to live your life so you don’t become the subject of a country song. God makes us for friendship, companionship and love, but only within the bounds of kindred spirits. Set boundaries, create healthy relationships, and communicate with honesty. Trust that the closer you draw to Christ, then the more healthy your relationships with others will prove to be.

The third hunger is for knowledge. God put in us a drive to learn about the world around us, and curiosity should drive us to experience life with a sense of wonder, humility, and awe. We should be open to the Spirit’s movement in the world, and we should anticipate that God will surprise us as we seek to learn new things.

My wife and I are educators, so we commonly tell people that we are life-long learners. We learn in the things we experience, whether they result in blessings or failures. My greatest lessons came about when I saw circumstances as opportunities to grow, and when I’ve been open to learning something new about myself.

Of course, learning something new means being open to changing our minds and our hearts about things–this is critical in growing in knowledge; we cannot remain unchanged throughout our life. Stagnation hinders spiritual growth!

The last hunger is to know God personally. I’ve met countless individuals who know about God, know of God, and have studied a lot about God–but they do not know God personally. They see God as an idea or a worldview or as a lofty, inaccessible ethereal Being who has no time for us as individuals.

If there is one thing that has sustained my faith through the years, it hasn’t been from intense studies of scripture or time spent with other believers at church (though both are life-giving), but with regular, daily time spent abiding in Jesus Christ.

Christ calls us to be his family, and the Holy Spirit indwells within each of us so that we can walk with God on a personal level. Jesus said, “As the father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love…that your joy may be complete” (John 15:9-10, 11b).

As I reflect on these four hungers, I can’t help but think of how lopsided we’ve treated some of them. We are gaunt and malnourished in some areas, and we are too fat on others. We teeter too much to one, and neglect others so that we walk around like zombies, half-dead roaming the earth.

Churches would also do well to attend to each hunger, and provide balance in meeting each hunger in community. Its not a matter of having gifts to fill one or two of these hungers, but approaching God so that Jesus nourishes us completely, in the abundance of life he has promised so long ago.

***

Source: O. O. Boggess, “Your Body, The Temple of the Holy Ghost,” in The Holy Spirit (Anderson IN: Warner Press, 1947), pp. 109-115.

The Mystics and the “Middles” of Life

By Joe LaGuardia

I attend a Baptist pastor’s meeting every so often in which we have a time of prayer, as well as listen to a one-hour presentation from a guest speaker. There is always a speaker, and although it is meaningful, we are never left to talk among ourselves—to share, to compare notes, to engage one another, or wrestle with things that are happening in our community. It is always someone from the outside, some church planter, consultant, or church leader.

Every leader sounds the same: to persuade us to take on new ideas, fresh starts, new programs all designed grow the church, make ministry effective, be relevant, increase giving and tithing, bring revival, save the lost, be true to doctrine, and on and on it goes.

No one ever addresses how to do what I call “The Middle”—that long expanse of ministry in which you are pursuing an idea or program that you were excited about starting a while ago. No one ever addresses finishing well either. We like beginning new things, starting new ministries, buying new things, and getting fresh ideas; but where do we find encouragement just to do what we are doing, stick with things, and bring certain seasons to an end in a way that celebrates the meaning of that season in the first place?

For those of us familiar with the Christian Calendar, we know that “middles” are just as much a part of our walk with Christ as are the beginnings of things (like Christmas) or the end of things (like funerals). The “middle” is what we observe in the church season known as “Ordinary time,” which goes from Pentecost to Advent. It is the longest season of the church calendar, and sometimes Ordinary Time seems to go on forever. People get bored, we get anxious; we wonder if this whole thing is a waste of time!

The fact of the matter is that our society has capitalized on beginnings, new things, change, and convincing people that boredom and unrest can be met only with the newest craze, fad, or gadget. No one knows how to live in the “middle” anymore—to work, eat, sleep, care for family, play with kids, go to church; and to do that over and over and over again.

For me, none other than (and most ironically) the Mystics from the Middle Ages are what have helped me get through my middles and Ordinary Times.

The Middle Ages were a time of great change in Europe, so there were many new things erupting in towns all over the known world. Universities met the needs of the increasingly curious and ever-growing population of the merchant, “Middle” class. Monasticism promised an escape from the world, harkening opulent and flamboyant Catholic Churches back to simpler times. A new movement of mysticism exposed the notion that all this new wealth and learning and concentration of resources were not an end-all of things.

Several mystics marked the 13th and 14th centuries with writings, guidance, and spiritual direction that reminded people that “boring” can be just as spiritual as “the new,” that God works just as much in the mundane routine of life as God does in the “urgent.”

Bernard of Clairvaux, for instance, reformed his monastery by returning to the simplicity of Benedict’s Rule of Life. He claimed that our hope is not always found elsewhere, say, in the bliss of heaven, but in creation as well—his writings focus on the incarnation of Christ. Jesus saw it fit to become flesh and blood like us, so there is value in this life, value in our ability to love God and others.

Hildegard of Bingen was a renaissance woman of sorts whose art, music, teaching, preaching, and prophetic witness sought to marry spiritual ecstasy with creativity rooted in earth, rules and routine. For all practical purposes, she was the West’s first female naturalist—she was able to pay attention to the little things rather than be swept away by the shiny big things that captivated one too many hearts.

Julian of Norwich was also a romantic. Her writings show a deep spiritual love for Christ grounded in the mundane routine of living, of loving passionately, and of seeking Jesus’ face for the sake of obeying Christ. She suffered from ailments that became for her sources of spiritual growth.

All of these mystics teach us what Marilyn Robinson calls the “inexhaustible ordinary.” It has been my passion to teach my congregations this truth: That if you are always looking for excitement at church, or a new program to jumpstart your faith, or the newest purchase to fill that restless hole in your heart, then you are missing the point of Christian discipleship. It was Augustine who told us that our hearts are restless until it rests in Christ. But the key word there is to rest—to Sabbath, to enjoy, and to see routines and daily habits as that gift that God gives us to live with intentional purpose and blessing and peace.

Take with you five values that the mystics taught us along the way:

  1. The mystics valued the incarnation of Christ: Make Christ the Lord of your routine (read Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, if you haven’t already!). In Old Paths, New Power, Daniel Henderson points out that Jesus did not pray as a part of his ministry, he ministered out of a life of prayer.
  2. The mystics valued incarnational ministry: Become a naturalist and develop a sense of interiority that grows outward and beyond you—honing the ability to grow in awareness, empathy, observation, attentiveness (a new(!) book by Samuel Wells, Incarnational Ministry: Being with the Church, addresses this.)
  3. The mystics valued the rhythms of life. Celebrate blessings; accept crises of faith as gifts. Ministry brings times of joy as well as hardship; do not avoid them, but treat them as potential opportunities to grow in Christ even when others around you fail to grow.
  4. The mystics valued the naming of experiences, even if it meant making up images, words, phrases to best express them (like Julian of Norwich, who coined the curious moniker, “Mother Christ”). Learn how to articulate your personal experiences of Christ, and offer that gift to help others describe the movements of the Spirit in their life. Read often to emulate how to wield language and construct alternative narratives whereby others can live.
  5. The mystics valued routine: Incorporate a Rule of Life. It’s healthy, it puts feet to your faith, and it promotes self-care.