Retreat #7 Sharon Garlough Brown, Mark 1:35-38 No. 35 by Joshua Banner

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This winter has been intense, the church is struggling, our politics are a mess.

In episode 31 with Jonathan Wilson Hargrove, I suggest that prayer is deeply connected to our politics. I’ll leave you to work out those things for now. I am committing to small amounts of daily news and larger amounts of prayer for my neighbors near and far.

In terms of the church: I’m watching pastors resign their positions on a local level and reeling from the recent conviction of a high-ranking cardinal in the Catholic Church. I vividly understand the real discouragement with organized religion, yet even still I dare to hope. The Invitation exists to serve the church, to build up the body of Christ.

At home we’ve struggled here to get much of anything done with sickness and kids home from school on snow days. We have often feel trapped and then of course we easily get on each other’s nerves and angry with each other.

There are many things that could keep us from prayer. There are many things that could harden our hearts and close our hearts.

 How do you keep your heart connected to God’s warmth when the cold days are long and cruel? How do you hear the Good News when our public conversations are full of so much bad news?

Praying in the prison is my greatest subversive act of hope in our culture of despair. Prayer is rebellion against the status quo. I am buoyed with the goodness of finding love and patience, wisdom and kindness in the darkness of a prison.

Offering you prayer resources through the Invitation is another subversive act. I find great comfort and delight knowing that my practice of spiritual direction offered through the Invitation Podcast is invigorated by the movements of the Holy Spirit in a prison, and that this goodness is able to somehow reaching you wherever you are spread across the world.

I just looked. The Invitation has listeners in Austria, South Africa, Puerto Rico, and Peru among other places. It’s a small group, but the Spirit can do much with our small things.

This episode is a long-form retreat from our dear friend, retreat leader, spiritual director, and author, Sharon Garlough Brown. Conversation #3, episode No. 7 is a conversation with Sharon. This time she helps us consider the spiritual disciplines that Jesus practiced by walking us through Mark 1:35-38 in prayer and meditation. 

I pray that this audio retreat will help you live into and practice your own subversive acts of hope and joy. I pray there will be ripple effects of goodness and light all around you today.

Peace of Christ,

 

Josh

Awakening Series #1: What Can a Sixteen-Year-Old Teach Us? No. 34 by Joshua Banner

The only other space besides the prison where I have regularly been excited to discover the Holy Spirit is a summer camp. 

I didn't think I'd last long as the director of discipleship for the Awakening. It's a worship arts week in the for high school students. I've been going deeper into contemplative prayer in a prison. I thought maybe I'd offer a few years at the Awakening and then focus more on the prison and the Invitation, but I've been surprised and humbled.

In fact, these teenagers have something to teach me, and to teach you.

I don't go into the prison to bring Jesus to the men there. I go to the prison as a spiritual director to join with the men to discover Jesus who is already among them. Likewise, with these high school students of the Awakening. Jesus is already vibrant within them.

This is the introductory episode in a new collaboration with The Awakening. In this episode I practice something like group spiritual direction to discern with the students how Jesus is with them by asking: what is the unique gift you have to offer us as a teenager right now, today?

The word we focused on was vulnerability.

Here in this introductory episode to a new series of collaborations with the Invitation I offer you a chance to join into our discernment and to see what the Spirit might show you.

More information about the Awakening can be found HERE.

Don’t forget our public, spiritual conversation with Ruth Haley Barton at the Dominican Center, January 23. LINK HERE.   

And if you are a church leader of any kind, you are invited to join the Invitation's 3rd Annual Contemplative Prayer Retreat Feb 11 & 12 here in Holland, MI.

Be sure to subscribe to the Invitation at www.invitationpodcast.org 

Love & Peace,

Josh

Dying to Comfort Vs Dying of Comfort: A Journey to the Prison - Micah Matthews No. 33 by Joshua Banner

Micah Matthews recently finished and MFA in fiction at Warren Wilson. This episode is his audio essay where he describes his visits to the prison with Josh. These visits cause Micah to reflect on the spiritual good of going outside of his comfort.

Without permission to take microphones and cameras into the prison, this essay is the next best way for you to come inside to taste and see the movements of the Holy Spirit in a prison.

The Invitation is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to cover our capital budget. Please consider contributing financially so that we can create more creative spiritual formation content like this for you. tinyurl.com/y9gqmnha 

Please subscribe to the Invitation Podcast to stay in the loop with all the new content as it becomes available.

Thanks for joining this journey with us!

Much Love & Peace to you!

Josh

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Update: A Hasidic Tale & Giving Tuesday! No. 32 by Joshua Banner

In this update episode, a Hasidic tale from Abraham Joshua Heschel helps us understand the Spirit's invitation to find the treasure right here in front of ourselves, right at home.

We are on the eve of #GivingTuesday. If you haven't had a chance to watch our Kickstarter video, please do.

Here's a link: tinyurl.com/y9gqmnhaA 

We hope you can catch onto the larger vision of what the Invitation is up to as a nonprofit connecting the prison to the local church parish through spiritual direction and this podcast. If you have means, please support the Kickstarter campaign as it raises money to fund our capital budget, money that will help us efficiently and creatively offer you spiritual formation resources on a more consistent basis.

Share the Invitation with your people, and pray for us on this crazy journey of trusting God. Peace & Love of Jesus to you!

The picture of this episode is the home of what we are calling 'Cloudstreet' as it is under snowy construction. Cloudstreet will be the hub of our practice of spiritual direction, a retreat space, and a production space!!!

Big hugs and LOVE!

Josh

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Conversation #10 Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove No. 31 by Joshua Banner

Who wants to talk politics & prayer?

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This conversation with Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove will lead you into a Spirit-filled wilderness of hope in the midst of our political wasteland.

Yes, trusting Jesus with our politics will be difficult and intimidating. We should offer more than any party-line assent. Opening ourselves to engage in this kind of learning curve and conversation will require courage and patience. This wilderness journey will bring us to exhaustion and then likely to our knees, to repentance, and then finally to Hope.

Here in this wilderness we must especially learn to wait on the Lord in quietness and trust. He alone is our salvation and help.

However, there are several voices in our country pushing back on this call to prayer. "No thanks," they say. "We don't need your thoughts and prayers. We need new legislation and we need your action!"

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
— C.S. Lewis

This response is fair if its in response to small prayers. C.S. Lewis famously argues in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory” that our desires are not too strong but too weak. We are far too easily pleased.

In a similar way our politics are not too strong but too weak. Our neighbors do need our thoughts and prayers if we are engaging God’s love in a transformative way. They need us to be so thoroughly changed by our thoughts and prayers that we might become agents of justice and righteousness in our neighborhoods and cities.

In this episode I offer you a hearty introduction to this conversation by encouraging you to enter into this wilderness desert for the sake of loving God with your strength for the sake of righteousness, which is justice. This episode is a challenging invitation for you to bring your politics under the Lordship of Jesus no matter your political leanings and affiliations.

Can we trust the Spirit to lead us into the wilderness, to brave this political storm growing our faith to believe yes, everything is going to be alright?

Truly truly! Verily verily! Amen amen!

Let it be so!

Love,

Josh


Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove and Shane Claiborne edited the prayerbook Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Each day’s prayer is concluded with this:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.
— originally from the Celtic book of Prayer
 

"Jonathan is a moral prophet and spiritual physician for our time. In this timely book, with the precision of a heart surgeon, he exposes the sickness that has long-plagued American Christianity and infected our society and politics, revealing that none of us is untouched by the disease. With the credibility of his life lived in solidarity with systemically oppressed people, he resounds a clarion call to reform the way in which we live the gospel. This is a must-read for all Christians in America. You will be humbled, enlightened, and motivated to heal the ailing heart of our country and recover its soul." 

-Philenna Heuertz

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5-ish Minute Prayer #7 "Autumn Prayer feat. Jordan Bruxvoort" no. 30 by Joshua Banner

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Have you taken a moment to breathe today? Have you noticed up close the changing colors? Have you stood still long enough to enjoy the wind on your face?

How is your sleep? How about your peace of mind?

There is much working against our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. The local, national and world-wide news continues to waylay us with death. Death by tsunami (Indonesia). Death by suicide (my community). Death by body failure and age (my church and my great aunt).

And of course there is strife. We seem addicted to indignation and rage in America (pick any of today’s political news bites).

In this 5ish Minute Meditation, Jordan Bruxvort invites us to consider how the movements of Autumn teach us how to let go and trust. As the weather splinters, leaning towards winter, we are reminded that all things in creation disintegrate. All things eventually go to sleep. Yet beyond sleep and death, we yearn for and we trust in a greater hope of new life, of resurrection and spiritual help.

In this five-ish-minute meditation Jordan and I invite you to join Autumn in a season of letting go.

Peace & Love of Christ to you!

Josh


Jordan Bruxvoort was the first to help me identify the Jesuit vocabulary of “contemplatives in action” as he sought Ignatian spirituality to sustain his activism on behalf of immigrants. Jordan and I got to know each other in the first year of our practicum in spiritual direction with the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids. He approaches his vision for social change through the lens of spiritual direction in a wise, generous way. A big thanks to him for being involved in the Invitation—for his encouragement, insight, and collaboration! I encourage you to take a look at his website and bio below.

And please don’t be shy. Email me if you also have something to offer the Invitation:
* a response to a guided prayer or conversation
* a creative insight into what the Invitation can offer
* if you’d like to write or even record a 5-minute meditation

Jordan Bruxvort Bio

For the last ten years, Jordan Bruxvoort has worked as a community organizer, primarily in the struggle for immigrants' rights.  Jordan, his wife Sarah, and their two children Amos and Abigail live in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where Jordan directs the Naomi Project, a workers' and immigrants' rights project (www.projectofnaomi.org).

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Conversation #9 Trevor Hudson No. 29 by Joshua Banner

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“Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

So said Mr. Beaver to Lucy in C.S. Lewis' classic, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

I have the joy of practicing group spiritual direction twice a month in a prison. This practice is teaching me many things about following Jesus and about sharing Jesus with others.
 
This past Saturday, Jesse, a prisoner new to our prayer practices, shared that his experience of Jesus is still so new. He confessed he is just beginning to open himself to God, trying to determine if it’s safe to approach God further. I chuckled some about this and decided to be honest with him. “No, Jesse,” I said, “Approaching God is not safe. It’ll wreck your life.”

Jesus asks us, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”  As I mentioned last month, Jesus offers us a nice, hot cup of die-to-yourself. Why would anyone ever want to imbibe such a drink?

The cup Jesus offers us is the living water of transformation, of death and resurrection. It’s a drink of our baptismal waters. This strong drink is an acquired taste for most of us. It takes us time to learn how to regularly drink deeply of Jesus, the living water who is severe yet also liberating, sacrificial while healing, dangerous yet good. 

If you are given grace to desire this drink at all, the question then remains: how do I acquire more of a taste for God? If I’m honest, I’m scared of taking more of God into myself. I don’t know what he wants from me. How do I learn to want to surrender more of myself to God?

——————-

I do most of the cooking in our home. I prefer strongly flavored foods, the heat of peppers, the intensity of garlic and onion. The trouble is remembering that my family naturally enjoys milder flavors. Unwittingly, I’m changing their palate—slowly, meal by meal. Without working hard at it, I’m re-defining their tastes. My oldest son has recently taken to spicy mustard on his bratwurst. He’s also enjoying little dabs of the jalapeño jelly I canned a few years ago. My younger son now eats the salads I prepare, and my wife prefers her coffee black—if it’s from the fancy beans I buy.

Just by being myself, by being a person interested in certain foods, films, and books, someone who delights in the camping and canoeing we did this past summer—just by a kind of osmosis I am shaping the interests and desires of my children and spouse.

This is also the gist of what I offer as a spiritual director, a kind of Spirit-led osmosis. What matters more than the words I say to someone in spiritual direction is my internal contemplative posture. The greatest gift I can offer someone in direction is the way I sit in the presence of God with that person, how I share time and space with that person in and through the Holy Spirit.

It’s vital to unpack that word “share” here. I do not arrive at a session of spiritual direction to share God with someone as a performance or monologue. Sharing is two-way. It’s reciprocal. I can only be effective as a facilitator of a spiritual conversation if the directee has arrived open and willing to share the God that is already inside of herself. And that is the point: we join together to prayerfully discover the God who is already moving, breathing, and loving in and through us. Jesus has always been near. It’s just that we have yet to acknowledge him.

No doubt over the years some have left a session of direction with me unimpressed and sad to have wasted an hour. Perhaps I wasn’t the right fit for that person as a director, or perhaps she was not ready for direction anyway. Perhaps she didn’t know how to be weak.

The only pre-requisite for spiritual direction and growth is some experience of humiliation, even a minor sense of failure. I first sought direction in the middle of a very public position as the worship leader for a small Christian college. I was supposed to be the conduit of God for 1200 voluntarily assembled students. I sought spiritual direction when I finally accepted my inner emptiness. I had grown so tired of naming Jesus for everyone but myself. I had become a wreck. I was spiritually poor and needed help.

The group of men who choose to meet with us in the prison come broken, open, humble, and willing. One winter when we had trouble getting to the prison due to a massive snow dump, G, one of the most thoughtful and well-spoken human beings I’ve ever met, said, “You guys would come here on a sleigh. I don’t understand why you all are working so hard to get in here when we are working so hard to get out.” We told G, and we continue to remind all the men that we keep coming to the prison because of their holy openness to God. Their vulnerability means that we see Jesus in the lives of these men in ways we don’t see him anywhere else. These men have been drinking Jesus’ cup of die-to-yourself. They have been pushed to rock-bottom, yet in their humility they are each being transformed into something stunning.

My service as a spiritual director has led me to a focus on prisoners and also pastors. I am attempting to make connections between the two. I want pastors to come into the prison to pray with us. But this is not traditional prison ministry where we arrive to offer the men access to God. Instead, we go to the prison to see Jesus as he already is in the prison. It’s the witness of the Spirit moving among the prisoners that I’m so excited to share with the pastors. In the prison, practicing group spiritual direction together, we share in the eating and drinking deeply of Jesus. How will an experience of sharing God with the prisoners, the least of these, the moral lepers of our society—how might these pastors be changed in ways that transform the scope of their parish work?

As you listen and pray through my conversation with Trevor Hudson, you will hear us sharing deeply of God with each other, deep crying unto deep. I invite you to join us in drinking this cup of Christ to remember your baptism, to know him, the power of resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, that you and I might be conformed unto his death.

Josh

 

Loving God With Your 'Muchness' - Summer Retreat Part 6 No. 28 by Joshua Banner

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How ‘bout a Nice Hot Cup of Die to Yourself?

The essence of following Jesus is an idea that offends our minds: to Love God with all of our Strength, you must become weak. This is an other-worldly, a Kingdom of Jesus-the God-Who-Became-Weak concept.

What if our church marquee’s read “Come on in to worship with us and have a nice hot cup of die to yourself?”

Many of us have become so accustomed to the Gospel that we haven’t taken the deeply offensive nature of what he is asking us: we must die to ourselves, to this world, to our best ideas and deepest passions. The Gospel is no longer “offensive” to us. It is not moving in on us and invading our hearts and minds. To follow Jesus, we must confess with John the Baptist, “that I may decrease so that he can increase” in me and in the world around me.

In this final movement of the Summer Retreat 2018, we offer out bodies as living sacrifices to God. This episode uses a lectio divina format using the Message translation of Romans 12:1-2. The focus question is how does love for God in the heart, mind and soul become tangible and concrete through action. How can love become active in my daily life?

With the end of this summer experiment and now that we are officially a not for profit, the Invitation is moving into a season of fundraising with a kickstarter campaign launched later in the Fall while also searching for long-term, sustaining supporters. If the Invitation has been of help to you and if you believe it will be of help to others, please subscribe to the podcast, help spread the word about the Invitation and about the crowd-funding with kickstarter, join us in spiritual friendship, and become a sustaining supporter!

The Love & Peace of Jesus Christ to you,

Josh

 

Exploring the Depths of the Soul - Summer Retreat Part Five no. 27 by Joshua Banner

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Can Your Soul Become a BS-free Zone?

I have the joy of offering group spiritual direction in a prison. So I don’t mean to offend you by being crass here, but early on in the prison I learned to describe the prayerful conversations of spiritual direction as a “bullsh*t free zone.” This definition translates quickly for the inmates. The prison is riddled with many layers of bullsh*t, an absence of freeing and reciprocal honesty. The men who have chosen to return to our prayer practices over the past four years are self-selected. They return for our group practice of spiritual direction to enjoy a time and a space to be frank, raw, and honest with themselves, with each other, and with God.

New participants discover this freeing and reciprocal honesty quickly, too. Mike, on his second visit to our bi-monthly practice, looked at me with wide-eyed awe as he and I spoke intimately with each other. He leaned over and whispered, “I have never been so vulnerable with anyone since I got here.”

The shock of describing a prayerful conversation as a “bullsh*t free zone” requires those of us outside the prison to stop and consider the deeper implication here: the Holy Spirit reveals the holy love of God through the profane? Our lives are smothered in layers of information and misinformation, layers of false, empty desires that compete with each other, layers of pain and exhaustion, resentment and anger, layers of bullsh*t.    The Holy Spirit enters this gross confusion. The Spirit cuts through it. The Spirit shines light into it. The Spirit lifts us out of that pit.

In this episode, I meet with the small group to consider the deeper regions of our souls. We consider the many layers of resistance to moving into the depths of soul-spirituality. The intention here is that as we sink into God through contemplative prayer practices, we will each identify our own resistance to God, confess and surrender to His love, and be ever-more transformed.

Apologies for the delayed release on this episode. A few of the contributors got sick at the end of July, and then I got pretty sick too! A virus in the summer is not good. I hope you and yours have had a better second half of the summer than I.

We will soon be sending out our final episode of the summer retreat on ‘Strength.’ Thank you for allowing me to serve you in spiritual direction this summer. Despite the illness, it is a wonderful gift to share with you!

Peace of Christ,

Josh

 

The Mind is for Love: Beyond Academics - Summer Retreat Part FOUR no. 26 by Joshua Banner

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A spirituality of the mind is vitally more important than Christian academics and intellectualism.

There. I said it. This is my confession, the confession of a recovering theology student and teacher. I love theology. It's helped me so, yet I've come to love prayer more. It's taken another christian tradition to reveal to me that the two are not at odds. Evagrius Ponticus, most actively remembered by Eastern Orthodox christians said, "If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian."

The mind often gets short shrift in spiritual formation circles. Yet then in theological circles, the mind often gets placed in such a lofty, unattainable position. I'm saying that spiritualists tend to under-appreciate the mind while theologians tend to over-idealize the mind.

Again, on one hand, rich, abundant, Christo-centric, orthodox Christianity is about more than intellectual assent to our celebrated doctrines. In fact, it's fair to say that our minds often get in the way of our capacity to spiritually perceive Jesus as the Holy Spirit would have us deeply know Jesus. Deep, loving knowledge of God is not academic or intellectual, yet on the other hand it's a knowledge of God that so fully engages our minds in ways that are beyond anything we could ask or imagine that our minds become so full of love and truth that we don't need to be smart about our God-knowledge. We find instead that sitting lovingly in the presence of God with our minds open with our hearts to Jesus--this is all we end up being capable of.

The mind is intended to serve love.

I remember sitting with Carol on the front steps of her house. I was maybe 15 or 16. Carol was a spiritual mother, one of many people who have given much to me. Carol taught me through her presence. It was her manner, poise, the tone of her voice, her smile, the glint in her eye. It was the graceful, deep way about her that spoke to the deep inside of me. I sat on her steps yet again misunderstanding the things of God, trying to sort these things out when words were not very helpful.

"I wish I could just destroy my mind," I told her. It was so long ago. I assume that I had been inspired to make such a statement because I was gaining a sense that Jesus is more than my mind could easily accept. I look back today and understand that my mind had been offended by God. Carol assured me that this was a good thing. She explained that the point is not to destroy the mind but rather to redeem the mind, to put the mind in its right place, to use the mind for its correct purposes.

This is the context of holiness or wholeness. This is self-care: to put the mind in its right place alongside the heart, soul, and strength in service of worship and prayer of a God who generously reveals himself to us yet who is beyond our reasoning.
 
I invite you to the summer retreat, part four, a spiritual conversation with friends as we consider prayers of the mind. 

Happy summer-time!
Peace & Love,

Josh

 

Summer Retreat 2018 - Prayers of the Heart no. 25 by Joshua Banner

Much has already been said about the heart.

How many volumes upon volumes have been written to express the many movements of the heart? How many songs have been written to celebrate the goodness of the heart? And how many songs and poems lament the grief of the heart’s weaknesses, darknesses, and failures?
 
Yet with all that has been documented about the heart, why are most of us still relatively clueless about our own hearts and the hearts of those we are closest to? Why are we afraid of opening our hearts to each other, to God, or even to look closely at our own hearts? Why does the heart remain shrouded in mystery?
 
We can consider each story, poem, or song is a kind of map that offers us a vantage point to see the landscape of the heart. One map describes how the heart can move here over this mountain. Another shows the heart’s descent over there into a dangerous valley. The difficulty is that these are maps of someone else’s heart, someone else’s interior regions. Here is a terrifying consideration: there is no map available for the unique terrain of your heart. The only way for you to learn your heart is to practice it, to traverse it, to dwell within it.  
 
In Wendell Berry’s novel Hannah Coulter, the grandmother says that Thad Coulter “was not a bad man…I believed then, and I believe now, that he was not a bad man. But we are all as little children. Some know it and some don’t.”
 
When it comes to entering the terrain of our hearts, we are beginners; we are children. Yet few of us are willing to assume the assume a posture of child-likeness, so we feign and hide behind presumption, sophistication, and ego.  And why hide? To enter our hearts is to veer into close proximity of the regions where our deepest desires lie.  Here we can again celebrate a child who is immediately familiar with her desires. Children are vulnerable, often naked, and are by nature silly and even foolish. The most naïve have not learned to look over their shoulders and worry about who is watching.
 
Summertime offers some of us a hope of rest and play, a break from the seamlessly never-ending grind, the conveyor belt of daily humdrum we go through in fall and winter. I invite you to join four me and four friends in a conversation about the advantages of spiritual formation in the rhythms of the summer. In this episode, the third movement of the Summer Retreat 2018, we focus on prayers of the heart.  This episode can be approached on its own, but you’ll appreciate it more by listening and praying through the first two introductory episodes. We continue through the summer with the prayers of the mind, soul, and strength.
 
You can find prayer resources at the download page of the Invitation website, an overview of the prayer of examination and a worksheet, as well as the prayer guide, "40-Ways to Spend Five-Minutes with God." And you can also find some of the music used in the summer retreats for free on the music page.

Happy summer-time!
Peace & Love,

Josh

 

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Summer Retreat 2018 Part Two - Conversation #8 Chuck DeGroat no. 24 by Joshua Banner

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He's not safe, but he's good.

This episode is a follow up and an addition to the Introduction to the Summer Retreat 2018. I am so very excited to present to you my recent conversation with Chuck DeGroat, Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Christian Spirituality at Western Theological Seminary. This conversation opens our spiritual dialogue for the summer. Chuck wonderfully and generously helps me set a tone for the kinds of conversations we will continue to have on the mic with small groups of pastors and friends for each of the subsequent episodes on heart, mind, soul, and strength. We come to prayer with ponderings, hopes, desires, questions, loves and confusions. It's vital that we make this journey together. Chuck is a very capable companion for the journey because of his insight yes, but also because of his honesty. I invite you to come along on this journey with your own vulnerability, enthusiasm, and even fears.

In Mark 12 Jesus recounts the Great Commandment to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Notice the introduction there: to love with ALL. This means we are to bring everything to God, to be whole in our worship. The Spirit is given to us to search through every arena of our selves because God wants to consume us with his love.

His love is comprehensive to consume us...to devour us whole. It's hard not to think of Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia. As Mr. Tumnus tells Lucy, "He's not safe, but he's good." Why is he not safe? It's because he wants all. 1 Peter 5:8 says the enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour. 

There are two lions seeking to devour us. One devours us with love. The other to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10). I invite you to flee...to retreat from the lion who seeks only to destroy. Let's flee into a consuming, devouring love instead.

Summer Retreat 2018 Part One no. 23 by Joshua Banner

Can you fall in love this summer?

Our winters are long here in West Michigan. Even when we are not buried in several feet of snow with a layer of ice, there's still the "lake effect" cloud cover which means our days of annual sunlight are only slightly better than Seattle. Now that the sun has finally come out, it has taken me a few weeks to get used to it. I wanted the sun desperately, but my winter-sick body didn't know how to take in the goodness of the light.

In the 63rd Psalm the author pines,

My soul thirsts for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Here in West Michigan we might say,

My soul yearns for you in a dark and cold land where there is no sunlight.

So, for us, summer ends up being an especially dreamy, fantastical set of months in which we put a lot of hope. If it's not travel, it's long weekends, patios and grills, trips to the beach, lingering with friends and family, sunsets after 9pm, and then fireflies. Summers are a good time to fall in love.

The question is how. The intent of the Summer Retreat 2018 is to create time and space for us to consider the advantages of summer for falling in love with God.

It seems that every year Protestants engage Advent and Lent with more and more intentionality. But what about Ordinary Time, the other 34 of our 52 weeks of each year? In American culture, summer, a long stretch of Ordinary Time, it's something of a holy season. I recently recorded a conversation with Chuck DeGroat, professor of pastoral care, counseling, and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary.

Chuck and I discussed how much of spiritual practice is about learning to be aware and present to yourself, to others, and God. Isn't this what we long for in a good summer, to be present, alive, awake? As we continued to talk, the parameters of a "spirituality of summer" began to emerge. In summer we tend to be more present. We seek rest and opportunities to be playful. We find ways to disrupt our habits of busyness, to slow ourselves and to enjoy the good life.

How then can we gracefully add intentionality to our summer practices to make ourselves especially available to the Holy Spirit that we might fall in love with God, to rest in the transformative love of Jesus? This Summer Retreat 2018 will offer you time and space as well as some helpful vocabulary to further consider the advantages of summer for spiritual formation.

I invite you to the Summer Retreat 2018. In this Introduction Part One, we prepare for the retreat by praying through a section of C.S. Lewis' great sermon, "The Weight of Glory." 

My conversation with Chuck DeGroat, Introduction Part Two will be available in a week. The subsequent four episodes moving through August will be spiritual conversations with small groups of pastors and friends to discuss prayers of the heart, mind, soul, and strength. As we fall in love, we learn more about our personal, unique mode of love but then we will also want to stretch beyond ourselves and learn new ways to love. As we learn new ways to love, our hearts will be expanded and we will become, in the language of Chuck's book, Wholehearted  (which is a highly recommended summer read)!

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Update! Your Guide to Going Deeper With the Invitation no. 22 by Joshua Banner

This is an update episode to invite you to go deeper with the Invitation Podcast by: 1. joining a summer-long, multi-episode retreat through the shema (Deut 6; Mark 12)of loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and 2. to become a sustaining member of the Invitation as it seeks to become a non-profit. Here Josh shares the story of how he got into spiritual direction, started this podcast, became involved in the prison prayer practices...and how all these pieces fit together into a non-profit! Please subscribe to make sure you can download a free song, "Silence" that Josh and his wife, Susanna Childress (aka Ordinary Neighbors) recorded for the podcast.

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Retreat #6 "Meditation on Psalm 131" Renovaré co-release no. 21 by Joshua Banner

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This retreat is a co-release with our friends over at Renovaré. To participate in their other offerings especially this month visit www.renovare.org/podcast. There you will find a tremendous amount of resources to help you in your spiritual journey.

Here I’m offering two episodes for you that might deepen your Lenten journey.

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15,16

Lent is a season for us to come to terms with just how evil our days are. That is to say that during Lent we accept our desperate need for a Savior. I have tried to take in the news less frequently, but the school shooting at Parkland Florida and the questions of gun violence keep me returning to my phone. This national conversation is just one of many examples of the perilous nature of the world.
 
In my last short-format, five-minute retreat, ‘Begging,’ I borrowed a section from a recent conversation with pastor, activist, and author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove where he explains, “prayer is begging.” This month Jonathan releases his newest book, Reconstructing The Gospel: Finding Freedom From Slaveholder Religion. Racism. Poverty. School shootings. Spiritual poverty. Yes, the days are evil. Lent. Let’s rehearse again how we need a Savior.
 
Then in our most recent episode, Nathan Foster leads us through a long-format retreat with Psalm 131: “But I have calmed and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother, my soul is like a weaned child that is within me.” Our groaning, longing, and begging for a Savior doesn’t lead us to despair. It leads us deeper to a confidence that even though Christ has died, Christ will rise and come again. Nathan’s guided prayer helps us confess our sins of false comfort and then to rest in the comfort that quiets and calms our souls to the point that we can truly “hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.”

Amen!

5 Minute Prayer #6 'Begging' no. 20 by Joshua Banner

This short meditation is a response to #6 from the prayer guide, "40 Ways to Spend Five Minutes With God." 

Here I’m offering two episodes for you that might deepen your Lenten journey.

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15,16

Lent is a season for us to come to terms with just how evil our days are. That is to say that during Lent we accept our desperate need for a Savior. I have tried to take in the news less frequently, but the school shooting at Parkland Florida and the questions of gun violence keep me returning to my phone. This national conversation is just one of many examples of the perilous nature of the world.
 
In my last short-format, five-minute retreat, ‘Begging,’ I borrowed a section from a recent conversation with pastor, activist, and author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove where he explains, “prayer is begging.” This month Jonathan releases his newest book, Reconstructing The Gospel: Finding Freedom From Slaveholder Religion. Racism. Poverty. School shootings. Spiritual poverty. Yes, the days are evil. Lent. Let’s rehearse again how we need a Savior.
 
Then in our most recent episode, Nathan Foster leads us through a long-format retreat with Psalm 131: “But I have calmed and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother, my soul is like a weaned child that is within me.” Our groaning, longing, and begging for a Savior doesn’t lead us to despair. It leads us deeper to a confidence that even though Christ has died, Christ will rise and come again. Nathan’s guided prayer helps us confess our sins of false comfort and then to rest in the comfort that quiets and calms our souls to the point that we can truly “hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.”

Amen!

 

For more information about Jonathan, visit: jonathanwilsonhartgrove.com

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Conversation #7 Chris Hoke & Neaners Garcia No. 19 by Joshua Banner

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Is transformation possible for anyone?
Is transformation possible for you?
Do you want to be transformed?

In Teresa Avila's classic text, The Interior Castle, she describes the evil attacks that await anyone who answers the invitation to move through the outer and then into the inner rooms toward the heart of God. There are many layers of deception so in the first of seven rooms of the castle, Teresa sincerely encourages us to begin with self-knowledge. We perceive God through the lens of our spiritual eyes, so we must cleanse our spiritual eyes to better see God and to receive his love. Our enemy knows this and is intent to keep us hindered from self-knowledge.

This hindrance can be an instilled fear of ourselves. Many of us are taught not to indulge in self-knowledge. Parents and pastors instruct us against this as self-idolatry; the focus of the Christian's life is Jesus not ourselves, they say. Yet Jesus' greater teaching is to love our neighbors the way we love ourselves, and love reveals. Love requires for intimate knowledge and sharing. Love creates hope, trust and awareness.

We must know ourselves. If we know ourselves truly, we do not become self-consumed, navel-gazing egoists. True self-knowledge instead reveals our deepest, most essential design: our hunger for God's love and friendship. If we look clearly and deeply within ourselves, deep calls us unto deep. We dive into our depths and there in the center of our being, we find traces of God drawing us back to himself.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.   
Psalm 139

Does this seem strange and impossible? Is this transformative, in-breaking of love possible for you? Do you desire this love?

How about a modern day example? Enter Neaners Garcia, a gang leader in the Skagit Valley of Washington state, in solitary confinement for murder. As he lay in his bed in solitary for many months, Neaners confronted the darkness and anger inside of himself, yet he went deep below his violence and found the sacred name of Jesus.

I invite you to join in this conversation with Neaners and his friend Chris Hoke, the co-directors of Underground Ministries. Come taste and see the power of transformation in their shared story.

This conversation with Neaners and Chris is very much a continuation of my previous episode with Christopher Hall, president of Renovare (and one of the core faculty in my doctoral program in spiritual direction at Fuller Seminary). The story of Neeners here in this episode #19 suggests that desert spirituality is accessible through a prison. Chris Hoke brilliantly reflects upon the similarities between the monastic cell and what he calls the "re-purposing" of a prison cell for the sake of transformation.

In that talk with Chris Hall I suggested that America's industrial incarceration system is a result of the failure of the American Church to understand the transformative power of the Gospel. On the surface it seemed Chris Hall disagreed with my discernment. I am loathe to stir up arguments with my professors. However, to be fair, in that episode I did not describe the full context of my discernment. Chris Hall was right to be lovingly optimistic about the willingness of Evangelicals today to be stirred into the social justice movement. Indeed my friends at Calvin College who teach in a prison report how wonderfully bi-partisan compassion for the incarcerated is. 

Even still, granted that we can be more optimistic about the church today, we need to see ourselves clearly. I continue to believe the systemic racism and oppression of our incarceration is a result of a limited Gospel since the founding of America. In the same way that we struggle to gain our own self-knowledge, we struggle as an American church to see ourselves collectively. I'm advocating for spiritual direction as social action, that we follow Teresa's wisdom and aid the church to begin with corporate self-knowledge. Spiritual directors can help us see and know ourselves collectively. To change as a society, we must look into the mirror.

When I look in the mirror, I see ethnic and economic disparities manifest in incarcerated men. James Baldwin famously wrote:  “The history of America is the history of the Negro in America. And it’s not a pretty picture.” To understand people of color is to understand our incarceration system that today holds 25% of the world's prison population, 40% of whom are black men. I submit that the history of America is the history of who we imprison. 

My friends in the EC Brooks Correctional Facility are a way for me to look at this ugly picture in undomesticated ways. Likewise, this conversation with Chris Hoke and Neaners Garcia gives us a powerful look at ourselves. And remember, if we look clearly and boldly, we will see beneath what is fragmented, obscured, and violent and like Neaners, we will discover God's healing love!

Peace of Christ to you!

Josh

5 Minute Prayer #13 'Meditation on Isaiah 9' no. 18 by Joshua Banner

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"Drop the mirror and let it shatter.
Crush the hourglass and stop the clock's ticking.
Stand still.
Hold your breath."


Immanuel, God Incarnate with us. The manifestation of God in human form is a first principle, absolute salt, the truest Reality, terra firma, the fabric of the cosmos. Words fail. How can we say anything well about Advent? No, we must immerse our consciousness in the presence of the Incarnate One, whom one theologian described as an "ontological revolution." Our minds will never wrap around Advent, yet it helps to proceed how St. Anselm and others encouraged have taught: to believe in order that we might come into understanding. We begin with Him, present in his Kingdom, and then everything else becomes clearer and true.

We had wandered in a darkness and then the Light of lights dawns upon us.

A few weeks ago I offered you a  long-form retreat, a mediation on lamentation. I humbly offer it for your advent prayer and worship if you haven't already spent time with it. It is perplexing that a few days after sending that your way, I enter into a new experience of confusion and hurt. This isn't the space to elaborate on my personal trouble, but its safe to say that I have new reason to understand Advent as a time of longing and ache. 

When we lament and ache, we have access to Jesus, our terra firma. He is ground zero. He is base camp, our safe harbor of love and healing.

I invite you to join me in this short-format, 5-Minute Prayer where I pivot off #13 from the prayer guide, "40 Ways to Spend 5 Minutes With God."In approaching this prayer method I recite a Meditation on Isaiah 9, a creative piece I wrote for a worship service back in 1999. Both the prayer guide and the reading can be found on the 'resources' page on at invitationpodcast.org.


Words will fail me in expressing how helpful it is to return to this writing on Isaiah 9 after all these years right here in the midst of personal hurt--to "drop the mirror" and rehearse Immanuel. I've been attentive to the swelling #metoo movement that has overtaken our country in the wake of the revelations about film producer Harvey Wienstien. These days I have to limit my daily intake of news and politics. I even deleted my facebook account to better find solace from the many heavy things pressing upon us. I assume you are also experiencing your own difficulties. Great or small, whatever our hindrance to faith, we bring every part of ourselves, every experience to Him especially during Advent. This year my gift box is full of questions instead of gold. Let's rehearse Immanuel and drawn near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings us, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (Heb 10:22).

Peace of Christ to you!

Josh

Retreat #5 Lament: To Cleanse Your Spiritual Eyes no. 17 by Joshua Banner

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As we enter Advent, we take a sober look at the darkness in and around us to prepare for the dawning of a Great Light. If we do not honestly look at this darkness, we diminish our exceeding need for the light of Jesus.

Eastern Orthodox spirituality richly embraces this honest, necessary look into the darkness by teaching that tears are a second baptism. If we truly weep over our sins, the compunction of our tears refreshes and renews our identity as children adopted into the Kingdom of God. Surely we also return to the essence of our baptism, our identity resurrection with and in Jesus when we turn to him in the midst of suffering and offer prayers of lament.

One third of the Psalms are lamentation, yet there is not one lectionary from any Christian tradition that includes lament in this proportion throughout the scope of its annual worship. We are able to say then that none of our worship is fully Biblical. None of us sufficiently bring our complaints, confusions, doubts, and anger to God. There is much for us to learn about ourselves and God in and through lament. 

The novelist and essayist Fredrick Buechner explains, "Before the Gospel is a word, it is silence." This is to also mean that "The Gospel is bad news before it is good news." Advent, like Lent is a time to imagine the grief and misery of a world without a savior. If we open ourselves with humility, we will also see how we have resisted God and made our lives desolate. We will see how we have allowed ourselves to live in darkness.

I invite you to participate in this fifth, long-format retreat to consider that lament is not an end it itself. Instead we explore how speaking honestly with God can heal us. Opening the door to our pain allows us to see the prognosis our our sin-sick lives and our sin-sick world. If we locate the source and location of the pain, we can then more intentionally invite the Holy Spirit into our suffering.

Peace of Christ to you!

Josh

Original music with help from Jared DeMeester and Josh Holicki.

Conversation # 6 Christopher Hall No. 16 by Joshua Banner

Is it fair to connect social injustices like racism and our industrial prison system to our own personal belief in Jesus' ability to transform our lives? 

I am beginning to believe it is fair to do just this. Our collective, national sicknesses are deeply connected to my own sense of who God is for me today. If I come to believe that the Holy Spirit can transform my own life, then I will develop hope for my neighbors, even my enemies and hardened criminals. 

In this latest discussion Christopher Hall and I wrestle with these things. Chris is the newest president of Renovaré I trust because he is careful and loving with the church. As you listen to this episode, you'll hear my consternation with the failings of the church to believe transformation is possible. As I read more and more about racism and the incarceration system, as I complete my third year volunteering in local prison, I see the weaknesses of an American Church that continues to criminalize and scapegoat people of color, especially black men. Chris challenges me to be more hopeful in the church. He argues that the church might respond to this crisis if they only could be informed about the crisis. This is a delicate subject to bring up Chris says, yet it is gaining traction even among evangelicals.

How do we challenge American Christians to risk, to look and see beyond the confines of their own communities to see the struggles of their not too distant neighbors?

Author and activist Michelle Alexander describes the blindness of those who enable institutional, systemic racism. She says:

Martin Luther King Jr. in his speeches would often remind his audiences that, you know, most folks who support Jim Crow aren't evil bad people, they're just deeply misguided. They're blind, spiritually blind to the harms of the policies that they support. And I think the same thing can be said today, many people of good will are blind to the harms of mass incarceration and the devastation, the war on drugs has caused.

In this conversation Chris Hall challenges us to practice the spiritual discipline of moving our bodies and our minds out of our comfort zones into new "learning spaces" that we might be transformed into the character of Jesus.

I invite you to participate in this conversation, episode #16, a conversation with Christopher Hall!

Peace of Christ to you!

Josh

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