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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5 Minute Prayer #41 'Our Father Is Younger Than We' No. 15 by Joshua Banner

G.K. Chesterton says that children are strong because they can enjoy monotony.

I've watched Casper, my seven-year-old, sit with markers, paper, scotch tape, and scissors for hours. He has a powerful internal strength that keeps him so focused on making things that it is difficult to get his attention. He gets thoroughly lost inside his rich internal world. Nothing seems boring to him as long as he is free to experiment with colors, textures, shapes, and the stories he tells about each drawing or cut out. Imagination and creativity are strong with this one.

God asks us to love him with strength, to be squarely focused on him. He desires that we might lose ourselves in abandonment to his love and presence, that we might be so consumed by him that it will be difficult to distract us from that love. 

How can we become so focused, so consumed by God's love? "Focus" shares the same latin root as the word "hearth," that space around a fireplace. We stay focused on that which warms us. Fire is mesmerizing. It attracts our gaze like almost nothing else. If you watch Casper at play with his art projects, you'll see a little boy lit by an inner fire. When he brings me his finished crafts, a shining light of excitement glows in his eyes. He is in love with his art. Art gives him a kind of strength that compels him to do strange things. He often wakes up early before school to have some alone time so he can piece together something new. When we have favorite guests over, he will go to the other room to make them special gifts of his art. He wants to share his fire. He does so easily.

How is the fire inside of you? What are you focused on these days?
What fire is consuming you?
Do you want to be aflame with God's love? 


I invite you to stoke the fire of your own strong love for God in this newest 5 Minute Meditation, "Our Father is Younger Than We" based on prayer exercise #41 from the prayer guide, "40 Ways to Spend Five Minutes With God."

Peace of Christ to you!

Josh

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Retreat #4 Julian of Norwich 'For God Wishes' no. 14 by Joshua Banner

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"For God wishes to be seen.
For God wishes to be sought.
God wishes to be expected.
God wishes to be trusted.
God wishes to be enjoyed."

In this long-form retreat Nathan Foster leads us prayerfully through these invitational words of Julian of Norwich. As I sit with Julian's words just now, I am mindful of the many people who have been endangered by hurricanes and flooding, racism and hate crimes this summer. I understand that our country is in the midst of a kind of collective trauma that is the result of various forces that press and push on us.

How can we enjoy God in the midst of all this? In the context of such suffering one might be tempted to discourage any attempts at delight, rest, retreat, tenderness, and vulnerability. Surely it is time for action, for service, and sacrifice. Yet if we don't also find delight in seeking God, the joy of expecting God to show up--if we are not able to bear trust in our inner beings, then our action and service are likely to be vain. 

This is the point of the Gospel invitation: Jesus says "go into the fray with and through me. You don't need to suffer without me. Seek me. Expect me. Learn to trust me. Enjoy me."

Nathan and I are delighted to offer you an accessible guide to opening yourself to God in audio form. I invite you to participate in this retreat. Listen HERE.

This audio retreat is a co-release with Renovaré. Please pray for us as we discern future collaborations. If you would like to know more about Renovaré, visit renovare.org. Also, if you missed my previous conversation with Nathan, check it out below.

Peace & Love to you!

Josh


In Conversation #5 Nathan Foster no. 12 /June 26, 2017Nathan and I sit down to talk about various ways to pursue God through spiritual discipline. We talk about ecumenicism, mysticism, and parenting. Nathan is someone who has struggled and yet continues to hope in the abundant life with Jesus, to believe that God can and will continue to transform his life beyond anything he could ask or imagine.

5 Minute Prayer #26 'Patient Trust' No. 13 by Joshua Banner

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In the Gospels Jesus asks, "how can I help you?" and also, "what do you want?"

Do you know how to answer these questions? Do you actively talk with Jesus about these questions, or are you leading a life, in the words of Thoreau, a life of "quiet desperation"?


Essentially Jesus is asking us, "how is it with your soul? Is it well? If not, what can be done?" We may sing the words of the great hymn, peace is like a river attending our ways in the midst of troubled, stormy seas. We learn to declare those words by faith. Yet, is it possible for you to carry yourself through each day in love, joy, hope and patient trust

Another way to consider this is, if Jesus' death and resurrection were necessary to save our souls, what is the experience of a 'saved soul' today, right now, in this moment, in this breath? Is the goodness of salvation reserved only for our a soul in heaven, or is there not some abundant life of the soul, of the mind, heart and body for today? Does the presence of Jesus not break into our practiced existence right now into our presence?

Most of us do not have a working understanding of our own souls. We do not have a practical and personal engagement with our soul, and so the soul is misunderstood and shrouded in mystery. Without a working understanding of the soul, how can we practice soul engaging prayer that will transform us into the likeness of Jesus? 

Many shrug their shoulders in bewilderment and move on. The soul? Who can know it? They assume the soul, that Jesus' presence through the power of the Holy Spirit in the deepest parts of our being is a mystery never to be understood or practiced. Thus many Christians end up living lives that Thoreau described so well, "lives of quiet desperation," lives of resignation distracted by the "games and amusements of mankind."

If you are returning to the Invitation Podcast, something is stirring in your soul. An ache is becoming more defined inside of you, a holy desire for God. You are answering the invitation, hearing Jesus' words, "what can I do for you? How can I help? What do you want?" The next step is to wait patiently for his help. We wait patiently in trust through prayer.

Another reason why we avoid the soul is because soul-work is slow. Soul-work requires honesty and humility. Soul-work depends on our ability to trust. Ultimately soul-work involves our bodies, our actions. Soul-work invokes our emotions and engages the way our minds work. What we think about...what we hope for...how we wait patiently.

Susanna and I welcomed Merritt Terese Banner into the world on July 14, at 6:40pm in the evening. The waiting for her was a kind of soul-work. Over three years we lost three previous babies, excruciating pain that is difficult to describe. Then there was the nine months with Merritt of course, nine months when time slowed down. Each week we wondered if she would make it, if she would be healthy. The actual birthing was of course incredibly physical, messy with the primal elements of life. Susanna likes to recall that when Merritt emerged, I let out a full, deep, belt of laughter. I also treasure that joy-filled memory. The laughter was a deep response of my soul that resounded out through my body. When it was all done and our hospital room became silent, our bodies were exhausted but our souls refreshed and renewed. And so we couldn't stop touching our baby girl, smelling her, kissing and codling, reveling in the new gift of life.

The gift of soul-work is like the slow, precarious work of birthing. Prayer can be both easy and hard. Time never seems like its on your side. Time moves either too fast or too slow. Prayer can be excruciating. It requires patient trust, hours and years of waiting. Then suddenly new life sneaks up on you in a way that is completely out of your control. The Spirit gives you gifts of faith in his timing and on his terms because he knows what is best for you. Then we return again to prayer faithfully waiting in patient trust for the new life to arrive.

The Invitation Podcast can serve as a 'birthing coach' for you. Each of us need some help, some coaxing into solitude. As a friend said just yesterday, "most of the time I need someone to give me permission to be quiet and rest." I invite you to use this short meditation to give yourself permission to eagerly await the help of the Spirit in 'patient trust.'

"Patient Trust" is a prayer by the Jesuit paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin. Chardin was part of the the expedition that discovered the "Peking Man," homo erectus, a prehistoric human who Chardin was surprised to discover used primitive tools. This prayer has helped Susanna and me for several years of suffering and big questions. Its a prayer that can excavate and preserve your soul!

Peace and help of Christ to you!

Josh

Conversation #5 Nathan Foster no. 12 by Joshua Banner

When was the last time you were surprised by your life?

There are many reasons for us to despair today. Jesus anticipated this struggle when he spoke about "wars and rumors of war." In the face of catastrophe, he tells us to not be alarmed because all "these things must come to pass." How do we keep our heads above the water? If not the struggle of politics, terrorism, and racism, just looking at your bank account might cause your chest to tighten and keep you up at night. Or your trouble may be with relationships--confusion with family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers.

The couple who offered Susanna and me marital counseling asked us early on a penetrating question: When you consider the future, is it a gift wrapped in a bow full of surprise and goodness? Or is the future a bomb, a tragedy yet to unfold? 

If not either of these extremes, perhaps your future seems mediocre like the persistent banality of refrigerator buzz (for Radiohead enthusiasts, fridge buzz is a theme throughout Ok Computer). Perhaps the the future is merely the passing of time and events; its perfunctory, with little to no vitality.

What then do you make of Jesus' words? "I came to give you life, life abundantly."  (John 10:10)

Or what about this prayer from the apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:20: Unto him who is able to accomplish more than anything we can ask or imagine? 

How seriously, how deep can this hope penetrate into our mind, heart, our soul?

If you sense a desire deep inside your soul for more, for more help, more friendship, love, clarity, hope, depth, rich goodness, then you are hearing the Invitation of Jesus. That is what the Invitation Podcast is for, a time and a space for us to journey together toward the Desire above and beyond all desires.

In this episode no. 12, Nathan Foster and I sit down to talk about various ways to pursue God through spiritual discipline. We talk about ecumenicism, mysticism, and parenting. Nathan is someone who has struggled and yet continues to hope in the abundant life with Jesus, to believe that God can and will continue to transform his life beyond anything he could ask or imagine.

5 Minute Prayer #14 'Lion or the Dove' No. 11 by Joshua Banner

A lion or a dove? How do you meditate?

The awkward truth about prayer is that you can only learn it by practice. This can be a very discouraging realization. This truth can cause many to avoid prayer altogether. We don't like being beginners. We don't want God to be difficult, and we don't know how to be alone and quiet. We assume that if Jesus is really about love, then a relationship with him should be convenient and simple.

I know how to confess the difficulties of prayer because I've been discouraged most of my life in regard to prayer. Even while serving as a ministry leader, I held God at arm's length and struggled to sit still and give myself to his presence and truth through prayer and meditating on the Scriptures. 

While we can't learn how to pray from books or from someone else, it is possible to gain some inspiration and even some practical coaching on what to look and wait for as we approach God. This is the gift of spiritual direction and what I hope is the gift of this podcast outreach: that you can find some inspiration and practical help to get started or to try again to know and be known by God.

Prayer is simple. It is accessible and even convenient, but not in the way we think of any other simple, accessible, or convenient thing in our lives. Once you enter in you will understand in your own way what I mean. Talking to God is unlike talking to anyone else. Being in his presence is different than the personal presence of any other being. This is God. No one is like him. When you go to prayer on your own, you will learn your own way. There are various ways! You might pray like a lion or a dove, or in some completely other way. 

To understand what I'm getting on about, I invite you to listen to episode no. 11 based on prayer exercise #14 from the prayer guide, "40 Ways to Spend 5 Minutes With God."

Conversation #4 Josh Garrels & John Mark McMillan no. 10 by Joshua Banner

Holy Spirit, spiritual kung-fu?

While recording artist John Mark McMillan still loves the faith of his father's charismatic church, while he believes in prophetic ministry and the power of the Holy Spirit, much of his early spiritual formation has been what he calls, "Christian kung-fu." Recently he has turned to Dallas Willard and Richard Foster to learn the basics of Christian life. He is surprised that exercise--the discipline of caring for his body--has allowed him to find the daily energy to tend to prayer and the demands of music and family.

Josh Garrels also has been learning to take more control of his calendar, to delegate creative work to others, and to practice Sabbath keeping with his family. 

In episode no. 10 I sit down with these recording artists to discover their shared interest in the ordinary, basic disciplines of life. This conversation turns out to be a refreshing interaction about popular culture, music making, pursuing God, love for the church, and caring for family. Garrels did not grow up in the church and brings an earnest, wise hunger for God to his music and faith. In this episode he discusses his interest in: “...old[er] traditions that have cared aesthetically for the wholeness of the Gospel both the theology at the heart of it and the culture that surrounds it." He says, "So many of us have grown tired of an exploited culture that has barnacled itself to the Gospel that isn’t very aesthetically pleasing."

This conversation with Garrels and McMillan is at times brutally honest about Christianity, yet it avoids  church-bashing cynicism. The three of us love the church and hope for her flourishing.

I invite you to listen to Conversation #4 episode no. 10, a conversation with Josh Garrels & John Mark McMillan!We discuss discuss the charismatic, Evangelical, and Catholic church; aesthetic care of worship and worship spaces; reading the Bible for what it actually says; family disciplines and Sabbath keeping, creating more space for God with exercise, when to set aside our screens and be closer to each other. Of course there is discussion about their creative process in writing music and who they are reading: Dylan Thomas, Wendell Berry, AW Tozer, Eugene Peterson, Richard Rohr, Richard Foster, and Dallas Willard.

5 Minute Prayer #4 'Listing Your Loves' no. 9 by Joshua Banner

The goodness?
The truth?
I'm having a real good time. 

Living into my vocation has become a delight. Yes, there are genuine difficulties. Susanna and I lost three babies in the past three years (Jericho 20 weeks, Tiernan and Havilah at almost seven). I really miss being with college students and running a recording studio at Hope College. At times it is a mess managing two little boys, the house, the calendar, making meals.... Yes, I'm at my worst in the 'witching hours' of 3:30-8pm. 

However, I'm happier, healthier, and more emotionally and spiritually present than ever. In fact, the Spirit is changing me in ways that are beyond anything I could ask or imagine. 

How? Meditation, the Scriptures, contemplative prayer, spiritual direction, serving in the prison, risking with God. These are all things you and I have known for a long time about faith. It's just that I've only begun to take it all seriously in the last five or six years. 

Please consider the Invitation Podcast my attempt to share the goodness with you, to invite you to listen to the Spirit's invitation. What could be more fun than to watch the Holy Spirit speak to incarcerated felons and pastors?

A NEW 5-Minute Format!
This will end up being five-ish minutes. As you see, I've put a big No. 4 on this one. The 4 refers to exercise #4 from the prayer guide "Forty Ways to Spend 5 Minutes with God" that I wrote for Harderwyk. The idea is to do guided meditations of each of the 40 prayer exercises. N. 4 is my first attempt at this. As always, I appreciate your positive/critical feedback.

I started with #4 because I hope it might especially help with the front end of Lent:  During Lent we are attempting to slow down, do less, eat less, drink less…to empty ourselves…to create internal space for God as we anticipate his resurrection. I pray episode No. can help you live into Jesus' death and resurrection.

I invite you to 'list your loves' here in Episode #9 on prayer exercise No. 4.  

The closing song, "Psalm 23:1-2" is used with permission from theversesproject.com and Zach Winters.