Summer Retreat

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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