Summer Retreat

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?

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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