Virtual Eucharist: Is this a Spiritual Practice?

In the light of my recent blog posts on what constitutes a spiritual practice I thought that I need to highlight this fascinating discussion currently going on across several blogs about whether or not we can legitimately celebrate the Eucharist on the internet.  Mark Brown CEO of the NZ Bible Society posted this article a few days ago featuring the Revd Professor Paul S. Fiddes, a Baptist minister and Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Oxford and Director of Research, Regent’s Park College, who has just written a short paper arguing in favour of celebrating Eucharist in the virtual world.

Professor Fiddes summarises

An avatar can receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist within the logic of the virtual world and it will still be a means of grace, since God is present in a virtual world in a way that is suitable for its inhabitants. We may expect that the grace received by the avatar will be shared in some way by the person behind the avatar, because the person in our everyday world has a complex relationship with his or her persona.

I struggle with this view as does Bosco Peters host of the NZ blog Liturgy

Baptism, immersion into the Christian community, the body of Christ, and hence into the nature of God the Holy Trinity may have some internet equivalents – for example, being welcomed into a moderated group. But my own current position would be to shy away from, for example, having a virtual baptism of a second life avatar. Nor would I celebrate Eucharist and other sacraments in the virtual world. Sacraments are outward and visible signs – the virtual world is still very much at the inner and invisible level. Similarly, in my opinion, placing unconsecrated bread and wine before a computer or television screen and understanding this to result in consecration tends away from the liturgical understanding of the Eucharist (liturgy = work of the people/ something done by a community) towards a magical understanding of the Eucharist (magic = something done to or for an individual or community).

Though I love to encourage interactions around our faith on the internet I do believe there comes a point where faith itself loses its reality if that is the only place that we come together to worship and share the sacraments.

However even though I struggle with issues like this I realize too that some may equate this idea with my own suggestion that we need to connect to the gospel story as it is expressed in every part of life.  Is performing the eucharist online more than connecting to the story of God in our everyday activities?  What do you think?


A Breathing Prayer by AB Simpson

I have just been working on an article on Writing Breathing Prayers as a Spiritual Discipline for the upcoming MSA Seed Sampler – Writing as a Spiritual Discipline.  In the process I came across this beautiful breathing prayer that I wanted to share with you.  It is written by   A.B. Simpson, who was founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance:

“Breathing Out and Breathing In”

Jesus, Breathe Thy Spirit on me,

Teach me how to breathe Thee in,

Help me pour into Thy bosom

All my life of self and sin.

I am breathing out my own life,

That I may be filled with Thine;

Letting go my strength and weakness,

Breathing in Thy life divine.

Breathing out my sinful nature,

Thou hast borne it all for me;

Breathing in Thy cleansing fullness,

Finding all my life in Thee.

I am breathing out my sorrow,

On Thy kind and gentle breast;

Breathing in Thy joy and comfort,

Breathing in Thy peace and rest.

I am breathing out my longings,

In Thy list’ning loving ear,

I am breathing in Thy answers,

Stilling every doubt and fear.

I am breathing every moment,

Drawing all my life from Thee;

Breath by breath I live upon Thee,

Blessed Spirit, breathe in me.

Are You Suffering From Nature Deficit Disorder?

I am sitting at our dining room table working and looking out at the beauty of an early summer’s day in Seattle.  We are so blessed at the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors not not just in times of leisure but also in our work.

My focus for the morning has been looking at innovative new green technologies which in many ways is related to my enjoyment of the outdoors and the beauty of God’s world.  After all we will never be able to preserve this beauty unless we encourage conservation and sustainable lifestyles.  The most interesting that has caught my attention is a new clothes washer that uses virtually no water as well as less electricity.

My attention has also been caught by what a growing number are calling nature deficit disorder.  I don’t think that we realize the consequences to our health – both physical and spiritual of lives that are spent inside under artificial light.  Insomina, depression, and of course obesity are all linked to sedentary indoor lives.  Kids in particular suffer from nature deficit disorder and as I have mentioned in a previous post even attention deficit disorder can be alleviated by encouraging kids to spend more time outdoors.

But what can those who spend their work time inside do to alleviate this.  Here are some tips that I have garnered from friends

  1. Always eat lunch outside in your closest green strip or go for a walk at lunch time even when it is raining.  You may not want to sit outside in inclement weather but even ten minutes spent outside in all weather can greatly improve our health.
  2. Get a plant or a small fish tank for your workspace or home.  You may even like to volunteer to look after plants in other parts of the office.  Certain kinds of indoor plants improve air quality dramatically.  Top of the list are philodendrons, English Ivy and spider plants.
  3. Start a garden on your balcony, in your backyard or even in the parking strip.  This will force you to get outside at least once a day if for no other reason than to see how things are growing.  If you have kids make sure they have their own little garden – wither a container or a section of your backyard and let them choose at least one new plant to grow in your garden as well each year.
  4. Get a pet.  To be honest before we acquired Bonnie, our golden retriever, tom and I were not good at walking regularly but now we walk around Greenlake (a 3 mile trek) at least 3 times a week.
  5. Walk, run or cycle to work at least once a week.
  6. Plan at least one outdoor activity on your day off – preferably something a little more strenuous than sitting in the stadium watching the local ball game.
  7. Take your kids on an overnight camping trip or plan some summer hikes.  This is a great way not only to introduce kids to the outdoors but also to give them experiences that will connect them to God’s world in ways that other wise would not experience.
  8. Go for a prayer walk around your neighbourhood or city once a week.
  9. Volunteer at your local community garden or get your family or community to adopt a street and go out to pick up trash once a week.
  10. Visit the local zoo regularly – this is not just for kids.  The last time I went to the zoo with an overseas friend was a fun and stimulating experience.

What are your suggestions?  How can we both encourage more sustainable green living habits and help all of us who live in cities overcome our nature deficit disorder?

Feeling Close to God in the Graveyard

Just after I posted my last blog post I came across this very moving article by Christopher Heuertz, director of Word Made Flesh.  Visiting the graveyard is obviously a spiritual practice that has a great deal of significance and provides a deep encounter with God for Chris.

One of the places where I often feel closest to God is in the children’s section of a graveyard in South India. We have buried ten of our friends there, all but one of them little girls, and each of them dear members of our family. They were victims of hunger, AIDS, female infanticide, or rejected because of their gender. read the entire article

The Death of Idols

Yesterday two well known Hollywood celebrities died.  In the morning we heard about the death of Farrah Fawcett most famous for her role in the original Charlie’s Angels series.  She died at 62 after a long struggle with cancer.  Then in the afternoon many were shocked by the sudden death of Michael Jackson touted around the world as The King of Pop.

Jackson’s death brought a tragic end to a long, bizarre, sometimes farcical decline from his peak in the 1980s, when he was popular music’s premier all-around performer, a uniter of black and white music who shattered the race barrier on MTV, dominated the charts and dazzled even more on stage.  Read the entire report

The internet was buzzing with rumours long before the death was officially announced.

My question is: Why do these deaths affect so many so much.  Especially for those of us who are Christians I often wonder why the lives and deaths of people who obviously led lives counter to what we consider good Christian behaviour, and these are people that we don’t even know.  Perhaps we live more in the world than we care to admit.

In spite of that I think that it is good for us to pray at times such as these.  Maybe these deaths remind us that in the midst of life there is always death and that it it is time to pray for all who have died this week: those who died of AIDS and malaria, those who died as a result of war and conflict, those who died of malnutrition and starvation, those who died from chronic illness, those who died in accidents.  Particularly may we remember all those who died this week unnoticed and uncared for, those who died alone, those who were tortured and abused, and those who died from random shootings and violence.

Into the darkness of death

We lay them down

Into the sadness and smiles of our memories

We lay them down

Into the cycle of living and dying and rising again

We lay them down

May they rest in peace, in fulfillment, in loving

May they run home into God’s embrace

Everything is Spiritual – Rob Bell

In keeping with the current theme on this blog I thought that you would appreciate this video by Rob Bell

Crying as a Spiritual Practice

It looks as though the summer blog series and learning party on What is a Spiritual Practice is off to a good start.  I am certainly looking forward to all that we can learn together about how God speaks to us and how everyday experiences can deepen our relationship to God.

As well as the posts and comments already on this blog which I have listed at the end of this post, Beth Stedman posted this great reflection on Crying as a Spiritual Practice.  I found it very thought provoking and intriguing and will definitely be meditating on her thoughts throughout the day.

For me crying is a spiritual practice, a spiritual experience that changes me and takes me closer to the heart of my Father. Allow me to explain and expand a little… To start with, understand that I’m not really the type who cries at the drop of a hat. You have to be a pretty close friend to have seen me cry as I usually only cry around people I feel really comfortable with. But, I do cry fairly regularly and when I cry I really cry. It usually starts with some little trigger and then grows until I’m crying about everything that I possibly could cry about.

But, there’s something that almost always happens at some point during my crying which I’m not sure is normal or not, maybe it shows my own weakness of faith, but almost always at some point my crying escalates and get’s turned on God. Suddenly it isn’t just about whatever it is I’m crying about, suddenly it’s about me and God and all my insecurities in my relationship with God.  Read the entire blog post

I am still enlisting aid from friends and colleagues in this but already have a great line up for the next few weeks of bloggers from all over the world so I expect that we will get to hear some diverse and possibly challenging perspectives.   As well as that the upcoming MSA Seed Sampler which will be published next week is on Writing as a Spiritual Discipline.  It will include some interesting articles on blogging, twittering, journalling and writing prayers as spiritual disciplines.

If you would like to contribute a reflection or if there is an activity that you perform regularly that you would like to hear others comment on as a spiritual practice please let me know.

Check out reflections already on this blog:

Breathing as Spiritual Practice

Taking a Shower as Spiritual Practice

What is a Spiritual Practice

Reimagining our Spiritual Practices

Gardening with God

The Spiritual Practice of Taking a Shower

Over the next couple of months I and hopefully some of my friends and colleagues will be blogging about What is a Spiritual Practice?.  As I mentioned last week the purpose of this blog series to to stimulate our thinking beyond prayer and bible study so that all of us can connect our spirituality more concretely to the everyday activities of life.  if you would like to provide a guest post for this blog series please let me know there is still time to participate so please let me know.

Here is a prayer that a friend of mine wrote when contemplating the spirituality of taking a shower.  She has taped onto the wall of her shower in a waterproof pouch and uses it each morning as she showers.  I thought that it was a wonderful example of how we can connect the everyday activities of life to our faith.

Shower Prayer

Maryellen Young

I take this shower in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As the warmth of the water falls on my body, I feel the blessings of God wash over me.

As I wash my face, I pray that I would see what you would have me see and hear what you would have me hear.  I pray also that this day my face would radiate with the love of God within me.

As I wash my arms and hands, I pray this day that they will do the work you would have me do.

As I wash my legs and my feet, I pray that I may walk your path and go where you would have me go.

As I am blessed to feel this warm, flowing water, I pray for all of those who labor for water and pray that they may receive wells to ease their burden.

I pray also that I as I am blessed to have the benefit of fresh, running water, may I be a good steward of all of your resources.

As I leave this shower, clean and refreshed, I pray that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will be with me throughout the day.

My Favourite Black Currant Jam

Yesterday was garden day at the Mustard Seed House.  We finally got all the hoops up round the tomatoes, laid the last of the irrigation hoses and weeded furiously.  We also picked the black currants.  These are rather tart berries that are not good for fresh eating but they  make the most wonderful jam I have ever tasted.  Recently we have also developed a craving for black currant syrup on ice cream.

When Tom and I were married he had never tasted black currant jam so on our first trip together to Britain I made sure that he got a taste.  He liked it so much that we immediately came home and bought 2 black currant bushes.  Black currants have 5 times the vitamin C content of oranges and are very high in anitoxidants.   However they are not well known in the US currants primarily because they are suseptible to white pine blister rust and for tis reason were banned for growing in North America until fairly recently when resistant varieties were developed.  They are still not available in some states though fortunately we can get them here in the Pacific Northwest.

Here is my basic jam recipe

To every 500 gm (1lb) of prepared fruit add 600 ml of water and 750 gm sugar.  Bring water and fruit to boil slowly to avoid burning.  Boil for at least 45 minutes.  Add sugar and boil rapidly for another 10 minutes.  Instead of skimming jam, stir in a piece of butter the size of a walnut when the jam is cooked.  Add pectin according to instructions.  To test jam, put a little on a suacer and place in freezer to cool.  A skin should form on top if the jam is ready.  If using frozen fruit ensure that no extra water is added when it thaws other than the 600 ml.  Pack in sterilized jars and process in a water bath for 20 minutes.

Is Breathing a Spiritual Practice?

The breathing prayer that I posted yesterday has raised quite a bit of interest.  It always fascinates me to see how all of us love prayers like this that invite us into a regular and relaxed rhythm .  That shouldn’t surprise me because the research I did for my book Godspace made me aware of the fact that any rhythmic activity can have a relaxing and soothing effect on us.

Connecting activities like this to our faith definitely help us to centre our thoughts and our actions on God and God which means that any activity that has a rhythmic motion to it can become a spiritual practice.  No wonder many of us find that knitting, quilting, sewing, woodwork, gardening and running are places where we meet God.  Evidently even sweeping the floor can have this kind of an impact. The soothing rhythms of these activities enable us to focus our thoughts more fully on the God we love and worship.  I find that repeating short repetitive prayers or short verses of scripture while performing these activities enhances that sense of closeness to God.

This is probably one of the reasons that so many of us find music and singing to be such wonderful ways to connect to God.  It is not just the words but the rhythm of the music too that contributes to our worship.  The fact that we sing out loud and often together with others also evidently enhances our connectedness both to each other and to God

What is your experience of rhythmic activities like this in your faith journey?  How do they connect you to God and how could you enhance that sense of connectedness?