Our Community Group this year will be working our way through What is the Bible? by Rob Bell. Check in on Wednesdays for a recap.
October 17, 2017
Our blessing and self portrait last night were brought by Paul. He practices meditation regularly and shared one of the apps he uses called Prana Breath. To open the evening, we lit our group candle and spent five minutes matching our breath to the prompts/sounds of the app. He explained that the length of time that you hold in your breath (it was long — lung-exploding long) makes it so that you cannot think of anything else in the moment. You have to be present. He claimed that we only took 10 breaths over the five minute span but that’s only two breaths in a minute! Apparently we are quite the advanced group.
Then Paul shared his self portrait. He opted for a fast scroll through one-photo-per-month of his life. And we followed, as we will with all the self portraits, with questions from the group.
He didn’t know it but Paul’s breathing exercise actually warmed us up for what I had planned for our prayer and meditation time. Breath Prayer is essentially deep breathing but you add another layer to it. You select a word or phrase that you will say to yourself as you breathe in, out, or both. When I first learned breath prayer, I used the phrase “Christ behind me, Christ before me,” as I breathed in and out as slowly as I was able.
It has, in the years since, become my primary prayer practice. Research shows how beneficial even five minutes of mindful breathing can be for our our nervous systems, stress levels and immune systems. Adding in a layer of prayer seems only to enhance the experience. I need and desire both. It allows me to move seamlessly from focusing on myself and my body in the moment to focusing on things that are happening outside my body and further out in the world as I hold things before God while breathing in and out and repeating the word or phrase I selected.
Chapter Five in the book focuses on a line from Ephesians in the New Testament that talks about God bringing unity to or restoring all things. So for our breath prayer last night I had everyone repeat this phrase to themselves as we slowly breathed in and out in prayer. God is restoring all things. And as we did so, I slowly named a few things that we might hold before God with hope for restoration — moving from macro to micro.
The White House
Homophobic hate speech
Loved ones who are sick
Who Paid Jesus’s Bills?
Chapter four asks the question: Who footed the bill for Jesus and his itinerant ways? I have personally never even wondered and have always skimmed over the section in Luke 8 that lists Mary Magdalene and Joanna the wife of Chuza as the women who were helping to support them (Jesus and his followers) our of their own means. When Bell breaks down who, exactly, Joanna, wife of Chuza, is, I couldn’t believe it.
I have always thought of the sections about who was with Jesus as filler. Something in the text that helps set the stage or get us, the readers, from point A to point B. But listing Joanna, wife of Chuza, isn’t just filler. It’s a huge statement for the readers and the audience and actually tells us a lot about who and what Jesus was about. Plus, it reinforces what evangelical audiences often overlook when we focus solely on Jesus-came-to-atone-for-sins; it reinforces that Jesus was human, born in a particular time, in a particular place, and everything about his existence and ministry was part of the sociopolitical climate of his day. There was so much that was subversive and “stick it to the man” about Jesus.
Now, let’s connect all the dots:
Herod wants to kill Jesus because Jesus is proclaiming a kingdom other than Herod’s, and that makes Jesus a political threat. But Jesus is able to travel around announcing this subversive message of a different kingdom than Herod’s because there is a group of women who travel with Jesus and pay his bills, including a woman named Joanna who has lots of money because her husband is a household manager who gets paid by…
Herod, in other words, ends up indirectly funding the very resistance movement he’s trying to stamp out.
Here’s the verse I mentioned earlier from Ephesians. It’s the focus of chapter five.
God made known to us the mystery of God’s will according to God’s good pleasure, which God purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment– to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
The phrase that is used to describe what God is up to is to bring unity. Some of the other translations, Bell says, use phrases like to sum up or to gather up or to bring to a head.
The word in Greek is anakephalaiossathai.
Looking at a few other passages, Bell writes:
Restoring, reconciling, renewing, anakephalaiossathai-ing — they’re consistent and persistent in their claims that what God is up to in the world involves putting everything back together as it should be.
Your broken heart?
According to Paul, this is what brings God pleasure.
This is what God is up to in the world.
This is what God is doing now.
Anakephalaiossathai-ing. I don’t know how to pronounce it but I sure like what it means.