I am Beloved

Scripture: Mark 4: 1-11

Happy New Year to you! In my spin class at the YMCA in December, lots of bikes were open to ride. Lots of space!  This Friday, not a single bike was open.  My instructor named this crowded phenomenon as New Year’s resolutions meeting 15 degree temperatures outside.

Lots of people make resolutions around fitness and/or diet.  It’s great to make healthy changes in your life. Yet, I wonder if the problem with keeping New Year’s resolutions lies in the rootedness of many of them in self-rejection.  Negative voices, some inner and perhaps some outer, that shout “not good enough. Worthless. Nobody.”[1] The trap of these voices dooms any resolution to failure.


Perhaps rather than resolutions, the church liturgical year points us in a different direction.  The church’s new year, after all, began on the first Sunday of Advent.  Now into the season of Epiphany, the church year urges us to celebrate today Jesus’s baptism, and to remember our own.

Baptism of our Lord Sunday according to the gospel of Mark isn’t tame or orderly.  We are plopped into the middle of the desert wilderness.  The heavens rip apart before our very eyes.  An all-encompassing voice speaks forth words of grace. [2]  “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.”

What an amazing grace-filled word.  Beloved.  It means esteemed, dear, worthy of love.  Beloved occurs over 62 times in the New Testament. It’s used to describe Jesus over and over again.

That Beloved Son then tells us later in Mark (chapter 10) that in baptism we die and are raised to new life. God keeps God’s baptismal promise to Jesus, for when he seemed most abandoned in death, God worked to bring resurrection. Baptism isn’t a tame rite of passage for babies. Baptism is about a new life and resurrection.  We die to our old, false, broken ways of being, and are raised to new life in Christ. In the United Methodist Church, we believe baptism is a sacrament, a practice that connects us to the mystery of God’s grace. In baptism, grace is freely offered to us before we are even aware of it, which is why it’s fine to baptize babies.[3] Baptism also serves as our welcome to the family of Christ, the church.

Being the Beloved

Our baptisms are so important to remember because baptism reminds us that we are loved and accepted by the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and raises us, too.   When we have a hard time loving and accepting ourselves as we are, like at the beginning of a new calendar year, baptism reminds us that we are covered in grace.  When voices of self-rejection, of not enough, of not good surround us, God says to us through our baptism, “you are my Beloved.”

In fact, scripture uses Beloved not only to refer to Jesus, but to refer to God’s love for all disciples (see in Romans, 1 Thessalonians, Colossians). Theologian Henri Nouwen, in his beautiful book Life of the Beloved ( I could quote the whole thing) says that “self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the Beloved.  Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence. All I want to say to you is ‘you are the Beloved.’  I hope that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being—you are the Beloved.”[4]


How much we need to hear this, over and over again “You are Beloved.” In this new 2018, simply decide to do away with resolutions, and instead live into being fully loved.  Then, when the church calendar rolls over to Lent, which it will do soon (Feb. 14th), perhaps God will lead you to a discipline or commitment for Lent—that comes out of love.  You’ll be in a better place to then share the spirit of being beloved with others.  This is actually the third use of the word Beloved in Scripture—to refer to the way that Christians, loved by God, are to share that love with others.  First though, live into the grace of the true voice that says to you “ You are Beloved.”

[1] Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular Age, 33.

[2] Karoline Lewis, workingpreacher.com, 2015.

[3] “By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism”

[4] Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular Age, 33, 30.


For this class, we did lots of vinyassa flow, to emulate the sense of the flow of water in baptism.  Vinyassa can refer to a specific sequence of poses (Plank to Chaturanga (push up) to Upward-Facing Dog to Downward-Facing Dog​)​ or to a whole style of a class that synchronizes breath with movement.  For this baptism class, we did lots of plank to chaturanga to upward facing dog to down dog.  The pictures below show the vinyassa flow poses in their order.  Move through these four poses, inhaling on plank, exhaling on chaturanga, inhaling on upward-facing dog, and exhaling on downward facing dog.  Moving in this flow, combining breath with postures, helps to place us in the grace filled spirit of being Beloved. dsc_0206_27637581755_odsc_0208_27538146502_odsc_0220_27637492325_odsc_0201_27637614215_o


Let There Be Light

Scripture: Luke 2:8, 11, Matthew 2:2, 9, John 1: 4-5

“Let there be light.”  This phrase comprises the theme for my church’s worship services for Christmas Eve.  So, in preparing sermons for this most festive night in which Christians celebrate the incarnation, I decided to look at light in the Christmas stories.

In the gospel of Luke, shepherds keep watch over their flocks by night.  Then the angel of the Lord stands before them, and the glory of the Lord shines all around them.  They are then terrified.  The angel is then joined by a heavenly host  that praise God and say “Glory to God in the highest!”

The light in the Lukan story is not a star–it comes from the glory of the Lord.  This glory was brilliant, majestic, awesome–enough to frighten poor shepherds on a dark and cold night. Glory in the original Greek language is doxa, and means “praise” or “worship.” Glory belongs only to God or to Christ.  Glory holds a brightness of solar light.  It can be startling or intimidating at times, as it was for the shepherds.  The majesty of God can inspire fear and awe.  A great definition I discovered was that glory denotes an outward expression of an absolute, inward perfect love.  Glory at Christmas is God’s inner light shining bright with love, shown in the beautiful babe lying in a manger.  No wonder the shepherds felt they had to go immediately and see this baby.  They had been illuminated by God’s glory.  As scary as that was, they now had experienced an amazing love and wanted to go see the source. In Luke, “let there be light”  means let there be love.

In the gospel of Matthew, the light comes from a star. The wise men say, “we have seen his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.”  They then followed the star they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.   When they saw the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

The light in Matthew is that of a star.  This celestial light was bright enough to launch a journey, and then to illuminate the way.  The star showed the wise men the right path, and they followed it until they arrived at joy. The light of the star gave them courage to confront the governmental power of King Herod. The light of the star gave them hope to keep going on an arduous journey of unknown length.  Most of all though, the light of the star brought to them joy.  In Matthew, “let there be light” means let there be joy.

In the gospel of John, the story of the incarnation sounds completely differently than the shepherds of Luke or the wise men of Matthew.  John says, “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  The light in John is actually Jesus.  Jesus as incarnate God is life and is light.  This divine radiance is of such a quality that no darkness can overcome it.

I read a reflection from a father whose 18-year old son died three years ago in a car crash at Christmas.  He said that the verse from John “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” sustains him through his grief.  He offered that there is no darkness so dark, even the darkness of a son’s death, that Christ’s light can’t in some way find its way through.  This light in the gospel of John is one of mystery.  It is the light that comes through the cracks and crevices of our lives.  It is the light at the end of the tunnel.  It is the light that lets us know we are not alone.  In John, “Let there be light” means let there be comfort.

On this Christmas Eve, what kind of light from Christ do you need?  Do you need to be illumined with love?  Awed with majesty? Then shine bright with the glory of Luke’s gospel.  Do you need a softer, but strong light that shows you the way and leads you down a good path?  Do  you need a light of courage that helps you confront power?   Then shine steadily with the joy of Matthew’s gospel.  Do you need a little light to push back on the darkness? Do you need to know you are not alone?  Then shine graciously with the comforting light of John’s gospel.

Whatever light you need, receive the light Christ offers of love, joy, and comfort this Christmas.  Then, shine on. Shine on.


This practice will again be restorative.  (The picture included on this post is shoulder stand, which is a more active version of legs up.  We will do this with hips down and legs at the wall)  We will start by envisioning the word light, and bringing it to our eyes.  In a meditation, we’ll then send the light to any area of our body that needs love, joy, or comfort.   I’ll also intersperse the practice with Christmas carols that reference light.

One of my favorite restorative poses is viparita karani.  We’ll do this Legs at the Wall pose while the sound of Silent Night plays. Pose instructions are taken from yoga journal.com

Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose: Step-by-Step Instructions

The pose described here is a passive, supported variation of the Shoulderstand-like Viparita Karani. For your support you’ll need one or two thickly folded blankets or a firm round bolster. You’ll also need to rest your legs vertically (or nearly so) on a wall or other upright support.

Step 1

Before performing the pose, determine two things about your support: its height and its distance from the wall. If you’re stiffer, the support should be lower and placed farther from the wall; if you’re more flexible, use a higher support that is closer to the wall. Your distance from the wall also depends on your height: if you’re shorter move closer to the wall, if taller move farther from the wall. Experiment with the position of your support until you find the placement that works for you.

Step 2

Start with your support about 5 to 6 inches away from the wall. Sit sideways on right end of the support, with your right side against the wall (left-handers can substitute “left” for “right” in these instructions). Exhale and, with one smooth movement, swing your legs up onto the wall and your shoulders and head lightly down onto the floor. The first few times you do this, you may ignominiously slide off the support and plop down with your buttocks on the floor. Don’t get discouraged. Try lowering the support and/or moving it slightly further off the wall until you gain some facility with this movement, then move back closer to the wall.

Step 3

Your sitting bones don’t need to be right against the wall, but they should be “dripping” down into the space between the support and the wall. Check that the front of your torso gently arches from the pubis to the top of the shoulders. If the front of your torso seems flat, then you’ve probably slipped a bit off the support. Bend your knees, press your feet into the wall and lift your pelvis off the support a few inches, tuck the support a little higher up under your pelvis, then lower your pelvis onto the support again.

Step 4

Lift and release the base of your skull away from the back of your neck and soften your throat. Don’t push your chin against your sternum; instead let your sternum lift toward the chin. Take a small roll (made from a towel for example) under your neck if the cervical spine feels flat. Open your shoulder blades away from the spine and release your hands and arms out to your sides, palms up.

Step 5

Keep your legs relatively firm, just enough to hold them vertically in place. Release the heads of the thigh bones and the weight of your belly deeply into your torso, toward the back of the pelvis. Soften your eyes and turn them down to look into your heart.

Step 6

Stay in this pose anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Be sure not to twist off the support when coming out. Instead, slide off the support onto the floor before turning to the side. You can also bend your knees and push your feet against the wall to lift your pelvis off the support. Then slide the support to one side, lower your pelvis to the floor, and turn to the side. Stay on your side for a few breaths, and come up to sitting with an exhalation.


By replenishing my energy, I can be loving kindness in the world

Scripture: Micah 6:8

“God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Micah, an 8th century BC prophet from a tiny village south of Jerusalem, tries valiantly to  cajole Judah (also called the southern kingdom) to greater faithfulness.  The people knew the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had fallen to the Assyrians in 722BC; Micah reminds them that they must obey the covenant with God, or they too will experience doom and exile.  What God really wants, Micah offers, is the Hebrew people’s loyalty and love.  God desires holy relationship with God and among people.

In this verse for today, Micah is referencing an offering.  However, instead of a material offering on the altar, Micah indicates that the offering is to be one of self, of character and behavior.  Micah urges his people to offer acts of justice, kindness, and humility to God.

How do we now, in 2017, offer justice, love kindness, and walk humbly, in a world that so desperately needs this kind of offering? Do we march on the streets for an issue, do we put on hardhats and volunteer for Habitat, do we sit with a second grader and help them read?  Surely these are all good things to do.  Perhaps, though, one unconventional answer might be to tend to our kidneys.

In Chinese medicine, the kidneys hold our vitality.  The kidneys are our reservoirs of blood and therefore contain our energy or chi. In combination with the adrenal glands that sit atop them, the kidneys support our ability to be aware–which is key to being kind, to seeing the other, to doing the work of justice.  The kidneys are responsible for our detoxification, while the adrenals regulate our hormones.  When these organs and glands become dysfunctional, we literally become toxic. Our kidneys often become compromised from so much sitting and have a hard time then producing a flow of vital energy.

The scripture calls for action in the world, but we need to have full reservoirs to act with integrity and out of wholeness rather than depletion.  We need to replenish our reservoirs, our kidneys, in order to be able to be just, to be kind, to be humble.  By replenishing our kidney energy, we can be the loving kindness the world so desperately needs to receive.


This practice is geared to the restoration of kidney energy and flow.  It will be a hybrid of  restoration and action.

Beginning meditation:  Take a seat on two stacked blankets.  Allow the shins and knees to drop downward.  Ground your two buttock bones evenly into the cushion. Exhale deeply a few times, exhaling out all that has depleted you this week.

Place the heels of both hands on your back, below the last rib bone, with fingertips extending down extending down past your waist. Direct your breath and attention there, to the place where your kidneys reside.

Buddha Konasana– Bring the soles of your feet to touch, knees open out on the blanket.  Press your thumbs on the point below your big toe mound. Pump your thumb into this upper middle foot region.  This is an acupuncture point for the kidneys and brings vitality to them and to the spine.