Embodied Worship

 

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I grew up in churches (and cultures) where worshiping with your body was viewed rather judgmentally. At least, you knew who the congregants were who raised their hands while singing, and they always sat in the very front pews. When I was in middle school, my family attended a couple mega-churches for short periods of time, and I remember feeling uncomfortable. Why were all these people so enthusiastic? Weren’t we supposed to be holy and reserved in approaching God’s throne?

My junior year of high school, I had the honor of attending and performing in a Roman Catholic wedding ceremony. During the confession of sins and prayer, the priest called everyone to kneel. I remember the awkward shuffling of limbs and torsos as we all pulled out the kneelers in front of us and knelt in this public yet sacred space. Once again, I felt uncomfortable. I knelt by my bed sometimes, and I even danced to worship music within the privacy of my own room, but doing so in front of other people? Scandalous.

But something shifted for me at that point of kneeling before the Lord with fellow Christians.

The first time I raised my hands in public worship was during a college chapel service. I felt awkward, embarrassed… free. Over the course of time, as I grew more comfortable with it, I realized that I could not possibly keep worship inside. David danced like a fool for the Lord despite the judgment his wife cast upon him. The psalms are filled with examples of God’s people coming together to make music to Him, shouting praises and surely allowing themselves to physically express the joy that filled their inmost being.

While attending Urbana18 this past December, I walked into a room set aside for prayer and reflection. In the middle of the room stood a cross draped in dark purple fabric. Several students lay completely prostrate around it, arms and legs outstretched with their faces pressed to the ground. I later realized that that was the ultimate picture of surrender. It was vulnerable. It was trusting. When we’re lying on the ground like that, we can’t defend ourselves; we’re risking our lives to any number of threats (backstabbing, both physically and figuratively). Yet here were some of God’s people, wholly surrendered in body and soul to wherever He would lead them, no matter the cost. “Here I am,” they said, along with the prophet Isaiah. “Here I am; send me.”

I’m coming to realize that physical expressions of worship help our own bodies to understand what it means to commit ourselves to God. The body and the soul are not separate things; each affects the other, and it’s especially hard to understand the soul without seeing how it’s impacted and expressed by our human bodies. I’ve also found that the awkwardness is a necessary reminder of my broken humanity and God’s healing divinity. As I stumble forward, He holds me upright.

Not everyone worships the same way. Some are more reserved, others are more expressive, and there’s an unending gradient of differences on either end. For me, I had to come to realize that bodily expressions of worship are not crazy. It’s simply the outpouring of what’s already inside, allowing us to fully engage in giving our all to Jesus.

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2018: Booked

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As I did last year, here’s a short list of some of my favorite books that I read this year.

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The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry Into the Old Testament by Sandra L. Richter

I had to read this for an Old Testament class I took this semester, and it was incredible. Sadly, I’ve never been well-versed in the OT because it’s not something most pastors and professors feel comfortable talking about, and we have to change that. The OT is just as important as the New Testament, and in her book, Richter addresses some key cultural and historical points that we need to understand the OT, specifically in the Pentateuch which sets up the rest of the events. Richter doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, handling each one with grace and scholarly intellect. I highly, highly recommend this if you’re looking for a comprehensive yet easy-to-understand introduction to understanding the OT. I’ll definitely be reading it again in the near future.

The Simplest Way to Change the World by Dustin Willis and Brandon Clements

In a world where the home is seen as one’s personal space to be guarded at all costs, especially for us introverts, Willis and Clements present a simple way for us to love the people around us without leaving our front porch. Hospitality is quickly losing its importance in our lives, and we so often overlook the many ways we can invite others into our lives. Without coming across as preachy, Willis and Clements use humble examples from their own lives (including times where they failed!) to demonstrate how to act upon God’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves. Throughout the book, they also provide fun, practical ideas for how we can better invest in the lives of our family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.

Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris

I actually liked this book better than its predecessor, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Harris now approaches dating from the perspective of someone who went through the whole ordeal and is now happily married. This provides a much more helpful foundation than his first book, where he was single and still figuring things out for himself (though that book was still helpful in its own merit). Rather than the stereotypical emphasis on rules and labels, in my mind Harris did a good job focusing on the heart and discussing how each party in a romantic relationship can discern how to best serve the other and glorify God. Still, I get a lot of weird looks from friends when I say I liked this book, so I respect that Harris’ words aren’t for everyone. But for me, in the chapter of life I’m in right now, God used this book to continue teaching me patience and wisdom, and also to give me comfort.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

While I was not a fan of the other two books in the trilogy, I thoroughly enjoyed the first one. Equal parts action, character-development, story-telling, and philosophy, with a little bit of romance mixed in for the heck of it, it’s a neat take on the apocalypse genre which tends to be overdone nowadays.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Are you seeing a trend here? So many people tried to steer me away from the series, warning me that it wasn’t nearly as good as all the hype. In a moment of tragic rebellion, I checked it out from the library and… let’s say I had to explain myself to just a few people when I found myself enjoying the story immensely. Admittedly, I could not sing the praises of the rest of the trilogy (seems to be another pattern), but this first book was worth reading as a stand-alone.

Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur an Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun

This is a heart-warming read with endearing illustrations. Please read it.

***

What are some good reads you’ve discovered this year? I’d love to hear any recommendations!

2018: Mixed

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Wow surprise. I’m adding to your slew of year-in-review posts. You’re welcome.

Today’s is short. I wanted to share a list, which is not nearly exhaustive, of some of the music that had a big impact on me this year, for better or worse and through all the highs and lows. It’s a crazy mix of genres and moods, hence the title of this post with the pun half-intended. Maybe you’ll discover something new that you like and we can bond over it.

I hear you can learn a lot about a person from the music they listen to, so have at it. Discover a little part of my story.

1. “If I’m Being Honest” (Dodie)
2. “Please Don’t Say You Love Me” (Gabrielle Aplin)
3. “Hills and Valleys” (Tauren Wells)
4. “Outsiders” (Au/Ra)
5. “Birthday” (Maisie Peters)
6. “P E A C E” (Hillsong Y&F)
7. “Broken Vessels” (Hillsong Worship)
8. “Find Yourself” (Great Good Fine Ok)
9. “Worthy of You” (Plested)
10. “Tell Me the Truth” (Steffany Gretzinger)
11. “Coexist” (Prismo feat. Shreya)
12. “Not About You” (Glades)
13. “Almost Forgot” (Against the Current)
14. “Psalm 38” (Psallo Collective)
15. “Hindsight” (Hillsong Y&F)
16. “In the Waiting” (Kina Grannis)
17. “You Say” (Lauren Daigle)
18. “Strangers Again” (Against the Current)
19. “Fight On, Fighter” (for KING & COUNTRY)
20. “I Like Me Better” (Lauv)
21. “Details” (Maisie Peters)
22. “Surrounded” (Michael W. Smith)
23. “Neon Gravestones” (Twenty One Pilots)
24. “Never Ever” (Kristene Dimarco)
25. “Lay It All Down” (Will Reagan feat. United Pursuit)

What are some songs or albums that impacted you this year? I’d love to know about any recommendations you have!

 

Viewfinder

Too far to the right:
the foreground fades and I’m lost
in endless trees, afraid
that I’m blind to the present
moments I take for granted
because I’m “too anxious”
about the things I don’t know.

Too far to the left:
everything else dissipates–
the misty rains and falling
snow– but now I’m distracted
from my independence
because all I see is you
and your rarity of a smile.

I can’t seem to get it right.
I don’t think I ever will.

Maybe that’s the point.

a ramble: anxiety

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*Note: The following post is in no way meant to generalize anxiety. My own is relatively mild, and my experience is not going to be the same as another’s. Please love your friends well and make sure you’re not making assumptions about their stories. Take the time to listen. Be there for them even if that means giving them space for a while.*

This post has sat in my drafts for several months and used to be a lot longer (oops). I’m hesitant to publish it because there’s so much negative stigma around mental illness, especially in the church. But we have to talk about it and break down the shame around sharing our stories. Simply having a mental illness never makes someone a “worse Christian” than someone else. If anything, it’s more reason for us to come to Jesus.

I recently wrote a story that placed anxiety in a fictional setting. It was based off my personal experiences, and I felt terribly exposed when it was put up for constructive critique between my classmates and professor for a workshop session. I was struck by the different responses. Those who have not encountered mental illness did not understand the piece. It was “too hard” for them to get inside the character’s head and they couldn’t “rationalize” why the character made some of the choices she did. Those who have struggled with anxiety or depression easily related to the character and to me.

It got me thinking. How does one explain mental illness to someone who hasn’t experienced anything like it?

For me, anxiety is a dark monster that lives in a box in my mind 24/7. On good days, it leaks out a little bit at a time and only erupts when something drastic happens. On bad days, the darkness rushes out and takes over. It’s there when I wake up, and suddenly I’m afraid to get out of bed. I’m afraid to go to class. I’m afraid to talk to anyone, even with people who usually bring me joy. The fear doesn’t even need a reason to be there. It just is.

My anxiety is a pounding heart when there’s nothing to run from and nowhere to run to. It’s the pressure on my chest as if I’m suddenly allergic to the air that’s supposed to keep me alive. It’s the feverish fear that lies just beneath the surface of my consciousness, present enough to keep me on edge but absent enough for me to push my way through. It’s the longing to be loved but pushing everyone away. It’s the numbness. It’s constantly being in “fight-or-flight” mode. And like most things, it comes on a scale.

While I was always more introverted and experienced normal periods of stress, I didn’t always have this daily fear. I can remember when meeting new people, while nerve-racking, did not induce the pressing urge to run away. I can remember what it was like to wake up and just feel tired, not afraid. Now, when I wake up and just feel tired, I smile and rejoice; that means I can get out of bed and go about my day like a relatively normal human being.

So where does God come into all this?

Usually my symptoms decrease when I get enough sleep/rest, eat well, and am with good people. Yet prayer most consistently helps me focus on something other than myself, and simply crying aloud “help” to God often breaks the cycle or at least leads to calming down from panic.

Satan would like nothing more than to cut off our communication with God. Prayer is our most powerful weapon. It must be. If it weren’t, why would Satan always try so hard to keep us away from it? Even Satan believes God and trembles (James 2:19). He knows what’s up. He does everything he can to stop prayer because that’s a place where God’s heavenly power meets earth.

I still struggle with where God comes in to mental health, and like any human I have a lot of doubts. However, I am sure of one thing: that God wants us to come into His healing presence with all our brokenness. Mental illness is not powerful enough to keep us from God. Paul says that nothing can separate us from the love of God, and mental illness is no exception.

Sometimes all we can do is sit in silent, wordless prayer. But God hears our hearts. He hears all the unspoken needs. And He answers us. He brings us peace.

You and I are loved by the God of the universe. Of all things that He could be concerned about, He is concerned about you. And that’s incredible. Of all the time He could spend doing other things, He takes every moment to love you. Take each of these next steps knowing this, my friend. I’m cheering for you.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:38-39)

encounter

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I entered the chapel with a couple hundred other students, and the only thing I felt was numb desperation. Where was God? Why couldn’t I find Him? Why couldn’t I see Him? Why didn’t He seem to be in any of the usual places I found Him?

God has always communicated with me in very emotional ways. That’s not the way He communicates with everyone, but that’s how I typically encounter Him. However, when I am not emotionally present, when my mental health spirals and I feel apathetic towards everything outside of myself, it feels like God’s not there anymore. It’s as if my emotional state determines the presence of God. And that’s simply not true.

After weeks of wrestling with this spiritual angst, I sat down on the right side of the chapel and willed my heart to feel. But it ached to praise God with my lips when my heart was only half invested. It hurt to raise my hands and get caught up in the nice music when my heart struggled to give thanks. It hurt to close my eyes when all I could see was pain.

The student chaplains read the entirety of Psalm 119, one of the longest passages in the Bible and certainly the longest Psalm. It’s a prayer about coming back to God’s Word. It’s about longing to long for Him. It’s about valuing God’s purposes above anything else. But it’s also an acknowledgment that doing so is hard, especially in the midst of suffering. The psalmist pleads with God to help him seek after God even when it feels like the world is against him.

I made the prayer my own. I didn’t have any words of my own but I had this psalm. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong about praying prayers written by someone else. Sometimes someone else has the exact words our heart longs to speak but cannot find.

We then participated in communion together, a public declaration of the trust we place in Jesus, and a physical sign of what Jesus has done and is doing in our hearts by the Spirit. Bowing my head in prayer, I begged God to renew my joy. I begged Him to restore my hope. I begged him to help me rediscover what it means to follow Jesus with all of me.

The worship team led us in a song called “You Are My King.” I immediately had flashbacks to fifth grade, when I discovered God for myself and committed my life to Him. He was no longer the God my parents followed. He became my God, too. And this song had been one of the things that God used to save eleven-year-old Eliana. As I sang the lyrics tonight, many years later, I was brought back to that place of awe.

In the middle of the song, God drew my attention to one of the student chaplains standing along the side of the room. Without speaking specific words, He made it clear that I needed to go over to her and ask for prayer. I balked. I had no idea who she was, and the last thing I wanted to do was ask a complete stranger to pray for me. But after a time I couldn’t fight the pull any longer, and I made my way over to her.

I broke down in tears as soon as she wrapped her arms around me and asked what was going on. Not able to get out many words, I blubbered, “I’ve had a lot of trouble praising God recently. I can’t feel Him and I don’t know how to find Him. I’m feeling very called to missions but… how can I bring people to Him if I can’t find Him myself?”

As she prayed over me she kept her arms firmly wrapped around me, and I felt the Spirit pass from her to me. First she addressed the things I’d specifically mentioned, and then something really crazy (and, I’m not going to lie, kind of scary) happened. She started speaking into very specific areas of my life that I’d been wrestling with. She pleaded with God to drive out the bitterness and anger in my heart. She asked Him to mend broken relationships in my family. She asked God to remind me, His child, that Jesus died for me. That He took the fear and the ugliness and left them at the cross.

And then she met my eyes and told me I am worthy. That even though I’m afraid to enter the presence of God with all my mess, I should enter anyway because He wants to welcome me in. She grasped my hands in hers and declared that anxiety and depression have no place here. They can’t keep me from His presence. They can’t hold back God’s power.

She was about to release me then but suddenly held me again and let me cry. She placed her hand on my back and began to say Jesus’ name over and over again. All I could think of was that there is such great power in the name of Jesus. Abruptly, in a moment that could only be, inexplicably, the Holy Spirit, I felt peace wash over me with mighty vengeance.

For the first time in a long time I felt clean. I felt whole. I felt worthy.

And I knew it was God. It could only be God.

When on the day the great I AM
The faithful and the true
The lamb that was for sinners slain
Is making all things new

Behold our God shall live with us
And be our steadfast light
And we shall ere His people be
All glory be to Christ

All glory be to Christ our King!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing
All glory be to Christ!

Week Thirty-Nine

52 Weeks of Gratitude, Week 39: Your heritage

To the little girl who lies
in a soft gray arm chair
with a book between her hands
and a smile that brushes her cheeks

To the little girl who struggles
to get through just one vocabulary
lesson a day and whines
because she doesn’t get it

To the little girl who loves
colors and drawing pictures
on the dining room table
next to her baby brother

To the little girl who walks
into a room and stops to cry
as they all laugh and point
at her almond-shaped eyes

To the little girl who longs
after perfect hair and pink
tutus next to other girls
who don’t look like her

To the little girl who hates
the thought of being anything
but American because of the burden
of bearing this other name

To the little girl who likes
running through the grass
playing tag with butterflies
and staring at the clouds

To the little girl who’s tired
of the jokes and the mockery
from the lips of friends
that lied in their ignorance

To the little girl who laughs
when mommy tells a funny story
or when daddy swings her high
so she can touch the moon

To the little girl who’s afraid
of being herself because of their
judgmental stares and sharp-edged
tongues that never shut up

about her race:

you have a sweet face
you have a true language
you have a real family

you have a beautiful smile

you have a beautiful God

Week Thirty-Eight

I realize I am very, very behind with these weekly poems. Sorry! I’m slowly working to catch up without having to dish out halfhearted poetry. I hope you enjoy them as they come!

52 Weeks of Gratitude, Week 38: Music you love

sit at the piano with a large mug of tea
listen to break-up sounds around a dying fire
dance to anthems that bring back high school memories
be proud of “your” bands that nobody else knows

notice the rain at one in the morning
take a warm shower after a cold autumn day
hear the wind whistle around the room
see your warm breath blend with the wind

wake up to worship that echos down the hall
get through the evening with beats not caffeine
miss the old days like a ballad longs for home
write a new song about an old and lost love

Week Thirty-Seven

52 Weeks of Gratitude, Week 37: Something you created

I hold your existence
in the palm of my hand
and it drips
between my unworthy fingers to flee
the oppressive suffocation
choking the light from your words
and forcing you to be mine;

I let you go
in a halfhearted surrender
and you collapse
away from my gasping breaths
that say too much
yet never enough
in the grand scheme of loving you;

I don’t know you anymore
than I did when I only wore blue.
Before I adore
too many lies about you
and mistake them for truth
in a blasphemous attempt
to stay,

This is good-bye
to the 3D glasses under my bed:
hiding you
from my rear-view reality.
It’s time to make something
better than fences
and better than independence—