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Please note the information below is for the first half of the book. The second half is available on a ‘pay what it’s worth’ model. After payment in any amount is received via paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org the spiritual exercises for the second half of the book will be emailed. (There is one for each chapter and it is formatted similarly to the first half.)
Near the end of the introduction, Evans writes “Here the writer has created a new word— theopneustus, a combination of the Greek word ‘theo’ meaning God and ‘pneo’ meaning “to breathe out” or “to blow.” Inspiration both in the English language and in its ancestral languages, is rooted in the imagery of divine breath, the eternal rhythm of inhale and exhale, gather and release.” Though that particular word is new, The Bible is filled with descriptions of God breathing.
Today’s exercise is one that alludes most directly to the earliest description of God’s breath. In Genesis 2, God scoops up a handfull of Earth and breathes into it, creating the first human. And so, spend some time in the give-and-take of your breath. See it, if you will, as a metaphor for understanding the bible… and experience as it continues today, God continuing to breathe into you now.
- Create a safe and quiet space for yourself. Sit up as straight as you comfortably can. Place your feet flat on the floor.
- Release your worries and responsibilities for the duration of your practice. Don’t worry, they will still be there, waiting for you, when you are done.
- With your next inhale, experience this as God’s breath. Your inhale is God breathing in to you.
- With your next exhale, experience this as a breathing in to God. Your exhale is God’s inhale.
- Continue your practice in this manner. Breathe with God.
- As your time nears its end, release this imagery of your breathing. Enjoy a time of silent communion.
As you go about your day, pay attention to your breath. Recognize that God breathes with yo
There are a group of practices called Lectio Divina. The over-arching idea with Lectio is to invite God into our understanding of sacred texts. It can be thought of as a combination of prayer and reading.
There are many different ways to approach Lectio Divina. We will try several different approaches in this guide, with the intent to help you find some that work best for you. Today’s exercise is the first.
- Open a bible or go to a website with the bible on it. Set everything up to read Genesis, chapter 1.
- Take a few deep breaths. Release any stresses or expectations for this time you have.
- Read Genesis, Chapter 1.
- As you read, be aware of the words and phrase that stand out.
- Read a second time. When you are through, reflect on the things that impact you. Consider expressing these reflections out loud or in writing.
- Read it a third time. This time say a prayer when you are through. Focus this prayer on what this experience was like for you, and what it is challenging you to do in your life.
- Read it a fourth time.
- Sit in silence.
The Midrash tradition, as Evans says, invites us to play with the text. It invites us to imagine and believe background to bible stories which are not stated in the words themselves.
There is a tradition closely connected to Lectio Divina. It is sometimes called Holy Imagining. It invites us, as we read, to place ourselves in the story, usually from the perspective of someone within the story itself. It is critical, in holy imagining, to use all the senses. To imagine what something felt like, or smelled like, or tasted like.
There are many of the bible’s origin stories described in this chapter. Most are from the book of Genesis. My suggestion is that you use the story of Jacob/ Israel wrestling with God for the exercise below. (Genesis, chapter 32.) But if you prefer to use one of the other ones, this description works for them as well.
1) Read through 1-2 pages of narrative. (Perhaps Genesis, chapter 32)
2) Read again. This time searching for a passage between 1/4- 3/4 of a page that speaks to you. (Perhaps Genesis 32, verses 22-31)
3) Read the passage identifying the characters that are either explicitly mentioned or implied. Explore who you might be in this scene. (Jacob/ Israel or God)
4) Imagine (perhaps by rereading) the scene from this characters perspective.
5) Consider all of the senses: How did it sound there? How does it look? How does it smell? What is the temperature? Can you reach out and touch anything there?
6) Can you imagine any additions to the scene not expressed by the text; perhaps what happens immediately before or after?
7) Re-read the whole selection.
8) Spend some time with God, exploring why this perspective came to you and what God taught you through the experience.
Consider your origin story.
In my experience, when we are asked about our childhood, for most of us, our first answer is “I had a pretty normal beginning. I come from a normal family. Nothing special or traumatic really ever happened.” When asked about family traditions or stories, we similarly answer “We have no family traditions. There aren’t any family stories. We are just normal people.”
But it usually doesn’t take too much to get beneath these initial answers. There are lots of reasons we don’t want to embrace the idea that there is something exceptional about where we come from.
One of the first steps is being willing to face up to the good and the bad of where we come from. It might be that you are not in a good space to do this today. Please choose wisely and carefully for you self. We don’t need to go specifically into anything traumatic. But if your entire childhood is a minefield, it might be wiser for you to skip this one today and engage the other exercise.
- Take a few cleansing breaths. Relax and release your obligations and expectations.
- In your mind, turn back the clock. Go back to your childhood. Begin by choosing the 3 most important people from that time. Bring each to mind. Hold them in your memory. Recall how their voices sounded. Place them in the clothes they would have worn. If you got close enough, think about how they smelled. Spend a moment doing something you might have done with each.
- Take 3 deep, cleansing breaths.
- Consider holiday and seasonal things that you did as a child. Beaches in the summer? Thanksgiving dinner? Vacations spent reading comic books for endless hours? Try to feel in your body how it felt to be you at these times.
- Take 3 deep, cleansing breaths.
- Try to gather in your mind what made these people in events. In your imagination, assemble what made these traditions and people become who they were. Let your imagination furnish the details you are unsure about.
- Let your mind and imagination wander where it wishes to, as you consider your origin story.
Let’s try a different approach to Lectio.
- Be ready with your reading: have a bible or website open to Genesis 21.
- Spend a few minutes breathing and releasing your worries.
- As best you can, with your exhalations, let go of your preconceptions and assumptions of what you are about to read. With each out breath, let go of more of the things you think you know about the reading. Do your best to see these assumptions dissipating into the air.
- When you feel that you have reached a state of beginner’s mind, read Genesis 21 all the way through. On this first reading, just try and get a sense about the big picture.
- When you finish reading through, give yourself some time to breathe.
- Reread the passage. Pay attention to the passages which bring about a reaction in you. Where do you feel stirred?
- Read the passage at least one more time. This time, try and find a specific phrase. Ideally, it should not be more than 5 words long. At most, it should not be more than 10 words long. If you get to the end of the passage and have not found anything, that is ok. Read the passage– or at least a portion of the passage– one last time to select your sacred words.
- Say your words out loud. You might wish to assign one half of the phrase to your inhale, and one half of the phrase to your exhale.
- Spend a good portion of the time repeating your sacred phrase. Leave yourself access to the source material, so you can remind yourself of the wording if you get off track.
- When you are ready, release your sacred words. Sit in wordless union.
In the Passover feast, Jews celebrate that they were delivered by God out of slavery.
- Begin your spiritual practice time by bringing to mind a way that you have been enslaved, or a time you have felt trapped. This should be something that you have some degree of relief or freedom from.
- Try to put yourself back into that space and time in your mind. Remember the things you thought. But more importantly, remember your emotions. And how it felt in your body.
- Now, experience your deliverance out of that slavery. Allow yourself to re-live those victories. Try to see it in your minds eye. And hear it in your mind’s ear. Even remember the smells, the temperature on your skin. Celebrate the improvements that you have lived through.
- Sit in thankfullness that time has past.
- Use this time to plan for some concrete celebration of this time. (You might wish to incorporate some of the elements of the traditional Passover Seder, which you can find information out about here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover#Passover_seder) some possibilities for concrete celebration:
- You might want to reach out and thank people who helped you through that time; maybe you can send them a text or an email right now.
- Maybe you want to make arrangements to treat yourself to a cup of coffee, or a celebratory meal.
- Stand with the Jews across all the centuries who have celebrated passover by reading the story. The whole story is in the book Exodus, but the Passover portion is in chapter 12.
- Or maybe you can use this time to reach out to someone who was in that same spot you were. Maybe you can celebrate your freedom by reaching out and liberating someone else.
Today, when things are difficult, it might be helpful to bring your deliverance to mind. Sometimes, a little perspective on the idea that things do get better can be helpful.
It is said that non-dualistic thinking arises from contemplation: we develop the ability to hold multiple perspectives without having to choose between them. Sometimes, this is a very valuable skill to have.
- Take a few deep, cleansing breaths. If you can, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Bring to mind some “stories” which have more than one perspective. It might be a personal disagreement. Perhaps it is political in nature. Maybe you are deeply invested in the matter. Maybe you have no idea what to think.
- Choose one of these to focus on for the rest of this exercise. It should be something that you are willing and able to hold both sides of. As you choose this story, continue to ensure that you are breathing deeply. Try to feel your abdomen move as you inhale and exhale.
- With your next breath, as you exhale, breathe out your personal agenda and investment in this story. Breathe in the possibility of others’ perspectives. Repeat this 2 more times.
- If you are not ready, continue to exhale your agenda out of your body. Continue to inhale others’ perspectives.
- Now, try and hold one understanding on this story. Hold it in your mind, heart, and body. Try to experience the world through the perspective of someone who holds this position. Try and see the world fully from their world view. As best as you can, become this person… but do your best not to judge this position as right or wrong. As judgements arise, simply breathe them out of your body. Just try and hold this perspective without judgement.
- When you are ready, release this perspective. Exhale it with your breath. Inhale openess and emptiness.
- Now, hold an alternative perspective. As before, hold it in your mind, heart, and body. Try to experience the world through the perspective of someone who holds this position. Do your best not to judge this. As judgements arise, simply breathe them out of your body. Just try and hold this perspective without judgement.
- When you are ready, release this perspective through the breath.
- If there are other perspectives on this same story, give each one it’s due.
- Sit in a worldlessness. Do your best to not hold a judgement on this issue.
- Though the purpose of this exercise is not to come to a new resolution or understanding, it is worth checking in to see if your over all considerations on an issue have changed.
Evans says, “On the cross, Christ not only bore the brunt of human cruelty and bloodlust and fear, he remained faithful to the nonviolence he taught and modeled throughout his ministry.”
- Sit up straight. Place your feet flat on the floor. Breathe in through your nose if you can. Breathe out through your mouth.
- Consider carefully the following quote from the author. Chew on these words for as long as you wish: “On the cross, Christ not only bore the brunt of human cruelty and bloodlust and fear, he remained faithful to the nonviolence he taught and modeled throughout his ministry.”
- When you are ready, with your next in-breath, say or think, “Jesus was born.”
- As you exhale, say or think, “Jesus died.”
- With your next inhale, say or think, “Jesus will come again.”
- Continue this pattern with each inhale or exhale: “Jesus was born/ Jesus died/ Jesus will come again.” Devote much of the time you have set aside for your practice to this.
- As you consider this pattern, return to the quote from Evans: On the cross, Christ not only bore the brunt of human cruelty and bloodlust and fear, he remained faithful to the nonviolence he taught and modeled throughout his ministry.”
- Spend a time in wordless union.
- Prepare your bible or open a website page (such as biblegateway.com) to be open to Job, chapter 1.
- Sit with your back straight, and relax. Breathe.
- When you are ready pick up your selection. Read Job, chapters 1 and 2. be aware of the feelings the different portion of the reading stirs within you. Be aware of whether chapter 1 or chapter 2 of the reading connects most intimately with you.
- When you have chosen a single chapter to re-read, take a few cleansing breaths. Then re-read this chapter. Again, be on the lookout for a section of this chapter that speaks most directly to you. The selection you choose now might be somewhere between 1 page and 1/2 page.
- Now, choose the most powerful paragraph.
- Now, find a sentence in that paragraph.
- If the sentence is too long to hold easily in your mind, consider shortening it.
- Transition away from your reading material, now. Say the sacred phrase with each breath. Consider assigning a portion to the exhale and a portion to the inhale.
- Continue this meditation on the single phrase for a while.
- When you are ready, release the phrase. Enjoy a time of wordless communion.
- If you like, enjoy a conversation with God about your new understanding.
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