Several weeks ago I started doing yoga for my back. It was bothering me that my range of motion was impeded. Stretches that had been helpful for years brought real discomfort and so I'd stopped doing them; it wasn't a solution as much as a strategic denial of something that needed to be dealt with.

When a friend volunteered her copy of yoga for back care, I thought I would take the plunge and see if there was something I could do to open up my lower back. The first morning I made it about a third of the way through the video before I reached a position that stopped me dead in my tracks. I couldn't move on without doing something else.

The something else seems to be working on some muscles in my lower back that have developed deep knots (sometimes called trigger points). Through massage and the Acuballs I mentioned previously, I am making progress, flowing more easily now through the yoga positions, feeling the tension in my back beginning to release, allowing the sense of breath to flow freely through my spine. In the process I am strengthening and elongating my muscles so that they will be able to support my core.

Focusing on freedom and flexibility in my body right now is key, especially as I'm solidly in midlife. I'm just hitting my stride, and would like to be healthy for at least the next thirty years(!) so I'm taking time to notice what is going on in my body, especially becoming aware of these trigger points that not only cause pain, but also limit my range of motion.

But trigger points don't only exist in the physical realm. They are also common in our emotional selves. Emotional trigger points come to our attention when we can't be open to the people or situations around us.  Instead of moving with competence and grace, we find ourselves tensing up, our heartrate increases, and confidence oozes away. Rather than extending compassion, our face begins to harden, and we put on a false persona, or withdraw altogether.

Noticing emotional trigger points is the first step toward dissolving them. We need to slow down and try to accurately name what is causing our discomfort. Are we angry, afraid, insecure, anxious? Are we stressed by the situation, or the person? Is this a reoccuring problem, or are we walking into new territory?

It's a funny thing. When we stop to notice what is going on, and honestly desire to move beyond the pain and dis-ease, what we need will often come to us. When I needed to work on my back, my friend had already pulled together a box of goodies chosen specifically for back care issues. It's true in other realms as well. We realize we're angry and a friend gives us a book on forgiveness; we struggle with insecurities and a colleague mentions a good therapist; we feel a lack of passion and a sermon speaks directly to our longings.

We are meant to live freely and flexibly, connecting deeply with our world. To choose joy means that we take steps towards attaining that freedom, opening ourselves to love flowing in and through us. And when we feel that love being restricted, it's important that we pay attention to the cause, probe the block, and commit to understanding why it's there, even it if means slowing down to heal.
 
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Crossing the Red Sea by Laura James
For the past two weeks, the Old Testament reading for Sunday has been taken from Exodus. We've been following the Israelites as they move from slavery to freedom, from the leeks and onions of Egypt to the "what's this?"  (manna) God provides in the wilderness. There's been a lot of complaining along the way - you've brought us here to die! they grumble to Moses at one point. And from our perspective, it might be easy to beat up on the Israelites, who seem to forget as soon as their sandals are dry how God miraculously took care of the Egyptian army hot on their tails. Easy that is, until you slow down and get into those sandals.

Yes, it's true that God did miraculously snatch them away from their bondage to Pharoah, even filling their sacks with precious plunder, but the result of that freedom is that they are now walking in unfamiliar territory, led by a strange God who shows up in fire and clouds. Life was dependable in Egypt. You knew what the days entailed, how to navigate the landscape, where to buy those leeks and onions. But out here in the desert? Where does one get water for your grumpy children? not to mention your herd of sheep or cows?

Freedom can be scary. And the fear of the unknown can keep us from taking the steps we believe would be good for us. Especially if we can't imagine what it might look like on the other side. Here I think I start to empathize with the Israelites. God is asking them to become a nation in a place they've never seen. The questions must have been relentless. And when it came down to the wire they refused to enter into God's desire for them. They couldn't embrace who God wanted them to be nor the path he proposed for them to follow.

Freedom requires a change of perspective. The Gospel reading (Matthew 21:23-32) shows us that those who are immersed in one paradigm can find it almost impossible to switch allegiance to another. The chief priests and elders of Jesus' day were not pleased with his teaching. Their interpretation of the law was comfortable, defendable, and held them hostage from the grace Jesus came to give. His astonishing comment that the tax collectors and prostitutes were entering freedom ahead of them would have been incomprehensible and deeply offensive. But the tax collectors and prostitutes knew that their lives weren't getting better without a major change in who was calling the shots. A life based on love and mercy toward self and others offered them a hope and a future.

Embarking on a journey toward love can seem daunting, especially if you leave a lot of rules and regulations behind. For the Israelites, the new way of living required that they check in every day with the pillar of cloud and fire that was leading them to the promised land. In the Epistle reading (Philippians 2:1-13) Paul tells us we have our own version of the pillar of cloud in the presence of the Holy Spirit whose light and guidance is no longer external, but internal. Since we are partnering with the divine (and taking new responsibility for the part we play), we are to embark upon this life with "fear and trembling" but also with a strong degree of confidence. "God is at work in us, enabling us both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

God desires our freedom, just as much He desired the freedom of the Israelites whose children (a generation born into freedom) eventually made it to Canaan. That is, in a nutshell, his "good pleasure." It can be scary, for we don't exactly know what it will look like. But it is His idea, and He not only knows the destination, but will be there to guide us along the way.
 
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"In God's sight we do not fall, in our own sight we do not stand. As I see it both are true. But the deeper insight belongs to God." (Julian of Norwich)

When inspiration seems lacking, it's time to outsource. Robert Llewelyn's book "All Shall be Well", (mentioned here and here) has been a treasure chest of insight. In recent reading I've come across some golden nuggets well worth pondering. As Llewelyn interacts with Julian's writing, he spends several chapters responding to the quote above. Believing God's love desires us to become more and more the people we were created to be, Llewelyn explores that movement toward deeper freedom. At times our steps may seem counterintutive, or even morally wrong. He explains himself in this passage from Chapter 4:

"That we should always speak the truth, and that it is wrong to tell a lie, has probably been a part of Christian training from earliest years...but it needs to be taught with sympathetic understanding...for the fact is that our relationship to truth is expressed better in the words of Jesus "I have come to bear witness to the truth", than in the speaking of the truth as we commonly understand those words. Happily the two normally coincide, but when they are in conflict it is how we may best bear witness to the truth which we must try to decide. Thus if a father 'tells a lie' to conceal his child's whereabouts from a man brandishing a knife, it would not be correct to say that truth for the moment had been set aside, but rather that truth had been vindicated because the deeper truth in this situation is that life is sacred and is not to be placed at the disposal of evil men...Bonhoeffer argues in his Ethics that if a boy, who is asked by his teacher in front of the class if his father comes home drunk at night, replies 'untruthfully' that he does not, then truth has been vindicated because the boy has witnessed to the deeper truth, that a teacher has no right to ask such questions before the class."

The insight that "bearing witness to the truth" may be different than "telling the truth" helps put a new lens on "living truthfully". Llewelyn further goes on to say that in seeking the deeper truth, we may end up breaking a law that we thought was true, bringing a sense of guilt. Here, we trust in the grace of God, who realizes that we, to the best of our ability, are seeking to follow God in our actions. And even if we feel like we are not standing, as Julian says, yet we can be assured that in God's eyes we cannot fall.
(more after the break)

 
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I need to keep a sharp eye out so the "shoulds" don't take over my to-do lists. I'm realizing how sneaky they can be. Take my current reading list, for instance. Why do I want to read these books? So I can become smarter? Impress more people? Feel good about my status as an "educated person?"

Or am I drawn to this book because there is wisdom or delight here for me - encouragement to live the life of fullness and freedom my soul truly desires?