This week, we continue to follow Jesus’ early ministry through the first chapter of Mark. Jesus begins to expand his ministry beyond his home town. He also reaches out to touch Peter’s mother-in-law and heal her of a fever. This leads us into a conversation on the importance of touch in Jesus’ ministry and our lives, particularly in a time of physical distancing.
How do you experience the touch of Heaven? How do you find space with God in desert-like seasons of your life? Join us around the virtual table and feel free to add your comments below.
In this series, we are looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe what this might look like. In our last reflection, we looked at the first letter, which stands for BLESS. Today, we are looking at the second habit, EAT.
Frost challenges his readers to try to eat with three people this week, at least one of whom is not a member of the church. Of course, this is much harder in the time of Covid. It might have to be a coffee or a walk outside. Even if we have to wait for Covid to end, it is still worth pondering why eating with someone is so important.
Frost reminds us that eating and hospitality have a special place in Christian practice. Eating together was the one thing that Jesus told us to do when we meet. We are familiar with the Eucharist, but Christians also celebrated love-feasts, a time of eating and being together. The table with food is the central symbol of Christian gathering. Frost writes, “It represents hospitality, inclusivity, generosity and grace.” It may not seem like much, but in the ancient world, the Emperor Julian the Apostate complained that meals of hospitality were one of the central ways that Christians were ‘perverting’ the empire! There is power in gathering.
Eating Together to Change the World
When Frost encourages us to eat with other, he is not talking about the sacrament. He means a meal and hospitality. Why? Because there is something special about sharing a meal together. It has deep meaning in every culture. He writes, “The table is the great equalizer in relationships. When we eat together we discover the inherent humanity of all people. We share stories. And hopes. And fears. And disappointments. People open up to each other.”
His friend Alan Hirsch goes further: “Missional hospitality is a tremendous opportunity to extend the kingdom of God. We can literally eat our way into the kingdom of God! If every Christian household regularly invited a stranger or a poor person into their home for a meal once a week, we would literally change the world by eating!”
Eating Together as a Sign of Grace
As with blessing, we don’t invite people into our homes because we expect them to become Christians or come to our church. We invite them because we want to get to know them at a human level. But the act of inviting people in and showing them the love of hospitality is a sign of the kingdom of God.
Whether or not it leads to a conversation about faith, we leave that to God. In having fellowship, we don’t judge people’s lifestyles or eating (or drinking) habits. It is an act of grace to prepare food for another person and get to know them around a table. And who knows, you may learn something new and grow a new friendship. God can do lots of great things over a simple dish of food.
(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. We encourage you to support your local independent bookstore.)
You are sitting in your chair, and you are getting ready to pray. How do you start? One basic move in prayer is the foundation for everything else. It is so simple, and yet so essential. It is easy to do, and it opens us up to the presence of God. In the Christian faith we call this most basic of all spiritual moves ‘lift up your heart.’
‘Lift up your hearts’ in the Eucharist
The words should sound familiar to you. It is at the center of the dialogue we pray at the beginning of the celebration of the Eucharist. After we pray for the Lord to be with us, the priest calls out to the congregation: “Lift up your hearts!” The congregation replies enthusiastically, “We lift them to the Lord!” This action of all of us ‘lifting our hearts’ sets the stage for everything that follows. As we hear the prayers and take communion, our whole self—body and soul—is united with God.
The Bible on bringing our truest selves to God
This idea of ascending to God in the Spirit is all through the Scriptures. In Psalm 25, David begins his prayer: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” In Colossians 3, Paul encourages us to “set our hearts on the things above.” In Psalm 141, we have the beautiful image of our prayers rising up to heaven like incense and we pray “may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” The biblical imagery speaks to the longing of our hearts and souls to be united with God. Often the terms heart, mind and soul are used interchangeably. All of them mean that we are bringing our truest selves to God.
‘Lift up your hearts’ in the Christian tradition
The Christian tradition has deeply meditated on this action of ‘lifting up our hearts’. In the third century, Cyprian wrote, “When we stand for prayer, most beloved brethren, we should be alert and intent on our petitions with a whole heart. Let every carnal and worldly thought depart, and let the mind dwell on nothing other than that alone for which it prays. Therefore, the priest also before his prayer prepares the minds of the brethren by first uttering a preface, saying: “Lift up your hearts,” so that when the people respond: “We lift them up to the Lord,” they may be admonished that they should ponder on nothing other than the Lord.”
Later, Augustine wrote, “What is peace? Listen to the apostle, he was talking about Christ: “He is our peace, who made both into one.” So peace is Christ. Where did it go? “He was crucified and buried, he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven.” There you have where peace went. How am I to follow it? Lift up your heart. Listen how you should follow; every day you hear it briefly when you are told Lift up your heart. Think about it more deeply and there you are, following.”
‘Lift up your hearts’ in your own prayer
What does this mean for us as we are sitting in our chairs? As the primal move in prayer, lifting up our hearts is just setting aside the things of our lives temporarily and turning our attention to God. But it is more than our attention; we are also giving God our hearts. It is not just our words, but our emotions and desires, our hopes and our fears, our strivings and failures. In other words, lifting up our hearts is giving ourselves in a way that is deeper than words. We can lift our hearts to God with sorrow and lament or with praise and adoration. In both cases, the ‘real’ us connects to the ‘real’ God.
Choose a time and place. Sink into your comfortable chair. Take a slow deep breath and let it out slowly. Then pray quietly: “God, I lift my heart to you…”