Tony Campolo: Returning Agency to the Body of Christ through Spiritual Practice

Tony Campolo: Returning Agency to the Body of Christ through Spiritual Practice March 14, 2017


Saturday afternoon, at a church near our home, beloved pastor Tony Campolo*, shared that his Ignatian contemplative practices are one key way to ready his body vessel for a daily infusion of Holy Spirit’s healing power.

I openly wept, recognizing that yoga and centering prayer do the same for me. Although Ignatian spirituality and Yoga developed independently, they have similar goals: union with God, and living life with more vibrancy. Had I already known my mind, my fears, curiosities, judgments, and sundry important components of my ‘self”, there would have been little need for dedicated practice. This unfoldment of knowing the ‘true me’, translated miraculously into also knowing the character of God.

Since I was sitting at the front, and it seemed Campolo noticed me, even remembered me, from 25 years of hearing him preach, I hoped he felt my gratitude for the transformational energy he possesses at 81 years young.

So when he asked for questions, my hand shot up. If you knew me, you wouldn’t be at all surprised that I asked if I could hug him in thanks for his impactful words and work. He humbly accepted. But what I really wanted was a chance to whisper, “I have loved you for 25 years and, I too, know of this mysterious infilling. My prayer is that you will continue to be used well, as the world is hungry for Jesus’ healing.”

As our hearts touched, he whispered back, “And the world needs you.”

Tony speaks with candor and confidence of Jesus’ promise to not only return to be with us but to be IN US. This mysterious ‘IN US’ energy is what delivers agency—the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and to act for ourselves. Without daily surrender to this indwelling spirit, we walk around filled with our own agendas, disappointments, un-forgiveness, and various blocks to living a purpose-driven life.

“God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.”
Eugene Peterson, Author

Thank goodness there is a growing convergence between western science and eastern practice. I can easily ‘think’ I know what God would have me do next, but usually that idea is much smaller than if I actually connect to His sacred heart’s longing in me. But this requires enormous patience on my part.
All of humanity is seeking wholeness: a way out of the stressed, lonely, monkey-mind where the amygdala—fight or flight mode—runs the show. For example, today I became infuriated with the world. Yes, I get angry with people in the world. Sometimes I get frustrated with the church. And yes, I get annoyed with people in my church. But, I have come to a deep faith in LOVE actually showing up and removing my hard-heartedness, my suffering, grief, anger, jealousy, and bitterness.
For 40 million Americans suffering from anxiety and depression I feel an urgency in sharing my own transformation and daily practices**. Simply raising consciousness of our natural breath—slowing it and deepening it, alerts the body’s natural relaxation response in the brain. Mind, body, and breath connection unlocks the power of Christ healing that was in us all along.
I would venture to say that anyone praying in silence and stillness, noticing their natural breath, is practicing the limb of yoga called Dhyana or meditation. Now don’t get me wrong, after years of practice I would be lying to say it’s all ‘me and Jesus yucking it up on my yoga mat’. NOPE. There has been an enormous, egoic, false-self to defeat, and an even larger inherited pain body encompassing connection to my ancestors’ unhealed baggage from which I’ve needed to heal. Note: author, Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, explains the ‘pain body’ in a way in which every reader can understand.
So, how exactly does yoga allows us to move into an experiential relationship with the Divine?

Because our faith is now yoked between head and heart.

Sometimes yoga, as spiritual practice, feels like freedom and other times it feels like Good Friday dying. It’s a river of love, yet it can resemble a torrential, albeit seasonal, flood. Through integration, we may find that any discomfort of the unfamiliar is eventually transformed into the pleasure and excitement of the new.
To follow Christ also means to follow in the pattern of dying and rebirth in our own journeys. To live fully and be in solidarity with the world’s suffering, we would have to have bravely touched our own. In the wisdom of my 19 year old daughter:

“People can only connect with me as deeply as they’ve connected with themselves.”
Rebecca Lauren

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, from Becoming Fearless: from Animal to Human to Divine, shares:
The more fearless we are, the more non-violent we become. All fear can be traced to attachment and aversion, and attachment and aversion can be traced to self-identity—the sense of I-amness. Our inclination to defend or attack has its genesis in our fear of losing something that we believe to be integral to our identity.
Just as pain is a symptom of disease, violence is a symptom of fear. Fever counters threats from a virus or bacteria, and violence counters threats to identity. Fever and violence are both indications of an internal struggle. An uncontrolled fever can jeopardize life, as can violence. As long as there is fear and the cause for fear, violence will recur. The more fearless we are, the more non-violent we become. The freer a person is from fear, the more open that person is.
“A fearful person is sealed in his or her own little world and, as a result, suffers from emptiness and loneliness. But a person who is free from fear is open and loving. Such a person has minimized his or her attachment and aversion, and so is naturally less caught in the idea of losing and gaining—and is thus free of stress and tension. Such a person remains tranquil in all situations.”
We dive deep into our depths on a solo mission of discovery; not as a naval gazing, or a place to set-up camp, but an exceptionally brave expedition into unfamiliar territory. And yet, we do this while trusting our return; arms and hearts full of riches—our body-mind restored to its native state, activating the seat of compassion—our vagus nerve.
No matter our past, heart-opening and contemplative practice affects blood pressure, immune system, and inflammatory disease—profound results in weeks.
If you have been wondering if these risings and plunges are ‘normal’, I would advise that normal is overrated. I’d say your journey, your story, your intuition and instinct can, indeed, only unfold naturally from your visiting, even befriending, grief and lament.
The entire world is on a quest for the light, for Easter Good News. But the way of the cross first reveals a necessity to feel our difficult emotions for true joy cannot bubble up without first knowing its opposite, compassion for self and other’s suffering.
Jesus himself took a path of descent in ways we find difficult to follow—He made himself a slave, He spent his time with sinners in the underbelly of society, He chose a gruesome death because He trusted this path of death would leave to fullness of rebirthing LIFE for US.

It’s not a matter of ‘belief’ or ‘right choice and thinking’; it is a matter of embodied message, a change of heart.

Life wants each of us to create our own sustainable change in which we will find true peace in our hearts and absolute safety in the connection with a collective. And our bodies already have an inherent mechanism in which to honor life: breathing.
When we breathe for intentional, restorative purpose, so then does humanity weep in gratitude as the Human Family is returned. Do not hesitate- by spending time with the ONE, you shall realize how wide and long and high and deep this love is for YOU.

It’s personal






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