Incarnational Living

“The daily practice of incarnation—of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of flesh—is to discover a pedagogy that is as old as the gospels. Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper? With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together when he was gone. Instead, he gave them concrete things to do—specific ways of being together in their bodies—that would go on teaching them when they need to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.”

Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World


I am working my way through An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor as quickly as possible. As usual, I wait until the last minute, before the due date is looming, and others are on the library wait list. THEN, and only THEN, do I start reading. In this book, Barbara Brown Taylor explores how she encounters God outside the walls of the church….finding “altars in the world”. I have found so many sections to be challenging and meaningful—reaching over and over for my highlighter to wildly illuminate her words, God’s message to me. Instead, I have grabbed my phone and taken photographs of sections, sentences and paragraphs. We have had ENOUGH library fines from the boys ripping pages or coloring Henry and Mudge already.

Incarnational living is a tough road. I am finding that I am not so good at it. As Taylor reminds, living in this new “era”, that God, in Christ, speaks in language of the flesh, is revolutionary. Our lives and faith are not only to be worked out in the classrooms of seminaries or in academic dialogues, but in daily life. In the umpteenth poopy diaper. In the sink full of dirty dishes. In the “can you help me with my LEGOS?” questions. In the “unroll the toilet paper and then try to get in the shower with mom” moments—this is hard teaching. Hard living. My responses, my inner anger, at being pulled away from my own wants, desires and “needs” to serve and be present is not admirable. I read portions of Taylor’s book, inwardly shouting, “AMEN, sister!” and then moments later find myself smack dab, up against an opportunity to live out this call to deep love. And I have a hard time living as one that clings to the Incarnation.

We want to do the right thing, hoping for a how to manual to explain our next course of action. Jesus made it pretty clear, though, that it really is about ordinary living more than profound words or shocking, extreme life choices. Choosing, over and over again, to do small things with great love. Jesus didn’t give the disciples a big list of “how to believe and respond to tough theological issues” on those last nights before his arrest and betrayal. He instead broke bread. Jesus washed feet. Christ took time to be present with his friends, even in the midst of a “busy week”.

What does incarnational living look like for you this week? In my high school and college days, I had a much different answer to this question. I believed that it required third world missional work or a seminary education. These days I am realizing that there are just as many opportunities for incarnational living in the “muck and mire” of parenting as in any extreme ministry setting I might have imagined previously.

In the weeks to come, I look forward to exploring this topic on a practical level. I am excited to share a few more guest posts to wrap up the series which began in the fall on Vision from the Frontlines. A few folks whom I greatly admire will be sharing ideas on spiritual practices with children over the weeks to come. As a family, we are also embarking on a “spending fast” in February and as I gear up for that {aka: stock piling like an earthquake is eminent!}, I will be sharing part of the preparation and process as it unfolds. Don’t expect it to be pretty! Ha!

My first chance for incarnational living today? Making breakfast and packing lunches. May God, as Taylor wrote, use us today & may we live in “full confidence that God speaks in the language of the flesh.”

One thought on “Incarnational Living

  1. I love this. I too often get caught up with all of my errands and To Dos that I don’t make time for coffee with friends. When I have one of those days where we slow life down and live in the moment, I usually think that I’m much happier and patient with my kids (and vice versa) when we aren’t rushing to finish homework, get to activities and run errands. If only we could slow it all down and keep the kids from stealing our shower time.

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