Fatten my Spirit, O God

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

As I prepare to enter my mid-40s, my waist seems to have a mind of its own. I eat just like I've always eaten, yet my waist seems to grow at a faster pace than it did in my 30s. When asked what I wanted for my last birthday I replied, "My 18-year-old metabolism." It seems that I have to exercise more and more to simply maintain my current weight. To lose weight, I'd probably have to just move into the gym and spend all my time on the machines.

A new study, however, shows that my frequent workouts, while frustrating, may be better for me than giving up and heading to the couch with a bag of chips and the remote.

Prof Bauman, of the University of Sydney, said there was growing evidence from large-scale epidemiological studies that being inactive was more dangerous for health than being overweight.

"They show that being healthy weight and active is best for health and being obese and inactive is the worst, but in the middle there was an interesting pattern," he said.

"It seems it's better to be overweight and active than it is to be slim and be a total couch potato."

He said the overweight active person was more likely than the slothful slim type to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Obese active people did not have the same advantage because the extra body mass had an adverse effect on metabolic processes, Prof Bauman said.

"The message is stop focusing on the weight loss only and think about your health in general."

Instead of launching a scientific study - the researcher could have made his case by simply reading Psalm 151, especially verses 10-12:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

The Hebrew word for "create" used in this passage is bara - which paradoxically means both to "pare down" and "to fatten." When the psalmist asks God to create in him a clean heart and put a new and "right" or "steadfast" spirit within him - what he's asking God to do is give his life balance. The psalmist asks God to fatten his anorexic inactive, couch potato spirit - but also to pare down anything that might lead to spiritual obesity, where we may be active but our activity is not effective. This should be our prayer as well.

Finding that balance can be tricky. It's easy to live with an anorexic, inactive spirit. In this state, we shrink from the world and our responsibility to be God's presence in the world. We are afraid to step out in service to others in the world because it may be inconvenient - it may take us out of our safety zone. We may be required to give things we're not prepared to give - our time, our money, our talents. It's easier to just sit on the sidelines - in the spiritual back pew - and while away our time. We may complain about the state of the world or ache for the pain and trouble of others, but we're unwilling to help. We may be spiritually fit in other ways - in knowledge about God or religion - but in the spiritual way of love and mercy, we are out of shape - flabby.

For some, it's equally easy to develop that obese spirit. This is the spirit that can't stop itself from helping. It wants to help so much, it runs itself ragged with helping. You've seen the type. They're at every church function, they're always feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting the sick and infirm. What they don't do is take care of themselves and soon they burn out. They do so much, give so much, that they cannot find a way to get their own spiritual needs met. Often they may have a feeling of superiority over other Christians - or they may leave Christianity all together, too worn out from service.

The psalmist says God takes "no delight in sacrifice" (v. 16). God is not pleased with our "burnt" offerings of a burned out spirit. God delights, however, in "right" sacrifices - when we sacrifice our time, our gifts, and our love to those who need us - in a balanced and healthy way.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (v. 17)

How do we reach this balance? How can we have a clean heart and a steadfast spirit? The psalm makes clear that it's not something we can do for ourselves. The psalmist asks God to create this clean heart - to fatten what needs fattening and pare down what needs to be pared down so that our spirit can be "right". Only God can create this for us.

Our action comes by preparing our hearts for this transformation. The psalmist does this by confessing his sins and asking for forgiveness. As gay and lesbian Christians, we often shy away from talking about "sin." We've been so beaten by other Christians, well-meaning and otherwise - who keep harping about the "sin" of homosexuality and how we must "repent" before God can properly create a clean heart within us.

As LGBT Christians, we must begin to reclaim the word "sin" just as we have reclaimed the words "fag," "dyke," and, "queer." To understand "sin" as immorality or falling short of some form of "purity" is to misunderstand sin. We sin, according to German theologian Eugen Drewermann when we allow our fear of losing God to control our lives. When we seek security in anything but God, we sin. When we seek security in money, jobs, relationships, even within the church, we sin against God. According to Drewermann:

The 'commandments' of the Sermon on the Mount are for [Christ] really not instructions for a super-morality of human legal behavior, they simply describe what kind of power God can gain in people who entrust themselves to him and who have therefore once and for all overcome fear with its longings for security based on money and power, righteousness and heartless self-assertion. Without the grace of God it is not possible for humans to be good."
-From A Violent God-Image: An Introduction to the Work of Eugen Drewermann by Matthias Beier, p. 172

To overcome sin, then, is to put aside the fear that God will abandon us and instead abandon ourselves to God. This is how we find a balanced - a steadfast - spirit that can be a peacemaker, meek, merciful and pure in heart.

For LGBT people, putting aside that fear is difficult when we are attacked from all sides and told to fear that God will abandon us if we don't "repent" of our homosexuality. What these people do is, instead of saving us from sin, they lead us straight (so to speak) into sin - the sin of believing that we can somehow "lose" God or that God will ever "abandon" us.

The Apostle Paul is quite clear in Romans 8:38-39 that nothing can separate us from God:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We, however, can separate ourselves from God, and we are so often convinced to do just that by Christians insisting we must give up our gift of sexual orientation to please God. When we believe those lies, we need God to fatten our spirits - to raise up a steadfast spirit within us that understands nothing separates us from God - not even a belief that "sin" equals some moral failing.

As LGBT Christians we must stop putting our faith in what others say about God and instead search God's heart on our own, trusting the experiences of grace and mercy that God brings into our lives. To live authentically as Christians, who also happen to be LGBT people, we have to set aside the generally accepted notion of sin, trust in God's continuous presence with us, and prepare our spirits to be fattened by the God who loves us more than anything.

 

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

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