By NATHAN ALBERT
Author of ‘Embracing Love’
I’m literally a global poster boy for the way God can surprise us. A photo of a Chicago Pride marcher, wearing only underwear, spontaneously hugging me exploded across social media and circled the planet—forever changing my life and ministry. How and why did that crazy scene happen? That’s the central story in my book about God’s surprising and all-embracing love, titled appropriately: Embracing Love.
Now, I am finding myself in the media spotlight again, as an associate chaplain at the University of Lynchburg in Virginia, because Religion News Service staff writer Aysha Kahn featured me prominently in a story about innovative approaches to ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The headline on that RNS story showed up on social media and other websites far and wide: “Campus chaplains, religious clubs advocate for students in a moment of anxiety.“
I never expected either of these movements of God’s Spirit. I never expected that these experiences in my life would grow into images and stories that now are part of our global conversations about urgent issues.
I am struck that both of those widely shared stories involve inclusion. In the first case, gender inclusion; in the second case, my concern for the inclusion within our faith community of students who suddenly are isolated by COVID-19.
God’s Spirit is unpredictable. As a pastor, I don’t think anyone I have worked with over the years could pin down a prediction of where or how God would work in their lives.
However—as a pastor and university chaplain, I do teach that there are practical things we can do—time-tested spiritual disciplines—that can open our lives to deeper experiences with God. In fact, I have devoted a series of podcasts to teaching some of those disciplines.
Right now, you can visit my podcast homepage to find a series of quick links to follow my series. I call it “The Why Behind the What.” The Spiritual Practices episodes are labeled “Season Two” in my ongoing podcast series.
Here’s a sample of what you’ll find.
Nathan Albert Podcast Series:
‘The Why Behind the What:
Like everyone else, I have faced dark periods in my life. Grief and crises are a part of life for all of us. The greatest comfort I have found in these times involves reaching deeper into our faith.
When life became overwhelming for me, when faith wasn’t working how it once had, when I didn’t know where else to turn to connect with God, and when I craved a sense of peace and calm during a stressful season, I discovered ancient and contemplative spiritual practices. They healed my soul, rekindled my faith, and changed everything for me. My newest podcast season focuses on different practices that I’ve incorporated into my life. I firmly believe that these practices are essential to our personal, emotional, and spiritual well-being especially during this pandemic in which we find ourselves.
When Faith Stops Working:
I never thought I’d become the pastor who found himself laying under his desk overwhelmed by the demands of ministry and a faith that wasn’t working the way it once had. Yet, it was contemplative spiritual practices that opened me up to God’s presence, taught me to be with God rather than do things for God, and enabled me to be still before God. These practices revived my faith, healed my soul, and transformed my life.
Silence and Solitude:
Silence and solitude are actually imperative for living a spiritual life. Silence allows us the space to hear from God and solitude allows us a way to encounter God. These seem to be quite simple but are deceptively difficult practices that open us up to being with God.
Centuries ago, a handful of monks discovered that they could connect their prayers to the rhythms of their breathing. When they did this, they were able to pray without ceasing, be connected to God at all times, and center themselves upon God’s presence. For me, the breath prayer not only allows me to connect with God, but also centers my soul, calms my nerves, and brings me peace.
A type of silent prayer, Centering Prayer is a way in which we can center ourselves upon God’s presence. It’s a difficult practice because it’s one where I am forced to not do anything but simply be. Centering prayer, as Basil Pennington says, is the practice of learning to be with God, return to God, and stay with God.
Dear Diary: After forgetting about you for almost 20 years, I picked you up and decided to reread parts of you. It’s some of the most hysterical, embarrassing, vomit-inducing, fundamentalist stuff I have ever read. So, I have decided to read those parts to my podcast listeners for a good laugh, but also to remind them that journaling is a wonderful spiritual practice and rhythm.
In the newest episode, I share about the practice of lectio divina, or divine reading, which is a way to read and listen to Scripture not solely to gain information but to experience transformation. For me, it has become the most important and impactful way to read ancient scriptures. Lectio Divina forces us to slow down to hear from and be transformed by God.
Future Episodes and Interviews:
In future episodes, I share about the life-changing experiences of Fixed Hour Prayer, Disconnecting from Digital Devices, becoming a Contemplative Ecumenical, and interviews with a musician, an author, co-priests, a couple of meditation experts, a pastor, and a few good friends. Through these episodes I hope that you are drawn into practices that connect with you God, that rekindled your way, and introduce you to an ancient and contemplative spirituality that can transform your life today.
Care to learn more?
FRONT EDGE PUBLISHING and the ReadTheSpirit Books imprint offer a wide range of inspiring books—great for individual reflection and small group discussion—that represent our vocation in publishing: “Good media builds healthy community.”
GET A FREE DISCUSSION GUIDE TO NATHAN’S ‘EMBRACING LOVE’
NEW THIS WEEK, Nathan is providing a free downloadable discussion guide to his book, Embracing Love. Simply visit Nathan’s website and you will see the link to download the PDF guide. Yes, in April (and perhaps in May) 2020, small groups aren’t meeting in person. However, many of these groups nationwide are gathering in virtual circles to discuss inspiring books. Are your friends interested in ways to faithfully embrace inclusion? Embracing Love is a perfect choice with a compelling, real-life story about Nathan’s own spiritual pilgrimage toward inclusion. The book sparks lots of questions—just visit Nathan’s website, download the guide and you’ll see what we mean.
WANT MORE ABOUT SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES?
GUIDE FOR GRIEF by Roger Murchison—Everyone dies. Every family grieves. People are terrified of admitting that we are aging, let alone dying. Many families get stuck in patterns of grief and suffer as friends move on with life. In this Guide for Grief, the Rev. Rodger Murchison brings years of pastoral experience and study, sharing recommendations from both scripture and the latest research into loss and bereavement. This guide’s perspective is Christian, but all families will benefit from these well-tested principles. Each chapter ends with an inspiring prayer that readers can use in the journey we all will take through grief to wholeness. Visit Amazon to get a copy of Roger’s book right now (yes, it’s on Kindle as well as paperback so you can get it instantly).
GUIDE FOR CAREGIVERS by Benjamin Pratt—In one out of three households, someone is a caregiver: women and men who give of body, mind and soul to care for the well being of others. These millions need help, more than financial and medical assistance. They need daily, practical help in reviving their spirits and avoiding burnout. Who are these caregivers? They are folks who have lived this tough life and felt the agonies and the boredom, yet they have extended compassion with a gentle word or a tender touch. As caregivers, they know anger, frustration, joy, laughter, purpose, mortality and immortality. This book is drawn from the wisdom of many caregivers and we have taken their advice: these are short, easy-to-read sections packed with wisdom and practical help! This book is designed to let readers jump in almost anywhere and explore at their own pace. Considering the millions of people worldwide who are caregivers, this book also is great for small-group study. Visit Amazon to get a copy of Ben’s book right now.