[I first posted this just under a year ago - 19 November 2008 - but have been thinking about these things again today, in relation to the context I find myself in.]
The Psalmist wrote, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you.” That is, as he observed something in nature, the Holy Spirit revealed to his spirit that there was a correlation between the ‘natural’ order and the ‘spiritual’ order. Jesus also regularly used organic images to convey spiritual truths. The Heptagon takes the seven universal signs of life, from the biological sciences, and applies them in this way. It is concerned with healthy life, and helps us to identify potential problems so that they can be addressed before they become terminal. It is a helpful health-check for individuals and groups.
If an animal doesn’t move, it either runs out of food or becomes food. Are we moving? Has our perspective – on God, on yourself, on the world – changed, or is it static? Is our faith defensive, or a journey?
And if we are moving, is our movement purposeful? Migrating herds or flocks, or running around aimlessly? Distracted movement is as much a sign of ill health as lack of movement.
Some creatures move very quickly, others very slowly: one is not better than the other! But communities need to move together.
Respiration is the process by which oxygen is absorbed and energy is released, in every cell. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God, which gives us life. Prayer is to the spirit as breathing is to the body. Taking an occasional breath may be sufficient for existence, but not enough for active life. On the other hand, hyperventilating is a panic response, a sign of anxiety. Healthy breathing is both natural and, most of the time, unconscious.
How is our prayer life? Do we rarely or never pray together? Is prayer all we do (hyperventilation)? Or is it a natural response?
We often talk of 5 senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. In fact, there are several others, including sense of heat, of balance, of pain, and an unconscious awareness of the connectedness of our body parts. Sharks have a sense of electric fields; birds navigate using a magnetic sense.
Are we sensitive, towards God, each other, the world around us? Are we attuned to the spiritual environment around us? As a community, are we releasing individuals who can take a lead for us in relation to one or other of the senses?
Churches that believe that growth is important tend to focus too much on growth. You can’t grow by attempting to grow: only by indirect effort. If all the other six signs of life are healthy, healthy growth just happens…and if they aren’t healthy, unhealthy growth – like cancer – may result.
Having said too much attention is given to growth, it is worth pointing out that:
(i) growth is not constant: it often happens in stages [see the LifeShapes Square] or seasons [see the LifeShapes Semi-circle].
(ii) there are different expressions of growth, from an elephant that gets bigger to a lawn of grass that spreads wider: one size does not fit all.
Not every individual reproduces, but every community needs to, or else it will become extinct. The truth is, you – your group – will die. If reproduction has not taken place, all you have learnt is lost.
There are different forms of reproduction. In cellular reproduction, every component is duplicated internally, and then the cell becomes two cells. With complex organisms, DNA – values, in codified form – from two distinct parents combine to form offspring that are both recognisable and unique. Some creatures reproduce in low numbers, and invest heavily in nurturing their offspring; others reproduce in large numbers, and may never know what becomes of their offspring – but information for the continued survival of the species is nonetheless passed on.
Are we passing on what God has invested in us, to others? What might that look like? In some cases, long-term investment; in others cases, a passing opportunity. At times, it might lead to numerical growth within one group; at other times, to the creation of new groups.
Reproduction can be impaired by ill health, barrenness, isolation, or contraception (artificially constraining potential for new life). Do any of these issues need to be addressed?
Every living thing builds up toxins within itself, and needs to find a way of neutralising and expelling those toxins. If it is unable to do so, it will move through discomfort to poisoning to death.
Spiritually speaking, toxins build up within us: hatred, gossip, complaining, lust, greed, hurt…
Spiritually speaking, excretion refers to the activity of asking for forgiveness for ourselves and extending forgiveness to others. This is so vital, Jesus includes it at the heart of the pattern of prayer he taught his disciples!
Are we accountable? Are we honest about toxins? (They are an inevitable side-product of life.) Are we seeking and proclaiming forgiveness?
Problems relating to excretion can result from problems relating to...
Nutrition is to do with diet. A healthy diet is balanced in composition, and in regularity. Problems include:
(i) under-nutrition: where too little is eaten, e.g. no regular discipline of meditating on God’s word.
(ii) mal-nutrition: where there is an imbalance of composition, e.g. lots of sermons, very little testimony, prophecy, etc.
(iii) over-nutrition: where too much is eaten, e.g. a new sermon every week, without space to digest the food, assimilating it’s goodness. Over-nutrition combined with lack of exercise results in obesity…
In the West, eating disorders are often associated with unhealthy self-image. Are we secure in our identity as children of God?