When I was in seminary during one class we added spiritual disciplines that were rhythms in our life for a semester. If I remember correctly I choose journaling as my practice, in part because it had been such a staple in my prayer life already. I enjoyed writing out my prayers; I felt connected with God through these times.
Now, several years after graduation, I find my journal sitting on my nightstand all alone more and more these days. Some days I'll pull it out and get a page or two in. Other days it goes untouched. For a while I thought that was a negative thing, thinking I had "lost my way in prayer." Thankfully my spiritual director helped me understand something, that today I experienced.
Today I felt myself curiously drawn to my piano. It's an old thing, with worn strings and a few cracked keys, the kind of wear that comes from years of play from generations of my family's fingers. Because of this wear and tear, it's one of the best pianos I've ever played -- it's keys move loose and free and have a sensitivity to touch like no other piano I've played. It's like the Velveteen Rabbit -- and I am so grateful to have it where I live.
I wandered over to its bench, sat, and began playing. Songs came out of me onto its keys, I felt my soul stirring. It was prayer. And today in playing piano I was more honest with God than I could have been in my journal. Something deeper emerged and it turned into a sacrifice of praise. And I felt God's pleasure.
After my time playing, as I got up from the bench I realized how grateful I was for what had happened, and that it only happened this way, today, because I responded to the quiet invitation I felt inside me. If I had been following my own "rules" I would have sat at the table, and prayed for several pages in my journal. And I know God would have heard and responded to my prayer there. But there was a gift to be received in my playing piano that would have been missed.
God knows us -- he knows what we need, how to give us the desires of our heart, how to bring relief to a weary soul. I wonder though, how often do I get in my own way because I'm following "the rules" I have setup for myself? And, I wonder what could happen if I allowed my rules to bend now and then when I sense a quiet invitation to follow Jesus outside my box?
What about you?
Feel free to share your responses in the comments. Your words are a gift to us all.
This morning I was reading (for work) an article about suffering for an upcoming issue of the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care (a great resource if you haven't seen it before). In fact, I've been reading a lot about suffering as the entire issue is dedicated to this theme. But something in today's article really impacted me when I read:
"It would appear that nothing is off-limits when it comes to expressing our suffering to God. Yet some sectors of Christianity do, in fact, see some of these expressions—especially those indicating anger at God or doubt regarding his actions—as off limits. Sufferers may respond with guilt when these feelings toward God emerge, or feel cut off from God when these things cannot be expressed directly to God. Their faith may be questioned and their continued suffering seen as a deficit in their Christian maturity." - Liz Hall, "Suffering in God's Presence," Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, forthcoming 2016
I had to read it again: "Sufferers may ... feel cut off from God when these things cannot be expressed directly to God." Essentially, suffering in silence. And how quick our society is to call the victims of abuse of all kinds into the light of community, of not hiding, of expressing their tragedy for healing and accountability of the oppressor. Yet, how often in our Christian communities are we tempted to hold in our anger, confusion, or pain from God? The same article notes that although 40-percent of the Psalms are lament, only 4-percent of Psalms regularly used in Christian churches are lament.
In my own walk with God lament has been like mana (the heavenly food that sustained the Israelites in the Old Testament). I recall distinctly the first intentional time I called out to God in my pain. It was a simple thing that un-corked a well of pain inside me. In my senior year, while walking to sixth period where I was TA for a Bible class, I slipped on spilled water outside the classroom door and landed square on my butt in front of the entire hallway of students making way to their next class. As soon as I hit the concrete floor it was like something inside me shattered and all the pain I had been holding flooded out.
The teacher, the most gentle and compassionate one on campus, rushed to me to make sure I was okay, and once confirmed, let me know I had permission to take as much time as I needed to take care of myself before returning to class. I tear up now even recalling his tenderness. I rushed to the bathroom, cried hard and silently from the embarrassment and all the other emotions that surfaced: pain from a tension filled home life, loneliness, and a lack of hope.
When I returned to the classroom, I sat at the teacher's desk. No papers to grade to distract me. It was a slow TA day. Although the storm inside me had calmed, there were still waves of thoughts and feelings slushing around inside. Almost instinctually I grabbed a tablet from my messenger bag and a pen and began journaling furiously for the first time in my life.
I had kept journals before, the "Dear Diary" type of many pre-teen girls, but this was different. This was raw, and honest, and I later realized a prayer of lament. Though I didn't have words to describe it then, in reflection I realized with each angry, hurt-filled word I felt seen. I felt like God was with me; nodding his head at the unfairness and pain in my words and experiences.
Thirty minutes later the bell rang, class was dismissed, and I felt lighter. I felt heard. The tension at home or the vagueness of my future weren't resolved, but I no longer felt alone.
So today, when I read this article author's words I remembered this incident all those years ago - and how God met me in my lament. How I felt held and loved and so close with God -- perhaps the opposite of what many, maybe you, feel when pain surfaces in your life if you don't feel permission to be completely honest before God.
Maybe today you're sensing God's invitation to share a little more with God in your prayers. Or maybe you feel invited to express your disappointment, anger, or pain with God. Or maybe your invitation is to consider the idea of lament and how it might impact your journey with Jesus.
Wherever God is inviting you, I pray for the courage for us all to live into the life and relationship of grace we have with God through Christ. And may our prayers ever more reflect both the good, the praise-worthy, and the hardship and pain of life.
By Larry Warner of b-ing.org
Are you creative? Before you answer that let me assure you that you are creative – more creative than you can even imagine. You were made to be creative and until others things began to weigh on you – the opinion of others, the need to do it well, comparing yourself with others – you were creative. As a child there is this innate freedom to be creative. They paint, sing, and dance, among other things, with abandonment and an effervescent, contagious joy that can even awaken the dormant creativity within another.
You were created in the image of God and so are like God AND the first and foremost image we have of God is as creator - ergo, you are creative. Sadly though you may no longer be free to be creative. As one grows up they often become shackled by the expectations of others, the perceived need to perform well, fearing what others may think or say about them. You may no longer feel the inner freedom to be creative.
I see this especially played out with others and myself at wedding receptions. If there are children attending, as soon as the music starts, they are out on the dance floor - how can they not be – there is music, laughter, smiling faces. However, many of the adults, unless they can dance, are spectators glued to their seats by their fears rather than just getting out their and shaking their booty. Their God given creativity stifled.
What about you? Is there anything keeping you from realizing and embracing the creativity that is within you? If there is something keeping you back from being creative what would it look like to invite God into that space so together you might be able to be free to create?
Now to those of you who are creative, are you stuck, stifled in your creativity – judgmental of your on work, fearful to venture out of the current comfort of your creative confines and try something new? What would it look like to breakout of the creative box you have made into a safe haven and begin to dream, take chances, try something new? What keeps your creativity from expanding? What would it look like to invite God into that space?
Where do you go from here? I actually do not know but I will tell you what I did - I started dancing at weddings. I still stink as a dancer, my moves are wooden and contained but I am out there and it is fun and freeing. Also, I have found the more I do it the freer I have become to be me in other venues. What would it mean for you to step out on your own dance floor and take a spin – trusting God and the process? If I know God and you have been reading this with openness to the Spirit of God, then I think you already know what your next step is, what dance floor God is inviting you onto. So come on and join me – the music is just starting.
NOTE: When I say you are creative please do not misunderstand me and think this means you will be good as you embrace and free the creativity within you. You may be, but I am not saying you will be. What I am saying is that as you allow your creativity to bubble to the surface it will be life giving, life enriching, it will be a place of connection with God, another form of prayer, it will open you up to yourself, God and others in new ways and it is great fun.
While traveling for Epiphany:Visio a couple of years ago I found myself on a few flights during the worst cold season on the East Coast in years. As a result I had the privilege of flying through several storms. It was the best! ... said no one ever.
During one particularly gloomy, but calm, flight I watched as the plane rose up out of the clouds. Suddenly it was sunny and bright and the turbulence calmed. All the stress of flying by standby faded. The sun and smooth flying led me to calm the storm brewing inside me. I ended up drawing the following illustration during that flight.
The missed flights, the tense moments waiting to see if we'd make it on this flight, the weather delays and cancellations all swirled up inside me. They created an internal chaos that mimicked the weather outside. Then, when I took a moment to stop and breathe and notice the sun outside my window, it clicked: I got caught in my circumstances, but the reality of the sun shining down on the earth hadn't changed. The clouds made it difficult to see it's brightness or feel its warmth, but nonetheless it was still there as it had always been.
More and more I experience Jesus like this in my life. I get panicked or anxious; fear questions my choices or path -- but the reality of what God is doing in my life hasn't changed. God is still good; God is still present. God is still with me. And often it takes a few moments of space, calm, and deep breathing to remember these clouds too will pass.
It feels fair to say "I'm in it." I'm deep in the process of making what feel like monumental life choices -- the kind that "adults" make. While I feel capable in the pool of my current context, stepping into these life-altering choices feels like going from the kiddie pool to an olympic sized diving pool. It looks deep and scary and dark. It feels unknown because it is outside my realm of experience.
In this place I've been revisiting my experience in the Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius, the author of the Exercises, has a lot to say about making decisions. He has process for how to compare two good alternatives; rules for when not to back out of a previously made good decision; questions to help you see your own internal process in the decision making; and most importantly, grace to remember God is still with you.
As I've been working through my decision, and reflecting back on these Ignatian principles, I ran across this little gem:
Don't change a good decision made in peace when the waves of fear or anxiety kick up.
What this implies is there is a good chance, even a good decision will evoke some concern, some caution, some doubt. And the Christian saying of, "Make the decision which leads to peace," is -- in this light -- slightly misleading, or only half true. As I'm learning in my own decision process how true it is that a decision made well at the beginning of the process is not bullet proof to distraction, persuasion, or worry.
What I'm learning as I recognize the places these things are surfacing in my own process is that the answer lies not in reacting to the fear, but to wait, to settle down internally, and to re-evaluate. Have I gained new information that would cause me to change my decision? Am I seeing that my initial decision was made in error? Has this turned into a "one-way" decision I can't undo later? If no, then I carry on, continually praying and seeking God's guidance, clarity, and movement of my heart towards his purposes for me and the world.
As I seek God through these questions I return to sensing more clearly which choice feels most like the "drop of water on a sponge," as Ignatius describes a good decision that draws us closer to God will feel calming, rather than like a drop of water on a rock, which describes a decision contrary to God's purposes for us.
A friend recently sent me a podcast where the host and guest were talking about fear. Oh, joy. As it was a business/health podcast I was expecting a tidal wave of shame-speak about carrying fear and how it was anti-productive. As I've struggled with fear throughout my life, and I've been learning to manage with Jesus and counseling the anxiety it creates in me, this would not be news to me. After a couple of days I decided to read the transcript anyway; I was blown away by what I read.
As they were talking the guest said, "The more further you’re out in the future, the more room for fear to enter." It's the unanswerable "What if?" questions that pour gas on the fire of fear. My mind jumped to 1 John 4:18: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (ESV), and connected the two. And as I was attempting to sort it all out John 15 flashed through my mind: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me" (ESV). What can all these connections mean?
And then this image came to mind: we can rest when we're not afraid. When we're connected with God, he keeps us in the moment - in the present. Jesus invites us not to worry about tomorrow, but to remember how well God provides for the birds and the flowers of the earth. When we rest we can absorb these experiences deep within us. Overtime they create the grounded foundation of feeling known and experiencing God's love for us from which we can boldly move out and forward and take risks, adventure with God, and do so with the courage of a well-loved child.
Fear invites us to worry about what's next. God's love invites us into the freedom of today.
What would you do today if you weren't afraid?
Where do you sense God's gentle invitation in your life? I'd love to know. Share in the comments below.
In closing, a prayer written by Janet Morely in All Desires Known:
From fear of staying still, O God deliver me
From fear of surrender, O God deliver me
From fear of decision, O God deliver me
From fear of losing respect, O God deliver me
From fear of facing my fear, O God deliver me
But from the fear that marks your presence
I beseech you O God, do not deliver me.
Breathe new life into your prayer routine in this 2-hour mini-retreat focused on the creative and contemplative practice of photography.
Of course life keeps you busy, and perhaps it's even left you more than a little worn out, or using the same devotional practice since the beginning of time. And of course it's hard to get creative in your time with God when the so important time with loved ones and work fills up your days.
Even if it's been a while since you've had a prayer rhythm in your life, God desires to connect with you! God really, really likes you.
And God is the master creator, just look at the beauty around you -- in the flowers, in the pieces of lovely design in your home or work space. God likes your creativity, your curiosity, and when you stumble into wonder and awe of what he's made.
Perhaps you're reading this and feeling a sense of God's invitation to take time out, breathe, and look anew through the lens of photography at this 2-hour retreat? If so, register today. We can't wait to have you join us.
Today I was painting - a water color and acrylic piece - that I've been working on for about a week now. The piece has a recipient and I'm excited to get it to them, but I keep having to wait for paint to dry. Feels a little like waiting for water boil ... something about a watched pot ...? That's how I feel waiting for each layer to set and hold up so I can work a little more.
A little more, a little more. And because of how I paint I typically don't have the end goal in mind. So as I'm waiting for the paint to dry I'm also waiting to see what it becomes - and in my excitement I get impatient. I want to jump to the end so I can know the outcome. I want to see the finished product. I want to know what's ahead so I can maneuver; waiting isn't apart of my plan.
Like my painting process, Jesus waits for us to set and hold so he can work a little more. If I rushed ahead (like I'm often to antsy to do) all the colors would blend together and become indiscernible. They would become mud on my palette. Jesus, lovingly patient and so not in a rush for our transformation, lets each layer of change, growth, or pain to set or heal so he can work a little more. He knows working ahead of what we can handle would do more damage than good. So he waits. He works a little. He waits again. Each time inviting us into the process of transformation; his desire is not to do to us, but with us as we surrender to the work of his hands to make us who we most truly are.
How are you sensing God's invitation to you today?
Is it to rest and heal? Perhaps it's an invitation to take a risk or make a new move. Maybe it's a call to sit still and listen.
May you respond with courage to the invitation of God in your life today, wherever you are and in whatever way you are able. And may you remember: one small step today is enough; God can work with that.
Today while browsing the inter-webs for interesting articles and resources I stumbled upon one that just about knocked me over inside. I felt a bit side-swiped, and completely seen at the same time (maybe a little too seen, if I'm being honest).
Read the article here.
In it the author writes things like:
The irony of God's universe is that limitations actually set us free to be the people God created. If all my time and focus goes to becoming someone else I am essentially running on a treadmill rather than on the road. Because saying yes to who God has made you to be is scary -- what if I don't like who God's made me to be? What if it doesn't feel like enough? Gut-wrenchingly painful questions.
And in the light of those questions it is so easy to put your head down in the sand and just carry on. Maybe that's all you have the capacity to do. Maybe looking at those scary questions straight in the face feels like too much for today. God can work with that.
Jesus' invitation to you is to show up, empty hands or full hands, it doesn't matter. God can work with that. Because maybe the journey isn't becoming someone else you admire (or maybe are jealous of); maybe the journey is to eventually like who you actually are, because maybe who you are is bright and wonderful, funny and quirky, and great with couponing or making art or running her business' social media with passion and feistiness. And maybe, over time, you'll begin to see more of what Jesus was up to when he created you: a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
And finally, remember God gave you the desires you have not to put them high up on a shelf so they don't break. Go break a few, grieve their loss or undesired outcome, then, when it's time, allow new desires to grow inside you because loss is not the end of the line with God -- God renews. Sitting there dusting off your shelved desires once a week is the only guaranteed way to make sure they don't come to pass.
Jesus, have mercy.
Sometimes I write more from my heart, but today I'm writing from my head and my heart. I've been ears deep in an academic essay on sacred space and iconography and my mind is on fire with thoughts about how art shapes our soul.
One of the sources I'm siting in this essay is Alain de Botton. He's a philosopher who writes on life and art. While I don't agree with all his conclusions about life, I find myself drawn to his thoughts on how art shapes us, as many of them resonate with what I've studied in Scripture and in the history of Church. Here are his 7-primary functions of art:
I'm curious, what do you think about the potential of art to form us spiritually? Share in the comments or on our Facebook page.