It's one of those things I keep running into, which makes it feel significant. I first stumbled onto it when crafting an art and prayer workshop for a ministry team at RealitySF a couple of years ago. It lingered when I ran my first art and prayer workshop here at home a few months later. Then it popped up in spiritual direction sessions with directees. It's the pattern of transforming processes: to observe (see), reflect (notice), and then respond.
Even now it strikes me that this is the process of art-making. We observe something that inspires us, we reflect on the act of our creation from that inspiration (planning what we will make), and then responding in the act of creation.
It's interesting to me how each step is so necessary to the outcome of transformation. If we didn't stop to observe, our responses would be more reactionary and less impactful to us. If we only stopped to observe, without pausing for reflection, we would engage only analytically, leaving our hearts untouched. Starting with seeing we engage our bodily senses; moving into noticing we use our minds to understand what we see and how it impacts us; then engaging the heart we respond from how what we've seen and noticed feels to us. Each step in the transformative process requires the prior step, and each step walks us deeper into our hearts.
But each step can feel like coming undone; maybe even a bit like sliding down a slippery slope in our souls, into depths we don't actually want to discover. And it can be painful. It can be so, so very hard to sit still long enough to really see the truth of our hearts. Yet, this is the invitation Jesus offers. He invites us to see the places he already sees; he invites us with him to explore the truths in our hearts. He calls us to the deep places of longing and loss, the place he is already loving us.
May we have the boldness and grace today to respond to Jesus invitation, and to see more fully and accurately his love for us.
Raised in the evangelical tradition I was more familiar with Easter than this season called "Lent." I was comfortable with somber Good Friday services, and celebratory Easter Sundays. Then I learned about Lent, and how it is a time to reflect on our longings, our losses, in a way that leads us to confession at the feet of Jesus. Sometimes getting to his feet I found I needed a little help, a gentle push to move forward. I needed someone to remind me of the love of God amidst all this grief.
From these experiences, and through gathering materials I've found helpful, we're offering this half-day Lenten retreat guide. It's filled with prayer practices, journaling prompts, and reflective invitations. It can be used individually, or with your community group. It can used on a half-day away at a museum or over a weekend up on the mountain. It was created with flexibility in mind.
It was also created to remind you how much God loves you. Using Scripture, art, and thought provoking journaling experiences this PDF guide offers you the opportunity to open your heart to God through these practices and to prepare to celebrate the hope we have in Christ Easter Sunday morning.
If this idea excites you, or feels like the last thing you want to do but you feel invited by God to do it anyway, click below to learn a bit more and view a sample page. The PDF guide is designed to be flexible in use and time, so feel free to take a half-day to yourself or a weekend away with your community group.
If you have any questions about this retreat guide, or how to best use it, feel free to contact us anytime. We'd love to hear from you.
A couple of months ago I received a very exciting email: would I come and lead a private workshop for a Bible study group? It was from a past guest at one of my last Art & Prayer Workshops. I said, "Of course!" We navigated the logistics, and just last Sunday met together to learn from one another where God might be speaking to us about how to use art as a means to entering prayer. It was a phenomenal time, and such a gift to be a part of this group for this short time.
Afterwords, I asked the hostess if she would mind sharing her experience, in the form of a review. Below is what she had to say about attending, and hostessing, an Art & Prayer Workshop. Thank you, Elaina, for sharing your thoughts and heart with me (and us!) in your reflection.
"I first attended this workshop after visiting the E:V site and checking out the Art and Prayer Workshop link. I'm an artist and I love Jesus, I've never participated in a workshop that could combine the two so I signed myself up. I had no idea what to expect but there I sat with a group of strangers participating together. It was peaceful and really helped me experience God in a way I hadn't before.
I realized that this workshop isn't [only] for artists, it's for everyone. The people in my first workshop were all diverse in age and personality. Yet we each left having a memorable experience. I strongly felt the need to share this experience with friends. I considered my bible study group; we had been gathering for 2 years and I felt we could have an intimate time together. They all experienced a greater way to study the bible, express themselves, and dig further into their life experiences and were reminded how God was and is present with us. My friends all said they enjoyed the workshop and some said they had learned new ways to connect with God and the bible. It was a success.
Christine creates a positive and comfortable atmosphere, she guides you through each step and shows you how to further experience the bible and parts of yourself through art. She uses photographic art of her own and it's amazing how it truly ministers to each person and very differently. She's a blessing and God definitely uses her gifts as a ministry for others." -Elaina S.
I first learned this prayer by Thomas Merron while in seminary. It flooded me with a sense of release, relief and gratitude. I love the humble admission found in it that Merton expresses in desiring to do God's will, but with the reality that he may be not perfectly doing so--and yet at the same time is reassured of God's continual grace and pleasure in him inspite of his fumbled attempts to please God.
Thomas Merton, from Thoughts on Solitude.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
What word or phrase from this prayer captures your heart today?
Prayer journaling was something I started upon accidentally in high school. One day had felt particularly tragic after a fall in front of all my peers in between changing classes when everyone saw me hit the ground. I burst into tears almost immediately, but the kind of quiet sobs I didn't want anyone to see. My teacher, thank You Jesus, was gracious and kind -- a very grandfatherly teacher who saw, immediately understood the emotional dynamics of such an embarrassment to a 16-year-old-girl, and excused me from my post as a class assistant to go cry in the bathroom. And cried I did.
Eventually I made it back to class, but wasn't "up to par" you could say--with my bruised ego and the lump forming on my knee. I sat at my post, at the teacher's desk in the back of the classroom, every few minutes feeling tears well up in my eyes. I didn't know what to do, and it "just so happened" the class I was TA'ing for was a Bible class, but I felt a rush of words and emotions pushing their way out and I felt like I had to do something.
I pulled out a tablet I had tucked away in my book bag. It was a drug store tablet with tape binding on top, and roses on the cover. I pulled out a pen and furiously began to write and pour out what was inside me. I began to feel better little by little the more I wrote. I didn't realize it at the time, but what I was doing in that moment was praying in my journal. It didn't feel like a practice of prayer, or a spiritual discipline, in the midst of my muffled cries--but nonetheless it was. And from that point on it's been a fairly regular practice in my spiritual life.
All these years later I come back to journaling my prayers to God when I don't know how to sort out my feelings, or when my thoughts feel foggy. In seminary I ended up writing a research paper on it and found out my experience wasn't new. It was profound for me, yes; but it was not unique in its power to connect with God and myself through praying in my written words in my journal.
One thing I learned while writing my paper on prayer journaling that I read in a book was that this prayer practice helps us say in private what we otherwise might say out loud and regret. I attest to that one. My journal has held my pain, but it's also held my anger, my fury, my disgust, my reactive words, the violence of my heart. It has also held my most secret dreams, and fears. My journals are a reflection of my journey with Jesus, but just as my journals have held these tender and broken parts of me, I've experienced Jesus hearing my words, receiving my pain, tending to my wounds as I write.
I realize not every spiritual practice is for everyone all the time; but I feel this practice is worth a try. It's worth an experiment to give it a go and see what happens. You might be surprised at what you find.
If you give it a go, will you share with me what happens? Whether you love it, hate it, swear to never do it again or feel indifferent, I'd love to hear your experience in the comments.
and you held me and there were no words
and there was no time and you held me
and there was only wanting and
being held and being filled with wanting
and I was nothing but letting go
and being held
and there were no words and there
needed to be no words
and there was no terror only stillness
and I was wanting nothing and
it was fullness and it was like aching for God
and it was touch and warmth and
darkness and no time and no words and we flowed
and I flowed and I was not empty
and I was given up to the dark and
in the darkness I was not lost
and the wanting was like fullness and I could
hardly hold it and I was held and
you were dark and warm and without time and
without words and you held me
"And You Held Me," by Janet Morley
printed in All Desires Known
Today as I went to my studio / spiritual direction space, I felt drawn into the sanctuary that sits adjacent. The room was cool on this 88-degree day, and yet the warm light drifted in through the stained glass windows. I walked in to the stillness, set my stuff down, and breathed in deeply. As I scanned the empty room I noticed the three stained glass scenes across the room. I'd "seen" them before, but never actually "noticed" them today.
Before I tell you what I saw, share with me what you see, in the comments.
All three window panes told stories, and they were in the above order. Taking them all in at once I was struck by the thought of how kind Jesus is: to the woman at the well (an outcast in her town), to the animals (vulnerable to human activity), and to the children (small and helpless but drawn to him). Jesus made himself safe to the lost, the overlooked, and the vulnerable. What a precious and needed thought for me to hold on to today, and everyday.
I invite you to spend a few minutes with each photo and see what else you notice, what else stands out to you, and share as you're comfortable in the comments.
What beautiful timing to discover Jesus' love and compassion and empathy in this season of Lent. May we be as merciful to ourselves and others as Jesus is toward us.
Wednesday marks the beginning of a new liturgical season: Lent. It is a season of waiting, of longing, of loss. It is a season of lament. Lent gives us space to grieve, to let go, to exist of the tension of already and not yet with Jesus.
Below is an image, followed by instructions, to help you engage and process and connect prayerfully with Jesus as you open to the places of your heart and life where you feel tugs of grief and yearning.
Peace as you enter this sacred space.
Begin in a quiet place...
How did it go? What surprised you? Where were you led?
Raised a "good evangelical" I was taught to be suspicious of mysticism, saints, and icons. They were nothing a good evangelical girl should be interested in; reading the Bible, morning devotions, and church group were my assignments. But these last year's have taught me a lot.
I've learned that silence can be a form of prayer, Jesus actually likes me, God isn't waiting for me to mess up, and my creativity is a reflection of my Imago Dei (God's image in me).
So the other day when I was inspired to begin playing with the concepts of iconography it felt ... weird. It felt foreign, like I was stepping on someone else's religious culture.
Inspite of my feelings I went forward. I allowed myself to play, and experiment. What I found was a new form of expression. From what I've learned these past few years, icons are a way of remembering, of highlighting, and calling attention to the "good life" in God. Creating my own version of an icon demystified the process and put it in its rightful place: prayer. There is nothing magical about this icon; but it's ability to connect me with what Jesus is stirring in my life is a Divine gift. It helped me to be present to what was surfacing and to work through it literally and figuratively.
This photograph in the foreground has represented different things to me at different times: forgiveness, anger, emotion. In this new context it represents God made flesh; Jesus' own righteous anger; and God's compassion for my own feelings.
I may be a long way from my religious context growing up, but finding and connecting with Jesus in prayer through making art feels like I've come home.
What do you think of icons? How has my story impacted your perception?
Throughout my life I've experienced different kinds and intensities of pain, some quick and intense (like the time I broke my collar bone falling out of bed), others less sharp and long-term (like growing up with anxiety). Some bones required finger splints, or collar bone straps; others hurts needed longer-term assistance to overcome the disadvantages of Dyslexia. So when I survey where I am today, and the experiences that led me here, I see the lasting impact of these various times in my life. I've been shaped by my longings and losses.
As a Christian I have this tendency to want to redeem things before Jesus has done the work. I can get uncomfortable with the grieving, mourning, and weeping of the difficult experiences I encounter. I tend to want to handle these losses with my intelligence, will power, strength, and perseverance to help me carry on. Something about standing around in the hurt can make me twitchy if I stand there alone for too long.
But I'm learning that Jesus invites me to journey with him through my pain. Not around it, or above it. Right through the mucky middle of it. He weeps with me in it. He grieves with me. He's not very twitchy about sitting with me in the midst of loss, whether it be physical, relational, or emotional.
When I try to skip past this part of his "with-ness" I miss his comfort; I miss the opportunity to allow my tears to make room for healing. Jesus invites me to sit with him and grieve. When I feel heard, or comforted, I feel known. And this often leaves me with a sense of courage or hope. I feel like I can stand up and carry on from a deeper place of wholeness when I've grieved through my pain, and let it inevitably change me.
I Wonder... What would it look like...