Monday, December 7, 2009
I thought about this because of a recent experience where I witnessed a leader of an organization “tell” rather than “show.” He was in the middle of bantering about something when he went to great lengths to tell those listening about how committed he is to the organization. Those who bought his defense clapped with enthusiasm, demonstrating approval at his commitment. I, instead, felt suspicious.
This leader’s effort to convince his followers of his devout loyalty to them came off more like telling rather than showing. Telling is indicative of the false self—the self that works hard to convince others of its value and virtues. Our false self is “self-referencing,” as Robert Mulholland suggests. Everything is about it. The false self goes to great pains to prove itself.
The true self, on the other hand, “shows.” Who we are and what we are about becomes evident in the way we live. We don’t need to prove it with our words. When we live from our true self in Christ, we are so deeply connected in love to Christ that our need to confirm to others that we have value or competence is gone.
If you want to know whether you are living from your true self or false self, pay attention to whether you “show” or “tell.”
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The Wisdom of the Great Horned Owl
Today, the last day of our 30 Days of Seeing, I hit the jackpot! God knows that if he wants to bring me absolute delight all he has to do is let me encounter some cool creature of his within nature. So, this morning, about 7 am, he gave me a great gift! I opened the back door to let Bongo out. It was barely twilight, the morning light still dim. Through the trees in our back yard, I spotted movement—large, broad wings of a bird landing on the limb of a tree.
My first guess was an owl, but I questioned my judgement. I have never seen an owl during the day light hours—only after dark. I took a long, steady look and felt pretty convinced that what I saw had to be a Great Horned owl. I quickly and quietly closed the door, headed for the kitchen, turned out the lights and searched for a better view. There she was, statuesque on a limb, looking huge like a big cat in a tree. (I don’t actually know if it was a male or female--so I'll just say she.)
David came down stairs and together, with binoculars, we watched this wonderful, awesome creature as she preened herself, rotated her head practically 360 degrees, and slept. You want to know another amazing thing? She is still on the same limb! Hasn’t moved all day. Nearly twelve hours later, this archetype of wisdom is perched on the same tree limb upon which she landed when I saw her this morning.
I’ve watched her on and off all day. And, as I often do when I encounter a wonder of nature, I asked God to speak to me through her, to teach me through her. So, here is what I gathered from my day of seeing this rare and wondrous sight:
- Wisdom comes from deliberate rest and keen observation.
- Don’t be too quick to move from where you have landed before you’ve taken in everything there is to see and learn.
- Be circumspect—look around you for life’s clues and opportunities.
Thank you, thank you, God, for owls—especially ones that show up in my backyard! What an exquisite way to end my 30 Days of Seeing experiment. My cup runneth over!
P.S. Brent Bill and I began these sensory experiments as part of our research for a book and workshop called The Art of Faith: Awakening Your Senses to the Wonder of God. We have agreed to wait until after the holidays to begin our next round—30 of Touching. We will keep you posted when we are ready to begin so that you can join us. Thanks to all who have kept this up, even if not every day, some of the days.
P.S.S. Oh, I just have to tell you—SHE’S HOOTING right now. I can hear her: hoot, hoot-hoot, hoooot, hoot. I have goose bumps!!
Friday, November 20, 2009
“The wind blows wherever it pleases….”
The sun came out today—a welcomed sight after a few days of rain and dull skies. I took a walk with a friend. At the end of our stroll, we sat on a raised platform, looking out over an expansive field of tall grasses. I scanned the scenery and watched the heads of grass move as the wind swirled between the strands. I noticed how only some of the grasses of the field moved at once. Small sections of stalks circled with the wind.
The sight reminded me of these words of Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going." (John 3:8) The Holy Spirit moves as she pleases. You sometimes see the evidence, the stirring, but there is still an element of mystery as to how the Spirit moves and works.
As I call to mind the tall grasses moving in the wind, I think about God's autonomy and mystery. That prompts me to sit back and watch, rather than try and figure out or manipulate the wind.
Where are you seeing the Spirit blow these days? Where are the grasses swirling?
Thursday, November 19, 2009
“Way leads to way.” Robert Frost
My friend, Ann, shared this quote with me several years ago. I have often quoted it to others and even to myself, especially when I am feeling lost. And that’s just how I have felt recently. I am in transition vocationally and seeking God earnestly. Even still, the path ahead isn’t clear. My vision can’t see beyond where I am. And that’s the “seeing” I am thoughtful about tonight.
As I think about this quote again, I find encouragement in it. It resonates with the way God has led me in the past. It’s often one connection that leads to another that opens the door of my destiny. So tonight, as I get ready for bed, I entrust myself to God and reaffirm that “way leads to way” and one way or another, God will lead me.
What does “way leads to way” mean to you? How have you seen that to be true?
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
We are nearing the end of 30 Days of Seeing and I have a confession to make. This has been harder than I expected. It hasn’t been easy each day to single out a profound or instructive sight. I think it's because I use my sight all day and consequently, I don’t always isolate my vision and really look at something with earnest. Continual use wears down my sensitivity to the unique, subtle and notable.
The days that I am intentional and choose to look at something, I am more successful in being aware of God through the sense of sight and what I see. Otherwise, a whole day can go by and I look back and don’t recall a single moment when I “looked”—really “looked.” I will have seen a lot, but nothing truly registered as significant.
The best part of today’s experiment was seeing my grandson, Eli. I laid him on a blanket on the floor and lay next to him while we made faces. Yes, I cooed all those grandma sounds and Eli cooed back. I loved watching him kick his legs, gyrate his arms and form his mouth in a circle trying to vocalize. I studied his face to know it better and he studied mine. I told him that I would be there for him to help him grow up and become a big boy. He gave me the raspberries in return.
Even though this experiment with seeing has had its challenges, you wouldn't know it when I look at Eli. When I am with him, it’s almost impossible for me to stop looking at him. When I do, all the rest of life fades into the background and becomes a blur.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
“…. a failure of imagination.” Cate Blanchett
Today, on my way to have lunch with a friend, I tuned in to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. She often has intriguing guests and today was no exception. Diane interviewed actor Cate Blanchett who is currently starring in the play, A Street Car Called Desire, at the Kennedy Center.
Cate not only is an extraordinary actor (second only to Meryl Streep, in my humble opinion), she has also become an activist in raising concern over climate change and the need to develop alternative forms of energy. Diane asked how and why she became involved with this issue, especially in light of living such a busy and successful life. Cate responded by saying that as much as she loves acting, it becomes “irrelevant” very quickly. She explained that her involvement with this very pressing environmental issue helps her stay grounded.
She spoke about the impact of climate change, particularly in her native country of Australia, where residents no longer have to wonder if there really is such a thing. In a moment of chastisement, Blanchett suggested that the situation we are in is obviously a failure of leadership, but also a failure of imagination.
A failure of imagination, Cate explained, is the mistake of not seeing into the future and projecting where we will be if we continue to rely on oil as our main source of energy. A failure of imagination is also the absence of forward thinking and the development of viable alternatives for energy.
Imagination is a form of “seeing,” and so today, I want to write about what it means to experience a “failure of imagination” related to our own lives. When we use our imagination, we are dreaming into the future and that helps us set our direction.
To avoid a failure of imagination, we must ask ourselves some pointed questions. Here are a few to ponder:
- “If I continue on the same spiritual trajectory I am on today, will I end up where I want to be?”
- “Am I relying too heavily or exclusively on one spiritual resource (like my pastor’s sermons, involvement in church or a certain Bible Study) in order to sustain me?”
- “What additional resources do I need to develop in order to nurture my spiritual life for the long haul?”
Monday, November 16, 2009
Trapped away in small places for years upon years.
Pressed down and transformed,
‘til the true self was born….”
(Lyrics by singer/songwriter, Carrie Newcomer, from her song, Geodes.)
Today, I spent all day at home cleaning—a necessity after being gone two weekends in a row. As often happens, I felt the common “let down” following a conference where I speak. I expend so much energy and give all I have. So, when I come home, I often feel a little exhausted and empty.
As I was vacuuming and dusting, I plugged in the earphones to my iPod and listened to music. One of the songs I played was Carrie Newcomer’s, called Geodes. I heard the above line while simultaneously dusting the geodes on our mantle. David and I love geodes because they remind us of the ones we used to find in the creek beds at his grandparent’s property.
I “saw” and “heard” in concert the message of her song; that geodes contain pockets of tears and crystallize into beautiful formations at the core of their being. I thought about the sadness and melancholy I felt today and wondered how it might be “pressed down and transformed ‘til my true self is born.” I felt encouraged to embrace my depressed emotions and wondered how God might turn them into something beautiful and good within the core of me.
Think about it: What tears have been transformed in you?
Sunday, November 15, 2009
I just returned from speaking at a retreat in Hunt Valley, Maryland. It was held at a beautiful resort that was encompassed by a stunning golf course. During the afternoon session, I looked out a large window of the room where we met and absorbed the beauty of the greens of the course and surrounding landscape. The trees hedging it were tinged with drab colors of late autumn. The fairway was still vibrant even though the day was gray and cloudy. A light, cool rain was falling in a mist.
As I stretched my vision to take it all in a flutter of movement intercepted my sight. I focused on what was a stark contrast to the natural hues of the scenery--a large, black and white umbrella protruding through the shrubs. A golfer emerged, pushing his cart with umbrella overhead, protecting him from the clinging drizzle.
There he was--a man, following his passion in spite of adverse conditions. I wondered what inspired him to go out on such a dismal day, all by himself, to play a few holes. I felt happy for him that he had enough zeal to press through the inclement weather and do what brought him life. I had a feeling he was having a great game.
Mr. Golfer made me think about my own passions, what I am willing to go out in the rain to do. What I love enough to do even if I get cold and wet and have to go alone. That was the picture I have framed in my mind as I continue my 30 Days of Seeing and the questions that I am left to ponder.
I had a wonderful time at the retreat. I met some delightful women and felt like I offered my very best to them. I led them into some new territory--ways of experiencing Jesus that are not the conventional forms of engagement. I pray that they have experienced a fresh desire to seek the face of Jesus.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
This weekend, I return to Maryland for another conference--this time, at Hunt Valley Church. I feel a special fondness for this community. One year ago, I was supposed to speak at their event and had to cancel. (Something I have never had to do before.) I had an unplanned but very necessary back surgery. So, I’ve been granted a “do over” and am really looking forward to meeting these women who prayed for me and were very gracious to me while I was down for the count! As I travel, I will continue my “seeing” experiment and write about it when I return. As always, I am so grateful for your prayers!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I was exercising this morning, paddling along on my elliptical next to a window on the back of my house. As I looked down into the back yard, I soon became distracted by the dirty window and screen. It wasn’t that I couldn’t see at all, it was that I couldn’t see with clarity. The smudges of dust and debris created a film through which I viewed my world.
Of course, I often see life through a soiled and distorted lens. Sometimes the cause is my own self-centeredness. I am so focused on me that I can’t see beyond me. Sometimes the cause is the distorted way I see God and understand him and how he works in the world. I think if he would get involved, life would become problem-free and effortless.
So, what film is covering the lens through which I see God today? What smudges are distracting me and causing me to focus on them rather than on the real beauty and opportunities before me?
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Today, not far from my home, I saw a column of Bradford Pear trees lining a driveway. These particular trees lose their leaves late in autumn, so the sequence of several colorful spires made quite a splash against the gray sky. If there had only been one, it might have gone unnoticed. But the procession of them is what caught my eye.
I know the gardening principle that if you really want to make a statement, plant the same flowers, bushes or shrubs in a cluster. The heavier the concentration, the more dramatic the effect. Repeating patterns are far more eye catching than single articles.
Have you ever noticed God speaking to you through repeating patterns? You keep hearing the same phrase, verse of Scripture, or spiritual anecdote several times in a brief period. By the third or fourth time, you are ready to sit up and take notice.
I believe God often communicates his thoughts to us through repeating patterns. Once, in a few month period of time, I heard four or five people refer to the same, somewhat obscure verse of Scripture—one that I had been meditating on. After a few times, I felt certain that I needed to listen keenly to what God had to say to me through this passage.
Think through the last few weeks and months. Have you noticed any repeating patterns through which God might be speaking to you? If you journal, read back over the last few months and look for repeating patterns of thought or insight. If you identify a pattern, take time to ask God if there is anything he wants to reveal to you through it.
Monday, November 9, 2009
I left early Friday morning to fly to Baltimore, Maryland to speak at a women’s retreat. I returned late last night and have accomplished the two highest priorities on my to do list: unpacking my suitcase and taking a nap! Without a doubt, as I think over these last few days of seeing, I am most aware of all the very interesting, unique, and (in a few cases) “quirky” people I saw.
Airports are a great place to people watch. I found myself staring a few times as I noticed the vast array of “kinds” of people. People with tattoos and piercings. People wearing lots of bling. People in business attire and others in workout clothes. People bundled up and others scantily dressed. Large people and small people. Black, brown, yellow, pink, and olive skinned people. The airport was an enormous punch bowl of colorful people!
When I arrived at the retreat, I eyed a room full of women-people. All new friends to me, the women of CrossRoads Community Church were also a unique bunch. Older and younger. Moms and daughters. Talkative and shy. Jovial and heavy-hearted. I saw them listen with incredible attentiveness. I saw them open their hearts to God and to me. I saw them eagerly share themselves with each other. Beautiful women, each budding into lovely, feminine flowers of God.
Finally, I saw my seatmates on the airplane and engaged in lively conversation with four interesting people. On my way, I sat with a sweet young couple from Wisconsin. Within two minutes, we discovered our mutual faith in Jesus. They told me how they began their spiritual journey through getting involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on their college campus. (I beamed with delight because my son, Brandt, is on staff with InterVarsity!) They told me how they have just embarked on an adventure of transforming his parent’s dairy farm into a vegetable farm, growing a supply of local vegetables for their community. I was impressed with their ingenuity and resolve.
On the first leg of my flight back, I sat with a talkative red head also from Wisconsin. She is heavily involved as a volunteer with foreign exchange students. Her two daughters are currently exchange students—one in Egypt and the other in Thailand. She, her husband and her son are hosting an exchange student from Kenya. What a rich and fascinating life! Finally, I set next to a vivacious women, obviously business savvy and full of energy. She works in marketing. We talked around the block--visiting topics like her hometown (Richmond, VA), books, marketing, her trip to Egypt, world religions, art and faith. She was absolutely delightful!
I am struck, as I revisit my sightings over the past weekend, at the diversity of interesting people in the world. Everyone seems to be on a journey of discovering who he or she is and how to become that person. Each individual appears to be giving birth to their unique, authentic self, some expressing that self flamboyantly and others in subtly nuanced ways. I enjoy people. As I walked through the airport and watched some more, I thought to myself, I am a part of these fellow humans and they are a part of me. Every one of them has something beautiful to reveal about the God in whose image they were made.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Sleeping Like a Baby
I am babysitting Eli, my seven-week-old grandson. He’s asleep in his crib, strategically placed in my office where I can write and keep my eye on him. So—is there anything sweeter than a sleeping baby?
He is lying on his back with his arms spread wide next to his head. His little chest rises and falls steadily and rhythmically. His body is limp, resting its full weight upon the mattress. He is the quintessence of the expression, “sleeping like a baby.”
I see him and am struck with the beauty of his tranquil body. I wonder when I ever feel that peaceful. As he drifts off to sleep, all the cares of his little world—a full tummy and clean diaper—float away. I wish that I could experience such a serenity.
My heart longs for the rest that Eli exhibits; to become childlike and trusting, to let go of all care, to consent to sleep as though entering a soft cocoon of bliss. What do I do to find this respite and peace? How can I cultivate a tranquility that mimics “sleeping like a baby”?
Psalm 131: 1- 2 in The Message suggests,
God, I'm not trying to rule the roost,
I don't want to be king of the mountain.
I’ve kept my feet on the ground,
- What weight am I taking on that is beyond my control?
- What does it mean for me to stay grounded (keep my feet on the ground)?
- What helps me quiet my heart?
- What practices might I try before I fall asleep that will help me “sleep like a baby?”
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Today, Bongo (my favorite dog in the whole world), went with me to run errands. I stopped by Trader Joe’s to pick up a few things. When I returned, there he was in his usual spot. He had crawled up on the ledge behind the back seat with his face pressed toward the glass, awaiting my return.
As I walked toward the car, I saw him in the window and he saw me. Instantly, I felt our bond of affection. There were other people walking through the parking lot, but Bongo’s attention was fixed on me and mine on him.
This is the most vivid image I saw today in my 30 Days of Seeing--Bongo watching for me. It’s a marvelous thing to have a dog who looks for my return. His devotion and delight exhibit the profound relationship we have with one another. I feel joy when I see him.
Who or what in your life brings you joy the moment you see them?
Monday, November 2, 2009
I was sitting at the kitchen table late in the afternoon as the daylight edged into twilight. The lighting of the day appeared as if it were a giant, suspended lamp illuminating everything underneath. It shed a luminous shadow over my backyard—all the trees, bushes and plants sparkled. At that moment, the light was perfect; magical and enthralling.
Do you have a favorite time of day? A time when the light is just right? Light really contributes to ambiance. It sets a mood, it creates an atmosphere. I have always loved the light of candles—love to turn off the lights and just have candles lit or a fire in the fireplace. The effect is so warm and romantic.
Today, as you go about your life, pay attention to the daylight. Ask yourself, “What is my favorite time of the day?” Once you identify it, make sure you stop and notice the way the light feels. As you do, let it remind you of being washed in the light of God. Sit and soak it all in.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
The word reflection can be used both literally and figuratively. I can see a reflection; I can be a reflection; and I can use reflection to think through something. Well, tonight, I saw a reflection in the most literal and magnificent sense of the word!
Right around dusk, David and I took a walk in a nature area near our home. As we turned on the path that led beside a lake, he immediately noticed the glass-like surface of the water reflecting the trees and moon. We continued and saw the above scene, with the rouge of sunset powdering the sky and reflecting through the clouds and trees onto the water. It was as though we saw double—one dazzling image a mirror reflection of the other.
What causes a reflection? I had a vague idea but decided to find out for sure. I discovered that the phenomenon we witnessed is called the law of reflection. Light rays from the sun angled down through the clouds and trees (the angle of incidence) and reflected off the lake at the same angle (the angle of reflection) producing a mirror image of the objects being reflected.
The trees did not reflect themselves. The light rays of the sun off the surface of the lake reflected them. So, I asked myself, "How is God speaking to me through this?" What strikes a chord for me is the realization that I can’t be a reflection of Jesus on my own. I need his light, shining through my life (the angle of incidence) to be reflected off me (angle of reflection). This insight gives II Corinthians 3:18 more meaning:
“We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Here is a question for spiritual direction: How can I expose myself (position myself) to the light of Christ so that I reflect him?
Saturday, October 31, 2009
I spent my childhood and teenage years growing up on the south side of Indianapolis in an area called Southport. My in-laws still live there and today we drove down to have lunch. All the kids joined us—a wonderful and rare treat!
As we traveled along Southport Road, I noticed familiar houses, ones that I looked at as a child and thought were especially pretty. As we came to the center of town, I saw the tiny building that used to be the post office—a one room, two window post office. And did I mention that my Aunt Edie was the Post Master? She lived around the corner in a duplex with a cobble stone fence on one side of her yard and honeysuckle bushes growing along it. (By the way, the name of the street was Shirt Tail Bend. I thought you’d like to know that.)
We crossed over the railroad tracks, one’s I used to walk on with my brothers and saw the building where my dad worked most of his life, Davidson Lumber Company. I nudged David as we passed the Dairy Queen, recalling the many times we frequented there when we were high school friends. (He liked some kind of blackberry milkshake but I can’t remember the exact name.)
Further on, I saw my grade school, Homecroft Elementary. The apartments to the east have been renovated but the house to the west looks much the same. A family named the Reeves lived there. They used to run a concession stand out of their yard during little league baseball games.
As we drove along, I saw familiar sights everywhere I looked—memories that have been stored deep down inside me, leaving an indelible imprint. Details that I didn’t even know I had remembered. It’s strange, in a way, that I remember so many ordinary, insignificant particulars from my childhood. It’s not as if I tried.
Our trip today caused me to think about the powerful ability of sight. Without being conscious, it took snapshots of my life and tucked them away in an album somewhere in the recesses of my mind. When I saw the same images again, my brain pulled the originals out of the album and I suddenly thought, “I remember that!” That’s really quite incredible, isn’t it? (This also makes me thoughtful about how hard it is to heal from traumatic memories.)
Here's a question for spiritual direction: what did you see today that brought back a memory? How might God be speaking to you through this memory?
Friday, October 30, 2009
I did something tonight that I haven’t done in a long time. I played pool! David and I met our oldest daughter, Britt, for dinner. We played three games of pool--none of which I won. I did get several balls in the pocket though--a feat that I didn't expect!
While we were playing, Britt (who loves games!) mentioned that she has discovered it's better not to focus on the cue ball but the ball you are trying to get in the pocket. I tried her tactic and found it really worked! When I hit the cue ball with the stick, I focused on the ball I wanted to strike, and….well, a few times I was actually successful.
It is interesting how sometimes it works better not to focus on the immediate but the ultimate—not what's in your way but what you want to happen. As I was pondering this, I thought about the goal of spiritual formation. As I understand it, it's to develop and express the character of Christ through my own unique personhood. So, if that is the goal, the "eight ball in the pocket," is that what I typically focus on?
Far too often, I focus on the cue ball—that which gets in the way of me becoming my true self in Christ. I get preoccupied with all of my stuff. I focus on trying to reform my bad habits and character deficiencies instead of keeping my eye on the ball of who I am to become. I’m not saying that if I do that formation will come easily. Like with pool, it takes lots of intention and practice. But I do believe it happens best by keeping my eye on the eight ball!
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I’m sitting on the floor next to my six-week old grandson, Elias. He is sleeping, his arms stretched beside his head, hands in gentle clasps. The only movement he’s making is the rhythmic sucking of his pacifier. He looks completely relaxed, in a state of sublime repose.
His face is so sweet and pure, his skin, milky and clear. From the nose up he looks like daddy. From the mouth down, mommy. On either side of his perfect pucker are two small dimples. I think I could stare at him all day long.
As I look at him, (he’s starting to wake up, wiggle and fuss now), I see a little baby full of boyishness and life. I know him—his face and features—though I feel like I don’t yet know him. I can’t see inside him to know the little boy he is and the one he will grow into. Right now, I’m content to know what I do. I know he’s a miracle.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I see the moon
The moon sees me
God bless the moon
And God bless me
I read this poem years ago in one of our many children’s books. It reminds me of when I was a little girl and looked up into the night sky. Though I had very little exposure to ideas of God, I would gaze up into the starlit sky and feel as though Someone was looking back.
Throughout my life, I have always felt the presence of God when I looked toward the heavens. Especially at night. The last couple of nights I have noticed the moon. Its luminous globe has drawn my focus, magically suspended against the black curtain of evening sky.
Tonight a scarf of clouds enshrouds the moon. I can see it, know it’s there, but it’s playing hide and seek. That’s a bit of how today has felt—clouded over, the clarity of God’s presence and purpose harder to spot. I have days like this now and again. So, I just walked outside and looked up into the night sky. I was comforted. I still feel as though Someone is looking back.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Today, on my walk through a wooded neighborhood near our home, I feasted once again on the vivacious colors of autumn leaves—some still courageously hanging on while others have fallen in thick layers to the ground. As I walked, I began to notice a number of trees whose leaves had vacated one side of the tree but were in full festive dress on the other. I don’t know why for sure, but my instincts suggest that the ones most exposed to the wind and rains are the ones that fall first.
I also observed how some trees feverishly hang on to their leaves to the end. They clasp tight their foliage, many of it still green, and wait out the cooler days and even cooler nights until it becomes no use. Yet, their neighboring trees are practically bare—branches naked and empty handed, striking an upward pose as though gesturing their acceptance of the changing of seasons, the coming of winter.
At first, I was drawn to the trees that seem stubborn with pride, grasping their foliage with a tight fist. Then I thought more about the trees that relax their grip and give up the ghost more easily. They seem to accept the inevitable without fear or trepidation. They understand the changing of the season—don't see the change as a threat. They know that each new era has its purpose in the cycle of life. Winter isn’t to be feared. Though dormant, the new growth of the previous year will have time to solidify. There is confidence that spring will come again.
I guess you could say that I’m in the early fall of my life. I’m 53 and aware of the subtle changes of mid-life. Inside, I still feel 23 and have lots of energy and desire to be productive, engaged and make a difference in the world. But as the seasons progress, will I amiably give up my leaves, whatever that represents? Will I accept the winter of life as a time to solidify inner growth? Will I be graceful with each season’s change? I hope so.
So, what did you see today?
Monday, October 26, 2009
Sacred Spain—a traveling exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art
David and I had the delight of viewing this amazing exhibit yesterday. Not only was the art exquisite, the narrative on the walls was beautifully written and helped us appreciate this body of works that combine faith and art with such powerful emotion and profound depth. Here is an excerpt from one of the descriptions:
“One of the most important justifications for the use of images in religious practice lies in their capacity to excite empathy and move the viewer to contemplation of God. That Spanish art so often gives us the divine in terms that are both palpable and immediate underscores the role of the senses in engaging and intensifying emotional response.”
Indeed, this exhibit certainly moved me emotionally. In one room devoted to images of Christ’s passion lay a life-size sculpture of Jesus after he had been crucified. As I walked around the perimeter of his body, noting the deep gouges in his limbs from the spikes, his shoulders torn from their sockets and his knees scraped from falling, I grasped his torment in a more real way. As I studied his solitary figure in each of the paintings, I was overwhelmed by his loneliness. In one final image of Jesus after he had been scourged, the artist depicted a pathetic Jesus bending over and picking up his garments. I can’t describe the sorrow I felt, even still feel, as I remember him.
What I appreciate about contemplating art is how long it stays with me. Even today, I can recall the sculpture and a few of the images and feel the emotion of them. As I do, my sense of Jesus intensifies and my gratitude for what he has done for me.
If you live in Indy or close by, I encourage you to make sure and visit this exhibit. And another thing—it’s free!
Sunday, October 25, 2009
I traveled to Bloomington, Illinois this weekend to speak at a women’s conference at CrossWinds Community Church. I saw a lot in my going and coming and have had a hard time deciding which sight to describe. I met many gracious, gifted and good-hearted women, but one visual memory keeps niggling me.
I arrived at CrossWinds around 4 pm on Friday. They purchased and occupied an old, vacated church building in downtown Bloomington about a year ago. It was a one hundred year old Methodist church with the architecture indicative of its time— gorgeous stain glass windows, dark wood trim and matching pews with rounded backs arranged in semi-circles, creating an unusually cozy feeling.
CrossWinds left much of the original sanctuary but then added the elements of contemporary culture—a large arced frame overhead that housed stage and spot lights and several LCD’s, as well as a expansive screen on the center wall. The platform was divided between the worship band on the left and the backdrop for Kid’s Stuff, a family service, on the right. (It kind of reminded me of the set from Sesame Street.)
I found myself studying the combination of elements—old and new, traditional and contemporary, sacred and theatrical—and tried to wrap my mind around them. Honestly, the mixture was all a bit awkward. Please don't hear that as a criticism. CrossWinds eclectic sanctuary is symbolic of our time as the church decides what we bring with us from the past and what we leave behind; what we retain of sacred space and practices and what we innovate; what we keep from historical Christian tradition and what new expressions we offer to attract people of today.
Of all that I saw this weekend, I have thought more about the sanctuary at CrossWinds and it’s emblematic statement of the discomfited and transitional times we are in as the church. We don't know how to be in our culture--one that is increasingly secular and which views Christianity as largely irrelevant. We are trying everything we can think of to become a legitimate attraction. Here's a thought: what if we put more energy and focus on moving into the world instead of trying to get the world to come to us?
Friday, October 23, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
So, what did you see today? If you live in the Midwest, I wonder if you saw stunningly gorgeous fall foliage like I did. As I walked and drove, I found myself oohing and aahing over the golden yellows, burnt oranges and scarlet reds of autumn. Today, I also discovered another principle of seeing--it isn't what you see, but what you don't see that often trips you up.
That’s where I found myself today. Though I saw some spectacular sights, and was very intent on looking, it was something I didn’t see that literally tripped me up. This morning, I headed for Ritchie Woods for a walk with Bongo. It’s a park in Fishers where I live and is densely wooded and hilly. This time of year, it is absolutely magical.
I headed into the woods, clipping along at a quick pace, immersed in my sensory exercise of seeing, when all of a sudden I went sprawling toward the ground! I barely broke my fall; hit the ground with my knees, then my hands, then my left shoulder and lastly my chin. (At least I didn’t eat dirt!) I couldn’t believe it. The culprit that caused my tumble was more than likely a tree root. I was so busy seeing, I didn’t notice the unseen and the rest is history.
No significant harm was done, though my shoulders are starting to feel sore from absorbing much of the jolt. I continued my walk, grateful, at least, that I didn’t have an audience to observe my acrobatics and add the additional injury of embarrassment. As the experience settled within me, I realized a familiar disappointment surface--the sense that I can never completely let go and lose myself in something, without the fear that if I do, life might come along and whack me upside the head!
Do you know what I mean? Are you ever afraid to really enjoy life for fear that if you do something bad will happen? I confess that I live with some of that wariness—an uneasy, gnawing concern that I better not let down my guard completely or I will become vulnerable and unprepared for the next round of misfortune.
Is that a lack of faith in God or just being realistic and prudent. I'm not sure. Either way, I'm continuing this experiment a little more watchful for not only what I can see but what I might be missing.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The longer you look at something, the more you see. This is one of the principles I have discovered with seeing. As I review my day of seeing, the image that takes the prize is the image of which I took the longest look. David painted it this morning. He enjoys visual journaling as a way of praying and helping him process his life. This morning, he painted this vibrant image to the left. During breakfast, we looked at it and talked about its meaning.
As I studied it, really looked at it, a compelling symbol of our marriage emerged. If you notice the blue stream on the right side, it looks like two streams that have converged, their outsides asymmetrical, following their own distinctive paths, while the insides pool together as one. In the same way, David and I live individual lives, yet we seek to maintain our relational connection, our shared union. That’s important to us and something we really value.
The longer I looked at this image, the more I saw and the more it spoke to me about our relationship. That's the beauty of an image--it says things that we sometimes can’t find words to express. Images capture and confirm what we know to be true and speak to us in vivid, insightful language. Best of all, they stick with us. They stoke our minds and nourish us again and again.
If you are married, why not discover an image that captures the substance and unique nuance of your relationship:
- Take some time to be still, quiet your mind, and center yourself in God.
- Ask God to impress an image on your mind that symbolizes your marriage.
- Don’t “think” the image; imagine it, using your right brain to conceive it.
- Once a basic idea comes to mind, draw it on a sheet of paper.
- Ask yourself these questions: How does this image speak to you about your marriage? About your values as a couple? How does it strengthen the core of your marriage?
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
If you are new to “30 Days of,” let me catch you up. Brent Bill and I are collaborating on a workshop and book entitled The Art of Faith: Awakening Your Senses to the Wonder of God. Last month, we offered our first Art of Faith workshop, with several others schedule for 2010. (See website for details.) We also began an experiment, 30 Days of Tasting, where we isolated the sense of taste and paid attention to how it helped us experience more of God and life.
So, today, October 20, we begin our second “30 Days of” by focusing on the sense of sight. Just a little background. When we focus on one of our senses, like seeing, that sense immediately connects us to the present moment. We become attentive to what we see and that intention unlocks the panorama of life before us and our awareness of the One who created it and lives in it.
With sight, I anticipate some challenges that didn’t present during our taste experiment. I see all the time—except when I’m asleep. I use my sight constantly, unlike taste that lies largely dormant between meals. As I isolate my vision from my other senses, the kind of looking I do must be different from my general seeing. Like a “Where’s Waldo” picture puzzle, I am scanning my surroundings to notice the unusual, the different, the meaningful.
Here’s an example: Yesterday, I took a walk and began to strengthen my “seeing” quotient. As I strolled along the path, I tried to take in a wide-angle view of things. When something glimmered or popped, I stopped and looked. That’s when I saw this unusual rock.
The path was laden with lots of small, rounded, light colored pebbles that crushed beneath my feet. Then suddenly, my vision picked up a glistening, foliated, black rock with sharp cleavage. (It’s a geology term—I promise.) I stooped, picked it up and examined it. I liked it because it stood out among the sameness of the other rocks. I liked it because it had personality—clean, dramatic angles and sparkle. It made a statement.
Quite naturally, my thoughts turned toward my interest in spiritual formation. The black rock made me think about what real transformation looks like. Though the light-colored pebbles have been worn and weathered—formed in one sense of the word—they have lost their unique distinctive and attributes. But God’s longing is that we grow into the person he created us to be and hold onto what makes us a unique individual—even one who has some sharp edges.
Some questions bubble up as I ponder the rock: Are there ways that I “conform” because I am afraid to standout? What has crushed or molded me (formed me) but not necessarily helped me become my true self? In what ways do I conceal my strength, my defined and muscular edges?
Pay attention to seeing and let me know what you discover!
Saturday, October 17, 2009
This is it! The final day of our 30 Days of Tasting! But stay tuned—Brent Bill and I are inviting you to join us in our next sensory experience, beginning 10/20—30 Days of Seeing. I will write more about this in the next day or two.
As I look back over this experiment, it has been a wonderful exercise in becoming more aware of God through my sense of taste. Taste is a unique sense. It involves more than perception—it also entails ingestion. What we take in with our sense of taste doesn’t stay outside us but is received into our bodies for the purpose of nourishing our bodies so that we can work, play, love and be.
In the same way, as we taste the goodness of God and draw near to his presence, it isn’t an end in itself. Drawing close to God is the sweetest, most satisfying union of all. The impact of that bond is not merely to encounter Jesus. It’s so that we are transformed to become the person he created us to be and live an authentic life of love toward others.
I resonate with the way Robert Mulholland describes the outcome when we root ourselves in God. In his book, The Deeper Journey, Mulholland writes, “The root of our new nature is a radical abandonment to God in love in the depths of our heart, and the fruit is a radical availability to God for others.” As we taste God in our world and become more aware of his presence, we become available to be moved by God toward others and the meaningful work he has called us to do.
I can look back over the last 30 days and see how my greater attentiveness to God has inspired movement. He prompted me to initiate with an old friend whose life is in turmoil. In a conversation with a stranger, I was aware of loving her and interested to share my own spiritual story. As I went about my day, I prayed more frequent prayers of availability to God, asking him what he wanted of me. It really did help me live closer to God by isolating the sense of taste.
At this point in my 30-year journey with Christ, my greatest longing is to live consistently from my true self in him. I am far from being consistent. But I know that life becomes an adventure when I live in God for the sake of the world. When I do, I am living the life for which I was created.
I hope you will you join us, beginning Tuesday, October 20 for our 30 Days of Seeing. It just might be the adventure you have been looking for!
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Tasting Another’s Tears
As I review the tastes of my day, though I had a pretty terrific salad for lunch—poached pear and chicken—the flavor of conversation at lunch was even better. I met with the daughter of my friend, Laurie, who passed away from cancer at the end of August. We had such a sweet time and it was good for me to be able to talk with Liz about her mom.
There were moments in the conversation when one or the other of us would tear up from a memory of Laurie or just the ache of missing her. When Liz’s beautiful eyes would puddle over, I felt invited to taste her tears, to enter into her grief just a bit and understand what it is like for her to live without her mom.
I suppose the word that best describes this experience is empathy—the experience of tasting another’s tears or pain. When we empathize, we take in to ourselves the grief or hurt another is feeling, like taking in food that we taste. It enters us and we absorb it into our bodies.
I remember a few years ago, falling asleep with tears streaming down the sides of my face because of my own cancer scare. I layed there in the dark crying as I thought about what it would be like for David and the kids if I died. The next morning, I read Psalm 56:8, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle.You have recorded each one in your book.”
Why would God collect our tears in a bottle? To remember them. To taste them as he enters into our grief with us. Because we matter to him and so what hurts us matters to him. What is it like for you to imagine him tasting your tears?
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
While I was making dinner, I suddenly lost my appetite. I was browning pork chops and went to the pantry to retrieve some brown rice. As I grabbed the bag, I heard a few little grains fall to the floor. Then when I started to open it, I made an unpleasant discovery—a small hole in the corner. I knew the culprit immediately. A mouse!
That’s when I lost my appetite. My stomach tightened and all of sudden nothing sounded good. Though I finished preparing dinner and ate it, it didn’t really taste so great. Some how the thought of a gross, dirty, little rodent crawling around my food just took away any interest in eating.
What is it that makes me lose my spiritual appetite? What spoils my desire for God and the motivation to keep tasting his goodness? Here are a few things that come to mind:
- Self-righteous, domineering, condescending Christians turn my spiritual appetite sour. I have had experience with some folks that fit that description. My encounters with them sometimes make it hard to be a Christian.
- When life feels unfair, I wonder where God is and why he isn’t more demonstrative. It can be hard to separate God from life—but they are not one in the same. Times when he/life lets me down, I tune him out.
- Fatigue makes me lose my appetite for God. When I get extremely tired and overwhelmed, I become weary of spiritual things. I just want to take a vacation from seeking after God.
- When I am full to the gullet with words and information, I want to turn off my spiritual receptors and put on my spiritual screen saver. Wah wah wah wah waaaah!
- When I perceive that God has let me down, I shut down, sulking because life hasn’t gone the way I think it should. No amount of reasoning helps. I tend to pull back and hope that God notices and comes looking for me.
Well, that’s my honest list. What about you? What steals your spiritual appetite and makes your stomach knot? It might be good for you to put some words to what is holding you back.
Until tomorrow! Beth
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I spent the entire day with people—inside. When I got home and caught a whiff of the crisp, autumn air, my soul spoke up with longing to be taken on a walk. So, right after dinner, Bongo (our Australian Shepherd) and I drove to a wonderful nature trail near my home. I treated our walk like a fine meal, savoring each course that was placed before me.
First, the appetizer to my walk was a blue heron flying overhead. Most of you who know me know the significance of this bird. It is my favorite and whenever I see a blue heron, which I often do, I feel graced by the presence of God.
Next, to cleanse my palate, I felt the cool, damp air against my cheeks and hands. Dusk was on its way as the sun tucked behind the trees and yawned large, rosy streaks across the sky.
As I walked and because no one was around, I stuck my tongue out to see if I really could taste autumn. I took in the scent of the sweet, boggy wetland and the compost of decaying leaves.
The main course was served across the palette of autumn’s colors. My eyes feasted on the surrounding earthy hues accentuated by the brilliant red from an occasional burning bush and the vibrant red-orange clusters of sugar maples.
Best of all was dessert. As I walked toward the car along a corridor of trees with marshy fields on either side, I heard a clacking sound. I stooped low and looked across the field. There, only 200 yards away, were two bucks striking their antlers together. I held my breath, drinking in their curious antics.
Yes, you can taste autumn.
Monday, October 12, 2009
What is it that makes the taste of certain foods linger in your mouth—foods like garlic, onions, char-grilled meat or coffee? Each of these foods has a strong, bold flavor. Yet, other foods, like cheese, wine, and tomato sauce have outgoing flavors, but they don’t stay with you as long.
Today, as I reflect on my tastes, I am most aware of the lingering taste of garlic. I met a friend for lunch at Puccini’s and had the daily special—a slice of pizza, salad and drink for seven bucks! As I was driving home, I became aware of the strong taste of garlic on my tongue. Even after brushing my teeth, the flavor still lingered. Even now, at about 7 PM, I can taste a hint of garlic.
Why does garlic stay with me? I’m not sure and my small amount of research has not provided a reliable answer. What I do know is that because this taste has lingered, I continue to remember the pizza, my friend and our conversation. Each time my brain notices the garlic my memory is jogged back to lunch.
As I ponder the way God speaks to me through this attribute of taste, I think about what causes my heart to linger with the taste of God. Meditation is what immediately comes to mind. When I meditate, it’s much like the experience of re-tasting lunch. You know what happens when a cow chews its cud. It chews grass, swallows it, regurgitates it and chews some more. It keeps re-tasting what it had for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
In the same way, when I meditate on a verse of Scripture or an image or metaphor that helps me live more consciously with God, I keep re-tasting it as I extract more and more meaning from it. Like the taste of garlic, the verse or image lingers, reminding me of its meaning and allowing me to be further nourished by it.
Here are some helps in keeping your focus when you meditate:
- Meditate on something that attracted your attention, even if you don't know why.
- Study it with all the concerted attention you can, paying attention to the details and any unusual way that God is speaking through it.
- Mull over the verse/image/metaphor repeatedly in your mind--like a rock tumbler tumbling rocks. Feel the meaning of the verse/image and let it sink in.
- Be mindful of it the rest of the day (or longer). As you have conversations, do chores, or drive in the car, picture living out what you are meditating on.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Perhaps the most basic seasoning used in cooking is salt. And it’s this commonplace, unglamorous flavor that caught my attention today, Day 25 of 30 Days of Tasting. I noticed it this morning when I was eating breakfast—bacon and eggs. Without contemplation, as I finished the last few bites of my egg and toast, I kept a small piece of bacon so that it was the finale of my breakfast masterpiece. I wanted to savor the taste of bacon. I wanted it to be the last taste left in my mouth.
Bacon has such enormous flavor—largely from the salt used to cure it. According to Wikipedia, “Bacon is a cured meat prepared from a pig. It is first cured in a brine or in a dry packing, both consisting largely of salt.” Salt is the most ordinary and plentiful condiment that when added to food, draws out the natural flavor and transforms it into a satisfying taste.
That immediately makes me think of what Jesus called those who follow him--"the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) He envisioned us as people with such robust flavor that we make other people’s mouth water. They want what we have. That’s because we are full of unique, dramatic flavor. We not only have character—we are characters! When we live from our true self in Christ, we become people with distinctive, winsome personalities who add spice to the world.
Jesus warned us not to become bland—to lose our flavor. One of the sure ways that will happen is if we live from a religious false self. That’s when, through arduous self-discipline, we simply conform our outward behavior to certain standards of conduct. Churches are filled with stunted, stilted individuals who have never tapped into the full-bodied flavor of their true selves in Christ.
I believe that the most powerful way we share Jesus with others isn’t through some slick tract, gimmick or shtick. It’s being the salt of the earth through being ourselves!
Saturday, October 10, 2009
It seems I am on the home stretch with 30 Days of Tasting. The purpose of this experiment has been to isolate the sense of taste, attend to it each day and see how this sense can lead us to experience more of God within our daily lives. As I reflect back on the time, I am convinced that our senses really can awaken us to the wonder of God.
Each time we pay attention to one or more of senses, we become conscious of the present. When we notice something, truly see it for what it is, we awaken to the present, to life, and to God who we can only experience in the present. The same with each of our senses.
So, today, as I reflect on the things I have tasted, and how they reveal God to me, here are a few that come to mind:
- Coffee: One of the sweetest things David does for me just about every day is bring me coffee in bed. (Yes, I’m spoiled.) My first taste of the day was the wonderful, smokey taste of coffee—an Italian roast, our favorite. I like mine with cream. I love waking up slowly and this ritual has become a lovely way for that to happen. Waking slowly to the day, to the loving kindness of my husband, makes me aware of God’s faithfulness—his mercies are new every morning.
- Buckwheat, blueberry pancakes: I like to make a “fun” breakfast on Saturdays. I always did when the kids were little and still like to for David and me. Breakfast might be my favorite meal of the day. I love grainy pancakes loaded with blueberries. We used Trader Joe’s aguave maple syrup—definitely yum! Both buckwheat and blueberries remind me of the goodness of the earth and how God created it to produce such a beautiful variety of foods to enjoy.
- A kiss: I tasted a sweet kiss from my husband today. Kisses are the best. I love when he kisses me with a real kiss. It makes me want more! Tasting a kiss awakens me to the gift of love, the gift of marriage and the gift of intimacy.
- Taco Bell: While running errands, we grabbed lunch at Taco Bell. I know, pretty lame. But sometimes fast food is just necessary! Tasting chalupas makes me glad for Saturdays, for sunshine and for simple pleasures.
- Oatmeal chocolate chip cookie: We came home and I had that chocolate craving I described early on in my experiment. Just happened to have some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that keep staring at me from the counter in my kitchen. Just one—I told myself. Cookies are my favorite dessert—next to molten chocolate cake! (See Day 24) Chocolate might be one of the strongest evidences that there is a God.
As you taste your way through the day, let each taste help you be present to life and open to God in each experience of tasting.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Last night, I died and went to heaven. Seriously. I tasted something so blissful and sublime that I am still dreaming of it this morning. (Too tired last night to write.) Our entire family was together (minus Brooke, our youngest, and including David's folks and two boyfriends). The occasion was to celebrate Brandt’s birthday. With ten people gathered around the table in our dining room, the conversation was loud, spirited and jovial, including teases directed at me, as always!
After we finished the meal, I served dessert, a recipe that I have made for everyone and knew Brandt particularly liked. It’s called Molten Chocolate Cake. Everyone had their own in a ramekin on a birthday plate. With coffee and red wine flowing, laughter and jabbing at an epic high, unexpectedly the room got quiet. A reverential hush ensued. Person after person became enraptured by this decadent ambrosia of chocolate fantasy. Moans of satisfaction reverberated. One after one, I heard, “Oh, Mom, this is fabulous.” “Really good, Beth.” “Wow, this is incredible.” I’m surprised I remember because, honestly, I was in my own “moment” with this creamy, oozy, semi-sweet chocolaty divine dessert.
This morning, as I relish the sheer delight of being a mother (and grandmother!) who revels in the joy of being with her gathered chicks, tasting a lusciously delicious dessert prepared with love for my son and our family—I’m grateful. I celebrate the extravagant God who thought to make chocolate! The sensual God who gave us the ability to taste and enjoy life! The relational God who created families and gave each a name! The gracious God who gave me my family to love and be loved by. Last night, I died and went to heaven. And this morning, I continue to revisit the memory!
PS. Here's the recipe!
Molten Chocolate Cakes
4 squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate (I used Baker's--really good!)
1/2 C butter
1 C powered sugar
2 egg yolks
6 T flour
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter 4 ramekins or custard cups.
- Microwave chocolate and butter in large bowl on high for 1 minutes or until butter is melted. Stir with whisk until chocolate is completed melted. Stir in sugar until well blended. Whisk in eggs and egg yolks. Stir in flour. Divide batter between prepared ramekins/custard cups.
- Bake 13 to 14 minutes or until sides are firm but centers are soft. Let stand 1 minutes. Carefully run small knife around cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto dessert plates. Top with whipped cream. (Or just eat out of ramekins.)
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Do you like leftovers? I’m okay with them, most of the time. They're good for our budget and we want to be faithful stewards of the food we buy and prepare. Some leftovers, however, taste a whole lot better than others—like chili or lasagna. Today, I had something that isn’t at the top of my favorite leftovers list—a warmed up burger.
Monday, we grilled what might have been our last char-grilled meal until next spring. (We are die hard charcoal grillers—no gas grill for the Boorams!) Burgers are the best hot off the coals, though I have learned that if you warm them up in the microwave on defrost, they aren’t too bad. Of all my tastes today, this leftover burger has left the strongest impression. Most of all, because I know how good it was when I ate the first one on Monday and today's just wasn’t the same.
Some days I live on spiritual leftovers. I don’t always have time or take time to connect in a meaningful way with God. Or some days when I do take time, I don’t always come away with something that fills my soul. I wonder how it would be if I lived most of the time on days-old spiritual food? Not so great. I think I would lose my taste for fresh encounters with God. I would become disinterested and go through the motions.
I don't want that to happen. That's one reason why I'm always seeking new ways of discovering God in the daily round of beauty. I've noticed that my appetite is stronger when I don't subsist on stale spiritual fare.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Did you know that about 40 % of tasting something is the result of smelling it? Yesterday, when I met with Ed, the Master Sommelier (Day 19), he mentioned that one of the steps in tasting wine before it even enters your mouth, is swirling it in the glass. Ed says it makes the wine more volatile, releasing the bouquet. Then, by taking in the fragrance, your taste buds prepare to taste. Smell helps you anticipate the taste.
I’ve been thinking about that the last two days—the idea of smelling to anticipate the taste. I think anticipation is a powerful set-up that helps us experience more of God. Yesterday, I read about anticipating in The Deeper Journey by Robert Mulholland, a book I mentioned a few days ago.
In this book, Mulholland talks about the features of keeping a daily office, a daily disciplined time with God. One of the elements of a daily office is taking time to think through your day--each appointment, event or task you have to do—and imagining that you do each from a deep union in Christ.
I tried that yesterday and today. I had several appointments with people I didn't know. So, I anticipated the conversations, trying to imagine relating to each person from my true self in Christ. I felt what that would feel like; envisioned listening intently, loving them as Christ loves them, and hearing without judgment. I can’t tell you how powerful that was for me.
In the same way that swirling wine releases the bouquet, envisioning God in my day helped me taste God in my day. The anticipation primed me to live out these interactions the way I imagined them. It helped me expect God to be present and involved in each one.
In describing the daily office, Mulholland writes, “When our daily office is merely one more task in an already busy schedule, it most likely will become simply another activity of our religious false self. ….If we are serious about the deeper journey, then we will have our daily office as the center of our life. All else will be ordered around this crucial time with God…..This time with God becomes the center out of which we enter into our life in the world.”
So, consider this: Think about what your day (or next day) holds. Imagine what it would be like if you lived from your true self in Christ during each task, interaction or activity. Ask God to show you what your day would look like if you were consistently you.
Monday, October 5, 2009
When I began my 30 Days of Tasting, one of the first people I thought to contact is a friend of ours, Ed Fischer. A couple years back, David and I went to a wine tasting where Ed was the Master Sommelier—a designation that only around 125 people have in the entire United States. David and I were amazed at how knowledgeable Ed was. So, when I thought about “tasting”, Ed came to mind.
Ed and his wife, Carol, moved from Indianapolis a few years ago, purchased, and now operate a gorgeous bed and breakfast in West Virginia called North Fork Mountain Inn. Ed was in town for the Colts game on Sunday, so I had a chance to have coffee this morning and ask him several questions about tasting. He had incredible insight!
What I found most fascinating was his response to my question, “If you were to teach me to taste wine, how would you do it?” I want to share with you his suggestions and then use them as a way to think about tasting more of God in life.
Here’s what Ed suggested:
- Try different types of wine so that you can learn to taste by comparing and contrasting them. In the same way, try reading books from different traditions. Why not read a book by a Catholic Mystic, a novel by a Hasidic contemplative, or poetry by the Persian philosopher, Rumi. By exposing yourself to different traditions, you expand your world and learn what distinguishes your faith from others.
- Pair wine with food. Food makes wine taste better and wine makes food taste better. Many of our spiritual disciplines can be enhanced when we pair them with a friend. Spiritual friendships are a wonderful place to share the journey and learn from each other. Friends make life taste better and vice versa.
- Try wine tasting on a regular basis. (Ed said it was 10 years before he really was able to tell much about the nuances of tastes in wine. Now he can tell the vintage, climate, soil and country it comes from!) One of the most important spiritual disciplines we learn is the ability to live in the present moment. At the same time, living present is the hardest thing in life to learn. That’s why it’s important to focus on it everyday.
- Don’t get stuck only drinking the same types of wine. Continue to try new varieties, always expanding your palate. God is the life within life. Why limit experiencing God through the same, repetitive, narrow approaches? Expand your palette of spiritual disciplines to include things that are not from your particular tradition. Attend an Episcopal Mass, go on a silent retreat, or serve the poor in a neighborhood clean-up project.
Thanks, Ed, for helping me see the inextricable connection of tasting wine with tasting more of God. Until tomorrow!
Sunday, October 4, 2009
I had the opportunity to lead an experience of "tasting forgiveness and unforgiveness" at my church this morning. I thought I would share it with you for Day 19 in my tasting experiment and see if you want to try it for yourself. If you do, let me know how it goes.
Tasting Forgiveness and Unforgiveness
How do we come to know deep within our hearts that we are fully forgiven by God? How do we forgive ourselves? And perhaps hardest yet, how do we forgive those who have hurt us deeply?
It is a process, for sure. To give the impression that it is done in one single act is misleading. But while we have to be actively involved in that process, we can’t receive forgiveness or offer forgiveness without God’s help. It is a work of the Spirit. It requires an experience of spiritual healing. Consider working through the following contemplative exercise to assist in your healing journey of forgiveness.
Begin with an experience of tasting unforgiveness. Pour a small amount of vinegar in a cup. It represents the bitterness of unforgiveness—something described in Hebrews 12:15 that happens when we refuse to forgive and a poisonous root of bitterness grows up inside us, and poisons others.
- Take a comfortable poster, breathe slowly and deeply. Hallow this moment, bring your full attention, and invite God to be with you right now.
- Take a sip of the vinegar. Let is saturate your mouth, cheeks inside, tongue, roof of mouth, and taste buds.
- Ask the Spirit to show you through this taste where there is bitterness in your heart toward yourself—something that you haven’t forgiven yourself for and therefore, can’t believe that God forgives you. Don’t shame yourself. God isn’t accusing you/condemning you. He wants to set you free.
- Take another sip. Taste it. Let the bitterness soak in. Ask the Spirit to lead you through the taste to any bitter root in your heart toward someone else. Again, just listen, but don’t shame yourself. God doesn’t shame you. He wants to free you to forgive.
- Take another sip and then ask God to show you if you have any bitterness toward him—for some way that he has disappointed you, let you down.
- Take a few moments and write, draw or doodle about any bitter taste of unforgiveness that you identified.
What does forgiveness taste like? Try tasting an old-fashioned red and white peppermint. It represents the cleansing of sin. I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
- Resume a comfortable posture of prayer, put the peppermint in your mouth and allow the flavor to permeate and cleanse your palate. As you suck on the mint, allow it to cleanse all the bitter taste of vinegar away.
- Now, if the Spirit brought to mind any bitterness in your heart toward yourself, name that right now. Taste the cleansing mint in your mouth and imagine God’s forgiveness washing over that issue for which you have struggled to forgive yourself. I Corinthians 6:11 says, “But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Confess, “I am cleansed. I am holy. I am right with God.” Thank him.
- Keep tasting the peppermint, let it remind you of the cleansing and refreshment you receive through God’s forgiveness of you.
- Now, if the Spirit brought to mind any bitterness in your heart toward another, name that person and picture their face. As you taste the peppermint and are reminded of the forgiveness you have received, forgiveness that you now possess within you, imagine it washing over the wound caused by this person and cleansing it. Let it be a healing balm in this wound. Offer this person forgiveness from the supply of forgiveness in your own heart. Scoop some up and offer it to them as a gift. Matthew 6:14 says, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”
- Keep tasting your peppermint and let it remind you of the forgiveness you have taken into your heart.
- Finally, if the Spirit brought to mind any bitterness toward God, name what that is to God. Tell him why you hurt. Ask God to remove any blockage between you and him. Ask him to heal your heart and restore intimacy with him. Listen to these words of David in Psalm 73:
“Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant— I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth."
- Take a moment and express your desire for God and write/draw/doodle any thoughts you have as a result of this experience.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
The first Art of Faith workshop took place today. And, from what I can tell, it was a very rich and meaningful event for those who attended. This workshop and (hopefully) book has inspired our 30 Days of Tasting experiment. So, I had to let you know that I am very pleased with the experience and impassioned about helping people experience God more deeply and fully.
I am very tired, as you might imagine, and so I don’t have lots of energy to write. But I did have an interesting taste experience tonight. After the workshop, I went out to dinner with a friend, Carol, who came from Illinois. She had two friends with her and I wanted them to experience a unique restaurant in Indy, so I suggested the Brugge in Broad Ripple.
The Brugge is a French restaurant with a savory cuisine. Their signature item, in my opinion, is pomme frite--French fries, with exotic dipping sauces! I wanted to try a crepe and so when the server came to get our order, I asked her opinion about the crepes. She told me her favorite was the one with pork tenderloin, goat cheese and mustard sauce. I was having trouble deciding and that didn’t really sound good, but I ordered it anyway because I felt hurried. Bummer—I should have listened to my own palate.
I didn’t like it. It was way too oniony and the pork just didn’t work with the crepe. I ate most of it because I was hungry, but honestly, I was disappointed the whole time. Why didn’t I listen to my true desires, my own tastes?
How does that relate to my experience with God and my spiritual life? No one else can decide for me what will nourish my soul. I need to listen to my own spiritual palate. Our faith journey really is more of an art than a science. And as an art, I have to play with different mediums to discover what helps me connect best with God, hear from God and open my heart more fully to God.
So, action point for the day: listen to your own spiritual palate and try spiritual food that appeals to your soul. (And, if you go to the Brugge, don’t opt for the pork tenderloin crepe.)
Friday, October 2, 2009
I just said good night to our house guest, singer and song writer, Scott Stilwell. He drove from his home in Iowa to attend The Art of Faith. He's also agreed to play his song, Picture of Jesus--sounds like a book you've heard of, right?
As I review my day, the last taste I put in my mouth is the one that is lingering--homemade granola bars. When I got home from setting up for the workshop, and knew that Scott would be arriving before too long, I instinctively wanted to bake something to welcome him to our home. I wanted to create the ambiance that only fresh baked cookies shared around the kitchen table could create.
This is one of my favorite recipes because it is so simple and quick. Here it is. I hope you can share it with those you welcome to your home.
1 1/2 C of Jiffy Mix or Bisquick
1 1/2 C of oats
3/4 C of brown sugar
1 stick of butter, melted
3/4 C chocolate chips
1/2 C coconut (optional)
1/2 nuts (optional)
1/2 raisins (optional)
Mix together: press into 9 X 11 pan. Bake in 350 oven for 18 minutes. Enjoy!
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Would you describe yourself as a thankful person? I think that is a quality in which I come up lacking. I have often thought about how I might grow in gratefulness and today, I thought about how tasting could help.
Most of our meals when our kids were at home began with a prayer of thanksgiving. As is probably true in your house, those prayers weren't all that heart-felt. Just the same, I thought about what a simple, consistent rhythm mealtime provides to cultivate a more grateful, appreciative heart.
So, this morning, when I ate my plain yogurt with honey, blueberries and almonds, I tasted them slowly and allowed each of their unique flavors to inspire prayers of thanksgiving. Here's how it went:
- Yogurt....thanks for cows, for creating them to produce milk that we can turn into yummy things like yogurt and ice cream. Thanks for the tart flavor of yogurt, for the creamy texture.
- Honey....thanks for the honey bees. Isn't it cool that you created bees to make honey. It's so deliciously sweet, swirling in my tangy yogurt.
- Almonds.... I love almonds. And they are so good for me. Thanks for nuts, that they have protein so if I decide to become a vegetarian, I can still get enough.
- Blueberries....I bet these are from Maine. Thanks for Bob and Judy, our friends who live in Maine. Thanks for the people who picked the blueberries and harvested them. Blueberries are the best!
I know it may seem silly, but what pleased me is how natural it was to be thankful--to think of things to be thankful for. By slowing down and really tasting, all kinds of thankfulness sprung up within me. Maybe there is hope for me, yet. If I remember not to rush and enjoy what I'm tasting, I think I just might have a chance. (I didn't do so well at lunch!)
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I’ve had butterflies in my tummy. You know, those little waves of nervousness that you get when you are anticipating something. The Art of Faith is Saturday, and, yes, I still get nervous when I speak. This time around, not only am I presenting, I am hosting the event along with Brent Bill. Thus, the butterflies.
Today, at lunch, for some reason they were especially fluttery. I made a turkey sandwich but could only a little bit. I’m the type that when I’m anxious, I can’t eat. So, I gave up after a few bites.
Food and butterflies don’t mix well. That’s because our whole body has to cooperate when we eat. When our stomach is churning, it knots up and we lose our appetite. Without an appetite, we are no longer interested in eating, even if it tastes good.
I wonder how anxiety affects our spiritual appetite. While it seems that stress might drive us toward God, some times I notice the opposite. The thought of slowing down, attending to our spiritual lives makes us more anxious. All the stress and anxiety keep us distracted from noticing the longing in our souls.
Sometimes we have to deal with the anxiety, before we can attend to our spiritual needs. Why not try a few of these exercises and see if they help you shoo the butterflies away:
1. When you notice you are anxious or something upsets you, stop what you are doing and begin to pay attention to your breathing, slowing it down until you can control your breaths.
2. As you slow your breathing, begin to relax your body, starting with your feet and moving upward until you reach your face and head.
3. With each inhale and exhale, say a simple prayer, like “I can do all things (inhale), through Christ who strengthens me (exhale).”
4. Continue until the butterflies have flown away. Then rest in God and bring to him whatever is own your mind.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
This morning, I woke up with a mild headache and just didn’t feel quite right. So, I did my usual—opened a packet of Emergen-C, poured it into a glass with water, stirred and downed it. I’m now on my third packet of the day. This slightly sweet, fizzy potion is the focus of my writing on my sixteenth day of tasting.
There isn’t really anything remarkable about the taste. The one I have is raspberry flavored. I don’t drink it because of its exquisite taste. I drink it because of what it does—what it has inside that helps boost my immune system and fight off potential viral intruders. Perhaps some of its effect is more psychosomatic. I imagine I feel better when I take it.
We eat some things more for their benefit to our body than because of their delight to our palate. And there is a parallel with our spiritual lives. We participate in certain disciplines, not always because of their tantalizing excitement, but because we know they bring about numerous unseen benefits.
Take prayer, for instance. I don't know how it works. I don't always see that it does. Yet, I pray. I pray because I believe that a lot more happens than is always obvious. I pray, not because of how it tastes, but because of the impact it has on my heart and others. Even if I can’t point to any obvious answer to prayer, I am calmed and centered through turning to God in prayer. Like my friend Emergen-C, I believe in prayer. So, I keep downing it.
Monday, September 28, 2009
We seem to accept with little protest that some of the foods we ingest are not really what they say they are. They’re fake. Seafood salad isn’t really made from ocean creatures. Seitan, a vegetarian meat substitute isn’t really chicken, it just (sort of) tastes like chicken. And what about the last item in the ingredients of 90 % of the foods we eat called, “artificial flavors.” What is that?
I want to write tonight about something that has nothing to do with what I tasted today. It has to do with what I read this morning and “tasted” the rest of the day as I mulled it over. I am reading, The Deeper Journey, by M. Robert Mulholland Jr. It’s not a book for those with acrophobia—a fear of heights. Mulholland writes from the ether's, at times. But his subtitle, The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self, defines one of my main passions in life and something I find critical to my spiritual journey.
Just like fake food, we all have a false self or selves. From a young age, we learn to navigate life, avoid pain, and get what we want by cultivating a false way of being in order to achieve our desired outcome. For instance, I learned to avoid being bullied and humiliated by my dad by withdrawing and not sharing myself or my true thoughts. I constructed a “good little girl” false self in order to escape trouble. That false self served me well for a time. BUT, it has also imprisoned me and made it profoundly difficult to become a passionate, expressive and confident woman—the woman God created me to be.
As a Christian, I think perhaps the greatest deterrent to becoming our true selves in Christ is our cultivation of a well-sculpted religious false self. Much of what we call transformation is really the development of the “good little Christian” false self who follows the rules and believes what it should. Instead of becoming authentic, whole and spirited people, we are more like imitation crab, chicken substitute or artificial flavors.
And isn’t that what those who aren’t Christ followers most often criticize us for? We are shallow--our spirituality comprised of a superficial layer of religious false self that has no depth of heart or genuineness. Yet, I am struck with Paul’s description of who God created us to be--our true selves in Christ. Paul says to, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception [our false self]. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy [our true self].” (Ephesians 4:22, 23)
Just as I prefer real food over fake, I am on a journey of learning to prefer my true self over the false selves I have hidden behind most of my life. How about you? Would you be interested in joining me on this journey?
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Too much of a good thing. That’s how I would frame my experience of taste today. I feel full from eating too many sweets over the weekend. Apple pie yesterday. Birthday cake today. And ice cream tonight. Of course, no one forced me to eat all those desserts. Now, as I come to the close of my day, I feel bloated and ready for a fast from sugar.
In what way does my sugar-high relate to my spiritual life? Is it ever possible to experience “too much of a good thing” in my experience as a Christian? Do I ever feel “bloated” spiritually, like I need to fast?
You know when I feel that the most? About 2/3 of the way through most sermons. At about that point, I begin to feel waterlogged by the excessive amount of words. I notice, even during a really great message, that I start to lose interest, or feel overwhelmed or irritated by the abundance of words. I want the person to stop so that I can think and let what’s been said trickle down. That’s when I experience, “too much of a good thing.”
My soul longs for space, stillness and solitude. I wish for more thoughtful, reflective time in worship. I crave less words and time to ingest what I have been given. Often, though, I feel guilty admitting that I have had too much. So, I just keep coming back for more.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
It’s not fall until I make an apple pie. Funny, though, it’s probably the only apple pie I will make the whole year. Not because I don’t like it. I just think it’s a whole lot of trouble. Skinning and paring apples is hard work. And making pie dough—well, I just can’t seem to master that art.
Despite the hindrances, today I made two yummy apple pies from scratch. We had David’s parents and his grandmother over for lunch, along with Brandt, Laura and baby Eli. For the first time, Eli met his great, great grandmother--five generations! (Grandma is 92, lives alone, cooks and cleans for herself, and makes amazing pies of all varieties.)
When I think of apple pie, I think of fall, David’s grandma and my own grandma. When I was a little girl, I would go over to my grandmother’s house quite often. She was a fabulous cook. From her kitchen, wafts of cinnamon, apples and butter would migrate through the house to the front room where I would play. And every time grandma baked apple pies, she would have leftover crust that she would roll out, spread with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake for me. It was my very own special pie.
Not only did I taste apple pie today, I tasted a little nostalgia. As the sweet, cinnamony apples and buttery, flaky crust melted in my mouth, I connected with powerful and wonderful recollections of my grandmother. It's impossible for me to eat apple pie and not think of her. And when I do, I remember how very much I loved her.
Perhaps that is why Jesus asked us, whenever we eat bread or drink wine, to remember him. He understood the power that food has to form indelible memories--ones that create continuity and give weight to our lives. Tomorrow morning, many of us will receive communion. But how many of us will be thoughtful about it? Will we really stop and think about Jesus and how very much we love him? Will we "do this in remembrance of him"?
Here are a few suggestions to help you taste communion:
- Before you take communion, think back over your life with Christ and thank him for two or three really great memories from your life with him.
- When you receive the elements, don't be in a hurry. Slowly taste each one and let it "sit" in your mouth for several seconds before you swallow. Then tell him how much you love him.
- As you take communion, be aware of the community around and remember the church around the world--all receiving the bread and cup in Jesus' name. Imagine yourself as part of the gathering of the universal church.
Friday, September 25, 2009
What comes to your mind when you think of comfort food? Tonight, we had salmon, asparagus, the rest of the yummy melon from day 10 and a plain, ordinary, uncomplicated baked potato. It was the best part of the meal for me and the most memorable taste of my day.
What is it about bland, starchy food that takes so good? I am sure there is a scientific explanation. But I don’t need one to know that my baked potato tasted like comfort wrapped in a brown bag and filled with chunky, buttery goodness.
It’s amazing how food can bring comfort—like hot soup when you feel chilled inside and out. Or ice cream when you feel sad. Or a baked potato when you are really tired. The types of food that bring back the color in our cheeks may vary, but the impact is very much the same. We feel better!
As I ate my baked potato and thought about comfort food, I wondered about the ways that God comforts me. How do I experience or taste his comfort? When do I turn to him for comfort?
With out a doubt, prayer—quiet, contemplative prayer—is how I find God’s comfort most. When I am upset or agitated, I often seek solace in a favorite spot in my house or garden where I can be alone with God. I have a way of talking to God during those times. It’s slow and very focused with a keen sense that I am speaking directly to him. I ask him a lot of questions and I listen. I process what I am feeling. Sometimes I receive an impression that comes as his answer. He consoles me as though he has taken me by the hand and helped me find my way back home.
Comfort food and the comfort of God are two of life’s loveliest pleasures. The next time you eat your favorite food of comfort, let the taste remind you of the God of all comfort who longs to comfort you. (II Corinthians 1:3, 4)
Thursday, September 24, 2009
A number of people, knowing about my 30 Days of Tasting, have encouraged me to see the movie, Julie & Julia. Well, today, I put on my big girl pants and went to see it by myself! David was at Schmooza Palooza downtown. (A networking event with a great title—don’t you think?) So, on impulse, I jumped in the car, headed over to the Keystone Arts Cinema and had the most delightful time watching a movie that I absolutely adored. I think I smiled my way through the whole thing!
Here are ten reasons why:
- It made me think of my husband. David, like Julia Child’s husband, is my biggest encourager, the one who always believes in me and ecstatically celebrates me when I succeed. I still remember the day while in the kitchen preparing lunch (of course!), my laptop open on the kitchen table, an email came from an editor at Abingdon Press with the subject line, “Congratulations.” (It’s still in my inbox.) David saw it, said, “Beth, come here!” We read it together, an email telling me that Abingdon wanted to publish my first book. We both squealed and literally danced around the kitchen!
- It made me want to cook. I love to cook. And, if I may say so, I think I am a pretty great cook. Cooking is a creative outlet and something I love to do for my family and friends.
- It made me love life. Julie Child loved life. She was an effervescent spirit who enjoyed every moment, bringing a light-heartedness and joy to whatever and whomever she met.
- It made me appreciate the gift of food. Isn’t it marvelous that, unlike most of the animal kingdom, we have a bounty of beautiful foods to choose from and a palate to distinguish subtle nuances in taste?
- It made me realize that food goes best with family and friends. What a blessing to share a meal with people you love. There is something so wholesome about gathering around a table and enjoying rich food with rich conversation.
- It made me see how savoring food awakens me to my passions. Julie Child had a way of throwing herself into tasting her food. That zeal transferred in the way she lived out her passionate love for her husband, family and friends. It also helped her discover her passion for cooking and teaching.
- It made me want to slow down and not be so driven. I have been reading through Ecclesiastes—a very interesting book in the Bible. One of the themes of Solomon’s (the author) is the notion of finding meaningful work to do but not becoming driven by it. This movie reminded me of Solomon’s wisdom.
- It made me glad for simple meals. (I couldn't cook that way all the time. I would weigh 200 lbs!) When I came home after the movie and after kissing my husband, I opened a bottle of wine, warmed some pita and spread some hummus. That works for me.
- It made me remember why I love butter! I learned that from my mother! I DO love butter. You will always find real butter in the Booram refrigerator. And when I butter my toast, I BUTTER my toast.
- It made me glad to be a woman. Both characters, Julie and Julie, brought their feminine mystique into the art of cooking and the art of living. I celebrate with them what it means to be a woman, coming into her own and offering herself and her gifts to the world.
If you haven’t seen the movie by now, I hope you will. It has left a grateful taste in my mouth—grateful to be alive, to have someone to love and for the gifts of God’s bounty.