Saturday, October 31, 2009

30 Days of Seeing

Day 12

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 11

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 10

Seeing Elias

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 9

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 8

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 7

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 4-6

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

30 Days of Seeing hits the road this weekend!

I’m traveling to Bloomington, IL to speak at the CrossWinds Community Church Women’s Conference. (CrossWinds is pastored by Shelley Bauer (Lead Pastor) and Mark Savage (Teaching Pastor). Mark’s wife, Jill, is the founder and Executive Director of Hearts at Home--an amazing ministry and equipping conference for moms.) I will post what amuses my “sight” when I return. Your prayers are very much appreciated!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

30 Days of Seeing

Day 3

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 2

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 1

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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 30

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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 29

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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 28

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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 27

Tasting Autumn

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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 26

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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 25

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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 24

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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 23

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 eggs
2 egg yolks
6 T flour
whipped cream

  • 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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 22

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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 21

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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 20

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 19

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.

Tasting Unforgiveness
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.

Tasting Forgiveness
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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 18

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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 17

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
1 egg
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

30 Days of Tasting

Day 18

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!)