Saturday, November 21, 2009

30 Days of Seeing--the final day and the best day ever!

Day 30

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 29

“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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 28

“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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 27

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 26

“…. 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

30 Days of Seeing

“Some say geodes are made from pockets of tears,
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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 25-27

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

30 Days of Seeing Heads to Maryland--Again!!

Day 24

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

30 Days of Seeing

Windows on the World

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 22

Repeating Patterns

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 18-21

People Watching

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

30 Days of Seeing Heads to Maryland!

Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I leave for the weekend to speak at a conference at CrossRoads Community Church in Havre De Grace, Maryland. When I return, I will catch you up on all the rich and wondrous sights along the way. In the mean time, keep your eyes open! I am grateful for your prayers. Warmly, Beth

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

30 Days of Seeing

Day 16

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 haven't meddled where I have no business
or fantasized grandiose plans.
I’ve kept my feet on the ground,
I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.
Like a baby content in its mother’s arms,
my soul is a baby content.

Here are some questions for spiritual direction regarding what keeps you from truly resting:
  1. What weight am I taking on that is beyond my control?
  2. What does it mean for me to stay grounded (keep my feet on the ground)?
  3. What helps me quiet my heart?
  4. What practices might I try before I fall asleep that will help me “sleep like a baby?”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

30 Days of Seeing

Day 15

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 14

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

30 Days of Seeing

Day 13


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?