Sunday, January 31, 2010
Do you remember when you were a kid and your mom talked to you about “bad touch?” I don’t remember every being touched inappropriately, but I do remember one incident when a friend of the family hugged me too tight and wouldn’t let me go. I knew instinctively that he wasn’t safe.
As I have practiced honing my sense of touch, I don't know if I had considered the fact that not all touch is positive or good. Some can be traumatizing and abusive. That kind of touch tears apart the soul with its bare hands and leaves a gash in the life of those who are its victims.
This morning, David and I attended White River Christian Church in Noblesville. An announcement was made for a gathering on Wednesday evening at 7 pm to inform parents and citizens of the nature and danger of child abuse in our community. This gathering is sponsored by Hands & Feet (http://www.handsandfeethc.org/), a not-for-profit committed to educating and uniting churches to end the awful blight of child abuse.
It’s shocking to read the statistics about child abuse in my county. According to a 2006 CPS report, 733 cases of child abuse and neglect were reported. It is likely that three times that number of children are abused every year but are never reported to authorities.
What can we do? If you live in Indy and have a tender heart for victims of child abuse or just want to know more, consider attending this presentation. If you haven’t talked to your kids in a while about “bad touch,” today is a good day.
As much as touch can be a pathway to experience God, it can also be a terrible trauma-inducing act. Please do what you can to prevent "bad touch" in your own family and community.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Day 23: Touched by an Angel
Do you remember that show? I think we watched it occasionally with the kids. Even if you never saw it, you probably get the gist of what it was about—moments when something eerie, mystical happens and you feel as though an angel has touched you.
Have you ever had a real experience when you felt like you’ve been “touched by an angel?” I don’t know that I would attribute those moments to an angel, but have had on a few occasions a moment when the voice of God or presence of God seemed almost palpable.
I had one of those times yesterday. It’s always hard to describe things like this. And please know this doesn’t happen all the time to me. I was reading a very provocative book called The Failure of Nerve by Ed Friedman. In the introduction, I was processing something he said, felt the nudge to turn to God and pray and then had this sense; this thought came into my mind more like a suggestion and instantly I knew what it was about, though I don’t know how I knew.
It was as though the Spirit said, “You are going to learn that when you are too empathic with people, you get in the way of empowering them”—something like that.
Two pages later, I literally read a thought almost identical to that.
I felt like I was “touched by an angel.” It was eerie. And God certainly has my attention.
Question for spiritual direction:
- Thinking back over your life, when have you been “touched by an angel” or had a moment when God’s voice of presence felt palpable?
- What was that like for you?
- Would you like to have an experience like that? Why or why not?
Friday, January 29, 2010
What comes to mind when you think of the rituals of your life? Do you tend to think of things that are boring, rote and meaningless? David and I were just talking at dinner about the beauty of rituals—ones that have been part of our lives over the years.
For him today, it’s the ritual of cleaning his paintbrushes after his has “played with paint” (created art). He has this way of doing it—filling the brushes with soap and then rubbing them in the palm of his hand to get the paint out.
That triggered a memory for me of when I would practice my French horn. (I was a French horn major at IU—for those who didn’t know.) I would lift my horn out of the case; place a piece of lederhosen on my knee and set the bell on top; put the mouthpiece in my mouth to warm in; insert the mouthpiece into the horn and blow warm air through it. I can almost smell the valve oil and musty brass as I remember it.
We have morning rituals that we’ve practiced for years: David makes the coffee, usually the night before. He wakes up first, goes down, gets it for us, and brings it to me in bed. I sit for a while in bed, waking up slowing while sipping it. We both read, journal and pray. Then at breakfast, we talk about our thoughts and experiences.
We have evening rituals, too. We head to bed about ten—sometimes earlier. After we brush our teeth and I wash my face, we crawl into bed, side by side and read. At night, we usually read novels. Once we get sleepy, we turn out the lights and spoon.
Last night we babysat Eli at Brandt and Laura’s. Even Eli has a bedtime ritual at four ½ months. After a bottle, diaper change and cuddling, I read him a book and sang him a song. He lay down, cried for a little bit and was soon fast asleep.
I think rituals are ways we keep in touch with the world and keep in minds that we are still connected to it. Rituals are tactile reenactments that remind us of what matters, what we love. The things that keep us tethered to each other are the rituals we go through each day.
What are your rituals, those daily or occasional rhythms that reinforce the patterns of your life, patterns of what matters to you? Do you practice your rituals with awareness? What do your rituals say about you?
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Turn about is fair play, right? It was for me today. If you remember my post from last Thursday, then you might recall the title “Flush,” referring to my experience of having a colonoscopy. Well, David had the privilege today.
This time, I experienced the whole procedure from the other direction. I watched the nurse whisk him away. I talked to the doctor and got a good report. And I watched David “wake up” from the anesthetic. The kind used during a colonoscopy is unique. You remain in a twilight sleep so that you can cooperate with the doctor, but afterward you remember nothing. And you continue to remember nothing—even if you are told the same thing seventy times!
What I noticed most about David’s recovery was his insistence that he was wide-awake. The nurse brought him a cup of coffee and he insisted on holding it, even though he kept falling asleep with it in his hand. I would then take it or support it with my hand and he would wake up and inform me that he had it. That scenario continued several times.
Of all my touching experiences today, I am most thoughtful about this one. I played the role of a guiding hand, even though David insisted he didn’t need guidance. Is that how it is with God as my guiding hand? He doesn’t take the responsibility of my life away from me. But he comes, places his hands around the “cup” of my life and supports me. Sometimes I resist; I think I’m more awake than I really am. Yet, he doesn’t consider my orneriness as an offense. He remains faithful.
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence...If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me….” Psalm 139: 10
A question for spiritual direction: How do you sense the hand of God guiding your life today? Are you resisting or cooperating?
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
I was driving to Ft. Wayne today to meet with a client when the Spirit prompted me to pray and open myself to the world of touch. Almost immediately, the expression “touchy-feely” came to mind. I mused about the expression; tried to wrap my mind around what we mean when we say something is touchy-feely.
Touchy-feely typically refers to something that is sappy, emotional and sentimental. Is that what it means to you? I wondered if it also described the two directions of affection—I touch you, I feel you touch me. That reminded me of my relationship with God. I even had the image of Da Vinci’s Hand of God painting—the one where God’s hand reaches down from heaven and a human hand reaches back. Now the expression spoke in a new way for me.
Touchy-feely began to describe to me the reciprocity of affection between God and humankind. James 4:8 comes to mind: “Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” That little equation has proven true for me. A relationship with God involves touching God—reaching out, seeking after him, “feeling our way to him” (as Paul says in Acts 17: 27). Likewise, it involves God touching us, seeking after us and pursuing us with his love and presence. (Luke 15:3-7)
So, now when you hear or use the expression “touchy-feely,” you might think of it differently. A bit like the Dr. Seuss character, a Push-me-pull-you, touchy-feely is a beautiful picture of how we engage with God and God engages with us.
A question for spiritual direction: Which are you more comfortable and familiar with—touching God or being touched by him?
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
I remember several years ago, when I first began to write that I would feel this excitement as I placed my hands lightly on the keys of my computer and began to type my thoughts. I felt the same thrill tonight.
I took one last look, said a prayer and hit “send,” launching into cyberspace a new book proposal and sample chapters for a book, The Art of Faith: Awakening Your Senses to the Wonder of God. (My friend, Brent Bill, and I are writing this book together. We also offer Art of Faith workshops and have been doing these 30-Day exercises on each of the senses related to this book idea.)
Even though I type on a keyboard all the time, the familiarity and habit feels comforting. I know what to do when my fingers light upon the keys. I know how to pause and think while I type. It’s my craft. I don’t think that I am a perfectionist about most things, but when I write, I'm pretty obsessed.
I think of that line from Chariots of Fire—you know the one—“God has made me fast and when I run I feel his pleasure.” (Eric Liddell) That’s the way I feel when I touch these keys. When I do, I feel God’s pleasure.
What do you touch that, when you touch it, you feel God’s pleasure?
Monday, January 25, 2010
Of all the feeling sensations, I think I hate slimy the most! Slimy fish; slimy mucous; slimy bird poop; slimy slugs. Today, I noticed the slimy feeling of a raw turkey breast as I was washing it and preparing it for dinner. Slimy—a combination of sticky and slippery, yuck! When I think of it, I want to wash my hands—about five times.
I have a natural aversion to slime. I don’t want to touch it, taste it, see it, smell it or hear about it.
As I was handling the turkey breast, noticing my touching, I asked God what he has an aversion to:
Here’s what came to my mind.
God has an aversion to falseness.
God has an aversion to hypocrisy.
God has an aversion to pompousness.
God has an aversion to flattery.
God has an aversion to being judgmental.
God has an aversion to indifference.
God has an aversion to hatred.
God has an aversion to pride.
As I consider this list, I have to scratch my head. How in the world can God still love me and pursue me? Every one of these attitudes he has an aversion to is resident within me.
Bless you, God, that even though you have an aversion to these, you don’t reject me as if I’m slime:)
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Day 17: A Kiss
One of my friends told me a story of how she was looking at an art book with pictures of Jesus with her little four-year-old daughter. Each time she turned the page to a new image, this little girl would lean over, pucker and delicately kiss Jesus. What a picture!
David and I were talking today about the simple act of love expressed in a kiss. He came upstairs this morning to bring me a refill of coffee, leaned over and gave me a kiss. That small, tender act of love and affection carried enormous weight for me.
A kiss is a very intimate act of adoring. When I am with Eli, it is the most natural and instinctual thing to want to kiss him—on top of his head, on his chubby little cheeks, on his tiny hands and his plump little feet.
Sometimes, there’s just no other way to express the love you feel for someone than to give them a kiss.
Have you ever expressed your love for Jesus through a kiss? Here are some examples of how you might incorporate a simple kiss in your adoration of him.
- If you have a small cross, hold it in your hand, express your love to Christ for what he has done for you and kiss the cross.
- Hold your Bible open on your lap. Thank God for his word and place a kiss on the open page.
- Contemplate a picture of Jesus and like my friend’s daughter, kiss the image of Jesus.
I realize that this might feel awkward, especially if you are a man. I encourage you to take a risk, though, and see what happens when you express your love for God in a simple kiss.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Much of the impact of my work seems intangible. I write, speak, offer spiritual direction and consult. Occasionally, I see real, concrete evidence that what I do is making a difference. Sure, I sometimes hear about how my life has affected someone elses. But often, I do what I do because it’s in my heart to—not because I get a lot of feedback.
That’s one of the reasons why I like to do tangible work—like clean my house. Most Saturday mornings, that's my mission. It’s really a joint effort because David almost always vacuums. So, today, my touching had to do with cleaning. I touched a mop and bucket, a dust rag and lemon oil, a laundry basket and clean clothes, a sponge and bathroom cleaner. With my IPod in my ears, listening to Robinella croon, I cleaned my way upstairs and downstairs (not in my nightgown, however) until the whole house sparkled.
That’s what I like about this kind of touching. I can see what I’ve done and feel satisfied. I apply elbow grease and I see the results. It feels good to put my energy into caring for our home. And when it’s all done, I get to relax in my favorite chair, sip tea and feel like all is well—there is peace in my world.
Thank you, God, for good work and the energy to do it!
Friday, January 22, 2010
I spent the day babysitting Eli, my four-month-old grandson. It’s been a couple of weeks since we had him all to ourselves. David and I couldn’t get over how much he had grown and progressed. From routinely rolling over to grasping at things with accurate eye-hand coordination, we marveled over him.
One thing I noticed repeatedly is his instinct to put everything in his mouth. From his own fist, to mine, to toys that we gave him—all became fodder for exploration with the use of his mouth. Babies don’t just touch with their hands. They use their mouths to feel, taste and discover.
I watched him passionately mouth a teething ring hanging from his pumpkin seat. The spoon I used to feed him cereal became an instrument of great interest to his tongue. His fist followed, jawing it like it was his last meal.
When do we become so inhibited that we no longer use our mouths to touch and explore? At what age do we stop this intimate form of discovery? Is it when our mothers tell us not put things in our mouth because of germs? Or is it when we become self-conscious, worried what others might think as we gnaw on something we find intriguing.
Eli’s earnestness to take everything he found and put it in his mouth amused me. He showed me what it looks like to have a zeal for touching and knowing what ever I find. He made me wish I were not so careful and could lose myself in the curiosity of discovering something new.
Questions for spiritual direction:
What did I touch today that I am curious to know more fully?
What inhibits me from exploring the world around me?
How is God inviting me to get to know Him more intimately?
What untapped abilities do I possess that help me investigate my life?
Thursday, January 21, 2010
I was checking out at the drugstore and set my six-pack of Gatorade, a large bottle of Musilex, a box of Dulcolax and an 8 ounce bottle of lemon flavored magnesium sulfate on the counter. I looked up at the clerk who was checking me out. “Bet you can’t guess what I get to do tomorrow?” She glanced at my purchases and smiled a wry smile. “This is the worst part,” she said. “Yeh, I know. I’ve heard.”
The fact that doctors now recommend every 50 year old to have a colonoscopy is incredible to me. Not that it’s a bad idea—it’s a life saver. Just the same, it isn’t on par with having a mammogram or bone density scan. It’s a very big ordeal! I know. I spent from 6 pm to 10 pm flushing out my body with the above regimen of laxatives and from 10 pm to 6 am flushing the toilet. I don’t know how many times my hand touched the handle and pushed down. Too many to count.
Then at 6:30 am, David drove me to the hospital (did I mention that he is scheduled for next Thursday?:) and I had my first ever colonoscopy. The clerk was right. The worst part is the prep. In fact, I really don’t remember the procedure at all. And by 5 pm this evening, I felt good enough to head down town for Happy Hour with the Indianapolis Symphony. I guess I’m not too worse for the wear.
The objective of the preparation is to flush your intestinal track of all its contents so that the doctor can scope it out and look for polyps or any other signs of cancer. On the one hand, it felt good to get all that “stuff” (I’m being polite) out of my system and lose four pounds in the process. (No joke.) Purging or cleansing my bowels felt therapeutic.
As I think of all the flushing that transpired, I am drawn to thoughts of what it means to be forgiven—cleansed from all my sin. What happened today is actually a pretty amazing picture of what that means. And that was a huge ordeal for Jesus. I’m so grateful that he was willing to go through the “regimen” in order to get rid of all my “stuff.” (Again, I’m being polite.) I’m also grateful today that my doctor said I don’t have to go through this again for 10 years! That’s a relief. It’s good to know I am healthy. Even more, it’s good to know that I'm forgiven.
P.S. Did I mention my doctor’s first name? Anil. Yeh, for real.
My friend sat across from me, each of us holding our cups of tea in our hands as we chatted. A few weeks ago, I had loaned her a book called, The Cup of Our Life by Joyce Rupp. I discovered this book awhile back and have read it a couple of times. The author uses a cup as a metaphor of our lives. During each daily reading, she invites you to use the cup in prayer and for journaling exercises.
For instance, one day you might hold the cup and look it over for any cracks or blemishes. Rupp then connects the worn and weathered cup with our own lives and how the cracks and blemishes tell part of our story. When I read the book myself, I used a very old cup that belonged to my grandmother. She drank tea out of it every day. Noticing the tea stains, small chips and fine fissures made me think of my grandmother’s story.
Until my friend talked about it today, I hadn’t thought about The Cup of Our Life and my experiment with 30 Days of Touching. It brought back memories of how the cup really did help me open myself to God and pray more honestly. I also remember how often what I read for the day corresponded to something going on in my own life.
The next time you have a cup of tea or coffee, hold the cup in your hands and let God speak to you about your life. Imagine your heart to be like an open cup and ask God to pour out his love and grace and fill you up. If you are really intrigued, pick up a copy of the book and see what you think.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
I love textures. I am drawn to nubby, natural, variegated textures. The first thing I do when I shop for clothes is feel the fabric and notice the texture. So today, I noticed textures.
- I wore pants that had a some wool in them and I found myself running my hand across my thigh to feel the blend of threads.
- My sweater, on the other hand, was thin and soft. It had big pockets in which I thrust my hands and felt the smoothness of the material.
- I sat in one chair whose fabric was a blend of materials, causing friction when I felt it across my hand.
- I sat in another chair that was made of smooth, sleek material, the kind you could slide right out of.
- I felt the texture of the food I ate--crusty bread, slippery avocado, crunchy flax seed chips, soggy vegetable soup and soft pumpkin cake.
- I felt the texture of skin: David's, my own, a friend's.
- I touched the smooth, slick steering wheel in my car, the cushiony fabric seat and the form-fitting gear shift.
In a given day, my hands and yours touch a thousand different textures. What do they tell us of God and our spiritual life? God shows up in the textures of life--the varied textures. He seems both nubby and smooth; rough, at times, and shimmery at others. For as many textures as there are in the world, God has them beat.
Monday, January 18, 2010
I was sitting at the kitchen table with our daughter, Brooke. She is the youngest of the four Booram kids. Brooke has always been tiny—even from birth. She was born a month early and weighed barely 6 pounds. Her whole life, she has maintained a petite stature. Today, I was noticing her small, thin hands. They are beautiful—diminutive, smooth and feminine. I love to hold them.
I know Brooke’s hands so well that I am confident I could pick them out in a crowd of hands! The same with David’s. His are smallish, sturdy and strong. The tips of his fingers are thick and flat—good for guitar playing and creating art. I love to hold his hands. One of the simplest pleasures in my life is walking, hand in hand, with him.
My dad had wonderful hands, too. Course hair covered the top but the underneath was very smooth. He had capable hands. He used them to build things and to pinch my knees when I sat next to him. I always loved to hold my dad’s hands.
Then there's my grandson, Eli's hands. Chubby and little and sweet. He wraps his hands around my pointer finger--that's how we hold hands.
I love hands. They are remarkable. Each pair has distinguishing features that belong to the individual with whom they are attached. Hands have character. Maybe that's why holding hands feels so intimate.
Questions for spiritual direction:
What do you learn about yourself when you look at your hands?
How do you picture God's hands?
How can you be held in his hands?
Sunday, January 17, 2010
As I mentioned in my last blog, I was out of town for the past four days at Sustainable Faith in Cincinnati where I began a spiritual direction program. It was an incredibly wonderful experience! I felt as if I was with “my people”—people who love to go deep with one another and see what God is up to in the environs of another's heart. I am trying to sift through the many experiences and decide what to write about—no easy task.
David Nixon, the founder of Sustainable Faith and leader of the cohort told us about an interesting social experiment. Researchers conducted a study where they placed a quarter in a phone booth and waited for a person to come along to make a phone call. The researchers wanted to know if the caller would pick up the quarter. They usually did. When they exited the phone booth, a person would approach them and ask if they had found a quarter in the phone booth. Only about 25 % admitted they did and returned the quarter.
They staged the experiment again. This time, when the “plant” approached the person, he or she walked up and gently and unobtrusively touched the person’s arm. Then the person would ask if this individual had found his or her quarter. 80 % of the people said, “Yes” and returned it.
What does this experiment tell us about the efficacy of human touch? Something happens when humans touch. Energy is exchanged. A subliminal bond is formed. We become personal. We touch the humanity in another and that makes it harder to rip them off.
A quarter for your thoughts.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
This afternoon, I leave for Cincinnati where I will begin a year-long School of Spiritual Direction cohort at Sustainable Faith. Just a head’s up; I probably won’t blog until I get back on Saturday or Sunday. No matter—make sure you keep on touching the textures of your world with interest in how God speaks through them.
As I was packing, I realized that I wanted to take a pair of comfortable boots with me. The ones I had in mind were a brilliant find—made by Cole Han and on the clearance rack at DSW for $20. They needed polishing, something I don’t often do. So, I hunted down the black show polish and got to work.
I gooped a rag with greasy polish and began to rub and swirl it in. I took a brush and swiped it across again and again. The boots began to shine, the leather re-conditioned and supple. As I was wrangling with the boots, trying to apply the polish and buff it, the smell permeated the air. Instantly, I had a memory of my dad.
Polishing shoes was an event for him. On Saturdays, he would gather the shoes that needed attention, line them up on the table, get out his shoe shine kit and polish away. I think he enjoyed doing it. I can picture him right now, chewing his tongue (something he was infamous for!), and relishing the simple act of restoring shine to his shoes.
This was the first time my touching experiment evoked a memory. I suspect it had to do with the strong smell of shoe polish—one of the strongest factors of memory retention. It was good to remember my dad. I miss him. I miss watching him chew his tongue and many(not all:) of the other idiosyncrasies that made him—him.
What have you touched recently that reminded you of someone you love? Enjoy remembering.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
This afternoon, I spent a very long time pickin’ chicken off the bone. I made one of my favorite soups—white bean chicken chili. In order to prepare the soup, I had to stew two chickens in a large pot. (I’m making some to freeze.) Well, let me tell you, it’s a lot of work picking the meat off the bones of two chicken carcasses!
With my hands covered in grease, I labored over each of the parts, trying not to waste any of the meat. I shredded the meat with my hands, pulled it away from the bones, and painstakingly separated the “wheat from the chaff.”
As I was handling all this stuff, I kept thinking, “God, how is my touching a way to experience you?” Several Scripture came to mind, like the word of God “piercing the division between joint and marrow” and the parable of separating the wheat from the chaff.
Finally, what began to speak to me is how resourceful God is, never letting anything go to waste. He gets his hands messy doing his work; he patiently separates what is useful from what isn’t; and he perseveres until his work is done. I am encouraged from a lifetime of evidence, that God can use anything as a tool of transformation and take anything and turn it into something good.
How have you seen God take the scraps from your life and turn them into resources that bless?
P.S. Here’s the recipe, just in case you asked:
Beth's White Bean Chicken Chili
1 whole chicken or 3 chicken breasts
32 ounces of chicken broth
3 cans of great northern beans undrained
1 can of green chilies
1 can of Rotele tomatoes
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 cup of half and half
1 T cumin
Dash of cayenne pepper
Stew the chicken in the broth until fully cook. Take off the bone and shred; add to broth.
Puree 1 can of beans and the cream cheese in the blender until creamy.
Add to broth.
Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Day 8: Removing Obstacles
Today, I wore a sweater with sleeves that extend beyond my fingertips. The arms are belled and have a fringed edge. (Groovy, right?) I like the sweater, but it bugged me how often I had to roll the sleeves up and down to get anything done. When I washed my hands, put my arm in my coat, or typed on my computer, I first had to roll up my sleeves to get them out of the way. This necessity made me realize how wonderful it is to have hands and fingers with which to touch. Rolling up and rolling down would be impossible without my dexterous digits!
I also thought about how, before I can make progress in other areas of my life, I often have to remove obstacles in the way. My sleeves, though perhaps clever fashion, just don’t work when it comes to doing normal chores. Too much stuff, too much planned, too much on my mind gets in the way of being fruitful and living life to its fullest. The writer of Hebrews speaks of it this way: "let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up"in order to live purposefully. (Hebrews 12:1)
Here are some questions for spiritual direction:
- What is getting in the way of me accomplishing my dreams and desires?
- How can I remove this hindrance?
- What do I spend too much time fussing with?
Sunday, January 10, 2010
We just came home from meeting with our house church. (For those who wonder, it’s the name we give to small groups at Trinity Church.) We always share a meal —or “break bread” together. Tonight, our host made an amazing Tomato Basil Soup, I brought salad, and two others brought bread.
For us, breaking bread is a bonding experience. The act of sharing a meal, one that is prepared by all, brings us together. Our hands have touched the food we share: sliced and diced, measured and seasoned, sautéed and stirred. When we eat it, we are nourished by one another.
Several times throughout the meal, someone would slice a piece of bread from one of the large loaves in the center of the table. I watched as the slices were cut and passed and the loaf disappeared. I held my slice, dipped it in oil, and thoroughly enjoyed the soft, dense texture of home baked bread.
Wonderful community happened around these loaves of bread. Tonight was especially sweet. We had guests—a delightful couple and a young, courageous African woman. (She has come to the U.S. to seek political asylum.) I don’t know that we would be as comfortable with each other if we didn’t take time to break bread. I hope you are finding time to do the same with a few people you enjoy.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Day 6: Life with Bongo—a Touching Story
At 6:35 am, our alarm clock sounded. Not the one in front of our bed, but the four-legged, fur-coated one. I lay in a twilight sleep as the sound of his padding up the stairs woke me. He rounded the bed to David’s side, jumped up, put his paws on the bed and poked his snout at David’s sleeping face. (Can you tell who gets up first each morning?)
After a concerted attempt to dissuade him, David got up and began his ritual of feeding Bongo and making coffee. Once Bongo had his breakfast and outside bathroom break, he bounded back up the stairs and plopped on the end of the bed, across my feet. I tried to dislodge him, but he thought better of it.
I came downstairs and curled up on the sofa, my mind on “screen-savor,” sipping coffee and slowly coming to. Bongo joined me. He curled his body next to mine as I pet him, stroking his soft, luxurious fur and rubbing his ears. We continued like this for a good hour—with me, every so often, running my fingers through his silky-smooth fur and caressing his adorable face.
In my opinion, petting a dog is one of the most delightful, consoling experiences in our lives! I pet Bongo, in part, because he has the most amazingly soft coat. (He is an Australian shepherd—a black tri-colored.) I love the way he feels. In fact, I can’t keep my hands off him; he is so sensational to touch. I also pet Bongo because he likes to be petted. I enjoy watching him enjoy being stroked.
In terms of how touching Bongo enhances or augments my spiritual life—I’m not sure of the connection. All I can say is that I am sure glad God made dogs! It’s one of life’s best pleasures, to have a dog to love and be loved by.
How about you? Have you pet your dog today?
Friday, January 8, 2010
This morning, I visited with my oldest brother in the hospital, right before he had his gall bladder removed. Even though the surgery is a common procedure, it’s still nerve-wracking to go through something like this. I could see apprehension and fear on Bruce’s face. My instinctive response was to ask if I could pray.
Two of his friends were there. So, I leaned over and held Bruce’s hand and one of his friend’s hand, who held the other friend’s hand. Instantly, a circle of prayer was formed—made through the joining of hands.
The impulse to join hands speaks of our desire to be united, especially when facing something that makes us feel small and feeble. The impulse to join hands says, “We are in this together—nobody has to face their troubles alone.” The impulse to join hands reaffirms that though we feel weak alone, we feel stronger when we’re together.
I will remember that moment of joining hands—of touching—as a moment of grace and a very good thing to do.
With whom do you need to join hands?
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Snowed in, I spent the day working from home, enclosed all around in a lovely winter wonderland. We have at least six inches of powder covering the ground, icing the tree branches and covering the bird feeders. Our little feathered friends might not feel as jubilant as I do about this frosty blanket.
This afternoon, I sat down for an hour and did some reading. I noticed how, involuntarily, I began to fiddle with my hair. I do this thing, especially now that my hair is longer, where I take a strand and twist it. I have always played with my hair. I always played with my kid’s hair. In fact, even my son had a thing for hair. Whenever I held him, he would reach for my hair and rub it between his fingers.
Why do I do that? Why do babies rub the edges of their blanket or the fur off their teddy bears? It seems to be a form of self-comfort. Something about twiddling my hair between my fingers is soothing to me.
That brings to mind a gift David gave me during college. He gave me a “worry stone” before I left for a summer in Europe to study music. The polished stone had an indentation in the middle and the idea was to rub it when you felt anxious about something. I kept it in my pocket and held it whenever I felt uneasy as I flew for hours across the Atlantic Ocean.
In the last few years, I have grown to appreciate other tactile experiences that help me be comforted by God. Holding a smooth, wooden cross and rubbing it; lighting a candle and watching it as I pray; holding a cup in my hand as a symbol of my life and asking God to fill it—all help bring the comfort and presence of God home to me through the sense of touch.
Would you be willing to try a new tactile spiritual practice?
Here’s an idea to explore during prayer:
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6, 7, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
During a time of prayer, take a smooth stone in your hand and hold it. Then, think about the things that worry you. As something comes to mind, rub the stone. Pray and tell God what you need and rub the worry away. Thank God for what he has done and will do in regard to your concern. Receive his peace.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
There’s touching. And then there’s being touched. The focus of my reflection today is on the later, but not in the way you might think. This morning, I had an ultrasound. (Clarification—no, I’m not pregnant. No, I don’t have anything serious going on.)
Of all my “touching” experiences today, that one is by far the most memorable. The technician probed and prodded with the ultrasound wand, making sure the high frequency sound waves penetrated into my organs so that she could get a good picture of what she needed to see. Her "touching" touched beyond the external/physical to the inside of me.
Touch can do that.
Touch transmits energy beyond the physical sensation—it gets under our skin. It “touches” us on the inside. When my husband puts his hand on the back of my neck, his arm around me or holds me, the sensation of being touched by him penetrates my skin and makes my heart warm. Touching has very powerful properties!
Is that why Jesus often touched people when he healed them? Instead of standing at a distance, saying the word, and watching what happened, he typically moved toward them, placed his hand on them and healed them. His physical contact was the agency through which his healing came.
As I consider the impressive nature of touch, I want to ask:
- Who needs my touch?
- Whose touch do I need?
- How does Jesus want to touch me today?
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
All daylong I fought being cold. I resisted lifting the covers off when it was time to get out of bed. I took an extra hot shower to make up for the chill. I drove downtown, loosely gripping the frigid steering wheel of my car. During my meeting, I cradled a cup of tea to warm my hands. I walked back to the car as the frosty wind whipped through my unbuttoned coat. I cranked up the heat until I was toasty again.
Cold and hot. Cold and hot. I kept trying to find that comfortable place in the middle.
My sense of touch enables me to feel and prefer certain temperatures. It influences my proclivity toward warmth somewhere in the middle--would you call that “lukewarm?”
God, on the other hand, seems to have an aversion to lukewarm. The words of Revelation 3 come to mind. “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”
All day, I obediently accommodated my body’s preference for a lukewarm temperature. In what way do I, unconsciously or consciously, accomodate a lukewarm temperature toward God?
Time for confession:
- When I resist a prompting of the Spirit to speak or act on Christ's behalf.
- When I stay busy in order to avoid Spirit-led introspection.
- When I become a slave to personal comfort.
- When I follow the mindless, indifferent, self-absorbed masses traveling the wide road.
- When I treat money like it is mine.
What about you?
Monday, January 4, 2010
One of the highlights of vacation for me is the increased opportunity to read. I finished two non-fiction books over the holidays. I am slogging my way through a 1,000+-page novel and have begun two other books. Of all the book-friends I have spent time with over break, my favorite was Journey Inward, Journey Outward by Elizabeth O’Connor. Written in the 1960’s, this book describes the formational philosophy of Church of the Savior in Washington, DC—a church that was and is way ahead of it’s time!
I want to write about what I read in this book during my first day of touching because it reminds me of a “tactile” spiritual discipline that I have practiced for the last year that involves praying the inward and outward journey using a finger labyrinth. I will share this exercise with you at the end of this post.
O’Connor writes, “While it is a crucial mistake to assume that churches can be on an outward journey without being on an inward one, it is equally disastrous to assume that one can make the journey inward without taking the journey outward.” She explains that these opposing movements must always be held in tension within our individual lives and within the church. Both are essential for wholeness and living into God’s purposes and are nurtured through three engagements:
- An engagement with oneself: “It is easy for the religious to become closed and unyielding when this dimension of the spiritual life is absent. These are the religious who never seem real.” “As people on an inward journey, we are committed to growing in consciousness, to becoming people in touch with our real selves, so that we know not only what flows at the surface, but what goes on in the depths of us.”
- An engagement with God: “The goal we have been speaking of here is the one of getting our lives rooted in God, so that they are not blown and tossed about by every wind. We need the engagement with self to find out that we have our houses resting on sand, but there is no possibility of getting them over on rock with out an engagement with God.
- An engagement with others: “Engagement with others in depth is always difficult within the church, which is probably why so few try it and why there is so little genuine Christian community in the world.” “As for those who irritate us and make us always want to get out of their way, they may be precisely the ones who have the most to tell us about ourselves.”
Last year, at the end of January, I wrote a prayer for the inward, outward/coming and going journey of our lives. I found an image of a finger labyrinth and printed it on paper with the prayer. (It was written for the congregation I had served in an interim role for 2 ½ years.) A labyrinth symbolizes the natural ebbing and flowing of life and the inward and outward motion of our spiritual journey.
For nearly a year, I have memorized, meditated on and prayed this prayer almost daily. It has become a very special, meaningful and rich experience as I “touch” the labyrinth, moving my finger inward with each phrase of the inward prayer and then outward with each phrase of the outward prayer. I encourage you to consider printing this prayer and a finger labyrinth (easily found on the internet) and begin a daily rhythm of “feeling your prayers.” I hope it will become a beautiful way for you to experience God as you reinforce the inward/outward motion of your life with him.
Blessings on your inward and outward journey!
Gracious God, the God who woos me,
Draw me by your Spirit into silence and stillness,
Help me find my way home.
Anchor me in your love and grace
As I come to you in my weakness
And learn from your gentle and humble heart.
Give rest to my soul.
Gracious God, the God who sends me,
Lead me by your Spirit with courage and strength,
Help me find my place in the world.
Fill me with joy from serving you
As I become your hands and feet
And learn to love as you have loved me.
Give vision to my soul.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
The wide road might be called the way of unconsciousness
The wide road is the road of the crowd.
Happy New Year, friend!
I like to think of a new year as a fresh start. This year, I hope that you and I can live with renewed spiritual intention as we seek God and the life he has for us. One of the ways I am learning to attend to God more fully is through focusing on one particular sense and allowing it to help me become present and aware of God. Many of you have participated in the last two experiments--30 Days of Tasting and 30 Days of Seeing--all apart of the workshop and potential book, The Art of Faith: Awakening Your Senses to the Wonder of God.
Beginning Monday, January 4th, my friend and co-author, Brent Bill and I will begin 30 Days of Touching. We'd love for you to join us and begin your new year with an intention to become more sensitive to God's presence and leading in your life.
Here's how to participate:
- Beginning Monday, January 4th, copy and paste a note in your calendar for 30 days that reminds you to "pay attention to touching!"
- Invite your spouse/friends/small group/house church to participate with you.
- Each day, intentionally notice how different things feel to your touch. (The moment you isolate your sense of touch, you begin to live in the present moment, the only place where you can experience God.)
- As you become present, seek to experience God in the thing you are touching. ( How is God speaking to you through the rough bark of a tree, the cold wind on your face, the smooth skin of a baby's cheek, the soft fur of your dog's coat?)
May 2010 be a year where you "take the narrow road" and become more conscious of God by tasting, seeing, touching, hearing and smelling the One who is Life within life!