Friday, December 28, 2012

Awaken Your Senses to Christ's Advent: Nostalgic Smells

"Often the strongest memories of our past are indelibly imprinted into our memory bank through our senses, especially the sense of smell." Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God, pg. 158

We smell our memories. Like pine trees, snicker doodles, winter air, steamy hot chocolate, a fire in the fire place....those are the smells I remember and associate with Christmas. Each is stored in my memory bank and awakened during the Christmas season when I re-smell them and re-member them again. Smells are nostalgic.

Take a moment and think about the smells that are most memorable to you at Christmas time. What do you associate with each? How do you react to each? Do you remember when you first smelled them?

Now imagine the smells of the first Christmas; the smells of a newborn babe--a mixture of blood and vernix--that cheesy-white, sweet-smelling substance that covers a newborn; the pungent smells of a stable, complete with manure, gamey animals and earthy shepherds; and two parents saturated in the scent of the journey, of dusty highways and sweat and roadside bathroom breaks.

It's not quite the same bouquet of nostalgic Christmas scents, is it?It strikes me how antiseptic the Advent of Jesus becomes when we forget to soak in the scents of the first Christmas.

How can you and I live more deeply in the real story of Christ's Advent? Perhaps by breathing in the fumes of our world; the unfiltered fragrance of our own stables and then linking them with his.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Awaken Your Senses to Christ's Advent: Touching Jesus

"I was in my usual hurry to work when I spied a big, black, evil SUV sitting in the curb lane. The no-parking lane. The lane I use to get to the parking lot....What a doofus, I thought.... Sitting there I got more and more upset with this person who was blocking my way—my important way—down the street.Then just as the light changed, the big, black, evil SUV took a hard right across all four lanes of traffic and pulled into a parking spot. The driver climbed out and bounded up the steps of St. Mary Catholic Church. There he stood in front of a statue of Jesus. He reached up and began touching its face, its hair, the folds of the robe. My anger drained. Embarrassed, I glanced in the rear-view mirror as I passed. The man still stood there, touching, caressing Jesus. I felt foolish. I also felt humbled. I rush by that statue every day. Sometimes I see it; most times not. But here was a man who stopped just to touch Jesus." Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God, pg. 117, 118

There's another man in the Christmas story who did the same thing. His name was Simeon. He was parked in the Temple, led there by the Spirit, because of an intuition that he would see the anointed one of God that particular day. So, when Mary and Joseph walked in, he saw Jesus in the arms of His parents, and "Simeon took Jesus into his arms and blessed God" (Luke 2:28). Here was a man who stopped just to touch Jesus, too.

These two stories, side by side, provoke some honest reflection and  invite you and me to ask:
  • Where am I being led by the Spirit to find Jesus today? 
  • Am I willing to stop what I'm doing in order to reach out and touch him? 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Awaken Your Senses to Christ's Advent: Day 3

"Our sense of hearing is a rare, sophisticated, complex gift--the collaborative efforts of our outer, middle and inner ears with our auditory nervous system. Described simply, our ears pick up sound vibrations, which are transformed into nerve impulses that travel to the brain and are interpreted based on our memory of that sound. Amazingly, we can differentiate between thousands of auditory memories. And even though our auditory radar is turned on all the time--even when we're sleeping--hearing a sound is very different from listening to it." (Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God, pg. 126)

During Advent, many of the sounds that come to us--like Christmas carols, the ringing of the Salvation Army bell, or the reading of the Christmas story--have deep roots in our childhood. We recognize them because they are stored as a memory. 

I had one of those memories this morning as I read and prayed. Quite unintentionally, the words of the Apostle's Creed came to mind--words that I recited each Sunday in the Presbyterian church where I was raised. I "heard" the words file across my mind, condensing the Christmas story into a few simple lines.

There is something powerful about hearing our own voice read, speak or sing the familiar words of a creed, carol or the Christmas story. The challenge is to not merely "hear" the words, but "listen" to them.

As part of awakening your senses to Christ's Advent today, why don't you choose a familiar song, Scripture or story and read it out loud, being careful to listen to what it says to you today.

Here's the Apostle's Creed if this is one that has meaning for you: 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
    the Maker of heaven and earth,
    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
    born of the virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell. 
The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
    and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
    from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
    the holy catholic church;
    the communion of saints;
    the forgiveness of sins;
    the resurrection of the body;
    and the life everlasting.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Awaken Your Senses to Christ's Advent: Day #2

"Freeman Patterson says that 'letting go of self is an essential precondition to real seeing.'....All around you are the big scenes that make up your daily life. How could you reframe the things that you see so that they can tell you a new story?" (Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God, pg. 71, 72)

All around us are invitations to welcome Christ's advent--his coming again through the ancient story of the babe in the manger and his coming to us in the story of our own lives and his gifts of grace and salvation today. If Patterson is right, the reason we often miss Christ's advent is because we are so self-conscious.

How could you reframe the things that you see today so that they tell you a new story about Christ's coming? 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Awaken Your Senses to Christ's Advent Today! Day #1

"Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation." I Peter 2:2

"Peter used the analogy of a newborn who urgently roots for his or her mother's breast, having tasted the wonderful sustenance of her milk and wanting more. The mother's milk maintains the life of this little one who is incapable of consuming or digesting any other form of nourishment." (Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God, pg. 41)  

As I meditated on the Christmas story this morning and thought about the sense of taste, what surprisingly came to mind was the image of Jesus being satisfied by his mother's milk. What a picture of the astonishing humility of God to nourish and sustain God's Son at the breast of a human mother!

Just as the infant Jesus craved his mother's milk, what do you crave during this Advent season? How will you satisfy your craving? With "pure spiritual milk" or with a cheap substitute? 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What are you avoiding? Good Question! # 10

Some questions are so direct it's as though they "fillet" our soul. They cut to the chase; they zero in; they expose to the bone. I don't particularly like questions like that because they feel invasive and put people on the spot. And yet, like no other question, this kind of question can really do the heavy lifting of *"raising us toward God."

This is the kind of question one of my spiritual direction clients presented to me just the other day. She was sharing her take on the gospel story of the rich, young ruler. This is the guy that Jesus told to go and sell all he had and then come and follow him. The rich, young ruler walked away, head hanging, heart exposed, soul filleted. (Matthew 19: 16-22)

My directee said, through tender tears, that she could relate to this guy. She saw herself in him--someone who has tried everything; done it all; attempted to be really good. But like him, there was one thing she avoided. It didn't have to do with possessions or wealth. It had to do with pain. Feeling pain.

Feeling uncomfortable, difficult, painful emotions is something my friend finds especially difficult. There are lots of reasons why. And so her natural inclination is to avoid them or numb them. This is the "one thing" that Jesus has been putting his finger on lately. He's asked her, "What are you avoiding?"

It's a question that turns us in a different direction. It's not about what we are doing but what we are not doing. It's not about what's present in our lives but what's absent. It's about the negative space in our heart because of what we turn away from.

I sat with this question myself and found Jesus' finger filleting my soul and zeroing in on something I have avoided. It had to do with a hatchet that I needed to bury. The question, "What am I avoiding?" helped me see what has kept me from keeping pace with Jesus in my own followership.

So--sorry to do this, but not really. Here's the question for you: What are you avoiding? Will you sit with it for a time and allow the Spirit's finger to do some poking and niggling? And if something comes to you, don't forget that you don't have to walk away with your head down. Tell Jesus how you feel and ask him to help you face it.... and then see what happens.

*This series of blog posts on good questions is generated from the quote, "People raise themselves toward God by the questions they ask." It's a quote from Rabbi Moshe, Elie Wiesel's mentor.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Where do you need to loiter? Good Question! # 9

You've probably seen the sign on walls in public places--NO LOITERING. And, like me, you know why it's there. It's posted in an effort to keep people from camping out in a place they are only intended to visit for a short while. That can be a problem in cities, especially those with a large homeless population in search of shelter and warmth.

This week, I found myself thinking about loitering in a different light.

I was reading in Celtic Treasure, by J. Philip Newell, a meditation on John 20 about the story of Mary Magdalene going to Jesus' tomb in the wee hours of the morning. When she arrived, the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. Alarmed, Mary quickly ran to alert Jesus' disciples, Peter and John and they returned to the tomb together.

But "Mary remained in the garden after the disciples had gone."  She loitered.

You might recall what happened next. She must have heard something, noticed something that caught her eye. So, Mary peered into the empty tomb again and this time she saw two angels! And when she turned back, there was Jesus, standing next to her.Wow.

Think about what she would have missed if she hadn't remained--if she hadn't loitered!

It would have been so natural for her to follow the boys home; to go find refuge in the company of other distraught disciples. But instead, something inside Mary caused her to remain; to linger. And because she did, she came face to face with two angels--not to mention, Jesus.

As I read this story, I found myself drawn to the phrase, "Mary remained in the garden...." The words had that shimmering quality that I've learned to pay attention to. Soon, a question formed within me: Where do I need to remain?" Where do I need to wait, linger, dawdle,... loiter.

I've noticed over the last few years that some of my richest times of growth have come when I've been willing to "loiter" in a place--even an uncomfortable place--because I sensed there was something important for me to discover.  

So, here's the question I'd like to pose to you. Where do you need to loiter? Where do you need to linger in order to see something you'd otherwise miss? 

Here are some possible places for you to consider:
  • A story or passage in Scripture 
  • A conversation, even conflict, with one of your kids, spouse or friend
  • An experience where you were deeply moved
  • A decision that you need to take your time to make
  • A prayer that you feel like giving up on 
And don't let your internal "NO LOITERING"signs move you on until you see the angels--or better yet, Jesus.


Monday, November 26, 2012

"In the spirit of full disclosure....I caught a mouse." Good question! #8

For as long as I can remember, I've had a phobia about mice. In fact, my earliest childhood memory is of a mouse trap and a drop of red blood on the linoleum in our kitchen. I think I was around three years old. I suppose this irrational fear might have also developed by osmosis. My mom was terrified of mice and on a number of occasions I remember her catapulting to the top of a freezer or table when she saw one.

So now you understand why my husband said to me the other day, "In the spirit of full disclosure....I caught a mouse." He knows how ridiculously obsessed I am about these fast moving, turd-dropping vermin.

While cleaning behind the refrigerator in our new-to-us old house, David saw evidence of mice and so kindly set a trap or two. Once one was caught, he knew it was important to tell me the truth, as much as I hated to hear it. He told me because he knew I would want to know.

His 'in the spirit of full disclosure" comment is a variation of another good question I ask as a spiritual director. "In the spirit of full disclosure, what is it that you want or need to tell God?"

It's interesting that some of the most important things we should be talking about with God are often avoided. Things that involve strong emotions. Disappointments we have with him. Dreams inside us that we're afraid to name. Conflicts that make us upset.

These are often the "stuff" of important conversation with God because they represent the reality of our lives and the wars of our internal world. And they are the kinds of things he wants to know. Not that he doesn't already know about them. These hard-to-talk-about topics often form the crux of conversations that open lines of communication and remove blocks in our intimacy with God. 

So, what is it that, in the spirit of full disclosure, you need to talk about with God? God wants to know what you have to say. Imagine him as he listens with rapt attention; unbiased and non-judgmental; full of grace and truth.

Now try it and see what happens.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

We raise ourselves toward God by the questions we ask: Good question! #7

I shopped for our Thanksgiving meal yesterday. We'll have about 15 family and friends join us for our first Thanksgiving in our new home! So, as I sauntered through the grocery store, filling my cart with all the necessary items to make my portion of the meal complete, I stopped off in the wine aisle and added a couple of bottles to my load, concerned that I might run out of wine half-way through the feast.

Either because of a lack of money or planning, there was a another feast, a wedding feast, described in John 2 where that very thing happened. It's a story I've found myself stewing in for several days now. Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Jesus with his disciples, attended this wedding feast in Cana, when half way through the celebration, the wine ran out! Mary, perhaps concerned for the embarrassment of the host, prodded Jesus to take care of the problem. And eventually he did--turning everyday water into fine wine.

One of the questions that has emerged for me through this story is this: "If I keep going as I am, will my wine run out?"

Undoubtedly, this is a question that has come to the surface for good reason. David and I feel as though our lifework and lifestyle have come together in the most joyous and wonderful way. As we celebrate the launching of Sustainable Faith Indy and enjoy the newness of our urban home and the pleasure of sharing in this ministry together, we are very thankful, indeed.

There are also times when I feel like I'm running out of sap to respond to the numerous invitations of my life. I'm aware that for me to continue to have the joy and energy necessary for this work, I need to fill up. I need to discover the ways and means through which Jesus fills me with his Spirit and transforms what I have to offer others. I don't want the wine of my life to run out.

As you consider the way you are living, if you keep going as you are, will your wine run out?

Recognizing a dwindling supply of energy and enthusiasm for life can help us take the steps necessary to stock up; to pursue the spiritual practices and experiences through which we are refilled and refueled. This Thanksgiving, as you celebrate the bounty of your life, why not take some time to inventory how much wine you have left in the cellar.   

Friday, November 16, 2012

We raise ourselves toward God by the questions we ask: Good Question! #6

I was on a conference call this week when someone mentioned casually that the first 45 minutes of his day are spent drinking coffee and staring out the window. Staring out the window.... just the idea of that sounded delicious to me!

I love to just stare; to linger in time, not pushing my thoughts around in any productive direction but simply paying attention, gentle attention, to the world around me.That image helped me identify another good question that can provide rich spiritual insight:

"Where do your thoughts go when you let them go?" 

That's what I do when I sip coffee and stare out the window. I allow my mind the freedom to be drawn to the yearnings of my soul--to the places of subconscious thought and desire. Take for instance this morning: I have been sitting in my den looking out the window that faces east, observing the morning light as it "pinkens" (I just made that word up) over the houses in my view.

As I sat leisurely, my mind was able to go where it felt like going, I began to think about my love of nature; about experiences I've had in nature when God's presence enveloped me in and through the beauty that surrounded me. My thoughts confirmed a need and hunger within me for time with God in the woods. 

Since we've moved into the city, I've become aware that I don't have as many experiences, even driving, where I get to "see" a landscape that fills up my senses and soul. I need that. It's one of my most meaningful and nourishing spiritual practices. In fact, I feel a little spiritually peaked because of my lack of connection with God in nature.

So by allowing my thoughts, as I sipped coffee and looked out the window, to enter the deeper contours of my soul, I became aware of a spiritual longing for God through the experience of nature. I let my soul speak. And now I am eager to act on it.

Where do your thoughts go when you let them go? 

This question is helpful when we are in a state of rest; when we are looking out a window relaxing and being. But it can also be an insightful question when we are anxious and hurried. If we pay attention to where our thoughts naturally go when left unattended, we can gain insight into our emotional and spiritual state. That realization allows us to pray more candidly and move toward experiences that nourish our relationship with God.

So, why don't you try it today or tomorrow: Let your thoughts go where they want to go and see where they lead. See what they tell you about the condition of your soul and your spiritual longings.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

We raise ourselves toward God by the questions we ask: Good Question! #5

One of the ways I've learned to notice the whispers of the Spirit is to pay attention to recurring themes. When I start hearing the same thing, over and over again, I know to give credence to it as a possible invitation from God to consider. One such theme has been reverberating lately: Keeping Sabbath.

A friend dropped a book off in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago on Sabbath. I sat in a planning meeting where someone suggested to include Sabbath-keeping as a required practice for a new certificate program on spiritual  direction. And finally, Friday night, I attended a writer's conference and heard the speaker, Dr. Matthew Sleeth, talk about his new book, 24/6--you guessed it, on honoring the Sabbath.

The question that Sleeth posed is "What is missing in your life?"--a profitable one for this series on questions that help raise us toward God.

Matthew Sleeth told the story of being in his third year of medical school, gathered around an x-ray with fellow med students and after studying it for an hour, concluding that it was a chest x-ray of a normal patient. His professor then gave them all a clue. "Don't just look for what is there, look for what is missing." They continued to be puzzled.

Finally, the radiologist said that he had just called the patient to inform her that he feared she had cancer. The evidence: her left clavicle (collar bone) was missing! Eaten away by this stealth disease.

Sleeth made the point that often we forget to look at "what's missing" in our lives. It's much harder to notice what's missing than what's present--and Sabbath is a case in point. But that question is a very formative one as we focus on our spiritual condition and interest in drawing closer to God.

What's missing--in our lives, in our relationships with God?

For me, Sabbath is often the sacrificial lamb I offer on the alter of my "busy" life. I work a lot. When I'm not working my official jobs, I'm busy doing, producing, and achieving. And when I take an x-ray of my internal being, I can tell what's missing: rest. Rest from accomplishing. Rest from being responsible. Rest from striving. Rest.

So--what's missing for you? What do you need more of? What do you need less of? If you take time to examine your inner being, what is absent? That's the first step in diagnosing our spiritual condition. The next is, "What will we do about it?"

Incidentally, it just occurred to me that today is the Sabbath--and here I am, writing a blog post. Busted:)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We raise ourselves toward God by the questions we ask: Good Question! #4

My spiritual journey seems to circle back through familiar terrain from time to time. I enter a spiritual landscape that feels strangely familiar--a sort of spiritual dejavu--and it makes me stop and think, "When have I been here before?" and "What do I remember about this place?" Another "good question" that promotes spiritual movement.

Remembering where we've been is a an important spiritual practice if we are to navigate the circuitous landscapes of our spiritual lives and one we are reminded to do throughout Scripture. Psalm 42, for example, says, "My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be (Psalm 42:4)." "Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you... (Psalm 42: 6)."

Especially when we find ourselves in a time of disorientation with God, it's helpful to reflect on how this time reminds us of other times in our life and journey. Often, as we reflect back, we recall who God was for us and how God was with us. As we recall, we are strengthened to look for God and hope in God in the midst of our present darkness.

It's the "songs we learn" in those times of confusion that help us through the nights of our present and future sojourn. (Psalm 42: 8) They help us know where to look for God in the midst of the fog and how to posture ourselves for God's work and redemption.

As you consider the spiritual terrain of your life right now, does it remind you of a time in the past? If so, what do you remember about it? How was God with you and for you?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

We raise ourselves toward God by the questions we ask: Good question! #3

"What are you learning right now about the ways of God?"

This question came to me this morning as I mulled over a passage of Scripture in James 3:13 - 18. I was struck with how James compared knowing wisdom with knowing the ways of God. "If you are wise and understand God's ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom (James 3:13)." It's like being wise and understanding God's ways are one in the same.

One of the most important things we need to attend to in our lives is noticing the ways of God. How does God interact with us and others? How does God accomplish his work in the world? How does God engage me and transform me? If we are to respond and cooperate with the ways and work of God in our lives, then we need to notice his ways. 

Often I hear people describe God and his ways very differently from how I observe God working in my life and the world around me. They describe God as someone with heavy-handed, iron-clad power and control; someone who always gets his way. They use big words life "omnipotent" and "sovereign" to describe a kingly God who demands and commands subservience. I experience God very differently. I notice God working in much subtler ways with a much more humble demeanor.

If knowing wisdom is synonymous with knowing God's ways, then here's a description from James 3:17, 18 of the way we can look for God to interact with us and accomplish his purposes. See if it describes what you are learning about the ways of God.

God's ways are pure.
God's ways are peace loving.
God's ways are gentle at all times.
God's ways are willing to yield to others.
God's ways are full of mercy and good deeds.
God's ways show no favoritism.
God's ways are always sincere. 

As you reflect on this description, how is God involved in your life right now? How is he inviting you to respond?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Good Question! #2: When have you been real with God?

In my early years as a Christian, I was taught that "right thinking is a prerequisite to right living." It's a statement that has such a nice ring to it, doesn't it? It sounds like it should work. Iron out your wrong ideas about God and life, replace them with the truth, and--presto--you will start living life the way you are intended.

The problem with this statement is it doesn't work.

Merely replacing wrong ideas with right ones doesn't necessarily change us or the way we live. What changes us is when we bring our real selves before God and experience his profound love and acceptance.

Being loved by God in an "undefended state," as David Benner puts it, is the aim of prayer and the catalyst for transformation--for "right living." When we gather ourselves before God, our real selves, and experience God's acceptance of us in our naked brokenness and beauty, we are changed. We are healed by God's love and acceptance; strengthened by God's comfort; empowered by God's grace to live more whole/holy lives.

As a spiritual director, I often listen to individuals who work feverishly to know God and find their way to a better life with God. I also notice them avoiding God. They live in their heads, in their frenetic thoughts, and don't know how to gather themselves before God in an undefended state. They want to change, to be free, and they continue to try to change by changing the way they think. It doesn't seem to work.

My best direction for them is to help them learn how to be real with God and to pray and engage with God in their real condition. I've come to believe that if I can help them quit playing "dress up" before God, and come as they are, expressing their true emotions, questions and motivations to God, they are more likely to experience God.

The obstacle most face, myself included, is turning off their anxious minds and churning thoughts; getting out of their frenetic thinking and into their deeper thoughts and real prayers. And there's no simple step or two that anyone, myself included, can offer. Realistically, pain and heartache are often the impetus that drive us beyond our superficial thinking toward a desperate seeking of God. ("You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:13)

So, I'd rather not conclude with some antidote in the form of an exercise or spiritual practice that will help you find your way to a real encounter with God. I'd rather simply say that the question, "When have you been real with God?" is a good place to start. Once you identify a time when you felt like you truly connected with God from your true self, then retrace your steps. What led you to this place of raw and honest encounter? Pay attention to what led you and then return to this place again, engaging with God in an undefended state. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Good question! #1: How is God inviting you to know Him right now?

Have you ever noticed the pleasure of asking or being asked a good question? A zinger question? The kind of question that takes you right to where you or the person you're talking to need to go. As a spiritual director, I'm a collector of questions; forever in search of the best questions to ask my clients to help them pay attention to the movement of God in their lives.So this blog is the first in a series entitled: Good question!

This morning, I came upon one of those "good" questions. At least it felt that way to me. It had the penetrating, spot-on quality I know can be of great use when I'm probing the interior landscape of some one's relationship with God: How is God inviting you to know Him right now?

When I asked the question of my client, simultaneously, I had the awareness that it was a question I needed to ask myself. I felt curiously drawn to it, as though the idea hadn't originated with me, but came from elsewhere--beyond me--and was for me.

As I ponder the question, I recognize something I know from experience and have come to assume--that God is too much for me to know all at once. And so often God has shown me one of his "faces" or facets, an aspect of God's self that he wants me to know. How is God inviting me to know him-- right now?

Right now....means after a busy few weeks of travel and numerous plates spinning in my head. I sense that God wants me to know him as my rest, my Sabbath, not a means to resolve or accomplish something else. This morning, as I prayed, I felt God encouraging me to seek him period; not to ask for something but to simply be with him and rest in him. I sensed his pleasure as I sought his company.

I recognize something else implied in the question; the belief that God invites us to know him. I think many of us might agree with that assumption, but I notice in myself and others a subtle (or not so subtle) avoidance of God. That's right. A way that we keep ourselves so busy for God or with our work and responsibilities that we resist or ignore God's invitation to know him; to experience and encounter him. 

So, what about you? How does this question sit with you? How is God inviting you to know him right now? That may seem like a really hard question. Here are a few things that helped me think about it: 

  1. Pay attention to anything that you've heard or read recently about God that keeps "haunting" you. What about it seems to speak truth or resonate with your life and what you know or want to know about God?
  2. When you do pray, what do you pray for? How is God responding to your prayers? What do you wonder or learn about God related to the way he is or isn't responding?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Becoming Root Bound

I don't fly enough for it to feel "normal." Departing in the wee hours of the morning, worrying if everything will fit in my carry-on, going through security, not to mention leaving David behind still feels pretty stressful. So, last week, when I flew to Rapid City, South Dakota, I experienced my typical anxiety and dread in preparation for my trip.

And, as often is the case, once I arrived and began to meet the women and facilitate the retreat, I was reminded of why I get on airplanes, travel cross country and endure the stress. I had an incredibly rich, meaningful time and sensed God's blessing.

Sunday morning, as I sat in bed drinking a cup of coffee and preparing my heart for our last session together, I prayed about the ambivalence I feel toward traveling. As I did, an image came to mind--the picture of a plant being lifted from a pot where it had become "root bound." I know from my small amount of gardening experience that when plants are housed in too small a container, their roots have no where to expand, so they quit growing and even die.

It was obvious the message that God's Spirit was speaking to me. As much as I love and even prefer home, I could easily become root bound, living too small a life, cloistering myself in too cramped a container, stunting my own growth, starving my soul.

Invariably, when I travel and experience new people and new places, it expands my heart, mind and soul. The beautiful, interesting women I met in the Black Hills of South Dakota blessed my life and taught me much about the work of God in the terrain of their own hearts. I heard stories I won't forget. I saw landscapes of extraordinary beauty. I met women who are now friends.

Opportunities for growth often elicit conflicting emotions; resistance and attraction, dread and drawing can be indicators of an invitation from God to expand our lives and deepen our roots in Christ and the life we're called to live. It doesn't always feel good to grow.

As you think about this, are you aware of becoming "root bound?" Can you identify any opportunities on the horizon that create an emotional tension between desire and repulsion?

I can. I leave on Friday for Wichita, KS for the Aprentis Conference with James Bryan Smith and Richard Foster. I will probably board the plane with sweaty palms and a churning stomach--a challenge I must press through to keep the "pot" enlarging and my life expanding. 


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Before and After: How Vision Transforms Reality

One of the first things people comment about when they come to our new place is how settled we look. We are quick to explain that we've done very little. Six or seven years ago, someone had a vision to transform this home from shambles into the lovely home it is today. Here are the "before" and "after" pictures to show you what we mean.

It's unbelievable, really, to look at the "before" state of our home and see it now. We've learned from neighbors that before it's renovation homeless people used it as their squat. And before that, a family lived in it who struggled with serious health issues. A friend I know would come with others from her church to help them and pray with them. 

Then someone came along and bought it for a song--someone with a vision. They saw in our home something worth redeeming. They saw the potential; the good lines, the spacious size, the beautiful woodwork and the hundred-year-old walnut trees on the lot. They saw the future in their vision--when present reality would be transformed into a new reality.

Transformation is what creates the "before" and "after." But before transformation is the vision--the ability to "see" what could be.

As I look back on these last several years, our present reality is also the result of vision. I began to imagine a different life, a "home-centered" life where we would live and work and extend hospitality. I could feel the draw in me to a new place and a new lifestyle. The more I began to write and talk about it, the clearer the vision became--though still only a dream. Now we are living it; realizing our dream with each new day and the myriad experiences that follow.

I sense that many people have a dream or vision stirring in their hearts. After all, we've been created in the image of the Consummate Envision-er. When we "see" our world with God's eyes, we see his kingdom come to earth. We see potential, redemption, transformation--what "could" be. 

So, what vision is stirring in your heart? Where do you "see" what could be? How will you take the next step to realize your dream?


Friday, August 3, 2012

Discovering Your Growing Edge

I recently met with a woman for spiritual direction. As we sat together, considering her life and the situation she brought to our time, it was apparent that she was in a drought. Personally, relationally, spiritually, vocationally--life was dry and unyielding.

It didn't take long for me to recall vivid images of the literal drought that surrounds me in my own location. Indiana, like most Midwestern states, has experienced a serious crisis of rain-less-ness. The leaves on the trees are wilted and drooping; large limbs have fallen to the ground; shrubs and grass are brown and crisp.

I "saw" as I listened to this woman's story the roots of a plant, forced by sheer necessity to penetrate the soil, hungrily bearing down in search of moisture in the ground water for the sake of survival. I saw in this image a picture of this woman's "growing edge."

A growing edge is the place in our life where we are being pressed to deepen and develop. It might be from a drought of some kind or a new experience that requires larger capacity. It can come from experiencing "too much" or "too little" of something and having to adapt, narrow or expand. Whatever it is in life that applies the pressure, it often doesn't feel good. But rest assured, it can be God's invitation to grow our roots deeper into him--into the soil of our true-self-in-Christ.

For me, as I maneuver this new terrain of life in the city and begin this new ministry called Sustainable Faith Indy, I am aware of a growing edge. It's one that has surprised me. The growing edge for me has been an increase in opportunities. I am getting several requests each week to host, to offer spiritual direction, to lead retreats, to meet with folks interested in The School of Spiritual Direction.

It's been exciting, surprising and an invitation to grow. The growth for me is in learning what to say yes and no to. Learning what is for me and what isn't; what is beyond my capacity and what is within my capacity; to learn balance.

As we seek to discover our growing edge, at first glance it can feel more like a place of pressure, drought, or overwhelmed-ness. But don't be fooled. It can also be fertile soil and the very place where God is inviting us to grow our roots, expand our capacity or clarify our focus.

So, where is your growing edge right now? Where is life exerting pressure to deepen and develop? Remember that it can often be in the very place that feels most dry or hard or overwhelming. A place you'd prefer to be transplanted from rather than remain. However, it just might be fertile soil--your growing edge.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Where does the pain go?

I remember thinking to myself after the birth of our first child, "Those women were lying! Those women who told me I would forget this pain were lying!" Overwhelmed by the ordeal of natural childbirth (yes--I gave birth in the 80's before the advent of the epidural), I could not imagine ever forgetting the unbelievable, off-the-charts pain of labor. 

Yet, almost 30 years later, the memory of those contractions has become faintly imprinted in my memory by almost indiscernible hues. Jesus explained to his followers what this experience of forgetting pain is like. "It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy." John 16: 21 - 22

Anguish gives way to joy. Joy eclipses sorrow. 

But where does the pain go? Is it "canceled out"? Is it erased? Is it kept in some concealed place in our memory, only to be solicited when a similar experience of pain comes along?

Many of you know that our journey of giving birth to our dream became a very arduous trek, including hard labor and pain. Now that we are "living our dream," all the difficulties we experienced, the confusion and exhaustion, has faded. And I wonder where the pain has gone. 

I read this morning in Esther De Waal's book, The Celtic Way of Prayer, "'I have little time for any sort of tradition that presents me with a spirituality without tears,' for I find that patronizing, demeaning." I agree with her. My prayer is that as our "anguish gives way to joy," the pain and sorrow of what we endured will not be lost on us. 

Pain, if fully accepted and received, can be remembered in the heart and remains useful to us. It helps us remain tender and teachable; humble and human. Though we experience the joy of bringing a "new baby into the world," we continue to receive from the pain of our childbirth and allow the experience to deepen us as people and help us become more whole.

Have you found this to be true? Where has your pain gone? 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

On the Other Side: Embracing our "new normal"

We've been here for six weeks. "Here" is our new home in an urban neighborhood of Indianapolis, a change from the suburb of Fishers where we used to live. We've begun a new adventure and are on the other side of "giving birth to our dream." Like the realities of middle-of-the-night feedings, exploded diapers and inconsolable melt-downs, we have had adjustments to make. But surprisingly, they haven't been--at this point--huge or overwhelming. The joy of living the dream is certainly outweighing the adjustments.

Here are a few of the "new normals:"
  • We see poverty every day.
  • We see black people every day--not always a given in Fishers.
  • We take walks or bike rides most days and encounter the disparate mix of beauty and barrenness: quaint manicured homes and a homeless man sleeping under a bridge; the striking skyline of our city  along the gorgeous Cultural Trail and the presence of abandoned homes and trash littering the streets. 
  • We shop at stores that are unfamiliar and remind me that I'm not in Fishers any more. 
  • We live in a one-hundred-year-old home with wide doorways, 10 foot ceilings, which creaks and sighs and has stories to tell.
  • We (occasionally) still search for light switches, open the door to the closet thinking it's the bathroom, and forget which direction to turn for the microwave.
  • We set an alarm when we leave and when we go to bed.
  • We spend more time staying than going--welcoming people into our new home who are curious about what we're doing, interested in spiritual direction, or friends who want to see our new "digs." 
  • We walk about with deep joy in our hearts for how God has blessed us and for how glad we are to be on this adventure together.
Any transition from one place to another invites us to experience a "new normal." Some aspects of the new are more difficult to adjust to than others. Perhaps we will experience more challenging or disagreeable ones on down the road, but right now we are amazed with how much we feel at home. Our life seems to suit us well. All the wait and worry was worth it! 

Monday, July 9, 2012

What you learn about yourself by the way you pray: reflections from Giving Birth to Our Dreams

I don't know if you've ever noticed the fact that when you look back on where you've come from, it looks different than when you passed by it the first time around. Walking along a path counter-clockwise will yield a different view than the clock-wise direction. So, I find myself turning back to look at where I've come from this past year as David and I embarked on this adventure of "giving birth to our dream." Of moving and starting an urban retreat center called Sustainable Faith Indy. I'm seeing things in retrospect that are interesting and instructive. I'm especially learning about myself by the way I prayed through out this process of birthing.

The way we pray tells us a lot about how we think of God--a lot about the quality of our relationship with God. Susan Scott in her book, Fierce Conversations, declares that "conversation is relationship." If we carry that thought over into our life with God, then "prayer is relationship." How we pray, what we pray for, when we pray, the tone our prayers reveals and contributes to the substance of our engagement with God. So, I'm looking back over my shoulder at this last year through the lens of my prayer life.

Here is what I see:

I pray to feel more in control.
As I look back over the last year of trying to sell our house, find a property and accomplish the momentous task of moving, I notice the consuming nature of my prayers. I prayed often, feverishly and compulsively. I prayed when we had a showing or when we had no showings; prayed when we found a house that had potential and prayed fervently that no one else would buy it. I obsessed in prayer.

I think it made me feel better to pray--to cover in prayer all that we were going through, feeling and trying to accomplish. It made me feel more "in control" because I felt so out of control. 

I pray to vent. 
Throughout this long, circuitous path I felt a host of strong and powerful emotions. You name it--I felt it: passion, exhilaration, joy, as well as anger, discouragement and depression. I notice that I turned to God in prayer to vent these strong, often overwhelming emotions. I would express to him, over and over, how difficult our journey was and how much desire I felt for this dream; how disappointed and confused I was with his timing and what appeared to be his lack of support.

I'm glad that I feel free to be human with God and honest in my prayers. As I reflect about this way of praying, I see how little God spoke back. Often, I "heard" a simple word or sensed a quiet confirmation. That's all. No venting in return.

I prayed God into a quandary. 
A lot of the content of my prayers related to the selling of our house and the locating of a home to fulfill the purposes of our retreat center dream. In particular, I prayed a lot about a property we had located that we thought--no, we KNEW--would be the "perfect" house for our purposes. The house was an absolute mess. It would have required huge amounts of money, time and effort to even make it livable--more than we could have afforded physically, emotionally and financially--but it had grand potential! So always, as a caveat, I prayed that God would protect us from making a big mistake; from buying a property that would become a nightmare.

I realize now that I might have prayed God into a quandary. He couldn't answer our prayers by providing this "perfect" house to fulfill our dream and protect us from making a big mistake. He knew that if our house sold, we would move on this house like lightning. So, time eliminated it as a possibility (it sold before our house did).

I pray because I can't help it. 
I'm learning things about myself, about God and the mystery of prayer as I reflect back over the last year. I see a lot in my own heart and character that reveals immaturity, willfulness and determination. But one thing I know: it's okay to not pray "right" or "well." I'm free to pray poorly and honestly. I pray because I can't help it. I need God and want to engage with him in real dialogue out of the mess-of-my-own-heart.

And he welcomes me to pray. Like a small child learning to talk, form words, sentences, questions and requests, God invites me to come as I am and talk with him. I pray because I can't help but talk with a God like that.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

It's the Moment We've Been Waiting For!

We call it "expecting" when a woman's belly begins to swell with life. Deep inside her, a minuscule speck of matter, ignited by the breath of God, begins developing into a viable life form with all its wonder and possibilities. That's what she's expecting; that's what a couple awaits; the birth of their child, a tangible expression of their life and love. It's the moment they've been waiting for. 

David and I have been "expecting" for some time now. As I think back, it's been three years or more. First, the swelling within me seemed vague and obscure--a stirring that was hard to name, but it's rumblings apparent. Finally, I understood it. I had a dream inside me, conceived and gestating. Eventually that dream was given definition and a name: Sustainable Faith Indy (SFI)--a urban retreat center.

David supported my dream because he supports me. And over time, he began to share it, nurture it, and dream about it as well. Our vision has morphed over the last several months--changing locations, funding sources and the amount of personal cost. Finally, last September, we took a giant step, planted a for sale sign in our yard, and decided that if this dream was going to happen, we would have to give it our all. (Kind of like deciding to stop using birth control.)

We wrestled through an exhausting seven long months and 72 showings before we sold our house. We felt like we were in premature labor a number of times--three offers that didn't come to fruition, and then finally one that did. At times, we doubted our dream and God who we thought had impregnated us with the dream. But once our house sold, the contractions started and we've been in the hard labor of finding a property, negotiating an offer, inspection issues, scheduling closings and packing--oh, my word, packing! 

If all goes well, on May 31st we will move out of our home of 16 years and on June 1st will move into a new home where we will "raise this baby" we've been dreaming about. Here's a description of our vision from the web site:

"SFI addresses some of the most pressing and persistent needs of our culture today: the needs for a place 
to come away and be still, to find our bearings, to hear from God and to engage with others in significant conversation and learning. SFI provides hallowed space for personal retreats, spiritual direction, learning cohorts and educational events that empower people to live in Christ from their truest selves."

It's the moment we've been waiting for! We are both excited and anxious. We wonder if it will work--if anybody will come. We wonder what it will be like to live in an urban area that is unfamiliar to us and a 100 year old home. David and I both have the sense that this move, though clearly disruptive, is a good disruption. This "child" will keep us young; active and engaged; pliable and humble. And we pray that it will be a tremendous blessing to those who "come away" with us, whether for an overnight or a few hours of serenity and prayer.

It will take a few months before we are fully operational. We have to finish the third floor for additional guest rooms. We will begin educational events in September with the first-ever Sustainable Faith Indy School of Spiritual Direction.(For more information, please visit the web site.)

Here's a picture of our new home. It's in Fall Creek Place, just north of downtown Indianapolis. We love it!

Looking forward to hosting you in our new home!

Warmly, Beth and David

Friday, April 27, 2012

Resurrections and Rolling Stones! (On Giving Birth to Our Dreams)

With life comes death.
Dreams entombed; sealed and still and life-less.
And then something happens.
The breath of God awakens it
and up from the grave it rises, resurrected!
The *stone rolled away.

Something indeed has happened. After eight months of labor to sell our home, we did! On Wednesday, we received two offers in one day. The second was a full-price offer. Who would have thought! We are amazed by the swift kindness of God, who breathed life into our life-less dream, one that felt entombed.

This has been a formidable and trying experience--hard labor--to birth this dream. Phase I of the birthing process is hopefully behind us. Now we look in earnest for a property that will suit the dream of an urban retreat center (Sustainable Faith Indy). The property that we had identified and I wrote about previously has sold and will likely close today. We trust God's grace, though we're disappointed because we haven't seen another in our price range that has all that we're looking for.

Would you pray with us and for us, please? Our souls may be stretched and searched even more through the experience of waiting on God for "this place of light and love" that we, and others, have envisioned in our hearts. The thought of moving into temporary housing doesn't thrill us. Yet, all along, it seems that God has desired to strengthen our resolve through waiting and trusting him to move in his time.

With resurrection is tremendous hope.

*Read my previous blog post, Stumbling Over the Stumbling Stone, for context. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Stumbling Over the Stumbling Stone: Thoughts on Falling and Failing

“God is both sanctuary and stumbling stone….” (Isaiah 8:14). 

For most of us whose faith has been formed by Western theology, there isn’t much mention of the benefits of falling and failing in the Christian life. Instead, there’s common thinking that if you’re walking with God, God will bless your path and that path will naturally lead you upward and onward.

Upward and onward hasn’t been our path of late. For almost eight months, David and I have tried to sell our home in order to purchase a property for Sustainable Faith Indy, an urban retreat center we hope to start. Along the way, we’ve really given ourselves to this dream and have had a strong measure of confidence that we were pursuing what is in God’s heart for us and in our heart for God.

Yet try as we may, our house hasn’t sold and we haven’t been able to secure a property that is suitable. In my last post, I wrote about the sense that we are “coming up against something,” but not sure what that something is. I read a chapter in Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward that gave that something a name: “Stumbling Stone.”

Isaiah referred to God as both a sanctuary and a stumbling stone. (Again, not much commentary on that name for God in Western theological writing.) Yet, it really gives expression to what I’m sensing/intuiting/feeling as we try to press forward—that God has plopped himself down in the middle of our path as a Stumbling Stone and made the way forward impassable.  

We don’t know why. We could try to guess. But it just isn’t clear to us at this juncture and for that matter, it may never be. But what I think God might be inviting us to do is fail: to throw in the towel, hit the pause button, regroup; to feel all the loss, grief, confusion and hope that we feel and to allow this falling and failing to be our teacher.

I take a risk in sharing these thoughts with you because I know you will want to cheer me up. I’m grateful that you do, but remember that it’s okay to be sad and feel depressed when you’ve been through something as hard and frustrating as we have. I also don’t really want to hear some little spiritual quips about how it will all work out. I know it will. I also know that things could be so much worse. No one is dead. No one has been maimed. We have much to be thankful for.

Right now, I just want to live with honesty and integrity in our disappointment and do so in the presence of God. We haven’t made any decisions for sure, but we are close to quitting for now. So—if you want to do anything, pray for us. Pray that we will be open-hearted and all ears and discern what we are to do. You could also ask God to love on us a bit. That would be good.

Let me end with a short excerpt from Rohr’s Falling Upward:

“Sooner or later, if you are on any classic ‘spiritual schedule,’ some event, person, death, idea or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower. Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources. At that point you will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it; or to state it in our language here, you will and you must ‘lose’ at something. This is the only way that Life-Fate-God-Grace-Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go the further and larger journey.” (Pg. 65, 66)

Wanting to go the farther and larger journey….

Thanks for your friendship—Beth  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Giving Birth to Our Dreams: Not sure what we're pressing up against

It's been some time since I wrote about our endeavors to establish an urban retreat center in Indianapolis called Sustainable Faith Indy. It's not that we've put this on the back burner. I wanted to devote time to focus on Lent and didn't think this needed to share the stage with Christ's passion. 

As I wrote some friends today, "Nothing about this venture has been easy." Our house has been on the market since September. We've had two offers that have fallen apart. We've had two properties we loved sell. The second is back on the market because the investor couldn't get the financing together--but is still trying. We had our 60th showing tonight--ugh! We are beyond exhausted.

We find ourselves wondering what we are pressing up against. What is this wall of resistance? Is it the kindness of the Lord redirecting us? Or is it the refining fire we often encounter when we are moving forward into something significant? 

Each time we suffer a blow, we feel pretty letdown. But then....this deep resolve and perseverance wells up inside us and we re-up our commitment. I've never prayed for anything as fervently and passionately as I have this vision. (Well, at least it feels that way right now.) I've also never experienced anything that felt so confusing. (Well, at least it feels that way right now:) 

I've asked a few people this question, so I'd like to ask you. Please respond with your own reflections. Have you ever attempted to do something you felt was aligned with God's purposes, only to meet significant resistance? What did you discover? I'm all ears.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lent: In the Oil Press

Situated at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane was the place Jesus chose to pray the night before he was crucified. Its name means “oil press.” The image is unmistakable; olives pressed between two heavy stones, all the life squeezed from them, oozing with a smooth, fragrant emollient used for healing and for food. It was just the place to pray the kind of prayers Jesus prayed that night.  
The writer of Hebrews described what happened in the garden:

Jesus “offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God.” (Hebrews 5:7).

Prayers and pleadings, with loud cries and tears. Jesus was in agony. He wanted to be spared this suffering and so he turned to the One who could save him. He brought the fullness of his humanity, the honesty of his desires, into his prayerful petition. Perhaps as the image above suggests, Jesus placed his own head between his arms as though between a vice of mill stones, embodying his anguish. “My Father! ‘If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine’” (Matthew 26:39)—you can hear him saying.

“And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God.”

God heard the heart of Jesus’ prayers, his willingness to yield his will to his father’s. And God responded—not with a benevolent gesture of swiping the cup from his hands. God’s heart opened to Jesus’ deeper prayers, his surrendered prayers that found their way out through the oil press. “Your-will-be-done-prayers.” Deep reverence.  

I know a little about this kind of praying. Lately, it’s where I’ve gone to process a dream I have—a dream I’ve been pursuing. When I pray, pleas are squeezed out of me and anguish spills over as I embrace my desire while simultaneously surrendering it to God. It’s been metamorphic. The pressure has forced me to face my own willfulness and need to entrust God with my desires.   

There are times in our lives when we must choose, like Jesus, to go to the Garden of Gethsemane and engage in prayer that feels as though we are in an oil press. The passion inside us is squeezed out into churning petitions as we work through our willingness to choose God’s will over our own.   

Is there anything you need to process in the oil press of Gethsemane prayer?  

This post is part of the InterVarsity Press Lenten Blog tour. To read the other IVP authors contributions, here are their blogs: 
April 2nd Beth Booram:
April 6th; Good Friday Chad Young:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lent: Holy Indifference

Indifference is a word that has negative connotations to me. It suggests apathy; an unfeeling disconnect toward someone or something. For a big time feeler, that is the antithesis of how I live and relate to the world. I feel deeply. I’m rarely indifferent. 

During Lent and this particular time in my life, I’m learning something about the virtue of indifference—holy indifference as taught by the 15th century Spanish priest, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius instructed Christ followers to be “active” in their pursuit of God and his will and “indifferent” to the outcome of his will. Yea, right….   

Sounds like a stretch to me, especially as it relates to our dream of starting an urban retreat center in Indianapolis (SFI). We put a “For Sale” sign in the front yard in September and started looking for a suitable property. Neither goal has been achieved and I don’t feel indifferent about it. 

Frankly, we are exhausted. With multiple showings on any given day or week, we are constantly cleaning, vacating our home (with dog in tow) and crashing at a local coffee shop to work. We question how long we can keep this up. 

But sometimes it’s the small adjustments of heart that make a difference.   
Through a friend, I was reminded of St. Ignatius’ teaching about holy indifference and began to read and contemplate its meaning for me during this trying time. Holy or active indifference suggests that we energetically do what we can to pursue God’s path, but entrust God with the outcome. We embrace the deep and true desires of our heart, but remain “detached” from their ultimate fulfillment. 

Here’s an illustration that comes to mind. During my last two pregnancies, I had a condition called placenta accreta where the placenta attached too deeply to the uterine wall. After I delivered the baby, the placenta wouldn’t detach and had to be removed surgically, causing excessive bleeding—scary stuff. 

Similarly, I create an unhealthy condition of soul when I attach too deeply to my dreams or visions of life; to certain relationships or things. That attachment can crowd out my affection for God and impair the freedom he longs for me to experience. 

This way of holy indifference doesn’t come naturally to me. I have an addictive nature. I want to cling to things that promise fulfillment. I feel wobbly as I find my way in the tension of active indifference; doing what I can while holding my desires loosely. Yet, this small adjustment of heart seems very healthy and right. It also seems well-suited for Lent--a time when I walk with Jesus in his humanity, suffering and surrender to the cross.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Here's your last chance! This is the final week of our Awaken Your Senses Contest and the sense of the week is SMELL!

Today begins the final week in our Awaken Your Senses Contest. The sense of the week is SMELL!

Please add a comment to this post about experiences you have this week or have had in the past related to your sense of smell.

BTW--did you know that your most vivid memories are likely linked to strong smells? Here's why:

Smelling Memories
"Often, the strongest memories of our past are indelibly imprinted into our memory bank through our senses, especially the sense of smell. Here’s why: we use our olfactory sense all the time as we take in currents of air that pass through the nostrils, over the bony turbinates in our nasal passages to a “sheet” about the size of a small postage stamp, which contains five to six million olfactory receptors! There, smells are recognized because each odorant fits into a nerve cell kind of like a lock and key. The nerve cells then send signals along our olfactory nerve to the brain, where the odors are interpreted as “sweet smelling gardenias” or “foul smelling sneakers.” The reason we know the difference is the strong connection between our sense of smell and our memory. According to Dr. Rachel Herz, a psychologist, cognitive neuroscientist, and recognized expert on the psychology of smell, our odor preferences are learned. Herz suggests, “We learn to like and dislike various odors based on the emotional associations we make upon initial encounter with them.” (Awaken Your Senses, Pg. 157, 158)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Huh? What'd you say?? Hearing is the Sense of the Week!

This week's sense is HEARING!

“As you think about the sounds that compose the background soundtrack of your daily life, what words would you use to describe them? Are they sounds you should be paying attention to? Are they bringing news of others? Are they proclaiming God’s story in a way different from how you normally hear it? When listened to with attention and love, the everyday sounds of life may contain all the news of God that you can either use or bear.”

“Take a moment and listen to the sounds around you. Pay attention to them in love. What sounds do you notice? What news are they bringing? Are they blessings or calls to prayer? Or both?” (from Awaken Your Senses)

Today (Feb. 27) is the start of week four of the “Awaken Your Senses Contest.” The contest is featured on:

• Awaken Your Senses Facebook Page
• Brent’s Blog
• Beth's Blog

Here’s how it works:

This week, you are invited to pay attention to your sense of HEARING and notice how it introduces you to the wonder of God.
If something cool happens, post a description about that experience on the Awaken Your Senses FB Page or Beth or Brent’s blogs. (All entries must be submitted by Sunday at noon.)
Brent and Beth will choose a winner on Sunday evening and that person will receive a $25 gift card for a gift related to TOUCH.
Brent and Beth will also do a drawing from the names of everyone who participated each week and the weekly winner of the random drawing will receive an autographed copy of Awaken Your Senses.
The winners will be announced on Awaken Your Senses Facebook Page and Brent and Beth’s blogs on each Monday when a new sense begins!

The Contest Schedule!
February 6 – Taste
Winners: Leah Sophia -- $25 Harry and Davids Gift Certificate
Sherry Redinger – autographed copy of Awaken Your Senses

February 13 – See
Winners: Martin Stand--$25 gift card (
Rantwoman -- an autographed copy of Awaken Your Senses

February 20 – Touch
Winners: Jen Friesen -- $25 gift card
Liz Dyer -- an autographed copy of Awaken Your Senses

February 27 – Hear

March 5 -- Smell

Tell your friends about the contest. Tweet, tumblr and blog about it. Spread the word. We can’t wait to hear about your experiences as you awaken your senses to the wonder of God.

-- Beth & Brent

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent: A Journey of Hiddeness

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of a 40 day journey of hiddeness. It corresponds to Israel's 40 years of wandering in a desolate, remote desert; the 40 days that Christ was tempted in an austere and isolated wilderness. For centuries, followers of Christ have entered their own journey into the desert of fasting, prayer and repentance in solidarity with Jesus and the people of God.

I was confronted this morning with the necessity that this journey be one of hiddeness. It came to me as I read these words and felt immediately convicted:

"When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you." "And when you fast, don't make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is teh only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you." (Matthew 6:5-6, 16-18)

Earlier this week, I announced on Face Book that David and I were going to fast from meat and eat a vegetarian diet during Lent. Now I'm not so sure that was a good idea. While I believe I have an opportunity to provide encouragement to others who want a deeper relationship with Christ, I am sobered by what Jesus said about parading my own spiritual practices in a way that draws attention to my personal piety.

Announcing to the "world" my own intentions related to Lent can taint my motives for seeking after a deeper intimacy and solidarity with Christ. ("don't be like the hypocrites....") It's a quandary. While I want to walk alongside others in this journey with Christ, modeling and encouraging a real, honest and deep engagement with him, I also need to guard my own intimate and hidden relationship with him. Like lovers who protect the privacy of their intimate encounters, I must follow a path into the desert of hiddeness with Christ and shelter what happens there.

So, I will stew about this some more and consider what it means to--in this age of social media and shouting from the mountain tops--follow the hidden path during this Lenten season. May you and I treasure the private moments we have with Christ in these next 40 days, as we turn to our prayer closets and meatless tables in search of a deeper life in him.