Getting Your Bible Dirty by Heather Caliri

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Getting Your Bible Dirty by Heather Caliri

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An Invitation:

Get a page of your Bible dirty.


What this looks like for me:

I used to have so many rules about the Bible. Read it regularly. Read all of it, not just the easy parts. Enjoy and feel blessed all those difficult parts without questioning my faith or throwing said Bible against the wall. Also, don’t just read scripture dutifully, but also study it like a seminarian, pray it like Mother Theresa, and apply it to my life like it’s an exfoliating scrub from Goop.

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Besides my litany of rules, I suffered trauma in church and elsewhere. Abuse taught me that meeting every expectation and following every rule perfectly was salvation, and anything else might land me in real-or-figurative hell.

So I might have had just the tiniest bit of baggage about Scripture. I believe it’s a holy book, a book that can (and has) changed me. But I hesitated to open the darn thing, much less read it.

Not-reading it brought guilt and shame. Reading it brought on doubts, questions and waves of anxiety—and more shame and guilt. Frankly, I felt like I was stuck in that catch-22 until Jesus rose again.

One day, sick of the vicious circle, I decided to take an old copy of the Bible and make it into an art project. I wanted to enjoy the Bible in a new way, interact with Scripture creatively, and give myself permission to make a mess of something I could barely touch anymore. I gave myself some creative prompts to get started with (with many debts to Kerri Smith of Wreck This Journal). I began adding glitter to pages. Making a pop-up page. Adding doorways and windows in passages. Gluing an articulated doll into the Psalm. 

But the prompt that scared me most was getting a page dirty.

When I wrote the prompt idea down, I was thinking outside dirt, dirt that did not seem blasphemous. But as I prepared to actually try the prompt, I realized that actually dirty dirt was, um, more of a bathroom variety.

I cannot get this Bible toilet dirty, I thought. That is not okay.

But I was so tired of feeling fear about doing the Bible wrong that this thought did not immediately stop me from trying it. Why is dirty dirt so scary? I wondered. Maybe I should go in the bathroom and sit with that fear for a while.

I sat on the tile floor, calmed my breath, prayed, and then scraped off some gunk from the inside of my sink. It was dirty-adjacent, but perhaps not blasphemous. I wiped off on Acts 10, where Peter says, “I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Looking at the scum from my toothbrush there on the page of my Bible, I realized something. 

The dirtiest of dirt is human and alive. 

Only human being use toilet paper. Only living creatures digest food. And Jesus willingly entered a world of dirty, living humanity, despite all the uncleanliness that comes out of us.

I don’t think I ever have felt so shocked by the incarnation.

Dirty is human—the bathroom dirt, the rotting food kind, and even the dust to which we return outside. It is made of bodies and flaking-off skin cells and the life-giving processes that nourish our insides.

It astonished me that dirt—truly dirty dirt—helped me feel freed of my fear of messing up, falling short, or desecrating Scripture. Scripture is worthy of our awe and respect, but it is possible to idolize it, too. It is possible to feel so dirty we separate ourselves from God. But the foundational truth of Christ is that “God is not far from any one of us,” no matter how unclean we feel. 


Bible Art Prompt for Ash Wednesday

Choose a traditional scripture for Ash Wednesday. Here are a few suggestions, from the Book of Common Prayer:

  • Psalm 103: 8-14

  • Isaiah 58: 1-12

  • 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

  • Matthew 6:1-5, 16-21

After reading the passage, pray. Then get that page in the Bible dirty (interpret that however you want). 

Consider:

What emotions, memories, or observations does the passage of scripture bring up?

Do you feel any fears or reservations about dirtying the Bible?

What would it mean to you to not be afraid of the Bible, or of offending God? What would it mean for you to feel at home in the Bible again, (or for the first time?)

How do you wish God would cleanse you today?

Spend a moment in prayer, asking God for saving, cleansing help.


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HEATHER CALIRI is a writer and artist from San Diego, whose work has appeared in Relevant.com, ChristianityToday.com, SheLoves Magazine, The Mudroom, and iBelieve. Her devotional, Word Made Art: Lent, is an eight-week creative encounter with Scripture, and is available on Amazon. A Facebook group to experience the devotional in community is available at her website.

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Praying Your Anger by Justin McRoberts

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Praying Your Anger by Justin McRoberts

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An Invitation:

Give anger space in your mind and body, holding it as a prayer. 


What this looks like for me:

I don’t think I have an anger problem. 

I used to think that. The way I see it now is that I quite simply experience anger and a lot of folks found that problematic. Over time, the more I experienced anger and felt like I shouldn’t, the less capable I was in feeling, engaging with and knowing what to do about it. Eventually, I did develop a problem, but it wasn’t an anger problem; it was a discipline problem. 

Becoming more spiritually healthy has meant giving anger a place in my prayer life. 

Anger doesn't need to work like a virus (the way I previously felt it should) in that it doesn’t just show up and get to take its time working through me and then just go away when it’s done with me. Anger can play a part in me knowing myself and my world; my exceptions and hopes and needs. That means I have to pay attention to my anger without shame or disappointment. And that’s a matter of prayer. 

This kind of prayer often looks like this for me: 

  • Confession/Observation: “I’m angry and here’s why.” 
    I don’t apologize;  I’m not immediately sorry for being angry. I simply talk it all the way out, normally out loud. Names (if I have them), specifics (if I have them), details (as best as I can recall). 

  • Request/Reflection: “What’s really going on here?” 
    I look through what I just said (sometimes it helps to write down a few things along the way) and see if I can discern or detect anything below the surface.

  • Meditation: “Spirit, search me and know me.
    This I try to do silently and in stillness. This is just listening. I’m not doing the searching (I’ve already done that). I’m asking the Spirit of God to search me and show me what I might need to see.

  • Action: “Is there anything I should do?“
    I normally write this down if something comes up. I also don’t expect that it will and am thrilled if something clearly shows up. More often than not, this is the moment sadness sets in as I realize that either I’ve set myself up to be hurt or that there are simply ways the world around me is unkind. 

  • Thanks: “Thank you so much.
    I get to be a whole person. A loving God doesn’t just allow that but asks for it. A loving God wants my anger, too. 

Prayer/art from PRAYER: Forty Days of Practice

Prayer/art from PRAYER: Forty Days of Practice

My son is eight and loves to play with his younger sister… until he doesn’t. She’s not quite two. Last night, she hit him. He looked up, looked at her and then started crying, saying, “Ouch! Ouch!” 

He wasn’t hurt. 

He was mad. 

“C’meer, pal.” 

He walked over slowly, his hand covering the place on his face where she’d struck him. 

“Did that hurt?”

“YES!” he replied… and then looked up at me… “… not really. But she shouldn’t get way with hitting me!!” 

“So, you’re mad?” 

“Yes. But I know she’s just a baby… ” 

He dropped his hand and looked me straight in the eye.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t be mad about getting hit.”

His shoulders relaxed a bit.  “She shouldn’t hit me.”

“I agree. Can we talk about how to go about this next time?” 

“Yes.” 

I want him to know he can get mad and that his anger isn’t anything to hide or just put away. I want him to know that he’s right; some things shouldn’t happen and his anger is part of the way his soul tells him that. 


Anger Prayer Practices

- Get alone 

- Walk/Get moving: Anger lives in and affects your body in a way other emotions just don’t. 

- Pray/talk aloud 


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JUSTIN MCROBERTS is an author, retreat leader and songwriter from the East San Francisco Bay Area. Actually, he still lives there. He likes it a lot.  

Check out his new book, Prayer: Forty Days of Practice, a collection of prayers and images to draw us into God’s presence.

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Seeing the Color of Life by Cara Meredith

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Seeing the Color of Life by Cara Meredith

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An Invitation:

 Take a moment to stop, pause and notice those you haven’t ever taken the time to really see before.


What this looks like for me:

I didn’t know how much I wasn’t noticing until I actually began to notice. 

I guess I should explain: for a long time, I didn’t think issues of race had anything to do with me, mostly because I was white. I called myself colorblind, because that’s what my teachers and pastors taught me to do, so when it came to engaging in justice and activism, I scoffed at the very notion of the idea. 

I was a real Christian—a real Christian who knew and understood that Jesus came to change us from the inside out. I called him Savior and I called him Lord. I sang songs about the baby king from Jerusalem who somehow changed it all, and I raised my fists in the air when the God-man died and rose from the dead three days later. 

But I didn’t stake claim to the dark-skinned rabble-rouser who said that the Spirit was upon him, who reminded the people how he had been sent to proclaim good news to the poor and freedom for the prisoners, who offered to give sight to the blind and set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18). In a way, it’s like I didn’t fully believe in who Jesus said he was because I didn’t seem to fit into any of those categories. 

But then, I did fit into one of these categories, because I was the blindest of all.

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After all, it was the power of love helped me see color—and when that happened, my whole life changed. Not only did I begin to realize that issues of justice, race and privilege did have something to do with me, but I began to notice what (and who) my blindness had prevented me from seeing all along.

Not noticing is then perhaps one of the greatest privileges, but I also think it’s one of the greatest tragedies. Because when we don’t notice who’s not sitting at our table, who’s not filling our social media feeds and who’s not influencing the way we think and act and operate in this world, then we’re left unchanged, stagnant by archaic belief systems that seek to elevate a single perspective over everything and everyone else. 

But when we notice the beauty in the faces of the world around us, we are left changed by the simple profundity of diversity. 

And when this happens, then we see the color of life. 


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CARA MEREDITH is a spiritual writer, speaker and sought-after conversationalist. A former high school English teacher and non-profit outreach director, her writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications. The Color of Life, a spiritual memoir about her journey as a white woman into issues of justice, race, and privilege, recently released. She holds a Masters of Theology from Fuller Seminary and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. You can connect with her on her website, as well as on Facebook and Instagram

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Nurturing Rest by Courtney B. Ellis

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Nurturing Rest by Courtney B. Ellis

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An Invitation:

For an entire day, or even just a few hours, stop doing all the things. In other words, take a Sabbath.


What this looks like for me:

I’m a pastor, so my Sundays are often filled with preaching and meetings and connecting and running around. Sometimes we need to reimagine Sabbath: if Sunday doesn’t work for you to rest, what other day might? 

Our oldest son is in kindergarten, so we take Friday afternoon through Saturday afternoon as a family Sabbath. We start it by reading a Psalm together and opening the Sabbath in a short prayer; we end it the same way. We put away our digital devices, closing the portal to the endless Internet.

On our Sabbath, there is no work allowed, just “praying and playing,” as Eugene Peterson lovingly describes it. We eat donuts for breakfast, we toss a ball around outside, we putter in the yard or the garden. We nap and read and chat up the neighbors and drink deeply of the goodness of God and the love of one another. Sometimes we have friends or neighbors over for a meal; other times our Sabbaths are more introverted and we take time to ourselves.

Since we have young children, my husband and I often take turns giving one another an hour or two completely to ourselves to do anything we want, a huge luxury in this intensive season of kid care. I usually use mine to nap—we have a newborn so I’m tired!

For a long time I balked at the idea of a Sabbath. Yet I can say without a shadow of hyperbole that keeping a regular Sabbath has revolutionized our family life, our emotional lives, and my soul. The grace of knowing I can lay down my work for a day, that the world will keep on turning without me, is transformative. God is at work and we are invited to join in that work, but once a week, every week, we are invited to lay down our tools and remember that the work is ultimately not ours to complete.

Anything restful, playful, and worshipful can help round out a Sabbath. Worshiping with a congregation, tossing a baseball, baking bread, playing music, writing a letter. One pastor I love wrote that he liked to fix doorknobs on the Sabbath because tinkering brought him joy.


The key is to lay aside your traditional work, whether that be digging post holes or stitching wounds or sending emails. I’m a part-time pastor, so much of my week is dedicated to caring for kids, which is some of the hardest work there is. On Sabbath I can’t not care for my kids—they still need food and fresh diapers, and Sabbath is for them, too!—but I can go about it in a different way, inviting pizza delivery instead of another night at the stove, letting the unfolded laundry stay unfolded, sitting on the floor for a marathon Uno game rather than hurrying to the next meeting or activity.


Sabbath Ideas

Light a candle and offer the day to the One who created you.

Read a Psalm.

Take a nap.

Play a board game.

Phone a friend.

Attend worship.

Read a book.

Go on a long walk.

Go on a short walk.

Garden.

Visit a museum.

Make art.

Eat slowly.

Visit a neighbor.

Write a letter. Not an email. A letter. ;) 

Do nothing for a little while.

Hold hands.

Procrastinate.

Sing.

Take a bath.

Laugh.

Remember that you are loved.


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COURTNEY ELLIS writes and blogs at CourtneyBEllis.com. A speaker, pastor, and author of Uncluttered: Free Your Space, Free Your Schedule, Free Your Soul, she lives with her husband and three littles in southern California. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


For more practices for rest, check out the winter kit from Field Guides for the Way.

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Field Guides for the Way are seasonal spiritual practice kits delivered to your home, co-created by Kristen Leigh Kludt and Stephanie Jenkins. Field Guides offer the intentionality and practice of a contemplative retreat woven into your everyday life. Each beautifully curated kit contains invitations and supplies for a journey deeper into your relationship with God, your own heart, your life.

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Advent-ures!

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Advent-ures!

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An Invitation:

Do something each day to celebrate the approach of Christmas.


What this looks like for me:

I love traditions. Growing up, my sister and I were sticklers for them—if my parents did something once on or around a holiday, it was a tradition and we had to do it every year after. We ate the same kind of fudge, listened to the same CD while we decorated the tree. We played the same card game in bed while my parents got ready on Christmas morning. All those tiny traditions built up into some wonderful childhood memories, and I want to help my boys (now 2 and 6) build memories of their own.

Inspired by a friend, after my oldest was born I created a calendar with one activity to do each day throughout Advent. (Our advent calendar is made out of paper envelopes, but you can use anything!) Some activities require advanced planning, others are very simple. Some are thought-provoking, many are just fun. What I love about this is it forces me to slow down on work and other things for a month and spend a lot of time with my kids.

This year I collected input from friends and family and put together the list below. I’d love for you to share your ideas in the comments!

Advent is also a time for listening with hope and longing as the darkness deepens. Last year I wrote a bit about what my time with God looks like in this season, and you can read about that here.


Advent Ideas

Daily:

Cut a ring from paper chain

Read a winter/Christmas book (library!)

Read from All Creation Waits (or another devotional) and talk about what we can learn, draw a picture and write a word (Or use coloring template!)

Hide (and find) a star and get a piece of the nativity when kids find it


Specific Dates:

Make a paper chain countdown (first day of Advent)

SUNDAYS: Read Scripture and light Advent candles (4)

St. Nicholas’ Day--open stockings and talk about St. Nick (origin story of Santa Claus)

Church Christmas Event(s)

Cut a Christmas tree

City tree lighting

Solstice sunset hike

Make Stuff:

Make Christmas cookies

Make awards for best Christmas lights

Wrap Christmas presents

Make ornaments as gifts

Make a gingerbread house

Make Christmas cards for family

Christmas Lego set (same set each year)

Try a Christmas recipe from another country, learn about and pray for them

Decorate outdoors

Decorate Christmas tree/inside

Holiday Jello

Make gifts for friends: holiday playdoh, coloring books

Plant seeds as an act of waiting

Make Christmas pancakes for breakfast (green and red)

Make a nativity (popsicle sticks? clay?)

Other Christmas art projects?

Be Generous:

Bake cookies for neighbors and deliver

Deliver a surprise gift to a neighbor

Deliver mini candy canes to neighbors

Take coffee to someone who needs it (teacher, friends)

Give toys/books away (3 wise men story)

Give cards/cookies/truffles to neighborhood folks: mail carrier, restaurants, coffee shops, UPS store, dry cleaners, nail salon, the crossing guards, garbage collector, street sweeper

Box of water and treats on the front step for package delivery folks

Operation Christmas Child/Angel Tree/Shoebox shopping

Pick out food for a food bank


Go places:

Drive to look at Christmas Lights with jammies and hot chocolate (and give awards)

Go for a hike

Ice skating

Box sledding or ice blocking

Go see a live nativity

Visit a model railway (Larkey Park)

Tilden Park sunset, Redwood Railway and Carousel

Zoo lights

Visit a giant Christmas tree

Easy-peasy:

Read the Jesus Storybook Bible Christmas story

Watch a Christmas movie (Elf, Polar Express, The Snowman, Peanuts’ Christmas, Home Alone)

Tea or hot chocolate and Christmas books

Lunch or dinner picnic by the Christmas tree

Evening game(s) by the Christmas tree

Make paper snowflakes

Christmas Madlib

Christmas coloring books/free printable coloring pages

Holiday puzzle

Pajama Christmas Music Dance party

Listen to Christmas music

Set up the nativity

Read Luke 1:26-38 (Jesus’ Birth Foretold)

Read Luke 1:48-58 (Mary’s Song)

Read Luke 2:1-21 (Jesus’ Birth)

Go on a night walk and look at Christmas lights

Sing Christmas Carols

Christmas activity books/joke books

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Nature Mandala

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Nature Mandala

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An Invitation:

Go on a walk outside. Bring a tote bag to collect fallen objects like leaves, sticks, flowers, or stones. Create a sacred circle—a mandala—using the found objects.


What this looks like for me:

Nature and art are two powerful ways I encounter God’s presence. Through both creation and creativity, I deepen my awareness of God’s infinite love, which permeates all things.

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So when I was first invited to create a nature mandala through an online offering by Christine Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts, it felt like a beautiful convergence of two of my favorite things. 

Making a nature mandala is a simple way to become more present to the God who is always and ever present to us.

Last week, my dear friend Linda and I walked the meandering paths of Descanso Gardens nearby my house. Linda and I share a love for the natural world and enjoy lingering over the fragrance of a rose or marveling at the aerial acrobatics of a hummingbird. We walked slowly, sharing our hearts with one another and stopping often to soak in the sensory beauty of the gardens.

At the end of our walk, we found ourselves in a small redwood grove with camellias blooming in the tiny forest’s understory. Together we collected pinecones and fallen leaves, faded blossoms and sculptured twigs. We carefully created a sacred circle using each lovely item.

The circle held our time together—the beauty of sharing space was given concrete form. Standing over our completed nature mandala with our hands dirty and our hearts full, we took turns offering each other a blessing and giving thanks for the good gift we had received in one another.

Creation and creativity invite us to experience anew the One who created all things.


*Unless the garden you are walking is your own, please select items for your nature mandala that are already fallen to allow the growing things to complete their life cycle, and to remain for others to enjoy.


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Middle school teacher, foster mama, and creative contemplative, Stephanie Jenkins is a southern California native who lives in Los Angeles with her husband Billy. In addition to relishing time spent outdoors, she also enjoys yoga, art-making, poetry, and journaling. 

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Fool-proof Art as Prayer

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Fool-proof Art as Prayer

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An Invitation:

Read a scripture passage. Choose one phrase that jumps out at you and write it slowly in a journal or notebook. Paste an image from a calendar or magazine with it as an act of reflection and prayer.


What this looks like for me:

I’m on a three-week trip away from home—the longest I’ve been away in over a decade. Sometime it’s hard to keep up with spiritual practices when I’m out of my regular rhythm.

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Shortly after I arrived at my parents’ house in Wisconsin, my dad received a Nature Conservancy calendar in the mail. I admired it, and he gave it to me. The beautiful photographs sparked an idea.

Every afternoon, I drink a cup of tea and read a short passage of scripture. I’m slowly making my way through the Psalms. Many days I read only a few verses before a phrase jumps out at me. I sit quietly with that phrase for a few moments, listening for God’s whispers. What does that phrase say about God? About me? About the world?

Then, I cut a strip from the calendar to go with the phrase. I tape it into my journal, and slowly write the phrase under it. 

It’s only recently that I call myself an artist. Not all art requires skill or training. Creating, even something this simple, can connect us in powerful ways with our Creator.

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Words on the Page

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Words on the Page

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An Invitation:

Uncover a “found poem” in an old book, a magazine, or a newspaper. Allow words to jump out at you and discover hidden meaning and beauty there. Invite God’s spirit to speak.


What this looks like for me:

I discovered “found poems” in my high school writing class, and rediscovered them much later as one of many creative ways to listen for God’s voice in my life. 

Where can I uncover truth and beauty? Almost anywhere, when I pay attention.

I like using old book pages. Our library has a giant book giveaway every year, or I find books at thrift stores.

I begin by scanning over the page for words that jump out at me. I try not to read whole sentences, just a word or two at a time. Anything that jumps out, I circle.

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Then, I look at the words I’ve circled. Is there a pattern? Any meaning in them? Are there more words on the page I want to add to this poem?

After I’ve finished selecting the words to keep, I cover the rest. Usually, I just doodle with the same pen I circled with. Occasionally, I’ve pulled out watercolor paints and used those instead.

Years ago, as I was first writing A Good Way Through, I had questions and anxiety about whether or not the book might help people. As I put my soul on the page, I feared how it would be received. Was it worth putting this story out into the world?  Would it be good enough? Would there be fruit from this labor? 

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In that season, I “found” this poem.

 

Later, I rewrote it like this:

 

THE GREAT OAK

Standing before the altar, 
I raised my eyes to heaven, 
unashamed.

There grew, by the place,
an oak with wide-spreading branches.

Then the tree shook—

and night came on.

Dawn, and morning.

The tree stood before me, 
still,
her branches blooming,
twigs swirling, 
and her flowers were faces.

I heard, “Behold!”

I gazed with wonder,
kneeling.

(Excerpt from A Good Way Through)

 

Poems can mean many things, but to me, in that season, it was one piece of the answer to my questions. There would be fruit from this work I was doing, and it would be beautiful, but it wouldn’t be mine. I wouldn’t have to create the fruit, only to behold with wonder.

There is beauty in obedience to a call. I was called to write; I was not called to make the perfect book or fix anyone else’s life with my words. I was called to obey, and by God’s help the rest would follow.

 “In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.” -Isaiah 4:2

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Even the Rocks Cry Out

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Even the Rocks Cry Out

An Invitation:

Discover the gifts hidden in the natural world. Enjoy them where they are, or bring them into your home as tangible reminders of God’s love and the truth about God, yourself, and the world.


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What this looks like for me:

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My friend Stephanie and I often joke about “nature trash.” Both of us are constantly bringing things into our homes that look might surprise the average interior decorator: bowls of pinecones and acorns, vases full of dried leaves, sun-bleached bones or driftwood. Most of these things look pretty when elevated by a nice piece of pottery or when an air plant is tucked inside. But there is more to these items than their beauty.

Last weekend I was at the beach with my family. It was sunny, but cold and windy with powerful waves: a day for exploring, not for swimming or sunbathing.

“Look, Mama!” Everett, the five-year-old scientist in our family, called me over. “I just discovered that the sand is actually tiny rocks!” I hunched down next to him, and so began hours of sifting through rock and sand.

The rocks on this beach were every color of the rainbow. Granite, limestone, opal; veins of white running through deep red; brilliant yellow; soft, mossy green. We collected rainbows of tiny rocks. Asher, age two, scooped them with a small shell. Dave brought me a handful of green in every shade and Everett a handful of gold.

How am I changed when I pray with a handful of stones?

We talked with Everett about God’s love, and how these rocks are a gift from God, reminding us that we are beloved. “These rocks tell me that God loves me, Mama,” he said, “because God knows how much I love rocks.” (It’s true, this boy LOVES rocks.)

There is more to the metaphor. The colors in these rocks were particularly brilliant because the rocks were so smooth—pounded day after day by the surf. This was a wild beach, with water that wrecks and tumbles. It is not a gentle place.

“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” So ends the Psalm that begins with “As the deer pants for water, so I thirst for you…”

Today I ponder this as I hold one smooth rock in my palm and pray.

It is important to remember that to enjoy nature does not mean we get to possess it. There are wild places and things that should be left as they are (like state and national parks, for example). Be mindful of where you are and what you put in your pocket as you explore this invitation.

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This Body

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This Body

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An Invitation:

Remember the goodness of your body. Remember the truth of who you are in Christ. Speak a blessing over yourself and anoint your body with fragrant oil. 


What this looks like for me:

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Several years ago, during a long bout of depression, I happened upon a little bottle of frankincense anointing oil that I bought on a whim. Frankincense was one of the gifts the magi brought to welcome Jesus at his birth. Although it was mid-August at the time, I felt drawn to this fragrance given to the infant Christ. 

At Christmas we celebrate the Divine Incarnate—God revealing God’s self in flesh and bone, blood and breath. The Incarnation reminds us that God became a body, and that our bodies are very good. 1 Corinthians proclaims our bodies are the very dwelling place of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit. What good news!

During my long season of sorrow, I desperately needed to remember this truth. Each morning I would look at myself in the mirror, and anoint myself with frankincense oil, speaking a blessing over myself as I did:

This is the fragrance of the infant Christ
Who created you in God’s image (anoint forehead)

washed you in his blood (anoint wrists)
indwells you with the Spirit (anoint throat)
With great Love you have been welcomed.

For good measure I would dab a little under my nose so I could smell it throughout the day. When depression washed over me, I would press my wrist to my nose and take a long, deep breath allowing the fragrance to remind me of the goodness and wonder of this body, this life. 

Gratefully, I have been free from depression for some time now, but the goodness of this anointing practice is one I still relish. Each Advent season, I pull out my little bottle and add its fragrance and blessing to my morning quiet time. I carry the bottle in my purse, and sometimes occasion will arise to share its blessing with another. 

We cannot offer what we have not received. May we open ourselves to the profound blessing of God, that we may extend it forward into our world. 


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Middle school teacher, foster mama, and creative contemplative, Stephanie Jenkins is a southern California native who currently lives in Los Angeles with her wonderful husband Billy. In addition to relishing time spent outdoors, she also enjoys yoga, art-making, poetry, and journaling. 

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Napping as Prayer

Napping as Prayer

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An Invitation:

Autumn and winter are seasons of rest and release. Enter into this seasonal invitation by curling up in a cozy spot.  Allow yourself to fall asleep as an act of surrender and prayer.


What this looks like for me:

The second half of the year, nature’s seasons invite us to slow down, do less and rest more. In southern California where I live, the seasons are quite subtle. With almost constant warmth and sunshine, it is easy to forget or ignore the seasonal changes happening in the natural world. Even though these months still might hold 80-degree days for Angelenos like me, I find the pull of shorter days and lengthening nights inviting me to rest nonetheless.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the goodness of rest : “in returning and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.” 

Rest is an act of radical surrender and bold trust. It is an act of salvation. 

In a culture bent on productivity, choosing rest is daring to claim that there is already more than enough. That the world will keep turning even though we stop our anxious striving. Choosing rest is choosing to place our trust in God rather than in our own frenetic efforts.

So in these shorter, cooler days, when my body feels more tired and in need of a nap, I don’t beat myself up about it. I choose not to listen to the riot of “shoulds” in my head telling me how much better my time ought to be spent.  

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Instead, I choose to recognize the goodness of rest. I choose to claim that rest is an act of trust in a God who doesn’t need my busyness, who created the seasons, who made both day and night, winter and summer. I choose to believe that rest is a way to say yes to the abundance of God’s Love.

Keeping Isaiah’s words in mind, I curl up on my couch, lovingly cover myself with a quilt a dear friend sent me in a time of struggle, close my eyes, and imagine that I am falling asleep in the arms of God.  

In this way, a midday nap becomes a countercultural act of prayer.


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Middle school teacher, foster mama, and creative contemplative, Stephanie Jenkins is a southern California native who currently lives in Los Angeles with her wonderful husband Billy. In addition to relishing time spent outdoors, she also enjoys yoga, art-making, poetry, and journaling. 

God Hides in a Catalogue

God Hides in a Catalogue

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An Invitation:

Find words and images of hope and truth hidden in a holiday catalogue. Use tape or glue to put them into a poem or a work of art.


What this looks like for me:

The Christmas season means that my mailbox is suddenly stuffed full of catalogues and advertisements urging me to “get into the spirit” by buying things I don’t need.  The advertisements tell me that I need more, what I have is not enough, if I really love my friends and family, I will spend a lot of money buying them stuff. 

Christ have mercy.

Rather than getting pulled into the consumer frenzy or falling into depression over our excessive consumption, this week I decided to use the extra supply of glossy images for creative exploration. 

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The Incarnation of Christ invites us to expect the Divine disguised in the ordinary, the everyday. Jesus came as a little baby, born in a stable.  Hardly the form or the place anyone would expect.

So I decided to look for God in a catalogue.  

From our recycling pile, I pulled out a catalogue with a stunning image on the cover and gently leafed through with eyes open to see what might be hiding there. 

Images of darkness and light emerged—stars, snow, search lights, night sky. I ripped out the images, carefully tearing away any evidence of advertisement, and glued them into my journal. In gold I rephrased the verse from Isaiah I’d read earlier that morning: “those sitting in darkness have seen a great light.”

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Next I found a page with a large text bank of words that all seemed to jump out at me. I tore out the page and began to cut out all the words that stirred me. After arranging and rearranging them in my journal, a simple poem emerged. I taped down the words with clear tape. It felt a bit like wrapping up a lovely gift. One I both offered and received. 

In this season when so many voices vie for our attention, may we have the clarity of vision to see what truly matters, and may we find God hiding in the ordinary stuff of our lives.


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Middle school teacher, foster mama, and creative contemplative, Stephanie Jenkins is a southern California native who currently lives in Los Angeles with her wonderful husband Billy. In addition to relishing time spent outdoors, she also enjoys yoga, art-making, poetry, and journaling. 

Lists as a Spiritual Practice

Lists as a Spiritual Practice

An Invitation:

Make your to do list help, not hinder, you. Let you to do list become a prayer.

First, listen in stillness. Then write somewhere on your list what you hear. Then categorize your tasks, focusing on what is essential. Let go of those things that can wait (for now or forever).


What this looks like for me:

I've hoped that Advent will be a time of winding down, a space for listening, rest and celebration. Yesterday, I found myself overwhelmed. Each time I looked at my list of tasks, anxiety crept to the surface. Each task was just a pebble, but I had a mountain before me.

So I turned to a fresh page: December.

I started with a simple doodle—tiny circles and bulbs, then lines to connect them into strings. I let my mind calm and wander as I doodled. I wrote “December” slowly and carefully across the top of the page. I wrote “What is essential?” underneath, a question a friend posed to me recently on a day I felt stressed. 

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As my hands were busy, my mind stilled. I listened. The carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” came to me. It's not a carol I sing often, but as I thought about the words they felt fitting: “God rest ye… [be] merry… Let nothing you dismay… Jesus Christ our savior was born upon this day!” These are words I need right now. I need good tidings of comfort and joy. So, I wrote those words at the top and bottom of the page, framing my list. When I turn to my list of tasks, they will remind me of what is important: in this season, I want to slow down, be present, be merry, and rest in joy. 

Next, I categorized. I’ve been playing with how to categorize tasks lately, and this month, I have four columns: 1) projects (major things that require ongoing work), 2) tasks (for those little things I just need to cross off), 3) ideas and questions (to keep track of and look at later), and 4) things to do later or never (tasks I’m not quite ready to forget I intend to do, but that don’t really need to be done right now.) These categories help, because my work time is unpredictable. Sometimes I catch 5 minutes while my kids are playing—good time for a quick task, but not for a project. Other times I have a few hours that I can use to dig into something bigger. I also have discovered that I like monthly lists for work and separate weekly or daily lists for home-related things. For a while, I made my lists on a whiteboard, because I loved that when everything was finished it was clean instead of messy. 

It takes time to figure out how your lists can work for you, and plenty of trial and error. Seasons change, and your needs change with them. But lists can be more than lists; they can be intentional practices that center you and remind you of what you need to remember.

To download a free template for Advent listening, see last week's post. :-) 

A Practice for Advent

A Practice for Advent

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An Invitation:

This Advent, listen for one word for each day. Find a simple way to record your words.


What this looks like for me:

I love Advent. I love the sense of longing, the deepening darkness, the waiting for the already-not-yet arrival of Jesus, hope of the world. In what is often a season of scurrying, I desire stillness and reflection, warmth and conversation, creativity and peace.

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Each year, I read at least one Advent devotional along with some scripture. (Here are a few of my favorites.) This year, I will listen in my daily reading and prayer for a word or phrase to rise to the surface. Perhaps it will be something I’m hoping for. Perhaps it will be the name of a person I’m praying for. Perhaps it will be something I recognize that day as a gift.

Inspired by Praying in Color, I’ll write my word in a calendar-of-sorts I drew based on a stained glass window I found on the internet (pictured above).  Then I’ll paint over it in watercolor, because that’s my favorite medium these days. (Sign up for my email list for free downloads of 2018 and 2019 calendar templates.)

Some other method may work better for you. You could find a friend and text each other your words each day. You could write them in your planner or Google calendar. You could cover your mirror with Post-Its. However you do it, I invite you to find some tangible way to record your words—it will put them into your body’s memory in a deeper way than just thinking about them.

May God bless you as you listen this Advent season!

Practice Remakes Us--Announcing a New blog series!

Practice Remakes Us--Announcing a New blog series!

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My friends, I'm excited to tell you that tomorrow launches a new series of blog posts about spiritual practice!

As I’ve thought about this blog, I’ve been asking (and praying) the question: What do people need? A friend said to me recently, “Don’t forget that most people don’t do the kinds of practices you do.” An answer, perhaps, to that question.

This series will be simple. Each post will start with an invitation into a spiritual practice, followed by a bit more explanation of what the practice looks like for me.

Why practice? Practice is how God transforms us. Take hospitality, for example. We can read about hospitality and think about it and talk about it, but our transformation into more hospitable people is limited unless we practice hospitality. It’s much more effective to act our way into a new pattern of thought than it is to think our way into a new pattern of action. Spiritual practices open us to the work of God’s Spirit within us. 

 In Philippians 4:8-9, Paul writes:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

This series will show you how I practice. I’d love to hear how you do, too.

Stay tuned for an invitation into practice for Advent tomorrow!

The Listening Day by Paul J. Pastor

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The Listening Day by Paul J. Pastor

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The kids are down for nap and rest time. It’s 2pm and I haven’t had much time to be still since my oldest woke me at 6:30 to separate a couple of stuck Lego pieces. If I’m not careful, I’ll spend this precious time catching up on email and doing dishes. Today I am careful. I put water on to boil and collect a few supplies to carry to the front porch for a moment of listening: my journal, a travel set of watercolors, my Bible, and a book. Today, as it often is, the book is The Listening Day.

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My friend Paul J. Pastor has now released two volumes of this wonderful book, a record of his own time listening to God. The books are slim and easy to carry. Paul’s words are honest, artful, theological and poetic. The Listening Day inspires me on two levels: I love the wisdom Paul offers, and I’m inspired to do my own listening.

Paul has generously offered an excerpt of his book here, along with a reflection and invitation into listening. Even better, I have three copies of The Listening Day to give away. (Details below.)


An excerpt from The Listening Day, Volume 2, by Paul J. Pastor:

 

O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

Isaiah 64:8 (NRSV)

THE REAL QUESTION

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.

Psalm 139:14 (NRSV)

+++

The real question is this:
how can you believe I am who I say I am
if you will not believe that I made a good thing,
a very good thing,
a wonderful thing—
a fearfully wonderful thing—
with my own hand,
in my own image,
from my own life,
when I made you?

+++

Father, forgive me for disbelieving your good work. Let me see myself as you see me—not ignoring my sin or flawed nature, but seeing beyond it to your true and good image that you created and redeemed in me through your Son and Spirit. Amen.

+++

A reflection and invitation into listening:

The Listening Day is just my published practice of the ancient devotional method of lectio divina (Listening Day, Lectio Divina…yeah. You get it). The goal of lectio is simple: to use a short bit of scripture to initiate prayer and conversation with God. Traditionally, the three steps of read, ponder, and pray guide us. 

We read a text (in The Listening Day, two related verses) with careful attention. I try to notice what is strange or surprising—something that challenges my way of thinking or living, or undoes a lie or half-truth that I’ve believed. As I read, I listen—asking God to show me what’s supposed to stand out to me today. Reading the Bible becomes a two-way invitation. God invites us to listen, we invite him to speak.

This naturally transitions into an opportunity to ponder the text. I allow it to simply sit with me. I allow my mind to go where it needs to, even if it feels like it’s wandering. There’s no wrong way to do this—even distractions that arise can be given straight to God as part of a healthy process. 

Then, I simply pray. I try to keep this short and to the point. I talk to God about what I have read and pondered, and ask him to help me live and understand the way of Jesus in a new way.  

What sets The Listening Day a little apart from classic lectio is that I’m writing it down and sharing my own practice. It’s a bit raw and honest, but I’ve heard from many readers that it has inspired them to their own practice of conversation with God through reading, pondering, and prayer. 

This is becoming a transformative discipline for me. If you’re interested, try it with the two verses below. If you feel like it, share what comes out of your time with a friend!

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live. Psalm 116:1-2 NIV

+++

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5:14 NIV

 


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GIVEAWAY Details:

If you would like a chance to win a free copy of The Listening Day, Volume 2, do one of the following by Monday, November 20:

  • Comment on this post with what it looks like for you to set aside time to listen to God.
  • Share this post on Facebook. Tag @kristenleighkludt and @pauljpastorauthor so we can enter you in the lottery!
  • Follow @agoodwaythrough and @pauljpastor on Instagram and tag two friends in the post.

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Paul J. Pastor is a writer living in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge. His writing on Christian spirituality has won numerous awards and critical recognition for its beauty, insight, and biblical depth. With a M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary, Paul brings his passionate style to life as a frequent speaker at churches and universities. Paul and his wife Emily serve as Deacons of Spiritual Formation at Theophilus Church in Portland, Oregon.

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Good Ways: An Update

Good Ways: An Update

My friends,

What a year this has been! It has been a great honor to host the wisdom of so many thoughtful friends in this space these last six months. Good Ways is taking a break for the next month as I focus my vocational energy elsewhere, but my hope is to launch a new round in October. (If you are interested in submitting a post for the series, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you!)

If you are looking for a new practice for connecting with God, whatever season of life you’re in, take some time to read through the Good Ways archives (or pick up a copy of A Good Way Through). My hope in all that happens on this page is that we, together, would be motivated and inspired into action. We can read and think and talk all day about meeting God, but we are transformed best through practice. 

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
— Phillippians 4:8-9, The Message

If you’re looking for a bit more inspiration this month, I’ll be posting more of my own creative practices on Instagram (@agoodwaythrough) and Facebook (@kristenleighkludt), so join me in those spaces to continue the conversation. Or, even better—share about your own and tag me! I’d love to see what you’re up to.

I am so grateful for your presence in this space. It is an honor to have you.

With love,

-Krissy

P.S. Some things I love right now:

 

Consider the Lilies by Stephanie Jenkins

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Consider the Lilies by Stephanie Jenkins

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


“Not possible.” 

The words ring like a bell over the phone, summoning me out of the dream we dared to pursue despite our history of pain and the high risk. 

“Not possible,” says a second opinion. And then a third. 

Scouring the internet, pouring over long text banks of legalese, the harsh truth that indeed this dream is not possible finally sinks in.

Just a few days ago, my husband and I opened our hearts to the possibility of adopting a baby girl soon to be born on the other side of the border. Her mother’s aunt, a friend, reached out to us believing she’d found an answer to both her teen-aged niece’s desperation and our desire. Our hearts soared with hope as we jumped into action, but today we discovered international law prohibits this adoption.

This dead end is yet another in a long line of disappointments on our path to parenthood. Since I was a small child, I have longed to be a mother. For the past eight years, my husband and I have pursued this dream in myriad ways, yet still we remain a family of two.

With no resolution to our infertility or our childlessness, with little change in our desire to parent, we’ve carried our loss through the changing seasons of our lives. Sometimes it is a silent companion, content to sit in the corner unnoticed. Other times it is a raging fire threatening to consume us. 

Time has made this loss more quiet, more often. It has become more familiar and less frightening. We’ve even witnessed beautiful growth and opportunity sprout from the darkness of our loss. 

But there are days, like today, in the face of this heavy news, when the wound reopens and bleeds fresh, and the pain feels just as raw and deep as ever.

How does one continue to grieve the loss of something that never was?

Today my heart feels so heavy that it is literally hard to move. Every step feels laborious. Slowly I walk through my neighborhood and down into the Arroyo Seco—a dry and dusty natural area that hugs the edge of Los Angeles. 

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As the asphalt underfoot shifts into the soft sand of the arroyo and the sky opens up into a wide expanse free from the usually trappings of telephone wires, I feel my body begin to relax. My breath comes more fluidly. The pain in my chest feels less sharp. 

In this wild space there is room to simply be. 

I am held by nature’s quiet presence—no demands or expectations. I don’t have to mask my pain or force a smile. Here in this open space, I am allowed to hurt. And this freedom makes my burden lighter. 

A prairie falcon cries out. I catch sight of its white breast curved like the crescent moon above. Two cotton-tailed rabbits dart into the safety of a sugar bush, and the wind makes the dry grasses sing. On the dusty trail, I find a bright green parrot feather. I hold it between my fingers, and the words of the psalmist rise up within me, “I will shelter you in the shadow of my wings.”*

Nothing has changed really. Yet in the beauty of the natural world around me, I sense my awareness shift and open to the comforting Presence of God pulsing in the arch of darkening sky, in the soft breeze against my skin, in the quiet confidence of the creatures who, as poet Wendell Berry puts it, “do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”**

In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, he offers the following antidote to worry, “Consider the birds of the air,” he says, “…the lilies of the field.” *** I have found that this is also good medicine for grief. 

Loss can shrink my vision to the throbbing ache of my own wound. Turning outward into the rugged beauty of wild places, I find perspective. 

Here my senses are awakened and soothed. I am drawn outside myself. Instead of breathing in ragged gasps between sobs, I inhale the sweet scent of California bay laurels. Rather than tears, my eyes fill with the bright orange of poppies in bloom.  

In nature I find space for my loss. There is everywhere evidence of both life and death, darkness and light—it is a space where everything has its place, nothing is left out.  The cosmic dance of the created world in all of its variety is on display, and I am a part of it. Here I see my own grief as part of a larger story, one in which everything belongs. 

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Most significantly I sense in nature the deep and abiding Presence of the God who, in great love, created this world, created me. I breathe in this Presence, and in this radiant moment, my heart knows the truth it is always seeking: I am Beloved. This is enough. 

INVITATON TO PRACTICE:

  • Go outside. A patch of grass or shady tree will do.
  • Be in your body. Let your five senses engage with the space around you carrying you into a deeper experience of the present moment. 
  • Be present. Prayer is the simple recognition of the Presence of God right here, right now. In this space of beauty, can you sense the Creator’s presence? You are held just as you are in abundant Love. Can you bring your real and raw self into the awareness of this Love? 
  • Rest. Grief is exhausting. Rest here in Divine embrace. Maybe even take a nap!
  • Repeat. For me, this means sitting in my garden each morning and hiking once a week.

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Middle school teacher, foster mama, and creative contemplative, Stephanie Jenkins is a southern California native who currently lives in Los Angeles with her wonderful husband Billy. In addition to relishing time spent outdoors, she also enjoys yoga, art-making, poetry, and journaling.  


 *Psalm 91:4
 **Berry, Wendell. “The Peace of Wild Things.” The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Washington, D.C: Counterpoint, 1998. Print.
 ***Matthew 6:25-32

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Surrendering to Silence (or Tired Kids Won’t Sleep & I Can’t Rest) by Dave Kludt

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Surrendering to Silence (or Tired Kids Won’t Sleep & I Can’t Rest) by Dave Kludt

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


“Why won’t he fall asleep?”

“He’s too tired to fall asleep.”

“Huh?”

For me, the “I’m so tired but instead of sleeping I’m going to scream and cry and throw things and/or bite you” phenomenon is one of the most confounding realities of parenting.

It makes no sense. 

If you’re tired, fall asleep.

If you are having trouble falling asleep, close your eyes and be quiet and pretend to sleep.

If all else fails, count sheep or try to pray and chances are you’ll just fall asleep.

Generally, sleep is a pretty great thing and I’m pretty great at doing it so I’m pretty unsure why those kids of ours won’t sleep.

Rest is also a pretty great thing. Sleep is a part of rest, but so are quiet, solitude, contemplation, and prayer. God’s good and sacred vision for human flourishing involved a regular rhythm of rest (daily and weekly in addition to times of festival and celebration throughout the year). Rest is an invitation into the fullness of life. In the Scriptures, I think rest is framed as a command not because it is another hoop to jump through, but because rest is a critical component of our humanity. In the beginning, God created humans and not robots, and (even though I have a healthy respect for robots) this was a very good thing.

But a recent week I spent with my family in the wilderness of Yosemite gave me a glimpse of why tired kids won’t sleep. Even in the midst of the beautiful wilderness I had trouble surrendering to the soulful rest I knew I needed.  

The mental space I inhabit most of the day is incredibly noisy. There is the hum of technology. There is music blasting through headphones or speakers. There is my digital disorganization, with notes scattered across Asana and Gmail and Evernote and Notes and Dropbox. There are the endless advertisements that pop up from every direction. 

Technology does a great job creating compulsive tendencies. When my computer is open, I’ve caught myself loading social media sites in multiple tabs at once because, in scattered moments, my muscle memory takes over, moving my fingers across my keyboard to command + t + f + slight delay for Chrome to autofill facebook.com + return. Throughout the day, my hand instinctually reaches toward my front pocket where I often keep my phone. 

Last week, in the meadows of Yosemite outside of the range of cell service, the hum of technology was silenced as soon as we arrived at our campsite but my compulsion towards noise did not diminish so quickly. Even after entering quiet, the muscle memory, the digital allure, the ghost vibrations continued.

I came to this beautiful place to rest and play with my family—to live into the divine command to experience life as a rested human being—but my mind and my muscles were constantly listening for the noisy signals of my everyday soundtrack and reaching for the dopamine device that far too often accompanies me throughout my days. 

Eventually, after a few days, I was able to surrender to the silence, but this made me consider: are there new habits or practices I can form that would allow me to enter into rest without experiencing days of digital withdrawal?

Here are a few practices that I’m experimenting with as I seek to live into God’s good invitation and command to enter into rest:

  • Regularly, choose analog over digital (i.e. write a postcard instead of sending a text, listen to vinyl over streaming music, binge-read the book instead of binge-watching the show/movie).
  • Daily, create distance from technology (i.e. create & protect tech-free space throughout the house, refuse the impulse to start the work day with email, leave your phone at home while taking a neighborhood walk or going on short errands).
  • Annually, plan at least one multi-day rhythm that silences the hum. Get into the woods, go to a retreat center, and wear a hole in the “airplane mode” button on your device. Shut off the technology, patiently pray through the withdrawal, and enter into the rest.

Dave Kludt lives and serves in the East Bay outside San Francisco with a group of mostly-young, all-creative, Jesus-following sojourners called Open Door as the directional leader and Pastor of Mission and Formation. He rides bikes and trains, reads and writes as much and as broadly as possible, tries to grow plants, and watches Jurassic Park.

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The Cadence of Clarity and Peace by Mark Scandrette

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The Cadence of Clarity and Peace by Mark Scandrette

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


I used to think that my melancholy had to do with the external circumstances of my life; the sadness that comes from great disappointment, like the loss of a job or a death in the family. But I’ve gradually come to see that what happens and how I feel about it are not always related. Someone breaks into my car, stealing thousands of dollars of my stuff, and I feel nothing. A stranger leaves a critical comment under one my Facebook posts and I’m devastated. 

Recently I overheard my wife Lisa saying how difficult last year was for her. Later I asked what she was talking about. “Well,” she said, “You were hospitalized with viral meningitis and completely incapacitated for a month.” Oh, yeah, I forgot. I wonder why my being terribly ill would make Lisa’s year so hard and she might wonder why I can’t just let go of that one critical Facebook comment. What’s hard for me might not be hard for you, but we are all looking for a good way through.

There are predictable ways we search for comfort. When I’m sleep deprived I crave fatty foods, sugary snacks and naps. When I’m stressed or fatigued I want a glass of wine, a good T.V. show or an orgasm. When I’m sick or exhausted, I want solitude and silence. Sometimes when I’m discouraged I’ll talk to a friend. We naturally look for sources of solace, and food, sex, sleep, company and beauty can all provide a measure of what we need. But anything that helps us get through has its limits. Too much talk about my problems leaves me feeling like I’m needy and powerless. Too much wine, salty snacks or binge watching makes me feel blurry, bloated and lethargic. And sometimes silence or time with a journal only creates more space for me to obsess about whatever bamboozled me. 

When I’m sad, stressed, exhausted or overwhelmed, the practice that most reliably helps me is walking. Unlike so many of my other coping mechanism, the only downside to walking that I can think of is an occasional blister or sore feet.

I first discovered the magical healing power of a walk when I was an angsty and hormonal teenager. Desperate for time and space to process my complicated feelings I stopped taking the bus and started walking the two and a half miles each way to school and back. I didn’t have a Sony Walkman so I was free to meditate, pray and notice the grit and beauty of the city streets that surrounded me. 

In college my mind was flooded with questions and uncertainties. Who am I? Why are we here? What should I do and who can I spend my life with? I explored these questions on early morning wanders in the woods. Or, I’d take a solitary stroll down the moody streets of a low rent neighborhood at sunset.    

In my twenties, married, working, going to graduate school, and raising three kids, there was less space for quiet reflection. But sometimes in desperation, I would take a moonlit hike at midnight to sort out my thoughts. On summer evenings I would walk a child to sleep or clock miles on a trail while reading my seminary textbooks. 

For me walking creates a cadence that brings clarity and peace. When my body is occupied by movement my mind is free to wander and wonder. The rhythm of my steps resets my internal symmetry. I am open to what I see in front of me and and what is buried deep inside. 

I love the life I have as a teacher, writer and activist. But the flow of my work means that I am often jet lagged and over stimulated by public speaking and meeting new people. Too many days of creating and relating can leave me feeling spun out and emotionally discombobulated. I know what I need to do. Pack a water bottle, a jacket, sunscreen and some nuts and walk from morning until dusk. I walk myself back to equilibrium, slowly stepping down paths or cobblestone streets, stopping in a museum, garden or cafe. And then keep moving until my mind is clear and my soul is at rest and I can hardly take another step. Eight miles through cool gray San Francisco. Twelve miles criss-crossing the bridges of London. Fifteen miles wandering the arrondissements of Paris. Eighteen miles strolling the beaches and docklands of Sydney and Melbourne. Four miles along the freeway in Visalia.  

In the oldest stories of our ancestors, it is said they walked with God in the cool of the day. And I can relate. At the end of the day we find our rest, not by sitting, but by joining a peripatetic journey with the one in whom we live and move and have our being.    

God’s country, they call it, 
a land of sky wide sunrises
where water is king,
the divide between
bone dry desert and fertile green.

I walk the lonely back roads
through fields of tall corn and stone fruit
as men in oversized pick ups barrel past
kicking up the San Joaquin valley dust.

They call this the heartland, the bread basket
and beyond the miles of well ordered orange groves
the snow capped Sierra mountains hang
like pink and grey clouds on the horizon. 

What I see right in front of me,
is what falls off or gets tossed out of moving vehicles
a stray bolt, old tire tread,
piles of worn out shoes and baby clothes,
beer bottles, condoms, tobacco tins,
rodeo flyers and McDonald’s cups.

The heartland doesn’t look as beautiful
when seen close up. 
I see the landscape as I see myself.
Searching for treasure amongst the debris
Hunting for a view of the sky among the trees
Hoping the truck behind me doesn’t speed up or stop, 
Veering towards the ditches just to be safe. 

At sunset the temperature drops
A stray cats purrs
A cool breeze blows
Hush falls over the valley
Glowing with the possibilities of a new day tomorrow. 


Mark Scandrette is a teacher, activist and coach for leaders and teams who want to create a better world from the inside out. He is the founder of ReIMAGINE, one of the key creative shapers of the NINE BEATS Collective, and author of several books including FREE, Belonging and Becoming and Practicing the Way of Jesus

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