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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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