Presence

The Breath Giver

God breathed Life into me, and yet I know His Presence by the way He steals my breath: 

  • at the beach
  • during a sunset
  • beside a waterfall
  • during a meteor shower
  • at the birth of a lamb
  • when my husband puts his arm around me
  • when my kids laugh

Evidence of the Breath Giver is breath-taking.

You know those moments, you stop for them. You allow yourself to experience the wonder. You receive the gift. These are moments we can't control or command, we can't take them. They are moments that are given and we receive them. This is the foundation of faith--wonder. This is the heart of the psalms, and the heart of so much poetry. We notice the ordinary and we wonder at it.

And that impulse to stop, to breathe it in, to write it down? Another name for that is worship.

I looked up the definition for wonder and it is this:

to be surprised by beauty

And that is exactly what wonder feels like isn't it?

We have been keeping a list of what we notice to be sacred. We started it on the first day of this month, and it is good, right? To unclench ourselves and open our hearts and eyes? To receive the gifts already given? The practice alone is good.

But perhaps we might use our list to write some poetry. Ummmmm, won't that be good too?

Noticing the Sacred

I went for a walk in September last year. I walked and prayed for over 200 miles.

And I wondered, What if Jesus Christ really is The Way?

Not just the goal. No. What if He is the road we walk? What if He carries us continuously? Wouldn't that mean that everywhere I step is Holy Ground? What would my life look like if I lived that way?

Today is the first day of National Poetry Month. I challenge you, and I challenge myself, to notice the sacred in today. The essence of poetry is the same as the essence of prayer--paying attention with your entirety. What if you are standing, right now, on Holy Ground? What if you treated the person in front of you as Holy? What if this moment, this object, this...This was sacred?

My Sacred List for the month of April begins with these:

1. Warmth and the smell of applewood just beginning to push back the cold in the morning, thanks to the hands of my beloved who rose before me and braved the cold floor to make a fire.

2. A text--a smiley emoticon from my 19 year old son away at college.

3. My yoga mat. It used to belong to my father, now I use it to connect my spirit to my body and to pray for the people with whom God populates my heart while I'm stretching.

What's on your list? I would love a glimpse into your sacred life if you are willing to share in the comments.

Thank you. And. Happy National Poetry Month!

Stillness and Flurries, India Part 4

Eighteen months ago Shandra slept at the House of Light. The house is an aftercare refuge for girls who have been traumatized. One of the newly rescued girls screamed and sobbed all night, caught between nightmares and restless sleep. The nuns and the girls know these nights. And they know that sometimes all they can do is pray, hold, and be present through the dark until the morning. I think Shandra tried to prepare me as we drove to the house, but there are no words for the anguish caused by this evil.

We were prepared for the tasks of the day. The young members of our team, Girls of Grit and Determination, had sourced and purchased the other items we were taking.

 Halie and Abby, Girls of Grit and Determination at the computer store in Kolkata.

Halie and Abby, Girls of Grit and Determination at the computer store in Kolkata.

 The computer store, street view... (photo credit Abby Mayer, 2016)

The computer store, street view... (photo credit Abby Mayer, 2016)

We had a computer, printer/scanner, embroidery machine, fabric and other items in the trunk. We carried hoops and parts on our laps. I still had the embroidery sample cloth in my hand and was writing and rewriting lessons in my head. I wanted to introduce sewing and embroidery concepts in a way that unfolded logically and was easy to grasp. The rest of the team discussed strategies for setting up the other equipment and plans for the day. We were very prepared for the tasks ahead, but emotions are unpredictable.

We were welcomed with warm greetings and with tea. Shandra asked me to do a short presentation to all the nuns gathered around the table. When I pulled out the sample cloth, Sister Parmila (who is in charge of tailoring and teaching sewing) held it in her hands, shook her head and cried, "God is so kind!" (Definitely a theme for this trip). Soon they were dreaming of the possibilities (another trip theme).

After tea, we unpacked everything. The girls formed an excited throng around us that moved when we moved. One of the girls who couldn't stop smiling, took over the camera and took pictures of everyone. Like a photographer at a wedding, she organized portrait groups and bounced from room to room carrying delight with her. The House of Light was a flurry of activity: sewing lessons, computer lessons, everyone moving loudly, laughing.

Except Shandra.

Shandra smiled sometimes. She hugged sometimes. She nodded sometimes. She was present, but still. She was very still.

Shandra carried this special kind of Stillness born of Wonder.

I heard it in her voice as we drove away. I hear it in her voice even now. "Did you see her?" she asked. "The Girl Who Couldn't Stop Smiling? That was the girl who 18 months ago couldn't even stand. Her spirit was so broken, so crumpled, she was a puddle in the corner during the day and sobbed throughout the night."

There were other stories of healing and growth: a girl trained as a teacher who found work and now lives strong, one finishing her training as a mechanic while we were there, another preparing to take exams that will open up more educational opportunities. The girls and nuns are a family formed by trauma and love.

I think that everyone involved in this project has asked some variation of this question at some point, "Is love enough?" Are we doing enough? Are we moving fast enough? Are the care givers skilled enough? These are important questions, but they are flurry questions. Perhaps the answers are in the stillness.

Pray.

Hold.

Be present.

Through the dark.

Until the morning.

I Am Disturbed, India Part 3

I pushed open the door from the hotel and stepped into the Kolkata heat. Immediately, my glasses fogged up. As I stood wiping them, I could feel sweat collecting between my shoulder blades. By the time our driver dropped Shandra and I at the sewing machine shop, our clothes had melted into our skins.

But inside the shop, the atmosphere was quite chilly. Neither the manager nor his assistant smiled. When he spoke, the manager was careful to look pointedly away from us, mostly out the window, so that we became most familiar with his right ear and shoulder. He asked us a lot of questions, he didn't answer ours. The assistant brought us tea. The manager didn't drink his. I didn't drink mine.

"I could feel the steam coming out of your ears in that cold room,"  Shandra would laugh about this for weeks. And it was true. My anger was growing and I was struggling to contain it. This man, Lord! He is so condescending! How? How is he going to be able to do the things we have contracted him to do? How can a man this arrogant teach the women at the House of Light? His arrogance is a wall... And suddenly I realized I was catching a glimpse of another invisible story. There was so much I didn't know about this man, so much I would never understand; however, it was clear that he was woven into this tapestry. To discount him would be to leave a hole in the fabric. That's when the Holy Spirit broke into my own arrogance.

"There is much I don't know," I leaned forward. "Teach me."

He turned and looked at me for the first time. He waved at his assistant and thus began an hour of "training." I let him show me the machine features and I cooled down. He let me ask questions and he warmed up. We embroidered several samples onto black cloth and with each stitch our conversation became more real. Then he asked me to step into the back room. He wanted to show me the machine I should have bought. It filled the room. He showed me that it operated in exactly the same way as the smaller one but moved significantly faster.

"Tell me why you prefer this machine," I asked him.

"It's so much faster! You cannot hope to be competitive in the industry with the machine you bought!" He took a breath, "Tell me why you prefer that machine."

I laughed, "Because it is so much slower! That machine will go to a home for girls. They will learn on it without losing any fingers and then have the skills to get jobs later."

"A home for girls? It is going to a home for girls?" He looked at the floor for a second. He spoke very quietly, "Then you have purchased the correct machine." When he looked up he was smiling.

Shandra signed the papers and we packed up the boxes. She would laugh later, "I don't know what you did but you gained a friend in that shop." The Holy Spirit wanted to use the stones in my own wall of arrogance to build a bridge. As we were leaving I picked up the black cloth on which we had stitched out several samples, "Can I have this?" The assistant snatched it out of my hand, but the manager gave it back to me, "Of course you must have it, there is no problem." He gave us several business cards, "You must please disturb me for any reason. If the sisters at the House of Light need anything, machine maintenance, lessons, any question at all! I will look forward to being disturbed by them."

This textile piece is titled The Holy Spirit Disturbs Us. I wanted to do a textile piece to remember that moment. I loved that the manager used the word "disturbed" because it so accurately encapsulated all of our feelings that morning. We were negatively disturbed by one another, then we were positively disturbed by the Holy Spirit who invited us to try again. The piece is entirely hand-stitched to honor the effort, one stitch at a time, one word at a time, that it takes to choose to build a bridge.

   The Holy Spirit Disturbs Us,    Michelle Winter ©2016 cotton thread on cotton fabric stitch mounted to 16x20" museum board

The Holy Spirit Disturbs Us, Michelle Winter ©2016 cotton thread on cotton fabric stitch mounted to 16x20" museum board

The gray background fabric felt chilly to me, like the atmosphere in the shop when we first arrived. The orange square is the Presence of God, which is always there. The straight stitches are a nod to a form of traditional Indian hand embroidery called kantha. They form lovely undulations in the fabric (and texture is the reason textiles are my first art love). I chose white embroidery floss because I wanted something that didn't stand out too much. I wanted the stitching to feel almost atmospheric. The straight lines at the bottom are about the paths in which we are often stuck. The undulations are the unintentional ripples those paths can create. The scattered stitches are the times when the Holy Spirit explodes us out of our paths. The curved stitches are the times when we are merely nudged to see things in new ways. Anything can happen when The Holy Spirit Disturbs Us. I used a mounting technique that was new to me. Though it was a pain-staking process, I am so happy with the result and will definitely use it again.

Contemplative Photography: God in the Ordinary

A few years ago after a conference, some friends and I were quickly packing the car to return home. I carried the cooler through the garage. One of my friends came running into the garage from the street still holding the bags she had taken out.

"I wouldn't go out there," she said. "There are a couple of ah...a couple of um..."

"Unseemly characters?" I offered.

"That's putting it nicely."

I went out anyways.

There were two large men approaching, one black, one white. As soon as they saw me coming they walked toward me.

"Mama!" yelled the big black man. That made me smile.

"Oh Mama, how you doin'?" He stuck out his hand. I was still carrying the cooler so I offered my pinky. He took it and shook it heartily.

The white man said something I couldn't make out, and his friend said, "No man. It's ok. I know Mama and she loves me." Then he wrapped his arms around me, gave me a big hug and planted a huge kiss on my cheek.

"See?" he said. They began walking away, "You take care now, Mama."

It was so beautiful. I felt anointed. A (perhaps slightly inebriated) angelic kiss from someone who felt safe near me.

On Pentecost, the disciples leave the protection of their rooms. They go out into the streets, into the world filled with the Holy Spirit and the gifts He gives: faith, hope and love among many others. They go out. But God is already in the world. The feasts and fasts, the festivals of celebration and remembrance, the studying, God is in all those things. But He is also in the Ordinary, and it is in the ordinary where our faith is truly experienced. God inside me, is the same God that is outside me. When I go out with my eyes open, I get more of God. Such a good thing.

I've been working for some time on trying to load all the projects I have done with churches and retreat groups onto the Project page. I hope that people looking for resources will find a spark they can use. It has been remarkably slow going, but I have just finished a page for a contemplative photography project we did titled God in the Ordinary. You can find it here.

Other posts on contemplative photography:

Treasure Hunting

Going On a Treasure Hunt

Lectio Divina

It is my practice to prepare for Advent by reading through the beginning of Luke, specifically everything leading up to and including the birth of Christ, before Advent actually begins. The kind of reading that I do is called Lectio Divina. I thought this might be the time and place to discuss it.

There are so many books written about this ancient practice. Theologians of many denominations and God-followers for well over 2,000 years have engaged in and attempted to teach lectio divina. I suspect that might be the problem. Lectio Divina is very simple but it is remarkably deep and I think that theologians with over 2,000 years on their hands have perhaps given the impression that this technique is either difficult or irrelevant. It is neither.

So here it is, all you need to know about lectio divina:

In order to successfully engage in lectio divina it is necessary to believe these things:

  1. The Word of God is alive.
  2. God has something to say to you.

And it is necessary to do these things:

  1. Read with alert attention.
  2. Listen for God's heart speaking to your heart through His Words.

This type of reading is different from studying in that the goal is not to pick apart the text, to analyze or explain it. The goal is to listen. When I start, I settle myself prayerfully. I let go of distractions so that I can listen with alert attention. I bow my heart and whisper, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." Then I begin to read. I am reading with alert attention, looking for something that jumps out at me. Christine Valters Paintner says, "listen for a word or phrase that beckons you, addresses you, unnerves you, disturbs you, stirs you or seems especially ripe with meaning--what I describe as a word or phrase that 'shimmers.'"  I am asking the Lord to teach me this Advent by giving me some aspect of the season on which to focus, meditate and grow.

When I am finished reading, I usually sit silently before the Lord waiting for Him to make connections for me. Then I read the text a second time and tuck the stirrings into my heart to ponder throughout the season. Henri Nouwen says, "A listening heart therefore means a heart in which we stand open to God with all we are and have." This is how I want to spend my Advent, standing open to God with all I am and have so that on Christmas Day my heart will be a manger-throne.

At this point, I commit myself to learning the lesson I am asking the Lord to teach. Throughout the season I will go back often to that part of the story that called to me to see if I notice anything new. I will live alert to any lessons He might have for me. I will also consider ways to incorporate what God is teaching me into Christmas this year (as decor? family devotions? gift­ giving? in interactions with family?).

Everything else written about lectio divina is extra stuff meant to help define the experience, or help you to enter in and process the experience more fully. It's all good stuff. St. Benedict organized the practice into 4 steps that basically emphasize the give and take of divine conversation. He (and many theologians after him) recommend reading the text 4 times and listening in a different way each time. Perhaps we will look at those in the future.

For now, the bottom line is that:

  1. Lectio divina=reading with a listening heart.
  2. Advent=readying my heart to receive God-With-Us.

Cultivating Alert Attention: A Rationale

Far from a passive receptivity to whatever life throws my way, selfless openness calls for an alert attention to what is going on around me. It demands an awareness of what my five senses are picking up in the present circumstances and requires an active engagement with the world, especially the present moment and the situation in which I find myself.
--Albert Haase, "This Sacred Moment: Becoming Holy Right Where You Are"

There are several old men I admire in the "cloud of witnesses" that surrounds me. One is a man who at seventy-five, an age when he could have expected to rest, to be self-focused, finally spending time doing the things he wanted to do and with plenty of money to rest comfortably, abandoned it all--friends, family, fame, and life on his own terms--to follow God's voice. Who does that? And, really, how loud does that voice have to be to be recognizable at a time in one's life when no one would fault you for staying home and doing your own thing? This kind of listening? This is alert attention. It is familiarity. This listener? I think he had been listening a long time. I think he had practice noticing God's presence, accepting God's presence and engaging God's presence. This kind of response? It is the response of the loved one who loves. He was just a man, of advanced age, when he left everything behind to follow God's voice. I bet many thought he was a crazy old man, since he didn't even know where he was going. But the where didn't matter. What mattered was that God had inclined Himself to whisper, "follow me." The Bible tells me that this man, Abraham, is the "father of us all," and this is the legacy he has left me. I, too, can learn to apply active attention to God's Presence.

My uncle was in his seventies when he heard God call him to China. He was thrilled by the challenge to preach the gospel in a place where it is illegal to do so using words. He loved his students and taught them English. His supervisor told me last month that there is an entire group of Chinese who speak English with their hands just like my Italian-American uncle.

I grew up listening to my uncle's sermons. One of my favorites is on the parable of the talents. The gist of his sermon is this: God uses this parable to teach us about His Kingdom. The talents referred to in the parable are money, but they also represent other things God gives us. This includes wealth and material items, but also giftedness, knowledge and experiences. We are to exercise dominion over every thing that God has given us. We are to steward it and steward it well. This is being alert to active engagement with world in this present moment. Perhaps stewarding wealth and material items are somewhat straightforward, but how do you steward experiences? Have you experienced a miscarriage? Can you come alongside someone enduring that heartbreak today? Have you experienced any kind of loss for which there are no words? Can you offer a wordless presence to someone now? Alongside the hard things, God has made an investment into our lives, He has buried a treasure. The hard things are hard. We are to tell the Truth, and we should call things by their true names. The hard things are hard. Some things are unspeakable. Alert attention assures me God is here. Living with alert attention gives me the opportunity to invest in those around me. This is the same as connecting with Jesus, as He identifies Himself always with "the least of these."

So, this is the race marked out for me: to live noticing God's Presence, and to be alert to the invitation to be with Him whether alone or in a crowd.

The Remembering Time

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1

November is the Remembering Time. These early days in particular are dedicated to reflecting on the "great cloud of witnesses." For me, this is valuable as a reminder that I have never been left to take this journey alone. God has provided persons for every step. I have been mentored by the faithful lives of those mentioned in the Bible: Joseph forgave great betrayals; Eve's pro and con list often looks a lot like mine; Elijah spent himself to exhaustion in service; Moses gave up his life and then gave up his life and then did it again...and again. I have been accompanied by the lives and writings of St. Teresa, St. Francis, George Mueller, Henri Nouwen and so many others. I have been taught by faithful family members and members of my husband's family, by people I have only met for a few minutes and a couple of people who know me well and still call me "friend."

And what do these witnesses do? They inspire us to continue to move forward. They remind us to be. Today I am myopic. I can't see far and deep into the story, but I don't have to. God has placed witnesses close by. And standing on either side of me are some beautiful examples. The people who bookend me--my children and my father--inspire me. Here are two creations inspired by them.

"Braving the Tides" is an art quilt I did of my boys. My oldest son, Gabe, is a special needs kid. Every time he encounters a new situation he slips his hand into his younger brother Nick's hand. On the first day of Junior High group at church, Nick walked into the room full of excitement that he was going to make new friends. He is a very social kid and he loves people. He is also very socially aware. Just as he was approaching a group of 7th grade boys, Gabe slipped his hand into his. I watched them from the door. Nick never let go of Gabe's hand, even though I am sure he knew it could be social suicide. I watched them for a long time. Later, when I came back for them, they were still holding hands. That night I told Nick how proud I was of him for holding onto Gabe for as long as Gabe needed him. Nick said, "Why wouldn't I? He is my brother." I thought about how much Gabe trusts Nick. How he knows he can lean on him when he is scared. And I thought about how much Nick is willing to sacrifice for Gabe.

 "Braving The Tides" ©2008 Michelle Winter. In this interpretation, the boys are golden, almost glowing in the twilight, while the tides swirl around them. The waters are at once beautiful and unpredictable.

"Braving The Tides" ©2008 Michelle Winter. In this interpretation, the boys are golden, almost glowing in the twilight, while the tides swirl around them. The waters are at once beautiful and unpredictable.

Several years ago, I took a picture of my little boys at the beach not long after Gabe recovered from a stroke. That picture captured a moment of gratitude for me. Gratitude for the lives of those boys and for the plan God has for them. In that moment I realized that He was not just my Father, but also the Father of each one of my children. That photograph took on new meaning for me on that first day of Junior High, and I wanted to revisit the image more symbolically. The quilt, "Braving the Tides," was the result. My sons were pre-teens with all the pressures that implies. And yet, they continued to face Life together—one brother leaning on the other with a trusting love, the other holding him up with a patient and enduring love. They were brought together and are held together by the Holy Spirit—their love for one another an example to me.

My father was a diplomat by vocation. His perseverance was another great example to me. Below is the first poem I wrote that he didn't see. It is about the unique value of each person and it is about doing the task God has given you, two things my father lived.

No More

The bridge builder put down his tools,
"No one thanks the bridge builders,
I will build bridges no more."
At first few took notice
They did not care to know peoples on islands they had never visited.
But then the old bridges crumbled
And brothers were stranded apart.

The peacemaker closed his door
"No one is interested in peace,
I will fight for peace no more."
And things continued as before
But the injustices, wounds and offenses piled high
And the walls became a fortress
And the only word was War.

The poet put down his pen
"No one reads poetry
I will write poems no more."
The noisy world did not miss the voice that stopped speaking
But no one called attention to the wonders, no one knew when to stop and marvel.
No one tried to catch the wind while the world struggled to breathe
And then it's heart stopped.

by Michelle Winter

And so, let us run.

 

In Our Weakness, The Spirit Himself

I have a song replaying in me from my father's funeral last week. It's not the song I thought would accompany me during these grieving days. The funeral was so lovingly planned, and each song chosen for the way it spoke of him. Each song except this one. This was the only song that the church insisted was non-negotiable because the singer did not have time to learn to lead a new psalm. This song was imposed on us and I chafed under the edict. But I bit my tongue, and this is the song God is using now:

Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into Life.

And I have learned that this is often the way my soul groans. There are times when a melody will get stuck in my head, but I have learned to recognize the difference between a stuck melody and an embedded one. This is an embedded prayer, a plea from my soul because I don't know how to pray right now. Once I realized that was what was happening here, that my soul was groaning for me, that the Holy Spirit was praying for me, I turned my attention to the prayer.

We were shepherds for many years. I know a bit about shepherding a flock. Sheep tend to be fearful. We always moved gently among them, speaking softly. We enjoyed them, smiled over them. When we needed to make a change, move them to a better pasture, immunize, shear or clip hooves, do a health check, or transport them, we always planned ahead to minimize their stress. We knew that any change from their normal routine would be scary, and we did what we could to lessen the fear. Asking God to shepherd me feels like an act of submission. It feels like falling into Him, trusting Him. It is different from asking Him to rescue me. That feels more passive on my part. Asking for shepherding feels active and yet acknowledges my weakness and His Compassion, Strength and Mercy--all things I need right now. 

And so I sat yesterday, joining myself to the groaning of my soul, and I noticed the rest of the words. My soul's prayer is that My Shepherd would move me beyond my wants and fears. I want my father back. I want more time. I want a do-over. I fear that I let him down. That I will let him down. These are all included in the feelings of grief I am experiencing right now. Asking God to move me through these things and beyond them from death into Life--yes. I didn't know to pray for these things, but this is the right prayer today. And I feel Him shepherding me through, not pulling or yanking, but allowing me to plod slowly through this field.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

Going on a Treasure Hunt

On a gray morning a few years ago, Todd and I went into downtown Portland on a breakfast date. We happened to take our cameras with us.

"Have you noticed the doors along this street?" Todd asked, staring out the restaurant window. After breakfast he was all about the doors and door frames. He was so delighted with his treasure. He took photos from every angle, laying on the ground to get some shots of interesting lintels and door knobs. At first, I was entertained just watching him.

 The painted "Forgive" is on the right side of the stand and the yellow "Free" is on the left side of the base.

The painted "Forgive" is on the right side of the stand and the yellow "Free" is on the left side of the base.

After awhile I needed some other entertainment.  I took my lens cap off and prayed. So, Lord, do you have anything for me today? I'm listening. I turned around and it punched me in the stomach. Do you see it? Right there on a cold November street in downtown Portland: "Forgive" in white paint, and "Free" printed in yellow caps. It's the timing that  always amazes me. At that moment, this wasn't just an interesting oddity. This was there for me, and I was listening.

This photograph is not a money picture. It isn't well composed, it's flat, there is nothing arresting about it. I share it here because contemplative photography is most importantly about listening. It is about relationship. It is about being aware of God's Presence and meeting Him with my presence. Contemplative photography is a prayer. Sometimes these prayers will result in a beautiful photograph, but they will always result in a spiritual closeness. Improving your skills as a photographer is an enjoyable and worthy endeavor, but don't let any real or perceived lack of skill keep you from going on a God-seeking treasure hunt with your camera in your hand.

If you would like to use your camera as part of your devotional time this week, prayerfully look for the treasures the Lord has hidden for you. You do not need to limit yourself to quiet places, but you do need to be keenly aware of your surroundings so limit personal distractions if you can. Listen, but also allow yourself to experience wonder and to be delighted.

Learning to Listen

One of the reasons I value art for worship is because it helps me to clear a wordless space to listen for His voice. Wordlessness is difficult for me. Henri Nouwen says that sometimes attempting to pray in silence, his mind becomes filled with a banana tree of hungry monkeys! That metaphor always makes me smile because I can relate. Using art has been a productive way to begin to train and discipline my mind so that prayer can be a conversation rather than a monologue, or an exercise in list-making (all things I have been prone to do).

My friend, Jo Reimer,  a brilliant collage artist, has a series that I want to share with you. She has given me permission to use her work in this way. Today we are going to practice using art to worship. The series is titled Sermon Notes, a collection of 51 pieces, that can be found here.

When I use art for worship I tend to go through these stages: I notice that I am drawn to a particular piece; I prayerfully consider the elements that drew me in; I listen for what the Holy Spirit has for me; I spend time in silence with Him.  Here is an example from my prayer notebook of how I used Jo’s  piece entitled “Truthful.”

 
 "Truthful" from Jo Reimer's Sermon Notes series.

"Truthful" from Jo Reimer's Sermon Notes series.

 

 I am drawn—The colors in this are provocative. Blue and orange, peace and boldness, are side-by-side. I am attracted by the word—TRUTHFUL. How perfect! Truth is provocative. There is an element of peace and an element of boldness to it.

 I come—When I think about “truth” I am filled with feelings of safety and peace. Lord, I thank you that I can trust You. That You speak the Truth—that you are Truth. In You there is no guile, no deceit. No room for lies. I can rest safely in You, and I praise You for that. I DO trust You. I want to worship You in spirit and in Truth. Lord, what am I withholding from You? Am I being truthful before You? Am I coming to You pretending to be something I am not? Truth isn’t all safety and peace, is it? It is provocative and confrontational. Here I am—examine me.

 I listen—At this point I put down the pen and listened. At first there was only silence, but soon the Lord brought to my mind several fears that I needed to release to Him. I attempted to obey and entrust my fears to Him. I then remained quietly present in the moment. Heart speaking to heart.


If you would like to use Jo's work as a starting point for worship, choose a time and place free of distractions. It can be helpful to some people to journal during this exercise. If you are one of these people, be ready with paper and pen (but also be willing to put your pen down when needed). Click here to go to Jo Reimer's flicker page. Scroll through her various pieces and notice which one you are drawn to. Click on it to enlarge and then prayerfully consider the piece. Use the following questions as a guide as long as they serve you:

Why am I drawn to this piece?

Consider/journal what it is about this work that draws you to it at this moment.

Come to it. Ask the Holy Spirit to make connections for you, to form a prayer in you.

Listen/Commune. If you find that your mind has wandered, take a moment to offer that stray thought to the Lord, and then settle back into a listening posture.


Give yourself some time to ponder the experience. Give yourself at least 24 hours. Then consider these questions:

Was this a new experience for you?

Did you notice any resistance to the exercise? Where do you think that came from?

In what ways were you called?

Can you use this technique of noticing what draws your attention, asking the Holy Spirit what He might have for you, in another context during your day?

Once you start to practice noticing and listening, it will become a habit. It will become the beginning of "praying without ceasing."

Being the Child

I am a poet. I keep a notebook, several notebooks, going all the time with all manner of observations. This afternoon I was flipping through my Purse Notebook. So thin it is almost a pamphlet with just a light cardboard cover, this is the notebook I carry with me—and it shows. The edges are bent, the creases hold lint from the bottom of my purse. On the second page of this notebook I found these thoughts I had written on Mark 10:13-15 where Jesus tells me that to enter The Kingdom, I must come as a child:

Think about how an adult walks—with clarity of purpose, evenly towards a goal. How does a child walk? A child moves from one delight to another, allowing himself to wonder, allowing himself to notice. To notice tiny things, interesting smells, various textures and how good it feels to skip or hop or twirl or run.

This reminded me of something in my Main Notebook. This is the notebook I use for wrestling with ideas and working through sounds and pace. In February I wrote:

Being the Child—what does a child do? A child asks questions, and the questions of a child so often begin with—why? Why? It isn’t about asking the “right” questions but about coming as a child does, with a lot of questions. Why do children ask so many questions? Is it just to keep the dialogue going? Just to interact with the Father? That’s part of what it was for me. My father loved airplanes, so I leaned in and listened, asked questions, just to extend the time we had together, trying to connect.

I’ve been pondering these things this year. What does it mean to Be the Child? I don’t have answers, but living with the question has made this year lighter. We all have questions, hard questions, and God does not tell us that our questions are not important. In fact, He tells us quite the opposite, “Ask the questions! Bring them to Me! I want to hear what is in your heart! No question is off limits. Come! Come to Me Little One. I am bigger than all your questions, and I don’t find any of your heart questions scary. I am here. Climb into My lap, and ask Me.”

So how do we ask “rightly?” I don’t think this is about the form of the questions at all. I think this is about emphasis. Children often ask questions, and as we adults try to find a perfect answer to satisfy them, the children wander off to the Next Thing. They are often truly satisfied with a response that connects rather than accurately answers. An acceptable response to, “why is the bug doing that?” can be, “that is so interesting! Let's watch it for awhile.” The child has shared an experience and that is often enough. This response does not negate the question. It removes the urgency, the emphasis on the question and places the emphasis on the relationship. If the question continues to linger in the heart of the child, it will be asked again. At this point, parent and child will discover or uncover answers together.

This is an aspect of contemplative prayer: we come to our Lord and wonder. We ask why. But instead of demanding an immediate answer, we lean into His Presence. Living the questions does not negate the questions but it changes our focus so that we can live in companionship with The Comforter. It takes our eyes off of ourselves so that we can look into His Face.

Presence and Solitude

"The basic revelation of the Gospel is the overwhelming, penetrating presence of God. It is a call to encounter God, and God allows himself to be encountered only in solitude.
It would seem that this solitude is something that those who live among the people of the world have to forego. But this would be to believe that we precede God in solitude, while on the contrary, it is He who waits there for us, to find God is to find solitude, because true solitude is spirit, and all of our human solitudes are merely relative approaches toward the perfect solitude that is faith.
True solitude is not the absence of people, but the presence of God.
To place our lives before the face of God, to surrender our lives to the movements of God, is to roam free in a space in which we have been given solitude.
If the eruption of God's presence in us occurs in silence and solitude, it allows us to remain thrown among, mixed up with, radically joined to all of the people who are made of the same clay as we are."
-Servant of God Madeleine Delbrêl