Solitude

Remembering Sanctuary

The week before Easter I started a small fiber piece that I titled "He Is Alive!" I knew what I wanted to do and I thought I could be done by Easter. That was five weeks ago. Every time I work on this piece time slows. I spend hours working and when I look up, I have made almost no progress. This piece refuses to be hurried, and I have finally surrendered to it. Here is the picture I took of it two weeks ago:

 

Here is what it looks like today:

 

See? Slow going.

More confessions:

  1. I knew what I wanted the piece to be. Eyes are such a metaphor for Life. I didn't want an entire face. That would be entering territory I wasn't prepared to enter. I don't know what Jesus looked like and I don't want to speculate at this time. I just wanted eyes. But, once I got started I was afraid of them. As you can see here, I have saved the eyes for last. Honestly, I did everything else first because I felt vulnerable under that gaze. In fact, the thought made me so uncomfortable that I was forced to really consider what I might be trying to hide from God. I worked on the piece with this question hovering near. It has been an interesting month.
  2. I wanted to do this piece using solid cottons because I didn't want the skin color to be obvious--Christ belongs to us all-- and because I wanted to do some hand embroidering. I couldn't pull this off. Turns out I am so addicted to printed cottons that I cannot get through a project without them. [Sigh]. This is going to seriously limit the hand stitching fun I was hoping to have.
  3. This stubborn little piece has reminded me why I love to do this. I am so enjoying every minute spent on it. This is worship for me. This is play. This is healing. This is good.

A friend asked me not too long ago how I manage to "do it all" (which I don't, by the way). This quiet making, this is Sanctuary. God is here. We meet. Talk. Argue. Lean in. Rest. Renew. Here. Sanctuary.

Take Me Deeper: Love God

This week at the His Kingdom Come website, the study is on a verse fragment:

Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of you soul,
with all of your mind and with all of your strength. ~Matthew 22:37

I don't think we really know what these verses mean. I think we live into them, but I don't think we really understand them. This makes it difficult to accomplish. Perhaps that is the point. We can never cross this command off our to-do lists.

I started by trying to plumb the depths of the first part: Love the Lord your God with all of your heart. I remembered another verse, Matthew 6:21, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be." Loving with all our hearts means that we treasure God above all else. I decided to embroider a treasure map, and purchased these coins for embellishment:

Then I changed my mind and decided to embroider a compass rose as a pendant. It was a plan that seemed easy enough, so I set it aside for later.

Next I tackled "with all your mind," because it seemed like an easier section than the others. Our brains have an analytical side and a creative side. We are to love God with both. I found a brilliant mathematician-beader named Gwen Fisher whose bead patterns are based on mathematical and scientific principles. I purchased one of her spiral patterns (she referred to it as an Archimedean spiral, but named her pattern "Slugs in Love" --gotta love that analytical mind!) and set to work beading what I intended to be the spiral dangle for this pendant.

17 hours and three attempts later, I had learned a lot. But, I failed to produce anything usable. The pattern is for an earring. It says to make a larger pendant "just do the same thing only bigger." I wanted a pretty large pendant, but I started with the earring to try to learn the technique:

 
    So far, so good. Yes, it took me four hours, but now I've totally got this!

 

So far, so good. Yes, it took me four hours, but now I've totally got this!

 

I got started on the large pendant:

 This is the second attempt. It took me six hours to get this far. I realized I had made a mistake that I couldn't fix so I abandoned this one too and started a third time.

This is the second attempt. It took me six hours to get this far. I realized I had made a mistake that I couldn't fix so I abandoned this one too and started a third time.

 Third attempt! This one I finished in seven hours. The problem? It looks like a bejeweled appendix instead of the spiral seashell I was going for.

Third attempt! This one I finished in seven hours. The problem? It looks like a bejeweled appendix instead of the spiral seashell I was going for.

Artists need lots of time and space to experiment and try again. That's part of "it." The tools in our toolbox get there through lots of playing. Some might call this trial and error, but I think that puts the emphasis on the wrong part. The point is to learn how a medium behaves and how a technique works so that in the future it can be used effectively.

At this point in the project I decided that this particular piece wasn't going to happen in time to meet the deadline. However, I enjoyed the study, I enjoyed the time spent creating and time spent silently with the Holy Spirit. I needed that quiet of just being in His Presence and working with my hands. This week doesn't feel like a failure even though I have nothing tangible that is beautiful to show for it. Instead, there is much that is beautifully intangible here right now. I might dissect that weird bejeweled appendix looking thing and try again this weekend. I am fascinated by the pattern and I would like to conquer it.

Or, I might do something else....

And He Was Filled With the Holy Spirit

Nine months of silence. That's a long time. That's enough time to stop struggling against it, and accept it. It's enough time to go beyond acceptance to appreciation. It's enough time to learn to listen, and to observe. Yes, that's enough time to allow the silent exterior to permeate the noisy interior. It's enough time to settle your spirit and become silent in your soul.

And what evidence do we have that Zechariah did just that?

Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God.

~Luke 1:64

Zechariah's first words after nine months of silence? Praise. And his next words? Blessing. He blessed the nation and then he blessed his son.

Today I feel my heart turn towards my children. I want to intentionally bless them this Advent season so that they, too, are prepared to enter Christmas. I want to build them up, encourage them towards the way they should go. My list for this week: listen, observe, bless.

 


Shhh...

When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and gripped with fear.

Yep. That would be me, too. My stumbling faith, my inconsistent trust, it is hard for me to imagine that I wouldn't be startled at the sight of an angel of the Lord. Hard to imagine being fearless before him. And I don't think I could immediately toss aside my fear when told: "Do not be afraid." No, I'm pretty sure I don't know how to do that.

Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this?"

And there I am again. The angel of the Lord saying that God has heard my impossible prayer and is answering...so many times I have seen God answer impossible prayers, and I find those answers to be terrifying. Terrifying in power. Terrifying in what the answered prayer requires of me. I too prayed for children. For nine years we begged God to send us children. When He answered I was overwhelmed with the gift but also the weight of responsibility. He gave us three children in 18 months and I wasn't sure how I would survive all this blessing. Of course, the only way was on my knees, but I feel for Zechariah. I would have questions too. Questions about details, about outcomes, assurances and I'd wonder what exactly I had just signed up for.

"And now you will be silent and not be able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."

I used to think that the angel was punishing Zechariah, the way this sentence is constructed seems to imply that silence is a consequence for unbelief. But now I think differently. I think that silence is an antidote for unbelief. Big things come out of silence. In the beginning, Light and Life were born out of silence. Silence is not Nothing. Silence is Presence. Creation was not birthed from Nothing, it was birthed from His Presence. God is giving Zechariah a chance to keep silent, a chance to experience His Presence. He is preparing him for the Gift. The gift of fatherhood, as well as the gift of the coming Messiah. Just like the season of winter is not a season of Nothing, but a season of flickering life deep within the ground, so silence guards that flickering Life, that flickering Faith, and allows the Spirit to breathe it into flame.

Listen to the rest of the song and album here.

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.

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