Practice

Ever notice how yoga teachers are always thanking you for joining their practice that day? I used to think it was a humble brag, like look I can pretzel my legs behind my neck while reading a magazine but I’m calling it practice so you can tell me how awesome I am. But now I realize that it’s something different altogether. Practice as a way of life, as a way of centering yourself, honing your skills, training  your muscles and ingraining your craft into your very bones. 

I am reading two amazing books right now… You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith and Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Wilson. Both books focus on the premise that souls are calibrated by more than just facts. That right thinking isn’t the end goal of discipleship. Rather, our daily practices, our actions and reactions, the way we live our lives, reflect the true desires of our heart. And the only way to become more fully aligned with Christ, to issue in the Kingdom of Heaven, is to intentionally shape and reshape our daily practices to point us more closely to God.

For years, I had an ingrained daily habit of ‘quiet time’. However, when my son was born, all of a sudden I had a LOT more going on. Free time was at a minimum. Free hands were inconceivable. And add to that some Big Feelings that I was reluctant to face head on. The thought of journaling filled me with anxiety. And so, I put the journal away. And have only picked it up sporadically since. 

Interestingly enough, it was about the same time that I felt like I was becoming unmoored in my spiritual life. I felt like it was harder to hear from God, harder to feel centered and secure in my relationship with him. I told myself it was because my journaling had become an idol – a way to ‘check off’ my good behavior for the day. That I felt like I wasn’t feeling God’s presence because I wasn’t stuck in my old habit. But, what if I was feeling this way because I had simply walked away from over a decade of daily spiritual practice? What if it was neglecting a way that my soul connects with God, a way I had learned to process my thoughts and feelings and lay them before the Throne? 

If what we do shapes who we are, then our daily practice, the times when we intentionally engage with God, become all the more vital. Not in a legalistic way – having a quiet time or not does not change God’s love for you. But does it change our consciousness of him? Or does it change us? Is fasting for God, or is it meant to remind us the true source of our daily bread?  Does God keep record of how much we read his Word? Or does reading the Bible make us more fully aware of who God is?

In the past few weeks, I have resolved to start journaling again. Not because I ‘should’, but because I want to. Because I want to more fully attune my soul to my savior. To remind myself of what matters and how the pattern of my days point to God’s work in my life. To remember my prayers, and watch as God answers. To have tangible written proof of the story God is writing in my life.

Journaling isn’t a magic bullet. It’s not a must for being a good Christian. But it is a tool. A practice, if you will. A way to take the head knowledge of our redemption and pull it in to the center of who we are.

And as I proceed, I will continue to ask myself… how do the things I do point towards the things I love?

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What art teaches me about God, part two

So here’s the thing, there are different types of artists, just like there are different types of people. There are many successful artists who sit down and plan things out before they ever put the brush to the canvas. There are authors who write outlines before they type a single word of their story. Epic masterpieces are crafted painstakingly, one precious detail at a time.

That’s amazing. I am not that kind of artist. Usually, when I sit down with a new project, I have no earthly idea where the process is going to take me. Typically (hopefully) I have some sort of color scheme, medium, or format in mind. But that is about it. 

My approach to art, just like my approach to life, usually involves launching myself off the cliff and hoping to swan dive instead of bellyflop. Which one is free to do when your goal is the process and not the end result. Often times, I’m satisfied if I just end up with a decent looking cannonball. 

It is always an option to paint over canvas. To crumple up a sketch and pitch it in the trashcan.  To highlight an entire blog post and simply hit delete. It seems like a waste of time and effort. 

But what if your goal is the act of doing and not the end result? 

Then was it wasted effort?

When I am making something, I often feel discouraged. In the times when I feel like I’m not getting anywhere, I force myself to ask some questions:  

In the process of doing this, did I learn anything? Did I try anything new? Was there something I hated? Something I want to try to do differently next time? Am I any closer to figuring out what I am hoping the end product will be?  

Sometimes I force myself to press through and finish the piece I want to abandon. Usually, at the end, I still hate it. But sometimes I don’t. 

I wish, I WISH, that this attitude came as naturally to me when it came to living my life. Why is it that we’re all programmed to believe that life is supposed to be about achieving goals, instead of working towards them? Why do we always believe that our problems will magically disappear once (fill in the blank) happens?

 I always find it disconcerting when I achieve something I’ve really been working towards and then I realize that the next day is Thursday. Just another day. The world keeps spinning, life doesn’t stop. I did something – I achieved something great. But time still marches on. 

I’ll never forget the day I left the hospital with my newborn daughter. I felt like there should be a parade in front of us as we took her home. Sitting at a stoplight, I looked at the cars next to me and expected to see them giving me goofy grins and thumbs up. But, I quickly realized that for those drivers, this was just a Friday morning. They were talking on their phones, putting on mascara, eating egg McMuffin’s. 

Didn’t they realize that this was a banner day? Didn’t they understand that things would never be the same?
Of course they didn’t. Because it was truly, just a Friday. And our life is a succession of Fridays. We live life focused so intensely looking forward to our goals that we forget that the majority of our time is spent in the in between. That waiting is how we spend most of our lives. And that that waiting, the process of getting there, has value. God did not create us to have a handful of magical moments surrounded by acres of empty time. 

In fact most of our growth, spiritual and otherwise, happens in the in between. It is then that we learn to work. That we are forced to try new things and to look at the world in different ways. It is in the waiting that we have no choice but to rely on God. To see that the trajectory of our lives isn’t as much in our control as we would like to believe. This is when we grow. This is when we are formed into Christ’s likeness. 

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.”

2 Corinthians 3:18-4:1

And if we swing and miss in life, if we fail, that can be just as valuable. What if I asked myself the same questions and times of discouragement as I do when I feel stuck and the artistic process?

In the process of doing this, did I learn anything? Did I try anything new? Was there something I hated? Something I want to try to do differently next time? Am I any closer to figuring out what I am hoping the end product will be?  

What art teaches me about God, Part 1


This year has been a year of creating for me, and the majority of it has been visual, not written. 

Why?

I’m not sure. I just know that making something, creating beauty, even if it isn’t a masterpiece, feeds something deeply hungry in my soul. For some reason, combining form and color and meaning is a balm for me. It’s one of the few times in my day where I become fully present. Completely immersed in the thing in front of me. My thoughts stop spinning, my hand may ache and tingle from holding the brush, but my heart is in harmony. And for me, that is enough. 

Enough to know that the process of making art is important. Refreshing and life-giving to me in a way that makes me pay attention. I think for me, art may be one of the thin places, a place where the veil between the sacred and the earthly becomes blurry, a place where I encounter God. Because I sense this, I follow that trail. I allow myself to use my brush, my glue gun, my paint and my palette as instruments of worship. Worship not for the thing I am creating, but for the Creator in whose image I am formed. 

I truly believe that we, as men and women formed in the image of the Almighty God, all have a spark of creation buried within us. And when we fan that spark into flame, we bring glory to God and fullness to our souls. 

Does that make us all artists? No. (although I think we all tend to be much too quick to disavow any artistic talent- don’t get me started on art injuries…) But does that make us all creators? I would argue yes. I think each one of us has some God given ability, interest, or activity that makes our soul sing. 

We all have a handful of things that fully immerse us, and, regardless of talent or outcome, bring joy. That thing may be making art, but it also may be making an omelette. Running a 5K. Telling a killer bedtime story. Knitting a truly great sock. Keeping the busy schedules of a family singing like a symphony. You may be enamored with creating spreadsheets or balancing budgets. Perhaps your have created your home to be an oasis of peace, a welcoming place for neighbors. Whatever your thing may be, when you bring it into the world, you bring glory to the One who made you that way. 

Can I just say out loud (well, in print… on screen?) to all of us results obsessed Americans that sometimes the process is of more value than the outcome? So what if you are not the best at something? There is only one best, and guess what- it’s not you. BUT. Does that thing bring joy to you? Does it make you feel? Does it renew you, center you? 

Then do it. 

Unashamedly. 

We all seem to feel a bit abashed when we let our light shine. Yet, shouldn’t we be unashamed to do things that bring us joy? If I create art as an act of worship, then who cares what it looks like? I mean, really? If you run because you love it and it gives you mental space to encounter God, then your split time doesn’t prove your worthiness, does it? 

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

Who looks at a picture a child draws and critiques it? Who turns their nose up at a home cooked meal made by a loved one because it isn’t haute cuisine? So it is with us. When I really stop and look around me, the main critic I encounter is… me. And why should I dim my own light? 

So what I am saying is… go do your thing. And be awesome. Yay God. 

On Getting Unstuck

Being a blogger is a funny thing.  I don’t have many readers, so many times I feel as if I am just sending out words into the void.  But here is the thing, my words still matter.  To me if no one else.  And because of that, I feel tremendous pressure to write ‘correctly.’  To have something to say.  And not just anything to say, but something substantive, important, original.  That’s a lot of pressure!

And so many times, I allow this pressure to be amazing to silence my voice.  It’s as if I only have two options, be remarkable, or be invisible.  Be pitch perfect, or be silent.  The more I think about it, the more parallels to this pressure I see across my life.  If I can’t be the best, I often would rather not show up.  And, may I just say, that as a working mom of two littles, there are precious few areas of life where I feel like I am bringing my A game these days.  I can change a diaper like a champ.  I am pretty darn good at using Amazon Prime.  And I make a mean Eggo Waffle.  Not exactly skills to brag (blog) about.

So where does that leave me?  Silent.  Afraid to share the thoughts I do have for fear that they are not polished, not worthy to send out into the world.

And yet, am I not a person, created in God’s own Image?  Do my words not reflect his divine Creativity in the fact that I have strung them together from nothing, creating something out of the void?

Blank notepad and pencilAll to often I let being the best become the enemy of being good.  Of being mediocre even.  Of being me.  I lock myself in, for fear of lacking in comparison.  I get stuck.  In my own insecurity, my own reticence.

Is not writing a form of creating, which in itself is a form of worship?  As I label the words in my mind as not worthy, I am affixing the same description to myself, as God’s created.

What is it that is holding you back from being fully you?  How will you get unstuck today?

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
     “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Luke 19:37-40

life is made for living.

One of my friends and chief encouragestree shared this passage with me today, and every bit of it rang true.  In fact, I think the truth of this passage goes beyond being an artist, and touches upon our humanity.  There is something in you, your individuality, your uniqueness, that has never been seen on earth before, and never will be again.  The world is better, richer, for your being here.  Our lives are small, our days seem unremarkable, and yet the stories we tell wihtin these lives are endlessly rich and varied.  What are you making of your life, today?  What story are you telling?  Is is one of adventure and whimsy, or do you find yourself trudging through your days, not allowing yourself to be interrupted in the course of your life by the act of living?
Is joy part of your story?  Or is your inner critic muting your ability to laugh, to risk, to wonder?  The world suffers when we cease to be ourselves, and just become the sum of our activities.
I needed this reminder today.  Did you?