The art of reflection is like water thrown into a hot iron skillet. First you can see how hot the pan is. Then it cools things down and lifts what's sticking.
These quarterly reflections are a way of picking up my life when it has cooled down a bit and looking at what I learned in the passing season. As we stand on the cusp of summer, I want to pause and look back at springtime when the world was beginning to melt and the first flowers were in the bud.
- creativity is a means to love.
At a Renovaré webinar I attended recently called "Cosmos from Chaos" - How can creativity help us and the world in unsettled times? Andrew Peterson said,
"Our creativity is a means to love. It will cost us something to reflect God's love."
He was describing the need for us to share our creativity, if not for our time, for those who come after us. Some of our prayers, art, writing might be for us alone, but much of it is meant to be shared. Andrew encouraged us not to remove the blessing and grace for others.
Andrew was also teaching us that we will likely need to let go of something in order to make room to create. When we say we are too busy to create, what we mean is we don't want to trade our TV time, sleep habits, productivity, or quicker paths.
I started dabbling with watercolors as part of my Sabbath celebration and I find that at first I wanted my painting to look like what I saw in my mind's eye. I wanted a product. I was tempted to move on to other more familiar or predictable mediums. But as I kept with it, kept it near at hand, I noticed the process was a sort of prayer. Not only that, but one idea led to another. I was exploring, listening, worshipping, slowing down my productivity. I was just being me.
What my painting has cost me (so far) is time on the telephone, my Sunday nap, and my shortcut mentality.
2. Jesus has a dream of you.
One day in my prayers, I was asking Jesus what's next? And in his Jesus way, he turned it around on me and said, not audibly, but in that gentle impression sort of way, "What is it you want?".
It wasn't a question that prompted a grocery store shopping list, but more a question of what are we cooking together? What's on the menu? I wrote down a few things that are currently stirring in my heart - writing, spiritual formation, rhythms of life, creative collaborations, poetry, and resilience. I looked back in my life and saw that they had been stirring for a long time. I remembered my girlhood heroes were Anne Frank, Jo March, Emily Dickinson, and much later, the biblical women, Deborah and Ruth. These were little clues to something about me, something about how God made me and hints of work God wants to do in and through me.
Jo Saxton writes,
"The Dream of You is God's vision of you - your real, true identity and your God-given purpose."
We are living out some version of what's in our hearts even when we don't notice it. The time we spend considering how we are truly made and how to live out our identity in Christ on purpose is well spent. What have you noticed about where your life and your life in Christ meet?
3. lament is an art.
Have you ever noticed how beautiful the ground is when carpeted in what Sweet Pea calls "flower snow"? We like to stand under those cherry trees with our faces turned toward the falling velvet petals in her favorite color of all time. Sometimes in a quiet moment, I remember that beauty is from the dying cherry blossoms.
I wrote something recently about the sadness of a single day and how on that particular day it was still smudged with beauty. Honestly, I didn't know another way but to look for beauty through my tears. Then it dawned on me, that is what the Psalmist teaches us to cry out in our human condition with all honesty like Jacob on his way to meet Esau, wrestling it out in the presence of God and doggedly refusing to let go until we see him face-to-face. At some point, we reach our trade of beauty for ashes from Isaiah 61:3.
Theologian Willie Jennings said recently that when we mourn as a Christian people we share our tears with others for our mutual comfort and connection. Dr. Jennings also said there will be anger, but that God stands between our anger and our hatred.
I see that in the art of lament. Somehow, we bring our tears and disappointment into the sanctuary, into the heart of God. And find mutuality - we share in the tears of Jesus as he shares in ours. During Lent, I read two books that turned out to be profound for the season and beyond, "Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent" by Malcom Guite and "A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching out to God in the Lost Language of Lament" by Michael Card.
Michael Card writes,
"Jesus spoke fluently the lost language of lament. He is our best hope of recovering this forgotten vocabulary."
Jesus was a man of sorrows. He knew how to cry out to his Father in both sadness and praise. To practice the art of lament is not to gloss over our pain, but to let God in so he can make something good out of it, and in the meantime, just hold us.
4. hold a significant object during uncertain times.
A few years ago, Mike and I bought new chairs for our front porch. It was one of those purchases where we clicked with the shop owner as we shopped. His name was Ollie. When Mike went back for the chair cushions which arrived later, Ollie send home a gift for me. It was a handmade rustic bowl. The bowl was smooth in my hands with an irregular rim like small foothills that I liked to trace with my fingertips. I loved it instantly.
At some point during sheltering in place, I emptied my Ollie bowl of its contents and started holding it during my prayers. It was a symbol of pouring my heart out to God; all of my worry, sadness, joy, hurt, anger and praise. At the same time, I invited our Ocean-Pouring God to fill me up with who he is - generous, constant, faithful, patient, kind, good, beautiful, just, merciful. My Ollie bowl reminds me not to hold things in and carry them all alone. The empty bowl is meant to hold space for God to work; He Who is made to carry them with me and ultimately Who holds them in his hand. I hold to let God hold me.
5. discernment is more than making a decision.
You have a decision to make. You might do some research, make a list of pros and cons, ask your friends, read a book, pray. You might even live with your decision for a day or a week to see how it plays out, how it feels to your heart. Still, the decision lingers and you feel intangibles floating in the air that aren't on the paper or in your conversations.
How do we catch these things that take our decisions past the current moment to discernment?
Eugene Peterson wrote,
"Discernment is not about decision making. It is about who Jesus is and who you are becoming with him in your life."
At this point, I ask myself a few questions to make that move from decision to discernment.
- What will produce fruits of the spirit?
- What else in my life with Jesus points me one way or another or a completly new way?
- Is this for me and my loved ones at this time?
- When I get still and quiet, what does the Spirit of God say?
That is the short list of what I learned this Spring. In case you're wondering where the pandemic lessons are or you just missed it, my last post was 15 Quarantine Things I've learned: 5 I miss, 5 I don't miss, 5 I hope to keep. Read to end for 5 Quarantine Questions to ask yourself, your friends, or around your dinner table.
Here's the replay of Renovaré "Cosmos from Chaos" How can creativity help us and the world in unsettled times? a conversation with Andrew Peterson, Luci Shaw and Carolyn Arends.
Here are a few books I read this Spring that you might enjoy. Click the image to read more and purchase. (some are affilite links):