God in the Yard-Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us (L.L.Barkat)

Several years ago I felt God speak to me about slowing down and Sabbathing more.  About being purposeful in my restfulness in Him. This is a story of what I discovered.

In January of 2013, I ordered a book, God in the Yard by L.L. Barkat (TSPoetry Press)  I had “met” the author online in the Christian writing community. We connected, I emailed her and she graciously sent me a signed copy (and a pressed fern leaf from her yard.)

I’ll admit I was wary–“Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us” is the subtitle. The words ‘A 12 week course in discovery and playing towards God’ grace the bottom of the cover. I was completely new to the idea of ‘Spiritual Practices’; somehow it conjured up ideas of hard work. My previous many, many years in the world of Evangelical/Charismatic practices probably had something to do with it.
I put off reading it as long as possible.
I pondered: twelve weeks is like 3 months. I had a full time job.  I didn’t have ‘extra time’ to go sit in the yard and listen for God.  But a still, small voice said ‘just begin’, so I did.
It occurred to me while I can’t take an hour every day to stop and sit, I can stitch together fifteen minutes here and 30 minutes there. I could seek to build a place for a Sabbath rest and wait for God. So I’m stitching together my Sabbaths.

It is a brave adventure, this.  Committing to just sit outside and Do Nothing.

In my mind, ‘spiritual practice’ is Bible reading, Scripture memorization, prayer, journaling. Something purposeful, planned, contained…you know, disciplined.

But this spiritual practice turned out much differently than I expected.
Instead of feeling pressured to produce something–I found joy in the discipline of letting go and receiving. Learning to stop, look and listen.  I learned to rest more in the realization of wonder right in front of me.

God’s timing is always perfect, which Barkat illustrates with the picture of God as a ‘divine librarian’ orchestrating the volumes we find on our shelves to speak to us just when we need it.

“Saying, ‘I ordered,’ implies some kind of control. But I have doubts. (The) book arrived in my life with rather suspicious timing.  This suggests there is a divine librarian who puts things on hold at the library, for people who need a particular book at a particular time.” (Ch. One, ‘Invitation’, p.3).

Barkat’s chapter prompts have questions that surprise me when I commit my answers to paper.  She encourages the reader to take a ‘Sabbath on the page’ as often as possible throughout the week and just free write.  The ‘free’ part of that originally left me unsettled—”wow, where could that lead, without any direction? Doesn’t sound very disciplined to me,” I thought.

Here is a discovery I made via the ‘And you?’ questions in the first chapter.

 “I shouldn’t bother with 12 weeks of this because….”
“No. 1, I’m afraid I won’t follow through and God will be mad at me and 
No. 2, ‘just chilling’ isn’t very spiritual.”

There are a couple of keys right there about how God might want to change up my thinking. Forcing myself to sit and look and listen has focused my observation on things I’ve never noticed. Phrases, pictures, words I didn’t know I had in me are welling to the surface. As I stare out at the greening world before me, parked in my chair on the deck, I’ve noticed all kinds of things:

  • The palette of greens (there are over 10 in the trees and shrubs within view).
  • Why do trees’ branches grow up?  
  • Where do the birds hide in the rain?
  • No wonder God wants us to get outside and play–look at this world He’s made!
Barkat shares this quote, via another writer, ‘Your well (of your soul) contains the true end of the poem, and you simply won’t know it until your creativity draws it up….’ (Vinita Hampton Wright).

I have been pleasantly surprised when I take the leap (well, sit) and look and listen, that observations flow more easily. I’m capturing words I know come from somewhere else, and the release of them seems to happen when I pick up my pencil and commit thoughts to paper.

Is my pencil the rope and pulley that brings the thoughts to the surface?

I have been building a temple, a place for contemplation, and I long for my appointments with God each day.

Stitching together my Sabbaths to sit, rest, receive is becoming a practice I look forward to, a discipline that is refreshing and completing me.

How about you? How is God refreshing you in your life?
~~~~~~~~

“Booked”–Karen Swallow Prior

french horn-001I first met (via words, of course) Professor Karen Swallow Prior through her coming of age book of essays, titled simply Booked (T.S. Poetry Press, 2012) . I related to so much of what she said about the way literature shaped her life growing up and eventually the way books led her to God.  I have since had the privilege of meeting Karen in person, but in the meantime, here’s my “review” of Booked in the form of a letter.  

Dear Ms. Prior,

I want to let you know how much your words in “Booked-Literature in the Soul of Me” have resonated with me. 

I eagerly awaited the book’s release from TSPoetry Press, looking forward to your weaving some of the great classics of literature with your walk of faith. I, too have also found solace and a salvation of sorts through books, so I was interested in your story.

I had a Mrs. Lovejoy in 8th grade as well, but her name was Mrs. Jenkins. I fell in love with language because of her.

When I perused the Table of Contents I was delighted to see Jane Eyre and Tess of the D’urbervilles included. The other authors and selections listed I had heard of but never actually read (well, except for Charlotte’s Web—who hasn’t read Charlotte’s Web?) so I anticipated hearing your spin on them.

The great surprise to me was discovering ‘Booked’ was not about literature but about all of life–sex and marriage, God, romance and reality, faith and doubt–yes, all of life.

My copy of ‘Booked’ has a multitude of pages with folded down corners, underlines and highlighted sentences, plus a list of notes in the back, all to remind me of phrases and subjects I wanted to revisit later.

As I sat to write this letter I thought I’d catalogue some of those lines and phrases that spoke to me from each chapter, but it was clear there were just too many.  (YOU know what your book says, I needn’t remind you).

However, I was able to choose a passage from the 5th Chapter–Jane Eyre, which shows your remarkable ability of putting into words for me the power of why I choose to write.
The selection is about ‘Voice’:

“It is no coincidence that the term “voice” has come to mean in modern usage much more than just the sound made by the vocal organs, but also the means by which we make our individual selves known, not only to others but to ourselves.
For the connection between the self and language is inseparable:
it is through language that the self becomes.”

The self becomes itself through language (the written ‘voice’) shared with others.

Yes.

One more thing: should you live in a city nearby I’d gladly make the journey to whichever classroom you were in just to hear you speak about your passions. A good teacher who loves her subject can convince anyone to fall in love with wonderful, old books.

Yes, you could make a believer out of anyone, absolutely anyone.

Sincerely,

Jody Lee Collins