Tag Archives: Spiritual Practice

Book Review:In a Strange Land-Ten Kingdom Poets

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When the holidays appear on the horizon (earlier and earlier each year….sigh) the question often arises, “What do you want for Christmas?” I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing I really need, but many things I want. And what I always want is a book.

Lately it’s poetry more often than not. A new one I’ve been enjoying is “In a Strange Land-Ten Kingdom Poets” from the Poiema Series of Cascade Books. The Poiema (Greek for ‘a made thing’, or ‘workmanship’) Series is all about “providing a home for the finest poetry by people of Christian faith.”

Contributing poets include: Ryan Apple, Susan Cowger, Jen Stewart Fueston, Laura Reece Hogan, Burl Horniachek, Miho Nonaka, Debbie Sawczak, Bill Stadick, James Tughan, Mary Willis

Herewith is my review of “In a Strange Land.”

The kingdom of God has been compared throughout the Gospels as everything from a pearl of great price, to a vineyard, a man going on a journey, a mustard seed, a field of wheat and many more.

And if the Kingdom of God had poets, which I’m sure it does, then you’d find their work in the slim volume “In a Strange Land-Introducing Ten Kingdom Poets” from Poiema Poetry Series (ed. DS Martin). Editor Martin explains the occasion of this printing, “This poetry collection gathers into one volume works by ten talented poets who…each (are) well deserving of having their own full-length poetry books, but as of April, 2019 have not quite reached that milestone.”

Until these writers each have their own book (my poetic friend Susan Cowger is one of those whose work is included in Stranger; her book “A Slender Warble” releases Spring of 2020), you can find this poetic gathering  and enjoy all ten. The selections are rich and varied, as each writer renders from their own perspective a fuller vision of what God’s kingdom looks like. By turns amusing, descriptive, thoughtful and downright take-your-breath-away, we are handed a lens to view a particular version of faith experience as they see it.

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Jigsaw Puzzles as a Prayer

Every year at Christmas our kids get my husband and I a jigsaw puzzle. This year Santa pitched in and we actually ended up with three puzzles–birds, the beach and kites–our three favorite things.

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Actually, this is the beach AND kites

A great Friday night date for my husband and I is to build a fire, turn on the music and puzzle away….a simple, quiet joy for us. (You 30 somethings are wondering which planet we’re on, I’m sure…).

The joke around here is if the puzzle goes on the card table on the day after Christmas, we can usually finish it by the first or so of June, when the ‘kids’ show up again for Father’s Day. Alas, we got a late start–one week into this new year. But, praise be, it’s a 300-piece small one this time–easy peasy.

Working on jigsaw puzzles got me thinking about tying up the ‘loose ends’ of this year and looking at the new one ahead.  How can I focus on what God wants?–there are just TOO MANY PIECES–the shapes! the colors! They all look exactly alike–how will I tell which is which? And I’m not sure what the border even looks like. Where are my boundaries?

I began to think of you, dear friends, some of who’ve typed me personal notes, those I’ve exchanged emails with sharing prayer requests, joys and some not so joyful times. I thought of the challenges we face, the aspirations, the daily-ness of our walk with Jesus.

Hence, this prayer about puzzles, a metaphor for our lives:

“Father, we give you all the pieces of our lives, rounded, jagged, ill-fitting.
We place the ideas, dreams and desires,
the want-to’s and the need-to’s,
the prayers for family and friends,
the cries of our heart to follow you, into your hands.
 
Show us the puzzle frame, Father.  And remind us that YOU are the designer. 
 
Help us to pick up one piece at a time, one day at a time.
 
Show us how to consider each one well, notice the round edges,
observe the ways it could work–‘maybe over here?’ ‘maybe over there?’
 
Remind us that it takes time to make something beautiful, so that everything fits in place.
 
Whisper whenever we need it, the words telling us we will not be finished with x y z in a week, or a month. Maybe not even this year.
For we may need to ponder and puzzle over the fragments more than once,
laying them down and picking them up with a fresh look the next day.
 
Remind us Father, that when we surrender everything
lay it all out on the table
that YOU can take it and make it into
something beautiful in your time.
Amen.”
Philippians 3:13,14
“(this) one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,   
    I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This is an edited version of a post originally written in January 2013. HT Jennifer Ferguson and The Knot Project, talking about puzzles. Some truths are still so very truthy.

Read & Pray in Your ‘Walking Around Life’

I was going to subtitle this, “Will Jesus Still Love me if I Don’t Have ‘Quiet Time?” ‘cause I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately.  Don’t get me wrong—I’ve studied Psalm 119—I know God’s word is the compass for my life, that I can’t live without it.

But sometimes life goes in a different direction.

I remember the days when I was able to sit outside on my deck for an hour at a stretch, maybe three times a week, and just listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speak. I wrote and wrote and wrote what I heard in those whispers on the wind to me.

I recall sweet moments at my desk reading Scripture or perusing a favorite devotional—Oswald Chambers, Andrew Murray, Charles Spurgeon. The words seemed to light up the page, resonating deep in my spirit.  Time after time there would be an ‘aha’ moment when I sensed God’s presence and His pleasure as I sat to soak myself in the Word.

But I wonder about those folks like myself who find themselves in a season where quiet time is pretty much non-existent. I’m writing a book, shepherding a small group of like-minded writer folks, editing for others and caring for my kids via phone calls and texts that come all hours of the day. I need to be interruptable for that; I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, what about this question—is there really a divide between sacred and secular? A time that is not God’s (if we belong to Him)? Is He more pleased with me because I take time for studying the word or reading a devotion? Or is He okay (because He knows this season of my life) if I lean into Him when I can, stay hungry for His presence in all the hours of my day?

My son has a new job in a Frito-Lay warehouse (yay for all-you-can-eat Doritos) and he works 60 hour weeks these days. Even on a regular day (i.e. 8 hours) his moments of alone time or quiet time vanish as he communicates with his wife or nurtures his five children. His thirst is there for God’s word—he has a seminary degree, steeped in Scripture inside and out–but the chances to drink are few and far between.

Or what about my niece’s husband, new dad of two, who works nights, sleeps days and hugs his wife and babies in between? Where or how would he, could he, find moments to spend with Jesus? Would it be before or after worship practice, where he plays drums and/or guitar?

Or what about the baristas at Starbuck’s who get up at oh dark thirty to make sure our coffee-fueled world goes on? There are plenty of Jesus-loving espresso-making folks out there—how do they manage to fit in time with God?

And is God worried about that? Really?

Here’s what Oswald himself had to say about “quiet time”; May 12th ‘My Utmost for His Highest.’

“Your god may be your little Christian habit— the habit of prayer or Bible reading at certain times of your day. Watch how your Father will upset your schedule if you begin to worship your habit instead of what the habit symbolizes. We say, “I can’t do that right now; this is my time alone with God.” No, this is your time alone with your habit. There is a quality that is still lacking in you. Identify your shortcoming and then look for opportunities to work into your life that missing quality.

Love means that there are no visible habits— that your habits are so immersed in the Lord that you practice them without realizing it. If you are consciously aware of your own holiness, you place limitations on yourself from doing certain things— things God is not restricting you from at all. This means there is a missing quality that needs to be added to your life. The only supernatural life is the life the Lord Jesus lived, and He was at home with God anywhere. Is there someplace where you are not at home with God? Then allow God to work through whatever that particular circumstance may be until you increase in Him, adding His qualities. Your life will then become the simple life of a child.”

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Summer is for Listening

“My soul, wait silently for God alone; for my expectation is from Him.”

Psalm 62:5

“How slow many are to learn that quietness is blessing, that quietness is strength, that quietness is the source of the highest activity–the secret of all true abiding in Christ! Let us try to learn it and watch out for whatever interferes with it.  The dangers that threaten the soul’s rest are many.”  Andrew Murray, “Abiding in Christ”

      I suppose it is a foolishness to think things are quieter in the Summer–school is out and children romp and play outside my window, noise floats in as games are won and lost in the streets below our house. But Summer vacation also means less push and stress, less have-to and more want to. My want-to includes some quiet (er) time of listening to God in this season.

The push back is all the noise–even good “Christian” noise.

Don’t get me wrong but I think we (by “we” here I’m including myself) are quick to crank up the praise music before we spend time with our own words praising God in the silence. Bible studies and Christian living books are a way to learn, but sometimes I think we lean on them instead of the Holy Spirit to speak directly to us.  The internet is a 24/7 stream of everybody else’s opinions on what is godly, but it often draws us away from the Source–the voice of Jesus and God’s word.

Why not, instead, make this season a time of doing nothing, reading nothing (I know–sacrilege!) and just spend time listening and recording in a journal what you hear God say?

There might be revelation or resolution of an issue percolating below the surface that you’ve carried around and worried about for months. Years.  Perhaps there will be a healing touch from God’s Spirit, or simply a wonder-filled moment as you catch the joy of God in His creation.

To help you in the process, may I share some notes on the how-to of the process? These are taken from my session at our Glory Writers Abide Retreat in the Cascade Mountains last year. (I used the same notes for our church’s Women’s Retreat last May.)

Perhaps they will help you discover some glory of your own in God’s word to your heart.e80ce-viewfromthebackdeckjune2012

Notes on ‘Listening as a Spiritual Practice’, inspired by “God in the Yard”, L.L. Barkat, TSPoetry Press

Stop and make a space to listen 2-3 times a week, 20 or 30 minutes—start small  NOTE: Listening as a Spiritual Practice or Discipline is really about letting go & making room, more about absorbing & receiving from God than about my outcome or producing something. More being, less doing.

  • Examples of Spiritual Practice PERSONAL WORSHIP, PRAYER, praying in the Spirit, BIBLE READING
  • SIT where your eyes can be still, preferably outside with a view to something living; resting your eyes brings peace to your mind and soul and you can LISTEN BETTER
  • Don’t Read your Bible-this is not devotional time, it is time to listen…you can talk to Jesus, sing, but resist the temptation to DO SOMETHING; just WAIT
  • Remember: You have the Holy Spirit as your teacher and guide (Jn. 14:26)
    • If you ask God to speak, He will. If you ask Him to show you something, He will.
  • Here are some prompts for thought:
    • What is your deepest source of current pain, and how is God trying to meet you there?
    • Where are you finding joy with God?
    • What does the world around you say about God’s relation to you and your relation to Him?
    • Here’s what the Holy Spirit might do as you listen:
    • First, you’ll discover something—(see it—‘wow, I didn’t know I felt/knew that’!)
    • Then uncover it—(name it—‘oh, THAT’S what that is…’)
    • Then recover it—(live into it, like new skin) NOT fix it (as in patch it up)

      Don’t worry about what to do with your discoveries. Simply listen to what the sounds are telling you and offer them as an expression of truth to God then write them down.

      If you are not a person who keeps a journal, this might be a good time to start.

Writing down your story can bring healing to you and life to others. Our stories are a way for others to hear where God is meeting us now & where He has met us in the past, especially when we share them.

And most of all, when you look back over the entries, whether several weeks or several months or years, there is powerful encouragement of God’s faithfulness and care to you as His child.

      I hope you take the time to get away from the noise and ask Jesus to speak to you in way that’s like no other. He is so happy when we ask!

Writing Exercise {a #Poem}

“Stretch” must be a biblical word, regardless of one’s age
(an extension, a straining) like a two-year-old
reaching on tiptoes towards her Father, not unlike
the discomfort of unfolding old bones and well-used knees,
joints so stiff they’ve forgotten how to bend.

I want to stress and press past the comfortable,
groan with the growing, the knowing that daily
I must reach, pushing back against all that stagnates and stifles
learn to lean, in, out, up, force myself to taste the hard that makes

me healthy like a spoonful of unwanted needful medicine,
and hold on, taut as elastic, grow with each reach,
a creature who craves comfort but who knows in the end
it’s creating I need. I need making.

I need my Maker.
So I flatten palms against wood,
face towards the carpet and breathe,
count 15 and slowly rise, praying for muscle memory
to travel past the limits of flesh and into my soul, where lazy lives,
snap me out of my haze, like a rubberband
rebounding from a l o o o n g pull.

I rise and rest at my desk, write the word “stretch”

in the Webster’s margin on the “S” page.

A fitting Biblical addition, I notice.
It’s right above the word “surrender.”

 

A (Very) Long Obedience in the Same Direction

I’ve been been making time lately to re-read my journals–sort of taking inventory of God’s words to me as I read His Word throughout the past year during my quiet time.

First of all, it’s very encouraging.  To look back over the year I can see that many of the God-thoughts I wrote down have come to pass. Joy and miracle. Yay.

As I read I couldn’t help noticing the repeated theme of obedience. I read Eugene Peterson’s book, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” last year, his study of the Songs/Psalms of Ascent.

God was speaking to me over and over again about this subject using this book. Yes, God usually has to repeat something to me over the course of many months to make sure I’m getting it.

Lately I have struggled with falling into discouragment about my behaviours, attitudes and actions, particularly with those whom I love.

“Be more gentle here, Jody.  Watch your tone of voice….” Ack–I often fail miserably.
But God, but God……..the Holy Spirit reminds me.  His mercies are new every morning. Exclamation point.
Thank GOODNESS for Jesus’ reminder in Matthew Chapter 6, that ‘each day has enough trouble of its own’.
In other words, “Take each day as a fresh start from me, and don’t be burdened down by the ‘what if’s’ and the ‘but I didn’ts’.” 

I wrote this in my journal:

We cannot let ourselves be held captive to the disastrous ways we’ve failed
and let that dictate our tomorrows. Our tomorrows belong to God and rest on
His power and provision, not my performance.

Peterson talks extensively about failures and obedience when he discusses Psalm 132 in “Long Obedience..”
This Psalm is full of ‘remembers’, the Psalmist reminding God about his promises to King David.

“God, based on the history of what you’ve done for us, we’re planning on a future restoration of your kingdom and your temple, a place where you can dwell. We know you’ll come through.” (my paraphrase).
Peterson continues, “The traveler/psalmist is not…”reveling in the past for its own sake , but a traveler using what he knows of the past to get to where he is going–to God.”
“The past is not,” Peterson says, “for the person of faith, a restored historical site that we tour when we are on vacation; it is a field that we plow and harrow and plant and fertilize and work for a harvest.”
“If we define the nature of our lives by the mistake of the moment (oh God, I make so many!) or the defeat of the hour or the boredom of the day, we will define it wrongly.
We need roots in the past to give obedience ballast and breadth;
we need a vision of the future to give obedience direction and a goal.”
“What we require is obedience–the strength to stand and the willingness to leap,and the sense to know when to do which. Which is exactly what we get when an accurate memory of God’s ways is combined with a lively hope in his promises.” (LOSD, pp. 169-171).

My journal notes continue, “just like a treehouse in a tree: the tree is firmly planted–solid in the strength of the tree and its roots. And when you climb up high in the branches into the treetops, you can see the view.”

Next time I see a treehouse, I’m going to remember that….Roots in the past reminding me of God’s faithfulness,
a vision from on high of the future He has planned for me.

Tree photo, New Orleans, LA, jlc, April 2012  
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