Field of Dreams 

art, butterflies, Creativity, grief, Imagination, Painting, sleep, Uncategorized

John Atkinson Grimshaw: The Butterfly

Spring forward has done me in & brought me down. I have succumbed to the couch, with the shades drawn against the extra light pouring in through the windows. No amount of espresso in the morning will overcome this lethargy. The promise of a chocolate bunny isn’t enough to drag me off my recliner. 

I have unfinished art works on the easel, finished works awaiting hanging hooks and wires, and a chapter in my scifi spiritual journey novel to post on line, but I’m not rising from the couch to attend to these interests. This is the fifth month anniversary of my daughter’s death, a grief I thought I was past, for the most part. 

Mostly yes, but completely, no. Art is a process, for a work isn’t completed in an instant. Grief isn’t finished in a short time either, for it’s  a journey which is sometimes straight forward and other times circuitous. Sometimes it seems like our own grief journey is a death spiral! Like a heroic pilot, we pull our airplane out of the fall just before we graze the ground. We soar so high into the bright sky until we nearly stall and fall, but we dive back down again. This up and down upon the unseen hills and valleys of the air scares our audience, amd if we had any sense, it would scare us too. 

We are mostly too numb to know the difference, so we aren’t aware of the effect we have on others. This is the blessing of grief, our oblivion of experiences beyond those most important and nessary for existence. Life gets simpler in grief:  we narrow our choices, things don’t seem to matter as much, and we enjoy the basics more often. Seeking out a one of a kind item takes too much effort. 

Grief allows us to note the simple things, which we once took for granted: smiles, laughter, silence, and a loving touch. 

A butterfly alighting on my hand tempts me to visit a field of flowers, but only in my dreams. 
 

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IRREPRESSIBLE SLEEPINESS 

art, Creativity, Faith, generosity, Healing, Health, Meditation, Ministry, purpose, purpose, renewal, sleep, Spirituality, Stress, texas, Uncategorized, United Methodist Church, vision

  
Irrepressible  sleepiness–it comes over one at times. 

My night class on World Religions at seminary with Ruben Habito began with silent breathing. Centering, he called it. Some of us called it falling asleep. A long day of work or classes, or both, with a short night of sleep before an early morning wake up alarm marked our days back then. We were fueled by liquid caffeine and too many carbs. We ran on the adrenaline of excitement and the necessity to cram two lives into one day. We were crazy people, but we didn’t know it.

We didn’t realize the gift of silence and quiet our zen master was offering to us. We were doers, not accustomed to being. To be silent, still, and to breathe in and out as we sought an unmoving center after the hubbub of our day was our bedtime ritual, not a preparation for learning. More than a few of us crossed over into LaLa Land. 

Some time during the class, we would return to this world, much refreshed from our power nap. We could get any notes we missed from a less sleep deprived classmate. Our zen master was also a priest, who knew our needs and offered this gift of ministry for his congregation. He wasn’t bothered by our sleeping through his lectures, for if we needed to rest, God would take care of our learning elsewhere. 

When I went out as a pastor in the church, I remembered this lesson of grace. When people fell asleep in church, I knew God would bring the message to them later from the ones who stayed awake. If their lives were so out of whack they needed to sleep in church, I needed to pray for them. After all, it’s not about me, it’s about God. 

“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!     — John 16:33

Cornelia DeLee: Christ Overcoming the World, acrylic on canvas, 2015. (36″ X 36″)

WALKING INTO LIFE

Creativity, epilepsy, Health, home, photography, Physical Training, purpose, renewal, sleep, Strength, Stress, Travel, Uncategorized, vision

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I went walking Thursday night with the Spa City Pacers in our downtown area. The humidity was high and the evening breezes of a few weeks ago were’t stirring any longer. My ice melted in my carry cup before we left the old train depot.

I’ve signed up for the HOT SPRINGS 5K FUN WALK. It’s held in conjunction with the SPA 5K/10K RUN, both of which are timed qualifying events for larger races. As a walker with some health challenges, I sometimes think I need an Instant Gratification Fun Run–I sign up, show up and get my tshirt .

Then again, how would I become healthier or stronger? If I don’t challenge my body bit by bit, I won’t take it to a new level. I’m realistic enough to accept that my progress won’t be quick or great. If I’m able to walk a hill today when last year I had difficulty making a level mile, I can say I’ve improved. The more years I can stay in my own home, the better off I will be. For any of us as we grow older, the challenges of using our body “as we used to” begin to come closer together. Just changing a light bulb is a challenge if your balance isn’t just right. Use it or lose it is a slogan the silver haired need to repeat often!

It doesn’t matter what level you are at now. This is your baseline. You aren’t running the race against anyone else or against a certain standard. All you need to do is to persevere and not be discouraged. Some days the heat and humidity sap my strength. I do less but I do something. I’ve had three emotionally trying weeks. Early this morning I had a visual seizure while I was still in bed. I went back to sleep for four more hours. Even this can’t stop me from making my appointed workout, but I did make it lighter.

There are folks at my local YMCA that are in far worse shape than me. They are my heroes: they give their all with great passion even though some have twisted bodies, disabled bodies, artificial limbs, disease or venerable years. We also have some pretty bodies who also work out there, but most of us are just ordinary people who want to make the most extraordinary use of this vessel the good Lord has given us so that we can do all the good we are able, as long as we can, to all we can, by any means we can.

When I go back Tuesday night, I’ll walk with a renewed delight that I’m out in the midst of a beautiful city, that I have companion walkers who desire a healthier life just as I do, and we can share that camaraderie of meeting the challenge of one more day on the journey. I can see the reflection of the old buildings in the new mirrored glass building. I can see the same sky in the mirror and above me. I can breathe in the molecules of air the ancient citizens who walked these steps once breathed, as well as the molecules breathed by the quicker runners and faster walkers who breezed through here this evening.

I may not be in the same group, but I am on the same streets and I am alive.

A PAINTED DREAM: GOING LEFT TO TURN RIGHT

butterflies, Creativity, Dreamscape, Holy Spirit, Icons, Imagination, Meditation, mystery, Painting, purpose, Secrets, sleep, Spirituality, Travel, Uncategorized, vision, Work

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A few months ago, I woke up with this Franz Marc blue horse in my mind. Clouds were overhanging the Rocky Mountains in the distance. On the high plains stood a solitary tree that had several Spirit feathers attached to the limbs. Red threads fluttered in the breeze. This horse, which I knew by now was my own self in a spirit animal form, was coming close to this tree.

So, is it a Tree of Life? An Ancestor Tree (burial site)? A Good Luck Tree for Travelers and Wayfarers? Or is it a Marker Tree that says “Killroy was here”? Maybe it’s just my brain “taking out the trash of the previous weeks and days,” so that I can deal with my waking life more easily!

I’m still pondering the meaning. I had to paint this image to get it out of my mind and into the real world. Maybe here I will discover its truth for me.

I also needed to work on something that I could finish quickly and feel the joy of immediate accomplishment. I’m involved in a number of long term projects in my creative life right now. I’m on the third draft of THE WANDERING SOUL, my first installment novel, which I’m posting as weekly chapters at http://www.souljournieswordpress.wordpress.com. I’m also writing a second novel, THE ACCIDENTAL VACATION, which is in the journal or handwritten stage just now.

I have been painting butterflies, but have a commission for an icon. With my own work, I can go crazy and push the paint wherever the Spirit moves me. The icon, however, falls within boundaries and rules. I have to have my mind and heart still in order to submit to that discipline. It’s not my first nature! I do it, however, because this focused work allows me more power and freedom when I return to my own creative process. It’s a mystery, but sometimes we go left to turn right.

Are we the Good Shepherd or Are We the Lost Sheep?

Children, Food, Health, Icons, Meditation, Physical Training, Prayer, purpose, renewal, salvation, sleep, Spirituality, Strength, Stress, Uncategorized, vision, Work

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Recently a male acquaintance of mine had the temerity to suggest that perhaps I might need one of those buttons that calls for help to a distant monitoring site. I had told him I’d been sick and he knew I lived alone. I was feeling much better by then and retorted, “As long as I can walk the around the 1.5 miles of Mercy Hospital, I don’t need a button that says I’ve fallen and can’t get up!” He escaped my wrath by a quick exit into the elevator. Indeed!

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” Paul said of Christ to the Philippians (4:13). Isaiah reminds us that God “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young fall exhausted; but those that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint.” (40:29-31).

With verses like these ringing in our ears, well meaning people of faith do great harm to God’s gift, which is God’s own image, whether male or female (Genesis1:27). We run our precious images into the ground until they are flat exhausted, burnt out, overwhelmed, physically sick or plain old addicted to either the work, the adulation, or some other less desirable habit. We forget that the one person who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) is also the same one of whom was said, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). John’s gospel alone mentions that “Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well” (4:6). No other gospel author speaks of the Lord’s humanness as does John. If Jesus can get tired and need rest, why is it we who follow him cannot do the same thing?

We think we are being good shepherds by being always at work, always on call, always at work. I have clergy pals who feel they have to justify their exercise time as “prayer time or sermon preparation.” I have other friends that have worked themselves into the hospital with exhaustion, yet tried to leave against medical advice just to do someone’s funeral because they were jealous of another pastor coming into their church. The stress of disaster relief efforts in addition to all our other responsibilities can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Hurricane Gustave in 2008 put several of us in lower Arkansas into the hospital with stress related heart events. Fainting into your spaghetti at the community meal gets you a free ride to the local hospital, even if you go under protest!

I won’t begin to list the side effects of all this stress on our precious bodies, other than to say that when we put ourselves under this much stress, we eat more comfort foods, we exercise less and we sleep less. All these acts cause us to eat more comfort foods. If we really want to live a Jesus lifestyle, start walking! Give up your need to be a Ken or Barbie doll perfect person and tell your people you are going out to find the lost sheep.

The lost sheep is your identity as a child of God, not your calling as a pastor or your ministry in the church or the world. It isn’t how you make your money as a banker, a mechanic, a coder, or a salesperson. This isn’t you as a mom or a dad, but you as God’s own child. If you are feeling lost in the role of what you do, you are a lost sheep. This icon (image) of the Good Shepherd should point you to the only one who can find you and bring you home safely from the wilderness. If you are with him, you stand under the tree of life, whose leaves are used for healing. Your wounds will be healed and you will heal the wounds of others also.

For further reading, a classic spiritual text is Henri Nouwen’s THE WOUNDED HEALER

SURVIVAL SKILLS

Family, Fear, home, Imagination, Meditation, Prayer, purpose, sleep, Strength, Stress, Uncategorized, Work

“in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.”
~~ Psalm 57:1

Drop me behind enemy lines with my machete and I’ll make my own way out. I was born for challenges: I am a first child. My parents had to learn on me and I always had to test the boundaries as I was growing up. Not that I was a particularly wild child, but when I discovered my other friends in the seventh grade had bedtimes ranging from eight PM to midnight, I was able to convince my folks I didn’t need to be put to bed at seven PM with my younger brothers. I was always the first to do anything new, since I was the oldest.

When it came time to pick a college, my parents wanted me to live at home and attend their alma mater, Centenary College. I wanted to go far away to Wellesley College, but my dear southern Daddy said, “No daughter of mine is going north of the Mason Dixon Line!” So I said I wanted to go to the notorious state party school LSU, and was told that was not an option. We compromised on Agnes Scott College, a small Presbyterian woman’s college that sends 90% of its graduates on to postgraduate work.

In the midst of my junior year, my art teacher was killed in a freak accident. We had a very modern art building that had all the floors cantilevered over the ones below so that it was open and airy. Sounds also carried very well. Those of us that were in the building heard the last screams before the sheer silence. The death of my mentor in the midst of an ordinary art activity had a profound effect on me. She was remixing clay by adding it into a grinder, but her sleeve got caught and that pulled her into the machine. There is nothing like the death of someone you love to focus your mind and to focus your actions.

When the storms of life come, and come they will, taking shelter is sometimes the better part of courage. The storm chasers who photo extreme weather events have special, modified vehicles in which they chase these powerful natural events. “Professional driver, closed course, do not attempt” ought to scroll under their videos. We need to remember that the best way to ride out a tornado is in the bathroom or closet (the most interior room without a window), and never to ride out a tornado in our car (think matchbox toy blown to kingdom come).

I can sleep through anything, but one morning when I was on the Blevins Charge, I awoke to this horrid sound roaring right over the roof of the parsonage. I looked at the clock, thought it was way too dark thirty to wake up, and went back to sleep. When I woke for good, my coffee pot wouldn’t work because the electricity was out. I went to the Gas and GO, three houses away (Blevins has more chickens than people), but they were in the same shape. I am a woman who needs my coffee (it is my machete). When I inquired, the clerk said “Are you not aware that a tornado came through here this morning!? No one has electricity! You might find coffee in Hope.” Oh, so that horrible loud sound early this morning was a tornado? And I just opened my eyes and went back to bed.

That tornado didn’t even lift a shingle off the parsonage, but that is the vagaries of the animal. The recent OKLAHOMA tornados were much larger and more devastating. Half of a city blown away, but thankfully not many lives lost considering the amount of physical destruction. The recent thunderstorms that brought flooding to Arkansas also caused several deaths. Some may ask, where is God in all this? People lose loved ones, their homes, and their business. Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Couldn’t a good God keep this from happening?

God is with us at all times, whether we acknowledge this fact or not. God’s steadfast love is a gift to us, for when our love fails and we turn away from God, God still remembers God’s pledge to love us. “You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.” ~~ Job 10:12 there was a time in my life that I decided there was no God, but God still remembered me even when I had forgotten God.

When we ask, why does God let bad things happen to good people, sometimes we re asking “does God cause bad things to happen?” This is a broken and fallen world in which we live. The world itself isn’t in harmony with God’s good purposes, but one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth. We too are part of the broken and fallen world, and as much as it pains us to hear this word, we are not yet “good” in biblical terms, for good is a term belonging to God alone (Mark 10:18–
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”)

Could a good God keep these disasters from befalling his loved ones? I think if we humans thought we were immune to disasters, we would throw caution to the winds and go bat crazy. I also think we would soon forget the source of our protection and begin to worship ourselves. Oh wait, that sounds like us right now!

The question we ought to answer is “How do folks endure tragedy?” For some it is a challenge: they thrive when they have a machete in hand and are behind enemy lines. When you come out of your safe place and see your whole neighborhood blown away, you are behind enemy lines. When you find out your kid is on drugs, you are behind enemy lines. When your job gets downsized, you are behind enemy lines. The doctor tells you it’s cancer: grab the machete, honey. It’s time to meet the challenge standing up.

Even behind enemy lines, we need to rest. We have to find a hiding place, a quiet place in which we can restore ourselves and be ready for the next day. We need to be “in the shadow of your wings” and “take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.” (Psalm 57:1)Those can be the storms of doubt, fear, hopelessness, weakness, anger, grief or inadequacy. When others depend on us to be strong, we need to take time to care or ourselves. A quiet time to meditate, to pray, to read scripture, or to hold hands with your family and to speak aloud the thanksgivings of your day can be “refuge in the shadow of God’s wings.”

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McTemples and Lonely Prophets

Creativity, Evangelism, Family, Food, generosity, Health, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Meditation, Ministry, ministry, photography, poverty, Prayer, purpose, purpose, renewal, salvation, sleep, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized, Work

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

~~ Matthew 6:21 

Driving home from a retreat in north Arkansas, I made a pit stop at a local McDonalds. I called a friend, for I missed an opportunity to help publicize a group of homeless veterans’ art works.  One of the road riding prophets of the Christian Motorcyclists Associations heard me say, “Let me leave here and we’ll pray,” so he followed me outside. I’d seen his colors as I exited the building, so I wasn’t afraid of his rough looks. Women traveling alone don’t normally want to engage in conversations with strangers because it pierces our bubble of security. The rest of us just want to be left alone so we can get on with our lives. CMA riders share their witness whenever and wherever they can.

This was Ron C, bearing fruit for the weary traveler, sharing that his life now with Christ has been much better than it was before, when he was briefly confined to a mental institution. Now he has a purpose when he rides the road.  He shares Christ with all he meets, for Christ is the seed buried in his heart. I thanked him for his witness and we parted.  I wondered how many Christians have a Christ treasure to share from their heart, or whether Christ is their means to gain earthly treasures.

We’re coming up on the first anniversary of Harold Camping’s prediction of the End of the World (5-21-11).  Many folks cashed in their pension plans to pay for advertising to warn people of the impending doom/judgment/rapture. They were disappointed, but like true believers, unshaken. Perhaps they should have read the text, “no one but the Father knows the day and hour of the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt 24:36). How can we witness to our faith, if we aren’t given to selling all that we have or riding the roads as a lonely prophet?

Jesus says, “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt 6:20).  We can’t exactly make a deposit in the First Heavenly Bank & Trust: it doesn’t have a drive through or an ATM. There’s not an app for that for your smart phone. However, we can care for ourselves, since we are the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 3:16). We can also care for others as well as for God’s creation. Caring for ourselves means not burning our candle at both ends, choosing fewer processed foods/more fresh foods, making exercise and sleep a priority, and finding our quiet time with God for prayer and meditation. Two days away for a golf/spiritual retreat with my clergy pals was a way I could honor this need to store up treasure in heaven. When 42% of American adults are predicted to be obese by the next generation, we are building McTemples by the millions! This excess weight adds $550 billion to our medical bills in preventable disease costs, for obesity related costs now outrank those caused by smoking.

Caring for others means we value them as we value them as we value ourselves, for we are all made in the image of God. To care for others means not only means to do good to their bodies and souls, but also to refrain from doing harm. People in caretaking professions and customer relations tend to put others first, and themselves second. Years of doing this will diminish our healthy sense of self, until we no longer can stand up for what is true and right. We will do for others exclusively, and fail to take time for ourselves. For some reason, we think we are Superman or Superwoman, and we can fly forever doing mighty deeds. We don’t see the kryptonite until it’s too late: Doing no harm means caring for ourselves. The truth is not one of us is yet under the complete Lordship of Jesus Christ, for none of us are entirely perfected in love: we are still going on toward perfection! We yearn for our hearts to be so full of love of God and neighbor that nothing else exists, but we still are riding the road, making a way on that journey to perfection.

I may laugh about our McTemples of the Holy Spirit, but that’s only because I come from a culture of eating. I grew up in a Methodist Church and went to a Methodist Seminary. I told folks I had a course called  “Preacher 101—Follow the Food.” It’s a good way to understand the dynamics of the local church, which does run around food: donuts with the pastor, men’s breakfast, ladies’ luncheons, Wednesday night choir supper, potluck dinners, senior club dinners, youth night dinners, spaghetti fund raisers, valentine suppers, potato bakes, etc. I sometimes ate only two meals at home in any given week. All these folks know how to cook, and they all want you to eat their food.  No wonder their pastors have big round bellies, and their insurance is so high! But then, we are just like they are, so we are all going down the same road to illness together.

It’s not that we don’t have access to decent food. Most of my churches have been in small towns, not in the urban jungles of decay that are designated as “food deserts.” They aren’t in rich neighborhoods by any means, but we do have access to a variety of food.  Since I’ve been on health leave, I’ve become more conscious about caring for my body, soul, and mind. I’ve learned that our food industry makes cheap food palatable by layering fat, salt, and sugar together in a heavily processed form. These products are heavily packaged, highly advertised, and subject to extreme couponing offers.  They are not the best foods for you.  The best foods are on the outer perimeter of the grocery store: fruits, meats, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products.

The food deserts are in the poorer neighborhoods that have more fast food restaurants and fewer grocery stores. They also have less access to transportation and higher rates of metabolic syndrome diseases plus less access to medical care. A good project would be a community garden and cooking classes. Neighbors helping neighbors by improving the little patch of the earth on which they live makes a whole lot of good for God’s kingdom, or “storing up treasures in heaven.”

Our spiritual practice will be an inventory of our heart: what are our treasures? Begin to list them one by one, beginning with all the things and all the people you hold dear to you. Then list all the powers and strengths. Now list all the pains and sorrows, weaknesses and failures.  See how God has used these also to bring treasure into your life.  As our art project, try building a treasure box: If you have an old box, you can paint or decoupage (cut pictures & glue designs) it according to your taste.  This can be a place to keep the treasures from the years gone by. You can also fold a box of scrapbook paper using the ten step directions found at

http://rubberstamping.about.com/od/techniquesandtutorials/ss/Box.htm

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

 

Art, Work & Breaking Out of Prison

Creativity, Fear, home, Imagination, Ministry, photography, Prayer, purpose, renewal, salvation, sleep, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized, vision, Work

This is a strange & dark veil of bamboo and vines that I found in Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Looking into the sun, the image was backlighted, so it seemed to be a fence guarding against my entry.

I thought about the fences that keep me from progressing in my spiritual and artistic life: some of them are barricades of my own making. I seek perfection, but if I were to seek the good first, the perfect would eventually follow. Because I seek the perfect, sometimes I don’t even reach the good! It’s crazy of course, but that is what happens when one tries too hard.

I belong to a Facebook prayer group. One of the members is overwrought because they are exhausted from trying to wrangle, cajole, force, convince or otherwise browbeat  a member of the family into a better behavior that will indeed save their life.  No doubt quitting the alcoholic lifestyle would save that person’s life and maybe someone else’s life. However, no amount of logic or emotion will make an addict change until they are good and ready. When they lose all they have ever trusted in and all their support systems are gone, then they might change. Or maybe not. It’s not up to us. This member is so worn out that she wanted strength to keep going. I wrote, “when sawing gets hard, stop and sharpen saw.”

At some point in our spiritual and creative lives, we need to stop and sharpen our saws. We can’t keep pouring out all things for others and expect to have any creative energies left. We need to be filled up again. The best life is to be constantly filled, spilled, and refilled.

I was reading an article today on http://www.alternet about the 40 hour work week and the 8-8-8 plan (hours for work, sleep, and enjoyment). After 40 hours, workers begin to react as if they are tipsy with alcohol as their reaction time and production begins to lag.  Their production goes down with each additional 10 hours added to the work week. Even more interesting was the fact that the loss of even one hour of sleep each night had the same effect as adding an extra 10 hours of work to the week!  For folks that labored with their minds, it was even worse!

In this world today, folks are so happy to be employed, they are willing to work any amount of hours to keep a job, but they aren’t happy and they aren’t healthy emotionally or physically.  They also aren’t very productive either.  We could probably put a few more folks to work, cut the work week back, decrease the cost of our health care (the cost is claims based, so fewer claims based on illness is a lower premium), and get this country moving again!

But no one listens to me, I’m just an artist with a spiritual heart who has been crying in the wilderness for a long time! I cried in the 60’s for peace and civil rights, I cried in the 70’s for women’s equality, I cried in the 80’s for an opportunity to lead where my heart went, I cried in the 90’s for the liberation of the human soul, and I’m still crying today for the whole person to become wholly human and wholly holy.  At least today I understand that the forces of evil may try to hold us prisoner, but God in Christ has defeated them! These chains cannot hold us, and neither can the chains of sin and death.

Therefore, perfection no longer holds us.  Instead, we work for the good of all (Gal 6:10).  As a creative project, you might want to photograph fences you see on your walks or travels this week. We all travel the same routes to the store, to work, to our favorite haunts. Our cars can drive themselves automatically, or we can sleep on the subway or bus and know when our stop is about to come up.  Seeing our environment anew is always good practice. Take photos with the cell phone or a single use camera. Note the “fences” and “barricades” in your environment.  They may be a keep out sign, a locked gate, a decorative wall, a privacy fence, or a japanese decorative screen between the sleeping and living areas of a small apartment. What fences are around your heart and soul? Give these over to God in prayer. Joy and Peace, Cornelia

Into the Light

Creativity, home, Meditation, Ministry, poverty, Prayer, purpose, renewal, sleep, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized, vision

Light & Shadow

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,    in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you  out of darkness into his marvelous light.” ~~ 1 Peter 2:9

 

Darkness and light are what make an object appear three-dimensional on a flat surface. The object in the shadows is more hidden and the light reveals more of its true nature. Likewise, we are not our true selves when we are in the darkness. When we are in the light, we are more like who we were born to be: the image of the living God whom we know in Jesus Christ.  We are called out of the darkness of ordinary life into the life and light of Christ when Christ claims us in our professing of faith in his life, death and resurrection for our salvation.  When we give up trying to save ourselves, we proclaim his mighty deeds with our walk, our witness, and our service to the body of Christ we know both as “the church” and “the poor.”  Jesus said to those who were faithful, “I was hungry and you gave me food…” (Matt 25:35).

The beginning artist sometimes has difficulty getting either enough light or enough shadow in their painting or drawings. The values all tend toward the middle range; there’s not enough contrast to emphasize any area of their work. Rembrandt knew how to make his works sing! He always had enough darkness to make the lights seem very bright indeed. Even this unfinished painting has enough contrasts of light and dark to define the light from the shadows.

Our faith lives sometimes lack contrast because they aren’t different from the lives the world leads. We don’t “shine like stars in the world” which is in darkness (Phil 2:15). We aren’t the contrast that the world is looking for, and so our lives aren’t attractive to them.  We live “gray lives” when instead our lives should be full of the light of Christ!

Perhaps we don’t hear the call of God clearly enough, for the sound of “sheer silence” or the still small voice of God that Elijah heard in the wilderness isn’t very often heard in the midst of the rush and busyness of human life. (1 Kings 19:12).  God’s voice is more often heard when we are ourselves still, silent, apart and waiting expectantly and often. This alone is reason enough to find the appointed place and time for each of us to “meet God,” to be found waiting faithfully for his appearance and his affirmation by his calling our name, “God’s own people,” “My Beloved.”

Just as I have my appointed place to work—my studio—I also have my appointed places to meet God.  My easy chair has a nest of books beside it: Bible, journal, pens, concordance and some books by other spiritual writers that encourage me.  It awaits me each morning at 6:30. Sometimes I sit with my coffee in the quiet for a while, other times I am ready to write in my journal. Sometimes I need to check my friends on Facebook when I know they are going through a rough patch. Mostly I need this quiet time with God and no one else. Afterwards, I am ready for the world, ready for work, ready for my day.  I used to be an extrovert, always on the go, always on, always with other people. Now I confess to needing my quiet time with God as much as I need my work time, and my people time! In fact, I enjoy my time with others more because I have had my time with God. I work with more passion and strength because I have had the quiet and the silence to focus my life on what is beautiful and what is true.

My other appointed place to meet God is at my Church. I found a place of worship that centered on God, not a minister or the people. The purpose of our church is to “Connect people to God, to one another, and to the community” around us.  We are a downtown church, so we do a lot of mission work with the poor and we have teams that go abroad also.  We can be taught all the history of the Bible and all the facts of our faith, but if our hands don’t lift to help a neighbor in need, we aren’t living our faith in the light of Christ.

But God in his wisdom finds ways to meet us any place and any time.  God is the master of the unexpected, for when we least expect to see him, he’ll find a way to come to us!  We might be washing dishes or pumping gas into the truck or buying groceries. Unless we are prepared and receptive however, we will most likely miss this moment.  To prepare our hearts and minds for the chance encounters, the practice of sitting still before God is worthwhile. This week set a time aside for a quiet time: make it an appointment in your Day Timer, or iCal or write it on your hand and look at the clock.  Show up in this place and put on the “I’m invisible hat” and just breathe deep for thirty minutes. If you sleep through it, God knows you need that nap! Remember, God can work in you to restore you even when you aren’t working. Maybe to be a light, your battery needs charging.  Spend this week on “being present to God,” and let God be present to you.