Micro

We’ve had a day. From the get-go this family didn’t act like a team and it made us all cranky-frustrated before 8am. That bleh carried through meeting after meeting. By the time I got home I had to

stop

the madness, the voices in my head, the grumbling in my gut.

I went in search of solitude and beauty. Yes, I put myself in the way of beauty. I sent Tween on a walk with the dog and took my iPhone 6 on a walk in the opposite direction.

I felt the sunshine on my face and the breeze in my hair. I smelled the heady perfume of plum blossoms. I watched curled yellow-green blades of grass dance. I knelt down, got close, and used my camera to see the beautiful details I too often bustle past.

Everything Glorious makes a nice accompaniment to this virtual tour of the micro-beauty in my neighborhood.

breeze

pink

bright

escape

This reminds me of sea life

This reminds me of sea life

goldenradiance

white

shadows

Check out the shadows

angelcoral

If I hadn't been looking closely, I would never have seen these succulents

If I hadn’t been looking closely, I would never have seen these succulents

ghostpinepomadeanemone

 

By the time I returned home, beauty had soaked my senses in glory and I’m in a much better place for the evening. Thank you, God, for your fantastic creation!

Quieting Our Souls: Solitude

So many shades of blue

So many shades of blue

Born and raised in SoCal, most of my life has been lived within 20 minutes of the coast.

Until now, when the coast is at best 30 minutes away and at worst, an hour+.

I have noticed lately an intense craving to be near the water. The local reservoirs, and the two or three hikes within sight of them, come close but not quite. I need to see, hear, smell salt water lapping shore, sea gulls squawking overhead, and feel sand between my toes.

Yes, oh yes, but it's not the ocean

Yes, oh yes, but it’s not the ocean

Happy beach dogs

Happy beach dogs

The beach invites me into solitude, a reminder of God’s Great-Big-ness and my comparable insignificance. And yet, I am loved and held and cared for by the God who created such overwhelming beauty.

beach invitation

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Beach sound quiets my soul. Meanwhile, I strain to hear beach sound while the noise of life grows clamorous. I crave solitude.

My personality inclines itself to solitude but it doesn’t always come easy. When Teen was a toddler I read that those with my personality type need an hour or more of solitude each day to maintain emotional health – I squawked in laughter like my sea gull friends! How does a mom of littles get even a few minutes of solitude? Gracious me, I was lucky if I could shut the bathroom door without a child in there with me!

As the kids get older you do get some of your own life back (hope for my mom-of-littles friends!), and solitude becomes a more achievable goal. Gym time, walking the dog, silence rather than radio in the car (often on the way to pick up a kid or a carpool – silence until the kids get in the car, and then they’re so noisy they often don’t notice the music isn’t on, and I get to eavesdrop on their chatter), and a big YAY for uninterrupted writing time.

I get a little Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs when I haven’t had enough solitude. This quote from Ruth Haley Barton’s Invitation to Solitude and Silence sums it up well:

“I try to run into God’s arms and give myself to his embrace, but I am holding lots of stuff, and it gets in the way. The baggage I am carrying makes me clumsy and hard to hug” (p45).

Clumsy and hard to hug – I don’t know how to hug myself, let alone anyone else, until I have sorted through my soul’s detritus with Jesus.

So here’s to finding small and big ways to include time for solitude in the schedule!

Connect
Where do you go to be alone, and why?

Study
Read aloud Mark 6:31-34, 45-57.
Describe the situation in which Jesus invites His disciples to come away. What did He intend for them (vv. 31-32)?
Jesus’ plans for solitude were interrupted by the crowd. How did He handle it (vv. 33-34)?What did Jesus do when He finally got away (v. 46)?

Live
Does the idea of solitude thrill or threaten you? Explain.
How is the spiritual practice of solitude like/unlike simply being alone?
What ‘noise’ keeps you from quieting your soul, and what can you do to turn down the volume?
When have you experienced a “crowd” in your solitary place? How did you handle it?
How could solitude focus your prayers and help you seek God?
Which Faith Training Exercises have you tried recently? Share joys and struggles. Which exercises might God call you to this week, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.

birds

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

 

Faith Training

A few sessions of childhood swim, ice skating, dance, gymnastics, and tennis lessons hardly qualify me as an athlete. I may be the only person you know who has never participated in a team/competitive sport. I once asked my parents if I could join a soccer league. My mom said no, citing scarred knees as unattractive on a girl; I’m pretty sure it had more to do with life’s chaos – me as the oldest of four kids, her job in real estate, and her travelling husband, last thing she needed was to spend hours field-side with a decidedly non-athletic kid.

I did, however, take piano lessons from age five to eighteen. Like most kids enrolled in music lessons, I didn’t love to practice but I did like to play well. The older I got, and the better I got, the more I enjoyed it. In high school and especially as I anticipated a recital date, I played for hours, working the music into my fingers, into my heart and soul. My favorite practice time (surprisingly, my parents didn’t complain – how did they not complain?) took place between 10pm and 2am, even on school nights.

The more I practiced and the better I knew a piece of music, the more the music had the power to take me out of myself, into what Madeleine L’Engle calls a kairos experience. I lost track of time, I lost my sense of self, as the music itself became all that mattered. “I am outside time, outside self, in play, in joy. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love” (Circle of Quiet, p13).

I’ve heard runners talk about a similar experience, once you move past the first phase of muscle fatigue (the “I don’t like to run, I don’t want to run, I can’t take one more step” feeling, because you keep going anyway), and then, apparently, some get to a euphoric state, a runner’s endorphin high.

Faith training can have similar results, yet even better as training our faith helps us to draw near to God on high.

At the gym there are so many different pieces of equipment, each with a different purpose but all with the purpose of increased physical fitness. Similarly, there are many different ways to exercise one’s faith, all with the purpose of drawing near to our beloved Jesus.

Commonly called “spiritual disciplines,” well, that just doesn’t sound all that fun, does it? But they can be. Even when they’re strenuous, they can lead to great joy.

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day focused on repentance and identifying with Jesus in His sufferings as we begin a 40-day season of giving up or taking on spiritual disciplines. In our church staff meeting this morning, we read this:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love… Joel 2:12-13

I get that today’s focus should center on fasting, weeping, and mourning, but I’ve been thinking about and practicing to varying degrees different disciplines over the last few weeks. I have returned to the Lord, so to speak, and this morning I felt overwhelming joy. God drew my focus to His gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger love. And the joy bubbling up in my heart. I almost giggled (inappropriately?).

Once a week or so during this Lenten season, from now til Easter, I will post a Bible study focused on one spiritual discipline; there are more disciplines than we can name, but we’ll cover fasting, solitude, prayer, simplicity, confession, and celebration. I’ll also include suggestions for practicing each discipline.

I encourage you to ask God to direct you to the exercises He’d like you to try. And don’t give up just because it’s uncomfortable at first (think sore muscles after physical exercise). You could try one exercise for all of Lent, or different ways of exercising one practice (i.e., different prayer method each day), or sample different practices throughout the season – ask God for direction and stick with it until He asks you to stop.

Here we go with an introductory study!

Connect
What practices or routines do you do to keep physically healthy?

Study
Read aloud 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
How would you explain the metaphor of physical and spiritual training to someone who hadn’t read this passage?
What is “the prize” for spiritual runners (v. 24)?
What might “running aimlessly” look like in one’s spiritual life?
How could Paul have been “disqualified for the prize” (v. 27)?

Live
On a spectrum from aimless running/air boxing to marathon champion, which physical activity might describe your spiritual life and why?
When have you experienced a connection between physical and spiritual discipline?
Reflect on your experience with any of these practices: fasting, solitude, prayer, simplicity, confession, and celebration. Which do/don’t sound appealing to you, and why?
Which of the Week 1 Faith Training Exercises (see below) might God call you to, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.

Faith Training Exercises
Fasting: Skip one meal and spend time in prayer.
Solitude: Memorize Psalm 46:10 and use it as a reminder throughout the day to be still before God.
Prayer: Set aside a regular time and place to pray every day.
Simplicity: Set a timer (20 minutes or less) and clear off one cluttered space, e.g., a junk drawer or desk top.
Confession: Invite the Holy Spirit to bring to mind sins you’ve committed. Confess them to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness.
Celebration: Do at least one thing each day that brings you joy: sing loudly, dance freely, laugh heartily, live boldly.