Lent 2021: Explore Playful Practice

“…Lent is a speed bump in the church year, inviting us into reflection, confession, and prayer as we approach Holy Week and Easter, a time when we remember the profound costliness of God’s abundant love for us.” –Susan Phillips, PhD, Executive Director of New College Berkeley

Image by Trevor M from Pixabay

I love the image of Lent, the 40 days before Easter (Sundays not included), as a speed bump. Even in this strange pandemic time when I go nowhere to do nothing and see no one, apparently I’ve still managed to speed my life along and oh wow here comes Lent and – wham – I’ve hit it too fast. I need to slow down. Lent will help.

Often Lent involves giving something up (chocolate) or taking something on (acts of service) as a way of identifying with Jesus as he journeyed toward his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Yet I’m already daily working my habit tracker, and let’s be honest, this has been an unusual year to say the least. Which calls for an unusual response.

Last week when I encountered a list of words related to purpose in writing, three leaped off the page: Explore. Play. Practice. They get along well together, and I believe I will enjoy watching them frolic in the long green grass of this Lenten season. 

I want to Explore. To strike out on an expedition. To take twisty-turning side roads and unexpected paths in the deep forest. At one time I might have felt afraid, but I’m leaving timidity behind. I have confidence that my soul will guide me with yes or no responses along the way. I welcome everything, everyone, every occasion I encounter today, because I trust it will be for my healing.

I’d like to say I’m packing light, but that’s not true. Even if my backpack contains little more than snacks, a sweatshirt, and a flashlight, my head and heart are overstuffed. That’s part of the point, of course: I need to get lost to be found. To empty myself and create space for what may come.

Exploration will tuck new tools into my backpack I didn’t know I’d need. It will fill my eyes with breathtaking sights I could only extrapolate from travel books, imagination, and dreams. It will fill my heart with experiences that amplify my joy. I will encounter prophets and teachers, leaders and fellow pilgrims who swell my love to overflow. I may come home weary and changed. I expect to come home grateful.

I want to Play, and I’ve traveled enough to know that exploration can be hard work and playful, too. In my tendency toward contemplation, I naturally find myself alone, deep in thought, immersed in words – mine or others as I move between writing and reading. It can get a little heavy, and my mental muscles grow weary as my physical muscles grow itchy from sitting too long in our overstuffed recliner.

I need playful movement. I want to skip along new trails, and also to crouch low and watch the fascinating tiny creatures I’d miss otherwise. Maybe I’ll pull out the crayons and draw as I observe them. Maybe I’ll journal with colored pencils. Maybe we’ll find a deck of cards and play together, right there in the woods.

After all, I am walking toward Good Friday, not racing. There’s no rush. I need to move slow enough to remember Jesus, my companion. To walk hand-in-hand, noticing what he points out about this lovely world he made, about my life in this time, about his love for me. What’s coming will be devastating, though not paralyzing: Sunday always comes after Friday; Easter always follows Good Friday. Joy in the morning means I can play joyfully now.

I want to Practice. When I first read Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline in the early 1990s, it was life-changing. Foster advocates for ordinary followers of Jesus, not just spiritual giants, to engage everyday disciplines that help them connect with Jesus and add joy to life in the midst of laundry and lawn-mowing. Disciplines such as meditation and study, simplicity and solitude, confession and celebration. I became something of a spiritual discipline junky, and as I type those words I’m not sure how to feel about being addicted to paths that connect me to God… Is that healthy addiction, or inappropriate metaphor?

Yet these days I find myself substituting “practice” for “discipline.” Discipline feels exacting, harsh, rigid. When I practice yoga, I listen to what my body needs. Some days parts of me feel strong or wobbly, and tomorrow will be different. Some days, certain poses require modification because I can’t bend that way; it hurts, I need props, gentleness, maybe a slight wiggle to ease into place. It’s a practice, not a perfection. And it’s my practice, not up for comparison with others. It’s communal and personal, imperfect and improving. As with physical practice, so goes spiritual practice. Even the wobbles find acceptance so long as I keep at it. The practice itself imparts grace.

I can’t tell you today, on this Ash Wednesday as Lent begins, what this season will hold. I will read and write for sure. I will engage solitude and time with others. It may look a lot like life in any other season. I can tell you, however, that I will listen for whispers of invitation to Explore Playful Practice and follow where they lead.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Questions & More Questions

It rarely happens, but my words have stopped flowing. Not entirely, as I have experienced sudden word-gushes that burst in one direction or another. But the regular flow of words that lands in daily 20 minute journaling sessions and twice-weekly blog posts and daily social media posts…that flow has dammed up, leaving only trickles seeping into the muddy river bed.

For the last year-ish, I have been writing and editing a book. Recently, I have been crafting a book proposal that leads me to make more edits. I have written a guest blog post (coming soon) and a couple of articles that I’ve submitted to magazines; one was rejected (still a win, as I heard back from an actual editor that I was on the right track), the other is pending. I have joined two small writing groups in which we offer mutual encouragement and editorial suggestions, and I am taking another writing class for the next six weeks. All good for my writing and my soul, and would be better yet if I could actually get down to writing.

I suspect I’m distracted, so many good word-related options before me that I’m not sure where to start. Or the energy of being in editorial mode has redirected the flow. Or I may be suffering from a minor case of burn out. In any case, I hope it’s temporary.

I wonder: might you, dear readers, help me unbrick the dam and let loose my words?

What would you like to read? How might I serve you with my writing?

I write about a variety of topics on this blog. I’ll list a few, and some questions, and I welcome your questions.

Christian faith & practice. Everything I am and do starts with my love for Jesus. While Christianity might be my heart’s first language, I try to write in such a way that if you are new to faith or even wary of Christian faith, you will still find encouragement here. Something of a misfit in any circle, I’m in a particularly misfitted stretch of my spiritual journey, a place I never anticipated being. Still, my lifetime of faith whispers that I might be in this place so that, now or later, I will be able to guide others on similar paths.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Health & wellness. I am a vegetarian (leaning vegan-ish). I walk my dogs every day. I’m big on encouragement – Yay, YOU! – and self-care, including taking consistent, gentle care of our whole beings: physical, mental, spiritual, and social. I believe we have to get past the societal taboos surrounding mental health issues in order to be well and love one another well. Gratitude, the pursuit of joy, and time outdoors keep me grounded. And all of this flows from my belief that God created us and everything we see. That life is a gift we get to unwrap and enjoy every single day. That we have the responsibility to care not just for our own wellness, but for the wellness of others, including our planet.

Image by Sathish kumar Periyasamy from Pixabay

Creativity. Creativity could fall under health & wellness since I consider it essential for my self-care, but I write about it enough to make it its own category. Clearly, I create through writing. I also read voraciously, indulging in others’ storytelling gifts. Not an “artist,” I cling to the belief that creativity is good for everybody. That we all have an inner child who longs to express herself. That the product matters less than the process. That creative play adds joyful luster to our lives. Again, my emphasis on creativity finds its source in honoring the Creator.

Image by edith lüthi from Pixabay

Alright, your turn: have these topics and questions stirred anything up for you? What questions do you have? Jot them in the comments below or send me an email: sivricketts@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Cover Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

21 Ways to Jump Start Joy

During the last week of 2020 I greeted neighbors with a sing-song, “Happier New Year!”

One replied, “It’s got to get better, right?” to which I responded, “I’m not sure how it can get much worse.”

My husband raised his eyebrows. “Don’t tempt fate,” he warned.

We knew to expect that 2021 would continue the strange Blursdays experience that began in 2020. We also have hope that help is on its way, possibly soon. However, we have watched slack-jawed and wide-eyed as 2021 has already pitched a dramatic tantrum and hurled worse our way.

Like me, you may ride the roller coaster of all the Big Feels: frustration, anger, anxiety, shock, concern, helplessness, exhaustion. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to respond, how even to keep moving forward hour by hour.

Here’s my suggestion: make joy a priority. Stir a heaping spoonful of joy into your morning coffee or tea and sprinkle it on every meal and moment throughout the day. Snack on joy. Toss joy like confetti in each room of your house, in each relationship, in every arena of your life. As counterintuitive as joy may feel in these odd times, that’s exactly what makes joy so important. Practice joy even when you don’t feel it. Consider it a spiritual practice, necessary soul care.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

How do you practice joy, you ask? Check out this list of 21 simple tips to spark joy:

1. Go for a walk.
2. Light a candle.
3. Add a potted plant or a vase of cut flowers to every room.
4. Stand up and stretch. Do some jumping jacks to get the blood flowing.
5. Spend a few minutes on a swing.
6. Diffuse essential oils.
7. Snuggle a furry friend.
8. Drink a glass of water. While you’re at it, splash some water on your face.
9. Bake something. Or make something.
10. Read a book or magazine. Read the Bible.
11. Pray.
12. Phone a friend.
13. Write a thank you note to someone who adds joy to your life.
14. Write a thank you note to yourself.
15. Take a few deep breaths.
16. Journal what you’re grateful for.
17. Commit an intentional act of kindness.
18. Watch clouds. Name each cloud a worry and watch it float away.
19. Draw a picture of yourself as a child absorbed in your favorite activity.
20. Do that thing that made you happy as a child.
21. Turn on some happy music and dance.

To that last point, you may already have a playlist of mood boosting songs. I’ve been asking Alexa to play various upbeat artists as I prepare dinner each night. I did a search for Happy, Feel Good music and offer this list of 21 songs I’ll be dancing to in my kitchen:

1. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Martin Gay and Tammi Terrell
2. “All Star” by Smash Mouth
3. “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors
4. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake
5. “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang
6. “Dancing Queen” by ABBA
7. “Good Feeling” by Flo Rida
8. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
9. “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince
10. “Livin on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi
11. “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers
12. “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas
13. “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross
14. “I’m On Top Of the World” by Imagine Dragons
15. “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift
16. “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M.
17. “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon
18. “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson
19. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
20. “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & The Waves
21. “You Make My Dreams” by Daryl Hall & John Oates

@apeaceofwerk

This is Day 4 of a 7-day writing challenge with Hope*Writers. Today’s prompt is Twenty-One. Follow my Instagram for more.

Cover image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

Creativity as Spiritual Practice

I read in The Artist’s Way:

Are you contemplative? Yes.
Do you allow yourself to go on retreat? Oh, well…

Shortly thereafter, I saw a magazine ad for a nearby retreat center. An ad for the same center popped up on social media a few days after that; I clicked, and Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, would be speaking there soon. It was expensive.

A week later, I randomly received a yoga catalog in the mail. I flipped through, and saw that Cameron would be leading a retreat at a yoga center on the East Coast. Even more expensive.

Interesting: I’d considered retreat-ing, and opportunities popped into view.

About a week later, another ad appeared on social media: a FREE online retreat with Cameron and one of my favorite artists, SARK, plus five others. The topic: Creativity as Spiritual Practice. In my wheelhouse, do at my own speed, and free? Sign me up!

I’ve listened to two of the seven speakers so far and gained wisdom from both. As I took notes on the second speaker, though, a rather obvious thought grabbed me:

Creativity is a spiritual practice.

The speaker talked about being told as a child that she couldn’t draw, so she should find something else to do in life. She cut herself off from creativity and became a successful doctor instead. But she wasn’t whole until she recovered her creative self.

I want to write, “Who tells a child they can’t draw, so find another career?” Except, how many of us heard the same message? Art’s just not your thing, honey. You’ll find your thing, don’t worry.

Hogwash.

First of all, Art and Creativity aren’t necessarily the same thing. Too often we get all high and mighty about Art. Art hangs in museums, so the average human can’t make Art. Maybe not, but we can all create. And it doesn’t have to be your career, although it might be. It can be a hobby that fulfills you in ways you never imagined and influences who you are in all spheres.

Secondly, creativity is spiritual. At the least, it connects us to our own spirits. Creative activity is pure self-expression. As a Christian, I believe that humans have been created in the image of the Great Creator. We join God in co-creating our lives, and we image God most fully as we engage with Him in body, mind and spirit. I regularly practice my faith, praying/meditating, worship, etc. Why not fold creativity into that mix? I connect with God in new ways as I create.

Whatever you believe, creative work is less work than flow, getting things down rather than thinking them up. Receiving, not straining, and expressing. Poet Jon Fosse said, “To compose poetry,” he might have said, to create, “is about listening…it is, so to speak, about bringing forth something that already exists…”

Thirdly, creativity is about practice, not necessarily mastery. It’s not something you do just like anyone else. You do you. Not everyone can be Picasso, Matisse, O’Keefe, but everyone can express themselves. It doesn’t have to look like anything specific, and it doesn’t have to look like anything else anyone has made.

When I practice yoga, it’s my practice. I don’t have to do it perfectly, because the best I can do is breathe and stretch my own body, imperfect and healing and differently balanced each day. I don’t compare, because someone else’s breath and stretch makes for their practice. I don’t practice towards an end, but for the sake of my presence in the process.

When our kids were young, we expected them to participate in a sport most seasons: soccer, basketball, baseball, swim. Hiking and biking with family and friends on weekends. We didn’t expect them to be champions, but to enjoy movement, play a game, be active, learn good sportsmanship. Eventually, they’d tried enough sports to know what they liked and didn’t. They understand that physical exercise is a practice, a discipline for overall health.

Why don’t we treat creativity similarly? So what if you can’t draw, try painting. If not painting, ceramics. Try music or writing or collage, mosaic or poetry, jewelry making or sewing or cooking or…

Why oh why do so many young children hear the message that they’re just not creative, especially at, arguably, the most creative stage of their lives? No wonder so many adults don’t believe they are creative. We lose part of our humanness when we cut off our creativity.

Like playing sports, we can play at creativity. And like anything you practice, it gets easier over time.

Creativity is a spiritual practice. I’m all in. How about you?

Sabbath 1

As we enter Lent, the season in the Church calendar in which we focus on Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for love of us, we begin a wild and wandering conversation about Sabbath.

What does Sabbath mean to you?

Sabbath, #4 of the 10 Commandments, seems to be the one the Church feels free to omit. To our detriment. We have bought in to our non-stop culture and left God and our all-around health (spiritual, emotional, and physical) as sad and shrinking images in the rear-view mirror. In love, God takes us where we’re at, and our lives make do, but to be sure it’s not God’s best for our lives.

In the Bible, God says both to “remember” and “observe” the Sabbath. Lauren Winner (in her oh-so-helpful book, Mudhouse Sabbath) explains that for a few days we remember the last Sabbath, and for a few days we prepare for the next Sabbath. Sabbath becomes the guiding light in our conception of time.

It’s also about trust. Do I trust that the world depends on God, or do I act as if I believe the universe requires every ounce of my energy every minute of every day to keep spinning? Oh my, do I ever want to believe that the universe rests in God’s hands and not mine! But do I live into that truth?

I believe that Sabbath-keeping is good, as God ended each day of His creation of the world by declaring it “good.” When God was done with six days of creation, He rested. He modeled for us that, even though God–the all-powerful spiritual Being that He is–could not possibly have needed physical rest, He still took a restorative day-long break.

Obvious fact, and one I’ve missed for way too long: God created humans on Day #6. On Day #7, both God and His people rested.

What could it have meant to those first humans, that their first day on this pristine planet involved rest?

I think of my babies. Birthing, post-Eden, is laborious. Mama and Baby (and Dad, because he was all in) needed post-partum rest. For more than just a day, our world was reduced to basic survival: sleep, eat, snuggle…eat, sleep and snuggle some more.

Adam and Eve didn’t experience that birthing trauma, and they still got to rest. And enjoy companionship with God right off the bat. Hmm, jealous!

I don’t know what Sabbath looks like for you. I don’t even know what it looks like for me! Currently, my husband works way too many hours as a pastor. I work two part-time jobs for a wonky schedule. And we parent two teen/young adults. Not for the first time, Guy and I have begun conversations about what Sabbath could look like, for us as individuals, a couple, and a family. We believe God has good things in store as we ask the questions and begin taking steps toward a Sabbath practice.

Sabbath: The Power of Rest
Genesis 2:1-3 & Exodus 20:8-11

Connect
Reflect on one of your favorite leisure activities.

Study
Read Genesis 2:1-3
Why did God rest?
What did God do on the seventh day?
What does this passage tell us about God?
Read aloud Exodus 20:8-11
How are we to keep the Sabbath holy?
Why are we commanded to remember the Sabbath?
How does God’s work differ from ours, and what does that tell us about work and rest?

Live
God created humans on Day 6, then rested on Day 7. What do you think it meant to Adam and Eve that their very first day was one of rest?
What has been your experience with Sabbath-keeping?
Why does Sabbath seem to be the one of the 10 Commandments that the Church forgets?
What makes Sabbath-keeping difficult?
What might Sabbath look like in your life?
What would it take to implement a Sabbath practice?
What is God saying to you through this study, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to help you take steps toward implementing a Sabbath practice.

Family Share
Use these questions to reflect on Exodus 20:8-10 with your family.
If you had a whole day to do anything, what would you do and why?
What could you do to help your family get work done in six days so you could enjoy a day off together?
Ask God to help your family take a day off work.

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.