Jul 30 2011

Creating Space for Beauty

Waterhouse roses full length best

I’ve found that experiencing beauty as a regular part of my day requires cultivating a welcoming space: physical space, such as having a special area to display something I find beautiful or art supplies at the ready for creating; space in my schedule to intentionally notice beauty, such as walking to a look-out, taking my camera on an urban hike, hand writing a letter, or sharing a meal and seeing the beauty of a friend; and mental space, where I release behaviors and thoughts which clutter my head and blind my eyes to joy, and instead look at life with a gaze of gratitude.

When I invest energy in looking with a grateful eye on all that is beautiful, small things and experiences especially, it balances me and helps me see life as a whole, not just what is painful or difficult in the moment.

When I intentionally cultivate space for daily beauty, I find that any energy invested multiplies exponentially. Beauty is nourished by beauty.

2011-04-17_15-25-54_722

Awhile ago, I wrote about seeing a lovely cottage and garden near my apartment, and how sad I was, knowing that owning such a place is many years down the road. After pouring out my desire to God, it became clear that I had a choice: live in sadness and scarcity, looking longingly toward a future dream, or make space to be inspired by the real beauty of that garden and to cultivate a similar beauty in my own life.

DSC_0285

Making space for beauty, or really anything, is difficult if we keep a death grip on one vision or image of what must fill the space.

Instead, if we clear the space and then let beauty breathe into it (in-spire it), what fits our particular life and situation can grow organically.

DSC_0271

We make space for the possibility of beauty. Rather than making demands, we invite, welcome, practice hospitality.

For me, after seeing the cottage garden, inviting beauty meant taking time to clean up my balcony and simply sit, allowing a vision of beauty for that space to superimpose itself on reality.

Clearing mental space helped me feel: my hands were itching to get into dirt and to nurture growing life. I realized I didn’t want a ready-made garden, but to start from scratch.

Then, after planting the seeds, patience was necessary to nurture the space, as I waited weeks for any sign of life and then more weeks until flowers bloomed.

Now, when I look out on my balcony, I see the beauty of that cottage garden, but in a form perfect for my situation. The bees buzz, butterflies flutter, and hummingbirds greet me in the morning. A bit of Eden, four storeys up.

DSC_0311

Gardens are all through scripture, places of growth and healing.  A garden at the beginning when all things were new, the garden of Gethesmane when tears flowed and angels soothed, a garden for the tomb when the world held its breath. Even for the resurrection, in the garden, Jesus greeted is beloved friend, and what could happen but, “She thought he was the gardener.”  So true.

And finally, finally, the end and a new beginning: a Garden around a Tree in center of the Beautiful City.

That final glorious Day will come, but the greening, growing beauty of that Day can in-spire our days now.

Clear some space, welcome Beauty, wait and see.

What is a beauty that captures your heart?

This week, clear some space, in your physical surroundings, in your schedule, and in your thoughts for this beauty to find a home.

No need to fill the space, just let it breathe.

What vision reveals itself?

DSC_0269



Mar 2 2011

Guested by God

I simply sit at my desk this morning, in silence, pen in hand, paper ready for whatever words might come. My pinched heart stretches and expands and trusts a little more, to live a little larger, feel a little more deeply, ask more scary questions, hope more strongly in what I believe.

DSC_0256

The Spirit’s breath is like a hummingbird by my ear and God’s presence surrounds, the Love that weaves all moments of doing and living together.

But then my heart shrinks back from the Presence which is all that is Love and Joy and Beauty and Truth.

Too vulnerable, I whisper, too intimate.

So away from the moment and the face of God I flee, disconnecting and distracting myself with even the best of gifts and joys.

Ferry Flyer by SLF

It is not simply God that I flee, but myself:  All that I am, all I wish I wasn’t and all that I long to be reflected in that Face.

And God pursues me, until I stop and turn and be simply Susan. Here. Now.

DSC_1004

God names, calls, woos, loves us, to the ends of the earth and the farthest reaches of time, always whispering,

“Yes, I see that, and this, and even that, and I love you. I love you. Always. Keep your eyes on me.

4483469721_c594467731_b-1

To welcome God’s presence in this moment means welcoming ourselves as well with God’s own hospitality. No posturing, not hiding, no fleeing, otherwise the hospital-now of graced healing cannot do its work.

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be she.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
(George Herbert)

In every moment, we are guested by Love.

DSC_0591

And as we are welcomed by Love, and welcome ourselves, welcoming others becomes a way of life.

Love welcomes the weary and angry hearts, the dry and cracked deserts of lost dreams, the icy wastes of bitter memory, the apathetic spirit of nothing-will-change.

Then sweeping God goes to work with her broom and clears and cleans, finding the lost coins of gifts with laughing joy on her lips.

The shepherd God goes searching high and low for the wandering heart, finding it shivering and cold, alone and afraid, Come with me, little one.

The long-loving  God runs to us and welcomes us home with a feast to this gift of life, and feeds the famished with his own self.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Come, in this moment, sit and eat.

DSC_0475-1


Jan 28 2011

Florilegium, Latin, “a gathering of flowers”

DSC_0655

I just finished rereading a fascinating book by a monastic historian and classically-trained scholar, Jean LeClerq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God.  He details the educational system and literary culture of 9th-12th century monasticism, which deeply influenced Christian life and education during that time.

scriptorium

Back in the day, as in 10 centuries ago and earlier, monks wrote on sanded-smooth animal vellum, painstakingly copying and illuminating manuscripts.  This page will give you an idea of the process. For a modern example, the breath-taking St John’s Bible is being crafted using the techniques of the medieval scriptoriums.  Below is an illustration of St Mark from the Lindesfarne Gospels (7th-8th C).

mark-lindisfarne

Writing was a mentally and physically demanding process, and that was in addition to the actual composition of the prose.  The monks didn’t just copy religious or specifically Christian texts either. To the monasteries we owe the continuity of historical records, as well as the preservation of Greek and Latin literature and philosophical texts. Why? The monks were educated through these texts, they found them beautifully written and believed many were inspiring for living life well–a truly classical education, enjoyed and used in the love of God.

While copying manuscripts required time and expense, there were often left over scraps of vellum available for the monks to copy down quotes from scripture or other texts on which they wanted to meditate personally.  These scraps were often bound together into a florilegium, Latin from flos (flowers), legere (to gather).

A bouquet of literary flowers. The monks were such romantics.

Florilegium--Rothschild Canticles 14th C

We have examples of these quote collections which helps historians know what people were reading and who were the well-loved authors of that day. Above is a 14th century florilegium called the Rothschild Canticles.

Each Friday, I’m going to offer a digital florilegium of a few quotes from books I’m reading.  These texts could be from scripture, contemporary and historical authors, dissertation reading on prayer and education, or just some random yummy-quote-goodness!

medievalwoman_writer


Nov 12 2010

Lentil Soup for the Body and Spirit

DSC_0640

Yesterday as I sniffed and sneezed and shivered from the flu, the thought came to mind: “Surely, I can watch a movie since I can’t focus on anything else right now.” But alongside that thought was another, and thankfully, louder one: The whole point behind taking a break from 2-D screen stories was to practice not using them as an escape from unpleasantness. So I didn’t. And as I turned the heat up to broil and put on three layers and shuffled aimless from room to room, a story came to mind from the desert fathers.

Abba Antony was struggling with weary boredom in his life and work (it’s odd to think of those radical monks getting bored), and prayed for wisdom about how to deal with it.  Later, when Antony got up to go out, he saw a man that looked like him, sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray (desert monks stood to pray and then did a full bow, with knees and head to the ground), then sitting down and working, then getting up again to pray. Antony realized it was an angel of the Lord sent to teach and reassure him. The angel said, ‘Do this and you will be saved.’ Anthony felt both joy and renewed courage at the angel’s words.

Now, the desert fathers are best when not taken too literally.  There was more to Antony’s life than work and prayer. This story focuses on identifying and taking simple mini-steps in moments of challenge.

DSC_0770

I took a good look around my apartment and knew that, one step at a time and very slowly, I could pick it up (it had that 48-hour-sickroom-no-energy-to-put-things-away look) and choose to make something sustaining and healing to eat. My spirit was willing (sort of), but my body was weak.

Ah, yes. The body.

Somehow, even as a staunch believer in Jesus’ incarnation, divinity in human skin, my reflections on contemplative living have rarely mentioned the body’s role in spirit-full practices. And the body is important, because it is where we are and partners in all our choices.  If the body is not convinced, well, it’s going to be tough going.  The body can register a complaint quite loudly.

I firmly believe that contemplative living (meaning a prayerful attentiveness to 3-D life and God in the midst of said life) is possible in any circumstance.  It looks different for me than my dear friend with two small children and twinfants.  (I’m constantly in awe of her ability to deeply pay attention and prayerfully reflect in the midst of the physical and mental joys/demands of four children.) Or my former pastor, who shared that set-apart daily times for prayer and being in the Word were the only way he could keep going.

The particular situation, the embodied life, is the only place where the choice for contemplative living can be made–not a pretend “if-only-I-lived-in-a-monastery (or fill in the blank), then-I-could-pay-attention” life.

Sometimes the body needs a gentle (or not so gentle) nudge, sometimes it has a deeper wisdom that needs to be listened to.  The Holy Spirit meets us faithfully where we are at (in our bodies) and helps us to discern when to nudge it in a different direction or when to follow its suggestion. I did pick up my apartment and cook dinner, doing a single-task shuffle while listening to big band holiday music.

I also took a long nap in the midst of it. Resting is a step just as much as work.

DSC_0004

***

DSC_0765

In honor of the body’s (and spirit’s) need for nutritious and yummy food, and my current non-dissertation reading, Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, I will leave you with the most amazing (and easy) soup recipe, slightly adapted, from her food blog, Orangette:

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

4 Tbsp. olive oil, plus additional good oil for drizzling
2 large yellow onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. kosher salt, or more to taste
A few grinds of freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Pinch of cayenne or Aleppo pepper, or more to taste
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups red lentils, picked through for stones and debris
2 large carrots, peeled and diced (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

In a large pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onions and garlic and cook until golden, about 6 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne, and cook for 4 minutes longer. Add the broth, 2 cups water, the lentils, and the carrots. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Continue to cook until the lentils are soft, about 40 minutes. Taste, and add more salt if necessary. Stir in the lemon juice and cilantro.  (I left out the pepper, carrots, and cilantro.)

DSC_0767


Nov 8 2010

Doing Scales

DSC_0680

Every Friday was painful. Literally.

Band-aids covered my fingers and the shaking in my voice went to the tips of my toes. Hardly any of the strings rang clearly and my voice was a whisper.

The only comfort was everyone had their moment in front of Miss Samuelson’s guitar class.  I practiced on the guitar until my fingers were red and hurt so bad I cried. I practiced an hour everyday in class and then more in the evening, just to perform Leaving on a Jet Plane or Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, with some shred left of my 7th grade dignity.

I practiced as I had never practiced before.

DSC_0688

Weeks and weeks passed. The pain gradually diminished and my fingers did not agonize over every chord change and I learned to sing alone.

I kept singing after that year, but the guitar grew dusty until I went to college and discovered God not only enjoyed organ hymns and choir music, but also guitar praise choruses.  And I finally was thankful for the band-aids and shaking, as I learned to worship and lead others in singing.

DSC_0685

Practicing has become an important concept for me.  Other life experiences made me think a person either has a skill or doesn’t, and there really isn’t much that can be done.  But it simply isn’t true. We can practice.

And even more important.  We can fail. Put band-aids on our fingers or our hearts, and get back to practicing.

“The ambitions we have will become the stories we live.  If you want to know what a person’s story is about, just ask them what they want.” (Donald Miller)

What do you want, enough to practice over and over, enough to risk failure, enough to walk through some discomfort?

God invites us to practice with the Holy Spirit.  Doing scales each day in prayer and God’s Word, playing the pieces of our lives–choices, conversations, relationships, work, griefs, hopes, pain. We can learn over time and with the Spirit to play them with less fear, with more love and trust. Maybe even with gratitude.  The goal is not a perfect grade, but a life sung in worship to the glory of God and for the sake of others.

And the best promise of God’s grace and hope:

I so often miss the notes and still God carries the tune.

In gratitude for…

Life with less screen time, growing more comfortable with silent solitude, so thankful for focus and renewed creativity.

An interview for a dream position at a dream school.

Delightful lunches and encouraging conversations with friends.

Getting caught up in the Story this week and finding a spark for evangelism growing in my heart.

Three adults and two children singing “In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful” in the car to calm the twinfants’ chorus of crying.  A choir could never sound as beautiful.

Spending a delightful hour with my young friend Jack, buzzing down the aisles of Costco, talking and laughing.

holy experience


Oct 27 2010

Luke 6:45

(I’m joining with Ann Voscamp’s Walk with Him Wednesday  blogging community and sharing about a scripture verse I’ve memorized.)

DSC_1061

I’d always focused on the negative side of Luke 6:45: an unloving heart speaks hurtful words and makes people sad, or a silly heart says embarrassing things, and on and on. So at some point, I decided to hide my hurtful words and my silly words, so my unloving and silly heart wouldn’t be found out and cause problems.

Of course, it didn’t work and just made me feel worse. What I really wanted was a heart that said loving words and words that weren’t embarassing.

A while ago, during the stress of comprehensive exams, I started doodling a story about Little Me and Jesus.

Little Me

Little Me took her heart to Jesus and something happened:

Little Me and New Heart

And then Jesus sent her on an adventure:

Little Me on an adventure

A few months ago, I read Luke 6:45 and realized that there was another side to the verse–the positive side–so I memorized it and it has been my prayer: that Jesus would give me the little glowing heart from my Little Me doodles so that it could be shared with others.

“The good woman out of the good treasure of the heart produces good…For it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

Only Jesus can give that abundance and does so with joy! And then he sends us on adventures….

holy experience

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...