I’ve just recently launched a new website, The Art of Prayer, where I will explore the intersection of my art and my relationship with God and will post my thoughts and experiences about prayer.
God made me an artist, and when I neglect my art, I neglect one of the primary ways God designed me to worship him and be in communion with him. I find that when I sketch, more than when I focus on a finished painting or drawing, I tend to unconsciously move into an awareness of God’s presence and into a sense of wonder. Sketching is, for me, a way of simply being with God. God made me an artist. I need to do my art in some way or another, or I feel as though my soul is drying up. Sketching is a way I do that without being concerned for how others will react to my art, and that frees me to be more fully in the moment and present with God.
Between 2006 and 2016 I wrote suggestions for daily prayer based on Scripture that were published in our church bulletin each week. I’ve decided to start rewriting and posting these prayer suggestions on The Art of Prayer site under Praying Scripture Daily. I invite you to join me in praying with Scripture and also in exploring ways to connect with God through art. I’d love to hear how others find that art enriches their relationship with God or draws them closer to him.
I’m pondering these words and thoughts today. There is a time for everything, but there certainly isn’t time for everything. I’ve been feeling stretched thin recently, between having an older dog, most likely in his final months (a sobering reminder that his time to die is approaching), and spending more time visiting and helping my parents as they get older. Nathaniel and Meghan will soon be in NYC, bringing our two delightful grandchildren to the East Coast for a month, so I am very much anticipating a time to visit and to babysit (a time to laugh). I’m also doing what I can to help Arielle with her wedding planning (a time to dance!). This is just a small sampling of what’s been on my plate recently or will soon be on it, and I’m realizing my plate is overly full.
I have been preparing for and leading lively Sunday morning discussions on Sabbath and rest, which takes a lot of time, but also reminds me weekly of the need for downtime, for quiet, renewing and refreshing time in God’s presence (a time to be silent). As I take some time to be quiet and evaluate how I’m spending my time, I am realizing that it is time to drop some of what I am doing, so that I can fully appreciate the things that it is really time for.
Time is passing, as it always does, and I want to be sure I don’t miss that which is important. When Rowan needs extra attention, as he does more and more, I want to be relaxed enough to be fully present with him. When I am, I cherish that time, knowing that it is precious and irreplaceable. When my parents have an appointment or would like to have lunch with me, I want to be available and not rushed, fully present with them and enjoying the time together. When my children and grandchildren are here, I want to be a relaxed mom and grandmother, ready to sit on the floor and play with blocks, calm enough to peacefully rock a crying baby if needed. And through it all, I value evening walks with Stephen and quiet times hanging out together (hopefully soon by the fireplace, if it’s cool enough).
And now it’s fall, my favorite season of the year, and time outside enjoying nature adds color to all of life. Sketching, whether autumn colors from our deck, or birds at the feeder, or wolves at the wolf center, calms my soul, helping me to be quiet and still enough to notice with wonder God’s fingerprints in the world around me, so easily missed when I rush through packed days. And then I am more likely to hear his still, small voice helping me sort through all I could do to know what is best to do.
I will probably post some musings and prayers in the coming weeks, but won’t be doing so regularly, as that is one of the things I’ll be letting go as other things take priority. This week I will especially be pondering these verses. I think most of us are familiar with the thoughts in verses 1-8, but as I read verses 9-14 this morning, I was really struck by the peace of verses 11-13, and I am writing them out to post on my desk this week. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil?10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
There is so much in the news right now, between natural disasters, interpersonal violence, and ugly politics that if I dwell too much on those situations and issues I can easily feel overwhelmed and discouraged. I need to remind myself to focus on what is good and right and beautiful, in order to keep a positive perspective, even while considering how to respond to the various situations that present themselves. In fact, I find that, rather than being an escape, focusing on that which is good helps me then have a better idea of how to respond appropriately and constructively to situations that need my attention.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
We can choose what we allow our minds to dwell on. In this passage Paul points us in the direction of uplifting meditation.
Monday: Let’s discipline our minds today to focus on things that are just and honorable. Pray for a growing ability to recognize truth.
Tuesday: Let’s ask God to give us an appreciation for purity and true beauty, then look for such things today.
Wednesday: Do you tend to dwell on that which is commendable or that which is unattractive in others? Choose to focus on others’ strengths and see how that affects your attitude and speech.
Thursday: Throughout today let’s be alert for excellence, whether man-made or in creation, and stop to think about what makes it excellent.
Friday: Let’s look for reasons to praise God and people today. Be sure to give sincere praise wherever praise is due.
Saturday: Think about these things… Make the choice to dwell on that which is good and uplifting and encouraging.
Sometimes life feels overwhelming and exhausting, and the last thing we want is another obligation, yet it seems like there’s always more that needs to be done. In our Sunday morning discussion of Sabbath rest yesterday, we spent most of the hour delving into Jesus’ invitation to come to him, rest, and learn from him. Jesus invites those who are weary and burdened; let’s come to him this week and receive his refreshing peace.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
Monday: Do you tend to view with spending time with God as a duty or a privilege? Meditate on Jesus’ words in this passage and ponder what they say about time with him.
Tuesday: Jesus invites us into his presence. We don’t need to make an appointment or be in church or make ourselves worthy- he invites each of us now, wherever we are. Spend some time with him today and thank him for welcoming you.
Wednesday: We don’t have to come to Jesus all upbeat and happy. He invites us to bring our burdens to him and to come when we’re weary and in need. Bring your troubles to Jesus, and rest. Just rest.
Thursday: Jesus tells us to take his yoke upon us, to walk in step with him, and that we’ll find his yoke easy and light. Walk in his ways him and talk with him throughout the day today.
Friday: Jesus is gentle and humble. Think about what grace this is for us, when he is also Lord of all. Pray for the ability to likewise be gentle and humble with those over whom you have power or influence.
Saturday: It is only in Jesus that we can find true rest for our souls. Come to him, learn from him, and receive the peaceful rest he gives.
All are welcome to join us for our discussions about rest and Sabbath on Sunday mornings from 9-10. More information below…
I’ve been reading on Sabbath rest as I prepare to teach a Sunday school class on it, and several authors point out that often our extreme busyness is due to our efforts to justify ourselves; to prove to ourselves or others that we are valuable. To combat that I find it helpful to meditate on Scripture verses that speak of my inherent worth as someone created by God and loved just for who I am. Over time, this message is sinking in deeper into my sense of who I am, but it’s always good to review, so this week, that’s what I’m going to focus on here.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. Genesis 1:27, 31
The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17
God created mankind in his image and said that we were very good, and he now delights in us. This week let’s allow that to sink in and affect how we view both ourselves and others.
Monday: Think about the marvelous truth that you are created in God’s image. What does that say about your value? Do you treat yourself as one bearing the image of God?
Tuesday: Ask God to open your eyes to the beauty of his image in everyone you encounter today. Look for opportunities to affirm them as image-bearers of God.
Wednesday: God said the people he made were very good. Look with admiration at the work he has done in how he’s made you and others. Praise him for his craftsmanship!
Thursday: God rejoices over us. Isn’t that amazing?!! Quiet yourself in his presence today, meditate on the words of this verse, and bask in the wonder of God’s love.
Friday: When you speak with anyone today, try to think of them as someone over whom God is rejoicing with gladness. Pray for the ability to be able to join with God in rejoicing over who he has made them to be.
Saturday: Meditate on these and other verses and let God’s word transform your opinion of yourself and others. Allow yourself to be filled with awe and joy as you see God’s handiwork in and love for people of all sorts.
My sweet Rowan most likely has nasal cancer. I say “most likely,” because I’m not going to put him through the stress of a biopsy or other diagnostics, but his symptoms point to a nasal tumor. We’re giving him prednisone to keep him comfortable as long as possible, and I am cherishing all the time I have with this wonderful dog, who has been by my side for thirteen years.
A few months ago, though, I was having a harder time enjoying time with Rowan. He has been declining for a while with cognitive dysfunction (dementia), and as he became at times confused and disconnected, I found myself distancing myself from him emotionally. I think that was an unconscious response on my part to my fear of losing him, as if distancing myself now would somehow protect me from the hurt of losing him.
Then a friend told me that perhaps Rowan, who has always taught me so much, is now teaching me about life and death. He encouraged me to stay connected, fully experiencing both the joy of Rowan’s presence and the sadness of impending loss. I realized that distancing myself to protect my heart wouldn’t work anyway; the loss will come, but I will be better off if it isn’t mingled with regret. And as I am finding now, through moments of joy and moments of tears, there is a unique sweetness in this time with Rowan.
As is often the case, lessons I learn from dogs make me think about other relationships, and as I ponder this connection, disconnection, and reconnection with Rowan, I am thinking also of my connections with other people. This week I’m hoping to cultivate peace and gratitude in my heart and in my relationships of all sorts. This passage is rich with encouragement on how to have peace in our relationships with one another, so let’s meditate on it together this week.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Colossians 3:15-17 The Message
Monday: We need peace in our own hearts in order to be able to be in tune with one another, but sometimes we choose to go our own way, avoiding the peace and joy of connection for whatever reason. Let’s think today about whether our words and actions lead to greater or lesser connection, along with the peace that connection brings.
Tuesday: Gratitude is essential to having peace. Throughout today, think of what you have for which you’re grateful, and thank God for those things and for the time to enjoy them in the present.
Wednesday: God’s word imparts wisdom and points the way to peace with God and one another. Ask God to give you a growing hunger for his word. Spend time today mulling on a passage of Scripture, allowing it to dwell in you richly. This week’s passage is one I meditate on frequently, allowing it to deeply affect my attitude.
Thursday: When we give each other any kind of guidance, it must be done wisely and sensibly. Pray for wisdom and grace to be able to do this humbly, lovingly, and respectfully.
Friday: Whether or not we sing aloud during the day, we can have an attitude of praise and thanksgiving, based on our knowledge of God and of his amazing works. Praise him today!
Saturday: In all we do or say, we can it in the name of Jesus, faithfully representing him to the people around us. Thank God for the awesome privilege of representing Christ and pray for the ability to do it well.
My heart is aching for a friend whose beloved husband died unexpectedly this morning. I also know several other people who are grieving deeply for loved ones, as well as others who are dealing with trials of various other sorts, so I thought I’d share my musings and prayer suggestions on one of my favorite passages. These words from Isaiah have often sustained me when I’ve felt like everything was too much and I wondered how I’d get through it all.
“But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.’” Isaiah 43:1-2
God reassures us that we need not fear, that we belong to him, that he will be with us through painful trials, and that he will keep us from being destroyed. This week let’s seek to apply these words to our struggles and to develop a greater understanding of what it means to belong to God.
Monday: Meditate on the thought that God personally formed you. Ponder the wonder of God lovingly fashioning you in all your uniqueness.
Tuesday: What do you fear most? God tells us that we need not fear anything, because we belong to him and he’ll keep us in his care through all that comes our way. Bring your fears to him and ask him to keep you in safety.
Wednesday: God made each of us a unique individual and he knows us personally. Listen for whatever ways he might be calling your name, and follow him as the special person he made you to be.
Thursday: God tells us we are his. We belong to him, so we need never feel that we are abandoned or alone. Meditate on this and thank God for this assurance.
Friday: Although we will face difficulties, God is with us and keeps us from being overwhelmed or destroyed. Ask him to help you trust him throughout trials.
Saturday: Read over this week’s passage, pondering each phrase and thinking of how it speaks to your heart. Pray for the ability to incorporate it deeply into your outlook on life. Ask God how you can help and encourage others when they’re going through fiery trials of life.
I’ve been reading and pondering a couple of books about stress reduction and rest recently. Even though I cherish quiet time, I need frequent reminders of how important it is to schedule in time for real rest, since it’s easy to feel that I should be using as much of my time as possible productively, like many of the people around me. Stephen mostly works from home, but once a week he goes to his office, so that I can have a quiet day at home alone. Ideally I spend these days reading, resting, sketching, walking, praying, and so on. Sometimes, though, I find myself catching up on emails and other correspondence, doing several loads of laundry, cleaning, and so on.
Both of the books I’m reading emphasize the importance of evaluating priorities and living intentionally. I’m finding the book on rest, Sabbath, by Wayne Muller, particularly interesting and helpful, as he talks about developing a rhythm in our lives that includes putting a priority on rest and relationship. He discusses the way our society tends to value money over time and how that can impoverish us personally, relationally, and spiritually. This month I am focusing on establishing some helpful daily and weekly patterns or rhythms for myself, and this week I want to focus on the idea of Sabbath rest, especially thinking of it as a gift of rest and relationship, rather than as an onerous restriction.
No working on the Sabbath; keep it holy just as God, your God, commanded you. Work six days, doing everything you have to do, but the seventh day is a Sabbath, a Rest Day—no work: not you, your son, your daughter, your servant, your maid, your ox, your donkey (or any of your animals), and not even the foreigner visiting your town. That way your servants and maids will get the same rest as you. Don’t ever forget that you were slaves in Egypt and God, your God, got you out of there in a powerful show of strength. That’s why God, your God, commands you to observe the day of Sabbath rest.
Deuteronomy 5:12-15 The Message
Monday: Set aside some time as holy (which means “set apart”), a time for resting from work and for communion with God.
Tuesday: Thank God that he values us and our presence with him and not just the work we do.
Wednesday: Ask God to help you slow down to rest your mind and body and to nurture your relationship with him.
Thursday: How can you encourage the people in your life to set aside their work at times so they can rest. Ask if there’s some way you can help or affirm them in doing so.
Friday: Think back on what God has freed you from. Meditate on the amazing thought that God has freed you to be in relationship with him!
Saturday: Enjoy your time with God today. Read, pray, laugh, sing, or walk with him, and praise him for his redeeming love.
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Colossians 3:12-14 The Message
Monday: God loves us deeply and has chosen us to live for and with him. It can take time for these truths to sink deeply into our hearts in a way that shapes our thinking and being, so let’s meditate on these words today and all this week.
Tuesday: Just as you select and wear certain clothes, choose to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience today and tomorrow.
Wednesday: Think about people who are hard for you to get along with. Pray for grace to bear with them patiently and respectfully.
Thursday: Ponder how freely and fully God forgives. Pray for the willingness and ability to extend similar forgiveness to those who have wronged you.
Friday: To “put on” love is a choice we make. Think about how you can put on love so that it shapes all your interactions today.
Saturday: Love enables us to have unity or integrity in our character, as it provides context for all the other virtues we’re told to put on. Ask God to grow your love for him and for his people.
Two weeks ago I visited my parents’ church, where the sermon was based on the story of Jesus and his disciples visiting Martha and Mary for dinner. Mary was sitting listening at Jesus’ feet, while Martha did all the serving, and Martha got bent out of shape and irritable that Mary wasn’t helping. Then this week at our church, our pastor preached on the same passage! God got my attention the first time, two weeks ago; he got it even more strongly this week with the repetition of the passage and a similar message, so I will be pondering this closely during the coming days.
I am by nature a Mary– I cherish quiet times of contemplation, and I enjoy learning, either by meditating on Jesus’ words in Scripture or by listening and observing, especially to nature. But I can also get into a productive mode, getting a lot done and feeling good about it. Sometimes, though, I all too easily shift into feeling like I’m doing too much or being resentful that someone else isn’t helping enough. I think those are the times this passage is addressing.
Of course, doing is both necessary and important. It’s easy to read this passage as an indictment against Martha and those who are busy like her, but I don’t think that’s what it’s saying. I really like what my pastor said yesterday about Jesus’ words to Martha being not so much a rebuke as an invitation– an invitation to her (and to us) to bring worry and anxiety to him and then sit at his feet to be renewed, so that we can go on to serve gladly in whatever way God has made us to serve.
In the message a couple of weeks ago, my parents’ priest (who says she is a Mary and her sister is a Martha) suggested reading The Practice of the Presence of God, a very motivating short book by Brother Lawrence, a 17th monk who learned to be attentive to God even in the midst of his daily work in the monastery kitchen. For this week I want to respond to Jesus’ invitation to sit at his feet and then take that focus with me as I go about whatever work I do.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Monday: Let’s take time today to be quiet in Jesus’ presence, reading his word, Scripture, or meditating on creation and what it reveals about him.
Tuesday: Today let’s think about the responsibilities or concerns that distract us from focusing on God. Talk with Jesus about your work and your anxiety.
Wednesday: Do you resent others or God because of the responsibilities you have? Ask God for insight into how your approach to work affects your relationships with him or other people.
Thursday: Most of us are anxious or troubled at some time. Ask Jesus for the ability to keep your priorities right, even when you have much on your mind.
Friday: Mary chose “what is better,” time with Jesus, listening to and learning from him. Let’s do this today and find peace and wisdom in him.
Saturday: God doesn’t call us to work all the time or to overload ourselves with responsibility. Praise him for being a God who wants us as friends, not slaves.