I was away the past two days at Classis, our denomination’s biannual regional meeting for pastors, elders, and deacons to discuss church business, planning, and policy. This was my first time as a delegate to an actual Classis meeting, as our spring meeting was by Zoom, due to Covid. I am not ordinarily a fan of business meetings and wasn’t sure how I’d feel about sitting through an evening meeting followed by much of the next day in meetings, but I loved being at Classis.
Of course it helped that Classis was held Camp Connri, a beautiful location in the quiet Northeastern corner of Connecticut, where I could sketch outside before it all started Wednesday and then early yesterday morning.
There was such an atmosphere of love for God and of a desire to honor him by serving and loving people, both those in the church and in the community at large, that the deliberations were inspiring to me on multiple levels. I especially enjoyed connecting with other delegates and hearing their thoughts and experiences of prayer and of ways of encouraging spiritual growth in ourselves and others. It was a privilege to meet with these very inspiring pastors, elders, and deacons in our region! I also was very inspired by sharing sketches and ideas with a fellow deacon from our church who’s also an artist and with an artist we met who is a leader in an Indonesian church in New Hampshire.
Of course I sketched people throughout the meetings, and as I look at my sketches now, I am reminded of those people and of some of what they said during the meetings and in conversations I had with them; in that sense my sketches function as notes, and also as prompts for prayer.
Mountains framed against cloud-mottled blue sky; orange monarch butterflies dancing over fields of goldenrod bright yellow in the sun; thunder rolling and echoing between mountains; silence broken only by the rushing and gurgling of a tumbling creek; warblers flitting among wildflowers; star-besprent sky resplendent with Milky Way and shooting stars; naps in a sun-warmed hammock; breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the deck overlooking forest and mountains; and days of rich silence…
I spent three days this past week on retreat in the Catskills. A personal retreat, to spend time with myself and God, and of course Ramble, who goes most places with me. I checked in with Stephen each evening, but otherwise spoke with no one the whole time, other than the woman at a farm stand where I bought deliciously fresh kale and new potatoes and also colorful chrysanthemums to plant back here at home. The Airbnb cabin I stayed in was refreshingly quiet and private, with a wonderful deck where I spent most of the past three days, except when out hiking. And except for during a thrilling thunderstorm the last evening and the peaceful pattering of rain the next morning. During those times I pulled a comfortable chair right in front of an open sliding glass door and simply sat enjoying the sights and sounds of the weather.
I’ve been longing for a time of solitude like this, and it more than met my expectations. I took a variety of books and sketching supplies, and I meandered between them and times of silent meditation and prayer.
I started out loosely working through Note to Self, by Charles LaFond, also referring to Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms, as I pondered and worked on a basic outline for writing my Rule of Life– personalized reminders for how grow into the life I wish for myself and that God desires for me, the process of spiritual transformation and growth. As Barton puts it, a Rule of Life seeks to respond to the questions, “Who do I want to be?” and “How do I want to live?” or “How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be?” I came up with seven broad categories I want to address, with each category broken down into more specific sections, on which I’ll write briefly, so I can then review one section each day, kind of like a daily Post-It Note to myself. I plan to work on fleshing out those chapters with encouraging, motivating, and challenging words over the next few weeks.
I then turned to The Gift of Being Yourself, by David Benner, which I’d read a while back and was ready to reread, and Christine Labrum’s Journey to Become. Throughout my retreat I punctuated reading and pondering with a few hikes, a couple of naps, some sketching of wondrous views, and times of simply sitting in silence. Both Journey to Become and The Gift of Being Yourself gave me much to think about as they helped me look at my life to better see where I am now spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and even physically. Journey to Become is laid out in short chapters combining artwork with insightful questions, so was perfect for a retreat, and I would often read a section, then ponder it as I hiked or sketched.
It will take me while to process all that came up during those times of reading, journaling, pondering, and praying, but the nutshell version is that I came away with a greater understanding of how weary I have been in body and soul. And I realized that much of that weariness is due to the many ways that I have been living according to other people’s expectations of me or, more accurately, my perception of other people’s expectations.
As I sat with that realization and allowed myself to feel the weariness, I sensed God’s invitation to rest from expectations, other people’s and my own, and enter a fallow time, when I may not be as externally productive as I like to be. I’m sure that will be hard for me at times, and I will have to resist the temptation to evaluate myself based on my productivity, but I am confident that as I rest in that way, my inner being will heal and expand more into who God has made me to be.
Of course, I have regular life to keep on living, with various responsibilities that are still here, so the challenge in those areas is to do them without slipping into feeling like I need to be better or stronger or in any way more than I am. I am planning to continue reading and pondering and also discussing some of these thoughts with Stephen and some close friends, and am hopeful that that will help me not simply return to my former patterns of being.
Another realization I came away with was that my weariness and weakness is exactly where Jesus can best meet me. As long as I am trying to be someone other than who he made me to be or to do all sorts of things to meet other people’s expectations, I am relying on myself and not on him. As the Apostle Paul said, “But [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)
Sketching as Prayer Retreat August 28, 2021
9:45 AM to 3:00 PM
Wappingers Falls, NY
Join us for a day of retreat, rest, and renewal as we open our sketchbooks or journals, eyes, and hearts to God’s presence in his creation and look to discover his fingerprints all around us. This is an opportunity to slow down and renew our focus on God through silence and prayer. We will also have times to encourage one another with the thoughts, insights, and sketches or written words that have come from our observation and meditation. Artistic experience not necessary; you can sketch with any kind of simple art supplies or with written words.
Saturday, August 28, 2021
9:45 AM to 3:00 PM Immanuel Church (Wappingers Falls, NY) Email Melissa Fischer (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more details or to let her know you’ll participate.
The Insanity of God is one of the most inspiring and challenging books I have read. Inspiring because of the many stories of believers who are steadfast in their passion for Christ, even while experiencing extreme persecution for their faith. And challenging as I contemplate the strong prayer lives of those Christians and realize how fickle my own prayer life is by comparison.
Nik Ripken (not his real name, in order to protect those whose stories he relates) starts out by describing the overwhelming and discouraging years when he and his wife were doing relief work and ministering in the devastation of Somalia in the 1990’s. His commitment to serve in obedience to Jesus’ call to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28: 19-20) in an extremely dangerous environment was challenging and has caused me to evaluate my own response to Jesus’ words.
After their son Timothy suddenly died of an asthma attack, the Ripkens returned to the States for a furlough in order to rest, recover, and deal with their discouragement, grief, and questions. Nik then embarked on a series of lengthy trips to regions of the world where Christians have been or still are severely persecuted for their faith. He relates details of many interviews with believers in former Soviet bloc countries, China, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and more. There were many stories that stood out to me, and what impressed me the most were the prayer lives of these persecuted believers. They depended on God and were guided by him in ways beyond my experience, but which rang true in how they glorified God. It was amazing to read about how these believers didn’t seek primarily to avoid persecution, which they could have done by remaining silent about their faith. Instead, they sought to share the good news of the Gospel in whatever ways they could. They were cautious and tried to avoid drawing the attention of authorities, but they didn’t let fear of persecution control or silence them.
This book has left me with a prayer (that I prayed often while reading the book) that my passion for God would grow and would lead to an ever-deepening prayer life. I want to know Christ more intimately and I want to love nothing in this world more than I love God. I have long considered Christ to be my greatest love, and I have hoped that if push came to shove, I would abandon anything else if challenged to declare my love for Christ. On a daily basis, though, I know that I am distracted by many things, and God often does not have the priority he should in my days. Reading The Insanity of God has given me a deep desire to more fully experience the work of the Holy Spirit in me, and through me to those with whom I interact.
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…”
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.
As the days warm up (at least for this week, who knows what next week will bring), more people and dogs are out enjoying the fresh air, sunshine, and quarantine-quiet roads. And I continue to enjoy watching and sketching many now familiar figures, as well as new ones.
Today was my weekly Quiet Day– a sabbath-like day I take most Saturdays to read, pray, and generally rejuvenate myself, as I relish God’s gift of rest and refreshment in a time of solitude and silence. And of course sketching is a part of that. Somehow when I pick up sketchbook and pen, I almost invariably find myself praying for at least some of time I’m sketching, sometimes in words of praise and worship, sometimes in prayer for others, and often just in quiet communion with God– prayer without words.
Some of my sketches “turn out,” others barely look like people, but all help me to see the dozens of people who go by as individuals, each unique in some way or another, each bearing the image of God in their being. For me, this season of Covid seems to be a time of focusing on people, whether my son and his family whom I’m here to help; or our other children and grandchildren in Texas, dealing with homeschooling all of a sudden, and North Carolina, adjusting to a new baby; or neighbors walking by, some of whom I meet as I walk my dogs; or my family at home in New York caring for my aged and ailing father; or the many people I know who are ill or at-risk or lonely because of Covid. Sketching my neighbors walking by is a daily reminder to consider all these people, those whom I know and those whom I have not yet met, and bring them before our loving God in prayer.
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.
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.
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8:1, 3-5, 9
God reveals his glory in all of his creation, and this coming week I will be reveling in the glory of creation as I spend time on the Maine coast. We’re close to a new moon, when the sky is dark, with stars unobscured by moonlight, so, weather permitting, I am planning to go to a location with no lights and stand in wonder under a dazzling canopy of stars.
With an abundance of natural beauty all around me, I’ll be pondering the magnitude and splendor of the universe and what that says to me of the God who created it all. I hope you will also be able to make time to go outside some clear night to look at the stars and meditate on what they reveal of our great God. Here is the url for a website that puts the size of Earth in perspective with the rest of the Universe- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nroo-i8t8vg
Monday: Ask God to open your eyes and your mind to what he is telling you through the world he created. Slow down long enough to look about you and savor some aspect of creation.
Tuesday: Take some time today to consider the vastness of creation. What does it tell us of God’s power? Praise God for his creation and for what it reveals to you of who he is.
Wednesday: Meditate today on the wonder of God’s love for us, small as we are in the world he has made. What does that reveal to you of your worth to God? Let’s carry that thought with us throughout the day today.
Thursday: Think of the many peoples of the world who are treated as though they have no value or honor for any of a variety of reasons. Ask God what you can do as an individual to make a difference in some small way. What can you do to help the people you encounter on a daily basis have a better sense of their inherent value?
Friday: Recently I’ve been stepping outside several times a day on overly busy or stressful days to simply focus on the sun shining on treetops, or dewdrops sparkling on morning grass, or on stars watching over the earth at bedtime. Doing this has calmed me and has often helped me regain perspective on who God is and who I am. Think about how you can plan in some intentional moments of creation observation today and in the coming days.
Saturday: Let’s wrap this week up by looking for things great and small in creation that fill us with wonder and awe at God’s greatness. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!