Rhythm of Life and Books, Books, Books

It’s been over two months since I posted, and I am planning to start posting art and musings somewhat more regularly. I have recently decided to step back from most of Facebook, which is giving me more time (it’s so easy to lose vast amounts of time browsing through friends’ news feeds and reading comments), and, more importantly, is freeing up more mental energy. I am still posting some artwork and photos on Facebook, but I am reading very little there and am enjoying greater peace of mind and more time to read and to make art, whether painting or sketching.

We came home from Maine near the end of June, and since then I’ve been taking time off from my dog training business to get settled back in after three months away, but mostly to recover from many months of stress that started with my parents’ health issues back in the fall, included some health issues for Stephen and me, then the twins’ premature birth and our temporary and sudden move to Maine, then my father’s illness and death. And then I wiped out on my bicycle and cracked a few ribs a week before we returned home from Maine. I was ready for a break!

During this time I’ve been trying to establish a better rhythm for my days, and toward that end I’ve been reading some helpful books, as well doing much pondering as I walk the dogs and some journaling most mornings. One book which I’m very much appreciating right now is The Pressure’s Off, by Larry Crabb, who has long been a favorite author of mine. I’ve only read the first few chapters, but he emphasizes the absolute importance of desiring intimacy with God over the blessings we would like to have in this life. He says that as long as we believe that if we live a certain way doing the “right” things we are likely to have the life we want (health, comfortable home, children who are doing well, etc), we will be under tremendous pressure to “get it right.” But if our greatest desire is to draw close to God no matter how things are going in our life, the pressure is off, because we aren’t focused on outcomes that we can’t really control anyway, and we can be satisfied at the deepest level of our being that nothing but God can truly satisfy, since we were created for connection with him.

I’m also reading Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton, another favorite author of mine. I’m only in the third chapter, but she starts right out talking about longing for God, about reading Scripture in a way that draws me into the story and then makes the story of Scripture a part of my life, and about solitude– how I love that word as an invitation to my soul to step out from under the pressure of daily life and expectations!

Just yesterday I started reading Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris, which I expect will stir in me a desire for a Benedictine-like rhythm to my days, which will help maintain my focus and dependence on God. I have previously read on and pondered Benedictine spirituality and always found it helpful, but it’s hard to stay on track without some sort of accountability (which is built into Benedictine life). Both Larry Crabb and Ruth Haley Barton talk about the need for spiritual friendships that provide ongoing encouragement and discernment, which brings me to another book I’m reading and discussing with a close friend: Crafting a Rule of Life, by Stephen Macchia. I’ve found it a bit tedious at times, but useful for helping me sort through various aspects of my life, interests, passions, goals, and responsibilities, and I think discussing it with a friend will help with both discernment and mutual encouragement. That seems especially important during this time of somewhat limited interaction with others due to Covid-19.

As usual, I am reading a mini-library, rather than just one book, and the one I’ve mentioned are just a few of my current books. I’m also reading a fascinating, fabulously well-written, informative book called Ice: The Nature, the History, and the Uses of an Astonishing Substance, by Marian Gosnell; A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (just started this, but think it will be hard to put down); Letters to the Church, by Francis Chan (which I think will tie in well with the books on spiritual focus); and A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis; as well as a couple of art books about painting landscapes; and Dog Songs, a book of beautifully illustrated and insightful poems by Mary Oliver, one of my favorite contemporary poets. In addition to all of these books, I am reading through the book of Psalms over and over (about once a month) and Stephen and I are reading aloud through the Old Testament a page or so at a time. And he and I have also been reading through Orson Scott Card’s many science fiction books, which are very engaging I’m planning on picking up The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy sometime in the next week or so, as someone recently recommended it.

Well, I wasn’t originally planning this to be a post primarily about books, but that seems to be where my thoughts have gone. I do find that reading slows me down from the overly fast and pressured pace of life dictated by modern technology and issues and often helps to establish some rhythm to my days. It also gives my wonderful cat Acadia time to snuggle on my lap, where she makes sure I don’t get too deeply absorbed in whatever I’m reading. If you have any recommendations for me, please feel free to mention them in a comment. I have a long, long list of recommended books, but I’m always happy to add to it.

Acadia snuggling while I read
Acadia telling me to stop reading and pay attention to her

Musings on quiet mornings…

I have a fairly light schedule this month, which is very welcome after two rather full months. June and July were full of great things– with a beautiful new grandchild topping the list of events that included an artist retreat, attending an art workshop, vacationing on the Outer Banks, flying to California to meet little Elizabeth, and quite a bit more. Even such wonderful events on my calendar, though, take their toll of energy, and by the time August came around, I was ready for a month at home without a lot going on.

I’m trying to take advantage of this quieter month to be more intentional in how I use my time, with the hope of developing a sustainable rhythm to my days and weeks. Although I very much enjoy spontaneity, I find I also need structure, so my goal for this time period is to see what sort of balance works best for me. Of course, I know that that balance will change as circumstances change, but I’m hoping that I can find a flexible rhythm that I can adapt as needed, while still maintaining some continuity.

One thing I’ve realized is that I am calmer and at the same time more productive in the long run when I keep my mornings quieter for reading, writing, walking, sketching, praying, or putzing around the house getting enjoyable chores done. When I schedule up my mornings with appointments or socializing, I often end up feeling like my days are hectic races and that I have somehow sold my quiet-loving nature to a to-do list. On the other hand, when my mornings are quiet, I tend to feel peaceful and yet energetic, and in the afternoon I enjoy spending time with people or often get done as much as I do on the more scheduled days. I also am much more present with Stephen and with others after I’ve had quiet mornings.

I’ve also found that I mostly paint when I travel rather than when I’m home, because art time typically gets scheduled out. Last month, though, a wise friend reminded me that I need to prioritize both art and prayer, both of which tend to get pushed to the side if I get too busy. As this month of reflection goes along, I’m finding myself painting a good bit more than I usually do when I’m home, and when I paint or sketch more, I also pray more. I’m writing more, too, and today I even surprised myself by trying my hand at a bit of fiction for the first time. This shows me yet again that if I nurture my spirit in the ways it needs, creativity will flow.  I’m planning to keep making time for quiet in the coming weeks, and hoping to enjoy many creative hours.

Resurrection Bay Sunrise (Alaska)
Meadowbrook Farm Sunset