Pondering and Praying a Word at 35,000 Feet

One of the best and worst things about air travel is being trapped in a seat for several hours. I often accomplish more in the time in those cramped quarters than I do at home in a whole day. On a flight back home on the first Sunday of Advent I started to doodle just for fun in my 8″x10″ travel sketch pad. Then the refrain from Psalm 80 in the morning’s worship service came back to me. “Restore us, O God of hosts: show us the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.” The congregation repeated this Advent plea three different times.

From that passage the word RESTORE jumped out at me. I wrote RESTORE in the middle of my doodling page and started brainstorming and writing everything I could think of about the word. After I had exhausted all my words, I doodled around it. I tried to listen to what the word might have to say to me. What did I have to learn from the word? What did God want me to hear from it?

Two other flights followed during the first week of Advent. On both of those flights I pulled out the sketch pad with the word RESTORE on it and continued to brainstorm, then listen. If Scripture is living word, then what I hear from the word and what God might have to say to me about the word can be new each day. Below are the drawing and some reflections on the word RESTORE. Did God tell me these things? I don’t know, probably not. But I like to think this partnership with God, of me actively thinking and writing then actively listening, is an inspired time of pondering and prayer.

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  • On day 2, I added the orange color and my marker leaked blobs of orange onto the word. I realized I could not RESTORE the drawing to its original condition. It occurred to me that RESTORATION does not necessarily mean replicating the past. Erasing errors is not always possible (and maybe not desirable.)
  • RESTORE can be a problematic word. It assumes there was a time when everything was perfect or so much better–which could be just a fantasy of my nostalgic mind.
  • Sometimes RESTORING a relationship with a person means being receptive to a whole new paradigm for the way we relate and behave together.
  • RESTORING a right relationship with God might mean giving up an old, comfortable understanding of God and listening to a more mature, more awesome understanding than I had before.
  • When God RESTORES me, I imagine myself as a piece of old furniture. God brings out the hidden good qualities and the natural beauty God sees and incorporates the damage, distress, and dings of my life into a new creation.

 

Lingering

One of the things I like about doodling while I pray is the opportunity to linger with the people I’m praying for. Lingering with people in person who are sick, suffering, or mourning is not always easy for me. I tend to get shy, afraid, and tongue-tied in situations calling for poignant expressions of emotion and sympathy. My strategy for a personal visit is to say hello, give hugs, and leave. My inability to find wise and tender words makes me want to run away.

But spending time with people in prayer and “staying in the prayer” long past when my verbal intercessions run out is something I can do. Praying in color teaches me to just be quiet and experience the presence of God. It also teaches me to let go of my fear, my worry, and my words. Perhaps what I’m learning from the lingering on paper is a way to linger with people in person. Long distance prayer doodling visits may just give me the practice sessions I need to feel more comfortable with being quiet and wordless in the midst of real flesh-and-blood people.

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Advent Calendar 2014 Week 1

Here is the first week of my Advent tree calendar. On this calendar I pray for people and places–for healing, in gratitude, for restoration. I doodle, pray with words, let go of words, doodle, listen, pray more words if they come, and generally, try to be present to God and the person. (Note the addition of Advent lights on the tree.)

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Here is the first week of the Advent box calendar. On this calendar I write an Advent word each day. I think about the word but also listen for what God or the word might say to me. Check out my friend Cindy O’s calendar on her website Mostly Markers. (Many years ago Cindy handed me beautiful, colored markers and gave me permission to doodle and draw poorly.)

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It’s not too late to print a calendar and start the one-day-at-a-time countdown or countup to Christmas. Go to the Handouts page of this blog and find the list of calendar templates.

Advent Calendar Templates 2014

Preparation for the Season of Preparation

Here are five things to do today or tomorrow in preparation for Advent:

1) Create a special corner in your house/apartment where adults and children can go to be quiet. Provide a Bible, book of daily meditations, or appropriate picture books. Put some candles (real or battery-operated) nearby to create an Advent atmosphere. Set five minutes a day set apart for quiet, prayer, mediation or for just doing nothing. Invite children to spend time in the special place.

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2) Plant narcissus or amaryllis bulbs in a bowl of potting medium or in a bowl of stones with water. Watch the plants grow daily as a kind of live Advent calendar. Check the water levels daily.

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3) Hang some purple (or blue) lights. There is no need to spend a lot of money. Keep it simple. Put a purple bulb in a night light, front porch light, or electric candle. (I use a purple marker and color a clear bulb when I can’t find one in a store). I bought a string of cool purple lights by Phillips for $11.99. The purple lights are a visual reminder to me that it is Advent and not yet Christmas. They are also a good conversation starter.

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4) Set up an Advent wreath. (Lots of info about using Advent wreaths online or in The Season of the Nativity). I am such a failure at using the pre-formed metal or styrofoam rings; I now use four random candle sticks with purple ribbon, greens, or paper chains. Votives or recycled candles from a previous year are also candidates.

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5) Download Advent Calendar Templates. Set up a table or part of a table with art supplies for drawing on the calendar.

Advent Calendar Templates 2014

For some other ideas about Advent read the Patheos article about Five Ways to Experience an Extreme Advent.

Paraclete Press is having a 40% off sale this weekend on my book and all of their books until Monday, December 1.  Sarah Arthur has a nice book for Advent called Light upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.

Gratitude Gobbler

I love drawing/praying my yearly gratitude turkey. The turkey is a visual journal of my life in the past twelve months.

What I notice about my life in the past year is my tendency to be alone. This is not all bad. Keeping one’s own company and learning to cultivate the gifts of solitude is a skill, a skill I lacked as a young adult. Now I have the tendency to spend too much time alone. Reading, drawing, praying, studying, writing, playing Scrabble, hanging out on the computer keep me busy for hours.

Being alone is easier than being with other people. My opinions go unchallenged. I can be spiritual in my own way without the annoying trappings of a church and without people who bother me. I can eat what I want and do what I want. I’m the monarch of my self-contained little kingdom. On the down side: My opinions go unchallenged. I can eat what I want and do what I want. My entitlement grows and MY wants and needs become paramount. My solitude turns to isolation.

What I also notice about my life is my huge need for community–as messy and inconvenient as it sometimes is. This year my turkey is dressed with the groups in my life who make my life richer and who keep my thinking from running amok or growing more distorted. These communities remind me that I am both spiritual AND religious. Whether secular or sacred, these groups offer me “religious” frameworks for opening my eyes and staying in touch with reality. Lillian Daniel in a 2011 Huffington Post article says it well:
“Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing     challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.”

I invented none of the groups on my turkey, but I am immensely grateful to be part of them. Thanks be to God. Happy Thanksgiving.

Gratitude Gobbler 2

 

 

Family Tree Advent Calendar

Advent is the beginning of the annual church pilgrimage through Scripture and salvation history. I think of it as the starting gate to the yearly reunion with our spiritual ancestors from the Bible and from two thousand years of Christian history. In the midst of reconnecting with all of those characters in the stories, I am often confronted with the relationships I have with my own relatives and ancestors.

Maybe Advent is a good time for me to pray for the members of my family, both alive and dead. I carry a full array of emotions, feelings, and thoughts about them–gratitude, sorrow, love, resentment, delight, frustration, friendship, bewilderment, joy, forgiveness, and unforgiveness. Some of those relationships need healing or maybe just a fresh way to view them. I need to vent some ill feelings and forgive some of my relatives. But I also need forgiveness for my behavior with them. Praying for my relatives opens the door to my memory, but also to my heart. In most cases, my prayer time with family members will remind me of the richness and love in those relationships.

Below is a template for a family tree calendar. Pray for a family member each day. Write the name of the person or paste a picture (with glue or digitally) in a ball on the tree. Doodle, draw, and include words if you like. Make this an opportunity for God to be part of the relationship. “Let go, let God,” and listen.

Download as a Powerpoint (looks cut off, but is not when downloaded and printed), a pdf or a jpg. All print nicely on an 8.5 x 11 page. Expand it to an 11 x 17 piece of paper for more space (129%-135%).
Click:   pptx   or  pdf  or  jpg

Family Tree Advent Calendar

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Advent Calendar Templates 2014

Advent calendars are not just for kids! Instead of opening daily doors with pictures or retrieving small gifts from pockets, adults and children can mark the day-by-day journey to Christmas by praying/drawing on a blank calendar template. Pray for a person or write and meditate on an Advent word each day. Just the small amount of time it takes to fill the space with doodles and color each day can create a time of quiet, reflection, and listening to God. Set aside a table with a basket of markers and/or colored pencils where family members can work on their calendars. Hang the calendars on the wall for all to see. Watch them grow daily.

Here are three template choices. Click on a picture to download the template. I like to enlarge the template to an 11″ x 17″ piece of card stock. The links are also on the Handouts page of this website. Below the templates are samples of previous years’ finished Advent calendars.

Dated Tree Calendar                                                           Undated Tree Calendar

Advent Tree Calendar Dated 2014

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Box Calendar

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Study Guide for The Season of the Nativity

A FREE Study Guide for The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist is now available. Click here to download it. The downward facing arrow at the top is the button to download it. The guide is designed for a four-week class for a group of people. There are community building exercises along with opportunities to try some of the exercises from the book. The first three weeks are about Advent; the last week is about Christmas and Epiphany.

The guide can be used “as is” or as a jumping off point for creating your own class or study group. “Take what you like and leave the rest.” I would love some feedback from anyone who uses the ideas. Thanks.

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Patheos Book Club Features The Season of the Nativity

The website Patheos–Hosting the Conversation on Faith addresses all religious and non-religious spiritual paths. It seeks to be a place where people ask questions and discussions take place about all world religions and even atheism.

One of their divisions is The Patheos Book Club. For the first two weeks of November The Season of the Nativity is one of their featured books. There are reviews by bloggers, a Q&A about the book, an article by me called “Five Ways to Experience an Extreme Advent,” and a video interview with Deborah Arca (a managing editor of Patheos). When I found out that Deborah not only has a theology background but is a jazz singer I suggested we sing the “Advent Chant” by Phil Porter form page 90 of the book. She agreed and we did. The Advent Chant starts about minute 16:00 of the the 18-minute interview.

Here is the link to all of the Patheos Book Club Season of the Nativity entries. Please pass this on. Thanks.

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Mirrors in Zumba. Mirrors in Church?

I love my Zumba® dance/exercise class. Zumba® class is one of the few places besides the shower where I stop worrying and just enjoy the moment. (This sometimes happens in prayer.) “Ditch the workout; join the party” are the intro words from the Zumba® website. The Latin and hip-hop moves and music send my mind and my body to a playful place.

My favorite Zumba® classes have mirrors. Like many women and most dancers, I have a mixed relationship with mirrors. In ballet class they help me to see whether my placement, technique, and movement are correct. But they also say to me, “You’re too old, too ugly, too fat…. Why are you still here?”

In Zumba® I don’t have time to stare at myself in the mirror. The class moves too quickly. Instructions are nonverbal; students learn the steps in a “follow-the-leader” manner. With the help of the mirror I can see all 360° of my instructor and catch the nuances of the steps. Even if I’m in the back of the room without a good view of the teacher, I can see the other dancers in the mirror and follow them. But besides the instructional benefits of the mirror, there are communal ones. The mirrors double the number of people in the room. They transmit a contagion of energy. When my instructor is bouncing and throwing his whole self into the movement, I want to join in. The entire class seems to be swept in by the corporate atmosphere of rhythm, movement, and fun.

So why don’t we hang mirrors in church? Mirrors at the front of the nave would double the number of people in the congregation. With all of those people facing me, the atmosphere would feel less like a lecture series and more like a gathering of disciples and seekers. If I’m confused about the liturgy in the church I’m attending, watching others could help me to feel comfortable and to learn the patterns of worship. (Churches built “in the round” experience some of these benefits.)

Seeing other people’s faces and bodies helps me to get in the spirit of worship and increases my energy. It only takes a few excited people to change the whole environment. Now, I’m not promoting a “happy-clappy,” perkier-than-thou congregation. I’m not interested in phony cheerfulness–just vitality and attention. My pew behavior would probably improve with mirrors. When I arrive, as I sometimes do, in my smug “I dare you to teach me something today” mode, I might notice my snotty facial attitude in the mirror and be appalled. The mirror could work as a corrective. It might also call my attention to the face of someone in the congregation who is looking distressed or sorrowful. Maybe mirrors would make the church feel more like the “Body of Christ” rather than just a collection of people waiting for the designated leaders in the front to impart their wisdom and knowledge.  Just a thought….

For an awesome Zumba® class in Memphis, visit deefitway. Deejay is a terrific teacher, energizer, and community builder. Thanks to the Monday/Wednesday 10 AM class for allowing me to photograph them.

Mirrors in ZumbaP.S. If you receive these posts as an email and want to share them, return to the prayingincolor blog page and choose the buttons at the bottom of the post.