One aspect to explore is the gift of creativity. Art + Faith: A Theology of Making by artist and author Makoto Fujimura is an excellent read on these cold January nights to dig into consideration of mankind’s ability to imagine and create.
Humans were designed to create; at the most basic level, consider the wonder and awe of procreation. Beyond that, at an even more intrinsic level, is the commission God gives to Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, to have dominion and stewardship over the earth. Starting with Adam’s role to name the animals, the Bible shows how God gifts humans with creativity to explore and create and think and build.
I think creativity can sometimes be a “buzz word,” or something that we think a person has or doesn’t has. But, I don’t think that’s true, especially if we expand the concept to the constructive and cultural possibilities of people. Of course we’d consider a painter like Fujimura creative, but so too is the architect who designs a new school, the doctor who diagnoses and cares for a patient, the teacher who comes up with an innovative lesson plan, or the data scientist who analyses numbers to find a strategic solution.
Leaning in to the giftedness we have is living a life of embodiment. This book has been an inspiration to me to foster and tap into my own creativity. This weekend that meant setting aside a few hours to dust off my watercolors and pour some creativity into a painting. While I was moderately pleased with the final product, it was the process and the experience that gave me more joy!
My challenge to myself this year, and any reader who may come upon this, is to find ways to declutter from the distractions of modern life and get to making, whatever that might look like with your gifts.
Creating and making is good for the soul and glorifies God!
Need some inspiration? Spend time with the Master Artist in Creation!
The thing about lament…is that it is anchored in truth and hope.
“Believers in Jesus are called to walk the path between earthly brokenness and heavenly restoration. Lament is our song for this journey.” – Mark Vroegoep, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy
A lament for our world, for our country, for our community, or for the circumstances of our own life, is anchored in God’s word, in his redemptive plan.
Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” Singing this (masked, of course) in church this morning, this stanza really struck me:
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.
If anything, this week, and the start of an new year, should call us to to our knees in prayer. God HEARS our prayers—faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.
Our lament should always lead us to sing out in praise, because while we may weep for brokenness around us, we know the Lord is in control, and that he is working all things for redemptive purpose. No matter what, our God is a “bulwark never failing.”
Nature is such a gift. These are the scenes that centered me and drew me closer to God this weekend! Enjoy!
COVID, of course, dominated the New Year’s Eve discussions, with essentially everyone toasting to leaving 2020 behind. Flipping the calendar doesn’t mean changing the circumstances though. But it is a great opportunity for reflection and resolve for 2021!
It’s okay to acknowledge how hard 2020 has been. So many people have suffered and lost loved ones. That is a tragedy. But the isolated “social-distanced” living we’ve had to accept has also been a tragedy. I’m not intending this post to be a dissection of government policies over the pandemic; others can do that! But I do think we all must acknowledge that a disconnected lifestyle is not the way we we are supposed to live.
We were made for an embodied existence.
Humans were created with not just a soul, or a mind, but a human body, to be lived out in relationship, the truest reflection of the Creator’s image.
Our bodies are incredibly important, not just how care for them, but how we interact with others. We quite literally need human connection.
A very simple example is from a story I shared this past summer—a gentle touch of the hand from a kind nurse on my arm gave me peace and comfort during a painful cortisone injection I had to get in my back (not fun!!). It was so simple but it not only reassured my anxious body but my distressed emotions as well.
2020 was unique for me in that I was not only experiencing the loss from the lockdowns, but going through the aforementioned physical injury and recovery, learning much about my body. This also coincided with a few classes in theology for my graduates studies in which I researched and wrote on embodiment…this is something that I have been thinking, experiencing, and praying about all year, and why I wanted to write more about it to start 2021. There is so much richness to theologies of the body and embodiment—its truth is a great good to share with the world not only because it is the best way of living for human flourishing, but because it points to the Gospel.
As I played with my niece this Christmas, I was able to marvel at the simple beauty of embodied living. Babies depend on their mother and father to live. And they learn by playing. How can we not see how important our embodiment is? The beauty and mystery of the incarnation was real for me in a new way this year as I soaked up the goodness of life lived abundantly in my body.
Running through snow and along slippery ice with my dogs.
Hugging my sister tight after a year of absence.
Hands covered in cookie dough and rolling out pie crust.
Silly rounds of charades with my family, filled with laughter.
Delighting in sweet and savory treats of tradition that fill my belly with goodness and my heart with warm memories and remembrances of loved ones long gone.
Fingers on ivories for Silent Night as my niece taps away off key notes, her little mind soaking in my presence.
An embodied Christmas was a balm to my soul after this painful year.
I am resolving to live an embodied existence as much as I can in the coming year. It’s not only what my body, spirit, and soul needs, it’s how I best reflect the image of God.
I write this not as someone who has it all figured out—whether during COVID or not. No, I write as one who has failed at this and been failed by others in it. I write as one who is learning, to instruct myself, to humbly share whatever wisdom God speaks to me on this. I am writing this to encourage myself and others to embrace an embodied existence in this new year!
Blessings in the New Year and cheers 🥂 to 2021!
Feel free to share ideas for connecting and embodied living in the comments. 👇🏼
The written word kept me afloat in 2020–both reading and pursuing my own writing.
I’ve read some wonderful books, and have had more time to review them throughout the year—making this exercise a bit easier as the final day of 2020 rapidly comes to conclusion! Going back through my book journal is like remembering old friends—reminiscing on enjoyable experiences, lessons learned, and wise words taken to heart.
My fiction reading varied widely from classics, Pulitzer winners, Austen-fan fiction, action dramas, psychological thrillers, and modern mysteries.
As for non-fiction, I gravitated towards theology, spiritual formation, psychology, with a bit of history thrown in. I also read several titles on cultural engagement and bioethics for my master’s degree.
I hope these notes are helpful! Several below have longer reviews that are linked. And feel free to leave comments on suggestions for 2021!
• This likely wins the prize as my favorite book of 2020. Doerr’s writing style is captivating and the reader can’t help but come to know and love the characters he has crafted. The vulnerable and sweet Marie-Laure. The eccentric, PTSD-suffering great-uncle Etienne. The maternal, precocious Jutta. And her brother, Werner, a sensitive, thoughtful boy, a dreamer, who “sees what other people don’t,” whose “soul glowed with some fundamental kindness,” caught up in a war he wants nothing to do with. —> Full review.
• I listened to this on Audible which was quite enjoyable. There are so many timeless themes in this classic that traces the character development of Edmund Dantes, who was imprisoned unjustly for years and makes a daring escape, fueled by his thirst for vengeance but ultimately relenting to forgiveness and acceptance. A favorite quote from the end—“All human wisdom is summed up in these three words: wait and hope.”- Edmund Dantes
• Reverend Ames’ letters reflect on the intricacies of the human soul, the purpose of life, and his wrestling with deep theological questions. One thing shines through: he loved and served his family, his wife, his son, his parishioners, and his town, well. —> Full review.
• This book spoke to me in so many ways, bringing me to tears many times. I resonated with the main character, Kya Clark, known as the “Marsh Girl,” and was cheering her on as she rose above her harsh upbringing, educating herself, and opening herself to love and belonging.
• I waited way too long to read this Austen classic, the last one of hers I hadn’t read. It lived up to its expectations, with complex characters and a sweet friendship between sisters that withstands many trials. The wit and insight into human character of Austen is unmatched, in my opinion!
• This ended up being a very timely book to read during the pandemic and quarantine, as we have all been suffering from social isolation. It illustrated how checking in on people we care about can quite literally be life-saving. This time has also revealed the plague of loneliness and the dreadful effects of trauma and lack of social connections. —> Full review.
• I came away from The Splendid and the Vile with a profound sense of admiration for Churchill and his leadership and courage during a dark time in Europe, and yet with a healthy sense of his humanity, such as his irritableness, penchant for fine cigars, and his quirk of wandering 10 Downing Street in just a dressing robe (or less, as told in a humorous anecdote of an encounter with President Roosevelt later in 1941!). —> Full review.
• This book was convicting, but also beautiful and freeing. The habit-forming gifts of the church are a special grace from the Lord to mold and shape our hearts, so that we can truly become the creatures with a purpose we were meant to be. —> Full review.
• This was a well-researched and worthwhile read. Cain provides a wealth of research and social commentary, critiquing the way our society – particularly American culture – overvalues the “extrovert ideal” and how much of our educational and workplace settings are organized around extroversion; when 1/3 to 1/2 of the population are introverts. —> Full review.
• “What if days passed in ways that feel small and insignificant to us are weighty with meaning and part of the abundant life that God has for us?”
This is the fundamental question posed by Tish Harrison Warren in her thought-provoking book, Liturgy of the Ordinary. She relates our every day practices, such as making the bed, losing our keys, answering email, drinking tea, and sleeping to the life-giving liturgical practices of the church. She challenges the reader to allow God to work in and redeem every moment, especially the ordinary ones. —> Full review.
• Benner writes beautifully about the steadfast and love-changing love of God. He asks some very provocative questions and points that brought me to tears as I dismantle false views of myself and iron to the acceptance of God’s deep and abiding love.
• I highly recommend this book if you are interested in a more compassionate approach to life and our human bodies, rooted in Scripture and brain science. It is a gentle reminder that the way God created the human person and intended for us to be in relationships with one another, is a beautiful thing. —> Full review.
• I found Atomic Habits to be extremely practical and helpful with ideas and strategies for becoming a creature of good habits. Clear’s thesis is that tiny, consistent—“atomic-size”—habits aggregate to big life changes. His four laws of behavior change are a helpful framework to form healthy habits: make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying (these can be inverted for breaking bad habits). —> Full review.
Christmas is coming soon as night falls on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
The anticipation has felt a little more near this year with a snow fall and a cold snap that has kept the snow and ice from melting. When I look out the window and see my landscape bathed in white, I feel the closeness of Christmas a bit more acutely.
The snow as a harbinger of Christmas has been a kind blessing, especially as so much else this season has not been the same. I flipped through photos from this day a year ago, and was reminded of memories and celebrations traipsing through a decorated D.C. with colleagues and friends and a holiday dinner date with my sister, in 2019.
Who knew what was coming in 2020, then? No one. I certainly did not. If we knew the suffering that is soon to ensue we would not choose it. I would not. And yet, my year of pain, has brought much gain to my soul. While the weight of struggle still feels heavy, the freeness of release and the reliance on trust beyond myself has changed me in ways that I know are good.
2020 has been a year of life, interrupted.
But Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, who came to this earth in human form in the humblest of ways, is still Lord.
That is the crux of Christmas—that God came to dwell with humankind. The incarnation and the Trinity are great mysteries of the Christian faith. We cannot fully understand but we can fully know it is true. The life of Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, is real. His death and resurrection are historical events. Christmas is not just a feel-good time of fairytales and lights, it is a time when every person must reckon with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and choose to make him Lord of their life.
He is not a distant king or an unfeeling god. He is our Creator, who came to earth, in human form to rescue us from the sin and shame which separates us from him.
What child is this, who, laid to rest, On Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping? This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing: Haste, haste to bring Him laud, The babe, the son of Mary.
He arrived as a baby, to live and know the life we live in our bodies. He knows our pain.
He was born to give us second birth. By his physical wounds on the cross we have been healed.
He came to save all those who believe. His resurrection promises resurrection for our redeemed bodies, too.
Jesus is Lord. That is good news!
My Advent reflections may have rambled a bit these past weeks, but I have taken the risk this year to write from the heart, in hope that others might know. And even so, I don’t write for the “clicks” but rather to witness to beauty and the truth of God, no matter the audience. Well, my affinity for alliteration has wound its way into this series too, but they are words that God has written on my heart as this hard year, for you and for me, comes to a close:
I often write of the peace and comfort that my relationship with God brings me. And yet true Christianity is not a therapeutic religion. God will change your heart and his consolations are many. But it does not mean a carefree life. Oh no, my friend. Trials and tribulations still come. This Christmas season I pray that you, dear reader, know Jesus as Lord, the King who came to save us. Our trials may not leave, but He alone, will never forsake us. He is with us in the waiting.
After many attempts and pieces of popcorn, this was the best I could do as our digital Christmas card! But it’s 2020 so I’m just grateful and glad I am still laughing and smiling!
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
Our sanitized Nativity scenes during Advent sometimes obscure some of the facts about the birth of Christ. Or rather, the weight of the incarnation gets lost.
This long expected Savior is God—come to this earth as human, as flesh and blood. Divine love came to save us, to save you and me. For love. To set us free from our sins and shame and fears and failures. It could only come from love, beyond our understanding; the divine love that is working out redemption through history.
This love flows from the Creator who loves me and cares for me, knows my every thought, my every burden. This divine Love sent his son to be born and die, that I might have life. That I would be filled with his love, steadfast, sure, and secure.
This love divine is a free gift to those who believe. It’s the season of wonder. Believe and be free, let love divine transform your heart. And if you do believe, lean into this love. I need to remember this, in every moment. His love is the hope and the joy that my longing heart needs.
As I wandered the woods this weekend, the wind whipped, and the chill cut to my bone. But beams of sunshine and a brisk pace brought warmth to my face and core.
With the trees completely bare, except for a few pines and holly plants, and the leaves crushed along the trail, I was aware of the death all around me. Gone is the vibrancy of summer; it has broken down into this necessary phase of the seasons, the rhythm of renewal for the flourishing of the forest. For new life in spring time, death and detritus must come first.
The woods in winter, is a place of death. Like the world, without Jesus.
As I walked, the Christmas song that danced through my head was one of my modern favorites, Breath of Heaven, by Amy Grant.
Breath of heaven Hold me together Be forever near me Breath of heaven Breath of heaven Lighten my darkness Pour over me your holiness For you are holy
I came upon one of my favorite spots and was struck by the contrast—a little pool created by a mini cascade of fresh water before it forms a creek on its way to the bay.
Watching this little waterfall, was a perfect moment of serenity. Of peace (an answered prayer from last week). The sound of the constant flowing of streaming waters felt true and holy and life-giving.
It was a reminder of gratitude for the living water that is the gift of God.
The spirit of God, the breath of God, is like a well-spring deep within the hearts of those whose believe.
“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” John 4:13-14 NIV
There is too much death and destruction in this world to live without this living water. Even the good things won’t ultimately satisfy; they won’t quench the soul’s thirst for God.
This living spring, signed with a seal at baptism when water is poured on the body, is a renewing source. A well of rest and regeneration, supplying the soul with a source for sanctification, each and every day.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV
In the wasting-away woods, the wilderness, and in this world of woes, one needs Jesus.
This Advent season, if you are looking for rest and renewal, strength and serenity, hope and holiness, draw on the living waters of Christ. It is a well that will never run dry.
And all of a sudden, Advent is upon us and Christmas is right around the corner.
The mild weather this weekend allowed for a few hikes crunching through fallen leaves, as waning light led the way through bare trees, and across cold creeks.
The nice temperatures were also a good opportunity, apparently, for many to put up Christmas lights. As I drove home from the woods on Sunday evening at dusk, my neighborhood was adorned with house upon house of Christmas lights. It was lovely!
As Advent begins at the end of this difficult year, there was something about these lights appearing tonight that moved me and brought tears to my eyes—tears filled with sadness but also great hope. Tears of gratitude for the simple beauty and tradition of twinkling lights upon trees, sparkling reindeer, and light-lit nativity scenes.
I’m feeling the tension this year. Isn’t that what waiting is about? The tension between the here and now and what is to come, for whatever we are waiting.
As I joined with my fellow, spaced-apart congregants in a masked but no-less meaningful singing of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” this morning, I was feeling the tension. The tension of those minor chords, noting the lonely exile, and the longing of Israel for its promised Savior, Emmanuel.
I was feeling the tension of the joy of the knowledge of the incarnation, with the weight of the sorrows of this present world, as believers everywhere await the return of the Lord of Might, once and for all, setting all things right.
The tension of waiting is weighty, filled with grief and groans. It pushes and it pulls, punctuated with joy and goodness along the way. All along, it’s underlaid with longing.
But we have the light.
O come, Thou Day-Spring Come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel Shall come to thee, o Israel
While I have been feeling the tension, I am praying for peace this season. For myself, of course, for my community, this country, the world. But true peace only comes from Jesus, the one we await in Advent. Christ came, “through the tender mercy of God,” to show the way of salvation. He came as the day-spring, like a rising sun,
“to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.“ Luke 1:78
The light illuminates the pathway of life, as we live as exiles, again, in a world filled with gloomy clouds, and dark shadows of death.
The day-spring lightens our loads, and lifts our tension.
The light leads the way.
Emmanuel, who has come once, and will come again, is the prince of peace.
He is the light of life and love, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Peace and blessings as we wait together this Advent, in the year of our Lord, 2020.
Emmanuel, who has come once, and will come again, is the prince of peace.
Exactly a year ago, on a quiet, forgettable November night, I went to the woods for a quick escape before the weekend set in.
Gray clouds hang in the air, low to the shore. The ordinariness of the evening matches the mood of my week.
I don’t mind the cloud cover, or the dampness, or the solitude. The cool air is cleansing, chipping away at the constriction of my chest.
As I allow worries, and work, and deeply buried wants to simmer, the stillness of the waters strikes me. There is depth to this blue bay. It is a place of peace, to release those burdens.
And so I open my hands, and my heart. I surrender my struggle and let go of my longings. I send them out into the sea, because I know the captain of my soul is watching. He is with me. In charge of the wind, the tide, the creatures chirping, and the sun that is setting, He is restoring my soul along these still waters. He most surely can handle the whispers of my soul. He is in control.
He most surely can handle the whispers of my soul. He is in control.
I realize my eyes have closed, in reaction to the restfulness that is flowing from my smiling face to my feet. I slowly open them to see colors emerging in a choreographed dance that begins to take my breath away.
Immersed in waves of the most glorious sunset, everything within me is lifted heavenward. The sun has long left the horizon, lighting up those heavy clouds with every shade of yellow, orange, blue, pink, purple, and red.
Those deep, still waters provide a perfect mirror for the masterpiece overhead, doubling all of its breadth and beauty.
It is absolutely stunning.
I soak it all in. This was not just a sunset but a spiritual experience.
I finally leave the shoreline, reluctantly, knowing that I am seen and loved, and worthy of great beauty.
An attempted photographic capture of each phase:
That sunset sticks with me, a year—a long, hard, painful year—later. Perhaps it even got me through the next terrible twelve months to come? How often my imagination drew on the goodness of the memory!
It was not something for which a screen could suffice, and I see now how it’s timing was perfect. I didn’t orchestrate that evening, I just showed up. I am glad I know the director.
I went back again this weekend, thinking I might see an encore. I find more loveliness and delight, but nothing like last year. But even simple beauty can fill one with wonder.
Another long, cold, and I’m afraid, lonely winter looms ahead.
What are the memories you will draw on?
Where will your imagination take you?
Trust that the quiet hand of providence will take care of you. He is an artist, choreographer, and conductor that we cannot even comprehend.
He turns a gray, bland night of clouds into a glorious blaze of colorful creation. He is continually writing the most beautiful story of redemption. I will keep choosing to let him be the author of my life—I hope you will too.
He turns a gray, bland night of clouds into a glorious blaze of colorful creation. He is continually writing the most beautiful story of redemption.
A few weekends ago, while exploring the countryside in Pennsylvania, my parents and I stumbled upon an old log church. As I wandered around the cemetery (not something I typically do!) I was amazed by what I found, including gravestones that commemorated several men that had served in the Revolutionary War!
In fact, this modest cemetery in Bedford County, PA, had gravestones for men who had served in every military conflict from the Revolutionary War to the present day.
I was humbled by the hundreds of years of service, and at least one life that was lost in action, from this small community.
We’ve seen a lot of strife this year. But on this Veteran’s Day, I hope every American can pause in gratitude for all those who have gone before us and served to protect and defend our country and our freedom.
It may be an overused saying but that’s because it’s true—freedom isn’t free, and so many have served to allow the rest of us to live the life we choose, to worship the way we want, and to pursue happiness as we see fit. We can make all the typical disclaimers about how America isn’t perfect (of course it’s not!), and we have so many problems (we do and we should seek cultural and policy solutions), but we as Americans are privileged and blessed with a measure of freedom (and prosperity) that the vast majority of the human race has never experienced.
I offer my thanks and gratitude to the servicemen of Bedford County—and all who have served, including my family members—thank you! You inspire me to cherish my freedom and work towards an America that ensures rights and opportunities for all people.
Freedom is incredibly important, but it isn’t everything. For the Christian, it is an incredible blessing to live in a land of religious liberty, but our citizenship ultimately resides in heaven.
A few other gravestones at the old log church inspired me on this note. Seeing the witness of believers who were born nearly 200 years before me, and lived in a vastly different world than I know and yet clung to the same promises from God’s word that I do, was very moving.
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”
“Preserve me O God, for in thee do I put my trust.”
And a final one to share: this young man, who seemingly lost his life while serving in the Army during the Civil War, was buried by his parents with this epitaph:
“Here lies, with the hope of a joyful resurrection, the mortal remains of …”
Eternity with Christ, the resurrection of the body, and life in the new Kingdom is the blessed hope for every believer. That is a truth that will truly set one free.