Creed

Creed by Abigail Carroll

I believe in the life of the word,
the diplomacy of food. I believe in salt-thick
ancient seas and the absoluteness of blue.
A poem is an ark, a suitcase in which to pack
the universe—I believe in the universality
of art, of human thirst

for a place. I believe in Adam’s work
of naming breath and weather—all manner
of wind and stillness, humidity
and heat. I believe in the audacity
of light, the patience of cedars,
the innocence of weeds. I believe

in apologies, soliloquies, speaking
in tongues; the underwater
operas of whales, the secret
prayer rituals of bees. As for miracles—
the perfection of cells, the integrity
of wings—I believe. Bones

know the dust from which they come;
all music spins through space on just
a breath. I believe in that grand economy
of love that counts the tiny death
of every fern and white-tailed fox.
I believe in the healing ministry

of phlox, the holy brokenness of saints,
the fortuity of faults—of making
and then redeeming mistakes. Who dares
brush off the auguries of a storm, disdain
the lilting eulogies of the moon? To dance
is nothing less than an act of faith

in what the prophets sang. I believe
in the genius of children and the goodness
of sleep, the eternal impulse to create. For love
of God and the human race, I believe
in the elegance of insects, the imminence
of winter, the free enterprise of grace.”

As if There Were Only One

As if There Were Only One

Martha Serpas

 

In the morning God pulled me onto the porch,
a rain-washed gray and brilliant shore.
I sat in my orange pajamas and waited.
God said, “look at the tree.” And I did.
Its leaves were newly yellow and green,
slick and bright, and so alive it hurt
to take the colors in. My pupils grew
hungry and wide against my will.
God said, “listen to the tree.”
And i did. it said, “live!”
And it opened itself wider, not with desire,
but the way i imagine a surgeon spreads
the ribs of a patient in distress and rubs
her paralyzed heart, only this tree parted
its own limbs toward the sky – i was the light in that sky.
I reached in to the thick, sweet core
and i lifted it to my mouth and held it there
for a long time until i tasted the word
tree (because i had forgotten its name).
Then I said my own name twice softly.
Augustine said, God loves each one of us as if
there were only one of us, but i hadn’t believed him.
And God put me down on the steps with my coffee
and my cigarettes. And, although I still
could not eat nor sleep, that evening
and that morning were my first day back.

A Both/And Life

In the fall of 2020, my daughter Ale, son-in-law Clint, and I hiked the trail to Fern
Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park for a couple days of camping. The trees
were alive and green then. But a week later fire swept through that area, destroying
large swaths of the forest. This fall I hiked back up there by myself. And one thing
stood out to me: the flowers. Before the fire, the canopy of leaves above shadowed
the forest floor and there was not enough sunlight to sustain many flowers. But
now, in the midst of dead trees and ash, beautiful hillsides of flowers flourished.
This reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses, Isaiah 61:3, written hundreds
of years before the birth of Christ. It promises that God will send One (Jesus) who
will give beauty for ashes.

And so, I chose a picture from that hike to represent what 2022 has been to me. As
I continue to process the losses of recent years—fighting cancer, losing my
husband, and the challenges of Covid among others–my life sometimes seems
“ashy”. There are times of loneliness and of wondering where I belong. I have days
of frustration as I try to handle practical life details (not my strong suit!) that my
husband would have taken care of easily. And yet, unforeseen beauty is emerging.
I spent three weeks in Ireland, England, and Paris this spring. There were moments
there when I felt like I was in a dream! I have had delightful opportunities to take
on new ministry challenges. In January I will graduate from the Anam Cara
spiritual direction apprenticeship that I have been in for the last two years. I have
experienced personal transformation and learned deep lessons in how to be
lovingly present to others as they process their lives. And I have had many
wonderful times with family and friends that I love. I am learning to live a
“both/and” life. Life is both very hard AND such a gift. It is both full of pain AND
abundant joy.

As we move into 2023, I pray each of us may find beauty growing, even in the
places of loss!

– Jo Newell

The First Mention of Love

The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio

During Easter Vigil at my church, I was invited to share a brief meditation on Genesis 22. The theme of the evening was the ever-building victory of God over sin and death in the history of God’s people. As such, we heard meditations and experienced live performances in a variety of art forms on the Biblical narrative in the Old Testament starting with Genesis 1 and culminating in Ezekiel 37, as we waiting in anticipation for the dawning of Easter morning and the history-splitting revelation of the resurrection of Christ. In a short 5-minute reflection, I shared about God’s first revelation of love, which occurs in this very passage. I hope and pray it speaks to you now as it spoke to me to prepare and share this reflection then. It is still Easter, after all. He is Risen!


Imagine this moment with me.

You have been a pilgrim for the past 25 years. Instead of the stability, safety, normalcy that you had know for the first 75—seventy five—years, you have wandered in lands not your own, among people not your own.  

You’ve heard God promise you big—no, outrageous—things, and you’ve had arguments with Him under the stars. He has spoken, and though it has seemed completely crazy, you have obeyed, leaving everything you knew in order to see God’s will done, His promises fulfilled.

You walked in infertility for two and a half DECADES. Month after month, year after year, you and your wife—who is, by the way, just as old as you—have ridden the rollercoaster of hope and disappointment. Belief, and despair. Over and over again.

And, yes, you doubted God. You took things into your own hands. You forced and manipulated the story—who wouldn’t?—to make life happen. Ishmael. Your first born son.

But God wasn’t done with you. Your stumbling, He took it all in stride. In the face of your faithlessness, He was still faithful.

Sarah conceived.

Isaac, son of your laughter, was born.

It was a time of deep joy, a time for settling in to all that God had given you, stewarding it well, and living into the life He had promised you.

In amongst a people who didn’t know you, you embraced the promise passed down to you through Isaac. You provided for your son, you cared for your wife. You made a home in a foreign land, among people who didn’t speak your language, didn’t worship Yahweh.

You thought your wandering, your crazy days of following God into the unknown were done.

And then, God shows up again.

† † †

It’s in this context, 22 chapters into the book of Genesis, that God calls Abraham’s name. We can feel this story so deeply—the tense journey to mount Moriah, the moment that—if we’re truly honest—turns every parent’s stomach, makes every parent ache to hold their child (no matter how young or old) just a little closer.

Abraham binds his son, what he now believes is his only son after sending Ishmael and Hagar into the wilderness, and places him on the altar. He raises the knife.

And let’s not sanitize this, by the way. Isaac isn’t an infant. He knows what’s going on. Scholars debate an exact age, but Isaac is anywhere between 15 and 25 years old at this point.

The knife is raised, and an angel of the Lord stops Abraham’s hand. In a moment that points forward in time—hundreds and hundreds of years forward—God provides a substitute for the offering, a pure act of grace. Then it is the ram, but soon it will not a son of man to be offered, but the very son of God.

But let’s back up again.

Because there’s a moment before this, a tiny, seemingly unimportant moment, the moment when God comes to Abraham, who has walked through so much, given up so much already, and calls him by name.

Abraham, the one who has muddled through and messed it up, says to God, one more time, Here I am. At more than 100 years old, he says, Yes, God, I’m up for whatever’s next.

And whatever’s next is LOVE.

That’s the moment. Right there.

After 22 chapters, years of stories, this is the very first time the word LOVE is used in the Bible.

Oh, you’ll see it in the English, but the Hebrew underlying those translations is hesed, loving-kindness.

This time, in this encounter, God introduces us to LOVE (aheb) for the first time.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Love isn’t the romantic, flowers and chocolate love that the world sells us. It’s not even love between a man and a woman. It’s the love of father to son, in the context of sacrifice.

What God is showing us, what Abraham and Isaac are participating in, is real love.

Love that gives away the beloved with open hands. Love that offers the one it loves as a sacrifice. Love that is obedient unto death.

The first thing that we hear God the Father saying about Jesus in all four of the Gospels is this: This is my son, whom I love.

If we know Genesis 22, if we know what real love is, we know how this story is going to end.

And this time, it isn’t with a ram, with a life spared and a sacrifice redeemed.

This time, it isn’t about our efforts, our obedience, our faithfulness.

It’s about God’s effort, God’s obedience unto death, God’s faithfulness to us.

And we don’t have to clutch our children close, because God didn’t clutch close His son. He opened His hands and showed us what love really is.

For God so loved the world…

An Interview with Christine of Abbey of the Arts

I’ve been hosting Christine of Abbey of the Arts on the Anam Cara blog this week, and thought I’d round out the week by asking her a few questions. Feel free to listen in. (And don’t forget to enter the book giveaway to win a copy of Christine’s new book, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice.)

Christine, thank you so much for all that you do. Your resources and writings have consistently brought healing, life, resurrection and more of God into my life. My first question is this: Can you share with us a time that having “eyes of the heart” helped you to see something (a situation, a place, a person) in a different way, just as the disciples recognized Jesus in the Emmaus story?

For many years now, part of my spiritual practice is to work with family systems and the healing of ancestral wounds, especially those of my father.  He died seventeen years ago, but his death in many ways only amplified my grief over his emotional absence.  About five years ago my husband and I traveled to Riga, Latvia, the city where my father was born.  He later had to flee to Vienna, where his mother’s family lived, because the Russians invaded.  I knew this experience of being a refugee shaped the adult he became.  I walked along the shores of the Baltic Sea, the same beach my father played on as a child and I had a powerful experience of seeing him there in his innocence.  Years of contemplative practice, and learning to soften my vision, broke me open to a whole new layer in my father revealed by being in that landscape.  I came to see him differently and myself, bringing compassion.

You mention in your post that “receiving” pictures is different than “taking” pictures. Can you explain the difference?

We move through so much of life just trying to get by, to “take” what we need from our various encounters.  Perhaps our weekends are filled with purpose-filled activities, like cleaning the house, paying the bills, stopping by the bank.  Maybe we even set aside time to be with our children, but are always thinking about what else needs to get done, or the work waiting for us.  None of these things are bad in themselves.  We do need to navigate, as best we can, a world of demands.

The problem becomes when this perspective infuses everything we do.  We go to the grocery store and feel impatient with the checkout person moving slowly because our time is being wasted.  Even spiritual experiences can become about consuming as much as possible, rather than transformation.

So this becomes translated into our photography.  Taking photos, we often have the urge to grasp at our experience, to record it and mark it.  With digital photography we can take hundreds of photos without thinking twice.  But we sometimes miss the experience itself in our urge to seize it through the lens.

In photography as a contemplative practice, we approach things differently.  We slow ourselves down.  We soften into the moment.  We trust that there is more than enough.  We do not need to rush, or grasp, or seize anything.  We wait and see in a new way, so that we begin to attend to what shimmers in the world around us.  Contemplative photography honors that this practice is about receiving the gift of the moment, not something we are entitled to receive, but sheer grace.

I love the quote you share about the Transfiguration really being about the disciples being transfigured, rather than Jesus. How does living as a contemplative, as a monk in the world, help us to be open to those moments when God invades to help us to see differently?

Those moments are happening all the time, we just aren’t attuned to them.  I believe in a God who is generous and abundant, who cannot help but overflow grace into the world.  So my call as a monk in the world, is to open myself to this possibility: right here, right now, in the most ordinary moment of my life, grace might break in.  Grace is already available, but I might make myself receptive to it.  I might soften the defenses of my heart which say that there is “nothing new under the sun.”

We have a lot of artists and creatives in this community who are also contemplatives. Would you share with us a little about the process of writing this book for you? What was it like? What surprised you?

The writing journey for me is always a process of discovery.  I begin with an outline of ideas I want to explore, but in the searching, I stumble upon new connections and insights.  What I especially loved about writing this book in particular, is that I had taught the material in an online class format for several years.  When I began to work on the book, I was given the opportunity to go into even more depth with the themes and to find new themes.  For example, color wasn’t part of the original class, and yet such a rich avenue of visual exploration.  Then to begin to investigate all the ways color has been symbolically significant in writings of mystics, like Hildegard of Bingen, or in the liturgical calendar.  In my chapter on mirrors and reflections I stumbled on all of these wonderful readings from medieval mystics about the mirror as symbol of the soul.  Writing a book feels like a delicious excuse to lose myself in my subject and follow the threads to see where they lead.  They don’t always lead somewhere, but it is the journey itself that brings so much delight.

Thanks for being with us this week. Join us here to win a copy of Christine’s new book. And now it’s your turn…

Do you have an Emmaus story that caused you to see things differently?

Have you practiced “receiving” pictures rather than “taking” them? What was it like for you?

Photography Party Book Giveaway

Happy Wednesday, Anam Cara Community.

In celebration of Christine Paintner‘s new book, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative, I’m hosting a photography party and book giveaway here on the blog.

I’m giving away two free copies of this beautiful book to anyone who wants to enter.

Here’s what author Jan Phillips says about Eyes of the Heart:

eyeoftheheart

“Opening Christine Paintner’s Eyes of the Heart is like entering a garden in full bloom. It opens up all your senses so you see, smell, taste, and touch the world in a whole new way. Paintner has a gift for reuniting the transcendent and the immanent. She calls God home. She sees the Divine in the pebble on the path, hears its sound in the buzzing mosquito. This modern-day monk knows the essential secrets to sacred living and joyful being and she shares them freely.”

I love that!

So, here’s how you enter:

1. Go to the Flickr Group that I’ve created for this giveaway. You need a free Flickr account first (go to the Flickr home page and click “Sign up now.”) When you go to the link it will ask you to join the group first before posting.

2. Share up to five images (photographs that you’ve taken yourself, recently or in the past) that coincide either with the theme of Resurrection or of Eyes of the Heart.

3. Leave a comment below this blog post to let me know you have joined the giveaway and what your Flickr profile name is (you must include this to be entered into the book giveaway).

4. Post the invitation on your blog or Facebook page and encourage others to come join the party!

I’ll draw two names at random, and announce the winners on Monday, April 29th.

Practicing Resurrection through Eyes of the Heart

Awhile back, I hosted a dear friend and fellow spiritual director, Christine Valters Paintner, of Abbey of the Arts on the Anam Cara blog. Her book, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, was published in 2013 and I asked Christine to share the ways that developing “eyes of the heart” help us live into the season of Easter. Below, Christine shares from her heart. I know you’ll enjoy the support and wisdom Christine offers as much as I do.

• • •

The season of Easter spans 50 days of celebrating the resurrection and culminating in Pentecost.  Yet, for many of us, Easter Sunday comes and goes and we forget this call to practice resurrection in an ongoing way.  We, perhaps, aren’t sure how to bring resurrection into daily life.

The stories we hear during the Easter season highlight the resurrected life of the body – Thomas touching Jesus’ physical wounds, the nets being cast out from the boat to draw in an abundance of food, the disciples walking along the road to Emmaus with Jesus and breaking bread with him.  In this last story we read that their “eyes were prevented from recognizing him.”

When Jesus returns in resurrected form, he is fully embodied, yet hard for us to recognize.  The disciples do not expect their dear friend to be among them again and so they miss this truth with their limited vision.

To me, this speaks of an invitation to see the world in a different way.  Practicing resurrection is, in part, about becoming aware of how we see the world.  When we rush from thing to thing, never pausing, never allowing space, we see only what we expect to find.  We see to grasp at the information we need. We see the stereotypes embedded in our minds. We miss the opportunity to see beyond what we want. We walk by a thousand ordinary revelations in our busyness and preoccupation.

We find a similar emphasis on vision in the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration.  The burning light that once appeared to Moses in the bush now radiates from Jesus himself: “His face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). For the ancient writer Gregory Palamas, it was the disciples who changed at the Transfiguration, not Christ. Christ was transfigured “not by the addition of something he was not, but by the manifestation to his disciples of what he really was. He opened their eyes so that instead of being blind they could see.” Because their perception grew sharper, they were able to behold Christ as he truly is.

Consider celebrating resurrection this Easter season with a commitment to deeper vision.  This kind of seeing takes time.  We have to slow down and wait.  We have to release wanting to see something in particular, so that we can be open to what is being offered in the moment. This is the heart of contemplation – to see what really is, rather than what we would expect.

For me, the creative practice of photography can be a powerful doorway into transformed seeing.  When we open ourselves to receiving photos, rather than taking them, we are offered a gift.  By bringing the camera to the eye and allowing an encounter with the holy to open our hearts, we might be transformed.

It can be any kind of camera.  Look through the lens and imagine that it is a portal to a new way of seeing. Let the focus of the frame bring your gaze to the quality of light in this moment or the vibrancy of colors. Even five minutes can shift your gaze to a deepened quality of attentiveness.  No need to capture everything you see, but simply an invitation to breathe in the beauty of this moment.

Let yourself be willing to see the world differently, so that what others miss in the rush of life, becomes transfigured through your openness and intention. Practicing resurrection means walking along the road and paying close attention, making space to receive the gift of bread, the nourishment of conversation, and a vision of the sacred.

 

 

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, is the online Abbess at Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery and community for contemplative practice and creative expression.  She is the author of 15 books on art and monasticism, including, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (Ave Maria Press). Christine currently lives out her commitment as a monk in the world with her husband in Galway, Ireland.