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The Unrecorded Miracles

I read today’s lenten gospel passage, John 2:1-2. The story recounts how Mary strong-armed her son into performing the first recorded miracle at the wedding feast. I considered the passage, and this is what came. Enjoy.

***

The Unrecorded Miracles

These are the secret miracles:

the boy at the window
greeting the sun before
its eyelashes opened
over the mountain;

dirt drawings of
simple birds, his
blowing of that
dust to flight;

the neighbor widow’s
full flour sack, oil jar,
her house rich in
bread and laughter;

His tiny hands above
my belly, how a word
stopped the bleeding
as he wept with me

for my son, his brother;
his tears blotting
my feet, hem drying
tiny baptismal pools.

I’ve carried these
like water in jars, waiting
for the word to age
memories into wine.

 

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Ash Wednesday

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Who’s sin is covered!”
—Psalm 32:1

Today is a day of ashes, a day to remember that we were dust and to dust we shall return.  In that, we consider the ends of our nature, the temporal nature of our desires. How does sin so easily entangle? How is it wound into all of us?

In the recognition of our ashenness, we can still find joy in this: Ash Wednesday marks a season of reflection on Christ’s march to the cross, his death, burial, and resurrection.  In this march, through this march, on the far side of the march, he set everything right–us, earth, heaven, the whole shebang. In this, he took the ash of everything and turned it platinum.  So as we remember our ashenness, as we recognize the lusts of the flesh and do what we can to kill them, let’s not forget: salvation is coming.

Can you hear it?

“O Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord,
Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving,
Let us shout joyfully to Him with Psalms.”
–Psalm 95:1-2

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Pray Yourself Sober

What is sobriety? Doesn’t it mean more than keeping free of the bottle, the needle, the prescription pill, the credit card bill? This has been the drum I’ve banged for nearly three years, now. Sobriety, it seems to me, is that quality of connection that keeps us clear-headed. And in this modern world of noise, and news, and endless screaming over each other, don’t we need that kind of connection more than ever?

I’ve tried my best over the last few months to cultivate personal practices of sobriety, and in that, I’ve turned to the writings of George Buttrick, the twentieth-century Presbyterian pastor who wrote about prayer. Buttrick’s practices and insights lead me to quieter places, places of thanksgiving, confession, and rest. I’ve enjoyed these practices, and I’m inviting you to join me in them.

An invitation begs attendance. Doesn’t it?

I’ve created two daily email plans based on Buttrick’s work. The first, The Practice of Prayer: Thanksgivingis a five-day email plan stretching into the recognition of the good gifts of God in our everyday lives. The next, The Practice of Prayer: Confession, is a five-day email plan of examination and recognition. Confession–it’s hard, maybe, but aren’t most things worth doing?

If you sign up for the Thanksgiving plan, you’ll receive the Confession plan immediately following the completion of your gratitude practice. And if you complete the Confession plan, you’ll receive an email notification when new prayer plans are available (I’ll release another one in the next month or two).

Would you consider signing up? And as you’re working through the plans, feel free to invite a conversation partner or two (perhaps a small group) along. You can invite your friends to sign up by way of Twitter or  Facebook.

So, pull a group together, and let’s go. I’ll be working my way through these plans, too (you can’t practice thanksgiving and confession too much). Let’s cultivate practices of sobriety. Shall we?

 

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Choking Creativity (Part 4)

This is Part 4 of my series, Choking Creativity. To read Parts 1, 2, and 3, follow this link.

1. The Fog

“Sleep will enhance your ability to explore, make connections, and do less but better throughout your waking hours.” Greg Mckeown, Essentialism.

Too many mornings begin in a fog. The obligations of the day suck me dry, then the obligations of the evening land me in bed well past any reasonable hour. In bed, I don’t give up on the day. There’s the day’s news to catch up on, my social media feeds call my name, and news episodes of The Expanse, or The Crown, and The Blacklist wait to be streamed. I stretch the limits like taffy, hang on until my eyes are too heavy. I wake early, attempt to get a jump on the morning after too little sleep. 5:49 minutes of sleep? Round it up. Call it six. It’s good. Right?

I wake early, attempt to get a jump on the morning after too little sleep. 5:49 minutes of sleep? Round it up. Call it six. It’s good. Right?

2. The Problem

In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeownw cites to a Harvard Business Review article, in which the author states that a week of 4-5 hours per night of sleep “induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%” He expounds, showing how less than seven hours of sleep per night affects creativity and productivity.

You know this to be true, don’t you? How many mornings do you sit in the fog hoping the coffee will work some kind of miracle? How many days do you wander in a sleep-deprived funk? And on those days, how creative are you?

Be honest.

Our lack of sleep–isn’t this a consumption problem too? The activities, the obligations, the media–we consume and consume and consume until it’s well past the witching hour. Then, how much time do we leave to sleep, that time to recharge our brains and bodies?

Researcher after researcher has shown that sleep is the fuel for our creativity. It is the muse. Today, let’s examine the practices of consumption that disrupt our sleep. Let’s prioritize sleep as a practice of creativity.

3. The Practice

Consider the nights you’ve gotten less than 7-8 hours of sleep in the past month. What cut into your dreams? Television? Scrolling the news on your phone? The black hole of social media? A good romp with your significant other (which, I can excuse from time to time, human as I am). Do you see any patterns?

This week, make it your goal to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Resist the activities that deprive you of good sleep (save for the above-stated romp). Combined with your practice of making the first thirty minutes of your day digital free, see if this enhances your creativity. Consider writing notes on the results.

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Choking Creativity (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of my series, Choking Creativity. To read Parts 1 and 2, follow this link.

1. The Politics (But this is not about politics, per se).

The first few weeks of the Trump presidency have stoked the fires of outrage in this country (the fires of both left and right) and if the fires of outrage are good for anything, it’s powering the engine of opinion. The news (and #FakeNews) has an endless stream of topics to cover–the Muslim travel ban (“your words; not mine”); the Department of Education tweet; the Sessions confirmation; the Dakota Access Pipeline; #ShePersisted. CNN, BBC, Fox News, all of Twitter, everyone on Facebook, they’re all producing content these days. And here I am, producing content relating to all the content that’s been produced. (The irony is not lost on me).

There is a river of information, gigabytes streaming through the air and into our pockets.

Buzz… swipe… read… opine.

Buzz… swipe… read… opine.

Buzz… swipe… read… opine.

This is the endless rhythm of so many of our lives these days.

2. The Problem

In the first quarter of 2016, it was reported that U. S. adults consumed 10 hours, 39 minutes of media, up a full hour from the corresponding quarter of 2015. On average, two hours and ten minutes of that media consumption was through a smartphone or tablet. I suspect that during the first quarter of this year, media consumption will be even higher, the current political climate being what it is. Our smartphones and tablets, these have become the portal to the digital town hall, and meetings are always in session.

Don’t get me wrong, digital media is not all bad. It allows us access to news, commentary, and that long lost friend from Plano, the one that stuck the raisin up his nose on a third-grade dare. (He’s a brain surgeon, now; funny how life turns). But when digital media becomes habitual, addictive even, our consumption of it robs us of creative space.

“It’s so hard to find creative time,” so many of us say. But what if we carved out twenty minutes of creative space from those two hours (and change) of digital media consumption? What if instead of scrolling Apple News, or YouTube, or Facebook, or Twitter, we sat outside, pen and paper at the ready, and stretched into the quiet space of creating? What if we started our day this way, and ended it this way, too?

Would it hurt you to lose twenty minutes of digital media a day?

3. The Practice

We’ve discussed the practice of setting aside twenty minutes a day to practice creativity. Today, let’s consider another practice. Let’s consider the practice of unplugging.

Would you consider living the first and last thirty minutes of everyday digital-media free? If the pull of your smartphone is too much, charge it in another room instead of by your bed. Set aside this beginning and end of your day as a dedicated creative space. Journal; doodle; write a poem; brainstorm solutions to a tricky problem (even a work problem); mindmap; whittle; carve; sculpt; bead; play guitar, or piano, or banjo. The output of creativity matters less than the lack of digital input. Follow this practice for a few days, then ask yourself: how do I feel?

 

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