Minor Course Corrections

by Karen Richter

Good morning and happy new year, Southwest Conference friends. Here’s your obligatory New Year blog post. ☺

If you’re passionate (as I am) about the liturgical year, that’s your cue to say, “But wait! The new liturgical year started several weeks ago with the first week of Advent!” Yes, yes it did. I’m not interested in a tired tirade about prioritizing the liturgical year over the secular year. Instead I’m thinking: isn’t it wonderful how our post-modern lives give us so many opportunities for pause and reflection? There’s January, of course. There’s Advent, with its beginning in hopeful anticipation. There’s (for academic types and parents of school-aged children) the school year, with its flurry of supply purchases and new schedules.

And there’s the new beginning of weekly Sabbath and the new beginning of each sunrise. Finally, there’s the new beginning of forgiveness and reconciliation always available to us.

I need every single one of these prompts to begin anew.

So it’s not a bad thing, in this first week of January 2017, when the world is starting fresh along with us, to anticipate and resolve some changes or minor course corrections.

Not diet and exercise. Not writing a book. Not saving money. Not even going to church more often. Again, not interested. We don’t need to squander this beautiful opportunity for newness by simply striving and grasping at becoming better, shinier versions of ourselves. So just cut that out. You are enough. You are loved just as you are.

So I offer here my minor course corrections, not as a stick with which to beat myself up when I fall short, but as a shared guidepost of encouragement:

  1. Do more hard things.
    I was just reading this morning about how pushing our limits can protect against the ravages of mental aging. Not just devilishly difficult Sudoku, but really taking on something that is difficult enough to be mentally tiring. Do something that excites you but isn’t easy.  Do something at which you might fail spectacularly and publicly.

    I’m not sure what this will be for me: more writing perhaps or a new skill.
  2. Rest and celebrate.
    Doesn’t it seem strange that we have to remind ourselves to rest? BUT WE DO. Especially perhaps in these trying times of division, global violence, and increasing inequality, it’s hard to pause to rest. Our culture encourages overwork and busy-ness with prevalent figures of speech like ‘putting everything out on the field.’

    Two thoughts on this: First, I think our willingness to rest is related to our satisfaction with our work. Hence, ‘rest and celebrate’ is tied to ‘do more hard things.’ Second, our reluctance to stop is a symptom of our collective egos out of control. Our work does not keep the world spinning. I had lunch this week with a friend, a Franciscan friar. He reminded me, “We are not called to save the world. The world already has a Savior in Christ. Instead we are called to work.” We can rest and renew more fully (and thereby work more fruitfully) when we see our work with God’s eyes.
  3. Get real and vulnerable with myself and with trusted companions.
    This wouldn’t be a churchy blog worth the name if I didn’t tell you to pray more in 2017 (oops – these are supposed to be MY 2017 course corrections… so I am going to pray more in 2017). Find anything that works for you. I’m a big fan of silence in the car during my commute: no radio, no Sirius, no audiobooks. Walking the dog. Mindful breathing. Journaling. Make any of these into your prayer practice.

    We’re not meant to journey alone. I couldn’t have a New Year blog without also suggesting that you find spiritual companionship. Whether it’s a traditional spiritual director, a small group, or an accountability partner, articulating to another person where you are and what’s going on in your spirit will bring you greater insight and tremendous comfort.  Check Teresa Blythe’s Patheos blog Spiritual Direction 101 or poke around on Spiritual Directors International.

Whatever you do or don’t do in 2017, know that you are loved.  Through God’s grace, may we move together more fully into holiness and wholeness.

The Power of Pretend

by Amanda Petersen

I just spent the morning on a beautiful island eating very juicy oranges and sipping tea. All of this was done on my living room floor with my granddaughter.  She is just learning the power of pretend. We laughed and giggled as the imaginary oranges squirted all over us. As I watched the light in her eyes as she figured out this pretend game, I thought of all the other places she will imagine in her lifetime.

Practicing imagination is a wonderful contemplative practice.  I know I have spoken about the power of the moment and getting real as contemplative practices, yet  giving oneself permission to imagine possibilities is also a great practice.  The imagination can lead one to a bigger picture of God, life, and community. For example, one may say God is male, judgmental, or disappointed. Maybe the vision is there is no time for prayer, life is stuck or things could never improve.  This is where the gift of the imagination is a Godly pursuit. Think of Martin Luther King saying, “I have a dream.”  What if one’s imagination could allow for a kind, beyond gender, forgiving God?  The contemplative imagination allows one to sit in a pretend world where one can find the time to pray, where life is full of possibilities beyond what is happening. Who know where it can lead? It also gives the space to try out life in a different way without having to upend everything.

The imagination is a very powerful prayer practice, not to be taken lightly, because it can also lead into places of limits and lack of possibility. When the time of imagining is over, the individual is different, whether the circumstances change or not. The door to life as it is known is open because one has seen it. Then comes the work in the real world. How does this time of pretend make its way into this life? How does imagining a more loving world help one create a more loving world? How does imagining a bigger God help one begin to examine the God they are encountering now?

My time this morning on the island has created a connection and a memory with my granddaughter that will continue to shape our lives together. The world just got a little bigger for both of us. Where do you go in your imagination? How can the power of pretend be a prayer practice for you?

I Pray God for You

by Amos Smith

I had a mentor in Seminary who would often say or write, “I pray God for you”. I was always a bit puzzled that he left “to” out of his statements. I wanted to say, “don’t you mean ‘I pray to God for you.’”

As the years passed, I realized that leaving out “to” was deliberate. With time I have come to understand that we are indeed in God. To say that we are in God changes everything. We no longer pray to God out there but pray God. It means that God is not separate or separated from us. What we are praying to we also participate in.

Emmanuel (God with us), dwells in us through prayer and Holy Communion. The risen Christ envelops us. We are God’s own. We can also have an influence on God. God becomes not so much something we pray to, but something we participate in.

“For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).