by Laura Reber
Her prophecy seemed a bit dramatic, but I noted it in my journal anyway, as Lord knows I needed some help with my seemingly endless transitions. I left the counselor’s office anticipating the rush of a new adventure and getting out on the road. I had just completed my year off from the previous 20 years work in fire service administration and I was searching for a job outside of Spokane, Washington. My entire existence thus far had played out within a five mile radius of my childhood stomping grounds. Perhaps that was what fueled my passion for travel.
This time my wanderlust was taking me to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I would crash with a friend of a friend to check out the area for possible relocation. The two and a half day road trip through parts of the country I had never seen gave me plenty of time to think, and to be amazed even before I reached my destination. I was processing the grief and anxiety of the previous four years of compounding loss, including my dad’s recent passing, on top of choices I had fully and intentionally made to change my life’s direction. Although I still believed the choices were good, it was taking more time and energy than I had expected to release whatever the heck I was supposed to release in order to find a sense of normalcy again.
I’ve always found driving long distances to be great therapy: to be alone with my thoughts, to pray, to sing, to cry, to scream, to laugh, and to experience the numbing “stillness” of the world passing me by at 70 miles per hour. This trip was no different, except for the words of the counselor rattling around in my head. “You will meet a shaman who will help you bury your baggage on a walk in the desert. Release. Reclaim. Recharge.” Okay. Whatever.
New Mexico’s state motto is “The Land of Enchantment,” and that it is. The people I met, the conversations we had, and the experiences of synchronicity were off the charts. But I would have to say that the greatest take-away from this trip was my introduction to the labyrinth walk by my host’s neighbor, Ruth, who joined us for dinner that first evening in a small Tesuque neighborhood in the hills above Santa Fe. With my host working most of the time I was there, Ruth would be my guide – my teacher and my healer, my shaman – as I navigated my walk through the desert.
The first morning I set out alone to discover what the city had to offer. Art, culture, gardens, gastronomy, shop-keeper-philosophers and architecture were some of the highlights. As I explored the grounds of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis near the city center I made my way to the front and observed people randomly walking around a design inlaid in the pavement. It was circular, with alternating red and grey stones. I quickly discovered it wasn’t random at all, but an actual pathway. I waited for the area to clear and approached this strange configuration. Like a child trespassing in an unknown place, I quickly walked the path, entered the center noting its brass inlaid Crusader’s Cross encompassed in a floral pattern, and then made a beeline for the Cathedral, hoping nobody noticed the awkwardness of my unfinished labyrinth walk.
Later that day, I reconnected with Ruth who had become an instant friend and confidant. I told her about my adventures in the city and mentioned my experience at St. Francis. She asked what I knew about the labyrinth walk, which was nothing, and then asked if I’d like to learn. I met her the next morning wearing the suggested hiking boots, prepared to head up into the high desert hills of Tesuque. On the way we talked about the life paths that led us to this point. The questions about where I would go next and the clarity I was seeking. When I said I was considering a career in Expressive Arts Therapy she told me about her life as a musician, and working in thanatology with Hospice. She plays music for the imminently dying, “to bring peace and comfort to their transition.”
As we approached the labyrinth in the desert, I could sense it was a sacred place. I removed my boots and socks and exposing my feet to the rough sand and worn rocks.
“Okay, so how do I do this?”
“There are no rules,” Ruth encouraged me. “You just walk.”
She went on to explain that some people will hold a question in their mind on the way to the center with expectation of receiving an answer on that way out. Others will pray or sing or dance their way through …as the Spirit moves.
“Release all expectations and see where it takes you.”
The sun rose higher in the morning sky and warmed the sandy pathway outlined with rocks pulled from the arroyos’ scarred landscape. On this my second labyrinth walk I mostly just found more questions, but released some of the awkwardness and walked out the same way I walked in, completing the circuit.
As my trip continued, I would come upon a new walk each day – literally a different labyrinth presenting itself wherever I went. Day three was a labyrinth made of brick pavers and overseen by cherry blossoms outside on Santa Fe’s Museum Hill plaza. I walked with a little more confidence now, feeling refreshed and reclaiming my openness to experience life with all its unknowns. Later, inside the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, I breathlessly navigated the Navajo exhibits as the Spider Woman revealed her own ancient versions of crosses and labyrinths in her woven blankets and baskets. Back in Tesuque, Ruth had prepared a Passover dish of fruit, nuts, honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg served with unleavened bread and fresh horseradish. We talked about her traditions, and taking the bitter with the sweet in life. We savored the food and fellowship under the cottonwood trees, serenaded by Tesuque Creek until the desert cold compelled us to go inside by the fire.
Day four was a gift from a woman working at an artists’ co-op in Madrid, south of Santa Fe. I admired the labyrinth motifs in her fire-smoked pottery. I told her I was just learning about labyrinths these past few days. She told me about the movement in the Santa Fe area to build labyrinths at schools, hospitals, and churches as well as private properties. She then wrote down the address to her own home on property in the desert south of Madrid and offered her personal labyrinth as part of my journey. By the time I completed my fourth walk in the desert, I knew I was receiving something significant. Something I would forever carry with me. These sacred spaces were allowing me to get past the constant chatter in my head and to rid myself of the old baggage I carried all these years. I had found a walking meditation providing a new way to listen and receive. I was experiencing Saint Augustine’s Solvitur Ambulando, “It is solved by walking.”
I decided to end my visit to Santa Fe a day early with a new sense of clarity and a readiness to move on. I wanted to be at the ocean for Easter. I spent my last evening with Ruth feeling like I was leaving an old friend – grateful for the time we had shared, the wisdom I had gained, and knowing we walked this path of life together whether or not we would meet again. She played a lullaby on a native flute as the flames danced in the oversized stone fireplace. The music brought peace and comfort to my transition as I released the life I once knew that was no more.
Since that original walk in the desert I have found there is a lot written about the labyrinth, including an online worldwide labyrinth locator. This ancient tradition found new light in a rediscovery movement with the writings and teachings of The Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress from the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California. The Veriditas website instructs, “The labyrinth is not a maze. There are no tricks to it and no dead ends. It has a single circuitous path that winds its way into the center. The person walking it uses the same path to return from the center and the entrance then becomes the exit. The path is in full view, which allows a person to be quiet and focus internally. Generally there are three stages to the walk: releasing on the way in, receiving in the center and returning when you follow the return path back out of the labyrinth. Symbolically, and sometimes actually, you are taking back out into the world that which you have received.”
Release, reclaim, and recharge.
After my one-year planned sabbatical turned to two-years of unemployment, I was still unable to extricate myself from Spokane and then found myself working at Whitworth University – my alma mater and the epicenter of my life’s five-mile radius thus far. The four years of grief advanced into a grueling seven-year whirlwind of loss, and I continued to heap changes on top of that fire. As for finding that sense of normalcy, I can only refer back to my favorite line from a movie: In Awakenings there is a scene where the mother of Leonard Lowe stoically proclaims, “There’s no such thing as a normal life, there’s just life,” as her son slips back into his catatonic state when medical treatments fail.
I Kings 19 tells the story of Elijah making his escape from the wrathful Jezebel. He journeys into the desert, and is provided for and instructed along the way by an angel. He is then told to “[s]tand at attention before God. God will pass by.” God’s presence was not to be found in the wind, the rock-smashing earthquake, or the fire, but in a still small voice. Elijah is then instructed to return the same way he came, with a new charge.
I’ve spent many hours re-centering at the labyrinth in nearby Suncrest, built by the parish of Our Lady of the Lake. I’ve carved my own temporary labyrinths in the sands of the Richland desert, in the depths of the Inland Northwest snows, and on the beaches of the Oregon and California coastlines. I’ve even taught a labyrinth workshop at Whitworth, renting the portable canvas labyrinth from the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane. The imagery I love about the labyrinth walk is that it reminds me of life and how God is revealed when we stand at attention: as with life, there is only one way in and one way out. As you follow the path before you there is a central destination in your site, yet just when you think you’re about to arrive the path takes you off in another direction. You know, eventually, you will make it to the center so with faith and malleable intent you just keep walking one foot in front of the other. Sometimes you walk with friends, sometimes you walk with angels in disguise, and many times you walk alone. In walking the labyrinth, the entrance truly becomes the exit into a new reality as you are not the same as when you walked in. Releasing the cacophony of life and standing at attention in the center enables us to hear that still small voice, a gentle quiet whisper, knowing that God is near and providing a new charge with which to exit. This walking meditation reminds us that just as the entrance is the exit, in life an ending is a new beginning. And so it goes, one step at a time.
Laura Reber is a compulsive learner with a passion for experiencing life through travel, photography, and stories. She earned a BA in Music – Arts Administration and a Master in International Management from Whitworth University, where she now works as a training manager in HR. Laura also serves as chief person and food-bowl-filler to two basset hounds, with whom she enjoys sharing the four-season splendor of her backyard just a few miles from the Whitworth campus in Spokane, Washington. Her interests include transformative learning and expressive art therapy, and she is currently working on a book titled Images of the Sacred.
by Jacquelyn Barnes
I live in the collision between slowing down and being ambitious, between experiencing and interpreting, where freedom meets commitment.
I believe in the power of the will. The greatest obstacle we face is a lack of will. Willpowerlessness. I take my goals and my commitments very seriously. I was raised to.
They are always crashing into one another.
My parents told me I could do anything I set my mind to, but my mind refuses to settle on any worldly thing. While I find this frustrating, I also believe it’s an expression of God’s grace, keeping me set on what I actually think matters: that he is setting—has set—my path.
I studied to work in a publishing house. I wanted to work for Tin House magazine. To go to graduate school and study publishing. Then there was community, then there was a calling to Spokane where there is no Tin House, and where literary jobs are hard to come by. I stayed in Spokane because I believed—and maybe still believe—that I can be a part of what it is becoming, that my creative life could impact this town.
Graduating from college led me deeper into the Spokane community. I coordinated a concert series. I did faux finishing for a neighborhood restaurant. I worked in the mansion garden and the bed and breakfast kitchen. I helped cater a wedding and was a hostess for a few days in a brand new restaurant. I wrote for that restaurant’s blog and took photos of their food, which I then ate.
I began editing books for local authors—some more stubborn than others, but I found little work that I actually felt proud to have helped make its way into the world of readers. I edited few books I would ever recommend.
I taught myself hand-lettering and got a job at a local coffee shop. Online classes, reading books, designing greeting cards and wedding invitations. Learning how to taste coffee. Discovering I have a sensitive palate.
I always have goals, goals I could achieve if I could only choose one.
There is only one goal that I can choose, and I choose it over and over again. One constant goal. It is to know—and point to—God. My God. Jesus Christ. If I cannot stop at any given moment and let the Holy Spirit wash over me anew—if I am going too fast for that—then I have failed.
As an artist, I feel I have so much to prove, reaching for excellence in everything I try, but I am in such a hurry to see myself succeed. I feel the pressure to stay afloat, get what I want, contribute to my family, serve God and others.
To slow down, to make something beautiful only because beauty points to heaven, seems impossible in this life. So I am waiting for a better life.
Some people have goals like a staircase. They know exactly where they are going, rigid step after rigid step underfoot. That’s how my dad’s career has been and my mom’s Ironman training. I come from a family of determined, successful people, but I have goals like a river. It knows where it is taking me, but I don’t. What I strive for as I float seaward is to keep splashing my face with the water, play with the fish, keep looking at the stars, jump in every once in a while, to travel with company.
Jacquelyn Barnes is a freelance copyeditor, writer, and designer—as well as a barista at Indaba coffee bar (because she loves West Central and needs a reason to get out of the house on a daily basis). She has a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Whitworth University. Although originally from Portland, Oregon, she has elected to stay in Spokane where she currently lives with her newly wedded husband, Ty.
by Karissa Knox Sorrell
I live in a world where people pitch tents all time. I see them in their tents every day on Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. They stake their claim on a spot of land and defend it vigorously. Sometimes I put up a tent, too, on top of a tall soapbox from which I rant and rave. The problem is that for every tent up on a mountainside, there’s a tent in the valley, claiming that its place is better.
It’s getting harder and harder to see where I am. I was so busy setting up camp next to the right people and right opinions that I missed the doe and her fawn sneaking through the brush. I was so focused on defending my territory that I ignored the star-rise in the twilight sky. The air was laced with fall bonfire smoke, and I might have pulled up a chair to warm myself, but I was perfecting the inside of my tent instead.
The Christian faith has been reduced to argument, to fact and certainty, to proofs and defenses. I can’t wade through it all anymore. We’ve tried to contain God inside all of our human semantics and projections, but he is too big for that. I long to sense him away from all the theologizing and theorizing. I want to know him simply, naturally, without fuss and pomp. Perhaps finding him is easier than we make it out to be.
In her book Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about being at the edge of the spiritual map: “There were no slate roofs or signs to the restroom out there, no printed programs or friendly ushers. There was just the unscripted encounter with the undomesticated God whose name was unpronounceable – that, and a bunch of flimsy tents lit up by lanterns inside, pitched by those who were either seeking such an encounter or huddling in their sleeping bags while they recovered from one.”
Give me the wilderness, because that’s the only place I can find God anymore. I can’t find him in the emotional gushing, and I can’t find him in the ancient prayers, and I can’t find him in the scholarly theology. But I can hear his presence in the wind, and I can see his greatness in the round, full moon, and I can taste his beauty in fruit from the tree.
Give me the wasteland, because that’s where I belong now. The tents out here are old and torn, and sometimes the sand and rain get in. But the touch of the natural elements on my skin speaks of creation and mercy.
Give me the misfits, because they look like me. Exhausted from trying, frustrated with old formulas, in awe at the beauty of their new home out here. I open my ragged tent to them, we share some bread, and I find hope in their eyes.
Give me the silence, because it has so much more to say that the arguments do. I listen carefully, and the silence sings of rest, nourishment, and gifts. My stuttering heart relaxes and welcomes a world full of fingerprints and footprints of beloved creatures.
I’ll pitch my tent at the edge of map, wherever that is. I hope you might join me. Together we can carry the buckets of water from the stream and gather twigs for the fire. As the day gets dark, you can tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine, and maybe, just as the last streak of light flickers on the horizon, we’ll find God.
Karissa Knox Sorrell is a writer and educator from Nashville, Tennessee. She has an MFA from Murray State University, and her poetry and nonfiction have been published in a variety of journals, including Relief, St. Katherine Review, Catapult Magazine, Parable Press, and Flycatcher. Karissa works with ESOL teachers and students in Nashville’s public school system. Read more of her writing on her blog, or follow her on Twitter @KKSorrell
Image is from here.
by Shannon McKee
I’m not sure when it was that I stopped dancing. Not with a company or with a performance group or in clubs, but just dancing–in the kitchen on a cool evening, in my polyester nightgown, moving to Whitney Houston. I know why I stopped, though. It likely had something to do with maturity, with growing up, with advancing to more important things, like anxiety and stress and looking respectable to peers.
Last fall, while studying abroad in a small Italian village, I lived in a renovated convent with seventeen artistic, intelligent, and passionate students. Free from the perks and pitfalls of technology, we were forced again to imagine.
One October evening, I heard music coming from the end of the hall. Intrigued, I strode down the long corridor, opened the door, and discovered two of my friends in this state: lights off, music booming, moving their hips and spinning liberally around their tiny room. I paused, stepped inside and began to move with the beat.
That first unselfconscious dance of my adulthood set my feet in a spacious place. In that moment, I realized there was no standard to be met; no committee stood in the corner, rating the point of my big toe. I threw perfectionism aside and took hold of delight.
Now home, I make sure to dance at least weekly. Truly, you can catch me if you ever stop by! You’ll find me often in the kitchen, playing Bethel or Bruce Springsteen, dancing made-up ballet, finding my way into praise.
But it upsets me that dance is no longer a distinctive part of my culture. Gradually, we’ve come to think the art belongs only to professionals, club hoppers, wedding-goers and children. But dance– whether amateur or professional, ballroom, ballet or crump– should be standard to us, because it ushers into freedom. It liberates us from the confines of strict movement, from using our bodies only to achieve tangible outcomes– hanging up the clothes on the line, pushing the lawnmower, writing the to-do list.
When we dance, our movements take us out of the ordinary, which are no longer executed with a task in mind, and we come to understand without thought that we were created to be. Our leaps and whirls begin to imitate both the disappointments and the deep pleasures of our hearts. And somehow, in the act of zealously moving our bodies, we are able to forget them.
If, as Paul writes, we don’t fight against flesh and blood, then the actions of our bodies must matter in the spiritual realm. If the body is capable of leading us into evil, then what if the body is also capable of conquering it? Joshua walked around Jericho, and walls fell; Elijah laid his body atop a dead boy, and the boy rose bright-eyed to life; Jesus refused food for forty days and opened the gates to His ministry.
Who knows what a midday jig might do. When God “turns our mourning into dancing,” He frees us from a despairing spiritual state by way of a physical one. When we dance, we engage in spiritual combat. We battle for joy.
The summer before my junior year of college, I coached a volleyball camp for high school girls. One afternoon, I happened to notice the court across from me, where an incredibly intense game was unfolding. During a break in play, the entire team stood huddled near the net, seriously discussing strategy for their next set–except for one girl, who clearly carried no more anxiety about the next game than about what she would eat for dinner afterwards.
Right there in the middle of the court, and with all her might, she was twirling.
Shannon McKee majored in English writing at Messiah College. She now cares for youth who have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border unaccompanied by their parents. She enjoys black tea with cream more than most things, adores her one-year-old niece, and would like to fly kites more frequently.
Image above is from here.
by Heather Caliri
I was a junior in college when my Bible study leader, Tina, recommended that I memorize Scripture.
She pulled out a card from her pocket to show me. “I write my memory verse on this and carry it in my pocket,” she said.
In her neat printing, it read,
Blessed is the one
…whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
I felt the familiar weight of anxiety settle on my shoulders. I knew I should memorize. I was also supposed to be praying more, too, and studying my Bible for longer—
The idea of doing another thing made me feel like weeping.
I blinked, willing away my dismay, and smiled at Tina. “That looks neat.”
We were walking along the pebbled pathway from my dorm to the main campus road. The first part of the pathway was open to the hot Texas sun, but then the live oak canopy started, the light growing dimmer and dimmer as we walked. Their bark was gnarled, rippling with the slow power of hundreds of years.
She smiled back at me. “Just start small,” she said. “It gets easier!”
Her smile was as bright as the hot, exposed sidewalk.
I had no excuse, really. I was actually good at memorizing things. No excuse. I told myself, grateful for the shadow of the trees. No excuse.
It never occurred to me to say: No, thank you.
I wouldn’t have dared.
Not because Tina was scary—no, she was kind, and patient, and trustworthy. I loved the time I spent with her.
But we both knew the right answers to the questions she asked me, and I wanted to have the right answers.
I wouldn’t have dared to tell her that that I hated the spiritual disciplines I did every day.
I felt ashamed enough of my resistance as it was.
It never occurred to me that perhaps the methods—not me—were the problem. I didn’t know there might be fine print on the bottom of her index card, saying, Your results may vary.
Fifteen years later, I got a CD of scripture memory songs for my kids that a friend had recommended. We homeschool without curriculum, grades, or much academic structure. But when it came to God, faith, and Christianity, I felt guilty that I didn’t teach them something more.
The CD was better than index cards, at least. I hoped it would be fun.
My kids listened to the songs once, then—with shocking shamelessness—shrugged with indifference.
They dared, as I had not, to say no.
I persisted a few times, but in the end, I didn’t want to force them to do something I’d hoped they’d enjoy. I’d been homeschooling long enough to know that they usually found their own ways of learning what they needed.
What surprised me, though, was how much I liked the music.
To my surprise, I started playing it. Regularly.
One day, I felt anxious about an upcoming conversation with our landlord. Anxiety is like a headache with me—materializing sometimes for no apparent reason at all.
To my surprise, I decided to put on the Bible CD as a way of feeling better.
For I am convinced, a little boy sang, that…neither the present or the future…shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
I stood in my living room listening. I was finally able to breathe. I felt amazed that the song was helping me.
In the past, the Bible had made me more anxious, not less. When I tried, like Tina, to be disciplined about reading, studying, or memorizing it, I was right back in college, uneasy and ashamed.
But this felt different. I sang even though there was dusting and laundry and dinner to take care of. Then I pressed a button to play it again.
I had spent so long feeling guilty about Scripture that I had a hard time recognizing the feeling coursing through me.
It was hunger.
As the notes left my throat, I could see, in a way I couldn’t before the music started, that I had choices, and one of them was to be calm. I could choose peace. I did not have to worry about a situation that was nowhere near life and death.
I didn’t just have choices about my anxiety. I had choices about faith, too. I could choose to relate to God in ways that brought me joy instead of misery. I could pay attention to my hunger, instead of my shame.
My bare feet sinking into the carpet, I raised my voice. Was this what delight meant? Might I actually feel it, despite myself? Had this been possible, all along? Had I been forcing myself to choke down something I was ravenously hungry for?
I tipped my chin back as the song started again, filled my lungs with sweet, powerful air, ready to keep singing.
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego. She started saying yes to joy in her faith two years ago and was surprised to find that joy led straight to Jesus. Find out about her upcoming ebook, Unquiet Time: A devotional for the rest of us, here.
Boombox image is from here.
by Liz Mitchell
One of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, said, “The impeded stream is the one that sings.” I’ve been thinking about the dimensions of such a statement. What are impediments? Failed relationships, unemployment, stilted finances, abuse, poverty in all its forms. The list goes on. Some impediments I know intimately. But how do they make me sing?
When water flows freely, high and fast, it doesn’t create much sound. It sparkles in the sunlight, catching rays and reflecting them back to the sun on ripples that speed along the sides of river banks. If you’ve ever been in the ocean and in deep water, you know it’s pretty quiet out there. Unless a storm blows up, the water is still and hushed, even if it’s teeming with life beneath. Water, on its own, doesn’t say much.
But if I throw rocks into that riverbed and listen, the water begins to speak. It crashes against the rocks, seeking a way through, around, or over them. It gurgles through the cracks, splashes down the back side, swishes between those rocks and the bank. In its excitement, it might pull a dry leaf off the grass above and hurry it along its path, creating crackling applause. And that still, quiet ocean? Try putting a shoreline in its path. What miraculous sounds are unleashed when waves meet the sand? Booms and crashes, splashes and fizzes, white foam curling around your toes and salt spray clinging to your hair and eyelashes. It sings, that ocean, once it’s met its greatest impediment.
I’ve sung a few times, too. I sang when my mother told me of her diagnosis of breast cancer. I had no idea she’d found a lump. No idea she’d spent that Christmas waiting and waiting to hear back. A few weeks later, in January of 2008, she told my father, brother, and me that she had Breast Ductive Carcinoma, Invasive. Our family, which normally ran smoothly, encountered not just a rock but a mountain in our path. We didn’t see it coming. We could see no way around it. We would have to go through it, singing.
Just as the water in the river seeks to push through the cracks between the rocks, we sought to push through man’s diagnosis with God’s healing power. We called up every prayer warrior we knew and asked them to lift their voices. We laid our hands on my mother and we called down heaven, tearing open the veil between the two worlds and asking for what was possible to become what was. We stood by her at her doctor’s appointments and at her bedside when she had a lumpectomy. We loved her and sought to support her in every way we could throughout her journey, as she endured thirty-three radiation treatments and five years of a chemo pill called Tamoxifen. My mother, whose last mammogram came back clean and perfect, now considers herself cancer free. And she’s still singing.
I sang, too, as my husband and I felt like it was time to have our second child. God had spoken specifically to us that his name would be Benjamin, that he would be important to the Kingdom of God on earth, and that it was time for him to be born. But month after month, those promises were unfulfilled. Eighteen unfulfilled months went by before I began taking a fertility drug called Clomid. If you’ve ever longed for a child, you know that desperation is not a normal feeling of hope. It crowds your waking mind with its immense weight and pressure, drawing your attention to itself over and over again, continually rubbing raw the same wound. Six months of Clomid and six more unfulfilled promises dashed against that rough-edged wall of infertility.
At that point I needed a break. I couldn’t do one more month. I was tired of beating myself against the rocks in my path. I’d pushed through their cracks, singing until my voice was hoarse, rubbing myself raw with the sands of disappointment, anxiety, fear, and anger. I wanted God’s promises to be fulfilled. I wanted my Benjamin. But after six months of surging hormones, my thyroid called it quits and I felt my body slide downward into sickness. I ached. I cried. I stared at my mountain. But my doctor, who dealt with bodies in messes just like mine all the time, put me on thyroid meds. My body, still responding to the previous six months of meds, awakened to both and within a week, Benjamin was on his way.
Since his birth, God asked us to have another child. I fought Him because I didn’t want to go through the same process of infertility, drugs, hope and hopelessness, for months on end. But finally I agreed. He knew my fear and He took care of it. Nine months after I made that decision, our second daughter, Hazel, was born. And on that day, God sang, too.
When I am an impeded stream, I pray more. I seek more quiet time with my Daddy God. I worship and praise and hunt Him in His word. The fast paced routines of my days are interrupted, turned sideways, and I am poured out in a new way. Like water through the rocks, I sing. And my Savior listens.
After earning her undergraduate degree from the University of Evansville, Liz Mitchell taught adult education for two years in her hometown of Madisonville, KY, followed by ten years in public high schools as a Spanish teacher. During that time she also earned an MFA from Murray State University. Liz currently lives in Fairview, TN, with her husband and three children. She blogs, juggles mommy chores, and writes fiction when the planets align and she has free time. Liz has a piece coming out in an upcoming anthology from Family Fiction.
Photo’s from here.
by Morgan C. Feddes
church \‘chərch\ n. 1 : a building for public and especially Christian worship 2 : the clergy or officialdom of a religious body 3 often capitalized : a body or organization of religious believers
– The Merriam-Webster Dictionary
“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:2-3
When you tear down your church every week, it makes you re-examine your view of your Church.
For more than twenty years, this, to me, was church: rows of wooden pews in a sanctuary with thin, worn cushions on the seats, never very comfortable; at the front, a wooden pulpit, often with a cross carved into it; behind the pulpit, a pastor, typically in a suit, sometimes with a tie, and always male; behind the pastor, an organ, with pipes soaring to a vaulted ceiling, belting out the four parts of a song from the Psalter Hymnal as the congregation followed the organist’s lead.
Lately, though, I find myself spending some Sunday mornings alongside other volunteers in building our church and then tearing it down again.
To clarify: I attend National Community Church, which meets in seven different movie theaters throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia (aka the DMV; this is the home of the government and all its acronyms, after all). For a few hours each week, we convert some theater lobbies and screens into places of worship, complete with spaces for Sunday school, nursery, prayer, and fellowship. Then, after the end of every service, the praise bands pack up their instruments, the various items used to build church go back into their storage containers, which are then wheeled into closets, and church is disassembled until the next week — usually in a bit of a rush, so that moviegoers can head in with their buckets of popcorn to catch a Sunday matinee.
This is not where I saw myself just a few years ago. My first experience of regularly attending a church that didn’t meet in a church didn’t happen until I was a senior in college, and even then, I never thought about the implications behind a Church without a church. Mostly, I assumed churches in the city had to make up for the lack of space afforded to those, like me, who lived out in the country. They were meeting in a school because they had to have church somewhere, not because it was the ideal location for that part of the Church.
This assumption stemmed from the stark divide between church and life that I had in my head for years. My home church was built in the 1960s; most of my adolescent years centered around its Sunday services and Wednesday night youth groups (at least until high school, when the youth groups moved to Sunday nights). The sanctuary’s decorations may have changed from season to season, but the building itself was always church. I may have brought my faith out into the wider world to be a witness to Christ’s light (or at least I was supposed to), but to my mind, the wider world didn’t usually make it across the threshold into that space unless it was through a sermon illustration. There was a division between worlds, and ne’er shall the twain meet, or so I thought. (Looking back with the 20/20 vision that hindsight affords, though, I can say this wasn’t through any fault of my home church; it was all me.)
These days, though, I’ll occasionally find myself among the popcorn-munching moviegoers watching the latest summer flick in the very theater (and once, the very seat) where just hours before I’d spent watching a recording of one of NCC’s lead pastors preaching the latest sermon. The two worlds are meeting, and though I laugh when it happens, it doesn’t strike me as unusual as I would have thought just a few years ago.
I’d like to say that this comes after a long, completed journey toward realizing the impracticalities and inherent dangers of separating very important aspects of myself and assigning them their certain spaces. But I’d be lying because it isn’t fully complete. I can say that it has come after a long and joyful (though not always happy) journey toward recognizing both the all-encompassing love of Christ in every aspect of my own life and the fact that everything — inside the church and out of it — comes from God.
It all revolves around my new understanding of what it means to be a Church. You see, I’ve come to realize that capital-C Church is not about a building, nor the people who meet in it, nor the process in which its built. Capital-C Church is what Paul says in his opening to the Corinthians: Church consists of the people “called to be [Christ’s] holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.”
For someone who went to a Christ-centered school literally from kindergarten through college, this should have seemed obvious from the get-go; perhaps it was and I just missed it for the first couple decades of my life. Still, better late than never. This is especially true as I live out my new life in Washington, D.C. — a city that revolves around a constant cycle of transition and change. Sometimes, the Church meeting in a typical church doesn’t work. In a city where people are constantly coming and going for one reason or another, a church like NCC — built around the idea of being “in the middle of the marketplace,” among other core convictions — is suited for being built up and torn down each week. It keeps all its members mobile, just like the rest of the city.
And most importantly, it reinforces the fact that Church — the capital-C Church — isn’t meant to be separated from the rest of everyday life. It isn’t a facet of life to be compartmentalized, only drawn out for certain occasions. Instead, it’s meant to be who we, as the capital-C Church, are as a whole: sanctified and called by Christ, whether we’re sitting in wooden pews or squeaky movie theater seats.
Morgan C. Feddes hails from Montana and now resides in Washington, D.C., where she works for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. In the recent past, she’s helped get a small-town cafe off the ground in Montana, worked for Christianity Today in Illinois, and spent some of the best years of her life at Whitworth University in Washington state, where she graduated with a degree in English in 2011. She blogs over at The Isle Full of Noises and occasionally tweets @morgan_feddes.
Photo of Michael Knox band is from here.
by Polly Hollar Pauley
On my son’s seventh birthday this summer, we breakfasted out, per his request, and then spent five hours at a local vineyard enjoying music, feasting, and visiting while we celebrated our dear friends’ wedding anniversary. We were surprised when the entire crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to our son. I watched him in wonder during the song; as the huge chorus of voices rose and everyone smiled at him and sang, he seemed to enjoy it in his shy, half-smiling way. Tears stood in my eyes.
Only a few short years ago he never would have been able to handle that situation. From his earliest colicky days he seemed like an unusual baby, but even after his colic faded he was intense. He reserved his sweet, gummy smiles for a select few, and everyone else got what we dubbed “the serious face.” Sudden laughter or loud noises resulted in meltdowns, even in the middle of a church sermon.
I grew used to removing him from social situations; he and I would hang out in an empty room, reading books. I remember sitting on the floor of a Sunday School room at church one Sunday, puzzling over why my child seemed to flip out so readily at the innocuous sound of laughter, and praying that God would teach me to parent him for who he was. My husband and I honored his obsession with flags or basketball goals, his panicked fear of balloons. We tried to be gentle with his temperament.
My son changed me. He made me a better person, which I desperately needed—without knowing I needed it, of course. I was humbled by the fact that he was out-of-the-box; I was forced to give up on what I thought he might do and what the parenting books said he should do, and I instead became a student of this particular child. When he was two years old we were told he may never communicate properly; the deliverer of this news was grim, not encouraging. We decided to use the “label” as a tool to help us help our son live in the world, but we never have defined him by it.
Our son has changed. His communication skills have exploded. His interests are still intense and consuming, but he can transition from one interest or activity to another without a problem. (For the record, at the age of seven, his top three interests are limousines, jellyfish, and confetti, with Andre Rieu’s orchestra, drawing, and building orchestra and theatre sets trailing closely behind.) I view his laser-focus as a gift; it helps him see something and then re-create it in multi-dimensional form. His artwork is lovely. Social situations take navigation and guidance, but he is becoming more natural at spontaneous social interactions. He is coming into his own.
All this is simply to say: a child is a gift. And, this child is my gift. Twenty-four hours of labor, urgent surgery for me the week after his birth, countless sleepless nights (years of sleepless nights), colic, unusual diets, inexplicable tantrums, late-blooming language—none of it can possibly hold a candle to the thousands of moments of joy and happiness and beauty that these seven years have brought to us. I would do it all over again, many times, to see him splashing in the cold Appalachian creek in slanting sunlight or running in the ocean surf at dusk, to watch him dashing ahead of me down our dusty country lane or jumping in the good mud puddles that form after a heavy rain.
I keenly feel the passage of time, because there are only 11 more years before he begins his own life as an adult. There’s an urgency to the flipping of the calendar; there are so many things we wish to impart to him, to show him, to enjoy with him, before he is grown, from how to bait a fishing rod to how to roll out cinnamon rolls, how to iron a shirt and how to stop everything and just gape at the sunset, and how to love someone for who they are, not who you think they should be.
Seven years ago I had no idea who I was holding in my arms—who was this person, and who would he become? I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking care of a baby, so overwhelmed that I couldn’t even bathe him myself the first few weeks of his life. I was terrified that I would drop him. Seven years later I am overwhelmed with radical gratitude because I was given this artistic, loquacious, witty, shy, clever, creative boy—and the gift of spending my days with him.
Polly Hollar Pauley’s poetry has been published in The Hollins Critic, Cider Press Review, Artemis, and The Allegheny Review. She lives in the Appalachian Mountains with her husband and children.
Photo from Amanda Reardon photography.