Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Creative prayer: Art as symbol and metaphor

Wednesday February 27 2019

Creative prayer: Art as symbol and metaphor

I fell in love with Australian aboriginal art the first time I saw it as a young adult. I love visual patterns, and aboriginal art is full of them. A highlight of our first trip to Australia in 2001 was the art museums and art galleries where I got to see a lot of examples. I bought a book about aboriginal art and learned that many pieces are actually maps, representing the land forms, human settlements, and animals of specific places.

In 2011, my husband Dave and I began a new habit which we have continued. Several morning a week we pray silently together for 20 minutes. We do it in the late morning when I am ready for a break from working in my home office. In the first few years of that practice, I often picked up a book of art prints and prayed using the prints. Last week I wrote about doing that with paintings of biblical scenes.

One morning during our silent prayer time I picked up my book on aboriginal art. I thumbed through it, marveling at the shapes and colors, thanking God for the creativity of aboriginal artists. My eye landed on a 1987 painting called Emu Dreaming by Darby Jampijinpa Ross. You’ll see the painting at the top of this blog post. For many months, Emu Dreaming stimulated my prayers in unexpected ways.

I know that my interpretation of the painting bears no resemblance to the intent of the artist. I find myself hoping that my great love for the painting would please Darby Jampijinpa Ross anyway.

You’ll notice a circular center with eight wavy lines coming out of it. Seven of the eight lines end in a  spiral. In New Zealand Maori art, that spiral is a symbol of new life, modeled on fern fronds in the spring. In my symbolic interpretation of the painting, the circular center of the painting is God. The eight paths are various things we do in our lives. If we want the freshness of new life, we have to say connected to the center.

However, one line moves from the center to the upper right of the painting without ending in a spiral. This helps me accept that sometimes even when we are connected to the center, our actions don’t bear good fruit that’s visible to us.

The three black circles that are detached from the center circle represent to me the good things that God can spin off of our actions, blessings and good fruit that originate in our God-centered actions but take on a life of their own apart from us.

Between the wavy lines that are connected to the center, we can see eight sets of straight black lines with what looks like arrows on either side of the straight lines. The arrows are pointing away from the center. To me, those arrows represent the deep truth that when we get disconnected from the center, so many forces within us and outside of us want to move us further and further from the center.

Emu Dreaming has called me, over and over, to stay connected to the center. My center is God in Christ, experienced though the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. The painting has helped me pray about the connectednesss of components of my life. Are various aspects of my life connected to the center, or are they actually like those thick black lines that want to draw me away from God? The painting has helped me evaluate and pray about habits, Christian ministry, and the relationships that shape and sustain me.

The painting has called me to confession. It has helped me renew, over and over again, my commitment to stay connected to the center so that I might experience new life in the various components of my life. It has helped me accept that sometimes – not often but sometimes – I engage in actions that result from my connection with God, but good fruit is not visible.

Thank you, creative God, for Darby Jampijinpa Ross and other aboriginal artists in Australia who delight me with the patterns they have painted.

(Next week: creative prayer for creation care. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sing up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole web page.)

If you’re looking for a devotional for Lent (which begins in one week on March 6), consider the online devotional I co-wrote for our church. It focuses on creation care as a hopeful Lenten practice. Each week’s lesson begins with “walking with Jesus,” and each week offers numerous additional components: Scripture; suggestions for prayer; links to music, art and poetry; ideas for families; and options for further learning. It’s beautiful to look at, with my husband Dave’s paintings illustrating each lesson.

First post in a new series: Creative prayer

Wednesday February 20 2019

First post in a new series: Creative prayer

About a dozen years ago I attended a morning of prayer led by Louise Holert, a Presbyterian minister here in Seattle. Louise gave us postcards of sacred art to look at alongside scripture passages. The paintings illustrated the passages. She guided us into times of prayer where we pondered the passage. I found the juxtaposition of art and Bible stories to be very powerful. The paintings gave a richness and depth to my interaction with the biblical passages, and they helped me pray in new ways.

I was thrilled when I learned that Louise has put together a book using 31 paintings of the life of Christ, with instructions for how to prayerfully engage with each painting. I’ll describe the book below. But first I want to introduce this new series I’m writing for my blog.

When I was a young adult, I was taught that there are four components to prayer. We were taught the acronym ACTS to help us remember the four kinds of prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanks and Supplication. Those forms of prayer are still vitally important in my life, and in this series I’ll be writing about creative ways to engage in those basic kinds of prayer. I’ll also be writing about forms of prayer that fall outside those four categories.

Let  me tell you about Louise’s book, Praying with the Arts: Illuminating the Church Year with Sacred Art. She opens with five pages of introduction, where she briefly discusses why she structured the book around the church year, and then moves into a helpful discussion of the power of art and how sacred art can play a role in prayer.

The bulk of the book is 31 paintings, each followed by 2-3 pages of instruction. The painters mostly come from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, including Vermeer, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Fra Angelico. The reproductions are good quality. The instructions begin with a few paragraphs about the painting, including some pointers about the symbolism in the paintings. The introduction is followed by the scripture passage that is illustrated by the painting. Next are two sections that are the meat of each lesson: “For your prayerful reflection on the art” and “For your prayerful reflection on the Scripture.” Each of these two headers is followed by four to ten bullet points with specific ideas to ponder. She concludes each lesson with brief suggestions for prayer and thankfulness/praise responses.

The introduction and the lessons include many wonderful quotations by a variety of authors. I appreciated the richness of the quotations Holert uses. I’m so grateful for this resource linking art, the Bible, and prayer, and I recommend it to you.

If you’d like to try doing something similar on your own, ask God to guide you. Then go into Google Images and search for a story you’d like to see illustrated, perhaps the prodigal son or the road to Emmaus. Or you can search for a specific painter like Fra Angelico or Rembrandt. Maybe one painting will catch your eye, or maybe you’ll be attracted to two or three paintings.

Read the Bible story connected to the painting, and ponder the way the artist or artists chose to illustrate the passage. Notice as many details as you can in the painting(s). You might want to imagine yourself in the painting watching the action or talking to Jesus.

You might want to use the four common forms of prayer, ACTS, as you gaze at the painting. What can you praise or thank God for as you look deeply at the painting? Do you need to confess anything to God? What would you want to pray for, for yourself or others?

A praise song or hymn might come to mind, and if so, sing it. See where God takes you as you look at the painting, and keep the dialog with God open as you gaze.

(Next week: another way of praying with art. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the webpage.)

I want to highlight one of the reviews of my book on pastoral care, Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century. You can find the review here. You’ll see that the reviewer says that my book would be great to use with groups. Please pass on information about my book to people in your congregation or other congregations who engage in pastoral care ministry or in local mission, especially those who lead pastoral care or mission teams.

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Dave's story

Tuesday April 4 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Dave's story

Back about 17 years ago I interviewed my husband Dave for my book on midlife, specifically on the topic of drawing near to God with the heart. In the book, Dave is called "Don," and most readers wouldn't have known it was my husband. Now, almost two decades later, he's happy to be identified with the words he said then. In fact, he is amazed at how true his words still are for him. Dave’s story:

I became a Christian through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship when I was a graduate student. InterVarsity got me into studying Scripture, to see what’s really there, to be grounded in the Word. I still love to study the Bible and underline parts of it.

Now, I find I also like to spend time thinking about Scripture and singing Scripture songs. I like to let Scripture speak to me and question me, rather than me being the one who asks all the questions. Scripture brings out confession because I know how short I fall. I enjoy contemplative prayer in groups, waiting on God rather than just studying about God.

When I go for walks, I enjoy just being able to stop and smell roses, to look up close at flowers and experience them. I like to stop and observe things, small details. Recently we walked in a park with lots of roses. We were surrounded by them, and it felt like heaven. In my twenties, I would rush by. Experiencing God’s goodness in daily life is more real to me now.

I’m getting comfortable with the side of me that is sensitive and likes to experience things. I’ve noticed I cry more easily. I cry in movies, in worship, and particularly during praise songs. Sometimes the worship service is over, and I have tears streaming down my face, and I’m embarrassed as I turn to talk to the people next to me. I can’t control it, but I’m learning to be less embarrassed by it as I accept that part of me.

When you’re young, you’re always looking ahead to being older when things will be better. Or you take for granted that good things will happen again, but they rarely do. I didn’t reflect then on how precious certain things are.

My father’s death a few years ago affected me a lot. I was with him when he died, and it was like he was teaching me how to die. It was his last lesson for me. Death no longer has its sting. I’ve been afraid of death all my life. But now I’ve been with death. I find I want to talk about heaven more, to focus on eternal things, things that are unseen. All this we see is going to turn to dust.         

The summer my father died, he showed me all his old blueprints from his job as an engineer. This is the television van he designed, with the camera mounting. He was retired then, and I think he knew he was dying. Those blueprints put my own work into perspective. Someday someone will clear out all my stuff. This freed me not to be so obsessed with my work, not to take it so seriously.

I realize how short my time is on earth, so I find myself savoring what I experience. It lifts me up to the Lord and gives me a longing for heaven where our experience of God will be much more direct and vivid. I find myself saying, “Thank you that I experience this air, this smell.” Since I know my death is approaching, I try to savor this world. My senses are more focused now and I long for God in a way I never experienced before.

This is the last post in a series about Drawing Near to God with the Heart. Previous posts:

Introduction: Drawing near to God with the heart         
God woos us          
A journey with the Psalms           
Praying the Psalms       
God's presence through the Holy Spirit          
Facing the inner darkness         
Tears          
All will be well           
Longing for heaven         
What do you want?

(Next week: Three Psalms for Holy Week. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, available in paperback here and on kindle here.)

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: What do you want?

Wednesday March 29 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: What do you want?

What do you want? Not what do you wish for, what do you fantasize about, what have you added to your list of priorities, but what do you want? What do you long for? What makes your tongue hang out like that of a thirsty deer? What is your heart’s desire? We don’t often inquire that deeply into ourselves, and if we do, we may not listen very closely to the answer. That is because the answer can be frightening. What we want, at the core of our being, often will take us out of the set paths of our lives and those of society. We want the thing that is no thing; we want what cannot be gotten by any effort or kept by any attentiveness or displayed for any admiration. We want God. David Rensberger, “Thirsty for God”[1]

This is the second to last post in the series “Drawing Near to God with the Heart.” For my weekly readers, I hope the series has made you think about the way you engage your heart as you seek to draw near to God with an attitude of love and obedience. When we think about our deepest desires, as reflected in the words above by David Rensberger, we are connecting our hearts with our faith.

So many of the current trends in Christian spirituality reflect the significance of the heart:

  • God in nature - Many Christians today talk and write about God’s presence in nature in a sensory way that draws them in a profound way to both worship and creativity.
  • Sabbath - Many Christians find Sabbath-keeping a way to integrate God’s call to service with God’s call to live simply as a creature dependent on God’s grace.
  • Benedictine and Celtic spirituality - Increasingly, Christians enjoy the utter simplicity of the Benedictine pattern of a rule of life, as well as the holistic faith expression of Celtic Christian spirituality, where God’s presence is experienced in all of life, and all the diverse bits and pieces of life are integrated into one whole.
  • Meeting God in the arts - Christians are discovering or rediscovering the significance of the arts as a way to engage non-cognitively with truth.
  • The significance of the Holy Spirit - God’s daily presence through the Holy Spirit also relates this theme of God’s call to experience him with our hearts, our souls, our whole being.

As you seek to love and follow God, may this prayer from the hymn “Be Thou my Vision” be real to you:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light

This is the eighth post in a series about Drawing Near to God with the Heart. Previous posts:

Introduction: Drawing near to God with the heart         
God woos us          
A journey with the Psalms           
Praying the Psalms       
God's presence through the Holy Spirit          
Facing the inner darkness         
Tears          
All will be well           
Longing for heaven         

(Next week you’ll have a treat. Seventeen years ago I interviewed my husband, Dave, about the ways his faith had moved to his heart in recent years. His thoughts are still so relevant today. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, available in paperback here and on kindle here.)

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Longing for heaven

Thursday March 23 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Longing for heaven

In The Sacred Romance, Brent Curtis and John Eldredge discuss the significance of a healthy understanding of heaven. If we live as if this world is all there is, they write, we will place a burden on our experience here on earth that this world was never intended to bear. We will continually try to find heaven on earth, which is impossible, and “we will live as desperate, demanding, and eventually despairing men and women.”[1]

Instead, if we can understand and rejoice in the truth that one day God will make all things whole, and that we will live in heaven in unblemished joy and contentment in God’s presence, our lives on earth will be transformed. This life is definitely not as good as it gets. The best is yet to come.

Mercifully, we get glimpses of heaven in this life. Imagine that a wonderful party is happening nearby, with the most luscious music in the world, and every now and then a bit of music escapes from the party and we get to enjoy it. In the same way, glimpses of heaven permeate our lives on earth. It takes time and effort and being present in each moment for us to be able to notice those glimpses, but the glimpses are worth any effort. They illuminate our lives and gladden our hearts.

Glimpses of heaven, when we can receive them and rest in them, nourish the heart and soul. Those moments of clear vision and certainty lift us up to God and illumine our daily lives. Seeking those glimpses is a worthy endeavor. We rejoice when our seeking brings us what we long for. We also need to grow in acknowledging that our lives on earth will be characterized much more by seeking than by finding.

C. S. Lewis, in both his fiction and non-fiction writings, helps us get in touch with our longing for heaven. Lewis describes the “lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off.”[2] He believed this longing is one of the best things about our pilgrim state. In Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he used the word “joy” to describe the piercing longing, both bitter and sweet, that we experience when we remember a vivid memory or catch a brief glimpse of heaven. This kind of joy is distinct from pleasure or happiness, and it taps into the emptiness and spaciousness that Gerald May describes.

Lewis’ friend J. R. R. Tolkien explained this kind of joy as “a sudden and miraculous grace . . . beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”[3] This joy is inextricably connected with our longing for heaven and our realization that this life is not all there is. Lewis reassures us:

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.[4]

Lewis believed that our sense of exile is inseparable from our perception of beauty, which emphasizes again the significance of art, music, poetry, and all things that minister beauty to our hearts. As we accept our state of longing, and as we experience glimpses of beauty that remind us of heaven, our hearts will grow soft and receptive to the grace of God.

This is the seventh post in a series about Drawing Near to God with the Heart. Previous posts:

Introduction: Drawing near to God with the heart         
God woos us          
A journey with the Psalms           
Praying the Psalms       
God's presence through the Holy Spirit          
Facing the inner darkness         
Tears          
All will be well            

(The series continues next week with "What do you want?" Illustration by Dave Baab: Central Otago from a photo by Ian Thomson. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, available in paperback here and on kindle here.)

[1] Curtis and Eldredge, The Sacred Romance, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997),179.
[2] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Macmillan, 1980). 16.
[3] J. R. R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, ed. C. S. Lewis (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1981), 81.
[4] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, 16-17.T

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