Interruptions that Bless Our Lives

This has been a season of interruptions for me, events that disrupt the normal rhythm of my life, sometimes with joy, sometimes with sorrow. The last couple of days have been no exception.

With Jeff Pratt at the Mustard Seed Village

Monday I spent to Jeff Pratt  whom I know from my days on the mercy ship Anastasis. Jeff currently leads YWAM Axiom and Axiom Global Monastic Community. Like me, Jeff describes himself as a contemplative activist. He leads retreats and pilgrimages and challenges people to a more radical whole life discipleship that embraces both contemplation and activism towards the marginalized in our world.

Jeff and I shared stories, resources and ideas about contemplative living. We planned for possible collaborative efforts in the future. We drove up to the Mustard Seed Village site, shared coffee at Camano Coffee Roasters, and chicken masala and wonderful tomato basil salad back home at the Mustard Seed House.

Tuesday I headed out to Shelton, 1 1/2 hours south of Seattle, for the funeral of my best friend’s mother in law. It is just a month since my own mother died and as you can imagine this was a bitter sweet occasion for me. Being together with good friends, and sharing stories about Jane Mackey’s life brought back vivid memories of my own recent loss. Grieving together strengthened our friendships and our lives.

Rich and Cheryl Mackey with their sons Scott, Brett and Wade

It is so important to leave space for these types of “interruptions”. I am a strong believer in the need for disciplined daily, weekly and yearly rhythms but I also know that it is often these unexpected events that shape our lives and grow our faith the most. Both of these events enable me to see all of life with more contemplative eyes, encouraging me to really look and deeply listen to all that happens around me. They create a deep gratitude within me for the many blessings God brings into my life.

How do you make space for this type of “interruption”?

Imaginative Learning or Contemplative Action.

imagination first

Tom and I have just returned from vacation, and as per usual, I took a stack of books with me, some of which I will share with you over the next few days. One is Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of Possibility by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon. I was particularly struck by Capacities for Imaginative Learning they share. Originally designed for arts and education, the authors feel however that they are guides for life.

It is an inspirational and thought provoking book that I would recommend to anyone who wants to increase their creativity.

What struck me is how closely these “capacities for learning” parallel contemplative practices and the spiritual discernment process we have used for many years in MSA. They open our eyes and ears to new ways of interacting with the world. They help us become creative, imaginative, able to solve problems in out of the box ways. From a faith perspective they open us up to the presence of God in all things and increase our awareness of God’s involvement in all the creative processes we engage in to shape our work and daily life.  I thought you would find them interesting:

Noticing deeply: identifying and articulating layers of detail through continuous interaction with an object of study

Embodying: experiencing a work through your senses and emotions, and physically representing that experience.

Questioning: asking “Why” and “What if” throughout your explorations

Identifying patterns:  finding relationships among the details you notice, and grouping them into patterns

Making connections: linking patterns you notice to prior knowledge and experience (both your own and others)

Exhibiting empathy: understanding and respecting the experience of others

Creating meaning: creating interpretations of what you encounter, and synthesizing them with the perspectives of others.

Taking action:  acting on the synthesis through a project or an action that expresses your learning

Reflecting and assessing: looking back on your learning to identify what challenges remain and to begin learning anew.

Eyes of the Heart by Christine Valters Paintner

Eyes of the Heart

I don’t often do book reviews, but when Sorin Books contacted me about doing one on Christine Valter’s Paintner’s latest book Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, I was delighted. I love Christine’s contemplative books and this one did not disappoint.

I am a keen photographer but this book’s appeal goes far beyond that. Its contemplative exercises adapt the contemplative practices of lectio divina and visio divina into a new form of spiritual observation. Through the lens of a camera we can not just take images but receive them.

By bringing the camera to the eye and allowing an encounter with the holy to open our hearts, we have the possibility for a transformative potential from the photographic encounter. Look through the lens and imagine that is a portal to a new way of seeing. (15)

Christine redefines photography as a receiving rather than a taking skill. She points out that the traditional perspective of photography is aggressive – we shoot or take photos. Yet really we are receiving an image, the transmission of light from a scene or object that God has created.

I love this fresh approach to photography and its application to the way we look at the world as we walk, talk and interact. And I love the provokative questions she asks: What is hidden and what is revealed – a question not just in a photograph but in all of life. What is mirrored back? Traditional SLR cameras use mirrors to create images and in life we need polished inner mirrors that cultivate our capacity to see God more clearly in more places and experiences.

You can probably tell that I loved this book and found it both challenging and inspiring. I would heartily recommend Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, to all my friends, photographers and non photographers alike who desire to have the eyes of their hearts opened to a deeper and clearer experience of God.