Whatever Is Lovely by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and the forthcoming memoir Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis. Kimberlee is a regular contributor on prayer to this blog.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

—Philippians 2:5

“Spiritual transformation in Christ moves toward the total interchange of our ideas and images for his.”

—Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart


As I drive home across the Ballard Bridge, a new billboard advert looms large in my vision. Most of the time, this billboard’s message is tame. Annoying, but nothing that jars or upsets me.

Today, though, my eyes are bombarded with the image of a beautiful woman in a sexually suggestive position and the enormous letters of a lascivious message, both of which are trying to tell me that if I buy this particular product, I’ll be a sex goddess like the model on the billboard.

I look away quickly as I realize what I’ve seen. I feel assaulted, this image calling to mind all manner of others I’ve seen over the years, all of them clamoring for my attention. These are not the thoughts I want to occupy my mind.

As my year of prayer unfolds, I want more and more to be more like Jesus, to have the mind of Christ. In Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard insists that our thoughts, when captured for Christ and fed on the images and ideas that Jesus himself fed on, will transform our entire lives. But he warns that there are special dangers that we must guard against. One of the gravest is the images we admit to our minds.

Images are powerful things. They make ideas concrete and accessible. In the case of this billboard, the image elevates the idea of sexiness to an ultimate good. And because images work on us at the level of emotion, they are not under rational control.

I have long known that what I see affects me deeply. It is why I long ago stopped watching TV news and later stopped watching TV altogether. What I am learning now is that I am not alone. Images affect everyone on a level that is beyond rational control, working deep within us to shape our ideas about reality—and so shape who we are.

This, I think, is why St. Paul exhorts the Philippians to focus their thoughts on good and true and beautiful things:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil 4:8)

Willard emphasizes that heeding St. Paul’s instructions “is a fundamental and indispensable part of our spiritual formation in Christ.” We become who we are largely because of the thoughts that fill our minds. And the thoughts that fill our minds in turn depend largely on the images we feed them.

This is why the billboard near the Ballard Bridge bugs me so much. And the thought that my six-year-old daughter and all three of my sons are seeing it, too, makes me sick to my stomach. Young as they are, that image is shaping them even more than it’s shaping me. It makes me angry.

But one thing my year of prayer is teaching me is that everything can be a call to prayer. So I take the sickness I feel in my stomach and I take my anger, and I let them direct my mind to Jesus.

Over the weeks since that billboard appeared, it has become a call to prayer. As much as possible, I studiously avoid even glancing at it as I drive across the bridge. Sometimes I forget it’s there, and I see it before I remember to look away. Either way, whether I see it or manage to avoid it imprinting on my brain again, I pray.

Mostly what I pray is the Jesus Prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Have mercy on us, sinners all. Have mercy on the men who see that billboard and are aroused by it. Have mercy on the women who see it and are ashamed of their own bodies because of it. Have mercy on the company who thought it would be a good idea to put up this billboard.

I can’t always control the images I see, but I can control how I consciously respond to them. I can let images both beautiful and base call me to prayer—beautiful images to praise and awe of our even more beautiful God; base images to intercession for our fallen world that so desperately needs Him to save us from ourselves.

If you want to join me in getting rid of the garbage that clutters our imaginations, why not begin by eliminating from your life one magazine, TV show, or website that regularly serves up ugliness, unkindness, or smut? It’s always a good idea to replace a bad habit or thought with a good one, so make a plan: what will you do during the times that you usually engage with these images you’re eliminating? You could read or memorize Scripture, pore over a favorite art book, or listen to a favorite piece of music—something that puts images of beauty, truth, nobility, and excellence into your mind instead.


Planning For Transition – Wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Seeing with new eyes

Seeing with new eyes

Yesterday I posted this post, about the fact that Mustard Seed Associates is in a time of transition and talked about the impact that Walter Brueggemann has had on my theology and my thinking. There are others that have helped to shape my thinking in this transition time too that I wanted to mention.

The second book I took with me was Christine Valter Paintner’s book Desert Fathers and Mothers Early Christian Wisdom Sayings. What particularly struck me is where she comments:

We often bring unconscious expectations to life. We feel disappointed when things don’t turn out as we had hoped, even when we aren’t aware we had a desire for a particular outcome. Often we are poor judges of what should happen in our lives. We bring a whole set of ego-centered habits and patterns, and we dream from the person we have been , rather than the person we are being transformed into. Our transformed self is always far beyond our own striving.

When we realize we have limited vision and that our planning minds will only take us so far, then we can begin to gently release the pressure we put on ourselves to have things turn out in a certain way. We may begin to approach life in a more open-hearted way, receiving its gifts rather than grumbling about what we would rather have had happen. (60).

When we seek to bring about change that is not a tweaking of what has existed in the past but rather something entirely new, our own planning and limited vision often does get in the way. Letting go does not begin in the planning room, it begins in the place where we seek to listen to God. I am more convinced than ever that unless we can unleash our creativity and imaginations in the realm of prayer and worship, we will never see real change that leads us into the new reality of God’s kingdom, occur. God’s new reality does not emerge fully grown, but as a baby that needs to be nurtured and fed.

Tools for Prayer – Stirring Imagination, Awakening Creativity

Patterns and possibilities - Each moment pregnant with new beginnings

Patterns brand new not from the past - Each moment pregnant with possibilities, alive with new beginnings

Each moment is pregnant with new possibilities waiting to be born, alive with new beginnings, God’s secrets not yet heard, God’s dreams not yet fulfilled.  These were the thoughts that lodged in my mind as I meditated on Isaiah 48:6-8 this morning.  So many good Christian people I talk to are afraid that their prayer life will become stale, their spiritual disciplines empty rituals.  Some make this an excuse for their lack of discipline in prayer.  And prayer does become stale and meaningless if we don’t know how to stir our imaginations and awaken our creativity to new thoughts, new patterns and new possibilities for prayer.

Tools for prayer are creative opportunities not formulae for success

One of my greatest fears as I share these tools for prayers is that some of my readers will see them as another formula that will make them more successful and more prayerful.  Of course that is possible but what I hope is that we will all see these as tools as ways to stir our imaginations and open our minds to new ways to express the prayers God has placed in our hearts, stimuli that awaken our creativity to the brand new possibilities of ways that God can speak to us, in us and through us.

Most of the tools I have spoken about in the last couple of weeks are ways that I have stimulated my own creativity in times of dry spiritual struggling.  They are processes I have used to recreate my own spiritual disciplines so that I can move closer to God and the world in which I live as well as grow my understanding of who God intends me to be.  I find them particularly helpful when Tom and I are on retreat – the special times that I take to reimagine my spiritual disciplines for the next few months.  I have found lectio divina a particularly fertile ground for imagination and creativity especially when combined with creative acts like drawing, writing and visualization.  But they are not the only tools that stir my imagination and awaken my creativity – walking in the garden, turning the compost, listening to music, taking photographs and even as I shared in a previous post – meditating on rocks are all tools that can stir me to new creativity.

Don’t Confuse Discipline with Empty Ritual 

One of the surprising things I notice as I read the Bible is that there seems to be more said about when to pray then about how to pray.  We are told that Daniel prayed three times a day, Jesus often drew aside to lonely places to pray and of course spent days in the desert in prayer before he inaugurated his ministry but we are told little about what went on during that time.  Yes we make lots of assumptions about what was going on.  We know that Jesus was tempted by the devil, but I cannot imagine that this temptation was all that happened during his time in the wilderness.

Perhaps part of what happened while Jesus was alone in prayer was that he learned new ways to pray, new patterns that had the disciples hungering for what they observed  … and of course out of that came the most enriching prayer of all time – the Lord’s prayer.  But that too we have made into a formula.

What seems to be important for the people of God is that they pray regularly, bringing themselves into that place of intimacy with God where new beginnings can be imagined and new things can be birthed.  So my challenge to all of us this morning is:

What stirs your creativity?  How can you use the special creative tools God has placed within you to imagine new ways to pray and both draw close to the God of infinite creativity and respond to the needs of our hurting world? 

February Synchroblog – Christianity and Creativity

Here are the posts so far for the February synchroblog – Christianity and Creativity.  This is a fascinating topic and there are some great articles here.


What Do We Do When Creativity Dries Up?

This week I have written a series of posts on imagination and creativity and had planned to write more this morning… but my creativity has dried up.  I am sitting in front of my computer screen trying to get my brain into gear and it just isn’t working.  Maybe it is the fact that I am looking out at what may be the last kiss of summer weather here in Seattle.  Maybe it is because I am trying to juggle too much.  Or maybe it is just that I am tired.

This photo is of dried out seaweed on the seashore. As I reflected on it this morning, it occurred to me that even here there is creativity.  Even when we feel dried out and our brains don’t seem to be functioning, God is still at work within us, creating from the dried our bones of our being something new and exciting.

So what do you do when your creativity runs out?  Don’t panic, relax and enjoy is my suggestion.  For me having fun is the most important thing at times like this.  Today I plan to get out and enjoy the garden one more time, go for a walk, get a rest and give my brain time to refocus.  I also plan to spend time reading and meditating on the scriptures.  All of these are therapeutic for me.  What I hope I can avoid doing is thinking about all the projects that I need to finish.

What renews my creativity may be very different from what renews yours.  The important thing is to know when we have reached our limits and not try to push ourselves beyond them.  One thing is certain – none of us can force creativity.  That is why an author’s freshness usually fades after the second or third in a novel series and why the third or forth movie sequel usually fades into oblivion.

So what keeps you on the creative edge personally?  How do you renew your creativity when it runs dry?  And what advice would you give to others who are trying to be innovative and imaginative?

How Do We Help Students See Differently?

With our focus this week on the future of education and the need to discover our creative ability I thought that this article from SpeEdChange was well worth a read.  It also reminded me of the quote I often use: “The true voyage of discovery lies not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes?

There is a reason that, when the American Film Institute surveyed people, Atticus Finchfrom To Kill a Mockingbirdwas chosen the greatest hero in American film history.

For me this heroism is not simply represented by the fact that Atticus is someone “born to do our unpleasant tasks,” as Maudie says, or by his unstinting sense of justice, but in something even finer.

Atticus teaches all three children in the story to look at the world in ways unknown to the society which surrounds them. Because of this they are able to see Boo Radley and Tom Robinson and Mr. Cunningham in new ways, and – much more importantly – those children, at least two of them, grew up able to transform our ways of seeing…..

We need to help our students stand on their heads, or look down from a high tree, or to look up from under water, or whatever, as long as we help them to find new ways of seeing. Once they have this new view, then structure can help us climb down into the questions. But before they have this new view, all structure does is prevent people from climbing to new places.

So, we need to create environments in our schools, real, virtual, and academic environments, which allow dreams to evolve and collide, develop and connect.  read entire article

I particularly love this concluding thought and want to apply it to the church and spiritual formation.  How do we create environments fore disciples of Christ that allow dreams to evolve and collide, develop and connect?