Prayer for the New Year

For everything there is a season,
     and a time for every matter under heaven:
          a time to be born, and a time to die;
          a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
          a time to kill, and a time to heal;
          a time to break down, and a time to build up;
          a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
          a time to mourn, and a time to dance. . . .

God has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. . . . whatever God does endures forever. . . (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4, 11, 14)

 

North Shore of Lake Superior--photo by Julie McCarty--Eagan MN USA
North Shore of Lake Superior–photo by Julie McCarty–Eagan MN USA

Another year draws to an end, and a new year dawns. One chapter closes, another begins. One project finishes, another starts to bubble within. One human dies, another is born.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the many readers of Spiritual Drawing Board blog and its partner Facebook page of the same name. I enjoy creating these sacred spaces and look forward to continuing to share my spiritual thoughts and budding artistic creations with you in the coming year. I appreciate the thoughts and comments you post or send me. Thanks!

Below is a prayer I wrote this morning. Will you pray with me?

Blessed are You, Lord God,
     Creator of the gift of time.
Every moment truly belongs to You.
With the help of your Spirit,
     may we use every day, every hour,
     to love and serve you in the New Year,
     and in all that is to come,
     both in this life, and in the next.   Amen.

Lily--photo by Julie McCarty--Eagan MN USA
Lily–photo by Julie McCarty–Eagan MN USA

Milkweed, Giftedness, and Becoming Your True Self

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Jesus (in John 12:24)

Milkweed in autumn (click to enlarge)–photo by Julie McCarty

When I was a child, we loved to play with milkweed seeds, watching them float away like bubbles on the wind. I was reminded of this recently when I spotted this milkweed plant in Lebanon Hills Regional Park here in Eagan.

Seeing these seeds bursting forth makes me think of all the hopes and dreams lying dormant within each of us. In my forties, it felt like life was “over” (I’m so old!) –and yet here I am in my early fifties, eagerly learning new things, such as watercolor painting, digital photography, and gardening techniques.

The good Lord gives us many gifts and talents deep within ourselves. Is there something you have always wanted to do, but never have gotten around to doing it?  Chances are, it’s not too late. You may need to modify the goal or alter your plan a bit, but that unique packet of gifts inside you is still there.

But here’s the thing about seeds: some part of our life activities may seem to “die” in order to make room for something new. The old “something” may be basically good or perhaps something that is no longer working for us, but we decide to focus our efforts on this new thing. After all, there are only so many hours in the day.

If there is something you really feel called to do, some deep desire in your heart, ask God to show you the way. Take one step in that direction and see what happens.

Allow the “wind” of the Divine Spirit to carry the seeds within you wherever God desires. Something good is bound to happen.

Until next time, Amen! 

Psalm 16–Path of Life

You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 16:11

When we visit family in Arizona, my husband and I enjoy taking hikes in wide open, preserved desert spaces. Living in Minnesota, it is easy to forget just how tall the saguaro cactus can be, so here is a picture of my husband standing beside one for a little perspective (click on picture to enlarge):

Sometimes our journey in life can feel like a walk through a vast desert, filled with prickly plants and sharp stones. We can feel lost in the wilderness, a place that on the surface seems dead and lonely. The hot sun may drive us to the ground with lack of energy–or dust storms may cloud our view and choke our lungs.

Although it may look lifeless, the desert is indeed filled with living things–it’s just that it takes some learning and experience to find these things when you are new to arid environments. Besides the first things that come to many minds (poisonous snakes and insects!), there are also the lovely song of the cactus wren, gorgeous sunsets, and the sweet smell of sagebrush after the rain. Desert brush and cactus can even provide edible food and drink if you have a sharp knife and know where to look. There are also the raw materials for making soap, baskets, pottery, and soothing balm (aloe).

In the spiritual life, sometimes we suddenly discover God has transplanted us to a “desert”–that is, an unfamiliar territory that seems boring, dull, and lifeless, or maybe even scary and dangerous. We may feel upside-down, inside-out, or just plain lost. Nothing feels normal.

Yet, like the desert, there is often hidden life found where we least expect it. In the spiritual desert, discovering this new life may take longer than we would like. But no matter how bleak or desperate it may seem, God promises to show us the “path of life,” to bring us joy once again–the joy that is found not in worldly things, but in being in God’s presence. Whether we feel this presence or not, we can trust that God will never leave us, no matter what happens.

We may feel “lost,” but deep down inside, God is ever showing us the path that leads to spiritual life, eternal joy in God’s presence. We can trust that this joy will  resurface again one day.

You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 16:11

Until next time, Amen!

Spiritual Aerobics

For reflection or discussion:

Have you ever experienced a period in your life when things seemed overly difficult, frightening, or confusing? What helped you through that time? Looking back, can you find anything good that God brought about as a result?

Transformation: Learning from Worms during Lent

Note: Today’s blog is written by guest writer, Pastor Sarah Clark.

Jesus will take our weak mortal bodies and transform them into glorious bodies like his own… -Philippians 3: 21

I like to tell people that I got worms for my birthday…. because it’s true. I did, just not the gross kind of worms! My husband Brian gave me composting worms for my birthday – a 37 gallon bin of dark dirt and many hundreds of (maybe even a thousand) red worms. And now, these worms are happy to call the north-west corner of my basement ‘home.’

I know that composting worms aren’t a normal birthday present. The guys I share an office with remind me of that every time talk of the worms comes up. But I really like my worms. I like that during the week I save all my coffee grounds, veggie scraps, and egg shells in a big Tupperware container.

Then when Saturday rolls around, I take all of that gross, slimy, smelly stuff and I feed it to the worms. I open the bin’s lid, dig a hole, fill up the hole with the week’s gross collection, cover it all up with dirt again, and then top it off with some brown oak leaves from the tree in my yard. In some very strange way it’s satisfying.

The worms don’t say much. They don’t ever say thank you. They don’t cheer every Saturday when I open the lid. But I know they’re content because every week I see baby worms crawling around… eating the previous weeks’ blueberries, spinach leaves, and carrots. And each week, there’s more rich, black dirt for me to use in my garden this spring. Talk about transformation.

Transformation. From disgusting leftovers to rich, wonderful soil. From moldy refrigerator scraps to fertilizer for this summer’s tomatoes. This time of year is a time of transformation. From dark winter to warm, bright spring. From brown to green. From death to life. Lent is all about transformation… and I’m so glad that Easter [Lutheran Church] is talking about transforming at worship, and church school, and confirmation, and book studies, and Chick Talk [women’s group], etc.

‘Transformation’ means that there’s hope for us. If a bin of worms in my basement can transform slimy onion skins into fantastic soil… how much more hope there is for us… who will be transformed by the promises of Jesus Christ on a sunny Easter morning!

Jesus will take our weak mortal bodies and transform them into glorious bodies like his own… -Philippians 3: 21

Sarah Clark is an ELCA Pastor and works at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN. She graduated from Luther College in 2005 and Luther Seminary in 2010. Sarah seriously loves the Current (a radio station), good food, and the BWCA in northern Minnesota.

Worms in the photos from Julie’s garden.

Until next time, Amen!

New Beginnings

The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”–Revelations 21:5

Click to enlarge--Butterfly near fountain at Eagan's Central Park--photo by Julie McCarty, 2011 All rights reserved.

The other day I was walking at Eagan’s Central Park and stopped to take pictures of this butterfly in front of the fountain. We had a little dance going: she would move her wings, I would, quick-snap-the-picture, while in the meantime she moved before the picture was complete. After awhile I tried to predict her next move, but I was mostly one step behind the lovely flying creature. 

Butterflies always remind me of new life, new opportunities, new chances to try to be something different or become a better person. How the caterpillar goes from one stage to the next inside its cocoon is certainly mysterious–and so it is with us humans, although we often miss the many ways we grow and change, even as adults.

In the book of Revelations, John has a vision of a new heavens and earth. He is told by God, “Behold, I make all things new.” Although this passage is about the coming kingdom at the end of time, it is also true that God brings about newness in our own lives, our own time–if only we let him. When we say “thy kingdom come,” we mean not only in some distant future in heaven, but also in the sense of bringing God’s will and compassion to life in the here and now.

School will be starting soon–or has already begun–in many places throughout the country. Sometimes I think that the starting of a new school year is more of a “new year” than January 1. New teachers, new books, new clothes, new classes–a new start on life. Even if you are not in school, many activities that were set aside for summer come to life once again in September.

What newness of life does God want for me, for you, at this particular point in our lives? What concrete steps might we take to cooperate with God’s desire for our lives? What single choice might I make this day to bring about a better world, at least in my little corner of it, just for today?

Click to enlarge--Open Butterfly--photo by Julie McCarty, 2011. All rights reserved.

Living Water, Holy Spirit, and Solitude at an Iowa Stream

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” Now he said this about the Spirit which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  (John 7:37-39)

Wolf Creek--photo by Julie McCarty--Note: click on photo to enlarge

Flowing water fascinates me. When I was a little girl, my best friend had a house with a creek flowing near her house, and we would play for hours within and around the water.

Jesus tells us that he is the living water that satisfies all our deepest longings. The Spirit is flowing in Christ, flowing through him to everyone around him.

What surprises me when I read this passage today is the part about the water of the Spirit flowing out of those who believe in Christ. In all the times I heard this passage proclaimed at church, I never noticed that part. Here’s what the footnote in my bible says:

Jesus is the true water of life, who turns the symbol into reality. . . Believers become channels of life to others, through Christ’s Spirit given at Pentecost after he was glorified (crucified, risen, ascended).    –From the Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV.

Not only was Christ both human and divine, his human side was a channel of the Holy Spirit–and we, too, are called to be channels of the Holy Spirit, flowing out to give to others in abundance.

Today I am offering you a gift that relates to this meditation: a 2 minute escape from your present work into the environment of a flowing, modern day stream named Wolf Creek. This is a very short video I took on a recent trip to our favorite country getaway in the rolling hills of northeastern Iowa, the “Morning Mist Cabin” owned by Larry and Jo Thein. (Thanks to them for letting us share it, and thanks to my husband Terry for his techie expertise in getting it setup on YouTube.)

As you watch this video, you might want to just enjoy the ability to getaway for a moment from the busyness of daily life, taking in the sights and sounds of God’s creation in nature. You might consider Jesus, the Living Water, and how the Spirit is the water that flows through you to others. Or maybe you just want to wait and see what the Spirit might inspire in you this day.

Note: You can enlarge the picture using the little box with four arrows in the bottom right of the picture to enhance the experience of “getting away from it all,” but just be aware that the picture won’t be as sharp. Move your mouse to see how to reduce it again. 

Until next time, Amen! 

Sumi Painting, Chi, Creativity and the Spirit

 

In the past year or two I have been digging into my artistic side by taking watercolor classes. Last fall, I signed up for a workshop called “Sumi and Soul” by Yuming Zhu, a professional artist who was born in China and currently lives in Seattle, Washington. I received so much from the experience that I signed up for another two-day workshop this spring with the same teacher.

Artist Yuming Zhu at Sumi painting workshop, 2011, Bloomington, MN--photo by Julie McCarty

Painting in the Chinese or Japanese way is quite different from the European style. In sumi painting, one holds the brush differently, and uses materials that more closely resemble ink and tissue paper than oils and canvas. Rather than painting with just your hand or arm, it is more as if your whole body is painting, from your own “center of gravity” someplace deep in your body. The philosophical or spiritual underpinnings are different as well, something the teacher mentioned in a gentle way, here and there, without harping or preaching.

Julie trying out Sumi painting at Yuming Zhu's workshop at the Bloomington Art Center in Minnesota--2011

My experience of the workshops with Yuming was very positive. As a writer, I am often too tense or perfectionist, which blocks the flow of words onto the paper. The Sumi workshop helped me to view my writing in a different way, to open up myself to letting the creativity flow more freely without fear of making “mistakes.” This fear is a real block to creativity, and “Mary Francis” (what I call the “good little Catholic girl” inside me) needs to let go of these fears.

 One of the many things I learned about in this workshop was the Chinese concept of chi, a word that means something like “energy” or “life force” in English. Here’s what About.com says about chi:

Ch’i (also spelled Chi or Qi) is a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy and culture. Found in Chinese traditional religion but especially Taoism, Ch’i literally means “air” or “breath,” but as a concept it refers to the energy flow or life force that is said to pervade all things. (Read more here or also here.)

On the second day of Yuming Zhu's workshop, students arrived with energy--photo by Julie McCarty, 2011

The concept of chi intrigues me. Because I follow Christ, the idea of chi made me think of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit moves, creates, and breathes in us. In fact, in the original bible languages, the word “spirit” is the same is the word “breath.” It was “spirit” that God “breathed” into the first human in one biblical Creation story.

 
Too often, Christians think of God as rigid, stable, unchanging–and I’m sure there is certainly the element of stability and permanence in the best sense in the Divine Being we Westerners call “God.” I don’t deny that truth. However, on the other hand, the Spirit is called Creator Spiritus, the divine Spirit that Genesis tells us “hovered over the waters” during the creation of the cosmos. This Spirit of God is alive, dynamic, moving, active. Jesus compared the Spirit to the wind: you do not see it, or where it is going, but you know it it there.
Yuming Zhu's painting demo, Bloomington Art Center workshop, Spring, 2011--photo by Julie McCarty
I wonder what would happen if Christians of today took Creator Spirit seriously, that person of God known for movement, action, creativity, and breath. Would the Creative Spirit bring about something new? Something beautiful? Something prophetic, that is revealing truth and compassion?

I wonder, dear reader, what good things might the chi within you or me, our inner energy, want to create today? What newness of life might the Spirit of God want us to bring to birth this week, this year? How might we live the Resurrection of Christ, that image of energy, bursting out of the tomb, right here, right now in this moment?

Note: To view artwork by Yuming Zhu or find workshops, visit his website http://www.yumingfineart.com/about.htm  or on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/mypainting