Click on the image below to link to an interesting article by Christianity Today, highlighting the change in five prominent thinkers from Atheism to a belief in God.
As a writer, I know the importance of engaging the physical senses of a reader in order to draw them into the worlds I create; if you can taste, see, smell, touch and hear the world, these windows to the soul conjure an experience of involvement – your brain crosses the threshold between reality and fantasy, and you enter another world.
If you can vividly imagine something, your body will respond as if it were a real experience; for example, imagine the spray of juice as you peel the skin off of a succulent orange, the feel of the wedge as you tear it loose, and the explosion of juicy taste in your mouth as you bite into it. Did you feel the juicy peel on your fingertips? Did your mouth produce more saliva in response? The more your senses are engaged, the more it will feel like a tangible experience, and your mind will remember it on a deeper level. The more we practice, the easier and the more realistic it becomes.
I recently discovered a book called, “O Taste and See – Discovering God through Imaginative Meditations” by Paul W. Meier; in it, he makes the point that we cannot fall in love with an abstract concept; the more concrete we can experience our relationship with Jesus, the more we can fall in love with him, and accept his love for us.
Jesus used imagery in his teaching; he spoke in parables, or made analogies. His stories were often agrarian and culturally relevant, relatable to the audience listening to him. When he talked about the woman searching for a lost coin in Luke 15, it conjured in the listeners’ minds all the associated elements: The sounds of her bustling about in search, the moving around of wooden furniture on a floor of packed earth, the sounds of a broom swishing, the smell of oil in the lighting of the lamp, and the relief and joy when she found that missing part of her dowry; it was worth calling the neighbours together for a party! And with a party comes noise, conversation, perhaps music, and the tastes of food and wine.
The importance of meditating on scripture was driven home to me again recently as I began devotionals with this book; Jesus said repeatedly that to know the Father, you must know himself – that the Creator is revealed through Christ. By taking the time to get comfortable, to let go of what distracts our minds and eyes and take a few deliberate, deep breaths (it’s a technique used in various kinds of meditation – it’s simply a physical cause and effect: As the brain receives oxygen it knows that everything is fine, and it can relax its guard or its vigilance in the instinctual readiness for “flight, freeze or fight”), we can prepare ourselves to receive from God.
I would like to encourage you to read one of the parables or one of the stories about Jesus’ activities, and take the time to sink into it – place yourself in the story as one of the close followers of Jesus (for instance, as John, if you are a man, or as one of the women who travelled with Jesus, if you are a woman). Take time to walk with him, to imagine the sounds of the market, or the lapping of waves on the shore, or the wind in the olive grove or field of grain. Close your eyes and dwell in that place a moment, with Jesus by your side. Go on that journey with him. I can guarantee you that when you do, it will stay in your memory for days, if not much longer, and by experiencing him in such a concrete way, you will begin to love him more, and to sense his love for you all the more.
Sometimes despite the best of intentions real life takes over. I’ve been silent in cyberspace for nearly a fortnight as real-world events took precedence over the virtual world. I try to post only when I find something interesting to share or to write about, and can take the time to make it worth my time and yours; but we all know those times when our energy and concentration power are required by more pressing events or situations, and so I hope you’ll pardon me for having been silent.
With Christmas approaching, perhaps your thoughts are turning toward the season of giving, of slowing down to spend time with friends and family, and perhaps it’s also a time of contemplation about the past year and the future: What would you change if you could? How can you move forward and learn from mistakes or challenges, and take positive steps to see things change for the better in the coming year? I don’t mean New Year’s Resolutions; those rarely hold for more than a week or two, because they are purely decisions of the head, and if our hearts are not in agreement with those choices, it’s only a matter of time before they fall flat. If it’s a decision of both head and heart, why wait until the New Year? The old adage holds true: “We cannot be guided unless we are moving.” The greatest journey begins with the first step, followed by the next, and the next… eventually we’ll arrive at our goal, but only if we step out first.
I recently watched a TED talk by Brother David Steindl-Rast, of the Gratefulness movement; for him one of the keys to finding moments of gratefulness in everyday life is to “Stop. Look. Go.”: To pause in our hectic lives and take a moment to smell the roses; to open our senses to the world around us and become grateful for the things we take for granted, such as clean, flowing water on tap (even cold and hot), or for the roof over our heads. The more we look around, the more we’ll find to be grateful for. The “Go” part of that equation is to act on that gratefulness – passing it on to those around us. Positivity and smiles are contagious, and they are magnets that draw people; negativity and scowls are also contagious, but they will repel and isolate us. We all have times of trials, difficulties and challenges; how we choose to face them decides whether they master us, or serve us. One example from my own life was this past summer, described in the article, “I got Staffa’d“; I chose to be grateful in the midst of it, and it made it much easier to master it.
Whatever you’ve got planned over the coming weeks, I’d encourage you to take a moment to stop, look and then go; become aware of things in your life to be grateful for, look around and see how you can bless others, and move forward with a fresh awareness of the beauty of life.
My husband and I end each day by reading the “Celtic Wheel of Prayer” together aloud; each day includes this: “As I end this day in Your (God’s) safe-keeping, I count three blessings before my sleeping.” Perhaps it is something you could integrate into your own habits – it’s a great way to increase our awareness of daily blessings, and things we have to be grateful for!
Ps. If you’d like some ideas for advent calendar- and stocking-stuffers, click here.
On our recent holidays, I was injured to the point that I was out of commission as far as walking for 6 weeks, give or take. The injury happened at the beginning of our 2½-week holiday; the situation was what it was, and we made the best of it. The injury could have been far, far worse, so we are grateful for God’s mercy there, as well as sending just the right people along in the moment of need. But what I want to address today is something that I experienced on the day of our journey home:
We were able to book wheelchair assistance through all airports on our way home; in all three airports, I had widely different experiences. I have always been aware of the fact that someone in a wheelchair needs special consideration, and has needs different to those of people who are physically independent. But it was a valuable experience for me being the one in the chair and out in public this time; it’s something I think everyone should experience at least once, whether you’re injured or not – just to become aware of another perspective.
Some people felt free to stare at me; I know that many were merely curious or concerned about how I’d been injured, as my disability was obviously a temporary one with an injured foot bandaged (I dislocated my ankle). But I’m tempted to ask, since when is staring at a person polite? Wheelchairs tend to intimidate people – they don’t want to ask personal, intimate or impolite questions, and that’s right. But I know from friends who are permanently in wheelchairs that they’d rather be asked politely what their disability is than be stared at or ignored. And that brings me to the other reaction.
This second reaction, and one which was far more frequent, was that of being completely ignored. Sometimes it was intentional, but more often than not I was simply invisible. People would rush past me and jerk my foot off in their path with them as they went, without so much as an apology. They would swing their backpacks into my face, knowing full well a wheelchair stood beside them. Such blatant insensitivity was a bit of a shock to me, to be honest, and a few of them had better be glad I was unable to rise to the level of their face, because I might have been tempted to get in it…
Another sensation I became aware of, in empathy with those friends who are permanently in wheelchairs, was that of being at the mercy of those assigned to you. At the first airport I was put into the hands of a completely indifferent, bored young woman who wasn’t interested in the slightest in even friendly chat; she was glad to be rid of the wheelchair duty, and frankly I was glad when my husband took over and sent her on her merry way. To get me onto the plane (which was on the tarmac with stairs two out of the three airports…), they waited until everyone else was on (I’d been told I’d go on first to enable me to get to my seat safely), and then put me in a freight train-sized mobile lift machine with room for 20 people, raised me to the level of the plane, and rolled me in; the machine brought the analogy to mind of killing a gnat with a shotgun… a bit of an overkill. Crammed into an economy seat that never has enough leg room at the best of times, I had to endure a short hop flight of 50 minutes to our next airport, my leg propped up across my husband’s knees into the aisle, exposed to everyone who walked by and took it with them in either direction. I was in tears of pain by the end of that ordeal, but not once did a single person apologize for injuring the wounded, or even wait for me to get my foot out of their way.
The next stop, I was hefted and strapped into what amounted to a manual pallet jack for people, without padding or shock absorbers; three wheels “climbed” (read “jerk-drop”) the stairs to lower or raise me one step at a time. The two men who were assigned to move me were plainly from the luggage handling department, and they’d never sat in such a contraption; I was jarred and jerked down the stairs like a piece of luggage, then sat in the wheelchair and zipped through the back doors and into the airport security area through the crowds with not a thought to how it might feel to the person sitting in the chair; groups of people were ploughed through using me as the breaker. All that, to be jerked back up the contraption into the SAME plane.
The third airport, home at last, we had a finger dock, and I was simply able to hobble down the aisle and sit into a chair; the person assigned to me was friendly, genuinely concerned for my safety and well-being through the crowds, defended my personal space from backpacks, elbows and feet, and was personable. She accompanied us from the gate to the taxi. She was a balm to a frazzled soul.
If you were seated in the wheelchair, how would you want to be handled? How would you want to be seen, or taken into consideration? Do you know anyone who has to go out into the public with a disability of any sort? Sometimes the invisible disabilities are just as challenging in a very different way, because if a person might be sympathetic to someone with a clear disability like a wheelchair, or cane or seeing eye dog, they won’t realize the person with an invisible disability needs just as much consideration and patience. Think of things like MS, or chronic fatigue, being deaf, or other disorders that limit the person in various ways. I have such an invisible disability, called Marfan’s Syndrome; even people who know me and know theoretically that I have limitations tend to overestimate my ability to keep up e.g. on a group hike, or underestimate my disabilities and simply think I’m being difficult or wanting extra attention, or just lazy, none of which is the case. I know my problems are nothing compared to many friends who struggle with terminal illnesses, or disabilities that limit and have lethal potential; everyone has different struggles; but I’ve found that attitudes help or hinder, enable or disable. I can learn to rise to (or above) my challenge, but having a supportive environment goes a long way to helping and enabling too.
The next time you see someone in a wheelchair, or with a disability of any kind, put yourself in their seat. How can you help them? How should you be more patient with them? How can you ease their way? There is a Native American proverb that says, “Never judge another until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins” and I can say without a doubt that it’s wise advice.
If you struggle with a long-term illness, or disability, please take a moment to be encouraged by Grace Quantock.
Worship is a private experience, between the individual and God. But Sundays, or on evenings when you either meet together in a house group or service at church, worship becomes a corporate experience. I use the word “experience” with some reservations, but for lack of a better term; the goal of corporate worship should never be reduced to an event, or emotional experience, and yet that is often what it comes across as. A concert with lights, sound, animation and calls to “clap your hands” or “raise your hands” or “shout”. I detest such calls, which smack of manipulation. If worship does not flow from the heart, then clapping or raising hands or shouting will do nothing but produce an artifice of adoration, looking “as if” on the outside with no true change or challenge on the inside. The image I’ve chosen is a random one from Google, but it’s telling: Since when did flashy lights and concert atmosphere add anything to the contemplative, declarative act of intimate worship?
Besides the tendency to make a concert of it, another worrisome trend I’ve noted in the past several years is the practice of introducing several new songs a month, if not in a Sunday. People can become so bombarded with the new that it’s difficult to relax and focus on the heart and on God, rather than the overhead projector for the text. How many of you sing songs around the house? The whole song, verses and all? Chances are, the songs you know that well are a decade old or more. New songs sometimes catch our hearts, but more often than not we can only remember the melody, or the chorus, or part of a phrase; and that should be a warning signal to worship leaders, and worshippers. Back in the days before OHP and trends to try and “liven” worship, people used hymnals; they sang the same songs year in, year out. Those songs were more often than not deeply theological; they challenged the singer to contemplate the meaning of the words, not rush through them to the rhythm of a drum repeating catchy phrases with little depth. Another point I will add here briefly, though I could go into the whole aspect of psychology, is that the trend with such concert mentalities is to ramp up the volume; when it becomes so loud that people need to shout to hear themselves singing, it leads to an instinctive defence mechanism kicking in, and receptiveness shuts down; inwardly they become mere consumers, rather than active participants. Artifice then replaces true, heart-changing worship, and we tend to go home untouched and unchanged.
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m a recording artist with 4 albums to date under my belt; I’ve been in worship bands as a singer for most of my life; I very often listen to music when I’m not reading or writing. Because of all that, I think I have a fairly good ear for what’s going on in the music world. But the music world should not dictate how worship is presented; if worship or praise is reduced to the emotional, experiential level, we’ve lost the point: To honour God, to draw closer to him in a loving relationship, to express our heart of gratitude and devotion – from the heart and not only the mind. I am all for professionalism in worship, as long as it does not become the focus, or a place in which to find identity or “make a name” as a band or singer!
Recently I read a short article that makes excellent observations on the issue of intellectual engagement & theological depth of contemporary vs. traditional songs; to read that article, please click on the image – it will be well worth it.
If you are a worship leader or in a worship band, I would like to challenge you to test the way music is presented in your church; if you are neither, observe yourself and how your church’s current mode of presenting worship affects you, and if necessary make some changes for yourself – set aside time at home to refresh your memory of worship songs that have touched you in the past, memorize their texts, and begin to worship more at home; after all, it’s between you and the Lord, whether you’re at church or not.
To most people, Vincent van Gogh is known as the artist who cut off his own ear; the art world rarely, if ever, highlights the fact that he was also a Christian that lived out the sacrificial love of Christ in a manner ahead of his time; as a missionary to the miners of Belgium, he sold all of his possessions and used his own bedsheets as bandages, sleeping on straw. He took in a destitute woman as a model to prevent her from the need of prostituting herself to survive, and his own father, a minister, thought he was insane because of it. To read a fascinating article on this topic, please click on the image below, entitled “Starry Night”, inspired by a bishop’s ruminations on the cosmos in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
I’ve recently published The Cardinal, Parts One and Two; it’s hard to describe the feeling of a project that you’ve lived so intensively in time, energy, research, editing, plotting, creating and going through the entire process of graphics, layout, formatting and publication, and once it is finally finished and released into the world; it’s probably not all that dissimilar to giving birth, except this pregnancy was several years in the formation, and once it’s born it immediately takes on a life of its own out in the big, wide world (and just like teenagers, it calls home once in a while and asks for money – that would be investing time into marketing and promotion, in the books’ cases!). It becomes a separate entity to myself, and the book it had been so long in my own mind might not match what readers perceive or envision for the characters I know so well, but that’s part of letting go and allowing it to grow. I thought I’d share a brief excerpt from the Cardinal, Part Two:“How did you do that?” Jon asked after they’d returned to Aradan’s room and closed the door. “It is not something explainable in human terms,” Aradan replied. “Is it…? Was Jesus…?” “One of us? No. He truly was the Creator embodied on earth… in the form of a man, much like this vessel I am in now, like the one you are in. He came to Aquillis as well, but we responded very differently than Man-Kind. My giftings are merely evidence of God’s infinite character just as you and your giftings are. Intelligence, creativity, talents or giftings… they are all expressions of his being… the supernatural fingerprints of our Designer, if you will, just as a potter leaves his fingerprints in the clay of a vessel he forms.” “So… you don’t look like this,” Jon gestured from head to toe, “on your planet?” “We have no need of this vessel there… it would be incompatible with our environment. But we do not look all that different; it is as if this human vessel is an outer layer, a suit, with the perfect form of who we truly are just beneath the surface. It will be the same for you once you’ve passed through the veil of mortality to immortality … when this vessel,” he pinched Jon’s arm lightly, “is shed, releasing your essence – your spirit – to journey to your chosen destination.” “You mean heaven… or hell?” “Precisely.” “So… you believe they exist?” Aradan laughed. “You humans… you’re so fixated on this temporal journey called Life that you fail to realize… this is just laying the foundations for reality beyond this material existence! The choices you make while in this mortal time frame determine your destination and home beyond it. And yes, they both exist: Just as time is one dimension and space another, so heaven and hell both exist; other dimensions altogether, perceivable only once you’ve left your mortal frame behind.”
Huesler, Stephanie (2014-11-12). The Cardinal, Part Two (Kindle Locations 3003-3020). Stephanie Huesler. Kindle Edition.
A group of college students moved into a retirement home for a semester, recording their experiences and interviews, and creating a touching video of what they’d learned. Elderly people are treasures, and treasure troves – a lifetime of experiences, memories, and unique perspectives. Take a few minutes to watch their video by clicking on the photo below; learn from their experiences, and the next time you meet an elderly person take a moment to listen to what they have to say.
This coming weekend, from Saturday 22 March, 6:00 a.m. (PST) through Sunday 23 March, 11:00 pm (PST) my first novel, “The Price of Freedom” will be available on Kindle for $3.99 instead of $6.99! As of next week, the title will also be available in paperback! I’m excited to finally have the paperback edition available to those of you who’ve been asking for it. Please—pass the news on to your friends and contacts! Share, link, and shout it from your rooftops (preferably without getting arrested)… you are my greatest asset when it comes to getting the word out, getting into the hands of people who enjoy reading, and enjoy the genre of the likes of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer!
“Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 1:16-20
This passage in Isaiah is clear about the Christians’ role in society; when we walk in obedience in these matters, we are walking the talk; we are putting our money where our mouth is; we are loving the unloved; we are rolling up our sleeves and getting down in the gutters of society and picking up the fallen, washing their feet and standing between them and those who would rather see them wiped out like an embarrassing smudge on a window. Micah 6:8 says it like this: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Whether you as my reader are Christian or not, we are at the very least called on to be and act human. To be human carries with it at its basest level the instinctual drive for the survival of our species, and for the protection of the innocent or vulnerable. And yet in societies throughout the world countless millions are slaughtered weekly in the name of convenience; it is far more insidious than Hitler’s atrocities against the Jews (if that were possible) because this is a holocaust of global proportions on a yearly basis, endorsed and legalized by officials and civilians alike.
I challenge you to watch the videos below by clicking on the pictures; let them challenge you. But let them affect your actions and perspective as well. The first video is a fascinating TED presentation of conception to birth development; the second is a hidden camera interview with a doctor and abortion staff – the questions by the “patient” are direct, and they are given direct, and inhumane, replies.