Thankful Thursday – Maundy Thursday 2017

I did not grow up with a tradition of observing Lent but, as an adult, I have grown in appreciation for spiritual discipline in general and this season of church life specifically. God does great things when we give Him great access to our lives through disciplines that help to tune our eyes and ears to His work.

Before this Lent began I asked God: “What discipline would you have me observe to see you more clearly?” Funny (and I truly believe God IS funny this way, at least sometimes), He didn’t answer clearly. I could take on a discipline of reading the news; in these times, we all ought to read the news more broadly and more carefully. And I put on a ring my mother-in-law gifted to me; as my ‘not typical’ right-hand ring, its presence on my finger has reminded me of Jesus’ presence with me.

And then Lent took a quick left-hand turn into discipline. Situations arose that required prayer; people needed me; I needed Jesus. God knew I didn’t need more disciplined practices than the discipline He was already planning to send my way. (And oh, wowza, did I ever need that ring as a reminder of His presence…!)

Today is Maundy Thursday, which means Lent is almost over. The dark before the dawn, tonight we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before He was betrayed. Tomorrow He was crucified. Sunday, at last!, Jesus rose from the grave.

We want to fast-forward the bad stuff to get to the good. We want to skip the pain in favor of pleasure. We don’t want bitter but sweet. In this Holy Week, God calls us to see His glory in the worst-ever scenario, trusting Him to redeem and transform it into more than all we could ask or imagine.

So what am I thankful for on this Maundy Thursday?

I am, as always, thankful for Jesus, who sacrificed Himself in love for me, for all of us, so that our lives not only exist, but matter.

I am thankful for a year, and that the situation that occupied my heart last year is no longer my concern. And I’m thankful for the hope that the situation that occupies my heart now won’t next year.

I am thankful for time, as in, time heals all wounds. The wounds of last year, but also more recent cuts and jabs that, with time, prayer, and careful tending, have already begun to heal.

I am thankful for kind and gentle human beings who willingly give of themselves to help the rest of us make peace–with ourselves, with God, with one another.

I am thankful for the continual bubbling over of last week’s Mexico trip, and the ways I see God has grown and shaped my Teen through this experience.

I am thankful for yoga, and my friends and their friends who filled a studio this morning for a laughter- and fun-filled sweaty workout, good for body and soul.

I am thankful for the rain showers earlier today, for the quail running down my fence line, for the twilight breeze rocking the tree branches outside my window. Peaceful beauty.

I have to laugh at what happens when I pull out my running shoes…

…and say “Thank you!” for what I see outside my door…

The first spring rose in my garden, a gift from a friend

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create.

Today’s guest post writer has been a thoughtful and generous friend for close to ten years. We have been in Bible studies and women’s groups together and, crucial to my professional life, she makes beautiful the words I write/edit for our church publications. I deeply admire her creative talents and the way she intertwines prayer with life, work, creativity and play. One quick example: she gave me an unexpected Christmas gift of glamorous nail polish with a note that said, “Let your nail polish dry and pray!”

Create Challenge #10: Nancy Ingersoll

Create is such a vague term. It can refer to something tangible, an environment or a mindset. However, all three of these tend to work in tandem to have the best results.

Creativity can be contagious. If you set yourself up in an environment that feeds creativity, it will increase exponentially. By entering a space that has everything you need to execute your creative act, your attitude will welcome creative juices to flow and productivity will increase.

This will look completely different for different people. For some, it will be a kitchen stocked with ingredients and equipment. Others will need a flat surface to spread out or a place to set up tools so you can indulge your creative outlet spontaneously, while others will need a tote bag of supplies ready to throw over their shoulder as they venture outside.

Many will require a space with great lighting, and personal preferences will vary from those who want quiet to those who need a constant rattle from music. The key is to understand what feeds your creativity and then discover ways to adapt so that when you are not in that ideal environment, your creativity can continue to live.

Once you have a creative act you really enjoy, intertwine it with other areas of your life. My latest creative pastime is hand lettering. I have made it a part of my spiritual discipline by hand lettering prayers, Bible verses and parts of Bible verses. This has made my lettering skills better since I have been practicing them more, and deepened my time with the Bible as I have spent more time thinking about what stood out to me from a passage before I set my pen to paper.

Since I am on a crowded, bumpy commuter train about three hours each week, I have adapted this less than optimal environment into a time of mental preparation. I use commute time to reflect and sometimes scribble a note or two down, so that when I return to the space I have created – with a flat surface, lights, inspiration hung on the walls, and all my supplies waiting for me – I have the right mindset. If you want a peek at what happens in this space, hop over to my instagram account, where I have been posting a few of my creations each week.ningersoll instagram

As we become a more environmentally conscious society, I want to challenge you to make an effort to think of at least one thing you can do in your creative practice to reuse something. For the writers out there, it might mean figuring out how the double-sided print function on your printer works. For the cooks and gardeners, try re-growing something from your food scraps, like the bottoms of green onions.

One thing I do in my effort to be environmentally mindful is to repurpose parts of some of the packaging I come across. My last purse came with a cute little cardstock pocket to hold the manufacturer’s details and it is now attached to the inside of my Bible to hold prayers I scribble down on index cards. As luck would have it, the index cards fit perfect without a need to cut a special paper size. I just painted a little blob to make a rose and added a leaf in acrylic paint to cover the logo before using standard white glue to attach it.Ningersoll Bible

Romans 12:6 reminds us, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”  It is up to us to develop these gifts and use these gifts, so be creative and expand the ways you use your talents. After all, Maya Angelou explained that “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Ningersoll family

Nancy is a California native with an affinity for typography. Professionally, she is both a teacher and a practicing artist. She teaches a high school Advanced Placement Photography class, hence the instagram name, and does freelance design work in addition to creating her own artwork, most of which recently have been hand lettered faith-based pieces. She and her husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area; they have launched two kids through the UC system, one recent graduate and one still in school.

Instagram: @thephotocottage
Shop: www.nancy-ingersoll.pixels.com
Luggage: www.ugobags.com/art-and-fashion/nancy-ingersoll

Faith Training

A few sessions of childhood swim, ice skating, dance, gymnastics, and tennis lessons hardly qualify me as an athlete. I may be the only person you know who has never participated in a team/competitive sport. I once asked my parents if I could join a soccer league. My mom said no, citing scarred knees as unattractive on a girl; I’m pretty sure it had more to do with life’s chaos – me as the oldest of four kids, her job in real estate, and her travelling husband, last thing she needed was to spend hours field-side with a decidedly non-athletic kid.

I did, however, take piano lessons from age five to eighteen. Like most kids enrolled in music lessons, I didn’t love to practice but I did like to play well. The older I got, and the better I got, the more I enjoyed it. In high school and especially as I anticipated a recital date, I played for hours, working the music into my fingers, into my heart and soul. My favorite practice time (surprisingly, my parents didn’t complain – how did they not complain?) took place between 10pm and 2am, even on school nights.

The more I practiced and the better I knew a piece of music, the more the music had the power to take me out of myself, into what Madeleine L’Engle calls a kairos experience. I lost track of time, I lost my sense of self, as the music itself became all that mattered. “I am outside time, outside self, in play, in joy. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love” (Circle of Quiet, p13).

I’ve heard runners talk about a similar experience, once you move past the first phase of muscle fatigue (the “I don’t like to run, I don’t want to run, I can’t take one more step” feeling, because you keep going anyway), and then, apparently, some get to a euphoric state, a runner’s endorphin high.

Faith training can have similar results, yet even better as training our faith helps us to draw near to God on high.

At the gym there are so many different pieces of equipment, each with a different purpose but all with the purpose of increased physical fitness. Similarly, there are many different ways to exercise one’s faith, all with the purpose of drawing near to our beloved Jesus.

Commonly called “spiritual disciplines,” well, that just doesn’t sound all that fun, does it? But they can be. Even when they’re strenuous, they can lead to great joy.

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day focused on repentance and identifying with Jesus in His sufferings as we begin a 40-day season of giving up or taking on spiritual disciplines. In our church staff meeting this morning, we read this:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love… Joel 2:12-13

I get that today’s focus should center on fasting, weeping, and mourning, but I’ve been thinking about and practicing to varying degrees different disciplines over the last few weeks. I have returned to the Lord, so to speak, and this morning I felt overwhelming joy. God drew my focus to His gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger love. And the joy bubbling up in my heart. I almost giggled (inappropriately?).

Once a week or so during this Lenten season, from now til Easter, I will post a Bible study focused on one spiritual discipline; there are more disciplines than we can name, but we’ll cover fasting, solitude, prayer, simplicity, confession, and celebration. I’ll also include suggestions for practicing each discipline.

I encourage you to ask God to direct you to the exercises He’d like you to try. And don’t give up just because it’s uncomfortable at first (think sore muscles after physical exercise). You could try one exercise for all of Lent, or different ways of exercising one practice (i.e., different prayer method each day), or sample different practices throughout the season – ask God for direction and stick with it until He asks you to stop.

Here we go with an introductory study!

Connect
What practices or routines do you do to keep physically healthy?

Study
Read aloud 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
How would you explain the metaphor of physical and spiritual training to someone who hadn’t read this passage?
What is “the prize” for spiritual runners (v. 24)?
What might “running aimlessly” look like in one’s spiritual life?
How could Paul have been “disqualified for the prize” (v. 27)?

Live
On a spectrum from aimless running/air boxing to marathon champion, which physical activity might describe your spiritual life and why?
When have you experienced a connection between physical and spiritual discipline?
Reflect on your experience with any of these practices: fasting, solitude, prayer, simplicity, confession, and celebration. Which do/don’t sound appealing to you, and why?
Which of the Week 1 Faith Training Exercises (see below) might God call you to, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.

Faith Training Exercises
Fasting: Skip one meal and spend time in prayer.
Solitude: Memorize Psalm 46:10 and use it as a reminder throughout the day to be still before God.
Prayer: Set aside a regular time and place to pray every day.
Simplicity: Set a timer (20 minutes or less) and clear off one cluttered space, e.g., a junk drawer or desk top.
Confession: Invite the Holy Spirit to bring to mind sins you’ve committed. Confess them to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness.
Celebration: Do at least one thing each day that brings you joy: sing loudly, dance freely, laugh heartily, live boldly.