We Don’t Have the Option of Doing Nothing – by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

 
When we are angry about the things that make God angry, that is a righteous, not a self-centered, anger. Moses was angry about all of the right things: slavery, injustice, abuse of power, mistreatment of women, and his own people’s disobedience toward God. Once we are awakened to injustices, it’s time to put this righteous anger to good use.
 
The question the faithful servant of God must face is: What do we do with the anger that so deeply plagues us? For years I have been wrestling with God about the right actions to take in the face of so much injustice. Do I write? Do I protest? Do I leave or stick with a ministry, relationship, or community? Do I withhold funds? Do I speak up? Do I lobby or advocate? Do I vote or educate? Do I use social media? Do I lead or submit to local grassroots efforts?
 
Our responses to injustice and anger may vary from day to day, but one thing is for sure: we don’t have the option of doing nothing. The first righteous step is repenting for our part in injustice, and then we work toward righteous action. At a conference I once had the privilege of sitting at the feet of civil rights activist Rev. Dr. C. T. Vivian. When discussing action and advocacy he said, “It is in the action we find out who we are.” If we don’t take action in the face of injustice, we prove ourselves to be cowards. We must act!
 
*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.
 

For the Love of Writing

– By Vicky Meawasige Reed

It’s a privilege as well as a curse to be a writer. Over time, I realized that the saying, “The pen is mightier than sword” was literal truth. As a writer, it is vitally important to be clear and concise in your writing, to ensure that people are not confused by the intended meaning of your prose.

Writing should be a part of you – an extension of your mind to paper. Since you are unique in personality, experiences and aspirations, so is your writing. A part of your very essence is transferred and embedded into your work.

A gifted writer uses all five senses to engage the readers, taking them into their world, submerging them within the lines of print, allowing them to experience the read through words on the page.

Elements of intrigue inserted along the way entice readers to explore. The message should be subtle, piquing the interest of the explorer to experience the story through your choice of words. The experience should stimulate all the senses – taste should be mulled over on their tongues, making them remember a time when they experienced that taste; smell-evoking phrases that make the reader wrinkle their noses with the stench or drool with desire; descriptions so vivid that the brilliance of words blinds them; a blast of noise, or tactile imageries which causes goosebumps; passion-filled to make the reader gasp, cry out, or sigh.

There are times that writers will conjure up a certain sense in their writing, sitting back, examining and digesting the experience minutely to relay verbal messages across the very sensory synapses, to universally feel the words, assessing the words to convey the exact feeling which the author intended.

Yes, writing is a privilege as well as a curse. The more you write, the more you want to write. Making sacrifices to spend time with your writing, much like an addiction.

The flow of a writer’s pen is very much to their personalities, as well. I’ve found that there are many books I’ll put down and not finish reading based on the flow or feel of the book. Books have vibes, just as people do, vibes that are conveyed through the words on the page. Some writers will write about happiness and hope, others will write about sadness and grief, and some a combination of both. A gifted writer will make you feel the rollercoaster of life and have it resonate with you.

I’ve noticed that some meaning can be lost in translation. For example, if I would write about Shuri Ryu martial arts, which I am very familiar with, I think I would confuse the reader. Confusion would come from being too close to the subject of martial arts and its terminology. Information would be given at the level I’m used to talking at, but on the other hand, too much information would be too overwhelming, and this would be a bad thing for the reader’s engagement in the story. Finding the correct balance is key.

In the past, I had a revelation of sorts, likening writing a book to having a child. In the embryotic stages of the “baby” (book), a healthy foundation is needed. In my debut book, Path of the Turquoise Warrior, I shared this revelation in the preface.

“A great book takes time to write. The saying, “It’s my baby,” has new meaning for me. In the budding stages of this project, I developed a structure, the skeletal framework, the basis of the story. I knew what I wanted, so thought of that in mind, making sure to re-address the backbone throughout the writing process, making sure I didn’t stray from the very foundation of what I wanted to accomplish.

After that came the organs and muscle – character development within it to keep the readers engaged. Shortly thereafter I created the skin, the outer layers of what the story was about and what I was trying to convey to them. Of course, a strong story needs a good heart, a thought-provoking mind, and a deep, resonating soul to captivate the audience. My goal? To help readers become one with the story, gasping with anticipation.

Of course, in order to breathe life into it, you must have the readers, you, to breathe the life into it, making it truly come to life. And for the story to grow, to have lessons speckled throughout to ensure it is not only a story, but one that people can relate to, and to gain wisdom from someone else’s words.

Now to me, that’s a great read. It is my story, but to keep it to myself would be selfish. If others can find some solace, then my work was not done for nothing.”

Looking back at this quote from my own book, I realize I now have editor eyes. I see vast improvements in my own writing. But if there is one lesson I have learned, it is this: To be a great writer, you must keep writing, not only to improve the foundation that was established in the first “child,” but becoming more effective, efficient and skilled in the craft, to create more children for others to enjoy.

Good parenting, like good writing, is a skill which takes time to develop.

www.pathoftheturquoisewarrior.com
www.facebook.com/pathoftheturquoisewarrior

About Community – by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

When the people and values that shape my diverse communities are in conflict with each other, I must consider: Will I remain true to my God or true to the native land or continent in which my ancestors were born, or will I remain true to the native land or country in which I was born? My native land wants me to remain true to the American philosophy that I have been taught in my formative years. On the other hand, my people—the black community—have a history of being oppressed by the land in which many of us were born. Where should my loyalties lie, knowing all of that? The black community has also been stripped of our African culture, history, and traditions, and I want to learn what values have been lost from that culture and to understand what values are important to hold on to.

 

Discernment for the American Christian is determining what is actually of God and what is true only to our native land. Believe it or not, American Christianity looks quite different depending on where and how you worship on Sunday mornings, what stories you read, what voices you listen to, and who you call friend. Our various community shapers can be in conflict with each other, so remaining true to God requires that we analyze the sacred community—the shaping grounds, including what or who is missing from those spaces. Affirming our identity in Christ means that we must wrestle with our community shapers to accept, celebrate, cultivate, and then share what individually makes us unique.

 

Community is about the places that shape us. Orangeburg, South Carolina, is where I come from. Community is about the people who shape us. When I had the opportunity to deliver the student address at my graduation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Charlotte, I told my family and friends, “I take you with me wherever I go.” Community is who you roll with on this journey called life.

 

Community is also the environments that we intentionally cultivate and the people we invite to form and shape them. Creating culture and cultivating community is a continuous act of discipline. If you desire to have lasting influence and to implement real change, this is an internal wrestling you must be willing to do, a risk you must be willing to take, and a skill you must learn. Your life may look very different from mine or that of Moses. You have your own stories, relationships, and experiences. The work of spiritual formation requires that you pay attention to how God wants to shape your community.

 

*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL

 

Learn more from Natasha at our spiritual writers’ conference in May: https://writingforyourlife.com/writing-for-your-life-spiritual-writers-conference-holland-mi-may-2019/

On baseball, elections, & why fiction – Part One

Originally posted on November 3, 2016 by Sarah Arthur

The day after one of the biggest wins in sports history, with less than a week to go before a contentious presidential election (no hyperlink needed), seems an odd time to be writing fiction. I’m sleep-deprived, for one. And I have a lot of things to say besides inventing dialogue between pretend characters.

I believe this election matters. I have my own considered reasons why and what it could mean for my sons as they grow up. I have written roughly a dozen articles in my head on everything from–nope, I won’t go there (if you know me, even a little bit, you can probably guess). But despite the fact I’m getting ready to launch what could be perceived as my first-ever “political” book in January, I’m not weighing in on whatever happens next Tuesday. I’m writing fiction.

Copping out? Maybe. Maybe I’m just an ostrich shoving my head in the sand, as if inventing worlds can help me escape this one. Maybe I’m just exercising a particular brand of elitist privilege that allows me to blithely pursue a superfluous “hobby” while people out there are dying. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. During the three years that my husband and I lived with the homeless in the inner city, I often felt like my job of writing about literature was basically the least helpful thing I could offer anyone. Can a hungry kid eat a book? Is this vocation putting a roof over anyone’s head? (I earn too little for that.) Should I be protesting something? Writing letters to Congress? I gave serious thought to abandoning the writing life altogether.

Yet I would return, again and again, to stories. Books by people like Dorothy Sayers and C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Jane Austen. Authors who wrote during wartime–even some, like Tolkien, from the front lines. Many of them had plenty of things to say about current events, as evidenced by their collections of letters. The poet T. S. Eliot, for instance, was an outspoken conservative who published political essays in the literary journal he founded, while Dorothy Sayers went to bat for women on issues of gender equality. I, for one, love her treatise Are Women Human? but rarely run into anyone else who’s heard of it. And I had no idea Eliot wrote political essays till a lecturer at a conference mentioned it–which perhaps betrays my limited knowledge of Eliot, or perhaps betrays something deeper, something about the nature of his real legacy.

My point? These authors gave the world something. But it wasn’t their opinions on the critical political decisions of their time. It wasn’t their pithy 140-character soundbites that shamed their enemies and changed no one’s minds. Their generation, too, had journalists and politicians and activists who triumphed and failed, some of whom we remember, many of whom we don’t. But what lasted were these authors’ stories.

~

Back to those three years with the homeless. Toward the middle of our stay, before my husband’s job took us to the suburbs of Lansing, MI, one of our guests had to have leg surgery. She was a recovering narcotics abuser from the streets, as different from me in race and class and life experiences as any friendship I could imagine; and her long recovery stretched the limits of our household’s energy and compassion. She, a bored and demanding sufferer; the rest of us running at top speed just to make sure everyone got fed and deadlines were met and paychecks deposited…God help us.

At one point she had run out of movies to watch, so I brought her my limited collection: the boxed trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, extended editions. My caveats were plentiful: “It’s fantasy by a dead white guy. Lots of white guys running around. Almost no females, and they’re all white except the giant spider. I’m not offended if you hate it.” But she said, “Sure,” so I loaded movie number one into the DVD player and left.

Hours–maybe even days–later, as I stepped away from my laptop to grab some snacks from the kitchen, wafting down the hall came the soundtrack of The Return of the King. It swelled recognizably to the last, most certainly doomed battle before the gates of Mordor; I could practically taste my own remembered tears running down my cheeks. “For Frodo,” came the voice of Viggo Mortensen–then mayhem, Howard Shore’s unforgettable strings, the apparent triumph of evil at the end of all things. But somewhere in the midst of it rose that lone soprano–you know the one I mean–and all of sudden I heard my housemate yelling.

“The eagles!” she whooped, “the eagles are comin’!”

The house rocked with her roars of jubilation. “Thank you, Jesus, the eagles are comin’!”

~

I once heard Newbery winner Katherine Paterson say to a packed auditorium at the Festival of Faith & Writing, “I want to be a spy for hope.” And now I get it. After that moment in the hallway, my housemate’s joy ringing down the walls, I get it. This week, while following all the manic online activity and joyous enthusiasm around the kickoff to National Novel Writing Month, I get it. After turning to my Facebook community for encouragement–and receiving a flood of moving, hopeful responses–I get it.

Right now, what the world needs is for me to be writing fiction. What my sons need is for me to write stories they will read for themselves someday, long after the next president is gone. Stories for my homeless friends, stories that outlast today’s headlines, stories for my great-grandchildren or whenever the Cubs next win the World Series.

This is why fiction.

This is what I have to say.

Writing is a Spiritual Discipline – by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

 
I’ve come to understand that for me writing is a spiritual discipline, a therapy of sorts. It is one of the ways that I communicate with God. Over the past few years I’ve committed to writing my way to freedom, casting a new vision, planning and strategizing a way of living and being as a disciple of Christ in a fallen world—a disciple who is fully black, fully women, fully known, fully loved, and fully empowered by the Holy Spirit. Every day, I choose to live free!
 
I don’t just write for myself. I use my pen, or mostly the keys of my laptop, as a weapon of war—to resist, to affirm our common humanity, and to defend it. I write for communities who are downtrodden and in desperate need of the liberation that only God can provide. I write for people whose conscience tells them that something is not right but in humility can confess that they don’t know what to do about all the brokenness. I write for people who long to embrace the love of Jesus but are perplexed by the hypocrisy of his church. I write for the people who are committed to figuring it out together.
 
What if we all learned a new way, and what if we were not afraid? What if we truly lived redeemed?
 
*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL
 
Learn more from Natasha at our spiritual writers’ conference in May: https://writingforyourlife.com/writing-for-your-life-spiritual-writers-conference-holland-mi-may-2019/

Top 10 Reliable Signs:  When Writing Is Your Gift

by Cherie Trahan

 

Do you remember how you first discovered your passion for writing? Better yet, when did you realize writing is your God-given gift? Was it revealed to you all at once or was it more like piece by piece? Since the latter is usually the case, moments of reflection can often help you with retracing—and then connecting—the dots.

Perhaps, as far back as childhood, you can remember subtle signs or even some obvious hints. Maybe English was always your favorite subject in school. Maybe you always loved being around books. Maybe expanding your vocabulary provided you with sheer excitement. Nevertheless, if you can relate to any number of these next reliable signs or have experienced similar real-life moments, this top 10 countdown is sure to generate an affirmative head nod, an appreciative smile, or maybe even both!

 

Number 10:  While growing up, math and science classes were always a struggle—or were extremely boring to you; however, your entire existence from the inside out lit up during your English classes, and you aced every grammar test you ever took.

 

Number 9:  It was never a sibling, a friend, a coworker, or another human being; instead your journal has always been your “BFF” for sharing everything, including good and bad news, sentimental life moments, and your innermost thoughts and feelings.

 

Number 8:  Your church and community organization families have interestingly created brand-new positions that center solely around you; as a new Editor-in-Chief and as a part of the new Editorial Ministry, all written materials must first be cleared by you to remedy negative comments previously received, regarding typos and misspelled words.

 

Number 7:  During your annual performance reviews, the feedback from your supervisor often includes how they are impressed by your write-ups, because they flow “poetically” and provide a colorful visual of your accomplishments for the year.

 

Number 6:  Your office colleagues regularly give you high-fives and kudos to express how well you eloquently recounted events and took office managers on a journey when simply presenting your drafted bullet points and status updates for team projects.

 

Number 5:  Amongst family and friends, you are the go-to person for random written tasks, including book reports, resumes, college papers, notifications for excused absences, thank-you letters, and even love notes for significant others.

 

Number 4:  As you read through daily e-mails, you meticulously identify and note all capitalization and grammatical errors with a keen eye; however, this includes and pertains to the e-mails that were sent to you as the recipient.

 

Number 3:  Opportunities to use a dictionary and a thesaurus to confirm correct spellings, check definitions, and research alternative or big-sounding words provide you with secret thrills.

 

Number 2:  You wholeheartedly care about the correct placement of every comma, semicolon, and period in each of your social media thoughts and cell phone text messages, and you will not hit “post” or “send” until everything is correct.

 

Number 1:  Remarkably, life is constantly presenting you with situations and circumstances that often lead to some form of a written document being needed, as you have written numerous letters, e-mails, facsimiles, certified notices, brief descriptions, detailed summaries, written proposals, legal affidavits, and official complaints in just about every season of your adult life.

 

As you think back and further reflect, do any of these light-hearted yet indicative signs or possible real-life occurrences sound familiar to you? Collectively, do they help to jog some additional memories of your own—and along these same lines? Overall, it is simply amazing how the early signs and everyday hints tended to be deeply embedded within your journey since the beginning. They pointed you directly towards your gift of writing and seamlessly worked together to heavily influence what you strongly gravitated towards as a child, what became some of your favorite things to do as a teenager, and well-placed writing opportunities that always seemed to find and follow you right into adulthood.

Further, James 1:17 biblically tells us every good and perfect gift is from above; and Ephesians 2:10 tells of how we are God’s masterpiece, created anew in Christ Jesus to do the good works God prepared in advance for us to do. These foundational biblical scriptures make it even more fascinating when you can identify and spiritually recognize just how much the foretelling hints and signs were naturally woven into your everyday experiences.

In hindsight, it should not be viewed as a coincidence or come as any surprise—just how reliable the indicative signs turned out to be, as they existed and were evidenced during the different ages and stages throughout your life. This in itself is also a strong indication of how God, as the sovereign Gift-Giver, is always at work, lovingly and purposefully perfecting your gift with every step you take while on your path, as a writer. In the process, whether you’ve discovered your remarkable ability to tell colorful stories, navigate adventurous journeys, or provide educational experiences, God has been graciously molding, shaping, and fine-tuning what He has gifted and entrusted you with—your natural ability to choose and combine words to creatively influence, inspire, and empower while also creating a legacy, as the passionate and gifted writer you are today and were destined to become.

 

Cherie D. Trahan is a Christian author, poet, and inspirational speaker. It is simply her lifelong goal to use her powerful testimony and gift of writing to positively influence, engage, and inspire audiences with diverse backgrounds worldwide to help stimulate and build strong spiritual lives. Cherie has served as a featured guest for ministry events and Christian media outlets. Her literary works are deeply inspired by her strong spirituality and extraordinary real-life story of seven accumulated miracle blessings that speak to the power of faith.

True Faith…. Do You Have It!

– by Alfreda Branch Jones

 

Faith, one of the most talked about words all over the world!  Most people can quote the famous Hebrew 11: 1.  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, like their address or birth date, yet when ask how do you know that you have “True Faith”, they began to tell you things like, well I love God, or I can’t see Jesus, but I trust Him!  However, neither of the two mentioned statements truly determines if one has “True Faith”!

 

So how do you really know for certain if you have “True Faith”?  Are there any sure-fire signs that can be witness by others or by one’s self?  Well, I am glad these questions have been asked, because the answer is yes!  First, I must say this, that “True Faith” is an ever-growing power and should be continuously prayed for on a regular basis, if not daily!  Try saying this “Lord please increase my Faith”, and sincerely mean it!

 

So here are a few tell-tell signs that you and others can be absolutely certain that one definitely has “True Faith”!  Our world appears to be totally out of control, and yet, you wake up happy, and looking forward to all seeing the beauty of the day unfold!  So, many are being killed, and you are not afraid to move about and enjoy life freely, because you have faith the God will shield and protect you!  Matter-of-fact, you have come to say things like, “I don’t have to worry about anything, because I had a talk with God and He promise to work everything out for the good of those who love Him, I am going to sleep!  2.  You began to quote statements like, I don’t care how things look right now, God can do anything, and nothing will make you change your mind!  3. You have become a witness for God, in the name of Jesus, that there is no failure in God, and everything is already alright!  4.  Even though death has knocked on your love one’s door, you can truly say, I know that God will see me through!  5.  You stop believing and come to know that according to God’s Will all shall manifest.  6.  Every single day you have joy and a smile on your face because you know what God can do!  7.  You have tried your faith and found out that it works, and nothing can make you doubt it!  8. True Faith has taught you how to consult God on all things!  9.  You at Peace regardless of what is going on!

 

Sure, I could go on and on, because “True Faith” is never ending!   I do hope that  what I have written, has also helped you determine if you have “True Faith”, or if the faith that you do have needs to be fine-tuned by seeking the word of God and developing you’re relationship with Him!

The Great Love: How tragedy begot a beautiful, new worldview 

By Carla Garrett www.carlagarrett.ca

As I lay there beside my son’s dying body, my hand pressing gently on his warm bare chest, I feel a flutter of the heartbeat he still has left. I hold my breath as I listen for his next faint shallow breath – until there isn’t one.

It was in those last painfully precious moments with my seven-year-old son that I connected with something greater than the physical. It was through his death that I got to know the Great Love.

I am not talking about that butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of love when you kiss your crush or say your vows, or that instantaneous love when you give birth or even how you love chocolate. No, I am talking about the love that binds us, the love that is us.

The Great Love is an elusive love, not given nor earned, sleeping within all of us yet rarely awakened by human consciousness. Originating from our Creator, this love evades physical death and forever binds heaven and earth. These invisible ties of love form our universe. Unlike other vulnerable forms of love dependent upon external factors, this love can never be severed. It comes as a strangely comforting feeling, a fleeting moment of joyous intensity or a peace that surpasses all understanding. Our brain does not have the capacity to describe the unforgettable, ethereal experience that is the Great Love.

Jesus taught me about love. He showed me the greatest example of self-sacrificial love. He loved us so much he sacrificed his own life to save us. I was raised to: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” — Ephesians 5:1-2
I can’t think of any other moment where I have even come close to “being like Christ” than on the day I watched my son die. It was the ultimate self-sacrifice, a dramatic example of the proverb, “if you love someone, you will let them go.” To not have him, would be torture, but I did anyways. I let Xavier go.

When the time came to say goodbye, I had imagined myself screaming don’t go! Instead, I lovingly whispered in his ear, be free my beautiful boy. In my absolute brokenness, I gave my son the permission he was seeking to die. And that profound act of love awakened the Great Love sleeping deep within my soul.

When my son left this earth he took a piece of my broken heart with him, forever tying me to the celestial love he now is. I was not tied to his flesh and blood. Our connection was anchored somewhere beyond this plane.
These ties of love have transformed how I see the world now, evoking a sensation deep within me whenever I think of my son, see the brilliant pink hues of a summer sunrise or watch how the wind swims between each blade of grass. When you experience the Great Love, you are transported to a kinder, gentler world – perhaps what is heaven on earth – which ultimately changes your life perspective.

However, we often abandoned this love — the love Jesus intended — for the easier to feel superficial and materialistic love. It is easier to feel “love” when you are being held in your husband’s arms in a thankful embrace for the new car he just bought you, or kissing your sweet child goodnight after they happily obeyed your bedtime orders.

But what happens when you have nothing physical to love? What happens when your loved one dies? You are forced, like me, to seek this deeper love. I can no longer look into my son’s beautiful blue eyes so full of life and instantly feel that loving bond between mother and son. Now, I must find the source of all love to connect with my little boy in Heaven. The Great Love is the only way now to truly feel his presence. It’s not impossible, it’s just harder than the physical love we are all so familiar with. It’s a different kind of relationship, one I wish I never had to learn, but I am privileged to have. Had it not been for his death, I likely never would have experienced this depth of surreal love.

Although my first kiss with the Great Love paralleled that of my last kiss to my son, the love had been there all along. My faith was shaken, my heart was broken but it was ties of love that held me – our family – together through the nightmare of childhood cancer. Love was the only consistent thing when our lives were in pieces. It was there when we pleaded with God for more time, and it was there when the doctors said there was nothing more they could do, and it was there when we huddled together on the bed around my son’s lifeless body to sing his favourite song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. It was always there even if a silent partner to our other, uglier emotions. If we were angry, it was because we were afraid to lose something we love.

Love is what makes us, love is what heals us, love is what motivates us. Love is what binds us together and love is what never dies. Love is with us at birth, it carries us through life, and it endures in death. The well of love knows no depth. A love so deep it floats. I believe in stories of the afterlife where you are pure, unbiased, non-judgemental, unadulterated love. A place where the word love is easily interchangeable with light.

How do you “get” the Great Love?

There are several popular books with great advice related to this topic, and depending on what resonates best with you, this inner essence of the universe can be called consciousness, soul, presence, energy or frequency. All of these descriptions, I believe, are ways to the Great Love. Although pain and brokenness are often associated with a rejuvenated sense of self and purpose, I don’t believe they are necessary to experience the Great Love. It was the crux of my story, but doesn’t have to be yours. Ties of love to a new, more beautiful worldview await you…

Searching for Home

 – by Frederick Buechner

 

I receive maybe three or four hundred letters a year from strangers who tell me that the books I have spent the better part of my life writing have one way or another saved their lives, in some cases literally. I am deeply embarrassed by such letters. I think, if they only knew that I am a person more often than not just as lost in the woods as they are, just as full of darkness, in just as desperate need. I think, if I only knew how to save my own life. They write to me as if I am a saint, and I wonder how I can make clear to them how wrong they are.

But what I am beginning to discover is that, in spite of all that, there is a sense in which they are also right. In my books, and sometimes even in real life, I have it in me at my best to be a saint to other people, and by saint I mean life-giver, someone who is able to bear to others something of the Holy Spirit, whom the creeds describe as the Lord and Giver of Life. Sometimes, by the grace of God, I have it in me to be Christ to other people. And so, of course, have we all-the life-giving, life-saving, and healing power to be saints, to be Christs, maybe at rare moments even to ourselves. I believe that it is when that power is alive in me and through me that I come closest to being truly home, come closest to finding or being found by that holiness that I may have glimpsed in the charity and justice and order and peace of other homes I have known, but that in its fullness was always missing. I cannot claim that I have found the home I long for every day of my life, not by a long shot, but I believe that in my heart I have found, and have maybe always known, the way that leads to it. I believe that George Buttrick was right and that the home we long for and belong to is finally where Christ is. I believe that home is Christ’s kingdom, which exists both within us and among us as we wend our prodigal ways through the world in search of it.

Finding God in the Cereal Aisle

– by Donna Owusu-Ansah

At the time I am writing this, my daughters—six and four—are playing with wooden blocks. It is one of those beautiful moments where they are playing together, scheming together, dreaming together and building together. They are using their minds and hearts and hands. Imaginations are running wild. They are putting their thoughts into actions, failing and trying again and again and again and again. They are laughing. There are moments of silence. Together. And this is a joy to witness. It is a holy endeavor. Their blocks have become something beyond the wooden squares that they were manufactured to be.

My husband would look at them and say, “Oh. They’re just playing blocks.”

I see something more.

And this is the task of the prophet—whether one who preaches, one who writes, one who dances, one who creates visual masterpieces, one who teaches, or one who organizes and protests. To see beyond the present reality to fashion a world that embodies, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven[1] The prophet is one who sees beyond sight, until that sight becomes seen and experienced by all.

In all likelihood, I have probably been seeing beyond sight all of my life, as I have been a writer and visual artist all of my life. However, I formally learned to see beyond sight as a student at the Theological School at Drew University. During my tenure at Drew, there was a January Intensive course offered titled, “Ministry and Imagination” taught by Rev. Dr. Heather Elkins and Rev. Dr. N. Lynne Westfield. I quickly recognized that our instructors were women who saw beyond sight. (After my first course, I took every course they offered together.) In Ministry and Imagination we were stretched to do heavy theological reflection beyond textbooks. I can recall one January when Heather and Lynne convened class at a snow covered cemetery. An unusual, but appropriate place to gather and meditate on the Apostles Creed: he descended to the dead. Some sat silently at tombstones, breathing deeply, listening. Some read, piecing together stories of lives in poetry and prose. Some painted on the snow with clover, salmon, and plum colored sand—a reminder of how fleeting life is. We honored the dead, but also with sight beyond what our eyes could see, imagined the rest of the creed— the dead rising and resting eternally in the presence of God.

Heather has a unique way of seeing beyond sight. I often joke that she could take you to the supermarket and you would find God in the cereal aisle. What I mean was that Heather has a penchant for seeing the holy in every day life. She has a seeing beyond sight. And through her be-ing, she inspired me, and a host of others, to open our eyes to God, not just on Sunday morning in church, but everywhere. Everywhere. This was new for me, as I came from a traditional and religiously conservative African-American church that mostly relegated God to a Sunday morning, inside the stained glass windows, kind of experience. There was a clear distinction made between sacred and secular. So, when God was seen outside the stained glass windows it was mostly in what would have been categorized as holy, sacred, and sanctified. But these distinctions didn’t sit well with me. I identified with the Psalmist’s questions in Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”[2] I riff with the Psalmist, “If I play blocks with my daughters, you are there; if I dance, shimmy, and shake as Beyonce trills in the background, you are there. If I listen to the wisdom of cocoa-skinned gray haired sisters, if I protest the unjust killing of black and brown people at the hands of police, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”[3] In other words, if I ascribe to the doctrine that God is omnipresent, and I do, then why wouldn’t God be in the cereal aisle?

We find God in the cereal aisle. We experience the holy mystery amid the whole grained goodness. We see beyond the sight of the fluorescent lights and perfectly lined cardboard boxes. And then we hear it, “Clean up on aisle three!”

We are back to reality and the cereal boxes become just that. Ordinary cereal boxes.

In her book, Listening for God: A Ministers Journey through Silence and Doubt, Renita Weems focuses a chapter on the Christian liturgical season known as ordinary time. She writes, “The mystery is presumably over. The ordinary resumes. And believing hearts are left to grapple for themselves with the silence of God. Or so it seems, that God is silent. Perhaps it’s humans who are speechless for those thirty weeks.”[4]

Ordinary cereal boxes. Ordinary time. Where is God?

As I learned in Ministry and Imagination, God is present everywhere. Even in the seemingly mundane and banal, the Holy mystery endures. However, often in these moments hopelessness and apathy can set in when silence and speechlessness carry on for too long. This is why I write. I write to remind myself and my readers of the beauty that lies beyond what the eye can see. I write because the adage, “no news is good news” does not ring true and we need good news—the prophet Isaiah declared it and Jesus reclaimed that declaration. I write because the rhetoric of our day is far louder than the silence and speechlessness, and our world needs words beyond what it hears and sight beyond what it sees.

 

[1] Matthew 6:10 (NIV)

[2] Psalm 139:7 (NIV)

[3] My interpretation of Psalm 139:8-10

[4] Renita J. Weems, Listening for God: A Ministers Journey Through Silence and Doubt (New York: Touchstone Books, 1999), 64.

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