During Lent many of us Jesusy types look for ways to be intentional about practicing the presence of God. There are a myriad of books, booklets, websites, podcasts and small groups dedicated to spiritual practices meant to give our wandering minds a compass pointing us toward the Divine. Today I’d like to lift up a groovy little secular book that has frequently reminded me of my connection to the divine in, with and through all things. How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith is an art journaling book of sorts that offers “a variety of prompts and assignments” to help the wonderer and wanderer on their journey. Smith begins by sharing how she herself began the process of putting together this little travel guide.
She says: “This book started with a list that I wrote one night when I couldn’t sleep…these ideas are an accumulation of things that I have learned from various teachers and artists over the years and have become the basis for all of my own exploration.”
I’ve read her list many times and it keeps speaking to me, prodding me, asking questions about who I am as a Christian and offers me one way of thinking about who I WANT to be as a person of faith. In this list I also see a pretty cool way of way of “doing church”.
I spoke with Keri years ago when I intended to blog my way through her book (I only got a few assignments in and … squirrel!) and interestingly enough Keri told me that she never intended this work to be about a journey of faith – for her it seems to be wholly about art and about living fully in the world, knowing yourself and the creative potential of your life and connecting deeply with world around you. And folks, for these ears that sounds a lot like practicing the presence of God. Her little projects seem for all the world like great guideposts on this journey of stumbling along trying to hear and follow that holy radical from Galilee.
I do not see the list as a 1-13 powerpoint to perfect enlightenment but I do see in the list an invitation for a journey, a process for becoming. Each item has the potential to help me understand my walk of faith in new ways. I do not see this list as linear but cyclical, where each item can lead back to another and then another. Interdependent and interwoven.
The list calls me forward but a is also a pretty good map of my past. As a child I was always looking, looking, looking. Wonder and delight were found in the simplest of things – like the seasonal textures of the red clay of Georgia or the endless ways to play in a pink pom-pom adorned mimosa tree. That sense of sight has not entirely gone dark but my vision has narrowed as my bones have aged. I still look – but more and more I am looking in a straight line to what ever the next thing is. The next assignment, the next teacher conference, the next car-pool line, the next trip to the grocery store, the next filling of the dishwasher. I am aware that I need to slow down and REALLY look.
SO I am starting all over again – looking, looking and looking. Warning to myself – last time I looked this closely at my life I did in fact (#4) alter my course – and radically. When I work though this list in a prayerful manner, I am called back to the crazy notion that God is in the dim corners of family photographs and in the bright hollering light of playgrounds, in the slumping shoulders of a tired nurse and in the shuddering frame of her patient, in baren branches of winter willows and the fragrant petals of the Magnolia in full bloom.
Once we start looking, and observing, and noticing patters, and tracing things to their origins – using all of our senses – well, how can we not notice that everything is interesting and laced with a shimmering connective tissue beyond our comprehension. And when I am fully in touch with my own existence, in this world now, in the aging body I inhabit and how this southern gal in her mid 40’s is connected to the here and now as well as eternity I do experience a real and true sense of the presence of God. And if I really look and listen to the cacophony going on around and within me, and if I remember that God is present in every moment I have to lean into a radical faith that incorporates both indeterminacy and interdependence.
Ok, enough already, here’s the list. I encourage you to read it a few times, slowly. Think about each idea and if you hear a spiritual practice that I’ve heard.
I would really love to hear from you on this! Do any of the ideas really speak to you? Which ideas challenge you? Are any just way off the mark? Do you see what I see? What would happen if you were to apply this list for one month of church attendance? What would happen if you skipped a month of church, dug into this book as a spiritual practice and looked for ways to practice the presence of God outside the ancient, prescribed forms of your tradition?