All year round, 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 reminds 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 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 person of faith and offers me one way of thinking about who I WANT to be as a spiritual being. 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. Neither do I see this list as linear. It seems 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 delight has not gone dark, but one’s vision has a way to narrow as our bones age. I still look – but more and more I am looking in a straight line to what ever the next thing is. The next project, the next grocery list, the next pile of laundry, the next dog walk, 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. And this time, in a brand new country with all new sights, sounds, smells and potential awakenings. I plan to work though this list in a prayerful manner because I am called back to the crazy notion that God is everywhere – in the pages of holy scripture and secular texts, in the overexposed corners of travel photographs and in the bobbing heads of a thousand of daffodils, in the slumping shoulders of a tired neighbor and in the raucous laughter of passing students, in the swarm of happy, hungry faces in the Leiden market and along our morning bike rides through farm land as mist rises from the lush earth.
Once we start looking closely, listening deeply, noticing patters and tracing things to their origins – truly 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. When I am fully in touch with my own existence, in this world now, as a transplanted southern gal living a life previously unimagined in Holland, I have an opportunity to experience a real and true sense of the presence of God. And if I really look and listen to the intersecting lines of my life within me, and if I remember that God is present in every moment, I am invited into the faithful mystery indeterminacy and interdependence.
Ok, enough already, here’s the list. I encourage you to read it a few times, slowly. Think of how you might apply this to your daily life, your bible study, your church attendance and your personal spiritual practices.
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 off the mark? 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?