Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lectio: Parker Palmer on New Life

I believe that any practice that helps us to escape the monkey business going on inside our over-stimulated brains and helps us to pay more quiet, close attention to the world right in front of us, the brings more meaning to life.  Writing and drawing do this for me and many others.

Here is an example of a quick watercolor sketch I did while traveling on St. John, USVI.  I did it standing at the side of a road, looking down over the bay where I was staying.

It doesn't matter at all to me if this is "Art."  What matters to me is that when I look at this I can feel the experience of painting it in my body--the sun, the flowers, the heat, the breeze, the smell of tropical hyper-oxygenated air.  The glorious abundance--in February, no less!--that exists in our world even when, in the middle of a frigid upper midwest winter, I can't see it and might forget about it.

Sometimes, though, I'm not traveling through a land of spectacular beauty.  Sometimes I don't feel all super vacationy and positive about life.  And then, I'm not always sure what to write or draw about.   So I have an exercise I do based on the ancient practice of lectio divinia.  You can find out more about it here.  It translates to "divine reading."  Basically it is a Benedictine practice of reading scripture, meditation, prayer, and contemplation with the goal of communion with God.

I love the idea that reading can serve as the basis for connection with the divine (I am an English professor, after all!).  I also think anyone of any belief tradition--or no belief tradition--can benefit from this basic reading and contemplation practice.

When I practice this, I modify it.  First, I read from any text which I consider wise or insightful.  I select a short passage, sit quietly with it, and then, depending on my mood, create a piece of art or look through my journals for a sketch which seems to resonate with the reading.  I consider this interaction with the word and the art a potential act of prayer--again, it's all about my mood.  Then, I carry the artist experience with me into further contemplation that could last a few minutes or resonate for days.

I thought it might be fun to share some of my lectio experiences with you.  As prompts.  As examples.  As encouragements.

This morning, I chose this quote from a book I am re-reading, Parker Palmer's wonderful Let Your Life Speak.
My anxiety about way not opening, the anxiety that kept me pounding on closed doors, almost prevented me from seeing the secret hidden in plain sight:  I was already standing on the ground of my new life, ready to take the next step on my journey, if only I would turn around and see the landscape that lay before me (page 55).
I've carried it around in my mind for a while or so and then I knew exactly which piece of art I wanted to use to think more about what this means: the sketch I included above.  I went straight to my journal and found it.

As I mentioned, I created it standing at the side of a road.  This in itself is a small miracle because I am not someone who STOPS along the sides of roads.  Not even when there is a scenic overlook.  I'm the person in the car who yells, "Oh, cool! A scenic overlook!" but never stops.  It's like, I know there are excellent things out there to see and explore, but I'm on the road, man.  I'm headed somewhere.  Don't stop me now.

It's a stupid way to live, really.  I mean, sure, we all need to get to work on time, but overall, we should occasionally stop at the scenic overlooks.

I need to stop at one now.  I'm thinking about a lot of potential changes to my life and how I live it and I'm not sure how to make the transitions.  It feels like I can't see the way forward.  I've been down about it off and on for months.  How to make the changes?  What changes to make?  What should I do??

But this quote and this little painted sketch and the experience it brings back to me--that sun, that air, that lush and amazing fertility--have me really contemplating.  "Already standing on the ground of my new life..." am I?  If I assume I am, what do I see in the landscape around me now?  Later today I have a bit of time and I intend to write about it as well.

It's only been about two hours and I've seen several amazing possibilities that were there before, but I just didn't see them.  I have a lot to consider, thanks to this practice.

Give it a try!

I look forward to sharing more lectio experiences with you in the future.

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