Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Daniel Fast

Courtesy of the Internet
 From the beginning of our relationship it was clear that Joel and I would remain most closely united if we were grafted to the Spirit through which our love was nourished. 

We decided this meant that we both needed to start by embracing spiritual disciplines together. Our first attempts at learning to become spiritually disciplined were experienced through a study of fasting. 

After reading scripture and pondering Jesus replying "When you fast..." to his Disciples, we started to venture into the taboo  and give it the respect it deserved. 
Starting January 1, 2010 we decided that we would both enter into a time of fasting together with the intention of becoming better spiritually prepared for our upcoming marriage. 

After lots of prayer, discernment and research we discovered The Daniel Fast.



Joel and me a few moments after we became engaged.
 We were fascinated by the Daniel Fast because it was created on behalf the Daniel we both knew well from scripture. Yes, you know, Daniel and the Lions Den. This is the same guy. Perhaps you will recall that when Israel was taken over by Babylon and while all of the nation was besieged, Daniel and 3 other men were taken to Babylon to learn the ways of those people. They were chosen because they were the best of the best. 

Daniel would not eat or drink the food of the palace. It was rich with meat and wine and he would not pray or live the way he was ordered to as he entered into the Babylonian assimilation program. He even bet that he and his friends would become stronger and in better shape if they were allowed to eat the way they were taught by the people of Israel.
The day we got our marriage license.


Daniel and his comrades only ate vegetables and drank water for ten days and sure enough, they were in better condition their their peers who lived under the King's orders and thus the King changed the diets of all his men to veggies and H20.

Joel and I began the Daniel Fast and stuck with it for the recommended 21 days. At first it was very difficult and the cravings were intense. By the end of the first week there was finally a calm from the desire to engorge ourselves with gluten and sugar. Once our bodies had been cleared of the addictive, processed goodies we were used to eating, the fast became a gift. 

We both took on a spiritual practice in the place of the foods we would limit from our diet. I decided to read "The Artist's Way" while I was fasting and enter into the discipline of "Morning Pages" which was creative, flow journaling meant to inspire new outlets for expression. 

The result of our period of fasting has forever changed our lives and our eating habits. Physically, we both lost weight but the amazing thing was that we were never hungry and we did not miss the sugar and gluten we were so accustom to eating. I didn't even miss cheese which was formally my favorite thing on the planet. Then my skin cleared up for the first time in my life. Mentally, we were more alert, more motivated, more excited to greet the day than ever before. We cared about what we were putting in our bodies and became more intentional about nutrients over cravings. It was amazing to ask myself "What do I need to eat?" rather than "What do I want to eat?" Spiritually, we both were so open to God's daily movements in our lives. We were tuned in to the whole body that we occupy and became fully aware that the practice of eating IS a spiritual practice. Since we fasted together we both were also drawn together spiritually. We experienced many mutual visions and answered prayers regarding our futures lives and call to our marriage.

People have a hard time understanding fasting and in a world with eating disorders and body image distortions. We have become really sensitive about how and when we put food into our bodies. Would you consider going back to the roots of this tradition and embrace a very old understanding that eating is a spiritual practice? Perhaps you would then decide for yourself that a fast might be a beneficial move for your spiritual growth. After all, the purpose of the fast is to fill you up with God... so make some room.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Quickie: a moment for sex

On the picnic blanket: Discussions with friends about stuff that matters.
Is our culture failing us or has this been a plague on mankind since the beginning?

It's taboo if you don't talk about it and it's taboo if you do. 

Yep, I am talking about sex.

We let it control us when we experience it too much. We let it control us when we try to avoid experiencing it. All the while, we wonder who we can REALLY talk to about it without judgment. Who has our best interest at heart?

In only a week I have had multiple conversations about sex with middle aged adults, college students and high school youth. From my filter I heard each of them saying the same thing:

"I wish someone would have told me how my sexual choices informed my behaviors for the rest of my life." 
Joel and Me when we became engaged 2010



And my response is, "Yeah, me too."


Now that the youth I have ministered along side are coming of age, I am hearing more and more about their sexual experiences. They, just like adults, are overloaded with information about how to prevent disease, how to prevent pregnancy, how to prevent meaning...unfortunately none of those things are 100% effective.

No matter if you have never been kissed or slept with a two dozen people, it is time to all claim the reality that has become the elephant in the room: sex matters.
Joel playing a game called "Make people think Claire is pregnant"

The choices you make sexually today are going inform how you have sex in the future. I am not just talking about old partners haunting you. I am not talking about comparisons or memories or lingering diseases. 

I am talking about the way you learn to have sex.The way you think about sex. The way you think about YOU having sex.

You know, those behaviors you teach yourself or are taught? The emotional state you received this information in, the situation, the person, the age you were... there are so many variables and so many pieces to this puzzle that create the sexual creature you are today. 

Whatever you do sexually is something you have chosen. It is something you have told yourself is OK according to your standards or it is something that you decided violated your personal values. No matter how you believe sexuality should be viewed, experienced or preserved, it is time to stop denying that all of those choices inform how you have sex now. 
Joel and me kissing in a National Park in Chile

This is just the tip of the sexual iceberg when it comes to the powerful mental, emotional and spiritual involvement it has in your choices. Your whole being is part of the decisions you make sexually. 

So if you are 17 and cheat on your first serious girlfriend, you have chosen that. This will inform your sexual choices all your life. This too can become a behavior...behaviors melt into patterns...patterns inform identity...identity informs purpose...
Joel and me at Tent Rocks, NM

 


It doesn't matter if you are raging with hormones at 15 or lonely at 85, your sexual decisions inform your sexual behaviors which create your sexual patterns which begin to inform your identity and sense of purpose.

It takes a whole lot of maturity and awareness to change behavior. Warning: it is difficult to change behaviors. 

Why not create healthy ones in the first place? 

Sex matters.




*Joel suggested that I keep using photos to split up my writing in these posts so I tried to choose "sexy" pictures to go with this "quickie" topic. I hope you didn't get too overloaded with kissing photos today:)


Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Desert


Joel in Canyonlands National Park
For five years I have taught the youth that the desert is the place where God's people have purged themselves of culture. 


When Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt it was all part of God's purpose to protect them in the desert for 40 years. It takes 3-4 generations to dissolve old behaviors and thinking out of a culture of people. And boy, they needed it, for they had adopted much culture from Egypt. 

I believe this. 

I visited the desert.


Me in Death Valley National Park (dunes)

 Two years ago, Joel and I began the epic adventure of visiting America's most prized and incredible offerings- the national parks. The first desert I ever encountered was the most deserty desert of them all. We camped in Death Valley National Park.
It turns out that our drive into the park became the most memorable of my life.
Joel and me in the "badlands" of Death Valley

 Civilization was nowhere to be found while I cruised down an empty desert road at 90 miles an hour.
  The exhilaration of driving that fast, being so far from anything that resembled a place we could stop for gas or to get water, coupled the creeping fear that we might be lost, was too much for me handle. There was really only one thing to do- I just slammed my foot on the gas and cackled into the wind! Joel and I became intoxicated with our first shot of absolute freedom.


Me having a Lion King moment over Lake Powell (Utah)
 It felt like insatiable, joyful, madness. 

When we finally saw a small sign pointing us into the park the scenery didn't change. We were literally in the middle of nowhere and it was the most stunning "nowhere" that I have ever seen. 

Everything I thought I knew about myself seemed to be blowing in the wind like the grains of sand that were burying themselves in my tangled hair. 



Joel in the dunes at Death Valley


 I love green! I love trees! I love water! I love being with people! In fact, every personality test I have ever taken has dubbed me the most extroverted a person could be, but here, I was completely alive in the solitude.

I was ravenous for it. 

I took this of Landscape Arch in Arches National Park
  
Very often, Joel and I would just succumb to the silence. 

On a drive through the desert or on hikes we would speak very little to one another. The quiet was overwhelming. 

Sometimes, we'd stop each other from walking just to mute the crunching of our feet on the rocks. That sound was the only sound we could hear, so it seemed decibels louder than it must have been. When it stopped we were left to the brush on the wind on our faces and the hum of our own damaged ear drums.
Me in Bryce Canyon (Utah)

Delicate Arch in Arches
 We climbed an obscure and difficult cliff to look out over the "badlands" which is full of salt and is the lowest elevation in our country. 

As soon as I reached the cliffs edge, my soul burst into motion. I could literally feel my spirit leaping inside my chest, dancing, rejoicing, laughing, reaching...reaching...reaching!

God was in this place. Quiet, overwhelming, right inside me, God.
When Colorado turns to Utah

 Since then, we have visited many desert lands and many more national parks. I can honestly say that I believe the desert in America is the most beautiful place created or imagined by any being. Every 30 miles the scenery changes, the rocks swirl, peak, break or melt into unfathomable colors.
Colorado National Monument and Joel



There is life in the desert.

Unexpected flowers and trees suddenly will appear before your eyes. A bright bird or a strange insect will venture towards you and you will marvel at it's delicate perfection.

The rains falls without warning from the never ending horizon. It swells into instant rivers that wash away all the dust of the day.

 But you won't see many people.
Me in Tent Rock, NM taken by Jacki Harp
  


Now when I think about Moses, I think about that moment on the cliff in Death Valley. I've always read the Exodus story through a lens interpreting those years in the desert as a time wrought with frustration and suffering. What if it was full of invigorating inspiration?

We too were on an Exodus.

We were forced to purge ourselves on our culture and expectations.

There is no cell phone connection in the desert. You have to plan ahead or be very careful with your provisions (food, gas and most of all WATER). If you happen to run out of any of those things then it is up to the Spirit that unites us all to point you in the right direction or send aid in all of it's unlikely forms. 


Desert Flower in NM
No baths, no beds, no obligations, no duties, no churches, no schools, no family, no shopping, no news, no friends,no jobs,no music, no distractions


It was just me, Joel and God in the present moment.


Canyonlands







I like to think that if Moses had a car, he would have hit the gas and cackled into the wind. 


He would head straight for the badlands because he knew the intoxicating awareness of total spiritual freedom.

That insatiable, joyful, madness...


Bryce Canyon









Don't you crave it too?

The quiet.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

In the Garden


Me with my grandmother at her house.


  When I put down the phone I still heard her voice in my head, "We've had a rough week." What did my grandmother mean by that statement?


My sister playing in the woods behind their home.
 "The Grands" as my sister and I call them, are two of my best friends in this whole world. I know them well. They know me well.

 Together, we can love and care for one another in a poignant, life changing way. That love seems to run a little deeper than other loves I've tasted, which I like to imagine is due to the fact that our very blood whispers the knowings we share.

When I arrived to the home that still houses the magic and memory that helped hone my identity, I found my grandparents to be unwell.

It had been a rough week.
The whimsical garden my grandmother keeps.

My grandmother answered the door with that eleven shaped wrinkle in her forehead pinched so tight it didn't seem like her face at all. Her eyes were wide with anxiety and unanswered questions. 

Moments passed as they untangled the events which led up to the strain on their faces. 

I was present. I observed. I didn't know what else to do.

Tulip Magnolias, she calls them.
 Somehow, in the midst of all this, we managed to entice my grandmother to eat with us even though she wasn't up to it. Then she marveled at how much water she craved. It wasn't long before she accepted my invitation to grab some vitiamin D and step outside.

Our "walk around the yard" turned into a hike to the "branch" (branch means creek where I am from). We sat on the stone bench overlooking the tall pines and kudzu. She told me stories. She reminded me that when I was born and she saw me for the first time I turned to her voice. She reckoned that I knew her right away.


Wonder why I paint trees?

We puttered three loops around the yard and marveled at every azela that was in bloom. Their gardens were aflame with pink, red, and purple blossoms. 

I turned to face her as she taught me how to root the mint I pulled up. To my delight I knew her once more.

Her wrinkles melted into smiles, her cheeks blossomed like the azaleas showing off their pinky glow, her eyes were blue with laughter and confidence. 

Just in that moment the sunlight caught the halo of her curls that burned white against the sky and she beamed with pure, grandmotherly love. 

"You have totally transformed right before my eyes. You look completly different from when I arrived. All you needed was some time in your garden!" I pronounced.

She smiled, put her arm around me,"All I needed was time with you."

She blossomed before my very eyes.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Four Agreements

Photo courtesy of Jacki Harp (this is me)
"Why is it that humans resist life? To be alive is the biggest fear that humans have. Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive..." The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz


What if the answer to this question and perhaps humanity's escape from the confines of fear lies in four simple agreements? According to ancient Toltec wisdom (and the Toltec people were known for being wise) this is precisely the case. However, be forewarned that you can list wonderful things to DO to achieve a happy life all day long but if you cannot adopt them as a way of BEING you are just checking off another empty to-do-list box. What I want to talk about is deep abiding transformation.

Ruiz describes a world where all of humankind has agreed to laws through which it operates. We have created the boundaries just as intricately as we have created the possibilities. He imagines that we are always dreaming. In our waking lives we have agreed to exist according to the predefined rules of the human race which is more limiting than our true state of being. Just like a snake to be born again, we too must, sometimes painfully, shed our scaly old skin to become a fresh and purified new soul. 

"Humans punish themselves endlessly for not being what they believe they should be."

The Four Agreements are the Toltec way of giving us a resource for daily living that will burst our hearts into joy-filled, abundant expressions of love. This love is even available from ourselves to ourselves. What is there to resist?

1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don't take anything personally.
3.Don't make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.

When it comes to long lasting transformation simplicity is the name of the game. Do not scoff at the easy words you have read above. Deep, in tune, joy-filled living comes from a holistic understanding and daily practice of these agreements. Do not fear digging a little deeper...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Magical Mundane

" The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not." Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.


 It was a feast for the senses and I devoured every single word. I felt like I had never tasted the convicting sweetness of imagination until I was handed that book. "Night Circus" fed a place in my dreaming creativity that had been long lying dormant just waiting to wake up to the unending possibilities that reside within the ordinary and mundane.

 The whimsey of the enchanted midnight dinner's of this story inspired me to wish for my own version of this magical communion hour. I pondered how I could recreate such an unconventional time to gather with friends that would be as rich and full of multisensory beauty and stimulation. I should have known that this desire of my heart would only be provided if I were willing to simply say yes to it when it arrived at some unexpected hour.


 It was 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night when Joel and I left our apartment in a fury to vent our days frustrations in the dark quiet of our neighborhood. Almost marching as we walked, I heard Joel change the topic suddenly exclaiming, "Oh my God! This is exactly what I need!"

 Just before us, stepping out of their truck, was our beloved retired ceramics professor and his incredible wife returning from a spontaneous date. We all rushed one another with embraces and were immediately invited to join them inside.


 Within moments their home transformed into a womb of beauty. Warm lights, candles, artwork on everything that stood still, vases overflowing with flowers even though it was winter... We were completely enthralled by the magic that unfolded before our very eyes.

Food suddenly appeared on handmade ceramic plates and antique Mexican glassware. The intoxicating smell of chocolate, apples, and hibiscus filled our airways and we breathed deeply the heavy scents of welcome.

The symbols of the everyday were present but the absence of the mundane was overwhelming. We were entirely swept away by the mystery of our host's ability to turn tea pots, soup, cookies, and conversation into artwork that made time stand entirely still leaving us to enjoy the very moment to it's provided fullness. 



It might be late in the evening, perhaps you had made other plans...or maybe you glanced up only for a second in the dark and realize that standing before you is exactly what you need.

Dreaming


I took this photo of my husband Joel in Zion National Park
A couple years after my dad died it became clear that I needed to invest some time into counseling. I was a psychology major and had big dreams of being a counselor someday so naturally, I thought I could handle this grief situation by my lonesome. Of course, that proved untrue. 

Sitting on Jean's couch feeling myself being swept away on the sweet river of southern drawl, I noticed something I didn't expect-I was comfortable. She told me that she leaned heavily on dream analysis because she believes that dreams are a barometer for your unconscious mind, your spiritual state. She thought that if you could simply claim the raw and vulnerable meaning of your dreams then your conscious mind will start to handle the issues you are burying deep down. Fortunately, for us both, I was already a big fan of this sort of therapy.

Dreams serve a very deliberate and viable purpose in your daily living. If you choose it, your dreams can become an avenue for tapping into the Holy Spirit and allowing yourself to be nourished and grow. Your dreams offer you the truth about how you are feeling and experiencing your waking life. We are so good at convincing ourselves that those raw emotions and needs are not really part of our living or thinking. Once we claim them and name them, then we can truly move forward on this spiritual journey into a place of transformative growth. 

  Challenge of the month:


  • Keep a dream journal for one month- try and write your dreams down right after you wake up.
  • Set the intention before you dream by praying that you will remember your dreams or by telling yourself that you will. This makes a difference for those of you who don't usually remember your dreams.
  • Look up the symbolism in your dreams and discern their cumulative meaning.
    • colors, objects, blink reactions to people who appear in your dreams, actions, emotions, these are all symbols.

 If you are real with yourself you will notice a daily transformation with this practice. Track how you are growing each day. Pay attention to how much more you dream when your body, mind and spirit know you are are actually listening to your whole self.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

God-Time

"True art makes the divine silence in the soul break into applause." Hafiz



  



One year ago someone asked me where I spend time with God.











I spoke reluctantly, "I used to know the answer to that one."











 Growing up I abided most evenings lying on my back in the middle of our trampoline watching the sun set behind the trees.






 
 I experienced God staring into the colors of the sky peaking through twisted branches above me.





We communed together and I knew the assurance of His love and provision.



I have lived in the city for eight years now and there are no woods or trampolines.




I wander parks and green-ways. I sit in quads and squares. Can you go to a place to experience God?





 I still am drawn to nature and keep my eyes on the sunsets.


Do I simply carry them with me now?
  

The day of the fateful question, I came home and wondered if I still spent time with God.  I thought I did but when?




I stared at my walls...


...the colors came into focus...



fields... trees silhouetted... vibrant sunsets...




 Revelation! I have been painting my God time for eight years.



  My walls are covered in my God time.


 Our apartment has become a sanctuary for my heart where God and I live together and I am restored.



I step into this nucleus and bask in the truth- God abides in me and all my time is His.


 



How do you experience God abiding in you?


Where do you hang the paintings of your heart?










                                             The artwork work and photography by Claire Tomkinson