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Into Every Life a Little Snake Must Crawl

Tonya Jewel Blessing

A number of weeks ago, Salome, the young woman who helps in our home in South Africa, found a snake in the bottom of the master bedroom closet. Chris and I had just returned from

Tanzania, so the house had set vacant for a couple of weeks. In our absence, a cobra had come indoors and made himself comfortable. Two of our landlord’s workers quickly arrived and sent Mr. Cobra to heaven. If snakes go to heaven. I’m not sure. I know the saying, “All dogs go to heaven,” but I’ve never heard the same said of snakes. Elvis and Johann, the snake-killing heroes, put the cobra in a bucket. Even in death, the body of the snake kept moving. It was a sight to behold!

Chris had returned from Tanzania very ill. He was running an extremely high temperature and taking a number of strong medications. Several hours later, when I carried the snake bucket into the guest room, where Chris was resting, he responded in his delirium, “Into every life a little snake must crawl.”

Into every life a little snake must crawl.”

Later that day, I googled snakes and learned that a cobra can kill an elephant with one bite. The cobra in our home was approximately five feet long. I was able to measure it because as a souvenir Elvis and Johann returned the hide to me.

I’m not sure where to place the snakeskin in our home. It doesn’t seem to fit with my usual decorating style, but then again nothing has been “usual” about my life since moving to Africa. I do know, however, that Chris and I have agreed to put “our cobra” on display as a testimony to God’s fame. His love and protection are truly great!

Psalm 102:12 (NLT) says, “But you, O LORD, will sit on your throne forever. Your fame will endure to every generation.” Verse 18 of the same psalm says that the famous deeds of God should be a record for future generations so that people not yet born will praise Him.

Into every life a little snake must crawl.”

Please be encouraged this week that God is preparing to rescue and help you in your time of breath-taking fear. When troubles come, remember that God is the Famous One.

  1. How do you feel about snakes? What would your reaction have been to find a cobra in your bedroom closet?

 

  1. Read through Psalm 102. What insights did you gain about God?

 

  1. “…the famous deeds of God should be a record for future generations, so that people not yet born will praise Him.” Why is this important?

 

  1. God is famous! Jesus lived 2,000 years ago, and yet this one-word name is recognized throughout the world. Translators are busy translating God’s Word into languages and tongues in every nation. Soon all will be able to read God’s Word and know of His

Tonya Jewel BlessingRighteousness. Why do you think just the mention of the name of “Jesus” either draws or repels people?

Tonya Jewel Blessing has written the Big Creek Appalachian series: The Whispering of the Willows and The Melody of the Mulberries as well the Bible study guide, Soothing Rain. Each of these books ask in their own way, “What makes females different to males?”

Sue Summer wrote the questions for application throughout the Soothing Rain study. She is the expert at mediasavvykids.org/.

ISBN 13: 9780997897630 ASIN: B074F2C8SV
Soothing Rain is a humorous and provoking look at a variety of events in a woman’s life, and what might be done in the moment. Soothing Rain is a women’s crowd breaking system of stories and discussion questions (a global interchange). https://www.amazon.com/Soothing-Rain-Living-Water-Refresh-ebook/dp/B074F2C8SV/
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Using the Psalms as Prayers

By L. L. Larkins, author of the Psalm Hymns series

I’m one of those pray-without-thinking-too-much-about-it sort of people.

I pray about parking spaces.  I walk around the lake near our home and just talk to God about the birds and turtles, the sunrise and sunset, about family struggles and many, many things. Often, the welling up of joy and surprises in nature and certain wonders of those who pass by me or walk near me make me cry in praises and gratitude.

I thank God for this and that.  I wrestle with God in tears about people and issues, and my wants and needs. Sometimes beautiful poetry will come to me in that space. I wonder if walking with the Lord is simply talking to Him about everything and listening closely enough to follow as He talks back to us.

It’s the week of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

When I was struggling in a really dark spot in my life, the Psalms became deep wells of teaching for me. Once, when I was apologizing to the Lord for dragging Him through the mud and cow patties with me, sorry for bringing down His holy name to such a low level, I saw an image of him sitting next to me in a mud puddle, cross-legged, and grinning at me with a missing tooth. Half naked, and smeared with something disgusting, he said so very gently, “I’ve been dragged through much worse. You think I’m afraid of sitting with you in this mess? There’s nothing you can do to me that hasn’t been done before.”

In meditation and prayer in the Psalms, I began to understand what people had prayed for years ago when they were betrayed or when they had experienced insufferable losses, or when they suffered in post-trauma over their sins or others sins against them. That was when I began setting the five books of biblical Psalms to music that I could sing and remember.

Many of the Psalm Hymns are praises as we know and understand them to be, with the power to lift our minds out of our circumstances and place them on the Lord.  But, in addition to these types of Psalms, there are those that offer experiences of grief, pleas to God as to a doctor or a priest or a king, someone who has the power and credentials to save us.

Psalms also include some moments of pedantic teaching to engage our minds even more than our emotions. Each of these Psalms also offers some striking spiritual landmarks for life. A way to get up and go forward in trust and faith.

Psalm 78 starts out this way, sung to the tune: On Jordan’s Stormy Banks (Bound for the Promised Land)

My people, hear my words of teaching;

Listen to my words.

I begin with a parable of old

And will speak to the hidden yore, —

These are things our people have heard and known,

They are things ancestors told.

Should we try to hide them from our own

Descendants, who need to know?

Psalms can be specified as prayers to God.

But, because praying is also a communal form of conversation, the Psalms are definitely bright bits of meditation and self-talk. They were given to God’s people for the purpose of spiritual reasoning with one’s self, self-counsel. So, in that way, it is a means of God praying back to our hearts and minds and will. The Psalms are truly a two-way conversation with the Lord.

The words of this Psalm 78 informs me that there are hidden treasures and parables in the Psalms and in the stories of our spiritual ancestors that we need to know and we need to pass along to our littles and our teens asking those deep questions.

Moses wrote Psalm 91, which for all the seriousness of Moses’ reflection, I have aligned with the Doxology.  Most of the Psalms were written by King David, or by someone, a scribe in his court maybe, so it was interesting to me to get a King’s take on God’s law when people where saying law makes no difference to a walk of faith. I really struggled, you know, with what I believed about law and whether following the ten commandments was legalism. Through the Psalm Hymns, an understanding about God’s heart for how the commandments offer healthy limits, and a healthy community was forged.

The law wasn’t a mode to salvation, but it was a mode to loving one’s neighbor, a mode to justice and mercy and self-restraint, a mode to honoring our Maker.

A verse of Psalm 119 about the value of the law sung to the tune: Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine

O, that I sought You in Your commands!

Shame would release its hold of my hand.

I would have praised Your judgments in all;

I would have seen You, righteous for all.

You rule uprightly; this I discern!

Now I observe Your statutes and learn;

Oh, do not leave me, LORD, take my hand!

Do not forsake me!  LORD, help me stand.

There are Psalms that recount how the waters were separated from parts of the earth and put into boundaries, like in Psalm 24, or Psalm 104. Here is a verse of Psalm 24 sung to the hymn, At Calvary (It starts out, “Years I spent in vanity and pride. . .” did you ever sing that one in church?)

All the fullness of the earth begun,

Land and spaciousness for everyone,

All of it including what may come:

It is the Lord’s!

For He founded it upon the seas, drawing limits,

Drawing floods and springs.

Who shall come to Him, ascend His hill?

It is the Lord’s!

A verse of Psalm 104 talks about this, too, sung to the great hymn by Isaac Watts, I Sing The Mighty Power of God. 

You covered earth with waters deep

As with a garment drenched;

Above the mountain heights they stayed.

Rebuked, the seas retrench;

As voices of Your thunder played,

They hastened to their place!

Now, far away they rest in pools

And valleys where they stay.

These Psalms are wonderful teaching tools for a Bible study or a music ensemble because when the words of scripture are combined with music, our spirits soar to the heights in mysterious ways, and with the soaring of a spirit comes questions and mysteries to talk about and pray about.

One music group used the Caroling Through the Psalms book during Advent season. 

They spent the summer arranging and building parts and solos, and in the season before Christmas, they sang on the mall, at retirement homes, and in churches in their community. It was a life-changing experience to anchor their modern holiday experiences in the past prayers and testimonies of others.

God as my judge, and our judge — so often prayed to in this capacity in the Psalms, reminds me to expect justice and mercy from Him, but there is more! Did you know there is a Psalm written specifically to judges who do not judge righteously? Here is the first verse of Psalm 82 sung to The Battle Hymn of the Republic (and it only gets better).

Standing in the great assembly,

God presides and takes His place;

He is rendering His judgment

To the gods of earth’s dismay.

His decree begins by reasoning:

“How long have you displaced

The weak and fatherless?”

God presides to judge the jurists;

Earth is trembling in her footsteps;

God inherits all the nations.

Our God is over all!

To bolster confidence in depression, Psalm 27 centers me every time I sing it and amazingly, I can sing it to several tunes! Immortal, Invisible works brilliantly. Any version of Away in a Manger works wonderfully, and I will reserve the best tune in a minor key as listed in Caroling Through the Psalms.

Caroling Through the Psalms

 

The Lord is my Light and my constant Estate!
Then whom shall I fear when His Stronghold is safe?
Though evil advances against me for ill
To slander, devour me all will be well.

My rivals and enemies stumble and fall.
Though armies besiege me, I fear none at all;
Though warriors may shake down a valiant defense,
Then yes, God alone is my sheer confidence.

This one thing I seek and I ask from the Lord,
To hold my insurance for life at the Source
To gaze on His beauty to seek His embrace
For here in my trouble He will keep me safe.

Another Psalm to reach into the core of my heart and pull out the dark secrets of worry and doubt is Psalm 139. I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I praise God every time I sing Psalm 139, and I can sing it now to the tune Open My Eyes that I May See this way.

What if I ride the wings of dawn?
What if I move to seas beyond?
Yet, even there your power abides—
and there your hand will be my guide.
What if I isolate in gloom?
begging the night to be my womb—
Yet, even there Your Presence shines!

Where shall I hide?

You made the inward parts of me—
You know my body’s mysteries.
Knitted my limbs in my mother’s womb—
Wonders performed, there’s none like You!
Your workmanship is marvelous—
Deep in my soul, I know it is!
No-one knows how You wove my frame—

Physics of God!

I can also sing this Psalm to the rollicking favorite of old town Christians, Wonderful Grace of Jesus, which Psalm 139 is also arranged for in Book Five of the Psalm Hymns.

When you worry about the power and legacy of evil people who seem to cheat death, Psalm 49 explains the path of these financial estates and those who follow the words of evil counsel, there is a Psalm for that. Sing it to the tune, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.

Hear this, all nations of the world;
You great and small in heart,
You rich and poor together hear
My wisdom on the harp!
My meditation shall be clear as understanding prose:
The proverb and the riddle sing
As I explain them both:

Why should I fear when danger comes

Confounded enemies,
The ones who put their trust in wealth

And boast iniquities?
For no one’s assets can redeem

The price of human life;

Each costly soul is ransomed by

Our God who sets its price.

 

What could we pay that God would trade

To let us out-live time?

Immortal like, enjoying life

In rich estates sublime?
For one can see that wise ones die,
And fools, they all pass away.
They leave their wealth to other hands.
Their homes become their graves.

Estates are named to flatter pride

Of pompous heirs below

But generations pass on by
Those silent wealthy bones.

Despite one’s wealth, the flesh won’t last;
For humans die like herds;

There goes the path of the arrogant,
And those who follow their words.

In Book Five, you will find the Pilgrim Psalms, the Psalms of Ascent for tours to the Holy Land. But in each and every book, you will find Psalms that are simple prayers and pleas to the Lord for help and rescue.  Like Psalm 88.  It can be sung to Lord, Plant My Feet On Higher Ground (I’m Pressing on the Upward Way.)

You are my Lord, the God Who saves;
You rescue when I cry in faith.
Oh, hear another prayer to You;
Oh, turn toward my anguished soul.

I’m overwhelmed with troubles, Lord;
See how my breath in whispers pours.
They’ve counted me among the dead;
And lacking strength, my friends have fled.

One of my favorite praise Psalms in Psalm 147, sung to the tune, Wonderful Love of Jesus! (When We All Get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!). If you have difficulties remembering these old hymn tunes, you can look them up on YouTube or in Hymnary.org. Here is a link for this song. https://hymnary.org/text/sing_the_wondrous_love_of_jesus_sing_his

Praise the LORD! O Praise the LORD from heaven!

Praise Him from the bluing atmosphere!

All His angels—hosts of armies—praise him!

Praise Him far and near!

Praise the LORD—sun and moon and all you

Twinkling starry crowns!

Praise the LORD! Every vapor—

Every particle, resound!

 

Let His creatures everywhere give praise—

For their bodies and their very lives.

His command is their existence—placing

Each where it survives!

His decrees are forever; they will never

Overturn or end.

Praise the LORD from the earth, and

From the ocean depths ascend!

Finally, I will leave you with one of our most beloved songs of victory and praise, Psalm 150. 

It is sung to the old hymn, Love Lifted Me (I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore).

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!

Celebrate God in might!

Praise Him for celestial power—

Praise Him for heaven’s gates!

In His sanctuary—praise—sounding the trumpet loud!

For His all-surpassing greatness—praise Him now!

Praise Him with strings, sweet melodies—

Praise Him with drums and bells— loud jubilance!

Praise Him with dance—pipes—will you praise?

Praise Him with the cymbals’ clashing—

Praise! Praise! Praise!

Indian woman an angel and a child
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Sharing Creativity is to Grow in His Gifts

By Jenny Fulton, author of Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye

Has God ever asked you to make a personal gifting or a private hobby public?

In many ways, this is a terrifying transition for a creative person. Before, creating something provided an inner joy; the only critic was yourself or the Gift Giver.

Princess Lillian’s Book Launch Activities! Find them here: https://www.facebook.com/events/274521184047823/?active_tab=discussion

I have numerous journals, each of which are personal and private. How could I bridge the gap between my writing for private process and writing for what others wanted?

To share a talent with others is to expose yourself – to open your vulnerability to another’s criticism, to discover how much you still need to learn and grow in your abilities.

It’s far easier to hoard such giftings in isolation. Yet, more often than not, God won’t allow us to keep them shut away indefinitely.

I was teaching in China when God asked, urged, and encouraged me to start writing for more than myself. His first prodding came through a friend.

She speaks softly and listens loudly

Lara was another American teacher at the school. She possesses a quiet and gentle spirit, a trustworthy one, a daydreaming one.  We formed an instant connection; I somehow knew she was a creative before she verified it with words. Our time together included playing our guitars, engaging in deep conversations, and talking about writing.

She was one of the first people with whom I shared the fulness of my passion for this art.

One day, we were sitting in her apartment, talking about our secret hobbies. “You know,” she said, “I was just reading this book, The Soul Tells a Story, by Vinita Hampton Wright. She talks about writing and creativity going hand-in-hand with spirituality and encourages people to say, ‘yes’ to their God-given gifts. You can read it when I’m finished.”

I did. As I read, a long-held dream crept from its world of silence and impossibility into the realm of light and reality.

What if my desire to write wasn’t temporary?

What if it wasn’t meant to remain a side-hobby or a means by which to communicate newsletters, but was given to me by God to be used for Him to His glory?

What if my dreams to write and be published didn’t just belong to me, but were a reflection of His dreams for me?

It’s been quite a winding journey from that time to the present where my book, Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye is now offered in audiobook for your listening pleasure.

Faith writing

Soon after this conversation, Lara introduced me to Faithwriters.com, an online writing site for Christians. For the first time, I put my heart and stories on display to be read and critiqued by strangers who had no knowledge or context for the person behind the words. I didn’t know where it would lead or how God would use it; I only knew I must obey – I could no longer ignore the desperate call within me.

In 2008, I submitted my first fictional story, Chang Chang’s Hope, to the lowest level of the Faithwriters weekly writing challenge. Then I waited in terrified expectation for people to post their comments.

People really liked it! The judges liked it and gave it a 2nd place ranking in its level.

My next entry, More Than a Yearly Journey, was an autobiographical one. It caught the attention of the site managers who featured it on the Front-Page Showcase.

While I certainly seemed to be off to a good start, I knew my skills needed to develop. But maybe, with time, instruction, and practice, I could really do this writing thing.

These initial successes persuaded me to be more intentional about learning the craft. To this end, I read the highest-ranked stories and tried to pinpoint what made them so good. I studied writing lessons on the site and tried to incorporate those skills into my entries.

Sometimes my pieces connected well with the readers. Other times they didn’t

Regardless of whether my writing connected well with others, I was learning, improving, and gaining insight into where my strengths and weaknesses lay.

After several months of sharing online, I gathered my courage and tentatively offered to write the devotionals for an upcoming youth retreat. Offering, writing, and sharing God’s gifting to me in this form was far scarier than posting online. Exposing my heart to strangers was one thing; revealing it to those I knew was another.

Although the devotionals were presented as anonymous, I was able to gain some encouraging feedback.

These occasions to share made a few things very clear.

  1. My desire to write wasn’t temporary.
  2. The enjoyment and ability to write had been given to me by God to be used for Him to His glory.
  3. My dreams to write and be published were a reflection of God’s dreams for me.

“Lord,” I prayed. “I entrust this writing, this interest and ability, to You as something You want me to continue to develop and use for Your glory. I’m not sure to what extent, but I do know that I will follow Your lead in this and seek any opportunities You may have for me. For whatever reason, and to whatever extent, You have, among other things, made me a writer. To You belong the details.”

Life Happens in The Details

I continued posting short stories online for the next five years. Life changed drastically in that time, but the commitment to write held steady. In 2010, I moved back to the U. S. Two years later, I was married, and a year after that, I gave birth to my first daughter.

In 2014, when my daughter was a year old, I left teaching to become a stay-at-home mom.

The dream and dedication to writing continued. With my husband’s encouragement, I pursued a few freelance writing jobs. One of them landed me a contact as a ghostwriter for a young adult fantasy novel. That book was published in 2016.

This past year, in July 2020, I came across Laura Bartnick with Capture Books. After a few months of communicating back and forth about a couple of writing projects, she offered me a contract to publish my first picture book. Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye was released on March 10, 2021, with paperback and hardback versions as well as ebook versions.

Timing for this release thrills me because the book is now available for comfort and hope around the Easter holiday because the theme of Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye is eternal life after death.

Encouragement from the Word

In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks much about the giftings of the Holy Spirit. Although writing or other artistic endeavors aren’t specifically mentioned, the manifestation of the Spirit is. “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.[1]” The expression of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is meant for the common good.

Many times, God’s gifts aren’t given for the benefit of the receiver alone and aren’t meant solely for personal use and gratification. Instead, He often grants us skills and abilities so that we may use them to help others.

Matthew 5:16 (NASB) says, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” God’s light is expressed through how we live our lives, in our physical work, in what we say and do. This includes artistic endeavors.

May the dreams, skill, and abilities God has given us shine before others in such a way that they might glorify our Father who is in heaven.

Although it’s scary to publicly share our gifts, I’ve discovered the value of opening my heart in creative writing. It’s definitely worth it.

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 12:7.

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A Chorus of Peeps

“Good morning – “

“You’re up early!”

“Well, I wanted to catch you on your morning walk. I woke up wondering whether the chorus of spring peepers was singing around the lake yet.”

“It’s not quite warm enough. It’s only supposed to be 63 degrees in Erie today. Maybe next week.”

“Really?  We’re supposed to have another blizzard this weekend.”

“Well, that’s a Rocky Mountain springtime for ya. Once we hear them, we will have three more freezes – then, it’s truly spring!”

“The coming of the peepers foretells three more freezes?”

“Oh yes. There’s the onion leek melt, the sweet pea melt, and one more – I’m having a memory melt right now.”

“Ah, ‘Singing Spring’ comes in notes and melts, like your book.”

“None too soon.”  I’m huffing and need to hang up on this conversation in order to accomplish this morning’s walk.

Spring Peeper

“Hey, I woke up in one of those post-dream phases, the phase where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either.”  But, my friend also has to go. We say our ‘goodbyes,’ and my thoughts turn inward, dredging up memories, I mean, really distant memories – from lifetimes ago. Mostly good ones. These memories came from this morning’s dream.

A recent National Geographic study polled people around the world—including more than 600 featured in just one study—who say they experienced a new phenomenon: coronavirus pandemic dreams.

Science has long suggested that dream content and emotions are connected to well-being while we’re awake. Bizarre dreams laden with symbolism allow some dreamers to overcome intense memories or everyday psychological stressors within the safety of their subconscious.

The study concludes,

The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into so many different things.”—Deirdre Barrett, Harvard University

I agree with Deirdre. The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into affecting our dream state.

I keep hearing about the virus. I have lost friends to it. But, we never really see it, do we? Most of us are prevented from seeing the worst of it, even with our loved ones.

This next season of social isolation comes with a promise of a new vaccine. It’s a trade-up.

So as I was saying, I was dreaming of my childhood lunchtime trade-ups. I was in one of those post-dream phases where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either: the best time to rein in the edges of your dream and frame it before it is erased by cornflakes and coffee and morning light.

I remained as still as possible to capture the details.

We were all back in elementary school. As dreams rarely make sense, my classmates included pint-sized versions of people I have known throughout my lifetime, even my grandmother.

No matter that she was in grade school a full 60+ years before I was; dreams are like that.

So as dreams go – 

We were out on the playground. It was recess and lunchtime and a cluster of us were sitting cross-legged in a circle near the swing set. I remember there was a teeter-totter there, too.

We were trading lunches.

  • Two Twinkies for a homemade cookie.
  • Bologna for a PBJ.
  • An apple for a Hershey Bar … (is that a fair trade, really?)

A kid named Robert was in the circle, and he had a liverwurst sandwich. This detail rang true – there really was a kid named Robert in the first grade whose mom packed a liverwurst sandwich nearly every day. Maybe his mom had told him how the iron in it would make him grow up to be a muscle man, but Robert seemed to like it and rarely traded it out. He probably wouldn’t have very many takers, anyway.

I mean, liverwurst.

It was only a dream, but it had real slices of reality sandwiched in.

Maybe you, too, shared lunchtime negotiations back in the day.

You got rid of those vegetables and Mom was none the wiser.

We are almost always alert to something better out there. Trading.

Those murky-dream-drenched lunch swaps – snippets of real memories rising to greet me during the Great Sequester of 2020 and continuing through the springtime of 2021 with the promise of a trade-up. Is there a better vaccine to conquer our isolating fear of the real thing?

Trading lunch is metaphor-speak for what many of us are actually doing these days.

Opening our lunch pail, assessing the situation, and looking up to see what tastes better on that day. Negotiating a trade, pooling our resources, helping each other survive the “liverwurst” of life.

What if?

What if we traded sorrows for singing with a chorus of peeps?

Worry for watching the patterns. What is God doing?

Anxiety for trust in the available flavors and coming flowers.

News grazing for cloud gazing.

Swollen ankles for walking the dog.

Despair for Curiosity.

Trading trauma for a sweet pet whose fur accepts our tears.

These are good swaps, life-giving, even.

Switching out the bologna for iron-rich blood, if not liverwurst, then ribeye; trading the mundane for the moment you will savor and return to for a tasty reminder during a day of scarcity.

There’s a song lyric from a favorite musical that goes like this:

The clouded sun shall brightly rise,

And songs be heard instead of sighs.”

What a glorious swap!

A chorus of songs rising up to conquer the gloom – a goofy, ravaged, joyful mix of imperfect voices rise in natural praises every day.

Gathering momentum, drowning out the cries and making sense of the sighs.

I know the swampy spring peepers will lay bitsy eggs, attaching them to vegetation in shallow waters.  They may hatch in four short days. Their dream state will end in an energetic wetland chorus.

I rouse myself from my sleepy knowledge-memories to walk amongst the happy spring peepers, now camouflaged, who are not beleaguered by any virus. Their chorus will come melodiously and noisy overnight, regardless.

Crisp late-winter Lake Erie air has done its job. My lungs are woke. My stomach rumbles.

Do you know that 24 hours before the Spring Peepers are singing under the tell-tale ‘X’ marking on their backs, they are wee black tadpoles swimming underwater? Full metamorphosis takes an uncanny 24 hours!

Oh, Get ready!

We will wake from this dreamlike state one day, looking to each other for guidance into the light of a New Normal. We will add our voices to the chorus frogs.

Pass me the Corn Flakes, I can hardly wait.

Kathy Joy
is the author of Singing Spring, one book in the Breath of Joy seasonal coffee-table series. This month, her children’s picture book released to the public, Will You Hold My Story? This Shell Silverstein-esque story features the adult idea of listening to a child’s tales in a Mister Rogers-esque neighborhood.

Click through to Amazon’s Learn More page here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08RLV59WH/
Will You Hold My Story? Book Launch Activities Here: https://www.facebook.com/events/749089085979643
Find Singing Spring Gift Book A Breath of Joy here
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Spiritual Theater – Better Than Magic

By Laura Bartnick from Welcome to the Shivoo

Magic is a popular descriptor these days.  Even Christians use the descriptors “magical” or “alchemy” playing on the idea of transformation or illumination apart from God’s creativity. Creatives can try to employ magic in a spiritual, holistic sense as though it were only a metaphor or allegory, but the practice of magic is not even close to the biblical ideas of imagination, wonder, miracles, transformation, and illumination. Magic removes the Wonderful One from the equation of creation by mimicking the wonder with a sleight of hand. It attempts to transform something or someone by blind equations of lesser powers and chemical substances. Cutting these cords between the wonder and the Giver may feel fanciful and creative, but the end is separation from God. Please know that an Illusion can be a purposeful sleight of hand, but magic is the use of deception to transform, confuse, snare, and kill. Alchemy removes the primary ingredient of God’s own purpose or design.

It was only when Adam and Eve broke confidence with their Creator that the wonder of God’s Spirit separated from them because God is Holy and cannot mingle with sin. The result was dying and death.

In love and goodness, the Lord devised another means of expression through connective blood and tissue in His covenant with us.

Imagine that God’s covenant was depicted in the performance of theatrical rituals and purposeful sacrifices. Did God mean to command that His people were to engage in the theater for purposes of illumination?

Imagine, also, that community laws and festivals allowed those practicing to gain a better understanding of His goodness and love. Imagine that they did not believe these edicts were legalism. How did it work?

Reenacting the Lord’s dramatic events kept His purposes in mind. They helped people look honestly at processing life His way. The codes and laws provided a means to treat others respectfully and compassionately.[i]

And, many of these feasts and played-out dramas were great experiences for the community. For individuals. Yet, because sin began to mar God’s creation, God would implement new theatrics, mighty works and wonders, to rescue people as He’d promised. Things like Moses and Aaron’s feats before Pharaoh, lifting up the walls of the Red Sea, providing enough oil to get His people through an assault, bringing birds and manna to eat, later, feeding the thousands with a loaf of bread and a few fish. Preserving His own. Time and time again. The drama of Queen Esther and Mordecai saving the Jews, Daniel in the lion’s den, Joseph’s technicolor coat, and the dramas of David and Goliath are still favorites in Christian theater.

In God’s creation, He contemplated rescue for any who were deaf, blind, lost, or paralyzed. He even contemplated resuscitating the dead.[ii] Passover and Resurrection are the primary and unique colors of God’s creativity. He saves souls and transforms them.

If you have been taught that winning souls is a fruit of the Spirit, check again.

The nine fruits of the spirit are listed in Galatians 5:22–23 as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Against such things there is no law. Benedictine monks would call these spiritual practices “the conversation of life.”[iii]

So while God is primarily creating, rescuing, resuscitating the dead, we are co-creating, co-rescuing, co-resuscitating the dead. It wouldn’t surprise me to discover as we are working out our own salvation,  that these spiritual fruits will appear in artistic endeavors. Yes, they will appear in writing, and in the stressors of life’s interactions with others, but these characteristics will also win souls.

If you are a creative individual, then practice drawing from the tree of life. Bear good fruit, fruit connected to the Giver, the Source, not disconnected magical fruit.

HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES

RITUAL FIRSTS. What does it mean in priority, to have a first child? We know that in biblical history the first child obtained the first and best, most complete blessing. The first male was dedicated to God because God claimed him.[iv] He was destined to assume the role of family leader, given authority, double inheritance, and special rights.

THE PATTERN: The Law forbade the disinheriting of the firstborn in a family.[v] The first animal to breach the womb was to be sacrificed to God or redeemed by an offering.[vi] When God reached over the first to bless the second child, He was making quite a statement, which made news several times in scripture. Jacob and Esau experienced it.[vii] Jacob later reenacted the experience with Ephraim and Manasseh.[viii] Reuben’s right as the firstborn of Jacob was taken away because of sin.[ix] When God made the earth, giving creative-mimicking powers to the first man and woman, He signified a right, rule, and inheritance over the animals and plants and other created things. Yet, in Colossians 1, Paul uses the word, “preeminent” to express the position of Christ in relationship to all things in heaven and on earth. Jesus, the Second Adam, has all rights to everything. These instances are recorded because of the anomaly: the rule of firsts was broken.

BREAKING THE PATTERN: “The Word,” personally refers to Emmanuel, God with Us. The Son of God came as the incarnation of the Father, taking on baby flesh comprised of honor and glory as beings beheld Him full of grace and truth. Our most specific right, rule, and inheritance is found in Emmanuel. Not only is He LORD, but He is also our dramatic pattern, God’s ideal Son and men are foreordained to be conformed to His image.[x] This Word of flesh creatively clothed Himself in humility, even washing the dirty feet of His followers (see the character arc?).

Christ obeyed His unique purpose to redeem us through a torturous death. He imagined, ordained, and accepted His own destination on the cross for the joy that was set before Him.  Separated from God the Father in death, He was raised again in triumph. Jesus is the first fruit of the resurrection from the dead in this drama of life,[xi] and many will follow Him in a twinkling of an eye.[xii]

Which do you think is more important to God?

a) any artistic ingenuity that births a curiosity of mind and pulls at spiritual heartstrings, or

b) the creative ingenuity that designs and manufactures a new tool to use, or

c) clear preaching or teaching to others.

Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright offers us the idea that if a set of actors faithfully follow a director, a script, and the stage direction to act out four scenes of a written play, they could be trusted to faithfully improvise a fifth act.[xiii] The details and director of this story are critical.

What does it mean to have the first fruit crop and to actually give it back to God, to give God the first fruits of your labor?

Imagine a seed germinating underground in the winter and then springing to life with the first buds of summer becoming fruit. Giving our first fruits creates an image of personal absolute reliance in the goodness of the Creator, that He will supply all you need. Additionally, this reliance is a form of giving honor. It is a model of weaving life together with His community of faith. He indicates this tithe is for sharing with the community depending upon His care, and for charity.

If you are a creative person, you require a lot of time to yourself nurturing creative processes: exploring, thinking, drafting, experimenting, journaling, producing, and working through many technicalities to produce something original or special, to improve on someone else’s prototype.

In all this excitement and stress, be sure to take time to just be with the LORD. Enjoy His gifts. His gifts are more than benefits. Enjoy His rewards. His rewards are more than benefits. They are reflections of the Giver’s heart.

Take note. These are personal embraces of God to you. And, through you, these gifts are to be primary nutrition for the community of faith and then also your gifts are for charity to strangers and foreigners to the faith.

The details of God’s law, the written word, and fleshing out the Christ, came much later in His own story and revelation. God must create before any of His other plans take hold, according to His own ordinances.

UTTER DEPENDENCE

The first thing we understand as creatives and makers is that we are utterly dependent on something or Someone higher in power and creativity than we are.  Someone Who is organizing a bigger picture of which we are a part. If we breathe in and breathe out with intention and cognizance, we can suddenly experience this human dependence on a Giver of Life and breath and health.

Adam received the first body with fingers to wield tools to put inspiration into existence, to create things. Without a physical body, how would all this godlike inspiration find a use, an expression, or an outlet? Think about how you express yourself in an abundance of physical acts of your will and of your unconscious behaviors e.g., facial expressions that escape the body with or without words.

There is a myriad of expressions in the Logos to draw from. Winemakers understand that they are completely interactive and dependent upon the weather and soil, and Who creates the nutrients in the soil and orders the rain and wind?

Much of your own creative success lies beneath the surface until it begins to resonate with others. When you are spurred by a catalyst, something new spontaneously combusts from your soul. Comedians find their talent because they discover that others find them funny. It is a gift. So, in the beginning, God’s gifts in and around you provide your raw material. What you pull together and release into the world will make for your tribute to God.

Your creativity, at first, is not often the finest expression. It shows spirit, but may lack gloss, detail, proofreading or testing. The hook, the skill, the expert choice of the right material may be missing. The performance style may need direction, and sometimes your work even lacks the proper context. Some things are invented before their time, and because they are out of pocket, people don’t recognize the significance of what has been created. This is a gift, too.

Leonardo da Vinci created many mechanical tools and systems because people needed them. On the sly, Leonardo’s God-given creativity caused him to experiment with human medicine and cadavers. He was looking into things banned as unorthodox at the time, but which later were proven to be important medical breakthroughs.[xiv]

In her book, Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish, Sue Bender wrote, “I never thought to stop and ask myself, ‘What really matters?’ Instead, I gave everything equal weight. I had no way to select what was important and what was not. Things that were important didn’t get done, and others, quite unimportant, were completed and crossed off the list.”[xv]

Sue was referring to her habits of keeping her house clean, grading papers, and visiting friends, and to her desire to produce art that was special so that she would be thought of as special. “Accumulating choices was a way of not having to make a choice, but I didn’t know it at the time. To eliminate anything was a foreign concept.  I felt deprived if I let go of any choices.”[xvi]

As a creative, do you ever find yourself confused about how to prioritize your interests and activities? Do you feel like a jar of river water all shaken up, unable to be still long enough to let the sediment settle into its layers? Deciphering layers of each character and layers of the story itself takes time.  Meaning takes time.  Time, work, rest, and reflection are cyclical gifts.

Notice, part of the communication cycle is meditation or rest, not of words, but of simply being human and enjoying relationships in spiritual reflection offered as “Sabbath.”  Don’t neglect your God-ordained quiet interludes, but rather to think, receive dreams, and rethink. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for human benefit.

Creating in a personal void is really creating with the raw materials given by the Heavenly Father, both the acid and the sweetness in a life, and the opportunities given by the Great Designer. Like a child is utterly dependent upon his or her parent for the raw materials of life, and for some directives and guidance, so a Creative is dependent on the Creator’s supply and purposes. If He stops everything. That’s it. If He opens an avenue, a journey, and favor in a direction, that is the direction we will most assuredly take and find purpose.

Yahweh commanded his prophet, Hosea, to marry a “wife of whoredom”.[xvii] This Hebrew term indicates illicit sexual behavior.  Moses used the word in Genesis 38:24 to refer to Tamar’s posing as a shrine prostitute in order to entice Judah to do his duty under the law by her since he had refused to give her his son in marriage, as was her God-ordained right of survival. In both cases, these theatrical acts were ordained by God for purposes that took time to unfold and to be understood. Sometimes, images given to creatives to use in our work are means

the Lord uses to teach us as we are mulling them over, implementing them, and offering them to our audience.  These images and tools are gifts entrusted to and for us for our good, and then as we hone and share them, they become gifts to others.

Jesus went to the desert to be alone with His Father God for 40 days.[xviii] Moses ran from Pharaoh into the desert where he stayed for the rest of his life as a nomad.[xix]  Not all who wander are lost.  Jesus became so full of His experience with His Father that when Satan came to tempt Him, Jesus’ retorted, “I have food you know nothing of.”[xx] When Moses left all of the riches, authority, and the attachments of his stepmother and her royal household behind, he found his exquisite wife and became the leader whom God intended for him to become.[xxi]  All this came to being through communion with God. To find meekness through self-examination as Moses did, or strength to face all the temptations of life as Jesus did, consider the solace of the Father’s company alone when you need direction.

BEING CUNNING WITH RAW MATERIALS

Creativity is, in essence, being “cunning.” This word has taken on a sour connotation, as has the word “creative,” but biblically, cunning is only defined in the positive sense. It means being ingenious, gifted with finesse, wise.[xxii] Yet, if you set something newly created before an audience, it might not appear all that good. You might get a stunned look, a jail sentence, or nervous laughter for reward. Being a creative person requires that you continue to focus on the standards of the craft to improve. Standards belong to the Lord. Ideas, lyrics, melodies, and fairy tales are improved with practice and honing, with measures of accountability and with renewed teamwork. New renderings and settings often improve upon the original. Yet, none of this improvement or public applause will exist without embarking, creatively formatting, plotting the vision.

Understand, the Godhead always creates first in the Spirit with His Word. He creates for His own circle of joy! His creation formed and decorated a setting for us to experience belonging.

All good ideas, all good results from hard research, all good inspiration are directly given from the Creator’s hand. Often, He even gives His inspiration and anointing to those who do not recognize Him. Everybody serves God’s purposes. We are all servants. This is why incredible art and the classics in literature exist apart from having been created by a believer in the Triune God.  His boundaries and purposes are not ours.

Still, I would rather be a friend of God, a beloved of the Creator, than a mere servant. Wouldn’t you?

I hope you understand that you, personally, your good, and your work in conjunction with His image are of high priority. He invests a lot of Himself into you on a daily basis. You’re always welcome to the Shivoo! He’s said so many times, in many ways.

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,  so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”[xxiii]

Rule 1: DEPENDENCE. Breathe in.  Consider your own dependence on the Creator. Let your body become a living sacrifice to God. Imagine offering each part of your body to Him. BREATHE out with His authority.

 

[i] Lev. 1–27.

[ii] Matt. 11:5;.

[iii] “Benedictine-Values,” MaterChristi, last modified 2019, materchristi.edu.au/benedictine-values.

[iv] Exod. 13:2; 22:29–31; 34:19.

[v] Deut. 21:15–17.

[vi] Exod. 34:19.

[vii] Gen. 27:1–29 BSB.­

[viii] Gen. 48:13–22.

[ix] Gen. 35:22; 49:1–4.

[x] Rom. 8:29.

[xi] 1 Cor. 15:20.

[xii] 1 Cor. 15:52.

[xiii] N. T. Wright, “How Can The Bible Be Authoritative?,” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991), p.18.

[xiv] “Science”, Anatomy in Leonardo da Vinci., N.P., https://www.leonardo-da-vinci.ch/science.

[xv] Sue Bender, Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991), 89.

[xvi] Bender, 141.

[xvii] Hosea 1:2.

[xviii] Matt. 4:1–11.

[xix] Exod. 2:15–21.

[xx] Matt. 4:1–4.

[xxi] Exod. 2:15–21; 3:1–Deut. 4:5. These passages of Moses’ life tell of how he met and married his wife, and how he became the leader God intended him to be leading Israel

from captivity and later provided Israel with God’s own instruction on how to live.

[xxii] W. L. Walker, “Cunning” In The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, edited by James Orr, N.P.,1915. http://classic.studylight.org/enc/isb/view.cgi?number=T2446.

[xxiii] Col. 1:9–10.

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