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A-Mazing Daze of Play

 

 

Play: to engage in sport or recreation: FROLIC

 

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Walk past any playground and you will see a choice to be made.

An empty bench says, “Sit here. Observe.” An empty playground says, “Come here. Enjoy.”

The choosers are easily distinguished on such grounds: onlookers and partakers. Onlookers usually consist of adults: parents, grandparents, and babysitters. They watch, sigh, shout warnings, soothe ouchies. Partakers usually consist of children: tall, short, small, big, but always wildly active children, in full swing, joining in the frolic. They wiggle, scoot, sing songs, laughing as they go. On rare occasion, an adult or two crosses the line from onlooker to partaker.

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Even before the final spring snow, across the way, the farm-turned-botanic-garden-country-version began creating a playscape for autumn adventure. John Deere green and yellow tractors plow spring white snow, upturning chocolate-dark soil. Upturned soil, furrowed into precise rows, produces tiny lime green seedlings. Abundant summer storms, purpled and silver-streaked, join mile-high sunny days to lengthen seedlings into stalks, knee-high, waist-high then over-my-head-high green sentinels. By September, teeth-chattering nights and apple-crisp days dry the green to golden brown. Tasseled corn stalks rustle in gentle autumn’s breezes.

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Through bare spring into lush green summer then into golden fall, from our back deck we sit and observe as the bare dirt becomes a corn maze. Old farm trucks and new tractors, from this distance, remind me of sandbox days. My then-three-littles imagined new worlds there among mounds of sand. With the help of Matchbox cars, Brio trains, sticks that became railroad ties, pitchers of water for creating mudslides, and Fisher-Price figures, stories sprung to life among mingled stones and leaves.

Through our old black bird-watching binoculars, I see farm workers haul in wooden poles and wires, creating small haddocks for pony rides. White tents pop up, covering picnic tables. Bales of hay are stacked like blocks here and there for ambience and crowd control. Trailers unload draft horses, ready to pull hayride flatbeds around the ponds and fields. Out on the roadway, just south of a major Denver interstate perimeter highway, green and gold signs announce Corn Maze dates: Come. Enjoy.

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At sunrise, and again at sunset, my husband and I observe the vast brown fields as they change. Behind the newly painted red barn and its sidekick brick silo, a once calm hillside buzzes and sparkles with canary yellow school buses, dust-covered minivans, and family-sized SUVs. Empty paths winding through the forest of old cottonwoods are now thick with children intent on making their way to the start of the corn maze. At night, glow sticks shimmer silver, pink, neon green. We hear laughter wafting across the open space between our back deck and the distant farm.

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One Sunday afternoon we can stand it no longer. We leave our comfortable observer post to become partakers. We join the throngs, paying our way into the playscape of corn. Red-faced children run full force, panting parents trot to catch up yelling, “Hold up.” Overhead Canada geese soar from field to pond, moving a bit further south, reminding us that snow is soon to change the landscape again.

 

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Though our deck view is a tiny bit elevated above the farm in the valley, it’s not high enough to see what shape the maze is. You’d need a helicopter to gain such perspective. But, as we enter the corn maze, a printed map captures the farmers’ creation: a giant butterfly…fore and hind wings, abdomen, antenna, swirled among soil and seed into a bushel of choices to be made.

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Here in the middle of the corn maze, choices crop up fast. Right, left, or straight? Follow the crowd? Follow my instincts? Follow my husband? Even with a map, we quickly realize that there are no markers, no directional signs to help one orient. Which way is north on this map? Which way is west? Even with a design on the map, we are so far down in the corn maze that we can’t gain any perspective. Are we at the outermost loop of the butterfly wings? Are we walking an inner wing that will send us back around to the start? Are we at the dead end of the antenna?

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Ahead of us in the maze, a couple argues over which path to take. Their children don’t wait to see what they decide. Half their kids run one direction while half take off in the other direction. I like the left path; my husband likes the right path. This time, I choose to follow him. The sun’s intensity warms us as the shadows begin to fall. Two ducks fly by overhead. We walk and walk and walk some more. We’ve been going in circles as it turns out. He laughs and shrugs as we hit a dead end. We are dazed in the maze, unsure of which way to go now. Laughter accompanies most of the maze-dazed folks. Joy is always a good companion to have along for the journey.

Children zoom back past us, shouting at their parents to hurry up. Bewildered faces, a family we’d seen going in circles like us, confront us as we come upon another junction with fork after fork that probably leads to loop. “Do you know the way?” the youngest of their brood asks as he points at a forbidden shortcut through the forest of corn. Just a few feet away, we clearly see another path but we can’t get there from here. The temptation is to cut through…yet signs warn us of the dire consequences of shortcuts….and I’m reminded of a few shortcuts that tempt me beyond the corn maze.

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A late afternoon breeze rustles huskily in the dried corn. An ear of half-eaten corn, a squirrel’s afternoon snack, sits abandoned under the shadows of stalks. Next to it, an abandoned plastic cup, still full of lemonade. The path, strewn with trash, reminds us that civilization is just steps away from this corn crop puzzle. Bright yellow police tape cordons off the shortcut. A rabbit scurries through the tall rows, right under the tape. He takes any shortcut he desires. He can’t read the signs. We are frustrated that the rabbit can find a way through when we cannot.

On we wander. I go one way, my husband another. We find each other again at another dead end. We laugh and sigh at the same time.  The beauty is literally all around us. Blue skies above, dark soil beneath, golden brown stalks of corn lining our path, merriment among children of all ages stuck in the wonder of a maze.

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High above the field, a man oversees the entire maze from his perch in the metal cherry picker. At another fork in the maze, I look up, hoping for guidance. I catch his eye and he nods, a subtle reassurance that we are choosing well. When he nods, he seems like my best ally. Yet, at other times, he won’t even make eye contact and I feel caught in an endless knot of wrong turns. Frustration amid laughter and beauty.

Eventually, after an hour of dead ends, right turns, rabbits and kids hopping across the paths, wrong forks, loops upon loops within loops, my husband and I emerge at the exit, not even sure how we got here. We are, however, most certain we couldn’t easily find our way back through the maze again.

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About sunset, we sit again on our deck, observing the corn maze in the distance.

Having partaken of the maze itself, the entire scene looks different.

We’ve engaged playfully among stalks and loops, under a blue October sky. Deep in the maze, we know firsthand about the sound of corn husks in the breeze, dead ends on dusty paths, tempting shortcuts, disorientation from no landmarks or perspective, a sometimes present-sometimes silent overseer, and the pull of the crowd mentality versus going it alone or with just a few others. We also know the frolic of finding our way among corn stalks, which we so long only observed at a distant.

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Play: to engage in sport or recreation: FROLIC

 

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Walk past any playground and you will see a choice to be made.

An empty bench says, “Sit here. Observe.” An empty playground says, “Come. Enjoy.”

What choice will you make?
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playdates with God

The Why of today’s blog: Today’s blog comes in response to my reading of Laura Boggess’ new book, Playdates with God. Her book  encourages us to engage with God differently through playdates with God. Reading her book prompted me to move from an observer to a partaker in the joy of play.

The corn maze is but one of the adventures I’ve had lately with God. What about you? Have you ever had a playdate with God?

Book Giveaway Alert: Not sure how play and God go together? Well, I’ve got a copy of Laura’s book to give away so you can read more about it. Just leave a comment below by Wednesday, October 29 answering this question:

Where might you move from observing to entering in more fully?
Laura’s book can be ordered from Amazon, Barnes & Noble , ChristianBooks.com, and Hearts and Minds.

 

1610078_10152145633998672_1391727738_nLaura Boggess, author of Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown-up World,  lives in West Virginia with her husband and two sons.  She is a content editor for TheHighCalling.org and blogs at lauraboggess.com. Connect with Laura on Facebook and Twitter.

Sample two recent blogs of Laura’s: one about how God can save a marriage at Ann Voskamp’s A Holy Experience and another about how life with Christ is part of an upside down kingdom as evidenced by the recent experiences of Dr. Kent Brantly and ebola at TheHighCalling.org

 

Attentive

at·ten·tive –adjective  \ə-ˈten-tiv\

: mindful, observant
: heedful of the comfort of others: solicitious

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As a child, summer reading was my favorite activity. Yes, I was that child. The one checking out the absolute maximum number of library books allowed. The one secretly absorbed under the covers, flashlight in hand, finishing just a few more chapters of The Secret Garden. The child engrossed in reading another Nancy Drew mystery. Curling up in the hammock under the green canopy of magnolias, maples, and mimosa trees, stretching out in the flattened back seat of the lumbering wood-paneled station wagon, or rocking steadily on Granny’s front porch, I paid no attention to summer’s oppressive heat, hairpin curves, or humidity.

Wondrously lost in a book, attentive to characters fully alive via my imagination, summer reading transported me to places and time periods far beyond those sweltering summer afternoons. These were my friends, attending to me as I did to them, stirring my imagination. Decades later, as an elementary school teacher and a mother of three little children, I returned repeatedly to the library, introducing my old book friends (along with discovering new ones) to my children or students.

This summer, noticing the frayed state of my heart and imagination, I remembered those playful days of being fully present to children’s literature. Where, now, was my playfulness of heart? God in His infinite kindness gently nudged me to be child-like. To rest. To heal. To rejuvenate. To enter Proverbs 16:24 afresh, attentive to pleasant words, honeycombs of soul sweetness and bone-healing goodness.

For the rest of the story, please join me over at Charity Singleton Craig’s place.

 

Saints Among Us

cross in brick at christ church

 

“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true,

who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew…”

 

When you hear the word “saint,” what comes to mind? For me, quite often the concept of a saint is that of someone so high, holy and revered, someone so perfect that they seem somehow above the rest of us, someone, in other words, quite unlike me.

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However, when Lesbia Lesley Scott wrote I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, her intention was simple: to ensure that her children knew that saints live here and now among us, not just then and there in some distant lofty past. Her lyrics speak of folks from all walks of life:  a doctor, a queen, a shepherdess, a priest, a martyr, herself; found in the common places we might each inhabit: schools, streets, seasides; doing ordinary things in ordinary places such as in shops or at tea. They are saints, not because they are so perfect but because they have responded in love to the Lover of their souls.

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The Old and New Testaments mention saints at least sixty-nine times.  In the Old Testament, saints were ordinary folks who belonged to our extraordinary God, His covenant people. In the New Testament, the word saint refers to those who are set apart as Christ’s own forever by the presence of the Spirit within them.

 

In case that feels a little too high and mighty, Frederick Buechner reminds us that “the feet of the saints are as much of clay as everybody else’s,” which we surely see when we read the antics of these rabble-rousers, or if we just look in the mirror. He does, however go on to distinguish these saints in one more way: “…saints are essentially life-givers. To be with them is to become more alive.”

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On this All Saints Day, I am again reminded how I am such a blessed woman, for I live among saints who invite me to life.

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I live among folks who dive heart-deep into Jesus, leaping up into healing and freedom as crisp and wild and brave as Isaiah 61 shouts. I pray among splendorous intercessors who dance and bow with their eyes full of glory, bringing heaven to earth in their heartful declarations.

 

I write among playful women whose words offer the raw and the radiant.  I create among winsome poets and artists who glow and ache then offer those moments forth to be pondered.

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I minister among canyon-carved spiritual directors, ones stilled and quieted enough to watch for the second sight Jesus touches to blinded eyes. I watch and wait among those engraved by waiting’s long shadows.

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I laugh and cry and dream and hope and pray, pray, pray among beloved children grown and delightful grandchildren growing, with a husband as rambunctious as any rugby player and as big-hearted as the horizon is vast.

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I become more alive because of those who invite me into their stretching, suffering, sanctifying places where they walk in tears and laughter with the One who is our heart’s desire. I stay more alive because of those who walk with me in the shadows and the sunshine of my heart’s landscape, reminding me that my holy passion of intimacy with Jesus is the One Thing that really matters.

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“In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a pocket handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints,” Buechner states.

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My pockets are full of handkerchiefs He’s dropped along my life this All Saints Day.

 

How about yours?

 

 

Resources:

Another post I wrote about saints:  http://lanearnold.co/saints-abound

 

http://www.amazon.com/I-Sing-Song-Saints-God/dp/0819215619

http://www.hymnary.org/media/fetch/139944 : I Sing a Song of the Saints of God

Buechner, Frederick. Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993. Page 102

http://www.amazon.com/Wishful-Thinking-A-Seekers-ABC/dp/0060611391/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1383313990&sr=8-1&keywords=wishful+thinking

 

© Lane M. Arnold, 2013

 

 

I Spy

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As a child, I loved playing “I Spy,” watching for the obvious in the obscure. While waiting for my dentist appointment, I hunted hidden pictures in dog-eared copies of Highlights, a children’s magazine. On field trips, my classmates and I played endless games of  “I Spy,” spotting something hidden to pass the time in the noisy, un-air-conditioned yellow schoolducks in fog bus.

Even now, on routine errands or rambling road trips, my husband and I watch for what is just outside the window. My husband, swifter than I to spot birds, deer, or Rocky Mountain sheep, knows what to notice. A birder, he watches for fast movements of winged creatures that I easily miss.

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I’m new to this “I Spy” birding life, learning gradually the telltale shapes of finches, kingfishers, kestrels, hawks, or hummingbirds. I’m noticing how the crow’s silhouette differs from the raven’s, and where to look for ducks in the cattail banks of the river. Sitting on my back deck, I scan the trees that edge the backyard, hunting the faint outline of the bronze-green female rufous hummingbird, resting momentarily in the shadows. The more I know of the shape and habits of these hummingbird, the better I become at spotting them.

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Taking these actions in another direction, isn’t noticing the obvious in the ordinary and the obscure one way to watch for movements by God? If I learn His character and habits, I see hints of heaven, here in this nitty-gritty space of earth. Then, I scan the environment, noticing afresh the silhouettes of His Presence within my daily life, within my life in the Body of Christ.

New to town, we’re enjoying a vibrant church family. It’s where we hang our heart. We hang out with folks of all ages and stages of life: seminary students, singles, and marrieds. We are a bursting-at-the-seams-of-grace place—made up of all sorts of people from all walks of life. We are young families, middle-agers, and empty nesters. At the heart, we are all just madly in love with Jesus.

Our church is home to many seminary students. It’s also a church that keeps a vision of church planting within the Denver area rather than church expansion within the adequate neighborhood church building. So there’s a lot of coming and going among us. Folks come; stay a while, then go out, to offer Jesus’ life in new places in this bustling city and beyond. In a setting like this, it could be easy to get lost in the shuffle and not know folks. Yet, I don’t see that happening.

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Almost every month, a couple hosts a “get to know you” dinner. We’ve gone to a few of them this summer and it’s been great fun. There’s no agenda—not a prayer time, or a talk, or a Bible Study—just an opportunity to meet each other and visit. Sit on the back porch and hang out. Eat a shared meal and tell stories. Gather and be together—singles and marrieds, young and old—becoming more of a family.

Youngsters accompany their parents so the atmosphere feels like a family reunion picnic; you know you are related in this crazy family of God, but, oddly, you don’t know each other’s names. Kids draw with chalk on the patio, teens talk about back-to-school plans, and folks ooh and ahh at the plethora of food at the potluck table. People take turns pushing swings full other people’s kids and all of us get to savor the generations of life pulsing within the Body of Christ, where we spy hints of heaven here in the ordinary places of earth.veggies

Through these simple gatherings, we begin to do life together. Then the next Sunday, as we slip into our seats or walk up the aisle to partake of communion, Christ’s body and blood, suddenly we see bright-eyed children that we pushed in the swing. We smile and say hi to someone we sat next to on the back porch. We claim a bit more of this wonder of being the Body to and with each other.

Now we know a wee bit more: who’s expecting a long-awaited baby, who’s adopting, who lost their job, who just graduated from seminary and who’s just starting, who got their stitches out or is scheduled for surgery next week, who needs prayer for a life decision, who’s freshly married or freshly widowed. We become a bit more a family, one that cares because we’ve seen and heard the vignettes of one another’s story.

For me, there is one moment in our service that is symbolic of the wonder of being part of one another as the Body of Christ. Truth be told, if you are standing next to me at that moment, you’ll see guaranteed tears of joy run down my smiling face.

 


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Before we say the Lord’s Prayer aloud together, we reach over and take the hand of the person next to us or the person across the aisle from us, friend or stranger, and form one long row of hands touching one another; a family holding on to each other. Then we pray together to our Father in heaven. The handclasps only last the few minutes of the prayer. Yet it stands as a glorious moment for it reminds me again that we are all in this thing together, Christ-followers, called to be the Body to and with one another.

We touch. We pray. We are family. We need each other. We are literally bringing heaven to earth in our gathering to worship the One who is worthy of all of our praise.

During another era, in another region of the country and culture, I attended another flavor of church, one which, at that time, was stiffer and less connected, full of more shoulds and oughts, less full of more being with and knowing deeply each other. It didn’t ever feel much like home. We didn’t gather and hang out. We didn’t touch hands and pray together. We didn’t tell stories. It didn’t feel much like family.

But isn’t that what we are supposed to be: Family? His Body gathered to praise His name? Isn’t that what Jesus was talking about in John 17 when He asked that we, the ones He made, become one, as the Trinity is one?

I love our new church family, where I am noticing afresh the silhouettes of God’s Presence. We tell stories. We hold hands and pray. We are ever becoming more to one another and thus, becoming more one, and more of the shape and being of heaven here on earth.

Thanks be to God for this gathering of believers where “I Spy” hearts hinting of heaven. It’s here I hang my heart alongside others who savor the heart of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

How about you? Where are you “spying” heaven on earth in your church? With whom and how do you do life with others in the Body of Christ? How does the physicality of being together enhance your spiritual connections as the family of God?

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Book Giveaway details:

This post springs from the exploration of Body/body life and its impacts on our physical well-being and spiritual formation. My coauthor Valerie Hess and I wrote a book that expands these thoughts, The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual FormationLife of the Body, The #3571

InterVarsityPress, our publisher, is generously giving away two copies of our book this month, one this week through my blog post here at lanearnold.co (yes, co). In a few weeks another free one will be up for grabs at Valerie’s site: valeriehess.com.

If you’d like to win a free copy, please share a response here or at my Facebook (Lane M Arnold) site by Friday, September 13, 2013. I’ll put all the names in a hat and draw one winner, which will be announced on Monday, September 16, 2013.

Keep an eye out for the announcement so you can claim your free book, which InterVarsityPress will mail directly to you. You’ll have three days to respond back to me or I’ll need to choose another winner. I’m eager to hear about your experiences in the Body of Christ.

 

© Lane M. Arnold, 2013. All rights reserved.

Celebration as a Spiritual Discipline

Albert Einstein said, “You can live as if nothing is a miracle or you can live as if everything is a miracle.” Isn’t that the essence of celebration?

 

If we are attentive, in upbeat places of the heart, we can see the miracle of what God is up to in the moment at hand. We can see the miracle in the mundane, in the messiness, there in the mix of the ups and downs that each day brings. Yet, isn’t it true that when we think of miracles, we expect an accompaniment of fireworks and trumpets?

 

The reality is there are a thousand simple, quiet miracles each day, which we easily miss if we aren’t watching for them: small noticing of big miracles, big noticings of small miracles.  The way my body moves. Dew on the grass. The hilarious, encouraging phone call. The jaunty serenade of laughter. Magenta sunsets.

 

Celebration is a way of enjoying the everyday miracles alongside the over-the-top ones. It’s another way of thinking about the status of the proverbial glass: Is it half full or half empty? If that glass is half full, then that’s cause for celebration. Conversely, we often think that if it’s half empty, that’s legitimate cause to be rather Eeyore-ish.

 

However, in living among the spiritual disciplines, we learn a spiritual discipline requires, hmm, discipline. In his classic book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster states that the disciplines of the spiritual life invite us to move from the surface of life to its interior depths. Movement involves change, doesn’t it?

 

In one sense, celebration doesn’t seem like it really needs to be a discipline. Celebration appears as if it would always be easy, that is, until it’s not.

 

On difficult days it’s hard to find anything that seems celebration-worthy. A disaster occurs. Sometimes these things are huge like getting fired or the terminally bad news the doctor declares. It’s the investment that goes belly up and the relationship that falls flat on its face.

 

 

At other times, the hardness isn’t one giant avalanche. It’s a continually smattering of snowballs hard as ice that pelt time after time all through the day ‘til you’re battered and bruised. It’s the car battery going dead then the water heater flooding the basement then pounding your thumb instead of the nail. It’s the check that doesn’t come. The neighbor who knocks over our trashcan and leaves the scene of the mess. It’s the daily waiting for what should have been that still isn’t quite yet.

 

It’s on days when hardness seeks to harden our hearts that entering into celebration as a spiritual discipline can form us into fluid and flexible and festive people. With the spade of spiritual disciplines, we dig diligently and determinedly deep, to practice what we don’t feel like practicing. We savor the mystery and wonder of God even among the misfortunes that pummel our days.

 

Celebration happens in two ways. The easy way as we rejoice and delight because of what’s happening: a raise, a sunrise, a flower still blooming after the first snow. The disciplined way of celebration occurs as we rejoice and delight in spite of what’s happening. It’s finding the sparkle in the darkness: a simple pleasure among a plethora of pains.

 

Whichever way we come at it, celebration moves our hearts from the things on the surface to the deeper heart of Jesus.

 

How’s your celebration quota? What miracle, small or large, will you celebrate today?

 

 

Lane M. Arnold

© 2013. All rights reserved.