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 school 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 Formation.
© Lane M. Arnold
You write beautifully Lane. I can see your heart shining through. I spy your excitement in sharing your faith and what you discover about this life we live as children of a Father who knows no bounds in His generosity. Yes we are a family! I am all the way here in the Philippines but I see we are connected! Glad I found you. Will follow on Bloglovin. :^) patsy
No bounds to our Father’s generousity…now there’s a thought I’ll cling to and shout, “Yes. Amen.” I’d love to hear what you spot of God in your life there in the Philippines.
I am single, and church is often the only place all week where I experience human touch. Hugs, mostly. An occasional handshake. So I am grateful to have friends who will hold my hand during prayers. Sometimes even people I don’t know that well. It’s a vulnerable need that overcomes the fear of judgment or rejection.
That is a beautiful tradition at your part of the body of Christ.
Whenever I read or write or talk about hands in church, I think about a stunning passage from Lauren Winner’s memoir “Still.” Here’s a portion of an NPR interview with Guy Raz where she describes it.
RAZ: “You tell a story about that time when you are going to church. And at a certain time, you’re very frank. I mean, you’re annoyed by some of the people around you.”
WINNER: “I was visiting Massachusetts one week and had a terrible week and didn’t want to go to church and went to church. And as the service started, a woman sidled up to me and sat to my immediate left. And this woman looked like she had seen better days. And about halfway through the service, she started to tap her finger on the pew in front of us in a way that made – it felt to me like the whole building was shaking. And I just was so annoyed that this woman was tapping the pew. And I glared at her, and I hoped she would take the hint. And then I, you know, of course, without thinking, my left hand shot out and I placed my hand firmly over her tapping hand, you know, like a mother would still the tapping hand of a child.
“And of course, I was horrified that I had done this. And then I noticed that the woman didn’t seem offended and wasn’t shaking my hand off. And then I realized that she had actually begun to hold my hand, and we held hands for the rest of the service. And, you know, that was where I met Jesus that day, in that woman who converted my serious breach of etiquette into a moment of bodily communion and bodily intimacy. And I think that’s probably a moment I will not ever forget.”
How good it is that our have friends at church that touch in good and holy ways. I recall my single-again twelve years and how vital touch was. Thank you for writing about that…I’ll be more attentive to reaching out and touching those around me, single and married, as we all long to belong and that is one way to say, “I see you. You matter to me.” Jesus touched children and women and the broken and the blessed…we can go forth and do likewise, like Lauren Winner’s story reminds us to do.
I loved reading that brief history highlighting your tendency to play “I Spy.” Your attentiveness has made you attentive to others, creating a welcoming place of hospitality that creates connections and community. What a beautiful gift! What started with Highlights magazines, that eye for spotting the slightest hint of difference, now has you on the lookout for where one or two are gathered in His name…that is, you can be lookout for Him in your midst–Him, making a difference in and among you.
“Spotting the slight hint of difference”…I like those words…it’s easy to not notice but I am aiming to inhale the flavors of heaven and find its layerings when and where I least expect it.
I’m glad to have your eyes and ears training mine to catch subtle nuances and move them from thoughts to prose.
What lovely imagery in your writing! You should be contributing to the Wellspring newsletter …. Katie Gayle is looking for passionate contributors – I am recommending YOU! Like you, I love our holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer … prayer, connecting us altogether with God; hands, connecting us with our church family, and beyond.
Please do throw my name in the hat for the book give-away! I’ll have my fingers crossed!
Wellspring is a special spot…I’d be honored to write occasionally for the newsletter if Katie needs more writers.
That hand holding thing…gets me every time….hoping one of these days that the hand I reach for is yours.
Hooray for you in getting your blog up and running. I just started reading your book today and I am excited to read more.
So happy to be in another class with you.
Your cheering me on is good encouragement. Thank you.
I look forward to your interactions with the book.
And, like you, I’m glad to be in another class with you…
I just realized I didn’t type my whole name on my comment…oops
We do life within the body with our community group, that we found through a local church. These people opened their hearts and their friendship to us in a way that embodies Jesus. I am so grateful for them.
I imagine they are grateful for your presence among them as well. Being vulnerable by opening our hearts to one another is a building block of community, isn’t it?
What a powerful post! Thank you so much for sharing. It’s really touched me and given me a beautiful reminder to always look, seek and “spy”… 🙂
I thought I’d share one very unique and special way that I am connecting with others in Christ’s family and our connections, unfortunately, were brought about by loss. I am in a group on facebook that consists of “babyloss moms”–moms who have lost babies either during pregnancy, stillbirth or as an infant. Several of us have known each other for almost 3 years now. We pray for each other. We cry together. We laugh together.
We share God’s blessings with each other and we always are so thankful to have found each other. I know many of us work with other babyloss women as well…several of us have started our own individual charitable groups and ministries to reach out to other loss parents.
Thank you again such a thought-provoking post!
Kim, many years ago I had an ectopic pregnancy, so know a bit of the loss of empty arms. A good friend of mine had a little one that lived less than a day…and we two formed our own little grief/loss group. It was her first child and my last, so we came at the loss from differing angles. We literally walked by the river often, weeping and wondering how to take a step forward. In ways I still don’t fully understand, our actual physical walking helped us both walk through the grief and move forward, forever different from who we had been before our losses.
I’m thankful that God gave all of you to one another, a gift for sure. I’d love to know the links to those ministries. Thank you for sharing. I’ll be praying for you and your friends as y’all come to mind.
Ah! Highlights magazine! So glad you are jumping back into blogging. I’ve neglecting my site terribly over these past summer months.
My husband is a master at discerning birds from a distance. They wing by in a flash, and I am continually astonished by what he can discern in just a glimpse.
And . . . I’m happy to say I read and participated in the discussion about your book at The High Calling. So happy to be playing I Spy with you.
I’ll be listening to hear what you spy, Nancy. There’s so much to see, isn’t there? …birds and beauty, all gifts to ponder, wooing ways of God for us, His beloveds.
Thanks Lane for this great post! Really connected with your words, “We touch. We pray. We are family. We need each other.” Amen! I so value, need and want connection with a community of people who are, as you said, madly in love with Jesus! Keep writing…good stuff!
Community isn’t always easy to find…it’s a bit like a garden, requires some investment to stand among the beauty. It’s something we all need, for sure.
Lane, how deeply you tell of a life lived in love and faith. And we too are birders, my husband and I. He teaches me how to see the sky differently.
The eyes of your heart are wide open, just ready and waiting for everything new and delightful this world has to bring your way. The story of your church sounds like heaven within its walls, and more importantly outside of them too. Thank you for the lovely and intricate sketch of your life and love in Colorado. I look so forward to knowing you deeper and better through this course.
Birders are attentive folks, aren’t they, Elizabeth? It’s like learning a new language or like putting on a new lens on the camera.
I like your phrase, “like heaven within its walls, and more importantly outside them too.” A good challenge and reminder of our life as the Body…
What a rich, varied post, Lane – all tied together with “I Spy.” Your church sounds wonderful – much like the churches that have been closest to my heart over the years. I’m sure I’m too late for the book giveaway, but now I’d love to read it!
Diana, your post arrived before midnight my time…so your name will go in the hat for the book giveaway. Our new church moves with the Spirit…and that’s what moves my heart.
“… 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.” Love this description of the fresh awakening I have been experiencing this past year. Thank you.
A fresh awakening of God’s movements…that sounds so refreshing.