We talk a lot about the practice of examen at The Well — here’s an intro, and here’s a favorite about Ann Boyd’s practice of journaling in the round, and here’s one of our first podcast episodes with Tish Harrison Warren where she talks about it as an essential practice. In my own life, I’m reminded time and again of the power of this practice of paying attention, of noticing where God is at work, what is happening in the world around you, and what is happening in one’s inner world.
I moved from Durham, North Carolina to Urbana, Illinois just a little more than a year ago, and as we settle into fall, I’ve been paying attention to what is good in a life that still feels unfamiliar sometimes. I’m looking for the places of goodness, the spaces where life feels good, and the moments where I connect with God. In that spirit of noticing, here are a few things that are keeping me going right now.
Johnny Cash Reading the Complete New Testament
During summer I was wishing for more time with scripture. This conversation with Anne Zaki came to mind – she received a solar-powered flashlight that also played a recording of the Bible in English, Arabic, and colloquial Egyptian Arabic and started to listen as she walked to work each day.
I was inspired — I could listen to the Bible while driving to the grocery store, or doing dishes, or going for a walk, but I didn’t have a flashlight-Bible combo lying around, so I went looking for an audio Bible. I discovered this recording of Johnny Cash reading the New Testament. He reads with clarity and steady pacing, as you might expect from a professional musician, and his distinctive voice reading the biblical text brings out aspects both familiar and new. (You can get a taste on YouTube, or find the whole recording on Audible.)
Growing Flowers (and a Few Volunteer Tomatoes)
Adapting to a new place takes a lot of work. (You might know this!). One question I keep asking myself is: what can I enjoy doing here that I couldn’t do if I was somewhere else? Illinois has incredibly fertile soil due to glacial deposits, so one of my answers is to grow things. I poked a bunch of zinnia seeds in the ground this spring and ordered a few dahlia tubers. Now, they are huge and beautiful. I had planned to grow some tomatoes too, but planting them got away from me in the busy spring. I was delighted to find some volunteer tomatoes appearing where the previous owners of my house had a garden, and they are thriving too!
Trying to Make a Friend (and Keeping up with Friends)
Making friends as an adult is weird. (There are actual studies about this!) I feel a little bit like a piece of calligraphy from Hobby Lobby, but the words of Proverbs ring true: a sweet friendship does in fact refresh the soul. I have felt deeply grateful for the connections that are growing in my life this year.
One of my best friends from grad school lives two hours away from me now, and it has been sweet to get our families together this year — to have more frequent time with a friend, and to see our kids reconnect and hit it off.
Points of stress have revealed new friendships. We got covid this summer (blergh) and new friends dropped off food and checked on us. I got to know another mom on my son’s baseball team well enough that when a situation arose that required an early pick up from practice, he could go home with them until I could get there.
And, I’m grateful for the ways texting and social media allow me to keep in touch with friends who now live farther away.
When I take time to pay attention, these things remind me that God went before me in this new place, and is here with me now. What is keeping you going these days?
Photo by Andrea Bridges