Slowing Down to Notice

Jon Timms wraps up our series on “Creating Space for Life in the Midst of Lockdown”, sharing a new spiritual practice that he has learned and come to see as a gift during these past weeks of lockdown.

There isn’t much I like more than getting outside on an adventure. It doesn’t really matter where. I love exploring rugged coastlines, winding forest trails, epic mountain grandeur or the cafes, street food and nooks and crannies of the city. Most weekends begin with my family perusing maps or getting packed up for a day’s adventure. Thankfully we live in place that the readers of Rough Guide travel books voted ‘The Most Beautiful Country in the World’. There is a lot of choice here in Scotland.

I find that when my heart feels alive in these places I feel a deep connection to God. These are gifts that lead me into prayer and worship and cultivate intimacy with Jesus.

So what to do in lockdown?

The restrictions mean that we can’t stray too far from our front door. I begin to sweat and feel the onset of cabin fever.

But this has been something of a gift that I didn’t know to ask for. Slowing down to notice means that you’re awakened to beauty that usually flies past in a blur.

We take the kids and the dog out on a daily walk. And like most of you we take the same or similar paths most days. Ours is a little trail next to a stream dotted with trees one side and a field of crop the other. We can then either take a left and head into the woods or a right onto the salt marsh, dunes and beach.

The start of lockdown had us meandering past bare trees and fallow fields; the forest floor looking desolate from the recent logging activities. As the days and weeks pass small shoots begin to appear on the ends of branches – signs of life reappearing after winter’s deepening; the forest floor began its change from dead brown leaves to vibrant green ferns. We noticed more deer in the woods (for a party that includes 4 children under 13, to see the noise sensitive deer is quite an accomplishment), we listened for the woodpeckers and the shy but elegant flight of the heron.

In short, repeating regular patterns meant we began to notice, we were able to see the natural world around us change with the seasons, something you miss if you’re forever chasing a new experience. The small shoots become huge trees in all their fullness. The small ferns grow into their own little fern forest among the giant pines. Birdsong is louder and makes a perfect symphony with the rustling treetops and the waves of the sea.

This beautiful wander around the area near where we live leads to a greater wonder about the one who makes all this happen. Creation in flow is the Creator’s gift to us, if only we’ll take our foot off the accelerator long enough to notice. We were made for Eden, and if we’ll open our eyes, ears and hearts to the sacredness of the ordinary, perhaps we’ll glimpse echoes of a former glory, and whispers of a glory still to come.

My new spiritual practice is that of slowing down to notice. I’m taking this into other areas of life too……and as our phased return to normalcy approaches, perhaps our new rhythms could come with us.

Jon leads Discovery Church alongside his wife Emma in Dunbar, East Lothian, where they live with with their four children and Barney the dog. Jon loves wild places and open spaces, beauty, surfing, mountains, music that sings to the soul, playing his guitar, craft beer, good coffee and a roaring campfire with family and friends. He particularly loves journeying with his kids as they discover life, beauty and adventure for themselves.

Treasure Hunting

Emma Timms continues our series on “Creating Space for Life in the Midst of Lockdown”, sharing some of her family’s rhythms and practices that are shaping and forming them and keeping them going during this season.

We are 8 weeks in and we are tired, our tolerance levels are running a bit low. World-wide pandemics really take it out of you!

Me, Jon and the kids. (The dog seems fine…)

We are zoomed out, getting a bit fed up of being all together all the time, sad from the loneliness and the struggle we see around us and the big stretch of uncertainty ahead of us. We are missing family, friends and our normal adventuring.
So that’s the first thing I guess – confess your struggles. Yes, there’s a lot to be grateful for – stirrings in the Kingdom and our safety and health. But it’s also a hard time and owning that and admitting it brings a lot of relief. When we bring things into the light, we bring them straight into the presence and peace of Jesus.

So we are struggling but we aren’t sinking.

There are six of us in our home – kids aged between 6 and 12 – so there is an obvious and expected level of noise and busyness. We have lived a lot of years trying to cultivate healthy and sustainable rhythms as a family and they are paying off more than ever now. Our weekly Sabbath, a whole 24 hours of rest and delight. My morning * Breath prayer and nightly * Examen grounding me and helping me daily deal with what’s happening externally and internally (especially with the lack of regular space and solitude in the day), breaking the build up and blow up cycle of un-dealt with frustration and hurt. So I definitely recommend finding a rhythm that works for your personal circumstances and committing to it. Start easy and be kind to yourself, let these formational practices bring life and freedom, not guilt and duty.

And if I could be so bold, I would love to suggest something to you to start with or add in:

Treasure hunting.

Start becoming an avid seeker of the gold treasure hidden all around your everyday, ordinary life, and if you have kids bring them on the adventure too. The more you seek, the more you find. The more grateful you become, the more things make you grateful. It’s amazing.
Here are some concrete ways we do it:
• Every day I ask that God will give me eyes to see Him and His gifts through my day. You know the saying – “See him in anything or miss Him in everything.”
• Every night at the dinner table we go through and each person says what they are grateful for from the day and then we do it again casually as we put the kids down.
• On our walks we look for things that are interesting or beautiful and we point them out to each other.
• In my nightly Examen I linger in the gratitude section and I practise remembering and saying thank you.

In this time of coronavirus when so much is different this is my simple offering of what is helping us.

1) Own what’s tough and bring it into the light
2) Start small and commit to life-giving rhythms.
3) Treasure hunt for the gold in your everyday life.

We have a bit to go ahead of us, but let’s come out of it a people more honest, grounded, humble and grateful than when we went into it.

Happy treasure hunting!

Emma x

Emma and her husband Jon lead Discovery Church in Dunbar where they live with their 4 children and Barney the dog. Emma teaches Pilates and has recently been leading others in Pilates combined with Contemplative prayer practices, such as Breath prayer and the Examen. When not in lockdown, you will often find Emma wild swimming.

* If you would like to learn more about different prayer practices such as Breath Prayer or the Examen, check out the ‘Toolshed’ at prayercourse.org.

Order Out of Chaos

Fiona continues our “Creating Space for Life in the Midst of Lockdown” series, sharing the helpful practice that has emerged for her during this time.

In common with a lot of artistic people, I oscillate between order and chaos. I work best with the discipline of a deadline, and when I’m stressed I find myself with an overwhelming urge to clear the decks and begin again. But I spend much of life lurching from one event to the next, squeezing one more thing into my diary because it sounds like a really interesting opportunity and often miss what God is doing.

Order and chaos.

It’s a myth that all creative people are disorganised. In fact their whole lives are taken up with creating order, making sense, deriving meaning from the chaos they observe and experience. The oscillation is just part of the deal.

But since lockdown all the appointments, engagements and events have been taken away, and creative adaptability has become a highly prized commodity. I’ve had to rethink my pace of life, and I’ve found it hugely liberating to impose some rhythm and structure on this more settled existence.

Over the past year, God has taken me on a journey of bringing order out of my chaos, gently helping me to find focus about my work. He’s shown me how to celebrate achievements rather than critically pick over all the details of what I could have done better. He’s brought clarity to my ambitions and plans, as I’ve sought to discern the right from the good.

It’s been great, and I was celebrating how far I’ve come (see, I’m learning…) and then lockdown hit. Enforced clearing of the diary. Inability to jump in the car and whizz off to the next gig. Hour after hour of sitting at a table in my bedroom.

Could there be more to learn? More intimacy to be found?

From before the beginning of lockdown I decided that I could help the artistic community by posting an encouraging thought each day, something that would be helpful for people adapting to a new season of work and creativity. I decided to publish it on all the Foolproof social platforms, and include a word, a verse, a photo and a couple of sentences. What has emerged has been an online chronicle of my lockdown journey with God. Each day I invite Jesus to show me something and give me a word. As I process this through by writing the thought, I find Scripture comes to mind, sometimes obscure, sometimes on the nose, always pertinent to where my heart is, a timely reminder of God’s love, presence and sovereignty.

I’ve tried to be honest, to allow people to eavesdrop on my conversation with the Lord, not to shy away from the challenge of the days when I grieve or feel angry, when I need help. But also to proclaim the joy and the gratitude that I experience in other moments. And so, from the chaos of my thoughts, feelings, and responses, God is creating order for me, and graciously allowing that to be overheard by others.

Feel free to listen in if you like, or start your own online chronicle.

Instagram: foolproofcreative
Facebook: Foolproof Creative Arts
Twitter: creativefools

Fiona Stewart is a writer and performer based in Glasgow. She is the Creative Director of Foolproof Creative Arts, an arts charity that aims to resource the church and develop Christian performers. She is also a regular contributor on BBC Radio and hosts two podcasts, Hollow + Substantial, and The Outspoken Bible.

Being Present

Zak Robb continues our blog series on “Creating Space for Life in the Midst of Lockdown”, sharing some rhythms that have been helpful for him to not just survive this unfamiliar season we find ourselves in, but to cultivate and nurture the life within him.

One of the things I have perhaps been most aware of in this time of lockdown, is myself. Funny that isn’t it? With much of the normal busyness and distractions no longer available to me (with Zoom Fatigue potentially the only competitor right now), I have this quite raw awareness of myself. Without job description/holiday/social status (fill in the blank) to busy me and even to look forward to, I find I’m seeing myself more clearly than I have for a while, and I know I’m not alone in finding that much of the stuff that I’ve pushed under or avoided dealing with has started to come to the surface.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty ways to numb it, plenty of distractions as readily available online if you want them. In fact, they might even be more tempting to us – the evening Netflix binge, the less healthy screen time stats each day… I’ve definitely felt their pull. And so I’ve had to make a more conscious effort to put in place regular rhythms which help me learn how to be attentive to myself and to God in prayer, and through that have often in these last few months discovered that God is working and speaking to me in those raw places.

I’m a fan of Huw Richards, he’s a big name in the veg gardening world! (Unashamed gardening reference). I have his coffee table book and he has some brilliant tutorial videos. In one of his tutorials, he encourages his viewers to sit, set a timer for 5 mins, grab a pad and pen and to look around the garden, taking note of what you notice as you watch and wait, but to resist doing anything until the timer is finished. He says that it helps him to really see what’s around him where he might have missed a detail before, and to know how best to plan out his garden going forward.

I have essentially adapted this as a daily spiritual practice! I aim to get outside into the garden each day and will take a bit of time, sometimes just a few minutes and sometimes longer. I sit and reflect on where I am spiritually, emotionally, physically, as I also look around at the new growth in our garden. I will try not to do anything, except maybe pull out a weed here and there. As I sit, I begin to notice things, initially that there’s a new seedling growing where there was just soil before, and then, I notice that I’ve been carrying a bit of stress or frustration about something that’s happened earlier in the day. I note it, and give it to God, and ask what He might want to do with it. It’s a bit of a mid-day vegetable gardening Examen.

I have rarely experienced anything profound in each of these individual times, but looking back on the last 7 weeks of lockdown I know with more clarity the work that God is doing in me and I see it begin to shape the way I react and respond to situations throughout the day. These small moments are teaching me to be more attentive to God, to others and to myself, and I also get to enjoy a bit of gardening in the process!

We might not all have a garden to do this (or enjoy veg gardening), but we are all trying to work out how we can embrace some of the reality of where we are right now. Building in spiritual rhythms doesn’t need to be onerous, it can be as easy as choosing an activity which naturally lends itself to being present (like your daily exercise outdoors). Then, rather than filling that space with a podcast or music – which of course are good and helpful things but can just as easily distract us – instead choose to allow those natural pauses in our days to become moments where we learn to become more attentive to God and ourselves.

Zak resides in Edinburgh with his wife Lyndsey and their two cats Muesli and Cheetah. He is passionate about gardening and keeps us all entertained with his weekly “Veg Patch Monday” Instagram posts and dad jokes. Incidentally, he is looking forward to being a first time dad in July! He is also passionate about leading others into worship and is worship pastor at Central church, as well as part of the leadership team.