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.

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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.

Creating Space for Life in the Midst of Lockdown

The events of the past several weeks blew in like a sudden snowstorm – blinding, unpredictable, disorienting and leaving the landscape undefined, blanketed by uncertainty.

But as things “calm” and we become even more aware of how not normal life is, aware of the lack of our usual coping mechanisms, mental and emotional props, with many of the things and people that bring us life far removed, how do we respond? Is there a way to not just survive this wilderness journey but actually thrive?

Some of the most common advice we are all hearing right now from TED talks, authors, famous CEO’s and the NHS is the importance of routine, of “fixed hour” schedules.

But this concept is ancient – modelled by Jesus, the apostles, the desert mothers and fathers and by the monastics down through the centuries. It has been referred to as a ‘Rule of Life’, ‘spiritual disciplines’, ‘spiritual practices’ or ‘rhythms’.

In his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer refers to spiritual practices as a sort of trellis for our intimacy with and abiding in Jesus, our Source of life, peace and hope.
He says that spiritual practices are “how we follow Jesus. How we adopt His lifestyle. How we create space for emotional health and spiritual life.

This has been my experience of the various spiritual rhythms and practices I have put into place in my life and leaned into over the years.
Those of you who have walked through grief will know well the disorientation that comes with it, the loss of any sense of the familiar, the sense of the landscape around you losing its definition and certainty as every part of life is touched by your grief. Yes, life around you goes on as “normal” yet even the most familiar things do not feel normal anymore.

This was how I felt when my mum passed away after a long battle with cancer. I felt numb and even reading familiar Scripture passages that I had once loved and leaned on brought no comfort. All I saw were words on a page, lifeless to me.
But I had cultivated a daily spiritual rhythm long before this journey through “the valley of the shadow of death” and this rhythm remained a part of daily life and steadied me, anchored me, keeping my soul and spirit connected to the Source of my life, peace and hope.
I began every morning with the “Morning Office” found in The Celtic Daily Prayer book published by the Northumbria Community which consisted of written prayers, short Scripture readings and short reflections. Then I finished every day with praying that night’s Compline ( a written prayer for before bed ).

It was also during this time that I discovered the richness of the Psalms. I had read the Psalms many times. Yet in my grief they took on a new life and meaning for me, as the Psalmists gave me a language for the emotions I had previously been unable to express.
When I came out of the darkest part of that valley of grief, I came out having not just survived, but my spirit and soul feeling well fed and cared for.

So though I have also felt the disorientation of this life during Covid-19 and have had some definite “valley” days, I have been deeply grateful for the spiritual rhythms present in my daily life. At the very beginning of lockdown I also instinctively returned to a nightly Compline. These practices have truly been a Source life, peace and hope for me during these past weeks.

I pray that you also can identify some daily spiritual practices that work for you and become that “trellis” that connects you to the life, peace and hope found in Jesus.

Over the next few weeks, various friends will be sharing what practices and rhythms have been their anchor point during these weeks of lockdown, so be watching for a new post every Wednesday.

Into Our Locked Rooms He Comes

Moira Shanks shares with us something she wrote in response to a picture she had while reflecting on a recent passage in 24-7 Prayer’s Lectio 365 daily devotional app. In it, Jesus meets the disciples in a locked room.
We think you will be encouraged by Moira’s writing as much as we have been.

Where no one else can come,
Even our closest friends and family
Kept at a safe and isolating distance,
Where we are locked down, locked in by fear,
The fear of this virus,
The fear of living in uncertain, changing times.
Into our lockdown,
Lord, you come.

You come into our lockdown,
As you came to your disciples,
Locked in for fear of the authorities,
Living in uncertain, changing times.
You came to them,
Where they were,
Into their locked room,
Into the midst of their fears.

Lord, you stand with us in our lockdown,
And, in your unchanging mercy
You offer now, as you offered then,
Your presence, your peace
In the midst of fears,
Renewed hope,
Restored joy,
Recalibrated purpose.

Come, Lord Jesus,
Reveal yourself in locked down rooms,
To locked down hearts.
In every corner of your world,

Moira lives and works as an EAL teacher in North Ayrshire. She is married to Gordon, part of a pretty amazing family and passionate about worship, creative communication and good coffee!