Ears to Hear

Beauty is something that we all seem to “know it when we see it” or able to identify when we hear it.  We are hard wired with a capacity, longing and intuitive sense for beauty.  Wandering through the woods with a four or five year old and they will stop and show you all kinds of wonders and beautiful things (reminding us along the way of the vastness and astonishment of how our world is made.  When we are aware and “tuned in” we realize as we go through our days of the beauty around us and the sad reality of how sin defiles and denigrates beautiful things, people and places.

One way that may help us live in a more aware state is to consciously tune ourselves up by practicing awareness.  A fun way I have found is to find a quiet place (okay that already may be a challenge depending on your stage of life) and put on some great music and enjoy it.  Every time your mind wanders tune back into the music – allow the music to envelop you – thoroughly engage in the melody, harmonies, instrumentation, and the overall mood and themes presented.  It may be a challenge but attempt to stay in this heightened focus and awareness for 30-45 minutes.  This is a great relaxing and enjoyable practice that you can turn to every week and you may find, as I have, that it has a way of helping you be more present to others and to the moments of your day.

I have found some recordings to be far more conducive to this practice than others.  Of course, part of the fun of this – is finding great music to use for this practice.  I will share two outstanding recordings I have discovered and if there is interest would be glad to offer a much longer list.

Ennio Morricone – The Mission (Original Sound Track)

Jonathon Elias – The Prayer Cycle

Would love to hear your responses and impressions of this practice.  Share some of your favorite recordings for growing your awareness of beauty.  Enjoy!


[Photo credit: lambda_x]

The Peace of Wild Things

The title of this post comes from a poem by the wonderful poet Wendell Berry. The poem is below:

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things 

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1998.

The poem reminds us of our connection to nature and our need to enter into that connection and find peace, refreshment, acceptance, and belonging. I wonder how often we get out of our insulated offices, air-conditioned vehicles, and bubble-wrapped existences to find the peace creation offers us, in the midst of wild things. I too often am cocooned away from the temperatures, elements, and effects of nature.

Before summer gets away from us and we are swept into the activity and new beginnings of the school year, would you consider getting away and going back to nature? Take some time to walk a trail or sit by a pond or lie in the grass in your backyard. There is a rest and freedom that comes from remembering we are created, we are but dust, and we are part of an order that is an interdependent and intricately connected web of life. Read the poem again, and try and remember the last time you experienced such awareness. I hope you will schedule time to enter the peace of wild things very soon.

Where is your favorite spot to find the peace of wild things?


[Photo Credit: the_farnsworths]

In the Way of Brother Lawrence

Brother Lawrence was a Carmelite monk who lived most of his life in a priory. His role in the monastic community was serving the brothers in the kitchen. He lacked the education and, by some accounts, the ability to do much else in the community. He did provide another service, beyond washing dishes and peeling onions, though. He encouraged and wrote letters to folks sharing the “secret of his humility and contentment.” The secret wasn’t some unknown or magic formula, mind you. The secret was that, while he spent long hours doing mundane things in the kitchen, he also communed deeply, honestly, and regularly with the Holy of Holies. In the midst of ordinary tasks, Brother Lawrence turned inward to commune with the God of the universe.

We now know that these letters and Brother Lawrence’s story were compiled into that little book called Practicing the Presence of God. I have tried to follow in the way of Brother Lawrence. In the midst of my routines and patterns, I have attempted to practice the presence in authentic ways. When I go out to the stable at night to feed our horses and pick the stalls, it is a great opportunity to practice the presence. I pray, “Refresh me” as I clean and refill the water buckets. I pray, “Purge me” as I shovel manure and clean the stalls. I pray the Jesus Prayer as I move about the stable doing other tasks. I move a bit slower than I would if I just focused on the task at hand, but it is a time I look forward to as I end my day, communing with the Holy of Holies.

As you look at your own daily habits and routines, how can you follow in the way of Brother Lawrence? Have you found ways to practice the presence of God in the midst of your everyday?


[Practicing the Presence of God]

A Prayer For The Church

When I am able to train groups, lead a retreat, or speak in a church or at an event, I try to remember to pray not only for the immediate; I often pray the words of the prayer below. It is for the church, God’s universal church, which makes up his body amidst creation. This prayer addresses a real issue: the divisions among God’s people.

I pray this prayer sincerely; it is my desire to see God’s People in unity. I pray this prayer also as a reminder to myself and to all in its hearing that the division among God’s people is not good. It seems that, as people growing in the likeness of Jesus, the spirit of this prayer would reflect the desire of our hearts more each day.

The prayer is from The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990) p. 816.

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

Would you join me in praying this privately and, when you have opportunity, publicly?  Share your intention in the comments below.


[Photo credit: jasoneppink]

A Guiding Metaphor

Stories are powerful. Often they are what remain in my memory from great speakers, sermons, and sitting around with friends. Memorable stories have a way of wriggling their way into our lives, and with each retelling they become part of us, in an almost imperceptible way.

One such story for me comes from Esther de Waal, and it has been a metaphor that seems to have made that imperceptible journey into my life, forming who I am becoming. I first came across the story many years ago while reading de Waal’s book, The Celtic Way of Prayer. The author defines a Celtic understanding of the Latin word peregrinatio with the following story:

In the ninth century three Irishmen set out on peregrinatio. They went from the shores of Ireland in coracles (sail boats with no keel), without oars, to drift on the sea for seven days. They landed ashore in Cornwall, England, and were brought to the court of King Alfred. When the king asked them where they had come from and where they were going, they answered that they “stole away because we wanted for the love of God to be on pilgrimage, we cared not where.”

– Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer (New York: Doubleday, 1997), p. 2.

That story of being on pilgrimage for the love of God and caring not where has woven itself into my life. I haven’t been able to shake it, and it has become the desire of my life.  It has led me to places geographically, spiritually, and emotionally that have made me more human, humane, and alive.

Do you find that stories are powerful? Have you unexpectedly stumbled on a story or stories that have worked their way into your life? Would love for you to share a story in the comments.


[Photo credit: yewenyi]

The Feast of St. Benedict

This week (July 11) the Church remembers the life, ministry, and death of St. Benedict.  Why would a protestant, and somewhat conservative one at that, observe the day of a Catholic Saint?

My fascination with Benedict began with regular visits to a retreat that was maintained by some wonderful Benedictine Sisters.  Once a month for a few years I would spend a day at their Monastery in Linton Hall, VA.  On one of my stays I became curious about the sisters and through some questions and reading and “connecting of dots” I began to piece together an understanding and admiration for the Benedictine tradition.

This admiration began with the founder, Benedict of Nursia (AD 480-543).  Benedict left the church a great gift in his Rule of Life.  This amazing short document provides a guide to living in a community that desires to follow in the way of the Gospels.  But this begs the original question, why would a protestant gain a hearing from a Catholic Saint?

1. Benedict was a layman writing to the whole church, calling them to reform and a radical way of life during a time when the church had become a tool of the state.

2. Benedict was writing to regular folks – not exclusively to monks, priest, or vocational ministers.  He was writing to offer basic teachings, “a school for beginners.”

3. The time of Benedict’s writing was a time when there was ONE Church and we gain great perspective from his insight, practices, values and priorities (many of which we have lost since the Great Schism [1054] and the Protestant Reformation).

4. Once we begin reading Benedict’s rule, his writing demands our attention.  It is a short message, filled with Scripture, and is a wonderful blend of scholarship and devotional writing that has inspired a countless number of movements throughout the church since. In short, Benedict’s writing stands the test of time.

This, among many other reasons, is why this reluctant evangelical protestant is proud that one of my spiritual fathers is St. Benedict of Nursia.

Who are some of your spiritual heroes?  Have you stumbled onto Benedict’s Rule?  Is there a place for Christian Tradition and History in informing our present Spiritual Formation?

Weigh-in below in the comments.

July BFO Newsletter: You Still Need Sunday School

Barefoot Friends,

Times and methods change. Some churches don’t have traditional Sunday school anymore. Some new church plants have never started Sunday schools at all, and they don’t ever intend to. We’re not really concerned about this phenomenon, for we’re not hung up on the time, place, and format of youth Sunday school. We don’t care what you call it. We don’t care when you have it. We don’t care where you have it. We do care, however, that you have it and that you do it well! 

1. Sunday school is a consistent, systematic, comprehensive approach to Bible study for students. With the emergence of worship-centered midweek meetings with music and devotional or sermon by the youth leader, many youth ministries don’t have a holistic approach to Bible study like Sunday school.

2. Sunday school creates continuity at church between childhood and adulthood. Sunday school is the most continuous church activity for most people. Youth activities like youth group meetings, retreats, lock-ins, concerts, camps, and mission trips are fairly unique to the six or seven years teens stay in the youth group. But Sunday school creates continuity between the various age segregated ministries.

3. Sunday school provides the opportunity to develop a relationship with a significant Christian adult other than parents (or youth pastors). Most churches don’t have the luxury of a professional youth minister. Whatever youth ministry gets accomplished is done by quality, committed lay leaders who spend significant time with teens, sharing faith and life together. In most instances, this is usually a Sunday school teacher.

Questions for your ministry:

  • Does your church have a type of regular Bible study time that fits the beneficial characteristics of Sunday school?
    • Consistent – occurs every week
    • Systematic – challenges teens to discover for themselves the intersection of life and the Word
    • Comprehensive – looking at the whole, not simply our favorite parts, of the Bible;
    • Creates continuity at church between childhood and adulthood
    • Provides the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with adults other than their parents
  • What would it take to implement this type of Bible study time in your context?
  • What could be done to get your students connected to this type of Bible study? What could be done to improve what you already have going?
  • Tell us what you think about Sunday school on the BarefootOnline Blog [link to: blog post]


Blessings to you,

The Barefoot Team


Featured Resource:

Suggested resource from your BarefootOnline.com subscription

Join the Story is a small group series that takes students through the entire Bible, from beginning to end.


Coming to Terms (part 2)

Last week we looked at the quote from Ronald Rolheiser, in his book The Restless Heart.  There he writes, “Spirituality is about what we do with our unrest…about what we do with that incurable desire, the madness…within us.”  I wanted to weigh in with some of my thoughts about this take on an often misunderstood term.

1.  Rolheiser makes spirituality a term that defies the dualism that often is associated with the term (think heaven and earth or spirit and body) by tying the term to our drives that move us to action, addiction and/or religion (to name a few things that our spirituality attempts to find relief).

2.  The definition opens up our understanding of spirituality that is beyond merely the drive that leads us to beginning a relationship with God.  While it encompasses that, it exceeds that staying unsatisfied within us drawing us to continue pursuing after God and his priorities, leading us toward maturity.

3.  This understanding helps us see the many substitutes people fill their lives with to meet this unrest and madness are genuinely issues of spirituality (addictions, relational disappointments, false religions).

4.   Once our spirituality has led us to the mercy of Jesus; this definition indicates we can begin to trust and listen to our desire, our unrest, our deep down longings as prompts or clues for where our growth points might be in our life with God, God’s people and our relationship with all that has been made.

5.  Psalm 103 seems to line up well with Rolheiser’s definition, as well.

Is this a new way for you to consider Spirituality?  Is this too simplistic?  Do you feel it is helpful?  Where do you see desire and unrest fitting in to your own Christian Maturity?

Weigh-in below in the comments.