Thursday, March 15, 2018

Imagination: Creative Power, Curiosity, Vision

I do not think that the opposite of imagination is reality.  Far from it.  The opposite of imagination is cynicism and boredom; they are influences that deny reality (cynicism) or escape it (boredom).  They blind us to the beauty of human experience or lead us to distract ourselves with shallow, unsatisfying elements of it.  We need strong words.  We need strong images.  We need our minds shaken from time to time, if not all the time, to keep us from drowning in the swamps of cynicism or boredom.  And that’s what imagination does.

. . . when I speak of imagination, I mean the ability of our hearts and minds to create images and stories that express truths greater than can be expressed in a philosophical essay.  A failure to imagine is simply a failure to hope: in myself, in others, in God.

- Eric Ramirez, SJ

Imagination: (n) the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality; creative power.  

Last night, I led a brief Imaginative Prayer session at a local church.  Imaginative Prayer is a method invented and taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola in which individuals or groups spend an extended period of time reflecting on one of the many gospel stories featuring Jesus.  The aim of this type of prayer is a direct experience of God's presence.  

In preparation for my class, I spent some time noodling around on Ignatian Spirituality .com and was delighted to discover these downloadable Imaginative Prayer Guides published by Pray As You Go .org.  I thought about the role of imagination in my own life, my experiences as a child and young adult, and times when I've stifled or encouraged imagination in myself and my children.  I learned that imagination is the capacity to form ideas and images of that which is beyond the senses, which sounds an awful lot like faith, to me.  And I discovered that the Latin root for the word 'imagination' means 'to picture oneself.' 

I listened to the Imaginative Prayer Guide on the Healing of Blind Bartimaeus three times yesterday.  Each time, I found something new and, like an athlete doing reps at the gym, I felt my imagination grow stronger with use.  I noticed, as I cooked, how my dog imagined I might drop the chicken carcass, dripping broth on the cutting board.  She knelt at my feet in anticipation of a world where miracles like that happen.  I watched the House Finches imagining the nest they'll build in my daughter's window, eyeing every angle of the ledge on which their future will rest.  I realized the church is called to be the imagination of the world in which we live - to be the link between that which can and cannot be seen.  

Today, I'm wondering what it is you imagine.  Maybe it's something big or something small or something silly beyond belief.  When is the last time you let your holy imagination run wild?  I'd love to hear about it.       

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Just Beyond (on Spring Snow and the Kingdom of God)

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

If the weather-watchers are correct, we’re due for snow tomorrow and possibly more on Sunday.  Snow in March isn’t unusual, but it’s definitely unwelcome.  Arriving just as the world starts to sing its wake-up song, spring snow often feels like the last straw. 

I’m doing my best not to check and double-check my weather app, though I’m anxious to know how the snowfall will impact my work-life and the kids’ school schedule.  Friends online are sharing weather predictions with accompanying proclamations of despair and dismay.  The more time I spend online, the easier it is to believe spring will never arrive.

But the songbirds, the ones who now make daily inspections of potential nesting places sheltered beneath our window awnings, tell a different story.  Something in them seems certain of spring’s promise, despite the cold-again nights, the frost-filled mornings.  Intrigued by their perseverance, I’ve been listening to them almost as much as I’ve been looking online.  I wonder what it is the birds sense, something just a hairsbreadth away from my bumbling human perception.

The songbirds, of course, are not alone.  The hens are laying like gangbusters, the dog and cat have begun they’re annual shedding extravaganza (Lord have mercy), and the tree branches bear red buds ready to burst at the slightest provocation. 

This week I remembered something my Spiritual Director told me several years back, when my kids were much younger and we were cramped in a small apartment together all the dark winter long.  There was snow on the ground then too, spring seemed like a fairytale – a nice idea, but nothing to stake your hopes on. 

“Do you hear the birds?” she asked, as we sat together in her sunlit meeting space.  “They only start to sing when they’re getting ready to build nests and mate.”

I took her word for it.  I allowed the birds to sing hope into my weary-with-waiting heart and I too started to live like spring was just around the corner. 

Maybe it shouldn’t be news to me that our hope, our faith, our love, are so easily influenced by the voices around us.  But most years I need reminders, just the same. 

Being a person of faith means living in light of a reality that may be just a hairsbreadth beyond our bumbling human perception and allowing that reality to shape the songs we sing, the nests we build, the future we work to bring to fruition.  And when we grow weary in faith it helps to tune into the lives and voices of those around us who seem to hear and live a bit more clearly.  

This week, Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, was one of those voices for me.  Quoting from the prophet Habakkuk, regarding the coming kingdom of God, Boyle says, “The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and it will not disappoint; and if it delays, wait for it.  What we all want to create and form is a community of kinship such that God might recognize it . . .  It shouldn’t surprise us that God’s own dream come true for us – that we be one – just happens to be our own deepest longing for ourselves.  It turns out, it’s mutual.”

If you find yourself also near despair - due to snow or otherwise - why not take 20 minutes to hear what Boyle has to say.  His words point to realities just beyond perception and his life's work continues to bring the kingdom into fulfillment. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Meditation and Social Action

Last Friday, I took a few minutes at the beginning of class to ask my Christian Spirituality students how events like the school shooting in Parkland, FL impacts their lives.  

"What's this like for you guys?" I asked.  "I know what it's like for me as a parent, but you're a whole different generation growing up with this reality.  What does it mean for you?"  

The shootings were (and still are) heavy on my heart.  But I was also worried that the day's class topic - meditation - would seem too other-worldly, too removed in the face of recent events. 

Several students expressed concern about the abundance of violence in our culture and the real possibility of increased desensitization to incidents like these.  Another said he found it frustrating how many polarizing opinions were flying around without anyone really presenting a vision for how we can move forward together.  A third student expressed an awareness of how very complicated the matter is - "How we we decide where to focus our energy?  How do we figure out what part is ours to do?"

As I listened, taking notes as I often do, a strange thing happened.  I realized that meditation - time spent dwelling in the presence of God - offers a means of addressing each of these questions.  

Meditation, it became clear, is the bedrock of social action. 

Time spent in the presence of God increases our sensitivity to the cruelties of this present age.  The more we dwell with God, the more aware we are of the brokenness of our world and of our very own lives.  In prayer, our hearts are made vulnerable and soft, attuned to the violence of our own words and actions.  We begin to long for the kingdom of God to be made real and we're empowered to live differently in the world, to live as true witnesses to the kingdom which is both already and not-yet. 

Time spent in the presence of God nurtures the kind of imagination, freedom, and confidence required to envision a path forward.  Only those who are rooted deeply in divine love will be able to risk building a path free of ego and personal gain.  Only those rooted deeply in divine freedom can speak boldly and confidently in the midst of our entrenched and antagonistic perspectives.

Lastly, meditation, more than any practice I know, teaches us who we are.  In the deep places of our soul, we come to know not only God, but self.  Stripped of ego, we're confronted with both the limits and gifts, the strengths and weaknesses, of our true self.  Positioned in truth and grace, we become uniquely situated to discern our own path - to discover the place of alignment between  our deep gladness and the world's deep need (Buechner).  Meditation offers, in the midst of the many voices shouting for us to run here or go there, a calm, quiet voice that says, "This is what I have made you for, this is who you are."

The phrase, 'thoughts and prayers" has lost its meaning in our culture not only because it is often an excuse for inaction, but because too often it isn't accompanied by the kind of prayer that actually makes a difference and positions us to do the same.  Prayer gives rise to action and change, both internal and external.  Action that produces fruit - long and lasting change - both arises out of and leads us back into prayer.  

If you want to know how to respond to the current crises we face as a culture, ask someone who prays.  Odds are, they will be able to identify a good, solid starting point.  If you want to be a person who brings lasting change in the world, begin with prayer that places you before God - simple, quiet, prayer that forms you, moment by moment into the image of God. 

*   *   *

If you are new to meditation or, like many of my students, fear meditation may not be for you, I urge you to check out Ed Cyzewski's book, "Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace With God Through Contemplative Prayer."  Written from an evangelical perspective, Cyzewski addresses common concerns and offers practical insights to developing a practice of prayer rooted in the presence of God. 


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Voice of Love

Prayer . . . is listening to the voice that calls us "My Beloved." - Henri Nouwen

My husband wakes, alone, in the early morning dark.  While the rest of us sleep, he lets the dog out, rekindles a fire in the wood stove, and turns on the coffee pot.  By the time I stumble down, he's often sitting, cross-legged, in the arm chair closest to the stove, with his eyes closed.  With a timer set on his phone, he endeavors to start the day in silent prayer.

But, he is no monk in a cell alone.

I wander through, on the way to the bathroom, then back again with a full cup of coffee in hand.  Then, my daughter’s alarm clock goes off and she staggers blindly into the living room as well.  The dog, of course, leaves her seat and clatters around, needing a greeting from every new entrant into the room.  

His morning prayer is rarely silent, often interrupted, even though his eyes remain closed.

The other morning, before the lights were on, my husband sat in his quietening chair and I sat near the base of the stairs, scrolling on my phone.  Then, out of the darkness, six-year-old Levi yelled from the top of the stairs, “Dad? Dad?”

Wanting to preserve my husband's silence, I answered for him, “What Levi?”

“Where’s Dad?  Is he still home?  Is he going to work today?” Levi belted his questions, like a winter storm flinging hail. 

“Yes,” I said, stealing a glance at my husband, whose eyes were now open. “It’s early.  Daddy’s still home, but he’s going to work in a little while.  What do you need?”

“I want to say goodbye to him,” he called.

I looked again at my husband, seated by the stove, and he nodded his head. 

“What Levi?” he called.

“Goodbye Dad, I love you!  I’ll see you tonight!” Levi said, “Thanks for helping with my Valentines.”

“Goodbye, Levi.  I love you too.  I’ll see you tonight, sweetie,” my husband replied.

Then, from the shadows, came Levi’s twin brother's voice, “Goodbye Dad, I love you!  I’ll see you tonight!”

“Goodbye, Isaiah.  I love you too.  I’ll see you tonight, sweetie.” my husband replied.

All semblance of prayer was lost as they scampered back to their beds.  As my husband turned off his timer and prepared to leave for work, it occurred to me that, despite numerous interruptions, his time of silence was also exactly how prayer should be.  Not the absence of sound, but a listening quietly in the dark for the presence, the voice of love.  How very lucky we are when that voice descends not once, but twice, clothed in the voice of a six-year-old child.

May you find the voice of Love descending on you today in unexpected ways.  

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Wandering Hen

She stood still, and silent as stone, under the garage’s small overhang.  I had to look twice to even tell it was a hen.  Her gray coloring and curved outline made her look more like a bowling pin.  The yard and driveway were coated in a layer of February’s mixed snow and ice.  The eaves protected her from a steady rain as she stared out across the driveway.

“Is that Brownie?” I asked my husband, while peering out the kitchen window.

“Yeah,” he said, “earlier, she was perfectly centered between the two trash cans.”

“She’s so strange,” I said in a tone of awe and admiration.

Since we fenced in our flock of chickens a few months back, Brownie has been one of the only birds to persistently escape.  She’s one of our oldest hens, one of the handful of chicks we bought in 2015.  A gray, speckled, Araucana (easter-egger), she lived in our small, a-frame coop for two and a half years before being forced to integrate with our much larger garage flock.  She’s also the only hen we have who sports a real and genuine beard of feathers. 

I don’t know how much a chicken thinks, but her persistent solitude and wandering captivate my imagination.  I like to think of her as something like a Desert Mother or a John the Baptist type, led by an unrelenting urge to be alone, exposed, in the wilds of our two-acre yard.

Outside of the flock, she has no protection, no direct access to food or water.  She scrounges for seeds under the wild bird feeder and drinks from the driveway puddles.  When the garage is open, she wanders it too, but I wonder if she doesn’t sometimes sleep in the old a-frame coop where she was raised.  The other day, I found her sitting, happily feasting in the open corn bin in the garage.  Clearly, she has developed a certain level of ‘street smarts.’

My oldest son and I have put her back in the pen time and time again.  Solomon corners and herds her in through the wide fence gate.  I have done the same, but the other day I lured her close with a pretzel, then bent and grabbed her by the tail feathers.  She squawked and lunged immediately, and a few seconds of battle ensued while I struggled to get my hands around her wings.  Once her wings were tucked, she calmed, and I carried her under my arm and deposited her unceremoniously in the coop.  I was surprised by the fierceness of her fight.  She was out again the next day.

I don’t know what that hen has to tell me, to teach me, but I continue to watch her with admiration as she persists in holding steady, defining her own way of being in this large and lovely world.   

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Vulnerability & Trust in the Classroom

Every once in a while, I have the opportunity to teach a full semester's worth of introductory biblical studies materials over a period of fifteen days.  This, January, is one of those once-in-a-whiles.  Which is why I haven't been posting much here.  But I have been listening to my life, thinking, paying attention and the thoughts that follow are just a bit of what I've been noticing.
"I don't know."

I said those three scary words at least twice in class the other day.  

From the front of the room.  

As the professor. 

I can’t tell you how alarming that would have been for me when I first started teaching college level classes.  I was fresh from seminary then, wearing the one suit I owned.
That suit was – as they often are – something like a suit of armor.  It was a symbol that I was an adult (even though I didn’t feel like one) and that I knew what I was talking about (even though I didn’t feel like I did).  Looking back, I can see how fear-driven my teaching was, even though I didn’t want it to be.  I wanted to connect with the students, to engage, but I was unable to allow the kind of vulnerability that forms community. 

I was too attached to my armor of rayon/polyester and knowledge. I set up every aspect of the class in a way that guaranteed I would know the answers to any question that arose.  I chose the passages we studied based on papers I’d written in graduate school – a sure-fire way (I hoped) of ensuring I would know more about the topic at hand than any one else in the room.

I often wondered why I felt so isolated, lonely, and frustrated as a teacher.


This time around, some fourteen years later, I purposely wore jeans on the first day of class.  Mostly, I wanted to feel like myself and, as someone who works from home, I wear jeans almost every day.  Feeling like myself meant drawing on the sense of authority I carry day-in-and day-out as a parent, writer, spiritual director, and middle-aged human being.  Also, I wanted to lessen the distance between the students and myself, and jeans seemed like a concrete, visual way to do that. 

First thing, on the first day, I explained that every class would start with five minutes of silence.  This would be our way of acknowledging the presence of God which dwells - like silence – above, below, and in-between all our words.  After silence, I explained that, because this was their class, the first twenty minutes of every class was theirs to use as they saw fit.  Every student has an opportunity to submit a topic for conversation and we use silly questions to decide who will draw a question out of the stack. 

Those twenty minutes were a little awkward the first day – and still are, sometimes – but we’ve had some laughs, heard some differing perspectives, and even witnessed a little passion.  I like to believe giving the students some time and space up front, is one, small, concrete way of reminding them that this class is for them.  It also gives me an opportunity to observe and eavesdrop on who they are, how they interact with each other, and how they think about the world we live in.  In short, it gives me a chance to listen and builds community.

Finally, before lecture that first day, I explained that we needed to choose a passage to explore together in class the following day.  I gave them a few minutes to think about it, then invited them to offer suggestions.  Many offered favorite, well-known passages, but there were some random ones thrown out too.  I didn’t even flinch (hardly, anyway) when someone tossed out a story I’d never heard of from the apocrypha.  After we had ten or so to choose from, the students voted and chose Jeremiah 29.

I stopped by the library after class and grabbed a couple of commentaries.  That night, I spent about a half hour familiarizing myself with the context and reading through the passage.  Mostly, I figured, we’d figure it out together the following day.  And we did.  
Rather than worrying about the class, I looked forward to it.  I suppose part of this is the confidence that comes from teaching and preaching for years – a gift I’m grateful to have found.  Under-girding my decision, though, was the belief that what would be gained by working together, side-by-side, was more than what might be lost by me not knowing all the answers. 


I have a great group of students this semester.  They’re older, and more prepared to handle the course material.  Many are seniors and already thinking about how the things they learn now will apply to life in the ‘real world.’   All of this leads to a more enjoyable class environment.  But the thing I’m most grateful for, is a deeper capacity to be with the students, to create an atmosphere where those three little words, “I don’t know,” are nothing more than a fertile starting point for conversation, exploration and comradery. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Writers' Retreat: March 3rd 2018

Savor a day focusing on your work and identity as a writer. 

Reconnect with the reasons for your art, the source of your words. 

Network with other writers and gain insight on integrating writing into your everyday life. 

Author, Editor and Writing Teacher, Andi Cumbo-Floyd will lead a retreat for writers of all skill sets.  

When: Saturday, March 3rd 

Time: 9:00 - 4:00

NEW Location: We will be gathering at the Silver Spring Retreat Center in Mechanicsburg, PA.   The center's Historic Waugh-Wilson farm house dates back to the 18th century and offers a blend of gracious space and natural beauty. 

Cost: $60 (as you are able - please contact Kelly if cost is a significant burden) 

20 Spaces Available

Registration deadline: Tuesday, February 27th 


     * Two free-writing sessions with prompts

     * Craft-talk on balancing discipline and gentleness   

     * A brief workshop experience giving and receiving feedback
     * Homemade lunch
     * Opportunities to network and connect with other writers

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a trained Writing Teacher, highly-sought Editor, and author of several self-published books.  Her first traditionally published book is due out May 2018.  Kelly Chripczuk is a Writer, Spiritual Director, and teacher and has self-published two books.  

With a wealth of knowledge and experience, Andi and Kelly excel at creating a retreat space that is safe and enriching for all participants, no matter what your experience, skill level or goals may be.  Our desire is for you to leave the day refreshed and encouraged in your writing life.  

Questions?  Contact Kelly at or leave a comment below.

Reserve your spot via Paypal: