“I’m Painting! I’m Painting!” and Learning to Pray through Play

“Man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays.” ~ Friedrich Schiller

Do you ever have “I’m sailing!” moments? You know, like from the movie What About Bob? when Bill Murray is tied to the sail boat mast and yelling for joy because he’s finally sailing? Don’t tell me, I’m the only one.

Mine sound like this: “I’m sewing! I’m sewing!” This happened when I finally got around to learning how to use my sewing machine after it had been sitting in my closet, untouched for years. I might have actually said those words out loud.

“I’m planting! I’m planting!” This happens every spring as soon as the weather warms up enough to dig in the dirt. Spring is always, always exciting.

Lately, my joy-filled cry is: “I’m painting! I’m painting!” For some reason, I’ve had an itch to paint. I bought some canvases a while back. I bought paints and paint brushes. Then those art supplies gathered dust in my closet for months. The itch grew really strong a few weeks ago. So strong, in fact, that I took out the paints and canvases and brushes. I went through photographs to find one that I wanted to try to capture in paint. I watched a you-tube video on how to get started. And then I started laying down layers of paint. Oh my goodness, is it fun. “I’m painting! I’m painting!”


Do I know what I’m doing? Nope. Is it any good? I have no idea. Does it matter? I don’t think so. It’s pure play. It brings me joy. My paintings make me happy while I’m working on them and even when I look at them afterward. I can’t wait to paint some more.

When do you experience “I’m sailing! I’m sailing!” moments? Those moments when you just love what you are doing and feel so happy that you get to do it? Is it running? (I can’t imagine, really, but that’s so awesome for you.) Hiking? Cleaning? Making music? Cooking? Biking? Swimming? Creating? How do you play?

I’m sure there are all sorts of psychological and emotional benefits to play. What if I told you that playing could be prayer? That you could actually be practicing contemplation in the middle of play? And I don’t mean that we should make our play all serious!

If, like Buechner said, our mental chatter gets in the way of noticing God’s presence in our lives, contemplative prayer is one way that people can try to quiet that mental chatter. Often we think of contemplative prayer as being still, being silent, closing our eyes and trying not to think about things. There are many beautiful, quiet contemplative practices. But sometimes, this quiet seems pretty impossible to achieve.

Contemplative prayer is really just paying attention. Maybe this is why playing might be a great way to start a contemplative practice.

In his book on prayer, God & You, William A. Barry, S.J. encourages us to try contemplative prayer by doing “something we like to do and ask[ing] God to be with us.” He says, “I can invite God to make his presence felt as I do what I like to do.” That’s it. What enjoyable activity will take your attention away from your mental chatter, your self-concern and anxieties?  Try that.

According to Margaret Guenther in her book Holy Listening, play and prayer have been linked with the work of contemplative living for centuries. Guenther says that when we play, “[w]e are freed from our compulsion for right answers, freed from the need to acquire and achieve, freed from anxiety by the transitory nature of play.”

I find this to be true when I paint. It’s just for me. I’m not analyzing it or judging it. I’m not thinking of much else while I’m painting. I’m actually paying attention to the picture in front of me. And I can sense God’s joy and delight when I create. Painting is also teaching me to bring this non-judgmental attitude toward my other activities. (That’s what a contemplative practice eventually does.)

So how do we communicate with God while we play? Barry reminds us that God’s communication is most often ordinary: feeling peace or comfort, feeling God’s closeness, or feeling a sense of well-being or gratitude. Do you feel these things when you play? Maybe that’s God saying “hi.” And all we have to do is say “hi” back.

We tend to make things–especially God things and prayer–more difficult than they need to be.

I still have a hard time sitting down and praying with a lot of words. I love to sit in quiet, but my brain likes to jump all over the place. Praying as painting or gardening or cooking? That actually sounds beautiful and fun to me. What kind of play as prayer sounds beautiful and fun for you?







Embracing the invitation of “It is”


Some situations call for excellent analytical skills, but generally, employing these skills directed at the people around us isn’t helpful. It separates us. I try to ‘understand’ them, but without putting myself in their shoes. What if there is another way of seeing those around us?

The phrase “It is” has been repeating in my heart for the past few weeks. I think I need to pay attention.

Recently, I read Frederick Buechner’s words: “What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought.”

I’m finding that “It is” allows the chatter to quiet down.

Richard Rohr recently wrote about how through contemplation, we “stop labeling, ranking, and categorizing people and things and just see them without letting them ‘possess'” us.

“It is” invites me to let go of this labeling, ranking, and categorizing.

I am deeper than my thoughts, my likes and dislikes, my choices, my mistakes, my triumphs. And so are you. You are. I don’t need to label you. Analyze you. Try to figure you out. You are. That is enough.

Analyzing involves labels, theories, and ultimately judgment. It is the opposite of “It is.” I wonder if what separates us from experiencing God in others is our “mental chatter” about them. What would happen if I just experienced her as she is?

This quote by Diane Eshin Rizzeto, captures beautifully how we can meet another “as is”:

“When we meet others as strangers, our hearts are open to possibility, change, and reconciliation. We haven’t decided what one another is, and only know that person as she presents herself in this very moment …. If you meet that person with the words of yesterday echoing in your mind, then your glasses are tinted disagreeable. You cannot meet the other as a stranger…. As long as we insist on seeing him through our memories, those glasses will not allow us to meet him openly and with possibility.”

Meeting another “as is” or “as a stranger” allows us to be spacious. Spacious in our hearts. Spacious in our welcome. Letting go of the need to analyze or label others makes so much space in our minds. Space for paying attention to what is happening in front of us, to what is happening in our hearts. It makes space for actually experiencing my life and the people around me.

I look at my six-year-old daughter. I feel the weight of her on my lap and in my heart. Is she listening? Is she keeping her room clean? What will her future hold? All of that pales to the fact that she is. And she is Loved. God lives in her soul. That is enough.

It’s in the shimmering now, the immediate here, where my soul glimpses and touches the Sacred, the More, the Real. Love. God.

The story goes that when Moses asked God for a name, God replied, “I am.” God is verb. Is being. Is unnamable and beyond categories and labels. We, who are made in God’s likeness, echo that being-ness in our souls. You are. I am. She is. That’s enough. We can end the sentence there.

Then I Remember My Favorite Things


February is an Eeyore kind of month. Gray. Gray skies. Gray snow. Gray trees. Gray clothes. Gray mood. But today, the sun is out. I’m wearing hot-pink. And I decided to make a list of some of my favorite things. You know, I think Rogers and Hammerstein had Maria give us some very solid advice.

There are things that I enjoy and like. And then there are my favorites: the things that I can’t stop talking about. The things I want everybody to try. I like it so much. I want you to like it too.

If you’ve been to my house some evening this winter, chances are I’ve made you drink Ina Garten’s Mulled Wine. It’s so perfect for practicing hygge-cozy, delicious, and hot. The perfect accompaniment for good conversation. Unless you are not into wine. I don’t make you drink wine if you are opposed to it or underage. I’m not really a wine pusher.

Do you live in the Minneapolis area? Do you ever travel by Lake Calhoun? Have you been to Rustica Bakery? Have you tried their bittersweet chocolate cookies? My sister calls them magic cookies. Because that is exactly what they are. Magic.

Monday night, I finished reading Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. I cried and laughed my way through that book. It is simultaneously heartbreaking and funny. That’s the best combination. It left my heart feeling bigger and broken open just a bit when I finished it. Have you read it? No? Oh, I really want you to.

Have you watched the movie Sing Street? We watched it about one month ago. Last Friday, I was moping around: “I’ve told everybody I know to watch Sing Street! Has anyone watched it yet? No, not one.” That night I received a text at 9:01 from one sister: “Jess, we’re watching Sing Street right now!” At 9:03 I received a text from another sister: “Jess, we’re watching Sing Street!” You don’t know how happy that made me.

Do you like movies? Music? The 80’s? Ireland? Funny and heartbreak at the same time? You should watch this movie. I must be a Sing Street pusher. I really want you to watch it. I really want to watch it again.

If you have ever received a book from me, chances are that book is John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. I’m an unashamed O’Donohue pusher. His words are so wise and true. They have changed me. I can’t loan you my copy, because I haven’t stopped reading this gem since I bought it almost 4 years ago. You should get your own copy.

What are some of my other favorites? Mary Oliver, Frederick Buechner, Rumi, Parker Palmer. I’ve told a lot of people to read their books. Gosh, I sound really bossy.

I guess this blog exists because I can’t stop talking about contemplation, practicing presence, God. Those are my deep-down favorites. They change me. They make me more me. They break my heart open and make it a more spacious place. I hope I’m not a pusher here, I’d rather be an inviter. This stuff is good.

Oh. And this guy. Isn’t he so cute? He likes me. And I like him right back.


What do you know? Those are just a few of my favorite things, and this list thing worked. I don’t feel so gray. What about you? What are your favorites? What do you want everybody to try? Maybe I would like them too.


This is how I want to be



Hi. How are you doing?


Honestly? I have anxiety in me. My body hasn’t felt such a fist in my chest or a jaw this tight since my lawyer days. It doesn’t feel great.

I have a lot of questions: questions about what is happening in our country; questions about what I can do. What does political action look like for me? How am I supposed to love my neighbor? How do I engage from a whole-hearted place of Enough and not just react in fear?

The last time that I had anxiety with a lot of questions swirling around in me, I needed to pick one question. The question that I landed on last time is the question that I think I need again: How am I supposed to be?

How am I supposed to be? How do I want to be at this time, in this moment?

I want to be awake. I want to pay attention.
I want to be present.
I want my presence to matter.

I want to use my voice, my hands, my feet, and heart.
I want to be love. Love inhaled, love exhaled.
Love embodied and real.

I want to teach my children about love and caring for our neighbors.
I want to not just hope for justice and peace for all, but to work for it too.
I pray for courage and for clear sight.
I pray for an open heart.
I pray for wisdom.

I am taking one day at a time. What is my step for today?

There are so many things to care about. So many issues we could fight for. It’s good that people are sparked by different issues. We can’t all march for every issue worthy of marching for. But we can march, or write, or pray, or show up in some way for the issues or the people that weigh on our hearts. I can honor and support you as you march for the justice and the people that weigh on your heart. We need each other.

I can do small things. I’m learning to make phone calls. This is a big deal for an introvert who is uncomfortable calling strangers. And I’m learning that these phone calls aren’t very scary after all. I’m making my voice heard.

I can notice when my heart is growing hard toward some person or group of people. I can stop the script that’s running through my head and breathe or pray compassion toward them. I can try to understand why others feel the way that they feel.

Each day, I remember who I am. I remember that I abide in God and God abides in me. I open myself to the energy and power needed to do this day’s work. I keep my eyes and ears and heart open. I take the next step.

I remember that whether or not the sky is falling, I am rooted and grounded in Love.

This is how I want to be.

/ / /

That we may have courage
To turn aside from it all
And to come to kneel down before the poor,
To discover what we must do,
How to turn anxiety
Back into anger,
How to find our way home.

from John O’Donohue’s blessing For Citizenship in To Bless the Space Between Us





On Celebrating 40


“May you be blessed with good friends,
And learn to be a good friend to yourself…” John O’Donohue

Today is my birthday! This year it feels especially significant because I get to celebrate being 40. And I feel like celebrating. Not with a big party. That’s not my style. But by being with people I love; by enjoying good company, good conversation, and good food. I want to celebrate and enjoy who I am today.

No one asks to see my ID when I order a glass of wine. That’s okay. I don’t want to look like a 20-year-old. I want to celebrate with sparkles in my hair and laugh crinkles surrounding my eyes. My body has softened and expanded in the last few years and so has my heart. There’s beauty in both.

I am surrounded by people who love me. By friends who encourage me and just like being with me. My children think I’m the best mom in the world, except for the moments when they think I’m the worst mom in the world. And I feel lucky to be their mom. Every day.

I am married to someone who has always made me feel free to be exactly who I am, whoever that was or is.

That’s an incredible gift.

I am convinced that God adores me. And I adore God right back.

And really, that’s Enough. I’m learning to truly believe in Enough. Enough is better than success, isn’t it?

Enough is teaching me, finally, how to be a friend to myself. Not perfectly, of course. Enough isn’t interested in perfection.

But I’m learning.

Learning to enjoy my own company.
To trust in my heart and intuition.
To take pride in the strength and resilience
of my body and mind,
and to appreciate also my soft spots.

I’m learning to welcome my shadows
and celebrate my light;
to deal gently with my vulnerabilities;
and to let myself be loved–
even by me.

I’m learning to belong
in my feet.

I want to be who I am. And
who I am is who I want to be.

That’s a kind of wisdom
I didn’t know at 30.

Hooray for 40!