Renewal Practices

“Bluebirds!” my husband yelled.  “Bluebirds!”

I almost fell running downstairs.  And yes, the bluebirds had arrived: plump and cheerful, feasting at the feeder.  A small army of finches had descended.  The blue jays were squabbling over corn.  Two woodpeckers even showed up for a brief snack.

The sight made us five minutes late to church, but really it was a part of church. 

The arrival of spring is always subtle but insistent.  The ground thaws for the first time in months and the air begins to smell like damp earth again.  Where I live, egrets return to their roosts and the great blue herons start picking their way through the water.  Buds appear on trees, on plants. 

There will still be snow—a lot of snow, perhaps—and several significant freezes.  But it is also clear in the air, in the sun that brightens the daytime hours, in the particular sharp blue of the sky this time of year, that the world is ready for renewal.   Beyond our conscious awareness, light floods the season.

I think often of how God’s response to Job’s guttural cry of pain and sorrow was to gesture at the world he had made and say,  “Look!”  We have gotten away from it in our modern era of artificial light and pervasive technology, but God is still intimately at work in our creation.  At some point, Christianity left a lot of the enjoyment of nature to pagan religions, but we benefit from it too: we are made better when we enjoy the world around us as a reflection of God’s creativity, His joy, and His love, a testament to His presence and His affection for all He has made.

His hand turns the wheel of the seasons, still.

This is also the time of year I begin to walk again with regularity.  And I feel—for lack of a better term—crusty.  Crunchy.  Rusty.  I exercised all winter, but there’s nothing like walking outside in fresh air to make you realize you’ve been stuck inside for months. Sunlight and fresh air and birdsong loosens the gunk.  Springtime is a renewal for all living things, including me.

And Lent, of course, is coming.

Easter too.  And in preparation for the season to come it has occurred to me to try something new—a spring in my heart to mirror the spring outside, a sort of spiritual housecleaning to get off the gunk, so to speak.  What I’m going to try, for a thirty-day period, is this: a loose fast from reading about Christianity.

Let me clarify.

I do a lot of reading about Christianity and Christian issues.  A lot of good reading.  I read books from a lot of authors: Beth Moore, Tish Harrison Warren, Richard Beck, Mike Cosper, Max Lucado, and others too many to mention.  I read Christianity Today and other faith publications.  I follow a lot of Christians I admire on social media.

And as a result, I am steeped almost perpetually in thoughts, ideas, and debates about Christianity today.  About what evangelicalism is or isn’t or should be.  About how and why and in what ways to tackle the struggles and fractures in the modern church.  About the issues Christians always seem to be tussling about.  About what denomination did what, didn’t do what, and why they are all wrong or all right.  About what I really ought to be thinking about.  About how to pray and why and when and for what.

None of this is bad on its own. But it can be overwhelming. In Hunting Magic Eels, Richard Beck wrote something that I stumbled on and have returned to since:

Our faith will struggle when it becomes excessively verbal and rational.  In my experience, Christians who struggle with disenchantment lean too heavily on words.  Too many books and podcasts. Too much talking.  …if you’re struggling with disenchantment, odds are that you’re thinking rather than paying attention.

It’s true that for a long time my favorite authors and books pointed me to—and continue to point me to—new and wonderful truths about God and deeper closeness with him.  It is also true that, from time to time, I grow overwhelmed and stuck in the amount of reading about Christianity that I’ve done.  (The thought of choosing a new church, for example, seems overwhelming to me right now because I’m full of so much information and have thought so much about the process I literally don’t know where to begin).

And I realized that the joy of nature and of spring for me—of watching birds, of walking, of listening to the wind in the trees—is precisely because it pulls me out of all the words and thinking and into time with God.   

So in preparation for Easter, I’m stepping back.  I’m doing, specifically, the following:

  • Not following the thoughts of the Christian authors and speakers I know and love on social media for thirty days
  • Not opening any new books on Christianity and, really, unless it’s for research, refraining from old ones
  • No Christian podcasts or publications

Obviously this is going to be a loose practice, since I can’t quite pare myself down to “only the Bible, period.”  I am keeping my daily devotional and prayer guides, as they facilitate time with God rather than time thinking about God (which is the point).  I will be listening to sermons, obviously!  And I will probably still engage with a special Lenten and Easter devotional as the season approaches.

Mainly, what I want to do is get away from thinking about Christianity and Christian issues so much.  I want to step out of the debates, the perpetual conflicts, the focus points, the trending topics.  I don’t want to be told to consider x or think about y beyond what I find in Scripture and prayer times.  I want to free myself up to meet Jesus and allow some room for what happens.

And then, when I come back at the end of that thirty days, I want to come back with my renewed perspective and see what God guides me to and through as I pick things back up again.  I think it will be a useful practice to shake off winter rust—to remind myself that I don’t need a thousand supplements to my spiritual life.

I’m only doing this for myself.  But I highly recommend that, whatever practice feels good to you that is related to renewal, you engage it in as we turn into the season.  Living out the pattern of creation as God has dictated it can be an amazing way to restore yourself spiritually after a long dry winter.

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