Thursday, August 13, 2015

Exile and Belonging

Questions for the reader are in a different font.

This is the fifth blog post for the Companions on the Inner Way summer retreat. The featured speaker is Enuma Okoro.

You can find the other blog posts here:

Blogging for Companions on the Inner Way: It’s Not About Me. 

Seeking Home: Where Do We Come From? 

Who Have We Become?



After our break yesterday, we had our Lectio group. The Scripture passage was John 15:18-21.

I am not particularly fond of the Gospel of John. And this is a particularly uncomfortable passage. The phrase that stood out to me was “on account of my name.”

What the heck is that about? I wondered.

I went to the art room (at least I’m persistent, eh?) and started with oil pastels. I wanted to draw the vortex that can be the national church.

I’m not saying this because I don’t love my work, or where I work, or my colleagues. It is a natural hazard of being national staff that it can become a vortex, both in the sense of how the place can feel during busy times, the number of hours I could work if I were feeling particularly unhealthy, and in the sense that in some settings you become a natural magnet for everyone’s complaints.

But I thought, “it’s about the call.” I don’t think that being national staff is akin to persecution. It is a privilege and a gift! I get to see things most people don't that are awesome. (Besides, I get to help publish books!) It’s just another way to serve the church. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I think following God’s call, however, can be a tricky beast. It gives life, and it can be very hard. Sometimes there are roses, sometimes the Holy Spirit shows up and says “I told you so!” and some times there are lovely gifts to be had. So. On account of the name.

When someone asks a why question, I always say “Jesus” – it’s a joke, but it’s true! Jesus is the reason!

Here’s my art. As you can see, I’m not 100% sure how oil pastels and watercolors work. I thought I’d contrast my work with my brother’s. You can find him at and if you click on his art, you'll be directed to his website in another window.


My brother's:

"In the Void"

"Sparks on Third"

Yesterday afternoon, I had a moment. I was getting tired. Writing makes me tired. Doing all the spiritual stuff can make me tired. And I was way behind on my Fitbit challenge with my colleagues. (I think being at 6500 feet elevation should give me extra points, but it doesn’t work like that.) So I had diet Pepsi at dinner. The beginning of the end.

After dinner was worship. Now, I thought it was a healing service, nothing more. Nope. It was a full service with the Eucharist and then a healing service. I love the Eucharist at every worship, provided the logistics aren’t too complex. I’m still impressed that at every Eucharist, the celebrants are wearing a different set of stoles that match the cloth over the altar. I was clearly tired, because I didn’t bring a note-taking device with me, which is why there are no Tweets from last night’s service!

Sharon Edwards was the preacher; the kind of preacher that makes me want to hang it all up and just go hear her. First, no manuscript. Second, completely coherent. Third, embodied.

I remember my own interpretation of the sermon, so forgive the inaccuracies. She pointed out that exile is not always a place we go. Sometimes it is waiting at home, and we get tossed into it. Sometimes exile finds us.

Exile is hard. In exile, sometimes it is all you can do to breathe. Being able to breathe is the first struggle. And when you can catch your breath, you might ask God “where are you?” And God says, “I’m in your breath.” Perhaps is it is no accident that the Hebrew word for the Spirit of God is ruach, interpreted as “breath” or “wind.” But exile is not all bad. Exile can give us new eyes; we can see new things.

This morning, I finally took a photo of the morning prayer by the lake. It is a series of movements, singing, readings, and a breath prayer. It is pure bliss.

When we gathered for our morning session, we began with a slide show of images and readings and song. Today’s theme was: “A People’s for God’s Own Possession: Belonging to God.”

The Scripture passage for the day is Isaiah 44:1-5.

We talked about Jacob, and about God’s covenant with Jacob. Belonging to God, Enuma Okoro, the speaker, pointed out, isn’t easy. Based on this relationship between Jacob and God, being God’s people means a lifetime of wrestling. This passage says, whatever happens, I am God’s. I am already claimed. And I belong to a people (generations of them) who are God’s.

As a reminder, a covenant is a binding contract, and in this relationship, we see Jacob is bound to God’s purpose and love. He wasn’t bound because he was perfect (Enuma said, “Jacob was kind of a scoundrel.”), but because he is claimed by God in who he is. After wrestling with the angel of God, Jacob walked with a limp. Every step was a reminder of the wrestling and the blessing.

We were invited to draw how our bodies feel. We had to illustrate how we feel, physically. As the speaker said, many of us are taught to think with our heads and our hearts, but taught to ignore our physical bodies, and what they are telling us. She invited us to consider these questions:

Draw your body. How does my body feel? How does my stomach feel? How does my heart feel? Imprisoned? Scared? How do my hands feel? Why? Do they feel empty or fumbling?

Here is my drawing. For a fun contrast, I included one of my brother’s figure paintings.


My brother's:

After we drew our bodies, we engaged in a conversation with God. We imagined God was looking at our image with us, and asking us questions about it. We wrote God’s questions in pen with our dominant hand, and answered the question as ourselves in our non-dominant hand with colored pencil.

What does God want to know about your self-portrait?

Not surprisingly, in my conversation with God, God came off a little sarcastic. Unfortunately, in my imagination, God is like a little too much like me. Big oops. And I didn’t get to how my body FEELS in the first page. (I have a former therapist who used to say, “I hear how you THINK but how do you FEEL?” Apparently I’m not perfect yet.)

God in black ink: Those dark circles under your eyes... um...
Me in purple colored pencil: I'm tired, but I'm having too much fun to sleep.

Then we gathered in small groups to look over our prayer cards in groups. We did a shared exercise, in which we asked a question that we’re mulling over, and we looked at each card, in order, to answer the question. When you have three minutes to use your card to explain an answer to a question, and you have that time for three different cards, with nonjudgmental listeners, a lot can happen. I’m grateful.




What are you working through, or asking about, in your life? What do your prayer cards show you?

Now, onto other important things. I put on my swimsuit to write this blog post because I really want to get in the water. This is where I’m headed. And here are some flowers for you, lovely reader.


  1. Laura, Thank you so much for blogging during this Companions! But it made me miss it that much more! I have attended more than 20, most in southern California but several at Tahoe. I think I missed an excellent one! Your words resonate with me so much. Tommy Jane Roberts

    1. Thank you so much for reading! Hope you can make it next year.