Monday, February 23, 2015
Last week I took a break from my PhD Multivariate Statistics studies to enjoy a jazz concert with my wife and daughter. We went to One World Theater in Austin, Texas to hear Keiko Matsui. The evening was an enchanting night of appreciation of creativity as well as thinking about my Soul Quest.
The One World Theater is a small intimate music venue. You experience the music there as even in the back rows you are still seem to be close to the artist. They bring in a wide variety of musicians throughout the year. If you find yourself visiting Austin do check out their concert listings.
Hearing Keiko and her band always helps me to appreciate the creative mind. We have heard her numerous times but never tire of her music. She has such variety of styles in her compositions. Watching her play the keyboards and piano it is clear that she is one with her instruments. The band she assembles has the same spirit of professionalism in their creativity with their instruments: guitar, sax, bass and drums. To see and hear 5 musicians play with such a unified spirit and selflessness of the give and take of solos is enjoyable to experience. You can hear it in a studio track on a CD but to see the interaction of the creative process live in concert is amazing.
It is her creativity in her song writing and keyboard playing that has kept her as one of my favorite musicians. That is why I list in my creative thinking chapter of my book, Living More Than OK. Her creative gift is one that she shares with the world in her calming and inspiring music.
I mentioned as well, that her concert made me think of my personal Soul Quest. Primarily because she played that evening many songs from her Soul Quest CD. Her music was a refreshing reminder that even though we are in a material based world the alternative reality of the spiritual world is with us if we are open to listen and see. I have always felt that the creative nature that we each carry in us and the creativity of the world around us points to a Creator behind all things. We all have our personal Soul Quest that is part of our journey as pilgrims in this short life on Earth.
Take a listen to Keiko’s song Soul Quest (click on the title) and think through your Soul Quest as you listen. The song begins with a soft mystical beginning and moves into a light meditative melody. It reminds me of the scriptures in Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." We need to quiet ourselves and have an open heart in our Soul Quest. It is in those times God can reveal Himself to us. Her song builds in strength just like we move further along in our Soul Quest our spiritual life can move higher up and further into deeper communion with God. Then at the end the song returns to quiet and calmness which reminded me again of the be still and listen aspect of the spiritual life.
If you ever have a chance to hear Keiko Matsui in concert do take the opportunity. You will not be disappointed.
Reflection: Go to YouTube.com and search for Keiko Matsui’s music videos. Listen to one of her songs of your choice and think through what do you appreciate about the song? What do you appreciate about creative musicians and the gift they offer in enriching our lives?
Monday, February 16, 2015
This past weekend by family and I attended a “Biblical Spiritual Disciplines for Real People” conference at our church, Oakwood Baptist, in New Braunfels. Texas. The Speaker was Dr. Donald Whitney of Southern Baptist Seminary in Kentucky. The topics focused in on two disciplines of prayer and Bible study. Dr. Whitney spoke with a sincere passion for the importance of spiritual growth. This week in the blog I want to share some thoughts from his talk on prayer.
My favorite section was his teaching on prayer as he opened my mind to a concept of prayer I had not heard of before. The concept was “Praying the Bible”. He started by saying we commonly pray about 6 main categories: family, our future, finances, work or school work, Church or ministry and current crises we find ourselves in. These 6 relate to our lives and that is fine as our lives are important to God. Yet he kept repeating the idea that we slack off in prayer because of a common problem. The problem is we continue to pray often the same words day after day saying the same old things. Therefore prayer tends to become boring and we give up praying, thinking the problem is us. Instead of self-blame he encouraged us to rework our method of praying to add vitality to it. That is where “Praying the Bible” comes to play.
The prayer method of “Praying the Bible” is not complicated. Actually it came across as simple, which I like as my mind likes simple methodologies. Before your prayer time you simply choose a passage of scripture from the Bible. Dr. Whitney encouraged the use of the Psalms but mentioned it can be used with other passages from the Bible as well. After you choose a passage or Psalm you read it over and then start your prayer using key verses from the passage God places on your heart to guide your prayer.
For example let’s say I choose Psalm 63 (NKJV)
1 O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water.
2 So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory.3 Because Your loving-kindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You. 4 Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.5 My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.
6 When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.
7 Because You have been my help, Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.
8 My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me.
9 But those who seek my life, to destroy it, Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
10 They shall fall by the sword; They shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God; Everyone who swears by Him shall glory; But the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.
With this Psalm you may want to begin praying how you are thirsty to experience the reality of God’s presence in your life. Possibly God will bring to mind some friends or family who are experiencing a desert time in their lives so pray for refreshment for your spirit and theirs. You may then move into a section of thankfulness for God’s loving-kindness and seek to be an example of God’s love to those you meet in your workplace. With these few thoughts, you probably get the gist of what the concept of the method is getting at, in praying through a scripture passage.
Dr. Whitney gave everyone a time to try the method out with various passages of scripture. Many felt it was like a true conversation with God. Which if one believes as we Christians do, that the Bible is God’s Word to us; then by using a passage of the Bible as the foundation of a prayer it truly is an opportunity to allow God to speak to our hearts and minds spiritually. This also solves the initial stated problem of people giving up on prayer as they get bored with praying the same old things in the same old way day after day. With a different Bible passage each day we are allowing God to guide our prayers in new ways each day.
Dr. Whitney has several excellent books on spiritual growth that can be found on his website. He also offers free articles on a variety of spiritual growth topics. His website is biblicalspirituality.org. I would encourage you to check out some of the information he has available for your spiritual growth journey.
Reflection: Try “Praying the Bible” out by choosing a Psalm and using that as a guide for a prayer. Go to Dr. Whitney’s website and click on Resources and then click on Articles. Read an article of your own choosing and reflect over what is being said in the article.
Sunday, February 1, 2015
One part of reading I miss as I am immersed in my Phd studies is leisure reading. I was reminded of this as I was reading a segment in Louise DeSalvo’s book, The Art of Slow Writing. In it she has a chapter on slow reading. Growing up slow readers were considered those who had trouble reading. Her chapter takes an important look at a type of reading – reading slowly. I find myself with my classes for my doctorate having to speed read through journal articles. Of course my statistics book I read slowly as I am not keen on numbers, so I need to take my time to learn the information. That is a part of what she is getting at but there is more to slow reading.
She starts off the chapter discussing Bill Gates, reading habits. She mentions how he regularly takes reading retreats each year. I looked into what she was saying through an internet search and found out Bill Gates is an avid reader. Most articles mentioned the week away is called a “think week”. This is where Mr. Gates secludes himself from his family and workplace in a restful retreat setting for a week. He uses the week to read papers of ideas from his employees and other readings. I like both terms but I prefer how Louise DeSalvo describes it as a reading retreat as he is secluding himself away for the purpose of reading. Of course “think week” is a good term as well as he takes breaks from his reading to think and reflect over what he reads. The idea is very appealing to me as a Bookhead.
The idea of slow reading fits well with the retreat idea. Taking the time to savor what is being read be it a novel or nonfiction work of literature can be beneficial. I miss too often having a relaxed time to sit and read among my reading for studies and reading for my work as a professor and counselor. Thankfully I am down to just a few classes and my dissertation left on my Phd in psychology. That should free up time for enjoyable slow reading. Of course I do enjoy my work and study reading as I am a Bookhead. Any reading is enriching but I do look forward to more free time to read books I really want to slowly immerse myself into the material or story.
Louise DeSalvo mentions that writers should be readers. In the short chapter on slow reading she shares thoughts from the author, Henry Miller. She shares how Miller was a proponent of slow reading in that he took about a year to read Thomas Mann’s, The Magic Mountain. Her comments about him makes me want to read his, The Books in My Life. Reading slowly allows us to delve into the minute details and truly ponder and meditate on what the author is trying to say. The best thought she shared from Miller about reading is a quote from him that leisurely reading opens up, “a new life, (filled with) new fields of adventure and exploration.” One way to enjoy a better spiraling upwards life is through slow reading so as to learn new ideas for new life directions.
I can imagine the benefits of slow reading from even being more relaxed and allowing the body to be calm from the day’s pressures. Taking even 30 minutes for a slow reading break with a book you enjoy can help ease the tension of the day.
Going back to the idea of the reading retreat, how much could we improve our lives is we took a mini reading vacation to expand our mind and thinking.
Do you need to take a full week like Bill Gates? I know I like the idea and can see myself trying it out in the future. I even foresee myself using breaks between my Phd classes to do a reading retreat on my dissertation research articles I have accumulated. Also make use of your local library for a reading retreat. Many libraries have reading study rooms. Maybe take a reading retreat day at your library. Reserve a study room and select some reading material to work through for a day. See what new adventures in your mind and life occur from savoring your reading in this way.
Reflection: What do you think about Bill Gates’ “Think Week” concept? How would you do a reading retreat? What are some books or reading materials you would use on such a retreat?