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EKSTASIS Art Meets Academia | Kingdom Meets Earth


Martyn Wendell Jones Karen Swallow Prior Josh Tiessen

ISSUE 03 Art Meets Academia Benjamin Reynolds The Weight of Words Martyn Wendell Jones The Discipline of Writing Karen Swallow Prior Christ Haunted Culture Josh Tiessen The Sanctified Imagination Kingdom Meets Earth Walter Cabal Cultivating the Imagination David Busuttil As If Your Arrival Hasn’t Already Been Sarah Kierstead Wonder Rhett Noland The Value of Discipline Daniel Dorman Another Grace Grace Young The Seeds of Time Michael Bonikowsky On the First Day of the Year D.S. Martin Bottle / Wick




Photography Credits Ashley McKinney Jerey Chung Brenton Little Grace Weimer Sarah Kierstead Alex Vielfaure


Conor Sweetman Dhimas Wicaksono Madison Allen Michael Stark Sarah Watne Elisabeth van Aalderen

Design Credits


Olivia Adams Conor Sweetman



WO R D S F R O M T H E E D I TO R Experience has taught me this—it is easy for a ‘creative’ or ‘intellectual’ to get caught up in the twist and verve of colour and verb. The endless search for literary insight and cutting-edge creativity will leave our bodies aching to be put to practical use. Although coffee and the internet make great creative conduits, we are clothed in flesh and tasked with the mandate to work… The beginning of Ekstasis Magazine was inspired by my undergraduate studies and social enthusiasm. In those first months of planning to form my own magazine, I wanted to create something remarkable and awe-inspiring, while at the same time, achieving my childhood dream of having my work published. I felt it would be nice to see my name in print, with the title of “Founder” etched in modest Baskerville font. With artistic inspiration, immature motives and the encouraging words of my academic and artistic communities, I published the very first issue of Ekstasis Magazine. In retrospect, it’s interesting that I was drawn to the word ‘Ekstasis’ as a title for my endeavours. Literally meaning ‘to be outside oneself ’, the word encapsulates the desire to exceed one’s own grasp; to pursue and transcend that which is beyond physical reality. As a young artist, writer and Christian reckoning with the mysticism of old saints, experiences with charismatic evangelicals and honing of my artistic inclinations, I found this ambition to be a heady draught. With these influences, I began to base my work and passion on the belief that, as Dostoyevsky’s prince proclaims, ‘Beauty will save the world.’

By Conor Sweetman

Yet, I think I missed an integral part of the equation. Beauty, on its own, is beautiful—but it is not good; it is not true. Even if a piece of art is beautiful, good and true, it does not create life itself. As Christian Wiman writes, “If you’ve never been consumed by an art, it might seem strange to think of [art] as an antithesis to life… But the fact is, art can compromise, even in some way neutralize, the very experience on which it depends. I realized that the monks and nuns, whose writings first introduced me to the concept of ‘ekstasis’, did not base their lives solely on the pursuit of mystical beauty or the transcendent truths that I was seeking. Instead, their days were monotonous; the hours of worship were long and at times, wearisome. For them, the worth of God far outweighed the desire for novelty or the desire for experience. Bent in the cathedral before the morning sun shone through stained glass windows, devout men and women formed a framework of discipline that fit their ecstatic experiences. When visions, trances and mystical experiences overtook them, they were grounded in innumerable days of discipline and silence that accompanied the mundane. Wiman explains a healthy perspective that I believe these devotees of Christ shared: “This is how you ascertain the truth of spiritual experience: it propels you back toward the world and other people, and not simply more deeply within yourself.” Thus, Saint Francis, Saint Augustine and Hildegard of Bingen carried their experiences like a treasure within— rather than seeking ‘ekstasis’ as an exterior escape. They did not relish the enthusiasmos for its own sake. Transcendence is not worthy of worship. Beauty, on its own, will not save the world.

Despite all of this, we must make sure to engage with art, as it prods and sharpens the spiritual reality of having been created in the Imago Dei. Music, paintings, books and poetry breathe vitality into our otherwise earthly frame— God knows it is necessary to the flourishing of those who are more than just flesh and bone. Whatever the medium, great works of art discover the depths of our humanness, in both its beauty and tragedy. Knowing this, let art and the reality of transcendence fuel your life rather than consume it. My hope for you is that this magazine would show you something outside of your normal experience; that you would enjoy new glimpses of God’s glory, and the love that these words and pictures may reveal. Afterwards, place it on a coffee table and put your hand to your vocational plough. Use your mind and body to build up the kingdom of God, brick by holy brick. Then, when the kingdom of God is established in full, we will experience both the wholeness of our own physicality and the totality of transcendence at the same time. May your body not lie dormant in the study or studio, lacking the action of loving your neighbour. Being inside ourselves is a good thing; living according to the place, time and community we currently inhabit will cultivate a contentment that ecstasy could never sustain. 6

— C.W. Sweetman

Photo by Conor Sweetman 7




“What I crave now is that integration, some speech that is true to the transcendent nature of grace yet adequate to the hard reality in which daily faith operates. I crave, I suppose, the poetry and the prose of knowing.” — Christian Wiman

Photo by Jeffrey Chung




BY BENJAMIN REYNOLDS “‘Words,’ he said, ‘is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life. So you must simply try to be patient and stop squibbling. As I am telling you before, I know exactly what words I am wanting to say, but somehow or other they is always getting squiff-squiddled around.’” — Roald Dahl

Photo by Sarah Watne


Words infuse our lives. They bounce around in our heads. They form on the clean white sheet of paper as our hand scratches across its surface. Or they appear one letter at a time on a glowing screen as we tap them out. Words cry out to us from headlines, social media feeds, irate drivers, screaming toddlers, or songs from the latest pop idol or an all-time great like Louis Armstrong. We hear words. We read words. We write words; we speak words. We speak words in jest. We employ words in our work and tasks of the day. We speak words to make our case, to argue our points, to ask questions, and to give answers. We hear hurtful and shameful words, and we express our own in turn. For these reasons and many others, words are important. Words are valuable. Words are a cherished resource to be cared for and cultivated. Words can capture the imagination. They can lift our spirits. They can

encourage our souls and may warm our hearts. Words engage our intellects in their complexity and their simplicity. They are enjoyable in their beauty and elegance. Words are valuable, moving, sublime, imagination-capturers, and yet… Words can be abused, cheapened, depreciated, demeaned, devalued, watered-down. Like a forest that has been clear cut, or a pristine wilderness that is turned into a strip mine, are words that have their value diminished. Words are being abused and cheapened at an astounding rate, a rate that may even have surprised Marilyn Chandler McEntyre in her prophetic book of 2006 Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, a book in which she warned of such devaluation. We now live in a world of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” “Spin” is a thing of the ancient past. What does it mean to call a wall “beautiful”? To say someone

is “amazing”? What does it mean to describe something as “huge”? I believe that some of this language use reflects our reduced ability to speak with precision. It also reflects a desire to deliver a one-liner that packs a punch. We apply force to our imprecise words in order to make up for their inexactitude. This desire for our words to have intensity, for them to strike a chord, oftentimes leads to the improper use of words. For example, take what I see as our imprecise use of “impact” when we mean “affect” or “influence.” The proper meaning of the noun ‘impact’ involves negative effects. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as: Impact, n. a. The act of impinging; the striking of one body against another; collision. Chiefly in Dynamics, in reference to momentum. Thus, ‘impact’ is completely appropriate to describe how our car received a side impact or when

Photo by Ashley McKinney



our wisdom teeth become impacted. The Oxford English Dictionary almost begrudgingly lists the following “now common” use as a possibility: b. fig. Now commonly the effective action of one thing or person upon another; the effect of such action; influence; impression. Esp. in phr. to make an impact (on).


This more recent use of the term has led to such abominations as ‘impactful’ (which is not in the OED) and a fundraising slogan I recently read: ‘Infinite Impacts.’ Yes, ‘impacts’ in the plural... as something positive. I have twinges down my spine (otherwise known as the “heebie jeebies”) just repeating that slogan. But my point here is that describing something as ‘huge’ or ‘impactful’ or “ginormous” has quite a bit to do with our shrunken vocabulary and our inability to find the precise word out of the 2,000 words of the English language that the average educated person uses daily. As someone who reads an extensive amount of writing, I can attest to many square words crammed into round spaces. I have experienced many instances, including in my own writing, when a word is off just enough to create dissonance and lost meaning. Many times we are simply careless and not careful custodians of our words.

Consider our need for extremes. We are unable merely to say that something is funny. Something must be “very funny,” “really funny,” ”the funniest thing ever,” “hilarious”—and on that last word, the middle syllable is accentuated (hi-LARi-ous). Why can’t we refer to that funny thing as “humorous” or “amusing” or “enlivening”? What about that excellent Austen word “diverting”? I would argue that, as with “impact,” we view these words as not being dynamic enough. If I referred to the essays in this magazine as “humorous” or “diverting,” most readers might accuse me of underrating them. But if I said they were “hilarious,” “extremely moving,” “powerful,” or even “impactful,” that accusation would likely not arise. Our words, like our politics and religious views, are at the extremes. We have lost the beauty of graded nuance in our speech. McEntyre notes our loss of these words in the centre of the spectrum. She states, “As words fall into disuse, the experiences they articulate become less accessible. Think of the wide middle range of experience recalled in Jane Austen’s novels, with their rich vocabulary of nuance and fine distinction— words like agreeable, amiable, affable, genial, and kind—all sounding different effective tonalities. With the loss of such subtleties, and of careful grammatical distinctions... we become more confined

to the kinds of broad strokes that make us careless and so make us care less.” She wrote this only eleven years ago, yet before the emoji and the smart phone, before the tidal wave of social media and all the applications most of now communicate through. Her comments were prophetic, to say the least. Now, being a member of the so-called Generation X (the generation of “whatever” and “reality bites”), I could continue with sarcastic cynicism about our abasement of language. But as those who believe in a redeemed reality where Edenic beauty may be restored, we live in hope of that restoration no matter our reality. We can cultivate our language to reflect that inevitable redemption. McEntyre suggests three strategies for caring and cultivating words that I will repeat and attempt to build upon. Her first strategy for cultivating words is to read and read widely. The reason McEntyre says that reading widely helps us cultivate words is because doing so allows us “to deepen and sharpen our reading skills.” Here are three examples of rich, wide literature. The first is the opening paragraph of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.


“Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, wellconducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.” Notice how the brook just winds its way through the paragraph right to Rachel Lynde’s door and to Mrs. Lynde herself. Or here is another example from one of my favourite authors, the British comedic author P.G. Wodehouse in his short story “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest.” Here Bertie Wooster opens the retelling of one of his escapades with his thoughts on Fate.

“I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare—or, if not, it’s some equally brainy bird—who says that it’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping. And what I’m driving at is that the man is perfectly right.” I know, a bit of British humour, but classic Bertie Wooster, classic Wodehouse. If you don’t get it, I encourage you to take up McEntyre’s challenge and read widely. Reading widely challenges us. We are introduced to new worlds and new words; our imaginations are captured, our spirits soar, our hearts burn within us. McEntyre’s second strategy for caring for words is “to cultivate habits of speaking and listening that foster precision and clarity.” Listen to one another and don’t be afraid of correcting each other’s speech. Ask questions. McEntyre says to become a conversationalist and ask questions. Don’t allow conversations to die, but learn how to further them. Tell each other stories, the stories of our lives. The Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes:

“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” I tried the story approach with my boys (8, 6, and 4) recently over breakfast. They aren’t quite robust conversationalists at this point in their lives; my wife and I usually get very little out of them when we ask questions about their day or what they are thinking. But when I asked Jonathan, our six year old, to tell me a story about why he had a bandaid on his finger, I heard a long tale about how mom had cut his fingernail too close, which then when he caught his finger in his backpack zipper caused his finger to bleed, and he was opening his backpack because… Tell stories to one another. Ask questions. Create conversations. The third strategy McEntyre gives for caring for words is to “Practice poesis—be makers and doers of the word.” Enjoy the beauty of God’s creation and attempt to express that in words as best you can. Here, the often quoted Henry David Thoreau exemplifies the work of those who have written their own experi-


ences of the world, particularly of creation.


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.” Words have a power to captivate, to enamour, to enrich us. God has sanctified words through his own creation of and use of human language. He created the world through speech (Genesis 1). He has spoken to his people with words and inspired his prophets, priests, and kings to write history,

poetry, proverb, and song. The Bible is God’s special revelation to us and was written and is read in human language. God’s speech to his people hallows language and presents us with greater impetus to cultivate words. If we develop a habit of listening, these words cultivate in us a choice about comfort and convenience versus challenge and controversy. Where will we stand in those moments? Will we cultivate words and be cultivated by them even in the midst of challenge and controversy? The richest thing about words is the ‘infinite word’: the Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us, we have seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The Word that was with God and was God became a human being and lived among God’s people… the most inspiring reason to cultivate words and to allow ourselves to be cultivated by the Word. Words are a valuable resource that we cannot allow to be cheapened and abused. We must allow our imaginations to be captured by words. We must let our intellect to be engaged by the simplicity and complexity of words. Words should be relished. We can do so

by reading widely, by listening and conversing to foster precision in our words, and by practicing poesis. Only then can we cultivate words, but more importantly, allow ourselves to be cultivated by the Word.

S I C K N E S S U N T O D E AT H The Discipline of Writing



Photo by Ashley McKinney


Discipline is the virus I have yet to catch. Many of my peers have contracted it, and some have succumbed: the editors I know work ungodly hours with few breaks. Others make six figures in finance, or write opinion pieces for the New York Times. My own brother, God have mercy, works in iOS development in Chicago. Each compels him- or herself to work with such regular, machinelike effort that I question whether this virus has returned them to an inorganic state. Cautiously, I’ve come to suspect that I may be immune. My lack of affliction is most evident in my approach to writing. Like many fellow non-sufferers, I find it easier to write in the intercostal spaces of life—the forty-five minutes of my washer’s cycle, or the half hour before I need to leave the house for work—than in the wide-open swaths I sometimes clear out for myself. Faced with a free morning, I putter about. Give me instead a chunk of 80 minutes free wedged into a busy day; I’ll write three times as many words. I see the disease running its course among my friends, and, envious of their suffering (and their fast-rising careers), I try to ape the symptoms. I do this by tricking myself into working—“oh, I’ll just write a quick

preliminary sketch”—or by letting my dread build up until it forces me to sweat through an assignment in an all-night rush. Then, I can belong to the secret fellowship of the afflicted, even if only by a suggestive emotional proximity. I cannot decouple the notion of discipline from the notion of work, and my anxieties about the first flow naturally into my anxieties about the second. Christian Wiman’s poem “Five Houses Down” contains a judgment only a father could render: “His endless, aimless work / was not work, my father said.” This concerns a junkyard scavenger who fishes parts out of derelict cars. I worry whether I am doing work or not, prying lines out of books and linking them together to form new wholes. (If I’m having a good time, is it really work?) But the deeper cause for worry is my ability to let it all go for long periods, and for that not to matter to anyone but me. Denis Johnson writes about the psychic salve of work for people who aren’t cut out for traditional occupations, and for whom the idea is almost exotic. In his story “Work,” two junkies spend part of a day stripping copper wiring out of derelict houses. After selling it for scrap, the men take their earnings and go

to a bar: “All the really good times happened when Wayne was around. But this afternoon, somehow, was the best of all those times. We had money. We were grimy and tired. Usually we felt guilty and frightened, because there was something wrong with us, and we didn’t know what it was; but today we had the feeling of men who had worked.” Having worked is the goal. I wish this didn’t apply to writing because I like to think of writing as a joy, but it does—at least, when there’s a deadline and an expectation attached, it does. In place of my occulted discipline, the affliction I don’t have, I find myself creating motivational proxies in order to complete my own work. Primarily, these are the needs (and threats) of other people, and of my own uncertain future. Here is derived the dread spectre that looms during the all-nighter: if you don’t finish this, well, let’s not think about it. Red-eyed and doubled over with coffee-seared intestines the next morning, I collapse into bed and lose the day. My body feels like a dumpster. My mind, though: “today we had the feeling of men who had worked.”


People like me still manage to get things done. There are other kinds of discipline than that of the person who plans his bathroom breaks and permits himself to read two pieces of news per lunch. Connoting focus, rigor, a taut quality of attention, discipline is a requirement for any writer who intends to offer fidelity to the experience of life. That person’s hours may be irregular and haphazard, but if she’s serious about her work, the habits of virtue will develop apace regardless. Finally we’re talking about an illness I know something about. Discipline about craft—and, I surmise, discipline in general—leads to refinement, and a reduction of diffusion. Kierkegaard gives us a perfect analogy for this in Fear and Trembling: a person who is just learning to swim attempts to make the ‘in-

finite movement’, which is to say, he tries to ape the ‘form’ of swimming, with every stroke. By contrast, the experienced swimmer has already ‘made’ the infinite movement: she has learned the form, even mastered it. This is what enables her to make ‘finite movements’ as finite movements. She can adjust her form to meet the challenge of a boat’s wake, a jumble of flotsam, or a smooth, flat lane, and she does so with practiced equanimity. Mastery takes time—10,000 hours, by one famous count—and large amounts of time are best managed by people with a great capacity for discipline. Sick with efficiency, they have been “taught the measure of our days” and found the ways in which to make good on the loan of time we’ve each been given. Here is what I truly envy about the people

who work like machines: their malady is a key that unlocks the darkest and most important secret of life. I know what grows and thrives in my life because I am not afflicted with discipline. My reveries go on for minutes that turn into hours; my gaseous mind grows to fill the universe with a density of thought approaching that of the vacuum of space. I consider all, with a light and unserious touch, and develop few potencies into concrete and definite form. I am content with possibility. In this way, I leave the world behind. Discipline requires a hard conversation with the facts of your life, a reckoning with your station, your means, and your hopes.


It amounts to an embrace of the actual, and concomitantly, an embrace of what is most human about us: our finitude. It is a means of contracting into dimensions that are appropriate to mortal, sickly things. So I keep paying attention, getting the details right in the places where I can, and hoping that my forays into disciplined attention develop into more rigorous habits of virtue. I embrace deadlines as an augur of God’s waiting judgment, and work in restrained fear of immolation. One day I hope to work the way normal people do, in reasonable amounts meted out over periods of reasonable

Photo by Ashley McKinney

time, but meanwhile I am content to dance at the extremes, fearing much and enjoying much. Though I am not sick like you are, I am mortal all the same.

Photo by Grace Weimer

WICK By D.S. Martin



The night is dark & cold Hope is the spark that’s caught hold of me for I am the wick within the lantern of the body & I yearn to burn with light My thirst is first to fill with oil but then to ignite to illuminate 21

white lace & polished things to fling bright gold about the room to participate in the glory & to spill out into the night I desire to claim the morning star to expire in the splendour of the fire to be consumed & be one with the flame




“The River,” by Flannery O’Connor, takes my breath away. Part of the jolt of this short story by O’Connor comes from its shocking ending, when the titular river steals forever the breath of a small boy who, in pursuit of the kingdom of heaven, drowns in the flowing water.

Photo by Jeffrey Chung


But the sublimity of the story stems from more than a disturbing end. As anyone with even a passing familiarity with O’Connor’s work knows, such a resolution is neither uncharacteristic of her craft nor merely sensation for sensation’s sake. The totality of the story’s effect owes to all that precedes it. O’Connor’s signature style across the various genres in which she writes—short story, novel, essay, letter, prayer journal—is the revelation of spiritual truths through concrete particulars, the uncovering of the mystery within the manners, as she puts it, in order to bring a character—or a reader or herself—face to face with grace. O’Connor understood that she was writing within and to what she called a “Christ-Haunted” culture, one from which the essence of Christianity has been drained, leaving only an empty exterior shell, the form minus the content. The stories, which are her revelations of the divine, are

filled with the grotesque, the violent, and the freaks—all designed to get the attention of the attention-disordered. “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do,” she explains in Mystery and Manners, “you can relax and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” Like the startling figure of little Harry Ashfield, neglected by his party-hardy parents, trekking out alone at dawn from his city home to a wooded road that takes him down to the river where the day before he was dunked under the water by an itinerant preacher and told, “You count now.” The literal and the figurative in the story are like two sides of a golden coin. O’Connor’s vision, along with the language that expresses it, is anagogical. One scholar explains this anagogical vision as a way of seeing “all things as instances of participation in God.” Such a vision allows created things to be read as “fragmentary disclosures of the divine glory.” Through O’Connor’s anagogical language “the visible realities

of this world… take on a fullness of meaning” when read as “figurative signification in relation to eternal glory or eschatological reality.” Such layered language, resonant with both literal and transcendent significance, is found in the opening dialogue of “The River”. Harry’s new babysitter (one of a long line of strangers the parents pawn the boy off on so they can sleep off their hangovers) notices how clumsily Harry has been dressed when she arrives early in the morning to take him for the day. She tells Harry’s father, “He ain’t fixed right.” The father’s response is fitting in terms of both the story’s plot and its characterization—but also eerily prophetic of the story’s end and its ultimate meaning: “Well then for Christ’s sake fix him,” he says. And in taking the boy to the river later that day, where he comes to faith, she does. The story is filled with suggestive animal imagery that also points to spiritual meaning. In a cruel joke, the babysitter’s own children set a pig loose on Harry, frightening the boy to tears. The pig, the babysitter assures him soothingly, is harmless and even looks like Mr. Paradise

“what he wanted to do.” He slips out of the house and returns to the river that beckons him like an irresistible pull of grace. And there, in order to find his life, he loses it.

The anagogue is most profound when Harry wakes up in his family’s apartment the morning after his baptism. While his parents sleep off the previous evening’s party, he wanders from room to room, looking for something to eat, something to drink, something to do. Bored and lonely, he decides to dump two of the ashtrays, still full from the adult festivities of the night before, onto the floor, “rubbing the ashes carefully into the rug with his finger.” Fooling with the ashes—which are a symbol in both the Bible and church tradition of human mortality—leads the boy “all of a sudden” to know Photo by Madison Allen


down the road, she says. Mr. Paradise turns out to be the story’s antagonist and, like pigs in the Old Testament, spiritually unclean. Harry, on the other hand, the little child who comes to have the childlike faith praised by Jesus in the Bible, is likened to “an old sheep,” the central biblical metaphor for the believer who follows Christ the shepherd. But the most subtle—and most powerful—anagogue in the story is hinted at in the boy’s last name, Ashfield. The imagery in this name is echoed later when Harry walks along a dirt road to be immersed in the muddy waters of the river.

S A N C T I F I E D I M A G I N AT I O N by Josh Tiessen



Meditation has become somewhat of a buzzword, conjuring up images of yoga and Zen. It’s understood by most as an Eastern religious practice repackaged for the enlightened of the West. Within the Church, meditation has often been ignored or feared, considered to be the domain of New Age spirituality.

Photo by Josh Tiessen


I was surprised to discover that the two Hebrew words for meditation occur 58 times in the Old Testament. The Psalmist penned, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97 NIV). Christian meditation is not about emptying our minds, but rather filling them up with God’s truths. It is not about performing mental gymnastics to induce a trance-like state, or to acquire superpowers like Doctor Strange or Kung Fu Panda. Put simply, it is about growing in obedience and faithfulness to God. But here’s my confession: as a visually-geared Christian, I find it hard to close my eyes and meditate. Images flood into my mind and distract me. Among fellow artists, I am not alone, and the majority of Millennials and Gen Z’ers can also relate. I think it’s safe to say that meditation needs to be aided visually for a lot of people. As a professional artist, I interact with many in the field and often hear statements like, “art is very meditative for me.” I find myself resonating with this, yet it can come across as merely an ‘art speak’ platitude.

I would like to share a few of my paintings and devotional practices that show how art can be a conduit to meditation, with some applications for transforming the ‘art as meditation’ platitude into reality. My family contracted Chronic Lyme Disease in Russia, and years later we were able to get treatment in the U.S. During three months of daily IV infusions stronger than chemotherapy, after long days at the clinic I would putter away on a large painting entitled “Whale Hymn”. This work provided a therapy of its own through a very challenging time. I had imagined the concept for the painting a year earlier, before finding an architectural reference from the ruins of a 12th-century cathedral in the heart of London, England. It had been transformed into a peaceful garden intertwined with ivy, red roses and fallen petals, historically symbolic of the Passion of Christ in European art. This reference would provide an intriguing exterior for an ocean scene emanating through stained glass. Meditating on this surreal environment as I painted temporarily transported me to another world. I became interested in Humpback Whales while watching the BBC series “Ocean Giants”, which recorded epic sights and sounds of the largest mammals to ever live on the planet. The behaviour of whales, specifically their vocalization, remains somewhat of a mystery to

scientists. Many believe their ‘songs’ may be more than mating calls, for the non-utilitarian act of expressing emotions. In contemplating this, I looked back to the gothic cathedral, a space for praise where parishioners sang hymns to their Creator. Metaphorically, the haunting chants from the giants of the deep bring honour to their Maker. For me, the painting serves as a reminder to bring honour and praise to my Creator regardless of the circumstances. Another of my paintings, “Ahoy Sleeper”, is an example of how meditating on Scripture with a visual mindset can enhance insight. I have been intrigued by Ephesians 5:14, which states, “Awake, O Sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” When reading it, I would always have a strange picture in my mind of a diver rising upon a seaweed shore with a bird flying above. Eventually, this verse and the visual idea for a painting converged. Developing this piece conceptually, I began to see the metamorphosis of the aquanaut emerging from the depths of the ocean into an unknown light, with an illuminated Common House Martin ascending into the sky. By excluding the face and skin colour, the figure becomes a metaphorical archetype for spiritual transformation, arising from the deadness of soul into a new life in Christ.



Because painting has become my career, it has meant being vulnerable in sharing my art and accompanying ideas with the public. Personal devotional art has become an increasingly meaningful practice for me, which has thankfully found widespread acceptance among my collectors. I usually start with a biblical concept, then prayerfully interpret it in my sketchbook. Whether these sketches become paintings or not, I have found this meditative process both worshipful and personally enriching.


If you are not inclined to creating art, but appreciate how imagery can be incorporated into your spiritual life, may I suggest the practice of Visio Divina, Latin for “divine seeing.” While I would never advocate images being used as a replacement for Scripture, this supplemental practice helps train the imagination to visually dwell on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Philippians 4:8). For me, the process of Visio Divina first includes selecting an image, like Jan van Eyck’s “The Adoration of the Lamb”, van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, or Friedrich’s “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog”. I then pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal truth through the work, as I meditate on Scriptural references or theological concepts that the painting evokes. To keep from getting attached to

one particular image, I recommend changing up the visuals you are meditating on, which will prevent idolatry (and breaking the second commandment). Throughout Scripture, we see many examples of how images played a crucial mediatory role: from the tabernacle and temple, to prophetic visions, and most importantly Christ, who is the ikon (Greek for image) of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). In the Visual Age, a vital component of “being transformed by the renewing of our minds” is to download spiritually life-giving images to our mental hard drives. We sanctify our imaginations while creating art, and intentionally meditating on art that draws us to God. We honour our Creator by learning to see reality through His eyes, recognizing the fallenness of the world and the hope for its redemption.


By D.S. Martin

Photo by Ashley Mc/kinney



As pure beams of morning infiltrate your window the cut-glass bottle high on the ledge cannot be hid It catches light dazzles reflects refracts but cannot hold it Placed under a bushel dark emptiness is immediate & complete I know whoever’s not against us is for us & whoever’s not with us is against us Light glints off the glass in different ways I know he blessed the peacemakers 31

yet came to bring a sword taught love your enemies yet hate father mother wife children It’s like trying to bottle a sunbeam Some subtleties splash from the rim & splatter the ceiling its substance overflows the brim & puddles the floor Even what clearly brightens the interior beautifully makes its escape diffused through the glass brightly




“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is 33

where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our

Photo by Jeffrey Chung

own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.” — Frederick Buechner

C U LT I VAT I N G T H E I M A G I N AT I O N Photo by Michael Stark



B Y WA LT E R C A B A L Imagination is a Fruit A tree creates life in the orange it bears. The orange passes its life to the woman it nourishes. The woman gives her life to the daughter she births. The daughter creates by planting an orange tree in the earth, and in the bearing of the fruit, we begin the spreading of life once more. 35

This is the way I have observed a healthy imagination to be; it is something that creates and continues to create life. We see this when a painting, a portrait, a poem, an operatic song, a well-taught history lesson, or a story from the construction worker in the 15-items-or-lessline at the grocery story born of that healthy imagination begins to nourish the soul. It is like a fruit that helps you to see what could not be seen before. The internalized beauty of the song or the story are birthed from one life and passed to another; passing from the depths of one soul to another. That seeing of what has not been seen before, that passing of life from life is the characteristic nourishment of a healthy and ripe imagination. Perhaps a healthy imagination is the fruit of the tree of life. I’d like to suggest that cultivating a healthy imagination is integral for

humanity’s flourishing. Humanity truly doesn’t live on bread alone; living on bread alone is merely surviving. I’m suggesting that without a cultivated imagination, we may find ourselves with only a partially developed view of the world, and in a climate that has dismissed the imagination in favour of facts and practicality, it makes sense to have many people with eyes, but very few who can truly see. An Ancient Story There is an ancient Hebrew story of two humans in a garden, created by a figure called the Creator God. The figure is introduced first as an imaginative and creative being. You may be familiar with it, you may not be. As the story goes, the Creator God cares enough for the two humans he crafted to warn them not to eat from a tree in the middle of the garden called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Another tree is also in the center of the garden; it is called the Tree of Life. The Creator informs the two that they will die after eating from the Tree of Knowledge. Later, a serpent tricks Eve into believing that the Creator is essentially lying to them, and that they won’t die. Deceived, Eve eats

the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, and then gives the fruit to Adam to eat also. A great curse comes upon the two, and they are banished from the garden. Because of this, the path to the Tree of Life was no longer open, but guarded by cherubim and swords. I’ve heard the story used as a cautionary scare-tale about the evils of the imagination. “The serpent is creative trickster who deceived Eve into using her imagination—and this imagining led them to mistrust the Creator” one might say. If framed in this light, this could cause fear of developing and cultivating an imagination at all, but I’d like to suggest that this view itself lacks imagination, and that, consequently, it lacks life also. The Absence of Imagination Destroyed the World It is an easy thing for the serpent figure to twist and distort what has already been created and seen. This is not creative imagination, but vandalism. In fact, the serpent didn’t have imagination enough to imagine that the Creator was as caring as he made himself out to be. Once the humans heard this gossip, it stifled their imaginations of the Creator


Adam and Eve were like two younger children who had just seen Gandalf perform an impressive magic show, but were unimpressed because an older child fooled them that into thinking that growing up meant seeing Gandalf as an old fool. The clock struck twelve and they could no longer imagine that the magic glass slipper and royal dance would cease and that all their clothes would really disappear, leaving them naked. They couldn’t imagine that when they ate of the apple given to them, that they would really taste the sleep of death. All the while the tree of life was in the center of the garden, unentertained, overlooked, and untouched. For many, this story explains why the soul of mankind—like a princess in the old fairytales—now sleeps a dreamless, colourless sleep, in a barren garden, waiting to be resur-

rected by the returning of true love’s presence. A Healthy Imagination Creates Worlds An important part is left out. All that has happened is actually in chapter two of the story. This same story begins with the universe as formless and void, and God speaks light into a place where none exists. The very first words of the esteemed Hebrew Scriptures begin as follows: “In the beginning God created…” essentially everything. He speaks the day and the night, the oceans, and the land, the animals, and then humanity and so forth into existence. Over and over the Hebrew Creator sees what isn’t there, and then creates it. This is characteristic of imagination: To see what is unseen. In the story, the Creator gives Adam the work of naming all the animals in the created order. It is work that requires imagination; God is passing on the divine activity. Our imaginations are for creating life where none exists. This it what architects do in the desert, what painters do on their canvas, what singers do from silence, and what poets and prophets do in times devoid of passion and gumption. It is what the Hebrew Creator did in that ancient scriptural origin story. If

it was the poetry of the Hebrew God that created the natural world, surely that God must have an imagination worth taking notes from. The Absence of Imagination Destroyed the World Again As it was then, so it is now that human kind tends towards the fruit of knowledge more than the fruit of life. Humanity tends to think that knowledge will let us see what has not been seen before; that knowledge will let us see what no one else can. In reality, knowledge of facts can only see what has already been seen before. It is only the imagination that can see what is invisible. It is the imagination that says, “I wonder if there is an equation for making fireworks to discover.” It is imagination that prompts the search and the need to discover and to wonder. It is knowledge that puffs up and says, “Now that we know, let us use this power against others”. It was the knowledge of the equations of fireworks that is needed to make a bomb intended to kill. Knowledge is surely a power, and a power that humans could not always handle, for it twists the heart and puffs up the mind.

Photo by Ashley McKinney

(even though he had just created the humans, and created that garden and the world they inhabited). They too didn’t have enough imagination to believe the consequences of taking the two magic trees seriously. The serpent tricked them out of the wondrous world at their fingertips. I’d like to suggest that it is the absence of a healthy imagination that led those two famous characters to mistrust their highly imaginative Creator.


The Mind of A Child

Photo by Brenton Little


I’m not suggesting that knowledge of facts is unimportant or inherently evil. That is nonsense. Instead, I’m suggesting that the healthy imagination has equal—or dare I say more— potential for bringing life into the world than facts. For all the knowledge that God has in the scriptures, I have never read about him reciting equations, valuations of stock, or mortgages. But I have heard him speak through the prophets in poetry, ask chapter upon chapter of questions to a human named Job, quote a song before his death, talk about seeds, and kings, and farming, and grass, and birds, and crows, and lilies, sorrow, and the fullness of life and all the things that one with a healthy imagination speaks about. Perhaps when God recites the laws of the Ten Commandments and the Levitical laws and utilizes hard and fast, factual language, he was not placing himself on a pedestal towering above us like a tyrant, but rather stooping to our small-minded level like a great, child prodigy who was humble enough to fit his beautiful artful universe into the “practical” language of working adults who are always rambling about how they know everything. The mind of a child has an imagination that gives so much life

to the world, and G.K. Chesterton writes the following about children: “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” Perhaps it was the lack of a healthy imagination that caused the atomic bomb to be built. Perhaps we hoarded so much from the Tree of Knowledge, yet all the while the Tree of Life was in the center of the garden unentertained, overlooked, and untouched. Perhaps only after the bomb’s deployment did we actually use our imaginations to look at clouds and perceive a mushroom

from the porcelain white aftermath. Oppenheimer’s equations did not come to mind in his remorseful speech after the bomb testing; instead his imagination ignites and a story comes to mind. He recalls a poetic line from the story of Vishnu in the Bhagavad Gita. “I am now become death, destroyer of worlds.” If the healthy imagination brings life, the atom bomb may not have been the fruit of a healthy imagination. Perhaps we got a thrill of being like children again after we killed with the A-bomb, thinking we had now truly baptized ourselves in superior knowledge, but in the end we had only baptized ourselves in ash. A healthy imagination imagines what has not been seen before and creates it, as the Hebrew God created the universe with nothing there. But before the atomic bomb, we had already seen destruction, we had already seen catastrophe, and we had already seen the decimation of peoples. It was nothing new, it was that same ancient fruit that we tasted: Knowledge—and it brought us death once again. This is what mere practicality can give us: a way to hate those who hate us; it gives us a way to love, but only those who love us.

A Healthy Imagination as Light 40

I think of the words of Christ here: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.” In order for humanity to flourish and to bring life into the world, we must always go back to the original garden in our daily decisions and choose to eat the fruit from the Tree of Life over the fruit of mere knowledge of facts—even facts about how to separate everything Good and everything Evil. If the story of the humans and the Creator in the garden holds any truth, it suggests that we don’t really handle that kind of knowledge and that kind of power well. But it also shows that we were made to help

others be less alone and equipped to rename what is in the world creatively. We must see what the world cannot see, as if we are bright cities on a hilltop. The healthy imagination naturally brings light when it’s dark. It doesn’t create darkness. Imagine a New World We have talked about how important it is to cultivate a healthy imagination, but we have not talked in depth about how to do this. How are we to cultivate a healthy versus an unhealthy imagination? Honestly, it can feel like uncharted territory—especially for grown ups. So, perhaps we must be changed and have our minds renewed, and become like children again. Though I must admit this is a change that cannot be made with just more information. It requires the formation—no, even more—it requires transformation of the soul, and as with all transformations, be it the bud to the full ripe orange, the fetus to the newborn, or the barren adult mind to the garden of the child’s mind, it requires a kind of magic; a real kind of magic. Where is the source of all of the world’s real magic you ask? Now my friend, you have asked the question. My hope is that your good imagination impels you to make an about face, and follow the breadcrumbs back to the source that they lead to. If you do find the source of all the world’s magic, and beauty and truth,

then you may experience a deep quietness of the soul enough to notice that the silent breeze that passed you as you began to understand was not a breeze at all, but instead the quiet sound of the deafening applause of angels from afar. It is the kind of quietness of the soul that surpasses knowledge. It is something no one else can see; it is something that you must either see for yourself—or something you must imagine.

Photo by Jeffrey Chung

But, to imagine a world where swords and tools of death broken and beat into spades, rakes, plowshares and gardening tools to grow life? That takes imagination. To repent and to see a different way to be human, to talk of the kingdom of God not in laws, but in creative living, poetry and parables; to imagine a world where people love those who hate them, and where enemies learn to reconcile? That is something we have not seen in full bloom yet, and because it is unseen it requires our imagination.


A S I F Y O U R A R R I VA L H A S N ’ T A L R E A DY B E E N B y D a v i d J. B u s u t t i l

Photo by Photo by Elisabeth van Aalderen




As if your arrival hasn’t already been We count weeks in chocolates and candles To put us in a mood of waiting For a guest who has always been there Never not arrived In our lives, we are like children, pretending to be asleep on Christmas morning As parents cover a carpet in boxes We pretend to be waiting We half hope, faking anticipation As if your arrival hasn’t already been. My parents kept you out the manger As though this world was still pregnant As if my cries were her birth pangs As if this cold that killed my homeless friends were a scream of a mother with broken water As if this broken world were that broken water. Waiting and wanting It is our satisfaction, that you have already been born and had us be born again, Then it is our incredible privilege to groan and know, to still wait, To birth in the earth Now in all we act,

You. In the very fact our bellies swell with life. But not the earth only, the heavens too, ready to burst. Like lightning, like thunder, like the wail of the waiting, Pregnant and uncertain, as virgins. My foolish skin, still in sin. Pretending to sleep while face down, Shadowed in my own self. Arise, land in deep darkness, For to us a child is born, And torn will be the broken skies when he returns Until then yearn, With swollen bellies.

Photo by Sarah Kierstead


WONDER By Sarah Kierstead


I feel it in the soft glow of a hazy dawn, and in the night’s sky, a canopy of stars above my head. I feel it in the exhaustion, when I’ve reached the end of myself. I know it in the memories my heart only holds, once the child who could only fall asleep to the sound of her mother’s whisper. I feel it in the honest conversations with strangers. And sometimes in the tears, the release of pain I don’t understand. I feel it in the wind and the rain and the coast’s edge. 45

Wonder. The kind of wonder that leaves me anything but settled. Forever ruined for the ordinary. The kind of wonder I couldn’t abandon even if I tried. When hands to the sky and knees to the floor is the only response I can give. And every part of my being falls more in love with the One Who created it.

Photo by Sarah Kierstead



Photo by Jeffrey Chung




For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. — 2 Timothy 1:7


The concept of ‘discipline’ can form towering images within our minds when we discuss it communally, as well as when we ponder upon them personally. We conjure up images of heavy-handed punishment, the gruelling training of a trade, or chaste boredom, either from past or cultural experience. However, when we examine the concept at a closer level, all of these may very well be misconceptions. Is discipline a cliche of self-help jargon? Is it the hand and work of God? Is discipline something we muster and employ from our very own guts? The concept and practice of discipline these days has become a cultural buzz-word while remaining neglected as an ancient tradition. However, I believe it is a life-changing force that waits for us to engage with it. In my life, the discipline to not drink alcohol is a daily and sometimes momentary practice. This ongoing decision comes from a developed understanding that I do not know what is best. When I thought I knew

best, I became an alcoholic. Our human nature exhibits an inherent need for correction. Think about the happenings of our world for a moment; it takes only a second or two to realize that we are in dire need of a change of course. We are left wondering how these alterations can possibly be accomplished. I believe discipline—through the combination of our own will with that of God’s—is the movement in which our feet take the steps towards purpose. Discipline is the means and muscle to endure the distance of this journey ahead with steadfastness against the unyielding force of distraction. This process is emitted by heaven-enabled external discipline merged with the internal discipline that is self-administered. Often, the presence of hardship and trying times can be the mechanism that draws us to the place of proper discipline. Moments of refinement can manifest in the shape of hardship, requiring us to endure for the sake of what is on the other side of ourselves. Such God-ordained suffering can tempt us to shake our fist at the wild blue yonder. In the midst of these seasons, we cannot seem to grasp why our creator would allow tragedies and inconveniences

to interrupt our bustle. But if God is beyond our meager comprehension, then His means of refining and keeping us might also be. His discipline is also His embrace. It may feel like the char of an incomprehensible heat, but it solidifies us as iron-clad through our vulnerability to the process. We have misunderstood discipline as a despised chair in the corner when, instead, it is our honoured seat at the table. When we realize this seat represents our acceptance at the table, it renders us responsible for who we know ourselves to be: accepted. Not condemned, but included. We can be tempted to turn our back and leave our place at the table because we feel we do not deserve such grace; we lend merit to any distraction that reinforces our self-doubt. Discipline is then employed to keep us on the path and remind us of who we are becoming. The discomfort of this discipline is our acknowledgement of the lie we believed in our backtracking. We sold ourselves short and we know it. True discipline abolishes fear of punishment and reinforces our identity by calling us by name.


Because of our fated human inheritance, knowledge of things that oppose the flourishing of our spirit has been passed down to us throughout the generations. We acquire tastes for things that planet earth has to offer which hold no eternal value. We tend to follow a course that detours and detracts from true identity. Self-discipline helps us to discern when to identify and resist seemingly pleasing things in the moment, allowing us a sense of things eternal. This is an internal process and practice. Discipline gives us eyes for the long term in a nearsighted culture. I am slowly gaining this sight and have now celebrated two years of sobriety. Self-discipline is the labour of truth and the application thereof. If too

Discipline is nature’s flue that administers oxygen to the refining flame that engulfs the spirit. By willfully submitting ourselves to change, discipline begins to chisel the very path within us leads to glory. If we do not apply and submit ourselves to this new discipline, we are prolonging our becoming — our sanctification. If change is an ever throttling locomotive, then discipline is its track. When we grow to receive and seek discipline as a measure of love we will no longer tarry upon hearing its beckon. Discipline may resemble a great fire to us on earth but within and through this fiery swelter is the voice of a caring father, not the reprimand of an enemy. Our submission to discipline is our investment in the belief of who we were made to be and who we know we will become

as God’s known and loved. We will be changed. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire. — Deuteronomy 4:36

Photo by Jeffrey Chung

Discipline is a conduit which leads our sight to know who we yearn to be through the fruit of its labour. Self-control is one of the defining fruits of discipline; it is self-administered and cannot be implemented by self-hatred, but is rather a product of all-consuming love. Love begets understanding and understanding begets change. Change is kept by the rigour of discipline.

much passes between the point of realization and the application of remedy, there is a risk of stress and unwanted digression. When we receive correction and arrive at an understanding, we are immediately presented with the opportunity to act and change. The moment that I realized that I had a drinking problem was the very same moment that required me to act and submit to the disciplined life.


Photo by Alex Vielfaure

Heavenly discipline closes the case and keeps us close.

ANOTHER GRACE by Daniel Dorman


Another hour has run its course; Another day has found its end; Another place, in memory, thus begins To stir up pleasant yearnings 52

For home, or hope, or surer Footings, on which to sleep at last. Another sun has journeyed west; Another Friend has fallen low; Another tide has failed its bid To Bring the earth below — And all is but another grace Another chance to pray, And make this yet a sacred place,

Photo by Ashley McKinney

Another sacred day.

Photo by Grace Weimer




B Y G R A C E YO U N G Sowing Into Your Future In my life, I have found it very easy to make myself busy. I’ve squandered my energy and effort into things that did not enrich my relationship with myself, with God, or with my art. I have realized through several experiences that what I choose to do with the time I have is so unbelievably important.


It’s all too easy to forget this simple truth: when we spend time doing something, we improve at it. Whether we are working on achieving a personal goal, trying to grow in our faith, or just becoming the best version of ourselves that we could be, it all takes time, and it all takes practice. Every time that you sit down with your Bible or close out the world to spend some time with the Father, you are sowing into your relationship with Him. When you pick up your paintbrush, your guitar, your notebook; whatever it may be, you are sowing into your talents and abilities—even your future with them. Picture your time as a seed. You can place it wherever you want to, and you have the freedom to do so. However, we cannot forget that our time is precious and the seeds are few. We can’t take this immense, beautifully gracious time on earth for granted. The thing about discipline is, it is not always easy to follow through on. Sometimes the last thing we want to do is work for what we want. However, these are the things that God uses to help us become fruitful and prosperous. We must not forget that when we allow Christ to live through us, and totally rely on Him for strength and direction, He will see His will be done. When the notes don’t sound right, when the picture doesn’t come out clear, and when the words in the scriptures don’t make sense to you, keep going. Keep trying. It is not going to be easy, but it will be so worth it.


Don’t waste your seeds. Sow into your future and into what is eternally important, and your identity in Jesus will start to clarify. You have a very important calling placed upon your life. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” — John 15:5

Photo by

Dhimas Wicaksono


ON THE FIRST D AY O F T H E Y E A R by Michael Bonikowsky


Lamb of God Come gentle to us Already weary Already wounded On the first day of the year.


Lion of Judah Take us in your jaws Already jaded Already sleeping

Photo by Ashley McKinney

On the first day of the year.



Photo by Brenton Little



I am sure I don’t have to tell you that, out there, there is a conversation going on about your faith. It isn’t a pleasant conversationin—in fact, the term most often used to describe it is a “culture war”. This is taking place in your country’s legislature, media, and online comment sections. My question is, why do Christian people think it is valuable to participate in the so-called culture wars?


My answer is, I don’t know—to me, participating in the culture wars is not worth anyone’s time. There is some nuance as I get further into the article, but for now please give me a hand with propping up these two straw men. As far as I can tell, there are two brands of Christian culture warriors. The first person attempts to defend the faith against some obtuse force, let’s say “the world”. The second person I am thinking of is standing up to engage “the world” in a sensitive, compassionate, and tolerant discourse. I have a suggestion. These people are both in error; and their error is not in the substance of their position, but in their posture. They are standing up. I am suggesting they sit down. Both the first and second

person have identified a social phenomena: “the world” is in enmity with Christianity. The Bible seems to support as much. The question is how does one respond to this enmity phenomena? My suggestion, to sit down, is the position of a third person. This third person also acknowledges the same enmity, but she responds to it with a sort of extreme humility, followed by patience and a shrewd, cunning preparedness. I’ll explain. Like the first and second person, the third person also observes the socio-spiritual world-versusChristians phenomena playing out in politics and media, but, in his humility, refuses to directly engage in either perpetuating or alleviating this enmity. Instead of standing up for his faith, he remains seated. In the political realm, the third person remains seated about his views on abortion, the definition of marriage, and who gets to use what bathroom. In the social realm, he remains seated about his view on R-rated movies, sex outside of marriage, and recreational use of drugs and alcohol. Of course, he has an opinion on these things—who doesn’t? And why shouldn’t he?—but he makes the intentional, often difficult choice

to keep it to himself. Why? The third person puts an extreme premium on humility. And while I wouldn’t doubt that humility does play a part in the first and second persons’ approach to their engagement with the culture wars, the third person goes further. He finds that humility is required not only in substance of his beliefs and the form of his communication, but that humility applies to his right to even speak. Yes, the third person believes that humility can trump his freedom of speech. You may have heard humility described as a posture before—this is not a new idea—but the third person takes it literally. He does not stand up to fight the culture wars, even if freedom of speech suggests he could do so. You might say that the third person is acutely aware of another important right—the right to remain silent. And given “the world” appears to be putting religion on trial, there may be good reason to practice silence. Even so, the third person does not understand humility to dictate an eternal vow of silence.


The third person is not naive—she has an opinion on the headlines—but the third person keeps it to herself, unless she can help a brother or sister refine their opinion and have hers refined in turn. (Incidentally, this is the exception under which this article is written and published—this magazine is, after all, an extension of the writer’s Christian community). The second exception is that the third person, comfortably seated, is in the uncomfortable position of considering her non-negotiables. How does she distinguish what aspects of her faith are negotiable and what aspects are not? There is no formula for this. However, there is a handy rule of thumb, which is this: if it isn’t about the person of God, then it is probably not a non-negotiable. Why is this rule helpful? It brings the focus to the eternal and universal. The only variable on God’s

existence is our individual capacity to comprehend it. But whether you are witty or dull, capable or incapable, self-sufficient or needy, you can know God. This in itself is a mystery that requires humility to comprehend. But in terms of public discourse— which is what this article is about— the rule of focusing on the eternal gives you a guidepost of what is worth defending. You could think of it in another way: what humility is there in permitting a person to go on believing that Jesus was merely a good man? None. The third person must stand up for Christ. The Bible suggests that if he doesn’t, Christ will not stand up for him on the last day. I’m serious— look it up! If you are a Christian, maybe you are catching on now. The third person thinks her opinions on an issue are not worth standing up for unless they are both the things to live for and to die for. Comprehending this takes up our last ounce of humility. I won’t ask that you humble yourself any further. I certainly can’t bare to myself. Let’s talk about patience. The first and second person might rightfully criticize the third person on one particular point: if we all sit, how will anyone ever know about the truth in Christ? How can you fulfill the Great Commission? How will people

know about the straight and narrow way? The third person’s answer is one he can only give by experience: those opportunities will simply come to you. Indeed, because you are sitting quietly instead of standing to speak, you maintain an approachable posture for those who might want to cross the floor. The third person might go as far as to say that it is God who will bring these people to you in his time. It is something of a mystery, but the third person has experienced it and it is, to his surprise, strangely effective. So if the third person is sitting and not speaking, what should she do with her time? She should not lay idle—for what is the point in that? She should, as the third person sees it, be listening, looking, and waiting on God through a sort of shrewd preparation: Guard her feelings. Learn through study. Grow through contemplation. Reject what is evil. Live in faith. Hope against hope. Pray for her family. Pray for her friends. Pray for her enemies. Consult the scriptures. Bear witness to Christ in her words and actions. Keep up with her campus Christian club. Serve everyone with her skills. Contemplate existence. Excel in her field of work. Remove the plank from her own eye. Carry others’ burdens. Chew on Ravi Zacharias videos on YouTube. Raise her children in the way they should walk. Share her wealth freely. Give her tunic as well.

Photo by Michael Stark

There are at least two important exceptions: the first is that the third person does not apply this posture in her church. Suffice to say that in her own Christian community, the third person may discuss the culture wars not in order to win (by any definition), but in order to keep her community accountable for their personal positions on the issues of the day.


This is the shrewd and cunning preparedness I mentioned at the top. You may prefer to think of it as being “innocent as a dove and wise as a serpent.” People who are standing can accomplish some of this, but not all of it. People who are sitting have the advantage of not being led astray by the sound of their own voice. C.S. Lewis said that humility is a uniquely Christian virtue. It is not likely that you will see a non-Christian practice it convincingly. With a commitment to humility, you will be different. Everyone will know. They will admire you and seek you out. With patience and shrewd anticipation, you will be ready to give them what they need when they find you. If you’re reading this magazine, you are probably the third person or, with a little effort, you could be. And you’re very well wondering, everything you’ve said here is all good and fine, but if someone asks me a direct question, should I sit and stay silent? The third person shouldn’t consult another third person on this—he should consult the spirit of God with that question both now and then again when it occurs in real time. My

suggestion is, right now, you’re sitting and reading. Keep sitting. The author is a graduate student in Canada. Like the third person, the author prefers to keep a low profile.

Photo by Brenton Little

Seek out just resolutions. Assist in crises. Consult her elders for advice. Forgive her debtors. (Refer to Ephesians 4 for more, if you can handle it).

Issue Three