For you are my lamp, O Lord. And the Lord illumines my darkness. —2 Samuel 22:29
We come to this day, like melted wax, our lives dripping with all that we are.
We come to this day, our wick holding light, which burns in blues and whites.
We come to this day, expectant and hopeful, knowing your love is like the oxygen which allows us to exist.
We come to this day, like little lamps, shining brightly together to illuminate the darkest corners of the world.
When it feels lonely and difficult and the wind blows hard, may our flames only flicker, but never go out.
–Pastor Emily G Rova-Hegener
In March 2020, when COVID first appeared on the scene, I wondered what I would do to stay connected to my people. During the first week of this newfound reality, I was chatting with my life coach about what I could do differently in my congregations since it was no longer possible to physically be with them. She suggested I write a daily devotional, which would be sent out by e-mail and added to the church’s website.
As I reflected on that, the thought of writing every single day (on top of thinking about my sermon for the coming week) exhausted me.
- Could I commit to this as a daily practice?
- What would I write?
- How honest could I be?
- What scripture would I use?
- Where would I start?
This writing adventure would require vulnerability and risk-taking. Seeing this opportunity as a new, relational way of doing ministry outside the walls of the church, I knew it would be an important connection. I decided I was in.
My new context for ministry took place right where I was, not in a church building or during home visits with the elderly or in a hospital or anywhere people would normally be. I discovered the easiest way to start writing was by listening to what my own tired heart needed. If I was able to tend to that, it would be fuel for my pen. Each day began at the kitchen table with my 7th and 10th grade sons, who suddenly found themselves in distance learning. Together, we navigated how to “go to” school and work from the place we lived.
Each morning, I cracked open my Bible and looked for a word or phrase, seeking out something that felt familiar, since everything in COVID life was not. I chose a verse or two of scripture and then wrote a couple of reflective sentences and a prayer. One might think it would be easy for a pastor and spiritual director to find scripture that resonated with exactly how one was feeling, but it wasn’t always so. Those were the days I struggled the most. They were also the days I felt I did my best writing.
Eventually, I started to get feedback from the congregation. It was mostly positive, especially when I chose scripture they knew well. Because these few verses were familiar, it was like putting one’s arms around a good friend and being comforted. The most challenging feedback came after the death of George Floyd. I wrote about justice, racism and the opportunities to respond to the world with the love of Christ. Writing in moments of great upheaval and chaos brought all sorts of reactions from my readers, but I continued to write. I continued to write because the collective “we” had suddenly wandered into different realities. We were all wrestling with the unfamiliarity of the present and questioned the future.
In the early summer of 2020, I walked down the driveway at our family cabin and stopped suddenly when a deer appeared. Just a few feet in front of me, he picked his head up from grazing and we stared at each other for what felt like an eternity. He locked my gaze as if to say, “I’m here. Don’t move, or I’ll leave.” I pulled out my phone and snapped a few pictures. He eventually returned to eating and slowly made his way back into the woods. It was one of those times in nature where a human and another creature acknowledge each other and share a holy moment.
That morning for the first time, I added a photo to my devotional writing and every day after. It made writing more adventurous and fun. I was most surprised by what came to me, either in word or picture. I found freedom in being creative and looked for beauty in everyday life. These daily devotionals became a part of what I paid attention to from morning until evening. Whether it was a current picture or pictures from the past, they brought great joy and connection, which is exactly what I needed when I felt so isolated and removed from those I loved.
Living in the pandemic, experiencing the world’s response to the death of George Floyd and uprisings in the Twin Cities, anticipating the upcoming election and working through the unfolding events that changed and continue to change us forever, it all gave my fingers something to move through. From my kitchen table, I listened to my sons and my congregations’ responses to everything going on; I heard grief, anger, frustration, sadness, fear and loss. Throughout this ritual I committed to, I navigated and journeyed alongside my people, while listening to and discerning where God was in the midst of it all.
It was my daily devotion to faith.
I left my call at the end of November 2020 and at the time had 38 pages of daily devotionals and photos, which now looking back, helped me to navigate my way through the hardest times of my career and life. I think it was the writing that gave me hope.
You don’t have to be a writer or photographer to write daily devotions, but it does require an openness to the Spirit. Think about ways you might notice holy moments in your everyday life. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the pictures you take each day can be devotional by themselves. There are lots of ways to connect with your people and community. After being on this writing journey, I realized how much people yearn for scripture, a simple prayer or reflective thoughts. They feel less alone. That is, in part ,what the church has always been about, isn’t it?
What if you wrote a little bit every day, a daily devotion of faith, to encourage and resonate with or respond to the world’s and God’s unfolding story in front of us?
There are multiple ways to share such devotional thoughts too. Consider these:
- An e-mail devotion
- A post on Facebook or Instagram
- A segment on the church website
In conclusion, I share another devotion from my practice.
Be still and know that I am God.
This morning I stepped outside to let the puppy, Finn, out to do his thing. After he was done he took a few steps, put his ears up and stopped. He then sat down, faced the direction of the sunrise and remained completely still as if waiting on edge, expecting something. “I don’t have time for this”, I thought, but more than anything, I was curious. He made me smile. What was he doing?
He was doing something I rarely do because I am too busy or too cold or have to get on with things.
Little Finn, you see was listening.
For several minutes and poised with anticipation, he contentedly listened to all the sounds as the morning dawned. Like a child filled with wonder who hears new sounds and makes connections with every fiber of their being, he paid attention. Watching him, I decided I might try and listen too. What was he hearing? The birds? A car starting? The wind? The geese overhead? Other dogs barking in the distance? A door closing? He sat for a long time like a wise old soul who was there to remind me that listening to our world at the beginning of our day is important. We might take all the noises around us for granted otherwise.
What if we started our days being still and intentionally listening to the sounds of life? I wonder, what would you hear?
(Photo taken by the author in Hastings, Minnesota, 2020.)