Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Moving Over

Just wanted to let you know that I will be moving parts of this blog over to my new blog... The Simple Sacred... and eventually closing this out. I am still writing music and hope to be going forward with CD #3 in early 2010. (Is it really going to be twenty-ten?!!!). This new blog will become part my new website at that time. Hope you'll pop on over to The Simple Sacred and subscribe. (Click on the photo)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Color of Contrast

Photo by Lisa Sullivan - Donna's daughter

On Friday, November 21st, some friends and I got together to do ‘lectio divina’. Ruth from church had approached me after reading my article in 'The Banner' magazine. 'My Cup of Tea' talked about some insights I've been having about suffering and how an experience of lectio divina was a jumpstart to those insights. She asked if I'd consider leading some of us in the process. Now, I've been on the hunt for a lectio group but haven't been able to find exactly what I am looking for. Why it didn't occur to me to start my own is a little comical. Karla, another friend and co-conspirator, joked that Ruth was just wanting an excuse to come over to my house and stare at the lake. That isn't such a bad motivation. Maybe this would give me pause to notice it as well!

The scripture reading I chose was out of Isaiah 40:18-31 and only because Joe and I had used part in a recent dedication to our son Reece for his senior yearbook. We borrowed the text that says those who hope in the Lord will "walk and not grow weary, run and not grow faint." I admit, this isn't the the most original scripture for a young runner, but what can I say? Sometimes the most obvious is the most fitting.

And to follow suit, it seemed a good choice... almost a lame cop out... to use it on Friday. I redeemed myself by refusing to read the entire excerpt beforehand in order to experience God 'in the moment' when we actually did lectio, but that was the most thought I gave the whole thing. In fact, my blasé approach began to concern me. This was my first time leading a group like this and I had the fleeting anxiety that it couldn't be this simple; that I should have prepared more. Some may presuppose some old Catholic guilt at work here. The thing is, if it weren't for the Catholics - I wouldn't be doing lectio divina in the first place. Now there's some old irony at work! A complex contrast really.

As a matter of fact, my last few months have been about contrasts... and after going through Isaiah on Friday, it didn't rock my world that the only scripture to stand out was an exercise in that very concept...

"a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff" and "those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength".

Those words didn't feel profound really- no supernatural thrill to them. I just felt... peace. And a sense of well-being. I was reconciled to the thought that it had been a long week and at the least, it was a nice gift to be with friends and make a cognizant, intellectual connection. Not very much of a leap in my mind. If these words were of God, for me (which I doubted), I figured that there would be some nice little anecdote I could share at the next meeting. But contrasts? Big deal!

What I didn’t know was that - while I was sitting in my home in Michigan experiencing life with friends and God - my sister Donna was laying in a hospital bed in South Carolina experiencing death with friends and God.

The whirlwind ensued.

Looking back over the last week or so with the benefit of hindsight, I’d have to write a book to encompass the depth of vision that the contrasts in my life have afforded me...

At Thanksgiving with family as Joe's Dad struggles with cancer - abundance and lack, work and play, noise and silence, rushing and stillness, joy and sorrow

On the pier this weekend scattering my sister's ashes - summer and winter, life and death, cold and heat, tears and laughter, chaos and order...

I wrote a song recently called Divine. It is about contrasts and connection. I even posted a video on YouTube - Angela Josephine, live from the front porch. (No kidding) It was a beautiful fall day and before playing the song I talk about how the more difficult days of winter are sure to come. How that is like life and we can't just have the nice days or our perspective is limited. I am half-serious when I say be careful what you write. It is one thing to sing - and another to live it. To walk the walk, rather than talk the talk. More contrasts.

One thing I can attest to is that when it comes to contrasts, the very reality of one gives the other focus. These are the vivid colors that mix to form the palette of grace. And in the landscape of this life, I may never understand the full purpose, but have had glances and occasional sweeping vistas take shape and open up before me because of them.

And they...

take my breath away and bring me life
tear me to pieces and put me together again
empty me of myself and fill me with God

And when all is said and done, this is the true purpose and lectio divina has done its work.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Cup of Tea

There is a legend that says the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, the Divine Cultivator, discovered tea accidentally when he was boiling water under the shade of a wild tea tree. A few of the leaves dropped into his pot, tinting the water and he drank the resulting infusion. Immediately, he was overwhelmed with a sense of well-being. If only it were that easy.

On Sunday, our pastor prayed for a person facing a difficult doctor’s appointment. In his prayer he said, “Lord, that is an appointment that none of us would want to be called to, but it’s an appointment You may call us to.” At that moment in prayer, I had an appointment with Lectio Divina.

Lectio Divina is a very ancient art practiced by Christians. It is a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God – not unlike brewing tea. The same excerpt from scripture steeps several times in the vessel of the heart. The Holy Spirit then draws forth the flavor of one particular word or phrase to speak directly into the life of an individual. Its true intent is to cultivate the ability to drink deeply of the cup of Christ and to hear “with the ear of our hearts.” On Sunday morning, I was surprised to find that I am not totally deaf.

You see, there has been something collecting in my heart over the past few months. The first bits settled when my sister’s cancer returned. Further deposits were made with each new challenge – a blood transfusion here, a debilitating fever there – a heap of dried matter littering the chambers. My own set of health issues compounded the effect and finally, the news of our precious 8-year-old niece’s terminal illness threatened to stop it up for good.

Yet something happened that morning. Pure, hot truth poured into me, the words “…it’s an appointment You may call us to” steeping the bits slowly. That which had collected in the vessel of my heart, the bitter and potentially lethal remnants, began to infuse the grace I was experiencing with a particular quality. God was brewing a tea with the tender leafs of my suffering and the sufferings of those around me. Would I trust Him with it?

A traditional tea master is implicitly trusted with the fine art of nurturing a tea plant. This is quite an involved task especially because all tea comes from one kind of plant.* A master knows when to pluck and when to wither. A master knows that differences in climate, soil, temperature and moisture will yield very different, yet equally significant teas. Without the Master, my own precious harvest threatens to become dry dust or an over-steeped sludge served up in the cup of a broken world. Or maybe even worse, a saccharin-laden mixture that covers up the honest and full flavor of the cup that is mine.

Jesus had a cup placed before Him. He never asked for a different cup – only that He would not have to drink the dregs. "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will." Because of His trust in the Tea Master, we are able to experience the full flavor of grace.

We have a new teahouse in Traverse City. It is called Serenity and is located on Front Street across from the State Theater. You can choose to sit cross-legged in the sunlit windowsill, slowly sipping away at an iced drink while watching the activity on Front Street (this is the favored perch of the teen-aged clientele). Or you may choose to curl up on a comfy sofa with a steaming cup while reading a book on the history of tea making. The folks at Serenity know that there are as many ways of appreciating tea as there are cultures to appreciate it.

I’m learning to appreciate tea. I watch the light refracting through the infused water and think of the very sunlight that withered the leaf. I remind myself to breath in the aroma that holds all knowledge of its origin. I let my tongue roll over the flavor, tasting each nuance of the soil it was nurtured in. I let the warmth pour through me. I am learning to appreciate that the hardships endured and the tender nurturing received lend character and, in the hands of the Master, are one in the same.

Wars have been fought over tea. Ceremonies celebrate it. So precious was the secret of tea in China that England sent spies into the country to attempt to discover the secret of their process. The truth is there is still a war being fought over tea. It wants to do away with the ceremony and steal the secret. It does not want us to know how precious we are to the Tea Master and that every day He is calling us to an appointment…

“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.”

What is your cup of tea?

*( All true tea comes from the same type of plant, an Asian evergreen known as Camellia sinensis. Herbals are not technically teas, but Tisanes.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

God Shops At Meijer

(Leave a comment before March 22nd and be entered to win a CD!)

The Super Bowl and a major grocery store chain - I must be in hell. Don’t get me wrong, the Super Bowl is tons of fun to watch, despite the fact that it seems to fall on our anniversary weekend three out of four years. This is something I am willing to sacrifice for the greater good of all male-kind (which would be my husband and three sons). This year however, I can’t complain. The sports gods (Eli Manning not withstanding) arranged a February Super Bowl on my behalf. Apparently though, I haven’t atoned for all my sins which would explain why I have landed square in the middle of the produce aisle in Meijer on Super Bowl Sunday.

I am thinking of the annoying adage, “when life hands you lemons…” and wouldn’t you know? Meijer has plenty of lemons. Seriously, who is going to kick back and watch the big game with an ice cold… lemonade? As if to underscore a sacrilege, my husband has abandoned me in favor of can and bottle returns, no doubt to make room for… more cans and bottles (of SODA he clarifies while proofreading as editor). The only thing keeping me company (besides a bazillion people) is the chorus to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ stuck on repeat in my head. Normally this would drive me bananas (which I do decide to buy), except that I only heard this song - for the first time in my life - this week.

Or so I thought.

“Mom, you’ve heard this song before! My friend Ben was playing it on the piano right here at the house and you went crazy and had to know what it was.”

In case you don’t recognize the dialect, this is the vernacular of ‘American teenager’ who established this status with us in 2003 and claims his territory somewhere between our basement and the refrigerator.

To add insult to injury he flippantly remarks, “It would be good except that everyone in the world has recorded it.

Warning! This is a common diversionary tactic of this people group. The first attack is blatant and intended to make you think you are losing your mind. This second is the subtle, more dangerous suggestion that you have already lost your judgment. Do NOT be fooled! This should tell you one thing and one thing only. You are living in the territory of… an ‘American teenager’!

You see, I could argue that ‘relating to the song’ only exists in the present moment and as such, each time can be the ‘first’ time you hear the song. I could run this by so-called ‘American teenager’, but such existential pondering is better left until said teenager leaves this territory and enters that of ‘Real World’. Otherwise, I run the risk of the next wave of artillery, spring-loaded with rolling eyes and hysterical laughter.

The truth is, if everyone (to borrow the exaggeration) has recorded the song, then it stands to reason there is something about the song that everyone can relate to. I related once in passing and then again when I saw the YouTube video of John Cale performing it.

Now, I find myself relating to it in Meijer and at the risk of sounding as if I am losing my mind… I think I am hearing this song for the first time.

You see, strangely enough, I’ve stopped putting things in my cart and am doing something completely insane. I am walking through Meijer, just for the joy of walking through Meijer! (Which I am totally aware sounds like an oxymoron.) I’m singing this song under my breath and looking at all the people. This “Hallelujah” has become a sweet, refreshing refrain and God has poured himself a tall glass. Every person – young and old, all colors, every shape and size – contributes to the complex flavor. Even if theirs happens to be a “cold and broken Hallelujah” and maybe - especially - because it is. Its tang is so potent my eyes well up. Meijer has transcended the plane of lemon to become the Kingdom’s lemonade stand on earth. And as I pass through this roadside stand, I feel someone’s eyes on me. An old man has stopped to watch my pilgrimage – his eyes on my face and a huge smile on his. He is in on the secret. He can relate. God is alive and well and shops at Meijer.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


My friend Laura and I recently joked about how it often takes a lot of ‘writing things out’ to just catch the drift of what God is trying to get across; to get to the stuff that we were unaware of before we bled ourselves dry onto a piece of paper. (Well – that, a good portion of chocolate and a glass of merlot!)

We are in good company here and especially thankful to Henri Nouwen in Seeds of Hope for affirming this, “Writing itself reveals to us what lives in us,” and, “What I am gradually discovering is that in the writing I come in touch with the Spirit of God within me and experience how I am led to new places.” (I am sure he meant to say something about chocolate and merlot, but probably didn’t want to give away ALL his secrets.)

Personally, I hardly ever sit and write a song with a goal in mind. My music, art and writing are not very often a decision to create specifically about something I know to be true, rather a necessary process of getting at an interior truth. Granted, there is a decision to pick up that pencil, or paintbrush, or guitar, but even on the rare occasions when I think that I know what I’m going for, I discover something new about myself. It almost makes the creative work too personal to share – but as all art is about communication, sharing is essential.

Madeleine L’ Engle poignantly captures the urgency of the artist to communicate in her book Walking on Water. “Art is communication. If there is no communication it is as though the work has been stillborn.”

Accordingly, I want to celebrate with you the birth of a poem. She is just an infant, a little pinched looking with a face, perhaps, only a mother could love. However, I look in her eyes and see the truth of what has been living in me. In apprehension and anticipation, I welcome her, not knowing what this little bundle of new revelation could mean in my life. As you’ll see, she fussed a bit at first, but I’ve pulled her close now and it’s amazing how such harsh cries can be quieted by a simple, repeated lullaby. And I’ll tell you a secret, the ONLY song on the whole planet that works is the gentle melody of Jesus washing her feet. It seems to be without negotiation and she can’t get enough. We are both captivated and I am utterly at a loss for words. It is the most tender sound in the universe and I have a feeling it will be the one act that moves her out of the sanctuary of my arms to grow in the fullness of the revelation. Thanks for welcoming her with me!

catch and release
by angela josephine

something snaps at my ankles
a wet towel
wrung out by my anxious hands
and wielded by my guilty heart
stinging me to walk faster
cover more miles
and get with the program
until my feet are hot
and blistered
and stumbling I lose my grip
and that towel



across my feet

its intended purpose
found by accident?

something laps at my ankles
a wet towel
wrung out by wounded hands
and wielded by a determined heart
commanding me to stay still
rest awhile
and let go of my program
until my feet grow smooth
and tender
and lovingly He releases His grip
and that towel



across my hands

its intended purpose
is no accident

So tell me, what has been living in you?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Original ART Christmas Cards/Posters Available

Three Days

Christmas Cards

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Christmas Cards

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She - Dance

Christmas Cards

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Blank Cards

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If you are looking for unique Christmas cards or a meaningful gift idea (and want to contribute to an aritist's livelihood at the same time :-) ), I have just the thing for you!

I've taken my original paintings -Three Days, Noel and She Dance - and have made Christmas cards and posters available through CafePress. The painting Sistory is also available as blank cards and posters.

There is a store for each individual design, so click on the link under each thumbnail above to see the corresponding items available. (NOTE: You must click each specific link in order to view each specific painting.) Also, you have a choice of ordering cards in either a glossy or matte finish.

Many people have expressed interest in my original art and this is a cool and easy way to get it in your hands. Check it out and let me know what you think or if there are other items you'd like to see!

Created to BE His...
Angela Josephine

Thursday, October 04, 2007

KNOCK, KNOCK - Who'sh 'ere? – GOD (Any more stupid questions?)

The September tour of Detroit and Indiana was a great time and I enjoyed meeting you all! There were so many God moments that it’s tough to identify only one. But that’s sort of where I am going with the following story. It’s really not about one moment – it’s about THE moment. Aren’t you intrigued? (O.K. – maybe just mildly curious.)

So here’s the story.

When I left for Indiana, I was popping Halls like candy and praying like Paul for the scales to be lifted from my eyes… my nose… my head… you name it. I’d been fighting a cold all week, but felt well enough to get on the road. (Note to self: What is ‘well enough’?). You see, I’d done this once before on a tour of Pennsylvania and was much, much worse. God sent good care at that time. I stayed in a home where they made me fresh carrot juice (I am aware that most people don’t consider that a blessing) and had people scoring me Slippery Elm lozenges in such a way that I was worried I might get arrested.

This was different. This was INDIANA. Home of the Hoosier! Since I don’t know what a Hoosier is, I had to look it up on the internet. Some knowledgeable types on Wikipedia think it had to do with a Frontier greeting. Supposedly, when approaching a man's home in those early frontier days, you shouted from afar, "Hello, the cabin!" to avoid being shot. The inhabitants would then shout back "Who'sh 'ere?" (who's there). As it got slurred together over time, the country folk came to be called Hoosiers. (It should be noted that in the early days in Detroit, if you shouted “Hello the cabin!” -you would get shot.)

All things considered, I don’t suspect that definition is very flattering to the people of Indiana. And since I approached many ‘cabins’ without offering the so-called ‘secret greeting’ and am alive to tell the tale, I’d have to say that myth is busted. The folks I did encounter were nothing but kind and hard–working and three of them make up the band Consider. Besides being a great band, they were also gracious hosts and made sure that my niece LeAnna and I were well taken care of. They went above and beyond the call of duty, but you know they are sold out to that Jesus guy and are the quintessence of another definition of Hoosier I found…. “a brawny man, capable of stilling opponents.” I think Jesus may have been a Hoosier.

So I persisted and subsisted on the tour, all the while having the same recurring thought and experience…

Trust God in the moment… good, bad or otherwise. What this means to me is that instead of evaluating something through my fog-brained, limited perspective – I am to trust that God is at work in everything.

With that in mind, I decided that I would break up the long trip home and stop to see some good friends in Kalamazoo. Julie and Gary live on a lake and have two really cute kids who kept me entertained and unexpectedly held captive. I thought I was doing a good thing by letting their very precocious toddler temporarily play with my keys. What I didn’t take into consideration is that she is, after all, a toddler and one whose favorite thing in the world is keys… especially new ones. After much tears and trickery, we were able to recover the keys and I was free to go. It was really fun to see them and… it was a nice moment.

The second stop was to see Lisa in Grand Rapids. She is the fiery and fiercely passionate CEO of the American Red Cross of Southwest Michigan and a great friend. She chauffeured this very tired and very contagious looking woman to a warm and cozy restaurant for an impossibly good dinner. We always have a lot to talk about! It was a nice… long… moment.

The problem was 6 a.m.

That was the time I had gotten up.

The second problem was 9 p.m.

That was the time I was leaving her house.

The final and determining problem (aside from being a dead woman walking) was 11:30 p.m.

That was the time I would probably get home.

If I drove fast.

And didn’t get arrested.

Maybe this wasn’t so different than the Pennsylvania, slippery-elm-popping tour I referred to earlier.

At that point, I became very tempted to think I was a complete idiot (feel free to agree with me) and should have done things differently. She asked me to stay. I was on my way home. What could I do about it at that point?

Trust God in the moment.

I made it to Reed City which is about an hour or so north of Grand Rapids and decided I couldn’t go any further without finding something to keep me awake and alive, aside from the car needing gas – but somehow that part seemed less important. Do you know how many beverage choices there are at a gas station?

So, there I stood (and may be standing still) if a young girl hadn’t stopped and shocked me out of my head-cold-muddled indecision.

“I have that shirt!”

I was wearing the Consider t-shirt the band had given me. The same band I had just been gigging with in Indiana.

I believe my response was very profound, something like…

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

She had gotten the shirt at Big Ticket Festival - where I had first met Consider (I am not kidding you either). I told her where I was coming from and about playing in Indiana with the guys.

She had a message for me to pass on. “Tell those guys that I pray for them whenever I think of them.”

I guess she could have sent an email.

I guess that wouldn’t have been as cool.

I guess God will use everything for His good.

Even an idiot like me.

Trust God in the moment.

Yeah… I get it.

So tell me… what’s your ‘God in the moment’ story?

(Thanks so much to Pastor Heather at St. Philips in Trenton, Pastor Charles at First Congregational in Rockwood, Pastor Daniel at Trinity First Wesleyan in Southgate, Café Crossing in Middlebury, Downtown Grounds in Syracuse, Pastor Scott at NWUMC, Jeremiah and Marcie of 40 Miles North – great to see you! Thanks to my friend Mark who introduced me to Downriver, to Carla for a great September, to Joe just because, LeAnna my roadie and Mike, Jeremy, Nathan (Consider) and families!)