The truth is, I let myself off the hook of "daily devotionals" years ago.
I remember clearly a conversation I had with one of my youth pastors back at good ol' Grace Community Church. I was feeling bad, and couldn't quite articulate why or even what it was about, but eventually I launched into some pious self-flagellation--Contrary Kerri was well-developed even then--assuming that my inner angst was probably due to something I wasn't doing enough of--not praying enough, not being consistent about my daily quiet time, and so on. And the pastor interrupted me, saying "Who said you have to do a daily quiet time?"
I was a little dumbstruck, which is in itself a little remarkable. I still am today, as I search for where or from whom I got some of my silliest, most burdensome ideas about what is required of me to grow and mature when it comes to the things of God. Occasionally I can point to a particular conversation or sermon that might have pointed me toward a direction of legalism or triggered my neuroses to form some sort of thing, but more often than not I'm left with fuzzy memories and overall performance-based, "sin-management" cultures, rather than concrete words from specific people. Mostly, anyway.
Besides, my point in this story is that in this instance, my pastor communicated freedom to me in that simple interruption. He didn't downplay the importance of talking with God and reading His words (i.e. the Bible); he just challenged my superstitious idea that I could manage my own life and/or God Himself by checking a little box marked "Quiet Time" each day.
Since then I've gone through lots of seasons and phases regarding Bible-reading and overall spiritual development, including books, book studies (Romans has pretty much everything, and we could probably get rid of everything else, except that would be heresy so I'm NOT recommending that), devotionals (lots of legalistic life-suckers out there), workbooks (some better than others), spiritual gifts inventories (maddening), and a One-Year Bible, which took me about 14 months. And it's true, I have gone through periods where I barely crack the Bible open, if at all. But I've also been through periods of profound awe and joy, re-discovering scriptures I learned back in Christian school, seeing them in a new and more mature light. And I have never (ever, ever again) let myself be re-imprisoned by that stupid notion that I had to finagle my devotions in just the right way to get God to bless me, or make me feel good.
And by the way, lots of people do quiet times (daily!) without the neuroses I manage to inject into them. And lots of people can go to Cornerstone or Berean or Lifeway or any other Christian bookstore without feeling either browbeaten or a sense of sarcastic superiority, and can pick from a variety of devotionals and learn something from it without getting all jaded about boiling God himself down to fill-in-the-blank answers. But one of the cool things about God is that he made all of us so unique, and He can minister to each of us regardless of our personality, season in life, literacy level, or insolent refusal to go along with the status quo (ahem). He knows our hearts, and he knows how to speak to us in just the right way when even Beth Moore can't, God bless her*.
**Random aside: the Cat Daddy just asked what I was blogging about. I said "Oh, this devotional I'm going thru." He said, "You're going through a devotional?" and I said "Yep" and he said, "I'm sorry." This is how well daily quiet times and prepackaged devotionals are generally received in my household.**
Having said all of the above, when I read this post about a Making Manifest book giveaway, I was immediately hooked. Then I had a moment of panic, and a talk with myself about not getting my hopes up too high that I would win it. Then I read someone else's comment that she was ordering the book right then & there and if she won it she would give away her extra copy to someone else. And I thought "Hey, great idea" and did the same. And I received the book before the drawing was even complete, which turned out to be just fine since I didn't end up winning it.
I was worried that it might be too artsy-fartsy for me. The whole point of the book is drawing out one's creative expressions, and I'm sort of creative, but I'm also a whole lot of engineer and literal thinker, so I got a little nervous at the mention of poetry. I was worried about a lot of things really, which maybe speaks more to the expectations I place on things like devotionals and other things, but in the end even the hopes I cautioned myself against have been surpassed. Which is saying a lot.
And the great thing about Making Manifest is that it's OK with my concerns. The book's author, Dave Harrity, invests quite a bit of energy quelling worries along the way. The introduction alone devotes considerable space to mentioning potential fears and hangups with a creativity-based devotional, and calming them with words of comfort, like a gentle pat on the shoulder. From a book. If books had gentle, comforting hands.
I've been at it for about a month now and am on approximately Day 10 of the 28-day study. There are several reasons behind this. First, I find myself not wanting to rush through it--I really want to take my time with the readings and responses, and savor the contemplation time. Second, it turns out sleep really is important to my overall sanity and functioning, so if it is too late on a given night I just scrap it and pick up the next day. Also, the Littler One needs to stop falling asleep right at dinner time, sleeping for two hours, and then staying up until ungodly (un. godly.) hours of the night.
But here's a first for me--I enjoy and look forward to this devotional so much that I find myself planning my daily time better so I'll have the energy to spend on it each night. Seriously, people. I usually think devotions are dumb (not the concept, but most actual devotional thingies), but this one is not dumb.
I think one of the things Making Manifest does well is to gently yet skillfully ease into heart-depths. Within the first week I had gone from describing myself in a nutshell to exploring my own deepest fears and doubts--the topics that are usually too scary and vulnerable to allow out--to learning about and writing actual poetry to/about God. I have been pleasantly amazed. And while at first glance some of the writing exercises may feel awkward for some, they are usually followed by a sentence or two explaining that it's perfectly OK if they feel awkward, along with helpful suggestions for dealing with/re-framing the awkwardness.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is not a Bible study, per se. Scripture is definitely a part of the devotions, but the approach focuses more on prayer, exploring scripture, and relationship with God through creative means, rather than scholarship and gaining Biblical knowledge. Not a bad thing by any stretch; just something to be aware of going into it.
All told, even though I'm less than halfway through, I would recommend this devotional to the following people:
- Creative and/or poetry-types
- Those who enjoy writing for work or fun
- Those whose questions are outside the box and/or don't necessarily have clear-cut answers
- Those who have a toe outside the mainstream or are interested in a different approach to devotions
- Those in a place where fill-in-the-blank studies aren't cutting the mustard
- Those who are introspective and like to process life
- Those who like to cut the chit-chat and dig a little deeper
- Those willing to take a risk and see what happens
- Those feeling a little fragile and/or needing a safe place to think things through
You can find more info about the book or order it here.
And guess what? I am loving it so much I'm gonna give away a fresh copy, just because I can. At least I think I can. I guess if I'm violating some sort of law or tradition we'll find out together.
Just leave a comment on this post by 1159 pm EDT this Saturday, June 15. No pressure to be brilliant unless you want to--"yes please" is sufficient. I'll pick a winner via random number generator and announce it on Monday June 17.
Good? Good. It's my first-ever giveaway; should be fun...
*I have nothing against Beth Moore. Zero. I think she's smart, credible, stylish, and a good speaker, and I bet if I met her in real life we would have a lovely time. Just not necessarily my, um, cup of tea when it comes to Bible studies.