Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Month: April, 2014

Knowing and Being Known- Excerpt from my new book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together. Is available on amazon now (paperback and kindle).


“Mark Votava’s book is like a smooth stone in a churning stream.  When all around us seems to be prone to speed, consumption, movement and success, The Communal Imagination is a sure and unwavering call to simplicity, presence, attentiveness and collaboration.  Read it slowly.  It calls us to nothing less than a new way to be human.”  Michael Frost, author of Incarnate and The Road to Missional  

  •  Becoming fully human through relationship

Living relationally within the parish transforms what we think we know about ourselves, about God, and about others.  We are pushed to become fully human through relationship.  The relationship we have with each person can be a reflection of God to us. God both gives and receives love through relationships with others.

  •  The body of Christ cannot be separated from relationship

The body of Christ cannot be separated from relationship to one another.  We need one another to be human.  We need one another to learn about our own spirituality.

  • Our relational connections become a part of who we are

When we inhabit a neighborhood, that place and the relational connections that we develop there become a part of who we are.  They are intertwined with our redemption and salvation.  We only know truth through relationship.

  •  Knowing and being known will shape who we become  

Without relationship we cannot know anything.  Knowing and being known is the truth that will set us free from our own limited imaginations.  Knowing and being known relationally will shape who we become as we inhabit the parish throughout the complexities of life.

  •  We are who we are because of the communities in which we dwell

There is no abandoning this relational context when you have experienced it in a place. Christopher L. Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl say in their book Friendship at the Margins, “We are who we are because of the communities in which we dwell.”

How have you been shaped by the relational context in which you live?

Being Faithfully Present by Face-to-Face Relationship


It is so easy to escape face-to-face relationships through all of our technology today.  Texting, facebook, iphones, surfing the net, blogging, emails, twitter, TV and video games all keep us at times from real face-to-face community in everyday life.  I have been overwhelmed by the temptation to always check my facebook, email or twitter accounts.  Being glued to a screen of some sorts is becoming more common and is wearing me out.

When we are drawn to life through our screens we will have a hard time being face-to-face in faithful presence to others.  Practically the only time I ever get headaches in my life is when I spend hours on the internet.  It is too much for me.

  •  Relational presence to others

The communal imagination is one of relational presence to others.  When we are physically together with others, but not emotionally present, this is not relational.  It doesn’t foster love.  It is treating people as less than human.

  • Being faithfully present to one another

What a tragedy that in so many of our relationships we are not truly present to one another.  God wants the body of Christ to be faithfully present to one another in the parish.  If the body of Christ cannot be present it cannot love.  And this presence to our parish is what will shape us as we live, work and play there.

  •  Presence begins with attentiveness

David G. Benner writes, “Presence begins with attentiveness.  This demands that I focus on the other person…  This attentiveness to the other involves setting some things aside. It usually means setting aside my own interests and preoccupations.  It also demands that I stop analyzing what I am hearing or rehearsing how I will respond.  And… it also involves resisting the impulse to solve problems or fix things that appear broken.”

  •  Stop trying to change or fix others

We need to stop trying to change or fix others.  This is the call of being present to others out of love for them.  Presence has an attentiveness to it.  We need to be present to one another as friends who care deeply and love.

  •  Letting go of the cliché that we can “change the world”

We will have to let go of some control.  We will have to let go of the cliché that we can “change the world.”  This vision is too big, too abstract.

  •  Getting down to what is right in front of us

Let’s get down to what is right in front of us: real people in real life contexts who live in our neighborhood.  These are the people we are called to love and become faithfully present to relationally.  Faithful presence takes time.

  • Real face-to-face relationship in the context of everyday life

It is slow.  It is organic.  It is not a project or program.  It is real face-to-face relationship in the context of everyday life together.  This is such a challenge and this relational presence will test our faith as the body of Christ.

How can we be faithfully present in the parish?

Risking Relational Practice in the Parish

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I have lived a lot of my life afraid of the many of things that I really can’t control.  So it is easy for me to live within a safe comfort zone of my own making.  This has led me to a life of pursuing individualism and independence apart from the community I live within.  Risking interdependence is too difficult and countercultural.

But I am finding a way out of my comfort zone and living as if others mattered.  This has been shaping me more and more as the years go by.  Risking new ways of being and doing have brought life to me.

  •  Being pushed out of our comfort zones

We need to learn how to risk our lives in the parish.  Our everyday lives need to embrace the practice of living on the ground in humility toward one another.  Nothing is scarier than the practice of humility, because in humility we lose all our techniques of control and escapism.  We are pushed out of our comfort zones.

  •  Experiments around local ways of living relationally

Our relationships become fashioned by a new paradigm of valuing one another’s humanity.  We can no longer walk past someone without regard for their wellbeing.  This calls us to a new and disturbing degree of risk that will shake us to the core of who we are. This calls for new experiments around local ways of living relationally.

  •  Stepping into the unknown

Risk is about stepping into the unknown and being shaped by what we experience there. It is more mysterious than anything we have ever known and shatters all our propositions of preconceived ideas.  The communal imagination lives by this kind of risk. It takes humility to live into authentic risk as a way of life.

  •  Relational practice in the parish

How does change take place within us?  It takes place through relational practice in the parish.  We are shaped through the ongoing practice of humility toward one another.  We are shaped when we risk seeing the humanity in another.

  • Having some empathy for others

We are shaped when we honor and value our neighbor.  We need the humility to risk just being in our humanity and having some empathy for others who seem different from us. We need to risk seeing the commonality in one another.  We need the humility to risk opening our lives to others relationally and trusting one another.

  • Cultivating the imagination

Relationships don’t work without the risk of humility.  Our imaginations are inspired by the intuition and creativity that risk cultivates within us.  We need to cultivate the imagination to live into relationships differently than those we have known in the past.  Relationships are to be valued and not taken advantage of.

  • Risk new ways of being and doing

Relationships need gratitude not contempt.  Relationships need honor not objectification. To have a new imagination for relationships involves  risk, and it takes a lot of humility to sustain them.  Mark Scandrette notes, “If we want to change, we have to risk new ways of being and doing …”

How can we risk living relationally in the parish?

The Captivity of Our Imaginations


When I was a child I had an uninhibited imagination for life.  I lived in the present moment of my relationships caring deeply for the people who I knew and loved.  My life was characterized by an interdependence on others.  As I got older, my imagination slowly got captured by other things that have left me disconnected, isolated and fragmented.

  •  Becoming disconnected from one another

In a culture that values the individualistic over the interdependent, we become disconnected from one another.  I have suffered from my own programming toward individualism and have longed to be set free to live into something different.  I’m haunted by these words of Christ: “For whoever wants to save his live will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).

  •  Losing our individualistic dreams and ambitions  

I want to understand what this means and how to embody Christ’s words.  Can we lose our individualistic dreams and ambitions that take priority over everything and everyone else?  Can we stop the pain that is caused by our self-centered pursuits where the imagination necessary for relational life is forgotten?

  •  Our imaginations are coming to the point of starvation and death

It’s one thing to disconnect ourselves from the cultural comfort of the modern paradigm of success, but the authentic life should not be lived alone.  Our imaginations are coming to the point of starvation and death.  We must develop an imagination for interdependence and loving mutuality, if we are to flourish together.

  •  The systems of our culture are ripping us away from one another

All the systems of our culture are ripping us away from one another, and few of us have awakened to what is happening.  Our imaginations need the shared experience of life, goodness, and beauty.  We cannot know for sure what will happen in us and through us together, but I think it will be something beautiful as we let go of all our controlling individualistic ways of life.  We can’t let our imaginations be captivated by the “normal” individualistic agenda of the twenty-first century.

  •  The captivity of our imaginations

Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat make it clear that this type of “normal” is not necessarily good.  “The primary way any imperial culture claims our lives is through the captivity of our imaginations.  Take an average of twenty-six hours of television a week, thousands of brand-name logos a day, an education system structured to produce law-abiding consumers who always crave more, and dress it all up with a mythology of divine right to world rule, and it is not surprising that the dominant worldview is so deeply internalized in the population – including the church – that it is simply taken to be the only viable, normal and commonsensical way of life …”  When you’ve been raised like this it seems so much like common sense, but it really makes no sense at all.

Why do we so easily give in to the systems that are ripping us away from one another?

The Poor Need to be Seen and Loved


I have learned from the life of Dorothy Day and the Catholc Worker Movement to value the poor by practicing hospitality.  As I have lived at the Tacoma Catholic Worker for four years now, I am coming to understand more how Christ lives in the poor.  So many of my friends are poor, oppressed and marginalized.  It makes me sad.

  • Christ lives in the poor

Some of my friends have mental illnesses, physical disabilities and struggle with depression or loneliness.  The other day, someone came to our house to take a shower and he thanked me for the kindness shown to him.  I didn’t think giving someone the opportunity to take a shower was that big of a deal, but it is.  It struck me that Christ lives in the poor somehow.

  • How I experience the poor is how I experience Christ 

When I am giving someone a shower, I am giving Christ a shower.  When I am eating with the poor and hungry, I am eating with Christ.  When I offer my friendship to the poor, I am offering friendship to Christ.

  •  Taking seriously hospitality

Christians need to take seriously hospitality as the body of Christ in the parish.  So many of our neighbors are poor, oppressed and marginalized.  They are invisible and degraded by the systems of our culture.  Almost nobody cares for the poor anymore.

  •  The poor have been pushed out or clustered into social services

The poor have been gentrified in our neighborhoods.  They have been pushed out or clustered into social services away from common everyday life with others.  A lot of Christians have abandoned the poor.  We have become a church of the wealthy and middle class.

  •  Closing the doors of our homes

We have become a church of mainly white people.  We have closed the doors of our homes in fear from those who live in poverty.  Addiction, mental illness, prison systems, immigration, war, domestic violence, unlivable wages, the greed of capitalism, loneliness and abuse all contribute to the lives of the poor, oppressed and marginalized.  Christians cannot remain apathetic towards our neighbors who experience these life conditions any longer.

  •  Practicing hospitality together in the parish

What would happen if we sought to practice hospitality together in the parish instead of letting our neighbors be reduced to a number at a social service with little genuine care.  The poor are dying among us as we ignore their existence.   Ian Adams says, “Imagine a community of hospitality and reconciliation inspired by Christ in every neighborhood….”

  •  The poor need to be seen and loved

Hospitality inspired by the parish imagination could change everything.  Hospitality inspired by the parish imagination could bring dignity back to the poor.  The poor need to be seen.  The poor need to be loved.

  •  The poor need friendship

The poor need friends to help with the loneliness they experience every day.  If we practiced hospitality as the body of Christ together opening our homes, our lives, our presence, our care and our tables; what would God do through our reconciling friendships?  I think miracles would happen if the rich, poor and middle class shared life together in the parish.

What keeps us from seeing Christ in the poor, oppressed and marginalized?

Stewarding Our Presence

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I have found myself so fragmented in my life.  Coming to a breaking point of needing some peace through the chaos of running in all directions constantly, I have stopped and thought about how present I am.  It seems I am everywhere and nowhere at the same time because I am always thinking about the next place I am going and can’t be present right where I am at.

  • A whole life stewardship of faithful presence

Stewarding our presence as the body of Christ in everyday life is so important to the parish imagination.  When we talk about stewardship a lot of time we think about finances, but what I am talking about here is a whole life stewardship of our faithful presence in everyday life.  There is no body of Christ in everyday life together without our presence and participation in our locality.

  • Our lives centered in the parish

The body of Christ needs people of faithful presence.  This stewarding our presence is not based on dualistic patterns, but embraces our whole lives centered within the parish.  When will others be able to see the body of Christ in everyday life in ordinary contexts of living life in a place?

  •  Goodness, love, beauty, humility, simplicity, grace

This will never happen until we learn to steward our presence faithfully.  A faithful stewarding of our presence together could have huge ramification of goodness, love, beauty, humility, simplicity and grace in the place we inhabit.  This could change everything about how we live as the church together in the parish.  Stewarding our presence in awareness, love, mindfulness and grace will help us to cultivate the parish imagination.

  •  Very relational

Stewarding our presence is always very relational.  We tend to lose our faithful presence without intentionality.  We tend to lose our faithful presence without love, grace and humility.  The parish imagination does not want us to lose our faithful presence in everyday life.

  • Connecting and Collaborating in everyday life

Stewarding our presence is how we connect and collaborate with others in our locality together.  If we do not have a faithful stewarding of our presence in the parish, we will never learn to love our neighbors as Christ has called us to.  Stewarding our presence is a practical way of teaching us to love our neighbors in everyday life.  Stewarding our presence is all about a love for the other.

  •  An influential practice of wisdom over time

Dwight J. Friesen says, “If it’s true that seemingly simple, little things can have big effects, then it’s wise to ponder how we steward our presence…  Who we are and how we steward our presence with others will impact others in ways we simply can’t imagine…”  Stewarding our presence is mysterious and powerful.  It seems small to our rational minds, but is an influencial practice of wisdom over time.

How can we learn to be faithfully present in the place we live?

Liberating our Interdependence

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In the last ten years of my life I have been getting a taste of what a life of interdependence could be.  As I have lived in the same neighborhood for a decade, I am beginning to see the illusion of the North American independent life of isolation and separation.  I am beginning to understand that we have a communal God who want us to share life together with one another in all our diversity and commonality which is a beautiful thing indeed.

  • Experiencing a disconnection

My life of independence began to fall apart as I started to experience a disconnection with going to church services and the lack of any meaningful connection in everyday life.  I remember being so frustrated one time as I left a church service riding my bike away from the building and screaming at the top of my lungs as I rode down the street to enter my week alone with very little connection with anyone.  The screaming felt good to me, but it seems this kind of frustration and angst is not acceptable.

  •  Just be happy

I was told to just be happy and believe that Jesus has completed me.  But it has felt like an opiate or a cliché where we do not have to be honest with ourselves.  I cannot live like this and will not be okay with it.  Love is compelling me to something more authentic.

  • Celebrating the success of the individual apart from the community

My friend Mark Scandrette, the Executive Director of Reimagine, a center for spiritual formation in San Francisco’s Mission District neighborhood, claims that “our interconnectedness should seem obvious – except for the fact that many of us have been groomed by a society that celebrates the success of the individual apart from the community.”

  • Interdependence needs to be liberated

We need more prophets of local, relational living within the body of Christ who will inspire our imaginations toward a more relational way of life together within a particular place.  The ways of individualism need to be subverted.  The ways of interdependence need to be liberated and celebrated in our day and age.

  •  Things that do not promote togetherness

The mental illness of this disease of individualism is corroding our humanity into something that is ugly and mutilated.  It is not natural or right to dismember the body of Christ this way.  The local church should be the most interdependent, caring fabric of relationships around.  We have frightfully let our days fill up with things that do not promote togetherness.

  •  Living more wholly through interdependence

We do not relate to each other on a daily basis in ways that foster life, reconciliation and hope.  How long will we live this way and destroy our relational imaginations of generosity, compassion, care, and hospitality toward one another?  If we could get back to interdependence with one another in life, we would live more wholly.

Why do we value independence over interdependence

Endorsements from my new book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together. It is Available NOW on Amazon!


“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved.  We are made in the image of a communal God.  But in out hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing.  And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline…  without that our muscles atrophy.  Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there.  Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly.  It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.”  Shane Claiborne, author and activist

“Mark Votava’s book is like a smooth stone in a churning stream.  When all around us seems to be prone to speed, consumption, movement and success, The Communal Imagination is a sure and unwavering call to simplicity, presence, attentiveness and collaboration.  Read it slowly.  It calls us to nothing less than a new way to be human.” Michael Frost, author of Incarnate and The Road to Missional  

“Mark Votava wrestles with ‘the tension between the real and the possible’ in his Tacoma neighborhood, in community relationships and inside himself.  His humble witness invites us to consider and practice simplicity, love, growth, and gratitude.  This profoundly honest text is chock full of ideas born of experience.  A battle with depression, an intentional choice to leave employment as a school teacher and instead take jobs as a janitor and a dishwasher and the struggle to overcome anger and bitterness give him the authority to bring relevant recommendations.  Votava’s wise words on forgiveness, reconciliation and letting go of control have the ring of one who knows.  This book covers essential territory for building healthy communities of Jesus for the long haul.”  Kelly Bean, Executive Director, African Road, co-planter Urban Abbey, co-founder Convergence, author of How to be a Christian Without Going to Church: The Unofficial Guide to Alternative Christian Community

“Words like simplicity, vulnerability and humility are hard to find and harder to live in today’s individualistic, high speed pursuit of success and control.  Nonetheless, Mark Votava not only writes about them but intentionally and authentically embodies them in his everyday life in the parish.  With warmth, honesty and a wonderful integration of Scripture reflections and true stories, Mark presents components of a communal imagination such as love, forgiveness and gratitude that challenge our current modes of being and invite us to embrace a way of life together that embodies the shalom of God’s Kingdom.  This book is not just for reading, it’s for doing!”  Karen Wilk, Forge Canada National Team and Neighborhood Mission Catalyzer, author of Don’t Invite Them To Church: Moving From a Come and See to a Go And Be Church

“Mark refreshingly awakens his readers to the life-giving significance of the everyday ordinariness of community life together.  He unfolds the beauty of shared life lived intentionally in close proximity and regular everyday encounters.  Mark’s honesty is very encouraging as he invites and at the same time challenges readers to take courage in order to know the joys of belonging.  His book draws readers into a counter-cultural lifestyle of vulnerability and interdependence where we can experience Scriptural reality of salvation by entering the same community life they were written for, from and within.  Most beautifully pointed out here, is how Mark unpacks Jesus’ teaching of everyday forgiveness – challenging, inviting and coaxing us to know the freedom it gives through the reality of our own experiences.” Eileen Baura Suico, co-Founder, Pastor and Director at With, contributing writer of The Gospel After Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions  

“Community not individualism, shared life in proximity together – these are the concepts that grabbed my imagination as I read Mark Votava’s book The Communal Imagination.  Weaving his personal story with the wisdom he has gained from rooting himself in a community that has become home, workplace and worship space, Mark engages us in a journey of discovery and revelation.  His practice-based experiences of sacredness in the ordinary and how it opens us up to being the body of Christ is both compelling and refreshing.  Think global, act local gains new meaning through this book.”  Christine Sine, Executive Director, Mustard Seed Associates, author of Godspace and Return to our Senses 

“Embracing community is not simply a strong Christian value in which we all just try to get along, but rather is about becoming, together, the presence of Christ to one another and the world.  Mark Votava invites us into that possibility in this book, in parts equally practical, personal and prophetic.  It is high time for us to rediscover The Communal Imagination.”  Jamie Arpin-Ricci, author of The Cost of Community

“Some writers are widely read but live thinly; others read little but live deeply.  In page after page of The Communal Imagination, my friend Mark Votava evidences the rare gift of being one who reads widely and lives deeply.  Mark’s careful but tenacious wisdom – forged in adventures of the glorious mundane of neighborhood gospel life – kindles me with hope and gratitude.  May these pages likewise gift your community with eyes to see together what God may be up to.”  Brandon Rhodes, D.Min., author of Blip: Faithful Presence Amid the Making and Unmaking of the Petrol-Driven Church (Spring 2015), Field Guide for the Parish Collective, owner Rolling Oasis Grocers   

“Rooted in intellect and experience, this book is a charge for the Church to reorient its identity from an autonomous entity to an interconnected organism.  Acknowledging the high cost of such a reorientation, Mark offers a vision and set of practices that might just allow us to experience life and faith as it was meant to be lived.”  Jon Huckins, neighborhood practitioner, author of Thin Places

“Many have written on church as local presence, few have explored its depths with such first person intensity as Mark Votava.  In The Communal Imagination Votava propelled me into his personal journey in a way that grew my capacity to be ‘with’ people I did not think possible.  With wisdom and grace, the book challenged my life.  It gave me a ‘practice-based theology’ for taking the gospel local.”  David Fitch, author of Prodigal Christianity, The Great Giveaway and The End of Evangelicalism?

Calling the True Self to Come Alive


I have grown up in a family where I really struggled to be my true self.  Not caring too much about money, wealth, possessions or power; I had to figure out who I was going to be in the world.  As a shy, introvert I started to practice a deep contemplative listening as a way to express myself to God beyond words. And because of this interior exploration it seems my true self has been flourishing more and more over time.

  • The true self displays the beauty of our humanity

Our practice of contemplation will show us our true self as the body of Christ in the parish.  The true self is who we are.  It displays the beauty of our humanity.  The true self integrates our personality, body, soul and spirit together within a relational network in the place we inhabit.

  • The true self longs for authenticity

The true self is what the gospel is calling us to live into.  Our true self can see beyond the status quo.  Our true self longs for authenticity.  Contemplation calls the true self to come alive in us.

  • The courage to be ourselves

John Main says, “One of the countless benefits that we have to gain from meditation is that we are empowered to transcend the cultural context in which we have been brought up.  All of us are, to some extent, prisoners of the received ideas of our time and as a result we are distressed to find so little creativity in our thinking.  People are almost afraid to think their own thoughts.  Everyone merely shuffles with the pack of ideas that we have had presented to us, not even, I’m afraid, by the true thinkers of our time, but often just by the prepackagers of secondhand, convenience-concepts.  In the silence of meditation we are put in touch with our own uniqueness and we are given the courage to be ourself, to know ourself and the world we inhabit, to think and respond to a real world first-hand…”

  • Explore, question, experiment, practice, embody

Through our contemplation we are empowered to be our true self in the parish.  We no longer become prisoners of the status quo.  The mystical imagination brings liberation to our bodies.  Our true self is enabled to think, explore, question, experiment, live, practice and embody our spirituality in our local cultural context.

  • Not afraid to be honest and vulnerable

We are not afraid to live out the radical nature of the gospel anymore.  We are not afraid to love.  We are not afraid to be known by others.  We are not afraid to be honest and vulnerable.  We are not afraid to be human.

  • Our true selves will teach us wisdom

Our true self requires us to look inside and explore who we think we are.  Our true self will teach us wisdom.  Our true self will teach us to abide, trust and hope in the divine.

Why do we fear the true self in everyday life together?

The Ordinary is Profound

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The other day I got out of bed to face another day.  I thought to myself, “Will this be a day of gratitude or despair?  Will this be a day of looking for opportunities to love in the ordinary experiences of life or will I become indifferent and apathetic?”

  • The profound revelation of the ordinary

This tension within me is causing myself to see the ordinary as profound and important as I live out my days in the parish.  I am learning that gratitude and love are the internal processes of the ordinary in everyday life that are essential to my spirituality.  Christ speaks to me through what is ordinary and can seem “unspiritual.”

  • The ordinariness of a little child

Yesterday I was visiting with some friends and they brought their little daughter who is almost two years old to our house.  The little girl was so happy and free.  Her smile lit up the room.  She seemed so free just to be alive and to be around her brother, mom and friends who love her.

  • Thinking of the beauty of God

I couldn’t help to think of the beauty of God as I watched this child live in the present moment of their experience of life.  It was very ordinary, but so beautiful.  This child spoke to me of the ordinary beauty of God that I often times miss because I am looking for something other than what is before me.  But I have been learning to see God through what is ordinary.

  • God speaking through The Muppets

And then I watched the movie The Muppets with a third grader as his mom was doing the hair of a friend.  In this movie I saw one of the main characters, Walter, who had been different all his life find some sense of belonging by connecting with the Muppets and helping them save their studio from being torn down.  As I watched the movie, I couldn’t help but realize how this sense of belonging brought meaning, value and connection to Walter.

  • Acceptance, value, belonging

I couldn’t help to see myself in this character Walter and the Muppets were revealing to me the beauty of God through the ordinary acts of acceptance, friendship, kindness.  So in the next hours after everyone went home it seemed that God spoke to me through the ordinary act of watching a movie where acceptance, belonging and value was found in the narrative.  The ordinary revealed something to me again!

  • Resting in the ordinary

As I went to sleep that day after being kind of tired, I could feel my body finding rest as I placed my head on the pillow and closed my eyes.  God spoke to me through my need of rest laying in my bed and just finding peace from another day of living.  It is the ordinary that God is using to help me discover things about life that are shaping me.

How are you seeing God in the ordinary?