Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Month: August, 2014

Top 10 Reasons Why Faithful Presence Will Bring Value To Your Life


This personal practice of faithful presence has become what I have based my life on for over a decade now.  I think that this practice is the essence of spirituality in the twenty-first century.  It always seems to subvert the dominant themes of upward mobility, consumerism and individualism.  Here are 10 thoughts on why I feel faithful presence can bring value to your life as it has mine:

1. You become known in a local community.  Being faithfully present will relieve some of the loneliness that is so common within our culture.  It is nice to have lots of connections and friendships in the place you live.  How can life have any meaning outside of relationship with others?

2. You learn to see God in your everyday context.  We cannot reduce God’s presence to some spaces in our lives and not others.  God is present in our everyday lives all of the time, but we are not always aware of this sometimes.  Faithful presence helps us with our awareness of God in our local context.

3. You commit to personal growth.  Faithful presence pushes us to growth as human beings.  We have to choose to value the others around us in the place we live.  This causes us to be the change we want to see in the world.

4. You start to value your neighbors and see them as your greatest teachers.  Faithful presence is a more refined definition of love.  And love is about learning from others as if they were your greatest teachers in life.  My neighbors become revelations of God to me.

5. You learn to listen which helps relationships become healthy.  Listening is the fruit of faithful presence.  We will have to stop talking so much and learn to pay attention to the small, ordinary experiences that our relationships bring to us in everyday life.

6. You become less fragmented and find more peace.  Faithful presence centers us together in the place we live.  We are no longer running around in all directions chasing everything that seems like life to us while becoming more tired and rushed.  Instead, we find peace in being with others who are our neighbors.

7. You become more graceful, kind and compassionate.  We really learn to show a creative compassion to those in our context.  Being faithfully present has a way of grace and kindness about it.  We become human in the process.

8. You practice being the church where you share life together with others.  With faithful presence, you start being the church together.  You start to live your life with intentionality and purpose.  Your dreams become aligned with the dreams of God for the place you live.

9. You collaborate more than compete.  Faithful presence allows you to have a mindset of collaboration with others.  Competition becomes less important.  Love becomes more natural to us.

10. You start to look at scripture through a relational lense.  Faithful presence helps us to see scripture through a lense of relational connection in everyday life.  We start to see scripture through a way of life in community with others.  This will bring us greater clarity.

Which point resonates most with you?  Please comment!

Has Your Neighbor Become Your Greatest Teacher?

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When I first moved to my neighborhood ten years ago, I didn’t know very many people.  As the past decade has gone by, I am coming to know and connect with my neighbors more.  I am coming to learn from others around me in my relational context, especially the poor who don’t have much.  My neighbors are revealing to me more of God’s goodness and beauty if I have the imagination to listen by becoming faithfully present in everyday life.

  •  Called to beauty, connection, goodness and love in the parish

If we do not steward our faithful presence, we will not be able to listen and bring incarnational expressions of Christ into our world through the parish imagination.  We are called to be incarnational expressions of the body of Christ together in everyday life by the stewarding of our faithful presence.  We are called to give expression to the life of Christ in our world within the place we inhabit together.  We are called to beauty, connection, goodness and love as the body of Christ in the parish.

  •  Becoming Christ’s hands and feet in the place we inhabit together

Isn’t this what Christ came to bring to the world?  Isn’t this the purpose of the death and resurrection of Christ?  Isn’t this the reason for his teaching, wisdom and incarnation?  We are to be the body of Christ by becoming his hands and feet in the place we inhabit together in everyday life.

  •  Our neighbors become our greatest teachers

When we are stewarding our faithful presence, we become dependent on our neighbors who we love in everyday life.  Our neighbors become our friends.  Our neighbors become our greatest teachers.  We learn and receive just as much from our neighbors, if not more, than we have to give.

  •  Risking vulnerability and uncertainty

Stewarding our presence does not mean we preach the gospel with propositional statements thinking we have all the answers to everything.  In fact, it is almost the opposite.  We begin to listen deeply to our neighbors and risk vulnerability and uncertainty in the place we inhabit together.

  •  Learning and receiving from our neighbors

John B. Hayes states, “We expect to learn from our neighbors and to receive from them.  This is a pivotal point.  In fact, let me go one step further: We expect to become dependent upon our neighbors.”

  •  Listening to our neighbors

As we become dependent on our neighbors, we create more trust, good will, patience and humility toward one another.  It is amazing the reconciliation that can happen when we begin to listen to our neighbors instead of impose on them something they don’t want.  Our neighbors shape our embodiment in the parish.  Valuing our neighbors is how we honor God through the parish imagination.

  •  Stewarding our faithful presence

Stewarding our faithful presence is about the good will of our neighbors in the parish.  Our neighbors cannot be ignored or harmed when we steward our faithful presence together.  In the stewarding of our faithful presence, we can no longer show apathy to our neighbors in the place we inhabit.

Do you think that stewarding our presence in the place we live is important? Please share and comment!

The Inspiring Story of Mary’s Faithful Presence


The place I live in Downtown Tacoma is becoming the context where I practice being the church together with others.  I love listening to the stories of scripture and learning about how different people stewarded their faithful presence throughout their lives.  It is inspiring to think that I can follow in that path myself as I seek to live out an authentic way of life in my local community.  I have recently been thinking about the story of Mary giving birth to Jesus into the world and how that came about through a young women who was faithfully present through listening.

Maybe we could learn more from this story as God is communicating in the world all around us all of the time.  God communicates in small, ordinary ways through our context and relationships in the parish where we live.  I have been experimenting with listening to my faithful presence through the context that I live.  It has turned out to be fun and a source of joy in my life even though sometimes it is difficult.

  •  A longing for connection and rootedness

The parish becomes like food, water and education that we need to survive.  Stewarding our faithful presence stirs a longing for connection and rootedness in the parish.  We are born into a conversion of place as we steward our faithful presence.  We need the surrounding place that we inhabit together.

  •  An incarnational way of being

We become one with the surrounding place and can no longer be content with a rootless lifestyle.  Stewarding our faithful presence is about an incarnational way of being through the parish imagination.  Stewarding our faithful presence is not about our independence from place, but our integration and collaboration within it.  The life of the body of Christ depends on this solidarity with place.

  •  The story of Mary and the birth of Jesus

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God…  For nothing is impossible with God.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.  “May it be to me as you have said.”  Then the angel left her (Luke 1:26-35, 37-38).

  •  Mary practiced stewarding her faithful presence

Mary was one who practiced stewarding her faithful presence in everyday life with her soon to be husband Joseph.  She must have been a young woman of deep listening and love for others in the place she inhabited.  She must have been a seeker of God in everyday life.  She must have lived in solidarity with God, others and her local community.

  •  Bringing something beautiful into the world

And out of this stewarding of her faithful presence, she became the mother of Jesus.  She brought something beautiful into the world.  God used her to bring Christ into the world as a human being through the incarnation.  If Mary had not been someone who practiced stewarding her faithful presence; she would not have had the ability to listen deeply, to sacrifice her life and marriage, to risk being marginalized, to act with courage in an unknown situation where she simply had to trust the God she believed in.

  •  If it wasn’t for Mary there would have been no early church

It must have been frightening for her.  Joseph may not of even understood her.  If it wasn’t for Mary we wouldn’t have a Christianity today.  There would have been no early church.

  •  Mary didn’t understand how everything would work out

There wouldn’t have been much of anything.  Mary stewarded her faithful presence and believed that God could do what she might have thought was impossible.  As Mary stewarded her presence, she lived with an embodied trust that she would follow the mystery of God even though she might not have understood how everything was going to work out.

Do you believe that Mary understood everything that was going on in the birth of Jesus?  Please comment and share!

Being the Church In and For Our Local Community


It seems that whenever I am having a bad day, I always try to return to a sense of deep listening while keeping my own responsibility of faithful presence within me. This keeps me in touch with my own love, grace and humility in everyday life. It keeps me from becoming frustrated and treating others with disrespect. I seem to need this to live my life in an intentional way that is good for the world around me.

  •  Deep listening in the parish

Stewarding our presence is about a deep listening in the parish. Deep listening could shape us tremendously. The Spirit is calling us to listen again and again in everyday life together. Our everyday lives should be characteristic of listening. Listening becomes like a sacrament of new wine being poured into new wineskins that Jesus taught about.

  •  Join with what the Spirit is doing in our communities

“This might sound counterintuitive, but it is important to realize that by listening carefully we may be able to discern where we can join with what the Spirit is doing in our communities,” says Alan J. Roxburgh. “This practice of joining with the Spirit… will give us the capacities to discover fresh ways of being the church in and for our communities…” 

  •  Leading us to an awareness

The Spirit is leading us to an awareness of Christ’s ongoing work in the parish. Stewarding our presence together helps us to discern and partner with what is going on in the place we inhabit. If we listen, we will slowly start to see relational revelations in everyday life happening often all around us in the place we live.

  •  Becoming the church in and for our local community

We become the church in and for our local community as we listen, as we steward our presence. We become listeners together through the parish imagination. The parish imagination joins in with what the Spirit is doing in the place we inhabit together.

  •  Taking the risk of interdependence

“Becoming incarnate will mean the same for us as it did Christ. We will have to experience being small and defenseless, requiring nurture from our host world just as Christ needed Mary’s milk. We cannot and must not remain rootless people or rootless churches. Christ needed water from the earth, food from the ground, education from his elders; yet we too often experience church as an organization that has absolutely no need for its surrounding community or area,” writes Kester Brewin. “It is too often an appendage, something slightly apart and independent, not needing the neighboring culture in order to survive. To admit our need as a church, our dependence on our host culture, is a risk. Yet like Christ we must take this risk of interdependence, this risk of being born, this risk of life.” 

What comes to mind when you hear the words faithful presence?


My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!

“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!

“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 our 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

Creating Greater Contribution and Clarity in Our World


I have found that when I think that I have all the answers to life is when I live in blindness and cannot see clearly.  It seems God is doing a work in my life where I am learning to live with more humility and honesty around my lack of clarity.  My sense of seeing is constantly evolving over time and maybe someday I will see without my dualistic thinking.

The other day it seemed God was nudging me to greater clarity around boundaries, gratitude, balance and humor.  These seem to be some of my greatest struggles in my everyday life.  I am longing for greater clarity and less blindness within myself.  This is the longing that I hold dear to me as I seek to embody my spirituality in the local community where I live.

  • Becoming disciplined within ourselves

We could come to a place of seeing with a sense of clarity, with a sense of wisdom through a lot of practice and experimentation.  When we are disciplined within ourselves, we are constantly being shaped because discipline fosters listening.  God is always shaping us.  Our life is about constantly allowing God to shape us and define our meaning in the here and now.  The mystical imagination is always working to shape us and cause us to listen to its revelations.

  • One of our greatest hopes for the body of Christ

Practicing discipline within the mystical imagination is one of our greatest hopes for the body of Christ in everyday life.  We will become people of greater clarity when this kind of a lifestyle is cultivated.  We will experience our salvation together in everyday life through a liberation of the individualistic status quo.

  • Seeing ourselves, others and God without illusions

The mystical imagination creates longings within us that can be created by none of our clever techniques.  Our longings are connected to our clarity.  Our longings and clarity will work together to create in us an imagination for a holistic counterculture in the parish.  We need clarity to see ourselves, others and God without illusion in our local community.

  • Longing for eyes to see

As Annemarie S. Kidder notes, “We long for eyes to see ourselves, others, and our God more clearly…”

  • Possibility and beauty

Our eyes are full of light, possibility and beauty when we see with a longing for something more than what we have known.  It is hard to see ourselves, others and God clearly; but we need to have a discipline that longs for such particular eyes.  The holistic counterculture of the mystical imagination longs for eyes to see with a sense of clarity.  Everything else is secondary to this cultivation of the mystical imagination.

  • Contributing to the world

Susan Cain writes in her book Quiet, “Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it…”

Do you think that living a disciplined life of greater clarity is difficult or easy? What are some of your biggest challenges?

Developing a Disciplined, Embodied Practice


I am realizing that I am beloved made in the image of God.  Sometimes I forget this and resort to shame, a loss of identity or self-rejection.  But I at working at practicing a creative compassion within myself that extends out into the world I live in.  I am coming to see that God has called me to become a saint, to live with purpose, passion and clarity.

This wisdom that God is working out in me is beautiful.  I am living with boundaries.  I am living with courage.  I am living as an embodied expression of love in my local community.  To dance the dance of the prisoner set free is my dream in everyday life.

  •  Living within our limitations and responsibilities

Human beings are made in the image of God to practice discipline, which means to practice living within the limitations of our bodies.  It also means living within our responsibilities by being faithfully present to others in the place we live.  If we want to live a beautiful, fruitful life we need to practice a mystical sense of discipline.

  •  Having a disciplined, embodied practice

It is essential.  There is no getting around it.  We cannot be lazy, unintentional, comfortable and apathetic anymore.  We cannot just talk about our spirituality without having a disciplined, embodied practice.

  •  Living with more courage

This will not work in our postmodern culture.  We have to live with more courage than that to have anything of beauty to offer our world.  When we see with a sense of clarity, this will help us to have courage within the mystical imagination.

  •  The purpose to become saints

One of the most influential Catholics in American history, Dorothy Day, states, “The only purpose for which we were made was to become saints…” 

  •  Called to be ordinary mystics and saints

Do we really believe that we are all called to be ordinary mystics and saints as the body of Christ in the twenty-first century?  We were made to see with that kind of clarity.  We were made to have that kind of power.

  •  Dance the dance of the prisoner set free

To dance the dance of the prisoner set free, the exile finding home, a subversion to the empire among us.  We could follow the disciples as they followed Christ.  We could enter into the stories of the people who lived for Christ by becoming a part of this beautiful narrative in history.

  •  Living into our calling as saints

We could be like one of the “sinners” Jesus hung out and ate with in the gospel stories.  There is no end to the possibilities that we could experience in our lifetime if we lived into our callings as saints.  This should be our sole passion in the parish as the body of Christ in everyday life.

Do you believe you are called to be a saint in the here and now, to live your life with courage?

Slowing Down to Find Peace – Excerpt from my book – The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together


We live in such a fast-paced world that our lives cannot keep up.  We have a hard time slowing down and creating new rhythms of a more peaceful way of life together. We take life and others for granted when we live at such high levels of speed.  We cannot root ourselves in a place without first learning to slow down.

  •  The simplicity of a slower pace of life

We cannot be faithfully present to one another in our relationships without the simplicity of a slower pace that allows us to appreciate life more.  Speed dominates our imaginations.  It has crushed to pieces the communal imagination.  We constantly disregard one another when we have no time just to be and reflect on what is going on within us.

  •  Speed damages us relationally

Speed consumes every area of our lives.  It damages us relationally in the parish.  It makes us less than human.  Speed can be addictive, just like consumerism.

  •  Speed leads us nowhere fast

Rarely will we let go of our fast-paced life.  But Christ is calling us to slow down and embrace one another more by adopting a lifestyle of simplicity that is subversive to speed.  When will we see that our speed actually leads us nowhere fast?  Christine Sine writes:

 The quest for speed and efficiency dominates our modern lives, and everyone convinces us that this frenetic rhythm is the only one we can adopt – for every area of our lives.

  •  Fragmentation and mental illness

What is our speed accomplishing for us but more fragmentation and mental illness?  It can never satisfy our feelings of emptiness.  It keeps us from looking deep within ourselves.  We fear emptiness and pain, so we live at a faster and faster pace in a desperate bid to avoid facing ourselves and others in the parish.

  •  Protecting our security and defending our preferred lifestyle

Speed has us moving around so fast that no one will ever get to know us very well.  Speed is about protecting our security and defending our preferred lifestyle.  We disregard everyone else and become apathetic about anything of value in life when the pace of life is all that matters.  Speed and individualism go hand in hand, making life together nonexistent.  Speed is co-opting our imaginations.

Do you agree that speed creates fragmentation in our lives?

How to Cultivate the Relational Path of Spiritual Formation


I love the concept of spiritual formation.  Spiritual formation to me is difficult, mysterious and fun.  It is the shaping of my identity.  In the process of my spiritual formation, I become my true self as I lose the illusions I’ve held onto over the years.

After many years of thinking about spiritual formation, I am starting to understand that it is a solitary experience sometimes but it is also very relational and social too.  I am learning that there should be no dualistic thinking around the solitary and relational aspects of formation, both are important.  It is not either/or, but both/and.

Spiritual formation seems to be one of the hardest things for the church in the twenty-first century to figure out.  I think we have such a hard time with it because we have lost the context of everyday life in a local community to practice what this means to us.  Recovering the idea of parish is so necessary to help us find our way back to context and practice.

  •  Spiritual formation is always profoundly social

Dallas Willard writes, “Spiritual formation, good or bad, is always profoundly social.  You cannot keep it to yourself.  Anyone who thinks of it as a merely private matter has misunderstood it.  Anyone who says, ‘It’s just between me and God,’ or ‘What I do is my own business,’ has misunderstood God as well as ‘me.’  Strictly speaking there is nothing ‘just between me and God.’  For all that is between me and God affects who I am; and that, in turn, modifies my relationship to everyone around me.  My relationship to others also modifies me and deeply affects my relationship to God.”

  •  Our lives affect those we are in relationship with

Everyone undergoes spiritual formation in our culture whether we realize it or not.  Spiritual formation that is good and holistic is connected within a rootedness to place.  It is connected with how our lives affect those we are in relationship with.  It is integrated to the sanity of our souls within the body of Christ in everyday life together.

  •  Learning how to heal the patterns of escapism

There is a mystical sense of discipline we need to develop within us as the body of Christ in the parish.  We need to learn how to heal the patterns of escapism through an undistracted life of mystical discipline.  We often times like to escape everything that does not produce immediate, comfortable results.

  •  Years of listening and faithful presence

But that is not how rootedness in a place works.  Our rootedness will most likely cause us pain and discomfort at times.  There are things that are so complex in our local context that it takes years of listening and faithful presence to understand what is going on.

What is your path of spiritual formation?  What are some of the practices that shape you?

How to Reimagine Our Success Around Local Community


As I have grown up in a culture that places a high emphasis on being successful, I have struggled with this word over the course of my life.  I do not really want to be successful it seems.  Making a bunch of money, buying nice things for myself, having a lot of approval from others and conforming to family or cultural expectations does not interest me much.  I have been told that I need to grow up and work to become more successful.

  • Not much encouragement to care for the place we live 

Where is the mention in our notions of success of others and how our life contributes to the development and good of the local community we live in.  It seems that care for others has died in our individualistic culture.  It seems that there is not much encouragement to care for the place that we live.  My identity wants to be shaped by a different kind of success, one that values place and others.

  • Free to care and love 

I want to be free to care.  I want to be fee to love the place that I live.  I want to be free to be my authentic self in all that I do.  I want to be fee to create my identity around different kinds of values that bring happiness and peace within.

  •  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.”

  •  A more relational way of life together within a particular place

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. The mental illness of this disease of individualism is corroding our humanity into something that is ugly and mutilated.

  •  Things that do not promote togetherness

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.

  •  Fostering life, reconciliation and hope

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.

How can we question success and reimagine this word to be something different than what we have been taught?

How Can We Embody Our Presence to God?


Sometimes I am convinced that God has left and abandoned me to be alone in the world to figure things out by myself.  I have this idea that sometimes God comes and goes.  I have this idea that I can come in and out of God’s presence at times.  This duality is ruining my life and is damaging me.

  • I am the one who is absent

I am coming to understand that it is not God who is absent from life, but I am the one who is absent and not faithfully present to God in the context of the place that I live.  I have forgotten my own presence.  I have lost my own voice in the midst of everyday life.  My own responsibility to be present to the realities of life, God and culture have slipped away from me somehow.

  • It is not God who is absent, it is you who are absent

Lauren F. Winner writes, “Another thing you think, when you have come to God’s absence, is this: it is not God who is absent at all, it is you who are absent…”

  • The most forming thing we can do in everyday life

God’s absence is a perception that I have developed to keep me from taking responsibility to my own faithful presence.  Responsibility is one of the hardest things to learn and can be difficult.  Our practice of presence will be the most forming thing we can do in everyday life.  It entails love, grace, humility, listening, awareness, solitude and embodiment.

  • God is revealed constantly to us through our ordinary moments

I need to become aware of God’s presence of beauty and goodness in everyday life.  We say that God is omnipresent, but do we believe this living with an intentional awareness to become present ourselves to this reality.  God is revealed constantly to us through our ordinary moments.  Will we live blind to this fact or cry out to God to heal us from our blindness that causes dualistic thinking and fragmentation?

  • Our human experience is where we experience God

Our human experience is where we experience God.  It is in our body, in our breath, in our flesh, in our movements, in our words, in our listening, in our resting, in our playing that we become present to God.  The bodily experience of our humanity is where God is revealed to us.  This cannot be devalued and ignored!

  • Flesh and blood and time and space

“What a paradox: that we connect with God,” states Anne Lamott, “with divinity, in our flesh and blood and time and space.  We connect with God in our humanity…”

  • Our identity, our passion, our purpose, our life’s intention

Through our flesh and blood, we find union with God.  Throughout our lives as we experience more we evolve through wisdom, love and grace.  Our humility develops as we become aware of our presence to God in everyday life.  Our presence to God becomes our identity, our passion, our purpose, our life’s intention.

What causes us to lose sight of our responsibility to become present to God in everyday life?