Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wannabe (Better) Writers: Personal Memoir Writing Teleconference Training Course


Karen Mains tested this teleconference training last year and found it such a joyful enterprise and so profitable for the six writers (with various publishing experiences), who met via phone for one hour twice a month, that she is offering it as a major outreach for eight months, from Feb. 14 through Oct. 28, with a break in August.

You must register and set up your payment schedule by January 15, since you need to e-mail some work to Karen by the first teleconference call February 14, 2010.

We are told by distance-learning advisors that no one is doing this kind of long-term mentoring—but this eight-month learning curve is deliberately schemed to be long enough to give adult learners time to integrate what they are learning into their writing attempts. (We have also been told that the fee schedule is so low that we are “practically giving away” this coaching!—but we want to make it possible for all in this economically difficult time.) We have room for 12 participants.

Karen has written some 24 books (several of which were best-sellers), has a background in radio and television broadcasting, has been part of publishing teams, has taken journalism assignments around the world, is a national-prize-winning author, and is now exploring the science of Internet publishing.

The course's curriculum is below.

Writing Personal Memoirs: A Curriculum for Wannabe (Better) Writers

The telementoring cycle begins February 14, 2010 and continues through October 28, with a break over August.

Writers will meet via teleconference calls on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at 7:00 p.m., Central Standard Time. The conference phone number will be given to those who register.

A limited number of registrants will be allowed to join this cycle of writer mentoring.

Pre-teleconference work:
1. Registrants must submit a personal writing history, name and contact information by e-mail for all the group to peruse. Please paginate.
2. Registrants must submit a short personal essay on “What Is the Scary Thing Under My Bed?” One or two pages in length is fine.
3. Registrants must begin thinking about two articles in the personal memoir form that they will want to craft to the submission level and report to Karen via e-mail the chosen topics.

During these eight months, Karen will walk Wannabe (Better) Writers through the
principles of writing personal memoirs—this is a form that Karen’s writing has taken in many of her articles, blogs, e-newsletters, and in some of her 24 published books.

The GOAL of This Telementoring Process

…is to provide you with a safe place to become introduced to the concept of writing from your own life and to demystify some of the mythology that surrounds being a writer. Karen will not promise to get you published, but she (and your group) will walk you through the process that will make your work the best that it can be. The advantage of working with a professional, published, best-selling and award-winning author simply means that Karen knows and understands what keeps Wannabe Writers from expressing what it is in their hearts they want to write.

Karen will provide:

1. A teleconference session twice a month, one hour each, for eight months.
2. Feedback on all submitted articles.
3. Teaching on personal memoir writing.
4. An introduction to the basics of the craft of writing.
5. An introduction to the basics of the trade of writing.
6. An introduction to writer’s conferences.
7. A query letter, writer’s resume and book proposal.
8. A manuscript-editing service (for an extra fee; this is optional).
9. Lots of encouragement!

First Conference Call: Getting Acquainted: Writing Histories
Philip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay

Second Conference Call: Getting Words on Paper: Writing the Natural Way

Third Conference Call: Writer’s Tools: Start With the Local Library

Fourth Conference Call: Periodicals for Writers and Writers’ Conferences

Fifth Conference Call: The Lead Paragraph

Sixth Conference Call: Writer’s Block (The Writer’s Ego: Part One)

Seventh Conference Call: The Interview Process: Interviewing and Being Interviewed

Eighth Conference Call: Writer’s Manuscript-Review Group

Ninth Conference Call: Internet Writing: E-newsletters, Blogging, Etc.

Tenth Conference Call: Editors and Contracts and Income Reporting

Eleventh Conference Call: Submission Process: Where and How and Manuscript Format

Twelfth Conference Call: Query Letters, Writer’s Resume, Book Proposals

Thirteenth Conference Call: Marketing Yourself and Your Stuff

Fourteenth Conference Call: Inspiration and the Writer’s Life

Fifteenth Conference Call: The Writer’s Ego: Part 2

Sixteenth Conference Call: Comments and Observations

Seventeenth Conference Call: Wrapping It All Up


The fee is $40 a month ($20 for each conference call, including manuscript evaluation) or $320 for the 8 months (16 sessions) of coaching.

You can pay $40 at the beginning of each month or you can pay $320 in one lump sum. Checks can be made out to Karen Mains and mailed to Box 30, Wheaton, IL 60187.

Editorial services (optional) are additional but reasonable.

They are as follows:
For one short article under 5 pages, $20.
For a piece 10-12 pages long, $40.
Longer works will be negotiated with the in-house editor.

Karen Mains
Wannabe (Better) Writers Teleconference Training Course http://ping.fm/enSpN

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Painting With Brooms: Advent-Retreat Reprise 2009


While painting with brooms in my friend’s heated garage, I realized we had an Advent teaching metaphor in the making. So, generously, Natalie Lombard hauled all the painting apparatus—brooms and turkey-basters (our “brushes”), acrylic paint jars, four 8’×4’ foot rolls of paper, trays for mixing paint, tarps and calligraphy brushes—all so we could make a few points about the theme of this year’s Advent Retreat, Prepare Ye!

What had begun this fall as an experiment in technique—Natalie had been taken with the painting style of Hans Hartung, whose work she encountered as we toured the Macht Foundation Modern Art Museum on our Hungry Souls France trip in October of 2008—had become for me a kind of play, which I would not have undertaken on my own had I not had a companion ready to “play” along with me (and to gather all the equipment).

As we brushed paint with brooms in the garage, we began to talk about the principles that exist in every project requiring humans to “get ready” or to “be prepared,” whether it is cooking a recipe, designing a work project, leaving for a vacation, writing a book, cleaning a car, planting a garden, going to church, or implementing a big (or little) idea.

So, at the Bishop Lane Retreat Center in Rockford, before entering into 24 hours of Grand Silence, Natalie and I demonstrated “painting with brooms.” This was slightly complicated because it takes almost 24 hours for a layer of paint to dry before the next layer can be applied. Consequently, we adapted our technique by applying the first field of color—black, which dried to a charcoal grey—in the garage. There, we used push brooms to sweep the color across the eight-foot expanse of paper. This technique allows the colors to puddle between the feathery-sweeps left by the broom. Onto these puddles we pressed kitchen plastic-wrap and removed it when the field was no longer wet to the touch. This left spontaneous blotches of texture that gave intriguing surface effects. At the retreat, we then swept royal-blue acrylic on the upper half of the surface using the feathering strokes of a straw-bristle kitchen broom—we had learned that plastic bristles do not absorb the paint.

Without allowing the blue acrylic to dry, Natalie then filled a turkey-baster with a magenta-toned paint that she spread in big looping designs across the lower half of the paper; sort of a loose-handed combination of squeezing and pouring! Without allowing this color to dry, she then hit a wallpaper brush filled with yellow so that it splattered bright random sprays across the whole scroll.

Eventually, when the attendees had gone and as the retreat progressed, Natalie blotted the standing pools of paint, we turned on floor fans to hasten the drying process, and she spent the next morning calligraphing “Prepare Ye!” all over the 8’ papers (four in all, two of them for each retreat).

The universal principles about getting ready we shared from this teaching metaphor are:

Every project begins with an unformed idea.

An idea, no matter how mundane—I need to get the house really cleaned this week—is the genesis of any getting-ready project. A seed concept lies at the beginning of grand schemes or ordinary functions. The question is this: What are we going to do with that idea?

For Natalie, the idea of using ordinary objects for some artistic adventuring began at the Macht Foundation above the little town of Saint-Paul de Vence, nestled in the hills above the French coastal city of Nice. The museum, which had mounted a major exhibit of the works of the abstract, modernist painter Hans Hartung, also displayed cases of his tools—a fascinating introduction to technique. Natalie came home determined to try this approach to painting herself—hence, our painting with brooms.

The interesting thing about “the idea” is that everyone has ideas, but not everyone executes the idea (nor should every idea be executed). And many of us just do not pay attention to what is going on in the inner stew of our desires and longings and conceptualizations. Ideas do pop into our hearts and minds: I would love to… we think.

At this point, the inner saboteur begins to tell us all the reason why we cannot do what it is we would love to do. You couldn’t possibly do that; you’re not gifted enough. You don’t have enough money. You never finish what you start. On and on it sneers, injecting its innuendoes and accusations, shutting down the embryonic ideas that want life.

We are never potentially more god-like than when we decide whether or not to give ourselves to the idea. The Mind of the Maker, written by Dorothy Sayers, is a theological treatise on creativity and the creative mind. In it she writes, “It is the artist who, more than other men, is able to create something out of nothing. A whole artistic work is immeasurably more than the sum of its parts. … The components of the material world are fixed; those of the world of the imagination increase by a continuous and irreversible process, without any destruction or rearrangement of what went before. This represents the nearest approach we experience to ‘creating out of nothing.’ … The experience of the creative imagination in the common man or woman and in the artist is the only thing we have to go upon in entertaining and formulating the concept of Creation.”

So be tender toward your ideas. Remember: Every project begins with an unformed idea.

The next principle of getting ready is that we begin to gather what we need to execute the idea.

I’ve learned that if I want to bake pumpkin bread for the holidays, or make some of the endless variations of pumpkin-soup recipes I’ve collected, or finally get to that pumpkin soufflĂ© dessert I’ve been wanting an excuse to use, I need to buy pumpkins before Thanksgiving. No pumpkins are to be found anywhere the week before Thanksgiving (Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin gathers them all into the Garden Patch in the sky, I guess). So, I take one morning in October before the nearby Farmers’ Market closes for the season and splurge on a wild assortment of cucurabitaceae (pumpkins, gourds or squashes). They line the walk to my house and sit on my cement porch beside the front door.

A sign in the canned-goods aisle of my grocer’s this morning apologized that they had run out of cans of pumpkins due to an unexpected shortage in the growing zones caused by inclement weather. Good thing that I had gathered my equipment earlier in the fall. I pried the frozen pumpkins out of the snow-covered displays, defrosted them slowly in the oven, baked them, scraped the seeds out and the skins off, and made my own puree.

In order to paint with brooms, Natalie had to gather the equipment, learn what worked and what didn’t work, figure the costs (hence acrylic paint, which is cheaper than the rest and tolerates being watered down) and construct some sort of informal timeline. We had four practice sessions, one discussion session, one conversation about what-were-we-doing, never completed a finished work but decided that as far as a teaching metaphor goes, we knew enough to mount a workable demonstration.

Every getting-ready process includes a gathering period.

Somewhere along the way, when we are getting ready, we do some type of research.

Yes, we do. Think about the fact-checking that goes into writing a journalistic article. Think about the morning spent looking into recipes for that company dinner. Think about how many books I’ve read on the microenterprise economy so I could be informed before starting the Global Bag Project. Think about what it takes to purchase an airline ticket to fly somewhere for vacation. Think of the Bible study that goes into a sermon.

I realize that I have three shelves of books illuminating the art-making process. I have been doing unconscious research because the creation of art intrigues me. I’ve roamed through more museums across the world than I can count. Think about what it takes for those of us from non-liturgical church backgrounds to understand (and get ready for) Advent! (Are the candles in an Advent wreath all one color, or are they pink, blue and purple? What is the Christ-candle for? When are they lit?)

Every getting-ready process has some kind of research that goes into it.

Next, we need to trust the precedents that we have already observed.

For most getting-ready events, we have been gathering information, mulling over the idea, looking at how other people do it and researching the concept formally or informally. A whole contemplative consideration has been going on in our lives culminating in the desire not just to know how to climb mountains but to actually participate in the event, to scale those walls, to go mountaineering.

So, when we embark on a project, we need to trust the fact that we have been observing and absorbing lore, information, example, some kind of experience regarding our venture more than we even know. All the books about art I’ve read, the artists that I’ve studied and written about have filled my inner self with advice and how-to. I know more about what I know than I know. When getting ready, I need to trust that learning.

I need to look around and see what is at hand. You have probably been collecting the tools to do what it is in your heart to do. What about that file on traveling to Italy? What about that garage shelf filled with leftover paint in cans that you’ve been thinking about throwing on canvas? What about all those volumes (Karen?) about earning a living from writing? Frequently, everything you need to get started is at hand. You have been attracted to people who do what you want to do. One of them will be delighted to help you get started. You want to quilt? You’ve been gathering material scraps for years. You want to learn computer design? Why do you always circle those classes in the local community-college catalogue when it comes?

Trust the precedents. They will prepare you. They will inform you. They will enable you. Believe me, they are part of God’s work in your life to show you the way it is you should go.

Every getting-ready process begins with chaos.

Disorder is just the name of the game. I don’t know how to get where I am going. That attic hasn’t really been ordered the whole time we’ve lived in that house. We just keep shoving things upstairs to store and rooting around up there when we need to find things. It’s a mess! I don’t know where to start.

Don’t be afraid of the chaos (whether it is little or monumental). The very process of getting ready is a process of bringing order through planning, through gathering, through some sort of pre-thought, through researching and learning into what at first seems an insurmountable task.

God is a Master at creating form out of the void, or reordering chaos into meaning. He will whisper the way into your heart. Don’t be afraid or avoid getting ready just because you can’t see your way through the void. You can do it.

Every getting-ready process needs an assessment period.

“Is this as good as it can be?” We need to learn that we can learn more from what we have already done. So evaluation questions must be asked. “Can I be more efficient in the kitchen?” “Do I need to and can I hire help in some of the getting-ready events?” (Getting the garden ready for spring, for instance.) “Would this getting ready be better if I shared the labor of it with others (my husband, a willing friend, a child in the family who is curious and capable, or colleagues at work, for instance)?”

I love the fact that “In the Beginning…” as Genesis tells us, God leaned back and evaluated the work. “It is good,” we are told He concluded. “It is very good.”

Work toward that blessing, from God upon you, and from you upon what you are trying to accomplish. Be satisfied in having begun a good thing.

So our Advent retreats went well this year. The teaching metaphor was a success. Natalie’s calligraphy lifted the art experiment to another level. Her Prepare Ye! danced all over the 8’ scrolls. She cut the four 8-foot sheets into three panels each and we sold them for $20, earning $240 in all, enough to defray our material expenses. Sixty-six people, including the retreat team, attended. We entered into silence, met God in the silence, watched the light come into the world at our annual morning gathering, had time to attend the Prepare Ye! stations, sat before the Cross in the Chapel and repented whatever needed to be brought before God, then swept away our errors in a symbolic act using brooms in another way. We made appointments for prayer. We journaled or napped, we ate meals in silence. We listened to David Mains talk from his three-year study of Revelation, about preparing ourselves for the Second Coming of Christ, and we went home ready, for the most part, to enter deeply into this holy season of watching and waiting, Advent.

And some of us had an idea, a new thing pushing up out of the quiet interior, something thrusting about, something asking for life, for birth, for becoming, for being. Unto us a child is born.

Whatever nativity is in your heart to give birth to, may this year be the one in which it finds conception. Blessings.

Karen Mains

Saturday, December 19, 2009

nourishing those who are hungry http://karenmains.com/

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant


One work of fiction that captures the agonizing alienation in our culture is Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. This American writer has a genius that is expressed by focusing on ordinary people, all of whom seem to have attachment issues. The book explores the relationships of the Tull family; the mother, Pearl, abandoned by her husband Beck Tull; the sons, Cody and Ezra; and the daughter Jenny.

The organizing metaphor in the book is Ezra Tull's Homesick Restaurant. The dilemma of a family who can never make it through one meal is captured in this reflection by Cody, the eldest son:

"Hadn't Ezra noticed that the family as a whole had never yet finished one of his dinners? That they'd fight and stamp off halfway through, or sometimes not even manage to get seated in the first place? Well, of course he must have noticed, but was it clear to him as a pattern, a theme? No, perhaps he viewed each dinner as a unit in itself, unconnected to the others. Maybe he never linked them in his mind.

"Assuming he was a total idiot.

"It was true that once--to celebrate Cody's new business--they had made it all the way to dessert; so if they hadn't ordered dessert you could say they'd completed the meal. But the fact was, they did order dessert, which was left to sag on the plates when their mother accused Cody of deliberately setting up shop as far from home as possible. There was a stiff-backed little quarrel. Conversation fell apart. Cody walked out. So technically, even that meal could not be considered finished. Why did Ezra go on trying?

"Why did the rest of them go on showing up, was more to the point?"

The brilliance of Anne Tyler's work (John Updike once called her "wickedly good") is that this metaphor of people who can never finish a meal together in the Homesick Restaurant is not only the picture of a dysfunctional family, it has a broader application to a whole society that is increasingly separated from knowing how to create meaningful connections with each other.

In a recent article by Janet Kornblum, USA Today reported that Americans have one-third fewer close friends and confidants than just two decades ago. This is something of a seismic shift. "You usually don't see that kind of big social change in a couple of decades," reports Lynn Smith-Lovin, professor of sociology at Duke University, Durham, N.C., and co-author of the study reported in American Sociological Review.

In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to him or her. By 2004, that number had dropped to two confidants, and the findings determined that consequently, 25% of Americans have no one in whom to confide.

Smith-Lovin explains, "Close relationships are a safety net. Whether it's picking up a child or finding someone to help you out of the city in a hurricane, these are people we depend on."

The USA Today article makes the point that research has linked social isolation and loneliness to mental and physical illness. If that is the case, can we not also conclude that our mental and physical (and spiritual) health improves when we are socially connected and not living in isolating environments?

In 1967 I wrote a book, one of the first of its kind, I believe, that developed a theology of hospitality. Open Heart, Open Home has sold more than 600,000 copies and is still in print (InterVarsity Press). I believe — indeed, am even more convinced — that scriptural hospitality is an antidote to alienation. It is a sure-cure for spiritual homesickness. It is a tool that, when practiced in the family (learning how to stay at the table with each other), can create a sense of profound welcome and acceptance. It is a tool that, when regularly and intentionally practiced in the church, is guaranteed to effect assimilation of the members as well as the creation of community. It is a tool that, when practiced in the neighborhood, results in neighborly connections. Believe me when I say that today, in this disconnected society, just inviting people for dinner (then using deep-listening questions like those we are developing in the Hungry Souls Listening Groups) is an evangelistic act. Hospitality can (and does) heal the lonely soul.

So why are we not using this powerful spiritual tool — in our families, in our churches, in the world around us? Why is this ancient spiritual practice falling into disuse? Aren't there many of us who, longing for significant connection, cry like Ezra Tull, "Please! Please. For once, I want this family to finish a meal together. Why, every dinner we've ever had, something has gone wrong. Someone has left in a huff, or in tears, everything's fallen apart..."

In the next months, I want to revisit the concept of hospitality. God has given me one of those Grand Ideas, and I am going to need help to pull it off. I'm hoping some of you may want to be on my Grand Idea team. But first, we need a little time (and a few Soulish Foods) to recapture the beauty of this spiritual practice, its relationship to the inner journey, and the high value God places on having an open heart and an open home.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What did you like best about Christmas when you were a kid? New toys? Grandmother's house? Or was it the piney aroma of the tree? Could it have been simply the sheer wonder of it all? http://ping.fm/Qlvl8

Give the Gift of Meaningful Storytelling this Christmas

In the tradition of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein come these heartwarming allegories of good and evil from best-selling authors Karen and David Mains. Your entire family, from children to adults, will be entranced as Scarboy and his friends boldly follow the one True King to overcome the evil Enchanter and his tenacious hold on the oppressed residents of Enchanted City.

This Trilogy of three titles are Gold-medallion award-winners and we're the only place where you can receive "signed" autographed copies of these beautiful picture books. These popular, but hard to find books are selling for $40-$60 apiece on Ebay! But you can order your keepsake Christimas gift copies direct from Mainstay for much less and give a meaningful gift that will last forever.

Sit down with your family or friends this Christmas to enjoy rich Kingdom Truths wrapped in a delightful package of riveting stories, told by master storytellers, David and Karen Mains.

Each signed book ($30 plus $8 S/H)
OR the whole autographed Trilogy of three books...save 17% ($75 plus $10 S/H)
(We ship in 24 hours using USPS Priority Mail 2-day delivery service, so you'll receive these gifts in time for Christmas).

Order securely online or call 1-800-224-2735:

Go here for Tales of the Kingdom:

Go here for Tales of the Resistance:

Go here for Tales of the Restoration:

Go here for more details about the Trilogy:

Here's what others have said about the Tales of the Kingdom Trilogy:

"Many join Gloria Gaither, singer and author, in saying, "I loved this book!":

"The plots of these fairy tales are imaginative, the characters delightully unpredictable, yet real enough to remind us of ourselves. Like us, they are often pulled in opposite directions--toward both good and evil--and whether we are young of old we enjoy their adventures and learn from their right (and wrong) choices."

"These tales draw us almost imperceptible into the Kingdom through the open doors of whimsy and invention." Luci Shaw, Listen to the Green, The Sighting

"Sound theology wrapped in creative storytelling. substantive and biblical, skillfully crafted, marvelous for family reading." Harold Myra, Publisher and president of Christianity Today

"These stories are a good marriage of fantasy and a Christian Aesop's Fables. They bring narrative, sight, and sound together to tell a convincing story with excellent moral fabric." Walter Wangerin, author, Book of the Dun Cow American Book Award

Order securely online, or call us today at 1-800-224-2735

David & Karen Mains
Mainstay Ministries & Hungry Souls
1-800-224-2735 or 623-322-3334
27314 N 37th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 8508

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Perfect Eco-Christmas Gift!

Are you interested in focusing more on Christ and less on mass consumerism this Christmas? Proverbs 19:17 reads: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.” Try multitasking your gift-giving by Buying a Bag … Feeding a Family … and Preserving the Planet! The Global Bag Project’s reusable kanga-cloth bags:

• Are made of sturdy, eco-friendly fabric
• Are sized big enough for grocery shopping (instead of using plastic or paper bags)
• Include a matching, zippered change-purse with recycled beads rolled from paper
• Come in gorgeous kanga patterns and colors with Swahili sayings
• Contain a DVD telling the story of the seamstress who made it (and more)
• Provide a fair-trade opportunity for needy families to eat and send their children to school!

What a great opportunity to honor the person to whom you are giving! “In your name I’ve purchased this Global Bag Project shopping bag, which provides sustenance for families lifting themselves out of poverty while also helping the environment.” Such a simple idea with profound results! Consider purchasing a Global Bag Project shopping bag as a viable option gift-giving option this holiday season.

If you are in the Chicago area and want to sign up for a Home Bag-Party for next year 2010, let us know at info@globalbagproject.org. If you are out of the Chicago area and will be a willing participant to test the “BAG PARTY IN A BOX” concept and give us feedback, also contact us at the above e-mail address.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How does the Bible, written so long ago, really feed the spirit? http://hungrysouls.org/

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I'm thankful to those who attended Hungry Soul's Annual Advent 24-Hour Retreat of Silence... Bless you all! http://KarenMains.com

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Friends and Strangers chronicles the beginning of the journey into
self-knowledge, a painful odyssey particular to the work of the middle
years. This narrative focuses on the ages from 38-45. Each of us has hidden
areas, lies we tell to ourselves that we don�t know we are telling. The work
of the Holy Spirit is to continually bring us into truth. In this book I
begin to look at truth through encounters with strangers, people I meet
along the way, brought to me by God, who have rich gifts to give that shake
my smug thinking. I am convinced that no encounter is casual, as each has
the potential to move the ground beneath our feet, which is never as solid
as we like to think.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Perfect Christmas gifts for your love ones, books written with all my heart http://mainstay.stores.yahoo.net/karen-mains-books1.html

Teach Me to Play

I am at a major turning point in my six- (almost seven-) decades-old life, and as I put together the content for the 2009 sixth annual Hungry Souls 24-Hour Advent Retreat of Silence, I am aware that this will be the last Advent Retreat I plan. Hopefully, others will step forward to take up the responsibility of this lovely gift joyfully given to others, but if not, I am content to say, “We did a good job introducing many to their first taste of communal silence.”

My creative life is calling me; it hums in the night. I can see it in flashpoints during my days. The unborn works I have not brought to nativity wait patiently for me to give them birth.

How fortunate to have these days where I am still in good health and of sound mind. But the ubiquitous question—how long will they last?—always rises.

During the last session of the current cycle of Listening Groups (eight months of listening to each other), one of the women graciously extended words of appreciation to each member. When my turn came, she said this: “I have a friend who knows that I am in a Listening Group with Karen Mains. She loves your writing and asked me what you were like. I told her that you were an absolute free spirit!”

I was amazed. I used to be a free spirit (as Julie Andrews once sang as Maria, “Somewhere in my wicked childhood …”), but it has become painfully clear to me over the last three years that I have a play deprivation. Creativity oozes, and laughter, fortunately, has become a companion again—but a free spirit?—something must be showing without my knowing. I suspect my “free spirit” is always hedged about by my heightened sense of responsibility and peeks out at moments when I am not aware of it.

So for whatever of life is left to me, I want to dedicate that to learning how to play. In order to be content that I have lived well the life given to me, I am determined to go dancing, singing and scribing into heaven—with nothing undone that was meant to be done. I do not want to spend the last days of my life with an overwrought sense of obligation. I want to free the closet renegade within me and say, “Okay, your turn…”

Stuart Brown, M.D., in his fascinating book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, writes that humans are genetically programmed for play. Brown has spent his career conducting more than 6000 play histories with people from all walks of life; serial killers (who displayed one startling commonality—a childhood play-deprivation) to Nobel Prize winners, to celebrities, to public servants, and to those who represent the rest of us, the common folk.

Brown writes, “When we get play right, all areas of our lives go better. When we ignore play, we start having problems. When someone doesn’t keep an element of play in their life, their core being will not be light. Play gives us the irony to deal with paradox, ambiguity, and fatalism. Without that, we are like the Woody Allen character in Annie Hall, who says, “What’s the use? The sun’s going to blow up in five billion years anyway.”

Here is a list of what he recommends to restore play to the play-deprived.

1. Take your play history.

For a long time I couldn’t remember how I played as a child, or what kind of toys I had, but this exercise helped me remember that I loved playing field hockey (high school and college); that my father’s exiled (to Des Moines, Iowa) Southern family loved family sing-fests; that as a grade-schooler I loved gardening with my father and canning with my mom and grandmother. Reading, reading, reading was always high on the list, and I remember the pleasure of riding a bicycle (purchased secondhand when I was in 4th grade). There’s a long way to go, I know—I’m a little deficient in the early-years play history—but it’s a start.

2. Expose yourself to play.

My friend Natalie Lombard and I have been experimenting with painting with brooms in her heated garage. (It is good to have a playful friend with a heated garage.) I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to choose people for these last decades of my life who know how to play and who make a way for the free spirit dwelling within me that wants OUT! Natalie and I are building a living metaphor on the Prepare Ye! theme for the opening of this year’s Advent Retreat of Silence. We are becoming really good at spreading paint with a turkey baster—another painting tool—though I am amazed that working with the same consistency of watered-down pastels and the same turkey baster, our hands nevertheless produce totally different lines!

3. Give yourself permission to be playful, to be a beginner.

OK. OK. I’m here already. I’m seeking out people whom life has not beaten into seriousness. In one conversation recently with the team of gals who are designing training for Retreat of Silence leaders, we discussed the importance of recapturing a sense of play. One woman mentioned her “fun dates.” Consequently, right now I am thinking about beginning establishing outrageously ridiculous Play Days once a month for the purpose of giving myself permission to be playful, to be a beginner and get this play thing down right.

For the rest of Stuart Brown’s list, I recommend you read the book and check out your own capacity for play.

For my whole life, I’ve visited Christ’s words, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, NRSV). What did He mean?

David Steindl-Rast writes about the “child-like” concept, “The child within us stays alive. And the child within us never loses the talent to look with the eyes of the heart, to combine concentration with wonderment, and so to pray without ceasing. The more we allow the child within us to come into its own, the more we become mature in our prayer life. This is surely one meaning of the saying that we must ‘become like children.’ There is no childishness suggested here. … A truly mature person has not rejected childlikeness, but rather achieved it on a higher level. As we progress in that direction, everything in our daily life becomes prayer. The childlike heart divines springs of refreshing water at every turn.

What I want to concentrate on in the years left to me is not to let work overtake wonderment; indeed, I want to learn how to launch wonderment and let the work go hand in hand with it. I no longer need to develop the discipline of doing tasks I really don’t like or am not good at doing. That discipline has revealed that I’m pretty good at a lot of things—surprise! From now on, as much as possible, I want my work to become play.

Stuart Brown again: “Far from standing in opposition to each other, play and work are mutually supportive. They are not poles at opposite ends of our world. Work and play are more like the timbers that keep our house from collapsing down on top of us. Though we have been taught that play and work are each the other’s enemy, what I have found is that neither one can thrive without the other. We need the newness of play, its sense of flow, and being in the moment. We need the sense of discovery and liveliness that it provides. We also need the purpose of work, the economic stability it offers, the sense that we are doing service for others, that we are needed and integrated into our world.”

So here are the questions I’m beginning to ask of myself:

1. How am I incorporating play into my week—each week?
2. What outrageously ridiculous Play Day am I going to orchestrate this month?
3. Who are the people who know how to laugh and play, and how can I make them my friends?
4. How will I take this sense of wonder and marry it to the work I choose to do?
5. How am I going to find joy in the effort of simply being a little kid in God’s Presence—running toward the Kingdom of Heaven on happy feet (you saw the film Happy Feet, didn’t you? Yep, that’s exactly what I mean).

So, I hope to see you at this year’s 6th annual Advent Retreat of Silence. Let us meet each other in the silence and listen together to see what God has to teach us about being prepared. I am bringing my painting brooms and my turkey baster.

Karen Mains