Articles By: Tara Owens

The Blessings of the Bitter

A few weeks ago, my husband attended a workshop on Scottish food and drink. It was a recreational class, and he went to enjoy new cuisine and learn a little more about the culinary history of the Scots (for example, how in the world did haggis come about?). After an afternoon of learning about the geography and its effects on the various products that come out of Scotland, the instructor said something fascinating: “Our palates don’t fully develop the ability to appreciate a range of bitterness until we’re in our late thirties or early forties.”

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Join the Conversation- 11.1 “Streams of Living Water”

Dear Readers,

In “Join the Conversation”, we often share feedback we receive from readers on previous issues or ways that you are using the journal for your own spiritual growth. For this issue however, we reached out to our Facebook community (all several thousand of you!) with a “Call for Artwork” that coincided with our “Streams of Living Water” theme. You are one bunch of creative and talented folks! We received many, many original images of paintings, photographs, poetry—and we thought we’d share it with you here:

Be blessed by the creative expressions and reflections on the artwork of those on this journey with you!

Warmly,

The Conversations Team

To read the rest of this article, you can purchase the entire issue or just this article through our Journal Store.

Help My Unbelief
I wipe the red earth surreptitiously on the front of my shirt, just a little to the left of center. Only a few grains of ochre cling in the weave of the cotton, and I glance around to see if anyone caught me in what felt like a terribly superstitious gesture. My hand itches to wipe the residue away, but something holds it still. Instead, I duck low, like bending in prayer, and hurry through a narrow room filled with crutches, casts and crucifixes, its walls papered with the pictures of those for whom I should be in prayer.
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O Taste and See: Meditations on the Illuminations of the Four Holy Gospels

I painted the five large-scale images that illuminate… The Four Holy Gospels using water-based Nihonga (Japanese style painting) materials, with my focus on the tears of Christ (John 11)—tears shed for the atrocities of the past century and for our present darkness.

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Life in the Kingdom: Gifts and Learnings from Dallas Willard

This September we’re taking time to pay tribute to a man who has given much to us at Conversations Journal both through his presence on our Editorial Board and his wisdom through the years—Dr. Dallas Willard.

I first met Dallas, as many do, through his writing. While many point to The Divine Conspiracy or Hearing God as the books that changed their lives and made them Dallas devotées, it was The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives that touched me most deeply. I had been assigned the book during a spiritual formation course in seminary. The professor hedged our reading assignment with this caveat: The first third of the book is heady and heavy, he said, so feel free to skip ahead and come back later if you’d prefer.

What I discovered, though, was the first third of The Spirit of the Disciplines was my favorite part of the book. I’d read a number of volumes on the spiritual disciplines at that point, but nothing like Dallas’s finely parsed understanding of the why and the how God works through those very practices. Suddenly, pages and pages of the what of disciplines like fasting and solitude made not only absolute but urgent sense. Through Dallas’s words, God’s workings became not only clear but attractive and necessary. I was drawn to the gospel and to spiritual formation like never before.

My second story about Dallas Willard occurred during a Renovaré conference in San Antonio, Texas. I’d never met Dallas in person, and his unassuming and humble appearance both startled and encouraged me. He engaged everyone around him thoughtfully and quietly, without pomp or circumstance. During a Q&A session in one of the conference slots, a gentleman stood to ask him about his continued engagement with his local Baptist church. The questioner pointed out that Dallas is unflinching in his critique of the Church, often bringing forth a prophetic call to challenge and change her. Why, the man asked, did Dallas continue to go to church when it was failing so badly, often completely ignoring the wisdom in her own midst?

Dallas paused, thoughtfully, and if I had blinked I’d have missed his small smile.

“Well,” he responded. “Where else am I going to learn to love my enemies?”

Clear, humble, wry and grace-filled, Dallas Willard’s person and presence continue to be a blessing to me, to Conversations Journal, and to many, many people worldwide. I hope that you’ll enjoy this month of reflection on his writing and his impact on the Church and on spiritual formation. Please join in the conversation with your own comments and stories. We’d love to hear them.

Three Things I Learned From My Spiritual Director (Or Soul Friend)
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I admit it, I’m a little biased about this month’s blog topic. As a spiritual director, I’m thrilled when people talk about their encounters in spiritual direction with others. Our journey with God can become dangerously singular, our experiences hoarded, heaped into the corners of our souls and left to moulder. Opening our stories to one another allows them to expand, and as they do they become more fertile—new things spring forth.

I’m not sure I could narrow down the things that I’ve learned from the various spiritual directors and soul friends in my life down to just three, and I was slightly concerned that I’d given our bloggers an impossible task. But they’ve risen to the task, and I’m excited to share their words, wisdom and wit with you this month.

Songs of Hope
By |   June 29, 2012 |   in Blog, Music

It’s been a difficult few days in the Colorado Springs satellite office of Conversations Journal. For those of you who aren’t aware, I work out of my home remotely as Conversations‘ Senior Editor. On Tuesday evening, a wall of flame from the Waldo Canyon Fire raced down the bluff above our home and our neighborhood was engulfed in orange smoke.

We had less than an hour to grab clothing, sentimental items and pack up our dog and get out of the fire’s path. As I write this, our home is still in an area under mandatory evacuation. We are staying in the basement of a friend as we wait for news. At this point, we believe our home was spared significant damage, but we know several families who have lost everything.

The afternoon that we evacuated, I spent time writing a blog post on this month’s theme, how music has made an impact on my spiritual formation. Although I’m hoping to post that entry soon, I wanted to speak to the gratitude I feel to God and to the Conversations community for all of the support and prayer my family and my community have received over the past few days.

As blogger and friend Winn Collier quoted in a post this morning, “to love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten.” He went on to say

We all need people to remind us what is true about ourselves, pointing out with great delight our strength and beauty and splendidness. We need people who believe in, and trust, the deep good God Almighty has firmly planted within us. You can go anywhere and hear someone sing a song of rejection or regret, duty or obligation, judgment or dismissal. We need more songs of hope, more songs of everlasting friendship. We need more blessings before the sun sets. 

I want to say thank you to all the people who have sung those songs back to me and to everyone in the Colorado Springs community during this traumatic time. Thank you to our managing editor, Joannah Sadler, our Executive Editor, Gary Moon, and my assistant, Lorien Magnus, who have shouldered the load of running the journal and continuing to work on producing Issue 10.2 while I focus on the events here in Colorado. Not only are they picking up the slack, but I know that they are praying for us as well. Thank you to my incredible team of section editors who have also expressed their support. Thank you to you, our Conversations community, for your prayers and support.

A dear friend sent a song to me as a gift on iTunes yesterday as a show of support and prayer. Once again, I heard God reaching out in song to hold my heart in this unstable time,

But when I’m alone
When I’ve thrown off the weight of this crazy stone
When I’ve lost all care for the things I own
That’s when I miss you, that’s when I miss you
You are my home
You are my home now

Please continue to be in prayer for those families who have lost their houses. If you’d like a way to help practically, at the end of this post are links to a number of organizations who are helping victims, evacuees like myself and the firefighters who are so valiantly battling the fire still burning here.

With great thanks,

Tara Owens

Ways You Can Help:

McCabe’s Tavern—offering the “Adopt a Fire Fighter” program. Customers can purchase a meal for a fire fighter and McCabe’s will match it. The meal their our famous house made Green Chili Mac & Cheese and the cost is $8.95. These men and women are growing very tired and hungry, lets give them a hot meal and a warm hug to keep their spirits up and let them know how much we appreciate them.
No fire fighter will be turned down for a free meal at McCabe’s.

Wildfire Tees—100% of proceeds from t-shirts purchase go to help the victims of Colorado wildfires

Get Help, Give Help—a resource from ColoradoSprings.com where you can find links to the Red Cross, United Way, Care & Share and other organizations helping the evacuees and victims.

The Second Book

Since the early church fathers and mothers, nature has been considered the “second book” by which we can see and know our good and loving God. Scripture, the “first book,” is God’s clearest and nearest revelation to us. But, if we watch and listen attentively, we can learn of God through His Creation.

For the month of July, we’ve asked our bloggers to consider that Second Book, and how their relationship to it has shaped their formation and their relationship with God. When we set this topic, nearly seven months ago now, we had no way of knowing what a tumultuous time many in the United States have experience with heat waves, power outages, storms and raging forest fires. Creation is indeed groaning, and we groan along with it.

As I mentioned here, I and my family evacuated our house because of the fires last week. We are grateful to have returned home to very little damage, but we are less than 1,800 feet from the nearest damaged structure, and so close to the 346 families who have lost their homes completely. As you may imagine, I was a bit distracted last week by these events. A few wonderful posts by some very talented bloggers got missed in the melee. So we’ll be taking this first week of July to post a few more entries on the topic of how music has formed our souls as well. I suspect the two topics will play together better than we could have planned.

So, let’s open this book together this month. From the glory of waterfalls to the grandeur of mountains, from the detail of the tiniest flower to the intricacies of a spider web, from the power of hurricanes to the heat of fires, from the cycle of the seasons to the consistency of the skies, let’s read of God’s power, glory, goodness and grace—even when it seems hidden or lost.

I invite you, join the conversation this month.

I’m On Aslan’s Side

“I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” 
— C.S. Lewis (The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia, #6))

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the nature of reality. Not in a deep, theoretical, theological way, as one would chew on an interesting idea or penetrating insight. With the birth of my first grandchild and my first niece, the question of what the world that we live in is really like has pressed into me as I held each warm, small body in my arms, impossible to avoid, full of heft and cry and urgency.

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Let The Little Children Come
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People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Mark 10:13-15

The snow is falling here in Colorado, at the rate of inches an hour, and many schools in the area have called a snow day. Snug indoors, I’m working away on the edits to the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Conversations Journal, Welcoming the Stranger, well aware that I’m a few days behind on introducing February’s blog topic to you, and wondering how to channel Bill Murray’s incessant do-overs from the movie “Groundhog Day.” Can I start February over?

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