The day after the Uvalde shooting, we made prayer beads together.
My oldest granddaughter Eliza was in kindergarten at the local public school. While she didn’t know any details of the shooting, I wanted to do something with her for the day so she wouldn’t feel the world’s cruelty.
I told myself it was for her and the children of Robb Elementary. True. Also, I needed to cry my heart out to the one who puts his ears to my lips and responds to his child’s distress. The one who cradles every broken heart.
We watched a video by spiritual director, Lacy Finn Borgo , showing us how to choose an anchor bead (a shiny gold smiley face for Eliza), tie knots, and select five colors to move us through our prayer:
red bead = feelings matter
orange bead = feelings need expression
yellow bead = name your support
green bead = have a plan for strong feelings
white bead = God is always with us
Threading each bead, we felt the strength of the cord and being together. As we added the white bead, Lacy’s calming voice said, “We are never alone. God is always with us.”
The phrase was nestled peacefully into Eliza’s core. Her crayon took flight across the page. In her drawing, we are reaching toward each other, one with big blue tears, saying, “God is always with us” in speech bubbles over our heads, a skill she had learned in class that very week.
This kind of connection between souls reminds us, as we turn our faces toward a loving Father, His warm face is already turned toward us. Face-to-face is how we are meant to live. Theologian and pastor, Jean Stairs, reminds us to take “a crisis-centered approach too easily masks the face of God.” 
Putting creative hands to our prayers, we embodied the warm benediction God gave Moses in the wilderness,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face shine on you
And be gracious to you;
The LORD turn his face toward you
And give you peace.
Notice God’s open-faced posture towards his people is initiated by God in the wilderness. In the Bible, the wilderness is a desolate place of howling winds and wild beasts, a place people tended to skirt or avoid altogether. Yet one where God leads and tends all along the way. It is in the wilderness that God’s presence is visible day and night for 40 years. Later, Jesus is accompanied by God’s Holy Spirit for 40 days.
Metaphorically, the wilderness is any rough terrain (or time) between places: homeland and promised land, blessing and becoming, death and new life. It’s a season of learning to stop grumbling and see all that is present yet hidden.
These last three years of a global pandemic, the war against the Ukrainian people, and America’s reckoning with race, gun violence, and political chaos, feels like a wilderness. Like the people of the Exodus, we have been known to grumble, be unkind, and talk of going back to life as we knew it.
But what if our liminal spaces are also where we continue encountering the Living God and are lovingly shaped into God’s people?
Pastor and theologian, Jean Stairs, describes our loss when we push ourselves or others to prematurely leave liminality and get on with life, “We have neglected to affirm the full rhythm of life of spiritual beings, which includes listening for the soul’s need to taste death in the wilderness even as it longs for liberation and life.” 
Tragedy and trauma can make us feel as though God has turned his back to us, stopped smiling, or simply forgotten his promise to be near us. The truth is God keeps showing himself otherwise – constantly, fiercely, tenderly with us. Our heart eyes need adjusting.
Jean Stairs challenges us to a new perspective, “Resituating the spiritual image of the wilderness from a sidelines Lenten position to one more central to the faith is one way to affirm and give words to the soul’s experience of liminality.” 
The longer I live near God’s listening ear and warm face, the more I experience in my inner heart that I am well within the circle of his smile. Always.
May you know God’s face is shining on you.
First thought – as in “first light”–
let me be aware that I waken in You.
Before I even think that I am in my bed,
let me think that I am in You.
Eyes crusted over, mouth dry,
my creature self feels so inert and dumb.
Let me be aware that these words
searching toward you into consciousness
are also coming from You.
You are waking me out of this sleepiness
into awareness that my life, my thoughts,
my body, my tasks, my loves, passions,
and sorrows are gifts from You,
to be discovered and received this day.
1 Hadley, Leanne. Leanne Hadley. 2006. https://www.leanne-hadley.com/_files/ugd/221cbf_1c117a9bccb44fee9a3d573cc2e3c9aa.pdf (accessed June 27, 2022).
2 Borgo, Lacy Finn. Spiritual Conversations with Children- Listeningto God Together. Downers Grove: IV Press, 2020, 110-112.
3 Stairs, Jean. Listening for the Soul. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000, 82.
4 Stairs 2000, 90.
5 Stairs 2000, 90.
6 Norris, Gunilla. Being Home - A Book of Meditations. New York: Bell Tower, 1991, 2-3.
Terri Conlin is a certified Spiritual Director, writer, and occasional preacher. She has a BA in Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin and a MA in Spiritual Formation from Portland Seminary. She thrives when creativity and resilience flourish together in God’s sheltering places.
Terri and her husband live among the rainy firs of Oregon. They have four grown children and seven feisty grandchildren she calls the Wonders. Most days you can find her outside walking or writing about spiritual formation while sipping dark roast coffee in a thrifted mug.