I am a professor of philosophy at Calvin University, where I teach ethics and the history of ideas. I did my graduate work at the University of Notre Dame, where I fell in love with liturgical worship (outside the classroom) and virtue ethics (in the classroom). Teaching is not so much what I do but who I am. I love reading, thinking, and talking about ideas.
My husband and I met running cross country in college, and we are still running together today. We have four children, in their late teens and early twenties. My "fun" time is usually spent hiking in the National Parks, playing the piano, reading, and spending time with friends. My family and I live in Grand Rapids, a medium-sized city in the midwestern US near the beautiful shoreline of Lake Michigan.
I've been through cancer treatment a few times in the past six years, which has been a very rough ride. Thanks to my amazing doctor, my faithful friends, and my praying church, I'm still here to tell the tale...and to praise God for his gift of extra time.
Tell us about a ministry you love
I have been a volunteer educator and spiritual retreat leader for inmates trained to be ministers in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana--a place with quite a story! I have witnessed the powerful work of the Holy Spirit there, building the church and transforming lives. My friends are an incredible witness and blessing.
Back in Michigan, Calvin University started a prison education program which is modelled on Angola's seminary program for inmate-pastors. I am an enthusiastic supporter of this ministry because I have seen the life-changing power of the gospel at work there. If you don't believe in the power of prayer, you need to visit! It's transformed my own faith in unforgettable ways.
Do you seek to have a daily 'quiet time'? If so, what does this time look like?
As a professor of many students and a mother of four children, I *need* a daily quiet time with God to re-center and be restored (you can't give what you don't have!). I use two app's: Lectio365 (by the 24/7 Prayer Movement; or sometimes PrayAsYouGo) and a daily lectionary reading from the Anglican church. I will often sit and do my lectionary reading with a cup of coffee after everyone else has left in the morning, and then I will listen to Lectio365 in my car on my morning commute into work. (It's helped me slow down and be less stressed as I drive, which is a bonus!)
Because contemplation and resting in the presence of God come more naturally to me through music and through natural settings, I will finish by listening to the "UK Blessing" several times a week or something similar (Come to Me by Dan Forrest, The Aeolians, "God of Angel Armies", Ola Gjeilo's "The Ground").
In the summer months, I simply spend time in the quiet of the morning and listen to the birds sing while I kayak around the tiny lake we live on.
How do you read the Bible?
I tend to use the lectionary, which I like because it makes me read passages of the Bible that I otherwise might avoid. I also live and breathe the psalms, and the lectionary includes several psalms every day. (I also love the restful rhythm of compline before going to sleep at night--I have most of it memorized by now, so I can do that in my head without a book in hand or a light on).
I read through and studied large portions of Scripture in my K-12 Christian education, so I usually know the context of the passage and how this book of Scripture relates to other parts of Scripture. Otherwise, I can see the lectionary approach having its drawbacks.
What practices have you found helpful for engaging with the Bible?
I am big on memorization--at least in the last 10 years or so, as a result of a spiritual discipline I practice with my ethics class. We memorize 1 Corinthians 13 together, spending time every day dwelling with the chapter twice each day for a week. It changed my view of Scripture. I love repetition and letting the same words sink in deeply. Something different speaks each day, even if the words are the same. (Everywhere else in life we skim and scroll superficially, and take in gobs of information at a gulp--this is a useful counter-practice to that cultural formation.)
I tend to be in "intellectual analysis" mode a lot because of my work, so I needed to learn to encounter Scripture in a different way. Lectio divina has been very life-giving to me for that reason. It's a way to encounter Scripture with your heart, not your head. My favorite version is from the Abiding Way Ministries.
What does your prayer life look like?
Back when I was a young mother, I prayed in the shower, and I prayed in bed when I could pretend I was asleep so no one would interrupt me! I am not a morning person, so I have never found the "get up early and pray" model of devotions very helpful. I've spent much, much more time praying in the middle of a dark night. Praying the psalms in a rocking chair in the dark is good for insomnia.
I pray at the beginning and end of each day, and any other desperate time in between (often, these are times when I've blown it and am doing on-the-spot confession, or caught off guard by some beautiful thing or occasion of joy). My first words when I wake up are, "Lord, this is your day." I can't remember exactly, but I think that's an insight from Dorothy Bass's Receiving the Day.
I try to walk slowly into work now--another spiritual discipline, and this is a time of attentiveness to the natural world, where I can almost always experience the presence of God. I don't know if that counts as praying, but it works for me!I love to pray while running or walking, if I am alone. Those prayer times are more of a continuous, open-ended, back-and-forth informal conversation with God.
My prayers are a little more scripted when I am interceding for others, but honestly I don't like praying out loud in front of others much anymore. I would much rather use my prayer time to lay some honest things before God, hold others I am praying for before him or put them in his arms, often without using words, and just hand him things I can't handle. I let him take care of the rest.
I don't keep a prayer journal or diary, because honestly I'm afraid that someone other than God might read it. He has enough mercy for what's in my heart (There a song for that prayer: "take oh take me as I am, summon out what I shall be..."). But I do note often the ways that God is answering my prayers--interestingly, it's often a year or two later. Something I have tried to do, not as regularly as I'd like, is the Ignatian examen at bedtime. That's a practice of reviewing your day and paying attention to the times and ways you were close to God and keeping company with him, and when you were not close to him and wandering off doing your own thing. It's a useful way to find patterns in your life (which fits my work on the vices).
I have two things I love to do with my kids at their prayer time before bed: we will pray Psalm 46:10 this way--"Be still and know that I am God (pause), Be still and know that I am (pause), Be still and know (pause), Be still (pause), Be." And then I say the Aaronic blessing ("The Lord bless you and keep you...") and make the sign of the cross ('in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen". This is also a very meaningful time of prayer time for me!
Do you make use of any catechisms, liturgies or pre-written prayers?
Compline is at the top of my list.
Do you have any sabbath practices that serve you well?
I am very serious about sabbath keeping. We stay off our phones entirely through the whole morning (worship, church education time). Sundays are my time to do spiritual reading, take time to rest or nap, spend time being present to my family, and be outside enjoying nature (gardening, walking, sitting in the backyard). I am usually quite strict about laying all work and work email down, and not shopping or going out to eat or doing things that involve stress or deadlines.
Contemplative time is time for worship and for being with God, and I need that to (as the Lectio365 app likes to put it) have my heart restored and my imagination re-storied by time in God's presence. I have read a lot of books about sabbath-keeping, time, and attentiveness, and I think sabbath-practice is absolutely essential to my well-being. I write about this in the opening story in Glittering Vices.
The pandemic year of teaching really blew up my sabbath. Teaching turned into a terribly weight of anxiety and a never-ending burden. It was a good reminder that the world will always try to crush you with its pressure, and that sabbath is not a luxury, but a necessity for being human and becoming Christlike.
Do you journal?
No. If you look at my ethics class syllabi and my publications through the years, you would definitely find the spiritual themes that animate my own life. But I don't have a journaling practice. The closest thing I do is practice a "memento mori" (reflect on your life from the perspective of your death) exercise as part of the philosophy classes I teach.
Do you fast?
Yes! In my book Glittering Vices (Brazos 2020), I tell one story about fasting and the way God used it to open my life up like a book. Because of the example of a pastor I know and another incarcerated friend of mine, I also fast about once a week (liquids only, 24 hrs, after dinner to the following day's dinner). I find it a very helpful practice--it reminds me of my limits and dependence on God, and it also keeps my self-indulgent tendencies in check, and it teaches me solidarity with those who suffer. (See Kallistos Ware, The Meaning of the Great Fast in The Lenten Triodion).
I also fast during Lent--usually giving up a meal a day, or something else that is a daily go-to, or even eating less per meal or skipping all food in-between meals, whatever means I need to experience hunger regularly throughout the day.
I have learned a lot through fasting--probably too much to say here. It's a really important counter-practice when you live in a very consumerist, indulgent, instant-gratification culture like mine. I love to cook and I love to eat! But I want to do so gratefully and attentive to the provision of God. (There's a gluttony chapter in Glittering Vices where I talk more about this.)
Do you practice silence and solitude?
Yes, when I'm doing lectio, or outside walking, or sitting on a mountain top in a national park. A contemplative posture is a very important discipline for me. I've also discussed a "self-silencing" practice I do with my students in Vainglory: A Forgotten Vice, which is always very (!!!!) convicting. It exposes not only self-talk that calls attention to yourself, but also habits of complaining to others rather than directing your needs to God.
I think silence and solitude are especially important practices for people like me who teach or preach or give presentations to audiences all day. Their expectations, and needs, and the adequacy of your performance--it's good to have to lay that down and simply re-learn to receive and listen and direct your gaze at a God who calls you his beloved and is waiting for your to return home so he can gather you in his arms.
Do you memorise Scripture?
Yes--see above. I memorize Psalms, and prayers from the lectionary (which are usually from the Psalms), and sometimes other passages from Scripture (I have mentioned I Cor 13 before, but also the First, Second, and Third Song of Isaiah). When I was a child, I memorized the Christmas story and the Easter story (entire chapters of Luke and Matthew and John). And I have a scattered repository of other verses from other things I've researched and read.
Do you make use of any other devotional practices? If so, what does this look like and how have they benefited you?
I practice a number of spiritual disciplines; I am not sure I would call them devotional practices--more like "life practices that help me keep company with Jesus along the way." Spiritual direction has been very helpful for this. Gratitude is another practice I do along with my ethics students, and practice with my own family (in November, before Thanksgiving; at birthday celebrations, during communion).
What I have learned through all the disciplines is that I need to slow down or be still regularly to listen to God speaking and be attentive to the ways God is present in my life.
How have you failed or struggled in these areas? What has God taught you as a result?
I have spent most of my early years in a huge, overwhelmed hurry, driven by achievement and excellent performance. That just made me high-strung, impatient, and quick to condemn. I have learned that slowing down is important for gentleness, patience, and humility--all key markers of the character of Jesus. (I have a practice exercise I do with my class called "Take your wrath for a ride"--it's about giving up the driver's seat to God, literally and spiritually, by slowing down and practicing attentiveness to God while you are driving. I invented this form of the exercise for myself!)
Hurry is the enemy of gratitude, peace, and the heart of the spiritual life. I read this in the works of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, and Renovare's resources have been very formative for me, too. But I really came face to face with this in my early 40's. It's going to take me a long time to unlearn my bad habits in this area. The key symptom is anger. At least I can recognize it now and catch it early.I have learned about my failures through practicing the spiritual disciplines, which exposed areas of my life where I was ugly and unhappy because I was living at an inhuman and unholy pace, and trying to stay in control.
I also learned through the 'forced' slow-downs of loss and suffering of cancer treatment; I had been practicing sabbath in smaller ways since my early 20's, but learned to really lay down my life and striving before God then.
Lastly, I have been confronted with myself through the wise words of my spiritual mentors (I am blessed with a number of these!). I have such good role models now. They are such a gift! I need to keep my eyes focused on Jesus and his love for me--to let him draw me into the good, and remember how much I am loved, rather than trying harder not to mess up.
I wish I had learned about spiritual formation much, much sooner in life. Perhaps I would have become a kinder, more joyful person, a more gracious parent, a more loving spouse, a better friend. But I also know that God isn't through with me yet.
What routines, habits or rules of life have you found helpful?
Mealtimes, worship, and sabbath-keeping are essential touchstones for our family. It's where we stop and sit down, talk and share our lives together, sing and pray together, share memories and plans together. Our culture is so fragmented and disconnected. Any regular place where we can do this kind of face-to-face, faithful gathering is very important to me. I meet with a spiritual director regularly, too, to keep myself from sliding or reroute if necessary.
I find that I need a balance of alone, quiet time and people-connection time, rest and exercise, work and play. I can tell pretty quickly when I am getting out of balance. Having a summer to recuperate and recalibrate is essential to me, because the academic year pushes me into unhealthy rhythms pretty easily.
Who has been an example to you?
I have met several people who have taken on the character of Jesus, becoming like him through and through. I can tell within less than a minute of being with them.
One is an inmate at Angola who is a spiritual friend and prayer partner, and another is the spiritual director and author Sharon Garlough Brown. Their friendship and witness have been such crucial catalysts in my own spiritual development and walk with Christ. Now that I know what to look for, I keep finding people like this. They are definitely not flashy. But they are the real deal.
What wisdom would you share with a younger Christian?
Start very, very small, but be intentional about building in attentiveness to God into the daily routines of your life. Don't add things in--just do what you're doing differently (e.g. ride in silence on your commute and listen to God, or use that time to mull over a very short verse (the Psalm 46.10 prayer, for example; or feel God's care wash over you like a blessing when you shower and simply bathe yourself in gratitude for a moment there; pay attention to others in your conversations--really listen to what they have to say; walk more slowly and look around you at the people you pass by, and pray for them, etc.).
Also, find a spiritual mentor and a spiritual community. This is absolutely essential for stability and growth. It's not all up to you. I think faith, hope, and love are held communally, not individually--and if you realize this, it relieves you of a great burden.
What have you found helpful when you feel spiritually dry?
Spiritual friendship is always life-giving for me. My faithful praying friends remember me and show me that they care, whether I can "give back" or not. I have learned to ask for help, too, which was a big step forward for me.
I also love reading novels by writers who show me a picture of grace--Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, the Gilead novels by Marilynne Robinson. Also, music--e.g. choral music especially.
Are there any other resources you would recommend?
I would recommend anything and everything on these websites:
I also love to read sermons by Fleming Rutledge and Barbara Brown Taylor.
If you want to hear more of my own self-examination through the Christian tradition's virtue-and-vice lens, see Glittering Vices.