Starting today, my literary agent will begin talking to editors about a new book project that I’ve been working on. It’s titled Cultivate: Going Deeper with God in an Uprooted World. This is a project that has been growing inside of me for about six years, and it represents where I see both my own calling moving and where I hope a segment of nonfiction books are moving.
Is that grandiose enough for you?
The short of it is this: Cultivate counteracts our ultra-busy, over-connected society with a series of garden based meditations on scripture that are paired with original full color art work and simple spiritual practices that help create space for God in our lives.
I’m teaming up with my friend Jeremy Slagle, an award-winning designer, to create a series of meditations that provide a unified written and visual message that covers the entire growing season of gardens and connects it to our lives today. Here’s a sneak peak of an illustration from one chapter.
I was prompted to start working on the Cultivate project because of what I’ve observed over and over again in conversations:
When you ask people what they want, it’s usually prefaced with the word “MORE.”
We want more free time, more money, more organization, more space in our homes, more technology, more speed (whether online, on train tracks, or on interstate highways), etc.
When you ask people how they’re doing, many will say things like stressed, busy, overwhelmed, etc.
We’re too busy to pray, too distracted to focus, and moving too fast to rest.
Our desires for more speed and more stuff are connected to our stress, and the solution isn’t found in the latest app or IKEA catalogue. We can’t crowd source our way out of our over-connected, over-committed lives.
The answer to our stressed out, too busy for anything lives is this: We need to train ourselves to create space for God.
Christianity has the metaphors and practices that can help us counter our constantly plugged in, over-stressed society that uproots us from one trend to another. We need to disconnect long enough for the life of God to take root in our lives and cultivate the times and spaces where God is growing in our lives.
Cultivate uses art work (like the piece above), meditations on scripture’s farming metaphors, and simple spiritual practices to create space for readers to prepare themselves for a deeper life with God.
Jeremy and I have imagined this project as a full color print book. It’s designed to be visually engaging in order to foster a focused reading experience (although we’ve discussed digital and two-color versions as well).
The spiritual practices suggested at the end of each chapter, what we call a “Greenhouse,” provide opportunities to test out a simple spiritual discipline and journaling/art space for readers who want to process their experience.
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I’ve sensed myself moving toward a project like Cultivate for a while now as I’ve resolved to be that annoying Charismatic Evangelical who is both grounded in the history of his movement and fully aware that we are wasting our time if we don’t have the present work of the Holy Spirit among us today.
If there’s one thing I’ve found as a Christian, it’s that I can’t make myself grow spiritually or find stability on my own. All I can do is create space for God in my life. By cultivating space for God, the Spirit has room to take the initiative in my life.
One of the most powerful places where I’ve found God’s life has been in my backyard garden. I’ve found the time out there spiritually restoring and intellectually grounding.
Life doesn’t flourish in a garden by mistake. We cultivate the soil and prepare it for plants, watering and fertilizing until it’s time for the harvest. I can’t make a seed grow into a fruitful plant, but I can create the right conditions for life.
Cultivate is not a magical solution to all of your spiritual struggles. It’s more like a spade that you can either hang up or put into use, digging out weeds and breaking ground for the next growing season.
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And speaking of seasons, our garden is just about done for the year. The last of our kale is wilting and a few carrots remain to be harvested. The garlic is planted under a layer of straw and I’ll soon dump a pile of leaves on the rest of the broken soil. As the garden enters a season of rest and waiting, so too will this book project. We’ve worked on it for a season, and now it’s time to see if anything comes of it.
Jeremy and I started this project together as a series of meditations for Lent at our church. We’ve invested a good deal of time in sharpening Cultivate into a book proposal, and we recognize that creating a full color series of meditations will take a lot of work and represents a departure from what many publishers are looking to produce. We’re certainly prepared to receive plenty of “thanks but no thanks” replies or offers that aren’t quite right.
Whether this project only goes as far as this post or someone acquires it, Cultivate is the book project that best represents where I’ve been and who I’m becoming. Each book I’ve worked on has a part of me, but Cultivate feels intensely personal.
It’s an invitation
… to break up tired soil with decomposed leaves in the fall.
… to join me in the garden as I work manure into the softening dirt.
… to take part in the hope of planting tiny seeds in the spring.
… to rejoice in the harvest after a season of working and waiting and trusting.
… to sit in silence next to me as I wait for the Holy Spirit to speak.
… to unplug from the internet long enough to reflect on a work of art and to let the metaphors and imagery sink into our daily lives.
Cultivate is my invitation to break out of our habits and routines long enough to ground ourselves in the peace and life of God. We won’t flourish with God by accident, and Cultivate is one spiritual growth tool that I hope you’ll be able to add to your “shed” someday soon.
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