Author: Jessica Petersen

holy spaces

Our Dining Room

This post was originally written in October 2020. While much has changed since then, a lot has also remained the same. The main difference is that the “someday” I refer to is much closer now than it was when I wrote these words, and for that, I am grateful.

The plates that hang on the wall in our dining room

A collection of plates hangs on the wall in our dining room. The plates were hand-painted by my maternal grandmother. Born in 1917, her early life was shaped by the 1918 flu pandemic, the Great Depression, and two World Wars. The plates are symbols of beauty born from resilience. They come from a home filled with good food, laughter, and love, where gathering around the table was as natural as breathing.

The plates that hang in in our dining room bear witness to a piece of our lives. Until this year, our dining room was used periodically for meals with extended family and close friends. Much of the time it was quiet and unused, the one room in our house that usually remained tidy. I have fond memories in our dining room, of the types of gatherings for which I chose our lovely table – on which we have eaten good food on family heirloom china, just like in my grandmother’s house.  

In the last fourteen months, we have lived in our dining room in new ways. Last spring, I found myself filming videos at our dining room table when the COVID-19 pandemic forced us all to stay home from church. It served as an altar around which our family led the congregation in worship on Maundy Thursday and as the backdrop for story times and Sunday School lessons.

Our dining room functioned as a transitional space while we consolidated my church office into our home office, in preparation for leaving my position at the church I had served for 9 years. It served as a holding space for physical things on their way in and on their way out, and the people who have spent time around our table held emotional space for me in that time of transition.

Currently, the dining room is a home for virtual Kindergarten. It holds a laptop, crayons, scissors, pencils, paper, early reader books, and learning game supplies. It is a perpetual mess, the floor strewn with crayons, dirty socks, and tiny pieces of paper. It is where our daughter overcame her anxiety of going to a new school and where she learned to read.

Though it is rarely used for meals in this season, our dining room has been used more often, and for more purposes, than I could possibly have imagined. It may not look like it used to, but it is well-used. It is a space in which our family has learned, grown, and adapted to new circumstances. It is a room in which we have experienced love, joy, and grace in unexpected ways. It is a holy space.

Someday, we will set our table again with my grandmother’s china and gather with loved ones in close proximity. Someday. But until then, we will use the dining room for whatever purpose seems right, expanding its uses as we expand our definition of what life looks like in this season. And the plates on the wall will continue to hang there as concrete signs that we will we get through this, and eventually, beauty will emerge from the ways that we are being formed in this season.

spiritual practice

When Time Stands Still

The trees in our yard during Spring Break 2016. Look closely and you’ll see the butterflies.

It was Spring Break 2016. Whatever you imagine when you think of Spring Break, let me clarify that I was spending it with a sick toddler. Our 16-month-old daughter had a UTI, which caused her to run a fever of 103-104 degrees for several days. She was miserable and only wanted to be held, so we spent most of our time sitting by the window and looking outside or sitting on our back patio. That week, our only other activity was our daily drive to and from the doctor’s office. There was little that I could do beyond comfort her and watch her symptoms for signs that we needed to go to the ER. So, we sat quietly and cuddled while we observed our yard, day after day.

I had planned to catch up on a lot of work that week while our church preschool and other programming was on a break. At first, I was frustrated that I was missing my opportunity to be productive.

As the week went on, I settled into the realization that my “work” was to be present with my daughter. Everything else could wait. That’s when something amazing happened: I witnessed the transition from winter to spring in our backyard. I don’t mean that I noticed that it began to look like spring outside; I mean that I literally watched the transition occur.

An observant toddler, our daughter was attentive to everything and wanted a closer look at each thing she noticed. As we observed our backyard that week, the trees underwent a transformation. Where at the beginning of the week stood bare silhouettes, buds burst forth into bloom and then leaves appeared. Migrating butterflies visited our yard, feasting on flowers that only the week before were absent. I saw my backyard for the first time. In the four years we had lived in our house, I had never slowed down enough to observe and truly see it, to notice the transformation in each individual tree and plant, the various creatures that call our yard home, whether briefly or permanently.

This “interruption” to my work became a spiritual exercise in slowing down and noticing the work of God in the world around me. Time stood still for me that week. While it was not peaceful or restful to care for a sick toddler, I found that I was able to rest in God in a very profound way. My daughter’s rhythmic breathing while she leaned on my chest and her inquisitive interest in the world around her were my teachers. I was changed, transformed alongside the natural world around me, as I spent time in stillness and observed. This work turned out to be far more important than the work I had planned to do that week.

That Spring Break, I learned that I needed to practice slowing down more often, not only at points of crisis, but regularly, as an act of resistance to the never-ending demands on my time.

That was 5 years ago. A lot of life has happened since then: most notably, the birth of our second child, a global pandemic, and a career transition. Sometimes, the tasks of life overwhelm me, and I lose sight of what I learned that week. But I always return eventually to the practice of stillness, quiet, and calm, leaning into the rhythms of the natural world and my own body. When I practice slowing down, I am nourished and sustained; I feel whole and connected to the Holy.

These days, I am spending more time playing and less time working and worrying. I am learning to be led by the weather and the seasons in ways that I never have before, intuitively spending time outside as the natural world beckons me to do so. I continue to observe, watch, and learn as I spend time in God’s creation. And I am continuing to learn this from my children as we practice it together. I pray that no matter how busy life becomes as the world re-opens, we hold onto the stillness, the necessity of slowing down, the gifts of respite and rest. Those are the moments when time stands still.