Category Archives: Prayer

Where Miracles Occur

Bristlecone Pines, California

The tension in my shoulders is melting. The tightness and ache in my jaw and throat are releasing. The constant, exhausting, mental jabber is growing silent.  The resolute soldiering on, pushing forward without awareness, without seeing anything, but a goal which constantly recedes over the horizon, is giving way to being    here      now.

The tunnel vision squint and laser focus are opening and broadening to a wide spacious plain that keeps revealing more and more. Reality unfolds like an undulating wave continuously turning up complexities, beauties, grace, and both harsh and comforting aspects of what is really going on.

I have been decelerating and decompressing over the past several weeks.  This process is not over, for it is the work of a lifetime. I need more time to shed the brain debris and external and internal clutter. I need to continue to tame the habit of acceleration, and restrain my inner harpy, that merciless harridan of self aggrandizement.

Though I have tried to practice and teach this for years, I feel like a rank beginner. And, as is the way of the Spirit, I am being shown how far I have to go. I am watching my many-faceted resistance, as I begin the slow, groaning, screeching grind to a halt. For ironically, in order to go further on this journey, I have to stop.

Sabbath means, literally, to stop. I am aiming for a Sabbath life, a life lived contemplatively, steeped in the awareness of the presence of the Holy, which initiates, and infuses my work and play. I like the broader definition of Sabbath, which Donna Schaper offers:

Sabbath sense is anything that makes spacious what is cramped. That makes large out of small, simple out of complex, choice out of obligation. Sabbath sense is anything that reconnects the necessities of drudgery to the marvelous uselessness of beauty. Sabbath sense is acknowledgment of the presence of Spirit in the petty and the profound.

In this time of beginning and transition, of halting and rest, I have discovered a different kind of urgency, than the urgency of schedule, production, and accomplishment. This is the urgency of a compass, a magnet, an urgency so primal it is like breath itself. This is the urgent love of the Maker of All honing into each particle of creation, boring into us and drawing us inexorably to itself.

"Tarfala Valley"

I have always been attracted to sparse, barren, open spaces – the high alpine tundra, and the edges of the tree line. There for over five thousand years the bent and twisted Bristlecone Pines dance their gnarled tango with the howling storms and eye the prize for the oldest continuous living residents on this planet. I look at maps for the wind-scoured boulder fields, the isolated islands, and the endless expanse of ice sheets at the poles. These places both fascinate, and frighten the wits out of me.

In a lovely blog, Being Poetry, I came across this quote from poet William Stafford:

Each poem is a miracle that has been invited to happen. I must be willingly fallible in order to deserve a place in the realm where miracles occur. 


Stafford, pacifist and formed in The Church of the Brethren, grew up in the semi arid high plains of western Kansas. He was also formed by those windswept plains, where you can see for miles. In these recent weeks I have been unwillingly confronted with my fallibility, my utter inability to live and be all that I desire. I hear Stafford advising, “Forget about overcoming anything. Embrace it all and live honestly from it.”

So I am heading out to the edges of my infallibility, that terrifying point where I and all I can think and do and figure out and hum to myself ends, and God begins.

Today I say that to live a life of prayer, I must go out to the edges of myself and my security. I must go beyond my ego to the outer banks, to my own fallibility, where the edges of the sea of God wash over my toes and beg me to fling myself into that deep Immensity.

I do not want to be safe. I do not want any part of a faith or a God or a religion that is safe. I want to stand in the barren field of the world, strewn with boulders, with only our wounds and fallibility, and without a prayer, a blog, a book, or a penny in my pocket, but the brooding mercy of God.

It is not a comfortable, quiet life of ease that God is calling me to, here in my retirement. It is to a life of surrendered love, where my meat and drink, and every breath are drawn from the grace of God. I am fearfully and gratefully being towed through fallibility to a place in the realm where miracles occur.

You come too.

English: Bristlecone Pines on a spur ridge bel...

The Star Stopped – Part Two

Joy: Our Chief and Highest End

When they had heard the king, they set out;
and there, ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising in the east, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. Matthew 2:9-10

Once there was a man who played with Jesus a kind of peek-a-boo and hide and seek, asking to see him while he walked.  I go now where the man prayed and Jesus is everywhere, sitting in the trees, hanging upside down from the hawk’s nest, swinging his arms up ahead along the cow path, turning in wide circles in the heavens, glinting under the silver wings of geese.

“Jesus, get out of here,” I say.  “I have work to do, prayers to pray, fears to nurture, pain to bear, miles to go before I sleep.”

He just grins, riding down the back of the willow leaf. You bet,” he says, “who do you think is in charge here anyway? I came that you might have life abundant.”

“Yes, but there is so much suffering and sorrow in the world. I have survivor’s guilt.”

“Deal with it, sweetheart, joy is your burden to bear.”  Then quoting scripture, “‘Do not be like a horse or a mule without understanding, who must be curbed with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.’  (Psalm 32:9)  Daughter, you are forgiven for being happier than some of the others.  In your joy is my joy made complete.”

____________

What is the chief and highest end of humankind?” asks the Larger Catechism.
Humankind’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and to fully enjoy God.

A friend of mine died after a long debilitating illness. Before he died he told me, “Life is funny. You know, I used to say life is messy. Now I say life is funny. God must be laughing his head off at us, saying, ‘Don’t they get it?’ I have no complaints. Life has been very good to me. I just try to enjoy.”

To enjoy:  to put into a state of or to be in joy – to indwell rejoicing. Joy is the emotion provoked by well-being, success, or possessing what one desires.

How strange that little teaching in the church has to do with helping us to be faithful to our highest end. We know how to read and interpret scripture. We understand the dynamics of church growth. We can conduct things decently and in order. We can do mission. We are even beginning to understand our spiritual life and prayer. But how many of us can state precisely how it is that we glorify and enjoy God as individuals and as a community of faith? When many of us start to enjoy we feel guilty. To claim that anything I might do actually glorifies God may sound arrogant. To seek enjoyment of God seems hedonistic and wrong.


It takes courage to risk joy. The older we get, the more we know of the ravages of life and sin, and the woeful limitations of the flesh. My dying friend, weak and suffering, says, “I just try to enjoy.” Perhaps that is when joy is born the truest, when we are firmly fixed in the limits of humanity, held by the teeth of our extremity with no illusions. Maybe you won’t get better. Maybe your friend will die. Maybe your heart will be broken. Maybe the divorce will be final. Maybe the worse that can happen will happen.

Now here, just when you thought it was all over

here

stop

where the star has stopped and let joy in.

It will take a mile if you give it an inch. Watch how it eases a hand and foot through the crack – pushing in a shoulder and hip, and flinging the door wide open on bliss.

What did you think would make the star stop, if not the sad song of mortal need?

A lot depends on the way the yellow willow leaf swims like a slim minnow downstream to rest in the musty shallows of earth.

Now it turns, spins in circles, now it dips and glides, now stops, still in the air, then drops like a sigh.

A lot depends on such surrender, but even more depends on someone noticing.

Jesus, help us to love you
more than the search for you.
Give us hearts of merriment and gratitude.
Teach us to tolerate goodness, to stable delight.

And Merciful Savior of loss and defeat,
bestow upon us the wit to trust
and to consent to contentment
that your joy and our joy be made complete.

Mirable Dictu (Wonderful to Behold) Harvey Bonner


Excerpted and adapted from Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Loretta Ross (Gotta), Sheed & Ward, 2000, chapter 23.

Cover of "Letters from the Holy Ground: S...

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The Star Stopped – Part One

Joy: Our Chief and Highest End

The Magi Journeying

When they had heard the king, they set out;
and there, ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising in the east, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. Matthew 2:9-10

The star stopped.

Did they slam into one another like dominoes – camels, gifts, magi all in a scrambled pile before the manger?

They had been seeking joy for so long; and they knew more about traveling than arriving, more about need, than about fulfillment.

The star stopped.

The momentum of the journey, the habit of search, sent us lurching forward even as we beheld the prize. Like ones on a long auto trip riding over the flat stretch of prairie, we lie still at night in our beds feeling ourselves hurtling along phantom highways, our flesh imprinted to motion.

So we arrive at our destination, yet act as if we are still on the way. We shuffle on unsteady legs to the doorway where the light glows, the breath of cattle steams, and something makes a low choking coo. We are overwhelmed with joy, a sublime apprehension of the beauty and perfection of what lies before us under the stars and that we need travel no longer.

It doesn’t get any better than this:

the glad dog bounding gleefully after the yellow cat in the sun

the clutter in the child’s room – a still swirl of hair brushes, dirty socks, ribbons, Tootsie Rolls, and crayons

you and your friend laughing over lunch in the cozy diner

your own wrinkled hand and all it has grasped and caressed, pushed, smoothed and manipulated


You think you need to get busy. Accomplish something today. Wild-eyed John in his camel’s hair is out in the pasture yelling to get with it. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance, you brood of vipers,” he shouts. There is so much to do, so far to go. You think this or that thing has to be done. You think joy is up ahead, when you have reached some goal, satisfied that hunger.

We ought not to pray for things, as to pray to live as though we had the things we pray for. We ought to discover just what it is we think these things will give us, to consider carefully what is the sub text of our desire.

The star stopped.


Did they pile into each other like keystone cops? Was a screeching cosmic brake applied? Or was it so silent as was hardly noticed in the din of rising galaxies and earth teeming with the shrill frenzy of life and death? Perhaps it was a gentle slowing pressure in the heart, an impulse to do something unfamiliar, maybe a sudden press upon the shoulders to bend the knees and halt midway down the stairs absorbed in Joy.


The star stopped and cast its radiance like a neon arrow:

Exit now. Food. Gas. Lodging.

Here this is it. You need go no further.

The star stopped and they were overwhelmed with joy, writes Matthew.Well, how long did that last? How long before they began to fret, to glance anxiously at their watches and their bank balances, and worry about the future, recalling Herod and their disturbing dreams. There would be the trip back home by another road, and how they would explain the dishes still undone, the laundry piled upon the floor, the unpaid bills.How long before they would begin to doubt their own eyes – that they had seen what they had seen? “Perhaps I was mistaken, it all seems so unreal. It was long ago. I was ill, or grieving, young and foolish. We’d better keep on looking, just in case.”


O immaculate tenderness, O sweet hay in the wind, ground of our beseeching, joy of our desiring, we meet and greet you, kneel to adore and leave our gifts, then what? You are too much for us – you in your completeness, sufficiency. We, overwhelmed with joy, cannot bear the light and back out of the radiant stable to return to the familiar world of anxious fear and endless seeking.


The tension of incompletion fuels our lives and impels our action. Consummation is hard for us to take. People shouldn’t be so happy. “I’m sorry mom, but I just can’t keep my smiles down,” confides the eight year old apologetically on her eagerly awaited trip to the ice skating rink.


If we get too satisfied, won’t there be no striving, no invention, no creativity, no urge to improve, discover, move on? Won’t it be boring? Won’t it be dull?


Our capacity for satisfaction is much less than our capacity for hunger.

Who dares to take a vow of stability?
Who dares declare that this is it
this broken down stable of a life
this very life in shambles shelters Joy?

What most characterizes American culture, poet Richard Wilbur has said, “…is not unity, but rather a disjunction and incoherence aggravated by an intolerable rate of change.”

I gaze in bewildered nostalgia at old photographs of myself and loved ones. Motion is an essential property of things. Everything at one level of its being or another is in motion and change.

Is there anything in the universe that is absolutely still? The earth heaves, crumbles, splits, powders. The flesh pulses, sighs, and dies in the slow dance of decay. Electrons careen around nuclei. Five-flavored quarks flash in kinetic quick-step.

A lot depends on the way the willow leaf turns in the wind and curls to a dry crisp under the bird feeder, but even more depends on someone stopping to notice.


Our awareness gives birth to Christ. Seeing that the star has stopped and climbing down from the camel to kneel before the holy child dwelling in the heart of matter with innocence and salvation is what opens the door for God’s entry into our world.

The child yearns to be noticed. The child waits in the crib of creation for us to stop and pick it up and deliver it to the world by virtue of our own seeing.

Christ is born by our consent.
It all depends on someone saying, “Let it be to me according to thy word.”

Then a still small soul magnifies the holy one, and, like a mirrored prism, bends light into multicolored beams of joy.

~ to be continued in next post

Excerpted and adapted from Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Loretta Ross (Gotta), Sheed & Ward, 2000, chapter 23.

Empty Pockets and Trust in God

The way I see it, a mystic takes a peek at God and then does her best to show the rest of us what she saw.  She’ll use image-language, not discourse. Giving an image is the giving of gold, the biggest thing she’s got… Hurling and wielding the best stuff she can imagine, insisting on an unmediated Way of Wakefulness,…she agrees to the quiet morning hour in front of God in exchange for a bit of revelation.  She doesn’t ditch tradition as much as take it for its word and peer inside its cavernous shell.  There must still be something worth saying. There must still be something worth pointing to.
 -Jessie Harriman in God Laughs and Plays by David James Duncan

 I greet you with my pockets turned inside out, holding out a few crumbs I picked from the seam.

Most every time I write this blog, I write from such a place of intellectual and spiritual poverty, that I feel like I am scraping gum off the sidewalk to offer you.

Oh, I have plenty of previously written material. Some of it you might like or find useful. I also seem to have an endless supply of ideas, opinions, and questions we could take up together here. However the longer I sit in that quiet morning hour waiting for a bit of revelation, the more stale and the less true all my previous thinking and posturing appear to be.

Something in me insists on peering into the Mystery anew each time I write. This is both an irresistible delight and a harrowing encounter with my own empty pockets.

I haul myself and the collected wear and tear of personal and world events before the throne of Great Stillness. There I reach out beyond my limits and press my palm in the face of Mystery and say, “Here. Here. Put it here.”

Then I wait.

In that waiting there is only the ache of love – nameless, infinite, ever beyond my control.

“Trust” was the word I found in my palm this week. Trust? That old thing? How many times does this word turn up in scripture and in the words we say to each other? How about something new, fresh, maybe a little edgier? 

Thousands of children with stick legs and arms are dying in the horn of Africa. A young man just nineteen years old came home to the little town up the road, where he was buried with military honors. Global markets, drunk on anxiety, dip and sway, fall and crawl up again. Politicians argue. A self-styled prophet of God goes to prison for doing unspeakable things to little girls.

Holy One, the world is going to hell in a hand basket and all you can offer is trust?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, 
And lean not on your own understanding; 
In all your ways acknowledge Him, 
And He shall direct   your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; 
Fear the Lord and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.
         Proverbs 3:5-8, New King James Version

So – help yourself these crumbs:

 

Trust in what you cannot fully know or name or understand, or write about.

Trust in the enduring love in your heart that weeps with compassion and yearns for justice and struggles
to know what to do in these challenging times. 

Trust in your conviction that God will not be defeated by the evil and sin of humans.

Trust that Someone is afoot, knitting together the broken bones of Christ’s body.

And most amazing of all:

Trust that our trust and faith are the salve,

which heals all wounds.


And he could do no miracle there except he laid hands
on a few sick people and healed them.
And he wondered at their unbelief. Mark 6:5-6

God and the Salad Luncheon

In the spring of the year in small towns in Kansas ladies often gather in church basements for their annual salad luncheon. This event summons forth the culinary creativity of the local community. Here you may find things done to beets and broccoli, which no respectable vegetable or fruit would ever dream of. Featured ingredients of these marvels include Jell-O, cool whip, Eagle brand condensed milk, and cherry pie filling.

The salads, spread out over several tables, accented with canning jars of lilacs, are something to behold, maybe, for some, even to kneel before. Chicken salad, cucumber salad, pasta salad, bean salad, and seven layered pea salad are served in big bowls and platters. Rainbow colored Jell-O salads hold bits of carrots, celery, fruit and nuts under layers of cream cheese and shredded cabbage.

After the meal, the women clear the tables, refill the glasses of ice tea, and settle back to listen to the guest speaker from out of town.

On one of these occasions over twenty five years ago I was that out of town guest speaker. This fact alone made me an expert on something which these women already knew plenty about: prayer.

So this is how I came to be finishing up my cranberry fluff salad, as my hostess was introducing me. I began to pray, as was my custom, “Lord, what do you want me to tell the people?” This was the prayer I often prayed as I prepared sermons and presentations. Though this prayer was part of my preparation long before my actual presentation, I would check in with God just before I began speaking in case there were any updates.

After I prayed, what I had always heard in the silence of my heart was, “Tell the people that I love them.” Okay, I would think. I can roll with this. Over the years, God was very consistent in the direction: “Here’s the word, sweetie, tell the little boogers I love em. They still need to hear it.”

So it was, that as my hostess was reading off my credentials to the ladies and I was wiping the crumbs from my mouth, I asked my question, what do you want me to tell the people?

And God said:

Tell the people that I miss them.

This post marks the one hundredth post of the Praying Life Blog. Over the past two years, I have been attempting to tell you this in various ways. This post gives it to you straight:

God misses you. God longs for you, pines for you, walks the floor at night for you. God throws himself down on the ground weeping for you. God slumps on the couch, drowning his sorrow, eating three cartons of Haagen-Dazs rocky road ice cream for you.

God misses you.

A whole lot.

This is what you must write to the angel of the church in Ephesus:

I am the one who holds the seven stars in my right hand, and I walk among the seven gold lamp stands. Listen to what I say.

I know everything you have done, including your hard work and how you have endured. I know you won’t put up with anyone who is evil. When some people pretended to be apostles, you tested them and found out that they were liars. You have endured and gone through hard times because of me, and you have not given up.

But I do have something against you!

And it is this:

You don’t have as much love as you used to.                                                Revelation 2: 1-4

The Fullness of Emptiness

This day

my cup is

empty,

my page

blank,

my mouth absent

of speech.

Here – receive the fullness of this emptiness:

the bottom of a pail

falling,

the obscurity of a veil

lifting.

Stillness,
carrying you rapidly

down an endless river to nowhere. 

 

This is the best I will ever have to offer. 

 

Take a drink.

Be filled.


This is what it means to seek God perfectly: to withdraw from illusion and pleasure, from worldly anxieties and desires, from the works that God does not want, from a glory that is only human display; to keep my mind free from confusion in order that my liberty may be always at the disposal of his will; to entertain silence in my heart and listen for the voice of God. 

 

And then to wait in peace and emptiness and oblivion of all things.

Thomas Merton


The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
Read more about prayer www.fromholyground.org,
Contact the author lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross

Returning

For thus said the Lord God; the Holy One of Israel:

In re
turning
and
rest
you shall be
saved;
in quietness
and in
trust
shall be
your strength.  Isaiah 30: 15

The verse was not what I expected or hoped for. I wanted a word from the Lord, which was snappier with more glory and fortune cookie flair. For example, “So the Lord restored Job’s fortunes and doubled all his possessions. … and all his brothers and sisters and former acquaintances and friends gave him a sheep and a gold ring.” Job 42: 10-11

Instead, Isaiah 30:15 dropped into my consciousness almost before I had finished my request: Holy One, give me a verse of scripture to guide me in the coming year. I need a point of true north to align myself with and measure my life against, a place of solid ground in the midst of chaos.

One of my Facebook friends took suggestions for her verse from friends, who offered rich verses for her to reflect on in 2011. She came up with her own: Paul’s lovely advice to the Philippians: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true…, honorable…, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4: 8. There is enough in these words to keep one’s head on straight for a whole year.

I got unbidden, rushing in even before I could think of something better or ask my friends, this humble little verse, from Isaiah. No Sweetie, no high drama, livestock, or gold rings for you. Turn back. Sit down. Be still. There you will find all you need.

I chaff with this because I have already carried (or been carried) by this verse for years. Haven’t I gnawed all the meat off it and sucked it dry of all its juices? Apparently not. So in obedience to the one I serve, in 2011 from time to time I will post about some aspect of this unpretentious verse.

Today, we start with the first two words – In returning. Around 734 BCE the prophet, Isaiah, spoke these words to the people of God as part of a scathing denunciation of the blindness and incompetence of their leaders. He was speaking to those who relied on their own resources rather than the power and wisdom of God. He pointed out their pride, idolatry, and greed. Rather than trusting in God, they trusted in deceit and oppression. The remedy to this path of destruction began with a returning to something once known, but tossed aside in a frenzy of anxiety and lack of faith.

Returning, turning, going back is what I have been doing a lot of the past year and will continue to do in the year ahead. Every month or so I go back to the small town in Iowa, where I grew up, and gather with my brother and sister to sort through over sixty years of accumulated household goods and memories in my parents’ home. I turn over the remnants of our lives together, lift them out of dusty boxes, and sweep cobwebs away. I pull down an aged, wooden Kraft Cheese box tucked under the eaves in the garage. I  unfold yellowed, newspaper clippings and read letters I sent to mom and dad from Cedar Falls, Iowa; Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Louisville, Kentucky.

I gaze at a photo of myself I had not seen before. Who is that little girl sitting on the chair? I peer at a snapshot of mom and dad at some fancy dinner, both dressed to kill, vibrant and smiling. In one Father’s Day card we found, mom wrote, “You are a wonderful husband, lover, and father.” We whooped and giggled.

At week’s end I arrange the piles and boxes, run the sweeper, turn down the furnace, and lock the door. Elijah, my black lab, and I walk to the car. He jumps into the back seat, littered with rawhide chews and toys, and we return to Kansas, driving west across southern Iowa to catch I35 south down to Missouri, and then turning back west on I70 to Topeka.

I do not know how many more returns I will make before the auction is over, the papers signed, and the house keys turned over to a new owner. In such returning the prophet promises salvation, healing, some kind of cure for his nation’s disease. In such turning back and turning toward, life unwinds and furls us out, then draws us back again to lie curled round some center like the string of a yoyo.

Isaiah tells the people, flinging themselves toward their own devices, that it is the Lord they are to return to. The question is where in our turning do we find that hidden manger, that center, that core of unnameable, untameable truth? Is in the Tupperware, breeding plastic cartons on the floor of the pantry, or the stack of Styrofoam cups mom washed and saved? Is it in the notebooks, where dad recorded the dates when he replaced the faucet washers, changed the oil in the car, or put in a new furnace filter?

The other night, back here in Kansas in my bed, I heard my cat scratching outside my door, wanting to return to me and rest on my bed, where she likes to lay as close to my face as possible and tickle me softly with her whiskers. Somewhat allergic to cats, I rarely let her in. Having been alone, except for the boy who comes to feed and water her, she reached her paw under the door, pulling a throw rug and making an insistent ruckus.

In the morning I held her while I drank my coffee. She turned and turned on my lap, kneading my stomach, finally resting curled and purring, pressing her head against my chest.

Going back to recover old ground is an ancient dance. Any given life is so full of wonder, terror, and mystery that it deserves returning to over and over. There is always more to be seen and learned about the hands which wrote the note, “This wooden butter paddle belonged to my grandmother Van Doren.”

In one box mom saved programs from important events of family members. I found my high school commencement program. The top six scholars in my class spoke on the topic: 1960-1964 Years of Achievement and Turmoil, Events that Have and Will Affect Our Lives. Individual speeches covered Man’s Progress through Science; The American Image – Latin America; Tensions – Europe and Southeast Asia; The Passing of an Era – November 22, 1963 (the assassination of John F.Kennedy). One of the few African Americans in my class, Kathy Wells, spoke on Man’s Attempt to Overcome Bigotry. My title was Progress – Local and State.

No one can turn up his nose at the quality of the education at my alma mater.

I recently heard someone speak about “God’s plan” for us. The phrase sort of grated on me. “Plan” seems to me to be such a human notion with its linear quality, bound by time, space, and mortal reason. I do not think God has plans in the way we might think of them – a neat ending to a story, a way everything will make sense to us, or a satisfying tying up of all our loose ends.

Rather, I think of God as eternal unfurling with ever increasing nuance and connection until we see all lives as dancing flames rising and falling and rising again.

Meaning is something we tack on to Reality to comfort ourselves with a sense of having a handle on things. But Reality more likely slips through our fingers, whizzing past us, leaving trails of newspaper clippings, baby shoes, an old watch, and a tortoise shell comb worn by your great grandmother.

Today I think, rather than One who has plans, God is an endless returning, retracing,  weaving in and out, a grand do si do in waltz time, circling back and forward, all the while holding out his hand for us to join the dance, seeing the same place over and over, as if for the first time.

What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
T.S. Eliot “Little Gidding”
I would love to know the wisdom you will be carrying with you in 2011. What is your verse, or piece of direction to see you through the coming year? Leave it here in the comments, or post it on our Facebook page.
A very blessed New Year to you!

 

The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
Read more about prayer www.fromholyground.org
Contact the author lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross

Not Enough?

Not enough time, not enough energy, not enough hope, not enough money, not enough jobs, not enough room, not enough love, not enough peace …

not enuf nuthin !

So goes the lie.

As the holiday season of plenty, hope, and generosity opens its arms to us, some individuals are pained by and suspicious of the season’s glittering wares. The family, who have lost their home to foreclosure, the unemployed factory worker, and other despairing and heartsick souls may feel plenty is beyond their reach and scarcity their new normal.

The media depictions of holiday cheer play on our insecurity and sense of lack. They insinuate that no matter how much we have, we do not have the latest and greatest. Advertisers lure us with promises of more. We may find ourselves stumbling after ghostly phantoms in the desperate hope that this year we might find that illusive wholeness we are seeking.

How does one feel whole and fulfilled, when one is more aware of scarcity in one’s life? Perhaps abundance in the midst of scarcity occurs for us as it did for Jesus, when he fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two small fish.

We welcome what we have, however meager. We give thanks, and watch it multiply.

Here is a simple, yet demanding, exercise to practice such a miracle in your own life. It is called The Welcoming Prayer. It was developed by Mary Mrozowski, one of Thomas Keating‘s closest associates and a prime mover in the development of centering prayer. She based the Welcoming Prayer on the 17th-century French spiritual classic Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade as well as Fr. Keating’s teachings and her own lived experience of transformation with its underlying attitude of surrender. There are a number of variations on this prayer. Here is one.

WELCOMING  PRAYER

Focus and Sink In:

Become aware of what is troubling you or occupying your mind. For example, your sadness, anger, or fear regarding scarcity of some kind in your life. Focus on your feelings, both cognitively and physically, noting how and where the feeling affects your body.

Instead of resisting, or feeling ashamed or denying, welcome the truth of what is troubling you. Welcome the feelings with curiosity and compassion.

Let Go:

(Here is the hard part)

Let go of your desire for power and control over the situation. Release your desire to be “right.”

Let go of your desire for affection and esteem from others.

Let go of your desire for survival and security.

Let go of your desire to change the way things are.

Rest :

Allow yourself to sink into the abundant flowing love of this moment. French priest, Jeanne Pierre de Caussade, describes this love:

The present is ever filled with infinite treasure; it contains more than you have capacity to hold. … The will of God is at each moment before us like an immense, inexhaustible ocean that no human heart can fathom; but none can receive from it more than he has capacity to contain, it is necessary to enlarge this capacity by faith, confidence, and love…

You may find the letting go section of the prayer difficult to do. One or two of the desires may be harder to release than others. Think of this as useful information about what things, other than God, are of primary importance in your life. Notice which desires might be getting in the way of your freedom in Christ. If you find you cannot release one of these, you might simply pray that God give you the desire to desire to let go.

The Welcoming Prayer invites us to trust in God’s presence and providence and to discover the infinite wealth of God available to us in each moment. “The divine will is a deep abyss of which the present moment is the entrance. If you plunge into this abyss you will find it infinitely more vast than your desires,” writes de Caussade.

I believe this is absolutely true. Over and over in the midst of distress, I have wrung my hands about there not being enough of one thing or another in my life. Yet as I have focused and welcomed the feelings and my present reality, let go of my ego’s desires, and rested in God, my need has been supplied with an abundant depth and power that swept away all my grasping and anxiety.

I heard the geese honking at dawn last week. My dog halted at the door and cocked his head and we listened together in wonder. I love the sound of them moving over head, giving themselves to the skies. Trusting in their ancient faith they make their way.

In spite of all appearances to the contrary, I believe there is enough.

The Wild Geese

Abandon, as in love or sleep,
Holds them to their way
clear in the ancient faith:
what we need is here.
And we pray not for new earth or heaven,
but to be quiet in heart
and in eye clear.
What we need is here.       Wendell Berry

I trust in you, O Lord. You are my God.
My times are in your hands. Psalm 30:1

What we need is here.

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Embarrassing Prayers

An Embarrassment

“Do you want to ask
the blessing?”

“No. If you do,
go ahead.”

He went ahead:
his prayer dressed up

in Sunday clothes
rose a few feet

and dropped with a soft
thump.

If a lonely soul
did ever cry out

in company its true
outcry to God,

it would be as though
at a sedate party

a man suddenly
removed his clothes

and took his wife
passionately into his arms.

~Wendell Berry – Leavings

Wendell Berry –  I love this Kentucky farmer and writer, with his deep affection for the land and generosity of spirit. I actually worry sometimes about his dying. He is getting older and I need him to keep going into his timber, where he observes Sabbath down by the creek. I need his passion for justice and goodness, which he keeps just under his worn jacket. I love it every time he tears off that jacket and strips down to show us the naked truth.

I used to say with the foolish assurance of someone newly in love with God, “If people knew how sexy God is, our churches would be filled.” Now I wonder if perhaps it is our churches themselves who don’t know how sexy God is, and that is why some are empty.

In the sedate worship circles I frequent, there are few passionate outbursts and everyone keeps his clothes on. If a God lover ever did rise up in some self-abandoned embarrassing expression of love, we would probably be appalled and call the police.

We have all heard those obligatory, studied prayers that rise a few feet and drop with a soft thump. I have prayed quite a few myself. I also confess I have been a perpetrator of prayers with an ax to grind: some pet notion or issue that wasn’t fully treated in the sermon or meeting, which the one praying attempts to correct. Perhaps, you have been assaulted with the prayer of someone, who is more concerned about setting you straight about some matter than entering into communion with the Lord of the Universe on your behalf. Then there are the quick and dirty nooners over lunch in a public restaurant, where you feel everyone is watching.

To the Holy One, I figure all our prayers are mostly childish babble, endearing scribbles in the sky.  I trust God loves them all, just as I still keep a box of my daughters’ childhood drawings and writing. Tell me, what are we, caged in our mortality, to do with this divine love, if not to slop it around like infants in a high chair eating our first plate of spaghetti? We are bound to be messy. More of us ought to be caught red handed in flagrante delicto with spaghetti sauce all over our faces.

Some Sundays I have an impulse to throw myself in an unseemly prostration before the altar on behalf of the people and the God I love so much that I can’t stand it.  I do not have the words to express the anguish, doubt, and fear I know some of the people carry. “Do something!” I want to scream at God. “Here take me, take my life, such as it is, ragged and tattered, and heal your people!”

Once, in a weak moment, overcome with love, I knelt in a Presbyterian church during worship. Presbyterians, as you may know, do not have kneelers in their churches or kneel as part of their worship. They express their passion by singing, something at which Roman Catholics, with their lovely genuflections and neat fold-down kneelers are generally less accomplished.

My embarrassment followed Holy Communion. After I received our Lord’s presence and love, I brazenly knelt right down in the First Presbyterian Church in Holton, Kansas. It was a little crowded between my seat and the back of my brother’s pew, but I just had to do it. Afterwards one of the elders of the church brought up my indiscretion at the session meeting, asking the pastor if what I did was “Presbyterian.” They haven ‘t kicked me out so far.

Saints, prophets, artists, and poets understand the passion of the human heart for the divine. These are persons, possessed and overcome with our Beloved, who often do and say things unseemly. Most people think they are a little kooky. Yet these same people, who hold mystics at arm’s length, regularly sing hymns with lyrics like:

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me
to thy bosom fly …

Come down, O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing…

Who do they think they are fooling? I know there are hearts aflame with God in more than one gentleman in the back row, not to mention the middle aged couple, or bored looking teenager pecking at his cell phone. Most us, including clergy, are well trained to keep our passion contained. Nobody wants to be embarrassed for heaven’s sake.

As Wendell Berry writes, there is public prayer, which can easily slide down the slippery slope into performance prayer. Then there is the Jesus-recommended private, shut up in your closet prayer. (Matthew 6:6) I suppose the closet prayers are the best kind for taking off your clothes. The only problem with hiding our passion is that people may get the idea that God is boring and that being a person of faith is only a matter of learning some doctrine and following a moral code of behavior.

Not for the faint hearted, a life of prayer is a perilous enterprise. One can pray a prayer so lame it is an embarrassment, or one can simply embarrass oneself. I believe God receives all our prayers, both the self-conscious thumpers, and the self-forgotten soarers. God, being beyond shame, is not embarrassed by either. Would we could all toss away our fig leaves and go walking in the garden with our Lover without a stitch.

I hope there is a place, where you can strip down to your naked, vulnerable, cellulite- encased, pocked-marked self and open your arms to your Beloved in a rush of desire and groping hunger for holiness, truth, justice, and mercy.

We won’t peek. Just go for it. Lame or passionate, pray an embarrassing prayer today.

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Pray! For God’s Sake


They are all screaming at the top of their lungs. A gargantuan angel with bushy hair and a dark, cavernous throat bellows from a starry sky. A couple of space ships pass in the distance and a few screaming angels flit among the stars. Four other angels hover at the large angel’s feet, with neat rows of white teeth framing their gaping mouths. These angels are playing musical instruments: a violin, a harp, and one angel is hitting a cow bell with a drum stick.

The cartoon’s caption, printed on a scroll held by the big angel, reads:

PRAY. Everything else is  ___! (expletive removed)

The cartoon is the irreverent work of Robert Therrien, aka Bad Bob, who made a name for himself in the 90’s drawing Screaming Man cartoons, which featured a fellow who had consumed five or six too many cups of coffee.

This framed cartoon has stood on my desk for over fifteen years. I loved its no-nonsense; just do it approach to prayer. Those ugly hysterical angels seemed to say, “Get over yourself, sweet cakes, and turn to God. Now!” I doubt if Bad Bob of Mad Magazine fame intended such a response. None the less, the cartoon neatly cut through my own (expletive removed) and shifted my focus from my almighty self to One greater and wiser and kinder than I.

A few weeks ago my Black Lab, Elijah, named for the Tishbite prophet who bested the prophets of Baal, and heard the still, small voice of God, chewed up Bad Bob’s profane angels. By the time I caught him gnawing on pieces of the wooden frame, he had already eaten one of the smaller angels. I don’t remember what instrument he was playing. I do not think Elijah had a quarrel with the angels or Bad Bob. The satisfying crunch and shred of the wooden frame was his delight. That angel he ate was just an after dinner mint.

Once in a while I have the urge to yell at someone, “Pray!” But usually the person already feels tormented, guilty, and vulnerable enough without me adding to his or her pain.

How does one enter into relationship with the most high God? We hesitate on the threshold, dilly dallying around reading books and blogs, talking about prayer, and about God, holding opinions about religion and other people’s expressions of faith, all the while avoiding that vulnerable exposure of our raw need to the Holy One, intolerably awesome and other than us.

Maybe we need a herd of fierce, raucous, over-caffeinated angels to descend and scare the wits out of us. If not such a rude kick in the seat of the pants, we may need at least someone to take us by the hand and say, “Okay, let’s do it like this. And then sit down with us and pray. Maybe we need someone who will stay with us, as we flail about. Maybe we need someone who will bang a cowbell with a stick, when we start to nod off. Maybe we need someone whose faith, at the moment, is larger than ours, whose belief is deeper, and whose hope is wider. Whether we find such support and compassion with one other person or a hundred, this is what I call church.

Bad Bob’s screaming angel appears to have no doubt in our ability to pray or in prayer’s power and effectiveness. Yet the heavenly being, along with the other hosts, has had it up to here with a people, who persist in looking for answers to their troubles only in solutions that amount to the manure of bulls.

Come to think of it, I have had it too. Pray!

Let me know if you need some help.

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Read more about at www.fromholyground.org Tracking Holiness – Newsletter
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