Category Archives: Spiritual Direction

Special Offer for Readers of The Praying Life Blog

Holy Ground, a quarterly reflection, serving up spiritual food that sticks to the ribs for twenty three years.

Holy Ground, a quarterly reflection, serving up spiritual food that sticks to the ribs for twenty three years.

                       Back issues of this little newsletter can be found in every stack of papers in my house – I move them from my desk to the kitchen counter to the pile of mail on the dining room table, until they eventually become dog-eared and fall apart. I just can’t seem to throw an issue of Holy Ground away.
                    Why? Because Loretta Ross, an ordained Presbyterian clergy woman and a fine writer, puts equal amounts of inspiration and whimsy into every issue. Even though Holy Ground is a thin little folder – 7 or 8 pages, one essay, really – it’s always refreshing, renewing,; an awakening of sorts.
                                     Review by Susan Jelus in A New Song May, 1999

Take advantage of this  special offer
for Praying Life Readers and their friends

I want to thank you for all your support, shares, comments, follows, and subscriptions to the Praying Life blog over the past three years. You continually call me to deeper truth, deeper prayer, and better writing. You are each a gift in my life.

Here’s the deal: Subscribe to Holy Ground and get the first two issues of a new series of issues on contemplation FREE!

What is Holy Ground?
Before I started writing the Praying Life blog I had been publishing a quarterly reflection on the life of prayer called Holy Ground for over twenty years. In 2000 Sheed and Ward published the best of those essays in the book, Letters from the Holy Ground –Seeing God Where You Are. I occasionally feature excerpts from this book here.

Who are you really and why should I invest in a subscription to Holy Ground, even if I get two free copies?
Many of the subscribers of Holy Ground have been reading this little publication since its beginning. The writing in Holy Ground is similar to what you find in my blog here, except that each essay is a lengthier consideration of some aspect of our life in God. Many Holy Ground issues make their way to Bible study classes and prayer groups.

As with The Praying Life blog, the writing is informed by my thirty years of listening deeply to the stories of others about their faith lives. As a spiritual director I have spent thousands of hours listening  and learning of the struggle, the suffering, and the beauty of growing in the likeness of Christ. My ministry as a pastor, as well as personal study and training in theology, scripture, and faith formation also shape my understanding of the church in this tumultuous time. I am accountable to a Board of Directors, a member of Spiritual Directors International, and an honorably retired member of the Presbytery of Northern Kansas. I take very seriously the access others give me through my writing and seek to be held accountable by other professionals and my church.

Finally and most important, is my commitment to prayer. Setting aside a day of solitude and prayer weekly, is the only credential I offer of any lasting value. For twenty five years I have focused my ministry on prayer first, last, and always. This is the core of who I am.

In the words of Oswald Chambers, “ I am called to live in such a perfect relationship with God that my life produces a yearning for God in the lives of others, not admiration for myself. … God’s purpose is … getting me to the place where God can use me. Let God do what he wants.” My Utmost for His Highest.

For me prayer is the process of continued surrender into the will of God. I am not my own, but belong to One greater than I, whose purposes for me I generally resist, but ultimately seem to surrender to.

So Tell Me More about Holy Ground
This new series of Holy Ground issues is on Contemplation and the first issue of the series, which you get free with our offer, is a general overview of contemporary contemplation and a consideration of several definitions of this somewhat obscure word.

The second issue of the series, which you also get free with our offer is a long, loving look at what it means to pay attention.

Here is an excerpt from the first issue:

One learns a lot from the disciplined practice of the present moment, or mindfulness, as it is sometimes called. As I watch the fleeting shadows of my mind’s picture show, I encounter my restlessness and my estrangement from my deepest self, where Holiness abides.

Day after day my ego strides with a flourish to its pulpit to justify, defend, or convince imagined audiences of its own certainties. Persistent and untiring, it plants its elbows on the podium and tightly grips the sides. Posturing and pontificating, it attempts to prevail against the horror of its diminishment and disappearance in the embrace of what is beyond our naming.

We sit still as stones as love stalks us, waiting just beyond the edges of our awareness to pounce upon its prey and carry us off between its teeth into the divine depths of each moment. . . . .

The past thirty five years we have seen a tremendous growth and flourishing of contemplative practices world wide. Understanding and appreciation of contemplative prayer have grown in many faith traditions.

The hunger for communion with God and the development of the spiritual aspect of our being has spilled out from churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples to PBS special documentaries, internet, coffee shops, retreat centers, and hundreds of programs in faith formation world wide, as well as secularized versions in business and the sciences.

So what is this contemplation? …

Excerpted from Vol. 23, No.2 Summer 2012 of Holy Ground, copyright©2012 Loretta F. Ross

By subscribing to Holy Ground, you will get more encouragement for your journey. A year’s subscription is $35.00, which with our offer includes six issues, instead of the usual four. That is a 50% savings.

Subscribe today. Click here. You will soon will receive in your email copies of the first two issues in the series on contemplation. You will be glad you did. And you will help us keep offering serious rib stickin’ soul food. If you would prefer the printed snail mail version, check that option in the drop down box and we will get your free issues in the mail right away.

If you have any problems or questions, leave a comment here, look for the facebook page The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer, or email me at lross@fromholyground.org.

Again, dear ones, thank you from the bottom of my heart for carefully tending to your own souls and including this blog in your diet. If you already subscribe to Holy Ground, thank you so much! How about giving a gift subscription to a friend, or passing this post on to someone you know?

What Readers  Say about Holy Ground
Holy Ground essays sustain long after the rise and fall of scandal, political wranglings, and the garish blare of media sound bites.

This issue is one of my favorites. Thank you for the call to contemplation. I especially liked your sharing of the process, the distractions, even related thoughts that are not in the present. I’ve experienced all of those! M.T. August, 2012

Wow, Loretta, you went all out for your Autumn Holy Ground. I received it yesterday and read it this morning. Really, for me, one of the most powerful things you’ve written since I’ve been receiving your reflections. It was truly inspired. I am grateful for this gift that resulted from your deep prayer life. Thank you, thank you – for sitting, for waiting, for praying.It is really an incredible reflection. – S. P. Dec. 2009

Hi Loretta – I am an avid and appreciative reader of Holy Ground. It waters my spirit without fail. Thank you for sharing your gift of spiritual insight and ability to express it in words and white space. H. E. Dec. 2011

Volume 18, No 2 arrived this week. It is poignant, and hits a mark in all of us. But what I want to say here is thank you for your continuing transparency, and your courage to share your deep self with all of us. Not only your ministry, wisdom and insight, but your willingness to share yourself with so many, is a great gift. P.M. August 2007

Your newsletters are always so deep and challenging, the most profound Christian spirituality around. Thank you, love, C. M. Dec. 2009

I am so glad Holy Ground was forwarded when I moved from Topeka to Cincinnati. The messages are among some of the most life giving ones that are out there. Thank you for this opportunity to keep receiving it!!! L.O. Oct. 2007

Summer 2009 HG

Holy Ground.  goes great with a cup of coffee!

Do You Know What You Know?

Four Great Questions

The word is very close to you.
It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it.

 I was putting away some of the books which had clustered around my reading chair:  David Brooks, The Social Animal; Contemplation Nation, edited by Mirabai Bush;  poetry by Wendell Berry, The Hunger Games; The Cloud of Unknowing… when I randomly opened one of the books and found Four Great Questions.

The questions are in the book, Yoga and Anxiety – Meditations and Practices for Calming Body and Mind by Mary and Rick NurrieSterns on page 102. I will tell you what they are in just a minute.

I find the world fascinating and cannot get full of the knowledge and wonder of it all. I usually am reading four or five books at the same time. Often what I read opens doors of understanding and appreciation. Other times reading confirms my own intuitions and understanding, or it invites me into whole new places and realities I have never experienced or imagined.

“He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He’s actually kind of dangerous,” a friend recently said to me about a young professional on his way up the ladder to “success.” Sometimes we do not know what we don’t know. We may then set out to decrease our ignorance, or remain self-deceived, uninformed, arrogant, and even dangerous.

On the other hand there are occasions when we don’t know what we know, which could also be dangerous. The questions I found on my way to my book shelves are aimed at uncovering truths we already know, but are ignoring, denying, or deceiving ourselves about.

For example, we may know more about what is the best course of action for us, than we allow ourselves to own. Sometimes I play dumb in my relationship with God. I will go back to God over and over with some question I really already have the answer to. Yet I insist on double checking, second guessing, and reconfirming. It is my anxiety and doubt that send me back for continual assurance. I almost seem to prefer wringing my hands and hemming and hawing, than striding confidently, calmly into the next step.

This commandment that I’m giving you right now is definitely not too difficult for you.  It isn’t unreachable.  It isn’t up in heaven somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will go up for us to heaven and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?”  Nor is it across the ocean somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the ocean for us and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?”  Not at all! The word is very close to you.  It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it.   Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Common English Bible (CEB)

Four Great Questions

Sometimes we are not ready to face a truth for various reasons, so we choose to remain ignorant. These questions help you consciously acknowledge a truth that you know deep inside, or to bring into the light a nagging realization that keeps popping up.

1. (Fill in the blank) The truth about this relationship is ______________.

2. I know I need to _______________________________________.

3. The real truth is _______________________________________.

4. What do I know about myself and my life that I haven’t been listening to?

Take some time this week with these questions. Find out what you already know and let me know how it goes.  “The word is very close to you.”

Questions from Yoga and Anxiety – Meditations and Practices for Calming Body and Mind by Mary and Rick NurrieSterns

How to Pray

Want to learn how to pray? Forget words. Forget about getting the right name for God. Forget fidgeting about how to sit or stand or hold your hands. Forget whatever you have been taught about prayer. Forget yourself.

And go gaze upon something or someone you love. Look long and deeply at something which gives joy or peace –

that penetrating lime green of the spring woods, and the wet black branches like some ancient language of scribbles and runes scrawled all over the forest

the path of the sun, trailing like a golden ribbon across the floor, climbing up the table and tying itself neatly around your tea cup

the sleeping boy in his Superman PJs, smelling of grass and child sweat

Next: Let yourself be held there in your looking and wonder. Do you feel that subtle magnetic force that seems to gently grasp and suspend you before your beloved?

Breathe. Relax.

Notice what wells up in you and what recedes. Various feelings and thoughts – some positive, some negative. Simply observe the play of your inner life as you gaze upon beauty.

Notice the voice which says, “You need to get moving. There is a lot to do. Should I fix potato soup for supper? I really can’t stand that woman.” Keep returning to what you love. Allow your love and appreciation of this portion of the world draw you in to its Creator and Author, that pulse of the Spirit which animates all of existence.

For that is what Holiness is doing in the creation – luring us, catching us up, and reeling us into the Heart of Reality and Divinity through the things of this world. God threads us through and beyond what we love to deeper love and freedom in the realm of Grace that is called God’s kingdom.

Really. God will use anything, anyone to draw us into God’s self, God’s being, and into  truth, into love, into amazement, and wonder. What draws you into this prayer will likely be something uniquely suited to you, your aspirations, your interests, your peculiar, and particular existence. So specific is God’s summons to you. So beloved are you by God.

All that is required is your consent – your yes, your willingness to take the bait, to bite into creation with appetite and hope.

After looking at God in this way for a while, a word or two, a spoken prayer may emerge from your heart. Something you want to say to God. Something you desire from God. Go ahead and whisper your words to God. Then be silent and listen.

A Peace will come and settle over you, a calm, perhaps, a gentleness, an assurance of some kind.

Afterwards, before you turn back to getting things done, do a little self inventory:

Have you changed in any way after this time of gazing? Is there a difference in how you are feeling or thinking? Is there something from this time you need to stay with or return to? What would you like to say to God about this time? What would you like to hear in response from God?

And this, my friends, is a prayer.

This is a way God speaks.

This is a way the Word Made Flesh calls our name.

This is a way we answer.

Other Praying Life posts on prayer you might enjoy:

What Is a Prayer

Contemplation – Circling a Definition

Paying Attention and Taking Your Time

A Calm and Quiet Soul

You can help support The Praying Life by donating to The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer. Just five or ten dollars will make a difference and help pay some of our costs. Your gift is tax deductible. Donate Here. Thank you so much!

Caring for Souls: The Call and the Cost

I entertain myself by spying on the hidden mystery of how the Holy Spirit shapes, purifies, and refines souls for holy purposes. This work of caring for souls has been my focus for over thirty years. I figure I have spent several thousand hours listening to people tell me about their lives in God.

In some cases I have been privileged to walk with individuals for many years, observing periods of suffering, impasse, joy, and growth. Trained in the practice of spiritual direction, I offer my presence, love, and attention to those, who share with me the intimate and profound desires of their hearts.

I have learned a lot about the way of God in a person’s soul and the way of a human being as he or she struggles, resists, and seeks the One beyond his or her control or manipulation. I have seen the common traps and temptations, and the unfailing grace of Christ. I have learned to recognize  patterns of deepening spiritual maturity. What I have to give, which seems the most important at this point,  are my prayers and my faith.

In this poem I explore Jesus’ final words to Peter on the shore on the Sea of Tiberius (John 23)  and some of what I have experienced in feeding Christ’s sheep.

CHILDREN,  HAVE YOU ANY FISH?

Just after daybreak,  Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them,  “Children, you have no fish, have you?”  John 21:5

After breakfast –

did they push back the plates
brush away the crumbs
and leaning on their elbows
drain the last of the coffee?

when they had finished breaking
the fast
that knot that moored them
to the earth –

did they hear the crack
as lack was smashed
and denial strewn in shards
all round their dawn drenched faces
while Fullness rose before them,
a grinning fry-cook,
presiding at the flame?

So when they had completed that shattering
that breaking of self-imposed want
and self itself
and tasted, savored, chewed, digested
that Fish
who had eluded their nets all night

then Feast asked:

Do you love me?

Peter takes the bait
Yes, Lord.
Do fish swim? Is the sea wet?

 Feed my lambs.

 A second time Feast casts the net:

 Do you love me?

 Yes, Lord. You know.
Peter turns, twisting in the webbing.

Tend my sheep.

And then the charm:

 Do you love me?        

Flailing, inextricably caught
flesh straining, tormented –

I am putty in your hands.  You know me.
Why press me up against the edges of this love
to lie gasping, gills seared by sanctity
on the far shore of heaven?
You who have lured me here,
you know, you know.

Then quick
the deft Cleaver
a swift slash of blade
and he is flayed open
on his soft underside
from gullet to dorsal fin.

And it comes:

Feed my sheep.  Again.

O Peter, Peter
once you swam where you would
through silent green darkness
in and out of rotting keels among the stems
lying in wait for your supper
to enter your heart’s snare.
Now you are trawled
where you do not wish to go
where you will be filleted
in the bright morning sun
for someone else’s breakfast.
O Peter,  Peter there may still be time
run
run!

In some nook
you will lean across a table
called remember
and another’s hunger will tear out your entrails
and you will wash down your cheerios
with each other’s tears.

The line is forming, Peter.
Hear their cries.
See them coming,
heaving themselves out of the waters
like great sad whales
beached on this foreign strand.

Tend them, Peter. They are mine.
Be gentle with their wounds
the raw red
festering places
seeming so incurable.
Teach them to clean
to wrap
to bind up the hurt
with these stained winding cloths.

Give them a poultice
for drawing out the poison,
a potion for a contrite heart.

Wipe their tears.
Sing their lament.
Carry their ache in your heart
long after they leave
and wake to it when you rise.

You will not wish to meet such suffering.
You will look for ways to turn its tide
to swim back to your ancient watery grave
where life eased slowly into you once removed
through gossamer wings you wore waving on each side.

Now your lungs screech
as the air
the air
slams into you
immediate
as this picnic breakfast, Pete.

You have seen me
known me
loved me
now you will be food for them to eat.

                            Sheep

A woman stops on her porch at dusk.
Sifting through the branches
Grace greets her.
Dare she kneel?
What will the neighbors think to spy
her caught in prayer on the threshold?
Grocery sacks spill down the stair
crispy critters, wonder bread,
instant breakfast fill the air.

The man searching for peace
having lost his love
now paces through the word
hunting for the key.

Another flops over and over
trying to get her bearings.
Which way is up?

The shy awkward magician
in a dazzling burst of courage
pulls out the hidden emerald of her heart
and bows triumphant
while drums roll and rabbits scamper all around.

The one who never stops talking
weaves his fear in rambling fables.

The one, awakening, sings possibility and promise
and perches on the edge of wonder,
enchantment, waiting to be opened.

All beached, scarred, encrusted with barnacles
thrust up against each other in the hush of dawn,
gasping, lungs laboring, gulping at the Spirit.

Carried

 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”  This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” (John 21: 18-19) NKJV

In accompanying others on their journey into the heart of God –
making our way together through the clotted underbrush
the heavy growth of jungle foliage
trekking across the endless stretches of barren tundra
waiting out the storms in bus depots
napping in the meadows –
what seems most apparent now
is the oneness
the mutuality of laughter shared
joy celebrated
and anguish felt.

I have seen myself hesitate on the frontier
holding back
keeping myself in reserve 

Let’s have a nice holy talk and then we can all go home.

But Jesus never was much on talk alone
and like some mother determined to get her children off to a good start
fries up some fish for breakfast
and sees we must take in,
consume redemption
carry it in our bellies,
eat the pain of one another
feel it ease into our blood and bone
and, tasting theirs, so we embrace our own.

Fish out of water,
our task is learning how to breathe in two worlds
to walk the treacherous path
that cuts an ever widening swath in our hearts,
the gorge of sorrows where compassion feeds.

You there singing in your prayer
weeping, screaming,
I do not know where the way leads
into what dark forests, what caves, what dizzy peaks.
I only know I go along
and where once I went alone,
swam girded solitary in the reeds,
charting a course myself
now am lifted
swept by this net of love
and carried
carried
even as I carry you in me,
carried into bright and alien lands
carried toward the One
who ever holds our breakfast
in his hands.

 Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of  Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn grey I will carry you.  I have made, and I will bear;  I will carry and I will save.   Isaiah 46: 3-4

Reflection questions:

  • How do Jesus’ words to Peter in John relate to you as you care for the souls of family, friends, clients, and others Jesus sends to you, or sends you to?
  • What have you observed about how people develop their faith and love for God? What seems to be your role in that process? How do you feed Christ’s  sheep?

 

You can help support The Praying Life by donating to The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer. Just $5.00 or $10.00 will make a difference and help pay some of our costs. Your gift is tax deductible. Donate Here.
Thank you so much!