Tag Archives: communication

Not Ten Best Practices for Prayer


“Your writing has changed lately,” a friend who reads these blogs said last week. “Is that related to the retreat you went on?”

I have been thinking I ought to write a more accessible, timely post, something about the weather we have endured here in Kansas,  the contentious world of politics, an entertaining piece about my dog, or a list: Ten Best Practices for Prayer. Copy Writer tells me that lists always get lots of views and shares.

Yet, if this is a blog about prayer, it ought to reflect the experience of one who is praying. So at least for today I bring you another update from the silence. One word is really all I have to say: longing, deep vast yearning, reaching toward what I cannot really name.

And as some of you know, my friends, such longing is really kind of awful. Awful in the sense of how it stretches and stretches one ever beyond one’s self. Awful in the sense that it has no end. Awful in the sense that it is out of one’s control or naming. Awful in the sense that it is love that ever seeks its fulfillment in the beloved.

The writer of the Cloud of Unknowing called such prayer a naked intention of love directed to God alone.


A Failure to Communicate

I would like to stand and hold my balance on the threshold
with the wind whistling through the space
where my heart used to be
and watch the birth and death of beings
the coming and going of existence
and somehow fasten myself in that place,

the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

I have had it with these little cages
we stuff full of significance
and string out across a page
like a rumbling circus parade of gaudy wagons drawn by camels.

The penned beasts of meaning pace back and forth
while we snap the whip and totally miss the show.

Nor is communication a fortune cookie “thought for the day.”

Flirting on the edge of my awareness
where words dissolve
and nothing separates

love broods.

I bang against the bars.
Let me out.
Set me free of me.

Why I long to escape the confines of language I do not know
for when I meet you there,
in that other country, our native land
I will have nothing to say or offer

because you will already have all you ever need.


I tell you this: it is more profitable to your soul’s health, more worthwhile, more pleasing to God and the hosts of heaven – yes, more helpful to your friends, natural and spiritual, dead or alive – that you should have this blind outreaching love to God himself, this secret love pressing upon the cloud of unknowing, that you should have this as your spiritual affection, than that you should contemplate and gaze on the angels and saints in heaven and hear the happy music of the blessed.     The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works



I thought of you this morning
while the dove cooed under the feeder
and I knew how I had utterly failed.

How is it with you, really?

Words fill the distance between us
pushing in drifts
against your door.

Discarded costumes, masks, disguises
on the fitting room floor.

I step out to tell you what I want
what I am trying to find here
is the one
true moment

which strips off
the tight suits of expression
to expose
the bare naked beat
of love.


I cannot tell you how deep
is this need to communicate,
how vast the reach of longing.
We plead face down in the dirt.
You who know no separation,
make us one.

God Goes to Podcamp

Looking around the room, I saw a lot of smart phones, iPads, laptops, as well as salon haircuts, and expensive eye glasses with predominately black frames.  I picked out grungy geeks, staid state employees, hip local media moguls, and a few old dudes like me among the crowd. One stunning young woman arrived, wearing tight black leggings and a short black jacket. Her stiletto boots with open toes showed off her bright red pedicure. She carried an equally beautiful baby on one hip.

I sat down at a table with two young web design entrepreneurs from Iowa. College students and high school buddies, they had made the nine hour drive to spend the day at of all places, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.

The event, sponsored by my local public library, is the brain child of librarian, David Lee King, who is definitely nothing like Miss Mabel Hrencher, who presided at the check out counter in the library of my childhood. PodCamp Topeka, billed as the “best unconference in the Midwest” is “Topeka’s annual low-cost unconference focused on social media, podcasting, audio and video production, and the web. Our goal? To learn about social media from social media experts, to network with fellow bloggers, podcasters & social media creators … and to have a blast!”  Which, as far as I am concerned, we did. Though I skipped the Tweet-Up event at a local bar at the end of the day in order to walk my dog, I left thinking, “Wow! Topeka, Kansas just keeps getting better and better.”

I purchased a new TV remote a month ago after my dog, Elijah, ate most of my old one. The new remote still sits in its box, because I can’t figure out how to get the darn thing to work. So how did I come to be sitting among tech cool, social media movers and shakers, learning tricks for emerging web technology? What was I, a hermit, solitary type, who needs large, sustained doses of silence, and thinks about God a lot, doing here? What could the keynote speaker, social media guru, Patrick O’Keefe, owner of I Froggy Network , have to say of interest to me? The last Froggy I had heard of “went a’courtin’” years ago.

Why did I go? Simple. The event was all about communication,  joining together, communion. This, you may recall, was a particular concern for Jesus. In the intimate moment in the gospel of John, where we listen in on Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, we overhear Jesus’ deep yearning that somehow, someway his followers might taste and enjoy the communion and oneness he shared with the Creator, whom he called Father. “Please let them be one, as we are one, not just kind of one, but completely, perfectly one. And Father,  I don’t want just these here, my disciples, to be part of this joining together, I want also those, who believe in me through my followers’ words about me, to be one with us. (John 17: 20-22, paraphrase)

Part of the nature of the Holy One and those created in God’s image and likeness is the ability to communicate – to extend oneself out of oneself in order to interact in some meaningful way with another. An infant expresses his needs and learns trust, as his caregivers respond to his cries with comfort and nurture. Hopefully, the infant learns that when he expresses a need, someone beyond him will respond with kindness. The child experiences the deep satisfaction and relief of being heard, and understood. If for some reason its need is not met, if the infant is unable to successfully connect, to attach to another, and get his or her needs met, the baby may waste away and develop a host of difficulties in communing with others.

Communication forms the basis of human community and a reflection, for the believer, of the Trinitarian nature of God. Theologian Miraslov Volf in a recent article in Christian Century writes:

If the One God is utterly unique and beyond number, why do Christians speak of divine triunity? Christians believe the word [God’s communication] was made flesh in Jesus Christ. From this belief it follows that the one utterly unique God who is beyond all counting, is internally differentiated as the Speaker, the Word and the Breath.

We live in the midst of the praised and condemned transition from print and broadcast communication to digital communication. This is one more passage in the long journey that began at the campfire, where we gathered to hear the hunters tell us the story of how they stalked and killed our supper. We have now arrived at the blog, podcast, and webinar to tell our stories of conquest and to instruct others in monetizing, ROI (return of investment), and how to put supper on the table. According to M. Rex Miller, author of The Millennium Matrix, the movements from oral communication, to print media, broadcast, and digital media have each brought about sweeping changes in how we believe, how we know, how we live together, how we see beauty, and how we work and trade. Our institutional structures, our architecture, our religions, our art, our self understanding, even our brains have been conditioned by how we communicate.

What is an unconference? you may wonder. According to Wikipedia, “an unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose. The term ‘unconference’ has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as high fees and sponsored presentations.” An unconference moves away from a top down, gathering of authorities, experts, and hierarchical structures. Power in the form of information and know-how is no longer controlled by Miss Mabel Hrencher with her tight grip on your library card.

We, along with the Holy One yearn to know and be known, to receive another and to be received, to see and be seen. We find deep satisfaction in that moment of mutual apprehension: the yes! the nod, the I-get-you-baby. We seem to never tire of the joy of recognition, affirmation, acceptance, and to be heard and understood. “Hey, Mom, watch. See how I do this! Dad, look at me!”

The glance of another is a blessing beyond words, the bestowal of understanding is a gift of great price. During a break at the Podcamp, the hip young mom came toward me down the hall. I stopped and told her, “You are just beautiful.” She smiled and her baby looked at me and crowed.

At Podcamp most of us contained our look-at-me tendencies, but they were not far below the surface. The longing to enter into the sweet and deeply satisfying experience of communion runs like a subtext of desire through many human interactions. The man, who came for the fall check up of my furnace, the day after the midterm elections, visited with me a bit about politics and the state of the nation. At one point I said, “It sounds like you have thought deeply about these things.” The earnest, intelligent fellow perked up and talked for another half hour. Somebody cared.

It takes so little in the dance of communication – a comment, response, the slightest gesture of recognition, the click of the Like button. We possess great power to enlarge one another or to diminish and demean.

Prayer, as I understand it, is communication with the Holy One, an exchange in which we speak and listen ourselves into ever fuller being and carry with us our whole community into that fullness.  We reach beyond ourselves and our essential isolation to enter another’s reality, and in that moment of communion, however momentary, virtual or real, is the opportunity for expansion, mutual exchange, and transformation.

A warning: death is involved in such communion. Life changing communication requires a dying to self and an opening out in trust to the other. I die to my personal exclusivity as an authority or expert, as I reach out to the collective, communal wisdom of my brothers and sisters. I find I am dying all the time, as I bump up against my perceptions, opinions, and personal critiques of those around me, only to discover just how dead wrong I am and how much more is going on in the realm of the Spirit, than I am aware of, or which I discount in my arrogance.

There is no room for a cozy “me and Jesus” theology in such communion. Theologian Miroslav Volf explains,

Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communion. One cannot, however, have a self-enclosed communion with the Triune God- a “foursome,” as it were– for the Christian God is not a private deity. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God. Hence one and the same act of faith places a person into a new relationship both with God and with all others who stand in communion with God. After our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity

The words, love, forgiveness, God, and Jesus were not mentioned at the unconference. Those young men at my table might have moved if they knew I was an ordained minister, not a popular profession in many circles. There was some bowing before the God of Technology. However, there was also an awareness of boundaries, rules, and internet etiquette:  Act nice, or you will be deleted.

Some final words from M. Rex Miller:

The internet is fundamentally about connecting with people of common interest, facilitating person-to-person conversations, collaboration, assistance, and collective learning. The internet inverts the power curve away from centralized control and content to distributed power and member-generated content. The internet is about the exponential value of networks, the power of conversation, and liberation from past obstacles of time, location, gender, age, ethnicity, disability, and tradition.(The Millennium Matrix, p 205)

Though Christ, in whom St. Paul tells us there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, is not mentioned in this description, digital communication offers, for those with eyes to see, a mortal and incomplete reflection of the image of  self-giving communion we find in the Trinity. The heart of digital communication sounds a lot like like church to me. That’s why I went to PodCamp.

As for God, I figure the Almighty, having created the people who made it, must love digital communication, and is surely showing up in black leggings toting her son at every Podcamp she can.

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“Getting to Know You, Know All about You…”

42-16474021After their dinner date, Sandy was mildly disturbed. What was it? Something was eating at her. She really liked Greg. Everything seemed to go well – good conversation, a few laughs, great food, even some electricity in the air.

Oh, it came to her: that remark he made about her sister always being late. It stung. Why? Just what did he mean? Maybe she was over reacting…but his remark sounded catty…

Greg sat with his morning coffee and smiled to himself about the date. It went really well. Sandy actually listened to him. She was funny and pretty and he felt relaxed. He wondered if he should call and tell her how much he enjoyed the evening.

Sandy and Greg have unfinished business – the business of relationship building, the business of deepening intimacy and trust. A business which is the foundation of love.

We naturally review and reflect on conversations and our encounters with others. We sort out the positive and negatives. We go over what we wish we had said differently or left out. We discover questions we want to ask, more information we need.

We may even make a follow up call. “Hey Greg. It’s Sandy. I just want to tell you what a good time I had last night and thank you.” She took a breath, “Greg, I need to let you know something too. I am real loyal about my family and sensitive when people put down my sister. She’s gone through a lot dealing with her disabilities. I felt hurt when you made the joke about her always being late.”

OK. The ball is in Greg’s court now. His response will reveal more about himself, his needs, and experience. Greg and Sandy may build and deepen their relationship with greater trust and honesty in this process, or determine not to do that.

CB035813Let’s apply this idea to our practice of prayer. Sometimes we treat God as a combination landfill and filling station, rather than as a growing relationship of intimacy and trust.  Prayer becomes a place to dump our trash and get refilled with peace of mind. We drive up, open the trunk and haul out our anxieties, worries, sin, pain, sorrow, and confusion and toss them in the containers. We slurp up some high octane Living Water and drive off. “Well, that’s done,” we say. “Now, let’s get on to the important stuff I need to do today.”  In such a scenario of prayer God exists solely to meet my needs.

I suspect that the landfill/gas station approach characterizes quite a bit of our prayer. Yet God is mercifully patient with us about this. God knows that most us we will not come to God unless our trash is overflowing, filling our homes, spilling out the doors and down the street and we feel totally overwhelmed with the demands of our lives. We will wait until our tank is on empty, or we have run out of gas and are stranded on some lonely road late at night.

However, at some point we may notice a shift in us during our visits to the landfill. We may find a desire toj0314126 stay a little longer and linger at the filling station. We may feel a curiosity about the Landfill Owner and his generosity in taking in everyone’s trash and rotting garbage. Appreciation and questions may emerge. A conversation may begin with the Filling Station Fellow, an ebb and flow of mutual disclosure in coming to know each another. We may begin to notice changes in ourselves – an eagerness to get back to the Landfill, a greater sense of peace, a growing intimacy, and – Dare you say it? What will your friends think? – love for the Filling Station Guy.                                                                                                                                                                                              

Intimacy and love with one another and with God are built on a foundation of trust and honesty over time. As we are open with our individual truth, we are drawn into the larger more spacious truth of God. As we return to share more of ourselves, we learn more of God. We get to know and like and hope the other likes us too. The Filling Station Guy is, of course, already won over and hopelessly in love with you. I suspect Greg may be too.


The Landfill will be open this Friday for Midday Prayer, 12:15 – 1:00 at The Sanctuary office at 1600 SW Campbell. Stop by, if you can, for a splash of  Living Water and get to know the Filling Station Guy. I think you will find he is a keeper.

More about prayer –

Contact lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary

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What Is A Prayer?

CBR002349I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields…
Mary Oliver (A Summer Day)

I have been at it for a lot of years now, and I still do not know exactly what a prayer is. It seems to have always been part of my life like the color of my eyes. As a preschooler I learned to fold my hands and bow my head. I prayed for my family, our dog, and my neighbor, Mrs.Wendel, who made good cookies. I had a set list I covered: Santa Claus, the Snowman, and Betty Crocker, whose picture was on the box which my mom’s iron came in.

CBR001191We always prayed before meals, usually led by my father. Every night he kneeled beside his bed to pray. I came upon him at prayer like that many times. He died in 2000. When I go back to Iowa to visit my mother, I like to sit in a corner by a bookcase, where dad read the Bible every day. His magnifying glass, pens, and letter opener are still there.

My father’s prayer was quiet and hidden, yet woven into the fabric of his life like his breath. I saw the fruit in his kindness and caring acts for others, in the vitality of his mind and interest in the world around him, and in his outrage at injustice. As he grew older, he would often say, “I am just so thankful.”

What exactly is a prayer? I fumble for the words. Traditional words about prayer feel like pebbles in my mouth, tasteless, hard and difficult to swallow. As much as I gnaw at them I find no nourishment.

“What language may we borrow to thank thee, dearest friend, for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?” wrote the anonymous author of the lyrics to the hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded. Whatever language we use, it will always be “borrowed.” It will be loaned from some, other, lesser reality in an awkward, ill-fitting attempt to clothe The Reality beyond all language and human thought. Mere words fail to express the experience of our hearts in response to God’s love, gifts, and challenges in our lives.thinking businessman

Now I will foolishly do something I have just told you is impossible: tell you what I think a prayer is. For me prayer is fundamentally an attempt to communicate.  This desire to communicate is initiated in us by God and it is a way in which we participate in the likeness of God.

Take a look at that word, communicate. Its root carries the meaning of coming together, communing, communion. What is implied is that at least two separate parties are desirous of joining in some way, of reaching an understanding, of connecting with a commonly held perspective, need, desire, or purpose.

We could say prayer is the eternal conversation and exchange of love as experienced in the context of our lives in which all parties are affected and changed in some way. For me the life, what engages me, is not the abstract concepts of prayer, but in the lived experience of communication. By the way, this is why I believe God is on Facebook and is an old hand at Twitter.

Prayer rides on the wings of our hearts’ desires, anguish, hunger and joy – that bolt of white fire that connects heaven to earth and unites mortal with divine. I can’t say exactly what a prayer is. But I can sure tell when people have been doing it.

RFA073Who taught you to pray? Who are you teaching? What exactly is a prayer to you?

Learn more about prayer at
www.fromholyground.org, www.explorefaith.org

Contact Loretta at
lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary

Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross

Wondrous Stories about God

blue_eared_kingfisherThe world is not a courtroom,
There is no judge, no jury, no plaintiff.
This is a caravan, filled with eccentric beings 
telling wondrous stories about God.                    ~Saadi

Could it be that the cacophony of our communication pouring into the air space, cyperspace, and onto pages and pages of paper is nothing more, or less, than eccentric beings telling stories about God?  One and all, we scrawl out as best we can our truth, our passion, our experience as creatures on this planet. We tell our stories through the choices we make, the friends we keep, and our mistakes and failures. We weave wondrous tales as we frame and express the meaning we give to our unique and precious lives.

We tweet and friend and facebook and link up and plaxo as we stake out our truth and territory like the birds in the woods calling back and forth.
“Are you there?”
“Yes, I am over here.”
“Well I am here. This is my territory. This is what I see. What do you see?”
“I don’t see what you see. I see this.”

 And yes, we are indeed, eccentric – wildly, delightfully, and horrifyingly so at times.

I listen a lot to people’s stories about God or the apparent absence of God in their lives. Together we lift their experiences to the light, turn them to and fro, and notice something spiritual directors like to call “movements of the Spirit” (a piece of spiritual formation jargon that makes me want to giggle). This spiritual practice involves learning to pay attention to and recognize God’s way with you and what God might be saying to you in the context of your being and daily life experience. Sometimes we work like a GSI (God Scene Investigation) team. We pick up bits of evidence. We look carefully and reverently at what we find. We piece together scraps of your life story in God. We hold it all up to the wisdom and guidance of the Spirit. We weigh it against the texts of scripture, the tradition of faith communities, and your own common sense, reason, and intuition. Then we wait for confirmation and/or redirection from the Spirit, as it speaks through your community, relationships, scriptures, and own heart.

Of course, it is rarely this tidy. Like babies babbling and toddlers scribbling, our stories are stumbling incomplete attempts to capture the unnamable ineffable Reality in which we live andchurch-bells move and find our being.  “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge,” sings the psalmist uttering his own story. (Psalm 19)  In ways both, crude and blasphemous, and sublime and exalted, we join our voices with all the people on earth and all the company of heaven in every time and place who forever to sing to the glory of God.

One of the eccentrics on this caravan is poet, Gerald Manley Hopkins. With a grace and beauty that stun me, he captures the notion of all the creatures in creation telling at once their stories of holiness.               

dragonfly 1As kingfishers catch fire,
Dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves – goes its self; myself  it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me; for that I came.
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
                                                          Gerald Manley Hopkins

So I say Tweet your hearts out: Scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea, stories of Jesus, tell them  to me!


Read more about spiritual direction and stories about God at
www.fromholyground.org, www.sdiworld.org, www.theprayinglife.wordpress.com

Contact Loretta at
lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary

 Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross