Tag Archives: Prayer

Sighs Too Deep – Bruised Reed

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
                                                                               Romans 8:26

bruised reed

i am so little

grasping this white rag
yearning on tip toe
waving down grace

so threadbare
this prayer
wind blowing through
a bruised reed

hear our cry

___________________

A bruised reed he will not break,
a smoldering wick,he will not quench.
In faithfulness He will bring forth justice. Isaiah 42:3

maryjesushands

Please do not trample the tenderness
lying in the crib of the world.

Holiness did not abhor the Virgin’s womb,
nor should we.

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Barefoot

“Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals,
for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3: 5

 

The flap of skin hung limply as blood spilled from my big toe. I was always stubbing my toes, but that did not stop me from going barefoot. All summer long my feet, painted Mercurochrome orange , were recovering from some new assault. I stopped my play long enough to howl and go inside for a band aid, which soon fell off and turned up later in the sandbox or on the kitchen floor.

I went everywhere barefoot. Rides in the car with the ribbed, rubber mats on the floor and to the A & P, where the linoleum was slick and a little sticky. My feet loved the smooth oiled wooden floor in the Dime Store, where you could watch the cashews riding a little merry go round under a heat lamp and buy them warm and salty. I sprinted over the hot blacktop parking lot to place my order for a chocolate dipped cone at the Dairy Queen. Creeping over sharp edged dirt clods in the garden, while crying, Ouch, ouch, ouch!”; quick little steps over the sharp gravel in the alley;  sprinting and sliding across the playground through dew drenched grass, I gathered information about the world through the soles of my feet.

I used my bare feet to climb up the playground slide, perch on the jungle gym, and entertain my friends by picking up pencils with my toes.  At Mrs. Wendel’s house next door, I sat on her  kitchen chair waving my feet and spreading my toes in the air as I ate the world’s best cookies. I found Nancy Drew mysteries at the public library with its cool polished floors and lovely smell of books. In winter I toasted my tootsies over the oil furnace grate in our dining room. Summers I challenged my brother to contests over who could hold his bare foot on an ice cube the longest.

Out at Grandpa’s in the country, I stepped carefully around chicken droppings. I hated the slimy feel of the stuff between my toes. I dug my feet down in warm beach sand, kicked up the soft talcum puff of dirt roads, splashed in creeks, slipped on mossy rocks, and screamed to discover that the strips of gooey mud clinging to my feet turned out to be leeches.

In the timeless land of a child’s summer,  I headed out each day, banging my feet against uneven sidewalk, where tree roots heaved and broke concrete into toe traps for children and the elderly. I caught my toes on furniture, had them run over with tricycles, wheel barrows and stomped on by my brother. (He will deny this.) My feet were acquainted with the occasional sickening goo of dog manure and the large disgusting toad, who liked to take a snooze in the cool of the evening just outside the back door. I checked the bottom of my foot for warts for weeks after the two of us collided and the toad lurched out from under my foot into the darkness.

Mercurochrome

Other hazards included stickers, splinters, bee stings, broken glass, and the ultimate horror of my mother: a rusty nail. The Rusty Nail loomed nearly as dangerous as polio or a communist in my childhood.  Once, running across a dock to leap in the lake, I caught a dock cleat between two toes. I played and swam all day. In the evening mom took me to Doc Jackson’s office where he cleaned out the debris between my toes and gave me a shot.

I even fought with my feet. My brother and I staged what we called feet-foot battles on the couch in the living room. The game was that we were trapped on a cliff with a thousand foot drop off and had enough food for only one of us to live for a year. We also had broken our arms in this scenario, so we had to fight for our survival with our feet and kick the other off the cliff/couch into certain death.

When a trip required shoes, I usually couldn’t find them. I remember when mom finally put her properly shod foot down.

“Put your shoes on! You can’t go uptown barefoot.”

“Why not, Mom?”

“Because old men spit on the sidewalks.”

That news gave me pause. Uptown there were no signs that said No shoes. No shirts. No service. I liked the signs with dripping blue icicles and the invitation, Come in. It’s cool inside! It would not be until after I had left home that my parents had air conditioning. Until her death a few years ago, my mother’s idea of a special treat was still going out somewhere for a “cool drink,” which meant lemonade or  Seven Up and air conditioning.

Today arthritis has crippled the joint of one of my toes. Something called Morton’s neuroma led  to the purchase of orthotic insoles. One toenail has decided to grow like a ram’s horn, partly due to injury and genetics. My mother had one of these toes too. Yet I still walk around the house and yard barefoot as much as possible and catch my toes on furniture.

 

I don’t know if my distaste for shoes has anything to do with my love for God, though the Holy One does seem to have a preference for a bare foot. When God told Moses to remove his sandals before the burning bush, God did not say take off your hat or your cloak or your tunic. Removing shoes is a sign of respect in many faiths. Perhaps God is asking us here to put nothing between our naked selves and the holy ground of God’s being.  No pricy Manolo, Gucci, or Louis Vuitton’s, but rather, the simple and sometimes stinky vulnerability of a bare foot is what pleases the Lord.

We can pick up an amazing amount of information through the soles of our feet. They also hold countless memories.  Maybe buried in our DNA is a holiness sensing device, which only works when we take off our shoes. I have attended church services where the custom was for people to leave their shoes at the entrance to the Sanctuary.  They worshiped together barefoot. There was something so dear and, at the same time, profound in seeing all those shoes lined up in neat rows at the door with people sitting around or kneeling with their little piggies hanging out.

Holiness demands honesty and simplicity. Pretense, denial, deceit, and anything I might put on to cover up the truth of my own weakness, shame, or deep need must be removed, as we move closer to holiness. There are so many things we can put between ourselves and direct contact with the holiness of God on this good earth. God’s partiality for a bare foot over a resume wipes away any illusions that my worth is related to my bank account, or accomplishments. Maybe God is only a sucker for a well turned ankle, but I think it is our childlike, barefoot vulnerability and humility which God can’t resist.

I miss those barefoot days. I think I was closer to something essential, earthy and real. I want to spend less time walking back and forth in sensible shoes in the ivory tower of my head, and more time trodding the messy ecstasy of the naked sole.

God of the Bare Foot,
help me this day to take off
whatever I try to put on
between myself
and your wondrous love.

 

This is a revised version of a blog previously posted 7.26.2010

Special Note 
for Topeka, Kansas Area Readers

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Topeka area residents, watch for a fun way to support local charities, including The Sanctuary Foundation. Save this date: June 3, 7:00 am – 6:00 pm, at  Fairlawn Mall. 

On that day your gift to The Sanctuary Foundation fund will be increased by a pro-rated match gift from The Topeka Community Foundation. Watch for more details on how to stretch your dollars in supporting the wonderful work being done in Topeka.

  • We are looking for helpers to sit at our booth for an half hour or so to share with people why The Sanctuary is important to you.
  • We also  need comments from those we serve about what The Sanctuary means to you, how we may have made a difference in your life, stories, anecdotes, etc to help us let others learn more about us. You can comment here, or at our website , on our Facebook page,  by emailing us at lross@fromholyground.org.

Thanks to all your help over the past twenty five years
we are still going strong!

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Winter Gifts

Eli in the snow

My soul shall be filled as with a banquet.
– Psalm 63: 2-9

At dawn my sleepy lab whines softly. I rise and let him out to sniff his boundaries and empty his bladder. A few minutes later he pounces on the door. Eyes glinting light, he shakes off the blanket of snow on his back. Then lifting one front leg after the other, he prances in the kitchen, pulls a dish towel off the counter and waves it toward me. The toaster, jar of peanut butter, and humming refrigerator sparkle like icicles in the sun.

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I love winter – all of it – grey dishwater skies, wind rattling the siding on the house, cold, ice, blizzards, early sunsets, long nights, and dogs ploughing glad furrows in the snow.

I love that winter is a force I cannot control, but only yield to with humility and respect.

I love winter’s summons to gather up the scattered pieces of myself, burrow down deeply, and simmer in darkness, drawing strength for spring.

I love having to wait and trust in what is unknown and unseen.

Winter grows gratitude in my heart for the privilege of shelter, warmth, running water, and the freedom to stay home. Winter also blooms with compassion and sends me out to help those for whom winter is not some cozy spiritual experience.

 winter woods

Winter spirituality is a less-is-more Holiness of pared down praise. Winter speaks in koans and says, “Behold the fullness of this emptiness!” Now excess in prayer and lifestyle seem gauche and redundant in a world, stripped down to its bare essentials – all bones and angles, holding out its harsh, nonnegotiable truths.

I had had enough of winter thirty five years ago, when I pulled out of my drive in Kalamazoo, Michigan and headed south to Kentucky. I had spent the previous thirty three years of my life in Michigan and Iowa. I am not sure why I am so hungry for ice and snow now.

Hermitage winter

In contrast to the world of humans with our getting and spending, the natural world never tries to impress or persuade me of its opinion. It has nothing to market. It simply is in its implacability, given over to being what it is – a dead maple limb in my front lawn after the storm, a dried tomato vine, a fox checking the garbage can, a rabbit without regret or apology leaving tracks in the snow.

What is implacable about me, unchanging, or nonnegotiable? I wonder. I am a hermit at heart and welcome snow days. I love people and I love being with people. And love for them burns in me like a furnace and pours out molten in my prayers.

And there is this other love – a love of absence, silence, solitude, simplicity – a winter of the soul, where I sit down to a great feast so satisfying that I need nothing else.

Sunset Heartland Center

Manure and a Praying Life

Note to Praying Life Readers:

If you are a subscriber to Holy Ground Quarterly Reflection on  Contemplation  or support the The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer you already have received in your mail the letter posted here. A mistake was made by the printer on the envelope enclosed for you to mail in your gifts. The wrong address is printed on that envelope. The printer is sending a postcard to you with the correct address. We have contacted the post office about this error. If you have already sent the incorrectly addressed envelope, please let us know by email or phone lross@fromholyground.org . We will let you know when it makes its way to the correct address: 1600 SW Campbell Ave, Topeka, KS 66604.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. As for the printer, he is deeply repentant and will be forgiven shortly. I figure another twenty-four hours and God’s grace will have overcome my anxious fretting. Besides a wise person told me when I began this ministry, “Your mistakes and failures are like manure for God’s garden in your soul.” I am anticipating a bumper crop in 2014! 

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The Sanctuary Is Celebrating 25 Years !

It all began with a resounding NO. Twenty seven years ago I applied for a church position as head of staff.  Few, if any women were heads of staff anywhere in those years. Still I held out hope, even though I was warned. The clerk of the Presbytery told his wife (who told me), “She doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting that job. And besides, it would kill her creativity.”

When the phone call came and the caller broke the bad news, I wept and stomped my foot. My daughters, who were outside playing, began pounding on the door. Dashing inside, breathless and red-cheeked, they shouted, “Mom. Mom! The wind is blowing. It’s blowing hard. Blowing all over the place. We need something to catch the wind with!”

Laughing in spite of my tears, I reached under the sink and pulled out a couple of big black trash bags. The girls ran back outside. I stood at the door, watching them race up and down the yard with the bags billowing behind them, catching the wind. Their wild exuberance and thrill in the blustery Kansas day, swept away my tears and anger. I felt rinsed clean and surprisingly reoriented.

It would be a while before I fully understood what God was up to in that heartbreaking no. Slowly I began to dare what seemed impossible: to pursue a ministry, which focused on the spiritual lives of people and prayer. As I began to say yes to this deep desire, door after door swung open. At some points I almost wished someone would say no, for I had little idea how to actually accomplish it.

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A ministry of prayer, which included a lifestyle of prayerful solitude, as well as organizational structure, as I envisioned it, was so removed from my denomination’s understanding of what pastors do. There were no models within my tradition. There was no provision for salary, pension, or manuals on how to do this “decently and in order.” I had only something I sensed was missing from many churches – something I and others hungered for – and the will to somehow supply some of these missing pieces.

The work has been challenging. I made mistakes. The Spirit has refined my motives and fine-tuned my sense of what I am to do, and is still challenging me to grow.

I have been immensely blessed. After twenty-five years of listening to people’s stories of their faith, it is still miraculous and thrilling to watch the wind of the Spirit of God at work in an individual soul. I see how personal transformation radiates out into the world, initiating family and community change.

Through the years God has been faithful. Needs are provided for and inspiration given.  You have been faithful too. Once when I was about to give up, one of you who had come for a visit to the hermitage said, “I have faith in you. I believe you can do this.” I have never forgotten those words of encouragement.

Roadsidefruitstand

You are why The Sanctuary exists. Your desire to deepen your faith, willingness to struggle with difficult issues, to pray and nurture yourself for service to your church, community, and the world has summoned this little “Roadside Fruit Stand,” as one of our board members called it.

You are also the how of The Sanctuary, for we are nothing without you – a far-flung community of varied faith expressions, people of compassion, wisdom, and love. You provide accountability for this ministry, a community, and a covering of prayer, as you teach us what you need and how to better serve you. You spread the news of this Fruit Stand out here in Kansas through your friends and contacts. Your subscriptions and generous gifts make this possible.  Thank you so very much!

As we celebrate 25 years in the coming year, we have some surprises and good things to share with you. Watch for a new website coming soon. Meet some new board members. Get the inside news on the progress of Loretta’s new book, Account for the Hope. Keep up with us on Facebook and our blog, The Praying Life, Pinterest, and Twitter.

We remind you to renew your subscription as it comes due. (The date of your subscription expiration is on your address label in the upper right hand corner. ) And please donate to The Sanctuary Fund. Your subscription fee allows us to break even on publishing costs. Additional gifts to The Sanctuary Fund enable us to maintain our web presence, offer spiritual direction at reduced rates for those of limited means, pay for business operations, and keep this roadside Fruit Stand open.

If you have questions  about your donation or subscription, let us know. And please keep sharing your feedback, ideas, and comments on how we can best serve you. You can phone us at 785-354-7122 or email at lross@fromholyground.org. We always love to chat with those we serve.

The wind is blowing here in Kansas today. Dried leaves rattle as they tumble down my street. The maple shakes out her falling locks, shedding what is no longer useful, and waves her dark branches to an approaching winter storm. To begin this celebration I am going to reach under the sink, pull out some trash bags, and go catch some wind. Will you join me?

Yours, chasing after the Holy Spirit with love and gratitude,

Loretta F. Ross

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But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5: 22-23

SUBSCRIBE to  Holy Ground Quarterly $35.00

DONATE to The Sanctuary Foundation

“Burned Out on Religion?”

St.-Clare-of-Assisi

St. Clare of Assisi

We become what we love
and who we love shapes what we become.
If we love things, we become a thing.
If we love nothing, we become nothing.
Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ,
rather it means becoming the image of the beloved,
an image disclosed through transformation.
This means… we are to become vessels
of God´s compassionate love for others.
 ~ St. Clare of Assisi

Many years ago I deliberately chose a path of what I called “downward mobility.” I chose to become a minister and made a subsequent choice to become the sort of minister for which there were few or no models, namely, to consider prayer as the heart of what I offered. I took up work which I knew would not reward me financially and might well require other sacrifices. Instead of remaining on a career track of higher education administration and teaching, I followed a Love that would not let me go anywhere else, but into its heart.

I was naïve. I thought ministry would be different from the stressful, competitive world of higher education and academia. I thought I would be able to focus on prayer and help others who were struggling with their relationships with the Holy One. Of course, I brought along all of my own unfinished business and the issues that had plagued me in that other world were all waiting for me on the doorstep of the church. And, yes, this is where ministry and personal/communal growth always occurs: right in the midst of a stressful, competitive environment, with full of personal, unfinished business.

I soon discovered that downward mobility included more than lesser income, status, and pension benefits. Downward mobility included the inner life as well. Over and over, my attachment to lesser gods, my selfishness, my controlling ego, and my pride are exposed, as Jesus invites me to come down off my high horse and revel with him in the lowly, fertile ground of humility. I do mean revel. Getting myself close to the ground is often painful. I am a master at resistance. Yet it is so much fun, so full of delight and joy, it is well worth whatever it takes to get there.

In the midst of the muck Love seems always to meet me with a different agenda than my own. I call it Love’s way and it haunts me day and night, as I both run from and plead to be conformed to this path of humble trust in God.

Love’s way, which is described extensively in scripture, is accessible, freely available to everyone, and is being offered to us moment by moment.  And in Love’s way is where I long to dwell all the time.

I fail over and over. When that happens I am like a child lost in a dark woods. A kind of desperate panic comes over me, until I fumblingly discover where I got off the path and make my way back to joy and peace.   I need at least an hour a day of contemplative prayer to maintain this deep abiding in Christ. If I want to work with others and help them in their prayer and relationship with God, I need another hour. If I want to deepen and grow in knowledge and understanding of God, I need still more time.

I do not for the life of me understand how faith can deepen and flourish in the hearts of people without a serious commitment to spending time alone with God in prayer. And further, few activities I engage in take me further from this humble dwelling in the way of Love, than spending too much time on the internet. I see how easily the internet cheapens me, makes me shallow, feeds my surface hungers, plays upon and manipulates my opinions, my understanding of myself and the world.

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Let’s take a deeper look at the way of Love. Here is how Jesus described it:

Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30, (CEB)

I especially like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase of Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

To put on Christ’s yoke and learn from him is to become gentle and humble and to find rest. To become an image of Christ is to put down our heavy loads and bend our necks beneath a yoke, which is easy and light.

Peterson enriches Matthew’s words with the beautiful phrase unforced rhythms of grace. That’s it! How would it be if what characterized our lives was not harried, stress-filled days, constant multi-tasking, distracted, pushing and shoving, controlling and anger, but rather the unforced rhythms of grace?

I suspect many of you know those graceful rhythms, when you find yourself in step with the Spirit and your day unfolds with beauty. I also suspect such days do not occur as much as you would like. How would your life look if you put on Jesus’ easy, light yoke more consciously and deliberately? What might change or what would you do differently?

What if your goal was not success and achievement, but gentleness and humility?

How do we do this? Is it even possible in the world we live in? Matthew tells us how. Jesus tells us how in these verses from Matthew. Go back and read them again.

Quite simply, becoming like God and wearing the easy yoke, has to do with the company we keep. “Come to me,” Jesus, says. “Keep company with me.”

The only return Love asks for the gift of living in its way is our love – not our money, time, talents – but first and foremost, Love desires our love. This always slays me. The Love that animates life, binds the whole universe, flows into our hearts with joy and delight wants our love! Love wants to be loved. Jesus affirmed this divine desire in the greatest commandment:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

I know how important it is to me to be loved by my children and family, my dog, and my friends. Here is what we may miss: God finds it very important to be loved by us. God desires our attention.

Perhaps, this is because, as St. Clare has written, we become what we love.

St.-Clare-of-Assisi

 

What the Trees Said – Your Turn

Aspens

Photo by Joyce Shupe

Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
the sky is proclaiming his handiwork.
One day gushes the news to the next,
and one night informs another what needs to be known.
Of course, there’s no speech, no words—
their voices can’t be heard—
but their sound extends throughout the world;
their words reach the ends of the earth.
Psalm 19: 1-4

I have been posting brief reflections on what I hear trees say. Yet “say” is the wrong word, for, of course, trees do not speak the English language, which is the only one I know well.

Language is a rather recent invention in the story of life on earth. With or without words, communication occurs with and among all species. We affect each other deeply – interpenetrating, colonizing, living off, consuming, giving ourselves away, and taking in each other in an intricate network of dynamic, everchanging relationships. Our destinies are connected to each other and together we form the body of life on our shared planet.

Yet our species has been steadily backing away from many of our cousins. Cities, industry, and technology have increasingly allowed us to dissociate ourselves from our dance of interdependency with fish, fowl, insect, animal, vegetable, and mineral – a dance, which we can never really escape.

For many humans language has become, not a tool of communion, understanding, and edification, but, rather, a knife which separates our experience of reality into sharp, hard slivers of “meaning,” with which we stab and poke each other. Words, mere symbols, which only point toward reality or ideas or emotions, become swords of power to weld against the powerless and attempt to force our view on others. We build idols of abstract constructs and tottering paradigms of what we believe is The Truth, which we then feel constrained to defend and guard against all contradiction.

I do not know how to listen to trees, to frogs, to polar bears, or whales. I do not know how to listen to the woman who has lost her home and family in the flood, or the old pastor who told me I was not ready to be preaching and needed to read a lot more books, and then walked out of my presentation. I do not know how to listen to my friend who has a tumor growing in her brain and has chosen to forego further treatment.

I only know I have to try. And that language is only secondary- a pale, feeble gesture – bound to miss its mark much of the time. Primary is that inexpressible intimate connection, where I am touched by and touch into the miraculous life of the spider catching flies on my windowsill, the old preacher I offended, and the aspen leaves twisting in the wind.

It is there – as life meets life and bows before and honors this mysterious, energetic vitality of Being in all that is, that I know once again that I belong. Here is my community. I see how we have been created to need one another and are bound together by a strange and marvelous Love.

Even when my words and efforts fail, and I suffer the isolation and estrangement of broken communication or connection, I am grateful. That pain shows me how we are wedded and welded as one in the very formation of the universe. When that bond is broken, we will always mourn. The pain reminds us that there is more, that we could be more, and that love is refined through its failures.

Moreover, some bit of life is always sending out roots, tentacles, or tendrils, a claw, a paw, or a hand. We have only to open our fists in order to make a new connection.

I have been telling you what trees said to me. For this post it is your turn to tell me and those who follow this blog what you hear from the trees.

Here is how:

Watch and walk among the trees in the video below. Or go outside and listen to some trees where you live. Receive what they are “saying.” Take your time. Do not hasten to come up with words. Just be open and expectant. Allow the words to come as they will. Then share in the comments what you “heard,” so we all may learn from you and know the joy of our connection. I can’t wait to hear what the trees tell you!

You can find out more about the fellow who made this and other wonderful nature videos and photography here: Colorado Guy Oh, and he does spiritual direction too!

Joyce Shupe paints, takes photos,  and makes pottery in Holton, Kansas. See some of her work, along with the work of other artists here.

What the Trees Said – Our Bellies

boy and trees

What the Trees Said – Our Bellies

We have missed you
stepping lightly
patting our
bellies
soft
small palms
leaning
into us
when you
are weary.

What I know of the divine sciences and the Holy Scriptures,
I have learned in woods and fields. I have no other masters
than the beeches and the oaks.  Bernard of Clairvaux

Try This:
Spiritual Practice – Find a tree you like. Place both palms upon its bark. Feel the rough bark surface against your hands. Listen. Lean your weight against the tree. Look.
Say Amen.