Tag Archives: Prayer

So Full of God Is Every Creature

StFwolf

Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and a book about God. Every creature is a word of God. If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature – even a caterpillar- I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature.  Meister Eckhart                                                                 

My black lab whinnies with a high pitched cry outside my door when I start to meditate. I get up and let him in. He turns in circles on the rug several times then lays down with a thud, head between his legs, and sighs deeply.  Before she died my cat always turned up to settle herself in my lap. Animals are often present with us as we pray. Dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, herons, fish, coyotes, possums, deer, cows, a wild boar, turkeys, quail, even a mountain lion showed up a time or two to speak of God to me.

A few weeks ago the neighborhood fox paid a call at 4:00 am. My dog was out guarding and began to bark excitedly. When I went to the window I saw the fox, close to the fence, and Elijah on the inside quietly looking at each other.  No more barking, just eyes meeting. After while the fox turned and walked out to the middle of the street and lay down under the streetlight. The two continued their silent communion. I stood at the window wondering what was going on. Then the fox stood and walked to the neighbor’s front yard, curled himself up, and appeared to go asleep. What was communicated, what information exchanged, what dog and fox questions had been answered? It was a mysterious encounter that likely would not have happened if I had been outside with Elijah. Would the two had shared that long gaze and the peace that gathered up between them?

Eli 5.13

If I were alone in a desert
and feeling afraid.
I would want a child to be with me.
For then my fear would disappear
and I would be made strong.
This is what life in itself can do
because it is so noble, so full of pleasure
and so powerful.

But if I could not have a child with me
I would like to have at least a living animal
at my side to comfort me.

Therefore,
let those who bring about wonderful things
in their big, dark books
take an animal – perhaps a dog-
to help them.

The life within the animal
will give them strength in turn.
For equality
gives strength in all things
and at all times.   Meister Eckhart

St. Francis prays over the animals Bensiger

Animals participate with us in our shared life, exchanging their sensory awareness with our own. As we interpenetrate each other’s awareness, our communication results in shifts affecting each other. German philosopher, theologian, and mystic (1260-1327), Meister Eckhart writes of receiving strength and life from a child or an animal. Children and animals possess a kind of innocence and presence to their awareness, which adults may lack.

A Rabbit Noticed My Condition

I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.

A rabbit noticed my condition and came near.
It often does not take more than that to help at times –
to just be close to creatures who
are so full of knowing,
so full of love
that they don’t – chat,
they just gaze with their marvelous understanding.
   St. John of the Cross in Love Poems from God

Chambers_bosseron_charles_c_b_St_Saint_francis_assissi_animals_thumb

How do animals enter your prayer and contemplation? What do they teach you? What shifts happen in you as you commune with them?

In my book, Letters from the Holy Ground, I took a look at the presence of animals in our lives and prayer:

From the beginning, animals had figured in my journey, but now they began to show up more in my writing. And they were not content to simply add color and amusement, the dear things wanted to speak. The animals developed a following among some of my readers. The dog, cats, and rabbits even received occasional cards and inquiries. I seemed to have struck a chord.

What did whimsical animal fantasy have to do with spiritual formation? Did the creatures serve a purpose beyond a literary device and medium of revelation? I became curious about why animals held so much joy and interest for me and my readers. I think it is because animals naturally possess the poverty of spirit I was seeking for myself. Gerald Vann observed that the condition for happiness is a deep sense of our creatureliness. I think part of becoming ordinary is the discovery and deep acceptance of the joy and freedom in our creatureliness. The animals help ground me and remind me that I, like them, am subject to One larger and greater than myself.

Contemplation, consolation, ecstasy, may have a tendency to inflate a person. Being entrusted with the spiritual care and nurture of others, likewise, may puff up our egos. The animals seemed to call me back to the earth, to simplicity, to surrender and trust.

But ask the animals and they will teach you:
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth,
and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.  (Job 12:7–8 )

Animals do not lie or pretend. They do not sin. They seem to know that God’s omnipotence undergirds everything. Animals disarm our logical defenses and help us overcome our human resistance to grace. I even came to identify a state of being in myself I called “rabbit power.” Rabbit power meant humility and the wisdom, balance, and earthy connectedness of an animal that lives as a prey species, close to the ground and mindful of its vulnerability. I connected rabbit power with taking off my shoes and walking barefoot. In my experience, no rabbit has ever appeared to pine after being something other than it is; rabbit power was a place where I could gratefully be who I am and therein find deep delight and peace.

Finally, communion with animals reflected my desire for union with God. To cross the chasm from one species to another and find communion and a sense of mutual respect and regard seemed to mirror my longing to connect with God. To establish a connection, an understanding, however slight with something wholly other than oneself, is to participate in the eager groaning of a creation seeking wholeness and unity with its Creator.

Spend some time praying with an animal this week. Let me know what you  learn. I would love to hear about some of the marvelous understanding creatures give to you.

 Seal on lap

Here is a wonderful complement to this blog post.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hdUCzbCuYk

Wake Up!

Man Waking to Alarm Clock

Contemplation is about waking up. Simply defined, to be contemplative is to experience an event fully, in all its aspects. Biblically this is expressed as knowing “face to face.” What is implied in that phrase … is that we are in contemplation when we stand before reality and experience it without the limits and distortions that are created by narcissism, pragmatism, and excessive restlessness.   Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern

                                              

Prayer wakes us up to what is so, not to our dreams, illusions, wishes, and desires for what is so, but to the sacred reality of each moment.

How grim you may think. How boring – this dirty kitchen, this cluttered desk, this sagging body, this pock-marked, disappointing, and flailing world?  From here it is a short, sad trip to the dark pit of the if onlys, the why nots, and maybe whens. Or perhaps I look around for someone or some event to blame for my shabby reality. Maybe I plot a way to get even, or tune out and play a game on my cell phone, fool around on Facebook, go shopping, or eat something.

We live in a culture which makes an art and a virtue out of avoiding the truth of our deep need, our sadness,  grief, and anger –  at what? Let’s put it like this: at being human. For buried beneath  much of our striving, stress, and anxiety I often discover a kind of contempt for ourselves and our vulnerability. We persistently look outwardly for relief for the painful human condition, which plays neatly into the agenda of  our culture of consumption, as we seek to find our worth through other persons, power, prestige, and possessions.

Over time prayer may eventually shatter such agendas and expose their superficiality and ultimate inability to satisfy our deep need. We find ourselves sitting in the midst of reality, still mundane, yet strangely shot through with beauty, wonder, and joy.

“You are a ruby embedded in granite. How long will you pretend it’s not true?” asks the poet Rumi. Contemplative prayer wakes us up to see through the granite of illusion to the splendor of the ruby.

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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

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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!

For Fraught Souls

Autumn Invocation

Lord of courtesy, you’ve brought the corn
In, you’ve hung the trees with ripe, rich fruit,
Master of tides,  you’re cooling down the sea,
Watcher at horizons,  you’ll deliver
Most ships securely at home.
But Master of the moon,  this world is dark
With terror,  evil,  not dark like dark of space
And stars.  O God,  save us from our fraught selves,
Put prayer into our minds.  Be in the shrine
Of vivid,  innocent imaginations.
Receive the love there is,  Lord,  help all nations.
Author unknown

In this season of thanks, let us pray for all fraught souls, those heavy laden with sorrow, the oppressed, the lost, and discouraged. May each one reach into the eternal harvest of gratitude that opens to those, who have passed through suffering and loss. Sustain us,  Oh Master of the tides, with appreciation for the simple gifts of life. Amen.

I have loved this poem for years, but somehow lost the name of the author. If you know, please leave the name in the comments. I would like to give credit for this beautiful piece of writing.

You Will Die Before You Finish This Prayer

“I think what is going to help you most when you start your prayer – and it doesn’t matter whether it is long or short – is to make quite sure that you are certain that you will die by the time it is ended, that you will finish before your prayer does!” cheerfully advises the fourteenth century English author of the Epistle of Prayer.

The author, most likely a country parson, is writing to a young person, who asked for advice on how to control the mind when saying prayers. This is a request I often hear. Some things never change in the praying life.

I recently tried the parson’s advice and it about did me in. I attempted to make certain I would die before I completed my prayer, and learned that there is little like death to focus the mind:

The world rushed in with her fetching beauty, her clear blue sky, and yellowing maple leaves, waving, “Don’t forget about me, and me, and the red bird house, and the wren, and the dragonfly and the glaciers gripping the ground, and the wild horses pounding over the plains. The wind, whooshing leaves down the street, sent a shower of glimmering memories – babies, kitchens, ginger snaps, story books – I gave thanks for galoshes to help me wade through all the goodness. I will be ancient or dead before I finish stringing the pearls of this gratitude.

After the gratitude came the love, flowing up to the porch, running under the door, pooling at my feet and rising, slowly to my knees. I climbed up on the table and the love still mounted. Love is the color of spring and snow and fire. It moans and sings and weeps. It tastes bittersweet, smooth and creamy, warm and rich as hot chocolate. Then I grew bold and dared to believe that I could breathe in it, could breathe under-love, and that I would not drown or melt in it. So I slipped off the table and swam a few strokes around the room, then let the love sweep me out an open window into the world, buoyant and giggling.

When I came across the English parson, I had been feeling little gratitude and not the least bit buoyant. Instead of gratitude and this exuberant love, sorrow and longing for God had occupied my heart. My praying life had honed down to a narrow naked ache, like a thorn, for several weeks. I hurt. I went to sleep with the thorn and woke with it, a stab of incompletion and desire, lodged like a fish hook in the center of my being. There was no one thing I could name that would satisfy or heal this pain, but only the one whose name was above all names, who was before there were names.

The thorn was part grief and a prickly call to deeper freedom. As I grieved recent and old losses in the midst of many present blessings and considerable gladness, I was being weaned from some of the things of this world, which are lesser than God. And it hurt. I sensed there was something I was to let go of, but I couldn’t quite see what that was, though it seemed to have to do with some of my mental constructs, attitudes, ways of naming and holding what I knew as reality. It seemed to have to do with who I thought I was and how I held myself together. And this felt really, really scary.

So I prayed, meditated, read holy words, exercised, talked with friends, listened to and felt deep compassion for others. I also played a lot of mindless solitaire on my phone.

I went to the Antiochian Orthodox church down the street, where, except for the jean clad worshippers, I felt I had stepped into an ancient Syrian synagogue where Paul might step out and begin preaching any moment. I let the tonal chants in four part harmony wrap around me, as the icon saints gazed out from all four walls. Each word and act in worship was directed, not to audience appeal, market demographics, or video screens, but to the Holiness that filled the space. It was clear most of the people, as well as all those saints with their sorrowful eyes, also had thorns of longing love in their hearts too.

I have had periods of prayer like this before and trusted God was at work somehow. I know that uncertainty, alienation, and disorientation are part of growing in faith. The temptation during such times is to turn in disgust on oneself, dredging up failures, mistakes, weaknesses, and falling into a dark pit of self-negation. Yet I have learned over the years, that it is precisely, when we feel the most pitiful, that we are most in need of our own tender compassion and love.

During this time I gobbled up The Cloud of Unknowing, another fourteenth century English classic I first read years before. The writer affirmed what I was experiencing and assured me that it was God at work in me. He counsels “to reconcile yourself to wait in this darkness as long as is necessary, but still go on longing after God whom you love. … Your whole life now must be one of longing… And this longing must be in the depths of your will, put there by God, with your consent.” Rats, there seems to be no escape, short of solitaire or The Voice.

I recently realized with relief that the thorn was gone. The longing remains, but the acute pain is gone. This was a few days after I imagined that I would die before I finished my prayer. I have no idea why or how it left. I am just grateful to not feel so gripped and mournful reaching out to the heavens. Living in the cloud of unknowing and uncertainly is difficult to those of us who take pride in our intellect, our ability to be in control, to know things, and manage our own destinies.

Some religion is all suffering and damnation. Some religion is all sweetness and happy thoughts. Mine is sorrow and love. In the painful friction of sorrow and love new life ignites, leaps forth, and gives light in the darkness. Lately the words to When I Survey the Wondrous Cross have been singing themselves in my mind. So much of Christianity is mystery and wonder to me. I am clueless. I go walk around the block with my dog, praying that God make something holy of my life. I do not care what it is.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

See, from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
– Isaac Watts

Have you ever found yourself wandering in the cloud of unknowing without a prayer, but the longing of your heart, the aching desire for God?
If you wish, share a little of your experience here.

Not Ten Best Practices for Prayer

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

 

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

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