Tag Archives: Prayer

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!

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

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!

Exploring Solitude: The Wild Things Within

He said to the disciples, “Stay here while I go and pray over there.” When he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, he began to feel sad and anxious. Then he said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.” Then he went a short distance farther and fell on his face and prayed . .              Matthew 26: 36- 38 (CEV)
 


The season of lent invites us into wilderness solitude to encounter the wild things and places within us.  In a world of extraversion, solitude allows space for introspection and encounters with untamed and little known parts of ourselves.

On her way out of church one Sunday morning, a member told me a story about her granddaughter, who had come with her that day. My custom is to invite the congregation to a period of silent prayer before I offer the pastoral prayer. At the conclusion of my prayer, five year old Lindy whispered to her grandma, “Loretta took so long before she started praying, that I had to start praying for people I didn’t even like.”

Yes. Silence does that to us, doesn’t it? It brings us to the end of the list of our own needs and concerns and opens out our prayerful awareness of people and inner realities, which we do not even like. Many avoid solitude for this reason. When I stop doing, accomplishing, distracting, and numbing myself with various opiates, I am left with my wounds, enemies, and alienation. The wilderness of the self opens before us and we reach for the phone, turn on the television, or pour ourselves a glass of wine. 

He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you stay alert one hour with me? Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26: 40-41 (CEV)

The work of solitude includes the slow, patient task of befriending the darkness, of being present with compassion to my inner wildness, and of staying awake one hour with ourselves in our misery, as Jesus asked his disciples to do for him.

The followers of Jesus were unable to offer him such companionship. It is likewise very difficult for us to offer ourselves such gentle, present love. Yet if one can manage it, if only for a few minutes, that ache, that knife in the heart, the sick all encompassing grief  will begin to lessen just a bit, and a peace will slowly seep into the space of your silence.

This is where the deep work of contemplative transformation begins. The pleasant, consoling moments of contemplative prayer are important to our growth and infect us with the love of God. Sometimes they arrive unbidden, unexpected as sheer gifts. Other times we enter deeper communion with God through the ongoing practice of contemplation in some form: centering prayer, lectio divina, prayer of quiet, meditation.

Several years ago a friend confessed to me, “I am so over spiritual “disciplines.” She had reached a point beyond practicing prayer, because she wanted something from God, or because she ought to, or because it was interesting, or helpful to her daily life. Prayer for her was becoming much more demanding than a nice idea or exercise in personal improvement.

Thomas Merton wrote, “True prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer becomes intolerable and the heart has turned to stone.” The deeper work begins when silence and solitude may be the last thing we want and the only thing we cannot live without. When just sitting still reveals to us a pervasive sadness, or the reality of a loss or truth we are denying or running from, silence is not some syrupy, cozy me-and-Jesus picnic. Silence is a summons to face into who I am and who God is becoming for me in a perilous confrontation with the truths of my life and who God will or will not be for me.

Again he came and found them sleeping.
Their eyes were heavy with sleep.
But he left them and again went
and prayed the same words for the third time.
Matthew 26: 43-44 (CEV)

Yet it is here – when facing fear, betrayal, or deep sorrow– that the encompassing and spreading love of God begins to open within us with its healing balm. Sometimes we need a companion to help us, as Jesus asked for from his friends in his hour of need. We may need to enter the silence in small doses at first. Tiny little sips of God may be all we can manage. Gradually that contact with God will begin to soothe our souls and bring a peace that will exceed our understanding.

It may not seem like much, this tiny bite of calm. You are still in your wilderness, up against a wall, facing an impasse, with little hope. Yet you keep going back for little sips of silence, as quiet fills you and you surrender to the moment.

My Forty Days in the Wilderness
One autumn over twenty years ago I spent forty days in the wilderness. I was sick and doctors were unable to diagnose or treat whatever was causing the unrelenting headaches and fatigue. Weary of the tests and drugs, I went off alone each day and several nights. I did not watch television, use the computer, talk on the phone, read mail or much of anything, except scripture. My only human interaction was with my immediate family.

Day after day and into the night I waited for that little sip of calm, that spark of life and hope. I learned to tend the spark, gather kindling, shavings, combustible scraps of living goodness: birdsong, the quail feeding along the lakeshore, the way a spider walked up the side of my tea cup. These and the stars over my head began to fuel the flame, which grew and illuminated the way for me.

Here is some of what happened as I tell it in my book, Letters from the Holy Ground:

I came to the wilderness in part because I heard Jesus crying and saying he was lonely for us.  I came out of a growing sense of God’s hunger and need for us and for one who would stay with him one hour.  I came to discover how it would be to delight in and enjoy God for God, and not for what God could do for me or the world.

And I found along with my brother, Simon Peter,  that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  And to pray with Christ is more difficult than praying to Christ.

Are there some among us who are willing to watch with Christ one hour? Are there some willing to turn in radical trust toward God and away from the forces within and without that seek to deny Christ?

Is there one willing to pay the cost of staying one hour, of tasting and knowing God’s suffering in her bones, of being bereft of all mortal assistance, of contending with a near constant onslaught of devils, of serving as a bridge between heaven and earth and thereby, bearing in his body, mind, and psyche on the one hand, the immaculate tenderness and the surging ferocity of Divine Love; and on the other hand, the immense ocean of mortal sorrow?

Like Peter, I couldn’t do it. For along with my good intentions I brought my weariness and poverty and dependence on God’s mercy.  And my eyes grew heavy and I slept.

But God slept too.  Christ rested too.  For Christ brought to the wilderness the same as I:  weariness and poverty and dependence on my mercy.  And so like two homeless children huddled in an alley, like two lovers entwined, we slept while the owl hooted and the bullfrogs boomed and the little grey mouse nibbled bread in the corner.

In the wilderness of solitude our suffering becomes bound up with, informed by, and transformed by the suffering of Jesus in his solitude.

By such fierce mercy and vulnerable love are we redeemed.

 

Solitude Practice:

  •  Have you had the experience of hurting too much to pray? Or have you avoided praying because you do not want to be still long enough to start feeling your pain?

  • What are some of the ways you distract yourself from entering silence and solitude?

  •  Have you found that place of peace in the midst of your chaos and suffering? How do you describe that experience? What would you tell someone who has never been there and is afraid to be alone in seeking it?

  •  Take some time today to be still and alone. Be with yourself with all the gentleness and love you can muster. Be with yourself as you would want to be with Jesus in his suffering. What do you notice or learn?

Next post in this series:
Exploring Solitude: Deadly Acedia, or Too Bored to Care 

I would love to hear about your experience of silence and facing the wild things within yourself, what you have learned, what helped ease your suffering and what did not. We offer our companionship to others as we tell our stories. You may comment below, on our Facebook Page, or email me at lross@fromholyground.org

Empty Pockets and Trust in God

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I wait.

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

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

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

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

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

So – help yourself these crumbs:

 

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

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

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

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

And most amazing of all:

Trust that our trust and faith are the salve,

which heals all wounds.


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

Windbags, Blatherers, and Chatterboxes for God

Le Silence, painted plaster sculpture by Augus...

Image via Wikipedia

“The most beautiful thing a person could say about God would be to remain silent from the wisdom of an inner wealth. So, be silent and quit flapping your gums about God,” advises Meister Eckhart, the German theologian born in 1260.

My flapping gums are weary, my jaw aching, my tongue hangs out the corner of my mouth. I have spoken, written, and read far too many words about God. I am after that inner wealth, the wisdom of silence.

For the next two weeks I offer you silence, as I head to the lake and the woods and join a few other word-weary types, who will sit and pray and eat together without flapping our gums.


 

Will you join us? Will you listen for the crickets and feel the cool breeze off the lake? Will you lift your head one  morning and sniff the blooming silence of our prayer?

Will you choose to live from the peace from which you issue? Will you forsake the urgent illusion of your own ego and sink into your being and find your home there?

Of course you will. I’ll meet you in the silence.


 

Every creature, whether it knows it or not, seeks repose.
                                                                      – Meister Eckhart


Stop It!

I woke to a list of tasks and projects to complete – important, worthwhile, necessary duties.

But the Holy One said, “Rest.”

I argued. “Lord, I have to do this. I need to get that done. And the yard needs raking.”

“Stop!” the Lord said to me. Stop it.

So I turned on myself, flaying myself with guilt and shame. “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you get more accomplished?”

“Shabbat.” God said. Shabbat.  

We drain ourselves with too much doing, striving, and succeeding. We push past our limits and strain our bodies and make ourselves sick. The neglected soul shrivels and turns dry and hard like the dusty, wrinkled slice of apple I swept up from under my table.

Shabbat or Sabbath means literally to stop. Interestingly, the Hebrew “Shabbat” sounds a little like “stop it.” 

  

Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.                                                                     Exodus 20:8-11

What Israel learned from the fourth commandment is that Sabbath rest is an alternative to aggressive anxiety, writes Walter Brueggemann in Journey to the Common Good (pp 25-26) .

Most Christians think of Sabbath as a day of worship, which may actually turn into a day of production, activity, and achievement, as many clergy will tell you. Though church seemed long and boring to me as a child, endless Sunday afternoons at my Mennonite Grandmother’s home, sitting on a couch with prickly upholstery and listening to the clock tick was not an improvement. At least at church we had music. At grandma’s my brother and I itched and fidgeted to go outside and play.

However, at its origin, Sabbath was not about worship. Brueggemann continues, “It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”

To cease working for a day is an act of defiance in a godless system of aggressive production and accumulation. To keep Sabbath is an act of rebellion against Pharaoh’s kingdom of scarcity where there is never enough. To keep Sabbath is a statement of faith in the abundance and provision of the Kingdom of God, where sharing by all will mean scarcity for none. Finally, “to stop it” is an act of obedient trust in God’s goodness, as one rests and enjoys the wonder of all that God has made.

  

Recently, people, who come to me for spiritual guidance, seek not so much counsel or suggestions for how to pray, but, rather, the permission and opportunity to be still and rest in God.

A woman tells me, “I think what I need today is to just be quiet and for you to lead me in meditation.” A little music, Psalm 27, and an extended silence followed.

We sat together facing our internal distractions and anxious mental sorties away from our intention of presence to God. We calmed our fretful souls, and held ourselves steady before the voluminous mystery of love. Over time this Sabbath being, this doing nothing, will change the quality and the character of all our active doing. By disengaging from Pharaoh’s system of scarcity and anxiety, we root more deeply into the realm of the endless mercy and providence of the Holy One. 

Here is a god, who had so much fun doing and creating that he took a day off in order to rest and delight in his own handiwork. Then God, tickled with himself, commanded all his creation, including livestock and resident aliens, to enter into the joy of such rest. “Go outside and play. Take a look at what a marvelous universe I have made. I can’t get over how wonderful it all is.”

As the woman, who needed rest, and I participated together in the wonder of the gift of our being, the silence thickened, ebbed and flowed, smooth as satin and softly throbbing. We drank deeply from that well. When the session came to an end, we drew back reluctantly from the living water.

“You were very thirsty?” I asked. Yes, she nodded.

“Me too.” I said.

Learn by little the desire for all things
which perhaps is not desire at all
but undying love which perhaps
is not love at all but gratitude
for the being of all things which
perhaps is not gratitude at all
but the maker’s joy in what is made,
the joy in which we come to rest.   
                                          Wendell Berry

May you discover the maker’s joy in your Sabbath rest.  

Shabbat Shalom!


“In returning and rest you shall be saved.

In quiet and trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30: 15

This is the second in a series of posts this year on
Isaiah 30:15. Read the first post on this verse here:  Returning

The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
Read more about prayer www.fromholyground.org
email
lross@fromholyground.org
Follow at 
http://twitter.com/lfross 

 

 

Homeless

Black grackles and speckled starlings,
with yellow beaks and rusty throated chatter
clatter up and down the branches
gleaning the leavings of winter’s suet cakes.

A pile of must-read books
litter my desk and the chair before the window
where I come to pray.

Wisdom and knowledge at my fingertips,
and the perfect YouTube video of a good life,
forwarded from friend to friend,
promises to change everything.
Click here now.

How long do you stand on the street corner,
listening to the preachers and barkers?

How long do you slurp up the news,
opinions, and seductions of others?

How long do you sit on the couch
of the world consuming secondhand notions,
lies, and rumors?

When will you sit down before mystery
and invite it to come rest in your lap,

your lap, I mean, your heart and singular, scintillating body?

When do you stop singing somebody else’s song
and chasing somebody else’s god
and coveting somebody else’s experience?

When, oh when,
dear, irreplaceable you,
will you lay
yourself down in your own true,
blue bonnet strewn field of a life?

And say to the starling –
Here come, with your little orange feet and strange black eye.
How precious you are in that freckled jacket.

And I ask you,
how many prayer breakfasts,
committee meetings, and strategy sessions,
how many well-intentioned,
and not so well-intentioned,
soldiers of truth
gathering to plot their version of a perfect world
must we salute?

Just how long will it take, do you think,
for us to be safe enough
and gentle enough
and humble enough

for the shy weary God to come and lay his head? 

 

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests,
but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8:  18-22 

 

A YouTube video on Matthew 8: 18-22

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