Tag Archives: the praying life

A Crisis of Contemplation

The latest issue of Holy Ground is out. This little reflection on the contemplative life comes out quarterly. In this issue I write about our struggle to be prayerfully present to our work, our tendency in a crisis to rely on what we can know and do, rather than on what God may be offering us, and the revolutionary effect of digital media on how we function in our society and churches. Goodness, that is a lot to cover in one essay.

Here is an except:
After worship we got down to business. However, I felt I wasn’t finished worshipping. I wanted to say, “Wait a minute. God is still speaking.” I wanted to keep pondering the texts, and to listen and reflect together about what we were hearing. The day’s agenda initiated a shift in the attitude and attention of the group from an intentional awareness of God to the task at hand. This is precisely why I had been asked to pray for the group: to serve as a visible reminder of our communal connection and listening to God. One man, thanking me after the meeting said, “I forgot that you were here. Then I happened to look over and saw you praying. It meant a lot.”
I wonder how things would go, if someone were kneeling or bowed in prayer at all our tasks and business. Try it in your imagination. Look across the room. See someone, Christ, a friend, or stranger praying for you there. Is the person sitting in a chair, kneeling, or prostrate? What happens to you when you see this? Ah, a softening of the shoulders maybe? A sigh. Some of the strain releases. A hush of peace. The comfort of trust.
We struggle to be simultaneously present to God and to our work. So we bookend our days and activities with prayer, often a perfunctory invocation and a quickie closing prayer “to get us all on the road.” We are split in a way which sickens, wearies, and drains the life out of me. I struggle every day to bring an attentive awareness of the holy God into all I do. I fail over and over. I know when I have failed by the tension in my neck and shoulders, the eyelid twitch, the strain that comes over me when my ego has been bossing and shoving me around. I know I have failed when the space in my head has been crammed with words, ideas, opinions, fears and there is no room for Jesus. I know the deadening effect of too much talk, too much human need trying to meet human need, and no silence and space for God to meet any of it. …
The capacity to be simultaneously present to God and the task at hand is nurtured in many spiritual direction training programs. Such steadfast awareness of Christ is something the Holy Spirit accomplishes within us, not so much taught as encouraged by those who help us trust and let go into God. Such a deep integration of Christ and abiding at all times in his peace, wisdom and gentle love is God’s will for us all.
Still, mostly, I fail. I turn my back on Jesus in a way that feels brutal and violent to the Spirit within me. My rebellion consists of the bullying intrusion of myself into events, relationships, and conversations, as a mean little god, insisting on its own way and trusting only in itself.
Bringing a conscious awareness of Christ into whatever I do requires me to release power, die to myself and my way, and bend low. It means I move more slowly and mindfully. I stay in the present moment. I rest in trust and faith in God. And I have the capacity to be useless and to not know. All of which is to say, I am contemplative.
Writing nearly fifty years ago, Carlo Carretto, noted,
When there is a crisis in the church, it is always a crisis of contemplation. The church wants to feel able to explain about her spouse even when she has lost sight of him; even when, although she has not been divorced, she no longer knows his embrace, because curiosity has gotten the better of her and she has gone searching for other people and other things.
Where might curiosity be getting the best of you?

What if we expanded Carretto’s words to other situations? What if the oil crisis, the terrorism crisis, the health care crisis, and the environmental crisis were seen as crises in contemplation? How would that temper and affect how we respond to the issues we face?
What if we could see Jesus kneeling down in high level talks, on the barges of clean up crews in the gulf, and in mountain villages of Afghanistan?
Perhaps the crises we face are not a failure of human integrity or intelligence, but a failure of imagination, that eternally creating, mother of faith.

_______________

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Where’s The Grace?

A quick perusal of online comments, letters to the editor, talk shows, and news commentaries reveal that forbearance for the sins of others is in short supply. Politics and many businesses appear to have expunged mercy and generosity from their operations.
Theologian Miraslov Volf in his book, Free of Charge – Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, writes, “Mainly we’re set up to sell and buy, not to give and receive… To give is to lose.”  We do not know how to receive our lives. We try to earn our worth, or demand it because we feel entitled to it. We see the other as either a potential rival or a target market. We are quick to blame, slow to forgive, and eager to sue. Getting and spending, beating and winning, we are oblivious to the ocean of care and delight in which we have been placed by the sheer goodness of God.
You guessed it. I have been watching television and reading newspapers too much. Our culture distracts us from the truth of the totally unearned, undeserved gift of our precious lives. In contrast to the world, faith teaches us that we are not here to achieve our own purposes, but rather to be instruments of God’s grace and peace.
Volf closes his book with a long series of questions:
So why do so many of us take the “sword” into our hands so readily? Why do we visit vengeance on our enemies, when we should, inspired by the cross, forgive?….Why have many of our Christian fathers and mothers throughout history, greedy and vengeful as they were, left so much suffering in their trail?… Why do we refuse the God-given bridge that would transport us from selfishness to self-giving, from vengeance to forgiveness? That’s a mystery that should make us tremble – tremble before the God who gives to the ungrateful and the God who forgives the ungodly.
These are huge questions, questions that need to be asked and considered. However I think the way out of the morass of human resistance to grace is probably not in looking at our tangled, twisted selves, but rather in lifting our eyes to the Transcendent Goodness in our midst. Gazing on love, mercy, and justice cleanses, refreshes, and  re orders our priorities.
And here in Topeka, Kansas you may receive such a grace filled vision, actually free of charge. The Sunflower Music Festival is in town. For nine evenings you can listen to some of the world’s best musicians play Mozart, Beethoven, Ives, Gershwin, and others.
Little kids, youth, and the elderly, bussed in from care centers, will sit hushed in the packed concert hall each night. We watch the conductor lean over his orchestra, calling forth lilting melodies of heart breaking beauty and thundering power. We fall into the wonder of the pianist’s hands, the French horn’s smooth haunting call, and the sobbing sweep of violins.
We take part in the miracle of humans cooperating, denying themselves, as they lose their lives to create together something larger, finer, than any one of us could do alone. We surrender to the gift of grace among us that is manifested as we give and receive, bend and bow, rest, and watch the hand of the one who can weave out of our lives together on this earth something that thrills, frees, and heals.

The Miro Quartet

Where’s the grace? Why right in your own back yard. And here in Topeka at the Sunflower Festival, it won’t cost you a cent.
Read more about prayer at  www.fromholyground.org Tracking Holiness – Newsletter
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In Between – Ascension and Pentecost

While he was still with them, he said:
Don’t leave Jerusalem yet. Wait here for the Father to give you the Holy Spirit, just as I told you he has promised to do. John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. While the apostles were still with Jesus, they asked him, “Lord, are you now going to give Israel its own king again?”Jesus said to them, “You don’t need to know the time of those events that only the Father controls. But the Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power. Then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and everywhere in the world.”    Acts 1: 6-9 (CEV)
I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit. The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God. Ephesians 1: 17 (CEV)
Something new is coming,
something incredible,
something beyond our imagination
and our manipulation.
Something promised.
Well maybe.
That is to say, we hope it is.
He said it would.
And you know,
if you think about it,
didn’t the things he said
turn out as he promised?
Well. Yes.
But not always the way we thought.
Maybe we heard it wrong. Maybe we were just really gullible.
But no. We saw it with our own eyes. Heard with our own ears.
We watched him rise up
out on the hill,
wind blustering all around,
and the jagged saw of goodbye

chewing us apart.

Don’t go. Don’t go. We love you so!
And the love
filling us up
and tipping us
over
with its force.
And us, breathless and blown
rolling and tumbling around
like trash in an alley.
His Words,
imprinted
on our souls like a bright tattoo.
And the angels saying, Get up. Get going!
He said to wait.
Hold still. Be still.
Wait.
There would be more. Something else.
Spirit he called it.
Comforter, advocate, guide,
who will help us remember it all.
Help us catch our breath,
and give us legs for such a world, as we have glimpsed.
Oh, why not Him? Why this spirit thing,
when we had a love we could hold in our arms and look in the eye?
The Father, reaching down into humanity,
snatches back the offspring
of his selfless, effervescent generosity,
his dear and only Love.
Oh God,
catching up very God of very God, begotten not made,
by the scruff
of his collar
and drawing him back into your joyful dance,
what are you thinking, cutting in like this, sweeping off with our partner?
Life is eternal – that is good news.
But what to do with the life and the love,
left here as we are, knocking about in the flesh?
He said to wait. Just wait.
Few things leave us more vulnerable than the Holy Spirit. Few things ask us to tolerate being clueless, with nothing to hang onto,
but a memory and a promise.

Read more about prayer at
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Tracking Holiness – Newsletter

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Learning to Sit in a Room Alone

..all man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly
in a room alone.  Blaise Pascal

After living over sixty years in the same house, my ninety six year old mother recently moved. We had cajoled, pleaded, and argued with mom about a move for some time. The more we talked the more resistant she became. We brought in her pastor, a beloved nephew, her doctor, and her friends to convince her of the merits of assisted living. Once I tricked her into visiting a place “just to check it out, mom, see what it’s like.” She pronounced that the wallpaper was horrible and remained adamantly against moving anywhere beyond her own backyard.

Home health aides came five days a week. She received meals on wheels and wore a bracelet on her wrist with a button to connect her to emergency assistance. She spent most of her time alone in her room drinking her tea, keeping an eye on the neighbors, and watching the birds and squirrels through the long Iowa winter.

“I know what these places are like,” she told me. “They dope you up. I’ve spent a lot time in these homes.” She had – first, with my bedridden, great Aunt Ethel, then my grandfather, and finally my father. She chuckled telling the story of going to see Dad one time and finding a resident sitting next to him holding his hand. My father, even with Alzheimer’s, always cut a fine figure with the ladies. As mother walked up to bring him some ice cream, the woman looked at mom sternly and asked, “Well, who are you?!” “I am his wife,” mom told her.

The last time I tried to convince mom to move, she silenced me with the words, “Why should I leave here when I am so content? I have everything I need.”

Well, yes. Why should she leave? How rare to be content and feel you have everything you need. She lived through the Great Depression and missed out on many things most of us would call necessities. In her deprivation she had mastered the priceless art of being content with what she had.

As my siblings and I prayed and fretted, God intervened. Compression fractures in her back and being in so much pain she couldn’t leave her chair accomplished a move for mom. She was carried off to a place, as Jesus told Peter, “You do not wish to go.” (John 21: 18) A week later, settled in at the care center, mother said, “This is a good place. They are very good to me here. The food is good. It is wonderful they have places like this.”  When we asked her if she wanted us to get her a TV for her room, she declined saying, “Oh I watch TV out in the common area. I have everything I need here.”

Some days I look out on the world and see a bunch of self righteous, entitled brats, all pushing, shoving, and scheming to get what “what’s owed them.” Other days I see the fear and desperation of people with shallow roots, who must hold themselves up with external supports of power, influence, possessions, and success.  I recognize the brats and the shallow rooted, because it takes one to know one. Daily I face the temptation to shore myself up with the perishable things of this world. I know the thirsty grasp for water of those with shallow roots.

Without a vibrant interior life and a self deeply connected to Goodness in whatever name one gives it, we do not fare well in seasons of loss, storm, and disaster. Without the ability to be self reflective and to enjoy the company of one’s self, I am a prisoner chained to a cell built of my own insatiable neediness.

I heard a story recently about psychologist Carl Jung who once advised a very busy and successful man, who came to him for treatment, to spend time each evening alone. The man returned to the Dr Jung to report he felt no better. He had shut himself up in a room, read, and listened to music. Jung told him, no – no reading, no music. He was to do nothing, just be with himself. The man protested that he could not possibly do that. He didn’t like being with himself. Dr Jung responded, “Why this is the self you have been inflicting on others for fourteen hours a day. If you cannot stand to be with it, how can you expect others to?”

You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen. Simply wait. You need not even wait. Just learn to become quiet and still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.     Franz Kafka

When the time comes, when I am carried where I do wish to go, I want to be like mom.

So I practice. Each day I sit in my room, learning to become quiet and still and solitary. By golly it happens: the unmasked world rolls in ecstasy at my feet, whooping and hollering. I do not lie. I feel as indulged and pampered as a first class tourist on a cruise ship. I have everything I need. The world has no choice. It will scintillate, dance, and shimmy in delirious exaltation of its creator.

Go ahead. Take a seat and wait for the show to begin.

Be still and know that I am God.
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.
I am exalted in the rooms of the old.
I am exalted in the cell of the prisoner.
I am exalted in the ruins of the city.
I am exalted in the penthouse and palace.
I am exalted in the peasant hut.
Everywhere and always
I am exalted in my kingdom
which you will find within you.
Be still
and know. Based on Ps 46:10

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Clueless

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I Corinthians 2:2

He went out, not knowing where he was going,” says the writer of Hebrews.  Abraham,  the father of our faith, didn’t have a clue where he was headed, no map, five year plan, or GPS device. Just faith.

Most of us want a little more than simple obedience to the word of the Lord burning in our hearts. We want a backup plan, some insurance policy to guarantee that our wandering about in the dark and hard work will be justified. We do not want to look back in shame or sorrow at the choices we made.

Most of all, when someone asks what our plans are for this year, we want that calm sense of security that comes with being able to answer clearly: My goal for this year is to plant a garden, go to Greece, or graduate from the Neuroscience Institute. You need something with a nice ring, which wins a nod of approval, or even better envy. So we consult a bevy of advisors. How long do I have, Doc? Madame Sylvia looks in her crystal ball. We check our horoscope and give our broker a call.

In our sleepless nights we pray, “God… please… let me know things will be all right.”

Instead of a five year plan in the mail, we get the present moment.

This frayed and tattered now.

My old buddy, Oswald Chambers, writes in his January 2 entry in  “My Utmost for His Highest”:

One of the most difficult questions to answer in Christian work is, “What do you expect to do?” You do not know what you are going to do. The only thing you know is that God knows what he is doing….. Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what he is going to do – He reveals to you who He is. … You must learn to “go out” through your own convictions, creeds, or experiences until you come to the point in your faith where there is nothing between yourself and God.

Wanting to know the future, and to possess absolute clarity about where one is going is the last stronghold of the ego and a defense against intimacy with God, where the way is revealed only as I have surrendered my desire to know anything, except, as St. Paul puts it, “Christ and him crucified.”

We are nearest to God when we have gone out from our egos – our own knowing, our worries, and desires – and are vulnerably present to Holiness. As we become present to the Presence, we discover a relationship so wholesome, nourishing, and tender in its embrace that our notion of direction and purpose is transformed. My life’s direction is not something I grasp by knowing, but rather is given to me as I allow myself to be known in the mutual exchange of love that is  our relationship with Christ.

This seeking, palpable, grace filled Presence of Christ is what allows us to go out into the unknown, empty handed and clueless. Jesus told his followers: “Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.”  Luke 9: 3

We learn to trust more in the ever present power of the One who sends us, than in our own preparations. And oh how much easier life becomes then!

How does one do this? Be aware. Allow space in your consciousness for God. Shovel away your lists and agendas, goals and objectives. Make a clear path through the snow drifts of your ego to the great I Am.

This is how I tried to do that today. All morning I prayed in the sunshine pouring through my window. I began with a list. A stream of words and worries that gradually slowed to a trickle.  Still in my pajamas and robe at 11:00, I am happy as a clam. Wrapped in love, I do not want to stop.

Often when I pray with others it is like this. Saying amen is a strain; lifting my head and opening my eyes, an effort. The magnetic pull of God captures me. To pull away is a sorrow, a sudden brutal severing from the heart’s true home. But the hour is up, the person who has come for prayer needs to go and is wondering if I am half crazy. So I return to “normal,” which seems ever more strange and artificial to me.

I know. I am weird. I also know many of you share this sense of God drawing you into Love.

I prayed for you this morning, for nothing in particular beyond peace, love, and joy. It is true I may not know you, yet I feel an oceanic rush of love and desire for your well being that hollows me out and leaves me breathless. I think it must be God’s love for you passing through my awareness. I hope it sweeps you off your feet today and tosses you hither and yon without a clue as to where you are going.

And on this cold day may you, beloved object of God’s devotion,

feel His warm breath upon your cheek.

Tell me about your prayer, the love song God is singing to you today.

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Day of Prayer

deer at dawn

I woke surrounded by warm pink light. Dawn filled the room like a rosy fog and drew me outside to look at the eastern sky. Banks of darker clouds, edged in gold, piled above the rose glow. Within minutes the sky darkened. Thunder rumbled. Rain fell gently throughout the morning and afternoon.

I spent the whole day chasing after that rosy suffusion which called me to awareness. But the light had flown to some other window, some other sleeper. I was left with a soft kiss, a sweet promise, and an ache in my heart that burned like a flame.  

This day my prayer was bare and to the point: I want you – not my way, my plans, my hopes, my dreams. Not peace on earth, healing for the suffering, hope for the broken hearted, or justice for the oppressed. I want YOU- giver of dawn and rain and this yearning in my heart for something unnamable, but ever compelling and true.

“The soul is not thought, nor is the will controlled by thought. It would be a great misfortune if it were. The soul’s profit then consists not in thinking much, but in loving much,” advised Teresa of Avila. I would rather think, connive, plan, strategize, manipulate, control – anything, but love this Author of our Being. But love is the way, says Teresa, as well as a whole company of others, including the Beatles.

Little renders us more vulnerable than love. A desire, a longing for someone, something beyond my grasp requires me to recognize my need and my limits. To love is to esteem the freedom of the Beloved and bear the pain of the essential separation of oneself from what is other than oneself. Love asks us to suffer the anguish of the reality that we may never fully possess what we love. Love asks us to be poor and naked in our need and our dependence upon the mercy of our Beloved.

No wonder we try to satisfy our longing for love by attachments to things which appear at first glance to deliver more and ask less of us than the uncompromising call of Christ. No wonder we attempt to extract from people, possessions, and work what only the Source of Love can give us. However, we soon find ourselves enslaved to and sucked dry by the insatiable demands of such false lovers.

Today I am sick, sin-sick, of my attachment to the world and my ego with its endless unappeasable needs.  I am weary and sore from the brutality and violence of a drive to succeed, ignoring my limits, and trying to do too much and be too much. Who can save me from myself, this body of death?

Only Love, Vulnerable Love entering into our misery as Christ Jesus, summoning us from our sleep, whispering, “Let go. Let go of it all. Follow me. I am all you will ever need.”  

So this day my prayer is a famished stumbling after Love. It is holding out my heart saying, “Here take it. I am yours.” It is Peter telling Jesus, with that desperate hope, “Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life. (John 6:68 CEV)  

Today my prayer is bearing the pain of this mystery, this rosy dawn which woos and embraces us all.  Amen.

 deer at dawn small

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God’s Been Missing You

 

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The wilted remains of pea salad, oriental chicken salad, jello, macaroni salad, and drooping concoctions of cool whip, cherries and graham crackers weigh down the table in the church basement. We finished our salad luncheon and were listening, as I was being introduced as the guest speaker. Invited to address church women of Sabetha, Kansas at their annual spring gathering, I prayed silently, “Jesus, what do you want me to tell the people?” I had planned my remarks, but I often prayed this question before a presentation. Usually I heard, “Tell the people that I love them.” On this spring afternoon in 1991 what came was, “Tell the people that I miss them.”

Over the past eighteen years the message has remained the same: God misses you. Your presence and attention to the Divine matters, makes a difference, counts. God grieves when you are absent from communion with the Holiness filling this world.

 “We live in an age of unbelief,” writes Ronald Rolheiser. “What sets this apart from past generations is that, today, this is often as true within religious circles as outside them. The problem of faith today is especially that of unbelief among believers.” In his book, The Shattered Lantern – Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God, Rolheiser writes about our struggle with faith and agnosticism. “We still have some experience of God, though rarely is this a vital one wherein we actually drink, first-hand, from living waters.” (pages 17-18)

What does it mean for you to drink, first-hand, from living waters of God? What shift needs to occur in us in order to turn aside and reach for a felt presence of God? For me it begins with the recognition that fundamental peace and clarity do not come from my achievements, intellect, or effort, but rather from conscious contact with the Living Reality which sustains all life. To turn toward a God who misses me begins with a conviction that God is more active,  effective, and powerful in my life and world than I am.

In 1926 Evelyn Underhill addressed a class of young seminarians preparing to go into the ministry in the Anglican Church with these words:

We, the laity, know instantly the difference between the churches which are served with love and devotion and those which are not. And we know from this, what their ministers are like. And what you are like is going to depend on your secret life of prayer; on the steady orientation of your souls to the reality of God.                   

I love Underhill’s phrase, the steady orientation of your souls to the reality of God.compass   Such orientation is radically different from the business as usual orientation of the world.

 Remember those compasses people used to put on the dashboards of their vehicles before we had GPS? As a child I loved to watch the dial bounce around in the fluid as the driver turned the wheel and we changed directions.

How do you determine when your direction is steadily aligned with magnetic pull of God? For many of us there is no felt pull toward the holy, toward the compelling mystery of life and love. At the same time many people have a sense that something is missing – a dryness, loneliness, a searching for something of more substance and depth than celebrity worship, political posturing, or being defined as a consumer of commodities.

What is magnetic north in your life? What has the strongest pull on your attention and direction? Where is that direction leading you? Toward greater satisfaction, peace, and generosity?  Or toward something else? 

When we acknowledge that there is a God who misses us and that we are missing God, we set aside our agendas, the chaos, and allure of the world and enter into a larger, more generous, and wiser Reality. We are cleansed, rinsed by the refreshing, renewing Living Water, which soothes and realigns us with our deepest truth and purposes. Here is our heart’s true home, the soul’s magnetic north.auto compass

This Friday The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer will resume Midday Prayer gatherings from 12:15 – 1:00.  Held weekly at The Sanctuary office at 1600 SW Campbell and open to the community, these periods of contemplative prayer focus on communal silence. Join us in body or spirit and orient yourself to Ultimate Reality. God may be missing you way more than you know.

  sanctuary-tree-tiny

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