Category Archives: contemplative

Praying with Icons 1

Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator), a 6th-centur...

Christ the Savior, a 6th-century icon from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai. )

Many of us were taught to close our eyes when we pray. Praying with icons is an ancient prayer practice that involves keeping our eyes wide open, taking into our heart what the image visually communicates. We focus not on what is seen in the icon, but rather on what is seen through it — the love of God expressed through God’s creatures.

This is prayer without words, with a focus on being in God’s presence rather than performing in God’s presence. It is a right-brain experience of touching and feeling what is holy — a divine mystery. Icons are not simply art; they are a way into contemplative prayer, and are therefore one way to let God speak to us. They are doorways into stillness, into closeness with God. If we sit with them long enough, we too can enter into the stillness, into the communion . And if we listen to them closely enough, with our hearts, we just may discern the voice of God.

To begin your prayer, you may want to light a candle nearby. A flame is a metaphor for prayer, inviting us into the presence of Holy God. Look at the icon as you pray. See it as a point of connection with Jesus and the community of saints. Try extending your hands and turning your palms upward, a gesture both of openness to God’s grace and the gift of your hands to God.

Even though you may feel pressured by the demands of the day, try not to pray in a hurry. Better to pray for a short time with quiet attention to each word and each breath than to rush through many prayers. Be aware of your breathing. You are breathing in life itself, breathing in God’s peace. You are breathing out praise and gratitude, breathing out your appeals for help.

As you pray, cultivate an inner attitude of listening. God is not an idea and praying is not an exercise to improve our idea of God. Prayer is the cultivation of the awareness of God’s actual presence. We may speak words to God or just look attentively at the icon and let God speak to us.

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Seek and Desire

The seeds of contemplation and sanctity have been planted in those souls, (all people of good will)but they merely lie dormant. They do not grow. In other words: sanctifying grace occupies the substance of their souls but never flows out to inflame and irrigate and take possession of their faculties, their intellect and will. God will not manifest himself to these souls because they do not seek him.

——-Thomas Merton

The Seven Storey Mountain

Merton’s wisdom tells us that we can only achieve true unity with God when we seek it with our whole beings. God has implanted within each of us the seeds that will bring us to full fellowship with Him, but it is our mission to brings forth the fruit offered by these seeds. His grace is a gift that gives each one the capacity to fully possess the salvation of God.

Our desire to see ourselves fully sanctified with our creator is the lifelong mission of the Christian. Many a person has gone through life, many times a good life, without fully claiming the wonderful grace of God. Merton warns that Christian growth is a proactive venture, because God does not force Himself upon us. We are called to seek and desire Him.

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Filed under contemplative, Dedication, Faithfulness, Thomas Merton

Become a Person of Prayer

god

One of the most important habits a missional person can possess is being a person of prayer. As we live the missional life it is vital that we stay in touch with God. Prayer is communication with God. It is through prayer that we gather strength, insight and openness to be a missional people. For thousands of years people have prayed. Prayer has taken on different forms. Some people pray in silence. Others pray in groups. Still others pray using ancient rituals. How do you pray ? Do you pray ?

To pursue the missio dei (mission of God),prayer is a must. It is the very heart of the missional life.

What are the prayers of the missional person?

  • the presence of God
  • strength for the journey
  • for enemies
  • opportunities for service
  • personal sins
  • blessings of the day
  • people with needs

What are some ways to pray?

Just remember missional life begins with prayer. Let me suggest to you that you set aside 10 minutes a day for prayer. Try it this week. Start Sunday and keep this habit through the week and it could really change your life.

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6 Tips on Contemplative Prayer

English: Saint Benedict A contemporary icon of...

I was directed to these 6 tips on Contemplative prayer by a fellow blogger. They were written by Carol Crumley who is Senior Program Director for Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. St. Benedict, a sixth century spiritual leader, advised his monks to “listen with the ear of the heart,” that is, to listen deeply, noticing the many ways God spoke to them in their daily activities as well as through scripture and worship. I share these tips with you.

6 Tips on Contemplative Prayer

  1. Establish a daily set-aside time when you can honor your desire to open to God. We recommend 20 minutes of silent prayer time daily. For some that might seem like a long time. For others, it may be way too short. The exact number of minutes is not that important. Start with what is right for you. The important thing is doing it daily.
  2. Create a set-aside place, a space that honors your intent, where you can sit comfortably and uninterrupted for your prayer time. This might be a prayer corner or even a prayer chair. If a chair, just make sure it is different from the one you sit in to watch television, work on your computer or take a nap. A different chair will help you be more alert and attentive in your prayerful listening. You might also place a candle or flower or image in your prayer space, something that helps draw your focus to God’s presence.
  3. Begin with stretching and releasing any physical tensions. We carry the tensions of the day or night in our bodies. Notice the places in your body that are tight or constricted. Stretch into those places, hold for a moment or two, and then relax the tension. Sometimes a gentle body-stretching practice is all that is needed to quiet the mind and prepare the body for opening in prayer.
  4. Notice your breath. Your breath is a spiritual tool that you always have with you. It is your most intimate connection with God. Sense your breath as a living instrument of God’s spirit, ever cleansing and inspiring. At any time or place, you can notice your breath. Is it rapid or slow? Shallow or deep? Just noticing and slowing your breath can quiet the mind and draw you deeper into the heart of God. It is the most fundamental practice in the spiritual life.
  5. Open to God’s living presence, keeping your desire for your own and the world’s fullness in God before you in prayer. No words are needed. Simple, quiet openness and availability are enough. Trust that God’s healing, transforming power is at work whether you know it, you believe it, or not.
  6. Find support for your spiritual life. Support can come in many forms. Listen to music that stirs your soul. Go to a museum and feast your eyes on great art. Walk in nature. Read some of the great classics by contemplative authors. Study the lives of the saints. Find a spiritual director who listens with you to the movement of the Spirit in your life. Attend worship services that nourish your spiritual heart. Seek out others who share a similar desire and join with them for dedicated times of prayer.

We live in a noisy, busy world. Quiet, silent prayer is counter to our culture and yet it offers the missing spiritual resource our souls need. Contemplative prayer is not just for ourselves alone. Eckhart Tolle reminds us that, “To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift you can offer to the universe.”

Contemplative Prayer is a way of being rather than something that we do, a way of being open to God all the time. As you return to your busy day, remember, there are no right ways or wrong ways to pray. You can trust whatever is simplest and feels most natural for you.

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Filed under Ascetics, Contemplation, contemplative, Meditation, Missional Living, Prayer

The Long Journey

Drawing of the Crucifixion by St. John of the ...

Drawing of the Crucifixion by St. John of the Cross 

 Where have you hidden,

Beloved, and left me moaning?

you fled like the stag

after wounding me;

I went out calling you, but you were gone.

 —-Canticle of John of the Cross Stanza 1

God has hidden His true self from us is the first cry of the soul. Indeed every seeker of God longs for the mystical presence because in such a presence we can touch the hand of God. John tells us in his canticle that such a presence is hidden from us. The long journey of the believer is to find that level of the spiritual which is concealed from us by asking God to manifest His divine essence to us. The search for the divine leaves us moaning. We are left in a state of grief because the quest is so elusive. Victory does not come to he who prays the most or the loudest.

The mere wisp of the touch of God flees from us us as quickly as the cautious deer when he sites a man. We get a little glimpse of God, and it wounds us because we want so much more of Him. We call after Him and we cannot find Him. All manner of prayer and sacred reading is this search for the essence of God in the here and now. In John’s canticle I feel a sense of urgency and determination that are vital elements to a true relationship with God.

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Filed under contemplative, Dark Night of the Soul, Devotional Quotes, Image of God, John of the Cross, Mystics, Persistance, Spiritual Seekers

A Rule for Missional People

This past weekend I had the pleasure of sitting under the teaching of Dr. Elaine Heath, who is Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology. Her topic was “New Monasticism.” She shared ways that people can band together in intentional communities, and what it would take for that to be successful. Elaine, with a group of others, has formed the institute for Missional Wisdom. This institute has proposed a “Rule of Life” for those who want to commit to living in community. I would like to set forth this rule as not only a way to live in community, but also a way for individuals to live a Christ centered life. I want to share it with you today.

RULE OF LIFE

Our Rule of Life is based Wesley’s General Rules, the membership vows of the United Methodist Church and St. Benedict’s Rule. We believe this rule opens our eyes to God’s grace, balances life and enables us to pursue holiness in all aspects of daily living.

OUR RULE OF LIFE

PRAYERS

  • We will pray daily
  • We will use a variety of forms of prayer such as the reflective reading of Scripture and other spiritual texts, confession, the prayer of Examen, intercession, journaling, and contemplation.
  • We will fast from food once a week (either a full or partial fast)

PRESENCE

  • We will practice a contemplative stance in order to be present to God, the world, and ourselves
  • We will be hospitable to our neighbors in our families, neighborhoods and workplaces
  • We will be hospitable to our faith community through participation in our worship, fellowship and mission

GIFTS

  • We will honor and care for the gift of the earth and its resources, practicing ecologically responsible living, striving for simplicity rather than excessive consumption
  • We will practice generosity in sharing our material resources, including money, within and beyond this community

SERVICE

  • We will serve God and neighbor out of gratitude for the love of God
  • We will practice mutual accountability with a covenant group within the community, for how we serve God and neighbor
  • We will practice regular Sabbath as a means of renewal so that we can lovingly serve God and neighbor

WITNESS

  • We will practice racial and gender reconciliation
  • We will resist evil and injustice
  • We will pursue peace with justice
  • We will share the redeeming, healing, creative love of God in word, deed and presence as an invitation to others to experience the transforming love of God.

I commit to this rule of life and to the well-being of this community, out of gratitude to God who forgives, heals, and makes all things new. May my life be a blessing within and beyond God’s church, for the transformation of the  world.

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Filed under Benedictine Rule, Christian Living, Commitment, Community, contemplative, Intentional community, Missional Living, Monasticism, New Monasticism

Centering Prayer

Today I would like to imagine being alone or with a group of people who, alone or together, are in a quiet place with no background music, just simply sitting in silence for twenty minutes. They do not speak or pray aloud; there are no books or Ipads in their hands. They are not reading or writing. They are not busy with anything. They are there to allow God to fill their consciousness and give them peace. They do not pray with their lips but with their silent hearts and with their very being. This is a simple description of Centering Prayer.

Centering Prayer was first practiced by the ancient monastics of the desert, but it can still serve us today. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to listen for a word from God for twenty minutes? I would venture to say, that for most of us, twenty minutes of silence is an eternity. For me it has been a wonderful discovery of a peace that I never thought existed- a peace and tranquility that can only come from God. When I am silent and totally centered on hearing from God it seems as though I can feel the stress of life flowing out of me like a river emptying into an ocean. Perhaps it is one of the best spiritual practices that I have ever been challenged to master.

As twenty first century Christians, we often feel that God is best found in activity and motion, but it is time that we took a better look at the practices that built the church in its formative years. These practices sustained people who lived with harsh conditions and great persecution, a type of life that is unimaginable to us. These godly men and women found it necessary to commune with God in an intense way. For them, it was just God and God alone that guided and protected all.

Much of what I read and see tells me that Christianity as we know it is dying a fairly quick death. Perhaps the answer to the salvation of the faith is not found in mega churches or new ways of worship but in the rediscovering of the foundational tools of the movement. Centering prayer is one of those foundational practices that could change your life as it has changed mine.

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Dealing with Unjust Criticism

The Desert Fathers

A brother went to find Abba Serapion.  According to his custom, the old man invited him to say a prayer.  But the other, calling himself a sinner and unworthy of the monastic habit, did not obey.  Next Abba Serapion wanted to wash his feet, but using the same words again, the visitor prevented him.  Then Abba Serapion made him eat and he began to eat with him.  Then he admonished him saying, ‘My son, if you want to make progress stay in your cell and pay attention to yourself and your manual work; going out is not so profitable for you as remaining at home.’ When he heard these words the visitor was offended and his expressions changed so much that the old man could not but notice it. So he said to him, ‘Up to now you have called yourself a sinner and accused yourself of being unworthy to live, but when I admonished you lovingly, you were extremely put out.  If you want to be humble, learn to bear generously what others unfairly inflict upon you and do not harbor empty words in your heart.’ Hearing this, the brother asked the old man’s forgiveness and went away greatly edified.

——Abba Serapion of the Desert

The greatest measure of true humility is how we react to honest and loving criticism. None of us truly wants to be criticized. The wise Abba was giving the brother some very simple advice about work and prayer and the necessity of stability of life. This advice, lovingly given, was very disturbing to the brother. His reaction, as strong as it was, is not the main lesson of the saying. Serapion is telling us that in order to live of life of humility and service we must learn to bare undeserved criticism. For it is in the manner in which we handle the harshness of our enemy that our true Christian fiber is displayed. We live in a time that people seem to have nothing better to do than to find fault with everyone. Today’s culture demands destruction of all those who disagree or threaten our position. The advice of the Abba is to listen to the criticism of the loving people that our Lord has sent our way, and in that, we find the strength to face the unfairness that the world will bring to our lives.

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The Dark Road

If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.

St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church.

——John of the Cross

John of the cross is the medieval mystic who gave us “Dark Night of the Soul.” In his work he challenges us to the work of being a Christian, and the strength that comes for the journey. He tells us that the strength comes from complete union with God. This union has a price, and it is separation from the world. In that dark night of separation John finds the peace of God.

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A Prayer of Benedict

St. Benedict of Nursia writing the Benedictine...

Gracious and Holy Father,Please give me:intellect to understand you,reason to discern you,diligence to seek you,wisdom to find you,a spirit to know you,a heart to meditate upon you,ears to hear you,eyes to to see you,a tongue to proclaim you,a way of life pleasing to you,patience to wait for you and perseverance to look for you.Grant me a perfect end,your holy presence,a blessed resurrection and life everlasting.

——Benedict of Nursia

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Filed under Benedict of Nursia, contemplative, Monasticism, Prayer, Uncategorized