Category Archives: Prayer

A Design for Praise

“Do we know what it means to praise? To adore? To give glory? Praise is cheap, today. Everything is praised. Soap, beer, toothpaste, clothing, mouthwash, movie stars, all the latest gadgets which are supposed to make life more comfortable—everything is constantly being “praised”. Praise is now so overdone that everybody is sick of it, and since everything is “praised” with the official hollow enthusiasm of the radio announcer, it turns out in the end that nothing is praised. Praise has become empty. Nobody really wants to use it.”

—- Thomas Merton from “Praying the Psalms”

Psalm 145 is called a Psalm of praise and it begins with these words, “I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.” Many churches have what is called “Praise Worship.” When I was a young pastor our church had a “Praise Team.” Some sixty years ago Merton spotted the glib way that we used the word praise. He considered it overdone, sickening and empty. The praise word is even used more lightly in the church today.

Praise has become a style, a sound, a type of worship and in doing so has lost the true meaning of praising Go. We can praise God quietly or with enthusiasm. All too often we equate praise with some amount motion or practice. To praise God properly all of our attention must be focused on Him. Modern praise is many times like “distracted driving.” We are always looking for the next move and not focused on the main thing. We cannot be in two places at once. Our praise to God must be directed towards Him, and not done in such a way as to emulate the world. Our challenge is to rediscover what it means to praise God. Let me offer a few suggestions.

  • Make your praise undistracted by what others are doing. “Come to our church and find out what it is like to really praise God.” Have you ever heard that line? I have. You, I, all of us, must praise God in our own way. There is tremendous peer pressure to define praising God as doing it my way. God can be praised with shouts of joy, with extended silence and many other ways. Praise is not limited to a style or even a time.
  • Make your praise focused on God and God alone. Praise is the joyful recounting of all God has done for us. Offering God praise is, at its very nature, something we must do in our heart of hearts. Praise can be a part of worship, but it must more importantly be a part of you. We don’t go to worship to praise God, we are worshipping because we praise Him. All too often our worship is focused on praising the preaching, the music or some other part of the service and praising God is an auxiliary outcome.
  • Make your praise be more than the world’s praise. The world’s praise is done to lift up a person, a product or a performance. God doesn’t need that. Merton’s strong warning was for us not to fall into the world’s idea of praise but to make praise of God so much more. Praise of God far exceeds compliments, it is recognizing His might and glory. In such recognition we easily see the wonderful nature of God and His generous provision for us, His creation. Without Him we are nothing. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Keep that in mind when you praise God.
  • Make your praise part of your daily walk. Praise must be in your very soul.” Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens, you have made them bright, precious and fair.” (Francis of Assisi) As we come to see God in His creation each day, each step is an act of praise. Jesus gives us some advice, Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” As we grow to appreciate our daily blessings, praise will become a natural part of us.



Prayer

Lord, help me to rediscover genuine praise of You. The world cheapens all things and draws attention to itself. That is the work of the evil one whom you cast from Your divine presence. Lord help me to center myself on praise of You in all that you have created. My praise is not defined by the world but designed by your spirit that dwells in me. Guide this day as I walk the paths of your creation. Might I see your touch everywhere I go and in everyone I meet.

Amen.

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The Wonder of a Prayerful Soul

A soul which gives itself to prayer, either much or little, should on no account be kept within narrow bounds. Since God has given it such great dignity, permit it to wander at will through the rooms of the castle, from the lowest to the highest.

……Teresa of Avila (Interior Castles)

The writings of the mystic Teresa of Avila are centered on the desire of the soul to reach the heart of the celestial creator. In this short saying, we can gain an insight into her wisdom and thinking. Any Christian Soul journey must be centered in prayer, because prayer is communication with the Almighty. She points out some interesting aspects of our soulful prayer nature.

Prayer is not measured by its length or style. God hears all who come to Him in the simplicity of their approach. The core value is that are we giving our souls to this endeavor. We are living souls, and all souls are called to ongoing and constant communication with God. Whether our prayer is little or much it is dedicated to God and brings blessings.

By its very nature prayer is boundless. Our prayers are not limited by the confines of this world. Desolation fills our souls when we believe that our cause is impossible. God wants us to bring the impossible to Him so that he can show a way to the other side.

We are creations of high regard and should know that God is giving His best to us. Created souls are not limited or relegated to mere existence until we die and find the glory of the kingdom. The kingdom is in the here and now and we are living in the majestic court of the King.

Souls (you and me) who live in the court of the king have “wandering rights” which allow us to soak up the majesty of it all. As we live we see the wonder of nature, the majesty of the sunrise, the awesome nature of our own bodies and the compelling cerebral drive to understand the unknown we thus become fully alive and engaged with God and man. God allows His created souls (you and me) to wander in His majestic court and experience life to the fullest.

Give yourself a chance to wander in the wonder of it all.


Prayer

Lord I come to you today and I am awed by the reality that I am a special creation of your hands. My being is both known by you and treasured by you. Allow me the wisdom to let this wondrous soul that I am wander in your kingdom and search the world over for You.

May I see you in nature!

May I see you in my neighbor!

May I see you in me!

May I rest my soulful eye on the Divine.

Amen

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The Divine Window of Escape

Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this; ‘I find myself in peace, without an enemy,’ he said. The old man said to him, ‘Go beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.’ So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’

–Sayings of the desert

There is not one among us who does not long for the day when all of our trials and tribulations will be behind us. We spend great amounts of time and effort to build for ourselves perfect utopian lives and somehow we always fall short. The monk thought that if he could just overcome his passions, then life would be grand. Much to his, surprise his elder monk told him that his quest was not the ultimate goal of the Christian journey. Without temptation the soul makes no progress. Temptations are the building blocks of spiritual fortitude. They are the spiritual formation tools of God.

Paul tells us in his Corinthian letter: There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” The assertion is that in the midst of our greatest trials we can rely upon God to strengthen us. If we take on this way of thinking, we need not fear being left to our own devices or becoming overconfident in our own victories. Our strength, our power, come from God who is always with us no matter what we face. The divine escape window is our greatest hope.

When the monk said that he was at peace without an enemy, he faced the danger of being presumptive upon God. With such a presumption we could perhaps begin to think that we have arrived. People who have arrived no longer need help on the journey. The Christian journey is one of learning, endurance, and always striving for new and better ways to follow God. Our passions, our trials, our setbacks, are all part of the glorification process. Learn to pray the prayer of escape rather than the prayer of perfection and you will draw closer to perfection each day.



Prayer

Lord it is very tempting to ask you to remove all obstacles from our lives and then fool ourselves to think that we are doing much for you. Remind us that in our endurance we learn who you are and what you do for us. Teach us today that trials are a normal part of the journey. They are special points that bring us closer to you. In our trails we learn what Jesus endured for us. Protect us this day and give us the window of escape.

Amen

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Refuge – Prayer and Contemplation

It was said of him (Abba John the Dwarf) that one day he was weaving rope for two baskets, but he made it into one without noticing, until it had reached the wall, because his spirit was occupied in contemplation.

Abba John said, ‘I am like a man sitting under a great tree, who sees wild beasts and snakes coming against him in great numbers. When he cannot withstand them any longer, he runs to climb the tree and is saved. It is just the same with me; I sit in my cell and I am aware of evil thoughts coming against me, and when I have no more strength against them, I take refuge in God by prayer and I am saved from the enemy.’

—– Abba John the Dwarf

At various times people are in need of refuge from the troubles they face in life. The word refuge means: a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble. We all need refuge because danger lurks, and safety is a primary need of all. As followers of Christ, we need refuge from the problems of this world. Life is so trying and difficult that we just want to say that this “Christian thing” just isn’t working. Our culture does not readily respond to the idea of committing to a power greater than ourselves. Many times we feel that we are the first people to experience this. Not so, the men and women of the desert faced this long ago. These Monks were occupied in contemplation and took refuge in prayer. Maybe we can, too.

Jesus Open armsA few questions:

  • Who or what do you turn to when you feel tired or oppressed?
  • Is there any time in your schedule to just “get away” while you are in the middle of the crowd?
  • Does the concept of contemplation seem workable to you?
  • How and where do you pray?

First, it is essential to now that you have a refuge when you feel tired or oppressed. The psalmist said: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” In this lifting up our help comes. There are not enough self-help books and webinars to save us from those times of spiritual tiredness and oppression. These battles are not limited to our spirit because they effect everything. We have all experienced times when could not lift our eyes to God or anyone else. In those times we must turn to our inner selves. The spirit of God dwells in all of us and is readily available in our times of need. The best way to tap into our inner spirit is to be still and let the spirit touch us. Contemplation is a tool by which we hear the voice of the spirit. We are carried away to a place that is spirit chosen. When there, the world seems far away. This journey could be short or long, alone or in a crowd, in stillness or motion.

Second, we must learn to get way while we are still in the crowd. Very few people can escape to the literal desert to find God. We must find Him where we are. All of us have likes and dislikes, things that energize us and things that drain us. The key is allowing our times of energy to be times that we can be in touch with God. Find a place to get away. Maybe it is by taking a walk in a crowded park. My favorite place is a coffee shop. The roar of the grinder, the rumble of the conversations, and even the distinct voice that is coming from the table next to me are like the bells of the monastery calling me to prayer. My coffee shop time is my “get away” time. There is me, God and the 30 other people in the shop, but I have gotten away. Find your place in the middle of the crowd and just get away.

Please don’t take my ideas as being negative towards real silence and isolation. We are all better people for taking times of literal silence, but our challenge is to be a monk in the world.

Third, contemplation is a scary and elusive word. A fellow monk once said of the Thomas Merton, “Merton told us we weren’t contemplatives; we were just introverts!” You can imagine that did not go over too well with men who had lived in community for ten, twenty and even fifty years. What Merton was saying is that contemplation is not isolation but involvement with God and man. Through our times of contemplation and prayer we find energy to engage the world as radically different people. The concept of isolating ourselves in some type of cloister to find God is a type of contemplation that just will not work for the bulk of us. Unfortunately, that is the picture we see when we envision contemplation. If we take the time to rethink contemplation, I believe we can all be contemplatives and monks in the world. That leads us to the how and where?

Fourth, how and where do we engage to take our refuge. The “how” is that we clear our minds and begin to focus on God. Silence, walking, writing, reading, Lectio, are all excellent “hows.” Primarily, all of us need to have a desire to encounter God at all times. Not many people fail to encounter God if they engage in silent meditation and focus attention on our breathing and God’s role in giving us life. Sacred reading is a fine way of turning our attention to the one who is sacred. The very way we are given the words we write causes us to look to God who gives us that gift of language and expression. Sometimes taking a walk and seeing the majestic creation, not just in the big mountains and blue sky, but in the small flower that grows in the crack of the city sidewalk helps us realize that God created it all. Such a walk is not a walk with a destination but a journey to discover the divine. Now the where. Quite simply it is the places God has given you -your home, a church, a sidewalk, anywhere that is available. I waited a great portion of my life to find the monastery, only to find that it was everywhere. There are  cloistered monks who never find their monastery.

Find your refuge, its right in front of you.

Prayer

Lord help me to discover that special treasure that you have given me. May I experience the warmth of your spirit today and every day. Let me not spend so much time searching for the perfect place that I miss the refuge you have given me. Thanks for being there in all those unexpected places and remind me that I simply must still myself enough to see you.

Amen.

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Seeing God Fully

My first thought was that I really wanted to know what it was like for Jesus to suffer and die. Upon further contemplation my desire was to be there with Him as was Mary Magdalene and the Christ lovers were. Just to be able to experience in the flesh the feelings and sounds of His passion would give me a far deeper understanding of Him. I just want to know His suffering. My first prayer is that God would grant me my desire.

— Julian of Norwich

We spend most of our lives trying to avoid suffering but Julian was godly young woman who prays for great suffering to come upon her. That is quite fascinating, and tells us a lot about her devotion to Jesus as Savior. We all want a Savior, a liberator, a rescuer, but very few want to experience the pain involved with being such a person. Julian was different, she sought it, she welcomed it, because she knew that it was the only way anyone sees God fully.

We all want to achieve great things, learn new skills but the commitment of time and effort and the sacrifice to do so turns us away. The boy who wants to play pro football doesn’t want the concussions and bad knees that plague players for the rest of their lives. In order to experience the fullness of God, we must travel down the road of suffering. Jesus said: “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.” To know God fully we must somehow embody His passion. People go to extremes to know the passion of Christ, some are even nailed to a cross, because it is so important to feel as He felt. In doing so, we see our true worth in His eyes.

Julian gives us a model, a very hard-hitting model, from which to fashion ourselves. She invites this suffering, indeed prays for it, because it will bring her closer to God. I am not saying that we should intentionally hurt ourselves, but I am saying that we should find a way for our hurts to be part of our spiritual journey and not the events that drive us away from God. Our hurts should teach us that we are created in God’s image and are experiencing the very same things He experience on His earthly journey. Suffering, passion and pain are windows to God. We are allowed to see Him fully as we feel that sense of helplessness that comes with such experiences. Like Julian, I feel it is very important to know and feel His pain. The passion is the only way we can know Him fully.

Prayer

Lord grant that as I suffer, and I will suffer from time to time, that I can use the suffering as a way of drawing closer to you. I pray that I can get a glimpse of what you endure don the cross and carry it with me every day. Help me to take seriously your command to take up my cross and follow you. Help me to find the cross and walk as you walked.

Amen

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Contemplative Prayer

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 6 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.

Thomas-Merton-4.4.162. 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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The Problem of Pain

In “The Problem of Pain,” published in 1940, Lewis offered the reader this overly humble confession: “You would like to know how I behave when I am experiencing pain, not writing books about it.  You need not guess for I will tell you; I am a great coward.”  In a letter to his brother Warnie, written while working on the book, he claimed: “If you are writing a book about pain and then Quote March 30you get some actual pain […] it does not either, as the cynic would expect, blow the doctrine to bits, nor, as a Christian would hope, turn into practice, but remains quite unconnected and irrelevant, just as any other bit of actual life does when you are reading or writing.” Neither the confession nor the claim stood the test of time.  In 1961, Lewis wrote about pain again, this time about his own.  In “A Grief Observed” he inadvertently satisfied the alleged curiosity of his readers.  But he did not come across as a coward; nor did his firm grasp of “a theory of suffering” prove altogether irrelevant.  True, his faith in God was challenged; he uttered blasphemies; he doubted God’s existence; he went through the very objections to God’s goodness which he had refuted in “The Problem of Pain”  All of those complaints seemed valid in the midst of his hurt.  But then, as a good southerner would say – he thought better of himself: “Why do I make room in my mind for such filth and nonsense? Do I hope that if feeling disguises itself as thought I shall feel less?”

When feeling disguises itself as intellect, nonsense is possible.  Nowhere is it truer than in the problem of pain.  Yet, from the Christian perspective, anything that can reasonably be said about suffering is only a feeble glimpse of  Paschal Mystery.  Lewis’s solution to “the problem of pain” prepares the intellect for a ponder the Mystery.

Prayer

Lord we feel pain in so many ways in this life and we fail understand why you don’t protect us more. Today, we pray, that you will give us a deeper understanding of this journey through life. Help us to see the way that our pain has , and continues, to make us who we are and who we hope to be. May God give us the handles we need to navigate the sometimes very difficult path that is set before us.

Amen

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Seeing the Inside

One day when he was sitting in front of the church, the brethren were consulting him about their thoughts. One of the old men who saw it became a prey to jealousy and said to him, ‘John, your vessel is full of poison.’ Abba John said to him, ‘That is very true, Abba; and you have said that when you only see the outside, but if you were able to see the inside, too, what would you say then?’

—-Abba John the Dwarf

We only reveal to others what we want them to see. All of us have to deal with the jealousy of people who envy us for one reason or another. This saying deals with just such a situation. I cannot know what it was that motivated the brother to be jealous of John, but I do admire John’s answer. He is saying, “You ought to see how really bad I am on the inside.” We all have filters that limit what we let others see of our true selves. God sees all and offers grace to us.

The lesson is one of refraining from jealousy, envy and judgment, because we contemplation-acan never really know. Our worse bouts of jealously and envy come from only what we can see – the outside. God, on the other hand, sees the in and out of all of His creation. Even though He knows the worst of us, He gives us the best of Himself. That sort of servanthood is something that we are taught by the sacrifice that God made through Jesus. God knows us and loves us. God sees all and yet He finds the grace that allows forgiveness rather than the jealously that we harbor toward one another.

In Rudyard Kipling’s “Gunga Din” he finally acknowledges the worth of a servant by saying..

Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,

By the livin’ God that made you,

You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

It takes an awful lot to acknowledge the true worth of an individual, but God does.

Prayer

Dear Lord help me to stop looking at the exterior of persons around me and using that criteria to deem myself as more worthy. Release me from the bondage to jealously and envy and set me free to soar with you. Help me to see in others what you see in me. Give me the humility necessary to be a servant and the confidence to carry out the task.

Amen

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The Silent Focus

Abba John the Dwarf was very fervent. Now someone who came to see him praised his work, and he remained silent, for he was weaving a rope. One again the visitor began to speak and once again he kept silence. The third time he said to the visitor, ‘Since you came here, you have driven away God from me.’

—Abba John the Dwarf

Prayer and closeness to God is important to all believers. We have been taught for centuries that silence is a very good avenue to a close relationship to our creator. Today we exist in a world of clutter, noise and interruptions. The mendesert-monk-in-prayer_thumb and women who went to the desert felt very much the same . Their journey was to escape those things to have a deeper and closer relationship with God. People who don’t observe silence have a difficult time understanding and respecting those who do. This saying deals with that issue.

Abba John the Dwarf was focused in his work and prayer. Work and prayer are the heart of the monk’s calling. The well-meaning visitor simply wanted to engage the monk through his compliment. He  had no sense of the way of truly engaging the Abba was to join in his work and silence. In that apparent void was the presence of God. The continual “noise” drove God away. Through our conversation, our constant chatter, we crowd out the presence of God. Our challenge is simple, give God space in our lives. Don’t insist that God comes on your terms but rather take time to be silent enough for Him to sit beside you.

Prayer

Lord help me earn this lesson from the desert. Silence my lips and let me feel your presence. In my silence you fill the void instead of me filling my life so full that is crowds you out. Amen

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Finding Your Way

Amma Ammonas was going to pay a visit, to Abba Anthony, one day, and he lost his way. So sitting down, he fell asleep for a little while. Upon waking, he prayed thus to God,’ I beseech you, Lord my God, do not let your creature perish.’ Then there appear to him as it were a man’s hand in the heavens, we showed him the way, till he reached about Anthony’s cave.

—Amma Ammonas

In the days of the built in phone GPS, Google maps, and a host of other apps and programs, we can find our way to just about anywhere. That is good, but it can Lost 1leave a very deep hole in our souls. We feel as though nothing is impossible and God gets thrown out like those maps you use to have in your car. The Abba had to find his path to his friend by sight and memory, and he lost his way. There is not one among that has not lost our spiritual way. We lose or way when we run out of options. No new self-help books or apps to guide us along. Running out of such options can take a while in 2015. When that process is exhausted, we may turn to God.

The wise man of the desert gives us a different scenario. As soon as he woke up from his rest, he asked God for help. There is nothing written about him retracing his steps or anything else. In this very mundane of needs, he simply asked God. How hard is it for you to go to God first? First, before you have done all you can do out of shear pride. First, when full credit for the solution would have to be given to God. I am reminded of a prayer from an old movie that encapsulates the attitude of many.

“Lord, we cleared this land, We plowed it, sowed it and harvested it. We cooked the harvest, it wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t Be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-boned hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you Just the same anyway, Lord, for this food we’re about to eat. Amen.”                Shenandoah (1965)

That little prayer may be shocking to you but is your attitude truly that different? If we are honest with ourselves, we are reminded of two things on a Finding Your Waydaily basis. The first is that we cannot find all knowledge on our own. Secondly, we really can’t do it all. . Lingering in our shadowy places are points at which we lose our way. And we, like the monk, must turn to God and allow His hand to lead us.

Lord allow me to put aside the many things that cause me to put You on the back burner. Relieve me of the curse of self-reliance .May I be enlighten by your Spirit this day and look to the place from which my help comes. Lord, guide me in my lostness. Amen

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