Tag Archives: Christianity

Two Mysteries

“God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness because if we fully knew

what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.”

― St. John of the Cross

When we come to truly believe that God is at work in the world we face two mysteries. The first is the pure reality that we can never fully define or explain God. The second is we cannot predict what will be expected of us as followers of this mysterious God.

The First Mystery

God is real but we find that reality impossible to pin down. For God is not tangible but beyond the tangible. God is real but not definable. God is present but never seen. God speaks but we never really hear the voice of God. The essence of God is the mysterious presence. This is the presence that guides us when are lost, comforts us in sorrow and strengthens us in weakness. John of the Cross and other mystics understood and embraced a God that did not give them all the answers. God is this overarching presence that allows us to feel and experience things that are beyond this realm. That mystery is what carries us forward to worship and adore our creator.

Two-Mysteries-Quote

When we are ready to embrace this mystery we can engage God as never before. God then become our partner in all that we experience. We can live with our doubts because we understand that doubt is a vital part of faith. I would venture to say that there is no faith without doubt. Embracing the first mystery allows us to believe.

The Second Mystery

God is not in the business of giving followers a blueprint of their lives. The mystic asserts that we would be very reticent to follow our creator if we had the full scope of what would be expected of us. The sufferings of life are not something we look forward to experiencing. Yet as followers, will will suffer. Some suffering will come as a direct result of following God. In all relationships, there will be some bad days. The mystic tells us these times and events must be a mystery. If we knew everything that would happen to us or be expected of us everyday, it would be impossible to face many of our days.

This second mystery involves our willingness to be believers without knowing exactly what is expected of us. This makes our lives unpredictable but none the less protected. This same God who does not allow us to know what our path will be us gives us the ability to go through every door and rise above anything that befalls us. In the midst of demands and struggles, God guides us, blesses us and makes us stronger. That strength compels us to become vessels of strength to others.


Prayer

Lord, you are the greatest of all mysteries. Your ways will never be totally known to me. My path will never be laid before me like a highway. I live knowing that no matter how winding and crooked my path may be you are always near. Your nearness, though it is a mystery, gives me comfort, strength, and joy.

Amen

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Filed under Christian Living, John of the Cross

There Is a Purpose After All

“When the demons see Christians, specially the monks, working joyfully and growing in the spirit, first they fight them with temptation, and by placing obstacles to hinder their growth, trying to inject evil thoughts in their minds; but there is no reason for fear from their temptations because their offenses fail instantly by prayer and fasting, specially if you have had armed yourself with faith and the sign of the cross.”

He also said, “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,” he even added, “without temptation no one can be saved.”

—- Anthony of Egypt

Most of us struggle with the concept of evil in our lives and the world. I wish that God would just straighten everything out and let us all live in peace and harmony. That would make things smooth and comfortable. How many times in your life have you asked the question, Why? We all want to know why we suffer, why do bad things happen to good people, why can’t I rid myself of this bad habit? what is the purpose? God, please let me see the purpose of my plight.

The first advice of the monk is to give us a way of conquering the temptations that perpetually plague us. October-3-Quote This much is clear. We will all face evil in our lives. This evil is not accidental but planned and intentional. The world is the domain of the evil one and he spreads his message to all of us. The good news is that we need not fear because we have the tools to battle this invasion of our being. Abba Anthony points to prayer, fasting, and the cross as our means of victory. Those of us who pray, fast and are signed by the cross will overcome. That is truly the “Good News”  of Jesus.

The monk asserts very strongly that without temptation it is impossible to be saved. Through our trials, we learn to rely on and live for God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13 “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is commonSatan-and-God 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.” Fascinatingly, we experience God’s power when we are tempted with evil. Our trials carry us to places we would never attain without them. It is through these times of testing that we taste the grace of God that eventually lands us in His Kingdom.

We all have cursed our time of temptations, but we also have been strengthened by such times. This strength carries us to new heights. Trials, temptations, and tribulations have a purpose after all.


Prayer

Lord, as I walk through these tough time help me to remember that there is a door on the other side. This door leads me to a life that is increasingly closer to your kingdom. Allow that realization to give me further strength as I make that occasional turn in the wrong direction. Let me be faithful to you in all that I do.

Amen

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Did You Find the Divine?

The only trouble is that in the spiritual life there are no tricks and no shortcuts. Those who imagine that they can discover spiritual gimmicks and put them to work for themselves usually ignore God’s will and his grace.

 

We must approach our meditation realizing that ‘grace,’ ‘mercy,’ and ‘faith’ are not permanent inalienable possessions which we gain by our efforts and retain as though by right, provided that we behave ourselves. They are CONSTANTLY RENEWED GIFTS. The life of grace in our hearts is renewed from moment to moment, directly and personally by God in his love for us.

 

True contemplation is not a psychological trick but a theological grace. It can come to us ONLY as a gift, and not as a result of our own clever use of spiritual techniques

 

 

++++ Thoughts from Thomas Merton


 

There are some fascinating words of Jesus in John 17: 23&24, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Have you ever pondered on this passage? What does it mean to be one with God? Further, why are we one with Him?

The contemplative monk Thomas Merton had this to say about the passage. “The seeds of this perfect life are planted in every Christian soul at Baptism. But seeds must grow and develop before you reap the harvest. There are thousands of Christians walking about the face of the earth bearing in their bodies the infinite God of whom they know practically nothing.”

Life would be so different if only we recognized and nourished these precious seeds we bear in our souls. God has given each of us a small part of himself. After all, we are created in the “image and likeness” of God. The pilgrimage of a lifetime is to discover and nurture that precious gift God has given us. We discover this gift as we spend time with Him-fully open to His presence. We can pray, fast, meditate, worship and engage in sacred reading, all with the objective of allowing our master to complete this process. It is so very sad that so many people never allow for the development of the divine within themselves.


 

Prayer

Lord, help me to find you. Guide me to look in the right places with the right motive. Keep me away from selfish and vain journeys that I might say are a search for the divine.

Amen

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The Fine Line

St. Ammon of Nitria came to St. Anthony and asked him, “My labors are greater than yours, yet your name is widespread among people more than mine, why?” St. Anthony replied, “Because I love God more than you do.”

“If devils praised your asceticism, and called you ‘blessed’ do not listen to them, and do not deal with them, but rather make the sign of the cross on yourselves, and your dwellings, and pray. You will find that they will flee, as they are craven, and fear the sign of the cross of the Lord, as the Lord disarmed them, and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross.” (Col. 2:15)

++++ Sayings of the Desert

There is a very fine line between being intolerably egotistical and being honest and realistic about our work. Working hard and faithfully does not automatically make you closer to God. To become close to God we mustego understand His love for us and all those around us. His love is not limited to the most productive or rich but also stretches out to all of His creation. The scripture says,”On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Simply put, it is not what we do but why we do it. We can’t pick which part of God’s creation to love. One of the primary reasons that the monastics fled to the desert was to get away from the “business” of a state endorsed and empowered religion. A state, or even a popularly endorsed religion, easily becomes a culture/state driven religion. Somewhere God takes a back seat.

We can learn from the sayings of these ,men and women by taking heed to the things they offer about power and influence. Education is good, influence is good and all other forms of gaining favor with our fellow man are a vital part of being the light of the world. Such things allow us to influence changes  that lead to a more Christian reality. God would say that is good. He would also say that if it is not done out of love that it is worthless. There remains a fine line between ego, love and reality that only the Holy Spirit can sort out for us.

The Fathers and Mothers fled to the desert and worked this out by isolation from the world. We don’t have that option. Our calling is to live within the chaos of this -Mother-Teresa 9-19-18world and seek to love as God loves in the middle of our situation. Modern Christianity is facing some very tough times at the moment. Sometimes, I wonder if we will survive. When I ponder such thoughts one word keeps popping up –LOVE.  If we can model the love of God, all can be made well. Love succeeds where philosophy, theology, psychology and  other disciplines fail. We must love as he loves and share that simple truth with all we engage.


Prayer

Lord, teach me to keep my ego in check when I use the talents that YOU have given me. Give me the wisdom to use my knowledge for the good of all who you send my way. As I do these things may my heart never stray from an understanding of your love. In that understanding, all things are possible.

Amen

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In Time of Trouble

While I was in trouble with my feet and very weak, some of the brethren came to see me and ask me to tell them something about the cause of my sickness. I think they had a double purpose, first to comfort me by distracting me from my pain and second to set me off talking about something profitable.

—Dorotheos of Gaza

I truly believe the monk’s assertion of the two fold purpose of any visit to those that are in need is very valid and weighty. When we comfort someone that is hurting, we have a tendency to turn them away from their pain, but more significantly we make them feel a sense of value. The monk was sitting in his cell probably thinking of nothing but the gout that caused him so much pain, but his day was interrupted with a joyful distraction. This interruption lifted him away from the routine of the day and gave him value to the brethren even in the midst of his pain.

Dorotheos gives us a very valuable lesson in his words. This lesson reframes the purpose of visiting the sick and lonely. When we comfort someone in need, we not only minister to them, but we give them an opportunity to minister to us. The brothers visited the monk in his time of suffering, and they gave him the chance to feel whole again. Dorotheos teaches us that we should never stop sharing and never stop serving. In this serving and sharing, God allows us to be disciples no matter what our condition may be.


I have always gotten great comfort from prayers of the Celtic tradition. Perhaps this one will mean as much to you as it has to me.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

You are the love

of each living creature O God

You are the warmth

of the rising sun

You are the whiteness

of the moon at night

You are the life

of the growing earth

You are the strength

of the waves of the sea.

Speak to me this night O God

Speak to me your truth.

Dwell with me this night O God

Dwell with me in love.

Amen


 

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Filed under Desert Fathers, Monasticism

What Good Work Should I Do?

Once St. Anthony was asked, “What good work shall I do?” And he answered. “All works are not equal, the scriptures said that Abraham was hospitable, and God was with him. And, Elijah loved quiet, and God was with him. And, David was humble, and God was with him. What therefore you find that your soul desires in following God, that do, and keep your heart.”

—-Sayings of the Desert

What a great place to start! All of us who seek to follow the path of God areGood Works 1 anxious to find a way to do good works. The world tells us that some works are better than others. We get the idea that unless we are doing certain things, in very precise ways, God is disappointed with us. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” The point that was being made was in reference to children but the truth holds. In the time of Jesus, children were possessions and nothing more. With that in mind, Jesus said that doing good or bad things to them was significant. That says to me that all works are significant.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has given away 28 billion dollars to charitable causes and good works since 2013. That’s a lot of good works. My giving, good works and all that I have cannot match such a figure in worldly terms, but God blesses my good works with the same blessing as he blesses the billions. This lesson is so important to learn that the Monk felt compelled to teach it. The world functions by size and impact. God functions by the impact that our works have on our souls and the souls of others. The message from the desert is simple.Good Works 2

Bill and Melinda Gates visiting a Foundation supported worksite.

ALL GOD DRIVEN WORKS ARE EQUAL

The prophets cited by the Monk were doing the works that God had put into their souls. We all have a certain spiritual DNA that gives us a way to gloriously serve God and our fellow creation.

YOUR GOOD WORKS ARE OF VALUE TO GOD

Low self-esteem, poor self-image, and bad circumstance erode away at our view of what constitutes good works. If we follow the advice that has come to us from the desert, we can know that God sees what we do as something of value. Doing the good works of God is not a competitive contest but an outpouring of love from our spirit.

GOD GIVES EACH OF US DIFFERENT WAYS TO SERVE

Plainly, we can see that the Kings and prophets served in diverse ways. Some were more showy and noticeable than others. The level of notoriety does not constitute the value of the work.

GOD DISTRIBUTES HIS BLESSINGS ACCORDING TO OUR ABILITY

The scripture teaches that we all have certain spiritual gifts that were bestowed on us by God. Our challenge as followers of Jesus is to use those God-given gifts to serve our world and by doing so we serve Him.

What good work should I do? Simply stated, you should do the work that God has given you the resources and ability to accomplish.


Prayer

Lord, give me the motivation to do your good works no matter how small. I know that you see my works through your lens. Help me not to be pressured to do the showy things but to get the peaceful contentment of doing the works that you have presented to me.

Amen

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This Life We Shape

St. Anthony said, “Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an ax. Even so, we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge, or we labor in vain.”

—-Sayings of the Desert

There are three possible components to shaping our lives.

Shaping-2

Change –

Anthony says “Whoever hammers a lump of iron.” What is the implication of that statement? Quite simply it means that the lump of iron must change its shape to become useful. Our lives are very much the same. We are raw and unprepared to live the virtuous life. The scripture tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” With that message, it is clear that change will be a part of our lives as we move toward God.

Change doesn’t come easily. Anthony speaks of the hammer as the instrument of change. We all know that the blows of the hammer to the stubborn lump changes its shape. The iron will not change without the violent blows of the hammer. The same is true with us. We change when we are struck with the imperative to do so.

Vision –

The next element in shaping our lives is vision. Without vision, we continue to be shapeless. In speaking of the iron worker, the Monk asserts that first he must decide what he will make out of the lump raw iron. Blow after blow can be stuck,Shaping3 but without vision the effort is worthless.

Our lives are exactly the same. Blow after blow can come and we can still lack shape and form. Suffering and hard times are not the key to shaping our lives but only the tools by which we are shaped. The key is vision. What should we be? How do we get there? In Proverbs the writer asserts,” Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Vision is the first consideration when we begin our Christian formation.

Focus –

Have you ever been to a “visioning” workshop and come away confused because the visions were so diverse and so many? Anthony was aware of this problem over a thousand years ago. Make up your minds on what virtue you are seeking or your labor will be in vain. Without vision we perish, but without a focus we perish as well.

Therein lies the key to shaping and forming our lives for Christ. We must discover our gifts and work to develop them. God has given to each of us the possibility of greatness and all too often we go around hammering ourselves without a clear vision. Yes, we are suffering servants but we suffer in vain. Earnestly, sincerely and deeply seek the vision of God for your life. When it is discovered God will give you all the grace you need to suffer the blows and become the person that God created.

Shaping-1Change, vision and focus are three powerful concepts as we seek to shape our lives for the Christian journey. These are essentials that we must master to move forward. Open your lives to the change that God has in mind and capture the vision and place He has for you. Mother Teresa said, “Become the change you want to see in the world That statement means that we must commit to visionary targeted change in our lives.


Prayer

Lord, as we seek form and shape to our lives help to have clarity of vision. Assist me to ascertain and apply virtue and purity to my life so that I may go forward in a path that is good for me and pleasing to you.

Amen

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The Path

My son, do not stray away from God seeking what is perishable; but rather remember what you have decided in the time of your fervor, and do not forget the seal by which you were purified before. Remember the tears of repentance, and the prayers that were raised on your behalf, and flee from the evil thoughts lest you be lost. My son, leave your bed every night, and wet your bedclothes with your tears, and supplicate to the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, your renewal, and for help in the good deeds so that you may inherit His eternal heavenly kingdom.”

—Abba Anthony of the Desert

path-1When I was a small boy there was an undeveloped piece of property at the end of our very urban neighborhood. I imagine it was about 4 acres. That piece of land was surrounded by hundreds of houses built on forty to fifty foot wide lots. For a boy of 8, it was a jungle. My “jungle’ was made more exciting by the paths that had been walked down by people walking through our jungle. These paths were safe because we didn’t trip over anything as we would if we headed out through an untouched wooded area. One day, a few of us that frequented this urban jungle decided that we were going to cut a new path. We geared ourselves up with knives and axes and went out like the pioneers we envisioned ourselves to be. The work was hard but we made a new path that joined the two existing trails to one another. We felt that we accomplished a great work that day. If our path would not have led back to the original trail, it would have led nowhere and been a useless dead end. Many years later I returned to that area and found that the path that we created was still there.

Abba Anthony addresses that path by which we stay with God and get closer to him. In his words, he teaches us the difference between the world’s path and the God path. Here are some observations.

Never forget your starting point.

The day we discover that God loves us we are filled with joy and confidence. We really believe that our faith can move mountains. Strive to revisit that place when necessary and never forget that it IS real.

Remember what it felt like to decide to follow God.

The decision to be a believer gives us a new sense of life. The Monk refers to it as a fervor or eagerness to soak up all of Him that we possibly could handle. God’s grace is so overwhelming that it brings tears to our eyes. Keep in mind the present reality of that faith.

Be reminded that you are never alone.

Many prayers are offered for us as we begin our journey down the path. These prayers are still with us and God wants us to grow in Him every day of our lives. We are part of the “holy catholic church” and are surrounded by a great community of faith that is always in prayer for its partners.

communion-of-saints

Be ready to seek God at all times

There are times that we back off from God and go it alone. Remember this is never necessary because He wants us to seek Him in good times and bad. God is an ever-present partner and loving guide.

There are times when we stray from the path but God is always there clearing a new path when we call upon Him. The purpose of this new path is to get us back on the pathway that leads to sanctification. Don’t be confused by what the world has to offer and always be ready to get yourself back on the pathway to God.


Prayer

Lord, allow me to see the times that I have strayed and give me the consciousness to come back to you, please allow me to know that I am never alone and You and the community are ready to help. Give me the faith necessary to acknowledge this.

Amen

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Troubles

I hired a carpenter to help me restore an old farmhouse. After he had just finished a rough first day on the job, a flat tire made him lose an hour of work, his electric saw quit, and now his ancient pickup truck refused to start.

While I drove him home, he sat in stone silence. On arriving, he invited me in to meet his family. As we walked toward the front door, he paused briefly at a small tree, touching the tips of the branches with both hands. When opening the door, he underwent an amazing transformation. His tanned face was wreathed in smiles, and he hugged his two small children and gave his wife a kiss.

Afterward, he walked me to the car. We passed the tree and my curiosity got the better of me. I asked him about what I had seen him do earlier. “Oh, that’s my trouble tree,” he replied. “I know I can’t help having troubles on the job, but one thing’s for sure, troubles don’t belong in the house with my wife and the children. So I just hang them up on the tree every night when I come home. Then in the morning, I pick them up again.”

“Funny thing is,” he smiled, “when I come out in the morning to pick them up, there aren’t nearly as many as I remember hanging up the night before.”

– Author Unknown –

I had the opportunity of being acquainted with Dr. Myron Madden. He was a counselor with a Christian perspective. One day he told me the story of what he offered to his clients when they were troubled. At the end of the session, he would reach up to his shirt pocket and open it as wide as possible. Then he would say,” I want you to put that problem in my pocket and I will carry for the week. Next week, we will take it out and look at it, if it’s still important.” The concept, much like the trouble tree, is that we can hang things up for a while and they may actually heal themselves. The other choice is to dwell on them and let our troubles rule us. Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

Make time to clear your mind

I would like to note that in the story the trouble tree and the counselor’s method there was a decision to allow the trouble to rest for a while. For one it was hungJuly 11 post on a tree, the other it was put in someone else’s pocket for them to carry it around. In both cases, it was given a respite so that they could have distance and have relief from their troubled mind.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus

Philippians 4:6-7

Allow yourself to move from place to place.

Fascinatingly the carpenter put his troubles on the tree and walked into his smilehome with a big smile and lots of hugs to offer. Dr. Madden told of the people who left his office with a smile and a determination to allow their troubles to be in his temporary custody. Such attitudes allow us to be productive and happy in the situations in which we find ourselves. We can deal with our troubles when we should and not force the rest of the world to be part of our troubles. There is a place for trouble and a place for smiles.

He hath made everything beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11

Put your troubles to sleep before you try to go to sleep.

If we can possibly use the suggestions above we allow ourselves a space to rest. Fatigue is one of our greatest enemies. People who are tired can be angry and depressed. How can we truly put our troubles to sleep? I would suggest that we can begin by turning them over to God. He has promised us that we can take god for sleepanything to Him. We can know with certainty that if we don’t rest we will never get better. Secondly, we can find someone or something that will carry our troubles through the night. Thirdly, we can find time to be silent and still before we try to sleep. Offer this silence and stillness to God and ask Him to empty your mind so that there is room for Him and He will give you rest. I might also suggest that a practice of Sabbath rest would do us all some good. The Sabbath is a day or even a few hours when we dedicate ourselves to the presence of God in our lives. This rest puts us in a better frame of mind for the days ahead.

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Jesus of Nazareth

These three suggestions will not rid us of worry. My hope is that they can give us a few handles that will allow us to thrive. Clarity of mind, having a helper, being able to be present for those who need us and discovering a way to truly rest will take us a long way.


Prayer

Lord, send me stillness and peace. Help to discover the place or that person that will take my troubles into their care. May I find rest and slumber so that the load of tomorrow will be lighter than the load of today. I trust you because I know that you love me.

Amen

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Meditation

Meditation-1Meditation is the latest of a series of spiritual practices that have surged in the past few year. Practices of meditation have been around for thousands of tears. These practices were usually limited to monasteries and groups that specialized in the practice.Wikipedia tells us that meditation can be defined as a practice where an individual uses a technique, such as focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity, to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. Meditation is practiced by all world religions and by agnostics and atheists. Why?

  • Meditations relieves stress
  • Meditation get us in touch with our inner selves
  • Meditation demands for us to slow down
  • Meditation forces us to live without noise
  • Meditation is a way to get in touch with God
  • Meditation improves our focus
  • Meditation can make us healthier

Let’s take a look at what a few well known thinkers has said about meditation.

The more man meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be his world and the world at large. – Confucius

We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship. – C.S. Lewis

Divinely bent to meditation;
And in no worldly suits would he be mov’d,
To draw him from his holy exercise.
– William Shakespeare, Richard III Act 3, Scene 7

God’s first language is Silence. Everything else is a translation. — Thomas Keating

meditation-2We can only learn to know ourselves and do what we can, namely, surrender our will and fulfill God’s will in us. – St. Teresa of Avila

In the inner stillness where meditation leads, the Spirit secretly anoints the soul and heals our deepest wounds. – St. John of the Cross

Through the study of books one seeks God; by meditation one finds him –Padre Pio

The more we can give in our silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life. – Mother Teresa

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer. —-Psalm 19:14

Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; As for me, I shall be glad in the LORD. Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty, Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain—–Psalm 104:1-34

My eyes anticipate the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word. May the arrogant be ashamed, for they subvert me with a lie; But I shall meditate on Your precepts. May those who fear You turn to me, Even those who know Your testimonies. —- Psalm 119:78-148


Prayer

Lord, help me to find the time to dwell upon you everyday. May I be guided to a special place that is quiet enough to hear even a whisper from you.

Amen

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