Imposing Silence Upon Our Cares

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Photography by Jennifer Blackwell

The only people who pray well are those who keep praying!
— Richard Rohr

Sometimes you just need to get away. You need to push back from your daily grind and be in a space that gives you life-restoring energy. The place may be a mountaintop or beside a sea. The place you love might be on a sailboat watching the changing colors of the sky. The need is a time of contemplation although I admit that contemplation is easier said than done.

Richard Rohr describes contemplation using the frightening word, “dying,” something we usually do not want to consider. Still his definition is compelling.

Contemplative prayer is one way to practice imposing “silence upon our cares, our desires and our imaginings.” Contemplative practice might be five or twenty minutes of “dying,” of letting go of the small mind in order to experience the big mind, of letting go of the false self in order to experience the True Self, of letting go of the illusion of our separation from God in order to experience our inherent union.

I am intrigued by the phrases “imposing silence upon our cares!” dying” and “letting go of the illusion of our separation from God.” We readily recall words we have long known: “Be still, and know that I am God,” and we know that we can move into God’s real and palpable presence. Still moving into God’s presence and lingering there is easier said than done. We are slaves to our lives, to our every day concerns and responsibilities. And sometimes times our responsibilities — though they may be important to us — take too much from us, robbing us of our life’s spiritual depth.

Again, Richard Rohr offers deep wisdom:

Each day that dawns is a celebration of the fact that we have been invited to consider how our lives are spent; how we embrace and recoil from the . . . darkness.

So for me, I would like to watch the hued, expansive skies — the moving clouds and the sparkle of the sun. I would like to find silence in the vastness of God’s creation, in a place where my view includes the beauty of verdant green pastures, the sound of the never-ending surf, the feel of the wind in my face, the shadows cast upon a high mountain. It takes the beauty of such a place to calm my spirit and stop the whirring of my mind. In such a place, I can try to enter into the posture of prayer and contemplation.

Don’t be fooled. Contemplation is called a practice because it truly is a practice that we must try again and again. Contemplation is not easy for many of us. It can even be disconcerting because, in truth, contemplation is meeting as much reality as we can handle in its most simple and immediate form — without filters, judgments, or commentaries. Contemplation moves us to the space our soul craves, and in that place we gain a renewal of our spirit.

Anything worth doing is worth practicing for as much or as long as it takes. Yes, at times it feels like forcing ourselves to be still for an interminable length of time and to force ourselves to fully concentrate on petitioning and listening prayer. No doubt, being silent with ourselves can be frightening. “Imposing silence upon our cares” can be threatening. But in the practice of contemplation we can hear God’s whisper clearer and sense God’s presence more deeply and fully.

I wish for you the time and space you need, the time to take in the breathtaking beauty of God’s creation, the stilling of your mind and the calming of your spirit that can guide you into the presence of God.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

— From Psalm 46 (NRSV)

Numb!

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Numb! It’s not a very emotive feeling like other emotions. It seems so much more appropriate to feel ecstatic, elated, overjoyed — or even terrified — at receiving the call from Mayo Clinic saying a kidney is available and the transplant is scheduled for November 15th. But numb is all I can get to right now. After all, this is a very tangible way of announcing an end to five years of illness, uncertainty and dialysis. Five years does not seem like such a long time, but it feels in some ways like a lifetime.

So in the immortal words of Pink Floyd, “I have become comfortably numb.” It’s not such a bad way to feel. The journey has been a long one, an emotional one, and now I think it’s time for calm. Numb is actually pretty darn calm, and after traveling this wild and fantastic journey, numb is okay. There’s something about numb that feels like serenity.

So many people have walked alongside me on this journey and, at times, carried me when I could barely take the next step. No one — and I really mean no one — could have been as dedicated and loving a caregiver as Fred. He is forever faithful as he has always been. 

And oh, my friends, my friends nearby and far away from many lives past to this very day! Thinking of them just now and knowing how faithfully and deeply they have prayed for me brings tears to my eyes. I am grateful for extended family who cared for me and Fred enough to urge us to Georgia. They have supported us in so many ways.

No person could have had a more dedicated and caring staff of dialysis professionals as I have had. They have missed nothing, not a change in a blood test, not the signs of an infection, nothing! And they are the ones who have kept me healthy enough to get to today.

My friend who is donating a kidney on my behalf is living a life of selflessness, giving a very precious gift of immeasurable value. I think of him today with such unfettered gratitude.

God’s grace and protection have been near, so near at times that I felt a palpable sense of the holy — within me, surrounding me, above me and below me, behind and before me guiding me on the unknown path.

As I said at the very beginning, I am numb, and although numb is acceptable and appropriate right now, numb is not such a good crucible for words. So I have no more words right now. Except this good word:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you . . .

— Philippians 1:3-4 (NRSV)


For all that has been — Thanks.        
For all that shall be —Yes!

― Dag Hammarskjöld

Lingering in God’s Presence

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Himalayan blue poppies in the rain, Valley of Flowers National Park, Uttarakhand, India

The beauty of God’s creation often takes my breath away. This image did that. When I first saw it, I stared at for quite a long time. You might say it stopped me in my tracks, slowed me down for a moment, caused me to wonder. That’s not a bad thing, slowing me down. It does not happen easily.

So what does it mean to slow down and linger, to linger in God’s presence? One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the very brief story of Anna.

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 NIV)

What strikes me about Anna is that “she never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.” She lingered in God’s presence. Perhaps God honored her devotion by allowing her to see the Christ child.

And then there’s this small snippet of Joshua’s story:

 . . . When Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. (Exodus 33:9-11 NKJV)

Joshua lingered in the tabernacle even when Moses, his mentor, left it. Perhaps it changed him. Perhaps because of his devotion in lingering in God’s presence, it was Joshua, and not Moses, who received the honor of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land.

Of course, we are not certain about any of that. Certainly we do not linger in God’s presence in hopes of receiving some reward or honor. At the same time, developing the spiritual discipline of abiding — lingering — in God’s presence brings its own reward.

What are your ways of spending time in God’s presence? Reading scripture? Writing scripture in a prayer journal? Yoga? Walking a labyrinth? Praying? Journaling? Taking in the beauty of nature? Creating a place of silence? The ways of spiritual discipline are endless.

One thing is certain: lingering in God’s presence does not just happen. We enter that sacred space and linger there only if we commit ourselves to do it. Not in a legalistic manner that is more religious than spiritual, but in ways that slowly open us up to craving that time with God, needing it more than we need to “accomplish” our never-ending daily tasks.

When we reach that place, we might discover that lingering in God’s presence is life-giving. We might suddenly realize that we are lingering in God’s presence easily and often, that it has become a part of life.

So how in the world did a blue flower get me here?

I’m not sure, but I think it is because God can be found everywhere, in any moment, in any space, in every stillness, in silence and music and birdsong, in whatever we hear and feel, through anything our eyes can see — even a blue flower covered with dew.

And in that space, we are transformed.

Amen.

Thin Places

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I am thinking today about thin places, those moments when the veil between heaven and earth seems very thin, sacred moments that emerge from a spiritual practice or a deep conversation that pierces the soul. A thin place can be sharednwith another seeker, and, in fact, finding a thin place might be even more meaningful in the presence of a friend.

It seems that “thin place” is a term that was used for millennia to describe a place in time where the space between heaven and earth grows thin, a moment in time where the sacred and the secular seem to meet. In thin places, the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent, or the Infinite.

“Heaven and earth,” the Celtic saying goes, “are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”

John Pavlovitz describes it like this:

Religious people have often talked about the thin places; those moments when the wall between humanity and divinity is like onion-skin. 

It seems that a thin place is a holy moment. It is a sacred moment, even without a hymn or a prayer or a pew or a minister. It a place of “God with us.”

Thin places can transform us or unmask us. Thin places are often sacred sites or buildings — like a temple or a mosque, like a shrine or a monastery, like a cathedral or an old country church. But thin places do not have to be sacred buildings or holy sites. A forest or a flowing stream can be a thin place. A thin place might be found on a mountaintop or in a verdant valley or even in your back yard.

Thin places don’t always have to be special places or “holy” times. We can experience thin places anywhere and every day.

And that’s what we need to do. In a world so filled with threatening events and people that frighten us, we need to rest in thin places where we might just find that we are in a place where the space between humanity and divinity is ever so delicate, thin enough to envelop us in the comfort of God’s grace.

Let’s stop “life” for a moment and rest in a thin place. Meet me there.

The Great Silence

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I struggle with the life of contemplation I most desire. I long to stand on the Holy Ground of God’s presence. And yet, I often fail in my attempts to enter that spiritual space. My mind is filled with thoughts, words, concerns, plans, worries. And with so active a mind, I am hard pressed to meditate on the divine presence of God. I simple cannot seem to find a way to enter the great silence that enables me to hear the whisper of God I so desperately need to hear.

In a recent meditation, Richard Rohr spoke of “the great silence” as he described the prayer of the contemplative. This is his thought:

The prayer of the contemplative is, essentially, an attention to the omnipresence of God. God is omnipresent not as a theological doctrine, but as the great silence that is present in every moment—but from which we are usually distracted by an overactive mind that refuses to wait in a humble unknowing for a pure wisdom from above.

As always, he nailed it, describing the kind of waiting in silence we must do if we are to encounter an omnipresent God. Certain ways of being can move us more fully into the great silence. 

The beauty of nature, the sound of a gentle breeze, the patter of a soft rain can lead us on the contemplative path. Intentional prayer, journaling, experiencing the healing of music, walking the sacred path on a labyrinth — all of these can encourage us into a more contemplative life.

Most of all, we need the longing, our deepest soul desire, to encounter God. The Psalmist expressed such a longing.

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God . . .

— Psalm 42:1-2 (NRSV)

A Balm for Hurting Souls

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On this Monday, prayer seems difficult to me. It feels as if I need it so much, yet cannot seem to connect with the holy. I need a quiet place, a place of peace and serenity. I need a personal retreat that enables me to touch all that is anxious within me. I need a place that can help me reach into the palpable anxiety just below the surface. I need a place that calls forth my tears so that, without fear, I can let them fall. I need a place that helps me to get to that lump in my throat that lingers with me. At my retreat, I need a person with spiritual insight and wisdom to gently guide me to my emotional and spiritual place of longing.

For many reasons, this kind of retreat is not possible right now, so I carry on. That’s what most of us have to do day in and day out, struggling to touch the holy and falling short of that. And then, on occasion, we are graced with a touch, a word of hope, a friend who understands, a prayer that reaches the heart. Today, I received that prayer from Anne Fraley. It is “a balm for hurting souls,” a word of hope. I hope it lifts your spirit as it has lifted mine.

Blessed One,

who colors our days with the glow of fireflies and the roar of the ocean,

carry us this day on the breath of your love.

Invite us into the nooks and crannies of delight,

where dreams are born and disappointments released.

Tend the bumps we suffer at the hands of the careless and the words of the thoughtless, and soothe the rough patches we inflict on others.

May our prayers resonate with the needs of the world, and our hearts connect to those who hunger for companionship.

May our song bear the imprint of all who seek you, and our chorus be as balm for hurting souls.

In all things, help us to weave the thread of love and light through the worlds in which we move, and raise our voices with joy to proclaim your name.

Amen

 

Anne Fraley is rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in South Windsor, CT. A life-long dog-lover, she escapes the demands of parish life volunteering for animal rescue groups. She occasionally succeeds at reviving her blog at reverent irreverence. Her prayer today is published at https://revgalblogpals.org/2019/06/24/monday-prayer-214/

 

 

The Cross in the Garden

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Although I have a very small yard, I do have a tiny garden beside my tiny front porch. This morning the jasmine in the garden is in full bloom filling the air with sweet jasmine perfume. The tiny water feature is making gentle water sounds that relax and heal, as rippling water tends to do. A bird is splashing around in the birdbath, the flowers are blooming, and the ferns are swaying in Macon’s gentle breeze. A large iron Celtic cross leans on the tallow tree, always reminding me where my faith comes from.

Now there is an issue with the iron cross in the garden. It falls over all the time. No matter how deep I place it in the soil, it falls over. Being an ardent tree lover, I refuse to nail the cross to the tallow tree. So it continues to fall over and I continue to prop it up.

Perhaps, as a symbol of faith, it’s appropriate that the cross falls over. My faith falls over all the time, and just as I continually prop up the cross in my garden, the Creator props my faith back up every time it falls.

I think of the Psalms where we read so many words of God’s help and protection as in Psalm 118.

I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
but the Lord helped me.

The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

— Psalm 118:13-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

 
Like the cross in the garden, I might fall over a time or two on my journey. That’s okay, because I know a God who props me up, holds me up, lifts me up, raises me up!

Thanks be to God.

I Can Face Tomorrow

Enlight272Yesterday was not my best day. All day long challenges got the best of me — health challenges, schedule challenges, even bad haircut challenges. My sister of the heart, Donna, said I was cranky. My husband, Fred, said I should chalk it up to Ash Wednesday. Martie, my dear Little Rock friend, said that yesterday was the first day of Mercury in retrograde and that I should do my best to survive until it’s over on March 28th.

I’m not so convinced of any of those explanations, but I’ll let it be for now. Today is a new day, a day in which I have chosen peace for the beginning of my Lenten journey. Typically, the way I find peace is through music. So Pandora is on my sacred music station today. It would be an understatement to say that the music has lifted me today and has almost made yesterday’s fiascoes a dim memory.

As I listened, a song from my past brought sweet memories. Years ago, before I learned to renounce masculine pronouns to refer to God, I was inspired greatly by these words: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.” We sang this Gospel song often to remind us of hope, of perseverance, of God’s faithfulness and of Christ’s resurrection. Today, those words and that melody on Pandora reminded me of those exact things. In spite of masculine pronoun referring to God, the music moved me as it has always done. The message has not changed. God has not changed. My faith in Christ has not changed. Thanks be to God!

Here’s my truth as I follow my Lenten path, the abiding truth: “Tomorrow” for me seems murky, with the path ahead unknown and somewhat disconcerting. I do not know if I will receive a kidney transplant or live on daily dialysis for the rest of my life. I do not know what tomorrow promises.

But this is as it has always been — before illness and after. I never knew what tomorrow would bring, even in those days when I thought I was fearlessly and fully in control of my life. So it feels like a Lenten testimony of my faith to say that I do not know what tomorrow looks like for me. Leaning into the reality of the unknown future, I feel embraced in the consoling truth that “because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”

Of this, I am confident. Resting on this promise, I can move onto the Lenten path before me with refreshed hope and renewed faith. Amen.

Tending to Yourself through Lent

5C466354-43F2-463A-9C04-1ACD2A85CE01Do you ever just get tired of tending to yourself? I suppose that’s not a relevant question for a general audience. It is, however, a very relevant question for those of us who are aging and/or have chronic illnesses.

I am in those categories: aging and ill. My life changed, as many of you know, in 2014 when I was diagnosed with end stage renal disease. That means my choice was dialysis for the rest of my life, a kidney transplant, or the unmentionable alternative which, very honestly, is death. I am told that without either dialysis or transplant, a person would be looking at two weeks.

So I tend to myself with all the medications, the medical appointments, the processes, the prevention measures — every day. Sometimes it feels like all day. Without a husband who is an indispensable care partner, I would be sunk. To be honest, my needs require both of us to be constantly attentive, and it is exhausting.

Still, I tend to myself, and I do sometimes get tired of having to. But I tend to myself largely without complaint and with unspeakable joy for the grace of being alive, of enjoying my family, my grandchildren, my creative pursuits and my “one wild and precious life” as poet Mary Oliver would call it.

Tending to myself is not just being sure to address my physical health needs. It is even more important to me to tend to my spiritual well-being. One of the things that means for me is choosing a spiritual path for my Lenten journey. I have just one day to choose. Today is Ash Wednesday, an important day for penitents. “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return” is Ash Wednesday’s message. And then we must begin our Lenten spiritual path.

I have to be honest by admitting that I have not yet chosen my path. It won’t be giving up chocolate. It won’t be as much giving as it will be receiving grace on the journey. So as I have contemplated what I will do, I have gathered some resources that I will share here.

I hope you will tend to yourself through your Lenten journey, and I pray that Lent’s forty days will find you walking your sacred path. Breathe deeply. Reflect on your life. Pay attention to your heart. Attend to your soul. Count your gifts. Speak your prayers. Consider Christ’s journey to the cross. Listen for God’s whisper. Receive the grace that comes to you.

All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.
— Ecclesiastes 3:20

A FEW RESOURCES YOU MIGHT USE DURING LENT:

  • First of all, I would like to share with you the joy of walking a labyrinth or using a finger labyrinth during the days of Lent. 9889AA3B-16BB-4F9F-9B56-D883A74A49AE

You might find a labyrinth near you in a church, a park or at a spiritual retreat center. You can search at the labyrinth locator website listed below. You may also invest some creative time by making a finger labyrinth like the one pictured. Instructions  are at a link below.

Walking the labyrinth is a spiritual discipline that invites us to trust the path, to surrender to the many turns our lives take, and to walk through the confusion, the fear, the anger and the grief that we cannot avoid experiencing as we live our earthly lives.    — The Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress

Walking the labyrinth clears the mind and gives insight into the spiritual journey. It is a form of walking meditation that can enhance and deepen awareness of God. Labyrinth prayer is a contemplative spiritual discipline on a simple marked path. It is based on the ancient practice of pilgrimage. 

On a pilgrimage, a pilgrim intentionally (1) leaves the world, journeying away from the noise and distractions of life, (2) eventually arrives and rests with Christ, and (3) returns home to live more deeply in God’s presence.

The labyrinth invites us to release, receive and return. Walking the labyrinth is not a newfangled technique to jumpstart your spiritual life. It is a slow, quiet, meditative practice that has historically attended to the desire to make a journey toward God. Laid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France around 1220, the labyrinth has been used by pilgrims for centuries.

When you experience the labyrinth, you must give yourself to the path, leaving behind the noise and hurry of life. Just as you would pack simply for a pilgrimage, you offer your load to God as you begin your prayer journey. You move slowly toward the center and toward God. 

At times you are close to the center. Further along the path, you may be farther from the center. This represents the reality of the spiritual journey. As you walk the labyrinth, you can see the center, but you can’t see how exactly you will get there, Sometimes you find you are making surprising turns that seem to take you farther away, not closer. However, if you stay on the path, you will get to the center. Then, you will follow the path from the center and move “into the world” to do justice and love mercy. Labyrinths can be a walking meditation, a spiritual practice or simply an opportunity to calm the mind and enjoy peace, quiet and reflection. 

For resources on the labyrinth, visit https://www.gracecathedral.org/our-labyrinths/

To find labyrinths, visit The Labyrinth Society’s website: https://labyrinthlocator.com

For instructions on making a finger labyrinth, visit https://heatherplett.com/2015/01/make-finger-labyrinth-also-piece-art/

  • Living Well Through Lent 2019:
    Practicing Forgiveness with All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind

    Living Compass offers a daily email devotional throughout Lent. You will receive forty-seven daily emails, one for each day of Lent, plus Easter. The emails will begin on Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019. If at any point you no longer want to receive the emails, you can unsubscribe at any time.  https://www.livingcompass.org/lent”>https://www.livingcompass.org/lent</
  • And my personal favorite, LIFT EVERY VOICE

PrintLift Every Voice is a Lenten resource from 2016 that is still relevant in 2019. It addresses America’s original sin of racism through the lens of Ignatian spirituality and includes daily readings. From Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, voices from throughout the Ignatian network will lament racial injustice in our communities and reflect on how the Gospel calls us to repent, pray, and act in solidarity with those affected by an enduring legacy of systemic and personal racial discrimination. https://ignatiansolidarity.net/lent-2016/

Breath of Wonder

69175F90-305B-48F5-9797-D4F4BA54C428I cannot give you a better thing today than this prayer shared by Anne Fraley, rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in South Windsor, Connecticut. “Listen” to her words and find yourself in them. Let grace from God refresh you as you live into peace and serenity. And as Anne writes it so eloquently, may faith carry you on the delicate breath of wonder and discovery, calling you forth beyond your wildest dreams.

I know these things to be true.

The sun dances and rainbows shine through pearls of water.

The coos of infants elicit contented sighs and gut-deep gladness.

Music stirs and tempers within the beats of its own rhythm.

The earth is rich with nourishment and holds sacred story with gentleness.

Hearts break and find renewal in healing.

Love sustains, encourages, emboldens, and makes us silly.

Divinity is everlasting.

Comfort is found in meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Or maybe sweet potato fries.

We sag and thrive, ponder and muddle through confusion.

We persist.

My prayer this day is that the best of these things will rise and claim their place on our horizons, and that the least of these things will recall our need for each other.

My prayer for this day is that faith will carry us on the delicate breath of wonder and discovery, calling us forth beyond our wildest dreams.

Amen.

 

Reprinted from https://revgalblogpals.org/2019/02/25/monday-prayer-these-things/.