Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Beautiful Advent Prayer

After spending a little while outside hanging Christmas lights with my youngest son, the sun was beginning to set and it just felt "right" to sit down and read the Psalms for this evening. This evening's Psalms are Psalm 53 and Psalm 17, and I found myself drawn to Psalm 17, so drawn to it that I decided to share it with you all. Just in case you do not remember, I have been using Nan C. Merrill's Psalms for Praying: An Invitation for Wholeness when reading (I really mean praying!) the Psalms because I find that her language allows me to linger and enjoy the presence of Love -- of God -- for they seem to call me to the very Heart of Love -- of God!

So without further interruption, here's Psalm 17:

Listen to my heart, O Love Divine;
     hear the cry within me!
Heed my prayer from lips that
     would utter truth!
For in You do I seek justice!
Be Thou my eyes that I may
     see with clarity.

If You try my heart,
     if You visit me by night,
     if You test me, You will
     My only desire is to
     draw closer to You.
I see the injustice and the
     piercing the hearts of your people.

Be Thou my feet that I may walk
             along your paths;
     that I may be a benevolent
             presence on life's highway.

I call upon You knowing You will
                         answer me,
             Heart of my heart;
     incline your ear to me,
            hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O Love Divine, You walk beside me
     giving me strength to face
     the fears that dwell within. 

I cannot think of a better gift God could give me -- that God could birth in me -- than that which sought in this prayer! This is indeed a beautiful Advent Prayer!

Happy Advent, my dear friends! May God grant you a peaceful night's rest!

Nesting and Waiting

Yes! I know! My blog has been rather silent over the past few months. This silence well represents my life these past few months for I have been immersed in silence and solitude. To be honest, I am quite hesitant to break out of all this silence and solitude. However, that still, small voice within me is clearly calling me out -- at least to this place -- this space -- to write yet again.

For me, the season of Advent is so much more than waiting for and preparing to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. I want to propose that, at least for me, Advent is a lot like nesting. You know what I'm talking about, don't you? Nesting is that which happens to a woman in those four weeks before she gives birth to the child she is carrying within her womb. When a woman is nesting, she is making room -- preparing room -- making ready -- her home for the advent of her child. This is what Advent is like for me. I am finding myself making room, preparing room, making ready for that which God is birthing in me. There is something God is doing within me and I trust that it is his desire to make that known to me.

Saturday morning's Gospel lesson provided me with the question that I think will guide me as I journey through this nesting and waiting that is Advent. That gospel lesson was Matthew 20:29-32, where Jesus heals the two blind men. I prayed this scripture (using  Lectio Divina, which is an ancient prayer practice where you prayerfully read scripture listening for a word from God) that morning. The word I received was the question Jesus asked the two men, "What do you want me to do for you?" As I prayed through the question, it became clear to me that I, too, desired that my eyes would be opened because while I am not physically blind, I do sometimes find it difficult discerning -- seeing -- what God is doing in my life.

And so this week, as I am waiting to see what it is that God is birthing in me, I am praying that God would open my eyes so that I can fully participate in this nesting process and can do my part of making room -- preparing room -- making ready -- for whatever it is that God is birthing in me. For now, my part in making room is joining a Centering Prayer Group that meets every Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. This group begins with 20 minutes of Centering Prayer, then Holy Eucharist and ends with another 20 minutes of Centering Prayer. I have also committed to maintaining my rhythm and rule thereby giving my spiritual formation priority over the chaos that surrounds me.

I cannot end without asking you, "What is it that you want God to do for you?" And what are you willing to do on your part to make room -- prepare room -- make ready -- for whatever it is you want God to do for you?

Happy Advent, my friends! May your nesting and waiting be fruitful!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Prayer of Abandonment

Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures -- I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul: I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.

This prayer resonates deeply within me because for quite some time now I have been struggling trying to capture with words the prayer that is within me. Last week my spiritual director prayed this prayer "the Prayer of Abandonment" over me and then suggested that I let this prayer become the prayer of my heart. It is always such a tremendous gift of grace when I find an ancient prayer that captures the "wordless prayers" that are within my soul and, indeed, are longing to be birthed, spoken and lived out. I remain grateful to my spiritual director for her wisdom and direction.
The addition I make to the Prayer of Abandonment is, "May it be so, Father!"

Grace & Peace, my dear friends!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Blessing Hour Pause

Sacred is the pause that draws us into stillness. Nourishing are the moments when we step away from busyness. Teach us the wisdom of pausing. Reveal to us the goodness of stopping to breathe. Bring to our memory the truth that we are the temple out of which you pour your gifts into the world. We are the temple from which you sing your songs. We are the temple out of which you bless. Enable us to listen to the renewal you are trying to bring about in us and through us. May we be reverent with each temple we meet and greet this day. May all the good that we long for come to pass.

This sweet prayer written by Macrina Wiederkehr touched me deeply this morning. Dwelling in the place of much stillness and solitude and trying to capture moments to pause and join with God in his activity throughout the day, this prayer said everything to God that was on my heart and in my soul. I had come to this pause (this 9 a.m. pause) with the words, "O Spirit of the Circling Hours. Work through me that I may be your love poured out." These words are also Macrina's words -- beautiful words creating space and indeed even inviting the Holy Spirit to work through me -- a simple woman who truly desires to be God's loved poured out. On my bicycle ride this morning, which for me is my quiet time with God, those words, "O Spirit of the Circling Hours. Work through me that I may be your love poured out." continued to bubble up until finally I asked God to show me what that would look like -- that perhaps I had not fully captured the invitation. Of course, I brought that question with me to my blessing hour pause and then found the beautiful prayer that is written above. What would our world look like if we embraced this beautiful prayer and indeed became temples through which God's love would be poured out? Won't you join with me in seeking to be a temple through which God's love would be poured out?

Grace & Peace, my dear friends

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Christ is risen today! Alleluia! Sunday's celebration of the Resurrection of Christ was as painful as it was beautiful. I know that sounds odd and I found it be to so at first. However, upon examining the oddity or what I thought to be the oddity, I realized that it what I was experiencing was living in the reality of the paradox of our faith -- that paradox being that new life comes only after death. I was experiencing that paradox in profound ways, and there in the experience of that reality I was struck by that oddity -- by this reality.

The season of Lent for me began with companioning my friend, Ann in her birth into eternity with God. Walking that journey with Ann and her dear husband, Ron happened just before Ash Wednesday. At that moment, I sensed that dying was going to be a theme for me through Lent. I'm at this place in the practice of my faith where I feel I can no longer really tell God, "No, we are not going there!" and so my only real choice was to be faithful and surrender to whatever God -- the Holy Spirit -- desired to do within my soul during the season of Lent. On Ash Wednesday the idea of this paradox about which I am speaking began to bubble up within me and I have looked at this paradox as though it were a crystal with each cut in the crystal revealing yet another lens through which I could examine this paradox.

I realized right away that while I knew Paul, the apostle, wrote of dying to ourselves so that we could be alive to Christ was real but that I had sort of externalized that notion. I had kept it out of the reach of my soul so that this dying to myself could only mean those external things -- those things others could see like addiction, gossip, lack of compassion, lust. I think you get where I am going. However, as Ash Wednesday came and went and I sat before God daily and throughout what seemed to be every moment of every day allowing him to look at my soul and reveal to me exactly what was there, I came to understand that Paul was writing of dying to all things of him within his soul so that there would be only room for God to dwell there. It was then God allowed me so just how wretched my soul was and just how broken I was.

I have already written about my original wound being that of a child of an alcoholic and how that happened when I was so very young -- about six years old. I remember the moment well as it is the moment in my life when my mother as I knew her to be and as I needed her to be died. My life forever changed that day. As I progressed through the season of Lent and had that experience on the beach at Perdido Key when God let me remember -- re-live -- all that pain all while he had his loving arms wrapped around me I began to sense that this season of Lent had yet another theme -- that of healing my original wound -- that deep gaping wound that kept a certain portion of my soul off limits to even God himself. It was that moment I realized that that very act was indeed sinful for it kept me separated from God and we all know that sin is really anything that separates us from our experience of God -- from our relationship with God.

As I progressed further through the season of Lent and began to give words to my experience and naming feelings with regard to my original wound, and yes! even to have many deep conversations with my mother regarding my wound and how it affected even how I made my decisions and how I perceived the world around me, I sensed then that God was up to something even larger and more beautiful than I could imagine. For you see, as only God would orchestrate it a woman who had been like my sister died on Maundy Thursday evening and her viewing was Easter evening. And so it happened that on Easter evening I put on my "big girl panties" and drove myself to Faith Chapel for the visitation. As I approached the guest book to sign in a man who had been like a daddy to me met me at the door embraced me with loving arms and an open heart, no judgment, no criticism. I felt as though I had come home. The feelings were so very overwhelming that it has taken me two days to have the emotional and spiritual fortitude to even began to write about it. You see, I had, like the prodigal son, abandoned this family of mine and was welcomed home and I desperately needed it. I understand that I had abandoned this family as a form of protection -- I just couldn't stand being around them any longer because they reminded me of my broken-ness. This beautiful family came into my life at the very moment my mother left me. This family had sustained me and loved me even when my mother could not -- at least not in the way I needed it. I know now that my mother has and always did love me -- that that love did not stop as I perceived it had when her disease took over, but you see I had keep that wounded child so locked up within my soul that no one not even God -- the Holy Spirit -- would be allowed to enter there and so I put on my running shoes and ran from anyone who could remind me of who I was -- that is until this Lent.

I am grateful that the practice of my faith has brought me to this place where I can see how wretched my soul is and can participate with God in terms of willful surender as he resurrects the wounded child in me. This work, this dying to myself -- to all things Donell even the wounded child within -- has been painfully beautiful. The welcoming embrace I received as I came home -- that's the beauty of it -- that's heaven on earth -- that's what it's all about, isn't it?!

My welcome home party happened in a funeral parlor as family was celebrating my sister's heavenly welcome home party! I pray my words have captured not just my painful experience of Lent but the beauty and wonder that was my Easter gift. Perhaps what we should celebrate at Easter every year is not just that God raised Christ from the dead so that we would enjoy life eternal but what resurrection work God is doing within each one of us. I wonder... do you know what resurrection work God was trying to do within your soul?

As I visited with a dear friend this morning I found myself saying to her, "I wonder what it would look like if during the season of Lent we asked ourselves what is God trying to bring to life within our souls -- what resurrection work God is trying to do, and if at Advent we asked ourselves what is God trying to birth within us?" I think it might make a difference in how we celebrate Easter and Christmas -- those celebrations would become very personal experiences -- not just something that we celebrate that happened to Christ 2000 years ago. It would mean that our story -- our lives and how we live them really matter because somehow they connect very powerfully with God's love story that he has been telling us since time began...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Were You There?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble... tremble... tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

No, of course not! That happened over two thousand years ago! And yet  my very soul trembles as I hear the question, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" And it is that soul trembling that causes me to reconsider -- to pause and reflect -- to search my soul... and consider could I have been there?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble... tremble... tremble. Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
The trembling in my soul simply will not let me keep this question at arm's length any longer, and so I pause, reflect and consider my part in the suffering my Lord experienced before he was nailed to the cross and as he hung there... Oh Dear Lord, could I have participated in nailing you to the cross? Perhaps that time when I kept silent about another's suffering -- could it have been then? Oh, and there are other things too...
Were you there when they pierced him in the side? Were you there when they pierced him in the side? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble... tremble... tremble. Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

The trembling in my soul is now companioned by my sobbing as I see that  because of my actions and lack of action, I pierced my Lord in the side as he hung lifeless on that dreadful cross. I pierced my Lord in the side by my lack of Love -- both expressed through my words and my actions. Oh that Love might forgive me...
Were you there when the sun refused to shine? Were you there when the sun refused to shine? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble... tremble... tremble. Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
My trembling and sobbing have me on my knees helpless and overcome with the memory of all many times the Light of Christ's Love could not shine for someone else to see and experience because I chose to not be grace-filled -- gracious as you, My Lord, are gracious. I wanted to be God. Yes, Lord, I was indeed there.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble... tremble... tremble. Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
I am fully overcome and overwhelmed, Lord, by the state of my soul as I attempt to answer this question. Just as the man who came searching for you under the cover of darkness because he lacked the strength of faith to live in the Light of your Love, I, too, lack strength of faith to live fully in the Light of your Love -- to love as you have loved. Could it be that the trembling I hear is not only my own gut-wrenching sobbing, but also yours? I am overcome with grief and sorrow, Lord. 
But you already know all this, Lord, don't you?
And you love me still...?
I hear your sweet melodic voice, "My dearly beloved child, it was for you and your soul that I chose the Way of the cross and I invite you, child of my heart, to choose the Way of the cross -- to choose to Love as I have loved." Faintly, and through my sobbing and trembling, I respond, "I choose Love."
And Love is enough.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Wait! I Need a Companion!

Tomorrow is the last day of Lent and Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week or Passion Week. We will begin Holy Week with Palms waving and our voices shouting Hosana (Save Us, Lord!), likely not even sure that what we most want saving from is ourselves. And then after a few days of wondering what all the hoopla was about, we will progress to Maundy Thursday where we will celebrate The Passover Meal with our Lord and after that glorious meal, complete with remembering Love's Story to us, we will then be reminded, through Christ's example of washing feet, that we are to be a communion of people marked by serving others in Love. But then along comes Good Friday, the day we journey with Christ to his horrific suffering, crucifixion and death. We watch silently while Christ suffers and dies and his body is laid in a tomb. We fear that the very thing we needed most has died and all hope is lost. So we get up Saturday morning with nothing else to do but silently keep vigil and remember Love's Story -- from the Garden to the Tomb and beyond and wonder where our Story and Love's Story connect and what in the world we are to do about it. This journey will be complete (or will it?) when we arise Sunday morning and say with confidence and joy, "He is Risen!" and then hear with the same exuberance, "He is Risen, Indeed!". I just don't know if this is a journey my soul is capable of taking by myself. My soul is just too fragile and so am I -- spiritually, emotionally and physically. And I wonder, will anyone companion me as I walk this journey? For I fear that in walking this journey, I am likely to discover things about myself that need to die in the same horrific manner my Lord suffered and died. And yet, I know that Love has a gift to offer me on Easter morning -- the gift of making me into a new creation! Like Lazarus, though, I think I will need a companion to unwrap the grave cloths that have me tied down. I simply cannot do this alone. Is there anyone willing to companion me along this journey? Perhaps, this journey is one Love never meant for us to walk alone...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Remember the Sabbath

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work--you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:8-11

My dear friends, it seems God is stirring within me a conviction to remember the sabbath and keep it holy. I am finding this rather difficult. It seems that there just aren't very many of God's children who are remembering the sabbath and keeping it holy, and I believe this breaks God's heart. You might ask why? After much time wrestling with this issue, I finally decided to just ask God, "Why would you command your people to remember the sabbath and keep it holy?" And God's response was, "Because I am God and you are not!" 

I believe that God has been trying to restore his rightful place in my life and that he wants to do that also within his Church and indeed with all his children. Remembering the sabbath and keeping it holy forces us to stop all our doings and remember that God is God and we are not! It sort of puts us in our rightful place in God's created order. Surely if God can stop and rest on the seventh day of the creation process, then we can do the same. We simply have to trust that God will hold together our world (our congregations, our families, our jobs, etc.) while we remember the sabbath and keep it holy. The ancient church called the practice of remembering the sabbath and keeping holy as sabbath keeping.

I am finding it very difficult to practice sabbath keeping as it seems there are obstacles at every turn; however, I am finding that the first and most difficult obstacle to overcome has been myself. I have had to learn that my work and the ministries in which I am involved will not fall apart if I don't attend to them on the sabbath. I had to learn to trust that when I am practicing sabbath keeping authentically that God will hold everything together. More importantly, I have come to see that since I have begun practicing sabbath keeping my marriage and my family have been much stronger and healthier.

I invite you to consider sabbath keeping -- to find your own way to do so. You may have to be creative and it will likely be very difficult because you will find, as I have, that sabbath keeping goes against not only our human nature but is also very counter-cultural (and likely even counter-cultural within your own congregations). I have found the practice of sabbath keeping to be very worth all my efforts.

What about you? Will you join me in restoring the practice of sabbath keeping?

Grace and Peace to you, my friends, as we continue our journey through Lent.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Empty Hands

My weekend was pretty much consumed with soul care -- my own soul care. And this place of intimate nurture, guidance and support is something for which I lack adequate words of gratitude.

The state of my soul and my being able to see it so clearly over the past several months has been a source of deep pain for me. You see, while God -- the Great I AM, has chosen to allow me insight into my soul -- a view into the condition of my soul -- he has not and will not let me take part in the healing of my soul -- into how my soul becomes less Donell and more like God, like Christ -- let's just say it -- more holy or divine.

There are not very many individuals who have been giften with the ability to see into the soul of another human being. I am amazed by this -- in a state of awe of this. And yet, what amazes me even more -- what brings me to my knees even more -- is my spiritual director's ability to sit with me and love me even as she sees the condition of my soul. Okay, and here comes what makes me want to lay postrate before God, she can see the very gifts God has given me -- the deep yearnings within my soul that God alone planted there. She can name them, claim them and hold them for me because right now I am simply not strong enough to hold it all for myself.

More than that, God doesn't want me to hold anything right now. God wants me to simply be -- or more precisely to rest in Him as he births in me -- deep within me -- the I AM within me -- the God within me. To do that, I must release all that I have in my hands. I must be in this place with empty hands.

My dear friends, laying down my primary call was what I thought the most difficult thing God had yet asked me to do. To empty my hands and, indeed, my life, of everything is incredibly difficult and painful. I feel very vulnerable and empty. And that is precisely what God intends for me now as I continue to journey through what has been a very long dark night of the soul. I must become nothing -- no thing -- even as God whonames himself only I AM (no name, no thing) has become nothing -- or no thing because there isn't one name or thing that can adequately capture who or what he is. Just as God in this dark night journey has stripped away all my former knowings of him so that he could become no thing or more accurately ALL to me, he strips me of all things that are associated with my former self -- the personality that is Donell -- so that he can bring forth into being the I AM that has all along been within me but that had no pathway to be brought forth because my own identity (or personality) was blocking the way. This is so painful and so hard and yet this is what I have asked God to do with me for many, many years and is truly my heart's desire -- to become holy as He is holy. So I will be faithful and more than that -- I will remain faithful. And I will rest in Him and Him alone.

One of first things I wrote to you all about at the very beginning of Lent was that the beauty of Lent -- or the gift or purpose of Lent -- was clean hands and a pure heart so that in order to more fully celebrate the Resurrection. In order to have those clean hands and receive a pure heart, I must be empty handed. There is no other way.

I covet your prayers, my friends, as I continue to journey through my dark night experience empty-handed but alive -- or becoming alive! -- in His hands.

I am right where I need to be! Praise be to God!

So what about you, my friends? Are you right where God wants you to be? Why or why not? I have come to see that this matters deeply for it is a matter of the soul.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Little Humility

My dear friends, as you might remember I began this season of Lent with the intention of practicing the Prayer of Examen more regularly (translation:  daily) and it seems that I have failed. I simply have not been able to sit down and go through the process of the Prayer of Examen I found -- the one that captured my heart. And this inability to remain committed to my intention to practice this discipline has garnered much of my interior thoughts and time with God.

And so I have been wrestling, and I've been pretty judgmental and harsh with myself on this issue. If I were to be honest with you and myself, I would have to admit that I have felt as though I failed at this whole Lent thing this year and quite possibly missed out on an opportunity for deeper, more intimate union with the One who is Love. And, my friends, I have lived with this question ("Have I failed?") with God and myself these past two weeks.

When I awakened this morning I felt well rested, which is very unusual for me as I am a rather restless sleeper; however, along with that feeling there was another one -- one I could not name. But, I continued on with my morning quiet time, found my favorite spot on the couch and set about the business of my quiet time with God. Nothing really happened -- nothing monumental, but this unnamed feeling remained, until just before my quiet time ended, and its name bubbled up -- empty! I felt empty, but not in the negative connotation of that word but rather in a most positive way -- I was empty of that feeling of being a failure. 

At almost the exact time I was able to name this feeling, a familiar question bubbled up. John Mogabgab, editor of Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, says we are called to ask ourselves a question that is the true measure of success in life, "Have I loved well?" And so, as the question, "Have I loved well?" bubbled up, I realized that I had been asking that question of myself regularly during these past few weeks. More than that, I realized as I had been taking not only the asking of this question but also the answering of this question very seriously, as a matter of my soul -- that I had been practicing the Prayer of Examen! I had over these past few weeks cut out all that didn't work for me and narrowed it down to the one question that alone mattered, "Have I loved well?" In the asking and answering of this question, with God's loving arms wrapped around me, I was practicing the Prayer of Examen.

I share all of this with you, my dear friends, not to direct you to my way of practicing any spiritual discipline or practice but rather as a way of reminding us that the purpose or intent of these practices (spiritual disciplines) is to draw us -- to point us -- to Grace and to draw our souls toward a deeper, more intimate union with God. If after practicing a discipline or method for several weeks isn't doing precisely that, it may be time to seek the Spirit's guidance and wisdom or perhaps to find a wise Spiritual Director. I say this, also, because I know that this realization didn't just bubble up within me at some obscure time -- I know my Spiritual Director was in deep prayer for me and my soul last night -- asking God to give me a Word not just for those with whom I sit giving direction but for also for me. My dear friends, spiritual disciplines matter, really matter, and we need guidance in the practice of them.

And I am immensely grateful.

And humbled.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Taking Up My Cross

This season of Lent has been for me one marked by loss and suffering, grief and letting go, and chaos and confusion. And yet there seems to be abiding peace. That abiding peace, my friends, is what strikes me as being rather odd; however, this abiding peace is exactly what Christ promised those who follow him. I hear in my heart those beautiful words Christ spoke to his disciples (and to you and to me) in John Chapters 14-17. It is those words I carry with me these days and so it makes perfect sense that even in midst all of this, Christ's perfect peace still abides with me.

Last week in my silence and solitude, Psalm 27 appeared yet again in the lectionary and as I read, rather as I prayed it, so much gratitude bubbled up within me. I could only think how grateful I was that this beautiful psalm was so generously sprinkled throughout the season of Lent.

If you will remember, this psalm and I had met earlier in the season of Lent as God was reminding me that he alone is my light and salvation and in the strength of his loving arms I have nothing (no-thing!) to fear. As I sit here, I suppose that moment was preparing me to carry that beautiful psalm -- that Word from God -- to some dear friends I am journeying with through some awfully difficult times. As I say this I know that this beautiful psalm is still a Word for me today as it is this morning's Psalm!

So, here it is again, my dear friends, Psalm 27 from Nan Merrill's book Praying the Psalms: An Invitation to Wholeness. May it be God's Word for you and for me as we journey through this difficult place in our lives:

Love is my light and  
               my salvation,
whom shall I fear?
Love is the strength of
              my life,
Of whom shall I be afraid?

When fears assail me,
    rising up to accuse me,
Each one in turn shall be seen
    in Love's light.
Though a multitude of demons
               rise up within me,
    my heart shall not fear.
Though doubts and guilt do battle,
    yet shall I remain confident.

One thing have i asked of Love,
     that I shall ever seek:
That I might dwell in the
              Heart of Love
    all the days of my life,
To behold the Beauty of my Beloved,
    and to know Love's Plan.

For I shall hide in Love's heart
    in the day of trouble,
As in a tent in the desert,
Away from the noise of my fears.
And I shall rise above
     my struggles, my pain,
Shouting blessings of gratitude
     in Love's Heart
And singing melodies of praise
               to my Beloved.

Hear, O my Beloved,
               when I cry aloud,
    be gracious and answer me!
You have said, "Seek my face,"
     My Heart responds,
"Your face, my Beloved, do I seek;
      hide not your face from me."

Do not turn from me,
     You who have been my refuge.
Enfold me in your strong arms,
                O Blessed One.
Though my father and mother
    may not understand me,
You, my Beloved, know me and love me.

Teach me to be love,
                as You are Love;
Lead me through each fear;
Hold my hand as I walk through
     valleys of illusion each day,
That I may know your Peace.

I believe that I shall know the
             Realm of Heaven,
   of Love, here on Earth1

Call upon the Beloved,
              be strong and trust
    in the heart's courage.
Trust in the power of Love;
    the Beloved 's unconditional and
               everlasting love for you.

My dear friends, God knows our pain and suffering and he is attentive to that pain and offers to us to dwell in Heart -- to seek refuge in his strong arms where he alone holds our hand as we walk through this difficult place and he promises us his peace and his heart as our refuge. Be strong and trust in the power of Love!

Grace and Peace to you, my friends, as we journey through this season of Lent towards the Day of Resurrection -- that day we celebrate New Life!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Leaving & Receiving

I have been very silent over the past week and intentionally so. My encounter with the Word on Sunday in my reading of John 4 -- the story of the Woman at the Well has left me feeling restless. I captured what I thought was the essence of my encounter, of my experience, and as I did that I felt that God was trying to say more to me than I initially heard.

To jog your memory, my Word from Sunday's gospel lesson was John 4:28, "Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city." I first connected this Word to my recent experience in watching my daughter pack up all her stuff, load it into a U-Haul and confidently drive away and sensed that God was trying to comfort me in my distress at witnessing my daughter leave the nest. I believe that to still be the case; however, there's more.

There's this lingering question regarding this story and here it is, "What would make a woman leave what is very likely her most valuable possession?" This woman left her water jar -- the one thing she needs to maintain the life of the members of her household. Without water, people perish. And yet, this woman leaves her water jar. Did she intend to go back and get it after sharing her encounter with her family and the people in her city? Or did she intend to get another one -- maybe one that better represents who she really is at the moment? For some reason John, the writer of this gospel, did not give us any insight into what the woman did with her jar only that she left it. What John wrote is as important as what he did not write and so that is the place where I am drawn -- deeply drawn. And, my friends, as I have been deeply drawn into this place in the story of what was left unsaid, I have had to open myself up before God, before the Spirit of God -- to become wide open and awake, available -- in order to hear the Word God seems to want to give me. And so I have been silent and still for almost a week holding this Word and waiting on another Word.

It seems God has me remembering my primary call to be a mother -- and not just a biological mother but a spiritual mother, more akin to a spiritual director for my children. I couldn't name it as such at the time because I had no knowing of what a spiritual director was. Now that I am in training to be a spiritual director, I can name what God was asking me to do for my children. I took that primary call very seriously -- with all three of my children. Which brings me to the real heart of the matter, I think, of what God is trying to say to me -- Can I put down my primary call and will I?

Why would God ask me to do such a thing?! Perhaps because there is a season for everything under the sun. Perhaps because God has something else in store. Perhaps because God is giving me another primary call. I think all of those statements are true. A statement from a dear friend whom I am companioning as he learns to live his life after the death of his beloved wife keeps bubbling up. He said to me, "It's like I'm letting go and holding on at the same time. I'm letting her go physically, but holding on to her through remembering -- through my memories of her." There's tension there and I know God is at work there.

And so, my friends, just as the woman left her jar at the well, I leave my primary call -- that of a mother to my three children at the well. In doing so, I feel such grief and vulnerability. I do not really know myself other than that of mother to my three children. My heart hurts and this is not easy but Christ offers to me his Living Water, I have drunk of that water faithfully for many years and trust that abundant life flows out of that Living Water. There is still within me a deep yearning -- a longing -- to nurture the faith but I think it is not for my children but for God's children. And so I will wait and trust but most importantly, I will let God hold my heart as only he can do.

Lent for me seems to be still captured in Bruggemann's orientation, disorientation and new orientation and it makes sense that I would experience deep healing, grief and vulnerability but I know I can also expect God to birth something new.

My friends, what is God calling you to leave at the well in this season of Lent? How will you respond? My prayer is that you will do as God asks so that when the day of Resurrection comes around (and I know it will!), you will experience a new orientation -- the birth of something new in your life!


Sunday's gospel lesson was quite surprising, likely because I wasn't expecting it to appear this year. However, it became very clear that it was just the Word I needed to hear!

The gospel lesson was from the fourth chapter of the gospel of John, verses 5 through 42 -- the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan Woman at the Well. Since it is a bit of a long story, I'll ask that you read the story yourself and I'll share only what seemed to speak to me in this story. The Word I heard was, "Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city..." (Verse 28) This is not the first time I have been drawn to this verse in this story but not with this force. I know my heart has been hurting for the past several days as my daughter moved all her stuff to her new apartment with her husband in North Carolina, and this "heart hurt" is what I felt when I came across this verse Sunday morning.

As I carried this Word with me and pondered it in my heart, it became clear that God was gently (or perhaps not so gently) showing me I had done my job well as my daughter could load up her stuff into a U-Haul and drive away confidently and full of excitement for what possibilities might be ahead of her. I trust that I have done well raising my daughter in the knowledge and love of God and that it is time for me to take on a different role. I'm not certain what that will look like but I trust that God will help me find my way. John doesn't tell us whether the woman came back to get her water jar but what we do know is that water jars are essential, just as mothers are essential. My daughter will still need me as her mother, just in a different role.

It seems this transition for me is best described by Walter Brueggemann's concept of orientation (hands on mothering); disorientation (she's leaving the nest/transition and anticipating something new -- a birthing of sorts) to new orientation or re-orientation (a new and different relationship). I also know that this situation with my daughter is but a tiny part of this process. I wrote already about the deep healing God is doing within me and how it looks like this process. My friends, I am convinced there's more to come -- that God isn't finished with this work he wants to do within me.  

And so I'll wait patiently (or at least I'll try!) and surrender to the work God desires to do within me. I'm certain that there is so much more to this...


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Speak, For Your Servant is Listening!

Hear the Word of God from 1 Samuel 3:1-10!

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, "Samuel! Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!" and ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call; lie down again." So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, "Samuel!" Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call, my son; lie down again." Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.' " So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

The Word of God for the People of God!

Yes, I know! This particular passage is not in today's lectionary and I do not even know if it is in the lectionary at all during Lent but it is in my experience of Lent as it seems God has been awakening me every night between 2:30 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. and, to be honest, I have no idea why. I have responded each time to the awakening -- to the calling -- and have stayed in my bed trying to be available to whatever it is God wants from me. It is not my habit to take this time, i.e. to simply fill it with my words, as I have come to understand that it is my time to listen. And listen I have... to not avail -- unless holding a few dear ones before God trusting that he will do what he will do and waiting to see if God would tell me what his desire for these two particular people would be, is something... but nothing!

So, last night (or shall I say early -- very early! this morning!) instead of staying in bed as has been the case for the past week, I sensed that perhaps God simply wanted me to keep vigil -- to have a night watch. I quietly climbed out of our bed so as not to disturb my dear sleeping husband and made my way to our couch, which happens to be the place -- my sacred place, if you will -- where I typically have my intentional times of prayer, of keeping company with God. Beside the couch is a basket where I keep my favorite Bible, my journal and two of my favorite books -- Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness by Nan C. Merrill (I shared Psalm 27 out of this book in my last post!) and Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr.

As I opened the book Seven Sacred Pauses, I noticed that it opened to a dog-eared page in the first section of the book where Macrina describes what the Vigil is all about. As I glanced at the page, my eyes saw why I had earlier dog-eared that page -- there was a quote there to which I had been particularly drawn. It is a quote regarding the power of personal vigils from Marcy Heidish's book A Candle at Midnight, "Whether your vigil-keeping is centered around chronic illness, depression, personal crisis, national disaster, or simply the heart's yearning for a deepening relationship with God, self and others, vigilance is a spiritual discipline and a special kind of prayer." And then Macrina ends this section of the book with the following sentence, "May you learn to live with a vigilant heart."

It was then that I decided to let my eyes wander the previous pages to see if I could find how Macrina defines a vigil. I found two that I'd like to share:

When I rise in the middle of the night, my prayer is simply one of waiting in silence, waiting in darkness, listening with love. It is a prayer of surrender. In my night watch I do not ordinarily use words. My prayer is a prayer of intent. I make my intention and I wait. I become a deep yearning. The silence and the darkness are healing. My prayer is now a prayer of trust. I keep vigil with the mystery.
There is a difference between waiting and keeping vigil. Anxious, fretful, impatient waiting is nothing more than waiting. Waiting with purpose, patience, hope, and love is vigilant waiting. Would that all of our waiting could be a vigil--a watch in the night or in the day hours. So by all means, find a way to make your vigils sacred. Learn the art of holy waiting. Whether you choose, on occasion, to get up in the middle of night, or whether you make an effort to turn your everyday moments of waiting in sacred vigils rather than impatient pacing, you will be blessed through this spiritual practice.
So I closed the book for a few moments and just waited until I sensed it was time to begin the sacred pause -- the vigil. I picked up the book again and found the Night Watch pause and here's what followed. I have written my thoughts -- my silent prayer of my heart, if you will, in italics.

                                   Prayer Guide

My soul yearns for you, O God.
  Indeed! You know that!
I keep vigil with you through the night.
  I am listening, Lord!

Sacred Song
In this sacred darkness I sit in silence.
Open this moment, I trust in the darkness.
Waiting in trust, growing in trust.
Waiting and trusting the sacred darkness.
I surrender.
   waiting in trust... growing in trust... that is what you
   are doing... and asking that I surrender?
I surrender.
I surrender.
   Yes, Lord, you know I'm tired of this place -- this place
   of uncertainty -- of waiting! I will re-frame this waiting
   to a time of keeping vigil -- to vigilant waiting...

Contemporary Psalm
Antiphon:  My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. (Ps. 119:148)

O Sentinel of the night skies,
Attendant of my soul's deep yearning.
Drawn into the night silence,
I keep vigil with eternal questions.
   You alone know my soul's deep yearning, as you've
   placed it there in my soul. I trust it is you who has
  drawn me into this vigil.

All through the night watch
I seek you without words.
Listening to the sound of silence,
I lean into the song of darkness
with infinite patience I wait for you.
   Infinite patience? Is that what is birthed into the soul
   who seeks you without words in the night watch?

Keeping vigil with eternal questions,
I do not look for answers; it is enough
to wait in the darkness of love's yearning.
My soul is my night light; I am not afraid.
   Hmmm... to learn to not look for answers but to simply
   wait -- to keep company with Love; in this space, I am
   not afraid!

Antiphon:  My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. (Ps. 119:148)

Biblical Psalm (Psalm 63 -- From Praying the Psalms)
O Love, You are my Beloved, and
          I long for You,
   my soul thirsts for You;
All that is within me thirsts,
   as in a dry and barren land
          with no water.

So I have called out to You in
          my heart,
   sensing your power and glory.
Because your wondrous Love is
          Life in me,
     my lips will praise You.
I would radiate your Love as long
          as I live,
   becoming a blessings to others
         in gratitude to You.

My soul feasts as with a
         magnificent banquet,
   and my mouth praises You with
         joyful lips,
When I ponder on your kindness, and
   meditate on You throughout
         the night;
For You have been my salvation,
   and in the shadows of your wings
         I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You,
   your love upholds me.
The fears that seem to separate me
          from You
   shall be transformed and
As they are faced, each fear
          is diminished;
   they shall be gone as in a dream
          when I Awaken.
And my soul shall rejoice in the
   All who open their hearts to Love
         will live in peace and joy!
     While I may not experience in my vigil the healing
     I desire, or receive the clarity for which my soul
     yearns, something will happen as I Awake -- as I live
     out my days practicing my faith -- practicing the
     presence of God! I have opened my heart to Love
    I have peace & joy!

                                    Prayer of the Hour

The Angel of Night
     Summoned from sleep
     in the heart of night
     my name is called
     and, like Samuel,
     I rise from my bed
     seeking the caller.

     Summoned from sleep
     I am drawn into
     the beating heart
     of the One
     who called me.

     The angel of the night
     lights a candle in my soul
     inviting me to listen
     to the wordless song
     of Divine Union.

     Deep healing.
     Deep listening.
     Deep waiting.
     Deep watching
     All of these become
     a part of my night watch.

     In the heart of the night
     you prepare me to be
     your deep healing
     for all who watch
     through the night
     of their fears.  (by Macrina Wiederkehr)
        O Angel of the Night! Let it be so!

I then crawled back into bed and, after having slept for a few hours and being awakened by the alarm, I dragged myself to my spot on the couch, opened my laptop to find the daily lectionary which I gratefully receive via email. Today's gospel lesson is from John Chapter 5 where Jesus asks the man who has been waiting for years by the pool, "Do you want to be made well?" No, Jesus is asking me (and you!), "Do you want to be made well?" My response, "Yes, Lord! I'm thinking this rut isn't quite as comfortable as I had originally thought!"

What about you? Is God calling you in the night -- awakening you from your sleep for you to keep vigil or keep company with him? Do you have a deep yearning in your soul -- one for which only God can do something about? Finally, my friends, is Jesus asking you, "Do you want to be made well?" If so, what will be your response? You may, like me, find yourself keeping vigil as God can do miraculous healing within our souls in the dark of the night if we will but surrender!

Grace and Peace to you, my dear friends!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Whom (or what?) Shall I Fear?

A week ago I decided that I would load my book, my beach chair, a few towels, sunscreen and my favorite visor into my Jeep Liberty (whose name happens to be Libby!) and drive forty-five minutes out to Perdido Key. I sensed that I needed to go to Perdido Key, which was very odd because for the past several years I had been going to Pensacola Beach. I have learned that it is best to trust my "senses" as they are usually nudgings from God and so I went with my sense and headed to Perdido Key.

I'll admit to being a bit apprehensive upon arriving as I expected something to happen -- to sort of have a "God moment". I quickly got over the apprehension as the beauty and majesty of Perdido Key has a way of settling and calming me no matter my circumstances. Since it is early in spring and the Key was not at all crowded, I found a perfect spot right on the edge of the beautiful Gulf of Mexico to set up my beach chair and begin reading. It seemed as though it were just me, my book and God.

After enjoying a few precious hours reading most of the book, I decided it was time to head home. As I was walking up the boardwalk toward the parking lot and Libby -- remember that's my Jeep's name -- it hit me -- this remembering. I stopped in my tracks (thankfully no one was around) and I remembered, I mean really remembered as though all those years had not passed, how I spent almost every Saturday morning that beautiful spring many years ago trying to heal from a divorce. I was barely twenty years old and had already been married and divorced. It was such a painful reality. I remembered how I needed the beach, this special place to heal me, to console me, to be my refuge... and it was. My faith was still rather young then (although I had been practicing it for many years already), and I apparently had not learned, or maybe didn't want to learn, to let God be my refuge and my shelter in a storm. 

Anyway, back to that moment on the boardwalk. It was in that moment that I remembered -- I recalled in its entirety all the pain and suffering I've experienced -- my original wound and those that naturally followed because of it -- and there held in the shelter of Love's Heart, I felt again all those feelings, and I didn't stuff any of them. Held safe and secure in Love's heart, I was okay.

I recalled Psalm 27, particularly Nan Merrill's paraphrase of Psalm 27 found in her book Psalms for Praying -- An Invitation to Wholeness. I will share it with you:

Love is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? Love is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?
When fears assail me, rising up to accuse me, each one in turn shall be seen in Love's light. Though a multitude of demons rise up within me, my heart shall not fear. Though doubts and gult do battle, yet I shall remain confident.
One thing have I asked of Love, that I shall ever seek: that I might dwell in the Heart of Love all the days of my life, to behold the Beauty of my Beloved, and to know Love's Plan.
For I shall hide in Love's heart in the day of trouble, as in a tent in the desert, away from the noise of my fears. And I shall rise above my struggles, my pain, shouting blessings of gratitude in Love's Heart. And singing melodies of praise to my Beloved.
Hear, O my Beloved, when I cry aloud, be gracious and answer me! You have said, "Seek my face." My heart responds, "Your face, my Beloved, do I seek; hide not your face from me."
Do not turn from me, You who have been my refuge. Enfold me in your strong arms, O Blessed One. Though my father and mother may not understand me, You, my Beloved, know me and love me.
Teach me to be love, as You are Love; lead me through each fear; hold my hand as I walk through valleys of illusion each day, that I may know your Peace.
I believe that I shall know the Realm of Heaven, of Love, here on Earth!
Call upon the Beloved, be strong and trust in the heart's courage. Trust in the power of Love; the Beloved's unconditional and everlasting love for you.
Walter Brueggemann in his book Spirituality of the Psalms basically says that the Psalms if read as a whole -- if taken in as a whole -- lead worshippers from orientation to disorientation to new orientation and that this process isn't a one time thing. It seems that Lent for me is likely going to be captured in Walter Brueggemann's process of orientation, disorientation and new orientation -- my deep healing being one new orientation and my immersion into the Psalms being another one. I am convinced, though, that God has much more work to do within my soul because an original wound like the one I suffered as a very young child has many faucets and I think I've seen only just a few. 

I (orientation) will remain wide open and available to whatever God brings me for the remainder of this season of Lent (disorientation) in anticipation a glorious Resurrection celebration (new orientation)! While I wait, though, I will offer God my gratitude for the healing he has worked out in my soul. It has been a long time coming.

Grace & Peace to you, my friends, as we journey through Lent towards the marvelous Light and Love that is our Beloved!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


It seems I cannot escape the Parable of the Prodigal during the season of Lent. I felt a certain nudge from my Beloved to share the following prayer center I wrote last year on the Parable of the Prodigal. It beacons me to consider two very good questions:

  1. Do I know that I know that I know that I am God's dearly beloved? 
  2. Will I, with God's gracious help, love as the Beloved loves?

The prayer center is appropriately named "Beloved".


Light a Candle.

Read Luke 15:11-32:

Now read the following verse:
Then the Father said to him [to me, to you], "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours." Luke 15:31

Let me confess that I have been dwelling on this parable for quite some time (a few years, in fact!). God has a way of doing that to me – having me encounter certain stories of the faith to grow me, to show me something about Him and about myself. After praying through this story and just sitting with it, a few things come to mind.
First, this story reminds me that faith is a journey – a process – and each person’s journey is unique. Each one of the Father’s sons took a different path to the Father’s heart and, indeed, are even at different stages or places along that path or journey.
Second, the Father desires for all of his sons to make that journey to his heart – into his loving arms – and lovingly waits, rather impatiently even!, for his children to come home. The Father never demands that his children come home – it seems to be a matter of choice. And, third there’s a question this story seems to ask, "Do you know you are my Beloved?" It seems to me that the eldest son in this story stayed at home doing what he thought the Father wanted him to do, making good choices and being the responsible eldest son, somehow trying to make his way to the Father’s heart by doing good. The younger son, on the other hand, had to first break his Father’s heart, squander his inheritance, realize his "lostness", and then decide to go home to the Father. Neither son realized or knew that he was his Father’s Beloved and both seemed to feel they had to earn being the Beloved. The eldest son tried to earn his "Beloved-ness" by always making good choices, by being "good" and doing what was expected. The younger son didn’t seem to understand that he had always been the Beloved – that there was nothing he could do, not even leaving home and squandering his inheritance, that could change the fact that he was his Father’s Beloved. The Father met each of his Beloved Sons right where they were in their journey home to his heart and his love for each Beloved Son was constant. In other words, the Father gives the gift of being Beloved to his sons unconditionally – it is always there whether or not his Beloved Sons choose to accept it and live their lives from that perspective. For me, I am so grateful that the practice of our faith is a journey – a journey to the heart of God. I am, gratefully, finally able to claim who I am, "I am Donell, God’s Beloved!" I can relate to both of the Father’s Sons in this story. Okay, what about the Father? What am I to learn from the Father in this story? I cannot overlook the fact that I am very drawn to the Father character in this story. Can it be because I lack the capacity to love as the Father loves? Surely God is not calling me to love as the Father loves? I’m not capable of that of love, especially on my own. That kind of love just isn’t humanly possible. Or is it?

Answer the following questions:
  1. Do you know you are God’s Beloved?
  2. Do you live your life from that perspective – from knowing that you are God’s Beloved?
  3. If so, does knowing you are God’s Beloved change the way you relate to God and others?
  4. What question is God raising within you as you "prayerfully read" this story and how will you respond to that question?
Consider writing a letter, a written prayer so to speak, expressing what you have learned about yourself and your relationship with God through this story, and maybe even including in your letter your responses to the questions above.

 Loving God, your love for your Sons and Daughters is so deep and such a very precious gift. I cannot love others as you have called me to love without your help. So, help me, Loving God, to love others as the Father loves his Beloved Sons and Daughters. Help me to trust that "all that is yours is mine" and that I am your beloved.

Extinguish the Candle. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Holy Partners, Seriously?!

Sometimes God has a way of smacking me in the face with scripture and he did just that this morning! Today's epistle lesson is from Hebrews, Chapter 3, and there's a phrase in verse one that smacked me and that has been with me all day long -- I cannot stop meditating on it. I have found that I am, like Mary, pondering it in my heart. Here's the phrase "holy partners in a heavenly calling". Once I recovered a bit from the smack, I did what a wise man told me to do when struck (he failed to mention being smacked!) by a word or phrase, "look at the words preceding what struck you." I did just that and was yet again, smacked! The words preceding "holy partners in a heavenly calling" were "therefore, brothers and sisters". Okay, that means you and me!

And, if that those smacks were not good enough, here's another. On my morning walk these questions kept bubbling up, "Why Lent? Why is it necessary, really?" These questions bubbled up before I read the lectionary this morning and I simply cannot help but wonder if God isn't trying to tell me that he gives us a yearly season to get cleaned up because it is his desire to make us holy and not just for holiness' sake but so that we can respond to the heavenly call he has placed within each one of us!

And so, my friends, this has sort of left me speechless today and in a deep stating of pondering all things in my heart. There really is so much in my soul that needs the light of God (some holes in need of darning).

Before I sign off, I will share that so far I have been diligent about practicing the prayer of examen that I posted earlier in the week. Yes, it really does seem that God is doing some darning of my soul! I think the day is getting long and I still have not practiced the prayer of examen that I committed to God (and to you all) to "do" for Lent so I will close with this -- May the peace of Christ be with you all as you partner with God to become holy partners in your heavenly calling!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Cross & Love

In my mid-day pause and since we are in the season of Lent, I thought it appropriate to meditate upon the cross. I get that the cross was once associated with the gruesome death of our Lord and Savior. While that is indeed true, I would like to suggest that it is also something else -- an icon, a window through which we are drawn to God, and it demonstrates profoundly our experience of Lent and the reality of Easter -- that being God's chesed, his loving-kindness and steadfast love.

Through Christ's death and resurrection we are powerfully reminded that for those who follow Christ, the way to abundant life is through death -- Christ's death and our dying to ourselves. It is the paradox of our faith, isn't it, that death precedes new life. In our faith, though, this paradox, this mystery, only points to Love and Grace that can only be given by God. So, yes, during the season of Lent I intentionally open myself up and allow God to touch, to heal all my brokenness -- to mend or darn my soul, to die to myself -- because it is through the life, death and resurrection of Christ that God not only proves to me that I'm never alone in this journey towards full and complete union with God but he also proves to me the depth of his love. So, the cross for me is an icon, a symbol of God's chesed.

During the season of Lent I typically use a Catholic cross (one with Christ crucified on it) for meditation. Yes, I see Christ's gruesome death (I cannot help but see it!) but Christ's resurrection made what was gruesome something beautiful -- Love overcame the gruesomeness! And, it is then I'm reminded that God can do the same for me -- take my wretched soul and make it beautiful!

So, when I meditate upon the cross I am overcome with the awe, wonder and beauty that is Love! My friends, what do you see when you meditate upon cross?

Grace & Peace to you, my friends!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Prayer of Examen -- One of My Lenten Disciplines (Hopefully?!)

I usually think of the season of Lent as a time in the church year when we are doing some spring cleaning of sorts within our hearts and souls so that we can celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior on Easter Sunday with "clean hands and a pure heart." Psalm 24:3-4. I know that you might be asking, "How does one do that -- get clean hands and a pure heart?" I believe I may have stumbled upon one way to accomplish just that -- the Prayer of Examen, and it is this practice that I am undertaking as one of the things that I do, rather than give up, during the season of Lent. It is my hope that I will become more intentional about practicing the prayer of examen on a daily basis.

Before we get to the "how to" of the prayer of examen, I'd like to share with a little bit about what the practice is all about. The prayer of examen is in no way meant to be a threatening process with intention towards confession and repentance (although you may well find yourself doing that...) but rather a loving process with intention towards growing deeper spiritually and learning to recognize and receive the assistance of the Holy Spirit. In (or shall I say within?) the prayer of examen we are attempting to become more aware of God's presence and the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Several years ago, I found this prayer of examen, written by Rob Bell of Mars Hill Church. I appreciate its beauty, its simplicity and its four movements of presence, gratitude, review and response. I will confess that I've adapted it a bit for ease of use.

Practicing the Prayer of Examen
This prayer of examen is primarily an exercise in remembering. One is invited, through four portions (presence, gratitude, review and response), to concentrate on experiences and encounters from the past 24 hours. The beauty of the practice is its simplicity; it is more a guide than a prescription. If some portion feels especially important on a given day, feel the freedom to spend all or most of your time in that portion. The purpose is to increase awareness and sensitivity, not to finish or accomplish a task.

Thoughts on getting started:
  • A comfortable and relatively quiet location is likely the most conducive for reflecting.
  • Do not rush through the experience -- as little as ten minutes could be sufficient, and you could spend more time on certain portions than others.
  • It might be helpful to journal your thoughts and recollections or to write out what you notice during your times of prayer.
  • Consider sharing your experiences: allow encouragement and insight from others to influence you and cheer you on, and when appropriate give the same, together striving to be an ever-faithful "community of solitudes" (A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer)
Begin this practice by recognizing the presence of God. Remind yourself of God's presence with you and His desire to be with you. Consider praying for the Holy Spirit to help you be attentive to God's presence. To become more focused, it might be helpful to repeat a single phrase during this time, like "Be still and know that I am God" [Psalm 46v10]. It's important to begin this practice in a calm and centered state. There are many days when you'll need the entire time to remember and focus on the nearness of God. Don't rush past this portion. Take the necessary time to wait and find comfort in God's presence.

The following scripture passage might be your prayer: 
Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul... Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. [Psalm 143v8b, 10]
  1. Take some time and focus on the nearness of God.
  2. Open yourself to his presence.
"If the only prayer you say in your entire life is, "Thank you," wrote Meister Eckhart, "that would suffice." As you think about the past 24 hours, what causes you to be thankful? Look back over the past day, the big and small aspects of life and recognize what reasons you have to be grateful. Focus on these experiences and encounters, helping your mind and spirit center on the goodness and generosity of God. If you're using a journal, consider capturing your thanks in writing, expressing words of gratitude and giving testimony to God's generosity and faithfulness. Find encouragement and reminders of God's goodness, and be thankful.

The following Scripture might be your prayer as you begin:
Praise be to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. [Ephesians 1v3]
  1. Over the past 24 hours, for what are you most grateful? What makes you feel thankful?
  2. Express your gratitude to God.
Over-packed lives can rob us of the opportunity to learn from the past, to see how yesterday might inform today. "Where did time go?!" we ask ourselves, often struggling to remember what we did just a week ago. Here we can benefit again from taking time to look back over the past 24 hours. By intentionally reviewing our interactions, responses, feelings and intentions, we can avoid letting days speed by. We can pause to learn more about ourselves and about God's activity in our lives.

Try to look back objectively as you review. Rather than interpreting, justifying, or rationalizing, the intent is to observe and remember. Allow your mind to wander the situations you've been in and to notice details.

You might begin with the following prayer:
Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul... Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground." [Psalm 143v8b, 10]
  1. When or where in the past 24 hours were you cooperating most fully with God's action in your life? When were you resisting?
  2. What habits and life patterns do you notice from the past day?
Having spent time remembering, it seems natural to want to respond in some way. Take time to journal or pray, expressing your thoughts on the actions, attitudes, feelings, and interactions you've remembered as a part of this exercise. You might need to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, express gratitude, or resolve to make changes and move forward (repentance). Allow your observations to guide your responses.

You might begin with the following prayer:
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd, equip you with everything good for going his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. [Hebrews 13v20-21]
  1. Beginning today, how do you want to live your life differently?
  2. What patterns do you want to keep living tomorrow?
God's peace be yours.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Barreness and Emmanuel (God is with us)?

My pastor has suggested that we join him in reading through the gospel of Luke as our Lenten discipline -- as the one thing we might do for God during Lent. So, yesterday I read the first chapter of Luke and was struck by two words -- two words that upon first thought had no connection whatsoever and that's precisely what made me meditate upon them all the more -- barrenness and Emmanuel. After meditating upon them, I came to the conclusion that they were more connected that what I originally thought. Mighty acts of God always follow when a biblical writer proclaims a woman is barren. When we hear the word barren in scripture we should hear that to mean more than the fact that the woman's womb is without child but also to mean that a spiritual desolation or dryness exists for the people of God at that time. In this first chapter of Luke, that's exactly what God's children were experiencing. God's prophets had been silent in regards to the coming messiah and his people had become spiritually barren because God had been silent for so long. I would certainly understand if God's people at the time had sort of given up hope that the messiah would ever come, especially considering that God had been silent for about 400 years. Anytime we give up on hope we are without a doubt spiritually dry or barren. Anyway, back to the story today -- And then God tells us that Elizabeth was barren. Like I said earlier, I've learned to pay attention when that word comes into play within the scriptures because God is going to do something really big next and that's precisely the case in our story today. God tells Zachariah that his wife will bear a child, a son and his name shall be John. Pretty miraculous considering that Elizabeth is well past child-rearing age. You would think that would be big but apparently it's not big enough because right after that we hear that another woman's womb (Mary) holds God himself, Emmanuel, which means God is with us! As I put these two words together, barrenness and Emmanuel, especially in light of the season of Lent, there seems to be this lingering question within me, "As I wait for the celebration of the resurrection and allow God to deal with the barrenness within my soul (the sin within my soul that only he can mend or darn), can I sense God's very presence with me, even though this work that he is doing is painful and quite difficult?" The grace of this season for me is that God's presence is in no way limited by my experience of his presence -- he is Emmanuel! I must simply trust that he is present because that's the truth of the gospel, my friends! Still, I must admit my barrenness and I must let God act -- submit my soul to him to do the work only he can do! I pray that you will the do the same!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Darning -- Something's Just Not Right!

I find myself in the very beginning of the season of Lent and I'm at a bit of a loss because I didn't get to experience the imposition of ashes and hear those words, "Ashes to ashes dust to dust; repent and believe the gospel." I also missed the solemn message always preached at Ash Wednesday services reminding me that I am human and that God did something pretty amazing through the life, death and resurrection of his Son, but the message doesn't end there. It ends only after being reminded that in order to fully experience resurrection joy on Easter morning, I might want to spend the next several weeks doing some spring cleaning, of sorts, within my soul.

I've been thinking about this and about how this Lenten season didn't get off on the right foot for me, especially as I've been going about the daily activities that make up my life and it struck me while I was darning (you know, mending by hand certain articles of clothing) that Lent is sort of like darning. Just as I was closing up tiny holes with a needle and thread so that these beloved articles of clothing would be like new and could still be enjoyed, so God closes up the holes in my heart, in my soul (those holes being anything that separates me from God) so that I might be like new and can more fully enjoy my relationship with God. But there's a catch! I have to be intentional and seek the darning, the mending. I have make my holes available to God for him to be able to darn them.

I'm grateful that God, in his mercy, found a way for me to hear an Ash Wednesday message even if he had to use a simple chore like darning to do so! I think I'll let God do some darning! What about you?