Tag Archives: meditation

Lent in the everyday

In a cemetery in Paris, France.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
In a cemetery in Paris, France. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Our pastor’s message at the contemplative Ash Wednesday service last night was simple, yet profound: what might we do during this season of Lent to follow God wholeheartedly in the everyday of our life?  Instead of giving up one sinful practice, one favorite food, or even adding one daily activity, she challenged us to let Jesus dwell in our every step, our every breath, our every word.

In Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, he describes meditation much the same way.  Meditation is not a specific time set apart from our daily lives, but a way of life, a way of praying without ceasing, a way of bringing the spiritual into communion with the profane, so that the two intermix powerfully and prayerfully.  Additionally, Foster points out that the difference between Eastern and Western meditation is that while Eastern meditation seeks removal from the world and emptiness, Western meditation seeks communion with God that ultimately leads into service to others (this is not to say, of course, that Eastern meditation can’t lead to service as well!).

I’ve talked incessantly on this blog about my love affair with centering prayer, but these are the tenants that so challenge and convict me about the practice.  We may just be beginning this journey of Lent, but I am reminded this morning that we are headed not to a holy place but to a holy transformation.  We are becoming Easter people, through this process of reflection and action, and while God effects those changes in our lives and our hearts, we do the walking.  

We put one foot in front of another.  We follow.  We accept our sins and repent.  We resolve to let God into the everyday, and it is in the everyday that we truly encounter our deep depravity and God’s transformative love for us.

May we seek God everyday in this journey of Lent, leaning on one another for encouragement, and trusting God’s transformative love.  Amen.

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An invitation to breathe deeper

Apparently Huffington Post has dubbed 2014 the “year of mindful living,” and TIME magazine alleges there’s a “mindful revolution” in the wings.**

There’s been all sorts of talk about the value of the creative pause, the importance of sacred space (I swear I’ve linked to this article before, but it’s still great), and the benefits of meditation.  

And, predictably, especially given the title of this blog and its content, I couldn’t agree more! 

The snowy Princeton campus.  Photo by Serena Stein.
The snowy Princeton campus. Photo by Serena Stein.

But I have to admit that I don’t always practice what I preach.  

While I’ve been wildly productive when it comes to the dissertation and ticking things off the baby-prep list, I’ve been flittering away downtime with a host of media distractions.

This isn’t the end of the world, of course.  Social media can be wonderfully connective, and much-needed breaks from the rigor of our working lives with tv, youtube, etc. are understandable.  But when I think about what I really want to get out of life, I realize how much I don’t want to distract myself from what God’s doing.  Rather than check out, I want to check in.  And rather than emptying my mind, I want to be filled with the mind of God.

Through the distractions, I hear God’s invitation to breathe a little deeper.  And this morning as my dear friend and I sat basking in the word of God, simply breathing together, we felt anew how good it is to simply be in the presence of God.  I don’t love the phrase, “carving out space for God,” because I think it’s misleading to suggest that we’re the ones who should be doing the carving.

And yet, I think there’s something to be said for embracing the silence that God grants.  There’s something to be said for choosing not to be distracted.  And there’s certainly something truthful about remembering that the invitation to the spiritual life is just that, an invitation, which we can either accept, despite all its inconveniences, challenges, and grace, or decline for the meagerness of our own devices.

Pretty Princeton in the glow of snow.  Photo by Serena Stein.
Pretty Princeton in the glow of snow. Photo by Serena Stein.

How can you embrace the silence, the invitation from God in your life to breathe a little deeper today, tomorrow, and this year?

**Check out The Huffington Post’s critique of the TIME article here.

When God dreams

I shut my eyes a week ago now during a moment of mediation.

Talking with foster parents in Hubei, China.  In addition to this foster baby, this sweet couple had twins who were napping when we visited, and of course we loved gabbing about how I'm a twin, too!
Talking with foster parents in Hubei, China. In addition to this foster baby, this sweet couple had twins who were napping when we visited, and of course we loved gabbing about how I’m a twin, too!  Photo by Jason Fouts.

And I was so instantly and effortlessly transported to China with this bird’s eye view of the people, the places, the sights, and the smells to which I’d come to feel a part of and find so comforting and familiar.  I was filled with such deep gratitude for how God sets us out upon journeys we hadn’t even begun to dream of.

Guangxi countryside.  I took this one from the train!
Guangxi countryside. I took this one from the train!
More visiting with foster parents and kids in Hubei.  Photo by Jason Fouts.
More visiting with foster parents and kids in Hubei. Photo by Jason Fouts.

But as I mediated on how the damp dark insides of humble homes aside foster moms had become places of warmth and connection, I wondered where it is that I truly belong.  When I glimpse photos such as these they tug so deeply at my heart strings, because I remember each family as if it were yesterday– the words we spoke, the disabilities their children face, the worn wrinkles of their kind eyes and hands and faces.

Several months ago, freshly displaced from China, these thoughts would have also driven fear into my heart with their ability to force doubt into the pathways that seem so clear and foreordained.  But I’m learning that faithfulness to God is rejoicing in these pangs of connection and communion, thanking God for the gifts of life in China, and thanking God for the journeys that only God’s yet begun to dream of.

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I forget that China wasn’t always so comforting, that in the midst of connection and communion, I lived with great uncertainty in China, too.  This is how I’m learning to rejoice in the midst of challenges, because I’m looking around and I can see God’s hand so clearly in those valleys in China, and I strive to believe it’s here, too.  And so the other evening as a few colleagues permitted me to make the analogy, I began to realize that dissertation-writing is an act of faith, too: we may not know where we’re going but we’re trusting that the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, are all building toward something.

Once again I’m humbled by the thought that I don’t belong to just one place or one people or one vocation.  I belong to God.  And my faith isn’t just about serving God in China, but writing this dissertation bit by bit, teaching a class with service in mind, and lingering in the belonging that these moments yield.  I guess as I’m getting older, I’m getting more comfortable with the fact that there isn’t one clear path, I’m getting more comfortable in journeying rather than fixing my eyes on destinations, but mostly God is teaching me that I can be confident in the little that I do know, because that’s enough.  

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It’s enough to be a follower and to follow God with great faith.  

In fact, that may be the only thing that matters in life, and while it’s often terrifying, it’s also thrilling.

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Saying goodbye to families in Hubei. Photo by Jason Fouts.

Deeply Needy, Deeply Grateful

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Sun setting over university campus. Photo by Evan Schneider.

At our church’s Ash Wednesday service last night, we were encouraged to meditate on our need for God and the journey of Lent by passing through five interactive stations in which received ashes, remembered our baptism, were anointed with oil, burned away oppression, and lit candles to represent God’s light along the way.  Often when I close my eyes and practice meditation, I’m sensitive to the sounds around me or other voices.  I have trouble accepting rather than getting frustrated by my own thoughts, because I forget that meditation isn’t about perfection or getting it right, but simply being with God.

But last night as the music filtered through the air and voices trickled in, it felt good and right to be in a community of great need and vulnerability.  I sat in awe of a moment so sacred from the rest of our busy lives because people were faithfully voicing their needs for prayer, healing, and connection aloud and laying their needs bare.

Over the past few weeks my attention has been drawn simply but persistently to my own need for God.  And yet, when I start to feel afraid or insecure, I think I need competence, credentials, and success.  What I really need, of course, like the Israelites wandering around in the desert, the disciples and other believers facing uncertainty in the form of the cross, and this broken world, is God.  I don’t actually need all my plans, lofty goals, or even productivity, but I very much need God.

Red Sea
My husband and I on the banks of the Red Sea. Photo by Benjamin Robinson.

Last night I knew this impetus to focus on my great need from Lent was a word from God, because I felt so deeply grateful.  I felt grateful to hear those needs voiced aloud, and to see us offering prayer and healing for one another, because our needs have the power to draw us together.  When we cover them up and try to be gods ourselves, we find we have no companions for this very human journey, and we lead one another away rather than to God.

I feel grateful to serve a God that supplies my need.  I can, and I hope I will, especially during Lent, let the tasks and the doubts and the playing god fall to God, so that my need for God will be what marks this holy season in the wilderness.

On prayer and presence

Do you ever get the feeling you are hemmed in by blessing both before you and behind you?  And that despite this season of grief and being torn from what was made familiar, there is promise in the ordinary, steady work of the hand of God?

I couldn’t sleep this morning.  I woke up around four o’clock and made the efforts at tossing and turning until it made more sense to rise and simply make something of these moments.

Photo credit: http://ayearabout.wordpress.com/category/new-england/.

And I’m sitting here in the dark of autumn in the early hours, oddly comforted by the quiet and the thoughts that wouldn’t leave me this morning: thoughts of friends and family who’ve listened to my thoughts these past few weeks with prayerful diligence, feelings of excitement about the presentation I gave yesterday on my research and the generosity with which it was received, and the sense that at a time like this, when China is fluttering away with rush hour energy on the other side of the world, God must be in the midst of it all, painstakingly working for justice and peace and love in motions far beyond my understanding.

I had that sense when I sat in silent prayer last Thursday at a weekly meditation lunch on the university campus.  I breathed in and out and felt filled by God’s presence.

Perhaps it was easier because I’d met with my spiritual director the day before and she’d made me attuned to the slightest of thoughts and motions that push God further away.  Perhaps it was the way in which the leader of the session invited us to think of those who were suffering and tears rushed to my eyes as I thought of all those friends and families in China who are ever on my heart and yet feel so far away.

Or perhaps it was simply the stopping, the breathing, and the embracing, that is that first necessary step toward God.

This morning’s meditation from Oswald Chambers talks about prayer as the end to our means.  It talks about the work that prayer does in us, and the sense that it is enough.  These words gave me great comfort and peace, especially at a time where I continue to feel the distance and the distress in leaving China in all the small and great things alike:

Prayer is the battle, and it makes no difference where you are. However God may engineer your circumstances, your duty is to pray. Never allow yourself this thought, “I am of no use where I am,” because you certainly cannot be used where you have not yet been placed. Wherever God has placed you and whatever your circumstances, you should pray, continually offering up prayers to Him. And He promises, “Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do . . . (John 14:13). 

In prayer, we are promised God’s presence, which is what the spiritual life is all about–finding, knowing, and being known by God.  And so as I go about my daily life in this place, despite the aching and restless feelings that come with the culture shock, I’m starting to embrace the fact that God has called me here, and that prayer can be greater and wider and more than silence or rightness with God or signs of holiness.

I’m starting to realize that maybe all of life is prayer and my role is simply to show up.

What do you think?