Tag Archives: spiritual disciplines

Dusting off the prayer cobwebs

My first centering prayer word was grasp.

It was worn, tested, tried, and true.  I repeated it probably millions of times over those earlier years when I first fell in love with the spiritual discipline of silence, of making room for God to move in ways that involved only clearing my mind, cultivating a space, and ushering in a countercultural reverence for stopping when the world refused to stand still.

But abide, my second prayer word that I adopted only a few years ago, seemed to signal real growth and maturity.  Instead of so presumptuously grasping for God or even sagely realizing it is God who grasps for us, abide was the mere act of being in God’s presence or letting God’s presence wash over me.  I was proud of the attention, discipline, and even inaction it signaled, the way it chafed against a busy world, busy lives, a busy me.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve never really been able to get my mind around this word, why I’m not so good at abiding, or even praying about it.

I confess that recently my abiding has become dusty and decrepit, just like my centering prayer practice, beholden and bent to the cluttering of my life in which I’ve allowed little space for anything other than tasks and work and running–little space for silence, breath, let alone God.

But there have been healthcare battles to fight, I rage in earnest!  There have been surgeries, and new jobs, and mourning, and real kingdom work, God.  You know where I’ve been.  You know my heart.  Surely my absence means little to you.

And yet, in the recesses of my soul, God whispers more countercultural wisdom–that more can even be done with less rigor and muscle and strength.  That, just as it’s been in the deliciousness of these last few mornings, when I’ve sat idle, letting the waking silence wash over me, I’ve felt most refreshed, most awake, most alive.

There’s this mystery about life with God, how when we resort to doing wholly nothing, that nothingness becomes holy in its luxury and extravagance, a sacrifice, an intention, a heartiness that can’t be achieved or earned and is yet, so much purer and better and good than all my blustery days.  And that openness gives life and purpose and wisdom to our work and our justice and our advocacy–it exceeds us, because it so importantly comes for God and not from us.

Perhaps that Mary Oliver line should read, what is it that God will do with our wild and precious lives?

Or at least that’s what I yearn to surrender to.  For it is God who eternally waits on us, in silence, abiding in perfect patience, ever exceeding us lavishly with grace.

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A quiet morning on the beach with Lucia.

 

 

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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.

Lent: An invitation to righteousness

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I have a restless streak in me.  And despite being overjoyed at the birth of our daughter and blessed to have the time to take off to get to know her, I’ve discovered that it’s still there.

When I find myself feeling restless, I’m reminded of the perpetual invitation to rest in God, but that often sends me off chastising myself for forgetting such wisdom and promise in the first place.

And I don’t think that’s where God is truly leading.

As I’ve discovered over and over on this blog, finding rest from restlessness for me consists of embracing who I am, and then tapping into what’s truly restful and restorative for me.  It’s an awesome thing that God has given me this spirit of curiosity, and to glorify God, I’ve got to use it, not suppress it.

As I started reading Richard J. Foster’s Celebration of Discipline the other day, I started to be inspired by reframing this time of maternity leave and rest with my husband and my daughter as invitation to go deeper and connect with God.  I began to become enthusiastic about the invitation to breathe deeply in prayer while I’m nursing my baby, to turn the pages of the Bible rather than jump on facebook in the wee hours of the morning, and seek rest, comfort, and epiphany in God and not this world.

As Foster begins his treatise, “Superficiality is the curse of our age.  The doctrine of instant gratification is a primary spiritual problem.  The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people” (A Celebration of Discipline 1).  I desire to be one of those deep people, who studies and explores the spiritual life “with as much rigor and determination we would give to any field of research” (3).

Finally, as I kept reading I was struck by Foster’s use of the word “righteousness.”  I may have mentioned before that my church hands out epiphany stars with words on them to each congregant at the beginning of the calendar year and challenges us to reflect on how God might be using the word to teach us throughout the year.  When I looked at my star this year and saw “righteousness” scrawled upon it, I practically rolled my eyes.  There’s a word that I fear Christians have become problematically known for, and I wondered what good could come of it.

Yet, Foster’s use of this word was revelatory to me.  He points out that our method to confronting sin through our own use of willpower leads to a false sense of righteousness, let alone the perpetuation of that sin.  Instead, if we practice the spiritual disciplines, prayer, fasting, fellowship, etc., we might open up ourselves and our lives to receive the gift of righteousness.  Finally, I love the fact that he counts himself a beginner in this process, just as Thomas Merton once pronounced us all beginners for life.  None of us is too great or too mature to enter into these disciplines anew and receive righteousness afresh.

As you enter this holy season of lent, I encourage you to honor who you are, encounter God in the discipline of spirituality, and receive the gift of righteousness, humble, holy, and free.

 And I’d love to hear: what are your lenten disciplines, and how do you honor God by embracing who you are?