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FEATURED ARTICLE: RECOVERING THE VIRTUE OF HUMILITY

When we as Christians need to be reminded that humility is a virtue, we might be in a spot of trouble. Such is the point made in a recent New York Times op-ed. The author, Peter Wehner, laments the dearth of humility today and seeks to recall Christians to this quiet virtue. He’d like to see more of it not just in our churches but also in civic life and especially in the political sphere. I certainly second that motion.

I was especially interested in the way Wehner defines two kinds of humility: moral and epistemological:

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I have become convinced that Christians should be characterized by moral humility. This doesn’t mean followers of Jesus should be indifferent to a moral order grounded in eternal truths or unable to judge some things right and others wrong. But they ought to be alert first and foremost to their own shortcomings — to the awareness of how wayward our own hearts are, how even good acts are often tainted by selfish motives, how we all struggle with brokenness in our lives.

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Epistemological humility should also characterize Christians . . . This doesn’t mean one ought to live in a state of perpetual doubt and uncertainty. If we did, we could never speak up for justice and moral truth. It does mean, however, that we’re aware that what we know is at best incomplete. “We see through a glass darkly” is how St. Paul put it in one of his letters to the Corinthians: We know only in part.

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Perhaps we could usefully think of humility as a spiritual practice, one that grounds us and helps us relate to God and our community. Might we also be called to humility as writers? Surely so. As we put words to screens and paper, we come up against all that we do not know and cannot express. We rely on one another and on God to try to come up with a fuller picture.

Read this op-ed in the New York Times.

FEATURED BOOK: THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING

Week Four: Letting God Take the Lead

Cloud of Unknowing cover

The Cloud of Unknowing is a 14th-century treatise that offers instruction to beginners in contemplative prayer. Throughout the book, the anonymous author reminds us that God gives us the gift of prayer.

How heartening this is! When we remember that God’s in charge, we don’t have to think we’re going to master prayer or even be very good at it. Even when we’re bumbling through it, maybe our desire is enough, or at least a start. Maybe we’re always beginners.

 

Without God’s intervention, no saint or angel would even think to desire contemplative love. I also believe our Lord deliberately chooses lifelong sinners to do this work, perhaps even more often than he selects others who have not grieved him as much.

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Contemplative prayer is a gift, no strings attached. God gives it to anyone he wants. You can’t earn it.

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When understood properly, prayer is nothing but an intense longing for God, nurturing everything good and removing everything evil.

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[K]now that God is the one who stirs your will and longing, all by himself, with no middle man. Nor does he need your help to do this. Don’t be afraid of the devil, either; he can’t come near you.

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I’ve been enjoying the Cloud of Unknowing in a newer translation that renders the text in a modern English idiom. Read more here.

For reflection:

Cloud quote - week 4

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Each Friday I share some of my favorite finds related to praying or writing. If I think it could help you pray or write better, or just “be” better, I’ll include it below.

Do you have someone else’s article or post to share? Join the Contemplative Writers Facebook group, comment on today’s post on my Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter (@LisaKDeam) to nominate your favorite articles, blog posts, and books by Thursday at noon each week.

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Monday Merton: Is the Church Redemptive or Self-Serving? via Ed Cyzewski (when the mission of the Church becomes distorted)

Daily Lectio Divina: Hildegard of Bingen via Laura Cavanaugh (a guided lectio divina podcast)

Only One Platform Will Last via Karen Swallow Prior (it’s time to reimagine the p-word)

The Long View on a Writer’s Work via Andi Cumbo-Floyd (are you writing for now or for the long-view, or both?)

Why I’m Committing to the Work-Ahead Advantage via Ann Kroeker (try writing ahead for the busy or dry times that will come)

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: WRITING WITH ST. AUGUSTINE

Many contemplatives and other figures from history have seen writing as a spiritual discipline and even an act of obedience. One such figure is St. Augustine. In his spiritual autobiography, the Confessions, Augustine tells God (and us) the reason for setting down his story. Why write? Augustine says it is to excite love toward the divine. In these passages, he is addressing God himself:

Why then do I set before you an ordered account of so many things? It is certainly not through me that you know them. But I am stirring up love for you in myself and in those who read this, so that we may all say ‘Great is the Lord and highly worthy to be praised’ (Ps 47:1). I have already affirmed this and will say it again: I tell my story for love of your love.

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See, the long story I have told to the best of my ability and will responds to your prior will that I should make confession to you, my Lord God.

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Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was a theologian, bishop, and Church Father who greatly influenced western Christianity. Read more about him.

For reflection: Why do you write?

FEATURED ARTICLE: LESS FACEBOOK, MORE FACE TO FACE

We all know that social media has changed the way we interact with other people. In many cases, these changes are positive: for one thing, we don’t even have to get dressed before saying hello to our friends and acquaintances in the morning! On a more serious note, social media helps us meet people all over the globe and make new social and business connections. I’ve benefited a lot from this kind of networking.

Yet social media problems like internet addiction and low self-esteem are on the rise. A new study summarized in the Harvard Business Review appears to confirm that Facebook use (the study remains focused on this particular social media outlet) leads to a decline in personal well-being. Social media can’t substitute for face to face interactions in the real world. I’ll remember that as I go schedule this post on Twitter and Facebook . . .

Here are some findings from the study:

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Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year.

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Overall our results suggests that well-being declines are also matter of quantity of use rather than only quality of use. If this is the case, our results contrast with previous research arguing that the quantity of social media interaction is irrelevant, and that only the quality of those interactions matter.

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While screen time in general can be problematic, the tricky thing about social media is that while we are using it, we get the impression that we are engaging in meaningful social interaction. Our results suggest that the nature and quality of this sort of connection is no substitute for the real world interaction we need for a healthy life.

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Besides all this, we should remember that more social media time leads to less writing time . . . right?

Read more.

WEEKLY PRAYER

Today’s prayer is from the Divine Hours:

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn in this fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Source

FEATURED BOOK: THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING

Week 3: When You’re Distracted During Prayer

Cloud of Unknowing cover

The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th-century treatise on contemplative prayer, introduces a subject that plagues us all — distractions. Medieval mystics and other giants of the Church speak of distractions a great deal — obviously it’s a prayer problem that’s always been around.

The 13th-century Dominican theologian St. Thomas Aquinas said, “a man can scarcely say the ‘Our Father’ without his mind wandering to other things.” The same is true, perhaps even truer, of contemplative prayer. So if you have trouble with distraction, take heart! You (and I) are not alone. The Cloud author gives us these tips for dealing with those pesky stray thoughts:

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When distracting thoughts press down on you, when they stand between you and God and stubbornly demand your attention, pretend you don’t even notice them. Try looking over their shoulders, as if you’re searching for something else, and you are. That something else is God, hidden in a cloud of unknowing.

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When exhausted from fighting your thoughts, when you’re unable to put them down, fall down before them and cower like a captive or a coward overcome in battle. Give up. Accept that it’s foolish for you to fight them any longer. Do this, and you’ll find that in the hands of your enemies, you are surrendering to God.

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I also believe that when this attitude is genuine, it’s nothing but seeing who you really are . . . This is humility. The good news is that humility gets God’s attention. He’ll descend to avenge you against your enemies. Swooping in, he will snatch you up and then gently dry your spiritual eyes . . .

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I’ve been enjoying the Cloud of Unknowing in a newer translation that renders the text in a modern English idiom. Read more here.

Reflection:

Cloud quote - week 3

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Each Friday I share some of my favorite finds related to praying or writing. If I think it could help you pray or write better, then I’ll include it below.

Do you have someone else’s article or post to share? Tag me on the Contemplative Writers Facebook group, comment on today’s post on my Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter (@LisaKDeam) to nominate your favorite articles, blog posts, and books by Thursday at noon each week.

To Experience Resurrection (a Poem for Holy Week) via Kelly Chripczuk

Journeying with Jesus Through Holy Week via April Yamasaki

Monday Merton: Why We Wish to Destroy Our Enemies via Ed Cyzewski

The Disciplines Aren’t The Point via Nathan & Richard Foster (Renovaré podcast)

5 Reasons Fellow Writers Are Essential to Your Writing Life via Brian Klems

8 Writers on How to Face Writer’s Block and the Blank Page via Open Culture (a 5-minute video)

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: TALKING TO JESUS WITH IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA

In 1548, Ignatius of Loyola published one of the most popular devotional books in Christian history – the Spiritual Exercises. This book is a compilation of meditations, prayers, and other practices. In one of the Exercises, we find a way to prayerfully meditate on the cross of Christ. It seems especially appropriate for Holy Week.

In the first Exercise of his book, Ignatius introduces the idea of a colloquy, which, he says, is made “in the way one friend speaks to another . . . now begging a favor, now accusing oneself of some misdeed, now telling one’s concerns and asking counsel about them.”

Ignatius suggests this colloquy, or conversation, with Christ:

Imagine Christ our Lord suspended on the cross before you, and converse with him in a colloquy: How is it that he, although he is the Creator, has come to make himself a human being? How is it that he has passed from eternal life to death here in time, and to die in this way for my sins?

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In a similar way, reflect on yourself and ask: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ?

Ignatius says that as you gaze on Christ, you should “speak out whatever comes to your mind.”

End the colloquy by saying the Lord’s Prayer.

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Ignatius of Loyola (1491 – 1556) was a Spanish priest, theologian, spiritual director, and founder of the Jesuit order. Read more.

Read the Spiritual Exercises here.