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A PRAYER BEFORE WRITING

Before writing, preaching, and perhaps even blogging, we all need to pray. So today, I’m featuring a prayer before writing from Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), a Dominican friar, theologian, and Doctor of the Church. Aquinas’s Feast Day is January 28.

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O Creator of the universe, who has set the stars in the heavens and causes the sun to rise and set, shed the light of your wisdom into the darkness of my mind. Fill my thoughts with the loving knowledge of you, that I may bring your light to others. Just as you can make even babies speak your truth, instruct my tongue and guide my pen to convey the wonderful glory of the Gospel. Make my intellect sharp, my memory clear, and my words eloquent, so that I may faithfully interpret the mysteries which you have revealed.

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FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! As we come to the end of another eventful week in an already eventful year, enjoy these posts that bring us poetry, the timelessness and constancy of God, and the pursuit of God’s voice.

Be well and be blessed,

Lisa and Prasanta

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In This Place (An American Lyric) via Amanda Gorman (discover more poetry by the National Youth Poet Laureate who read at the inauguration)

“The Cup” / “Maundy” via Matthew J. Andrews (two poems that look ahead to Holy Week)

The End Which is Really the Beginning via David Russell Mosley (the planets, stars, time, and God’s time)

A Regime of Small Kindnesses via Jen Pollock Michel (on how we imitate the constancy of God’s care)

The Wonder of Truth: Caring for Words as an Act of Discipleship via Charity Singleton Craig (how do we, as Christians, commit ourselves to the pursuit of truth?)

Listening For God In The “Unquiet City” via April Fiet (learning to listen to and discern God’s voice)


Pilgrimage As a Way of Life: A Post by Prasanta Verma

This week’s post, by Prasanta Verma, is a review of my new book that’s releasing on Feb. 2. Enjoy this sneak preview; I’m grateful to Prasanta for writing it!

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Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? I must say I have not, at least, not a “deliberate” journey of such. I visited some beautiful cathedrals in Europe while in college, but they were not part of an intentional pilgrimage. What a different view I would have now, with some years of experience and growth behind me!

I just finished reading 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers by Lisa Deam, and this book is expanding my view of our spiritual journey in this life. I most often thought of pilgrimage as a physical journey with a destination, and indeed, I am contemplating what such a journey might entail for me at some point in my life. But, as the title suggests, our spiritual journey can be a pilgrimage, too, and “a way of life.”

The early pilgrims that Lisa writes of, like Margery Kempe, Felix Fabri, and Pietro Casola (and indeed many others in their day), faced much hardship on their journeys to Jerusalem, encountering long delays, setbacks, illness, and even death. One did not embark on such a journey expecting to return roundtrip in a week; rather, those who left could be gone for many months, a year or longer, crossing mountain and sea, journeying on foot, donkey, or boat.

One of the more striking passages for me is this one:

“Saint Augustine paints a picture of someone a little like me in his Homilies on the Gospel of John. Imagine a person trying to cross the sea to reach home, Augustine says. This person spots her destination from afar; she longs to reach it. In fact, all of us have this longing, for in our home country, the One we love awaits. But how will the pilgrim get there? How will she survive the turbulent waters? How will any of us?…


“These words bring us to one of the great paradoxes of pilgrimage. On our journey, our every step and every water crossing takes us slowly but inevitably to the heavenly Jerusalem. Yet as we make this pilgrimage to God, we also make it with God. We are not left to find our way alone, for God is at once our destination and our means of reaching it. I never tire of sifting this beautiful paradox through my mind. For those on the spiritual journey, it is a comfort to ponder the mystery that the God to whom we travel is in the boat with us—perhaps is even the boat itself.”

How often on our spiritual lives, too, are we ridden with the toils of the journey and the long road, and forget that God himself journeys with us? Along each dark valley, rocky ascent, and slippery terrain, He is the companion who walks with a steady foot, a calming voice, and an assuring presence. We are not alone. He is in the boat with us as we face turbulent waters. He is walking with us in unknown valleys. We have a guide, a footpath, a railing, a leading hand—on the pilgrimage to Him, we walk with Him. What a beautiful thought and image that Lisa brings to life for us in her pages.

As we battle the difficulties and challenges of this life, however, there is yet even another enemy we must consider. Lisa writes, “For spiritual pilgrims, the greatest foes are the infidels of our own heart.”

Ouch. Let that one sink in deep. The truth of this one convicts me. Just thinking through all the challenges of life, we are also battling ourselves, and this might be the worst foe of all. Our spiritual baggage, our past, our pains, our wounds, our bruises, our rights, our justifications, our pride, our selfishness…we carry all these on our journey, weighing down our sacks, adding to the burden, and impeding our progress as much as any other obstacle. We must face the truth—and the hurdle—of ourselves.

While looking through the lens of pilgrimage to holy places, thinking of our spirituality as a pilgrimage and a way of life is a refreshing view. I am grateful.


*I paid for and pre-ordered the book, requested to join the launch team, and received an advance copy to read. This post is not being solicited by the launch team or book publishers, and I am writing my own thoughts and opinions out of my own personal experience.

WEEKLY PRAYER: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we pray with the minister and civil rights activist for peace and enemy love.

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God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, even our enemy neighbors. And we ask you, God, in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, to be with us in our going out and our coming in, in our rising up and in our lying down, in our moments of joy and in our moments of sorrow, until the day when there shall be no sunset and no dawn.

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FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! As we continue along in the first month of the new year, enjoy these posts and podcasts that will help set a good tone for living faithfully, creatively, and communally. Praying that 2021 will be a good year for all of us.

Love,

Lisa and Prasanta

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10 Fresh Ways to Read Your Bible in 2021 via Traci Rhoades (practical ideas for getting started or picking the Bible back up again)

What Are We Expecting in the New Year? via Ed Cyzewski (are we expecting to find God each day? or are we expecting the worst to happen?)

Homesick via Elizabeth Gatewood (finding home and rest in a community that is bound together in mutual concern)

Hospitable Hospitals and Space to Grieve What’s Lost via Lore Ferguson Wilbert (finding space to doubt, fear, and grieve all that has been lost)

And All Shall Be Well via Marjorie Maddox (a poem with no beginning or end)

Creating Courageously During Difficult Days via Shawn Smucker and Maile Silva (how should creative people engage with culture during these difficult days?)


The Way Up Is Down by Marlena Graves


This week I’m thrilled to share an (adapted) excerpt from Marlena Graves’s book, The Way Up Is Down. You may have already heard about this book: it was published in July 2020 and won a 2021 Christianity Today Award of Merit. I wanted to draw attention to it because it is such an important read for our contemplative community. In the first few pages, Marlena quotes Teresa of Avila, and then she goes on to dialogue with other historical and contemplative figures like Macrina the Younger, Saint Benedict, and the church fathers.

Above all, Marlena goes deep into Scripture to teach us about emptying ourselves and embracing a life of following Jesus. Enjoy this excerpt from chapter two of The Way Up Is Down.

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Down Low With Jesus

None of us knows what we don’t know unless our eyes are opened. My first revelation was the cafeteria lunch ticket. It was on display for all to see when I handed it to the lunch lady. No way to be discrete. Its bright color marked me as eligible for a free lunch.

Sometimes sheer embarrassment over being known as poor kept me from eating lunch. My free lunch ticket: a stigma. Of course, if I were really hungry and knew I’d return home to an empty refrigerator when I stepped off of the school bus, I swallowed my pride and presented the lunch ticket. More indications.

Upon returning from Puerto Rico in fifth grade, someone derogatorily asked, “Are you black?” Until then, I didn’t know I looked different from others. Now, as a bleached out biracial Puerto Rican, I am blanquita. Then, I was darker. As a child and teenager, I didn’t know I had an accent until my best friend’s mother told me I did. Now, I am told I have no accent.

However, it was as an employee at a Christian college that I became acutely aware of the economic, cultural, and racial disparity in my environments. It was at the Christian college that I learned how underprivileged I was.

After Brenda Salter-McNeil, a thought leader in the area of racial reconciliation, led a large room full of people in an activity dubbed the “Race Race,” everything made sense. The starting line was masking tape laid down across the middle of an all-purpose classroom. Dr. Salter-McNeil asked a series of questions like: Did you go to summer camps? Did your parents attend college? Did you qualify for free and reduced lunches? Are you a woman? and Are you an ethnic minority? Our answers determined whether we took steps forward or backward. At the end of fifty questions, I was at the back of the room with one of my best friends, an African American woman. Almost dead last. Way behind the starting line, not to mention the finish line.

When everyone turned to see who was last, I stood there humiliated. This time my answers to the questions, not my lunch ticket, exposed me as a have not. Until then I had no idea how underprivileged I was. I thought I was doing well. However, even though my ethnicity, gender, and economic status of my family of origin were not under my control, they affected everything. I can’t escape the facts of my life even with lunch money and a refrigerator full of groceries. I was born into last place or nearly last place. Even with the privileges I have now, I’ll never be able to catch up with those who started ahead of me. That day, I discovered that even with my education and ability to think, fundamentally, I was still on society’s and the American church’s bottom of the pecking order. I was a bottom dweller.

Growing up and even into my adulthood, I despaired over the hand I was dealt. I often begged God to explain why the cards were stacked against me as a Hispanic-Latina woman born into a poor family that was plagued by the effects of mental illness. I used to despair a lot, but not as much anymore. Yes, there are instances. But I don’t remain in self-pity for long stretches of time. On these occasions I am reminded that the gospel is especially good news for the poor, people on the lowest rungs of society, people like me and my family of origin. God gives grace to the humble. Though I am haunted by the effects of generational poverty, though I may have been born on the lowest rung in America, in many ways I am rich.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:3 (KJV). People like me and my kind may be deemed poor and stupid and not worthy of a second glance. Animals to be caged. Not worthy to be anybody’s teacher. But if your poverty and my poverty and deprivation (whatever form poverty takes in our lives) produce in us poverty of spirit, if our humiliations produce in us humility and dependence on God, then we shall be exalted now—in our lives with God—and in the life to come.

Rich.

These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. (Isaiah 66:2) When I remember what is true, instead of obsessing about non-truth or the hierarchies and idols associated with money, power, and fame, I can rejoice.

I am bidding farewell to worldly status. Along with Mary and Jesus, I am throwing my lot in with others who by the world’s standards are disinherited and found at the bottom of all the hierarchies. Because I’ve found that God turns our hierarchies and our worldly values on their heads. It is only in our poverty and our intentional renunciation of worldly status seeking—in emptying ourselves of those ambitions—that we are ever open to being filled to the brim with grace. We cannot become full of God’s life when we are chasing status, recognition, and honor from the world or the Christian culture—that only leads us to outer darkness. Like Jesus, we are to seek the lowest place and figure out exactly what that means for our particular lives. So, with Mary I marvel and sing:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call
me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of
their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
(Luke 1:46-53 ESV)

If we humble ourselves by seeking the lowest place, we will be exalted. God will fill those of us who are hungry and empty and poor with good things as we look to him to feed us and fill us.


Adapted from The Way Up Is Down  by Marlena Graves. Copyright © 2020 by Marlena Graves. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com  

A PRAYER FOR THE NEW YEAR FROM HOWARD THURMAN

As we ring in the new year, let’s pray with Howard Thurman, the 20th-century theologian, mystic, and civil rights leader.

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Through the Coming Year

Grant that I may pass through
The coming year with a faithful heart.

There will be much to test me and to make weak my strength before the year ends. In my confusion I shall often say the word that is not true and do the thing of which I am ashamed. There will be errors of the mind and great inaccuracies of judgement which shall render me the victim of my own stupidities. In seeking the light, I shall again and again find myself walking in darkness. I shall mistake my light for Thy light and I shall shrink from the responsibility of the choice I make.  All of these things, and more, will be true for me because I have not yet learned how to keep my hand in Thy hand.

Nevertheless, grant that I may pass through the coming year with a faithful heart. May I never give the approval of my heart to error, to falseness, to weakness, to vainglory, to sin. Though my days be marked with failures, stumblings, fallings, let my spirit be free so that Thou mayset take it and redeem my moments in all the ways my needs reveal.  Give me the quiet assurance of Thy Love and Thy Presence.

Grant than I may pass through
The coming year with a faithful heart.

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FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome back to Friday Favorites! The new year has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, but we hope you will still find joy in Jesus, in your faith, and in community. We find community partly through listening to one another and sharing our experiences, and with that in mind, we hope you’ll enjoy the roundup of posts below.

Love,

Lisa and Prasanta

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Pray Every Day: Isaiah 10 via Mary DeMuth (on this podcast, Mary prays us through the Bible every day; today, listen to Isaiah 10)

Keep Your Lights Up via Aarik Danielsen (a plea to leave your Christmas lights up for as long as you need)

The Gate of Heaven Is Everywhere via Fred Bahnson (perhaps the contemplative tradition is what’s missing from American Christianity)

Yeats’ The Magi (and a poem of mine) via Malcolm Guite (to mark Epiphany, listen to Malcolm read Yeats’ poem)

On the Streets Where They Lived via Eleanor Parker (the more you learn about the history that’s all around you, the more companionship you will find)

Resolved to Write a Nonfiction Book This Year? Let’s Do the Math! via Ann Kroeker (you can write your book this year)


God the Fugitive

Today we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany! Following a star, Magi from the East came to worship the Christ Child. This season in the church year invites us to witness the manifestation of Christ to the world. (Epiphany, by the way, is also a season; it begins today and ends, in some churches, the day before Ash Wednesday.)

Shortly after the Magi visited Jesus, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” (Matthew 2:13) Joseph and his family escaped in the night in an event often referred to as the Flight into Egypt.

Giotto, Flight into Egypt, Srovegni Chapel, ca. 1304-1306

During this time of year, differing interpretations of the Flight into Egypt begin “flying” around, many concerning the status of Jesus and his family as refugees. Some say that Jesus was a refugee because he fled government persecution. Others counter he wasn’t a refugee because, technically, he didn’t flee to a foreign country.

I think the terms and technicalities sometimes trip us up. In her book, The God Who Sees, author and immigration activist Karen Gonzalez notes that the ancient world did not have the same concept of and fixation on borders as we do today. So, where Jesus went is perhaps less important than why: Jesus and his parents fled persecution from a ruler, finding refuge in a land not their home. Gonzalez says, “In modern terms, we would say that Jesus and his parents are refugees.”

One of my favorite medieval authors, Jean Gerson, states this in a very striking way. Gerson was a fifteenth-century French scholar and the chancellor of the University of Paris. In ca. 1415, he wrote a narrative poem, the Josephina, celebrating the life and faith of Jesus’ earthly father, St. Joseph. The poem includes all kinds of scenes about the daily life of the holy family. And it begins with the Flight into Egypt. Towards the beginning of the poem, Gerson makes a statement that stopped me cold when I first read it:

“Deus est fugitivus et advena.” Let’s look at the terms in this statement. Fugitivus means fugitive. Advena means foreigner or stranger. Hence we have the striking pronouncement:

God is a fugitive and a foreigner.

I’ve often wondered why Gerson uses the term “fugitive.” We often think of a fugitive as someone who flees “the long arm of the law.” But it can also describe a person who flees to escape danger or persecution. Merriam-Webster suggests “refugee” as a synonym.

I also think it’s important that in the passage, Gerson uses the word “Deus” instead of “Christus” or “Jesus.” Jesus and God are, of course, one and the same, but the name “God” carries huge implications. God, as in – the Lord Almighty. The Creator. The God of the universe. So think about that for a minute: The God of the universe became a fugitive.

And it’s not just God who needs and seeks refuge. After the Holy Family arrives in Egypt, Gerson writes that each one of us is like them—we are strangers and foreigners.

Whoever you are, deeply longing to be citizens of the heavenly country,
act in this way,
thus remembering to contemplate the fact that you are a foreigner.
Let Christ, Joseph, and Mary be an example to you.

As fugitives who had to settle in a land not their own, the Holy Family are to be examples for every Christian. We are all strangers passing through this world.

The Flight into Egypt also shows us that God identifies very strongly with strangers on the margins of the world—with the persecuted, the powerless, the poor, the refugees, and the fugitives. We are to see Jesus in them. Gonzalez says, “Jesus reminds us in Matthew 25 that when we welcome foreigners and others in vulnerable situations, we welcome him.”

Let us remember that during this season. As we reflect on the Flight into Egypt —

May we see our fugitive selves in Jesus.
May we see Jesus in our fugitive neighbors.
May we see God’s heart for all those on the margins of this great big world.

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Note: For Gerson’s poem, see Brian Patrick McGuire’s essay in The Making of Christian Communities in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (pp. 131-152). I would also like to thank Randy Blacketer for his translation of some of Gerson’s Latin text.

A BLESSING FOR EPIPHANY

The Feast of Epiphany is Wednesday, January 6. Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Christ to the world, as epitomized by the visit of the Magi. This week, we have a blessing for Epiphany.

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God has called you out of darkness,
into his wonderful light.
May you experience his kindness and blessings,
and be strong in faith, in hope, and in love.

Because you are followers of Christ,
who appeared on this day as a light shining in darkness,
may he make you a light to all your sisters and brothers.

The wise men followed the star,
and found Christ who is light from light.
May you too find the Lord
when your pilgrimage is ended.

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