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FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome back to Friday Favorites. Each week, Prasanta Verma and I share our favorite links on prayer, writing, and spirituality.

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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Lisa’s picks —

Rewriting and Renaming the Silence via Cara Meredith (finding God–and oneself–in silence)

Pastoral prayer for the anniversay of 9/11 via Jill Duffield (a prayer to help us as we remember a difficult time)

Thought For the Day via Pádraig Ó Tuama  (a short and lovely audio about sleeplessness, prayer, and welcoming the dark)

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Prasanta’s picks —

Curiosity, Creativity, Productivity: Three Pillars to Building Your Best Writing Life via Ann Kroeker (part one of a series)

The Business of Being a Spiritual Writer via Writing for Your Life and Patricia Raybon (a helpful video webinar on writers, agents, priorities, and more)

Arise, Stone via Christopher Warner (a poem in Image Journal)

 

 

 

What I Wish St. Augustine Had Said

When I read Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead several years ago, I was struck by something the character of John Ames proclaimss towards the end of the story: Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true.” (2004, pp. 245-46)

It certainly rang true to me. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that God loves the whole world. Doesn’t he play favorites like the rest of us do? When I read that line in Gilead, I immediately took to the idea of being God’s only child. One of a kind. Special. Uniquely loved.

Historian that I am, I went to look up this quote in Augustine’s works. I was pretty sure it came from the Confessions. But try as I might, I couldn’t find it. As I searched, I came across the same loosely quoted phrase, with no citation, in a nonfiction book. And I’ve seen it other places on the web.

Finally, after consulting a friend who specializes in the early Christian tradition, I discovered what Augustine really said:

You are good and all-powerful, caring for each one of us as though the only one in your care.*

Here’s the context. Before his conversion to Christianity, Augustine’s mother, Monica, wept for his soul. God comforted Monica in a vision. Augustine writes:

How could this vision come to her unless ‘your ears were close to her heart?’ You are good and all-powerful, caring for each one of us as though the only one in your care, and yet for all as for each individual.

In this statement, Augustine paints a vivid picture of God’s overwhelming love. God rests his ear on Monica’s chest and listens to her heartbeat, her tears, her pain. In Monica’s moment of need, everything and everyone else fades from God’s view, and Monica becomes his only care and concern.

But Augustine did NOT say, “God loves each of us as an only child.” He does not explicitly cast God as a parent. Augustine might have been thinking about God as a father, but maybe not. Perhaps he was thinking of God as a pastor, a doctor, a mentor, or a teacher — someone who has another in his or her care.

I have to admit that I was disappointed. How I long to be told that I’m God’s only child! I yearn for the undivided attention of a beloved parent; to climb up on God’s knee and know that I am his only one. He’s not going to get distracted by the other children out there. He’s not going to run out of time or energy for me.

I’m not above acting like a child desperate for attention, either. “Look at me!” I cry out to God. “I bet those other kids can’t do a one-handed cartwheel!” Do you do that, too? (I mean the showing off, not the cartwheel.)

We look to the greats of the Church to tell us about our deepest longings. Augustine didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, but he did teach me something about myself. My search for Augustine’s quotation, and my subsequent disappointment, reveals the state of my heart: a heart that longs to be someone’s one and only.

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, since this passage from the Confessions has been misquoted (perhaps a better word is paraphrased) more than once, even by the likes of Marilynne Robinson! I think it points to one of the tensions of the Christian faith — we have a God who stretches his arms around the whole world yet loves each of us as the one perfect and beloved child he’s always longed for. It’s a tension I’ll wrestle with for a long time, since I’ll always be a child at heart.

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*Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 3.11.19, p. 50.

This post was originally published on my website, lisadeam.com.

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer from St. Gertrude the Great (1256 – ca. 1302), a German Benedictine nun, mystic, and theologian:

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God,
Help me—
in every need,
with all my heart
and a thirsty soul—
to reach for You,
and in You who are sweet and happy
may I find my rest.

With my whole spirit and self,
let me desire You,
for You’re the only One who holds true happiness.
In Your priceless blood, Lord of mercy, write
Your wounds in my heart.
Help me read there both Your pain and love.
May the memory of Your wounds
forever remain in my heart’s secret places,
kindling compassion in me.

Help me focus solely on You,
who are the sweetness of my heart.

(Source)

Friday Favorites for Prayer and Writing

Welcome to Friday Favorites, our weekly round-up of great reads and audios on the web. This fall, Prasanta Verma joins The Contemplative Writer, and she’ll be helping me bring you a selection of links to enrich your prayer and writing life.

Prasanta will be focusing on the writerly side of things, and she’ll also be making you aware of upcoming conferences of note. Prasanta is an accomplished poet and writer; find her bio here.

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Lisa’s links

Prayer as Mystery via Macrina Wiederkehr (calling on the Divine in times of trouble)

Changing Our Posture by Practicing Gratitude via Grace P. Cho (slowing down our minds and our hearts to remember, recount, and recognize…)

How Thomas Keating Gently Introduced Me to Centering Prayer via Ed Cyzewksi (discovering the gentleness of God in prayer)

 

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Prasanta’s links

Three Poems by St. Augustine via the Englewood Review of Books

Breathe Christian Writers Conference (encourages and equips writers to tell their stories; includes writers who have been featured here on Friday Favorites and is coming up on Oct. 18-19 in Grand Rapids, MI)

The Habit Podcast: Mark Meynell (this episode explores the writer’s responsibility in a culture of cynicism and contempt)

 

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Recommended Newsletters

 

We won’t always include this section, but this week, both Lisa and Prasanta have author newsletters to recommend. Consider subscribing to the following —

Charity Singleton Craig’s monthly newsletter (full of writerly thoughts and resources)

Hope Notes via Tina Osterhouse (a weekly letter with encouragement for your soul)

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How to Pray Through Interruptions

“The kingdom of self is heavily defended territory.” – Eugene Peterson

I usually think that whatever I’m doing is soooooo important. I have my schedule. I guard my time. I’ve made my plans. Woe to the person who decides to burst in on them!

I especially worry about being interrupted when I’m working — which means writing, thinking, dreaming. Writing is often how I pray. It’s when I sort through my ideas about God and praise him in the best way I know how.

Except when it’s not the best way.

In the mid fourteenth century, an Augustinian canon named Walter Hilton wrote a treatise addressed to a wealthy layman. The recipient of this treatise loved God and seemed to feel guilty that he was not a monk or a priest. Hilton’s response is wonderfully down to earth. Embrace the life you have, he says. And that means embrace interruptions.

A contemplative quality of life is fair and fruitful, and therefore it is appropriate to have it always in your desire. But you shall be in actual practice of the active life most of the time, for it is both necessary and expedient.

 

Therefore, if you are interrupted in your devotions by your children, employees, or even by any of your neighbors, whether for their need or simply because they have come to you sincerely and in good faith, do not be angry with them, or heavy handed, or worried — as if God would be angry with you that you have left him for some other thing — for this is inappropriate, and misunderstands God’s purposes.*

Hilton is believed to have lived as a hermit for a time, but he seems to know how things work for those leading the active life. He knows that the second you try to pray, your children need you. The moment you find some blessed peace and quiet, your neighbor comes around wanting you to take her to a doctor’s appointment. And on and on . . .

How often have I gotten angry about these kinds of interruptions? Or worse, how often have I told my children, “Just a minute — I’ll be right with you,” never taking my eyes from the computer screen?

In Hilton’s advice I find a gentle reproof. Do not be heavy handed, Hilton says. Don’t be so worried! And I find a spirituality of interruption. This spirituality assures me that I don’t leave my devotions when I take my children into my arms. This interruption is my devotion. I don’t leave my work when I assist someone. The neighbor who needs me is my work. This spirituality is, frankly, a challenge. It doesn’t come naturally.

I’ve seen other thoughtful people wrestling with this idea. A post by Ken Chitwood explores those moments when someone, perhaps someone unknown, is “thrust into our hectic schedule.” He calls these moments momentary vocations — they are God’s invitation to join him in caring for the world. They are our job for the next hour or the day. “Momentary vocation” is a lovely term for interruption, isn’t it? God puts these interruptions, er, vocations, right under our noses, if we’re not too busy building our kingdoms to notice them.

I’m coming to believe that God has written these interruptions into my schedule, as immovable and sacred as fixed-hour prayer. I imagine God adding them to my calendar when I’m not looking. “Won’t she be surprised!”

Yes, she usually is.

We all need times of sustained and focused prayer. But Hilton has helped me look at the problem of interruptions from a different angle. When people approach us in need, perhaps they are not interrupting our prayer or devotions — they are teaching us a different kind of prayer.

Be blessed in your momentary vocations today.

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*Toward a Perfect Love: The Spiritual Counsel of Walter Hilton, trans. David L. Jeffrey (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1985), p. 18.

This post was originally published on my website, lisadeam.com.

WEEKLY PRAYER

The Contemplative Writer is back with weekly prayer each Tuesday. These prayers are drawn from the annals of church history–contemplatives, mystics, and other women and men of faith who enrich us with their conversations with God.

When I pray one of these prayers, I feel part of the great cloud of witnesses that makes up the church eternal. This year, I’ve made an effort to coordinate our weekly prayers with the major Feast Days of the year. I hope you’ll join us each Tuesday.

All-Saints

This week’s prayer comes to us from St. Gregory the Great (ca. 540 – 604), Pope, Doctor of the Church, and Church Father. St. Gregory’s Feast Day is today (September 3).

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O Good Jesu, Word of the Father and brightness of his glory, whom angels desire to behold: teach me to do thy will that, guided by thy spirit, I may come to that blessed city of everlasting day, where are all one in heart and mind, where there is safety and eternal peace, happiness and delight, where thou livest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

(Source)

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites, my weekly round-up of great finds on the web. This will be our last Friday Favorites for the summer — but look for them again when the leaves begin to turn.

Friday Favorites features posts and podcasts on prayer, writing, and spirituality. Today’s finds offer a little bit of everything, from contemplative activism and contemplative history to a short story and a summer reading list. Read, and be blessed.

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Fast for Familias (do something today — fast for an end to the separation of children from families at the border; this event is happening today, June 29)

An “Outsider” Can Show Us How to Love Our Neighbors via Ed Cyzewski (what if the help we need — now or one day — comes from people we wouldn’t have chosen to help us?)

After the Death of a Dream via Tasha Burgoyne (God is at work even when your most cherished dreams come undone)

2018’s Ten Christian Women to Watch via Jenna Barnett (did you catch Sojourners’ list of women who are making and shaping history this year?)

Why Finding God in All Things Leads to Fullness of Joy via Carl McColman (finding joy with the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich)

Friday Feature — National Selfie Day via Prasanta Verma (a light-hearted but serious look at one of our more interesting “holidays”)

The Sparrow via Jane Tyson Clement (a mystical short story about the God who sees every sparrow fall)

20 short novels you can read in one day via Modern Mrs. Darcy (add these short but impactful books to your summer reading list)

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD

Week 3: Press On
Presence of God cover

This is our last week reading The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, the seventeenth-century lay Carmelite. Brother Lawrence advocates practicing what he calls a continual conversation with God. The last two weeks, we’ve looked at what this practice entails and Brother Lawrence’s thoughts on leading an integrated life.

Brother Lawrence admits that sometimes, “practicing the presence” is not easy. He says that for ten years he found it extraordinarily difficult.

I must tell you that for the first ten years I suffered much. The apprehension that I was not devoted to God as I wished to be, my past sin always present to mind, and the great unmerited favors which God did me, were the matter and source of my sufferings. During this time I fell often, and rose again presently.

I appreciate his candor, because I find consistently practicing any spiritual discipline to be fairly difficult.

In his letters, Brother Lawrence gives advice similar to medieval mystics like the author of the Cloud of Unknowing. When our mind wanders or we experience other difficulties practicing the presence of God, we simply and gently return. God is always there, waiting.

About a member of his society, Brother Lawrence writes (I believe he might be talking about himself here):

If sometimes he is a little too much absent from that divine presence, God presently makes Himself to be felt in his soul to recall him, which often happens when he is most engaged in his outward business. He answers with exact fidelity to these inward drawings…

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To someone struggling with wandering thoughts during prayer, Brother Lawrence writes:

You tell me nothing new; you are not the only one that is troubled with wandering thoughts.

I believe one remedy for this is to confess our faults and to humble ourselves before God. I do not advise you to use multiplicity of words in prayer, many words and long discourses being often the occasions of wandering.

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If [your mind] sometimes wander and withdraw itself from Him, do not much disquiet yourself for that: trouble and disquiet serve rather to distract the mind than to recollect it; the will must bring it back in tranquility. If you persevere in this manner, God will have pity on you.

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Brother Lawrence urges us to take heart, press on, and keep on this spiritual road.

Let us make way for grace; let us redeem the lost time, for perhaps we have but little left . . . I say again, let us enter into ourselves. The time presses, there is no room for delay; our souls are at stake.

Let us encourage one another this week, for the spiritual road is not always easy. Let us take heart and press on, friends!

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The Practice of the Presence of God consists of the letters of Brother Lawrence, some of his Maxims, and four conversations with him as recorded by a contemporary, Abbe de Beaufort. You can read them here (other editions are widely available).

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For Reflection:

Brother Lawrence week 3

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer from Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897):

Yes, my Beloved, this is how my life will be consumed . . . I have no other means of showing you my love than by throwing flowers, that is, of not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, not one word, but by profiting from all the smallest things and doing them out of love . . . I want to suffer for love and even to rejoice for love so that in this way I will throw flowers before your throne. I shall not come upon one without unpetalling it for you . . . Then while I am throwing my flowers, I shall sing (for could one cry when doing such a joyous thing?). I will sing, even when I have to gather my flowers in the midst of thorns, and my song will be all the more melodious when the thorns are longest.

Source

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD

Week Two: An Integrated Life
Presence of God cover
This month, we’re reading The Practice of the Presence of God, the spiritual classic by the seventeenth-century lay Carmelite Brother Lawrence. Check last week’s post for an introduction to this practice, which teaches us how to continually remain in God’s presence.

I’ve long admired what Brother Lawrence has to say about work — work in relation to prayer and to being with God. I’m always tempted to segregate my life into compartments, and it’s easy for me to box up my work and see it apart from God, prayer, and the spiritual life. This is true of everyday work, like housework; and guess what? I can do the same thing with my writing on spirituality. I can easily box that up and stow it far from God, too.

Brother Lawrence, by contrast, speaks of living an integrated life, one in which we are always in the presence of God, no matter what we do. He wrote:

It is not necessary for being with God to be always at church. We may make an oratory of our heart wherein to retire from time to time to converse with Him in meekness, humility, and love. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with God…Let us begin then.

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We might begin such conversation in the realm of our day-to-day work. Brother Lawrence provides a good example. Upon entering the monastery as a lay brother, he was assigned kitchen duty. He didn’t much like it but came to see even this dreaded assignment as a way to be in the presence of God. He said (this is the famous omelet quotation; you knew it was coming):

[I]t is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God; when it is finished, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the ground and adore my God, who gave me the grace to make it, after which I arise, more content than a king. When I cannot do anything else, it is enough for me to have lifted a straw from the earth for the love of God.

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Brother Lawrence also affirmed:

 

The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.

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What about you? Have you encountered God in your kitchen today? How spiritually integrated is your life?

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The Practice of the Presence of God consists of the letters of Brother Lawrence, some of his Maxims, and four conversations with him as recorded by a contemporary, Abbe de Beaufort. You can read them here (other editions are widely available).

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For Reflection: 

Brother Lawrence week 2