Today’s prayer comes from St. Clement of Rome (1st c.). He was a Pope of Rome and an early Apostolic Father. Clement’s Feast Day is coming up on November 23.
We beseech thee, Master, to be our helper and protector. Save the afflicted among us; have mercy on the lowly; raise up the fallen; appear to the needy; heal the ungodly; restore the wanderers of thy people; feed the hungry; ransom our prisoners; raise up the sick; comfort the faint-hearted.
Welcome, friends, to Friday Favorites! Each week, Prasanta Verma and I round up our favorite links related to prayer, spirituality, and writing. We hope it will enrich your life and help you to find the best the web has to offer.
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Many of us love the theologian, priest, and author Henri Nouwen for his insights and guidance on the spiritual life. I recently reread his book, The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery. This book is Nouwen’s diary about the seven months he spent as a “temporary monk” in the Abbey of the Genesee in New York. Nouwen took this extended retreat in 1974 while he was a professor at Yale Divinity School. He did so to face his restless self and to step back from a busyness and sense of self-importance that seemed to have a hold on him. He had questions about himself and questions for God.
Nouwen’s diary is full of insights about monastic life and the Christian faith. I highly recommend it. But the part that arrested me came at the very end, when Nouwen returned to his life and work as a professor.
Nouwen reports that soon after returning to his everyday life, his “demons” returned: restlessness, ambition, illusions, and compulsions. His seven months in the monastery, he says, did not change him. Did not improve him. Did not solve his problems. Did not even quiet his heart.
What a surprising denouement to this little book! After following Nouwen’s daily life in the monastery, the reader does not expect to learn that his retreat amounted to so little. We were looking for results: big changes, a new life, a renewed spirit.
At first, Nouwen was thrown by the return of his demons, too. He he wondered if his retreat had “failed.”
Eventually, however, he came to a different conclusion. The monastery, Nouwen says, “is not built to solve problems but to praise the Lord in the midst of them” (217). What a beautiful thought. Maybe we can learn to praise God right where we are, mired in the difficulties of life, and not look to him or to our experiences of him purely to solve our problems.
I have often fantasized about removing myself to a monastery or, I kid you not, a sanatorium. I have wanted to run away from my life and its problems. I do not think that running away is what Nouwen did, but it’s what I want to do. I want to find a place apart from the world where I can have a measure of peace. A place without the pressing everyday issues that sometimes seem to tear me apart. A place where I can find myself again, and, yes, find God, too.
Recently I tried to run away from my life (not to a monastery; just away). I thought I could find peace and freedom away from it all. But it didn’t work, and I’m both pleased and apprehensive to report that God called me back. He is restoring me to my life, with all its problems.
I’ve come to realize that there is no escape from life–not in a monastic community, not at a retreat, not anywhere. We cannot run away from our problems or our selves. My life—the hurts, the issues, the chaos—is my monastery. There may be moments I can retreat, but in general, I have to learn to praise God right here. In my world, just the way it is. And to rely upon a daily measure of grace to see me through.
It is a hard lesson. I think there will always be a part of me that wants to escape. But, following Nouwen’s example, I am learning to not run from the mess but to praise the Lord in the midst of it.
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880 – 1906) was a French Carmelite nun and mystic. Her Feast Day is celebrated on November 8. This week we are praying an excerpt from her Prayer to the Trinity, composed in 1906.
Oh my God, Trinity Whom I adore; help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in You as still and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my Unchanging One, but may each minute carry me further into the depths of Your mystery. Give peace to my soul, make it Your heaven, Your beloved dwelling and Your resting place. May I never leave You there alone but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant, wholly adoring and wholly surrendered to Your creative action.
Eternal Word, Word of my God, I want to spend my life in listening to You, to become wholly teachable that I may learn all from You. Then, through all nights, all voids, all helplessness, I want to gaze on You and always remain in Your great light. O my beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may not withdraw from Your radiance.
Botany. the normal separation of flowers, fruit, and leaves from plants.
From a place deep within itself, the autumn tree bursts forth in glorious color, and shows a different face of its beauty. Colors emerge like hidden jewels, sparkling in the sun. The season is turning, and once again I contemplate the language of the Tree Maker speaking through the deciduous tree.
For months they are magnificent lush and green, but as temperatures cool, leaves transform, change colors, and strike us with emanating, glowing hues. We have to catch the show at the right time. The window is short. A week too late, and the leaves could be gone, fallen to the ground in a dusty heap.
Why do leaves change color in a glorious display for only a short time, only to fall to the ground, dead?
Why do trees lose their magnificent crown, drop their jewels, shed their shimmering coats, just before the onslaught of bitter, brutal cold, winter winds, and ice and snow? Why at that moment of time?
The Tree Maker
Surrender. Did you notice that glory shines brightest before Tree dies during autumn? It shines then gives up a part of its treasure – its leaves– and only a spindly skeleton remains for the long winter season. The autumn leaves that glow, and then die, exemplify the beauty of letting go. Its branches are always lifted upward like arms in praise. With a dark, cold season approaching, my Tree surrenders bravely as it is stripped of its glorious coat of color and stands bare naked in the coldest months of the year.
Finding Rest. In the whirlwind of life the tree is firmly planted. It may sway in the wind, but it won’t come out of the ground. Its roots are firmly established. The peace, the place of rest, amidst seasons, the bitter winter, and the whirlwind of life, is found in Me: “Return to your rest, O my soul, For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Psalm 116:7. The leaves return to their place of rest.
Deeper Roots. Abiding with Me makes for deeper roots. Surviving the winter is part of the process. Surviving in the environment where they are planted is also part of the process. During one season they bear fruit, in another season, the seeds fall and lie dormant in the ground, but the seeds do not die in the winter. I am cultivating life, even in darkness, even in the long winters of your life.
Finding Rest. The trees of autumn appear to me like aging trees, and through their changing colors, they show off their wisdom and knowledge, as if these are crowning acts of their lives. But then their glory dies all too soon, and their colors fade and their leaves drop dead to the ground. Then the snow falls upon the bare tree.
As in: trees laughing leaves, floating in the wind.
I catch a handful of laughter, toss it back in the air.
As in: the hidden beauty in growing old, in death, revealed and witnessed through vibrant colors of burnt orange, flaming scarlet, deep gold.
I see the lines of mirth and hues of grace in an aging autumn. I, too, am another year older, passing through another autumn, an unknown number of autumns remaining.
As in: the beauty of letting go, surrender, the tree succumbing to the cold of winter without its luscious wrap of leaves.
The tree, another year older, yields to the process of time and change. I, too, have seasons of hard times, removal, loss, and renewal.
As in: watching youthful green disappear as quickly as it came.
I soon will see the tree, standing in the middle of winter like a stark, bare skeleton with spindly limbs. Only its leaves will have died; the tree remains alive and breathing, waiting for its time to bloom again.
Hidden jewels exist behind the coat; “great and unsearchable things”, words of life and wisdom and the peace of His presence, that the Coat-Remover Himself reveals after the false wrappings of this life are taken away.
growing old; aging.
Cell Biology. (of a cell) no longer capable of dividing but still alive and metabolically active.
*definitions from dictionary.com
Prasanta Verma is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. She’s a writer, poet, and artist. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @ pathoftreasure, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.
A Prayer Meditation for All Saints Day by Safiyah Fosua:
We give you thanks, O God, for all the saints who ever worshiped you
Whether in brush arbors or cathedrals,
Weathered wooden churches or crumbling cement meeting houses
Where your name was lifted and adored.
We give you thanks, O God, for hands lifted in praise:
Manicured hands and hands stained with grease or soil,
Strong hands and those gnarled with age
Used as wave offerings across the land.
We thank you, God, for hardworking saints;
Whether hard-hatted or steel-booted,
Head ragged or aproned,
Blue-collared or three-piece-suited
They left their mark on the earth for you, for us, for our children to come.
Thank you, God, for the tremendous sacrifices made by those who have gone before us.
Bless the memories of your saints, God.
May we learn how to walk wisely from their examples of faith, dedication, worship, and love.
Thank you for joining us for Friday Favorites! Each week, Prasanta Verma and I round up our favorite links related to prayer, spirituality, and writing. We hope it will enrich your life and help you to find the best the web has to offer.
Last week I wrote about dishwashing as a spiritual discipline. By channeling the wisdom of a Buddhist monk and a medieval master, we can “wash each dish as if it were the baby Jesus.” We introduce tenderness into a chore that usually invites frustration.
Did you know that Jesus himself was said to have done the dishes?
We can thank the Middle Ages for this insight into the Savior’s life. In the fifteenth century, Jean Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris, wrote a narrative poem called the Josephina. This poem celebrates the life and faith of Jesus’ earthly father, St. Joseph. In the poem, we find all kinds of scenes about the daily life of the holy family, including the boyhood of Jesus. And this brings us to the dishes. Gerson writes:
Thus Christ was subject, as he was to you, Mary and Joseph,
What kind of subjection did he wish for himself?
Was he not showing obedience in your midst, as one who rightly serves?
Carefully and often he lights the fire and prepares the food; He does the dishes and fetches water from a nearby fountain.
Now he sweeps the house, gives straw and water to the donkey.*
This tidbit about Jesus is, as you’ve doubtlessly realized, extra-Biblical. Gerson uses his imagination to bring to life the Bible’s brief statement that the boy Jesus was obedient to his parents (this was after Jesus was “lost” for three days in Jerusalem–see Luke 2:51).
Gerson’s poem represents the medieval imagination at its finest. Like Ludolph of Saxony’s Life of Christ (discussed in my previous post), it paints a picture of Jesus meant to delight us and to invite us into his daily life.
There’s some good theology behind this and related scenes. Jean Gerson says that there is no better way to soften hard hearts than to see God acting as a child. He wanted to help Christians delight in the boy Jesus and to affirm that God became human—a small human with parents, chores, and child-like faith. Gerson’s imagination is in service of the incarnation.
I think we could use a little more imagination in our faith today. We are so good at studying the Bible. We parse its meaning verse by verse and even word by word. We defend our beliefs with arguments and analysis. We listen to three-point sermons that tell us how to live.
But sometimes, this approach leaves me exhausted. I feel like I’m drowning in interpretation. I recently turned down an invitation to join a Bible study because, frankly, it seemed too labor intensive. It involved too much homework, too many workbooks, and too many lectures. I love God’s word, but sometimes, instead of study guides, I need to be guided to some lighter moments. I need to enjoy my faith and to delight in who Jesus was and is. “God laughs into our soul and our soul laughs back into God,” writes Richard Foster about experiencing delight in our Lord.
Gerson’s poem opens the door to a moment of delight, one I can experience even at the kitchen sink. Thanks to this medieval chancellor, I can no longer do the dishes without imagining the boy Jesus scrubbing away at the nearby fountain. I think of the incarnation, which is good. I remember that Jesus participated fully in the messiness of life.
But more than all that, I smile. I like thinking that God did the washing up, in more ways than one.
*Source: Brian Patrick McGuire, “When Jesus Did the Dishes: The Transformation of Late Medieval Spirituality” in The Making of Christian Communities in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, ed. Mark Williams (London: Anthem Press, 2005), pp. 131-152.