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FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! This week, Prasanta Verma and I were struck by the number of posts and podcasts that wisely and gently help us through difficult times. And, dear friends, you may have noticed that the times are difficult. We urge you to keep your hope and faith alive. The words below may help — soak up these writers on finding God and tranquility in disruption and sorrow.

Be well and be blessed.

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A Liturgy for Embracing Both Joy & Sorrow via The Rabbit Room (a liturgy that feels particularly appropriate for this time)

Open or Closed: Welcoming an Expansive View of God via Gem Fadling (an Unhurried Living podcast episode that walks us through a practice to cultivate a greater vision of God during overwhelming times)

Searching for Certainty: Finding God in the Disruptions of Life with Shelly Miller via Sally Clarkson (how difficult times can become purposeful times of spiritual growth)

Poems for All Saints Day via C. Christopher Smith (from the Englewood Review of Books archives, some poems by and about the saints)

Bookish, Tranquil, and Wise via Joy Clarkson (in this podcast episode, Alan Jacobs discusses how to recover our tranquility by reading old books)

Hilary Mantel on How Writers Learn to Trust Themselves via Literary Hub (Mantel talks about routines, early readers, and trusting your writerly self)


A New Book for the Contemplative Community: Awakened by Death by Christiana Peterson

I’m delighted to introduce a new book for the contemplative community! Yesterday, author Christiana Peterson released her new book, Awakened by Death: Life-Giving Lessons from the Mystics. This beautiful book offers stories and wisdom from history’s mystics to helps us reclaim a healthy engagement with our mortality. You will find a lot of hope in this book; it’s one that our death-averse culture desperately needs.

I also love the way that Christiana tells us her own stories and fears. In the excerpt below, she begins with a childhood story and shows us how love leads us to care for others’ wounds. This in turn can help us face our own wounds and our mortality.


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When I was a child, I developed a Band-Aid phobia. According to my mom, this fear reached its pinnacle when I stubbornly refused to keep the Band-Aids on that she’d applied to the oozing blisters on my feet, caused by those plastic jelly shoes from the 1980s. She didn’t understand why I would rather keep the shoes on and let my blisters continue to break open and pustulate than wear a Band-Aid.

Even now, the thought of used Band-Aids mashed into the dirt of the playground, the ones that flapped off a child’s ankle during play, or soiled bandages in the dusty corners of the public restroom makes me want to gag.

Maybe Band-Aids remind me of wounds. Wounds can be shocking to see and smell, visceral reminders that all those bloody, sinewy, bony parts peeking out underneath the skin are indeed mortal. I remember studying the Black Death in school; the descriptions of the wounds that accompanied such a horrible sickness dug their way into my psyche. Bursting boils or buboes the size of oranges on the groin or lymph nodes, symptoms that tortured the lungs or the blood, aches and pains across the eyes and the head.

The people of the Middle Ages were well acquainted with wounds. They didn’t have the luxury of advanced medicine or science; doctors only had cursory knowledge, and their treatments often did more harm than good. Though they didn’t always understand the science behind what caused bodies to die so violently with the Black Death or other illnesses, they saw what the skin of their failing children and parents and spouses looked like when boils bubbled and burst. They heard the sound of their cries and the agony of the silences when the cries stopped. Their acquaintance with disease and death was unavoidable; pain management a fiction.

For Saint Francis and Saint Catherine, an acquaintance with wounds and decay helped them approach the suffering of others. Saint Francis famously made peace with others’ wounds. Growing up in a wealthy family, he was revolted (as many people were) by the lepers who were forced to remain on the edges of society. Wealth did for Francis what it has always done for those with power and resources: it allowed him to remain aloof from the suffering of others. As much as it was possible for a person in thirteenth-century Europe to avoid suffering, Francis did in his youth.

But his treatment of lepers became a marker of the blossoming of his relationship with God. And eventually, the leprosy that had formerly disgusted him became the evidence of his transformation.

One spring afternoon, Francis slid off his horse, reached out to a leper on the road, and kissed him. Only months later, he heard the voice of Jesus in the church at San Damiano, and he moved toward a life of poverty, giving away all of his possessions and living with lepers.

Saint Catherine of Siena had a vision of Jesus in which she kissed and licked his wounds. This graphic image takes us from our tendency to spiritualize the passage in 1 Peter that says of Jesus, “by his wounds you have been healed.” Catherine seemed, like many mystics, to believe not only in the spiritual but physical power of Christ’s wounds.

There is also a story of a prisoner named Niccolo who was doomed for execution. By the time Catherine visited him in prison, he had already refused a priest and prayer. But Niccolo couldn’t resist Catherine’s charisma and contagious passion for God. When she finally got through to him, he begged her to become his confessor.

As Niccolo’s beheading approached, he pleaded with her not to leave him. Catherine followed him up the long walk to the execution platform, heard his prayers, and knelt to catch his head as it was severed from his body.

As grotesque as these images might seem to us—of Catherine of Siena with her mouth to a wound and catching a decapitated head—she was offering her presence in death and decay.

Though I’ve never licked a wound—gross—I have tended to my children’s wounds, hurts, and bodily fluids more times than I can count. I have cleaned up their vomit and feces, held bloody cuts closed with my hands. And while their wounds concerned me when they were severe, I can’t imagine being disgusted by them. Band-Aids don’t bother me when they have been on the cuts or wounds of my children.

Because I desperately love my children, even the unlovely parts of them are dear to me.

Even so, loving them can be challenging. But it is harder still to love others, especially those who might, at first glance, seem unlovable. Love has to be learned, tended, and nurtured if it is to be deep and lasting. Love expects us to care for the wounds of another, not just spiritually and emotionally but physically.

Saint Francis loved the wounds of others, but first he had to come to terms with his own wounds. Like all of us, he had to acknowledge that there were unlovely things about him too. He mourned his own weakness, and his love for others became so deep that he literally took on their wounds. Some say that the stigmata on his hands, feet, and side that oozed and never fully healed were actually leprous.

Becoming attuned to the things that disgust us and to the things that we fear is not just a good intellectual exercise. The ways we approach the things that horrify and disgust us might show the ways we look at death. The difficult and painful work of facing death can actually be an act of love.

*Excerpt from Awakened by Death: Life-Giving Lessons from the Mystics by Christiana Peterson copyright © 2020 Christiana Peterson admin. Broadleaf Books. Reproduced by permission.

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Christiana N. Peterson is the author of Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints. Her writing on the mystics, community, the spiritual disciplines of motherhood, and death has been featured in Christianity Today, Art House America, The Christian Century, and Bearings Online. She’s a regular contributor to Good Letters, an Image Journal blog. She lives in Ohio with her husband and their four children.

WEEKLY PRAYER: THOMAS A KEMPIS

This week’s prayer is from Thomas à Kempis (ca. 1380-1471), a Dutch-German monastic, priest, and spiritual writer. He authored one of the most popular devotional treatises of all time, the Imitation of Christ.

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O Lord my God, be not far from me; my God, have regard to help me; for my thoughts and fears have risen up against me and afflict my soul. How shall I pass through them unhurt? How shall I break them to pieces? My hope and my only consolation is to flee to you in every tribulation, to trust in you, to call upon you from my inmost heart and to wait patiently for your consolation. Amen.

Source

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! Prasanta Verma and I hope you enjoy this week’s roundup, which includes wonderful words on creativity, kindness, poetry, saints, and spiritual practices. Enjoy and be blessed.

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Touching Sacred Earth: Expressive Art and Spiritual Practice with Christine Valters Paintner via EarthRising podcast (disciplines that cultivate a connection with creation and the Creator)

A little more kindness, a little less madness via Cara Meredith (could this kindness be the Christ?)

Seven Suggestions for Living a Creative Life via Dorothy Greco (creativity is part of our spiritual DNA . . . get inspired with these suggestions)

The Return via Marilyn R. Gardner (holy moments and the peace of belonging)

Beyond Juan Diego and Kateri: Meet other indigenous American saints via Meg Hunter-Kilmer (learn about lesser-known saints who embraced Christianity without rejecting the beauty of their own cultures)

Book Launch Interview with Luci Shaw via Writing for Your Life (hear the prolific poet read her poems and talk about writing, divine creativity, and advice for new writers)


Leaf Song: A Poem by Prasanta Verma


Leaf Song


Beautifully curling upward
Cupping droplets on its skin

I take my finger, wipe the drop
Leaving a skirmish behind

*

The autumn leaf is like a heart
Turned toward heaven

Changing colors, singing in its death
I wonder, Leaf, how many songs you have sung?

*

I wrap myself in a coat of leaves
Stand under a sheltering tree

Sing with the wind
Go to the one who sings over me

Cup my hands, raise them—empty
Here they are, here am I

*

Am I to be like that last leaf,
Stuck on the tree? Alone?

 I am answered,
“You are connected to the vine.”

Water spills over my hands, overflows,
Slips through my fingers.





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Photos: Prasanta Verma

Prasanta Verma, a poet, writer, and artist, is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. 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 @VermaPrasanta, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.

WEEKLY PRAYER: W. E. B. DU BOIS

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868 – 1963) was an American writer, historian, and civil rights activist. Today we are praying his prayer for grace and courage in the face of the work that cries out to be done in our lives and our society.

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Give us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know
cries to be done. Let us not hesitate because of ease, or the
words of men’s mouths, or our own lives. Mighty causes are
calling us—the freeing of women, the training of children, the
putting down of hate and murder and poverty—all these and
more. But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifices
and death. Mercifully grant us, O God, the spirit of Esther, that
we say: I will go unto the King and if I perish, I perish.

Source

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

It’s Friday again . . . and that means it’s time for Friday Favorites! It’s such a joy to find and share these links each week. Good and true words bring hope into the world. This week, Prasanta Verma and I have rounded up an amazing collection of words that will help you pray, ponder, and read. Enjoy, and be blessed.

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Ode to Autumn via Brian Draper (a guided autumn walking retreat)

How the medieval practice of stargazing can change your prayer life via David Russell Mosley (look to the stars and remember that the heavens are telling the glory of God)

What does healing look like within faith communities? via Kimberly Pelletier and Samuel Ogles (an Ask a Spiritual Director podcast episode)

We Are All Related via Nathan Beacom (Black Elk’s spiritual vision for peace)

Reading Emily Dickinson with Job via Laura Cerbus (the resistance and obedience of Dickinson and Job)

Books for pandemic reading via The Christian Century (nine writers tell us about books that reframe what it means to be a person of faith)

Swimming with God

Imagine something with me. You’re in a ship in a raging sea, going somewhere important. Perhaps going on a pilgrimage. But it’s beginning to look like you’re not going to make it. The ship dips and lists. The sea is alive – a force against you. You pray to God to save you from destruction.

Doesn’t our faith often feel like this? Like we’re being tossed around by untamable wind and waves? Medieval theologians often compared the world to the sea. “All the ways of this world are as fickle and unstable as a sudden storm at sea,” wrote the Venerable Bede in the 8th century. And every soul must cross this sea on the journey through life.

So what do we do? Usually we respond with alternating displays of strength and alarm. We try to build a stronger ship. Bone up on our sailing skills. Lay in resources. And when the storm comes, we cry out to Jesus to pilot our ship.

Now imagine that the worst happens. Despite everything you’ve done, your ship capsizes . . . you fall into the water. And it becomes calm, buoyant. You realize that you’re floating. Swimming. Drinking water yet not drowning.

How is this possible?

Perhaps because we’ve got it wrong. Perhaps Jesus does not pilot us through the sea but is the sea. Perhaps this is the way we make it through the waves.

Two female mystics of the Middle Ages paint this picture of our journey. The 14th-century Dominican Catherine of Siena prays:

Eternal Godhead!
I proclaim and do not deny it:
you are a peaceful sea
in which the soul feeds and is nourished
as she rests in you in love’s affection and union
by conforming her will with your high eternal will—
that will which wants nothing other than that we be made holy.

(source)

In this prayer, the sea becomes a figure of God’s gracious abundance. The soul does not have to survive the water in a ship. Instead, God is the water. He envelops us, and we rest in him.

We might even go for a swim in this sea. The 13th-century mystic Marguerite d’Oingt writes of a vision of unity she received:

The saints will be within their Creator as the fish within the sea: they will drink as much as they want, without getting tired and without diminishing the amount of water. The saints will be just like that, for they will drink and eat the great sweetness of God.

(source)

Marguerite envisions the sea as a source of living water that never runs out (John 4:10-14). It’s a source of nourishment, where the saints (that’s you and me!) taste the sweetness of God.

I love this imagery for the way it rewrites the usual script about the sea of life. In the words of Catherine of Siena and Marguerite d’Oingt, the sea does not inspire terror but represents the incredible generosity of God. It’s a way to conceive of being fully enveloped in God’s goodness. And it’s an image of peace and rest.

As we ply the waters of life, let us remember the vastness of God who, like the sea, is everywhere. Let us be assured that if our ship capsizes, we will not perish. Should we be tossed overboard, we can swim like fish in the sea that is God.

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This post is loosely based on one chapter from my forthcoming book, 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers. It’s a sneak peak behind the scenes, because it contains a lot of material that didn’t make it into the book! Click here (my author website) for more info on 3000 Miles to Jesus.

WEEKLY PRAYER: ST. TERESA OF AVILA

This week’s prayer is by Teresa of Avila, (1515-1582) a Spanish nun in the Carmelite order. Teresa was a mystic, a founder and reformer of monasteries, a spiritual director, and a writer. Although her most famous work is The Interior Castle, the prayer below comes from St. Teresa’s Autobiography.

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O my Lord, how good You are! Blessed be You forever, O my God! Let all creatures praise You Who have so loved us that we can truly speak of this communication which You have with souls in this our exile! Yes, even if they be good souls, it is on Your part great munificence and kindness. In a word, it is Your loving-kindness, O my Lord.

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FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! This week, Prasanta Verma and I bring you a collection of links on poetry, stories, witness, writing, and . . . eternity! We hope they prompt you to reflect and to hold on to faith. Read, listen, and be blessed.

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Water; A Poem via Ana Lisa de Jong (a beautiful prayer poem about trust)

Matins via Louise Glück (a poem from the Nobel Prize winner in literature)

This eternal moment via Simon Parke (when eternity pricks the present moment, we can see past our past and believe that all is well)

Stories as Service via Festival of Faith and Writing (this podcast episode looks back at past FFW speakers on this theme)

Your Witness Is Showing via Collin Huber (speak, post, debate, and vote, but do so with your allegiance to Christ on full display)

Letter Writing as a Powerful Prompt via Stuart Horwitz (how the quaint art of letter writing can benefit our other writing projects)