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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.

This week, more posts than usual focus on writing (and reading)—these are the ones that struck me this time around. I hope you’ll enjoy them and find something in them to nurture your own creativity. Be blessed!

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Humility Is Not Fun via Kaitlin Curtice (humility may not be fun, but it’s the road to the Mysteries of God)

Sabbath for Caregivers and Helpers via J. Dana Trent (making time for rest and sabbath, especially when you’re a caregiver or helper)

God of the Anxious via Leah Everson (finding the God who meets us in the wilderness of our anxiety)

Writing Saved Me from Drowning, and Other Tales of Creativity via Ashley Hales (on writing, creativity, and mothering–and giving our stories for others)

Elevating Women’s Voices at IVP via InterVarsity Press (an inspiring collection of women authors to read and follow) #ReadWomen

When The Art You Create Disappoints You via Shawn Smucker (what to do with the inevitable disappointment that comes with creating)

One Fiction Writer’s Manifesto via Erendira Ramirez-Ortega (a collection of statements on the craft of writing and a discussion of the question: why do we write and for whom?)

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BOOK OF THE MONTH: NO MAN IS AN ISLAND BY THOMAS MERTON

Week 1: Being and Doing
No Man Is an Island
Our Book of the Month for May is No Man Is an Island by Thomas Merton (1915–1968), the Trappist monk, mystic, and writer. In this classic, Merton reflects on the spiritual life in sixteen chapters.

Chapter 7 opens with a beautiful reflection on being and doing:

We are warmed by fire, not by the smoke of the fire. We are carried over the sea by a ship, not by the wake of a ship. So, too, what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in our outward reflection of our own acts.

Yet we so often seem drawn to obsess over our actions and achievements (or lack thereof) and to pursue more and more of them. If left unchecked, this impulse can be damaging to our innermost selves. In this chapter of his book, Merton reminds us that:

  • we find ourselves in being, not in doing
  • we find peace in contemplating God, not ourselves
  • we find peace in being content to be “little”

I’ve pulled out a few quotes from this chapter that spoke to me. Here Merton talks about pursuing greatness and playing the comparison game. I know that game all too well; it’s something I constantly have to guard against. So Merton is really speaking into my soul when he writes these words.

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Our Christian destiny is, in fact, a great one: but we cannot achieve greatness unless we lose all interest in being great. For our own idea of greatness is illusory, and if we pay too much attention to it we will be lured out of the peace and stability of the being God gave us, and seek to live in a myth we have created for ourselves. It is, therefore, a very great thing to be little, which is to say: to be ourselves. And when we are truly ourselves we lose most of the futile self-consciousness that keeps us constantly comparing ourselves with others in order to see how big we are.

***

The deep secrecy of my own being is often hidden from me by my own estimate of what I am. My idea of what I am is falsified by my admiration for what I do. And my illusions about myself are bred by contagion from the illusions of other men. We all seek to imitate one another’s imagined greatness.

***

To counter these illusions and games, we sometimes need to remind ourselves to just be:

There are times, then, when in order to keep ourselves in existence at all we simply have to sit back for a while and do nothing. And for a man [or woman] who has let himself be drawn completely out of himself by his activity, nothing is more difficult than to sit still and rest, doing nothing at all. The very act of resting is the hardest and most courageous act he can perform: and often it is quite beyond his power.

***

Read No Man Is an Island here.

For reflection: When was the last time you sat back for a while and did nothing? How difficult was this for you?

 

Merton week 1

 

WEEKLY PRAYER: ST. PATRICK

A prayer from St. Patrick (excerpted from St. Patrick’s Breastplate):

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

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FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome back to Friday Favorites after a hiatus of a couple weeks. I was at the Festival of Faith and Writing one week, and last week had some computer problems (I’m sure you know what that’s like . . .). I’m glad to be back and bringing you some of my favorite finds related to prayer, writing, and being and living well.

Many of today’s Friday Favorites feature writers I met for the first time at the Festival of Faith and Writing a couple weeks ago. It was wonderful to meet these writers in person, and it’s a joy to show you their work; I know that you’ll be blessed by these pieces.

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Saying Yes and Staying Humble: Lesson 1 from the Festival of Faith and Writing via Amanda Cleary Eastep (a report from the Festival about humility, God, gifts, and saying yes to books and writing)

Call for Creative Communion via Sister Julia Walsh (on worshiping, creating, and receiving in vulnerability and community)

In April (poem) via Prasanta Verma (a poem of awakening)

Dread Leads You Deeper via Tara Owens (Tara shares an excerpt from a wonderful new book, Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God Through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints, by Christiana Peterson)

Still Life via Michael Wright (I recommend this enriching newsletter about art, poetry, and life)

Speak Easy via Patricia Raybon (biblical counsel on keeping our words loving and short)

Being is the Greatest Act of Resistance via Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros (in the work of justice and peacemaking, we remain faithful to the call on our lives)

Write Your Own Obituary via Ann Kroeker (Ann suggests a unique exercise for creative writing and for life)

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The Contemplative Writer is ad-free and never shares sponsored content, but it is a lot of work to maintain. We rely on affiliate links from the books we share and the generous donations of our readers. Even a gift of $5 goes a long way to sustaining our mission to provide contemplative prayer resources for our readers.

Learn how your support can keep this website running: Support Us Today

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: ST. AUGUSTINE AND DENISE LEVERTOV

Last week, I posted on a passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions in which Augustine longs for God to come into the house of his soul. A little home expansion is necessary, and this marks the beginning of a mystical journey–a journey inward to meet, love, and be filled by God.

Recently I found a poem by Denise Levertov (1923-1997), an American poet, which riffs on this passage from the Confessions. It’s a wonderful tribute to Augustine that sheds light on the spiritual restoration for which the saint yearns.

Take a moment to relish Levertov’s poem:

***

FOR THE ASKING

‘You would not seek Me if you did not already possess Me.’

-Pascal

 

Augustine said his soul
was a house so cramped
God could barely squeeze in.
Knock down the mean partitions,
he prayed, so You may enter!
Raise the oppressive ceilings!

Augustine’s soul
didn’t become a mansion large enough
to welcome, along with God, the women he’d loved,
except for his mother (though one, perhaps,
his son’s mother, did remain to inhabit
a small dark room). God, therefore
would never have felt
fully at home as his guest.

Nevertheless,
it’s clear desire
fulfilled itself in the asking, revealing prayer’s
dynamic action, that scoops out channels
like water on stone, or builds like layers
of grainy sediment steadily
forming sandstone. The walls, with each thought,
each feeling, each word he set down,
expanded, unnoticed; the roof
rose, and a skylight opened.

***

In the last stanza of the poem, we see another theme shared by many mystics, such as Julian of Norwich–the idea of finding God in the seeking; being answered in the asking. Like Levertov, Julian of Norwich often said that seeking God is the same as finding God. But back to the matter at hand.

As I think about my own formation, about what I need to get my journey started (and in many ways it begins anew each day), I like to read Augustine and Levertov together. Levertov’s poem helps me receive Augustine’s words and provides a model for how I might converse with him.

Augustine and Levertov, a Church Father and an American poet, help me to believe that soul-expansion is possible. It starts with nothing more than a cry to God. May this spiritual expansion be mine and yours today–may a skylight open in the house of our soul.

Source

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: THE MYSTICISM OF ST. AUGUSTINE

Most of us know St. Augustine as a Church Father and theologian. This week, I discovered that Augustine can also be considered a mystic. The church historian Dom Cuthbert Butler called him “the Prince of Mystics” because, in works like the Confessions, Augustine speaks of traveling inward to meet God. He also writes of experiencing the divine presence of God and of seeing God invisibly.

I suppose it’s not too surprising to think of Augustine as a mystic since, according to some–and this is a view I also espouse–every Christian is a mystic. We’re designed to encounter God, to experience his divine presence, and to yearn for greater intimacy with him.

In that vein, I want to quote a somewhat mystical passage from Augustine’s Confessions. I have long loved this passage for the beauty of Augustine’s language and the passion with which he seeks to meet God within. This is a spirituality of longing, and it’s on my heart this week. Early in the Confessions, Augustine calls upon God to come to him–to come into him, in fact. But no sooner does he call than questions arise:

But what place is there in me where my God can enter into me? . . . Where may he come to me? Lord my God, is there any room in me which can contain you?

A little later, Augustine gives the answer. There’s not just a room but a house. However, there are some problems with this house:

The house of my soul is too small for you to come to it. May it be enlarged by you. It is in ruins: restore it. In your eyes it has offensive features. I admit it, I know it; but who will clean it up? Or to whom shall I cry other than you?

We cry out to God in mercy to rebuild and restore the house of our soul. God cleans up the house he intends to inhabit. That’s a good first step on the mystical journey, and it’s where I am right now. I’m feeling my own lack and asking God to restore my house that I might meet him there. I’m encouraged that there’s the potential for such a beautiful and spacious place inside me.

Does your heart similarly cry out to God? Have you ever experienced this intense longing for the Creator?

Read St. Augustine’s Confessions here.

WEEKLY PRAYER

Pilot of the soul,
Guide of the righteous,
and Glory of the saints:
grant us, O Lord, eyes of knowledge ever to see thee
and ears also to hearken unto thy word alone.
When our souls have been filled with thy grace,
create in us pure hearts, O Lord,
that we may ever understand thy greatness,
who art good and a lover of men.
O our God, be gracious to our souls,
and grant unto us thy humble servants
who have received thy body and blood,
a pure and steadfast mind,
for thine is the Kingdom, O Lord,
blessed and glorious, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

— an Ethiopian liturgical prayer (source)

WEEKLY PRAYER: CATHERINE OF SIENA

A prayer from St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380):

O Holy Spirit, come into my heart;
by your power draw it to yourself, God,
and give me charity with fear.

Guard me, Christ, from every evil thought,
and so warm and enflame me again
with your most gentle love
that every suffering may seem light to me.

My holy Father and my gentle Lord,
help me in my every need.
Christ love! Christ love!

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