FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! As we prepare for Thanksgiving (here in the U.S.), Prasanta and I recommend these posts on giving thanks, prayer, creativity, and grief. Wait a minute – grief? Yes, amid the thanks and hope, we also remember the many people we’ve lost in the pandemic. Grief, hope, and thanks go hand in hand this year.

We’ll be on break next week — see you again in two weeks.

Meanwhile, we’re thankful for each one of you! Be blessed this Thanksgiving.

Love, Prasanta and Lisa

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Thanksgiving; a Sonnet via Malcolm Guite (the English poet writes a sonnet for his American friends)

We Need Your Positive Thoughts and Prayers via April Yamasaki (a selection of thoughts and prayers we actually need)

A Nonet for Morning Prayer via James Laurence (a nonet poem for your morning)

On the Last Day of Class… via Hannah P. Keller (a prayer for students as they leave campus and head home)

How do we grieve the hundreds of thousands of people the COVID-19 pandemic has killed? via Reggie Williams (five writers weigh in on grief for Christian Century magazine)

Making Art in the Midst of Crisis: Pandemic and Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle” via Sarah Sanderson (remembering your identity as an artist/writer during chaotic and unproductive times)


New Book for the Contemplative Community! THE GREAT BELONGING by Charlotte Donlon

This week I’m delighted to introduce another book for our community: The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other by Charlotte Donlon. This is a beautiful and hopeful exploration of loneliness from a Christian perspective. The book shows that sometimes loneliness can become an opportunity for what we all crave: closeness with God and others. Sometimes, it is part of the human condition because we are people of longing. I so appreciate Charlotte exploring a topic that’s so often been taboo. There is no shame in feeling lonely. It just means that we’re human and need one another.

Below, I’ve included an excerpt from Charlotte’s book. First, she has a few words of introduction.


The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other has five sections: Belonging to Ourselves, Belonging to Each Other, Belonging to Our Places, Belonging through Art, and Belonging to God. I believe our primary belongings are to ourselves, others, and God. But other things, such as places and art, can enhance our main belongings. The excerpt below, “Visio Divina” is from the Belonging through Art section. It describes encounters with three works of art that deepened my belongings to myself and to God. –Charlotte Donlon

Visio Divina

When I walked into the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe on a hot August afternoon, the first painting my attention turned toward was O’Keeffe’s Trees in Autumn. Most of the trees in this work are portrayed with flames of bright red, orange, and gold. A single green fir provides a touch of realism and stands as a stark contrast to the colorful ribbons of leaves on the more surreal deciduous trees. A background of lavender hills and blue sky, along with layers of crawling light, create that familiar feeling of being outside in the hour or so before the sun begins to set.            

I was attending a weeklong arts and writing workshop, and participants had gathered at the museum with the workshop’s chaplain for visio divina. The spiritual practice of visio divina is similar to lectio divina, when readers take time to interact slowly and deeply with Scripture through meditation and prayer. While lectio divina is the practice of divine reading, visio divina is the practice of divine seeing. As the Upper Room website explains, “visio divina invites one to encounter the divine through images.” Prayerfully beholding a photograph, an icon, a piece of art, or other visual representation provides an opportunity to experience God in unique and compelling ways.

I had practiced visio divina once before, but on this day in Santa Fe, I devoted more time to divine seeing. The chaplain had instructed us to stand before two or three of O’Keeffe’s paintings for several minutes and open to what God might have for us through our engagement with the artist’s work as we lingered, looked, and listened.

After several minutes, I left Trees in Autumn and moved through the gallery until another piece stood out to me. Autumn Trees–The Maple is also a colorful painting, but it’s more muted than Trees in Autumn. It has more white space, some gray, a touch of gloom. The shape and outline of the tree are difficult to discern. It’s an idea of a tree, a tree that is only a tree because the artist said it is.

The painting brought to mind the landscape of late fall, when winter is near and temperatures are cool. Again, I stood with the painting for several minutes and tried to interpret my inner response. I enjoyed the stillness and the process of giving my attention to the art. O’Keeffe’s work invited me to enter a realm that wasn’t affected by the news of the day, my personal anxieties, or unknown passersby. I entered this dimension and considered how the painting might see me. Was it a mirror that reflected an image of my soul? If so, what was it trying to show me? I stood in front of this painting, asking questions and waiting for answers. After the energy of my asking and waiting fizzled, I wandered away to see what else there was to see.

I arrived in a larger gallery and glanced back over my right shoulder. In the corner was a dark painting that I was immediately drawn to. I sat down on the end of a nearby bench and observed this third piece for several minutes. Black Place III has shades of gray, black, and white mountainous shapes. A muted yellow crack or narrow stream makes a crooked path down a portion of the middle of the work. Red shadows splash near the bottom. I eventually discovered two eyes in the middle of the painting. Or the suggestion of two eyes. The painting was dark. Very dark. And I loved it.

After I recognized I was more drawn to this piece than I had been to the other two, I began to berate myself. “Of course I prefer the dark painting. Why do I always lean toward the hard, sorrowful, sad things? Why am I like this? Why do I feel most comfortable in the murkiness?” I stayed with these questions and tried to not shy away from the feelings they produced. Then my thoughts were interrupted by this observation: “But you were drawn to colorful paintings, too. You were drawn to colorful paintings first.”

Black Place III was a mirror, and it reflected my doubts back to me. Its eyes might have even been looking at me. The painting ignited questions—asked with a tone of judgment and ridicule— about the essence of who I am. I’ve long been aware of my tendencies to stray toward hard things, to acknowledge and make room for brokenness. But my harsh views about the truth of who I am only surfaced after I practiced visio divina in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. At first it was uncomfortable to realize I was judging myself, but I was also thankful to see my inner world with greater clarity. Then, when I noticed the interruption and saw more of the truth—I was also drawn to color and brightness and lightness— my soul settled. It was as though God were telling me, “You are all of who I created you to be.

From The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other by Charlotte Donlon copyright © 2020 Broadleaf Books. Reproduced by permission.

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Charlotte Donlon is a writer, spiritual director, and podcast host. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University where she studied creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Christianity Today, Catapult, The Millions, Mockingbird, Christ and Pop Culture, and elsewhere. Her first book, The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other, will be published by Broadleaf Books in November 2020. Learn more about Charlotte, her writing, and her work at charlottedonlon.com. You can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @charlottedonlon.

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites, our round-up of great links from across the web.

This week, Prasanta Verma and I are bringing you posts that give us hope and resources for the difficult time we’re in — how to pray, how to talk to your kids, what to read, what to see, how to write. Read . . . and keep your faith burning bright.

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A Quarantine Litany via Phoebe Farag Mikhail (a beautiful prayer)

Pandemic via Lynn Ungar (a poem for this time)

Spiritual Rhythms for Quarantine via Justin Whitmel Earley (a host of practices, good habits, and resources to keep and restore the rhythms of life)

Talking to Your Kids about Coronavirus via Shelly Wildman (gentle advice for talking to your children about fear and God’s love)

Six Books to Get You Through a Coronavirus Shutdown via Karen Swallow Prior (what to read with your extra time)

Stuck at Home? These 12 Famous Museums Offer Virtual Tours You Can Take on Your Couch via Andrea Romano (travel vicariously and see some beauty while you’re stuck at home)

One Thing Writers Can Do in a Pandemic: Document the Days via Ann Kroeker (ways to witness with your words)

 

 

Holy Tears and the Spiritual Joy of Lent

When I was growing up, my best friend and I often gave up Carmex (the medicated lip balm) for Lent. I’m not sure why we felt that was the best way to prepare for the resurrection of Jesus. I guess we believed that we had a Carmex addiction and were relinquishing something very dear to us.

During this season, I like to see what the ancients of the Church say about Lenten practices. Their views are much richer than what I knew of Lent as a child. Last week, we explored St. John Chrysostom’s full-orbed view of fasting. This week, let’s see what St. Benedict (ca. 480-547), founder of the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, has to say.

In his Rule for Monasteries, written in the sixth century, St. Benedict includes a chapter entitled, “On the Observance of Lent.” He writes:

Although the life of a monk
ought to have about it at all times
the character of a Lenten observance,
yet since few have the virtue for that,
we therefore urge that during the actual days of Lent
the brethren keep their lives most pure
and at the same time wash away during these holy days
all the negligences of other times.
And this will be worthily done
if we restrain ourselves from all vices
and give ourselves up to prayer with tears,
to reading, to compunction of heart and to abstinence.

 

During these days, therefore,
let us increase somewhat the usual burden of our service,
as by private prayers and by abstinence in food and drink.
Thus everyone of his own will may offer God
“with joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6)
something above the measure required of him.
From his body, that is,
he may withhold some food, drink, sleep, talking and jesting;
and with the joy of spiritual desire
he may look forward to holy Easter.

For his monks, St. Benedict advises the moderate withholding of food, drink, sleep, and talking. But, like St. John Chrysostom, Benedict also has a fuller view of Lent. He suggests that ideally, Lent is a way of life. A difficult way, to be sure. Yet we are called to prepare our hearts for resurrection during all seasons.

Also note that St. Benedict has suggestions on what to add to our Lenten diet, not just what to give up. We might forego certain foods, but we can add prayer with tears, reading, and compunction of heart—that is, repentance; a holy desire to sin no more.

Speaking of tears, I love the depiction of the weeping Mary of Clopas in Rogier van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross (ca. 1435). I think about this painting every year during Lent and Holy Week. In the painting, Mary and her companions express overwhelming sorrow as the body of Jesus is taken down from the cross. Mary of Clopas is the figure on the far left. Her tears, which escape from the cloth she has pressed to her eyes, are sacred outpourings of grief that we might emulate on our own journey to the cross.

Deposition - tears
Rogier van der Weyden, Descent from the Cross, ca. 1435, detail

Tears - van der Weyden
Rogier van der Weyden, Descent from the Cross, detail of Mary of Clopas

Yet Benedict ultimately moves us from tears to joy. At the end of the passage, he says that during Lent, Christians are to look forward to Easter with the “joy of spiritual desire.” We know that Easter brings joy, but so should the darker season of Lent bring a somber kind of joy — that of yearning for Christ, whose resurrection we await.

May this unique joy be yours as you prepare for resurrection and renewal in your own life.

 

 

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites. February 26 was Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. So today, we wanted to offer you some posts and poems for this stark yet beautiful season.

Blessings on your Lenten journey.

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Strengthening Those Breathing Muscles via Christine Sine (breath prayers and meditations — a good preparation and practice for Lent)

Lent: A Primer via Sandra Glahn (learn about the history of Lent, as well as suggestions and practices for keeping this liturgical season)

Lent via Image Journal (a collection of poems, essays, short stories, and visual art for the Lenten season)

That “Strange Season” of Lent via Erin Wasinger (learn what Madeleine L’Engle had to say about this “strange season”)

Ash Wednesday with St. Anne via Jessica Mesman (a story of Ash Wednesday, saints, and coming home)

penitents and elements via Julia Walsh (an Ash Wednesday poem)

 

 

 

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome, friends, to Friday Favorites, where Prasanta Verma and I bring you lovely links on spirituality, prayer, and writing.

In this season of Epiphany, we hope that Jesus reveals himself to you, perhaps partly through the pieces and podcasts below. Be blessed.

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What I Learned Being Silent with Monks via John Gehring (what happens when we perform the radical act of withdrawing and being quiet?)

More Than “Just Mercy,” A Path to Healing Racial Trauma (an interview with Sheila Wise Rowe and an excerpt from her new book)

Listening Without an End in Mind via Nicole T. Walters (living as a listener and a learner)

Still Life: Pneuma via Michael Wright (on pneuma, art, and spirituality)

3 Life-Changing Rules for Finding More Writing Inspiration This Year via K. M. Weiland (inspiring creative rebirth in the coming year and decade)

The Habit Podcast via Jonathan Rogers (in this episode, Meredith McDaniel shares the connection between counseling and writing)