“Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ And then the angel left her.” Luke 1:38, NLT
How do we live by faith today? Mary faced one of the greatest stretches of faith that anyone could face, and she remained able to fully trust in God’s provision and plan because she knew her place.
As God’s servant, Mary only had to trust what God showed her.
It wasn’t up to Mary to figure out the plan or to provide the means. She didn’t imagine that she was in charge in any way, and with herself entrusted to God’s care, she didn’t have to be worry about what happens next.
Living by faith as the servants of God makes it possible to approach the challenges of each day with a peaceful confidence in God’s provision.
Week One: We Are Made to Love and to Be Loved
In Finding Grace at the Center: the Beginning of Centering Prayer, a collection of essays by M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, and Thomas E. Clarke, we find a brief and generally accessible (2 out of 3 essays at least) introduction to centering prayer and contemplation. The most important step at the outset is to reorient ourselves around God’s reality rather than our own.
We simply won’t proceed into centering prayer without accepting God’s love for us, learning to stop expending effort in order to pray, and stepping away from our many priorities and activities.
This opening essay by M. Basil Pennington offers several grounding statements that can provide the foundation we need to move forward into prayer:
“We have been baptized into Christ. We are in some very real, though mysterious way, Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. ‘I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20). As we go to the depths we realize in faith our identity with Christ the Son.”
“In a movement of faith that includes hope and love, we go to the center and turn ourselves over to God in a simple ‘being there,’ in a presence that is perfect and complete adoration, response, love, and ‘Amen’ to that movement that we are in the Son to the Father.”
“In practice most of us work as though God could not possibly get things done if we did not do them for Him. The fact is there is nothing that we are doing that God could not raise up a stone in the field to do for Him.”
“No one else can give God our personal love. It is uniquely for this that He created us.”
“If we expend great effort, then when it is done we can pat ourselves on the back and salute ourselves for our great accomplishment. This prayer leaves no room for pride. We have but to let go and let it be done unto us according to His revealed Word.”
Taking my oldest son on a daily walk helped introduce me to contemplative prayer practices as I finally faced my thoughts, let them run their course, and could finally let my mind settle into a place of rest. If you struggle to get started with contemplative prayer by sitting in a quiet room by yourself, these tips for meditating while walking may prove helpful.
Of course I also recommend learning to approach prayer from a sitting position since that can prove restful once you get the hang of it. However, if you need a starting point, this article could help:
“Unlike guided meditation, which asks you to clear your head of all thoughts (often producing the opposite effect), walking naturally allows your mind to go quiet. While you might start your walk thinking of everything that you need to do today, or this week, after a while, the rhythm of your footfall and movement acts as a focus, allowing you to just focus on the road ahead of you.”
“Studies have shown that connecting to nature on a regular basis, whether that is through walking, gardening, or animal care, can improve your mood and decrease stress, anxiety, and depression.”
“Once you’ve given your mind a chance to clear, and not think for a while, it allows you to approach the issue from a fresh perspective.”
Read more here.
“O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.”
Psalm 8:1, NRSV
Creation is God’s invitation for us to witness his glory and beauty. The stars above our heads each night preach a message of creativity and love.
Taking a walk, enjoying our surroundings, and finding peace in a deep breath of fresh air can all become acts of worship for our caring God. It also falls to us to find ways we can care for God’s creation in order to preserve this message of creativity and care for future generations.
May we always find new reasons to praise the majestic name of God as we observe his work all around us.
Week Five: Free from Fear
In Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr writes that we find freedom from our fears and anxious thoughts by facing them.
In this moment of awareness, we may find that our fears and wounds appear to be even worse than we have realized. There is no way around this. There is no way to avoid this.
As we face our thoughts, we will develop the capacity to trust in our crucified Lord who conquered all of suffering and death, identifying with our weaknesses and still rising to new life.
Much like the silent mystery of the Resurrection, our new life will come from God in ways that we cannot detect but that cannot be denied:
“The wounds to our ego are our teachers and must be welcomed. They must be paid attention to, not litigated. How can a Christian look at the crucified and not get this essential point?”
“A lot that’s called orthodoxy, loyalty, and obedience is grounded in fear. I do a lot of spiritual direction, and when I get underneath the language of orthodoxy and obedience, I find fear… We call it loyalty, but it’s often fear.”
“Most people become their thoughts. They do not have thoughts and feelings; the thoughts and feelings have them… So we have to observe, but also not let the observer become an accusing tyrant.”
“In the silence of contemplation, we will observe the process whereby we actively choose and create what we pay attention to. that’s why the first twenty minutes are usually so terrible.”
“In reality our growth is hidden. It is accomplished by the release of our current defense postures, by the letting go of fear and our attachment to self-image. Thus, we grow by subtraction much more than by addition. It’s not a matter of more and better information.”
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, then I’ll include it below.
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 (@edcyzewski) to nominate your favorite articles, blog posts, and books by Thursday at noon each week.
Seasons of the Soul via Adam McHugh
How Gratitude Made Ann Voskamp a Contemplative Activist
Tips for Handling a Toxic Co-Worker (The contemplative response? compassion)
Thoughts on Contemplative SilenceThoughts on Contemplative Silence
Sleepy Wasps and Ecclesiastes via Tanya Marlow
10 Predictions for the Days After November 8 (Deep breaths folks…)
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This week’s featured article discusses the possibility of a digital addictions disorder (DAD) that could impact roughly 5% of Americans and could impact as many as 30% of people in countries with frequent internet use.
Heavy internet gaming and social media use can distract us from work, interrupt our relationships, and ultimately change the ways that our brains function and seek pleasure or rewards. While most of us need to be online for one reason or another, we all need to recognize the signs of a problem.
Here are a few key quotes to consider from the article:
“A digital addiction is comparable to addictions such as food or drugs in its obsessive nature. As is the case with all addictions, they influence the brain – both in the connections between the cells and in the brain areas that control attention, executive control and emotional processing. It triggers the release of dopamine, providing a temporary “high” on which addicts become dependent.”
“Being stressed out or suffering from anxiety and depression can be a contributing factor in the development of addictions. In addition, people who suffer from DAD are often no strangers to other addictions such as alcohol, drugs, sex or gambling. People who have relationship issues also seem to be at a higher risk of developing an internet addiction. They use digital “connections” to boost their spirits and to escape from their problems.”
“But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Luke 12:7, NRSV
God is intimately acquainted with us, knowing our desires, faults, and needs as well as mental, physical, and spiritual identities. We are known deeply and intimately by our creator, and whether that sounds like good news or bad news for you, Jesus assures us that we are deeply valued by God.
Our creator has been deeply invested in our every detail. How could he stop caring for us?
We can talk ourselves out of his love. We can argue that we have sinned too much, become too complacent, and not done enough for God.
When God sees you, he sees a beloved creation that is known from head to toe. You are worthy of love and restoration simply because he is intimately invested in who you are as your creator.
Week Four: Finding God, Finding Ourselves
We have nothing to prove before God. We are loved today as we are, but there are many obstacles and distractions that keep us from becoming aware of God’s love and presence. Our false selves need to go because we alienate ourselves from others and from God as we fight to maintain that false image.
We can only face the barriers to God and to prayer if we venture into silence and solitude. These holy places free us from the control we attempt to assert over our lives.
In Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr writes about the union we can find with God if we pursue silence and solitude:
We wait in silence. In silence all our usual patterns assault us. Our patterns of control, addiction, negativity, tension, anger, and fear assert themselves. That’s why most people give up rather quickly.
“The desert is where we are voluntarily under-stimulated. No feedback. No new data. That’s why he says to go into the closet. That’s where we stop living out of other people’s response to us. We can then say, I am not who you think I am. Nor am I whom you need me to be. I’m not even who I need myself to be. I must be ‘nothing’ in order to be open to all of reality and new reality.”
“You are in union. There is nothing to prove. Nothing to attain. Everything is already there. It is simply a matter of recognizing and honoring and trusting. All spiritual disciplines exist to help you trust this personal experience of yourself, which is, not surprisingly, also an experience of God.”
“Our fear is in the service of all the little ways we have learned to protect our false self. But love is who we really are. We’ll never see the love we really are, our foundation, if we keep living out of our false self of self-protection and overreaction.We must remember that ‘perfect love casts out all fear.'”
“In contemplative prayer, we move into a different realm. It is not the arena of merit, of reward and punishment; it is the realm of pure grace and freedom.”
Read more in Everything Belongs.
Today’s prayer is from the Divine Hours:
“Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Read more in The Divine Hours.