We All Wander – But Do We Return?

Perhaps it’s no wonder that I’m drawn to the medieval mystics. Having spent the better part of my life researching and studying, the mystics teach something I need to hear: we come to know and love God not through our intellect, but through our heart.

One of the most popular mystical texts was written by my favorite author — Anonymous. In the late 14th century, this man (probably an English monk) penned a guide to contemplative prayer called the Cloud of Unknowing.

These days, the Cloud of Unknowing is one of the main texts used in the practice of centering prayer. It has many techniques and words of wisdom. I’m especially drawn to the section in which the author talks about failing at prayer. Because we all do. Our monk says:

No sooner has a man turned toward God in love when through human frailty he finds himself distracted by the remembrance of some created thing or some daily care. But no matter. No harm is done; for such a person quickly returns to deep recollection.

I like this monk’s down-to-earth approach. When our mind wanders, we return to God. We don’t worry about it; we don’t dwell on it. We simply return. I find such grace in this message!

One of the most beautiful stories in Scripture, and one of the most familiar, is about returning to God. It’s the story of the Prodigal Son (reference). I love the way Rembrandt paints the moment of the wandering son’s return. The tender embrace between father and son captures, for me, the way God longs for each of his children to come home — no matter what we’ve done, no matter how far away we’ve gone.

Prodigan Son

We often think of the Prodigal Son as a parable about returning to God after a long time spent away. Might it also be about the way we return to God each day? I’ve come to see the Prodigal Son as a metaphor for my everyday prayer life. When I pray, I begin strong. I’m ready to take hold of the riches. Then, despite my best intentions, I begin to wander. Before I know it, my treacherous mind is far from the place it began — I end up, alongside the prodigal son, in a metaphorical pig sty of my own making. But God is always waiting, arms outspread, for me to return.

I hear the reassurance of God’s untiring welcome when I read the Cloud of Unknowing. I can return. We can all return to God.

It’s also nice to hear this assurance from people I know and trust. One day, after “failing” an exercise in contemplative prayer, I told a friend about my problem.

“I had to restart my prayer about thirty times,” I complained.

“Thirty times? That’s great! You actually thought about Jesus thirty times!” my friend exclaimed.

She sounded, in her own way, a lot like the Cloud of Unknowing. And I realized she was right. During my prayer exercise, I’d drifted away. There’s no question about it — I’m full of what our 14th-century monk calls “human frailty.” But when I wandered, I came back. And each time I did, Jesus was there. It’s reassuring to know that I may drift away, but he never will.

We all wander. But do we return? That is the real question.

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Happy New Year! And welcome back to The Contemplative Writer. I want to thank you for being part of this community. May God bless each of you in 2018. May he lead you into deeper waters of prayer and writing. May he bring you joy in your life and vocation. I’m glad we’re on the journey together.

Friday Favorites are back, and we begin our first installment of 2018 with a prayer for the new year, a prayer for the world, and some fun articles on the book and (coming) movie versions of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Plus some other other wonderful posts! Enjoy, and, as always, let me know if you have something to recommend for next week’s Favorites. I’d love to hear from you.

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May Our Illusions Wilt Under God’s Love for Us via Ed Cyzewski (a prayer for God’s grace in the coming year)

Encountering Silence in Relationships via Encountering Silence Podcast (some paradoxical approaches to silence, for example, in the midst of our noisiest relationships)

The Epiphany: The Journey of the Magi via Exile Liturgy (in this Lessons From Dead Guys podcast, learn about the significance of Epiphany in the life of the Church and in our lives)

Praying for the World with Aelred of Rievaulx via The Contemplative Writer (given the events of yesterday, we may want to revisit this medieval abbot’s thoughts on holding the whole world–not just some countries–in one embrace of love)

Hollywood’s Once and Future Classic: Why it took 54 years to turn A Wrinkle in Time into a movie via Eliza Berman (in case you’re getting ready, like me, for the film release of Wrinkle in March)

My First Love, Revisited: A Wrinkle in Time (a reader and writer reflects on her favorite book and gives a piece of advice: read the book [if you haven’t already] before you see the movie)

The Secret of Great Memoir: The Mature Self via C. S. Lakin (memoir is a popular genre for writers; here’s what you need to know before you tackle it)

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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’s favorites begin with two reflections on the tragedy in Las Vegas. If you’re like me, you can always use help processing and praying through these terrible events.

As always, please let me know if you have suggestions for Friday Favorites. You can find me on Twitter @LisaKDeam.

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A Prayer for the Victims of the Las Vegas Shooting via Chelsen Vicari (prayer is more than a hashtag . . .)

Weary In Well-Doing? via Michelle Van Loon (in the face of national tragedy, how do we avoid becoming weary in doing good?)

What If Christians Need Empowerment More Than Oversight via Ed Cyzewski (can leaders and Christians help one another examine theology and spirituality?)

How Meister Eckhard Inspires Letting Go for Love via Mark S. Burrows (the startling appeal of the wisdom of a medieval mystic)

The outsider via Glynn Young (a poem after Isaiah 56:6-8)

Why we need Silence via Ian Paul (a book review and thoughts on silence in ministry and spirituality)

Deliberate Acts of Kindness via Lisa DeLay and Meredith Gould (a Spark My Muse podcast on service as a spiritual practice)

 

BOOK OF THE MONTH: HILDEGARD OF BINGEN: A SPIRITUAL READER

Week 4: Get Your Sparkle On

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In reading Hildegard of Bingen’s work, it becomes clear that she highly valued creation and creativity. In our final week exploring Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader, we’ll see what she says about this theme.

Two songs that Hildegard wrote tell of God as designer and animator (the titles to these songs were added by Carmen Butcher, who compiled the selections in the spiritual reader):

The First Daylight

 

You’re the Word of our Father,
the light of the first sunrise,
God’s omnipotent thought.
Before anything was made,
You saw it,
You designed it, and
You tucked Your all-seeing nature in the middle of Your sinew,
like a spinning wheel
with no beginning and no end,
still encircling everything.

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The First Verb

 

The Holy Spirit animates
all, moves
all, roots
all, forgives
all, cleanses
all, erases
all
our past mistakes, and then
puts medicine on our wounds.
We praise this Spirit of incandescence
for awakening
and reawakening
all
creation.

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In her letters, Hildegard frequently reminded others of God’s creativity. To the Abbess of Bamberg, she wrote:

In the same way that the stars illuminate the sky at night, God made humanity to sparkle. We’re created for maturity. We’re made to give out light like the sun, the moon, and the stars. If a black cloud covered these, the earth and every creature in it would worry that the end had come.

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In a letter to Pope Anastasius IV, Hildegard makes a striking moral statement about creativity. She tells the pope that we must reject corruption, injustice, and evil because they are not creative. They are a form of anti-creativity:

Don’t forget that whatever God made, radiates. So listen. Before God made the world, He said to Himself, “There’s My dear Son!” and from this original Word, the world was formed. Then God said, “Be!” and all kinds of animals appeared. Our God creates, but evil is never creative. It’s nothing, merely the by-product of rebellion. Through His Son, God saved humanity, clearly rejecting immorality—stealing, stubbornness, murder, hypocrisy, and bullies.

 

That’s why you as pope must never collude with corruption. If you do, you confuse those who look to you as their leader, because, in effect, you’re saying to them, “Embrace what’s really nothing.”

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Read more.

For reflection:

Hildegard week 4.png

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.

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 (@LisaKDeam) to nominate your favorite articles, blog posts, and books by Thursday at noon each week.

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Can We Offer Hope to a Chaotic World by Withdrawing? A Parable via Ed Cyzewski (read this beautiful parable about contemplation and action)

Hope in the Darkness via Richard Rohr (this post includes a lovely chant based on Psalm 139)

Let Us Fall In Love With God via Christine Sine (a prayer from the Society of Jesus)

Suffering: Whispers in the Noise via Renee Long (what do we do with all the hurting in the world?)

Where Does It Hurt? via Krista Tippett (an On Being interview with civil rights icon Ruby Sales)

Ian Cron – Know Your Writing Strengths: Enneagram for Writers via Hope*Writers (a podcast episode)

 

 

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.

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 (@LisaKDeam) to nominate your favorite articles, blog posts, and books by Thursday at noon each week.

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What I Learned from the Solar Eclipse via Carl McColman (what can the eclipse tell us about contemplation?)

8 Ways to Start a Project (Even If You Feel Clueless) via Emily P. Freeman (this hits home because I so often feel clueless)

Reform our Deformed Lives via Renovaré (a prayer by Walter Brueggemann)

I Am Because We Are via Elisabeth Barahona (honoring the I in we with contemplative practices)

Here’s What Happened Along the Way via Michelle Andrea Williams (a writer wrestles with God’s direction)

I Had to Say No to a Good Thing – This Writer’s Life via Andi Cumbo-Floyd (when “no” is your best option)

CONTEMPLATIVE HISTORY: BEATRIJS OF NAZARETH

Beatrijs of Nazareth (c. 1200 – 1268), a Flemish Cistercian nun, was prioress of the Abbey of Our Lady of Nazareth in Brabant (present-day Belgium). She is often studied in the context of the beguine movement since she received her education from beguines before becoming a nun. In the mid-thirteenth century, Beatrijs wrote The Seven Manners of Loving, a mystical treatise that describes the soul advancing in love for God.

I’m drawn to the striking imagery that mystics often use to describe spiritual growth. Beatrijs of Nazareth does not disappoint! In one passage of her treatise, she likens the soul to a housewife putting everything in order. Although housework seems down to earth, it characterizes a very advanced kind of love in Beatrijs’s treatise.

In the sixth manner, as the bride of our Lord advances and climbs into greater holiness, she feels love to be of a different nature, and her knowledge of this love is closer and higher.

The soul has advanced this far because she has prepared her house for love . . .

And you may see that now the soul is like a housewife who has put all her household in good order and prudently arranged it and well disposed it; she has taken good care that nothing will damage it, her provision for the future is wise, she knows exactly what she is doing, she acquires and discards, she does what is proper, she avoids mistakes, and always she knows how everything should be.

I suppose that calling anyone or anything a “housewife” sounds a little out of date today. I wouldn’t want to be called that! And Beatrijs’s standards for housework seem impossibly high. But I do like the image of the soul bustling around preparing and making room for love.

The rewards of this spiritual work are great. When the inner house is ready, love moves in, and the soul is able to have a “close comprehension of God.”

And then love makes the soul so bold that it no longer fears man nor friend, angel or saint or God himself in all that it does or abandons, in all its working and resting. And now the soul feels indeed that love is within it, as mighty and as active when the body is at rest as when it performs many deeds.

Does Beatrijs’s household imagery resonate with you? Can you picture your soul bustling around preparing an inner home for love? For more examples of this kind of imagery in medieval devotional literature, see the post Finding Christ in the Kitchen by Louise Campion.

For more on Beatrijs of Nazareth, see, among other sources, Medieval Women’s Visionary Literature by Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff.

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

We’re back with Friday Favorites! I hope you enjoy this selection of links I’ve found around the web.

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 (@LisaKDeam) to nominate your favorite articles, blog posts, and books by Thursday at noon each week.

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Living Wholeheartedly Today via Alia Joy (living with faithfulness in the here and now)

Sacred Interruptions via Lisa Deam (this is my article for the Redbud Post on learning about parenting from a medieval mystic)

Living Is Part Of the Writing Process via Lyndsay Knowles (could a short break help your writing process?)

The Spiritual Journey of Self-Publishing :: Writing as an Act of Worship via Kris Camealy (writing, refining, self-publishing, and obedience)

So You’re an Author Without a Social Media Presence: Now What? via Jane Friedman (the pros and cons of social media plus links to other helpful articles)

The death of reading is threatening the soul via Philip Yancey (fortunately we’re all readers here, right?)

 

GUEST POST: The Blessings from the Animals by Andi Cumbo-Floyd

Welcome to a new feature here at The Contemplative Writer. Every so often, I’ll be having guest writers share with you their thoughts on prayer, writing, and the contemplative life. I think their voices will bless you.

Our first guest post from Andi Cumbo-Floyd introduces a spiritual pause or practice that caps the day on her farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains. It also references one of my favorite books! Enjoy the richness of Andi’s words . . .

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Animals - Andi Cumbo-Floyd
Most evenings, when my husband has come home from work and I have put away the computer, the smart phone, and the e-reader, when the chores are finished and all the animals fed, he and I sit side-by-side in wrought-iron chairs he rescued from a dumpster and watch our rabbits eat and play.

It’s one of the highlights of my day.

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There’s something about the simple expansive of animals that fills my soul. Their eyes gaze deep, and their bodies never mask what they are feeling in spirit and flesh.

As long as I am kind, their affection and trust in me grows. Their motives are pure, and they are never influenced by intentions that are hidden or impure. They are, ultimately, self-serving, but they are, ultimately, intimate, wide-open, innocent.

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“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Of all the lines in all the books I’ve read, this is, perhaps, my favorite. It’s spoken of Aslan, the Lion, the great King of Narnia and all the worlds. On days when I doubt that the world can be good, when even the sweet spirit of our animals cannot cheer me, I remember these words . . . I remember the Lion – not always safe but always good.

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In the evening, as our rabbits play beneath the walnut tree, my husband and I sit. We listen to the goats tussle for grain and hay. We hear the rooster crow from beyond the farm house and hear the up-ended cluck of a hen laying. In the distance, a neighbor’s donkey, Lugnut, brays, and another’s cattle low.

Just then, when that chorus of animal song takes a fermata of breath, one rabbit launches himself into the air, his feet sideways in joy, and I laugh long and hard.

Not always safe but always good.

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Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer who lives at the edge of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 4 dogs, 4 cats, 6 goats, 40 chickens, and 3 rabbits. You can read more of her writing at Andilit.com and more about her farm at godswhisperfarm.com.

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE REVELATIONS OF DIVINE LOVE

Week Two: Seeking God or Seeing God?

All Shall Be Well

In her spiritual classic, The Revelations of Divine Love, English anchoress Julian of Norwich has some amazing insights about how we experience God. In one section of the book, Julian explores the tension between having God and yearning for God; between seeking God and seeing God.

Often these two states occur at the same time, she says. But it’s nothing to worry about. Julian makes the point that seeking God is our job, while seeing God is up to God.

 

All this made me realize that during this time that we suffer on Earth, seeking is as good as seeing. Leave your awareness of the Divine Presence up to God, in humility and trust, to reveal to you as God wants. Our only job is to cling to God with total trust.

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God is pleased when we seek the Divine Presence continually, even if from our perspective, we do nothing but seek and suffer. We see with clarity that we have found God only when the Spirit’s special grace reveals this to us. It is the seeking, with faith, hope, and love, that pleases our Protector, while it is the finding that pleases us and fills us with joy.

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When this [Holy] Presence comes to us, it comes out of the blue, with such speed that we are startled—and God wants us to trust and wait for this Divine Jack-in-the-Box. For God is utterly kind, and the Holy Presence welcomes our hearts with total hospitality. Blessed may God be!

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Julian of Norwich (1342 – c. 1416) was an English visionary, mystic, anchoress, and writer. Read about her here.

I’ve been enjoying the Divine Revelations in a modern translation entitled All Shall Be Well.

For reflection:

Julian of Norwich - week 2