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

BOOK OF THE MONTH: REVELATIONS OF DIVINE LOVE

Week One: Clinging to God’s Goodness

All Shall Be WellIn the late 14th century, the English anchoress Julian of Norwich wrote her influential book, The Revelations of Divine Love. The book is based on a series of visions Julian received, and its stated purpose is to reveal the divine will, which is to love and know God. The Revelations has become a Christian classic for its unique theological and spiritual insights into God’s love.

In her book, Julian has many things to say about prayer. In the first revelation, Julian writes that prayer is more of an attitude than a set of techniques. I find this encouraging, because it means that we don’t have to approach prayer with a lot of bells and whistles. Clinging to the fullness of God is, Julian says, the “truest form of prayer.”

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What came to mind next was the way we pray: in our ignorance and incomprehension of love, we use many methods for asking God what we want. But I realized now that God is worshiped—and delighted—when we simply turn to the Divine One, trusting totally in that Unity* and clinging to Divine grace.

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Even if we were to practice all the prayer techniques ever used, they would never be enough to connect our souls to God with utter wholeness and fullness, for God’s goodness is the entire whole of reality, a unity that lacks absolutely nothing. By focusing our attention here—on the absolute Unity that never fails—we achieve the truest form of prayer.

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Resting in this Unity is the highest prayer, and it reaches down to our deepest needs. It brings our souls to life; it brings us more of life’s fullness; and our lives expand with grace and strength.

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*Note: In this edition of the Revelations, Julian’s word “goodness” is translated as “unity” to express the idea of the fullness of God, the way he encompasses every part of creation.

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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 1

BOOK OF THE MONTH: BEFRIENDING SILENCE

Week Four: The Community of Prayer

Befriending Silence

Reading Carl McColman’s Befriending Silence, I found the two biggest takeaways to be the importance of living a life in community and a life of prayer. These two ways of life might at first seem like opposites. Contemplative prayer, after all, is often undertaken in solitude. If we happen to be writers, we spend even more time alone!

Yet McColman reminds us that prayer, even silent prayer, makes us part of a larger community. This is a gift and, for non-monastics, sometimes a challenge. Here’s what McColman has to say about community:

The Cistercian way of life rests on the idea that spirituality needs community.

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Monks and nuns enjoy the support of a community that prays together multiple times every day, where everyone is expected to take part in the liturgy in a public way. Those of us who are not monastics . . . do not have an abbot or abbess who will check up on us if we start skipping prayers, so we have to be truly intentional about our decision to make prayer a priority.

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Christian prayer always has a communal or social dimension to it, even when we pray in solitude . . . Prayer makes a difference in our lives, not just in terms of personal spiritual growth but also as a means by which we discover God’s love and compassion expressed for the world.

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When we pray for our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, our community and nation, as well as our adversaries, enemies, competitors and opponents, the space to slowly, gradually grow in compassion and love opens within us.

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Read more here.

For reflection:

McColman Week 4

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: CATHERINE OF SIENA ON CONTEMPLATION AND ACTION

This month we’ve been looking at the letters of the 14th-century mystic and reformer Catherine of Siena. In a letter to a Dominican laywoman, Catherine writes a wonderful passage on the melding of contemplation and action. She doesn’t mince words when describing how Christians are to behave. Loving our neighbor, Catherine says, is the only proper response to God’s love for us:

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You know that every virtue receives life from love, and love is gained in love, that is, by raising the eye of our intellect to consider how much we are loved by God . . . Loving God we embrace virtue out of love, and we despise vice out of hatred.

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So you see that it is in God that we conceive virtues and in our neighbors that we bring them to birth. You know indeed that you give birth to the child charity that is in your soul in order to answer your neighbor’s need; and that you give birth to patience when your neighbor does you harm. You offer prayer for all your neighbors, and particularly for the one who has wronged you. This is the way we ought to behave . . .

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Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was a member of the Dominican Order of Penance. She was a mystic, a reformer, and an adviser to popes. Her written work includes over 300 letters and a contemplative treatise, The Dialogue. Read more here.

Read Catherine’s letters here.

BOOK OF THE MONTH: BEFRIENDING SILENCE

Week 3: Letting Go
Befriending Silence

In Befriending Silence, Carl McColman explores three kinds of monastic prayer that can help us today. In previous posts, we looked at the gifts of lectio divina and the Divine Office. We now turn our attention to contemplative (silent) prayer.

Contemplative prayer gives us much-needed peace and inner rest. When we pray in silence before God, McColman says, “The Holy Spirit invites us to gently set aside our attachments to our interior drama so that we might rest in God’s unchanging stability.”

Since it is mostly without words or particular agendas, contemplative prayer offers an additional benefit that can also be a challenge: letting go of our all-pervasive need for control.

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Contemplation challenges us not only as individuals but as a society because ours is a society that rewards assertive, take-charge, type A behavior, and we want to do spirituality in the same way.

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Think of it this way: every conversation requires both speaking and listening, otherwise it is one-sided. The Divine Office and other verbal prayers invite us to speak to God, while contemplation gives us the space to listen.

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Contemplative prayer fosters an inner spirit of acceptance and receptivity. It reminds us that we are not in the driver’s seat when it comes to prayer (or indeed any aspect of spiritual living). When we pray in silence, we actually embody humility in our prayer. We make ourselves available to God but without presuming to tell God what we want to have happen or what we think should happen. Rather, we shut up and let God take the lead.

Read more.

For reflection:

McColman - week 3

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: PRAYING WITH CATHERINE OF SIENA

St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was a compassionate spiritual adviser and encourager. Interestingly, she dispensed much of her advise in writing, in the form of letters. Sometimes she wrote to popes and other rulers, sometimes to simple religious folk like herself.

In a letter to her niece, who was a nun, Catherine describes three kinds of prayer. It’s helpful to take a look at her taxonomy. Note: what Catherine calls “mental prayer” (below) appears to be akin to contemplative or silent prayer:

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Prayer is of three kinds. The first is unceasing: it is a holy constant desire which prays in the sight of God, no matter what you are doing . . . The glorious saint Paul seemed to be referring to this when he urged: “Pray constantly” (1 Thes 5:17).

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The second kind is vocal prayer: you engage in this when you say the office or other prayers aloud.

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This is meant to bring you to the third kind, namely, mental prayer. Your soul reaches this kind of prayer through the use of vocal prayer with prudence and humility, so that while the tongue speaks, the heart is not far from God. And when you perceive that God is visiting your mind so that it is drawn in any way to think of its Creator, you ought to abandon vocal prayer and to fix your mind with great love on God’s visitation.

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A bit more on mental prayer:

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[The soul] rises above herself, that is, above the gross impulse of the senses, and with angelic mind is united with God in intense love. By the light of her intellect she sees and knows, and she clothes herself with truth, becoming the sister of the angels.

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Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was a member of the Dominican Order of Penance. She was a mystic, a reformer, and an adviser to popes. Her written work includes over 300 letters and a contemplative treatise, The Dialogue. Read more here.

Read Catherine’s letters here.

Reflection: Do you practice all three kinds of prayer mentioned by Catherine of Siena?

FEATURED ARTICLE: IN PRAISE OF SOLITUDE

Recently I’ve seen a spate of articles praising solitude. As the mother of two young children, I was drawn to these essays like a magnet; solitude can be hard to come by in my house! I’m not alone (no pun intended) in this reaction. Many people believe that our society’s over-emphasis on social interaction is wreaking havoc on our well-being.

If you’re part of The Contemplative Writer community, you probably know the benefits of solitude when praying (corporate prayer aside) and doing creative work. It turns out that scientific achievement requires solitude, too. Even business executives are being told to protect their alone time. New studies affirm that solitude changes our brainsin a good way. Being alone in nature, for example, decreases our propensity to self-criticize and increases our attention spans and our sense of contentment.

In an article in  The Walrus, author Michael Harris explores solitude, including some fascinating history on wilderness treks and urbanization. The article largely concerns the importance of going out into nature; the underlying assumption is that this will be or can be an activity taken in glorious solitude.

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[A]t Stanford University, study participants had their brains scanned before and after walking in grassy meadows and then beside heavy car traffic. Participants walking in urban environments had markedly higher instances of “rumination”—a brooding and self-criticism the researchers correlated with the onset of depression. And, just as parts of the brain associated with rumination lit up on urban walks, they calmed down during nature walks.

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Outside the maelstrom of mainstream chatter, we at last meet not just the bigger world but also ourselves . . . This is the gift of even a short, solitary walk in a city park. To find, in glimpsing a sign of the elements, that one does belong to something more elemental than an urban crowd. That there is a universe of experience beyond human networks and social grooming—and that this universe is our true home.

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To walk out of our houses and beyond our city limits is to shuck off the pretense and assumptions that we otherwise live by. This is how we open ourselves to brave new notions or independent attitudes. This is how we come to know our own minds.

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Virginia Woolf noted that even the stuff and furniture of our homes may “enforce the memories of our own experience” and cause a narrowing, a suffocating effect. Outside of our ordered homes, though, we escape heavy memories about the way things have always been and become open to new attitudes.

 

But there does seem to be an art to walks; we must work at making use of those interstitial moments. Going on a hike, or even just taking the scenic route to the grocery store, is a chance to dip into our solitude—but we must seize it. If we’re compelled by our more curious selves to walk out into the world—sans phone, sans tablet, sans Internet of Everything—then we still must decide to taste the richness of things.

Read this article in The Walrus.

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

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Warming Up to Prayer via Tammy Perlmutter (in which Buffy the Vampire Slayer makes an appearance)

A Contemplative Faith – With a Gaelic Accent! via Carl McColman

The Books That Made Your Favorite Writers Want to Write via Emily Temple (some surprising choices here!)

When Writing Is Actually About Waiting via Joe Fassler

Why I Said Yes to a Part-Time Job (Or, Let’s Talk Real About the Creative Life) via Michelle DeRusha