FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites, my weekly round-up of great finds on the web. This will be our last Friday Favorites for the summer — but look for them again when the leaves begin to turn.

Friday Favorites features posts and podcasts on prayer, writing, and spirituality. Today’s finds offer a little bit of everything, from contemplative activism and contemplative history to a short story and a summer reading list. Read, and be blessed.

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Fast for Familias (do something today — fast for an end to the separation of children from families at the border; this event is happening today, June 29)

An “Outsider” Can Show Us How to Love Our Neighbors via Ed Cyzewski (what if the help we need — now or one day — comes from people we wouldn’t have chosen to help us?)

After the Death of a Dream via Tasha Burgoyne (God is at work even when your most cherished dreams come undone)

2018’s Ten Christian Women to Watch via Jenna Barnett (did you catch Sojourners’ list of women who are making and shaping history this year?)

Why Finding God in All Things Leads to Fullness of Joy via Carl McColman (finding joy with the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich)

Friday Feature — National Selfie Day via Prasanta Verma (a light-hearted but serious look at one of our more interesting “holidays”)

The Sparrow via Jane Tyson Clement (a mystical short story about the God who sees every sparrow fall)

20 short novels you can read in one day via Modern Mrs. Darcy (add these short but impactful books to your summer reading list)

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer from Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897):

Yes, my Beloved, this is how my life will be consumed . . . I have no other means of showing you my love than by throwing flowers, that is, of not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, not one word, but by profiting from all the smallest things and doing them out of love . . . I want to suffer for love and even to rejoice for love so that in this way I will throw flowers before your throne. I shall not come upon one without unpetalling it for you . . . Then while I am throwing my flowers, I shall sing (for could one cry when doing such a joyous thing?). I will sing, even when I have to gather my flowers in the midst of thorns, and my song will be all the more melodious when the thorns are longest.

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BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD

Week Two: An Integrated Life
Presence of God cover
This month, we’re reading The Practice of the Presence of God, the spiritual classic by the seventeenth-century lay Carmelite Brother Lawrence. Check last week’s post for an introduction to this practice, which teaches us how to continually remain in God’s presence.

I’ve long admired what Brother Lawrence has to say about work — work in relation to prayer and to being with God. I’m always tempted to segregate my life into compartments, and it’s easy for me to box up my work and see it apart from God, prayer, and the spiritual life. This is true of everyday work, like housework; and guess what? I can do the same thing with my writing on spirituality. I can easily box that up and stow it far from God, too.

Brother Lawrence, by contrast, speaks of living an integrated life, one in which we are always in the presence of God, no matter what we do. He wrote:

It is not necessary for being with God to be always at church. We may make an oratory of our heart wherein to retire from time to time to converse with Him in meekness, humility, and love. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with God…Let us begin then.

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We might begin such conversation in the realm of our day-to-day work. Brother Lawrence provides a good example. Upon entering the monastery as a lay brother, he was assigned kitchen duty. He didn’t much like it but came to see even this dreaded assignment as a way to be in the presence of God. He said (this is the famous omelet quotation; you knew it was coming):

[I]t is not necessary to have great things to do. I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God; when it is finished, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the ground and adore my God, who gave me the grace to make it, after which I arise, more content than a king. When I cannot do anything else, it is enough for me to have lifted a straw from the earth for the love of God.

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Brother Lawrence also affirmed:

 

The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.

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What about you? Have you encountered God in your kitchen today? How spiritually integrated is your life?

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The Practice of the Presence of God consists of the letters of Brother Lawrence, some of his Maxims, and four conversations with him as recorded by a contemporary, Abbe de Beaufort. You can read them here (other editions are widely available).

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For Reflection: 

Brother Lawrence week 2

 

 

WEEKLY PRAYER

Today’s prayer comes from The Venerable Bede (ca. 673-735), an English Benedictine monk, historian, and theologian. This is an especially good prayer to say after spending some time in the Word.

I pray thee, merciful Jesus,
that as Thou has graciously granted me
to drink down sweetly from the Word which tells of thee,
so wilt Thou kindly grant
that I may come at length to thee,
the fount of all wisdom,
and stand before Thy face forever.

Source

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:

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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.

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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.

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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: 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!

Source

WEEKLY PRAYER

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

Eternal Trinity, You are a deep sea. The more I enter You, the more I discover of You; and the more of You I discover, the more I know to look for You.

God, You are voracious, and in Your depths the soul is satisfied, yet I always remain hungry for You and thirsty for You, Eternal Trinity, longing to see You with the light in Your Light.

As the deer longs for a stream’s living water, my soul longs to escape from the prison of my problematic body. I want to see You in truth, absolutely. How long will You hide Your face from my eyes?

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CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: ST. BENEDICT ON THE OBSERVANCE OF LENT

The season of Lent has begun. How do we observe Lent in our lives? Do we give something up? If so, what? When I was growing up, my friend and I gave up Carmex (the medicated lip balm) some years. Strange, but true — and perhaps not the very best way to prepare for the resurrection of Jesus.

Perhaps the ancients of the Church can help us. In his Rule for Monasteries, written in the sixth century, St. Benedict (c. 480-547) includes a chapter entitled, “On the Observance of Lent.” He writes:

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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.

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For his monks, St. Benedict advises the moderate withholding of food, drink, sleep or talking. But more than that, he has suggestions on what to add: prayer with tears, reading, and holy desire.

I especially like how Benedict ends this passage. 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 and holy 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 life.

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CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: HADEWIJCH OF ANTWERP ON THE WILD LOVE OF GOD

This is our last week exploring the spiritual poetry of the Flemish mystic Hadewijch of Antwerp (13th c.). I’m so taken with how this mystic explores the mysterious and powerful force of love in her poems. Remember that in these poems, love is personified and should be understood as God’s love.

In the first poem, Hadewijch touches on the slow course of love. It reminds us that spiritual maturity is a lifelong process.

Love’s maturity

 

In the beginning Love satisfies us.
When Love first spoke to me of love—
How I laughed at her in return!
But then she made me like the hazel trees,
Which blossom early in the season of darkness,
And bear fruit slowly.

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In the second poem for today, Hadewijch marvels at the fact that God’s love is complete in and of itself. I find the last three lines of this poem incredibly moving.

Knowing Love in herself

 

I do not complain of suffering for Love,
It is right that I should always obey her,
For I can know her only as she is in herself,
Whether she commands in storm or in stillness.
This is a marvel beyond my understanding,
Which fills my whole heart
And makes me stray in a wild desert.

God’s love is a wild thing! May we all go on an endless search, even into the desert, to meet it there.

Source.