FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! The links Prasanta Verma and I found this week help us explore our deepest self in relationship to God. What has God given us and who has God created us to be? We hope you enjoy digging into these. Remember, always, that you are the beloved of God.

***

As a Child: God’s Call to Littleness via Phil Steer (a new podcast that unpacks what it means to “become like little children”)

We Have Today via Arlisia Potter (living in and thanking God for this day)

Cindy Bunch on Self-Kindness as Spiritual Practice via Casey Tygrett (being kind to ourselves as a way forward to loving others)

Through a Looking Glass Darkly: How (and how not) to be certain of yourself via Jessica Hooten Wilson (we are pilgrims and wayfarers who need one another as we find our way home)

Evensong via Peggy R. Ellsberg (a poem)

Boils & Possums & Kierkegaard, Oh My! via J. Lind (on creativity, writing, redemption, and and the difficult task of faith)


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.

***

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.

WEEKLY PRAYER: THOMAS A KEMPIS

This week’s prayer is from Thomas à Kempis (ca. 1380-1471), a Dutch-German monastic, priest, and spiritual writer. He authored one of the most popular devotional treatises of all time, the Imitation of Christ.

***

O Lord my God, be not far from me; my God, have regard to help me; for my thoughts and fears have risen up against me and afflict my soul. How shall I pass through them unhurt? How shall I break them to pieces? My hope and my only consolation is to flee to you in every tribulation, to trust in you, to call upon you from my inmost heart and to wait patiently for your consolation. Amen.

Source

WEEKLY PRAYER: W. E. B. DU BOIS

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868 – 1963) was an American writer, historian, and civil rights activist. Today we are praying his prayer for grace and courage in the face of the work that cries out to be done in our lives and our society.

***

Give us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know
cries to be done. Let us not hesitate because of ease, or the
words of men’s mouths, or our own lives. Mighty causes are
calling us—the freeing of women, the training of children, the
putting down of hate and murder and poverty—all these and
more. But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifices
and death. Mercifully grant us, O God, the spirit of Esther, that
we say: I will go unto the King and if I perish, I perish.

Source

Swimming with God

Imagine something with me. You’re in a ship in a raging sea, going somewhere important. Perhaps going on a pilgrimage. But it’s beginning to look like you’re not going to make it. The ship dips and lists. The sea is alive – a force against you. You pray to God to save you from destruction.

Doesn’t our faith often feel like this? Like we’re being tossed around by untamable wind and waves? Medieval theologians often compared the world to the sea. “All the ways of this world are as fickle and unstable as a sudden storm at sea,” wrote the Venerable Bede in the 8th century. And every soul must cross this sea on the journey through life.

So what do we do? Usually we respond with alternating displays of strength and alarm. We try to build a stronger ship. Bone up on our sailing skills. Lay in resources. And when the storm comes, we cry out to Jesus to pilot our ship.

Now imagine that the worst happens. Despite everything you’ve done, your ship capsizes . . . you fall into the water. And it becomes calm, buoyant. You realize that you’re floating. Swimming. Drinking water yet not drowning.

How is this possible?

Perhaps because we’ve got it wrong. Perhaps Jesus does not pilot us through the sea but is the sea. Perhaps this is the way we make it through the waves.

Two female mystics of the Middle Ages paint this picture of our journey. The 14th-century Dominican Catherine of Siena prays:

Eternal Godhead!
I proclaim and do not deny it:
you are a peaceful sea
in which the soul feeds and is nourished
as she rests in you in love’s affection and union
by conforming her will with your high eternal will—
that will which wants nothing other than that we be made holy.

(source)

In this prayer, the sea becomes a figure of God’s gracious abundance. The soul does not have to survive the water in a ship. Instead, God is the water. He envelops us, and we rest in him.

We might even go for a swim in this sea. The 13th-century mystic Marguerite d’Oingt writes of a vision of unity she received:

The saints will be within their Creator as the fish within the sea: they will drink as much as they want, without getting tired and without diminishing the amount of water. The saints will be just like that, for they will drink and eat the great sweetness of God.

(source)

Marguerite envisions the sea as a source of living water that never runs out (John 4:10-14). It’s a source of nourishment, where the saints (that’s you and me!) taste the sweetness of God.

I love this imagery for the way it rewrites the usual script about the sea of life. In the words of Catherine of Siena and Marguerite d’Oingt, the sea does not inspire terror but represents the incredible generosity of God. It’s a way to conceive of being fully enveloped in God’s goodness. And it’s an image of peace and rest.

As we ply the waters of life, let us remember the vastness of God who, like the sea, is everywhere. Let us be assured that if our ship capsizes, we will not perish. Should we be tossed overboard, we can swim like fish in the sea that is God.

***

This post is loosely based on one chapter from my forthcoming book, 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers. It’s a sneak peak behind the scenes, because it contains a lot of material that didn’t make it into the book! Click here (my author website) for more info on 3000 Miles to Jesus.

WEEKLY PRAYER: ST. TERESA OF AVILA

This week’s prayer is by Teresa of Avila, (1515-1582) a Spanish nun in the Carmelite order. Teresa was a mystic, a founder and reformer of monasteries, a spiritual director, and a writer. Although her most famous work is The Interior Castle, the prayer below comes from St. Teresa’s Autobiography.

***

O my Lord, how good You are! Blessed be You forever, O my God! Let all creatures praise You Who have so loved us that we can truly speak of this communication which You have with souls in this our exile! Yes, even if they be good souls, it is on Your part great munificence and kindness. In a word, it is Your loving-kindness, O my Lord.

Source

WEEKLY PRAYER: ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI

This week’s prayer comes from St. Francis of Assisi (1181 – 1226). Francis’s Feast Day was on October 4.

***

All Highest and Glorious God,
cast your light into the darkness of my heart.
Grant me right faith, firm hope, perfect charity,
profound humility,
with wisdom and perception, O Lord,
so that I may always and everywhere
seek to know and do what is truly your holy will,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Source

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites, our weekly roundup of life-giving posts and podcasts. This week, Prasanta Verma and I bring you links on spiritual practices, Scripture, and being broken and remade by God. These are such good links for a disorienting time. Be blessed!

***

To Bleed and Break via Sarah Rennicke (we’re able to love others because God first loved us)

What Breaks and Remakes Us via Tasha Jun (through every shock and transition, God is with us)

Prayer Walking a Labyrinth — With a Printable Guide via Tongua Williams (an ancient spiritual practice with a guide to help)

Four Practices For Staying Alive Until November 3 (and long after) via Steve Wiens (in this podcast episode, learn practices for engaging in respectful and peaceful disagreement)

The Best Way to Memorize Scripture Has Little to Do with Learning Words via K. J. Ramsey (how neuroscience can help us to be doers of the Word)

Lauren Winner and Marilyn McEntyre on Words, Empathy & Disorientation via Jen Pollock Michel (listen to two prolific writers discuss the role of words and reading during this time)

WEEKLY PRAYER: EVELYN UNDERHILL

This week’s prayer is from Evelyn Underhill, a twentieth-century English writer, theologian, and mystic. “Enter and irradiate every situation and every relationship,” she pleads. We pray:

***

Give me, O Lord, I beseech you, courage to pray
for light and to endure the light here,
where I am on this world of yours,
which should reflect your beauty but which we
have spoiled and exploited.
Cast your radiance on the dark places,
those crimes and stupidities I like to ignore and gloss over.
Show up my pretensions, my poor little claims and
achievements, my childish assumptions of importance,
my mock heroism.
Take me out of the confused half-light in which I live.
Enter and irradiate every situation and every relationship.
Show me my opportunities, the raw material of love,
of sacrifice, or holiness, lying at my feet,
disguised under homely appearance
and only seen as it truly is, in your light.

Source

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! Please enjoy this round-up of posts that Prasanta Verma and I have gathered for you. This week, there are some wonderful words about self-care, lament, grace, faith, and facing the blank page. Be blessed.

***

Today was a Crying Day: A Lament via Deb Vaughn (because God hears us when we cry)

What Does Self-Care Look Like in a Time of Crisis? via April Yamasaki (finding rhythms of self-care and grace from God)

Can We Do All Things Through Christ When Life Feels Impossible? via Ed Cyzewski (feeling overwhelmed and sorrowful can be an opportunity to take a step in faith)

In This Fraught Racial Moment, We Need a Refresher on Human Depravity via Tish Harrison Warren (confronting the sin of racism and accepting God’s radical grace)

The Power of Blessing—with a Prodigal, a Neighbor, an Enemy, the World—plus a gift via Judy Douglass (can we bless one another, even in times of conflict and anger?)

The Cold Open: Facing the Blank Page via William Kenower (what do you do when you sit down to write and…you’ve got nothing?)