How Do We Examine Ourselves Hopefully?

It’s easy to be hard on ourselves when we try to evaluate how we’re doing. In fact, our harsh personal standards may even keep us from practicing personal examination and asking open-ended questions.

Author Emily Freeman recently wrote about both the pursuit of being at rest and how she examines herself. She hits on a really import point about the tone we use. While she began by thinking of rest as a matter of “If…”, she found that it was far more hopeful to think of “when” her soul is at rest.

Tone matters when we deal with ourselves. Hard questions are good, but we need to offer ourselves hope. Here’s what Emily writes:

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“If my soul were truly at rest, I would laugh more, I would stop making so many lists, I would be able to sit still for longer periods of time, I wouldn’t make decisions out of fear…

I would rather take out the “if” altogether and replace it with “when” –

When my soul is truly at rest, I laugh more, I stop making so many lists, I am able to sit still for longer periods of time, I don’t make decisions out of fear.”

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“Asking myself questions that matter are important for my own spiritual growth. But equally important is the tone I use when I ask the questions. I want to cast a hopeful vision, not weigh myself down with despair.”

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“I have experienced soul rest more completely now at 36 than I did at 28. I hope that continues to be true of me as I get older.”

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Read the rest and check out Emily’s bestselling books while you’re at 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, 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.

When the Darkness Lifts by Kelly J. Youngblood

The Liturgists Podcast: An Interview of Richard Rohr

How Our Salvation Begins by Kelly Chripczuk

Rest Easy, You’re Loved No Matter What by Aundi Kolber

Keep Showing Up and Finishing Stuff by Me (Read the comments!)

13 Powerful Women Mystics Who Helped Shape Christianity

Looking for more recommendations? Check out our Prayer Resources page.

Contemplative Profiles: The Female Mystics of the Middle Ages

In the past I have made the mistake of ignoring the spiritual teachings of the Middle Ages, missing out on the rich contemplative practices that were documented at great personal cost. Dr. Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff notes in an article in Christianity Today that women were often denied educations in the Middle Ages, so their religious communities took on a more contemplative, creative, and spiritual shape, while many religious men leaned toward theological reflection.

This resulted in a unique spirituality from women who experienced the love of God in rich and vibrant encounters. Perhaps the simplicity of their spirituality became their greatest strength. While some female mystics from this time were supported by the church hierarchy, many wrote down their accounts and visions despite heated opposition, risking persecution and even death at the hands of controlling church leaders.

Dr. Elizabeth Alvilda Petroff writes about female mystics for Christianity Today:

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We think of the Middle Ages as the age of faith, and so it was, but it was also an age of crisis. In such a context, mysticism was not a retreat from the negative aspects of reality, but a creative marshaling of energy in order to transform reality and one’s perception of it.

Mystics were the teachers of the age, inspired leaders who synthesized Christian tradition and proposed new models for the Christian community. We know some of the men—Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas—but we are not as familiar with the women, although they were actually more numerous. Hildegard of Bingen, Clare of Assisi, Beatrijs of Nazareth, Angela of Foligno, Julian of Norwich, and other women mystics drew on their experience of the divine to provide spiritual guidance for others. Such women became highly respected leaders of the faithful. Their role as prophets and healers was the one exception to women’s presumed inferiority in medieval society.

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She goes on to write:

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Dame Julian of Norwich said in her Showings: “ … God forbid that you should say or assume that I am a teacher … for I am a woman, ignorant, weak and frail. But I know very well that what I am saying I have received by the revelation of him who is the sovereign teacher … because I am a woman, ought I therefore to believe that I should not tell you of the goodness of God, when I saw at that same time that it is his will that it be known?”

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As we honor their legacy, learn from their wisdom, and embody their practices, may we have the courage to share with others the ways God has spoken to us.

 

Reflection

Take 5 minutes to ask God what you need to receive today.

Remain open to sharing that with someone else if appropriate.

 

 

Friday Favorites on 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, 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.

Seven Reasons to Pray the Divine Office via Carl McColman

The Unbusy Pastor (but not just for pastors!) via Eugene Peterson

How the Examen Empowers Us to Pray and Write via Micha Boyett (my guest post for her)

Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry via John Ortberg

How I Became a Morning Person via Medium

How to Stick with Good Habits via Business Insider

The Desert Fathers (a parody) via Mallory Ortberg

Looking for more recommendations? Check out our Prayer Resources page.

 

Contemplative Profiles: Julian of Norwich

We best know Julian of Norwich for saying: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” 

Despite her optimism in this statement, Julian lived in the late 1300’s in England, facing plague and violent warfare, to say nothing of a church hierarchy that could turn on her in light of her visions of Christ.

At the age of 13 in May 1373, Julian suffered a severe illness and experienced a series of sixteen “showings” or visions of Christ. These visions revealed the love of God in ways seemed to run counter to the assumptions about God during her time, but she managed to both live a quiet life as a female hermit and to put her experiences down on paper. Julian was the first woman to publish a book in English: Revelations of Divine Love.

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She is remembered by biographer Amy Frykholm as a mystic who embraced suffering–almost to the point that one would raise an eyebrow. However, the depth of her compassion for others cannot be separated from her embracing of the sufferings of Christ and the suffering of others.

Reviewer Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes,

Julian’s compassion grows out of her passion—a suffering both in and of the church, but a suffering that nevertheless reveals the love at the heart of the church. Julian gets God’s love not because she retreated from the world and focused on spiritual things, but because “she chose Jesus over the bliss of heaven.”

Contemplating a crucifix that began to drip blood onto what she thought would be her deathbed, Julian saw and later wrote about a vision of God that was revolutionary to the church authorities of her day—indeed, to many church leaders in our own time.

May we have eyes to see the suffering of others around us.

May we remember that the cross wasn’t just the means of our salvation. It was the way of life that Jesus modeled and expected us to follow.

 

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3:10, NRSV

 

Reflection

Remain open to the ways you can share in the suffering of Christ today.

 

Where to Start with Christian Meditation

There are many Christians who are either unfamiliar with meditation or concerned that it’s inappropriate to practice. However, a brief look at the actual substance of meditation should put any concerns at rest and demonstrate the value of meditation for followers of Jesus today.

Meditation is a way to become mindful of the present, creating space to hear what God is speaking in the present moment rather than allowing our minds to run unchecked. We’re surrounded by noise, choose to add more noise, and may not even realize how much negative noise is coming from our own heads.

Christian meditation is a way to become mindful of what we are thinking so that our thoughts can be open to direction from God.

Stephanie Vozza writes about the basics of meditation for Fast Company:

Mindful people—those who live in the present—can step back and stay on the riverbank, watching their current of thoughts and not getting swept away by their content.

 

Meditation fosters mindfulness, but the practice seems difficult in today’s world of constant stimulation: “People think the goal of meditation is to empty the mind,” says Brooks. “It’s not about clearing the mind; it’s about focusing on one thing. When the mind wanders, the meditation isn’t a failure. Our brain is like a wayward puppy, out of control. Catching it and putting it back to the object of focus is the mediation.”

 

Brooks says meditating is like exercise; a full workout is preferred, but there is value in short bursts.

“Research shows that a total of 15 minutes of meditating each day for several weeks produces detectable, positive changes in the brain as well as corresponding reductions in stress, anxiety, and an enhanced sense of well-being,” says Brooks. “You can get the benefits of a formal meditation practice by weaving mini-meditations into your daily life.”

Source: Fast Company

Vozza adds a few simple prompts for meditation that you can incorporate throughout your day:

  • Walking Meditation
  • Red Light Meditation (turn off your radio while waiting at red lights)
  • Exercise Meditation
  • Eating/Drinking Meditation
  • Waiting Meditation
  • Task-Oriented Meditation

For instance, if you’re waiting in line or doing the dishes, turn off the radio or a podcast in order to become aware of God’s presence. I’ve often turned to a prayer word such as “mercy” or “beloved.” I also use the Jesus prayer: “Jesus Christ, only Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

I have incorporated all of these practices into my life at one point or another and have discovered that left to my own devices I am constantly reliving the past or fearing the future. By practicing these simple meditation practices I’m no longer at the mercy of my guilt or fears. I’m learning to live by faith and trust God in new, deeper ways.

 

Keep the Contemplative Writer Sustainable

The Contemplative writer is ad-free and never shares sponsored content, but it is a lot of work to maintain. We rely on affiliate links from the books we share and the generous gifts of our readers. An automated monthly gift as low as $1 per month or a one-time gift of $5 goes a long way to sustaining our mission to provide contemplative prayer resources for our readers. Thank you!

Choose a recurring monthly donation:

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Make a one-time gift via PayPal (credit cards accepted!)


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Scripture Meditation: Trusting God to Care for Our Souls

 

“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; my God I put my trust in you; . . .”
Psalm 25:1

Meditation

I bible-1440953-1279x852have long wondered what it means to “lift up my soul” to God, but I recently read one suggestion that “lifting up” our souls to God is a surrender. Lifting up my soul is a handing over of control to God.

A weary soul is consumed with the cares of this world, distracted by entertainment and greed, or caught up in pleasing others. Perhaps we “lift up” our souls to others each day as we hope they’ll notice us, affirm us, or meet a deep need.

Trust is no small matter. Is God worthy of our trust? Will God show up if we lift up our souls to him?

The practice of contemplation opens our souls to the presence of God. It’s a lifting of our souls to God, inviting him to care for us and our souls. Over time, we will learn to place greater trust in God, but we must begin by lifting up our souls in faith and expectation.

 

Reflection

How is your soul today?

Are you lifting up your soul to something or someone other than God?

What does it look like to trust God with your soul

 

 

 

 

Contemplative Profiles: St. Ignatius of Loyola

Ignatius of Loyola was a former soldier who was known for extraordinary bravery and discipline. After a serious injury left him alone for a long and painful time of recovery, Ignatius read about the life of Jesus and the stories of the saints. He found a new calling for his life and dedicated up to seven hours of his day to prayer.

While praying in solitude, he developed his Spiritual Exercises which formed the foundation of the Jesuits, a spiritual order he founded later in his life along with a group of friends.

The legacy of Ignatius is difficult to untangle. Was he a Catholic mystic on the brink of heresy? Was he a zealous counter-reformer who opposed the Reformation? Where does his legacy of spiritual direction and spiritual practices fit into how we remember him?

Even the Jesuits, whom Ignatius founded, remain divided over his legacy. However, as more Catholics and Protestants discover his work, there’s no doubt that many have benefitted from his emphasis on meditation and awareness throughout the day, such as his use of the Examen. One writer sums up his influence in this way:

“The Spiritual Exercises focus not only on our intellect, but also on our feelings and emotions. It is through all of our senses that we can come to know and experience God in our daily lives.”

Whatever Ignatius would have thought about a Protestant writer leaning so heavily on his spiritual practices today, Christians from every background and denomination can enter into prayer with greater awareness and freedom because of the practices he passed on to us.

Learn more about Ignatian spirituality here.

 

Paraphrase of the First Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises

The Goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God, who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God’s life
to flow into us without limit.

All the things in this world are gifts from God,
Presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
Insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
They displace God
And so hinder our growth toward our goal.

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God’s deepening his life in me.

Source: Ignatian Solidarity Network

 

Reflection

Ask God to deepen his life in you today.

Announcing The Contemplative Writer: Soul Care and Spiritual Practices for Writers

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Where does your identity come from?

I’m going to guess that anyone attracted to a site called The Contemplative Writer looks to their faith and their writing as important parts of their identities. Writing is extremely fulfilling and can serve others, but it will fail anyone who looks to it as as an identity.

The foundational principle for everything that follows at The Contemplative Writer is this: Your identity is determined by God’s love for you, and you’ll only find that identity by caring for your soul. While there are many ways to care for your soul, the goal of this website is to lay a strong foundation of Christian contemplative spiritual practices so that you can pray and write with a healthy, well-grounded soul.

Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation says that he focuses on 80% contemplation in order to guide 20% of his action. Our actions (or writing) will be rooted in love and purpose when they are grounded in an identity established by God through our contemplation.

For those of us who write, our identities can be particularly fragile. While anyone can benefit from this website in the weeks and months to come, writers of faith will especially benefit from the practices and mindsets presented in daily posts and weekly newsletters.

If your identity is dictated by outside voices and circumstances, there’s every reason to believe that your soul will suffer and your actions will veer in any number of wrong turns. At the contemplative writer the content I share each day follows Rohr’s 80/20 approach: 80% guiding contemplation and 20% guiding writing practice. If we can use the tools of Christian spirituality to help you connect with God and to care for your soul, I believe we’ll be in a much healthier place for our writing.

Each week you’ll find the following brief blog posts (100-300 words) to aid your contemplative journey:

  • Monday: Quotes from a book of the month on contemplative prayer.
  • Tuesday: Scripture meditation.
  • Wednesday: Featured article or book on contemplative prayer or writing practices.
  • Thursday: Contemplative profile or history.
  • Friday: A list of prayer or writing links.
  • Saturday: Guest writers and spiritual directors (coming soon)

Each month you can also expect a weekly newsletter that will soon be adapted into a podcast as well.

Finally, a small disclaimer…

I have not set up this website because I am the most accomplished or knowledgable contemplative Christian. I do not view myself as an expert. I am merely someone who has immersed himself in Christianity since my youth, and the contemplative prayer practices I started learning in the early 2000’s have been the most important, formative, and longest-lasting aspects of my faith. The more I lean into contemplative prayer, the more essential it becomes for my faith and my calling as a writer.

I set up this website because I wanted to immerse myself in contemplative prayer while also sharing my journey with others. I hope that this new venture helps you find space to meet with God, guidance for the road ahead, and rest for your soul as you create and bless others. I’ll share some simple ways you can keep in touch and support us below.

Thank you for visiting!

Ed

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For Reflection or Sharing:

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