WEEKLY PRAYER: ST. GREGORY THE GREAT

This week’s prayer is from Saint Gregory the Great, whose feast day was September 3. Saint Gregory was a sixth-century bishop, pope, and church reformer.

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O God, the Protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy, increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our Ruler and Guide we may so pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake our Lord. Amen.

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WEEKLY PRAYER: Thomas à Kempis

The Contemplative Writer is back after our summer hiatus! We hope you are keeping well and whole in what are truly challenging times. Our goal is to continue offering resources that help us pray, write, and live.

We begin with a prayer from Thomas à Kempis, author of one of the most popular devotional treatises of the late Middle Ages, the Imitation of Christ (ca. 1390-1400). This is a prayer for friends, those wonderful people who see us and love us anyway, the people for whom we’d do anything and who we’ll love until the end.

 

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Almighty, everlasting God, have mercy on your servants our friends. Keep them continually under your protection, and direct them according to your gracious favor in the way of everlasting salvation; that they may desire such things as please you, and with all their strength perform the same. And forasmuch as they trust in your mercy, vouchsafe, O Lord, graciously to assist them with your heavenly help, that they may ever diligently serve you, and by no temptations be separated from you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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THOMAS MERTON’S PRAYER FOR PENTECOST

This Sunday, May 31, is Pentecost, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus and in the life of his followers today. To prepare, let’s pray Thomas Merton’s prayer for the Vigil of Pentecost. It’s long but worth reading and praying in its entirety.

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Today, Father, this blue sky lauds you. The delicate green and orange flowers of the tulip poplar tree praise you. The distant blue hills praise you together with the sweet-smelling air that is full of brilliant light. The bickering flycatchers praise you together with the lowing cattle and the quails that whistle over there. I too, Father, praise you, with all these my brothers, and they all give voice to my own heart and to my own silence. We are all one silence and a diversity of voices.

You have made us together, you have made us one and many, you have placed me here in the midst as witness, as awareness, and as joy. Here I am. In me the world is present and you are present. I am a link in the chain of light and of presence. You have made me a kind of centre, but a centre that is nowhere. And yet I am “here,” let us say I am “here” under these trees, not others.

For a long time I was in darkness and in sorrow, and I suppose my confusion was my own fault. No doubt my own will has been the root of my sorrow, and I regret it merciful father, but I do not regret it because this formula is acceptable as an official answer to all problems. I know I have sinned, but the sin is not to be found in any list. Perhaps I have looked to hard at all the lists to find out what my sin was and I did not know that it was precisely the sin of looking at all the lists when you were telling me that this was useless. My “sin” is not on the list, and is perhaps not even a sin. In any case I cannot know what it is, and doubtless there is nothing there anyway.

Whatever may have been my particular stupidity, the prayers of your friends and my own prayers have somehow been answered and I am here, in this solitude, before you, and I am glad because you see me here. For it is here, I think, that you want to see me, and I am seen by you. My being here is a response you have asked of me, to something I have not clearly heard. But I have responded, and I am content: there is little to know about it at present.

Here you ask of me nothing else than to be content that I am your Child and your Friend. Which simply means to accept your friendship because it is your friendship and your Fatherhood because I am your son. This friendship is Son-ship and is Spirit. You have called me here to be repeatedly born in the Spirit as your son. Repeatedly born in light, in knowledge, in unknowing, in faith, in awareness, in gratitude, in poverty, in presence and in praise.

If I have any choice to make, it is to live here and perhaps die here. But in any case it is not the living or the dying that matter, but speaking your name with confidence in this light, in this unvisited place: to speak your name of “Father” just by being here as “son” in the Spirit and the Light which you have given , and which are no unearthly light but simply this plain June day, with its shining fields, its tulip trees, the pines, the woods, the clouds and the flowers everywhere.

To be here with the silence of Sonship in my heart is to be a centre in which all things converge upon you. That is surely enough for the time being.

Therefore Father, I beg you to keep me in this silence so that I may learn from it the word of your peace and the word of your mercy and the word of your gentleness to the world: and that through me perhaps your word of peace may make itself heard where it has not been possible for anyone to hear it for a long time.

To study truth here and learn here to suffer for truth.

The Light itself, and the contentment and the Spirit, these are enough.

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WEEKLY PRAYER: ST. ANSELM

Today’s prayer comes from St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033/4 – 1109). Let’s pray with him for all who are afflicted and distressed.

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We bring before Thee, O Lord, the troubles and perils of people and nations, the sighing of prisoners and captives, the sorrows of the bereaved, the necessities of strangers, the helplessness of the weak, the despondency of the weary, the failing powers of the aged.

O Lord, draw near to each; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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A PRAYER FOR HOLY WEEK

A prayer for Holy Week by Origen (c. 185–254), early Christian theologian and philosopher:

 

Jesus, my feet are dirty. Come even as a slave to me, pour water into your bowl, come and wash my feet. In asking such a thing I know I am overbold, but I dread what was threatened when you said to me, “If I do not wash your feet I have no fellowship with you.” Wash my feet then, because I long for your companionship.

 

 

AN ANNUNCIATION PRAYER

Today (March 25) is the Feast of the Annunciation. Let’s say a prayer that we would have the faith of Mary, who said “yes” to God. The prayer comes from David Bennett, an author and speaker.

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Annunciation - Christus
The Annunciation, Petrus Christus, ca. 1450

Lord Jesus Christ,
Eternal Word,
You became Incarnate as man
in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
You, through whom the universe was created,
began your earthly course,
in the womb of a humble and chaste Virgin.
At the annunciation of this miracle,
Mary responded in faith:
“let it be done to me
according to your word.”
May we who are made new creatures
by your grace,
respond with such faith,
when you call us to your service.

Amen

 

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Scar on the Cheek: Betrayal: A Post by Prasanta Verma

As we meditate and pray during this season of Lent, one aspect of the upcoming days of Jesus’ trial is clear: there was a betrayal. This betrayal led the guards to finding Jesus, arresting him, and eventually his dying a brutal death nailed to a cross.

What is quite remarkable, however, is how Jesus responds to Judas. Even though Jesus knew what would happen, he still kept Judas near him as one of his twelve disciples.

The same is true for Peter. Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, yet Jesus still washed Peter’s feet.

Jesus still kept them near. He did not deny them nor betray them, but served and loved them.

If it were not Judas, though, it would have been someone else. It could have been me. Or you. God’s plan will be carried out. If we are honest, we know we also betray Jesus. Have we denied him? We betray him.

“There is no one righteous, not even one…” (Romans 3:10). Even so, to all of us who are unrighteous, we are all offered the gift of reconciliation to God Himself. We are all offered the hope of restoration and redemption. The scabs of our wounds, the scars of sin, and the scratches of pain may be healed, restored, and transformed into gifts that flow from our words, hands, and feet. We are new creatures, sewn up from the inside, able to give love and shine a light into darkness around us.

We have hope to live an abundant life on earth. We have hope for eternal life spent with God. With this kind of hope, this kind of love, our pain transforms into joy, which spreads to others in this hurting world—all made possible by forgiveness. That is love. That is Jesus.

Below is a poem I wrote a few years ago, meditating about Judas’ betrayal, our betrayal, Jesus’ response, and the hope and love that flowers and blossoms out of God’s love for us.

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Scar on the Cheek

The kiss on the cheek
planted swift, turns
to thorny scratch, burns
long and thin, drips

red on black dirt.
Fragile petals live a breath
away, a thin vein from death.
Roses keep distant,

far from drawn swords
ready to impale petal-skin.
Repent and attempt
to pluck stems

of delicate short-lived beauty,
for arrangements in a vase,
that fragrance may erase
the scent of love’s demise.

But watch when red drips:
seeds bloom anew,
emit ethereal perfume, transform
into wild, vibrant, hybrid,

blood-red rose. Are you a rose?
Are you a thorn?
Or one scratched by scorn
of deceiver’s kiss?

Show me your scar.

(Prasanta, 2011)

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Prasanta Verma, a poet, writer, and artist, is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @ pathoftreasure, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome, friends, to Friday Favorites. The world seems a bit different this week, doesn’t it? There is fear and anxiety over the rapidly emerging public health crisis. There is disappointment as events are cancelled and loneliness creeps in. There is concern for the most vulnerable in our society.

This week, Prasanta Verma and I offer prayers and posts to help us in these troubled times. The first four links below concern the Coronavirus and our spiritual response to it. We also have a post on holding on to hope and a beautiful resource for Lent.

Keep prayer, hope, and beauty in your lives this week and always.

Love from Lisa and Prasanta

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A Coronavirus Prayer via Kerry Weber (a prayer for this time)

Social Distancing with Jesus via Michelle Van Loon (finding comfort and courage in a time of concern)

The Spiritual Practice of Social Distancing via Charlotte Donlon (social distancing to protect the vulnerable among us)

The Surprising Gift of Cancelling Plans and Staying Home via Lesley Sebek Miller (with forced stillness and quarantines, we have the opportunity for quality time and creativity . . . what will you do with this gift?)

Are You Tending a Deep Hope? via April Yamasaki (when you’re tending a deep hope yet not seeing results)

The Lent Project via Biola University (daily Scripture reading, artwork, poem, and devotional–beautifully done)

God the Fugitive

On Monday, we celebrated the Feast of Epiphany. Following a star, Magi from the East came to worship the Christ Child. This season in the church year invites us to witness the manifestation of Christ to the whole world. And, as this post explores, to see his heart for those on the margins of the world.

Shortly after the Magi visited Jesus, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” (Matthew 2:13) Joseph and his family escaped in the night in an event often referred to as the Flight into Egypt.

How are we to think of this event in Jesus’ life? Differing interpretations have been flying around the web, many of them concerning the question of whether, in fleeing to Egypt, Jesus was or was not a refugee. Jesus was a refugee because he fled government persecution. Or. He wasn’t a refugee because, technically, he didn’t flee to a foreign country.

I’m going to call on one of my favorite authors from the Middle Ages to weigh in here: Jean Gerson, a fifteenth-century French scholar and the chancellor of the University of Paris. In ca. 1415, Gerson wrote a narrative poem, the Josephina, celebrating the life and faith of Jesus’ earthly father, St. Joseph. The poem includes all kinds of scenes about the daily life of the holy family. And it begins with the Flight into Egypt. Towards the beginning of the poem, Gerson makes a statement that stopped me cold when I first read it:

“Deus est fugitivus et advena.” Let’s look at the terms in this statement. Fugitivus means fugitive. Advena means foreigner or stranger. Hence we have the striking pronouncement:

God is a fugitive and a foreigner.

I’ve often wondered why Gerson uses the term “fugitive” here. We often think of a fugitive as someone involved in a criminal case and who flees “the long arm of the law” (thank you, Harrison Ford). But it can also describe a person who flees to escape danger or persecution. Merriam-Webster suggests “refugee” as a synonym.

Was Jesus a refugee? Was he, to use a slightly different term, a fugitive? Gerson believes that he was.

Flight into Egypt, Giotto
The Flight into Egypt by Giotto di Bondone (1304–1306, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua)

Perhaps it’s the terms and technicalities that sometimes trip us up. Does it matter whether or not Jesus fled to another country or did/did not cross a particular border? He fled persecution from a ruler and escaped, quietly, hurriedly, in the night, finding refuge in a land not his home. That makes him a fugitive in my (and Gerson’s) book.

I also think it’s important that in the phrase quoted above, Gerson uses the word “Deus” instead of “Christus” or “Jesus.” Jesus and God are, of course, one and the same, but the name “God” carries huge implications. God, as in – the Lord Almighty. The Creator. The God of the universe. So think about that for a minute: The God of the universe became a fugitive.

And it’s not just God who needs and seeks refuge. After the Holy Family arrives in Egypt, Gerson writes that each one of us is like them—we are strangers, foreigners, immigrants.

Whoever you are, deeply longing to be citizens of the heavenly country,
act in this way,
thus remembering to contemplate the fact that you are a foreigner.
Let Christ, Joseph, and Mary be an example to you.

As fugitives who had to settle in a land not their own, the Holy Family are to be examples for every Christian. We are all strangers in this world, strangers who walk toward and await their true home.

Yet Gerson also helps us to see that in the Flight, God aligns himself specifically with those on the margins of the world–with the persecuted, the powerless, the poor, the refugees, and, yes, the fugitives.

Let us remember that during this season. As we reflect on the Flight into Egypt —

May we see our fugitive selves in Jesus.
May we see Jesus in our fugitive neighbors.
May we see God’s heart for all those on the margins of this great big world.

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Note: I am no Gerson scholar, and for this post I relied on the work of Brian Patrick McGuire’s essay in The Making of Christian Communities in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (pp. 131-152). I would also like to thank Randy Blacketer for his translation of some of Gerson’s Latin text.

 

 

WEEKLY PRAYER: Frederick Buechner

For this third week in Advent, we pray with Frederick Buechner:

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Lord Jesus Christ, thou Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, be born again into our world. Wherever there is war in this world, wherever there is pain, wherever there is loneliness, wherever there is no hope, come, though long-expected one, with healing in thy wings.

 

Holy Child, whom the shepherds and the kings and the dumb beasts adored, be born again. Wherever there is boredom, wherever there is fear of failure, wherever there is temptation too strong to resist, wherever there is bitterness of heart, come, though Blessed One, with healing in thy wings.

 

Savior, be born in each of us as we raise our faces to thy face, not knowing fully who we are or who thou art, knowing only that thy love is beyond our knowing and that no other has the power to make us whole. Come, Lord Jesus, to each who longs for thee even though we have forgotten thy name. Come quickly. Amen.

 

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