BOOK OF THE MONTH: BEFRIENDING SILENCE

Week 2: Baby Steps Toward a Life of Prayer

Befriending SilenceIn Befriending Silence, author and Lay Cistercian Carl McColman shares with us the gifts of Cistercian spirituality. Not surprisingly, many of these gifts center on prayer. “Artists paint, doctors heal, businessmen sell, and Cistercians pray,” McColman writes.

The monastic commitment to a life of prayer can inspire those of us “in the world” to make this gift an important part of our spiritual life.

[P]art of the gift of Cistercian spirituality becoming available to people outside the cloister is a challenge to pray, to seek intimacy with God every day–not in just a perfunctory way but as a meaningful part of each day.

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With prayer we express love of Christ, and it is also a gift, in a very mutual way; for prayer, like all spiritual blessings, is a gift from God. Yet when we pray, we give ourselves back to God. ‘Here I am, Lord.’

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There are several different kinds of prayer. Last week’s post touched on lectio divina, a way of praying with the Bible. Also important in monastic life is the Divine Office, the prayers and other readings marking the hours of each day. McColman believes that this liturgy offers a poetic and insightful prayer structure for everyone. Because the Divine Office can be complicated, McColman advocates starting small. He suggests the following practice based on the psalms, which form the heart of the Divine Office:

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Here is a simple, yet effective, way to begin a practice of daily prayer. Every day for the next five months, pray one psalm a day. That’s it. Each individual psalm can easily be prayed in a single sitting.

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Keep in mind that Jesus prayed the psalms. Jews and Christians of every generation have found inspiration, solace, hope, comfort, and challenge in this biblical prayer book. When you pray the psalms, you are truly partaking in a prayer tradition that spans the globe and the centuries.

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Don’t worry if you don’t ‘feel’ the particular emotion that is expressed in any one particular psalm. Your prayer is meant to operate on a deeper level than mere feeling.

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Read more.

For reflection:

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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, or just “be” better, 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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Why I Write via Anna Gissing (part of a series on writing as a spiritual discipline)

How Significant Books Become Good Friends via Richard J. Foster (I love the idea of books as friends!)

Tesser Well via Amanda Cleary Eastep (can you guess the book that served as an impetus for this essay on faith and writing?)

5 Things I Learned From My Six-Week Social Media Fast via Michelle DeRusha (don’t worry – social media’s not all bad)

The Art and Practice of Spiritual Discernment via The Transforming Center (part of a leadership podcast but good for all of us!)

Contemplative Profiles: Thomas Merton

This month’s contemplative profile by historian Lisa Deam is Thomas Merton:

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk, a beloved modern contemplative, and a prolific writer. He left us many books and essays on the spiritual life. When I read Merton, I’m especially struck by the way he confronts and even embraces the difficulties of living the Christian life. Following Jesus is not easy, and Merton knows this. His frank admission of his struggles ministers to us in our own.

Regarding his internal struggles and contradictions, Merton writes:

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“I have become convinced that the very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God’s mercy to me: if only because someone so complicated and so prone to confusion and self-defeat could hardly survive for long without special mercy.” (A Thomas Merton Reader)

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“Paradoxically, I have found peace because I have always been dissatisfied. My moments of depression and despair turn out to be renewals, new beginnings . . . All life tends to grow like this, in mystery inscaped with paradox and contradiction, yet centered, in its very heart, on the divine mercy . . . and the realization of the ‘new life’ that is in us who believe, by the gift of the Holy Spirit. “ (A Thomas Merton Reader)

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Such paradoxes define the life of faith. About each person’s struggle with both internal and external darkness, Merton says:

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“Those who continue to struggle are at peace. If God wills, they can pacify the world.  For he[/she] who accepts the struggle in the name of Christ is delivered from its power by the victory of Christ.” (A Thomas Merton Reader)

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Read more about Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani.

Reflection

How willing am I to embrace and learn from the contradictions and struggles in my spiritual life?

 

About Lisa Deam

Lisa Deam writes and speaks about Christian spiritual formation from a historical perspective. She’s the author of A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps. Visit her on Twitter @LisaKDeam and at lisadeam.com.

Featured Book: Finding Grace at the Center

Week Three: Prayer without Judgment or Evaluation

finding-grace-at-centerIn Finding Grace at the Center: the Beginning of Centering Prayer, a collection of essays by M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, and Thomas E. Clarke, Thomas Keating provides an extremely helpful introduction to centering prayer based on The Cloud of Unknowing, a Carthusian monk’s prayer guide for novices dated to around the 14th century.

Keating is especially careful to avoid overselling what “happens” during centering prayer. One may not expect incredible revelations or to even be fully in control of what happens during this prayer. Rather, intention becomes essential as we enter this form of prayer.

Keating writes:

 

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“[Centering prayer] is not an end in itself, but a beginning. It is not to be done for the sake of an experience, but for the sake of its fruits in one’s life.”

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“The presence of God is like the atmosphere we breathe. You can have all you want of it as long as you do not try to take possession of it and hang on to it.”

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“Accept each period of centering prayer as it comes, without asking for anything, having no expectations. In that way its fruits will grow faster.”

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“We always want to possess. That is why it is so hard to leg go–why we want to reflect on moments of deep peace or union in order to remember how we got there and thus how to get back. But charity is non-possessive. It gives all back to God as fast as it comes. It keeps nothing for itself.”

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“Take everything that happens during the periods of centering prayer peacefully and gratefully, without putting a judgment on anything, and just let the thoughts go by. It does not matter where they come from, as long as you let them go by. Don’t worry about them.”

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Read more…

 

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.

 

Hygge: A Heart-warning Lesson from Denmark (found via Michelle DeRusha’s newsletter)

Not All Habits Are Equal (Just read a lot, ok?)

9 Practices for Post-Election Contemplative Resiliency  (Since we don’t have a time machine yet…)

How to NOT Be Driven by Your Aversions

Characteristics of Healthy Spirituality

 

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Scripture Meditation: Don’t Think Too Hard about It…

“The Lord knows people’s thoughts; he knows they are worthless! Joyful are those you discipline, Lord, those you teach with your instructions.”
– Psalm 94:11-12, NLT

What better motivation to pursue the silence and rest of contemplative prayer than to read that God knows our thoughts are worthless!

While there is a great deal in scripture that praises meditating on scripture and remembering God’s laws, this Psalm offers a reality check for the times when we rely on our own wisdom. Most importantly, we find that even when God sees our inadequacies and failures, he responds with mercy and instruction.

Even when God knows that we will fall short over and over again, he desires to give us the joy of his instruction and discipline. May we find God’s loving direction, even as we discover the folly of our wisdom.

Book of the Month: Finding Grace at the Center

finding-grace-at-centerWeek Two: Transformed in Silence

In Finding Grace at the Center: the Beginning of Centering Prayer, a collection of essays by M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, and Thomas E. Clarke, M. Basil Pennington writes about the transformation that comes in the practice of centering prayer.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of centering prayer for those new to it is the manner in which God transforms our lives in silence. There is no way to measure or evaluate your progress in the moment.

The transformation of our lives happens gradually by faith, much like the way a branch that abides in its vine can grow fruit.

 

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“Perhaps in this prayer we will for the first time really act in pure faith. So often our faith is leaning on the concepts and images of faith. Here we go beyond them to the Object Himself of faith, leaving all the concepts and images behind.”

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“If we have lots of thoughts-good, lots of tension is being released; if we have few thoughts-good, there was no need for them… All these are purely accidental; they do not touch the essence of prayer, which goes on in all its purity, whether these be present or not.”

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“If we are faithful to this form of prayer, making it a regular part of our day, we very quickly come to discern-and often others discern it even more quickly-the maturing in our lives of the fruits of the Spirit.”

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“We begin… to experience the presence of God in all things, the presence of Christ in each person we meet. Moreover, we sense a oneness with them.”

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Read more…

 

For Reflection

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Contemplative Profile: Evelyn Underhill

Week Two: Contemplation and Action

Contemplative profiles are back with the help of author and historian Lisa Deam. This month we’re featuring Evelyn Underhill:

In Evelyn Underhill’s later works we see a theme that runs through the history of Christian contemplation: the dance of contemplation and action. Our private prayer life is important. In fact, Underhill says we must each be a “secret child of God.” Yet our prayers also open us to the larger purposes of God. We’re not merely fulfilled; we’re spilled out into the world.

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“For it is the self-oblivious gaze, the patient and disciplined attention to God, which deepens understanding, nourishes humility and love; and, by gentle processes of growth, gradually brings the creature into that perfect dedication to His purposes.” (Worship)

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“A real man or woman of prayer, then, should be a live wire, a link between God’s grace and the world that needs it . . .” (“Life as Prayer”)

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“We are transmitters as well as receivers. Our contemplation and our action, our humble self-opening to God, keeping ourselves sensitive to His music and light, and our generous self-opening to our fellow creatures, keeping ourselves sensitive to their needs, ought to form one life; mediating between God and His world, and bringing the saving power of the Eternal into time.” (Spiritual Life)

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Reflection

How can I be both a receiver and a transmitter of God’s love this week?

 

About Lisa Deam

Lisa Deam writes and speaks about Christian spiritual formation from a historical perspective. She’s the author of A World Transformed: Exploring the Spirituality of Medieval Maps. Visit her on Twitter @LisaKDeam and at lisadeam.com.

Scripture Meditation: Servants Don’t Need to Be in Charge

“Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ And then the angel left her.” Luke 1:38, NLT

How do we live by faith today? Mary faced one of the greatest stretches of faith that anyone could face, and she remained able to fully trust in God’s provision and plan because she knew her place.

As God’s servant, Mary only had to trust what God showed her.

It wasn’t up to Mary to figure out the plan or to provide the means. She didn’t imagine that she was in charge in any way, and with herself entrusted to God’s care, she didn’t have to be worry about what happens next.

Living by faith as the servants of God makes it possible to approach the challenges of each day with a peaceful confidence in God’s provision.

Book of the Month: Finding Grace at the Center

Week One: We Are Made to Love and to Be Loved

finding-grace-at-centerIn Finding Grace at the Center: the Beginning of Centering Prayer, a collection of essays by M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, and Thomas E. Clarke, we find a brief and generally accessible (2 out of 3 essays at least) introduction to centering prayer and contemplation. The most important step at the outset is to reorient ourselves around God’s reality rather than our own.

We simply won’t proceed into centering prayer without accepting God’s love for us, learning to stop expending effort in order to pray, and stepping away from our many priorities and activities.

This opening essay by M. Basil Pennington offers several grounding statements that can provide the foundation we need to move forward into prayer:

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“We have been baptized into Christ. We are in some very real, though mysterious way, Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. ‘I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20). As we go to the depths we realize in faith our identity with Christ the Son.”

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“In a movement of faith that includes hope and love, we go to the center and turn ourselves over to God in a simple ‘being there,’ in a presence that is perfect and complete adoration, response, love, and ‘Amen’ to that movement that we are in the Son to the Father.”

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“In practice most of us work as though God could not possibly get things done if we did not do them for Him. The fact is there is nothing that we are doing that God could not raise up a stone in the field to do for Him.”

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“No one else can give God our personal love. It is uniquely for this that He created us.”

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“If we expend great effort, then when it is done we can pat ourselves on the back and salute ourselves for our great accomplishment. This prayer leaves no room for pride. We have but to let go and let it be done unto us according to His revealed Word.”

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Read more…

 

For Reflection

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