FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Happy Friday, everyone! For Friday Favorites, we have a collection of Advent posts for you to savor as we wait the last, long week before the Christmas feast. We wish you a joyous season and all of God’s blessings.

Love,

Lisa and Prasanta

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A Global Advent Calendar via#AdventWord (join an international community in prayer to explore the mystery and wonder of Advent)

Wait of Glory via Nichole Woo (an Advent prayer based on Luke 3:25-38)

God Struck a Match via Maggie Wallem Rowe (what happened 2000 years ago was revolutionary–incendiary, even)

Advent and the Burning Bush via Phoebe Farag Mikhail (a Coptic Orthodox Advent tradition and the mingling of cultures)

Advent and the Trees via Rob Ebbens (a poem and reflection on the weight of waiting)

Mary, Martha, and My Holiday Kitchen via Carlene Hill Byron (kitchens, baking, and doing what matters)

When God’s Work Feels Too Small & Slow via Emotionally Healthy Leader Podcast (Advent doesn’t feel very hopeful or expectant this pandemic year…)


Inner Pilgrimage in a Time of Pandemic

This week I wanted to share with you a guest post I wrote for Abbey of the Arts. In it, I reflect on inner pilgrimage during a time of pandemic, especially during Advent and Christmas. I hope you enjoy!

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Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve all become a little monkish, whether we want to or not. I’ll admit that the recent months of isolation haven’t always felt very sacred to me. As I continue to restrict my movements out of extra caution, I’ve deeply missed the ordinary activities of daily life, such as gathering with friends and writing in coffee shops. And I mourn the loss of larger opportunities. For example, a friend invited me to join a pilgrimage . . . just before the pandemic began.

Wrestling with the “new normal” of pandemic life, I’ve found it worthwhile to read the Christian mystics, many of whom did not travel because they were enclosed monks, nuns, or anchorites. Perhaps because they accepted a life of voluntary restriction, they understood that journeys do not always involve footsteps. These mystics are good companions as we sit on our sofas and dream of roads not taken. . . .

Please head on over to the Abbey of the Arts to read the rest of this post!


FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! Click the links below to explore poetry, Advent resources, and gratitude as we continue our journey through the season.

May God bring light into your darkness.

Lisa and Prasanta

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Turning Darkness into Light: A Soft Shroud’s Folding via Emily Polis Gibson (Rowan Williams and the beauty of Advent)

Untitled via Trischa Goodwin (a poem)

The Advent Project via Biola University (a daily devotional series celebrating the Advent season through art and Scripture)

Advent Calendar via Visual Commentary on Scripture (discover an artwork each day during the Advent season)

12 Tiny Things to Grow Gratitude in Your Home via Ellie Roscher (small practices to grow gratitude)

10 Best Books to Buy a Writer for Christmas via K. M. Weiland (writing-craft books for the scribbler on your list–or for you)


Learning to Pray in the Dark: A Post via Prasanta Verma

I’m going to be honest with you.

I’m quite new to liturgical readings and practices. I didn’t grow up in a tradition (hello Baptist Deep South!) that followed a liturgical calendar. The word “Advent” was not part of my Christmas vocabulary, and if you had used the word “Compline”, I might have thought you were awkwardly trying to pay me a compliment. I am learning about liturgical practices only now, as an adult.

I am also new to the Book of Common Prayer. I could not pass a quiz about it, and I hardly know what to do with it. But I am delving in, as well as reading a book called Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren, to be released in January 2021.* I was drawn to the book’s description and hooked by this question: “How can we trust God in the dark?” I knew I wanted to read more, and as it turns out, the book is framed around a nighttime prayer of Compline.

I have read others’ testimonies of how the prayers of the saints gave them the language of prayer when they needed it in their own lives. Perhaps that is another reason I was drawn to this book. What I have been lacking in my own faith life just might be the voices and steady faith and prayers of past believers who clung tightly to these words and practices.

I used to reason that I would not like the repetition of such prayers, and thought I would find it dull and devoid of the spirit and life. Those were thoughts, however, I had when I was much younger, before I had any inkling I would be fumbling through my own paths of darkness and wilderness and not able to pray. For those who grew up in a liturgical tradition, the prayers may have helped you find the way when it could not be found. Perhaps it was a respite to draw upon the familiarity of the offices, and give you the words you needed.

For someone like me, who does not have the background and experience of these prayers, and though the comfort of familiarity does not exist, perhaps it is a means by which I may learn to pray again. These prayers offered by others give me a hope of authenticity that a Person is there, listening, behind my present veil of darkness. Nothing is familiar in the dark; a familiar landscape can look like an alien planet at midnight. We can’t see who is there and who isn’t, only shapes and shadows and mysteries, so I find myself siphoning strength from a congregation of believers who came before me as I stumble along.

“When we’re drowning we need a lifeline, and our lifeline in grief cannot be mere optimism…We need practices that don’t simply palliate our fears or pain, but that teach us to walk with God in the crucible of our own fragility,” Warren writes. These words resonate with me. Maybe this is what I have been missing. Not that having such practices or tradition would prevent any dark nights of the soul—no, not at all—but that now it may help bring me back, lighting my footpath in the dark. Like Advent candles lit week by week, maybe this is the path of light pointing toward hope during this walk in the wilderness.

*I paid for and pre-ordered the book, requested to join the launch team, and was provided with an advance digital copy to read. This post is not being solicited by the launch team or book publishers, and I am writing my own thoughts and opinions out of my own personal experience.


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 @VermaPrasanta, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.

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.

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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)


FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it? Prasanta Verma and I hope you will find some peace and solace in these posts. Prayer, poetry, and positivity — it’s all here. 😉

Be well and be blessed.

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Prayer for the Christian Political Other via Gena Thomas (a good prayer for election week)

A Lesson in Meandering via Jeff Grills (enjoy this poem on the serpentine path of life)

Self-Care in Grief and Hard Times via Lisa Appelo (ideas for biblical self-care, which is always rooted in God)

Unmasked via Nichole Woo (what do our metaphorical masks hide?)

The Pastoral is Political: Poetry as Cure for Being Gaslit via Melanie Weldon-Soiset (reading and writing poetry can be healing acts)

30 Positive Words for November via Roz Andrews (one positive word to contemplate for each day this month)


FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome to Friday Favorites! This week, Prasanta Verma and I were struck by the number of posts and podcasts that wisely and gently help us through difficult times. And, dear friends, you may have noticed that the times are difficult. We urge you to keep your hope and faith alive. The words below may help — soak up these writers on finding God and tranquility in disruption and sorrow.

Be well and be blessed.

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A Liturgy for Embracing Both Joy & Sorrow via The Rabbit Room (a liturgy that feels particularly appropriate for this time)

Open or Closed: Welcoming an Expansive View of God via Gem Fadling (an Unhurried Living podcast episode that walks us through a practice to cultivate a greater vision of God during overwhelming times)

Searching for Certainty: Finding God in the Disruptions of Life with Shelly Miller via Sally Clarkson (how difficult times can become purposeful times of spiritual growth)

Poems for All Saints Day via C. Christopher Smith (from the Englewood Review of Books archives, some poems by and about the saints)

Bookish, Tranquil, and Wise via Joy Clarkson (in this podcast episode, Alan Jacobs discusses how to recover our tranquility by reading old books)

Hilary Mantel on How Writers Learn to Trust Themselves via Literary Hub (Mantel talks about routines, early readers, and trusting your writerly self)


FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

It’s Friday again . . . and that means it’s time for Friday Favorites! It’s such a joy to find and share these links each week. Good and true words bring hope into the world. This week, Prasanta Verma and I have rounded up an amazing collection of words that will help you pray, ponder, and read. Enjoy, and be blessed.

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Ode to Autumn via Brian Draper (a guided autumn walking retreat)

How the medieval practice of stargazing can change your prayer life via David Russell Mosley (look to the stars and remember that the heavens are telling the glory of God)

What does healing look like within faith communities? via Kimberly Pelletier and Samuel Ogles (an Ask a Spiritual Director podcast episode)

We Are All Related via Nathan Beacom (Black Elk’s spiritual vision for peace)

Reading Emily Dickinson with Job via Laura Cerbus (the resistance and obedience of Dickinson and Job)

Books for pandemic reading via The Christian Century (nine writers tell us about books that reframe what it means to be a person of faith)

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!

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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)

False Self and Creativity: A Guest Post by Ed Cyzewski

I’m pleased to have Ed Cyzewski back at The Contemplative Writer with a guest post this week! Ed is an author and a contemplative who writes with great wisdom on topics such as prayer and the quieting of our soul. Today, this wisdom comes in the form of a post based on his recent book, Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration From Digital Distraction. Reconnect helps us learn to be present to God rather than to the constant call of technology. If you struggle with distraction or the need for validation, both of which can result from social media use, I really recommend Ed’s book.

Below, Ed talks about the effects of social media not only on our souls but also on our creativity.

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Leah is highly accomplished programmer who has worked on some of the most important features on one of the most widely used social media platforms in the world. Leah also pays someone to manage her social media accounts, especially her Facebook pages.

Why would prompt someone with her credentials to take such a drastic step? Is she naïve to the many benefits of social media? Is she a workaholic who can’t make time for social connections on line?

Actually, Leah is protecting herself from a social media feedback loop that is addicting and destructive. She knows that because she helped create it.

This “Leah” is Leah Pearlman, the co-creator of the red notification button on Facebook.  She had to hire someone to manage her accounts because the red notification button was too appealing and became linked to her self-esteem and daily moods (as of this writing the notifications are a red bubble on top of a bell on the Facebook home page). She went on to say:

When I need validation – I go to check Facebook… I’m feeling lonely, ‘Let me check my phone.’ I’m feeling insecure, ‘Let me check my phone.’… I noticed that I would post something that I used to post and the ‘like’ count would be way lower than it used to be.

Leah even used the word “addicted” in assessing herself: “Suddenly, I thought I’m actually also kind of addicted to the feedback.”[i] 

Even for those generally unworried about the response of peers, social media still prompts us to curate our identity, selecting the “best” parts of ourselves to share with others. This sets a perfect trap of sorts in terms of spirituality, as we have more than enough opportunities to present or live under the influence of a fabricated false self already.

This can be devastating both for our souls and for creativity:

Do we find our affirmation in the integrity of what we create or in the chance reactions of distracted people, many who barely know us, on social media?

Do we find our worth in the chance feedback of social media or in the loving presence of God that doesn’t rely on careful programming, alluring designs, and enhanced algorithms?

When I speak of a false self, I mean that kind of mask or identity we imagine for ourselves. Henrì Nouwen wrote in The Way of the Heart about the pressure in ministry to be relevant and competent, rather than embracing the brokenness we find in silence and solitude.[ii] Whether we try to project ourselves as successful, organized, creative, wise, or smart, the false self steals the security and affirmation we could receive from God. Instead, we face the pressure to maintain and even protect the false self rather than discovering who we are in God.

Social media provides an opportunity to make the false self more concrete—at least in the sense that it becomes something you and others can see. It literally can become an avatar that is projected, and as we become entangled with our online personas and false selves, it may become quite difficult to discern who we are in the security of God’s love.

As more likes and followers amass in approval of the false self, we may fear the loss of this steady stream of affirmation and may do what we can to ensure that it continues to grow. That isn’t to say that every social media user is at the mercy of a false self. Rather, social media offers a perfect opportunity to “incarnate” the false self and to build relationships around it.

Are we truly seeing people as they are? Or are we only seeing a projected image that is meant to appeal to us? As algorithms help us find people who are most like ourselves and as social media results in people migrating toward divided echo chambers, we are at risk of losing touch with the complexity of each other while also reducing people to simplistic labels based on what they reveal online about themselves, such as their religious or political preferences. 

While there are opportunities for connection, community, and encouragement via social media notifications, those notifications can also serve as a source of insecurity that drives us back to social media for another hit of affirmation. This ready-made, daily affirmation from friends, family, and even complete strangers can make it difficult, if not impossible, to give up a social media affirmation hub like Instagram or Twitter—although services like Facebook, YouTube, and SnapChat offer many similar quandaries for users seeking affirmation. You could get “amazing feedback” at any moment if you keep checking, keep posting, and then keep checking. This feedback loop runs counter to the vision for content offered by Thomas Merton:

In order to settle down in the quiet of our own being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity. We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from the effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are the quiet expression of our inner life. We must be content to live without watching ourselves live, to work without expecting any immediate reward, to love without an instantaneous satisfaction, and to exist without any special recognition.[iii]

The feedback on social media is quite immediate, especially if you compare it to the older publishing processes, such as a magazine article. We immediately know if our ideas, images, videos, or favorite articles resonate with our family, friends, and colleagues. The elation of that feedback can become addicting.

At the same time, we can also enjoy reading updates, viewing videos, and browsing photos from our friends, which go on in an endless supply. We have no end of sources for comparison and envy. The more we fill our days with the parade of images and videos on social media, the less likely we are to turn to God for our affirmation, identity, and security.

This post has been adapted from Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction by Ed Cyzewski (Herald Press, 2020).

Learn more here and get a free study guide.


[i] Hilary Andersson, “Social media apps are ‘deliberately’ addictive to users,” BBC, July 4, 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-44640959.

[ii] Henrì Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence, 19-21.

[iii] Merton, No Man Is an Island, 127.