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today’s invitation?

As I strained and struggled this morning to glean some thoughtful meditation from my readings and prayer, one small, unsettling invitation came, cease and rest. This is not an easy thing for me being a type A personality… driven to perfection and accomplishing the next great thing life may bring.

As I spent time in centering prayer, I noticed the invitation to the quiet meadows of Psalm 23… a favorite meeting place for me and God… and yet it was so difficult for me to stop this morning… to allow myself to fully absorb the presence and provision of God… to let myself off the hook for a moment and fall into the presence of God.

In some ways it can be like the first time you jump off the diving board as a child… there is usually a parent or trusted person waiting for you in the deep water of the pool… but you are the only one who can trust enough to step off the security of knowing where you are and controlling how you are.

Todays holds many things that need to be done, thoughts of tasks not yet accomplished, ghosts of shortcomings and mishaps. Yet, God invites me to be still and breathe deeply his life giving presence. That is enough.

The Invitation

fall back
into soft green meadows
fresh
with promised spring
let the sun’s warmth
seep
into the cold places
restrained and hidden
from day

let the lungs
expand
with life’s air
pure
clean

breathe deeply
the song
heaven sings
inviting
little me
into
the Creator’s
rest

making it through the storm

As Harry preached this past Sunday on Jesus walking on the water, I was deeply moved as I realized that recently  I had been weathering my own storm… it is hard to know where these storms originate and why. Sometimes they arrive as quickly and as unexpectedly as they subside… like a squall on a lake… unpredictable and  unforseen but powerful enough to take you down.

The question is, what do we do in these unpredictable and uncontrollable times in our lives when we can quickly become overwhelmed? In Matthew 14, Jesus invites Peter to join him as he walks above the water in the storm… Peter joins him but as we know, he quickly begins to sink when he removes his gaze from Jesus and fixes himself on the trouble at hand.

This practice of gazing at Jesus, fixing our eyes on him, can be elusive at best. When we find ourselves caught unexpectedly in a squall, panic sets in and we can quickly become harried. Slowing down, listening and waiting seem nearly impossible, especially noticing where Jesus is in all of that. Everything in us wants to do the opposite. Read more

The spirituality of place…

During his ministry on earth, Jesus would often steal away from the crowds to reconnect with God. I am keenly aware that if Jesus needed this in his ministry, it is a good idea for me also. But it is not just because Jesus did it. I am aware that I can quickly get caught up in the hectic pace of our culture or adopt ideals about my role that don’t come from the One who has called me. If I linger to long in an unhealthy place, it can begin to taint all that I do… even the good things.

Over the years, I have become aware that the mere action of going back to the physical place where I have met God can usher me into  into God’s presence. It is the power of ritual. Ritual is a habit or repetitive action that holds within it the power of memory and transcendence.  This would also be true for our practice of prayer and other actions that can become powerful rituals in our lives.

The beauty of ritual is that whether I feel like it or not… whether things are going well for me or not… returning to the practice itself and going through the motions can bring about spiritual renewal, rejuvenation and a sense of connectedness.

There are many examples of the spirituality of place in the Bible. The children of Israel were experts at marking the sacred places so that they could later return and remember the story. In Genesis, we find Abraham returning back to  the trees of Mamre. They were a sacred place for Abraham.

We too, can have sacred places to return to time and time again. It could be a favorite tree, a painting, a grassy meadow, imagining a psalm or a favorite chair. All of these can become open doorways into the presence of God:

The Chair

it is funny to me
that a chair
has become
a sacred place
a temple
of momentous grace
and love
where the holy one
pierced my deepest parts
with love breath
purging darkness
caked clutter
from the intimate places
that for so long
were
uninhabited

one glance now
unleashes the memory
and ferries me
into Love’s breath
and I breathe
once again
deeply

The spirituality of words…

The creative work of expressing my spiritual insights and longings into words has become a meaningful spiritual practice for me over the past several years. It began with a prayer journal that I sporadically kept written in pen and pencil. It then evolved into something more freeing and creative, poetry.

It seems that I feel more free to express myself in a form that is basically limitless. It doesn’t need to have proper punctuation, capital letters or even make literal sense. I find this especially freeing when I want to write about spiritual things… which can be so abstract. My poetry tends to be as much about the visual aspect  as the choice of words. I like for the verses to look the way I feel about what I am writing.

Writing has become a form of prayer for me:

words
a mere human
invention
clumsily strung together
describing
the mystery
God
unfolding
around me
in me
yet
unleashing the power
of memory
stories
of the Holy One
and
me

“Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, until I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who come”

Psalm 71:17-18

Should blogging be added to the list of classic spiritual disciplines?

Recently, I have heard the comment that  perhaps blogging takes away from the pastoral role… that maybe if the pastor spent less time typing away at the computer, they would have more time to… You can imagine all the things one could say to finish the sentence.

For me, as a pastor, blogging has become somewhat of a spiritual discipline. It is one of the ways that I practice the Presence. Because I don’t have time to do it during the day, I choose to wake up earlier. So, in the wee hours of the morning with coffee in hand, I begin to search my soul for what has inspired me during the week or month. You could even go as far to say that it is a form of an Examen.

Because Harry and I have chosen to blog about our practicing the presence, I do not blog until I have spent time in centering prayer and meditating on scripture. I begin my time with God each morning by naming the persons in my life and in my congregation that are needing healing or guidance from God, then I move to thanksgiving for the persons in my life and congregation who have inspired me or co-labored with me recently.

During this time, I practice noticing in prayer and in reading what inspires me to blog. I find great inspiration and creativity in blogging each day. I also find it personally inspiring to read again and again the things that stirred my soul and drew me into deeper understanding of who I am as a child of God .

One of the practices that I value as a pastor is beginning any meeting or rehearsal with a time of centering ourselves in God’s presence. Before I began my adventures in blogging, I would read from various books and devotionals but now, I use my blog as my own resource for devotionals and prayer times with members of the congregation. I find that it fosters transparency and intimacy between myself and the persons I am working with or leading.

I am convinced that blogging keeps me accountable, keeps me focused on the spirit’s movement and helps me to stay refreshed spiritually. All of these are qualities that foster a healthy spiritual life for persons in ministry or anyone for that matter.

Journaling has long been accepted as a spiritual discipline… perhaps we need to add blogging to the list.

What does it mean to be playful?

As I continue my practice of prayer, Jesus continues to invite me to play. Recently as I prayed through Psalm 23, I noticed that in my time of centering prayer, Jesus was with me in the green grass by the still waters. It was a beautiful place. Instantly I saw that we were moving around a lot… I was a child, which I often am when I see myself with Jesus. He was happy, turning around and around with me in his arms; tossing me up towards the sun. His smile was warm and there was great delight in his eyes and we skipped through the meadows by the still waters.

“What are you doing, Jesus?” my thought interrupted my prayer…”I thought we were supposed to be resting?” I inquired.

“We are playing…”

“Oh… is that what this is” the thought took my breath away. Jesus was gently, playfully reminding me of his invitation to play. I realized in a brief moment that I didn’t even recognize that that is what we were doing… because I am so serious sometimes… and because somehow in my spirituality there is no room for this playful Jesus who keeps showing up. Read more

Sometimes, practicing the presence seems a little like digging holes…

Sometimes my practicing the presence seems a little like digging holes along the river looking for living water… let me explain.

In the Exodus account, God gave Moses the power to perform miracles and signs so that the Egyptians would know that He was Lord, the One True God. After turning his staff into a snake, Moses touched the Nile River and turned it into blood along with all of the water in Egypt. Everything in the river died and smelled.

Then, in Exodus 6,  the Egyptians dug holes along the river in search of living water. I am struck by this imagery.  I can imagine the heat and the stench as the Egyptians dig holes into the parched earth with parched souls, hoping to find living water. They were digging beside a gruesome sight of blood and flies which was once their source of life, industry and wealth. Egypt was nothing without its water source, the Nile.

The answer for the Egyptians was simple… acknowledge that the Lord was the one true God and release the children of Israel to worship Him. I think that our answer is also simple… there is a River of Life that runs through each of us… we can tap into it at any time. Too often, we find ourselves right beside the Source of Living water… but because of our own spiritual hardness or the complexities of life… we dig holes along the river longing to quench our spiritual thirst. Jesus said in John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

Perhaps the practice of inward gazing at the Source of Water within us rather than struggling to dig holes outside of the water source would bring the spiritual refreshment that we long for. This requires practice and patience… seeing through the layers of our humanity to behold the divine that has been birthed, by the grace of God, within us. There is something beautiful to behold within each of us.

A. W.  Tozer writes, ” Many have found the secret of which I speak and, without giving much thought to what is going on within them, constantly practice this habit of inwardly gazing upon God. They know that something inside their hearts sees God. Even when they are compelled to withdraw their conscious attention in order to engage in earthly affairs there is within them a secret communion always going on.”

O, Lord, may I have the grace to slow my frantic digging and gaze upon the One who has taken up residence within me; the River of Life. Amen.

It takes some effort to frame our days…

Like Jacob… we can take the time to re-frame our days. Just has he stopped before moving into Egypt to honor God and offer himself to God, we too can take time to do that.

There are many ways to frame our days that have been passed down throughout the history of Christianity. Morning and Evening prayers, the Examen, the Daily Office, the practice of centering prayer are just a few.

I find it helpful to begin my day with reading scripture and then move into a time of centering prayer. I find that it re-frames my entire day. I tend to see things that happen throughout the day with spirit eyes… which is a good thing. I find that if I begin the day centered in God’s presence I have a much better chance of staying centered!

I was never good at praying out loud for any length of time growing up. Read more

What frames your day?

What frames our days? Is it coffee, alarms, our appointments, exercise, children, work? What motivates us to get out of bed and begin our day… expectations of others? Obligations, classes? Sermons?

There are many things that pull at my day and try to become the centering narrative for everything that I do. This past week, I bought a Kinnect for my Xbox… because I want to be in better shape and lose weight! I went out and bought a great game, “The Biggest Loser” to help me along. It was fun at first… making sure I played the game everyday so it wouldn’t scold me. Losing weight and working out… all very worthy causes for my day. Though I have been successful, feel very good about myself and am definitely a little lighter, I am mindful that this will only last for a time. It is not enough of a reason to get out of bed a little earlier each day… and it is not the story I want to tell with my life. It can be a fun part of my life… but not what frames my life.

We, as seekers of God, claim that our days are to be framed by the one who loves us and seeks us. It is a good and comforting thing to know… but does this powerful truth lay claim to us each day. Does it determine how we live this moment, this day? Read more

Help my eyes to see

Another cup of coffee and another invitation from God today… I am beginning to see beyond circumstances and recognize just how hard God works at getting through to this overly intellectual, worrisome head of mine! Today’s reading of A.W. Tozer sparked more thoughts on last weeks post, “Are there ladders in your life“. Tozer writes, “The soul has eyes with which to see and ears with which to hear. Feeble they may be from long disuse, but by the life-giving touch of Christ alive now and capable of sharpest sight and most sensitive hearing.”

Tozer speaks to what we as a culture and society have accepted as reality. Things that are concrete, that we can touch, are for that very reason are perceived as reality. However, he challenges us to see that the spiritual realm, the things of God, are just as real. Our ability to perceive them is also as real. The problem is that most of us are out of shape or too cynical… Read more