"Lord Jesus, master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!" Amen." Psalm 146 Hallelujah! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I life; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them. When they breathe their last, they return to earth, and in that day their thoughts perish. Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! whose hope is in the Lord their God; Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; who keeps his promise for ever; Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger. The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous; the Lord cares for the stranger; he sustains the orphan and the widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked. The Lord shall reign for ever, your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Hallelujah!
"In prayer we seek God. We do not seek peace, quiet, tranquility, enlightenment; we do not seek anything for ourselves. We seek to give ourselves . . . to God. He is the all of our prayer." --M. Basil Pennington
God, the one and only-- I’ll wait as long as he says. Everything I need comes from him, so why not? He’s solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul Psalm 62:1-2a
....Advent technically doesn't start until tomorrow, but here is a psalm for today's advent reflection/centering prayer. If you're following along with the Daily Offices, today's Psalms are Psalm 19, 137, and 144. http://www.missionstclare.com/english/November/morning/29m.html
“Fall in love with God in an absolute way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” - Fr. Pedro Arrupe
What do you love? Who do you love? It can be hard to know sometimes. We’re really quite good at telling ourselves stories about our motivations and goals. We know who and what we should love, but oftentimes our lives do not mirror our words. As was discussed on Sunday, prophets like Jeremiah hold a mirror up to us to show who and what we truly love, what seizes our imaginations, what gets us out of bed, how we spend our time, what we read, what we buy, etc… “For Jesus prayer seems to be a matter of waiting in love. Returning to love. Trusting that love is the bottom stream of reality.” -Richard Rohr
Try something with me, will you? It’s a bit of an experiment. Go to a quiet place. Pray through a psalm--it doesn’t have to be long. Focus on a word or short phrase from that psalm. Offer this time and your love to God, inviting his loving presence into this space. Try to quiet your mind as you center yourself on those words. Take a few slow, deep breaths, repeating the words in your mind slowly with each breath. Rest in those words. Take the next 10 minutes or so to center yourself in those words. If you’re anything like me, 100 different thoughts will emerge the moment you try to quiet yourself--thoughts about bills, to-dos, projects . . . and then deeper thoughts about relationships, feelings, hurts, hopes, and fears. You can take note of these thoughts and then let them go, releasing them like little rafts down the river of your life as you recenter yourself on the word or phrase in the psalm and God’s presence in the present moment. There’s no judgment for distracting thoughts. Each time a thought occurs, recognize it, and then gently let it go.
After 10 or 15 minutes, remain still for a few more minutes. Reflect on the distracting thoughts that came to mind during prayer. Explore the meaning these thoughts have for you. This little exercise is useful for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is great practice for centering our minds and hearts in God’s presence while learning to let go of distracting thoughts--not just during those 10 or 15 quiet minutes, but throughout the day as well. Secondly, this practice highlights what thoughts, and thus what concerns, ideas, and values occupy our minds and our lives. By taking note of the distracting thoughts that come up during centering prayer, we are better able to identify the voices that have gained our attention. These will reveal to us our attachments--to material things, plans, identities--and some of our contradictions. These thoughts and concerns--those things that decide what gets us out of bed in the mornings and how we spend our evenings and weekends, our money and resources--do they reflect an absolutelove for God, or a love for something or someone else? What we are in love with does determine everything. What do our roaming thoughts during prayer reveal about our truest affections?
I invite you to enter into an advent experiment with me. For the next few weeks before Christmas, would you join me in setting aside 15 minutes each day for centering prayer? I will try to post a psalm and a quote on the blog each morning over advent as a resource for prayer that morning. It might be fun for each of us to pray through the same psalm, but certainly feel free to choose your own.
As we enter into times of prayerful reading, silence, and listening this advent season let us welcome God's loving presence into our hearts and lives. Come, O come, Emmanuel.
Resources on Centering Prayer: Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila Centering Prayer by M. Basil Pennington Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating Contemplative Outreach Ltd. http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/
I’ve been thinking all week about how Jonah’s story relates to the theme of sacred space--that quiet place where we hear God’s voice and encounter Love in ways that often go unnoticed in the day-to-day business of our lives. God is always speaking and always loving; but more often it is taken for granted. We aren’t listening. Sacred spaces provide a place for what the monastics call “attentive waiting” and remind us of God’s voice and presence in the mundane as well as in the extraordinary. Away from all our doings and beings--our roles, responsibilities, and identities that make up our sense of self--we listen to the Spirit. The text isn’t clear about Jonah’s reasons or justifications for running from God, but as Pastor Dave illustrated for us on Sunday, Jonah likely had ideas about what was good for him, what he should do, how he should live. God’s plan didn’t make sense, so he went with his own. Jonah heard but didn’t listen; he rationalized and justified; he told himself all kinds of stories. So God brought him to a place of silence, a place set apart from all the distractions and excuses, a place where all the voices would be silent. And Jonah called out to God through the psalms, attentively waiting for God’s response. This is the essence of sacred space. It is a space where we let go our false selves--all those stories we tell ourselves about ourselves--and actively listen. God invites us to this space, to let everything else fall away; all our own desires, all our own expectations and senses of responsibility or rationality; to a place where we can no longer listen to the stories we tell ourselves. We see them for what they are. And he calls us to listen. I am in that place. I am in the belly of the beast. Listening. “Attentively waiting” and “actively listening” to the Spirit’s nudge. And what I’ve learned is that this is a good space. It is where Love meets me at my truest self. I am vulnerable, but I am loved. The part in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes to mind where the children ask Mr. and Mrs. Beaver whether Aslan the lion is safe, and the response is “Safe? [ . . . ] Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
It is in this space that we learn the dynamic quality of prayer as a spiritual discipline. Henri Nouwen says [It] is clear that we are usually surrounded by so much inner and outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God when he is speaking to us. We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us and unable to understand in which direction he calls us. . . A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear . . . A spiritual discipline, therefore, is the concentrated effort to create some inner and outer space in our lives, where this obedience can be practiced (67, 68).
He goes on to say that it is “through a spiritual discipline we prevent the world from filling our lives to such an extent that there is no place left to listen. A spiritual discipline sets us free to pray or, to say it better, allows the Spirit of God to pray in us.” (68). Recall that Romans 8:23 says that even when we don’t know how or what to pray, the Spirit is praying “in us and through us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs and aching groans.”
I want to talk more about prayer as a spiritual discipline in the coming days and how it relates to sacred space and to Jonah’s story, but I want to ask if you would join me in intentionally carving out space in your day to listen. Praying through the psalms is a great way to do that. You could use Job’s prayer (2:1-10) or one of the psalms listed on the bulletin from Sunday (also listed below). You could also join me in praying the Divine Office (or part of it) here is the link: http://www.missionstclare.com/. There is also an app you can download for your phone, which has been really nice for when I’m out walking through the woods or waiting in the car to pick up the kids. And finally, if you have any thoughts on Jonah’s story, on praying the psalms, or on learning to listen to God’s voice feel free to respond in the comments section. If folks are wanting to have a kind of online dialogue going, that is welcomed as well. I will leave you with a song and a psalm. The song is by Gungor titled, “You Have Me” (link below). As you listen, notice how the lyrics echo Psalm 139.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
References: Gungor. 2009. “You Have Me” Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpATmuPr84Q Norris, Kathleen. 1996. The Cloister Walk. Riverhead Books: New York. Nouwen, Henri. 1981. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life. Harper Collins: New York.