Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Practice of God's Presence: 2nd letter prt 1

Second Letter: Not finding my manner of life described in books, although I have no problem with that, yet, for reassurance, I would appreciate your thoughts about it.

In conversation some days ago, a devout person told me the spiritual life was a life of grace, which begins with servile fear, is increased by hope of eternal life, and is completed by pure love; that each of these states had its different phases, by which one arrives, at last, at that blessed consummation.

I have not followed these methods at all. On the contrary, I instinctively felt they would discourage me. Instead, at my entrance into religious life, I took a resolution to give myself up to God as the best satisfaction I could make for my sins and, for the love of Him, to renounce all besides.

For the first years, I commonly employed myself during the time set apart for devotion with thoughts of death, judgment, hell, heaven, and my sins. I continued, for some years, applying my mind carefully the rest of the day, and even in the midst of my work, to the presence of God, whom I considered always as with me, often as in my heart.

At length I began to do the same thing during my set time of prayer, which gave me joy and consolation. This practice produced in me so high an esteem for God that faith alone was enough to assure me.

Such was my beginning. Yet I must tell you that, for the first ten years, I suffered a great deal. During this time I fell often and rose again presently. It seemed to me that all creatures, reason, and God, Himself, were against me and faith alone for me.

The apprehension that I was not devoted to God as I wished to be, my past sins always on my mind, and the great unmerited favors which God did for me, were the source of my sufferings and feelings of unworthiness. I was sometimes troubled with thoughts that to believe I had received such favors was an effect of my imagination, which pretended to be so soon where others arrived with great difficulty. At other times I believed it was all a willful delusion and that there was no hope for me.

Finally, I considered the prospect of spending the rest of my days in these troubles. I discovered this did not diminish the trust I had in God. In fact, it only served to increase my faith. It then seemed that, all at once, I found myself changed. My soul, which, until that time was in trouble, felt a profound inward peace, as if she was in her center and place of rest.

Ever since that time I walk before God simply, in faith, with humility, and with love. I apply myself diligently to do nothing and think nothing which may displease Him. I hope that when I have done what I can, He will do with me what He pleases.

As for what passes in me at present, I cannot express it. I have no pain or difficulty about my state because I have no will but that of God. I endeavor to accomplish His will in all things. I am so resigned that I would not take up a straw from the ground against His order or from any motive but that of pure love for Him.


What does Bro Lawrence seek reassurance on?

In what ways might the methods described on Par 2 discourage a person?

What was Bro Lawrence's alternative? How did he accomplish it?

In what ways did he suffer for the 1st 10 years? What might that have looked or felt like?

He writes that he considered what it would be like to live always with the troubles he experienced. What did he conclude? What happened to him as a result of his conclusions? What can we take away from his experience and apply to our own ives?

Do you want to arrive at the place with God that Bro Lawrence arrived at? How might you do it?

28/02/07 week of 1st Sunday in Lent

[Please remember this is a sort of "menu" from which to select. No one has to pray it all]

If you would like these meditations to come directly to your in box, please click here:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Today's Scripture

Psalm 119:49-72; Psalm 49, [53] ; Deut. 9:13-21; Heb. 3:12-19; John 2:23-3:15

From Forward Day by Day:
John 2:23-3:15. Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

"Oh, he's a Born-Again," someone says, and everyone at the table rolls his eyes. Something very like scorn has pulled up a chair and sat down with us. This is unworthy of us. Jesus wasn't setting up a pecking order of people whose faith is truer than other peoples' faith, or of people who are theologically more sophisticated than their neighbors. This is not the opening of a debate whether a person should or should not identify himself as "born again." It's a statement about what it will take for each of us to see God.

We're not equipped to experience God directly. "Humankind cannot bear very much reality," T. S. Eliot said, and it is so. God is indirect with us--or, rather, God is direct: it is our limitations that ensure that we will always experience God indirectly. As long as we are here in the flesh, it is so. Faith isn't the same thing as knowledge, but it is what we have while we are here.

Born again or not born again is not our choice: it is God's. God is revealed to each of us as we are able to respond, and it is never too late to look and listen for your new life.

Today we remember:

Anna Cooper
Psalm 119:33-40; Proverbs 9:1-6; Luke 4:14-21

Almighty God, you inspired your servant Anna Julia Heyward Cooper with the love of learning and the skill of teaching: Enlighten us more and more through the discipline of learning, and deepen our commitment to the education of all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today in the Anglican Cycle of Prayer we pray for the Diocese of Minna (Prov. III, Nigeria)

40 Ideas for Lent: A Lenten calendar


Bake a cake for your colleagues. (But only if you're good at baking – otherwise they might think you hate them.)

Idea by: Hazey Jane

"Often it seems that we get what little we have asked for and not the abundance of what was being offered. Many times when my own children were younger, they asked for much less that they could have had. And I withheld what I wished for them until another opportunity came along." – Arlo Guthrie
++++++++++ Reflections

For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and faith.
St. Therese of the Child Jesus
Story of a Soul.

Reading from the Desert Christians

Abba Abraham told of a man of Scetis who was a scribe and did not eat bread. A brother came to beg him to copy a book. The old man whose spirit was engaged in contemplation, wrote, omitting some phrases and with no punctuation. The brother, taking the book and wishing to punctuate it, noticed that words were missing. So he said to the old man, 'Abba, there are some phrases missing.' The old man said to him, 'Go, and practise first that which is written, then come back and I will write the rest.'

Daily Meditation (Henri Nouwen)

Letting Go of Our Fear of God

We are afraid of emptiness. Spinoza speaks about our "horror vacui," our horrendous fear of vacancy. We like to occupy-fill up-every empty time and space. We want to be occupied. And if we are not occupied we easily become preoccupied; that is, we fill the empty spaces before we have even reached them. We fill them with our worries, saying, "But what if ..."

It is very hard to allow emptiness to exist in our lives. Emptiness requires a willingness not to be in control, a willingness to let something new and unexpected happen. It requires trust, surrender, and openness to guidance. God wants to dwell in our emptiness. But as long as we are afraid of God and God's actions in our lives, it is unlikely that we will offer our emptiness to God. Let's pray that we can let go of our fear of God and embrace God as the source of all love.

Weekly Meditation from Henri Nouwen Society

On the Journey to Having a Heart of Flesh
written by SUSAN M. S. BROWN
One of the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai's books is called Even a Fist Was Once an Open Palm with Fingers. Somehow that image reminds me of my heart. I feel my heart clench like a fist, or feel my chest go hard and blank, as if a thick barrier had descended in front of it. And yet, at other times, my heart opens like a palm, or a flower spilling out light.

Sometimes my closed, stony-feeling heart is giving me helpful information-empathetic insight into the state of the person I'm with, or an intuition of the genuine need for self-protection. But openheartedness is a great spiritual aspiration and gift. I imagine we've all experienced the attractiveness of someone with an open, transparent, "fleshy" heart. And when people are engaged in a difficult interaction, even just one open heart can transform the dynamic.

It's so much easier to see what is needed in a situation, to respond directly and compassionately, to accept healing, when the heart is open, when the mind, ego, and other aspects of our being are in proper balance with it. Perhaps that is why the Shema mentions the heart first when it enjoins us to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Dt 6:5). And why in the opening of the Eucharistic prayer we are asked to "lift up your hearts." What might the world be like if more of us could follow those invitations more of the time?

SUSAN M. S. BROWN is an Episcopalian laywoman and a freelance editor who lives near Boston, Massachusetts.

From the Principles of the Third Society of St. Francis:

Day Twenty-Eight - The Third Note: Joy

Tertiaries, rejoicing in the Lord always, show in our lives the grace and
beauty of diving joy. We remember that we follow the Son of Man, who came
eating and drinking, who loved the birds and the flowers, who blessed little
children, who was a friend to tax collectors and sinners and who sat at the
tables of both the rich and the poor. We delight in fun and laughter,
rejoicing in God's world, its beauty and its living creatures, calling
nothing common or unclean. We mix freely with all people, ready to bind up
the broken-hearted and to bring joy into the lives of others. We carry
within us an inner peace and happiness, which others perceive, even if they
do not know its source.

God, you have made your church rich through the poverty of blessed Francis:
help us, like him, not to trust in earthly things, but to seek your heavenly
gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord


Upper Room Daily Reflection

IMMEDIACY, vivid immediacy in that Life of the Universe, is what we seek. Not in the earthquake, not in the whirlwind, not in the fire, but in a still small voice that we all have heard within us is God most immediately to be found. …

It is this Inner Witness, this Inner Light, that grows brighter, in fellowship with Scripture writers, in fellowship with nature, in fellowship with service and suffering.

- Thomas Kelly
The Sanctuary of the Soul

From page 42 of The Sanctuary of the Soul: Selected Writings of Thomas Kelly, edited by Keith Beasley-Topliffe. Copyright © 1997 by Upper Room Books.

Richard Rohr's Daily Reflection


Liberation theology has largely come from the Third World. One of its first recognitions is that the real sin of the world is not, first of all, the little things that human beings do. Sin is, first of all, a total reality we get trapped in, "institutionalized evil." Pope John Paul II speaks of "structural sin." Even original sin is not a sin we committed, but one that was committed against us, in spite of ourselves. The classic sources of evil are the world, the flesh, and the devil - in that order! We became preoccupied with guilt. We had to know who was bad, who should feel shame. Many people were made to feel bad as children. The Church and the world have both used shame to control the people. It usually works, and it emphasizes the flesh (personal fault) instead of a social critique of the world. But the original notion of sin is not to impute guilt; it's to name reality. That's what I see the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous doing, trying to name what's happening. What is going on in our lives, in our society that is so blinding, so addictive? What is trapping people from loving God and neighbor and being truly alive? It's self-evident to me after twenty years of ministry that most people are victims, not malicious.

from Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the 12 Steps


From John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Tradition Day by Day: Readings from Church Writers. Augustinian Press. Villanova, PA, 1994.

You are a borrower

Make light of the world and of yourself and of all earthly pleasures. Hold your kingdom as something lent to you, not as if it were your own. For you know well that life, health, wealth, honor, status, dominion—none of these belongs to you. If they did, you could own them in your own way. But just when we want to be healthy we are sick; just when we want to be alive we die; just when we want to be rich we are poor; just when we want to be in power we are made servants. And all this because these things are not ours, and we can keep them only as much and as long as it pleases the One who has lent them to us. So it is really foolish to hold as if it were our own what belongs to another: it is, in fact, a thievery worthy of death. This is why I am asking you to act wisely, as a good steward, holding everything as lent to you who have been made God's steward.

Catherine of Siena, (1347 - 1380) served the people of Siena with her good works and the Church at large with her peacemaking.

Daily Readings From "My Utmost for His Highest", Oswald Chambers


"By this we believe . . . Jesus answered, Do ye now believe?" John 16:30-31

Now we believe. Jesus says - Do you? The time is coming when you will leave Me alone. Many a Christian worker has left Jesus Christ alone and gone into work from a sense of duty, or from a sense of need arising out of his own particular discernment. The reason for this is the absence of the resurrection life of Jesus. The soul has got out of intimate contact with God by leaning to its own religious understanding. There is no sin in it, and no punishment attached to it; but when the soul realizes how he has hindered his understanding of Jesus Christ, and produced for himself perplexities and sorrows and difficulties, it is with shame and contrition he has to come back.

We need to rely on the resurrection life of Jesus much deeper down than we do, to get into the habit of steadily referring everything back to Him; instead of this we make our common - sense decisions and ask God to bless them. He cannot, it is not in His domain, it is severed from reality. If we do a thing from a sense of duty, we are putting up a standard in competition with Jesus Christ. We become a "superior person," and say - "Now in this matter I must do this and that." We have put our sense of duty on the throne instead of the resurrection life of Jesus. We are not told to walk in the light of conscience or of a sense of duty, but to walk in the light as God is in the light. When we do anything from a sense of duty, we can back it up by argument; when we do anything in obedience to the Lord, there is no argument possible; that is why a saint can be easily ridiculed.

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

Chapter 22: How the Sisters Are to Sleep

Let each one sleep in a separate bed.
Let them receive bedding suitable to their manner of life,
according to the Abbess's directions.
If possible let all sleep in one place;
but if the number does not allow this,
let them take their rest by tens or twenties
with the seniors who have charge of them.

A candle shall be kept burning in the room until morning.

Let them sleep clothed and girded with belts or cords --
but not with their knives at their sides,
lest they cut themselves in their sleep --
and thus be always ready to rise without delay
when the signal is given
and hasten to be before one another at the Work of God,
yet with all gravity and decorum.

The younger shall not have beds next to one another,
but among those of the older ones.

When they rise for the Work of God
let them gently encourage one another,
that the drowsy may have no excuse.


At first glance, the paragraph seems pathetically mundane for anything so exalted as "the most influential monastic Rule of all time." It is, on the contrary, exactly paragraphs like this that make the Rule so influential.

In a culture of peasants who came out of clans where whole families slept in one room--and still do in many poorer areas of the world--Benedict proclaims a policy of at least limited privacy and simplicity and adaptation. Benedict wants an atmosphere of self-sacrifice, true, but he also wants people to have opportunity for reflection. He wants no living situation to be so austere that both sleep and thinking become impossible in the cold of winter. In Benedictine spirituality people get what they need, both beds and bedding, both privacy and personal care.

The lesson is a good one when we are tempted to think that extremism is a virtue. As far as Benedictine spirituality is concerned, there is a very limited spiritual value in denying the body to the point where the soul is too agitated to concentrate on the things of the spirit.

If possible, all are to sleep in one place, but should the size of the community preclude this, they will sleep in groups of ten or twenty under the watchful care of elders. A lamp must be kept burning in the room until morning.

The dormitory is of ancient origin in the monastic tradition. It carried the concept of community living from the chapel to the dining room to bedtime itself. The common life was indeed a common life for twenty-four hours out of every day, with all the difficulty and all the virtue that implied. Nevertheless, the sleeping arrangements present in monastic communities of the sixth century were not all that different from family circumstances of the same period. Nor were bedrooms in communities of manual laborers the study centers they were to become as monastics of later centuries became more engaged in intellectual labors.

What is important in the paragraph is not so much the sleeping arrangement itself as the underlying caution it presents to an era in which independence, individualism and personal space have become values of such magnitude that they threaten the communal quality of the globe itself. The question becomes: What part of our lives do we really practice with others? Has our claim to the private and the personal evicted the world from our space, from our hearts?

They sleep clothed, and girded with belts or cords; but they should remove their knives, lest they accidentally cut themselves in their sleep. Thus the members will always be ready to arise without delay when the signal is given; each will hasten to arrive at the Opus Dei before the others, yet with all dignity and decorum. The younger members should not have their beds next to each other, but interspersed among those of the elders. On arising for the Opus Dei, they will quietly encourage each other, for the sleepy like to make excuses.

In this instruction, monastics are formed to be modest--dressed even in bed, unlike a good proportion of the population of the time, and simple--willing to wear the same thing at night that they did during the day, and ready--quick to respond to the will of God at the first sound of the call. They are trained, too, to "quietly encourage each other" in the daily effort of rousing the soul when the body is in revolt.

Personal modesty, simplicity, readiness and encouragement in life may well be the staples of community living, of family life, or decent society even today. What, after all, can shatter any group faster than the one person who is dedicated to being conspicuous, overdone, resistant or self-centered?


Church Fathers Lenten Reading Plan
Read Excerpts from the Church Fathers during Lent

St. Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to the Trallians

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Practice of God's Presence: 1st letter

Introduction: Brother Lawrence's letters are the very heart and soul of what is titled 'The Practice of the Presence of God'. All of these letters were written during the last ten years of his life. Many of them were to long-time friends, a Carmelite sister and another nun at a nearby convent. One or both of these friends were from his native village, perhaps relatives.

The first letter was probably written to the prioress of one of these convents. The second letter was written to Brother Lawrence's own spiritual adviser. Note that the fourth letter is written in the third person where Brother Lawrence describes his own experience. The letters follow the tradition of substituting M_ for specific names.

First Letter: You so earnestly desire that I describe the method by which I arrived at that habitual sense of God's presence, which our merciful Lord has been pleased to grant me. I am complying with my request that you show my letter to no one. If I knew that you would let it be seen, all the desire I have for your spiritual progress would not be enough to make me comply.

The account I can give you is: Having found in many books different methods of going to God and diverse practices of the spiritual life, I thought this would serve rather to puzzle me than facilitate what I sought after, which was nothing but how to become wholly God's. This made me resolve to give the all for the All.

After having given myself wholly to God to make all the satisfaction I could for my sins, I renounced, for the love of Him, everything that was not God; and I began to live as if there was none but He and I in the world.

Sometimes I considered myself before Him as a poor criminal at the feet of his judge. At other times I beheld Him in my heart as my Father, as my God. I worshipped Him the oftenest I could, keeping my mind in His holy presence and recalling it as often as I found it wandered from Him. I made this my business not only at the appointed times of prayer but all the time; every hour, every minute, even in the height of my work. I drove from my mind everything that interrupted my thoughts of God.

I found no small pain in this exercise. Yet I continued it notwithstanding all the difficulties that occurred. I tried not to trouble or disquiet myself when my mind wandered. Such has been my common practice ever since I entered religious life. Though I have done it very imperfectly, I have found great advantages by it. These, I well know, are due to the mercy and goodness of God, because we can do nothing without Him; and I still less than any.

When we are faithful to keep ourselves in His holy presence, and set Him always before us, this hinders our offending Him and doing anything that may displease Him. It also begets in us a holy freedom, and, if I may so speak, a familiarity with God, where, when we ask, He supplies the grace we need. Over time, by often repeating these acts, they become habitual, and the presence of God becomes quite natural to us.

Please give Him thanks with me for His great goodness towards me, which I can never sufficiently express, and for the many favors He has done for so miserable a sinner as I am. May all things praise Him. Amen.


Is anyone else struck by the irony of the first paragraph? At some point, the letter was no longer kept confidential. Why do you think he wanted it kept quiet?

He says the thought all the books he read would puzzle him. Why do you think that is?

What does he say his one desire is?

What would have to change in your life for you to live as did lawrence, as if there was no one in the world but you and God?

He says this process was painful? what do you think he meant by this? In what ways might it be painful for you?

What is "holy freedom"? Do you want it? How would you obtain it?

27/02/07 week of 1st Sunday in Lent

[Please remember this is a sort of "menu" from which to select. No one has to pray it all]

If you would like these meditations to come directly to your in box, please click here:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Today's Scripture

Psalm 45;Psalm 47, 48; Deut. 9:4-12; Heb. 3:1-11; John 2:13-22

From Forward Day by Day:

Deuteronomy 9:4-12. Know therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness...

This is a remarkable statement, coming from the writer of Deuteronomy. The idea that good things come to us because we are good is so entrenched as part of his worldview that he has given a name to that way of thinking: if you expect there to be a fairly immediate relationship between act and reward or punishment, your outlook is "deuteronomic."

We all start out that way: young children think their behavior causes their fortunes. When their parents divorce, they often think it's their fault. It doesn't take most of us long, though, to notice that this is far from a hard-and-fast rule: many fine people suffer terribly, while some perfect sons of guns have a generally easy time of it. For good or ill, the math doesn't always work.

Many have joked that we'd better hope that God isn't perfectly just--if he is, we're all in trouble! I'm counting on God not following each of my errors with a disaster of equal weight--there are just too many of them. And I already suspect that my many blessings do not, for the most part, flow directly from my virtuous deeds--there are too many blessings, too, for that to be the case.

Today we remember:

George Herbert

Psalm 23 or 1;1 Peter 5:1-4; Matthew 5:1-10

Our God and King, who called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in your temple: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you give us to do, knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
are Thy returns! Even as the flowers in spring,
to which, besides their own demean,
the late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.

Who would have thought my shrivelled heart
could have recovered greenness? It was gone
quite underground, as flowers depart
to see their mother-root, when they have blown;
where they together
all the hard weather,
dead to the world, keep house unknown.

These are Thy wonders, Lord of power,
killing and quickening, bringing down to hell
and up to heaven in an hour;
making a chiming of a passing-bell.
We say amiss
this or that is;
Thy word is all, if we could spell.

Oh, that I once past changing were,
fast in Thy paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
offering at heaven, growing and groaning thither;
nor doth my flower
want a spring shower,
my sins and I joining together.

But while I grow in a straight line,
still upwards bent, as if heaven were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline.
What frost to that? What pole is not the zone
where all things burn,
when Thou dost turn,
and the least frown of Thine is shown?

And now in age I bud again;
after so many deaths I love and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
and relish versing. O my only Light,
it cannot be
that I am he
on whom Thy tempests fell all night.

These are Thy wonders, Lord of love,
to make us see we are but flowers that glide;
which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us where to bide.
Who would be more,
swelling through store,
forfeit their paradise by their pride.


Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
guilty of dust and sin. But quicked-ey'd Love, Observing me grow slack
from my first entrance in, Drew near to me, sweetly questioning,
if I lack'd any thing.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You should be he. I the unkinde, engrateful? ah my deare,
I can not look on thee. Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I hav marr'd them: let my shame
go where it doth deserve. And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve. You must sit down, sayes love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

Glory to God on High And on earth Peace good will toward man.

George Herbert

Today in the Anglican Cycle of Prayer we pray for the Diocese of Milwaukee (Prov. V, U.S.)

40 Ideas for Lent: A Lenten calendar


Do one chore today that is always done by someone else in your office or home.

Idea by: John Forrest

Lent quote: "O God, remember I am dust, and wind, and shadow. May your eternal mercy rescue me!" – Bede

A Celtic lenten Calendar

Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works.

If you see a poor man, take pity on him.

If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him.

Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the

feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies.

Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice.

Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin.

Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is


Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip.

Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.

For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and

devour our brothers and sisters?

May He who came to the world to save sinners strengthen us to complete

the fast with humility, have mercy on us and save us.

St. John Chrysostom
++++++++++ Reflections

Take God for your friend and walk with him - and you will learn to love.
St John of the Cross

Reading from the Desert Christians

It was said of Abba Ammoes that he had fifty measures of wheat for his use and had put them out in the sun, Before they were properly dried off, he saw something in that place which seemed to him to be harmful so he said to his servants, 'Let us go away from here.' But they were grieved at this. Seeing their dismay he said to them, 'Is it because of the loaves that you are sad? Truly, I have seen monks fleeing, leaving their white-washed cells and also their parchments, and they did not close the doors, but went leaving them open.'

Daily Meditation (Henri Nouwen)

Creating Space for God

Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God's guidance.

Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God's gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.

From the Principles of the Third Society of St. Francis:

Day Twenty-Seven - The Second Note (Cont.)

The Third Order is a Christian community whose members, though varied in
race, education, and character, as bound into a living whole through the
love we share in Christ. This unity of all who believe in him will become,
as our Lord intended, a witness to the world of his divine mission. In our
relationships with those outside the Order, we show the same Christ-like
love, and gladly give of ourselves, remembering that love is measured by

Collect (Tuesday)

God, you resist the proud and give grace to the humble: help us not to think
proudly, but to serve you with the humility that pleases you, so we may walk
in the steps of your servant Francis and receive the gift of your grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord


>From :

The peace of God, the peace of men,
The peace of Columba kindly,
The peace of Mary mild, the loving,
The peace of Christ, King of tenderness,
The peace of Christ, King of tenderness.

Be upon each window, upon each door,
Upon each hole that lets in light,
Upon the four corners of my house,
Upon the four corners of my bed,
Upon the four corners of my bed;

Upon each things my eye takes in,
Upon each thing my mouth takes in,
Upon my body that is of earth
And upon my soul that came from on high,
Upon my body that is of earth
And upon my soul that came from on high.

Ancient Celtic prayer collected by Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912),
published in Carmina Gadelica (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1992). These are
prayers, hymns, and incantations collected in the Highlands and Islands of
Scotland in the 18th century.

Upper Room Daily Reflection

THE LINK BETWEEN the faith we profess and the lifestyle we live is crucial. … As Christians, as living witnesses in a secular world, no longer can we believe one thing and act a different way. The faith that truly guides us is reflected in our lifestyles. More often than not, that faith is secular or idolatrous. No longer can I speak of faith apart from the reality of how I live. Faith must inform my thoughts, actions, and behaviors. For all of us, faith must be the central core of our being. We must live our faith in all of our life and not limit our discipleship to particular times or areas.

- Ann Hagmann
Climbing the Sycamore Tree

From page 18 of Climbing the Sycamore Tree: A Study on Choice and Simplicity by Ann Hagmann. Copyright © 2001 by Ann Hagmann.

Richard Rohr's Daily Reflection

"The Commandment"

In the final chapters of the Book of Joshua we hear Joshua's last words to the people. He sets a vocation before the people and asks them once again to choose the Lord. He says, "Stand firm...and fulfill all that is written...never turning aside from it to right or left" (23:6, JB). Then he says to obey the commandments, which we immediately think refers to the Ten Commandments. The commandment, in fact, is to trust the one God. That is the commandment they are called to live by. It is in that relationship that they find their power. "Do not utter the names of [other] gods. Do not swear by them" (23:7, JB). To our world God says: Do not put your trust in gods that cannot save - your looks, intelligence, money, your home. Do not put your trust in your children, wife, husband, your high position. They cannot save you. What is your money going to do for you? God is security, the rock of our salvation. No one has trusted in God and ever been put to shame.

from The Great Themes of Scripture

From John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Tradition Day by Day: Readings from Church Writers. Augustinian Press. Villanova, PA, 1994.

The wealth of Christ's love for us

If, having been made in the image of God, you wish to be like him, follow his example. Christians, whose very name is a profession of love for everyone, should imitate the love of Christ.

Consider and wonder at the wealth of Christ's love for us. When he was about to show himself to us in our own nature, he sent John the Baptist to preach repentance by word and example. Before John he sent all the prophets. They too were to teach people to amend their lives. Then he came himself and with his own voice cried out: Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. And how did he receive those who listened to his call and followed him? He readily forgave them their sins, instantly relieving them of all their cause for grief. The Word made them holy, the Spirit set his seal on them. Their old self was buried in the waters of baptism and a new self born; their youth was renewed by grace. And the result? Enemies of God became his friends, strangers to him became his children, idolaters became worshipers of the true God.

Asterius of Amasea,metropolitan of Amasea, was a preacher of considerable power. He lived in the fourth century.

Daily Readings From "My Utmost for His Highest", Oswald Chambers


"From whence then hast Thou that living water?" John 4:11

"The well is deep" - and a great deal deeper than the Samaritan woman knew! Think of the depths of human nature, of human life, think of the depths of the "wells" in you. Have you been impoverishing the ministry of Jesus so that He can not do anything? Suppose there is a well of fathomless trouble inside your heart, and Jesus comes and says - "Let not your heart be troubled"; and you shrug your shoulders and say, "But, Lord, the well is deep; You cannot draw up quietness and comfort out of it." No, He will bring them down from above. Jesus does not bring anything up from the wells of human nature. We limit the Holy One of Israel by remembering what we have allowed Him to do for us in the past, and by saying, "Of course I cannot expect God to do this thing." The thing that taxes almightiness is the very thing which we as disciples of Jesus ought to believe He will do. We impoverish His ministry the moment we forget He is Almighty; the impoverishment is in us, not in Him. We will come to Jesus as Comforter or as Sympathizer, but we will not come to Him as Almighty.

The reason some of us are such poor specimens of Christianity is because we have no Almighty Christ. We have Christian attributes and experiences, but there is no abandonment to Jesus Christ. When we get into difficult circumstances, we impoverish His ministry by saying - "Of course He cannot do any thing," and we struggle down to the deeps and try to get the water for ourselves. Beware of the satisfaction of sinking back and saying - "It can't be done"; you know it can be done if you look to Jesus. The well of your incompleteness is deep, but make the effort and look away to Him.

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

Chapter 21: On the Deans of the Monastery

If the community is a large one,
let there be chosen out of it
brethren of good repute and holy life,
and let them be appointed deans.
These shall take charge of their deaneries in all things,
observing the commandments of God
and the instructions of their Abbot.

Let men of such character be chosen deans
that the Abbot may with confidence
share his burdens among them.
Let them be chosen not by rank
but according to their worthiness of life
and the wisdom of their doctrine.

If any of these deans should become inflated with pride
and found deserving of censure,
let him be corrected once, and again, and a third time.
If he will not amend,
then let him be deposed
and another be put in his place who is worthy of it.

And we order the same to be done in the case of the Prior.



Feb. 26(27) - June 28 - Oct. 28

If the community is rather large, some chosen for their good repute and holy life should be made deans. They will take care of their groups of ten, managing all affairs according to the commandments of God and the orders of their prioress or abbot. Anyone selected as a dean should be the kind of person with whom the prioress or abbot can confidently share the burdens of office. They are to be chosen for virtuous living and wise teaching, not for their rank.

In one simple paragraph Benedict does away with the notion of absolute hierarchy and the divine right to anything. The abbot and prioress are to be the last word in a Benedictine community but they are not to be its only word. They are to "share the burdens of their office," not simply delegate them, with those members of the community who themselves are models of the monastic life. The age of a person or the number of years they've been in the monastery has nothing to do with the decision to give one person rather than another a position of responsibility or authority in the group. What counts is the quality of their community life, the prayerfulness of their lives, their commitment to Benedictine values.

Whoever the leaders, the central thesis of the chapter remains: the community belongs to the community. Its sanctity and success does not rise and fall on the shoulders of one leader alone. It rises and falls on the shoulders of its members. What they are the community shall be.

It is an important concept in a culture that calls itself classless but which relies heavily on connections and prestige and money to define its centers of power and so overlooks the values and voices of many.

If perhaps one of these deans is found to be puffed up with any pride, and so deserving of censure, they are to be reproved once, twice and even a third time. Should they refuse to amend, they must be removed from office and replaced by another who is worthy. We prescribe the same course of action in regard to the subprioress or prior.

To share authority is not the same as to give it away. To share authority means that those who are responsible for the group must arrive at common decisions, share a common wisdom, come to a common commitment and then teach it together in such a way that the community is united, not divided, by the people chosen to lead it. To give authority away is to abdicate it, to leave the group open to division, disunity and destruction.

The government of a Benedictine community is to come out of a common vision, a common heart. There is one interpreter of the Rule in every Benedictine monastery, the abbot or prioress, who themselves are immersed in scripture and who have listened to the experience of the community and bring those elements to bear on every present situation. The unity of the community depends on the centrality of that teaching. To divide a group into factions until the unity of the teaching pales, to tear at its center until its fabric frays and rends, to refuse to give focus to its focus is to strike at the very heart of Benedictine spirituality. It is not possible to form a group when the group is being divided over the very items on which it should be being developed.

What Benedict is inveighing against, then, is the spirit of the coup d'etat, that war that is waged against authority by the very people named by the authority to uphold it. The person with a Benedictine mindset goes into the parish council or the union office or the hospital board to cooperate with the leadership, to carry the group, not to tug it to pieces over inconsequential matters for some gain of personal aggrandizement and ego satisfaction. A Benedictine family does not draw and quarter the children with two different sets of expectations. Benedictine spirituality uses authority to weld a group, not to fracture it.

Church Fathers Lenten Reading Plan
Read Excerpts from the Church Fathers during Lent

St. Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to the Magnesians

Monday, February 26, 2007

Practice of the Presence of God, 4th Conversation, Part 2

Being questioned by one of his own community, to whom he was obliged to respond, by what means he had attained such an habitual sense of God; Brother Lawrence told him that, since his first coming to the monastery, he had considered God as the aim and the end of all his thoughts and desires.

In the beginning he spent the hours appointed for private prayer in thinking of God, so as to convince his mind and impress deeply upon his heart the Divine Existence. He did this by devout sentiments and submission to the lights of faith, rather than by studied reasonings and elaborate meditations. By this short and sure method he immersed himself in the knowledge and love of God. He resolved to use his utmost endeavor to live in a continual sense of His presence, and, if possible, never to forget Him more.

When he had thus, in prayer, filled his mind with that Infinite Being, he went to his work in the kitchen where he was then cook for the community. There, having first considered the things his job required, and when and how each thing was to be done; he spent all the intervals of his time, both before and after his work, in prayer.

When he began, he said to God with a filial trust, "O my God, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and prosper me with Thy assistance. Receive all my works, and possess all my affections." As he proceeded in his work, he continued his familiar conversation with his Maker, imploring His grace, and offering Him all his actions.

When he was finished, he examined how he had performed his duty. If he found well, he returned thanks to God. If not, he asked pardon and, without being discouraged, he set his mind right again. He then continued his exercise of the presence of God as if he had never deviated from it. "Thus," said he, "by rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, I have come to a state where it would be as difficult for me not to think of God as it was at first to accustom myself to the habit of thinking of Him."

As Brother Lawrence had found such an advantage in walking in the presence of God, it was natural for him to recommend it earnestly to others. More strikingly, his example was a stronger inducement than any arguments he could propose. His very countenance was edifying with such a sweet and calm devotion appearing that he could not but affect the beholders.

It was observed, that even in the busiest times in the kitchen, Brother Lawrence still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its turn with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquility of spirit. "The time of work," said he, "does not with me differ from the time of prayer. In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Supper."


What were the "steps" Bro Lawrence followed to attain an habitual sense of the presence of the Lord?

Practically speaking, what do you think those steps must have looked like? Felt like?

Do you think it was easy? Hard?

What would it look like for you in your unique circumstances?

What do you think this means: "devout sentiments and submission to the lights of faith, rather than by studied reasonings and elaborate meditations"? Which do you think your prayer life most resembles?

How did Bro Lawrence approach his work? What were his priorities? How do you approach your work? Paid or volunteer?

26/02/07 week of 1st Sunday in Lent

[Please remember this is a sort of "menu" from which to select. No one has to pray it all]

If you would like these meditations to come directly to your in box, please click here:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Today's Scripture

Psalm 41, 52;Psalm 44; Deut. 8:11-20; Heb. 2:11-18; John 2:1-12

From Forward Day by Day:

John 2:1-12. On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.

The Prayer Book mentions this story at every marriage service, reminding the congregation that it was Jesus' first miracle and that it was at a wedding reception.

"Don't be Bridezilla," someone said to my daughter when she was planning her wedding. No danger of that. And I wasn't Momzilla, either. Everyone had a wonderful time and nobody hated anybody else by the end of it. I think that's not always the case.

Still, you do care. You want things to go well. Some people allow their self-worth to ride on whether their weddings are perfect, forgetting that nothing is perfect and that a wedding presents the perfect opportunity to introduce this useful truth to anyone who hasn't already grasped it.

It's touching that Jesus chose a party for his first miracle. He knew how important it is to the host that everything be wonderful. This urge isn't our finest one, but it's one everyone recognizes: we want to look good, want to give a good party, want to be respected, want to have friends. Jesus will give up all these things before he is through, but he begins solidly on the same page with all the rest of us.

Today we remember:

Today is a feria, a free day.


(It is suggested that this prayer be recited several times throughout the day.)

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter.

Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience, and love.

O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen.

Today in the Anglican Cycle of Prayer we pray for the Diocese of Michigan (Prov. V, U.S.)

40 Ideas for Lent: A Lenten calendar


Walk the streets of your home town. Don't plan to do anything, just watch people. If they look laden down with shopping, offer to carry some for them. If they look stressed and hassled, pray for them (just in your head, unless you're really brave).

Idea by: The Great Gumby

Lent quote: "There is more to life than merely increasing its speed." – Mahatma Ghandi

A Celtic lenten Calendar

Encounter with God

5. "God is encountered in the ordinary. "Like the ancient Hebrews, the Celts were earthy people who led simple lives. Believing God was involved in all ordinary events of their lives, they prayed constantly asking God to bless whatever they were doing. They had no hesitation in asking God to bless them with successful crops, good food and drink, safe homes and warm fires, and even good sex. These prayers often asked for a particular grace for the one praying as evidenced in this prayer accompanying the kindling of the hearth in the morning: 'Kindle in my heart within a fire of love for my neighbor. May the light of love shine out to my foe, my friend and my kindred.'

For a Celtic Lent: "Surround the routine things of your life with a prayer. As much as possible follow Paul's advice to 'pray constantly,' lifting each thing you do and each person you meet to God for blessing. Bless your children as they leave for school, your colleagues as they work, other commuters on the road. Say a blessing each day for one of the common, everyday things in your life, and ask that as you are blessed, you may in turn be a blessing" to all you come in contact with this Lent, as the days lengthen into Easter.

"Almighty God, your Son fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are but did not sin. Give us grace to direct our lives in obedience to your Spirit, that as you know our weakness, we may know your power to save; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen." (Prayer of the Day, First Sunday in Lent. Book of Common Worship for the Presbyterian Church, USA).
++++++++++ Reflections

In returning to God and resting, you will be saved. In silence and trust will be your strength.
Isaiah 30.15

Reading from the Desert Christians

It was said of Abba Ammoes that when he went to church, he did not allow his disciple to walk beside him but onlly at a certain distance; and if the latter came to ask him about his thoughts, he would move away from him as soon as he had replied, saying to him, 'It is for fear that, after edifying words, irrelevant conversation should slip in, that I do not keep you with me.'

The Merton Reflection for the Week of February 26, 2007 ( )

Christian asceticism is remarkable above all for its balance, its sense of proportion. It does not overstress the negative side of the ascetic life, nor does it tend to flatter the ego by diminishing responsibilities or watering down the truth. It shows us clearly that, while we can do nothing without grace, we must nevertheless cooperate with grace. It warns us that we must make an uncompromising break with the world and all it stands for, but it keeps encouraging us to understand that our existence in “the world” and in time becomes fruitful and meaningful in proportion as we are able to assume spiritual and Christian responsibility for our life, our work, and even for the world we live in. Thus Christian asceticism does not provide a flight from the world, a refuge from stress and the distractions of manifold wickedness. It enables us to enter into the confusion of the world bearing something of the light of Truth in our hearts, and capable of exercising something of the mysterious, transforming power of the Cross, of love and sacrifice.
Seasons of Celebration [SC]. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950: 131-132

Thought to Remember:

The Holy Spirit never asks us to renounce anything without offering us something much higher and much more perfect in return. Self-chastisement for its own sake has no place in Christianity. The function of self-denial is to lead to a positive increase of spiritual energy and life. The Christian dies, not merely in order to die, but in order to live
SC: 130

Daily Meditation (Henri Nouwen)

Facing Our Mortality

We all have dreams about the perfect life: a life without pain, sadness, conflict, or war. The spiritual challenge is to experience glimpses of this perfect life right in the middle of our many struggles. By embracing the reality of our mortal life, we can get in touch with the eternal life that has been sown there. The apostle Paul expresses this powerfully when he writes: "We are subjected to every kind of hardship, but never distressed; we see no way out but we never despair; we are pursued but never cut off; knocked down, but still have some life in us; always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our ... mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:8-12).

Only by facing our mortality can we come in touch with the life that transcends death. Our imperfections open for us the vision of the perfect life that God in and through Jesus has promised us.

From the Principles of the Third Society of St. Francis:

Day Twenty-Six - The Second Note (Cont.)

Therefore, we seek to love all those to whom we are bound by ties of family
or friendship. Our love for them increases as our love for Christ grows
deeper. We have a special love and affection for members of the Third Order,
praying for each other individually and seeking to grow in that love. We are
on our guard against anything that might injure this love, and we seek
reconciliation with those from whom we are estranged. We seek the same love
for those with whom we have little natural affinity, for this kind of love
is not a welling-up of emotion, but is a bond founded in our common union
with Christ.

God, you are always pleased to show yourself to those who are childlike and
humble in spirit: help us to follow the example of our blessed father
Francis, to look upon the wisdom of this world as foolishness, and to set
our minds only on Christ Jesus and him crucified; to whom with you and the
Holy Spirit be all glory for ever. Amen

>From :

Prayer to the Holy Trinity

I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who purchased me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In friendship and affection.
Through Thine own Anointed One, O God,
Bestow upon us fullness in our need,
Love towards God,
The affection of God,
The smile of God,
The wisdom of God,
The grace of God,
The fear of God,
And the will of God,
To do on the world of the Three,
As angels and saints
Do in heaven;
Each shade and light,
Each day and night,
Each time in kindness,
Give Thou us Thy Spirit.

Upper Room Daily Reflection

SELF-SCRUTINY is part of Lent’s process, but we do not observe Lent for the sake of self-scrutiny alone. To sit too long with the guilt and shame of our misdeeds would, in fact, go against the gospel message. Christ’s message is one of new life and forgiveness, so Lenten self-scrutiny must serve this purpose.

To arrive at newness of life, we first name the parts of our lives that are shrouded in darkness, the parts of ourselves where life does not flourish. We walk through some muck so that we can leave it behind us and find Easter joy beyond.

- Sarah Parsons
A Clearing Season

From page 9 of A Clearing Season by Sarah Parsons. Copyright © 2005 by Sarah Parsons.

Richard Rohr's Daily Reflection

"There Is No Promised Land"

Moses' story contains one of the ironies of history: Moses did not get to the land of Israel. He saw it from the distance, as he looked over the River Jordan. It seemed that he did die, before the crossing over, so the biblical writers later looked for a theological significance for that. We were told that he failed in faith in the desert, that God punished him. No doubt, though, Moses was already experiencing his Promised Land in the journey. Walking, leading the people, was already a real joy for him, a full life for him. We don't have to see his fate as some great divine punishment on the part of God. The journey was already the promise fulfilled. In this world there is no promised land. He didn't have to cross over the Jordan: He had fulfillment in the desert. Sometimes I don't want to see another teenager, and I wonder how I ever got into this, and I'd love to go running off to some Trappist monastery. What we love the most often brings us the greatest heartaches. No doubt this was true for Moses, too. His moments of religious experience, his moments in Sinai, were no doubt his greatest religious fulfillment. Yet for all the heartaches his people gave him, I'll bet he wouldn't have traded the journey itself for anything. I know I wouldn't.

from The Great Themes of Scripture

From John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Tradition Day by Day: Readings from Church Writers. Augustinian Press. Villanova, PA, 1994.


Our Lord Jesus Christ nourishes us for eternal life both by his commands, which teach us how to live holy lives, and by the eucharist. He in himself therefore is truly the divine, life-giving manna. Anyone who eats it will be exempt from corruption and will escape death, unlike those who ate the material manna. That type had no power to save, but was merely an imitation of the reality.

God sent down manna like rain from above, and ordered everyone to gather as much as necessary, those who shared a tent gathering together if they wished. Gather it, each of you, he said, with those who share your tent. Let none of it be left over till the morning. That is to say, we must fill ourselves with the divine teaching of the gospel.

Christ indeed gives us his grace in equal measure, whether we are great or small, and bestows life-giving food on all alike. He wishes the stronger among us to gather for the others, working on behalf of their sisters and brothers, lending them their labor so that all may share in the heavenly gifts.

Cyril of Alexandria, (~444), patriarch of Alexandria, was a brilliant theologian who combatted the Arian and Nestorian heresies. Cyril presided at the Council of Ephesus in 431 where Mary's title as Mother of God was solemnly recognized.

Daily Readings From "My Utmost for His Highest", Oswald Chambers


"Sir, Thou hast nothing to draw with." John 4:11

"I am impressed with the wonder of what God says, but He cannot expect me really to live it out in the details of my life!" When it comes to facing Jesus Christ on His own merits, our attitude is one of pious superiority - Your ideals are high and they impress us, but in touch with actual things, it cannot be done. Each of us thinks about Jesus in this way in some particular. These misgivings about Jesus start from the amused questions put to us when we talk of our transactions with God - Where are you going to get your money from? How are you going to be looked after? Or they start from ourselves when we tell Jesus that our case is a bit too hard for Him. It is all very well to say "Trust in the Lord," but a man must live, and Jesus has nothing to draw with - nothing whereby to give us these things. Beware of the pious fraud in you which says - I have no misgivings about Jesus, only about myself. None of us ever had misgivings about ourselves; we know exactly what we cannot do, but we do have misgivings about Jesus. We are rather hurt at the idea that He can do what we cannot.

My misgivings arise from the fact that I ransack my own person to find out how He will be able to do it. My questions spring from the depths of my own inferiority. If I detect these misgivings in myself, let me bring them to the light and confess them - "Lord, I have had misgivings about Thee, I have not believed in Thy wits apart from my own; I have not believed in Thine almighty power apart from my finite understanding of it."

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

Chapter 20: On Reverence in Prayer

When we wish to suggest our wants to persons of high station,
we do not presume to do so
except with humility and reverence.
How much the more, then,
are complete humility and pure devotion necessary
in supplication of the Lord who is God of the universe!
And let us be assured
that it is not in saying a great deal that we shall be heard (Matt 6:7),
but in purity of heart and in tears of compunction.
Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure,
unless it happens to be prolonged
by an inspiration of divine grace.
In community, however, let prayer be very short,
and when the Superior gives the signal let all rise together.



Feb. 25 - June 27 - Oct. 27

Whenever we want to ask a favor of someone powerful, we do it humbly and respectfully, for fear of presumption. How much more important, then, to lay our petitions before the God of all with the utmost humility and sincere devotion. We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words. Prayer should therefore be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace. In community, however, prayer should always be brief; and when the prioress or abbot gives the signal, all should rise together.

The rabbis taught: "The first time a thing occurs in nature, it is called a miracle; later it becomes natural, and no attention is paid to it. Let your worship and your prayer be a fresh miracle every day to you. Only such worship, performed from the heart, with enthusiasm, is acceptable." The function of prayer is not to establish a routine; it is to establish a relationship with the God who is in relationship with us always. The function of times of prayer, then, is not to have us say prayers, it is to enable our lives to become a prayer outside of prayer, to become "pure of heart," one with God, centered in the truth that is Truth and the power that is Power and the love that is Love.

The function of prayer is to bring us into touch with ourselves, as well. To the ancients, "tears of compunction" were the sign of a soul that knew its limits, faced its sins, accepted its needs and lived in hope. That's what Benedict wants for those who live the prayer life he describes, not long hours spent in chapel but a lifetime lived in the spirit of God because the chapel time was swift and strong, quick and deep, brief but soul-shaking. Prayer is "to be short and pure," he says, not long and tedious, not long and majestic, not long and grand. No, Benedictine prayer is to be short and substantial and real. The rest of life is to be impelled by it. To live in church, as far as Benedict is concerned, is not necessarily a sign of holiness. To live always under the influence of the scriptures and to live in the breath of the Spirit is.

There are some who would look at the Rule of Benedict and be surprised that it does not contain a discourse on prayer instead of simply the description of a form of prayer. The fact is, of course, that Benedict does not theorize about the nature and purpose of prayer. All he does, with every choice he makes of the versicles and alleluias and Jesus Prayers and psalms and length of it, is to demonstrate it and steep us in it until the theory becomes the thing.

Church Fathers Lenten Reading Plan
Read Excerpts from the Church Fathers during Lent

St. Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to the Ephesians

If you are unfamiliar with Ignatius of Antioch, please allow me to encourage you to read his work. All of it is included in this reading plan. St. Ignatius wrote these letters on his journey from Antioch to Rome. He was a prisoner being hauled to Rome for execution. With the certain immediacy of his death before him, see how he struggles to turn it all to God. I turn to Ignatius whenever something horrible happens that is unfair and undeserved and I am tempted to say "If there is a God, why does He allow such things?" Because if ever a person didn't deserve what was happening to him, it was Ignatius of Antioch.


My colleague heard I was leading a retreat on prayer, and that part of it was about prayer in discernment. How can prayer help us decide things? I feel like it's all about gut calls, he said, and I'm never comfortable playing the "sorry, but no" guy based on gut.

Well, yeah. Hitler made plenty of gut calls. So did Idi Amin and Josef Stalin. That something "feels right inside" is no guarantee at all that it really is -- this, when you stop and think about it, is a truly terrifying thought. We fool nobody as thoroughly as we fool ourselves.

What I have been thinking lately about prayer in discernment is that centering prayer is really the key. In its silence, beneath all words and worries, everything is cleared away -- including my important decision. To sit in silence at the moment when an urgent question tugs at the sleeve is an expression of trust in God, and God does not disappoint.

And so, centering: offering the important choice to God and then stripping everything away in silence and sitting in the silence. Then, when you "return," something has been added, something that is more than gut.

And so, you sit down with your urgent question. You place both feet on the floor. You close your eyes and make sure your clothes aren't binding you in any way -- if your belt is tight, you, loosen it. If you are cold, get a wrap. You turn your attention to your breath and mark it, and you continue to mark it throughout the prayer.

Starting with your feet, you relax the parts of your body, one by one, by tightening them very firmly and then releasing them. Both feet. Both calves, both thighs, your abdomen, your buttocks, both hands, both arms, your shoulders, your neck. You contort your face and then let it relax. As you tighten and relax each part of your body, it seems to disappear.

And, all the while, you mark your breath. In and out. The gift of God. Sustaining you your whole life long.

You begin to repeat your holy word, over and over. Your holy word is not chosen for its wealth of meaning, since this is prayer that goes beneath meaning. Save the really thought-provoking words for another time. Choose this one for the sound. If you can't think of one, you're welcome to use mine. It's "Holy God, holy and mighty."

Holy God, holy and mighty. Holy God, holy and mighty. Holy God, holy and mighty. Holy God, holy and mighty.

Just say it again and again, as you sit. Let it catch any distraction that comes your way: a sound outside, a physical sensation, a thought. Let it be like flypaper -- do people still know what flypaper is? -- and just let your distractions stick to it. After a time, the word will slip away, too, and you will be in silence. If a thought or a sound comes, just repeat your holy word until it passed.

You are still. Empty. Underneath everything, in a way. God can fill you now. Maybe this stillness is what God is like. You can stay as long as you like. Don't worry; you won't get stuck down there.

What happened to your big decision? It's still there, still waiting to be made. You still must make your choice. But you are different now. Something has changed in you, something you may not be aware of at all.

Sometimes all our prayer about things is just too frantic -- it's just worry, with an "Amen" at the end. Sometimes you have to stop and let God carry the load for a while, and then when you come back, the deciding is different. Maybe centering prayer is a little like restarting one's computer -- an old program isn't gone until you shut down, and the new one you installed isn't activated until you restart. Maybe centering prayer sweeps your spirit clean and gives God some room to move in you.

Copyright © 2007 Barbara Crafton -

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Practice of God's Presence: Fourth Conversation, Part 1

Due to its length, I have divided the 4th conversation into 2 parts.

Fourth Conversation: Brother Lawrence spoke with great openness of heart concerning his manner of going to God. He told me that all consists in one hearty renunciation of everything which we know does not lead to God. We might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with Him with freedom and in simplicity. We need only recognize God intimately present with us and address ourselves to Him every moment. We need to beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful and for rightly performing those things which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving God thanks when we have completed them.

In our conversation with God we should engage in praising, adoring, and loving Him incessantly for His infinite goodness and perfection. Without being discouraged because of our sins, we should pray for His grace with perfect confidence, relying on the infinite merits of our Lord. Brother Lawrence said that God never failed offering us His grace at each action. It never failed except when Brother Lawrence's thoughts had wandered from a sense of God's presence, or he forgot to ask His assistance. He said that God always gave us light in our doubts when we had no other design but to please Him.

Our sanctification did not depend upon changing our works. Instead, it depended on doing those things for God's sake which we commonly do for our own. He thought it was lamentable to see how many people mistook the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works which they performed very imperfectly because of their human or selfish regard. The most excellent method he had found for going to God was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men but purely for the love of God.

Brother Lawrence felt it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times. We are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action, as by prayer in its time. His own prayer was simply a sense of the presence of God, his soul being at that time aware of nothing other than Divine Love. When the appointed times of prayer were past, he found no difference, because he still continued with God, praising and thanking Him with all his might. Thus his life was a continual joy.

Brother Lawrence said we ought, once and for all, heartily put our whole trust in God, and make a total surrender of ourselves to Him, secure that He would not deceive us. We ought not weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed. We should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often failed in our endeavors, but that at last we should gain a habit which will naturally produce its acts in us without our effort and to our great delight.

The whole substance of religion was faith, hope, and charity. In the practice of these we become united to the will of God. Everything else is indifferent and to be used as a means that we may arrive at our end and then be swallowed up by faith and charity. All things are possible to him who believes. They are less difficult to him who hopes. They are more easy to him who loves, and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues. The end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, and as we hope to be through all eternity.

We must, from time to time, honestly consider and thoroughly examine ourselves. We will, then, realize that we are worthy of great contempt. Brother Lawrence noted that when we directly confront ourselves in this manner, we will understand why we are subject to all kinds of misery and problems. We will realize why we are subject to changes and fluctuations in our health, mental outlook, and dispositions. And we will, indeed, recognize that we deserve all the pain and labor God sends to humble us.

After this, we should not wonder that troubles, temptations, oppositions, and contradictions happen to us from men. We ought, on the contrary, submit ourselves to them and bear them as long as God pleases as things highly advantageous to us. The greater perfection a soul aspires after, the more dependent it is upon Divine Grace.


What is there in your life that does not lead you to God? What distracts you from God? Which of those things can you eliminate from your life?

In what ways do you adore and thank God every day? How many different ways can you find to adore Him? How many different things can you find to thank Him for?

In paragraph 3, Bro Lawrence tells us it is not what we do that distracts us from God but the way in which we approach our tasks. Doing the task for its own sake, with our egos tied up in the result, is going to distract us from God. How can you change your attitude toward everything you do so that all that you do becomes an offering to God?

Bro Lawrence says that our prayer times should be no different than any other moments. What does this mean?

Putting our whole trust in God... does that thought scare you? Are there things you feel you must keep control of? Have you reduced your tithe because you are afraid that you won't have enough money for the things you want? Are you willing to do without a want so that others may have have what they need?

Bro Lawrence has some strong words for the results of self-examination. Contempt seems to be going a bit too far. On the other hand, it is one end of a contiuum whose other end is complete self-indulgence and inflated egos. Surely Bro Lawrence offers us a happy medium. What are you in denial about? We all have those little voices we keep shushing. what is your little voice trying to get you to pay attention to? To admit to? To change?

Bro Lawrence says what attitude we should have in times of trouble. Is yours like his? Or do you say "Why did God...?" If the latter, have you allowed your sufferings to take you away from God? Or have you looked for His face in the midst of them?


[Please remember this is a sort of "menu" from which to select. No one has to pray it all]

If you would like these meditations to come directly to your in box, please click here:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Today's Scripture

Psalm 30, 32; Psalm 42, 43; Deut. 7:17-26; Titus 3:1-15; John 1:43-51

From Forward Day by Day:

Philippians 3:13-21. Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ... Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame...

The protestant church in Germany split during World War II: the German Protestant Christian Church and the Confessing Church. The former enthusiastically applauded the Nazis and their doings, abdicating its responsibility to speak truth to power. You can read the writings of its theologians today, and it is chilling. None of their names will be familiar to you. They sank as quickly as they had risen.

But on the Confessing side stood Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose words are still read and pondered by students and ordinary people worldwide, whose life story of courage and witness makes him a saint. His faith cost him his life.

No one is excused from the duty of being a moral person. None of us can pass the buck. "Everyone else was doing it" isn't a moral statement: it explains, perhaps, but does not justify. "Success" isn't a moral category, either, or a spiritual one--the theologians of the Reich were "successful." Bonhoeffer was a complete failure, a failure as Jesus was a failure.

Society always rewards those who support its values. But there is a higher authority than the one immediately in charge of us, and all of us--the ruler, and the ruled--answer to it in the end.

Today we remember:

St. Matthais the Apostle

AM: Psalm 80; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; 1 John 2:18-25
PM: Psalm 33; 1 Samuel 12:1-5; Acts 20:17-35

O Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Today in the Anglican Cycle of Prayer we pray for the Diocese of Meru (Kenya)

40 Ideas for Lent: A Lenten calendar


Pick a short poem or reading you like, and learn it off by heart. Try learning one line at a time, and only go onto the next line when you can say the whole piece up to that point. Once you have learned it, repeat it to yourself in quiet moments.

Make sure it's one you like, because it might stay in your head forever.

Idea by: Jerry Carr

Lent quote: "We should give up the foolish task of trying to be saints and get on with the more important task of trying to be human." – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A Celtic lenten Calendar

All Life in Intertwined

4. "All life is intertwined. "The most prevalent of all Celtic symbols is the Celtic knot. Found on their crosses, jewelry, and manuscripts, the knot symbolizes how all things in heaven and earth are intricately intertwined and inseparable. The relationship of the members of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the prime illustration of interconnection. Life in this world is intertwined with life in the world beyond this one. The communion of the saints was a vibrant reality for the Celts, who believed that those who died remained present to them. Only a thin, permeable membrane separates those living on earth and those living in heaven. This was especially true of the risen Christ, whom the Celts believed is not only at God's right hand but also at ours. Even though God can be encountered anywhere, there are also certain 'thin places' like Iona, (or Sonoma County), where this happens most easily.

For a Celtic Lent: "Is there a 'thin place' in your life where God is particularly present to you? Visit or plan to visit a special spot in your home or work that can be this for you. Go their daily to experience intimacy with God.
++++++++++ Reflections

We have now, by God’s help, like good gardeners, to make these plants grow and to water them carefully so that they may produce flowers which shall send forth great fragrance to give refreshment to this Lord of ours.
St Teresa of Jesus
Life 11.6

Reading from the Desert Christians

Abba Ammonas was asked, 'What is the "narrow and hard way?" (mt. 7.14) He replied, 'The "narrow and hard way" is this, to control your thoughts, and to strip yourself of your own will, for the sake of God. This is also the meaning of the sentence, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you." (Mt. 19.27)

Daily Meditation (Henri Nouwen)

Bringing Our Secrets into the Light

We all have our secrets: thoughts, memories, feelings that we keep to ourselves. Often we think, "If people knew what I feel or think, they would not love me." These carefully kept secrets can do us much harm. They can make us feel guilty or ashamed and may lead us to self-rejection, depression, and even suicidal thoughts and actions.

One of the most important things we can do with our secrets is to share them in a safe place, with people we trust. When we have a good way to bring our secrets into the light and can look at them with others, we will quickly discover that we are not alone with our secrets and that our trusting friends will love us more deeply and more intimately than before. Bringing our secrets into the light creates community and inner healing. As a result of sharing secrets, not only will others love us better but we will love ourselves more fully.

From the Principles of the Third Society of St. Francis:

Day Twenty-Four - The First Note (cont.): Humility

The faults that we see in others are the subject of prayer rather than of
criticism. We take care to cast out the beam from our own eye before
offering to remove the speck from another's. We are ready to accept the
lowest place when asked, and to volunteer to take it. Nevertheless, when
asked to undertake work of which we feel unworthy or incapable, we do not
shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it
through the power that is made perfect in weakness.

Lord, without you our labour is wasted, but with you all who are weak can
find strength: pour you Spirit on the Society of Saint Francis; give your
labourers a pure intention, patient faith, sufficient success on earth, and
the joy of serving you in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Upper Room Daily Reflection

WHENEVER I THINK on the way of integrity, I hear an invitation to come and walk more fully in that way myself. … As I consider the invitation, it presents me with no swift answers. Though I yearn for such answers, the way of integrity does not at any point say, “Now here is just the right program to solve this problem, and here is the one to solve that problem.” If I move forth in response to the invitation, I shall not find swift answers. I shall, however, find myself drawn into a way of being that will itself become the deepest form of answer.

- Stephen Doughty
To Walk in Integrity

From page 133 of To Walk in Integrity: Spiritual Leadership in Times of Crisis by Stephen Doughty. Copyright © 2004 by Stephen Doughty.

Richard Rohr's Daily Reflection


The most simple and spiritual discipline is some degree of solitude and silence. But it's the hardest, because none of us want to be with someone we don't love. To be with our own thoughts and feelings, to sop the addictive prayer wheels and just feel what we're really feeling, think what we're really thinking, is probably the most courageous act most of us will ever do. There's probably no way out of our addictive society - and our addictive, dysfunctional families - apart from some significant and chosen degree of silence and solitude. I go to agrarian societies, places in Africa or the Philippines, and there I see non-addicted people. I see people who lead quiet, simple lives, under stimulated, with a few basic truths that they hold onto all their life. Think of how many things stimulate us daily: radio, television, billboards, conversations. We've got to slow down the chatter, the stimulation; we've go to feel many feelings which have been pent up and denied for decades. We've become overloaded, which is why we're afraid to do it. We won't have the courage to go into that terrifying place of the soul without a great love, without the light and love of the Lord. Such silence is the most spacious and empowering technique in the world, yet it's not a technique at all. It's precisely the refusal of all technique.

from Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the 12 Steps

From John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Tradition Day by Day: Readings from Church Writers. Augustinian Press. Villanova, PA, 1994.

Spiritual sacrifice

For us who have been called to live a life of holiness through faith the true lamb has been sacrificed, the lamb that takes away the sin of the world. To this sacrifice we must add a food that is spiritual, wholly good, and truly sacred, a food typified in the law by the unleavened bread, which we now understand in a spiritual way.

In the divinely inspired scriptures yeast always signifies wickedness and sin. Our Lord Jesus Christ, warning his holy disciples to be on their guard, said: Beware of the yeast of the scribes and Pharisees. And Paul in his great wisdom wrote that those who have once been sacrificed should put far from them the yeast of impurity that corrupts mind and heart. Purify yourselves of the old yeast, he urged, and become a fresh batch of bread, since you really are unleavened.

This urgent plea prompted by concern for our well-being shows that spiritual communion with Christ the Savior of us all is not only a benefit to us but also a real need. It also shows how important it is for us to keep our minds pure by refraining from sin and washing away every stain. In a word, we must avoid everything that defiled us in the past, for it is then, when no fault of ours bars the way and we are wholly free from reproach, that we shall open the way to this communion with Christ.

Cyril of Alexandria, (~444), patriarch of Alexandria, was a brilliant theologian who combatted the Arian and Nestorian heresies. Cyril presided at the Council of Ephesus in 431 where Mary's title as Mother of God was solemnly recognized.

Daily Readings From "My Utmost for His Highest", Oswald Chambers


"I will very gladly spend and be spent for you;" 2 Corinthians 12:15

When the Spirit of God has shed abroad the love of God in our hearts, we begin deliberately to identify ourselves with Jesus Christ's interests in other people, and Jesus Christ is interested in every kind of man there is. We have no right in Christian work to be guided by our affinities; this is one of the biggest tests of our relationship to Jesus Christ. The delight of sacrifice is that I lay down my life for my Friend, not fling it away, but deliberately lay my life out for Him and His interests in other people, not for a cause. Paul spent himself for one purpose only - that he might win men to Jesus Christ. Paul attracted to Jesus all the time, never to himself. "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." When a man says he must develop a holy life alone with God, he is of no more use to his fellow men: he puts himself on a pedestal, away from the common run of men. Paul became a sacramental personality; wherever he went, Jesus Christ helped Himself to his life. Many of us are after our own ends, and Jesus Christ cannot help Himself to our lives. If we are abandoned to Jesus, we have no ends of our own to serve. Paul said he knew how to be a "door-mat" without resenting it, because the mainspring of his life was devotion to Jesus. We are apt to be devoted, not to Jesus Christ, but to the things which emancipate us spiritually. That was not Paul's motive. "I could wish my self were accursed from Christ for my brethren" - wild, extravagant - is it? When a man is in love it is not an exaggeration to talk in that way, and Paul is in love with Jesus Christ.

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

Chapter 18: In What Order the Psalms Are to Be Said

The order of psalmody for the day Hours being thus arranged,
let all the remaining Psalms be equally distributed
among the seven Night Offices
by dividing the longer Psalms among them
and assigning twelve Psalms to each night.

We strongly recommend, however,
that if this distribution of the Psalms is displeasing to anyone,
she should arrange them otherwise,
in whatever way she considers better,
but taking care in any case
that the Psalter with its full number of 150 Psalms
be chanted every week
and begun again every Sunday at the Night Office.
For those monastics show themselves too lazy
in the service to which they are vowed,
who chant less than the Psalter with the customary canticles
in the course of a week,
whereas we read that our holy Fathers
strenuously fulfilled that task in a single day.
May we, lukewarm that we are, perform it at least in a whole week!


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Commentary by Gloriamarie: We have just spent several days reading meticulous arrangements for the reading of the Psalms in the various Offices. Benedict obviously put a lot of effort and work into it. And then what does he say? "If this distribution is displeasing to anyone, go ahead and arrange them differently. Just make sure all 105 Psalms are prayed once a week."

Is that humility or what? Despite all his work, Benedict's ego is not tied up in it. He can put it out there, offer it to people and then let go of it. He has released his hold. He doesn't care whether or not people pray the Psalms his way so much as he cares that people pray the Psalms.

He does remind those who might complain that 20ish Psalms a day is too many that the holy fathers, the Desert Christians, prayed the entire Psalter once a day. Makes 20ish Psalms very doable in comparison!

I take 2 things from this passage of the Rule: Pray the Psalms. Just Pray the Psalms. And secondly, no matter how much work we put into something, in the end, all we can do is release it out into the world and allow the Holy Spirit to find a home for it. Our work is done when we make the offer, when we put it out there. Our egos might want to hold on to the work and insist on controlling the implementation or the use others might make of my work but our egos would be out of line. May we learn from Benedict the humility to work as we are called and then to let go and leave the rest up to God.

Church Fathers Lenten Reading Plan
Read Excerpts from the Church Fathers during Lent

Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians: complete
For Lent, I Gave Up Being Good

by Sarah Parsons

Some people see the season of Lent as a time of prolonged self-flagellation, of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Kind of like what the poor townspeople go through in the movie "Chocolat." If you saw the movie, you'll remember how the people longed to taste the tempting sweets in the new chocolate shop, but initially, because it was Lent, felt too guilty to do so.

When I first heard that take on the season, I was a little confused. As a child, Lent had always meant big fun for me -- a time to be "bad."

Here's an example: The church my family attended held potluck suppers every Wednesday night during Lent. After supper, the adults listened to a lecture, and the children were herded off to a room where a movie projector had been set up. Our chaperone for the evening would close the doors, turn out the lights, and expect us to sit quietly watching the movie until the lecture was over and our parents came to take us home.

I have to admit the movies usually were pretty good. For example, I remember actually watching Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Nevertheless, my friend Gwynn and I had a little routine after the Lenten suppers. We dutifully went to the movie room with all the other kids, whom we secretly considered suckers. But we always sat near the back of the room, and when the lights went out and the movie began, we crawled along the floor to the back door, cracked it as little as possible, and escaped.


In that moment, I always felt the rush of a rule-breaker: Gwynn and I were renegades, we could get caught, and who knew what our punishment would be? We were wild. So for the next hour and a half, we ran ourselves silly up and down the church halls. Eventually we'd pass a few more bad kids running by, or a pair would step quietly from a darkened Sunday school room, and we'd merge with them to form a single bad-kid pack. Together we sneaked leftover food from the kitchen. We even went out to the darkened playground and talked to escapee boys on the jungle gym. We were that bad.

Understand that I was by no means an everyday bad kid. I was very, very good -- too good, in fact. I restricted my own playtime to make sure I got my homework done. I always minded my parents, my teachers, all adults; I went beyond minding to earn their approval. I worked so hard. I was especially good at school: from the first time a teacher gave me a grade, I worked to keep the A's rolling in.


After so much conscientious effort, I craved those Lenten potluck suppers, and what came afterwards. Gwynn, the movies, the lack of any serious consequences -- all these came together to offer me a taste of wildness, to balance my goodness with a little innocent badness.

Lent invites us to grow spiritually, to draw closer to God, which essentially is to become more alive. One Lenten passage, from Ephesians, reads:

"God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved"

-- Ephesians 2:4-5, NRSV


God was rich in mercy to me on those childhood Lenten nights. God freed me from the bonds I had imposed on myself, offering me greater freedom and greater life. Lent became a chance for me to be more myself as God had made me -- a child with a strong need to play, not a mini-adult focused on her homework. By grace, I was being saved from myself and from my own best efforts. I became more alive by allowing myself to act like a child.

So in a strange and certainly unplanned way, my escapes from the movie room were my Lenten discipline. People often talk about giving something up for Lent, some bad habit, their favorite little vice. I unwittingly gave up something for Lent as a kid: I gave up trying to be perfect. And when I let perfection go and played for a few hours, I became more fully alive, which is just what I believe God wanted for me, what God wants for all of us.


Lent is a time to search out the blocks in our lives -- the habits, thoughts or patterns that weigh us down and deaden our hearts. In that sense, Lent is a heavy season. But it is also a time to choose one of those deadening blocks and to clear it gently away, allowing natural love to flow back and forth again between ourselves and God. Lent is an invitation to self-examination, not as an end in itself, but as a means to fuller life.

So take this long time, these forty days, and be gentle with yourself. Quietly survey your inner landscape and seek out a part that needs tending. It may mean taking thirty minutes of rest each day: time with the phone and computer turned off, the door closed, reading a novel or doing anything that seems like fun.

You won't be able to do everything you need to do in forty days, but that's okay; Lent will be back again next year. Just begin to come back to life.

Sarah Parsons is a social worker Nashville, Tennessee. Check out her Upper Room Book, A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent.