Tag Archives: contemplation

(More) On How

In response to my post “Ever Present,” my friend Renee asked a critical question: How?  How can we live each moment attentive to God’s presence? Last week I shared 22 ideas with you for being more present in life and more present to God (find ’em here). But this week we’ll look at some deeper, theological and spiritual answers that come from a book I treasure.

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red poppyThe Practice of the Presence of God is a tiny little book with a great, big, walloping impact. It explores a seemingly simple idea . . . that revolutionizes every moment. It’s the record of some of the conversations and letters of Brother Lawrence, a French monk from the 1600s. Rather than summarize his ideas in my own words, here’s a short sampling:

Brother Lawrence taught:

• “That we might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with [God], with freedom and in simplicity. That we need only to recognize God intimately present with us, to address ourselves to Him in every moment.”

• “That it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times.”

 In letters, Brother Lawrence explained:

• “I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard toward God . . . an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God, which often causes me joys and raptures inwardly.”

• “[W]e must accustom ourselves to a familiar, humble, affectionate conversation with Him. We must hinder our spirits’ wandering from Him upon any occasion.”

[**All quotes in the Public Domain]

What’s your reaction to this idea? What would a continual conversation with God look like in your life, in your heart? A relationship of freedom and simplicity? Addressing yourself to God in every moment?

Consider and pray . . . How might God want you to practice—make a habit of—tuning in to his presence?

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Now a bit more on Brother Lawrence. He was a monk who found he best connected with God during his daily duties – kitchen work. He experienced intimacy with God more in the context of his normal life than even the times set aside for prayer and devotions in the monks’ cells. His encouragement for believers to maintain a continual conversation of the heart with God can help us transform any – every! – moment into a sacred one!

But, let’s be honest.

stained glass prayerHe was a MONK.

He had NO KIDS!

He worked in a MONASTERY!

So how in the world can his advice fit within the context of real life? Because, let me tell you, it seems a LOT harder to have this kind of continual conversation with God in modern life than it probably was for him – at least in terms of the many distractions that assail us.

Yet Brother Lawrence offers us some insights that can yet help us navigate all that draws our attention from God. Continue reading


Soul Pilgrimage: Meet Phileena Heuertz

As we wrap up this month’s focus on “being” and transition to a focus on “doing” for next month, I’m excited to invite you to take part in a conversation with author and ministry leader Phileena Heuertz. Through her own faith journey, Phileena’s been carving out a compelling marriage between being & doing — between the contemplative & active parts of Christian spirituality.

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phileena2Phileena, welcome! Tell my readers a bit about yourself.  

It’s a pleasure to be a part of your blog today. I’ve spent my life in social justice work among the world’s poor. I’m a member of the New Friar movement, and for nearly 20 years my husband Chris and I co-directed Word Made Flesh (WMF). During that time we served in more than 70 countries building community among victims of human trafficking, survivors of HIV and AIDS, abandoned children and child soldiers and war brides.

Chris and I founded Gravity in 2012. Gravity is for people who care about their spirituality and want to make the world a better place. My primary work is public speaking, teaching and writing on contemplative spirituality, facilitation of contemplative retreats, and spiritual direction.

I’m a member of the Red Letter Christians, featured on The Work of the People and Q Ideas and known for my theological narrative, Pilgrimage of a Soul (IVP 2010).

Pilgrimage of a Soul - phileenaYour book Pilgrimage of a Soul describes a bit of your own journey from working as a missionary among the world’s poor to a much-needed sabbatical that eventually revolutionized your faith. Can you tell my readers a bit of your story? 

Sure. I had spent many years serving among people in poverty—children and families affected by HIV and AIDS in India; women and girls enslaved in the commercial sex industry all over Southeast Asia and South America; children living on the streets in urban centers across the globe. And I thought I’d seen it all—the worse of poverty and injustice. But then my work took me to Freetown, Sierra Leone at the peak of the war over blood diamonds.

The human brutality I witnessed in Freetown was like nothing I’d ever seen. Young girls forced to watch the horrific amputation and murder of their parents, taken as “war brides” and subjected to every form of abuse—often gang-raped.

Boys as young as 5 and 6, forced to amputate the arm of their parents or be brutalized themselves, conscripted into the military or rebel army, given drugs and involuntarily compelled to carry weapons that were at times too heavy for them and forced to commit unspeakable crimes of massacre, murder and rape.

I returned from Freetown empty of answers for the world’s problems and questioning God’s goodness. This crisis of faith plunged me into a classic wrestling with God scenario in which I became very aware of my limitations and deep need for God. Continue reading


What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word discipline? As a mom of three, I think of child-tears, frustration, time-outs (or worse), and me feeling frazzled and worn out. Discipline, if we’re honest, is not fun. Rewarding in the long run? Sure. But not exactly a word with a positive connotation.

So when I talk about spiritual disciplines? Well, the danger for you and for me is that we can bring this somewhat negative connotation into the conversation. But Scripture uses several words that are translated at “discipline.” One means to chastise, correct, or instruct (see Hebrews 12:6-7). But here’s some good news: God’s Word uses entirely different words to talk about discipline in terms of our spiritual formation. Consider this excerpt from my book, The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival:

trainersAs we look at the spiritual disciplines, we’re instead aiming for the concepts of gumnazo and askeo. Gumnazo—from which we derive the English word gymnasium—means discipline in the sense of athletic exercise and training. We’re talking about a spiritual sweat here: regular “workouts” that keep our faith in shape. This is the word Paul uses when he urges Timothy, “[T]rain yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8, emphasis added). This is the same connotation the writer of Hebrews intends when he prods his readers by saying, “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teachings about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14, emphasis added).

Askeo means the discipline of a master craftsman who employs skill, persistent determination, and great effort to turn raw material into a piece of art. Continue reading

10 Advent Observance Ideas

Looking for ways to observe Advent with your kids? Or hoping to do something new this December for your own spiritual growth? My good friend Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence and I put together 9 of our favorite ideas for celebrating Advent. You can find them here at Today’s Christian Woman.

The tenth? It’s an idea we tried for the first time last year with our kids. We helped the kids make simple Advent candles which we lit at dinner each night. It was a great way to drive home the idea that Jesus is the light we await in Advent.

We made them simply, using cardboard juice concentrate canisters for molds and crayon pieces to add layers of color. If you’re new to candlemaking, find very easy instructions here.

2 Poems for your weekend (15-minute formation)

Mid-19th century British poet  and devout Christian Gerard Manley Hopkins invites us to think deeply and spiritually about the wonder of the created world. Here are two lovely poems for you to ponder (both public domain).

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; Continue reading

Trust the Sovereign One

When we choose to practice trust, it’s not about a confidence that our circumstances will magically become pleasant or our troubles will go away. God certainly answers prayers and, many times, “comes through” for us to rescue us from trouble or make wrong things right. But a quick browse through the Bible also reveals that God’s people aren’t guaranteed a life of problem-free bliss!

Trust challenges us to focus not on our circumstances but on the God behind the scenes — to tune our hearts to his song, to let his grand Other-ness put our current worries or hurt of pain into perspective.

God is sovereign. He is still at work, behind the scenes, even in those times when circumstances may lead us to feel we’ve been abandoned. We haven’t been. His power is greater than any human foe or seemingly disastrous circumstance. His love is stronger than any hateful word or hurtful situation. Continue reading

Knitting, Reflecting, Being

I had a chance to interview spiritual formation writer Adele Ahlberg Calhoun about getting to know our mysterious God. Her thoughts were absolutely compelling. Read the resulting article here.

The Best Book Ever

If you have kids, here are ideas for ways you can help your kids develop lifelong habits of devotional reading of Scripture like lectio divina and contemplative reading. All you need is a children’s Bible.

When you next read a Bible story to your child, introduce him to one of the ancient methods of scriptural learning described below that combine prayer and meditation with Bible reading. (And try it out yourself too!)

Lectio Divina (or “Holy Reading”)

This ancient approach to Scripture traditionally has five parts:

1) silencio (quietness and preparation)

2) lectio (slowly reading a Bible passage)

3) meditato (reflection and meditation)

4) oratio (prayer about the passage)

5) contemplation (quiet waiting and prayer).

Your child isn’t likely to connect with these Latin terms, so bring this method down to your child’s level and do it together in a simple way.

1) Say something like “Let’s quiet our hearts and minds before we read this story.” Allow about 5 to 10 seconds of quietness.

2) Read the story aloud with emphasis and emotion, perhaps even doing different voices for the various speakers.

3) Reflect on the passage aloud together by asking, “What do you think this means?” or “What stands out to you about this story? Why?”

4) Say, “Let’s ask God to help us understand more about what this passage means.” Then briefly pray aloud, naming your child’s ideas he shared in step 3 and asking God for further understanding.

5) Say, “Let’s keep praying but without words now as we listen to God.” Allow about 30 seconds (or more if your child is very focused on prayer), then say “Amen.”

Contemplative Reading

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola outlined a process of contemplative reading. In basic terms, Ignatius encouraged Christians to imagine themselves into Gospel stories. Children are experts at this! In fact, they could teach us logic-bound grown-ups a thing or two!

Read a story to your child from one of the four Gospels. Next say, “Let’s pray and ask God to help us imagine what it was like for the people in this story.” Continue reading

Grrrrrrrrrrrr . . .

In an article that I’ve returned to several times, pastor and writer Eugene Peterson writes about an “aha!” moment that powerfully impacted his spiritual life. He observed his beloved pet dog chewing on and playing with a bone and he made a connection with a passage in Isaiah about a lion and its prey. Peterson writes:

What my dog did over his precious bone, making those low throaty rumbles of pleasure as he gnawed, enjoyed, and savored his prize, Isaiah’s lion did to his prey. The nugget of my delight was noticing the Hebrew word here translated as “growl” (hagah) but usually translated as “meditate,” as in the Psalm 1 phrase describing the blessed man or woman whose “delight is in the law of the LORD,” on which “he meditates day and night” (v. 2).

He goes on to say:

There is a certain kind of writing that invites this kind of reading, soft purrs and low growls as we taste and savor, anticipate and take in the sweet and spicy, mouth-watering and soul-energizing morsel words — “O taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Ps. 34:8). . . . Baron Friedrich von Hugel compared this way of reading to “letting a very slowly dissolving lozenge melt imperceptibly in your mouth.

(You can read the whole article by clicking here.)

Isn’t this a fabulous picture of meditating on Scripture? How can you savor God’s Word today?