Tag Archives: meditation

(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

22 Ways to Be (a Little More) Present

Be present.

What can this actually look like? How can we be more present to God (who is always, ever present with us)? How can we, in general, be present to our lives—to our experiences, to our loved ones, to our work and our world?

Here’s a list of 22 ideas, but a big, giant caveat on such lists: No one person can do all of these things at once! And I’m not suggesting that you do – because I certainly don’t (and can’t). Peruse a list like this with your soul listening to the Holy Spirit. What one thing might you want to focus on? Or what new idea springs to your mind as you consider this? Go with it.

paints Live a little more.

• Make it a goal to laugh more today! Laugh and smile with someone you love.

• Pause from busyness to enjoy beauty: nature, music, art, ideas. Just 5 minutes can transform your mindset for the rest of the day.

• Immerse yourself in a creative endeavor: Cook a meal with gusto, write a letter to a friend (on actual paper), scrawl out a drawing, sing your heart out in the shower.

• Enjoy your work. Value the tasks or employment God has put on your plate today, be it housework, office work, or whatever. Find meaning it in – sacredness – and find joy in utilizing your skills and efforts to get a job well done.

• Move a little more. Get that heart pumping. Use that body God has given you. Exercise (and try to enjoy it).

• Pause to be grateful for your life. Say thank you. Say it again. And again.

Love a little more. 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

Being (Redux)

fernsThis month we’ll look at the word “be.” I’m excited about what we’ll be discussing over the next few weeks and I’ve got some great new content to share with you. But we’ll start with a re-posting of a blog entry from a year or 2 back called “Re-Learning Be-ing.”

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Perhaps the title of the post should instead be “Un-learning Do-ing.” Doing, of course, is not a bad thing. What we do is very important to God in many ways and is part of who he made us to be–and we will explore that in an upcoming month.

But in our discussion of be-ing, do-ing can be a real danger. It is dangerous when what we do entirely defines who we are. It is even more dangerous, I think, when doing becomes inextricably linked with how we “use” time–When everything must be utilitarian, practical, or some sort of accomplishment. And it can be especially dangerous when doing = contentment and goodness while non-doing = discontent and discomfort that must be avoided at all costs.

This is certainly not a personal campaign for laziness! That is not the non-doing I’m talking about. For me, this comes down to the practices and disciplines that strip away, for a moment, the protections and habits that insulate us from seeing our real state — the busynesses and myriad of to-dos that cocoon us in a spiritually static state of preoccupation.

There are many practices that help us learn to be — practices I need because they are in a sense so hard at times and thus reveal how necessary they are. Continue reading

Joy . . . at Rock-Bottom?

Readers, I’m privileged to introduce you to Karen Beattie, the author of Rock-Bottom Blessings—Discovering God’s Abundance When All Seems Lost. (I damaged my copy of the book in the very best way: dog-earing pages, underlining tons, constantly scrawling notes in the margin.)  Here Karen joins us to talk with me a bit about joy. . . and how (and even if) it fits into life’s rock-bottom seasons.

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Welcome, Karen. Can you tell my readers a bit about yourself?

Beattie photoI’m a writer who lives in Chicago with my husband and 3-year-old foster daughter and a needy, geriatric cat. I write about faith, doubt, and, well, life. I don’t settle for easy answers. I write in order to try to understand, or at least have peace, about the difficult parts of life.

This month we’re talking about joy on my blog. What’s the first thing that comes to mind for you when you think of joy? Is it an image? A memory? An experience?

My 3-year-old foster daughter exudes joy. She has been through so much loss in her short little life, but still, she is joyful 90 percent of the time and her giggle is music to my ears. She is teaching me what it means to find joy in difficult circumstances. Seeing her leap and skip down the sidewalk with a huge smile on her face, to me, is the pure definition of joy. She just loves everything—the robins she sees on the sidewalk, the woodpecker we hear in the park, the moon. Oh, to have that child-like joy again!

Your book, Rock-Bottom Blessings, tackles such a critical question: What does it mean to live the “abundant life” when all seems lost? Why did you want to write this book?

Beattie Book CoverIn 2009, like thousands of Americans, I lost my job. That was devastating enough in itself. But it had ramifications far beyond the fact that I had to find a new job in the middle of a recession. My husband was in graduate school, without my income we had to put everything on hold, including an adoption. We were wondering if we’d ever become parents. And it brought up all of my doubts about whether or not God loved me…and if he was even there.

Author Parker Palmer said he became a writer because he was born baffled. I can relate. I was baffled by why all of these bad things were happening to me, and I wrote the book to sort through it all. I also wrote try to discover what I still believed about God, and if there was a God, what sort of relationship I had with him. Some of my old beliefs about God and my faith – such as what it means to be blessed – were not working any more. People throw the word “abundance” around, but what does it really mean to have abundance? In the process of writing the book, my idea of what it means to live an abundant life was turned on its head.

How do you think the idea of “joy” is related to living an abundant life?

I think living an abundant life is about finding deep and inner joy, which is more than finding just temporary happiness. But living an abundant life is also experiencing the depth and richness of all of life’s experiences, including the dark times. I used to believe that the verse in Scripture said, “I came that you might have abundant life.” . . . Well the scripture actually says, “I came that [you] might have LIFE, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). We tend to skip over the “life” part and go right to the word “abundance.” But experiencing life in all of its richness includes the joy, grief, suffering, the boredom. I discovered that during those times when joy is absent and life seems dark—if we look closely enough, we will find treasures. Continue reading

Discipleship: Live Centered in Christ’s Love

In my last post, I offered the encouragement that in our journey of discipleship we must prioritize time for quietness, for soul-rest, for just be-ing with Jesus. Today, author Keri Wyatt Kent is here to talk a bit more about what it means to grow closer to Jesus in these ways. Keri is the author of many powerful spiritual formation books, most recently Deeply Loved: 40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the Heart of Jesus.

KeriKeri, welcome back to my blog! Many of us (including me!) are “do-ers.” We tend to approach Christian faith with a focus on action—on what we need to do in order to grow spiritually. But your newest book reminds us to, first, experience and abide in the deep love of Jesus. Why is it so important for a follower of Jesus to center herself in Jesus’ faithful presence and love?

Even if we give lip service to a “saved by grace” theology, it’s easy to fall into a “stay saved by keeping your nose clean” theology. In other words, we can think that God keeps score and requires us to keep the rules. Certainly, obedience is essential! But abiding is the only sustainable motivation for that obedience. When we know we are fully loved, obedience becomes the logical path for us to take, and the most attractive. Sin becomes less attractive. As Dallas Willard wrote in The Spirit of the Disciplines, “Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do.”

 The other key idea is joy. We all deeply desire to be loved. Jesus offers us love. What kind of fools are we if we reject that offer or try to earn it with little accomplishments or rule-keeping? Imagine if someone gave you a birthday present and you pulled out your wallet and tried to pay for it. That’s what we do when we try to earn God’s favor. Just take the gift and relish it with gratitude. Celebrate the relationship that you have — that he would give you such a gift. That’s what practicing his presence does.

deeplylovedWhen we think about this month’s theme of discipleship, for many of us the first things that come to mind are Bible study and prayer. Your book, Deeply Loved, invites readers to experience discipleship practices we might not think of right away, such as Sabbath rest, practicing God’s presence, silence and solitude, and Scripture meditation. Why do you think practices like these are so important for a follower of Jesus?

Growing up in a conservative tradition, people would ask me, “How’s your walk with Jesus?” It’s a pretty invasive question, if you think about it, but it was part of the culture. And I’d answer based on whether I had been consistently “doing my quiet time” — that is, reading my Bible and praying. The fruit in my life didn’t factor into my answer, just whether I’d checked off that daily practice more times than not that week. And if you think about it, even though “having a quiet time” is helpful, the emphasis was on what I did. Continue reading

Train

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.

Spiritual Variety

In  a healthy Christian life, we need the “essential vitamins” — the main practices of spiritual growth that are usually heavily emphasized in church (such as Bible study, prayer, and worship). Like essential vitamins in our diet, we need these building blocks of spiritual life so we don’t become fatigued and spiritually emaciated.

But I also really need variety. I need more than only the basics to live a full and happy life. Too much of the same, same, same can get boring. God didn’t design us to thrive via rote, worn-out routine.

And the good news is that Scripture and our rich tradition of Christian spirituality throughout church history offers us many ways to grow and connect with God in addition to these essential basics! Variety can help us flourish! That’s why I’ve included a wide variety of spiritual practices in my new devotional series for women, Flourishing Faith. Here’s a quick overview of the types of practices included in the books — consider using this list to add variety to your own spiritual walk this week.

• Act: Apply Scripture’s challenges to your life through concrete action.

• Create: Use art, drawing, poetry, or another hands-on project to interact with God.

• Examine: Explore Scripture using investigation, research, and study.

• Interact: Connect with another person as part of your spiritual journey.

• Internalize: Interact with Scripture using Christian contemplation, meditation, and memorization.

• Journal: Reflect on your journey and record your thoughts in creative ways.

• Ponder: Read and think about Scripture, historical information, or an insightful quotation.

• Pray: Speak to God and listen to him.

• Symbolize: Use an experience or a common object as a metaphor to help you contemplate a spiritual truth.

• Worship: Express gratitude and praise to God.

Cultivating Vitality

Last week I posted about the drought here in central Indiana and the spiritual dryness we can easily fall into in the Christian life. There can be many causes of spiritual drought, but the main ones are probably spiritual neglect and difficult life circumstances. Sometimes things happen that are beyond our control — stuff in life that makes our schedule crazy, happenings that break our heart. Sometimes, no matter what we do, God seems distant.

But often times, we can change the conditions that are causing spiritual drought in our lives. Often the spiritual neglect or the vitality-sapping conditions in our life are under our control — and can be quickly changed by some simple choices, habits, and mindset shifts. We can flourish.

Consider these ideas . . .

Stay rooted: Connect with God through his Word. Dig in deep. Perhaps this may mean re-cultivating a long lost habit of daily Bible study. Or maybe it means changing things up and approaching God’s Word through a different angle such as Scripture meditation; memorizing a simple passage; singing, praying, or speaking Scripture back to God; reading Scripture’s narratives imaginatively, picturing the events and the thoughts and feelings of the people involved. Long periods of immersion in the Bible are wonderful, but I also contend that even just 5 or 10 minutes spent daily rooting yourself in God’s Word WILL make a difference in your mindset and your soul’s vitality.

Refresh: The main reason my lawn is dead-looking isn’t the oppressive heat — it’s the lack of rain. It needs a cool soaking of refreshing water. And it needs it again and again and again. And so do you and I. We need to be refreshed! Continue reading