Our Family's First Christmas in the Valley of Suck


So we made it to today.

The first Christmas for my kids without their mom.

The first Christmas without my wife.

How are we doing it?  We're making it.  One breath at a time.  One moment at a time.

We have kept some traditions in place and added a new twist or two along the way.  It is not the same.  A year ago we really expected to have a few more years together.  Heather was so full of life, hope, and energy.  We were blessed by being "adopted" by some friends who made it an incredible time.

This year was different.  The kids and I spent the Christmas Eve at the church we have been attending for a couple of months.  It was so different from Christmas Eves of past years.  I did not preach but instead volunteered on the parking lot team for two of the three services.  Every time I went inside, my kids were in different conversations with new friends they've been making.

Different and yet, very much the same.  The traditions of our family and our faith have proven to me just how healing and comforting traditions can be.  If there is one thing I have learned and would counsel, it is this: do not dismiss all traditions when walking through the valley of suck.

Do indeed add a twist or two along the way.  You can certainly leave out some things too if you need it.  Every little decoration did not come out! In fact, probably half stayed in boxes.  One of Heather's legacies was that we would NEVER be at a loss for decorations!

Did I wonder how it would be?  Yes, often I did.  I wondered what would trigger me; what sights or sounds or smells, would bring back memories?  I was most surprised when the chorus of Silent Night began and the candles were lit in the sanctuary.  The words would not come but only tears. Oh, I wouldn't give that up for anything!  And it was then my imagination, a godly gift indeed, kicked in and I could see, if only for a moment, Heather and us, together, singing in worship on Christmas Eve!

This above all else has brought me the most comfort in the tradition of my faith now: to know that when I gather with the Body of Christ, at that time then I am closest to Heather.  For if we know anything about heaven, it is where God is high and lifted up and the saints are celebrating more profoundly than we can imagine!  And, for at least a few moments, we are in one accord.

What grace is given us all!  What mysteries we so often miss in our rush to "move on?"  How thankful I am for the Faith, for the gift of Jesus Christ, for "the hope once given" that is given still to those who will seek after Immanuel.  Indeed, God is with us, even in the valley of suck...especially at Christmas.

Have mercy.  Come Savior, come.



Image Use with Permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/christmas-mother-and-child-1428487

The Desert and Distractions: God Comes for Us In the Valley of Suck


Growing up, my grandparents lived in west Texas.  There ain't much of anything in west Texas except for "grasshopper" oil pumps and tumbleweeds and sand.  Lots of sand.  It is so dry and lacking in moisture that one of my uncles told the story of how desperate the termites were for something to eat, home inspectors started finding them eating sheetrock.

I think movies and shows portray deserts well most times.  While they hold much beauty, they are very unforgiving places.  There are very few things to distract one in the desert.

On Sunday, the sermon I listened to was a challenge to our popular culture and the holiday season.  It wasn't for the usual reason of consumerism but another of its temptations: busy-ness and distraction.  This is not new though - it isn't unique to our day and time.

While today's preacher went one direction, I want to track a bit different road, one that leads us into the desert.  Why?  Precisely because the desert, rather than being an image of isolation from people, provides an image of limiting distractions from our lives.

If you spend time reading the writings of the desert fathers and mothers of the early centuries, you find they often gathered together and spent time with others.  They went to the desert, not to escape relationship, but to wrestle with the demons of our world and the "old self."  This is what Paul wrote the Ephesian church: "Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its evil desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (4:22-23)"

The temptation of the holiday season, of our working lives, of our worldly lives, is to be busy - to always be about doing more, earning more, and getting more.  Even within religion, there is a constant push to be more like culture and less like Christ Jesus.  If you are not being "fed" or if the teaching isn't to your liking, then you just move along.  Hear this warning from one ancient Christian:
"I warn you, guard against this wrong attitude about the spiritual life - that is, thinking that you must ever be seeking better counselors, new teachings, greater spiritual precepts, and reading book after book.  These things may be good in and of themselves, or they may be in error.  But even the best spiritual teaching will not benefit you at all if you are not growing and walking in the Spirit of Christ." 
Some would never consider these words if I had introduced the writer as St. John of the Cross but his words speak and remind us of our need to look always for the Spirit of Christ Jesus.  Sometimes we think being a monk means someone has nothing to do with other people but that is far from the case, especially if you look more into John of the Cross and his story.  His passion and love for Jesus was something so offensive that he was imprisoned by other monks!  He saw a need for reformation within the Roman Catholic Church at and his order of monks.  Funny thing is, many reformers in many traditions have experienced much the same.  Even though John Wesley would write and preach out against the idea of "the desert" image, in similar ways, he walked through the desert in attempting to reform the Church of England.

If you take time to read Isaiah 35, you'll find it reads more like a Psalm than the typical words we think of from a prophet.  You'll also pick up on a similar theme I've touched on here: the desert.  I've written so much about dealing with grief and "the valley of suck," it is really easy for folks to tune out.  People question, "When are you going to get over it?"  Well, Isaiah says, you're going to come out of the desert when God comes and God saves (35:4).  Of course, Isaiah is referring to the Jewish people in exile but the application is true for us all.

This is the season of Advent.  We live in a world that is the desert.  We all live in some form of the valley of suck.  For some, certainly for me, the brightness of "the star in the east" seems far brighter this year.  I guess, sometimes the desert is right where we need to be to see the reason for the season and the reason for it all.  There really are less distractions out here.



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8 Thoughts for Surviving Holidays in the Valley of Suck

We didn’t know last Christmas would be our last one with my wife, Heather.  We didn’t “know” but Heather and I both had the feeling it was a good possibility. The last doctor's appointment did not bode well. Like today, I wrote on the eve of a new Star Wars movie.  I wrote a year ago about “Saying No to Star Wars” and I said the reason I said no was because the there was a bigger yes - I needed to live according to a bigger “YES!” which was Heather and my kids.

I have reflected on that often this past year - the power that comes when we say “YES” to something deep within us - in our soul - something which gives our lives true meaning and purpose.  Saying no to Star Wars wasn’t really all that hard - all I was saying “no” to was that I wasn’t going to see the midnight showing.  THAT didn’t make me any less a fan - it set a new tone for my life though, one which I have been living more and more each day and one which has me living more within the framework of faith, trust, and grace.

I am saying no once again this year to opening night of Star Wars: Rogue One because I’m saying yes to peace in me - in my soul.  I am saying yes to a “peace that passes understanding,” and "no" to a culture in our world which orders our lives around entertainment.  I will still go to see Rogue One and probably, I’ll get back to going to opening nights in the future.  But, in my journey in the valley of suck, I’ve learned to listen to my soul - to practice stillness - and make note of the lessons God’s Spirit reveals.  Here are eight thoughts that I’ve had in the valley of suck from facing the holidays last year and in facing them this year.

  1. Make the change now.  Don’t wait until January 1.
Last December I had a doctor’s appointment for a check-up and found a few issues, one of which was being a bit overweight.  Rather than wait till January 1, I started in on her recommended diet and a new workout routine.  Not only did I drop 30 pounds in three months, I’ve kept it off and learned to eat better.  Unfortunately, I had a dangerous spike in my blood pressure just a few months later.  It might have been worse if I hadn’t changed my behavior.  BUT I’ve learned through the years, I stick better with new behaviors/goals/habits if I tackle them when identified.  
  1. Make small changes.  Don’t try to do it all at once.
From the above example, I started with small changes: first, getting doctor input and second, picking the right diet that focused on portion control and simple changes.  After that was underway, I added a change in exercising.  There was more than enough change I couldn’t control a year ago.  I could handle the small changes.

  1. Start with easy.  Don’t go for the biggest task or goal.
Sometimes this means ignoring things or finding someone to help.  The easier things are, the simpler and less stressful.  I know many people wanted to cook for our family during Heather’s illness and following her death.  Problem was/is, none of us had the same diet.  Heather could only eat certain things, I had my issues, my daughter is vegan and my son can eat anything.  The easiest thing?  Gift cards for grocery stores and Subway.

  1. Go slowly.  Don’t try to rush your emotions.
Grief takes time.  I wish you could skip through it but really, you can’t.  They go at their own pace and for caregivers that is...well...it is damn slowly.  Accept it and let them come.  I didn’t get hit with anger and the “why” questions till last month - five months after Heather died.  That was the right time.
  1. Get your emotions out.  Don’t hold them in…(Soda rule: contents are under pressure)
This relates to number 4 too.  Grief can be like shaking up a soda can or bottle - don’t give it an outlet and you’ll find the contents are under ever increasing pressure.  Express them in healthy ways so they won’t come out in unhealthy ones.  For some of us, a punching bag is a good investment and for others it maybe poetry.

  1. Honor some old traditions.  Don’t feel you have to do everything.
We decorated the tree right after we got back from Thanksgiving and played the same Christmas CD’s and we’ll watch “A Muppet Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve.  Once I put the stockings up though, I was done.  Not putting up Heather’s stocking broke me.  Half the decoration are in their boxes.  That is okay.

  1. Add a new tradition or two.  Don’t try to repeat the stories of Christmases past.
Hanging at Hogwarts and enjoying Butterbeer
At Thanksgiving, we chose to honor one of Heather’s dreams for our family to go the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando.  We had saved up and so the kids and I followed through on it.  For Christmas, we’ll be in a church where I’m not pastoring for the first time in 20 years and we’ll be volunteering.  Some things are the same but some things are new.

  1. Keep faith.  Don’t ignore the spiritual aspects of the season/holiday.
Each holiday and season, I think, comes with a focus and something to reflect upon.  Take the opportunity built into these times to seek after God.  Of course, there is room to question God, to wrestle with faith but it is also a time to rest in the tradition of the season and holiday.  There are many who lived before you and I, and they told the stories.  Keep faith.

Much love to you and your’s this season from the valley of suck.





Why Ask Why? Touching the Depths in the Valley of Suck


Why?

Kids ask it all the time when they do not get what they want.  It is one of the most basic questions for learning.  At times, it will also eat away at your soul.

"Why?" doesn't fit easily into any of the Dr. Kubler-Ross' 5 stages of grief ( denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), but if it fits anywhere, I think it tends to fit at anger.  In my journey through the valley of suck (before, during, and after the death of my wife from colon cancer), I have not really dealt with "why."

Those who have been through the valley know these five stages are not easy to track.  They are not stages that go "step 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5." They hit you coming and going and they will take advantage of everyday life.  Sometimes it feels like a Three Stooges skit.  Grief is always Moe, to our Larry and Curly, you never know if grief will pull your nose, poke your eyes or kick you in the rear.

But "Why?" hit me, not surprisingly, at the "happiest place on earth."  One of my wife's wishes had been to go to Orlando before our kids both finished High School.  We did it this past week but on the day we went to the Magic Kingdom I came to the place of asking "Why?"

Oh, nothing was Disney's fault.  It was just the reality of seeing families being together.  I'm sure there were other single parents around but I never saw them or it didn't register.  We made the best of it for sure, it was a good day in the end but the nagging question finally came...

Why God?

I've noted before that I've wrestled with God throughout this journey.  I have been angry at God and let God have it many days.  So what brought it out now?

I think, maybe, I got to the end of things.  At the moment the contrast of my life was most stark - all the moments when Heather SHOULD have been with us and was not - the wall I was trying to hold up - crashed.

But there is no answer to "Why God?"  I knew this to be the case which is what led me to fight against it all this time.  We live life and in living, we all face the same things - those who are good and those who are evil.  It is not lightly that Jesus says, "God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:45)  If you read the context, it is in regards to our facing persecution for our faith but it points to the larger truth we all will face difficulties.  The question is: will we face difficulties with faith or without faith?

From what I have observed, we will face a "Why God?" time in our lives; most likely, it will even be more than once.  Like building muscles, these times provide resistance to our faith; they cause us to "push back" or "stretch ourselves" and thus, stretch our faith and trust in God.

We keep finding ways to get out of straining ourselves in life, though, haven't we?  We're so innovative in coming up with automation and robotics to do the "heavy lifting" of our lives.  We laugh at the humans in the movie "Wall-E" for how they can do nothing on their own, yet we are moving in that very direction.  But when it comes to faith - our spirituality - the condition of our souls - there is no automation.  There is life and there is death.

So why is it we don't ask God more often about life rather than death?  Why do you not wake up and ask - "Why God?" when you get to live another day?  Or after you make it through another day..."Why God?" What do you have in store next?

I'll tell you why: you and I take health and life for granted.  We care about it less because we have the luxury of taking it for granted.  But the truth is, you can't - not really - death is always there.  For some "Why God?" is a silly question altogether because faith and spirituality seem pointless.  Asking "why?" even seems silly, and I would agree...to a point.

This is why I fought it.  Call it a practice of "practical atheism" maybe - I never believed there was going to be an answer given.  I didn't get one when I asked it this week and I do not expect to get one.  But I needed to ask it anyway if only to take the next step in living.

"Why?"  Because we are living beings and in this world, living things die.  Call that being a "practical biologist" or a "practical human" even.  Asking "why" leads to conclusions and, hopefully, more questions.  These are the questions which lead me back to being a "practical spiritualist," that there is something far more noble in the inner journey of the world's religions.

Please don't take this to mean I am a universalist for I am far from that.  It is simply my observation that the majority of human beings are wondering "why" about a great many things which leads them to seek after the divine and the spiritual.  My observation is when we ask "Why God" in relationship to the death of a person who we love unconditionally, we may find ourselves as close as we may ever get to the bottom, to the place we can truly know mercy.

I have no idea if any of this makes sense to you, my friend.  If you leave with anything, I hope it is this: Go ahead and ask "Why God?"  BUT, fight it as long as you must for when you come to the place of asking it, you have earned it.  You may not get an answer, in fact, I suspect you won't.  What I hope you find is what I have have found - a place to stop; maybe the bottom; maybe just a place to catch your breath.  And when you have found this, you have found mercy in the valley of suck.



Image used with permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/question-mark-1175151

Oh the Lessons You'll Learn in the Valley of Suck


What did I expect it to be like now?  Better, I guess.  Getting back out again, I hoped.  New experiences?  Maybe new friendships?  I would really like just about anything but new surprises.

Guess what I get?  The valley of suck still sucks five months into the journey.

I have learned from the surprises.  Oh, my, yes, have I learned.  I did not want to learn it all - not this way - not all at once but yeah.  The valley doesn't care.

1. We're all different in our grief.
One of the things I secretly love is learning about people I'm on the journey with.  I love all the extroverts and introverts and seeing how we handle it.  We're all in different life stages, different priorities, and we're all different people.  Of course we're all different - even pastors - we fight through the valley differently.  It helps me learn.

2. The world changed while I was married.
When Heather and I dated, we didn't have cell phones, FB, and the internet was just becoming a thing.  I'm not only learning how to do life as a single dad, I'm learning how to live life as a single man.  I. Have. No. Idea. What. I. Am. Doing.

3. The right thing will set you off but I don't know what it will be.
Seriously, you aren't sure if the tears are gone or not.  You feel like it is all making a bit more sense.  BAM!  I take the cat to the vet and start crying because the cat was Heather's buddy.  I'm trying to cook dinner and find a recipe in her handwriting.  AND HERE IS THE THING...THIS NEVER GOES AWAY.  Yep, apparently what I've learned from others is I get to carry that one.

4. Everybody calls at the wrong time.
You thought it was bad before but nope, it gets worse.  Just a heads up friends.

5. Your family gets stranger.
Admittedly, the Hagler clan here in Georgia is an odd bunch and we liked it that way.  We were "TEAM HAGLER" and our motto has been Ohana (from Lilo & Stitch).  Nobody gets left behind or forgotten.  But our family is different.  Heather is not forgotten but she is gone.  Death parted our journies.  Now we are three very different people fighting each other and fighting a world trying to tear us apart.  We don't quite recognize TEAM HAGLER.  It is strange.

6. You are alone.
It is just the way it is.  Everyone's life goes on.  Folks try and mean well and wish well but it can't be helped.  Here in the valley of suck, my life goes on too, it just isn't what I thought.  It never is for anybody.

7. There are a lot of mistakes you'll make and they will change you.
Oh, wow.  Looking back over the months now, yeah, I've left a trail and the valley has left its mark on my heart and soul.  Some have said to me, "Don't change," well, I've learned - I don't get an option.  I have changed.  I will change.  I need to change.  I must change.  Period.

8. If you'll pay attention - God shows up.
Yeah, that paying attention part is what is going to trip you up, and quite possibly, it will be literal.  One of my favorite stories in recent years is the story of a young disciple going to his teacher and asking about wrestling with the devil and the demons.  The teacher said, "Oh, when I was younger I wrestled with the devil and we'd go back and forth." The student asked, "So you learned how to defeat the devil and the demons, then?"  "Oh no," said the teacher, "Now the devil goes his way and I go mine. You see, now that I am older I wrestle with God.  That, my disciple, is much harder."  I thought I understood it when I first heard it.  I was wrong.  I do think I get it now.  Learning the practice of Stillness has been a big part (see previous blog).

If you've read my writings on the valley of suck, you know I'm writing from my heart in a way I have never written.  Some may even confuse what I write with despair or doubt.  Don't.  It is not.  It is as raw as I can possibly give you.  That last story does tell it best.  All the Scripture warnings to "watch" and "be on your guard" are not always about the second coming of Jesus.  The day may come you will find yourself wrestling God in the valley of suck.

Lord, have mercy.

Image used with permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/eye-surprised-1453026

Catching Fireflies: Learning the Way of Stillness


Being silent or still was never my strong suit.  I was the kid to run with scissors or make a scene.  I am pretty sure I spent more time in the hall in third grade than I did in class.  My decade in youth ministry probably got a lot those tendencies out but every now and again, especially when the moon is just right, I can go toe-to-toe with my two teenagers for having the loudest laugh and being the most obnoxious.

Even so, I have also found myself responding for a number of years to a different yearning.  I will tell you it has been hard to hear or catch sight of many times.  The best I can describe it is like chasing a lightning bug at night, a flash, and it is gone.  A buzz at your ear, you turn, and it goes silent.  This yearning has always been just beyond my reach.

In the journey through the "Valley of Suck" as my wife's caregiver, something changed.  Whether it was in me or around me, I do not know.  Was it being hand in hand with my best friend, in the thin space between life and death and connected by love?  I still don't know but something did change.  The "flash" didn't leave.  The "buzz" stayed beside me.  Did they stay or did I finally become still enough to take it in?

This is what the practice of Stillness is really about, becoming aware enough of the flash, the buzz, "the still small voice."  As I indicated in my last blog, there are practices of the Christian faith which are quite ancient but sadly, quite ignored or dismissed for various reasons.  I think one of those reasons, which is a bit uncomfortable, is the reality that the spiritual realm, and thus spirituality, is out of our control.  I would agree, it is, the spiritual is the realm of the Spirit of God.  Thankfully, God has not left us without guidance!  God's instruction to us in regards to spirituality is simple: becoming more like Jesus Christ - learning to love.

The writer of the Psalms speaks of a call to "stillness."  The writer notes we are to be still in order to know God (Ps 4:4, 46:10).  This is primary to our understanding this spiritual practice.  But the Psalmist looks too at God's living example and so recognizes the example of God who stills all of creation (Ps. 65:7, 89:9, 107:29).  Things get out of control in the world.  Things get out of control within us.  In both cases, there is a need to be still and there is practical, Christian ways by which we can live so we might live a life of love.

We must keep this in mind when examining any claims on a spiritual practice.  If it does not lead to nurturing perfect love in us, we must question the intentions and practice.  Abba Philimon (a Christian teacher from the 6th or 7th century), emphasized that Stillness is the foundational practice on our journey toward loving as Jesus Christ taught us.  In his teaching (it ought to be noted, many of the words here are not to be understood as equivalent to their 21st century counterpart in translation) he observed conforming to God's love was not possible without stillness, for "...stillness gives birth to ascetic effort, ascetic effort to tears, tears to awe, awe to humility, humility to foresight, foresight to love. (173, Philokalia)."  Gregory of Sinai also notes stillness as the foundational practice in learning theology.

Five Simple Steps Toward Stillness
After studying, practicing, and reflecting, these are what I have found to be five of the most influential elements of the practice of Stillness. There are other aspects to Stillness than the five below.  This is true for most any spiritual practice.  There are different ways to pray, to read Scripture or to practice fasting.

1. Still Your Body. 
The desert fathers and mothers understood our bodies can provide us with many distractions.  One must recognize and plan for a certain amount of comfort in learning stillness.  But the body and spirit are not separate. The body IS the temple of God's Spirit (1 Cor 6:19).  St. Mark the Ascetic observed, "the intellect cannot be still unless the body is still also (165, ibid).:  Find a position or location where you can be comfortable. A good chair maybe all you need.

2. Still Your Thoughts.
Again and again and again in my life and spiritual journey, I have found my thoughts to be the hardest thing to handle.  From thinking of my to-do list for the day, week, or month, worrying about my kids, to wandering to the next sermon to prepare, I have struggled to still my thinking.  St. Hesychios' words provide a great image, "...lash the enemy with the name of Jesus and, as a certain wise man has said, let the name of Jesus adhere to your breath, and then you will know the blessing of stillness (167, ibid). To practice Stillness, focus on the name of Jesus Christ.  I have found the Jesus Prayer the best way to start.

3. Watch for Irritation.
When you have kids in your home, there is ALWAYS going to be interruptions.  My cats run a close second on many mornings.  The point is, something or someone is going to interrupt - what does that lead to for you?  St. Theodoros observes, "...we should not consider this an irksome interruption of our stillness, lest we cut ourselves off from the law of love.  This is why St. John, too, says, 'My children, let us love not in word or tongue, but in action and truth. And by this we know that we belong to the truth" (1 John 3:18-19) (171, ibid)."  Far from being a "bad sign," being aware of your irritation, anxiety, or anger, is a sign you ARE being still, even if just a little bit.

4. Adjust Accordingly for Distractions.
Besides irritation, getting distracted is a huge issue in practicing stillness.  One of the reasons the desert fathers and mothers went to the desert was to battle with the things and situations which distracted them from God.  I can only imagine what they must think of the distractions we have in our day - and we think virtually NOTHING of them!  The desert was a perfect place to detach from things but things are not the only distraction.  Theodoros also noted, "You must avoid continuously wasting time...if you have indeed chosen to practice stillness. So restrict your relationships with other people, lest your intellect should become distracted and your life of stillness disrupted (171, ibid)."  Obviously, Stillness is not a practice for us all but if you are going to focus on it, you'll probably want to change your Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat habits.

5. Examine Your Heart.
"Let your model for stillness of heart be the man who holds a mirror into which he looks.  Then you will see both good and evil imprinted on your heart," taught St. Hesychios (167. ibid).  I can't help thinking of James 1:23-25 when I read this.  It isn't just that you look and see - it isn't just that you are still and feel love - nope - what are you doing with it?

The practice of Stillness is not the only practice we've lost track of but it is surely one which was emphasized in the Church in centuries past.  I would argue as well, we are in need of it again because it seems we are far too attached to power in this world than we are to God's Kingdom and other human beings.  Our Christian ancestors knew well this temptation following Constantine's conversion to Christianity.  Roberta Bondi points out an important difference between our 21st Century understanding of loving and dealing with other people, and the early Christians.  She writes, "This love of other people who are God's images is not an abstract love of humanity, a warm feeling of kinship toward humankind in general. Love of neighbor included taking very seriously the actual day-to-day welfare of the real people... (32, "To Pray and To Love)."

Our spiritual practices are not merely for our own benefit but for practical, real life transformation for ourselves AND for others.  The concern growing in me is we are really not interested in Jesus, the Son of God.  We are interested in Christ's Church and who is in power here and now.  I recall the disciples of Jesus arguing this very thing, too.  Not much has changed.  Again, are we interest in knowing God or do we just want God's stuff?  We are going to have a hard time knowing which is which, if we are not engaged in spiritual practices which examine our soul and those passions which are festering ever more in the deep wound sin has left on us.

Be still.
Catch Fireflies.
Know God.



Works Cited:
Philokalia: "The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts"
Bondi, Roberta: "To Pray and To Love"

Images:
http://www.freeimages.com/photo/firefly-hunt-1394838
http://www.freeimages.com/photo/mirror-1548409

Recovering the Practice of Stillness

Most times, the initial feeling we have in our gut is the one we need to pay attention to.  My friend, Dr. George Tomes, was the first person to really teach me how important the gut is to our overall health and well-being.

The problem for me is my brain and tongue can operate independently of my gut.  When this takes place is usually the time when I make a mess of things. I wish my track record was better than it is.  As I have considered this point over the past weeks, I made the observation, no matter how smart or wise I think I have been, the idealism of my youth has been shattered by the reality of the years.

I suspect you, the reader, and I, are a lot alike in preferring the echo chamber of like-minded people.  It is comfortable to believe our way is the "right way" and it is comfortable to label others, based solely on our observations.  The results of the recent election are a prime example but this is only one more event in the long line of human history where this has occurred.

Going back to the gut, one of its primary responsibilities is to process the food and drink we take in.  The brain and mouth have to work to make this happen.  In spiritual practices, the practice of fasting restricts this, in part, to address the passion/temptation of gluttony and to exert control over the body.  It is, no doubt, a sure sign of religious piety to fast regularly.

But what is it we are practicing to restrict our mind and mouth from being rash and foolish in our words?  Is it scripture memory? Is it reciting the daily office? Is it just thinking good and noble thoughts?

The writer of Proverbs cautions you and me: "watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23,NASB)."  What is the life which is springing from your heart?  The warning of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back always gets to the simple things: Is it anger? Is it fear? Is it aggression?  You may not know what is coming out of your heart but those around surely do UNLESS you are surrounded only by your echo chamber.

This is the challenge of Jesus: "Love your enemy and those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)."  And you cannot love a person who you cannot reach or you will not reach out to. (This is NOT endorsing being in or seeking out abusive relationships!).

In the early centuries of the Church, "guarding your heart" was also known to be the way of attentiveness or of Stillness.  St. Hesychios the Priest wrote:
"If you wish to be "in the Lord," do not just SEEM to be a monk, and good, and gentle, and always at one with God, decide  to BE such a person in truth.  With all your strength, pursue the virtue of attentiveness - that guard and watch of the intellect, that perfect stillness of heart and blessed state of the soul... (I, On Watchfulness and Holiness, Sec 115)."

Tragically, the lessons of the desert fathers and mothers have been mixed with poor theology and wrong interpretation through the years and centuries.  Their teaching is often confused with the heretical practice of "Quietism" which notably the Roman Catholic Church and John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, condemned.

In the writings of St. Theodoros we find the consistent teaching that the practice Stillness does NOT mean putting off serving other people.  Quietism does endorse this very thing - that we need not concern ourselves with good works.  Theodoros wrote: "When we receive visits from our brethren, we should not consider this an irksome interruption of our stillness, lest we cut ourselves off from the law of love. This is why St. John, too, says, "My children, let us love not in word or tongue, but in action and truth. And by this we know that we belong to the truth" (1 John 3:18-19)" ("Philokalia," 171).

Stillness is a practice that includes being quiet but it is not being naive to the work we are doing in the presence of the Holy Spirit.  This practice of Stillness is the listening, the praying, the searching of our heart and intellect in the presence of God's Spirit and, following the lead of the Spirit, it is the casting off of the "old man - the false self," the "dark side."

Stillness, like other spiritual practices, is simple but far from simplistic.  The practice of Stillness moves us from the echo chamber of our mind to partnering in the constructive and convicting work of God's Spirit.

To practice Stillness means to spend time alone.  It challenges us to put aside images and distractions from our mind.  But we aren't being inactive either.  "Stillness, prayer, love, and self-control are a four-horsed chariot bearing the intellect to heaven" writes St Thalassios (ibid, 171).  Another picture of stillness is that of a mirror.  In Stillness we are looking at ourselves honestly under the Spirit's guidance and "then you will see both good and evil imprinted on your heart" (ibid, 167).  Finally, the central tenet to the practice of Stillness is prayer centered only on Jesus Christ.

I would have thought in the Valley of Suck that it would have been easy to practice Stillness.  The reality is, there is nothing about our life and culture which makes Stillness to be natural or easy for us.  The best teachings on Stillness are centuries old, so it clearly was no easier in the days Jesus lived.  Like any spiritual practice, we need humble hearts and godly guidance.  We need both all the more if we are to overcome the devilish divisions of the Church and the world today.


Work Cited: Philokalia: The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts
Image Used with Permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/screwed-up-1562969

Which Candidate Gets My Heart?


It is almost over.  It seems like all of us U.S. Americans have grown tired of this election cycle.  Many creative trick-or-treaters took the opportunity to make the best of this Halloween with many creative costumes reflecting politics.  Everyone has an opinion.

That is good, right?  Isn't that the purpose of the "good old first amendment," we talk about?  I know I have "enjoyed" many conversations with both my young adult kids.  They have been heated at times but always respectful and always times where we have learned.  I am fairly impressed at the level of knowledge my kids now have about their government.  If they continue the pattern they have begun, they will do well.

But this is not what I am writing about. No, something has been angling below the surface for me in all this.  You see, I am one of those "moderates" who is mysteriously floating out and about.  I have friends voting for all the major candidates.  I have read the FB questions, namely, the one which goes:

"I want to hear from someone who is supporting (insert candidate name) about why they are voting for them.  I honestly want to know because I can't find anyone voting for  (insert candidate name) yet."

Seriously?????

I can pull out numerous people on EVERYSIDE from my FB friends...and yes, many of these are people I can say are my friends.  I am so very THANKFUL my friends are this diverse but it still isn't what is bothering me.

Her words still echo in my mind when I think back to the first time I heard her say them:

"Judgmentalism was considered quite possibly the worst sin a Christian could commit to the desert fathers and mothers of the early church."

Those words of Dr. Roberta Bondi were a blow to my understanding of what could be the worst possible sin.  And it is this, this judgmentalism, that is gnawing at my heart, at my own conscience.  You will note, in my posts, I have stayed far away from talking politics or passing judgment.  Some would argue, I am failing to stand in the pulpit and express a prophetic voice...maybe, but whose prophet would I be?  Over whose vision of our country am I to proclaim a prophetic word?  And, should not the Spirit of God be the one moving my heart?

And again, I find myself examining more deeply my own heart - not regarding the character of the candidates but towards which candidate(s) am I passing judgment and on whom, among friends and neighbors, am I secretly writing a note of condemnation?

Today I cast my ballot. But the question is did I cast it with righteous indignation like the Pharisee in Luke 18 or did I do it in humility knowing and recognizing much more is at stake than our nation?  Our hearts are what is at stake.  Our faith is at stake.  Are we really going to go so far as to say if one candidate were elected over the other, you'd leave? You'd do as some have done and renounce your citizenship?

But didn't Jesus say God cares even about sparrows that fall to earth?  God knows the hairs on your head...and the hairs on Hillary's head and Trump's head?  And this includes Obama's head and W's head?  Are only your candidates worthy of grace?

I am looking at my heart and I really don't like what I see there, nope not one bit.  Is it better than it was four years ago? Ten years ago? 20? I sure hope so but I am nowhere near where I would like to be, not close to what Dr. Bondi describes when she writes further about those early monastics who taught, "...the humble person knew very well that not only are all human beings sinners - himself or herself included - humility has no problem believing that God loves us and will not reject us, even damaged by sin (51, "To Love as God Loves")."

There are plenty of things in my world which damage me, which draw me away from the presence of God and toward a life I really do not want to live.  The lives of politicians ought not to be one of them.  So in the end, I will give to Caesar what is Caesar's but NO Caesar can lay claim to my heart. I hope and will strive to be sure my heart stays with God.  In your mercy, Lord, hear my prayer.


Image used with permission:
http://www.freeimages.com/photo/signs-5-1445324

God, You Ruined My Life! Confession of a Middle Aged Teenager


No matter how hard I try sometimes, the words I pick seem so often to be the wrong ones.  The single parent life, being father/mother gives us plenty of opportunities to be humbled.  If you ever thought you might be a bad parent, yeah, the single parent life will remove all doubt: you not only confirm your fears you might be a bad parent, you get to confirm it multiple times a day!

You try to say the right thing and it comes out wrong.  You want to be encouraging but you are tired and the tone of your voice betrays the irritation inside.  You don't pick up the right item at the store or you forget to wash an item of clothing the "right way" and suddenly you have..."RUINED MY LIFE!!!," so says your teenager.

You know what? I kinda feel the same way with God sometimes.  I mean, it is not hard to look at things in our lives and world and say to God, "Seriously? Did you just let that happen?!"  Oh, I know God is sovereign over all and I believe God is all-knowing but there are moments, where we release our inner two-year-old and stomp our feet and scream, "It is not fair!"

No.  It is not.  I get so tired of the theological prancing around of this issue.  Somethings in life are simply not fair.  Just because bad things happen or people act like scum of the earth, it does not necessarily mean God intended it.  But you know what? I am also tired of the idea God does not care or we cannot depend on God to be present in our time of need.

Just because people's actions smell like a porta-potty in 100-degree temperatures in Atlanta in July, why throw God out the window?  I mean, really, sometimes we need to look in the mirror and consider, "How many times have I DESERVED to be thrown out the window?"  Ugh.  Yeah, sure, some of the worst things in the world are done in the proverbial "name of religion" but it does not mean God did or God endorsed it.  We make choices.  You make them.  I make them.

When it comes to facing this issue of God in our messy lives, I always found one particular description of the Bible to be helpful.  Think about it like a play:

Act 1: Genesis 1 & 2 describe God's plan for us and paradise.
Act 2: Genesis 3 puts the characters in crisis: the worst situation possible.
Act 3: The rest of the Bible till today: The resolution - redemption.

Oh sure, argue about why we're here, who is responsible, or whether it is fair.  This doesn't change the reality we really just want to blame God or religion.  You and I want a scapegoat. We want to do anything we can to not accept our responsibility for our own actions.  I do not need to point the finger at Adam and Eve - I've made enough of a mess of things on my own.  The evidence that I have a "diseased love" is all around me.

I need help.  I need healing.  Yes, I need to be saved.

I need a change of perspective - a change of heart. I need to respond to the grace God has given.  I like the way St. Hesyochios the Priest said it, "If you wish to be 'in the Lord,' do not just SEEM to be [Christian], and good, and gentle, and always one with God, decide to BE such a person in truth."  He does not mean just be GOOD or that you can earn salvation by works.  He also wrote, "...let the name of Jesus adhere to your breath..." meaning, call upon Jesus always for the ability to live the life of a Christian.  

I need help.  I need healing.  I need to be saved.  I need a savior.

No amount of kicking and screaming or temper tantrums will change your scenario.  The same goes for me.  No, it comes back around to the same thing we all need.  We need Jesus.

Images used with permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/angry-sumo-1503055


Hearing God's Voice In The Valley of Suck


I won’t lie.  Writing has not come so easy as of late.  I get the writer’s block angle but it is not just this, I think it is the journey.  It is dealing with the long, tiring slog full of fits and starts in the valley of suck.  

Yesterday, my kids and I visited a church that was new to us.  We are doing a lot of visiting of churches together.  I am finding this to be really good for us as a family.  Not only do we have time together but I get a chance to teach them and they can experience, just how big Jesus’ Church really is!

During the service, I was led from being a parent caring for his kids and a pastor observing the flow and experience, to being part of the worshipping congregation.  The second song of the morning (which I didn’t know before Sunday) brought me to tears as the words eloquently described the wonder of what the Wesleyan-Methodist movement terms “prevenient grace.”  Take a listen if you have time:


“His careful hands they hold us
Safe within His promise
Of calling and of destiny
I will sing of all You've done
I'll remember how far You carried me
From beginning until the end
You are faithful, faithful to the end”

Just to clarify, “prevenient” is just a descriptive word (not found in scripture) to describe the grace (revealed in scripture) at work when we are completely clueless of God working (John Calvin, I believe, describes a similar grace termed “common grace”).

Now, I am not nor have I been, clueless to the reality God has been at work in my life and all around me.  I do not question “...God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28).”  

Here is one of the many problems of pulling out this verse too early as a means of comfort for many people in deep grief: we don’t care.

I’ve noted some other things before such as I do not believe God took my wife and the mother of my children.  She died because she (and we) are mortal creatures - mortal because of the soul wound which we suffer with since Genesis 3.  She did not die because there was not enough prayers or some secret, unconfessed sin.  Please. Spare us all - you did not know my wife that well and God did not put some secret wisdom on your heart (that reeks of the heresy of gnosticism. Sorry, but it does).

In the midst of great grief, there is not space in a heart to deal with any mystery more than the death of a loved one, in my case, my spouse.  There is mystery enough abounding in our lives as we witness physical life ending for the person we know best.  There are multiple questions abounding but no answer ought to be expected (even if we act like it would help). But really, we don't care if God has a plan or not for things to work good. It hurts. We weep because we know pain and loss. We sob because we are human - and we have lost. There will come a day when we can wonder about God's purpose - but the day will be a day when WE are ready.

It has been over four months now.  And it was not until yesterday, singing and seeing the words of "Faithful Till The End," when I got an answer (or maybe more of a non-answer/answer).  It was not the WHOLE answer.  I am not expecting it and to expect it, would just be silly.  But it was the start of God responding. I have been praying and seeking and waiting for God to say something.

It was like, well, it was like writing.  God gave me the first sentence of the larger answer.  It was God saying, “Look back.  I know you know but look anyway. - I was there.  I came to you. I was there with Heather and you know she is with me...AND I am with you and your kids now.  I have more to say but today, this is all you need.”

Grief is a tremendously long journey.  No one has to know how God is going to work suffering and pain for good in our lives.  I would argue, it may not even be good for us to know too soon.   Humanity needs humility.  Death brings us all to the same place. Humanity has yet to find a cure for death and for all the stories of mythical fountains of youth, we are not going to find what we want. And though we don’t get what we want, in God’s promises and God's actions, we can find what we need.



“Faithful to the End” is the song quoted:
https://bethelmusic.com/chords-and-lyrics/have-it-all-faithful-to-the-end/

Picture Used with permission:
http://www.freeimages.com/photo/writing-1560276

Becoming More Mindful Through the Valley of Suck


Respect your elders.

It is an idea which has gone by the wayside.  I know for me, it was marked by how I addressed adults: “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am.”  While there might be a perception youth today don’t respect because those are not commonly heard, respecting elders has more to do with a mindset.  Respect also has to be earned.  Not surprisingly, many young people question whether some of their elders are deserving of unquestioning respect when those behaviors don’t warrant it.

My elders taught me to be respectful but they also taught me to ask questions...let me rephrase that, they taught me to ask good questions.

By that, I don’t mean they taught me to just blanket question everything out of some neurotic need to justify my place in the world or to be part of a movement to deconstruct systems and beliefs.  The model of questioning Jesus gives us is one, I think, calls us to explore not destroy and it requires listening as much as, or more so than it requires us to speak.  Matthew 5:17 records one of the most relevant statements of Jesus on this point when he said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

I’ve written about elsewhere about the desert mothers and fathers of the early centuries of the church.  Dr. Roberta Bondi has been a true gift to the Church in helping recover their wisdom (see To Love as God Loves).  But more than that, she has been a mentor to me in learning to “respect my elders” and learn their ways.  One help in that has been reading from the Philokalia, a collection of the teachings of many of these writings and an important text for the Orthodox Traditions of the Church.

Journeying through the valley of suck, that place of struggle and pain many caregivers experience, is a place of soul searching.  Honestly, it takes you down into the darkest regions of your soul if you let it.  To offer your life to care for someone at the end of their life, especially a spouse, is a place where you come to question many of your own convictions and motivations.  It can be a very spiritual place to say the least.

The desert mothers and fathers wrote frequently for the Christian to be “mindful” and practice “watchfulness.”  They did not intend this to be some obsessive behavior either; not another “to-do list” of a pharisee lifestyle.  It comes out of love for God which pours out of our hearts - even our intellects - as we come to desire all God offers to us.  Of course, they also didn’t live in our fast food - made to order - microwaveable culture.  

We have little patience for...well, patience.

They encourage us to unceasing prayer, a “prayer that does not leave the soul day or night.  It consists not in what is outwardly perceived...but in our inner concentration on the intellect’s activities and on mindfulness of God born of unwavering compunction…” (Nikitas Stithatos, Philokalia, pg 101).  The Jesus Prayer is the foundational practice of these elders but any prayer issuing from our hearts desire for God would be acceptable as well.  

What is encouraged here is for us to begin actively participating in our faith; to listen and learn from the Spirit of God living within us.  Our tendency seems to be that of trusting only those we know - the popular, the current, those with a good marketing plan and slick graphic arts.  We listen to voices that sound like us without trusting our elders because, well, they're old...ancient even!  They use words unfamiliar to our vernacular.  Well, thank goodness there is Google!  Besides looking for new cat videos and pictures, you can look up some of those less common words and begin discovering what our elders really would like us to know.

I can say, as I have made the Jesus Prayer and breath prayers part of my life, I find mindfulness and watchfulness not a burden but habit and behavior far more easily practiced...almost like checking e-mails or Twitter.  There is LIFE in coming to respect our elders, in our true elders, those whose desire centuries ago was to pass on what they had learned.

May I Suggest? Take up praying this week's breath prayer at the top of the blog. Consider that by making any breath prayer a habit, it in fact, teaches you mindfulness. By calling on Jesus, we invite His presence to be more alert to the temptations with face AND the grace given to overcome.




#Simplespirituality: Creating your own Breath Prayer

“If we are bored by our own prayers, it is unlikely that God will be very interested in them,” Simon Tugwell (10, “Prayer in Practice”)   

You don’t know me and I do not know you, but I suspect, when it comes to the life of prayer, there is part of you, at some time in your life, got bored with prayer.  I don’t know if this is right now for you or not.  But it is my hope and prayer, as you read through my notes (raw and unedited) if nothing else, you leave here with a prayer you are not bored to pray.

I think our problems with prayer starts with a desire to want to keep the supernatural; the spiritual; under our control.  This isn’t odd though because we generally like to keep everything under our control.  In his class on the Old Testament, Dr. John Oswalt taught us a great deal regarding the Ancient Near Eastern cult religions.  All of these cults are based off the idea of man “discovering” gods and making sense of their world by rituals intended to control these gods.

But in the Judeo-Christian tradition we have recorded that it is God who initiated, God who reached out, and God who first loved.  We understand Scripture to be a result primarily of revelation and not evolution.  The Wesleyan-Methodist concept of “prevenient grace” the grace that “goes before” makes this a vital foundation to prayer:  God speaks first.  What we do is a response to God’s action.  And the conversation that begins between us and God?  That is prayer.

In his book “Shattered Dreams,” Dr. Larry Crabb makes the observation: “It is in the pain that we discover our desire for God.”  Now, pain can take on MANY forms.  The pain that drives us toward God maybe related to work, to family, to faith, to health, and the list goes on.  For me, you can combine all of these and a few more but none so transformative as being my wife’s caregiver and living through her death from colon cancer after a 20 month battle with the disease.

Pain and prayer have gone hand in hand for sometime.  And in observing the life of Jesus and the lives of the saints, both those who lived by the Law of the Old Covenant and those who followed Jesus after the New Covenant, we find their spiritual lives governed by a more simple spirituality.  Jesus sums up the Law:  
Matthew 22:35-40 ESV  And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  (36)  "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"  (37)  And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38)  This is the great and first commandment. (39)  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (40)  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

While we Methodists point to a number of practices which fall under the title of “Means of Grace,” in his sermon by the same title, John Wesley points out three practices: Prayer, Scripture, and Communion as the primary practices for us to grow in faith.

We are not given the gift of an abundance of time today so we are limited to one of these, and by request, it is on prayer.  But let me put out one idea which does apply to them all that being:“Practices of Faith, practiced when we choose, are practices available when life does not go as we choose.”  My practice of the Jesus Prayer and breath prayers, is one example.

As part of my first 5 Day Academy of Spiritual Formation in 2011, we were encouraged to read, “The Way of A Pilgrim.”  It is a spiritual classic from the Eastern tradition of the Church, by Eastern, I mean the Orthodox Tradition.  It tells the story of a pilgrim who learns to pray the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  I began praying it and found it a wonderful gift and way to pray.  As honest confession, I had long struggled with praying until reading this book and learning to pray.

A couple of years later, I learned of about breath prayers.  A way to pray based off the idea of the Psalms and the Jesus Prayer.  Rev. Ron DelBene, and Episcopal clergy, wrote a series of books on it called “The Breath of Life” Series.  From this point, I have continued to explore breath prayer as a more active and dynamic practice.

When we read and study the narrative of Jesus’ life and teachings, we often neglect, I think, to point out the ongoing practice which has been so much a part of our Methodist-Wesleyan tradition: Jesus was an itinerate teacher.  He was always going from town to town, synagogue to synagogue and venturing across the waters ways of Israel.  Today, we are more stagnate and passive, not only in our lives but also in our faith practices.

My daughter, Jay, and I were planning to start section hiking the summer of 2014.  We had planned to do 50 miles of the Georgia section that first time out.  In preparation, I debated about what to carry - namely to take a Bible and/or devotional.  But it was “The Way of a Pilgrim” that won out.  No, I didn’t take the book, I took the narrative - I simply took the practice of the Jesus Prayer.  

Up and down the mountains of the AT, I prayed the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  That was it.  But what BEGAN happening was far more personal and transformative.  I began to breath it in and out and meditate on each phrase, then each word.  The rhythm of my feet, my heart, my mind and my soul came to resonate with it.  This is what the pilgrim spoke about = coming to “pray without ceasing”

Abba Matoes, one of the early desert fathers of the church, said, “The nearer a man draws to God, the more he sees himself a sinner.  It was when Isaiah the prophet saw God, that he declared himself, “a man of unclean lips.”’ (Isaiah 6:5)  It is hard to miss that truth over the many steps taken saying you are a sinner.

It is also hard to miss the power and magnificence of the word, “Mercy.”  Just that one word becomes a prayer too.  And suddenly, you have the basis for another form of Simple Prayer called “Centering Prayer.”  Referring to the book, “The Cloud of Unknowing (Ch 37),” Simon Tugwell mentions how powerful a one word exclamation can be: “Fire!” yelled by someone running from a burning home is sufficient for a response.  Consider simply “AMEN” and how it is traditionally defined to mean “So be it” or “I agree” or “Lord, make it so.” (9/29/16. http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/amen/), it becomes a prayer. Pick any word found in Scripture: Love - Peace - Patience - Faith - Hope - Grace - Jesus - Savior - Spirit: each word, like MERCY, holds a multitude of prayers to be considered.

In just a few moments, we’ll work on a simple pattern for creating your own breath prayer.  My first breath prayer that I used for some time was “Our Father, my God, grant me you.”  But when my wife’s diagnoses came, and I began a journey into what I call "the valley of suck," this prayer seemed so lacking and I chose to go back to praying the Jesus Prayer.  And it was in this STEPPING BACK INTO the practice of the Jesus Prayer, I saw it as a way to INTERCEDE for others especially my wife: “Lord Jesus, have mercy on Heather.”  I would add my kids to my prayers in this way.  

I didn’t have to think of words to say, they came over and over again.  Why?  It is was the practice of being on the trail.  By this time, I was using an Orthodox Prayer Rope and then prayer beads.

When Heather and I received the news in January that her cancer was not responding to the chemotherapy, we were both heartbroken.  As I prayed I found something new rising in me and from it came a new breath prayer: “Jesus, have mercy and grant me comfort.”  It too became a prayer of intercession for Heather and our kids.  Most days, my prayer boiled down to and still does, to “Jesus have mercy” or “Mercy Lord.”

And, this began a pattern of listening to the Spirit more regularly for how I might pray, what is it that I feel or experience a burden for?  It is not just from my heart either, as the Psalms and other scriptures provide guidance as well for how you might pray.  

These steps are nothing magical.  They come in part from Ron DelBene’s pattern but let me say, if you’re attentive to God’s voice, you may find breath prayers coming from other sources.

  1. SIT with God
Find a good time and space where you seem to most connect with God.  However, sitting with God may include other activities.  It is just a way of saying “be aware” of God.  The Spirit of God can speak anywhere.

  1. SENSE God speaking
Ignatius of Loyola was a big proponent of using our imagination in spiritual practice.  Imagine God is speaking and asking: “What do you want?”  But listen carefully too.  God may also be asking you to pray something specifically.  God may say, “This what you are to pray,” or “Look for my words to your prayer.”

  1. SHARE with God
This is practicing “active listening” with God.  Whether it is a word like “mercy” or “forgiveness” that comes or a Bible verse, what resonates with your soul?  This is largely the time of forming the core of your prayer, what the Spirit is speaking to you.

  1. SPEAK God’s name
What is the name of God which fits best your prayer?  That may seem odd.  Ron DelBene encourages the reader to think of a favorite name but I try to consider the wealth of names which are available OR the one which fits the tone or meaning of the prayer.  “Savior” may not be a significant as using “Spirit.”  

  1. SETTLE on a prayer
Here you put it together: the prayer with the name of God.  Speak it out loud.  Chew on it quietly.  Consider its rhythm and where God’s name fits best.  Be willing to change it as you continue to pray it and learn from God.

In the sidebar of my blog are samples of breath prayers. Each week, I take time to listen to the Spirit and my heart and have conversation with God. Using these practices and others, I consider what is a prayer for my week. I share these through Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (look up "jedipastorken") and if they are helpful, I encourage you to take them and share them but more importantly, to pray them. Whatever you do, I encourage you most of all to just pray but don't pray boring prayers!

MAY I SUGGEST?
Here are further links you might find helpful.
Ron DelBene's Site  For downloads of Ron's books and links to his YouTube Videos.  

Prayerworks Studio  For the writings and prayer beads of my friend Kristen Vincent.  If you're interested in prayer beads, start here.

JEDIPASTORKEN on YOUTUBE  I have a number of resources here on my blog but also I'm over on YouTube and here is one of my videos giving a quick overview of prayer.



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