Imagination in Prayer?


Some of you may be aware that over the last few years I’ve been training as a spiritual director.  I graduate from my program with Emmaus Formation on June 22!  Just finishing up my last papers and I thought this one might be of interest to folks.  It’s longer than a standard blog post and a bit technical, but hopefully helpful to those who are wondering if the use of imagination in prayer is helpful or not…

I’m attaching it as a pdf so all the footnotes position themselves properly…

Imagination and Symbol in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises-1

The Fish with Fresh Eyes

Recently I heard a great story about three fish.


One day two fish were swimming in the ocean.  A third fish swam up to them and gurgled “the water is lovely today, isn’t it?”

They smiled and nodded and the third fish swam on.  When it was out of sight, they turned to one another and asked,

“What’s water?”

Its easy to be unaware of our atmosphere, our surroundings, because we are immersed in it every day.  Changes in our spirits and in our communities often happen very slowly, in very small increments.  I’ve often said to city reachers that city transformation is not measured in months or years, but in decades.  Change takes time, and can be imperceptible as it happens.

That is why it is so valuable to have someone come visit from the outside, look at everything with a fresh set of eyes, and tell you what they see.

Andy Freemen, author of Punk Monk, did just that during the last week.  He came, he saw, and he shared with us what he saw God doing in our midst.  It was deeply encouraging and really strengthened the hearts of our team.  We feel energized to dig more deeply into the work that God has for us here in Hamilton, confident that God is at moving wonderfully amongst us.

Tomorrow, I get to do just the same thing that Andy did.  I’m flying to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit my friend Lisa Koons, who runs 24/7 Charlotte.


Joined by USA 24-7 Leaders Joe Steinke and Dave Powers, we are going to hang out with her and her prayer community.

We’re gonna tell her how great the water is.  I can’t wait!

Writer’s Block – Serving it up Half Baked?

It’s been a while.

Sorry about that.

Yesterday I met with my spiritual director, and explored with her why I haven’t been able to write lately.  Lately being approximately the last six months or so.

“I was at a spiritual retreat, and we were exhorted not to write or teach about what God was doing in us, until it was fully formed.  It’s like serving bread out of the oven that is only half baked.  I haven’t been able to write since then.”


She helped me reflect some more about my different theories as to why I couldn’t write.  “Which feels more true to you as you say it?”

I can’t write because I’m serving up something half baked?  Why do I need to write something Deep, Substantial and Profound anyways?  What part of my ego is that feeding?  What false self am I trying to bolster?

“I just wanna be a Jeanne Vanier, dammit it!”  I laughed at myself as I said it out loud.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” she said, “but sometimes we don’t do something because we’re lazy.  We don’t do it one day.  And then we don’t do it the next, and then so much time has gone by it’s harder and harder to do it.”

Ouch.  Yep the wounds of a friend (and spiritual director) are faithful.

A few years ago I felt like the Lord was talking to me about how He wanted me to teach.  He wasn’t asking me to be a marvellous Bible expositor.  A master at exegesis.

“You need to live a life that speaks.  And then tell the stories.”

Live the life.  And tell the stories.

So as of this moment I am relieving myself of the burden of writing Something Profound.

And go back to telling my little stories about where I see God at work in our small prayer community and our lovely city.

Maybe it will be half baked.  But then, you can just bake it yourself at home!

Attending to His Groaning

Monday night I felt off. Just…off.

Not quite myself.

Something was rattling around inside, like, hmm, how to describe it? Indigestion of the spirit maybe?

“I’ll go to bed early. I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning.”

Come morning however, it had only intensified. A groaning and rumbling deep inside, like a bear in a cave waking up from hibernation.

Finally, I clued in. I was burden bearing. I’ve written about this before in my blog, here and here.


I was in the kitchen alone, making pancakes for the house. Mindless work. So I went on pancake autopilot and attended to the groaning.

To His groaning.

I didn’t try to figure it out. I just tuned in to the rumble and sat with the feelings. Grief, pain, sadness. I prayed in the Spirit a bit. The closest I could get to articulating anything was ‘come, Lord Jesus’.

By the time we sat down to eat pancakes, it had passed. Whatever it was, it had been prayed through.

After pancakes, our housemates check in and pray with each other. I told them about my morning groaning, and in our intercession time, they prayed that I would have insight into what it had been about.

I realized though, that I don’t need to know what it is about. My modern, Western mind would like to be able to articulate and categorize things. But sometimes there are groans too deep for words, and sometimes it is enough to attend to the murmerings of the Holy Spirit, deep within.

Catholics classify prayer as kataphatic or apophatic. Simply put, kataphatic prayer is the prayer of words or images. Apophatic prayer is inarticulate, wordlessly attending to the Presence of Jesus within. We as Western Evangelicals are much more familiar and comfortable with the former. I am discovering in my journey in prayer, though, that with greater frequency I’m being drawn to a place beyond words, into the place simply of His Presence.

And sometimes His groanings. As He grieves over all the calamity in this world, is it not surprising that He would invite us to groan with Him? To accompany Him in His grief?


Avoiding the Potholes: Advice for the New Monastic and House of Prayer Movement

I’m off to Vancouver again!  This time, I’m attending a three day retreat for practitioners, theologians, and writers in the New Monastic movement, many of whom I have never met before.  In preparation for the meeting, I’m reading some of their books so I will have a sense of the conversation to date.

I’m really enjoying Seek the Silences with Thomas Merton: Reflections on Identity, Community, and Transformative Action by Charles Ringma.

seek the silences

I find Merton a bit lofty and hard to understand, but Ringma with his Reformed sensibilities brings him down into my orbit.  The book is comprised of short reflections on Merton’s teaching, and has become a lovely addition to my daily quiet time.

Another book I read was Living Faithfully in a Fragmented Word by Jonathan R. Wilson.

9781556358982 (1)

Wilson is very much an academic, and at points I thought my little brain might explode, but I found some of his conclusions at the end of the book easier to grasp.

Wilson outlines some potential potholes – dangers and hazards for the New Monastic (I jumble the House of Prayer movement in with this, and feel like they apply equally to us as HOPs) movement.  Here they are in bite sized chunks:

1.  Communal Egotism – it could be very tempting for us as prayer and justice communities, to think that we are God’s gift to the church and to the world.  In one sense, we have to live as a prophetic witness in lifestyles radically reoriented to prayer, mission and justice, but we need to do so in meekness, bringing our egos to the cross.

2.  Utopianism – Bonhoeffer comments that idealism is the enemy of community.  We think that somehow we can get things right where the church has got it wrong.  The reality is that the close sharing of life in communities is very challenging.  We can hide our sin when aloof to one another, but when we live in deep community we are confronted with it at every turn.

3.  Romanticism – we can look back at the history of the prayer movement or monasticism with rose colored glasses, and miss the reality that within them there was mess, controversy, and many practices that did not survive the test of time.  We must not be daunted by the messiness and uncertainty of following the Holy Spirit into a new thing.  We must not sugar coat or romanticize the struggle.

4.  Utilitarianism – we can fall into the error of thinking that our way of life is a useful way to live in a fragmented world.  This is not a way to “make our lives better”, says Wilson.  This is a way to form life faithful to the gospel.

5.  Pelagianism – we can think that the formation and faithfulness of our communities “depends upon human ability and effort to  the exclusion of God’s grace.”  Symptoms of this include anxiety, blaming, resentment, overwork, Sabbath breaking, etc.

The advantage of so many having gone before us in the New Monastic/House of Prayer movement, is that we have the blessing of being able to learn from their known failure paths.  We might forge some new ones of our own (eeek), but at least we have been informed and enriched by their journey.



Local Hot Spot for Retreat and Pilgrimage

Yesterday the GOHOP team had a day away, where spent some extended time in prayer and discernment. We have found it good when trying to take some time apart, to actually go away. Somewhere. Anywhere outside our regular space.

We went to Lectio House, but then right after lunch, trekked over to Gage Park, and spent some time in the hothouse there.







What a great spot on a cold day! I totally recommend it to those of you who long to get away somewhere warm to connect with God.

Going on pilgrimage can be as simple as going to Gage Park.

It’s a little closer and a little cheaper than Cuba. ;o)

Discernment and the Prayer of Indifference

As many ministries do, GOHOP sets time aside at the beginning of the year to listen to God together. Matt and Karen Lowe, who are founding Lectio House, an inner city retreat centre, led us through part of our process.

We began by listing the various dreams we had for GOHOP this year, things we would like to see happen.

They include:
– Two months of Prayer Truck this summer. One month at the Rock and one month on Barton East somewhere
– Another Pilgrimage
– Two weeks of 24-7 Prayer in February
– More community houses being formed and coming into relationship with each other
– More hours of prayer at the Vine. Expanded Vine hours
– Teaching prayer courses in lots of churches
– Expanding the Spiritual Formation department and making spiritual direction available to more people
– Visiting other prayer Communites
– A greater variety of styles and forms of prayer at the Vine

And many many other things. It was quite a lively brainstorming/sharing time!

And then we had a time of silence where we prayed the Prayer of Indifference, each in our own way.

Indifference? Waitaminit! We don’t want to be Indifferent! We want to be passionate! Full of zeal!

But the Prayer of Indifference is a key practice that helps us not mistake our will for God’s will.

To discern between the good ideas and the God ideas.

In the Prayer of Indifference we let it all go. We lay down our dreams and desires, submit them to God; who is quite happy to refine our motives and intentions. His ways and thoughts are higher, and our minds cannot conceive all the amazing things He has in store for us, if we will only submit to Him.

My favorite Prayer of Indifference is an old Methodist Covenant. It articulates it far better than I ever could.

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.