I just got back from a few days of retreat with the Transforming Community in Chicago. This retreat we learned about the spiritual practice of Embodiment. Seeing the body as sacred. Being present to our bodies, caring for our bodies. Exploring what it means for the body to be a place of encounter with God. One of our exercises was to go on a prayer walk, so one morning in the wee hours I took a brisk stroll around the lake at the retreat centre.
The air was heavy and humid. The silence was deep. The beauty was astounding.
There was a very interesting juxtaposition of wilderness and stone bridges with pillars. Fascinating and lovely.
The deer were plentiful, curious, and very tame!
My body invigorated by walking. My spirit nurtured by silence. My soul nourished by beauty.
I wake up in the morning. It’s early. Real early. I don’t really want to get out of bed yet. Not ready to face my day.
Reflex kicks in and reach to my bedside table and grab it.
My IPad. Or my phone. Whatever is handier.
First I scroll through Facebook. Then Instagram. Feedly for the blogs I’m following. Gmail. And then the news. It’s good to be current with news, right? It feels like a vital connection.
Before I know it, and hour has passed. I’m replete with information and electronic white noise.
At night I do it all over again, tucked in with my tech.
And I wonder why I’m not hearing the Lord’s voice the way I used to.
I love what Pastor Abraham has to say about fasting. “It leaves more room for the Holy Spirit,” he chuckles.
I need to make room in my brain space. My soul space.
This weekend, I unplug. Keep my phone off. Less than 15 minutes of internet each day. I spend most of the weekend mucking in my garden. By Sunday night I am pleasantly sore and tired, and my insides feel expansive and clear.
Encouraged, I exile technology from my bedroom.
This morning I wake up early. Real early.
I don’t want to get out of bed yet, so I just lay there and remind myself of the Lord’s presence. An old hymn pops into my heart and I hum it quietly to myself. I think of Psalm 42:8.
By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.
I wonder how many of His songs I have missed, swallowed by technological gluttony. But today I am able to hear it.
Tanya Allatt, with her husband Brian, runs the Quebec House of Prayer. She posted this picture on Facebook yesterday.
A robin had built a nest on the wreath on the front door of her home.
“She stays with her eggs all night. Then, in the morning, I knock gently to let her know that I need to let my chicks out the door for school.” wrote Tanya, “She is very obliging.”
The prayer room at QHOP has another nest, for another birdie.
A local missionary contracted a very painful chronic virus while overseas, and is now convalescing at QHOP. She is staying at their motel. They care for her. When her pain abates enough to leave her bed, they wheel her over to the prayer room where she can lie down and rest in the presence of the Lord. The sparrow with the broken wing has a place by the altar.
Waitaminit, did you say motel? A House of Prayer has a motel?
Yes, last year QHOP purchased the motel on the adjoining property. They run it as a standard motel, and suites are available for pilgrims to the House of Prayer. As they took it over and learned how to run it, they have learned a lot about extending hospitality.
“At QHOP we host the Presence of the Lord. Asking ourselves, what makes the Holy Spirit comfortable here? What welcomes His presence here among us?” muses Tanya, “And we also host the people of the Lord. What makes the House of Prayer a welcoming, safe place for pilgrims?”
Robins, sparrows, pilgrims, all finding a place by the altar of the Lord in Sherbrooke Quebec.
In my quest to make more space for God in my life, I’ve read books on spiritual disciplines.
Lots of them.
Lots and lots, actually.
Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Ruth Haley Barton, Thomas Merton, Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, and Charles Ringma have all shaped my theology and practice.
So when my new friend Michael asked me to review and advanced copy of his new book, The Sacred Year, I was honoured to have been asked, eager to see what he would add to what is already a rich conversation.
Working as I do with emergent leaders in our city, most of whom are in their 20’s and early 30’s, I am always on the lookout for resources that can fuel their heart for the Person and the mission of Jesus. This is one such resource, and I plan to use it for our New Monastic Internships and as a key equipping tool for local churches.
Michael is a lyrical writer. With his wit and candour, he draws you into his journey to explore the deeper life. He is a thoughtful practitioner, not a mere theorist, and many of his practices (some of them a little zany, truth be told) took him and will take his readers out of their comfort zones and into new spiritual territory. He is honest. He is courageous. He is contagious.
This book is the spiritual journey of everyman. It is easy for us to elevate the “professional pray-ers” or the “vocational mystics”, our modern day Desert Fathers and Mothers, and disqualify ourselves from a deeper life of devotion and obedience to Christ. But Michael is just a regular guy, like the rest of us. If Michael can do it, I can do it. You can do it.
In our context here in Hamilton we are seeing lifestyles of prayer, mission and justice becoming more prevalent – normal Christian living, if you will. Michael lives that lifestyle and calls others to join him in a way that is compelling and infectious.
The book isn’t out yet, but you don’t have to wait long! You can pre-order here or read more about it at www.thesacredyear.com.
in the third century, devout believers fled the cities and set up camp in the desert. There they pursued lifestyles of extravagant devotion, characterized by prayer, solitude, silence, and fasting. Pilgrims would come and visit, seeking the Lord alongside these holy men and women we now call the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
After the vigours of prayer truck, we also fled the city and spent two weeks at Kirks’ sister’s cottage north of Huntsville. When doing urban ministry, especially front line work, it’s important from time to get away from concrete and into the bush.
In early years, I found much to my dismay, that I didn’t do a lot of praying on my vacation. I realized that somehow I had begun to associate prayer with my job. An embarrassing revelation, to say the least. The last thing I want to be is a “professional pray-er!”
It became important for me to find out what the difference between “vacating” and “re-creating” was. It’s easy to vacate, to zone out. Eat too much, bombard our senses with entertainment and media. I would glut on fiction books – lying around and reading 800 pages a day of fluff and nothing. And then wonder why I didn’t feel restored.
What would it look like for me to identify some activities that were truly re-creational? That enliven my heart and spirit, and awaken my heart to my Creator rather than sending myself into a stupor.
I also don’t do well with lots of unstructured time. I start feeling depressed and sluggish. They say in AA, failing to plan is planning to fail, so now I go into my vacation time with a plan.
I took one of my favourite books on Spiritual Formation, Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton, and started my day reading and doing some of the excellent spiritual exercises at the end of each chapter. The exercises are probing and cause me to dig deep into God and into my own psyche. Cottage time is good time to do some of the deeper inner work required for spiritual health, and Barton is a trustworthy guide into the realm of the Spirit and my own soul.
And I journal. Three pages every day. I call them the morning pages, and it’s a practice I picked up from Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way. I can write about anything, even about not wanting to write! But it helps me process life, talk to God in a focused way, and write down what I hear Him saying in response.
In response to a challenge by Barton, I started a daily Examen, where with the Holy Spirit, I examine each day for signs of His presence and work around me, and assess how I’ve come alongside Him or been at cross purposes with Him. It’s an ancient Ignatian form of prayer, and I’m finding it very helpful in my quest to be more alive to His presence in and around me.
I do read as well. Fiction even! But I’m fussy about what I read. I want stuff that is gentle, that feeds my spirit and is full of life. It’s tricky to find good fiction that doesn’t have defiling bits in it, but with the help of friends I’m compiling a list. I also read non fiction in my field, and this year at the cottage read three books by new friends that I made at the New Monastic Consultation last month in BC. Slow Church by Chris Smith, and The Sacred Year and Under the Overpass by Michael Yankoski. Michael has asked me to write a review of The Sacred Year prior to it’s release and sent me a pre-release copy. I loved it and you all need to read it, and I will devote a whole blog to it shortly.
Cottage is time for puttering as well. Cooking, getting wood for the wood stove. Quiet work with my hands. Very soul filling for me. I even did some more felting!
Kirk and I began doing a daily Lectio Divina each day together and we are slowly prayer-reading and meditating our way through the gospel of Mark. He’s not much of a reader, so some evenings I would just read him the highlighted bits of books I was reading, and share my learning.
We did also watch some movies, and we also have a family tradition of watching episodes of Home Improvement at the cottage as well. But I felt that it was in good balance with our other activities.
All said, it turned into a lovely 2 week long spiritual retreat for me individually and for Kirk and I as a couple. We had some good conversations about life, ministry, and the way forward together.
And we also had the opportunity to offer hospitality to pilgrims! Some friends came up, and it was good to spend time together in prayer and then send them off in a canoe to hang out with Jesus.
Silence. Solitude. Wilderness places. Loving pilgrims who came our way.
I could totally live like this – maybe Kirk and I inspire a movement of cottage mothers and fathers!
What do urban monks, House of Prayer people do anyways? People have a hard time wrapping their heads around our vocation (most Catholics get it right away), so from time to time I find it helpful to post what a day looks like for me.
6 am. I’m in The Nook, a prayer space I created in Kirks and my room. We live in an intentional community with a bunch of other adults, so private space and time is precious and hard to come by. Kirk sleeps later than I, so early mornings are the best time for me to be alone with Jesus. I read, journal and pray.
8 am. Heartwatch is our weekly Benedictine prayer time at the Vine, our prayer space. Brother David Peter leads us in singing the psalms, interspersed with times of silence and intercession for the city. Two young ladies from Sister Care join us after an early morning working with prostituted women on Barton and we pray together for the sisters they have grown to know and love. My heart is heavy. Today I’m feeling the weight of the loss of a friends grandchild, and the loss of one of our youth at the Living Rock. Too many deaths in our community these days. We cry it out, and trust that the ground is being watered by our prayers and tears, and that life will spring up.
9:30. On reconnaissance, prayer walking and checking out potential new office space for GOHOP. For the last several years, Hughson St Baptist has graciously donated us space, but renovations are coming, so I’m on the prowl for new digs.
10:30. Planning our Internship for the fall, with Peter Giokas, our Internship Director. Dreaming up wild plans for the future, expansion of our training arm. Over the last couple of years, The Lord has brought quite a few academics on our staff of urban/prayer missionaries. We have five folks with M.Divs, and one Doctor of Theology! I find that perplexing and amusing, cause all I have is half a degree of nothing. Jesus, how do you want us to share our gifts to serve the city and the large prayer movement? We are starting to get an inkling of what He is up to but shhhh, it’s a secret!
12:00. Over to the Living Rock, a ministry to street involved youth in Hamilton. We’ve been partnering with them for years. Tough day today. One of the kids died last week. “I hate this part of our job,” one Rock volunteer shared, “we loose too damn many of them!” The room is full of candles and grieving staff and youth. We sit, pray, listen. Such a privilege to be a gentle witness in these times of loss, to be the loving presence of a people of prayer in their midst. Lots of good connections and conversations with youth happen.
2:00. Still at the Rock. The kids are gone, and we pull out our guitars and spend an hour in worship and intercession for marginalized youth and next generation leaders in our city. Throughout the day I had been checking Facebook for updates on a pastor in our city who was in ICU at a local hospital, and we pray for him as well.
3:30. Yes we do house calls! A friend is struggling with chronic health issues, so our team goes over to her house, anoints her with oil, and prays for her. She explains that she’s been sick on and off since her family moved into this house, and her kids too. “Why don’t we come back and bless and pray through the house?” One of our team member suggest. “Maybe there are some historical and residual spiritual issues at play here that we can deal with.” We make a plan to come back next week to do the house blessing/house cleaning.
4:15. I’m feeling like a wrung out dishcloth. Such an emotionally and spiritually intense day! Time for baby therapy. We are trying to share life together more as a community, and among other things, that looks like sharing child care. So while our friends Andy and Gwen spring clean their newly purchased Community House, Hannah and I toddle off to the park with their baby and toddler, and introduce them to the wonderful world of slides. “Again! Again!” I can feel the stress slide away and my spirit quietens.
6:00. One thing I love about intentional community is that I only have to cook one night a week! We come home to a lovely dinner on the table (thanks Mary!) and some wonderful dinner guests. A lovely evening chatting about life and ministry. We take time after dinner, around the table, to thank God for the day and to pray for the needs we are aware of.
“We live very simply,” I explain to our guests. “But it’s a good life, and very very rich!”
Today our team was at Lectio House helping with the renovations, along with our friends Matt and Karen Lowe.
I will let them introduce themselves, although many of you know and love them already:
Matt Lowe and Karen Elliott Lowe have recently joined GOHOP’s staff team. Newly appointed pastor of little Bethel Community Church in east Hamilton, Karen was ordained with the Canadian Baptists of Ontario & Quebec in 2011, has served in several churches, with Sophia House, and is pursuing a certificate in spiritual direction. Matt, a freelance editor, writer, and professor, completed a Ph.D at McMaster Divinity College in 2011.
The Lowes have already been extensively involved in activities with GOHOP and other ministries in Hamilton for the past few years, participating in Spaghetti Tuesday dinners, helping to facilitate the Urban Monastic Internship, and cataloguing GOHOP’s library. In joining our staff, their focus is on helping those who minister in Hamilton to seek spiritual direction and to discover better patterns of rest and retreat.
Beginning in January 2013, they began envisioning a small urban centre for spiritual direction and retreats, where they would also live as co-directors. A process of prayerful and corporate discernment led them to buy a home north of Gage Park, which they have been busily renovating since July, often with help from GOHOP staff and other friends. They hope to open “Lectio House” in January of 2014.
Busily is the key word. The house, like many in the lower city, was a real “fixer upper”, and they have been HARD at work on it since the summer.
Anyways, as I was saying, some of the GOHOP team went over to help.