I was asked by 24-7 Prayer – what was one of my favourite spiritual practices? “Journalling,” I said. I’ve kept journals since I was 13 years old, and journalling is still one of my primary means of meeting with God.
She was a luminous soul.
It was a curious mixture of vulnerability and strength. Her skin looked almost translucent. Her eyes no stranger to sorrow, but also creased with joy. She was slight, even a little fragile. But somehow also solid. Grounded.
She was quiet, observant. Attentive and present. You could tell that she was just as aware of the Other in attendance at the table as she was the rest of us. She didn’t speak much – she chose her moments carefully. But when she did weigh into the conversation, her words carried heft and substance.
I couldn’t take my eyes off her, and I hung onto every word.
Those who look to Him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame. Psalm 34:5
This woman has been with Jesus.
As we march towards Advent, I’m aware that my surroundings are becoming very shiny. Lights hanging on the High Street. Decorations in the stores. The town is polishing itself up for Christmas.
Tolkien said in the Lord of the Rings, “All that is gold does not glitter.” I wonder if the inverse is also true. Is all that glitters, all that is shiny, gold?
It’s so tempting to be shiny. I want to polish myself up, put my best foot forward. Make a good impression. Possibly even impress. My motives are good – well, mostly. We are called to shine as children of light in a darkened generation, aren’t we?
But am I full of light, or merely shiny? Am I lit from within or do I merely glitter?
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
The pathway to luminosity? Paul would say the contemplation of God’s glory. British poet William Blake says “We become what we behold.”
What might happen if I search for God’s glory in all it’s multiple manifestations around me? In the Scriptures and in the Chantry Woods? In the faces and lives of those I am growing to know and to love? What I set my heart on a quest for His beauty and when I find it stop. Look. Listen. Contemplate. Take it all in. Let it invade the inner chambers of my heart and fill them with light.
Might I become a luminous one?
First produced in Herrnhut, Germany, the Moravian star adorns Christmas trees and homes all over the world, in particular communities wherever Moravian missionaries have been sent. It represents the star that led those with questing hearts to find Jesus.
It is lit from within.
Lord, as we approach Advent, may my questing heart find you. Finding you, may I gaze upon you. As I gaze upon you, may You fill me with Your light so that I might point others to Jesus.
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…
Prayer Truck is behind us, and now we are gearing up for the fall. It’s going to be very full and rich! We have over 15 part time interns in our 10 month Studies in New Monasticism Internship. 2 part time students from McMaster Divinity College. We are running 2 cohorts of monthly group spiritual direction for women leaders, called Soul Sisters. We’re expanding our prayer room hours so that we’re open whenever 541 Eatery and Exchange is open. We’re beginning to explore the possibility of a Social Enterprise Business to run alongside GOHOP, and we’ve embarked on The Sustainability Project, which will be providing resources to front line justice workers to reduce burn out rates in the field. Kirk is in the final stages of an amazing and creative upgrade to the GOHOP website.
Don’t worry, Kirk and I aren’t doing this all by ourselves. We have a fantastic and ever growing team of gifted leaders that are working hard cultivating prayer, mission and justice in Hamilton.
As you may be aware, in addition to my local responsibilities with GOHOP, I stepped into a role with 24/7 International about a year ago. I am now serving on their global Boiler Room Team. The function of the team is to cultivate the prayer communities and church plants that have sprung out of the 24/7 movement, helping provide structure, oversight and undergirding, developing training tracks for emergent leaders, and building national and international collaborations.
My area of responsibility is supporting and cultivating the New Monastic/House of Prayer communities affiliated 24/7, mostly in North America but also to some small degree in Europe and the UK. I have monthly mentoring/spiritual direction with prayer community leaders via skype, and then annual “site visits” to their communities to offer support and to lend expertise.
Between my 24/7 responsibilities and my quarterly training in Chicago, with the Transforming Centre, I’m travelling a few days every month. In September I will be in Charlotte, North Carolina as we formerly adopt 24/7 Charlotte into the movement. And in October I will be in Hernhutt, Germany – home of the famous Moravian 100 year prayer meeting in the 1700’s and the birth of the first Protestant Missions movement. Next stop is Salzburg, Austria where I will be doing a site visit of a 24/7 House of Prayer there. Then it’s on to Vienna for 24/7’s Global Gathering. I will be in leadership/oversight meetings with the Boiler Room Team, teaching workshops at the Gathering, as well as meeting with and doing consultations with New Monastic/House of Prayer leaders from all over the world.
A number of my expenses are being covered by 24/7, but I will still need to raise an additional $1500 – $2000 to meet my travel expense budget for 2015. I’m also looking for folks who have an abundance of air miles/travel points who might be interested in helping me with some of my monthly flights. Would you prayerfully consider partnering with me as I invest in the development of new leaders and young prayer communities?
I just want to go back to Prayer Truck for a minute and tell a story. Early one Monday morning in June I opened the truck for the first shift of the season. As I did, a young man raced across the parking lot towards me. “The prayer people!” he yelled, “Thank God!” He sat with me for an hour and a half and shared his story. He was a pimp, and in leadership in one of the local gangs, but crystal meth use was eating away at his life. In the midst of all that, he was having encounters with God and wanted to talk about it. He allowed me to pray for him, and even wrote some of his own prayers on the wall of the Prayer Truck, before he went on with his day.
It was amazing.
The scope of our ministry has increased, but really when it comes down to it, our work is all about helping an individual learn how to pray, how to open up conversation and communion with the God of the Universe who can (and often will) change everything. Thanks everyone for all your love, your prayers, your partnership in the gospel. Please pray for Kirk as he works hard to complete the website. Pray for me for wisdom and discernment in my leadership, and that I could be fully present and fully loving not only towards Jesus, but towards those He puts in my path.
If you are interested in partnering with us, you can donate online at www.canadahelps.org (type GOHOP in their internal search engine), or send cheques made payable to GOHOP to Box 57022, Jackson Square, ON, L8P 4W9. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions regarding air miles/points.
It’s confession time.
I’ve got a bad habit.
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.
GOHOP is part of a global prayer organization called www.24-7prayer.com and every Advent and every Lent, they produce a wonderful series of video podcasts that set our hearts on the journey of prayer and following Jesus. This Lent is no exception. Today, on Ash Wednesday, 24-7’s Carla Harding invites us on the journey.
You can subscribe to them on iTunes or Youtube, so that you receive them each week through Lent.
24-7 has also published some materials to help you on the journey, and you can get them at http://www.24-7prayer.com/theartofexamen. I practice the art of Examen daily, and have found it to be a wonderfully enriching spiritual practice. Will you join me?
Part of the reason for this fall’s silence was that I had bariatric (weight loss) surgery on November 26 (My birthday – happy birthday to me!) I had three days in the hospital, about three weeks mostly in bed , and two months off work, which afforded me lots of opportunity to practice solitude and silence.
My journalling before the surgery was full of naive excitement around my goals for the time. I wanted to read many books. I had needle felting projects I wanted to accomplish. Have an extended spiritual retreat. Get back to my regular blogging. I thought that even though it would be time off work, that it would be a creative and productive time.
Interestingly enough, what I sensed from the Lord about my surgery recovery time was that it was going to be a time of dormancy, not unlike winter hibernation. I would be like a seed going into the ground, confident that fruitfulness and growth would follow. I thought I understood what that meant, but it turns out I did not.
What I did not anticipate was that going into the ground like a seed would feel like death. Upon my return from the hospital, I was not functional at all. The pain was easily managed, but I had no energy, mental focus or concentration. I slept constantly. My waking hours were pre-occupied with learning new regimes of drinking, eating, and vitamins, and managing secondary infections. I don’t have cable or netflicks, so instead of mindlessly watching hours of television, I mindlessly scrolled for hours through Facebook and online communities that focused on bariatric surgery. Prayer seemed to take mental and emotional energy that I was unable to muster. In silence I would stare blankly at the walls or window for hours on end, or just sleep. I felt vacant. Emptied out. Not what I expected at all.
Once the fog began to lift, I wrote a poem about the experience.
I didn’t think it would feel like dying.
The leaf falling to the ground
Crumpled and spent
The seed falling in the ground
Cold and dark
The new life emerging
Tears me apart.
Resurrection plunges upward,
Leaving me in it’s wake.
A torn husk,
Forgotten and still.
I didn’t think it would feel like dying.
The season of dormancy ended up being just that. Dormancy. Being completely shut down, with no apparent evidence of any kind of spiritual or intellectual activity, either initiated by God or myself.
I found that the book Poustinia shed some light on this dormant season. In it, Katherine Doherty says, “The only way I can describe it is to say that they are cleansed as we pass through some experience of nothingness. When we detach ourselves from our intellect and will seem for a while as if we’re totally bereft of our personality, we are as if dead.” That really is what I experienced. Nothingness. Detachment from intellect. Bereft of personality. She goes on to say, “Every Christian should be living this kenotic way of life. One cannot enter into the mystery of the Incarnation without first doing a hidden stripping of self. Then follows a lifetime of continued stripping, of emptying oneself and becoming a nonentity. You remain free, easy, direct, but especially simple.”
I am not sure how I feel about this theology of Kenosis. I know that in Philippians 2 we are exhorted to have the same mindset of Christ, who embraced humility and self emptying. However it seems to me the Russian Orthodox perspective on Kenosis is somewhat extreme. I think that God has given me my intellect, my personality, my gifts, and He wants me to steward them in obedience to His leadership. Buuuuuut, what if His leadership requires I lay them down and embrace emptiness? What if He then fills me with something far greater than my own inherit capacities? I haven’t sorted it out and still feel conflicted about it
In Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr also provides a framework for my experience. He talks of the “Paschal mystery”, and going inside the belly of the whale.
“Christians call it the paschal mystery, but we are all pointing to the same necessity of both descent and ascent The paschal mystery is the pattern of transformation. We are transformed through death and rising, probably many times. There seems to be no other cauldron of growth and transformation. We seldom go freely into the belly of the beast.” He goes on to say, “We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning. That is the path, the periods dark path of true prayer…we avoid God, who works in the darkness – where we are not in control.” My surgery was elective, though it felt necessary due to the health challenges associated with my obesity. So in a sense I did go freely into the belly of the beast, but I really had no idea what I was signing up for.
I am now almost three months past my surgery, and I feel like only in the last couple weeks that my faculties are returning to me. My preoccupation with post surgery food and life management is diminishing as my skills are improving and new behaviours are solidifying. It just doesn’t take up the same amount of brain space to manage day to day self care. Whereas before I could read online message boards devoted to bariatric recovery for hours, I now find I’m bored with them quickly, and move on. I have resumed my regular routines of spiritual reading, prayer, and meditation.
Again, I’m not sure what transformation (other than physical – I’ve already lost 45 pounds since surgery) was effected through this dormant season. It’s the kind of thing that I probably will have a better perspective on several years down the road.