Greetings from a Labyrinth: Reflections on a workshop with a Doula by Kim Balke

Finger labyrinths

Finger labyrinths

Today’s post is contributed by Kim Balke.  It is part of a paper that she wrote for her certification in Expressive Arts Therapy.  I found the imagery so powerful that I asked Kim for permission to repost this.  As Kim says the labyrinth is not just a prayerful tool it is also a tool of healing.   This reflection seems a very good addition to this series on Tools for Prayer and the post of Walking the Labyrinth posted at the end of last week.


Doula” (f.) is the Greek word for “servant” and it is a term used to describe a Midwife or a Birth Educator.  I was curious to learn more about the work of Dayna Dueck a friend who is a Doula, a young mother of four children under 8 and wonderful portrait photographer.

        One of the processes Dayna encourages in her birth education workshops has to do with the use of the labyrinth.  Drawn from Greek mythology (Thesius) and practiced throughout the ages, across many cultures, walking a labyrinth is a strong metaphor for the birthing process.  It aids a woman in the narration of her own heroic journey.  I walked the labyrinth at St. Alban’s, Richmond, BC with Dayna, two other women, one toddler and one preschooler.  As it turned out, these women were also birth educators, keen to learn about how Dayna draws upon the imagery in the labyrinth to support mothers in their pregnancy and child birth.

I had doubts and anxieties about going back to this time – why pick at a healing scab, re-open old wounds?  Would I have to confront feelings of failure that I thought I had already worked through, feel judged – am I a “lesser mother” since birthing my boys involved a lot of technological/medical intervention?  The following is an outline of the process I went through:

  1. Walk the stone paths of the labyrinth at St. Alban’s. (outside)
  2. Write down impressions, reflection on the experience (inside the church building).
  3. Workshop discussion led by Dayna about “The Hero’s Journey” – the metaphor of the labyrinth and the birthing journey.
  4. Pastel labyrinths – Dayna instructed us about how to draw our own labyrinth.  We drew a “male” version (it is simpler to draw).  We walked a “female” version.  As we draw we mark personal symbols on the labyrinth at each phase; i.e. the threshold entrance (something to mark the “Ideal start to the ordeal”), markers for the traditions of family, personal and cultural history, applying what you learned about yourself, active labour and the Gate of Doubt/Transition, entering the Gate of Trust, reaching the centre and celebration of birth, the return journey (Dayna’s favourite part to talk with pregnant mother’s about), crossing the threshold/exit where the hero steps out of the labyrinth carrying her baby/another time of celebration, her new identity (as a woman who has given birth).
  5. At each phase Dayna encourages parents to discuss/reflect around their worries – to take the time/do not hurry this activity with partner, in group or in personal reflection.
  6. Re-walk the labyrinth outside, come back and reflect, discuss.
  7. Use the pastel labyrinth at home to visualize the (birthing) journey; keep it with you through labour and birth.  It is a way of focusing, centering, meditating through contractions, narrating one’s own story and discovering meaning in one’s experiences.

My reflections and how I integrated this experience into my life are entitled, Greetings from a Labyrinth:  an exercise in “non-focused awareness”.  Enjoy.

Greetings from a Labyrinth:  an exercise in “non-focused awareness

The rose at the centre looks so close.

“I’ll be there in no time” I say, with each quick step taking me along as I move to the counterpoint/tense rhythm and energy of violins in the “Allegro”

of my mind.  Cool air, sunlight on my head, a child’s laughter and the tap tapping of her skipping behind me.  Good-bye to you, I must move on.

“Mama, I want to run!” over ponderosa pine needles and little gray pebbles below; oak leaves and a light breeze above in trees along the fence, like fingers admonishing, with Dayna’s words, “No, no, no short cuts – for you!” Even so, confidently, here I go!

I contemplate the curvature of space with each stone and cars and drivers, airplane zooms and other journeys surrounding me, remind me of time passing…crows cawing in the sky chide and chime as I turn to look at the shadow of my hair and shawl fringe.  There I stumble off my path.  “Watch your feet!” the sky creature’s chorus.  Good-bye to you, I must move on.

Gray and brown back on track, past the water tank and garden hose and a memory of attempts at gardening tomatoes in too shallow Maritime soil-“Fare thee well, Susan

”, I sigh, “If not later…later”.

Along the outer edge, not sure how I got so far away from the rose centre, most distracted now at this “Gate of Doubt”

where Son Terra apartments and other pink roses in a garden call to me through more cars, more roads, endless sky and quicksilver clouds

that gather like minnows in rapids to carry me away and there is even someone going the other way-what?  “Keep going…watch your feet” crows call comes to my rescue until I step through the Gate of Trust

, one step, one breath at a time until I am centred, turning inside a rose, seeing all before me, a crescendo of colour and sound.  I greet the melodious day with a Kimesque note of “Hello”, pause, and then journey outward.

On my return I find the sun has dried up the pathway with a powdery stone residue left behind, blurring the lines, like chalk pastels on my paper labyrinth. My journey was special.

Every journey is special!   What does that mean?  Even though birthing is a well trodden path, each woman’s experience is her own- a one of a kind strength, a pure whole note carried on the wind, a sound only she can make, moving on into hello.


Back From Mayne Island B.C.

Tom and I are just back from 5 wonderful days on Mayne Island, one of the Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Colombia.  This has become a yearly ritual for us, a few days away that refresh both our spirits and our bodies while enjoying a good time with friends.  The weather could not have been better.  It was glorious time of fun food and fellowship and I thought that some of you might enjoy getting a glimpse of our time away.  For more photos check out the album on facebook

The Sine family enjoying Mayne Island

The Sine family enjoying Mayne Island

Photo shot at the japanese gardens

Photo shot at the japanese gardens

View from the cottage

View from the cottage

Tools For Prayer – 5 Ways to Pray the Psalms by Alex Tang

praying the psalms

praying the psalms

The following post was sent to me by Alex Tang in Malaysia.  Alex is a physician who blogs at Random Musings from a Doctor where this post first appeared.  I thought that it was a great sample of some of the many ways that we can use the psalms to pray.  I have particularly enjoyed rewriting the psalms in my own language and have added one at the end of the post that I thought you might enjoy.  It is actually a compilation of several scriptures which is usually the way that I tend to write this kind of prayer – after all there are no rules to follow here


May I suggest five ways we can pray the Psalms.

1. Say them out loud

One effective way to pray the Psalms is to read them out loud. Many of the Psalms are meant to be read in public assembly. Reading out loud not only helps you to proclaim the psalms, it also enables you to hear it. Speaking and listen are important aspect of prayers.

2. Use them as a jumping off platform

As you read the psalms, read it slowly and use the words, phrases, sentences as a platform to launch into your own prayers. After you have finished, then go back to where you left of and continue reading. Again launch off as you felt let to pray around the words or theme in the psalms. For example in Psalm 23:3, when you read “he restores my soul…” you might want to pray about your spiritual life, your present struggles and appeal for his intervention.

3. Paraphase them

Rewrite the psalms in your own words. When you paraphrase the psalm, you are interacting with you seek to understand the main points and to express it your way. It also helps to paraphrase in your own language if English is not your first language.

4. Memorise them

Memorising parts or whole psalms are another way to pray them. Repeat the psalms you have memorized continually and he begin to understand what St.Paul means when he asks us to praying unceasingly. Using memorized portion or whole of the psalms in your prayer is useful when you do not know what to say when you pray. Sometimes you will find that the psalmist can express your needs better than you can say it.

5. Let them talk to you

Use the spiritual discipline of lectio divina to read the psalms during your prayer and let the psalms speak to you. Lectio divina or spiritual reading involves reading, meditating, praying and contemplating. These four movements help us to listen to the psalms and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us.

These are some of the ways you can pray the psalms.

God I am weary, storm tossed and not comforted

Filled with the pain of TV images and broken lives

I cannot forget tsunamis in Asia, hurricanes in New Orleans

Droughts and AIDS in Africa, war in Iraq

Then I remember your compassion

Your unfailing love that is never shaken

Your covenant of peace that is always with us

I remember love and faithfulness go before you

Righteousness and justice are the foundations of your throne

God in the midst of pain you comfort me

I stand secure because you are with me

Your faithfulness springs forth from the earth

Your righteousness looks down from heaven

Praise to God on high

Prayers for the Journey

Below is the compilation of prayers from the last week that I have posted on facebook.   Enjoy!

God may all creation sing of your glory

And the whole earth give you praise

May our minds turn to you in morning

And our hearts be filled with your love

May we sit in your presence and find life



The light of God break upon us

The life of Christ shine through us

The love of the Spirit flow through us

The three in One, the One in three go with us today


May we live with authenticity

And burn as lights set on a hill

May we walk the paths that Jesus walked

And call others to come and follow


May our hearts ache for justice

And our minds long for righteousness

May we surrender to the Spirit’s work

And be transformed into agents of change


God may we today see where you are active in our world

Seeking justice, bringing healing, working for peace

May our hearts ache with compassion and respond with love

May we accept your invitation and go out to join in what you are doing


May we remember today that we are part of an unfolding story

That calls us to listen to God’s words with intent to action

May we live in the reality of God’s kingdom coming

And rejoice in the wonder of God’s eternal presence


The three in One guide you today, the One in three protect you
May your breath be filled with God’s love and mercy
Your path walk in Christ’s truth and justice
Your deeds practice the Spirit’s care and compassion


God may we lean into your promises

And be filled anew with the hope of your salvation

May we see your light shining in dark places

And hear your voice whispering in the stillness of the morning


Tools for Prayer – Walk the Labyrinth

Children in midst of labyrinth

Children in midst of labyrinth – Celtic retreat

The labyrinth is another tool for prayer that I found really helpful in the last few years.  I talk about their use in my recent book Return to Our SensesWe always set one up for our annual Celtic prayer retreat and it is particularly popular amongst the children.  Last year we also made finger labyrinths which were a great hit amongst both adults and children.  Labyrinths have become extremely popular in the last few years amongst Christians from a wide variety of backgrounds.  I have written about them before such as Are We Walking A Maze or a Labyrinth

However I don’t think that I have ever really given a full description of the labyrinth so thought that I would do so here.  this description was put together by Maryellen Young as a brochure for the labyrinth at St Albans church in Edmonds


A labyrinth is a pattern with a purpose.  They offer a chance to take “time out” from our busy lives, to leave schedules and stress behind.  Walking a labyrinth is a gift we give to ourselves. The labyrinth walk is popular with a growing number of people because of its simplicity and the ability to approach its paths on your own terms.


The labyrinth represents our passage through time and experience.  Its many turns reflect the journey of life, which involves changes of direction, transition, some uncertainty but also discovery and achievement.  Different from a maze (which has dead ends and false passages), the labyrinth has a singe path that leads unerringly to the center.  It shows us that no time or effort is ever wasted; if we stay the course, every step however circuitous, however many turns, however distant it seems, takes us closer to our goal.  The two most common types are Chartres and Classic 7, however there are many variations.  Labyrinths are described by the number of circuits or paths they contain.


Labyrinths are found in many cultures dating back as much as 3,500 years.  Labyrinth walking is a form of meditation that has been practiced by nearly every religious tradition since ancient times.  There is no one “Christian” labyrinth pattern.  Faith communities throughout the ages have utilized labyrinths of various dimensions, materials, colors, and shapes. Theologians of different periods have utilized the pattern to emphasize beliefs that were most relevant to their time.


People walk the labyrinth as a tool to enhance prayer, contemplation, meditation and/or personal growth.  There is no “required way” to walk the labyrinth.  Thinking is not required to walk a labyrinth.  At the same time, one must remain alert to stay on the path.  This combination of reduced mental activity and heightened awareness makes the labyrinth ideal for walking meditation or prayer.  The turns of the labyrinth are thought to balance the two hemispheres of the brain, resulting in physical and emotional healing.  As reaching the center is assured, walking the labyrinth is more about the journey than the destination, about being rather than doing, integrating body and mind, psyche and spirit into one harmonious whole.  The labyrinth meets each person where they are and helps them to take the next step on their spiritual path.  Because it is so personal, it is a spiritual practice that can be enjoyed by everyone.


A “typical” labyrinth experience involves preparing yourself at the threshold, following the single path to the center (releasing), spending time in the center for as long as you like (receiving), following the same pathway from the center out, crossing the threshold (returning), and then responding to the experience.  There is no single “right” way to pray a labyrinth.  Praying in whatever way helps you connect with God during the labyrinth encounter is the “right” way and serves as the best guide possible.  Journaling before or after the walk may help provide focus and insights.

Feel free to walk around other people if their pace is different or if they stop.  It’s okay for other people to move around you.  Some find it helpful to stop at each turn.  The path can be a two-way street.  Do what comes naturally when you meet someone else, just as you would if you were walking on a narrow sidewalk.  Walking around the outside of the labyrinth before or after the walk may be helpful.

Approaches to the walk may include:

  • Intentional walks–where you address a specific intention, issue or concern as you walk
  • Intercessory walks–offering prayer for people or needs
  • Meditative walks–meditating on a specific word or passage or prayer
  • Conversation–having a conversation with God
  • Walking in a relaxed, peaceful state, temporarily releasing concerns, being open and peaceful

Many have found that reciting Scripture on the labyrinth focuses their attention on biblical teaching and their relationship with God.  For instance, a person may find it helpful to pray, “You show me the path of life.  In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11) or Jesus’ words, “I am the way and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) while moving on a labyrinth.

Are You Interested in Joining the MSA Team

Join the MSA team

Join the MSA team

The MSA team is expanding and we are looking for help

If you have interest in any of the positions listed below we would love to hear from you! Please email your resume, cover letter, and any other information you feel may be relevant.

Garden Manager

This position is an exciting opportunity to help develop a new area of ministry for MSA as we seek to model a way of life that emphasizes both concern for God’s creation and for local and regional sustainability. The garden manager would care for an existing urban vegetable garden in Seattle and develop another much larger garden for the Mustard Seed Village on Camano Island. The existing garden currently provides some of the produce for the community at the Mustard Seed House but we would like to see this expanded to help provide for other members in the broader community.

The farmer would plant, grow, harvest and distribute the bounty of the garden in Seattle and have the opportunity to develop the garden on Camano from scratch. They would also organize volunteers for work parties on both sites and help expand MSA’s networks through involvement with local community garden and sustainability networks. There will also be opportunity to participate in spirituality of gardening seminars and other aspects of the MSA’s ministry.

This position will begin as a volunteer position but with entrepreneurial initiative on the part of the farmer should become self sustaining through the selling of seed starts, garden produce and other products as well as through involvement in educational programmes.


  • An interest and passion for modelling God’s kingdom in their life and work as well as an interest in local and regional sustainability
  • Gardening experience and knowledge using organic methods of production – preferably in the Pacific NW
  • Self motivated with a willingness to develop income generating initiatives related to the gardens.
  • Also willingness to complete garden tasks and develop network contacts with minimal supervision
    Good communication skills to organize volunteers, connect to local organizations and keep the community informed of the garden efforts.

Time Commitment

  • Duration of the opportunity: Long-term (three months or longer)
  • Expected time commitment: More than 10 hours per week
  • Times of day volunteers are needed: Mornings/Afternoons
  • Days of week volunteers are needed: Weekdays
  • Type of commitment: Schedule is flexible

If you have interest in this position we would love to hear from you! Please email your resume, cover letter, and any other information you feel may be relevant.


Research and Communications Assistant

Tom Sine is seeking a student intern that loves to do research and is interested in learning more about the remarkable field of imagination, innovation, social entrepreneurship and social, religious, technological and economic change in our very volatile world. This research will be used to help design at the Mustard Seed Village a multi-faceted program of Christian imagination and innovation to create new ways to live a more sustainable way of life and more sustainable local communities in these very troubled times. This research will also be used for speaking and writing for Mustard Seed Associates about the power of imagination to help us all imagine new ways to live and serve.

The position is unpaid however academic credit should be possible. It is open to both graduate and undergraduate students who are well organized, self motivated and reliable. I would prefer to find a student that would be available for a year-long internship but would settle for two quarters. It would be important that the student have good computer skills including Microsoft Word, creating powerpoint presentations as well as Internet application. Ten or more hours a week would be great but would be willing to negotiate. I would be happy to mentor an intern in research and writing in areas of your keen interest.

Time Commitment

  • Duration of the opportunity: Long-term (three months or longer)
  • Expected time commitment: More than 10 hours per week
  • Times of day volunteers are needed: Mornings/Afternoons
  • Days of week volunteers are needed: Weekdays
  • Type of commitment: Schedule is flexible
If you have interest in this position we would love to hear from you! Please email your resume, cover letter, and any other information you feel may be relevant.

Office & Event Coordinator

This position will provide a unique opportunity to assist the Mustard Seed team in developing and marketing events that invite participants to re-imagine how to live and serve God in our volatile world. There will be opportunities to attend MSA events and to meet MSA collaborators from around the world.

The position also involves participation in logistics for coordinating speaking opportunities for the MSA team. It includes heavy administrative activities and requires good attention to detail, computer skills in Word and Excel, and organizational skills.
If you have interest in this position we would love to hear from you! Please email your resume, cover letter, and any other information you feel may be relevant.

Time Commitment

  • Duration of the opportunity: Long-term (three months or longer)
  • Expected time commitment: More than 10 hours per week
  • Times of day volunteers are needed: Mornings/Afternoons
  • Days of week volunteers are needed: Weekdays
  • Type of commitment: Schedule is flexible


Administrative & Research Assistant

Are you interested in learning to live and serve with the future of God in mind? In particular are you concerned about how to develop spiritual practices that interweave throughout every day life? This internship provides a unique opportunity to work with Christine Sine in a small not for profit to research and help create new spiritual rhythms, new faith practices and new community expressions of faith.

This internship will provide support for the Executive Director of Mustard Seed Associates in research, writing and web communications. It will provide an opportunity for the intern to assist in publishing articles, blog posts and possibly a book on spiritual practices. There will also be time to assist in events and interact with and meet collaborators from around the world. There will also be the opportunity for mentoring in spiritual development. This position will also involve administrative responsibilities.

The position is unpaid however academic credit should be possible. It is open to both graduate and undergraduate students who are well organized, self motivated and reliable with good attention to detail. Good computer and Internet skills required. Writing and editorial skills would be a plus. A minimum of 10 hours per week with fifteen preferred.

If you have interest in this position we would love to hear from you! Please email your resume, cover letter, and any other information you feel may be relevant.


Tools for Prayer – Prayer Beads Anyone?

Making prayer beads at the Celtic retreat

Making prayer beads at the Celtic retreat

Prayer beads are a tool for prayer that many protestants are both unfamiliar with and a little skeptical of.  I only came across them a couple of years ago when a friend at church started holding classes on how to make and use them.  I must confess that I do not use them often as they remind me too much of the worry beads that my Greek uncle used to incessantly run between his fingers.  However I have many friends who use them on a regular basis and find them a great aid to meditation.Also we had the kids make them at our recent Celtic retreat and there were lots of questions raised about how to use them.

Prayer beads are also known as the Anglican rosary or Christian prayer beads.  It consists of a loop of 33 strung beads which are used as a focus for prayer.  This particular way of using prayer beads was developed in the mid-1980s by Lynn Bauman in the United States participating in a study group dealing with methods of prayer. The beads have since been adopted or adapted by many other denominations.   They blend the Orthodox Jesus Prayer Rope and the Roman Catholic Rosary.

The use of prayer beads helps to brings the user into contemplative or meditative prayer—really thinking about and being mindful of praying, of being in the presence of God—by use of mind, body, and spirit. The touching of the fingers on each successive bead is an aid in keeping our mind from wandering, and the rhythm of the prayers leads us more readily into stillness.

The prayer beads are made up of twenty-eight beads divided into four groups of seven called weeks. In the Judeo-Christian tradition the number seven represents spiritual perfection and completion. Between each week is a single bead, called a cruciform bead as the four beads form a cross. The invitatory bead between the cross and the wheel of beads brings the total to thirty-three, the number of years in Jesus’ earthly life.

Praying with the beads
To begin, hold the Cross and say the prayer you have assigned to it, then move to the Invitatory Bead. Then enter the circle of the prayer with the first Cruciform Bead, moving to the right, go through the first set of seven beads to the next Cruciform bead, continuing around the circle, saying the prayers for each bead.

It is suggested that you pray around the circle of the beads three times (which signifies the Trinity) in an unhurried pace, allowing the repetition to become a sort of lullaby of love and praise that enables your mind to rest and your heart to become quiet and still.

Praying through the beads three times and adding the crucifix at the beginning or the end, brings the total to one hundred, which is the total of the Orthodox Rosary. A period of silence should follow the prayer, for a time of reflection and listening. Listening is an important part of all prayer.

Begin praying the Anglican Prayer Beads by selecting the prayers you wish to use for the cross and each bead. Practice them until it is clear which prayer goes with which bead, and as far as possible commit the prayers to memory.

Find a quiet spot and allow your body and mind to become restful and still. After a time of silence, begin praying the prayer beads at an unhurried, intentional pace. Complete the circle of the beads three times.

When you have completed the round of the prayer beads, you should end with a period of silence. This silence allows you to center your being in an extended period of silence. It also invites reflection and listening after you have invoked the Name and Presence of God.

Here is a beautiful Celtic prayer created by Sister Brigit-Carol, S.D. that you might like to try

The Cross
In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Invitatory
O God make speed to save me (us),
O Lord make haste to help me (us),
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

The Cruciforms
Be the eye of God dwelling with me,
The foot of Christ in guidance with me,
The shower of the Spirit pouring on me,
Richly and generously

The Weeks
Pray each phrase on a separate bead.
I bow before the Father who made me,
I bow before the Son who saved me,
I bow before the Spirit who guides me,
In love and adoration.
I praise the Name of the one on high.
I bow before thee Sacred Three,
The ever One, the Trinity.

For more information on prayer beads and a selection of great prayers to pray with them click here

Tools for Prayer – Collecting Rocks

Collecting rocks - a path to remembrance

Collecting rocks - a path to remembrance

Have you ever noticed how often the Israelites collected rocks to build cairns as memorials to significant events in their history?  Joseph built one after his encounter with God.  The whole nation of Israel built one after they crossed the Jordan.  Memorials, reminders, places to come and encounter God

I am also a collector of rocks.  As a child I loved to gather specimens when we went on long road treks over the summer holidays.  And in Australia there are some wonderful rocks to collect – sapphire chips, small pieces of opal, agates, and even flecks of gold.  But in the last few years it is not these semi precious stones that have caught my attention.  Now like the Israelites I gather rocks that mark significant events – and I give them names as memorials to remind me of my encounters with God.

I have a serpentine rock picked up on the beach on the island of Iona where Columba is supposed to have come ashore.  I call it my rock of faithfulness because when I hold it in my hand I am reminded of all the faithful people like Columba who have gone before me.

fossilized shell

fossilized shell

I also have a limestone rock from the South coast of Australia.  It has the fossil of a shell in it.  This I call my rock of endurance.  Look at it I am reminded that this shell comes from a creature that lived thousands of years ago.  It has endured because it was transformed into the limestone rock.

Another in my collection is a rock that I picked up on Camano Island.  Limpets cling tightly to it reminding me always of the need to cling closely to God.

Malachite from backyard

Malachite from backyard

I even have a rock that I picked up in our backyard – a beautiful specimen of malachite – unexpected because this is not a native rock to the Pacific NW.  I call it my rock of unexpected surprises because it reminds me that God often comes to us in unexpected and unanticipated ways.

Probably the rock I have held in my hand most frequently is the one I call my rock of remembrance.  It is streaked with veins of dark and light intertwined in an intricate pattern.  It is a constant reminder to me that the dark and light sides of life are woven together inextricably.  They cannot be separated or the rock would crumble into nothing.

Collecting rocks has become an important part of my prayer life, because each time I hold them in my hand I am reminded of some aspect of my faith journey and I find myself praying in gratitude, in repentance or just in sheer joy at the faithfulness of God.

You may not want to collect rocks as I do, but I think that the collection of objects that help root our prayers in the faithfulness of God in journey can be important signposts that lead us onward towards the heart of God.  Whatever you collect keep these objects in the place where you pray.  Pick them up when you are about to pray.  Use them to focus your prayers and to build your faith.  Remembering the acts of God in our past is one importnat way that we connect to the acts of God in the present and learn to trust in hope for the promises of God in the future.

The Transforming Power of Lectio Divina: A Deeper Look at the Four Movements – Christine Valters Paintner

Tools for Prayer

Tools for prayer

This morning’s post in the series Tools For Prayer – comes from Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE.

Christine is the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery offering online classes and other resources to integrate contemplative practice and creative expression.  She is the author of several books including her two newest– The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom(Ave Maria Press) and Lectio Divina—The Sacred Art: Transforming Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer(SkyLight Paths).


When I first was introduced to the practice of lectio divina many years ago I felt an opening inside of me, as if I was being met right where I was.  I discovered in this ancient way of praying a mirror of my own inner movements and longing for contemplative depth.  I felt supported in a way of savoring life and listening deeply for the voice of Spirit moving through sacred texts and the world.

Lectio divina has four movements or stages to it which invite us into a place of savoring life and our experience and to discover God’s invitation to us in the midst of that savoring.


The first movement is to read the sacred text and listen for a word that shimmers or catches my attention.  I do this as I sit to pray each morning with my scripture reading, but also as I move through the day I find that there are moments that shimmer forth: a friend offers me an unexpected insight, I gaze upon my sweetly sleeping dog, I go for a long walk and find the gathering of crows cawing stirs something in my heart, my husband reaches for my hand and in that moment I feel so deeply loved.  We all have these shimmering moments calling to us each day if we pay attention.  Through lectio I cultivate the capacity to notice these and honor them as important, as sacred.


The second movement is reflection which involves taking what shimmers into my heart and allowing it to unfold in my imagination. I savor the images, feelings, and memories which arise.  Our lives are so rushed, that savoring can become a counter-cultural practice.  In my morning prayer I make space to just notice what experience is rising up in me, and in my daily life I become attentive to those experiences which stir strong feelings or trigger an unexpected memory.  Perhaps I am driving in my car and a song comes on the radio which carries me back in time to a moment from my past and I am filled with emotion. Lectio cultivates my ability to make space to allow the fullness of my experience. Rather than holding back my tears and judging them, I let them flow and in the process discover a moment of healing and grace.


The third movement is about responding to our prayer and listening for God’s invitation in this moment.  In my morning practice I sit and wait as the word that shimmers and the images, feelings, and memories which have unfolded in my prayer begin to yield a sense of God’s longing for my life.  In my daily life I notice when my heart is touched by an encounter and I sense that God is summoning me into something new through this very moment.  I can’t know what that new thing is just yet, it is often more of an intuition.  Sometimes it happens after I teach a class and I have expressed something in a new way and I surprise myself by my own words or a student asks a probing question which breaks open the subject in ways I hadn’t considered.  These are moments of divine invitation and lectio helps me to respond.


The fourth movement is about going more deeply into a space of rest and stillness.  In my morning prayer I simply sit in silence for several minutes, basking in the experience of being rather than doing and feeling full of gratitude for this gift.  As I move through my day I am touched by the moments of stillness I find in the midst of life’s busyness.  I go for a walk and come upon a radiant dahlia blooming and I am stopped in my tracks, breathing in for just a moment the beauty of dahlias.  I am sitting with someone who is sharing her deepest struggles and both of our eyes become wet with tears and we simply pause for a few moments to rest into the silence which holds us both.

Lectio and Life

After almost twenty years of practicing lectio divina, I see the world differently.  Each moment and thing has the potential to become a vehicle for revelation.  Lectio divina has changed my life.  Instead of being something I practice for twenty minutes each morning it has become a way I experience and move through the world.  Instead of feeling bound to a particular structure and sequence of steps, I discover that each movement of lectio has its own gift and rhythm and I open my heart to when it will be revealed in my day.  The practice of a spiritual discipline is about more than the minutes we spend doing it, but how it overflows into the whole of life.

We might ask ourselves, is my vision changed because of this practice?  If not, how might I let its gift be unleashed into each moment.



Tools for Prayer – Increase Your Awareness of Our Hurting World

Hunger at home - Crisis in America

Hunger at home - Crisis in America

This afternoon I found out that ABC news plans to dedicate it programming tomorrow to  “Hunger at Home: Crisis in America”  It precipitated my writing of this post which I had planned to add as a later addition to the series on Tools for Prayer.

One important item in our prayer toolkit is knowledge of our hurting world.  Not knowledge for the sake of knowledge but knowledge that equips us to respond.  Becoming aware of the needs in our world can lead us into a deeper understanding of the ache in God’s heart for our hurting friends and neighbours.  It can also connect us to our own self centred indifference that often makes us complacent when God wants us to be involved.  And it can stimulate us to respond to situations that we once felt indifferent to.

It is easy to feel complacent and ignore the brokenness of our world when we don’t know what is happening.  There are of course many ways to stay informed, some of which can overwhelm us with the pain and hurt that surrounds us.  I find that it is better to listen than to watch, at least in the initial stages of a disaster.   The mind numbing images we see on TV and the internet of starving children, war torn countries and flooded rivers may do more to inoculate us against pain than they do to prompt us to prayer and action.

It is also easy to let what we see and hear wash over us without really attending or planning to act.  Both of these responses are passive and rarely lead to action.  Our awareness of the world’s pain should make us respond at many levels.   And just as our prayers need to be upward, inward and outward, so do our responses to the needs we read about.

  1. We need to listen with the active intention of doing something.   I find it helps to keep a piece of paper or my prayer journal with me as I listen to the news.  I write down the 1 or 2 items that most disturb my equilibrium and make them the focus for my prayer.
  2. We need to listen with the intent to find out where God is already at work.  Sometimes, as with the NPR  program on Tomato slavery yesterday, I do more research on the issue – not specifically to learn more about the depths of the problem, but to learn about how others are already responding.   Recognizing that God is already at work bringing comfort, support and provision is all the encouragement and motivation we need to get involved.
  3. We need to listen to the heart of God in the midst of the pain.  Sometimes my response to the news is to sit quietly before God imagining how God feels about the tragedy I have become aware of .  At times I feel that God allows me to glimpse the deep pain and agony that is at the very heart of the eternal One’s being.  It is a pain that is so deep it aches with every broken person in our world and grieves with every lost and damaged soul.
  4. We need to listen for places that we have contributed to the tragedy we are hearing about.  Decisions about how to dress, what to eat and where to spend our money can all have unintended consequences.  Sometimes listening at this level calls us to prayers of repentance and inner changes that transform the way we view our world and the ways we interact with it.
  5. We need to listen together with friends.  This kind of listening often provides good fuel for a group meeting that not only prays together but that also holds members accountable to their intended responses.  Once we have shared what we plan to do with someone else it is harder to back down from our intentions.

And once we have listened at all these levels we need to make sure that we do not walk away from our prayers without specific responses in mind. Here are some possibilities to consider

  1.  Write a short prayer that you can recite throughout the day or week that addresses the issue.  I have found that using the psalms is often helpful here.  Rewording them to fit the situation I am reading about is often a very effective form of prayer.
  2. Email or phone someone you know either personally or because they are an advocate in this area who is already responding to the issue .  Encourage them and make them aware of your supportiveness.
  3. Donate to an organization that is involved.  I heard about the programming tomorrow from my involvement with Bread for the World, one of the organizations that we support on a regular basis.
  4. Consider ways to volunteer as part of your response.
  5. Consider a career change – this is obviously a very radical response to news but for some of us it is God’s intention – an active outward prayer that flows from our hearts and into God’s world.