Lord Give Me A word

Desert-Mothers-and-Fathers-by Christine Valters Paintner

Desert-Mothers-and-Fathers-by Christine Valters Paintner

This morning I have been reading Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom SayingsAnnotated by Christine Valters Paintner. It is a delightful book that quotes from the writings of these wise desert dwellers who chose to renounce the world in order to deliberately and individually follow God’s call. Their writings were first recorded in the fourth century and contain much spiritual advice that is still applicable today.

One characteristic of the desert fathers and mothers was their desire for a “word”. They were not asking for a command or a solution but for a communication that could be received as a stimulus to growth into a fuller life. The word would be pondered on for days or even for years. I love this story that Christine shares from Benedicta Ward Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. xxii.

A monk once came to Basil of Caesarea and said, Speak a word, Father” and Basil replied, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” and the monk went away at once. Twenty hears later he cam back and said, Father, I have struggled to keep your word now speak another word to me” and he said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” and the monk returned in obedience to his cell to keep that also.

It is so easy for us to read the word of God and not really absorb it into our being. Or else we want to dissect it and work out what the author or the translator really wanted to say. To dwell in the word the way that the desert dwellers did we need to release our thinking minds and enter into a space where we can hold the word in our hearts, turning it over and over, pondering it but not trying to pull it apart.

This morning as I prayed the word that came to me is God is love”. It is a phrase that I have pondered many times in the past. It has brought me healing as I imagined the love of God seeping into my broken soul. It has brought me encouragement as I pondered the love of God flowing out through me to touch the hearts and lives of the refugees and marginalized people I have worked with. And it has drawn me into greater intimacy with God as I have imagined the wonder of God’s love abiding in the depth of my heart.

The knowledge I have in my head of a loving God will never transform me unless I allow it to seep deep into my being so that it becomes the air I breath, the food I eat and the ater I drink. God can only respond in a loving way. If we allow that thought to guide us always it will transform the world. It will have us always on tiptoe looking for the loving things that God is doing. It will have us rising up in righteous anger against the unloving and hateful things that are done in the name of God. And it will have us always seeking to be loving towards God’s entire human family.

What is the word that God has lodged in your heart and wants you to ponder on? I pray that you will take time today to enter into that word in a way that allows it to speak to you.

The Stability of Practice

The joy of journalling

The joy of journalling

Yesterday Tom and I had breakfast at Chanterelles restaurant in Edmonds then drove down to the waterfront and looked out over the Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains while we journalled and shared about our week. This has been an important part of the rhythm of our life for many years but over this summer with the busyness of attending Wild Goose, Creative World Festival, the Celtic retreat and other commitments, we have had to let it slide. As we sat and journalled yesterday a deep peace settled into my soul. I need this I thought. I am incomplete without it.

We hear a lot today about the importance of stability of place. I wish we talked as much about the stability of practice. Regular daily, weekly and yearly practices that restore our bodies, our souls and our spirits are essential for all of us and I don’t think we realize how much the loss of these impacts us. I love to sit each morning in my office looking out towards the mountains while I pray. This morning I notice that the big maple tree I can see is touched with tones of red. Autumn is definitely here. It is also the harvest season, the time to pick and process apples (Tom and I picked 100 lb from our trees on Saturday), to make marinara sauce from the tomatoes, store the winter squash and generally get ready for a season when there is no fresh, local food available.

What are the equivalent practices in my spiritual life I wonder? This summer has been a busy season of ministry, a good season of growth and productivity. How am I now getting ready for the winter blasts? What spiritual food am I storing up for the coming season of dark? Getting back into our weekly rhythm of journalling and check in time is obviously part of that. Going away on one of our quarterly spiritual retreats is another.  Walking around Greenlake with Tom and our dog Bonnie talking, praying and drinking in the beauty of creation is another. These are some of the practices that help me store up the spiritual nutrients I need to see me through the dark season of my life.

This is obviously not the first time that I have blogged about this. The information in this post How Do We Find Stability in a Changing World? is some that I have found particularly valuable over the years. So much of my life has been spent in unstable living situations. Most of these suggestions came from my twelve years on the Mercy Ship Anastasis when my only stable reference point was a moving object in the middle of the sea.

This is a good season to evaluate your spiritual lives as I suggest in this post: Have You Taken A Spiritual Audit Lately? and you might want to evaluate the rhythms that are important to you. What are your equivalents of daily prayer, weekly journalling and quarterly retreats? How do they provide stability for your spirit?



Joy Together – An Interview with Lynne Baab

Joy together

Joy together

My friend Lynne Baab has just published a new book Joy Together:Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation.  I love her books on Fasting and Sabbath and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of this one. It has already received a great review from Publishers Weekly. and so I wanted to give a heads up to all of you who are looking for congregational resources. The following interview by Jana Reiss was first published on her blog here.

As you wrote your new book, why did you think it was important to emphasize communal spiritual practices?

So many excellent books stress individual spiritual practices. Some of them talk about communal practices a bit, but practical illustrations are few and far between. It’s time for a book that gives practical examples of the ways Christian can engage in spiritual practices (also called spiritual disciplines) in families, small groups and congregations.

What’s the relationship between communal and individual practices?

They flow back and forth. For example, I learned about several forms of contemplative prayer – centering prayer, examen, lectio divina – in group settings. After engaging in those prayer forms with others for a while, I found myself praying that way on my own more often. To illustrate a flow in the opposite direction, I learned breath prayer from a book, and did it on my own for more than a decade before I started teaching it to groups. The last two times I’ve been worship leader at church, I’ve led the whole congregation in breath prayer. For me, thankfulness is another interesting example. My husband and I started praying thankfulness prayers together. Then I began to notice the way my personal prayers shifted more in the direction of thankfulness. Even later, I began to encourage groups to pray thankfulness prayers more often.

What do you think are some of the strengths of your book?

It’s hard to be objective at this point, when only my wonderful editor, Jana, and a few other people (mostly the people who wrote endorsements) have read the book. I asked one friend to read the book in pdf form, before the release date, in order to have a review ready to post on amazon.com. He liked the many stories that illustrate the ways groups can engage in spiritual practices. He also liked the fact that I bring my own life into the book, my own successes and struggles with spiritual practices. One idea that intrigued him came from a section in the chapter on fasting that covers Eastern Orthodox congregations, where fasting is entirely communal, as is feasting together at the end of their many fasts.

What specific practices did you cover?

I have individual chapters on six spiritual practices: fasting, thankfulness, contemplative prayer, contemplative approaches to the Bible, hospitality and Sabbath.  I’ve written books on fasting and the Sabbath, but I decided to conduct more interviews for this book. With respect to the Sabbath, one interviewee said he believes keeping the Sabbath is one of the most challenging spiritual practices in our time. That surprised me, and I tried to address some of those difficulties in the chapter and make suggestions about how congregations can support Sabbath observance. Another chapter that surprised me as I wrote it was the one on thankfulness. My husband and I have been practicing thankfulness in our prayers together for almost 20 years, which has been transforming in the ways I mentioned above but in other ways as well. Writing the chapter was pure joy, because I long for others to grow in thankfulness and the good fruits that come from it.

Have you heard the growing concerns about spiritual practices?

William Willimon and others have spoken out about their concerns about spiritual practices. Willimon believes practices can become a way for us to attempt to take control of our relationship with God. He stresses that Jesus breaks in at unexpected times. Amen to that! I believe spiritual practices open up space and time for Jesus to do exactly that. The stories I’ve heard from people who engage in various spiritual practices certainly reinforces my perception. When we teach about spiritual practices, we need to emphasize that practices create space for God. They don’t in any way make God do something in our lives.

Willimon is also concerned that when we engage in spiritual practices, we may fall into thinking we are earning our salvation. That’s why it’s so important to teach about spiritual practices against a backdrop of God’s grace. Spiritual practices are a way to enjoy Jesus’ presence with us and spend time with the God who already loves us.

What do you think is the greatest contribution of spiritual practices in our time?

Spiritual practices nurture a posture of receptivity. In that posture, we are open to receive from God. We might receive guidance for ministry, or a sense of being loved way down deep, or relief of anxiety for the things on our mind. Or something totally unexpected. So much of life today requires us to take action and act like we’re in control. When we engage in spiritual practices, we relinquish control to God and open ourselves for God to meet us and surprise us.

How God Changes Your Brain

While I was in Canada recently I started to read a fascinating book entitled How God Changes Your Brain. I enjoyed it so much that I ordered a copy and am thoroughly enjoying reading it and reflecting on its relevance. Interestingly, the authors Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman are not writing from a Christian perspective. Andrew is a neuroscientist, Mark is a therapist. They are more interested in the impact that spiritual practices have on our physical and emotional health than on our spiritual development.

That does not reduce its importance however. I think they say some wonderful things for all people of faith to think about. They provide some very practical exercises for all of us to consider.

So here is some of what they say (quoted from the back cover of the book):

Prayer and spiritual practice don’t just reduce stress, but meditation for as little as 12 minutes a day can slow down the aging process.

Contemplating a loving God rather than a punitive God reduces anxiety and depression and increases feelings of security, compassion and love.

Intense prayer and meditation lastingly change numerous structures and functions in the brain, altering your values and the way you perceive reality.

Fundamentalism can be personally beneficial, but the prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain.

I know that some people find books like this threatening because they interpret them to say that God is just a chemical reaction going on in our brain. For me however they are exciting because they confirm the activity of God in my life – if God is truly at work in our lives then we should expect that his activity in our brains should create discernable changes. What do you think,


Run With Purpose In Every Step

Celtic retreat 2012 Morning worship

Celtic retreat 2012 Morning worship

This morning I am preparing for our MSA staff retreat time this weekend. We will use the Quaker Discernment process and organic strategic planning to discern God’s future focus for our ministry. At core, our MSA team is a spiritual leadership community that discerns and implements the will of God for our organization. and these processes have become the keys to our development both as individuals and as an organization.

As we enter this retreat we know that we need to focus more acutely on what God is leading us into. We are in a time of growth and transition, grappling with issues of how to sustain our current ministry, launch CCSP Cascadia and build the Mustard Seed Village.  In this time constantly coming back to God to discern God’s will becomes more important than ever.

In preparation for this time I have looked back over previous discernment sessions to catch a sense of what God has said in the past and how well we have responded to those promptings. I have looked at our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and our failures, our joys and our challenges.

I have also looked back and been encouraged by what others have said about what MSA has meant in their lives. Most are drawn by the invitation to join a community that is journeying together towards God’s kingdom of peace, justice and abundance.  Shane Claiborne once told us that he thought we were great “cross pollinators” and others to have appreciated the connections we help them make to people and organizations they feel they can identify and hang with.

Others have told us that they appreciate our encouragement to reimagine life and faith and create new possibilities for how we live in every aspect of our life. Brian McLaren shared that through MSA he was given permission and encouragement to think new thoughts, dream new dreams and see the gospel in a fresh, new life-changing and world-changing light.

Others have appreciate the modelling of a simpler, more festive and hopefully more Christ centred way of life and our willingness to share openly the ongoing journey it involves us in, even when it reveals our warts and wrinkles. Added to this is an appreciation of the resources we develop to help move all of us in this direction.

So my question this morning is what draws you to this blog and the other aspects of MSA? What would you like to share that could help us focus the ministry of MSA? I would love to hear your thoughts and also appreciate your prayers for this weekend. 


Earth Teach Me Stillness

Earth Teach Me To Remember.

Earth Teach Me To Remember.

It rained over the weekend, the first time in 49 days, the second longest stretch without rain on record. To some of you who live in places where drought is a way of life, this may not seem very significant, but here in Seattle we have greeted the rain and the changes it has brought, with deep gratitude and thanksgiving.

Since the rain there has been a new stillness in the air, a sense that the earth is slowing down and starting to prepare for the autumn and winter seasons. Perhaps it is just that I too am in a season of slowing down.

Tom and I have had a very busy summer celebrating at Wild Goose East and West, joining our Canadian friends at Creative World Festival, conducting our annual Celtic Prayer retreat, and entertaining a steady flow of visitors, friends and potential MSA supporters. As as that I have completed the first draft of my new book Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray, and sent it off to readers for input.

It is certainly time for stillness in my own spirit and I find that the changing season outside is a wonderful affirmation of that. Learning to hear to the promptings of my spirit calling me to slow down, sit still in the presence of God and listen is not always easy. But it is essential.

The stillness of the earth speaks of stability and constancy. It speaks of the enduring faithfulness of God who sends the seasons in their due time, who waters the earth with the spring and the autumn rains, who brings forth the harvest to nourish our bodies.

The prayer above is part of a Native American prayer that I first posted here. It reminds me to take time to listen to the wonder of God’s creation. It reminds me to take notice not just of the majestic mountains outside my window but also of the small and seemingly insignificant creatures that are so vital to the healthy thriving of our world. It also reminds me to sit quietly in the presence of the One who has created all things and whose great love is revealed in every dimension of that creation.

So sit still with me this morning. Drink in the wonder of God. Quieten your spirit and allow God to refresh and renew you.

Remembering 9/11 – May it Call Us to Peace and Not to War

It is now 11 years since the terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York and this has become an important day of remembering and prayer for many of us. The images of the plane flying into the towers is indelibly seared on our minds. The heroism of firefighters and police lives forever with us and so it should. It is important to remember these events and establish memorials that draw us back.

This morning however, as I thought about this I could not help but think of the many who have lost their lives as a result of terrorist attacks around the world since that time. Many others have had to flee the civil conflict that the aftermath this attack created in their countries. And still others flee violence and unrest created by other conflicts.

Data for Terrorist Attacks,

Data for Terrorist Attacks,

This link has a powerful interactive map that shows the changing face of terrorism since 1970.

In the midst I find my heart longing for peace. War has been the halmark of the first decade of the 21st century and it doesn’t look as though this second decade will be any different. Most of us have trouble even imagining a world without war and I sometimes wonder if we even pray for that possibility.

So this morning as we remember the attacks 11 years ago, may we pray for peace and the in breaking of God’s kingdom into the many conflicted and troubled places of our world. The following prayer is adapted from one I wrote last year for 9/11.

May we remember with love and compassion this day.
May we grieve with those who still mourn,
And share memories with those who cannot forget.
May we draw strength from those who bravely responded,
And gave their lives to save others.
May we stand with strangers who became neighbours,
And give thanks for their generosity and hospitality.
May we remember all who have lost loved ones to terrorism and violence,
And be filled not with a call to war but with a longing for peace.
May we seek for understanding and reconciling,
And not turn from your kingdom ways.
Above all God may we remember your faithfulness,
And learn to trust in your unfailing love.