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Monday, August 22, 2011

spirit-filled answers to a question

Sunset at the North Pole, Thursday, the 13th. of March 2011. Sent by someone who told me to pass it along. What an amazing image! Now on to my regularly scheduled blog entry...

Last week I put out a question about spiritual practices: “What do you do, in your own life, to cultivate a prayerful or contemplative approach to life?”

I am grateful for all the thoughtful, grace-filled responses I received. They all came from people that I know, which reminds me to appreciate the depth of people in my own circles. (We don’t have to chase all around the world for spiritual mentors and teachers- some of them live on our block!)

Here are excerpts from the answers:

I find knitting, gardening, baking, walking, or some other simple task helpful for quieting the mind.  The task works best if it is non-mechanized, familiar and routine, solitary and has a tangible outcome.  Even house cleaning seems to work.  And I read a lot too.

I find that SHORT periods of sitting quietly are helpful and calming. 



My best place for quiet this season is our back deck and yard - so there is lots of quiet out there which is great for seeing what Jesus is up to in Matthew and praying.
Meet with a spiritual director usually once a month - makes a huge difference for me and how I approach the world - even if it’s sometimes to remind me that God is even in this *(&_#*% or whatever is disturbing me;

Retreat days - If I could I would do it for at least a day a month but sometimes it ends up being a couple of months before I have one.  I need silence - silence is where I can listen best

Silent retreats - I have been on 4 of them - the longest was a week the rest are weekends - I would benefit from a week a year but haven't done it for a variety of reasons but the 8 day one still impacts me and it was 4 or 5 years ago!

I have email subscriptions - one from Joan Chittister - Monastery of the Heart, and another from the Centre for Prayer/Contemplation and they give me daily and weekly ideas to contemplate.

I would love to tell you daily prayer and scripture study as well as journalling - but it would be a lie.  That happens in fits and starts - even though when I do it I benefit!

Lastly - getting by water - just has a way of opening me to the Holy.

The challenge for me is that I do my best contemplating "away" from the day to day and I haven't yet found a consistent way to experience/make space for it, every day.
 
Morning journal. Every day. Even if it's only 10 minutes. Even if I do it in the evening. Even if I need to do two days' worth together. Initially (nearly 30 years ago) I divided the page into three columns: good news, bad news, action. These days there are still three columns but they are headed gratitude, learning, and turn over. Each month before I spend time with my spiritual director I spend time with my journal, noting highlights, spotting trends, noticing how prayers are being answered. I run the same condensing exercise with the monthly summaries once a year, this time netting affirmations. I keep only the affirmations, not the journal pages or the summaries (too bulky). A spiritual direction instructor once said, "A person's journal is their sacred scripture," and this ongoing collection of affirmations is a powerful read.

Being active outdoors. Alone. Bigtime divine contact: take a problem out on the trail and a creative solution will come to you. Best not downtown although urban walking prayer for the place I live is another discipline. Running and swimming most readily accessible year-round. At least weekly.

Day retreats. Local retreat house a godsend: dedicated prayer space, silence. In September and October, a full day of hiking. Monthly.

Annual overnight retreats. Retreat centres good; university residences in the summertime a good substitute (surprisingly monastic). Retreats taken in the summer tend to be forward-looking: synthesizing types and frequency of activities for the upcoming year, sensing where the energy lies and doesn't lie, plotting course, picking up on attractions and desires.

The main thing is to create and inhabit regular space.

The Centering Prayer is very helpful for me, I did pretty often, especially at insomnia night. While doing that I imagine a candlelight to help me centering and quiet down.


I do Centering Prayer, and we read books on Centering Prayer. I've also been nibbling at Roberta Bondi's To Pray and to Love and find it deeply helpful.

Monday, August 15, 2011

question to contemplate

For three Sundays in August I am using the sermon/teaching time to address faith questions submitted by Trinity folks. One of the first responses I received to my request for “Questions of Faith” was so rich in its implications that I decided I needed to break it down into smaller pieces. Next week I will tackle the part about whether or not religion is necessary for a person to live a “good” life.

The question for the day at Trinity this past Sunday was “What is Happiness?”

 I used a Sufi story that teaches the lesson “This too shall pass” is to me about developing a capacity to step back from daily life, and recognize that the things that make us unhappy are temporary (as are the things that cheer us up!)  The story encourages us to step back from our daily life, to take a more contemplative approach.

I read some good words about contemplative living in a book called “The Lay Contemplative”, edited by Virginia Manss and Mary Frohlich. In an essay about formation programs that help people grow in this way, Wendy Wright says, “The contemplative approach orients to reality not as a problem to be solved, analyzed or manipulated but as mystery that elicits our reverence, claims our deepest desires, and calls forth responsive love.”

In my own experience, I have found practices such as prayerfully walking a labyrinth, quieting myself in Centering Prayer, doing yoga (depending upon the setting, and the teacher), reflective reading, and Lectio Divina (a particular way of praying with scripture) have helped to cultivate the contemplative attitude in me. I know that I am better able to respond with love to the world, and in relationships, when I “take time to be holy.”

This fall I will be helping with a retreat for church leaders. My role will be to offer some teaching on contemplative practices.

So I have a question to put out to those who read the fifth page:

“What do you do, in your own life, to cultivate a prayerful or contemplative approach to life?”

Please help me by taking some time to email me about things you have found helpful. I would love to hear about what you do, how often you do it.