Day 17: Vigils and Marches

December 14, 2021

Peace crane, Family Peace Fest 2017. Photo credit: Karen Kring

Day 17: Vigils and Marches

When I started thinking about this entry on the Tree of Contemplative Practices, what immediately came to mind was the Morton Grove Interfaith Walk in September 2016. The UCC church I pastor is located in Morton Grove, which is a multicultural, multi-ethnic, interfaith community in the suburbs of Chicago. Yes, I was an organizer (and walker!) in this Interfaith Walk through parts of Morton Grove.

This interfaith walk was a tremendous opportunity for different cultures, different faith traditions and different ethnicities to come together, learn about each other, and walk together on this Saturday morning. We centered it around three representative houses of faith, and in cooperation with the village of Morton Grove, walked from one to the next and the next. Fifty to sixty people of all ages participated, and had a wonderful opportunity to show the community that diversity matters. We rejoice in our diversity, and each individual is important and worthwhile.

The success of this interfaith walk continued a desire in me for work in the community. I began organizing and coordinating the Family Peace Fest for Hope and Harmony, which ran for four successive years, in cooperation with the Morton Grove Farmers’ Market and the Morton Grove Chamber of Commerce. The Family Peace Fest started in 2016, and the final year was 2019. (Sadly, we all know that the pandemic intervened, and a lot of worthwhile events did not happen in 2020.)

I had a vision for the inclusion for so many diverse cultures, ethnicities, and faith traditions in the wider community. And, it came to pass! We had the support of the Village of Morton Grove and the Morton Grove Library, too, with a special selection of children’s books on peace and diversity at the farmers’ market that day. Arts and crafts booths, activity booths, and the market, too! Many people were so pleased with the event. It was a lot of work! And yes, I am so happy it happened for four years.

What next, you may ask? I do not know. God willing, I am open to whatever God leads me to do for the community where I serve.

Writing on the Peace mural from St. Paul’s UCC, Downers Grove. Photo credit: Janyce Boss.

Dear God, thank You for the Interfaith Walk and the Family Peace Fests. Thank You for the witness we all gave to the greater community and the Village of Morton Grove. Thank You for so many people who participated, who came and learned more, and who had their eyes and hearts opened more. Thank You for the many things I learned, too. Please continue to come alongside all of our neighbors and friends who were involved. Bless them, Lord! And, may Your name continue to be lifted up. Amen.


Thanks to the website for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs:, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

Day 16: Activism and Volunteering

December 13, 2021

Day 16: Activism and Volunteering

When I hear the term activism, I imagine a lot of things. I can see some friends and acquaintances marching against gun violence or against racist policies in local or national government. I can see my friends Rev. Marilyn and her co-workers advocating against food insecurity and opening their community kitchen every day (365 days a year!). And, I think of the many times I drove the church bus for a prison ministry at a church I attended, before and during the time I went to seminary.

Some Christians today just don’t get involved. They don’t speak up, or step out, or drive, or welcome, or do any of these loving, caring activities. Sure, it involves some effort! And, sure, it shakes Christians of today out of their comfort zones. Social justice and righteousness is a divine mandate.

This is the message of Jewish prophet Amos. “God demands something more revolutionary than festivals and sacrifices and worship songs. And that ‘something more’ is social righteousness, impartiality in judicial decisions, equity in business dealings, justice for the poor and the oppressed.” [1]

From what Amos said, the Lord did not want God’s people to stay sequestered in their religious silos. According to this prophet, social justice goes hand in hand with liturgical life and practice. This is further echoed in the gospel of Matthew 25:40. The Son of Man says to the gathered people about acts of compassion, kindness and service: “This is the truth: whenever you did this to anyone— whenever you cared for anyone ignored or cast aside—you showed that same kindness to me.”

When I drove a bus to take children and families of incarcerated moms to the penitentiaries downstate in Illinois, I felt a direct connection to the strong words of Jesus. Our Lord told us – in no uncertain words! – that we all have a responsibility to take care of prisoners; to show succor, compassion and welcome.

The extravagant welcome clearly stated in the United Church of Christ is another way of stating what Jesus told His followers to do. In activism, volunteering, and in words, too. Just do it.

Dear Lord Jesus, this is a challenging thing to do. For some people more than others, some will find it more difficult, or scary, or completely out of the realm of what they have ever done. Please, Lord, help all of us be willing. (Or, be willing to become willing.) Thank You for Your urging, Your caring, Your encouragement. Help all of us to step out, reach out, and sing out – for You and in Your name. It is in the powerful name of Jesus we pray, amen.


Thanks to the website for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs:, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

[1] Foster, Richard J., Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (HarperCollins: United States of America, 1998), 151.

Day 15: Pilgrimages for Social Justice

December 12, 2021

Day 15: Pilgrimages for Social Justice

I have never been on a pilgrimage to a far-away place. I have wanted to go, for a long time! But, it never seems to happen. I never have had the opportunity.

However – I have made short pilgrimages. I have stood up for people who were oppressed or endangered because of the religion they practice.

I can immediately think of two situations. Both were in support of two neighboring houses of worship. Both were mosques. One in the community where my church is located, and the other, the next suburb to the west. I have a number of friends and acquaintances at the mosque in my church’s suburb. I consider myself blessed to count several as dear friends.  

Several years ago, the nearby mosque had a situation where they needed to heighten alerts while services were going on inside the mosque. I joined about thirteen or fourteen others to stand alongside the curb, to stand in silent witness and solidarity and support. We stood there all during the service, just in case anyone should stop by to hassle any members of that house of worship.

Yes, I wore my clerical collar as I stood with a candle, as a visual witness to all those who drove by the mosque. And yes, I was very grateful when one of my acquaintances from the mosque invited us in afterwards, to share a meal with all the congregation after the service. Such a blessing, all the way around. For me, taking a stand and standing in witness, and for my friends and acquaintances, realizing that they were supported and cared for by others in the community.

When I attended seminary, I was in a spiritual formation group my first year, meeting weekly. It was not only a formation group, but also an accountability group. One of the chapters we read, talked about and prayed over was “Practicing the Compassionate Life: The Social Justice Tradition.” We were responsible for not only reading and praying, but also doing. That was an integral part of the whole.

A quote from this workbook: “The best way to start your task this week is to begin with this simple prayer: “Lord Jesus, show me someone whom I can serve.” God loves to answer this prayer.” [1] Oh, my. Yes. I feel so strongly about Matthew 25, where Jesus details compassionate service for the least, the downtrodden, the poor and forgotten. God does indeed desire all followers to “give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.” (Psalm 82:3).

I feel this so deeply in my heart. Yes, please God, I will. Dear God, thank You for Your love for each of us. Help us to show Your love to others. Help us to reach out in service for others, no matter what color, ethnicity, social standing, and – yes – religion or faith tradition. Thank You for giving me such wonderful opportunities , to live this social justice tradition regularly. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.


Thanks to the website for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs:, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

[1] Smith, James Bryan and Graybeal, Lynda, A Spiritual Formation Workbook (A Renovaré Resource for Spiritual Renewal), (HarperSanFransisco: United States of America, 1993), 54.

Day 14: Contemplative Arts

December 11, 2021

Day 14: Contemplative Arts

This creative entry on the Tree of Contemplative Practices brings me back to a gentle, bittersweet memory of a Saturday morning Lenten retreat planned by my then-spiritual director (may she rest in peace!).

Such a kind, compassionate woman of God. Always had her ears and heart open. Always had abundant and directed wisdom to share. Wonderful, loving presence.

She was an elder in a Presbyterian church where I used to attend, as well as serving on the national staff for a Christian organization. This was a periodic spiritual offering she made to her directees as well as the women of the PC(USA) church. I would attend when I could.

I remember the Bible passage she chose for this particular retreat: Psalm 23. As the women dispersed to go to various corners and rooms of the church education wing, I took the several sheets with the printed psalm, a photo of a lamb on a hillside, and some direction of what steps to take for the morning. As I followed the different steps and prayer prompts, I felt myself internally letting go of the rush-rush, hurry-hurry that had been gripping my insides.

What a relief! What a blessing, too.

One of the last things on the agenda for the morning was an open invitation: a suggestion to create an art project of some kind. My spiritual director had several different art stations. Crayons, art pencils, colored tissue paper, scissors, glue, cardboard, and other supplies available. Yes, I am artistic. And, yes, I felt drawn to some coloring sheets. I picked up colored pencils, and started to draw and color.

I still have that particular coloring sheet. It was a design of a Tiffany glass window – or rather, two windows, side by side. I colored one window in muted gray and brown tones, looking quite like the weather and the view outside on that gray, February day. The other window on that sheet? I colored it in warm, soft, welcoming pastels. The sun shone in the blue sky in the second picture, instead of the sky having all dull grey-toned clouds in the first window.   

This hope-filled portrait of the two different sides of my life and spirit seemed to be a natural outgrowth of my morning’s prayer, meditation and contemplation. Yes, I was still in a gray place, even at the end of that morning. However, I could see my way to approaching the place of color, of vibrancy, and warmth.

I am so glad I had the opportunity to create that drawing. I felt that picture so deeply. I appreciate my spiritual director. And, I pray that I might be able to provide opportunities for others to reflect, pray and contemplate, just as I did.

Dear Lord, thank You for my dear spiritual director. She walked with so many people during her life. She touched even more lives through her work and ministry. Help me to remember the abundant gifts she blessed me with. Help me – help us  to listen to You and to be creative, when offered the opportunity. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.


Thanks to the website for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs:, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

Day 13: Journaling

December 10, 2021

Day 13: Journaling

I love journaling. (That’s what I am doing right now!) Seriously, I have journaled off and on for decades, ever since I was a teenager. Sometimes angsty, sometimes saccharine, sometimes theological. But, always deeply felt and deeply personal.

Since I grew up in a house of books, and my parents (both college-educated) very much valued books, reading and learning, I naturally gravitated toward reading, learning and the written word. I loved to journal (still do!) and soon found myself impelled to put down my ideas, thoughts, and ponderings in written form. Especially when thinking about God, the Bible and theological things. For years, in fact, for decades.

I loved using Scripture in prayer and meditation, and I learned how to do Ignatian prayer (using the Bible passages as jumping-off places of prayer, using a Godly imagination). I’ve been doing Ignatian prayer for 20 years, off and on, and have had such rich experiences! And – always, I journaled my way through.

One of my favorite books on contemplative, Ignatian, lectio divina, and Word-based prayer is The Word is Very Near You by Fr. Martin L. Smith. I love the way Fr. Smith breaks down the process for approaching God, praying, meditating, and then writing about the experience. This is one of my favorite prayer helps. I have spent many a session in prayer with the help of Fr. Smith.

In his instruction (and description) of lectio divina, his words have made such an impression on the whole way I approach God in prayer and attend to Scripture. After the reading: “Express to God in the simplest way the impression the words have made on you.  You may want to thank God for the gift they convey, ask the questions they have stirred in you, put into words the longings or needs they have brought up. ..Your prayer may move into contemplation, a simple being in Christ with God in which all you are aware of is that you are being attracted towards God like the needle of a compass finding the north.” [1]

I do not always make it all the way to contemplation. But when I do, it is sweet. All in all, using the words of Scripture is such a wonderful time of prayer. And journaling is a natural outgrowth of this whole process of prayer. Thanks to Martin Smith for adding to my enjoyment and enrichment of journaling.

Let’s pray. Dear God, thank You for words. Thank You for the ease in which I can express my thoughts, my questions, my yearnings, as well as biblical and theological understandings and insights. I know You have made each of us differently, and some find it easier to write than others. I don’t know anything else. Dear Lord, thank You for giving us the Bible, Your Word. Thank You for giving us Jesus, Your incarnate Word made flesh. Help me – help us to incorporate Jesus into our daily lives, too. Help us to crave Jesus, the living Word just as much as we crave food and drink, and pursue the Bible just as much. Thank You for helping me take in the Word of God through journaling. It’s in the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh, that we pray. Amen.


Thanks to the website for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs:, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

[1] Smith, Martin L., The Word Is Very Near You (Cowley Publications: Cambridge MA: 1989), 120-21.

Day 12: Improvisation

December 9, 2021

Day 12: Improvisation

               Television shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Curb Your Enthusiasm are wonderful  Other shows (Parks and Recreation and Community come to mind) have a large part of unscripted improvisation, too. Comedy improvisation can be freeing, collaborative, immersive, and totally fun.

Twenty-three years ago, I providentially happened to start comedy improv classes at IO (formerly, Improv Olympic), with co-founder Charna Halpern. She taught me a tremendous lesson: both/and. Or, rather, she gave me words for something inside of me that was yearning to be expressed. Not either/or, and certainly not a restrictive approach, but showing the extravagant welcome [1] I find in the United Church of Christ. Improv released this tremendous mindset that the program of recovery also encouraged in me: that of affirmation, celebration, reconciliation, and the freedom-to-be.

On this Tree of Contemplative Practices, Improvisation is found on the Creative branch. And yes, I absolutely agree! It is so creative! I can still remember skits and games we played and acted out in that two-year period. Twenty-two and twenty-three years ago. So vivid, so much fun! And the concept of group mind as a totally collaborative, integral part of the whole is something I will never forget.

Sure, the Improv I did was at a “secular” place. Yet, I can totally see how it helped me to get closer to God. Closer to my fellows in Improv. And, yes, more in touch with my inner child – or klutz – or clown – or philosopher.

I would love to do improv again! I would do it, in a shot! Perhaps, one day soon…please, God.

               Please, pray with me. Dear God, thank You for laughter. Thank You for joy, and fun, and giggles, and just plain roars of laughter. Thank You for limericks and for pratfalls and for mime. Thank You for all the ways Improv artists have used all of the above to bring about joy and laughter and truth and even pain and suffering – and turn it all into something utterly wonderful. Help us all to learn from these marvelous games and skits. And, help us all to be ready to laugh. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.


Thanks to the website for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs:, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

[1]  Extravagant welcome is one highlight that drew me into the UCC.

Day 11: Singing

December 8, 2021

“Those who sing pray twice.” This quote is attributed to St. Augustine. What a marvelous sentiment! Especially for someone like me, who loves music.

From the early teenage years of my walk with God, the deeply meaningful lyrics of so many hymns have drawn me in. They have spoken to my heart and soul. At the Lutheran church of my childhood and teen years as well as the sawdust trail Revival hymns and gospel songs of my late teens and early 20’s, the greatly theological lyrics (paired with gorgeous, uplifting hymn tunes) have held me fast. They’ve been one of the major foundations, the underpinnings of my belief.

Fast forward a few years. Imagine how my heart sang when I discovered some spiritual writers on prayer (whom I respected very much) stating that singing was a marvelous way to pray!

During Epiphany and Lent 2021, I taught a weekly Bible study that was out of the ordinary – for me. Instead of focusing on a Bible passage, or book of the Bible, or Bible character, I focused on the familiar hymns of the Church. One excellent resource I used for this study had the wry name 28 Hymns to Sing Before You Die. Written by two lifelong Presbyterians, John M. Mulder and F. Morgan Roberts, this marvelous book delved into the history behind the hymn texts, and the history of the authors.

Eugene Peterson wrote the foreword of this book. I was as moved by his words as I was by the stories behind the hymns. Particularly this paragraph, in light of our Advent contemplative prayer focus: “Each of these hymns is an act of worship that brings us into an awareness and receptivity to the life of the Trinity – the operations of all the persons of the Trinity in a participatory way. But the conditions in which [the hymn texts] were composed and sung were more often than not pain and devastation, sickness and poverty. And yet, somehow beauty and elegance were distilled out of conditions of doubt and hopelessness.” [1]

Oh, my. Eugene Peterson has hit on exactly what I have been feeling all these years. I felt the deep emotions of the authors of these hymns, without knowing exactly what their circumstance were when writing. Over the years, I have wept over these hymn texts, and rejoiced, too.

Although many people today do enjoy modern worship songs – and I have found some I enjoy, too – I am thinking of the traditional hymns of the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. These hymn texts may have older or archaic wording, yet at the same time so theological. Giants of hymn texts, like Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley and Fanny Crosby come to mind.

I also love the written word. The words of hymns strike a balance between the dry, dusty theological tomes and the sometimes warm, sometimes striking experience of the heart. I pray you might consider these words from the marvelous hymn “He Leadeth Me, by Joseph H. Gilmore.

He leadeth me, O blessed thought!
O words with heav’nly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

God continues to hold my hand (and, your hand, too.)—”since God through Jordan leadeth me.” Until the end of our days; and finally as trusting children, we cross that river Jordan, too.

Dear Lord, thank You for such marvelous words. Thank You for such wonderful opportunities to sing in congregations, with choirs, and to hear anthems in worship. Thank You for those times when the line from a hymn came to mind, and expressed exactly what I wanted to say to You. And, thank You for the gift of these words, crafted out of pain and heartache, as well as joy and praise and the whole gamut of emotions. Thank You for such a treasure within our hymnbooks. May we never lose the wonder and the worship that comes from these prayers in song. Amen.


Thanks to the website for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs:, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

[1] Mulder, John M. and Roberts, F. Morgan, 28 Hymns to Sing Before You Die (Cascade Books: Eugene, OR, 2014), xii.

Day 10: Music

December 7, 2021

Day 10: Music

Music makes my heart sing. Seriously.

I was classically trained as a pianist when I was a child. My family was the odd family in my neighborhood. My parents actually listened to classical music – and enjoyed it. My father was an excellent pianist, and played Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy (among others). So, I grew up hearing my father playing in the living room as I went to sleep on the second floor of our little brick house in Chicago. He would often leave the windows open, and give the neighbors a regular concert, almost every night.

I had older brothers and sisters, and they all were musical, as well. The music of band and orchestra instruments as well as piano filled the house. What a wonderful thing, to have a house full of music.

As I grew older, I found my way into the church – the Lutheran church. What a glorious thing, to have Johann Sebastian Bach as one of the greats of church music! I loved hearing the instrumental music of Bach played in the church. Our church had an excellent organist, and she would occasionally play organ recitals. (Sadly, the church only had a small choir of amateurs. So, very little vocal music of Bach.)

Intuitively, I deeply felt the soaring melodies, the magnificent polyphony, the glorious harmony of church music – even before I was well into high school. And, as I took more and more music classes and realized what it was I was hearing, my heart rejoiced as I opened my ears and took the music in as a prayer. Yes! I was only vaguely aware of praying as I listened, but in retrospect, I often found myself immersed in prayer as I would listen to church music. And, not always with lyrics. Sometimes (often!) instrumental, too.

I realize as I prepared to write this reflection that I could find next to no references that spoke of instrumental music. That is, music without lyrics. Just about every reference to music concerns vocal music or hymn singing. (Which is a whole separate topic, fully worthy of its own reflection!)

After checking out some twenty different books of prayer, contemplation and meditation, I finally found a short reference to music, in general, by one of my favorite authors on prayer: Tilden Edwards. “Beethoven once said…music is a fuller way to God than words….Such intrinsic sound qualities have a way of opening us deeper into God’s mystery, before which all our words fall short.” [1]

This is just a brief mention from Edwards, but such a sentiment! This is the way it was for me, even as a teenager. Then, as I got an undergraduate degree in church music, my appreciation of church music became so much more well-rounded.

Since I am intuitive, and feel things deeply, I think I understand what Edwards was saying about music and sound being part of God’s mystery. Prayer, contemplation and meditation can all take place for me as I listen. As I play, too. My finger skills and technical facility have gotten rusty with lack of practice and age, as well as the onset of arthritis. But, I still enjoy producing music on the piano and organ!

I know the music that delights my heart is not the music for everyone. And, that’s okay! Perhaps you can find some music that delights you, that makes your heart sing before God. I hope and pray you can.

Please, pray with me. Dear Lord, thank You for music. Thank You for the melody and harmony of so many pieces praising Your name. Thank You for the music that wordlessly invites people into Your presence, too. Help us to be able to come before Your presence, when we are singing, or when not. It is enough to simply be in Your presence. Thank You, dear Jesus.


Thanks to the website for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs:, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

[1] Edwards, Tilden, Living in the Presence (Harper Collins: San Francisco, 1995), 34.

Day 9: Visualization

December 6, 2021

When I saw the Tree of Contemplative Practices and realized how many and varied these prayer practices were, I had difficulty even grasping that idea! Oh, the height and depth and length and breadth of the practices! The multitude of variety, too!

Another way of saying it is. these many different ways of contemplation just blow my mind.

Visualization is today’s variety of prayer. When Tilden Edwards mentioned visualization in his remarkable book Living in the Presence, I realized this was yet another way to use my imagination. (Yes, I do have an active imagination!) Edwards started his explanation with mentioning the powerful symbol of light, God’s radiant, loving truth. Yes, the Bible does mention the different physical manifestations of God’s glory! I chose the verses “God is light” (1 John 1:5) and “walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8). [1]

So, I tied my imagining cap on as I prayed in this way again, just now. I sat in a comfortable position, and closed my eyes. Almost immediately, I was aware of the soft light behind my eyelids. Persistent light, but soft! Gentle. Godly. That light surrounded me, and yet bathed me in a loving, gentle way.

What do you think God’s light would be like? Would it be the same every time? (I don’t think so. I have not experienced it that way, myself.) Personally, I do not think God would be so static, so predictable. That is the way it is, with our Lord. He is surprising. Loving and caring, and just and true.

This is one of the few exercises or prayer practices where I usually do not receive a word-y response. Does God talk to you? How would it be if Jesus quietly surrounded you with His presence?  Discouragement, despair, bewilderment –  gone.   Except, I am filled, I am bathed in the light of God.  Amen! Thank You, Lord Jesus.

Dear Lord, even now, when I close my eyes, I can still see a hint of Your light, Your brightness. Thank You for this experience. Thank You for the gift of an active imagination. I haven’t thought about my imagining in such a way, not for a very long time! What a sweet, gentle experience. I needed that, right now. Thank You. Thank You.  Amen, dear Lord. Amen.


Thanks to the website for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs:, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

[1] Edwards, Tilden, Living in the Presence (Harper Collins: San Francisco, 1995), 53.

Day 8: Beholding

December 5, 2021

Icon – Jesus and children. Photo credit: Elizabeth Jones

Day 8: Beholding

When I took the course Introduction to Prayer my first year of seminary, I was introduced to many different types of prayer. Some of these I was familiar with. Others, not at all. Including, beholding. Or, as some who practice this type of prayer say, gazing.

I learned about this type of prayer while gazing at icons. In class, we took the opportunity to go down the hall to the chapel, where there was space to spread out and take the time to enter fully into the gazing (or beholding) experience. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Marjorie Thompson in her oh-so-helpful book Soul Feast gives some direction on contemplative prayer. She only introduces gazing or beholding, but what she says is a good starting point. “Simple objects or images can also be the focus of contemplative prayer. A single flower, leaf, or candle may become a pointer to divine presence. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, icons (images of Christ, Mary, and the saints) are a focus of contemplation.” [1] Thompson suggests Fr. Henri Nouwen’s book Behold the Beauty of the Lord as a helpful introduction to praying with icons.

I had an immersion experience with Nouwen’s book. (Seriously, that is what it felt like – being immersed in warm, gentle prayer.) I had never prayed with icons before, and our professor had several large icons of different types.  As the class was instructed, and as we read through Nouwen’s short book, we approached our chosen icon with reverence and gentleness. (At least, that is what I totally felt.) Out of several icons, I felt an openness, almost a beckoning from Andrew Rublev’s icon of Christ, the Savior of Zvenigorod. What an experience.

As I beheld this icon, I felt the damaged portions of the figure of Christ so deeply. Repeatedly, I thought of how our Lord Jesus can feel-with, can not only sympathize, but empathize with me (with us!), as imperfect, hurting, wounded humans. He comes alongside of us, sits with us as we behold the icon. Gazing, feeling His loving, caring, reaching-out presence.

And, all this I experienced from beholding. Amazing experience. I have also prayed in this way with a single flower floating in a simple glass bowl of water, and with a burning candle in a darkened room. But, none of these experiences were quite as moving as my several times of prayer with the Savior of Zvenigorod.

I even have a small icon. When I bought it at a Christian bookstore, I saw quite a number of different icons. At least twenty, most small, and a few larger. The icon of our Lord with children drew me, ad so I bought it. This icon has a special place in my apartment. I pray that you may consider praying in this way, or perhaps read Fr. Nouwen’s book Behold the Beauty of the Lord, to get an appreciation for beholding – gazing – in prayer.

Dear Lord, thank You for the marvelous ways individuals have found to come before You. So many different ways, from so many varied cultures and points of view. Dear Lord Jesus, thank You for Your nearness, Your gentleness, and Your approach-ability. Help us to seek You and find You, in all Your wondrous beauty. It’s in the marvelous name of our Savior we pray, amen.


Thanks to the website for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs:, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

[1] Thompson, Marjorie, Soul Feast (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, KY, 1995), 48-49.