I am fascinated to see how people are affected by guilt. Some react strongly to guilt, from their families, houses of worship, and sometimes their own consciences. Thank God that I don’t have to be guilty. I am forgiven, reconciled and redeemed! Praise God! ##lentensnapshots2022
This word brought a sad memory to my mind. When I was young, my father worked as a statistician. He held himself to a very high standard – in part because of the extreme detail orientation of his job. So, this photo shows my immediate, gut reaction to this word. Sad, lonely, withdrawn.
Dear Lord, this memory is a sad one. Help me not to focus on the sad, lonely and withdrawn parts of myself that were so easy to access. Instead, direct me towards the love, warmth and caring of You and Your presence with me. In Jesus’ name, amen. #LentenSnapshots2022
I photographed these mock orange blossoms last spring near my church. Perfect memory of the large mock orange blossom bush behind my parents’ small brick house on the northwest side of Chicago. #LentenSnapshots2022
Dear Lord, help me to remember how You are perfect, how You are totally righteous, and wish to reconcile us to Yourself. (Especially on Ash Wednesday, when I really need to remember.) Amen.
We get straight to the heart of contemplative prayer today. Centering.
The Quakers “used the term centering down….The idea is to let go of all competing distractions until we are truly present where we are.”  Or, as Richard Foster calls it, recollection. That is, recollecting ourselves until we are unified, whole. I tend to think of it in musical terms: in unison. Many instruments can play a single note together, and if the musicians are good at playing (and playing in tune), the unified sound will sound will be pleasant to the ear. Even, having a distinct resonance.
When I first really tried contemplative prayer, about 30 years ago, I found it so difficult! Sure, I wanted to seat myself comfortably and then slowly and deliberately allow all tension and anxiety drop away from myself. Sure! Except – I had such difficulty actually succeeding. Contemplation and especially meditation seemed like far-away goals. Goals I would periodically try to shoot for, and periodically miss. Over the next 10 years I found myself occasionally – successfully practicing contemplation.
And, Foster absolutely agrees. He talks about the fragmented and fractures lives so many of us live. “We become painfully aware of how distracted we really are.” 
Sure, I have weathered some periodic storms in my life. Regular squalls, too. But with centering down, I allow the Lord “to calm the storms that rage within by saying ‘Peace, be still.’ We allow [God’s] great silence to still our noisy hearts.” 
Is it, perhaps, that God is finally breaking through to me? Knocking down walls or barriers that I have long ago erected, perhaps even to protect myself? Probably so. I should hope that I am letting God in. I hope so. I pray so.
As I come to the end of this Advent season, with but one day left – Christmas Eve – I come full circle. I feel like I am back to the beginning, with centering, or being present, or recollection. Whatever you call it, I think it is central to contemplation. Sure, we have examined many ways to come before God in contemplation and meditation, and even actively stand (or walk) before God. Yet, I get the sneaking suspicion that without centering down, I would be having some difficulty in contemplative prayer.
Lord knows, I do try. Periodically, and not daily. (Yes, the Lord and I have had many, repeated discussions in prayer about my periodic awareness, or presence, or faithfulness. And, I am sure we will continue, because I still do not have a daily practice of prayer. After all these years…)
I hope this journaling through Advent has been helpful for you. It was for me. Still, I have one more day. One more day to continue to witness to the power of contemplative prayer in my life.
Dear Lord, thank You for this past Advent season, for my journaling each day. Thank You for the insights I have received. Help me continue to see You for clearly, follow You more nearly, and love You more dearly, day by day.
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.
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.”  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.