Lent, Day 37: Horror

Day 37: Horror

Imagine my horror when I saw my 3 year-old daughter with school scissors in her hand. She wanted to cut her hair and make it “pretty!” She had cut her bangs off! (Perhaps it is just as well I don’t have a photo.)

If you and I reflect further, God loves us anyway. Even when we do silly stuff.

Thank You, God!

#lentensnapshots2022

Lent, Day 27: Shame

Day 27: Shame

I was a church music major in undergraduate school. I can remember lots of lyrics from classic hymns.

When I saw the word for today, I could not help but remember this hymn. Thank You, Jesus, for taking away guilt and shame. Thank You, Jesus, that I have been redeemed.

##lentensnapshots2022

Day 27: Communion and Connection

December 24, 2021

Day 27: Communion and Connection

When I first thought about Contemplative Prayer (and meditation, and contemplative kinds of things), I thought it was a solitary practice. And, so it can be. However, as I have seen – and journaled about, in these past weeks – contemplation does not HAVE to be solitary. You can contemplative in connection with others. Others in your prayer group, or congregation, or a single prayer partner or spiritual director.

I’m returning to Richard Foster. (Thank you for ALL your marvelous writing, Richard!) Really and truly, I appreciate Foster so much for his keen insights, his depth of knowledge, and how readily accessible his writing style is.

In his book Streams of Living Water, Foster talks of a number of different streams of the Christian faith. Different faith traditions, that flow from the same Source: Jesus Christ. As he talks about the Incarnational Tradition, Foster describes how foundational the Sacraments are to those who follow at tradition (or, faith stream). Communion, then, is a significant way for fellow believers to join with, worship with, and be with each other. Plus, when followers of Christ are also contemplatives, they can find a whole other facet of their faith and life together in their sharing of the sacrament of communion.

Which brings us to connection. Yes, Foster does talk about the Contemplative Tradition in this book, too. Yes, there is a strength to be found in the disciplines of the spiritual life, and this is well and good. However, another peril of this tradition and practice is neglecting life in community. “The contemplative stress upon our solitariness before God – can lead us into, especially in Western cultures, into an individualism that think only in terms of “God and me.” [1]

No matter whether introvert or extrovert, shrinking violet or happy-go-lucky, we all as Christians are to have communion – both vertically and horizontally. We are to value connection – both vertically and horizontally. Both features of the contemplative experience are important, Even, two sides of the same contemplative coin. Thank you for the reminder, Richard, as I strive to experience the Contemplative way of living and being.

Thank you for taking a trip with me in this Advent season, as I have journaled through experiences with the Tree of Contemplative Practices. Thank you to the website contemplativemind.org for making this excellent graphic available, too! And, I have really appreciated the memories this contemplative trip has stirred up within me. I hope and pray you may be encouraged to try one or two or even several of these excellent practices.

God’s blessings be yours as we enter the Christmas season. May you and your loved ones have a safe, happy and healthy new year, too. Peace be with you.

@chaplaineliza

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

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, 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), 55-56

Day 26: Centering

December 23, 2021

Day 26: Centering

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.” [1] 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.” [2]

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.” [3]

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.

@chaplaineliza

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

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


[1] Foster, Richard, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (Harper: San Francisco, 1992), 161.

[2] Ibid, 162

[3] Ibid.

Day 25: Retreats

December 22, 2021

Day 25: Retreats

Have you ever been on a retreat? Separating yourself from the daily routine and the busy-ness of the rushed and hurried activities? Sometimes, a retreat at a spiritual house of worship or a Christian camp can be revitalizing – even if it is only for a few hours.

As I think back on several retreats I have attended over the past twenty years, one immediately popped into my head. This happened several times, when I took a personal day of prayer. I spent six hours a day away, at a church nearby (in a different denomination) where a friend of mine is pastor.

Sure, I have had wonderful experiences with others at retreats. Excellent times of worship, meaningful speakers, close friends sharing deep feelings and intimate experiences. Yet, for this time of journaling for the Tree of Contemplative Practices, I knew which retreats I ought to mention.

These were times when I chose to step away from my busy life as a pastor at a small church. (Yes, even though it is small, there somehow are plenty of things to fill up a week’s worth of activities and time.) I purposed to take six hours away, from 9 am to 3 pm, on a Monday. Several Mondays, in fact. I had an excellent guide for the retreats in my devotional book. And, so I began.

I purposely turned off my cell phone. As a result, I remember being amazingly focused on the passages from the Bible I read. Time seemed to be sequestered – or I did. Almost as if I was separated, outside of time. I still remember that room in the education wing of the church. Warm, welcoming. Sitting at the banquet-sized table on a surprisingly comfortable plastic chair helped me to focus my mind and spirit on the words and ideas of the Scripture passages I read. And, my mind did not wander. (Much.) Wonder of wonders, I was able to freely journal on the thought questions from my devotion book.  

I do have a worthwhile book that gives much more direction for these solo retreats. I didn’t use it for my solo retreats, which were more focused on prayer and the Bible, and how it spoke to me. This additional book is called The Praying Church Sourcebook. It comes from the Evangelical tradition of the Christian church. I’ve spent some time praying with and walking with friends from this faith tradition, and many of them really know how to pray – I am blessed by their prayer!

Several suggested guidelines include: 1) Let the Word of God speak to you. 2) Write your thoughts in a journal. 3) Plan for variety during your prayer time. 4) Be willing to pay the price (in emotional and experiential terms). And, 5) “Take time to listen to the Lord. Let the Holy Spirit teach you throughout the day. Read the Bible, respond to truths that come alive to you, and apply what you’ve learned in your own life.” [1] Vander Griend has some specific steps he recommends, which look like they would be quite helpful. One profound statement: days of prayer do not just happen. We need to set aside the time, otherwise modern culture, stress, busy-ness and the worries of the world all combine to keep us busy and forgetful. We must break away and intentionally make the time. (And, I am preaching to myself even more than I am writing to you.)

Let us pray: gracious God, thank You for listening to us when we pray. Thank You for times of prayer when it seems like you are right next to us, sitting in a chair or on the couch nearby. Thank You too for those times when we are not sure You can even hear us. Help us to be able to make time, take time to step out of the daily routine. Thank You for intentional times of prayer. Help us to make them, we pray. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

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

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


[1] Vander Griend, Alvin J., and Bajema, Edith, The Praying Church Sourcebook (CRC Publications: Grand Rapids MI, 1997) 159.

Day 24: Ceremonies and Rituals

December 21, 2021

Stonehenge, Winter Solstice, 2014

Day 24: Ceremonies and Rituals

This branch on the Tree of Contemplative Practices has a longer name – Ceremonies and Rituals based in spiritual or cultural traditions. Today (this evening) happens to be the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. My friend Nancy and I taped a quiet, reflective service I put up on my church’s Facebook page. Services similar to this one are called a Blue Christmas (or, Holiday) service or the Longest Night service.

This service is an alternative to the bright, “holly, jolly” false faces so many put on at this time of the year. The forced gaiety, the consumerism, the festivities many people just want to avoid. While I know many who look forward to this time of the year, there are others who just want this holiday season to blow away!

The Winter Solstice is another name for today, too. The Longest Night (or Shortest Day) of the year is either marked or celebrated in many cultures and ethnic rituals, going back to neolithic times. I am thinking of both Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland, structures erected long ago along site lines that mark the movements of the sun on the day of the Winter Solstice. The winter time, the famine months were to be dreaded, in centuries and millenia past. It was important for a community to keep track of the movements of the sun, in order to apportion out food over the coldest months of the year.

Yet, this is only part of the reason that the Blue Christmas (or Longest Night) service means so much to me. It is also a return of the Light. There will be more sunlight tomorrow, and more the next. We are lighting the darkness tonight. There is a reason that so many celebrations and commemorations in different cultures and religions feature light so prominently.

And, in more recent times, the Blue Christmas service is specifically an alternative service for those for whom the holidays are a difficult time. This year more than most, with the pandemic continuing, and with a diminishing of hope, griefs and losses of all kinds, and fear and anxiety running rampant. What a necessary thing, to have a Longest Night service available for those who are challenged by this time of the year.

May this Contemplative Practice be helpful to you or your loved ones. I hope so. I pray so. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

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

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

Day 22: Labyrinth Walking

December 19, 2021

A friend walking the labyrinth, February 2018

Day 22: Labyrinth Walking

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? Or, seen a labyrinth? If you check out “labyrinth” on your laptop or smartphone, chances are you will find the labyrinth set in the floor of the Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France. (I would love to make a pilgrimage to that cathedral and walk that labyrinth. But, that is another branch on the Tree of Contemplative Practices.) This particular labyrinth (similar to a maze, with a circuitous path) is based on a circle with a winding path to the center.

I was introduced to labyrinth walking by a professor at my seminary. In my second year, I took a spiritual formation course on prayer and several other spiritual exercises. All of us class members gathered together at a retreat center to immerse ourselves into prayer practices.

Our professor had a canvas labyrinth laid out in one of the large rooms at the retreat center. He had the lights down low, and some electronic candles lit at intervals around the circumference. He had our class read an article on the historical use of labyrinths in meditation and prayer before we arrived at the center, so we all had a basic introduction. We walked both in small groups and alone, during that weekend. I immediately took to this practice of prayer walking and prayer in motion. It is a different kind of praying and contemplation, and I cannot do the same thing the same way all the time. I appreciate having some variety, so I relished learning many different ways to encounter God in prayer.

As I said before, I can’t exactly explain how or why the time in that retreat center was especially graced, but it was. I felt our time away was particularly blessed by God.

When I returned home, I found an outdoor labyrinth nearby my house, at a Catholic property in Chicago. I would walk it occasionally, and it was almost always a breath of fresh air for my spirit. A few times I had more difficulty connecting to the Holy, but I was obedient and continued in the spiritual practice, even though I did not “feel” such a direct connection to God that time. And, as my professor let us know, that was okay. It is okay to be at different places in the spiritual path at different times. Sometimes nearer, sometimes further away.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to make my own canvas labyrinth. Perhaps I will talk more about that in some other post. (The process of making it was greatly satisfying, and great fun, too!) It was about two thirds the size of my professor’s labyrinth, so a little more transportable.

Labyrinths make a wonderful change of prayer and contemplation. People can be so inventive – just look at all the contemplative practices here. Thank God for creativity.

Thank You, God, for labyrinths. Thank You for the opportunities I have had to walk them. Encourage those who read this post to walk them, too.

 @chaplaineliza

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

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

Day 21: Dialogue (Intercultural/Interfaith)

December 18, 2021

Interfaith Gathering and Iftar, May 2018

Day 21: Dialogue (Intercultural/Interfaith)

The suburb where the church I serve is located happens to be one of the most diverse, multicultural, multi-ethnic areas of the Chicago suburbs. The two high schools that serve that suburb are among the most diverse – in terms of languages spoken, countries of origin and ethnicities – in the country.

All that is to say that the place where I serve is a marvelous place and space for intercultural and interfaith dialogue. And, I’ve done my best to reach out to diverse friends, neighbors and community members in the years I have been pastor at St. Luke’s Church in Morton Grove.

In November 2016, I was invited to be a panel discussant at an interfaith discussion on Empowering Diverse Voices at the Muslim Community Center in Morton Grove. This was shortly after the national election of 2016, and many people in our area were very shaken by the heightened rhetoric and attitudes of different groups, nationwide. At that panel, I offered an opportunity for interfaith friends to come together in what I called a monthly gathering for prayer and mutual support.

I was so humbled and gratified to have a diverse group of between 12 and 16 people gather for the next 12 months at the church for these Interfaith Gatherings. These were folks from different groups, diverse faith communities (and a few with no faith affiliation), and of multiple cultures. They gathered to talk, to listen, to support each other, and to pray. For some meetings, we had a definite focus. For others, merely an opportunity for warm fellowship and sharing.

Since I had previously served as a chaplain at a busy urban hospital in Chicago (which was also in quite a diverse, multicultural area), I felt comfortable in such a setting. I suspect my comfort and less-anxious presence aided the open sharing and caring that quickly developed in this Interfaith Gathering group.

Several positive outcomes developed from this Gathering. St. Luke’s Church hosted two community Iftars: one in June 2017, seven months after the beginning of the monthly Gathering, and another in May 2018, several months after the Gatherings concluded. These Iftars were opportunities for the wider community to come together, to learn together, and to enjoy breaking bread with a diverse group of people. I made some lasting friendships from those many months of coming together! And, I was honored to serve as host and facilitator for not only the Interfaith Gatherings, but also the Community Iftars and Outreach Programs in both 2017 and 2018.   

I’ve done a number of interfaith events before and since. I do not know what or how God will direct me in the future. I am saying, “Here I am. I am available.” And, I really mean that.

O Holy One, thank You for Your marvelous diversity in this wonderful world. Thank You for bringing these diverse cultures and ethnicities together in such places like urban settings. But, wherever it is, wherever different people encounter each other, bring forth a comfort level and less-anxious presence. Thank You for open sharing and caring among different people. And, thank You for Your creative diversity, within all You have created here on earth. Thank You for everything.

@chaplaineliza

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

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

Day 20: Storytelling

December 17, 2021

Day 20: Storytelling

Fine, skilled storytellers can capture people’s attention and imagination. I know – I’ve heard a few. Storytelling is an art I wish I had. Extemporaneously, off-the-cuff. I have seen others do it, and I am both wowed and envious, at the same time.

I was intrigued when I saw this entry on the Tree of Contemplative Practices, on the Relational branch. I suppose I had never thought of it before, but storytelling not only is an art, it can be a way to actively approach the Holy. A way to show not only relationship with one another (horizontally), but also relationship with God (vertically), too.

As I was reflecting on this topic (and entry on the Tree), I became sadly aware – again! – of my periodic aphasia. Yes, I had a major stroke when I was a teenager. Yes, it affected my whole right side, which I have regained control over. However, the stroke also caused considerable confusion in my speech center. I gradually, and painstakingly, relearned how to use certain neural pathways. For years, I would often stop in the middle of a sentence because I couldn’t grab hold of the word or phrase I had in my mind in order to communicate a thought. But gradually, this became less and less. It still happens, but not quite as much or as often.

Back to my storytelling story. In my late 20’s, I was serving as a youth pastor at an integrated Lutheran church in the Austin area. We had a large Vacation Bible School that summer, and I was the director of VBS. As I stood in front of between 30 and 40 primary and junior-aged children on the first morning, I realized I had not prepared for this. This opening segment of the daily program. (I had a toddler and a preschooler at that time. The toddler was plastered to my leg all week, I vividly recall.)

Imagine my joy and wonder as I started to relate the story of Jacob and Joseph from Genesis, and I found the words immediately accessible. No stumbling, and no aphasia. The children were excited at my story, at the gestures and different voices (for the different characters). I saved the day in that situation. (Yes, the children eagerly wanted me to continue with the story of Joseph for the next days!) And, I gained some courage, some insight into my expanding limits, and thankfulness that God did assist me.

I feel better about storytelling now, several decades later. I still get lost in the details, more often than not, but I do try to tell effective stories which aid in communicating about God and God’s will and ways.

Dear God, thanks for storytelling, which has been continuing for centuries, in many cultures and people-groups . Thank you for effective storytellers (of which I certain am not!). And help us all to be able to communicate clearly, in a winsome way. Even if our words are halting and our actions good-intentioned but somehow found wanting, Thank You for using us and our voices to communicate stories.

@chaplaineliza

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

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