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.

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

Day 5: Gratitude

December 2, 2021

Prayer and meditation mean a lot to me. I try to do one or both on a regular basis. Recovery principles also mean a lot to me. (Did you know that I have a certificate in Alcohol and Drug Addiction, certified by the state of Illinois?) Helping people in recovery and their loved ones is also important to me.

When I came to the word “Gratitude,” the first thought that came to me was the program of recovery. It is so natural for people in recovery to be grateful – grateful for sobriety, yes. That is the first and primary thing! But after that sober realization, the person’s eyes are opened and all of life opens up. Life becomes possible to live again.

Looking at “Daily Reflections,” a daily meditation book from the Alcoholics Anonymous Foundation, I was struck by the reading for March 25th – “I am grateful not only for sobriety, but for the quality of life my sobriety has brought.” [1] Gratitude is truly a blessing, where peace and contentment become a blessed possibility for grateful people. That gratitude is so often a blessing from a Higher Power.

Yes, gratitude is wonderful for anyone in the recovery program. More than that, did you realize that gratitude is helpful for anyone? So many have negative behaviors, thinking and attitudes in their lives, minds and spirits. Relapse is simply going back to a behavior, way of thinking, habit or speech that you wish to leave behind. Gratitude is a excellent tool to help prevent relapse. Gratitude promotes freedom from relapse to addictive behaviors, negative thinking, harmful habits, hurtful way of speech, or whatever it is that you want to jettison.

How can we be grateful? you may ask. A simple way to start is by writing down a list of things you are grateful for. (And, once you start, you may not be able to stop!) If a whole long list is too daunting, why don’t you try for three things? What are you grateful for, today? Write down those three things, and then tomorrow you can add three more.

Try to stop the negativity tapes that play on “repeat” in your head. Focus on those positive things, and be sure to say “thank You” to God for them. Yes, I’ve kept gratitude lists, even through dark times and difficult patches in my life. These lists can be a lifesaver.   

That is all, one gratitude at a time, one step at a time, one day at a time.

Dear Lord, gracious God, I thank You for this excellent reminder to be grateful, today. And, with today’s meditation from Daily Reflections, I pray that we all may be richly blessed from You, so blessed we will overflow with gratitude, each day. One day at a time. 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] Daily Reflections (Alcoholics Anonymous Foundation, United States of America: 1990), 93.

Day 3: Silence

November 30, 2021

Morton Grove Forest Preserves, Nov. 10, 2021, photo credit Elizabeth Jones

I used to shy away from silence, when I was young. I always had to be surrounded by people or by sound. And usually, either music or voices. White noise was okay, but I still felt alone. And, I deeply felt the aloneness. Gradually, I had to grow accustomed to silence. But, that was decades ago. Looking backward, I see myself then as immature. Only half-birthed, and such a young one.

When I was introduced to the book Living in the Presence by Tilden Edwards just a few months after starting seminary, I felt blown away. My professor in the course on Introduction to Prayer actually studied at the Shalem Institute with Edwards. The width, depth and breadth of Edwards’ knowledge about spiritual growth and formation blew me away, too.

Edwards said that we all “have a tendency to become very noisy inside to compensate for the silence outside.” His comfort level with silence fascinated me, and was something I wanted in my life. Sure, I had grown a bit since the constant need (desire for?) sound in my teens, and it continued through my 20’s and 30’s. Yet, at 40, I had some idea of how desperately far I still needed to go.

Edwards is just one of so many who references “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10) as part of the contemplative tradition. He said “Being still before God is the enduring stance of prayer, that which lasts when all the words and other sounds inside are exhausted.” [1]

Yes, I can sit in silence before God now. Sometimes I even crave that Godly silence, the silence so filled with the presence of the Almighty – containing the totality of the spectrum of sound, which includes silence. But, sometimes my comfort level ebbs and flows. Sometimes I do still crave some kind of music or voices, or water and rain sounds. And, that is okay, too. As long as I am communicating with God. That is what God truly wants, after all.

Would you join me in this sounding of prayer?

Dear God, thank You for sound. Thank You for the multiplicity of varieties of sound, from the whisper of the breeze to the crash of the ocean waves. Thank You for the beauty of voices singing and instruments playing. Thank You for silence, too, that deep, smooth pool of stillness, spreading across the psalmist’s awareness. Help us to know – truly know – that You are God. Amen.


[1] Edwards, Tilden, Living in the Presence (Harper Collins: San Francisco, 1995), 35.

@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 2: Quieting the mind

Missouri Botanic Garden, December 2019 – photo credit Elizabeth Jones

November 29, 2021

Day 2: Quieting the mind

It’s so difficult to hear anything in a crowded room full of people talking. Competing voices, sounds, all kinds of ruckus and noise. Do you want to turn down the sound level, like turning down the car radio?

Sure, sound can be that way in the external world. However, I am thinking of the internal world – the interior space within each of us. How can we clear away the sound, the noise, and even prepare our internal, interior space for prayer? Contemplation, or meditation? This effort is the first thing I seek. I am not always able to get there, it is true, but I try.

As a marvelous writer on prayer and spirituality said, “For too long we have been in a far country: a country of noise and hurry and crowds, a country of climb and push and shove, a country of frustration and fear and intimidation.” [1] Richard Foster is so right. We need to set aside all that clutter and noise inside our heads, and between our ears, too.

Quieting the mind for me has some options, for sure. My favorite ones right now are first, taking deep breaths, in and out. That slows my heart rate, encourages me to sit up, sit straight, and stretch. Stretch my arms, shoulders, do shoulder circles (forward and back), and swivel or pivot my head and neck.

If you feel some muscle or place in your body or torso that feels like it needs to be stretched, by all means do it! Your body will thank you for stretching. And, your mind and spirit will appreciate the physical invitation into the presence of God.

Sometimes it can be enough to quiet the mind. Sure, these different contemplative practices can be so meaningful! But sometimes – it can be enough to have some inner stillness, to center oneself. Advent especially is a time of preparation and stillness. Ask God. The response can be clear. Praise God.

Please, pray with me. Dear God, thank You for this deep-down desire to quiet the mind. Thank You for help to become still enough to hear from You. Being in Your presence is so worth it! Remind me – remind us of that truth, please. In Jesus’ name we pray.


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


@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for the 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 1: A sacred, personal space

Photo credit: Kevin Jones

November 28, 2021

Do you look at life from a glass-half-full perspective? Or, is your glass half-empty?

I try to go through life looking at things from a positive perspective. (That is, most of the time.) When situations and challenges rock my boat, I sometimes try to calm things down by praying. Sometimes with meditation and contemplation, too.

Except, sometimes is not often enough. Sometimes.

I was introduced to the Tree of Contemplative Practices through a prayer retreat . My ecumenical association, the Federation of Christian Ministries, sponsored a (much needed!) Zoom retreat earlier this month. This prayer tree, found on the website http://www.contemplativemind.org, immediately caught my attention. Yes, and my mind and spirit, too. I noticed that I had done or been involved in almost every contemplative and spiritual practice listed on this tree. My intention is to journal about the many practices, when and where in my life I had the opportunity to practice, and see whether at the end I have any more insight than I do right now. Which, admittedly, is not much. I journal in hopes of gaining some godly wisdom.

When I pray, or meditate, or contemplate, or whatever journaling I may do, I find it helpful to get into a quiet place. This may not be a whole separate room. No, a chair may be enough. Or, a desk in a corner. You could even put in earphones or whatever sound reducing device you prefer. I suggest quiet music helps, even silence, at times. I’ve meditated to the sound of waves, and of rain. I love to listen to Gregorian chant and baroque guitar or lute while journaling. Whatever calms you and causes your heart rate to slow. Take some slow, deep breaths, too, before you start. Whatever is helpful for you, for your soul and spirit, and for your heart.

Remember, God wants to get in touch with us. Up close and personal, if possible.

Please, pray with me. Dear God, thank You for this time of quiet. Help me – help us to come to You with open hearts and spirits. Thank You for meeting us when we turn to You. In this time of Advent, of preparation, draw us close – close to You. Dear Lord, in Your mercy, hear all of our prayers.

@chaplaineliza

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

Mission Statement

Have you ever felt fragmented and off kilter? I have.

To center myself and my mind, I have determined to journal every day, for the next few weeks. I found an excellent prompt (or series of prompts) – the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

I will be doing a daily Advent discipline of journaling each day in Advent 2021.

Contemplation, prayer and meditation help center and calm me. See whether these quiet practices might help you, too!

Want to join me on my journaling journey?