Oct 22 2011

{Day 22} Creating a Lectio Table

In the past two posts, I’ve written about sacred space as a reminder of God’s presence, and as a call to prayer.

Beyond having a set-apart area–a beautiful corneranother option for creating prayer space is a lectio table.

A lectio table is prayer in action, in the very midst of walking-around life, and can appear in a moment. All it takes is paying attention. The act of praying is in the act of crafting it and reflecting upon it.

It can change every day. It can be part of the beautiful corner, or it can be on the kitchen counter or dining room table or any other place where prayer is happening. Last Christmas, I created a lectio tree in place of having a Christmas tree.

Over the years, I’ve collected hundreds of found objects from a 160 year old piece of hand-cut marble from St John’s Monastery to a yellow ducky with blond hair (a gift from my friend Amy).

Each has a story. Each can represent a prayer. Sometimes I choose them with a specific prayer in mind; sometimes, I create the arrangement with no pre-planning. Sometimes, when I’m out walking, I find something beautiful, like a feather butterfly. I placed it on my candle-holder when I got home, and it shone in the sunlight, inspiring prayer for the rest of that day.

Another time, I was in a busy Boston train station, tired and aching to be home, when I found a perfect sprig of baby’s breath in my path–unnoticed and unwanted by the hundreds of commuters around me. It became a prayer of gratitude for beauty in the midst of the evening commute. No table, just an object held in my hand as the train whizzed along the track.

Once the objects are selected and arranged, I allow the four movements of lectio divina–reading, meditating, praying, contemplating–to shape how I reflect on the lectio table arrangement and allow prayer to happen organically. Sometimes, I’m surprised ast what the Holy Spirit nudges me to pray about, stimulated by one of the objects or how they are in relationship to each other.

Practice: Wander your house and choose objects and/or take a walk and let nature provide you with items. Choose a place on a counter or table and arrange the objects–follow your intuition. Then using the movements of lectio divina, consider the arrangement. How is the Holy Spirit calling you to pray?


Oct 21 2011

{Day 21} Friday Florilegium

In honor of hearing Eugene Peterson speak at Seattle Pacific University Thursday evening, today’s florilegium quote is from his book, The Contemplative Pastor:

What does it mean to be a pastor? If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do?…

I can be a pastor who prays. I want to cultivate my relationship with God. I want all life to be intimate–sometimes consciously, sometime unconsciously–with the God who made, directs, and loves me. And I want to waken others to the nature and centrality of prayer. I want to be a person in this community to whom others can come without hesitation, without wonder if it is appropriate, to get direction in prayer and praying. I want to do the original work of being in deepening conversation with the God who reveals himself to me and addresses me by name. I don’t want to dispense mimeographed (!) handouts that describe God’s business; I want to witness out of my own experience. I don’t want to live as a parasite on the first-hand spiritual life of others, but to be personally involved with all my senses, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.

I know it takes time to develop a life of prayer; set-aside, disciplined, deliberate time. It isn’t accomplished on the run, nor by offering prayers from a pulpit or at a hospital bedside. I know I can’t be busy and pray at the same time. I can be active and pray; I can work and pray; but I cannot be busy and pray. I cannot be inwardly rushed, distracted or dispersed. In order to pray I have to be paying more attention to God than to what people are saying to me; to God than to my clamoring ego. Usually, for that to happen there must be a deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day, a disciplined detachment from the insatiable self.


Oct 20 2011

{Day 20} Cultivating a Relationship with Your Home, Part 4

Where there is no beauty, put beauty, and you will find beauty. –Francis of Assisi, adapted.

One of the books I read when I began to explore church and faith more seriously I found on my dad’s shelf. It now has an honored place with others that I “borrowed” from my parents. I love the fact it has the quintessential good book smell, my dad’s signature on the flyleaf, and his underlinings through-out.

Ernst Benz begins the discussion of Eastern Orthodoxy not with doctrines but with the role and understanding of icons. At the time I first read it, there was no internet (hard to imagine now), so I still remember how some of the concepts made no visual sense to me, never having been in an Orthodox church.  But the message was clear: images played an important part in the Orthodox life of prayer. This I understood.

Living in Germany at the time, I was aesthetically and spiritually formed by the medieval cathedrals with their murals and statues, hidden side altars and chapels. As one of my professors at St John’s put it, churches need secret space and shadows for those times when the soul is called into solitude with God, even in the midst of community. I loved those nooks and cranies of sacred space, the life and color of the images, and the warmth of the candlelight.

Benz’ book offered me two things that have stayed with me. The first is that images reminding us of sacred presence are important. In the violent iconoclast controversy of the 8th and 9th centuries, icons were burned and the Orthodox church nearly went through a tidal shift in its manner of prayer. But theologians of the day called upon Colossians 1:15 where Jesus is called the image (ikonen) of the Living God, his own humanity as a way for our participation with the Trinity.

Icons are not idols, which demand worship for themselves, but windows for humanity to be drawn into the Kingdom through prayer and remembrance. Idols stop the gaze; icons direct the gaze through and beyond themselves to the Ever-Presence of God.

The second idea Benz offered me was the importance of dedicating a specific area of the home to God’s presence.

In the Orthodox tradition, this is called the Beautiful Corner, usually on the eastern side of the house.

Coupled with my love of the secret side chapels in the enormous cathedrals, Benz’ book encouraged me to create a beautiful corner in my bedroom. My parents, bless them, bought me a little table, white eyelet lace cloth to cover it, and some red, green and purple fabric for the church seasons.  On it I placed various images of the cross, Jesus, Mary, and found-objects from nature. Over the years, I’ve collected many different items and frequently change it depending on the liturgical season or what I’m praying about.

The first real icon of my collection I found when I was 14, the day before leaving Germany for the Pacific Northwest.  Mary icons often find their way into the corner because of God’s call to her to birth the Christ–a call I believe each Christian receives and responds through grace in some wonderful and mysterious way. As a woman, I appreciate her witness.

While a beautiful corner sounds peaceful and lovely, I’ve found that it can be a place of conviction and a call to repentance as well. Sometimes, the last place I’ve wanted to be near is a reminder of God’s presence. As I willfully choose to go my own way and ignore the still small voice, the temptation is to simply take back the space and live forgetful of the sacred.

One particularly difficult season a few years ago, I did just that. I took all the icons and images down and tossed them in a box. I thought, out of sight, out of mind.

I told God, “Enough. I’m through.”

For awhile, I went my way and God let me alone. But then slowly, I realized God was still there, still whispering. I may be able to remove the reminders, but God could not be put in storage. Slowly I took things out of the box and said a small yes again to God’s unrelenting love.

What I meant as tantrum, God used to remind me that his presence is more than my small ideas and certainly beyond my control (Thank God!).

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
 if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
 if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. –Psalm 139:7-12

Practice: Is there a special place, a beautiful corner, that reminds you and your family of God’s loving presence? If not, where would you put it? What would you put there?

If you have a beautiful corner, how long has it been since you changed it? Sometimes what becomes familiar is easily forgotten. I invite you to spend some time rearranging and praying.

If you are going through a season where God is “in storage,” I invite you to wander your house and find one object that calls your heart and thoughts to prayer (photos of little ones always does it for me). Put the object in a prominent location, and slowly, as you feel led, add other reminders to pray or say “thank you”–maybe a leaf from a particularly glorious fall tree, a cross, a verse of scripture that tugs at your memory. Over time, items will be added and you will have a beautiful corner for prayer.

Get young people involved–I think they have a wonderful, playful sense of what makes sacred space beautiful.



Oct 19 2011

{Day 19} Cultivating a Relationship with Your Home, Part 3

When I think how close I came to not taking my apartment, I marvel at God’s patient persistence and the grace gift of faith.

I’ve moved nearly every year for the past decade and when I moved back to Seattle to write my dissertation, I gave myself a month to find a place, and my constant prayer was…please, a place I won’t have to leave for a while.

But the rental market skyrocketed that summer and rents rose to near Boston levels. I despaired. Slowly my faith in God’s provision was replaced by a willingness to pay more.

Finally, I just had to admit that a higher rent was not the answer and I took the whole project to God in prayer, made a list of the things that I longed for in a living space, things that I knew from experience would be helpful as I worked at home and lived day to day:

From my journal:

1. Below $900 (this is hard, I don’t believe it is possible).
2. A place I can spend my days in without going stir crazy. A home. Peaceful. Retreat. Aesthetically easy on the eyes.
3. A cat
4. Washer and dryer–I really like having a place to do laundry.
5. Trees
6. Fireplace
7. A deck for tea on pretty days
8. Near a bus that will get me to Bethany without too much trouble.

I walked into the place a week later (and no, it didn’t come with a cat, but it did, unlike many other places, allow for the possibility. I wonder sometimes if a cat will turn-up on my doorstep one day–I already have all the supplies).

It also had a view and a dishwasher, things I really wanted, but felt I couldn’t ask for.

It was also strangely, delightfully coincident that that building and street names are the same as my middle name.

The curious thing is that I almost didn’t take it. Every other place I’ve moved, there were no doubts, I felt certain and made the decision. In this case, even with all the rightness of the place, I didn’t have that confidence.

I sat in the apartment–the landlord said I could take a couple days to decide, and visit as much as I wanted. I sat some more until my rear hurt from sitting on the stone fireplace seat. And the next day, I sat some more and finally started to pray. Yes or no? Should I or shouldn’t I?

I asked for prayer from friends. I spent a lunch with my friend Cathee listing all the pros and cons. Then I went back to my temp place and prayed some more. And it struck me: I was being asked to make a choice based on God’s leading, as near as I could discern it, let go of my concerns and my pride, and simply trust HimThis was a gift being held out, I had the freedom to say no, but I was scared to say yes.

It became critical to ask one more question of God: Will you be there, in this new place, no matter what?

(I think there was little bit of a chuckle).

Yes, Susan. Of course.

It is easy to forget that this world is more than trees and soil, concrete and wood, atoms and molecules, that there is a spiritual world woven in and through and around us, and a God who promises presence. As we consider our homes, as places where we are vulnerable, places for rest, love, and laughter, or places of tension and anger, all homes are places of God’s healing and loving presence.

“For in him we live and move and have our being.” –Acts 17:28

Practice: Walk around your home and reflect on how you see, feel, and meet God in this place, and how you would like to know God’s presence in your home, in its atmosphere, among the relationships of those who live there, in the logistics of money and upkeep, in the role it plays as place of hospitality, and in any other ways the Holy Spirit inspires you to pray.



Oct 18 2011

{Day 18} Cultivating a Relationship with Your Home, Part 2

I’ve always been a “I’ll do it in the morning” kind of person. Dishes stayed in the sink and on the counter until I shuffled out into the morning dark to put on water for tea. While the water boiled and the tea steeped, I’d clean up from the day before and then take my tea in for some quiet moments of reflection and prayer.

One evening, I cleaned up before I went to bed, not really thinking too much about it.

The next morning I walked into a delightfully clean and orderly kitchen–the counter, bare and ready for possibility. Muffins? Bread? Or simply time to wander out and look at the sunrise while my tea bag soaked.

I smiled that morning–and while I’m more of a morning person than an evening, smiling is usually beyond my capacity before tea. The clear counter made the day feel spacious and ready for creativity (though my sleepy brain was not thinking about it so eloquently at the time).  And, the rest of the day did go better, and from that point on, I began to practice life as a “I’ll do it now, for the joy of later” kind of person.

Do I always keep my counters clear now? No. But I know that when I do, that same early morning joy awaits me.

This is one of the ways contemplative living–paying attention to the present moment–can lead to little changes without much drama. If you take the time to notice how something subtly changes your internal mood or thoughts positively, this energy can be used. It’s a much better way for creating a new habit than teeth-clenched willpower. In fact, Thomas Aquinas, a major medieval theologian, was convinced that the best way to learn how to live virtuously was through experiencing the delight that was the consequence of the virtuous action, not guilt from, or punishment for, wrong-doing.

Cleaning a counter isn’t a virtue, but the underlying motivation may have some similarities. After I was awake enough to reflect on my experience of joy that morning, I realized that I’d always cleaned my counters because I thought I should. This was the first time I made a clear connection between the action and its joy-full consequence.

We’ll delve into this more next week as we consider challenges to contemplative attention, ways we can purposely distract ourselves from the joy-full consequences of paying attention to the present moment. But for now, let’s return to the home.

Considering our homes an an important companion in our family’s life may help create new awareness in two ways. First, it helps in dealing with the space as it is, rather than as you wish it would be, and second, it underscores the reality that your daily living space has an impact on your thoughts and mood, and the climate of your family life. This leads to both flexibility and initiative–flexibility to make compromises for where the space falls short, and initiative to make changes in how you interact with the space for the joy of later.

If you walked around your home and took some notes in the Day 17 practice, consider the areas that cause an energy drain. Maybe every time you go into your bathroom, you feel tired. Maybe the dining room is a place of arguments and tension. Maybe the bedroom doesn’t invite you to rest. Or maybe the closet feels like it’s hiding the weight of everything on your to-do list.

Ok. Breathe.

One little change could transform how you and your family live the rest of the day, and over time, daily joy accumulates.

Practice: Pick one space, or a part of one space, that you interact with daily and set your clock to a pomodoro (25 minutes). Single-task your attention as much as possible–though listening to some favorite music might be helpful.

Work with the objects in the space. Move them around, neaten them up, sort them. Sometimes, taking everything out and cleaning is enough to get the energy moving. As you work with the space, imagine what would give you joy in that space. Follow your joy, for the joy of later. It may be something simple, like a clean counter, or organizing one shelf of a linen closet.

Get the munchkins involved–getting to set the pomodoro clock can be part of the fun.

If you are feeling energized, do another pomodoro after a 5 minute break (and be sure to take the break!)

Artwork by Carl Holsoe


Oct 17 2011

{Day 17} Cultivating a Relationship with Your Home, Part 1

My first place I called home after college was also called The Hedge among those in my college Christian fellowship.

I’ve lived in many places and had the freedom to decorate many bedrooms over the years–my pink and white frills in elementary school, my high school room with a Rapunzel window high up in the lofted ceiling above the living room (my family called it the Zugspitze after the tallest mountain in Germany), my first college dorm room.

But The Hedge was a place I had complete freedom to pick. Some would question the wisdom of that decision. It was a spooky Victorian mansion painted gray with black trim and surrounded by an intimidating 10 foot hedge. The landlord told me not to look at the wiring and if a fire started, to just run. My mom cried when she came to visit, before I and my roommates had cleaned it up.

Clean it up we did. Previous tenants had left trash mouldering on the back porch. The walls needed cleaning and touching up. The windows had decades worth of spiders’ webs between the inner and outer glass.  The garden was a mass of vines and bamboo.

But it had a huge mantled fireplace and bay window in the living room, 14 foot ceilings, crown-molding, and enough character for 10 gothic romance novels. The buried garden had a stone bird bath, flag stone paths, and rose bushes. All I could see was possibility and the year I lived there, I sewed poet’s blouses and long skirts, listened to Vivaldi, and was adopted by an abandoned blue Siamese kitty I named Earl Grey.  Every night he would take a running leap from my bedroom doorway to my bed, curl up and go to sleep.

The house came to life at Christmas. In Bellingham, there was never need to buy pine boughs. Just wait for a wind storm and take a walk on Sehome Hill with a trash bag, Mother Nature never failed to provide ample branches. I decorated the windows and mantle and we had a party. The house was loved and it shone again with warmth and magic.

Since The Hedge, I’ve done similar things with many different homes.

A basement Seattle apartment with a lovely window to a secluded garden. It boasted the most, and largest, spiders I’ve ever seen outside a zoo and required three hours of vacuuming just to see the color of the carpet. Once it was clean and decorated, I loved the evening light on the windowpanes, shining through the hedge rose bush.

The Howe House, a lonely, but lovely Craftsman, right next door to and owned by Bethany Presbyterian–oh, the fun of those years!

A little studio on Queen Anne which I waited 9 years to live in.

A 200 year old house in Massachusetts  with crazy wallpaper that nearly knocked me over with it’s busy pattern.

An urban studio above a bar in Boston. I called it The Anchorhold after Julian of Norwich and her small cell right at a noisy, major (for medieval times) intersection .

And the list goes on.

I learned this home-loving skill from my mom. Over our years moving with the Army, she was a master as taking a tired, drab and spiritless place and making it a home.

Now, I live in a 1962 apartment, the first official Contemplative Cottage, and while it does not boast a century-old pedigree, it has become one of the most gracious homes yet.

The past two weeks we’ve been considering Contemplative Living–paying attention to the present moment, and engaging with how God might be present in life right now. We’ve practiced listening and looking, taking Sabbath rest and coloring, single-tasking and the pomodoro technique, now I’d like for us to reflect on our environment, and specifically where we live.

Practice: If I tell you that your home is alive, you might think me odd, but for just a moment, look at your house or apartment with the eyes of love, as if it was a living, breathing companion in your life. What makes you smile? What areas draw you? What areas drain your energy? No need to make any changes, just notice. Walk through your home and take some notes about what your see, feel, hear, sense. While you are at it, pray for each room and that God would reveal himself in this gift of shelter.

 

 

 

 

 

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