Oct 28 2016

Friday Florilegium

Day 25 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary. (And yes, my faithful readers, I’ve had to choose not to blog a few times this week in order to maintain an internet-free sanctuary.)


The florilegium for today comes from Julian of Norwich, 14th century English anchoress, and the first woman known to have published a book in English–Showings, or Revelations of Divine Love. She lived in a small two-room cell leaning up against a church, spending her days in prayer and giving spiritual counsel to those who visited her window. Anchoresses were allowed a cat, so Julian’s icon often shows her with a cat.

Considering how important Minerva is in my own life as a single person, I can imagine that Julian’s cat was more than just a mouser, but a companion as well.

Julian experienced 16 “showings” she believed were given to her by God, and then spent 20 years meditating on those visions. Here are my three favorite passages, among many, that show our sanctuary in the love of God:

And in this [God] showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it. But what is this to me? Truly, the Creator, the Keeper, the Lover. For until I am substantially “oned” to him, I may never have full rest nor true bliss. That is to say, until I be so fastened to him that there is nothing that is made between my God and me.


Would you learn our Lord’s meaning in this thing?
Learn it well: Love was his meaning.
Who showed it to you? Love.
What did he show you? Only love.
And for what reason did he show you? For love.
Hold on to this, and you will learn more of the same.
But you will never, without end, learn in it any other meaning. 


All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.




Oct 26 2016

Prayerful Diligence

Day 24 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.


A humorous moment with God occurred a few years back as I complained to him, once again, about the writing of my dissertation. The dissertation process for many people causes a loss of joy in the topic studied, and since my topic was the practice of prayer in theological education, I was doubly full of complaint. Not only had I lost a love of the whole educational project, but I also suffered from what used to be called dryness in prayer–a distaste and loss of feeling and connection with God. Sitting on a tombstone, I dramatically begged God to rekindle my love of learning and desire for him. In the silence that followed, a whisper of guidance impressed itself on me, almost with an ironic smile: Write out your gratitudes for today.


So, I dutifully wrote out my gratitudes: It was good to take a walk, it was a beautiful day, I’d actually learned some cool bits of monastic theology in the book I was reading, church had been meaningful.

One gratitude tugged at me and again the impression was clear: Write out the book title.

Sure, God. Okay. The Love of Learning and Desire for God.

It took me a moment to realize what had just happened, and then I started laughing. Here I was begging God to rekindle my joy in study and in him, and the answer looked back at me from the title of the book. Keep working, your prayer is being answered in the work you are doing. 

close reading

Ironically, that chapter on monastic theology never made it into the final draft, but it did give me a gift: it taught me about assiduitas.

Assiduitas is the Latin word from which assiduous or assiduity comes. Diligence is a good synonym, except it is more than that. In the monastic context, every labor takes on the shimmer of prayer and every prayer is labor. The daily round of prayers is the opus Dei, the work of God, and the motto of Benedictines is ora et labora, prayer and work. For a monk, prayer is the primary work, but prayer doesn’t stop when one does work tasks–prayer and work are integral to each other. The same goes for assiduitas. It is a prayerful diligence which is used in conjunction with the monastic study of scripture, lectio divina. The monk is attentive, rigorous, and thorough in the study, out of a prayerful response to relationship with God, rather than out of a need to prove oneself astute or perform perfectly.


The idea of assiduitas helped me reframe the often dry, long, and challenging dissertation work as a prayerful offering to God, and the practice continues in cultivating sanctuary at the Cottage.  Assiduitas expresses itself in the prayer-full completion of tasks with an eye toward excellence–whether it is winding the vacuum cord back neatly or wiping down a dirty appliance or planning nutritious meals or the welcoming of guests. It expresses itself in finishing challenging projects, reading with attention, or seeing to the on-going maintenance tasks of home-keeping.

It is a good response to procrastination or resentment. Rather than letting procrastination take hold, or the opposite, to resentfully power through, prayerful diligence imagines the doing of the task as the prayer, to be done well in God’s sight and to be done with love.

And while I so often fall short, the goal of any diligence is that deep sigh of relief that a place of sanctuary engenders–welcome, peace, grace, love.

If prayerful diligence entices you as a practice, I encourage you to choose one task, and do it slowly, prayerfully. It could be cleaning off a desk area or changing a bed or sweeping the floor. It could be doing a writing assignment or a project task that is more challenging than joyful, or something that keeps getting put off. How might doing it be reframed as an offering of prayer to God or an offering of love to others?

Oct 23 2016

Sabbath Day

Day 23 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

I’m taking a day for worship and fellowship. Here is a lovely 30-minute sung Compline by Clare College Choir, Cambridge, to end your Sunday.

Oct 22 2016

Think Small

Day 22 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.


A forgotten butterfly, found on a walk.

In chaos theory, small changes in the initial stages of a pattern are believed to have large effects. One of the first metaphors describing this theory uses weather: a butterfly flapping its wings could set into motion a hurricane at a later time in a different place, thus it is called the butterfly effect. While this is a negative effect, small changes could also have a positive effect in distant times and places.

I often think of those moments when I know that, had I made a slightly different decision, life would have been quite different. Sometimes reflecting on those small changes can be helpful, other times they can become “if onlys” and best left to God’s redemption.

A small change now can affect our lives in the future. Annie Dillard writes, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our life.” The ordinary, quotidian, seemingly small, details shape our lives. Even one small change could have a large impact.

While this might sound terrifying, it can also be encouraging.

Yellowstone National Park brought wolves back to the park in 1995 after an absence of 69 years. In reintroducing them, the wildlife specialists had no idea the sanctuary-creating cascade of events they were setting in motion. Here is a breath-taking 5-minute video that takes you through the amazing outcomes (turn off the Music for Dreaming > before watching):

Cultivating sanctuary is not about making big, complicated changes, but making the small, simple ones.

How do we know what change? Through prayer and listening to God’s word, to your heart and hopes, to those who love you and who share home-space with you. No large moves. No drastic changes. It’s the small change the Holy Spirit whispers to you through your longing, joy, or tears. It may not even seem that important, or it may seem too easy, but God’s grace and love and power shine through.

What is the smallest change you can make toward cultivating sanctuary?



Oct 21 2016

Friday Florilegium

Day 21 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.


Ah, the lovely cadences of 19th century prayer! Taken from the daily devotional, Prayers Ancient and Modern, collected by Mary Wilder Tileston.


Friday Florilegium 1


Oct 21 2016

The Idol of Perfectionism

Day 20 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.


Allegro Harp

Writing daily on the blog has produced it’s own set of challenges. It takes about 2 hours from start to publish for a post. With my intention of keeping the house free from internet, this has meant staying late at the office. But some days, it has meant (gasp) using my phone as a wifi hub. The limited data and speed means anything beyond posting is impossible, but it still breaks the intention of an internet-free Cottage.

Surrounded by and formed by a perfectionist culture, I used to believe that a practice not done perfectly was a failure, with all the feelings of incompetence and guilt piled on. However, if this were true, then learning a musical instrument would be impossible.

One of the 8 intentional items I first brought into my house was my harp.

In the late 90s, my parents gave me a Celtic harp for Christmas and I began to teach myself to play. While I played at church in the praise ensemble, not having a teacher put me at a disadvantage. Ultimately, with school and moving around the country a few times, playing the harp was forgotten.

Moving to Dubuque, the desire to start playing returned and I began looking for an instructor, to no avail. Then one Sunday evening, just before last Christmas, I decided to walk down to Mass at the Cathedral, just 5 minutes from my then apartment. As I entered the church, exquisitely played harp music filled the space. Making a beeline to the pew next to the harpist, I drank in the beauty. After Mass, I introduced myself and asked for lessons.

That was 9 months ago and the weekly lessons continue.


Crescendo Harp (new to the Cottage) – Minerva approves.

Perfectionism in practicing the harp has no place. In fact, the harp has taught me that mistakes, missed notes, and the mental struggle to read bass clef (slowly, so painfully slow!) is at the heart of good practice.

If I demand perfection when first learning a new fingering or song, I short-circuit the process. The drivenness to “get it right” gets in the way–my hands tense, become clawlike; the sound is constricted, choppy; good technique disappears; and confidence plummets, especially when playing for an audience.

I play better when I’m not trying to play better.

I play better when I am caught up in the joy of playing.

It is not an absence of control, but a relaxation of control into a sense of trust in my fingers, the music, the instrument, and the mystery of creative process.

This same drivenness can haunt spiritual practices. The desire to “get it right,” to practice perfectly, becomes the focus, rather than God.

Instead, we relax through the practice, trusting the Spirit, into awareness of God’s presence.

Setting an intention or writing a rule of prayer that describes our hopes for a season is an excellent practice, as long as the intention or rule is held lightly, in the grace of the Spirit. The mistakes, missteps, inconsistencies, are opportunities for renewed practice, a time for figuring things out, rather than getting stuck in feelings of failure and guilt.

Deliberate practice is a term used in the new field of expertise studies. Malcolm Gladwell has popularized some of the research when he talks about the 10000 hours required to become an expert. What is often left out of popular interpretations is that this practice is not random or rote, but deliberate. It zeros in on the mistakes, understands why they occurred and then works through them intentionally into incremental improvement and learning.

Rather than getting stuck by the idol of perfection, spiritual practice can be an icon inviting us into the wider reality of God: love, beauty, joy, and peace.

So, even in blogging about sanctuary practices, I’ve had to revisit the intentions I set for life at the Cottage and understand how to live within them. Practically, this has meant switching to morning posts, so as not be at the office late in the evening; working toward leaving the phone at the office more and more evenings; and being okay with (and honest about) the messiness of it all.

As you consider ways to cultivate sanctuary in your own life and home, where is perfectionism getting in the way? In your life with God, how does the idol of “getting it right” get in the way of relationship? In what way can your practices be icons inviting you into the joyful reality of relationship with God? 


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