Nov 3 2016

Retreat


I’ve been leading two retreats the past week at Sinsinawa Dominican Convent. The last days of the Cultivating Sanctuary series will continue when I return…


Christ’s grace and peace to you,

Susan


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.)

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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.

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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. 

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

julian-of-norwich-icon

 

 


Oct 26 2016

Prayerful Diligence

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

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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.

Fine.

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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