Sep 2 2011

Friday Florilegium

This week I reread David Hansen’s book, Long Wandering Prayer. Eight years ago, when I first read it, it drastically changed how I approached my “quiet time.”  The common understanding of prayer as only a silent, mental exercise disconnected from the body bored me terribly and seemed so artificial. My best times of prayer have always been while wandering city, hills, forests, and meadows. Hansen’s book gave me the freedom to embrace this way of praying, a way I had been praying since childhood, but never felt fit in the quiet time box.

If you find that prayer seems dull or disconnected from your life, I invite you to walk your prayer–wander your house, your neighborhood, your church building, and pray with your eyes open. Pay attention to what you see and let it lead you into prayer. Pay attention to the sounds, the noisyness of life, and let the Spirit speak to you through the noise. Kids are best at having noisy times with God. Pray with a young person in your life. Dance. Talk out loud to God. Talk back to God. If you need some inspiration, try reading a couple psalms–the psalmists loved to pray with their eyes open and use the created world for prayer images, and they also were not shy in talking to God!


From Long Wandering Prayer by David Hansen:

“The body matters in prayer, as does the physical world around us. We know this yet many of us understand prayer as an exercise in which we should ideally subdue, quiet or otherwise discipline the body so that it reamins dormant while we engage in the spirtual exercise of prayer. There is no question about the fact that prayer is a spiritual exercise. Prayer is in its very essence our soul in communion with the Spirit of God.

The fallacy lies in the idea that the body must be subdued in order for the soul to commune with the Spirit of God.  The very term quiet time (the fullest term being quiet time with God) implies this very thing–that we go to a quiet place and quiet the body so that we can be with God in quiet. Why can’t we call it noisy time? Why can’t we call in moving time? Why can’t we say, ‘I had a great noisy time with God this morning.’ I know of no biblical mandate for quiet time. For me, quiet time always turns into sleepy time. I think what we have be calling quiet time should really, be termed alone time.

Doesn’t Jesus tell us to pray in our prayer closet alone? Indeed. He tells us, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’ (Mt 6:6) Jesus tells us to pray in secret, not in quiet. How quiet would that room be? He was probably referring to the pantry or storage room of a small house. The house filled with children, animals, neighbors, and street noise would have provided precious little quiet time. However, alone in the pantry, hearing the glorious cry of a child at play, the parent might well have prayed more fervently for that child than if they had been praying in an insulated room.

Did not Jesus go to the mountain to pray? Absolutely. When did you last pray on a mountain? I prayed on a mountain yesterday, alone. Birds whistled, the river roared, the wind howled, and my heart thumped as I climbed the mountain. Alone with God, I felt quite free to speak out loud. It was not quiet–and my body was not subdued…

Doesn’t it say ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Ps 46:10)? Yes, it does.  But in the context of Psalm 46 the injunction means ‘be still’ in the presence of war’s violent destruction and mountains that are shaking and falling into the heart of the sea. It means to be still in the midst of chaos.”

Friday Florilegium 1

Jun 20 2011

Answered Prayers

Mondays are for counting thanks to 1000 and beyond


While I love Seattle, I need to get out of the city every so often to a place with more grass than concrete and more birds than cars. My ears long to escape from city sounds and I want to smell the earth and trees and sea. A couple months ago I had a talk with God about it. Not being a driver, leaving the city (and public transit) behind requires a little more planning, and I’ve loved seeing how God has been working things out without me thrashing about trying to orchestrate it. He’s been teaching me trust and patience–inviting me to tell him what I need, then step back and see what happens.

392.  On Friday I leave for the high school mission trip. Leave may not be the right word since the students will be staying in Seattle for the week working with, mostly, inner city ministries. When I said yes to helping out, I knew that this was not going to be one of those times to get out of the city, but I felt both a call and joyful excitement to be involved no matter what.

Without my saying anything to anyone, I was placed with the team of students going to Tierra Nueva, a ministry reaching out to migrant farmers, 90 minutes outside of Seattle. Most of the week will be spent working on the farm there.  I am thrilled!

393. An wonderful invitation to spend some writing time in a rural house on the peninsula.

394. The gift of a pile of beautiful garden magazines.


395. A lovely day at the Nisqually Estuary with friends, seeing so many different kinds of birds.

(for more photos of the wildlife refuge, look here.)



396. A balcony sanctuary, where I can listen to the mingled sounds of city and nature.



397. A spontaneous day in Bellingham and journaling time on a rock at Larrabee State Park.

“If I spend too much time in these wild places, I will shed the trappings of what I wear in the city and slowly meld into the rock, and sea, and woods. These words even now are full of the waves and foam and splash, no longer empty, no longer easily erased. Words written on my heart.”


398. Pots of growing things now blooming.

And while not about getting out of the city, two more amazingly wonderful answers to prayer:

399. The long-term loan of a piano keyboard from my friends Cathee and Brian.

400. Fifty one pages done toward my dissertation first draft, and no more anxiety as I write.

May 7 2011

Friday Florilegium


A florilegium of quotes, some snippets of what I’ve been reading this week….

“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run , that ye may obtain.”   –1 Cor 9:24 (from my hundred year old King James. Ah! The romance of an old bible!)

“When I meditate on the annunciation and try to find my place in it–for I am convinced that we all experience our own small annunciations–I wonder what I would do if I found an angel waiting in my kitchen as I burst through the door, already late in starting dinner. Or lounging in my study when I need to write a lecture for tomorrow morning. Or already sitting in the taxi when I am on my way to the airport. I would be tempted to say, ‘but you haven’t made and appointment. You should have called first. I ‘d love to oblige, but this just isn’t a good time. Maybe later…’ But annunciations cannot be scheduled in advance…The angel–whatever form the bearer of tumultuous tidings might take–rarely carries a lily and practically never appears at a convenient time or place. Like Mary, as I imagine her, we would be quite happy to continue in our decent ordinariness. And yet the greeting comes: Hail, O favored one. Make a place for him within you. Get ready for your tranquility to be shattered. put yourself aside, let your life be changed.”  –Margaret Guenther, The Practice of Prayer (one of the best books on prayer I’ve ever read!)

“What do you want your home to be? What does God want it to be? Waste no time wondering if you can do it. The question is simply, Will you? Your weakness is itself a potent claim on divine mercy.” –Elisabeth Elliot, The Shaping of a Christian Family

“Our true aim must not be to work much, and have prayer enough to keep the work right, but to pray much and then to work enough for the power and blessing obtained in prayer to find its way through us to [all people].–Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer

“I often think that God must have been looking for someone small enough and weak enough for Him to use and that He found me.”  –Hudson Taylor (It’s been over 20 years since I wrote my undergrad history thesis on missions in China, Hudson Taylor and Gladys Aylward. Their witness never fails to inspire me.)

“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.” –Hudson Taylor

If you have quotes or verses that you’ve been reflecting on, please share them in the comments!

Friday Florilegium 1

Mar 2 2011

Guested by God

I simply sit at my desk this morning, in silence, pen in hand, paper ready for whatever words might come. My pinched heart stretches and expands and trusts a little more, to live a little larger, feel a little more deeply, ask more scary questions, hope more strongly in what I believe.


The Spirit’s breath is like a hummingbird by my ear and God’s presence surrounds, the Love that weaves all moments of doing and living together.

But then my heart shrinks back from the Presence which is all that is Love and Joy and Beauty and Truth.

Too vulnerable, I whisper, too intimate.

So away from the moment and the face of God I flee, disconnecting and distracting myself with even the best of gifts and joys.

Ferry Flyer by SLF

It is not simply God that I flee, but myself:  All that I am, all I wish I wasn’t and all that I long to be reflected in that Face.

And God pursues me, until I stop and turn and be simply Susan. Here. Now.


God names, calls, woos, loves us, to the ends of the earth and the farthest reaches of time, always whispering,

“Yes, I see that, and this, and even that, and I love you. I love you. Always. Keep your eyes on me.


To welcome God’s presence in this moment means welcoming ourselves as well with God’s own hospitality. No posturing, not hiding, no fleeing, otherwise the hospital-now of graced healing cannot do its work.

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be she.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
(George Herbert)

In every moment, we are guested by Love.


And as we are welcomed by Love, and welcome ourselves, welcoming others becomes a way of life.

Love welcomes the weary and angry hearts, the dry and cracked deserts of lost dreams, the icy wastes of bitter memory, the apathetic spirit of nothing-will-change.

Then sweeping God goes to work with her broom and clears and cleans, finding the lost coins of gifts with laughing joy on her lips.

The shepherd God goes searching high and low for the wandering heart, finding it shivering and cold, alone and afraid, Come with me, little one.

The long-loving  God runs to us and welcomes us home with a feast to this gift of life, and feeds the famished with his own self.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Come, in this moment, sit and eat.


Jan 19 2011

Catching Fire

A disciple once came to Abba Joseph, saying, “Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, my little fast, and my little prayer. And according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my mind of all evil thoughts and my heart of all evil intents. Now, what more should I do?” Abba Joseph rose up and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of flame. He answered, “Why not be totally changed into fire?”

–from Prayer by Richard Foster.


I write and read daily with waves of plainchant playing in the background. For hours, the single lines of melody, each carefully crafted in set constellations of tones, flow around the room and order my distraction. The soaring and dipping, softer, then louder, offers a gentle rhythm for my thoughts and feelings to gather. A sonic anchor…an audio lighthouse in the storm of words and ideas.

As I listen, a familiar melody begins. The words are in Latin, so I’m not certain how I know it. Closing my eyes and letting the tune bring memory, I find myself in a dark church, before dawn, with only one candle illuminating the singer:

Hæc nox est,
in qua, destrúctis vínculis mortis,
Christus ab ínferis victor ascéndit.
Nihil enim nobis nasci prófuit,
nisi rédimi profuísset.
O mira circa nos tuæ pietátis dignátio!
O inæstimábilis diléctio caritátis:
ut servum redímeres, Fílium tradidísti!

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.


And I remember…all the Easter vigils through the years where the Exsultet, the proclamation of Easter, was sung, ancient words to an ancient melody. Across centuries and languages, the music connects me to the great cloud of witnesses.

The composers of the texts and music of plainchant believed that what you hear, over and over, affects your spirit. Music could inspire prayer and worship. Music could help nurture virtue or inspire goodness. Or when poorly composed,  it could cause spiritual dissonance.  The music and the texts were paired, with words emphasized by tone, giving them multi-layered meaning.

To be in tune was more than a simple delight to the senses, but was bodily participation in the throne room of glory, where the praise is sung with unending beauty to unending Beauty– always surprising in the best way, always welcoming, always joyous at one more joining the song. Worship inviting worship.


As I’ve pondered the word theme for this year and the habits rising as un-resolutions in the past three months, a quiet, deep river flows under what the Lord has been teaching me in writing, reading, prayer, ministry:


And I ask. What is worship, Lord?

One day I hiked up a hill near my home, and if you know the hills in Seattle, there are a few brutally tall ones worthy of the term “hike” rather than simply “walk.” Feeling like I was on a draw bridge opening steeper and steeper, all I could see was pavement, the crest of the hill above me and the sky.

And then, the last painful steps, and I reached the top and the world opened to the Sound and the Olympics in snow-covered glory, wringing quick tears and an audible “Thank you, God” whispered in gasping awe.


It was the mountains and the sun that day, but it was more. Through them, beyond them, and completely beyond me.

And the Lord said, “Susan, that, that, what you just felt, what escaped in tears and praise, is worship.”

Even more, the pleasure I sensed from God in that moment was not because worship is his due (which it is), but because he delights in sharing joy and beauty and love, and longs for us to join with him in that delight.

And the worship of God is life and health for us.

When we whisper worship to God, we are not lost in worship of what or who cannot be, is not, Life.


On a dusty road, two disciples learned about worship. Their fears and questions and doubts and frustrations were little gods clamoring for attention, blinding them to their traveling companion. Their hearts longed to worship as Jesus dusted off their hope and quenched their thirst, preaching the Word to them even as they didn’t recognize him. And then their eyes opened when he took, blessed and broke the bread for them, offering once again his life and presence to them.


“Did not our hearts catch fire, did they not burn while he spoke to us on the way?”

Worship can well up in our hearts at the most unexpected moments.  On a dusty road to Emmaus, or after a trudge up a steep hill in life or spirit.

This year I’m praying to worship. To seek God and offer God worship in all my activities.  To be open and ready to worship at any moment.

To gradually catch fire.


Four ways of cultivating worship  which have gently seeped into my life:

1. Paying attention to what I see and what I listen to. I’ve written about how screen media can be a challenge for me, robbing me of attentiveness, time, and energy. It is now 3 months since I’ve watched TV and I’ve seen only a few movies in that time. I don’t share this as a judgment against watching media. For me, the perennial question has been why I watched it and whether it was truly giving me rest.  I decided I’d try giving the time to other pursuits. Now I would never go back.

Music is the same.  I’m consciously choosing music that feeds my spirit–not simply “praise music,” though I listen to that at times–but chant, classical, Celtic, and music with content that helps me focus on God and life. A wonderful help for this is Pandora Radio and my two favorite channels Gregorian Chant and John Dowland, a 16th century composer. For praise music, I enjoy this channel. Some days, I turn off the soundtrack and just listen to the birds. (And the sparrows are particularly noisy now, even with nesting material in their beaks!)

2. Paying attention to how I speak. The past two years I’ve spilled a lot of words  on the challenges of writing and academic study.  Good words. Healing words. (Sometimes melodramatic words.) But now, I’m approaching the reading and writing as an act of worship–simply offering it to God and see what he does. The words I use to describe writing the dissertation matter. It is not the end of bouts of writer’s block or the challenges, but I simply no longer wish to live or speak in opposition to this life and task God has set before me.


3. The Liturgy of the Hours. This has been part of my practice for over 10 years, but I now find myself (with more time, energy, and ability to focus) consistently praying the Office of Readings and Compline as bookends of my day.  One day a week, I’m stopping at regular times and praying the smaller Hours.

Practices of prayer and worship require intentional attention, but not so much by gritting teeth and setting goals. Me-focused plans for discipline often get in the way.

The practice simply scooted into my routine without any jostling or fanfare.


Each Hour is a collection of psalms, prayers, and a scripture reading, taking 5-15 minutes to pray through.  The Office of Readings also includes a selection from Christian writers, preachers, and theologians, from the past 20 centuries.  These are not dry theology, but fiery and prayerful snippets from the lives of people whose faith and love for Jesus still influence the church today.

4. The Rhythm of the Church Year. Following the Liturgy of the Hours and being a part of a liturgical church that has services during the week brings me into awareness of God’s time and the cloud of witnesses who have lived before me, who loved Jesus before me, who worship now at the Throne, and whose lives give the church a legacy of love in Christ.

St John's Abbey

The first time I felt shifted from calendar time to liturgical time happened when I lived at St John’s University in Minnesota, a Benedictine monastery, where the monks gather for prayer 5 times a day to the ringing of bells. (The bells are a little bit of heaven on earth–you can hear them here.  I often stood under the tower to feel them ring.)  One day, after a few months, I found myself thinking in liturgical time: Today is Wednesday of the 2nd week of Ordinary Time, rather than January 19th.

Once I graduated and left St John’s, I found that gathering for Sunday worship alone was not enough to maintain that sense of God’s time.  The Liturgy of the Hours at home and gathering at church once or twice during the week for prayer or communion is an important thread for me connecting Sunday to Sunday, season to season, that I keep coming back to.  (I don’t have bells calling me to prayer, but I do have a bell alarm on my cell phone!)

I would love to hear what helps you nurture the habit of worship.

Together at His throne,


Jan 10 2011

Ordinary Time


On Thursday, for Epiphany, I chalked my door with the ancient formula 20+C+M+B+11, which remembers the three travelers, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who left families and kingdoms to follow a starry hope and bring worship to a child King.  For the rest of the year, it reminds me to pray every time I enter: Christus Mansionem Benedicat–May Christ bless this house.

On Saturday, I visited a church with friends Cathee, Bryan and daughter Sarah, and fell in love with the indoor tree two stories tall covered with a thousand white lights.  We sang Joy to the World one last time.

On Sunday, we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus and the final day of the Christmas season.


The advent wreath burned fiercely and quickly in a phoenix fire, to be remade anew in eleven months. The scent of pine and rosemary filled my little home, a clean and pungent smell of new beginnings.


Christmas decorations were put away in their little box.


The Liturgy of the Hours book changed from the blue volume to the brown one (with a pressed four-leaf clover tucked in its pages).


Snow fell.



The first day of Ordinary time.

Yet, extraordinarily full of grace.


Counting thanks…

Young Jack memorizing and singing to me the third verse of O Come all ye faithful, just in time to end the season.


Pages and pages of hand-written dissertation…embracing the one way of writing that never fills me with anxiety, but with peace and beauty and gives my thoughts time to collect.

Lunches and dinners and tea times with friends.

Worship… the morning dancing-shaker-eggs-guitar-praise of Bethany and the contemplative chants and incense of St Paul’s evening eucharist.



Visiting St Ignatius Chapel, a work of art. (More photos here.)

Ministry and teaching possibilities.


The fun of burning real Frankincense.

Snow falling slowly.

Bus drivers who stop between stops and give late-running me a ride.

Thai red curry. (Yummy!!)

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