Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reflections on 2014: Year of Surrender

You crown the year with your generosity, richness seeps from your tracks,

the pastures of the desert grow moist, the hillsides are wrapped in joy,

the meadows are covered with flocks, the valleys clothed with wheat; they shout and sing for joy.  (Ps 65:11-13 NJB)


At the end of 2013 I noted that the predominant theme of that year had been the fundamental relational shift into becoming a disciple (learner/apprentice) of Jesus. As I looked into 2014 I felt led toward specific practices of surrender and trust as I sought to grow in my discipleship. There were three prayers that were fundamental in guiding me in this (prayer 1, prayer 2, and prayer 3, respectively). These have helped me greatly root my mind, heart, soul and body in the rich pastures of the Kingdom of God.

Looking back over 2014, by God’s goodness I think I have grown in surrender and trust! The main way I have noticed growth has been indirect. As I sought to practice the presence of God in intentional trust, I’ve experienced less anxiety, fear and anger as I’ve walked through the circumstances of the year. Sometimes I’ve even experienced surprising amounts of joy and peace!

Some circumstantial highlights of 2014:

  • I walked around 1000 miles in 2014 in my morning exercise routine (3.2 miles a day 6-7 days a week) and have been able to maintain my ideal weight.

  • I got my first tattoo (celtic cross on my right shoulder for my 44th birthday), a symbolic event for me.

  • Celebrated 20 years of marriage and 25 years following Jesus!

  • Three trips out of state (special anniversary trip, trips to Oregon and British Columbia)

  • I had an unexpected “inguinal double-hernia repair” surgery, which was fun.

  • We unexpectedly replaced one of our vehicles with a newer car.

**these events are not special in themselves, but represent events and circumstances where for the first time I tried practicing the presence of God in them, as opposed to just going through them my “normal” way - without God and without hope in the world.

The biggest surprise to me is how responsive God has been. Corresponding to my growing trust, God has been more communicative with me, responding in provision and abundance in relational, financial and emotional ways. This excites me about the future and reminds me of a phrase the Lord gave me early in the year - who knows what trust can do?

This renewed confidence in God’s care has provided freedom for me to start dreaming again about the future. Anyone who knows my story knows this is a huge deal! I haven’t dreamed about the future since coming to Louisville in 2001! Dreaming about the future requires confidence that I will be cared for and that there is a unique place in God’s world for my unique gifts and talents.

In the spring of 2014 I began writing down a “job description,” a vision of what I would like to do with the rest of my life if I could. I’m not quite ready to share the details here yet, but I have been slowly letting close friends and family in on it as a matter of conversation and prayer. I am being increasingly urged (inwardly and outwardly) to take the dream to the next level and begin pursuing it in 2015. The big idea of it is, I want to help people follow Jesus full time.

Looking forward to 2015, I am moving forward with my job description on the assumption that it is a dream planted by God, so I can begin to look for possible plots of ground where it can take root and grow. I think 2015 will be a year of vocation, or a year of redeemed desire.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Christmas Prayer and Blessing

Christmas 2014

Beloved friends on the path of LIFE with Jesus and his people,

May Emmanuel envelop you into his constant care and companionship;
May your heart be engulfed in everything of God everywhere
May your thoughts and feelings be held by the steady hand of Abba
May your body be made ready to respond when he calls to you from your everyday;
May your soul be filled full with all his fullness, overflowing into all your relationships near and far.

May his Spirit bring you a deeper experiential confidence in God's loving care,
May his great love enable you let go of outcomes,
free of getting your own way and getting people to do things;
May you be free to think new thoughts and feel new feelings and dream new dreams.

May we grow closer together as broken and beloved friends in partnership with Jesus in living lives of constant creative goodness.

Emmanuel has come! 
God is with us, forever!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Labor of Love

"Labor of Love," by Andrew Peterson

It was not a silent night

There was blood on the ground

You could hear a woman cry

In the alleyways that night

On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean

And the cobblestones were cold

And little Mary full of grace

With the tears upon her face

Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain

It was a cold sky above

But for the girl on the ground in the dark

With every beat of her beautiful heart

It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph at her side

Callused hands and weary eyes

There were no midwives to be found

In the streets of David's town

In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed

Shafts of moonlight on his face

But the baby in her womb

He was the maker of the moon

He was the Author of the faith

That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain

It was a cold sky above

But for the girl on the ground in the dark

With every beat of her beautiful heart

It was a labor of love

For little Mary full of grace

With the tears upon her face

It was a labor of love

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Emmanuel’s Pace

Emmanuel’s Pace
In coming to our place

Slowly, slowly
So slow and steady
Not without the help of human hands
Hands that he himself made
to bring him in.
We had to deliver him, before he could deliver us.

It took nine long months to come to the stable
Thus begins the steady and slow growth
The process of the perfect God-man
Infinite in patience and tender power

Triune slowness
Teaching us how to be human
How to wade through time and not lose our souls

So slowly did he come
only a few noticed
the poor, the smelly and the marginalized
All the power brokers
too busy and fast
caught up in themselves
Aren’t able to see or care
It’s still the same today.

A weary world rejoices
Lost in hurry, worry and procrastination
We stop, look and listen
See how God does it.
Master of time, taking his time;
It’s still the same today.

If we can learn to walk his pace
staying before his face
perhaps we shall be born anew
a new human race.

A Prayer:
Emmanuel, as Christmas draws near, the pace around me quickens. Traffic picks up, lines get longer, patience runs thin. More rush, more to do and less time, more longing and less thanks; instead of rushing to keep up, help me have the courage to slow down even more. I need deep anchors in silence and solitude in order to stand against the rushing tide. Help me go deeper instead of faster. For your sake and the good of my own soul, I pray.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Pledge of the Apprentice (Expanded)

Back in January, I posted a shorter version of this pledge (which is actually a prayer). Here is the longer version that has grown as I’ve prayed it. With a few exceptions, this pledge has ushered me into every day of 2014. It has kept me focused and moving in a good direction, and I hope it blesses you, too!

It seems especially relevant to me during this Advent season, to think of apprenticing myself to this Jesus lying in a manger. Learning from him begins with attending to the way he came. Each season of the Christian year gives us meditative access to an aspect of the life and activity of Jesus.

Below the official pledge are a few more affirmations that I work through on a daily basis.

Pledge of the Apprentice

By the grace of God, I apprentice myself to Jesus in order to live eternally now;

to become the kind of person, from the heart, who does what he did and says what he said in his confident, peaceful manner. I commit myself to learning this. He is the One who knows how to live, the Master and Maestro of all of life, the smartest and best person to ever have lived.

In warm response to his love, I intend to be with him, learning to be like him, living my life as he would live it if he were I. Through the Holy Spirit I intend to do the necessary and appropriate things (means of grace) for apprehending and opening to this new kind of life.

I do this for the sake of God and the good of my own soul and the good of those around me;

to work with Him and participate in Him, as he extends the loving rule and reign of His kingdom throughout my life into others’ lives.

I do not do this to earn or merit anything; rather, it is my simple but passionate cooperation in Trinitarian Life, Presence and Power.

Miscellaneous Related Affirmations

I will trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding, wisdom and resources; In all my ways I will acknowledge and submit to him, trusting in him to make my paths straight and life-giving. I will not be wise in my own eyes; forgive my arrogance, Lord!

I will fear the Lord and turn from evil, trusting him to meet every single one of my needs, to bring health to my body and nourishment to my bones (adaptation of Proverbs 3:5-8).

I let go of outcomes, large and small, as well as leaving in his hands everything that concerns me.

I let go of doing things in order to be seen by others; as best I can with Jesus’ help I will do all things with a simple and fond devotion to God.

I surrender to the goodness and love of God, the atmosphere of “Abba” that surrounds, saturates and satisfies me.

I stand with these particular feet in God’s unshakable kingdom, as a disciple in whom Jesus dwells and delights.


Proverbs 3:5-8; Psalms 16 and 23; Matthew 5-7; John 13-17; Colossians 1:9-23; 3:1-21; Romans 5:1-4; 12:1-2

Brother Lawrence, Practice of the Presence of God

Dallas Willard Articles:

How Does the Disciple Live?

Living a Transformed Life Adequate to Our Calling

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Some Thoughts on Giving Thanks

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. (Ps 100:4-5 ESV)

The command today to “give thanks” comes to each of us as we are, in this moment, formed into the people we are becoming by processes and choices spread throughout the year. As it came to me this morning, I had to once again admit that I don’t easily and naturally give thanks. As I started to have a conversation with God about it, I followed several streams of thought in my journal that helped me get my head and heart around it and thought it might benefit others as well. The pressure to “give thanks” gave way to an easy and hopeful posture before God of seeking to live in the kind of world with Him where giving of thanks would be easy and natural.

First, I realize that the disposition of my soul, particularly the bent of my will, will determine how I receive/perceive/interpret this holiday. Most of what happens today is not under my direct control, nor am I in direct control of my emotions. What is within my control, my influence, are my thoughts and interpretations. My interpretation involves what I think about (thoughts) and what I seek (will). I can position my body in particular ways, think particular thoughts, seeking to trust God with each moment as it is and not what it “should be.”

Second, the command to “give thanks” feels foreign and mostly external. My internal and external world is not yet prepared and ready for this! I have spent most of my days prior to this one in self-will, seeking above all to get my own way, to get my own needs met regardless of the cost. Thus, I lack capacity to understand and enter into giving of thanks, at least at some level. I am ready and ripe and prepared to seek my own way. I am not yet prepared and ready and ripe to trust, though I am seeking that and on the path that leads to that.

The fact is, giving of thanks is a byproduct of living in abundance, our experience of God’s care for our daily, specific needs. If we identify more with lack and “going without” then the command to give thanks comes as merely an annoying external prod, a corset of expectation attempting to force a shape upon our lives from outside that is unfitting and unnatural.

If, however, we identify more and more with a growing experiential confidence in God’s loving care, then the command to give thanks resonates with a deep internal reality within us. We find that we are ripe for it, ready for it. It is natural and easy, part of Jesus’ “easy yoke” and “light burden” (Matt 11:28-30).

Thus, we should not force ourselves and others to “be thankful” (God have special mercy on us parents, we are especially guilty of this with our kids – “be thankful, or else!!”). We start, instead, with where we are (this is always where we start!), admitting our need to grow in trusting God’s care. This is the indirect route to giving thanks, and it is the only way that is safe, light and easy. We take steps to actually trust him with the actual moments before us (as opposed to those “ideal” moments that flood our minds on holidays like these).

The moments in which we are called to trust God are filled with our actual everyday realities and broken relationships and circumstances. Being present to God in these moments, we can then name what is good in the here and now and give thanks for it, even if it feels pathetically small and insignificant (please, for your sake and the sake of those around you, avoid “heroic” expressions of thanks that are filled with platitudes and niceties but have nothing to do with what is broken in your world or the world around you).

Thank you, Father, that although parts of my body are not working right and I’m experiencing pain, that many parts are working and that for the most part, I can still do what I would like to do.

Thank you, Father, for my job. Sometimes it’s maddeningly annoying, but I thank you that you are there with me.

Thank you, Father, for my family, where I came from. I wish things had been different, but it is what it is. Thank you that nothing is irredeemable.

Practice the presence of God, as old Brother Lawrence called it, trusting God with each moment as it comes and what fills these moments. Stop trying to fix or change the moments that come, rather receive them and give thanks for what you can.

With this in place, we can say what giving of thanks “does for us.” It provides space to celebrate, space large enough even to include our enemies (we find plenty of these at home). It also sanctifies the two “F” words that are usually a part of every Thanksgiving – Family and Feasting. These two things can be and often are profound and ongoing sources of shame and pain. Giving thanks can bring them into the presence of God, place them under his care, his rule and reign, thus redeeming them, re-interpreting them through the lens of his goodness.

Like a turkey must be prepared beforehand if it is to be eaten on Thanksgiving day, so our souls need to be prepared if we want to be ready to be thankful. In our house, we have to thaw a turkey days in advance and soak it in Brine to get it ready for cooking, ready for celebratory use in the Holman house. We are like that; in ourselves we are “radically unsuited for joy” (John Ortberg, Living in Christ’s Presence) so we require training in order to become people who are “suited for joy.” If you tried to cook a rock-solid frozen turkey on the day of Thanksgiving, you might get the outside crispy, but the inside will remain cold and hard. So it is with us when we try real hard to give thanks.

We seek to grow in giving thanks, not by “trying hard” to give thanks, but by becoming the kind of people who live in God’s world where giving of thanks is part of easy deep breathing and loving.

“In the end, when all else has passed away, there will remain only love, the love that overflows your heart, O God, and animates the distant reaches of space and time. I seek fuller immersion in that great river, trusting that the small endings of daily life are true access points through which I can participate ever more fully in the fulfillment of your design for all that is. Amen.” (Reuben Job, A Guide to Prayer For All Who Walk With God, p. 383)

Saturday, November 08, 2014


In the ocean of God’s love

the only safe place to be shipwrecked

and lost at sea;

adrift in mercy

lost in love

buoyed by grace

held by tenderness

enveloped into HOME

Clinging to the debris of my hopes and dreams

so tired of holding on

I let go and go down

surrender and sink

terrifying at first but alas,

finally free and untethered.

I Was With You

[This post was taken from a journal entry on 11/4/14. During a time of silence I was feeling a need and desire to see the goodness of God in story, particularly my past. As I listened, the following was spoken.]

I was with you the day your Dad left; though you couldn’t acknowledge what was happening because it was too painful, I acknowledged you.

I was with you every day you felt alone and rejected in the halls of school, offering you my companionship.

I was with you in every suicidal fantasy and ideation.

I was with you in every moment of agonizing longing, so desperate to be loved, to be special, you would have sold your soul to a girl – any girl – unless I protected you.

I held and protected your heart when you sought to silence and destroy it.

I was with you every time you hid from bullies. When you got to school early to avoid being seen, I saw you.

Every time they found you and called you a “fat loser,” I was there.

I wept with you.

I was with you at every horrifying school dance and football game.

I was there the many times you struggled with schoolwork and turned viciously inward upon yourself in self-hatred.

I was there every time you tried to numb your pain.

I held you, kept you, loved you through it all. You were never alone.

I wept with you and knew your anguish as my own.

I bore your shame and self-hatred with relentless tenderness.

I led you to this very moment of listening before me. Receive my love as your home. Abide with me as I abide with you. Beloved, I will never leave you or forsake you.

“A good shepherd never left his sheep alone. They would have been lost without him. His presence was their assurance.” (David Roper, Psalm 23: The Song of a Passionate Heart, 31).

Friday, October 31, 2014

Even Death He Makes Beautiful

Have you ever noticed

that trees are most beautiful

just before they sleep?

their impending rest

on display in gold and red hues

Massive quantities of leaves

ready to relinquish their grip

prepare for their journey to the ground

dust to dust

there to be transformed into food and fuel;

there is beauty and sadness here.

It’s hard not to look

to stare in wonder at it all;

what tender whispers blow through those leaves,

calling our name?

Inviting us to participate somehow.

Maybe we’re not all that different;

It seems the older we get, the more loss we experience

our grip turns weak and tentative

We’ve fallen too many times.

We all have to take the journey from branch to ground;

can we trust the wind to carry us to where we need to be?

can we trust that leaves will come back?

can we, like the leaves, trust the distance from branch to ground?

can we allow the wind to take us from our familiar grip?

can we abandon ourselves to the process of death and rebirth?

Jesus, Lord of the trees, knows.

He did this himself, entered into it with gusto

“for the joy set before him,” the old writer says

Can we see the joy in dying trees?

Trinitarian Joy.

If death is the ultimate abandonment

the ultimate relinquishment

the apex of letting go

I can’t help but think

that even death He makes beautiful.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Autumn Meditation

“Autumn is making its way across the prairie, and with it God’s silent and unseen artists turn the entire landscape into a magnificent work of art. The colors of the trees, the little touches added by the farmers – green and golden fields, hay bales put in just the right places. Cattle – red, brown, black, white; the little wild turkeys and their ever-watchful mothers just outside my window; indeed, never has there been an artist like God.

Thank you Creator God for the artistic changes of the seasons, for the beauty of your fascinating and ever changing creation! Come dear autumn, bathe our senses with your beauty and lay living nature gently to sleep in the arms of winter. There all may rest to be restored in the blazing beauty of spring!

(Norman Shawchuck, in A Guide to Prayer For All Who Walk With God, 2013: p.304)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Book Review: Commentary on the Psalms (Vol. 2) by Allen Ross


Allen P. Ross, professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, has a familiar place in my life as I learned Hebrew through his “Introducing Biblical Hebrew” textbook. I have a great deal of respect for his skill and passion for the Hebrew language, so I was eager to review one of his commentaries on the Psalms. Volume 2 covers books 2-3 in the Psalter, which includes Psalms 42-89.

Audience: Hebrew students and scholars, potentially pastors; expository thrust takes aim at equipping preachers with some skill in Hebrew.

Format and layout of how each Psalm is handled:


Text and textual variants (translates and comments on the form of the text)

Composition and Context (basic overview of Psalm with a view to how it relates to other Psalms within the Psalter)

Exegetical Analysis (brief summary and outline of the text)

Commentary in Expository Form (thematic outline and commentary, providing thought for application and experience)

Message and Application (summary of the overall message with a view toward contemporary relevance

Strengths: Ross has undeniable skill in the Hebrew language and bears this out in his outlining and summarizing. Textual issues are handled with care and precision, giving the reader assurance that the original text is being portrayed in a timely and accurate fashion.

Weaknesses: The technical nature of the commentary does not lend itself easily to actual Christian practice of praying the Psalms, which is their purpose. The warmth and vivacity that are at the heart of the Psalms seem (to this reader at least) to be obscured by all the technical jargon. Thus, it’s use seems to be for a fairly limited audience and would need to be supplemented by other commentaries that help round it out.

Also, the volume lacks an introductory section. Volume 1 contains all the introductory material, so unless the reader has access to that volume, Volume 2’s usefulness is quite limited.

Overall, a fine volume, but with limited capability of conveying the power and vitality of the Psalms as they call us to share in their experience of Yahweh.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Daily Covenant Prayer

In addition to my daily prayer for 2014, in the past 4-5 months I’ve also come to find great daily benefit in John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer. It was designed by Wesley to help Methodist believers regularly renew their covenant relationship with God. I’ve expanded it a bit, to express what I’m learning and seeking (underlined portions are my additions). For resources on the original prayer, see the links at the end of this post.

Abba, I am no longer my own, but yours.

Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;

put me to doing, put me to suffering;

let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,

exalted for you, or brought low for you;

For you Jesus,

let me be full, let me be empty,

let me have all things, let me have nothing:

For you Abba,

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things

to your pleasure and disposal. I let it all loose.

And now, glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit – my habitation, sufficiency and joy,

you are mine and I am yours.

I am My Beloved’s, and He is mine.

So be it.

And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.


There are two powerful ideas in this prayer that help me the most. The first is the focused practicality of the surrender being offered – “rank me with whom you will . . . put me to doing, put me to suffering,” and shockingly, “let me be employed for you, let me be laid aside for you.” This kind of surrender offends my ego and scandalizes our current Christian culture of affluence seeking. I don’t know very many leaders willing to pray things like this; perhaps that tells us something of the state of the church today? Such surrender can be offered “for Jesus.”

The second idea that grips my imagination is how the prayer ends by enfolding the will in the very center of the Trinitarian life. Abandonment to the sufficiency of the Trinity is at the heart of the Christian life. It is the Christian life, and it is what Jesus died to provide us. I’ve added “my habitation, sufficiency and joy” to help me see and experience this. Wesley’s covenant comes down to this: “you are mine and I am yours.”  I am my Beloved’s and He is mine (Song of Solomon 2:16); this is what it means to walk with God day by day, and we can seek it and experience it. This is the good news.


“A Covenant With God,” from the The Methodist Church in Britain

A Study on the Methodist Covenant Prayer

a .pdf copy of the original text

Sunday, August 31, 2014

St. Aidan Compline

I first experienced this compline as I listened to an audio recording from one of Renovare’s “With-God Life” conference sessions from 2005. I was deeply impacted by it, as I’ve tried various means to place my sleep in the arms of God.

I have sought these means mainly because I typically wake up very restless and afraid, feeling very dark inside. It takes a while for hope and peace to take possession of my mind and heart, usually as a result of much concerted effort and time spent in Psalm 23.

St. Aidan died this day (August 31) in A.D. 651, so I thought it fitting to post this today. May it bless your sleep, “for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Ps 127:2 NIV)

Google defines Compline as “a service of evening prayers forming part of the Divine Office of the Western Christian Church, traditionally said (or chanted) before retiring for the night.”

I also love the fact that the compline uses some of my favorite words from the Psalms:

I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
(Ps 3:5 ESV)

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.
(Ps 4:8 NIV)

Taken from the Northumbria Community website.


If this Compline is being used in a group setting the * notation indicates a change of reader; words in bold are said all together; words in bold italic are said by each person in turn; and + indicates where you might make the sign of the cross.

+ (silently)

* O Christ, Son of the living God,
may Your holy angels guard our sleep,
may they watch over us as we rest
and hover around our beds.

* Let them reveal to us in our dreams
visions of Your glorious truth,
O High Prince of the universe,
O High Priest of the mysteries.

* May no dreams disturb our rest
and no nightmares darken our dreams.
May no fears or worries delay
our willing, prompt repose.

* May the virtue of our daily work
hallow our nightly prayers.
May our sleep be deep and soft
so our work be fresh and hard.

I will lie down and sleep in peace
for You alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

My dear ones, O God, bless Thou and keep,
in every place where they are.

* Into Your hands I commit my spirit;
I give it to You with all the love of my heart.

* How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.

I make the cross of Christ upon my breast,
+ over the tablet of my hard heart,
and I beseech the Living God of the universe -
may the Light of Lights come
to my dark heart from Thy place;
may the Spirit’s wisdom come to my heart’s tablet
from my Saviour.

* Christ without sin, Christ of wounds,
I am placing my soul and my body
under Thy guarding this night,
Christ of the poor, Christ of tears.
Thy cross be my shielding this night,
O Thou Son of tears, of the wounds, of the piercing.

I am going now into the sleep:
O be it in Thy dear arm’s keep,
O God of grace, that I shall awake.

* My Christ! my Christ!
my shield, my encircler,
each day, each night,
each light, each dark.

* My Christ! my Christ!
my shield, my encircler,
each day, each night,
each light, each dark.
Be near me, uphold me,
my treasure, my triumph.

Circle me, Lord,
keep protection near
and danger afar.

* Circle me, Lord,
keep light near
and darkness afar.

* Circle me, Lord,
keep peace within;
keep evil out.

The peace of all peace
be mine this night
+ in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Some Pilgrim Thoughts on Silence

From my journal entry on 8/26/14:

“Command me to be silent and still before You, Lord;

quiet me in Your love.”

My mind (thought, feeling) is the first and strongest place that my attempt to “make things happen” shows up – because of the close proximity of the mind with the will. My mind presents options to the will for choice, and the will relies on the mind for available options.

To quiet the mind, really, is to let go of the burden of making things happen and to open up to receiving the life that God is giving, the life that I’m becoming.

Thanksgiving attends this receiving, naturally and organically, just as frustration, lust and anger attend attempts to make a life for myself.

The will and mind are healed as they are freed from making things happen. Freed from the burden of securing provision, security and significance, the mind and will are free to consider and choose what is good, beautiful and true (will of God).

Silence and stillness are food and drink to the burden weary soul, restoring the mind and will with endless life.

Carrying a Living Silence

“We need also times of silent waiting, alone, when the busy intellect is not leaping from problem to problem, and from puzzle to puzzle. If we learn the secret of carrying a living silence in the center of our being we can listen on the run. The listening silence can become intertwined with all our inward prayers. A few moments of relaxed silence, alone, every day, are desperately important. When distracting noises come, don’t fight against them, do not elbow them out, but accept them and weave them by prayer into the silence.” (Thomas Kelly, The Sanctuary of the Soul, in A Guide to Prayer (Upper Room Books, 2013), p.293).

I read this quote from Thomas Kelly several weeks ago as I was trying to recover from the noise and turmoil of air travel (we flew to Oregon to visit family). I only fly every 1-2 years and it’s usually a stressful event filled with anxiety. It feels so noisy, chaotic and out of control, and it usually triggers deep fears in me of being on my own without the resources I need. This is not actually true, but my body thinks and acts as if it is, because of experiences I’ve had in the past. I’ve found some practices over the years that have helped provide space for the grace of God to access these wounded parts of my soul. Times of silence, stillness and listening prayer have been essential to the deep inner healing that I need. Thankfully, anxiety levels have dropped significantly over the past few years as a result.

For the first few days after travelling when I closed my eyes I could only see and hear the noise and bustle of travellers. Airports and airplanes are filled with many stressed and busy people, often in a hurry and irritable (myself included!) One of the first things I do when travelling is try to find a place where I will be able to be quiet and alone in the early mornings. I have found this essential to my sanity and peace.

“There should be at least a room, or some corner where no one will find you and disturb you or notice you. You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, loosing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of other men.” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation)

After a few failed attempts, I found a rhythm that worked for me. As I settled into a safe place and time, I began to be able to calm the voices and still the images. By God’s gentle invitation and provision, I entered into stillness and silence, trying to keep my focus on him alone. I could listen and receive.

I greatly desired to experience the “living silence” that Kelly speaks of that I could carry with me amidst the busyness of sight-seeing and conversations with family. At times I felt a reservoir of peace that I could access when out and about. A trip to the restroom, a silent moment in between sights and conversations, provided me an opportunity to reconnect with this living silence within me. It helped solidify my soul and keep me centered, at least somewhat. Continual attention to the fount of silence in the mornings renewed the reservoir.

There were many times, however, when it didn’t “work,” and I felt just as frazzled and restless as ever. I tried not to linger on these too much, but try again when I felt up to it. I think it’s something I can continue to grow in, and I think it’s something that makes Jesus smile, which is good enough for me!