Category Archives: Prayer

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton (a Book Review) [Meditation and Contemplation Explained!]

Merton provided words for what I was experiencing and what I wanted to nurture in the life of prayer. More than devotional stick-to-it-ive-ness, I felt and wanted to continue to feel drawn to simply be with God.

But, while my heart desired more than accountability or discipline, I’ve also known by experience that, for me, the sense of being aware of God’s presence often occurs within the frame of my disciplined life. When I am making space, clearing time, attentiveness to the God who is always present occurs more freely. The opposite happens when I slip out of disciplined rhythms or Continue reading

Technology and the Soul

Have you felt it?

I’ve seen a parallel occurrence: the ratio between the time I spend with a screen and the sensation of flattened spiritual vitality are about the same.

What causes this?

Have you seen it too?

A Fruitful Devotional Practice: “Examen”

A Fruitful Devotional Practice: “Examen”

“Examen” (ex ‘ah men) is an ancient practice of examination of oneself in the light of Christ. The idea is to attentively draw close to Christ, the Light of Life, who will in a singular moment illumine his great love for us and illumine the darknesses of our hearts which have failed to notice his love and his calling.

The practice is a formative and comforting practice and fits well in the liturgical prayer rhythm of compline or late-evening prayer, which is where forms of such have been practiced for many, many years.

The prayer of examen can flow smoothly in this rhythm: Continue reading

A Fruitful Devotional Practice: “Lectio Divina”

A Fruitful Devotional Practice: “Lectio Divina”

Lectio Divina is an ancient practice of reading Scripture that intends to lead the reader into a participation with the text. It is slow, filled with intent, and rich for laying one’s being toward the presence of God. I feel this is a great way to start the day.

Step 1: Lectio (Read)
This step is the simple reading and listening to the word of God. This reading is done slowly, perhaps even two or three times over a passage. The goal is to Continue reading

Can C.S. Lewis’ voice point out simple, helpful wisdom for the life of prayer?

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C. S. Lewis (Book Reaction)

Can C.S. Lewis’ voice point out simple, helpful wisdom for the life of prayer?

Letters to Malcolm is a great conversation starter. Far from a theological essay, Letters is a collection of letters Lewis wrote to a friend, whose replies we have to guess at through context. Lewis writes his opinions and experiences in the life of prayer in these pages, speaking from a subjective rather than objective angle.

I think this is what most readers might desire. Many have heard all kinds of theology of prayer, enjoying much of what we’ve read. But, instead of delight and ease with prayer, we feel what Lewis wrote in Letters:

“Prayer is irksome. An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. When it is over, this casts a feeling of relief and holiday over the rest of the day. We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to finish. While we are at prayer, but not while we are reading a novel or solving a cross-word puzzle, any trifle is enough to distract us. (Loc. 1228)

“…the disquieting thing is not simply that we skimp and begrudge the duty of prayer. The really disquieting thing is it should have to be numbered among duties at all. (Loc. 1232)

“For we believe that we were created “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And if the few, the very few, minutes we now spend on intercourse with God are a burden to us rather than a delight, what then? If I were a Calvinist this symptom would fill me with despair. What can be done for—or what should be done with—a rose-tree that dislikes producing roses? Surely it ought to want to? (Loc. 1234)

“If we were perfected, prayer would not be a duty, it would be delight. (Loc. 1247)”

Letters included intermittent guidance, moments when Lewis wrote about his practice. He didn’t write long on it, just a sentence here and there, but enough to set bearings by, not so much to imitate Lewis (I think shirking imitation is part of why he writes so slim on his rhythms) but to discover a resonance and feel a permission to step into prayer. Once the grandeur of prayer funnels down into a simple posture, we can feel permission to actually step into the act of praying instead of continuing a dumbfounded stare into the void.

Here are some of Lewis’ personal steps and inclinations:

“…the prayer without words is the best—if one can really achieve it. – Loc. 107

“…words are in any case secondary. They are only an anchor. – Loc. 113

“…find it best to make “my own words” the staple but introduce a modicum of the ready-made. – Loc. 117

“Begin where you are.” – Loc. 967

“…we want to know not how we should pray if we were perfect but how we should pray being as we now are. – Loc. 241

“We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us. – Loc. 243

“…we may sometimes be deterred from small prayers by a sense of our own dignity rather than of God’s. – Loc. 257

The Letters best section was right in the beginning. Here, he wrote about worship; this section would surely cause some good conversation:

“Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. – Loc. 33

“…they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. – Loc. 33

“…it “works” best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. – Loc. 35

“…The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. – Loc. 38

“Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. – Loc. 41

“I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.” – Loc. 43″

May your read and life of prayer be blessed!

Meditating on the Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Book Reaction)

Meditating on the Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Book Reaction)

I picked up this book in hopes for a simple guidance from a trusted source. Like he mentioned of students in a letter to Karl Barth, Bonhoeffer said, “The kind of questions serious young theologians put to us are: ‘How can I learn to pray? How can I learn to read the Bible? Either we can help them do this, or we can’t help them at all.’”

I felt like a young student of Bonhoeffer as I read along, eating up his simple answers.

The little section I resonated most with was written like a short catechism in question and answer.

1.) Why do I meditate?

Because I am a Christian.

Because I am a preacher of the word. I cannot expound on the Scripture for others if I do not let it speak daily to me.

Because I need a firm discipline of prayer. … Prayer is not a free will offering to God; it is an obligatory service, something which he requires. We are not free to engage in it according to our own wishes.

Because I need help against the ungodly haste and unrest which threaten my work as a pastor.

2.) What do I want from my meditation?

We want to meet Christ in his word. We turn to the text in our desire to hear what it is that he wants to give us and teach us today through his Word. Meet him first in the day before you meet other people. Every morning lay upon him everything that preoccupies you and weighs you down, before new burdens are laid upon you. Ask yourself what still hinders you from following him completely and let him take charge of that, before new hindrances are placed in your way.

His fellowship, his help, his guidance for the day through his Word – that is the goal.

3.) How shall I meditate?

[Meditating on Scripture is preferable to free meditation.]

Just as you would not dissect and analyze the word spoken by someone dear to you, but would accept it just as it was said, so you should accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart as Mary did. Do not look for new thoughts and interconnections in the text as you would a sermon! Do not ask how you should tell it to others, but ask what it tells you! Then ponder this word in your heart at length, until it is entirely within you and has taken possession of you.

This is not the place for the Greek New Testament, but for the familiar Luther text.

We begin our meditations with the prayer for the Holy Spirit, asking for proper concentration for ourselves and for all who we know are also meditating. Then we turn to the text. At the close of the meditation we want to be truly able to say a prayer of thanksgiving from a heart that is full.

What text, and how long should the text be? 10-15 verses and meditate on it over a period of a week. Whatever you do, don’t take the sermon text for the next Sunday!

The time of meditation is in the morning before the beginning of our work. A half hour is the minimum amount of time which a proper meditation requires. It is, of course, necessary that there be complete quiet, and that we intend to allow nothing to divert us, no matter how important it may seem.

4.) How do we overcome the problems of meditation?

The first rule is to not become impatient with yourself. Just sit down again every day and wait very patiently. Incorporate thoughts that come at you into your prayer later on; connect them to the text.

Read the same passage again and again, write down your thoughts, learn the verse by heart. …recognize the danger of fleeing once again from meditation to Bible scholarship and the like. Behind all our uncertainties and needs stands our great need to pray…

On Morning Prayer in Community

Before our daily bread should be the daily Word.

…an hour of quiet time and common devotion.

Although we are often not “in the mood” for it, such devotion is an obligatory serve to the One who desires our praises and prayers, and who will not otherwise bless our day but through His Word and our prayers.

…Grounded in the Scripture, we learn to speak to God in the language which God has spoken to us. We learn to speak to God as the child speaks to its mother.

…Above all, we should read the Psalms together. Then a not-too-modest portion of the Old and New Testaments should be read in series. The songs of the Church will place us in the great congregation of the present and the past. The prayer which one person speaks for the whole fellowship will bring the common concerns of the little congregation before God.

[Quotes, some modified and shortened, but meaning retained, are taken from Meditating on the Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 29-41]

What Were the First Disciples Praying for Behind Those Locked Doors?

Jesus had been crucified; the followers fulfilled their role (and broken their promises) – they fled; they hid. Gathered together behind a locked door, filled with fear, I imagine them praying. I imagine these friends finding comfort in prayer together (as well as fishing together). Not knowing what else to do; they pause and bow heads.

I wonder what came to mind. What did they pray for in a moment like that – a moment filled with fear and failure?

I wonder if they prayed: “Father, bring Jesus back to us.” My curiosity comes from John 16 —

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me'; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (John 16:16-24 ESV)

20120327-103948.jpg