The End Is the Beginning

Well, if anyone thought this month of prayer made me a better person… think again.

I think I may have mentioned before that I have this thing about stressing out during the holidays? Well, last night I was going to make some caramel for caramel apples to bring to a friend’s party tonight, and my first batch failed utterly, and I kind of had a meltdown.

A carameltdown.

It sounds funnier than it is.

Because really, this is about pride issues. It’s about wanting to look good to people. This whole holiday-freaking-out thing is about wanting people to love me because of what I do for them (and ignore the not-so-great ways I sometimes treat them). Yeah, ignore my rampant issues, friends and family: I made you festive treats! Doesn’t that make it all better?

So obviously God has chosen not to heal me of these particular issues yet, for whatever reason. (Perhaps God is wondering why I’m waiting for an engraved invitation to get over them? But I digress.)

I will tell you one thing: I felt good doing my daily prayer today. I didn’t feel too ashamed to do it. I didn’t put it off and fall off the wagon.

So that’s one thing I did learn this month: God is there, always, on my good days and my bad days.

God wants me to sit in prayer and be genuine, even when it’s ugly.

Because the most important part about my relationship with God is not what I do right or wrong. The most important part is to show up, to stay real, and to keep turning back around when I do wrong, and not take too much credit for what I do right.

Which I also fail at sometimes. But that’s okay too. God’s mercy is new every morning – even every moment. All I have to do is choose to show up.

So that’s what I hope to keep doing.

Here’s to many more days of prayer.

Today’s prayer: In the conference room, thankful for new beginnings even in familiar places.

This concludes my month of blogging with other Faith and Inspiration writers at The Nester’s 31 Days challenge. Here’s the complete list of my posts for the month!

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The Humblest of Miracles

When I stop to think about it, it just blows my mind that God will meet me anywhere.

In the gray workroom with institutional lighting and shabby carpet? Yes, God says, I’ll be there.

Walking to work while it’s still dark, half-asleep and cranky? Good morning, daughter.

Kneeling on my bathmat or tucked into some other ridiculous nook of my tiny apartment? I’m here for you.

It shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. By now, I should be used to the fact that God loves living in our messy, shabby, dingy little world.

After all, was Jesus’ life glamorous? Didn’t he travel many dusty miles by foot, wash the feet of his companions? Didn’t he stoop to look into the faces of women, children, and men everyone else had been ignoring for years? Didn’t he take pleasure in the ordinary: the sweet taste of figs, the gift of sharing a meal with his friends?

Who am I, that God would delight in my tiny prayers and show up in my messy life?

The answer, too simple and too beautiful to fathom: You are my child, whom I love.

Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: In the training room at work. Humbled to meet with God in such a humble setting.

I’m spending this month blogging with other Faith and Inspiration writers at The Nester’s 31 Days challenge. Here’s the complete list of my posts for the month so far.

Getting Ready to Close the Door Again

Jesus said, “When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

So it’s felt a little weird to “open the door” on my prayer life here on my blog for the last month. The last thing I wanted to do was say, “Look at me, look how much willpower I have and how awesome I am.” Because I don’t and I’m not and it’s not about me.

But here’s the thing. Some things in life, as worthwhile as they may be, are extremely difficult to do without support. That’s why we have NaNoWriMo and twelve-step groups.

I remember the group that first got me into this Centering Prayer thing. I remember how helpful it was to have Sister Shirley telling me it was normal to find it both simple and hard. And I remember how encouraging it was to go around the circle every week and hear everyone tell their stories, good and bad.

Like falling asleep while praying in the bath and waking up to ice cold water.

Or having to learn to gently ignore painful old memories that surfaced during prayer.

Or, miraculously, a new awareness that life is not an emergency, that breathing is still possible in times of great stress.

I hope this month of my sharing prayer has blessed you in the same way. I hope it’s helped in some small way to have one more presence out there, struggling and encouraging.

And I thank you for keeping me accountable this month. I hope when I close the door, I’ll have even more motivation to pray behind it.

Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: In the conference room. Learning, slowly, to watch my thoughts go by like clouds…

I’m spending this month blogging with other Faith and Inspiration writers at The Nester’s 31 Days challenge. Here’s the complete list of my posts for the month so far.

I Need More Salt

I need more of this.

That’s the thought that keeps coming to mind as I meditate lately these last few days. Meaning more of just-being, more of this countercultural, unproductive breathing and seeking.

Because really, I can’t do this being-a-Christian thing without following Christ.

I can’t follow Christ without doing what he did: seeking quiet, restorative moments alone with his Abba.

I can’t do things for spiritual reasons unless I make a clean, quiet space for the Spirit to dwell in.

And if I can’t do those things, what am I doing writing here?

Living my faith authentically means being different, means silencing all the voices from within and without that proclaim I cannot escape a life of cynicism and bitterness and fruitless striving.

Jesus said his followers were the salt of the earth. Salt was precious, lending flavor to everything, making people’s senses come alive, bringing joy. But he also said, “If salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled by men.” If I let my life lose the delicious flavor of thankfulness and grace and joy, a flavor I was lovingly created to share, what does anything mean anymore?

And how can I hold on to that flavor without tasting and seeing that God is good?

So I want to hold on to this practice of prayer, simply because the more time I spend appreciating God’s deliciousness, the more zestful my own life is, and the more joy it will bring others when I share it.

Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: Ordinary conference room. Ordinary experience on the surface. Underneath, the only truly extraordinary part of my day.

I’m spending this month blogging with other Faith and Inspiration writers at The Nester’s 31 Days challenge. Here’s the complete list of my posts for the month so far.

When I Think to Myself, “Why Pray?”

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

Seeking God today, right here, that I may see the beauty of God all the time, everywhere.

Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: Interrupted by the need for sleep. But God knows all my needs…

I’m spending this month blogging with other Faith and Inspiration writers at The Nester’s 31 Days challenge. Here’s the complete list of my posts for the month so far.

A Helpful Mnemonic for Centering Prayer

“RESIST no thought; RETAIN no thought; REACT to no thought; RETURN to the sacred word.”
Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening

Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: Cross-legged on the futon. The cat seems determined to hop on my lap and join in… She’s much better at this than I am.

I’m spending this month blogging with other Faith and Inspiration writers at The Nester’s 31 Days challenge. Here’s the complete list of my posts for the month so far.

Book of the Week: Manifesting God

Father Thomas Keating, the author of Manifesting God, put the term “centering prayer” into popular use and has devoted his life to promoting and supporting it. My prayer teacher, Sister Shirley, had read all his books and counted him her favorite prayer teacher. She recommended this book to all her students because she considered it the clearest expression of themes that appear throughout all his works – so if you only read one of them, she said, it should be this one.

Father Keating places a strong emphasis on the fact that contemplation is grace, not something we achieve or accomplish. Centering prayer is simply the practice of making yourself available to God so God can guide you and shape you in a way you may not consciously understand. For him, prayer is all about strengthening the relationship between you and God, making it more like the relationship between Jesus and his Abba. To be that close, that you literally feel God is as loving and available and necessary to you as a parent – that is the goal.

Centering prayer can seem kind of bizarre and uncomfortable, especially at first, so Father Keating’s emphasis on the point of it – creating a more loving relationship between God, Jesus, the Spirit, and yourself – has really helped inspire me to pray and sustain my prayer practice. I hope it will do the same for you.

Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: Conference room at work. Directing my mind to the truth that love is my real work, the most excellent way.

I’m spending this month blogging with other Faith and Inspiration writers at The Nester’s 31 Days challenge. Here’s the complete list of my posts for the month so far.

When I Don’t Know How to Pray

Today is one of those days that leave me wondering if I woke up in a strange mirror universe where no one speaks my language.

I hate those days.

I love communicating things to others, helping them understand. It’s why I love teaching and writing. In college, my teachers didn’t praise my papers for being brilliantly original – and in creative writing, I’m far from a master wordsmith – but gosh darn it, people have told me hundreds of times that my writing is clear.

Apparently that’s pretty important to me, because on days like today, when I feel like no one gets what I’m saying, I get disheartened really fast.

Customers. Coworkers. Church members. Loved ones. I’ve had misunderstandings with them all today, it seems. And since I’m wired to seek understanding, I wonder, Since my words don’t work today… what do I do?

Honestly, I don’t even know how to pray today. I can’t articulate my problems. I don’t even know what to ask for.

So on a day like today, silent prayer is a real blessing.

Because it’s easy to forget I don’t need to use words. God knows what I need before I ask. The Holy Spirit intercedes for me, prays for me when I don’t know what to say.

I can relax. I can know for the first time today that there’s no danger I won’t express myself well, that I won’t be understood.

I can simply be still and know God is there.

Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: Afternoon break, in the conference room where I’d tried so hard to articulate myself (and seemingly failed miserably) less than an hour before. How wonderful to embrace the restfulness of silence in that very same space.

I’m spending this month blogging with other Faith and Inspiration writers at The Nester’s 31 Days challenge. Here’s the complete list of my posts for the month so far.

The Necessary Luxury of Prayer

Time was made for you, you weren’t made for time.

Anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing

There is something about it that makes me feel so rich: to take fifteen minutes, twenty, thirty, and sit down and just breathe for awhile. To say, Yes, God, I have time for you.

This month I’ve been working hard and playing hard, with a sustained intensity I haven’t known since college. Every moment is scheduled. Everything I’m doing brings me joy, moves me forward, or keeps me sane from day to day, but it’s still tiring.

How luxurious to say, Why yes, I would like to just sit for awhile. Thank you.

The more I do prayer, the more I realize it’s one of those necessary luxuries – those touches of beauty without which life becomes claustrophobic and dark. Like fresh flowers on the windowsill. Like holding hands with your beloved. Like singing in the shower.

This, too, is a lesson of prayer. Some days I grit my teeth through it, and most days it doesn’t even bring me immediate peace or calm. It’s a practice and a discipline – and it’s a joy.

Or at least it leads me to joy, like rolling out of bed on a cold, dark morning and dragging myself up a mountain to watch the sunrise. From way up there, I forget the arduous walk, losing myself in the grandeur and beauty of the widest possible view.

Today’s 30(ish) minutes of prayer: First thing in the morning, still struggling to leave the dreaming world, with a cat on my lap.

I’m spending this month blogging with other Faith and Inspiration writers at The Nester’s 31 Days challenge. Here’s the complete list of my posts for the month so far.

I Must Become Less

When I was a teenager, I’d occasionally dream I was someone else. My dream alter ego was never anyone I knew; once I dreamed I was a stocky, pale-haired young man named Charlie, and I dreamed up a best friend and a mom for myself out of whole cloth, too. When I woke up from these kinds of dreams, my thoughts went like this:

First, Whoa, that was weird.

Then, Wow, that was such a relief!

Especially as a teenager, obsessed with my appearance and how others perceived me, it was amazing to get to be someone else for awhile. My constant preoccupation with myself was a burden I only noticed when it was temporarily lifted.

That’s a part of what prayer is to me, too.

In Christianity, we say things like, “We have to die to ourselves,” or “He must become greater, I must become less.” I know this sounds shocking to some people, like following Jesus involves violence to oneself.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. This is just the Christian way of saying something that many other religions also say, most notably Buddhism. The false self, the ego, the impostor, whatever you want to call it: so much of our constructed identities are actually burdensome to us.

And we don’t realize this until we lay the burden down for a few minutes. When we become less and the Higher Power becomes greater, it’s like the cage gets smashed open or we peek our heads out of the cave to see the world above.

I must become less… not because God wants me to suffer, but because God wants me to be truly free.

Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: In the conference room at work again. The word of the day was “love” – I know I could meditate on that one for a long, long time.

I’m spending this month blogging with other Faith and Inspiration writers at The Nester’s 31 Days challenge. Here’s the complete list of my posts for the month so far.