Lent, Love, and the Rest of My Life

Photo Credit: MTSO Fan, flickr

Photo Credit: MTSO Fan, flickr

One of my pastors likes to say, “Lent is a time to do more joyfully what we should be doing all the time.” That challenges me, because I naturally want to think of Lent as some kind of crash diet, a time when you give something up that you really love and it’s a great test of your willpower. Then, when you’ve gotten to the end of the sprint, you can go back to living exactly like before. And that’s usually exactly what I do.

But Lent, a season of fasting, sheds light on the rest of my life. In my current circumstances, I lead a life of plenty. There’s no reason for me not to indulge, and in fact, I’m encouraged to treat myself all the time, like it’s a holiday every day. There’s a reason we call this a consumerist society.

And also, of course, I just love overindulging all the time. I’m still young and there are few consequences to my physical body. I love the feeling of being overfull, secure in my plenty. I love new delights on my tongue and familiar comforts slipping easily down my throat.

Fasting is a shock to my system in every way.

My body, my mind, my culture all tell me, You can’t go a whole day without eating anything. You have to eat.

But Lent asks, Do you really?

Can God alone be your bread today?

And it makes me wonder if I can ask myself that moment to moment. If I can live with less so others can have more.

I’ve given up all animal products for Lent, for more reasons than one, but mostly because I know my consumption of dairy contributes to global warming, which is devastating for God’s creation and the materially poor.

I know it makes sense to drastically reduce, if not completely eliminate, dairy as a part of my diet for the long term, not just forty days. But I also miss butter and cheese and ice cream so much already. Even as I think aloud about making sweeping changes, it’s often with a heavy heart and (I’ll admit it) a whiny tone of voice. I don’t wanna give up my favorite stuff.

I’m tempted to look forward to Easter as the time when my life will go back to normal.

But here’s the thing: maybe my normal and Jesus’s normal are two very different things.

The Bible says that Jesus “became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” I read that last night and I thought about how little I contemplate all that it meant for Jesus to become one of us.

Jesus was God, with all the power and glory that implies, but he became one of us. He humbled himself and became a being who existed in time, who was born and died. He endured every frustration in life that we do. He suffered sickness, exhaustion, and emotional pain. The closer he got to death, the more his suffering grew: betrayal, abandonment, misunderstanding, mockery, utter humiliation.

At times he wished there was another way to save us. But through it all, he wasn’t resentful. He was doing it for the love of poor people like us and through God’s love for him, and his loving heart shone through it all.

So that gives me a bit of perspective on my “sacrifices,” in and out of Lent. There’s nothing I can’t do with a loving heart, if I stay in the middle of Love and let it fill me.

What’s So Good About This Friday?

Michelangelo-pietaA good reminder not just for Good Friday, but for every Friday.

The first moment I had a clue what the Cross was for, I was in my usual spot in Mrs. Weaver’s English classroom at Cochise Community College: one row back, two spaces from the left. It was Irish Literature class, and we were talking about the gods of Irish mythology, and Mrs. Weaver, knowing my nerdy interest in Ancient Greece, had just called on me to back her up on a scene from Homer’s Iliad.

“Now, Rachel, in the Iliad, the gods don’t concern themselves much with the fate of human beings, do they?”

“No,” I responded immediately. “In fact, at one point, Zeus is feeling sad because he knows his son is about to die in battle, but Hera talks him out of it. She says mortals are doomed to die anyway and he’s better off not getting emotionally involved with them.”

“Right,” she said with satisfaction, turning back to the class. “So you see, this myth is similar in that…”

The discussion went on, but I remember staring at the floor to the left of my desk, daydreaming as I often did in class at seventeen. Huh. Interesting that in both these cultures, there’s a story about why the gods don’t care about us humans. Actually, why would you ever naturally believe a god cared about you? What could a god, who is immortal and can’t feel pain, know about your life? Why would they ever want to know?

And then it hit me. I’d never understood about Jesus. Growing up in the Church, saying all the creeds, listening to the Gospel over and over, my religious education classes, none of it had made the death of Jesus make any sense. God loved me? Sure, okay. Jesus, both divine and human, came to us to reveal how to live? That sounded like a fine plan. But every year when Easter came around, I would wonder, Why did he have to die like that? Why couldn’t he just have gone back to be with God, or even died like a normal person? Why the beatings, the blood, the torturous thirst, the getting nailed to things?

I didn’t get it. And now, somehow, I did get it a little bit: if you believed that Jesus was God (which was still to me just hypothetical), then you could no longer say, ever, that God didn’t care about or understand your suffering. Surely crucifixion was not only one of the most horrifically painful deaths ever, but also one of the most humiliating and dehumanizing. And if God was Jesus, and Jesus went through all that, it proved once and for all that God knew all about suffering. Surely God had empathy for your pain, compassion even for the most horrible experience you would ever go through.  Surely, if you believed that, it would give you a powerful sense that God was with you in your darkest moments.

Now, this is not how the impact of Jesus’ death is usually explained. I’ve discovered many more dimensions of it since then, and no doubt I will discover many more. But that was the thing that grabbed me first, stunned me and spun me around and made me get it after all my years of half-sleeping through sermons. I almost got choked up thinking about it: a god would do that for me? So that I could know I wasn’t alone? So I could know the Creator of the world was not hostile, or even neutral, but loved me enough to get down on my level, wade through all that blood and mud and grime, suffer all those filthy looks and jeers and whispers, to prove it wasn’t the end of the world? I pictured Jesus like a big brother, jumping before me into a lake that looked freezing, murky, teeming with perils, his head rising again to the surface to say, “Come on in. I’ll be in here with you.”

It wasn’t the day I decided to follow Jesus, not even close. I filed out of class somewhat pleased that I’d had an interesting thought. I’d always wanted to understand why people made such a big deal out of the Cross.

I thought that was it. But now I know that’s one of the things that makes Good Friday good. Jesus took what was until that time a horrific symbol of torture and death, a tool to make an example of criminals, and he took it on to show us how much he loves us, how intimately he wants to know us, that he would drink from the very same cup of pain. And also, of course, to show that no matter how horrible that pain, it won’t have the last word.

I’ll always remember that day as the day Jesus got his hooks into me. He must have waited years for it. He got me good.

Love Thy Annoying Next-Door Neighbor

ezekiel

Or how about not. How about some nice Matthew 5:45 instead? Photo credit: Kirk Kittell (flickr)

I remember donating my allowance to PETA back in eighth grade. I remember the first time I gave blood back in college, dizzy with excitement that I’d dared to do it. I remember walking out of a bakery one time in Greece with two loaves of bread in my bag and handing one to the beggar at the door. I tried to act cool as I walked away, but his smile burned into me for blocks.

Yes, giving is a rush sometimes. And rightly so, I think. Acts records the words of Jesus: “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” I think we get joy from giving because God made us that way. Science has now discovered the “Helper’s High,” feel-good chemicals our brain releases when we do something charitable. We are wired to like it.

But if I’m going to be honest, I have to say one thing: sometimes it feels easier and better to help strangers than people who are much closer to me.

Weird, since Jesus said “love your neighbor,” that sometimes I find my neighbors hardest to love – especially the ones who make too much noise upstairs or set the fire alarm off again. Strangers are still a mystery, their annoying habits as yet unknown, often more likely to win a smile from me than someone who sits near me at work with whom I’m acquainted all too well.

This reveals something else about humans: we naturally feel good when we give, but we’re also naturally reluctant to do it – especially when we suspect the recipient might not deserve or appreciate our gifts. And sometimes the more we see someone, the easier it is to suspect this. And gradually, our relationship shifts from open-handed to close-hearted.

There’s so much evidence of this in my life, geologic layers of it. Piles of never-answered emails in my inbox. Dozens of lackluster, barely conscious exchanges each day (“How are you?” “Good…”). So many mundane tasks performed grudgingly instead of lovingly. So many offers of help and opportunities for listening left unexplored out of fear of seeming awkward, fate worse than death.

I can’t help but bring this back to Jesus. In love, no one could beat him for endurance. Behold his disciples bugging him, not getting it, and generally acting like morons on every page of the Gospels, and then abandoning him in his hour of need, falling asleep when he needed them emotionally and denying they ever knew him at the first sign of trouble.

Did Jesus let himself grow cold toward these people? Did he gradually trust them less? Did he ever seem to feel it wasn’t worth it? Sure, he got frustrated with them, sometimes exploded in anger, but stop loving them? Never. After he suffered and died a lonely death and come back to life again, he cooked them breakfast and hung out with them on the beach.

That’s the thing, I guess, about believing that you and everyone you know will live forever. There’s no reason not to be loving. There’s no reason not to start flexing your muscles now for life in Heaven, where we will live shoulder to shoulder with all these other imperfect, messed up people with whom we once felt mutual annoyance and, God help us, we’ll all enjoy ourselves. Or it won’t be Heaven.

I need to pray for the ability to love with endurance. Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always endures.” Always. Not just when it feels good. Not just when it comes with a tax write-off or a sticker that says “Be Nice to Me” – or even just when it comes with gratitude. I need to pray for the ability to love like God loves, like God’s rain falling down on all the thirsty people, those who praise him and those who don’t.

Because a good feeling is not enough of a reason to love. The only real reason to love is because he loved me first, because I deserve it least of all, because I lived in the desert and now I’m dancing in the rain.

Monastic Value of the Month: Shared Economics

This January I’m reflecting on the principle of shared economics (for those of you who are just joining us, check out my post on why I’m doing this Monastic Value of the Month Club). As Common Prayer says, shared economics means choosing to pursue “a vision of an economy different than the empire’s economy.” As the Church, we are called to “bear each other’s burdens, fulfilling the law of Christ.” A striking characteristic of the early Church was that there were no poor people in it. Those who were rich gave all they could to the community, even selling their greatest assets, so those who were poor could be cared for, uplifted, embraced.

What would that even be like in our own time? What would it be like to have a church that truly took care of people’s economic burdens and gave all it could to eliminate poverty? What if people could come to the Church and find a haven from the dog-eat-dog world of the American empire? What if we could lay down our addictions to work and shopping and entertainment because we were part of a community that would care for all our true needs?

The Church would be a lot more popular, I’m pretty sure, if those things were what we were known for.

Unfortunately, we pretty much suck at sharing these days. Although there are definitely parts of the Church that care for the poor and fight the systems that perpetuate poverty, most Christian individuals and communities have very little imagination when it comes to economic matters. We don’t know how to truly care for others. We don’t trust them enough. We’d rather hold the poor at arm’s length and show them charity than get involved in their lives and truly take up their burdens.

I am very much guilty of this. I know that compared to many, I’m rich. On the other hand, when I budget my money and my time, I tend to think of myself and my family first. My burdens, such as they are, feel heavy enough without picking up someone else’s. And the thought of surrendering more resources to the Church and trusting God to take care of me via my fellow Christians? I don’t know, it feels so risky.

The more I reflect on this, the more I conclude that the key word here is shared. In our individualistic society which praises self-sufficiency so much, it feels crazy to carry another person’s burdens. We don’t trust that it will be reciprocated. We fear burnout or bankruptcy. We need the support of community, a culture of shared burdens, to set us free from our programming. That’s one advantage the Church already has: we already share a part of our lives, and together we can grow to share more.

So let’s join together, young and old. Let’s dream dreams and see visions of a world in which poverty does not exist, a Church where people who are hungry can be fed and people who carry around too much stuff can lay it down. Let us pray and work for a world in which we can all feel safe laying our burdens down.

What dreams do you dream about shared economics? What would a Church and/or world without poverty be like, and what can we do today to help create it?

Strengthen Your Brothers: The Fine Tradition of Epic Fail

Epic FailSeriously, why do Christians have this reputation for wanting to be perfect? For needing everything to be squeaky clean and unblemished?

I’m not saying it’s an undeserved reputation, either. So often I myself succumb to the temptation to make my life look better than it is, to pretend I’ve got it all figured out.

Why do we Christians do this?

I think it’s because we’ve been screwing it up from the very beginning.

I mean, really, read the New Testament. Particularly the Gospel of Mark. The first followers of Jesus were generally terrible at following him, even the apostles. They misunderstood his parables and his instructions. They doubted him constantly and abandoned him at the first sign of trouble. They itched for him to give them earthly power and justify the violence they wanted to commit.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The Gospels are especially critical toward Peter, sharing all the gory details of how and why he let his Lord and Teacher down.  We all know the story of how he rashly promised he would never betray Jesus, but would follow him even to the point of death, followed by three outright denials that he had ever heard of him before the day had even begun.

What a great person to name as the Rock you’ll build your future Church on, right? I mean, what was Jesus thinking?

I was reading the Gospel of Luke today, the part where Jesus tells Peter he knows all about this future betrayal. And here’s the part that blows my mind, the part I never noticed before: not only has Jesus forgiven Peter ahead of time, he’s already thinking of how the betrayal can be redeemed. In other words, he’s already thinking of how Peter’s stupid, callous, thoughtless action can be the source of future glory.

Read for yourself what he says in Luke’s Gospel: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Did you catch that? Jesus knows Simon/Peter is going to experience intense temptation, and he knows Peter will give in, but the whole time, Jesus will be rooting for him. In fact, he’s already prayed for him ahead of time that he won’t be completely overcome, that he’ll still have it in him to turn around and follow Jesus again. And when he does, he can use it to strengthen other disciples when they, too, struggle and fail.

This is such an important quality for a leader. No wonder Jesus desires it for Peter. Peter’s humble repentance for his failure will make him capable of more compassion toward other flawed people. Not only that, it will give him practical experience of how to turn around when he’s tempted to wallow in failure, and he’ll be more able to help others turn around too.

I used to hate reading the Bible because it had so many screwed up people in it. I asked myself how these people could possibly be held up as moral examples.

And then, one day, the light bulb went on: the people in the Bible aren’t moral examples, except for Jesus. Everyone in the Bible except for Jesus made mistakes, sometimes huge mistakes, even if they were very close to God (hello, King David). Not only did God love them through all their inherent flaws and stupid mistakes, God also hatched a plan to save them from the horrible cycle of sin and guilt. The plan to redeem us, make us new, turn our ashes to new beautiful life, has been unfolding since we humans entered this crazy world.

Are we perfect? Never. At least, not in this lifetime. But through it all, God blesses us and constantly roots for us to turn back in the right direction. And when we do that, God will help us use the memory of our worst mistakes to strengthen our brothers and sisters.

Monastic Value of the Month: Living in the Abandoned Places of Empire

Inner City Angels mural, a pastel drawing on wall

(Photo credit: Roberrific)

So as I recently shared, I’m reflecting this year on the twelve core values of the New Monastics. Perhaps you are asking yourself who these people are and why I care about their values.

Well, my basic definition is this: New Monastics are laypeople who are trying to live out monastic values in the modern world. I guess the term itself usually applies to Protestants move (since monasticism, and laypeople adopting monastic values, is nothing new for Catholics), but it’s a welcoming movement for anyone in the Church. There is a lot of diversity among New Monastic communities, and disagreement is fine, as long as it’s respectful. They do have some official values, which I really like, and I plan to do my own take on them.

But why am I personally so drawn to monastic values? That’s another good question. I haven’t ever lived in community, per se, and as with any non-mainstream lifestyle, it’s hard to fight the tide of the greater culture alone. I don’t even do hospitality on a large scale too much anymore due to the small size of my living space. And yet I do feel communal life is something I ought to seek after as a Christian, even though it won’t look the same for me as it does for others. I need to remember I’m not in this thing alone, that every single disciple is my family, and that we can work to help, encourage, and exhort each other as travelers on the Way. (I’m hoping this blog will eventually help me form such a community of encouragement in its own way.)

So the value I’ll be focusing on this December is “living in the abandoned places of empire.” But what does this mean, and what does it mean for me?

For most New Monastics, this means they form their communities in abandoned parts of the inner city, places other people have long ago abandoned as hopeless. The New Monastics figure that Jesus has always hung out in such places. (Remember what Nathaniel said when he learned the area Jesus called home: “Nazareth?! Can anything good come from there?”) They’re not just there for some condescending short-term service project; many of them put down roots for good, seeking to learn from their less privileged neighbors as well as use their privilege for good within the new community.

As for me, I have made my home in the city, but it’s a pretty darn safe city overall, and my neighborhood is beautiful, quite a desirable place to live. I walk to and from work each day, often in the dark, with no fear for my safety. My lifestyle is fairly humble out of necessity, but not more so than that of many of my friends, and I certainly enjoy a certain amount of luxury. Nor does my day job have anything straightforwardly to do with serving the poor or bettering the community.

On the one hand, I want to grow more comfortable with spending time in abandoned places, places others have deemed ugly and unsafe and worthless, and seeing the beauty and eternal worth of the people who live there. I want to be a true friend to the poor, and I know I have a lot to figure out in this area. On the other hand, fixing up an inner-city “abandominium” as a long-term home is definitely not the only way to grow in compassion for the poor. Nor should it be – Christians live diverse lives and that should absolutely be encouraged!

So how can I appreciate and build up places the Empire rejects in my life as it is now? Here are some thoughts.

1. Support and uplift poor communities in my city with my skills, money, and time, and make concrete goals to do this more and more in my life.

Examples: I can use my skills as a student and teacher to help teach literacy (and strive to do it respectfully, always acknowledging my students have much to teach me). I can donate my time and money to local organizations that help the poor find peace, renewal, and health. When people approach me on the street to ask for money or other help, I can respond to them with kindness rather than ignore them, even if I’m unable to give them what they ask for or I think it’s not wise.

2. Spend time with others who are ignored or despised by the world, affirming they are truly valuable to God and to me.

Examples: I can seek out friendships and conversations with those who feel different or lonely and see what they have to offer that others are missing out on. I can spend time in places that are often unlovely and lonely, like nursing homes, and try to ease others’ burdens by listening and being present.  When I see someone getting attacked on the internet or in person for taking an unpopular stance, I can extend my unconditional support for them as a person, even when I disagree.

3. Refuse to accept the (often very subtle) imperial mindset that wealth, success, physical beauty, health, youthfulness, etc. are the best indicators of true worth.  See things in terms of the values of God’s upside-down kingdom instead.

Examples: I can learn to better accept myself for who I am and choose not to obsess over how successful I appear to others (this is pretty huge for me). I can likewise encourage others to be who they are and show them unconditional love when they experience failure by worldly standards. I can create spaces online and in person where people can lay down the ideological burdens cultural empire puts on us all.

Of course, like I said before, it’s hard to do these things, or any countercultural things, alone. We need community. I’m very grateful to be part of a church community that places a high amount of emphasis on questioning the values of the greater culture and trying to see things God’s way instead. I’m also grateful for the many mentors I have, both in person and in books (I don’t take nearly enough advantage of them!). And I am grateful for you, my friends and readers. I would love to hear your thoughts on how we can strive to live out this value better together.

What does “living in the abandoned places of empire” mean to you? How do you do this in your everyday life? How would you like to grow in this area? What aspects of this subject would you like me to explore in more depth this month?

Jesus Was Not Nice

Christ cleansing the Temple

Christ cleansing the Temple (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

I don’t know what to do with the idea of repentance. I’m no long-bearded old man with a sandwich board crying out about the end of the world. I’d rather be more like Jesus, loving, humble, gentle. A man whose mercy didn’t let him quench a smoking wick or break a bruised reed. A man who did not lay burdens on others, but lifted them.

Here’s the thing though: Jesus was loving, absolutely. Humble and gentle with all his heart. The Master of Mercy with an easy burden and a light yoke.

But Jesus was not some kind of watered-down nicenik. In his love, he was sometimes very, very angry. He turned over the money-changers’ tables, sick with rage over their greed. He told one of his closest friends, “Get behind me, Satan!” He spoke of a place of outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I quake at this. I want the nice Jesus. I want us all to just get along. I was raised to say “I’m okay, you’re okay.” But sometimes things are not okay, and I can say that with love. I can be angry with a merciful anger, a loving anger, a humble anger.

I can be angry without hating people, not a single individual who is precious to God. My fight is not against flesh and blood. Instead, I can be angry the dark cycles people are born into and don’t know how to leave. I can be angry at how this broken world breaks people, and how I’m a part of it.

I can burn with a productive anger, a helpful anger. It’s the difference between a disastrous wildfire and a controlled burn. I can realize that sometimes, when people are crushed under the weight of their burdens, the most loving thing I can say is, Change, repent, put down the rock and walk away.

Others have loved me this way and I’m now happier for it. Jesus has loved me this way, has told me as I wept, I can’t carry your burden unless you give it to me. Choose to change, or you choose the burden, like you have your whole life, over and over.

Sometimes I love you sounds like Stop this now.

I’m learning to hear, and speak, that rough but beautiful language of love.

Prayer and Healing

I’ve talked before about the fact that I sometimes feel like desiring healing is selfish. Since Centering Prayer is primarily a way of healing my spirit, it brings up those feelings again. How can I sit alone with my eyes closed when there are dishes to be done, loved ones whom I owe a call, causes that need my energy, all kinds of obligations to be met?

It’s good to take a moment to step back and examine what my prayer practice is supposed to accomplish.

Just because it’s an activity I do alone, does that mean it’s just for me? Is the primary reason I desire the healing of prayer to alleviate my own suffering, feel better about my spiritual life, fight off guilt, check it off my to do list?

Prayer does heal my spirit. But prayer is not something I do truly alone. Prayer is something that brings me into communion with God. Through the practice of silence, I am emptying myself so God can fill me, and that is what heals me.

The effects of prayer don’t stop with me, either. The more I’ve allowed God to heal me and heal our relationship, the more God can affect whatever I do – even those mundane things like dishes or emails. The quality of everything I do can change. I can give of myself more fully. I can love more easily. I can sympathize with others more readily.

When I think about it this way, prayer is not a waste of time. Prayer can help me spend all my time more wisely. Prayer is time set aside to love God authentically, with more and more of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. And when I do this, love of neighbor follows.

There is no commandment greater than these.

Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: Cross-legged on the bed as the last one awake in a sleeping household. So much activity in my day today – all good things, but made even better with a moment to rest in gratitude.

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: The Cloud of Unknowing

We don’t know who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing, the fourteenth-century classic work on contemplative prayer. We do know he was a priest or a monk of some kind, and this book is his advice to a twenty-four year old friend who wished to follow him on the path of mystical communion with God. In a world ravaged by plague and war, he wrote a guide to taking up permanent residence in divine peace, and his words are just as refreshing in our world.

“We cannot think ourselves to God, because God can be loved, but not thought.” This is the anonymous author’s thesis. He urges his readers to let their minds dwell only on God when they pray, to cover all earthly worries, dreams, pleasures, fears, and relationships with the eponymous “cloud of unknowing.” Wise, often witty, and sometimes very blunt, he provides step-by-step instructions on the methods of prayer that have worked for him and the type of relationship with God he feels is worth pursuing with all his heart. I’ve found this book, with its beautiful and very applicable lessons averaging a page in length, to be an excellent devotional, like daily letters from a loving mentor.

I’ll provide a few of my favorite quotes here, although I feel a bit funny doing so because the author begs his reader at the very beginning not to quote it, read it to others, or copy it in any way unless he’s sure those who listen or read the quotes are “ready to go to the next level, advancing beyond the active life to the highest contemplative life.” But if you’re reading this, that probably describes you, right? Anyway, this is one work I can never keep from sharing, and hopefully you’ll see why!

“Cheer up. Yes, you’re weak. And, yes, life is hard. Accept this, and then take a good hard look at yourself… You’re human, so watch out for that enemy, pride. Never think you’re holier or better than anyone else. Never confuse the worth of your calling with who you are.”

“Live up to your high calling by lowering yourself. Become more loving to your spiritual partner [God], never forgetting how he – almighty God, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords – chose to humble himself for you. He was so compassionate that he chose you from among his flock of sheep as one of his special disciples. He put you in his pasture to eat the sweetness of his love, letting you sample your eternal, heavenly inheritance.”

“Do [the work of prayer] until you feel the delight of it. In the trying is the desire. The first time you practice contemplation, you’ll only experience a darkness, like a cloud of unknowing. You won’t know what this is. You’ll only know that in your will you feel a simple reaching out to God… Be sure you make your home in this darkness. Stay there as long as you can, crying out to him over and over again, because you love him. It’s the closest you can get to God here on earth, by waiting in this darkness and this cloud.”

“Thoughts will come. If you find yourself obsessed with one pressing down on you from above, trespassing between you and that darkness, and asking, ‘What are you looking for? What do you want?’ tell it that you want only God – ‘I crave God. I seek him and nothing else.'”

So, are you hooked yet? Are you looking for a copy of this book right now? You won’t regret it, especially on those days when your enthusiasm for prayer is sorely lacking; this book will be a shot in the arm of love, zeal, and determination.

A note on translation: All quotes above are taken from the fantastic 2009 translation by Carmen Acevedo Butcher. While I definitely believe this book is worth reading in any translation (and some are available for free online), I’d especially encourage you to seek out this one. Butcher’s bold, playful, immensely readable modern English keeps the spirit of the original Middle English alive, and her many footnotes describe the delicious bits of wordplay she couldn’t directly translate. This translation is steeped in joy, the author’s joy in prayer and Butcher’s joy in the author’s character and command of language.

Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: Lunchtime, conference room again. There’s something incredibly beautiful about praying in such a prosaic place, literally centering my busy day around 15 minutes of sacred silence.

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: Sister Wendy on Prayer

During October, just for fun, I thought I’d recommend one book on prayer per week.  Nothing too heavy or intellectual, simply the books that never fail to motivate, inspire, and center my own prayer practice. I hope they’ll be helpful to you too. Sister Wendy on Prayer will be the first (the link will take you to an excerpt).

Sister Wendy Beckett is an active-turned-contempative nun who lives a life of total solitude (most of the time) in rural England. She’s best known for doing a series of delightful TV shows for the BBC on art history, like Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting. Despite what a wonderful scholar and teacher she is, prayer is what she really loves and what she’s devoted her life to, to the exclusion of almost everything else. And, she tells us, prayer is very simple. The simplest thing there is.

“Prayer is God’s business,” she says. Your business is just to show up and be genuine. She provides no specific instructions for prayer, since like any other relationship, it’s meant to develop naturally. There are no rules, just love that grows.

I featured a quote from Sister Wendy’s book recently in my post Prayer for a Busy Life. Basically, she’s saying if you want to pray, you’ll do it. “Do you want [a prayer life]?” she asks at another point. “Or more precisely, do you want to want it? Then you have it.” That’s what I love about her book, full of no-nonsense wisdom that will stay with you and motivate you a long time. Moreover, it’s hard not to want to pray from the way she describes it. After all, it’s been an all-consuming passion in her life.

Fans of Sister Wendy’s art history work will be pleased that the book also includes color illustrations of some of her favorite pieces of artwork and notes on how they’ve inspired her to prayer. A slim book in size but definitely a heavyweight when it comes to spiritual motivation.

Today’s 15 minutes of prayer: I lucked out and got the conference room again for my morning break. The word of the day was “compassion.” I went in wanting it for myself, but as I sat and tried to quiet my mind I became aware of the compassion God has for me, waiting so patiently for me to put aside everything else and simply be together.

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.