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Sunday Reflections

Sunday Reflection, December 14, 2014

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This is the irrational season
when love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
there’d have been no room for the child.
(Madeleine L’engle)

It’s difficult to come up with words to describe last night’s gathering.  The music reached deeply into us, and helped us see the source of our longing.  I can hear the Brilliance’s haunting refrain, “Emmanuel. God with us, God with us,” and it makes me nearly weep at the beauty and unlikelihood of God coming to us in the way he did. Spending time with Mary’s words reminded me how young, how open to God’s presence in her life, and how willing to respond to him she was. Her song illuminated in me my own longing for God and my soul’s desire to honor him; and yet, it also made me realize how closed I can sometimes be to his presence and how slow to respond I can be to his call, wrapped up as I am in my plans and reason.

I left last night with a couple of ways to engage this week with what we experienced. The first is to pray a small prayer that filled my mind and heart as I left.  It’s really simple: “Lord, here I am, your servant.  Help me be open to you.”  As I pray it, I think of Mary, her humility, servanthood, and responsiveness.  Let this be me.  Let this be us.

The second is to practice lectio divina again using Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55 — listening for what stands out as I read it and then asking God how it applies in my life and what he is inviting me to through the passage.  Would you join me?  (Last night when we practiced, I couldn’t quite get my analytical mind to quiet as it needs to in practicing lectio, so I look forward to going back to this passage and humbly seeking God’s wisdom and words instead of my own.)

I don’t think I will ever forget the end of the night, which The Brilliance closed with Joy to the World.  I couldn’t stop smiling and wanted to throw my hands in the air and dance!  Joy to the world!  The Savior reigns!  He rules with truth and grace!  Have you heard their version?  Check it out here.  Enjoy!

Grace and Peace,

the practice 12.14.14  36

Brilliance Practice

Brilliance band Practice

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the practice 12.14.14  26

Sunday Reflections, December 7, 2014

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I woke up this morning with the refrain we sang last night on my tongue:  Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  I have been singing or humming it for several hours now.  I think it’s because it seems like that’s really what our world needs and what I need.  When we pray for peace in a world like ours, this refrain seems like the only thing to say.  When we pray for our leaders, each of whom is human and sinful and broken, this refrain seems like the only thing to sing.  When we pray for people in our country and world who are afraid, in danger, and without hope, this refrain seems like the only answer.  Oh, and when we pray for our own hearts, hearts that surprise us sometimes with the darkness they carry, what more can we utter?  Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.

O Come Emmanuel

songs and prayers

I remembered, though, in the midst of my singing this refrain, that our Lord is merciful and has granted, is granting, and will grant us mercy.   In this season of Advent, we remember that Jesus was born ultimately to extend mercy to us and to the world.  Last night when Father Michael Sparough led us through the prayer of imagination, I was moved deeply by his humility, wisdom, and vulnerability, as God used him to remind us of the grace and mercy of Christ.  He walked us through a beautiful practice, helping us imagine what it would be like to be present just after the birth of Jesus, in the cave, near the animals, with Mary and Joseph.  I am sure some of us experienced something we need to journal and process through, some of us nodded off, and some of us felt frustrated by the experience for any number of reasons.  But what grace that this birth happened at all; what mercy that even our imaginations can be surrendered to God for his purposes; what a gift that we get to anticipate with holy expectation the second advent.

This week, let’s keep practicing the prayer of imagination, surrendering our imaginations to God for his purposes, and waiting with expectation.  For me, this is going to be journaling and processing my experience in the prayer last night, reading and using the prayer of imagination through a couple other passages (Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:22-35), and soaking in some of the other Advent resources, like the Brilliance’s Advent music.  What might this week look like for you as you practice?

Some resources…

Learning How to Hope, Brian Zahn
The Brilliance, Advent, Vol. 1; Advent, Vol. 2
O Come, Emmanuel Daily Devotional
Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas
Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Daily Family Devotions for Advent

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.


Sunday Reflections, November 16, 2014

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Practicing Gratitude and Trust

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will
for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Last night we deepened our understanding of what it means to be thankful.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that we were reminded of something we already knew to be true but continually forget – even in what seem like the worst circumstances, there is beauty and blessing.  Ed Dobson’s words and life helped us remember that we need not be thankful for all things (in Ed’s case, ALS), but can choose to be thankful in all things.

One of the most beautiful moments of the night was coming to the table in celebration and gratitude for Christ and the way he nourishes our souls by his sacrifice, his presence, and his power.  Doing this together felt like the only thing that could be done after our time of intercession for the world, confession of our sins, hearing Ed’s story, writing down every blessing until our hands hurt, and joining our voices in the litany of thanksgiving.  I’m still humming Praise to the Lord the Almighty this morning and when I’m alone, I think I’ll belt out the Hallelujah chorus.

This week our Kingdom Practice is practicing gratitude and trust, which Mark Scandrette talks about in chapter 3 of Free.  As we mentioned last night, one of his suggestions is to practice keeping a gratitude log, writing down five things for which you are thankful either in the morning or evening.  Another might be to do what Ann Voskamp did and name 1000 gifts or blessings by leaving little notecards around the house so you can catch even the way the light hits a soap bubble in the sink and write it down, giving thanks.  I have kept a gratitude journal for about a year.  Before bed, I scan through my day and just list out every blessing.  The pages fill up fast when my eyes are open to see the gifts in all circumstances!  Mark has other suggestions in his book that might work well for you.  Whatever way we do it, let’s practice, practice, practice!

May our eyes be open to the blessings all around us and may we be practitioners of gratitude!

1000 blessings,


Sunday Reflections, November 9, 2014

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Last night we confronted a question together that many of us have been wrestling with alone since Mark Scandrette’s teaching last week:

What do we do with the resistance that naturally rises up in us when we hear Christ’s invitation into the life that is truly life?

After all, it seems like a life lived as a follower of Jesus doesn’t just mean setting aside 20 minutes a day for centering prayer or one day out of every seven for rest and delight in who he is and who he has made us to be.  It’s beginning to seem like Jesus might be asking us for our entire lives.  And this can feel like more than we are actually willing to give.  For me, the deeper we have gone into our study and practices for the suburban stronghold, the more these words of Jesus begin to come to mind:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  (Matthew 16:25)

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  (John 12:24) 

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  (Luke 9:23)

And the more these teachings come to mind, the more my gut tightens, the more I want to turn to coping mechanisms that keep me from thinking about the ways I am attached to stuff, and the more I’d rather stay on the surface of things where it’s safe.

All of this is why praying through Matthew 11:28-30 and listening to Scott Gibson’s invitation to get curious with our resistance last night felt so tender and holy and safe.  Remembering the kindness of God who got curious when Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden, asking them, “Where are you?” gave us a framework and permission to get curious with ourselves.  As Scott taught, what might God do if when we felt resistance – anger, contempt, sadness, or just discomfort – instead of shaming ourselves and judging others, we simply noticed and asked: “What is this about?  What is happening here?”

Download Scott’s Teaching from last night

Such gentleness with our fragile hearts and souls!  Is this even possible?   And can we practice this “getting curious” without the expectation of an immediate answer, knowing that God may take time to unravel what’s really under the resistance?  Can we stay in the wonder?  Can we be the curious child who asks his mom or dad why a giraffe’s neck is so long and is perfectly content not knowing for sure, but wondering about all the possibilities?

This week, we are practicing (1) getting curious and (2) we’ll continue working through Mark’s book Free by reading chapter 2, called Value and Align Your Time. 

Here are the six questions Scott gave us to help with getting curious when we feel resistance:

  1. What am I observing that my heart seems to be doing?
  2. What am I noticing that my body is experiencing?
  3. What are the feelings that I am aware of?
  4. What are the questions that I want to have answers for?
  5. Where does my heart want to go with what I am becoming aware of?
  6. Are there others I could invite to wonder with me?

If I’m going to go with these questions, get curious and wonder, I need God’s help.  The song we sang last night may just be a refrain as I do:

You hear us calling,
You hear us calling, Abba Father. 

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.

Scott mentioned Barbara Brown Taylor’s most recent book Learning to Walk in the Dark as being helpful to him, so that may be something to check out if you’re looking to learn more.

May you feel the presence of our kind Father this week,


Sunday Reflections, November 2, 2014

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Simplicity is choosing to leverage time, money, talents and
possessions toward what matters most.  – Mark Scandrette

I left our gathering last night with an overwhelming sense that God holds everything together and I don’t have to.  I’m not totally sure why; that wasn’t necessarily what the night was about.  But after listening to Mark Scandrette’s story and teaching about simplicity, my vision of the kingdom of God grew deeper, broader, bigger, and more compelling.  I guess it comes down to the fact that I was reminded that my purpose in life isn’t to consume and have what Mark would call “consumptive experiences.”  Of course, I wouldn’t have described consumption as my purpose if you asked me, but am I alone in having been (mis)led into thinking and living as if it were?   As Mark walked us through the Scriptures and Jesus’ words to his disciples, I found myself thinking, “Oh yeah. That’s right. He provides. He reigns. There is something other than consumption.”

Download Mark’s Teaching

A few things that stood out in Mark’s teaching:

    • The Scriptures he mentioned, which I will be living in this week.
      • Matthew 6:25-34
      • Matthew 13:18-23
      • Luke 12:13-21
      • Acts 2:42-47
    • If we don’t arrest and interrogate our choices, consumption will end up driving them.
    • Jesus is inviting us into a life that is freer and lighter than any life we could or would create for ourselves.
    • Neither shame nor “should” is a healthy or helpful motivator.
    • His four questions: (1) What is the ultimate purpose of human existence?  (2) Who am I (and what’s my 5-word purpose statement)?  (3) What’s right in front of me?  (4) What will matter in the end?
    • The short self-assessment Mark handed out was eye-opening and I am really looking forward to spending some time with that this week as well.
    • And, because I love “dares,” Mark’s three statements that he dared us each to believe:
      • You were made for a deeper purpose.
      • You have enough to be fully alive and to thrive.
      • You can make intentional choices to use what you have to do good. 

Our Kingdom Practice this week is to Name What Matters Most to You and we are following the steps set out in this Scandrette The Practice Hand Out on pages 4-8.  We would love for you to join us.  Who knows what God might do?  Plus, I think I’ll practice Lectio Divina with the Scriptures I listed above too because I could sense God whispering to me through them last night.  Could you?  Join me?

Additional Resources.

Free, Mark Scandrette (For the next seven weeks, we will use Mark’s book to guide us in our practices)

Mark’s website has lots of resources relating to his teaching, so please check that out.

This is going to challenge us!  Can’t wait!

May the peace and grace of our Lord Jesus be with you today,


Sunday Reflections, October 19, 2014

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Rabbi Evan Moffic

Rabbi Evan Moffic

What a rich gathering we had last night. Everything from our coffee and dessert community time, to raising our hands in worship as we sang Let it Rise, to hearing from each other about the struggle and the beauty of practicing Sabbath, to learning about Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) from Rabbi Evan Moffic felt full and deep and beautiful.

The Rabbi’s teaching about Sabbath was thoughtful, winsome, and practical. I loved hearing about the Jewish teachings and traditions that Jesus would have learned as a boy (and many that came later). I wonder if Joseph or Mary ever blessed Jesus with the beautiful Jewish blessings Rabbi Moffic taught us.

Download message by Rabbi Evan Moffic

Some things that stood out to me as Rabbi Moffic spoke:

  • Sometimes you have to practice something before you truly understand its full depth and beauty;
  • Sabbath is and has always been countercultural;
  • Do things on the Sabbath that make that day different, set apart, and sacred; and
  • Sabbath allows for community building.

The Bread

These teachings reinforce what we have been learning all month in many ways. We have come to learn that Sabbath is a sacred gift from our good God. It is not an obligation or requirement that we are saddled with and must comply with to make ourselves holy or acceptable. Sabbath is a day on which can rest from our creating, generating, producing, consuming. How refreshing! And, as Rabbi Moffic said, most rabbis would tell you that the most important holiday in Judaism is Sabbath and what makes it so special is that it occurs every week.

Rabbi Moffic then shared these traditional and simple Sabbath practices with us:

  • (1) Lighting a candle to usher in the Sabbath and then lighting a candle to signify the end of Sabbath.
  • (2) Sabbath meal blessing. The blessing said over the Shabbat bread, challah, is: Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
  • (3) Blessing children and one another. May Adonai bless you and guard you. May Adonai’s face shine on you and be gracious unto you. May Adonai’s face smile at you and grant you peace.

I love the blessings. They bring a sacredness and intentionality to this time of rest. I can’t wait to incorporate them into my practice this coming Sabbath.

Let’s keep practicing in this countercultural rest and see what kind of depth and beauty we discover…

Grace and rest,

Sunday Reflections, October 12, 2014

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“Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”  — Psalm 116:7

Last night was all about the “how” of Sabbath.  Didn’t Sabbath take on a whole new meaning for you?  It did for me.  Wow.

Aaron shared a helpful way to frame Sabbath, inviting us to use Pete Scazzero’s four principles of Biblical Sabbath:


Each of these words causes something in me to say, “Yes!”  But, then I get a little tripped up over how to actually do them.  How funny that I know how to work so well; no training needed there.  But to rest?   I need help!  There are certain insights that Aaron shared from Pete Scazzero’s work that really resonated and gave me some handles on how I might think about Sabbath.

First, Sabbath is a day we can stop creating and simply be a creature.  For someone like me who is constantly creating and generating ideas, this is a powerful idea – just be the created, the creature.  Allow my creator to delight in me.  And just be the thing God created instead of trying to be the creator.  What does it look like for you to be a creature instead of a creator?

Second, God did not make us to live exhausted, breathless, break-less lives.  But do we trust him enough to rest?  Do we believe in the rhythm of working and resting that he modeled for us?  This is really hard for me and I have gone so long without real rest.  I was made, and so were you, for life-giving rest.  And I want to lean into it, so I’m identifying the things that give me rest – reading fiction, doing jigsaw puzzles, laughing with my daughter, making apple pie.  What gives you rest?

Third, God desires that we delight in his creation.  This is a little bit of a hard word for me because we don’t use it much in our culture (which says a lot).  Pete Scazzero explains that delight “communicates a sense of joy, completion, wonder, and play.”  (Pete Scazzero, Receive the Gift of Sabbath)  I’m looking for ways to really see what God has placed before me and pay attention to every detail — the way my daughter laughs, the way my coffee cup feels in my hands, and the way the pine trees pop and crack as fall comes.  Such wonder.  What does delight look like for you?

Fourth, Sabbath is a day to contemplate God’s love and goodness.  As Aaron shared, Sabbath, without turning my attention to God is not Sabbath, it’s just a day off.   For me, this has been journaling thanks, saying little prayers as I delight to thank God, and writing out a Psalm, soaking in its words.  Another thing I am going to try is to trace the milestones in my life and seeing and thanking God as I do.  What about you?  How can you contemplate God’s love and goodness?

The stories we heard from actual people who practice Sabbath helped me so much.  Everything from taking a long train ride and staring out the window or journaling what comes to mind, to making Sabbath a “yes day”, a day you say yes to the stuff you’ve had to say no to all week, like reading a book for fun or taking a nature walk, to setting clear work boundaries and gardening, to Friday night drives to Little Caesars for pizza and breadsticks.  Stop.  Rest.  Delight.  Contemplate.

We reflected on the following three questions from Pete and Geri Scazzero:

What do I need to stop that relates to my work – paid and unpaid?
What activities create rest and delight for me?
How can I cultivate a greater awareness of God in my life and in the world?

I’ve got my card here on my desk with all that I wrote in response to these questions.  I can see God’s invitation in it as I look at what I wrote.  “Come to me,” he is saying.  “Come and rest.  You can trust me.  Taste and see.”  What is his invitation to you?

I’m really looking forward to this coming weekend when we will all practice Sabbath.  Have you considered joining us?  Can you create some time on October 17/October 18 to practice?  Even if you can’t do 24 hours, could you do 12 or 8?  We can’t wait to hear how it went, including the hard stuff, and share our experiences, good and bad, next Sunday.

Also let’s keep learning!  My reading about Sabbath has helped expand my mind and my ideas about how to rest and delight.  One thing you might want to check out is Pete Scazzero’s teaching on his four principles.  So incredibly helpful.  Also, in her book An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor has a beautiful chapter called The Practice of Saying No and it’s all about Sabbath.

It is such a privilege to be on this journey together.

May you see God’s goodness today,

Sunday Reflections, September 21, 2014

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Last night felt to me like a great circling together, a gathering of brothers and sisters in Christ, a community serious about rearranging our lives to follow Jesus.  From our coffee and dessert to our prayers of intercession to our sharing of stories, and from our receiving communion to our communal plea that Christ be our everything, God’s presence was palpable.

There is something about solitude, silence, and stillness, isn’t there?  In our world, filled with noise, both audible and visual, moments of silence stand out as places to be filled.  These moments are so discomfiting that when they happen, we reach for the television remote or scroll through our Facebook feed to avoid whatever waits in the silence.

This morning, we all woke up, most likely with our deepest desires still tugging at us, but with the knowledge that Jesus awaits with a response that will point us to him.  I am carrying my rock, the one that represents my desire to belong, into his presence this morning to say once again, “Here.  Here is my deepest longing.  Open my eyes to your presence, Lord.”  And once again, like salve, I hear, “You are my beloved.  You are mine.  I have summoned you by name.  I am with you.  Be still and know.”

What is the desire you are carrying into God’s presence?  If you can name it, try to hold it in your hands, whatever it is, and just say, “Here.  Open my eyes to your presence, Lord.”  And, if you just don’t know yet, that’s okay.  Perhaps your prayer could be more like this, “Father, show me.  Show me, by your grace, my longing.  Open my eyes to your presence, Lord.”

We learned so much last night from those who shared their stories.  Two things stick most in my mind.  First is the image of the wind blowing through the pine trees.  There is something so calming and beautiful to me about that image and I seem to need to place myself somewhere in my mind as I practice.  The second is that the fruit of this practice comes later.  The point is not to seek an experience with God, but to rest in his presence.  The evidence of his presence and movement will be seen in the lives we live.

Did you have a takeaway from last night?  Did one of the words or images that was shared resonate with you?  If you need to place yourself somewhere, what image would you use?

Last thing: I was reminded last night of the importance of community.  Imagine if you had been practicing centering prayer, but had no one around to share with, no one to learn from, no one to just be present with as you process your experience.  Although in some ways centering prayer is a practice of being alone in God’s presence, it is one that is greatly enhanced and enriched by being in community.  Phileena shared her thoughts about this when she was here last week:

Let’s keep practicing centering prayer this week…finding a regular time to simply and humbly “keep company with God”.  Remember what Father Keating said: thoughts are inevitable, integral, and normal.  Don’t resist them, have a friendly attitude toward them as they come, and then let them pass by.

Blessings and grace,

P.S. Here is the Father Keating video we watched last night:  Guidelines for Centering Prayer

Sunday Reflections, September 14, 2014

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What a powerful night we had last night as Phileena Heuertz shared her story, taught us the history of contemplative prayer, and led us in the practice of centering prayer.  I am still thinking about these words:

Solitude teaches us how to be present.

Silence teaches us how to listen.

Stillness teaches us how to act.

Phileena taught us that centering prayer is rooted in the doctrine of the divine indwelling and is a process of interior purification.  And, if and when we consent, a union with God.  How beautiful.  One of the key teachings for me was that centering prayer is really not about listening for God’s voice or seeking an experience with him that we can talk about later.  Rather, it is to rest in his presence.  The evidence of God’s movement and presence in our time of centering prayer will be seen in the life that we live.  Over time, we will become more grace-filled, more at peace, less angry, more like Christ.

Download Phileena’s Teaching

The eight minutes of centering prayer was about what I expected.  The first couple minutes were, well, excruciating.  I couldn’t settle in and my thoughts flooded the space.  But then I said my phrase, “Here I am.”   More thoughts came.  As Phileena said, “the mind has thoughts like the heart has beats.”  So true.  I must have said, “Here I am” at least 250 times during that eight minutes.  Nothing magical happened in those moments, at least not that I felt.  I have a sense though, that God was at work.  I trust that he was.

Our time at the table, receiving communion, reminded me of the restoration Jesus offers and throughout that time, I said my sacred phrase again and again, “Here I am.”  “Here I am.”  I watched as we all lined up to receive, our collective, “Here we are, Lord” demonstrated, although not uttered.  There is not much else to say.   “Here we are.”

I can’t wait for my centering prayer time tomorrow.  Solitude.  Silence.  Stillness.  Here I am.  Would you be willing to join me this week?  Let’s just try 15 minutes every day this week.  (If you want to ease your way in, that’s okay too, but by Wednesday or so, try 15)  Here’s one way you might try:

one.  Sit in an upright, attentive posture and place your hands in your lap.

two.  Close your eyes and bring to mind your sacred word or image as your way of consenting to the presence and action of God within you.  Choose a name for God, a characteristic of God, or a word that symbolizes consent.

three.  With your eyes closed, recall your sacred word or image to begin.  As you notice your thoughts, gently return to your sacred word.  Do this each time your notice your thoughts.

four.  When your prayer time is over, transition slowly from your prayer practice to your active life.

If you want to know more about centering prayer, check out the many resources at Gravity Center’s website.  Thomas Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart, is also a must-have.

Last thing, Phileena reminded me that she just started a new blog series that will explore the themes in her book, Pilgrimage of the Soul, so take a look at that to follow along.  

Peace to you all,

Sunday Reflections, September 7, 2014

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Here Are My Desires

Last night we started our journey into the practices of silence and centering prayer as a first step out of the noise of our rushed, over-scheduled lives and into communion with God.  I don’t know about you, but the first couple segments of silence were a struggle for me as I tried to still my mind and my body.  I had a hard time remembering the instructions for the Lectio through Matthew 11:28-30, caught up as I was in unrelated, distracting thoughts.

But as we continued, I began to imagine myself walking toward Jesus, wondering what I would say when he asked me, “What do you want me to do for you?”  My mind engaged again and did what it does – churns, figures, concludes.  I longed to turn off the analytics, tried to listen to the depths of my heart, tried to listen for what God might say.  My mind finally relented and I found myself in His presence.

My answer came.  My deep desire, the one below the surface, flickered just enough for me to name it: belonging.  There it was.  Belonging.  Of course, there are a thousand ways my mind could analyze and critique and strategize a way to fulfill this desire.  I am choosing a different way, though.  I believe God is at the heart of this desire to belong, but I don’t always see him there and I don’t always seek him there.

Download the Teaching and Practice here

So, this week, I am going to hold this desire before God.  I will practice as we did last night.  I will create space for silence in his presence and pray the very simple prayer, “Here.”  By “here”, I will mean, “Father, here is my desire, my longing.  I give it to you.  I want it to compel me into your presence and draw me closer to you.  Here.”

Would you join me in this practice of silence and prayer?  Try setting aside 15 minutes three times this week to hold your desire in God’s presence.  Using the sheet you wrote your desire on last night is a way to physically hold something.  Or, you could write your desire on a stone and hold it in your palms.  Or, simply open your hands.  Then, pray the simple prayer, “Here.”  When your mind starts to run, just say the word again to bring you back, “Here.”  Then, just listen.



The music we played last night during the reflection time was O Magnum Mysterium, performed by the Nordic Chamber Choir in case it helps you.

Also, to learn more about contemplative and centering prayer, check out Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating.