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Filtering by Tag: Prayer


Howard Schaap

Photo by Bradley Davisi / CC BY 2.0 The first time I washed myself in sage smoke, it was my introduction both to smoke in ritual and to sage. I vaguely wafted the smoke around my head as I had seen others do, but the experience was entirely foreign to me. I’d stepped over this prairie plant all my life and never wondered about its character, its smell, its purifying capabilities. Wrapping myself in its smoke was a baptism of sorts. We were out on the prairie, at a Lakota burial site discovered on an Englishman’s farm, which the Lakota had come to re-consecrate. The foreignness I felt was entirely my own.

Back at the pot luck up at the farm, someone said, “Did you notice the hawk that was out there, blessing us?”  

I had not noticed that either.

When I first read Joy Harjo’s “Eagle Poem,” it helped make manifest what I’d missed. “To pray you open your whole self/ To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon,” the poem begins, “To one whole voice that is you.”  

I’m a stumbling pray-er. Too often for me prayer has been akin to a grocery list and un-akin to an opening.

Right off in “Eagle Poem,” too, we’re in an exterior setting powerful with heavenly bodies. This I know. I have a particular memory of fall in mind: sunset and one heavenly body ignites a sliver of the other, sending a shiver among the corn.

“And know there is more,” the poem continues, less as command than as a statement about the nature of being in prayer:  You “open” yourself and “know” there is more

That you can’t see, can’t hear Can’t know except in moments Steadily growing, and in languages That aren’t always sound but other Circles of motion. Like Eagle that Sunday morning Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky In wind, swept our hearts clean With sacred wings.

This is the first sleight of hand. The poem takes us from the more that we cannot see, and bypasses language, replacing it with the circles of motion there in the sky, with the eagle circling. And subject is joined to object: the exterior circling of the eagle sweeps clean the interior of the heart.  

We see you, see ourselves and know That we must take the utmost care And kindness in all things. Breathe in, knowing we are made of All this, and breathe, knowing We are truly blessed because we Were born, and die soon within a True circle of motion, Like eagle rounding out this morning Inside us. We pray that it will be done In beauty. In beauty.

I see the circles, feel them even, external in my mind until the sky flips and suddenly it’s “Inside us.”

It’s the kind of thing I want from art, when the interior becomes the exterior, entangling Self and Other, till the Other is I and I, Other, and I have to disentangle again the one from the many, the firmament from the waters, the man from the dust.

Or do I?

Ordinary Round Moments

Joanna Campbell


  • I cheated again at Centering Prayer.
  • Instead of repeating one sacred word, I contemplated the weight of my prayer beads.  Or rather, their lightness, how they rest in my palm like a cloud.
  • Each wooden bead is a container for hundreds of prayers.  The cumbersome words are an unfinished painting.

  • There is an eye on each bead.
  • Really, these are knots.  They are the connective tissue from when the wood was part of a tiny branch—the place where the branch met the body of the tree.
  • I roll the beads between thumb and forefinger.  Often, there are no words—only the hope I am pushing toward something.
  • I try to ease into uncertainty.
  • There is a squirrel storing acorns inside our house.
  • My brother-in-law has Stage 4 cancer.
  • A woman will likely be executed tonight in Georgia.  Not even the Pope could sway the clemency board.
  • Seeing Jesus in the eyes of everyone we pass is an act of resurrection. Rarely do I practice this kind of medicine.
  • Buried beneath my anxiety is a young woman, deeply shaken by the sudden deaths of friends.
  • At a recent ordination, love rolled inside the sanctuary like a pinball. Give your clever talents over I heard in a hymn. They spilled out as tears.
  • I could not hide my face.
  • I want to be like the woman who sings at the oddest times.
  • Today, my loved ones are alive.
  • I need things to push against in order to give shape to a day.
  • The catch phrase, life is short, catches me in all the wrong ways.
  • Dang it.
  • I may already be living my dream.
  • I listen to a favorite song and hear familiar words for the first time, words like cool water, elegant and true. I make them my own, and they move between the beads.
  • Roll and push and touch our perfect bodies with your mind.  Touch our perfect bodies with your mind. Hear this broken meditation and touch our perfect bodies with your mind.

Monday Silent Lunch: Learning How to Taste and See the Real

Mary McCampbell

4 CakeLabri L’Abri Fellowship has the unpredictability, fragility, and sacredness of conversation —real conversation— at the heart of its day-to-day life. But every Monday, the L’Abri community pushes a pause button on its traditional daily “discussion lunch,” and we all eat in silence. Together, but in silence. Monday also happens to be the international L’Abri day of prayer. So from 1-2 p.m. in a Manor House in Greatham, England we try to still our racing minds and anxious movements in order to just “be.”

The L’Abri worker who heads the table always plays a CD of music — usually sacred, often choral — that lasts the entire lunch hour. Some of us read a book, some of us pray, some of us just sit, wondering, thinking. Although we are free to sit elsewhere on the property, as long as we are silent for an hour, I enjoy it most when the majority of students stay in the large dining room; a community of 30-40 people sitting together in silence is something so intimate and fragile and beautiful. And as I sit in the beautiful dining room, sunlight spilling onto the faces of those sitting near the windows, the entire scene becomes somehow more Real.

Immersed in crowded solitude, I am forced to be present, forced to notice. This forcefulness is gentle, not violent, and it comes from simply making a space to be still, to look, to listen. As the scene is filtered through the rich compositions of Tavener, or Part, or Preisner, I see things that I have not seen before, such as the simple, stunningly beautiful red skin of strawberries sitting in a bowl before me. It’s almost like I momentarily gain the attentive eyes of the artist, and I see, as Wordsworth says, “into the life of things.”Looking around at the dining room’s four crowded tables, I am amazed by the diverse beauty, the life, the animating “Image-of-God” soul of each individual. The only response to the overwhelming fullness this gift of seeing brings is a simple “cup runneth over”prayer: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

The director of English L’Abri, Andrew Fellows, often speaks about how contemporary Western culture has become “utterly banal” because the capacity for experiencing “things that are rich and profound” has become dulled. We are dulled down daily by repetitive excess consumption, by an endless desire for frenzied entertainment, by the lack of any ability to slow down, contemplate, and savor the present moment like a steaming plate of lovingly made food from a friend’s garden.

Fellows’ comments and my own frequent inability to “see” reminded me of a conversation that I recently had with my doctor after I had started a diet devoid of any sort of processed food or sugar. He told me that once the artificial has been cut out, one can actually begin to really taste again. Fruit will become much more sweet and delicious and we will lose our cravings for the false surrogates.

We all know that the “banal” world of artificial stimulation can dull our taste buds. And it can take away our sight. I am amazed that just by stopping to pause for one hour during a Monday lunchtime, I could taste — and see — again.

L'Abri Fellowship: A Vulnerable but Secure Shelter

Mary McCampbell


Perhaps more than anything, L’Abri Fellowship provides a space that invites, encourages, even fosters vulnerability. It is almost impossible to explain what L’Abri is in one word—or even one succinct phrase. Its name means “shelter” in French—and the word has a rich, multilayered meaning. Francis and Edith Schaeffer began the work of L’Abri in 1955 in Huémoz, Switzerland as their home became an open space for dialogue and honest questions for the locals and friends of their children. Word spread quickly, and L’Abri was born as a communal study center, a home open to any who want to come and seek answers to life’s big questions.

There are now eight residential L’Abri Fellowship communities around the world, and I am here as “Writer in Residence” at English L’Abri for a summer term. I have walked through the heavy wooden front door of this manor house many times before, each time both exciting and frightening; although the days at L’Abri are very structured, almost everything else, except for the warm welcome, is unpredictable, fragile, vulnerable.

According to English L’Abri director Andrew Fellows, the founders of L’Abri, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, created an organization that was “intentionally flimsy.” After asking themselves whether their lives would be different if every reference to prayer and the Holy Spirit evaporated, they honestly answered “no,” and decided that the work of L’Abri must be based not on strategic planning, recruiting, and well planned financial security, but on a visible, vulnerable dependence on God. Because of this, L’Abri was founded on four “intentionally flimsy” principles: 1) not advertising for students 2) not advertising for workers 3) not fund raising, and 4) not having a plan. Although the Schaeffers (and current L’Abri workers) do not speak against advertising, fund raising, etc.—and even verbally support some Christian ministries that do this—they feel/felt a specific calling to demonstrate the reality of God’s provision and presence through intentional vulnerability.

The L’Abri philosophy and practice is very much evident in the lunch discussions that occur five days out of the week in workers’ homes or the manor dining room or kitchen. A L’Abri worker heads the table, and ten or so students assemble at each lunch table. After we have all been served (lush, homemade) food, the table is open for any of the students to ask a question that will be discussed for the next hour and a half. Any question is a good question as long as, as the workers put it, it is an “honest question.” In a sense, the lunch discussion is a representation of the heart of L’Abri, a belief that, in the context of a life of faith, everything should be open to questions. It is also a testament to a deep acknowledgement of the importance of listening to one another, to truly believing that there are, as Schaeffer says, “no little people,” but a collection of glorious, broken individuals all made in God’s image, all longing for wholeness and community.

Fellows claims that “the heart of community is interpersonal dialogue,” a space where each individual can both hear and be heard in an ongoing reflexive relationship. He also emphasizes that L’Abri has, since the beginning, “championed the question;” this act of gathering to ask a question and grapple together towards an answer—or sometimes just a larger set of questions—is perhaps even countercultural in an age where many have, according to Fellows, “lost their questions.” Asking questions takes both humility and faith as we acknowledge our lack of understanding and hope for an actual answer. It also reminds us to be curious, to regain a sense of “childlike wonder” that, as Wordsworth reminds us, is so often lost in the ongoing distractions of adult life.

When Christ says in Matthew 18:13 "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” perhaps he is calling us to be vulnerable. And in doing this, to become more and more curious, to learn to ask questions, to turn away from apathy (not caring enough to ask questions) or arrogance (thinking that we know all the answers or can find them fully ourselves). To ask an honest question and seek an answer is a bold, brave, vulnerable move—and it implies a deep trust in the idea that an answer can be found, as well as a trust in those being asked (both God and those discussing the question).

L’Abri’s focus on prayer is clearly a demonstration of vulnerability before God, of curiosity and wonder in front of the mystery of our lives in His image. Because of the safety of God’s provision in the midst of this particular community that acknowledges both human frailty and beauty, L’Abri has created a shelter where students can ask questions of the workers, of one another, of themselves, of God. With this honest, and sometimes painful, vulnerability, we become like little children seeking a home where arms are open and answers can be found.

(Photo by Mägi May)

Relief News Tuesday 6.8.2010

Ian David Philpot

We went to print!!!

Over a week ago, we submitted issue 4.1 to the printer. Sometime over the weekend, it was approved for print.  This means that we should be receiving the copies of 4.1 in about a week and they will be shipped out immediately.  This also means that this is the last week for presales, so if you haven't purchased 4.1 yet, get on it!


Michelle Pendergrass, ccPublishing's President, could use your prayers.  Her mother passed away yesterday after dealing with some major health issues.  We ask that you pray for her peace of mind as she handles the busyness over the next few days.

4.1 Author Blogs

Starting this week, we will be featuring blog posts from authors that will be in Relief 4.1.  We will be including excerpts of their pieces to give you a little taste of what is to come.  So keep your eyes open on here and also on Facebook and Twitter.  -- We did post Gwen Weerts' writing last week, so scroll down and read what she wrote if you missed it.

Living in the Hours

Michelle Metcalf

Good Morning. It is 5:45am, still dark. I have been up since 4:15. I woke up cold, restless, a little hungry.  In the past hour and a half I’ve done what I can to satisfy myself: I’m now wrapped in a huge quilt sitting on top of the furnace vent on the floor in my living room; my dog is under the covers on my lap. I have been packing boxes in the kitchen—we’re moving to our first house in under a week and a half. I packed dishes quietly in the kitchen as my husband slept upstairs. I wrapped glasses in newspaper and towels. All of this while bread baked in the oven and too hungry to wait for it, I ate a bowl full of cut watermelon squares.

I wish all days started like today—with purpose and darkness and quiet and productivity. Just today, I feel somewhat akin to the monastic life; I feel connected to all the others awake right now in the world—working in quiet—its not just about waking up early—its about getting to work, about the ritual of living in these divine early hours.

Today, I will pray the hours, connected with the monks and restless morning pilgrims. Today I will not just intend it, I will do it. I will remember. I will stop. I will allow moments to be holy.

Today I will write. I will pray for inspiration. I will ask God for help. Today I will let it come. I will not be in a hurry. I will move through this work as if my life depends on it, and it does. Today I will not be afraid. Today I will believe for myself what I believe for others. Today I will show up and do the work.  Today I will be a professional writer, even if I have to pretend. Today I will turn off my phone, today I will listen to silence. Today I will light candles. I will burn Fir Balsam incense and smell the air. Today I will look at what has been left undone and leave it undone. Today I will not be lost in distraction, in necessity that does not involve words. Today, I will listen to words; I will listen inside of my head. Today I will not use my ears, today I will not use my eyes. Today I will live in my spirit. I will condition my mind. Today I will work until the moon rises. I will pray the hours before I sleep.

An invitation to pray the hours during Lent, and maybe not during Lent too:

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Michelle Metcalf feels inspired today because the sun has finally started to shine in Cincinnati, OH, where she lives with her husband and dog. She lead a writer's group this morning, just like she does every Friday. That's her favorite part of the week.