Three Approaches to Prayer When the Dry Times Come

Spiritual Aridity Requires Patience and Perseverance — and More

St. Catherine's, one of the oldest Christian monasteries, is in the Sinai desert where monks have prayed for over 1500 years.

A friend of mine posed the following question recently on Facebook: You may have written about this before but how about dry times in prayer? What to do? Does it really mean anything? Can we have an impact on it or do we patiently wait it out? The fancy term here is “aridity.” I suspect […]

Pray Every Day (And Be Willing to Start Small)

I often am asked for advice on how to begin a daily prayer practice — whether that involves silent prayer (such as centering prayer) or praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Many people find the idea of setting aside forty minutes a day for centering prayer (twenty minutes in the morning, and another twenty at night), or the ninety minutes or so it takes to pray the complete Liturgy, to be daunting. “How can I ever establish a daily habit of prayer? I can barely find enough time brush my teeth, let alone commit an hour or more each day to prayer!”

I believe the secret to daily prayer is in the word daily. It’s better to start small, and develop a daily habit, than to attempt a large commitment that will just compete with all the other demands on your time — and lead quickly to a sense of frustration or defeat, when all those other demands get in the way of your prayer time. It’s the same principle for learning a new musical instrument or adopting a new exercise regimen. If you have been sedentary for the last decade and decide you want to run a marathon, you need to recognize you’re not going to run 28 miles the first day you train! It’s better to start with a nice brisk walk — and then keep training daily, gradually building your strength and stamina so that you can eventually achieve your goal.

The same logic works in fostering a new commitment to prayer. If you want to begin a centering prayer practice, at first just do it five or ten minutes a day — but try to do it every day. And if you do miss a day or two, let go of the temptation to judge yourself; just get back into the daily practice as soon as you can.

Likewise with the Liturgy. Maybe at first you only can find the time to pray one Psalm in the morning and one Canticle in the evening (or something like that). Or maybe you just have time to pray one of the shorter offices, like Compline, each day. It’s okay to start small. It’s better, in the long run, to begin with fostering that daily commitment, and then allowing the commitment to grow over time. As you become established in your daily practice, it’s almost inevitable that you will begin to hunger for more. You’ll find five minutes a day of silence isn’t enough. Or just praying a Psalm or two each day isn’t enough. That’s when your practice begins to bear fruit — and truly becomes joyful. Pray every day, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly (and organically) your daily practice will grow.

Is There a “Contemplative” Personality Type?

Introverts, Extroverts, and the Prayer of Silence

Is there a "contemplative" personality type?

I once heard Richard Rohr tell a charming story of giving a retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, where Thomas Merton lived. Rohr was surprised to find that not all the monks particularly cared for Merton. When he asked about this, one of the brothers said, “Merton told us we weren’t contemplatives, we were just introverts!” It’s […]

In May I will be leading the annual retreat for an Episcopal dispersed community, the Worker Sisters (and Brothers) of the Holy Spirit. If you’re a member of this community, I look forward to seeing you at the retreat.

Date: May 13, 2016—May 15, 2016
Event: Worker Sisters of the Holy Spirit Retreat
Sponsor: Worker Sisters of the Holy Spirit
Location: St. Louis, MO
Public: Private

To invite me to speak to your community, click here.

Do not, then, stir yourself up to useless interior activities. Avoid everything that will bring unnecessary complications into your life. Live in as much peace and quiet and retirement as you can, and do not go out of your way to get involved in labors and duties, no matter how much glory they may seem to give to God. Do the tasks appointed to you as perfectly as you can with disinterested love and great peace in order to show your desire of pleasing God. Love and serve Him peacefully and in all your works preserve recollection. Do what you do quietly and without fuss. Seek solitude as much as you can; dwell in the silence of your own soul and rest there in the simple and simplifying light which God is infusing into you. Do not make the mistake of aspiring to the spectacular “experiences” that you read about in the lives of great mystics. None of those graces (called gratis datae) can sanctify you nearly so well as this obscure and purifying light and love of God which is given you to no other end than to make you perfect in His love.

Thomas Merton
The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2003), p. 97.

Five Essential Dimensions of Christian Prayer

Deepen Your Intimacy with God through Each of these Ways of Praying

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I talk a lot about silent prayer in this blog, which is understandable considering that my focus is on contemplative prayer, which the Catholic Catechism describes as “wordless prayer.” As important as silence is to contemplative and mystical forms of prayer, it’s only one of five essential dimensions of Christian prayer. In this post I look at […]

In October 2012 Rowan Williamson, then the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, addressed the Catholic Synod of Bishops in Rome at the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI. It was an historic occasion, as this was the first time an Anglican Archbishop had addressed the Catholic Synod. If it were up to me, this talk would be circulated far and wide, read by all Christians and studied in all seminaries. I think this talk is so important because it addresses the centrality of contemplation in the life of Christian discipleship today. Here’s an example of the wisdom found here:

Contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.

To read about the address, including a complete transcript of the entire address, follow this link: www.rowanwilliams.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2645/archbishops-address-to-the-synod-of-bishops-in-rome

Seven Blessings of Silent Prayer

Why Contemplation Matters — For All People of Faith

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Silent prayer — contemplative prayer, what the Catholic Catechism calls “wordless prayer in which mind and heart focus on God’s greatness and goodness in affective, loving adoration” — is an important element of a mature Christian spirituality. The Bible instructs us to “be still and know… God” (Psalm 46:10), and even promises us that “silence […]

I’ll be teaching this class on the history and basic concepts of Christian mysticism through Emory University’s continuing education program. It’s a fun class that approaches the topic from an inclusive perspective, as we seek to understand what the mystics have to tell us and why their wisdom remains relevant today. Class meets weekly for five weeks; we’ll be reading The Big Book of Christian Mysticism.

Date: April 25, 2016—May 23, 2016
Time: 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Event: Introduction to Christian Mysticism
Topic: Christian Mysticism
Sponsor: Emory University Continuing Education
404-727-6000
Venue: Emory Continuing Education
Location: 6 Executive Park Drive NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
Registration: Click here to register.

To invite me to speak to your community, click here.

The core of my being, the most treasured part of my existence, is a contemplative life— a life lived in awareness of the divine. The challenge of maintaining this awareness is to sit openhanded to receive all that comes. It is not possible to hold on to one thought, memory, or idea and continue the contemplative journey. It requires a willingness to live this moment as keenly as possible, always aware of the many dimensions of now. Staying openhanded, treasuring but not grasping, is critical to the contemplative stance.

Sr. Simone Campbell
A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community (New York: HarperCollins, 2014), p. xiii.
9781608996636

Christian Proficiency (London: S. P. C. K., 1959)

Martin Thornton stands alongside Kenneth Leech and Evelyn Underhill (at least, in my opinion) as one of the three most important Anglican Catholic writers of the twentieth century. In this book originally published in 1959, his language (like Underhill’s) can sound dated — he uses terminology like “mental prayer,” “recollection” and “colloquy” — but the warmth of his pastoral voice, the evident love for Christian spirituality, and the homespun, down-to-earth character of his writing, all combine to make this general survey of spirituality for the practicing Christian truly a delight. In calling the book Christian Proficiency Thornton points out that his intended readers are not the absolute beginners in the inner life, nor the experts — but rather those who seek a mature, adult spirituality, acknowledging the constraints that family life and career will place on the ordinary seeker. Nevertheless, Thornton points out that such elements as meditation, spiritual direction/accompaniment, and forming/following a rule of life, are all important and accessible elements of a committed life of faith. In the end, he succeeds in communicating to readers that an ordinary life of spiritual practice is truly extraordinary when suffused with the love of God.

Books and a Film: All About Silence

Explore the Heart of Contemplation With These Titles

Fermor

I would love to attend the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin next month — if for no other reason than to be at the North American premiere of the movie In Pursuit of Silence. Here’s the latest trailer for this “meditative film about our relationship with sound and the impact of noise on our lives.” […]

This image comes from Flickr. The owner gave me non-profit permission, so we would have to go back to him to see about using it on a book cover.

Give yourself the gift of a mid-week retreat day! On April 20 I’ll be back at Ignatius House in Atlanta leading a “Day of Reflection” on the spiritual wisdom of Julian of Norwich. Our today together will include three conferences on the teachings of Julian, with plenty of time for silence, reflection, prayer, and enjoying the beautiful grounds of Ignatius House. Hope to see you there.

Date: April 20, 2016
Time: 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Event: Julian of Norwich Day of Reflection
Topic: Julian of Norwich
Sponsor: Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center
404-255-0503
Venue: Ignatius House
Location: 6700 Riverside Drive NW
Atlanta, GA 30328
Registration: Click here to register.

To invite me to speak to your community, click here.

Here’s the latest trailer for the upcoming movie “In Pursuit of Silence” which will have its North American premiere at the South by Southwest festival in Austin.

practicalabba

Practical Mysticism & Abba (New York: Vintage Books, 2003)

Two of Evelyn Underhill’s shorter works are collected in one beautiful paperback edition. Practical Mysticism I consider to be one of her most acessible and important books, a gentle affirmation of how the mystical life is for everyone, not just saints or monks or nuns — and the steps that we “normal people” can take to begin to cultivate prayer, meditation, recollection and contemplation in our life. It’s beautifully written, easy to understand yet in no way “dumbed down,” and just as relevant today as when it was published in 1914. Many inexpensive editions of Practical Mysticism (both print and ebook) are available, but I like this particular one because it also includes a lesser-known gem: Abba, a series of meditations on the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer), originally published the year before Underhill’s death. These two short works span Underhill’s career, so together they provide a rich introduciton to one of our most under-appreciated 20th century mystics.