Monday, January 31, 2011

Finding your song

Artist: Gerard van Honthorst

Recently, a reader commented somewhere on this blog that not everyone is gifted in the realm of contemplation as we usually understand that practice. I agree. And so I really appreciate the following:

You can help yourself hear God by creating harmony and rhythm in your life. This does not mean you need silence. It means you have to find your song, and you have to surround yourself with sounds that are part of your rhythm. Different people have different songs: some might find theirs in a machine shop, others in the woods, others shut alone in their study. Engine noises or the rustling of leaves or the ticking of a clock or silence will distract some of us but will be part of the orchestration for others. If you find your own harmonious way and listen carefully, you will hear the voice of God. It is always available, but the sounds may be very subtle. God leaves it to us to set our antennae in the right direction, be still, and listen.

-- Bernie Siegel

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"The gate of Heaven is everywhere."

Yes. I would also claim that Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander is my favorite of Merton's works.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Conceding that we are who we are

"Talking in the Rain" by Margret Hofheinz-Döring

I regularly remind directees (and myself, for that matter) that we are all mixtures and that trying to fulfill an idealized self-image is both impossible and spiritually damaging. Here's a little something about that:
Maybe one day we'll grow weary of whining and celebrate the rain, the manna, the half-filled glass of water, the little gifts from heaven that make each day bearable. Instead of cloaking ourselves in the armor of pessimism, maybe we'll concede that we are who we are: capricious, unfortune, wonderful, delicate, alive. Forgiven.
— Mark Collins in On the Road to Emmaus

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Protective prayer

This is just beautiful. I think that's all I want to say right now:

I draw prayer round me like a dark protective wall, withdraw inside it as one might into a convent cell and then step outside again, calmer and stronger and more collected again.

-- Etty Hillesum

(Do click through on Etty Hillesum's name for a truly beautiful essay on her life.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Learning, working, valuing, noticing

Artist: Rueland Frueauf the Younger

Today is the feast day of St. Francis de Sales who wrote Introduction to the Devout Life.

Here a few things he said that are worth thinking about:
You learn to speak by speaking, to study by studying, to run by running, work byworking and just so, you learn to love by loving. All those who think to learn in any other way deceive themselves.
There was never an angry man that thought his anger unjust.
We must never undervalue any person. The workman loves not that his work should be despised in his presence. Now God is present everywhere, and every person is His work.
I like them all - especially the last one.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sarum prayer

I grew up on this prayer. There's a musical setting in the Hymnal 1940 that we sang frequently when I was in junior choir and so it's deeply imbedded in my consciousness. I continue to experience these words as both consoling and challenging:
God be in my head
and in my understanding.
God be in my eyes
and in my looking.
God be in my mouth
and in my speaking.
God be in my heart
and in my thinking.
God be at my end
and at my departing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The parable of divine love

19th Century Russian Icon

I'm not sure I understand this but it makes me think. And that, I would submit, is valuable:

Christ does not save us by acting a parable of divine love; He acts the parable of divine love by saving us. That is the Christian faith.

-- Austin Farber

Sunday, January 16, 2011

For your contemplative practice:

This is wonderfully focusing and soothing at the same time. I really love the way each icon gently moves into the next without any abruptness. Some of these are most unusual. I am particularly interested in the icon you find from about 5:22 until 5:52.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The problem with pride

Artist: Antoine Wiertz

Now this is a very interesting observation. It makes a whole lot of sense, actually:

Pride makes us hate our equals because they are our equals; our inferiors from the fear that they may equal us; our superiors because they are above us.

-- St. John Vianney (the Curé d'Ars)

There's something to be said for learning how to be ordinary and to experience being ordinary as a great relief!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Good religion, bad religion

Artist: Fra Angelico

Here's something I just came across that explains the situation very well, I think:

Good religion teaches us about a good God and encourages us to be like Him to the people of the world. Bad religion teaches us about a good God and encourages us to look down on the people of the world because they are not as good as God is.

~ Harold J. Duarte-Bernhardt

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A prayer of profound surrender

Artist: Wilhelm Trübner

Maybe I ought to have saved this for Lent but I found it today and liked it very much even though it's about hard awarenesses. It occurs to me that we need prayers like this throughout the year:

Penetrate these murky corners
where we hide our memories
and tendencies on which we do not care to look,
but which we will not yield freely up to you,
that you may purify and transmute them.
The persistent buried grudge,
the half-acknowledged enmity
which is still smouldering,
the bitterness of that loss
we have not turned into sacrifice,
the private comfort we cling to,
the secret fear of failure which saps our
initiative and is really inverted pride,
the pessimism which is an insult to your joy.
Lord, we bring all these to you, and we review them
with shame and penitence
in your steadfast light.

-- Evelyn Underhill

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Epiphany 1

This is the day on the Church's calendar that the Baptism of Our Lord is remembered and honored. We also look at the meaning and function of our own baptisms.

Here's something about this great sacrament of initiation that is very worthy of serious reflection, I think:

Baptism is not a bath, but a funeral bier. If it was a bath, you would need it again and again. But since it is a death and new life, it is a once for all picture of the transformation that has taken place in our lives. Baptism is not about your goodness; it's about God's Grace.

-- Dr. Mickey Anders

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The difference between faith and belief

Photographer: Argos'Dad

Here are two quotations by the great Archbishop William Temple:

Faith is not the holding of correct doctrines, but personal fellowship with the Living God... What is offered to man's apprehension in any specific revelation is not truth concerning God but the Living God Himself.
The life of faith does not earn eternal life: it is eternal life. And Christ is its vehicle.

I do get weary sometimes by the assertions of certain conservatives that what we believe about God or Christ is the most important thing.

But then, I have a very high doctrine of the Indwelling. I recommend it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Beauty and presence

Artist: Anna Ancher

Yes, this is very true:

All art that really draws us to look at it deeply is spiritual. Art accepts all the sadness, and transforms it implicitly affirming that beauty is essentially the presence of God.

Sister Wendy Beckett in The Mystical Now

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Magi

Artist: Edward Burne-Jones
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Every year at the Epiphany, I make a point of reading T.S. Eliot's Journey of the Magi. This year I found a recording of Eliot reading it himself. Oh my:

The Feast of the Epiphany

This is an astonishingly precise and mature performance by a school choir. Really lovely:

For another interpretation of this same tune, please go on over to The Anchorhold and have a listen.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Prayer in the totality of life

Artist: Margret Hofheinz-Döring

God to enfold me,
God to surround me,
God in my speaking,
God in my thinking.

God in my sleeping,
God in my waking,
God in my watching,
God in my hoping.

God in my life,
God in my lips,
God in my soul,
God in my heart.

God in my sufficing,
God in my slumber,
God in mine ever-living soul,
God in mine eternity.

-- Carmina Gadelica

I've always loved the Celtic prayers that acknowledge the divine in every aspect of both being and action. The above is one example. Such a prayer is a good way to start off the new year and then to turn to frequently. This kind of praise and invocation (for it is both) help us avoid artificially compartmentalizing our lives into the wordly versus the spiritual.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Christmas, if it is anything, is time of awe. So is Epiphany - that season which is fast approaching. Here's something about awe that I think is utterly beautiful:

Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.

-- Abraham Joshua Heschel

(The image, from Wikimedia Commons, is a detail from a Leonardo da Vinci painting.)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Blessing and joy

The following quotation is really describing the act of blessing as a meditative support. We are being encouraged here to bless as a remedy for distractions. Very interesting indeed:

As our awareness of blessing grows, so does our joy. When we bless something, we center our attention on a very holy moment, for the power of blessing will tend to focus our mind, regardless of where it may have been wandering. We are brought to joy.

-- Avram Davis in The Way of Flame

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A resolution that's easy to keep!

Hello, everyone. I'm asking everyone who stops by this blog to read the following and consider helping me out here:

A Very Easy Way to Help the Center
(with no cost to yourself)
I want to appeal to everyone who believes that St. John’s Center does good work here in Tulsa to check out GoodSearch ( along with its sister site, GoodShop (which you can access by clicking on the “Shop Now” button from the GoodSearch home page.)

GoodSearch is a search engine that gives 50% of its profits to the non-profit organization of a person’s choice. The Center is registered with them. The more you search, the more money we raise. It’s that simple!

All you do is go to the home page and fill in our entire name where it says “What charity do you goodsearch for?”

St. John’s Center for Spiritual Formation
Then click on the button that says “Verify”.

If you have cookies enabled, your computer will remember this.

The easiest way to use the search engine is to download its toolbar. Then you can easily click on it whenever you want to.

Even if you really love Google, we are asking our supporters to use GoodSearch at least part of the time – especially for really straightforward searches for which you don’t need a particularly powerful or sophisticated search engine. GoodSearch is powered by Yahoo so it’s a very good engine.

Also, GoodShop has a huge number of very fine and well known businesses listed if you like to order things on line. The Center will get an average of 3% per sale. (Many businesses offer much more than that.) The donations really add up!

We are a small non-profit organization and we operate on a shoestring. So we really need all the contributions we’re able to encourage.

If you have the toolbar already downloaded then whenever you do a search on an item you want to purchase, GoodShop participants will be highlighted in yellow on your search results. It’s so easy and it really helps us.

Thank you so much for reading this!

Every blessing to each one of you and Happy New Year!

Sr. Ellen E. Finlay
Executive Director
St. John’s Center for Spiritual Formation