Beginning the Work Again :: The Practice of Self-Compassion

Always welcome.

Practicing the invitation of self to self.

While I was attending that international gathering of spiritual directors last week, I had a chance to spend about an hour one evening with the woman who served as my supervisor while I was an intern spiritual director several years back. 

During that hour, I shared with her my present journey. 

That conversation was such an impactful one for me, as it helped me take a couple steps forward on this current healing journey. And this week, I’d like to unpack those steps — as well as some other observations that came throughout the week and as a result of the conference content — with you here, in the trust, again, that if you’re going through an intentional formation process in your own life, you’ll find these learnings helpful too. 

First, I’ll share that the conference theme was compassion. 

When I first learned this was the case, I was ecstatic. The person in me who has come to care deeply about issues of peace and nonviolence the last four years couldn’t wait to learn some new perspectives on this topic. I signed up for workshops like, “A Spirituality of Welcome: Compassion in a Troubled World,” “Forgiveness as the Restoration of Love, Justice, and Power,” and “From Enemy to Friend: The Inner Work of Peacemaking.” I couldn’t wait to load up my mind and heart with more resources in order to further equip my feet to keep walking this path of compassion, nonviolence, and peace.

But when I registered for the conference, I didn’t know that by the time I reached St. Paul for the gathering several months later, I would primarily need to experience the conference theme through the lens of self-compassion more than anything else. 

Embracing self-compassion in this new place, I’ve been finding, is hard.

And when I met with Kay for that hour-long conversation we shared in the lobby one night, I told her so. “The first time I went through my intentional formation,” I told her, “I was fierce about it. Stubborn. Not one person could talk me out of it. I sat down and determinedly told God I wasn’t going to get up until I learned what I needed to learn.” I walked a journey that has unfolded for 15 years, and the continuous unfolding of this story I’ve lived is precious to me.

I couldn’t seem to access the same kind of fierceness and solidarity toward this new part of my journey. Yes, I am doing the things I know I should be doing. Yes, I am committed to walking the process. But my heart hasn’t been fully in it. 

More than anything, I’ve resented this new turn in my journey. 

I looked at Kay that night in the lobby and said, “I don’t know how to be fierce about this. I don’t know how to muster up the fierceness. I don’t know how to get firmly on the side of this part of my story. I don’t know how to stop pushing it away, just wishing it wasn’t there.” 

And then, through the course of that conversation, I found help in doing so. 

It came about — not surprisingly — through an image. When I look into my mind’s eye at the time in my life I’m revisiting through this new part of my journey, I can see myself so clearly. Fifteen years old. Long, curly brown hair. Thin. Wearing comfortable 26-inch 501 jeans and a scratchy, dark blue fitted blouse. White canvas shoes. A quiet way of inhabiting my life. 

I can see her. Me.

In that moment in time, I see that 15-year-old me walking into my bedroom. It’s the afternoon hours, and I’ve recently returned home from a day of high school. I’m walking into the room as if to put something—my journal, I think—down on my nightstand, or perhaps I’m coming to retrieve it. Whatever the case, I seem to be entering the room with purposefulness, and yet I can see a loneliness there. Like the girl that I was had carefully curled up inside herself but was careful not to let anyone see.

In my conversation with Kay in the conference lobby this past Friday night, I began to wonder: What if I just spent time seeing that 15-year-old me? Really seeing her? What if I sat inside that bedroom, propped up on the bed, back against the wall, waiting quietly for her return every day? Being present to her whenever she was there, even if that presence included no words at all for a really long time?

Perhaps that 15-year-old me could experience the presence of my 34-year-old self being present and a friend to her in a way she’d not yet experienced in her whole life. What might that be like? 

And I saw how the fierceness could, through that process, grow. 

Staring at that 15-year-old image of myself carries the potential to help me fall in love with her. To grow fierce and protective of her. To fight for her. To fight on her behalf.

This is self-compassion, I think. A willingness to be present to ourselves in friendship. A friendship that grows fierce.

Are there ways you might need to receive self-compassion in your own journey? Are there ways you practice self-compassion already in your life?

Sending Love, Through the Science of Compassion, to Boston

Under grace.

Light of love and compassion.

It’s not lost on me today — in the aftermath of the Boston marathon explosions — that I just returned from a conference whose theme was compassion. 

I am compelled to put into practice what I learned. 

So, here’s one thing I learned. 

I learned about morphogenetic fields, entrainment, and mirror neurons. It was a session on the science of compassion and how, at the root of all matter, we find bundles of energy — light and heat constantly moving. I learned that when subatomic particles meet, they are forever changed by one another. I learned that energy fields influence one another — that entrainment is what happens when two energy fields get in tune with each other, simply by being in each other’s presence.

Our beings literally radiate energy, both positive and negative, and the energy we radiate carries the power to change the world around us.

I pray, and I trust that God hears my prayers and carries them to Boston. And in the physical place I belong, I seek to live as a person of love, care, and compassion, trusting that the energy emitted from my physical being affects the world around me with a positive force, too, and can potentially continue and continue from field to field to field.

And so I’m emitting love. I’m emitting care. I’m emitting compassion. 

Here’s to the creation of a ripple effect that carries love, care, and compassion all the way to Boston, along with our prayers to God. This is one way those of us who live far away can become the answer to our own prayers.

Will you join me in this practice of emitting love and compassion today?

When Healing Leads to Washing His Feet With Oil and Tears

Light on the Master.

This post is part of the Holy Week 2013 series.

John’s gospel tells us that six days before the Passover that would signal the death of Jesus, he ate dinner at Lazarus’ house and that, while there, Mary took a flask of expensive oil and washed his feet with the oil and her hair (John 12:1-7). 

Judas said the oil was worth three hundred denarii. 

In Luke’s account of what happened, we learn that Mary “stood at his feet weeping” and then washed his feet with both the oil and her tears. We also learn she had been forgiven much by Jesus. Luke refers to “what manner of woman this is” and says she was known as “a sinner” (Luke 7:36-50). The people around him were astounded at her actions and wanted him to watch out for a woman of her caliber of sinfulness touching him.

And yet there he was, defending her.

And there she was, weeping at his feet. Wiping them with her tears and her hair. Pouring upon them some very costly oil. 

I think this happens when we experience profound love. At least, I know that’s the response I have. I can’t help but cry at the feet of Jesus for what I’ve received — and continue to receive — from him.

In my life, I’ve been through some intense seasons of pain followed, eventually, by the experience of being healed. Every single instance of healing happened in the presence of Jesus. It came through an encounter with his love, which is infinite. Patient. Full of embrace. There on the floor with us.

When we, in our deepest experiences of brokenness, are loved like that, we fall at his feet in worship. We feel utter amazement, awe, and thankfulness. We want to love him in return. He becomes the most beautiful vision we have ever known. 

And we want to give him everything. 

Even our tears. Even the most costly thing we have.

He Washed Judas' Feet, Too

How he loves you.

This entry is part of the Holy Week 2013 series.

Have you ever noticed that Judas was still in the room when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet — meaning Jesus washed his feet, too? 

It’s true. 

Judas didn’t leave the upper room until later in the evening (see John 13:30), but the footwashing event happened earlier (vv. 4-12). And the passage in John that records the footwashing event indicates Jesus washed the feet of each disciple in the room. 

Which means he washed the feet of Judas. 

Can you see Jesus kneeling on the floor before the one who would betray him — the one whose betrayal would lead to his capture that very same night and his great suffering and even his death — picking up his dusty, dirty feet and bathing them gently with water and cloth?

Can you just imagine it? The tenderness of such an act? Offered to his ultimate betrayer? 

It does a number on my concept of love. It tells me much about the capacity of Jesus to love and welcome those opposed to him — and not just to welcome them, but to assume before them the posture of a servant, willing to kneel and clean their dirty feet.


The Body Series: No Body Now But Yours

Via Dolorosa.

Probably about four years ago now, I came across this poem by Teresa of Avila and was moved deeply by it: 

Christ has no body now but yours,

no hands but yours,

no feet but yours.

Yours are the eyes through which

Christ’s compassion must look out on the world.

Yours are the feet with which

He is to go about doing good.

Yours are the hands with which

He is to bless us now.

—St. Teresa of Avila

At the time I first read these words, they met me in my sense of calling to be identified with the words of Isaiah 61, which speak of the ministry of Jesus to be one of healing the brokenhearted, comforting those who mourn, giving beauty for ashes, bringing good news, and setting captives free. 

I knew Christ’s heart in me had much to do with offering this tenderness, mercy, beauty, goodness, and hope to others. Being called the hands and feet and eyes and touch of Christ through this poem taught me a little bit more of how I embody Christ on this earth in these precious ways. 

Now this poem is meeting me in a new way, particularly as I continue to reflect on the mystery of the eucharist and how it affects my view of my body. 

For instance, I woke up yesterday morning feeling awful in my body. I’d eaten poorly through the weekend, and I was feeling the result.

I found my spirit feeling sincerely grieved by this — that by abusing my body with my poor food choices, I was not tending with care the body of Christ as I bore his body in me.

I drove around town yesterday, running errands, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this idea of bearing the body of Christ inside my own. Of my body being sanctified through taking his body into mine. Of his body living on earth … through me.

I’m coming to realize that the greatest difference in the way I regard and treat my physical body may have everything to do with my love for Jesus. 

I deeply love him.

The years of sitting in the dark on the floor of my life eventually led to moments of illumination that had everything to do with who he is and how he regards me and all humanity. The person I have become since that journey began has everything to do with him. There is nothing about the person I am now, 15 years later, that isn’t connected somehow to who Jesus has revealed himself to be to me. Finding Jesus changed my life and changed me. 

I love him so.

And so this idea of carrying his body inside of me through the mystery of the eucharist, this idea of being and becoming the body of Jesus here on earth … it’s deeply affecting me. It feels so precious. And it is causing me to regard my body in a new way — in a way that has everything to do with my love for Jesus. 

Caring for my body is a way of loving him. And that, I’m realizing, is going to make all the difference.

How does this poem by St. Teresa speak to you?

The Body Series: Starting With a Root of Love

Leaf heart.

Leaf heart. 

Taken in Nashville, May 2012

A great deal of my journey into the heart had to do with learning the truth of my belovedness. This is one of those things that had me sitting down on the ground, stubborn, unwilling to get up until God taught me what it meant for him to love me unconditionally. 

Once I began to experience my belovedness and value to God, everything changed. 

I’m getting the sense that our body journeys have something to do with love, too. 

I’ve been walking around this last week or so feeling a lot less antagonistic toward my body. There’s even a sense of befriending it, like me and this body are paired up in this life as partners — that God has given us to each other. I’m feeling a greater sense of respect for it. It’s becoming an actual entity that I’m in relationship with. (And maybe at some point it will feel less like an entity I’m getting to know and befriend and respect and more like just, well, me.)

I’m finding that the more I cultivate affection for my body, the easier it becomes to take better care of it. It’s easier for me to say yes to exercise because I know now that my body needs me to move it around. And it’s easier for me and my body to become better partners in our life together as I listen to what it has to say — what it likes and doesn’t like, what makes it come alive, what makes it constrict, what makes it feel dopey and hung over. 

I have by no means “arrived.” I still sat on my mat in my yoga class this morning and felt self-conscious of my flabby arms and rounded shape. I still eat foods I know aren’t good for me. I’ve not dipped into a regular sleeping schedule of late.

But slowly, incrementally, I’m moving in the right direction. And each of those little steps feels like a partnership and an act of love.

What is it like for you to think about starting from a root of love in your relationship with your body?

The Body Series: On Matter, Existence, and Goodness

A moment of creation.

The second idea that presented itself to me when I started trying to understand God’s view of the body was matter. 

Mainly, that God encased all that he created in a body of sorts — in matter.

The sun and moon. The earth, sea, and stars. Every animal and plant. Us. 

All these things have a body. Their matter makes them a thing. It gives them literal substance. And God saw fit to not only make that substance but also to call it good.

Somehow, being a thing, having substance, is good.

Why is that? 

I like thinking about it in terms of that word substance. It’s this idea of There is something to you. I can hold something in my hands and it is really there. I can put my hands on your shoulders and look you in the eyes and see and know that you, too, are really there. 

You are there.

Your existence matters

It might ultimately come back to this idea of existence — that it is a good thing to exist. I read once that creation is what happened when the Trinity communed in the perfect love that is their essence, that the natural outflow of such communing perfection of love was creation. (We see this mirrored in humanity, where the communion of love between a man and a woman leads to creation of new life.) 

As such, what God created was good because it was an expression of the perfect love that God shared with God’s self. I can just imagine, upon creation, the Trinity exploding with joy at the beautiful things their perfect love had created. I can just see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit smiling with ecstasy: Look at what we made!

Seen in this way, all of this known world becomes cause for celebration. Everything, then, is holy. 

What do you think of these ideas? 

Prayer Can Be ... Preparing a Meal

In the kitchen.

Sometimes when I’m in the kitchen preparing dinner at the end of a work day, anticipating Kirk to walk in the door at any moment, I’m aware that the dinner preparations have become like prayer. 

I’m slicing tomatoes or pressing garlic or sauteeing onions or browning meat. I’m stirring soup or measuring broth or chopping cilantro or pouring spices. I’m squeezing lime wedges or mashing avocadoes or dicing bell peppers or shredding rotisserie chicken. 

And all along, I’m holding Kirk and our home in my heart. 

I heard a description of prayer once as “holding someone up to the light.” Not using any words or making specific petitions. Just holding them up to the light. 

Preparing a meal in our home often becomes that kind of prayer for me.

I’m holding Kirk and our home close to me, then holding them up to God. Just presenting them. Us. Our life. My heart toward him. My heart for peace reigning here. My love for the provision of sustenance in our home. My love for sharing that meal with him.

What is it like for meals to be viewed as prayer for you?

Prayer Can Be ... Serving Another Person


Earlier this year, I volunteered for an event in downtown Orlando called iDignity, which provides free services once a month to help people get their paperwork so they can apply for ID cards, birth certificates, and social security cards.

You probably already know that without proper identification, it’s impossible to do certain things in society, like get hired for a job, cash a check, rent an apartment, or vote. Identification plays such a critical role in helping people become participating members of society. 

I was privileged to interact with a broad spectrum of humanity that day.

So many stories. 

A number of the people I met had just gotten out of jail, some for the second or third time. They didn’t have places to live. Some had been previously arrested in other states, and their only form of physical identification was a mug shot on file at the out-of-state jail. They were hungry and trying to scrounge money for their next meal.

I remember, still today, some of the individuals I met. A tall, quiet young man with a record. An older black woman with dark eyes and a meek smile. A young pregnant girl so thin her legs looked like they could so easily snap like twigs.

It felt like such a privilege to look into their eyes and smile. 

To accord them dignity. 

To acknowledge their common humanity with me. 

I felt like I was looking into the eyes of Christ each time someone approached me to put their name on the list for a birth certificate application.

In them was the image of God. Just like the image of God is in me. 

And so each smile, each moment of eye contact, each small conversation was an instance of prayer. As I loved them, I was loving Jesus. 

Have you ever experienced prayer as serving another person?

Prayer Can Be ... Receiving Love

All we have to do is say yes.

Do you know what it’s like to receive love? 

Like, really receive it? 

I have a close friend who teaches me a lot about this.

There have been a number of special times when we’ve been visiting each other where, before our time together ends, we sit together on the couch, our heads on each other’s shoulders, just being together in silence. 

In those moments, I can literally feel her receiving my love. Her eyes are closed, and she’s just sitting there, letting me be with her in a vulnerable moment. 

Her receiving my love in those moments?

That’s prayer. 

How do I know this? Because my own heart toward her is full to bursting with the same heart God has toward her: love, acceptance, enjoyment, welcome, delight. When she allows herself to receive those things from me, she’s also receiving them from God.

What is it like for you to receive love? Can you consider that experience the equivalent of receiving God’s love for you?

Into This Dark Night: Why This?


Near the beginning of our study of the painful night of the spirit, a friend emailed me and said: 

“I just can’t comprehend why God would allow someone to experience that.”

We had, at that point in the series, talked about Mother Teresa and her 40 years spent suffering in the dark. We had also discussed that the night of the spirit is darker than the night of sense.

Why? she wondered. Why would God do all this?

In the place of such a challenging concept as the dark night of the soul, and especially the night of the spirit, I find two thoughts very helpful. 

The first is that our souls were meant for union with God.

Such intimacy was the intent of creation, and the fall of humanity has made the human journey one that continually seeks re-union. Some mystics throughout history have used the image of a spiral to picture this journey of the soul back toward God througout a lifetime. The labyrinth is another representation of this journey, with the soul advancing ever nearer the center, even as there are turns in the journey that seem to take us away from that point of center. 

John of the Cross uses the image of a ladder — similar to Jacob’s — in which we are continually ascending and descending the rungs but ultimately climbing ever higher toward the perfection of union. 

Even though the journey is complex and the experience sometimes one of consolation and sometimes one of desolation, all of it is meant for the intent of union. 

Such union is our soul’s intended home. 

The second thought I find helpful in the face of such a difficult concept is that the soul increasingly desires such union and is willing to endure whatever pain may be required to land upon it. 

John of the Cross says that at this point in the soul’s journey, when the night of the spirit comes, the soul is “so in love with God that she would give a thousand lives for him.” She would willingly die a thousand deaths. 

She is, plainly, heartsick for God. 

“When this love shows up in the soul,” he says, “it finds her ready to be wounded and united with love itself.”

The night of the spirit is one of the most agonizing experiences a soul can endure on earth. But it’s a road the soul, prepared for this journey, is willing to take when it comes. 

Love Makes Us Still

Sitting and being.

I’ve written before that my girl kitty, Diva, teaches me so much about God and our connection to him. Early on, I shared that she teaches me about contemplative prayer. I’ve written how my love for Diva teaches me about God’s love for us, particularly as humans. And more recently, I shared that she teaches me about nature versus nurture

This morning she taught me something new — namely, that love makes us still. 

I’ve noticed a pattern with Diva.

For several days at a time, she decides she’s just not that into me. I try to engage her as she’s resting on the couch, and she doesn’t return the interest. I call to her from the bedroom in the evenings, which usually sends her scurrying to my side, but instead she stays planted in the other room. She’s just not that interested. 

It gets rather lonely for a few days, and I miss her.

But then, pretty much like clockwork after a few days, suddenly she’s everywhere I am. She is clingy in an over-the-top-even-for-Diva kind of way. She just can’t get enough of my attention or affection. And since she seems to need it rather a lot, I gladly give it to her. (Between you and me, I’m so glad for her return. I miss her companionship when she’s in those several-days-away hiatuses!)

And then things return to normal. She jumps on our bed at 5 a.m. wanting attention, then settles down and lets us fall back to sleep once she’s received it. She jumps off the couch to follow me a few hours later, once I get up and moving about, fully entrenched in our usual morning routine of sitting at my desk for coffee and prayers for a few hours each day. She alternates between prowling around at my feet and jumping up on my lap and desk during the first chunk of time I’m sitting there. 

And then she becomes very still. 

Just like in the photo above, she will sit on my desk for long lengths of time, completely content to just sit there. She stares at the same exact spot on the desk or out the window for extended moments. She moves her head slowly to look at me if I rub her head, not really inclined to move around.

She’s just content. Just being. Near me.

This morning I realized it’s because she’s fully resting in love. She’s received her usual fill of attention and affection, received during that first big chunk of time we’re together at my desk, and now she’s able to just rest in it. 

Can we do the same? 

Perhaps you can relate to Diva, going away from love for long stretches at a time, preferring to make it on your own for a while, only to scurry back to the source of love after you’ve been away, then drinking it in huge gulps because your thirst has gotten so parched. Or finding yourself in a normative rhythm with God, spending time prowling around at his feet or sitting on his lap and letting him love you each day. Or perhaps, maybe sometimes, you find yourself completely content in that love, settled into a place of stillness and peace as you allow yourself to just be you, fully inhabiting yourself and fully loved, in the presence of God.

Where in this picture are you today?

He Comes to Us Where We Are

Light through leaves.

Yesterday I wrote about an experience I had recently of feeling like I was being grabbed by a ponytail on the top of my head and tossed about by the whims of others. I shared that I was able to see Jesus sitting nearby, inviting me to disengage from the abuse and come join him on the brownstone steps. I said I found it interesting that he didn’t come rescue me. 

Rescuing me, in the way I’ve previously experienced Jesus as my rescuer, would have looked like him coming to disengage me from the abuse himself. It would have looked like him coming out into the street, confronting the abusers, and pulling me safe into his arms and away from the scene of such pain. 

It would have looked like him rescuing and defending a young girl in the way she needs to be rescued and defended. 

But that’s not what happened. And what’s perhaps most surprising to me is that I was totally okay with that. 

It was a picture, for me, of my growth. I noticed that when I came to sit on the brownstone steps with Jesus, I was no longer a 3-year-old girl with a ponytail but an alive and strong 32-year-old woman who could sit shoulder to shoulder with Jesus and hold an adult conversation. It was so electrifying and invigorating to notice and experience that.. 

And it reminded me that he comes to us exactly where we are.

We’ve been talking about this in the Look at Jesus course I’m teaching right now. We’ve been noticing how differently Jesus responds to different groups and types of people. With some people, he’s gentle and kind. With others, he’s direct and abrasive. 

It can be unsettling to see the many different colors of Jesus in one huge array at once. 

But we’ve come to think it shows his genius — that it has to do with his ability to know exactly what a person needs and to meet them where they are, like the most perfect teacher or parent that ever existed. Some people need gentleness and kindness. Others need greater directness and candor. And others need something totally different than either of those things.

Jesus knows the difference and gives them the exact right thing. 

It reminds me of a moment several years ago when I really got at least part of the miracle of Paul’s teaching in Philippians 2: 

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. 

— Philippians 2:5-7

Now, there are many things to learn of God and Christ inside these words. But one thing these words teach us is the nature of Christ’s love. It’s a love that comes to us where we are. 

When I needed Jesus to rescue me in times past, he rescued me. When I needed him to hold me in his arms to comfort and soothe me, he did just that. And when I needed him to remind me of my strength, my volition, and my own dignity, like he did in the ponytail incident more recently, that’s what he did. 

He comes to us where we are. And where we are and what we need changes over time as we grow. This, too, is what spiritual formation is about. It’s about growing into the whole and complete person we are meant to be in God’s sight, and that changes over time as we grow into it.

How do you need Jesus to meet you right where you are right now? What does his coming to where you are look like in this particular time and place of your life and growth?

It's Love, Not Religion

Pew books 2.

Recently, a friend of mine who is going through a significant shift in her faith life sent me an e-mail asking the following: 

How do you do it? How do you go from a non-denominational church to an episcopal church? How do you post a prayer from St. Teresa of Avila on your website and still feel close to God? 

I can so relate to these questions.

I never knew the language and practices of church tradition could ever speak to me. I never knew written prayers — the same prayers people have been reading for centuries and are read by me, the same words, over and over again each week now — could speak to my heart in a real and deep way. 

I didn’t know those things could make me feel close to God, given my original church upbringing and experience. But they do. 

Here is what I answered my friend: 

You asked how I can go from a non-denominational church to an episcopal service or put a prayer of Teresa of Avila on my blog and feel close to God. I guess because when I read that prayer of hers or I visit the episcopal church, I feel like they put me in connection with the God I have come to love so much. It comes from a place of love in me that God has helped develop in me over the years. 

No matter what the external practice of our faith looks like — whether we attend a formal or informal church, our prayers take a certain format or are more free-flowing and spontaneous — it’s the inward posture of our heart that makes the difference and matters to God. 

That inward posture God desires in us is one of love. 

Two people can attend the same liturgical church service, say all the same prayers, and go forward for the same invitation to communion but have two totally different experiences. For one, those prayers and that eucharist can touch the deepest places of their heart and connect them to God because their heart is oriented toward reverence and deep desire for God. For the other, those actions can be mere routine, something they do not experience at all in their hearts, something they do because it’s what they’ve always done and think they’re meant to do. 

Where do you fit in this?

Do you have love for God? Do you desire to love God, even if you don’t right now? What moves you toward or away from that love for God in your heart?

How Do You Experience God's Love?

Today I had planned to share a video clip of one of my favorite songs with you that talks about God’s love. It’s a song that I play on repeat pretty often inside my home, and the words from some of the verses offer deep and helpful meditations on the nature of God’s love for us. Sometimes I like to steep inside that knowledge, so I play the song over and over.

However, the more I looked at each video clip available for that song, the less that offering felt right for today.

Instead, I began to wonder: how do you experience God’s love?

Rather than offer you a song and words that declare God’s love for you (which may be a great offering for another day), let’s first spend time reflecting on the way we experience that reality.

Do you, in fact, experience that reality? What does love look like to you, and how is your current connection to God a reflection — or not a reflection — of that experience?

You Are Loved and Held

Enamored with light.

Have you ever poured your heart out to someone and then had them simply hold you afterward?

Perhaps they gave you a hug and didn’t pull away — they simply hugged you for as long as you needed them to. Or perhaps they sat with you on the couch, their arm draped around your shoulder, as you rested your head on their chest. You didn’t speak, and they didn’t need you to. You simply sat there — held, loved, and cherished — for as long as you needed.

What is it like for you to receive love in those kind of moments? Do you rest easy inside that love? Do you start to pull away, feeling the need to keep time moving? Do you worry about taking too much or being a burden?

Today, God wants to love you in that way. 

You are invited to pour the contents of your heart out to God for as long as is needed. Say whatever you need to say. Don’t worry how it sounds. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. Just say what is there inside of you to say.

And then rest in the arms of God. Let God hold you in whatever position is most comforting and restful to you. 

Fall into the arms of God’s love in the moment that follows this unburdening of your heart. Receive God’s unending and uninterrupted attention, care, and time. There is no deadline on this moment. There is nowhere else God needs or wants to be. 

Just let yourself be held for as long as it takes to rest inside God’s love. What is that like for you today?

What Is Your Perception of Jesus?

This morning I read a passage in John 15 that invites us into a particular perception of Jesus. He is sitting in the upper room with his disciples, sharing his final meal with them, and before leaving to spend time in the garden in prayer, he says: 

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done — kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.”

— John 15:9-10

With these words, Jesus invites us into a relationship with him that mirrors the relationship he shares with his Father. We know this to be a relationship of real intimacy, given the regular times Jesus would steal away from the crowds in order to spend time alone in prayer. He often tells his disciples that he doesn’t do or say anything that his Father hasn’t given him to do or say. And when he was baptized in the Jordan River, the clouds part and God’s voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 

Clearly, they shared a relationship of great intimacy. Jesus was at home in his Father’s love. 

It made me wonder if you feel at home in the love of Jesus. 

What would that even mean to you? What does being at home in someone’s love look like?

When Jesus invites us to make ourselves at home in his love, he assumes we carry a certain perception of him inside ourselves, doesn’t he? His invitation assumes we consider him someone in whose love we can feel at home. 

Does this match your perception of Jesus? When you consider Jesus, what comes to mind? Is he someone in whose love you feel compelled to rest?

Journey Toward Nonviolence 2: Learning the Limits of Our Love

I was sitting on the plane flying home from Philadelphia in January when I read these words by Mary Lou Williams: “The secret of life is to love everyone.” 

This is so simple and true, isn’t it? We say our faith is about loving God and loving others. We believe love compelled the God of the universe to meet us here in human skin. And I’ve been noticing that the more I grow in my capacity to love, the more I see new life birthed into every moment that love fills.

Love heals. It changes us. It unites. It offers hope. Love really is the secret of life.

But I’m not perfect at it. No one is. 

When I don’t love people, it’s because I’m trying to preserve and promote my own self. When I’m perplexed about how to love someone, it’s usually because I don’t trust God with them and with the outcome.

— 18 January 2009, My Year with Gandhi Journal

I can clearly recall moments when I haven’t loved well. When I’ve been irritated at the first person in line at the grocery store because they couldn’t remember their PIN number and kept on holding up the line. When someone I cared about was tired but I bulldozed into a conversation anyway because I had something I wanted to share. These are moments of caring more about myself and my own needs than about the other person.

Then there are times I’m not sure what it looks like to love someone well. It could be an estranged relationship. Or someone shut down toward the faith. I find that I don’t always know how to move toward these people in my life. This is because I’m mentally managing the situation too much, not yet trusting them or the outcome entirely into God’s hands, not yet loving them with a pure heart and zero agenda.

Love is the catalyzing force of the universe. And when we live inside this posture of love, everything else comes alive. But we’re continually bumping up against our learning curves.

What about you: What keeps you from loving well?

Dying Means Adoring Him Utterly

In late August, Kirk and I joined a contemplative prayer group through a local Catholic church that is walking through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius over a nine-month period. Each day, we are given a passage of scripture to read and then asked to engage in a prayer exercise concerning the passage. Then on Monday nights, we meet in small groups to discuss our experiences with each exercise.

Toward the end of this past week, one of the prayer exercises concerned a passage in Ezekiel. It was a rather lengthy passage in Ezekiel 16 that describes God’s relationship with Israel from her infancy as a nation through her growing-up years and on into adulthood in a covenant relationship with him.

Truthfully, it is a rather graphic passage, full of visceral and sensual images. For instance, Ezekiel describes the way God found Israel as an infant, abandoned on the side of the road naked and covered in blood. Passing by, God looks at Israel lying there and says to her, “Live and grow!” So she does. 

Years later, God comes upon Israel a second time. She has reached “the ripe age for love” and is yet still naked and alone. So God throws his cloak around her, choosing her for himself. He cleans her up and dresses her in his finest linens. He puts rings on her fingers and jewels around her neck. He feeds her with his choicest foods and then places a crown on her head. He has fitted her to be his queen. 

And then the story turns.

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