Holy Week 2013: Our Meditation Begins

Head of Christ.

Last year at this time in the church year, I wrote a series of posts that took us through Holy Week via the book of Matthew. Each day, we journeyed with Jesus in his final days and reflected on what he experienced and how his discples were with him — as well as not with him — in that time. We allowed his final days to become a marker of our own days in that week. (You can read the posts from last year’s journey here.)

This year, I’d like to do the same, this time from the gospel of John.

Will you take the journey with me? 

Since we’re two weeks out from Easter at this point, Holy Week proper has not yet begun. But I find much to consider in the pages of John as that book records the last days in the earthly life of Jesus, so we’re going to start the journey now. 

To get us started, let’s begin with an open question: 

What does Holy Week mean to you? Does it mean anything at all?

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: Grace and Truth in the Body

Suffused with grace.

All he does is suffused with grace.

A great deal of my journey into love had to do with learning grace. I just didn’t “get” grace. Why did I need it, really? Oh, yes. I’m a sinner from birth and all of us fall short of the glory of God. We all need it. 

But truthfully? 

That didn’t mean anything to me.

I wasn’t in touch with my “sin nature,” nor was I quite in touch with my actual sins when I committed them. And I most certainly wasn’t in touch with my belovedness. 

And so during that dark season when I sat down on the ground of my life and decided I wouldn’t get up until I understood God’s love for me, it had a lot to do with learning grace. 

Do you want to know what I learned about grace? 

It meant not having to perform. It meant being accepted exactly as I am. It meant not having to watch my every single move to the left or right, constantly gauging whether it was the exact right move. It meant the world wouldn’t fall apart if I didn’t hold it — and myself — together. It meant being allowed to be flawed and still being completely loved.

It was a revelation. God’s grace covered all my “sins” — which, strictly translated, means “missing the mark,” like when you’re shooting an arrow at a bull’s eye target. I didn’t have to hit that perfectly round and narrow mark with every single move. If I “missed,” God’s grace covered the miss.

God freed me from my perfectionism. That’s what God’s grace did for me.

My prayer today.

Don’t ever deprive me of your truth. Not ever.

The reason I share this with you is because of something one reader, Katy, shared in response to yesterday’s post. She wrote: 

I think that I became more in-tune with my body when I became more in-tune with my emotions … I started paying a lot of attention to how my emotions were affecting my physical health, and how my physical health was affecting my emotions. Now I know that being sad or mad or stressed can give me stomach issues, and that eating low-sugar, high protein meals helps with my anxiety. The better I eat and the more I exercise, the better my mental state.

I read these words and thought, I need to understand that better

And the reason I need to understand it better is because my experience of increased emotional health led to gaining weight, to the point of being overweight for the first time in my life. Was I not as emotionally healthy as I thought I was? Did I miss a right turn somewhere? 

I think, for me, this has something to do with growing into a greater balance of grace and truth. 

One of my absolute favorite passages in the Scriptures is John 1:14, which says of Jesus that he was the “fullness of grace and truth.” In his being, he held them both in fullness of measure and perfection.

Grace. Truth. Together.

Sometimes I think the ongoing journey of spiritual formation can be summed up by saying it’s about growing into the fullness of grace and truth together. When I encountered my need to understand grace because the idea of it bounced off me like a ball against a wall, I was way far over on the truth side of things. I know now that I was pretty much like a Pharisee. 

And so I started to learn grace. And once I found it, I bathed in it. Soaked in it. Relished its amazing gift. Fell so in love with Jesus. Bowed down in gratitude. 

To the point where grace showed up in my treatment of my body. I savored rich foods in ways I never had before. I celebrated a lot. I welcomed the enjoyment of a good meal the way I was learning to welcome myself and those around me in full acceptance in the presence of God. 

Just like we can fill up on truth to the exclusion of grace, I think we can do the same with grace: fill ourselves up on grace to the exclusion of truth. 

But Jesus is the fullness of both. And that is perfection and glory and beauty and perhaps the real definition of love. 

On my body journey right now, I’m in the process of pulling truth back into the mix — while keeping grace alive. 

How might you describe your own body journey in the context of grace and truth?

The Body Series: What If Our Cells Mimic the Formation Process?

Light shines through.

Body and spirit, both reaching toward light.

So, here’s the kind of person I am. 

When I tumbled down the Wikipedia rabbit hole in my workaday education about the body and nutrition, my mind started spinning on the possibility that our cells mimic the formation process that happens in our spiritual lives. 

Track with me here a moment on this. 

  • What if the enzymes our cells need in order to experience the chemical reactions that spur them down metabolic pathways mimic the work of the Holy Spirit or God’s grace in our formation process?
  • What if the choices I make every day in my food consumption and exercise mimic my participation in my formation process through the practice of spiritual disciplines? 
  • What if the outcomes of healthy body formation — health, vitality, energy — mimic the outcomes of healthy spiritual formation, which include a strengthened spirit and a greater capacity for love and good deeds?

The possibility that our body’s formation could mimic our spirit’s formation made me smile and shake my head in delight. Of course God would do that. 

Here’s a little bit more of what I mean.

When it comes to spiritual formation, I’ve written quite a bit on the principle of indirection — namely, that it is the process by which God handles our formation but utilizes our participation. We are partners in the process, and our part is to be faithful with undertaking small acts within our power, trusting God to do the parts we cannot do ourselves. (If you’d like to read more on indirection, you can find some more thoughts on this here, here, here, and here.)

I think the body’s formation might work something like that: I put certain things into my body, trusting that the mysterious work of God inside my body through mechanisms he created will bring about my growth and health. I need to do my part, and then let go, trusting that he’ll do his and that the outcome will be a body increasingly like the one he intends me to inhabit.

And so it made me ask myself:

Will I care for the formation of my body as intentionally as I care for the formation of my spirit?

Will you?

Ash Wednesday: A Time to Return


At the invitation of a friend, I woke early this morning — before the sun came up — and drove to our little church for the 6:30 a.m. Ash Wednesday service. 

It was a gift to be inside that place — one of my favorite places to be in all of Winter Park — at such an early hour and with just a handful of other journeying pilgrims, praying together. 

I’m so glad I went. 

I shared with my Cup of Sunday Quiet readers this past week, as well as in a guest post for the MSFL blog at Spring Arbor, that this season of Lent could not be coming at a more perfect time. I’ve just emerged from a difficult season in my life with God, and here on the other side of it, I find myself starting anew with practices and commitments that were a long-held, integrated part of my life and routine before things changed. 

I feel so much like a beginner. 

I feel so much like a penitent. 

Accordingly, it was so meaningful to pray the liturgy for Ash Wednesday this morning.

We prayed Psalm 103, and my eyes teared up upon saying aloud, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” There were many times in this past season of fallowness where I did forget the Lord’s benefits and where I stopped asking my soul to bless the Lord. 

I gave thanks when we prayed: 

“For as the heavens are high above the earth, 

   so is his mercy great upon those who fear him …

For he himself knows whereof we are made;

   he remembers that we are but dust.”

— Psalm 103:12, 14

I was reminded of my frailty — and that my frailty does not surprise God. I was reminded of his mercy toward those who fear him, and I was (and am) thankful he has given me a heart that fears him.

Later, after we had received the imposition of ashes, I was thankful to be reminded that “the sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart [he] will not despise” (Psalm 51:18). I received in that moment what God offers today on Ash Wednesday: absolution. I accepted that I can stop berating myself for the things I regret having done or said or thought or felt in these last months. I accepted God’s forgiveness, knowing that my heart, indeed, is troubled, is broken, is contrite over all these things.

And now begins the time of my returning.

May these next 40 days be a disciplined return that grows anew within me a heart that praises God and seeks to build up and to serve. May it be for you the invitation God has set before you, too. Amen.

The Body Series: The Connection Between Body and Soul


Usually when I run a series here on Still Forming, I have a strong sense of where it will go before it even starts — an outline already exists in my head, or a list of post ideas has been scribbled in my journal, to be used as a guide along the way. 

But this time? No such outline or list exists. 

Yes, there are the seven posts I wrote last year on this topic, some of which we’ll revisit here. And there are the three books I’ve read or am currently reading that will spark conversation and serve as additional voices for us in this series. 

But right now I have no list. I have no outline. 

And so today, I simply want to share what I’m noticing in this present moment: the connection between body and spirit. 

This isn’t new information.

Most are no doubt familiar with the concept that the body and soul are related and affect each other. There’s the prevalence of yoga as a form of exercise and an opportunity for meditation. There’s the sense of overall well being that results after having exercised the body. And there’s the evidence of psychosomatic illnesses, where mental or emotional factors create physical results in the body, such as migraines or ulcers or back pain.

But since this series is, for me, an attempt to take head knowledge deeper — for it to become real knowledge, not just head knowledge — I’m sharing today what I noticed this morning that is helping this concept become more real.

It happened when I sat down at my desk to enjoy my usual morning routine of coffee and prayer. Before I got started, I checked in on my usual online haunts. And there, I learned some news that startled me. Grieved me. Panicked me. Confused me. 

And then I couldn’t concentrate. 

There I sat, the psalms open before me on the desk, but my mind and heart couldn’t translate the words. Instead, my knee shook up and down. I sat with my elbow on the desk and my hand covering my mouth. My eyes glazed over. My mind shot elsewhere. I stared out the window. I checked my email. I texted. 

Every few minutes, I would return to what was meant to be the central focus — prayer and quiet — but my focus continued to be anything but those things. 

Eventually, as I paid attention to what was happening, I experienced my body speaking to me.

My shaking leg told me I was nervous. My inability to read the psalms said that my mind and heart had other things taking their notice. My glazed-over eyes said I’d gone someplace else. 

Listening to my body — noticing what it was telling me — became an opportunity for my time of prayer to go a different direction. Rather than the psalms being a launching point for prayer, as they usually are, my body instructed my prayers instead. I talked to God about what bothered me. I prayed for those concerned. I sat with questions, letting God be with me in my holding of them.

Have you ever had a similar experience, where your body “spoke” the state of your soul?

The Body Series: An Introduction

Alive and well.

Last year, I wrote a series of posts on my (now defunct) personal blog that I referred to as “The Body Posts.” These posts were a repository for my thoughts on a relatively new exploration about the relationship God wants me to have with my body. 

About halfway through the year, however, I reached a decision to focus my complete attention on the work I do here at Still Forming, and so I shut down my personal blog. One result of that decision is that I never finished writing that series of posts on the body.

And so I’ve decided to revive it here. 

Here’s the thing about my relationship with my body that I want you to know up front: I don’t have a very good one. I grew up, well into my mid-twenties, never having to worry about what I put into my body to feed it or having to exercise my body to stay trim — and this worked great, since I had terrible eating habits from the get-go and nary an athletic bone in my body. 

I was stick-thin for a quarter of a century. Until, suddenly, I wasn’t. 

And I was completely unprepared for my new non-thin existence.

I flailed about for a number of years because of this.

For starters, I was certainly familiar with the Sunday school answers you can throw at issues of the body: that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, that God cares about the human body because he created it, that Jesus also inhabited a body, that we’ll have bodies in heaven. Those answers meant nothing to me, though.

I was familiar, too, with the math and science of it all: that the body needs a certain degree of fat and protein and carbohydrates for optimum existence, that we burn energy in calories, that there are ways to raise and lower our metabolism. All that felt like reading Greek.

The truth of it is, I had no framework for a healthy relationship with my body. I was at ground zero in my understanding.

And it took me a really, really long time to care.

And so I’m starting this series from here: a place of (now) caring but (still) not understanding.

I have some thoughts and questions in my back pocket, left over from that initial exploration that began last year, which I’ll pull out to get us started. And I’ve got three great resources that I’ll use along the way to help guide our conversation: 

But other than that, I’m entering into this new series still very much a beginner on all these things. And the series will reflect that. 

Will you be a beginner with me? 

Do you have struggles or questions about your relationship with your body, too?

Still Points in the Day: All Is Prayer


A friend shared a video with me yesterday about prayer as a state of consciousness — the idea that we can hold a posture, inwardly and outwardly, that is prayer, no matter what we are doing. 

It made me think of the series we explored here recently called “Prayer Can Be.”

Prayer can be verbal, yes.

But it can also be silence, and dance, and drawing, and tears, and exercise, and preparing a meal, and so many other things in life. 

Just as I was sharing yesterday, in reference to the writings of Brother Lawrence and Jean-Pierre de Caussade, practicing the presence of God and attending to the sacrament of the present moment can create in us an ability to be still and prayerful inside ourselves while going about the mundane details of life. 

In that sense, still points are with us all day long. 

I’d encourage you to watch the 3-minute video my friend shared with me. Perhaps it will serve as a still point for you, as it was for me. 

Still Points in the Day: Routine Activities


As I was getting ready for work this morning, I noticed a still point happening underneath the surface of my around-the-house bustling.

Washing the dishes. 

Making the coffee. 

Drying my hair. 

Putting on make-up. 

I started thinking how often this happens for me.

I can be washing the dishes in the kitchen sink after dinner, sudsing up each dish and then rinsing it clean with hot water, and in my mind and heart I’m thinking of someone or a situation. Praying over it. Meditating upon it. 

Or I’m going through the motions of my getting-ready routine — brushing through my curls, applying lotions and moisturizers to my face and skin, picking out my shoes for the day — and underneath those automatic activities, I’m thinking about the day ahead, holding concerns in my heart, thinking through decisions. 

Brother Lawrence spoke of making each activity a prayer. Jean-Pierre de Caussade wrote of the sacrament of the present moment. Both of these men were speaking of mindfulness — being present to what you are doing as you are doing it, allowing that activity to become an intentional channel for prayer — and I’m very much in favor of that practice as a means of prayer. 

But sometimes automatic activities and routines we’ve sustained for so long we could do them blind become hospitable moments for deeper thought. It’s like someone who prefers to draw or take notes or play solitaire while listening to a lecture because the use of their hands keeps one part of their brain happy while freeing up the other part of their brain to listen better. 

Routine activities are like that for me sometimes. They can be gateways for deeper meditations of the heart. 

Do you ever experience this?

Still Points in the Day: Writing Passages

Thomas Merton. Inspired.

I had a pretty exceptional session in spiritual direction with Elaine earlier this week that is making all the difference in the world in my continued life with God. I’ll be sharing more about it in the Cup of Sunday Quiet mailing this weekend, but for now I will share that because of what happened in our session, I’m feeling joy again. Connection with God. Surrounded by love. Pursuit of life. 

Because of this, I’ve been able to hold still moments of contemplation with greater duration this week. 

And that’s been such a gift, given this hard season. 

A couple nights ago, I stayed up in the late hours reading a new copy of Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation that Kirk gifted to me recently. When I came to the following passage, I kept reading it over and over again: 

“For it is God’s love that warms me in the sun and God’s love that sends the cold rain. It is God’s love that feeds me the bread I eat and God that feeds me also by hunger and fasting. It is the love of God that sends the winter days when I am cold and sick, and the hot summer when I labor and my clothes are full of sweat: but it is God who breathes on me with light winds off the river and in the breezes out of the wood. His love spreads the shade of the sycamore over my head and sends the water-boy along the edge of the wheat field with a bucket from the spring, while the laborers are resting and the mules stand under the tree …

   “And I would grow together with thousands and millions of other freedoms into the gold of one huge field praising God, loaded with increase, loaded with wheat. If in all things I consider only the heat and the cold, the food or the hunger, the sickness or labor, the beauty or pleasure, the success and failure or the material good or evil my works have won for my own will, I will find only emptiness and not happiness. I shall not be fed, I shall not be full. For my food is the will of Him who made me and Who made all things in order to give Himself to me through them.” 

—Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

It was a still point for me to read these words again and again. But I also felt moved to do something with them.

For the first time, I wished myself a word artist, able to create a beautiful doodling of this quote. 

But I am not a word artist. I do not create beautiful doodles with words. 

I do write, though. And so I pulled out some nice stationery paper, broke it in half, and wrote out the words by hand. 

Writing the words on paper in my own penmanship helped me meditate even deeper upon their meaning to me. It helped push them deeper into my heart. It helped claim them even more as my truth. 

Do you ever write passages that mean something like this to you?

Still Points in the Day: Spiritual Direction

A pair.

I’ve been meeting with my spiritual director, Elaine, for four years now, and every month, our hour-long sessions are like breathing fresh, pure air. I have so many memories of leaving her home with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step, deeply encouraged at having encountered God in some new way during our time together.

The last few months, our sessions have been even more important to me than usual. By the time I reach our appointment, I have felt on my last breath spiritually, needing so much the gift of shared time and space with this person who knows me and my relationship with God and sits with me in it with wisdom, patience, full acceptance, and love. 

I told Elaine yesterday that our time together is so helpful for me right now because it provides a place for me to sit with the reality of my life with God and not be alone in it. Sharing that space with her makes me braver. And in a season of difficulty in my life with God, I need all the bravery I can get to face this reality and be present to it without distraction or avoidance. 

I am so thankful for the gift of spiritual direction in my life. 

Do you have a place of companionship like spiritual direction in your life right now?

Still Points in the Day: Wellspring

A holy chair.

Every second Thursday of the month, Kirk and I attend a contemplative gathering at a local church called Wellspring. It’s led by ordained artist and writer Jan Richardson and her immensely talented musician husband, Garrison Doles. 

We love it so. 

It’s a very simple service held in a tiny side chapel at the local United Methodist Church. The people who attend come from a wide ecumenical background and are beginning to feel a bit like family now. Garry shares his wonderful music with us. We read scripture together. We sit in long silences together. Jan shares a beautiful reflection that ushers us through the church year. We share conversation as a group from the places we’re sitting in our pews. We break the bread of Communion. 

I love every single aspect of this service, but one of the things I love the most is the chance to let my spirit rest. 

We slink quietly into the chapel, where Garry picks softly on his guitar and others sit quietly—listening, praying, being. We slide into our usual spot in the back pew, set our things down, and settle in. 

I close my eyes and breathe deep. I can feel the settling settle over me.

Time for rest

My spirit is at peace in this place. I’m welcome here. I’m invited to notice God. I’m thankful. 

The Wellspring service is a still point for me.

Do you have a space like this that is a still point for you?

Still Points in the Day: Post-Run

Bearded mother.

On the first day of January, I started a personal challenge called #mileaday. It’s a challenge to run one mile every day for the month of January, and so far I’ve been faithful to do it. (I have Elise Blaha to thank for the inspiration to try this—I follow her on Instagram and watched her complete her own version of the challenge every day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.)

First things first. I am not a runner. Not in the slightest. I’ve always viewed running as a special form of torture and could not comprehend why anyone would choose to do it willingly. I viewed those who love running as a very special subset of the human race—one to which I would never, ever belong. 

But Elise’s description of the #mileaday challenge on her blog appealed to me. For starters, it felt do-able. One mile a day. That’s it. A 10- to 15-minute commitment. Just getting outside and moving my body around. Running as fast or as slow as I needed, but just doing it.

I figured I could try it for the month of January and see what happened. 

It’s been an interesting challenge so far, and I’ll likely write more of my thoughts on the experience later on, probably once I finish the month. 

But for now, I want to share this:

My favorite part is the post-run routine.

That’s when I get to walk and recover my heartrate and breathing. It’s when I get to listen to more mellow tunes and relax my hold on my phone and not constantly worry about my earbuds popping out of my ears or have to keep adjusting them. 

Best of all, it’s when I get to wander.

I wander around the neighborhood, revisiting the spots I noticed during my run where I saw something interesting worth photographing. I go back to those places and get to take a meditative moment with beauty and reflection and creativity and God.

It’s been a bit of a dry season for my, creatively, the last few months. I’ve hardly photographed anything. My eyes couldn’t seem to notice anything new. Nothing seemed fresh or beautiful anymore. Whereas I used to take several photographs a day, almost bubbling over with the beauty I noticed around me, I was lucky if I took three photographs in a week anymore. 

But on Day 3 of the #mileaday challenge, I remarked the following: 

“I think being outside is good for me. I’m finding beautiful things to photograph again.” 

I’m finding still points in my post-run routine, and I’m so thankful for it.

Where are you finding still points right now?

Still Points in the Day: Laying in Bed, and an Introduction

Light shines through.

Taken on Christmas Day at a family friend’s house.

This morning, I woke at 5:30 a.m.

There was no reason for this, and I’d only gone to sleep about four hours earlier. But there I was: in bed, wide awake. 

I clicked on the phone to see the time, groaned, and then slid the bar with my finger to unlock it. Then I opened the usual apps in the usual order. First, email. Then Facebook and Twitter. Then Instagram. Then, because I was bored, solitaire. Then, because all the cards on the screen made my bleary eyes dizzy, Cheesar—a game app that’s recently addicted me.

But I was too tired to play games. So I groped in the dark for my earbuds, untangled them, and plugged them into my phone. Then I opened the Netflix app and streamed Parenthood from where I’d left off. 

These are the things I do when I can’t sleep.

These are the things I do when I don’t want the stillness. 

Stillness has always come easy for me. I’m a contemplative by nature and a contemplative by vocation. Extended times of stillness are part of my regular life, a commitment I maintain with care and relative ease.

That is, until recently. 

If you subscribe to the Cup of Sunday Quiet email series, you know, from the personal notes I share in that space each week, that I’ve been walking through a difficult season in my faith life. A lot has changed in the last six months, and the changes have not been one bit comfortable. 

One of the most difficult aspects of this shift is stillness. Staying present to God and the work God is doing in me is hard work, and I find myself resistant. 

And so I distract myself. 

And all along, the feeling that I’m missing out on something important dogs at my heels. 

I know that stillness is what I need. Being present to God. Being present to myself. Being awake to my interior life. 

I streamed Parenthood on my phone until 7:30 this morning. Then I closed out of Netflix, clicked off my phone, and pulled the earbuds out. My head collapsed on the pillow. I shifted to my side and pulled one knee up to my ribs. I closed my eyes. Breathed in and out. 


Somehow, the grace to attend reached me. I noticed my thoughts as they rambled over my day yesterday—the things I did, the things I had planned to do but didn’t. Regrets. Sadness. Gladness. Thanks. 

I felt the gift of that moment, just being present and acknowledging the truth of my thoughts and feelings to myself and to God. And then I thought of this space—how this could be a place where I invite us all to be present to the still moments in our days, at least for the next little while. 

No matter how hard-won those still points are. 

Will you join me?

Today, I had a still moment while laying in bed. What about you?

Pieces of Formation: Faith Foundations


What was the faith component of your early years? Was there any? 

I’ve shared in this space previously some of my formative faith foundations — of always having had a sense of the presence of Jesus near me, of being raised Catholic until I was 9 years old, of moving to a nondenominational Christian church after that. It also made a real difference to my formation to be raised by a mother whose faith was personal and real. 

Sometimes I think about the presence of Jesus I’ve always felt near to me, even from my earliest memories, and I wonder why God saw fit to give me that kind of experience of himself. I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know that the reality of this nearness I’ve experienced has deeply informed my sense of calling in the work that I do. I can see that my knowledge of Jesus and what he’s chosen to share with me of himself is meant to be shared with others. 

In that way, I hope to honor well the gift he’s given me of his nearness.

How would you describe the foundation of faith in your own life? What was your experience of God like in your early years?

A (Near) Month of Thanks: Growth

Crawling the wall.

Last night, when I was awake in bed for a couple hours and couldn’t sleep, I listened to the first couple chapters of Richard Rohr’s latest book, Falling Upward, on audio. 

The book is very, very good. Its central premise is that the tools we use to build the first half of our lives are not the tools that will work in its second half.

This got me thinking about growth.

To me, our capacity to grow is one of the most interesting things God built into the created order. And so today, I thought we could reflect on the ways we’ve grown over the course of our lives and how that growth causes us to give thanks. 

When it comes to the growth I’ve experienced in my life, I give thanks for the following: 

  • I’m thankful for the ways my family upbringing shaped the listener and peacemaker in me.
  • I’m thankful for the difficult experiences I sustained in grade school that later shaped my connection to Jesus. 
  • I’m thankful for the way pain in my life has made me a more sensitive being.
  • I’m thankful for a solid foundation of faith that paved the way for its deepening when I became a young adult.
  • I’m thankful God brought me to the end of myself when I was 19, even though it terrified me.
  • I’m thankful Jesus sat with me in the dark for two years, growing my trust in his patience and faithfulness toward me.
  • I’m thankful God has opened the doors of my heart to greater honesty and tenderness.
  • I’m thankful for the way my divorce experience helped me learn to receive grace.
  • I’m thankful I’ve become a person accustomed to taking risks. 
  • I’m thankful for the relationships in my life that have helped me settle into an identity of being loved.
  • I’m thankful for the stripping seasons in my life the grace God has given me to say yes to them.
  • I’m thankful for the ways God has given me a greater and greater heart of love.

When you look at the growth in your own life, what makes you thankful?

A (Near) Month of Thanks: Challenges


Diva faces her own challenge.

A reader reminded me yesterday that not all things to give thanks for are easy. Some may be difficult or painful.

But perhaps they help up grow. Or in some mysterious way work out for the best in ways we couldn’t have foreseen. Or are what’s required to get us from point A to point B. 

The apostle Paul encourages us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), and so today, let’s reflect on our thanks for the circumstances that are hard: life’s challenges. 

When it comes to challenges I’ve faced or am currently facing: 

  • I’m thankful for the way challenges help me think more creatively, seeking out solutions or responses I’d not yet considered.
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges connect me in relationships, as I seek out the wisdom and discernment of others. 
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges bring me, eventually, to a point of surrender with God, praying, “Thy will be done.”
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges help me examine myself and my own part to play in making or breaking a situation.
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges—the kind beyond my control—deepen my dependence on God.
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges have made me stronger and ultimately refined me.

In what ways can you give thanks for the challenges you’ve faced, or are facing, in life?

Closing Thoughts on Prayer

Reaching for the sun.

Hi, friends. 

I’ve so enjoyed writing this series on prayer for you.

I’ve loved receiving emails from many of you over the last 5 weeks who said you’ve been encouraged to learn all the various forms that prayer can take. Some of you shared your faith has felt validated by this series. Some of you have shared surprise at some of the entries, asking, “Can it really be?” Others of you have shared that you felt relieved, also asking, “Can it really be?” 

This series could continue on indefinitely, if we really wanted it to. I have a list in my planner that includes even more forms that prayer can be, including:

  • Dance
  • Study
  • Lectio divina
  • Cleaning the house
  • … and more.

I think what’s important to notice here is that prayer is life. 

When the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonian church and encouraged them to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), I don’t believe he had in mind for them to kneel at their bedsides, brows furrowed, talking in concentrated verbal prayer every moment of the day to God.

I believe he intended them to learn to experience all of life as prayer.

To find connection with God in all we do. To discover the truth of our hearts in our activities. To offer those revelations to God. To consider the ways God might be speaking and inviting us to notice our hearts and his voice throughout our days. 

I’ll see you here on Monday with a new series to share. 

Much love,


Prayer Can Be ... Images

Pinch, pinch. Is this really happening?

If you’ve been reading here a while, you know that images show up in my life with God quite a lot.

I’ve written about a 9-month season of walking on a beach shoreline with Jesus. I’ve written about that season coming to an end and how I was ushered toward a grassy area with a huge tree overlooking a cliff. I’ve written about being that tree. In other seasons of my life, I’ve walked through woods with Jesus, overlooked a city with Jesus, and then entered into that city with him. I’ve held the image of a village. I’ve held the image of a communion cup.

I’ve learned that images can be such a gift to our prayer lives because they can teach us so much.

They can put words to our inner experiences. They can serve as a mirror of our internal state. They can serve as invitations. They carry layers. They hold multiple dimensions that invite us to notice and go deeper and even ask questions. They teach us about ourselves and God. 

Do images play a part in your prayer life? Are you holding any particular image right now?

Prayer Can Be ... Under the Surface

Seeing the eye.

I met with my spiritual director, Elaine, on Monday, and the first thing I said when I sat down was that I hadn’t spent any formal time in prayer since our last meeting three weeks ago. 

It was a strange admission for me, since prayer is a primary part of my life. I have a rhythm to my days that includes intentional time spent in quiet and prayer with God each day. 

But I’d not been spending that time each day.

I’d been avoiding it.

And yet, as our conversation proceeded, we came to see that prayer had been abundant in those three weeks.

It was under the surface. 

I told her about the chance moments, like driving my car down the street or talking with someone who was struggling, where I became aware of an undercurrent of prayer at work in my spirit. Some people call it a prayer language. Others refer to Romans 8, which says the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (v. 26).

That’s what it was: groanings too deep for words.

Underneath the surface often.

It happens when I don’t know how to pray. It happens when I wake in the middle of the night with someone on my mind and I don’t know why. 

And, as I learned in my session with Elaine on Monday, it happens all the time. Underneath the surface. As I go about my day. 

Do you ever experience prayer underneath the surface?