Showing posts from July, 2008

From my prayer retreat at the monastery, post 5

July 16: Observations of Benedictine Life

After being here for a couple of days, here are my observations of life in a Benedictine monastery. These are aspects of monastic life that I would like to work into my non-monastic context.

· Balance of prayer and work. Benedict talked about a balance of ora et labora, or prayer and work. Benedictine monks spend somewhere around seven hours a day working and, depending on the monastery, about seven hours a day praying, most of it corporate and some of it private. You and I probably don’t have that much time to spend praying, but how can we work toward a better balance between prayer and work?

· Vigilance through praying the hours. There are set prayer times throughout each day, so the day takes on a familiar rhythm. This is how Benedictines maintain an ongoing vigil. It is by constant reminder, through participating in set times of prayer together. It is more difficult to forget God when you are coming before him seven or eight t…

From my prayer retreat at the monastery, post 4

July 15: Vigilance and Vigil

Vigilance is related to another key word, vigil. A prayer vigil is a period of watching and waiting on God. If we want to remain vigilant in devotion to God so we are not continually turning to the world and turning back to God in repentance, we must maintain an ongoing prayer vigil in our lives. Again I think of the ancient Benedictine pattern of observing prayer as many as seven times during the day and once in the middle of the night. Benedictines have historically prayed the entire Psalter in a week’s time. Their tradition is one of ongoing vigil. Benedict rightly teaches that the one who wants to become intimate with God must keep his eyes fixed on Christ, finding and communing with God in each and every moment. I don’t know what there is to learn and master that is more important than this.

As we progress in our relationship with God, we find that our sensitivity to turning away from God grows acute. We repent for sins we wouldn’t even have noticed in …

From my prayer retreat at the monastery, post 3

July 15: Vigilance

Today at the monastery we are celebrating the feast of St. Bonaventure, a medieval theologian and monastic. Bonaventure talked about turning our affections only toward God. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the inclination to turn toward the Triune God. Therefore, our seeking after God is a response not an initiative.

As I noted in the previous post, our response to God begins with “Here I am.” Over the years, our response includes many instances of replying to him, “Here I am.” This reply represents repentance whenever we are turning once again away from distractions and toward the Father. We have a tendency to drift, to turn away to the things of this world. Many of those things are good, but we can become too attached to them and too concerned with them. When that happens, the Holy Spirit whispers our name, and we have the opportunity once again to whisper back, “Here I am.”

Bonaventure teaches that the Spirit lights a flame of desire for God within us, and we are …

From my prayer retreat at the monastery, post 2

July 14: “Here I am”

If you have been called by God, your answer begins with, “Here I am.” The Scriptures record the calling of Samuel and Isaiah, and both times the response to God begins with, “Here I am.” For Samuel, it is an answer to the voice that speaks to him in the night. For Isaiah, it is a willingness to be the one sent by God to proclaim his message.

I came to the monastery with a sense that God was calling me to come away with him. Upon arriving here, my response has begun with, “Here I am.” This is my simple posture before him. There is no need for a flowery speech expressing my devotion to him. At this point, there is only the presentation of myself before him. (Incidentally, this kind of posture before God, punctuated by brief but heartfelt prayers, is very much in keeping with Benedict’s teachings. He favored brief prayers from the heart over long-winded rhetorical masterpieces.)

To say “Here I am” is to say something personal. It is a statement of presence-in-relationsh…

From my prayer retreat at the monastery, post 1

July 14: "Simple"

I am writing from room 9 of St. Andrews Abbey, a Benedictine monastery on the edge of the Mojave desert near Palmdale, CA. I have come here for a prayer retreat, lasting from Monday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon. I have been under a lot of mental and spiritual fatigue lately, and I felt I needed to get away. I think God is also stirring in my heart, so I am here in response to the calling of the Spirit to come away with him…

I am very happy with the accommodations. The room is Spartan but clean. The walls are cinder block, and the floors are ceramic tile. There are two twin beds, dressed with simple blue spreads. The room is comfortable but modest. It is air conditioned, but that too is modest. I doubt the temperature in here will dip below 80 in the afternoons.

I specifically rejected the idea of taking a prayer retreat at a posh hotel somewhere. I do not want to be pampered. I do not want to be courted by advertisers. I want a place of repentance, a cocoo…

Prayer as problem solving v. prayer as love

In a recent post, I contrasted two visions of the church: Center for Problem-Solving or Community for God-Following. I want to make a similar contrast with regard to prayer.

In his book Prayer Primer, Catholic writer Thomas Dubay observes, "... a large majority [of typical churchgoers] would describe prayer in terms of seeking divine help in solving problems of one kind or another: illness, employment, fear, guilt feelings, interpersonal conflicts. As the saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes. This reason for praying is valid, but by itself it is notably incomplete" (p. 23).

I think Dubay is right on all counts. I agree that this is the way the typical churchgoer views prayer. It is not simply because churchgoers are clueless. Now it must be admitted that many churchgoers do not really want a deeper relationship with God. They just want to have important problems solved. They are in it to get something they value. However, I think this self-centered approach is exacer…

How pastors are made... according to a six-year-old

Tonight at the dinner table my wife and I witnessed a very telling dramatization of one of life's great mysteries: how pastors are made. Our six-year-old son plucked off his plate one tater tot in each hand and began to narrate. Raising one tot, he says, "This is Jesus." Raising the other, he adds, "And this is a bad guy."

He rams the Jesus tot against the bad guy tot. "Jesus beats up the bad guy."

Pieces begin falling off the wounded tot, but the Jesus tot pushes them back into place. "Jesus heals him."

The Jesus tot begins bobbing up and down toward the suddenly healed, bad guy tot. "And then Jesus tells him about himself."

The bad guy tot is held triumphantly. "And then he makes him become a pastor."

Chomp! "And then I ate him!" Thus ends the tale of the bad-guy-beaten-up-by-Jesus-but-then-healed-and-turned-into-a-pastor-and-suddenly-eaten-alive.

Disclaimer: While the account of the tot dramatization is factual, th…

A prayer for writers, teachers, and preachers

This is a simple meditation on Scripture. In Ps 137, the writer begins by mourning how after carting the Israelites off to their land, the Babylonians taunted them by demanding that they sing cheerful songs of Zion. The Psalm then contains these verses (vv. 5-6):

"If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy."

The psalmist wants his singing to retain its authenticity and rootedness. He does not want to sing with falsehood in his heart. If he begins to sing the songs with an empty desire merely to entertain or please his captors, may God take away his ability to play the lyre or give voice to a tune. Therefore, he would not sing for the Babylonians like a paid performer.

For anyone who communicates ideas about God, whether it be in writing or speaking, whether in a large audience or small, there is a Babylonian taunt that whispers insidiously to…