Many moods of silence

October 24, 2014

This morning I was reading Psalm 62, and I was struck by the word “silence” in the first line.

For God alone my soul waits in silence;

Then again in verse 5,

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence

Yet in verse 8, I read this

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him

So what does it mean to pour out my heart before God while at the same time waiting in silence?

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Life is good

April 11, 2013

Until Sunday, I had never heard of the company Life is good, which is perhaps not surprising considering that the company eschews conventional advertising. Instead, they grow based on word of mouth, and through the publicity generated by their work on behalf of children affected by poverty, violence, and illness.

Bert Jacobs, co-founder (together with his brother John) of Life is good, was the keynote speaker at the Ellucian Live conference I attended in Philadelphia this week. Bert’s story about the power of optimism is indeed inspiring, and it’s clear that his message – embodied in the grinning face of “Jake” on the products the company sells – resonates with people.

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No bad prayer

January 19, 2013

I am currently reading two books on prayer, both to help with my own prayer life and because I am leading a small group study on prayer at church. When it came to choosing a topic for the small group, I was initially reluctant to consider a study on prayer. Certainly it’s an area where I need to grow. But how could I possibly lead such a study when my own prayer life is so inadequate?

As we talked about the new year, however, and the areas of our lives where we would like to see God do something new in us, I wasn’t the only one to have a concern about my prayer life. Perhaps, I thought, my own need in that regard was a reason to pursue a study on prayer more than a reason to avoid it.

I chose these two books, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster and The Folly of Prayer: Practicing the Presence and Absence of God by Matt Woodley, in part because I found discussion guides to these books available online (here and here). No doubt there are other good books out there I could have used, but based on the discussion guides I was confident the books were worth buying.

I’ve read plenty of books on prayer before, heard sermons, and done Bible studies. Usually I just end up feeling more inadequate, as I compare the poverty of my own prayer life with the examples of powerful prayer I read or hear about.

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The Way of a Pilgrim

November 19, 2011

I had come across passing references to this spiritual classic at least a few times before I decided to see if I could get it from the library. I assumed the book was primarily didactic in nature, and that the title was metaphorical. So I was surprised, when I started reading it, to discover that it is – apparently – an autobiographical account by a Russian pilgrim of the 19th century.

I say “apparently” because the author is unknown, and some people think that it was written as though it were a pilgrim telling his story, but not by an actual pilgrim. I suppose that is possible, although I would think that a made-up story would be told in a much less disjointed manner, with fewer extraneous details and going off on “rabbit trails.”

But regardless of how the story came to be written down, it is a striking example of applying spiritual teaching to everyday life – in a time and place very different from our own. The pilgrim is a peasant who travels from village to village, occasionally requesting husks of dry bread for his pack, but for the most part seeking nothing but quiet and solitude to pursue communion with God through constant prayer.

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Music: Pilgrims’ Hymn

November 19, 2011

This evening the community choir I sing in presented a concert of American music, mostly from the time of the Civil War. (I think this was at least in part related to the Sesquicentennial.) My favorite piece from the concert, however, is “Pilgrims’ Hymn” by Stephen Paulus.

The text by Michael Dennis Browne (adapted from a prayer of the Russian Orthodox church, according to rehearsal notes by the composer) fits perfectly with the music by Paulus. Every time we rehearsed it, I felt moved by the fusion of words and music, and absorbed as much by the prayer as the notes and rhythms.

A recording played on computer speakers hardly does justice to the beauty of the piece, but you can get an idea of it from this performance at the Saint Paul Seminary Chapel by Kantorei, an acapella chamber choir in Minnesota.


Puritan prayers

September 1, 2011

A few days ago, Joe B. at WORLDmag.com Community (previously known as worldmagblog) posted a Puritan prayer that a number of us there found very meaningful and saved for our own future use. Since then he has posted another Puritan prayer each day, and I became curious about the source of these prayers.

I could have asked him, but it was quicker just to Google it, and I discovered that these prayers were not as obscure as I might have thought. I found quite a few pages that contain a number of these prayers, all taken from a compilation of Puritan prayers titled The Valley of Vision. I have seen few books at amazon.com with such high ratings (5 stars by nearly all reviewers, and even the reviews that rate it lower are very positive), and I promptly added it to my Wish List.

As I thought about blogging about these prayers, I couldn’t help wondering what would be the reaction from ModestyPress, my Radical Agnostic friend. What interest could he possibly find in a post about prayers that are all about the depths of personal sin and the glory of God? I know he does believe in right and wrong, but sees no need to link those concepts to a divine being, or to worry about displeasing such a being.

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Not much of a gift

May 10, 2011

This evening I read an excellent post at First Things, “Offering It Up.” Elizabeth Scalia writes about offering up our difficulties, our pains, and our disappointments to God. What surprised me was that she seems to refer to it as a specifically Catholic idea.

I did a Google search, and sure enough, most of the hits were in reference to Catholicism. Some were by Catholics, explaining the practice; some were questions by non-Catholics who had heard the phrase and wondered what it meant. I think a few were from Catholics who knew the phrase but weren’t really clear on the meaning behind it.

Going back to look at Scalia’s post again, I saw that she specifically links the idea of offering it up to God, and other people benefiting from it. Perhaps that is the “Catholic” aspect of it. I may, in the back of my mind, realize as I offer up my difficulties to God that the end result may be something good for other people, but it’s a rather indirect link.

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