spiritual practices

Cultivating Fruits of Transformation

WHEN I FIRST picked up Kyle Kramer’s memoir A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, And Dirt and skimmed through it, I wasn’t sure what to think, as it seemed to be just another tale of back-to-the-land living, seasoned with a pinch of religion. Although I have a deep appreciation for the work of Wendell Berry and other agrarian writers, back-to-the-land narratives have become a sort of cliché over the last few decades, and the fierce self-reliance that typically characterizes them seems to be more harmful than helpful. And as a member of a community that is seeking the flourishing of God’s creation in an urban place, I find these typically rural sorts of homesteading stories generally bear little relevance in our context.

Fortunately, all my initial assumptions about A Time to Plant were wrong. Yes, it is its own sort of back-to-the-land narrative, but Kramer is a superb writer—honest, compelling, funny, even self-effacing at times—and I found myself drawn into his story, and I breezed through the book in one sitting.

Born into a suburban Presbyterian family, Kramer had few experiences in his youth that would prepare him for what lay ahead. The book traces his formation, from his undergraduate studies at Indiana University (and friendships with Luke Timothy Johnson and Scott Russell Sanders, both professors there at the time) to his seminary training at Candler School of Theology—where he discerned a vocation not to traditional pastoral ministry but to a lifestyle of simplicity and closeness to the land.

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Practice, Practice, Practice

SENSING HER spiritual life is lacking a certain oomph, Jana Riess tries an experiment: 12 spiritual practices in 12 months. Guided by the writings of folks such as Richard Foster, Phyllis Tickle, and Brother Lawrence, Riess attempts everything from centering prayer and fasting to lectio divina and welcoming the stranger. “We can’t really hear what God is saying, or let it sink into our souls and beings, until we have tried to do what God is saying,” she explains. “The practice precedes the belief, not the other way around.”

At least, that’s the theory. But as she chronicles in Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving my Neighbor (Paraclete Press), Riess’ crash course in spiritual discipline is punctuated by more flopping failure than soaring success. By the time her year is up, Riess concludes that her holy experiment was more “delusional” than ambitious.

Known to the Twitter community as “The Twible Lady” for tweeting the entire Bible in snarky, 140 character summaries (Proverbs 27: “As iron sharpens iron, so friends sharpen each other. Please note that this is only a metaphor. Do not carve your friends.”), Riess leavens the pages of Flunking Sainthood with the same delightful irreverence. Mincing no words, she calls St. Benedict “a crafty old coot” and St. Thérèse of Lisieux a “first-class diva.” She swears during silent meditation. And when trying to find God in the daily tasks of life, such as cleaning, Riess considers whether “a quicker route to genuine religious experience would be to snort the spray cleaner and get high on fumes.”

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Awakening Creativity in Prayer

Each moment is pregnant with new possibilities waiting to be born, alive with new beginnings, God's secrets not yet heard, God's dreams not yet fulfilled. These were the thoughts that lodged in my mind as I meditated on Isaiah 48:6-8 this morning. So many good Christian people I talk to are afraid that their prayer life will become stale, their spiritual disciplines empty rituals. Some make this an excuse for their lack of discipline in prayer. And prayer does become stale and meaningless if we don't know how to stir our imaginations and awaken our creativity to new thoughts, new patterns and new possibilities for prayer.

Tools for prayer are creative opportunities not formulae for success

One of my greatest fears as I continue to share these tools for prayers is that some of my readers will see them as another formula that will make them more successful and more prayerful. Of course that is possible, but what I hope is that we will all see these as tools as ways to stir our imaginations and open our minds to new ways to express the prayers God has placed in our hearts, stimuli that awaken our creativity to the brand new possibilities of ways that God can speak to us, in us, and through us.

Tools for Prayer

Yesterday afternoon I found out that ABC news plans to dedicate it programming today to "Hunger at Home: Crisis in America." It precipitated my writing of this post which I had planned to add as a later addition to a series on tools for prayer.

One important item in our prayer toolkit is knowledge of our hurting world. Not knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but knowledge that equips us to respond. Becoming aware of the needs in our world can lead us into a deeper understanding of the ache in God's heart for our hurting friends and neighbors. It can also connect us to our own self-centered indifference that often makes us complacent when God wants us to be involved. And it can stimulate us to respond to situations that we once felt indifferent to.

Facebook, Google+, and More: Does Social Networking Enhance Our Faith?

The other day I read some interesting statistics about how social media is shaping our lives . It is interesting to see the response to this and recognize the different ways in which we grapple with deluge of social media in relation to our faith. There are lots of resources emerging to help us maintain a strong and vibrant faith in the midst of this. I wanted to highlight a couple that I have found very useful

How Do We Pray For Japan?

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan has left many of us reeling, particularly as it came so soon after the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. We are overwhelmed by the devastation and the helplessness we all feel to respond. So how do we pray for those who are suffering and for those who have died? It is not easy and anything that we can say seems inadequate. Here is what came to my mind this afternoon as I was praying for the people of Japan and remembered again those in Christchurch, and Libya, Yemen, the Ivory Coast, and the many other places of unrest in our world

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