Contemplative prayer for delinquent believers

Contemplative prayer has been a miracle for me during a difficult season. It does not ask anything of me. It doesn’t ask that I believe when I can’t or don’t want to. It doesn’t demand faith or works or even prayer. It doesn’t require x amount of Bible study, x amount of volunteering, x amount of ministry. It doesn’t ask for forgiveness or sacrifice. It offers no advice. It doesn’t ask questions of me. It doesn’t demand answers or supplication. It enforces no doctrine and pursues no agenda. It doesn’t need me to be anyone else than who I am.

Instead, contemplative prayer gives. It gives me silence when I need silence, and comfort when I need comfort. It gives me grace, mercy, and compassion. It gives me presence. Rather than demand, it offers. Rather than scold, it encourages. It is kind. I sit down to it or turn my face to it, me,  the chiefest of sinners, and I am rewarded with the face of God, the smile of God, the heart of God.

I cannot lay claim to contemplative prayer. It isn’t a skill or a talent. It isn’t works. I can’t do anything to encourage it other than receiving it; I can’t do anything to discourage it, other than rejecting it. I can never deserve it, and I can never lose my right or my claim to it. It is the very essence of a gift, the very essence of a God who cannot but Be.

And, in fits and starts, imperfectly, I’m learning to Be with God. No pretense. No holy rolling. No flowery language. No blaming…or lots of blaming. No anger, or only anger. Love, or no love. Faith, or uncertainty, or skepticism. Hope, despair. Anguish, joy. Depression, contentment. At war, or at peace; at rest, or in revolt. Half-asleep, or fully awake. It doesn’t seem to matter to God.

I beat my breast…and God beats His. I offer confident proclamations, but God merely sings me a song. I offer dire advice, and He runs circles around me and my human ways. I expect deserts, and yet She flows like living water.

I’m always expecting to reach the bottom of the gift basket, but there just isn’t any end to God. There is no scarcity of God, despite the best attempts of religion (mine and other people’s) to make it seem so.

I’m happy to be proven wrong…but I’m also sad that for the longest time, I believed such outrageous lies about God. I’m sad that I thought I had to. I’m sad that a part of me – the most human, most frightened part of me – believed that there was anything other to God than More Than Enough.

Contemplative prayer is a reminder. It reminds me that I am in an eternal moment with God. This moment doesn’t run out, or go away, or expire. It isn’t defeated or lost. I am in God’s very heart, and in Her very breath. Whatever else happens, I know that this is true. It’s here that I find my peace, and I think it’s here that God finds His, as well.

Faith, Poetry, Writing

Avian prayers

I do not “fill the
birdbath”. I am “answering
the prayers of a bird.”

Faith, Poetry, Writing

Psalm 42b



My women’s Bible Study group started Renovare’s Prayer & Worship: A spiritual formation guide last week. One of the things you’re asked to do at the end of the first chapter (on worship), is to pen your own psalm. Using Psalm 42 as an example, the book examined worship as a thirst for God. It’s this theme that inspired my own “psalm”.

Psalm 42b

A psalm by Lee

I do not thirst for You as a deer thirsts for water, Lord; that would be too easy.

I am not always sure that I thirst for You at all.

And yet… And yet there’s something, Lord.

I look for it on the Internet and in books, on blogs and at the bottoms of cookie jars, in saying the rights things and trying to act in the right ways, in having a clever answer and a chip on the shoulder, at the tops of fluffy white clouds and at the bottom of the soles of my feet squishing into soft grass, in good humour and PMS and quiet moments and deep, long sighs.

I perpetually pat my spiritual back pockets, checking to see if that something is still there, but I do not know what it is.

I therefore must conclude that it’s You, Lord. Can it really be that easy?

I’d rather it be harder, I think; that way I can get more credit for trying, and thus, more leeway for my standard ill-appreciation of Your grace.

What, after all, does the deer do, other than thirsting, for You to answer it?

What a scandalous notion, that my thirst is answered on no account of my own!

And yet… And yet it makes sense that You. omniscient, loving, kind, patient, forgiving and forbearing, make no sense at all.

You are not human logic but Logos. “Love” is the Word.

In the meantime, I will check mashed potatoes for that something, and being irrationally irritated by minor inconveniences. and judging people by their velocity in supermarket aisles.

Just in case, You understand.

Man! It looks like I’m a deer thirsty for water after all!


There’s no wrong way to be a lizard in the sun



I love November. It’s the summer month par excellence for me. Early mornings, days stretching to their apogee, their afternoons often swallowed up by thunderstorms and rain that beats the smell of ozone from the earth. November is full of the dance of some old thing we’ve mostly lost to the advent of 24-hour living. Novembers are simply magical.

November isn’t hugely productive as a rule. Combined with the mischievous wink of summer and sun and the approach of Christmas (tacky, seasonally inappropriate decorations seemed to go up at the stroke of midnight on the 31st of October) and the beckon of the schools closing for the year, November is about as circumspect as a toddler presented with a bowl of candy. It’s an odd time to be thinking about the Advent season and the new year, when so many things seem to be telling you to stop thinking, to turn your face to the sun and the season and to just breathe it all in.

I wonder whether God isn’t asking the same thing with prayer. Glancing through my prayer list, much of it is busywork: me trying to press my case or impose my will (masquerading as God’s will of course) or otherwise labouring at my idea of what a faithful life looks like. Sometimes that labour is necessary – if I didn’t go against my natural urges, how often would I get up early on a Sunday morning to go to church, for instance – but maybe like the month of November, sometimes prayer isn’t a job to do or an item to tick off or a solemn request to make, but a turning to the “sun” of God in our lives.

For the last few weeks, whenever I go outside it’s to a scatter of small lizards streaking in all directions, startled by my appearance. If basking in the sun were a religious practice, lizards out-holy us all. They go to the sun with nothing but the need to be warmed, and nothing but the expectation that they will be warmed. There’s no wrong way to be a lizard in the sun, other than not seeking the sun, of course. There’s no wrong way to seek God, other than not seeking him.

Work and necessity will play tug-o’-war with November for our heart. Even Advent will push its own agenda. But I think the month of November is itself a kind of prayer. All the while, whatever the season, God is there, trying to lure us from the shadows of tradition and busywork and our own limitations into the warm sun of his light, love, grace and mercy; back into relationship with him, friendship with him, communion with him.

Sometimes that communion is bread and wine in a church building. Sometimes it’s the rustle of Bible pages at the end of a long day. Sometimes it’s a hurried, muttered prayer in the mornings. But sometimes, other times, it’s a shady, grassy spot under a big tree with the wind whispering through the leaves.



Need of Jesus

I am blind, be thou my light,
ignorant, be thou my wisdom,
self-willed, be thou my mind.
Open my ear to grasp quickly thy Spirit’s voice,
and delightfully run after his beckoning hand;
Melt my conscience that no hardness remain,
make it alive to evil’s slightest touch;
When Satan approaches may I flee to thy wounds,
and there cease to tremble at all alarms.
Be my good shepherd to lead me into the green pastures of thy Word,
and cause me to lie down beside the rivers of its comforts.
Fill me with peace, that no disquieting worldly gales
may ruffle the calm surface of my soul.
Thy cross was upraised to be my refuge,
Thy blood streamed forth to wash me clean,
Thy death occurred to give me a surety,
Thy name is my property to save me,
By thee all heaven is poured into my heart,
but it is too narrow to comprehend thy love.
I was a stranger, an outcast, a slave, a rebel,
but thy cross has brought me near,
has softened my heart,
has made me thy Father’s child,
has admitted me to thy family,has made me joint-heir with thyself.
O that I may love thee as thou lovest me,
that I may walk worthy of thee, my Lord,
that I may reflect the image of heaven’s first-born.
May I always see thy beauty with the clear eye of faith,
and feel the power of thy Spirit in my heart,
for unless he move mightily in me
no inward fire will be kindled.

Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur G. Bennett.