On being still: Placing our worries at the feet of Jesus — and other prayerful stances

What prayerful stance am I called to?

What prayerful stance are you called to enact?

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

I like the idea of God and I pressing our foreheads together. I lean in, Love leans closer. My eyes gaze down, and the Good Lord’s radiance heats up my head, in a way that makes me tingle all over. I’m delightfully still, not having to move backward or forward, but simply be in that intimate, physically real and imagined, posture of prayer.

Sometimes, when I sit to pray,  I close my eyes, and imagine traveling all the way out in the galaxy, to sit airily on one of Saturn’s rings taking in this glorious universe that God has made. I’m small and simultaneously in perfect awe of all that God has brought into being. I take a deep breathe, recognizing that this moment is comprised of eons of love and intention in order to be, and I feel held, and precious in the whole of my life circumstances.

Other times when I sit, I go with a recent experience in life — one where I have felt love and delight in God’s presence. Like this morning, when my 4 year old daughter said: “Mom, let’s play that game where I run by you and you grab me and say, ‘I’m never going to let you go.'” I’m complicit in this ongoing game of ours, and in following her lead, I realize that I may be enacting a similar game or request with God. As I reach out, embrace my wriggling 4 year old, and entertain squeals of delight enveloping her as a  precious child, I feel God doing a similar thing with me. “I’m never going to let you go” He whispers, and sounds a lot like me.

My typical “go-to” stance in Centering Prayer is this: laying everything at the feet of Jesus. I show up in my chair, chant the morning Psalm in the best way I know how, and then ask for the grace to sit still for the next twenty minutes. I breathe in and out deeply and am, more often than not, ecstatic to arrive in the chair and not have to solve one thing, make a next decision, or be “perfect” in any way shape or form. I just have to show up. And as I “show up” in my chair, I consciously try to lay down any thought or anxiety or recent drama that manages to worm its way forward in my consciousness. “Here you go, Jesus!” I say in my mind, and imagine  literally placing the worry at the toes, heels and ankles of God.

When my good friend  Karen and I reflect aloud about our prayer lives and attempts at faithful living, we often giggle. And this phrase and stance: “Put it at the feet of Jesus” is a delightful reminder and invitation to surrender and trust in God’s love and mercy for all aspects of our lives.

***

As we make our way through this season of holiday prep and gratitude making, I invite you to consider your own prayer life. How are you positioning yourself? Where do you find stillness? What do you imagine Love inviting you to do? What do you want or need to place at the foot of the cross?

“My Soul in Stillness Waits” – Advent Prayer

At St. Jane House: Ministry of Prayer, Presence

At St. Jane House: Ministry of Prayer, Presence

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

It’s Tuesday morning in Advent and I am seated in a circle of prayerful people at St. Jane House. I am here as part of the weekly Centering Prayer experience lead by Visitation Companion Brian Mogren. On this particular day, our circle convenes in special celebration to honor and welcome longtime participant Harriet Oyera’s children from northern Uganda — a family separated by war in that region, and re-united just a week ago.

The coffee is brewed, the treats are laid out, a large sign of welcome has been constructed and posted for this family. Our special guests have not yet arrived, and so after a period of waiting, Brian calls us to be seated and silent. We enter into prayer with the following mantra:

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

I enter into the quiet with a mind full of chatter. Errands to run. Anxiety about holiday plans surfacing. Thoughts of my missing billfold–  including my driver’s license and credit cards– come to mind; “Where did I last put those blessed things?” From my heart arises the latest text about love and life. I think about Harriet, her kids, our friend Dorothy in Ghana.  Thoughts about my deepest desires well in my body; I take a deep breath and try to find calm, center, the quiet. I long for the peaceful emptiness that allows me to recognize God filling me up, renewing my faith, spirit.

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

Mary comes to mind. I see her as a young woman, a teenager, who is unwed and pregnant with Jesus. I breathe in and out and imagine her and the Angel Gabriel in conversation. Mary’s “Yes” to bearing new life resounds in my ears. I wonder, prayerfully, how God is inviting me to fuller life, love, or to be faithful; I wonder how I  am called to say, “Yes”?

I try to get quiet.

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

I breathe in. Out. I empty myself. I am renewed. The Advent song continues in my breathing:  “Truly my hope is in you.” I release. I receive. Over and over again.
And then I hear it. The door opens, and sounds of people quietly entering the space fill the room. Boots are taken off, coats unzipped, items are laid down, I hear the jingling of hangers in the closet.  Four sets of feet creep onto the rug; Harriet and her children take their place among the circle. I continue in my prayer, joyfully, ecstatically, knowing they have arrived.

I smile deeply within myself.

It’s funny what shows up when we have our eyes closed, and our hearts tuned toward God. In this Advent season of waiting, hoping, preparing for a babe to enter, in this circle of quiet meditation,  we literally receive a mother and her children. It feels like the Divine entering and reminding us of Love’s abundance, power, grace, miracle. This experience gives me pause and inspires my further prayer.

What do you hear, notice, when you get quiet and repeat the following:

“For you, Oh Lord, my soul in stillness waits”?

Advent blessings!

Relax in Prayer: “Don’t try too Hard”

SFDS quoteby Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

I hyper-extended my knee during prayer this past week. The experience has left me wanting, wondering, and takes me to the center of my reflections on what it means to pray well.

I was off to a rocky start Tuesday morning. Was I running late? Was I anxious about the flow of the morning? Concerned about my responsibilities in attending to – or providing for- some festive, post-prayer-party atmosphere? Who knows. I just know I was a bit off in my rhythms.

We were celebrating five years of Centering Prayer at St. Jane House on Tuesday, along with Director Brian Mogren’s recent Human Services Award. It was a party — a joyous occasion.

I wore a short skirt, and taking my place in the circle of 17 or so other festive-centering-prayer warriors, I all of a sudden got self-conscious.

“What if I flashed someone across the circle?” Ugh. The thought of it took me outside myself, and then inspired a conscious physical correction. “I”ll just cross my legs and all shall be well.”

More easily thought and said than done.

When we pray at Centering Prayer, there’s a universal invitation to position yourself in an open stance. You take a seat. You relax. You soften your gaze. You open your palms and plant your feet firmly on the ground. You take a deep breathe. You let Love pour through you in each inhale and exhale. You take up your sacred word and let this guide you in clearing your mind completely, and letting God have all your thoughts. If you are in a really blissed-out place, or lucky, you have more than 3 seconds of an awareness that Love permeates all things and is the author of all that is good and true and is in charge in this world. You are forgiven and held and know compassion and calm.

But if you cross your legs, and hyper-extend your knee during centering prayer, this bliss is not easily yours.

Sometimes, I think this sort of hyper-extension is true for all of us. We are simply working too hard at prayer;  we are getting too self-conscious of what may be exposed; we are afraid to be truly vulnerable with God. And so we protect ourselves. We cross our legs, so to speak, and avoid all openness with our Creator.

Or not. Maybe some of us are more perfected in the art of prayer — more relaxed in age, experience, development, or practice. I think the sisters are pretty good at prayer, actually. They are my role models. But I know that they would resent this sort of praise or idolizing to a point. They would attest, “Ah, Melissa, we are all human. We all have times of darkness or difficulty in prayer.”

My point is: How do you pray? What is your prayer life like these days? Where do you find yourself in the art of relaxing, giving yourself over to the divine, offering up words of thanks or request or praise? Or simply showing up, presenting your heart to God? 

I’ll close with these sage words from our co-founder, St. Francis de Sales:

“When you come before the Lord, talk to Him if you can. If you can’t, just stay there, let yourself be seen. Don’t try too hard to do anything else.” 

Honoring Our Brother Brian Mogren, aka. “Mr. St. Jane House.”

2013 Virginia McKnight Binger Human Services Award recipient Brian Mogren surrounded by family, collaborators and northside friends.

He’s making the news, this time being seen for his role in supporting our northside brothers and sisters. We couldn’t be prouder of our dear friend, lay companion and brother, Brian Mogren, who was honored this week with the Virginia McKnight Binger Human Service Award.

“I accepted the award on behalf of everyone I conspire for good with on the north side. It truly takes a village and I’m surrounded by a whole bunch of extraordinary people doing important and good work.” – Brian Mogren, Visitation Companion, St. Jane House Director

As director of St. Jane House, Brian exudes the charism of our Visitation order in and through his hospitality, service and quiet leadership. We can only imagine our co-founders St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales smiling broadly down on our brother Brian this day — as he goes about building relationships and “Living+Jesus” in North Minneapolis — and beyond!

We invite you to get to know our dear friend and Visitation Companion who resides just two blocks away from our monastery in the St. Jane House. Come and pray with him on Tuesday morning at Centering Prayer. Or treat yourself to an afternoon of reflection or overnight stay under the hospitable care of brother Brian — and learn first hand what his heart and mind are up to as he seeks to “be who he is, and be that well”.

Read more about Brian and the Virginia McKnight Binger Human Service Award:

 

On Contemplative Listening: A Doorway into a Deeper Encounter With God

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice centering prayer

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice contemplative listening

by Phil Soucheray, Visitation Companion

God invites. Are we willing to listen?

Be still and know that I am God.

That’s what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 46.

Like many of the psalms, the context of the lyrics refers to a powerful God in whom humanity is urged to find strength in the face of distress. But, there is another facet of messaging in those words that I find I prefer. Indeed, it’s one I find I can’t live without.

It is a message of comfort; of confidence; of connection. And, as a recent spiritual retreat hosted by the sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis reminded us, it is one of openness and hospitality. Those who are willing to immerse themselves in the implication of the message are being offered a doorway into deeper encounter with God.

The sisters and those great spiritual guides who have long gone before call the practice of being still in order to know God, contemplative listening.  What one may hear is never a certainty. But what becomes apparent in undertaking the practice is that it’s very easy to lose God’s signal for all the noises that surround us in our daily lives.

Convened in a circle

Convened in a circle

That the sisters should be particularly skilled in contemplative listening is no surprise. It is, after all, something of a staple of the monastic community they form. That they are so solid in their commitment to its practice where they happen to live is something that impresses me deeply. And that they extend that grace and invite us into their company so we can also be still and perhaps come to know God better, is a privilege.

That sense of privilege is one I know that is shared by the rest of the Visitation Companions who participated on this special day. As one of our group observed afterward, the experience of the retreat left her feeling like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. This companion admits that she is more often like Martha, planning, preparing, serving.

“I can and do read lots of books and articles on Salesian spirituality,” she says. “But nothing can compare to sitting at the feet of these wise women who share their knowledge, their lived experience and their love with all.”

She goes on to say that, “On this day, I am glad that I decided to be a Mary and leave my inner Martha behind.

I would offer that so say we all who were able to partake.

Be still and know that I am God.

“How does prayer work for you?” Some New Year’s Musings…

Photo by Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

Photo by Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“How does prayer work for you?”

It’s New Year’s eve. I’m sitting in front of a hot fire in a log cabin tucked inside the Snake River Forest outside Isle, MN. It’s cold out — 14 below cold.  Three of my friend’s four dogs are afoot. We have just finished a lovely grilled salmon and veggie meal, (truth-be-told: despite the fact that a crucial part of our dish was consumed in flames prior to consumption.)  My friend rests, we reflect on our 2012’s, and the conversation turns toward the theological.

“How does prayer work for you?”

We have just completed a ritual of sorts, she and I: writing out on tiny slips of paper responses to the following prompts:
“Things to release.”
“Things to embrace.”
“Things to invite in.”

We have been quiet, contemplative, and giggly as we engaged in this made up marking of our year, tossing our 2013 intentions into the fire and blowing kisses. I bowed before the flames, and said, “Amen!” as I surrendered these scraps of thought and extended this gesture as, indeed, a prayerful one.

“How does prayer work for you?” she asked again.

I am taken aback. A professed Athiest, with profound and inspiring regard for all of Creation, my girlfriend’s query gives me pause. When was the last time someone asked me this question? When was the last time I really thought about an answer? How often do I engage in spiritual or theological inquiry and debate with someone outside my faith?

My heart was on fire. I loved the moment and my dear friend’s fervor for the topic.

“How does prayer work for me?” I repeated, mulling over the largeness of the question, and the opportunity to respond.

As I paused, my girlfriend jumped back in.
“Do you really believe that God hears each one of your thoughts and prayers and answers? I mean, don’t you think he’s a little busy with the Universe, with everyone asking for help, to say nothing of who and what ever else might exist beyond?”

“Of course! I think God has the most exhausting job,” I respond, laughing — and then added: “but I think God can handle it.” Just like God can handle my beseeching, my anger, my sorrow, my joy, my praise.

At that moment, I wanted to quote my friend Zac Willette, whose theological writing always moves me. “The deal is, I don’t think we pray to change God’s mind about anything: I think we pray to change ourselves. To align our hearts with whatever God’s will or desire is, and to invite compassion, and ultimately, some action on our own parts around what, or whomever, we are praying for.”

I liked my answer. Driving home and reflecting now, I still do.

***

One of the greatest gifts of the Visitation Sisters — and any monastic, contemplative community– is this gift of prayer. When you request prayers, these women religious take it seriously; it’s the life blood of their community, so-to-speak. It fuels the sisters in their daily interactions — in their ways of being in the world. And, by extension — as a Visitation Companion, prayer is an ongoing activity of my own that informs my journey to live and love faithfully all who are around me, all who I encounter in this world.

On this New Year’s Day, as we journey again around the sun, how do you respond to this question: “How does prayer work for you?” And, might I add, “How might it better your life and animate your limbs in the coming year?”

Happy 2013!

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Posted by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna ’93 with gratitude to Rob Brezsny for posting poem and image. bringing both to my attention.

“Be Still and Be:” Centering Prayer at St. Jane House

Centering Prayer at St. Jane House

Centering Prayer at St. Jane House

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Every Tuesday morning, I rise from my bed in St. Paul, MN, shower, dress and head out the door to cross the river to north Minneapolis and attend Centering Prayer at St. Jane House. Every Tuesday morning, no matter how much sleep I’ve gotten the night before, I wake with a full heart, enthusiastic for this ritualistic way of starting my day. Like the Visitation Sisters themselves, who start each day in community, in prayer, I join a faith circle — this one convened at the Sisters’ neighboring Spirituality Center named after their co-foundress, St. Jane de Chantal.  Here, I feel the spirits and stories and prayerful intentions of those gathered and those convening all over the world in prayer. In a word, it’s “awesome.”

We begin each centering prayer session with simple instructions. As the co-founder of this group, Visitation Companion and manager of St. Jane House, Brian Mogren gets us started each Tuesday with the following words:

In Centering Prayer, we express our intention to be in faith and love with God who dwells in the center of our being. We take up a sacred word and let it be gently present, supporting our being with God in faith-filled love. It’s a symbol of our intention to be with God in prayer. Whenever we become aware of anything else, we simply, gently return to God with the use of our prayer words. At the end of our 20 minutes of meditation, we close with “Our Father” said very slowly.

Brian then recites a poem or psalm or invites a fellow meditation participant to read us a passage from the bible, before he rings the singing bowl. One of my favorite texts included here is “Be Still and Know that I am God.” Brian will repeat this, shortening it each time, “Be still and know” to “be still” to just “be.”

“Be Still and Know that I am God.”

On this most recent Tuesday, the word, “be” became my sacred word that guided me in prayer. For twenty minutes, I found myself returning to an ecstatic space of love, joy; I was present with all of creation; I was simply trying to “be.” The laundry list of my life’s to-dos fell away, as I relaxed, with community around me simultaneously attempting this radical goal of silent presence, and I acknowledged the love welling up in me.

I have a recurring “vision,” if you will, during my prayer times where a radiant white light streams in a star pattern, connecting the hearts of every person gathered, with all of the stories of ancestors and loved ones that accompany them; this light  intersects in the center of our room and reminds me that I’m not alone in my silence, in my surfacing prayers and intentions.

After twenty minutes of intentional quiet, complete with all the natural sounds of an urban neighborhood, the singing bowl rings again, and participants are invited to now give voice to their prayers.

Brian has a special way of inviting these intentions, too. He says something about how we join our intentions with those on the lips and in the hearts and minds of people all over the world. It always gives me pause, and reminds me how sacred this activity is, and  how connected we all are, no matter where we stop to pause and “be present.”

What prayer and meditation practices are most life-giving for you?
Who do you share your heart with?
What person or group of people nurture your prayer or contemplations?
How does God speak to you and remind you of your beloved nature and calling?

I invite you to join me on any given Tuesday for Centering Prayer at St. Jane House. Doors open at 7:30am. Blessings!