God Comes to Us

Blog 4

“Take up your cross and follow me.”

by Jody Johnson, Visitation Companion

“God comes to us disguised as our lives.” — Richard Rohr

Just as thoughts must be released not once, but over and over again during contemplative prayer, so our human weaknesses and flaws must be recognized, acknowledged, and surrendered again and again in our daily lives. Perhaps this is why Jesus does not say, “Lay down your cross and follow me,” but “Take up your cross and follow me.” The Christian path of self-renunciation and deepening interdependence with God and others is a lifelong journey. Francis de Sales knew this and counseled Jane de Chantal, against her will, to return to and embrace the circumstances of her own life. Seeking visions and “ecstasies,” Jane wanted to disappear into God, but Francis proposed instead an “ecstasy of love” lived out in humble service to others. Otherwise, her faith would remain a

Vibrant community life hums all around

Vibrant community life hums all around

mere abstraction or sentiment.

“In our vulnerability we break open the compassionate heart of God in others and for others.” -Jody Johnson

I encounter the limits of my solitude in an unexpected way in my own particular circumstances. I’ve moved to an urban monastery in Phoenix, much like our own Visitation Monastery, to continue my retreat. The vibrant community life hums all around, complete with its shadow economy: an impromptu barbershop is set up on the patio of my retreat house; a neighborhood ‘restaurant’ springs up in someone’s garage on weekends and vanishes by Monday.

My retreat house sits at a distance from the main house. I am alone, by design, and during the day the solitude is nourishing. But as darkness sets in on my first night, I feel afraid. I try to recall the day’s scenes that bespeak a tight-knit and safe community, but it is not enough. I pick up the phone and call the main house. Sister Lydia answers. I explain what is happening and ask if I can spend the night there. “Sure, come right over,” she says. Still, I feel weak and stupid, lacking in faith. If Jane’s spiritual challenge was her strong will, mine is pride, a close cousin. I gather my things, walk to the house, and sheepishly ring the doorbell. I’m greeted with a warm “Come right in; I’ll show you to your room.” No Sunsetquestions asked. This simple act of hospitality is laden with compassion and mercy, and I see clearly in this moment that I am called to do the same for others.

In our vulnerability we break open the compassionate heart of God in others and for others. Giving and receiving become one as part of God’s lived life in the world. Echoing Francis de Sales’ thoughts almost four centuries later, Thomas Keating says, “A new asceticism for people of good will might be the practice of goodness; that is, just being good to everybody.” I am ready to return home, to my life.

Live Jesus. Love now.

 

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To read more of Jody Johnson’s contemplative blogs from the desert, click here.

“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!