Spiritual Practices: Gratitude

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I’ve always been a pretty happy person. I like my life, like my eggs, sunny side up. But I was stopped in my tracks by a line I read in the fantastic book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” by Henri J.M. Nouwen.

“Resentment and gratitude cannot co-exist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift. My resentment tells me that I don’t receive what I deserve. It always manifests itself in envy.”

Now I have to admit that I am occasionally resentful. When I don’t get noticed for a job well done, when my sibling seems to get more of my parent’s attention, when someone else gets a promotion…

So, how do we live a life of gratitude when failure and disappointment are bound to come our way?

The book by Nouwen is about the famous Biblical story of the Prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32. But, the book is also based on the above painting by Rembrandt that Nouwen spent years contemplating. In the story a younger son asks his father for his share of the family money, takes it and goes off, losing it all to wild living. He comes home broke and broken. The father’s love for this son is beautifully overwhelming; he welcomes him home and throws a lavish party.

But, the older son (standing to the right in the painting) is bitter and envious — feeling that his good and faithful ways have gone unnoticed by his father who has welcomed his no-good brother home with such fanfare. And that is where the gratitude quote comes in. When he complains, the father tells him “You are with me always, all I have is yours.” The father encouraged him to come to the party.

I have much experience being the resentful sibling. It is easy to feel overlooked and resentful when you’re “the easy one, the good one, the perfect one,” and your siblings are literally punching holes in walls or having mental breakdowns. But, this kind of attitude poisons the well and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to untangle myself from it. I need to see that the father’s prodigal love is just as great for my errant siblings and just as genuine and available for me. One does not negate the other.

So, how do we move from resentment to gratitude? We have to look through and beyond our resentment to see that the father’s love is available to us every day. Nouwen says, “Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice…There is always a choice between resentment and gratitude because God has appeared in my darkness, urged me to come home, and declared in a voice filled with affection, ‘You are with me always, all I have is yours.’”

 

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Today I will choose gratitude. I mean, really, there is so much to be thankful for. I’m sitting at a retreat center, looking out the window at leafy green trees moving in a gentle breeze. I have a loving spouse, meaningful work, a full and beautiful life. Today, and for the next two weeks, I will focus on choosing gratitude and letting go of resentment. Want to try it with me? Let me know how it goes.

 

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To learn more about spiritual practices, check out my book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening

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Spiritual Practice: Gospel Contemplation

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This series of spiritual practices is in celebration of my book release: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening now available wherever eBooks are sold!

We previously tried the spiritual practice of Lectio Divina and today we will begin Gospel Contemplation. The two are similar but not the same.

Gospel Contemplation comes to us from St. Ignatius of Loyola. It was described back before scriptures were readily available to the laity and there was a lot of illiteracy. It was a way to engage in prayer and scripture imaginatively.

It’s not hard:

  1. Chose a short passage where Jess interacts with someone. If you are using a different holy book, active passages are the easiest to start with.
  2. Read the passage twice.
  3. Then close your eyes and enter the passage in your mind. Let all of your senses become engaged: What do you see, hear, smell, taste? Look around you, who is there, where are you? In the Crowd? Which character in the story might you be? One of the disciples? An onlooker?
  4. At some point, you can choose to interact with Jesus. Ask him, “What do you want to say to me?” and listen for the answer. Or bring another question.
  5. If you are highly imaginative, you may want to find a grounding memory outside of the story, a time you felt fully loved, to pull you back out of the story if you get too involved.

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Now, let’s try it:

Read this story twice, then let yourself engage. Jesus might ask you the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”

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Mark 10:46-52 New International Version

 

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

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Who were you in the story? What did Jesus say when you interacted?

I hope this was a meaningful experience for you. It can take the fear out of Bible Reading and make if fun, interesting and life changing. Let me know if you try it!

 

Photo Credits

Candles

Blind Bartimaeus 

 

Spiritual Practice: Visio Divina

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We are nearing the end of our series on Spiritual Practices. I wanted to do this series to lead up to the promotion of my new book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening which is now available wherever eBooks are sold.

Today we will talk about Visio Divina (Latin: Divine Seeing). It is very similar to Lectio Divina which you can read about here. Instead of meditating on scripture or poetry or other holy writings, you are meditating on something visual.

There is great precedent for this in scripture (visions and dreams, metaphors from nature) and in history with icons, as I discussed in my last blog.

Basically, we approach a picture or something in nature, with openness and spend time (about 20 minutes) gazing at something beautiful or meaningful with a prayerful attitude. Then, you ask yourself some questions. The following set of instructions comes from the Patheos website:

As your prayer deepens, open yourself to what the image might reveal to you. What does it and the Spirit want to say, evoke, make known, or express to you as you attend to it in quiet meditation? Become aware of the feelings, thoughts, desires, and meanings evoked by the image and how they are directly connected to your life.

(choose one of these images to try)

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Does it evoke for you important meanings or values, remind you of an important event or season, or suggest a new or different way of being? What desires and longings are evoked in your prayer? How do you find yourself wanting to respond to what you are experiencing? Take the time to respond to God in ways commensurate with your prayer: gratitude, supplication, wonder, lament, confession, dance, song, praise, etc.

Then spend some time journaling your insights. I find this spiritual practice very refreshing and look forward to trying it with you for the next two weeks.

Let’s see how we do!

 

Today’s the Day!!! Book Launch Day.

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Today is book launch day for The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. Here’s what people are saying:

“The Retreat is a colorful and winsome story that underscores howmuch contemplative practice is needed in our modern times.”
~Phileena Heuertz,author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Lifeand Founding Partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

“For those who have beeninjured by involvement in a church, or other Christian group, or those whosimply find evangelicalism to be constraining, The Retreat, is likeopening a window for fresh air.”
~Rev. Dr. Paul Sorrentino, Directorof Religious & Spiritual Life and Protestant Advisor at Amherst College andauthor of A Transforming Vision: Multiethnic fellowshipin college and in the Church.

“JacciTurner has found a creative way to introduce people to contemplative
practices, thusproviding a vista of the transformative process that occurs
when one slows down, reflects more deeply, andis increasingly open to the
present moment.”

~Douglas Gregg Founder and Director of Christian Formation and Direction Ministries and Co-Author of Disciplines of the Holy Spirit.

Join my happiness! Read the book. Write a Review. Share the JOY!!

Spiritual Practice: Reading Icons

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Review: Last time we talked about The Welcoming Prayer. It has been really good for me to practice this discipline. Since I’m not eating sugar or drinking wine, sitting with and welcoming my difficult feelings has been a daily activity. How has it gone for you?

This is an ongoing series on trying different contemplative prayer practices leading up to the release of my new book, The Retreat: A Tale Of Spiritual Awakening.

Today I want to talk about Reading Icons. I think about this as, “praying icons,” but the ancient practice says that icons are not painted, they are “written,” and therefore meant to be “read.”

People that write icons go through years of training and it is a very spiritual process for them. Icons tell a story, but they contain deep truth about God. They were a way for non-literate people to learn about God, and for us now they can be a window or doorway into the presence of God.

First, you have to understand why they look how they look. When I first saw icons, I thought they were just ugly paintings. Then someone explained to me that icons are written with inverse perspective. We are used to a perspective with the vanishing point in the distance, things get smaller to show depth in a painting. Icons are the opposite. The vanishing point is set out, behind us, drawing us into the painting, inviting us in.

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Consider this famous icon: Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity. It is two things: The story of Abram entertaining angels at the Oak of Mamre, and it is the trinity, father, son and spirit, inviting us to sit with them at a table.

There are deep and intricate explanations of this icon on the internet. For brevity’s sake, I will share only a few of them here. The Father is on the left, wearing heavenly colors, a staff authority is in his hand, and the other hand is blessing his son. The Son is in the middle, wearing earthy and heavenly colors, a staff of authority is in his hand, and he is blessing the chalice. The spirit is wearing the colors of water and heaven and he also holds the staff of authority. His hand invites us to sit at the table with them. See the opening at the table where we are invited into this holy communion? Notice how their heads incline toward one another?

I invite you to sit and read this icon. Put yourself at this table and let yourself feel what it is like to sit with each member of the trinity. You might have one reaction to the Father and a completely different one to the Son, or to the Spirit. You are welcomed in. How does it feel to be there? Let me know if you try it and how you relate to the different persons of the trinity.  If you enjoy the experience of reading an Icon, this book really helped to guide me through reading others.

The Open Door: Entering the Sanctuary of Icons and Prayer by Frederica Mathewes-Green 

Photo Credit Partial Icon, Full Icon

 

Spiritual Practices: The Welcoming Prayer

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Last month I introduced you to the practice of having a Spiritual Director. I love having one and if you are wanting to go deeper with God,  I hope you will consider finding one for yourself.  If you’re wondering why we are doing these bi-monthly practices, see the note below. *

Today I want to talk about the Welcoming Prayer. I’m going to be trying this one during lent. It is the process of welcoming deep feelings that get triggered throughout our day.

I don’t like deep negative feelings. With my reaction, I want to eat sugar or drink wine. Since about a month ago, I gave up both of these in favor of a healthier body, and my feelings are now more front and center. I’m hoping the Welcoming Prayer will take me to a deeper, healthier place.

I’ve borrowed information, with permission, from my favorite website, The Gravity Center, to help explain the Welcoming Prayer. It’s a fairly simple but powerful practice. Here is part of their description:

“The Welcoming Prayer is a method of actively letting go of thoughts and feelings that support the false-self system.

Developed by Mary Mrozowski, one of the founders of Contemplative Outreach, the Welcoming Prayer invites God to dismantle the emotional programs of the false-self system and to heal the emotional wounds we’ve stored in the body.

The method of the Welcoming Prayer includes noticing the feelings, emotions, thoughts and sensations in your body, welcoming them, and then letting them go.”

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Instructions

When you have an overly emotional experience in daily life, take a moment to be still and silent and follow these steps.

  1. Focus, to feel and sink into the feelings, emotions, thoughts, sensations and commentaries in your body.
  2. Welcome God in the feelings, emotions, thoughts, commentaries or sensations in your body by saying, “Welcome.”
  3. Let go by repeating the following sentences:
  • “I let go of the desire for security, affection, control.”
  • “I let go of the desire to change this feeling/sensation

 

So, that’s it, easy peasy right? We’ll see in about two week how easy it is. I just tried it and may still have tears blurring my vision. Thanks for joining me on this quest to try and develop helpful spiritual practices into my life. Let me know what you are trying and if it is helpful. Jacci

*I’m writing these bi-weekly blogs to get ready for the release of my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It’s available for pre-order now on all eBook distributors and although it’s fiction, it has a lot of wonderful resources for expanding your contemplative practices.

Photo Credit: Empty Hands, Hands with plant

 

Spiritual Practices: Spiritual Direction

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Hello and welcome to my bi-monthly blog on spiritual practices*. Last time my wonderful spiritual director guest blogged about Centering Prayer because it was not a practice I had tried consistently. I must say, it wasn’t easy for me these last two weeks. Some days were easier than others. Some days it was an exercise in frustration. How did it go for you? The verdict is still out for me, but so many of my friends love this discipline that I will keep trying.

Today I thought it would be wise to talk about Spiritual Direction as I often mention my own spiritual director as the source of wisdom in my journey. I am also a certified spiritual director and a certified supervisor of spiritual directors; but I still remember about ten years ago, someone asked if I was a spiritual director and I had no idea what they were talking about — so let me explain.

A spiritual director, also known as a spiritual companion, is someone who comes along side you in your spiritual journey. They are not a therapist or life-coach. Usually, they meet with you once a month for only an hour, and usually they receive a fee, typically about $40. 

Path splits two directions, fork in the road

Maybe the best way to describe the discipline is to paint the picture of a spiritual direction appointment; so, join me in my prayer room if you will. You would be welcomed into my cozy prayer room, seated across from me in a comfortable chair, and we might chat a bit about how you are. Then, I’d ask if you’re ready for me to light the candle. If you said yes, I’d light a candle and say something like, “This candle reminds us that we are in the presence of the holy.”

You see, the role of a director is to set the table for you in the presence of the holy one. This is a conversation between three people. Then I might say, “How would you like to start? Shall we breathe for a moment, while you collect your thoughts? Take your time and start whenever you are ready.

Then the session starts. You would talk about whatever is front-of-mind and I will listen, ask occasional questions to help you notice themes, or go deeper into a subject that seems important. An example of a good question might be, “Where do you see God in this?”

At the end of our time together, I’ll ask you how you’d like to close: In silence? Would you like to pray? Would you like me to pray for you?” And then we’d set up our next meeting.

Spiritual Direction can be a wonderful spiritual discipline to receive when you are finding the old ways of prayer aren’t really working for you as well, or perhaps when you are in a difficult life transition, or you just want to go deeper in your relationship with God. Directors can be found in your area through the website, Spiritual Directors International but remember you should interview several to find one that truly fits for you.

Does Spiritual Direction sound like something you’d like to try? Let me know and I’ll try to help you find a director in your area.

*This blog series is leading up to the release of my latest book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It is available for pre-order now!

Photo credit chairs

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Spiritual Practice: Centering Prayer

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Hi all,

As you know I’m doing on a series on contemplative prayer practices to help prepare for the release of my new book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening (now available for pre-order Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks and Google Play).

I really want to tell you about Centering Prayer, as it is a very popular form of contemplative prayer, but the thing is…truthfully, I don’t have a centering prayer practice of my own yet. There, I said it. But, I’m willing to try it for two weeks and see how it goes. I hope you will join me in this! I’ve asked my very own spiritual director, Joan, to guest blog. She is the source of many of my blogs (the wisdom behind most of my epiphanies) so I know you will enjoy learning from her with me. Without further ado, Joan Stockbridge.

“I was thrilled when Jacci invited me to write a guest blog on Centering Prayer. It’s the practice that has most transformed my life. And I also needed a nudge to refresh and renew my commitment to the practice! So thank you Jacci.

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Centering Prayer is a contemporary expression of ancient Christian practices. It was developed by Father Thomas Keating who wanted to expand awareness of Christianity’s rich contemplative tradition.  I first learned of Centering Prayer from an article in Time Magazine! It soon became a very important part of my prayer life, gradually bringing me deep peace and a sense of God’s indwelling presence. It’s an essential part of my commitment to ongoing conversion, helping me open to God’s love while also releasing fears and obstacles to that love.

Centering Prayer sounds very simple.

  1. Choose your love word (also known as your sacred word). This word will be your reminder to yourself that you are surrendering to God during the prayer time. My word is God.
  1. Set a timer and sit comfortably, with your eyes closed. Say the love word silently to yourself as a symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
  1. As thoughts arise, let them go. This is the hard part. One teacher has said, “Be gentle with yourself. The heart beats. The lungs breathe. And the mind thinks.” It is natural to have a rush of thoughts. The practice is to gently, without judgment, notice that you are having thoughts, and then to return to the sacred word. During an introductory workshop, a participant once said to Fr. Keating, “In the last 5 minutes, I had 5,000 thoughts!” And Fr. Keating replied, “How wonderful! 5,000 opportunities to return to God.”
  1. When the timer goes off, spend a couple of minutes giving thanks for whatever has happened. Many people like to conclude their Centering Prayer period with the Our Father or another favorite prayer.

See www.contemplativeoutreach.org for a lot more information. And there is a beautiful centering prayer meditation available for free on the Insight Meditation application for smartphones. If you download the application, search for Maria Gullo’s Centering Prayer.  Her gentle voice and clear instructions are very helpful.”

Thank you Joan! I’m ready to try it, who’s with me?

Candle Photo Credit

Spiritual Practice: Living with Intention

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Every two weeks, I’ve been posting a blog about a different spiritual practice, and you, hopefully, have been trying them with me. For more information as to why we are doing this, read the bottom paragraph. *

Review: Last week we talked about breath prayers. Did you try it? It’s such a lovely, easy way to bring prayer into your day, isn’t it?

Today I want to talk about Living with Intention.

Every time I go to yoga, my instructor starts a session by asking us to choose an “Intention” for our practice. The first time I went, that was a new idea for me, but I’ve found that it helps to have something to go back to when my mind wanders or when the pose is hard to hold. Sometimes this intention sets the mood for my day or even my week.

About a decade ago, I started picking an intention for each new year. This would be a word, a phrase, or a scripture, to sort of “pray into” for the year.

For example, when my kids were younger I remember picking the phrase, “People are not an interruption” – two years in a row! I really needed help remembering that.

When I was going through a particularly hard time, and the voices coming at me were overwhelming, I chose the image of living with blinders on. The idea was to keep my eyes on Jesus and what I believed he was calling me to do, instead of being distracted by all the negative things coming my way.

How do you find an intention? Well, first you need to set aside some time to reflect on last year and sort of brainstorm about this year. Recently, a friend of mine wrote a blog with some great questions to help this process. I encourage you took click on her blog to see the questions! I took her questions on a recent silent retreat and journaled through them.

Then finally, I came to a word that kept surfacing as I answered these questions and spoke to my spiritual director about them. The word was contentment. This year my husband is retiring. That will be very new for us and will come with a large loss of income. There is a verse in Philippians that I have always loved; it says in 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

I feel content in my life right now. I like my job, I like my church, I like my life. As we begin a new chapter, I want to stay in the place of contentment.

Well, that’s my intention for the year. I’d love to hear yours!

*As you may know, my newest book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening, will be out in March 28th through Harper Legend (pssst, you can actually pre-order it on Amazon right now). This book is fiction, but came out of my time at the Grounding Retreat. In anticipation of its release, I invite you to join me on a journey of spiritual awakening as we try different spiritual practices together. As I said above, every two weeks, I will blog about a different spiritual practice; we can try it together and discuss how it is or isn’t working for you! Ready, set, GO!

Photo Credit

 

Spiritual Practice: Breath Prayer

 

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Every two weeks, I’ve been posting a blog about a different spiritual practice, and you, hopefully, have been trying them with me. For more information, as to why we are doing this, read the bottom paragraph.*  

Review: The Labyrinth, how did it go? Did you find one in a strange place? If not, keep looking; they are around and worth the search.

This week we are going to try something called “A Breath Prayer,” also known as “The Jesus Prayer.” This way of praying has been around a long time — since the sixth century! It’s a very easy discipline to learn and helps a lot when you are stressed. Traditionally monks would pray these phrases as they took slow even breaths. The phrase comes from comes from the verse,  Luke 18:10-14 and is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

This has been shortened over time to “Lord Jesus, have mercy,” or even “Jesus, Mercy.”

When I was at a wonderful “Grounding Retreat” at the Gravity Center in Nebraska, we learned a few variations on this prayer and you can try them all on their helpful website:  https://gravitycenter.com/practice/breath-prayer/

Heres one that stuck with me: The leader, Chris, asked us to think of a name God would call us, to listen for a name specific to us from the holy. I listened and heard the name, “My Beloved.” Then he had us think of our heart’s greatest need from God in that moment. For me, the issue was TRUST. I was just coming off a very difficult time and in need of a job; my future was uncertain and my heart was sore. So, my breath prayer became, “My Beloved, Trust Me.”

I got to practice this breath prayer immediately when leaving the conference for the airport that day. My ride was late and I practiced breathing and praying all the way to the airport. I remembered I could trust God. God has always been faithful in my life. As I was standing in the body scanning machine with my hands over my head, praying, “My Beloved, Trust Me,” I heard my named called over the loudspeaker. “Final boarding call for Jacci Turner.” And I knew then, that even if I missed my plane, it wouldn’t be the end of the world; I could trust that God was good and would take care of me. And, I made it on that plane too, dirty looks from those waiting passengers and all.

So, take a moment, think of what name the Spirit wants to give you. Then listen for what you most need right now. Put them together to make your own breath prayer for the next two weeks. Try praying it in traffic jams, check-out lines, waiting for your child to buckle their car seat or on your way to work. Let me know how it goes!

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*As you may know, my newest book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening, will be out in March 28th through Harper Legend (pssst, you can actually pre-order it on Amazon right now). This book is fiction, but came out of my time at the Grounding Retreat. In anticipation of it’s release, I invite you to join me on a journey of spiritual awakening as we try different spiritual practices together. As I said above, every two weeks, I will blog about a different spiritual practice; we can try it together and discuss how it is or isn’t working for you! Ready, set, GO!

Breath Photo Credit