Praying Hands

While looking through a website of old paintings, I got this crazy idea that one of Dürer’s drawings might be nice project. I chose the Praying Hands.

Maybe this was not such a good idea because I am sure he took more than one day to do one of these masterpieces but it was a good learning experience. Among other things because I forgot that most red chalks are greasy. I did the second layer with red chalk and then had problems putting the sepia chalk in top of it. It gives an interesting effect but I am sure there is a better way to do it. For example, I could have put red chalk where I want to have the highlights. Nevertheless, I quite like the overall impression even though it is a far cry from Dürer’s masterpiece.

Praying Hands
Praying Hands


Calligraphic Prayer

Here is another attempt with Arabic calligraphy. It seems to be one of the more famous ones on the internet, and can be found on stock photography sites and as wall tattoo. I found it originally on a book of “Prayers in Islam”. It is based on a calligraphy from 1864 in Iran.

Arabische Kalligrafie 2 * Arabic Calligraphy 2
Arabische Kalligrafie 2 * Arabic Calligraphy 2

The translation is

Lord, make it easy
& don’t make it difficult.
– Lord, make it end well.

Everything is Yours

Take, Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will – all that I have and call my own. You have given it all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.

~Ignatius of Loyola – Prayer for the conclusion of his Spiritual Exercises

Developing Intimacy with God

Aronis, Alexander Basile. 2003. Developing intimacy with God : an eight-week prayer guide based on Ignatius’ “Spiritual exercises”. 1st ed. Makati City, Philippines: Union Church of Manila. (book review)

The book has developed out of the author’s dissertation about Ignatius’ “Spiritual Exercises” as a model for spiritual direction 20 years before writing the book. During this time the author refined his understanding and teaching about ‘Devotional Prayer’ by serving as a spiritual director for many people.

The book includes prayer exercises for every day of the eight-week period, teaching and using different types of prayer and skills necessary to reach the goal:

“increase your love for Christ, broaden your self-understanding, connect you with vital spiritual principles, intensify your desire to become more like Jesus, and strengthen your commitment to serve him by serving others.” (1)

It can be used by individuals or by groups. Ideally an individual working through the book could have a mentor or spiritual director for feedback, but the book is written in a way that it can be used as the only spiritual guide.

The author defines ‘Devotional Prayer’ as the objective to develop “intimate knowledge of Christ that I might be with him, become like him, and live for him.” This theme of “with – like – for” him helps to keep the perspective. The threefold perspective is reflected in nearly every exercise.

The book is divided into five parts:

Part I – seeing yourself as God sees you (week 1)
Part II – the life and ministry of Christ (week 2-6)
Part III – the suffering of Christ (week 7)
Part IV – the resurrection of Christ (week 8 )

Every week starts with some introductory teaching about different prayer styles and related topics, which are then practiced during the exercises of the week. Each daily exercise focuses on a biblical passage using different ways of reflecting on it.

For example, in one week the author explains the different types of prayer, such as preparatory prayer, meditative reading, imaginative contemplation, heart prayer, prayer of petition, prayer of adoration, prayer of rest and infused prayer. In another week he introduces the reader to four types of insight – principle insight, attachment insight, interior insight and detachment insight. Another time the author expands on themes such as the “Four Degrees of Humility,” why we experience desolation, or how to rest in the Lord. Every week finishes with experiences from “Friends on the Journey” which can help answer certain questions or responds to problems many people have.

Listing these concepts may sound very theoretical and overwhelming, and it can be difficult to remember the different terms. However, since they are introduced gradually and practiced for one week before other new concepts are presented, one is able to grow into them and absorb them into one’s personal practice. Not every style is for everybody but practicing all the styles for a time helps to discover new approaches to prayer and find out which ones are most beneficial for oneself. The goal is not theoretical knowledge but real intimacy with God so as to reach the objective:

“be with him, become like him, and live for him.”

The book has been a real blessing to me and I recommend it highly. I believe that every individual working through it will grow in their relationship with Christ, even though the effects will be different for each person.

In closing, I want to mention and underline one aspect that I found especially interesting:

When reading the Bible or listening to a sermon most insights fall into four categories – principle insights (general principle, fundamental truth), attachment insights (something that inspires me to love God more), interior insights (increases self-understanding), and detachment insights (things that we need to let go of, that hinder our devotion to God). We need all of these types of insights, but it is the Attachment Insights that we need most because they motivate us to become more like Christ. Many of us, especially pastors and teachers tend to focus on Principle Insights but spiritual principles will not lead to increased delight in or intimacy with the Lord during prayer, and therefore not have the same transformational effect as an Attachment Insight. The reality of Christ’s love and presence shines best through people who know how to cherish Attachment Insights.

Does this surprise me? No, not really but until now I had not made this connection. It is nothing new that rules and principles rarely lead to transformation but relational modeling and healthy attachment can do that. Therefore we are more likely to grow in our relationship with God and be transformed into his image when we let our hearts be attracted to the person and work of Jesus than when we just focus on general principles.  In practical terms, this means if a text triggers different types of insights in us, and we sense no special guidance by the Spirit to focus on one of them, it is best to focus on an Attachment Insight if you want to become more like Christ.

An enabler asks for help

An Enabler Asks for Help

Someone I love is buried
beneath fear and paralysis.
She has forgotten how gloriously You made her.
And I seem to have forgotten that Your love for her
far exceeds my limited version.

Forgive me for the many years I’ve rushed in to do Your job. (As if!)
My trust in You has been wavering and impatient.
But how do I watch a train-wreck like this?
How do I resist the crazy urge to stand in front of the train
that threatens the life of my loved one?

Watching her suffer has moved me to act.
But has it moved me to sit and seek Your solution?

Not until now. Finally. The uncertainty scares me, though.
Putting ‘my rescue-plan’ on hold makes me feel uncaring
and negligent. But I am actually trying to practice radical trust
in You. Please help me be strong enough to be with her
without feeling responsible for her life.

This grip is horrible to hold, and so hard to release.

May my faith in You be sufficient
to stop this train, and get these filthy whites clean.

– Erika Harris

Meditating and prayer – Laundry + Prayer: I Don’t See the Difference – Prayables

God, Speak to Me

God, Speak to Me

The man whispered
“God, speak to me”
and a meadowlark sang.
But the man did not hear.

So the man yelled
“God speak to me!”
And the thunder rolled across the sky,
But the man did not listen.

The man looked around and said,
“God let me see you”
And a star shone brightly
But the man did not notice.

And the man shouted,
“God show me a miracle”
And a life was born,
But the man did not know.

So, the man cried out in despair,
“Touch me God and let me know that you are here!”
Where upon God reached down and touched the man.
But the man brushed the butterfly away and walked on.

Don’t miss out on God’s blessings, just because they aren’t packaged the way you expect them to be.

~ author unknown

Wandering Minds

How often do we find our minds wandering during prayer? The reason, St. Francis de Sales suggests, is that our minds, which think by concretely re-presenting reality, cannot focus well on abstraction. They will always gravitate to more concrete things. The way to focus our minds in prayer, therefore, is to picture mentally the one to whom we pray and the matter about which we pray.

~ Gregory A. Boyd (in Seeing is Believing)

Types of Spirituality

Authentic prayer – which is deeply sensible of God, who speaks out of the depths, and in an awareness of the chaos that surrounds us – requires that we move out of the structure into the antistructure. Here the receptive mode of consciousness is operative.

~Urban T. Holmes, III (in A History of Christian Spirituality)

“All true wisdom is only found far from men, out in the great solitude, and it can be acquired only through suffering. Privations and sufferings are the only things that can open a man’s mind to that which is hidden from others.” (Eskimo shaman speaking to the Danish explorer Rasmussen)

The virtue is not in suffering, per se, rather, suffering tears us away from the anesthetization of orderly comfort and forces us into the antistructure with its alternate mode of experiencing God.

~Corinne Ware (in Discover Your Spiritual Type)

The ‘receptive mode’ refers to the theory of bimodal consciousness and is contrasted with the active mode; ‘structure’ and ‘antistructure’ refer to Victor Turner’s anthropological theory that all relationships fall into these two categories. Relationships defined by structure, value status and role and go together with the action mode.

Restoring relational circuits

Restoring relational circuits.

A few weeks ago I blogged about relational circuits. I included some examples of a longer checklist that help us realize whether our relational circuits are on or off. Here are some more examples:

  • My mind is “locked onto” something upsetting.
  • I just want to get away, or fight or I freeze.
  • I don’t want to be connected to X (someone I usually like).

If you answer some of these questions with yes, it means that your relational circuits are OFF.

So what do you do when your relational circuits are off? That was the topic of the last two classes. I quote from a pocket card from that we received, which included a short checklist on relational circuits and steps to restoring our relational circuits:

My goal is to perceive the Lord’s presence, tell Him about my pain, and receive His shalom so that I can get my relational connection circuits back on line.

My strategy is to quiet my body and then talk to God about my emotions and thoughts even if I don’t perceive His presence yet, I invite the Lord to be with me and help me perceive His presence. I tell others how shalom helped me.

The exercises we learned are hard to explain with a few sentences but maybe I can describe them best as a combination of physical relaxation exercise and of quoting biblical truth to ourselves. Usually, in the first part of each exercise the body posture was a representation of tension, fear, anxiety (incl. fast and brief breathing in) while quoting, for example, “Whenever I am afraid …”. The second part would then be a transition into a relaxed body posture (incl. slowly and lengthy breathing out) and quoting “… I will trust in Thee oh Lord.” (Psalm 56:3)

The one mentioned above is called the “Fear Bomb”. Another one is called “First Aid Yawn” which starts in the First Aid position and includes yawning. Both belong to the group of “Shalom to my body” exercises, aiming at quieting my body (as mentioned in the strategy statement above).

The next two steps for restoring my relational circuits are, in my perception, somewhat similar and are called “Shalom to my soul” and “Lament with God”. In both cases I talk with God about my situation. I found it interesting to learn that talking to God about the other person that I am upset with will not help, but will keep my relational circuits off. I need to talk with God about my own emotions and thoughts (in Shalom to my soul) and about sad things that grieve both God and me (in Lament with God).

Shalom to my soul” is a personal prayer that follows in certain aspects the pattern of many Psalms. It includes describing how I feel at the moment, thoughts that come to my mind when I think about the problem, and what keeps me from experiencing God’s presence. Towards the end, I express how I perceive God at the moment, what I need from him, but at the same time remembering special moments with God in the past and my favorite Bible promises that have helped me in the past. The prayer finishes with asking God to remove barriers that keep me from knowing God’s presence and receiving his shalom.

Lament with God” reflects on the question what good things God wants me to have but that did not happen in this particular situation. This is then formed into a prayer, where I express what exactly are the negative things that happened and were contrary to God’s good plan, by saying: “I am sad that there was …… instead of your gentleness / kindness / mercy / forgiveness / justice / wisdom / comfort. I am saddened like you are. I really need your gentleness / … / etc. to create belonging.” An interesting aspect in this was, that focusing on sadness helps to become relational again and find shalom, while a focus on fear and anger would not be helpful.

The last step, which we will probably address in the next class, is called “Grow my shalom” through appreciation exercises.

All of these are steps to help me have “Godsight” – seeing myself and others like God sees them – and thereby turning my relational circuits on again. I will write more on what Godsight means in another post. [N.B. 2015 – recently they started using the term iSight as in Immanuel Sight instead.]

Seeing is believing

I am presently reading “Seeing is believing” by Gregory A. Boyd (2004). He’s got an interesting point about the importance of picturing spiritual realities with our inner eyes.

In my twenty-three years as a pastor I found that the primary difference between those who love worship and are impacted by worship, on the one hand, and those who never seem to enjoy it or get much out of it,on the other, is not that one group is simply more spiritual or committed than the other. Rather, the fundamental difference, I have found, is that something’s happening in the minds of the first group that isn’t happening in the minds of the other.

In the same way, I have generally found that the difference between those who spend a good deal of time and get a lot out of prayer and those who do not is not necessarily that the first group is more mature and committed than the second group. Rather, they usually pray more because it feels real to them. And the reason it feels real to them is because something is going on in their minds when they pray that tends to be absent in the minds of those of us who find prayer laborious, boring and unreal. … They pray ‘with all five senses.'” p 100 (italics in the original)

I fond this very interesting because it is certainly true for me. But I thought it is just God’s way of communicating with me, based on how he created me, as I am rather visual (painting, photography) and because I am generally thinking in pictures, which I am told is typical for dyslectic people.

Now I am curious what you think about it.
Would you confirm these statements from your personal experience or not?

Inaugural prayers

I had not planned it, but since my other plans for today did not work out, I eventually decided to join some collegues and watch the inaguration of Obama Barack on TV. It was a first for me in many ways. I realized that I had never seen an inauguration before, maybe because I hardly ever owned a TV. It was interesting for me as non-American but here I only want to comment on the two inaugural prayers:

I had not been aware of the discussion that seemingly has happened before the inauguration, whether Rick Warren will pray in the name of Jesus or not. From what I read and hear now (here and here), I get the impression that no matter what he would do, somebody would critize him. I thought he did a great job in many ways. I really liked that he pronounced Jesus’ name according to different languages and traditions:

“We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus, who taught us to pray: … ”
(quoted here).

I did not know the guy who gave the final benediction, Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, but I was quite intriged by him. It seems that he has the same problem as Rick Warren – no matter what he did, he would be critizied either from one side or the other. I liked his humorous rhyming refrain at the end, but  some people seem to take offence with it, especially the reference to the white people (see comments here):

“We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right.” (quoted here).

I am glad to have watched it, as I, too, feel that it was a historical moment.