Our church recently held a day of prayer to introduce the congregation to the practice of contemplative prayer. We built it around the meditation by Juliet Benner on Jan Vermeer’s Christ in the House of Mary and Martha from the Fall 2006 issue of Conversations. We held the event in the main auditorium of our church and left copies of the painting, some introductory paragraphs from the article, and also some of Mrs. Benner’s reflective questions at a number of stations within the auditorium. We then projected the painting on the screen in the front of the church, and I narrated Mrs. Benner’s meditation on it from the sound room. During the meditation we introduced several one- and two-minute periods of silence to allow time for reflection. We also had three musical breaks during which we listened to or participated in singing before returning to the next phase of the meditation.
The whole experience was new to many people, but the response was good. Some struggled with even one minute’s silence, finding it boring, but many came away saying they will never again read that passage of scripture (Luke 10:38–42) without visualizing the painting. Many told us how much they appreciated the amazing depths of those few lines of scripture. Several commented on the timely challenge to be still and know God.
We learned heaps, were greatly enriched, and will definitely be doing this again in the future.
Thank you for your generosity in allowing us to use Juliet Benner’s meditation. I’m happy to say that one of the other pastors is now also going to be subscribing to Conversations.
With faith, hope and love in Christ,
Helensvale Baptist Church
I love your magazine. I read it over and over. I have used the current issue on Contemplative Prayer in my devotions. I would also like to thank Dr. Larry Crabb for an article that is deep and meaningful but written without using lots of words that have to be looked up in the dictionary. It was easy to understand but with great spiritual teaching.
Thank you for a wonderful study tool.
Contemplation and Social Action
Because the culture in which I was raised (the Philippines) values being within a relational context over doing, living contemplatively has been second nature to me from a very young age. Of course, I never identified my response as contemplation. But it was the only response to life I knew and the most natural response to God.
Then God moved me to North America, where evangelical Christians taught me another way to live—the way of reason and critical thinking. Thankfully, in 1981 God allowed me the privilege of sitting in Dr. James Houston’s class, where I was introduced to the writings of Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton. This began my integration of intuitions shaped by the East with cognitions shaped by the West. I still struggle to integrate both voices as I sit at Christ’s feet. Often, when this struggle becomes too heavy to bear, Christ pulls me up on his lap and reassures me that all is well.
Because God seems to have positioned me as a bridge between brothers and sisters who sit around this table of conversation and those who struggle to rise out of our culture’s gutters, I would like to encourage Conversations to move the discussion one step further. I would like to hear more about the contemplative lifestyle as an antidote to the sense of entitlement that covertly creates a complacence among many of us who call ourselves Christ’s disciples. I would like this conversation to empower the Church to love the unlovely. After all, contemplative prayer is not an end in itself but the school that teaches us to become the lovers Christ calls us to be.
Marisol Achanzar McRae
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
My Spiritual Director Dog
I have thought of my Australian Cattle Dog, Wrangler, as many things—a Blue Heeler, a curious and always hungry dog, a great buddy, but never as a spiritual director. That is, until this past Sunday.
It had been a very cold night, so I let Wrangler sleep inside. When I woke and was saying a morning prayer, he got just as close to me as he could, then went out to eat.
I continued a time of reflection, reading an article by David Benner on the practice of contemplative prayer, which he describes as the dance of “being with God.”
Prayer in all its forms is nothing more than a response to the Divine invitation to friendship. Contemplative prayer is simply offering ourselves in faith and openness to God, spending time in silence with our Beloved, who, we dare to trust, longs to spend that time with us. (David Benner, “Being With God: The Practice of Contemplative Prayer,” Conversations, Fall 2006, pp. 6–12)
This past month has been very full, and I have felt in a kind of spiritual fog much of the time. So his words struck home to my heart. But how was I to begin to re-practice God’s presence?
It was time to take Wrangler for a walk. He is usually so eager to bound out, but this morning he was keeping in very close step with me. For several weeks we had been going to dog training and together learning that when I say “with me,” he is to stay right by me and not strain ahead. He is so strong and eager it has not been easy to learn!
But that’s exactly what he was doing. When we got to a favorite woodsy area and sat on a bridge in the sun, he sat as close to me as he could and put his head on my lap. I remembered how he did the same thing when we got up.
Wrangler wanted to be “with me,” just to be together in the sun and quiet of that cold Sunday morning. When we walked, I didn’t have to hold him back. When I sat, he sat. There were no words at first, just the warm feeling of each other’s company and that we belonged together.
As Wrangler and I sat on the bridge, I said over and over, “Be still and know that I am God.” He listened attentively to my voice.
And that’s when I realized Wrangler Blue Dog had been my spiritual director, at least for the day. He did not tell me what I had to do. He just showed me by his actions, without a word. It was as if the Lord had told him, “Wrangler, show that friend of yours that he doesn’t have to make some great effort, practice some heroic discipline. All he has to do is be with me, and soak in my Word and my Presence. Show him I just want him to stay with me.”
Wrangler is not yet listed on a web site of available spiritual directors. But perhaps he should be.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Truth in Love
It is a great joy to share each issue of Conversations with several colleagues in ministry. When I received the notice about your special for Christmas gifts, I immediately thought of others I would like to share it with. I know they will appreciate the journal as much as I do. I read and reread articles. They are always a source of encouragement, even though they are always a source of great challenge. The writers are candid, honest, and speak the truth in love. I find it a breath of fresh air.
Rev. Frances Savill
Richmond Presbyterian Church,
Dear Juliet (and others at Conversations):
Thank you for the beautiful presentation of my work on the cover of the Spring 2005 issue, and for the faithful reporting of our conversation about my devotional work in calligraphy. Your insightful questions helped to bring out thoughts I never had published before.
With much appreciation,