Psalm 120

I am grieving. I am afraid. I am sorry.


In my distress I cry to the Lord,
   that he may answer me:
 ‘Deliver me, O Lord,
   from lying lips,
   from a deceitful tongue.’

 What shall be given to you?
   And what more shall be done to you,
   you deceitful tongue?
 A warrior’s sharp arrows,
   with glowing coals of the broom tree!

 Woe is me, that I am an alien in Meshech,
   that I must live among the tents of Kedar.
Too long have I had my dwelling
   among those who hate peace.
 I am for peace;
   but when I speak,
   they are for war.


A light shines in the darkness…

Spiritual Junk Food

We are seven days away from an election that has dominated the national consciousness for over a year. An election mired in sexual assault allegations, email security, racism and xenophobia, and even some violence. Not only that, but last week water protectors in North Dakota were violently removed from sacred land facing destruction by the Dakota Access Pipeline. We have continued to witness police brutality against African Americans, the steady stream of Syrian refugees fleeing their homes, and the assault on Mosul. This is just a handful of the messages and stories we are consuming daily, and if I’m being honest, I’m starting to get spiritual gut-rot.

Honestly, it is exhausting to be an informed and concerned citizen. The constant stream of negativity that comes across our Twitter feeds or cable news is simply too much for one person to bear. It feels like we’re being continually pushed down before we’re even able to stand back up. The temptation is to say screw it, walk away, and shut out the world. I have some video games that haven’t been played in ages, maybe I could spend my time trying to kill dragons instead. Sometimes it seems that this tactic might be more productive than trying to engage a world that feels so damn broken.

But, for those of us trying to follow Jesus, this temptation is one that we need to resist. We cannot simply exit the world emotionally without also turning our back on Christ. In July at St. John’s Abbey, our Oblate Retreat was led by Sister Christian Morris. Sister Morris asked us to consider where we could see Christ dying in our midst. This struck me as a very powerful lens through which to see the world, and the seemingly hopeless litany of tragedy and evil that often comes with it. Sister Morris played a video for us that strung together images of Syria, Black Lives Matter protests, gun violence, and other tragic narratives that we have encountered over the last year. As the video ended she reminded us, however, that the story doesn’t end with the cross, but with the empty tomb, asking us to stand in hope of resurrection. It reminded me of Tony Campolo’s famous sermon “It may be Friday now, but Sundays coming…”

Now that’s all well and good, and I do think that this is the challenge and the duty of the Christian; to proclaim resurrection to a world that proclaims death, but sometimes that duty feels just too damn difficult. While the grace of God can swallow whole the horror of this world, sometimes as people, we just get tired. And often we find that our spiritual health works an awful lot like our bodily health. When you get tired and run down, your spiritual immune system weakens, and all that toxic sludge starts to eat away at you. You begin to believe in the hopelessness, even calling it realism. Apathy starts to take the place of empathy, and before you know it, you’ve retreated from the world completely. Often we don’t even realize this has happened until we’re already bogged down in it.

Joan Chittister says it perfectly in her book Wisdom Distilled From the Daily:

“…without prayer, the energy for the rest of life runs down. The fuel runs out. We become our own worst enemies: we call ourselves too tired and too busy to pray when, in reality, we are too tired and too busy not to pray. Eventually the burdens of the day wear us down and we no longer remember why we decided to do what we’re doing…And if I cannot remember why I decided to do this, I cannot figure out how I can go on with it. I am tired and the vision just gets dimmer and dimmer”. **

I think this is where Benedictine spirituality has a lot of wisdom. For Benedict, the monastery is governed by the rhythm of the Work of God, the Liturgy of the Hours. This constant and daily prayer and recitation, along with the monk’s daily tasks, grounds the community in the present moment. It reminds the individual that there is something greater than the fear and negativity one might encounter, and it reminds the community that only together can we challenge the prevailing narrative. This is what Benedict is saying in his introduction, “First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to (God) most earnestly to bring it to perfection” *. By centering ourselves first in the spiritual well-being of our own person, and then in the community, we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, or rather, the light within the darkness of the tunnel. As Chittister said, it reminds us why we are doing what it is we are doing.

I have found this to be true from my own experience. When I begin to feel weakened by the stress of my own life, and overwhelmed by the negativity and tragedy of the world, the first thing that I often neglect is my spiritual practice and the small daily tasks that need to be completed. This often snowballs, and before I know it I’ve binge watched some show on Netflix, the dishes are stacking up, laundry is out of control, and the thought of a time of silence makes me shudder. I completely disengage from the world and from myself. I ignore the news in favor of entertainment, and I neglect silence in favor of distraction. This is spiritual junk food, and as I said before, gut-rot is imminent. I know what it is that I need. I know that I need some good old, organic, free range, spiritual discipline. I need to ground myself in the rhythms of prayer, and the discipline of my daily tasks. This is the practice that plants me firmly in the moment, and rejects the temptation to try and predict the future based solely on the crushing negativity of the world around me. I think this is what hope looks like; a lived life in the face of a world that says life isn’t worth living. As stupid as it might sound, every time I light my candle for prayer, or finish cleaning the dishes, or take the dog for a walk, I feel just a little bit more hopeful. It reminds me that life is good, and re-energizes me to proclaim resurrection in the face of death. Spiritual burnout is inevitable if we are not grounded in the present, in the daily.

For myself, I am rededicating myself to the discipline of daily work and prayer. I intend to spend this week tidying up, domestically and spiritually. I will proclaim resurrection first in my own heart, so that from a place of fullness I can proclaim it to the world. There is so much happening in our world that requires our attention, and the work of our hands. Let’s not neglect our own spiritual, mental, and physical health. Let us act out of a place of wholeness, grounded in the present moment. No more spiritual junk food. It just makes you sick.


*Benedict, and Timothy Fry. RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English.

**Joan Chittister “Wisdom Distilled from the Daily” (Seriously, this is one of the greatest resources our their concerning Benedictine Spirituality)

The Stability of Prayer

I don’t like change. There, I said it. I am a big fan of routine, of things staying the same. It’s comforting to me. It makes me feel like I have some kind of handle on life. If I know what’s coming I can prepare accordingly. I know what to look out for. I know what might make me anxious, and what might distract me. I do not like change. Unfortunately, the last couple of weeks have been rife with change, transition, and disruption. All of it has been positive, but change can be difficult, and a lot of change at once can be downright terrifying.

Last week I started classes at United Theological Seminary. I have been looking forward to seminary for years, and being able to sit in my first class felt like a real accomplishment. It’s one of those few moments where I’ve really let myself feel proud of all the work I’ve done. That being said, graduate school is no small task. A few days in and my head is already swimming with syllabi, assigned readings, and upcoming papers and assignments. I’m writing out lists and putting dates in my calendar in hopes of keeping myself organized. I’m doing my very best to switch back into school mode and stay focused.

Adding to this challenge is the fact that I begin a new job at a new congregation this month. I am leaving the congregation that has been my worshiping community for about six years. This one hurts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly excited for my new role, and I took the job because I know it will be a better fit and a step forward, but when I imagine Sunday morning without the people I have grown to love so much, it makes me very sad. I have a sense that this transition will be the most difficult to adapt to in the coming weeks.

When life transitions or changes, it can be difficult to find stability in the chaos. It has certainly been difficult for me. But this, I believe, is where daily spiritual practice earns its medal. The Benedictines take vows of stability, conversion, and obedience when they enter the monastery. Oblates do the same, and endeavor to carry these vows into their daily lives. For me, so much of this work is done in the discipline of prayer.

When I first began visiting St. John’s Abbey, it was the practice of praying with the brothers that truly drew me in. It was clear that the Daily Office was the central focus of their time together. Regardless of the many distractions and ever changing tasks and duties, the brothers met at the same time every morning, afternoon, and evening to recite the Psalms and pray for their community and the world. It seemed to me that it was this daily routine that ensured the stability of monastic life. Joan Chittister, in her book, Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, writes:

“It is so easy to commit ourselves to this century’s demand for product and action until the product consumes us and the actions exhaust us and we can no longer even remember why we set out to do them in the first place.

But regularity in prayer cures all that. Regularity harnesses us to our place in the universe. Morning and evening, season by season, year after year we watch the sun rise and set, death and resurrection daily come and go, beginnings and endings follow one another without terror and without woe. We come to realize that we are simply small parts of a continuing creation, and we take hope and comfort and perspective from that.” (Chittister *)

This is what the practice of daily prayer has offered me. It has given me a constant in the midst of a world that changes, often suddenly and violently. It has helped me to let go of my need to control the changes in my life. It reminds me each day why I do the things I do. My daily practice is my stability, and it centers me each morning, and each evening. In the morning I ask for guidance; O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me. In the evening I offer praise and thanksgiving. I pray the Psalms, that so beautifully convey the range of human experience and spirituality. I pray for the Church, the world, and all of creation so as to exercise a discipline of empathy. As I pray, I am aware of the people all over the world who pray these same words, recite the same Psalms and hymns, plugging me into an immense community of prayer.

So often the Daily Office provides the wisdom I need to hear, at the moment I need to hear it. This morning the canticle was taken from Isaiah, and spoke so eloquently to this time of transition.

My home is pulled up and removed like a shepherd’s tent. Like a weaver you have rolled up my life, you cut it from the loom.

 It is you who have kept my life from the pit of nothingness. (Isaiah 38:12 & 17)

It is this routine, this daily practice, that creates in me a sense of stability. It provides for me a refuge in the midst of transition, and challenge, and chaos. It is a reminder to let go and settle into the Church’s steady stream of prayer and devotion, to be comforted by its rhythm and its goodness. I have found that when I maintain this practice I find peace and centeredness even in those times where I think there can be none. I think this must be what grace filled stability looks like, and I am so very thankful for it.


  • Joan Chittister “Wisdom Distilled From the Daily” Harper Collins 1991.