Living Prayer Chapter 6- The Road Leads Here

Are you aware of an internal clock that rings in your life from time to time? Is there an alarm that informs you that it’s time to go somewhere or do something? Robert Benson has one and it tells him it is time to go on retreat to pray. It goes off every 21 weeks or so. He became aware of the clock one summer while on a retreat when he heard God speak to him in prayer. As he struggled through questions about his life, the voice said to him; "You promised to follow me wherever I might take you, and this is where we go next. You are here because the road leads here." The road lead him to silence and solitude.

Benson reflects on the life that most of us share. It is a life of hustle and bustle, a life plagued by a competitive motif that goads us further away from ourselves and who we are. We find ourselves running back and forth wondering why life is fleeting and never quite tasting the invisible carrot of contentment that is dangled between us and the golden calf of materialism. There is also the noise that bombards our minds and muffles the still small voice that whispers peace and truth to us. It is the world we live in. It is a world that promises to give so much, but in reality takes from us and diminishes us to something less than human. It is in the midst of this life that Benson hears the clock go off to send him on retreat.

What’s the point of getting away? Benson reflects that he needs time to listen, to examine, and to confess. It’s a time of reorientation for him that brings him back down to earth and grounds him in the direction of God’s voice that is so hard to discern in the midst of the frenetic pace of life. "How is one to hear the Voice if one cannot even hear oneself think?", asks Benson. He goes on to say:

"The Silence that I seek cannot merely be the absence of the numbing noise and debilitating detail of life in our society. It must be something more. It must be a solitude that is transcendent, a stillness that can be found in the midst of the noise, a silence that is portable."

There are a number of positive things that can happen when we make the time to be away in silence and prayer. Benson points to the joy of learning about himself, the life he is called to and the way God speaks to him. The vantage point of stepping back and traversing the latest epoch of time in our lives is invaluable as it can offer us many answers to how we have felt, processed situations, and it helps us discern the way God has walked alongside of us during that time. It also helps understand where we go next.

So where does the road lead for you? Does the compulsion to continue on full speed ahead override the subtle nudge to get away and pray? Or do you answer the bell of the little clock inside that is telling you it’s time to be away for a while where nothing matters more than union with God in prayer?

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Living Prayer Chapter 5 – Office Hours

The following is less a review of Chapter 5 of Robert Benson’s book, Living Prayer, and more a personal reflection about the content of the chapter.

Have you ever examined the pace of your life? How about what motivates and moves you? If you are like most living in Western Culture, you probably feel a compulsion to always be ‘doing’ something. And you probably feel an intense anxiety about life. Chances are you have a hard time recognizing the source of this anxiety.

If we look hard enough, we will see that the world is trying to stick us into its mold. This same world that Jesus loves and died for is imposing its rhythm and values onto us and demands our affection. The ‘life’ imposed is often one that exploits, oppresses, and distorts. Rather than being aware of this, we surrender to the false promises, believing that we can be totally and completely happy in this life if we by more things, or have more money. It’s funny how we do this even when we know it won’t make us happy. What might be an alternative life perspective as children of the good and gracious God we serve?

Have you ever been to a monastery? Have you ever taken the time to learn why groups of men and women live in monastic communities? The reason is prayer. The goal of monastic life is not to escape from the world in a way that disconnects one from the humanity of life, but to learn to live in union with God and march to a superior rhythm: a rhythm of prayer. Being unified with God in prayer is what makes our lives Living Prayer. We become catalysts for God’s love and purpose in this world. This is the theme Benson explores in this chapter.

“Office Hours” is a term that is symbolic of the life lived around set daily prayer times. Most commonly it is five times during each day that faithful Christians gather for prayer. Monks around the world will stop tilling the fields, stop administrative tasks, and stop any other work they are doing to pray. Free from distraction, they pray in unified voice with the Church and the scriptures. They pray when the bell rings.

We live in a world full of timers and alarm clocks that remind us of all sorts of things like: our favorite shows, when work is finally over, when school is out, when to get up, etc. Butt, do we have in our lives a bell that reminds us it’s time to stop and commune with the King? What would our lives look like if we were reminded throughout the day (with a bell?) that God was God alone and not we? That being with Him to learn and do His will is the main priority?

Benson talks about how the monks he observed at the Gethsemane Monastery are ordinary men. They are all shapes and sizes, some with dirt under their fingernails, some old, and some young. Some are cranky and some are kind. They are just plain ordinary, like you and I. They do similar tasks as you and I, as well. However, there is one difference between them and us outside of the fact they live in a monastic community. They are different because of what happens when the bell rings.

When the bell rings at various times in the day, they reorient their lives around God. This is more valuable than anything else in their day. We don’t need to live in a monastery to experience this. All can partake of this rhythm in our days. Imagine if we paused to pray with the Church. How would that shape our lives? Would it give us a more missional perspective? Would it train us to see this world not with our own eyes, but with God’s? The work we put down will still be there when we come back. We lie to ourselves and say: “The work can’t wait!…I’m much to important to stop!” Are we really?

What I’d like to suggest is that we can be monastics without fleeing from the world. We can live a type of ‘embedded’ monastic prayer life right in the midst of the world God wants to redeem. Do you remember the reporters that went into Iraq with the troops? They were embedded. So too can we be embedded. I am convinced that if we orient our lives around God in prayer; if we foster a heart of solitude and devotion to God, we will begin to see this life with God’s eyes. We will be invited into His purposes that do not cause the empty anxiety of chasing false dreams, but rather fills us with an eternal overwhelming joy and peace that surpasses all human understanding and can only be described as life to the full (John 10:10), regardless of trials that may beset us. Is it time to start keeping Office Hours?

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Living Prayer Chapter 4 – Planting Sweet Peas

Are there cycles in your life that you are aware of?  Is there a distinct pattern that you can claim that in some way makes you distinctly who you are?  Chances are some will say yes and some will say no.  There are those who can tell you exactly what they look forward to and when and remember all the wonderful things that make certain times special.  But there are also those who hardly remember and coast from season to season paying little attention to anything.  Which one are you?  Is your life of prayer this way too?

In this chapter, Robert Benson takes us on a journey through his yearly rhythm and tells us how special each time is to him and those he shares his life with. One such important time for him is planting Sweet Peas on St. Valentines day.  Regardless of the weather, he has a tradition of planting sweet peas on that day and he does this because his grandmother told him that if he wants Sweet Peas in the Spring, he needs to plant them on St. Valentine’s Day, in Tennessee, anyway.  What is significant about this for him is that it reminds him of how he longs for the new season of Spring at that particular time late in Winter.  It calls him to attention of the cycles in his life and reminds him that there will be light and there will be dark, there will be good and there will be bad as life ebbs and flows. 

This is true of a life of prayer as well.  Benson says that, “In some ways it is a journey without a destination; we have already arrived all the time.”  In prayer we will go through ups and downs and unless we are willing to live in the seasons we are in danger of letting the valuable lessons of grace pass us by.  Sadly, most will just try to rush from season to season, whether in prayer or in life to try and cover as much ground as possible while paying as little attention as possible.  “Progress“, says Benson, “is measured not by the amount of ground that is covered; it is measured by the amount of attention that is paid.  We must pay attention to the seasons that surround us and we must live out the season in which we find ourselves.”  What might this mean for our seasons as the People of God?

In the tradition of our faith the Liturgical Calendar has helped shape us as God’s people.  The calendar marks out for us the seasons of Lent and Advent and Christmas and the Epiphany, and Pentecost among others.  In the calendar there are times of waiting, darkness, joy, anticipation, and ascension that move us through the great story of our faith in a way that we can learn to remember.  “The story that is told over and over and over by the liturgical calendar can open our hearts and minds and ears to our own story if we listen.  It will teach us that there will be times for us when our prayer will be that of those who live in darkness and times when it will be that of those who live in the light.” 

What makes the calendar so important to us is that it reminds us again and again of the new life around the corner.  Whether we are stuck in prayer, in a bad spot in life, joyful or indifferent, as we remember with the Church the great story of old we learn with the saints that God is doing a new work in this world; in our lives, even if we cannot perceive it yet.  To believe that there is new life after the dark and for us to live in the future hope of God’s promise for this world, we must pay attention to ensure we don’t lose sight.  This is why for Benson, even in the snow, it makes sense to faithfully plant Sweet Peas on St. Valentine’s Day and wait for Spring.

Best of 2006

As a relatively new blogger (since October), I feel it somewhat strange to publish my best of 2006 compilation of posts in my short life as a blogger.  However, I reckon since everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I?  Nonetheless, these are the top six of 2006 in no particular order:

Eschatology & Missional Spirituality
In a nutshell, this post tries to capture the important connection between eschatology and being missional in theology.

Spirituality, work, and integration
This entry looks at the importance of work and doing away with the common dualism of sacred and secular.  How to live a genuine faith in the workplace is the underlying question.

Centering…a poem
This is a poem I wrote bout the journey away from distraction and into stillness before God.

Thoughts about Vision
This entry deals with the idea of missional vision and formation.  How do we see the world around us in light of the salvation we have in Jesus and our participation in the work God is doing in the world?

Questions about "Mega Church" ecclesiology
This was written as a response to a blog that sparked many concerns about ecclesiology. This series of questions was my attempt to understand better how churches within our Western consumerist culture go about crafting their ecclesiologies.  It sparked some interesting discussion.

Living Prayer Chapter Reflections
This is a favorite book to me and each of the chapters are being reviewed bi-monthly.  Robert Benson’s book has been instrumental in helping me to understand Spiritual Formation and it’s importance to shape the Church.

Living Prayer – The Sacrifice

Living_prayer What does the sacrifice, or Communion, mean to you?  I’m sure you’ve participated in communion several times and in several ways.  For some, it may be so familiar that it’s lost meaning.  Do you know why you take Communion?  What if there is some greater meaning to communion that we’ve overlooked because it’s become meaningless ritual?  Perhaps Communion, the Eucharist, the sacrifice, or whatever you are accustomed to calling it, is more than ritual?  Perhaps it is a prayer to be lived by the Church? Robert Benson seems to think so.

In this chapter, Benson reflects on the sacrifice and attempts to answer the above questions.  By sharing the various ways he’s experienced Communion Benson draws the conclusion that it is a prayer and not just a ritual.  “The prayer of the Eucharist is the prayer that reminds us that if we are to be the body of Christ, then we are to suffer the fate to Christ – we are to be broken that we might be shared.”(pg.40).  Rather than offering ourselves in prayer, we are to offer ourselves as prayer if we are to enter the powerful mystery of Communion.  For in the same manner that Jesus lived his life, we are to follow in his footsteps and be like the bread and wine: taken, blessed, broken and shared. 

We are comfortable with most of the Communion prayer; to be taken (chosen), blessed and shared is something most of us are willing to do.  Everyone wants to be used by God and share in the joy of blessing, “…that is where the glory would seem to be.”(pg. 41).  However, it’s the broken part that we have trouble with.  We live in a world of comfort and strength and progress and power and it’s a rare occasion to embrace brokenness, or to pray for it.  Benson suggests that we are not to be taken, blessed and shared, but taken, blessed and broken.  He quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer writing from prison: “It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the suffering of God in the secular life.”  The hook for us is that if we are to be shared, we must be broken.

“To be broken is to begin to pray the prayer of the Eucharist…to be broken is to begin to live the reality of the body and blood.”(pg.49)

What is Communion for you?  Is it an invitation into the great story of how God is healing all things (including you) through brokenness?  At any point in our lives, we are somewhere within the prayer of taken, blessed, broken and shared.  To avoid suffering eventually leads to the most suffering.  Have we sat in confession long enough to realize our brokenness, to embrace it in order to be truly shared?

Living Prayer Chapter Two…The Rhythm of the Mass

Living_prayer_2 “Do you know the rhythm of the mass?” asked Angus. Robert was in the midst of seeking spiritual direction and was perplexed why Angus would ask such a question. Robert was having trouble hearing God during a difficult time and was hoping for something more; he was hoping Angus would give him the answer to his problems. That wasn’t going to happen.  Angus wanted Robert to realize something far better than advice…

The rhythm of the mass has pretty much been the same since the Church began. It doesn’t matter where you are on a Sunday morning, in some form or another, you’ll find it similar. They rhythm is the four movements of corporate worship; “… praise and adoration; confession of who God is and who we are in relation to God; the sharing of the word in scripture and sermon and communion; and being sent forth to take our place as co-creators and co-proclaimers of the kingdom.”

The rhythm of the mass draws us out of ourselves and into God. For Robert, in his time of turmoil he found himself filled with words, too many words. It wasn’t until Angus asked him the question “…Do you know why we have confession before we receive the word?” that Robert realized his folly. Robert knew some of the steps, but he didn’t know the dance

Robert Benson reflects that there are times when we do not know how to proceed in our life. We hope for a divine word, writing on the wall, an audible voice to guide us; but we don’t get it. We can’t hear because there are too many competing voices in our heads, too much noise, too many words, no matter how hard we pray.

“You cannot hear the Word right now,” said Angus, “because there is no room in you for the Word right now.  You must live in confession for a while, until you are empty enough to receive the Word. That is the rhythm of the mass.”

That is why meeting together on Sundays is so important. It’s a time for us to become empty, then to be filled with the Word so we can be the Word in the world. The question for us is whether we are willing to sit in confession for a while to make room in our hearts?

Living Prayer – Chapter Reflecitons

Living_prayer_1 The following is the first of several reflections from my experience with Robert Benson’s book, Living Prayer.  This is a way of sharing a journey in progress towards a life where prayer is not merely an item on a spiritual to-do list, but rather a living, breathing essence of who I am becoming.  These reflections, I hope, will encourage, stir, and rouse you in that direction as well.  If you haven’t read the book, please do as it can (and I hope will if you let it) draw you towards a lifestyle where prayer is at the center as a lived and formative experience.  This week’s reflection is from the first chapter, “The General Dance”

The General Dance

To what beat does your life march?  Is there a rhythm to your life that you are aware of?  Sadly many wander through life paying little attention to themselves and the world around them.  We are bombarded; it seems, with plenty of noise to keep us distracted while on our self-directed, self-absorbed journeys.  In many ways this prevents us from knowing ourselves, and importantly, God.  In the first Chapter of Living Prayer, Robert Benson reflects about the invitation to join the General Dance; that is, the discipline of regular prayer that has been handed down through the ages, through the Church…

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