The Heart of Prayer

I admit, I’m taking the easy way out in writing this blog because the bulk of it comes from my Lenten devotional called Show Me The Way, by Henri Nouwen.  I was so struck by yesterday’s reading that I wanted to share it with all of you.

Henri Nouwen, priest, professor, author, and spiritual director writes:

“For many of us prayer means nothing more than speaking with God.  And since it usually seems to be a quite one-sided affair, prayer simply means talking to God.  This idea is enough to create great frustrations.  If I present a problem, I expect a solution; if I formulate a question, I expect and answer; if I ask for guidance, I expect a response.  And when it seems, increasingly, that I am talking into the dark, it is not so strange that I soon begin to suspect that my dialogue with God is in fact a monologue.  Then I may begin to ask myself: to whom am I really speaking, God or myself…?

The crisis of our prayer life is that our mind may be filled with ideas of God while our heart remains far from him.

Listen to your heart.  It’s there that Jesus speaks most intimately to you.  Praying is first and foremost listening to Jesus, who dwells in the very depths of your heart.  He doesn’t shout.  He doesn’t thrust himself upon you.  His voice is an unassuming voice, very nearly a whisper, the voice of a gentle love.  Whatever you do with your life, go on listening to the voice of Jesus in your heart.  This listening must be an active and very attentive listening, for in our restless and noisy world God’s so loving voice is easily drowned out.  You need to set aside some time every day for this active listening to God if only for ten minutes.  Ten Minutes each day for Jesus alone can bring about a radical change in your life.

You’ll find that is isn’t easy to be still for ten minutes at a time.  You’ll discover straightaway that many other voices, voices that are very noisy and distracting, voices that do not come from God, demand your attention.  But if you stick to your daily prayer time, then slowly, but surely you’ll come to hear the gentle voice of love and will long more and more to listen to it.

Deep silence leads us to suspect that, in the first place, prayer is acceptance.  People who pray stand with their hands open to the world.  They know that God will show himself in the nature that surrounds them, in the people they meet, in the situations they run into. They trust that the world holds God’s secret within it, and they expect that secret to be shown to them.  Prayer creates that openness where God can give himself to us.  Indeed, God wants to give himself; he wants to surrender himself to the person he has created; God even begs to be admitted into the human heart.”

These thoughts from Nouwen are so simple and common sense, but so important to remember.  The statement “The crisis of our prayer life is that our mind may be filled with ideas of God while our heart remains far from him”  hit me between the eyes.  Nouwen really holds us accountable for silencing the voice we want to raise to God, and focusing our heart AND our head on listening to Him, even if we feel nothing is happening.  In the silence, God molds us into His image.

I pray that you are seeking and finding God in new and impactful ways through this Lent season.

Deb Griest

Whoops

Thanks to Valerie, a dear colleague from my Spiritual Direction class, who tenderly suggested that I had misidentified Thomas Kelly in my blog this week.  She was right.  I mixed up Thomas Kelly and Thomas Keating.  Keating is the one who re-introduced the world to centering prayer.  Kelly was an Ohio Quaker who wrote about the spiritual life.  Both contributed to the spiritual journeys of many Christians of their day and today.  Both of them have impacted my spiritual growth and their work often finds its way into our retreats.

Thanks Valerie, for your email.  I really appreciate hearing from those of you who read the blog.  Remember, you are free to submit a blog at any time.  I would love to have others contributing to this dialogue.

Deb

Inner Rumblings

“We are not integrated. We are distraught. We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all. And we are unhappy, uneasy, strained, oppressed and fearful we shall be shallow. For over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call, a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by. Strained by the mad pace of our daily outer burdens, we are further strained by an inward uneasiness, because we have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power. If only we could slip over into that Center!”

Father Thomas Kelly
“A Testament of Devotion”

Father Thomas Kelly is a 92 year-old priest credited with re-introducing the world to Center Prayer, an ancient Christian contemplative prayer technique we often practice on Seeking Stillness retreats.  The Center he references to in the quote from his classic book, “A Testament of Devotion” is none other than God Himself.

It is in our relationship with God and through our time with Him, that we begin to realize the futility of our crazy, busy, ego-striving, got-to-take-care of everyone, lives.  Only God can calm us down.  Only God can help us sense what is truly important.  Only God can help us see a way of living in this broken world that does not compromise our relationships with other people, with ourselves, and with others.  Only God can help us get rid of the “should” in our lives – the guilty and the shame and the sense of unrealistic obligation.

We feel the tension between God’s way for us and the world’s way for us.  The inner rumblings keep us up at night.  They motivate to search scripture for ways to live.  They help us discern what God would have us do.  But, they are also like the “thorn” in Paul’s flesh as he describes it in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9:

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

God knows the inner rumblings – the tension between His ways and those of the world – are difficult for us.  He calls us to a closer and closer relationship with Him so that we can deal with this weakness and tension.  Through that relationship He helps us fully realize that, through His grace, He will give us the power to live humbly and differently than others around us.

My prayer is that in this new year, we will each be drawn into a deeper relationship with God and through it we will find peace, finding a way to live in this world without being conformed to it (Romans 12:2).  May we be renewed and refreshed instead of exhausted and stressed out.

Happy New Year!

Deb Griest

 

Reminder – the next Seeking Stillness Retreat is April 29-May 1 at Our Lady of the Pines in Fremont, Ohio.  Go to www.seekingstillness.org for a registration form.  Partial scholarships are available.

Let’s Begin a Year of Mercy

By Deb Griest

I know.  I’m not Catholic, but I like Pope Francis.  At this point in the world’s history, we need a religious leader who is humble and focused on living the Gospel.  I don’t agree with every piece of his theology, but I can say that about almost every church leader I have met.

Today, the first day of Advent, is the first day of the liturgical church year.  Pope Francis has proclaimed this the “Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.”  In Biblical times, the year of jubilee was a holy year.  One in which all debts were forgiven and people were encouraged to reconcile with one another.  In his homily this morning, Pope Francis said that he hopes that this year will be, for all believers, “a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God.”

He has suggested that this experience will be enhanced when we extend mercy to others.  Mercy is defined as an act of kindness, compassion or favor.  More specifically, mercy is extended when the person to whom the kindness, compassion, or favor is given has in no way earned it, or in many cases, has done something that makes it unlikely.  Much like grace, mercy is a blessing not deserved.

Most of the time the only way we have an authentic desire to offer mercy to others, is through God’s presence in our lives.  Sure, we can serve at a soup kitchen or deliver meals to the homeless and feel good that we’re instruments of God’s mercy to others.  However, it takes a lot more of God’s presence in our lives to forgive that family member who hurt us years ago, or to extend kindness to someone with whom we disagree on almost every issue.  When we are instruments of God’s mercy working through us, we are changed as well.

Today we begin a year of jubilee and mercy.  I’m choosing to celebrate it along with the millions of Catholic Christians who are committing themselves to work for God’s reconciliation in the world.  Besides, God doesn’t care about denominations.  He cares about faith in His Son, commitment to the Kingdom, and most of all, love.

Join me in praying that in 2016 the world will be transformed by the witness of Christians everywhere who are extending supernatural and divine mercy.  I hope, that many times during this year, you have a “true moment of encounter with the mercy of God.”

 

If you would like to comment on this blog or offer one of your own, please contact Deb at debgriest@seekingstillness.org

Hearing From God ~ Deb Griest

The Elijah was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”

 A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.

                                                                        1 Kings 19:11-12

I recently attended Sunday worship with my granddaughter in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Honestly, I don’t remember what the pastor spoke about that morning except that he asked us one question that stuck – “Is your life so busy that if God actually answered your prayer and spoke to you, you would not hear Him?” Wow, I felt like somebody had punched me in the stomach. I knew when he asked this question that God was telling me that although I do regularly spend quiet time with Him, the busyness of my life can still get in the way of me hearing and sensing direction from Him.

When Elijah was running from Jezebel and fearful for his life, God told him to stand still. Sometimes when I slow down I realize how much chaos is going on not only in the life around me, but also in my spirit. I often share with people that I have a hard time sleeping because it’s like there’s a movie playing in my head that I can’t turn off. The same happens when I begin to slow down and when I try to sit quietly with God. Eventually this inner chaos calms down and I am actually able to sit peacefully with God.

Ruth Haley Barton, in her book titled Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence uses the analogy of a cloudy, muddy jar of river water to characterize the worldly state of our spirits. The water is full of dirt and nothing can be seen in it. However, once the jar sits for a while, the dirt settles to the bottom and the water becomes clear. She says, like the jar, our spirits are “all stirred up”.

God speaks clearly to us. He is the creator of the universe and He is communicating with us all the time. We know that when we ask that He speak to us on a specific issue, He loves this and responds. However, when we’re “all stirred up” we often miss his subtle messages. Haley Barton suggests that the wind, the earthquake, and the fire Elijah experienced while waiting for God all represent aspects of his internal chaos. Elijah was “all stirred up”. It wasn’t until these had passed, and his spirit had settled down, that He was able to hear the whisper of God.

Often, in our world, we are running from the inner chaos of our lives by staying so busy that we don’t experience the wind, the earthquake or the fire inside. We don’t like confusion, we don’t like to accept pain, and we don’t like to be disrupted by having to look at our lives from God’s perspective. It’s easier just to go along with the culture and stay in a constant state of being busy, and “all stirred up.”

We all, including me, have to challenge the things in our lives that keep us “all stirred up” if we are to truly live the Christian life (as opposed to just talking and reading about it). It’s hard. The world tells us that so much is expected of us. The world also offers so many cool things that can occupy our time – we don’t want to miss out. God’s way is different. God’s way is simpler, quieter, healthier. Let’s stop running ourselves ragged and listen to the whisper.

The Light is Always On ~ Deb Griest

“I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.”    

John 8:12 (The Message)

Why is it that on cloudy days my mood sinks and I walk around in a funk? On days when the sun is shining, everything seems better. Obviously, living in Cleveland, I find myself walking around in a funk a lot, especially from November until May when the clouds roll in off Lake Erie. I don’t want to live that way this winter so I have been focusing on God’s promise that He is the light that should bring a spring to my step.

In Psalm 121 we’re told that God never sleeps or slumbers. His light is always on. He watches over my every move, He knows my every thought, He sees every circumstance that will impact me before I’m even aware of it. He made me resilient and able to cope with the things that come my way – when I rely on His power and not my own.

Sometimes I find myself trying to be the light for others, instead of pointing them to Jesus. We have all found ourselves in conversations with friends and family members who are going through tough times. It’s tempting to take on their pain, to lighten their load. It’s tempting to try and help. While sometimes offering practical help is indeed helpful, most of the time we are (or at least I am) trying to help myself and them feel better about the situation – and QUICKLY.

God is the only light that can truly lighten a load. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus told his disciples to lay their burdens on Him. God works in His time and sometimes, while He is helping to carry our burdens, He leaves part of the pressure on us as he refines and equips us for His future purposes. Often when we try to help others relieve their burdens too quickly, we rob them of the experiences through which God intends to work.

Light. Light does make a BIG difference in life. When things are dark, it’s hard to feel motivated, hopeful, joyful, and loved. This winter, as physical darkness sneaks in and tries to steal the fullness of our lives, let’s recommit ourselves to seeking the light of Jesus Christ and leading others to this light as well.

Let’s get ready now!!

The Beauty of God’s Handiwork~ Deb Griest

I just came back from a retreat in Kentucky. The rolling hills, the bright green trees, the singing birds, the sunshine, the flitting butterflies, and the little toads that have recently graduated from tadpoles to hopping creatures, all reminded me of God’s amazing creativity. One morning I was out hiking, turned a corner, and was surprised by the breathtaking beauty of blooming lily pads along a calm, shimmering body of water.

Lily pads

We tend to move so quickly through our lives that we rarely allow God to speak to us through His creation. We spend so much of our time indoors and in our cars that often we don’t even come into contact with things that man didn’t create (of course from things God gave us). It’s becoming more and more common that our kids are uncomfortable spending any amount of time outdoors – except maybe when playing sports. Allergies, insects, addiction to technology, the comfort of air-conditioning…..all discourage us from leaving home.

We tend to forget how much God loves us or how He truly powerful He is- enough to take care of all that worries us. We only need to marvel at the things He created – from the vast ocean to the tiny cells that make up our bodies. When we consider all that God has created and how it functions without our help, we can feel His reassuring presence. We also realize that while we are supremely important to God, we are only a very small (and should be a humble) part of his handiwork. We have absolutely no right or need to see ourselves as the center of the universe. Without God, we and the world, are nothing (John 5:19).

I urge you to consider taking a walk around your neighborhood at sunset, sitting in a nearby park at dawn when the birds are singing, or enjoying the sound of lapping water at the lake or along a stream bed. You will hear the voice of God if you really listen. You will see God’s hand at work, if you really look. Take in God’s beautiful, complexity, and amazing creation and you will be refreshed and renewed.

Dark Times ~ Deb Griest

Some days I don’t even think about God. I hate to admit this, but it’s true.

There also other days when I don’t want to spend time with God. Other priorities crowd God out. Sometimes I’m mad at God and don’t want to talk with Him. Actually, there are other times when I’m afraid of what He might say. He might show me something I’m trying to avoid. He might ask me to do something I don’t want to do. He might love me in a way I don’t feel I deserve.

I am still, after all these years as a Christian, trying to get my head around the fact that regardless of how much I invest in my relationship with God, He is always there for me.

God is not a transactional friend. He doesn’t just return love for our love shown to Him. He isn’t the kind of friend who walks away feeling neglected or even taken advantage of. He is always with me, always waiting when I return to Him, always in love with me.

I have been going through a rather dark period in my walk with Christ these last few months, feeling unworthy of His love. Working hard to prove my devotion – filling the time I would normally spend with Him. Questioning my gifts and my call.

The funny thing is, these dark periods happen to all of us. They actually are a very normal part of the Christian experience. In these times, we are not called to redouble our efforts to be spiritual, but to simply relax in God’s arms without guilt. Mother Teresa herself walked in darkness, not hearing God’s voice, for many years. Her conviction was simply to continue doing the last thing God asked her to do – serve the poor in Calcutta – until she again felt His presence and heard his voice. She struggled to stick with her prayer practice. She felt like a fraud ministering to her patients and her disciples. However, she persevered and never questioned God’s love for her or those around her.

I pray today that I (and all of us) will allow God to speak in the darkness. That we will to trust Him and his promises. I pray also that the dark times are powerful, but short as we seek to do God’s work in this world with gentleness and love.

~Deb

God Births A Ministry

My niece Becky Downing is completing her freshman year as a creative writing major at Hope College in Holland Michigan and she wrote the article below for one of her classes. It was designed to be a short magazine article. She interviewed me about the history and purpose of Seeking Stillness Ministries. I thought you might be interested in this story.
~ Deb

Seeking Stillness Ministries Offers Women a Chance to Connect With God
by Becky Downing

Psalm 46: 10 reads, “Be still and know that I am God.” However, in an age filled with many distractions such as social media, work deadlines, and family pressures, Christian women often find it hard to live out these words. We open Twitter, but we don’t open our Bibles. We talk in conference calls, but we don’t talk to God. We drive our kids to and from practice, but we don’t drive ourselves to church. Retreat director Debra Griest thinks these distractions have worn women down.

“The Bible tells us to be still in a lot of places,” says Griest. “With the amount of technology we have and the amount of time we spend with other people, we don’t set aside enough time for God.”

So how can we learn to spend more time with God? Get away.

Griest’s spiritual retreat Seeking Stillness Ministries offers women the chance to escape from the hustle and bustle of today’s world and deepen their faith, whether they have been Christians for years or are unsure in their walk with Jesus. However, Griest takes no credit for Seeking Stillness’s formation; she acknowledges God as the retreat’s true creator.

“Before the year 2000 I felt a call from God to do something. I eventually got the sense that I was supposed to go to seminary.”

After seven years, Griest obtained her Master’s Degree in Spiritual Formation from Ashland University, but all the while still seemed unsure of her purpose.

“I had no idea why I was going,” Griest explains. “People would keep asking me, ‘What are you going to do when you finish school? Are you going to quit your job and become a pastor?’ I couldn’t answer their questions, because I didn’t know. I just knew I was supposed to go.”

The answer to those questions wouldn’t arise until 2009, when a friend of Griest’s asked if she would help lead a retreat. Griest agreed, and it went so well that the two decided to lead another.

“We had around 15 people signed up to go, and the day I got the first person’s check for registration in the mail, I noticed it was made out to me personally. I thought, ‘Well, they shouldn’t be making their checks out to me, they should be making them out to a… Oh! Maybe a ministry!’”

From then on, Griest could see clearly why God had called her to seminary. “It was that basic. I sensed that God was telling me that this was something He wanted me to continue doing.” It also became clear to Griest that God wanted her retreats to focus on the subject of stillness: “I run a hundred miles an hour, and I do a thousand things at the same time. I learned in seminary how important it is, at least for me personally, to get away and just spend time with God. The Bible tells us to ‘be still’ in a lot of places, and I just felt that the Lord was calling me to help myself and other women learn to do this.”

Thus, Seeking Stillness Ministries held its first official retreat for women in 2010 and has been going strong ever since. Spring and fall retreats occur over weekends at Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center in Fremont, Ohio. This setting features tranquil walking paths, a secluded grotto, and even a labyrinth, providing the perfect backdrop for faithful seekers to find peace and quiet with the Lord. Seeking Stillness Ministries also hosts one-day summer retreats at Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village, Ohio.

During weekend retreats one can expect a mixture of spiritual quiet time and group activities. Worksheets help guide personal time and offer scriptures and questions for reflection. Group prayers scatter throughout one-on-one times with God and feature a variety of prayer techniques. Other group activities include meditation, singing, and Saturday Chapel. These retreats also include varying spiritual themes, such as “Joy” and “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.” Scriptures and reflections ultimately follow these themes, but Griest acknowledges that God can change her plans at any moment.

“I’ve learned that despite all the planning and work I’ve put in up front, God takes over in the retreats, and I have to go along with what He wants to do. For example, during a past retreat centered on forgiveness, one woman shared with the group a story about her past and said that she wanted to forgive the people who had done this to her. By Saturday afternoon, this issue had become the focal point of the retreat. The group was praying for her and helping her, and this inspired more women to share their stories. I basically had to throw away all the worksheets I had prepared for the second half of the retreat because God had taken us in a whole different direction.”

Seeking Stillness Ministries also provides additional spiritual resources. The website www.seekingstillness.org offers numerous blog posts focusing on many topics, such as the power of prayer and the call to action. Griest updates these blogs monthly.

All in all, those attending Seeking Stillness retreats can expect to leave with those words and ways of Psalm 46: 10 in their heart. Griest concludes, “Ultimately, I hope these retreats help people to feel closer to God. I hope they become more comfortable being still, and I want them to walk away with tools that will help them study the Bible and connect with the Lord in everyday life.”

If you believe God is inviting you to be still, log onto www.seekingstillness.org, where you can find registration details. Seeking Stillness’ next one-day retreat is scheduled for July 11th and its theme is “Finding God In Nature.”
The next weekend retreat is October 2-4, 2015.

Wait, Submit & Obey

My family is waiting on a baby. I have felt a whirlpool of emotions as my daughter’s healthy pregnancy comes to the end and we wait to welcome her new baby. Others are rightfully excited about the baby, as am I, but I have also been lifting the safety of Jaclyn, my daughter, to Jesus.

The juxtaposition of the waiting of Advent and the submission and obedience of this time of Lent has not been lost on me. I wonder if God felt this mixed emotion as His son came to Earth to show us how to live, how to die and how to enter into reconciliation with our savior. What an awful event to witness as a parent and yet, how proud God must have been of Jesus.

Jesus came to Earth as a small babe. Did He come this way to remind us to care for the helpless and needy? Did the Innkeepers close their doors to Mary and Joseph so that it would remind us that we have a choice, we can either welcome Jesus or send Him away? Was there a guiding star that shone brightly to remind us that He is the light of our world and He will guide the steps of our life, if we choose to follow Him? I could go on, but you get the idea. God does not waste the details.

Even as a child, Jesus showed us how to live. He sought out time for spending time with His heavenly Father. He lived a sinless life because He chose total obedience to His Father. As a man, He lived in community and valued Godly relationships over achievement. He was a leader and a servant. The season of Lent is a good time to stop, reflect and realign yourself with Christ. Jesus chose to die so that we could live. I am reflecting on how I can die to myself so that others can receive Jesus. As an introvert, it is hard to reach out and express myself to others. Jesus is encouraging me and I am praying that the Holy Spirit will continue to help me. What about you? What are you contemplating during this season of Lent?

The Good News is that Jesus’ story didn’t end at the cross. He suffered for us so that He could forgive us our sins, but if we receive that forgiveness and repent of our sins, He helps us to go through the reconciliation process. Hallelujah!

Now that is Good News!

~Joan