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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why would I want to pray with my illness?

AWBA's next online retreat experience, "Praying With Illness", begins February 10 and continues through Lent. I asked the retreat facilitator,  Michael Landon, to share his perspective on why anyone would want to pray with their illness.  Michael responded,

“You have got to be kidding me!”  This was my first thought when several years ago a friend suggested that I might consider praying with my illness.  She didn’t mean praying to get rid of it, or to be miraculously healed… She meant, actually using my illness, my body that I felt was betraying me.  I had a hard time understanding how this trusted friend could suggest such a thing.  She of all people knew the painful journey I had been traveling!  Even she had personal experience with living with chronic disease, so how could she suggest praying with illness? 

We invite you to consider this opportunity to deepen your prayer life during the Season of Lent.  For details visit our website at Upcoming Events.  For those who wonder how an online experience forms community read feedback from past participants.  The registration deadline for this event is January 28. Read below for all of Michael's comments regarding this powerful retreat opportunity for caregivers and those with chronic disease.

What I came to realize is that up until this conversation, I had been limiting my prayers to praying “about” my illness.  My friend’s seemingly absurd suggestion of praying “with” my illness was an invitation to deepen and expand my prayer life, as well as see my illness and my body from a new perspective.  My friend introduced me to a wonderful book, Broken Body, Healing Spirit: Lectio Divina and Living with Illness, by Mary C. Earle.  I had practiced Lectio Divina for years, and had even led retreats and small groups using this prayer discipline.  I knew that Lectio Divina (Holy/Sacred Reading) could be used not only with Scripture, but with any text. I had even known some who used this prayer with art work, but I had never considered the possibility of using my body, much less my illness as the sacred text.
One of the gifts that I received through expanding this prayer form to my body was a change of perspective.  I stopped seeing my body as the enemy, and I stopped seeing my identity as being defined by my illness.  Not that praying about one’s illness is inappropriate or somehow wrong, but I had become consumed by the “about” and wanting it to go away – even though I knew that chronic disease was just that… chronic, and in my case, there was not just one disease process at work, but several – and this was before what I call “the crash of 2009” when my several different disease processes collided into one another, leaving me completely debilitated and ultimately leading to being disabled.  I realized that my friend’s invitation was to discover a new way of living within my body, and to listen to what it and what God might be saying through it.  It was also a reminder that all of our bodies are sacred.
In addition to beginning to practice Lectio Divina in a new way, I found that practicing another prayer form went hand in hand.  The Jesuit prayer of Examen is a way of reviewing one’s day, one’s week, year, life – listening for the places of consolation and desolation, those things that are life giving or life draining.  I found myself returning to a delightful little book, Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, by Dennis, Sheila Fabricant, and Matthew Linn.  Again, this was an invitation to pray with my illness in a new way, to listen deeper, and to be open to the surprises that might be discovered.
One thing I have learned over the years, is that when it comes to prayer, it is not about the “end result,” rather about the process and being open to the experiences the path of prayer brings.  It is not about doing it right, but being intentional in our doing.  Both Lectio Divina and The Examen are invitations to experience at a deeper level.  The circumstances of one’s life may not change, but the perspective does; thus allowing us to embrace life and live it more fully.
The upcoming online Lenten Retreat, “Praying with Illness” will be a time to learn, relearn, or expand upon each participant's understanding and practice of Lectio Divina and The Examen.  I will be drawing from both Mary C Earle’s and the Linn’s books as we pray our way through Lent.  Each week I will share a little nugget from these authors as well as from my own life experiences.  Each week will have a Scripture verse or passage to connect us with the Lenten journey.  I might also share some poems or pieces of art work, or other sacred text.  However, the main text I will be inviting each of us to pay closest attention will be the sacred text of our bodies.  As this is a group experience, everyone will be invited to share from their reflections, so we can learn from one another’s experiences.  I first learned the prayer of Lectio Divina as a small group experience on a week-long retreat.  It is amazing how the Spirit moves within such groups.
I am excited about this opportunity to walk with you during Lent, and to be with each of you in prayer.  A phrase that you will often see me using when I close my thoughts is: “I will be holding you in the healing light of God’s love.”  Healing comes in many ways, but the source is God’s love, and the Gospel of John describes Jesus as “the light of the world.”  So know that I will be holding every participant in prayer and imaging the God’s healing light surrounding you.  A friend recently shared the following quote with me, and I thought it to be very appropriate to share as you consider being a part of this Lenten Journey.

“So don't be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don't know what work they are accomplishing within you?"

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Holding you in the healing light of God’s love…  
Michael Landon

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Something to Inspire

As I have shared (and you may notice in my profile photo), I am an artist.  I have no professional training and came to it rather late in life.  I have dedicated a room in my home as a prayer studio and begin my days in that space.   Creative expression has become such a meaningful prayer practice that I am now a student in a two-year program that will equip me to use different forms of creative expression in a healing setting for myself and others.

I was led to offer you something inspiring today.  Sometimes we need to be reminded that God comes in the beauty as well as in the hard times.  These are three art-based sites that inspire.  I have previously shared Sacred Alter with you and it bears repeating.  Click on the link below to be directed to the site.

366 Hearts
Jan Richardson
Sacred Alter

For a few months now I have been sitting with Luke 8:45, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Visual art and writings have come through me from that prayer time.  I created the above mandala a few days ago.  I have my own experience of the process   and its end product, and invite you to see what rises for you.  What I love about praying with art is that the image is open for interpretation by the artist and the viewer, and the process is equally or more important than the end result.  For those who do not consider themselves an "artist", that is good news.   Praying with art is expressing what is beneath the words rather than creating something others will admire.

I invite you to take a moment to visit these sites, reflect on the mandala and ask God to offer you a bit of wisdom for the day through creative expression.  God is the original creator and artist.  We are made in God's image which helps me trust the creative prayer process.

Prayer Rhythms

Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins.  If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.  No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. -- Matthew 9:17

For this passage, my Bible concordance states, “In ancient times goatskins were used to hold wine.  As the fresh grape juice fermented, the wine would expand, and the new wineskin would stretch.  But a used skin, already stretched, would break.”  I use the wisdom of this verse often in my own prayer life and with those I companion as a spiritual director.  

Our lives are in constant motion and we choose to grow or not in response to life’s circumstances.  When impacted by chronic disease as the one diagnosed, as primary caregiver or, perhaps, professional employment that serves this population, our resulting new life can become a metaphorical “new wine.”  Our needs are different.  Our relationship with God may undergo significant testing, refining and deepening.  Our spiritual needs take on a new urgency for relevancy.  If we try to stay with the same prayer rhythm that we utilized in healthy, less chaotic times, we are essentially pouring this new life into an old “skin” that may or may not suit us in this new place.  

For myself, there are a few prayer practices that have stayed with me throughout many life transitions.  The Bible and a journal have been consistent.   Everything else changes with the seasons of my life.  Praying with art, nature, music, meditating with Scripture, dance, silence, singing, labyrinth walks, etc. all move in and out of my life as circumstances shift.   God has provided me with an abundance of  ways to connect with the Spirit, and I use the prayer practice that meshes with what I need in that moment to remain connected with God.

I did not get to that place overnight.  For a long time I was pretty much in a routine that I was unwilling to change.  I stuck with it whether or not it seemed to make a difference.  There are times to be disciplined in a prayer practice.  There are also times to open the box and allow God to enter  through new avenues.  I talked with others about their prayer practices, read books and took classes.  I visited churches different from what I had become comfortable with to experience how others prayed and what was meaningful to them.  My prayer horizons expanded to meet my deepening needs for a prayer life to hold all that was happening in me and through me.  Now, I am in a much better place to vary my prayer practices as needed to ensure my relationship with God is as strong as it can be.  My wine skin continues to grow and change as I grow and change. 

To help you deepen or expand your own prayer practices and to engage with others embarking on the same journey, I invite you to check out AWBA’s next event, Praying With Illness. This on-line retreat is offered February 10-March 31, 2013 with a registration deadline of January 28.  For those who have not participated in an Internet-based community experience and are wondering if this is something to try, visit here for some personal stories from those who have benefitted from an AWBA virtual community.

As we move move through this Advent time of active waiting, may you come to identify those places in your life where God is inviting you to new birth.