Tending the Moments–Guest post from Christine Valters Paintner (plus book giveaway!)

 

Christine Valters Paintner

Christine Valters Paintner

 

You have undoubtedly had an experience similar to this: you are moving through a most ordinary day, when suddenly something shifts.  Where there was drudgery and habit, suddenly you become aware of the way sunlight is spilling across the living room rug and your heart breaks open at the splendor of it all.  Or you see a loved one in a new way and revel in their beauty.  Or maybe it is as simple as savoring the steam rising from your morning coffee, like incense lifting the longings of your heart.

We move through our lives, often at such speed, that our perception of time becomes contorted.  We begin to believe that life is about rushing as fast as we can, about getting as much done as possible. We are essentially skating across life’s surface, exhausted, and disoriented.

Contemplative practice calls us to change our perspective and awaken to a different reality, one that is governed by spaciousness, slowness, stillness, and presence.  Contemplation invites us to tend the moments.

Moments are holy doorways where I am lifted out of time and I encounter the sacred in the most ordinary of acts.  Moments invite me to pause and linger because there is a different sense of time experienced.  Moments are those openings we experience, where time suddenly loses its linear march and seems to wrap us in an experience of the eternal.

Mythologist and storyteller Michael Meade says the word “moment” comes from the Latin root momentus, which means to move.  We are moved when we touch the eternal and timeless which is available to us in each moment we are fully present. 

My work in the world is to invite people into this kind of awareness, something that is available to each of us, we just need to cultivate skills and practices to tend the moments.

Art and spiritual practice are how you find this moment of eternity, or better yet, how you allow the moment to find you. We only need to make ourselves available to them, to receive them as the gifts that they are, rather than seek them out as something we are entitled to.

Call to mind a time when you were so present to the moment, to the sheer grace of things, maybe watching a child giggle with delight or your dog romp playfully in a field.  And then perhaps, the thoughts broke in. The ones which seem to wield only criticism and dissatisfaction.  Maybe you remember the items still languishing on your “to do” list back at home and you felt an anxious dread. Contemplative practice cultivates our awareness of this pattern, so that we might be able to change it. So that when moments come to visit us, we find ourselves savoring and basking in wonder rather than reaching for what is next.

Contemplative practice also cultivates our profound awareness of life as an unending stream of gifts, and from this arises the impulse to create.  When we open ourselves to the sheer grace of things, we tap into a source of inspiration.  We feel moved to create something out of that gratitude.

For me, photography and writing are the ways I feel most often moved to respond to the generosity of life. Try this next time you feel overcome by beauty – pause there as long as you can without moving to do something else or complete another task.  And then, when there is a sense of fullness or completion, pick up a camera or a pen, and allow them to become the tools to honor what you have experienced and your expression of deep gratitude. Rather than “capturing” the encounter, let this be a prayer, so that slowly over time you might find yourself in an unending litany of praise.

Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice

Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice

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Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, is the online Abbess at Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery and community for contemplative practice and creative expression.  She is the author of 7 books on art and monasticism, including her latest, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (Ave Maria Press). Christine currently lives out her commitment as a monk in the world with her husband in Galway, Ireland.

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Thank you Christine!

The publisher has provided a copy of Christine’s book, Eyes of the Heart, as a giveaway to one of you! Leave a comment by Wednesday, May 22, 9 pm (est) to be included in the drawing. Please leave info for contacting you.

Mr. Rogers and Quilts

o-MISTER-ROGERS-HELPERS-QUOTE-570

The quilt top was done. I finished it months ago. The back was also finished. But I didn’t like the batting I bought to use between the quilt top and back. And I couldn’t decide on a design or pattern to quilt everything together. So the parts of the quilt stayed draped over the stairwell, taunting me every time I opened the door to my sewing room.

I was stuck. I was creatively blocked for months.

The quilt was made for my youngest niece as she transitioned from a crib to a “big girl bed.” I wondered if I would finish the quilt in time for her to move into a college dorm. I felt terrible about how long the quilt was taking and I was feeling increasing stuck. I couldn’t work on other sewing. My sewing creativity was jammed and bound up in that quilt.

I wanted to give the quilt to my niece and her parents when I visited my family in early March. And my frustration was spiking as the date of my trip approached.

I began to pray about the situation (finally). I prayed about being stuck and unable to find a way to resolve my dilemma. Then the story of Mr. Rogers “look for the helpers” came to mind.

“Look for the helpers.”

And I understood that I need to hire someone else to quilt it. I needed help to maneuver out of my creative block. So I did.

I took the quilt top and back to a local quilting shop and hired the owner to quilt everything together. She suggested a design and a different batting and I knew this was the way to go. As I walked out of the shop, I felt my shoulders drop and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Two weeks later I picked up my quilt—quilted and bound—to deliver to my niece. I’m not sure how much she likes it but my sister and brother-in-law do!

Quilt front with my niece. Photo by Kevin Driedger.

Quilt front with my niece. Photo by Kevin Driedger.

Quilt back with my niece.Photo by Kevin Driedger.

Quilt back with my niece.
Photo by Kevin Driedger.

I met with my spiritual director just before I picked up the quilt and we talked about my “look for the helpers” revelation. She suggested this was a move toward freedom for me. Rather than me insisting that I do it all, I chose to let others assist me. She suggested this is a journey from inner bondage to inner freedom.

I’m still pondering this. And, I’m praying a new prayer: “God, let me be free.”

And, one answer to that prayer is finding the helpers.

*The quilt pattern was originally posted on the Film in the Fridge blog.

Prayer for This Week:Beginning Again (with audio!)

blog--2-19-13 (calendar)This week O God, we consider your great love and your promise of shalom.
We ponder the enormous love you expressed both on the cross and in the empty tomb. We celebrate your gift of shalom—right, whole relationship with you, with one another, with the world.

We praise you, O God.

But this week, O God, we consider our lack of love and lack of shalom.

We repent of our disregard for others who are not like us, who offend us, who disturb us. We regret our foolish decision to curse those we despise and love only those who love and agree with us.
We grieve our broken relationship with you, with one another, with the world.

Forgive us, O God.

This week, O God, we commit ourselves anew to following your way.
We intend to begin again to live our lives in your enormous love and great shalom.
We offer ourselves to you, to one another, to the world, for your good purposes.

We praise you and we celebrate your gift of shalom, O God. Amen.

Praying For My Enemies

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

As I read the newspaper, I came across an article that quoted then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich saying, “I’m not going to get in an argument with Jesse Helms.” The now-deceased Republican congressman from North Carolina was advocating that Congress cut back on AIDS funding because, according to Helms, the disease allegedly “was caused by deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct.”

Gingrich’s refusal to correct—or, even condemn Helms for his statement, infuriated me. His refusal equaled assent to me. In ager, I crumpled up the newspaper, tossed it aside, and prayed, “Please let Newt Gingrich get AIDS.”

Of course, I immediately regretted it and repented of my prayer, but I held onto my vengeful feelings. Because I held on to those feelings they began to fester inside of me–I grew angry and bitter, stewing over his comments. As these feelings continued, I couldn’t listen to him on the news or read about him in the newspaper without becoming enraged. I was making Newt Gingrich into my enemy.

Over the next few weeks I realized that I readily make other people my enemy, including folks who interpreted Scripture differently from me, folks who held different political views from me and people who had made life choices different from my own. Simply put, I was developing a hard heart.  And yet, I wanted to take Jesus seriously when he said to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt. 5:38-48).  Often Jesus’s words are given lip service but rarely practiced as if Christians mean to follow in spirit but not in daily life.

During the following Advent season I decided to practice praying for my enemies, beginning with Gingrich. I told myself that it wouldn’t cost me very much of myself—silly me, I thought wouldn’t have to open my heart too much for God to actually work in my heart. I thought this would be sly way of circumventing God and not too dangerous for me, so I launched into this discipline with bravado. Additionally, I decided to read some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s writing about loving one’s enemies. As an Anabaptist Mennonite committed to creative nonviolence, I was familiar with MLK, Jr’s writing about nonviolence and loving one’s enemies. I recalled reading the particular sermon on loving one’s enemies and I had an intuitive sense that God wanted me to re-read it.

In November 1957, King preached a sermon, “Loving Your Enemies” at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He began his sermon by emphasizing the importance of Christ’s command to love one’s enemies. “Jesus was very serious when he gave this command;” King said, “he wasn’t playing…this is a basic philosophy of all that we hear coming from the lips of our Master.” Although I might have entered into my Advent discipline with bravado and a bit of swagger, Jesus proved to not be playing with me. That first week of Advent, I resisted the discipline of praying for my enemy. As I prayed with a reluctant heart, I discovered that I resented sharing God with Gingrich. I simply did not want him to experience God’s loving presence–I did not want God to love him. I wanted to keep God all to myself.

In King’s sermon, he rhetorically asks: “How do you go about loving your enemies? I think the first thing is this: in order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing yourself.”  God was beginning to change my heart by letting me see my heart, my resistance, and my selfishness. I was beginning to analyze myself, as King suggested.

By the middle of the second week I noticed a breakthrough in my heart. I began to pay attention to Gingrich as a person and I watched and read the news with my heart rather than just my head. I imagined Gingrich as a person with hopes, dreams, sorrows, and losses rather than a one-dimensional political figure in the national media. I wondered about his family, his staff, and the people who were close to him. I began to pray for his family, that they might experience God’s presence during the Christmas season. I prayed for Gingrich and his family throughout Advent, into Christmas, and I continued praying for them until Epiphany.

Newt

Newt Gingrich

After Epiphany I assumed this spiritual practice was completed, but God invited me to continue the practice of praying for my enemies for an entire year. I chafed against this invitation but in conversation with my spiritual director my heart began to soften until I was able to surrender to this practice of praying for my enemies. God wanted to transform my heart from bitterness and hostility to generosity and compassion.

King described this heart shift as discovering “the element of good in [one’s] enemy.” In his sermon, he advises, “every time you begin to hate that person …realize that there is some good there and look at those points which will over-balance the bad points.”

I learned during the year that when I view people as my enemies, I objectify them. They no longer are persons with hearts, souls, dreams, and disappointments like myself. Instead, they become one-dimensional characters who are then easy for me to dismiss and disregard.

Jesus understood this aspect of human nature, and in response he called us to mirror God’s nature by challenging us to love our enemies rather than objectify them, leading us to hate our enemies. This attitude of love toward all, including our enemies, causes us to become like “children of our Father in heaven,” as seen in Matt. 5:45.  Praying for my enemies is a serious attempt to see my enemies as God sees them. There is a Hebrew word, chesed, that is translated as loving kindness and compassion. When I pray for others, I begin to see the world as God sees the world with this loving kindness and compassion. And when I view situations and people with loving kindness and compassion, I begin to deeply love just as God deeply loves. When I pray for my enemies I begin to reflect the nature of God.

Dr. King said in his sermon:

 … and when you come to the point that you look in the face of every [person] and see deep down within [them] what religion calls ‘the image of God,’ you begin to love [them] in spite of. No matter what [they do], you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that [they] can never sluff off. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate [them], find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.

I discovered during my year-long discipline that I began to feel more generous toward Gingrich, and my other enemies by default. I was no longer stingy with love and mercy, giving them out in measured teaspoonfuls, fearing what might happen to me if I was loving and merciful toward those who harmed me. Rather, I began to realize that with God there is more than enough love and mercy to go around for everyone and that, indeed, there is so much love and mercy within God that God blesses both the righteous and the unrighteous.

King described this love and mercy as an “overflowing love … and when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love [people], not because they are likeable, but because God loves them.”

As I prayed, I became humbled — I had to if I was to be honest with my “self-analysis.” In the midst of opening my heart to God about my enemies, pouring out my pain and anger, I became more sensitive to the pain and rage in the world around me. I discovered that it becomes difficult to honestly pray for my enemies without being reminded of how God is able to love me despite my own disobedience and insensitivity. In my self-analysis, I became grateful for God’s deep love and patience toward me.

love enemies image

After the year was over, I stopped praying regularly for Newt Gingrich—although I continued to occasionally pray for him and his family. A few years after my year of praying for him I was visiting the Mennonite Central Committee–Washington office and I learned that Gingrich and his second wife rented an apartment in the same building. I was captivated by this information. Before I left Washington, D.C. my colleague graciously showed me to the foyer outside the Gingrichs’ apartment and left me alone. In the foyer were some chairs that sat along their apartment walls and I sat down, placed my hands on their apartment walls and prayed for Newt Gingrich once again. With an honest, open heart I asked God to provide abundant love within those walls, that the former Speaker of the House of Representatives would see the world with God’s eyes, ears, and heart. And, in full sincerity, I asked God to bless him.

I’ve returned to King’s sermon this past year as I’ve listened to and read so many acrimonious responses to the election. Avoiding family members or friends who disagree with me is not the answer. Unfriending or blocking someone because of their enthusiastic support of a particular presidential candidate or party is not the way of love.

King concluded his sermon, “Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all [people], so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in your soul.”

Loving my enemies is hard work and requires a discipline of will over emotions, intentional prayer for that person, and for my own conversion of heart. Loving my enemies requires me to see the face of Jesus in the other—and this is the most challenging discipline. Praying for my enemies opens the way to loving my enemies.

 

 

Prayer for peace (and those who work for peace)

Global Peace

Creator God we praise and bless your holy name. We bless your handiwork as seen in the beauty of the season. You are truly the Divine Artist.

We thank you for your mercifulness and kindness toward us and toward all of  the world. We thank you for your patience and love–they are truly new every morning. You are God above all other gods.

We confess that we take your mercy and grace for granted. We presume on your love, forgetting that your love is a gift freely offered and given by you and there is nothing we can do to earn your love. Forgive us for insisting on our own way and attempting to control you–we forget that you are God of the universe. Forgive us for assuming that we know better than you do, for thinking we are more wise than you.

Merciful God, we receive your forgiveness and lovingkindness with humbled hearts. Thank you for your mercy and grace.

And now, Loving God, we ask you to intervene on behalf of the men, women and children around the world who are suffering. We ask that you pour out your Spirit to bring about justice as well as your peace.

We pray especially for the peacemakers around the world. We ask that you give them stamina and encouragement in the long, difficult process toward peace. Give each of them open and clear hearts and minds as they continue to work for peace. And God, we bring before you the extremists who want to destroy peace for whatever reason. We ask that you grip their hearts with love and compassion rather than power and revenge.

We also pray for the peacemakers in North America. We pray especially for those who work with warring gangs, with children who have guns, with parents who have lost hope. Oh God our parent, we ask that you stir us up, rouse us from our complacency so we will care that our children and youth are dying in this country. Help us to grieve over the loss of lives of anonymous youth. Give us a glimpse of your grief.

And God, not only do we pray for peacemakers, we pray for peace itself. Please bring peace to this world. Please answer our prayers.

Loving God, we thank you that you are a God who listens to your people and acts on behalf of those requests. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear as you move in this world and in our lives. Amen.