“Wiser Next Week” by Kingston S. Lim is a commentary on how people read as much as it is a life-coaching book. The Subtitle, “Navigating the Life Experience with Guidance from Great Minds”, shares the goal of finding specific direction through great books.
“Wiser” is a new book reflecting our culture’s new attitudes toward books and readings. It is a compendium of stand-alone articles directing the reader to find good teachers in the wisdom of great writers.
The author begins with Thoreau’s story of the two boy and the jackknife. One digs the ore and manufactures his own knife. The other studies knife theory and receives a ready-made knife as a gift. The author begins with the thesis that one who knows the use of a tool is more beneficial that the one who merely knows tool theory. This book is intended as a tool to provoke particular action more than a way of thinking about a particular issue.
The book is efficiently written in short, mostly bullet point chapters around three dozen or so relevant topics. Each topic begins with quotes, digested instruction, then suggested readings from a very broad book list followed by a “Take Away”. These take a ways are general and can be customized by the reader’s need.
“Wiser” is not written to be read serially but flipped through by the reader to meet a particular need or interest. It better suited as an e-reader but is also easy to navigate by paper-loving dinosaurs like me. Each chapter is consistent with the topic that it addresses and will stand alone. The pieces are styled more like a social media post than a traditional non-fiction work. However, there is still plenty of good content.
Each topic flows into the next to form a book that can be read as a whole. I grieve that we as a people read less for enjoyment and shy away from deeper works. This style of book organization will meet the need of those in a hurry. The introduction also includes a link to a 15 page summary to further digest the material. With this summary is an online component and an email connection as well. Each chapter still suggests and leads the reader to a specific work for deeper digging.
I enjoyed this work and admire the tremendous time and effort that it too to do the research. I used the section, “On Goals and Persistence” for some discernment in a current project of mine and found the chapter both relevant and useful.
The author gave me an advance copy in exchange for this review. I welcome comments hope you are blessed by its reading.
My Mornings with Thomas Merton: The Craft of Devotional Living
A Meditation on the book “Contemplative Prayer”
The Craft of Devotional Living
Lots of people seek a deeper devotional life but does anyone really tell you how? This article will offer you a starting point to your personal plan for spiritual growth by using any appropriate book in your private time with God.
A Note to our Nexus Group Members:This is my weekly spirit growth plan to share at our next gathering.
To be a Christian is to grow in intimacy with God. The process of growth takes time, intention, and faith in Christ. God provides the faith and we learn how best to invest our time. A balance of prayer AND meditation is the foundation of devotional time and books are tools to build with. Three terms that describe the process are meditation, prayers of the heart or contemplative prayer. Meditation is both a scriptural and a Christian thing.
Devotional living must be daily, at your most alert time of day, focused and guided. Time with God can too easily become talking to oneself or vacant naval gazing without a plan. Any appropriate book, whether a “Devotional”, a timely topic or a book of the Bible, can provide direction. Where is your start to a deeper time with God? Here is an example of how this works in my life.
I want to know how to know the next level of prayer and chose the book “Contemplative Prayer”, written by Thomas Merton to drive me to a deeper connection with God. Why? First, contemplation is not natural to me. It is a learned craft and I see this as a way to a broader life with God. Second, the book is deep. This isn’t a book you breeze through in an hour. Next, I feel strangely called to it. That is an intangible thing but a strong feeling that something is here for me. Finally, It is written in short pieces which lend their lessons to daily reading.
In the mornings I can picture myself sitting with Merton in my prayer time, encouraging me onto a deeper relationship with God. From that I have a conversation of sorts and journal my responses. Here is my journey with Brother Thomas Merton.
Here are my journal entries in bullet points:
• First, the goal is to grow spiritually and discover where contemplative prayer/meditation help? The start is with a simple plan-this post is a suggestion- a listening ear and GO!
• This article is about learning your devotional process more than a book review. Your process will differ and the only wrong way to spend time with God is NOT to do so. This is a starting place to trying new things. God honors disciplined action with faith.
• The Holy Bible is the obvious choice and the book of psalms is the foremost devotional guide and should be present in devotional living.
• The guide-book for my journey here is “Contemplative Prayer”, by Thomas Merton. Read along with me and see how God is using this text and time to build and focus my spirit. Check out my journal entries and LEAVE COMMENTS. Don’t worry if you have to look up a few terms in the reading.
•My daily rhythm is: BE SILENT AND STILL-Turn the phone off, Read the passage and then journal answers to: 1: What did I read? 2: What did I learn? and 3: What will I do with it? Leave your meditation with a Bible verse or Psalm. I allowed an hour a day with 20 minutes spent reading. Some chapters took more than one day and I missed a few too. Silence is critical. Don’t rush. Make the time! I had to get up early and it takes as long as it takes. Don’t have an hour? Give God what you have.
• Merton’s message overall is: The goal of the interior life is to pass through the spiritual desert to find that raw, honest and unhindered connection with God. Contemplation, a Christian based meditation, is where you invite these “dark nights” and form a genuine faith- connection by faith. The interior journey is a balance; empty self to be filled with God, find true humanity to know God’s divinity, silence to hear God’s voice, and experience dread to find eternal joy in Jesus Christ. He fleshes out numerous controversies within Christian contemplation and struggles with them to find balance.
• I learned that meditation is indeed a Christian principle and not owned by other world religions. Also, how important this emptying time is to healthy and productive living. Another is that the interior journey is not the domain of the pastor or other Christian vocations but ALL who seek to live in Christ. This is a skill for all honest and seeking Christians and is supported by scripture in the new and old testaments.
• My direct action is to take more time writing about my internal journey. I also use my hands in. Contemplation, creating prayer benches which is “sawdust therapy” and creates space in my heart. I cannot stress enough that silence in the morning is more important than talking and reading. I learned to grow in comfort and fearlessness as I face contemplation’s darkness and “dread”. This is where faith is formed
** the journal entries are under construction**
This journaling section is long but it is my journey and you are welcome to travel with me and make comments while reading the book.
The Morning Meetings through the book, “Contemplative Prayer”
The foreword and Introduction set the stage for the reader to understand this book’s journey to know Christian meditation/ Contemplative prayer. “Prayer is to religion what original research is to science” (xvii) It is hard work and not the possession of the monastics. Mental or listening prayer must never be complacent or centered in oneself but quietly focused and genuine. This is the foundation for a life of prayer rather that just the act of praying. This meditation is never a “Psychological trick but a theological grace.” (XX). This grace is a call of God to devote ourselves to metanoia or conversion. This is done by emptying through solitude, fasting etc. and being filled with abandonment to God. Contemplation is simple really but can only be done with the beckoning of our Lord Jesus the Christ and keeping His name ever present.
Chapter 1: Contemplation creates “Flowers in the Desert”.
1. What Merton wrote; Prayer is a. “Twofold consciousness of sin and redemption, wrath and mercy. This is especially evident to those who dare to look at the internal life whether by Psalm, liturgy, Bible reading or personal prayers of the heart. This is not a communal act BUT we need a praying community to keep us invested.
2. What I learned; I learned of the importance of an accountability partner in this process of learning. I learned that the negatives of sin etc. are not failures but necessary to work through honestly in order to know the Grace.
3. What action I will take; I meet with another pastor each Monday morning and will keep my friend and accountability partner up to date on my journey. I will keep a silence each morning and at odd times throughout the day. Focused on Psalm 41
Chapter 2: The Way of Prayer and its Components
1. What Merton wrote; The Psalms, Readings, personal prayer and Contemplation are parts of the unified life of a praying Christian. It is the means and the end of the journey to seek God’s presence. Silence must be sought and is inseparably in unity with monastic prayer (5). It is more of a resting than a working. Contemplation is an Easter notion but these “Prayers of the heart” truly seek God and are rooted in the Christian’s being. Again, there is no division in the parts of prayer, they form a whole. Monks and laymen alike can share this simple, Bible based prayer life.
2. What I learned; I tend to complicate the process rather than keeping things simple and speak to build awareness rather than just being with God. I crave the silence more than I really thought and the depth of it all can be scary.
3. What action I will take. Force myself into silence in the morning and find odd moments in the day to be still. “KISS” (Keep it simply and sweet) is God’s way. I will begin this time before the news and not after. Psalm 37
Chapter 3: The System is not Meditation.
1. What Merton wrote; Rather than planning your method, simply “Cultivate and attitude, an outlook: Faith openness attention reverence, expectation, supplication, trust, joy”. (10) Ask for faith because faith is always the sufficient answer to prayer. Good intentions are not enough. We must meet God with humility and acceptance or Acedia/Spiritual apathy will be the poisonous fruit.
2. What I learned; Keep your plans separate from your devotional time. Go to devotional time with a Bible and a minimum of anything else-not even a pencil or coffee. Bring your faith or lack of it to God and expect to rise from prayer better than you sat down.
3. What action I will take; leave my work, prayer list and the usual stack of books inside. Go to the bench on the porch with empty hands and ask God to fill them up. This gets harder before it gets easier, It will not always feel this clumsy. Psalm 37
Chapter 4: The Obstacles are Real.
1. What Merton wrote; Many quit the prayer life due to a lack of confidence, discouragement, confusion, helplessness, and even cowardice. This can imprison you.The drier your inner life, the more likely you are to have a false start. “Meditation has no point and no reality unless it is firmly rooted in LIFE”. Faith is the way forward and a “cooperative submission to grace” the way. (18)
2. What I learned; This is the third time I have read through this book. The first two, I was illuminated by not touched in the heart.
3. What action I will take; I announce this project to my coach and congregation. I cannot “weenie” out now. It is time for a real follow through. Psalm 37
Chapter 5: Deep Silence is Deep Power
1. What Merton wrote; Prayers of the heart can run deep if you let them. Kept simple and will few activities or words you can become more receptive to the working of the Holy Spirit. Remember that God and taken you to the “darkness”. This is not a punishment but a guide. To work through a dark time is to know spiritual cleansing. The darker it seems, the brighter the light. Again, psalms, prayer, meditation, Bible reading and liturgy and ways to prepare for a brighter inner light. Obscure prayers come with pain. Receptive prayers a few simple words from a psalm bear fruit.
2. What I learned: There is much more to be experience in the life of Christ through contemplation/meditation. The Bible can indeed focus your mind on the way to roughing your heart.
3. What action I will take. Shut up before going to prayer and never take the sermon text to it for the sake of writing. Focusing on God will bear better words from me. This takes time.
Chapter 6: The tension that isn’t There
1. What Merton wrote; The early fathers and mothers of the church did not find conflict with public, private, liturgical and contemplative prayer. Modern Christians have divided and complicated prayer. Contemplation is the connection to all of them. It is good to prayer privately and even secretly but stay in your community/Church. Have a “Cell”/specific prayer place and use it but don’t hide from the world in it. Prayer should also be experienced in the work of our hands, whatever that might be.
2. What I learned: Prayer is not an excuse for not serving, serving in not an excuse for not praying. All things spiritual are inter woven-especially in the apostolic and pastoral callings. Before praying for others I must connect with God alone first. This is the root of distractions and a lack of fruitfulness.
3. What action I will take; Pray beyond the prayer bench and find moments of solitude in the day. Turn the car radio off and pray when my mind wanders and wonders about things that it shouldn’t. Find solace in God before initiating the vocational stuff.
Chapter 7: Prayer as Work, Work in Prayer
1. What Merton wrote; Is prayer better than service? Is service a distraction to the Christian’s calling to pray? St. Benedict prayed in the wee hour and then called everyone to work after morning prayers. This was the example of Christ at the cross, lived our in Benedict, and taught to other. Contemplation seem to be better than action but “prayer-with-work” is a way to achieve a balance and create a deeper connection with God. This applies to secular business, pastoring and other active pursuits.
2. What I learned; service is a part of the Christian’s prayer life. Action treated as prayer creates either contemplation or distraction. When God is the point you fill up as you act, when the work is the satisfaction you get dry and empty.
3. What action I will take: Pray before work and work as a means to a deeper relationship with God and not affirmation or job-satisfaction. Exhaustion is not a trophy. Find daily rest, weekly sabbath, monthly retreat and annual reflection. How often I have re-learned this lesson. This year has been must more disciplines.
Chapter 8: More on the Action-Prayer conflict
1. What Merton wrote; Action conflicts with contemplation. You can’t do both at the same time, yet you must do both in balance. Contemplation is a priori, “rest from exterior action”. This creates a conflict in our workaholic culture. Time apart in prayer yet “Alone with the alone” in community is essential and should be a part of church-life. Thomas uses the story of Christ with Lazarus the penitent, Martha the active and Mary the contemplative, to demonstrate that we must have all three in union within our life in Christ.
2. What I learned; It’s ok to crave some alone time and at the same time wish to be at a task with your people that is bigger than just working. I am neither extrovert nor introvert but what one writer calls “ambivert”. Lived in balance this can lead us to a deeper and more honest elation ship with God.
3. What action I will take. I cannot default to the work of ministry as the Christian life. Caregiver fatigue and burnout stem from a lost if intimacy with God. Pray then work, pray then work with others, picture God looking over your shoulder and examining your motives as you work.
Chapter 9: Virtue Matters!
1. What Merton wrote; Using the example of the great monastic reformers, and Thomas’ personal heroes, we learn more of the interplay between Mental/liturgical or active-Prayer and Meditation/contemplation-or prayers of the heart. “without virtue there can be no real and lasting contemplation. Without the labor and discipline there can be no rest in love.” (37) God. Is a work in us best when we rest in Him. The conflict of “Active” and Contemplative is a false competition. These notions both work together. From John Chrysostom “It is not enough to leave Egypt, one must also enter the Promised Land.”( 38)
2. What I learned; Quit worrying about what you label things and PRAY. Don’t use prayer as an excuse to stay home while there are active pursuits to accomplish. Contemplation is not some badge of honor. Prayer at worship and in your words is still valuable-even necessary. Leave the old and enter into the new relationship with God through deepening both aspects of prayer.
3. What action I will take. Build more benches for others to pray upon but use them personally first. Separate the sermon texts from the morning readings with contemplation. I should start with readings for devotion, then pray, then study sermon and other pursuits. This is a proper privatization of God.
Chapter 10 :The Harmony of Liturgy and Meditation
1. What Merton wrote; Liturgy is active while meditation is contemplative but the two acts live in harmony. The conflict that meditation and action seems to bear is false. When they come together, they form the foundation for the Christian life. Liturgy is less laborious while contemplation is more spontaneous and much more work. Both may “at any moment be illuminated by contemplative grace.” (40”) Sadly, structured liturgy can lose its soul and editation is too often seen as the curative by adding disciplined personal piety. Contemplation does not have to wait until the daily office is over to begin. “Actives” tend to be in charge while “Contemplative” tend to be heralded as more genuine. This deepens the false divide of these two stations of prayer. The Christian life requires both.
2. What I learned: Liturgy is genuine and a means of grace when embraced in the Spirit of God. Contemplation can and should flow from liturgical/shared prayer. Liturgy should be more effective when it flows from the quieted mind.
3. What action I will take. I will read and write liturgy. Some could be shared but all can be a point of focus for deeper prayer in general. Our shared worship has lost its taste for the shared word. Perhaps this should be reclaimed.
Chapter 11: The Purpose of prayer
1. What Merton wrote; The purpose of prayer-the sum of all of its parts is, “yearning for the simple presence of God.”(45)
2. What I learned
3. What action I will take.
1. What Merton wrote;
2. What I learned
3. What action I will take.
1. What Merton wrote;
2. What I learned
3. What action I will take.
1. What Merton wrote;
2. What I learned
3. What action I will take.
[i] Ephesians 4:11-13. “He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ.”
[ii] See Luke 10: 38-41 for the story and John 11-12 for more background. This is very helpful to me!
“Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” is Robert Putnam’s latest book and addresses our current crisis in public education. Better said, he takes a thorough look at the crisis of the widening gap in American classes with the defining characteristic being education.
Putnam’s book is well written with many anecdotes balanced by a thorough statistical analysis. The stories are relevant, interesting and impeccably documented with a 100 pages of notes and index. It is not an easy read and sent me scrambling for Google several times. It is written like a college text book but the message is bigger than a sociology or economics class. Like his best seller, “Bowling Alone”, this is a warning for our times and a call to action. We must rely less on the re-distribution of wealth and more on the re-distribution of opportunities. Education, higher and higher quality education are the most fertile fields for these opportunities.
I love the data, graphs and scissor charts. If you don’t, this is still an important read and worth the effort. The personal interviews and childhood stories are important, engaging, and make a forceful case for action without all number crunching. If you were to cheat and go to the end, Chapter 6, “What is to be done” gives a 45 page synopsis with sharp and practical conclusions directly from the data.
I read “Our Kids” through the eyes of the pastor. This is not a church-book but the faith community, especially the Christian Church, needs to take its message seriously. The schools especially the public schools, need full community support with informal mentoring, high quality extra curricular activities for the disconnected, community college support, paperwork coaching, resources for those in subsidized housing and a thousand other ways to close the opportunity gaps. The missing piece? Relationships-you and I have these.
Read this book. Find your place in the community and take action. You’ll be better for it and so will your community.
Join with our church family in studying five stories that we all know…or think we know. Will you be surprised by what you think the Bible says about these foundations of faith? Feel free to study with us on this schedule. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a hard copy or email attachment. Comments are always welcome
Christ meets us in the summertime too. Don’t miss an opportunity for growth in faith. Cheatham Memorial has a summer focus on teaching the equipping-skills that make our discipleship and disciple-making fun, fruitful and frankly, possible! Over the summer we will talk about concrete tools like public and private prayer, and study, small group leading. Watch for posts with “Take Aways” from this sermons
June 3,2018. 1 Samuel 3:1-20 “Equip for youth” The Skill of listening The life of faith is the key to a young soul. Our bodies age but we can keep a youthful and excited spirit by being equipped for and equipping others for healthy eternal living in the here and now! What does equipping mean anyway ?
June 10, 2018. Mark. 3:20–35 “Forgiveness is standard equipment”. The Skill of ForgivenessWe are born to forgive and lose this skill along the way somehow. When we forgive we are freed, even if others think we are crazy for doing so. How do you forgive that one who doesn’t deserve it?
June 17, 2018. 2 Corinthians 5:6-17. “I See…”.The Skill of DiscernmentDad’s only know where to go when they walk by faith. Many don’t and bear the bitter fruit of walking alone. This applies to all disciples. Discernment is a skill learned through prayer and applied in every day ways. The voice of the Spirit is often dismissed. How do you listen for God’s direction. Prayer is an essential skill.
June 24, 2018 Mark 4:35-41. “Life-Speak” The Skill of Planning for AdversityAdversity is real and essential to our witness. How do we speak of our “storms” as victory and not failure. Holding a spiritual conversation in our own words is an essential skill. How do we speak life?
July 1, 2018 Acts 20:8-17 “Pay Attention” The skill of Sacramental LivingThe sacraments are a gift to the church and a pattern for living for each disciple. How can your life be a means of grace EVERYDAY?
July 8, 2018 Mark 6:1-13 “ A Mutual Education” The skill of TeachingNo one out learns a true teacher. The gift of teaching is not upon everyone BUT the ability to teach is a skill that can be learned. We all teach others the things we know. How will we share the gospel honestly and personally.
2 Samuel 6:1-13 “Real Might” Worship. The skill of communicationWorship is directed to the one true God but interpreted differently by different people. True might in worship is that connection between hand and heart that comes when we let down our guard and celebrate the Holy Spirit.
Lent is a 40-day season of preparation that reflects Jesus Christ’s 40 days temptation by Satan in the desert. It begins with acts of fasting and self-denial on Ash Wednesday. The season is actually 46 days before Easter Sunday – the six Sundays in between are not counted, as they are “mini-Easters” and feast days. People follow Jesus’ example and give up something important to grow closer to God as Easter approaches.
The dates for Lent and Easter follow the Lunar Date of Passover. We know from scripture that Jesus was crucified on the Friday of Passover. Passover begins on the first full moon on or after March 21. (The Spring Equinox) That gives us the date of the Sunday for Easter. You then count back six Sundays for season of Lent and the Wednesday before the first Sunday of Lent is Ash Wednesday. Before the glorious celebration of resurrection, we look at our sorrow and mortality, represented in the ashes, which makes the cross necessary.
The ashes are an ancient symbol of death and an expression of sorrow. One of the earliest uses of them in worship is found in the book of Job. The ashes used in worship are traditionally made from the palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Mixed with a little oil, they become a rich and meaningful means of grace.
2018 is an oddity of Lenten tradition. The Fast Day of Ash Wednesday and the Feast Day of Valentine’s Day fall on the same day, Feb. 14. That presents a problem for some people who observe both holidays.
The observance of Ash Wednesday requires fasting and “giving up” something for Lent that fosters spiritual growth. Valentine’s Day is a time for celebrating love, often celebrated by eating out and giving gifts of candy. Some will just allow the overlap while other Christians will celebrate St. Valentines feast on the previous Sunday.
The Ashes of Wednesday are placed on the worshiper’s forehead in the sign of the cross with the words, “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” The cross is worn until the next morning as a witness to the Work of Jesus
Our prayer for you is that the season of Lent is more than just giving up Diet Coke or chocolate but provides a time to meditate on the deeper things of God. Find that one thing that pushes your soul along that internal journey of salvation. Rather than food fast, try a technology fast, give up a grudge or even a bad habit. Consider giving up a block of time each day to devote yourself to searching the scriptures. It is between you and God what this sacrifice should be.
You are welcome to join the Cheatham Memorial United Methodist, 205 S. Houston (859 at US 80) in Edgewood invites you to two worship services on Ash Wednesday, February 14. From 10-11:00 AM we will have “Come and Go” time to share the gift of ashes with a full service at 6:30 PM. Check out www.cheathamumc.net for further details.
Success is more than just how we feel. What are the touchable parts of success and how do they link together? This will be a central part of the first of these January messages. These posts are my personal journey but can apply to anyone who to struggling to find success.
This Sunday is “Epiphany Sunday”, the last of the 12 days of Christmas and begins our quest to find success. This is the Sunday that we traditionally tell the story of the Magi and their three gifts to the Christ Child. The mysterious treasure of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The gold is easy to understand. This “metal of kings” is still a portable store of wealth and tradable for just about anything you want. Frankincense is not a western thing. In the orient, this incense. was a common item of worship. Owned by the rich, it is burned and produces both smoke and aroma that are a see-able gift to God. Myrrh is a fragrant oil, often used as a burial preparation, usually reserved for people with wealth. These were the best gifts for Jesus and the trappings of success.
My lesson is that of balance. Success is not just one thing. Scripture gives us clues through the gifts of these mysterious strangers.
Gold-life must have money in it. Money to keep things together, money to manage well and stretch its worth, money to share and help others. Monetary wealth is not inherently evil and poverty is not inherently spiritual. There are both wealthy and impoverished people in the Bible’s witness. The spirituality of money is more than accounting.
Frankincense-Life is worship. The successful life must express God. This is done through personal and corporate worship and brings strength and certainty. A life with churchy stuff but the absence of faith is empty too. Success stems from spiritual integrity.
Myrrh. Life includes death and all of its stuff is temporary. The successful life is an investment that grows and not merely a safe that holds the experiences and possessions that we acquire. Value on our things, possessions, experiences, or feelings, must be seen in light of their permanence. Salvation keeps death from defining life as failure.
Lesson for Success: You are not successful simply because you got the promotion, built the house, earned the degree, married the girl, had the baby or got the really cool car. You may feel successful for a moment but, without balance, you will come up empty and success will be false.
Faith can make wealth and poverty, varying worship styles and doctrines, and qualities of life and death successful. Our plan must contain all of these three gifts bound by God’s Holy Spirit. This study is an exploration and must parse out the role of faith in success. The acquiring of success must include this trinity of things and concrete ways to express them.