Tag Archives: Meditation

Centering Prayer: A Conversation with Dr. Brian Russell

Dr. Brian Russell is the author of Centering Prayer: Sitting Quietly in God’s Presence Can Change Your Life, a uniquely rich resource for spiritual formation that draws on meaningful traditions of the church across centuries. For those sensing the need for fresh practices to widen or deepen their prayer habits, Centering Prayer beckons with wisdom that outlasts stale New Year’s resolutions. As Lent begins to appear on the horizon, Centering Prayer is poised to enliven the pilgrimage to Easter with practical, theologically nuanced guidance.

Recently Wesleyan Accent delved into the topic of centering prayer with Dr. Russell, who is Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary.  

Wesleyan Accent: At times, folks who are most familiar with Christianity as it is practiced in North American Protestant churches are surprised when they encounter something that seems new but is actually shared ancient tradition. Or people can spend thirty years active in a local church and still feel uncertain about how to pray privately. How would you describe contemplative prayer to them? And how would you describe centering prayer as part of that tradition?

Brian Russell: I can include myself in your example. I grew up in the church. I was forty-two years old (and thirty-six years into my Christian experience) before I learned about the contemplative tradition and began to practice centering prayer.

I think it is critical to emphasize that contemplative practices in no way replace traditional forms of prayer or the other means of grace that help us to grow in our relationship with God. I still pray with my own words or with printed prayers from Scripture and modern worship resources. The foundation for centering prayer is the faith delivered to the saints as witnessed in Scripture and embraced by believing communities.

Contemplative prayer is a form of prayer that focuses on being with God rather than using words to talk to God or make petitions of God or even to listen for God. Contemplative prayer is practiced in silence. We simply sit in silence apart from our own thoughts, desires, and concerns. Our intention is to experience God’s presence and love. In his book The Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self, Robert Mulholland, Jr. defined contemplation as, “the practice of stilling ourselves before God, moving ever deeper into the core of our being and simply offering ourselves to God in totally vulnerable love.” (p. 97)

Centering prayer is a method for stilling ourselves for the potential of a deeper encounter with God through contemplation. God’s presence is always a gift; centering prayer is not a way of manipulating an encounter with God’s love. It is simply prayer done in silence without words.

But as soon as we sit in silence, we discover that our minds remain active and caught in continual thought loops. Silence is literally deafening because of our mental chatter. Centering prayer as a technique teaches a way to surrender our thoughts as we become aware of them. The goal of this surrender is the opening of ourselves to experiencing God as God beyond our thoughts.

How do we practice centering prayer? It’s simple to describe, but it takes patience and practice. Here are the basic instructions:

  • Select a prayer word that you can use to recenter whenever you become aware of your thoughts. I recommend that we use “Jesus” as the prayer word as it is Jesus before whom we are sitting in silence. However, others find words such as “love,” “surrender,” “Father,” and “Spirit” among others to be powerful.
  • Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably for the duration of your prayer time.
  • You can practice centering prayer any time of day. I typically spend twenty minutes in centering prayer as soon as I finish my first cup of coffee in the morning. My wife Astrid and I sit together as a way of beginning our day.
  • Set a timer. I typically practice centering prayer in twenty-minute blocks. Select whatever time period you are comfortable with. I started with short three to five minute sessions and slowly worked up to twenty minutes.
  • Close your eyes and simply sit in silence. Whenever you become aware of a thought, feeling or image, simply say “Jesus” (or whatever word you chose) in your mind as a means of surrendering the thought. The goal is not mindlessness. It is not possible to shut off the mind. However, you will begin to experience short “gaps” in the endless stream of thoughts. It will be in these gaps where you may experience God’s presence in new ways. I say may because we cannot control God. We simply sit in silence with the intention to be open to God’s gift of contemplation.
  • At the end of the centering prayer session, relax for a few moments. I find it helpful to offer prayers of gratitude and then pray the Lord’s Prayer or one of my own.

WA: A while back I heard a great interview on the “economy of attention,” about how much your attention, my attention, is worth to companies. When there’s so much noise, when notification pings compete for our attention, when screens dominate our days, “centering prayer” seems exceptionally counter-cultural – and also seems like a way to quiet sensory bombardment. How does centering prayer help remind you you’re a human, not just a commodity?

BR: The practice of centering prayer is about being. There is no doing involved. Centering prayer teaches us to surrender our attention. We embrace the intention of sitting in silence in order to be with God. When our practice becomes habitual, we slowly become even more aware of the chatter in our minds and all of the noise in the world. But there will be a key difference: the disciplines of “resist no thought, retain no thought, react to no thought, and gently return to Jesus with our sacred word” go with us into the world.

Overtime, we begin to be mindful and present even during the busy-ness of our lives. The same discipline of learning to surrender thoughts to God in silence will carry over to how you listen to a colleague, family member, or friend who needs your attention; how you respond to the inevitable interruptions of life; how you react to conflict; and how you focus on your work. You will slowly find that you notice small details and experience the world in richer colors. Others will likely observe a more calming presence and availability in you.

In terms of the noise of our world, I’ve found that the more I practice centering prayer the more conscious I am of the subtle ways that our world robs us of our most precious gift to God and others: our time and our attention.

WA: Early in the book, describing the season in which you discovered the deep value of centering prayer, you comment that during your personal dark night of the soul, “my ability to think clearly had departed.”

What a word to so many people right now who are in shellshock from the past couple of years: nurses, doctors, pastors, teachers, those who are drowning in grief from the loss of loved ones. Alongside mental health tools like trauma-informed therapy and medication, what in particular might people find in centering prayer when they feel fractured or numb or horrified in their own dark nights of the soul?

BR: For me, centering prayer allowed me to find freedom from a mind that would not shut off. At the darkest parts of my season of the “dark night of the soul,” I didn’t need more information or mental stimulation. I ruminated non-stop on negative thoughts and worst-case scenarios. I was inconsolable.

But I found silence or, better put, silence found me, and in the silence I rediscovered the God who created me and who loved me unconditionally. Experiencing God’s unabashed loved for me when I felt at my lowest was transformational. God’s love cut through the noise. While I still experience times of incessant worry and anxiety, I gained an awareness of the excess and often negative chatter in my mind. In these moments, I sometimes encountered God’s loving presence directly; beyond words. I think that centering prayer can serve as a type of “Divine therapy,” as Fr. Thomas Keating described it. It does not substitute for human-to-human therapy or medication, but I believe it can work in tandem to increase their effectiveness. I’ve personally received tremendous benefits from trauma-informed therapy. In my case, I am certain that my long-term commitment to silent meditative prayer and deep intentional journaling greatly enhanced the results of therapy, as the Divine Healer had already broken up the soil of both the conscious and unconscious wounds that I carried.

WA: You mention in one place that in centering prayer, “surrendering our thoughts to God is our sole contribution.” I could imagine that statement causing some squirming; Americans so often take pride in our ability to put our best foot forward or feel that somehow we’ve paid our own way. We’re not always gracious recipients, preferring to be the ones building or giving. What do you think Christians need to learn or re-learn about our own poverty?

BR: Centering prayer allows us to see ourselves as God sees us. But to experience this level of awareness requires that we surrender even our thoughts (good or bad) to the God who loves us.

There are two deep and helpful truths that exist in a sort of paradox. These truths are expressed in the form of two prayers that I say daily. The first is the Jesus Prayer. It has ancient roots in the early church: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Amen.” The second is a modern prayer composed by Macrina Wiederkehr, a Benedictine monastic: “O God, help me believe the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it is. Amen.” I learned of this latter prayer from Maxie Dunnam.

The Jesus Prayer reminds us of our core lostness and ongoing necessity of God’s grace and mercy. There is no way to earn grace and mercy. We come before God empty-handed, with a posture of surrender.

But we also need to understand that God breathed life and abundance in each of us too. Wiederkehr’s prayer opens us up to the beauty and potential of a life surrendered to God in which we walk moment-by-moment in grace as persons created in God’s image. We are free to embrace our gifts and talents without the fear, guilt and shame that tends to either paralyze us and make us play small or drive us to earn or prove our “enoughness.”

WA: Traditionally, there’s this beautiful pattern of retreat and engagement, solitude and companionship, that push and pull spiritual formation like the coming and going of the tide. In centering prayer, when you brave silence with God and sit with what you find there, how does that shape the way you then go out and engage with others?

BR: One of my favorite quotes that I live by is from my mentor Alex McManus. He taught me: “The Gospel comes to us on its way to someone else.” The prayer of silence allows you to see yourself as God sees you. We discover both our need for grace as well as the beauty and potential within us. When we experience the gaze of God on our souls and discover God’s deep love for us as his sons and daughters, we begin to see others in the same light. In fact, encountering God in the silence and accepting the reality that we’ve personally been unconditionally loved and accepted transforms the way we see others. We are freed to love others as God has loved us. My mentor and former colleague Bob Tuttle taught me this: “Show up, pay attention; God has way more invested in our ministry than we do.”

So instead of silence and solitude being a practice that excludes mission, it is one that empowers engagement with the world. What I’ve experienced must be shared. Moreover, as God has changed me through the sanctifying work that occurs during centering prayer, I am free of more of my own “junk” that previously marred my witness and ability to serve as the hands, feet, and mouthpiece of God’s abundant and holy love.

Brian D. Russell, Ph.D., is Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. Learn more about his role as Coach for Pastors and Spiritually-minded Leaders by visiting www.brianrussellphd.com.

Featured image courtesy Fragile James via Unsplash.

Michelle Bauer ~ Take Five: Quick Wisdom Under Pressure

Note from the Editor: In a cultural moment of stress, splintered attention, and upheaval, Michelle Bauer offers us a short, clarifying resource. Here are five daily meditations on wisdom, bite-sized and brief enough to fit between Zoom calls. Each contains a timely word of wisdom. Breathe these in during a moment of solitude, with housemates, or as a family.

Take Five to Listen

Scripture of the Day: “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance – for understanding proverbs and parables, the saying and riddles of the wise. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” – Proverbs 1: 5 – 7

Prayer: Lord, no matter where we are on the wisdom and discernment spectrum, we desire to gain more. Teach us to hold you and your kingdom in great respect as the foundation for wisdom. Amen.

Meditation: How well do you listen? 

Take Five to Tune In

Scripture of the Day: “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.” – Proverbs 2: 6 – 8 

Prayer: Lord, in a world with many voices speaking at once, train our ears to hear your voice. Help us to recognize you as the ultimate source of wisdom. Amen.

Meditation: What “voices” do you need to turn the volume down on in order to hear God more clearly?

Take Five to Pursue Peace

Scripture of the Day: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.” – Proverbs 3: 13 – 18    

Prayer: Lord, we long for peace. Help us to value wisdom as the path that leads to peace. Orient our hearts to seek you and your way over material gain and success. Amen.

Meditation: How have you attempted to find peace? What were the results?

Take Five to Walk Well

Scripture of the Day: “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” – Proverbs 4: 13 – 15; 18 – 19

Prayer: Lord, lead us into the light of your truth. Help us to see evil from a distance and turn back. Give us strength to submit to the goodness of your instruction in all things. Amen.

Meditation: In what situations are you tempted to let go of God’s instructions?

Take Five to Speak Life

Scripture of the Day: “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. Hatred stirs up dissension but love covers over all wrongs.” – Proverbs 10: 11 – 12 

Prayer: Lord, our world needs us to be a source of life-giving words right now. Help us to be guided by love in our thoughts, actions, and social media posts. Amen.

Meditation: When have you received life from the words of another?

Aaron Perry ~ A Grief in Birth

I’ve never been pregnant. I watched my wife, a complete champion, bear three children with heroic efforts. Bearing a child means to carry the child through pregnancy to birth, when the child is born. Leading up to the birth, there are contractions. Contractions prepare the body to deliver the baby by shortening uterine muscles and dilating the cervix. As the uterus contracts and the cervix expands, the baby passes through the birth canal. But that description is deceptively simple. Like I said, it took heroic efforts.

And a midwife. By no means could I keep my wits through the process to support my wife to any great extent. I was able to boil water (stereotypes to the wind!), rub her back, cheer her on, and grab towels. But a midwife helped keep me together and coached my wife along. I’ll come back to this point.

My Dad died on October 17, 2018. It was about 30 months after a terminal liver cancer diagnosis. My Dad taught me many things; he was teaching us until the day he died. My brother, Tim, summed it well: He taught us to die slowly. By God’s grace, most of my Dad’s final 30 months were quite enjoyable. He had a good quality and quantity of life post-diagnosis. A doctor helped us to frame the situation: Dad refused to surrender to death easily and fought in such a way that he won many battles, though it was a losing war.

I am now learning to grieve. And my Dad isn’t here to teach me. I watched grief and experienced grief after the deaths of grandparents. But, like pregnancies, deaths and their grieving are unique. My Dad’s grief for his own parents was different from my own. C.S. Lewis noted after the death of his wife that he didn’t know grief felt so much like fear. The fear I have is that I won’t grieve – or that I won’t grieve well. I have had my tears, but what is grief supposed to look like? How will I know I’ve grieved?

Every pregnancy was different. My children were all carried differently. They sat in different positions and they liked different foods; they rested and played at different times, all within my wife’s body. I recall one time when my unborn daughter (though I didn’t know the child was a girl at the time) was awake but my wife was asleep. We played a little game of tag. I would tap my wife’s abdomen and wait for the response: a kick. I would wait just a bit and then tap again. Another brief pause and then another kick. There was a little life inside my wife, completely dependent on her to survive yet with a life and will of her own.

I’m taught and I teach that grief comes in waves. It’s true; I don’t deny it. Grief often comes in force and then recedes. But (so far) not for me. I wait for the waves, but they don’t come. There are only brief laps at the beach’s edge, laps that dissipate without foam, even, into the sand. I want more.

Back to the midwife. My wife learned to handle contractions in waves: accept them as they come, breathing and staying as relaxed as possible, and, finally, letting them go. I don’t know what a contraction feels like and I don’t know what grieving—this grieving, at least—is supposed to feel like. This unique grieving has taken the form of irritability, temptation, weariness, flashes of drive and energy.

I take these experiences as contractions. You can’t stop contractions and you can’t speed them up. They come and they go. Contractions prepare the body to birth a baby. They intensify and bring urges to push; the body wants to deliver the baby. In a similar way, I want to control my grief. I want to speed up the waves. I want to be delivered of my grief.

“Heather, on the next contraction, you are going to want to push. You are going to want to push very, very badly, but I need you not to push. If you push, you are going to blast that baby right out of you.” That was some of the most memorable support the midwife gave my wife. The contractions were working, but the body was not yet ready to be delivered of the baby.

I want to blast this grief right out of me. But I can’t. At least, it will be harmful if I do. I need to hold on and let the grief come; let these grieving moments do their work until the grief is fully delivered. I need to do this without breaking trust—without giving into the irritability, the temptation, the manic drive. C.S. Lewis didn’t know grief felt so much like fear; I didn’t know grief took so much faith. 

Note from the Editor: the featured image is from the painting “Grief” by
Morteza Katouzian, 1983.

Michelle Bauer ~ Finding Spiritual Freedom

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…” – Isaiah 61:1

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'” – Luke 4:14-21

Once you have found a comfortable place, spend a few moments in silence.  Take a few deep breaths and feel your body begin to relax. When you feel your mind becoming quiet, offer a simple prayer to God, thanking him for his presence and inviting him to speak to you.

Jesus celebrated the Sabbath by going to the synagogue. Do you celebrate the Sabbath? Do you find it restful? Is there something you need to add or remove to make this day more restful?

The poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed – one writer summarized this list as describing “those who have been traumatized by the stuff of life.” How have you been traumatized by the stuff of life? What affect does this have on you today?

We normally think of poor people as those who have no money, but there are other ways in which we can be poor. Some of us are emotionally poor. Some of us are poor spiritually. Others are poor in healthy relationships. In what ways are you poor? What would it look like to be rich in that area?

Has it ever felt like you have been held prisoner by something? How did you get free? In what area of life do you struggle to be free? Ask God to “proclaim freedom” to that part of your life. People who are oppressed struggle to share the freedom of those around them. In what ways are you helping others who are oppressed?

Jesus declared that this prophetic passage from the Old Testament book of Isaiah was being fulfilled. Do you sense these things being fulfilled in your life? Where are you experiencing freedom?

Where are you looking for freedom?

Michelle Bauer ~ Plenty to Eat: Turning to the Source of Life

Have you ever had a day where you worried that you weren’t going to have enough? Enough love. Enough patience. Enough energy. Enough smarts. Enough food. Enough money.

Jesus and his disciples had a day like that. Five thousand unexpected guests showed up for dinner and they were a long way from a grocery store. Just when everyone was about to panic, Jesus turns a little boy’s lunch into a feast – complete with leftovers.

When we are willing to surrender our lunches – our resources – Jesus specializes in turning “not enough” into plenty. Consider the story from the Gospel of John:

Sometime after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Feast was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “Eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelves baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. – John 6:1-15

In North America we talk about being hungry a lot, but often what we really mean is, “it would be fun to eat.” Have you ever been truly hungry? Have you ever lived through a period of time when you didn’t know where your next meal was coming from? How has that experience affected how you view food?

John explains that the crowd was following Jesus because of the miracles he was performing, especially healing the sick. What do you think the crowd was hoping for as they followed Jesus from place to place? How do you think Jesus felt about the crowd’s motivation? Why do you follow Jesus?

Throughout the gospels we see Jesus in the mountains. It must have been a place of peace and refuge for him. Where is the place where you feel the most peaceful?  What is it about that place that brings you peace?

What a gift the disciples received! To be able to sit down with Jesus on a mountainside must have been an extraordinary experience. In what ways is Jesus inviting you to sit down with him? Are you resisting or accepting his invitation? Why?

All of a sudden, Jesus’ quiet time with his disciples was invaded by a large, miracle-hungry crowd.  Take a moment and imagine the scene from a variety of perspectives – the crowd arriving, Jesus, and the disciples experiencing an interruption.

Jesus immediately anticipated the crowd’s physical needs. They may have been following him with mixed motives, but Jesus loves and serves them regardless. Are you ever tempted to think that Jesus is unaware or callous towards your needs? In what ways is he meeting your needs during this time in your life?

Why do you think Jesus was testing Philip? How do you feel about Jesus testing Philip? Have you ever felt tested by God? How did you respond?

Offer your thoughts to God and ask him to speak to you. Offer a prayer in words to God. Thank God for his presence. Express your desire to experience his presence in a deeper way.

Leave this time trusting that your needs will be met.

Note from the Editor: Today’s featured image is, “The Multiplication of Breads,” by Alexander Ivanov.

Michelle Bauer ~ Waiting for a New Song

I waited patiently for the Lord;

he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

He set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear

and put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40: 1-3


Are you in a comfortable place? Spend a few moments in silence.  Take a few deep breaths and feel your body begin to relax. When you feel your mind becoming quiet, offer a simple prayer to God, thanking him for his presence and inviting him to speak to you.

Waiting is hard work. Can you remember a time when you waited well? When have you struggled to wait? Take a few minutes to compare and contrast these experiences.

Or – are you waiting for the Lord right now? What are you waiting for God to do or say? What makes it hard to wait in this season? What things are comforting to you as you wait?

God gave us our imaginations. When used well, our imagination can help us to connect more deeply with him. Close your eyes and imagine God turning towards you. What do you see? What might God see?

If you were to cry out to God today, would it be through tears or in an angry voice? Perhaps you are crying out, trying to get God’s attention. Whichever form it takes, crying out is what begins our part of the conversation with God.

What conversation would you like to have with God right now?

Have you ever felt like you were stuck in a slimy pit? Can you describe what that was like? How did you get there? Do you feel stuck right now?

David, the writer of this Psalm, describes the Lord lifting him out of a pit.  Notice, he did not say that God stood back and lectured him about being in the pit. He also did not have Amazon deliver a book describing how to get yourself out of a pit. In the same way a loving parent lifts a child from a crib, God lifts us from our pit.  What is your response to this rescue?

God wants to give you a new place to stand – on a firm rock. That’s a big improvement from mud and mire! What does it feel like to stand on a big, solid rock? When we are stuck in mud it’s hard to think about anything else. Standing on a steady thing gives us freedom. What will you do or be with your new-found freedom?

Offer a prayer to God. Thank him for his presence. Express your desire to experience God’s presence in an even deeper way.

Leave this quiet time in peace knowing that God is making you new.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ In the Christmas Stillness

In the Christmas stillness, there is hurry.

In the Christmas stillness, there is distraction.

In the Christmas stillness, there is worry.

It is tempting to say, “In the Christmas hurry, there is stillness; in the Christmas distraction, there is stillness; in the Christmas worry, there is stillness.” We wish to take people from their likely experience – bustle, activity, news reports, fear, concern – and remind them of deep, quiet peace.

Yet that order is backward, because Christmas stillness is the underlying reality; all else is dispensable. Hurry, distraction, and worry may seem like the reality through which we approach a hay-filled manger, attempting to drag along our dawdling, freshly-bathed minds in their best new Christmas clothes, lining up our thoughts in front of Mary and Joseph for a meaningful Christmas photo that will remind us later of What’s Really Important in Life.

Or even if we approach Christmas through a lens of gritty realism – the contractions of a young woman, afterbirth on the floor of a cave, a crying, hungry member of the Trinity nursing a few feet away from farm animals, interruptions by a bunch of men claiming to have seen angels a few hilltops over while they were out with their sheep – we can ignore the deep well of stillness that abides in the Incarnation.

Christmas stillness isn’t rosy sentiment: “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” It isn’t pious sermonizing about the reason for the season while the turkey grows cold and little eyes urgently scan a hill of presents for their names.

Christmas stillness is the Real, and hurry, distraction, and worry are lying imposters tricking our senses into believing that our immediate experiences are the only genuine reality from which we attempt to operate. Hurry, distraction, and worry slyly whisper to us that we are indispensable; that we should quickly react to the “tyranny of the urgent;” that the Word Made Flesh is something we can successfully attempt to control for the ends that we want. These imposters tell us that mindfulness and slowness are inadequate (or even lazy); that focus and vision are unrealistic; and that peace comes from a completed to-do list or a five-minute devotional squeezed in while we’re stuck in traffic.

The days between Christmas and New Year’s Day may hold urgent care visits for inconvenient flu; they may include church services or watchnight vigils; they may hold travel, overdrawn bank accounts, long work days, or visits to a jail or prison; they may include tense exchanges of children with an ex-spouse, or overdoses, or depressed hours of loneliness and despair. And while some Protestant denominations mark the 12 days of Christmas (not the song) stretching from Christmas Day to the Feast of Epiphany which marks the arrival of the magi, others may schedule only a Christmas Eve service with thin hopes for church attendance around the holidays.  But the days between Christmas and New Year’s or Christmas and Epiphany a few days later – these days are an opportunity, not just for visiting family or corralling school children on break, but for sinking into Christmas stillness and retraining our thoughts to see hurry, distraction, and worry as the lying, conniving King Herods of our hours and days, bent on doing what we wish to Jesus Christ – anything rather than submitting to and worshiping him.

Christmas stillness doesn’t come from respite stolen while kids are distracted by a new toy (though it can be found there under the surface). Christmas stillness is deep, underlying peace that bookends our days, whether they are good or bad, joyful or tragic. It is captured in words like Job’s: “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away: blessed be the name of the Lord.”  It is captured in poetry like the words of Isaiah,

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.


For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Christmas stillness cleaves discouraged deception in half when old Simeon, guided by the Spirit, comes to the Temple and lays eyes on the Consolation of Israel – all six or seven pounds of him.

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.

Christmas stillness delves deep into the soul when elderly prophet Anna fulfills her long years at the temple by seeing a small newborn and recognizing the Kingdom of God in her midst, beginning to, “praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Are you walking aware that the steps you took in darkness are now flooded in great light? Are you dismissed from the long days of your life in peace, having seen the salvation of God? Are you making decisions based on the near reality of Jesus Christ, Prince, not of building a name for himself or an army for himself or a global economy for himself, but of – Peace? That “peace that transcends all understanding”? (One might say, peace that surpasses common sense.)

Watching and searching for the Consolation of Israel is activity that flows quietly from Christmas stillness. Being distracted by the goodness of God that brought light into the world flows quietly from Christmas stillness. Making the choice to submit to God who gives and God who takes away – as Mary did when an angel appeared to her as a personified, supernatural positive pregnancy test, and as Mary did, when her little boy was betrayed and beaten up and publicly executed – this flows quietly from Christmas stillness.

Are you ready to let stillness interrupt your hurry, distraction, and worry? Are you ready to let Christmas stillness define your self-imposed frenzy, your to-do list, your temporary and long-term fears? Are you ready to let deep, abiding stillness define the curves of your day? Are you ready to let the steady heartbeat of the innermost Trinity quiet your cries, your protests, your words? Are you ready to become like a peaceful, satisfied baby against its mother’s chest, contented and soothed?

Are you ready to let stillness resound?

Justin Gentry ~ To a God as Close as Your Breath: A Brief Primer on Meditation

Then Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the people of Israel and I tell them, ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you’; and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What do I tell them?”  

God said to Moses, “I-AM-WHO-I-AM. Tell the People of Israel, ‘I-AM sent me to you.’”  Exodus 3:13-15 (The Message) 

Have you ever tried to imagine what it would be like to encounter God? Not the general presence you might get occasionally in prayer, or while experiencing great art, but a genuine face-on-the-floor encounter with the Divine. I have often thought about this and even desired it at times. I picture about what I might ask or do – and in none of these do I ask God what God wants to be called.  

On the surface, it seems like a silly question. I already know who God is…right? For much of my life my unspoken assumption was that if I did ask God what God’s name is, the response would be something like, “My name is God. Who I am is God. Now let me tell you about the wonderful plan I have for your life.” 

But in the Bible we see a story about a God who isn’t quite so simple. 

The story begins with a man named Moses herding sheep. He is just doing his thing, watching livestock eat. They weren’t even his sheep; they belong to his father-in-law. It is a pretty ordinary scene for the Ancient Near East. 

In the distance, Moses sees a burning bush. This in and of itself is not that out of the ordinary. Fires happen all the time. However, this bush does not stop burning and Moses goes to investigate. When he arrives the bush that burns-yet-does-not-burn speaks to him. 

I don’t think anything prepares you for something like this. When Moses hears the fire speak he covers his face because he is afraid to look at God. He is caught up in the sacred craziness of the moment. He is completely caught by surprise. 

During his encounter Moses asks a rather simple question. He asks God/the bush that burns-but does-not-burn for his name. And God responds in a rather curious way. God says, “My name is YHWH.”  

Thanks, YHWH, that’s really helpful. 

In English this word is usually translated “I am who I am” because YHWH is similar to the Hebrew verb “to be.” God’s response to this simple question is, “I am a bit like the present tense of the verb ‘to be’.”  

Confused yet? Rabbi Lawrence Kushner explains it like this: 

The letters of the name of God in Hebrew… are frequently pronounced Yahweh. But in truth they are inutterable…This word {YHWH} is the sound of breathing.

The holiest name in the world, the Name of Creator, is the sound of your own breathing. That these letters are unpronounceable is no accident. Just as it is no accident that they are also the root letters of the Hebrew verb ‘to be’… God’s name is the name of Being itself. 

I find it interesting that God does not choose a Hebrew, Greek, Latin or English name. God doesn’t even choose a masculine or feminine name. God chooses a name that is as personal and universal as the next breath you breathe. The Siddur (a Jewish prayer-book) says this: “The breathing of all life praises your Name.” God is the source of all our breath; God is Breath Itself.  

Breathe that in for a second or two. 


I think we all go through seasons where we have trouble naming God. God is such a huge concept that complete accuracy is a problematic goal. It doesn’t help that names like Lord, Master, Father, and even Savior have been used by the careless to damage or dominate others. Sometimes I get anxious about how I approach God wondering if I am doing it right or if he (or she or…it?) even cares. 

Many of us have trouble breathing, too. We breathe shallowly and from the chest instead of deeply from the diaphragm. We have shame tied to our bellies so we suck them in depriving our bodies of much needed oxygen. We allow our anxiety to keep our breaths small, insignificant, and malnourished.  

I wonder if these two realities are connected? 

What if slowing down and paying attention to our breath is spiritual work? I have found that a routine practice of meditation is one of the best ways to reconnect me with God. Meditation is simple and, like your breath, it is always available to you. For me it is a type of prayer that I can always move into, even when I am conflicted about prayer.  

So how do we meditate? 

Find some silence: This likely will be the most difficult part but it is important to minimize distractions. Close your door and turn your phone off. A clear indicator of how much you need to be meditating is how difficult this step is for you. (It’s ok, I hated this part too.) 

Get in a comfortable position: I prefer cross-legged on the floor because it feels more meditative, but that is just me. If you have back or knee issues sitting in a chair is fine. Just find a position that allows you to sit upright and not slouch. You can even lay on you back but I would avoid the bed. This isn’t nap time.  

Focus on your Breath: Think about the gift from God that is your breath. Observe it entering your nose, moving through your throat, and then into your lungs. Feel the sensations of it coming and going out of your body; nourishing your tissues without fail. Just enjoy the sensation for ten or so breath cycles.  

Use a Mantra (Optional): A mantra is just a word or phrase you repeat to aid in concentration.  Some people prefer this to just focusing on the breath. Some ideas might include: 

“You are always with me; Everything I have is yours.” 

“He must become greater; I must become less.” 

“God is my provider; I have everything I need.” 

Or you can focus on a word like Love, Joy, or Peace. 

Observe what happens: Here is the trick. You don’t try to make things happen. You sit in the space you have made and allow the breath to do its work. When your mind inevitably wanders just simply guide it back to the breath. Don’t judge yourself harshly for getting distracted. Just stick with it.   

I would begin with a five minute interval. After you get comfortable with that time feel free to increase it as needed. 

Meditation is a treasured practice in Christian history but it is also a much-needed spiritual practice in my life. It gets me back to what is most essential, the Breath of God and my connection to it. It increases my ability to see and interact with the burning bushes that are all around me. When I am stressed or anxious it calms me.  

At first it seemed like a silly thing to focus on breathing and sit in silence. How does that produce anything? Now I see that breath is a gift from YHWH – and it is enough. 

Do you have a regular practice of meditation? How has it strengthened your connection to God? 

Tammie Grimm ~ Celtic Christianity and the Coloring Craze

Chances are, you or someone you know gave or received a coloring book for adults in the last year. With titles as catchy as “Color Me Stress Free” or “The Art of Relaxation,” the coloring craze has swept the nation. Whether the book contains images of floral gardens, mandalas or other graphic patterns, the idea behind coloring therapy is to find “inner peace” or your Zen through selecting a desired pencil and shading in a printed design.

Coloring reportedly helps reduce stress in adults as it requires the brain, nervous system and muscles to use fine motor skills and therefore engages the participant in a creative action. An added benefit is that it is a skill learned in childhood, so the simplicity of what was once work for a young child is now a pleasant pastime. Regardless of any nostalgia coloring may evoke, the action of coloring allows the mind to rest from the myriad of helter-skelter activities of modern-first-world-living that keep it occupied otherwise.

Together, the right brain and left brain coordinate in the simple repetitive action of moving the pencil to dapple, daub, dot, fleck, or steadily tint the page with pigmentation with infinitely creative possibilities. No matter how many copies of the same pre-printed image are made available, each person who sits down to color expresses their own creative autonomy with the colors they choose, the techniques they use and whether or not they chose to stay within or even create outside the lines.

I wonder if coloring hasn’t become our contemporary culture’s expressed need for connection and integration. Living in a society in which so much is mechanized and automated, we lose track of who we are, how we function and who we are meant to be as human beings. Think about it: for many of us, eating and drinking – a basic human necessity- is something we access through cardboard boxes and cellophane wrappers. Yes, it is convenient to use the drive-thru line to get our Starbucks or use an app to place our to-go order ahead of time to use the handy carry-out parking space at Applebee’s or Panera’s. Such conveniences and technological assists allow us to be super productive in our overcrowded schedule. Yet, whether we like it or not, a sense of alienation begins to creep into our lives, disconnecting us from a life of intentionality, a life of integration, a life of wholeness that is a hallmark of Celtic Christianity.

Celtic Christianity, through its prayers and practices, grounds participants in the fundamentals of who we are as human beings – creatures of God, our lives connected to the earth and related to the world – even the world beyond our tangible senses.

In similar ways, the act of coloring connects us in a fundamental way to who we are as human beings, unified creatures made in the image of God who created us. Our mind, heart, and will are united in creative endeavor and that prods our soul and awakens it into consciousness – integrating our whole being. Instead of continually living a distracted existence that imperceptibly fractures our sense of self and belonging in the world, coloring is a simple, easily accessed and a typically pleasant pastime for many. Coloring allows a person’s mind, heart, and energies to become focused and provides rest and rejuvenation from the rat race that otherwise consumes us.

No wonder coloring has become a fashionable entry point for prayer and meditation. But coloring is no substitution for living a life of intentionality and integrity that is Christian. Even coloring a series of Celtic knots and designs does not make one practiced in the ways of Celtic Christianity – ancient or contemporary. It might be a start, but it is only the initial steps of a lifelong and all-encompassing journey of intentional whole-life discipleship.

In a series of several posts, I plan to explore the heart of Celtic Christianity, what such a life of integration and integrity looks like for a contemporary Christian and why such a life is authentic to our Wesleyan heritage. Each post will consider aspects of everyday life that threaten to distract and distort us from living full lives that seek the sacred and find connection with the endlessly creative Triune God who created the universe.

For those of you interested in taking this journey with me, try your hand at coloring once or twice in the next week. It need not be a Celtic design, but if a Celtic knot will help inspire or ground you in this experience a few links to some free on-line artwork are provided below.





As you color, consider the things you notice about the activity…what sorts of things are conducive to coloring? What distracts you from coloring? Do you enjoy coloring with others or do you prefer doing it by yourself? There are no right or wrong answers, but taking stock of the activity may lead to further insights about what Celtic Christianity might look like in our contemporary culture.

Until then – may this traditional Celtic blessing accompany you on your journey and serve as a benediction.

May you have –

Walls for the wind

And a roof for the rain,

And drinks bedside the fire

Laughter to cheer you

And those you love near you,

And all that your heart may desire.