Posts Tagged ‘HeartPaths Training’


Slow Reader Friday: Mastery

Stack of books

Click here to see the July 2017 MIP Book Club Selection!

What? You don’t remember me announcing that my MIP Book Club choice was Mastery by George Leonard? Good. It means you have a life.

I chose it last summer…July to be precise. And then life happened to me and I had to let go of the blog this past year. So, better late than never, right? (Just nod your head and agree.)

Once again, Mastery is a book that I studied the first year I was in the HeartPaths Spiritual Direction training program. When I began reading it, I was little astonished that it was on the reading list. It’s not an overtly Christian book. 


Slow Reader Friday: Be Still…


Last night the eldest called and reported that, for a rather monumental birthday soon, he is going camping…alone. Yes, totally alone. Why? Because when looking at Jesus’ example, he noted that He often went away from the crowds and spent time in solitude. The eldest thinks he needs to do the same to find a better, closer relationship with the Lord.

Be still, my heart! An answered prayer, for sure. So, it is probably not coincidence at all that the MIP July 2016 Book Club Selection is entitled Be Still by Jane Vennard.

As I’ve mentioned before in my spring 2016 posts, God doesn’t usually speak when we are distracted. In 21st century America we are constantly distracted, except maybe when we’re asleep. And unfortunately for us, it’s often difficult to experience God while asleep, unless we have prophetic dreams like those described in the Bible.

Thus, we need silence. And because of the many distractions we now have, one of the few ways we can encourage and “grow our silent time” is to go on retreat. Vennard’s book explains both why this is important and how to create prayer retreats that focus on being still and being quiet.

We Americans are uncomfortable with silence, as a rule. We are so accustomed to noise that we no longer even notice it. Right now, as I type this with the TV, radio and music off, I can still hear 5 sounds! I can hear my ceiling fan both rattling (because it needs to be tightened up!) and whirring and I can hear the AC and the gentle clatter of me typing on my keyboard. And my breathing sometimes makes a sound, probably because my allergies are acting up!

Where I am typing is also close to a road. So, it wouldn’t be unusual to hear outdoor noises, such as a car going by (as it just did!) and roofer noises from the neighbor getting a new roof!

Thus, when we go to a remote place, and we switch off the phone and just sit, we often start fidgeting. Even if we manage to sit still, we often want to manipulate God’s communication with us. Of course, this is foolish! And if you are anything like me, you assume that God can only communicate by talking to us through our thoughts. In reality I have learned, in the last year, that God can give me sensations and visions and that ALL of that is Him communicating.

How do I know that it’s God communicating and not just me or some evil entity talking? (I get asked this a lot!) Practice. More than likely if you’ve never experienced God communicating, He’ll give you a little “taste” of that unseen world by answering a heartfelt question or giving you a sensation or a vision that you KNOW just can’t be anyone else other than God. The first time it happened to me it DEFINITELY did not sound like something that came from head! It even involved this blog and yes, I blogged about the experience.

After that experience I just got crazy excited to have more of that in my life–it’s freaking awesome! Enter Heartpaths and the reason why I read Be Still and other recommended books from Year 1 of this 3-year program.

Did I know that studying prayer was going to lead to more “revelations” from God? No. But since we are to communicate with God via prayer, it makes sense that He would communicate back this way. However, we Americans like to dominate “the prayer conversation” and not allow God to enter into that conversation–it’s more like a soliloquy for most of us!

I thought that there were only a few ways to pray. Wrong! Having studied and practiced a handful of them now, I’m learning to recognize “God thoughts” from “MaryAnn thoughts.”

Vennard not only discusses why we need contemplation in our lives, but also how to design retreats that encourage contemplation and teach various prayer techniques. In addition she outlines designing retreats so that people have breaks periodically, avoiding the typical problems associated with such retreats, and promoting them successfully.

Vennard begins the book with an enticing story about a church that began with two people simply wanting to start a centering prayer group in their church and how that small group became a whole new ministry that completely transformed the church. At one point there was even a rift between two groups of church members and they “prayed their way” through that rift and became a cohesive unit again through simply seeking the Lord.

Be Still makes me want to give such a gift to my own congregation and normally, I would charge forth, confident that I could do this all by myself. What hubris!

But after a year of reading, praying and experiencing God’s communication, I now prefer to spend a considerable amount of time praying with my minister and others on how best to bring this to my church and to have as many people involved in planning it as possible. I welcome suggestions by others who may be more knowledgeable than I.

I think a prayer, contemplation and silence revolution is on the way. And it couldn’t have come at a better time, if you ask me. Want to join the revolution? Let me know by posting a comment below or sending me an email here. Then get busy and read Be Still🙂

Monday’s Post: What is the definition of the WOW?

You Might Also Like: August 2016 Book Club and Slow Reader Friday: SoulTypes


Examining Examen…


All those who have never heard of examen, post a comment! Until HeartPaths I had never heard the term examen (Merriam-Webster says examen is pronounced ig-ˈzā-mən, although I have heard it pronounced like the word examine, too.). It is a prayer practice initiated by Ignatius.

If I had to guess, most Christians do an informal version of examen without realizing it. While there are countless ways to do it, the essence is this: Review the previous day and find the underlying meaning of the day’s events. Do this every day. Most contemplatives would say that examen is the most important prayer practice.

Thus, my next year in HeartPaths will be focused on doing examen daily and reflecting on what I’m learning. Ignatius also created other spiritual exercises and I will also be doing those. Don’t ask me about these, since I won’t start them until this fall!

Some forms of examen also ask us to look forward to the next 24 hours and ask God for assistance where needed. However, let me be


Walking with the Lord…

Labyrinth walking

Labyrinth walking

It’s an amazing coincidence that I’m now to the point in the “prayer exploration” journey here on MIP where it’s time to discuss Body Prayer and today is the 17th anniversary of the day I had my first heart attack due to Prinzmetal Angina.

It may be more than coincidence.

Body prayer consists of a whole list of prayer practices involving the movement of your body to facilitate new ways of understanding God and communicating with him. In HeartPaths we moved our hands for one prayer time; walked a labyrinth in another; prayed the Lord’s Prayer accompanied by certain postures for certain phrases of it; and examined pictures of ourselves growing up to learn more about Body Prayer. While each of these was new to me and each was meaningful, I became fascinated with one practice that demands a little explanation.

For those not familiar with labyrinths, they are NOT mazes. Mazes are designed to trick the human mind; labyrinths only have one path that leads to the center of the labyrinth and then another path or the same path back out. It simply has a lot of turns in it similar to a maze. Labyrinth walking has been around for centuries and the most famous is in the cathedral at Chartres, France. Many new labyrinths are patterned after that one.

Labyrinth paths are now being painted onto canvas so that churches can simply roll them up and put them away when not in use.  Some churches lay them out during Lent and Advent and may even play music in the labyrinth area. Labyrinths can also be found outdoors. One that fascinates me is one where the path is marked by field stones. I’m already getting ideas in my head for how to incorporate a field stone labyrinth into our lot at the Reserve!

First Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth, TX (FPCFW) is building an outdoor labyrinth in a new meditation garden. This is exciting since FPCFW already has two canvas labyrinths that are maintained and furnished by a “Labyrinth guild.” The labyrinth guild members even undergo training about the use, preparation and care of the labyrinth.

For instance, the day we walked the smaller of the two labyrinths at FPCFW, the room was dimly lit and simple votive candles were dotted around the room. Chairs also bordered the labyrinth at various points, enough for each person about to walk the labyrinth. In addition classical music softly played in the background. A member of the labyrinth guild read an introduction and gave some simple instructions about labyrinth walking. As people walk the labyrinth, a few of the labyrinth guild members sit off to a side and pray for those walking the labyrinth.

For instance, outside the entrance of the labyrinth was a round table with a larger center candle lit and some unlit votive candles. We were told to sit in the chairs and prepare our hearts for prayer. When we felt led to begin, we moved to this round table and lit an unlit votive candle from the larger center candle. Then we formed a line at the entrance of the labyrinth and waited until the person ahead of us had reached a predetermined point in the labyrinth.

We were given instructions on how to work around people obstructing our path and what to do when reaching the center of the labyrinth. Most of us stepped to one side of the center and prayed a bit before heading out of the labyrinth again. When finished walking the labyrinth, we were invited to take our lit votive candle back to the circle where we journal about our prayer experiences and continue praying until all had gathered in the circle.

Here is a little bit about what I experienced while walking the labyrinth:

“I started too soon! That is probably representative of my character–I am eager to jump into a lot of things…without properly preparing myself. In so doing I am probably making my “path” more difficult. Perhaps I am not asking God to prepare me…

“As I passed others on different parts of the labyrinth, I wondered, “How many times am I near others, feel close to them, but don’t reach out to them to hug them or smile at them?”…

“At one point I got off the way out of the labyrinth because of crossing paths with another person and I realized how easily we can get off the path to God. It helped if I took a moment to look at the center of the labyrinth to find where I needed to be again. As Christians, we sometimes should stop and look to “our center,” Jesus, to find our bearings again.”

The entire walk was meaningful for me as well as the other Body Prayer practices and I realized I have a rather large “disconnect” between my body and soul and that’s another “sermon” for another time, but if I hadn’t tried all of these practices, I probably wouldn’t know that about myself and it wouldn’t be transforming who I am, body and soul, at this time. Perhaps the longest lasting lesson from Body Prayer is that all I do with my body can be an offering to God if I just slow down and remind myself to do that.

Some studies show that when we slow down, movement-wise, we are actually more efficient because we can anticipate obstacles that may impede our progress. Slowing down is counter-cultural in modern America, but then again, so was Jesus and so, slowing down is probably the best thing we could do for our “walk with the Lord.”

How’s your walk? Slow? Hurried? Non-existent? Stumbling? Need a road map or GPS? (I now refer to GPS as my God-Positioning System!)

Literally walk with the Lord today and see if the “pathway” becomes a bit clearer.

Friday’s Post: Hangin’ Out with Monks

You Might Also Like: Who’s Your Guide?; My Thoughts Are Your Thoughts?; and Coming to My Senses


The Wild Child…


The longer I am in the HeartPaths program, the more I am convinced that they put together their program with a lot of thought and an active response to prior students’ experiences. I think the roots of that sentiment began with today’s topic: Centering prayer. I learned, quickly, that Breath Prayer was really a warm-up for centering prayer!

If trying breath prayer was challenging for me, centering prayer made breath prayer look like a breeze! In centering prayer, you again empty the thoughts in your head and just try to be with the Lord. The difference between it and breath prayer, or the Jesus prayer is that you choose one word (yes, just one word) and use that word to bring yourself back to just a state of being with God whenever your mind begins to wander.

You’re not even supposed to change the word as you pray. In the Jesus prayer it was common for me to change the phrasing I used if I felt like I couldn’t settle myself with the current phrasing. Thus, settling on just one word and sticking to it was really challenging!


Out of Breath?


Breath Prayer, also known as the Jesus Prayer, is the prayer practice that first challenged me in HeartPaths. I think this is because of two facts:

  1. I’m a little wary of “mantras.” And essentially, breath prayer is about repeating one phrase often.
  2. Breath prayer requires that you empty the mind and just allow God to fill the space in that emptiness.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a blogger might have trouble emptying her mind! Add to that the “counselor brain” and it’s darned near impossible. But, I now rely upon breath prayer for certain situations, so obviously I navigated my way through these two “mine fields” successfully. Let’s examine the practice:

The Jesus Prayer stems from what blind Bartimaeus said to Jesus in the hopes of Jesus healing him: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Simply by naming Jesus we are inviting Him into our midst and asking Him to take us as we are (warts and all) and to help us in whatever way Jesus/the Holy Spirit feels will yield healing for us.