I Am Already With You ~God

It is time again to do my book work for the past year.  It is one of my least favorite things to do.  If I just did it every month throughout the year, it would not be such a big deal.  But, that never seems to happen.

Being on the computer, I also tend to find diversions.  I can only do data entry for so long before I need a break.  Today, I ended up looking at iTunes.  It is always fun to see what is new out there in the music scene.

I came across an artist named, Michelle Mandico, and was drawn to her voice and contemplative sound.  This particular song – I Am Already With You – seemed to speak to particularly today.  What if this was a conversation between me and God?  Why do I sometimes resist God, like we are on different sides?  Why do I search so much instead of resting in the sure knowledge that God is already with me?

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I Changed My Word for 2018

After some pondering and praying, I decided to change my word for 2018.  In my previous post, I stated it was “embraced.”  Once I started thinking more about the coming year and my intentions, I realized that, yes, I need to let myself be embraced, but I was also being called to expand on that thought.

The other day when I sat down with my prayer journal, these are the thoughts that came to me:

I am embraced in You!
Where are you calling me to go today?
What are you calling me to embrace?
I have no fear for You are with me.
Put Your desires in my heart. Let what You want be what I want.
Give me Your courage, strength, and stamina.
Let me be alert and welcome where you lead.
I am safe.
I am surrounded in Light–warm and breezy.
I breathe You in; I breathe You out.
You are the air I breathe.
My heart beats Your love–my trust in You steady and strong.
Come, Holy Spirit.
I embrace You.

Then, a short phrase came to me.  I decided I wanted it to be my mantra, or short prayer for the year.  I have never chosen a short prayer for the year, but these words seem to describe perfectly what my soul is longing for.  It is short, so I can easily memorize it and use it at the beginning of the day, and throughout the day when I need to regain my focus.

I embrace this day and all I encounter, because I am being embraced.

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My Word for 2018: How I Found It and How It Found Me

For quite a few years now I have been using the spiritual practice of choosing a word for the year.  The practice was introduced to me by Christine Valters Paintner from Abbey of the Arts.

One of the things about the practice that has become more and more enlightening to me is how the word actually ends up choosing you vs you choosing the word.  This year that seemed particularly evident.

During the first part of December, I begin to find myself mulling over or trying out different words to see if they might hold some wisdom for me.  Right now, I do not really remember what any of those were for me this year.  But, I believe my word has found me.

About a week ago, a friend introduced a few of us who met for bible study to a group called The Liturgists.  For our gathering we listened to two recordings inspired by the Ignatian or Jesuit practice of prayer, which uses imagination and reflection.  The first recording we listened to was Nazereth to Bethlehem from The Liturgists album titled O Light.  (You can find the album on itunes.)

It was a cold night and I had run errands that afternoon including grocery shopping.  After I went home and put the groceries away, I really struggled with just staying home.  I even left my coat on to motivate me to go out again.  So, when we gathered that evening for bible study, I left my down coat on my shoulders to keep myself warm.

As I found a comfortable corner on the sofa and readied myself to listen to the recording from The Liturgists about the birth of Christ, I decided to put my coat over the top of me and snuggle in.  I also found myself bracing my arms and hands lightly over my stomach in a sort of embrace.  The recording asked us to imagine ourselves on the journey from Nazareth and right there in Bethlehem.  With my arms circling my stomach, the mental and physical feelings of what Mary might have felt carrying Jesus became very real.

We enjoyed the first recording so much that we decided to listen to another one from the album.  This one was titled Cosmic Christmas.

Right away I knew this recording was going to be more challenging than the first.  Instead of the warmth and comfort I found in the first one, I right away felt a tinge of fear rise up within me as we were asked to take the Light’s hand while we “accelerated” and “zoomed away” from earth.  Still in my same position with my coat over me and my arms encircled lightly around my middle, I decided that I need more than just a hand for this journey.

The visualizations the recording brought to mind of the “kindness and cruelty” of our human history and existence was not a comforting feeling either.  Yet, as a listened a warmth seemed to stay with me–a circle of light embracing me around my middle, not too loose that I would fall, but not so tight to feel confining.

I do not remember if it was in the first or second recording that they said something about being chased by love, or if they even said that at all.  But I had a vivid image of being chased by a parent figure.  In it I am running away and resisting being caught.  Then, when I am finally caught, I kick and struggle a bit before I finally surrender.  I let myself be embraced.

I had let my word for 2018 find me.  It is embraced.

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Contemplative Crochet

Crocheting has become therapy and a form of contemplative prayer for me.  This morning I am pondering loose ends.  Sometimes those loose ends in our life do not only need to be tied up but woven in.  How do I weave God more into my life?

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Advent through Epiphany Meditations – Night Visions by Jan L. Richardson

Artist and poet, Jan Richardson’s words and images have been speaking to me for the past couple of years in the emails she sends out to those who sign up.  I am not sure why, but so many times I feel such a deep connection with her words illuminated with her soulful abstract paintings.

When I saw this book, I have to admit that the cover caught my eye first.  It makes a lovely coffee table book.  The title–Night Visions–also called to me.

The winter season is not one of my favorites in Minnesota.  The cold is embraceable with warm “woolies” to keep you warm, but the lack of sunlight can sometimes feel like you are under a big dark heavy blanket looking for an edge to peek out.  Just these past couple days I noticed what a difference there is in how I feel if the sun is shining vs when it is not.

Most of my life I have associated darkness and night with things I do not want in my life.  Because of that, I try to stay away from them and ignore that they are there.  But these past few years with my practice of trying to be more mindful and in the present moment, I have found that there is so much beauty and wisdom that can come from darkness and night.  I believe God created day and night, so why did I think God is not in darkness and night?

As I have been practicing embracing the darkness and night, I am seeing things I never noticed before.  And I am seeing them in a different way.  For instance, we have a Great Horned Owl that we can here hooting at times.  The old me might associate owls with scary stuff, but the new me, ponders the sound with awe and wonders what that owl can teach me about God’s creation.  I am realizing that there is much I have missed out on in life by letting my presumptions and fears get in the way.

I am looking forward to making this new book part of my daily Advent practice.  The other part I really like about it is that it goes through Epiphany.  Did you know the 12 days of Christmas do not start until Christmas Day?  I guess I will save that thought to write about later.

Here is a little preview of what is inside the book:

The book is available for purchase on Jan’s website—www.janrichardson.com–or through Amazon.

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The Struggle to Connect

For some time I have been trying to decide how my online presences relate to each other if at all.  This website–prayer bedes–began as an extension of my Etsy shop where I sell Christian prayer beads.  (I know, the shop is currently empty.  That does not mean that I do not have pieces I have made that need to be priced and listed.  There is a box of those sitting right in front of me staring me in the face as I write this.)

Besides prayer beads, I have had other experiences come up in my prayer journey that I felt were worth sharing.  That led to starting a blog and Facebook page called Praying with our Senses.  Much of what I think about including there gets stopped in process as I wonder if the best place to write about it might be on my prayer bedes blog.  Sure, prayer beads area a way we can pray with our senses, but there are other ways too.

Another endeavor I have in the works is a website and Etsy shop called Center Rings.  This also relates to my prayer journey.  Right now it is set up to be a separate Etsy shop (currently empty) and separate website.

Yet another endeavor I am pursuing is BootleggersLTD.  Bootleggers are handmade boot anklets made from jacquard ribbon, ethnic textiles, and ethnic needlework.  I am not sure if they really have a spiritual significance.  They are meant to be just for fun and a way to introduce people to the beauty of ethnic textiles.

I am not done yet.  Another blog and Facebook page I started is Wee Winged Ones.  If you have not already figured out, I am most definitely an “idea” person.  Wee Winged Ones is where I have posted some projects and experiments.

For right now, I will leave it at that, but confess that there are others.  (If you read my Wee Winged Ones introduction in the upper part of the above image, you will see that I very often struggle with discerning what is “worthy” and the wisdom to know the difference.)

As I am working on this 40 bags in 40 days practice for Lent, I realize that spiritual practices can be found many places and too often we try to compartmentalize the spiritual aside from our tasks of daily living .  For instance, yesterday I cleaned out our our pantry.  After I posted a photo of the before and after to the Facebook group I joined with others who are working on the 40 bags in 40 days, I noticed someone posted that Sundays in Lent are considered “little Easters” and not included in the 40 days of Lent.  My reaction was “I knew that!”  But, somehow I did not apply that knowledge to the 40 day decluttering practice.

With those thoughts, I think I have decided that I am going to somehow combine some of these “projects” into this website.  In order to make them more searchable, I will include the “area” they are coming from and have a special tag for each. (I think.  That has been one of my dilemmas–how to do this.)

For those coming to this website specifically for prayer beads information, you will be able to click on the PrayerBeads tag to exclude the other stuff.  I know this will take awhile to get the tags changed, but I hope you will be patient with me.

God Bless your Lenten Journey!

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Not Afraid to Look

Watching the footage from some of the photographers at the Standing Rock camps, I would see this sculpture sometimes and wonder about it.  Who made it?  How did it get there?  How big is it?  What is it made out of?

I did a little research to find out some of these answers.  The sculpture is titled Not Afraid to Look the White Man in the Face.  The artist who created the sculpture is Charles Recountre  He is of Lakota heritage but now lives in New Mexico, where he made a similar piece that resides in Santa Fe.

The sculpture at Standing Rock, which sits on the edge of the hill overlooking Lake Oahe and the Cannon Ball River on the now evicted Sacred Stones camp, was completed in October 2016.  News resources say that Recountre with the help of people at camp worked from sun up to sun down for 30 days to complete the piece.  It was constructed from rebar and cement then painted a rich adobe red.

As I searched for photos of the sculpture, I started thinking about the significance of the title and how it related to me as a white woman.  Thoughts that ran through my head were:

• If I looked at myself as a white woman in the mirror, what would I see?

• If I considered myself part of the collective “we” as a white immigrant who came and took the land from these people, how do I respond?

• In relation to my last post about not turning away from sin, how does not being afraid to look echo those same thoughts?

One of the photos I found (the top one with the closeup view of the sculpture from behind) had me envisioning myself as the sculpture with someone behind me taking the photo.  Maybe that someone also had their hands on my shoulder in reassurance.  Maybe that someone is God giving me the courage to not just look but see.

If I sit here for a time in silence pondering those thoughts, how does it change the way I think, feel, see?

Last spring a little corner of our dining room evolved into a sort of prayer corner for me.  Yesterday I printed out that photo of Not Afraid to Look and added it to the corner.  I feel like it has more to tell me.





Credit for above photos: http://www.facebook.com/NotAfraidtoLookatStandingRock/

Interview with the Artist:  http://greenfiretimes.com/2017/01/not-afraid-to-look/



Not Afraid to Look Sculpture in Santa Fe, New Mexico:  http://www.publicartarchive.org/work/not-afraid-look

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Ash Wednesday – Don’t Turn Away

I have been doing some thinking about what is said to us in our church when we receive ashes on Ash Wednesday.  The person marking our heads says, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

Sin was once described to me as that which keeps us from God.  In other words, sin is separation from God.

It is those words “turn away” that have me thinking.  Do I really want to turn away from sin?  Could that also mean ignoring or not acknowledging my sins?  What if we said instead something like “Show us our sins and draw us closer to You”?

There was a post going around on Facebook on Tuesday about a Lenten de-cluttering challenge that really resonated with me.  The graphic originated from the website White House Black Shutters.


Are you following where I am going with this?

It was a tradition for many years in the Catholic church to give up something for Lent.  That has changed a bit over the years as it was proposed that instead of giving up something we might do something good instead.  Maybe the idea of giving up something was actually intended to give up something that keeps us from God, but that intention was a bit lost.  Giving up coffee, for instance, is in most cases not something that keeps us from God.

Still, maybe if we looked at giving something up in another way such as decluttering, the meaning of giving something up might be redefined and meaningful.  Decluttering can surely be a physical act, but it could also me a mental act if we consider clutter as things that get in the way of or obstruct our relationship with God.  You could maybe also call that clutter “road blocks”

Inspired by the 40 Bags for 40 Days of Lent challenge, I am going to commit to getting rid of at least one thing in my house each day.  (A bag a day seems like more that I can truthfully commit to.)  Like many if not most Americans, I have definitely fallen into the trap of over consumption of stuff.  I am also going to prayerfully consider what else might be getting in the way of my relationship with God.

I decided to start the 40 bag challenge on Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) because I figured there was no harm in starting right away.  The picture below shows a bit of my first intentional “letting go.”  I started with the little drawers in our sofa table, but that led to going through my stashes of candles and table linens elsewhere in the house.  That led to doing a bit of purging from those other places too.

(I did end up doing something with all those candles, but I will save that for another post.)

Lord, draw me closer to you.

After I wrote this post I was reading my email devotion for today from the Upper Room.  When I took the Strengths Finder test a few years ago, it said that Connectivity was one of my strengths.  I also learned that people who have this strength can sometimes find connections where there are really not any.  That said, this email devotion today seemed to fit right into this post to me.

  Come, Holy Spirit!

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Intention Setting Prayer Journal Meditative Exercise

This year I purchased a planner–Rituals for Living Dreambook and Planner–from a website called The Dragon Tree.  It came across my Facebook feed as a suggested post and I was intrigued.

It is quite extensive, and I have to admit that I have not completed all the pages that require answering questions to better define your goals in life.  The concept behind the planner is to create rituals in your life that you want to make a habit.  It is based on the thought that it is small steps that create change, vs large ideas.

I believe that is what caught my attention when the post about the planner popped up on Facebook, as I had just read an article about studies that showed our brains are much better at creating change when we break the steps down into things we can accomplish more easily.  (I wish I could find the link to that article, but I am not finding it right now.)

Anyhow, on the weekly layout for the planner, there is a mandala design at the top where you put your focus for the week.  This week, the thing that came to me was not a word or words but a heart.  I decided to just go with what my gut was telling me to do and I drew a heart.  Pondering that a bit, I realized that I had colored the red on the outside of the heart and left the inside of the heart blank.  That led me to ask myself “What is in my heart?”.

Instead of being able to write a bunch of things that were on my mind, I realized that I had stumbled on a very significant question to which I really needed to let simmer before I could answer.

After I wrote the question next to my heart at the top of my planner, I took out my prayer journal and markers.  I simple drew a big heart and wrote the question next to it.  As I doodled around and embellished the heart, I considered what was really in my heart.  Many thoughts came to mind, but none were fitting quite right.  Then, something came to me–my need for connection.  I decided that was where I wanted to start.  How I will connect with who/what and how I will do it are the next step.

I decided that the page I had drawn with the heart in the middle was going to be my prayer journal meditative exercise for the month of February.  (I know.  It is fitting with Valentines Day being in the month of February too!)  I am curious to see what will unfold.

If you are looking for a fun and thoughtful exercise to do with a group–adults and even children–you might consider giving each person a piece of paper and asking them to draw a heart in the middle and ponder the question “What is in my Heart?”  Some might answer the question and say, “well, of course, it is Jesus.” But then ask “what does that mean?”  What does it mean to have Jesus in my heart?  It could most definitely be a dig deep exercise.


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My Word for 2017 is “Connect”

For the past few years I have embraced the tradition of choosing a new word symbolize my intentions for the new year.  The tradition was introduced to me by Christine Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts.  Christine talks about how we are to let our word choose us as well as us just choosing a word.

As an introvert–someone who needs alone time to recharge–I have been feeling the need to find some balance in my life.  I really do like being with people too.  That was one of my first thoughts when I pondered the word “connect.”  I even tried other words on for size like “weave.”  “Weave” is more poetic, but I was still drawn back to “connect.”  My decision was made.

So, what does this word mean to me and how do I apply it to my life?  The answers to that question are still evolving, but a couple things have stood out to me.  One is the idea of strengthening my connection with God.  Another is helping other strengthen their connection with God.  Instead of doing something completely new, I realized that I was already doing these things through prayer bedes.  (At least, I was intending to do it.)  But intentions are not actions.  One blog post a year is not much action!

That brings me to another thought I had today.  Namely, “How do I connect my mind with my body?”.  Another thing that I have intended to do, which is something I know many intend to do in the new year, is get more exercise.  I have big ideas of what I want to do, but they never seem to be accomplished.  Merging my mind with my body is another way I intend to connect this year.  My word for the year has usually fit easily into my spiritual and mental intentions, but I was excited to see how it could fit into my physical intentions this year too.

Now that I have said that, this website will be an actual track of how I fulfill (or not) my intentions for the coming year.  My goal is to post at least more than I did last year.  That I think I can accomplish.  Two is more than one!

New Year’s Blessings to All!

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