Guided Reflection on Jesus and His Followers

Luke 8:1-3

Soon afterwards [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Blog Update: We Will Now Post Videos!

First, we need to apologize for not posting in a long while.

The reason for our long absence is that we have been working on what amounts to a big transition for the Contemplative Living blog.  We are in the process of creating video posts.  (This required a long period of learning our video editing software, which is a challenging experience for two writers who know very little about video making.)

Many of these video posts will encourage you, our audience, to reflect on God and the Bible.  We will continue to call these kinds of posts “Reflections,” but their purpose will be to invite you to reflect.  If this new approach works, it should be a more participatory experience.

The reflection videos will essentially be guided reflections: a passage will be read, you will be given time to reflect on the passage, and then questions will be posed for you to think about.  This approach better matches the vision we had for this blog because it will invite you to search for whatever message God wishes to give you.  A video format better accommodates this approach compared to a text format.

We hope to create more than reflection videos.  There is much more that we want share about journal writing as a spiritual practice, for example, along with other topics that are part of a prayerful life, so this blog will hopefully offer you a variety of experiences.

You can view our trailer video below.  Feel free to tell us what you think in the comments section at the bottom of this entry.

We should have our first reflection video posted some time next week.

Clearing Clutter for your own Freedom

I have spent a good part of the weekend cleaning and organizing and decluttering around the home. For me, there is a very spiritual connection to that process. It is a sense of freedom, a way of letting go of the negativity and creating positive space in which to move forward. The clutter can be physical and emotional. Both stifle me; both weigh me down and keep me from being fully myself. This Independence Day is about giving myself the freedom to be completely okay with myself as I am. And cleaning and organizing the home allows me a real physical sense of making space for what needs to come, the better things that are ahead. Take a moment this Independence Day to think of what you need for your own independence. Make space for yourself and what you need to take care of yourself and to move forward in positive ways to the person you are meant to be.


Will Christianity Accept Gay Marriage?

[There have been a number of important events in the United States these past two weeks, and I have been struggling to decide which one to discuss first.  It seems that once I have reflected on a topic, another significant event takes place that warrants study and discussion.  I have at last settled on the post below.  Other important issues will find their way in subsequent posts.  


I want to begin today’s reflection with questions I have discussed in the recent past: what is the purpose behind a church community, and what should a church community look like?  Near the end of last month, I reflected on the latter question (you can click here to read my May 28 post on the topic), and not long before that, I reflected on Peter’s willingness to accept non-Jews into the Christian community (click here to read my May 18 post).  On May 28, I wrote, “the ideal Christian community would be as diverse as the surrounding population is diverse.”  On May 18, I wrote, “Christians have the obligation to show everyone the love that God gives to all of us.”

A Christian is obligated to show Christ’s love to everyone; therefore, a church community ought to be the embodiment of this mission.  Also, a Christian church community should meet the spiritual needs of its members.

Tradition and Law
For a lot of Christians, this is where they get stuck in a complex web of tradition and law.  They know what culture has dictated in the past–they expect traditional acts to occur in specific ways because that is how things have always been done–and they know what specific Bible passages say concerning every aspect of life.

Such and such is right because in specific passages the Bible says such and such.  Christians love clear and irrefutable answers to difficult questions.

A Court Ruling that Has Changed the American World
On June 26 of this year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is legal in all fifty states.  This ruling only applies to U.S. governments, so it has no impact on church rules.  Nevertheless, Christians are talking about the decision.  The General Convention of the Episcopal church will likely discuss possible changes to its policy on marriage very soon, and I have read comments attributed to several Episcopal representatives who voiced clear support for change.  Representatives of other denominations have already expressed outright rejection of change: they point to biblical passages that clearly define marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

Should Christian Churches Institute Gay Marriage?
During the past few days, I have spent some quiet time asking God this question.   Whether asked from the liberal or conservative Christian point of view, one answer keeps sounding in my mind again and again: if someone has chosen to follow Jesus, then the church must embrace that person.

It is not enough to only welcome that person during Sunday worship, however: a church community has the obligation to support its members throughout all major life events.  Would a Christian church community ignore someone’s tears when a loved one passes away?  Would a Christian community turn away someone who has lost a job or a home?  And what about the joyful times?  Shouldn’t a loving church community celebrate the day when a person’s prayers are answered or when someone’s illness is cured? Shouldn’t a church community rejoice when a member of the congregation is moved to volunteer for a ministry?  All Christians need a loving church community throughout their lives, not just on Sundays, and gay Christians are no exception.

Intimate relationships are also a vital part of every human’s life, and within those relationships are spiritual needs that only a loving religious community can support.  If gay couples are called to follow Jesus, how can a church deny them the spiritual support that is offered to everyone else?  The Gospels show that the apostles were astonished when Jesus met with all sorts of people outside of the traditional Jewish definition of who was safe to hang around.  After The Lord’s resurrection, the apostles were moved to accept gentiles, criminals, even people who killed Christians.  With such a diverse list of people that the apostles were willing to embrace, why would modern Christians insist on limiting the community membership?

A Selfless Love
It is important for me to emphasize that I am referring to gay couples who choose to follow Jesus Christ.  There are many gay couples who prayerfully make this choice, and If a gay couple is called to follow Christ, then isn’t it right to assume that God has already settled the matter?  Why would God attract people who are not worthy to be part of a loving community?  If a gay couple has chosen to abandon self-centered living and join a community of love, then how can a church say no?  And if two gay people meet those criteria and wish to live the rest of their lives together as both spiritual and physical partners, then how can a church deny them the sacrament of matrimony?

Marriage is a term reserved for a selfless love, the same love that comes from God, the same love that fills the entire universe, the same love that the church needs if it is to survive.  I know gay couples who possess and project this love–it is time for the church to accept that God’s love exists within all of humanity.


Journaling and Prayer


Journal work has an extraordinary connection to prayer for me. I am a writer, and I function best through words. Journal pages can be a powerful way to express prayers. I often struggle with the concept of praying boldly and specifically and directly. Writing out the prayer can be a way of adding preciseness to the process.

Just start with yourself and your family and close friends as what is going on most intimately with you. Then you might want to branch out to larger issues. You can even begin to organize categories of prayers. If the prayer list starts to feel too overwhelming, you can focus your attention to particular prayers needs based on categories and even divide them by days of the week. For example, an extra focus on the needs of the world one day and for particular strangers you’ve encountered on another day of the week. You can pray for your Church or School or workplace on another day. Any kind of category system can work.

Another part of connecting journal writing with prayer is to record responses. Review your prayers in your prayer journal and note when prayers have been answered. Review those journal entries and remind others that you have prayed for them. And make a note and a prayer of gratitude when a prayer gets answered in a serious way!

Journal entries with your prayers can be a specific expression of your prayers and a record of the prayers. The pages can also be a powerful reminder that prayers are answered. Some answers come very quickly while we wait much longer for others in God’s perfect timing. A journal of prayers has also shown me with enough time that sometimes a no answer is the great blessing. The whole process of making notes about the way in which the prayers are answered becomes a type of gratitude list for me. I see the answered prayers over time, and the gratitude is overwhelming.

Conversing with God: My Personal Approach to Contemplative Prayer

John 1:1-18

What does it mean to practice contemplative prayer?  There are different views on this subject, but I am going to focus on my own personal definition of contemplation as I practice it in my daily life.

My Personal Definition of Contemplation
For me, contemplation is the act of being aware of the heavenly truth that exists in the world.  Some contemplatives close their eyes when they focus on God, some keep their eyes open, but, either way, contemplation is a focused awareness.

When I take time to reflect on a Bible passage or an event that has occurred in my life, I try to comprehend the truth that exists in that passage or event.  First, I try to understand what is literally there, but then I try to understand what spiritual truth exists within the passage or event.  (Read a little further to see an example of this process.)

So far what I am describing sounds like focused thinking or deep concentration, but there is more to contemplation than mere thought.  When I contemplate, I try to have a conversation with God.  Many spiritual leaders describe prayer time as a conversation between you and God; I treat contemplation time the same way.  I suppose one could speak to God out loud throughout this sort of experience, but I always hold the conversation silently in my mind.  Usually, I tell God (silently) what I see and then I ask questions.  If no answers come to me, I might propose some answers.  This does not feel like a solitary exercise.

My Contemplation Process
So here is an example of my own contemplative process.  Today’s reading comes from the first chapter of John.  When I decide to reflect on a Bible passage, I will first read through the entire passage and try to get a literal understanding of what it says.  (“Try” is an important word here because some passages are more difficult to understand than others.)

After reading the text for literal understanding, I read it again and wait to see what statement or image grabs my attention.  This time, the last two sentences pull at my heart, so I begin to reflect on them.

“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

If no one has ever seen you, God, then how is it possible for any of us to know you?  Is it true that we have to accept Jesus in order to have a relationship with you?  Doesn’t this mean only one type of person (someone who needs to see a physical human in order to believe in a God) has the opportunity to be with you?

Notice that I am asking these questions directly to God.  I do not know if every contemplative Christian reflectis in this way, but it is important for me to keep the conversation personal.

This time, responses come to me right away.  (And this is a blessing because often I will not receive a response right away.)  No, Jesus is not for one group of people.  He is for everyone, but different people will relate to Him in different ways.  For those who need a more human image of God, Jesus is there in the flesh.  For those who need a set of rules to better connect with God, there are the many teachings that Jesus provides.  For those who best understand God through community, Jesus provides the template for such a community.  This is how Jesus serves all people from all backgrounds.

I will not reproduce the rest of the conversation here, but you get the idea.  In case you are wondering, no, I have never heard the voice of God in an auditory way–God’s responses never come to me in the form of a voice.  How do I know that the responses to my questions are from God and not something evil?  I used to say a prayer for protection before beginning my contemplation time, but I am not as concerned about this danger today.  I know ideas are from God if they focus on peace and love.  Any idea that threatens to disrupt peace and love in the world does not come from God and should be ignored.

One Piece of Advice
I will end this blog entry with one piece of advice for anyone interested in trying this or any form of contemplative prayer: do not come to the conversation expecting answers.  Most Christians believe that God answers prayers, but the answers may not come right away.  I do not worry if I do not sense any kind of reply to my questions–perhaps I am not ready for the answer.  Perhaps God will answer my question at a time that is best for me or for anyone else that may be involved.  The goal should not be to obtain answers to all questions; the goal is to form a closer relationship with God.  If you live closely with God, solutions to life’s many mysteries will gradually come to you.

Contemplative Prayer

John 1:1-18

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Did you enjoy this entry?  Feel free to “like” today’s reflection.  You are also welcome to add a comment below.