St. John of the Cross: Love Unites

Here is a jewel of a quote on compassion:

36 Lent--Week 5--Compassion--St John of the Cross(click on image to enlarge)

 During this Lent, I’ve learned that quality quotes or passages from spiritual writers can offer great prayer-starters. This has led to something I call D.E.A.P. (Drop Everything And Pray) on my public Facebook page.   I see something interesting or inspiring and I just write a prayer about it, spontaneously, right then.  I don’t worry about polishing the words much or “being a writer” (that is, fixating on making it sound elegant or brilliant or whatever), because it’s a prayer to God. I can just be myself before God and share the prayer moment with anyone else who wants to pray on Facebook.

Here’s the prayer I wrote this morning as I was thinking about St. John of the Cross’ quote above. I was also thinking about how it is Lent and Palm Sunday tomorrow as I was writing/praying.

Will you pray with me?

O Lord,

dreamstimefree_140915--Milogu--Dreamstime Stock Photos--Free - smaller with sig Cropped CopyI know you long to pour your love
into our hearts, like a pitcher of water
pouring into a glass on the table.
Yet, sometimes I fill my glass with other stuff:
sand and glitter and even sticky tar.
Help me to set aside all that other gunk
and open my heart more fully
to the inflow of your pure, flowing
water of love… so much so that
the water both nourishes me
and overflows to nourish others, too–
abundantly so–for you, O Lord,
are the living water of Love. 

Until next time, Amen! 

Jesus is the Light of the World

Hope the Lenten season is going well for all of you.

Here is an image I created this morning:


I am the light of the world--words of Jesus on yellow paint--design by Julie McCarty

Would you join me in prayer?

Dear Jesus,
You came into the world
to bring us the light of wisdom and compassion
and give us abundant life, that is,
the life of your Spirit.
Drive out all that is impure in us,
and transform us,
a little more each day
into your image and likeness.
May we become vessels of light
to all those around us,
especially those who are hurting or feel alone.
This we ask in your holy name,
and in the communion of the Holy Spirit,

“A Simple Way to Pray” by Martin Luther

FREE CLASS:  If you live around the Twin Cities, please join me tonight, Sept. 24, in an exploration of Martin Luther’s “Simple Way to Pray” (details below).

Easter Church--Hill focal pointYou do NOT have to be Lutheran to enjoy praying this way. In fact, Luther takes what he learned as a Catholic monk and reshaped it to make it easy and appropriate for any follower of Christ, whatever one’s career or vocation. (He wrote “A Simple Way to Pray” as a letter for his barber.) 

Both “beginning pray-ers” and longtime people of prayer are welcome. Interested children/teens (over age 10)  welcome to come with parents.

PROMISE: I will not force you to pray aloud spontaneously. 🙂

Tuesday, Sept. 24, 7:00-8:30 pm
Easter Lutheran Church “on the Hill” in Eagan, MN,
at SE corner of Diffley & Pilot Knob Rd.

Hope to see you there.

Until next time, Amen!

More on branching out–25 ways to deepen your spiritual life

In my last post, I wrote about branching out, trying new things. I mentioned exploring ways to expand your spiritual life.

Christ the Pantocrator by Marian Zidaru--2002
Christ the Pantocrator by Marian Zidaru–2002

I believe God (your Higher Power, the Divine One, however you describe God) wants to be close to each one of us. I believe this God is full of compassion and mercy–and that God calls out to us, like a passionate lover longing for quality time with his or her beloved.

Various ways of praying do not earn us “extra credit” with God. God loves us immensely no matter what. However, if you love God, you will want to spend some quality time together. There are various ways of being together, and some specific ways of praying that will enable you to be more present to God, more aware of God’s presence in your life.

There are many ways to build a deeper relationship with God or a more developed prayer life. Looking for some ideas? Here is a list of 25 ideas of ways to expand your own spiritual time with God:

  1. Say grace–before breakfast. I don’t know why, but I don’t recall doing this even once. Why do I thank God for dinner but not for  breakfast?
  2. Copy a sentence or two from sacred texts (such as the Bible or the Koran). Place it where you will see it everyday, such as on the bathroom mirror, refrigerator, or screen saver.
  3. Walk a labyrinth, reflecting on key points in your life as you make the turns. (Read more:  Labyrinth: The Walking PrayerPrayer labyrinth--photo by Julie McCarty
  4. Sign up for a retreat and mark it as high priority on your calendar.
  5. Read a spiritual classic. (Suggestions at Good Reads )
  6. Look for websites that help you learn about prayer–or actually guide you in prayer. For example, the “Daily Disconnect” offers a guided prayer reflection which includes an online timer to allow for some silent time at the end of your reflection.
  7. Visit a different house of worship. Been to a church or temple lately? Use the web to look at places of worship in your area, and then just experiment–visit a few in person.
  8. Take a prayer walk–drop everything and walk outside with God. (For more info, visit my post or other Prayer Walking Tips  )
  9. Look for your “spiritual type.”Just for fun, try the “spiritual type” quiz on Beliefnet 
  10. Attend a bible study, women’s group, or other event offered at your place of worship. Don’t just read about it online. Get in touch with real people.
  11. Deal with your anger. Angry at your church institution? Try talking with a counselor or spiritual director about your confusion. Find a neutral person who will help you sort out the complicated, perhaps mixed feelings about religion, faith, God, and what is best for your life.
  12. Serve the poor at a soup kitchen and think about Jesus being in the midst of that soup line as you hand out the bowls.
  13. Set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier each morning, sit up in bed and read the bible or devotional for those 15 minutes before getting dressed.
  14. Find a spiritual director and visit with him or her once a month, exploring your own spiritual dimension in a friendly, confidential, prayerful setting.
  15. Try coffee break prayer. Once a week, during your coffee break or lunch hour, slip into a church or quiet park bench for a few minutes alone with God.
  16. Make a gratefulness list. Write a list of 25 things for which you give thanks–and don’t forget to tell God about it.
  17. Sing a prayerful song. So what if you voice isn’t that great? Sing when you are alone–or play spiritual music during your morning commute. 
  18. Keep a prayer journal. Write your thoughts about your religious beliefs, your feelings, your experiences, etc. in prayer form. Write letters to God about your life.
  19. Pray ahead of time. When you look at your calendar each morning, pray about the upcoming day’s events, asking the Holy Spirit to guide your every word and deed, to bless those you will see that day.
  20. Grow your spiritual mind. Want to understand your religion’s teachings at an adult level? Bring your questions to your minister, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader–or audit a class at a college (many religious colleges allow auditing for inexpensive rates, and/or special rates for seniors).
  21. Examine your conscience. During the past week, when were you especially alive to God’s presence? When did you “miss the mark”? Thank God for all that is good, and ask for forgiveness for your sins.
  22. Learn yoga as a way of quieting yourself in the presence of God. If you don’t feel comfortable with ancient yoga foundations, try a “devotional yoga” that combines the healthy body movements with Christian attitudes towards God.
  23. Ask God what things need a new home. Clean out your closet or garage in a prayerful way, seeking to give to others in a Christ-like manner. Pray for those who will receive your gifts.
  24. Common Prayer book coverDo your normal prayer with a different body posture. For example, try reading the psalms in standing position, facing east (place of the sunrise). Or, try kneeling when you ask God to forgive your sins.
  25. Let the last thing you think about before going to sleep be God. Not the news, not Facebook, not your problems, but rather God. How to do this? Start a routine of prayer or spiritual reading just before you nod off at night. (Don’t worry if you fall asleep holding the prayer-book in bed. What better way to sleep, than in the arms of God?)

These are just ideas to get your creative spiritual juices going. Pick one and run with it. I’d love to hear how it goes.

Until next time, Amen!  

P.S. Want little spiritual nuggets in-between blog posts? Visit the Facebook page “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty” and click on “receive notifications” on the “like” button. 

Invitation: Contemplative Spiritual Practices Group

Sunrise beach walk--photo by Julie McCarty--click to enlarge

Every now and then, I find I have to do something to spice up my relationship with God. Like any relationship, God and I can get stuck in a rut, take things for granted, or let things go a little stale. Of course, it’s not really God who is letting things flounder, but rather I am the one who gets a little lazy or distracted.   (Sometimes the feeling of boredom or being stuck in a rut in prayer can really be God calling one to a deeper way of prayer—but that is the subject of another article.)

One way I hope to put a little pizazz into my prayer life this summer is by meeting with a small faith group to explore various contemplative spiritual practices. For six sessions, meeting every other week, we will be exploring different ways from the Christian tradition to pray and relate to God.

We will be meeting every other Wednesday beginning on June 29th, from 7:00 to 8:30 at a member’s home. Because of my background and training in this area, I will be facilitating the first few meetings. This group is part of the small group ministry at Easter Lutheran Church (ELCA) here in Eagan, Minnesota, but one does not have to be a member in order to join us. So you are welcome to attend if you are interested.

To begin with, the book we will be using is called Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices by Daniel Wolpert. The author lives up in the area of Crookston, MN, and is a church pastor with many  credentials and experience in teaching Christian prayer. We’ll be looking at only 2 chapters per meeting so as to allow time between sessions to experiment with prayer on your own. The book is available from Amazon, Border’s, and Barnes and Noble for about $11. Local stores would probably order it for you. Topics include how to pray using short passages from Scripture, journaling, praying in nature, integrating prayer and life experience, finding God in silence, and other topics. The book is very helpful, but you do not have to obtain it before the first meeting.

Creating a Life with God explains how to pray with Scripture using the ancient Christian method called lectio divina (sacred reading), the Jesus Prayer, entering into silence and solitude, finding God in day-to-day experiences, journaling, the role of body in prayer, praying in nature, etc.  It looks at how various Christians of the past used these different ways to build their spiritual lives. You can read more about this book at the publisher’s site here  and a review of it here.

As I mentioned, if you live close enough to join us, we would love to have you come. Just contact me for more info and directions to our first meeting location at a member’s home. (Click on contact page above.)

And if you are interested but cannot attend, think about reading the book yourself. Feel free to send questions to be discussed on this blog if you like.

Until next time, God be with you,  Amen! 

The Breath Prayer Revisited

A simple way to pray everyday

Blue sky with snowy branches in Eagan MN

A number of years ago, I published an article about the “breath prayer” a contemplative nun had taught me. Since then, I have found this way of praying to be such a blessing that I would like to share it with readers once again.

 There are many ways of meditating in relation to breathing, but this one is called the breath prayer because it only takes the space of one breath to say it.

 In the years since writing that article, I have found I like using the prayer of Jesus on the cross: “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit” (Luke 23:46).  I can connect the first part of the sentence with inhaling and the second part with exhaling. (Do not hyperventilate. Prayer is not about creating “special effects”!)

 Over the years, I have developed a simplified version: “Your hands / my spirit.” This short version is like the code talk of lovers: God knows what I mean. Putting myself in God’s hands takes me out of my own self-focus of controlling, fixing, and do-do-doing, so that God can be in charge of the moment.

 Some Christians are concerned about using mantras or repetitive prayers, but I do not feel believe that is a problem in this case, unless you are counting up how many times you say the breath prayer and then expecting God to pay you in return for your effort.

 At any rate, there is no need to say the breath prayer a million times. After a while, you may find yourself drawn into a quiet space in the presence of God. At that point, by all means, let go of words. You may just feel like a little child resting in the warm glow of the loving arms of God. At that point, who needs words?


For more info, here is the original article  from 2003:

“Pray without ceasing,” writes Saint Paul in the First Letter to the Thessalonians (5:17).

“Isn’t that a sweet sentiment?!” I think to myself, somewhat sarcastically. How can the typical Christian pray always, even amidst rambunctious toddlers or ballistic office phones?

It is tempting to shrug our shoulders and leave all that endless praying stuff to the monks. However, I notice that St. Paul was not preaching to cloistered religious folk, but ordinary baptized believers like me.

Over the course of church history, to “pray without ceasing” has come to mean developing an ongoing awareness of God’s loving presence in every moment. Although we need specific “quality time” for prayer each day, we also gratefully recall the divine presence while washing dishes, meeting with a client, or repairing roof shingles.

A Carmelite nun I know (who wishes to remain anonymous) teaches visiting retreatants a way to encourage awareness of God’s presence through a method she calls the “breath prayer.” After forty-seven years as a nun, she has found the breath prayer to be a great help to people both inside and outside the cloister.

The breath prayer, Sister explains, is like the traditional “ejaculatory prayer,” because it is very short and can be used anytime and any place. However, when one prays the breath prayer, the words are said inwardly, slowly, and in unison with one’s breath. One recalls that we depend on breath for life, and it is the Creator who breathed life into us in the very beginning. God is closer to us than even our breath. If we do not breathe, our bodies die, Sister reminds us, and if we do not pray, we die spiritually.

To compose your own breath prayer, Sister suggests first selecting your favorite name for God (Spirit, Abba, etc.). Next, add a short phrase expressing your love or petition. “My God, I love you,” “Shepherd, guide me,” or “Jesus, help me to love like you” are three examples of breath prayers. Pray the first part of your prayer while inhaling and the second part while exhaling. (If you are tense—like me!—let the prayer slow you down. Do not overdo the breathing. Remember, the main point is to gently focus on God’s presence.) 

You can also use your favorite Scripture verse, in simplified form, for your breath prayer. For example, the words of Mary, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), can become the breath prayer: “Be / it done.” Jesus’ words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) becomes the breath prayer “Father / forgive them.”

After choosing your breath prayer, select some mental cues to remind you to pray during your average work day. For example, a teacher prays briefly every time the school bell rings. A dentist prays every time she washes her hands. Use your breath prayer when standing in line, downloading computer files, walking down the street, or even when feeling stressed or angry.

Over time, Sister says, the practice of the breath prayer prepares our hearts for other forms of prayer. Gradually, turning to God inwardly during daily tasks will become more and more natural, as natural as breathing itself.