I Ask Forgiveness

Today (sundown last night until sundown tonight) our Jewish brothers and sisters are celebrating Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. It is the “Day of Atonement,” on which people atone for their sins of the past year. The day is traditionally observed by fasting and prayer, and many of my Jewish friends spend a significant period of this day in their synagogues.

Christians do not have a single annual day of atonement.  Catholics and some Protestants avail themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a way to seek pardon for our sins between ourselves and God and between ourselves and other perople (although it is a Sacrament frequently ignored by many except, perhaps, during Lent).

One of the things I am drawn to by Yom Kippur and the days leading up to it is the emphasis on seeking reconciliation with those we have injured, on seeking pardon from the person and trying to do something to right the wrong. (A practice as important for Christians as for Jews; in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says “if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”)

Regrading the days leading up to Yom Kippur, someone posted this prayer the other day:

To those I have wronged, I ask forgiveness.  To those I may have helped, I wish I had done more.  To those I neglected to help, I ask for understanding.  Tho those who helped me, I think you with all my Heart.

And for this day: One of my friends sent me the text of the Al Chet, the confession of sins that is said ten times in the course of the Yom Kippur services.  Here is an excerpt (the entire prayer is at the link):

For the sin which we have committed before You under duress or willingly.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by hard-heartedness.
For the sin which we have committed before You inadvertently….
And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.
For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellowman….
For the sin which we have committed before You by disrespect for parents and teachers.
And for the sin which we have committed before You intentionally or unintentionally.
For the sin which we have committed before You by using coercion.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by  desecrating the Divine Name.
For the sin which we have committed before You by impurity of  speech.
And for the sin which we have committed before You by foolish  talk.
For the sin which we have committed before You with the evil  inclination.
And for the sin which we have committed before You knowingly or unknowingly.
For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us. 

Whether you like to use language of “sin” or not, there is value in taking time to atone for the ways in which we have harmed our relationship with God and with others.

To my Jewish friends, G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

Prayer of the Heart

Last night was the second session of the monthly series Christine Luna Munger and I are presenting at St. Catherine’s this year on Deepening Our Spirituality with Christian Prayers & Practices.  (This is our third “Deepening” series.)  In each of our sessions, one of us speaks about a prayer and practice.  In our first session in September, I spoke about the Examen prayer and the practice of Gratitude.  In our session last night, Christine spoke about Sacramentality as a practice and about the Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus Prayer, also sometimes referred to as the Prayer of the Heart or the Practice of Ceaseless Prayer, is designed to help the  mind descend into the heart and rest in a place of stillness.  The word of the prayer are based on the episode recorded in Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus heals a blind man on the road to Jericho.  The man gets Jesus attention when he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!….Son of David, have pity on me!”

Christine talked about the origins of the prayer and participants spent some time praying it.   The instruction Gregory of Sinai in the early fourteenth century, was:

Gather your mind into your heart, and send out your cry to the Lord Jesus, asking for help and saying: “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on my”… Some of the fathers taught us that this prayer should be said in full: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” or “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”  Alternatively, sometimes is may be said in full, at other times in a shorter form.  Yet it is not wise to give in to laziness by altering the words too often; instead, keep going for a certain length of time as a test of your patience.  Some have taught that the prayer should be said using the lips; others that it should be said int he mind.  In my view, both should be used.

Whatever phrase one uses, it helps the practice to synchronize the breath by using part or all of the phrase on the in-breath and part or all o the phrase on the out-breath.

I have sometimes practiced the Jesus Prayer as Gregory instructs.  But I have also used the same method with other lines, such as “The Lord is my shepherd [on the in-breath], I shall not want [on the out-breath].  Try it the traditional way and then adapt as might be useful.

The First Letter to the Thessalonians instructs us to “pray unceasingly.” If you practice this regularly and intentionally during prayer periods, you will notice that the prayer will arise spontaneously within the course of your daily activities.

Next month at our “Deepening” series, I will be speaking about Sabbath and the Liturgy of the Hours.  If you are in the Twin Cities, you are welcome to join us if you can!


Today was the fourth session of the Fall Reflection Series that Jennifer Wright and I are co-facilitating at the University of St. Thomas (on the Minneapolis campus) this year.  The theme for this five week series is Women of the Bible.

Having spent our first three sessions on some fairly famous pairs of women (Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Leah, and Ruth and Naomi), we decided to take one session to present vignettes of some less famous women.

Selecting the women about whom to speak was not an easy process.  When Jennifer and I met to talk about the program, our list of potential subjects was enormous.  We narrowed it down to the following: Dinah, Shiphrah and Puah, Hannah, Abagail, and Esther.  We shared the stories of each, as well as some thoughts about what we found significant abou their stories during today’s gathering.

You can access a recording of the session here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 34:59 and ends at the point at which I opened the session up for sharing by the participants.)

You can find a copy of the prayer materials we distributed to participants here.

I just finished reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.  This true story tells of Stevenson’s work as a lawyer for the Equal Justice Initiative (which he founded) defending wrongly condemned criminals and others whose race or poverty have resulted in their unfair treatment by the criminal justice system.  Even for those of us already aware of how the system is stacked against the poor and marginalized, the book is a difficult, albeit compelling, read.

There is much I could say about the book, but one image stuck out for me.  After securing the release of two men who had been sentenced to life as juveniles, Stevenson stops to talk to a woman who he has seen in the court day after day.  Learning she is unrelated to either defendant, he wonders why she comes to the courtroom.  She explains to him why she needs to be there:

I just felt like maybe I could be someone, you know, that somebody hurting could lean on….I just started letting anybody lean on me who needed it.  All these young children being sent to prison forever, all this grief and violence.  Those judges throwing people away like they’re not even human, people shooting each other, hurting each other like they don’t care.  I don’t know, it’s a lot of pain.  I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other.

The image resonated with Stevenson, who recalled a time he had spoke about a particular case of his at a church meeting.  He had reminded people that when the woman accused of adultery was brought to Jesus, Jesus told the woman’s accusers’, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  He then told them that

today, our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion.  I told the congregation that we can’t simply watch that happen.  I told them we have to be stonecatchers.

The question we ought to ask ourselves is: Are we stone throwers or stone catchers?

The former is a lot easier than the latter.  (As the woman says to Stevenson, “it hurts to catch all them stones people throw.”)  But it is clear which Jesus calls us to be.


Compassion, or a love and cherishing of others, sometimes described as a universal, non-discriminating love, is perhaps the most widely shared value among the world’s major religions.  Whether one uses language of agapic love, universal compassion, or something else, the aim is a self-sacrificial love that desires the well-being of the other regardless of their behavior toward us.

Various things interfere with our ability to love and cherish others and meditation is one of the things that can help us to grow into a greater universal compassion

Loving-kindness meditation, or metta bhavana as it is called in Pali, is one method of developing compassion.  Although the meditation comes from the Buddhist tradition, it can be adapted and practiced by anyone, regardless of his or her religious affiliation or even lack of any religious affiliation.  The aim of the meditation is to develop unconditional, inclusive love and acceptance of all living beings. It uses words, images, and feelings to evoke a lovingkindness and friendliness toward oneself and others.

I lead guided loving-kindness meditations every Thursday morning at the University of St. Thomas in our interfaith prayer space on the St. Paul campus.  (Loving-kindness is also one of the meditations we practice in our Wednesday meditation sessions on the Minneapolis campus.)  Having posted a podcast of a mindfulness meditation yesterday morning, I thought I would post a guided lovingkindness meditation today.

You can access a recording of the session here or stream it from the icon below. The guided meditation runs for about thirty minutes.

Today I gave a talk and led a guided meditation for the Project for Mindfulness and Contemplation at the University of St. Thomas on the subject of mindfulness.

I think the practice of mindfulness is a particularly useful one in our time.  Not only do we not live mindfully most of the time, but we celebrate the fact that we don’t do so by touting our ability to multi-task, to do several things at once.  As I shared in my talk, by definition, if I am engaged in multiple activities at the same time, I am not fully present to any of them.

We had a great turnout for the session, including a few who had engaged in some mindfulness practice in the past and others who were completely new to the practice.

You can access a recording of the session here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 37:24 and includes the guided meditation.  As is my usual practice, I did  not record our discussion and question and answer afterwards.   After the question and answer session, I also talked a bit about walking mindfulness meditation and shared some mindfulness practices suggested by Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, The Miracle of Mindfulness.  Although that is not included on the podcast, I highly recommend the book.

A Nature Mystic

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of a beloved saint: Francis of Assisi.

St. Francis has been described as a nature mystic, that is, someone who finds God in the beauty of nature and who sees in nature the gift of God’s creation. In everything in creation, Francis saw the love of God; the world and its beauty were gift from God. In the words of Ilia Delio

Trees, worms, lonely flowers by the side of the road—all were saints gazing up into the face of God. In this way, creation became the place to find God and, in finding God, [Francis] realized his intimate relationship to all of creation.

He did not consider himself at the top of a hierarchy of being nor did he declare himself superior to the non-human creation. Rather, Francis saw himself as part of creation. His spirituality overturned the spirituality of hierarchical ascent and replaced it with a spirituality of descending solidarity between humanity and creation. Instead of using creatures to ascend to God (from earth to heaven), he found God in all creatures and identified with them as brother and sister; that is, he found heaven on earth. By surrendering himself and daring everything for love’s sake, the earth became his home and all creatures his brothers and sisters.

As he continued to move more deeply into the mystery of God through his relationship with Christ, he came to realize his familial relationship to creation. He came to live in peaceful relationships with all creatures. To live in the justice of love is to live in peace. For Francis, justice and peace are related to poverty, compassion, contemplation and on-going conversion by which we realize our familial bonds with all living creatures, joining with them on the journey into God.

For Francis, all of nature was a sacrament. It is said that he could find himself in ecstasy “with eyes raised to heaven while holding a waterfowl I his hands. He could sometimes take this too far – one time refusing to put out the fire when his undergarments caught flame so as not to hurt the fire, and another time washing his hands without treading on the water. But, although extreme, he reminds us that, in Karen Armstrong’s words, nature speaks of God.

One of Francis’ most famous sermons was delivered to birds. He begged them to listen to God’s words. Here is an excerpt:

My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wins so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you. God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow not reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part.

Thomas of Celano writes of this event that the birds stretched their necks and extended their wings as Francis walked among them touching and blessing them.

Francis once even preached to the flowers, inviting them, as one of his biographers observes, to join him in his celebration of God!

For all of us who find God in the beauty of creation, Francis is an inspiration.  Blessings on his day.

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