Saturday, December 5, 2009

Spiritual Sparks

Yesterday, when it was 63 degrees and raining, our friends Stephen and Christine Hoffman came to visit Rickey’s class, Christian Mystics. (Stephen is the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Palmetto, Florida.) Stephen’s opening words to the students were they shouldn’t take this course for granted. Then he and Christine each spoke about how they came to appreciate and practice deep spirituality in their lives. Stephen talked about things happening in his life that brought him to a place of needing to be personally renewed. As a pastor, he was also seeking a fresh Lenten devotion to share with his congregation. He bought a book about centering prayer, and as he read it, he discovered he was being drawn and touched in a profound way. It was at this point he began a practice of prayer that considerably outlasted the forty days before Easter; he is still at it years later.

When it was her turn to speak, Christine said the short answer as to why she began the practice was because she wanted to join with and support Stephen. But as she has continued in it, she found her own meaningful reasons for persevering. As a Biblical scholar she was able to connect the Hebrew idea of tikkun olam, healing the world, with her prayer. She explained the concept, “When we join our spirits with God’s spirit, like a spark joining a fire, we are actively extending God’s healing presence into the world.” Also, she loved discovering what it meant to be silent and let go of thoughts in prayer. She said, “I am a wordy person, and I have lived my whole life using thoughts and words as effectively as possible.” (She was a teacher and a lay preacher for decades.) In this kind of prayer she told us she was delighted to experience the value and importance of silence.

During Q&A, she said by centering she was refreshed and strengthened for all the other kinds of prayer she does, adding that if you really care about people then engaging their needs can be exhausting.

Stephen was asked how much his congregation practices this kind of prayer. He replied that in spite of his participation and support, his own church prayer group only has five members. I immediately thought of Fr. Keating’s gentle response to this same lack of participation by the larger Christian community. He said, “Well, you will have to weigh them instead of counting them.” Stephen also told how much it meant to him to attend conferences and retreats with people that share the practice. Instead of trying to explain or even defend his practice, he is able to immediately connect with folks who, as one gifted teacher put it, “speak the same language.”

Too quickly our 50 minutes was over, and Rickey had to end class. Later, I thought of Stephen’s opening remarks about not taking for granted our opportunity to explore deep spirituality. He meant the course, but it made me reflect on what it means to share spiritual connections where we can be strengthened and encouraged to continue growing in God. Yesterday was one such time, one such place; and although it was a rainy day, perhaps some sparks were fanned in other hearts as well.


RC said...

Lovely reflection--I'm so grateful we get to share in these dynamics. We are blessed indeed!

Rehoboth said...

Anna, I appreciate you taking time to tell about this. It's a helpful reminder to me about why I do centering prayer. The churches where I grew up were about activity = godliness. As human beings, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that particular philosophy because it appears measurable. Without that time with my Beloved, I run out of motivation quickly.


Daniel said...

Anna, it wasn't too long ago that I was exploring similar opportunities in the classroom with Rickey. Your reflection is a great reminder of those experiences, and, as with Susan, it contains a few profound insights that encourage me in my practice.

Bill said...

Hey folks,
The Living Stones Blog sounds like a wonderful group of people interacting on delightful subjects. I know Rickey from Contemplative Outreach gatherings and the December blog mentions Stephen and Christine who I freqeuntly join for Centering.

I am not quite sure about the technology of this but am trying. I did try to submit a one year commitment to your group.

Please let me know if there are any themes or topics that I should consider for the once a month post?

Bill Lewis

Matt said...

I would be very interested to know what book on centering prayer Stephen read.

Joy said...

Thank you for posting this, Mrs. Cotton. I enjoyed our time with Pastor and Dr. Hoffman, but it went by far too quickly! Dr. Hoffman's discussion of tikkun olam and Cynthia Bourgalt's "urgency of centering" was especially insightful, reminding me of Merton when he spoke on the Desert Fathers and Mothers: "To leave the world, is, in fact, to help save it in saving oneself."

Matt, the book that Pastor Hoffman mentioned was Forty Days to a Closer Walk with God published by the Upper Room (


RC said...

Matt, the book Stephen spoke about is published by Upper Room Ministries; it's Forty Days to a Closer Walk with God: The Practice of Centering Prayer by J. David Muyskens. I haven't read it, but it really impacted Stephen.

Bill said...

I just checked in with Stephen on the book title but I was obviously not as prompt as you all. The book "Forty Days..." by Muyskens was a good devotional for me to work through since it brings some of the Contemplative Outreach out of the Roman Catholic nuances into a more Protestant/Evangelical approach. This helped me (and some others I recommended it to).

Other books I am currently reading are on my website


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