Prayer as a Place
Spirituality that Transforms
HGM Publishing, 2008, 117 pp., ISBN 978-0-9679781-4-7
Charles Bello is a writer, pastor to pastors, and a spiritual director. He has been training pastors, missionaries and lay leaders in more than 20 nations for the last 30 years. In this book he shares his own personal journey of prayer, providing suggestions for several methods of contemplative prayer.
1. An Invitation and a Warning
"I made the classic mistake of simply seeing spiritual disciplines as activities rather than the means for creating a space to be encountered by God. I soon found out that adding more activities to an already busy schedule is a recipe for failure." (3) "Somehow, through my busyness, I had misplaced God's invitation to let him love me…." (5)
"Spiritual disciplines are not the mark of a mature Christian. Spiritual disciplines are the means by which we become mature Christians." (6) "The focus must always be on being more like Jesus. Contemplative prayer is simply a time-tested means of creating space in a busy life where you can meet with Jesus to be changed by him." (7)
2. Spiritual Disciplines as a Place to Encounter Jesus
Spiritual formation is "a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others." (11, quoting M. Robert Mulholland)
3. Spiritual Disciplines as a Place to Encounter Ourselves
Classical Christian spirituality speaks of four basic stages: awakening (uncovering new layers of knowledge of God and ourselves), purgation (purging habits, attitudes, and actions contrary to God's nature), illumination (beginning to know God in a much deeper and more personal way), and union (an abiding experience of oneness with God). (20-1)
4. Our Spiritual Journey: Cultivating an Inner Life that Sustains Outwardly-focused Living
Our spiritual journey begins with conversion, an encounter with God and our true self, expressed by repentance and faith in God. A second stage is learning and belonging. The third is the "doing" stage where we learn to serve and give. We often get stuck at this stage and hit the wall. Some gut it out. Some return to stage two. And some drop out.
In stage four God deals with the deep-seated structures of our being and behavior. "God invites us to cooperate with him in the process of dismantling the false identities and personas we have built for ourselves. God initiates an intense internal restructuring." (28) The inward journey begins here where we are looking for inner meaning, a radical trust in God, and an experience of God deep within our being.
"After the transforming inward journey is launched, in stage five, Christ directs us outward again…with a new sense of purpose." We operate from our inner motivation, learning to rest even as we work. (31) In stage six "there is a real integration of the uniqueness of your personality with the nature of Christ. Your will, character, mission and values are the same as Christ's." (32)
5. Contemplative Prayer as a Place
"Contemplative prayer is like date night in a marriage. Its primary purpose is to deepen the intimacy of God with his beloved. It is the space you create in your schedule for 'us time' with God. Contemplative prayer is a place where God drives the conversation." "Learning to listen and wait for God to speak is a learned skill." (37) Contemplative prayer is a place of processing your life with God, a place of transformation, a place of rest, and a place of wonder and surprise. (38-9)
6. Developing Sabbatical Rhythm
A sabbatical rhythm is setting aside time to pause, pray, and play (43, citing Judy Davids). "Busyness is not simply something we engage in, it is the lens that we look through, and it is our strongest cultural value. We feel that if we are not busy, we are not important." "We are turned into 'hollow performance machines.'" (44) "For many of us, our work is our addiction." "The Sabbath is God's gift to us." (46)
"Pausing also gives us the opportunity to 'find the dot.' Have you ever been in a large shopping mall or along a walking trail, wondering where you are? If you can find a map in the mall or along the trail, you simply look for the dot that has an arrow pointing to it with the words, 'You are here.' Many of us go through our days without a clear idea where we are. We lose our temper at those closest to us and wonder, 'Where did that come from?' We find ourselves struggling with pornography or depression or compulsive eating--not having a clue what kind of pain or disappointments are behind these harmful activities. Pausing means that you take the time to find the dot. Pausing helps us slow down and find our where we are mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually." (46)
"Christian activity provides many of us the cover we are looking for so that we don't have to take the time to honestly process our daily emotional wounds." (47)
"Sin energizes us in a way that ultimately destroys our souls. But there is divine strength that comes from quietness and rest." (48)
"I am speaking of prayer as a place rather than an activity. We need to continue with the work of intercession and petitioning, but we are to set aside times where we 'do no work' and simply rest in the love of God. Prayer becomes a place we go to and come out from. The focus of this book is prayer as a place of intimacy, rest and transformation." (48)
I take long walks in nature. "I walk because it feeds my soul and because I enjoy seeing what God has created. It is a divine waste of time." (49)
7. Centering Prayer: Resting in God
The goal is to be attentive to the presence of God, to listen and be conscious of his presence.
8. The Examen: Paying Attention to God
The examen is basically a daily examination of our deepest feelings and desires, what connects us with God and what disconnects us. "You are asking God to help you review your day and show you what energized you and what disempowered you, and then give you his perspective on your consolations and desolations." (57) Ask for discernment, his insight and wisdom concerning your joy or pain. Look for patterns.
9. Journaling as a Place of Prayer and Transformation
"Journaling is a way of paying attention to our lives." Getting your thoughts on paper helps you gain insights you would otherwise miss. (62)
Following the pattern of David in the Psalms, "I turn my pain into a prayer. I express in writing what I am feeling and I ask God to meet me in this place of turmoil. Then I put down my pen and rest in his presence." (65)
"The pattern is simply, express your problem, followed by a painful pause; turn your problem and pain into prayer, followed by a trusting pause. Receive the provision God has for you at the moment and then pause to rest in his love with a grateful heart." (66)
10. Walking with God
"I walk with God in the midst of his creation, observing and enjoying with him what he has made. I don't spend the time planning my future or worrying about the past. I don't rehearse conversations I have had or plan to have. I reflect on what God might be saying to me, but more than that, I simply walk with God and live in the moment with him." (71) I enjoy what God enjoys. I have no agenda but being with God and enjoying his company. (72)
11. Lectio Divina: Encountering God in the Bible
"The point…is to let God speak to you through his Word. Remember, your intention is to create a space in your life where you can encounter God and let him drive the conversation." (76)
The author's pattern consists of 6 steps:
READY (5 min.) Conversation is developed out of an interior calm of resting, waiting and listening. Seek to be still.
READ (5 min.). Read the text slowly, savoring it, listening. Be aware of words or phrases that draw your attention.
REFLECT (10 min.) Allow the word or phrase to engage you. Analyze with your mind. Use your imagination. Bring your whole self to enter into the passage. Prayerfully and steadily focus on it.
RESPOND (10 min.) Respond in prayer. Ask God what he is saying to you. Dialogue with God about what you are feeling or hearing.
REST (5 min.) Rest quietly in the presence of God. Focus all your mental and emotional attention on God.
RETURN (throughout the day) Return to your meditation and reflections throughout the day.
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