Author: Jessica Petersen

blessings self-compassion

For when it’s all too much…

My friend’s dad died this week. We have been friends since 2011, back when we were both graduate students, young adults without kids. So much has changed since then: moves, marriage, careers, babies. We now live half a country apart. We both have young children. And we both lost our fathers within the course of a year. 

Connecting with my friend this week reminded me of this permission slip I wrote to myself months ago, on a day when the combination of parenting and grief and work and household management was all too much. I did not write it to share it. But here it is: for me, for my friend, and for you, for when it (and “it” can be anything) is all too much. 

For the day when
the tears flow freely,
becoming sobs,
but there are no words
to describe the hard,
when sighs and groans
are the language of prayer…

Breathe in and out.
Sigh, scream, cry.
Curse if it helps.
Throw punches at your pillow.
Make a cup of tea.
Stare out the window.
Walk, run, flee…

Do whatever enables you
to set down
this too-muchness,
that threatens to
overtake you,
this overhwhelming-ness
that is trying to crush you…

STOP.

This is your permission slip
to pause your spinning mind,
to be attentive to your body,
to connect with your soul,
to ask what it is that you need…
and then DO it,
without delay or excuses.

And if you can’t figure out
what you need,
be counterintuitive.
Do the opposite
of what you usually would,
do anything for the good
of your mind, body, soul.

It may seem easier
to say than to do,
but the doing
is what will get you through,
and let me be clear,
I mean the kind of doing
that is focused on YOU.

discernment spiritual practice

Welcome 2024

As the sun set on 2023, I was literally lounging in a hammock in my front yard reading a cookbook until I no longer had enough light to see words on the page. Yes, it was warm enough for that on New Year’s Eve (I also picked tomatoes from my garden that afternoon). And no, I don’t mean figurative “sunset” as in, midnight. I mean literal sunset. I’m always in bed hours before midnight. And if I’m up at midnight, it better be because of a sick kid. But I digress. My point is that I appreciate the Jewish timekeeping practice in which the day ends at sunset and a new one begins. I like that start to a new year or season, also. It is a rhythm that gives me time to mark the ending, and to begin again before resting.

Also, yes, I read cookbooks during my leisure time; I enjoy cooking so much that I find it fun and relaxing, and reading a good cookbook is simply thrilling! I wanted to end the year being gentle with myself, doing something that brought me delight. (Although some joke that I hate fun, I like to say that I have a different idea of fun than most.) When it got too dark to read, I went inside and celebrated the new year with my family, watching the London fireworks at 7pm CT, as is our tradition. This not only follows the rhythm of time that I appreciate, but it also enables the kids to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and the grown-ups too. (See? I’m VERY fun!!)

2023 was a hard year. Perhaps the hardest. My dad died. Parenting is challenging. Parenting children through your own grief and theirs is even more difficult.  But I’m not saying, “good riddance” to 2023; I’m saying, “thank you.”

I am not the same now as I was at the start of 2023. While some may list all their accomplishments, the books they read and the places they traveled in the last year, I am looking back and what I see is a labyrinth. What do I mean by that? I mean that 2023 was not linear, not focused on goals or accomplishments, finishing anything at all. In fact, I put down more than I finished or picked up. (Perhaps you noticed that I barely published anything on my blog all year?!) I released my grip on many things, and I embraced compassion. I practiced being gentle with myself and others. It was a meandering path, one that moved closer to the center and away from the center, a journey not bound by time or goals. When I walk a labyrinth, I wander around a small, fixed area and emerge different than when I entered the labyrinth. That’s what 2023 was like for me.

This was a not a year of having adventures or accomplishing goals. I did not travel far and wide. I traveled to San Antonio from the Austin area about a billion times, and only a few other places within a short driving distance all year. But I was where I needed to be, when I needed to be, with whom I needed to be. I read and re-read poetry and blessings, and I abandoned books and media that did not feed my soul. I focused on nourishing meals and exercise that felt good in my body, taking long walks, and doing lots of yoga. I invested time in nurturing my relationships. I cared for my family, and I cared for myself. And I am grateful for the time and space this year to listen to my needs and those of my loved ones, to grow in compassion for myself and others.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions. I used to, but I was always too ambitious and aspirational, and then very self-critical when I didn’t achieve them. The process was entirely unhelpful, so I let it go. At some point I began a new practice, almost by accident. I didn’t intend to. Perhaps it was intuitive. I began to listen to my life, to discern what I needed, and to try to describe it in a word or phrase that would serve as my guide through the next year, or season. A breath prayer, of sorts. This isn’t something that I’ve done religiously, or with a specific timeline (although sometimes it has coincided with the beginning of a year, there are times I have engaged in this practice again and chosen a new word or phrase multiple times during a year, as circumstances and seasons changed).

I rarely tell anyone what my word or phrase is, keeping it close to my heart, letting it sink into my soul and permeate my being, without any external input beyond prayer. I will share now that the word that emerged for me as 2022 drew to a close was “compassion.” At the time, I didn’t know where the Holy Spirit was leading me with that word, but it soon became clear that I had not chosen the word; the Spirit had chosen it for me, in her infinite wisdom, knowing I needed to embrace compassion in new ways in my life.

As 2024 dawns, many things are different. I have changed, and my circumstances are incomparable to my life at this time last year. As I say thank you to 2023, I welcome 2024. I have no idea what this year holds, but I pray that I will be able to continue to embrace compassion, and to welcome whatever comes, being present to what is.

In closing, I want to share a blessing from Jan Richardson’s book Circle of Grace. May it bless you, as it has blessed me.  

The Map You Make Yourself
A Blessing for Women’s Christmas
by Jan Richardson

You have looked
at so many doors
with longing,
wondering if your life
lay on the other side.

For today,
choose the door
that opens
to the inside.

Travel the most ancient way
of all:
the path that leads you
to the center
of your life.

No map
but the one
you make yourself.

No provision
but what you already carry
and the grace that comes
to those who walk
the pilgrim’s way.

Speak this blessing
as you set out
and watch how
your rhythm slows,
the cadence of the road
drawing you into the pace
that is your own.

Eat when hungry.
Rest when tired.
Listen to your dreaming.
Welcome detours
as doors deeper in.

Pray for protection.
Ask for the guidance you need.
Offer gladness
for the gifts that come
and then
let them go.

Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always
by another way
and you will know it
not by the light
that waits for you

but by the star
that blazes inside you
telling you
where you are
is holy
and you are welcome
here.

Lent liturgical seasons spiritual practice

Compassion

This post is one in a series of reflections in response to the spiritual practices in Beth A. Richardson’s book Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.

Our spiritual practice this week was compassion. Beth A. Richardson shares: “In Hebrew, the word translated as compassion comes from the root word rehem, meaning ‘womb.’ When we have compassion for another, we have the sort of love that a parent has for a child.” This week, my child taught me about compassion. 

During worship last Sunday, Pastor Jeff led us in Beth Richardson’s loving-kindness meditation (Walking in the Wilderness, p. 90-91). It was the third time I had practiced it that day: once on my own, and then in each worship service, of which this was the second. Our 8-year-old daughter was sitting next to me. When Pastor Jeff gave the instructions to “pray fro yourself,” she was silent, like everyone else. When we were guided to “pray for a good friend,” she whispered to me who she was paying for. It was distracting, but it told me she was participating, and I smiled. When we heard the instructions to “pray for someone for whom you do not have strong feelings, such as an acquaintance” she again whispered to me who she was praying for. And when we were told to “pray for someone you dislike,” she whispered the name of a child at school who has been teasing her. I opened my eyes and looked at her, realizing that I, too, needed to pray for this child. I have had so much compassion for my own child and her emotional responses to how she is treated by this classmate, but I realized I have not been particularly compassionate toward this other child. I had not prayed for this child, and I needed to. My daughter led me to my growing edge, to this place of conviction, to an area where I have not been extending compassion in my life. 

I have continued to pray for this child throughout my week, and not just for this child, but for my own feelings toward them. In the past, I have been filled with frustration and confusion and sadness about their behavior. I have prayed for my daughter to manage the situation as best she can, with the help of her teacher. But until this week, I have not prayed for this other child, the one who probably needs compassion more than I will ever know. This week, I have gained a new understanding of compassion and praying for our enemies. I am grateful that God has worked through my child to teach me, to lead me, so that I can continue to grow in compassionate love toward others, loving as Christ loved. 

But here’s the thing: the blessing exercise leads us first to pray for and bless ourselves, then to pray for and bless a good friend, then an acquaintance, then someone we dislike. There is wisdom in this gradual shift of focus from ourselves to our loved ones to those we don’t know well to those we dislike. It enables us to care for ourselves, have compassion for ourselves first, rather than forgetting about our own needs as we focus on the rest of the world. And then it enables us to be open to the Spirit’s leading. Each time I practice this loving-kindness meditation, different people come to mind. Praying into compassion has helped me to extend my prayer practice into practicing compassion this week, for myself, as well as others. 

Beth A. Richardson asks, “How do we find the healthy balance of caring that lies somewhere between compassion and numbing as we witness so much crisis and turmoil?” An excellent question to consider, and to ponder in prayer. I think it is different for each of us, and at least for me, I know the “balance” looks different each day. But I was reminded this week that it begins with prayer. Let us pray: 

Bless all people, everywhere, with your love. 

Bless all people with your healing. 

Bless all people with your peace. Amen.

Lent liturgical seasons spiritual practice Uncategorized

Trust

This post is one in a series of reflections in response to the spiritual practices in Beth A. Richardson’s book Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.

Last week, the spiritual practice Beth A. Richardson invited us into was Trust. Admittedly, I had not put “trust” in the category of spiritual practice before. But I certainly practice trust in my spiritual life, even though I had not reflected on it in those terms, or practiced it intentionally. Trust was just something I did when I did it, or recognized when I wasn’t doing it. 

Beth A. Richardson writes: “As followers of Christ, we commit our care and keeping to the Holy One, the Creator of all things. And trust becomes a spiritual practice.” She goes on to quote Daniel Wolpert, who says: “A prayer practice is just that: practice. It is taking time to learn how to listen for God. It is taking time to see the hand of God at work in our lives.” In my experience, this is true of all spiritual practices, which are all a form of prayer. 

This week, we were invited to practice trust by doing a “Trust Inventory” (Walking in the Wilderness, p. 72). When I completed the inventory, I found it helpful because I had never named my fears and how they are getting in the way of my love of God, neighbor, or myself in such an intentional way before. I found it helpful to name them, reflect on them in those terms, and offer them to God. But soon after completing the inventory, I realized my list of fears was incomplete. It wasn’t that I had not named things I feared. I had. But as I moved through the day and the rest of the week, other fears began to surface. Not new fears; rather, fears I had not yet named as “fear.” But whether I called them “fear” or not, they were still present.

Here’s an example: as I began to work on my sermon on Monday morning, I was overcome by a feeling of inadequacy. I began to question whether I could write and preach this sermon. Let me be clear: there is a certain amount of fear associated with the task of preaching that is healthy, and that for me, keeps me humble in my process of interpreting scripture and developing a sermon. But I experience another layer of fear related to public speaking. Often, I wish I could write the sermon and let someone else preach it. In fact, my preference for avoiding public speaking was a barrier to accepting my call into ministry for a time. Like Moses and others in scripture, I said to God “but I cannot speak well!” And as God provided for others, God provided for me – not by giving me someone else to speak for me, as God provided Moses with his brother Aaron (Exodus 4:10-17) – but by reminding me that while I may not be a gifted speaker, I am a gifted writer, and writing is a tool for public speaking. And so I leverage my gift for writing, and I practice, and I am able to preach.

And yet, every time I am scheduled to preach, I am afraid. I had not called it “fear” prior to last week. I have named it many other things: lack of natural ability, anxiety, Imposter Syndrome. And while none of that is inaccurate, fear is at the root of my struggle with public speaking. Fear that I won’t be up to the task, or that even if I am able to interpret the scripture well enough to write a decent sermon, my poor delivery will get in the way of others receiving it. This happens every single time I prepare to preach. It is part of my process. And, I’m aware that every single time I write a sermon, the Spirit guides my interpretation of scripture and gives me the words. Every single time, when I show up and do my part, God shows up and does God’s part. And that includes guiding me through the preaching of the words I have written on the page, which is the most terrifying piece. Even though I am afraid, my experience of God showing up and guiding me each and every time enables me to do it, and to do it again, and to do it again. While I don’t preach weekly, even moving through this process every few months is a helpful spiritual practice for me, an exercise in practicing trust in the Holy One. 

While the Trust Inventory may have been the prescribed practice this week, writing and preaching my sermon was my practice, my exercise in once again moving through the process from fear to trusting God to do what God always does, because God is faithful. 

Lent liturgical seasons spiritual practice Uncategorized

Lectio Divina

This post is part of a series of reflections in response to the spiritual practices in Beth A. Richardson’s book Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.

Lectio Divina is a spiritual practice of “divine reading.” Beth A. Richardson says “Lectio Divina invites the reader to interact with the text using the eyes and ears of the heart by asking the question, ‘What is the Holy One saying to me in this passage?’” Helpfully, Richardson explains that “in Lectio Divina the scripture is read for formation rather than information.”

I have experienced the formational aspect of Lectio Divina myself. When I was first introduced to Lectio Divina, I was in an intense phase of reading scripture for information. As a college religion major, I was required to read large portions of scripture at a time to prepare for class. In order to write my papers and prepare for exams, I needed to be able to zoom out to look at the narrative arc of a text or the entirety of a biblical book in order to dissect a short passage. I was required to read commentaries and cross-reference, to use the study tools available to help me interpret the text. 

I found that when I was reading large portions of scripture regularly for my academic work, my personal scripture reading became very focused. I found myself reading one verse, or maybe a few more, per day. I read this tiny portion of scripture and spent time contemplating, without using study tools. I retrospect, I was intuitively doing the opposite of what my academic work required because that’s what my soul needed. This is when I encountered Lectio Dvina. I don’t remember how I learned about it or who shared it with me. What I do know is that this practice of divine reading and listening to the text was exactly what I needed at the time. I was already asking the question: “What is God saying to me in this moment?” And this is precisely the question Beth A. Richardson says we are asking when we engage in Lectio Divina. In contrast to my academic studies, where I was primarily focused on “what are the possible meanings of this text, within the historical and canonical context?” I was instead asking God what God had to say to me, in my life, at that time. 

The first time I remember practicing Lectio Divina in a group setting was in my first year of seminary. All M. Div. students were required to be part of a spiritual formation group, led not by seminary faculty (aka: our professors), but by local clergy. Our leaders were people who had been through seminary, and now served in the local church, those who knew the gifts and challenges of a seminary education as well as the realities we would face as we fulfilled our future callings. My group leader felt that Lectio Divina was an important practice for future clergy – not for our work (although, it certainly could be helpful) – for our personal spiritual formation. Our leader regularly led us through Lectio Divina during our group meetings. At first, our texts for Lectio Divina were scripture passages. Then, he invited us to contemplate religious art. He shared poems. He encouraged us to practice Lectio Divina with the front page of the newspaper. He shared music for an auditory version called Audio Divina. Because of his expansive view of spiritual practices and holy “texts,” I encountered God in new and unexpected ways. 

While I have not practiced it regularly, I have returned to Lectio Divina again and again over the last 15 years. I’ve always found it helpful as a means of discerning God’s voice in scripture, and in other texts. It focuses my prayer on scripture and invites me to be open to receiving what God might say. However, I haven’t practiced Lectio Divina in  while…until this week. 

This was an odd week to return to focusing on Lectio Divina, because I was on a family vacation. I have 2 young children, and while time to myself is *always* in short supply, the lack of routine and more compact living arrangements on vacation make it nearly impossible to find time alone. However, I found myself in a contemplative state of mind this week, paying more attention to the world and the people around me, asking God “What are you saying to me through this?” I found that this contemplative mindset enabled me to be more open to God in my daily life.  

Additionally, I did engage in the practice of Lectio Divina twice this week. Once, with Psalm 63:1-4 during which I found myself truly praying the psalm and repeating the phrase “your steadfast love is better than life” (v. 3a in the NRSV version) over and over in praise to God. I also practiced Lectio Divina with 2 Corinthians 5:16-18. I chose this passage because I know it well. God led me to contemplate humanity and my own human-ness. I was reminded that Christ gave us the ministry of reconciliation, and God brought to mind a situation in which I am called to be a catalyst for reconciliation between two people who are struggling to acknowledge and accept one another’s full humanity.

These two experiences are representative of my experience of Lectio Divina over the years. Sometimes, I simply hear a word or phrase that sticks with me. Other times, I hear God speaking or calling me in a direction I did not anticipate. I am grateful for this practice – now and throughout my life – as a means of helping me to draw near to God and to ask what God is saying to me in a given moment, whether the “text” is scripture, artwork, music, secular writing, or an event in my own life. God is always speaking, but am I listening? Lectio Divina helps me to listen.

Lent liturgical seasons spiritual practice

Lament

This post is part of a series of reflections in response to the spiritual practices in Beth A. Richardson’s book Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent. Last week, I reflected on the practice of being present.

As we continue our journey through this Lenten season, I have been focusing on the practice of lament this week. I am grateful to my guide, Beth A. Richardson. I deeply appreciate the way she describes lament.

“Lament is a prayer for help that comes from a place of pain or distress. Lament gives voice to our intimate feelings, our deepest longings. Through expressing our laments, we give voice to the exiled parts of our deepest self. Lament can be part of our process of healing. We offer our concerns and our wounds to God. And, if our wounds are not healed, they are acknowledged and offered in prayer to the One who walks with us in our wilderness.”

Beth A. Richardson, Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent

I have engaged in the practice of lament for nearly 15 years, but having a new guide helped me to engage in and practice lament in new ways this week. I wrote about lament during Lent last year. In that post, I explain how I became acquainted with the practice, my understanding of lament, and how it has been helpful to me over the years. 

Here I am, a year later, with perhaps more to lament. My dad is receiving hospice care as he nears the end of his life, one of our children is in the midst of a particularly challenging season, and my heart breaks when I read the news. I needed to engage this practice right now, and I didn’t realize quite how much until I did. 

In the past, my practice of lament has mostly taken the from of praying psalms of lament and praying freeform prayers of lament to God for myself, others I know, or the world, without paying attention to form and pattern. What I found particularly helpful this week was the reminder that biblical lament follows a particular pattern: address, complaint, petition, affirmation, resolution. I noticed it in the psalms of lament I prayed. And I employed it when I engaged the practice of writing my own lament. (I created this template from Beth A. Richardson’s guide to writing your own lament, if you want to engage in the practice yourself.)

I found that the form and pattern served as a permission slip and a framework that enabled me to share freely and without holding back. The prayers of lament I wrote this week are too personal to share; they were helpful because they were fully authentic, written for no audience other than God. The practice of writing them was healing for me, and I am grateful. My circumstances haven’t changed; my life is not easier; and yet, I was reminded that I am not in this alone. I can trust God to work in the midst of even my deepest sorrow and most difficult day. 

Finally, I want to share this prayer that blessed me this week with its truth.

God,
Collect our tears
Tears of sadness
tears of joy
Tears of anxiety
nervous tears
Tears that don’t know why they run like rivers down the face
Gracious God, 
collect our tears in your bottle 
And pour them back on us as life-giving water! 

Safiyah Fosua, The Africana Worship Book: Year B

Lent liturgical seasons spiritual practice

Being Present

This Lenten season, our church is reading Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent by Beth A. Richardson. I appreciate many things about this book, but my favorite component is the invitation to engage in a different spiritual practice each week. Introduced on Sundays, we are incorporating the practices into our worship and study each Sunday and during the week following. 

The practice for the first Sunday of Lent was: being present. This week I have been intentional about being present as often as possible. 

I have practiced sitting and meditating. I have gotten distracted while sitting a meditating. I have taken walks and noticed the changing of the seasons, tiny leaves sprouting on trees, the early arrival of the bluebonnets in central Texas. I have been present and aware of my body and its cues, from noticing sore muscles from my workout to letting exhaustion lead to a nap instead of a cup of coffee.

A flower that blooms in our flower bed each year at this time.

This week, I was serving on the Board of Ordained Ministry for my Annual Conference. We met at the camp where I attended youth retreats as a teen and clergy events throughout my ministry. It is the same camp where my interviews for my ordination process were held. It was a gift to be there, to be present to what I am experiencing in my spiritual life now, while reflecting on where I have come from. It was a joy to pray with a candidate the night before her interviews, laying hands on her and interceding for her. I think that prayer time was when I was most present this week.  

My shadow, in front of the chapel at Mt. Wesley (Kerrville, TX) where I accepted my call to ministry 20 years ago.

I have noticed that the busier my schedule is on a given day, the more likely I am to try to do two things at once. The result is that I am not entirely present to anything or anyone. I noticed this when I was placing a grocery order on my phone while at the playground with my daughter. I noticed it again when I was talking on the phone while folding laundry. 

In my experience of practicing being present this week, I have realized that presence means being fully engaged in where I am, in what I am doing, and with the people I am with. Practicing presence is not as simple as “put the phone away,” although that can certainly help. I can get lost in my mind just as easily as in something I am looking at or holding. Presence is about being. In Beth A. Richardson’s words, “If we are truly in the present moment, we are open to the movement of the Holy One. We become a channel for the spirit’s promptings in us.” May we be present, and may it be so.

Advent holy spaces Means of grace spiritual practice Uncategorized

Slow to Arrive…But I Am Here Now

Advent began slowly for me this year.

Typically, I dive right in. I get out the tree and put up the lights on the first Sunday of Advent. It’s a burst of energy to start the season. I excitedly pull out my kids’ nativity sets and begin our family tradition of lighting the Advent candles on our dining room table. I finally turn on that Christmas playlist and begin baking peppermint-flavored goodies. It usually “feels” like Advent from the very beginning.

But this year was different. This fall was extremely busy, in a way I did not anticipate. The months leading up to Advent were stressful due to a variety of circumstances. Plus, our family started the Advent season with illness. It was just a cold, but it traveled through our entire family and was followed by strep throat for one of the kids…resulting in one or both kids home 6 of 9 school days in the first 11 days of Advent. It was challenging to muster the energy to do anything, especially when we limped into the season in the first place, stressed and exhausted.

For 2 weeks, I kept saying it didn’t feel very “Advent-y.” Sure, we put up the tree. It took us nearly 2 weeks to get it decorated, working in 5–10 minute spurts, but we got it done.  We hung the lights outside. We put a wreath on the front door. We pulled out the nativity sets and Advent wreath. I wouldn’t say I did any of it with enthusiasm. I was just going through the motions.

But isn’t that where we find ourselves sometimes? I had not thought about the preparation of my house for Advent and Christmas as a spiritual practice before this year. But now I think it is, for me. I say that because I could have chosen not to do it, to put it off, or to be grumpy when my children asked if we could decorate the tree (because, frankly, I didn’t feel like it). But I chose to do it. To say yes. To engage. And at first, it felt like I wasn’t doing anything. I was doing the “work” of preparing a home for what it is “supposed” to look like during this season. But in the process – and I call it a process because it took 2 weeks instead of a few hours – something changed in me. It was like when I pray not because I feel connected to God or because I want to, but because that’s what I’m supposed to do, and in the process of praying, something happens deep within my soul. Going through the motions of preparing our home for Advent this year was a soul practice like that for me this year.

Last Friday, a few days prior to the third Sunday of Advent, I attended a contemplative Advent retreat. It was small and intimate, with a few friends and a few people who were new to me, all of us pastors and/or therapists. I went for a moment of pause. I had planned an individual retreat during the month of November, and my plans fell through twice. I decided that a guided experience at a particular place and time might work out better.

The morning of my retreat, I began the day with preparation. I did yoga, which is a cleansing for my body and mind. I gathered the items I would need for the day retreat. I spent a few minutes putting the finishing touches on the Christmas tree with my preschooler. And I drove the 45 minutes to the retreat location, another type of preparation.

The retreat began with breakfast tacos. After introductions and fellowship, we entered a long period of silence – about 2 hours. A few of the other participants and I set off for the lake, to spend our time in silence near the water. Whether poor directions or poor listening, I don’t know, but we went the wrong way. We walked in silence, each in our own world of contemplation, near enough to see and hear one another’s footsteps but not conversing. And when we finally realized that those glimpses of the lake were getting farther away rather than closer and decided to turn around, there was a lot of backtracking to do. While this might sound frustrating, it was exactly what I needed. It was part of my process. And it was not lost on me that my journey that morning had mirrored my Advent journey thus far.  

When we finally arrived at the lake, I was ready. I had taken an indirect path to get there. But the walking, the movement, the process of going through the motions of walking to the lake without going there at first, had prepared me for when I arrived.

The stress and anxiety I had been experiencing for many weeks prior to Advent had begun to dissipate earlier in the week due to circumstances resolving themselves, but it had not left me entirely. As I walked the wrong direction, and much farther than I anticipated walking, the stress and anxiety continued to melt away.

When I arrived at the lake, the journey I had been on felt much longer than it was. In realty, it was about a 2 mile walk with all the backtracking, but those 2 miles transformed my heart and mind. They helped me to get ready. They prepared me to be vulnerable, laid bare, in the presence of God.

At the lake, I sat down, and I looked out at the expanse in front of me. It was unimpressive, really. The water level was low, far below where I sat, with at least a couple hundred yards of exposed shoreline between the lakeside park and the water’s edge. I couldn’t easily get down near the water, like I wanted to. And yet, as I sat on the ridge overlooking over the water with the wind whipping my hair, I encountered the Holy Spirit. I was reminded of my baptism as I looked at that ordinary and unimpressive lake, recalling that the waters of baptism are extraordinary because of the Holy Spirit’s work, not because the water itself is special. I heard the Spirit in the tinkling of the wind chimes, sounding like bells. I felt the Spirit in the wind, on my skin and blowing my hair. I was fully present.

And I began to write in my prayer journal. The phrase that I kept writing over and over, in the midst of all that I was pouring out to God, was “I am here.” I was so grateful to be there in that place in that moment. Not pulled in many directions at once – body, soul, and mind fragmented by stress and overwhelm as I had experienced for weeks leading up to that moment. And God reminded me that God is always here – no matter where I am, no matter how scattered or fragmented, no matter how high the wall of anxiety and stress is, hemming me in on all sides. God is here. I am here. We are here together.

And in that moment, I realized that I had taken a circuitous path not only to the lake, but to Advent this year. I had gone through the motions, doing the things, and it was the process of going through the motions that enabled me to arrive in this season of Advent, to engage actively in preparing my heart as I had been preparing my home. I am here now, getting ready for the coming of Christ, a miracle like no other…God coming to us in the most vulnerable form as a human baby, saying “I am here.”

prayer Uncategorized

A Prayer for When You’re Too Busy

I’ve been way too busy lately. The start of school is always hectic, as is the beginning of fall programming at church, and I am knee-deep in both. This transition from summer to the school year and the coming fall feels more “normal” that it has in years. In-person events are back, and somehow, there seem to be more of them than ever before. Perhaps we are making up for lost time. My calendar has been out of control the last few weeks. Maybe that’s true for you, too.

One morning this week, as I faced yet another day of back-to-back meetings and events, I scribbled this prayer in my journal. Just the mere act of taking that brief moment to connect with God helped immensely. It changed my day. If you’re too busy, perhaps this prayer will help you, too.

God, I am tired. Worn out from being over-scheduled. Too busy, with no room for my soul to breathe, or to listen to my body. I hate it when I have weeks like this. I feel disconnected from you and others, a slave to my schedule and to-do list, and yet, I consented to this.

Why?

I don’t have an answer to that.

But I know you are telling me to breathe, to listen, to be…even if just for a brief moment of reconnection with my body and with you. Calm my mind. Quiet my anxious heart and enable me to be still. Help me to breathe deeply – your breath in my lungs – reminding me that I am yours. May your breath renew me.

For I already know that I need to make changes, that my schedule cannot continue to be this full. Guide me and show me your wisdom, your way, for me to live fully into who you have called me to be. Amen.

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Blessing for New Life

I am sharing a blessing today that I wrote in my journal during a retreat last July, while sitting in front of Hope Monument at the Oblate Renewal Center in San Antonio. I will let this image be for you what you need it to be, and I will leave you with this blessing that blessed me that day, word for word as it came to me. May it bless you, as well.

Hope Monument (sculpture by Beverly Paddleford) at Oblate Renewal Canter in San Antonio, TX.
(Photographed by Jessica Petersen on July 23, 2021)

May you remember that
it is the way of things
that new life comes
springing up from the emptiness
where something once was.

For there cannot be new life
without death, loss, grief, sorrow…
there must be an ending for
there to be a beginning.
A period at the end of a sentence,
a space, a breath, before
a new sentence, paragraph, or page.

And in that space, that breath,
where it feels like there is nothing,
there is always God, Spirit, grace.
Because God is in all, through all.

Even when we forget to look for God
in the ending
or acknowledge God
in the beginning,
God dwells in it all.

Weeks or months or years from the day
when an end became a beginning,
we may look back and give thanks
with a tender heart
for the new life that was birthed from death,
for the gifts that came,
even as we grieve and remember.
And may God be in it all.