Saturday, January 21, 2012


A friend tells me centering prayer is futile, that her thoughts roam like wild horses, and trying to capture them is useless. She has labored to center herself … has tried for three days straight to be still but claims it’s impossible

Not so, if you view your thoughts as a stream-of-consciousness parade instead of wild horses…or (worse yet) a tree full of chattering monkeys!   

Just let thoughts go in peace, one by one.  Imagine them as floats…a group of majorettes twirling by… a marching band...  a clown or two…one float after another.  Let them entertain you for a second, and then simply watch them glide away.    

Choose a sacred word and stick with it. When a new thought appears, return to your word… over and over until you achieve inner solitude.  Here are more guidelines from Thomas Keating, one of my contemplative mentors from way back when.   

 Fruits of Silence

What I’ve learned from centering prayer is that the answers I seek don’t generally come during the silence, but they materialize sometime later…like seeds planted that come to fruition in time.  

 I may be driving down the road or sweeping the porch… and voila!  A flash of insight emerges out of nowhere. This is one fruit of silence: creative insight or inspiration.  

Others are: 

Deep, abiding peace. No matter how troubled the world becomes, there is a place of rest in the inner sanctuary of the soul. A man once told me that he knew of concentration camp survivors who had practiced centering prayer to endure sanity.

Advanced intuition. We know things without knowing, and tend to rely more on divine guidance because trust grows stronger during stillness. I’ve written about this here

Inner healing. The practice of centering is cumulative, like an antibiotic. When a doctor prescribes the Z pack, directions specify “take all this medication…”  It takes days for the drug to do its work.  

Keating recommends 20 minutes twice a day. But others say even five minutes daily helps. What do we have to lose but unnecessary stress? 

Creative insight, abiding peace, keener intuition, and inner healing are only four of the many fruits. These are just a few I’ve noted from my own experience with centering prayer and silence.

In quietness and trust is your strength.

What spiritual practices work wonders for you?
Please share your experience with us.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Murder your darlings…but display your masterpieces

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – wholeheartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.
~ Arthur Quiller-Couch (from On Style)

Say I’m making tabouli salad, a Mediterranean dish known for its tang and bite.  But I have these sweet cherries that would look so festive amid the green parsley, so I toss these into the mix. Tell me, how would that taste?  Sweet, you may say. But I’m making tabouli – zesty and pungent!    

The ingredients call for scallions, parsley, lemon…tart stuff.  So?  Why can’t you use maraschino cherries instead of bitter tomatoes?  Well, you can, but they don’t belong in the recipe. They’re as out of place as a poem in a medical journal.  Besides, no one would eat it.

So what to do with the scrumptious cherries?  I know!  I’ll save them for the Sunshine Fruit Salad!  Sounds like a plan.

A mentee of mine says that cherries on tabouli would be as out of place as Lady Gaga at a Baptist church.  Now you fill in the blank. 

Sweet cherries on tabouli are as out of place as ______________

I’m pleased to introduce Cyna W., a young protégé. Check out a writing tip below from this 15-year-old aspirant. Don’t forget to encourage her to keep writing, and if you have any advice for her please leave it in 
the comments.


Coco Channel once advised, “Before you leave for the day, take one thing off.”  Coco Channel should have been a writer.

Writing a story is something like designing an outfit. Have you ever seen a person walking down the street who is entirely over accessorized? That, my friend, is what fashionistas call a hot mess.
Stories can be over accessorized also. “Her elegantly coifed up-do swirled into disarray as she danced,” is a lovely sentence, but “Her fancy hairdo came undone while she danced” works too, and has fewer verbal necklaces than the first sentence.

Think of sentences as buying paintings at an art show. Yes, they’re all lovely, but buying too many will leave your walls cluttered.

Turn off your” Ohhhh, shiny!!!” reflex and carefully analyze each one, to see if you have a place for that perfect verbal portrait. If you do happen to find the Mona Lisa of all sentences, put it in a place of honor, cutting away any frills that might distract from your masterpiece. 

Remember, you don’t want the frame to be worth more than the painting!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Small Things Count Too

We’ve just heard the bells ringing, ever-present Salvation Army drives near business doors, folks in Santa hats collecting coins. December: the season of giving. Can you spare a dime… a turkey… used clothes and toys for the needy? 

Why is this goodwill not extended more widely year round, our charitable focus ongoing? 
Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love… If you can’t feed a hundred, then just feed one.” 

Everything we do for the least of these counts.  Giving extra food to a hungry bird or animal out in the cold counts.  A simple smile to a lonely heart counts. Every bit of compassion counts.

At St. Timothy’s they all flock like birds to a feeder by day.  The homeless seeking hot soup and sandwiches, at times a little money for meds.  We know the beggars by name. Kenny’s home is a grocery cart from Piggly Wiggly, all his worldly possessions stuffed inside.

Under the breezeway he sits alone, preparing his evening meal. He’s plugged a crock pot alongside a percolator inside an electrical outlet.  Rigged an open-air kitchen in secret. Thinks he’s alone under stars sneaking out slow and peaceful.

Kenny doesn’t know I’m spying on him through the Anderson Hall window, and is surprised when he sees me approaching to ask, “What’s for dinner?”  Gingerly, he removes the crock pot lid to show me tomato soup starting to simmer. “Where did you get your kitchen?”

“Goodwill had a surplus of crock pots and percolators and offered me these for free.” Then he leans back against the brick wall, luxuriating under the breezeway with coffee and soup to warm and feed him on a chilly night.

When I ask, “Would you like dessert to go with your coffee?” he nods with pleasure. 

Back in the kitchen I pull a brand new bag of butter cookies from the pantry shelf and deliver it to Kenny, who is so filled with gratitude you’d have thought I just handed him a Sultan’s Golden Cake.  A wholehearted “Much obliged” from a homeless man brings great reward.

When have you received or offered a small deed of kindness with great love?
Thank you for sharing your stories.
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