Advent Hope

I’m sitting here reading about the world’s latest craziness. (What is going to happen next?!?) And I’m wondering where those the nice Advent feelings are that I used to be able locate inside myself. “Maybe, this year, there will be peace.” “Oh, look, there are the signs of hope (or joy, or love).” Right now, I’m not feeling very hopeful.

I remembered something I’d written about hope in The Uncluttered Heart and share it here:

Hope isn’t a simple, sweet sentiment or an unreachable goal. Hope’s a bit risky — it’s not based on and doesn’t rely on some kind of secret-handshake promise from God. Our hoping does not mean that everything will turn out the way we want it to.

Hope is, instead, a spiritual practice, appropriate any time but especially during the season of Advent. We wait and hope for the coming of Christ into the world. We hope even when it doesn’t feel like it’s going to make a difference. We hope because we are children of God, children of hope. …

When we hope, we align ourselves more closely with the God of the Universe — the eternal force of good, of hope and love and peace.

Carry these words in your heart today: I am God’s partner in hope.

From The Uncluttered Heart by Beth A. Richardson. Copyright © 2009 by The Upper Room. Used with Permission.

Prayer for the Pilgrims

I leave today for a retreat in Alabama, the first of eight weeks over the next two years. (This is the first session of a 2-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation, a program of The Upper Room.)

I will be leading daily prayer, one of my favorite things. Prayers upon waking and before sleeping. And a service of Eucharist before dinner.

We will be on this journey of faith, of hope, of drinking deeply of the gifts of the spirit, of the gifts of community, prayer, learning, and liturgy.

For all of us who travel, for those who labor to care for us on retreat, for all who tend the tasks at home so that we can be away. For all who long for retreat but do not have the resources to set apart time in their lives for such a journey. Bless all who are setting out on journeys of any kind throughout the world. Travel with each one. Amen.

Are You Thirsty? Come to the Water

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
-Psalm 42:1-2, NRSV

You Are Invited: Join Me in The Academy for Spiritual Formation

I will be serving as worship leader for the upcoming Two-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation at Camp Sumatanga, Alabama. Our first session is August, 2018. In a Two-Year Academy, the community comes together for a week each quarter for study, prayer, worship, silence, laughter … all drinking from the flowing streams of God’s love and grace.

I hope you will consider whether you are being called to join with me on this journey. We have the most amazing leadership team: Pat Luna, Blake Kendrick, Don Saliers, Kathy Norberg, and me. We are very excited about the faculty we have recruited. They include Roberta Bondi, Loyd Allen, Roger Owens, Amy Oden, Grace Imathiu, Barbara Brown Taylor, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Luther Smith. (See the entire list of faculty.)

If you would like to have a conversation with me as a part of your discernment, please reach out to me. I’d love to visit with you about The Academy. Contact me.

My Academy Story

I had worked at The Upper Room for fifteen years before I attended The Academy for Spiritual Formation. I “knew” about The Academy because I worked at The Upper Room. I watched my colleagues, one by one, attend the Two-Year Academy at Camp Sumatanga, Alabama.

When I saw The Academy brochure, it didn’t speak to me. Reading the prospectus just brought back memories of Divinity school: Trying to stay awake as I trudged through text books. The pressure of reading and exams and sitting through lectures.

It was my friend, Jerry Haas, who finally lured me into The Academy for Spiritual Formation. He invited me to attend the Five-Day Academy in Arizona. It was at Picture Rocks Retreat Center — I had never been to Arizona, so the location hooked me. (There will be a Five-Day Academy at this location in 2019.) Additionally, I was excited to meet Flora Slosson Wuellner, one of the faculty presenters. And my friend and colleague, Elise Eslinger, was to be the worship leader.

I attended that five-day experience and fell in love with The Academy for Spiritual Formation. It was nothing like Divinity school. It was nothing like anything I had ever experienced. A few months later, I joined the Two-Year Academy in California in its second week. And the experience nurtured, shaped, and changed me. (Note that there is a Two-Year Academy in California beginning in July, in case Alabama is too far away.)

I discovered a thirst I didn’t even know I had — a thirst for community, for silence, for a daily rhythm of prayer. I discovered a thirst for the Holy One. I count myself fortunate that I was enticed into The Academy experience.

I hope you will listen to the longings of your spirit, your thirsts, your hungers. I hope you will consider whether you are being called to join me on this journey. (Learn more.) Contact me if you’d like to visit about this opportunity.

A New Adventure

In May of this year, I started a new job at The Upper Room. After years and years of editing, I accepted the job of Director of Prayer and Upper Room Worship Life. The introverted part of me is still adjusting to the change — working with people more than words has been a big change.

A central part of my job is planning and hosting The Upper Room’s weekly worship services. The organization has been holding weekly services for staff since the chapel was built in the 1950’s. These days, we welcome each week staff from Upper Room, Discipleship Ministries, Higher Education and Ministry, and guests from the Nashville area and from around the world.

I’m grateful to have this opportunity to live out my calling to create liturgy. Some days, I’m amazed I get to do this job. Other days, I’m terrified that this is now my job. I guess that means I’m in the right place.

If you are coming to Nashville, join us on Wednesdays at 10:45 in The Upper Room Chapel. 1908 Grand Avenue, Nashville, TN 37212.

Honoring and Releasing Weavings 

Join your spirits with us today as we celebrate, honor, and release Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Tradition. We will be worshipping at 2:00 p.m., Central Time, at The Upper Room in Nashville.

As the sun rises, I walk the dogs
And think of the Weavings Journal,
How it formed me and so many others.

Today we hold a service of worship
To honor and release Weavings.
We will gather around the table of the Lord.

The table holds icons and symbols.
It holds bread and cup.
It holds a copy of the last issue of Weavings
Already in the homes of readers.

“Keeping the Door Open for the Holy” is the theme of this last issue.
That’s what we are doing as we honor and release this friend.
We are listening for the Holy One
To show us the open doors of our future.

Thanks be to God for the gift of Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Tradition.

Thirty Years

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Thirty years ago today I joined the staff of The Upper Room as assistant editor of Alive Now magazine. I was awarded the generous, extravagant, unheard-of salary of $15,000 per year, after which I went out and bought a car.

How can I adequately express my gratitude for these years of formation, of shaping and nurturing my being?

To my Saints, living and passed on to the eternal, I give great thanks. To Mary Ruth, John, Rueben, Hoyt, Laura, Moses, Joyce, Henri, Dorothy, Julian, Hildegard, Dietrich, and so many more. To Deen, Stephen, Marjorie, Michael, Janice, Judy, Bill, Don, Jerry, Trevor, Vance, Flora, and too many to name.

For retreats and prayer times. For brainstorming sessions and staff training. For laughter and tears. For parties and chapel services. For writing and editing and copy sessions. For print resources and for digital expressions. For immersion in creativity, undergirding our passion to help people grow in their relationships with God.

I see myself 30 years ago, and then I look at myself today. I write and talk and think — and don’t remember how I learned the things I know. I know many ways to prayer. I know the wisdom of Christian mystics. I know the ever-increasing hungers for sacred ways of living. I have stayed in this place and been gifted with a culture that values and embraces and teaches these things.

This thirty years — my post-graduate work in Christian spirituality. My Ph.D. in the Christian Life. My apprenticeship in growing closer to God.

In the words of Dag Hammarskjöld: “For all that has been — Thanks. For all that will be — Yes.”

Join Me at SOULfeast

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The last several of summers, I’ve had the chance to help with SOULfeast, the Upper Room’s summer spiritual formation retreat. I’ll be there again this summer — July 13-17 at Lake Junaluska, NC. I’ll be leading worship and will be doing a workshop on photography. I hope you’ll consider joining me there.

Roberta Bondi, author, professor, and theologian, will serve as the Keynote Speaker for the week, and preachers, Rob Fuquay, Tim Bias, Candace Lewis, and Dana Trent, will lead us in spiritually rich worship each night.

Our theme for the week is “Living Psalms” — how the Psalms apply to our daily lives. There is still time to register and join us for this special event. Check it out.