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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ask the Matriarch - It's Only Words Edition

As your editor read the missive printed below, she knew there would be at least one matriarch who would truly understand the experience of words, words, and more words about worship, but a loss of connection with the act of worship itself...

Hi Matriarchs,
With Christmas just over, and Easter approaching, I notice that in my desire to make Advent/Christmas/ Epiphany and Lent/Easter meaningful for the congregation, I miss out on these seasons in my own spiritual life. It isn't just the busyness of the church program, but also trying to come up with new ways of expressing these seasons and their themes to the congregation. In my attempt to make these time special and meaningful for the congregation, they slip by in my life.

And I think it is getting worse, rather then better, each year. I have tried daily seasonal e-mails, bought books with daily reflections, etc, and rarely get past the first week - or sometimes the first day; Sometimes I feel like there are so many words in my life - preaching, worship, conversations, e-mails, reports etc; that more words just get caught up in the jumble in my head.

PS - I am the kind of person who reads for information, rather then fun.

From Muthah+, blogging at Stone of Witness,

Sistah, You don’t tell us how long you have been in the ministry, but I am guessing you are about 7-15 years in and have hit a spiritual wall. You don’t say that you are finding your own spiritual life lagging, but it I wouldn’t be surprised. It is not uncommon for our spiritual lives to go stale at points in our career. Preaching gets stale, prayer gets dry and it becomes hard to stay focused even if we are being ‘successful’.

For me, this can be the foretaste of depression, OR it can also mean that I am not paying attention to my spiritual life, OR it can mean that I am being called by God to trust and persevere in my vocation. If you have no history of depression in your life, ignore the first one.

If you have not been attentive to providing quiet time with the Source of your faith, taking time for prayer or renewal time, it is time to figure out how to provide for such experiences in your everyday life. It is part of your WORK. Your personal relationship with those things that support your faith life is part of what you owe to your congregation. And your congregation needs to know that you need time to do that.

BUT, there have been times in my spiritual life when the things that usually enrich my relationship with God don’t, and no matter what I do, I was just plain dry. God felt far away. I found that God was teaching me how to really depend on faith. It was a lonely time. It was a scary time because I usually depended upon all those wonderful feelings of God’s nearness to feed all the work I did in the congregation. But after these times were over, I have found that my faith is stronger and fuller than it was. I must admit those times were hard until I realized that what helped me through were my colleagues, friends and family who held me up with their prayer. I learned that it was truly a ‘cloud of witnesses’ that kept me faithful and therefore serviceable to the God who loved me. I learned to trust.I don’t know if this is your issue. I just know that it was for me and I offer it as one way of dealing with those times when my spiritual life was not what I wanted it to be. You are in my prayers.

From Jennifer, blogging at An Orientation of Heart,

I have found that wordless practices often help me most in the midst of busy liturgical seasons. I often read and study what we suggest for the congregation, but, like you, dear question poser, more is not always more, and I, too, find myself deluged with words.

Do you have access to a labyrinth for walking meditation? Even a walk in one’s neighborhood, a pleasant park, or a track at a gym can be meditative and helpful, I’ve found. I’ve practiced yoga and Tai Chi in Lent, engaged in some sort of craft in Advent, listen to music, and even have found e-votions on my iPod to be enriching.

Think outside the word box, and perhaps you’ll find something transforming or renewing in an upcoming season! Best to you.

From Ruth, who blogs at ‘Sunday’s coming!’ .

My first reaction to this was simply to delete the question whilst muttering ‘mea culpa’ - I too struggle with actually celebrating Christian festivals, rather than just arranging celebrations for others.

But since July last year I’ve started a ‘new thing’ and although it’s early days, I think it’s worth sharing. I have started a prayer journal. It’s really just a space where I can jot down my thoughts, feelings, reflections. I don’t beat myself up if I don’t write in it every day – but I do look back over the weeks and reflect on where my journey has brought me – and I do place on check on whether I do the things that I say I’m going to do. Just the existence of the journal makes me find time to sit and pause and pray... Which is a good thing for me.

This might just help to unjumble some of the thoughts and words on your head – worth a try?

And from Terri, blogging at Seeking Authentic Voice

I understand the experience of having “too many words in my life.” For this reason I have made it a personal discipline and practice to take a silent retreat in Lent. Occasionally I have also been able to manage one just before Advent. The retreats are usually just two days and two nights, or even one night – usually from a Sunday afternoon to Tuesday morning. Of course I always yearn for more time, but as you say it is hard to carve out this time.

I make arrangements to go to a retreat center so that I get away from all the temptations of everyday life. I prefer retreat centers that are contemplative by nature which offer opportunities for contemplative prayer and worship – which I may or may not participate in, again because sometimes I am already too full of words and worship – but I appreciate the offering and the choice.

If taking a retreat in the season of Lent and or Advent is not possible perhaps you can arrange one or two in the weeks just before Lent/Advent and use that time to prepare yourself?

One of my favorite prayer resources for a silent retreat is a Mandala coloring book. Coloring mandalas invites me into an entirely different form of prayer, no words, but still engaging and creative. I also color mandala’s when I am home and in need of a prayer resource that does not use words. Other resources I use to guide silent/wordless time include knitting and cross-stitch. Daily walking is another useful discipline for silent prayer and a kind of mini retreat, even a twenty walk is useful. And music, without words - such as cello, piano, or violin - can be helpful. I am also a daily meditator/silent prayer practitioner – but this is not a prayer form that all people can engage in.

My point is I am more successful with making and taking (personal) Advent/Lenten time if I make a plan and schedule time away from my usual routine, even if that time away cannot fall in the midst of the busy season. Clearly childcare concerns can make this option more complicated. If so then perhaps even a day/few hours away could be useful, planned and scheduled ahead of time. Blessings as you seek the path that will afford you time for silence, solitude, and renewal.

Thanks to Muthah+, Jennifer, Ruth, and Terri for their thoughtful responses and prayers pledged. We welcome your insights too...please use the "Post a Comment" function to share them.

And remember that we always welcome questions...there are only a couple in the queue right now. Send them to us at

May we all live in God's amazing grace+



  1. "i read for information not fun"... that's certailnly okay - but what then are you doing for fun? as pastors sometimes we are waaaay to serious...

    do something with your hands. it matters not if you believe you are artistic or not. make something. bake a pie. try a new recipe. draw a picture. take plain paper and a child's set of watercolor paints and paint flowers... try orgami even.

    the simple act of doing something, helps the inner self (at least for me) settle a bit... then i find myself grounded for all the wordy business.

  2. Just want to say how much I appreciate Terri's idea about a mandala coloring an avid 'doodler' I think I will give that a try.

  3. HCL, I totally love the suggestion of doing something with the hands. Great idea for balance!

    RDM, the mandala coloring book really appeals to me, too. What a great idea! And what does it say about me that I already have the crayons?

  4. I often use the practice of Praying in Color (google for more info from the website and book) to get away from my own wordiness. And I echo the suggestions about walking or cooking, both of which have gotten me through some crazy times when words were just not doing it for me...and are things I can do in my regular life in addition to the getaway Terri suggests.

  5. What wonderful ideas, Gals! I am such an extrovert and wordiness is where I am most comfortable, but for those who process from the inner to the out, I can imagin that wordiness is pretty tough. I have not engaged in Mandela coloring, Terri and I think I am going to try it.

    I still go back to Ignatian imagining and meditative prayer because that is familiar, but it doesn't always produce that sense of calm engagement with all that is Holy that I look for. For a good part of my life that was done with flyfishing. I can't get on the stream anymore and there are no trout in TX, so I need to find another way.

  6. Such timing! Michelle of Quantum Theology and I have been guest blogging about the book Into the Silent Land -- there's a tab to the posts at the top of each our our blogs. I can't say we've gleaned much of a readership following, but we've certainly enjoyed it and and learned much about prayer in the process. Maybe there's something of interest in there for you.

  7. I thank God for each one of you.

    Some wonderful ideas for me to try. The picture of Praying in Color of the calendar just feels so much like me, and I am looking forward to coloring a mandala, already printed out.

    I feel so much lighter. thank you all, what an awesome group.

  8. Often at times like that I go to somebody else's weekday service, just quietly in and quietly out, no responsibilities, words but so familiar they just are.


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