The Center for the Practice of Prayer

 

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The Center for the Practice of Prayer

at Grace Episcopal Church

 

Lord, teach us to pray… 

                        Luke 11:1-13

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

                         Matthew 6:6

The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.

Richard Foster, A Celebration of Discipline

Vision: Our vision is the same as the entire church: to foster reconciliation of all people with Christ (Book of Common Prayer, 855), a reconciliation marked by an awareness of God’s indwelling presence in our lives that transforms the way we live.

Mission: To cultivate the practice of prayer as the grounding of parish life and thus seek a transformation of heart, so that we live more fully as a conscious Christian community.  

Rationale:

By setting a Center for Prayer within the heart of an institutional parish church, we continue to wonder about our shared experience of a “contemplative reformation,” a reorientation of a congregation away from the fixation on a program-maintenance model toward a more intentional grounding in the movement of the living Spirit of Christ.  

We are claiming that the nurture of an intentional practice of prayer is the essential seed that can take root in our lives, leading to transformation of our spiritual hearts and the bearing of fruit in our world.  When we pray, we seek to attune our hearts to the indwelling presence of Christ; this awareness fosters our continual conversion and challenges us to live more fully into our own baptismal identity. Our prayer takes many mental, heart-centered, and embodied forms, each of which is grounded in our call to nurture our awareness of the presence of the Spirit of Christ.  Above all, the image of the spiritual heart holds special emphasis for us in our lives.

Our lives are anchored in the rich wisdom of the Christian contemplative tradition, nurtured through the centuries by women and men who sought to live their lives in a fuller attunement with Christ’s healing presence.  That tradition continues to bear fruit in our own day, with diverse voices speaking to the complex situations we face. We seek to honor our Christian contemplative identity, which also encourages us to celebrate our deepening interfaith relationships that recognize our common call to transformation and compassion as we experience anger, fear, anxiety, and confusion in so many aspects of our world.

The Ministry Clusters: collaboration, discernment, and le pointe vierge

At Grace Episcopal Church, we have sought to reframe our leadership structure with the image of our Ministry Clusters.  The five original focus points–particular in number and focus to Grace as they would be particular to any congregation who discerned in this way–are Administration, Compassion, Formation, Participation, and Liturgy & Creative Expression.  Click HERE to explore more about the intentional work at Grace.  

Our vestry, staff, and committees all share discernment and planning within these five Ministry Clusters.  By shaping our common life in this way the clusters offer both structure and flexibility for ongoing listening and mutual discernment.  Indeed, our desire to listen deeply to the Spirit in our lives is a hallmark of our identity at Grace Church.

The Clusters overlap in many ways, and this fruitful exchange encourages us to wonder how the Spirit is at work crossing boundaries and breaking us out of the typical “program-maintenance model” that can be so stifling to creativity–and reinforcing of a more egoic turf mentality of protectionism.  

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Thanks to Evelyn Higginbotham for the drawing.

 

There is a central point within the image of these Ministry Clusters, and that space is the core of prayer that lies within the heart of the parish’s life.  It is to this Center of Prayer that this work intentionally focuses.  By shaping our lives this way, we can visualize in our own leadership structure the deep truth of the Christian contemplative tradition: the indwelling and transformative presence of the Spirit of Christ.

The mystics have long spoken of le pointe vierge, this mysterious center of grounding within our spiritual heart.  Sebastian Moore speaks of it, as does Thomas Merton:

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.

This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship.

It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.

Jesus’s own life was grounded in a prayer of awareness.  We see this throughout many of the Gospel accounts of His life and ministry.  From His time in the desert where He faced the core temptations of power and greed to His time in the Garden before His trial and crucifixion, from times of solitude and intentional conversation with those on the margins to moments of stillness, Jesus shows us what it looks like to be truly centered in prayer and thus embody compassion in the world.  

Within the Christian contemplative tradition, Matthew 6:6 has a particular resonance with our desire to cultivate this awareness of God’s indwelling presence:

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

As a Christian community, we seek to ground ourselves in a posture of discernment and listening, and we are aware that this posture will foster a deeper trust in the Spirit’s movement in our common life.  

Structure and Shape:

It is tempting to make any visualization or image into a firm structure, thus repeating the cycle and impulse to form silos or rigid categories.  While such a structure with the Ministry Clusters has nurtured deep growth at Grace, the desire of The Center for the Practice of Prayer is to flow throughout the parish’s life.  It is the grounding element of the parish’s common life, the call to prayer that encourages a constant conversion of life within all of us.

To that end, we will offer focused gatherings and events throughout the year that draw together the full spectrum of the parish’s life: from finance to children’s ministry to campus development to outreach, all embodied as they are in the shared Clusters.  We hope to remind ourselves of the way prayer is our common core.

We are also aware of the importance of the clergy and leadership holding this space within themselves.  Speaking for myself, there is a deeply vocational aspect to the grounding of this Center within the heart of the clergy, especially the senior clergy person.  It is worth reminding ourselves of the importance of clergy grounding their lives in a deep practice of prayer so that they can be fully present to the needs of their community.  At the end of the day, I think of it this way: as the rector of the parish, how do I hold the Center within myself so that I can model and embody it within the community I serve?  I would do well to keep this question before me, always.

  • This May we will partner with Mary and Martha’s Place in Atlanta to host a gathering at Camp Mikell in Toccoa, Georgia.  During this gathering, Contemplation and Resilience: A Space for Honest Conversations and Deep Awareness, we will explore the work of the Rev. Dr. Bobbi Patterson and her work Building Resilience Through Contemplative Practice.  More info coming shortly. Click HERE to learn more about Mary and Martha’s Place.

 

  • At Grace Episcopal Church, we will soon offer two “intensives”. These gatherings will be three-day retreat spaces at Grace that will focus on key images that further ground us within the contemplative tradition.

Fall 2020 Intensive: We will explore the image of the Cave of the Heart within Christian spirituality, drawing on rich resources and reflections to cultivate an inner practice of resting in the presence of God in our lives.

Spring 2021 Intensive: We will explore the image of a Transfigured Life within Christian spirituality, drawing on iconography and images that nurture a sense of our awareness of Christ’s presence–as well as our tendency to grasp onto control, as embodied in the Transfiguration account in the Gospels.

  • As well, we will partner with Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, South Carolina in early 2021.  Click HERE to explore Mepkin.  This opportunity will have a public lecture exploring the dynamics of a contemplative reformation as well as a retreat space, in conjunction with the Rev. Adam Bucko with the Center for Spiritual Imagination at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, NY (Episcopal Diocese of Long Island).  Click HERE for more on the Center for Spiritual Imagination.

 

  • As well, we will partner with the Spirituality Program at Columbia Theological Seminary in Fall 2021 with a special retreat space exploring the dynamics of a contemplative reformation.  Click HERE to learn more about Columbia’s spirituality program.

As Father Thomas Keating reminded us at the New Contemplatives Exchange, this is the age of partnerships.  The time of old silos no longer works.  To that end, we at Grace seek to nurture this space of the Center for the Practice of Prayer, aware of our context and our deep desire to foster a deep practice of prayer within our hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

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