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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Merton’

As an author, I get to do some interesting things, not least of which are in-store book signings. Last Saturday, at my fourth such event, I discovered again how neat it is when those little ‘God moments’ pop up.

It was still early in the day when the first of my special conversations took place. A customer who recognised me from an event where I had spoken told me with some trepidation how she had resigned her job and was about to start nursing training—at the age of fifty-nine! Would she cope, she wondered, going back to study? At once I knew why God had brought her to my book table.

‘I was fifty-nine when my first novel was released,’ I told her. ‘Now I have six books published and a seventh due out this year! I hope that encourages you.’

Her eyes filled with tears as she picked up my non-fiction book Soul Friend.

‘Please sign this and write in it what you just said, as a reminder of how God has shown me I can do it!’ she told me.

A couple came by next who also decided to buy Soul Friend because they had begun mentoring some younger leaders.

‘We’ve been reading a book called Mentoring Matters,’ they told me.

‘Oh yes, I know the author. See, he endorsed my own book here,’ I responded, pointing to Rick Lewis’s name on the cover. ‘He spoke at my book launch—his book is excellent!’

A little later, I noticed a young woman standing nearby, holding a little girl by the hand. We chatted about my books and about writing in general, and then she told me she had come to find where her own book was displayed. I asked her what her book was about.

‘It’s about miscarriage—it’s called Losing Sammy,’ she told me. ‘It’s some letters I wrote to encourage other women going through the same ordeal as I did.’

She broke off then, as just at that moment, she caught sight of her book on a nearby shelf. I watched the emotion on her face and went to stand beside her.

‘It’s a special moment when we see our own book in a bookstore, isn’t it?’ I said, as she put her arm around me.

‘Yes—and you’re sharing it with me,’ she whispered.

What a privilege!

Later, an older woman came by. She asked my opinion about the suitability of some books of short stories she had chosen as gifts and I was able to tell her that they contained two stories I myself had written. She then looked at my novel, Heléna’s Legacy, which features a young woman left to bring up her son alone.

‘Oh, that’s me,’ she said, as she put the book in her basket. ‘That’s what I did.’

We went on to talk about so many interesting things, including the writings of Catholic authors Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton.

‘I mention them in my Soul Friend book here,’ I told her.

Immediately, she picked up a copy and added it to her basket too.

‘I go to a Catholic church,’ she told me. ‘I know I will enjoy this.’

I came home convinced that my various conversations had not happened by chance that day. It was as if God had lined up appointments for me—and all I needed to do was show up.

Encourage one another daily’, we are told in Heb 10:13. May you too keep finding those God appointments in your own lives each day and experience the joy of encouraging those whom God brings across your path!

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Now it’s not that I’m old or anything. In fact, I don’t feel that way at all. I have too many ideas in my head to risk getting old quite yet. But now and then, I do notice I have a little difficulty remembering people’s names—sometimes even the names of the characters in my own novels! It can be embarrassing when someone tells me enthusiastically how much they loved Steve or Susan or Alexander in one of my novels. I try my best on these occasions not to look blank and ask ‘Who?’ But the truth is, I may well have created another whole set or two of characters since then, so I’m bound to get mixed up at times.

So when I saw the term ‘recollection’ in a book I had begun reading, ‘Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer’ by Richard Foster (IVP 2011), I was immediately interested. I have read quite a bit about prayer and soon noticed that Foster quoted from several other authors I enjoyed, such as Francois Fenelon, Madame Guyon, Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Thomas Merton and others. Yet I could not remember having come across this term ‘recollection’ before this. Could it refer to thinking back over our lives and remembering all the ways God had rescued us and blessed us, I wondered? That was bound to be it.

But then I read on. Recollection, according to Foster, ‘involves a re-collecting of ourselves until we are unified or whole. The idea is to let go of all competing distractions until we have become truly present where we are.’ Now I know, and Foster warns, that this is not an easy thing to do. But what a wonderful, healing practice to try! In our busy lives, it is so easy for us to become fragmented and scattered, with our energies dissipating this way and that, so that we almost lose our real selves in it all. As for me, I know I’m very good at skipping ahead in my mind to things coming up in the future, wondering how I will do this or that. And I’m also very good at mulling over the past, remembering the hurts or the failures or the difficult times. But the present? Well, sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

So right now, I am endeavouring to practise this ancient discipline more often in my life. Each morning, I try to take time to quieten my mind and heart, identifying and putting gently aside those things that want to force their way into my mind or those thoughts that threaten to overwhelm me. In short, I collect—or allow God to collect—those parts of me that have been so scattered and focus on the simple truth that here I am, Jo-Anne, created and loved by God. That’s all that matters at this point. Consciously, I recognise God’s presence around me, watching over me and caring for me. And I sit for a while, allowing my spirit to cease its striving and to be at rest and at peace. Then, when I am still, my focus turns to God. And just as God declares in Psalm 46:10, I know it is time to praise him and lift him up.

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Is it time for you to try some re-collecting in your life too?

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Between his shoulders

I love it when I discover some new pearl of wisdom in something I am reading – some truth that really resonates with me or makes me sit up and take notice.  I keep a journal where I jot down such things – and what a feast it is when I look back after several months and read them all in one go!  As I glance now through some recent entries, I notice quotes from many different sources – novels I am reading; the writings of fascinating authors such as Frederick Buechner, Annie Dillard, Thomas Merton; occasional lines of poetry from Mary Oliver and T S Eliot; snippets about writing from ‘The Soul Tells A Story’ by Vinita Hampton Wright and ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott; and of course many, many verses of Scripture that have impacted me in some way.

One would think that after all these years, I would have found and noted every verse of the Bible that particularly touches or encourages me.  Yet somehow God never ceases to surprise me with little gems that literally seem to jump out at me from the pages of my Bible, even though I know I have read these particular sections before.

One such verse in that category comes from Deuteronomy 33, where Moses is blessing the Israelite tribes before his impending death.  In verse 12, he says the following to the tribe of Benjamin:

Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.

Now that conjures up some wonderful imagery in my mind.  How about you?  It seems, from what I could find out, that this verse might be referring to the way shepherds used to carry a favourite or perhaps injured lamb slung across their shoulders – which is certainly apt enough.  But the picture that came to my mind is of a tall, broad, brave defender using his body to shield someone a lot smaller and weaker than he is from the advancing enemy. The intended victim is clinging on tightly, arms around his (or her) rescuer’s waist, head turned to the side and pressed firmly into the spot between the rescuer’s shoulder blades.  No one can touch him (or her) while this strong, courageous defender remains in place – he acts as a human shield who will do anything to protect the one holding on so firmly to him.

And then another favourite verse of mine comes to mind, this time from Psalm 32:7:

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I feel very comforted and secure in my ‘hiding place’ who is the Lord, protected and at rest ‘between his shoulders’.  I might be in the middle of a battle, but I can ‘rest secure’ as I lean against him.  After all, I know that he has my enemy’s measure, that he is much more powerful than anyone or anything that might come against me, and that because I am his ‘beloved’, he will never to grow tired of being my shield and protector, until he manages to bring me home safe at last.

May you too know that place of deep security, as you ‘rest between his shoulders’.

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The other day I came across a very honest prayer of Thomas Merton that begins ‘My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.’  I have prayed that type of prayer many times, particularly since embarking on this whole writing journey of mine.  At one stage some years back, I had a dream where I was lost in a cold, marshy area and could not see even as far as my outstretched hand.  There were tussocks of green grass at my feet, but as I stepped on them, some held firm while others gave way completely and my foot sunk down into the mud and mire.  Then in my dream I heard a kind voice, urging me on, directing me exactly where to put my feet and walk out of the marsh to safety.  ‘Yes, that’s right – just put your foot there.  Now head to the left a little – yes, over this way.  Don’t worry – keep listening to my voice.  I’ll guide you – yes, trust me, it’s safe to put your other foot there.  Now go straight ahead – that’s great!  Put your foot on that green patch – it’s quite safe.  Don’t go either side of it – just stay right in the middle and keep going slowly forward.

In my dream, I listened and obeyed – and at last I found myself safely through the marsh, out of the fog and onto higher ground.  Phew!

I’m sure God was trying to show me that this is exactly what I have to do in ‘real life’ too.  I can forge ahead and trust completely in my own wisdom and strength, but how much safer and more sensible to listen to the voice of the One Who knows and sees everything!  How much better to acknowledge, as King David did in Psalm 142, that God has a way forward for us, whatever is happening in our lives:

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way.

Yes, I might have no idea where I’m going, but I’m sure glad God does – and how to get there as well.  And I’m sure glad God loves me enough to bother to give me dreams about exactly that and to see me through those treacherous patches in my life where I could so easily go astray.

How about you?  Had any dreams from God lately?

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