St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation.
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.






Words: attributed to St. Patrick (372-466);
trans. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)

Prayer of Confession

God wants us to confess, to forgive, and to receive forgiveness. However, many of us are reluctant to repent, fail to forgive, and are woefully inexperienced with confession to another human or to God. For those who don’t yet know the living Jesus, being convinced they’ve even done “wrong” may be a stretch. For those of us who follow Christ, admitting our continuing sins feels shameful and discouraging. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of this latter dilemma—“Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.”

Instead of living isolated in blindness and hypocrisy, we can recognize that we are all “real sinners” and  live together in authenticity. Though confession is tough and receiving forgiveness sometimes seems impossible, our triune God, in infinite kindness and tender mercy, wants us to receive His forgiveness.

Repentance, which is a change of heart, is the first step. Next comes confession, then receiving forgiveness, which will increase our love for God and others. Jesus told Simon the Pharisee, “Whoever is forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47b). The message is clear: Receive forgiveness from God and others, and your love for God and others will be greater. Might this principle be exponential, not just linear, like an ever-expanding spiral of forgiveness and love? We repent and confess, and as we receive forgiveness, our love increases; so we repent and confess more and are willing to receive more unearned forgiveness and love; and so forth…

What about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer—“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”? Are our debts (sins, trespasses, what we owe) forgiven only in direct proportion to how well we forgive others? Martin Luther thought so. He believed in a one-to-one correspondence between the two. However, British theologian John Stott approaches the question a bit differently. He said, “God forgives the penitent, and one of the chief evidences of true penitence is a forgiving spirit.”

Confession is a practice well-known to Catholics and is also an integral part of the popular A.C.T.S. prayer (Adoration of God, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication). In James 5:16a, we are instructed, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” In The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg writes, “God is not clutching tightly to his mercy, as if we have to pry it from his fingers like a child’s last cookie. We need to confess in order to heal and be changed. Nor is confession…mechanical. It is a practice that, done wisely, will help us become transformed.”

In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren notes, “Repentance is not usually a moment wrought in high drama. It is the steady drumbeat of a life in Christ and, therefore, a day in Christ…Our failures or successes in the Christian life are not what define us or determine our worth before God or God’s people. Instead, we are defined by Christ’s life and work on our behalf. We kneel. We humble ourselves together. We admit the truth. We confess and repent. Together, we practice the posture that we embrace each day – that of a broken and needy people who receive abundant mercy.”

How do we practice confession?

1) Ask the Holy Spirit to highlight areas (actions, motives) that need to be confessed as you examine your conscience. Some review the 10 commandments. Others the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) or the “seven deadly sins”—pride, envy, anger, lust, greed, sloth and gluttony. Always remember the example and teaching of Jesus as you examine yourself. Consider also sins of omission.

Be specific. Don’t excuse yourself—your genes, your upbringing, what others said or did to you. However, keep in mind that the Holy Spirit tends to be quite gentle with believers, whom He indwells. If you are getting pounded with “You’re a mess, a mess, a big hopeless mess! You will never change!” that is NOT the Holy Spirit but the enemy, who is our accuser.

Also, remember that as a human being, you will make mistakes. God did not choose to make us perfect “mini-gods.” Mistakes are accidents or errors in judgment. These are unfortunate and may necessitate apologizing to another person, but mistakes such as these do not involve choosing against God (which is the nature of sin). Scripture tells us that even Jesus “grew in wisdom,” but he never sinned.

2) Decide you do not want to turn away from God again. Tell God you are sorry. Ask for His forgiveness.

3) Deliberately receive the forgiveness of God. 1 John 1:9 promises us, “If we are faithful and just to confess our sins, he will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is true. Choose to believe God.

4) Ask the Holy Spirit to help you know how to respond to anyone else your sin has harmed. How can you apologize in a way that accepts blame for your part without blaming others or excessively blaming yourself? Should you offer restitution or not?

Armor of God Prayer

Based on Ephesians 6:10-18:

[Lord, I realize that I am going on to the front lines of spiritual warfare today. I understand that I am not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. I thank you that in your mercy, you have provided everything that I need for protection in this struggle.]

“I’m putting on the belt of truth. I ask you to make it very clear to me what I am to accept into my life and what I am to reject. Help me to see clearly the motives of others as they deal with me and converse with me. Help me to think and speak clearly, truthfully, and without deceit today. Let me walk in your truth, making decisions and choices according to your plans and purposes for my life…

I am putting on the breastplate of righteousness. Guard my emotions today. Protect my heart. Help me to take into my life only those things that are pure and nothing that is poison or polluting. Help me to live in integrity and to have a reputation based upon doing, saying, believing, thinking and feeling [Your truth]. Help me to live in right relationship with you and my neighbors every moment of this coming day.

I am putting on my spiritual boots. Help me to stand and walk in your peace and to move forward in ways that bring your peace and love to others. Help me to have the full confidence and assurance that come from knowing that I am filled with the peace that only you can give to those who are your children. Help me to be a peacemaker today. Show me where to walk and how to walk as you would walk.

I am picking up the shield of faith…Help me to trust you to defend me, provide for me and to keep me in safety every hour of this day. [May I trust you in every situation that comes my way today, and remember that you cause everything to work together for the good of those who love you and are called according to your purpose.]

I am putting on the helmet of salvation. Guard my mind today. Bring to my remembrance all that you have done for me as my Savior. Let me live in the hope and confidence that you are saving me, rescuing me, and delivering me from evil.

I am picking up the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. Help me to remember the verses of the Bible that I have read and memorized, and help me to apply them to the situations and circumstances I will face. Let me use your Word to bring your light into the darkness of the world and to defeat the enemy of my soul when he comes to tempt me.

Father, I want to be fully clothed with the identity of Jesus Christ today. I am in Christ. He is in me. Help me to fully realize and accept that He is my Truth, my Righteousness, my Peace, my Savior, the source of my faith, and the ever-present Lord of my life.

I want to bring glory to your name today. I ask all of this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

—Prayer from When the Enemy Strikes by Charles Stanley [with additions by Pastor Jim Schwenk]

Suscipe (“Receive”)

Take, LORD, receive
all my liberty,
my memory,
my understanding,
and my entire will,
all that I possess.
You have given me all.
To You, oh LORD, I return it.
All is yours.
Dispose of it entirely
according to Your will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace.
With this I am rich enough,
and I have no more to ask.

–Included by Ignatius of Loyola in The Spiritual Exercises

Grieving Prayer

Into my grieving
I weave
the strength of the Father.
Into my grieving
I weave
the compassion of the Son.
Into my grieving
I weave
the comfort of the Spirit
Into my grieving
I receive
the presence of the Three in One.

Into my anger
I invite
the patience of the Father.
Into my numbness
I invite
the healing of the Son.
Into my confusion
I invite
the wisdom of the Spirit.
And we shall grieve together,
I, in community
with the Three in One.

Anonymous, quoted from Celtic Daily Prayer Book Two (pp. 1050-1051)

Meditation on Rembrandt’s Painting “Return of the Prodigal Son”

The parable of the Return of the Prodigal Son was told by Jesus as part of a series of stories in response to the religious authorities grumbling about his friendships with sinners. As recorded in Luke 15, the main truth Jesus is trying to convey in his tales of a lost coin, lost sheep and lost son is God’s unrelenting, loving pursuit of His lost children.

In this parable, both sons are lost. The younger son, looking for love, respect, independence, and the satisfaction of all his desires, collects all his inheritance and leaves. In doing so, he rejects his home and family, essentially saying to his father, “You are as good as dead to me.” The older son stays put. Less adventurous and much more dutiful, he is sober, respectable, self-righteous, and self-centered. Neither son sees his loving, forgiving, compassionate father as a “papa.” Neither son really sees him at all. Instead, they both treat him as their banker or their boss. Yet, he pursues them both, running out to meet the wayward one and leaving the party to plead with the offended one.

Henri Nouwen has written a powerful book on this parable, illustrated by Rembrandt’s painting of the same name, The Return of the Prodigal Son. With Nouwen, let’s take a long, slow, meditative look at the painting.

First, notice where your eyes are drawn. Though offset, the union of returned son and embracing father dominates the scene. Our gaze wanders away to the towering, withdrawn, judgmental figure of the elder brother, but the father’s welcome draws us back. Three other figures are visible in the background—one perhaps a seated steward (symbolic of the sinful tax collector beating his breast in repentance) and the other two quite ambiguous in gender and role.

Look at the younger son who has just returned home. His head is shaved like that of a prisoner. Does he have lice? Is this penance? His clothes are tattered and torn, his feet are calloused, one bare foot, shoes split by the long walk home. Unlike the father and brother, this broken man has no red robe of wealth and authority. However, despite great hunger, he still has not sold his short sword, perhaps a tie to his true identity and home. All this repentant sinner seems attentive to at present is leaning into his abba’s* arms. Is he pausing perhaps to listen to his dad’s heartbeat as he had when a child?

Pay attention to your need for God. How desperate are you for God’s unconditional love and acceptance? Are you able to receive that love without even a shred of belief that you earned it? In what ways are you poor and undeserving of God’s love? Can you “return” to God to tell Him about your poverty, failures, sins, addictions and needs? Can you believe that God is not ashamed of you as you are but is unconditionally embracing you? Can you accept that God has no expectations of you except that you come to Him, want to stay with Him, and to surrender to His love?

What would it be like for you to let God gaze at you this way? Imagine what it would be like to let God touch you this way. Can you let God welcome you into His loving, forgiving embrace? What do you need from God for this to happen? Ask God for what you need.

Look at the elder brother. He is richly dressed and stands taller and straighter than everyone else. His hands are crossed, his face stern, distant and disapproving. The elder brother represents the Pharisees—those who are self-sufficient and pretty sure they’ve got it right. Every Christian is tempted to be a Pharisee after the glow of “first love” gratitude to Jesus for salvation has decreased over time.

In what ways are you like the elder brother? To whom do you compare yourself to make yourself feel better? Of whom are you jealous or resentful? Who are you competing with as if a scarcity of love or respect exists? What would you need in order to hit your knees and throw yourself in loving trust, abandonment, and repentance at your Abba Father’s feet? What do you need from God in order to whole-heartedly love and welcome your brother as he is? Welcome your spouse? Your children? Ask God for what you need.

Look at the father, the abba (“papa”) who is bent far over to comfort and welcome his repentant son. His right or dominant hand is soft, gentle and tender, caressing and comforting his son as a mother would. His left hand is strong and sure, placed on his son’s shoulder protectively, firmly and reassuringly like a father would. The dad’s eyes are turned completely towards his son. His entire posture shouts, “Welcome! Come into my arms! Come home to me.”

The word “prodigal” means “wasteful.” Yet, the most wasteful figure in the story is the father. Timothy Keller calls our God The Prodigal God. This dad wastes his wealth on the younger son. He wastes his love lavishly on both selfish sons, without hope of return. This father allows his sons to hurt and reject him.

What do you need in order to become like the Father—welcoming and forgiving others, even those who have harmed you or others, perhaps far more than they know or will acknowledge? What do you need from God to become like Christ—loving sinners (including those who are failures, dirty, hopeless, or “lousy”)? What do you need to be willing to be prodigal (wasteful) with your time, money and love? What do you need from God to choose to be faithful and not effective? Ask God for what you need.

*Abba, which means “Dad” or “Papa” (the affectionate, intimate term  used by an adult child for his father), is how Jesus taught us to address God the Father in the Lord’s Prayer.

Meditation on Bouguereau’s Painting “Compassion” (the Crucifixion of Christ)

In the painting Compassion by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), the echoes of compassion draw us in. The word “compassion” is derived from two Latin words cum (meaning “with” or “together”) and passion (meaning “suffering”). Take some time to pray with this painting. Who is suffering with whom? Who is comforting whom?

The crucified Christ is turned toward his disciple, who chooses both to carry his own cross and to turn toward Jesus in his pain. Though the disciple’s left hand holds his burden, his right arm encircles Jesus and the cross, with his right hand immersed in Christ’s flowing blood. The Savior is completely restrained, rendered helpless by the nails, yet he is still the Comforter and Source of his disciple’s strength. Despite the brutal pain portrayed here, a surprising sense of peace and timelessness permeates the scene.

A similar theme is found in lyrics from the song “How Love Wins (THIEF)” from Music Inspired by the Story: “This is how Love wins / Every single time / Climbing high upon a tree / Where someone else should die / This is how Love heals / The deepest part of you / Letting Himself bleed into / The middle of your wounds / This is what Love says / Standing at the door / You don’t have to be / Who you’ve been before.”

Consider the following questions:

1) What cross are you carrying for the sake of Christ? What cross is Jesus asking you to carry but you have not yet picked up? What do you need from Jesus in order to continue to trust God and persevere in carrying the cross you have or one he is inviting you to pick up? Ask God (Jesus, Father, Spirit) for what you need.

The crosses of Christ and his followers are not the same as suffering that comes from sin (our own or others’) or from the persistent brokenness of this world. For example, the suffering of abuse or of addiction is not necessarily a “cross,” though Jesus can still enter into this pain to accompany and comfort us. Instead, carrying a cross is voluntary. Like Jesus, we as disciples choose to carry our crosses, which directly result from submitting to the will of the Father for His sake, for our sake, and for the sake of others.

Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) To his hearers, a “cross” symbolized not just suffering but death. Jesus was saying that for his sake and our own, our self-will, self-centeredness, and self-righteousness must die.

Yet the good news of Jesus is two-fold. First, we know the final victory will be His. Every hour and day we persevere brings us closer to seeing Christ unveiled, when the fullness and warmth of His intense, radiant love will fully heal and restore us and all of Creation. Second, Jesus wants to help us NOW. He chose to join us NOW in this broken world. Love wins NOW. Christ’s compassion, His suffering with us, can revamp our pain from producing pure destruction to bringing new birth, transformation, the fruit of the Spirit, and hope.

2) In what other ways are you suffering right now? Physical pain, disability or loss? Emotional pain—unmet expectations, fear, anxiety, confusion, despair, depression, discouragement, grief, or regret? Spiritual pain—doubt of God’s reality, power, knowledge or personal love for you, a sense of God’s absence or silence? What do you need to welcome Jesus into that suffering? He is “God with us.” What is God wanting to heal or relieve now? Ask God for what you need.

3) In what ways is God inviting you to show compassion to others? In what ways is God inviting you to receive compassion from others, from yourself, from God? Respond directly to God with these answers.

Consider listening to “Praying Through Your Pain” sermon by Jimmy Davis. This is an excellent message on Psalm 43, suffering, and prayer (in particular, the PAPA prayer).

What is Supervision?

Most spiritual directors adhere to a Code of Ethics, which is entirely voluntary and not regulated by the state. One of the ways we hold ourselves accountable to God and our directees is by receiving regular supervision.

Supervision can be provided by an trained supervisor or by a peer group of other spiritual directors. Spiritual directors take to supervision  a question or concern related to a specific spiritual direction session or to their practice of spiritual direction in general. Because our Code of Ethics also requires strict confidentiality for directees, no names or clear identifying characteristics of directees are shared in supervision sessions.

Generally, the following types of situations are taken to supervision:

1) The spiritual director is concerned that he is somehow “hooked” emotionally   either by the directee or by a topic that arose in a session. Spiritual directors must be able to respond in freedom to the Spirit of God, not be working out their own issues at the expense of the directee. Therefore, he decides to consider this concern in supervision.

2) The spiritual director feels something in the session may be an invitation from God for her. However, she needs to stay focused on the directee’s relationship with God during the session and save a more thoughtful  exploration of her own life with God for supervision.

3) The spiritual director is blown away by the power, love, and grace of God active in a spiritual direction session. Because of confidentiality constraints, he has no one with whom to share this testimony to God’s goodness. However, he can take this story to supervision to be celebrated and savored together.

4) The spiritual director needs technical help or just desires to keep improving her spiritual direction skills. Unsure how to handle a referral to a counselor or how to report a potential case of abuse, she can consult a supervisor or peer supervision group.

Because I have found supervision to be extremely helpful, I make use of both a trained supervisor and a peer supervision group. Since completing my year-long training as a supervisor through Together in the Mystery, I am available to provide supervision to spiritual directors, both in groups and individually.

Visio Divina (Praying with Images)

Visio divina is praying with images such as paintings, photographs, drawings, icons, or sculptures. A picture may indeed be “worth a thousand words.” God has often used visual images to communicate truth. Both Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles had visions and dreams. The psalmists  harvested metaphors from what they had observed in nature. Yahweh commanded the Israelites to carve and weave images of cherubim for the cover of the ark of atonement and for the tabernacle curtains.

Though early Christians prohibited graven images of God the Father, they painted and carved Old Testament stories and representations of God the Son, particularly in the catacombs. After Christianity was legalized, Christian art became useful for teaching an illiterate population. Stained glass windows, mosaics, carvings and even the architecture of cathedrals proclaimed the biblical story and aided in worship.

In the Bible, poetry, music, dance, story-telling, and art are all used in worship because all touch and transform the deep, inarticulate places in human hearts. Visio divina encourages a return to one of these earlier forms of learning and worship. In addition, visio divina may be a corrective to the influence of our culture’s increasingly shallow, fast-paced visual orientation.

Pausing to see more deeply, with the eyes of our hearts, trains us to be more attentive to the presence and work of God below the surface of our lives. We begin to block out distractions and sharpen the focus of all our senses toward God and His work—in Creation, in others, in events, and in ourselves.

The method of visio divina, in brief:

Surrender to God. Set aside about 15-20 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time and start by inviting God’s Spirit to speak to you. Setting an alarm may help you “ignore” time constraints.

Meditate on the image. Notice what is dominant, possibly the first thing that catches your eye. Keep your eyes there. What do you notice? What moves you? Ponder your emotional response. Then allow your eyes to wander around the image. Notice color, shape, contrast, overall impressions. Be gentle and open, both with yourself and the image.

Pray about your meditation. Talk to God directly and take time to listen. How does the Spirit connect this image to your life? To God and His Word? As you gaze on this image, is God in some way gazing at you? Are you moved to amazement, silence, rest, repentance, gratefulness, action, confession, adoration, or dance? What invitations might God have for you? Consider journaling your prayer response.

Surrender again to God and rest with thankfulness in His loving presence with you.

The Initial Interview

unsplash-logoChaz McGregor

First, I recommend contacting and interviewing at least two, hopefully three, different spiritual directors. Pray throughout the process. Ask God to lead you to the best spiritual director for you at this time.

Keep in mind that spiritual direction involves a lot of freedom. Spiritual directors are trusting God to lead you to them and from them in keeping with God’s timing and desire for you as a unique individual. Spiritual direction is a tool in God’s hand–a tool God may pick up or put down on your behalf at various times in your life. Be free to let God lead. The initial interview will help you discern whether or not and with whom God wants to use this tool on your behalf at this time.

By convention among spiritual directors, initial interviews are free. Generally, the initial session lasts about 1 to 1 1/2 hours and involves a lot of relaxed talking back and forth.

This conversation is your opportunity to ask all kinds of questions of the spiritual director—Where did you train? What is your own faith like? How did you get into this? What is your prayer life like? What is direction going to be like generally? What do you believe about….?

Usually, directors will also be asking questions like—What are you looking for in direction? What would you like to share about your life right now?  The first session is really the only time spiritual directors talk much bout themselves at all. From then on the focus of conversation would be on you and God.

Every director has their own fee suggestions. Ask the spiritual director about recommended fees (often a suggested donation scale) during this interview.

You don’t need any specific resources to start spiritual direction. The spiritual director may make suggestions periodically of books, and I occasionally loan books out to directees also. However, you would not need to come with anything but your desire to know God more.

Preparing for a spiritual direction session, including the initial interview, can be done in any number of ways. Prayerfully reflect on recent life experiences, particularly those experiences which seem to stand out in some way (whether pleasant or unpleasant). The following questions may also be helpful:

  • Where have you felt aware of God’s presence and activity in your experience?
  • Are there any places needing discernment?
  • Are there any places of stuck-ness or holding back?
  • Are there any places where God feels absent?
  • Have you had any experiences of prayer that you would like to revisit with a spiritual director?
  • How might you express your deepest longing for God and your deepest desires for life these days?
  • What questions emerge from your day to day journey with God?

There is no part of your life that is irrelevant for work with a spiritual director, but you are “in the driver’s seat” about where the conversation goes and what you tell the director.

Confidentiality is always extremely important in the Code of Ethics of spiritual directors, so you can be assured that the director will keep everything discussed completely private. The only exception to confidentiality would be if the spiritual director believes you to be in danger of harming yourself or another, or if a child or elder has been abused (in keep with the reporting laws of your state).  Even the names of directees is confidential information not to be shared by the spiritual director with anyone else. However, you are free to share the name of your spiritual director or whatever happens in the sessions with whomever you desire.

After completing your initial interviews, pause and pray, waiting for God to confirm which spiritual director is a good fit for you at this time. Then contact that spiritual director to set up your first session if the director also senses God leading you two together.