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Last Tuesday I sat down to my journal to determine my Lenten discipline. After reviewing previous journal entries I knew I wanted to focus on health and wellness. This was not about losing weight or giving up chocolate, though both would probably be good for me. I was looking at it in broader terms, thinking about how my health and general wellness affect my ability to serve as a faithful disciple. However, my journal also reminded me of my 2015 star word: simplicity. Lent would be a perfect time to continue to explore what that word means for me. I began to wonder how I could pair my desire for wellness with my goal of simplicity.

The next day, Ash Wednesday, I woke up to find this The Upper Room Daily Reflection waiting for me in my inbox:

SELF-REJECTION IS THE GREATEST ENEMY of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence. – Henri J. M. Nouwen, in Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

I realized I had just been given my Lenten practice: to learn to be the Beloved. And it was the perfect marriage of wellness and simplicity. As I wrote before, simplicity is about focusing on God and everything that leads to God, letting all else fall by the wayside. And here was Henri reminding me that if I can learn to be the “Beloved,” I will be expressing, acknowledging, bringing to life, the core truth of my existence: that God loves me enough to create me in God’s image and call me “Beloved.”

And yet, how often I forget that. How often I reject myself by choosing not to take care of myself, making my health and wellness a very low priority, criticizing myself, focusing on everyone else’s needs and sacrificing my own. Turns out, these are all forms of self-rejection, ways of denying my “Beloved-ness.” When that happens, I lose my ability to be a faithful disciple.

Thus, my Lenten practice is learning to be “Beloved;” to accept this gift with deep gratitude and find new ways each day to live into it. Right now, I’m not exactly sure what that will look like.

Many of you have chosen a Lenten practice, whether it’s giving up something or taking on a new discipline. These are all ways for you to become better disciples of Jesus Christ, The True Beloved. And ways for you to live into your own “Beloved-ness.”

Cross: God of Love,
Invitatory Bead: who proclaimed Jesus Christ to be
Resurrection Bead: your Beloved Son, with whom you are well-pleased,
First Cruciform Bead: Remind us that we, too, are your Beloved.
First Set of Week Beads: use each bead to hear that you are God’s Beloved son or daughter.
Second Cruciform Bead: Help us to confess how we have rejected our Beloved-ness.
Second Set of Week Beads: use each bead to confess the ways in which you reject yourself and your Beloved-ness.
Third Cruciform Bead: Open our hearts to accept and feel our Beloved-ness.
Third Set of Week Beads: use each bead to feel what it means to be God’s Beloved son or daughter.
Fourth Cruciform Bead: Guide us in identifying ways in which we can live out our Beloved-ness.
Fourth Set of Week Beads: use each bead to listen for ways in which you can live each day as God’s Beloved son or daughter.
Resurrection Bead: In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,
Invitatory Bead: our example for what it means to live as the Beloved,
Cross: Amen

My workshop calendar is full and prayer bead orders are coming in at a rapid rate, which means that Lent is just around the corner. People love prayer beads for this season of preparation. The beads really help to foster a sense of stillness, introspection, and prayer as we journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem and the cross.

We’ve heard that many people are preparing to lead Lenten studies using either A Bead and a Prayer or Another Bead, Another Prayer. I hope you will include time for participants to make prayer beads. As so many of you know, getting to make your own prayer beads is a fun, creative, group-building activity. And the bonus is, you end up with a great set of prayer beads that YOU created!

Prayer beads made by one of our readers and her prayer group

Prayer beads made by one of our readers and her prayer group

Interested? I’ve included a supply list and full instructions below. There’s even a YouTube instructional video at the bottom of this post for those of you who want to follow me step by step.

All of the supplies can be purchased at your local craft store or online. We also sell kits in our Etsy store, which come with everything you need except the two tools. We generally keep all the kits in stock, though if you need to place a large order for a group, please contact me for information on volume discounts and shipping times. A good rule of thumb is we need two weeks to complete large orders (40 or more) of kits.

Happy beading!

Instructions for Making Your Own Prayer Beads

Materials Needed

  1. 5 large (10mm – 12mm) beads
  2. 29 medium (8mm – 10mm) beads
  3. 36 seed (size #6 or #8) beads
  4. 1 cross or other pendant
  5. 2 crimp tubes (size 2 x 2)
  6. 20 – 24 inches of wire (49-strand, .019 or .018″)

Tools Required

  1. 1 pair of chain nose pliers
  2. 1 set of side (flush) wire cutters

Legend

  • L = Large bead
  • M = Medium bead
  • s = seed bead

Instructions

  1. Thread one of the crimp tubes onto the wire, then add the cross. Thread the end of the wire back up through the crimp tube. This will leave you with the two ends of the wire coming out of the crimp tube: the primary length of wire and a smaller “tail,” about one inch in length. Using the pliers, squeeze the crimp tube until it is flattened.
  2. String the beads in the following pattern, taking them all the way down so that the first bead aligns with the crimp tube that sits above the cross. (Note: make sure the beads cover both of the wires—the primary wire and the “tail” that extends from the top of the cross): s L s M s L s
  3. String the crimp tube (this is a critical step!).
  4. String the first section of week beads in the following pattern: s M (7 times), then 1 s. It will look like this: s M s M s M s M s M s M s M s
  5. String 1 L bead.
  6. String the second section of week beads by repeating Step 4.
  7. String 1 L bead.
  8. String the third section of week beads by repeating Step 4.
  9. String 1 L bead.
  10. String the fourth section of week beads by repeating Step 4.
  11. Take the end of the wire and thread it back through the crimp tube that was added in Step 3 (the wire will be heading back toward the cross). Thread it through the crimp tube, the seed bead, the large bead, the seed bead, and the medium bead so that it comes out from the bottom of the medium bead.
  12. Pull the wire tightly, adjusting the beads as necessary to remove any slack in the wire and to ensure that the wire is completely covered up by the beads. This is a good time to count all the beads and double check your pattern to be sure the beads are in the order you desire. If not, make the necessary changes before proceeding to the next step.
  13. Using a pair of chain nose pliers, flatten the crimp tube as tightly as possible.
  14. Using a set of side (flush) wire cutters, cut the remaining wire off as close to the beads as possible.
  15. Enjoy your beads! Blessings!

(excerpted from my book, A Bead and a Prayer: A Beginner’s Guide to Protestant Prayer Beads) (Upper Room Books)

Make Your Own Prayer Beads: Instructional Video

The Year of Simplicity

As I wrote earlier this month, I wanted to try choosing a word to focus on and guide me through the year. I loved the idea of having a word that would serve as my intention through 2015. It provided a nice alternative to setting resolutions that I might otherwise ignore, and a practice that would be grounded in “paying attention.”

And so, for the past three weeks I have listened for the word that would be given to me. As I wrote, I believe it is important that the word be given to me – that it come from some place outside myself, from the Spirit – because, if left to my own devices, I would choose the word chocolate. Thus, I listened, and prayed, and paid attention to the words I was hearing. At first I thought my word might be well. It was a word that had come up several times and offered a variety of meanings for my life. But just before deciding on it, something happened: I was given my word for 2015.

It happened at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. My good friend, Reverend Cyndi McDonald, and I meet there every other Friday to talk, join in accountability, attend midday prayer, share the Eucharist, and laugh. It is always the highlight of my week. Following midday prayer we sit in the balcony of the Abbey Church for 20 minutes of silence. I always sit so that I am at eye level with the stained glass window, a gorgeous image of the Holy Spirit. This is my view:

IMG_0253

My view from the balcony.

IMG_0257

A vision of simplicity.

Two weeks ago, as we were sitting in silence and solitude, I became fixated on the altar area, which was still decorated for Christmas. I noticed how different the decorations were from many other churches, where greenery hangs on anything that does not move. This was simple, some would say austere: just two Christmas trees and a few poinsettias. But therein lay its beauty. And its power. The simplicity of the decor invited me to relax. My eyes didn’t have to work overtime to take in the scene, my attention wasn’t divided. I was thus able to focus on what was most important: the stained glass window, the altar, the cross. In other words, on God.

And that’s when I realized I had been given my word: simplicity. It felt exactly right. Because what I want most in life is to focus on God. I want it. I need it. I was created for it. Yet, it is so easy for me to muck that up and make it complicated. I fill up my time with impossible to do lists. My attention is diverted to Facebook or the television. My time is spent organizing and reorganizing more possessions than I need. I lose focus. And I lose touch with the One who spoke me into being.

As soon as I got home from the Monastery that day, I picked up my Blessing Upon Blessing book and read the entry on simplicity. Here is what it said:

May the God of SIMPLICITY be with you, leading you to a clear vision of all that is real and true and of God, leading you deeply into the mystery of childhood, of newness and awe. May your transparent presence to others reveal the authenticity and integrity that is the hallmark of a simple life. May the God of SIMPLICITY bless you.

Exactly. Simplicity has a lot to do with vision. In order to live into simplicity, I need to have a clear vision of my goal, which is to glorify God. That vision will help me figure out what fits and what doesn’t fit. There I will find simplicity. And if living simply leads to a life of authenticity and integrity, then, my friends, I will count this a life well-lived.

This will all take time and practice. There will be steps forward and steps backward. It will not always be simple. But that’s the beauty and grace of the journey. Along the way, I will experience the many gifts and nuances that simplicity has to offer.

Many of you have shared your words for 2015: awareness, peace, open, financial peace, present, and others. I celebrate these words and pray they will lead you to to the One who spoke you into being. Keep me posted on your journeys and I’ll do the same. Should be a great year.

For the past two years, my friend Christine has talked on Facebook about finding a word for the year. Instead of setting new year’s resolutions, she chooses a word. The word sets the intention for her year and helps her to focus. She got the idea from Abbey of the Arts. This year, she chose the word open. Or, more likely, the word chose her.

On the same day I saw Christine’s post, I read the Prayer Workshop for the January/February 2015 edition of The Upper Room. Written by Lindsay Gray, The Upper Room‘s managing editor, it, too, is about choosing a word. Lindsay tells the story of her college chaplain writing words on star-shaped cutouts, putting them in a basket, then inviting students to choose a star and use its word as the focus of their day, week, or year. Lindsay’s star held the word contentment, a word that seemed ill-fitting for a lonely, stressed-out, homesick college student. It was only in taking time to ponder the word that Lindsay was able to appreciate its many meanings and see how well it fit her place in life. She writes,

My chaplain’s decision to pass out these stars on Epiphany was no accident. The word epiphany is from the Greek word epiphaneia, meaning “manifestation” or “striking appearance.” An epiphany is a moment when a person suddenly sees or understands something in a new or very clear way. Those Epiphany stars invited us to look for new understanding in our lives.

Choosing a word makes a nice new year’s practice, and an awesome Epiphany practice.

Two references to this practice in one day? I’ve gotten good enough at paying attention to know this probably means I should choose a word for 2015. Plus, I love the idea for three reasons:

The wall of my studio

The wall of my studio

1. I’m a word person. I’ve recently learned this about myself, though it was probably obvious to those closest to me. I’m a writer after all, so that should have been my first clue. Plus, I love jewelry and artwork that highlight words. In my studio I have the following words or phrases displayed around the walls: peace, justice, modah ani (Hebrew for “I am grateful”), and “Be still and know that I am God.” I have a necklace that says pay attention and another that says be still. I even have a tattoo (more on that in a future post) on my wrist that says hesed (Hebrew for “God’s love”). So choosing a word to set the tone for 2015 just fits.

2. Choosing a word reminds us of the Word made flesh. Before our words there was the Word – the fullest expression of who God is. Genesis tells us that God spoke Creation into being, then used the word good to describe it. And God became human – joining us in language – to help us better understand God and God’s love for us. All that we are – including our words – has its origin in God.

3. Choosing a word requires listening (and you know how much I love listening!). This practice is not really about picking your favorite word or a word that you would like the year to be about. If that were the case I would most likely choose the word chocolate. Instead, it is about listening for the word that is revealed to you through prayer, worship, community, etc. It is about paying attention to the word that God speaks to you. In the first few centuries of the church, the desert fathers and mothers routinely went to their monastic leaders with the request, “Abba (or Amma), give me a word.” The disciples wanted a word to focus on – to guide their spiritual formation – but knew better than to choose it themselves. So they asked their spiritual directors. You may not have a spiritual director, and that’s okay. This practice doesn’t require that you ask your pastor or other person to choose the word for you – though they may be a great resource to help you listen for the appropriate word. The point is to listen and be open for the word that is given to you.

And so I will listen for my word for 2015. Right now I don’t know what that word will be. A kid out of school, family travel, Christmas celebrations, illnesses, etc., mean I haven’t had much time recently to listen and reflect. But now I do, so for the next few days or weeks – however long it takes – I will listen until I hear the word that has been set aside for me this year. When that happens, I’ll share it with you.

In the meantime, I invite you to listen for a word for 2015. Prayer beads are the perfect tool to help you do this. They can help you get quiet and reflect. If you do this, feel free to share your word with us. We’d love to hear it and pray with you as you live into for 2015.

Grace and peace this year, Kristen

I intended to post this yesterday, but the day turned out to have a mind of its own. A metal cabinet with a saw – that’s right, a SAW – attached to it fell on top of my son, Matthew, yesterday, leading us to spend the afternoon at an urgent care clinic. Thankfully, he is okay, but it took a while for my heart to stop beating out of my chest. My husband, Max, wrote a great post about our family emergency and the signs of God’s presence with us throughout.

That is what this fourth week of Advent is about: recognizing God’s presence around us and the signs that God is about to share something miraculous with the world. It is about hope and joy.

Sunday morning I sat down to worship and took a deep breath, realizing I had been moving quickly that morning to get ready for church, fix breakfast, make plans for the day, etc. I exhaled the busy-ness of the morning and sat quietly for about 60 seconds. I was still, paying attention. In that stillness I saw signs of God’s presence: the organist playing a beautiful prelude; fellow church members greeting each other with hugs and smiles; Advent banners made by the children last year; everyone’s anticipation of the service – the fourth Sunday of Advent. It was a brief but powerful moment because anything and everything I had been trying to balance that morning fell away. All that mattered was that God was present and – whether anyone else was conscious of it or not – I was aware of it.

Sitting in the doctor’s office yesterday, I was so focused on Matthew’s pain that I did not take many deep breaths. My mind was not at all still. But that’s okay, because I knew there was a network of family and friends who were praying for us. They were aware of God’s presence with us even if we weren’t. And that was enough for me.

No matter what is going on in your life at this point in time, I hope you are able to take time to be still and see signs of God’s presence. But if you can’t, don’t stress, because the rest of us have your back. We will be offering up prayers and pointing to signs of hope for you. Cover for The Upper Room Nov/Dec 2014 issue

(the following is an excerpt from the Advent Litany for the November/December 2014 issue of The Upper Room, reprinted with permission)

Advent Worship Litanies 2014

During Advent we are invited to open ourselves to God’s loving Spirit. One of the best ways to do this is by being still. While our world maintains a hectic pace at this time of year, we have an opportunity to quiet our bodies, minds, and spirits, helping us to prepare for God’s glorious gift of love on Christmas day.

Note: There are many ways to be still, including the use of prayer beads. If you have a set of prayer beads, I encourage you to use them with this Advent Litany. The words to Say can be used with the cruciform beads, while you can use your week beads to Consider how the litany applies to your life. (Alternative directions: Use each bead to consider how the litany applies to your life.)

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Light four purple candles (or three purple and one pink)

Read: Isaiah 43:1-4a, John 3:9-16

Reflect: The more time we spend being still the more we experience God’s deep love for us. Where previously we were too busy to notice, now we see signs of God’s presence everywhere. We understand that God is preparing us to receive God’s most profound expression of love in Jesus Christ.

Say: The time is near when we will see God’s greatest expression of love for us. We await the coming of God’s Son.

Consider: How do you experience God’s love for you and the world? How can you share this with the world?

Pray: Loving God, help us to prepare for the birth of your son who is the full measure of your love for us. Amen.

My goodness! Is your Advent season becoming as busy as mine? It is Wednesday and I am just now posting the Litany for week three. My apologies! But this is certainly the nature of the season for so many of us. All the more reason to be still!

With last week’s Litany we experienced the hard part of Advent: the time when we look around and see the pain of the world. But it’s necessary to sit in the darkness, for only then will we recognize the light – the Light of the World – as it emerges on Christmas day.

This week we begin to see hints that the Light is with us, finally understanding that we have never been alone – nor will we ever be. God is with us, and soon will be among us in human form.

Where do you see signs of God’s presence in a dark world? What hope do you have?

(the following is an excerpt from the Advent Litany for the November/December 2014 issue of The Upper Room, reprinted with permission) Cover for The Upper Room Nov/Dec 2014 issue

Advent Worship Litanies 2014

During Advent we are invited to open ourselves to God’s loving Spirit. One of the best ways to do this is by being still. While our world maintains a hectic pace at this time of year, we have an opportunity to quiet our bodies, minds, and spirits, helping us to prepare for God’s glorious gift of love on Christmas day.

Note: There are many ways to be still, including the use of prayer beads. If you have a set of prayer beads, I encourage you to use them with this Advent Litany. The words to Say can be used with the cruciform beads, while you can use your week beads to Consider how the litany applies to your life. (Alternative directions: Use each bead to consider how the litany applies to your life.)

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Light three purple candles (or two purple and one pink).

Read: Psalm 27, Romans 15:7-13

Reflect: As we sit in stillness with our sin and suffering, something marvelous happens: we begin to recognize that we are not alone. We hear God’s words of love and assurance and realize God has been present with us all along, even in the darkness. Our hope is renewed.

Say: In this season of Advent we will trust that God is with us even in the darkness. We will place our hope in God’s abundant grace.

Consider: Where do you see signs of God’s presence in the midst of the darkness? How do you nurture hope in your life?

Pray: Sustainer God, help us to place our hope in you and your deep love for us. Amen.

Over the past few years there has been a lot of talk about how people greet each other at this time of year. There is Team “Happy Holidays” and Team “Merry Christmas.” Unfortunately, no one seems to be on Team “Advent Blessings.” This is partly because it just doesn’t have a catchy (or commercial) ring to it. But I think it’s largely because most people do not get Advent.

Advent is our time to get ready, to prepare for the coming of the Christ child. It’s a time to slow down, be still, and quiet our hearts and minds. It’s a time to read, pray, and think about the state of God’s creation. As we do, we begin to see how creation is struggling and is in desperate need of salvation from war, violence, famine, poverty, and racism; from grief, loneliness, fear, and depression. We see this pain and we better understand the significance of the birth of Jesus: God coming in human form to live among us, love us, and save us. Cover for The Upper Room Nov/Dec 2014 issue

No wonder there isn’t more attention focused on Advent. Christmas shopping and going to holiday parties is way more fun than sitting still and pondering the reality of our lives and our world.

But it’s the only way we can experience the true, profound, deep joy of Christmas.

This week’s Advent Litany that I wrote for The Upper Room helps us to be still and recognize our need for salvation. As I wrote before, the Litany can be done with candles or prayer beads or anything else that helps you to quiet your mind and focus.

As you do, know that God is with you in the stillness, leading you to the celebration of the Messiah’s birth and the time when you will really be able to offer tidings of “Merry Christmas” with all the joy and love you can muster.

(the following is an excerpt from the November/December 2014 edition of The Upper Room, reprinted with permission)

Advent Worship Litanies 2014

During Advent we are invited to open ourselves to God’s loving Spirit. One of the best ways to do this is by being still. While our world maintains a hectic pace at this time of year, we have an opportunity to quiet our bodies, minds, and spirits, helping us to prepare for God’s glorious gift of love on Christmas day.

Note: There are many ways to be still, including the use of prayer beads. If you have a set of prayer beads, I encourage you to use them with this Advent Litany. The words to Say can be used with the cruciform beads, while you can use your week beads to Consider how the litany applies to your life. (Alternative directions: Use each bead to consider how the litany applies to your life.)

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Light two purple candles.

Read: Psalm 51:1-10, James 5:13-18

Reflect: One reason we find it difficult to be still is that we fear the silence. In the quiet we hear our pain and sin, and that of the world. It is important to take time in Advent to recognize this pain. That is how we understand how sin has devastated our world and how much we need a Savior.

Say: In this season of Advent we will be still and see the pain of the world and confess our need for salvation.

Consider: What pain and sin do you need to share with God? What suffering in the world do you want to lift up to God?

Pray: Merciful God, we confess that we live in darkness, surrounded by sin and death. Hear our cries, O Lord, and save us. Amen.

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