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Fire Alarm!

I have always thought that in case of an emergency evacuation, the first things I would grab would be my laptop and portable hard drive. So the other day the fire alarm went off while I was upstairs in my fourth-floor office, and what did I take with me down the stairs (heeding the warning not to use the elevator), and out the front door?

My cup of tea.Teacup in sunlight

That was all. I carried with me a partially-drunk cup of tea. Which only goes to show… what? Failure of presence of mind in a crisis? Or that in the morning a cup of tea is more important to me than prized documents and photos? Or perhaps simply that I don’t always keep in mind what is truly of worth?

What then do I want to take with me, not just when the fire alarm goes off, but throughout the day, every day? How do I carry—not just my cup of tea, or worries about work or health, or petty everyday distractions—but awareness of God?

One helpful practice can be a “walking prayer.” (This is not quite the same as “prayer walking,” which often indicates a form of intercessory prayer.) Here are some examples of this simple repetitive prayer:

  • The Jesus Prayer.
  • Quiet and simple repetition of the holy name of Jesus.
  • A psalm verse or other brief scripture passage that is personally meaningful.

In this way we can pray while taking out the garbage or washing the dishes or shopping for groceries. It may not guarantee that when the fire alarm sounds we will remember the laptop, but it can help us be mindful of what we always want to carry with us, what we know in our heart of hearts is most important to us: the presence of God.

(In case you were wondering, there was no fire, just a very burnt piece of toast.)

Rejoice always,
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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See also “Contemplative Practices” for more ways to cultivate mindfulness.”

Photo: “Teacup in Sunlight” by Rose Hoover, rc

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Troubled Planet


One evening Sister Elizabeth said to me, “I have a quotation for you.” As soon as I heard it, I asked her for the book so I could copy it down and reflect on it. Here it is:

What is the antidote to real evil? On a political level, it is justice; on a social level, it is compassion; on a personal level, it is meditation.

(Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro, “The Teaching and Practice of Reb Yerachmiel ben Yisrael,”
Meditation from the Heart of Judaism: Today’s Teachers Share Their Practices, Techniques, and Faith, edited by Avram Davis)

These three levels, the personal, the social, and the political, are not separate by any means. It is through personal meditation or contemplative prayer that we learn the compassion needed for the social level. It is only through compassion that we can ever know what justice really is on the political level.

In these troubled times, may we each enter deeply into the presence of the compassionate God. Then let us pray for national and international leaders as they debate the responses to terrorism and the threats posed by despotism, and also for those who commit acts of terrorism. May all of these as well spend the hours needed in humble prayer and meditation, so that their sense of justice will be made true by compassion.

… love your enemies and do good to them, and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward, and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.

(Luke 6:35-36, NJB)

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“Troubled Planet” image by Rose Hoover, rc (with fire texture adapted from NASA photos)


I took this picture of the moon, half full, early last week.  (I admit that it makes the moon look a bit like moldy cheese, but the real thing was more impressive.)

Half moon and leaves (R Hoover)


Actually, the moon and the leaves are different layers in this photo, one imposed on the other, since the camera can’t focus on two radically different distances at once. It can focus on the leaves (the following photos were obviously taken at a different time than the one above):

Leaves and rising moon (R Hoover)


Or it can focus on the moon while the leaves remain blurred:

Rising moon (R Hoover)


Sometimes the human heart, like the camera, has difficulty focusing on different distances or different depths, especially at the same time.  This is why we need to step back from time to time, be quiet, and allow the Spirit of God to refocus us.

So we pray:

Clear the blurriness of my heart, O God,
free it from reluctance of vision,
refocus my thinking and deepen my loving
that I may go beyond
the tangles and twigs of my mind
and the leafy jumble of everyday life
into your own light.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
(Matthew 5:8)

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Moon photographs are by Rose Hoover, rc


Praying Together

I’d like to share with you a reflection by Sister Elizabeth Hillmann on our community prayer. (This reflection dates from our time in Gainesville, Florida. Sister Elizabeth and I are both in Chicago now.)

The Divine Office in its entirety is meant to sanctify the whole day — morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and night — which is why it is also known as the Liturgy of the Hours. (In the Cenacle we usually pray together morning and evening.)


Stained glass window

Sometimes when we are praying the Office together here in Gainesville, I feel that I am singing with a vast host of people from all the ages since these psalms were written.

I am amazed at their trust in God. They were able to open their hearts and speak to God about all the feelings they were experiencing — their joys and sorrow, their questions, their pride, their hatreds, their depressions, their despairs, their self-righteousness, their exultations, their love and longing for God. It seems to me that they knew that God knew the secrets of their hearts, and so they did not pretend to only pious feelings and thoughts.

Night PrayerThese are not the prayers of “rugged individualists.” These are common prayers, prayers of solidarity with the human condition, prayers in which together we acknowledge the Presence of the Mysterious One in all aspects of personal and communal life. These are the prayers that Jesus sang and said — not just alone, but in common in the synagogue, in the temple, and at home. What a gift to be praying with Jesus!

And sometimes when we are praying, I feel a nothingness like dry bones. A time for trust! “The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to prayer as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

 – Sister Elizabeth Hillmann

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night.

Psalm 92:1-2

When Jesus was raised from the dead, he still had the marks of violence on his body: the wounds from his crucifixion. Strangely enough, his disciples learned about forgiveness from this Christ who was risen with visible wounds. They saw his wounds, recognized him, and became aware that Jesus does not seek revenge. In fact, he had returned to these same friends, the very people who had run off and left him when he was most in danger. They learned that if they were to be found in Christ, they too were to take no revenge; instead, like Jesus they were to forgive.

London Street after Raid, c. 1941

Early Christians took to heart the belief that there is no room in God’s love for revenge or for violence, and therefore no room either in the body of Christ that is the community of believers for violence of any sort. One of the ways in which this was evident was that they tended to avoid military service. This was partly, but not entirely, due to the Roman army’s participation in idolatry. It was also because of the conviction that Christians must not kill or harm another person.

Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225), in On Idolatry, concludes that making war has been impermissible for Christians ever since Jesus disarmed Peter, and by so doing, “unbelted every soldier” (see Mt 26:51ff; Lk 22:49ff; and for Peter identified as the swordsman, see John 18:10-11).  Although by the late second century there appear to have been Christians in the Roman army, we do not know how prevalent this was; and before the time of Constantine we know of no Christian writing that argues the legitimacy of killing in any circumstance at all. (See Ronald J. Sider, The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment.)

Hiroshima after Dropping of Atomic Bomb

In the century following the conversion of Constantine, Augustine of Hippo became an early advocate of what is called “just war” theory. (For the principles required for a war to be “just,” “What Is a Just War?”)  The question that arises today, however, is whether it is really possible to wage a war that is just. Cardinal Walter Kasper ponders the question in his book,  Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life.

Because of the development of modern weapon systems, especially atomic weapons with their tremendous destructive force, a new situation has arisen. The question is whether the conditions of a justified war can be met at all with these weapons. Without being able in this context to explore the difficult and complex individual questions that are relevant, one must say at any rate that a total war, involving the destruction of entire cities or wide regions and their population, must be unconditionally condemned and proscribed.

And he adds:

Because the goal must be, not war, not even the so-called just war, but peace, people are talking today more appropriately about a just peace rather than about a just war. A just peace can be built neither with bayonets nor with panzers. Peace is the work of justice (Opus iustitiae pax, cf. Isa 32: 17…). In this sense, one seeks today to develop not an ethics of war, but an ethics of peace, whose goal is to do everything to make war impossible, not only in particular cases, but structurally impossible.

Yes, we need to embrace an “ethics of peace,” one that views peace as the absence of violence, of course, but more, as a condition of merciful justice for all people. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” says Jesus, “for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

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The WWII photos are in the public domain.


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