Life with God

What Does It Mean To Be Contemplative? (Leighton Ford)

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For many of us when we hear the word ‘contemplative’ we think of a monk, sitting for hours, eyes closed, hands folded, lost to the world around. Of course, such a monk is indeed a contemplative. But the idea of being contemplative is much bigger.

Contemplate is a two part word, compounded from the Latin ‘con’ (meaning ‘with’) and ‘templum’ (meaning ‘temple’), thus to observe things from a special place, and especially to observe in the presence of a deity. So a contemplative is one who looks at life in the presence of God, or we might say with the eyes of God, or though the eyes of Christ – at any time, not just special times; anywhere, not just in certain places; toward anyone, not just “special” people.


Leighton Ford

Adapted from The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence In All Things (2008, InterVarsity Press)

God’s Strong Voice

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Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s grandson – also named Winston S. Churchill – was once speaking at an occasion commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He was approached afterward by a lady who related this personal story:

“Mr. Churchill, I was a girl of just twelve, living in the Ghetto at the time of the Uprising as the Nazi storm-troopers were attacking us to take us to concentration camps. Whenever your grandfather broadcast over the BBC we would all crowd around the radio. I could not understand English but I knew that if my family and I were to have any hope of coming through this war, it depended entirely on this strong, unseen voice that I could not understand”.

The power of a voice – even when one cannot understand the words.

The much greater power of a voice – when one can understand the words and they are words of life.

“Call to me and I will answer you, and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” – Jeremiah 33:3


God And The Fact Of Suffering

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“Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.” – Isa. 50:10

There is a very moving scrap of conversation near the beginning of the Pilgrim’s Progress. Poor burdened Christian had met Evangelist, and begged for help and guidance. Whereupon Evangelist pointed to the far distance, and asked, “Do you see yonder wicket-gate?” And Christian looked, and shook his head, and answered “No.”

Then Evangelist tried again. “Do you see yonder shining light?” he asked. And Christian peered away to the far horizon, and noticed something – one spot that seemed not quite so dark as all the rest; and he answered, “I think I do.”

“Keep that light in your eye,” said Evangelist, “and go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate.” I fancy that if someone inquired of you or me, “Do you see the answer to the riddle of lite and the mystery of sorrow?” we should have to answer, as bluntly as Christian did, “No, I don’t see it.”

But if the inquirer went on to ask, “Do you see any points of light, any places where the darkness of the mystery is not quite so dark as elsewhere?” some of us, with Christian, would reply, “I think I do.” It is some of these beams of light that I invite you to consider now. It may be that if we keep them before us and trust their guiding, we, too, may “see the gate.” For the darkness in which we walk is not impenetrable gloom; and the night – thank God – has stars.

James G. Stewart

The ‘Whisper of Things’ (Leighton Ford)

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During a recent installment of her wonderful radio program, On Being, Krista Tippett was interviewing the artist/philosopher Enrique Martinez Celaya.

Ms. Tippett: You use the word “whisper” a lot — do you know that? — in your writing.

Mr. Martínez Celaya: I didn’t know that.

Ms. Tippett: “The whisper of the order of things.” And then you said somewhere, “The whisper is faint, but the best art helps us to hear it.”

Mr. Martínez Celaya: Yeah, I mean I think the reason why I use “whisper” is because maybe — maybe I have little ears.

But it seems that both in science and art and anything — in anything, the truth is not screaming that much. And I think that you have to be attentive, silent enough, be able to look and listen very, very carefully. And even then, you have to be very lucky to hear something. But when you do hear something, it’s transformative. And that order of things, that more stable reality underneath the appearance of things, is life-changing. And I think scientists will say that’s the case, and I think poets, and I think theologists — I mean I think everybody agrees that truth is — requires some suppressing of other things to see it.”

This makes me think of the “still, small voice” of Scripture!

Leighton Ford

How Does God Get Our Attention? (Leighton Ford)

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We have so many ways to try to get people to pay attention. If you are married, how does your spouse get yours? How does a coach get his or her team’s attention when things are going badly? How do advertisers get our attention in this new media age? Politicians? Teachers?

More importantly, how does God get our attention?

In the long ago days God got our attention in ways such as these…

Adam and Eve: he walked in the garden and called “Where are you?”

Moses: he spoke through the spectacle of a bush burning but not burned up

Jacob: he came to him in a dream of a ladder going up to heaven

Samuel: he spoke to him during the night by name

Elijah: he startled him with earthquake and wind, then quieted him with a still, small voice

Mary: he sent an angel to tell her his plan

Wise men: he used a star for them to track

Paul: he had to use a blinding light to get his attention

John: he gave him visions of an open door to heaven


How does God get our attention these days?

I believe there are three primary ways:

  1. Through moments of special love, joy, and beauty, such as falling in love or in C.S. Lewis’ famous telling, being “surprised by joy”.
  2. Through the longings of our heart such as the pangs we feel when we realize that all of life is an unfinished symphony (Karl Rahner) and “If nothing on this earth can satisfy then it must be because we were made for another world” (Lewis again). We ought to pay particular attention to our tears. What brings tears springing to your eyes?
  3. Through our pain – if nothing else wakes us up, God may whisper in our joys and shout in our pain.

Where are you finding God getting your attention these days?


Leighton Ford

Holy Laughter (Leighton Ford)

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Nancy Malone, a Catholic writer/teacher, author of Walking a Literary Labyrinth quotes H. L. Mencken’s definition of puritanism: “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

Of course that’s from that very irascible Baltimore journalist

Not all puritans are that grim.

Malone also writes,

“I often look around in church at the utterly expressionless faces singing ‘Alleluia! Alleluia!’ and wonder why we don’t let our faces know what our lips are saying.”

I have noticed that dullness in worship from time to time (and have been guilty of it myself).

So I like to remind myself from time to time of C. S. Lewis’ more encouraging conviction.

“Joy is the serious business of heaven.”


Leighton Ford

A Prayer Through The Day (Leighton Ford)

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coffee cup

Drawn from the 139th Psalm, this prayer has helped many to order their days and move through them with an awareness of the presence of God.



“Search me and know my heart”

Is my heart centered right as I begin today?



“Test me and know my restless thoughts”

Recognize and rest from thoughts which will not let go.



“See if there is any hurtful way in me”

What hurts I have caused, or received, which need forgiving?



“Lead me in the way everlasting”

Rest in God’s hands.


How To Develop A Vision (Leighton Ford)

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lightbulb in grass

At Leighton Ford Ministries we ask the young men and women who join us to go through a process of observing, reflecting, and acting.

This threefold process was practiced by a Roman Catholic bishop in Belgium, who, following the two great world wars, took little orphan waifs off the streets to shepherd them. He would never tell them what to do; instead he taught them to read the Bible, to pray, and to ask God to show them how to do what He wanted them to do.

He would tell them to look around them and see what the needs were, to wait until God spoke to them, and then to do something about it.

This process can be a key to learning to see as Jesus does.

We must observe carefully and prayerfully where people are hurting and suffering and longing, and what God is doing in the world, until in our hearts we are drawn to an area which may be God’s vision for us.

We need to reflect on what we have observed, praying and reading, thinking and talking, and perhaps writing, until our sense of call begins to emerge and we see what it is that God would have us to do.

Then we must begin to act on that vision – even if it is just in small ways to begin with.

What about you?

Where are you in the process of discerning a vision for your life?

Where is God calling you to observe?

Upon what is he calling you to reflect?

Where is he calling you to act?


Leighton Ford

What Is Spiritual Direction? (Thomas Merton)

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Spiritual direction does not consist in merely giving advice. The  (person) who has only an advisor does not really have a director in the fullest sense. Since the spiritual life does not consist in having and thinking, but in being and doing, a director who only gives ideas has not begun to form the one he directs.

He forms his by counsel and “precepts” by exercising him, by testing him, by giving him, when necessary, penances. The penitent is not formed by listening, but by complying, if possible, in his whole being, thought, desire, and actions…

In order for this to be fruitful, the director must be, as St. Benedict says, a ‘loving Father’, humble and discreet, aware of his own limitations, docile and respectful before the Holy Spirit.

A good director must have almost as much respect and veneration for the ones he directs as the penitent should have for the director.

Thomas Merton

From A Search For Solitude: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 3: 1952-1960 (HarperCollins, 1996)

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