Category Archives: Prayer

Let Go of Words

wordleA young man came to my office years ago looking for help with his marriage.  An older friend had recommended me because “Pastor Keller is really good at prayer.”   I was surprised and a bit flattered by the recommendation but also confused.   How would someone know that I was “good at prayer?”  The young man clarified his friend’s recommendation, “When you pray in worship you seem to say the right phrases and words for talking to God.”  The young man continued, “So I am wondering, could you pray for my marriage.”  I did pray with him, asking for God to intervene and restore his marriage.  A few months later I learned that his divorce was finalized.

I remember that story not so much for the outcome but for that recommendation (and my reaction) based on my public prayers in worship.  As a pastor I am often asked to pray in public setting and I normally comply with my best words and ideas for addressing God.  Recently I prayed at the dedication of new fire station and felt honored to be part of a simple civic ceremony.  Yet, as the years go by, I wonder if all my words are becoming more of a barrier than a bridge to communion with the Divine Mystery that we so easily call God.

The barrier question is definitely part of my personal devotion.  For many years I have kept a spiritual journal, pouring out my thoughts, feeling and concerns to God on the written pages.  At times these words helped me come to some clarity in my relationship with God, yet often the writing just seem to stir up the dirt and garbage inside, like shaking a jar of glacial river water and seeing all the silt swirling around in the jar.  It is only when one sets the jar of river water aside and allows the glacial silt to settle does the water become clear.  That has been my discovery with silent contemplative prayer.  I need to stop the swirling words and allow the sheer silence of God to speak (I Kings 19:12).

I have learned that I am not alone. In his book. Without Buddha I could not be a Christian, Paul Knitter, a Roman Catholic theologian, writes,

So often in Christian liturgies I find myself gasping for breath because I am suffocating on words!  Christian prayer, especially liturgy, is so verbose.  . . . God is Mystery and must remain so — the unknown part of God is much, much larger than the known part we are expressing in our prayers and services.  Our words don’t seem to respect that Mystery not just in their quantity but in their quality. . . .  Words are not only always inadequate in expressing the Divine Mystery, but they can actually be impediments to experiencing the Divine Mystery. . . .  In my own personal practice of prayer I have grown to feel the need for silence.” ( page 136)

Paul Knitter is not alone.  Ruth Haley Barton, an evangelical Protestant, writes in Invitation to Solitude and Silence.

In silence we begin to recognize that a lot of our God-talk is like the finger that points to the moon. The finger that points to the moon is not the moon.  Pointing to the moon, talking about the moon, involving ourselves in study and explanation about how the light of the moon is generated is not the same thing as sitting in moonlight.  It is the same with God. Our words about God are the not Reality itself.   They are only the finger pointing to the moon. In silence we give in the fact that our words can never contain God or adequately describe our experiences with God.  When we give in to the exhaustion that comes from trying to put everything into words and mental concepts, we give our mind permission to just stop. We give ourselves over to the experience of the Reality itself (page 75).

Enough words for today.   May I recommend that you seek some silence for your soul.



I have written in the past regarding the difficulties I  have had “staying present” to the trail.  My mind would get stuck in some endless loop of worries, narratives, thoughts and concerns that often pulled me away from my time in the wilderness. I would be lost in some past experience or future anxiety; my thoughts raced everywhere but on the trail itself.  My 2016 trip had some of that, but much less than the past.  My daily practice of meditation has quieted (but not tamed) the wild beast.

04-0815-granite-pass-1-2Part of my practice on this trip was to deliberately take time in the morning to practice lovingkindness meditation, something I learned in my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class. Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Full Catastrophe Living describes the practice

To practice lovingkindness meditation, we begin with awareness of our breathing.  Then we consciously invite feelings of love and kindness towards ourselves to arise, perhaps remembering a moment when we felt completely seen and accepted by another human being and inviting those feelings of kindness and love to re-emerge. . . . Then perhaps saying inwardly to ourselves simple phrases that you can make up yourself, “May I be free from inner and outer harm, may I be healthy.”  After a time we can then go on, if we care to, to invoke someone else, perhaps a person we are close to and care deeply about.   We can hold the person in our heart as we wish the person well: “May she (he) be happy, may she (he) experience love and joy.”  In the same vein we may then include others we know and love. (page 214-215).

I see this as a form of intercessor prayer and have adapted it to my own meditation practice.  On the trail each morning, I would invest time reciting the following prayer, starting with myself,

May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be filled with peace and ease.
May I be strong and alert.
May I be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I then expanded the prayer to my family and to those I know.   As the hike went on, my circle of names grew wider and wider: the thru-hikers I met, the trail crews clearing trail, the National Forest administrators and staff.   Often I ended including the whole creation.


Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!  Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!  Young men and women alike, old and young together!  Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. Psalm 148:7-13


Each morning, after my time of prayer, I discovered that I was centered and at peace.  I could actually be present on the trail through the rest of the day.

What forms of prayer bring you peace?



Very early in the hike a single word came to mind, SAVOR.  To take time and simply be on the trail surround by grandeur and expansive space.  So I did.  Though I had many miles to cover each day, I also took time to simply stop and soak in the view.

60 0819 am Rock Pass Camp (2)To Savor

As the Serenity Prayer states, To Enjoy One Moment at a Time.

51 0818 Lupine 2 (2) compressIn my day-to-day world of ministry, my schedule can be filled  with meetings, appointments and tasks.  On the trail I wanted to embrace the empty schedule.  To simply BE.  To savor the opportunity to hike a trail surrounded by rocky peaks and steep valleys.

75 0820 Crater and Jack Mt (2) compressThe second night I noticed the tag line on my freeze dried dinner – Savor The Adventure.  I can honestly say I did.


28 0817 Savor Woody Pass (2)

Savor The Adventure

Psalm 46:10  Be still and know that I am God.

When and how do you savor life?


Breath Focus

This post is the fourth in a series focusing on my path to Christian Mindfulness. The series starts here.

At the second class of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) we were introduced to a simple form of meditation.  We sat on a yoga pillow or chair in an upright position, keeping our body in a relaxed but vertical position.  The instructor gently directed us to close our eyes and to focus on our breathing. We kept a non-judgmental focus as we breathed in and out, simply observing how each breath felt and where we experienced it.  I noticed my attention focusing on my nostrils as each breath passed in and out of my body.  (Afterwards I observed that this kept my observation safely near my “head” since this is my place of security.)

With the instructor’s gentle guidance I was able to stay focused.  However, as her vocal instructions became fewer and fewer, my mind tended to drift away on wandering thoughts, “Am I doing this correctly?”  “I did this once before in CPE, and it was different.”  “Will this work when I go home?”

I was instructed that each time I noticed my mind wandering away to return my attention with gentle compassion to my breath.  This was a frequent occurrence since I found my mind wandering off on some tangent ever few breathes.  The instructor had warned us that no matter how many times our mind wanders, simple let go of the thought, idea or feeling  and bring our attention back to our breath.  I remembered the struggle I had had on the PCT, where my mind kept shifting to various thought streams. The solution was to consistently and gently return to the moment. Patience and perseverance were critical components.

Our homework each week was to practice this meditation every day, slowly expanding the amount of time we invested in meditation.  By the end of the 10 week class, I was able to meditate for 30 minutes, though I continue to have wandering thoughts that distract me. I continue to patiently bring my attention back to my breath (or my sacred word.)

I thought of my mediation practice as a new form of prayer.  Later that summer I would discover centering prayer that closely resembles this form of breath meditation.

Jon Kabat Zin, the principle founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Class, offers a guided meditation exercise at this link 

Next post: The Key Ingredients for Meditation





Stop and Ask for Directions

This is the second in a series of posts on my path to Christian mindfulness practices.  The series started here.

Mountaintops were not the only places I recognized my run-away mind.  I remember getting trapped in catastrophe-thinking-patterns after some criticism at church.   My sermon hadn’t gone well, I made some flub leading worship, or too few people showed up for new member class.  My thought pattern would devolve into a revolving rant that “I was worthless” or “I am a terrible pastor.”  Occasionally I recognized the untruth in these thoughts, yet I struggled to let them go.  I would pray asking for God’s help, but at times prayer only added power to the whole destructive thought pattern.

In 2013 my life hit bottom.  For a variety of reasons, I separated from my wife.  I moved into the farmhouse owned by the church where I was serving at the time.  My wife and I started marriage counseling shortly afterwards and I started visiting with another pastoral counselor for myself.  Though we both wanted the marriage to work, we each had our turf to protect. I was lost and uncertain what path to take.

Then one day, after describing my mini-tantrum over a broken mailbox, our marriage counselor mentioned that I might benefit from a Mindful Based Stress Reduction Class.  By God’s grace that suggestion stuck with me as my answer to prayer.  I went on-line, found where a class was being offered locally and registered.  What did I have to lose?  Like a driver hopeless lost without a phone or map, I figured I needed to stop and ask for directions.

Full Catastrophe Livi

The text book of MBSR

The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class started on a Monday morning in March of 2014.  I entered the storefront yoga studio to discover I was the only male in the class of fourteen.  The instructor welcomed us and led us through a meditative body scan. What I immediately appreciated was that the class was not a series of lectures, but actual practices that engaged our body, mind and spirit.  The piece of wisdom that stood out that morning was the instructor’s insistence to practice the various exercises and meditation daily, whether one felt like it or not.  The benefits would not be instantaneous, but if we practiced over the ten weeks we would see benefits in our lives.  I made the decision to practice daily and trust that the Spirit of God would work.  I was not disappointed.

 Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding.Proverbs 3:13 

Next time: some of the lessons I learned through the MBSR class.




Path to Mindfulness

Nearly three years ago I started a path that eventually lead to my own Christian mindfulness practice.  Over the next weeks I will describe my journey.

The vista was spectacular, what I had dreamed it would be.  But my mind kept jumping to internal perspectives.


Beauty surround me but I had trouble seeing it. 

I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) near Glacier Peak in Washington State.  I was in the middle of an eight day hike that I had been planning for months.  That day the trail followed a high ridge whose side dropped a thousand feet into a deep green river valley.  Beyond the valley were several snow capped peaks.  The sky was clear, the alpine flowers brilliant and the view stretched for miles.  Still my mind could not stay centered.

IMG_3289As I walked I noticed that my mind kept jumping back to Minnesota, to worries about work or family.  Who could I find to help with the church stewardship drive next fall?  What sermon series would be helpful to the congregation?  How were my children doing, each starting new work adventures?  These were not “bad” thoughts, but they certainly distracted me from being centered on the present path.
I remember stepping back (inside my head) and noticing how these different trains of thought were jumping around.  Who exactly was this observer inside my head noticing the jumps? I prayed, asking God to care for these different concerns, but my prayers seemed only to add to the confusing cacophony of thoughts and ideas rolling around in my head.

IMG_20130817_143516_947As the trail began to descend from the ridge, I was surprised to be passed by a fellow solo backpacker.  He was moving at a fast clip with a light pack.  He had the harden look of a PCT thru-hiker, but he was southbound. May a yo-yo hiker, I speculated.  I watched him quickly disappear around a corner.   My mind thought, “Moving that fast he must be missing out on truly seeing the spectacular view.”  But another thought followed, “But are you any different, with your mind jumping around?  Are you present to this moment?”

I knew that I wanted to change my busy mind but unsure how to go about it.  So I asked Jesus for help.

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  (Matthew 7:7-8)

Next post: Introduction to MBSR


The Light of Lent

As a child, I experienced Lent as an extra-long prelude to Good Friday. It had a dark, somber feeling to it. The themes all seem to center around the suffering of Jesus and the cross. Confession of sin was the central act of worship.  The dark sanctuary was a contrast to the bright morning light of Sunday worship.  The hymns we sang felt heavy and ponderous.   We did not walk to the cross – we crawled with scrapped knees and heavy hearts.

Is Lent meant to be so dark?  Does our Papa in heaven delight in the ways we berate ourselves?

One of the early purposes of Lent was to prepare new Christian believers for their baptism on Easter.  It was a time of instruction, and even fasting, but it had a joyous destination:  to be joined to Jesus in both his death and resurrection.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4).

The new life in Christ was the destination of celebration which colored the time of preparation with joy and light.

Gethsemane window background removed

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane

The word Lent comes from an old English word that means “spring.” This year at Trinity Lutheran (where I am serving as interim senior pastor), our Lenten theme will have a spring like quality: The Garden of Prayer.  Inspired by the stain glass window above Trinity’s pipe organ, we will join Jesus in prayer.

The theme verse will be “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Each Wednesday evening together we will embrace a specific Christian form of prayer.  We will celebrate the rich ancient spiritual practices of Gratitude, Confession, Intercession and Meditation.  Like a loving father or mother, God delights in spending time with God’s children.  Let us join in that delight this coming Lent.

Lent begins next Wednesday, February 10.  Encourage you to find a way to center in with God’s Love during this holy season.

I will also be using this blog to highlight these different forms of prayer.  If you want to follow along sign-up for the weekly e-mail using the form in right hand column.

How has Lent impacted your life in Christ?