I've turned the popular meditations offered during the Twelve Days of Christmas as twelve ways to deepen and enrich your life of prayer into a free, downloadable eBook.  Click here to download the eBook. This brief and suggestive series of meditations involves you in the deeper journey of living prayer drawn from the ancient Christian tradition shared by both the Christian East and West.  Best, or course, during Christmas, but helpful at anytime you need to strengthen your practice.  Here are pointers to the twelve ways:

Journey of the Magi, e-book, cover

  1. Awareness
  2. Awakening
  3. Companionship
  4. Wonder
  5. Walking
  6. Desert
  7. Words
  8. Humility
  9. Darkness
  10. Perseverance
  11. Fire
  12. Return

Day Twelve in "The Journey of the Wise Men: Twelve Days and Twelve Ways to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice" You've come at last to the full mystery of Christmas. "Divinity became humanity that humanity might become divinity," said St. Athanasius in the East and St. Augustine in the West. God in Christ and Christ in us, the full presence of God (Colossians 1.27). Your heart is now the home of God, and God the home within your heart. Before this mystery your mind stands dumb; reason cannot think its way across this chasm and bring you home.

But love can.  Love will carry you into the intimate union you were made for.  When you love you cannot be anywhere else but present.  Up till now you've lived far, far away---always somewhere else, distant from God and from your true self, not present to the Presence. But that's changed now.

You've come all this way to Bethlehem only to realize that what you sought in this far away land was not far away after all. It was in you, but you were outside yourself.  You were conscious of everything else but absent to the one thing that really matters. Now you're different---you've entered your inmost self and found the sacred center, the place you can enter wherever you are and whenever you want.  You're more present now to the Presence.  This is the essence of prayer.

So you needn't stay on this mountain.  You can return to writing emails and going to meetings, changing diapers and washing dishes. Go ahead, paint a wall, teach third graders, walk in the woods. But as you do, take another approach (Matthew 2.12): be present.  When you are, everything changes.  When you're present, you're no longer anxiously looking everywhere else for happiness or fulfillment.  You're no longer resisting this moment, even if it's awful; it's awful largely because you want to be elsewhere. When you're present, no longer haunted by the past or obsessing about the future, it's very hard to be unhappy.  When you're present, you're as near as you can be to God---who's as close as your next breath, near as the beating of your heart.

Today, when I get knocked around or confused or sucked too long into the past or future, I'll return to the present---the face before me, the task at my fingertips, the breath filling my lungs.  And in this moment I'll return to the happiness of Christmas: God in Christ and Christ in me.

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Day Eleven in "The Journey of the Wise Men: Twelve Days and Twelve Ways to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice" You who walk this way toward Christ---long and fearsome as it may be---who persevere in this difficult inner journey of prayer will come face to face with what you're looking for. Take care though, the life of prayer is not magic---speak the right words, do the right things, and presto, enlightenment. No, you'll never conjure up a mystical experience; the mystical is not magical.

Instead, you'll be lead into the fullness of God (Ephesians 3.19). This fullness is the end of the journey, the goal of all life, the fruit of your spiritual practice. But the moment we say "goal," we're tiptoeing close to danger. The ego loves goals, and talking about the goal of prayer arouses your ego and launches you into the kind of grasping, reaching, and achieving that's the antithesis of true prayer.

So here's what you're to do:

The eleventh way is the way of utter relinquishment. There is no further you can travel. You've come as near to the Light as you can get on your own.  You must now stop and sit still before Christ.  Ask nothing.  Demand nothing.  Accept whatever comes. Open the treasure chest of your heart and keep it open by breathing gently, letting your breath fall into a natural, uncontrolled rhythm.  Offer the three gifts that have carried you here: gold of faith, frankincense of hope, myrrh of love. They're all you have now. And these too you must surrender to Christ. Empty and naked you wait, ready to receive what nothing can buy, earn, or comprehend.

The divine Fire, the Light you've sought from the beginning, will come suddenly and unexpectedly---an exquisite, unexplainable joy. When you no longer care when and how the Fire comes, or what it's like when it does, you're less apt to miss its warmth.

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Day Ten in "The Journey of the Wise Men: Twelve Days and Twelve Ways to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice" The light of the star is leading you uphill now. Bethlehem doesn't sit on a plain; it rests on a mountain. The last stage of your journey is a climb---a sweaty, gasping-for-air ascent toward the light of Christ.

Spiritual enlightenment is no walk in the park. You've crossed snow-covered mountains, crossed raging rivers, defeated bandits on the road, overcome thirst and hunger and fear, trudged on in the darkness against the howls of your inner demons. You're thinner than when you set out. Older. Poorer. In pursuit of this great Light, you've left nearly everything along the winding road behind you.

Your lungs burn with each step upward, but as you pause to catch your breath, you become increasingly aware of another sensation within you---pleasure. At first it seems strange, for why should such hard work, such risk, such fear and deprivation and loss result now in pleasure? Then it dawns on you. All you thought you needed, you don't need; all you thought you couldn't live without, you can live without; all you once thought mattered most, doesn't matter. You are free.  You shudder with a brief and exquisite happiness.

You own nothing now but faith, and the two gifts that cannot be separated from it---hope and love. Three treasures available to all, but possessed only by those who persevere in this difficult inner journey of prayer, those who traverse their own interior geography through landscapes as beautiful and challenging as anything on Earth.  Persevere, and Grace will meet you just beyond the next rise. (Romans 5.3-5)

Today, I will persevere in prayer. I'll yield all I once thought I could not live without. I'll breath-in the brief and exquisite happiness of this holy nakedness. Faith, carry me these last few steps. Hope, hold me. Love, fill me.

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Day Nine in "The Journey of the Wise Men: Twelve Days and Twelve Ways to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice" On Christmas, a Light broke into the darkness of the world's night, and a star---marking the crossroads between East and West, North and South---stood sentinel above the place of Christ's coming. You glimpsed this star while still far way, and awakened by fresh hope, left everything behind, setting out on the one journey that truly matters: find the Light, come hell or high water.

The one thing you underestimated was the darkness---it feels like hell and high water. Out here, between the life you left behind and the Light you seek, it's night. Much of the life of prayer is spent here---in between, in the dark. Here, you have more questions than answers; you feel more of God's absence than God's presence; you've set out for the Light, but it's only gotten darker; you wonder if this wasn't so wise after all.

But darkness is the one great necessity in the spiritual life. The saints will all tell you this. Your ego loves daylight, but night unsettles, even unseats it. The ego---the little self-manager within you---doesn't know how to function in the dark. When you can see, your ego knows just what to do. But in the darkness all your mental faculties are disoriented, and you have only your heart of faith to guide you. (Isaiah 50.10-11)

True prayer must take you by the dark path. Only so can you come to the true Light that is true God and not some projection of your ego. In the darkness you must let go of all but faith---all props and pretension, all assumptions and preconceptions.  In the darkness you will be tempted to turn back and return to lesser lights. But if you press forward, blind to all but the faint light of faith, you will find what you're looking for.

Too long I've feared the darkness. Today, I will embrace it as grace---a severe but liberating mercy. I will walk through the darkest valley, and I will be afraid. May my fear strengthen my faith until faith is all I have.

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