November 2018 Contemplative Prayer

I am currently a ministerial intern at Spring Glen Church in Hamden, Connecticut. A group gathers for Contemplative Prayer once a month. A majority of the November meeting was spent in reflection on many life updates for those who attended. Two different types of prayers were discussed and I thought they might be helpful to write about here. 

During worship on the Sunday previous to Contemplative Prayer, Rev. Susan Murtha had shared a message with the children on prayer. Rev. Susan taught the congregation a five finger prayer inspired by Pope Francis. I created an image to accompany her instructions for this blog post.

I also shared with the group a similar five finger prayer to be used as a daily examen, a type of prayer developed by St. Ignatius. You can view a brochure produced by the Jesuit Institute of London explaining the five finger examen in more detail here.

Our session concluded with a Lectio Divina reading and contemplation of Wendell Berry poem, The Peace of Wild Things. I love using this poem in prayer. I hope that you find inspiration in the words.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry, from On Being.

October 2018 Contemplative Prayer

Spring Glen Church offers Contemplative Prayer one night a month. Below is the agenda from the October gathering. Led by Laura Kisthardt, YDS Pastoral Intern, and Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes, Sabbatical Coverage Associate Pastor. I (Laura) have added links and notes for anyone who would like to use this agenda for individual or group use.

  1. Begin in silence (10 minutes)
  2. Leaf Meditation (5 minutes individual reflection, 10 minutes of sharing)

We used fallen leaves gathered from outside for an object meditation. You could use a leaf, a shell, a rock or any other natural object. Spend 5 to 10 minutes with the object. Observe it and turn it around in your hand. What do you notice about the object? What strikes you? Does it remind you of anything? Consider the objects role in creation.

3. Ignatian Examen

I guided the group through a modified version of the Ignatian Examen used each Sunday in my home church of Cleveland Park Congregational UCC. You can find a version of the examen to use on your own here:

4. Loving Kindness Meditation

There are many variations of Metta, or loving kindness, meditations. This is one that I selected to use this day. If you are using it for personal prayer, sometimes it can be helpful to record yourself reading it slowly on your phone or computer and then use the recording for meditation to allow yourself to be fully present and not be reading.

5. Breath Prayer with music

Return your focus to your breath. I find it helpful to use 3 part breathing. Imagine filling your lungs from the very bottom, middle and then top. Hold that for one count before exhaling the air out in three parts: top, middle, bottom. That type of breath is not necessary though if you find it to be a distraction. If you would like to use a mantra in addition to the focus on your breath, I suggest something simple, either two or four words to be used on the inhale and exhale. Inhale: “Peace” and Exhale: “Love”. Or Inhale: “Holy God” Exhale: “Show Mercy”.

We listened to four songs from this album (one of my favorite to listen to during prayer):

6. Lectio Divina Psalm 46

You will slowly read the passage three times. The first time, let the words wash over you. The second time, start to become aware of words or phrases that stand out to you. The third time select one word or phrase where God is speaking to you right now. After the third reading, spend 5 minutes in silent prayer reflecting on that word or phrase.

7. Closing Prayer

July 2018 Book Recap

July was a fun month of reading! I read 7 books this month. Some of the books pictured in this stack represent others because I already returned them to the library.


It had been a while since my last graphic novel. So July started with The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. It was a beautifully illustrated graphic novel about the author’s family and immigrating from Vietnam. I knew next to nothing about Vietnam before or after the war. Bui does a great job of drawing connections between her childhood, her aspirations as a new mother, and the life her mother and father lived before she was born. The Best We Could Do has a contemplative quality to it and many of the illustrations encourage you to linger and consider their impact.

My next two July reads were the second and third books of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy by Kevin Kwan. I thought the middle book (China Rich Girlfriend) in the trilogy was better than the conclusion (Rich People Problems). But overall an interesting story that I enjoyed reading! I am looking forward to seeing the movie coming out soon. If you are looking for a late summer pool read, I recommend starting with Crazy Rich Asians, the first book in the trilogy.

After finishing the trilogy I took a little bit of time to decide what my next read would be. At the beginning of the summer I had made a list for myself of books that I wanted to read this summer. I considered a few from the list, but I ended up ordering A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It was all over bookstagram last summer and it has a very memorable man crying on the cover. I had been thinking about reading it for over a year! It was just the kind of epic 800+ page novel that I needed to dive into. A Little Life is a book that will linger in my mind for a very long time. I fell in love with the four friends (Willem, JB, Malcolm, and Jude) and their journey, struggles and celebrations, through adulthood. Earlier in the summer I read The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne and the characters in A Little Life reminded me a lot of Cyril Avery in different ways.

Maybe my next two reads were dissapointments because the shadow left by A Little Life was so big… I really wanted to like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Books about books are usually my favorite. I didn’t feel strong connections to Montag or any of the main characters in Fahrenheit 451. I wanted to see more from Clarisse and some of the other minor characters. I followed Bradbury with a new book that has been getting a lot of publicity, Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. Educated fell flat for me. Similar to Fahrenheit 451, I struggled to connect with any of the individuals. The abuse that Westover faced by her family was terrible, but I was concerned by the lack of analysis she gave to the actions of others. I would have liked to have seen a conclusion that looked back and more clearly articulated the abuses she suffered, rather than leaving it implied, especially related to the risky situations her father put her and her siblings in while working in the junk yard.

Finally, I was happy to end the month with a book that surpassed my expectations. I had my eye on The Power by Naomi Alderman since it was a Book of the Month club pick in October 2017. I purchased a used copy at the Book Barn in Niantic in May. It probably would have sat on myself unread for a while if it wasn’t for Kate McGuire. She told me that her book club in DC was going to read it. I decided to make it my next read in so that we could discuss it when I visited DC. As I said before, The Power pleasantly surprised me! I knew a little bit of the premise before reading, but the execution of the plot was incredible. I loved the themes that Alderman tackled and the way she handled them: patriarchy, human nature, religion, etc. If you like Sci-fi or dystopian fiction, I highly recommend The Power, especially if you like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and the Hulu TV show.

I have one more month of summer “break” before the fall semester starts. Hopefully I can squeeze in a few more fun reads before it’s back to theology, exegesis, etc!

Poor People’s Campaign

The following message was included in a Moderator’s Memo sent to Cleveland Park Congregational Church on March 1, 2018:

Pastor Ellen and congregation member Laura Kisthardt (who is a student at Yale Divinity School and also our UCC delegate) recently attended a gathering for the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The purpose of this movement is to unite people to work toward a just, sustainable, and participatory society. It draws on the history, vision, and unfinished work of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. Laura sent me a write up of her impressions of the event, and I am including a condensed version here:

On Monday, February 18th, I joined Pastor Ellen at Shiloh Baptist Church for the Poor People’s Campaign Mass Meeting in Washington, DC. I knew right away that it was going to be a special evening because of the wonderful music that was playing before the program even began. After the announcements, the real fun began of singing! The worship music was led by Yara Allen from Repairers of the Breach. The spirit and energy in the room was incredible. Hundreds of people singing and clapping together. We continued singing for about thirty minutes with many songs including “Go tell the President/ We shall not be moved/ Go tell the President/ We shall not be moved/ Just like a tree planted by the water/ We shall not be moved.”

Transitioning from the singing to the speakers, Terrence Mayo reminded us of the realities faced by many poor people in DC and the 7,473 homeless people who were counted in 2017. Rev. Dr. Barber spoke to the room on live video chat. He began by explaining why we need a moral movement in this country. Rev. Dr. Barber gave many poignant reasons. One that especially struck me was when he said, “When you can buy unleaded gas, but can’t buy unleaded water – we need a moral movement!” Rev. Graylan Hagler introduced five individuals directly impacted by poverty in various ways. Each testimony was powerful and real.

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis gave the closing remarks. She reflected back on King’s original Poor People’s Campaign and drew connections to the current campaign. She shared that the current state of our country is an emergency and we need to be willing to do whatever it takes to fix it. It was energizing to see such a large room full of people ready to take action.

If you are interested in learning more about the Poor People’s Campaign or getting involved, please check out the following website:

2017 Reading Challenge

In 2017 I participated in the Goodreads Reading Challenge and finished 53 books.

I had never done a reading challenge before. I started actively using Goodreads in the second half of 2016. I had seen others post about their progress on 2016 challenges and thought it would be a fun way to push myself to see how much I could read.

At the time that I started the challenge I was still working full time in Alexandria, VA and commuting from Petworth in Washington, DC. I took the metro to work, which gave me at least an hour and a half of uninterrupted reading time each day. Some days, thanks to metro delays, I had up to 3 hours of reading time!

I read 38 books before the beginning of July when I left my full time job and took a month long summer vacation. I started grad school full time in August and my reading for fun slowed immensely. Luckily I managed to finish 3 books during Thanksgiving break and 3 during Christmas break!

My best reading month was January when I finished 13 books. According to my reading challenge, my worst reading months were September and October when I didn’t finish any books. In reality, I was constantly reading for grad school, but I didn’t read the full text of any book.

My first suggestion to anyone who wants to read more: always carry a book with you. I tend to prefer physical books, but I always have at least one book downloaded on the Kindle app on my phone. I only read two books electronically in 2017. Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout I read on my Kindle and Only Child by Rhiannon Navin was an electronic advance reader copy I received through Book of the Month that I read on my laptop.

I listened to one full audiobook in 2017, Hillbilly Elegy. When my parents helped me move from DC to New Haven, CT, we listened to it in the car. I have downloaded some other audio books from the library, but the jury is still undecided on whether audiobooks are my cup of tea.

I read 6 graphic novels and 1 book of poetry. I discovered a passion for graphic novels thanks to this reading challenge. Shout out to DC Public Library for their impressive collection of graphic novels. I hope to continue reading the Paper Girls series and would also like to finish the March series.

My second suggestion to anyone who wants to read more is to read what you enjoy. If I am 100 pages into a book, don’t like the characters and am not invested in the plot, I have no problems with putting it down. I know that I enjoy primarily fiction, 35 books I read this year were fiction. I enjoy family dramas, historical fiction, and science fiction.

I recognize that part of my ability to finish so many books in 2017 is that I am a fast reader. But I also actively chose to spend time reading. This meant I didn’t spend much time listening to podcasts or NPR. I also didn’t go to the movies more than 5 or 6 times all year. I enjoy reading and decided to prioritize it for this year.

My reading challenge for 2018 will be very different than 2017. In 2018, my challenge will be 12 books. I enjoyed seeing the quantity of books that I could finish in 2017, but I’d like to step outside my comfort zone in 2018. I want to work through some classics and I also want to read more of the Bible. Maybe I’ll even catch up on a few episodes of This American Life?

Happy reading!

Book Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

First a bit of a backstory, I commute 45 minutes each way to work on the metro. I love to read and almost always carry at least one book with me. When I’m enjoying a book, in particular novels, I can usually finish them in a day or two. Thus I read A LOT of books. I often talk with friends and family trading book recommendations, but sometimes I’ve read so many books in the previous month they all start to blur together. Therefore my goal is to write at least a short book review for each book I read, which I can refer back to later when recommending future books!

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle ZevinStoriedLifeofAJFikry

This book arrived to me via my mother. I’m not sure how she received it or was recommended it. I finished it in early November 2015.

Honestly I didn’t know what to expect at first while reading this book. I was completely surprised by the package that shows up at A.J.’s store! I won’t ruin the surprise for other readers. The relationships throughout the book felt very real to me and I enjoyed the twists and turns in the plot.

One of my favorite characters in the book was Lambiase. I really enjoyed his perspective and his book club he started with fellow police officers. I also recently referenced the book club A.J. started with the women of the island where they read all the books about “wives.” For someone who reads a lot, I thought it was very funny!

I created a new genre in my mental library because of this novel, books about books. I decided that I love books about books, two other examples that I have read are: Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore and People of the Book. One that is on my to read list: The Little Paris Bookshop. The author of Fikry compiled a list of the literary references within the book, viewable here.

TL;DR: Great book, definitely worth a read, especially if you like book stores!