A contemplative pathway

News | January 1, 2015

Darkness fills the Sanctuary. White candles are anchored in white sand in wooden boxes surrounding a large wooden cross down by the altar.

One by one, people come through the doors and make their way to a space in a pew. They are scattered throughout the space. This is a time of quiet.

KJ Rebarcak is here on this night. She is almost always here, at this Prayer Around the Cross worship.

She sings with her beautiful alto voice. She prays. This time quiets her mind, allows God to enter.

“I can breathe more deeply,” she said. “I can feel tension leaving my body. I can feel myself quieting down. I feel more open and receptive to God.”

Prayer Around the Cross is an example of the contemplative pathway at St. Paul. The songs are simple and easy to learn; the repetition is calming and focusing. The words are of a loving God.

The Bible speaks of quiet, KJ notes: Be still and know that I am God. God spoke to Elijah in a whisper.

“Prayer Around the Cross is helpful, regardless of what is going on in my life,” she said. “If I am grieving, it soothes me. If I am happy, it helps me feel more joyful and grateful. If I am trying to make a decision, it helps clear my head.

“I feel safe. It’s a refuge.”


Intentional and unexpected
Contemplative experiences can be intentional ones – the quiet, candlelit experiences like Prayer Around the Cross. Examples of other intentional experiences include time away such as a retreat at

New Melleray Abbey or walking a labyrinth in the countryside.

But Pastor Katy Warren, who leads Prayer Around the Cross with Chris Nelson, director of music ministries, encourages another way to see contemplative practices.

“Look for the contemplative during big times, times when you are surrounded by lots of people,” she said. “For example, there are contemplative elements in a worship service with 700 people.”

During worship, the time of Confession is a time to look inward. The offering moment offers space to reflect. The minutes spent with a quiet heart after Communion is a time of contemplation as well, she said.

Certain hymns in the red Lutheran hymnal have a contemplative feel. Two examples are Wait For the Lord and Come and Fill Our Hearts.

And whenever a group gathers together in Bible or book study, or at a meal in Fellowship Hall, the time of prayer is a time to center hearts and minds on God. “It’s gathering ourselves into God,” she said.

Jeanne Olsen is at New Melleray Abbey near Dubuque. She is chanting the psalms with the monks there, in a vaulted chapel made of local limestone.

The morning sun is shining in the windows. She visits the abbey once or twice a year. Some of her most favorite photos are images of this most holy place.

Jeanne admits with a smile that she has a personality that has some intensity to it. She calls herself Type A. “As I looked at my life, I thought if Jesus needed to get away and reflect, I most certainly need to,” she said.

In addition to retreating at New Melleray, Jeanne has an interest in labyrinths, a spiraling walking path.

People have practiced this form of walking meditation since at least the 13th century, when a labyrinth was placed on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France. The entry and exit are at the same place, with a place for stationary contemplation in the center.

The directions are simple: follow the spiraling path, clear your mind and become aware of your breath, take your time, focus on the journey, move at your own speed, take as much time as you need in the center.

Those who walk labyrinths often choose a mantra, such as “Thank you, Jesus,” Jeanne said. “Take time in the middle to pray, leave something behind – a flower, or a rock for something heavy in your life,” she said.

While walking a labyrinth is meaningful for Jeanne, she finds her morning walks a time of contemplation, too. “The sun is rising, the birds are chirping, the leaves are showing us the season,” she said.

Closer to God
Prayer Around the Cross is coming to an end. The white candles are now lit, and an invitation is made for people to come forward, light their own candle, and offer a silent prayer.

KJ comes to the front on the Sanctuary to light a candle.

She pauses in prayer.

She rises, turns, and makes her way to the back of the Sanctuary. Before she opens the doors to leave, she looks back at the flickering candles.

And in that moment, “I feel closer to God.”

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Daniel 12:1-3

The Time of the End

1“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.2“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.3“Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Psalm 16

1Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You.

2I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord;

I have no good besides You.”

3As for the saints who are in the earth,

They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.

4The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied;

I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood,

Nor will I take their names upon my lips.

5The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;

You support my lot.

6The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;

Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

7I will bless the LORD who has counseled me;

Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.

8I have set the LORD continually before me;

Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;

My flesh also will dwell securely.

10For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;

Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

11You will make known to me the path of life;

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Hebrews 10:11-25

11Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;12but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,13waiting from that time onward UNTIL HISENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.14For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,





He then says,



18Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

A New and Living Way

19Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,20by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,21and since we have a great priest over the house of God,22let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Christ or Judgment

Mark 13:1-8

Things to Come

1As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples *said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”2And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

3As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately,4“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”5And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you.6“Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.7“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end.8“For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

Daniel 7:9-14

9“I kept looking

Until thrones were set up,

And the Ancient of Days took His seat;

His vesture was like white snow

And the hair of His head like pure wool.

His throne was ablaze with flames,

Its wheels were a burning fire.

10“A river of fire was flowing

And coming out from before Him;

Thousands upon thousands were attending Him,

And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;

The court sat,

And the books were opened.

11“Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire.12“As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time.

The Son of Man Presented

13“I kept looking in the night visions,

And behold, with the clouds of heaven

One like a Son of Man was coming,

And He came up to the Ancient of Days

And was presented before Him.

14“And to Him was given dominion,

Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language

Might serve Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away;

And His kingdom is one

Which will not be destroyed.

The Vision Interpreted

Psalm 93

1The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty;

The LORD has clothed and girded Himself with strength;

Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.

2Your throne is established from of old;

You are from everlasting.

3The floods have lifted up, O LORD,

The floods have lifted up their voice,

The floods lift up their pounding waves.

4More than the sounds of many waters,

Than the mighty breakers of the sea,

The LORD on high is mighty.

5Your testimonies are fully confirmed;

Holiness befits Your house,

O LORD, forevermore.

Revelation 1:-4-8

John 18:33-37

33Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”34Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”35Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”37Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”