Tag Archives: prayer

Interrupted by Lent

This year, for the first time, I gave up something for Lent. I gave up milk. Ever since I can remember, probably since I could hold a spoon, I have had Cheerios and milk for breakfast. And for quite a while I have realized that milk disagrees with my insides. Finally my doctor, practically with tears in her eyes, asked me to just try to not have milk for a while. I said, “How about for Lent? But I’m eating cheese.”

It is amazing how much better I feel.

But it is such a blessing to think about Jesus every morning.

Every morning I have to stop and think — am I fixing a toaster waffle? am I fixing oatmeal? am I eating an egg? And by stopping, I remember: I’m doing this for Christ, who did so much more for me. It is a prayer with my hands, if not with my sleepy brain.

(Not eat breakfast?! I wake up HUNGRY so I always eat breakfast. ūüėČ )

Time has passed differently in this Lenten period. Not necessarily faster or slower. I think the word I want is that I have felt present. Even sleepy, I have been doing more than going through the motions of daily life. And by challenging how I eat breakfast, it is as if the universe has decided I need to change all sorts of things. I’m a person who like routine and orderliness and calm. Yet here we are, living in interesting times, and learning about resistance and writing to politicians and going to “Town Halls” and all sorts of things that I never knew, that I should have known, I am learning now. My heart sometimes skips a beat when I think of how much I took for granted. Well, I’m woke now.

The disciples might have felt a little bit this way, seeing both Jesus on a cross, dying, and seeing the risen Christ. Woke up. Present. Sorry and forgiven. Humble. Hopeful.

Anyway…I am looking forward to a small glass of milk Sunday. I’m curious how I will feel. But I’m also looking forward to continuing this practice (I hope).

A look ahead

This is not a political blog. But we are living in political times. Perhaps every person of a certain age, through out the course of history, has felt that things have reached a tipping point to disaster and this is just my turn. Perhaps. Looking at environmental issues, human rights issues, mass incarceration, the continuing war, the horror of having a president who could rashly use nuclear weapons — and this is only really the tip of the iceberg — it seems like “now” is really heading to a disaster. I truly do believe in prayer. I truly do believe that anyone could change, redeem, reform. I truly am trying to stay hopeful without normalizing the situation, despite bursts of truly amazing anger and grief. So how do I act?

Among other actions,¬†for me it¬†means, most of all, you guessed it — study the bible. Not like some sort of spooky mystical answer machine. Not like even like what are the perfect, proper, rules. More as a¬†storybook — a story of God and humankind’s continuing relationship. A story of love, in the midst of (or in spite of) at times terrible sin. So.

I’m all signed up for the 2017 Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Storytellers, a wonderful group of people, with amazing preaching/keynote speakers, beautiful worship, wonderful workshops about how to tell a story or about other aspects of a specific story or performance. Check it out!

This year’s “theme stories” are

Genesis 18:1-15 (The Promise to Abraham and Sarah);

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805823

Luke 2:25-38 (Simeon and Anna);

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

Luke 2:41-52 (The Boy Jesus in the Temple).

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805927

At first glance my thoughts are “not those stories”. What will I learn from those stories? How will this help anything? And then I laugh, because of course there is going to be learning and grace. There’s no knowing. “Now” will inevitably color how we¬†see the world and thus read scripture. And vice versa — diving into and dwelling with and breathing in scripture will inevitably color how we¬†see the world.

I’m going to try to spend a little time with all three stories over the next few months. Thanks for joining me on this adventure in stories.

FTGOG

 

 

Interrupted by the real world

Of course studying the bible is in the real world too. But you know what I mean, yes? Sometimes the real world swims up in front of us and blocks the view. One thing in particular is bugging me. (“Only one?” “Well, no, actually, but only one I’m going to share.”)

At church these past few weeks a common prayer when there is that “free time prayer” where anyone can offer up prayers, don’t know what it is really called, ANYway, the point is the past few weeks someone inevitably says something like, “God help us to know that whomever wins this election, it is your will.”

No.

I say again, no.

God does not reward the evil, God loves the good, God is love and goodness. God will not put someone evil, incompetent, incapable to head our nation. That will not be His will. Only voters who make the wrong choice will, or voters who don’t vote. If you think, Secretary Clinton has this all sown up, you are wrong, please tomorrow go and vote. Drive your neighbor to vote. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have to make this world a better place.

Yes, God is big, Good, amazing, beyond our knowledge, beyond our ability to love. So He can draw straight with crooked lines, He can lift up unworthy people and have them do good however unknowingly, He can bring healing to chaos. He can bring light to darkness. God is great with a Plan B. No matter what happens, we can trust that.

But let’s make it easier on Him, and do our part to choose love that trumps hate. Pray for love.

And toss in a prayer for me that I won’t lose faith in His church, or shout at the perfect nice ordinary people saying these prayers. We’re all in this together, after all.

Moses and Zipporah (Exodus 2:11-22)

The second story that is a “focus story” for this summer’s Network of Biblical Storytellers is that of ¬†Moses and Zipporah (Exodus 2:11-22), which I don’t know at all. It turns out that Moses meets his wife, Zipporah, at a well — helping Zipporah and her sisters¬†to get water for their sheep. Zipporah is a daughter of a priest of Midian — which the footnote says “nomadic offspring of Abraham and Keturah….” So kin, of a sort, as were “the people of the East” of Jacob. There’s a lot of similarities. There’s sheep.

Moses, as with Jacob, has a big packed story of course! This is just one small part. It’ll be important to see it in the bigger scheme. It’ll be important to not rush.

It feels hard not to rush; it feels hard to go further than just¬†skimming the story. Maybe it is the spring time air, all that energy and new blood infecting me. Maybe it is having worked hard at the Jacob story (and still practicing it out loud, trying to smooth it out) and not wanting to leave that wonderful place of connection — that “click” with the story. Maybe I’m just feeling lazy and tired? And the fear — what if I’ve reached my limit and can’t learn anymore stories by heart?

Also at the beginning of any piece that I try to learn by heart there’s a little voice saying stuff like, “oh you won’t be able to learn this one.” “This one is too hard.” “There’s not a lot really to learn from this one.” “How about just do a once over lightly with this one.” “Who do you have to tell the story to anyway? Who do you think you are?” “You know now is a terrible time to start a ¬†new story, life is too busy at work, at home, in the garden, everywhere. Just take a break.” It is a very discouraging voice.

Dear God, help me sink into this new story (without forgetting any of the other stories). Help me sniff out all its corners and nooks. Help me seek connections to other stories and connections to Jesus and connections to life. Help me have patience with the story and let your Word sink into my heart and take root. And perhaps my blogging about the process will help or inspire others, if it is your will.

For the glory of God! amen.

 

Interrupted by pain and healing

Just before Thanksgiving my “back went out”, which is to say that I had the most searing and awful pain ever, worse than childbirth. I’ve been dealing for several months with back pain and sciatica — this was a whole new level. After the urgent care and then my regular doctor and then various tests, the pain is less or the medicines are working (or both) and my thoughts turned to God and scripture. I have a “herniated disk” pressing on my sciatic nerve — I may always have to be mindful of this and change how I move, how I exercise, keep my core strengthened, etc. Right now my left foot is “funny” and I can’t stand on my toes on that foot. Will it get better?

One of the pain-control things is to lie on a heating pad, for up to 30 mins at a time. And I thought “Really? Who has 30 minutes to lie about? And over and over again? This is so boring. I’ve so tired of TV. It is so hard to read laying on your back. I just want this pain and this problem to go away. I want to get back to normal. I was just about to get organized about my prayer life and about lectio divinia and other stuff. I was just about to get serious about going beyond prayers for intercession (not that they aren’t needed, they are!). Oh God, help me so I can know you better.”

Yeah God was laughing, you bet.

It’s a tad embarrassing how long it took me to catch on that having to lay on a heating pad with nothing to do several times a day is an introduction and an invitation to prayer.

While pain and prayer are a hard mixture, already I have a glimpse that “healing” and “cure” are not the same and “healing” in the waiting for cure is an amazing gift of grace.

 

Interrupted by Reading

I’ve been reading many many books — they aren’t particularly connected, but thought I would mention a few of them.

I only read “American Sniper” by Chris Kyle and Scott McEwen because my book group picked it. It haunts me. Thanks to both some of the material via my online Princeton certificate course, some of the study and workshops at the Festival Gathering of the Network of Biblical Stories, and recent events — from Ferguson to Baltimore to more global conflicts — I am coming to understand how naive I have always been, how privileged even. The cycle of violence, the cycle of retribution — it seems to lead nowhere and of course seems so much more “natural” than forgiveness and restoration. I guess that is sin, yes? This biography of Chris Kyle, a SEAL and sniper, and his experiences of training, war, and love was a jarring contrast. There’s obviously a part of me that is like “Jesus can sort this out, this is over my pay grade.” If Chris Kyle had lived longer, to be a grandfather for example, would he have changed in his hatred of the enemy? Can you be a soldier and love your enemy? And is it just me being naive? I can just not pay attention to war — maybe that is sinful. No, that is sinful. I should pray for all the soldiers, all the armed forces, and yet pray for peace. I shouldn’t turn away from either. Seriously in some ways this book broke my heart.

Now, “The Rosemary Tree” by Elizabeth Gouge was a surprising delight. First, I thought I had read all the Gouge books there were. It was just pure joy to discover this. While it has a large cast of characters, who end up interconnected and in relationship in surprising and often beautiful ways, the center character in a way is the frail retried Nanny — who can work only by prayer these days. Being a fiction narrative, of course her prayers have wonderful results. Other characters pray as well. The language, the descriptions — it is all beautiful, powerful in its own quiet way. This is prayer in a mystical way, as if one can become one with God, feel His love, His presence, perhaps as golden light or protective darkness. Perhaps we all have moments of feeling a little like this, whether we call it prayer or not? It struck me that the characters were disconnected from reading the bible (even the Vicar/father character) — being a Christian all based on feeling is not what I would recommend. Frankly sometimes you are going to be bored. Or it’s going to be hard. Or it’s going to be confusing. However this sounds as if I didn’t like this book but I loved it. The children especially were so delightful and real. And there’s a happy ending with true love all over the place! In terms of justice/restoration — God works it out. There is an evil character that will be haunting too. The character made me so angry! And it made me angry that the other characters didn’t fight her or resist or often even seem to realize what was going on….

Prayer by Timothy Keller is the “Christian” book I finished this summer. I’ve been reading it slowly for many months. I recommend it very highly. Any question you might think of concerning prayer, I bet it is in here somewhere. I really like the emphasis on connecting prayer to bible study. Between this book and some of the stuff I’ve been learning and experiencing in classes, my prayer life has both expanded and, frankly and sadly, contracted. First, on the plus side, I try not to pray for x or y now, I try to pray for relationships/wholeness. So — not “Holy father, please be with Kyle’s children and keep them safe” but more “Holy father, please be with Kyle’s children and keep them safe and help them to know you and your love, way deep in their hearts, with a peace that is your greatest gift to all of us, out of your mercy and abundance.” It isn’t that more words are good — or that that is even the best I can do — but the focus isn’t just on God like Santa giving things, but God like a father acting in relationship and protection. Or, well, maybe?¬† On the other hand — and this is terrible to admit — but I think I pray less often now….. I can’t quite come up with a pattern or habit of prayer. What do you all do? (It could be of course that I’m still just taking baby steps in prayer, and should be laughing at myself.)

A time for Silence?

So what is prayer?¬† There’s praise, intercessory and thankfulness? There’s the connecting-with-God type of prayer? Both, right? But the connecting-with-God folks tend to be a bit prideful, maybe, just suggesting…..that’s big thing to try to do, to try to listen for God. Yet there are times when I do feel that God is right here with me. So the whole prayer thing — something I’ve done always — suddenly all sorts of questions! And don’t start with me about the “sometimes God says ‘no’ or ‘not now’ answers to prayers”. That’s so pat. That’s so easy. That makes God out to me a big bully — sorry, nope your loved one dies despite all your prayers; nope you suffer from that illness; no, no, no. Don’t get me wrong, I get that God gets it. I understand that God’s ways might be miles above my pay grade. But I don’t like easy answers to suffering. I’d rather just have a mystery.

God’s not magic to solve everything.

Anyway, in reading Psalms, reading about prayer — all sorts of questions. For my class I wrote this:

Silence. Silence in prayer is where we are listening. Perhaps something tangled will become clear. Perhaps something too terrible for words can be shared with God. Perhaps it is just for us, resting in acceptance of both God’s love and God’s mystery. Last night’s lecture was on intercessory prayer, but the communion-with-God prayer is what is harder. It is easy to say “God bless….” and it is easy to say “Thank you God for….” Just being in silence, waiting, listening, hoping, trusting — this is harder and (I think) needs a willingness to listen to yourself, a willingness to know yourself that can be very daunting indeed. I’ve very much enjoyed “centering prayer” in different moments of my life, it is with a bit of surprise to realize that I have not done that for a while, a good while. Our pastor spoke recently of different types of silence: being silenced; being voiceless; being in silence; responding with silence. Silence is not of itself a good thing; context is all. God’s silence might be a type of suffering, of sorrow that we’re in pain and sadness.

And that takes us back to Elijah’s “still small voice” or the sound of sheer silence that he heard in the cave on the mountain. He didn’t act as if he had a revelation — he said immediately afterward exactly the same words to God.¬† I wonder if he looked back later and thought about it and was awed. After all, if Elijah hadn’t told the story, we wouldn’t know the story. Sometimes things take time and a good night sleep and some bread and cheese.

What do you think?