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Category Archives: Prayer

awaken me

Son of Man,
rekindle my own humanity as you restore MA026
my faith
in humanity
as something good
you created in
your image.

Come divine breath!

Awaken me
from the dust of my sleep
to the divine possibilities
waiting
to be seized through
your mercies
this day.

Through Christ.

Just came across this prayer I wrote for those daily devotions I throw together each week.

Good prayer.
Needed prayer.
I love how my own words can sneak up on me,
put their hands over my eyes
and surprise me
as though I had never met them before.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Prayer

 

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reality check

Thinking much on reality.reality

Fantasy is so much more appealing, I know. Especially religious fantasy.

You can only walk with death so long before you either have to dive headlong into a swirling religious fantasy of denial dressed up as “faith” with a full complement of “faith verses” or see that we are dealing with a much more complicated, textured, layered reality.

I think we all start off very much in sync with Deuteronomy. Life is so wonderfully straightforward. Do this and you get that; do that and you get this. It’s called fair. Keep these commands, follow these instructions, say these prayers (correct verbal formulations only, please!), complete these rituals by traveling to this holy place to see this holy person, etc. etc. Covenants become contracts with promised rewards and protection for good behavior, or your money back. Actually, no. The money is kept regardless.

reality (1)Yes, this is where we start – depending on how rough your start is. Some of us are disabused – or rather abused by life – right out of such notions early on. And we move from the sureties and simplicities of Deuteronomy to the twisted complexities of Ecclesiastes and the howling grief of Lamentations.

But oh how we fight it.

When our three oldest children were diagnosed with familial polyposis in 2001 and were awaiting imminent surgery to remove their large intestines (which between the three of them ended up entailing 10 major surgeries over 9 months– our own personal 9/11 as 9/11 unfolded right in the middle of it), we were the recipients of much prayer and ministry. Much of it quite helpful, fortifying and sustaining. Some of it less so. And yes, some of it quite entertaining.

reality-a-bit-more-complicated

i like this one…

One dear brother, God bless him, insisted God had told him our whole family needed to line up, single file, and then bunch together while he placed his hands level with our aligned bowels and prayed because this would break the family curse. We were up for anything, so we did. And we smiled. We thanked him. And the ten surgeries rolled right on unabated.

Another well-meaning sister inquired into any sexual deviations in our family history and even into our sexual positions in the marriage bed. Less helpful. Less entertaining.

Words of command were spoken for mountains of tumors to move in Jesus’ name (because that’s what they have to do when we ask them to in Jesus’ name). The surgeries still came. All of this repeated itself when one of these same kids was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor five years later.

And then there were those who just ached and wept with us, and having no idea what to pray, prayed little – at least verbally. And among these was one who in the midst of all the “mountain talk” simply prayed in effect, “This is a mountain that you are going to have to go through.”

And when she said it we knew it.

what we imagine faith will do for our troubles...

what we imagine faith will do for our troubles…

No matter what verses and scripture facts we can marshal to break curses passed by progenitors or off objects we unwittingly bought in a gift shop on vacation in Tahiti that had curses put on them, or that prove once and for all that by the stripes of Jesus we are healed of everything, especially tumors, and we just need faith to claim the blessing; no matter what formulations of faith with which we would bolster ourselves or others against adversities unfolding in an unstoppable torrent or in a fiendish, torturous trickle, this reality remains – at least it is what I have seen:

Sometimes the mountain moves.

what faith moving mountains usually looks like...

what faith moving mountains usually looks like…

Sometimes you have to tunnel through the mountain.

Sometimes you have to climb over the mountain.

And sometimes the mountain falls on you
and flattens you into the dust.

You can decide which of these demands the greater mustard seed of faith…and, in reality (and biblically), which leads to a greater depth of character and beauty in humanity.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Faith, haverings, Prayer, Suffering, Uncategorized

 

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hermit fireball

Leo Tolstoy tells the story of three hermits who lived on an island. Their prayer of intimacy and love was simple like they were simple: “We are three, you are three; have mercy on us. Amen.” Miracles sometimes happened when they prayed in this way.

The bishop, however, hearing about the hermits, decided that they needed guidance in proper prayer, and so he went to their small island. After instructing the monks, the bishop set sail for the mainland, pleased to have enlightened the souls of such simple men.

Suddenly, off the stern of the ship he saw a huge ball of light skimming across the ocean. It got closer and closer until he could see that it was the three hermits running on top of the water. Once on board the ship they said to the bishop, “We are so sorry, but we have forgotten some of your teaching. Would you please instruct us again?”

The bishop shook his head and replied meekly, “Forget everything I have taught you and continue to pray in your old way.”

~ Richard Foster, Prayer

I was going to say this is one of my favorite prayer stories.

But nix that.

It’s one of my favorite stories, period.

I’m convicted by the Bishop because I see where I’ve been far more like him than I care to admit in my own naturally controlling tendencies and desires to set others straight and “instruct them more accurately” in the way they ought to go and do and be – at least in the book “According to Me.” Most of us have one of those, I do believe. And it always has more pages to be filled. Especially if you’re a blogger. Or a pastor.

At least the bishop responded meekly when confronted with a hermit fireball dancing on the waters.

I have a feeling many of us would dismiss that as a sign of hell-fire or something. What else could it be? I mean, they’re just simple, religiously unsophisticated, crude hermits. And Evangelicals couldn’t help but call attention to the fact they are obviously Catholics.

But the Bishop saw, he listened, and hopefully learned something.

And the hermits listened too.

They were eager to learn from a bishop from an institutional mainland, even running across water to relearn what he had to offer.

They convict me too.

How I hate stories that I love.

monk_1

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2013 in Education, haverings, Prayer

 

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somersaults in salting unsalty salt

The sun had risen.Once again called to the edge of the field. Bathed in the warm rays, I find myself praying the beatitudes of Matthew 5.

sunrise_20130731

same sky, next day, and a parking lot instead of a field…the gap between the sun bursting above and the rays penetrating below caught my eye…a lesson here

Random.

Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are they that mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
Blessed…
Blessed…
Blessed…

And then I’m at the salt.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?”

And that question hangs in the air.

As I stand before compost piles, I ponder saltless salt not even fit for dungheaps. Ah, the rich images one encounters when mammering a prayer.

If the salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?

Still the question hangs there. Floating like dust in the beams of morning.

Saltless salt. It’s how I feel, standing on the edge of the field. I want to perform a retrograde movement back up the page in my mind to the poor in spirit, the mourning, the weak meek, the ravishing hunger and thirst. At least there is blessing and kingdom and and comfort and life there. But for saltless salt there seems only a dunghill. And it doesn’t even qualify for that. “Good for nothing.” But then I feel a retrograde movement back from shit to salt.

If the salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?

And now I see the lips of the Divine, edges upturned in a coy smile as if to intimate that rather than being a conundrum or, worse, a dunghill dead end, it’s something he actually does all the time. In fact, it’s his divine specialty. We all grow detached – separated from our humanity, distanced from the divine image we bear by creative fiat, alienated from Christ in us. We forget who we are. We lose sight of the richness of the multifaceted graces placed within us, bestowed upon us, spilling out of us. Instead of a brilliant, life-giving sunrise we see only a glaring light from which to annoyingly shield our eyes.

Saltless salt.

Life leeches it out of us.

I feel leeched. Saltless. I can sense “dunghill” stamped on my forehead.

But suddenly, in those bathing rays of sun, on the edge of that field, not far from the dungheaps…

I lick my lips.

My former saltless, tasteless lips.

Now salty again.

And it’s my turn for a coy smile…

salt

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Faith, haverings, musings, Prayer

 

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wrestle

I need to be in community of some kind, and this is the community I know and am familiar with. But I am keeping my true self hidden for fear of being on the “outs” with nowhere else to go. What kind of community is that? I want the heritage, the security, the belonging – yet I’m secretly resentful that I need to keep so much of myself hidden in exchange for it. If I think about it too much, I realize that I’m trading a life lived out loud for approval and acceptance. That is the issue that won’t go away.

This is one of many responses to a recent post – “Why Do I Keep Believing?” The Biggest Obstacles to Staying Christian – on Peter Enns’ blog.

I like Enns’ blog for the simple reason he wrestles and he makes me wrestle.

In my former churched life I would have stayed away from his blog like the plague (okay, so when I left my former church life it was 1997 and I didn’t even know what a blog was, but that’s beside the point). And I certainly would have stayed away from a post like this that invites people to pour out their doubts, objections and obstacles. Or if I did read the post, I certainly wouldn’t have waded into that pool of swirling, toxic doubt. Surely it would consume or at the very least taint me.

where_am_iBut since it was posted, I’ve carefully read through each posted response, noting the common elements and themes, taking in the stories and emotions, and generally comparing notes.

Funny how we post anonymously before humanity’s critiquing eyes what is laid out on the table of our heart before the Divine that knows and loves.

Little is expressed in these responses that in thirty years of following Christ and pursuing vocational ministry I haven’t seen and felt in myself.
It was actually quite refreshing.

Before, I think I would have screamed, “Stop it or I’ll bury you alive in a box!” At myself as much as at anyone else.

Funny thing is that’s how all of these people posting feel or have felt: buried alive in a box.

I’ve felt that too. Still do at times.

Funny how we like our preachers, our mentors, our holy guides to have struggles…as long as they were all back then. Who doesn’t relish a juicy back story, the powerful testimony of past sins, moral flailings, doubts, searchings – all, now, of course, gloriously overcome and behind us. But present doubts? Present fears? Present suffocations? Not so much. For the most part acknowledging present suffocations leads to early terminations.

And so we stuff the angst and doubts and struggles and try not to make too much noise as we scratch at theboxes lid of the box we find ourselves in. This boxed God. This boxed religion. This boxed book. This boxed life.

Do you suppose the very fact that we can’t and don’t openly acknowledge the struggle and allow others to do the same is what makes it all a box in the first place?

Why is it that we ignore the namesake of the entire Old Testament narrative? Israel. The holy narcissistic scoundrel who spent all night literally wrestling with God until he got a blessing (and a new name…and a new limp). Israel. He who wrestles with God and prevails and lives to tell the tale.

Why is it that instead of wrestling we are more interested in telling each other to lie down or line up?

Why is it our Bible studies create blanks we’re supposed to fill when all study, all thought, all pursuit of God and truth and life and spirit must of necessity create more blanks (and more blanks and more blanks and more blanks) that by definition are unfillable except by wonder?

As Enns states at the end of his post, “For those on the Christian path, looking into the dark places, honestly and courageously, is part of the deal (see Psalms or Ecclesiastes).”

Imagine that.

Jacob wrestlingWhat if instead of being religious societies of anonymous posters/posers quietly writhing and wrestling in our boxes we became open, blank-making communities of fearlessly self-confessed wrestlers with God?

Imagine that…

Dare I say it?

I wrestle.

Dare any of us say with Sister Aloysius in the final line of Doubt:

“I have doubts. I have such doubts.”doubts_3

What remarkable faith might we find in choosing the wrestling of faith that embraces its (and others’) doubt?

What deepening wonder me might discover in resisting all supposed or suggested easy religious or irreligious three count pins? (After all, it’s not like the religious have cornered the market on pat answers to fill in life’s blanks or in demanding that we lie down or line up!)

What might we discover if we embraced the tension in the prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief,” rather than whitewashing over it with strident religious or irreligious assertions, suppressing the doubts that arise because we are living, growing human beings?

What might happen if we accepted that we are all Jacobs wrestling with God and life and truth, and that that’s what we are supposed to be doing? And what joy could it unleash if we actually caught a glimpse of a Jacob-wrestling God who isn’t scandalized by our questions and wrestling, but who loves it?

I wonder.

doubts

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2013 in Faith, musings, Old Testament, Prayer, Religion

 

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the inner utopia

A remarkable thing. No. Magical.

I managed three hours of sleep without pharmaceutical inducements.

Not restful, by any means. But certainly better than none at all.

Awakened by insomniac Hannah in the next room, dropping a box of pencils. A physical heaviness felt in every extension of this body. My face felt flat, my eyes like sunken holes. The pump pumping away. I stumbled up out of bed, carrying my tethered pump. My body felt so heavy I couldn’t straighten my legs as I walked across the house to get some water in my mouth. Stumbled back to bed. 4 AM. For another hour I lay there, sinking, it literally felt, into the bed. Oh Abba, Abba, Abba. No anger, no struggling against invisible bonds. More sinking into them. Abba, when will you come for me? Abba, Abba, Abba. When will you come to me? Don’t think there was any more sleep. Trying desperately not to awaken my love or panic her as I have before when she wakes up to the sounds of me praying – or reciting Mark in the dark. Abba, when will you come to me?

And then the remarkable thing.

He came. I saw. And my eyes sprung open. Oh my God, I am awake! And I see this, but it’s me:

 

Heaviness lifted (was someone else praying out there at 4 AM this morning?). And if I had an umbrella, I would have danced with it out of the room. I danced right into the kitchen, dancing with dishes, putting the clean up and washing the dirty, preparing the way for my love and her green smoothies in a few hours. Then dancing with laundry. And now with this keyboard.

The whole time Kelly’s face and magical movements are before my heart. I hear the words in a song that ultimately needs no words – at least no words more refined than “Doo dloo doo doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo,  doo doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo dloo doo.” It’s the movements, the rhythms of ecstatic life and love, the sheer joy of simply being, and knowing it. Some might stuffily dismiss it as sheer sentimentality or even as madness (and it is the latter, of a sort, isn’t it?) standing with cynical, legal arms crossed on the wet sidewalk. But what does that matter? This is a God Song, a God Dance for any who will pick up the frequency in the midst of our own heaviness and pain and loss and rejection and dance because our hearts are truly ready for love that need not be explained or exposited.

Searching for more images from the film I came upon this review of Singing in the Rain (http://popcultureandfeelings.com/2011/04/the-pop-culture-and-feelings-canon-singin-in-the-rain/)  in which the author grapples a bit with the meaning of the title song. The author quotes Barthes several times. Not sure who Barthes is, but he’s quite the theologian.

I’ve spent months trying to explain the appeal of these couple of minutes. There’s something kind of Barthesian about the way love is expressed here. It’s to do with how words are almost insufficient, how the sets of words he has express something bigger, in forms we all recognize. It’s like a cinematic lover’s discourse, if you ignore all the parts of the lover’s discourse that are about longing and only think about the tiny moments of unexpressable joy and fulfillment you can just grip the edges of. In other words, utopia.

His physicality sort of approximates that sense of the unexpressable that the phrases of love gesture toward. He’s not singing it to her – he’s singing it by himself, after she’s left. They could have made it a duet, but they didn’t. As Barthes says, the lover’s discourse is one of extreme solitude. Something about the sense of being in love means you’re always alone in your love. You do love the other person, but you can only really appreciate being in love when you are by yourself, glorying in it. The sense that the world is magical, a playground, even in the rain, even without your umbrella. The sense that you’re a kid again, that you can splash in puddles without wrecking your shoes. You feel a little sheepish when the policeman notices you flailing around in the gutter, but you don’t care. The law doesn’t apply to love. It’s a sequence of almost pure emotion. There are words, sure, and there is a setting, sure, but the words are pretty much meaningless compared to the dancing. It stands out because it is the only unselfconscious moment in a compulsively self-conscious film. In a different film, it still would have been amazing, but it almost got an extra feeling of directness from being mixed in with a series of songs that are in various ways self-consciously performed. Barthes says, of the imaginary fulfillment the lover longs for: “Thus fulfillment is a precipitation: something is condensed, streams over me, strikes me like a lightning bolt. What is it that fills me in this fashion? A totality? No. Something that, starting from totality, actually exceeds it. A totality without remainder, a summa without exception, a site with nothing adjacent (‘my soul is not only filled, but runs over’).”

In other words, utopia.

An inner utopia where Someone starting from totality exceeds it, without remainder, without exception in which the soul is not only filled but runs over. What a startlingly apt description of walking – dancing – in the Spirit in the midst of much precipitation outside and more importantly inside, where, in a completely unselfconscious moment where law no longer applies, where emotions are allowed full free and healthy expression, the inner self unselfconsciously spills over into the outer in the freedom of divine movements.

As Peterson regularly translates “amen”:  yes, yes, yes!

Keep taking me to there.

To that inner utopia not even banned in chemoland.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2012 in Movies, musings, Prayer, Suffering

 

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Close Encounters

I prayed the sunrise.

It was a new experience for me this past Tuesday morning.

I didn’t set the alarm that morning. When I do it just tends to wake up my wife rather than me and that makes for a bumpy start to the day. So I was trusting God for my early wake up time. In the early morning hours I floated in and out of sleep as I would glance up at the clock. And it was the darndest thing. Through those early morning hours in that twilight sleep state I realized I was having a conversation with God.

Have you seen Spielberg’s Always? Dreyfuss’ deceased character, coming back among the living as a “mentoring spirit” encounters his life’s love (Holly Hunter’s character). He can’t communicate directly with her, however – except when she’s in that dreamy twilight stage of sleep. So he was laying in bed with her having a conversation with her as she recited her shopping list.

It was like that.

I have no idea what we talked about.

Don’t think that was the point. Why is it so often we seek a conversation with God (or with anyone else, for that matter) where he tells us something – a new word, a revelation, a plan. Why do we get so caught up in the content of such an encounter? Why are we so content driven overall? Oh how hard to shake the god of productivity that drives so much of what we do in business, in religion, in life. Why must everything and everyone have some production value for us, some demonstrable utility? I woke up and realized that God had been having a totally frivolous conversation with me. Just because. Imagine that. And I was just asleep enough to notice.

It was timely. I had lost track of the song. In fact I had so lost track of the song that I was literally, physically submerged in fatigued, exhausted sleep just about the entire previous weekend. I thought I was getting sick but now I realize I simply wasn’t hearing the melodies anymore. My wife said I needed to hear the music again. You can’t manufacture that; it doesn’t just show up on command when a worship service starts. It is pure gift.

He must have been humming to me in those early morning hours, because I woke up hearing the song again.

I drove to work, threw open the bookstore gates, and as I started walking towards the prayer meeting I was supposed to be in, I felt a clear divine summons. An invitation. Not an imperative, “Thou shalt do this,” but a simple invitation, a “I have something for you if you want it” kind of invitation. It was an invitation to step back outside and walk towards the sunrise. So out I went.

It was another of those glorious orange and pink sunrises, just coming into it’s fulness. Walking towards it to the eastern edge of the parking I just stood there. And I found myself praying the sunrise.

I’m still not sure how you pray the sunrise. But I did. I prayed it over one person suddenly visibly before me (her name rhymes with Lula). I felt the sunrise for her. I heard it, I heard him, and somehow it all passed through me right to her. At least that’s how it felt.

I doubt that will ever be repeated. I doubt it will ever become a movement or will make an appearance in a book on proven prayer techniques. To even contemplate such feels like stomping on holy ground with hobnail boots. Even to say as much as I am here feels like risking violating the moment.

But what a beautiful encounter. How like God to issue such a simple invitation, to let me feel that sensation of praying the sunrise and have it all pass right through me for a child.

It was good. It was a gift.

How many such invitations have I missed? How many bushes aflame with God have I stepped right over – or worse, extinguished with my own religious and irreligious retardants? Too depressing to consider.

As I walked back towards the building, a friend in the parking lot had just pulled up and was getting his son off to class.

“Hey, you look different!” he yelled.

Amazing what a difference it can make to once again hear the music all around us.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2012 in musings, Prayer

 

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Prayer on the porch

The late afternoon hours Lee spent with Mary, sitting on the porch of their cottage, often chatting with friends they had not seen for years. Even here, the public would intrude. Preceded only by the briefest introduction performed by companions who were passing the cottage, one man advanced up the steps to the porch where the Lees were sitting with friends. “Do I behold,” this man said, “the honored roof that shelters the head of him before whose name the luster of Napolean’s pales into a shadow? Do I see the wall within which sits the most adored of men?” The self-styled orator had gained the porch; he turned to Mary. “Dare I tread the floor which she who is a scion of the patriotic house of the revered Washington condescends to hallow with her presence?”

Lee was speechless. The man was continuing, “Is this the portico that trails its vines over the noble pair— ” when Mary smiled at him and cut in with, “Yes, this is our cabin; will you take a seat upon the bench?”

I love this scene of Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary painted by Charles Flood in his book Lee: The Last Years.

I can see the Lees sitting on that porch, the horrors of war behind them, moving forward into the rebuilding of the South and of the nation – now accosted by this man, and yet responding so graciously.

Makes me think of the airs we often feel we have to take on as we approach God’s porch.

I’ve been learning the Lord’s prayer in Hebrew – first of all, because it just sounds cool. Then, of course, there is also the residual “tongues” benefit – it’s the one way this evangelical boy can appear quite charismatic in public worship.

But there’s something about praying this prayer in Hebrew. The fewer words, the gutteral sounds. A fresh awareness of the simplicity of our approach. Reading through Kenneth Bailey’s observations about this prayer in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, that sense of simplicity is reinforced by his conviction that Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Aramaic rather than classical Hebrew. As Bailey observes, what a huge leap that would have been! Instead of long memorized prayers in a language you don’t even speak (and don’t bother looking across the aisle at our Catholic brothers – just ask yourself how often when you pray you begin speaking a language you never speak or hear anywhere else – except perhaps from a pulpit), Jesus empowered his disciples to speak intimately to God as Abba in their own native tongue. And with such few, concise words and expressions of need.

Bailey illustrates our penchant for piling on in addressing esteemed personages by relating how in 1891 a Persian scholar wrote to an American Christian missionary scholar, Dr. Cornelious VanDyke, who at that time was a distinguished professor of medicine in Beirut. The Persian scholar sent a gift to VanDyke with this wording in a cover letter:

A souvenir to the esteemed spiritual physician and religious philosopher, his Excellency, the only and most learned who has no second in his age, Dr. Cornelius VanDyke, the American. As a souvenir presented to his loftiness and goodness and to him that is above titles, who is a propagator of knowledge and the founder of perfections, and a possessor of high qualities and owner of praiseworthy character, the pole of the firmament of virtues and the pivot of the circle of sciences, the author of splendid works and firm foundations, who is well versed in the understanding of the inner realities of soul and horizons, who deserves that his name be written with light upon the eyes of people rather than with gold on paper…

Now that is called a build-up. And the reality is He needs nor desires none from us.

With what truly wonder-full contrast do we hear coming from our own lips the simple and intimate Αββα ὁ πατήρ – Abba, Papa, Dad, Daddy in Aramaic and Greek, East and West; the universal cry of the Spirit across all boundaries in human hearts awakening to the One who would know us as Father. Who, while we wax ever so eloquent as we ascend the steps of his porch, extolling his divine virtues and attributes, tells us “Yes, this is our cabin” and then beckons us to please come and take a seat on the bench.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Gospel of Matthew, musings, Prayer

 

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