Prayer, silence, and facing the demons

All too often I find it easier to read about prayer than to pray.  To talk about God than to talk to God.  To think about Scripture rather than consume the Bread of Life.  I will sit down for hours lost in a good story, but find my mind rushing about from distraction to distraction after 15 minutes in the Bible.  

I don’t want to be someone who knows about God.  I want to know God, and in the knowing, be made whole.

“I have often wondered why there is such an immense resistance in us to be with God.  Why do we find prayers so hard, why do we always prefer to be busy instead of praying?  Why do we keep seeing movies, going to parties, reading worthless books, running from one place to another?  If God really exists and loves us, if he only wants to show us his love, why then is it so hard to give ourselves to him?  Well, because when we enter into communion with God we have to face our demons, too.  We have to face our greed, anger, lust, our rebellious nature, and our deep resentments against God himself.  As long as we are busy and distracted we never really have to deal with who we are…

Precisely because our resistance is so great we need disciplines.  We need very concrete ways of living by which we can keep inner space open for God and grow into the new self.  But as we struggle with the demons we will discover that we are not struggling on our own but that it is the power of Christ himself who makes us victorious and it is that power that transforms us into new people.  Indeed God re-makes us.

That is paradise: the new life in God.

 Abba Agathon

A professor once told me that faith is “giving all that you know of yourself to all that you know of God.”So this is where it begins. Facing who we are – who we really are. Not seeing myself as I want to be, but acknowledging the reality of my brokenness. And then, in full light of that, embracing communion with the One who loves, and knows, and is.

Time to embrace the work, and dive into the boundless depths of Life.

Salt and light

MATTHEW THE TAX-COLLECTOR and Thomas the doubter.  Peter the Rock and Judas the traitor.  Mary Magdalene and Lazarus’s sister Martha.  And the popcorn-eating old woman.  And the fat man in the pick-up.  They are all our family, and you and I are their family and each other’s family, because that is what Jesus has called us as the Church to be.  Our happiness is all mixed up with each other’s happiness and our peace with each other’s peace.  Our own happiness, our own peace, can never be complete until we find some way of sharing it with people who the way things are now have no happiness and know no peace.  Jesus calls us to show this truth forth, live this truth forth.  Be the light of the world, he says.  Where there are dark places, be the light especially there.  Be the salt of the earth.  Bring out the true flavor of what it is to be alive truly.  Be truly alive.  Be life-givers to others.  That is what Jesus tells the disciples to be.  That is what Jesus tells his Church, tells us, to be and do.  Love each other.  Heal the sick, he says.  Raise the dead.  Cleanse lepers.  Cast out demons.  That is what loving each other means.  If the Church is doing things like that, then it is being what Jesus told it to be.  If it is not doing things like that—no matter how many other good and useful things it may be doing instead— then it is not being what Jesus told it to be.  It is as simple as that.

~ Frederick Buechner, Listening to your Life

———-

Thinking about salt and light as they pertain to a life of faith…  Jesus told his followers that they were “the salt of the earth”, “the light of the world.”

But the point of salt isn’t to eat it by the heaping spoonful.  (“Mmm.  This salt is delicious.  Could I have another spoonful please?”)  It is to enhance the flavor, bring taste to food, and allow us to appreciate and delight in what we eat (even if it’s brussel sprouts.)

The point of light isn’t to dazzle and blind.  (“Gosh it’s dark out here.  Can you shine that spotlight in my eyes?  Thank you!  I’m so glad you brought a light on this camping trip…”)  It is to show us the world around us – to allow other’s eyes to see the world as it is.

———-

“If you salt the water, you won’t taste the salt. But if you don’t, you’ll know something’s not quite right.”

———-

Ipsissimia Verba?

You are the salt of the earth.
Gather it together in heaps lest it be polluted;
keep it in the jar.
Let society rot in its sin and be redolent in its putrefaction
the saints pristine in their whiteness shall be gathered together as a memorial pillar to me.

You are the light of the world.
Guard it carefully lest the darkness put it out.
Build a beautiful shrine for the lamp of God
where it may be kept safe for you to admire.
Do not take it out into the storm to look for the lost:
the wind might blow it out.
Let the lost look out for themselves
– if they are lucky they will see the chinks of light through the shutters and try to come in.

You shall be my witnesses,
so witness faithfully, on Sundays, come what may, and at as many meetings as you can
give money, make long prayers, sing hymns, and listen to sound sermons.
Teach my lambs, in particular, to get their priorities right
and keep the fold nice and tidy:
then it will be easy to find you when I come back, already gathered
from the rest
and glorifying God in your holiness.

You are my body.
Treat it gently, keep it warm,
make sure it gets enough to eat and lives respectably.
Keep it out of politics of course and the crush of the common people.
Avoid confrontation with the realities of evil.
One crucifixion was enough.

~ Muriel McNair (via ~ Prayers and Creeds)

falling in love

“…beauty is not a need but an ecstasy. It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth, But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted. It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear, But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears. …beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

…A heart enflamed – a soul enchanted… I wonder what it would take for us to see the Beautiful One in our daily life – the one whose name we so blithely invoke – to recognize the presence of the Author of Beauty and Fountain of Life in our waking, in our sleeping, in our anger and in our shame, in our joys and in our heartache…  To see the God who shaped us and shapes us, and to notice his fingerprints in every facet of our lives…  To recognize the immensity of God – more than we can comprehend, or control, or manipulate…  To feel the terrible transcendence like cumulonimbus towers enshrouding the mountain while lightning crashes all around, and to bask in the smooth immanence of a baby’s contented sigh, of the warmth of sunlight after a gentle spring rain, of a still small voice in our heart of hearts that asks us to trust, to risk, to LIVE, because this is our God, and our God is good…

When will we recognize that in our search for God, we are like the fisherman complaining bitterly of the absence of fish, while standing on the back of a whale? It is a frightening thing to be captivated by beauty.

It is a terrifying thing to lose control – to surrender the qualifiers that pretend to keep us safe and offer us the illusion of mastery. Yet ultimately, this is what will free us. We will be captivated by something, or someone…

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” ~Fr. Pedro Arrupe

Flat tires and looking good

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A number of years ago I spent about four months living and working in Nepal with WMF.  I arrived in Kathmandu a few months after my 20th birthday, idealistic, full of big dreams about the difference I would make, and certain that my time would be an adventure in every way, serving the poor, learning to be like Jesus, and basically having everyone admire me for how amazing I was.  It only took me a few weeks to find out that I was not all that.

I had arrived with visions of being the next Mother Theresa or Gandhi, with a touch of Oscar Romero thrown in, and my expectations were dashed when I discovered that the “working with street kids” (which I envisioned as cute little boys and girls who were hungry for affection and just needed someone to come play soccer with them for a few hours each week to point them on a path towards wholeness, health, and the restoration of all that was broken in their lives) that I had hoped to be involved in wasn’t going to happen.

Instead, we would be spending our time volunteering at one of the local Missionaries of Charity homes, doing distinctly unglamorous tasks such as pulling up water from the well, washing dishes, cleaning, doing laundry by hand, cleaning out septic tanks one bucket at a time, and generally doing the best we could to not get in the way too much, or get talked to sternly by a nun for being too slow, incompetent, or inefficient.  It was not fun.  It was not sexy.  It was not even “missionary cool,” like working at the home for the dying, or with photogenic kids, or with crowds of needy people that you could tell others about and bask in their glow about how holy you were.  Instead, we were at a home called Shanti Bhivan (House of Peace) for mentally and physically disabled Nepalis.  It was simple, quiet, unassuming, and hidden.  It was hard.

I toughed it out for a few weeks.  After all, I was with a team of people, and to simply stop going would look bad.  I didn’t want others to think poorly of me.  I didn’t want them to see how unspiritual and shallow I truly was.  I didn’t want them to see me as I really was, so I pretended.  I pretended to be a servant, all the while grumbling inwardly about how I didn’t really want to be here, and how I really wanted to be somewhere else – somewhere more exciting, more dramatic, more more…  But inside, I was stuck.

Our regular schedule included getting up at 5am for an hour of silent, contemplative prayer.  The first month or so involved lots of falling asleep in the midst of it – only to be woken by a jab in the ribs from Julie, or a throat clearing from Ben or Kipp.  I’d return the favor when I noticed their breathing turn too deep or regular for being awake.  But as we stuck it out, I began to recognize something beautiful and holy about those quiet, dark, cold mornings we spent on the floor, wrapped in our woolen blankets, learning to quiet our hearts and inhabit the silence that was a doorway to God’s heart.

After prayers, it was time to go to work.  There were two bikes that we could use, and for the first few months that was my favorite part of the day: the 30 minute bike ride to work.  It felt like a video game as I dodged tuk-tuks and cows, taxis and pedestrians, buses and trucks, dogs and street vendors, weaving in and out of the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu’s morning rush hour.  I felt alive – the adrenaline flowed – and it was exciting in a way that the rest of my days were not.

One morning as I was riding to work, I was feeling tired, grumpy, and just plain fed up.  We had been there for a couple of months, and whatever appeal had been present at the beginning was gone.  I didn’t want to go.  I didn’t want to serve.  I didn’t want to go to the stupid Missionaries of Charity home, run by the stupid nuns who would just make me feel bad for not giving more, doing more, being more…  I felt like I wasn’t enough.  And I wanted to do something more fun.  I wanted to stop and go to a cafe and get breakfast and coffee and spend time reading my novel.  I wanted to do what I wanted to do.  Who cared if I was on something called a “Servant Team.”  I was tired of serving.  I wanted out.

But…

At the same time, I was intensely self-conscious and worried about what others would think of me.  If I just didn’t go to work that morning, the nuns would ask about me.  Kipp would know that I didn’t show up.  I couldn’t lie about it.  They would catch me.  They would know the depths of my self-centeredness, my shallowness, my laziness and general lack of spirituality.  They would know that I wasn’t really like Jesus.  Not in any ways that mattered, anyway.  After all, I couldn’t even spend a measly five hours volunteering and working with the poor – the poor that I claimed to love, and had come to Nepal to serve.  However, I had found that loving “the poor” in reality was often difficult, challenging, and hard (just like anyone that you truly enter into relationship with.)

I didn’t want people to know who I really was, and how I really felt.  But I also didn’t want to go.  At that moment, I had a brilliant idea…  What if I got a flat tire?  If my bike tire went out, I’d have a ready made excuse.  I COULDN’T go in to work if my bike tire was flat.  I’d have to stop and get it fixed, and who KNOWS how long that would take.  It might take all day, if I could find someone slow enough…  and my problem would be solved.  It just might work…

I could explain to anyone who asked how I intended, nay, deeply WANTED to go to volunteer today.  I was trying to, but my cursed bike let me down by getting a flat tire, and what was I supposed to do?  …  Yes.  I would have the rewards of people looking to me and still admiring me for what I WOULD have done if only the mechanical bike hadn’t gotten in the way.  AND, I would be able to do what I really wanted to do, which was read my book over a pot of coffee and a set breakfast (with little delicious pastries) from the German place down the road.  It was a win-win.

However, there was only one slight problem with this plan.  My bike didn’t have a flat tire.

I didn’t let this stop me.  I still had a few miles to go before I got to work.  There was still time.  There was still hope that I COULD get a flat tire.  And if it needed a little help from me, then that could be arranged…

So, I started hitting potholes.  Every pothole, crack, piece of glass, sharp object, bump, or nail in the road…  If it was there, I hit it.  I started pushing hard on the front tire, trying to put more weight on it and get it to pop (or at least go flat) before I arrived.  As I drew closer and closer to Shanti Bhivan, I grew more and more nervous, and more and more frantic.  The tire wouldn’t pop.  No matter what I hit, no matter what I ran over, it wouldn’t go flat.

As I pulled up to the front gate, I was disgusted.  “Fine,” I remember saying to God.  “I’m here.  I’m not happy about it.  I don’t want to be here.  But since I’m here, whatever…  I’ll serve.  But don’t expect me to be happy about it…”

I grudgingly walked through the gates…  and as I fell into the rhythm of work, or buckets pulled and clothing washed, of meals served and wounds tended, something happened…  My anger – my bitterness – my frustration – it melted away.  I couldn’t hold on to it.  I tried.  But somehow, someone reached through and softened my heart.  Through the practice of obedience, I was transformed and made obedient.  Through the discipline of service – by simply showing up – my heart was renewed.  I left that afternoon rested, thankful, and blessed.  Joyful.  At peace.  All because the tire I had been hoping and praying would go flat held up.  All because my attempts at sabotage had failed.  All because God would not give up on me.  All because of grace…

A prayer for MLK day

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Martin Luther King Jr.

Some of us are old enough to remember
      the balcony in Memphis,
      the sanitation workers' strike,
      the shot that broke flesh,
      the loss of Martin,
            and then the mule-drawn wagon,
                          and the funeral,
            and the riots, the violence, the fear,
                          and the failure.

All of us know the crowd in D.C.
     and "I Have a Dream,"
     the Birmingham jail,
     the broad stream of violence,
       and his steadfast nonviolence
                      in Albany and
                      in Skokie and
                      in Selma.

All of know his awesome, daring speech,
     his bravery, his hope, and his generative word.
And we know the relentlessness of our government
     in pursuit of him
    and the endless surveillance and harassment
                           of this drum major for justice.

At this distance, we have little access
     to how it was then concerning ambiguity
              and fear
              and reluctance
              and violence
              and injustice.

We do not doubt that you have persisted
     even beyond Martin's passion,
     even beyond Martin's brilliance,
     even beyond Martin's fidelity, and
                         his loss.

We do not doubt that through him and beyond him,
     you, holy God of the prophets,
          are still pledged to justice and
                                      peace and
                                      liberty for all.

We remember Martin in gratitude...
                      and chagrin.
And we pledge, amid our stressed ambiguities,
              to dream as he did,
              to walk the walk
              and to talk the talk of your coming kingdom.

We pledge, so sure that your truth
    will not stop its march
        until your will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

From Prayers for a Privileged People ~ Walter Brueggemann

A prayer for the coming year

 

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

 

~ Thomas Merton – Thoughts in Solitude

 

Not the Kingdom of Death…

An Easter prayer:

Christ is risen!

We give thanks for the gift of Easter
that runs beyond our expectations,
beyond our categories of reason,
even more, beyond the sinking sense of our own lives.

We know about the powers of death,
powers that persist among us,
powers that drive us from you, and
from our neighbour, and
from our best selves.

We know about the powers of fear and greed and anxiety,
and brutality and certitude.
powers before which we are helpless.

And then you – you at dawn, unquenched,
you in the darkness,
you on Saturday,
you who breaks the world to joy.

Yours is the kingdom…not the kingdom of death,
Yours is the power…not the power of death,
Yours is the glory…not the glory of death.

Yours…You…and we give thanks
for the newness beyond our achieving.

Amen.

~ Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth

via Prayers and Creeds

An Irish Blessing

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, via Dave Bayne and Prayers and Creeds

 

I wish you not a path devoid of clouds,
nor a life on a bed of roses,
not that you might never need regret,
nor that you shall never feel pain.

No, that is not my wish for you.

 

My wish for you is that you might be brave in times of trial
when others lay crosses upon your shoulders.
When mountains must be climbed
and chasms are to be crossed;
when hope scarce can shine through.

 

That every gift God gave you might grow along with you.
And let you give the gift of joy to all who care for you.
That you may always have a friend who is worth that name.
Who you can trust, and who helps you in times of sadness.
Who will defy the storms of daily life at your side.

 

One more wish I have for you:
That in every hour of joy and pain you may feel God close to you.
This is my wish for you and for all who care for you.
This is my hope for you, now and forever.

Falling in love…

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.  What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.  It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything…”

~ Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

May you have the eyes to see today as a love letter, written to you, by God…

May your imagination be seized.

May your heart overflow.

May you stay in love.

And may you feel that deep love today…

Celebrating Epiphany

Today, January 6, was the last of the 12 days of Christmas – the end of the season of Christmastide. This is the day we remember the visit of the Wise Men from the East, and in a broader sense, the revealing of Jesus to the non-Jewish community and the reminder that the Kingdom of God is open to all, no matter their tongue, tribe, or nation. Brian Zahnd mentions that after the Magi encountered Jesus, they went home another way… And therefore Epiphany is the day that we celebrate the truth that an encounter with Jesus will always lead us to take another way – a NEW way.

At Epiphany, we celebrate once more the birth of Jesus – the gift of newness, the unexpected “thrill of hope” that shoots through us when new possibilities are revealed, new opportunities are before us, and new life springs up where before there was only death. Because of this, we have hope – and we are reminded once more that “He is making all things new…

Walter Brueggemann reminds us of what it means to celebrate this epiphany:

There is a time to be born, and it is now

There is a time to be born and a time to die.
And this is a time to be born.
So we turn to you, God of our life,
                   God of our years
                   God of our beginning.
      Our times are in your hand.

Hear us as we pray:
     For those of us too much into obedience,
          birth us to the freedom of the gospel.
     For those of us too much into self-indulgence,
          birth us to discipleship in your ministry.
     For those too much into cynicism,
          birth us to the innocence of the Christ child.
     For those of us too much into cowardice,
          birth us to the courage to stand before
               principalities and powers.
     For those of us too much into guilt,
          birth us into forgiveness worked in your generosity.
     For those of us too much into despair,
          birth us into the promises you make to your people.
     For those of us too much into control,
          birth us into the vulnerability of the cross.
     For those of us too much into victimization,
          birth us into the power of Easter.
     For those of us too much into fatigue,
          birth us into the energy of Pentecost.

We dare pray that you will do for us and among us and through us
     what is needful for newness.

Give us the power to be receptive,
     to take the newness you give,
     to move from womb warmth to real life.

We make this prayer not only for ourselves, but
     for our school at the brink of birth,
     for the church at the edge of life,
     for our city waiting for newness,
     for your whole creation, with which we yearn
          in eager longing.

There is a time to be born, and it is now.
    We sense the pangs and groans of your newness.
    Come here now in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

From Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth Prayers of Walter Brueggemann

For birth is not easy. It is painful. Frightening. Unsettling. But it is worth it.

May we have the eyes to see that which longs to be birthed in our hearts and in our lives in this coming year, the courage to welcome it, and the grace to persevere…