Lending Breath

Breathing OutScripture Text:  Ezekiel 37: 1-14 (Lent 5A)

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

The idea of God creating and recreating over and over again is not new to us.  But most of us do not this day live in exile.  We are sitting comfortably at home; we are residing in the place where our identity is claimed.  So how can we, then, understand fully this breathing of life into death, this breathing of hope into despair?  The image is a beautiful one and yet we sit here breathing just fine.  We seldom think of these breaths as the very essence of God.  In the hymn, “I’ll Praise My Make While I’ve Breath”, Isaac Watts writes the words, “I’ll praise my God who lends me breath…”  Have you ever thought of the notion of God “lending you breath”?  Think about it.  In the beginning of our being, God lent us breath, ru’ah, the very essence of God.  And when our beings become lifeless and hopeless, that breath is there again.  And then in death, when all that we know has ended, God breathes life into dry, brittle, lifeless bones yet again.  Yes, it is a story of resurrection.

God gave us the ability to breathe and then filled us with the Breath of God.  We just have to be willing to breathe.  It’s a great Lenten image. It involves inhaling.  It also involves exhaling.  So exhale, breathe out all of that stuff that does not give you life, all of that stuff that dashes hopes and makes you brittle, all of that stuff that you hold onto so tightly that you cannot reach for God.  Most of us sort of live our lives underwater, weighed down by an environment in which we do not belong.  We have to have help to breathe, so we add machines and tanks of air.  But they eventually run out and we have to leave where we are and swim to the top.  And there we can inhale the very essence of God, the life to which we belong.  God lends us breath until our lives become one with God and we can breathe forever on our own.

“Lending breath”…it is ours, but only for a moment, only for a breath.  We do not keep it, we do not store it away.  Like manna, we fill our lungs to capacity as only they are designed by God to do and then we exhale.  We let go.  We release that breath of life into Creation to make room to breathe again.  Most of us take it for granted, this rhythmic breathing in and breathing out.  We don’t really think about each of these breaths that have been lent to us, these God-breathed gasps that are ours for only a short time.  Actually, more of life is like that than we like to think.  We like to think that we are in control, that we orchestrate our breathing in and our breathing out.  But, really, the breath is not ours.  It is God-breathed.  It is what give us life, over and over and over again.  In a way, each and every moment, we are resurrected.  We begin again.  But we forget that.  Lent reminds us, reminds us that there is more than what we control, more than what we know.  Lent reminds us that the air we breathe is not our own, that we need to exhale.

God gave us the ability to breathe and then filled us with the Breath of God.  We just have to be willing to breathe.  It’s a great Lenten image. It involves inhaling.  It also involves exhaling.  So exhale, breathe out all of that stuff that does not give you life, all of that stuff that dashes hopes and makes you brittle, all of that stuff that you hold onto so tightly that you cannot reach for God.  Most of us sort of live our lives underwater, weighed down by an environment in which we do not belong.  We have to have help to breathe, so we add machines and tanks of air.  But they eventually run out and we have to leave where we are and swim to the top.  And there we can inhale the very essence of God, the life to which we belong.  God lends us breath until our lives become one with God and we can breathe forever on our own.

That is often the problem for many of us. We breathe in when we should be breathing out. It is, on some level, a sort of “spiritual asthma”. When a person suffers from asthma, it is not, as many people think, that they cannot get air into their lungs; it is that they can’t get air out. And, as a result, their lungs are too full to receive life-giving air. The breathing cycle is disrupted and the person, swelling with over-inflation, begins gasping for breath.  This spiritual asthma is a similar dilemma. If we hold onto those things with which we fill our lives, to our habits and our fears and our misconceptions of what our life should be, there is no room left for the life-giving breath of God.  If we do not leave room, God cannot lend us breath.

Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. (Arundhati Roy)

On your Lenten journey, learn to breathe.  Learn to know from whom that breath comes.  And then learn to exhale.  What do you need to breathe in and, perhaps even hard, what do you need to breathe out?

Grace and Peace,


(And check our the weekly Lectionary notes at journeytopenuel.com )


Psalm 23: A Season of Shadows

ShadowsPsalter for Today:  Psalm 23 (Lent 4A) (KJV)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Lent is a season of shadows.  During this time we walk through the shadow of the Cross, the shadow of death, and, even, the shadow of our former selves.  Maybe that’s the point of Lent–to wrestle us away from our comfortable, perfectly-manicured lives, from all those things that we plan and perceive, from all those things that we hide and, finally, teach us to traverse the nuances that the journey holds.  And yet, think about it.  What exactly creates shadows?  The answer is light.  Light must be behind the shadowed object.  So, the shadow of the Cross, the shadow of death, even the shadow of our former selves cannot be without the Light.

This season of Lent is one that by its very nature is a journey through wilderness, through loss and despair and doubt and not really knowing what comes next. It is a journey through a place where all of a sudden God is not as God should be. No longer is God a freshly cleaned-up deity handing out three cotton candy wishes to faithful followers. In the wilderness, we find God in the trenches and in the silence of our lives. Or maybe it is that that is the place that we finally notice God at all. When our lives are emptied out, when our needs and our deepest emotions are exposed, is the time that a lot of us realize that God was there all along. Maybe Lent is way of getting to the depths of ourselves, the place where in our search for God, we find our faith in God, and there in the silence we find our hope.

In her book, When God is Silent, Barbara Brown Taylor tells “a story from the Sufi tradition about a man who cried, “Allah! Allah!” until his lips became sweet with the sound. A skeptic who heard him said, “Well! I have heard you calling out but where is the answer to your prayer? Have you ever gotten a response?” The man had no answer to that. Sadly, he abandoned his prayers and went to sleep. In his dreams, he saw his soul guide, walking toward him through a garden. “Why did you stop praising?” the saint asked him. “Because I never heard anything back,” the man said. “This longing you voice IS the return message,” the guide told him. The grief you cry out from draws you toward union. Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those people that think that God sends us suffering or heartache or grief to make us stronger or to test our faith or just to prove something. I don’t think I’d have a lot of respect for a God that has so little compassion for those who love God so much. God is always there, listening and guiding, and wanting us to get a sense of the holy and the sacred to which we’ve been called. But the point is that those times when life is not that great, when we struggle in the very depths of our being, are the times when God reaches through our waiting and our struggles and we can finally hear the silence that is God. We experience the biggest part of God when our need is the greatest.

Now I know that this Psalm brings about different thoughts and memories for each of us—some wonderful, some painful, some bittersweet. It’s probably one of those few passages that you can actually recite all the way through. It goes beyond the words, beyond the rhythm, beyond the hearing. It is truly beloved. It is a glimpse of the holy and the sacred.

My own standout experience with it happened several years ago. I was in seminary with little or no worship experience. I went to the funeral of one of my great aunts. And then, after the perfunctory family lunch (with our rather large family) and the funeral, we began to make our way to the cemetery for the burial. It was just a short drive. As we arrived, one of the ministers came up to me and asked me if I would like to read the Scripture at the graveside. Well, I have to tell you, when you’re in seminary, have little or no worship experience, and must now do this in front of your entire rather large family, many of whom are thinking it’s odd or wrong or at the very least just sort of cute that this woman is going to seminary to become a pastor, it’s a little overwhelming. I opened the funeral handbook (yes, there’s a funeral handbook! Perhaps we’re not as smart as you think!). And there, there it was…this wonderful Psalm. I would read that. But I did not choose it because I had opened to it; I did not choose it because it was familiar to me and I knew that there weren’t any hard words. I chose it because I knew that my grandmother, though nearly deaf, could hear it.  As I began to read, there was a stillness that settled over the crowd. The Spring wind that had been blowing all day stopped and all I heard was the faint sound of some wind chimes near the cemetery entrance. And I heard my voice but it didn’t sound like it was coming from me. As we got into the car to go, my grandmother whispered to me, “I heard you.” Don’t think it was a miracle; she didn’t hear a word I said. But it was part of her.   She had repeated it for 92 or 93 years. She no longer needed to listen to the words. She could hear them anyway.

Several years later, I stood in another cemetery beside my grandmother’s casket, reading these words again.  This time I had graduated from seminary and had a little experience in worship. But don’t get me wrong…there was also my entire rather large family, many of whom are thinking it’s odd or wrong or at the very least just sort of cute that this woman has become a pastor. At the cemetery, I read the Scripture. I chose the same Psalm, not because my grandmother could hear it, but because I could.  (I will say that my grandmother always insisted that this Psalm could ONLY be read in the King James Version, so let that be a lesson too!)

Life is filled with shadows, places that you did not plan to go, places that scare you and challenge you, places that are filled with pain.  But God did not call us to walk through blinding Light.  God called us to learn to see.  Maybe the shadows help us do that.  Maybe the shadows are the reason we see the Light.

Blessed are the ears which hear God’s whisper and listen not to the murmurs of the world. (Thomas A’Kempis)

On this fourth Sunday of the Lenten season, look into the shadows.  Live with them.  Let them lead you to the Light.

Grace and Peace,







Fast Track

FastingScripture Text:  Deuteronomy 8:3

[God] humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Lent is typically a season for fasting, for self-emptying oneself  of whatever overfills us.  And yet, fasting, is something that postively eludes most of us who live in this world of instant gratification and excessive consumption.  In fact, “going without” is completely anathema for us so fasting has more than likely been shoved to the back of the storage closet with all those other archaic things. After all, we want to believe in a God that blesses us with showers of abundance rather than a God that might on some days expect us to go without.  I’m afraid many of our somewhat fragile identities have a lot to do with what we have.  What if, instead, we were defined by what we could do without?  (That’s purely rhetorical…I have no answer!)

But fasting has for centuries and centuries been a part of just about every religious tradition.  The ancient Hebrews (and those of the Jewish tradition today) observe a special period of fasting as a sign of repentance on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.  Fasting was a sign of mourning or act of reparation for sins.  It was both a way to express repentance as well as prepare oneself inwardly for receiving the necessary strength and grace to complete a mission of faithful service in God’s name.  This was the reason that Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness–not to prove something but to prepare himself for a life of ministry.  Fasting is neither abstinence from nor avoidance of, but a journey into a place that’s empty enough to fill with what God offers.  Essentially, it is allowing oneself to die to self and to our selfishness and rise again in Christ.

So, why is it so hard?  Maybe it is not merely because we have a hard time going without (although I think that is a large part of it.)  Maybe it is because we are expecting it to produce results that it is not meant to produce. Fasting is not meant to make us lose weight or make us decrease our sugar consumption or whatever else you’re trying to cut back on.  Fasting is not meant to be manipulated in that way. It is meant to clear rather than produce.  Think of fasting as response–a response to grief or sin, a response to graciousness or thankfulness, a response to a God who calls us out ourselves.  But perhaps fasting is also about return, a return to our own self before we developed all these needs, before we stored everything away, a return to the self that God created–with proper perspective and an awareness of what basic needs actually are. If you look up the physiology of fasting, you will find that a body can survive for 40 days or more without eating (Well, isn’t THAT interesting?)  In that time, depriving a body of food is not starvation but rather a burning of stored energy.

But I have to say that fasting has never been a huge part of my spiritual discipline.  Being the good Methodist that I am, I have always maintained that I can “add” to my Lenten practice and do the same thing as fasting.  I’m not real sure, though, that that is the case.  (Although writing on this blog every day during Lent has become my Lenten discipline.)  Maybe, even metaphorically, I am only storing in excess, building and building for the future, trying to take as much of God’s abundance as I can and stash it away.  Maybe in this 40 days of fasting, we are indeed called to let something go, to return to who we are before we stored it all away–the “leaner”, fuller, more focused self who knew that our basic daily needs would be met and that the abundance of God was really about allowing God to fill our needs and fill our lives and show us the way.  In other words, we are called to give up our self-imposed “fast track” for a new and freeing Fast Track, a journey toward God with God.  And once our bodies and our minds and our souls (and our houses!) are cleared of all the stored excess, we will be open to what we need–the very breath of God who breathed life into us in the beginning and each and every day–if there’s room.

Fasting makes me vulnerable and reminds me of my frailty.  It leads me to remember that if i am not fed I will die…Standing before God hungry, I suddenly know who I am.  I am one who is poor, called to be rich in a way that the world does not understand.  I am one who is empty, called to be filled with the fullness of God.  I am one who is hungry, called to taste all the goodness that can be mine in Christ.  (Macrina Wiederkehr)

We are more than halfway through our Lenten journey.  Many of you may already be fasting from something for Lent.  But why don’t you try giving up those things that are not blamed for your weight or your high blood sugar, but the things that get in the way of your self, that person that God created you to be.  Try giving up anger or resentment or greed or worry.  Try giving up the need to be in control.  You may come up with others.  Just try it through the week-end and if that works out, make it part of first your Lenten discipline and then your Life discipline.

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,


Seeing What is Hidden From View


The Wizard of Oz (Revealed)
The Wizard of Oz (Revealed)

Scripture Passage:  John 9: 1-12 (13-41) (Lent 4A)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.  The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

Go and wash.  It sounds so simple.  So there must be something fishy about it, right?  Inherently, we are just distrusting creatures, are we not? It’s interesting that the first thing that people address here is sin. The man has been apparently blind from birth and their first thought is sin? Did he commit the sin? What an odd question! Was he supposed to have committed some sin in the womb that was apparently terrible enough to blind him for life? Or did his parents sin? It’s an odd line of questioning to us. They see a man that has missed out on so much of what life holds, that has never seen what you and I take for granted every day, and they immediately want to know what he did wrong or what his parents did wrong to deserve that.  (Ok, now don’t get too self-righteous about our own reaction.  We do the same thing.  I mean, what went wrong in that person’s life?  It must have been SOMEONE’S fault.)

But Jesus doesn’t see a sinner; Jesus doesn’t even see a blind man; Jesus sees a child of God. And so he reaches down into the cool dirt and picks up a piece of the earth. He then spits into his hand and lovingly works the concoction into a sort of paste. And then, it says, he spreads the mud into the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. And the man’s eyes were opened and he saw what had been always hidden from his view.

We love this story.  But there are so many that ask why we don’t hear accounts of healing such as this.  Maybe it’s because we’re looking for miracles with ordinary eyes, with the eyes of our world that need to explain and extract.  Maybe it’s because we do not see something new.  At the risk of destroying the story for you, does the blindness have to be physical?  It never says that, nor does it say that the blind man was “fixed”‘ or “cured”.  If it wasn’t a physical healing, would that lessen the story?  How miraculous it is for someone to see in a different way, to open one’s vision to what God has envisioned for us.

I couldn’t help (again) but think of the Wizard of Oz.  You see, everyone imagined what they would find–courage, heart, mind, and home–imagined what it would look like, how it would come.  But the curtain was torn back and revealed that the miracle-worker was part of this world.  He was just an ordinary person.  So how could he give them courage, heart, mind, and home?  It had to do with seeing what is hidden from view.

This season of Lent is as much about showing us our blindness, our darkness, as it is about bringing us light. For that is the way we see as God sees. It is a way of seeing anew, seeing beauty we’ve never seen before, seeing the Way of Christ. Rainer Maria Rilke said that “the work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.” That is the work of Lent—to release us from our spiritual blindness, from our old way of seeing, frozen in time, and to light the way for a vision of eternity.  We are called to see that which is hidden from view.  It is the work that allows us to see, finally, what has always been hidden from view.  You see (pun intended), it is time for the heart-work.

There are two ways to live:  you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)

Much of this Lenten journey is about seeing, about seeing through our spiritual blindness, our own often self-imposed darkness.  Now is the time for our heart-work.  What does that look like?  What heals you from your won spiritual blindness?

Grace and Peace,


So I Wait

Waiting on the journeyScripture Passage:  James 5: 7-10

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Patience…probably not my strong suit!  And isn’t waiting something that we talk about in Advent?  I thought Lent was supposed to be a journey, a time forward.  But journeys also include standing still, contemplating, thinking, perhaps waiting on change (or at least the traffic to clear).  You see, most of us probably not only want to know where we’re going but we also want to get there fast.  Waiting is not part of our make-up.  We’re programmed to keep moving, even though some of the steps may be painful.  We’re rather traverse the jaggedness of the path than stand and wait for something that we do not control.   It’s as if when we keep moving, we think we have some control, a sense that we are somehow responsible for changing things.

So I wait.

The Scripture talks about the farmer waiting for the crop. We probably understand that better than in most years.  This winter has been hard.  I’m still wondering if some of my plants will come back from the cold pain of the freezing temperatures.  I’ve done what I can.  Now I just wait.  It’s hard.  I like to know what direction things are moving.  But I wait.  My crepe myrtles in my back yard are always good for building patience.  They seem to take forever to come back, almost taunting me with their bare limbs.  I find myself looking to see if crepes are blooming around the neighborhood, wondering if there’s something wrong with them–or maybe something wrong with me.

So I wait.

Standing still–our lives don’t really encourage that–exposed, out of control, just waiting.  Maybe this vulnerability reminds us of our place or, more importantly, makes us appreciate the journey.  Part of this season and part of life is indeed about standing still.  A journey is seldom completed with constant motion.  We are just not made for that. (You can look up that seventh day concept when you have time!  You know…on the seventh day…) Sometimes we are meant to move; sometimes we are meant to stand still and savor what God has shown us.  Behold!  There is the cross.  There you are.  And if you stand still long enough, you will be able to see where you are headed.  We are not called to walk blindly into the unknown, never looking, never questioning, never contemplating where we are or where we’re going or where we’ve been; we are called to journey toward that which God has illumined in our lives.

So I wait.

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.  (Joseph Campbell)

By my count, this is the 20th day of the season (remember, not counting Sundays!).  We are halfway through.  Stop.  Wait.  From where have you come?  What have you learned about the journey that you can take forward?

Grace and Peace,


Light Exposure


Long-exposure Star Photography, by Lincoln Harrison
Long-exposure Star Photography, by Lincoln Harrison

Scripture Text:  Ephesians 5: 8-14 (Lent 4A)

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

This passage essentially contends that to “walk in the light” means that we are no longer naïve.  It is not about being happy or “blessed” in terms of how this world sees “blessed”.  The world is illumined by our faith.  We now must own a commitment to justice and compassion for all of Creation.  Light is goodness and justice and truth.  It is not about merely living a moral and righteous life; it is about witnessing to the light that is Christ.  Light and darkness cannot exist together.  As the passage says, light makes all things visible and then all things visible become light.  The Light of Christ makes that on which is shines light itself.  The passage exhorts us to wake up and see the light and then live as children of that light;  in essence, we are called to become light.

I don’t really think of this light of Christ as a bright, blinding spotlight.  It’s really much more nuanced and subtle than that.  Think illuminating, rather than blinding.  And it doesn’t dispel or destroy the darkness but rather illumines it.  It casts a different light, a light that illuminates all.  God, with infinite wisdom, gave us the power and the desire to see through the darkness and glimpse the light shining through, to see the Light that is Christ.  It is a light that is always present regardless of our view, that exposes all that is visible and makes that on which it shines light itself.  There is a Maori proverb that says “turn your face to the [light] and the shadows will fall behind you.”  They are not consumed; they are still there, light streaming into their midst.  Shadows do not exist without light.  Light is what makes them visible.  We are like that.  Exposed by the Light of Christ, we become visible; and by becoming visible, we become light, children of light, images of the Light that is Christ, the Light that is God.

Light exposure changes the thing that is exposed.  When something is exposed to light, it takes on some of those light particles.  Colors lighten and change.  We are no different.  Faith is about light exposure.  When exposed to the Light that is God, we change.  We take on part of that Light.  We become a ray of that Light, a light that becomes visible to all.  We are not meant to live in darkness.  We are created to be children of Light.  We are created to be changed.  There is still darkness.  There are still injustices and prejudices and suffering and pain.  There are still parts of the world begging for Light.  That is where we come in, those who have been exposed, forever changed, and who can do nothing else but shine forth.
I cannot create the light. The best I can do is put myself in the path of its beam. (Annie Dillard)
On this Lenten journey, there is darkness all around.  Go and be Light.  Be that to which you have been exposed.
Grace and Peace,

The Call to Prayer

Call to PrayerScripture Text:  Luke 11: 1

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

Teach us to pray…we still ask that.  Prayer seems to elude us.  We know that it is part of our spiritual journey but, yet, we still ask how.  When I was in Jerusalem a couple of years ago, I was struck by the Muslim Call to Prayer, Adhan, in Arabic, that rang out across the city five times a day.  I remember thinking that these people seemed to pray a lot more than I do, so I started praying at those times.  It was meaningful to feel a part of that rhythm, that call to return to God in the midst of life’s ritual and to journey with others who are called to the same thing.  I’m afraid that many of us tend to limit our prayers to our needs and the needs of others.  Our lives are wanting for prayer.  We want to know how to pray.  We want to have a deep and abiding prayer life that connects us with God and makes our lives richer and fuller.  How do you pray?  Who taught you to pray?  Why do you pray? What makes your prayer meaningful? Maybe that’s our problem.  We’re trying so hard to bring meaning to our prayer life that we’re not allowing our prayers to bring meaning to our life.  We’re trying so hard to find God that we don’t expect to experience a God who is already there.  God does not need our prayers; we do.  God does not have to be invited into our lives; we just have to open our eyes to God’s Presence that is already there.

The truth is, Jesus knew that.  He knew that people struggled to experience the real Presence of God and because of that, they also struggled with how to acknowledge and live with that Presence in their lives.  He knew that we struggled continuously with doubts about God and about what God wanted from us.  He knew that we struggle with what prayer should be.  So he begins where we are—in the midst of that silence that is God.  He began by showing the disciples what was at the very core of his own life—his relationship with God.  Because remember that Jesus had made prayer an integral part of his life.  How many times do we read of him “withdrawing to a deserted place to pray” or “going to the mountain to pray” or “spending the night in prayer with God?”  He prayed before he chose the disciples, when he fed the five thousand, and on the night before he was led to his death.  He even prayed on the cross, a prayer of centering and forgiveness.

The prayer that Jesus taught us to pray has nothing to do with knowing the right words.  It really is more about persistence.  Jesus continues in this passage by reminding us to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking.  Far from characterizing God as some sort of celestial Santa Claus who always brings good little boys and girls the things for which they ask, Jesus seemed to assume that God is already in motion, that God has already answered every prayer, and that God has already opened every door that needs to be opened and is standing at the threshold inviting us to enter.  So praying opens our lives to the presence of the God who is always and already there and gives us the realization that God provides life’s minimum daily requirements so that all we need to do is open ourselves to being with God.

The truth is, most of us starve ourselves for God.  We search and search for meaning and neglect to realize that there is but a bountiful feast laid before us for our consumption.  And yet, we continue to live on the junk food that we have created in our lives.  We just have to become aware of how badly we need nourishment.  And we need to pay attention to the rhythm that is part of us all.  Prayer is becoming a part of that rhythm, part of that creative Spirit that is God.  Prayer is more than words; prayer is being with God.

To pray is to go down into a deep well where the sound of the voice of God echoes in the darkness.  (Joan Chittister, in Listen With the Heart)

This Season of Lent is about re-patterning our lives to that Rhythm that is God.  Prayer is part of that.  As part of your Lenten discipline, why not set up your own “call to prayer” schedule.  Feel the Rhythm that it holds.

Grace and Peace,