Always

Presence of God Scripture Text:  Thessalonians 5: 16-19
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.  May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

Pray without ceasing?  Are you kidding me?  Think how much we have to do in this season!  I mean, prayer is a good thing, a great thing in fact.  We all know that.  But pray without ceasing?  As in ALWAYS?  So, what do we do with those distractions, with all those who need us to do something?  What do we do with life?  What do you do with all the preparations that the season holds?  How do you fit that in?  Uh oh…Spirit effectively quenched!  Not good…I hate it when that happens!

 

The truth is, Paul was not telling us that we had to spend our days body-bent and knee-bowed.  The truth is, there is WAY too much work to do.  We’ve got some Kingdom-building to do, after all.  Paul was not calling us to a life spent in prayer but rather to a prayerful life, a life that is sacred, hallowed, a life lived in the unquenchable Spirit of God.  This has nothing to do with counting the number of hours or minutes or nano-seconds that you spend in prayer.  A prayerful life is one that sees everything as hallowed and holy, sees everything as of God, embraces life as a gift rather than a vessel to be filled with things and to do lists and results.  Praying without ceasing is not about “doing”; it is about being. Olga Savin says that “[the Scriptures] tell us that ceaseless prayer in pursuit of God and communion with [God] is not simply life’s meaning or goal, the one thing worth living for, but it is life itself.”  And a life lived the way it is called to be lived is the very will of God, the very will of, as the Scripture says, the one who is faithful.  It is prayer–ceaseless prayer.

 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in our Advent waiting, we found a time of prayer, we found a time, as Mary did, to ponder (Luke 2: 19).  Maybe THAT’S what’s wrong with us.  Maybe we’ve lost our ability to ponder, to be attentive to what resides in the deepest part of our soul, to be aware of God’s Presence in our lives.  Maybe this time of waiting is so that we’ll take the opportunity to do some serious pondering, to pray without ceasing.  After all, what in your life is NOT holy?  What in your life is NOT positively bursting with the Divine?  What in your life is NOT a gift from God?  Well, the answer is nothing.  There is NOTHING in your life that is not full to the very brim–spilling-over-chock-full-seemingly-unable-to-put-anything-else-in-brim–with the presence of the one who calls you, the one who is faithful, the one who is ALWAYS there.  Make everything you do an offering to God.  Let everything you have and everything you are be a preparation for God’s coming.  Offer it to God.  G.K. Chesterton once said “let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”  Praying without ceasing is probably more about living, about loving, about holy waiting, than it is about prayer as we often define it.  It has little to do with the words we say and everything to do with tuning ourselves to the conversation that God is already inviting us to live.

 

The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw—and knew I saw—all things in God and God in all things.  (Mechtilde of Magdeburg, 13th century)

 

FOR TODAY:  Pray without ceasing.  Look around you.  EVERYTHING that you see, EVERYTHING that you touch, EVERYTHING that you imagine, EVERYTHING that you let loose, EVERYTHING that you pick up, EVERYTHING that you eat, EVERYTHING that you love, EVERYTHING that is you…EVERYTHING is full to the brim with God.  Pray without ceasing.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

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,

Shelli

 

Intersection

The Way of the Cross
Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1603)
Koninklijk Museum Voor Schone Kunsten (Belgium)

Scripture Passage:  Matthew 11: 28-30
28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In this Season of Lent, we are called to deepen our own walk with Christ.  This means moving beyond what Christ does for us.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  Christ does everything for us.  But our relationship with Christ does not stop at that.  God is more than some sort of divine vending machine.  We are called to do more than worship the God who gives us everything; we are called to enter the Way of Christ itself, the Way of the Cross.  It means experiencing all of Christ–the birth, the ministry, the life, the Passion, the crucifixion, the death, the Resurrection–on the deepest and most profound level.  It means moving from being an observer to being a participant with Christ.  It also means entering our own humanity at the deepest level. It means becoming real.  Sadhu Sundar Singh says  that “if we do not bear the cross of the Master, we will have to bear the cross of the world, with all of its earthly goods.  Which cross have you taken up?  Pause and consider.

Over the last few years, I have become more and more drawn into the Stations of the Cross, that 4th century devotional tool that helped pilgrims flocking to the Holy Land from all parts of the world to walk in the Way of Christ.  It has become more than a way of prayer.  It is real, full of the depth and breadth of human experience and emotion, full of the power to move one beyond oneself, full of Christ.  These Stations, also called the “Way of the Cross”, the “Way of Sorrows”, the “Sorrowful Way”, and the “Via Dolorosa”, are a pilgrimage not just to the historical places of Jesus (because, truth be known, the places marked as stations in the streets of Jerusalem are really just good guesses) but to the Way to which we are called.

In this walk of faith, we are clear that we are called to worship and revere God, our Creator, the very Spirit that runs beneath us and at the same time courses through our veins.  This is the God who is there just ahead of us, calling us forward, calling us home.  This is our very source of gravity, that straight and perfect plumb-line that connects us to the Holy and the Sacred.  And yet, in science, relative strength is measured not just with the vertical pull of gravitational force, but with the horizontal relationship to that force itself. And true horizontality, the strongest point, occurs at the intersection with the vertical.  This Way that we walk with Christ, this horizontal side-by-side with Jesus gives meaning to our worship and reverence and draws it strength at that point.

So in the midst of our Lenten journey, remember that it is more than becoming a better person, more than developing a deeper relationship with God.  It is about worshipping and walking, walking and worshipping.  It is about entering the way of Christ.  So in the midst of these writings, let us walk this Way of the Cross.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli  

ADVENT 3B: Hallowed Be

Lectionary Passage:  1 Thessalonians 5: 16-19 (20-24)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.

How do you pray without ceasing?  I mean, OK, now, let’s pray.  We pray and we pray.  Things are going OK.  We’re praying along.  Wait, who’s phone is that?  Hold on, it’s mine.  Stop praying.  Answer the phone.  OK, now, I need to pick up the house a bit.  And I need to write the blog for tomorrow.  And tomorrow is trash day.  And Maynard needs his dinner. And, to be honest, I think I do too.  Pray without ceasing?  Really?  How do you fit that in?  And, sadly, the Spirit is quenched.

Paul was not laying down a rule for prayer.  Paul never envisioned us living body-bent and knee-bowed 24/7.  After all, there is WAY too much work to do.  We’ve got some Kingdom-building to accomplish, don’t we?  No, Paul was not calling us to a life spent in prayer; He was calling us to a prayerful life, a life that is sacred, hallowed, a life lived in the unquenchable Spirit of God.  It’s not about logging prayer hours.  Rather, it’s about perspective, about seeing everything that is your life as hallowed and holy, as of God, as prayer.  Olga Savin says that “[the Scriptures] tell us that ceaseless prayer in pursuit of God and communion with [God] is not simply life’s meaning or goal, the one thing worth living for, but it is life itself.”  And a life lived the way it is called to be lived is the very will of God.  It is prayer.

And so, pray without ceasing.  When you answer the phone, cherish the family member or the friend or the co-worker who has called you.  In fact, give thanks for the person on the other end who inadvertantly dialed the wrong number.  After all, they, too, are your brother or sister.  God has called us to love one another.  And as you clean and straighten, look around you.  Your dwelling is more than shelter.  It is an expression of you.  Give thanks for the you that God has made.  And then do what God has called you to do.  Use your talents.  Give thanks for them.  They were given to you by God to use in the building of God’s Kingdom.  And that big black lab that wants his dinner?  Personally, I thank God everyday for bringing us together.  How did I find a companion like this on the internet?  He needed me; I needed him.  Isn’t that why Creation exists?  Then sit back and taste dinner.  Taste that which has been lovingly grown by the Divine.  And give thanks.  Every household task, everything thing you do, do as a prayer.  And all of those never-ending interruptions?  Think of them as holy.  (After all, think about it–when did God show up as planned?)  Make everything you do an offering to the Divine.  Let everything you have and everything you are be a preparation for God’s coming.  Embrace it.  Rejoice in it.  Give thanks.

In this season of waiting for the coming of God, pray without ceasing.  In other words, live your life to the fullest and the best.  Offer it to God.  And rejoice in what you have–companionship, beauty, work, love.  G.K. Chesterton exhorted us to “let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” I love that.  You know, God is coming. It will happen. But don’t forget that God is here. Rejoice! And live your life waiting and rejoicing, rejoicing and waiting.  And, most of all, love.  That is how you pray without ceasing.
 
In this season of Advent, give yourself the gift of seeing your life as prayer, of living in a love affair with God.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Lenten Discipline: Bowing and Becoming

“Then Jesus went to a place called Gethsemane…” (Matt. 26: 36)

During the Sundays of this season of Lent, I am posting some thoughts on different spiritual disciplines.  Today I have chosen prayer.  Who am I to talk about prayer?  After all, it is probably “THE” spiritual discipline, the one that we all do (or think we should do more often!), that we all know (or think we should know better!), that we all feel like we should be doing better.  So, what is prayer to you?  At its simplest it is a conversation with God, a connection with the holy and the sacred.  So why is it that most of us claim that we need a deeper prayer life.  Are we not satisfied with the conversation?  Are we not getting the answers we want?  Or do we think that God wants more from us?  My guess is that it would be a little of all of the above.

In my “previous life” before ordained ministry, I sang in the choir as a layperson.  We almost always did a choral response following The Lord’s Prayer.  So, to this day, I cannot say that prayer in worship without looking up when I get to the last line, as if I’m still watching for the cue from the director.  (Of course, if you who go to St. Paul’s and you already know that, I guess it means you don’t have your eyes closed either!)  But, the point is that I cannot NOT do it and when I catch myself looking up while everyone’s heads are still bowed in prayer, I’m always a little embarrassed.  But, when you think about it, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.  Prayer is a way of  “attuning ourselves to a conversation that is already going on deep in our hearts”, as Marjorie Thompson says (in Soul Feast, p. 31.). It does not end with “Amen.”  It, like most good spiritual disciplines and all good faith stories, ends with a beginning.  It ends with our becoming engaged with God and joining what began long before we came along to the story.

There is a story from the Sufi mystical tradition of a disciple that comes to an elder for direction.  “Where shall I find God?” the disciple asked the elder.  “God is with you,” the Holy One replied.  “But if that is true,” the disciple asked, “why can I not see this Presence?” “Because you are like the fish who, when in the ocean, never notices the water.”  It is not that God is not with us; it is that we are unaware of that incredible Presence. (From There is a Season, by Joan Chittister, p. 14.)

And yet, most of us tend to pray prayers as if we’re throwing something out to a God that is “out there” somewhere, hoping against hope that God will pick them up and answer them (hopefully with the answer that we desire!).  We are told to “turn everything over to God.” I don’t think, though, that God meant to be in this alone.  Our prayers should not resemble our Christmas list of desires or even our grocery list of needs.  Rather, our prayers are our way of connecting to and entering the heart of that incredible Presence that is everywhere that we can imagine and everywhere that we will never know, the Presence of God.  Think of prayer as reaching and grasping, connecting and attuning, enfolding and becoming a part of the holy and the sacred God that is everywhere in our lives.  Prayers are indeed answered.  We just have to attune ourselves to the answer that is already present in our lives.  God’s desire is to fulfill our heartfelt prayers by filling our open heart with God.

Prayer is indeed “THE” spiritual discipline.  In fact, prayer is everything we are and everything we do, our whole life, every breath, every person we meet, every word we say, every thought we think that brings us closer to knowing this God who is already there.  Think of your “amen” as the beginning of that journey of holiness and wholeness that fills your life.  Maria Boudling says of prayer:  “All your love, your stretching out, your hope, your thirst, God is creating in you so that God may fill you…God is on the inside of the longing.”  And needing to pray, or wanting to pray, or just knowing that you “should” be praying means that you have already entered the conversation.  Amen.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed,
the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh, the falling of a tear, 
the upward glancing of an eye, when none but God is near.
Prayer is the simplest form of speek that infant lips can try;
prayer the sublimest strains that reach the Majesty on high.
Prayer is the contrite sinners’ voice, returning from their way,
while angels in their songs rejoice and cry, “Behold, they pray!”
Prayer is the Christians’ vital breath, the Christian’s native air;
their watchword at the gates of death; they enter heaven with prayer.
O Thou, by whom we come to God, the Life, the Truth, the Way:
the path of prayer thyself hast trod; Lord, teach us how to pray!
                                           (James Montgomery, 1818, in The United Methodist Hymnal, # 492) 

So, in this Lenten season, become your prayer and let your prayer become part of all that is God.



Sometimes You Just Have to Wait…(See “A Season for Pruning”, 03/31/2011)

 Grace and Peace,

Shelli