Always in Hope and Prayer

Our_Mother_is_CryingAfter witnessing another round of Washington gridlock wherein all too many of the players jock only for their own personal best position, it is all too easy to lose hope.

All too easy to give up the fight when so many are aligned in an evil dance of pointing the finger at each other rather than at ourselves.

Our selfishness, our greed, our pride, our self-righteousness, our ambitions all serve to pit one against the other in an endless dance of death where neither can let go for fear of being dealt the final death-blow, and yet we slowly bleed  each other to death.

People are really suffering in our world, and people are really afraid. The two often don’t coincide. Those who live in fear, fear the one’s who are suffering and clutch all the more tightly those miserable things they have acquired, all the while attempting to build a fortress to contain these things from being taken.

Those who suffer do so in great silence, too weary from the struggle to just exist. The pain in their eyes echoes but one question: how can you let me die? Worse how can you let my innocent child die?

We argue over whether a human has the RIGHT to food, to shelter, to health care, as if it were a real question and not one created by forces that control the means of food, shelter and health and want only to exact a price for them in order to afford yet another jet, or condo, or island for their pleasure. It is all too awful at times, all to hard to fathom.

We were created in the image of God, yet we have distorted it by all the ugliness we continue to hold within us. Worse, we look at ourselves and see through this distortion our God become like us. How unnatural, how grotesque!

Yet there is this:

JUST ONE

I ask for just one miracle this weekend:
that I will no longer believe the impossible is.

That I will find the faith to believe
that liberation will come
for those who are imprisoned by their own
– or another’s –
fear and judgement.

That I will find the faith to believe
that the most intractable minds can be changed
– even my own.

That i will find the faith to believe
a different world will be born
from the empty hells of this one.

That I won’t stop living for the end
of all that would destroy us.

From Hold This Space

And from this praying upon unholy knees, we rise again to continue on, learning, teaching, reaching upward in love, in goodness, in equality, in justice, crying forth for a miracle of salvation for the human race.

Things are Not Set in Stone

sodomThere is a tension that exists in our faith.

On the one hand, we are told that God has a plan. Often when tragedy strikes and we wonder at how this or that thing has befallen us, others are quick to point out “God works in mysterious ways” and the platitude that “we can’t know the full plan of God”.

This all leads to the conclusion that on the one hand it’s all ordained. Life is nothing more than our living out what has already been decided. Taken to its logical conclusion, we don’t have to feel responsible for anything we do, for “it’s all part of God’s plan”.

Yet we are told that we have free will.

And the two seem in utter conflict. Either we decide our own fate on a daily basis or we don’t. God announces his intent, and Abraham begins to dicker with God.  By the end of his discourse, Abraham has whittled down those to save Sodom to ten. In the end there are only four.  God has changed his mind.

These are amazing things in and of themselves. This God of ours doesn’t know everything! He can be reasoned with! He can be led to change his mind!

What kind of God is this?

It’s hard to know. We are not asked to dwell on those questions of course. We are rather to dwell on how wonderful it is that we have a God that we can talk to and we can “make our case to”. We have a God who responds to calls for justice, and if our cause is just, and if we make it fairly and honestly, we will be heard! Our God is not arbitrary nor capricious.

In the Gospel reading, we are told exactly how to go about that. Jesus gives us the Our Father prayer, the one perfect introduction to discourse with God. Not only that, we are told that far from being wrong, persistence is favored by God. As we read of Abraham’s continuing to push at God over Sodom, we winced, silently saying, “oh goodness Abraham, stop now. Don’t make God mad! It’s enough that you got him to twenty! Don’t push your luck!”

Yet Jesus tells us that God doesn’t get angry at our persistence, quite the contrary. He is impressed perhaps by our willingness to not give up. Will he repay our persistence with with a scorpion? No Jesus insists. The squeaky wheel gets the grease it calls out for.

By our persistence we show to God our commitment. And by our commitment, we show our sincerity. We aren’t just giving our weekly laundry list of desires. We mean it! Needless to say, this is not always enough. If our desires are still frivolous we may find an unhearing ear in God. Wish for a million dollars because you want to be rich, and I’m thinking you won’t get a very positive reception. Saint Monica, it is said, prayed for years for the conversion of her son Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine, by his own admissions, was not a poster child of piety. Yet, he became one of the churches most revered doctors. He speaks to many exactly because of his personal story of what God can do to change one’s life. He is proof of the efficacy of prayer.

It has always been the case that humans have struggled with “fate” versus human control. We have established elaborate priesthoods, investing these people with special abilities to talk to God on our behalf. Jesus brings this down to each of us, and says, no, you too, by your humble asking will be heard and answered. If you are sincere and persistent, God will hear you. He will answer you. If you think that you are not Abraham and will be ignored, you are simply wrong. God doesn’t define worthiness in that way. Humans do.

The door is only closed because we have failed to realize that God waits with even greater patience than we can ever exhibit in our waiting. He will wait infinitely for us to knock. Will you wait another moment?

Amen.

Let Us Pray

Let Us Pray by gongfuren at Deviant ArtI’ve been thinking about prayer. I guess somebody out there might suggest that I DO more of it and not talk about it.

As I’ve often said, my mind tells me that faith must be logical. Therefore prayer, in some ways seems a fairly illogical thing. Let me explain.

I believe that God exists within me as Spirit. That spirit experiences life through me. As such, God is aware of every thought, every nuance of my life. He knows what I really believe, feel, desire, fear, in a more complete way that perhaps even I do.

That always begs the question of why pray? God already knows. No doubt there are a number of “Christians” (those who if asked do they believe in God would answer yes, but won’t think about God again until someone brings up the subject) find this pretty darn convenient. No reason to spend the time, God is already aware.

Christians are mighty good at making excuses. You’re prayer not answered? Why that’s simply.

  1. God works in mysterious ways.
  2. Sometimes God answers by “unanswered” prayers.
  3. Give God more time.
  4. God knows best, you’re asking for something that would be against your interests in the long run, or against God’s plan.

The point is, is there a point?

The conventional answer is that we pray because it is good for us. We find peace in the action. We feel the  burden of problems lighten when we turn them over to God. More importantly, we turn our minds from the world and enter into the realm of the transcendent.

What to pray about?

That becomes even more troublesome. I heard a man speak thusly:

My infant daughter was in the hospital and she was dying. She has been suddenly struck down by a genetic heart defect. Her time was short and the only treatment, her only chance, was a heart transplant. The chances were slim that a heart so tiny would be found. And I began to pray, until I was literally frozen still. How, I agonized, could I pray for a new heart for my baby daughter, when it must mean that some other father must lose his own child? How can I pray for that?

Indeed, we are often (or we should be) faced in prayer with the question–am I praying for some selfish thing that will benefit me and will be a burden to another? Even in the silliness of praying for our “team to win” aren’t we praying that others suffer disappointment?

Are we praying only for things and outcomes that make our lives happier and more manageable?

Do we spend much time in thanking God for what is? Need we? Doesn’t he already know? Back to that again! Yes he does know, but in the act of thanking, we remind ourself of our blessings. We remove ourselves out of ourselves so to speak and can see the bigger picture. We have perspective. Our problems shrink, and we can realize that others in our world suffer real maladies such as hunger and lack of shelter.

If you are at all like me, you might find that you talk a mile a minute to God. This is neither good nor bad. But it needs be tempered, I would argue, with some just “being in the presence” quiet.

I talk to our Brandy every morning and every night. I go out on the porch and I chat with her for a minute or two. I have no illusions about this, I realize that I am doing something that soothes me, making me feel close to her. I tease her about taking up flying as I watch a bird or butterfly flutter by. I feel close to her spirit. I realize in some hidden place that I am really talking to God, and he is comforting my hurt at losing my dog by this “conversation” each morning and night.

It is no different from discussing philosophy with the jade plant as I water it. God knows, and reaches out in the most gentle and tender ways to be “with us.” A formal prayer is simply one way to reach out, or reach in.

Amen.

 

Entering Into the Heart

As we traverse the landscape of Lent, we seek to enter into the life of Jesus in a deeper and more personal way. We seek to unite ourselves, through him into the Oneness of God.

We seek to strengthen our prayer life as a means to this end. I am, as I’ve noted, engaging in Centering Prayer, but there are other methods that are thoroughly Christian, yet in their practice resemble, in the doing, traditions that are recognizable as Eastern in their essence.

One of these is the practice of lectio divina. Although it has been associated with Catholic practice,  it is done by Episcopalians and I assume others who have found it to be a wonderful way of entering into scripture more fully.

It consists of four stages (not steps as Cynthia Bourgeault points out so clearly. *) The first is to select a passage of scripture, shorter rather than longer. (lectio) Read it prayerfully, aloud if possible. Perhaps a second reading. Second, bring your mind and feelings into the passage (meditatio). Ask questions, delve into the characters, identify what “grabs” you.

The third stage is prayer, inviting your feelings into a word or phrase until it begins to speak to you. (oratio) What is God saying to you? Allow insights to come, as scripture moves from your head to your heart. You move deeper into the phrase, as scripture comes alive in new meaning.

The fourth stage is a “resting in God” . Suspend the mind and emotions and remain quiet. (contemplatio).  The Word joins the silence and is fully integrated.

This form of practice can be thrilling. We are cautioned that each day is different. We may move from stage 1 to 3, back to 2, or something different. We can spend more or less time at any stage. It can be a profound method with benefits that are numberous. We see into the scripture more fully, into ourselves more deeply and we connect in that unitive way with the divine. We come away with calmness, and connectiveness.

Give it a try, perhaps using portions of the Lenten readings of the day.

Amen.

*Cynthia Bourgeault says we should not consider lectio divina  as a series of steps, because that creates a ladder in our minds, and tend to focus on the climb. Rather she suggests, we should consider it a wheel of stages, each entered into as long as needed or desired, moving fluidly to any other stage, perhaps returning, or not to any stage. There are no rules essentially.

**Taken from Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, by Cynthia Bourgeault, (Chicago: Cowley Publications) 2004

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