puppies

There was a time when I was queen of the coupon clippers. Whenever I’d go to the gas station, I’d use my grocery store’s gas points card, which rewarded points based on groceries bought. Once while filling up my tank, I realized my gas points had earned me a dollar off of every gallon in my tank and I’d saved ten dollars! I was so happy, I gave the gas station attendant a five dollar tip.

Well, if I thought I was happy, I had no idea what happy looked like until the young man held that tip in his hands. You’d have thought I’d given him a package full of puppies wrapped in rainbows! He literally tilted his head and said, “Aw, you! You’re just too…” as he looked at me and grinned. “That is so…!” he couldn’t even finish the sentence he was so touched.

Itdoge-meme-blank-05 occurred to me that he might actually chuck my chin😊! I made a side-eye “doge face” (so scare), wished him well and high-tailed it out of there. I saw him in the rearview, mouth agape, watching as I drove away.

It’s unusual to see genuine gratitude these days, isn’t it? Maybe we’re used to having our needs met on a consistent basis, and we forget that’s not something everyone in the world can say.

Many of my son’s friends have come to our house through the years, and they’ve become like part of the family. One young man was over for breakfast, lunch and dinner one summer and my grocery bill increased by $50 a week! One day, he showed up, handed me a wrapped gift and politely said, “Thanks for the hospitality, Miss Ruth.” I thanked him for the gift and cocked my head. “Your grandmother made you do this?” He nodded sheepishly. “It’s okay, son. You still get the points for it. Come on in!”

That’s the way I think of prayer. Sometimes it’s asking for something. That’s the “please.” Sometimes it’s appreciating what you’ve got. That’s the “thank you.” Just a very small nod to a very big God.

sock-monkeysLast week, one of our readers, Michel, asked me something important.  “Is praying asking God something? Is not simply to talk to him, to feel in him?”  I reread my post and realized that if you didn’t know me, you might very easily think that I only prayed when I wanted something. In my heart, I know that prayer is much more than a chance to ask God for something.

While prayer does give us the opportunity to ask God for help or guidance, it is also a chance to simply talk to him, to be heard, to share what it is that concerns us on that day.  But prayer is also a conversation and our opportunity to hear God’s words directly to us.

That’s a tough one for me.  I often comment about my monkey mind.  More accurately, I probably have a “monkeys” mind.  Not one monkey but many monkeys, screaming and swinging through the trees.  My mind is quite frequently more than a little chaotic.

Fortunately, there are numerous ways that I can calm my mind enough to hear God.  I walk.  I practice yogic breathing.  I color.  I knit.  I follow a local labyrinth.  And I listen.  These are all part of my prayer life.

The reality is that I don’t really need to ask God for anything.  He knows what is in my heart, both what I want and what I need.  He knows what worries me and what scares me in the dark of night. I don’t truly need to ask Him for anything or tell Him what is on my mind, but I do.

Why?  Because prayer is a chance to reorient myself toward God.  Prayer reminds me to look to Him, to listen for Him and to bask in His presence.

Even if my mind is a troop of screeching monkeys.

–SueBE

Last Friday, we drove to Indiana in the rain. Not just any rain: This was a downpour, a thrashing, a blinding, ceaseless waterfall of rain — rain so heavy, you couldn’t see the car just ahead of you until you were this close. We could have pulled off the road — if we could have found an exit, and a safe parking lot, and if the rain might’ve abated (it didn’t, for two hours). Instead, we prayed.

My tongue was jumping around my mouth like there was a hot stone in it. Forget about eloquence — this was gut-level fear talking, a constant call for help. At one point, it looked as if a semi was about to run us off the road. I yelled, “Jesus!” — not as an expletive or an angry rebuttal, but as a child calling for her friend to stand by her side against a gang of bullies.

Prayer without ceasing: I ought to do it more often, and not just in panic situations. How could all of our lives be bettered from the consistent application of prayer?

My tongue
a wet, flopping thing
blind as a bird, just
out of the egg. Ungainly,
gutted by effort, exhausted,
still sings in my mouth.
In praise, my prayer
finds feathers,
flies.

  • Someone saying, “I’m speechless!”
  • The Lone Ranger had a sidekick.
  • “Stay out of trouble,” I said to my teen-age son. “And have fun!”
  • A faith that claims to welcome all, simultaneously excluding some.

So I’m no longer driving, and have discovered Uber. I’ve met many drivers – some say very little, and some are quite talkative. Last week, my Uber driver chatted amiably with me, inquiring about my Freelance Writing projects and suddenly asked, “Are you a Christian?” I said that I was. “Well, we should talk.” He handed me his card, and it listed his title as, “Church Planting Catalyst.” He suggested that I might be interested in writing about their movement.

I mentioned to him that I don’t belong to a church, and it occurred to me that my writing to encourage people to go to church would be an intrinsic oxymoron. He told me that it wasn’t an issue and asked me to think about it and take a look at their website.

The site talks about the important role that believers play in establishing new churches in communities. It spoke of welcoming all believers, but as I read on, I noted an intrinsic oxymoron, and that is, women have no role in the organization. At all. It seems to be geared toward men exclusively, only referring to “ministry wife” as an option for women.

It would be another intrinsic oxymoron for me, a woman, to take on a writing project that would exclude women from making meaningful contributions.

Outreach to me is what SueBE’s Presbyterian faith does, as she wrote about in an earlier post – standing up for social justice. It’s what Lori’s Catholic Church does to minister to those in need. In my town, it seems that Catholic Charities helps more families than the government’s social services.  

Even the word “outreach” is all-encompassing, so I’m puzzled as to why any faith would decide to bypass some of God’s children. So, while I’m always in the market for new writing gigs, I think I’ll take an Uber to another destination. Somewhere that everyone is welcome to ride.

tibetan-prayer-flags-1384193_1920

Tibetan prayer flags

In her last post, Lori asked if we still pray for the same reasons and in the same way that we did five years ago?

How I pray changes weekly. It depends on the time of the year and whether or not I need to move.  Sometimes I’m kneading bread. Sometimes I’m knitting.  Some days I walk or color.  It just depends.

Why I pray, on the other hand, hasn’t change all that much.  I pray in response to the world around me.

I pray for my family.  Five years ago, my father was recovering from a stroke.  Now, because of dementia and mobility issues, he’s living in a nursing home.  My son was in middle school, which he loathed.  Now he’s a senior in high school and loves some of his classes.  Some is quite an improvement.

I pray for our leaders.  I truly believe that most people who go into politics do so with the best of intentions.  They want to help and they think that public office is the way to do it, but power is a lot like alcohol.  A little bit goes a long way and some people handle it poorly.

I pray for our planet and the poor. I’m heavy into social justice but I’m betting you all know that. I pray for patience.  I actually pray for patience quite often.

I’m not discouraged because I’m praying for more or less the same things I prayed for 5 years ago. They’re broad categories. They’re life.  I know God is listening and I’m equally certain that he answers.  Some things just take a while to come together, and some of us learn very slowly (see me and patience above).

Some of the answers to my prayers?

Obama.

My son who had been talking about the military is now talking college.  No, the military isn’t bad but it wouldn’t be a good fit for him.  He’s too much like me.

My Dad is in a nursing home getting the help he needs.

Pastor Sean.  When we were looking for a minister, we knew what we wanted.  We went through over 200 applications.  This man was not what we wanted but as soon as we saw his resume, we knew.  He is what we need.

Choir Director Charlie.  She’s only been with us for a week and finding her was a long time coming. She’s heavy into “feeling the Spirit” and “feeling the music.” So looking forward to seeing where she takes us.

And, as we journey together, I’ll be praying.  It might be while I walk.  It might be in song, but it will be.

–SueBE

What follows is a pared-down version of the first post I ever wrote for this blog. I thought it might be time for review, to get my bearings, so to speak. I am still wandering, making great loops back to familiar subjects — prayer, faith, justice, the Church — yet remaining open to new discoveries along the way. How has your spirituality changed in the past five years? Do you still pray for the same reasons and in the same way?

I just read a fascinating article about how, if you blindfold a person (or place him in fog, complete darkness, or other sight-diminishing circumstances) and ask him to walk, drive or otherwise move himself in a straight line across some distance, he will end up making circles, loop after loop, until he either winds up where he started, or runs into a tree or other unfortunately placed item. Without sight cues like a mountain or a building to guide us, we can’t walk a straight line.

This reminds me of why I pray. God is my mountain — He shows me where I want to go — but prayer keeps me on track. It’s like echolocation is to bats or whales. It helps me finds my way, stay on the path, keep my eyes ahead on what is important. Prayer grounds me. It keeps me from running in circles, willy-nilly, never making progress. Because, let’s face it, we’re all blindfolded to some degree. If we saw with complete clarity, we would never hurt one another or ourselves. But things get in the way: jobs, people, everyday life, our own psychological tics. We need something to pull our eyes out of our own navels and show us the world not just realistically, but with hope. Because without hope, there’s no use standing up at all. You might as well curl up in a ball and die.

All of this is to say that I pray because I need to see the way. But we all have different reasons to pray. That’s sort of how this blog came about…the need for us to talk about prayer and create prayer so we can find our way to the light. Or express our emotions. Or shower God with rightful praise. Or whatever it is that motivates each one of us to a prayerful life.

So what about you? Why do you pray?

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My son, Cole, graduated from high school this past June, and he received many lovely gifts, but the one that warmed my heart was a simple card that he received from his sister, Isabel.

At first blush, one might see a re-purposed holiday card, but look closely: it’s actually a benediction. It’s a five-year-old girl’s way of bestowing a blessing on one of her favorite people in the world.

Isabel really loves some Cole. And I can honestly say, the feeling is mutual.

Once, while she was visiting, I asked my son to put out the garbage and recycle bins, and he headed for the door. “I want to help!” Isabel said. “No, honey, it’s garbage. Dirty.” “But I can help Cole!” she insisted. “Well, okay. You can be his helper,” I said. “You walk with him as he carries out the cans.”

And she did. Silently, scrupulously, she walked side-by-side with her brother as he carried one, two, three cans of garbage. It was impressive that she could match his loping teen-age stride, as he’s 6”3, and, at five-years-old, she’s considerably shorter. She walked exactly in his footsteps. If he stopped short, so did she. If he scratched his cheek, she did, too. My son noticed her doing this and I saw that he smiled ever so slightly. I was amazed that the kids putting out the garbage could almost move me to tears!

The nice thing is, as Isabel said so eloquently in the graduation card she wrote to Cole, they love each other, but they also like each other. That’s a big deal. You can’t force kids to enjoy each other’s company, even if they live in the same household, and these two live in different homes.

The graduation card may look like a Christmas card to most, but to me, it’s actually a gift card. What a gift to have kids in our lives! What a gift to have family that gets along so well! What a gift to see the ones you love making their own way in the world. Well, come to think of it… with all these gifts, maybe it is Christmas after all.

season-of-peace-logo3When you mention a season of peace, I’m inclined to think of Christmas and the dove. But right now is the Season of Peace in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

This is the season leading up to World Communion on October 2.  The emphasis this next month is on peacemaking, peacekeeping and community building. There is also an emphasis on ecumenical cooperation, people of different faith backgrounds working together. This is a time for people of different belief systems to come together and work to help those who are practically powerless as they stand against those who abuse their power.

I practically did a happy dance when I saw that, as part of this, the Church stands in support of the protectors working to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. What does this have to do with ecumenical community building?

Not only will this pipeline threaten the reservations water supply, bulldozers are already tearing up sacred burial grounds to put the pipeline in place. Sacred burial ground. Protectors have also pointed out that they are trying to halt or lessen damage to the sacred environment. They say it is sacred, but the dominant culture says it is not. The oil companies say it is not.

Protectors have set up prayer camps. The state government has removed their water.  Something tells me that they don’t see the irony in that. People of power are frequently irony impaired.

Me? I’m standing with the church, the earth and the people of Standing Rock. I have to constantly remind myself that this is, still, A Season of Peace.  I’m a fighter, a scrapper whose willing to stand up and shout for what I believe.  Right now I’m sending up prayers for a peaceful solution.  But I’m also speaking up and speaking out.  I raise my eyes and my voice to the Lord, hear our prayers for these men and women who are standing to support the water that all life requires.  Oh, Lord, help protect the sacred waters.

–SueBE

As a child I specialized in fingers and toes,
dipping quickly, as in a dish of holy water.
But now I find desire, insistent, to immerse
myself in it, stealing under its surface
splashlessly,
sinking into the bathwater warmth of it,
finding it breathable and good to drink.
Making a home of it, deep in the depths of it,
where eyes can see for miles
through the blue of it,
where all needs converge,
liquefied into the very element
of which we are, mostly.
Finding common space there,
and communion. There is no need
to surface. I may stay here,
throughout my second half,
slowly softening, becoming,
myself, immaterial,
until I can be seen no more
but am consumed by stillness,
needing body no more than
prayer necessitates words.

Scanning the headlines this week, I found myself leaping to conclusions and making assumptions. Before I knew it, I was psycho-analyzing public figures I don’t even know.

Governor Paul LePage of Maine found himself in hot water last week when he left a profane, threatening voicemail for a Democratic lawmaker. He’s ignited a lot of controversies lately, most of which are exacerbated by his brash style. I came to the conclusion that LePage was still fighting battles from his hardscrabble childhood. Okay. Figured him out. Next subject.

Flipped over to the Entertainment Section and read that actress Blake Lively had a baby shower that singer Taylor Swift attended. Hmm. That Taylor Swift has been collecting famous friends for years now. Probably a direct result of Kanye West ruining her VMA award moment.  Must be trying to prove that people really do like her. Okay. Figured her out. Next subject.

Of course, it did occur to me that these are people I’ve never met, and never will meet. The only “facts” I’ve got at my disposal are those found on the internet. I have no degree in psychology, so everything I’m assuming is just my own best guess.

One of my favorite sitcoms is The Odd Couple with actors Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. In one episode, Randall’s character, Felix Unger, says, “Never assume. When you assume, you make and ass out of u and me.”

We all make assumptions about each other, but we don’t know the whole story. It’s a good idea not to take our own meanderings too seriously. Lest we forget, people are making assumptions about us, too.

So even as I find myself putting on a judge’s robe that I never earned and banging a gavel in my own mind, I’ll also send up a quick prayer. “Bless them,” I’ll ask. “And forgive my little lapses.” I’m more grateful than ever that God’s grace is such a big umbrella!

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