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It’s a big world, but I live in a closed-off cul-de-sac.

I see myopically with these near-blind eyes.

I hear selectively with these stubborn old ears.

I feel reflexively with overwrought emotion.

Many things aren’t humanly possible,

but everything is “godly” possible.

Vantage point: In the world.

Out of my element.

Under the gun.

When I finally get on my knees,

troubles seem temporary

and hope, habit-forming.



They say cleanliness is next to godliness.  I’m not sure either one of these is actually a word, to be honest.  In either case, I miss the mark.  By a mile.  My house is usually cluttered and messy, and I’m not even close to being an example of someone who might remotely be considered “godly.”  But I do give both my best shot.

Just what does it mean to be “godly” anyway?

I much prefer affirmations I can understand.  Better still, ones that fit on a post-it note.

One of the greatest sayings about the nature of existence is also the shortest.  “Simplify, simplify!” Thoreau said.  In his day, he was probably thought of as an oddball.  He went out to live in the woods and examine the lint in his navel.  Well, not really.  He went to find his place in the universe, and came to the conclusion that we don’t need much to create a meaningful life.

I like to believe that truth isn’t complicated, at its core.  That it really is possible to do the right thing, be a good person, and know at the end of the day that you did your best.  This is as close as I can get to an actual definition of “godliness,” since after all, so many of us worship different gods.

So here’s my simple theory about people of faith:  if you don’t treat people well, you don’t know God.

There are many ways of getting the gospel out into the world – or should I say, the gospel as each individual interprets it – and none of them is as effective as living your creed, quietly.  I like when people tell me about the good deeds they do. I like it better when they actually do the good deeds instead of talking about it.

For me, the litmus test to determine if someone is living what they believe is examining how they treat people. Some might say that the end justifies the means when you’re trying to save peoples’ immortal souls.  Or that, in business matters, it’s acceptable to be brusque or even rude to people if they are not cooperating with you or haven’t done their job well.

All I can tell you is that how you treat people really matters.  There may be someone you’ve asked to do a job for you, and they’ve done it half-heartedly.  It may be that they’ve got a newborn at home and haven’t slept at all for days.  It may be that their mother is sick and in the hospital.  If you don’t know the whole story, assume there is one.  Even if, like me, you can’t always keep up with the housework, keep up with the soulwork.  Have a heart.  Represent your faith and your God by treating people well.  How about if I come up with a catchy cliché to sum up this post:  Kindness creates clean karma.  Might not fit on a post-it note, but I’ll bet it would work in a fortune cookie!

I found this particular prayer about a week ago.  I may have seen it before then, but last week was when I needed to see it.  As Lori pointed out, it fits well with today — Ash Wednesday.

Prayer for Quietness of Thought

Give me, O Lord that quietness of heart that makes the most of labor and of rest. Save me from passionate excitement, petulant fretfulness, and idle fear, keeping me ever in the restful presence of Thy love.

Teach me to be alert and wise in all responsibilities, without hurry and without neglect. Tame Thou and rule my tongue, that I may not transgress Thy law of love. When others censure, may I seek Thine image in each fellow man, judging with charity, as one who shall be judged.

Banish envy and hatred from my thoughts.

Help me to be content amid the strife of tongues, with my unspoken thought. When anxious cares threaten my peace, help me to run to Thee, that I may find my rest and be made strong for calm endurance and valiant service.

Amen

This week Ruth suggested that we contemplate what it means to be Godly.  Do we deal with others in a godly way?  Do we live godly lives?

Yes.  Sure.  Of course, I do.

But the more I thought about it, the less sure I became, so I went online and searched for information on living a Godly life.  Wow.  I have to say that for the most part, what I found was pretty underwhelming.  Take, for example, the ones written specifically for women.  Being a Godly woman seems to mean being a good wife – obey your husband and all that.

Not that I’m discounting this particular opinion, but that’s really the be all and end all of being a Godly woman?  Being an obedient wife?  What if you’re not married?  What if you’re a widow? What if, for the sake of being an argumentative pain, your husband wants you to sell drugs to kindergartners?

Its not like any of these sermons or blogs said “only obey your husband if he’s a good person.”   There had to be more.  Then I remembered my mother’s response to just about any “what does it mean” question.  “Did you look it up?”

Godly.  Look it up.  It means “conforming to the laws and wishes of God.”

The laws.  Those are pretty easy to find.  You’ve got the 10 Commandments.  And loving your neighbor.  And do unto others.

I could do all of these things, and, not fulfill the last part of that definition – conforming to the wishes of God.   Because this is where it gets pretty personal.  God’s laws apply to us all.  God’s wishes?  That’s where He gets specific with me.  To find the answers to this last part, I have to pray and I have to listen.

Like many people, I’m better at the former and struggle with the latter.  I pray, but I don’t always take the time to listen.  Sometimes my prayer has to be answered more than once before I hear what’s being said, especially when I don’t like it.

Obedience to God.  Conforming to the wishes of God.  Doing what God wants me to do.

For some women, it may all boil down to obedience to their spouse.  For others, it may mean giving shelter to a battered child.  For still others, it could mean going toe-to-toe with someone who is abusing the power God has given them over others.

The thing is – it isn’t for me to say.  It isn’t for you to say.  It’s for God to say.

God-ly.

Get it?  If not, it might be time to sit down, still your heart, still your mind . . .

. . . and listen.

–SueBE

 

 

Until recently, I didn’t know much about St. Francis.  I may have grown up in a Catholic community where most of the streets are named after saints, but I know next to nothing about the saints themselves.  In a word – clueless.

Then several of us at Florissant Presbyterian Church started a prayer group.  We always close with the Lord’s Prayer, but I wanted to find other traditional prayers that we could use on a regular basis.  This search led me to the Prayer of St. Francis.

As I read it, it rocked me back.  Whoa!  This is the guy with the bunnies and the birds?  Until then, that’s how I thought of St. Francis – the cool guy with the bunnies and the birds. But then I read his prayer.  He didn’t just want a gentle relationship with the flying and the furred.  He obviously sought a similar relationship with all of God’s Creation.

The Prayer of St. Francis quickly became a staple in my daily prayer life.

First of all, I love that it speaks to so many of the potential problems I face day to day.  Rude salesclerk?  “Where there is injury, pardon.”  Have to count on a co-worker who has let me down repeatedly?  “Where there is doubt, faith.”

Just as it can be applied to my own issues, it addresses community, national and global problems.

But the power of this prayer doesn’t stop there.  As I pray it regularly, I find that I am asking God to not only use me to shape the world around me, I am asking Him to reshape me.    Calm me.
Turn my vision from myself to those around me and teach me to really see, for how else can I interpret “O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek . . . to be understood, as to understand”?

To truly understand those around me, I have to see them.  I have to learn to look beyond my preconceptions.  I have to push aside the solutions to their problems that I have already devised.  I have to go in open and ready to listen.  I have to listen both to those I would help and also to He who Guides Me.

Not an easy task, but one that I hope to one day to be worthy to fill.  Until then, I’ll continue to pray.
–SueBE

 

Shakespeare knew a thing or two about tragedy.  On the page and the stage, sorrow, betrayal, pain… all of it coalesced into high art.  But he had much to contend with to get to the point of greatness.  Nobody believed in him during his own lifetime.  He was called derivative, a panderer, lowbrow.  Yet, today, the very name evokes the highest creative standard.  No one wrote about soul struggles the way Shakespeare did.

A wretched soul, bruised with adversity,
we bid be quiet when we hear it cry;
but were we burdened with like weight of pain,
as much or more we should ourselves complain.

William Shakespeare

It’s one thing to experience tragedy vicariously, through a play, but another thing altogether to have to live through it yourself.

In our blog posts last week, we spoke of service, and I see the message of the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi as being an extension of that topic. With so many souls going through dark times – unemployment, health issues, hunger – service to humanity may include the simple act of being kind, even if someone is brusque with you.  Even if you can’t solve a neighbor’s problem and help them avoid foreclosure, you can provide an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”  What a magnificent opening line, filled with fervor, seeking God’s favor.  At some point, we all realize that we already are instruments, bringing various influences into others’ lives.

Hardship is resistance training for the soul. We may find ourselves on an unforgiving road, unsure of where we’re headed and what tomorrow will bring. This prayer is a GPS system of sorts to help us find our way.  A map to help unravel some of the great mysteries of life, such as, what am I here for? How can I help anyone else, when it seems at times that I can’t even help myself? “Where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light…”

It’s clear to me why the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi endures to this very day, and most likely beyond.  We’ve seen dark days, and we know what it feels like to be in despair, or to feel unloved.  The power of this prayer is really about weightlifting, from the inside.  Lifted by God’s Love, we made the decision to lift up others we met along the way, and found our own burdens lifted.  It’s a prayer about small moments and big impact, about keeping the faith, and sharing the load. No wonder the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi has withstood the test of time.

“Make me a channel of your peace.”
Flow into me,
like water into a paper funnel,
a magician’s trick.
Flow out of me,
like living breath from the leaves of trees,
gentle, yet unceasing.
All I want, all I could ever ask to be,
is the bell at the door,
the bright in the darkness,
the knot at the end of the rope.

Oh Lord, oh Lord,
let me be your means.

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