You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2013.
Last week I gave myself a prayer task – I wanted to try to see my small daily tasks as connecting myself to God in a meaningful way.
Initially, it worked well enough with certain tasks – watering plants, checking for ripe garden items and the like. It’s easy for me to see God in terms of nature so any task connected to nature or growing things I can easily offer up and connect to God.
But driving in heavy traffic? That one eluded me completely. The destination, I could connect with God, but the actual driving? Not happening, at least not yet.
That said, I did say a lot more small prayers. I prayed for the kids swimming in my lane at the swim meet. I prayed for the kids who didn’t win and a bit more for those who were disqualified. And the ones with the parents who flew into rages? They got the biggest prayers of all. I prayed for the parents working as volunteers and the ambulance crew rushing past on their way someplace else.
I definitely prayed more often this week, and I do think that the overall effect was positive. Living in prayer left me feeling a much deeper connection to God. This was especially helpful when I received some bad work related news.
Normally, news of this kind would put me in a complete tail spin. This time around, I was able to put the project on the back burner mentally. When I did that, I could see ways that I could make it better, if not for this client than for someone else.
I can’t say that I handled everything this week with equal grace, but living in prayer definitely helped, and it is something I plan to continue throughout the coming weeks. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find a way to connect even the tasks I don’t like, such as driving, to God.
What if it were actually the law of the land that everyone had to be happy? Sort of like the safety-belt “Click it or Ticket” rule. Put on a smile or go on trial. If you were in a miserable mood, you’d get locked up and sent to a piñata party till you got your happy back. Holla!
I decided to look up the definition of happiness on Bible Gateway, and found there was no clear-cut answer. I did find out what happiness is not from the Sad Sack Scripture – the book of Lamentations.
I am deprived of peace. I have forgotten what happiness is. Lamentations 3:17 NET
So peace of mind can lead to happiness. And lack of it can lead to misery.
It might seem cliché, but I think the key to being happy is to keep your mind on positive, uplifting things.
Above all, be careful what you think because your thoughts control your life. Proverbs 4:23 ERV
I’ll buy that. But how do you get there when there’s so much going on in the world that can make us feel unsettled?
If you listen to Isaiah, it seems that happiness may be as simple as making a choice.
But be happy and rejoice forevermore over what I am about to create! For look, I am ready to create Jerusalem to be a source of joy, and her people to be a source of happiness. Isaiah 65:18 NET
Be happy, God says. I’m about to do something awesome. You don’t have to carry the burden of what tomorrow may bring; that’s my department.
Happiness can also be contagious.
Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs him down, but an encouraging word brings him joy. Proverbs 12:25 NET
The habit of happiness – partnered with prayer – can see you through almost anything. And it reminds you that it’s not always about whatever is standing in your way. Sometimes, it’s about Who’s standing behind you.
Sometimes it is good to dial things back, to go back to what is foundational. The problem lies in establishing a foundation, especially when it comes to faith. The substance and quality of God is like an immense shoreline; our apprehension of God, a single grain of sand. We are greatly out of our depth. So let us start with what we know: God made us. God loves us. God hears us. God sent visionary humans to us (as well as — I believe — God’s own son) to speak to us about God’s love and concern for us.
What should we do with this knowledge? There is an impulse to institutionalize it, which has its benefits in spreading the “good news” and in forming communities of spiritually like-minded people for sharing prayer and formal remembrance of God’s many gifts — which, to me at least, is the essence of sacrament.
Where we start getting into trouble is in the details. Which book holds the greatest truths about God? Within those books, what does a particular revelatory word mean and does its meaning change in translation? What form should our faith communities take? Who is in charge? If you prefer one form of spiritual expression, and I prefer another, does God side with either of us? Does it matter?
It certainly seems to. Each step that seems to unite us is matched by a scattering, post-Tower of Babel-style divisiveness. We can’t seem to get together on anything. So I suggest the following test: If what you think, say or do comes from a place of love, it is of God. If it does not, it is not. If only each of us could do just two things — decide to put God central in our lives and prove it by doing everything we do out of love — all of the problems of the world would resolve themselves. It is our vast misfortune that those two things are the two hardest things for human beings to do.
Let us tackle an easier effort: Let us focus on commonalities rather than differences. Think you have nothing in common with a Muslim extremist? You’d be surprised. You’re both human. You are both, hopefully, trying to live a God-centered life. But you disagree radically on what that entails. The answer is, as ever, mutuality. Stop arguing like grouchy siblings and get together in God’s present and participatory spirit.
My friend Alice hates the word “righteous;” she thinks it sounds steely and unyielding, a word of judgment. I prefer to think of it in its laid-back, ‘70s-speak connotation, a word meaning “awesome” and incorporating everything I’ve just written about mutuality, tolerance and love. If only I — we — could be the right kind of righteous, we’d have the basics covered. And a whole lot more.
I was surprised to find out that this is one of the tenets of Celtic Christianity. The Celtic Christian tradition developed as the European mainland, centered around Rome, fell into the Dark Ages. With Rome, and the Catholic Church, under siege by one group after another, small independent abbeys thrived in Celtic Britain. These abbeys worked well in the Celtic setting because the people lived in clan settlements. These family groupings were very different from the cities and towns where most Europeans lived.
This is the tradition that gave birth to the cross on the right. I’m sure you know it is a Celtic cross, but this cross is special because it combines the Christian cross with the sun, Christ and nature. The Cross and Light. This is especially significant to me personally because this is known as the Presbyterian Cross.
Celtic Christians were adept at seeing God all around them. This meant that they saw Him in the natural world, in the wind and the rain and, obviously, the sun.
But they also saw him throughout their everyday lives. As a result they created a variety of prayers and blessings as around the many things they did every day. My favorite is a prayer for banking (smooring) the fire at night.
Lord, preserve the fire,
As Christ preserves us all.
Lord, may its warmth remain in our midst,
As Christ is always among us.
Lord, may it rise to life in the morning,
as we shall rise with Christ to eternal life.
I have to admit, I am much more skilled at seeing God in nature than I am at seeing my small daily tasks as being connected to Him in any meaningful way. How would each day differ if I blessed each task with a meaningful prayer? I’m not sure, but I plan to find out.
To be a good writer, one ought to limit one’s use of forms of the verb “to be.” I’m lousy at this. Perhaps because forms of the verb “to be” are existential verbs; they signify states of being — to which spirituality is intrinsically bonded. Talk about spirituality, and you’re going to use a lot of is, am, are, was and weres. It is inevitable.
I’m currently stuck in an existential crisis. There are so many people around me suffering, so many who need comfort and prayer, and I feel inadequate to the task. So I’m asking for blessings. Please join me, if you would, in sending positive energy to the following:
To Tim who is battling that implacable and undefeatable foe, pancreatic cancer.
To my high school pal, Vicki, fighting breast cancer.
To Lisa, my sister, and Dianna, my soul sister, both recovering from post breast cancer reconstruction surgery. (Enough already, Cancer. We get it. You’re awful.)
To our little old cat, Lula Mae, down to four pounds of skin and bones, who we hope will recover from exploratory surgery.
To everyone who has been harassed by an unscrupulous business.
To my friend who is passing through what we euphemistically once called “change of life.” It sucks.
To everyone wondering how on earth they are going to pay for college.
To the one in three women who are victims of physical or sexual abuse. One in three, folks.
To everyone in mourning.
Feel free to add your own intentions. I promise to pray for you. Cutting down on the verb “to be,” however…not gonna happen.
I’ve never done much to focus on my sense of sight when I pray. In part this is because I’m easily distracted by visual things. I’m the one who is looking around the sanctuary during the sermon and probably several other times throughout the service. I’m paying attention but things catch my eye.
I’m just as bad when I pray.
If I’m sitting on the sofa facing the front window and someone walks down the sidewalk, I look to see who it is. Do they have their dog with them today? If I’m sitting on the other end of the sofa looking into the backyard and a bird lands, I wonder what kind it is.
I spend most of my prayer time trying to not be distracted by one visual or another. Maybe that’s why it never crossed my mind to try doing something art related when I pray. But using art in prayer was the topic of this week’s lesson so the entire class gave it a try.
We discussed icons and other religious art. We brought in art that we have in our homes that we find inspirational in time of prayer. But we also discussed drawing while we pray. Possibilities mentioned in the class literature included mandalas, scribble art, illuminated text and drawing a prayer picture book.
I didn’t have a great deal of hope that this would be a raving success because, stop me if you’ve heard this, visual things often distract me. But I sat down to illuminate the prayer of Columba of Iona.
First, I focused on the big B that begins each of the first four lines. I drew and colored as I tried to still my mind, or at least slow things down a bit. Then I lettered the prayer as a whole. This was tough for me because I did calligraphy years ago. This meant having to let go of some perfectionist tendencies because I quickly spotted problems with my letting technique. But then I got into the drawing, first inking outlines and then coloring in flames, a star and a smooth path through a rocky plain.
Once I got the lettering done, I can’t say that I focused on the words of the prayer itself, but I did find myself contemplating something that’s been bothering me. It wasn’t something that I meant to focus on but it was several things had happened this weekend to push it to the front of my heart once again.
Was this a success? I wouldn’t say that I had an epiphany – it was a bit gentle for that. But I feel like I have a bit more insight on things. This is definitely something that I am going to try again and it will be interesting to see where it takes me the next time around.
Here’s my favorite anecdote concerning Sr. Jeanne Knoerle, former President of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, my alma mater: It was the day that Ronald Reagan was nearly assassinated. Someone at the college heard the news, and various students were sent to dispatch it to the outlying campus buildings. One student ran into the gymnasium shouting, “The President’s been shot! The President’s been shot!”
“Oh my God!” a senior cried. “Someone shot Sister Jeanne!”
That’s how central she was to our lives, then and now. Sr. Jeanne died this week of a heart attack. It was sudden, as heart attacks so often are, but particularly jarring to those of us who knew and loved her. I can practically hear people saying to themselves, “But I just saw her, and she looked the same as ever.” And she did. Though well into her 80s, she could have passed for 65. She was active, trim, always whip-smart and incredibly present.
It was during her tenure that the college began its distance-learning program, one of the earliest of its kind — practically ubiquitous today, but back then, unheard of. After her retirement, she continued teaching a rare class here and there. I was lucky enough to be a member of her Critical Writing class. For our final critique, she took us out to a wonderfully posh French restaurant, and told us to order anything we wanted, on her.
When dessert rolled around, the junior next to me exchanged a meaningful glance with me. We both wanted to order a cappuccino with our dessert, she because she’d just spent a semester in Europe, me because it sounded so grown-up and exotic. Now, nuns as a rule don’t have a lot of money. Theirs is not exactly a lucrative calling. But Sr. Jeanne generously nudged us to indulge. That’s how she was.
Jeanne was a leader, and her presence will be missed at the college, even though she hasn’t been its president for nearly 30 years. In a way, an era has ended. I try to console myself by thinking that she would have wanted her death to be this way. She wouldn’t have wanted to fade out, losing her memory and her independence. But it’s small comfort.
I sometimes worry about who will mourn me when I die, as I don’t have any children. However, I fully expect Jeanne’s funeral to boast an overflow crowd. We, all of us who attended St. Mary-of-the-Woods, were her children. Her influence was far-reaching. Because of her, many working women earned degrees they never thought they’d have. That’s not just a boon for education; it’s a boon for feminism.
Perhaps this blog is not the proper place for an elegy. But my alma mater is hard-wired into my faith; it is part and parcel of my spiritual life. As was Sr. Jeanne, and all of the Sisters of Providence. And while her loss will be felt and mourned, I can almost imagine her meeting up with our founder, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, up in the heaven where they most assuredly are. Now that’s a conversation I’d give anything to hear.
Maybe it’s because I’m co-teaching a class on prayer, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what prayer is. At one point, I could have given you a seven word answer. Prayer is when you talk to God.
That was then when I thought I knew.
This is now when I realize how much to learn. At this point, I realize that prayer is at least four different things.
1. Prayer is when you talk to God.
At its most basic, prayer is when you talk to God. It is a time to tell God what you are worried about and what you need. Sometimes these things are for yourself, but sometimes they concern other people. Whichever, prayer is both a time to sing out in joy and to unburden yourself. Prayer is a time to talk to God.
2. Prayer is when you listen to God.
Prayer isn’t just a time to talk. Prayer also involves silence, a time to shush up and listen. What does God have to say to you? You may actually hear God speak. You may feel a nudge in a certain direction. Or God may send a messenger to call you to whatever it is God wants you to do. When the response comes, however it comes, you may miss it if you’re busy talking. That’s why prayer also involves silence.
3. Prayer is when you look to God.
Prayer isn’t just talking and listening. It is also a time to reorient yourself and look from the world and all of your earthly concerns to God. It is a time to contemplate who God is and what he wants from you. It is a time to consider the many gifts, including Grace, that he has given you. Look to God and when you turn back to the world you will see things differently.
4. Prayer is when you lean on God.
Admittedly, there are times when life has worn you down so completely that you won’t have words to speak to God in prayer. You don’t know what to say. Instead, you lean. Leaning can take place any time you pray, but during difficult times, it may be the beginning, middle and end of your prayer time. That’s okay. God’s there for you, even when you don’t know what to say, are too sorrowful to hear, and are too broken to look up.
Speak. Listen. Look. Lean. Prayer is all this and more.