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Recently, a student brought a loaded gun to the high school my son attended. Cole’s in college now, so we weren’t directly affected; still, it was unsettling to hear of such a thing so close to home.

The next day, I received word that a threat had been made to a teacher, so all township schools would be closed. A follow-up text said the incident had not happened in our town of Franklin, which is in central Jersey, but in the other Franklin in our state, which is in north Jersey. Oh. Okay! No problem then. Why didn’t I feel any less tense about it?

Everything is in your neighborhood now, isn’t it? You’re not directly affected, yet somehow, you still feel directly affected.

As I look at the student coalition advocating for gun control after the attack on their high school, I’m experiencing something I’ve never felt before: I’m both encouraged and discouraged at the same time.

The student movement’s leaders are capable young people with convictions and confidence, ready to take on the world. What about the kids who aren’t being heard? The ones who show up for class in worn-out sneakers, who eat lunch alone and get picked on in gym class? These are the young souls who end up folding in or lashing out.

Gun control, yes. Mental health background checks for gun purchases, okay – provided you define your terms. Does that include people with depression? Anxiety? On medication of any kind? How about Asperger’s? Who decides?

But also, a call to arms of a different kind: working together to remind each other that words and actions have impact. To encourage each other to honor the humanity in every person they meet.

How we get there as a nation is anybody’s guess.  Until then, we pray.


Sometimes I think: Wouldn’t it be nice to squirrel myself away in some comfy little hole and turn exclusively to prayer? Then I remember: As much as the hermit lifestyle appeals, it is not practical. Not only are comfy little holes hard to come by, they are seldom free of charge. And there’s the niggling problem of needing to eat. But that’s not the biggest problem.

The biggest problem is this: You can’t pray for the world if you’re hiding from it. You have to know what’s going on. You have to be a part of things. Otherwise, you’re just praying for yourself, and doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

It can be very painful to make yourself aware of the world’s troubles. There will always be too many of them to tackle, too many tragedies pulling at your limited heartstrings. You have to choose, but in choosing, you have to deal with the repercussion of guilt. It is a difficult place to live. A comfy hole is so much more congenial, don’t you agree? But it’s no place to linger, not if you have a heart.

Nowadays it’s an insult to be considered sensitive. It connotes a certain weakness, a lack of backbone, a pitiful inability to cope in today’s eat-or-be-eaten world. I don’t much care about that. If it takes not caring to get by in life, then I guess I won’t get by. Wherever that destination is, it doesn’t feel like a place worth going to. If feeling keenly about people and things makes me a snowflake, then — fine. I’m still here. And as long as the world stays cold with injustice and hatred and inequality, I will persist.

And if the milk of human kindness ever warms us all adequately, I will happily melt.

Some time ago, I decided to conduct a prayer experiment.  Yeah, I’m that kind of person.  Faith and science.  Prayer and experiment.

I had been having problems with someone to the point that every time he walked into the room, my shoulders tensed.  I ducked my head and held my breath. I was ready for a fight.

That isn’t exactly how I want to greet people, even annoying people, so I decided to pray for him every day.  I knew this would be tough because my tendency would be to pray that he would be “fixed.”  Oh, Lord, please let this goof see things my way and quit being so abrasive.

But on my better days, I know that that is not how prayer works.  Instead I prayed that whatever was bothering him might east.  I prayed that in stressful moments I could remember his sense of humor and his questioning mind, so like my own.  I asked God to help me see this person as a child of God.

What I discovered was that even though his attitude didn’t seem to improve, mine sure did.  Instead of snapping back at him, I could sincerely tell him that I was sorry he felt that way.  I could see his frustration and his own annoyance at how things were.  I had a lot more sympathy.  And I was no longer prepped for a fight.

He hadn’t changed but I sure was seeing him differently.  So why not join me in a little experiment.  What is stressing you out?  Maybe it is your job or your spouse or the state of our country.  For a week, at least once a day, offer up a sincere prayer.  Don’t pray that someone else undergo a miraculous attitude adjustment.  Pray for their emotional and mental health.  Pray that they feel safe and secure and within the sheltering arms of God.  Pray that the scales should fall from your own eyes.

It isn’t easy but if you do it for at least a week, my theory is that you will see a change.


Faith took root in my heart at the end of a deep, dark time in my life.

One day about ten years ago, I realized that there were always good things and bad things going on, every day. When I focused on the bad things, I felt bad. When I focused on the good things, I felt good. It may sound simple, but this is the actual thought process I had at that tumultuous time. It occurred to me: Somebody’s in charge. I believe that somebody is a positive force and I’d like to be aligned with that somebody, because I believe it will improve my life.

When my son was younger, I used to pray for so many things that I hoped for his life, but I realized they were things that I would have wanted, not what he might want.

So I had to amend it to include whatever would make him happy. I couldn’t make assumptions about what that would look like in his life, so I encapsulated it by kissing his head like a benediction and saying to him, “I wish you every good thing.” I had to take the leap of faith, dial down the anxious petitions in prayer and leave it up to him to fill in the blanks.

If I had to sum it up, I’d say that God is the yes of the universe. Every good thing you think about and smile. I really don’t know if God is male/female/both/neither. I don’t know if God exists as a being or is the electrical current in every atom. It doesn’t really matter. Just as I know that I love my son so much that I can smile till I break my face just thinking of him, and at the same time, a tear may tinge my eye, I know that some things are beyond words and yet still comprise the basic, beautiful stuff of life.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So begins the gospel of John…and the deepest roots of my spiritual connection to God. I have always loved words, loved what they could do with sound and meaning, loved them in their inadequacy and perfection. As a child, I was teased for my advanced vocabulary. “But that’s the right word for it,” I would think. “I could use a more common word, but it isn’t right.” From the beginning I knew that God was in both language and silence, that as flawed as words could be, they were a link to God — a beautiful and fragile link.

In The Little Prince, the fox tells our titular hero that when you tame something, it becomes yours forever. The same is true of naming things. That’s why I respond so warmly to John’s gospel-opener: God is, in my mind, the first named thing. In a world of small-w words, God is The Word.

Our words for God change and persist; they speak of power and authority. But God is also in the tiniest places, the humblest nest of the lowliest sparrow. God is in all words, from thunder to shame, eternity to crumb. Maybe that’s a compelling enough reason to use our words judiciously.

On the other hand, why not celebrate words? Why not lavish them luxuriously, paint a thick coat of them all over everything, dress up a tawdry world with silvery syllables? Isn’t that what poets and musicians do? Yeah! Don’t paint the town red; paint it God.

That’s what we try to do on this blog, at least in my eyes. We invoke God through God-as-Word. We praise God. We cry out to God. We participate in Godliness and ask our readers to do the same.

That’s a pretty sweet gig, from where I’m sitting.

Last month, Pope Francis made headlines by suggesting that it may be time to change the words of the Lord’s Prayer from “Lead us not into temptation” to “Do not let us fall into temptation.” The reason for this proposed change is to negate the notion that God would ever lead us into sin.

I started to write this post last month, but held off, as I kept finding the post coming back to #MeToo and things we’ve been hearing from the president. Hoping to steer away from topical, highly-charged issues and back to the prayer itself, I realized that this prayer is timeless as well as timely. Maybe the reason I can’t stop finding its resonance in the news and in the world at large is that it’s not only relevant – still – but it may contain solutions to these problems.

It’s more important than ever for anyone in a position of authority to seek God’s counsel to avoid the temptation of abusing their power. And the need to forgive seems just about continuous of late.

I looked at the wording of various translations of the line about forgiveness.

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (New International Version)

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (Roman Catholic version)

Forgive us for doing wrong as we forgive others (Contemporary English Version)

I’d like to add my own version, if you’d indulge me:

Hold my hand as I walk the path so I don’t lose touch with my own humanity.

Make me mindful that, at my worst, I’ve been unkind.

So when another child of God aims their pain at me, it’s best for my soul to let it go.

If only we had a universal translator to sort through what people are really saying, maybe we’d see that the world is a neighborhood. Everyone we meet is extended family. Somewhere between intention and interpretation, healing awaits.

I’m starting to think I’m just not being heard. I send emails that get no replies. I ask questions that get no answers. I listen…and listen…and listen to what others have to say, but when I speak up, nobody has time. Or patience. Hello? Is anybody out there? Is this mic on?

We spend our lives — from newborn shrieks to deathbed confessions — trying to be heard. Why? What makes us so important? Nothing…and everything. We are, to ourselves anyway, infinitely important. But out there in the world? You’ve got millions of voices, all competing to be the loudest, the most heeded. What are the odds of an introvert winning that competition?

Once, long ago, a friend at work convinced me to join her in a primal scream. It was very satisfying…except to the company’s security guard who had no idea we were just trying to vent our frustrations. Oops.

If you want to be heard — really heard — you have to turn to prayer. Or poetry.

Even before I open my mouth
my confession is out there. Phrases thudding,
homely, unscrubbed as orphans. Pathetic, crude words
with sharp edges and blunt, dumb sounds.
Big, lumpy, dirt-encrusted words. They fall from me
like a curse, like the girl in the fairy tale
fated to speak in snakes and other slippery critters.
Who hears such ugly offerings?
Only one. The one we turn deaf ears to,
despite the shouts of sunsets, the “Hear this!”
of the scent of night jasmine. The one who calls us
to listen. For in listening, we will be heard. At last.

Turns out the Texas shooter abused his wife, his child and various animals. Then there’s the guy who snapped a woman’s neck and gouged out her eyes for daring to reject his marriage proposal. And the ongoing accusations of exploitation and rape by Hollywood power brokers against women and children. Seems like hurting someone smaller and weaker than yourself is so endemic, it’s become part and parcel of ordinary life.

It probably always was, of course. Landowners abused serfs. Queens abused ladies-in-waiting. Children attack smaller children. It’s a jungle out there, folks, in the truest sense of the metaphor: Unless you’re an apex predator, watch out.

If you want to know where God is in all of this, look down, to the smallest and weakest of us. God always stands with the abused, the poor, the people on the fringes. That’s where God lives. Don’t believe me? Read the Sermon on the Mount again. Count the number of times and ways Jesus says that the last will be first, and the first, last. Picture poor Lazarus in paradise while Mr. Dives smolders away for all of eternity. And (at least from what we know), Dives never actively abused Lazarus; he just ignored him. How much greater will the punishment be for those who do mete out abuse?

So what can be done? Must we patiently wait for the next life for justice? Me, I’m going to pray The Litany of Nonviolence, written by the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN. Feel free to add your voice.

Provident God,
aware of our own brokenness,
we ask the gift of courage
to identify how and where we are in need of conversion
in order to live in solidarity with Earth and all creation.

Deliver us from the violence of superiority and disdain.
Grant us the desire, and the humility,
to listen with special care to those
whose experiences and attitudes are different from our own.

Deliver us from the violence of greed and privilege.
Grant us the desire, and the will, to live simply
so others may have their just share of Earth’s resources.

Deliver us from the silence
that gives consent to abuse, war and evil.
Grant us the desire, and the courage,
to risk speaking and acting for the common good.

Deliver us from the violence
of irreverence, exploitation and control.
Grant us the desire, and the strength,
to act responsibly within the cycle of creation.

God of love, mercy and justice,
acknowledging our complicity
in those attitudes, action and words which perpetuate violence,
we beg the grace of a non-violent heart.

Wildfires in California, mass shootings, disease, distress, acts of God…the last few weeks have pushed us all to the very brink. It is almost shocking that we can still be shocked. And yet.

When I am upset, the words pile up in my head in messy heaps, struggle like fish vying to surface. My brain bubbles and freezes, too knotted up to make sense of things. Sometimes, when life has you all but beat, there is nothing you can do but pray.

Where is the sense in senseless?
How do you mean for us to parse
a life sentence that confounds us?
Where noun is chaos and verb can
never be undone? What then?
Now is the time for old words,
rich in thous and thees.
When nothing comes
but humble prayer,
the rest, at last,
is silence.

Taking that first step can seem awfully scary.  Sometimes it means going against a long-held belief.  Praying in public freaks me out.  Truly panics me.  In part, I had a minister tell by how very bad I am at it.  She’s right but that sure didn’t help.  In fact, I panic so badly that I can’t even get the Lord’s Prayer right.  Did you know that was once considered a sign of witch craft?  I’d be in big trouble.

I’m teaching a section of Adult Sunday School again.  I’ve resigned myself to reading a prayer at the end of each lesson.  Now I need to convince my co-teacher to let me do it.

Take the first step can be even worse if you are making a change in a long-term situation such as leaving a job or a marriage.  Leaving after five/ten/fifteen years feels like failure.  Does it mean all those years were wasted?  A friend has moved out.  Recently she asked me why I’m not praising her for dumping the goon or warning her about ruining her marriage.  It seems that most everyone else has taken sides.

“Would it help?”

“I’m really scared and it just makes me mad.  This is a forty-year marriage I might have just totalled.  It isn’t a good thing!”

We discussed how the change was needed for her mental health and his.  We talked about how if the marriage ends, it is sad because they’ve been together for a long time.  But it could also be good if it shakes them out of patterns that no longer worked for either one of them.

And we prayed. Yeah, she’s the one who led it but that’s okay.  She’s got a plan for me.  I’m more than a little scared to find out what it is.



Have a Mary Little Christmas

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