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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.

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I learned a new phrase recently — live in the pause.    At the end of each yoga practice, our instructor reads something inspirational.  Sometimes it is poetry.  Sometimes a bit of a song.  Sometimes scripture.  The other day, it was the quote in the meme.

As is so often the case when Leslie reads something, this was just what I needed to hear.  A reminder to take a deep breath and pause.  Take your time.  Think it over.  Say a little prayer.  And then if you still need to say it, go ahead.  After all, you can never take something back.  You’ll always have another chance to speak your mind.

I had just finished making up a new batch of memes, including the one above, when I got to try out that pause.  I had just posted a meme in the Inaugurate Light Project community.  I explained that I know I’ve been posting a lot of Christian quotes.  I am, after all, Christian and it is the philosophy I know best.  If someone else from another tradition wants to share quotes, I’ll gladly make up the memes if they will send me quotes.

To my surprise, someone responded almost immediately.  As I read the response my shoulders tightened.  How dare I assume everyone in the group is Christian?  Not everyone is and although this person wanted to share memes she can’t when I post something Christian.  And on and on and on.

I started to type out my response.  It was sharp.  It was a bit rude.  Okay, more than a bit.  I even worked in the new short hand my son had explained to me.  ^^ stands for “read what I wrote above.”

But then I paused.  I said a little prayer.  This was an opportunity to show someone a little tolerance which is what the group is all about.  No, I hadn’t been shown much, but that really wasn’t the point.

I deleted my original comment.  Then I carefully wrote out a new one.  Live in the pause.

It isn’t easy.  But it doesn’t wear on your all day the way that getting in an argument does.

Take a deep breath.  Pause.  Pray.  Chances are, you won’t regret it.

–SueBE

 

 

bible-998150_1920Last week, I read a blog post about selecting a Bible verse to pray throughout the year. It’s an idea that appeals to me where I am at the moment.

Where am I?  I have to admit that my prayer life has been a little lax. What does lax mean?  It means that when someone asks for prayer, I pray.  When I read about someone who is hurting, I pray.  But I haven’t been spending a lot of quiet time with God.

I’m also not feeling 100%.  I thought I was having muscle spasms in my back.  But this morning as I was getting dressed my husband spotted a palm-sized rash, pink and blistered. It is probably shingles.

I’m also between jobs – a side-effect of being a freelance writer.  I’m always restless and a bit off when I’m between jobs.  But what to pray?  God knows what I need and telling him to send it RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE seems a little self-absorbed.

I need a focus.  I need something to help me remember to make contact with God throughout my day.  I need a verse.  I’m going to print out several copies.  Then I’ll tape one here on my monitor.  Another will go on the treadmill.  One suggestion was to tape one to the bathroom mirror.

But first I have to pick a verse.  Sometimes I will pray it “as is,” reciting as I read.  Other times, when I see this reminder to reach out to God, I will improvise.  Here are four possible verses to use, starting with one of my favorites:

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)

“When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 118:5-6)

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (John 5:14)

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” (James 5:13)

Oh, Lord.  Remind me to look to you when I am afraid, when I am sick, when I don’t know what to do. You are constant and unchanging.  You know me and my needs.  I call on you.  Amen.

–SueBE

I often read about folks on Facebook being “lifted up” in prayer. It’s an arresting image, though somewhat foreign to this cradle Catholic. I like the idea of hoisting someone heaven-ward, raising them physically and spiritually in prayer. But it also sounds strenuous, the work of “prayer warriors.” Me, I’m more of a prayer peacenik.

Prayer doesn’t have to be hard, or serious, or even formal. All times and all ways are open to prayer. A friend just commented to me yesterday that although God can always find her, wherever she is and whatever she is doing, she needs to be in a place that feels “ripe” and “right” to connect with God. The line of communication goes both ways, but we are the ones who tie up the line constantly, being too busy and too distracted to answer God’s call.

Sure, we can “storm the gates” with our requests. But does might equal right — or in this case, do more prayers mean more action? I doubt it. I think God hears the tiniest sigh of the most overlooked and miniscule creature just as loudly as God hears a roar from the populace. Which is not to say God ignores anybody. But neither is God a democracy. The “ayes” don’t necessarily have it.

However you pray, whether in shouts or whispers, in crowds or alone (too anguished to share your burden), God does the “heavy lifting” of prayer. God sorts out our incoherent wails and moans, sifts through the dross to get to the heart of our needs, mourns with us, aches with us, longs to console us, does not turn away when we forget to say, “Thank you.” God does the work. We tend to forget that. All the prayer warriors in the world can’t do what God does, effortlessly and always.

So lift people up if you like. But remember: It’s a lot like that game we girls used to play at slumber parties, “stiff as a board, light as a feather” — you needn’t stress and strain. It’s in God’s hands. And in God’s hands, we rise.

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.

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?

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.

coloring and prayerFor many of us, simply slowing down long enough to pray is tough. We plan to sit down and pray. We mean to sit down and pray. I don’t know about you but as soon as I sit down, the phone rings, the dryer buzzes or the cat decides that one of the houseplants needs to be un-potted.

It helps when I have a bit of motion to focus on. Sometimes I use my prayer beads, counting out my concerns bead by bead. Sometimes I pray as I weed the flower beds, pulling up crab grass runners while I send up blessings for whoever needed that fire truck that just went past. Lately, I’ve been praying and coloring.

First, I read a blessing in Beth Richardson’s Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me. I have a thing for Celtic blessings. I don’t know if it is the focus on the everyday, lifting our mundane tasks up to God for blessing. Or maybe it’s the repetitive nature that yields a song-like feel. They tend to be simply worded and straightforward.

Then I pull out a handful of colored pencils and flip open my coloring book. I may be the slowest colorist in the world but that’s okay. It gives my busy hands and my monkey mind something to do while I pray.

Today, I colored in violet bands of water and asked for blessings on the educators who are setting up a new school in our district. Right now, it is one class but next year it will be a gifted middle school. I colored in blue bands of water and asked for blessings for the teachers and the staff and the students. Next came green water, both in bands and surrounding the fish. As I colored, I asked for blessing for those who know God and know how much he does in our lives. I asked for blessings for those who deny God because they think they are in control. I also prayed for those who simply have no clue that God is out there.

Coloring and Celtic blessings. One keeps my hands and mind just a bit busy. The other directs my prayers. I’m not sure who I’ll be showering blessings on tomorrow but I know I’ll find inspiration in Christ Beside Me.

Maybe the combination of coloring and blessings will work for you as well.

–SueBE

prayerWe’ve had something of an ongoing situation at church. Our choir director resigned last spring. We are still trying to find a replacement. Recently a fellow choir member asked me what I thought God was trying to tell us through this long, drawn out journey.

I opened my mouth to answer and then stopped.

I know what I think, but I couldn’t speak for God. You see, I hadn’t asked. Not recently.

When our previous director resigned, I prayed. “Dear God, please help us find someone who will lead us in the way that you want us to go.”

But that was months ago. Although I believe God is at work, I hadn’t recently lifted up this particular issue in prayer. I’ve posted the ad on a few online boards. I’ve passed the word around through human channels, but I hadn’t prayed.

What I need to do is pray like it matters. I need to pray like Christ prayed – frequently, with the belief that prayer will work, and with the expectation that things will improve after time spent with God.

Prayer may not bring an immediate fix. But that’s not the issue. Prayer, time spent with God, is never wasted because I come out of it centered on God and his plans vs centered on me and my own.

Whether you are hoping for a new choir director, a new job, or positive results on a medical test, pray like it matters, because it does.

–SueBE

How did you learn to pray? I can’t honestly remember. I can recall my babyish list of people to bless, including “grandma, great-grandma and Auntie Myrt” — long since gone from this earth. Why did I pray for the elders on my father’s side but not for my mother’s father, alive until I was seven? At what age did I give up kneeling?

Lately, I’ve been thinking that my prayer life could use some radical change. I’ve been sticking to a formula for too long. Besides, any words I use seem minuscule and shabby compared to what I hope to convey. Maybe human language isn’t really built for prayer. And anyway, doesn’t God know our hearts better than we know them?

I’m not advocating that you cease praying. Prayer can lead to great self-knowledge. But maybe we need to consider whether our prayers are really for God…or for ourselves. What sort of prayer would please God? I’m not entirely sure, but if I had to listen to the human race in supplication day in and day out, I know what would please me: a little silence. Hence, the following poem:

I could, I suppose,
dispense with formalities:
words once bubbled from childish lips
no longer suit. Still.
How can I hope to bridge our mighty gap?
The words can’t come —
I haven’t learned the language.
I settle on syllables like unbuttered bread,
toddler words: “cat,” “dog,” “mama.”
I’d have to shed my heavy tongue
to speak the words I mean.
And there it is — revelation!
Perhaps my prayers are best silent.
Instead, I will throw open my heart;
You will read it.
I will not murmur, even when
You touch the painful places.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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