Monday, October 16, 2017

A Prayer to Know Myself

“. . . your Father knows what you need before you ask.”  --Matthew 6:8


You know me, God, inside and out,
better than I know myself.
You know my needs, and though I am often
blinded by wants,
you see clearly.
Draw me closer to you so I may see myself
as you know me.
Help me to parse wants from needs
that I may be content and grateful.
I want my prayer to be a song
sung to your secret tune for me.
Let my life follow your melody,
let my spirit resound with your song.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Prayer

I want to be as adaptable as
the mockingbird I saw today
in a drab part of town. I want
to be able to live anywhere
with even grace and joy,
with eyes that seek out beauty,
and a heart
full of fearlessness and laughter.
I know not the route my life
will take,
yet the destination is clear and bright
and that commands my faith and fills me
with peace.
Grant me the heart of the mockingbird
that I may sing
wherever I am planted,
for I rest in your heart O God.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

We Are Our Times

“The times are bad! The times are troublesome!” This is what humans say. But we are our times. Let us live well and our times will be good. Such as we are, such are our times. ---Augustine of Hippo

This quote in today’s liturgy for Common Prayer could not be more appropriate, and yet, its author, Augustine of Hippo, lived from 354-430, in a time and place far removed from us. To read this quote in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, and in a world that seems increasingly filled with violence and tension, I realize that there really isn’t any such thing as “the good old days.”

We are our times. . . Such as we are, such are our times. What we tolerate in ourselves grows. What we excuse in ourselves overtakes us. We are often quick to speak of what Satan is doing in the world. But evil isn’t simply “out there.” To blame evil on Satan keeps us from taking responsibility for our part in the perpetuation of evil.

The desert abbas and ammas, those early Christians who have much to teach us today, understood that spiritual growth and transformation happen only as we battle the demons within ourselves. The capacity for any kind of evil lives in each one of us. Why do you think Jesus stated that calling someone a fool was the same as murdering them? What we carry inside, what we allow within us is what determines the state of the times in which we live.

When we fail to understand our own capacity for evil, the seed of evil grows within us. What begins as a thought eventually is acted out through words or deeds—our judgment of someone who is different from us, our unwillingness to act for the common good because it will cost us something to do so, our sense of superiority over others—so the seed grows into a weed that we fail to even recognize as such.

Recognizing our capacity for evil is not the same as saying we are bad or saying “I’m only human.” These excuse us from taking the hard road of growth. Excusing our evil is like running a weed eater over weeds—it does not eliminate them but instead strengthens the unseen roots, causing the weeds to come back stronger than before.

Teresa of Avila understood that spiritual growth was not always easy or pleasant. In her book on spiritual growth, The Interior Castle, she uses the metaphor of a castle for the spiritual journey. She notes that when many people encounter the snakes and bugs of the basement, they turn away rather than persist through what is unpleasant within themselves. It is helpful to have a spiritual companion who will accompany us through the stages of growth, encouraging and challenging us. I have found spiritual direction a safe and grace-filled place to look at the parts of myself I’d rather ignore.

We may not have pulled the trigger in Las Vegas, but we have all wished ill for another. When we can acknowledge that, and see it for the evil it is, our world will begin to change. Such as we are, such are our times.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Life as Liturgy

Last week was anything but routine in my community. Hurricane Irma, which was Tropical Storm Irma by the time it arrived here, blew through on Monday and disrupted pretty much everything for the rest of the week. Lack of electricity, storm damage to homes, businesses shuttered because of no power, schools out for the entire week—and the story was not unique to our city. Our church housed 100 law enforcement personnel who were sent to assist, so going to work (thankfully the church never lost power) was a reminder that the order of the week was not business as usual.

Almost all our weekday events were cancelled because facilities were used to house and feed our guests. The one thing that stayed on the calendar was our weekly Taize service. I was grateful for that anchor because the activities of the week that help orient me to God through prayer and fellowship with my faith family were on an Irma hiatus.

It reminded me how much I crave order and consistency, and how much life anchored by these occasions of prayer and fellowship is an act of liturgy for me. The various gatherings for prayer, study and meals connect me to God and to my faith community.

Liturgy means “the work of the people” and that work occurred by means other than our usual activities. Our church did much of its “liturgy” last week in the kitchen, preparing three meals a day for the men and women who were making us their home base for most of the week. It was inspiring to see the hospitality offered and the dedication and abundance of volunteers.

I was also reminded that God breaks into routine and offers us the opportunity to wake up from the lethargy that can happen when our lives get so systematic that we go through them on autopilot. In the midst of the dis-order of the week, I had a couple of occasions of God showing up in unlikely ways and places. That I could recognize these for what they were I attribute to the regular rhythm of prayer that forms my own personal liturgical practice.

There are those who discount liturgy, seeing it as old and stiff, but I think a liturgical life gives us a framework that grounds us so that we recognize the Spirit where we might not otherwise. Just as a building needs good framing, a life of faith needs practices that provide order and rhythm, but with space for the Spirit to move through and awareness to recognize the Spirit’s movements. 

What are the practices, the routines that provide the framework for your life, that form your own liturgy? 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Where Are Your Roots?

One of my favorite Bible stories is that of Queen Esther. Recently, the Old Testament text for Common Prayer zeroed in on Haman, the “villain” of the story, who wants to have all the Jews killed because one Jew, Mordecai, would not bow down to him.

Esther 5:9-13 gives this account of Haman as he leaves the first of two banquets Esther has held solely for Haman and the king: Haman went out that day happy and in good spirits. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and observed that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was infuriated with Mordecai; nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home. Then he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh, and Haman recounted to them he splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the ministers of the king. Haman added, “Even Queen Esther let no one but myself come with the king to the banquet that she prepared. Tomorrow also I am invited by her, together with the king. Yet all this does me no good so long as I see the Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”

Haman’s happiness is completely dependent on what others think of him. He’s on top of the world when invited to Esther’s banquet, but then he sees Mordecai and is immediately angry because he doesn’t receive respect from him. This snippet of scripture emphasizes Haman’s roller-coaster mood swings. His pride, which leads him to want to exterminate all the Jews in Persia, becomes his downfall, which you learn when you read the rest of the story.

Haman’s pride is a caution to me to reflect on how I measure my worth. Does my sense of worth come from what others think of me? If so, I am forever insecure, because, like Haman, some will praise me and others will criticize me. People will not understand my motives for acting as I do, and no amount of explanation will change the minds of some.

If, however, I am rooted in Christ, then whether I am praised or criticized, I stand, because I know my worth is found in God. Like a tree that receives both sunshine and storms, I will continue to grow, because I am planted in the good soil of Christ’s love and grace.

Pride and its accompanying insecurity are rooted in fear and fear keeps us from knowing God’s peace and joy. If you look around at the world in which we live, you will see that fear is at the root of evil acts. So this is not a trivial matter. If we are rooted in fear, we will act in ways contrary to the teachings of Jesus. What may begin as a fearful thought eventually grows into an action that cannot be reeled back in.

Letting go of fear is a lifelong process. Growing closer to God can only happen as we let go of fear and entrust ourselves to God’s welcoming love. For God loves us as we are, and when we know this, we can know peace, not fear.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Community

Needing community
the Spirit interceded,
bringing me to
where I am seen for
who I am,
I put down roots and bear fruit in this

place of welcome,
receiving.

Community’s gift—being seen,
being known,
being accepted—
being a part
rather than
being apart.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Choices

A poem/reflection on Matthew 4:1-2

The wilderness is a place of starving,
of stripping. A place where
what seemed important,
now seems either
necessity or nothing.
Senses become clearer by sparseness
or consumed by what is now gone.
When you are starving you have
a choice: to focus on what
you no longer have
or
to be filled and nourished by
your emptiness.