Prayer

  • blogpic MartinLutherKingJrA Sermon Preached for the 2nd Sunday After the Epiphany and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday based on John 1:29-42

    “What are you looking for?” Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of John begins with a question—not an exorcism as in Mark, not a sermon as in Matthew, not in the Temple quoting Isaiah, as in Luke. Today we get a question that Jesus asks two of John’s disciples who have heard that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. “What are you looking for? Perhaps John wants us to be clear about our deepest needs before we encounter the Jesus he proclaims. 

    Our culture will try to tell us that we need more stuff, a bigger house, more status at work, certainly more likes on Facebook, and more separation from those who are different from us. But Jesus confronts us with the deeper questions that get us beyond the superficialities of a consumer culture and an image of God as a cosmic Santa Claus and asks us, “what motivates you—not on the surface, but deep down in the core of your being?” If Jesus sat down next to you and asked you, as his disciple, “What are you looking for? What do you need?” What would you say?

    Perhaps for some of us, it’s a larger sense of meaning, a bigger purpose or a deeper sense of being loved. Perhaps for others, it is strength sufficient for a difficult situation, healing from pain, comfort in our grief, relief in our loneliness, or guidance in a decision.

    The two disciples, however, answer Jesus’ question with another question! “Where are you staying?” It sounds like they’re asking for Jesus’ hotel, or guest house.

    But for John, their question is not just about directions and lodging. The disciples are really asking, “Where are you abiding? Where will you remain, where will you endure, where will you continue to be?” The Greek word that can be translated all of these ways (meno), is used no less than 44 times in the Gospel in the John. It’s a central theme that John introduces right away. Where can we dwell with you? How can we be with you, to receive what you have to offer? Where can we abide in the very presence of God? To the question, “what are you looking for?” the disciples answer, “to dwell with God by abiding with you, Jesus.”

    And isn’t that what we all want? To dwell in God, to live in God through Jesus’ presence, in every breath, in every cell of our body, in our words, in our action in our hopes and in our dreams? So Jesus said to them, “Come and See. Come and be with me. Come and abide with me.” For to abide with Jesus is to belong God. To abide with Jesus is to be saved. To abide with Jesus is to be forgiven by the Lamb of God. To abide with Jesus is to experience a real and committed relationship that lasts for eternity.

    When we abide in Jesus, we receive the meaning and purpose we desire. We can hear the guidance we need, receive the strength we seek, the comfort that we crave, and the love that nourishes our soul. For Jesus abides with God and God abides with him. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth--to bring us into that same intimate relationship Jesus shares with God. For John, Jesus came to remove all barriers from us having a deep, abiding relationship with God.

    And like any relationship the more time we spend in that relationship, the deeper it becomes, the more intimate the conversation, the more revealing the love, the deeper the bond. In my devotional reading this week, I read this passage:"When you go to your place of prayer, don’t try to think too much or manufacture feelings or sensations. Don’t worry about what words you should say or what posture you should take. It’s not about you or what you do. Simply allow Love to look at you—and trust what God sees! God just keeps looking at you and loving you center to center." This is what John calls abiding in Jesus.

    But our faith and relationship with Jesus doesn’t end there, with our own personal relationship with God in Christ—it’s where it begins. Abiding with Jesus is a relationship that also gets lived out in the world. For to abide in Jesus is to abide with all beings that God has created. John’s Gospel begins with these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”

    That means everyone belongs, every person, every nation, every ethnic group. We all belong to God, even our enemies, which is why Jesus told us to love them. In First John, it says, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them… Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.”

    Tomorrow we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who spent his life and ministry holding us accountable to this truth, that everyone belongs. In a country founded on Christian principles, we have treated some of our citizens as if they don’t belong—as if they don’t belong to God and don’t belong to us, as fellow human beings, and sisters and brothers in Christ.

    In his Letter from Birmingham Jail and The Struggle that Changed a Nation, King wrote: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All [humanity is] caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.” Or we could say this is the inter-related structure of being created by the same God, abiding in relationship with God through the same Jesus Christ.

    Today, Jesus also asks those who are oppressed, or disenfranchised the same question he asks us, “What are you looking for?” We could ask refugees and immigrants, people in the Black Lives Matter movement, poor rural whites and everyone who feels they don’t belong, “what are you seeking?” Like us, they are seeking meaning and purpose, love and comfort, strength and guidance; and they hope for what we assume: to be treated with justice and fairness by our institutions, to have equal opportunity, to belong as a full citizen. In an environment where divisions between us are exploited and used as the basis for hateful rhetoric and actions, how much more are we called by God to embody in our daily life, the unity we share with all people who have been created by the Word in the beginning, and are one with us abiding in Christ.

    When we ground our identity, our well-being, our very life, in abiding with God in Christ Jesus, we do not need to over-identify with our own cultural group or class to feel safe and valued. On the contrary, we live from the security of our relationship with God and follow Jesus in embracing all people, and in advocating for policies that bring freedom and inclusion for all of God’s children.

    As ones who abide with Christ, we attend to our individual relationship with God (the visual with this is that my right arm points straight up) and we live out this unity in just, open and equal relationships with all people whom God created (and my left arm moves horizontally across my right arm to form a cross). + This is the life Christ is looking for in us.

  • blogpic BodyLove03I was praying one morning last week about my frustration with my weight. Even though I exercise almost every single day, eat a healthy diet with a glass of wine only once or twice a week, I seem to be on a steady rise in weight. My pants still fit, but now that I’m over 50, it’s the shirts that are getting tighter in the stomach and the sleeves. I do not understand why evolution thinks this is a good plan.

    My spiritual director shared that the granddaughter of a friend of hers calls the fat under her upper arms “fluffy angel wings!” While I love the phrase and the image, I still would rather not have fluffy angel wings until I get to heaven. Being on a headache prevention medicine that can cause weight gain is not helping my cause. I’ve lowered my dosage by 15 mg, but still have a ways to go before I wean off of it. 

    As I prayed for the grace to have middle-aged body acceptance, I heard the Spirit urging me:

    Love your body fiercely!
    Like Me, she’s been with you and supported you through all of your life.
       Your body has born the slings and arrows and hurts of this life—
          everything from cutting remarks, tears, pain, and illness
             to your own harsh judgments.

    Your body bears the scars and marks of who you are today, how you got here, and how you have become wiser.

    She has grown and changed with you and loved you,
       Your body has tolerated bad food and unhealthy choices,
          survived cancer and chronic migraines,
             walked you into foreign lands and new experiences.

    Love your body fiercely!
       Love your body as you love Me.
          It’s a sign of My presence with you.

    She holds the lessons of the past so you will not forget them.

       She enables you to move through today and offers you tomorrow

          Your body will be your constant companion until you die.

    Say thank you!

       Tell her you love her.

          Love your body fiercely!

    [I named this piece before I found the photo, but was so excited to happen upon it at: http://www.rebellesociety.com/2016/02/12/tracystamper-bodylove/

  • blogpic MaryandMarthaA sermon based on Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) preached July 16-17, 2016 at Lutheran Church of the Atonement in Florissant, MO

    If you’re a Martha, a do-er, like me, you may feel like Martha’s gotten a raw deal in this passage. For most of my ministry I’ve somewhat cringed internally at this passage as if Jesus were judging me directly.

    The problem is that like it or not, Martha’s are necessary—whether male of female, Martha’s are the ones who get the work done. At home, food must be prepared, cleaning must be done, beds must be changed, and children must be bathed. At work, reports must be written, calls need to be made, meetings must be held, and the tasks need to be accomplished.

    If Mary has chosen the “better” part, how do we accomplish anything? How does the work of a household, a business, a church get completed? Surely not by shaming the Martha’s who step up to the plate to get things done, who focus on others by providing hospitality and service.

    For those of us who get things done, life can feel like one Martha-day after another. We may long to have Mary-time, to sit and be nurtured without guilt or shame. Deep down, we do share Mary’s desire, to sit and listen, to reflect and ponder. We do want to find ways to restore our soul, to nurture our deeper longings, to feed ourselves spiritually and emotionally.

    Wouldn’t we love to take a slow walk in nature, a luxurious bath, or to relax to uplifting music? Or if you’re more like my husband, wouldn’t you love to go to more Cardinals games, play a hard game of racquetball or have a beer with a friend? Sometimes taking Mary-time feels like a luxury we can’t afford—it’s hard to take the time for Morning Prayer and Bible reading, much less these other relaxing activities, if we’re going to accomplish the tasks of the day.

    It’s always felt like a competition between the two. You’re a Martha or a Mary. You get things done or you’re a slow-moving meditative mystic that drives the rest of us Martha’s crazy. The competition between the two only makes us feel worse, like we’re never going to get it right.

    It’s taken me 25 years and two health crises to figure out this internal dilemma that the story of Mary and Martha evokes. Admittedly, I’m a stubborn and slow learner.

    The first health crisis came in late 2007 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes where it was also invasive. I was on disability for 9 months for a difficult course of surgeries, chemo and radiation. When I came through it all, I struggled with survivor guilt, having known other women who died from this disease. When I went back to the parish I was serving, I started working even harder as a Martha-type than I had before, trying to make myself worthy of survival.

    Two years ago I started experiencing severe chronic migraines and had to stop working again for a year. I served on two non-profit Boards and had to resign from both. Did I mention I’m stubborn and slow? Nothing helped—I saw new neurologists, changed my diet, tried new medication and prayed fervently. I was still wired to be a Martha—to take care of everyone and everything else first and always, and had still not learned how to take care of myself.

    I remember sitting on the couch in the living room wondering what in the heck was wrong with me and my body, and it was like the Spirit whispered in my ear: you’ve never tried taking care of yourself first.

    Slowly I started trying to take care of myself and what I needed first every day—and I can’t describe to you how unnatural and wrong it felt—and how difficult it still is, sometimes. I was tempted to do the laundry, plan dinner, clean the bathrooms—anything—the urge to get something done instead was surprisingly powerful, almost like an addiction.

    But over time the Mary in me came forward and I had to practice listening to her wisdom about self-care. Do I need meditation on the deck, a walk in the fresh air, devotional reading or a conversation with a spiritual friend? Even the things I already did for myself, like exercise and prayer, took on a different energy. Instead of doing them to check them off my to-do list in a feverish rush, I slowed down and did them with more love and care for myself.

    An amazing thing happened. All of the sudden I found that I had more energy to serve others, more emotional and spiritual availability to engage in the Martha tasks, because I wasn’t trying to pour from an empty cup. It was astounding to feel the difference in my body.

    It’s not either/or – either be a Martha or a Mary; either sit at Jesus’ feet or do the work. It’s both/and.

    While it seems like I’m stating the obvious, I didn’t really get it until I felt it in my body, in the relief from pain, in the decrease of my migraines, in the energy that comes from starting my day with Mary at Jesus’ feet. The second greatest commandment that Jesus identified now made sense, not just as an idea, but in my bones—you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no love of neighbor or Martha-service without self-love and self-care first, with Mary.

    Martha beautifully gives us the signal to watch for when we’re off track—when we take care of other people and all the tasks before taking care of ourselves. Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Martha has become resentful. She, too, desires to sit at Jesus feet and be loved and nurtured, but she’s too driven to give herself permission to do it.

    I'm ashamed to admit this feeling of resentment is all too familiar to me. When I’m taking care of everyone else’s needs to the neglect of my own, I feel resentful. Doesn’t anybody care about me? Doesn’t anybody see this work that has to be done? Resentment is the emotional signal that I have neglected my own self-care. So when resentment bubbles up, I have learned to change the question from, what’s wrong with everybody else? to what do I need to do to take care of myself to resolve this feeling of neglect?

    Jesus’ response to Martha’s question is that Mary has chosen the “better” part. This is not my favorite translation because it sets up this competition between the two. The Greek word here, agathane can also be translated, “Mary has chosen what is good, what is beneficial, what is kind, or what is generous.”

    Sitting at Jesus’ feet and nurturing your spirit is the good or beneficial thing to do first; it is the kind and generous thing to do for yourself. Because when we have listened and prayed and pondered with Jesus, then we are physically, emotionally and spiritually freed and energized to serve, and to do the work that needs to be done.

    At my meeting with my Spiritual Director last month, we talked about this very subject. Rose said that self-care in a busy schedule doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. Take 15 minutes in the morning—meditate or pray for 5 minutes, read the Bible for 5 minutes, stretch for 5 minutes. I encourage you to try it if you’re not doing this already, trusting that your time with Jesus will not be taken away from you.

    Like many Scripture stories, Luke doesn’t tell us what happened next in the story of Mary and Martha, leaving us to finish it with our own choices. I imagine that Martha sat down next to Mary at Jesus’ feet for about 15 minutes. Then the two of them prepared dinner together while their brother, Lazarus, also pitched in to set the table and pour the wine. And Jesus smiled.

  • My life, my prayers, my purpose - it all starts with love – not me loving God or me loving others, but “beholding God, beholding me and smiling,” as the Preparation Days encourage us in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  I prayed this one exercise everyday at the beginning of the 9-month program.  It was on Day 57 that my prayer experience moved from my head to my heart!  I moved from picturing God smiling on me to feeling God love me.

    Yesterday during my prayers, I simply asked what God wanted to say to me and here’s what I received:

    The more I accept how much God loves me, the more able I am to carry out what God wants to do through me. I am freer to listen to the inner voice. Since God loves me so much and fulfilling God’s call is my primary aim – my calling flows out of God’s love for me. 

    If I am trapped in self-hate and self-criticism, I cannot do what God wants me to do because I don’t feel worthy or deserving of such attention, such joy.  Thinking I can do God’s will then feels ego-driven, and the negative voices say, “Who do you think you are?  You’re not that great to be fulfilling God’s will.”  

    It turns out that my worthiness has nothing to do with what God can do through me because it’s rooted in who God is and not who I am.  It turns out that no one is worthy to be an instrument of God – it’s pure gift, rooted in God’s self-giving love. It’s a fact, a reality, apart from my worthiness or my acceptance of it.

    Since God’s love comes to me a priori, the primary purpose of prayer and meditation is to experience how much God loves me.   From this vantage point, new vistas open up that are not limited by my narrow view of what I think I am supposed to accomplish in life. Such love leads me to new questions for my day:

    • What in love does God want to do through me?
    • Since God made me and loves me, what work, relationships and tasks flow from this?
    • How does God want to show up in the world through me? 

    Each day is full of new possibilities!

     

    Photo Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_bokica'>bokica / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

  • Single Golden Leaf FallingThe only way I know how to change behavior is to change behavior: make a different choice in the moment. This is difficult in a culture bound by addictive patterns fed by self-reliance. Addict Nation author Jane Velez-Mitchell asserts addiction is not just about the usual—alcohol, drugs, and gambling, but that top addictions in the US include prescription pills, technology, shopping, and food (fat and sugar). Dr. Mark Hyman argues that sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine because of the way it lights up the reward center of the brain. We probably all have some kind of addictive behaviors, making it challenging to change any unhelpful habit.

    In my experience, the harder I try to change my behavior on my own, the more difficult it becomes. We live in a culture that idolizes hard work, never giving up, pushing oneself beyond previous or reasonable limits. When I exercise on the eliptical machine at the YMCA and stop to sip water, the digital read-out urges me, "keep climbing." We live in a "keep climbing" culture, which is why it's hard to accept that often times, success is found not in trying harder, but rather in letting go.

    The moment of surrender is the weakest moment for a human being– an emptiness that admits, finally, that I cannot of my own will and power, do something different, create something new, change my behavior or become a deeper more whole person on my own. Ironically for Christians, this moment is also our most powerful for we become open to the movement of God. As the Apostle Paul says, "For whenever I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). We surrender to a power greater than ourselves, allowing this power to work through us to effect changes, newness, and behavior beyond what we can do on our own. This is the basic first step of any 12-step program. I visited an AA meeting 14 years ago, and what the speaker on Step 1 said still sticks with me: it's not about trying harder; it's about admitting that we can't do it all.

    On our own, we're stuck in unhealthy behavior, be it eating or drinking too much, using technology to avoid intimacy, and other cyclical patterns hurtful to ourselves or others. Surrendering our weakness to God, we are more powerful than ever through the great I AM, allowing God, the universe, the creative Spirit and power of life to work through us, fill us, use us, change us.

    How does one do this on a daily basis—moment by moment? How does this God-consciousness permeate our being so that discernment of a power beyond us is ever-present on our mind and heart directing our thoughts and actions? The answer is the same as the joke about the pianist rushing down the street asking a New Yorker for directions: "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" New Yorker: "practice, practice, practice!"

    How do we develop a daily God-consciousness? Practice, practice, practice. It's why we call prayer, meditation, and other disciplines Spiritual Practices. We're always practicing, we never arrive. Time with God in prayer each morning sets the stage for the day. The actors are Jesus and the Spirit, the props are the circumstances of my life, the script is revealed as I move through the day as I continually listen to God the Director feed me my lines. It's a relationship with the inward presence of God; a listening inward to the voice of the Spirit, rather than outward. It means a slower pace, a response not a reaction, a thoughtful, measured, centered pace to life.

    Through such practices, a God-consciousness can become our daily companion, our daily script, our daily desire. Listening for God's voice and direction in the quiet of the morning enables me to hear God's voice in the noise of the afternoon. That the day is not up to me is pure freedom when I let it go. I am not side-lined, but through Christ I then become a valued actor who gives voice to the Spirit. Indeed, God's grace is sufficient, for power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

    Photo Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_tuchkay123'>tuchkay123 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

  • blogpic unionwithGodI receive Fr. Richard Rohr's Daily Meditations and was so moved by this reflection this week that I wanted to share it below. You can sign up to receive these daily meditations here. Connect with Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation on Facebook or Twitter.

    Awakening to Oneness
    Monday, February 20, 2017

    Guest writer and CAC teacher James Finley continues to share insights on meditation (another word for contemplative prayer).

    We begin in ego consciousness, imagining that the union with God we seek is far off. After all, ego consciousness is the subjective perception of being a separate self that has to find God, who is perceived as being other than one’s self. But as ego consciousness yields and gives way to meditative awareness, we begin to recognize the surprising nearness of God.

    God is already here, all about us and within us—the very source, ground, and fulfillment of our being. But subject to the limitations of ego, we tend not to experience the divine mystery of who we are, created in the image and likeness of God. We do not directly realize the God-given Godly nature of ourselves in our nothingness without God. This is why we meditate: that we might awaken to God’s presence all about us and within, as Saint Augustine phrased it, closer to us than we are to ourselves.

    To practice meditation as an act of faith is to open ourselves to the endlessly reassuring realization that our very being and the very being of everyone and everything around us is the generosity of God. God is creating us in the present moment, loving us into being, such that our very presence is the manifested presence of God. We meditate that we might awaken to this unitive mystery, not just in meditation, but in every moment of our lives.

    This is how Jesus lived. Whether he gazed at a child on his lap or a leper wanting to be healed; whether he looked at a prostitute or his own mother; whether he witnessed the joy of a wedding feast or the sorrow of loved ones weeping at the burial of a loved one; whether he observed his own disciples or his executioners—Jesus saw God. We meditate that we might learn, with God’s grace, to see God in all that we see.

    Saint Paul writes, “In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Our oneness with Christ deepens in a lifelong process of conversion in which Christ’s mind and our mind become one mind, one way of seeing and being in the world. The faithful practice of meditation is a way of learning to follow the Spirit’s prompting along this self-transforming path.

    In Christian terms, meditative experience offers the least resistance to the Spirit of God within us, who, with unutterable groaning, yearns that we might awaken to eternal oneness with God. As our resistance to God’s quiet persistence diminishes, our experience of ourselves as other than Christ dissolves into realized oneness with Christ. Little by little or all at once, we come to that point of blessedness and freedom in which we can say, along with Paul, “For me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). That is, for me to live is for me to be that oneness with God that Christ embodies and proclaims.

    Reference: Adapted from James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (HarperSanFrancisco: 2004), 7-9, 42-43, 175.

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