Posts Tagged With: prayer

Finding the Return Home

How often do you long for home? This could be the house of your childhood, or, really, any place where you are accepted and loved. A place where others understand you and where you fit in. Whatever this place looks like, whether it exists in a physical location or in your mind’s eye, each of us has a longing for home.

Ever since my mother passed away, I’ve had to redefine this longing. I may be living in the house she made into a home, but it doesn’t have the same feel. Thus, I’ve been working to create a welcoming place to which I can invite people and where I can experience and share a grounded love. But something is always missing in this endeavor: specifically the arms of my mother. Yet, there remains in me a hope that a home, a solid home, still exists.

This hope has be284D26BD00000578-3067012-A_page_in_a_rare_medieval_tome_named_the_Liesborn_Gospel_Book_be-a-85_1430750081229en revived through a new spiritual practice a friend introduced me to – a prayer wheel. Recently, a version of this forgotten prayer tool from the Middle Ages was discovered in a 10th century gospel book from Liesborn, Germany. On the first blank page, someone drew a circle and then filled it with elements to guide praying. Included are petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, the gifts of the Spirit from Isaiah 11, moments in the life of Christ, and the beatitudes from Matthew 5, all arranged in seven spokes with God at the center. (Learn more at http://www.religionnews.com/2015/04/30/no-dice-required-a-medieval-prayer-w
heel-surfaces-but-how-it-was-used-is-anyones-guess/.)

Around this circle the words “The order of the diagram written here teaches the return home” frame the diagram and the prayer. Each day that I’ve prayed using this tool, I’m drawn to the words of home. I place my finger on the cross at the top of the wheel and trace the outer words. By the time I’ve returned to the cross I realize a renewed peace as I begin praying the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Though I may not experience home as I have in the past, I’m recognizing that a different and deeper reality of home is present. I’m moving towards a deeper peace because I’m learning that home is not something I or someone else creates, but is being with God.

As David cries out in Psalm 27

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

Even if I use this tool for less than a minute a day, it is redirecting my thinking. There is something about physically tracing a path as I speak the words. It’s similar to taking a pilgrimage, walking a labyrinth, or making the sign of the cross. As I connect to something tangible, such practices take me out of the sometimes ethereal, otherworldly practices of seeking to dwell in the Lord’s house. But, isn’t this what abiding in Christ should be, since he is fully human, as well as fully God? It makes sense that to abide with him, a person needs to connect with that human, material part – not merely the spiritual. These material practices point the reality of God’s incarnation. They also affirm that the longing for home has a destination.

St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about this longed-for dwelling as well:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. (2 Corinthians 5:1-3)

While I continue to re-create a place of home and as I hear the call of home from many other sources, this diagram on a single 8×10 sheet of paper reminds me of the true home. A home in which I don’t need to worry about paying the taxes, repairing cracks in the wall, or finding the right sofa. Even as I fondly remember the home my mother created and seek to create my own version, I realize these can only be glimpses of an eternal home at the heart of God.

It’s a blessing to find home with God, where ever I may find myself – and to be thankful for the experiences that have and continue to point to it.

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Categories: Pilgrimage Sharings | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

A Kitchen of Feasting and Prayer

Setting up the kitchen has been one the most telling tasks so far of the work that will go into weaving together several lives, past and present, into a home.

Of course, my parents and I had a working kitchen over the past decade. Cupboards were filled with dishes and the pantry with food. In fact, we had two sets of dishes, one of 16 settings so we could host large groups. But once my mother passed and this space was to be my home in a new way, it was time to actively create a new space. Six boxes from an apartment sat in the garage, holding items from an earlier kitchen and dreams of living on my own. Items I hadn’t seen for over a decade. Each drawer in the kitchen contained memories of cooking with my mother. Now I had to merge the two. So, I invited a friend over to help me decide.

Did I need eight pie plates? No.

Two waffle irons? No

Seven aprons? Well, maybe.

At first it took awhile as I commented on a jelly pottery jar (in the shape of a bunch of grapes) that a friend of my mom’s made over forty years ago. Or, as I decided which of four dish sets I would keep. But eventually we hit a rhythm and just worked through the boxes and cabinets. I felt an active letting go of the past, along with a hope for meals with friends and family in the coming weeks and months.

Through this process life continued. It wasn’t about trying to retain what had been lost. It was about keeping this space as a place of living relationships. I was thinking about inviting over students and friends so I could make use of these pots and pans – and even the pie plates. I wanted toshare the feast of living with those who visit.

In the work of melding these stories and spending time with a friend, it was also a type of prayer. Of recognizing ongoing life that is not ours grasp, but to celebrate.

Recently I encountered George Herbert’s poem Prayer (I) that lists a multitude of images for prayer – starting with “the church’s banquet”.

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
-Prayer (I), George Herbert

As prayer itself is described as a banquet, manna, land of spices, I’m also seeing how a banquet and the enjoyment of a meal may be a form of prayer as friends gather around God’s daily bread.

Stepping into this reworked kitchen, I can only hope that my actions in it will be a prayer, a small part of the church’s banquet. That the cooking and baking here will celebrate the gracious gifts of the Father, that I will see Christ in the people served around the table, and that the Spirit of God, a spirit of Shalom, will invade the space.

IMG_3412Last weekend I had the privilege of hosting a group of former graduate students around the table and continuing this prayer. I used Pyrex bowls and steel measuring spoons that had prepared many meals before and new white and cobalt blue dishes that were seeing their first dinner party. A favorite recipe from an aunt and ones I found just last week. These kitchen items and the food they helped prepare and serve, provided the basis for a type of prayer – communication with God in the presence of friends as people reconnected and celebrated new life, new jobs, and voiced concerns.

It was a grace-filled image of what this home can become.

Categories: God's Story | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Ministry of Prayer, Poetry, and Parable

Plans.  Posters.  Phone calls.   At this time of the school year in campus ministry it seems that I’m merely working to get things done and reach finals week along with the students.  So, these days I’m trying to get people to events and laying foundations for the next academic year.  Days are full, but at the end I look back and wonder what I have been doing.

What’s the point of it all?  Get a few people to a dinner.  Add to the list of students I’ve seen.  And then when things don’t work out I seek to plan my way to a better outcome.  After a while it seems empty, though this was a job that was supposed to be fulfilling.  You know, connecting with students, providing opportunities for them to connect with God’s Word, and helping local congregations to do the same.

In the effort to get a campus ministry up and running I’ve spent more time coordinating plans than working with people – clearly focusing on the area where I am naturally more comfortable.  Any creativity is pushed aside until another day when I have time.  But will I ever have time?  There are so many ways to schedule in this job with no set schedule.  What will appease funders and churches?  Numbers of activities and people.  But this can’t be all?

poetry magnetic piecesNot long ago a few new words broke into my broken ministry paradigm – Prayer, Poetry, Parable.  Eugene Peterson in his book The Contemplative Pastor seeks to redefine the 21st century job description of a pastor.  To return it to a practice of presence, of being, of breaking from the societal norms.  He does this not only through a set of beliefs, but also in a way of living.

 

  • “Words are the real work of the world – prayer words with God, parable words with men and women.”
  • “Words making truth, not just conveying it: liturgy and story and song and prayer are the work of pastors who are poets.”

These words were like the opening of a new world.  What if I focused more on prayer – that of my own and of students. To take time to listen to God and walk more closely with him in ministry.  Also, as I think of sharing with students it is easy to get into a rut of trying to explain a set of creedal beliefs.  A few get it, but many look back with blank stares.  So learning from the use of parables and poetry is a way to engage students in God’s story.  But it’s more than that, they are practices of creativity that mirror how God interacts with us fully.

From personal experience, I resonate with Peterson’s observation that “People are uncomfortable with mystery (God) and mess (themselves).”  Because of this he talks about helping people see the God’s “grace operating in their live” while paying “attention to the Word of God right here in this locale”.   In addition to being creative, this is a very peopled and placed and view of ministry – centered on God’s Word.

Though I may not be an ordained pastor, working as a campus minister requires similar break in the ordinary routine.  It can be tempting to step onto campus and fall into step.  To rack up activities, market programs, and speak the language of competition.  But is that what campus needs?  Another voice defending their turf – even if that turf is biblical truth.

Maybe what is needed is another type of voice – one that slows down and speaks differently in prayer, poetry, and parable.   This voice would invite others in to pray, engage them in the practice of poetry, and tell and listen to stories in a new way. Most importantly, it would interact with people in their place now – just as God interacts with us – not expecting them to come to one more event, but walking with them in their journey and drawing these individual pilgrims together naturally.

 

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Does Prayer Count If it’s on Your To-do List?

Yesterday I was driving down the highway to work thinking about the things on my to-do list.  It didn’t seem that everything would fit into the hours before me, so I turned on the classical music station and started praying.  Not for God’s guidance in prioritizing my time, but because this was one of the items I needed to finish.

Maybe it would have been better to wait until I got to campus, shut my office door, and quietly prayed.  But I was already running late for a weekly Bible study with students and the rest of my day was scheduled.  So there I was praying on I-75.

But does this really count?  I wasn’t in the quiet of a church or felt particularly drawn by God’s spirit. I didn’t feel especially holy.  But I was praying.  Remembering students I’ve talked with over the past week, reflecting on the Bible passage I read in the morning, and being honest about my own failings – like praying at that moment in order to cross out an item on my task list.  And then when it’s crossed off, is that it for the day?

Some days that is the extent of my intentional praying as I get so wrapped up in other activities.  But many times, because it is on my task list, I will make a point to pray between student meetings.  Every so often I even shut my door and pray the hours or just take time to be silent.

As I read the biblical admonitions to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5:17) and to ‘seek God’s face’ (Psalm 105) – images of a calm and focused prayer life enter my mind.  A life in which I make time to engage with God throughout the day without having to be prodded to remember.  However, that’s not reality for me at this time.  Thus, prayer remains on the list so it can remain on my mind.

 

Categories: Campus Ministry | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Praying on the Journey

What does praying look like on the journey?  At various meetings, with students and other campus ministers, I hear the common refrain of needing and wanting to pray more – and of desiring prayer to be more than yet another task to check off that daily list.

Personally, at times I use prayer as a crutch to get through the day.  Or, more often, I forget about it.  I will get around to it when work is done and I have time.  When I talk with students about prayer I point to the ideal in the Bible, in books – but also share my own failings in this area.  That used to be where I left it.

Then last year, in my own desire for more consistent prayer, I asked three graduate students to join me each week for 30 minutes to gather on campus, look at God’s Word, and pray.  Nothing over-planned, just time out of our regular schedules to spend time with God.

I’ll admit that I”m not always into praying when noon on Tuesdays comes around.  I could be finishing a work project or reading.  But the time is set aside, so I go, never knowing what to expect.  I’m surprised at how long this has continued – even through the summer.

This week we spent time looking at Paul’s two verses of greeting to the Ephesians.  We noticed the number of times Jesus Christ was mentioned in this one sentence, the encouragement he gave the Ephesians by calling them faithful, and the extension of God’s grace and peace to this young church.  This grace is that of God.  Yet, through the very act of sending the letter Paul is also expressing a grace.

Wow.  In the midst of UC’s food court God’s Word was coming alive – and this led into prayer as we each longed for God’s grace to work through us in the relationships we have at work, with friends, and with God.

In this group, God’s Word meets us where we are each day, in the midst of life.  We take time to pray for ourselves and the needs we have.  But we also take time to pray outside, to pray for the campus, and even to be quiet.

I’m now wondering how we can increase the space for prayer.  Do we invite more people, start more groups?  Perhaps make prayer a more natural part of gatherings – not something only a ‘qualified’ leader can guide.  Or that only people comfortable praying in a group can do.

What I don’t want to do is turn this into another program, but instead build a community of pray-ers steeped in God’s Word in the world.  It’s time to pray . . .

 

Categories: Journey Living | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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