February 24, 2013

Lively Lent-Prayer

The baptismal service states we are to “persevere in resisting evil, repent and return to the Lord”. For many, that is the only thing Lent is about. “We have to repent because we are ‘terrible human beings’.” And repentance is important. If we think we are perfect and getting along just fine, we will start to think we don’t need God. Pausing and taking a look at our faults and our good attributes is important.

We aren’t supposed to wallow in our sin, though. The next step is to repent and turn around, stop doing things that we know aren’t really quite what God wants us to do. Quit acting in ways that are contrary to the mandate to “love one another as I have loved you”.
How do we do that? We take time to be with God who loves us, like a parent-a father or mother. We cuddle up in God’s arms and say, “I’m sorry and I’ll try to do better.” That’s called prayer. And some of us are intimidated by it.

Consider it conversation with God rather than some big report that you have to come up with and use fancy words in. Do you talk to your friends with ‘$100 words’? Or do you just chat? While conversation with God is maybe a bit more than an informal chat, it is still not something you have to prepare for. Just sit down and open your heart to the One who loves you more than you or I understand.
This Lent might be a time to try out a different prayer style or new prayer discipline. If it doesn’t feed your spirit and bring you closer to God, you can always abandon it. However, you may find a new route to conversation with God. An easy way to begin is by using the ACTS touchstone to pray (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication).
There are some other special disciplines that can help us focus in our praying. Last year, about this time, I posted a series of prayer aids on the Varieties of Gifts blog. You can check them out here Some suggestions are things like praying with the psalms, keeping a prayer journal, arrow prayers, 5 finger prayers and using a rosary. Other aids can be candles, walking, vigils and many others.
Sometimes we try a prayer discipline and it just doesn’t feel comfortable. We struggle while others rave about how great it is. Things like Centering Prayer and Journaling can be a good fit for some and difficult for others. That’s because we have different prayer personalities. These have fancy names like Augustinian and Ignatian, Thomistic, and Franciscan. If you know your Myers Briggs personality, you can look up which type might fit you here. Having said that, don't give up on something new after just one try-you may discover that sitting in the quiet of contemplative prayer or writing and drawing your thoughts in a journal are actually helpful-once you get used to the discipline.
Next time, we’ll take a look at one specific prayer and spiritual aid: Journaling. This isn’t something that everyone thinks they will like, but there are many ways to journal that don’t involve just writing pages and pages of your thoughts. Check back for some hints.

February 17, 2013

Lively Lent-Community

Lent-the time of year when we all deprive ourselves and wear sack cloth because we are horrible sinners. Wrong…

Lent-a season of the church year, which is a time to reflect on what it means to really live a Christian life. Right!
I think that too often we do think that Lent is a dark time when we should be sorrowful and beat ourselves up about our failings. Instead, it is a wonderful opportunity to renew our commitment, made at baptism, to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”
To “persevere in resisting evil, repent and return to the Lord.”
To “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”
To “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.”
And to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

Throughout Lent, on this blog, I’ll be offering thoughts about these 5 parts of the Baptismal Covenant* and ways to make them alive in your life. As is often the case, these reflections will probably teach me more than you, my readers, will learn. Anyone who’s been a Sunday School teacher or led a retreat or given a sermon can tell you that is what usually happens.
Community is an important, perhaps even core, aspect of the Christian life. The first question of the Baptismal service asks, “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” The Gospels all tell of Jesus living in community with his disciples and in Acts we hear that the very first followers of the Way “had all things in common…attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes…praising God and having favor with all the people.” (Acts 2:44-47)

As the Good News spread throughout the Roman Empire it was small groups (communities) of people who heard and believed and shared the Truth. It can be easy to lose sight of the simple, even humble, beginnings of the church when we sit in our lovely buildings on Sunday. However, the Gospel is still shared in small groups and in homes.
We are not a member of just one community, either. There is the community of our family, the community of church, the community of our work environment, and the community of our church. We are members of the community of close friends, the community of neighborhoods, and the community of any clubs or organizations we belong to. Our lives are circles of communities, some of which may intersect or even interlock. In each of the communities, we are to live a life, like Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, where it is “recognized that [we have] been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

When we gather with family or friends and pray before the meal, even in public, we are sharing the Gospel. When we come together on Sunday and consider the miracle of the Eucharist, we are sharing the Gospel. When we pause in our busy lives to offer comfort to a friend or even a stranger, we share the Gospel. When we join a Bible study or attend a retreat, we are sharing the Gospel with one another in that community. 
The newly baptized, whether infants or children or adults are welcomed "into the household of God. [to] Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood." All who are baptized into Christ (no matter what denomination) are part of one big family-one big community.
Living up to the “apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers” and living into the mandate of that prayer might seem overwhelming if we had to do it by ourselves, but we don’t. We are in a community of fellow believers that support us. As the old hymn says "Yes, we are the family of God; And He's brought us together To be one in Him That we might bring light to the world..." Over the next 4 weeks we’ll look at the other parts of the Covenant and how we support one another to live a Lively Faith in Lent and beyond.

Lively prayer gives us a way to “persevere in resisting evil, repent and return to the Lord.”Lively Study is the way we learn how to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”Lively Action teaches us to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.”Lively Listening helps us hear the need as we “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

Incidentally, there will be a retreat in El Paso on March 1-2 focusing on this topic of a Lively Lent that you are welcome to join if you are in the area. (http://varietiesofgifts.blogspot.com/p/whats-happening-in-drg-for-women.html)

*Episcopal Book of Common Prayer page 304 (http://bcponline.org/)

February 10, 2013

The Wonder of Smell

Starting with the Feast of Epiphany, this blog has been considering the Wonder of each of the human senses. There was the way that Sight helps us to see what is important, both physically and with the eyes of the heart. In the same way Hearing can let us notice the lovely sounds, and can also offer us a time for quiet to hear the ‘still small voice of God’. Touching someone in need allows us to be the hand of Christ, while the idea of Tasting the goodness of God brings us closer to what is really important in life.

The last sense we will consider is the Wonder of Smell. Think what happens when you smell something delicious-say a cake or steak or rose. You inhale the scent or fragrance so you can enjoy it more fully. Sometimes we get a whiff of something that doesn’t smell so good. Perhaps a skunk or diesel exhaust. Then, if you are like me, you kind of hold your breath and hope you can get past it before you have to breathe again. Some smells are overpowering and some are so delicate you can barely make them out. Each smell has its own characteristics.

The Apostle Paul says we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:15) and that we are towalk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2). Each of us is, no doubt, a different fragrance to God. Some are pungent, some sweet, some delicate, and some are spicy.

How does that happen? When we are inspired and filled with the Holy Spirit. Consider the word inspire. We think of it as being something that happens when we are moved by a speaker or a competition or something. The word is from the Latin in-spirare (to breathe upon or into). The root word of Spirit is the same: spirare or breathe. We very much need the continuing Breath of God to in-spire (literally to in-Spirit) us. Only by breathing in the Spirit of God can we remain a ‘sweet savor’ to the world and to God.

“Breathe on me breath of God” is the first line of one of my favorite hymns. It reminds me that the Spirit of God is the ruach that stirred the waters of creation. It says in Genesis 2:7 “then the Lord God formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” God continues to breathe ruach into us when we pray, as it says in the hymn:

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.

Ash Wednesday is this coming Wednesday. During Lent we will consider some ways to live a Lively Lent-the theme of an upcoming retreat in El Paso. 

February 3, 2013

The Wonder of Tasting the Goodness of God

I don’t think much about my sense of taste. In fact, I must admit that too often I don’t really even taste what I am eating. My mind is usually busy on something else: listening to the news, planning my day, reading email, or just plain rushing through the meal. The food goes in my mouth, gets chewed and swallowed, but not really appreciated. Do you do that? We take our food for granted and don’t pause to think about the mingling of the sweet and salty, the tangy and tart, the spicy and bland flavors. I cannot remember the last time I stopped to think how wonderful it is to have a sense of taste so that I can enjoy a variety of flavors. It’s something I suspect many, if not most, of us take for granted.

We can do the same thing with our ‘taste’ of the Word of the Lord. We can become too preoccupied with getting to the end of the reading for the day (and on to the next thing) that we don’t really pause to savor what the words say to us. We forget that the Bible is full of wonder and surprises even in verses we’ve read before.

Have you ever had the experience of reading or hearing a Bible verse and saying, “I never knew it said that”? There are depths of sweet and savory and tart and salty in the Bible that we only discover if we take time to pause and let the words really sink in. Like gulping our food without paying attention, we get some nourishment out of the Bible when we read it with half our attention, but we get a lot more enjoyment if we take time to really savor-both the food and the Bible.
Recently a friend told me that they went to a small French restaurant and ordered the cheese platter. He told me that the experience was fabulous, because he and his wife actually took time to taste, savor, and compare each individual cheese.

Likewise, we can pause in our reflections on the Bible to really ‘taste’ what God is saying. Psalm 34:8a admonishes us to “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Consider just that one stanza. You don’t have to worry about the rest of the psalm right now. Really think about each word in the verse. You will have much to savor and meditate on, even in those 8 words.

What does the word ‘taste’ mean to you? Say it aloud and let it sink into your mind.
Do special foods or flavors come to mind as you think about taste?
What sensations come to mind when you hear the word?
Have you ever considered that you can ‘taste’ God?
How does God ‘taste’?
Are there descriptive words you can use to explain the ‘taste’ of God?

Do the same with the word ‘see’ and ‘Lord’ and ‘good’…How do each of these words evoke a deeper sense of the totality of God? Sit with the idea of tasting the goodness of God. Speak a prayer to the good God who gives us senses, including taste so we can come to know God more and more.

You can do this exercise with other verses. The psalms are especially suited to it because they are already broken into stanzas like songs (because that’s what they are). Another short verse to consider tasting and savoring is: “How sweet are thy words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” (Psalm 119:103)

There are other ways to savor the ‘taste’ of the Bible like lectio devino, journaling about a verse, really taking time to meditate with a certain citation, etc. The important thing is to take the time to really pause and savor the words and what they say to you. One wonderful thing about the Bible is that the same verse can say something different to you each time you read it! That will only happen if you take the time to ‘taste’ the word, though.
The final sense we will consider is smell. How do you find the wonder of God in the smells around you?