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Prayer—No Easy Matter

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Friday, April 20, 2018

honest definition

Prayer—No Easy Matter

When I read this first reflection on prayer by Henri Nouwen, his words penetrated me deeply. (Again, I might add. I have a feeling this will happen to me again and again as I read through this short book.) I am unashamedly a fangirl of Fr. Nouwen. His profound writing and superb choice of words consistently hits home. Now, if I could just get his words to remain in my brain and imprinted on my heart…

He speaks of a deep relationship, a no-holds-barred relationship between me and the other. (Or, should I say the Other? I have always honored God with capitalization, as much as possible.) In any case, Fr. Nouwen talks of a deep resistance, as well. Giving the illustration of a woman admitted to a psychiatric center [1] who absolutely refuses to open her fist until it is pried open to reveal a coin…makes me think hard. How much am I trying to hide from God?

As Fr. Nouwen says, “When we are invited to pray we are asked to open our tightly clenched fists and to give up our last coin. But who wants to do that?” [2] This can be such a painful process. Even though some may cry out of that deep place of pain and anguish, the whole process can be painful. Just deciding to begin to pray can be filled with anguish. “You feel it is safer to cling to a sorry past than to trust in a new future. So you fill your hands with small clammy coins which you don’t want to surrender.” [3]

Dear Lord, how difficult it is to be totally honest. Even though You know everything already, just like a wise, benevolent earthly parent, I feel awkward, and shy, and ashamed, and resentful. Disappointed, jealous, sad, and angry, too. Why is it that deep emotions get in the way of my relationship with You so readily? Clutching these yucky emotions to my chest as if they were treasures is not in my best interests. Lead me to understand this deep truth that Fr. Nouwen brings to my attention.

Let us pray. Gracious God, loving Heavenly Parent, You are patient and merciful. You are also all-knowing, so I cannot hide from You—as much as I want to. As the psalmist reminds me, even if I flee to the depths of the sea or the highest mountain, You are still there. You are still with me, no matter what happens. Help me to be honest with You. You love me. Help me emblazon those words on my heart. In Jesus’s precious name we pray, amen.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] With Open Hands: Bring Prayer into Your Life, Henri J. M. Nouwen (United States of America: Ave Maria Press, 1972), 3.

[2] Ibid, 4.

[3] Ibid.

Bring Prayer into My Life

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Saturday, April 14, 2018

hands folded in prayer

Bring Prayer into My Life

Going back to the original reason for this blog, I want to pray on a more regular basis. Yes, I realize this is a never-ending odyssey for me, in my spiritual life. Yes, God and I have had many conversations about this lack or deficit, for decades. And, I am going to try again. (Somehow, that quote from Yoda in the original Star Wars movie, “A New Hope,” comes to mind. “No. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” )

Dear Lord, taking a snippet from popular culture—and from Yoda (whom I love), I want to do. Not try, but do.

Over the next little while, I am going to read one of Henri Nouwen’s marvelous books called With Open Hands. In this slim volume, he examines his own personal experience with prayer. And as he says, “…could it be that what is most personal for me, what rings true to the depths of my being, also has meaning for others?” [1]

This book is distilled down from a number of conversations with twenty-five theology students. Father Nouwen and the students variously prayed, conversed, and contributed. As Fr. Nouwen says, this book “took form during many hours of intimate conversation, which could possibly be called hours of praying.” [2]

I already know Nouwen’s work. I have read (at various times) five other books he wrote. I am very much looking forward to this one. I know how faithful Nouwen was to his spiritual disciplines, and I pray I can be half as faithful.

Dear Lord, as I embark with Father Nouwen on this journey of prayer, I want to pray regularly. I want to get closer to You. Help me remain consistent. Knowing that Jesus is right by my side every day, I pray all of these things. Amen,

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] With Open Hands: Bring Prayer into Your Life, Henri J. M. Nouwen (United States of America: Ave Maria Press, 1972), vii.

[2] Ibid, viii.

Resurrection Sunday, For Us

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Jesus and empty tomb

Resurrection Sunday, For Us

I haven’t written any reflections last week during Holy Week. Yes, I was busy. Yes, I was under the weather. And yes, I had much too much on my plate. I feel badly, because I did not finish the daily readings from the apostle Paul. (I did do two readings last week from Colossians, and appreciated them very much. But, I did not do any others…mea culpa.)

I know I have a poor track record, doing daily devotions. (Perhaps I ought to think of it as a batting average? That way, one day out of three would still be an awesome batting average. Any major league baseball player would be proud of a .333 batting average. *grin*) In any case, God and I will continue to discuss my regular vs. daily prayer, scripture readings, and devotions. Of that, I am sure.

The last reading was from 2 Corinthians 5. Such a marvelous chapter! In almost every verse in this chapter I find a vivid image or stunning word or phrase that speaks directly to my heart and soul. From the tent Paul describes in the beginning of the chapter to the ministry of reconciliation that he closes the chapter with, this is—hands down—one of my favorite chapters in all of the Bible. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new!” And, the three verses following, of course. Such wonder. Such glory. I cannot even begin to describe the magnificence of Paul’s words.

As Prof. Williams says, “Paul write perhaps his most powerful explanation of the importance of Jesus’ resurrection. His point is this. The resurrection of Jesus matters, Paul says, because without it our faith is futile and we are pitiable people….But not only that – it also inaugurates that new creation now, as a reality into which we are invited.” [1]

What an invitation! Imagine, Jesus inviting you and me into His presence, into His new creation. We may come freely, no strings attached. How awesome, how fabulous is that? Truly, a gift given to us all, freely. Thank You, Jesus. “Let us live in this world as foretastes of the new creation to come, a world guaranteed by Your resurrection life. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.” [2]

@chaplaineliza

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meeting God in Paul: Reflections for the Season of Lent, Rowan Williams (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 92.

[2] Ibid.

The Spirit of God, Given to Us

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Thursday, March 22, 2018

Rom 8-11 same power, words

The Spirit of God, Given to Us

I haven’t read the letter to the Romans for some time. (I mean, I haven’t really, thoroughly read it.) I might have dipped into it, during the past few years. I preached a few sermons on passages from Romans, yes. But I have not read it in depth—not for a long time.

So many quote-able verses. So much that is so memorable. In terms of visual communication, so many memes can be made, suitable for social media!

For the past three days, Rowan Williams has assigned reading parts of Romans 8. I was particularly struck by the repeated references Paul makes to the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God. Third Person of the Trinity, this chapter is one of the places that Paul gives us quite a bit of the information about the Spirit. We find out that the Holy Spirit communicates with our spirits. We discover the Holy Spirit groans without words, in a meaningful way that resonates so deeply. In our place, and on our behalf.

In fact, “we are already experiencing a ‘foretaste,’ an advance sample of the experience God has made us for.” [1]

Sometimes, life seems so routine, so boring. I plumb forget that God has created me with eternity in my heart and mind. God means for me (and, by extension, for all of us!) to be adopted and accepted into God’s heavenly kingdom. What a profound statement. What a profound series of statements, in fact. God is embracing us as God’s children. What a loving, welcoming statement for Paul to make.

I am so grateful for God’s overflowing, everlasting love. Dear Lord, I appreciate finding out more inside information—from You! Gracious God, thank You for loving us so much that You sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in each of us. Thank You most of all for sending Your Son to die for us, and in our place. “It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Thank You, dear God.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meeting God in Paul: Reflections for the Season of Lent, Rowan Williams (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 70.

Breaking Down Barriers

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Monday, March 19, 2018

Gal 3-28 all one, words

Breaking Down Barriers

The Apostle Paul talks about barriers several times in his letters. Not only about breaking down barriers between people, between Jews and non-Jews, between male and female, slave and free, but also between us and God. (That is, all of us—humanity—and God.)

This caused me to reflect on the breaking down of barriers today. It seems to me that God would be pleased if followers of God were to break down barriers in all areas today. Not only racial and social, but in terms of gender, class, accident of birth, ethnic and cultural barriers, as well.

It seems as if racial, ethnic and cultural tensions are on the rise. It is not just my imagination. Just over the weekend, The New York Times reported a marked spike in hate crimes here in the United States. Specifically, hate crimes against Jewish people between the years 2016 and 2017 are up over 50 percent. [1] And, this is not an isolated occurrence.

In Detroit this past weekend an experiment disgruntled many people. A mock “no Irish pub” was “part of an experiment to raise awareness about how poorly Irish immigrants were once treated in the U.S. against the backdrop of prominent modern-day conversations about race and immigration.” [2] This mock-pub had a bouncer outside who gave verbal abuse to people of Irish ancestry and people who were wearing green—as was common around the turn of the 1900’s, with signs in shop windows that said “No Irish need apply” for help wanted positions. “Century-old newspaper articles that described Irish immigrants as “simians,” “too lazy to work” and members of “a servant race” helped fuel bouncer Bill Johns’ language as he sat outside the pub, telling people they couldn’t come in.” [3]

During the Apostle Paul’s time, in some circles, if you were not a Roman citizen, you were not worth much at all. (Fortunately, Paul was born a citizen; he was born to a father who had Roman citizenship.) Right side or wrong side of the railroad tracks, north-sider or south-sider, city mouse or country mouse? It does not matter to God. God breaks down all barriers. (Thank God!)

Let us pray: “Lord Jesus, in this Lenten season we are reminded of the sacrifice you made for us. Thank you that, by your sacrifice, you have made peace between us and God, and between us and others. Help us to live as people who represent the hope of the universe. Amen.” [4]

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/17/sunday-review/anti-semitism-american-jews.html

[2] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/03/17/detroit-pub-refused-serve-irish-people-detroit-st-paddys-pub-refused-serve-irish-people-make-point-m/435650002/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Meeting God in Paul: Reflections for the Season of Lent, Rowan Williams (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 90-91.

Christ, and Him Crucified

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Thursday, March 15, 2018

St. Paul, Guercino_stpaul3.jpg

Christ, and Him Crucified

Sometimes, Paul’s words are just that—wordy, pedantic, with run-on sentences. He did not craft parts of his writings with meticulous care. (Which of us in email regularly crafts the words we use with great care?) Some of Paul’s letters were, I suspect, written in some haste. At least, not given the great amount of care with which Paul wrote the letter to the Roman church. I’m reminded of the quote from Jane Austen, paraphrased, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Brevity and clarity in writing sometimes take considerable time and thought.

At times, Paul gets really excited. His subject matter, of course, is often weighty and even exalted—if not transcendent. Seriously, why not get excited about such things? This is only natural. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” As Prof. Williams says in his book of reflections, Paul is a passionate man, speaking passionately about this subject so meaningful to him and what has become his whole life—Jesus Christ, crucified, resurrected, and ascended. [1] Spreading the Good News, to Paul, has become his primary, even sole purpose in life.

Going back to Prof. Williams and his in-depth look at Paul the man, one thing stood out to me. “It is always worth remembering that Paul didn’t know he was writing the Bible; that is to say that, when he is writing (or rather dictating) his letter, what we have is a flow of argument which, because Paul is an emotional man, sometimes gets so tangled in its expression that a sentence breaks off and you have to start all over again.” [2] His construction can be wordy, or labored, or even in sentence fragments. And, this is the apostle Paul in all his imperfect humanity. Like all of us, Paul was not perfect, and certainly admits as much a number of times in his letters.

I have very much enjoyed renewing my admiring acquaintance with Paul, both through the book of reflections Meeting God in Paul as well as through the readings Prof. Williams has chosen for daily readings. Dear Lord, I pray this can lead me to journey closer with You not only in Lent, but also throughout the rest of the church year. In Christ’s crucified, risen and triumphant name I pray, amen.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meeting God in Paul: Reflections for the Season of Lent, Rowan Williams (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 19.

[2] Ibid. 20.

Breaking Down Barriers

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Thursday, March 8, 2018

Philemon title, bible

Breaking Down Barriers

There are many separations or barriers between people today. Barriers of race, gender, color, class, birth, finances, status. Another way of looking at it is right side/wrong side of the tracks, rich/poor, have/have-not. Much less in terms of language(s) spoken, dialect or accent, educated or uneducated. What are we to do? What was Paul to do?

From what I could tell from some reading about Paul and his time and culture, Paul knew very well about these different kinds of cultural statuses and society structures. Sometimes, he would uphold them, and sometimes not. (I apologize beforehand to all Pauline scholars who may read this, and correct me. I fully enjoy learning more! So, please, let me know if I am mistaken.)

Prof. Williams talks about exactly this fact in one of his short chapters in Meeting God in Paul, starting with the mountain of a verse from Galatians 3:28, “There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” “Here is Paul saying that there is something you can belong to in which all these different kinds of status are completely immaterial.” [1] Wow. What a statement for Paul to make, given the fairly strict rules and mores of his society. There was a little latitude and wiggle room, but not very much.

Reading this chapter of Williams’ little book, I was struck by the little book (actually, personal letter) of the apostle Paul to Philemon. Paul had obviously been friends with Philemon before, and was communicating long-distance. Philemon’s runaway slave Onesimus had become acquainted with Paul in the distant town, and—by Paul’s own account—was now like a son to Paul. Now, Paul was writing to Philemon on Onesimus’s behalf: “11 At one time he was of no use to you, but now he is useful[b] both to you and to me.” (And, yes, I think Paul loved the word-play—“Onesimus” meant “useful.”)

Paul was breaking down barriers. Jesus broke down barriers, too. And, much more so than Paul. How marvelous that Jesus just plain disregarded societal structures and barriers, and welcomed everyone. We see Paul striving to do the same thing. His statement in Galatians 3 (as well as a similar one in Colossians 3) shows us that he is striving toward welcoming all, no matter what.

Dear God, thank You for Your extravagant welcome, breaking down all barriers.

@chaplaineliza

 

Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Meeting God in Paul: Reflections for the Season of Lent, Rowan Williams (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 29.