Prayer, with Open Hands

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Saturday, December 1, 2018

my heart saying a prayer

Prayer, with Open Hands

If ever I have wanted to learn to pray, Father Nouwen is an excellent teacher. His insights, his words, his example—all can lead me towards a warm, vibrant prayer life.

Take, for example, his latest definition of prayer. “Above all, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God’s promises and find hope for yourself, your neighbor, and your world.” [1]

This reminds me so much of Fred Rogers. He, too, was a deeply spiritual man. Also an ordained minister, he was always striving to find ways to be more loving and open to his neighbors—which were everyone he met.

This makes me think. And I mean, really think. Do I open my hands to God’s promises? Do I find hope in God for myself, much less my neighbor or my world? Perhaps, if my neighbor closely resembles me. But, what if my neighbor does not look like me? What if they look different? Or speak a different language? Or wear different clothing? What if they were born halfway across the world? What then?

I truly do not think that mattered to Father Nouwen, and I don’t think that mattered to Fred Rogers, either.

“Praying pervades every aspect of our lives. It is the unceasing recognition that God is wherever we are, always inviting us to come closer and to celebrate the divine gift of being alive.” [2]

I want to learn to pray more deeply, and more freely. I’m reminded of the old joke from New York City—“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice.” I know I have been in the schools of prayer for many years, but I still feel like a rank amateur. My prayer life ebbs and flows, and I feel more and less discouraged, accordingly. (So, I suppose I must feel encouraged sometimes. Apparently not right now, though.)

As I come to the end of this small book, I pray that I may take these lessons to heart.

Dear Lord, thank You for sincere, genuine people of faith like Father Nouwen and Mister Rogers. May I take them as examples for me—for my thoughts, speech and actions. May I find joy in You and in Your presence. And, may I lead others into Your joy, to experience your love, mercy and rest. 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, 2005), 121.

[2] Ibid, 122.

Christ Shows Us Prayer

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Thursday, November 29, 2018

Christ Shows Us Prayer

If I’ve ever wondered what prayer is, I can go to my bookshelf and take a look. I have more than fifteen books on prayer. (Give or take. I don’t have them all in one place—some are in my office at church.) That does not count all the books on spirituality, spiritual direction, and other kinds of practical theology. I geek out over those things.

However, I fall far short of giants in prayer. I call myself an advanced beginner at prayer. When I consider several of my friends and acquaintances, they are real people of prayer. I stand in awe of several people who have written books about prayer, like Father Nouwen.

His life exemplified prayer. He gives a brief declaration of what goes on when we pray: “When you pray, you open yourself to the influence of the Power which has revealed itself as Love. That Power gives you Freedom and Independence. Once touched by this power, you are no longer swayed back and forth by the countless opinions, ideas, and feelings which flow through you.” [1]

That is the way it’s supposed to work, anyway. I can only strive to pray this way. I am not free and independent of opinions, ideas and feelings, so help me, God. Fr. Nouwen raises it to the next level in the next paragraph: “Christ is the one who in the most revealing way made clear that prayer means sharing in the power of God. Through this power He turned His world around.” [2] Good grief. How can I possibly enter into prayer with such a high bar set for me? First Father Nouwen, that giant of prayer, and then the example of our Lord Jesus? Talk about feeling small and inadequate.

I’ve had this regular blog for several years now, and I do strive to follow God in prayer. Clear, unambiguous statements like the ones Fr. Nouwen made set me back on my heels.

They are counterbalanced by Fr. Nouwen’s follow-up statement: “Praying, therefore, means being constantly ready to let go of your certainty and to move beyond where you now are….This is why praying demands poverty, that is, the readiness to live a life in which you have nothing to lose so that you can always begin afresh.” [3] Oh, dear Lord, how I wish I could be so free, to have truly nothing to lose.

I hesitate to even begin to pray this way. Rather, I have begun, in the past. I have spent some time with God, resting in God’s presence, but exerting power? Not being swayed by opinions, ideas, and feelings? Dear Lord, I need help from You. I feel like such a beginner, especially when I read such words. Help me to pray, Lord.

@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, 2005), 116.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, 117.

Prayer Beyond Activism

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Sunday, November 25, 2018

cross - carved

Prayer Beyond Activism

Activism is quite important to Henri Nouwen. He spends a lot of time describing the critical prophets who cry out in the wilderness. He also details those who are threatened by these prophets. Oh, these prophets in the wilderness too often receive “a stifling oppression at the hands of those who consider themselves the protectors of order and the upholders of peace and calm.” [1] Denial, verbal attacks, imprisonment, even execution—how badly the visionaries are treated. Yet, they persist. These earnest critics must keep preaching.

That is so often and so sadly true. Yes. We can see this kind of mistreatment of visionaries happen again and again. But, as Fr. Nouwen perceptively asks, what does this have to do with prayer?

“Prayer means breaking through the veil of existence and allowing yourself to be led by the vision which has become real to you….The praying person looks on the world with compassion, penetrates its hidden meaning, and calls it to an always deeper conversion.” [2]

What power does regular prayer give to a spiritual person? I think Fr. Nouwen is stating the pwer of prayer is similar to the power of a prophet and visionary. If through prayer I receive increased clarity of a vision from God, then I will look on the world with increased compassion. It will then be possible for me to penetrate deeper and deeper (I am thinking like peeling an onion). Going deeper and deeper means penetrating further into the spiritual life.

Going deeper into the spiritual life is so appealing to me, on some hidden, secret level deep within. When I hear the words “be in the world without being part of it,” I have almost a prickly kind of feeling inside. I want to experience this kind of life, this kind of deep understanding of God and of other humans.

Alas, I can get only brief glimpses of this shining spiritual life. I feel like a mere spectator most of the time, looking in a storefront or shop window. I still haven’t figured out whether I am scared to try to go deep into the spiritual life, or whether I think this kind of spiritual living is just for other people. Grown-up people, not for me.

Yet, reaching towards the spiritual life is not my doing. (Isn’t that what Fr. Nouwen says?) This wonderful power comes from above, from the Father, from the Unseen Reality. That is a great relief, and it also fills me with reassurance. God, I am not alone here. Thank God.

@chaplaineliza

 

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[1] With Open Hands: Bring Prayer into Your Life, Henri J. M. Nouwen (United States of America: Ave Maria Press, 2005), 112.

[2] Ibid, 114.

Prayer, and Activism

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Love one another - Jesus - did I stutter

Prayer, and Activism

How refreshing, to have Father Nouwen actually come right out and say that thinks all Christians ought to be activists. So different from the attitude I commonly see among the Christians I usually hang out with. These worthy people often try their best to be “good Christians.” However, these good folks—long-time faithful folks—just do not know how to challenge the status quo. The same-old, same-old has become familiar, comfortable, and well-worn.

Fr. Nouwen talks of a modern-day prophet, making us “suspect that someone has passed by who is worth getting to know.” [1] People are fascinated by these prophets. Strong, with an inner freedom, independent, able to stand apart from and above the fray. (At least, that is according to Father Nouwen.)

How I wish I could hang out with one of these prophets. Truthfully, I am afraid I couldn’t keep up with them. I imagine someone charismatic, but with such appealing characteristic that many would find him—or her—like a magnet. Father Nouwen mentions “They listen attentively and speak with a self-possessed authority but don’t easily get rushed or excited. In everything they say and do, it seems as though there is a lively vision before them which those who bear them can intimate, but not see.” [2] Wow! It is almost as if I have the vague impression, tentatively feeling as if blindfolded or in the dark, I wish I could actually have a relationship with such a prophet, such a luminary.

I wish…I wish…I wish. I can’t meet a person like this just by wishing. I suppose I need to try to be that activist, that prophetic individual, where I am and in what I do. On a daily basis of striving and trying, I know I could never be such a paragon as Fr. Nouwen describes. However, I can try my best to be a little ore Christ-like, be a little better Christ-follower.

Didn’t Jesus buck the status quo? Isn’t that what Henri Nouwen calls all of us to? He suggests needing “to work out a new world, the outlines of which they see and which appeal to them so much that even the fear of death no longer has a decisive power over them.” [3]

Dear Lord, really? Oh, Lord. That is such a difficult thing, such a challenging attitude to have. Well, if I do set out to follow Jesus, I may have to give up my life. Thus, the fear of death [ought not to have] a decisive power over me…

Dear Lord, help me to follow You, as best I can. Please, Lord.

@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, 2005), 105.

[2] Ibid, 108.

[3] Ibid, 110.

Prayer, Hoping for a New World…

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Monday, November 12, 2018

Rev 21-5 all things new

Prayer, Hoping for a New World…

Resentment. Oh, how pervasive it is!

Resentment, frustration, cynicism. And finally, resignation. What’s the use? What good will mere praying do? The structures of this fallen, imperfect world certainly seem to be set in stone. I’ll never be able to budge those structures, or practices, or attitudes, or groups. “Oh, well,” I say to myself, with a melancholy, half-cynical grin.

“And yet, you are Christian only so long as you look forward to a new world, only so long as you constantly pose critical questions to the society in which you live, and only so long as you emphasize the need for conversion both for yourself and for the world.” [1] How much faith does Father Nouwen have! How much resilience and wherewithal did he harbor, deep within.

Sometimes, I do not see how I can continue to have this sort of hope, the hope in a new world that Father Nouwen so clearly had.

I saw several questions taken from Henri Nouwen’s writing, quoted today on social media. These questions arrested me, and started me thinking. (Are these the types of questions Nouwen mentions here in his book With Open Hands?) The questions run as follows:

“Did I offer peace today?
Did I bring a smile to someone’s face?
Did I say words of healing?
Did I let go of my anger and resentment?
Did I forgive?
Did I love? These are the real questions.”

Instead of feeling beaten down and defeated by the societal structures, common practices, and overarching attitudes of this world, I can concentrate on these personal questions. I might be able to use them in personal interaction. One on one, person to person. That is the only way I can try to affect change, anyway. One kind act at a time, one gentle word at a time. So help me, God.

Dear Lord, forgive me for my resentment, frustration and cynicism. I think. I hope. 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, 2005), 103.

Prayer and Frustration…

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Monday, November 12, 2018

hugs, hearts

Prayer and Frustration…

If I truly believe in prayer, and in a God who answers prayer, that whole premise can be frustrating. I realize that many people have a “vending-machine” idea of a God who grants wishes. For some, like a huge cosmic Genie, except we are not limited to one three wishes.

Why do I believe in prayer, anyway? It doesn’t work. People still get sick, and have horrible diseases, and devastating accidents. Just look at a pediatric ICU ward. (Dear Lord, in Your mercy, hear all of our prayers for those suffering, in and out of hospitals and care centers.) Or, stroke unit, or burn unit, or homeless shelter. Or an inner-city police station. Or refugee camp. Or disaster relief center. The list goes on and on.

As Father Nouwen says, “We realize that our world need to change and that no change will ever happen without action, but we often feel lost when it comes to the question of ‘how?’” [1] Actually, two pertinent questions come to mind: “How?” and “How long, O Lord?”

Such desperate frustration does get people up in arms, or confuses them, or causes them to protest, or—in defiance or a wish for oblivion—do nothing, or flee to the bottle or to drugs. Yes, so many are forced to live out their lives in poverty, or pain, or homelessness, or in some other deeply hurting place of body, mind and spirit.

Dear Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. In frustration and agony and surrender, these words come to mind. These words let God know that I realize my dependence on God’s love and mercy and forgiveness. Yes, life is often frustrating! And, yes! God has promised to be with me, every step of the way.

Sure, as Nouwen said, there are ideals of freedom and justice, yet they “are trampled underfoot in everyday practice.” [2] Gracious God, I seek peace, calm, and Your presence. Show me Your love, mercy and forgiveness. Help me to have renewed faith in You, who wants a relationship with me above all else. Even above giving me a soft, easy life, even above any personal frustration I feel on a regular basis. Lord, Your highest goal is to have a relationship with me That’s it. Help me—help us to focus on that aspiration, on that goal. To be loved and known by You, not to get stuff, or money, or power, or prestige. Help me to focus on the things that You want me to. So help me, 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] With Open Hands: Bring Prayer into Your Life, Henri J. M. Nouwen (United States of America: Ave Maria Press, 2005), 100.

[2] Ibid, 101.

Prayer, Critically Speaking

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Saturday, November 3, 2018

candle, prayer, hands

Prayer, Critically Speaking

I realize I have been praying—on and off, and it seems more off than on—for a number of years. A long time. I have been engaged in a continuing conversation with God since my teens. But when Father Nouwen made one particular statement in his slim little book on prayer, I felt as if I could not measure up. No way, no how. He said, “As your life becomes more and more a prayer, you not only come to a deeper insight into yourself and your neighbor, but you also develop a better feeling for the pulse of the world you live in.” [1]

I am sorry. I cannot see any way I can measure up to such a person of prayer as Father Nouwen describes. What can I possibly do to atone for my shortcomings in prayer? I keep telling God I will spend time in God’s presence, but I just don’t get there. It doesn’t happen. I keep missing my appointment times.

Yes, this is a continuing conversation I’ve had with God for decades. I keep apologizing, and then apologizing for the apologies. The Lord must be so sick and tired of my foolish speech and thoughts. (Even now, I feel so apologetic, and I am really sincere about it.)

At least God knows I feel the need for communication, and I also feel the lack of it. I badly feel the absence of God at my side, the desire to know the closeness and intimacy of God’s presence. Yet, I keep forgetting to pray. (But, then, I’ve been forgetting to call my doctor all week to get the results from a routine test. I know those results will be there, but I keep on forgetting…)

Dear Lord, gracious God, I thank You for Your forgiveness and grace. I throw myself—again—on Your abundant mercy. I know You must be getting sick and tired of me and my excuses, my forgetfulness. Forgive me, Lord. Thank You for Your love. 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, 2005), 99.