No Excuse…

Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave him not alone.”— Brother Lawrence 

For various reasons, I will be away from my computer, so this meditation is for two Fridays.  Hopefully, it’s not two Fridays long.  A change in routine presents challenges for me.  Maybe this is a problem for you too.  When you are away from your routine, perhaps for a vacation or conference of some sort, do you have problems keeping to your regular spiritual practices?  I do, especially prayer and Bible reading. 

I find most challenging my regularly scheduled Centering Prayer early in the morning and mid-afternoon.  When I am away from home, I often don’t have a great place, nor the silence, for this.  Then there’s Bible reading.  I read the daily lessons on-line when I first set at the computer for work.  At Noon, I like to spend quality prayer time with one or more of these readings, usually the Gospel about the life of Jesus.  The noon reading needs flexibility because, often, I am with other people.  So I need to remember that a Rule of Life is not Law but Help. 

The seventeenth century lay brother, Lawrence of the Resurrection, struggled with his prayer life for years.  He found it dry and unrewarding.  He couldn’t concentrate on formal prayers even though he always had this discipline.  He found it challenging and thought prayer should be simpler.  After several years, Brother Lawrence decided that if the spiritual life was really about a relationship between God and him, he would act like it was.  As he went about his  kitchen duties of peeling and washing up, emptying chamber pots and, in his later years, working in the shoe repair shop, he talked to the Lord as if he were right there with him, which of course, he was.   He continued with his regular schedule of attending mass and prayers of the hour, performing his daily tasks and the works of service to others, but he was ever joyful and full of peace.  He had found the relationship with God that his heart had desired. 

I don’t know when I began this practice.  I wasn’t really conscious of practicing God’s presence; I just began to notice that I was.  Once, I had had a very long day.  I had overbooked myself with appointments of directees and a couple of meetings.  All of them were full of words.  I knew I needed to spend some time in prayer before I went home but I was tired of listening and of talking even if to God.  Finally, I told him that he could come in and sit with me, but I didn’t want to talk or listen.  I “felt” or “heard” a chuckle but his presence stayed with me.   After 9/11 and all of that horror, I became aware that, although I had prayed, I had not asked Jesus how he was feeling about everything.  When I did, it was a time when I listened to him.  This began, for me, a new way of prayer that I continue to practice during the day where ever I may be. 

There are several occasions in the next couple of months where I might not be able to have my prayer practice as I would wish to do it.  But I still can pray always.  I have the Lectionary (schedule of daily Bible readings) on my smartphone, three translations of the Bible and two meditations that I am using on my Kindle.  When I travel, I can at least read these.  My prayer list is on my phone.  So I am set to read and pray even if I don’t do the usual.  I have plans. You may ask me how they worked out.  If any of these are of interest to you, even if you aren’t out of your regular routine, just begin. 

We may not be able to do everything, but we can do something.  And so we ask, “Lord, what would you have me do?”  Bless you as you journey. 

Donna.

Hush, little Baby…

“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” ~ 1 Kings 19:11-13 (NSV)

During Centering Prayer this week, I was thinking.…wait! Thinking while Centering – isn’t that against the rules?  We are told to be quiet and wait for God to transform us in the silence.  But sometimes, even when, according to the rules, we shouldn’t pay attention to words and noise, God speaks.  What..?  It’s true that Centering Prayer is designed to take us beneath the noise into the silence where God dwells within, but I have learned to listen for his voice there.  I must be a bit of a rebel. “Be still and know that I am God” is true, but sometimes He insists on talking to me.  The Bible shows that God is not as interested in all the rules, even though helpful, as he is in relationship. I want to be aware; I want to notice God and pay attention if he decides to speak into the silence.

It is the becoming still that is the biggest problem, or at least for me, when we are trying to be aware of God.  Often he speaks in a whisper or the sound of sheer silence (see scripture above.)  The fact is, we can’t still the voices in our heads.  Brains aren’t designed that way. But we can silence our minds by not following our constant thoughts down rabbit trails. This does take practice—the practice of returning to silence when we catch our mind in its ADD activities.

There is a story about one of our granddaughters who lived with us when she was small.  This granddaughter was an extraverted child who was always talking, talking. Since her grandfather and I are both strong introverts, this was a challenge.  One time grandpa said quite firmly, “Please be quiet for a while.”  She said, “Ok.” Then without missing a beat, she said, “I will be quiet.  I will stop talking.  I won’t say anything more.  Not at all.  Can I talk now?”  Sometimes we are like that with God. We plan to be quiet; we think we are being still, but the noise is so loud that we couldn’t hear God if he did talk.

Amazing transformation has happened to me in the last five years since I began silent prayer.  I have changed in ways I would never have imagined possible and my life with God is more intimate.  Whether we use Centering Prayer or not, some practice of silent awareness is important to our spiritual lives and formation.  Ruth Haley Barton said, “Silence is the most needed and the least experienced spiritual discipline among Christians today.”

Help us today, Jesus, to be still.  Quiet us as we wait on you in the silence.  We want to be with you and listen if you speak.  Hush our busy thoughts, and make our hearts and minds aware of your presence. Amen.

 ~ Donna

 

Labor Pains – An Honor and a Blessing

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”—Mark 13:7-8 

To get the whole picture of what Jesus was saying to his disciples, one really needs to read this whole chapter of Mark.  Jesus was telling them, in answer to their question, what would happen before the coming of the Son of Man in glory.  He tells them to stay awake because they won’t know when the end will be, but these are signs of beginning labor pains. They aren’t pretty and they also sound very familiar. 

It is an honor and a blessing to be able to pray—to be asked to pray.  Our prayer lists are often long.  This week alone we have had prayer requests for fighting in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, etc., refugees at our border, refugees in Iraq, refugees everywhere—persecution of Christians in these and other countries, abuse of women and girls, for Canon White in Baghdad, murder, violence in the world, violence in our country and perhaps in our neighborhood or the house next door.  

Then, even though we may have not been asked to pray for them, there are concerns of our hearts – the Ebola outbreak, flash floods, forest fires, earthquakes and hurricanes, prayer lists for our families, our neighbors, our friends, our parish, our Daughters, our church leaders, and our pastors. This week I’ve had a critical emergency in my mother’s health, my husband’s health is on my heart, too, safe travel for our son and wife, and an occasional, “Help” sent up on my own behalf.  I’m sure I’ve forgotten some because there are many. I have been asked to pray with someone over the phone and even on Facebook.  The needs become overwhelming to the one praying and the one in need of prayer.  So, how do we keep up?  Matthew 7:8 says, “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” So why do we pray?  Because we need to take our concerns to God.  He wants us to ask. Jesus took his needs and concerns to his Father and his were overwhelming, too. (See Garden of Gethsemane).

I have begun to take these burdens of my heart into my Centering Prayer.  I have prayerfully read the lists on my computer and I bring them into the silence.  Recently, this prayer and image has come:  “The news is horrifying Lord. The only word I have is, ‘Help.’  The needs are many and my candle flickers in the darkness; my heart is very heavy.  How shall I pray? I am overwhelmed. I sit in the silence, Holy One, with your world in my hands and in my heart. I lift it to your hands to take from me, but you don’t.  Instead, you put your hands on mine and say, ‘We will hold it, together, with the rest of those who pray.’” And so, in silence, we do.  Yes, it is an honor and a blessing to be able to pray and to be asked to pray.  God uses our prayers to do his work even when we don’t see the outcome. Our charge is to stay awake, notice, and pray and then, in some way while we wait, Jesus comes. 

For the peace of the whole planet and those who inhabit it, we pray: Lord have mercy. 

~ Donna

What is that burning?

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.  Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’  When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’”—Exodus 3:1-4

Why am I always surprised?  I already had an idea for what I wanted to write today.  It was fairly unfocused, but I expected it to come together because, usually, it does.  BUT!  While reading some articles this morning, I decided to subscribe to a site, and I was sent a past article, The Practice of Paying Attention, as a bonus.  Well, that got my attention. I try to take these surprises seriously, so perhaps God has his own idea about what I should write.

Ruth Haley Barton, author of the article, is founder and director of the Transforming Center- a ministry of spiritual formation for ministers. She tells about a time when she was so overscheduled, she found herself literally running down the hall, talking on her cell phone to a sick daughter at home, “skirt flapping in the air” when she nearly  mowed down another staff member.  When she recovered she thought, “When the spiritual formation people are running through the hallway, talking on their cell phones, there is something seriously wrong with this picture.”  It brought her up short.  Her life was so out of control that she had no time for listening and paying attention, and she realized this was not a good thing.  We have all been there or, certainly, I have.

In the story from Exodus, Moses has had several years of alone time with God while he tends the sheep.  This has enabled him to notice that something unusual is happening in a burning bush that does not burn up so he decides to look more closely.  A burning bush is spectacular and should be hard to miss, but it is possible.  Moses didn’t have smart phones, TV, DVRs, Facebook, or a long commute, and he only had one job for which he was responsible.  Probably that helped him focus.  The time alone with God in solitude and silence has prepared him for this moment.  God notices that Moses is turning aside to listen, and so God speaks.

What does this story tell me?  God always tries to speak to us but we are not always paying attention.  What if Moses had been so distracted that he missed the bush – missed what God wanted for him.  Would God have found another to free the Israelites from slavery?  Or not?  How would that have changed history?  What if I am too distracted to pay attention?  Will I hear his instructions for me – instructions for service and ministry?  Maybe the words would keep me from doing something that is the ministry of another.  Maybe God wants to keep me from danger.  Perhaps Jesus only wants to say, today, “I love you and there is nothing at all you can do about that.” That would be enough, but we need to take time alone with God and “Pay Attention.”  Will I notice my burning bush?  Will you?  I pray so.