Out of the depths, I cried…

Holy Spirit(Part 2)

With my voice I cry to the LORD; with my voice I make supplication to the LORD. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. When my spirit is faint, you know my way. ~ Psalm 142:1-3

“And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised…” –  Luke 24-49

This IS a tough assignment. I’m a little nervous now that I know God uses autocorrect.  No telling what he will say.  Maybe I wasn’t listening very well.  In case you don’t remember or didn’t read last month’s SOUL FOOD, with a little help from said Autocorrect, God asked me to tell my story with the Holy Spirit.  Since the Spirit was active in my life before I ever knew the Spirit existed, it’s a long story so I’m writing it in installments.

When I left off last month, we were living in El Paso, Texas where Dave was stationed.  We had three small boys by then, and had decided that we wanted them to learn about Jesus in church and that we needed to take them. We returned to the church of our childhoods even though, we were beginning to believe that God was not the waiting-until-you-sin-so he-can-punish-you God. Toward the end of our time in Texas, Dave had the opportunity to have a family accompanied tour in Italy for four years.  At the same time, he found that there was an opportunity for the Army to send him on a two-year assignment to CU Boulder to finish the degree he had started before we got married.  For some, then unknown, reason, I felt strongly that the Colorado University thing was going to happen so Dave turned down the Italy tour before he knew if he might be offered the school option.  We couldn’t wait to see.

Boulder was enjoyable.  We lived in campus housing and there were many little children around for our boys.  We learned what community meant here.  Although there was much community in the military, it wasn’t what we would come to know in our university experience. Half way through this two-year assignment, we had a daughter. You have heard this before, but it belongs in my story now because it was a turning point.

When Kim was born, she was tiny but perfect.  However, before we got out of the hospital, she started having jaundice. She had two blood transfusions and needed to be monitored. My hospital stay was over, but I had to leave Kim there. That evening she began to have blood in her stool and they couldn’t find the cause.  The bleeding was getting worse.  Doctors decided that she needed to go to the military hospital, Fitzsimons, in Denver, so they took her by ambulance in the middle of the night. This was a few days after the big flood in 1965 and many roads were impassible. My doctor wouldn’t let me make the trip and anyway, I had three small boys at home.  I spent my night in prayer (You could call it that.)  I, alternately, begged God to heal Kim, but I didn’t believe God did that, anymore, and I begged him not to let her die.  Sometimes, I yelled at him.  It was a very long night.

Dave managed to get home that next morning – parents weren’t allowed to stay with children at the military hospital – and he informed me that they would do exploratory surgery at Noon if there was no improvement.  This was Sunday, so Dave called the pastor to tell him that we were going to stay home by the phone and asked them to pray.  For what, I wonder. Anyway, the members of the church stopped in the middle of the service and prayed for Kim, our little 5-pound daughter.  They didn’t believe that God healed, either. Then.  I imagine they prayed for the doctors and such.  At the very moment of that prayer, the bleeding stopped.  Maybe Kim managed to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment.  The bleeding did not just slow down, it stopped. Instantly.  The tough military doctor called it a miracle.  We did, too. And the people from the church as well.

I learned something about God that day. He does heal today.  He hears my prayers and answers them.  And I learned that he cared for me.  Luke 7 tells stories of Jesus healing and raising the dead causing crowds to follow him everywhere.  John’s (the Baptist) disciples came to ask Jesus, on John’s behalf, if he was the one for whom they were waiting.  Jesus told them to go tell John what they saw – the healings, the raising from the dead, etc. Then he says to the crowd, v. 24, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? (…)” I read a meditation where the writer wonders what drew the crowd to follow Jesus around. The writer said that, most probable, it was the healings.  Perhaps so.  It worked for me.

A year later, Dave was to return to active duty. I was talking to a neighbor about church and how I wish there was one who believed that God worked in the world today.  I wanted a God that I could touch, a God who heard my prayers of desperation, a God who responded as I had experienced. She said, “I think you might like my church – St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, Boulder.”  Dave took classes in the engineering building across the street from St. Aidan’s, so he went to their chapel and picked up The Book of Common Prayer (1928).  He read: “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.”

Then after the Confession, he read: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

 Dave said, “I think we have found what we have been looking for.”  At last!  As Frederick Buechner says, “It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want but…the experience of God’s presence.” Yes! A God I could touch who touches me.  Before we left for Ft. Benning, Georgia, we were baptized at St. Aidan’s. My baptism, I believe, is when the Holy Spirit stopped hovering and started seriously meddling in my life.  Did I not somehow say he could…? And there’s more.

“But wait…”

 

 

 

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I saw Jesus today.

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart I want to see you. I want to see you.

To see you high and lifted up shinin’ in the light of your glory. Pour out your power and love as we sing holy, holy, holy.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart. I want to see you. I want to see you.”

~ Michael J. Smith

This song has been going through my mind all week.  That’s what I want and need this Lent.  I need to see Jesus.  The last two weeks, leading up to Ash Wednesday and continuing as I write, have been rough. But God is good and miracles do occur. Last week I didn’t write A Friday Meditation. I had no words.  The week was full of serious situations, and I found I couldn’t force words either.  I had to stop and honor that.

Lent helps me to remember not to be too busy to look for Jesus, in case I just let the day pass.  There is a very easy prayer exercise that helps with this.  I’m not really a journal person, but I am trying to write down the results of this every day at least during Lent.

The exercise is officially called The Examination of Consciousness or the Examen.  This is not the Examination of Conscience which is an exercise to prepare for confession.  The Examen is a way to see God’s presence in daily life.  It reminds me where God has been with me today.  It reminds me of what he has done, today.  It helps me be aware, today.  St. Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th century mystic and developer of The Spiritual Exercises believed that this prayer should be the most important quarter-hour of a person’s day and yet not many people have heard of it.

Faith tells us that God is everywhere, with us all the time, but we don’t often notice.  This prayer is a way to remember.  This process can also be used to help discern God’s will for you once you have used it for a time.

The Examen goes like this, or at least this is the way I do it.  Sit your usual prayer place; I have a comfy chair in my bedroom, and light a candle if you wish.  After sitting silently for a while, I might begin by thanking God for his blessings (Practice Gratitude – Element #7 of the Trinity Way of life) or pray for someone who lies heavy on my heart.  Then, I sit in silence for 20 minutes after which I ask myself some of the following questions:

For what moment today am I most grateful?
For what moment today am I least grateful?

When did I have the most peace? (Consolation)
When, during the day, did I have the least peace? (Desolation)

When, today, did I feel I was moving toward God?
When did I feel that I was moving away from God?

When did I feel most alive today?
When did I most feel life draining out of me?

When today did I have the greatest sense of belonging to myself, to others and to God?
When today did I have the least sense of belonging?

Don’t judge these feelings; only observe them.  The first question of each set shows where peace is and the second usually shows where it is not (Desolation).  God speaks in peace (Consolation).  Write the answers in a journal if you like.  This exercise helps me see Jesus during the day.  You might want to try this during Lent as part of your “taking on.”

Yesterday, I wrote this:

Most grateful – my brother’s successful surgery.
Least grateful – my need to take antibiotics because I’m allergic to them.

I did see Jesus, today.

Grace and Peace be with you.

What!! Lent already?

Jesus says, “Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.—Matthew 11:28-30, THE MESSAGE

Lent already?  I’m pretty sure that we just had Easter a few months ago.  The old saying that “time flies when you’re having fun” must be true.  We didn’t observe Lent in the tradition in which I grew up, so this was all new to me when we became Episcopalians. I loved the rites and rituals of the church.  They nurtured the God-life in me so I took them very seriously and I still do.  I gave up meat for the whole of Lent, except for Sundays, and took on any other possible Lenten suggestion for self-denial as well. 

After a few years, I found that these practices weren’t helping me much, anymore.  I had a hard time staying with my “giving up.”  Maybe, God was trying to encourage me to take another step in my spiritual journey. So, I added self-examination and confession.  I usually had a Lenten meditation booklet provided by the church that I used during my quiet time. I didn’t know what spiritual growth was all about, so it is a good thing that God knew and urged me on.  I still had trouble with that giving-up food thing, but that was part of Lent, wasn’t it?  That is a great Lenten discipline….except…for me, it had nothing to do with growing closer to God and others.  It was more about “doing something” for Lent.  A “rule” that I had loved but was no longer working for me. 

Later, when available, I added an additional communion service and a Lenten study. I went to a retreat, a quiet day or a quiet morning each year—maybe more than one—and, I still tried to give up something.  After I adopted a rule of life, I checked to see how I was doing with that during Lent.  If I was letting one part of the rule or another slide, I would give it attention. It gave a sense of control over my Lenten discipline.

 All of these and more are good and helpful practices, but as we grow as apprentices of Jesus, we might need something else.  Those practices that helped in the beginning had become duty for me and I was bored with them? They weren’t helping me grow closer to Jesus or to others which, I believe, is what it is all about.  A day or two ago it came to me, Lent is GRACE—a gift from God. It is a time when our focus is on growing the God-life in us.  It is not a “rule” nor is it a “duty.” Lent is not “law.”  It is a Gift of Love.  Enter the light bulb over my head.   Did I just hear Jesus say, “Duh”?  Would he say that? Well, maybe.  I need to ponder this.

There is evidence that Lent was observed in the early Church as a preparation for baptism and Easter.  It was a time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation for baptism or recalling one’s baptism which was done at the celebration of Easter. If Lent is Grace and a gift from God given to us as a time for spiritual growth, how does Jesus want me to make use of it? How can I open myself to receive this Grace? Do I need to give up anything? What should I take on?  How can I grow in love with God and others?  The scripture from Matthew, above, may hint at the answer.  I think it’s a matter of intention.  Maybe Lent is about letting Jesus lead us through this grace-filled period so that we might celebrate Easter with great joy? 

Well, what activity could I give up in order to spend more quality time with Jesus?  And, how about “giving up” those clothes in the closet I don’t wear, or that I continually throw on the bed after I try them on? The clothing bank is in need of these. I could give things that are cluttering my house to the ARC?   If I give up certain foods, I can donate the money that would be spent on them to the Outreach Committee or food bank to help feed those in need? What could I take out of my life to make more space for loving God and others? And, maybe I could focus on an element of the Trinity Way (our rule of life) where I’m struggling?  (And, I will give up sugar because my sugar addiction is out of control and I need to. I believe God is pleased when we take care of our bodies.   You can hold me accountable in this.)

I’ll pray about these, but whatever I choose, or you choose in the next few days, if our Lenten practices do not help us grow into the Image of Jesus, nor make space for him and others in our lives, it is not really fulfilling its purpose.

 I pray for you a Grace-filled and Holy Lent.  Bless you, Donna

We want to see Jesus.

“So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” Colossians 3: 1-4, 15-17 MSG

I like this scripture.  It reminds me of a church—our church—a church that wants to keep its focus on Jesus.  Ours is a community that not only tries to keep its focus on Jesus, but to look like Jesus and to be Jesus to one another and to the world.  Do we do this perfectly?  No, we don’t but we are in the process of being transformed into it.  We want to be a light on the hill and a house of prayer for all people.  We believe that this is Jesus’ work that he has given us to do.

I read a story the other day in which a woman told of her son when was a little boy.  He asked a neighbor why she didn’t go to church.  When the neighbor shrugged her shoulders, the little one said, “I think you are real lucky that you don’t go. All you do is get dressed up, just to sit there!” Because of his great evangelizing techniques, the neighbor was waiting by their car the next Sunday morning. After a few weeks the little one asked the neighbor if she could see Jesus.  Again, she shrugged. He said to her, “I can see him. I can hear him. I can feel him in my heart.” And he went on saying, “Even if you can’t see him, Jesus sees you and he loves you.”

This story makes me wonder what happened at church in the intervening weeks. I think that this is the light and the house that Jesus wants us to be.  I wish I had had a church like this.  I wish my children had had one.  They certainly didn’t see Jesus in me even at church.  I was dealing with my own issues, unfortunately, and didn’t know how to show them.  I didn’t know I should show Jesus.  I’m being transformed, too.  I try to show them now.  I pray they find a house of prayer filled with the light of Jesus. I pray they will know how much Jesus loves them.  I pray that those who come to our church will know it too.  I pray they will see Jesus.  I pray you will too.  I pray that you do.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will give us what we need for this task.  We want to see Jesus and so does the world.  I’m glad I get to go to this church.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you.

Help me! Help them!

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.  Amen.”—St Francis of Assisi

I have been going over some of my earlier writings, which I do from time to time, because I wonder how often I am repeating myself.  Maybe I have run out of things to say.  It is interesting that for the last two Februarys, I have written that I don’t have anything much to say, but then, I write anyway.  I feel a little like that, today.  Many times, I write about prayer.    Oswald Chambers said, “We think of prayer as a preparation for work, or a calm after having done work, whereas prayer is the essential work. It is the supreme activity of everything that is noblest in our personality.”  Prayer is our relationship with God, so there really could not be any greater work for us to do. Prayer comes first.

Many people pray such beautiful prayers, like the prayer of St. Francis above.  And not just Saints like he, but saints like you.  I would like to pray like that, but it is not my gift.  Most times my prayers are short, and I’m not sure I’ve always covered what needs to be said. Many times my prayers are silent and often without words.  I visualize those people and situations needing prayer into the light of Jesus and hold them there for a while.  He knows what they need better than I.  But I still would like to be eloquent.

There is no single right way to pray.  There are methods to help increase the likelihood of prayer.  We want ways that will help us give up distractions and realize our connection with God. We want ways of praying for each other and for the world in which we live.  We want prayers that express our gratitude and praise to God.  We each need to find what works for us.  When Jesus’ apprentices (disciples) saw John’s disciples at prayer, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray in that way.  Jesus gave them the prayer that has come to be called The Lord’s Prayer.  A prayer of praise to the father who is in heaven.  A prayer for the Kingdom to be realized and God’s will be done on earth as it already is in heaven.  A prayer for food for the day, forgiveness, to not be led into temptation, deliverance from evil.  Simple.  Not terribly eloquent.  Powerful. Beautiful.

Spending those ten seconds a day, or several ten seconds a day, totally focused on God is prayer.  Spending two, 20-minute periods in silence without words, focused only on God, is prayer. This is the method used by those who do Centering Prayer.  Talking and listening to Jesus all day long while you are working, playing, etc., is prayer.  A combination of these is prayer.  And there’s more.

I like this from the Heidelberg Catechism—”Heavenly Father, when I come to the end of my rope, my strength, myself, I’m finally open to the help you offer. Teach me then, God, the basics of prayer, like ‘help’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’. In the name of Jesus, amen.”  This reminds me of a talk given at a gathering I attended by a retired Air Force chaplain. He talked about his tours of duty in war zones with bombs exploding and bullets flying and about those who were seriously injured and/or dying.  He said that, usually, in those situations, there was not time for wordy prayer, so his prayers became, “Help me.” “Help them.”  More words were not necessary.  God knew what was needed.

I could relate to his prayer, not because I am in a War Zone, but because I live in a war-torn zone.  We live there.  We have only to read the papers or watch the news to discover this.  We are in the business of spreading the Kingdom of God already here.  There are mop-up operations needed to heal brokenness of all kinds, to bring justice, to give forgiveness, to render mercy, to bless, and to push evil back through the Gates of Hell.  We are broken, too, and we get broken in the process.  Often, there is no other prayer to pray but, “Help me.”  “Help them.”   ”Help me, help them.”

I talk a great deal about thanksgiving, so I’ll just say that gratitude and offering thanks to God are essential spiritual disciplines.  I’ll write about it again, but not today.  I started this article by saying that there is no single right way to pray, but we must pray.  We need that contact with God.  If you are having trouble with it, find someone who can help guide you.  But as Lacy Finn Borgo says, Talking about prayer is like talking about eating ice cream or riding a roller coaster, words pale in comparison to the real thing.” What we need to do is do it. 

Make our every breath a prayer, O God. Make every breath a song in praise of you alone. Make us living witnesses who proclaim your mercy, love, and forgiveness through our daily words and actions.”—Unknown