Trusting in the One Who Gives Life

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3: 5). I memorized this verse as a child. If it could live in my heart as well as in my memory, my life could flow more peacefully.

I had felt spiritually dry and adrift. I wanted to do something or read something that could change my condition, but was at a loss about what that could be. I felt anxious, but I knew I had to trust and wait, as uncomfortable as that was. A few days later I was on my way to Charleston for a family occasion over the weekend during which I would have some time to read. I went to my bookshelves. There was a book whose title drew me. I didn’t know the book and was curious what it might say. Sure enough, when I was waiting in my motel room and picked up the book, the words poured from the book and into my heart. It was just the right book at just the right time. I’ve had that experience enough times that you would think I would trust in its happening and be able to avoid the anxiety.

Someone made discouraging comments to me about my writing, saying that my topics were too big to cover in such a short space. The one I was writing that day left me certain that she was right, and I felt blue. I prayed that God would send me encouragement if I was to keep writing. My low spirits have been lifted often by something unanticipated that seemed like a special gift from God, so I prayed remembering that kind of experience, trying to avoid getting stuck in my feelings. That afternoon, when I went for a haircut, the woman who cuts my hair had recently come back from a family funeral. Before we knew it, she was telling me about her spiritual experiences and some times of being hurt. When I told her about what I was writing, she was very excited, because my words directly spoke to her condition and encouraged her. I left with a nice haircut and a cheerful spirit. Wow! What a quick and joyful answer to my prayer.

A blessing of being older is being able to remember past experiences that remind me that God is trustworthy. When I can relax into that confidence, I can let go my need to control, and I can go forward with curiosity instead of anxiety and despair.

Queries:

How well are you able to trust in yourself? In God?

What experience of surprises that seem like gifts do you remember? What might help you notice them?

Prayer:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).

For further reflection:

Read the story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria, John 4: 1-30.

“I am about to do a new thing . . .” (See Isaiah 43: 18-19).

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Prayers of Simple Presence

In the Spiritual Nurturers class of School of the Spirit Ministry, having trouble finding time to pray and doing it routinely is a common early complaint. Perhaps we imagine that the only prayers that count are long and dutiful. Instead, prayer is about relationship and intimacy with the Source of life and being, more about a certain quality than a necessary time frame or pattern.

There are many ways to pray that take little time.   A doctor I knew, following approved practice, carefully cleaned her hands prior to visiting each patient. The hand-washing time was prayer time. She collected herself, centered in God, and brought into that grounded internal space the person she would be seeing. There were no words, and it took only seconds, yet it opened the doctor to being with the patient in a more healing way.

Some prayers are simply responses to a situation— Help! Thanks. Wow! These are prayers because they acknowledge the More, they are felt deeply, and the pray-er is changed.

Slow, deep, mindful breathing can also be prayer. It can be inviting relationship with the Holy, because it is usually done intentionally and often includes letting go the distractions and busyness, even doubts, that keep one unavailable both to oneself and to God. Paying attention to the breath can be paying attention to Spirit.

The deepening of one’s relationship with God, with Mystery, changes the quality of prayer. It isn’t easy. Meanwhile what is most important is to pray as one can and not as one can’t.

Queries:

How can you pray?

What do you yearn for that draws you to want to pray? What are your concerns?

Prayer:

Silently repeat over and over a brief prayer sentence, breathing in while saying the first part of the words and breathing out while saying the rest of it. For example, “O Lord,/ be my helper” (Psalm 30: 10b).

For further reflection:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought . . .” (Romans 8: 26).

“When I felt secure, I said, ‘I shall never be moved.’ . . . but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.” (Psalm 30: 6-7).

Spiritual Lessons from a Cell Phone

There is no question that cell phones can be addictive and very distracting to the spiritual life. How can it be that they can offer spiritual lessons? I don’t know if all smart phones do the same things, but here is what mine has taught me.

When I am attending a concert or a lecture or Sunday morning worship, one way I can turn off my phone so it doesn’t disrupt me or others is to put it on “do not disturb.” It is very effective. No messages get through until I turn that off. The trouble is that I forget to turn the do-not-disturb off. There may be messages or calls that I needed to receive that I miss. I wonder how often I have my internal do-not-disturb button on, and I miss God’s call. I am so busy with other things that I will not be listening if there is a word to be heard.

I check my phone over and over again during the day. I look to see if I have received a text or an email or perhaps a phone call that I might have missed. I want to be in communication with my friends and the outside world. I look to my phone for companionship or community and to tell me if I matter. My focus is outward instead of looking within, but people fail me and my cell phone in the midst of my addictive attachment to it fails to work.  It is in listening inwardly, attending to God the Inward Teacher where Love and Truth lie. The apostle Paul encourages us to pray unceasingly. Sometimes I’ve wondered what that means. If I tried praying as often and as intently as I check my phone, that might come close.  My life would have a quiet center, not a collection of ring tones.

Queries:

What helps you listen for the Spirit, and what distracts you from paying attention? When you are attuned to the Holy does that make a difference in your life?

What lets you know that you are loved and valued? What do you love and value?

Prayer:

“You are my strength, I watch for you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely” (Psalm 59:9-10).

For further reflection:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself. . . .” (See Mark 12: 29-31).

See the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, Matthew 25: 1-13.

Practice, Practice, Practice

As a child I took piano lessons, but I never developed a routine of practicing. When I did practice—when I felt like it or got around to it in the midst of all the other things I was doing—I was more likely to play what I wanted to than to do the exercises that my teacher had given me. After a few years the lessons ended. I learned a few things that still serve me today, but I lost many of the gifts I could have been given, in particular the joy of being able to share piano music with others.

Spiritual practices, for example centering prayer, are also hard to practice and maintain. We are drawn by so many other good things (to say nothing of those not so good). Spiritual disciplines may be viewed as obligations, something we should do, which makes practice seem burdensome. We may be into costs and benefits and not be sure what the benefit might be or whether it is something we really care about. And to make a practice routine takes commitment and months of daily choosing to do it.

The good news is that any spiritual practice that we do, whenever we do it, has value because God is present. Regular doing of the practice may make us experienced in the discipline and more likely to recognize and cherish the riches we are being given. Perhaps in our very being, the joy we have received through our practice will be shared. A deep longing for relationship with God opens the door.

Queries:

What spiritual practice do you do, or might you be drawn to, individually or in a community—for example, centering prayer, praying for others, journaling, meditation, Bible reading and reflection, fasting, quiet time; participation in liturgy or Eucharist, expectant waiting worship, service?

What might help you establish a routine of doing the practice? What is the desire of your heart?

Prayer:

“Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out Your holy and true command.” (The Prayer Before the Crucifix at San Damiano, St. Francis of Assisi, www.ofm.org/francesco/pray/pray01.php)

For further reflection:

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for you, O God” (See Psalm 42:1-2).

“Nothing that anyone says [about prayer] will be that important. The great thing is prayer. Prayer itself. If you want a life of prayer, the way to get to it is by praying.” (Notes from Brother David Steindl-Rast with Thomas Merton) www.gratefulness.org/resource/recollections-of-thomas-mertons-last-days-in-the-west/

Hands-On Prayer

As a chaplain I attended Quakers in Pastoral Care and Counseling (QPCC). We were divided into small groups for sharing about our work situations. At the end of those sessions we prayed for one another, putting one person at a time in the center of the group. That person shared specific joys, concerns, and hopes. The other group members gathered around the person, touching the person (being sensitive to what was comfortable for the focus person and the pray-ers) and praying for her or him aloud and silently. I left those sessions feeling encouraged, supported, and grounded in God.

In another small group of which I am currently a part, we used this practice in praying for persons in the group. Although we had earlier acknowledged questions and qualms about intercessory prayer, the impact of this intercessory praying was palpable and powerful. Love and care, compassion and a sense of oneness literally coursed through our bodies. I would have to say that the bond we sensed between us was more than a human connection. And I feel confident that the experience meant as much to those who prayed as to those who were prayed for. We were all touched by the presence and love of God.

Obviously the focus person can share a need for his or her own healing. But the person can also carry a concern for someone else’s healing and be the vehicle for prayers for that other person. And this prayer is a great way for sending a person off on a mission or back into the workplace and ordinary life, an occasion of thanksgiving and blessing. What is required for this kind of praying is simple, and hard—being willing to be vulnerable with one another and with God.

Queries:

How have you felt God’s touch in your life? If God touched you, would you notice?

How do you find the loving line between sensitivity to the wounds people have suffered from being hurtfully touched and extending a physical expression of God’s love?

Prayer:

Find a way to express God’s love in a tangible way, or notice how someone else has given that gift to you.

For further reflection:

“Some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him.” (See Mark 8: 22-26.)

“Mind that which is eternal, which gathers your hearts together up to the Lord, and lets you see that ye are written in one another’s heart.” George Fox (Epistle 24, 1653)