Do Not Be Afraid, little church.

If you happen to come across this blog at this point, you will find yourselves in the midst of a lot of prayer.  I am writing a prayer for Church, for communities, for families, every day in Lent.  As I’ve been doing this for about a week, I am finding they are much more intense, and are coming from a much more vulnerable space than I anticipated. I am finding that praying for The Church is praying for myself, is praying myself.

I pray out of fear sometimes.  I pray because I am afraid that the home I love will implode, like I’ve seen over and over before.  Implode because we cannot handle holding each other as we reach out from vastly different places of understanding who God is in our own lives.  Implode because the theology that grounds us all is not solidly and firstly rooted in love but in our own glory of being and doing something important.    Implode because of the tyrannical nature of certainty and our desire for it.  Those are fears.  From my own experience and from watching what happens in other places.  They come from remembering that exquisite pain that happens when our hearts and identities are involved in this seemingly messy business of being with God together.

I looked up “Do not be afraid” verses this weekend.  Do not be afraid, I am with you.  Over and over, that was the message.  In all sorts of circumstances–building temples, conquering armies, delivering very, very unpopular messages, taking leadership.  I think of Mary, of course, opening her door, opening her heart to the very God of very Gods, and being given, “Do not be afraid, you have found favour – I think you’re really great.”   I think of another Mary, at the tomb.  Every thing they expected, everything they hoped for, everything they thought God was going to be doing for them, with them, in their community had vanished in a horrible few days of anger, violence, power, control.  And there she was, in the ruins, walking among the dead and what she hears is “Do not be afraid. You don’t have to be afraid, what you are looking for is still here, still among the living.”

So I am praying, along with many others at my church.  For each other, for our pastors and our leaders, for our building, for our landlords, for our finances, for our families, for our city. For all the decisions we face that could be so ideologically charged.  For our differences.  For HOW we do this together, not always just the WHAT we do together.

And we all will pray too, for Your voice, to say to each one of us, like you said to Mary – “Do not be afraid, I am still here.  Do you see me?  Good, go get everyone and lets be together.  I will come to you. I will always come.  Wait for me, Look for me, Look at me.  I am All of yours and you are all mine.”

Today’s scripture reading is from Psalm 27 and it is our prayer today.

We will remain confident of this:  we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.    Wait for the Lord, little family.  Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

 

 

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Prayer after Women’s Group (on Ephesians 2)

For our body, our community’s Body, we pray.  For the health and functioning of each part.  For the care and devotion to each part.  For the attention and listening to each part.  For the ability to see each part as essential to the whole – to see each part as essential to ourselves – to see each part as essential to You.

We are one, because you brought us all together.   The hostile and angry two, entrenched in their certainties, have become the devastatingly whole One, in the only way You seem to know how to do it – through the letting go of your own life and the raising up of all Life.  Every day you do this, we mostly miss it, but you insistently keep doing it.  Help us to not miss it now.

For our body we pray.  For rejoicing and for wonderment and for delight in each part.  As you do everyday; your incomparable riches, the wealth of the universe, expressed exactly in simple kindness, in that kind of delight that draws out our yes.

For our body, we pray.

Anxiety and the donkey (John 12:15)

Over and over, we bring you our fear and anxiety.  Over church, over each other, over ourselves.  And over and over you keep saying, Do Not Be Afraid.  Do Not Be Afraid over church, over each other, over yourself, you say.  Because You, you ride in on a donkey.  And this somehow is the thing that calms us down.  You are here, in plain sight, doing very very ordinary things and completely blowing the world’s mind.

Do Not Fear, Daughter, I’m riding in, right where you can see me.

Praying Eph. 5:1-3 (MSG)

We are watching what you do and we are trying to copy, like children, copying what they see their parents do.  Mostly what You do is love us.  We will keep company with you and learn a life of love.  We will observe how Christ loved us.  Your love is not cautious but extravagant.  You never loved us in order to get something from us but to give us everything of yourself.  We want to love like that.

 

For Trust and Bravery

We lose our sleep in times like these.  Replaced with circling thoughts – What should we do?  What should we do?  What should we do?

We do not trust that you come through and then again, we only trust that you can make this alright.    We are so afraid of what happens when there is not enough to keep this whole thing afloat.

What does trust look like today, in this body?

Do I know trust is working only when your provision comes through?

Do we trust that the work you’ve given us to do should be kept up?  Do we drop everything and go make money some way because that’s how its done?

So I am asking for trust today, we ask for the faith to trust, we ask for the bravery to keep trust going and do what there is for us to do today.

Brave as lion tamers, in a hurricane, when all the papers are flying away, and the smoke alarm is going off and that little machine once again says, Insuff Fnds.  That kind of bravery, Lord.

On Mark 10:46-52

We crowd you, like you’ve always been crowded.  We want to keep up, we want whatever it is you’ll give to us.  Two-eyed, able-bodied, we want all the more you have.

But for that one You made an exception,  the exception

that is actually Your rule, and you ground this whole circus to a halt.

And then You turned.

Why him?    What was it about his call.  Why this question that echoes in crowded spaces, crowded minds, even these thousands of years later?

At all points, you turn unexpectedly towards that we did not see and certainly did not want to have to see.

Help us to see.  Help us to see what stops You in your tracks.

 

For Choosing Together

Father,  if you are about wholeness and reconciliation, then everything we do should be about the great coming together.  We are trying – in so many areas, we are trying to walk this road of together.   Glue us to each other through you; glue your whole creation by opening our eyes and our ears to each other, to each other’s deep hearts and longings and where you are in them, cause we do recognize you in ourselves.  Help us to see you in each other . Help me to see your heart that beats in the person across the room who won’t meet my eyes, in those who just seems so so different than me.

Open Eyes 2016

I have had a few conversations about church lately. I actually have many conversations about church often but a few hard ones lately….ones that deal with why we do church and why we get it so weird and wrong sometimes. Conversations about how so much of our church body’s history has been one so marked by fear and power and not love and humility. Conversations that struggle with how to be a body of people together in the hard situations that church, that community, sometimes gives rise to.

 

And now it is Lent. A time for opening our eyes, seeing the dust and distraction and acknowledging our very real inability to get it right. It has traditionally been a time for self-denial and reflection hence the “giving up” that is talked about. But its not deprivation for deprivation’s sake. It is for the purposes of seeing clearly and knowing, as we know how to breathe, that love that shaped the world and our lives. It is a time of humility, of realness.   Not denying our brokenness, not avoiding our fault-lines, not denying the shadow that definitely resides within us, but looking at it and ultimately holding it out before God.   It is turning towards a road of transformation and transformative community. It is creating a space within ourselves for the presence of the self-emptying and infinitely hospitable Christ. This is Lent. Christians traditionally have fasted something.  Maybe to help us remember ? To help us know humility? To let go of our own control before we receive Easter?

For me, this year, I want to fast in such a way that my eyes will be opened. Opened to the place where God is. And this is not because I am a super special and holy person that I ask this. Cause that I am not. It is precisely because I am looking around at so much violence and hurt and despair. And I see it in my own heart. And So I also am driven to look for the good, to look for where love is actually connecting us, to look for where God is alive and growing in our world He loves so much. To know God in here, in my own heart and out there, in the world we all share.  And then to “DO” from that space.

 

For Lent I will give up checking facebook like an addict, furtively looking around to see if my kids are watching. I will give up checking news sites and obsessing over the bad news until I am no longer a functioning adult. These are probably just things I should just generally work into my life……

But mostly, this Lent, I will ask God for eyes to see Him. And I will pray. Specifically, I want to, and am driven to, pray for Church. For my church.  And for THE church; for this community and collection of strange and obnoxious and beautiful and kind humans. I want to pray every day for how we can do this BEING together. And pray for God to be with us. Because I do not know what else to pray. Because I sense that it is in this that I will see where God is. In the very messy interactions is where that redemption is to be. I pray for eyes to see you God. I am going to write a prayer out every day. I might look for prayers, I might write my own. If you are praying for your community too, feel free to share it with me and I’ll include that too. I have my own church community in mind, but also my family community and school community and all the other communities that I, and we, find ourselves within.

 

Pope Francis asked this year for people to not just give up something, like sugar or coffee, that does not actually effect their soul and more importantly, does nothing to help other people. This year he asked for people to give up indifference for Lent. How crazy is that?  A Christian leader calling us to look and see each other in all the beauty that God has made each of us and act accordingly. I pray for my eyes to be opened to my brothers and sisters and to the active work of love and life and God in those eyes. I need hope and I need peace and I feel like that’s where it might be found.

 

And for today, the first day in Lent, Ash Wednesday, where we remember that we are in fact dust, I will pray this:

 

Father, draw us together, to you. Speak to each person in this, my community, in the way that you know exactly how to speak to them, in that deep place of rest and remembrance. With your specific word of love to each of us, draw us towards you, together. Open all of our eyes to see where you are.  

Dear Madeleine

This is a letter from Luci Shaw to her friend Madeleine L’Engle about spiritual direction…. (and if you know me, that sentence just encapsulated three of the best things that happened to me in my life).  It is from Shaw and L’Engle’s book Friends for the Journey.

 

Dear Madeleine,

I’m sitting here at my desk, just full of the sense of wonder and joy that always comes when I suddenly realize that God is at work behind the scenes, “working things together for good” for me.

You know some of the history of my searches and findings of spiritual directors.  How Eugene Peterson suggested I go about this process: “Pray, and see whose name or face comes to mind.”  Which is how I found my first director in Chicago–the wonderful cleric who introduced me to Ignation spiritual disciplines.  But when I moved to California, the search and the prayer began over again, after an abortive encounter with a staff member at the local retreat centre.

At a retreat for the women of my church, Holy Trinity Menlo Park, my prayer was answered.  M.R. was our retreat leader, a young woman half my age whose quiet wisdom and creative humour i found refreshing and spiritually invigorating.  After the retreat was over I asked for her business card.  It read: Retreats and Spiritual Direction.  When I phoned her later and asked “Are you open to taking on new directs?” she replied, “Let’s get together and talk about it.”

I know from past experience how important it is to find “a good fit” in one’s spiritual director.  I’m not looking for a peer, or a priest, though often the function is priestly.  Perhaps what I’m looking for is more like an experienced companion on the way.  And in the quiet of her home, with her young baby asleep in another room, we introduced ourselves, each to the other, talking and praying and exploring our spiritual “fit.”

I told her some of my conservative Christian background, and how some of those elements of faith are still very necessary for me.  I have a hard time, for instance, calling God “She,” or “Her,” or “Mother,” because though I believe God is beyond gender, Jesus calls him Father, and having had a loving and affirming father myself, God’s Fatherhood is reinforcement for me.  I also believe what CS. Lewis said, that in the the presence of God the Creator, the Initiator, all of us, whether men or women, are “eternally feminine.:

I told M.R. some of my past doubts and questions, my griefs and spurts of growth, and how, beneath everything else, I am a truth-seeker.  She needed to know I’m not satisfied with easy answers.  Platitudes make me nauseated.  I don’t just want to be reassured and comforted, but I need a spiritual guide who will challenge me and hold me accountable for my choices and the directions I’m finding.

When we next met, she’d provided a glass of cool water next to my chair and before talking together we sat quietly, collecting ourselves, entering in to God in silent prayer, breathing  deeply to deoxygenate our bodies and our spirits.  I’m such a sacramentalist.  This deep breathing speaks to me not just of physical calming, but of God’s breath, his Spirit, being invited into my deepest being, a wind to scour out false assumptions and guide me into truth.

M.R. has degrees in theology and psychology, and she is aware and informed at that intellectual level.  But what means the most to me is her listening heart.  She listens to me (and remembers, with amazing clarity, the personal details that she hears from month to month) and she listens to what God is speaking into our conversation.  Time and time again I find her listening, then touching the precise knot which has me bound, or putting together, and making sense out of the diverse aspects of a spiritual conundrum.  She makes apt use of metaphor, which endears her to me particularly.  And when I write my fears or experiences into a poem, she responds to its deepest truth without having to have it explained to her.  She affirms what is healthful in me and questions anything that is spurious or superficial.  Our monthly sessions are always highlights for me. I leave her with journal notes which give me much food for thought and I also note in my journal her challenges and assignments for the coming month.

Because, of course, my journal is one of the best aids in this spiritual pilgrimage, I read her my passages of intimate insights and decisions, of conflict or struggle, confident of her confidentiality.  So, you can tell something very good has come into my life, a good person, one in whom I meet Jesus so powerfully.  Maybe I can sum it up by saying that when I am with her, it is like being with Jesus, he is so powerfully present, and I hear his voice in her voice, see his face in hers.  I write this knowing it will give you joy too.

I’ll call you soon, perhaps even before you read this.

Loving you,

Luci