Prayer and the “Me-Factor”

Photo: achurchoflivinghope.com

Photo: achurchoflivinghope.com

I’ve been noticing something lately when praying or even reading scripture. It’s really hard to take self out of it. Even in psalms of praise and thanksgiving, it seems that there’s a little hitch--“Oh God, you are great and wonderful…and in the meantime, would you bash my enemies’ heads on the rocks.” (my paraphrase, which is a bit exaggerated.)

I like to start my daily quiet time with the prayer to the Holy Spirit that was the first post on this blog, I believe. But lately I’ve noticed it’s definitely a Gimme-Prayer: Give me stillness…give me calm…give me the joy of your forgiveness…give me faith and hope and love and on and on. Now, don’t get me wrong…these are not bad things, but still, it seems to be all about me and my Me-Motives.

But then I stopped to think. I drive my husband, David, a bit crazy because it is so darn hard for me to ask him to help me with something or to ask him do something for me. I want to be self-sufficient, independent. It’s pride. isn’t it?! Especially since if he doesn’t happen to notice or guess that I would like his help, I get so easily miffed.

And isn’t that how it is with love, with Love that is God? I have to believe that God is happy for us to come to him in need. Sure, he wants us to express our love, our praise, our thanksgiving–those more unselfish aspects of worship. But also waits for us to come to him for forgiveness, for help. (more on that in another post)

It’s a matter of balance, as are so many things in life. The psalmist had it right, after all–though I’m not so sure about bashing those heads on rocks.

Image: Howard Carter

Image: Howard Carter

Prayer Pilgrims

Rejoice always;

pray without ceasing;

in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.…

I Thessalonians, 5, 15

 

Photo: davefrohnmayer.com Oregon Coast

Photo: davefrohnmayer.com
Oregon Coast

Many, many years ago, I was enticed by the story of a Russian mystic who wandered by foot through his country on a quest for contact with God. It was said that, without ceasing,  he repeated the “Jesus Prayer”–Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

That reminds me of the admonitions Jesus and Paul give us to pray constantly.

Last week I received an e-mail telling me of a new follower who blogs under the moniker “Prayer Pilgrim.” I linked to his blog and Facebook page to learn that, as of yesterday, this young man is beginning a walking pilgrimage along the coast of Oregon. I felt a twinge of envy, wishing I could do something like this–but considering age and health issues, as well as my responsibilities to others, I understood that that dream is out of the question. I am following his blog posts in order to join in, in some vicarious sort of way.

The reality is, however, there is nothing stopping me from becoming a prayer pilgrim in my own way–striving to bring prayer into the simplicity of my daily routine–walking the dogs, doing dishes, laundry, errands–whatever. The challenges I face are not the biting cold of the sea spray, nor the rocky cliffs, nor the aloneness of traveling without companions. No. My challenge is to REMEMBER. To not allow mindless internal chatter or the variability of mood swings distract me so that by the time I reach the end of the day I have blocked out all awareness of God With/In me.

Like Prayer Pilgrim, we each try to begin our walk throughout the day in a prayer place. The question is, how to keep putting one foot in front of the other, progressing in The Practice of the Presence of God.

Is there anything that helps you to REMEMBER?

Bless you on your journey, Prayer Pilgrim.

Two Scrawny, Dried-Up Sardines.

Jesus then took the loaves of bread, gave thanks, and passed them around to those reclining there; he did much the same with the dried fish, as much as they (the five thousand wanted. When they had had enough, he told his disciples, “Gather up the crusts that are leftover, so that nothing goes to waste…” John 6: 11-12

Image: Louise Carroll

Image: Louise Carroll

A reminder for us: never doubt the gifts that God has given us for the well-being of his people. Look what Jesus did with five barley loaves and a couple of dried up sardines!

April Eighth

 

Art: Karin Kuhlman All Rights Reserved

Art: Karin Kuhlman
All Rights Reserved

April Eighth

An article in the Smithsonian
alluded to the Holy
Shroud of Turin.
The image of Christ
seared radiologically
into a burial cloth.
A violent burst of energy.
A life-seed
in a closed space
blowing out boundaries.
Stories of an empty tomb.

Easter comes early
this year.
Daffodils explode in
the front garden,
sheltered by a warm wall.

April eighth,
nineteen forty-four.
A seed plummets to earth,
wrapped in a metal
death-womb.
Ejaculated from heaven,
it burrows into dank soil.
Buried.
Fragmented.
Combusted in another
surge of energy.

Months go by:
a year to the day.
Someone in the
War Department
types the letter on
a piece of onion-skin paper.
Words smudged by an
over-used ribbon tell
the woman to move on with her life.
The child will never call him
daddy.

This is a poem that I’ve posted before on my poetry blog. I wrote it in a year in which Easter coincided with the anniversary of my father’s death. He was a B-24 pilot in WWII. I never knew him as I was only 3 months old at the time he was lost.

P1020550

“The New Deal”–Jesus’s, That Is

 

Image: outoftheoverflow.com

Image: outoftheoverflow.com

The readings I’ve been doing on my own, and some of those I’ve heard in church during this Lenten season, have given me cause to compare and contrast the new and the old covenants.

The Old Covenant between God and Abraham, then codified with Moses and the whole people Of Israel, was based on the law–the Ten Commandments and all 613 legislative details that followed. It was a sort of tit-for-tat deal–“You observe these and I will be with you. You are my people and I am your God.” It’s not news to us that this didn’t work out well for either side. As much as God, through the prophets, admonished and promised, threatened and taught, the people just couldn’t pull off their side of the bargain. Human weakness and temptation were just too much for them and try as they might, they fell flat on their faces, over and over again.

So Jesus came to earth. I believe it was to check things out and find out where the flaw lay in the Father’s creation. To this end, he allowed himself to experience everything we experience–but Jesus never let temptation get the best of him. He never sinned.

I can imagine in those amazing dialogues with the Father–on mountaintops or in the wilderness–he shared what it was like to be human, how strong the urge to disobey those commandments could be. Talking it over with the Father, merciful and loving, they must have come to the understanding that the old law was beyond humankind’s ability and maybe it was time to try something else. And so they started all over again. Perhaps Jesus told the Father that, if they were not going to give up on creation,  something was needed to provide a mechanism for forgiveness.

Did he then offer himself as the solution? Did he explain to the Father what it was like down here in the valley of tears to be confronted with loss, rejection, fear, persecution, physical and mental illness, temptation and failure? Did he then say, “I’ll take it all on myself. I’ll show them how much we love them by going through the worst kind of suffering and death we can think of so they won’t feel so alone and helpless. We can give them a way out–the gift of loving forgiveness. And let’s summarize all those rules into two simple ones: love of God and love of neighbor.”

Is that what brought us to the first Holy Week, the beginning of which we observe today? May our subdued celebration of the Passion and Death of Jesus lead us to experience God’s forgiveness of our weakness, our willingness to forgive others and our gratitude for the immense love our Savior gives to us each moment of each day. And may that celebration burst out in Joy a week from today as we commemorate his glorious resurrection.

Are you doing anything special to observe Holy Week?

donkpreston

The Sin of His Father–Free Kindle Download

BookCoverImage

Today and tomorrow (March 1st and 2nd) I am offering my novel, The Sin of His Father, as a free download on Kindle. If you download and read, I would much appreciate a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads.

Thank you so much.

The Sin of His Father: a Story of the Healing Power of Forgiveness:

“Your father didn’t leave us, Mattie. I was raped.”These words, uttered by his mother on her deathbed, propelled Matt Maxwell into the fear that he could become like this man he never knew.

Abandoning the woman he loved, his closest friend, and a lifestyle that suited him well, Matt made choices that opened him to an unlikely friendship and a new relationship with the God of his youth. However, the terrible secret he harbored eventually took him down a path of self-destruction and alcoholism.

What would it take to embrace his truth, accept himself and his past, and discover peace in the power of forgiveness and love?

 

Gregorian Chant

Gregorian Chant

Sacred Vocabulary
eight modes of prayer
minor and major
moods to match mine
joy and pain.

Sacred Living
unfolding in hours
cast upon a staff
etched on vellum
etched in flesh.

Sacred Thought
echo through the years
rendered in music
rendered in breath.
Sacred poetry.

Gregorian chant or plainchant is a form of music used in Monastic Communities and Religious Orders for the singing of the Liturgy of the Hours. It is also an age-old tradition for many liturgical ceremonies in the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian communities. Its style is reminiscent of ancient Hebrew chanting.

It is composed in eight modes or scales in major or minor tones. The minor modes are usually associated with the more serious or penitential times of the liturgical year, while the major tones for celebration and joyful events. In general, true Gregorian chant is recited without accompaniment or harmonization. In more recent years, Gregorian chant has caught the attention of popular culture and has on occasion merged with popular songs. The music of Enigma is an example of this.

The Liturgy of the Hours, along with the celebration of the Eucharist, constitute part of the official public prayer of the Church (including Anglicanism and Greek Orthodoxy). Also known as the Divine Office or Breviary, this prayer is recited eight times throughout the twenty-four hour day. In strict monastic settings, the monks arise during the night to recite one of the “hours.” While the hours may be recited privately, the ideal is to do so in community, preferable chanted. The Psalms make up a major part of the liturgical hours.

gregorian

How We Need to Belong!

Image: Pace Community Church

Image: Pace Community Church

I’m looking out at a water hazard on a golf course. We use to have a pair of swans–the female was killed by a car years ago and the male just a few years back, by an errant golf ball. After that, mallards and wood ducks took over, along with a few egrets that come and go. This last week, a Canadian goose joined the other residents.

Image: britannica.com

Image: britannica.com

Geese mate for life, if I understand it correctly, and travel in flocks. So why is this fellow left behind? (I write fiction, so I’m always coming up with stories underlying things I observe). My guess is, his female fell prey to a coyote and he stayed behind looking for her and missed the boat heading wherever the rest of the flock was heading. May not be true, but it makes for a nice little romantic tragedy for this week when we celebrate Valentine’s day.

So why do I bring this up here, on a Christian blog?

My inquiring mind has always tinkered with the “why’s” behind the surge of neighborhood gangs in many larger cities. I grew up in the Los Angeles area. For years, L.A. has been known as a hotbed of gangs. When I was growing up in the 1950’s, it wasn’t like that. So what’s the difference? There are many but I want to focus on just one–the need to belong, to be accepted and care for in a social community. In my youth that need was fulfilled in two major arenas–the family and the church.

It’s easy to see where this is going, isn’t it? How has our society changed? Most of you are too young to see the stark contrast between the social structures of the 50’s (strong family ties, shared evening meals, large and active church communities) and those of subsequent decades. The dissolution of the family and faith community is no doubt a huge contributing factor in analyzing the rise of gangs. What are we doing, what can we do to provide our children with somewhere to go, someone to love them?

Image: Project No Gangs

Image: Project No Gangs

My observations may be way off base. I’m not a sociologist–only an observer of life. What are your thoughts?

In the meantime, my poor goose is alone now. I don’t know where the ducks took off to. He’s in the middle of the fairway eating seed, and…well, you know what geese do. Hope next time I play golf my ball doesn’t land in it!

 

Power-Up a Prayer

 

Image: bridgepointchurch.org

Image: bridgepointchurch.org

Last night, at a Super Bowl party, I had a chance to talk to a woman with whom I have golfed. We had never really gotten to know each other—the golf course isn’t a place for in-depth conversation. I relished the opportunity to share faith, even though cheers and boo’s in the background sometimes drowned us out.

Our conversation turned to prayer. We spoke of a mutual golfer-friend who is battling pancreatic cancer and, surprisingly, seems to be beating the odds. She has the attitude and the will to win the fight but Eileen told me of the battalion of prayer-warriors she had enlisted to come to our friend’s aid.

More examples of significant prayer-needs and responses came up, but eventually, morphed into the more mundane ways in which the weapon of prayer has helped. I want to give just two samples of almost-trivial instances in which I have recently experienced the help of our ever-present God.

After remodeling our kitchen, I was responsible for putting everything away. My husband is a gourmet cook so that the tools of his “trade” were stored in boxes that filled the living room. At one point, I became almost desperate looking for glass cleaner in the midst of this mass of boxes and packaging material. Finally, I asked God to help me find it and in that very instance I spotted it (in a most unlikely place, of course.)

The second—an on-going challenge—is our sweet Jack Russell Terrier who is totally deaf. Now, this is normally a hyperactive breed. When I walk her, she goes ballistic whenever a bike, jogger or car goes by. Because of her inability to hear them approaching, she is scared. She also has a degenerative spinal disorder and we need to protect her from injuring herself in that crazed, reactive state. WHEN I remember to ask God’s help before we go for a walk, it seems to go so much easier—less traffic, perhaps. But more often, I am more relaxed, less impatient and she can sense that. When I forget…well, we won’t go there!

I trust that God is just waiting for us to come to him for help—no matter how banal the request may be. After all, he is our refuge, our stronghold, our God in whom we trust.

Meet Zoe--our JRT Photo: David Slotto 2014

Meet Zoe–our JRT
Photo: David Slotto
2014

The Family That Prays Together

When I was young, the radio and TV commanded an equal amount of attention. I recall that we used to watch a weekly TV show that featured Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Even though I don’t remember most of what he said, a few tidbits–important ones–have stuck with me. One has even entered popular culture though with significant, if important, alterations. “The family that prays together, stays together.”

Time Magazine

Time Magazine

And we did. Grace, of course, at meals but also the rosary. If my memory serves me correctly, it was Sheen himself who led it on a radio station–broadcasted even in Los Angeles County. Not every night and not compulsively, my sister and I would be stretched out in our side-by-side twin beds and Mom and Dad would squeeze in between us for this bedtime ritual.

Family prayer is most likely rare in today’s busy culture. So many families can’t even gather for communal meals. Too bad. The family that prays together has been supplanted by the family that plays together in our increasing secularized society. Not that play is a bad thing. But think how different life could be if we could etch out a few moments for prayer and/or for a gathering and sharing of the day at the dinner table.

Last Advent, David and I re-initiated the practice of the Advent wreath and that has led into a new nighttime ritual–a short reflection from a meditation book by Max Lucado and a few moments of quiet reflection…it’s our dogs, this time, who snuggle up in between us.

Photo: V. Slotto

Photo: V. Slotto

I had to share this photo of Sparky taken last year. Both of our dogs join me each morning when I say to them–come on, let’s pray. This is what happened once, post-prayer.