Tag Archives: prayer

Teeny Tiny Lent

I didn’t mean to give up blogging for Lent, honest.  It just worked out that way.

I thought about giving up something big for Lent, even though the whole concept of the liturgical calendar is pretty much the opposite of the fiercely independent Baptist tradition I come from.  (Liturgy?  We don’t need no steenkeen liturgy!)  And, come to think of it, it’s probably not what you’d call a standard element of Quaker faith either, what with the pointed lack of symbols, rituals, and creeds.

I still feel a need for it, though – that sense of community that comes from knowing that a whole bunch of other Christians are doing this thing, at this time.  Granted, Lent looks really different, depending on who’s celebrating it – and that probably means quite a few of them are doing it right.  It ought to be individual, and play out differently in the faith journeys of different people.  Some people loudly and theatrically give up chocolate.  Some of the more traditional folks grumble and mumble and give up meat, while their more modern-minded cousins give up their favorite iPhone apps.  And you can always find a few students who want to give up homework for Lent.  (This rarely works.)

I thought about giving something up, thinking spiritual thoughts, and blogging about it, as many people seem to be doing these days.  I have loved reading their thoughts, but when I thought about doing the same thing here, all I could think of was that pesky verse about praying on the street corner in a loud voice.  For me, getting all holy and blogging about it was going to be the spiritual equivalent of standing at the corner of State and Commercial and hollering about what an awesome Christian I am.  Thankfully for my blog and the state of my soul, I frankly didn’t have the energy.

So I gave something else up.  It wasn’t this blog – that hiatus had more to do with several weeks’ worth of insane music schedule followed closely by a respiratory virus from the lowest pits of hell and a stomach bug which I will not gross you out by describing.  (You’re welcome.)  Instead, I gave up something small and silly that would register about a 0.001 on the Richter Scale of Sacrifice.  I did not have deep and holy thoughts about it, or at least not very many.  But I stuck with it, and every few days I thought, “Hey, it’s been a while since I … oh, yeah.  Lent.”  And I did think, “Jesus did a lot more than this.  That is pretty awesome.”  But that was pretty much it.  I didn’t have epiphanies or decide to give 50% of my income to the poor.  I just remembered, now and then, and I was thankful.

And really, that’s the point, isn’t it?  So maybe my observation of Lent was on a tiny, tiny scale.  Maybe next year I’ll give up something a little bigger, a little less silly.  Maybe the  year after that, I’ll be a better person and I can write about it.  Maybe those thoughts will bless others, and turn around and bless me all over again in the process of putting them into words.  But for now, I am just going to smile, close the door for today on my little metaphorical prayer closet, and try to keep that mental habit going:

“Hey, Jesus.  Thanks.  I haven’t forgotten.”

God Be In My Head

God be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at mine end, and at my departing.
–Sarum Primer, 1558

God be in my hands when I pull the blanket up over my silly son’s head, just the way he likes it.

God be in my feet when I’m tramping across campus to another rehearsal.

God be in my eyes when I’m driving to the grocery store late at night to buy eggs to make cookies because I said I’d bring them to class tomorrow, and there’s no time in the morning.

God be in my words when it’s an hour past bedtime and my daughter is still wide awake.

God be in my mind when I’m doing my taxes and wondering where the money will come from.

God be in my waking, which comes too early.

God be in my sleeping, which comes too late.

God be in my head when I fold socks and underpants and shirts in silent prayer, and forgive me this one night for being too busy to fold my hands.

To Err Is Human

This morning I did not go to church.

I did not read my Bible.

I prayed quite a bit, but I didn’t sing any Christian songs.

Not so many years ago, I would have been pretty sure there was a sin in there somewhere.  Staying home on a Sunday morning when you didn’t have a fever or something gross and contagious was simply not done when I was a kid, at least not in our family.  Granted, my dad didn’t have the option of skipping church for anything less than the most dire circumstances because he was the pastor.  But it wasn’t just being the preacher’s kid – most of the kids in my Sunday School were in the same boat.  No fever?  No vomit?  Quitcher bellyachin’ and put your good shoes on, we’re goin’ to church.

It’s not a bad pattern, all things considered.  There’s even Biblical precedent for it, when we’re reminded not to “forsake our own assembling together, as is the habit of some.”  Or, in modern English, “Don’t skip church, like SOME PEOPLE, you know who you are.”

There are plenty more good patterns where that came from.  “They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”  Read your Bible every day!

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”  Twice a day is even better!

As a teenager, I was never quite sure just how much Bible-reading and church-going was enough, so I decided to err on the side of caution and did it ALL.  Somewhere along the line, though, the myriad well-meaning instructions drowned out the true voice of those Scriptures.  There are so many books, so many sermons, so many words about the forms of our faith.  There is immense value in those words, and I love reading about how other people have brought rhythm and structure to their days with their disciplines of faith.  But it’s easy to get so lost in the form that we forget the eagerness and the delight that are meant to be the driving force behind the daily study.  So quickly we fall into going to church because it’s Sunday, instead of going because the Church is going to be there.

When this habit starts being built more of guilt than of joy, I think it’s probably all right to break it now and then.  Today was one of those days.  I had a major musical performance planned for the afternoon, and I found myself gripped with an unexpected attack of nerves.  This was well past queasy-tummy territory and approaching immobilized.  I dropped my children off at church, and then I came home.  I sat in the sunlight and read a book.  I prayed a little.  I had a late breakfast.  I prayed a little more.  I realized that I was useless at the moment, so I set my alarm for 45 minutes and got back in bed and pulled the covers over my head.

Not too surprisingly, God found me under my blankets, and I emerged feeling considerably better about life in general and the upcoming concert in particular.  Was that church?  No.  But was it sin?  I still have to say no.

In erring on the side of caution, I have spent over thirty years erring on the side of law.  I think it is time to err on the side of grace.

Holy Scrub-brush, Batman!

When I first started looking into the Friends tradition, the concept of sacramental living made immediate sense to me.  Even as a child, I had a sense of lingering holiness about everyday things like trees and fields and books, although I couldn’t possibly have articulated what I felt.

Making laundry a prayer seems obvious, if I just remind myself.  The folding and sorting can be a quiet, domestic form of worship.  The feel of the cloth is soothing under my hands, and the rhythm of folding becomes a liturgy of socks and shirts.

Balancing the checkbook takes a little more thought, but I can find God there too.  The numbers and logic are satisfying, and it’s not a huge leap to imagine that God must find an exponentially greater satisfaction in the ordered rhythms of molecules and planetary systems.

Even driving can be its own meditation (as long as I pay attention to the road, of course).  I am learning the welcome discipline of shutting off the litany of work-related concerns, and replacing it with a conscious gratitude for the trees and fields and open sky on my way to work.

That said … if anybody figures out how to sacramentally scour burned rice out of the bottom of a pot, come on over to my house.  I will give you a scrub-brush and let you meditate the hell out of my pots and pans.

My Do It!

“The opposite of faith is not doubt; rather, the opposite of faith is believing you are in control.”

– Tom and Liz Gates, quoted in “Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity”

When my daughter (now 13) was a toddler, she wanted to do everything for herself – put on her socks, feed herself, put on her own seatbelt, and she probably would have plunked her tiny little backside in the driver’s seat if I’d have let her.  Her constant refrain was, “MY do it!”

It’s embarrassingly easy to see myself in her, but as adults we’re encouraged to be self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-motivated, self-centered … whoops, scratch that last one.  Independence is seen as a virtue in our culture, and “My do it” sounds a whole lot like “I did it my way” and “Have it your way” and “Army of One”.

I had never really thought until today about how this independent streak informs my prayers.  I feel like I’m asking God for strength, wisdom, and guidance.  The words sound like I am.  But I wonder how many of my “God, grant me guidance” prayers are actually a thinly-veiled “God, I’m gonna run things now, OK?”

I don’t want to minimize the importance of action and responsibility – I’m not advocating passivity.  I wonder, though, if my faith might be healthier if my prayer was simply,

“Dear God: YOU do it.”

Little Things, Big God

Does God give us the best parking places?  I’m gonna have to say a reluctant “no” on that one.  It’d be nice to imagine that he stuck his divine finger into the traffic patterns and made all the people at Safeway just not notice that one really great spot, but somehow it doesn’t really mesh with that whole free will thing.

At the same time, there are occasions where you have to sit back and think, “Well, HUH.  Sure wouldn’t have figured that to happen by chance.”

One of my responsibilities at one of my university jobs is getting the student accompanists lined up with the student vocalists for their weekly lessons.  Trying to get a nearly immovable voice studio schedule coordinated with five student schedules, making sure that every vocalist has an accompanist and every student accompanist has enough hours … well, it makes those little Chinese triangle puzzles seem like a BREEZE.  Oh, and none of the piano players who are also taking voice lessons can accompany themselves.  Yes, it crossed my mind.

This evening I finally had to call it quits after a few hours on the computer dealing with scheduling, emails, and a bunch of other stuff that’s really boring to write about.  Nobody was available in the late afternoon, and those are the times when I either can’t be there at ALL because of another commitment, or when I want desperately to be home with my children on the two days a week I always have them.  Yes, I could cover those lessons, but oh my goodness I didn’t want to have to stay an hour late two days a week while my children let themselves into the house and waited for Mama to come home!

And then at 11:30 p.m. I got the last student schedule in my email inbox.  She only wants three students.  She’s available every afternoon until 4:00.  Problem completely solved, in less than two minutes.

God?  Maybe not.  But I’m going to thank Him anyway, just in case.

Hangin’ Out with the Spirit

The Holy Spirit.  I hadn’t given Him a lot of thought in recent years until the summer of 2011 when God said in no uncertain terms, “See this guy you know?  Guess what – you really are the only Jesus he sees.  He wants to know Me.  Start talkin’, honey.”  And in my first really honest prayer in several years, I said, “God, You’ve got to be effing kidding me.”

(I apologize – sincerely –  if the profanity offends you, but that IS the edited version, so let’s call it a compromise.  God didn’t strike me down, so I’m assuming it wasn’t a fatal error to cuss at Him.)  He said He wasn’t kidding, I grumbled and shared the Gospel, and the guy accepted Christ.

So I kind of couldn’t ignore the Spirit, given that He’d just splashed down in the middle of my life and made a big exciting mess, but I also wasn’t quite sure what to do with him.  Can you talk to him?  Pray to him?  Worship him?  What does he DO, exactly?  Get up in your business when somebody needs God, obviously, but what else?  Is He what gives me the heebie-jeebies when I’m driving home from work late, and something in my head says “TAKE A DIFFERENT ROAD TONIGHT” and I say “OKAY I WILL” and feel like I’ve dodged a bullet?

Now, I know I wouldn’t do too well as a full-blown charismatic.  (Somebody will have to tell me some day if you can be introverted and Pentecostal at the same time.)  When people sway too hard during the song service, I’m always thinking, “Steady there.”  People shouting “Preach it!” and “Truth!” during the sermon make me want to thump the back of their heads because I can’t hear the pastor.  The one time I attended an Assemblies of God service, a guy started twirling in circles and hollering in tongues.  It scared the living daylights out of me.  Mostly, though, the service made me sad.  They spent half an hour singing the same songs over and over, begging the Spirit to descend on them / be present there / set them on fire, and I just stood there thinking, “Guys!  He’s ALREADY HERE!”

As time went by, though, I didn’t make a very good Baptist, either.  We talk about the Holy Spirit, and we – funny, that collective pronoun is a hard habit to break.  It’ll do for now … I’ve only been officially non-Baptist for three days, so bear with me.  We believe in the Spirit, no doubt about that – He’s the one who makes all the believing happen, and reminds us to do right when we’re tempted to do wrong.  But we’re just not very comfortable with Him.

I wish I was joking about this, but my just-barely-former church actually made the decision back in the 90’s to not sing the third verse of “Glorify Thy Name”, a simple and lovely modern hymn that mentions all three members of the Trinity.  “Jesus, we love You, we worship and adore You / Glorify Thy name in all the earth.”  That’s fine for Jesus, and it’s fine for the Father.  But they just weren’t sure that it was kosher to worship the Spirit [insert long debate about how the Spirit always directs attention to the other members of the Godhead and there’s no Biblical precedent for worshiping him], so we just sang two verses and skipped to the next song.

That’s an extreme case of literalism run amok, I grant you.  But even on the best days, I always felt like the third member of the Trinity was a little like that one uncle who lives in California.  He’s a great guy, we love him a lot, and it’s a blast when we get to visit him.  We send him pictures and Christmas cards, and sometimes we call him up just for fun.  He loves us, and we love him, but we don’t live together or anything.  Also, he’s a little odd, you know?  Not BAD or anything, don’t get me wrong, but he’s just a little offbeat.

So you can imagine my bemusement when I started my gradual drift into Quaker readings and church services.  They talk about the Spirit a lot, but not like I’ve ever heard him talked about.  No fanfare or excitement, but he’s not the invisible elephant in the room, either.  He’s just … part of things.  Like the air, and water, and food.  When the church I’ve been attending had a business meeting recently, they started it out with a few minutes of silence, in order to open their minds and hearts to whatever the Spirit had in mind for the meeting.  Nothing woo-woo about it, just “Hey God, we’re having a meeting, wanna start us off?  Thanks!”

If I’ve been used to the Holy Spirit as somebody who comes to church just a little overdressed and never stays for the whole service, this view of the Holy Spirit has him in jeans and work boots, getting there early to turn the lights on and staying afterwards in case anybody wants to go to lunch and hang out for a while.  And you know, I think I just might.