Tag Archives: the praying life

Ascension – Redux

While he was still with them, he said:

Don’t leave Jerusalem yet. Wait here for the Father to give you the Holy Spirit, just as I told you he has promised to do. . . . But the Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power.  

After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1: 6-8a, 9 (CEV)

Something new is coming,
something incredible,
beyond imagination
and manipulation.

Something
promised.

Well maybe.
That is to say, we hope it is.

He said it would.

We watched him rise up
out on the hill,
wind blustering all around,
and the jagged saw of goodbye
chewing us apart.

Don’t go. Don’t go. We love you so!

And the love
filling us up
and tipping us

over with its force.

And us, breathless and blown,
rolling and tumbling down
the mountain
flung and spinning
out from the core of that splendor. 

His Words,
imprinted
on our souls like a bright tattoo.

And the angels saying, Get up. Get going!

He said to wait.
Wait.

There would be more, something else,
spirit he called it,
who will help us remember it all,

help us catch our breath,
and give us legs for such a world, as we have glimpsed.

Oh, why not Him? Why this spirit thing,
when we had a love
we could hold in our arms and look in the eye?

The Father, reaching down into humanity,
snatches back the offspring
of his selfless, effervescent generosity.

Dear God,
you catch up very God of very God,
begotten not made,
by the scruff
of his collar
and draw him back into your joyful dance.

What are you thinking,
cutting in like this, sweeping off with our partner?

Life is eternal – that is good news.
But what to do with the life and the love,
left here as we are, knocking about in the flesh?

Don’t ask of us such vulnerability,
this being clueless, with nothing to hang onto,
suspended between cloud and fire,
dangling
from only a dim memory
and a bright promise.

I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit. The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God. Ephesians 1: 17 (CEV)
(This post is adapted from post originally published in 2010.)
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Ascension

While he was still with them, he said:

Don’t leave Jerusalem yet. Wait here for the Father to give you the Holy Spirit, just as I told you he has promised to do. . . . But the Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power.  

After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1: 6-8a, 9 (CEV)

Something new is coming,
something incredible,
beyond imagination
and manipulation.

Something
promised.

Well maybe.
That is to say, we hope it is.

He said it would.

We watched him rise up
out on the hill,
wind blustering all around,
and the jagged saw of goodbye
chewing us apart.

Don’t go. Don’t go. We love you so!

And the love
filling us up
and tipping us

over with its force.

And us, breathless and blown,
rolling and tumbling down
the mountain
flung and spinning
out from the core of that splendor. 

His Words,
imprinted
on our souls like a bright tattoo.

And the angels saying, Get up. Get going!

He said to wait.
Wait.

There would be more, something else,
spirit he called it,
who will help us remember it all,

help us catch our breath,
and give us legs for such a world, as we have glimpsed.

Oh, why not Him? Why this spirit thing,
when we had a love
we could hold in our arms and look in the eye?

The Father, reaching down into humanity,
snatches back the offspring
of his selfless, effervescent generosity.

Dear  God,
catching up very God of very God, begotten not made,
by the scruff
of his collar
and drawing him back into your joyful dance,

what are you thinking,
cutting in like this, sweeping off with our partner?

Life is eternal – that is good news.
But what to do with the life and the love,
left here as we are, knocking about in the flesh?

Please do not ask of us such vulnerability,
this being clueless, with nothing to hang onto,
suspended between cloud and fire,
dangling
from only a dim memory and a bright promise.

Few things leave us more vulnerable
than Love and the Holy Spirit. 

I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit. The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God. Ephesians 1: 17 (CEV)
(This post is adapted from post originally published in 2010.)

Blood on My Hands – A Reflection on Love and Violence

If the Judeo-Christian ferment is not dead, it must be engaged in an obscure struggle against deeper and deeper layers of the essential complicity between violence and human culture.    Rene Girard

Only a few weeks ago on Easter Sunday we sang “The strife is o’er, the battle done; the victory of life is won; the song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!”

Something in me wants to say: Not!

Just what kind of strife is over, what sort of battle won? The constant drumbeat of war and strife seem to drown out any victory for life. Battles erupt and spread through the world like wild fire. Reading Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s  Jesus for President , I came across these statistics about defense spending:

The US arsenal is the largest stockpile of nuclear weaponry in the world, equivalent to over 150,000 Hiroshima bombs. US military budget is over 450 billion per year, and it would take the combined budgets of the next 15 countries to equal that of the US (Russia is the next biggest spender at around 70 billion, China at 50 billion, and the entire “Axis of Evil” is less than 10 billion. (p.178)

Then last week we learned of a decisive, courageous act of violence which seeks, if not to end the war on terror, to seriously debilitate it, while attempting to obtain justice for those so horribly wronged.

On the surface I felt a mixture of relief, satisfaction, and a sober resignation to the violence. As the days passed I kept asking, was not the state sponsored violent execution, to which the Son of God surrendered, supposed to end all this? Why are we still killing each other in the effort to preserve peace, when we have already killed the Prince of Peace who shook off death and rose to proclaim the forgiveness of sins?

Christians declare that in Christ’s death and resurrection a momentous, wrenching, earth shattering shift occurred in our relationship with God and with one another. So why is it business as usual? Sin, evil, resentment, lust, greed, war continue to thrive and spread.

With the Judeo-Christian ferment still strong in my heart, the killing of Osama Bin Laden has engaged me in that obscure struggle, which anthropologist Girard describes, against the deeper and deeper layers of the essential complicity between violence and human culture.

The very fact that I may live safely on a quiet street in Kansas, as I leisurely consider such questions, is a tip of my hat to countless individuals whose struggles, deaths, and acts of preemptive and retaliatory violence, have helped to preserve the peace I enjoy.

That peace was troubled six weeks ago, when I woke in the night terrified by a dream. I was staying in the home I grew up in, where I had been sorting through family treasures, photos, records, and sixty years of lives well lived. My father is deceased and mom now lives in a care center. My siblings and I are preparing the home for sale. I was in town that weekend to attend the auction of my father’s collection of Indian relics. The stone tools, arrow points, ax heads, and weapons had been his passion, a focus of a life-long study of the early people who lived in Southeast Iowa and whose history extends back thousands of years.

The dream was deeply disturbing. A demonic, ghostly presence is in the house moving about. A small white poodle lies under a table. Suddenly its fur turns bright red, like blood, as though a red light were shining upon it. I place my hands on the side of the dog where the light was shining. When I pull them away, my palms have real blood on them.

I want to show my hands to my brother. Then suddenly a terrifying presence is with me. I scream very loudly and in screaming, cough up a wad of phlegm, which flies out of my mouth into the air. I think to myself my brother will be here soon, and I wake myself up screaming.

Good grief, I thought, shaken, what was that about? As I lay fearful and pondering the blood on my hands, the blood seemed to change in my memory from wet blood to a small rust colored stain in the center of the palm of each hand.

 

I got up and walked through the house, past the stacks of old photographs and the large ornate memorial pictures commemorating the deaths of various family members. A blue willow plate that traveled in a covered wagon with my Great Aunt Ethel sat among old family dishes. A china chamber pot leaned next to a pile of scrap books containing local history.

The process of closing a home is disorienting, chaotic, and uprooting. Objects handled by generations are stirred up, turned over, lifted out of boxes, hauled down from attics, and exposed to the light. Once Dad took me to Indian mounds under excavation. I remember walking along a wooden platform that circled the mound and looking down at the tiers of the remains.

There are whispered stories of violence in my family history – suicide, murder, conflict, suffering, grief. Who am I to rail against war, when my hands have blood on them in ways both known and unknown to me? My civilized life is complicit with violence. In fact “civilization” stands on the shoulders of violence and layers upon layers of sacred bones.

 

The story does not end here, nor the gift of my dream. Though the roots of terror and violence run deep in the human heart, succumbing to violence to end violence is only a temporary solution.

Anthropologist Gil Bailie writes:

Violence is immensely compelling. Those who witness spectacles of violence can be seduced by its logic even when – perhaps especially when – they are morally scandalized by it. Violence is labyrinthine. It turns back on itself in serpentine ways. The paths that seem to exit from its madness so often lead deeper into its maze.
… We may no longer be able and willing to turn violence into religion [as in primitive approaches to violence, such as human sacrifice and scapegoating], but neither are we able to turn the other cheek, and the conventional way of resisting evil causes the contagion of evil to spread, perpetrated by those who are most determined to eradicate it. How to resist evil in ways that prevent its spread is now history’s most fundamental dilemma. Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled – Humanity at the Crossroads, (p. 90)

How do we resist evil in ways that prevent its spread and prevent our own vulnerability to its contagion?  For the followers of Christ, the Way is in the manger and hanging from the cross. The Way is meeting us as we remember Christ’s suffering and resurrection. The Way is obedience to the greatest commandment: to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Perfect love is what casts out terror, not more terror.

There is no terror in love. But perfect love drives out terror, because terror has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
                                                                        I John 4: 18.

When our love is divided, when our love is parceled out and diffused among many desires, we are like a branch cut off from the vine. When we succumb to fear and anxiety, we wither, wilt, and die. When other desires stand between our hearts and that supreme Love, the power given to us in the cross of Christ is diluted, blocked, and becomes irrelevant to us.

Cain Leads Abel to Death

After I walked through the house, I went back to bed and a fervent prayer rose up in me. I prayed against that dark presence and for each family member, going back through the generations, all the way to Cain and Abel. I prayed for the ancient people, whose relics had been in my family’s respectful care for close to sixty years. The artifacts, now scattered, rested in unfamiliar hands. I prayed for all my relations, my brothers and sisters throughout time and space. I prayed for their protection, for forgiveness, healing, freedom, and peace. I prayed for their fullest joy in God. I prayed with the authority of my baptism for anything evil to depart and leave these ones alone. I prayed through the victory of Jesus won by his shed blood, once, for all.  I prayed like a house afire for everyone I could think of. Recalling my dream, I not only spit on the devil, I hocked a big loogie. Then I turned over and slept like a baby.

Gil Bailie illuminates the significance of the mysterious redemptive power of the crucifixion and the implications for our time with his anthropological perspective.

Humans in crisis easily succumb to social contagions that end in violence that is accompanied by a primitive form of religious intoxication.  In the final analysis, the only alternative to the simulated transcendence of social contagion and violence is another experience of religious transcendence, one at the center of which is a God who chooses to suffer violence rather than sponsor it. (Violence Unveiled – Humanity at the Crossroads, p 66)

“Put down your weapon!” Jesus told Peter, when Peter drew his sword to defend his master and severed the soldier’s ear.

The choice to suffer violence, rather than sponsoring it, is made possible by an extraordinary love for God, the Transcendent Power of the Universe. This is the greatest and first commandment. Only as this is followed may the second commandment of love for neighbor and self be fully embraced. For it is love for God, which gives one the strength for suffering the sins of others, the capacity to forgive, the faith to believe in the unseen possibility of new life, and the hope to endure. Love of God bestows the deeply sustaining and transforming inner communion with Love itself. Love of God releases the rushing river of redemption to flow through us into the world.

.

We are all complicit. We all have blood on our hands. The strife is o’er, the battle done; the victory of life is won for those who have suffered, along with Jesus, the crucifixion in themselves of all that is not love. These carry the stain of the blood of the Lamb in their palms.

Love wins.

For love is
as strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.   Song of Songs 8: 6b-7

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Homeless

Black grackles and speckled starlings,
with yellow beaks and rusty throated chatter
clatter up and down the branches
gleaning the leavings of winter’s suet cakes.

A pile of must-read books
litter my desk and the chair before the window
where I come to pray.

Wisdom and knowledge at my fingertips,
and the perfect YouTube video of a good life,
forwarded from friend to friend,
promises to change everything.
Click here now.

How long do you stand on the street corner,
listening to the preachers and barkers?

How long do you slurp up the news,
opinions, and seductions of others?

How long do you sit on the couch
of the world consuming secondhand notions,
lies, and rumors?

When will you sit down before mystery
and invite it to come rest in your lap,

your lap, I mean, your heart and singular, scintillating body?

When do you stop singing somebody else’s song
and chasing somebody else’s god
and coveting somebody else’s experience?

When, oh when,
dear, irreplaceable you,
will you lay
yourself down in your own true,
blue bonnet strewn field of a life?

And say to the starling –
Here come, with your little orange feet and strange black eye.
How precious you are in that freckled jacket.

And I ask you,
how many prayer breakfasts,
committee meetings, and strategy sessions,
how many well-intentioned,
and not so well-intentioned,
soldiers of truth
gathering to plot their version of a perfect world
must we salute?

Just how long will it take, do you think,
for us to be safe enough
and gentle enough
and humble enough

for the shy weary God to come and lay his head? 

 

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests,
but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8:  18-22 

 

A YouTube video on Matthew 8: 18-22

The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
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Rx for a Crisis

The man, unemployed for two years now, leans his elbows on the kitchen table, puts his face in his hands and weeps.
Be still and know that I am God.

The family, numb with shock and grief, stare into the abyss the sudden death of their child has opened before them.

Be still and know that I am God.

The couple – run ragged with work, child care, and keeping up with the Joneses – gaze across the room at each other and wonder how their love turned to resentment and anger.

Be still and know that I am God.

All the while the nation’s public discourse rages on with the clamor and clang of opinions, self righteous indignation, and attack.
Be still and know that I am God.
So much of our lives seems to be fueled by fear and hyperbole, or hype, as the word has morphed into. The fear and anxiety tend to compress our perception into narrow tunnel vision and demand that we act immediately, often at the expense of reasoned consideration, and gathering all the facts. Hyperbole, the fetching sister of fear, exaggerates, escalates, and glamorizes her brother. We feed on sensationalism, scandal, and worst case scenarios.
In the context of this culture of fear and hype, when we encounter the pain and loss of being human, in whatever form it shows up in our life, we may feel overwhelmed, isolated, or ashamed.
Our times are difficult. We face as individuals, as a nation, and as global citizens immense challenges. People are suffering. The planet is suffering. We must act and act wisely. Will our action, our response to the crises we face, rise from our faith or our fear? Will the choices we make be fueled by hysteria, anger, discouragement, or the wisdom and grace of something greater and mightier than we?
Be still and know that I am God. Well, what good will that do? Is that going to improve the job opportunities in my town? Is that going to bring back our son from the grave? Is that going to bring back the love and joy we used to know as a couple?
No. It may or may not change the crisis you are facing. However, it will change you. Absolutely. Being still and knowing that God is God and you are God’s creation will shift how you perceive yourself in the midst of your crisis, and how you perceive the crisis itself.
Being still and knowing that God is God will establish you in the depths of God’s Being within you. Here you will discover a strange peace that doesn’t make sense, that passes all understanding as St. Paul wrote (Philippians 4:7). You will begin to live and act and make decisions from that deep well of peace, rather than your fear and anxiety.
The New English Bible translates this verse from Psalm 46 in this way: Let be then: learn that I am God. Let things be as they are, stop strategizing, blaming, figuring out solutions, or how to get even. Stop your action and thinking. Be in that energetic stillness that is God’s presence within you.
In doing this you will learn that God dwells within you, speaks within you, and is moving in your life and world. You are not in charge, never have been. You do not have to figure this all out and get it right somehow. Relax. Trust.
God is our shelter and our refuge,
a timely help in trouble;
so we are not afraid when the earth heaves
and the mountains are hurled into the sea,
when its waters seethe in tumult
and the mountains quake before his majesty.
There is a river whose streams gladden the city of God
which the Most High has made his holy dwelling;
God is in that city; she will not be overthrown,
And he will help her at the break of day.
The Lord of hosts is with us,
the God of Jacob is our refuge.    from Psalm 46


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A Legacy of Love

My brother reads from a letter my sister sent to my parents in 1956. She was a young bride living in Washington, DC in her first teaching job. “Here is your history,” he says, handing her the pile of typed correspondence. Neatly bound in boxes tied with string, stacked in baskets, stashed in closets, my mother saved every greeting card and letter she received.
We find our baby clothes – tiny booties, bonnets, and blankets – saved in the original boxes. My sister looks over a list of the names of people who came to visit when she was born. Holding the evidence in her hands, she says, “I was well loved. I was doted on.”
There are other treasures, Grandma’s pin, which on sight immediately conjures the navy blue dress she wore it on, and her austere, no nonsense personality. We all agreed that the most boring place on earth was Grandma’s house on an endless Sunday afternoon, listening to the clock ticking.
We find Great Grandmother’s worn, wooden butter paddle, carefully preserved and handed down to the eldest granddaughter. The paddle was saved in an enameled box along with an ivory fan from Switzerland. The enclosed note explained that the fan was brought back from a trip abroad by one of two women preachers in the family, Great Aunt Hannah Beard.
We are sifting the memories, treasures, and love from the chaff of well lived lives. As a friend put it, we are discovering the essence, the pure, best parts of what our parents and their parents and their parents have given us. My father died in 2001 at ninety three. My mother celebrates her ninety seventh birthday this week.
When I went to visit her, after a day of sorting and remembering, we ate some pop corn. Before she put a kernel in her mouth, she told me she likes to look at it to see what is there. “Look! Two eyes, ears.. a rabbit! Now what is in this one?” She turns the kernel over and then laughs, “Oh dear. Well, here is one leg, and another, and see what is in between?” We hoot and cackle till tears run down our cheeks, and we give that one to the dog. She holds out another kernel, “Now this one, tell me what you see in it.”
She has a poet’s ear, an artist’s eye, and a sense of humor born of suffering, endurance, and the grace of God. She sees the hidden essence of things and then sets out to show the rest of us. The house is full of paintings, wood carvings, sketch books, poetry, and natural history books. My father’s notebooks of clippings and tales of local history line the book shelves.
Dad, hunting arrow heads in the soil heaved up by spring plowing, and Mom, peering into pop corn kernels, were always scratching below the surface, turning up treasures their whole lives. My siblings and I wonder if we need a dumpster or a museum.
Love – between the legs, the eyes, the ears, and the beat of our hearts – expresses itself and leaves traces all over the place. Love sees beneath the surface of things, hopes enough to save what is special and worth doting on, passes on its truth and generosity, and leaves a priceless legacy. “We loved you so. You are so special to us,” the piles of boxes say.

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My Own Devices

You don’t have time for this. Who can afford to dally about in the woods and meadows at the start of a busy day? So much to do, tasks to complete, bills to pay. The little dimwitted tyrant in the basement of your soul has already been up for hours, pacing and shoveling coal on your furnace of anxiety.
Here, right now, is the crux, the moment on which everything turns. Here is your choice.
That quiet place within is always there – the woods, the mountains, the meadow, the shore – where the waters of life perpetually flow and splash.
Likewise, the summons never ends. Each day is an engraved invitation, each moment, an extended hand.
Here is what I want you to do: find a quiet secluded place so that you won’t be tempted to role play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. Matthew 6:6 (The Message)
Will you calm the little bully in the basement, who doesn’t know much more than how to push, grab, worry, and pout? Will you find that place where you can be fully yourself and just be there simply and honestly?
Can you feel yourself relaxing, your tunnel vision widening, and grace softening your rough edges? Do you notice how your perception changes, how something is reordered or realigned within?
It’s your choice. You are endowed with an immense and crucial freedom. You can leave peace and beauty on the mountain, in the woods, or up in the attic in a box next to the Christmas decorations, or you can take the hand of Love in this moment and be led into delight.
As you offer yourself to God and enter into communion, this interpenetration of your being and the being of God heals, transforms, and mutually satisfies you and Holiness. Here is what amazes me. God desires, even longs to be with us in conscious relationship.
Ours is a God who, yearning for our companionship, plaintively asks his people,
Why was there no one when I came? Why did no one answer when I called? … I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name. I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices… Isaiah 50: 2; 65: 1-2
Up at dawn, checking my calendar on my hand held device, I am stopped in my tracks by these words of Isaiah.
St. Therese of Liseaux put it like this:

God has no need of our works. God has need of our love.

Read more about prayer at www.fromholyground.org
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