Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘contemplation’

Pray Then in This Way, Part 1

 Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13

Prayer is a consistent challenge for many of us. How do we do it? What do we say? Does God actually listen – or answer? Must we be on our knees? I understand each of these questions because I have asked them many times myself. In his letter to the Romans (8:26), Paul writes, “…we do not know how to pray as we ought.” Jesus says, “Pray then in this way,” and gives the prayer that forms the basis for what we call The Lord’s Prayer. Did he mean for us to pray these words, or did he mean for us to pray in this spirit? I think the answer is both. Sometimes, we need to use words because that is the way we learned to communicate. As we age, at least in my case, prayer becomes deeper and richer in the silence before and beyond words.

What confuses many of us is our need to capture what we experience with words. We forget that words are metaphors. Words represent something, but they are not the thing, experience, or person. For example, I say the word tree and you picture a tall plant with leaves, branches, and a woody truck. But a description of a tree, even of a specific tree, is not the tree itself. The words tell us nothing about the life history of the tree, how it experiences dormancy in the winter, or how it experiences me as I sit beneath it. The word tree is a metaphor pointing to a living reality. In the same way, you cannot know my essential nature by knowing my name, age, height, weight, profession, gender or any other descriptive term about me. When we think we know or understand someone based on a verbal description, even a description based on our interactions with that person, we remove ourselves from the essence of that person. The description of our interaction with another is not the same as the actual interaction. Words, though helpful, are deceptive when we confuse them with what they represent.

Rumi, a 13th Century poet and mystic, wrote, “Silence is the language of God, all else is a poor translation.1” God does not communicate with words. God communicates heart-to-heart or spirit-to-spirit. I can imperfectly illustrate this by describing how I write. I receive an idea or inspiration that I attempt to capture in a song or on paper. The initial inspiration is like an image or an internal “voice,” but it is wordless until my mind latches onto it and begins describing or translating the inspiration, effectively reducing it to words. It happens so quickly that it is easy to believe the inspiration was given in words. Where the initial inspiration and the resulting song or essay part company is in my inability to find adequate words to capture the inspiration. In fact, it is impossible to perfectly capture an image or interaction in words. Everything I write suffers from my inability to translate the purity and beauty of the inspiration into words. The best I can do is to describe a place beyond words, with words that point you to a similar place. The words, alone, cannot carry you there.

We know the words to the Lord’s Prayer, but what would praying silently in the spirit of the Lord’s Prayer be like? I believe it begins with setting our mind and heart with the intention of being with God, as opposed to talking to God. Numerous passages in scripture tell us God knows what we are going to say before we say it. Our words are never necessary, except perhaps for our own comfort. In fact, I believe our words get in the way of entering into God’s presence because we focus on the words instead of the reality pointed to by the words. Reading a review of a nice restaurant will not give us the experience of fine dining.

Jesus’ words, “Pray then in this way,” are an invitation. The Lord’s Prayer provides a nice template for how to set our intention to be with God, wordlessly, which I will explore further next week.

This is the 36th in the series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

Prefer to listen? Subscribe to Life Notes Podcasts at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/life-notes-podcast/id1403068000

1          https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/27617-silence-is-the-language-of-god-all-else-is-poor, accessed September 3, 2018.

Read Full Post »

Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 2: Alone Time is Important

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:5-6

Growing up, I learned to pray in community. My father prayed before family meals, and our pastor led us in prayer at church. Of course, the Lord’s Prayer, spoken collectively, was a common fixture in worship. There was also a prayer at bedtime, spoken with a parent, that went,

        Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep;

        If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I remember sitting in church as a child wondering how the preacher could possibly think of so much to pray about. The prayers seemed to drone on, and it was very difficult to remain focused. I kept my eyes clamped shut as long as I could, afraid someone might catch me peeking. Prayer was not very comforting in those days.

I am not certain when I learned to pray by myself, but however it happened, time alone with God quickly became my favorite method of prayer. I am an introvert, so time alone is a necessary part of my life. Jesus modeled this for us. Many times in the Gospels, he goes off alone to pray. Like spending time with a close, intimate friend, words are not always necessary in prayer. In fact, I find more of my prayers as I age to be of the silent type. I have no idea what I would say to God that God does not already know better than I can put into words. Being in God’s presence is more than enough. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought.” I find this to be true. In his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul writes, “Pray without ceasing.” This seems to be an encouragement toward wordless prayer – staying in communion with God at all times, but not necessarily with words. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words.” This applies to prayer, too. We can remain in constant contact with God without all the dialogue. In fact, our dialogue makes it impossible to hear what God might be trying to tell us.

My point is not that we should always pray silently. Rather, alone-time with God is important. We need worry less about what we say and more about being present. Whether in meditation, contemplation, reflection, yoga, or any number of other methods, a quiet mind ignites our awareness of God’s presence. If Jesus needed quiet, alone-time with God in order to center himself, recharge, and reconnect in the days prior to television and the internet, think how much more we need it today.

Alone time with God is important. How did I miss that?

Read Full Post »

Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 1: Faith Heals

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak., for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. Matthew 9:20-22

The relationship between healing and faith is difficult to understand, impossible to predict, and a connection Jesus mentions many times throughout his ministry. He often healed someone, only to give credit to that person’s faith. I used to believe Jesus was being modest. After all, he was a humble man. He credits faith with healing so many times, however, that I find myself rethinking his modesty. Dare we believe that faith truly does heal?

I have tried to apply faith with instances of serious illness in people I know, but with ambiguous results. I remember praying hard for my mother’s recovery from a stroke. She had been a healthy, determined woman, and I could easily visualize her fighting her way back to health. But she never did. Rather, she slipped into a steady decline and passed away 10 weeks later. The times when an unlikely healing has occurred, and there have been a few, I find myself wondering if it was a God-healing or a talented physician. Clearly, God works through the hands and hearts of God’s people. If I were keeping score, however, of the number of times I believe my faith brought the outcome I prayed for, faith would be losing by a landslide. Is this due to my weak faith, or my lack of understanding about healing?

Not all healings are equal, nor all they all physical. When we pray for healing, we are generally praying for restoration to a prior state of being. We pray for what we, in our limited understanding, believe to be the best outcome. Do we possess the perspective to know what is best in any situation? There are numerous examples of physical healings in the Bible, but we can assume all those people died of something, eventually. There are also instances where God does not heal the physical ailment of a faithful person – Paul comes to mind. Paul used his infirmity as a reminder of his total reliance on grace. Even Jesus, the night before his crucifixion, prays for God to “take this cup from me.” Ultimately, he yields by saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” I have often wondered why God did not rescue Jesus from the cross. But wait – Jesus was rescued, just not in the way we humans would have requested.

If faith truly does heal, there is a lot of pressure on us to be well. Wellness comes under our control, instead of our being victimized by illnesses we can do nothing about. Faith is our connection to God – it is the thread by which the human meets the divine. Faith assures us there is more to life than what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell – there is more beyond our human knowledge and efforts. Would God grant us a desire contrary to our ultimate good? There were many times, as a parent that I refused to grant a desire of my children, knowing they were better off without having their wish granted.

What is out there, and how and when it may or may not bless us remains a mystery. Dare we believe that faith heals? Dare we believe it does not?

Read Full Post »

Life Notes logo2

Weightier Matters

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Matthew 23:23-24

How does one eat an elephant? An elephant is eaten one bite at a time, of course. No doubt, the same is true of swallowing a camel. Years ago I heard the story of the boiled frog. If you place a frog in a pot of boiling water, the frog will simply jump out. If you place a frog in room temperature water and bring it slowly to a boil, the frog will lay in the water, comfortably, until it has been boiled to death. The proverbial slippery slope offers a comfortable path-to-nowhere-good. Before long, in Jesus’ example, we become so consumed and comfortable straining gnats we find we have swallowed a camel.

Biblical references to “the Law” point to the 600+ laws listed in the first 5 books of the Old Testament – the rules for righteous living established by the early Hebrews. The belief was that one must obey the Law – all of it – in order to earn one’s salvation. The “scribes and Pharisees” that Jesus was often so critical of were the religious leaders of the day. They were pious and believed themselves to be a holy cut above the common folks. Modern day equivalents to the scribes and Pharisees may be some of the televangelists and others who believe their grasp on ultimate truth is exclusive. They tell us the Gospel is so clear and the path so easy – all we must do is follow a set of rules they are more than happy to glean for us from the Bible. To me, this is the “camel” that Jesus references – we lose sight of the forest by focusing on the trees; we miss the larger purpose by focusing exclusively on the details.

Jesus called the scribes and the Pharisees “hypocrites” because they attended to the letter of the Law but ignored the spirit of the law. Granted, the spirit of the law is more difficult to discern, requiring much prayer and contemplation. The spirit of the Law is not generally black and white because it can vary from situation to situation. It requires the application of love and perspective, making decisions more challenging. What is a loving act in one arena may be received as cold and heartless in another. In Jesus’ own words, the “weightier matters of the law,” or the spirit of the law, are “justice and mercy and faith.” It is much easier to ignore justice, mercy, and faith and simply follow a set of rules. It is much easier to write a check to a soup kitchen than to actually go and serve the poor. Certainly, soup kitchens need money, but if we think we can fulfill our obligations for justice and mercy by simply writing a check, we have probably swallowed a camel. We miss the point. God’s children need benefactors, certainly, but they also need helping hands. The weightier matters of the Law require service to others that improves their condition, not simply following a set of rules.

Those who follow a blind guide down a slippery slope may end up swallowing a camel.

Read Full Post »

Life Notes

The Partial Will End

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10

For the past 16 weeks, Life Notes has focused on the 16 characteristics of love that Paul lists in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Like the annoying salespeople on television, however, “Wait, there’s more!” There is a concluding paragraph to this series, verses 8-13, that is worthy of attention, too. That paragraph begins with the line, “Love never ends.” The thought is then clarified with, “the partial will come to an end.”

\ew, if any, of us have experienced love in a way that is consistent, unconditional, and life-long (or eternal). Even the best of friendships rub nerves raw at times. The best of marriages struggle through difficult times. Long-adored spouses pass on. The children who once imitated our every move grow into teenagers who often cannot tolerate having us anywhere near them. Does that mean the love we experienced ended? I do not believe so. I think it means the love we experienced was only experienced in part – a wonderful part, perhaps – but if love never ends, then love must encompass more than just the good and easy times. Nothing of the earth is always good or easy.

As has been noted elsewhere in this series, we tend to consider love too narrowly. If our understanding of love is of something we only experience with one other person, or a small group of people, then how can we begin to grasp the love of a God who loves everyone? If we reject the pain, frustration, and disappointment that accompanies the love, acceptance, and joy of relationships, we cannot expect love to endure. When we accept only in part, the whole will elude us. Our lives on earth are mired in paradox – light and dark, hot and cold, black and white, wet and dry, happy and sad. All are manifestations of the same reality, however, and we cannot know one side of that reality without also knowing the other. In fact, the two sides define each other, as in darkness is the absence of light.

Elie Wiesel writes, “the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.” Indifference is consumed by the presence of love just as darkness recedes in the presence of light. Even so, we appreciate love more by also knowing indifference. As light is not diminished by the number of people accessing it, so love includes and is sufficient for all in its presence. If our perception is that love has left us, the experience we called love did not reflect the fullness of love. When our boundaries for what love is are too narrow, love will end.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

Read Full Post »

Life Notes

Love Believes All Things

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things… 1 Corinthians 13:4-7b

In my late teens I dreamed of being a solo performer. Folksingers who told stories, played guitar, and sang astounded me. I was certain that was my destiny. I spent countless hours learning my favorite songs and practicing them repeatedly. When I felt ready, I met with the owner of the club I had chosen for my debut. Her name was Elizabeth Dring, and her club was The Windjammer. She booked me for a single night. To say my performance was terrible that night is a vast understatement. I was embarrassed, and I decided to give up on my folksinger dreams. Three days later, Elizabeth called to schedule more dates. I was stunned. I told her I was awful and was quitting. She said, “You were nervous, but you have talent. You’ll get over the nervousness.” She believed in me, and I have performed with my guitar – alone and with bands – for over four decades now.

There is no value we can place on one who believes in us. There are few gifts more loving than our belief in another’s inherent goodness and ability. Those who see through the surface to the core of a person have an amazing skill. Elizabeth Dring believed in me, and my life changed as a result. Paul writes that love believes all things. Goethe says our beliefs shape us. In a similar way, our expressed beliefs about others shape them, in both positive and negative ways. We shape others not in our own likeness, but in a way most becoming of who they truly are. In many accounts of Jesus’ healings, he explains, “Your faith (belief) has made you well.” Belief has power. When we believe in another, when we see beyond their uncertainty, we give a gift of love they may never receive from anybody else. It is as if God uses us to speak truth to another.

Of course, the realist in me feels obliged to add that no matter how strongly others and I believe I will become a professional sports star, it simply is not going to happen. That belief is incongruous with who and what I am. It also serves no ideal other than my own ego. Desiring to become something inconsistent with our inner nature is like trying to trim a plant created to grow round into a square shrub – we may force it into an uneasy square for a time, but it will always strive to regain its roundness. It is when our belief in ourselves, and the belief of others, meshes with the way we were wired at birth that magic will manifest. Believing in another is a vital part of any loving relationship.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

Read Full Post »

Life Notes

Love Does Not Rejoice in Wrongdoing

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing… 1 Corinthians 13:4-6a

The last of the unloving traits listed by Paul is to rejoice in wrongdoing. Most of the time when we do something wrong, we already feel ashamed. To have our mistake be the reason for someone else’s happiness just multiplies our frustration and sadness. Likewise, to rejoice in something we did wrong to another is equally unloving, especially if it was something we did intentionally. Rejoicing in the misfortune of others is cruel, and yet it is all too common. Much gossip is of this nature. The competitive part of me enjoys seeing someone else make a poor judgement that allows me an advantage in a game. I do not believe that, in itself, is wrong. It would be unloving if I did a happy dance in front of the other, however.

 Often, we rejoice in the wrongdoing of another as a way to lift ourselves up. Particularly when it is a person we believe has a better life than we have. We think, “Ha! Now you know what my life is like!” None of us, however, can know the life experience of another. It is too easy to judge the circumstances of another through our own biases. Easy, yes, but usually inaccurate.

The problem with lifting ourselves up at the expense of another is that we are intimately interconnected. None of us can truly rise above life’s circumstances unless and until we all rise. It is like being in a boat with someone and laughing at the hole in his or her end of the boat. Ultimately, everyone in the boat is going down.

In marriage, two lives become one life. One person cannot “succeed” in a marriage if the other is not also successful. That would be like saying my right hand lived a full, happy life, but the rest of my body failed miserably. In many of his letters, the apostle Paul refers to the church and its members as the body of Christ. He writes in Romans, “…we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” Finally, on his last night on earth in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays that we all become one with him, just as he is one with God. Contrary to popular belief, our fates are tied. Acknowledging our interconnectedness can solve many of the world’s ills. Loving relationships require unity. If we rejoice in the wrongdoing of another, we cannot be in union with him or her. Love demands that we lift others up, not tear them down.

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »