Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

A few years ago, as part of the Two Year Academy for Spiritual Formation, Luther Smith (I think!) gave us the assignment, to write a prayer for an enemy.

Here’s what I wrote. If I were doing it today, it might be different. No, because I am doing it today, it is different. But when I gather myself to pray for an enemy, an adversary, a person or group who has done me harm, or a person or group who has a pattern of doing harm to any member of God’s beloved creation, this is something of how my prayer is led.

Prayer for an enemy

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:44)

If he were ISIS, this exercise would be easier!

I could abstract him,
“other” him,
pray for him in generalities,
and let the wind of distance sort out the chaff

At this point, it would all be chaff.

But he is nearer to me,
he hurts people,
he throws me into complicity,
and I cannot see him changing.

So who the hell do I pray for,
to pray for this enemy?
For him? Or for my sorry self?
For loathsome him? Or the self-loathing he gives me?

So I pretend for a moment.
[It might be safe, if I give a time limit.
Five minutes. Two. One.]
For a minute, I’ll pretend he’s just anybody.
I do what prayer I pray for the sick,
or the sad,
the poor,
or the lonely,
the oppressed
or the disaffected:

In the quiet,
(help my disquiet!)
I speak his name.
Claiming all your compassion
and justice
and longsuffering
and hope
I look on him
with your eyes
as from the cross (where he nailed you … where I nailed you)

[Damn it, this was supposed to be pretend, an exercise, something safe!
Now I’m Jonah in the shade of the gourd,
I knew you were going to pull something like this!
That’s why I have resisted this prayer for so long,
why I ran in the opposite direction.]

But here we are, you and I.
I hold him with your mind.
I give thanks for him, my enemy.
With your eyes I see,
     through his self-made smears,
     your shining reflection
I breathe, and realize your breath, his breath, mine,
     are not essentially different.
And I recognize that what troubles me most in him
     what makes him my enemy
     is the same stuff that troubles me most in myself.
I give thanks for him.

I am with him in your gaze.
What I hate in him is what I hate in me.
What I pray for him is what I seek for me.
Shock him out of smugness into awe,
O Christ whom he persecutes!
Wake him til he is truly woke.
Let him find humility that need fear no humiliation,
Save him from willing or doing harm.
May he live at peace, as you are peace.
May he live in joy.

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[Note: In today’s worship service at Trinity United Methodist, Ritzville, this is what I said (more or less) at the beginning of the service.]


Post-Its of things we’re leaving outside as we go in to worship. Photo: Willie Deuel.

This week I arrived in Wenatchee for the Gathering of the Orders, along with most of the United Methodist clergy from our Pacific Northwest Conference. We began, as always, with worship. At the sanctuary entrance, we were given post-its, and invited to write down something we were laying aside, so that we could better worship, engage in holy conversation, and grow in the Spirit, un-distracted.

It was a very good gathering. I had been asked to lead two workshops on Walking as a Spiritual Practice. If there’s time today, that’s what I’ll be talking about in the sermon.

But …
This is the week a white supremacist, after trying to force his way into First Baptist Church, a primarily Black church, in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, murdered two Black customers at a nearby Fred Meyer Store (they call them Kroger in those parts).

Those who died in Jeffersontown were:
Maurice E. Stallard, 69, and
Vickie Lee Jones, 67.

And …
This is the week a right-wing extremist was arrested in Plantation, Florida, for mailing at least fourteen
[update: FIFTEEN] bombs to presidents, political leaders, news organizations and public figures all across the country.

And … 
This is the day after a Christian terrorist [warning: these 2 links contain very offensive material] killed eleven people (and wounded six more) at Congregation Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On a web page with neo-Nazi messaging, the alleged killer professes Jesus and misquotes the Gospel of John to bolster his anti-Semitism, and names the work of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, as the prompt for the murders he committed minutes after he posted.

Those who died this week in Pittsburgh:
Joyce Fienberg, 75,
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54 (brother of Cecil)
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86 (Bernice and Sylvan are husband and wife)
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69

[UPDATE: Both HIAS and Congregation Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha have “Donate” buttons on their homepages now. One way to show them they are not alone is to contribute, even if it’s not much.]

sanctuary.pngThis is the week we gather for worship.

But how do we worship, in such a time as this? Can we simply write these horrors on a post-it and lay them aside, stepping into the sanctuary free and easy? No. Yet we can, and we must, worship.

How do we find refuge in prayer, in such a time as this? How do we find that “place of quiet rest near to the heart of God”? And yet we can, and we must, pray.

How do we praise, in such a time as this? How do we claim the joy of the Lord as our strength? And yet praise is possible, though it may be the praise of a Job, who cries out for his vindicator in his suffering, that though his body be destroyed, yet in his flesh he would see God. (Job 19:25ff)

How do we intercede, in such a time as this? When public repetitions of professed “thoughts and prayers” ring hollow, how do we entrust the hurting other to the loving care of God, and offer ourselves to their healing and restoration? And yet we must sit alongside the wounded and the grieving, if we are to join our intentions with the will of God, or our attentions with the attention of God.

How do take Christ’s holy name as our own, in such a time as this? When mass murder is committed in his name, how do we continue to profess him as our sovereign and our savior? And yet we can, and we must, profess him, and follow him to the side of the grieving, even though it be walking the way of the cross, of risking and suffering on behalf of others, if we are to walk his way of real Life.

How do we take Christ’s holy name to the world – to Jews, to Muslims, to our neighbors and our children who have turned away from Christian faith – when Christ is used to justify racism, and abuse, and genocide and oppression? And yet we can, and we must live his life and walk his walk more publicly, to show the world that Christian faith is better than its perversions.

Today I pray for the Or L’Simcha / Tree of Life congregation, and I lift up the vision from the end of the Christian scriptures, that God’s intention for the completion of creation, includes complete healing:

On either side of the river is the TREE OF LIFE with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:2 NRS)

Sit with the thirteen names above.

Sit with the hope inherent in the name, Tree of Life.

Sit with the words and the imagery of the verse above.

For the healing of the nations. For the healing of the Tree of Life. AMEN.


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For me, the past weekend was a time of family celebrations and road-tripping across Washington. Thus, I was only briefly aware of the murders in Orlando, and haven’t had time to sit with the reality of it until today.

Because I was away, I was didn’t have the responsibility in worship yesterday morning to put it all together, do instant theology, make quick sense. I didn’t have opportunity to write post a statement on Facebook, or to read more than a very few. I watched very little news. I’m blessed to have been prevented from rushing to righteous anger and self-righteous posturing. (My anger and posturing are mellowed 36 hours to perfection?)

But more than ever, I am feeling the emptiness of those pat statements we make, things like “Our thoughts and prayers are with … .” Especially the statements by politicians, but also by preachers, and other partners in faith communities. (more…)

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Turn, turn

Labyrinth at Franciscan Retreat Center, Scottsdale, AZI really like those blasts from our pasts that Facebook invites us to share. This is the labyrinth at the Franciscan Renewal Center in (of all incongruous places) Scottsdale, Arizona. Facebook reminded me that I was there for an Alban Institute training five years ago.

I tend to walk labyrinths, and other paths of prayer, barefoot. It helps ground me. It slows me down. There’s a sole / soul connection.

Sometimes it hurts. The Scottsdale sand is hard packed, coarse-grained, just a bit painful on my usually-protected feet — but Ah! there were fresh hoofprints that morning. (Deer? Javelina!)
(The labyrinth at the Whidbey Institute, by contrast, is worn into a grass lawn, and when I walked it, was deliciously cool, damp soil.)

A bit of Hopkins’ sonnet, “God’s Grandeur,” speaks of the degradation of earth by our action, and our alienation from earth:

“The soil is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.”

And then comes the poem’s turning point.

Taking off my shoes, becoming re-grounded, is a turning point.
Walking the labyrinth is an exercise in turning.
The lines that follow are after the turning point of the poem.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Hopkins could sense this in the 1800s. Perhaps we will too, when we take off our shoes, and turn.

*Maybe this post sounds extra-familiar to you. I wrote it for Facebook on Nov. 17. It’s more a blog post than a Facebook post, though, don’t you think?

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Pure Praise

I’m beginning to work my way through Laurence Hull Stookey’s book, Let the Whole Church Say Amen! a Guide for Those Who Pray in Public. It’s a basic text for anybody who leads worship — whether pastor or lay speaker or liturgist or small-group leader —  well, when you get right down to it, anybody who prays aloud in a group, especially as a leader of a group’s prayer.

It’s a workbook; most chapters have exercises. I’m leaving it blank, though, so that I can loan it out to whoever wants to borrow it. (Let me know if you want to borrow it.)

I’ll be using this blog to share what I’ve written as I go along, both prayer and reflections. If it’s useful to you, either directly, or as food-for-thought that leads you in different directions from my own, I’m thankful.

The first chapter is “Pure Praise.”


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