One of the reasons I feel we misunderstand and misuse our time is because we do not view it as a gift. We generally move from day to day with the assumption that there will be another. The consequences? We move from activity to activity, meeting to meeting, shopping spree to movie night, barely able to take it all in. We can easily fall into a sort of stupor where we are kind of sleepwalking through our days, entranced by the ticking of our watches and how our culture defines our day. All the while, we are never fully awakened to the gift at hand, one more day in the presence of God. Read more
As Harry preached this past Sunday on Jesus walking on the water, I was deeply moved as I realized that recently I had been weathering my own storm… it is hard to know where these storms originate and why. Sometimes they arrive as quickly and as unexpectedly as they subside… like a squall on a lake… unpredictable and unforseen but powerful enough to take you down.
The question is, what do we do in these unpredictable and uncontrollable times in our lives when we can quickly become overwhelmed? In Matthew 14, Jesus invites Peter to join him as he walks above the water in the storm… Peter joins him but as we know, he quickly begins to sink when he removes his gaze from Jesus and fixes himself on the trouble at hand.
This practice of gazing at Jesus, fixing our eyes on him, can be elusive at best. When we find ourselves caught unexpectedly in a squall, panic sets in and we can quickly become harried. Slowing down, listening and waiting seem nearly impossible, especially noticing where Jesus is in all of that. Everything in us wants to do the opposite. Read more
During his ministry on earth, Jesus would often steal away from the crowds to reconnect with God. I am keenly aware that if Jesus needed this in his ministry, it is a good idea for me also. But it is not just because Jesus did it. I am aware that I can quickly get caught up in the hectic pace of our culture or adopt ideals about my role that don’t come from the One who has called me. If I linger to long in an unhealthy place, it can begin to taint all that I do… even the good things.
Over the years, I have become aware that the mere action of going back to the physical place where I have met God can usher me into into God’s presence. It is the power of ritual. Ritual is a habit or repetitive action that holds within it the power of memory and transcendence. This would also be true for our practice of prayer and other actions that can become powerful rituals in our lives.
The beauty of ritual is that whether I feel like it or not… whether things are going well for me or not… returning to the practice itself and going through the motions can bring about spiritual renewal, rejuvenation and a sense of connectedness.
There are many examples of the spirituality of place in the Bible. The children of Israel were experts at marking the sacred places so that they could later return and remember the story. In Genesis, we find Abraham returning back to the trees of Mamre. They were a sacred place for Abraham.
We too, can have sacred places to return to time and time again. It could be a favorite tree, a painting, a grassy meadow, imagining a psalm or a favorite chair. All of these can become open doorways into the presence of God:
it is funny to me
that a chair
a sacred place
of momentous grace
where the holy one
pierced my deepest parts
with love breath
from the intimate places
that for so long
one glance now
unleashes the memory
and ferries me
into Love’s breath
and I breathe
The creative work of expressing my spiritual insights and longings into words has become a meaningful spiritual practice for me over the past several years. It began with a prayer journal that I sporadically kept written in pen and pencil. It then evolved into something more freeing and creative, poetry.
It seems that I feel more free to express myself in a form that is basically limitless. It doesn’t need to have proper punctuation, capital letters or even make literal sense. I find this especially freeing when I want to write about spiritual things… which can be so abstract. My poetry tends to be as much about the visual aspect as the choice of words. I like for the verses to look the way I feel about what I am writing.
Writing has become a form of prayer for me:
a mere human
clumsily strung together
unleashing the power
of the Holy One
“Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, until I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who come”
Recently, I have heard the comment that perhaps blogging takes away from the pastoral role… that maybe if the pastor spent less time typing away at the computer, they would have more time to… You can imagine all the things one could say to finish the sentence.
For me, as a pastor, blogging has become somewhat of a spiritual discipline. It is one of the ways that I practice the Presence. Because I don’t have time to do it during the day, I choose to wake up earlier. So, in the wee hours of the morning with coffee in hand, I begin to search my soul for what has inspired me during the week or month. You could even go as far to say that it is a form of an Examen.
Because Harry and I have chosen to blog about our practicing the presence, I do not blog until I have spent time in centering prayer and meditating on scripture. I begin my time with God each morning by naming the persons in my life and in my congregation that are needing healing or guidance from God, then I move to thanksgiving for the persons in my life and congregation who have inspired me or co-labored with me recently.
During this time, I practice noticing in prayer and in reading what inspires me to blog. I find great inspiration and creativity in blogging each day. I also find it personally inspiring to read again and again the things that stirred my soul and drew me into deeper understanding of who I am as a child of God .
One of the practices that I value as a pastor is beginning any meeting or rehearsal with a time of centering ourselves in God’s presence. Before I began my adventures in blogging, I would read from various books and devotionals but now, I use my blog as my own resource for devotionals and prayer times with members of the congregation. I find that it fosters transparency and intimacy between myself and the persons I am working with or leading.
I am convinced that blogging keeps me accountable, keeps me focused on the spirit’s movement and helps me to stay refreshed spiritually. All of these are qualities that foster a healthy spiritual life for persons in ministry or anyone for that matter.
Journaling has long been accepted as a spiritual discipline… perhaps we need to add blogging to the list.
As I continue my practice of prayer, Jesus continues to invite me to play. Recently as I prayed through Psalm 23, I noticed that in my time of centering prayer, Jesus was with me in the green grass by the still waters. It was a beautiful place. Instantly I saw that we were moving around a lot… I was a child, which I often am when I see myself with Jesus. He was happy, turning around and around with me in his arms; tossing me up towards the sun. His smile was warm and there was great delight in his eyes and we skipped through the meadows by the still waters.
“What are you doing, Jesus?” my thought interrupted my prayer…”I thought we were supposed to be resting?” I inquired.
“We are playing…”
“Oh… is that what this is” the thought took my breath away. Jesus was gently, playfully reminding me of his invitation to play. I realized in a brief moment that I didn’t even recognize that that is what we were doing… because I am so serious sometimes… and because somehow in my spirituality there is no room for this playful Jesus who keeps showing up. Read more
Over the past years, I have become increasingly aware of my own “caging” experience. Sometimes, circumstances and people unknowingly squelched my sensitive spirit. There were other times where I, unknowingly, entered the cage, wounded and afraid, thinking that it would some how keep me safe. Still other times, persons in my life were uncomfortable with me and needed to place me there.
It can be overwhelming to wake up one day and find that for too long you have been living in a cage. You wonder if the wings you have been given can take flight. Yet, you long for the freedom to soar into the places yet to be discovered. Here is my prayer…
Uncage the bird
before the floods come
engulfing its song
into endless night waters
let the holy breeze
to its wings
that it may soar
into the place
of endless days
the great sadness
that held its heart
for too long
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” Isaiah 40:28-31
Sometimes my practicing the presence seems a little like digging holes along the river looking for living water… let me explain.
In the Exodus account, God gave Moses the power to perform miracles and signs so that the Egyptians would know that He was Lord, the One True God. After turning his staff into a snake, Moses touched the Nile River and turned it into blood along with all of the water in Egypt. Everything in the river died and smelled.
Then, in Exodus 6, the Egyptians dug holes along the river in search of living water. I am struck by this imagery. I can imagine the heat and the stench as the Egyptians dig holes into the parched earth with parched souls, hoping to find living water. They were digging beside a gruesome sight of blood and flies which was once their source of life, industry and wealth. Egypt was nothing without its water source, the Nile.
The answer for the Egyptians was simple… acknowledge that the Lord was the one true God and release the children of Israel to worship Him. I think that our answer is also simple… there is a River of Life that runs through each of us… we can tap into it at any time. Too often, we find ourselves right beside the Source of Living water… but because of our own spiritual hardness or the complexities of life… we dig holes along the river longing to quench our spiritual thirst. Jesus said in John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
Perhaps the practice of inward gazing at the Source of Water within us rather than struggling to dig holes outside of the water source would bring the spiritual refreshment that we long for. This requires practice and patience… seeing through the layers of our humanity to behold the divine that has been birthed, by the grace of God, within us. There is something beautiful to behold within each of us.
A. W. Tozer writes, ” Many have found the secret of which I speak and, without giving much thought to what is going on within them, constantly practice this habit of inwardly gazing upon God. They know that something inside their hearts sees God. Even when they are compelled to withdraw their conscious attention in order to engage in earthly affairs there is within them a secret communion always going on.”
O, Lord, may I have the grace to slow my frantic digging and gaze upon the One who has taken up residence within me; the River of Life. Amen.
There are many ways to frame our days that have been passed down throughout the history of Christianity. Morning and Evening prayers, the Examen, the Daily Office, the practice of centering prayer are just a few.
I find it helpful to begin my day with reading scripture and then move into a time of centering prayer. I find that it re-frames my entire day. I tend to see things that happen throughout the day with spirit eyes… which is a good thing. I find that if I begin the day centered in God’s presence I have a much better chance of staying centered!
I was never good at praying out loud for any length of time growing up. Read more
What frames our days? Is it coffee, alarms, our appointments, exercise, children, work? What motivates us to get out of bed and begin our day… expectations of others? Obligations, classes? Sermons?
There are many things that pull at my day and try to become the centering narrative for everything that I do. This past week, I bought a Kinnect for my Xbox… because I want to be in better shape and lose weight! I went out and bought a great game, “The Biggest Loser” to help me along. It was fun at first… making sure I played the game everyday so it wouldn’t scold me. Losing weight and working out… all very worthy causes for my day. Though I have been successful, feel very good about myself and am definitely a little lighter, I am mindful that this will only last for a time. It is not enough of a reason to get out of bed a little earlier each day… and it is not the story I want to tell with my life. It can be a fun part of my life… but not what frames my life.
We, as seekers of God, claim that our days are to be framed by the one who loves us and seeks us. It is a good and comforting thing to know… but does this powerful truth lay claim to us each day. Does it determine how we live this moment, this day? Read more
Sunday Morning Worship
Wednesday Night Out Meal
5:30 PM to 6:30 PM
First Church of the Brethren
315 South Dogwood Drive
Harrisonburg, VA 22801