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tuning-in

Prayer: Tuning In Activities

Sunday we talked about the many ways to pray. Often, we are very good at talking, or making requests, but not so good at listening.Here are some ways to practice tuning in to God:

As a family:

Take a walk, a hike or just find a comfortable place to sit outdoors with the idea of tuning in to God. Give your children the task of finding something outside that reminds them of God. At the end of the time, take some time to dialog as a family around the table. Let each person share what they noticed and why. Ponder together what God might have been saying to them as they “tuned in”. Offer a short prayer of thanks for each story and what God taught you during that time.

As an individual:

Try making a routine activity in your day into a time of listening and tuning into God like mowing the grass, folding the laundry, or preparing a meal. Be creative!  Make a note of the things that you notice, or thoughts that seemed significant, or things that grabbed your attention that reminded you of God. At the end of your day, spend time thanking God for the little revelations you received. Ask God to show you if there is more God would like to teach you through these things.

Centering Prayer:

Does your mind drift when you try to pray or listen to God? Try this simple way of praying. Find a comfortable place to sit and prayerfully dwell in God’s presence with an open heart. Make sure that you set aside some time where you will not be interrupted. Turn off noise makers. Now pick a word to focus on that symbolizes your desire to tune into God’s presence; like light, love, shepherd, rock, Jesus… just to name a few. As you sit quietly with your eyes closed, focus on that one word… as thoughts, worries or anxiety arises; gently turn your thoughts back to your sacred word. Allow the Spirit of God to draw you into a place of deeper communion.

sacrificeshoes2003

It takes a little practice…

“Practicing the Presence” can sometimes seem like an elusive thing. Often, that is because we have certain expectations about the outcome… what the divine will look like in our lives. Other times, it is because there is no real formula for success. It is more about practice than perfection. For some of us that is a challenging thought… especially if we want to measure results.

Practicing the presence is more about desire, inquisitiveness and grace. We practice certain spiritual rituals such as prayer, dwelling in scripture, and contemplation because we believe that God is present and we long to notice and experience the grace of the moment when our longing is unexpectedly filled by God’s love.

As I ponder the very peculiar story of Moses and the burning bush, I am struck with three important practices: Read more

Sabbath and Gratitude

As I reflect on what it means to cultivate gratitude and a generous heart as a spiritual practice, I am reminded of the importance of keeping the Sabbath. I found this blog I wrote a few years back that really captures my thoughts about this integral connection. It was a good reminder and I wanted to share it with you.

I have recently noticed that the more I practice keeping the Sabbath, the more I experience gratitude for the things that I have. Why, you may ask? I think, in part, it is due to the slowing down long enough to notice what I have;  long enough to take in the smallest things like a double rainbow that stretches across the sky after a thunderstorm, a flock of geese flying over my head in perfect formation, the hydrangea vine that bloomed for the first time since I moved into my current house, the sound of teenage guys laughing in the basement, the funny way my cat looks at me when he wants me to rub his tummy…

I have also noticed that when life is busy and I am unable to keep the Sabbath, I quickly become  unsettled. This unsettledness leads to a sense of loss, emptiness and longing. It soon moves to an unconscious striving to do,  fill, acquire, or accomplish something that will ultimately make me feel better. Missing the Sabbath drives me toward a kind of vortex that  sucks me into another way of being and drives me further and further away from a place of deep spiritual satisfaction. It literally sucks all of the resources and creative energy out of me and as each day and week passes, I find it harder and harder to slow down. I find myself feeling less and less fulfilled and consequently, less grateful and less generous.

I recently had the opportunity to spend a day apart in silence and reflection at a local retreat center. As I sat in one of my favorite chairs to pray, I noticed that a painting was propped up on the floor in the corner facing me. I was captivated instantly… it seemed like a watercolor of a remote Italian village… along the sea. you could see its reflection in the background… but in the foreground, there was a little boat tied to a rock in a little cove surrounded by white flowers… gardenias I imagined at the time. I found myself reminiscing of our years spent in Sicily and soon became aware of a longing, an aching, even, to return.

Was I ever really cognizant of what I had in those beautiful years there? Had I taken the time to savor the beauty of the people, the land and the food? My mind was soon interrupted by the daunting thought of now… My scripture reading for that morning had been Psalm 16… Verse 6 reads “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a delightful inheritance”. The invitation? Take it all in and receive God’s blessings that are all around, even the blessing of memory… savor the now.

Sabbath is a time of savoring what has been given; rejoicing in what God has provided. It changes things.

the longing

oh how I would love
to sit
in a boat
skimming smooth water
anchored
among fragrant flowers

to breathe
warm salt air
with hints of gardenia

to see the village behind me
that pauses
sleepily
for a moment
in the reflection
of quiet waters

to be rocked
gently
in the presence
of day

Playing with God

Just before I fell asleep last night, I told God that I was looking forward to our visit together the next day. I love to wake up early in the morning, drink coffee, read, and spend quality time in centering prayer. Perhaps it was this genuine enthusiasm that prevented me from finally falling to sleep at a respectable hour.  Or perhaps it was a sense that God was already stirring something in my spirit. Either way, this anticipation kept me awake long enough for me to recheck my alarm clock that faithfully told me that my alarm would ring 5 hours and 39 minutes from then. It would be hard to wake up at 5:30 the next day.

Sure enough, the startling sound of my cell phone awakened me exactly 5 hours and 39 minutes from the time I had checked it last night and amazingly, I jumped out of the bed before I had even turned it off. I put on my favorite bathrobe, brewed a cup of coffee for myself and made my way to my favorite couch. I read, pondered and then spent some time in centering prayer.

This time of prayer left me with the most unusual vision which I fully intended to blog about today… but as I began to put it into words, it came out as two poems:

Part 1
hopping, skipping, cartwheeling
across the beach
in my bridal gown
with the Groom
the earth is a trampoline
the sand under our feet
is as playful as the first snow
and yet
the sea is so calm and big
it soothes my soul
we fall into the sand
laughing
we make snow angels together
we look up into the heavens
and I wonder
before I ask, the Groom says
enjoy this thing
I am doing
this thing your heart has been longing for
we resume
our cartwheels, skipping, hopping
jumping
but the sea catches my eye
and I stop
to ponder its vastness
what am I to do?
I ask
He says in a gentle but probing voice,
play with me…
play with me

Part 2
It has been so long since I last played
I think I forgot how
there is a lifting in my soul
a memory flickers
of innocent times
sitting in the grass
and I remember
a place in me
of carefree rest
wonder
enchantment
play…
play with me, He says

Beautiful things…

Recently a high school student in our congregation introduced me to a new song, “Beautiful Things” to use in one of our worship services. Ever since I heard the song, I have continued to sing and repeat a line of the song over and over to myself… “You make beautiful things out of the dust…” Yes, it does remind me of God creating Adam out of the dust in the creation account, but the power of those words touch something much deeper in me.

I am reminded of Rahab the prostitute who selflessly protected Joshuah and his men… risking her life for someone who knew the most high God. In return, Joshuah gave her a scarlet chord which would save her life when the city was overtaken. How interesting that her life was then woven into the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1… she was one of the grandmothers of Jesus. God makes beautiful things out of the dust…

I am currently planning a service around the story of Rahab and a friend of mine who is preaching that Sunday highlighted yet another dimension in the story. Rahab is the only female mentioned as a hero in the great faith hall of fame in the book of Hebrews. She also wondered inquisitively what prompted the New Testament writers to include Rahab in such a radical way…

After I read my friend’s email, I could hardly sleep that night as the question and the words of the song invaded my heart and mind… it is as if the writers wanted to remind us that God makes beautiful things out of the dust… He delights in using what we may deem as unusable. Sin, background, qualifications, good-standing, race, gender and even religious background do not limit God in how he might use us… in fact it seems that dust makes a very good medium for God to use for the most beautiful creations.

This gives me such hope and life. In the past, I have felt so hurt by the church at times… because I didn’t have the right last name , because of my gender, or the fact that my father had taken his own life. I was often excluded from using my gifts in ministry because I wasn’t “ready”… when in reality, I think it was more likely that they weren’t ready for me. How heart breaking that along the way the church has lost the message of God making beautiful things out of dust.

When did we start deciding who is in and who is out? When did the church start requiring that people behave a certain way before they could belong? It seems to me that the birth of the church in Acts was all about the movement of the Spirit empowering the most unlikely candidates to minister… breaking all kinds of religious rules. Did we forget that our biblical story includes a beautiful heritage of murderers, prostitutes, sexually abused persons, foreigners, pagans, women, men, eunuchs and children? I don’t know about you… but I feel closer to a God who delights in making beautiful things out of the dust because that is my story.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves as the church if we are really ready for the beautiful things God desires to bring forth… if we are… we might just experience something spectacular…

Here are the words and a link to the song:

Beautiful things

All this pain…
I wonder if I’ll ever
Find my way
I wonder if
My life could really change
at all?

All this earth…
Could all that is lost
ever be found
Could a garden come up
from this ground
at all?

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust

All around
Hope is springing up
from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being
Found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new You are making me new
You make me new You are making me new

© worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)
Lisa Gungor | Michael Gungor

What are you running towards?

Recently, I took the time to reread the Easter texts and allow them to sink in more deeply. During Holy week, I often enter the story from a worship planning perspective thinking about how I might aid the congregation in entering the story.

That day, as many pastors often do the week after Easter, I was feeling tired and worn out… I recognized that I, too, needed to personally enter into the resurrection story. So, I reread the text in Matthew 28.

I wasn’t aware that I was practicing Lectio Divina at the time, but as I read through the resurrection account about the women going to the tomb to find it empty and hearing the news from the angels that Jesus was not there, but had risen… a verse began to shimmer. “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

I immediately recognized the shimmer… God’s spirit highlighting something important for me… “Afraid yet filled with joy”. Wow… that was exactly what my heart was feeling… God was more aware of my internal state than I was.

God has been at work in me for a while freeing me from some painful memories and experiences that bind me and inviting me into a new reality, a new freedom and a new way of being. Sometimes these changes can be very scary… even when we know God is leading us toward resurrection.

As I read the scripture and prayerfully listened to God, I became aware that I was afraid to leave behind what was familiar even though it was keeping me in pain and bondage. I was afraid and yet filled with joy as I began to run toward the resurrection experience to which God was inviting me.

As I write this morning… I am aware that many of us share this experience. What freedom to name and sit with our fears and our hopefulness before our God. How comforting to know that our God is present enough in our lives to know the inward journey that needs to be tended to before we are even aware of it ourselves.

It’s Monday

It’s Monday… the festivities of Easter have come and gone… we remembered together the significance of Christ’s resurrection… we sang Hallelujah’s and feasted our eyes upon majestic colors and easter flowers… our ears are still ringing with resurrection songs… but what difference will it make today?

This was the topic of the yesterday’s sermon… what does the resurrection really mean and how does it change the way I will live?

A Prayer for Easter Monday

let life spring forth
into busy tomorrow
bringing resurrection fragrance
to stacks of papers
books
technology
piled too high
on my desk

that waits
to lure me
into
pre-ordered tasks
of calculated
productivity

let the empty tomb
surprise
my waking
with mystery
on the first day
of my weekly
agenda
already chocked full

let spaciousness
and freedom
inspire
prayers
like the chubby bird
perched on a branch
bursting
with vibrant green buds
singing

a practice to remember…

Tonight, many of us will meet together to practice remembering the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples before his death on the cross. Some traditions will host love feasts, foot washing services and communion while others will simply take time to fellowship over a meal and remember together the significance of the events that took place so long ago.

This ritual, though very diverse, is rich with multi-sensory ways to engage more deeply into the words Jesus shared with the disciples gathered around the table. We touch the bread that represents the body of Christ… the white color reminds us of the Lamb of God, without blemish, who took away all sin from the world. We recall that Jesus willingly broke the bread and gave thanks for what it was and what it was to become. He invited the disciples to eat it… to fully take in and digest that his body would be broken for them. He would become the bread of life so that we may all have life.

He invites us to remember.

We feel the weight of the cup… the very cup that Jesus agonized over in the garden later that evening. The cup he said, is the blood of the New Covenant. We see the deep red fruit of the vine and it becomes a poignant reminder of Christ’s precious blood poured out for the world… We taste the warmth of God’s healing and salvation as we drink from the cup and remember.

We continue this practice because Jesus encouraged his disciples to remember and recall the significance of the things he said as often as they would eat the bread and drink the cup. It was to be a truly contemplative moment… a moment to more fully awaken every part of ourselves, every God given sense that we have , to the depth of Christ’s love for us.

Tonight, as we engage in this prayerful act of remembrance, may we slow down and take it all in. May we become aware of each sensory message that the bread and the cup hold for us. As our feet are being washed, may we be reminded and touched by God’s care for us… and may all of these things produce a soul felt “Thanks be to God” welling up from the depths of our being.

worshiping a God who engages all of our senses…

As I read in Exodus this morning, I was struck with the details that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai for constructing the Tent of Meeting. He included a variety of woods, jewels, gold, purple yarns and colored fabrics … worship was to be a sensory feast.

There were to be spices and oils to engage the sense of smell, bells to awaken the ears, fabrics to touch and images that would tell the eyes something of the Holy of Holies. I was especially struck by the details in the Ark of the Covenant. The box was to be constructed of Acadia wood and then covered with gold. At each end, would be a Cherub with their wings pointing upwards toward the sky.

As I read the words and imagined these cherub pointing upward, I began to think of God and the heavenly realms. I marveled at God’s purposefulness in engaging the senses that he has given us. These senses, though very useful to us throughout the day, served another purpose. They are also to be doorways into God’s presence.

We have all smelled a familiar perfume that reminded us of a favorite person or felt delight when we slid into clean sheets of a freshly made bed and felt cared for. All of these can lead us to a prayerful place… all of these can awaken us to God’s presence and care.

As I write this, I hear the birds chirping outside of my window. I am reminded that God has given me another day… I am also reminded that spring is here because the birds sing louder as the weather grows warmer. My heart is warmed and  I am suddenly filled with hopefulness and gratitude. I have been awakened to God’s presence and invited to linger…

O to be fully awakened
into the now
with the rush
of a pregnant moment;
God coming near

to take it in
like the red breasted bird
that has momentarily left its perch
and flown down into the meadow

to be near
the passing of the holy one
to drink it in
the way spring grass
welcomes the morning dew
absorbing it
into the deep parts
to be swayed
by the wind of God’s passing
the way strong trees
circum
to the breeze

Listen for the whisper

There are some of us that worry… I happen to be one of those. It is not a trait that I am proud of especially since Jesus seems to say over and over to his disciples, “Do not worry”. Sometimes, my mind is so busy working through the possible outcomes of each day and each situation that it presents, that I find it very difficult to be still and centered.

It was that way for me this morning as I found myself hurrying through scripture with my mind filled with all kinds of questions… at one point I even found myself composing a letter in my head that I needed to write later on today. Ridiculous I know, definitely not very holy… but hey, I am being vulnerable here.

Thank goodness for Grace that is able to interrupt my many thoughts and feeble attempts… all of the sudden I arrived at Matthew 10:26-27. It reined in everything I was thinking and feeling and poignantly spoke life into my spirit. Jesus is giving his disciples instructions on how to go out and minister to persons:

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”

The “do not be afraid” grabbed my attention, but it was “what I tell you in the dark” and “what I whisper in your ear” that really spoke to me. I can worry myself to death weighing all of the possible outcomes, calculate and recalculate life decisions, programs, worship services, sermons and outreach… but the most effective work I can do is listen to the quiet whisper in the dark… that is how Jesus will guide me.

This is not an invitation that I learned growing up… I was taught to fill my mind with scriptures and studies… to seek more and more information, understanding and to master the word. There is nothing innately wrong with that… but, this quiet invitation to hear the whisper is something very different.

My Old Testament reading this morning was also about Moses going up to Mount Sinai to hear from the Lord… another model of God speaking to Moses directly and giving him instructions on how to give guidance to his people.

The invitation to the disciples as well as to Moses was to withdraw to a place that was dark… I would call that a quiet, non stimulating, and still place. In other words, we are to give ourselves a really good chance to hear the whisper. We are invited to trust that the Savior is indeed whispering in our ears, and as we recognize his whisper, we can learn to trust in His guidance.

Perhaps the words of an old hymn, “Be still my soul” offer a prayer towards this quiet place of holy encounters:

Be Still My Soul

Be still my soul
The Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross
Of grief or pain
Leave to thy God
To order and provide
In every change
He faithful will remain
Be still my soul
Thy best thy heavenly Friend
Thro’ thorny ways
Leads to a joyful end

Be still my soul
Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future
As He has the past
Thy hope thy confidence
Let nothing shake
All now mysterious
Shall be bright at last
Be still my soul
The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them
While He dwelt below