Line seven

In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by thee.

I had planned on writing about joining the Tappan Zee parking lot club  or the submarine stuck in the mud, but today took an unexpected turn…

My son forgot his lunch box, so I drove to his school to drop it off, running into the Donuts for Dads school event. I arrived at Persy’s Place Restaurant five minutes late, just in time to hold the door for someone loaded down with packages. My friend Heidi took a call from a mutual friend – a chance for me to say hello. Some call such things serendipity, but back to the day….

I was back on schedule, until green lights got me to my library meeting in time to see an eight month old girl pull herself up and stand on her own two feet – an everyday miracle. Then I forgot my phone, so my husband got a call. My husband called home as I was going out the door, putting me on the road a bit late to pick up my son. Unexpected snow came down, so the cars  moved slower than usual. As I drove on Federal Furnace road, fireworks lit up the four-thirty sky. Ten seconds later, they were gone. If Jared hadn’t forgotten his lunch, who would have held the door? If I’d remembered my phone, I’d have missed the fireworks. Lunch, doors, babies, calls, fireworks.

My day could have been different, but it wasn’t. Today brought difficulties and delights because of something unforeseen. Had the day gone according to plan, I would have missed the door, the baby, and the fireworks. Then again, I would have seen other miracles. Perhaps no better, perhaps no worse. Either way, grace enters.

I have the grace of this life because of events seen and unforeseen. It could have been different, but it isn’t. I see that as grace, and I don’t want to forget that God sent it my way.

Line Six

In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings.

“Your notebook is surprisingly well organized.”

My son’s math teacher made that comment when passing him in class. She wrote something similar in a mid-term review, leaving out the ‘surprisingly.’ When my son repeated the words, his emphasis, tone, and facial expression made it a backhanded compliment – more insult than encouragement. I don’t know what his teacher intended, or if she knows how her words were taken. It hardly matters at this point. What she says now doesn’t receive the benefit of the doubt from him, at least at first. He regularly reframes his initial negative attitude with a larger “even teachers need grace” neutral to positive perspective – not an easy grace for a sixth grader.

“I was surprised to see you understood the material on the test.”

My high school chemistry teacher said that when she stopped me in the hall one day. She had come out of her classroom when she saw me pass by. Mrs. Steele was smiling and her interest in me came through her words. She hadn’t been sure that she was an effective chemistry teacher for me and was happy to see that I understood a subject she loved so well. Thirty-three years later, I am still grateful for her words.

But it isn’t really the words, is it? On the surface, Mrs. Steele’s comment doesn’t read so well. You had to be there. The same with the notebook comment. It’s not just the words, it’s what comes through them. Children can tell when the intentions are good, and they are usually flexible enough to forgive verbal missteps.

What we say and do matters. How we feel about others permeates our deeds. When I write or speak, I ask for the Spirit’s guidance because words are important. When I string them together in a way that opens into God’s holiness, I give thanks. When I use them in ways that hurt, I ask for forgiveness – from those I know and those I’ll never meet. I wonder: how many times I have been forgiven for my words, given the benefit of the doubt? Seventy times seven doesn’t even scratch the surface. May I be gracious enough to assume the best and intend the gracious when I read and hear – and remember that God and so many others have done so for me.

Line Five

Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with firm conviction that thy will governs all.

Last week it snowed, and snowed a lot. The morning after the storm, over a foot of heavy snow sat on my car and the driveway, and it had to be moved. Whether I wanted to or not, I had to shovel out. The snow brought a choice: enjoy my time with the shovel or spend a miserable couple of hours cursing my fate. The snow sparkled on the lawn, and the snow blocked my path. Birds and squirrels played in the back yard and my mittens got wet. My husband couldn’t help me out the first half hour, and he finished the last half hour without my help. Two possible attitudes diverged in a pile of white, and I took the one that led to gratitude that day.

Peace of soul is like a language. It gives me new ways to speak about life and new eyes to see the world. A firm conviction that God’s will governs all isn’t a naive belief that everything is fun, good, or easy; it’s the choice to accept what is offered this day and to seek God’s presence through it. Nothing in this world can take away the peace God wills for me, but I have to learn not to throw it away.

 [The man who wrote these words was the son of a Russian Orthodox priest who became a priest himself. He taught at St. Petersburg Theological Academy, and eventually became the Metropolitan of Moscow – a ranking somewhere between archbishop and patriarch. Not quite on par with the pope, but awfully close. He worked for offering scripture and other teachings in Russian so more people could read them. He wrote a catechism that is still in use. I suspect Philaret was a very busy man who had his share of difficulties.]

Line Four

Bless my dealings with all who surround me.

O God who hears my prayer, I’m not alone in your world. I am surrounded by your beloved children. The five year old boy next door, the widow across the street, and the youth walking to the middle school past my house. The drivers in line before and behind me, the smiling teen who gives me my Dunkin’ coffee. This morning, I seek your blessing as I encounter them all.

In my dealings, help me pay attention to those around me. Bless me with the presence of self to make eye contact. Remind me to express gratitude. Create in me a clean heart that gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. Help me to take no offense, whether offense is intended or not.

Bless my dealings with all who surround me, not just some. I will never see some people again, and this is my one chance to show kindness. I will see others often, and it is my ongoing honor to bless them with honesty and high regard. They are not means to my own ends. Bless me with the good sense to remember this!

Third Line

In every hour of the day reveal thy will to me.

Long before I took my first breath, God’s creation existed; after I die, creation will continue. My mind and heart are too limited to grasp the enormity of this, and I can’t understand God’s will from my small corner of creation. The cosmos doesn’t stay still long enough for me to figure out my part in it. The universe continues to expand and contract, changing every second of every day. Every breath and heartbeat change my body, but I don’t usually notice them. The very cells that keep me alive move in mysterious ways, and I remain unaware of God’s will in them. Whether it’s cells too small for me to see or galaxies too large, creation is beyond me (even the part that is me!). I want to participate in God’s creation, to reflect God’s holy love and will in my life – I just can’t figure out how on my own.

Prayer is asking for God to show me what I cannot see on my own. God’s revelation isn’t like taking a peek at the universe’s answer sheet – nothing stays the same long enough for a static answer to suffice. Every hour the universe is made new, and God’s will grounds it all. To remember that God holds me in holiness requires constant and creative revelation. Surrounded by creation, held by God, is there anything in this world that isn’t holy? From my first hour to my last, I pray for the hourly revelation of this most gracious truth.

Line Two

Help me in all things to rely upon thy holy will. 

My calendar holds a month of days, and I write into each day the times and places that require my attention.  Appointments, birthdays, and deadlines crop up in pen and pencil variety. Then there are the things that don’t appear – activities so much a part of my life that I need no reminder. Things seen and unseen fill my days and require my willing attention. Some of them I enjoy, some not so much, but my will moves them from intentions to actions. My will is part of every act and activity. I do not control the universe, but I am responsible for how I act in my little corner of it.

Self reliance is something I value, but if I’m honest, I can do very few things without relying on others. I don’t produce food, clothing, and shelter for myself and my family – those things necessary for life. Every day is dependent on the good willing of others, some known and many unknown to me, for more things than I can name. My will is integral to living responsibly in this place and time, and it’s limited.

Holy will is the unlimited source of creation. God willed existence for every single atom in the cosmos. Nothing is outside God’s holy will: it is the foundation for all that is. I can’t grasp this will, and I can’t see its parameters. When I pray these words, I’m not asking for God’s intervention in my activities, I’m asking for God to hold me fast in the vastness of space and time. The universe is so big, and I am so small. Knowing that creation is God’s holy will, and that I can rely upon it, is not a loss of control. It’s the gift of life without despair.

Line One

Prayer at the Beginning of the Day

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace.

The day begins. When my feet find slippers, my body and mind are busy: turning up the heat, waking children, feeding cats, and making lunches. I move from one activity to another, keeping an eye on the clock to make sure everyone gets out the door on time. My first hour passes without much thought at all about how I have already begun the day. I’m not in turmoil or particularly peaceful, I’m just doing what needs to be done. Reflection and prayer are in my second hour – a sacred and important part of my day, but not its very beginning.

The problem isn’t really about an hour’s delay, it’s with my assumption that I don’t really need to acknowledge the beginning of the day as a gift. Without greeting the day directly, any peace I find will depend upon an external circumstance – or be delayed until I finally do greet the day with intention. I may be very grateful for what the day brings without ever being aware of the day itself – like being thankful for a drink of water without considering the glass it comes in. When I pray these words, I become aware of the day that God has given me.

 I ask God for peace because I cannot create it. While my actions and thoughts can reveal the peace God gives, they cannot produce it. Only God can grant me to greet the coming day in peace. When I ask to begin my day this way, I trust the coming hours to a graciousness far beyond my own limited peace and kindness. I can get through the tasks of the first hour, or I can live in peace in the midst of them. God’s gift, and my choice.

Beginning Prayer

O Lord, Grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with firm conviction that thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray thou thyself in me. Amen. (Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, d. 1867. From A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991, p. 20) 

I came across this prayer twenty years ago; It’s called “Prayer at the beginning of the day,” but I think it could as easily be Prayer at the Beginning of the Blog. It’s my choice for starting A Pen and a Prayer because sacred truths cannot be written or read outside prayer – something that will be an ongoing theme in my writings.

Over the next few days, I will build this prayer sentence by sentence. Starting with the first and ending with Amen, each line will come with reflection. When the Amen arrives, thoughts on the whole prayer will come. Please add your thoughts and questions. Prayer is always said before God and in the company of faithful seekers, and I welcome your company.