Category Archives: Prayer

I will try this day

On the inside cover of Forward Day by Day, you can find a prayer called A Morning Resolve. This being the month of resolutions, broken and unbroken, I thought it a fitting time to dive in and take a closer look. It’s a longish prayer, with words that address heart, mind, and spirit. Word by word, line by line, let’s take a good look. The place to start: the first five words.

I will try this day

There are infinite possibilities in this God-given world, but there are no repeats. If I do not seek God this very day, I live a lesser version of life than what is offered. Will I choose to live into today’s unique and holy offerings? Will I try? Will you?

[For the full prayer, click A Morning Resolve above.]

ADVENT 2019

Readings: Luke1:46b-55; 2 Samuel 7:18, 23-29; Galatians 3:6-14

Ages reaching down to present.

All knowing seeking innocence.

Awaiting fulfillment of the Word,

generations to come and kingdoms

teeter on the brink of the response.

The complex mystery of the Alpha and the Omega

bending to purity and simplicity.

Combined breath of universe

and totality of holiness,

in stillness and silent reverence

listen for her answer……

and in a moment for all time,

in complete surrender to love,

She replies, “Yes……

Be it done to me according to Your Word.”

And we are forever changed….Peace has arrived.

Offered by Debbie Hill, artist, poet, musician, walking home to Bethlehem. 11/04/2019

[Four Rowhouses, (2018-2019) Colin Fredrickson, artist]

2000 Years Ago…and Today

Readings: Psalm 21; Isaiah 41:14-20; Romans 15:14-21

I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand.” [NRSV}

We are now in the middle of Advent.  Advent is the season of “coming.”  The birth of Jesus 2000 years ago, and the coming of Christ today. 

It is easy to celebrate the past…a colorful tree, inspiring music, the Hallelujah Chorus, a symbolic creche, table full of food, uplifting worship, family hugs and loving gifts.  But we run the risk of losing some of this wonderful feeling when we start to take the tree down after Christmas.

The coming of Christ today is celebrating the past, but it is also embracing a lifestyle.  Paul, writing to the church in Rome, characterizes that lifestyle in Christ well:

    Life full of goodness

              To be a minister of Jesus Christ   (to care and to love)

                               To proclaim the good news

    That through us, others might “see” and “understand” the love of Christ.

My barber is a young man with a warm, caring, gentle faith.  Through many haircuts I have learned that he is deeply involved in his church.  I do not know his church.  He has also learned that I am a retired minister who has recently moved to Plymouth.  He has shared with me that he was married a couple of years ago, he is building the business, there have been some rough times, and most recently:

“My life would be an absolute mess if it were not for Jesus.”

In a recent visit he asked me how I was doing. I thanked him for asking and simply said…”there have been some bumps in the road.”  He simply responded, “May I pray for you?” I told him I very much appreciated his caring.

We  talked about other things…sports, weather, whatever, and the haircut soon ended.  When I stepped out of the chair, he put his hands on my shoulders and said a brief, thoughtful prayer.  Don’t remember the words, but do remember his gentle caring.  I was very moved.  The Spirit of Christ had come and was very present through him.

Advent is the birth, the coming of this life style.

Offered by Bill Lutz, pastor, teacher, walking home to Bethlehem.

[Two Rowhouses (2018-2019), Colin Fredrickson, artist]

Listen, Speak, Move

Readings: Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Isaiah 30:19-26; Acts 13:16-25

When I recently opened my Bible to reflect on these readings, I noticed that, in the past, I had made several annotations.  I had personalized some phrases because they spoke directly to me. I will share these notes, paraphrases, and my current understanding of them.  Where I use my name, I invite you to insert your own.

Listen, Ann.  Here I am reminded that I need to listen to God in prayer but also listen to others who may have an important word for me, just as the people of Antioch listened to Paul and Mary listened to the angel. (Acts 13:16)

‘I will be gracious to you, Ann, when you cry out. As soon as I hear you, I will answer you. I will give you the bread that you need, Ann, and the water for which you thirst.’ (Isaiah 30:19-20).  God expects a dialogue with me, a relationship.  As well as listening, I must speak my needs and desires.  I must trust that God will give me what I need perhaps not what I want.  I know I am free to debate with God if I need to!  Again, Mary is one model for this.

‘I have found Ann, a woman after my own heart; she will carry out my every wish.’ (Acts 13:22).

Wow.  This idea is humbling and can sometimes feel like a burden.  These words seem less burdensome when paired with the words of (Isaiah 31:21) – ‘A voice shall sound behind you, Ann: This is the way, walk in it.‘  I must move forward with confidence that God will move with me as God has always walked with me in the past, seen or unseen. 

Listen, speak, move.  The cycle continues. 

Come, Lord Jesus. In this Advent season, help me to listen to the words You speak directly to me in scripture and through others; help me speak to You in an ongoing relationship; help me to follow Your lead in my life, to say yes as Mary did.  I desire to hear your challenging words. I also desire to hear and believe Your words of gratitude and affection for me.

Offered by Ann Fowler, spiritual director, leader, walking home to Bethlehem.

[Rowhouse, (2018-2019), Colin Fredrickson, artist]

Praying for the Powerful

Readings: Psalm 72:1-6, 18-19; Isaiah 4:2-6; Acts 1:12-17, 21-26

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for all people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. [Psalm 72:1-6, 18-19, NRSV]

Every Sunday at Christ Church Parish, prayers are said for those who govern – the current president, congressional representatives, local board members, etc. Some people do not like this part of the liturgy, especially if they don’t support the politicians currently filling those positions. They feel that praying for someone is a show of approval – a pat on the back dressed up for church.

Every Sunday,  I offer those in power to God in prayer. This isn’t a sign of my approval, but a recognition of the difficulties power brings to those who wield it. Political power changes people, and rarely for the better. It takes a strong will, an open mind, and a loving spirit to use power for the benefit of the poor, especially when they are the ones least able to offer anything tangible in return.

God bless them and keep them. May wisdom guide them and compassion fill them. When they are tempted to abuse their power, may God bring them safely home. Amen.

May I remember that I might not do any better if I were in their shoes…

Guide me, Lord, walking home to Bethlehem.

[Rowhouse, 2018-2019, by Colin Fredrickson]

Truth in Two Lines

Readings: Psalm 124; Genesis 8:1-19; Romans 6:1-11

If the Lord had not been on our side, *

let Israel now say;

If the Lord had not been on our side, *

when enemies rose up against us;

Then would they have swallowed us up alive *

in their fierce anger toward us;

Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *

and the torrent gone over us;

Then would the raging waters *

have gone right over us.

Blessed be the Lord! *

he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *

the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

Our help is in the Name of the Lord, *

the maker of heaven and earth. [Psalm 124, NRSV]

Those of you who love the office of Compline as I do will recognize verse 8 of Psalm 124 in the opening versicle and response;

Officiant: Our help is in the Name of the Lord;

People: The maker of heaven and earth.

It’s all right there, isn’t it? In the liturgy designed by John Calvin for use in his churches at Strasburg and Geneva, the services began with this versicle and response. Calvin chose it because he understood that in these two brief lines, the truth about the gathered community is summed up perhaps better than any one sentence could possibly do. (1)

The Psalm itself is broken into three parts: a recollection of God’s faithful deliverance in the past, the praise of the people for that deliverance, and a corporate declaration of trust. There is only one way a Psalm like this gets written, and that is as a reflection of a journey with God over time, lots of time. And that is the beauty of it for us. Through the toils and tests of our lives and the life of our community we see only a speck, an infinitesimal sample of what the Almighty knows and has seen. Yet we can close our eyes at the end of a long day, before we go off to the unknown world of sleep and in that moment claim words of truth that only an eternal perspective can fully grasp. It’s all right there, isn’t it? The content of our faith and our lives is right there in these simple words of trust. May they be your guiding light during this beautiful, dark season of Advent.

(1 James L. Mays, InterpretationPsalms, John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1994, p. 397)

Offered by Dave Fredrickson, spiritual director and pastor, walking home to Bethlehem.

[Rowhouse, 2018-2019, by Colin Fredrickson]

Amen

Be careful what you wish for: you just might get it. When wishes come true, there are consequences rarely considered beforehand. In some ways, the same can be said for prayers: be careful what you pray for, because there is power in articulating the heart’s deepest desires and fears; no one who comes before God in prayer leaves unchanged by the experience.

Unlike wishes made on stars and birthday candles, prayers are offered up to God with the hope and faith that God is listening with love and concern. We offer our words to God, knowing they are limited because we are limited; we release control to God because we cannot fulfill prayers out of our own resources.

Amen is owning up to our prayers, with all their shortcomings and finitude.

Amen is asking for God’s transforming and infinite love to make out of our lives and the whole of creation something holy.

What an extraordinary grace to be able to say amen. What a miracle that our amens are heard.

 

…and protect me from all harm.

It’s rare that I have the house to myself for more than a few hours, and even rarer that I am home alone for the night. But one such occasion happened last Thursday; sometime around midnight, I checked the doors, turned out the lights, and went to bed. I read for a few minutes, said this prayer, and closed my eyes to sleep. It was later than my usual bedtime, and I slept a bit lighter – pretty typical for me on the first night I’m alone.

A week earlier, my eighty-something neighbor, Barbara, was found wandering the neighborhood in the middle of the night. When I visited her in the hospital the next day, she told me that she woke in the night and saw a man standing in her living room. She ran outside because he was a stranger and didn’t answer her when she spoke to him. She didn’t remember how she got to the hospital, and didn’t recognize me; she wondered why her husband, daughter, and aunt hadn’t visited. She didn’t remember that her husband and aunt had died years back, or that her daughter lived in South Carolina. All she knew was that she didn’t feel safe enough to stay in her home that night. It wasn’t the first time an imaginary stranger interrupted her sleep.

I’ve never prayed to be spared from frightening hallucinations, or to be saved from memory loss because I’ve never had to. I’ve rarely questioned my ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, and the handful of nightmares I’ve had that frightened me ended the minute I woke up. But when I awoke this past Friday, I said my first prayer of thanks for being spared such harm. I prayed that Barbara might be spared as well: imaginary strangers and the absence of long dead loved ones may not be real to the rest of us, but they were enough to send a good neighbor into a deserted street – and rob her of the truth that help was behind any of her neighbors’ doors.

Peaceful sleep…

Angel Guardian, keep and preserve all of us from every evil, sickness, and grief.

Help us, O Lord, to be good, obedient, and kind.

I thank thee, O Lord, for all good things thou has sent to me during this past day.

Let me spend this night in peace, and protect me from all harm. Amen.

[A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991, p. 16]

Let me spend this night in peace…

During one stay with my parents after my older son was born, my father sent me off to bed around ten o’clock with a promise that he’d put Colin in the crib when he was ready to sleep. He also told me not to worry if Colin woke early – he’d be up early anyway, and he’d be glad to keep Colin company while I got some extra sleep. Ten minutes later, I was asleep; nine hours later, I awoke to hear Colin and my father downstairs, laughing. A few years after that, he kept my younger son company, soothing Jared through an uncomfortable night of teething while I slept without interruption.

I spent those nights in peace because I knew my father and trusted in his love and care for me and my young sons. I didn’t wake up because I knew he was more than capable of meeting their needs. If an emergency arose, my father would do whatever was necessary, and would wake me if I needed to be up.

My children are twenty-one and eighteen now, and my father died almost four years ago. But each night, I still hand Colin and Jared over, just as I have since their first  nights in this world. I hand them over to God, trusting that God’s love for them will not fail. I do the same with everyone else’s lives, including my own. If I could not give everyone over to God, would I ever get a peaceful night’s sleep?

This past day

At the end of the day, am I grateful for the hours I was given? Am I aware, on the superficial as well as on the deepest level, of the miracle I’ve been immersed in? The miracle I easily mistake for an infinite if commonplace resource: daily life.

Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of its outline or a hint of its face. The way the trees move in the wind, the way my cats interrupt their backyard explorations to rest under my hand, the aeronautic wonder of a sparrow flying from maple to forsythia, the appearance of my still sleepy son packing his duffel before heading to work.

Food on the table, breathable air, loving and being loved. Today may not be perfect, and I may forget some of its gifts. Still…

I thank thee, O Lord, for all good things thou hast sent to me during the past day. 

[nighttime prayer, A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991, p. 16. This is part of an ongoing series. For the full prayer, click Prayer At Night above.]