Category Archives: Prayer

Biding My Time

Wasting my time, resting my mind…

[Pink Floyd, Biding My TimeRelics, recorded 1969-1971, released May, 1971, Starline. It’s not the usual Pink Floyd song – a bit burlesque, with an amazing trombone solo and a bluesy form. It could just as easily be a BB King, Eric Clapton, or Mama Cass number. It would be a great Bob Fosse dance number, too.]

In August of 1999, I was living in a box-filled temporary apartment, teaching a couple of classes, taking care of an eighteen month old son and writing a dissertation; Dave was in an unpaid chaplaincy program, waiting to hear where he would begin his work as a priest.  We had called three apartments home in less than a year, and Colin had undergone hernia surgery at the end of May. Exhausted and facing an uncertain future, at age 35, I got stress-induced shingles. The doctor prescribed Valtrex, codeine, and sleep. The Valtrex cured the shingles in a day, the codeine was unnecessary, and 10 to 12 hours of sleep a day for two weeks restored me to health. I learned a hard and valuable lesson: if I want a good and holy life, I have to maintain a nourishing life pattern and pace.

A good and holy life is an intentionally slower life, an opting out of the workaholic pace that is not only culturally acceptable but socially expected and rewarded. Activity and rest, time spent on and with others, meaningful work, restorative play, and prayerful practices that return my wayward soul to God have to find their places on my life’s calendar. The overly busy periods are inevitable, worries and troubles will come, but they don’t have to become my life’s template.

Choosing such a life should be a no-brainer, and it is – but only  if I trust that a life truly and well lived is always and ever in the embrace of God and the company of beloved neighbor. Am I willing to put in the time, effort, and rest to have such a life?

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;

my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore. 

Psalm 131, NRSV

[Photos by Jared Fredrickson]

 

A Momentary Lapse of Reason

I wouldn’t call Pink Floyd a religiously inclined band, but I would call them existentially aware to a fault. With the ambiguity that suffuses almost every Pink Floyd song ever (with and without Roger Waters), with the edge-of-the-abyss or edge-of-enlightenment vantage point that calls into question the idea that material success and/or conformity to societal norms will bring happiness and peace, the album’s title would make more sense as a question than as a statement. Is asking deep, existential questions a momentary lapse of reason, or is it breaking away from a socially agreed upon shallow insanity?

Taken one way, Pink Floyd’s music brings only despair. They ask life’s deep questions, but there are no life affirming answers. Is there nothing more than existential emptiness? If that’s what true reality is, seeking it is indeed a momentary lapse of reason.

That doesn’t mean the questions aren’t good and true, but it does mean that the answers cannot be insubstantial or quickly offered and accepted. Any sunshine-and-roses platitude that refuses to acknowledge the darkness within and the darkness without is worthless. The genius of Pink Floyd is offering this truth set to music.

But what happens when the deep questions are asked, and when darkness and despair cry out my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1)

God answers not by erasing the pain, but by taking all of it into a holy and loving embrace. Some call it transfiguration, some transformation, some epiphany. The bold may even call it resurrection. Whatever the word used, it’s more than enough.

[Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Bob Ezrin & David Gilmour, producers; recorded November 1986-March 1987, London, EMI/Columbia records, 1987. This may or may not be a Pink Floyd album, depending on which side of the argument you fall. It was released after Roger Waters left the band, with legal issues before and after its release.]

Don’t Blink

Don’t Blink – you just might miss it.

I used to say this about New Durham, the town I called home for almost a decade. It’s that blinking yellow light on Route 11, a couple of miles before you get to the Alton traffic circle, just below the southern edge of Winnepesaukee. Lots of trees, a lake, scattered ponds, and a brown raised ranch five miles from town center that kept me and my family warm and dry. A beach on Chalk pond and a canoe to paddle every inch of it, snow and ice for sledding and skating, and stars scattered through the deep blue sky every season of the year were waiting outside the door. Inside, the people I loved and laughed with. Back then, I didn’t know how fast those days and years would pass into other days, years, and places.

I have loved every place I’ve lived, and I’ve loved every stage of life. Each brought gifts and heartache – the unique contour and blessing of my life’s particulars. I wouldn’t go back, trading what is and will be for what was, but time’s passing has changed the meaning of don’t blink since that yellow light marked my home town and my teen years. Now it means something like this:

My life is one among billions, a small flicker lasting for such a short time. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a holy, crazy, blessed one-of-a-kind gift. It’s the same for every single life – yours, mine, and everyone else’s. If I’m too busy fussing about what isn’t perfect, I will miss it just as surely as a blink of an eye at the wrong time sends me right past that yellow light without a clue that it marks a place called home.

God, give me eyes to see this fragile, broken, beloved life that is your gift to me. May I see everyone and everything else as you do: beloved. Amen.

Requiescat in pace/Rest in Peace/R.I.P

I’ve seen these words- Latin, English, abbreviated – on grave markers, obituaries, cards handed out at funerals, and on T-shirts. Rest in Peace. What does it mean to ask that a loved one rest in peace?

Perhaps it’s similar to my memory of running into the open arms of my mother when I was a three year old. Maybe it’s the feeling of total acceptance and joy when my father tossed me into the air and spun me around. Either way, the return was a delight to parent and child alike. If such things happen here, what awaits at the return to God?

Falling into the embrace of God is my best shot at describing death; everyone who has ever felt lost, grief-stricken, bereft, or broken returns to the arms of the one who loves completely. When I say rest in peace, I’m not praying for an eternal night’s sleep: I’m giving back to God loved ones and strangers alike, letting go of the limited love and incomplete understanding I had for them as they let go of this mortal life.

Rest from your troubles. Let go of your limits. These prayers I offer when I say rest in peace.

Priscilla, Rest in Peace.

Tipping the Scales

Readings: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46b-55; Hebrews 10:5-10

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty. 

He has helped his servant Israel, 

in remembrance of his mercy…

Luke 1:51-54, NRSV

Offered by Colin Fredrickson, artist, college student, child of God. This image was originally posted for Advent, 2015, and created when Colin was a high school student.

Finding Ourselves

A few years back, the book club I joined read two books by women whose first books had sparked marvelous discussion and admiration. One was autobiographical in nature, the other fictional; both were full of pain, difficulty, and loss – but infused with a hope that difficulties can lead to greater understanding and love. The same could not be said for the second books by the same authors. Both were autobiographical, but without a larger love that could offer generosity to the great wide world. Both authors “woke up,” convicted by the belief that only by putting their wants first could they mature into the people they wished to be. Families were left, temporarily or permanently. Friends and lovers were notable for their shortcomings, not their attempts to overcome them. Women who grew in different ways were discounted as immature or sleepwalking through a world not of their own making. Neither book ended on a particularly good note as neither women seemed to feel embraced by their own lives.

Many of the book club members saw the authors as only selfish, self-promoting, and defined by anger. The writing was admired, the women’s conclusions contested. The conviction both authors professed – that women whose life paths went a different way were immature or somehow inferior in their understanding of the world – didn’t set well. Many decided they wouldn’t bother reading any more works by either author.

I understood how the book club members felt, and I also understood the authors’ newfound acceptance of the importance of their own stories and voices. The world is not a fair place, and women’s contributions have been undervalued and suppressed. Waking up to the injustice of it is not an easy experience. The question is whether this waking up inevitably leads to a single interpretation or stance for all women (not much is said about men in either book).

I believe the authors were women who were growing into their potential, and that their second books were autobiographies of a transition rather than of a final resolution or destination. Rejecting what demeans the self and limits the soul is necessary, but not something that can support a good and holy life by itself. The next step must be taken: loving the brokenness of others as much as our own shortcomings. Unless and until love and joy define how we see self and others, we aren’t yet where we need to be. Or, as Joseph Brackett put it:

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Lord, help me love everyone who comes my way – and love the person you made me to be! Amen.

Elder Joseph Brackett, Simple Gifts, The Carols of Christmas: A Windham Hill Collection; Windham Hill Records, 1996; Liz Story, performer, recorded at Luna Recording Studio, Prescott, AZ, 1996

Cruelty and Kindness

Those who are kind reward themselves, but the cruel do themselves harm. Proverbs 11:17 NRSV

 

Another way to say the same thing: kindness is its own reward and cruelty is its own punishment. Perhaps it’s because kindness is fostering whatever lives and moves in this time and place and cruelty is putting every effort into maiming or killing it. Either way, it is sure to rebound on the person who is its source.

The Source and the Message

Hear, my child, your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching. Proverbs 1:8 NRSV

Listen, children, to a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts: do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, and my mother’s favorite, he taught me, and said to me, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live. Get wisdom and insight: do not forget, nor turn away, from the words of my mouth. Proverbs 4:1-5 NRSV

If you want to see good parenting, look in the grocery store or the public library; if you want to see atrocious parenting, do the same. In any number of shops or schools you will see parents ignoring their children, or speaking to them in ways that demean and humiliate. You will also see loving glances between parents and their children, and hear patient and respectful dialogue even in difficult situations. The power these words have to foster or maim the spirit isn’t immediately visible most times – it’s five, ten, twenty, forty years down the line that it’s revealed in the beauty and the ugliness, the soundness and the brokenness that mark the men and women the children grew into.

What happens when a parent says to a child: listen to me! What happens when a mother or father tells a son and a daughter that life and wisdom comes from listening to what is said? I think the answer depends not so much on the exact words as much as the actions of their source. If love and respect are offered to a child, parental mistakes and shortcomings will be forgiven and advice will be experienced as an offering of love. If fear and insulting judgement are offered, parents will be unable to admit mistakes and faults, foisting whatever is imperfect upon their child’s narrow shoulders – a burden rather than a blessing. It doesn’t matter how good and true the words used might be – they are weaponized, harming the child and even the child’s child.

The source and the message are never truly separate either way. For this reason alone, it should make us think very carefully and deeply before we say these three words: listen to me! Because our children will…

Between Garden and 10th Avenue

It’s now the High Line Hotel. Before that, the Desmond Tutu Conference Center; right before that, the Chelsea apartment I called home for a year. It stretched the width of the building, wrapping around the grand marble staircase leading to General Seminary’s vaulted refectory. Windows on one side revealed dumpsters, a dilapidated parking lot, and the 10th Avenue municipal maintenance facility for Manhattan’s trash and utility trucks. The window on the opposite side offered a leafy view of a quiet garden alive with birds, butterflies, squirrels, and brown rabbits. This gothic building, along with several others, formed the wall that surrounded the entire block along 9th and 10th avenues, between 20th to 21st streets. My older son learned to walk on its painted wooden floors and its hosta-lined garden paths while my husband learned how to be an Episcopal priest and I wrote my dissertation.

It’s a curious space to occupy, the residential barrier betwixt garden and city traffic. In recent years, I’ve come to see it as an image of the spiritual life. Cultivating a quiet space of reflection and communion with God on the inside while living in the world of noise, opportunity, strife, and beauty. Without the larger world as a reference point, my spiritual life can become disconnected – something that only has to do with me and my particular understanding of God. Without a quiet space of reflection and worship, the noise of everyday life drowns out angel song and prophetic vision alike.

There were a lot of inconvenient things about living between garden and avenue – car exhaust sprinkled fine black powder on the window sills every day, the closest exit to the street was a half block walk, and there were three keys necessary to get from street to my front door. But I am grateful for all of them: a deeply faithful life that connects inner peace with the broken, beautiful world isn’t lived at my convenience – nothing true and sacred ever is, was, or could be convenient.

[For images, go to www.thehighlinehotel.com or gts.edu.]

Prudence and Excess…the final couple

Where there is Mercy and Prudence,

There is neither Excess nor Harshness. St. Francis,  The Admonitions XXVII

[The Message of St. Francis, New York: Penguin Studio, 1999, p. 9]

Prudence: 1. The ability to govern oneself by the use of reason; 2. sagacity or shrewdness in the management of affairs. 3. Skill and good judgment in the use of resources; 4. Caution or circumspection as to danger or risk [Merriam-Webster online dictionary www.merriam-webster.com]

Being prudent isn’t the same thing as being a prude (a person who is excessively or priggishly attentive to propriety or decorum, Merriam-Webster). A prude fulfills the letter of the law for its own sake, or to feel morally superior to those who don’t. He or she may feel a smug sense of satisfaction by avoiding mistakes or pointing out the transgressions of others, but there’s no real life or love involved. Ironically, excessive focus on doing things properly in all times and places is also blindness to the rest of this life-giving world – the very opposite of prudence.

The virtue of prudence is sound judgment, a grasp on the bigger issues involved in daily actions, respectful and effective use of resources, and the good sense to stay out of danger. Self control isn’t for its own sake, nor is it a means of shaming others. The whole point is to live in a way that brings good things to self and others, to bring self and neighbor together.

I rarely think about the word prudence, but I do my best to practice it in my daily living. I don’t want to judge others harshly to feel good about myself and I don’t want to use more than my share of the world’s resources. I want to live a good, rich life with a minimum of worldly goods; I want to help others do the same. I can’t be prudent and a prude at the same time – if I can remember that simple truth, my blessings won’t be at the expense of others.