Category Archives: Prayer

Check Your Answers

How do I reply to someone who asks me an insulting question, an upsetting question, a question that at best is beside the point of whatever conversation it arose from? On good days, I answer with respectful disagreement, supportive correction, and a bridge between question and context. On days when I’m irritated or tired, I set the facts straight without thought or regard beyond factual accuracy. If I’m grieved or frightened, I return personal insult for personal insult with a roll of the eyes and click of the tongue. For the person on the receiving end, it won’t matter what words I use: it’s the ugliness of their delivery that remains. Insult for insult is still insulting.

But….

On the days I remember that God embraces whomever I meet in conversation, I’m aware that questions are often beside the point. The crux of the matter is the encounter with a living, breathing beloved child of God. Language provides a bridge between soul and soul. If such a one constructs a shaky bridge from insults or ignorant words, perhaps those are the only materials available at the time. Now the choice is mine: do I answer by tearing down the poorly made span, or do I use my answering words to shore it up?

In Memoriam, Rachel Held Evans

A few years back, I attended a writers’ conference at Princeton Seminary; Rachel Held Evans was one of the seminar leaders, and I had the privilege of hearing her speak about her experience as a blogger and published writer. After speaking about how she approached the writing process, she answered questions from the group. At the very end, she had one bit of advice: don’t mistake followers of a blog or readers of your books for a yardstick of personal worth or happiness. At the end of the day, it’s the people you love and the ones who love you that matter (and the God who made everyone, of course). Good advice from someone in her early thirties.

Yesterday, at age 37, Rachel Held Evans died. She leaves behind family and friends who loved her and a whole bunch of people who admired her work. It’s an unexpected loss, and she will be missed. In a world sorely in need of thoughtful and compassionate writing, she blessed us with both.

Jimmy Buffett, Wondering Where the Lions AreHoot soundtrack, April, 2006, Mailboat Records

Every School Day: Eastertide 2019

Rise and Shine! Wash your face, brush your hair and teeth. Get dressed. Make your bed. Have some breakfast. Put your coat on. 

I love you! See you after school (work)!

Let me know you are here when I call your name. Open your books. Take one and pass the rest on. Check your answers. Use your inside voices. Time for recess! Lunchtime!

Gather your things. Write down your homework assignments. Any questions? That’s the bell. Good-bye!

Come on in; tell me about your day. What did you learn? Are you hungry? Go out and get some fresh air. Homework time.

Time for dinner. Anything new and exciting happen today? Did you get enough? Time to do the dishes.

Bath time! What book would you like to read tonight? Jump in bed. Say your prayers. I love you! Sleep well, see you in the morning. 

I heard these words, or something like them, most weekdays when I was growing up; I’ve spoken these words, or something like them, most weekdays as my children grew up. I thought I’d take a look at them. I hope you join me – and tell me some of the things you heard and said every school day…

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.