Category Archives: Prayer

Homework Time

Homework is what the teacher assigns to reinforce the learning that happened in the classroom. Originally, it was meant to be enough of a practice that a newly acquired skill wouldn’t be lost. In the right amount, with good classroom instruction, homework enhances the life of the mind.

What about the life of the spirit? What knowledge and skills do we learn in our faith communities, and what do we take home to strengthen them? Reading scripture daily, along with devotional readings, can increase our understanding and appreciation for holy writings. Praying for those in need can broaden our awareness of what is required for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Centering prayer, praying the Jesus prayer or the rosary can quiet our hearts, bodies, minds, and souls. All these things and more can be considered spiritual homework. But none of them will move us into wisdom and compassion if we refuse to learn one fundamental truth:

Without Love, None Of It Is Worth A Damn. (I Cor. 13)

Are You Hungry?

This question is often the beginning of meal and snack prep, and a way to gauge how much food needs to be made – a pragmatic piece of courtesy.

Are you hungry? If you are, what will satisfy your hunger? When I ask such questions of others and of myself, I can better meet true physical needs and become aware of when I am eating (or offering food) when no need exists. Are you hungry is offering me the grace of intentionality in my eating and drinking, and a way for me to offer the same to others.

When asked in a spiritual sense, are you hungry? is an invitation to partake of God’s nourishing presence – as necessary and satisfying as food for the body. Perhaps Jesus spent so much time eating with others because he wanted them to make this connection. Perhaps we continue to break bread in his name because we realize that making the connection is the every day miracle we are starving for.

[This morning, I’m writing at the Dunkin’ Donuts just down the street from my home. Iced Signature Latte in hand, it struck me that this isn’t a question asked of anyone standing in the impressively long line of people working their way to the register. What can I get you, hot or iced, would you like an order of hash browns with that are the questions asked and answered. Perhaps the assumption is that anyone entering must be hungry or at least thirsty. For me on this particular day, it’s not an accurate assumption.]

Table Blessing:  Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you, God, for everything. Amen.

What Did You Learn?

My grandfather used to ask me and my siblings this question every day when we got back from school. He asked on the days we had no school, too. Why do you ask the same thing every day?, I asked him more than once. Why do you think?, he asked back.

What did life bring today – it’s another way of asking the same thing. This day is an ephemeral creature: elusive, mysterious, and here for such a very brief moment. It’s so easy to let it pass by without giving it a second glance. Good, bad, or a mixed bag, today’s life won’t be here tomorrow and can’t be preserved in a mason jar like jam or pickles. This might be close to why my grandfather asked the same question every day.

There are days of joy, and days of immense pain. Not everything I’ve learned has made me happy, but not a single thing has been a waste of my time or attention. When my days are spent, and I’m asked what I learned from my time  on this earth, with grateful thanks to my grandfather, I’ll have quite a few things to offer up.

[Today, I learned that potatoes are growing in the compost.]

That’s the Bell

The notes of the bell or buzzer travel throughout the school building, spilling onto the grounds and into neighboring yards –  the audible signal that the school day is ended, and that it’s time for learners and teachers alike to leave the classroom behind. Life is more than a classroom, and it cannot be contained in school-shaped buildings. It’s time to leave it behind, until the next school day.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a school bell equivalent for the rest of life? A bell rings, and it’s time to leave the unfinished work at the office; a buzzer sounds, and it’s time to stop cleaning the house. For many of us, there’s no bell or buzzer to remind us that life is more than whatever work we are currently doing – that life is more than this one thing, and that it cannot be contained in any work-shaped box.

I like working, and I enjoy accomplishing my goals. I don’t want to shirk my responsibilities or burden others with my tasks. I want to work hard without being a workaholic. But sometimes the line between the two gets blurry, and I could really use a bell to sound when I cross it. I think that’s why I say the same prayer every morning. Two of its lines are: In all things, help me to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day, reveal thy will to me. 

If I do my best to rely on God’s will, and humbly ask that it be revealed to me throughout my day, I swear I can hear the school bell ring when it’s time to put down my work  – until it is time to pick it up again on another day.

Great God, give me ears to hear your voice as I seek to order my day. My endings and beginnings are yours. Amen.

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.]