Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lord, Teach Us To Pray...As We Breathe

Our texts for this second Sunday in our series on the Lord's Prayer will focus on the prayer's petition, "Hallowed be thy name."  We will be reading Exodus 3:1-15 and Matthew 6:9-13, which you may wish to reflect on ahead of time here.

As I wrote in our first blog in this series last week, during this series I will be using this blog space to help introduce different ways for you to pray and enter into this prayer in your reflection and times of prayer during the week.  This week, we will focus on praying at least the beginning of this prayer with each breath we breathe--literally.  What I would like to encourage you to do is to develop a breath prayer--an ancient prayer practice that encourages you to be in relationship with God with each intake and exhalation of air to and from your lungs.

If you can, take 5-10 minutes to consider developing a breath prayer for the coming days that invites reflection on the name of God and what it means to create space for it to be honored as holy.

1.  Choose a favorite name for God--how do you typically address God?  Maybe it's Father, Jesus, Spirit, Lord, Abba, Holy One; there are a number of names in the graphic above as well.  I find myself addressing my prayers most often to "Gracious God," so this is probably what I will choose.  Write the name you choose down on a slip of paper.

2.  Choose a translation of this week's petition, "hallowed be thy name".  You may wish to stick with this traditional rendering from the King James Version; or, you may wish to try "reveal who you are" (from The Message), "uphold the holiness of your name" (from the Common English Bible), or "may your name be kept holy" (from the New Living Translation).  Write this next to your name for God; mine reads, "Gracious God, reveal who you are."

3.  Now it's time to "pray without ceasing," as good old Paul put it!  I love these recommendations on how to pray a breath prayer borrowed from The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship:

After you have chosen or created a breath prayer, make a goal to remain in God's abiding presence as you begin saying your prayer.  Ponder the meaning and beauty of the words you are saying.  Slowly say the first part of the prayer as you breathe in.  Then slowly say the last part of the prayer as you exhale.  There is no hurry or rush.  
GREAT RECOMMENDATION:  Say your breath prayer throughout the day whenever you remember.  This form of prayer can also serve as a "tape" that can replace negative "tapes" or "commentaries" that often swirl around in our minds.  Whenever you observe that you are negatively reacting to a person, event, or thing, say your breath prayer.  For example, you are stopped at a red light.  The light changes to green.  You slowly begin to move into the intersection when you notice a car that did not stop at his red light.  Instead, he plunges through the intersection as if you were not there.  instead of screaming in your car at the driver who nearly caused a wreck, say your breath prayer.  

I would recommend setting aside a quiet time of 5-10 minutes at least to try the breath prayer initially, then to follow the second set of recommendations for how to invoke this prayer throughout the day.  Maybe you could put the card on which you have written the prayer on your car visor, or your computer at work!  See how much you can keep this prayer in front of you and how it shapes and forms you. May a sense of God's holy presence be with you and surround you as you pray!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lord, Teach Us to Pray...Slowly.

Over the next eight weeks, we will be going off lectionary to move line-by-line through what we now call The Lord's Prayer--the prayer Jesus taught to his disciples.  For our first week--when our focus will be the first line, "Our Father in heaven," we will read the prayer in its scriptural contexts--Matthew 6:5-15 and Luke 11:1-13, which can be read here.

"Lord, teach us to pray."  These were the words Jesus' disciples uttered after observing him at prayer and realizing there was something special about the way Jesus related to God--something they wished to imitate with their own lives.

Do you remember who first taught you to pray?  For those of us who were raised in the church, our first memories of reciting prayers before meals or at bedtime or in worship are probably foggy at best--they almost feel like something we were born doing!  For those who came into the church later, we may remember the first weeks of listening to someone offer an Invocation and wondering where they found the right words, or of reading the words of the Lord's Prayer out of the bulletin until we could finally do it without looking.

Yet for all of us who are seeking to be disciples of Christ, prayer is a lifelong pilgrimage of learning.  No matter how many prayers we have uttered aloud or silently, consciously or simply through our intake and exhalation of breath, we are still learning to pray--and we need Jesus to teach us.  Paul the apostle put our continued need well in Romans 8:26: "The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words."

So how do we open ourselves up to being instructed in prayer by letting God's Spirit pray in us, for us, through us?  It is my hope that the time we spend with the Lord's Prayer in the coming weeks will help us hear what Jesus was truly trying to teach us about relationship with God when he offered us these simple petitions to guide not just our prayers but our living.

But praying this prayer once a week is not enough; so, though it is a prayer meant to be prayed corporately and together, it is my hope that over the course of the next two months, those of you who read this blog will try praying the Lord's Prayer in different ways during the week on your own as well. Every week I will suggest a new way to help you enter more deeply into the word and the spirit of the prayer Jesus gave to us as a precious gift.  This week's suggestion?  See below:

Praying Slowly
The prayer Jesus taught was simple and rhythmic, something meant to be sped through but rather meditated upon and absorbed.  In the coming days, try to spend at least five minutes a day repeating the prayer slowly, meditatively, intentionally, and rhythmically.  Pray it with the rhythm of your breath, unhurriedly, over and over, and let it wash over you and fill you like that Spirit that intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

This Week's Preachers

This week, I (Abby) will not be preaching--at least, I will not be preaching alone.

This Sunday morning, the scripture will be shared with us and interpreted by a group of 30 or so amazing kids who have been participating in our Music and Arts Camp this week.  They have spent the week learning songs, scripts, and stories that they can share with you on Sunday morning to convey what we have learned about a very important topic--what it means to live out God's Shalom.

What is Shalom, you ask?  At its most basic, it is the ancient Hebrew word for "peace."  But the layers of meaning underneath this word are rich and complex:  to speak of the "shalom" God desires for God's people and God's world is not just to speak of an absence of war, or silence, or no yelling (though, of course, it can include all of these things!).  Shalom means "completeness," "well-being," "wholeness"--in scripture, it describes not a static state but a process, a movement towards wholeness.

So how do we live in shalom and live out God's Shalom?  This week, we have thought about Shalom as Seeking Justice, Having Mercy, Being A Blessing, Loving Kindness, Offering Forgiveness, and Making Peace.  I hope you'll be with us on Sunday as our kids share how these ideas converge to give us a beautiful picture of God's Shalom, a picture and a story we can live into and be part of today.  Until then, may these pictures from our week give you a sense of the great shalom we have come to know in the midst of the noise, chaos, and most of all fun of this week!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Life Letters: Not Resume Material

Our texts for this week, our last in a series of focusing on Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, are 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and Mark 6:1-13, which can be read here.  If you have the time and interest, I would start with 2 Corinthians10:7 and read through 13:4, just to hear where these words fit in Paul's larger argument with the Corinthians defending his ministry among them and his credibility as a preacher of the Gospel.

Paul's line of defense, however, is unconventional at best.  Lists of virtues were common in Paul's time, but I am fairly sure that in his day (as in ours!) "weakness" would have been nowhere on any list.  It was not something you boasted of or publicized--especially to people you were supposed to lead and be a model for, as Paul was for the Corinthians. 

Yet Paul does exactly that.  He starts out writing about his spiritual credentials--he has seen visions, been caught up into heaven!--but then takes a weird turn to talk about being afflicted by Satan, weakened in his ministry, plagued by what could be a fatal physical or emotional or mental or spiritual flaw.  Why on earth would he tell the Corinthians about this--and even if they already know about it, why would he bring it up at this critical point when he is trying to win their allegiance and faith in him?

We don't often put our weakness, our falling short, on display.  I can only remember one time that I did this:  my final year of seminary, when my roommate and I were both applying for pastoral positions, it seemed very few days passed without one or the other of us receiving a letter from some church telling us all the reasons we had not been chosen to be their pastor.  It was insane: we were being rejected by churches we had never even spoken to or heard of.  We didn't even know how they received what they saw as our very flawed resumes!  But after some weeks of this, we decided the way to deal with this painful process was to create a "Wall of Rejection"--to post every rejection letter we received, putting it on display for all, trophies of our continued pursuits of our crazy calls.

Now, we may have found the Wall of Rejection to be comic relief; but would we have told a church we were interviewing with about these letters, or let them read them and learn all about our flaws? Heck no!  You always want to show your best side to those you're trying to impress!

But did Paul do this?  No.  He flaunted his "wall of rejection" for everyone to see--made himself vulnerable to these people he loved thinking even less of him.  Why?  What motivation is there?

There are a lot of possibilities; but as I thought about them this week, I remembered the good that came out of that Wall of Rejection.  As we tacked the painful truths and non-truths being spoken about us to a wall beside each other, my roommate and I found that our feelings of weakness no longer isolated us.  We found new solidarity being in it together.  As we shared in this weakness, we strengthened our relationship.  And since few of us have had lofty visions of being swept into the third heaven, is this declaration of weakness  perhaps where the Corinthians and Paul might paradoxically be brought back together by their common ground?