Ask. Search. Knock.

Hosea 1:2-10 | Psalm 85 | Colossians 2:6-19 | Luke 11:1-13


Many years ago, a disciple waited for Jesus to finish praying that he might beg of him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” I wonder if Jesus looked around at his followers, sort of bewildered, and thought, “What have we been doing all this time that they don’t know how to pray?” But Jesus gives a simple yet profound prayer, topped off with a little parable speaking to the payoffs of persistence and a not-so-subtle reminder of how great and gracious the heavenly Father is when it comes to responding to His children. As much as I would like to elaborate on each line of the Lord’s Prayer and swap stories about perseverance and answered prayers, these chairs are only comfortable for so long.

For our time in the Parish Hall, Lynn has very cleverly snuck in not only one of my favorite hymns but also a key to our message today: “Seek ye first.” (Now, for 8 o’clock, we don’t get to sing it, but hopefully you know it well.  Hymn 711, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.”) It’s one of my favorites because it’s one of the first songs in The CampMitchellChapel-evening2016Episcopal Church that got into my heart and mind. I learned it at Camp Mitchell on retreat. No matter where I sing it, I imagine the echo of women’s voices singing it in the round, some voices breaking into parts. It has a Taizé-like quality to it: a simple hymn, easily repeated. The hymn draws from verse 9 of today’s reading, the second verse echoing what Jesus said to the disciples, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Then we sing our refrain of Alleluias.

As far as I can tell, we’re flat-out being told that we’ll get what we ask for and find what we’re looking for, and if we just keep knocking, we’re going to get the door open. According to St. Bede, it’s the door to the Kingdom of God we’re striving to enter. Our asking is our prayer. Our searching is our proper living. Our knocking is our perseverance in our life and prayer. These three things help grant us entrance to the Kingdom of God, alleluia!

I think Bede’s onto something, and I certainly don’t question what Jesus says to his disciples. I do wonder, however, at how we think of asking, seeking, and knocking. We might get so caught up in asking and seeking and making sure we’re knocking at the right door that we get a little preoccupied with our self-righteousness and piety. In such cases, we end up playing the part of the hypocrite, our prayers false and our lives full of pretense but no depth. Or what of the faithful who pray devotedly, live righteously, and persevere mightily and who cannot seem to get a break? Maybe we know a few in that category, too.

As we look to Jesus for guidance in our praying, it’s important to think of how we ask of God.

Here I say “God” so freely, but Jesus instructs us in our prayer that we address the almighty as “Father,” perhaps because the name is so holy and revered, so hallowed, that we dare not presume to address the Most High directly . . . except as the most beloved Father we share through Christ. Before we ask the Father for anything, we acknowledge that it is God’s kingdom we wish to be manifest. Here the Matthean addition of “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mtw 6:10) elaborates on the priority of God’s will over our own. The foundation before we ask for anything is that we acknowledge our God in holiness and our God in relationship to us. We also surrender ourselves as obedient children of God. Our surrender is to a good and loving God of whom we don’t necessarily have to ask, we sort of state to God: “Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” In our petitions, we are asking of God but also reminding ourselves of what God provides. We ask that God’s will be done and that we have the sustenance, forgiveness, and perseverance to be a part of the kingdom. So, how do we ask of God? Humbly and expectantly. No matter how old we are, we are but a child addressing our heavenly Father, and as such we do expect to receive, though we might not understand how the Holy Spirit is at work in God’s will or how God’s will is at work in us.

Our understanding can be improved, however, when we persist in our searching. It’s important to consider how we search for God.

Honestly, I wanted to say that it’s important to consider how we “look” for God, but we “look” for our keys when we’ve lost them. When we have asked something of God and are searching for where Spirit is at work in our lives, we aren’t just looking for signs, though we do hope to see them. In our searching, there is hope and yearning. In our searching, there is commitment. Maybe it plays on the psychology of intention, but when we focus our search on something, we become more aware, more likely to notice whatever it is we are searching for. We needn’t look any farther than ourselves. Rowan Williams says, “Prayer is the life of Jesus coming alive in you, so it is hardly surprising if it is absolutely bound up with a certain way of being human which is about reconciliation, mercy, and freely extending welcome and the love of God to others.” One of the best examples of this kind of Jesus-becoming is told in our book of saints, Holy Women, Holy Men. This past Wednesday, we honored Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman. Reading their incredible bios, Sojourner Truth at one point took to the streets as an evangelist, proclaiming the Word. What she found on the streets, however, were people cold and hungry and homeless and unemployed. No doubt they needed the Word, but they needed daily bread and coats. They needed a place to live, so Sojourner established a home for them. What better way to preach the Gospel? What better way to discover God in the midst of the people? When we are living our lives as prayer, we can find God even when we think we aren’t searching. Finally for this morning,

 it’s important to consider where we think of God.

Where we think of God hinges on a fairly simple premise: is God here or in a great beyond? Are we praying to some far off God whose door to the kingdom is in some nearly mythical “heaven” that we’ll only know in death? Or, do we believe that the Holy One is closer than the air we breathe? Where is the door we need to knock on to let the kingdom come? Maybe it’s no farther than our mind and hearts. We have asked for it and sought it, why wouldn’t it be here for us to enter into? As comforting to us as it might be that the kingdom can be found in the here and now, there is great responsibility in choosing to knock and enter into the graciousness of God’s kingdom. It means returning to prayer again and again, discerning moment to moment. But it also means doing so in fullness of Spirit, as a revealed child of God, and for that glory, we heartily sing our alleluias before we get back to work, asking, seeking, and knocking.

 

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Glory & Prayer

Exodus 34:29-35 | Psalm 99 | 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 | Luke 9:28-43a

There’s a lot of energy buzzing around with it being Super Bowl Sunday, with racing season underway, and with Mardi Gras beads all around. Even the daffodils and hyacinth are blooming around the church. There’s lively spring energy everywhere, life and light shining all around us. To top it all off before we enter the coming season of Lent, we get a glimpse of the glory of God revealed in the radiant transfiguration of Jesus, as Luke would tell it. And as Luke would tell it, “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray” (Lk 9:28).

If you’ve been doing Bible study (especially with CB) for any length of time or have been in Christian ed these past few weeks, you know that the gospel writers usually have a slightly different account to give for the same event. Such is the case for the account of the Transfiguration. It’s mostly the same, but little things are different between them. For instance, Luke is the only one to say Jesus and all were going up on the mountain to pray and that it was while Jesus was praying that “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” In all three synoptic gospels, however, there’s the voice from the cloud that tells them to listen to Jesus.

We’ve spent these past weeks in Epiphany highlighting Jesus’s life, giving witness to the works of the Son of God, the Light of the world, in what we might call ordinary time. After all, today isn’t the Feast of the Transfiguration (which comes in early August). Today’s gospel is a glimpse into Jesus’s life at the very basic level of who he is–the beloved, chosen Son of God, full of greatness and glory–and of what is to come–his departure.

OptimisticHikeWanting to dig deeper in the text in a different kind of way, I took advantage of this beautiful weather we’re having to go for a hike . . . up a mountain. I hadn’t yet been on any of the trails on West Mountain, so I thought I’d give it a go.

First of all, I didn’t listen to the directions I was given very well, and I ended up at the trailhead on Blacksnake Road, at the Sunset trail.

Second, I had realized earlier in the morning that not only had I forgotten the rest of my coffee but I had also forgotten my water bottle on the kitchen counter at home.

Third, I had no snacks or bars with me, and it was the noon hour, over four hours since I’d eaten breakfast.

For consolation, I told myself that I didn’t have to go far, that the steps would be good for me, and that if I got tired, I could turn back.

As I walked along the uphill trail–for it starts out uphill right away–I had to watch the rocky path and pay attention to my footing, but I also imagined following Jesus up a mountain, not knowing exactly where we were going or what we were going to do. Those thoughts drifted to noticing the trees around me, tall and skeletal, the scurry of something in the dead, dry leaves, my heart pulsing in my ears, and the white hot sun.

Directly over the top of the mountain, there shone the sun, so white it made me wonder why we color it yellow when it’s high in the sky. It shone so brightly that even the shadows of the trees weren’t very dark, and I was grateful for the cool breeze that kept me from feeling too hot, though my body had already begun to sweat. The sunlight was strong and all-encompassing. I could turn away from it, but it was always there, shining all around me and drawing attention to the nakedness of the woods in wintertime.

NotQuiteThereWhen I got to the sign that said I had 1 ¾ mile left to get to the lookout, I was thirsty and tired and wished I had been better prepared. I risked a glance at the sun, and then with spots in my vision, I turned back the way I came, downhill all the way.

No, I didn’t have any grand epiphany on my partial-mountain hike, but through the bare trees, I took in some beautiful views. Up on the trail, the air was fresh and cool, and there was a sense of clarity of thought and vision, helped along, I’m sure, by the bright blue sky. It makes perfect sense why Jesus would go to a mountain top to pray, putting for the effort to escape the crowds that surrounded him below.

It also makes sense that Jesus brought three of his apostles with him, to witness what happened, even if they didn’t understand it, and to hear the voice command them to listen to Jesus. For Jesus had already told them once that he would be killed and rise again. He would tell them again, more than once. He had already told them to take up their cross and follow him at great cost. He would reiterate the cost of discipleship and continue to tell them more about the kingdom of heaven. More than tell them, he would show them, and he would continue to pray with them.

Jesus doesn’t become some esoteric hermit in a mountain top cave. He does everything he sets out to do, with us and among us, before us and beyond us.

And he tries to get it through our thick skulls and our hardened or broken hearts that all of His life here on Earth is to bring us into the glory of God, to bring us into the kingdom sooner or later. I think Luke gives us a hint here today that prayer is a surefire key to tap into the glory of God, which is all-encompassing and strengthens us to make it through the peaks and valleys of our lives. The glory of God gives us strength because it is assurance that love and life prevails.

A great crowd was anxious to get to Jesus when he got back from the mountain top. One of them was a father who had a child who needed to be rid of a demon. Luke shows us an annoyed Jesus who even then is able to heal the boy and show the greatness of God. In Mark’s account, though, which has a kind of private debriefing with the twelve, Jesus tells his bewildered disciples that the kind of demon the boy had could “come out only through prayer” (Mk 9:29).

When darkness descends, when the demons fill our mind, sometimes our only recourse is prayer. Prayers our faith has taught us. Prayers we speak spontaneously. Prayers we repeat again and again because they give voice to our deepest longing, our greatest hopes, and biggest fears. It can be the words of prayer or our place of prayer or our very mindset that we have when we are deep in prayer that recall for us the real presence of Christ in our midst. Prayer can be a soothing balm for our souls or a suit of armor as we live into that hardest prayer of “God’s will be done.”

I think it is in times of prayer that Jesus aligns himself with God’s will. We might like to think he’s going apart to find a little peace and quiet, to get away from the loud and demanding masses. I imagine he is seeking peace and quiet, the kind of stillness that comes from being fully aligned with the will of God. As humans, living into God’s will is our ongoing struggle, one we persevere through with unceasing prayer.

The former admissions coordinator for Sewanee had a saying: “Stay prayed up.” She told me in her Tennessee twang, “If we’re all prayed up, we’re never far from His will.” If we’re prayed up, we realize we don’t have to hike to mountain tops to witness the glory of God. If we’re prayed up, we have the assurance of faith to see us through the valleys. If we’re prayed up, we are ready to traverse some darkness and do some soul clearing and renewing before reaching the Easter Light. Even if we know the glory of God is with us all along, we keep praying.

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Said and Unsaid

A seminary education covers a broad spectrum of everything pertaining to the religious life, much of which is unquantifiable.  How does one measure love? wisdom? mercy? grace? good? evil?

We can talk about God, but how does one experience God?  How do we experience God when evil happens in our life or the lives of others?

There is much written and taught about prayer.  There are steps to follow and different styles to try, but the actual doing is up to the individual.  Each experience is unique, and no one knows how God will be revealed in any given moment.

But God was there.  God is here.  God will be forevermore.

That’s hard to teach.  It’s hard to learn.  That’s faith, right?

Sometimes there are no words, and the silence speaks volumes.  

These are the thoughts I had when I saw these photos, a tribute to Boston by Amanda Soule on the day of the bombings.

 

 

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Sincerity

The little book Sacred Space is helping so much to enable me to create a prayerful reading habit.  At the same time it thickens the thread that my spiritual awareness weaves into and throughout my day.

“We know whether prayer is fruitful or sincere by the way we live our lives.”

Simple words.  A simple reflection on a reading from the day.

Timely, considering my post yesterday.  God knows whether my prayers are sincere or shallow, selfish, and maligned.  Similarly, my children know whether my time with them is sincere.  Am I truly listening to them?  If I’m looking at their body and listening to their words, I know they know; they can tell.  Furthermore, everyone we come into contact with can tell.

Even as it may seem our society is becoming less personable and more virtual, our sense of awareness of presence remains keen if we open our eyes and hearts.  Sincere smiles come from the heart and pour out the eyes, often with tears.  Listening to one another, we may say we can see the gears turning as others are thinking, but that’s not just a cliche.  We can read each other’s minds a bit by paying full attention to one another; body language speaks loudly, too.

We can tell so much from our interactions with one another.  I can tell so much about myself in the quiet (or not-so-quiet).

God grant me strength to be sincere, to be a prayerful presence.

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Time to Be Grateful

Truly I believe that there is a season for everything, but I also believe that every day calls for time for gratitude.  After an intense season of waiting (oh, and we’re not done yet!), there are more and more signs that I need to pause and give thanks at least daily.

Often, I have to admit, my thanks don’t come until I finally lay in bed, offering my genuine prayers from a tired body.  The gratitude, the thanks with which I begin my prayers, surrounds me.  I am comforted and renewed, and in this calm and peaceful state, I drift to sleep before I know it.

More often than I probably realize, I am aware enough in my waking hours to realize just how many gifts surround me.  For my senior year in high school, I gave my closest friends a poster with 365 of my favorite things written around a picture of me with the recipient.  I made one for my then-boyfriend, now-husband, too.  The blessings of this life are not lost on me, but I could certainly be more aware.

A friend recently recommended a book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Ann has a blog, A Holy Experience, that got her started, I believe.  Her story is rich with her faith and ties into scripture.  Her poetic writing and sense of awareness speaks to a side of me that sometimes feels and gets neglected.  She’s unabashedly intense and devoted.  A kindred I haven’t even met.

Whatever our faith tradition, gratitude speaks deeply and as sweetly as the five-year-old speaking “I love you, Mom” into my ear.

Oh, let me count the ways.

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Day 21 . . .

Right.  I know.  There are not enough posts between my last and current to count to 21, but I do have several prayers penned in my moleskine.  When I get more than 10 minutes, I’ll enter them on my blog.  For now, tonight was too momentous not to mention right away.  So let this count for Day 21.

Dear God,

Keep teaching me.  Keep infusing me with your Spirit.  Keep surrounding me with those who share wisdom, just enough so that they don’t even know they’re doing it.  This life is amazing, and I give my humblest thanks.

I am trying to walk the path to best serve your will.  I am trying, discerning, and I know I could not do it alone.  My path has converged with so many wonderful people; I have been blessed with a tremendous family and unimaginably compassionate friends.  Of course, each of us has a flaw or two, and from them we learn the most about ourselves.  I can’t imagine it any other way.

As I’m continuing along, help me to be mindful.  Help me not waste a dozen or more waffles because I forgot about them keeping warm in the oven.  I have enough, but there are so many without.  Help me be present to recognize the needs of others and to pay attention to what is at the heart of the matter.  Help me to hear the truth in my own heart.

And always, dear God, help me be grateful – for your love, for the gifts you’ve given me, for my friends, and for the gifts of others.  Help me remember how sweet these tender moments are with the children and how wonderfully supportive my husband is.  May they know my love for them is unconditional and greater than I will ever show.  Help me at least try to embody unconditional love.  I think I’d like to try.

Grant me the strength to do the work set before me, and may all the glory be yours.

Amen.

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About Day 18

I have no doubt that we are all working as hard as we can, but like the little puppy that tugs and tugs on the toy that the master’s not going to let go of, we could be using all of our energy in vain.  Dare I say we might even be wasting it.  I do mean wasting energy because if our intention and priorities are in the wrong place, we could just be spinning our wheels.  Often I feel like my tread is worn thin.

If we’re doing the best we can at any given moment, then I figure there’s grace present, and there’s insight to be had.  Maybe what I’m doing right now isn’t the most I can do, but there is value in it.  During the day I can listen and do my best to make others’ lives and work go smoothly.  At home, I can help create our sanctuary, our place of rest and comfort.  For me, it at least has to be tidy.  Every once in a while a deep clean is needed, but so long as everything has a place and there’s not too much clutter, our home is a cozy, secure place to be.  (I can’t wait until late fall and winter when it will be time to have a fire in the evenings when we’re all at home!)

I don’t even know what my life feels like right now.  Are there words to describe it?  Is this middle age?  What if I only live to 66, and this is my mid-life?  I can’t say I’d do anything differently.  🙂  I am where I am.  I still feel like I have much to do, so I’ll just keep trucking along.

I visit those who are homebound and/or sick.  I see our good, sweet dog Bodhi getting older every day.  Lord, fill my heart with compassion, and help me bring to others what You would offer them.  I am ever your humble servant, asking for your blessings and guidance, now and always.

 

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Day 17 ?

In my dreams last night there was a kitten in one and a round-trip journey in the other.  Feminine energy emerging and a path traveled but not without complication. Makes sense to me.

Didn’t last night I ask for guidance?  My prayer remains.  Which way would You have me go?  Even more importantly, how would You have me get there?

This life is so precious, and I have extraordinarily precious lives in my care.

Grant me guidance and wisdom and clarity of vision.  May You bless us all with kindness and acceptance.

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Day . . .

I don’t know what Day it is in my effort to create a habit of prayer.  I have about three handwritten ones I’ve written before now and will add those to my count soon, purely for my own benefit, of course.

While ironing tonight I realized that I feel extraordinarily tired.  A full weekend to be sure, but it didn’t seem to include much time to rest in mindful, prayerful, and attentive silence.  As ever, most of my prayers occur on the go, in between activities, or mid-thought.

I cannot imagine You much appreciate the prevalence of the sayings these days, but “Really?!?” and “Seriously?!?” come to mind quite often and are said just as much.  We seem to be walking around in a state of surprise at the reality that surrounds us.  Could things really be this way?  Do others truly believe what they say?  Is this life just getting ridiculous?

I realize that it’s probably our attachment to a certain view or way of being that limits a greater understanding and results in our being “shocked.”  It usually reflects moments of condescension and/or judgment, neither of which are flattering characteristics.

I am a weak creature; I realize this.  Surely when I think I’m getting stronger, something happens to change my view.  I am not self-sufficient in any manner of speaking, and this is a harsh reality.  There are hurdles in my life, puzzles to figure out (and a box with the bigger picture would be tremendously helpful), and kids to raise in the meantime.  There are friends to love and support, family to maintain connection with, and bills that have to be paid.  Whose idea was it to add more to the mix?

God, I trust that you wouldn’t have rang unless there was a message to be left.  You call; we answer, as I understand it.  We do our best.

I pray for guidance and understanding.  I give thanks to all who enrich my life so much, creating such a sense of abundance, and to all who are so patient with me.

You’re churning the soil, it feels like, and right now I need to keep both feet on solid ground.  May the roots run deep.

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Day 15

A walk.

I thought maybe forcing myself to pay for reserved parking further away from our department’s building would help me get exercise.  In actuality, it’s less than a ten-minute walk, but twice a day that increases my walk time by a few minutes, at least.  I tell myself it will be good for the car to be garaged.  🙂

I give thanks.

For my discernment committee who asks the questions and gives me permission to consider that which I previously thought I shouldn’t.  For my church, for it’s a wonderful one.  For my husband’s and for my job that provide for us what we need; hopefully abundance is ours to tap.  For our friends and family that make so much possible and enrich our lives tremendously.

I pray for those in despair, those who feel lost and/or confused.  may they find the way of Love.  May you keep them and hold them tenderly and in safety.  May those who feel invisible be found . . . by themselves, by You, and by others who realize the beauty of their light.

Show us all your way and give us strength to persevere.  I ask especially for guidance as to what my mission is or should be.  I’ll need to have a clue when I start filling out applications.  I give thanks and ask this all in your name.

 

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