Monday, April 25, 2005

Lord, Teach Us To Pray

I'm back, pumpkin.

You know, I realized something very, very important: I'm really not qualified to teach you to pray. So, if in any way I've misguided you, I apologize. May God have mercy on me. And you, dearest.

I think all of us who belong to Jesus have the same longing. We want to know how to pray. It's an old, old human desire. The disciples felt this so intensely, that they asked Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray. (Luke 11:1). Hank Hanegraaff, in his book The Prayer of Jesus, says, "The Greek word that is translated "teach" is an aorist imperitive, which may imply a slight sense of urgency: "teach us NOW to pray."

Pumpkin, I know exactly what he means.

I've said about all I can say, because I am a pilgrim, just like you, still learning to pray, but there is one thing that I can safely say. Jesus didn't ignore his disciples plea. He taught them to pray a simple, perfect prayer. It covers everything, and will never let you down.:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give today our daily bread,
Forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And led us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom
and the power, and the glory forever.
(Matthew 6:9-13 NIV)

I'm not even going to tell you what to do. I'm going to point you to Jesus. It is He that has given us this prayer, and it is He who will teach you how to pray it. Ask Him. Don't hesitate. He knows all about what troubles you, and this prayer, it is a gift. It will get you through anything.

It's not like a prayer to enlarge your tents. It changes you. You may start praying it, and end up an entirely different person. It may sneak up on you, and the next thing you know, everything is different in your life. And it's a little surreal, dealing with a new you, especially if it's a you that God designed, rather than yourself.

And here's one more thing. Ask your spiritual director for guidance. Sweetheart, it's taken me a long time to see that we're not meant to journey alone. We are made for community. God Himself is One AND a Community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a mystery, but God will help you experience this as the truth. Just go to Him. And pray this prayer--this gift from Jesus.

I want you to find someone you trust, and ask them to teach you to pray. Choose well, for there are many who look like sheep, but they are wolves. There are many that look like shepherds, but they don't love sheep. Find someone who loves God, and loves you, and with the hunger and immediacy of the disciples who had Jesus right there with them, say, "Teach me to pray." Get a rule of prayer, and use it every day. God will meet you. He will change you.

The internet can only take us so far. Pray with someone that can hold your real, flesh and blood hand.

May the Lord bless you. May He give you mercy. May He reveal to you the person that He has made you to be. On earth, as it is in Heaven. Heaven has a plan for You. May you find it in Him. And hurt no more.

Kyrie Eleison.

I love you,

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Praying in the Rain

Good morning, dear one.

Today is the first spring storm. Can you hear it, too? I hope you can as you start your day.

Did you ever really listen to a storm? There is that ragged pulse of falling rain, and the growl of thunder. Lightning blinks and blinds, and in the midst of all this wildness, you can hear the cawing of birds calling to one another some strange comfort. You can hear the chorus of insects. You can hear the breath of wind rising and falling. It is a symphony of life.

But you may not notice this if you are not quiet. That brings me to what I want to share with you today: Before you pray, get quiet.

There is a time for earthly things, and there is a time to attend to the things of God. It may take you awhile to get to this quiet, but it can be done. I promise you that.

It's good to go somewhere where you can be alone. I know privacy is sometimes scarce in the modern world, so if you have to, make a quiet place inside of you. And sit there.

I'm in bed as I write. Ken is quiet and heedless in sleep beside me. The television is on in the living room. My sister is watching the Cosby Show. I've closed the door to the sound of reruns. I listen for the hush that is my entrance into the mystery.

I begin with this sweet rain. I close off all other thoughts, and it is only rain I hear. It has captured my attention, and when I am fully engaged by it's magic, I open to experience the thunder, and the birds, and the insects, the swoosh of tires as cars rush by taking passengers to work or school. The rowdy ball of children screeching, wet, and tumbling toward the school yard, and in hearing all these things in quiet, the still small voice of God comforts me. I'm here. There is the sound of me in the storm, in God's world, and I am safe in Him. I belong. And all of this began with just hearing rain. In giving myself fully to one sound, I opened the door to amazing grace. That's how you pray in the rain, pumkin.

Before you pray, quiet yourself until you can hear but one thing, His loving presence. And that Love, that God himselfness, it will reveal all kinds of good things to you.

Try it dearest. Let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Kyrie Eleison

Hi again, pumpkin.

We're going to keep things really simple today and I'm going to get straight to the point.

Have you ever sat down to pray, and then your mind goes beserk? Or how 'bout you get really highminded, thinking of how good you sound with your fancy, deeply spiritual prayers? Did you ever sit there like a lump under the rug because no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't think of a thing to say to God? Did you ever hurt so much that words failed you, and all that comes out are little yelps and moans? Or you ached and trobbed in your spirit and the pain stole your words and capacity to love and be loved?

There is a prayer that is old, and yet it becomes new each time you pray it. It is short, and easy to remember. It won't impress anybody but God, but I assure you, every time you pray it, you will have his attention. If you continue in it, it may be the sweetest three words you'll ever know--besides Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That prayer is Kyrie Eleison. It means, Lord, have mercy.

Let me tell you something wondrous about the word mercy as it's used here. Mercy is the English translation of the Greek word eleos. The root word is the old Greek word for oil--olive oil. Way back in the day, and even now, pumpkin, olive oil was used as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. We are all wounded dear one. Mercy is the warm balm that God gently, lovingly massages into our hurting places. As he soothes us, He makes us stronger, and ultimately whole.

Here's another thing. The Hebrew word, which is also translated as eleos and mercy, is hesed. It means steadfast love. Oh, isn't that a blessed thing? So when we pray, simply, Lord, have mercy, we are asking for His sweet comfort, His soothing, and His steadfast love for all our hurting places.

Remember when I told you yesterday that I had scars? I had spritual scars long before I had the ones on my wrists. I didn't remember in those dark days that God's mercy endures forever. I wish I did.

So, I say to you, give him those heart scars, and ask him for His mercy. You will be rewarded with a rich love. Pray it often. Pray it as often as you think to. As often as you hurt. Without ceasing. It will change you. It will heal you, and it is God's pleasure to do love you as you have never been loved before. You are the beloved. His very own.

It's true.

Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

May the oil of the Holy Spirit be your balm of healing today.

I love you dear one,

Monday, April 18, 2005

Prayer is a Place

Hello pumpkin,

I've been thinking about you since we met. You are funny, and kind and beautiful, but you know what, you don't know it. I could tell. There is that hesitation in your gaze, and a lingering sadness that has settled itself about your shoulders. I recognize it. I've lived with it for most of my life.

I know things have been rough for you, and if I know it, God knows it, too. It's much too big of a question to ask God why. Some things, we just won't know this side of Heaven, but rest assured, you are not alone. God is with you, and so am I, and there others God has sent.

I think the thing that I'm supposed to give you is prayer. Oh, pumpkin, you don't know how I write this with fear and trembling. What do I know about prayer? Not much. Prayer is mystery, and just when I think I've got it in my grasp, it turns into something ineffable and flies away on it's rainbow wings.

So, I'm going to bumble, and stumble about, and it's going to be lame and inaccurate, but it's all I've got, and maybe, some grace in here will find you, and you will get a glimpse of God. I know He loves you. And He doesn't want you to hurt yourself anymore.

So, let's begin.

First thing, and it's taken me forever to learn this, 40 years in fact. Prayer is a place. And you go there. I know that's something to sink in, but take your time with it. We have eternity to figure all this out. So, we'll take this easy and slow. You meet me here and I'll bet God will show up, too. He's good that way, baby. He really is.

We'll get to the prayer place soon, but for now, I wanted to tell you something very important. You are very smart, and I can tell you may be tempted to try to do this intellectually. Well, you can't intellectualize prayer. You have to go there. And you may even have to be "prepared", but it's not hard. I promise you that, and it will save you, prayer will save your life. It's true. It's saved mine, and I've got the scars to prove it.

Don't try to be perfect. Just start off hanging out with God. God can deal with it if you don't even say anything. I don't want you to judge, but to experience. I don't want you to know, but to love, and to be loved. Prayer will be your secret place, and nobody, I mean NOBODY will hurt you there.

Let's start with this prayer by one of my favorite saints. St. Michael Yaconelli. I know, Mike would laugh if I called him a saint, but he is now a full time citizen of heaven, and he left his good writing here for us to enjoy. This prayer he made takes all the pressure to do it right. Here goes:

I have always been terrible at praying.
I forget.
My mind wanders.
I fall asleep.
I don't pray enough.
I don't understand what prayer is.
Or what prayer does.

If prayer were school...
I would flunk praying.

But prayer isn't school/
It is mystery.

Maybe the mystery is...
Jesus loves terrible prayers.

When I can't think of anything to say, he says what I can't say.
When I talk too much, he cherishes my too-many words.
When I fall asleep, He holds me in His lap and caresses my weary soul.
When I am overwhelmed with guilt at my inconsistent, inadequate praying
He whispers, "Your name is always on my lips."

I am filled with gratitude, my soul overflows with Thankfulness, and I...
I...find myself saying over and over again, "Thank You."
Praying the Mystery.

Let's start there, pumpkin. Saying "thank you" opens the door, and the next thing you know, you are there, in the mystery.

Did you feel that rush of rainbow wings across your face? That's prayer, and it's saying, "Welcome weary soul. Thanks for coming."

More tomorrow,

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Signs of the Cross

The past few weeks have belonged to God. They weren't about writing, or working, or even being a wife and mother--though I was a writer, looking for a job, Ken's wife, and the children's mom. I gave much of my attention to prayer and study.

The devil didn't like it.

So, of course, he pulls out the stuff that has always worked before. Depression. A prescription for pain killers just asking to be abused. The thorn in my side that I've written about many times before, but I refuse to name so as not to give it any power. Discouragement that nobody has called about a job yet. Worry about the children needing shoes and clothing. And none of this came in small manageable portions. I got heaping, evil floods that leave me breathless and runnning to the cross.

Only, I didn't quite run straight to the cross. I stayed inside my head a while, taking hits, complaining loudly, considering having a vicodin and a long nap. Instead I walked to a market for dinner determined to take the medicine for what it's prescribed for, physical pain. I walked, railing at Ken. "Maybe I did the wrong thing. Maybe I should...blah, blah, blah."

And then, I looked down. On the ground, a little beat up, but still retaining its shape, was a cross. For real. It was right in front of my feet. I stopped, midcomplaint, and picked it up, looking at Ken.

"It's a sign," I said.

He nodded, because he thinks I'm being ridiculous. But I know.

Sometimes we forgot about the cross. We forget that God loves us fiercely enough to give everything. Very God of Very God, became the Son of Man so that He could save us. So that He could heal us. So that He could take care of us.

The cross I found, worn and missing some of the blue rhinestones that embellished it, teaches me that like it, we may take a few hits, but the cross itself doesn't change. It's resilient. In the end, it will be there, having accomplished that which it was and is supposed to. I am redeemed, because He paid the price.

Later, I'm sitting on my bed, and looking at a catalog. There's a wall cross, and it jumps up from the page to confront me. It says, literally--the words were written on the cross, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope, and a future." This is the scripture God gave me when I began to write for Him. He calms my spirit, saying, "I'll take care of you. I will not harm you."

One thing Orthodoxy has given me is the sign of the cross. I rely on this blessing frequently, and feel it's protection each and every time I move my fingers from forehead, to belly, and then to each shoulder.

I stop writing and make the sign and speak, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The Trice Holy Hymn rises in my soul. Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.

I feel like I'm going to be just fine.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Wings, Roots, and Beginnings

You missed me didn't you? I don't even remember the last time I wrote. It seems like a long time ago. I missed you, too, but I've been busy. Want to know what I've been up to? Well, let me tell you.

Where do we begin?

I like to think my life with God began sometime in 1980 when I was fifteen and full of the kind of teen angst that made me write very bad poetry. One infamous line of great theological insight went: Look up above you. There's some one who loves you.

Wasn't I the literary prodigy? Ha!

It was just a few months later that, on a breezy April night, that "Someone" made Himself known to me at a revival. I'd encountered the fire of Pentecost. I was in love, and would never be the same.

But maybe my life with God begin when I was 8 years old. I was a pretty decent reader for a wee one. Someone gave me one of those Jack T. Chick tracts, "This Is Your Life". Does anyone remember those? They were black and white, cartoon tracts that could literally scare the hell out of you. I prayed the prayer of salvation on the back because God forbid I meet the same fate as they guy in the tract, though my sins were hardly as interesting. I did have sins was the point, and I figured saying that little prayer would make them go away.

Or maybe my life with God begin when I was ten months old and whisked away from my mother to the tame little suburb where I would grow up, away from my brothers and sisters and the turbulent Motor City. I was spared the awful poverty of my parents lot, at least for a little while. I was frail, and sickly. Maybe I wouldn't have fared well in a house with nine children and oppression as deadly as a carbon monoxide leak. I don't really know. I just know that God planted me somewhere else, though I grieved the loss of my family, especially my mother.

Do we begin with God when we are born? I came two months early, and weighed a whopping three pounds. Was God with me in the incubator as I struggled to get fat and sassy? Thanks, Lord, but You can stopping helping me gain weight now. I could live three years off of my fat.
But I digress.

Or do we begin at conception with God? In Heaven before conception? I don't know. I only know that the Lord keeps revealing Himself in surprising ways, letting me know He's been here all along.

So, now that I know I can't figure out the mystery of when my relationship with God began, it begs the question--not so much where will it end, but where am I going next?

Two weeks ago, I walked into a church, and Subdeacon Laike lit a candle and prayed for me, murmuring his suplication to God in soft tones with his melodic Ethiopian accent. He made the sign of the cross, and honored the icon before him, but I was nervous, and only midly appreciated the gesture.

We stepped inside, and I watched his family enter, and gently kiss the Icon before us. I didn't kiss the Icon of St. Raphael of Brooklyn. I've smooched a few photos--mostly baby pictures of the kids, but kissing saints was new, and I wasn't all together comfortable with it yet. We moved to the pews, and more icon kissing went on, and I felt a little like I should kiss the saints too, but I wasn't even sure who everybody was, and at least I should be able to identify them before we got that up close and personal.

The people of God greeted me kindly, and I sat, still nervous, and wondering what I got myself into.

Did this all start when I started praying the Divine Hours? That Phyllis Tickle. She said I'd be a woman of prayer, and now here I was in an Orthodox church, wondering about kissing icons.

Did Tony Jones start this? I read his book Soul Shaper, and ended up with a hunger for classic spiritual disciplines that it nearly left me breathless feeling bereft of a feast that others enjoyed in God.

Was it Jazz that started it. I'd resent it if it were. Jazz isn't a real person. He's a character in my novel, and while admittedly, I'm in love with him, I didn't expect him to convert me. I told Ken months ago, "I think I'm going to be Catholic." He ignored me, just like he did when I said I was going to beauty school, or when I announced I was going to be a tattoo artist. He figured it was just a crush. I had been reading a lot of Catholic stuff.

But it persisted, this desire for Divine Liturgy, and I didn't know what to do with my feelings. So one desperate night, I wrote to Frederica Mathewes-Green like she was my best friend. I felt somehow that Orthodoxy was my path, rather that the Roman Catholic church. I poured out my heart and soul, and she gently guided me to Dean, a man of God. I wasn't sure what to expect from Dean. I mean, where would I fit in the Orthodox church? I'm not Greek, or Russian, or even Ethiopian. Where do African American Orthodox people meet?

In record time, I ended up as St. Raphaels, in a pew surrounded by loving strangers. Icons of Jesus, The Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and many others stood before me with shocking power and beauty. Divine Liturgy began, and I found myself stunned at this style of worship. It was a feast for the senses. The Icons bless the eyes. The incense blesses the nose, the chanting prayers and singing prayers are a celebration to the ears. There is Holy bread for me, and the Eucharist for the faithful, pefect in texture and taste for the mouth. And touch? I got kissed about 60 times, and that was by just 12 people!

I fumbled through, singing Lord Have Mercies terribly off key. I listened intently to the sermon, and longed to partake of the body and blood. Something in my soul flowered like the first pefect day of Spring. My heart became the feast, and I hungered no more.

Subdeacon Robert said--an African American man, said, "Welcome Home." I left with the smell of incense still clinging to my clothing, and the chants of the people still making music in my soul.

Yes, Lord. Welcome Home, indeed.

When did this begin? I don't know. Where will it end? I don't know that either, I only know that God knows all things, and in Him will I trust. Long ago, the Holy Spirit gave me wings. This time, I feel in this ancient, lovely church, He is giving me roots.

I'll keep you posted.