Death in Dunedin: A NovelThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriending

Lynne's Blog

Quotations I love: moving from intending to pray to actually praying

Friday September 30 2016

Quotations I love: moving from intending to pray to actually praying

“There is a moment between intending to pray and actually praying that is as stark and silent as any moment in our lives. It is the split second between thinking about prayer and really praying. . . . How easy it is, and yet – between us and the possibility of prayer there seems to be a great gulf fixed: an abyss of our own making that separates us from God.” – Emilie Griffin [1]

It is no accident that throughout history, Jews and Christians have prayed at meals and at bedtime. Humans are creatures of habit, and we do anything more easily when it’s connected to a life rhythm so it can become habitual. When I was a child, my parents, my brother or I said a memorized grace every night at dinner, and my mom sat with me at bedtime and encouraged me to say a memorized prayer. With these memorized prayers at meals and at bedtime, did we make the leap from perfunctory words – intending to pray – to actually praying? I think sometimes we did.

I collect stories about people’s actual spiritual practices, and I’ve heard about praying while:
     watering flower pots
     taking a shower
     taking a deep breath after children go off to school
     driving past a school or hospital
     hearing an ambulance or rescue helicopter
     gardening
     walking
     swimming laps
     washing dishes
     waiting in line

One of the more intriguing stories I heard recently is a fellow who has set his cell phone to make a beautiful bell sound at 9 am, noon and 3 pm. When he hears the sound, he stops what he’s doing and prays – briefly or not so briefly.

My husband Dave and I say grace together every night at dinner, but I wish I were better at thanking God for food when I eat alone. At various times in my life, I’ve had habits of praying while walking outside to get the mail, doing laundry and flossing my teeth. I recently read an article in the New York Times about linking mindfulness meditation to brushing teeth. The same could be done with prayer. (The article made me feel better about my somewhat weird praying-while-flossing habit!)

I always pray after I turn out the light at night. I wonder if that practice is rooted in those bland prayers I prayed every night as a child with my mother. Surely every Christian parent who prays at bedtime with children hopes that the habit will stick.

If you have trouble getting from thinking about praying to actually praying, I encourage you to ponder your daily habits and patterns. Which habits could you link to prayer? People of faith throughout the centuries have found it helpful to make a connection between daily patterns of life and prayer. New habits take a while to develop, but eventually the new action (prayer) becomes linked to the already existing pattern of life.

A second suggestion for making the leap from thinking about praying to actually praying relates to our need for God. Someone once told me there are basically only two prayers: "thank you" and "help me." I’ve written many times about prayers of thanks which can easily be connected to daily habits (see the list below), so I’ll say something here about the significance of considering our need for God.

What exactly do I need from God? Lots of things! Lately I’ve been trying to figure out how to express my need for God in the simplest manner possible, and I’ve come up with four basic needs:
     comfort
     guidance
     empowerment/energy
     a sense of God’s presence

I find that when I can name what I need from God, it’s easier to make the leap from intending to pray to actually praying.

Ultimately, the character of God is our biggest invitation to prayer: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 3:15, 16). Here’s the Message version of the same verses: “He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all – all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”

(Next week: a quotation by Thomas Merton on the divine shining through everyday life. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to get an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Previous posts on thankfulness:
     A thankfulness challenge    
     Another thankfulness challenge    
     Thankfulness and sentness    
     Regret and fear are thieves    

[1] Foster, Richard J. & Yanni, Kathryn A., Celebrating the Disciplines: A Journal Workbook to Accompany Celebration of Discipline (New York: Harper Collins Publishers: 1992), 14.

Quotations I love: Eugene Peterson on paying attention

Thursday September 22 2016

Quotations I love: Eugene Peterson on paying attention

"I think the pastor's chief job is not to get something done but to pay attention to what's going on, and to be able to name it, and to encourage it – nobody else is going to do that."
              – interview with Eugene Peterson [1]

When my kids were in elementary school, I read a book on parenting that made an interesting suggestion. The author wrote that compliments should focus on what the child had done, rather than just saying, “great job” or “beautiful painting.” Compliments like this would help the child be motivated to do more of the same, the author suggested: “You put a lot of time into that tree you drew. Look at the leaves and the fruit!” “I watched you welcome that new girl into the group. You showed kindness to her.” “I see careful and precise writing on this homework assignment.”

That book changed the way I complimented my kids, husband, friends and family members. Later, when I was a minister in a congregation, the fact that I had been practicing those kinds of specific compliments helped me pay attention to what was going on. I tried to notice what people were doing well in their congregational ministries and in other activities, and I worked hard to find specific things to notice and mention.

This week one of my Māori students mentioned a Māori proverb: He tāngata kitea, he tāngata ora – A person seen is a person alive. Part of what I love about my husband, Dave, is that he sees me. He notices moments when I show love or kindness to people, and he mentions those moments to me later. When I speak or preach, if he’s in the audience or congregation, he often tells me something I said that he appreciates. This noticing makes me feel so loved, and I feel encouraged to continue to do the same kinds of things.

In the interview where Eugene Peterson said the words above, he was contrasting the role of pastors in getting things done versus being the kind of person who notices what God is doing through the people and the community. I wonder if most of us focus too much on getting things done in our roles as parents, spouses and friends. I wonder if focusing most of the time on the task at hand mutes the ability to see the other person – child, spouse, friends, family members – and what God is doing in them and through them.

What are the spiritual practices that help us see? Last week I wrote about the challenges of focusing on the past with faith and the future with hope, as well as living in the present as much as possible. The practices I mentioned last week – including breath prayer, thankfulness, reflecting on helpful scriptures – can also help us see because they show us down, help us set aside fear and regret so we can be more present to each moment.

Here are some things to watch for in the actions of people we love:

1. Acts of kindness.

2. Creative activities in many areas of life.

3. Acts of perseverance, faithfulness and risk.

4. Innate personality attributes and how they manifest themselves (such as seeing the big picture, being good with details, thinking analytically, considering the impact of actions on people, being organized, being flexible).

Then, after you see these things, mention them to the person in your life. Let that person know that you see him or her. A person seen is a person alive. A person seen feels encouraged to show more love, act more faithfully and use their gifts more often and more fully.

(Next week: moving from that moment of thinking about praying to actually praying. Watercolor by Dave Baab, the wonderful husband I mentioned above. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

[1] from a talk at Catalyst West, 2011 about being formed as a pastor. You can listen to it here.

Quotations I love: regret and fear are thieves

Friday September 16 2016

Quotations I love: regret and fear are thieves

“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.” Fulton Oursler, American Journalist (1893-1952)

I love the metaphor of the thieves. Engaging in regret for the past or fear of the future is like a thief sweeping through our mind stealing important things. What gets stolen when regret and fear dominate our thoughts? Joy in the present. The ability to see God’s hand at work. Gratitude for good gifts. Hope for the future based in God’s goodness.

The quotation highlights three challenges: (1) to see the past with faith and gratitude, (2) to see the future with hope and (3) to look for God’s presence and companionship in the present as much as possible. I want to suggest some spiritual practices for each of these challenges.

1. See the past with faith and gratitude

a. Sometimes regrets about the past are rooted in a sense of guilt and shame. God offers us full and abundant forgiveness, but sometimes we find it hard to receive that forgiveness. My suggestion: write down the specific sources of guilt or shame that contribute to your sense of regret about the past. When I am having a hard time feeling forgiven, I find Psalms 32, 51 and 130 helpful. Read your list of sources of guilt or shame, then pray one of the psalms I’ve mentioned. If a verse in the psalm jumps out at you, post it on your bathroom mirror. Dwell in God’s forgiveness.

b. Sometimes regrets about the past aren’t rooted in sin or shame, they’re just regrets about situations we wish we’d handled differently. Think about – or talk with a friend about – a situation where you wish you had responded differently. List as many aspects of the situation that you are thankful for. Note where God was present in the situation and where you experienced God’s guidance or comfort. Let those gifts from God exist in your memory alongside the aspects you wish you had done differently. You may want to pray Psalm103:1-5 as a way to think about God’s blessings to you, even when there are regrets about some aspects of a situation.

2. See the future with hope

a. In the midst of anxiety, many people find the Serenity Prayer helpful. It was written around 1934 by Reinhold Niebuhr. It’s a great prayer to memorize. Pray it several times slowly:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

b. Pick a scripture about peace or hope. Memorize it or post it in your car, by your desk, on your bedside table or beside the kitchen sink. Repeat it to yourself and let it sink into your heart. Here are two possibilities for passages to use: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

3. Look for God’s presence and companionship in the present

a. Breath prayer is one of the best ways to be present in each moment. Slow your breathing and focus on each breath. In God, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Ponder the fact that you depend on God for each breath, and God gives you that breath in generosity and love. Breathe deeply and slowly, and rest in God’s presence and goodness that surrounds you.

b. Thankfulness is another great way to be present to God’s gifts in each moment. When you stop at a traffic light, stand in line at the bank, wait for a website to download or step outside to get your mail, look around and name several things that come to you as a gift. Or focus on all the individual parts of your body that are working well (even if some parts aren't working so well!), and thank God for each of them. “Wonderful are your works, that I know very well” (Psalm 139:14)

These are just a very few ideas. What helps you rejoice in the past and look forward to the future with trust? What helps you abide in Christ in the present moment?

(Next week: a quotation from Eugene Peterson about a pastor’s chief job, which I think relates to the chief job of a parent, family member and friend. Watercolor painting of Lake Hawea, New Zealand, by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Quotations I love: Rick Warren on love and disagreement

Wednesday September 7 2016

Quotations I love: Rick Warren on love and disagreement

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone is to agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” Rick Warren

This quotation echoes one of the major findings of my research on listening, which I’ll explain in this post. I looked around online to try to find the source for this quotation, and instead I found a great deal of anger about the quotation from Christians on both sides of the GLBT debate. So, as I discuss the quotation, I’m going to ask you, my lovely readers, to set aside your thoughts about sexuality issues and think about human disagreements in other areas.

Let’s use an example from my life to consider Rick Warren’s words. A few years ago I reconnected with a woman I had known in a Christian fellowship group when she and I were in our twenties. In our conversation, I found out that in her thirties she became disillusioned with the church. She embraced a Buddhist meditation practice that she has continued for more than two decades.

When I learned about this, several different emotions flooded my body. I felt sad that I wouldn’t get to hear the story of what it looked like for someone to follow Jesus over the many years since we’d last seen each other. I felt anxious that I wouldn’t know what to say to her. And I also worried that if I drew her out about her Buddhist practice, which I wanted to do, that I would be communicating tactic agreement with her practice.

In my listening research, I learned that most people feel a fair amount of anxiety when they listen, especially when the person they’re listening to is expressing an opinion that differs with theirs. Rick Warren writes that we have accepted two lies, and the first one is this: “if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them.” My listening research indicates that it is a natural human response to feel some level of fear when we interact with someone who has a major life value that is different than ours. Will I know what to say? Will I defend my own opinion appropriately, gently and firmly? If I ask some questions about the underlying motivations and passions that lie behind this value, will it sound like I agree?

These questions reflect the normal fear or anxiety that we experience when we listen to someone who is different than we are. But we have to remember that in fact, every human being on the face of the earth is different than we are, even our closest friends who share most of our deepest values. This truth relates to Warren’s second lie, that “to love someone is to agree with everything they believe or do.”

One of the most significant listening skills is learning to set aside the fears – big and small – that sweep through our minds and bodies when a conversation partner disagrees with something we hold dear. We will be able to listen and converse with compassion only if we can set aside that inner turmoil or inner noise. “You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate” says Rick Warren, but we do need to identify our fears so we can respond appropriately.

“I’m still a committed Christian,” I said to my friend. “But I am very interested in hearing in what you value about your Buddhist practice.”

 

Here are two articles I wrote about setting aside various forms of inner noise as we listen:
     Listening past the noise
     Letting go of agendas so we can listen to God and others

I’ve also written many blog posts about listening, as well as a book, The Power of Listening.

(Next week, spiritual practices that help address a vivid quotation by Fulton Oursler: “Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.” If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Quotations I love: Henri Nouwen on being beloved

Thursday September 1 2016

Quotations I love: Henri Nouwen on being beloved

In The Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes,

Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper.

When I was writing my book on communal spiritual practices, Joy Together, a student asked me what I was working on, and I briefly described the book to him. He replied, “There’s so much rhetoric about spiritual practices—the idea seems to be that if I get the practice right, then I’ll work my way to God.” He went on to say that theologians throughout the ages have affirmed that God meets us. He argued that it is not our responsibility to engineer a meeting with God; in fact, it is impossible for us to do so. He also said that spiritual practices are often a form of works-righteousness, an attempt to earn God’s approval.

In order to engage in spiritual practices or to teach them to groups, we must think clearly and theologically about the ways spiritual practices contribute to Christian life, and we must be very certain that we are not attempting to control God or trying to work our way to God. Henri Nouwen’s metaphor about the well in the desert is helpful in that regard.

When we experience that joy of being beloved, it’s like water in the desert. We taste it and touch it, and we want more. Spiritual practices – many ways of engaging with the Bible, many ways of praying, and many other practices like attending church, small groups, Sabbath keeping, fasting, journaling and hospitality – are ways that we act on our desire for more of God’s presence. We draw near to God because we are loved, not to prove ourselves worthy of love or to get God to do our bidding.

Nouwen continues,

The word ‘digging’ might not be the best word since it suggests hard and painful work that finally leads me to the place where I can quench my thirst. Perhaps all we need to do is remove the dry sand that covers the well. There may be quite a pile of dry sand in our lives, but the One who so desires to quench our thirst will help us to remove it.

Spiritual practices help us return to the well over and over. They help us remove the dry sand. And, as Nouwen points out, the “One who so desires to quench our thirst” helps us return to the well and remove the dry sand. We don’t engage in spiritual practices apart from the God who loves us, calls us to draw near and empowers us to do so. This perspective on spiritual practices is essential.

Questions for reflection:

1. Think of a time in your life when you felt beloved. Who was the one loving you? What were the factors that help you feel beloved? Draw the situation or write a few words to describe it. Sit with that belovedness for a few moments.

2. Think about the spiritual practices you engage in: going to church, attending a small group, forms of Bible study, forms of prayer, other spiritual practices. To what extent do you engage in those practicesbecause you are already beloved? Which ones help you feel beloved while you do them or afterwards? Ponder the reasons behind these patterns.

3. If you could bring a spirit of belovedness into your spiritual practices, what would it look like?

 

Previous posts that discuss spiritual practices:
     Open Hands, Open Hearts    
     Spiritual Practices for the Easter Season         
     Do not ride in the car with Lynne                   
     When fear, ego and ambition drive the bus         
     Of clouds and attentiveness         
     Hearing God’s voice        
     The Lord’s Prayer and spiritual practices         
     The Lord’s Prayer and spiritual practices, part 2

I’ve also written numerous articles about spiritual practices which are available on the articles page of this website.

(Next week: my ponderings on a quotation by Rick Warren about compassion for people whose lifestyle you disagree with. Illustration by Dave Baab. Part of this post is excerpted from Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

<< Newer | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | Older >>