Draw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave BaabA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy 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

Life in a two-beat rhythm

Thursday June 26 2014

Life in a two-beat rhythm

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? I’ve done it maybe a dozen times, and several of those times I have had a pressing issue that I wanted to pray about. My pattern in those times is to pray my desires on the way in, then stand restfully at the center for a few moments, enjoying God’s peace. On the way out I pray in a different way, sometimes expressing my willingness for God’s desires about the issues. I might ask God to open me to unexpected answers to my prayers or I might simply thank God for the fact that the issue is now firmly in God’s hands, no longer in my own. On one occasion , which I have been pondering recently, that movement in (focused on my own desires) and the movement out (expressing my willingness for God’s future) prepared me for a major life change.

That movement in/movement out pattern can be helpful in many everyday prayer situations. One way to engage in breath prayer is to breathe out our worries and struggles into God’s presence, one at a time with each breath out. Then with each breath in, to imagine ourselves breathing in God’s peace and love.

Another way involves praying while walking. As a young mom I used to hire a high school girl to come over after school a few days a week so I could get out for a walk. I had a two-mile route. I walked through our neighborhood to a lake, then took the path along the lake toward an aqua theater. At the aqua theater, I would turn around and walk home.

In the first half of the walk, I would think about the things I was worried and preoccupied about. When I reached the lake, I imagined Jesus in the boat on the lake, and I handed him each of those worries one by one as I walked on the path beside the lake.

At the aqua theater I turned around, and my prayers changed. At that point I might simply enjoy the birds and trees and water, thanking God for the beauty of the creation. Or I might pray thankfulness prayers, focusing particularly on the gift of God’s peace that comes when we hand over all our needs. I might pray intercessory prayers for needs in the world. Whatever I prayed on the way back came from the deep sense of rest and confidence that flows out of giving our concerns to God and knowing God is capable of dealing with them.

Any back-and-forth walk can be an opportunity to pray in this way. A short walk down the hall at work to photocopy a document can be an opportunity to hand our concerns over to God on the way there, then rest in God’s peace on the way back. A bike or car trip to run an errand can function the same way with prayers about needs and concerns on the way and prayers focused on thankfulness on the way back. The primordial rhythm of our breath teaches us life in a two-beat rhythm, and we can draw on those two beats in a variety of ways in our everyday prayers. The trick is to make it a pattern or a habit, so we get used to the idea that the first half of the journey is an invitation to hand over our worries to God, and the second half is a time to rest in God’s goodness to us.

(If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column on this webpage. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)

A moment beside the Willamette River

Thursday June 26 2014

A moment beside the Willamette River

I’m sitting in front of a battered orange fire hydrant, incongruously placed in a bank of flowers and grasses. Riverplace Marina, on the Willamette River, lies beyond the flowers. High freeway bridges and the low, hundred year old Hawthorne Bridge span the river, while a traffic helicopter whines overhead.

We’re on vacation in Portland, Oregon, and my husband is browsing an art gallery here at the Marina. Usually when we head out to sightsee I bring along a paperback, so I can read while he takes his time in galleries. But today I forgot the novel.

So I sit here on a curved bench, wondering if this is an invitation to worship God in the real world, to draw near to God in this slice of everyday life. Perhaps I could engage with one of the everyday spiritual disciplines I habitually practice. For example, I could sit here and list the many gifts and blessings God has given me recently: successfully winding up teaching and grading for the semester; the recent release of my latest book, Friending; on-time flights to Oregon; the family members and friends we’ll be seeing on this trip. I could list them and thank God for them.

Here’s a second option. I learned a new version of the Jesus prayer a few weeks ago, and I’ve been experimenting with using it as a breath prayer, coordinating the words with my breath. “Jesus . . . Savior . . . help me know your love . . . and make it known.” As I repeat the words, sometimes I think about all the ways God has shown love to me, and I pray that this love would sink deep inside me, that I would “know” it in every sense of the world. Sometimes I pray about the ways I feel called to make God’s love known. That breath prayer would work well in these quiet moments in the light breeze.

I could also simply focus on the data coming to my brain through my senses and try to be present to everything around me. I could study and relish the white flowers with the yellow centers right beside the fire hydrant, the pale green grasses gently swaying, the silk tree giving me shade and the feathery cedar between me and the Hawthorne Bridge. God made them all. I could listen to the traffic on the freeway bridge, trying to tease out specific trucks and busses that I can see as well as hear. God gave me very acute hearing, sometimes a gift and sometimes a challenge, and I could try to be present to the distinct sounds around me in this restful moment.

I’m sure there are other ways to worship God in this real-world, real-life moment as I sit on a curved bench with a fire hydrant, white flowers, grasses, a marina and a cluster of bridges in view. But I’ve thought of enough options. The challenge for me in this moment is two-fold:

(1) to refrain from pulling out my day planner to see if there’s something “productive” I can do with this time, and

(2) to stop listing and analyzing the options.

Just do one of them, I tell myself.

(If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column on this webpage. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)

Open Hands, Open Heart

Thursday June 26 2014

Open Hands, Open Heart

About ten years ago I led a worship service at a retreat. The setting was intimate, unlike the Sunday worship services at church where the leader—sometimes me—usually stood some distance away from the congregation. At the end of the retreat worship, I said a benediction. To my surprise, several of the younger women sitting close to me turned their hands so their palms faced up. They looked as if they were trying to catch the benediction in their hands.

I had often said, “Now, receive the benediction” before I ended a worship service, and these women looked as if they were taking those words seriously. They used their hands to indicate a posture of the heart, a posture of receptivity.

What might they have been trying to receive? What might they have been longing for?

Perhaps some of them had a specific need in mind as they turned their hands up to “catch” God’s blessing. Perhaps they were hoping for God’s action related to a specific need in their family or in their job, or maybe they were hoping for God’s guidance in a particular situation. Perhaps they had learned something new about God at the weekend retreat, and they were hoping God would cement that new knowledge into their lives. They could have had many other specific needs, requests or situations on their minds as they used their hands to “receive” the benediction.

Perhaps some of them were simply open to more of God in their lives.  Perhaps the motion of their hands expressed a willingness to receive anything and everything from God, an indication of their commitment to be disciples of Jesus who would follow their Master wherever he might lead them.

When I use this word “receptivity,” I am referring to being open to God’s gifts and God’s guidance in two different ways. On the one hand, God works in our lives in response to the needs we express in prayer, the concerns we have about people we love, and the tensions and anxieties we experience in everyday life. God invites us to open our hearts and minds to see the way the Holy Spirit is moving in the situations we care about. Spiritual practices go a long way toward enabling us to see God’s activity because they help us slow down, recognize patterns, and listen to God.

The second aspect of receptivity relates to our willingness to let God initiate, to let God be God in whatever form that takes. Jesus invites us to follow him, to let him set the agenda and lead us. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” Jesus encourages us (Matthew 11:29). God guides us into places we wouldn’t otherwise go, and challenges us to grow in ways we never imagined. God gives us gifts we could never have seen on our own, and calls us to use them in situations we never planned. Spiritual practices help us receive these utterly unexpected and unplanned moments of grace.

When I pray with my hands turned over and open to the heavens, my hands are a symbol of my willingness to be receptive to whatever God is doing in my life, whatever God wants to give me, and wherever God wants to guide me. But those open hands are more than a symbol. I find that simply turning my hands over opens my heart to God in a remarkable way, as if my hands are telling my heart and mind to shift toward God and to watch for what God is doing. I feel closer to God when I turn my hands over, a surprising but helpful fact. Lent is a perfect time to experiment with new spiritual practices, and a small thing like praying with open hands, facing up, really can make a difference.

(If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column on this webpage. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog. It is an excerpt from Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation by Lynne M. Baab.)

Spiritual Practices for Sitting in Front of a Screen

Thursday June 26 2014

Because I spend so much time in front of a computer, I’ve tried to develop a series of small spiritual practices that remind me of God’s guidance and presence with me as I sit in front of the screen. While my computer boots up, I try to look out the window at the trees and sky while I take a few deep breaths, reminding me of the Holy Spirit around me and in me. I use passwords that help me remember God’s work in my life. When software or websites load in slowly, I try to look out the window again and rejoice in the beauty of the trees God made. The passwords and the pauses to look out the window break up my work day and help me to take a moment to practice mindfulness, the awareness that this moment matters because God made it and Jesus is here with me.

Because I live so far away from friends and family, Facebook and email are major ways I learn about what’s happening in the lives of people I love. So I try to pray for people as I read what they’ve written online. I know there are a lot of people who think that online relationships aren’t “real,” but because I live 7,000 miles from many of the people I love, I am deeply grateful for online ways of staying connected, and I try to rejoice in those connections and in the people who have loved me and continue to support me across the miles.

Somehow it’s too easy to think that God is present in nature but not in technology. Or that God wants us to be caring and prayerful when we talk to someone face to face, but not when we communicate with them online. My small computer habits remind me that all of life, and my whole life, belong to God.

(If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column on this webpage. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)

Freedom from Fear of Death

Thursday June 26 2014

Freedom from Fear of Death

On Valentine’s Day, 1994, I got the flu. Two days later I couldn’t breathe. A long diagnostic process followed.  At some point, the lung specialist described to me the possible diagnoses, one of which was fatal. He had put me on a cute little oxygen tank, but my brain still wasn’t getting enough oxygen to think clearly, so I misunderstood him. I thought he said the fatal lung disease was by far the most likely diagnosis.

It was a week before my next appointment with him, so I spent a week thinking I was going to die. I had moments of fear, but my 23 years of following Jesus had given me a level of trust that made me willing to face death if that’s where Jesus was leading me. The freedom from fear, most of that week, was palpable. Truly Jesus did “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death”(Hebrews 2:14, 15).

Five years later I had a similar experience. This time it was my liver, which swelled up. Hepatitis. But what kind? The diagnostic process involved a seemingly endless series of blood tests, followed by an extremely unpleasant liver biopsy. This time I didn’t misunderstand the doctor. He said it clearly. The biopsy indicated I had a fatal liver disease, curable only by a transplant, which would not be likely to happen.

So I spent another week thinking I was going to die. Again, the years of following Jesus made a difference. “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). I could live or die, and God would make that decision. Most of that week, I was able to draw on all the years of experiencing God’s goodness in my life. I was able to trust God and experience Jesus’ peace.

The reprieve came in a letter from a sub-specialist at the university who had looked over my records. The specialist wrote to my own doctor saying that even though the liver cells indicated a fatal disease, I was missing a blood marker that always accompanies it. My hepatitis turned out to be an unusual reaction to a drug I was taking. I went off the drug and slowly got well.

Now I’m walking the death road again. It’s not me this time, but my sister-in-law. It’s not a misunderstanding or a false diagnosis, but inoperable cancer that has completely obstructed her bowel. Her lungs are failing, so she’s gasping for breath just like I did 17 years ago. Because of my husband’s witness, and because of her longing for peace as she dies, she has recently come to know Jesus. She has been following him now for only a few months. And Jesus has given her comforting moments of peace as she faces the end of her life on earth and anticipates the joy of heaven. But it’s not the depth of peace that comes from years of following him. I long to give her that deep peace, and all I can do is pray.

Following Jesus makes a difference in dozens, if not hundreds, of ways. Freedom from fear of death may not be something we need on a daily basis, but when death circles around us, peace from Jesus makes all the difference. Truly in Christ we are freed from the bondage of the fear of death.

(If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column on this webpage. This post originally appeared in 2011 on the Godspace blog.)

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