Friendship, listening, and empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Draw near: Asking God for maps

Lynne Baab • Tuesday March 14 2023

Draw near: Asking God for maps

Until I was nine years old, my dad was a pilot in the U. S. air force. For those of you who love planes, he flew P-37s and P-51s in World War 2, then cargo planes (C-47s and C-54s, also known as DC3s and DC6s) in the late 1940s and 1950s. I have vivid memories of my dad coming home from a trip. He would carefully spread out maps on the dining room table and show me where he’d been. One time, he had flown somewhere tropical – the Caribbean? Hawaii? – and he saw a black sand beach. He showed me where it was on the map. Black sand? I’d never heard of such a thing! Another time he flew cargo to the navy base in Norfolk, Virginia, and he got to ride in a navy submarine past the bridge-tunnel in Hampton Roads. He showed me the route the submarine took.

I’m sure I grew to love maps as a way of connecting with a father who was tired and preoccupied when he was at home. (I wrote about that here.) For me, Google Maps is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread. I look up every location mentioned in every book I read, and I pore over streets and buildings. However, I had never thought about my beloved maps as a metaphor related to faith until I read an article by Peter Marty in the Christian Century.

Rev. Marty is a Lutheran pastor and the editor/publisher of the Christian Century. In his article, “Finding our Way,” he mentions the “way-finding capacities” built into birds and butterflies that journey long distances. Behavioral psychologists study the way that animals and humans construct mental maps of physical spaces. Humans also create mental maps of social spaces, which can result in seeing people as irreconcilably different than ourselves or as fellow humans for whom we have empathy and understanding.

Christians often look for a way forward in faith. Rev. Marty points out that the Hebrew word Torah, used to describe the first five books of the Bible, means “the way” or “the finger pointing the way.” On Jesus’s last night with his disciples, Jesus calls himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” when Thomas asks him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5, 6).  

We want to ask Jesus, “How can we know the way?” when we wake up in the morning to a day filled with challenges. We want to ask, “How can we know the way?” when we face horrible medical diagnoses, the death of a loved one, accidents and financial disasters and hurricanes and earthquakes.

Jesus himself is the way, and in prayer we draw near to this One who promised to be with us, guiding and empowering us through the Holy Spirit. “Help” is one of the simplest prayers we can say. “Have mercy on me” is a prayer that goes back millennia. Psalms 51and 57 beg God for mercy, and the blind beggar shouts twice at Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:35-43). We take steps toward finding the way when we ask Jesus for help, guidance, and power to act in love.

We can create a solid and helpful map through our daily habits, as Rev. Marty points out:

 “If you’re lucky enough to be navigating life from an environment in which you are enveloped by a steady habit of prayer, a curiosity for the riches of scripture, and close contact with a community of people who love the Lord, you have one incredible map. It’s one you can count on even on life’s most disorienting days.” [1]

This map that he recommends involves prayer, Scripture, and Christian community. For Christians, they are our major “way-finding capacities.” I love the way he describes each one:

“A steady habit of prayer” emphasizes that while any way of drawing hear to God is good, habits of resting in God’s presence, developed over time, will function best as a map for us. This is the portion of the map I am trying to help build through this blog.

“A curiosity for the riches of scripture” points toward exploration and questioning, while appreciating the depth of the resource we have in the Bible. No easy answers here! Instead, we bring curiosity and openness to the Bible, a willingness to learn and follow.

“Close contact with a community of people who love the Lord” indicates the significance of intimate, deep relationships with other Jesus-followers, as well as companionship in serving and caring. “Help” and “Lord have mercy” prayers in the company of others, who pray alongside us, help us absorb Jesus’ peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). Our prayers, study of the Bible, and service with a community of faith guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:79)

Jesus himself is the map. He invites us into habits of prayer, curious engagement with the Bible, and deep connections with others in the Body of Christ that create further maps. Or perhaps we should say that these practices help us stay on the map that is Jesus, or that these practices are a map that directs toward Jesus. We can pray every day that our maps will become more solid, with richer colors, clearer streets, and highways that lead us where God wants us to go.

(Next week: praying to listen in unexpected settings. Illustration by Dave Baab: view south on Queen Street from the Auckland hotel where we spent two weeks of quarantine in September 2020. If you'd like to read about our amusing adventures in quarrantine, here's week 1 and week 2 on our travel blog. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog focused on prayer, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

Related posts:

[1] Finding our Way by Peter Marty, The Christian Century, January 13, 2023.

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