Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I will lift my eyes to the hills
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord!

Now I realize I live in a part of the country most people would describe as flat.  Sure, as Wisconsinites we get a bit defensive about that...start talking about topography and rolling hills near New Glarius and the joy that is looking out over a harvested corn field to see for miles and miles and that at least we are not as flat as Nebraska!

The psalmist talks about looking to the hills for help, which for most of us we take to mean that this psalm is about the beauty of God's creation and how God's fingerprints are all over the world.

But something a bit more subversive is going on here. 

You see Psalm 121 was often sung by pilgrims as they were traveling.  Sometimes in places they had never been to a foreign unfamiliar territory.  Now stop and think...if you don't know where you are going and don't have your smartphone/gps/or even a map with you, a hill may not exactly be the most welcome sight.

The reality is that a hill...for all it's also an excellent hiding place.  You don't know what is on the other side.  You can't see.  And sometimes hills were places where thieves hid out or animals perched.

Sometimes a hill can be beautiful....sometimes a hill can be dangerous.

This past Sunday I encouraged people to lean into life...with all its blessedness and brokenness.  I am finding out this week, that was easier said than lived.

Can I look around at the places in my life that I am just unsure about, don't know what to do about, or am even scared about and say that God can be found there?  We all seem to accept God is with us in the mountain top moments, or when we are on top of the hill.  But when we are in the valley or when we can't see very far in front of us because something is obstructing our view...what about God?

The psalm suggests God is there.  Maybe not in the same ways as when the laughter comes easy....but God is still there.  I pray for those places in your life right now that feel like a hilly that is obstructing your that you just don't know what to do about...that the traces of God's grace will be there.

Maybe saying the words of the 121st psalm over that moment might help.
Maybe naming it as a hill might help
Maybe asking for God to help might even offer you the peace it offered pilgrims for centuries.

May the traces of God's grace be found in your journeys this week where it feels like you can see for miles and miles or if it feels like you are in the valley of hills.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Desert Prayers my yard doesn't look this bad...yet.

But it has been a dry, hot, desert-like summer in Southern Wisconsin. I have not had to mow for weeks. The only green patches in my yard are weeds. And suddenly a 90 degree day feels cool and refreshing.

And as I was walking across my parched and crunchy grass the other day, I thought about times in my life when it feels like my soul is parched and dry and in need of a good drenching dose of something.

In those arid moments some talk about how God seems distant. For me, that is not quite what I feel like. I feel spent and tired even though I sense God is near. I just feel thirsty even though I am gulping from the well of prayer. I look around at the beauty of creation or hear someone offer me a trace of God's grace and it just doesn't seem to sustain me the way it does in other seasons.

It sort of feels like a few days ago when it did finally rain for about 1/2 hour...but it was just not enough. What happens when in the midst of prayer and praying it does not feel like enough? What happens when all the good advice about how prayer can change things and how it will help your health and yet you still feel like you are wandering around the desert?  Sort of like the People of God in Exodus.

For 40 years they wandered and wandered and wandered around an arid area. In some ways that gives voice to the desert moments in our life. Those extended Exodus periods are draining. Most of what I have read about prayer counsels me to just keep going, just keep wandering.

Sometimes that works.

Sometimes we need to find another path.

Sometimes we just need to find a shade tree to rest in for awhile.

If you had to describe your prayer life today as a season...what season would it be?
Summer-like with relationships to God and others either growing or parched?
Fall-like with relationships to God and others feeling like they are entering a transition time?
Winter-like with relationships to God and others taking a rest or hibernating?
Spring-like with relationships to God and others sprouting up new life and possibilities?

Once you know where you are might consider asking...

When did I experience the other seasons? What was going on at that time?

Maybe you feel a bit like you are in all four seasons!

Those are big questions for any season.  But they are ones that I will continue to ponder prayerfully today and in the coming days.

For today and the coming days may the traces of God's grace sustain you and stir around you no matter what season you find yourself in today!

Blessings and peace!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Prayer Postures


Part of me wants to laugh...somewhat such an image.  Part of me wants to cry that what we've turned the Christian life into is essentially a follow the directions, paint by numbers, there is a right and a wrong way to do things kind of checklist.

As best as I can tell, when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he talked very little about the actual posture of prayer...and instead gave them evocative words that stretch the imagination and push back against the ways of the world.

Think about the petitions in the Lord's Prayer:
Daily bread...enough just for today without worrying about tomorrow
God's Kingdom...not our kingdoms which we protect with violence and power and money
God's forgiveness...not revenge

And yet, posture does make a difference.  If I am slouched down in my chair when I try to pray, it clues me into the fact that maybe something is weighing me down...maybe something is so heavy on my shoulders that the gravity of its force is pushing on me. 

If I can't seem to sit still when I try to pray, is it because I am giddy or because I am nervous or because I think that I have to do it all and can't stop long enough to pray? 

I think part of entering into prayer is to notice our physical body.  After all we claim as central to our faith that you are created in the image of God.  That is profound and beautiful and a great place to start prayer.

Doug Pagitt and Kathryn Prill have written a book about the postures of prayer.  Some of the prayer postures include looking up (as a sign of hopefulness) or rubbing your hands together like you are putting on lotion (as a sign of kindness) or standing still (as a of openness to reconciliation).  It is a good reminder that what our bodies are doing during prayer matters and can actually be incorporated into our prayer itself. 

If you'd like to glance at the book, it is on my shelf.  I encourage you to be open to the network of fibers, muscles, and bones that are inter-connected and sending millions signals to your brain every single moment, like right now as you are reading this post. 

Are your shoulders tight?  Mine kind of are.
Is your breathing easy or labored?  Mine feels easy.
Overall what kind of signals are going off that you might not be noticing?  Tiredness?  Energy?  Hope?  The warmth of sun on your skin?
That matters and makes a difference when we enter into prayer.

And I think can help open us to the traces of God's grace in our life.

Blessings and peace

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Psalm 42

Over the last week, I have read and re-read Psalm 42.  

What I noticed most is the wonderful tension that is woven into this psalm.  What I hear in these words is the writer struggling and trying to make sense of why it is that she feels so lousy given the goodness of God.  Why does he long for God when just on Sunday (or Friday night given this was written by a Jewish person for the Sabbath) he went skipping and singing into the temple?

We have a shortcut for asking these sorts of profound, deep, almost unanswerable questions today.  Simply put we ask, "Why me?"  A shopping cart rams into our car in the grocery store parking lot and we ask, "why me?"  Our boss piles more and more work upon our already overflowing, messy desk and we ask, "why me?"   The dentist utters the phrase "root canal" and we ask, "why me?"

And here is the point we can't stress enough: it is an appropriate question!  It is a biblical question!  The psalmist doesn't feel bad for asking the question.  She doesn't get caught up in a cycle of guilt that maybe she shouldn't be talking to God like that. 

The tension comes not from guilt, but from trying to resolve two conflicting claims as people of faith we try to hold together: God is good and suffering happens within our life.  Tom Long calls this the "impossible chess match."  The psalmist does not resolve the chess match.  Put another way, suffering's king is not defeated within the words of the psalmist.  But I think there is incredible value within our prayers to name that tension and how I experience that tension in my life. 

The psalmist ends with prayerful hope, that one day she will sing again, even if people ask her, "Where is her God?"  The psalmist knows God is present, knows God love even in the midst of difficult moments, and it leads her to deeper prayer.

May it do so for us and may we notice traces of God's grace in our midst in the coming days!

Blessings and peace on these warm summer days!

God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...