Sunday, October 21, 2018

Bold in Faith

Finishing the last lengths of my swim to complete a half mile, I did a few stretches while still in the water. I looked on the deck in front of me and saw a Muslim woman speaking out loud while reading from an iPad. I recognized Norah, having spoken to her before at the local YMCA. I jumped out of the water, grabbed my towel and gym bag and walked over to the bench where she sat.

A burqa outlined her face and hands. "Are you praying?" I asked. She looked up recognizing me and extended her hand, smiling.

"I've seen you before reading the Koran out loud. I admire the way you are public with your faith. I'm a Christian, but I don't carry my Bible wherever I go."

"I am reading the Koran," she replied. "We pray five times a day wherever we are. In such a busy life, we look to our great creator to remember our faith."

I said good-bye and walked to the locker room to shower. I never see anyone reading the Bible while their child or children have swim lessons or play in the water. Norah's bold demonstration of faith was inspiring, I thought.

Praying the Hours

Reflecting on my encounter with Norah later in the day, I focused on her description of the importance of pausing and praying five set times during each day. This  practice reminded me of the monastic ritual of praying the hours, something I did for many years, especially during the time I worked at St. Vincent Hospital.

One day a week (I rotated the days: Monday, one week, Tuesday, the next etc.) from the time I awakened until I went to bed, I paused at the beginning of each hour to pray. At first,early in the day, I looked at the clock often during the hour. However, as the day progressed, I found that 'my soul reminded me of the hour' before I realized the time. My 'day of the hours' as I called it, became a mini-retreat for the week. Each day frequently ended with a new insight about my walk with God and always with a deeper awareness of God's presence.

Remembering God at the beginning of every hour was a way to stay centered on God as well as acknowledge that God was with me.

For Reflection

Here's an experiment. Choose a day to practice 'a day of the hours.' Select five times throughout your day to pause and pray. You may want to use these focused moments with God to pray for a decision you are facing or for an individual about whom you care. Or you can use this time to direct your thoughts to God's presence surrounding you. Reminder alarms on watches and cell phones can assist if you desire. As you feel more comfortable, add more hours and then a whole day.

Consider these questions.

1. How does God come to you?
2. Do you sense God's presence more deeply?
3. What can you learn from the practice of praying the hours?

Prayer: God, you are the creator of all persons. We can share similar practices of other faith traditions. Perhaps the terminology or sequence is different, but honoring common features can help build bridges and unify all. Amen.






Sunday, October 14, 2018

"Wait I have to go to Bible study ........"

Scripture: Matthew 9:18-22 -  "While Jesus was saying this, a Jewish official came to him, knelt down before him, and said, 'My  daughter has just died; but come and place your hands on her and she will live.' So Jesus got up and followed him, and his disciples went along with him.
   A woman who had suffered from severe bleeding for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, 'If only I touch his cloak, I will get well.' Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, 'Courage my daughter. Your faith has made you well.' At that very moment the woman became well."

The story begins when a Jewish official, whose daughter had just died, interrupted Jesus with an urgent plea. "Come place your hands on her and she will live." Jesus and the other disciples followed him.

Along the way, a woman who suffered from bleeding for twelve years saw Jesus. She said, "If I only touch his cloak I will get well." The woman didn't need to speak to Jesus or even look at him. She needed no interaction - just to touch his cloak. Jesus took a moment to respond to her saying, "Courage, my daughter. Your faith has made you well." The woman was healed at that very moment.

Jesus' Pause

Jesus shows us a willingness to set aside what he is doing and be present to people who come to him. He could have said to the Jewish official, "I'm not done teaching. I will be with you in a few minutes." He could have ignored the woman's needs so he could hurry and reach the official's house. Over and over we read how Jesus pauses, listens and responds to those around him.

Our Lives and Jesus' Life

I believe Jesus' life was as busy as ours can be, but in different ways. Jesus didn't let the demands people were making on his time get in the way of being present in the moment, even to those who interrupted.

Several years ago, I attended a Wednesday morning Bible study at the YMCA. The class began at 9:00. My gym bag and purse were slung over my shoulder, ready to leave when the phone rang. I knew if I answered the call I would be late. I picked up the phone and listened to a friend who needed someone to listen. I couldn't say to her, "I'm sorry I can't talk now, I need to go to Bible study so I can learn how Jesus loved and cared for others." So we spoke for ten minutes, then twenty minutes. Finally forty-five minutes later we finished and agreed to meet the next day to continue the discussion.

I drove to the YMCA anyway, arriving for the last five minutes of the study. I don't know what I missed during class that day, but I know I'm glad I didn't miss a a chance to follow Jesus' example to pause, set aside what I was doing and be present to my friend that day.

Reflection Questions

1. Is it easy or hard to set aside our daily agendas when someone needs our help?

2. Have you been late to an activity because you paused to listen to a friend or family member? How does allowing time for others unexpectedly make you feel?

3. When have you ignored someone to continue with your plans? Do you regret taking time to be present?

Prayer: Loving and caring God, help me follow the example of Jesus as I encounter people - both those who I plan to see and those who randomly cross my path. Guide me to set aside my agenda and respond to others. Amen.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Jesus Wrote

Jesus preached, blessed, ate, celebrated, walked, talked and ........ wrote!

John chapter 8:1-11, described an encounter Jesus had with teachers of the law and Pharisees who asked about a woman caught in adultery. The punishment according to Jewish law was stoning. Before he responded, Jesus took a minute to write in the sand. Verse 6: "But he (Jesus) bent over and wrote on the ground with his finger."

Jesus knows the importance of the answer, so he takes a moment to write.

"As they stood there asking him questions, he straightens up and says to them, "Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her." (verse 7)

After he answers the teachers and Pharisees, he bends over again to write on the ground.

We don't know what Jesus wrote, but he did give the example to pause and reflect before answering.

The End of Reflection

On Sunday, June 12, 2016, The New York Times featured an article by Teddy Wayne called "The End of Reflection." The author recognized a change in his life. In the past when he had extra time, he would "observe or think about my surroundings or take a walk."

Now he notes, "I pick up my phone to check a notification, browse and read the internet, text, use an app or listen to audio (or on rare occasions, engage in an old-fashioned 'telephone call'). The last remaining place I'm guaranteed to be alone with my thoughts is in the shower."

Wayne quotes Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, "As our technologies increase the intensity of stimulation and the flow of new things, we adapt to that pace. We become less patient. When moments without stimulation arise, we start to feel panicked and don't know what to do with them, because we've trained ourselves to expect this stimulation."

Carr sees the use of the internet and other electronics  as "the loss of the contemplative mind."

We need a contemplative mind to stay in touch with God. If we go with the trends Wayne and Carr are  noting in their article and book, we are doomed to shallow thinking and impatient attitudes.

AARP

The January, 2016, issue of American Association of Retired Persons included a short article, "The Write Way to Slow Down." The article explains, 'One thing proved to help you slow down is writing your thoughts and feelings in longhand. On paper. It's not just writing; it's taking time to think and process recent life events. The ritual is an effective way for you to analyze situations creatively and to stay centered during difficult times.

There it is again. Writing. The way to slow down.

Jesus modeled it well for us and John captured the moment of writing in the sand.

Returning to Jesus

Jesus knew the Pharisees and teachers of the law were waiting for an answer. Jesus realized the importance of the question required careful thought so he paused, twice, to write on the ground. They were expecting consent to the Jewish law, so Jesus' answer stunned them when he offered compassion and forgiveness.

Of course, no one knows what Jesus wrote before or after he responded or if he wrote something to the woman, to those asking the question, or to God the father. Perhaps he wrote a prayer asking for wisdom prior to his answer and a prayer of gratitude afterwards. No one knows.

Jesus offers a model to use not only when we are involved in thought-provoking or difficult conversations or responding to a question with a friend, at work, at church or other places.

1. Take a moment to pause before replying. Collecting thoughts and organizing how to phrase an answer can result in an effective and meaningful response.

2. Offer a quick prayer for guidance.

3. Write down a few thoughts - after all, the article reminds us that writing slows us down.

4. Say a short prayer of gratitude for God's help after replying.

Slowing down in today's fast-paced world is a challenge, but necessary. Companionship with God demands times of silence, contemplation and reflection to grow deeper in faith and hear God's voice.

For Your Reflection

1. What do you think Jesus wrote in the sand?
2. How can you incorporate Jesus' model of writing before replying to everyday life?
3. What is the value of writing for you?

Prayer: God, advances in communication seem to discourage the contemplative mind. How can we weigh seriously and listen to your voice as we talk with others and consider matters of importance? Help us to use Jesus' model of pausing and writing in our interaction and during our time with you. Amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Peter, Paul and Mary - To Be Continued

On November 5, 2014, I listened to NPR"s Diane Rehm interview Peter and Paul, the surviving members of the popular sixties trio, Peter, Paul and Mary. The occasion for the interview was to introduce the release of their book Fifty Years in Music.

Peter, Paul and Mary were my favorite vocalists when I was a teenager. The lyrics were simple, the tunes catchy, and soon I was singing their songs when I walked to school. Their unique folk style opened the way for new forms of music prior to the Beatles.

Diane asked a lot of questions. I learned Paul's first name is Noel, is middle name, Paul. Mary died in 2009, but Peter and Paul continued to perform. Paul remarked that those who hear them sense Mary's spirit as they present concerts all over the country.

Peter and Paul spent time remembering Mary and their relationship through the years. Paul explained that when Mary visited a friend she never said good-bye, but "to be continued."

To be continued means something will go on. Mary and her friends will continue in friendship  even though they aren't in close proximity.

Jesus and His Friends

Jesus gathered his disciples in the upper room and shared with them a meal of bread and wine we now call the Last Supper. Jesus showed the disciples a piece of bread and said, "This is my body." Then Jesus gave the disciples a drink of wine from a cup he help. "This is my blood."

Jesus wanted the disciples to have tangible items and a ritual to remember him and his ministry that would continue throughout time. The Last Supper or Holy Communion as we now call the meal, is a way for Jesus to say, "I am not saying good-bye. My life will continue in resurrection and we will meet again."

To Be Continued

Mary realized that even though she may not see a friend for awhile, she was not saying good-bye at the last encounter, but 'to be continued' until they were together again. "To be continued" carries an excitement and expectation of new conversations and encounters where "good-bye" has an element of finality.

Jesus wants us who  believe in him and who partake of communion to remember he, too, did not say good-by, but "My life continues in your life until we meet again. Bread and wine, symbols of my body and blood will empower you as you continue my ministry wherever you go and whomever you meet. We did not say "good-bye" to Jesus at the cross, but "to be continued" when we receive communion and serve in the kingdom."

Reflection Questions

1. Are there friends to whom you say "good-bye" when you leave?

2. Are there friends to whom you could say, "to be continued" as you depart?

3. How can you continue Jesus' ministry?

Prayer: God, the cross did not mean "good-bye" for your son, despite what seemed obvious as Jesus was placed in the tomb. Resurrection means "to be continued" as we receive the love of Jesus in our hearts and serve in the kingdom. Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Shift In Perspective

One day last summer, when I had multiple appointments and several places to go. I started my day swimming at the YMCA. I went early hoping to get in and out quickly, but every time I tried to slip out the door, I kept seeing people I knew and wanted to greet each one.

Finally reaching the exit, I pushed open the heavy door and crossed the parking lot. As I neared my car and reached for the keys, I heard my name.

Noticing someone from a distance, but unable to recognize, I walked closer to the sound of the voice and saw Elizabeth, a former employee at the grocery store down the street from where I live. Elizabeth worked in the floral department. When I made a purchase, she always took time to wrap the flowers carefully, adding a ribbon to bind the bouquet.

Elizabeth liked to talk, often complaining about working conditions at the store. I listened to her often, but sometimes when I went to shop, I was in a hurry and didn't want to take time to visit. Since the floral department was at the store entrance, I couldn't avoid seeing her. In all honesty, I was never late to anywhere I was going, just delayed.

Here she was at the Y calling my name. We talked for a few minutes. She asked about the Y and I suggested she take a tour. Meanwhile I was getting restless, worrying about being late for my 9:30 art class.

Finally she said, "I think it was a God thing I saw you today."

Oh, my! I did not think seeing her was a God thing for me because I w anted to make sure I was prompt for my class. Her perspective was different than mine.

I made it to my art class and to other commitments, but I kept thinking of my conversation with Elizabeth. I was disturbed because she thought seeing me was of God and I thought seeing her was a delay.

I asked God to forgive my impatience and help me manage my time more wisely when I had a full agenda.

I was thankful Elizabeth regarded seeing me as part of God's design for her day. She didn't explain why, but I noticed a few weeks later, she had joined the Y and was participating in one of the popular water aerobics classes.

Perhaps she was hesitant to enter an unfamiliar building or self-conscious because exercise had not been part of her life. Seeing a familiar face and receiving my encouragement must have been exactly what she needed to enroll.

We never know when we leave the house who we will encounter or how we will be perceived by those we meet.

Prayer: God, help us receive all we meet in your name and may our words and actions reflect your love. Amen.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Hasten: What Elie Wiesel Taught About Prayer

Well-known  Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, died July 2, 2016. He was a prolific  writer with thirty books to his credit. His first book, Night, chronicles his experiences after his family was captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.

I found a copy of Night for a dollar at an antique store one day. Night is a description of Elie Wiesel's time in two concentration camps, Auschwitz (May, 1944 to January, 1945) and Buchenwald (January, 1945 to April, 1945). Stories of beatings, lack of food, extreme exercise, marching for hours, and humiliation in other forms, made me wonder how he survived. Most of the prisoners did not. His mother, and younger sister, died in May, 1944, and his father in January, 1945.

Practicing His Faith

Elie was a devout Jew. As a young boy he was devoted to the study of the Talmud. His interest in Jewish law centered his life. He continued to practice Jewish rites even when he was in Auschwitz.

Shortly before being transported to Auschwitz, Jews were told to place clothing and items they wanted to save in backpacks. All of the Jewish families in Elie's hometown, Sighet, Transylvania, left their homes and gathered in ghettos created in the center of town. They stayed in the ghetto until the day the cattle cars came to take them away.

Walking by his home the day he left, Elie commented:

    "I looked at my house in which I had spent years seeking my God, fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah, imagining what my life would be like later. Yet, I felt little sadness. My mind was empty." (page 19)

I was taken by his words, "... seeking God, fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah, imagining what my life would be like later."  Jews do not believe their Messiah has come. They are still waiting.

Reading Night and portions of another book Elie Wiesel wrote, All Rivers Run To The Sea, his devotion to prayer, study of scripture, and Jewish tradition impressed upon me  his urgent desire for the coming of the Messiah and for what life would be like when that happened. He persevered with hope that practicing his faith would bring about the Messiah's arrival.

Christian Prayer and Jewish Prayer

Reflecting on Wiesel's life prior to the Holocaust caused me to think about the purpose of our Christian practice of prayer. When we pray for peace do we have faith that our prayers will result in peace? When we pray for love, do we believe that love will come?

I am reminded of a passage in Mark 11:24, where Jesus tells the disciples, "When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it." Jesus is saying, if you desire peace, pray using these words, "Thank you God for the peace I feel." You may not feel peace immediately, but praying with a grateful will bring comfort until peace comes.

Elie Wiesel believed that fasting would hasten the coming of the Messiah. His heart believed that through fasting the Messiah would appear. He was praying as Jesus directed, "believing that he had already received," a prayer of faith, trust and gratitude.

Jesus, the Messiah has come. We do not have the urgent desire for his coming as Elie Wiesel did. Do we take Jesus for granted? Do we live the fullness of life in Christ as Wiesel anticipated would happen if the Messiah came?

What do we believe we can hasten through completing prayer, study of God's word, fasting and acts of love and service? How can we hasten God's kingdom with all people we encounter?

Elie Wiesel's faith sustained him through life in two concentration camps. When he was barely alive, beaten to the core, his life with God remained strong - I think it is because he prayed, believing and God strengthened him to make it thorough.

Prayer: Loving and caring God, you have given us an example of a young man deep in faith who believed that he could hasten your coming through fasting and devotion to your word. Let us believe, too, that as we pray with faith, trust and belief, we can hasten your kingdom and mold us more completely into your image. Amen.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Labor Day

Friends - I am enjoying the holiday today. "Gather the Pieces" will return next week. I pray you feel God's presence each day. Jacquie