Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Few Lines of St. Patrick's Prayer

Today as I walked into the hospital were I'm a volunteer, I held open the door for the person behind me.

I heard a deep masculine voice chuckling. "Now my mother taught me I was supposed to open the door for you!"

Turning around I saw a tall, stocky older gentleman dressed in faded overalls and a blue T-shirt holding a single rose wrapped in florist paper.

Laughing I replied, "Looking over my shoulder when I go through a door is a practice I started several years ago. You can open the next door", I suggested pausing in the entry way between the two doors leading to the hospital.

Many years ago I wanted to find ways to honor people, whether I know them or not. The simple act of holding the door for the person behind me to walk through is a way to honor Christ who lives in all and affirm a stranger who happened to cross my path. Not knowing what others are dealing with, I like to offer at least one act of kindness a person can remember from his or her day.

These lines from the prayer of St. Patrick, remind me to bring holiness to a common act:
                           "Christ be with me, Christ within me.
                            Christ behind me, Christ before me."
Christ lives within me, so when I honor those who are behind and before me, I honor Christ.

Although automatic doors open automatically, there are many manual doors everywhere, offering opportunities to spread God's love behind.

Prayer: Guide us to become more aware of simple ways to honor you  and your children. As we affirm others we affirm you. Amen.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Different Type of Communion - The Blood of Christ

(Note: This is part two of a two part series.)

 I made a quick trip to Target, not bothering to change my clothes after swimming. Of course, I saw a friend whom I've known since she was three. We chatted a few minutes. Walking away I glanced at my faded sweatshirt, and noticed several purple spots obtained when I picked grapes and made jelly earlier in the week.

My friend, Ann, told me about a local vineyard following the advice given by God in Exodus 23:10-11 -"You shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove."

Reaching the vineyard early in the morning the first day of picking enabled me to select many ripe bunches of purple Concord grapes. I went to the end of a long row because I wanted to pick in silence. However, other pickers arrived shortly, and soon children were running up and down the rows chatting loudly with excitement, wonder and curiosity.

"The kingdom is filled with many people appreciating the generosity of the owners," I thought, hearing the comments from other visitors.

Deciding two overflowing boxes were enough grapes for twelve jars of jelly, I stopped picking, hauled my treasures over the wet grass, and deposited them in the trunk of my car.

I followed internet instructions to make jelly and soon had twelve jars resting on my kitchen counter. The jelly was deep purple, however, the finished consistency was more like juice. The jelly/juice had a deep rich taste and was delicious poured over biscuits.

Making biscuits for over three decades has put me in touch with the body of Christ, metaphorically and reflectively. Perhaps my jelly was supposed to be more like juice so I could have the complete communion experience - making the body and blood of Christ.

One night recently I was having trouble sleeping. I went downstairs to the refrigerator, took a small biscuit, and poured a teaspoon of jelly over the top. Asking God to bless my communion, I trusted God to enter my experience. Walking slowly upstairs, I returned to bed, falling asleep quickly.

Prayer: God for the blessing and generosity of  Sabbath grapes, I give you thanks. For baking bread that comes easily from my hands made in the light of your presence, I give you thanks. For homemade communion touched by your mystery, I give you thanks. Amen.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Different Type of Communion - Bread of Christ

(Note - This is part one of a two part series.)

Sitting in church one cool September morning, I glanced at the red cable-knit sweater I grabbed from the stack in my closet and saw the crispy white residue of bread dough on my sleeve.

"Oh, my!" I thought. "I forgot I wore this sweater when I baked biscuits last week. A dollop of dough landed on my arm and dried."

Baking biscuits is a longtime favorite activity - one that I complete prayerfully. Usually I light a candle while I gather the ingredients, reminding me I am always in God's presence. If the biscuits are for someone else, I pray for that person or family.

Earlier in the year, I was asked to bake bread for communion at church. I wrote about my experience:

"I hardly felt worthy to bake bread, because I was dealing with anxiety, anger, frustration, loneliness and confusion as well as forgiveness in the tangle web I imagined my life. I was afraid all of my feelings would transfer to the dough as I kneaded."

"Baking bread is usually one of the ways I connect with God. Today, however, I was in a different state of mind. I went through the motions mechanically - not prayerfully or reverently - gathering and combining numerous ingredients, putting the smooth dough in my favorite brown glass bowl for the first rising. The bowl was the last of a nesting set we received forty years ago as a wedding gift. The bowl held thousands of batches of dough, but today's batch was the first to become the body of Christ."

"The dough rose twice. After the second rising, I molded two circles and put each one in a buttered aluminum pan. Before placing the pans in the over, I studied the loaves. In those mounds of flour, I saw all of the discontent in my life. I prayed that all of my negative feelings would bake out of me and go right into the heart of Jesus whose body I formed that day."

"The next day I walked into the sanctuary and found a pew close to the front in sight of the two oval forms of bread covered with embroidered white cloths resting in the middle of the altar. Then I recalled my prayer the day before as those loaves entered the oven. As I sat in the pew and examined my heart, I realized even before receiving communion, I felt peace. The negativity had burned away, my feelings now resting in Jesus' heart."

Although I have different feelings when I bake biscuits or bread, the candle I light reminds me that God takes all of me, however I am in that moment.  God receives my heart, like the oven receives the dough, baking out of me those emotions that challenge. God replaces it all with peace, comfort or love.

Prayer: God thank you for the ways you use common tasks to come closer to you.  All we complete can become a metaphor for life with you.  Our stories are like your parables offering wisdom about the kingdom which we  can experience at our finger tips. For touching you in baking bread, I give you thanks. Amen.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Not What I Was Expecting

athAnticipating a peaceful, relaxing time swimming laps Friday morning after my writing class, I drove to the Jordan Y in Indianapolis. Parking the car, checking in, finding a locker, changing clothes, entering the pool all went smoothly. Slipping into the water, I pushed off from the side of the pool, gliding rhythmically to the other side.

After completing ten laps, someone grabbed my foot!

"There is a class starting that needs three lanes," the lifeguard said. "You can still swim on the other side of the lane divider," the lifeguard added. "Unfortunately the other lane dividers are broken and we can't unroll them. You'll have to swim in open water."

Lane dividers not only outline a space in the water where two swimmers can move comfortably, but also keep the water smooth.

Switching from a lane to the open swim area meant I joined three others, making the water choppy.  I contributed to the unsettled water as I attempted to navigate from one side of the pool to the other, trying to avoid colliding with three other swimmers.

Swimming in unmarked water is disruptive, stressful and risky. In the past I have bumped into other swimmers when dividers are missing.

Finishing my laps, stretching at the end, I realized I experienced a picture of how we can find ourselves in rough waters when we least expect it. The first ten laps I completed in smooth, calm water. Then, after the guard grabbed my foot and explained the defective line dividers, I was suddenly plunged into choppy swimming conditions.

In an instant life can change. A shift in a relationship, illness, a tree crashing into your house in a strong storm, a van rear ending your car, unkind words from a friend. All these things change our reality, physically or emotionally. Even extreme events and loss, like death, unemployment or relocation, change life in dramatic ways.

Although nothing affected my personal life while I swam, I was disappointed having my smooth, peaceful time in the water disrupted. The metaphor I lived that day reminded me to appreciate times of ease and peace and brave myself for open waters.

Prayer: God, we know we will face factors in life over which we have no control. You are like the lane dividers at the pool, offering strength to the water as well as guidance, direction and boundaries for those who swim.  Help us offer gratitude in smooth water and empower us to seek you when our days become rough and choppy. Amen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Word Souvenir from a trip to Portland, Oregon - POSSIBILITY

Possibility - a future prospect or potential

The word POSSIBILITY emerged when I recently perused a stack of photos from our visits to Portland, Oregon.

Anna moved to Portland in December, 2008. Our first visit to the "Rose City" was in April 2010. We took the train from the airport to our hotel giving us an immediate idea of the priority of public transportation in the city. Walking to our hotel room from our train stop, we passed several city buses also available to transport patrons using a common pass.

For the next few days, we followed Anna's brisk pace up and down the streets, meeting her friends, visiting her place of employment, trying her favorite coffee shops and enjoying meals at restaurants she'd been waiting for us to try. Snow-capped Mt. Hood graced every part of the city we explored.

Three places offered a prospect or potential for the future - possibility.

1. The first picture I took was in Anna's studio apartment which did no have much space for decorating. Along one wall she hung ten picture frames. Only two frames had pictures; the other eight were empty... waiting for the possibility to display a piece of art or a photo of a memorable experience.

2. Walking down the street on the way to coffee one morning, we passed a cleaning and alteration store. On the wall was a large wooden rack holding over three hundred spools of various colors of thread. I was in awe of this unique display of color, imagining the dresses, pants, shirts, and blouses that received the possibility for "new life" from a tailor's hand. Thread offered possibilities ... new ways for a tear or hem in an article of clothing to be held together and repaired.

3. A collection of thirty clay pots lining a short section of sidewalk across the street from Anna's apartment caught my eye. Half of the pots were filled with plants, while the remaining empty ones offered the possibility to hold dirt and seeds. Flowering plants could bloom from these pots, creating the possibility for additional beauty along the curb.

My Portland brought new perspectives on a familiar word. What words come as you see various objects or have experiences and encounters throughout your day?

Now, I wonder if Anna has filled any more of her frames? Another visit is in order to check the status of the apartment wall!

Prayer: God, you come to us in many ways - one of which is words. So many possibilities come from life in you. Move us deeper into how you created us so we can see the possibilities we have to grow in faith so we can serve with faith and love in your kingdom. Amen.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches - Part Two

One of my readers sent me her experience with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the poor after she read Monday's post. Here is her story.

My friend was going to school in San Francisco. Each Saturday morning while driving to school, she always was caught at the same stoplight, where "an older homeless man who was dirty with a long beard" stood.

"I started making him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for those Saturday mornings. Some days I would add a granola bar or a piece of fruit. He was grateful. Then one day he wasn't there. Then the next week he wasn't there. I never saw him again."

She continued, "After reading your blog, it makes me think that I was ministering to him in some way. Small gestures can make a big impact on people's lives I think. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich touched you recently and it has touched my life too. I have prayed for that man, always wondering what happened to him. There's more to a sandwich than meets the eye!"

Jesus teaches in Matthew 25:35-40 - "I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me." The righteous will then answer him, "When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?" The King will reply, "I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for me!" (Good News Bible)

Jesus wants us to know when we care for those who are "least' in the kingdom we are showing love to him.

Prayer: God, increase our awareness to all in the kingdom with whom we come in contact. Occasionally we offer something tangible like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and other times, smiling, opening the door or taking time to listen can convey your love. Open our hearts to receive more of your love so we can give to others. Amen.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches for Communion - Perhaps

The church I attend prepares food once a month to take to a Sunday lunch ministry at Roberts Park United Methodist Church in downtown Indianapolis. Anyone who needs a meal is invited.

I volunteered to make thirty-six peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Three large, long loaves of white bread, two jumbo jars of peanut butter and jelly nestled in my grocery cart awakening memories of preparing lunch for my oldest daughter, Sarah. Every day in elementary school, she ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on crumbly, homemade bread. She never varied except when the school served pizza and she purchased lunch.

Arriving home, I put the ingredients on the kitchen table beginning an assembly line with six slices of bread. First, I spread the peanut butter then dropped a dollop of jelly in the middle. Spreading jelly on the peanut butter kept the bread together. Capping the sandwich with another piece of bread sealed the meal.

Blessing each sandwich, and slipping into a baggie, I sent my love to whomever ate nourishment  from my kitchen to eager hands. Wondering if distributing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to hungry people would be considered a form of communion crossed my mind as I piled the filled baggies into a grocery bag to take to church.

Here are a few definitions of the word "communion" -

- intimate communication
- the act of sharing or holding in common participation
- fellowship

Although I did not go to Roberts Park to serve lunch, I feel sure that the communion I shared with God while I prepared the sandwiches was absorbed by each one and carried to the recipient. I felt like I held God when the bread was in my hands, because Jesus is bread for all starving souls. The person who received my sandwiches experienced God whether he or she acknowledged or was aware of what they held.

Eating bread is shown throughout the Old Testament, sustaining people traveling and in daily life. Jesus referred to himself as the bread of life. At the Last Supper, he told the disciples to remember him by eating bread and drinking wine.

Bread is still a staple today. I remember going to the grocery store one day last winter just before a major snow was predicted. Walking by the bread aisle, no loaves of bread remained. I was so astonished looking at five rows of bare shelves I took a picture with my cell phone to send to my daughters, Sarah and Anna.

The sandwiches I made for those who are poor and hungry addressed their immediate need, satisfying their hunger for a few hours, sustaining their lives temporarily. I, too, was nourished, prayerfully preparing food for God's people. In my sharing, I received communion as I offered communion.

Prayer:  Thank you God for opportunities to experience your presence in simple tasks.  Let all we do include you for you are all in all. Amen.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Using Scripture for Intercessory Prayer

Addition:  The name of the person to whom I referenced was changed.

Using Scripture for Intercessory Prayer

Last week I received a phone call from a friend who was in one of Mike's previous churches. We worked together and developed a friendship that included studying God's word and praying for each other.

When Mike was appointed to another church, we corresponded frequently and continued to pray for each other and our families. Over the years, the letters dwindled as our lives changed. We kept in touch on birthdays and at Christmas.

Her call came unexpectedly, but with joy. We talked and caught up on our families and places in life. Her main purpose for contacting me was to ask for prayer when she had surgery the following week. She chose two scriptures to guide her through the challenges of hospitalization and recovery.

"I'll pray for you using the scripture. We will be united before God." I said.

She liked my idea and gave me these two passages:
     Psalm 34:4 - I prayed to the Lord and he answered me; he freed me from all my fears.

     Nahum 1:7 - The Lord is good; he protects his people in times of trouble..

When I brought her name (Susan) to God each day, I prayed the scripture inserting her name:

     Psalm 34:4 - Susan prayed to the Lord and he answered her; he freed her from all her fears.

     Nahum 1:7 - The Lord is good; he protects Susan, his child in times of trouble.

Praying for my friend using scripture helped me connect with her and with God. I was honored to pray using words God gave her.

Next time a friend asks me to pray for him or her, I plan to ask if there is scripture to which he/she feels close, and use those words in prayer.

Even though Susan lives seven hours away, I felt close to her heart and united in prayer as she underwent the surgery and recovered.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Word Souvenirs from Vacation - How do I put them in a scrapbook? - Part Two

I taught a three day class at Chautauqua called, “Praying with Paint, Paper, Pencil and Sand”.  Part of the class included sharing a way of praying developed by Sybil MacBeth described in her book Praying in Color.

I heard her speak several years ago in Indianapolis. Adapting her way of praying into my own style seemed natural since I like art.  I showed the class two framed pictures of how I used color to pray.  Giving them homework for the next day was their challenge.  I told them, I too, would complete the assignment and together we could share our picture prayers the next day.

Spending time by the lake is peaceful for me so I starting my prayer with a picture of the lake.I added two sailboats, which dot the lake all summer, and a kayak that I rented for an hour.  I finished the picture by painting a blue sky above the water. I also wrote four words that came to me during my quiet time of prayer.
Sharing our pictures of prayer the next day was inspiring, as God spoke to each of us in different ways.
When I arrived home, I wrote the four words (Inviting, Impromptu, Snippets and Holding) on long strips of paper and “framed” my picture of the boats.
I plan to spend time reflecting on these words and the picture wondering how God will use my “souvenirs” in the days ahead. Although my scrapbook will only contain two photos, I will record my thoughts and drawings.

Prayer: God, thank you for ways you give us to remember vacations. Souvenirs come in many forms. Some we can savor and enjoy like maple syrup and apple butter. Others, like words or pictures can be used for reflection to process our time away. For whatever you give us we are grateful.  Bless our souvenirs which remind us of your goodness to us.  Amen.