A Litany of Thankfulness

Abundant flowers at the Mustard Seed House

Abundant flowers at the Mustard Seed House

Yesterday I posted on Why Does God’s Path Always Seem So Narrow?a reflection on our need to be thankful for the abundant blessings of God that are already present in this moment. Out of that has flowed this litany of thankfulness to God. Enjoy!

God the fulfiller of enduring promises,

Christ the sharer of abundant love,

Spirit the giver of eternal life,

Holy Trinity, One in essence, Three in person,

For your welcome to this lavish feast of plenty, 

We praise and thank you today.

God of the plentiful and ever giving heart,

Christ of the generous and overflowing bounty,

Spirit who gives enough for our own needs and abundance for every good work,

Holy Trinity, One in essence, Three in person,

For the wonder of your provision that never runs dry, 

We praise and thank you today.

God whose love never gives up,

Christ whose forgiveness never says no,

Spirit whose mercy never lets go,

Holy Trinity, One in essence, Three in person,

For the hope and promise of your inexhaustible abundance, 

We praise and thank you today.

God may we look and see your abundance pressing in all around,

Rich fruit, luxuriant growth, laden branches hanging low,

May we remember they can obscure the path that winds so narrow out before us,

Holy Trinity, One in essence, Three in person,

May we remember your provision is inexhaustible, a harvest that never ends,

And give you praise and thanks this day.

God as we eat from your table of plenty,

May we see what you have placed in our hands,

Beauty beyond words, creativity beyond imagining, generosity overflowing,

Everything God bathed, Son drenched, Spirit inspired,

May we taste and see that all you give is good,

And raise our voices in praise and thanks and gratitude.

Amen

 

Why Does God’s Path Always Seem So Narrow?

God's narrow pathway

God’s narrow pathway laden with abundance

Our 21st annual Celtic retreat is only three weeks away. This year our theme is gratitude and thanksgiving. In preparation, at the MSA team meeting last week, as part of our discernment process, we took time to look back with heartfelt gratitude for the many blessings of God and for the incredible and often unexpected ways that God has provided. We thanked God for the gifts of friendships woven into a community of faithfulness.

We thanked God for the amazing ways that both Andy Wade and Cindy Todd came to be a part of our team, unexpected and much appreciated blessings. We thanked God for the volunteers who expand our team – for Forrest and Ryan and Jessica working on the CCSP Cascadia project. For Hannah working in the garden and for Nick helping us in the office over the summer, for our summer intern Chris, and Jackie who gives administrative assistance. For others like Wolt and James and Jon, Ricci and Judy who assist on a regular basis. For our book keeper Nancy. For those who contribute to this and the MSA blog. For those who help us with the Celtic retreat. The list went on and on and as we talked about this gratitude, awe and expectation welled up within us.

Andy commented: God’s narrow path is a wide open way of blessing and joy. It is narrow because  it is surrounded by amazing abundance, with fruit and luxuriant growth hanging down. It is only narrow and sometimes hard to find because it is filled with so much abundance.

Hydrangeas obscure the path

Hydrangeas obscure the path

I couldn’t help but think of that as I trimmed away my sage bush on Saturday so that the mailman could get to the letter box. The fragrance of discarded branches clung to my clothes. I also thought of it as I surveyed my hydrangeas so laden with flowers that they obscure the path beside them. Those I did not touch. When I focused on the beauty of the flowers it didn’t seem to matter that the pathway had disappeared.

How often do we miss the abundance of God because we want to make the pathway wider and easier to follow I wondered? How often do we cut down the luxuriant growth and fruit that God is growing because we are obsessed with always seeing and knowing where the way leads? How often do we missed what God has blessed us with here and now in this moment because our vision is focused somewhere out ahead where the pathway is still obscured?

God may we look and see your abundance pressing in all around.

Rich fruit, luxuriant growth, laden branches hanging low.

May we remember that sometimes they obscure the path that winds so narrow out before us.

May we remember that your provision is inexhaustible, like a plate of food that will never be empty.

May we taste and see that all you give is good,

And raise our voices in praise and thanks and gratitude.

Prayers for the Journey

 

earth touches heaven

Earth touches heaven – photo by Coe Hutchison

Christ inescapable, inseparable, indescribable,

Why would I flee from you who hold the keys to eternal life?

May I flee to your arms and your ways.

May I walk in your footsteps,

And I find in you the greatest thing that life can hold.

————————–

Living Christ, your kingdom is above us,

May we seek it.

Redeeming lord your kingdom is around us

May we reveal it.

Loving Saviour your kingdom is within us,

May we live it.

—————————

Lord God almighty, may we cherish your love in our hearts,

May prayer become the house we inhabit,

May we speak and listen and wait in silence,

Until we commune with you in every thought and deed.

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All that I am and all that I do I commend to your care O Lord,

I am as transient as a blade of grass, you are eternal.

I am as small as a grain of sand, you are all present.

I am as frail as a fallen leaf, you are all powerful.

My times are in your hands and I place my trust in you.

——————————

God may I always be ready to pray,

May every book become the word of God to me,

May every place become the mount of God for me,

May every new experience and every circumstance,

Become an occasion to make haste towards your heart.

——————————

This is a shorter list of prayers this morning and I thought I would add this one that I found at Prayers for the Earth and posted on my page To Garden With God.

How strong and good

and sure your earth smells,

and everything that grows there.

Bless us, our land,

and our people.

Bless our forests with mahogany,

wawa and cacao.

Bless our fields

with cassava and peanuts.

Be with us in our countries

and in all of Africa,

And in the whole world.

— Ashanti prayer (Ghana, Africa)

You can find more prayers at Prayers for the Earth

Lord Teach Us to Pray: Prayer Poem by Postordinandy

The post for today is a poem written by Postordinandy for the  Lord Teach Us To Pray series.  He says of himself:

“…I am married, with 3 smashing daughters. I plan to reflect on family life here. We have shares in a greyhound…

I have been a youth worker for much of my professional life, and have dabbled in teaching youth work and theology on a couple of degree courses. I love music, and publish a Song Of The Day, most days, here

I believe that the call of the church is to live in such a way that others can see a glimpse of the here-but-not-yet Kingdom of God, and that entering that Kingdom is measured in relationship – rather than attendance to a meeting.”

And here is a link to his blog.

Photo by Nick Lipinski

Prayer

 

How easy it is to pray.

 

We open our minds, our hearts, our mouths.

 

We meditate on life, and meaning, and shopping lists.

 

We mean well,

Mixing platitudes with sincerity.

 

But we micro-manage the I AM,

Wrestle control from the All-in-all.

 

“Not your will but mine”.

 

For our will seems clear,

At this very second,

In this very crisis.

 

But it remains transient, ever-permeating

Never settling,

Full of caveats, hang-ons and “oh, and alsos”

 

Your will…

 

Now, that, we fear.

For your will engages infinity.

Long-term, big picture stuff,

Good, better, best,

A clarity only visible after all is done.

 

We long to embrace it,

We trust, yet can’t

Want, but won’t

 

Release us into unknowing

Forgive our petty desires

Humour our fantasies.

 

How you must want to laugh,

As we claw for the bright wrapping paper of your gifts,

Ignoring the box,

And the better within.

 

Instead of waiting

Listening

And rejoicing.

Have You Ever Thought Of Going Solar with your Cooking?

It is a beautiful sunny day here in Seattle which turned my thoughts to how we can harness the power of the sun for our daily lives. I itch to experiment with solar cookers and am looking forward to experiments in this and other energy efficient ways of preparing my food. Would love to hear from those who have experimented already. Here are some great videos I found on this topic.

I loved this one on using a parabolic mirror for cooking a turkey burger. There are similar videos available on how to cook ceese sandwiches and in fact anything else that you might want to grill.

And this one on how to build a solar generator is both intriguing and appealing to me.

The one that most touched me and in fact brought tears to my eyes is this one. It is amazing to think that rape and violence against women could be reduced by solar cooking. Solar cooking can bring peace and dignity to women’s lives. What impact I wonder could our own creativity provide for people at the margins?

Lord Teach Us to Pray: Why Pray? by James Prescott

Today’s post is for the Lord Teach Us To Pray series, focusing on the “why?” of prayer, written by James Prescott.  James is writer passionate about exploring digital media & our divine journey. He blogs regularly at JamesPrescott.co.uk and is a regular guest blogger at bigbible.org & other sites. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and for bonus material subscribe to his blog/newsletter here.

James Prescott

Why Pray?

When discussing prayer, often the issue that is most discussed is the how. The method, the language, how much space we leave for silence, how formal or informal it is.

One question we often forget is the why of prayer.

Why do we pray at all?

Asking why is important. If we don’t ask why, then how can we have a constructive prayer life? Asking why exposes our heart. It shows our motivations. It strips us down to see the truth that God already sees.

Once we understand the why of prayer, we can then begin the process of the how.

There are two dimensions of the question of why.

1. Why God wants us to pray

God wants us to have relationship with Him. He wants us to interact with Him, to engage fully with Him, to spend quality time with Him. This is much less about standing on ceremony and using the right language as it is about simply being open and honest with our Creator, as we would with our most trusted friend.

God invites this. He encourages it. He desires it. He doesn’t simply want our formal, textbook prayers, He wants our heart. He wants truth, honesty, authenticity in our prayers and in our relationship with Him.

Prayer can and should be an ongoing conversation between us and God. We need to open our minds and hearts more often to what is going on all around us in the mundane, everyday things of life, because God might just be trying to catch our attention.

It has been said about the burning bush that it was always burning – but Moses was simply moving slow enough to see it. His eyes were open. So let’s keep our eyes open.

2. Why we pray

Put simply, why do we pray at all? Do we pray simply as an insurance policy to make sure that we have enough credit in the spiritual bank? Do we pray as a comfort blanket to make us feel good about ourselves?

Or do we pray simply because we are desperate to know God and have Him fully immersed in our lives, and ourselves in Him? Are we praying because we want to have a living, vibrant, honest relationship with our creator, and want to make Him the most important thing in our lives?

We need to be honest with ourselves about this. If we are praying just to make ourselves feel better, or to keep up enough credit with God, then is it really prayer at all? Are we really engaging with relationship with God, or putting on an act for Him?

If that is the case we need to come before God honestly and simply confess this, and ask Him to draw us into a more honest, open relationship, and to reach out to Him out of love, not habit.

Do you see how asking why is so important to the how? Once we have asked ourselves these two questions and reflected on their meaning for us, we can then begin to have healthy dialogue with God.

We can begin to ask God how we should better pray. We can pray more honest prayers. We can build real relationship with the living God.

So do this today.

Before you pray, ask yourself why God wants you to pray, and why you are praying at all.

Answer them honestly, and bring those answers before God.

Then, you can really begin the intimate, honest journey of prayer, and the how may become almost irrelevant.

Have We Settled For Cheap Faith?

Death to the World

This morning in my post The Ugly Tomato, I included a link to a post that I did on Cheap Faith a few years ago. I have been thinking about that ever since and decided that I would update and republish it. Part of the reason for this is that I am struggling because more and more speaking invites expect us to work for free. The real cost of a conference or event is not really taken into account. And Christians don’t want to have to pay the full cost. Yet I know that in the secular world people expect to pay much more because they know and accept what it costs to put on a conference.

MSA has not held a large conference in the last few years mainly because of some of these concerns. We have always liked to start planning a conference by asking “What are God’s kingdom values we want to represent at this gathering?” It is often an uncomfortable conversation, hopefully not just for us but for everyone who is involved.

In all that we do, I grapple with how to provide resources, technology and events within the constraints of a limited budget. I struggle with how to live and operate our ministry sustainably without jeopardizing our concern for the environment and for the poor.  Fair-traded tea and coffee is more expensive than regular coffee.  Lunches from Fairstart that provides jobs for the homeless are more expensive than the local supermarket that only pays workers minimum wages. Environmental concerns create even more constraints as we struggle to reduce waste & provide environmentally friendly alternatives.  How do we bring in speakers and participants from around the world in fuel guzzling aeroplanes and still show respect for the environment?

I love the way Shane Claiborne approaches some of these concerns.  Whenever he travels he gets people to commit to reduce their fuel consumption in compensation for the additional fuel he is using by flying.  Not easy but I think it is a great way to show how seriously we take these issues.  Or maybe we should all cut back our fuel consumption for a month beforehand to compensate. Maybe we should hold more local events that don’t require a lot of travel or expensive accommodation and encourage us to cooperate with each other in what do.

Not easy but why should I expect it to be easy?  It is never easy to choose deliberately to live by God’s kingdom values in all our actions.  Unfortunately we live in a world that wants everything especially food, clothing, household goods and technology at bargain prices but, at what cost to the poor and the environment?  For us to have access to bargain priced food, technology and resources often means that those who produce and sell our goods are not paid a living wage.  Our bargain goods often are produced in conditions that devastate the environment and add to our polluted air.

What concerns me most is that our obsession with bargains extends to our faith as well.  We want to buy salvation and Gods grace at bargain prices too.  My quest for bargains encourages me to believe I dont have to pay the full price for redemption either.  Which is great because I would much rather settle for a relationship that demands little of me in terms of penitence or repentance.  Like many Christians, I would rather experience Gods grace and forgiveness without sacrifice, without commitment and without the need to change.

It is not surprising that in a culture like ours, few people practice fasting and self-sacrifice during Lent anymore.  Deliberately walking with Christ towards the Cross never comes at bargain prices, it is very costly.  In fact it demands our whole lives but it is absolutely necessary if we want to become the disciples God intends us to be.  It means recognizing that the true self is made in the image of God and reflects the characteristics that are true to Gods image love and compassion, concern for justice for the poor and freedom from oppression…considering the needs of others as more important than my own.

I think many will get a shock when they enter the kingdom of God.  It will be a real cross-cultural experience for them because the bargain price values they have lived by will be totally worthless.  Fortunately, Gods spirit continues to work within all of us enabling us to confront the false self and its cheap values.  It constantly breaks down the barriers that distort our ability to lead a life that is fully integrated with God and Gods ways.

The question I find myself asking this morning is “Where do I still go after a bargain and sacrifice God’s values as a consequence?”  Maybe you would like to ask the same question.  Where is the spirit of God nudging you to change so that your false self will be transformed into the true self that reflects the glory of God?

The Ugly Tomato

Yesterday I received notice from our friends at Soulsby Farm of their upcoming Ugly Tomato contest. It sounds like fun and I look forward to seeing the entries though unfortunately I am not sure that my own tomatoes will be ripe enough by the end of August for any photos at all. This is definitely shaping up to be an ugly tomato season here in Seattle, though I must confess I usually think that about this time of the year and am usually pleasantly surprised.

Unfortunately there are other ugly aspects to tomatoes I have been learning about this week that are not quite so much fun. Like this story that International Justice Mission shared in their Recipe for Change newsletter this week.

Mariano’s Story

Thanksgiving week of 2007, Mariano punched his way through the ventilation hatch in the ceiling of a box truck in the farming town of Immokalee, Florida. He and his co-workers were held against their will for more than two years, violently forced to labor in Florida and South Carolina tomato fields, and padlocked into the windowless box truck at night. One worker was chained to a post by his employers, the Navarretes. That day during Thanksgiving week, after escaping, Mariano found a ladder and went back to help his friends get out. Read more here

It is hard for many of us to accept that slavery occurs in our own backyard. Yet it does and all of us can make a difference just by deciding where to shop and what to buy.

Today the nation’s largest retailers in the fast-food and food-service sectors have joined the CIW’s Fair Food Program, a joint effort with farmworkers and Florida’s largest tomato growers to confront slavery and other abuses on Florida’s tomato farms. Chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, McDonald’s and Subway have agreed to buy Florida tomatoes only from suppliers that comply with the Fair Food Code of Conduct, designed to protect workers’ basic rights. We’re calling on Publix, Kroger and Ahold to join too!

Unfortunately it is not just the tomato industry that takes advantage of workers. As we shop at farmers’ markets and fair trade stores we realize the true cost of our food and consumer goods – if all those who produced what we eat were paid a fair wage. Christians should be at the forefront of movements like this that raise concerns about how we treat the disant neighbours who produce our food.

My biggest concern is that we look for the same cheapness regardless of the costs to others when we view our faith. Several years ago I wrote about this in Cheap Faith? 

We want to buy salvation and Gods grace at bargain prices too.  My quest for bargains encourages me to believe I dont have to pay the full price for redemption either.  Which is great because I would much rather settle for a relationship that demands little of me in terms of penitence or repentance.  Like many Christians, I would rather experience Gods grace and forgiveness without sacrifice, without commitment and without the need to change. Read more 

So what do you think? How does our quest for the easy life with cheap food, cheap clothes and cheap living extend to our faith and impact our values?

Prayers for the Journey

earth touches heaven

Earth touches heaven – photo by Coe Hutchison

I am a little late with posting last week’s prayers because of our time away but I am sure you will forgive me for that. This week as you can see I have focused particularly on the need to keep Jesus always in our sight, always before us. I am grappling at the moment with what that means and the challenges it continually presents to my perspectives. So I have started with the original “Keep Jesus in your sight” prayer even though I have already posted it last week.

Jesus you are the beginning and the end, the centre and circumference,

You are the word of God, the language of eternity,

Help me this day to begin every thought, every secret longing, every act and project with you,

Help me to keep you always in my sight.

————————————-

God may I always be ready to pray,

May every book become the word of God to me,

May every place become the mount of God for me,

May every new experience and every circumstance,

Become an occasion to make haste towards your heart.

________________________________________________

Lord Jesus Christ, may love of you shape our hearts,

May love for your purposes shape our lives,

May love for your kingdom shape our thoughts and words and deeds this day.

—————————————–

God may we see in others what you see in us,

Image bearers of the living God.

Christ may we be to others what you are to us,

Healer, redeemer, companion and friend.

Spirit may we do to others what you do for us,

Comforter, advocate, empowerer and guide.

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May you live each moment for God today.

Let each breath that you take breathe in God,

Let each step that you make live for God,

Let each text that you write and each word that you type,

Say glory to the One who fills our world with life and love.

————————————–

Living Christ I give you thanks for what you reveal,

Something fresh each morning, something new each evening

You are a constant surprise to me,

I hold my breath as new things unfold in every moment,

My soul tingles with expectancy and I thank you.

(Adapted from a prayer by E. Stanley Jones in The Way)

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I thought that I would also include this prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr and posted by the Contemplative Network in response to the Aurora massacre.

 

Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardship as the

pathway to peace.

 

Taking this

sinful world as it IS,

not as I would have it.

 

Trusting that He will make

all things right if I

surrender to His Will;

 

That I may be reasonably happy

in this life, and supremely

happy forever in

the next.

 

 

Desiring Love – Tips for Deepening our Relationships of Love

Empress Hoptel Victoria B.C.

Empress Hoptel Victoria B.C.

Tom and I are just back from Victoria B.C. where we have celebrated our 20th anniversary. It has been so good to look back over these years and reminisce on the joys and struggles of a growing loving relationship. We are more in love now than we were 20 years ago and I thank God for the wonder of this relationship.

Part of what I am very aware of as I sit here this morning is that for any loving relationship to grow in depth and meaning it must be lived into with intentionality and desire, something that is very necessary too in the development of our love for God. It seems appropriate therefore that I am also currently reading Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation  by James K. A. Smith.

This is a book about Christian education, but it is also a book about love Smith contends that Christian education is a formative process that should redirect our desire towards God and God’s kingdom purposes. Worship and spiritual practices should be designed to train our love towards this desire. Desiring the Kingdom is a great book for anyone involved in Christian worship. Its academic language sometimes put me off – why I wonder do we need to make things sound more complicated than they are? However I soon got beyond this and found the ideas thought provoking and important.

As Smith says: we are fundamentally desiring creatures. We are what we love, and our love is shaped, primed and aimed by liturgical practices that take hold of our gut and aim our heart to certain ends (p40). He goes on to say:

we are attracted to a vision of the good life that has been painted for us in stories and myths, images and icons. It is not primarily our minds that are captivated but rather our imaginations, that are captured, and when our imagination is hooked, we’re hooked.(p54)

It is our habits that constitute the fulcrum of our desire: they are the hinge that turns our hearts, our love, such that it is to predisposed to be aimed in certain directions. (p56) Habits are inscribed in our hearts through bodily practices and rituals that train the heart, as it were, to desire certain ends.

One of the challenges we all face is that our image of the good life of love – be it for our spouse or for our God – is often shaped by bad habits and misleading stories. Lust and sex shape our images of love for others, self centredness and individualism shape our images of God’s love.

So what kinds of practices do we need to move us forward into the love of God or into a deepening loving relationship with our spouse?

  • Practicing for God’s kingdom of love begin with rhythms and cadences of hope. The future we hope for – a future in which justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream- hangs over our present and gives us a vision of what to work for in the here and now as we continue to pray “Your kingdom come” (p158)…. The practices of Christian worship over the liturgical year form in us something of an “old soul” that is perpetually pointed to a future, longing for a coming kingdom and seeking to be such a stretched people in the present who are a foretaste of the coming kingdom. (p159). Any loving relationship must be pointed towards a hoped for vision of what that love can look like.
  • Practicing for the kingdom is an invitation to be human – the call to be remade in God’s image, to become a community like that envisioned in Revelation 5:9 “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” That is what true worship is meant to be about. In the act of worship, and I want to add, in all our spiritual practices we come to renew our covenant of love with God and with our fellow worshippers so that we can be renewed, restored and empowered to live into our hope for the future.
  • Practicing for the kingdom of means accepting the welcome and the blessing of a God who has graciously bound us to himself with a covenant of love. Learning to love means welcoming and accepting the love that has already been given to us. This may sound obvious but is not always easy, partly because of those false images of love that have been fed to us. Sometimes we have trouble recognizing love for what it is.
  • Practicing for the kingdom means practicing the order and freedoms of the kingdom. We are only truly free to love and to flourish in that love when our desires are rightly ordered, bounded and directed to the end that constitutes our good. (p 176).  Freedom is not permission to do what we want, it is an invitation to follow the laws that guide into the good life of God. Part of learning to love is learning to be liberated from our own selfish desires.
  • Practicing for the kingdom means recognizing our brokenness, confessing where we have gone wrong and accepting forgiveness. The good news of the gospel is that our forgiveness comes as a gift, the overflowing of Christ’s work on the cross. Our brokenness and violence are met by the grace and love of God just as our brokenness in a loving human relationship is met by the grace and the love of our beloved.
  • Practicing for the Kingdom means learning the language of the kingdom. Smith calls prayer the language of the kingdom but he is not talking about prayer that is a shopping list of our own desires he is talking about intercessory prayer, in which we articulate the vision of justice that is at the heart of God’s kingdom vision. So we pray for healing, protection from abuse, exploitation, and violence.
  • Practicing the Kingdom means Renarrating the World. When we read the scriptures we are re-enacting the story of God and reminding ourselves of what the future is meant to look like. Stories, images, words, they all form memories that stir our imaginations and give us hope and confidence for the future. Looking back over our wedding photos, and our shared memories from the last 20 years was for Tom and I a special part of this year’s anniversary celebration that helped reaffirm our love and commitment to each other.
  • Practicing the Kingdom means sharing supper with the king. The taking of the Eucharist together is central to our faith. It is in fact the solidifying element that cements our entire worship experience.  Special meals shared together in special moments are always important elements of any loving relationship. Now I don’t want to belittle the importance of communion here by comparing it to shared meals with those we love, but there is a part of any shared meal that gives a glimpse into the banquet feast of God which the practice of communion foretells. Love without shared hospitality lacks something important whether it be human love or God’s love.