A Franciscan Blessing

Worship station at Soularize 2005

Worship station at Soularize 2005

Tom and I head off to Wild Goose West tomorrow morning so it seems fitting to share this beautiful prayer that I was given at the last festival we attended – The Creative World Festival in Mission B.C.

A Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy
And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.

Amen

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In Faith and Confidence I Breathe Freely

Icon of Christ

Icon of Christ

I love breathing prayers, not so much the traditional prayers like the Jesus prayer that require the repetition of a short phrase or verse to help us center and meditate, but rather prayers that remind us of the infilling presence of God.

I have written about these in previous posts and provide links to most of these prayers in It Allergy Season But Don’t Hold Your Breath Too LongThis week I have again been reminded for this type of prayer as I have sort to recentre myself on the loving presence of God. Here is the prayer that has flowed out of my meditation

In faith and confidence I breathe freely,

I breathe in life,

I breathe in love,

I breathe in hope.

In faith and confidence I breathe in the eternal presence,

I breathe it into the very centre of my being.

In faith and confidence I breathe freely,

I breathe in peace,

I breathe in joy,

I breathe in trust.

In faith and confidence I breathe in the essence of God,

I breathe in the nature of the One who can only respond from a heart of love.

Thank You Lord For Hearing Me.

Thank you God

Lord thank you that you hear our prayers,
Thank you that your spirit stirs within,
Thank you that you are at work,
Transforming, renewing, making all things new.

Tom and I have just returned from a wonderful few days with friends in Tsawwassen B.C.  It was a refreshing and renewing time. Throughout our trip I found Jesus words before the raising of Lazarus revolving in my mind: Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here. (John 11:41, 42)

I was struck particularly by the confidence of that prayer. Jesus knew that God heard him. He didn’t feel the need to shout or try to get God’s attention. He didn’t feel the need to persuade God to do something for him, he just acted in the confidence that God heard him.

How often I come to God unsure of whether or not God is listening. How often I come feeling that I need to convince God to listen to what I am saying and take notice – more like the psalmist who cries God hear my prayer. How often I question the seeming lack of response.

What does it take for us to live in that confident place of knowing that God hears our prayers?

First we need to come in gratitude – Jesus thank you is a heartfelt cry of gratitude to One that he knows as a loving and caring Father. Gratitude awakens us to the fact that God is already at work in the situation we are praying for. It opens our eyes to see what God is doing and molds our prayers to the divine will.

Second we need to come confident that we are praying the right prayer. I have often wondered why Jesus waited two days before coming to Bethany to see Lazarus. I suspect that he spent at least part of that time praying and asking God about what he should do.

Third we need to come with a sense of the presence of God deep within our being. So often we pray out of a sense of our own needs or concerns without taking time to centre ourselves on the presence of God and remind ourselves that the One to whom we offer our prayers can only, ever respond in the loving way.

Fourth we need to come expecting and looking for God’s answers. So often I pray a prayer and then dash onto the next thing, not taking time to notice and savour what God is doing in response to my request. We not only need to give thanks for the fact that God hears our prayers, we also need to give thanks for the answers.

I have a friend who keeps a prayer journal – jotting down his prayers, writing out his hopes and expectations for that prayer and then writing down the response that comes. He sees this as a way to more closely align his will with God’s. I think this is a wonderful idea but to my embarrassment I must admit that I have never implemented it.

In response to my reflections I wrote this short prayer which I am hoping it will also revolve in my mind and draw me closer to that abiding presence of God

Lord thank you that you hear our prayers,

Thank you that your spirit stirs within,

Thank you that you are at work,

Transforming, renewing, making all things new.

Back To School – 10 Tips to Help You Prepare Spiritually

Are We Ready for School

Are We Ready for School

It is back to school time here in the U.S. and everyone has advice to give on how to dress, how to go green, how to find the best bargains, how to relieve anxiety and even how to arrange a play date with new friends. What I have not seen is much advice on how to prepare kids spiritually in order to help reduce their anxieties and improve their ability to fit in to their new situation. many I suspect slip away from their faith jsut because they do not know how to maintain their equilibrium.

Going back to school can be a traumatic time even for mature university and seminar students yet most of us are too busy getting kids out of the house or rushing off to our own classes to give much thought to our spiritual needs. Kids and adults alike need a sense of stability and familiarity to reduce their stress levels and help them adjust.

Here are some simple suggestions kulled from friends on what to do.

This first list are suggestions for school kids and their parents.

1. Begin the school day with a simple breath or circling prayer. I love this simple Celtic prayer which I wrote a couple of years ago and which several friends use with their children before they go to school

The sacred three encircle us,

Keep love within and fear without,

Keep peace within and violence out,

Circle us with your presence.

Keep truth within and injustice out,

Keep acceptance in and prejudice out,

Circle us with your grace.

Keep wholeness in and disease without,

Keep care within and selfishness out,

Circle us with your love.

2. Include a short prayer in your child’s lunch box Such as: Thank you God for this child (use name). May your light shine upon him/her. May your love fill him/her. May your spirit grant him/her peace. Or you may just like to say something like: Thinking of you and praying for you as you eat your lunch.

3. When you first see your child after school check how their day has gone. You may like to ask the questions: Where did you feel close to God today?  What made you feel God was a long way away? One of my friends told me that this revolutionized her child’s approach to school and their sense of God’s presence in the day.

4. Spend a few minutes before your child goes to bed discussing what he or she is grateful for at school. Focusing on positive emotions like these help children feel more secure and encourage compassion and love towards other children.

5. Say a short prayer together for friends, teachers and situations your child has faced during the day.

Those who are students themselves may like to develop a similar routine. Trying to spend half an hour each morning reading the bible and praying is usually impossible but finding a simple rhythm of prayer and ritual that draws us close to God not only reduces our stress levels but increases our ability to focus, helps us respond compassionately to our friends and teachers and enables us to keep close to God 24/7.

1. Begin the day with a breath prayer and/or short relaxation exercise that makes you feel relaxed and close to God as you enter the day.

2. Use a book of prayers arranged to be said at different times during the day (called offices). My favourite is David Adam’s The Rhythm of LifeThese may only take a minute or two of our time but can reorient us to presence of God.

3. Pause at the end of each class to offer a short prayer of gratitude for what you have learnt in the session.

4. Before you go to bed ask yourself the questions: Where did you feel close to God today?  What made you feel God was a long way away? This is a very abbreviated form of the Prayer of Examen which I highly recommend if you want to spend more time.

5.  Before you go to sleep name 5 things from your lectures and study times that you are grateful for.

Whatever you decide to do – keep it simple, make meaningful and stick to it.

I would love to hear from students and parents as to what you have found helps the most.

What Makes You Feel Close to God?

This morning I came across the website Picturing God: Faces and Traces of the Divine developed by Ignatian spirituality. This is a place to share photos of where we experience the presence of God that I thought some of you may be interested in.

Where do you find God in the world around you? Do you encounter God in nature, in the people around you, in a church, in the beauty of the arts, the disciplines of science, or the mundane moments of daily life? All of these are places where we can experience God’s presence and grace. This photo blog seeks to use the visual to help us find God in all things.

Thinking about this made me pull out some of my favourite photos that made me feel close to God. The interesting thing is the diversity of experiences that make me feel close to God.

I feel close to God in the midst of creation, especially in the garden

With God in the garden

With God in the garden

I feel close to God when together with friends and family, while doing hospitality and celebrations.

tea with friends

tea with friends

I also feel close to God when I sit in my office gazing out at the beauty of the mountains.

Seattle sunset

Seattle sunset

I also feel close to God when I meditate, walk the labyrinth, pray, when we go on pilgrimage and spiritual retreats.

Iona Abbey Window

Iona Abbey Window

I often start seminars on spirituality by asking the question: Where do you feel closest to God? The answers over the years have surprised me as participants have shared their encounters in the garden, while playing with kids, sharing a meal with friends and even taking a shower. Even though people often mention spiritual practices , they rarely mention church.

So where do you feel closest to God?

 

 

Lord Teach Us to Pray: Breath Prayer by Lynne Baab

Our post for today, a contribution to the Lord Teach Us To Pray series, comes from Lynne Baab.  She is the author of several books on Christian spiritual practices. This post is excerpted from her upcoming book, Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation, which will be released in September from Westminster John Knox Press. Lynne is a Presbyterian minister who teaches pastoral theology in Dunedin, New Zealand. On her website you can find articles she’s written about spiritual practices, as well as information about her books.

Breath

Breath Prayer

Because of its simplicity, breath prayer is a great way to start when introducing a group to contemplative prayer, and breath prayer is a great way for an individual to slow down and remember God’s presence in the midst of everyday life. I know a family that engages in breath prayer at the beginning of their Sabbath day, and if the parents forget to make time for it, the kids remind them. I’ve used breath prayer in many different small group settings and occasionally in worship services as well, and most people take to it easily.

One way to engage in breath prayer is to imagine breathing out all our concerns and worries into God’s presence, while breathing in God’s love and care. At the Areopagus in Athens, the Apostle Paul said about God, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28). If God’s presence and love surround us, then it is not a stretch to imagine exhaling our troubles into God’s presence and inhaling God’s love and care with each breath.

When I engage in this kind of breath prayer, I focus on one concern or one person in need as I breathe out. As I feel the air leaving my lungs, I picture myself relinquishing that concern or person into God’s care. Then I breathe in, imagining God’s love filling the empty space where the concern or worry was located inside me.

Sometimes the concern is so great that I spend several breaths on the same issue or person, always relinquishing the concern into God’s hands as I breathe out, and always imagining God’s love coming into me as I breathe in. Sometimes I simply name all my family members as I engage in breath prayer, saying one name silently with each breath out, knowing that God is aware of that person’s needs even more than I could be.

Another form of breath prayer uses the ancient prayer called the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer is based loosely on the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 8:9-14 in which the tax collector says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (verse 13). One phrase of the Jesus prayer is prayed on each breath, with the breaths providing a rhythm for the prayer.

In groups, I have used a white board to list the favorite names for Jesus that the group members suggest, such as Prince of Peace, Bread of Life, Light of the World and True Vine. I suggest to the group that they pick one of those names and adapt the Jesus prayer to that name, along these lines:

Lord Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, have mercy on me. I need your peace.

Lord Jesus Christ, Bread of life, have mercy on me, feed me.

Lord Jesus Christ, Light of the World, have mercy on me, shine your light in me.

Lord Jesus Christ, True Vine, have mercy on me, help me abide in you.

Then we spend some time as a group praying the new prayer silently in harmony with our breathing.

Breath prayer works well as a first stage of prayer for many other kinds of contemplative or intercessory group prayer. It provides a good introduction to guided meditations. So simple and non-threatening, breath prayer helps people relax and feel competent about silent prayer when they might feel a bit unsure about engaging in quiet contemplative prayer in a group.

Breath prayer engages the physical body and helps us experience God’s presence in our bodies and in the physical world, integrating the physical and spiritual parts of our lives. Focusing on our breath slows down our breathing, which has the effect of slowing down all bodily functions, a way to experience peace from the One who gives us breath and longs to give us peace.

Breath prayer also reminds us of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God in our lives. When leading breath prayer with a group, any of these connections can be highlighted for the group, helping them to deepen their experience.

Lord Teach Us to Pray: Free Our Hearts by Paula Mitchell

The contribution to the Lord Teach Us To Pray series today comes from Paula Mitchell.  She is the founder and program director of Doorways Ministries providing days of prayer, Ignatian retreats, and a 9 month program based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as ways of deepening our lives with Christ.  She is also the city coordinator for the Ignatian Spirituality Project, a Jesuit organization dedicated to offering spiritual retreats inspired by Ignatian Spirituality to people experiencing homelessness.

Free our Hearts

St. Ignatius of Loyola developed a way of prayer and reflection built on his own experience in seeking how to best serve God.  Ignatius believed this method of paying attention to God, which had deepened his own desire to love, serve and follow Jesus, was intended to be shared with others.  It was a way to seek and find God in all things in order to gain the freedom to will God’s will in all of life.  His experiences of sharing God’s love and faith with all kinds of people grew into the book he called The Spiritual Exercises.  These prayer exercises are an invitation to journey in the company of Jesus seeking the grace of deeper friendship and intimacy with him.  Their intent is to move us to a stance of freedom as we discover how to live our lives deeply oriented to Jesus and his purposes.  They open us to God’s Spirit and help us notice and name our desire, to freely be who God created us to be, to discern God’s voice among the many voices vying for our attention, to find God in all things, and to be free to go with God as he leads.

Jesus is our model of spiritual freedom; he knows who he is, he finds God in all things, he only does what he sees his Father doing, he knows his call, and he knows where he is going-his life is intentional.  In the Spiritual Exercises we wrestle with the questions of who am I?  What do I want?  What are my deepest desires?  What is God doing/initiating in my life?  What is my call?  And what do I need to let go of to follow this call?

I believe a truly spiritual life is a life deeply centered on Jesus.  As our relationship with him moves from doing things for him, to simply being with him, the emphasis shifts from what we do to how Jesus is initiating in our lives.  This frees us from being over burdened and over responsible for our spiritual life and particularly our prayer.  When we put the emphasis where it belongs, on what Jesus is doing and what is happening in our lived experience (seeing God in all things) our prayer becomes a matter of paying attention and noticing rather than doing things right or well.   In prayer we center ourselves in God’s love for us and our love for God.  As we let go and still ourselves in God’s presence, we learn to trust and rely on the Holy Spirit’s work in us, and focus less and less on our abilities and resources to be God’s person in the world.  Prayer is a gift we receive more than a goal we achieve.  So the question is: What helps me receive the gift and remember God’s presence in and with me?  What new opportunity is God offering?  Where am I being challenged to new growth, a new perspective, or a new image of who I am or who God is?   How am I invited to join Jesus is bringing God’s kingdom to our world?  And what is the grace I desire from God?   These questions help me pay attention to the prayer being given and help shift my prayer and life from being self-centered to God-centered.  I’ve discovered as I spend more and more time in Jesus’ presence listening to his voice, my life become more and more about friendship and intimacy with him, and less and less about what “I do” for him.

 

To be spiritually free we see all of life; what we see, hear and experience as ways to serve God and bring God’s kingdom to our world.  We seek to let all the gifts and graces we are given lead us to an attitude of gratitude to God.  To let them lead us to him.  This means we turn away from those things that don’t lead us to God.  The goal is freedom to move toward that, which fulfills and leads us into deeper intimacy with Jesus.

 

This deep heart work is a continual process of falling more deeply in love with Jesus and surrendering our lives in deeper and deeper ways to his purposes.  So often, we want to do great things for him, instead he asks us to live every moment of every day for him, trusting that he is working in the small details of our lives, in the people he has placed around us, and in the tasks we are called to do.

May you continue to fall more deeply in love with Jesus.

May you take time to simply be in his presence.

May you trust his work in you.

May you be blessed as you follow where he leads.