A Prayer for the People of Kenya and Pakistan

Micha Jazz of the Contemplative Network posted this prayer on Light for the Journey yesterday. May it remind us of the heartache suffered over the weekend by so many in Kenya and Pakistan. May it stir within us a deep desire for peace and a longing for God’s world where violence and war will no longer exist

Let us join our prayers for the people of Nairobi tonight.
Let s pray for peace and comfort for all those facing bereavement in Nairobi. Let us also pray for the perpetrators and their families. Lord have mercy.

Kikuyu Peace Prayer

Praise ye Lord,
Peace be with us.

Say that the elders may have wisdom and speak with one voice.
Peace be with us.

Say that the country may have tranquillity.
Peace be with us.

And the people may continue to increase.
Peace be with us.

Say that the people and the flock and the herds
May prosper and be free from illness.
Peace be with us.

Say that the fields may bear much fruit
And the land may continue to be fertile.
Peace be with us.

May peace reign over earth,
May the gourd cup agree with vessel.
Peace be with us.

May their heads agree and every ill word be driven out
Into the wilderness, into the virgin forest.

Prayer for Those Impacted by Tornadoes in Oklahoma

The following prayer was posted by Bonnie Harr on the Light for the Journey Facebook page this evening.

Prayer for Oklahoma.

A Prayer for those in Granbury West Texas

via Associated Press. Photo by Mike Fuertes

The first piece of news that caught my attention this morning was about the devastating tornados that sped through West Texas last night killing at least 12 people. My heart aches for people whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed in a few terrifying minutes.

Then I received a message from my friend Cherie Minton who together with her husband Jack heads up Hope Force International. Her request: “Pray for the first responders.” Coincidently my gospel reading for the morning was the story of the Good Samaritan. First responders – good samaritans, strangers become neighbours, those who respond to the divine spark of love within to show mercy, compassion and love to complete strangers often putting their own lives at risk in the process.

This was the background out of which I wrote my prayer this morning.

Lord of mercy,

Be with those who suffer.

Into their broken lives,

Bring hope and peace.

Into their devastated communities,

Bring restoration.

Lord of mercy,

Be with those who respond.

In their bravery,

Keep them safe.

In their compassion,

Show your love.

In their faces,

May we see Jesus.

Unexpected by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Unexpected
Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.

The scourge of sex trafficking

My year of prayer is taking an unexpected turn. Or maybe the turn started last Easter, in my first year of prayer, when I felt prompted to learn more about human trafficking, particularly of young girls for sex. What I learned horrified me, to say the least, and I began to write about it. With the help of several generous friends, I raised over $1o00 for International Justice Mission (IJM) and Love 146, two organizations working hard to combat sex slavery.

As a result of my research and writing last year, I signed up for International Justice Mission’s weekly prayer update. Every Thursday I’d get an email with a half dozen or so requests for their work around the world. I confess, I’d usually read through it and say a couple of yes, God’s or thank you Jesus’s before deleting the email.

In the intervening year, though, I’ve learned a lot more about the work that IJM does—and the prayer that undergirds it—and I’ve been stunned buy the stories I’ve heard and read of God’s providence and provision and care both for the justice workers and for the people on whose behalf they’re working. God really does answer prayer.

And that makes me want to pray more.

So, much to my surprise, my year of prayer—which I originally envisioned as being somehow about me—is turning out to not be about me at all. (Shocking, I know.) God is slowly calling me out of myself; calling me to pray beyond the borders of my small house, my big family; calling me to set aside my doubt and my questions for a few moments and just. pray.

In the past several months, I’ve become more intentional about praying over IJM’s requests. Thanks to my iPhone, I can read the email anywhere, so I recently started pulling up the IJM prayer requests whenever I’m standing in a line. This means I now pray over them multiple times each week—at the grocery store, the post office, my favorite coffee shop, even the library.

The more I pray, the more I want to pray. I confess that the cynic in me expects that this is just some sort of honeymoon phase. Yeah, I’m all gaga about Jesus and prayer right now, but it’ll fade. The rest of me hopes my inner cynic is wrong. I pray about that, too—that when my googoo eyes wear off, I’ll still love Jesus, still love prayer, and that if I don’t, I’ll still practice it anyway.

The funny thing about all this—at least to me—is that I am one of those people who’s always buried her head in the sand. I never wanted to know about the awful things happening in the world. I didn’t want to feel the pain of other’s suffering. I didn’t want to feel the guilt of not doing anything about it. And I certainly didn’t want to risk hearing God call me to some far-off place without indoor plumbing.

Yet here I am, eagerly awaiting the next prayer email from IJM, emails that frequently break my heart and make me weep for people I’ve never met. I’ve even started fantasizing about maybe going on a mission trip someday. How is this possible? Who is this person I’m becoming? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I want to do something about the horrors in this world, and prayer is doing something. As Bethany Hoang says, “for every follower of Christ, being obedient to God’s commands to justice is….a daily, on-the-ground, person-by-person work of prayer.” Prayer is the fundamental work of a Christian.

I don’t understand how prayer works any more than I did a year ago. But I’m starting to see that how it works is less important than that it works. And that my work is to stop thinking so much about prayer and actually pray.

A Prayer for Those in the Boston Marathon

 

This morning my heart goes out to all those impacted by the explosions at the Boston Marathon which left 3 dead and 147 injured.

God in the midst of senseless violence,

Come to us today.

Hold close to those who grieve,

Comfort those in pain,

Grant peace to all who fear.

Let us see your unfailing love,

In the kindness of strangers,

In the compassion of friends.

Let us trust your guiding hand,

In those who seek for answers,

In those who work for justice.

Let us hope and trust in your mercy,

Knowing that you have not abandoned us.

Amen.

Facing the Pain of Lent

I wrote this morning’s reflection for the series  Return to Our Senses in Lent as a result of some the struggles I have experienced in the last few weeks.

Christine Sine

Christine Sine

This morning I am almost pain free and my head does not feel as though it is full of cotton wool. That may not sound remarkable to most of you but for me it is a wonderful feeling. For the last 5 weeks I have struggled with a bout of facial neuralgia that has slowed me down physically, mentally and even spiritually. I have struggled with constant pain, sleepless nights, and an inability to think straight. And for someone like me who generally memorizes their calendar, rarely writes down appointments and loves to work on half a dozen projects at once, this has been extremely limiting.

Sounds appropriate that this should have hit during Lent, one of my friends commented.  At the time I dismissed her comment but now find myself reconsidering. After all, Lent is about craving for wholeness. As we walk with Jesus towards Jerusalem and the cross, we look not just for spiritual healing but for physical healing too. Sometimes, as in the case of my facial pain, there is little we can do to bring about that healing except wait patiently, pray and hope for a better world. At other times we can actively work towards healing, changing our lifestyle and daily activities to nurture the healing process. And always there is that amazing sense of freedom when our pain or whatever other issues we struggle with, disappear and we are released. 

So it is with our faith. The healing from the brokenness within does not always come easily and sometimes we feel there is little, if anything, we can do to hasten it. We are acutely aware of the pain, we stay awake at night agonizing over its impact on our lives and those of others, but we feel incapable of changing. All we can do is pray and hope.

Then suddenly something changes, we don’t know why or how, but suddenly the burdens that have so weighed us down are lifted and we feel life has returned. It is as though we have arrived at the foot of the cross and been able to lay them down. Fortunately that is not the end of the story however.

The freedom, the rejoicing, the celebration in our spirits is huge, not because we have reached the cross but because in this moment we have looked beyond the cross to the resurrection and the new life of God’s eternal world. May we always remember that the cross is not an end but a beginning, not a failure but a triumph, not a death but an entrance into new life.

Stranger at the Door by Mary Elizabeth Todd.

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent comes from Mary Elizabeth Todd. May was born in the mountains of Western NC and grew up in East Tennessee- She went to Erskine College and majored in Behavioral Science and Religion. She started writing poetry at 10 years of age, grew up listening to her father’s poems. She worked 28 years as a foster care worker and was awarded Social worker of the Year in 2004 for the state of South Carolina by the Foster Parent Association. She retired in 2006 and reckons she is a mountain woman thru and thru, loves the Lord but fails often, but always gets back up.

I asked Mary if I could post the following prayers first because they seemed to flow so well after the post yesterday on looking after special needs children and second because they so beautifully fit into this year’s theme. Caring for those who cannot care for themselves is a spiritual discipline that we all should consider.

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farfar_nordicstatue

A child I once worked with and who was in a persistant vegetative state, died this morning. He has been healed.

I wrote this poem right after this incident happened that crippled his life:

Sing You a Lullaby…

“Hush little baby
Don’t you cry”*

I saw one little tear roll
Across your tiny brown face.
I took the tip of my finger
And wiped it clear.
You turned not seeing towards me.
Your dark brown eyes
Stared through me.
Did you cry for the sadness
That you could not know?
Did you cry for the pain
You no longer understood what it was?
Did you cry because in minutes
You lost all the things; we take for granted,
Playing ball and riding bikes,
Laughing and talking and making friends,
Feeding ourselves, and being able to know
Light from dark, and growing up to love.
Did you cry in anger that no one heard you
When you were alone and needed them?
I looked at the tiny tear on my finger,
And it pierced my heart.
If all my tears could heal you,
Your eyes would light up, and you would smile,
But your eyes are expressionless as a doll’s eyes,
And my tears cannot heal.
There is nothing I can do,
But wipe the tear from your eye,
Place a kiss on your tiny hand,
And sing you a lullaby…

“Mama’s goin’ buy
You a mockingbird”*

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Mary read  the following poem when she received the award for Social Worker of the year from the foster parents in 2004.

Stranger at the Door
Dedicated to the foster parents of South Carolina

There is a stranger at the door,
Newly born in a cocaine haze.
The crying and hunger is non-stop;
The monitor jangles your nerves.
Just about dawn sleep rocking him,
His tiny fingers reach in and entwine your heart.

There is a stranger at the door,
A curly haired angel on the spring tour of homes,
Trying threes were never like this-
The broken toys, the biting, the banging of her head.
Exhausted curled in a tight ball, she sleeps.
She is safe here, you say, brushing her hair from her face.

There is a stranger at the door,
A snaggle tooth grin beams from his face,
Dark eyed charmer, nimble adventurer.
The school is concerned, Maybe ADHD,
Wants you to come; you understand,
Living with a tornado, charming or not is rough.

There is a stranger at the door,
Three AM and there she stands;
Wide eyed, holding back the tears, she refuses to speak.
Nine years old and seen way too much.
Three thirty breakfast and a bath,
You’ll take care of her needs, when she is ready you’ll listen.

There is a stranger at the door,
The twelve year old is not the same,
Who left smiling a year ago hopeful things had changed,
Sullen and angry with a “why me” look on his face.
The black eye and red marks tell it all.
You simply open your arms and welcome him home.

There is a stranger at the door,
There are really two, a mama and her baby
Thrown away like dust.
Fifteen isn’t so grownup when you’re alone.
You teach her how to do her algebra and what a mama’s to do.
As she struggles with her studies, you sing them how to love.

There is a stranger at the door…

Mary Elizabeth Todd

 

Praying With Tears by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

“The noun torah comes from a verb, yarah, that means to throw something, a javelin, say, so that it hits its mark. The word that hits its mark is torah… As we prepare to pray, to answer the words God addresses to us, we learn that all of God’s words have this characteristic: they are torah and we are the target.”

—Eugene Peterson, Answering God

AutumnCrocus

AutumnCrocus2

AutumnCrocus3

I sit on the sofa in a circle of lamplight. Night presses on the windowpanes. Cold seeps through them. But the heat rattles in the registers, and I am cozy under a fleece blanket.

The house is quiet. Everyone else is asleep. The stars have aligned tonight and given me a moment of silence, alone in asleeping house in the dark of a midwinter night.

My Bible lies open on my lap. I am praying through the Psalms again, morning and (when I can manage it) night. Tonight I read Psalm 11:

In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
“Flee like a bird to your mountain,
for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
they have fitted their arrow to the string
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

On the one hand, the poetry moves me—the image of the bird and the bow, the arrow on the loose, the destroyed foundations. On the other hand, the reality of the image hits a little closer to home than I would like.

These past six months I have been writing a memoir about my postpartum year with twins, a year marked by the darkest days I have ever known. Revisiting that dark time has been healing, of course, a chance to make sense of my experience, to see how God has redeemed it. But it also raises a lot of questions, questions for which I don’t have answers, questions like the Psalmist’s in this psalm: if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

In the darkness of my postpartum experience, I felt like the foundations of my life, of my self were being eroded and destroyed. And what do you do when you are no longer the person you’ve always believed yourself to be, when your faith—and therefore your identity—is shaken and you’re clinging to it by your fingernails and you know there’s a wicked something-or-other out there with a bow and an arrow trained on your grasping fingers?

Wrapped in my blanket, I shiver a little. But I am not ready to go to bed. The silence is rich, alive somehow, the circle of lamplight comforting, though I know the darkness presses at the edge of my sight. I flip through the pages of my Bible and stop at John 10. I’m not sure why, really, but I think the Good Shepherd story might cheer me, might remind me whose I am, and send that bow-wielder back to the dark from whence he came.

I read the Good Shepherd story. It’s a wonderful story, really, but so familiar as to cease to amaze. A pity, that. But I keep reading, past the space break in my Bible with its bold heading to show that we’re moving on to a new topic. Only we aren’t. Jesus is still talking about sheep. He says,

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

And suddenly, I am weeping. I read those words again and again, like a woman dying of thirst who has stumbled upon a spring. But this spring is inside of me, and I didn’t even know it was there. The tears keep coming, and I don’t even know why I’m crying. Something in those words released something in me, and it’s flowing down my cheeks.

Later, I will talk about this with my spiritual director, and she will help me see that these words touched a deep place of fear in me, the fear in which I lived during my postpartum darkness, the fear that I would cease to be, that I would never see my children again. These words of Jesus promise that life is forever, that I will never perish, that my children will never perish, that nothing and no one can snatch us from the hand of God. And I will say that I know that, that I have even written words to that effect before, many times. I will say I don’t know why this time they got through my intellectual filters and stabbed me right in my heart.

But for now, sitting on the sofa in a circle of quiet, I have yet to think those thoughts. I only know that Jesus’ words have stirred something deep in me, and though I don’t understand why, I also know that these are healing tears, tears of release and return and redemption. And I am grateful. Grateful for the words. Grateful for the tears. Grateful for God’s grace that would prompt me to read a familiar passage again and speak through it words I didn’t even know I needed to hear.

“Prayer,” Eugene Peterson says, “begins in the senses, in the body.” If that is so, then this night, I am praying as truly as I know how.

Post and photos by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, general misfit, mother of four, and author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.

Gun Violence in America – What Do You Think?

photo by Coe Hutchison

photo by Coe Hutchison

I don’t usually post about political issues, but the debate on gun control in the U.S. has so impacted me that I felt I could not keep silent. However when back in January this year, the NRA accusing the President of being an elite hypocrite because there are armed guards at his daughters’ school really made me angry. I don’t think the President’s children are more important than any others, but I do think they are more vulnerable and this type of comment will probably make them even more vulnerable.

It seems to me that the concerns about gun control revolve around our understanding of freedom. Does having assault weapons freely available make us “free”. I don’t think so but then I realize I did not grow up in this country and so have a very different understanding of freedom from the average American.

To Americans the concept of freedom focuses on the freedom of individual choice, which can be as trivial as the right to choose whether I want my eggs sunny side up or over easy, or as serious as the right to bear arms.  What I struggle with is that there seems to be little recognition of the often dire consequences our individual choices can have for the society or for the world in which we live. Freedom to do what we want and carry whatever type of gun we want, in my opinion, is not freedom at all. Yes I know  the dogma: “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” but if guns are not available there are far less gun deaths and we do need assault weapons to go hunting – that I think is massacre of another kind. And in a society with less guns all of us become free from fear.

To Australians freedom revolves around the freedom of society and the recognition that our decisions all have consequences not just for us as individuals but for all of our society and our world.  Consequently most Australians are willing to give up their guns for the good of a safe society in which we don’t have to worry about drive by shootings.  In the Australian political system voting is compulsory because of the belief that with the freedom of citizenship comes the responsibility of participation in the process that provides our freedom.

All of this leads me to my most important question about freedom “What does freedom look like in the kingdom of God?”  Obviously there is a element of individual freedom – all of us need to take on the individual responsibility to kneel at the foot of the Cross, repent and reach out for the salvation of Christ.  However our entry into the family of God faces us with serious consequences for how we act in society.  Our freedom as Christians means that we no longer focus on our own needs but rather “consider the needs of others as more important than our own” (Philippians 2)  It means that we live by the law of love – what James calls “the royal law” (James 2:8).  Paul sums this up very well “Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbour as yourself.”

If we truly loved our neighbours, not just those across the street that we wave at every day, but the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, how would it change our attitude towards guns? Jesus us calls all of us to be citizens of a kingdom in which love not hatred reigns, in which peace not violence is proclaimed and in which freedom means we accept the restrictions on our individual behaviour to participate in the liberation of all humankind.

What do you think?

The Slaughter of the Innocents – Advent Reflections on the Massacre in CT

Like all of us I continue to struggle with the horrific events in Connecticut. This morning I was sent several links to posts that talk about this and articulate far better than I ever could our very limited understanding of God’s viewpoint.

First this thought provoking post from Brian Draper. It was first posted on 17 December 2012 as part of Brian Draper’s advent 20 email series

When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’
Matthew 2:16-17

Lest we forget, one episode of the Christmas story is always written out of the school plays. In fact, the good news of great joy to all people spelled near immediate disaster for parents in Bethlehem, whose little boys were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once the Magi had given Herod the slip, he tried, in evil fury, to snuff out the threat of a newborn King of the Jews. Scholars believe that in a town of around 1,000, such as Bethlehem was back then, there’d have been around 20 children killed.

20 children.

John Eldredge reminds us that humanity is a battleground. ‘I am staggered,’ he writes, ‘by the level of naivety that most people live with regarding evil. They don’t take it seriously. They don’t live as if the story has a Villain. Not the devil prancing about in red tights, carrying a pitchfork, but the incarnation of the very worst of every enemy you’ve met in every other story. Dear God – the Holocaust, child prostitution, terrorist bombings, genocidal governments. What is it going to take for us to take evil seriously?’

‘One of the things that surprised me,’ wrote C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, ‘when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe – a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death, disease, and sin… Christianity agrees… this is a universe at war.’

We are painfully, dreadfully reminded – since the events of last week in Newtown, Connecticut – that the advent of Christ is not, in fact, a kitsch nativity scene in a mall in mid-winter; nor a sentimental moment for the kids to shine, as the star, or Mary, or Joseph, in the play, lovely though that is… but a crucial moment in a battle played out both on a cosmic scale and in our own hearts. ‘The coming of Jesus was… a dangerous mission,’ says Eldredge, ‘a great invasion, a daring raid into enemy territory.’

And lest we forget, advent has nothing to do with the triumph of religion, nor the vindication of our own belief system, but the incarnation of the very best of every hero we’ve met in every other story, fighting for us. Dear God – what is it going to take for us to take this seriously?

Dear God. Dear God.

 

The following excerpts are from a post by Rachel Marie Stone. She shares a variety of other links and insights on her post Look for the Helpers and love the Children.

from Katherine Willis Pershey:

“this is how God comes to us: covered in blood and vernix, born in a barn as an impoverished peasant. And later, covered in blood and tears, killed on a cross as an ordinary criminal.

This is how God comes to save us. It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t even finished; we continue to wait and ask: how long, O Lord, until you come again to judge the living and the dead? But at the heart and soul of the Christian faith is the conviction that God, in the entirely unique person of Jesus Christ, shall make all things new. Every tear shall be wiped away, every sin forgiven. Every loss restored.”

from Garry Wills in the New York Review of Books:

“The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Its power to do good is matched by its incapacity to do anything wrong. It cannot kill. Thwarting the god is what kills. If it seems to kill, that is only because the god’s bottomless appetite for death has not been adequately fed. The answer to problems caused by guns is more guns, millions of guns, guns everywhere, carried openly, carried secretly, in bars, in churches, in offices, in government buildings. Only the lack of guns can be a curse, not their beneficent omnipresence.”

from Mother Jones: “A Guide to Mass Shootings in America”

and of course, from Mister Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

a clip from the viral photo/quote, copied under fair use

a clip from the viral photo/quote, copied under fair use

And last these helpful resources from Brene Brown at Ordinary Courage

Lord, help me send love and light to those in pain. Let me stay calm and openhearted while I manage my own fear and anger. Help me remember that news coverage is traumatizing for me, not healing, and that my children need safety and information, not more fear. 

Here are resources that I find helpful for talking to children about violence and death: 

An excellent Q-and-A about talking to children about the Sandy Hook shootings from The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

The American Academy of Pediatrics on School Shootings

University of Minnesota on Talking to Kids About Violence Against Kids

National Association of School Psychologists on Talking to Children About Violence

What I consider to be one of the best articles on talking to children about death (by Hospice)

Explaining the news to our kids from Common Sense Media.

No matter how experienced the helpers, their lives will be changed today. Thank them. Pray for them.