Lord Help Me To Live Simply – A Prayer

Still grappling with these words from Daniel Taylor’s book In Search of Sacred Places:

Simplicity is no great virtue unless wedded to right priorities. A desirable simplicity entails the recognition of what is important in life, coupled with the strength of will to structure one’s daily existence around that recognition. It requires minimizing the impact of one’s life of unimportant things, an extremely difficult task in an acquisitive and schedule-filled culture. (148)

My reflections inspired this prayer:

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Are All Christians Hedonists?

Art by Emmanuel Garibay Used with permission

Art by Emmanuel Garibay Used with permission

Last week I shared this quote from Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks:

It is as though the materialism that has a death grip on this culture has taken our spirituality as well. Most of what’s called spiritual is actually humanistic if you think about it. People don’t want the adventure of God on his own terms or for his own sake. They want a better world, a happier life, better relationships and all the trimmings that go along with it….. We’re urged to seek God because this human good will come of it. People don’t realize “because” implies that the end is the human good and Truth (God) merely the means” (19)

It keeps coming back to my mind. How often do I pray because I want something from God, rather than because my heart aches for deeper intimacy with God? How often do I use God as the excuse for my own self centred agendas?

Some prayers are so obviously hedonistic they make us squirm when we hear others talk about them – praying for a parking place, or going on a Jesus spending spree where we expect Jesus to guide us to great bargains. But others are more subtle. Even desiring healing of loved ones can have a self centred purpose, after all illness and death disrupt our lives physically, emotionally and sometimes spiritually. If God healed more frequently life would be so much easier.

Or perhaps we want to see people in Africa fed and freed from starvation. We hate those images of starving children, their pain and suffering disrupts our lives. Yes, some of our response comes from the compassion of God welling up from within, but for many the uppermost emotion is: If God would just do something I would not have to respond and I could get rid of my guilt and once more feel at easy in my comfortable materialistic lifestyle. Sometimes these emotions reside in our subconscious rather than conscious minds, and as long as we are too busy to reflect on why we want something to change we are never aware of our self centred motives.

One of the commonest excuses I use and that I hear others use for not taking adequate time for God or with others is: but I enjoy what I am doing. I love my work. Unconsciously what we are saying is – My personal need for satisfaction in my work takes priority over my need to spend time with God.

Sometimes we even rope God into the equation – there is so much need God must intend me to burn myself out by responding to that need. The underlying subconscious thought – without me God cannot answer this need. 

And then there is the excuse – But I have to feed and house my family. Again a very true statement and one that has many of us up at night consumed with anxiety. This believe it or not is one of those legitimate prayers. In the Lord’s prayer we regularly say Give us this day our daily bread. The problem is that we don’t expect God to provide bread for today we expect provision for the next 10, 15 or 20 years and we want to see where it is coming from NOW.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we don’t save for the future, though that is a way of life that some are called to, but sitting in the place of discernment, trusting that God will show us what we need to know now in order to provide, does not come easily to us. And we get uncomfortable because God might make it very clear that some of what we want for the future – like second homes, bigger cars and expensive vacations – may not be in God’s best plan for us. Even our desire for a bigger church, better paying job or higher profile ministry may not be in God’s plan – especially not if it takes time away from our number one priority – seeking God not for what we want but for what God wants – intimacy with us in every moment of the day.

What would our lives look like if we spent more time seeking God for God’s sake alone? How would it change our priorities, our time management, our use of resources? How would it affect our friendships? These are some of the questions I continue to grapple with. I hope you will take time to grapple with them too.

Prayers for the Journey

The heavens declare your glory,
the seas and everything beneath
speak of your majesty.
From the beauty of a butterfly’s wing
to the roar of a hurricane’s wind
we see through these to the power within.
The heavens declare your glory,
and we your people, gathered here
below, join in their everlasting song.
This world, gifted in love
so we might recognize the hand
that placed it here.
This world, given breath
that we might understand this life
and in love, share.
Posted by John Birch of Faithandworship
May the love of the good God hold us,
May the life of the compassionate Christ fill us,
May the joy of the counselling Spirit guide us,
This day and evermore,
Amen
Christine Sine

I sit in quiet to absorb the wonder of God’s presence.
Forgive me Lord,
For my mind so easily strays.
Have mercy Lord,
For my thoughts are often in chaos.
Grant me peace O Lord,
For distractions call me away.
Cleanse my heart,
Calm my soul,
Free my spirit,
That I may hear and see and know you,
Every moment of the day.
Christine Sine
Father, in your will is our peace.
We accept this new day as your gift, Lord;
grant that we may live in newness of life.
Father, in your will is our peace.
You made all things, and keep all things in being;
give us the insight to see your hand at work in them all.
Father, in your will is our peace.
A prayer for Syria  from the jesuit Post
————————————————————
I thank you Lord
For the wonder of your love,
for the patience of your guidance,
For the glory of your presence.
I thank you Lord
For the many blessings you bestow,
For the lavish provision your provide,
For the unexpected beauty you reveal.
I thank you Lord
You are the God who holds me close,
You are the Christ who renews my life,
You are the Spirit who strengthens my faith,
I thank you Lord
For giving thanks honors you,
It opens the path,
That reveals the salvation of God.
In this new morning, fill us with your love;
we shall exult and rejoice all our days.
Give us joy to balance our affliction
Let the favour of the Lord be upon us:
give success to the work of our hands,
give success to the work of our hands.
————–
Let us open our ears to listen,
so that we can hear God’s heartbeat.
Let us open our eyes to watch,
so that we can see God’s presence.
Let us open our minds to believe,
so that we can embrace God’s ways
Let open our hearts to trust,
so that we can share God’s salvation.
This prayer inspired by Psalm 51:
Have mercy on me O God,
Because of your unfailing love.
O eternal God, O holy One
O God above the heavens and beyond the earth,
Because of your great compassion,
Blot out the stain of my sins.
O merciful God , O incorruptible One,
O wondrous God, creator of the elements,
Wash me clean from my guilt,
Purify me from my sins
O God of the rushing air,
O God of the flowing waves,
O God of all bright stars,
O God of the flaming fire,
Create in me a clean heart
Restore to me the joy of your salvation.
Creator God,
Who formed me in my mother’s womb
Have mercy on me.
Redeemer Christ
Who walks beside me as a friend,
Have mercy on me.
Transformer spirit,
Who leads me into the paths of life,
Have mercy on my.
Triune God,
Creator, redeemer, transformer,
The One who is making all things new,
Have mercy on me.

 

 

The Big Question We Never Ask

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Over the last few weeks I have spent a lot of time asking myself What would my life look like if I gave myself totally to God? This is probably the scariest question I have ever asked, because the short answer is – very different from what it looks like now.

 Perhaps I have been reading too much about monks lately. I am really challenged not just by the rhythm of life the desert Fathers and Mothers, Celtic monks and Trappist monks today live by, but by the passion and discipline with which they adhered to their commitment. And I crave the deep intimacy so many of them seem to experience.

This is in fact the question that one of the Trappist monks in August Turak’s book Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks asks. It was the question that led him to become a monk. There is something terribly wrong with spirituality today, he says:

It is as though the materialism that has a death grip on this culture has taken our spirituality as well. Most of what’s called spiritual is actually humanistic if you think about it. People don’t want the adventure of God on his own terms or for his own sake. They want a better world, a happier life, better relationships and all the trimmings that go along with it….. We’re urged to seek God because this human good will come of it. People don’t realize “because” implies that the end is the human good and Truth (God) merely the means” (19)

So this morning again I ask myself What would it look like to seek God only for Godself, to shape my life around the craving for intimacy with God? And how willing amy I to shape my life around that quest? 

So here is where I am at.

First I know that prayer and deepening my relationship to God should take priority over everything else. Sometimes I feel I do well at this and other times work and the busy distractions of my mind overtake me. I need to establish a rhythm of prayer through the day and develop the discipline to stick with it. If I truly placed God at the centre I would make sure that I am never too busy to pray and never be too tired to listen.

Second I know that relationships – to God and to others should take priority over work. Our intern Amanda grappled with this over the summer. In her blog post on her time with us she comments: after a time of checking in and working we would come together to have lunch. I loved that there wasn’t any thought to delay lunch or to work through lunch, but rather, it was a priority to take this time to come together and replenish. Her words are an important reminder to me of this priority. I work to live, not live to work.

Third I need to take time for myself, to make space for the exercises that replenish my spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing. Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and plenty of sleep are all important priorities. Jesus’ admonish in Matthew 11: 28-30 is a constant reminder to me of the balanced and I think relaxed rhythm God intends for us.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

When I get stressed out and overextended I frequently need to remind myself of this. Committing myself fully to God means recognizing my need to organize my time and my habits so that I am constantly receptive to God’s voice.

Fourth I need to take time for God’s creation. Gardening is part of the rhythm of my life. I also love to walk in the midst of God’s creation, and in the mornings I sometimes sit just soaking in the beauty of the mountains I can see out my office window.  But when I get too busy this time gets swept aside.

 

Fifth, the use of my resources would be totally in God’s control. I would give generously, joyously and enthusiastically whenever God prompted me. I would be more concerned for the needs of others than for my own wants and demands.

Most of us spend our lives striving for success rather than striving for God. Our passion for significance in the eyes of the world often far outstrips our passion for closeness to God. We consume spiritual tools in the same way we consume food, clothes and electronic gadgets.

So what would it look like for you to give yourself totally to God? I challenge you to take some time this week to reflect on this question. Let me know how God prompts you to change the rhythm of your life, the use of your resources

 

Living into the Resurrection – What Does It Mean?

Mural outside Simple Way

God’s peace is at the centre of our equipping

The focus for my next few weeks will be “Practicing resurrection”. I am starting each morning by asking myself the question: “How do I plan to practice resurrection today?”

This morning I found my thoughts focusing on my images of God’s new world – what I call God’s resurrection created world. What do I think this will look like? Unless I have a clear vision of this world there is no way that I can live into it.

Usually I confine this kind of imagining to Sundays. God’s rest on the seventh day was a rest of satisfaction, when he looked around at all that had been accomplished in the previous six days and said “It is good.” That is the kind of Sabbath rest that we are meant to live into. What I try to do on Sundays (and some Sundays are more successful than others) is relax and rest in the presence of God and God’s shalom world.

I was really inspired some years ago by the Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel who said that the Jews regarded Sabbath as a glimpse into the eternal world. I realized that my Sunday practices looked nothing like what I hope God’s eternal world will look like. So I started to try and realign my Sunday activities to reflect more of what my vision of God’s future eternal, shalom filled world will look like.

Easter tends to be a more successful season for this focus in my life. Thinking of the resurrection makes it easy to reflect on my images of God’s eternal world – A world in which the language is love and the culture centres on mutuality and generosity. A country where there is no more crying or oppression or pain, a place where justice will come for the poor and the sick will be healed, a place where God’s creation is restored and there is abundance and prosperity for all.

This is a world with very different values and culture than ours. In fact I think that many of us will suffer severe culture shock when we enter this world because we have spent so little of our time and energy living in this culture here. 

So this morning I thought about where I have caught glimpses of God’s shalom world in this past week. I got quite excited as I thought about the people I have connected to and some of the friendships I am developing. I was encouraged as I thought about my friends in Parish Collective, The Overflow Project and Mercy Ships and the wonderful work they all do in reaching out to their neighbourhoods and the marginalized around the world. I also experienced a deep sense of satisfaction as I thought about the day Tom and I spent in the garden on Saturday planting the spring garden.

I went to church Easter Sunday very much aware of God’s presence with me which of course made it much easier to enter into the spirit of Easter in the liturgy and particularly in communion. Sunday afternoon we celebrated Easter with a richly multicultural community of friends – a glimpse into the diversity of God’s international family.

I thought too about the things I have done that are not representative of God’s resurrection created world – the times I got irritable with Tom, times I resented sharing the bounty God has provided us with, times I turned away from those who are hurting and in need because I wanted to put my own needs ahead of theirs. Because of Christ’s resurrection we can live in a way that is very different from the culture around us but we need to keep reminding ourselves of what that culture looks like and what we need to do to live into it.

Sunday for me, is always a day to realign my life and all my activities not just to the celebration of God’s shalom future but to how God can use our lives to bring glimpses of that future into our world. Obviously Easter Sunday and this season after Easter, is a very special opportunity to do this.

It is a season for celebrating our restored relationship to God, our reconciliation to our neighbours, our renewed responsibility to steward God’s creation. So why not jump start your celebration of God’s resurrection culture, by spending time reflecting on God’s eternal shalom world, this resurrection created life that God expects us to live into? Get a vision for how your life and your activities could make a difference in the lives of others and in God’s world. We cannot bring God’s eternal world into being by our own efforts but we are meant to live as citizens of that new world and live with the values and customs of that new world at the centre of our lives.

Death Is Good

Autumn leaves

Death is good – leaves must die

I am sitting in my office looking out at a slowly dying world. The maple leaves whose bright red colour I have been admiring for the last week are now buffeted by the winds and falling to the ground. The squash plants are dead, the tomatoes are dying and everything is getting ready for winter. Last year I wrote this reflection on Weathering the Winter StormsIt is as necessary to be ready for the death of winter as it is for the new life of spring.

Death is a necessary part of life and that is not only in the garden. Yesterday I chatted to MSA team member Cindy Todd about the transitions we are going through and the things that have had to die in order for us to re-emerge with a newness that comes from God. “Death is good” she commented, reflecting on the fact that her business Snohomish Soap Company would never have been birthed if she and her husband had not lost jobs in Florida and decided to move to Seattle. Watching Cindy give birth, grow and bear fruit out of the seeds that were planted through the death of her old life has been inspiring. I love this video that she put together for her recent involvement in Fast Pitch.

So often death in the form of a lost job or failed expectations is necessary for God’s newness to emerge.  Sometimes when we look back we are aware that God has been prompting us in new directions for a while but the security and comfort of the old holds us bound. God in love and compassion forces us to die and let go.

Jesus says: If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matt 10:39) The journey of faith is a cycle of birth, growth, fruit and death. And in the place of death we often find the seeds of new life – the longings and desires of our hearts that we have suppressed because change and radical newness threaten our comfortable status quo.

Two questions emerge for me from this reflection. First: What does God want to put to death in your life that you are still clinging onto?

For those who feel they are in a season of death: What are the seeds of newness God is planting within you during this season? What are your dreams and hopes from the past that might be birthed into something totally new at this time?

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.