Monthly Archives: June 2012

continuing the conversation: letters to God

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Did you ever have a pen-pal? They seem to have fallen out of fashion with the advent of the internet, but it used to be that we would pick up a pen or pencil, a piece of lovely stationery, and we’d write letters to people we’d never met…then wait anxiously for a return letter which could take weeks or even months to arrive. In this way, we used to build friendships across the country and even the world, though we never met in person.

What about using that same idea to build a friendship with God?

Find a pen that’s comfortable and writes smoothly and well. Find some paper–it can be plain copier paper, or nice stationery, or anything in between. Then just sit down and write a letter, as you would to a friend. Yes, the art of letter-writing is mostly lost in our technological society, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it die! Remember, this letter is just between you and God–no one else is going to read it (unless you want them to). Just write–what’s going on in your life? What do you want to ask your friend God? What are you celebrating, hoping, fearing? Write about anything you want, just as you would to a pen-pal. When you’re finished, put the letter in an envelope with the date on the outside…whether you seal it is up to you. Perhaps keep your letters in one of those photo-boxes, or a shoe-box (like we used to do with our pen pal letters!).

If you’re so inclined, you could also try to imagine writing a letter from God to you, or to the church. This is an activity we often do in confirmation class–we ask confirmands to imagine what God might say to the church, and to write a letter. The trick to this kind of prayer is to let your own intellect get out of the way, and to allow yourself to simply be a conduit for the love and challenge of God. Let the Spirit pour through your pen…don’t think too much! This year several confirmands wrote similar things in their letters from God to the church–and each was writing individually! Perhaps the Spirit was at work in those letters, and could be in yours too.

What do you think? How does it feel to write a letter to God? From God? This is a practice you may need to try a large number of times before you get comfortable–it can feel weird, and our adult brains often get in the way, rationalizing our way out of this kind of spiritual discipline. But keep at it! At the very least, you’ll have spent lots of time talking to God, and that’s always a good thing!

Want to know more about this kind of practice? Check out Rachel Hackenberg’s book “Writing To God: 40 Days of Praying With My Pen.”

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continuing the conversation: snooze-n-pray

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This is one of Teri’s new favorite ways of praying…because it doesn’t even involve getting out of bed!

Set your alarm 3-snoozes early. When it first goes off, push snooze and use that time to talk with God about your day or life, things that worry you or that you’re excited about. You don’t even have to ask for anything, just chat like you would with a friend about the upcoming day, about something that’s been bothering you, or about your life. When the alarm goes off again, push snooze and use that second few minutes to talk to God about others—the church, the community, the world. Again, just like you would with a friend. When the 3rd alarm comes, push snooze and then just say “speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”…and then resist the urge to think, just relax and listen. If things come up, remember that it could be God talking back! …but if it isn’t, just come back to the word “listening” and relax—we all have cluttered minds sometimes, but God wants to break in! Voila—20 minutes and you’ve started your day by building up your most important relationship.

What do you think? What are some of your ways of starting your day with God? What’s your current favorite way to connect with God? What’s a way you want to learn more about?

continuing the prayer conversation: mind-wandering

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Have you ever felt your mind wandering when you should have been working? when you should have been praying? when you should have been paying attention to what someone was saying? when you should have been reading, watching TV, trying to fall asleep….? Have you ever ended up “shoulding” all over yourself, trying to get your brain back on task?

Well…what if letting your mind wander could be a spiritual practice?

“As we look forward to a day when we can even be productive in the shower, our last remaining space for deep thought is on the brink of extinction. How many of us have had ideas come to us in the shower, or just when we’re waking up or falling asleep, or while we’re driving through a dead-cell zone? Protecting that space—space where we aren’t expected to get things done or to be perfect—becomes a holy task. How can we encounter God the still-small-voice if our lives are constantly packed with activity and productivity and expectation? One small rebellion against that expectation to be always “on” is to take a few minutes to let your mind wander. Wonder about what you see or what thoughts appear in your head. Follow that chipmunk with your eyes. Spend a few minutes every day doing nothing—just letting your imagination go where it will. And don’t get a phone in your shower—you need that space! It’s one of the most holy, creative spaces left in our wired world. The loss of those spaces, the loss of the ability to let our minds wander off, the loss of downtime—these may very well equal the loss of creativity in our culture. The greatest inventions have often been germs of ideas that sprouted in wasted time. The greatest novels and movies and music and the solutions to nagging scientific questions came from wandering minds and long showers (not water-wasting long, of course, just long on sacred time!). So take a few minutes and just let go, and see where the Spirit leads you when you let her take the reins.”

from And Then I Just Got Really Busy: Spirituality for a New Generation, Chalice Press 2013.

What do you think? What happens when you allow yourself to wander for a few minutes with no agenda, just letting your consciousness go where it will, letting the Spirit have just a little room to breathe in you? How does it feel? Who knows…maybe you’ll end up writing the next Great American Novel in those few minutes of free space! Or hearing the next Great Idea the Spirit has for the church, or suddenly solving a problem the community’s been facing, or or or…just leave some space and see what happens!

continuing the conversation: prayer and sacred reading

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Yesterday we considered ways of praying through the music on the radio, and Chris had a great comment about how often he’s reminded both of and through music of ways to seek God, listen, and take the transformational road rather than the easy but hurtful one. Stop in to yesterday’s post and join that conversation!

Today we’re considering the practice of sacred reading, or lectio divina. This is a practice that goes back hundreds of years, and is designed to help us really enter God’s word–and to let the word enter us too. Rather than speed reading, or reading for information, we are reading to experience God’s presence and rest in God’s heart.

“We need to learn to read again if we’re going to enjoy the Bible to its fullest. Enter Lectio Divina. While the four stages of this practice were formally written by John of the Cross in the 16th century, variations on divine or spiritual reading (which is what Lectio Divina means in Latin) have popped up in writings since the time of Origen in the 3rd century. In other words, this practice has been going on way longer than speed reading. The resurgence of its use today can probably be attributed to a variety of reasons, from frustration over all the historical and literary criticism encourage in biblical reading, to countercultural desire to slow down. By reading or hearing scripture without an agenda other than to be open to the Spirit, we free ourselves up for the movement of the Spirit and the surprises she may have in store for us.

The four stages of Lectio Divina are fairly simple. You read, meditate, express yourself to God, and rest in the Spirit. The passage you read should probably be a short one, no more than a few verses long. You might use part of a psalm or even just a line of Jesus’ teachings. Once you have your passage, take a few centering breaths, and then begin.

Lectio (read). Read the passage slowly. Do not rush to get to the end. Take the time to read each and every word, letting each word sink down deep into your bones. Do not try to discern a meaning; don’t worry about historical or literary context. Just read. Once you’ve read the passage through, pause for a moment, and then read it again. This time, read the words and note which word or phrase speaks to you. Is there a word that bothers you, a phrase that resonates with you?

Meditatio (meditate). Let your mind ruminate over your word or phrase. Do images come to mind? Stories? What about memories? Sit for a while and let the Spirit move through the word or phrase. What might she be trying to say to you? What might this word mean for you in this moment in this place? What might God be asking of you?

Oratio (speak). As you come to a sense of understanding, as the meaning this passage holds for you in this moment becomes clear (or even just a bit more in focus), lift your thoughts up to God. What do you want to express? Do you have any positive or negative reactions to what you’ve heard through your reading and meditating? Whether you wish to praise or pick a fight, be honest with God.

Contemplatio (contemplate). Once you’ve offered your thoughts and feelings to the divine, rest. Simply be in God’s presence for a while. Perhaps the divine voice will speak to you; perhaps you’ll just enjoy the silence.

If you’d like to try this practice with a group of friends (and it’s a great practice for a small group), start by having one person read the passage out loud. Once you’ve read it through, have another person read the same passage. Listen as a group for the words or phrases that touch you individually. Reflect for a moment or two, and then share what you’ve each heard. As you share and listen, do not try to correct what anyone hears. Remember, the Holy One can speak through the same words in a variety of ways. Read the passage out loud again, and give yourself another few moments of reflection. Now share with each other your reactions to what you’ve personally heard from God. Once you’ve shared, spend time in individual contemplation. The person who began this time with the first reading may close it with a small prayer after a few minutes of rest.”

(from the forthcoming book: And Then We Just Got Really Busy: Spirituality for a New Generation, Chalice Press 2013.)

So…what do you think? Try choosing a parable (Luke 15 has some great ones) or a section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), or a psalm (try psalm 1, 25, 42, 62 for some prayer inspiration), and read it aloud, slowly, following these steps. Do it alone or with your family, and just see what new things the Spirit is saying to you in these days!

What other ways of prayer do you enjoy? What helps you connect to God, open your eyes to God’s movement in the world, or link your spirit to the Spirit?

continuing the conversation: prayer

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Yesterday, Teri preached about the power of prayer. She suggested that the power of prayer is in its ability to build our relationship with God, and so to change us into kingdom-dwellers, as opposed to thinking of prayer as magic. During the sermon, she mentioned that she’d created a sheet of different types of prayer and made it available at the back of the sanctuary. In addition, there’ll be some fleshing-out of those ideas here on the blog. All these ideas come from the forthcoming book tentatively titled And Then We Just Got Really Busy–Spirituality for a New Generation.

Today’s idea is praying with the radio. Many of us listen to the radio frequently–in the car, at work, or while doing chores. Or maybe we just have iTunes or CDs playing–those work too! Any kind of music can be a vehicle for prayer.

“The music on the radio, even if it’s the top 40, can be part of your spiritual practice as well! Notice when lyrics draw your attention, or when a melody makes you want to sing along. What is it about that song that connects with your spirit? Does the song speak to your emotional state, to the reality of your life, to your hopes and dreams? Is there a song that summarizes your experience of God or your adventure of faith? Can you use the songs on the radio to hear the movement of the Spirit, or to express your own feelings to God? Of course sometimes the songs on the radio are not exactly great theological treatises. But there’s often something that can spark your imagination—a word or a phrase, an image or a snippet of melody. If you hold on to that and let the rest of the song be a backdrop for the thoughts sparked by that one little thing (as long as you’re still paying attention to the road if you’re driving, of course) the radio can be a great way to pray.”

What do you think? What caught your attention, sparked your imagination, or prompted a question in the sermon? How do you connect with God? What do you think about praying with the radio?