4 Easy Steps For A Better Prayer: Adoration: ACTS Series

Since moving several states away from my hometown, I’ve missed a lot.  I’m not only referring to the emotion of missing some place or something or someone.  I’m also talking about the actual act of missing out.  I’m simply not there for birthday parties or marriage proposals; funerals or break-ups.  Perhaps even worse, I’m not there to go to happy hour, get a manicure, tan at the pool, or see to a movie.  I hate missing those moments, both big and small, good and bad, that make a close friendship.

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I want to be a part of everything for my closest friends.  I want to celebrate the triumphs and mourn the disappointments.  I want to encourage and help; to challenge and push.

I want that sort of intimacy with Christ as well, and Christ wants that sort of intimacy with me.

Prayer in general, and the ACTS formula in particular, helps me form that relationship with Him. This prayer of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication helps me share everything with Christ.  The big and small, the good and bad.  It also invites Him to celebrate and mourn with me, to encourage and challenge me.

Over the next month, each Wednesday, I will reflect on each component of the ACTS prayer in more detail.  My hope is that, by examining each piece in more detail, we can all practice the prayer more thoughtfully and effectively.  

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We begin, of course, at the beginning, with adoration.

Adore, according to the dictionary, is “to regard with the utmost esteem, love, and respect; honor.”

The Psalmist adored God when he said, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;/ his greatness is unsearchable” (145: 3; NRSV).  Jesus adored God when he said, “Our Father in heaven,/ hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9; NRSV).  I adore God when I say, “Good and gracious God” or “God, you are all-powerful, all-beautiful, all-wonderful.”

We adore God because He, as an all-loving and all-mighty being, deserves of our adoration.  We adore God for the same reason we say, “I love you” to our spouses or “you are amazing” to our parents.  We want them to know how deeply we care for them.  We want God to know deeply we care for Him.

This adoration, however, also has a profound effect on us.  

First, adoration drags my attention away from myself.  Usually, when I sit down to pray, my instinct is not to say “good and gracious God,” but “woe is poor, pitiful me.”  My own fears and desires consume me.  I so often place myself, not God, at the center of my thoughts.  If not for the act of adoration, I would also place myself at the center of my prayer to God.

Second, adoration reminds me exactly with whom I am speaking.  In prayer, I am not speaking with my therapist, my mom, my girlfriend, or my husband.  I am speaking with God Himself.  This reminder isn’t meant to intimidate me; it is meant to encourage me. Yes, God is the Creator of the Universe.  And, yes, He want to be part of every part of my life.

Finally, adoration prepares me for the other components of the prayer.  When I appreciate the greatness of God, I am more inclined to recognize and confess my sins to him; I am more eager to acknowledge my blessings and thank him for them; I am more willing to ask Him not just for the small things but the miraculous.

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I have missed a lot since I moved away from my hometown.  I am not there for all the baby showers, the tumultuous romances, or the late-night ice cream runs.  I cling, then, to every phone call, postcard, and text message.  I may be far away from my closest friends, but I still want to be part of every part of their lives.

So, it is with our God.  He desires that intimacy with us.  Through our confession, our thanksgiving, our supplication, we invite Him to know us.  Through adoration, however, He invites us to know him.  And, that God, as the Psalmist would say, is “greatly to be praised.”

Join us next week to explore the Thanksgiving component of the ACTS prayer.

5 Reasons To Go To Church This Sunday

I’ll be honest: coffee is always the first thing.  The alarm goes off, or my husband rubs my arm, or the dog licks my face, or my eyes flutter open, and I immediately stumble into the kitchen, toward the coffee pot.  

I watch the coffee brew.  I pour in the skim milk.  I stir in a bit of brown sugar.  I breathe in that beautiful, bitter scent, and I take that first, sweet sip.

5 Reasons To Go To Church This Sunday

This is the beginning of my Sunday morning.  Maroon 5 may have said it best, “things just get so crazy” and “living life gets hard to do,” but there is something subtly sacred about Sunday mornings.

Once the caffeine hits my bloodstream, I start moving through the other motions.  Eating my breakfast.  Taking my vitamins.  Showering.  Staring at my closet.  Doing my makeup.  Searching for my car keys.  Crating the pup.  Setting the alarm.  Driving to church.  I do it all with the coffee cup in my left hand.  I take the last sip as my husband parallel parks the car.

I’ll be honest: I almost always go to church on Sunday mornings.  And, I almost never want to go on Sunday mornings.  I don’t want to go anywhere on Sunday mornings.  I want to sit in bed with my coffee and a book.  But, I go to church anyway.  I usually go sleepy-eyed.  I rarely go bushy-tailed.

5 Reasons To Go To Church This Sunday_1Which begs the question: why go to church at all?  If you’re reading your Bible…  If you’re saying your prayers…  If you’re trying to be a good family member or co-worker…  If you’re attending a small group…  If you’re doing all those other spiritual practices throughout the week… Why go to church as well?

1.God is there.

God is everywhere, but He reveals Himself in a unique way in the community and in the liturgy.  A dear (brilliant) friend once said, if you’re trying to hear the voice of God in your life, why would you avoid the one place where He is most present.  In the community of believers.  In the Word.  In the Eucharist.  Jesus says it best in the Book of Matthew: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (18:20, NRSV).

2. God wants you there.

Or, in other words, “because the Bible says so.”  As Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (10:24-25, NRSV).  It is not easy being a Christian; it is a demanding call.  We need a community of like-minded believers to encourage us, challenge us, and hold us accountable.

3. Your neighbor needs you there.

I once skipped church to read Harry Potter.  It was the second to last book, and I was just beginning to understand horcruxes, and I could not step away.  So, I put my will, my wants first.  Over God’s.  Over my neighbor’s.  

As stated above, we all need a community to encourage and challenge us.  Just because you don’t want to go to church on a particular day doesn’t mean your neighbor doesn’t desperately need you at church on a particular day.  You owe it to your neighbor to put down the book and go to church.

4. You don’t know everything.

It is just true.  You don’t know everything.  I don’t know everything, either.  I went to seminary for three years full-time, and I barely learned the basics.  The Bible is the Word of God.  There is simply no way you – or I or even your pastor – could make sense of it alone.  By studying the Word in community, we avoid manipulating it according to our own (often subconscious) desires or fears.

5. Jesus did know everything… and he still worshipped in community.

Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Son of God, and he was always at the synagogue. Even he saw value in studying, worshipping, and praying with others.  His community was imperfect, and he frequently criticized both the institution and the members, but he went anyway.  There are worse examples to follow.

So, come Saturday night, get your coffee cup ready.  And, come Sunday morning, get showered, get dressed, and get to church.  Adam Levine was right.  “Things just get so crazy” and “living life gets hard to do.”  That’s not a reason to stay in bed next Sunday morning.  That’s the best reason to go to church next Sunday morning.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

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Happy weekend, dears!  I was spoiled silly this past week.  A dear friend came into town for a long weekend, but the snow storm in the Northeast cancelled her flight and extended her stay.  We had great fun during the first part of her trip, visiting the beach, a brewery, and various restaurants.  I think I most enjoyed, however, the second half of her stay.  We sat side by side on the couch, with our laptops, working away.  We chatted as we watched The Bachelor, played Ticket to Ride, and scrolled through OldNavy.com.  We made dinner at home and took the dog to the park.  It was not the thrilling side of friendship; it was the fulfilling side.  We just got to do daily life together, and it was lovely.  Below is more loveliness that I stumbled upon throughout the week:

 What’s Making Me Happy This Week

Goodness.  This is a hard-hitting article from The Washington Post, but it does raise some good points about the timeless and timely tension between church and culture. Katelyn Beaty reviews a The Benedict Option and asks whether Christians should withdraw from the mainstream.

The Great British Bakeoff finally came to Netflix, and I am obsessed.  I enjoy the pretty, yummy creations, but I love the British accents and personalities even more.  They all handle their victories and defeats with SUCH GRACE.  With each episode, these amateur bakers are teaching me how to maintain a more positive outlook.

I recently told a friend, “Many people feel the Holy Spirit telling them what to say in difficult moments.  Usually, when I feel the Spirit, it tells me to shut up.”  Jodie Pine’s Divine Silence on (in)courage elaborates on the beauty and necessity of silence in relationship and ministry.

Ruth Simons’ GraceLaced’s Instagram always encourages and inspires me.  Her recent print of a prayer from St. Patrick is gorgeous.  It also nicely echoes the prayer practice I wrote about earlier this week.

Finally, I have so enjoyed preparing and hosting Evening Prayer on Facebook Live.  It’s not a perfect prayer, but I always walk away feeling the peace and joy of Christ. Feel free to join me each evening at 7pm throughout the rest of Lent at on our Facebook Page.

Wishing you a weekend full of faith, hope, love, and wine!

 

How To Pray When God Feels Far Away

The class discussion had been heavy, and our professor, a minister with a short blonde bob and long red sweater, surveyed the shrunken souls.  We were like raisins.  Shriveled. Dehydrated.  Burnt.  We needed refreshment and relief, so she invited us to pray.

She asked us all to stand, feet apart, eyes closed.  At her instruction, we lifted our arms high above our heads and said, “Christ above me.”  We returned our arms to our sides and said, “Christ below me.”  We continued, our arms stretching and swinging, our voices saying, “Christ before me.”  And, “Christ behind me.”  And, “Christ around me.”  And, finally, “Christ within me.”  

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We repeated the prayer again and again.  Moving our arms.  Taking deep breaths. Acknowledging our God.  After a few rounds, the heaviness lifted.  My shoulders straightened.  My soul loosened up.  My mind slowed down.  The despair drifted.  The hope reappeared.

After a few more rounds, I stopped saying the words aloud and settled my hands near my heart.  For a few minutes, I stood in still silence, letting the Lord move and speak instead.

Following that class, I took the prayer practice with me.  I did it at my desk at work, after getting an angry email but before replying.  I did it during my lunch break, after eating my turkey sandwich but before returning to the office.  I did it at home, when my mind was sluggish or anxious.  I did it at the doctor’s office, while waiting to see the specialist.  I did it at the DMV, while waiting to hear my number.  I did it at gas stations, next to the pump. I did it at parties, in a bathroom.  I did it whenever I stopped feeling the presence of Christ.  I did it whenever I stopped trusting the presence of Christ.

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Oftentimes, this simple prayer practice revives my soul, just as it did in that classroom so many years ago.  It instantly wraps me in the divine presence.

Other times, of course, I swing my arms until they’re tired and speak the words until they’re meaningless, and Christ still seems nowhere nearer.  Even in those moments, however, the prayer disrupts and disputes those voices insisting that Christ is inaccessible.  Even when the prayer does not instantly lift the despair, it prevents the despair from taking root.

We hear echoes of this struggle and this solution even in the Letter to the Colossians.  Paul describes Christ as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

It is a beautiful and important but dense passage.  You could dwell – or write a dissertation – on any one of its phrases.  Even the most superficial reading, however, affirms that through Christ, the Triune God is both immanent in and transcendent of all creation. Or, as the Cliff Notes version might say, it affirms that Christ is above, below, before, behind, around, and within us.

We all have experiences of Christ’s intimate presence and His seeming absence.  The spiritual journey, it seems, to include waves of both.  And, no prayer can summon the consolation of Christ’s presence immediately and always.  No experience of Christ’s absence, however, can take away the truth of God’s immanence and transcendence.  

So, I offer you this prayer, just as my professor offered it to me, just as Paul offered it to the Colossians.  For when your soul feels dehydrated.  For when God feels distant.  For when you feel at risk for forgetting that Christ is above you; Christ is below you; Christ is before you; Christ is behind you; Christ is around you; and Christ is within you.  

Amen.


Linking-up on these lovely spaces: What Joy Is Mine, Women With Intention, Woman to Woman Ministries, Jaime Wiebel, Becoming Press, Missional Women, Crystal T. Waddell, Arabah Joy, Purposeful Faith, and Jennifer Dukes Lee.


 

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

What's Making Me Happy This WeekWelcome to the weekend, loves!  One of my dearest friends is coming for a visit, and I’m looking forward to a long weekend of girl talk.  I imagine we may do some other things (like eating doughnuts or drinking margaritas), but we’ll mostly be talking.  Such is the life of good girl friends.  

Tell me: what’s on your schedule for the weekend?  What will you be doing to refresh and rejuvenate your spirit?

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

If you’ve never spent anytime with Kendra of the Lazy Genius Collective, do yourself a favor and pay her a visit.  She believes in being “a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don’t.”  I owe her great thanks not only for all of her wise words (like these), but also for letting me know that Jeni’s Ice Cream has a cookbook.

In all honesty, I more or less sat out International Women’s Day earlier this week.  As Bruno says on an episode of the West Wing, “I have only so much RAM in my head. I have to prioritize. I have to throw some things overboard.”  For me, right now, I just didn’t have the RAM for International Women’s Day.  That being said, I loved this video from World Relief.

I’ve been following the work of Chris Hale at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good for the past few months, and I really appreciated his recent essay in Time, I’m a Christian Man and I’m Acknowledging My Privilege for Lent.  He invites us all “to open our broken and confused hearts to authentic conversion and to see what it is inside of us that constantly allows us to debase and devalue women.”  This good read will get you thinking.

For better or worse, it’s always bathing suit season in Florida.  This year, I have my eye on this scalloped bikini, this one-piece, and this high-waisted bikini; all from Target.  In the past, I’ve gone for monochromatic suits, but, clearly, I’m a feeling a fun print this year.  

Each Friday evening, I join a small group of women and gentlemen in our church basement for Centering Prayer.  In addition to spending 10-20 minutes in sacred silence, we also share some of the insights from Thomas Keating’s Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer.  One of my favorite lines thus far: “God is beyond all that exists as well as in all that exists.”  Amen.

Wishing you a weekend full of faith, hope, love, and wine!

 

The Beginner’s Guide to Lectio Divina

Since its founding, Tampa has been steeped in all things Cuban.  Cuban music, Cuban cigars, Cuban food, and, of course, Cuban drinks.  The most beloved, perhaps, is that cool Cuban concoction, the mojito with its white rum, sugar cane, lime juice, club soda, and muddled mint.

As any local will tell you, muddling the mint is not the same as chopping or tearing the mint.  Muddling squeezes out the mint’s essential oils, along with its taste and scent, without ripping the leaves.  

On a hot summer day in Florida, nothing is more refreshing than a mojito.  It is tangy and sweet; fizzy and fresh; peaceful and joyful.  You don’t chug a mojito.  You sip it on a sunny porch with your sleepy pup and a pretty magazine.

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At least, this is how I prefer to enjoy my mojito, in the backyard, in one of the red adirondack chairs.  And, as I enjoy it, my mind always wanders over to Saint John Chrysostom, the 5th-century archbishop of present-day Turkey (#seminarynerd).  Here is what John said about mint: “To get the full flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers.”  Here’s the other part of the quote: “so it is with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches.”

To get the full flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers, so it is with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches. – Saint John Chrysostom

John, from all those centuries ago, so beautifully articulated the wonder of scripture: it has depth and layers.  It is rich and complex, like a piece of good chocolate or cheese.  We can listen to the same passage over and over again and hear something new every time.  Its meaning is inexhaustible.  Which makes sense, since its author is also limitless, eternal. In other words, the Holy Word of God is, just that, the Word of God.  And, any encounter with it has the capacity to be an encounter with the divine.  

John Chrysostom must have experienced the grace of God through scripture.  And, he, like so many our own spiritual mentors and church leaders, longed for everyone to better know and love God through His Word.

But, how do you muddle scripture?  How do you press it between your fingers?  

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To be fair, there are countless ways to experience the Word of God.  Intellectually. Spiritually.  Literally.  Allegorically.  There are countless ways to approach the Word of God.  As history.  As prophecy.  As literature.  Again, its complexity is part of its beauty.

While in seminary, I spent a lot of time looking at scripture from that intellectual angle. Digging into different translations and studying the historical context.  When I turned to scripture in my quiet time or at church, however, I struggled to flip the switch.  The intellectual angle should have been supporting – not impeding – my spiritual experience of the Word of God.  

Thus began my love affair with Lectio.  Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading, dates back to the earliest monastic communities, but its popularity has grown in both Catholic and Protestant communities in recent years.  Despite the fancy name and the long history, Lectio Divina is just a four-step-process for praying with scripture.  It is simply a structured way to muddle the scriptures; to release and absorb its scent, its taste, its essential oils.  

Below is a quick step-by-step guide to Lectio, as adapted from Antoine Lawlor’s “Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Art and Practice of Lectio Divina.”  I hope that the practice of offers you a lovely experience of the divine, as it has for me.  It’s a little like sitting on a porch, feeling the hot sun on your cheeks, listening to the steady panting of your pup, and sipping on a cool mojito, full of biting, tart rum, and soothing, sweet mint.  It’s like that. Only so much better.

Enjoy.


LECTIO DIVINA

  1. Lectio (Read the text)
    • Read the text aloud
      • Note the words and phrases that stand out to you
    • Read the text aloud again
      • Listen again for the words and phrases that resonate with you
  1. Meditatio (Meditate on the text)
    • Read and reflect on the text a third (and final) time
      • Note the memories, hopes, and concerns that this text brings up for you
      • Pay more attention to your emotional reactions, rather than your intellectual ideas or questions
  1. Contemplatio (Contemplate the text)
    • Sit in sacred silence
      • Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, do your best to quiet your own thoughts and listen for the divine
    • In contemplation, we have the opportunity to “know the Word wordlessly and without image”
  1. Oratio (Pray in response to the text)
    1. Respond to the divine (either silently, out loud, or in your journal)
      • Share with God what you experienced or learned in your reading of and reflection on the text
      • Offer to God the questions, concerns, or praises that are still lingering with you

Possible Passages:

  • Isaiah 6:1-8: The Call of Isaiah
  • Psalm 23: The Lord is My Shepherd
  • Matthew 5:1-10: The Beatitudes
  • John 4:7-11: God is Love
  • Romans 5:1-11: The Heavenly Graces (Faith, Hope, and Love)

 


Linking-up on these lovely spaces: What Joy Is Mine, Women With Intention, Woman to Woman Ministries, Jaime Wiebel, Becoming Press, Missional Women, Crystal T. Waddell, Arabah Joy, Purposeful Faith, and Jennifer Dukes Lee.


 

 

Why The Perfect Time To Pray Is When You Don’t Want To Pray

It’s 6:30 in the morning in March in Virginia, so the sky is still black and the air still crisp as we drive.  We park in the vast, empty lot before the big, dark church, and we walk into the warm, yellow light of the chapel.  About 20 or so teenagers are already seated, but everyone is silent and still.  A few minutes pass before Father Mark enters with Mrs. Moreau, the petite French woman who wears a black lace veil over her hair and speaks with a thick accent.  She holds the golden Book of Gospels high above her head and processes, with the priest, down the center aisle toward the altar.  It is 6:30 in the morning in March in Virginia and 15-year-old me is here to worship.

Why the Perfect Time to Pray_1Growing up, my church celebrated these early morning Masses each Wednesday during Lent and Advent.  I dreaded it each Tuesday night as I set my alarm.  I regretted it each Wednesday morning as I showered while the rest of my family slept.  I loved it, however, the second we pulled into the parking lot and saw the light spilling from that one room in the otherwise dark church.  Even at age 15, I sensed that something special was happening in that chapel before the sun came up.  

The Mass always ran swiftly.  Given the hour, my usual anxious thoughts weren’t awake yet, and every word and movement of the liturgy amazed me.  Isaiah’s poetry and Paul’s arguments.  Mrs. Moreau’s deep bow before the altar.  The splash of red wine as the priest filled the golden chalice.  The echo of young voices praying to “our Father, who art in heaven.”  The feel of my friends’ hands, some soft and some sharp, as we offered peace. Then, finally, the priest’s long arms drawing the sign of the cross over us and his deep voice telling us to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

At the time, I assumed our church leaders were teaching us some legalistic lesson about the importance of Mass attendance.

Now, some 15 years later, I know different.  

They were telling us:

This is where you come.  

This is to whom you come.

In the middle of the night, when you can’t see the way forward, when you’re anxious for the sun to rise, desperate for the Son to rise.

You come to God.

The youth minister, the priest, and even Mrs. Moreau knew that we would all, with time, experience the darkness and the ugliness of the world.  They knew that, in those moments, we would desire the light and beauty of the divine.  They knew that we would need God, and we would need to know how to reach Him.

So, they invited us and encouraged us to come together in prayer, even on a weekday, even before 7 in the morning.  And, now, I extend the same invitation to you.  

I invite you to pray, even when you don’t want to, especially when you don’t want to.  

Because, if we practice communing with God on our good days, it is a lot easier to commune with Him on our bad days.  

We’ll know where to search for Him.  We’ll know by which name to call Him.  We’ll know how to recognize the sound of His voice, the signs of His presence.

I have not seen Father Mark or Mrs. Moreau in well over a decade, but I recall and appreciate them each Lent.  Since high school, I have had several moments full of pre-dawn darkness and, thanks to them, I knew how to reach for God.  

It doesn’t often involve driving to church before 7 in the morning.  But it does involve whispering the Lord’s name, opening the Word, taking the Eucharist, sitting in sacred silence, and accepting peace from my neighbor.    

To be fair, there was never a Wednesday morning in high school when I leapt out of bed, eager to leave the comfort of my own house to rush to church.  There was also never a Wednesday morning that I left the chapel feeling less of the Lord’s joy and peace.  And, there has never been a day since that I longed for the Lord and could not locate Him.  

 


Linking up at lovely spaces: What Joy Is Mine, Women With Intention, Woman to Woman Ministries, Jaime Wiebel, Becoming Press, Missional Women, Crystal T. Waddell, Arabah Joy, Purposeful Faith, and Jennifer Dukes Lee.


 

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

What's Making Me Happy.jpgHello, dear friends!  Right now, I’m drinking a nice, big cup of coffee and staring at a very long to-do list.  My first instinct upon consulting my lengthy to-do list is to put my head down on my notebook, close my eyes, and ignore each and every task.  I know this because I texted my husband a picture of me doing just that earlier this week.  

After a few minutes of desperation, however, my spirit and my shoulders usually lift.  I look back at the to-do list and, while it hasn’t gotten any shorter, it has gotten a bit brighter.  Almost every task brings me joy in some way: I get to spend my days writing, reading, and praying.  That’s not so bad!  As for the tasks that I dread, I know that doing them will, at the very least, bring this procrastinator a sense of accomplishment and relief.  That’s not all bad!

I imagine there are lots of tasks on your to-do list, too… maybe you’ve been too busy to even write a to-do list!  I imagine you’re clutching your own big cup of coffee, wondering how it will all get done.  Fret not, friend.  I promise that there are blessings buried amidst all the chores and errands.  And, I pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal those blessings to you, especially when you feel too burdened to tackle all your to-do’s.  

Below are some of the blessings I stumbled upon this past week.  I hope they offer you a bit of refreshment and encouragement as well.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

The Book of Hosea, which I wrote about earlier this week, is a perfect scripture to spend some time with during the Lenten season.  I recently came across Irving Bible Church’s video series on Hosea on Crystal Twaddell’s site.  The thought-provoking series, which includes six 3-minute videos, imagines what Hosea’s story would look like in modern-day America.  A must-see.  Preferably with a box of tissues.

One of the most difficult things about moving to a new city is missing out on good friends’ big events.  Some of my lovely lady friends in DC and Atlanta are getting married later this spring, and I was crushed that I couldn’t attend all the various bridal showers and bachelorette parties.  Thanks to the magic of the Internet and the US Postal system, however, I was still able to send them some fun aprons (like this, this, and this) from World Market.  

I’ve read a lot about Lent over the past week, but this reflection hit me hard in the best way.  If you’re observing Lent for the first or millionth time, visit (in)courage and check out “Burying the Alleluias” from Jen Bradbury.

A few weeks ago, while Sean was at a work event, I bought myself a giant tub of popcorn and a ticket to La La Land.  Oscars controversy aside, I loved this upbeat chorus number and this melancholy solo.  Both songs, with lyrics like “when they let you down/ you’ll get up off the ground” and “here’s to the ones who dream/ foolish as they may seem” encouraged my inner struggling-artist.  I recommend singing along at the top of your lungs 🙂

Wishing you a weekend full of faith, hope, love, and wine!

The Radical Relief of Repentance

pexels-photo-54566Today, millions of men and women around the world will begin preparing for Easter by celebrating Ash Wednesday.  Christians from both the Catholic and Protestant traditions will line up to hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” They will close their eyes as the minister scratches a cross of ashes onto their foreheads. They will acknowledge their weakness and ask God’s forgiveness.

As anyone who has ever celebrated Ash Wednesday can likely attest, the service is surprisingly popular.  Its appeal, I think, lies in its counter-cultural message.  It shares with us a truth that we are desperate to hear.  It tells us that the God who created and controls the universe is good.  It tells us that the world does not rest on our shoulders alone.  It tells that we are unconditionally loved.

Modern American culture, as described by David Brooks in Bobos in Paradise, tells us something different.  It rewards us according to our accomplishments.  It values us according to our achievements.  Any failures can be catastrophic.  Failures don’t just threaten our social or professional standing; they threaten our very identity and dignity. The result is a generation of men and women low on self-worth and high on anxiety.

As Ash Wednesday attests, however, there is room for imperfection in the Christian tradition.  In fact, there is an assumption of imperfection.  

Ash Wednesday is a reminder that no accomplishment or failure can add to or subtract from our God-given worth.  

For those of us caught up in the relentless pursuit of perfection, Ash Wednesday offers immense and immediate relief.  We can to admit our shortcomings without risking our dignity.  We can confess our sins without losing God’s love.  

Acknowledging our weakness and asking for forgiveness does not mire us in guilt.  It washes us in grace.  

Repentance, as epitomized in Ash Wednesday, does not destroy; it heals.

The Ash Wednesday service I attended at noon today was crowded.  People were packed in the pews, standing and squeezed into the foyer.  Some were in suits.  Some in police uniforms.  Some in scrubs.  People of various ages, of various races.  All burdened by the pursuit of perfection.  All worried their worth was lost.  All seeking salvation from their sins.  And, in one voice they echoed the words of the Psalmist, “have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.”

Amen.

 


 

A handful of linkup communities have offered me some much-needed emotional and practical support.  If you’re in need of some more encouragement, please take a moment to visit these lovely spaces: What Joy Is Mine, Women With Intention, Woman to Woman Ministries, Jaime Wiebel, Becoming Press, Missional Women, Crystal T. Waddell, Arabah Joy, Purposeful Faith, and Jennifer Dukes Lee.

An Invitation to Meet with God

An Invitation to Meet with God_1Just a few miles off the highway, tucked away in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, in the middle of Atlanta, the Jesuits run a retreat center.  There, in the chapel with the wall of windows that overlooks the Georgian wilderness, I went to meet with God.  

It was a weekday afternoon in the middle of July 2015, and I was on a field trip with one of my seminary classes.  We were a ragtag bunch of ten students led by a mystic, Methodist minister.  

The center was largely empty, since most of the Jesuits were, ironically, away on a retreat of their own.  The remaining priest, a somewhat gruff gentleman, led us into the chapel to talk before releasing us to explore the grounds – and God – on our own.  

We peppered him with questions about the practical points of prayer.  When and where should we pray?  Why and how should we pray?  He answered begrudgingly: Set aside a specific time every day.  Create a space apart, even if it’s just a corner in your closet. Perhaps try following the five steps of the Daily Examen.  

He couched each answer with a caveat.  Talking about, thinking about, reading about prayer misses the point of prayer.  Eventually, you just have to pray.  You have to just do it.  

An Invitation to Meet with God_2It is in that spirit that, starting today, I will be hosting a daily prayer service on Facebook Live.  You can join the service each day during Lent, from March 1 to April 12, at 7:00pm Eastern.  For 10-15 minutes, we’ll read some scripture, spend some time in silence, pray for some special intentions, and experiment with some different prayer techniques.  All you have to do to join is visit the Faith, Hope, Love, and Wine Facebook Page.  Each day’s video will also be recorded and uploaded to the Facebook Page, so, if you can’t join me at 7, you can pray along on your schedule.

I, like that Jesuit priest, know just how difficult it can be to set aside time for prayer.  I also know, however, that through prayer, the Lord can change us and heal us for our own good.

So, I invite you, regardless of where you are on your spiritual journey, to join me in prayer this Lent.  While we cannot all travel to a retreat center on the Chattahoochee, we can still come together and meet with God.

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