4 Steps To A Better Prayer: Supplication: ACTS Series

I. Hate. Asking. For. Help.

Asking for help makes me anxious.  Accepting help makes me nauseous.

I spend much of my time and effort avoiding help of any sort.

For fear that others might realize that I cannot do it all.  For fear that I might realize that I cannot do it all.  For fear that I might realize that God cannot do it all.

ACTS_SupplicationWhen we got married, my husband and I asked our wedding guests to sign our family Bible.  On one of the thin, cream pages, a family friend wrote in her lovely, loopy script: “Our God is a BIG God.  Don’t ask Him for things you can accomplish on your own. Ask him for awesome things.”

I stumbled upon these words a few months ago.  By chance.  By grace.  

A doctor had ordered some tests, and I was paralyzed by anxiety as I waited for the results.  I spent those frightening days sitting on the couch with my black lab, eating ice cream, watching Jim Gaffigan, and alternating between reading the Bible and Harry Potter.

When I stumbled upon those words, however, I realized that I could not will or work my health into being.  In fact, I could do nothing.  I could not accomplish it on my own.  I could only wait and hope.

Thankfully, my test results came back fine.  I was, indeed, healthy.  I was, however, still human.

Despite all the advancements we’ve made, humans have not yet conquered death.  The mysteries of life and death still elude us.  Only God understands them in their entirety. Only God can control them completely.  And, while I may like to believe otherwise, I need Him and I need His help.

Thankfully, however, He is not a distant God.  He is a God who became human, who knows the pain of life and the fear of death.  Just as Jesus sat in the Garden, begging that this cup might pass from Him, so He sat on the couch with me, begging that this cup might pass from me.

He is a God eager to hear from us, eager to help us.  He truly is a good God, a gracious God, a great God, ready to do the awesome things that we cannot do.

Asking for help still makes me nauseous.  Accepting help still makes me anxious.  I still fear asking for help.  But, following those scary days on the couch, I fear a life without God and God’s help more.

The A.C.T.S. prayer, which includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, helps me share everything with Christ.  The big, the small.  The good, the bad.  Read more about Adoration, Confession, and Thanksgiving.

4 Steps For A Better Prayer: Thanksgiving: ACTS Series

ACTS Series_ThanksgivingMy professor, an Old Testament scholar and professional trumpet player, made the comment almost in passing.  It was our last class before Thanksgiving break and finals, and he trying to cover as much information as possible.  After the hour-long lecture on the Pentateuch, he seamlessly and suddenly shifted gears.  “Now, before you go,” he said, “I want to send you off with a question to consider over the break.  To whom are we giving our thanks this holiday? Can we give thanks without a recipient?”  He paused to let the question sink in.  Then, he clapped his hands and dismissed the class.

Almost five years later, I am still wrestling with his question.  As someone who lives in two worlds, one that worships God and one that denies Him, the seemingly benign question is complex and controversial.  

To be fair, America’s first presidents gave their thanks neither to the universe in general or to Christ in particular.  Rather, they expressed their gratitude to a nominally Judeo-Christian deity. In the first Thanksgiving proclamation, George Washington devoted the day “to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, and that will be.”  He went on to list “all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.”

Similarly, Lincoln, in the midst of the American Civil War, described the day as one “of Thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the universe.”

The Bible, of course, abounds with more specific and poetic examples of thanksgiving. Countless men and women, from the Old and New Testaments, from the Psalmist to Christ, offer thanks to God the Father.  I could easily list endless verses.

I find these presidential examples, however, more striking and inspiring.  Prayer, in any form, is radical these days.  It acknowledges something bigger than, better than ourselves.

Our culture, to the contrary, insists that we can do it all.  We need only try hard enough or work hard enough.  Everything we have and everything we are is our own creation. Everything we lack and everything we are not is our own fault.  

The ancient Israelites, I think, would call those beliefs blasphemous.  God is our only Creator and Provider.  The presidents knew this.  My professor knew this.  And, yet, I always forget it.

The purpose of the Thanksgiving component of the ACTS prayer, for me, then, is two-fold. First, of course, it gives credit where credit is due.  It acknowledges the supremacy and generosity of God.

Second, however, it reminds us – and reassures us – of the supremacy and generosity of God.  It prevents us from believing the we are sovereign creators and providers. It keeps us from worshipping ourselves and others as gods.

After five years of reflection, then, my answer to the professor is simply no.  You cannot offer thanks without, at least subconsciously, naming a creator or provider.  To say “thank you” is to acknowledge a “you.”  

The real question, then, is who is the “you.”  Are we treating ourselves and others as gods? Or, are we recognizing and appreciating the Triune God?  

Only then, only after answering those questions can we truly embody the example of the Psalmist:

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;/ for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1; NRSV).

The A.C.T.S. prayer, which includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, helps me share everything with Christ.  The big, the small.  The good, the bad.  Read more about Adoration, Confession, and Supplication.

How To Have a Last-Minute Lent

How To Have A Last-Minute Lent_1I’ve been there; we’ve all been there.  

First, the candy starts appearing in the convenience and grocery stores.  The bulbous Reese’s Eggs and the shimmering Yellow Peeps.

People start making plans for Spring Break.  Road trips to the beach or the nearby amusement park.

March Madness comes and goes.  Baseball season begins.

The sun returns; the leaves re-appear; your winter coat gets packed away.

Then, one Sunday, you arrive at church to find everyone holding palms and the pastor talking about extra parking for the holiday services.

Easter is right around the corner.  

And, you didn’t even see it coming.

Such is life.  It gets busy.  You really did mean to prepare for Easter thoughtfully and faithfully.  You just didn’t get around to it.

It’s okay.  I’ve been there.  We’ve all been there.

And, the good news is: you haven’t missed it yet!  You’ve still got time!

How To Have A Last-Minute Lent_2So, how can you make the most of the next few days?  How can you prepare to truly experience the beauty of the Last Supper, the sorrow of Good Friday, and the joy of the Resurrection?

1. Give Up Something You Love.

Intentional sacrifice reminds us how deeply we need and desire Christ.  I gave up desserts for Lent this year, and I am looking forward to Easter with all of my physical senses.  Its sweet scent.  Its cool texture.  The colorful sprinkles.  I’m desiring the Resurrection in spirit and body.

Since there isn’t too much time before Easter, consider giving up something you enjoy routinely.  Like meat or bread or alcohol or coffee.  Give up something you consume regularly, and you’ll be craving Easter asap.

2. Give Away Something You Want to Keep.

Almsgiving has long been part of the Lenten tradition.  Instead of giving a monetary donation or doing volunteer work, consider giving away something you really like. When we feel the pain of sacrifice, we better appreciate Christ’s costly sacrifice for us.

Some possible ideas:

  • Donate one of your favorite pieces of clothing to Goodwill.
  • Give one of your favorite mugs or books to a friend who is struggling right now.
  • Buy a snack or coffee for a friend or colleague with whom you’re struggle right now.
  • Grant forgiveness to someone from whom you’ve been refusing it.
  • Intentionally give your sins to Christ.

3. Read the Scriptures Surrounding Easter.

Each of the Gospel writers has an account of the events surrounding Easter.  Consider starting with the Preparations for Passover and continuing through the Resurrection.

  • Matthew 26-28
  • Mark 14-16
  • Luke 22-24:12
  • John 13; 17-20:18

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4. Attend an Additional Church Service.

The Resurrection on Sunday is only one part of the Easter story.  Many Protestant churches commemorate the Passion with a Good Friday service sometime between noon and three.  Some churches even present Living Stations.  Most Catholic churches also have special services on Thursday and Friday evening to mark the Last Supper and Good Friday.  

If you can’t make it to a church service, consider watching DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt or Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.  I’ll also be sharing a reflection here next week for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

5. Listen to Christian Music.

The background noises in our lives affect us in profound ways.  Try tuning into Christian music to keep your mind and heart oriented toward Christ.  I recommend checking out Gungor, Run River North, Emeli Sandí, or Punch Brothers.  Not all of these artists are “Christian” per se, but their songs delve into the spiritual themes.

6. Listen to Christian Podcasts.

A good podcast is a great way to restart or reassess your spiritual journey.  Right now, I’m enjoying The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey and Catholic Stuff You Should Know.  I also have a love-hate relationship with The Liturgists.

7. Pray daily.

Take 15 minutes apart from the chaos of daily life to soak in the peace and joy of Christ. If you need some guidance and structure, feel free to join me on Facebook Live each night through April 12th for Evening Prayer.  I also recommend the Pray-As-You-Go podcast.

A Final Note:

These Lenten practices, of course, are only a means to an end.  We do not keep them to satisfy some rule or to elevate our own status.  We keep them as a way to deepen our relationship with Christ.  The practices are the means; the relationship is the end.

Easter, with all its candies and brunches, will come regardless of your preparations for it or celebration of it.  Just like spring.  Just like baseball season.  Lent, however, offers us an opportunity to experience and appreciate that Easter holiday in a more meaningful way.  Even at the last minute.

So, buy the candy.  Put away your winter coat.  And, take a few minutes to pray.  God is right there.

4 Steps For A Better Prayer: Confession: ACTS Series

ACTS_ConfessionJune 2011.  Washington, DC.

I don’t have a car, so to get to work, I walk the half mile to the Metro and take a train into the city.  

Today, I am carrying my purse, with my book, makeup case, and wallet, on one shoulder.  On the other shoulder is a tote bag full of promotional brochure, pens, and signs from a recent work event.  In one hand is my lunch bag.  In the other hand is my travel mug.

As I walk up the hill by the park, I readjust the various shoulder straps and reallocate the weight.  While I wait to cross the street, I rub my aching shoulders.  I make a scene at the Metro Station, searching for my train pass.  

It is 7:30 in the morning, and I am already weighed down.

***

We all know what it is like to have burdens.  They can suffocate us.  They can exhaust us.  They can overwhelm us.  

We shrink under the weight of our burdens.  We vanish under the magnitude of our burdens. We lose our strength to keep moving.  We lose our desire to keep moving.

Sometimes, I feel like I have too many burdens to count, much less carry.  My anxiety disorder. My student loans.  My social obligations.  My chores at home.  My tasks for work.  

But my heaviest burden, by far, are my mistakes.  My regrets.  My sins.  

They make every single one of my other burdens even heavier to carry and harder to tackle.

They keep me from getting a good night’s sleep.  Then, they keep me from embracing the new day.

Many would tell you that, in order to live a life without regrets, you should take yourself and your world less seriously.  Ignore them.  Forget them.  Just let go of them.

God would tell you that, in order to live a life without regrets, you should take your sins to Him.  Acknowledge them.  Name them.  And, then, confess them.

King David, following his affair, offers the most beautiful confession in Psalm 51.  He begins,

“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2, NRSV)

Jesus expresses a similar sentiment when leading instructing the crowds in the “Our Father.” He prays,

“And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)

In the Catholic tradition, the Act of Contrition elaborates,

“In choosing to do wrong
and failing to do good,
I have sinned against you
whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help,
to do penance,
to sin no more,
and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.”

These words, of course, are neither easy nor enjoyable to say.  Examining our lives and confessing our sins can ignite nausea and tears.  We are pained by the pain we have caused to ourselves, to our neighbor, and to our God.  

Upon hearing our confession, God forgives us.  Upon hearing our confession, God frees us. To live.  To thrive.  To flourish.  For our own good.  And for the glory of God.

So, in your next prayer, stop carrying your sins.  Stop walking through life with all that extra weight.  Start living your life unburdened.  Or, in the words of the soulful Sanders Bohlke,

“Bring your weary soul to the altar
Close your eyes and bend your knees
Lay your worries and your burdens down.”

The A.C.T.S. prayer, which includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, helps me share everything with Christ.  The big, the small.  The good, the bad.  Read more about Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

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.”

The A.C.T.S. prayer, which includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, helps me share everything with Christ.  The big, the small.  The good, the bad.  Read more about the Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

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.

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)

 

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. 

 

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