A Beginner’s Prayer for Holy Thursday

Holy WeekHoly Thursday 2013.  I invited (dragged?) my now-husband, then-boyfriend to Mass without dinner.  The liturgy, full of chanting and processing, took three hours.  An argument, fueled by two, tired, angry, hungry people ensued.

With that memory in mind, I put together the Catholic Cliff Notes version of Holy Thursday.  If you’re attending a service this evening, it will help you navigate the liturgy. If not, it will help you commemorate this holy day on your own.  I invite you not just to read it, but to pray it.  I hope that the guide below will help you experience and appreciate Holy Thursday.  

Good and gracious God, send your spirit down upon me.  Quiet my heart and mind to hear your voice, see your movement, and feel your presence.  May your scriptures reveal to me your most perfect person and plan for our salvation.

  • The Institution of the Eucharist

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28; NRSV)

  • The Institution of the Priesthood

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.  And you are clean, though not all of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:3-15; NRSV)

  • The Announcement of the New Commandment

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35; NRSV)

  • Jesus’ Prayer in the Garden

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated.  And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”  And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.  He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep?  Could you not keep awake one hour?  Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.  And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him.  He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?  Enough!  The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Get up, let us be going.  See, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:32-42; NRSV)

If time permits, meditate with this Taize chant, or journal your reflections. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7GexIvX8HU

We praise you, Lord, for your infinite grace.  In becoming human, you experienced the incredible joys and pains of this life and this world.  We thank you, Lord, for saving and shepherding your people.  Please be with us throughout this Holy Week.  Help us to better know and appreciate your dying on the cross, so that we may better know and appreciate your rising from the tomb.

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

How To Have A Last-Minute Lent_3

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.

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.

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.

The Beginner's Guide to Lectio Divina_1

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?  

The Beginner's Guide to Lectio Divina_2

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. 

 

Hosea and the Truth about the Love of God

Hosea is one of my favorite hymns… and one of my least favorite books of the Bible.

The hymn, by Gregory Norbet, is a short and sweet folk song with the beautiful refrain: Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.  When I sing those words, I imagine the Lord inviting, imploring me to return to His open arms.  

The biblical book, however, is much more complicated.  The promise of reconciliation, which the hymn highlights, is buried under a litany of psychologically and physically violent threats.  Certain passages are difficult and painful to read and process.  

This jarring juxtaposition, however, reminds us that the love of God, while unconditional, is not for the lighthearted.  He calls us not to a superficial but a serious relationship.

The Truth About the Love of God_1

The Book of Hosea centers around a rough analogy.  Hosea represents God and Hosea’s wife, Gomer, represents the people of God.  Just as Hosea and Gomer are bound by their marital vows, God and His people are bound by their vows at Sinai.  Gomer, like the people of God, commits one infidelity after another.  Gomer’s infidelities include sleeping with other men.  Our infidelities include worshiping false idols.  Hosea and God, having been betrayed, threaten various, violent punishments.  

These punishments, for all of their ugliness, stress just how deeply God desires a faithful relationship with us.  God is not the kinda-sorta boyfriend who forgets to text you, who delays meeting your parents, who dates other people.  God is the serious boyfriend who throws rocks at your window, who sends flowers to your office, who picks you up from the airport because he hates when you go away.  This is not a casual relationship.  This is a head-over-heels, Facebook-official, put-a-ring-on-it relationship.

Even in our most serious relationships, however, we have moments when we distance ourselves.  We doubt, we pull back, we question, we hesitate.  The responsibility of a serious relationship seems too demanding.  The vulnerability seems too dangerous.  

The Book of Hosea understands this.  It knows that human relationships are marked by periods of intensity and intimacy; of disinterest and distance.  Accordingly, the book does not follow a nice and neat linear structure.  It does not simply show Hosea and Gomer falling in love, falling apart, and then reconciling and recommitting.  Instead, it is a roller-coaster of highs and lows, sins and sorry’s, betrayal and reconciliation.  It’s not a straightforward story line, but it is a realistic relationship.

My own relationship with God has been similarly tumultuous.  Sometimes, I wander away and then make a beeline back.  Other times, I storm off in anger and then  return not so much out of desire but out of duty.  Each time, God welcomes me back.  Yes, with open arms.  Yes, with forgiveness.  But, not without acknowledging His disappointment in my distance, not without challenging me to come closer.

My favorite hymn is not wrong in singing: Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.  

God is, indeed, waiting for our return.  The biblical book reminds us, however, that His wait is marked by passion, not patience.

And, God, indeed, does offers us a new life in relationship with Him.  The book reminds us, however, that relationship with God demands responsibility, vulnerability, and fidelity.

I still cringe when I read certain parts of the Book of Hosea.  Not only because some of the language is disturbing and shocking.  But, also because I am keenly aware that I have so frequently distanced myself from a God who loves me, who desires me, who cares for me.

So, in the words of Hosea, “Come, let us return to the Lord” (6:1).

 

Why You Should Schedule Some Quiet Time Today

Processed with VSCO with m2 presetShe was a doer, always moving from one task to the next.  She was a caretaker, always serving others before herself.  She was a fixer, always trying to solve problems and right wrongs.  She was an inspiration but also a caution.  She was selfless but also restless.  

She loved the idea but hated the actual practice of quiet time.  When she sat in silence, she heard her own thoughts, her own fears, her own desires.  When she knelt in prayer, she heard God’s voice asking for things she did not know how to give.  In her quiet time, she was vulnerable, and in her vulnerability, she knew she could not do everything, could not fix everyone.  It was scary, and she was afraid, and so, she put it off.

Do you know this woman?  Me too.  

Are you this woman?  Me too.

***

Why You Should Schedule Quiet Time Today_2Perhaps, as with women like us, Jesus feared his quiet time.  Often unlike me, however, he prayed anyway.  Each of the Gospels shows Jesus leaving the crowds and taking time away, apart.  Even Mark, the most straightforward and succinct of the Gospel writers, describes how “in the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (1:35).

When I think of Jesus, I tend to think of all the things he did.  He taught with such wisdom!  He provided miraculous food and drink!  He healed bodies and spirits!  He resurrected the dead!  He was, in some ways, the definition of an over-achiever.  He was a doer, a caretaker, a fixer.  But, as the Gospels remind us, he was also a pray-er.  No one on earth has ever had – or will ever have – more important work to do for the world than Jesus… and even he took time away, apart to pray.

Jesus, however, is not the only one speaking to women like us.  Mark describes how Jesus’ popularity grew as traveled in and around Galilee, calling disciples, teaching in the synagogues, and performing miraculous healings.  After curing a possessed man, Jesus’ “fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee” (1:28).  A little later, Jesus heals one of the disciple’s mothers and, before long, “the whole city was gathered around the door” (1:33).  When Jesus does take his quiet time, the disciples “hunt” for him.  That’s the exact word from the NRSV translation, “hunt.”  When the disciples finally find him, they say, “everyone is searching for you” (1:37).  So, Jesus continues on his tour, and by end of Mark’s first chapter, “Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter” (1:45).

These crowds beg the question: do I pursue Jesus in the same way?  With the same fervor?  With the same tenacity?  Would I go so far as to hunt him, if he went away?  Would I plead with him to return, if we were apart?  

I imagine, if these crowds could speak to women like us, they would say: Jesus teaches! He provides!  He heals!  And what we would not give to sit in silence with him and him alone at any given moment of any given day.  

***

I understand the desire to act, to do.  I understand the resistance to sit in stillness and silence.  Mark, however, reminds us – implores us – to take time away, apart, anyway. Even when we don’t want to.  Even when we fear the sound of our thoughts or the voice of God.  Even when we would rather be doing and fixing than talking and listening.  Only then will we know what the crowds knew: Jesus teaches!  He provides!  He heals!  And he does it all not out of a desire for recognition or distraction.  He does it all because he loves us.  He loves women like us.

Why You Should Schedule Some Quiet Time Today (1)

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

What's Making Me Happy This Week_02.10.17When I lived further north, February was, as a general rule, my least favorite.  The abbreviated month highlighted the interminable winter.  When I moved to Tampa, where the winter temps linger in the 70’s, I assumed my frustrations with February would evaporate.  

Alas.  The start of the second month has been a rough ride for me.  I’ve been full of anxiety and low on joy.  When I first sat down to prepare this post, I felt a wave of dread.  How could I possibly say what’s making me happy when I wasn’t happy?  

As I reflected over the past few weeks, however, I realized that my life was littered with blessings.  I realized that I had read, heard, seen, and even tasted some wonderful, beautiful things.  I simply hadn’t consciously noticed or appreciated them.  In the process of forcing myself to be grateful, I began to feel gratitude.  In the process of seeking for joy, I actually found it.  So, without a trace of irony or sarcasm or falsehood, I am happy to report that the following items made me happy this week.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

Zahra Noorbakhsh’s “After Trump’s election a non-practicing Muslim Returns to Prayer” from Fresh Air describes a spiritual journey similar to those of many young women in America.  In just 5 minutes, her story highlights the necessity (and difficulty and beauty) of spiritual formation as well as the danger of spiritual commodification.

I’m rapidly reading the Gilead in preparation for next Tuesday’s book club reflection.  I’m enjoying the novel thus far, but I still manage to put off even the things I enjoy/love/need, and I am grateful to have this blog and book club to hold me accountable.

This reflection from Denise J. Hughes perfectly summarizes the importance of reading, studying, and praying the Bible.  Read this piece if a)you’ve ever wondered why Christians always seem to be talking about the Bible, or b)you’ve been looking for some renewed motivation to spend some time with the Word.

My thoughtful husband surprised me with these snazzy sunglasses this past Christmas. These are definitely an upgrade from the pair of plastic sunglasses I got from a Bud Light rep at a local beach bar.  While originally designed for boaters, they are also perfect for anyone living (and squinting) in a region with lots of strong sunshine.

We’re celebrating my sister-in-law’s birthday this weekend, and I always love an excuse to make these birthday cake martinis.  I usually use Three Olives cake-flavored vodka (what a odd, wonderful world we live in), instead of vanilla vodka.  Despite all that sugar, these martinis still have a nice tart taste thanks to the champagne and cranberry.  Happy Birthday, indeed!

 

A Lesson in Political Discourse from Psalm 19

A Lesson in Politics from Psalm 19_1

The house is squeaky, shiny, eerily clean.  All the clothes are washed (even the scarves that required hand-washing and line-drying).  The floors are swept and the bathrooms scrubbed (even the stubborn stone in the shower).  Everything for the dog is washed and brushed (even the dog’s bed, the dog’s blanket, and, of course, the dog).    

As is to be expected these days, I blame President Trump.  

No, no, I kid.  Well, sort of.  Let me explain.  

Some of my loved ones voted for Clinton; some of my loved ones voted for Trump; some of my loved ones abstained from voting.  In the months leading up to the election, I had lots of difficult conversations.  Then, in the months following the election, I had even more difficult conversations.  Unsurprisingly, the events including and surrounding the Inauguration have filled me with a wild nervous energy.  Surprisingly, that energy has erupted into a mad cleaning frenzy.  Armed with those classic chemical weapons known as Windex, Scrubbing Bubbles, and Bona, I’ve spent full days attacking the dust, the dirt, and, of course, the dog hair.  

As I wage my war, I fret frantically about the future of our country, the future of the church, the future of my relationships, and the future of this blog.  How should I respond personally?  How should I respond professionally?  These questions ran round in my mind a few afternoons ago, as I attacked some stubborn soap scum in the shower.  Then new words wandered, unbidden, unexpected, into my mind: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

A Lesson in Politics from Psalm 19_3

I imagine I heard this concluding verse of Psalm 19 throughout my childhood.  Not until seminary, however, did it work its way deep into my memory.  Some of my peers and professors prayed the verse before every sermon, and I suppose, over time, it started to stick.  And then, on that afternoon a few days ago, as I inhaled the noxious fumes of Scrubbing Bubbles, the verse surfaced again.

Its reappearance seemed timely.  I was anxiously wondering what to feel, what to think, what to say about recent political events.  Could there be a more important time to pray that my words and thoughts and emotions “be acceptable to you, O Lord?”

When I consider this verse, I linger on that vague word “acceptable.”  Surely, it cannot mean only saying nice things in a sweet voice.  Nor can it mean only saying disruptive things in a loud voice.  It must mean saying certain words in a certain tone at a certain time.  It must mean crafting all our words with care, prayer, and charity.  It is a simple verse, but a complicated task.

Fortunately, Psalm 19 offers us more than this singular verse.  It describes how God communicates to us through creation: “Day unto day pours forth speech/ Night unto night whispers knowledge.”  It describes what God communicates to us, emphasizing the beauty and benefits of His will: “The law of the Lord is perfect,/ refreshing the soul.”  The Psalmist asks for assistance in listening to and adhering to God’s law.  The Psalmist asks for pardon when we fail to follow God’s will.  And only then does the Psalmist offer that beautiful prayer that “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable.”  This lovely prayer, which I heard during the introduction of so many sermons, is actually a conclusion.  Only after reflecting on how and what God has communicated with us can we hope to acceptably communicate with others.

A Lesson in Politics from Psalm 19_4

There are more difficult conversations ahead.  There will be more words, more thoughts, more feelings.  Some moments will call for compromise and compassion.  Some for righteous anger and resolution.  Some for silence.  

To discern between those moments, I pray the words of the psalmist, of my peers, and of my professors.  I pray that both the content and the delivery of my words bring us closer to wisdom and peace, rather than dissension and fear.  

There are, of course, moments when I know that my words, my thoughts, and my feelings are unacceptable.  I reflect on the Republicans or Democrats or executive orders or Cabinet nominations, and I fill with bitterness, pettiness, and spite.  In those moments, my reactions and responses do not embody the radical love and law of God.  So, I grab my cleaning supplies and pull on my rubber gloves.  I scrub the shower tiles and I repeat again and again, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

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