Friday, October 25, 2013

A Parable about Humility in Prayer

Today's focal passage is the second of 2 parables that Jesus told about prayer.  Last week the parable was about patience and persistence in prayer.  Today's parable is about humility, not just in prayer but in all of life.  Jesus directed this parable to a certain type of person, self-righteous and judgmental.  Of course I don't know anyone like that but ... maybe you do :)

This week we are going to do something different ... Take a moment to read Luke 18:9-14 (CEB)

Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust:  “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’  But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’  I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

Tax collectors were notorious cheats and sinners, they took advantage of the poor, and they were outcast from the community.  Here we see the conversion of the tax collector through this humble prayer, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’   And I don't mean to say that the prayer had the power to convert, what I am saying is that the prayer is a sign that conversion (change/transformation) had happened within the man.

Have you ever heard of the Jesus Prayer?  The Jesus Prayer emerged around the 6th century as a way of reaching inner stillness.  The classic Jesus Prayer is, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," but there are many ways to adapt the words to suit your own breathing pattern.   The Jesus Prayer is actually the most famous breath prayer in history but it is a little too long for me to breathe in the classic form so after a few minutes I usually shorten it to "Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy" and then simply "Lord, have mercy" and finally it fades into simply, "Lord, Lord, Lord."   As I breathe with these words on my lips, I often travel through fire but eventually I am overcome with peace ... that peace that surpasses my understanding.

Many days I sit down to pray and I am distracted.  I have a need to focus.  This is when I pick up my prayer beads ...
 Since the earliest of times,
people have used pebbles or a string of knots or beads
on a cord to keep track of prayers offered to God.
Virtually every major religious tradition in the world
uses some form of prayer beads.
3 different kinds of Prayer Beads from my personal prayer altar: 

Here is my way of praying with Anglican Prayer Beads (see above, the black beaded one) and below is a diagram of how the prayer beads are constructed.  If you don't have prayer beads and don't want to make your own you can use small rocks, buttons, or pennies in a mandala style.  You can also take a string and tie knots in it.  You can adapt your prayer beads to your needs and the prayers you want to say.  In the photo above on the right hand side I created this small set of prayer beads which contains only 1 set of weeks but it is portable and able to fit nicely around my thumb.  I just continue to circle around the beads as long as I want to until I am ready to emerge.  However, adaptations do lessen the rich symbolism.  You can take the Link above to King of Peace for a good read about the symbolism found in Anglican Prayer Beads.  The diagram below is my drawing of the diagram on the King of Peace Website. 

And now, let us pray:  
Hold and Pray the Cross:  In the Name of God my Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer
Hold and Pray the "Invitatory" Bead:  Come Holy Spirit
Hold and Pray the "Cruciform" Bead:  Light of Christ, Shine on my Path
Move to the right (or the left if that seems more intuitive:) around the circle.  
on each of the 7 smaller beads, pray "God, show mercy to me, a sinner" 
which is the verse which emerged in our passage ... 
OR pray whatever form emerges from within you as you breathe!
Each time you reach the cruciform beads, repeat your cruciform prayer,
When you reach the Invitatory Bead at the end, repeat "Come Holy Spirit."
Finally, when you arrive home at the Cross, repeat the Names of God.  Say Amen.
Sit in the stillness ... and be grateful!
Sit in the stillness ...
Be grateful ... 

Sit ... Be

Be ...

Friday, October 18, 2013

Lectio & Labyrinth: A Parable about Patience and Persistence in Prayers for Justice

This week we weave together the ancient spiritual practices of Lectio Divina with walking the Labyrinth as we pray with Luke 8:1-8.  Do you have easy access to a Labyrinth that you could walk?   If not, you can take this Link to a finger Labyrinth that you can download and print: PDF File/Labyrinth.  If you prefer, I'll give you a link below to an online labyrinth within your experience of Lectio.  

Thus says the LORD:
Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls. 
Jeremiah 6:16ab

Both Lectio Divina and Walking the Labyrinth are ancient spiritual pathways to God.  Lectio Divina is a Latin phrase that means "sacred reading." It is a way of praying and listening for the still, small voice of God speaking through gentle reading of scripture.  Lectio Divina has also been known as "listening with the ear of the heart."    Beginning in the middle ages, Christianity adopted the Labyrinth as a symbol, changing the design to permeate it with specifically Christian meaning. For almost a thousand years there has been an identifiable Christian labyrinth tradition.
Celtic Triple Spiral Labyrinth at Grunewald Guild in Plain, Washington Photo by Cindy Serio
Today’s passage is often called the “Parable of the Unjust Judge.”  And yet, in the first verse we are told that the parable is about the disciple’s fading faith, their “need to pray always and not to lose heart.”  We might read into this that his followers were not praying and perhaps were in danger of “losing heart” because their prayers were not being “answered.” I can relate to that, can you?  The disciples were not a lot different from people today who wonder why their $5 worth of prayers are not bringing them their $5 worth of rewards. 

Perhaps we ask, just as they were, “why is God not answering my prayer?”  To this question Jesus tells an almost puzzling parable.  

In her book, The Parables for Today, Alyse M. McKenzie tells us, “Parables are short narrative fictions that seek to make us evaluate our lives.  While we think we are interpreting them, they are actually interpreting us!”  

So … dear reader, how is your prayer life?   

And now, here is a 1-line interpretation of this parable by an elderly black minister that Fred B. Craddock relates in his book Interpretation: Luke.   “Until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, your knuckles bleeding, you do not really know what prayer is.”  

So … dear readers, what is the state of your knuckles?

So often we think there is something wrong with our prayers or with us when we pray fervently and do not get the answer we want or … we pray and nothing changes. Our life stays the same.  But ... Do we stay the same?  Do we allow God to change our heart so that we are in tune with the heartbeat of God in our situation?   What is God telling us about our own spiritual life and prayers through this parable that Jesus shares with the disciples whose faith seems to be fading away?   What does this parable tell us about God?   
Please note that in this parable God is NOT the unjust judge. Although, God does work through the unjust judge to grant justice to the widow, a marginalized woman in a dangerous time to be alone. 

God is the One who grants justice!  Let us meet God in our Prayers!

Settle into a place of loving openness within yourself with a simple Breath Prayer.  Use this one or allow one to emerge as you breathe in and breathe out.  (I have found that six to eight syllables is best for breathing but a longer prayer often speaks what we need to hear for ourselves … simply be authentic with your breath prayer)

Breathe in ... God of Justice (Your Name for God)
Breath out ... Hear My Heart’s Cry (Name Your Desire)

Pray: God of Justice, I cry out to you day and night and never stop pleading with you.  Give me patience, fill me with persistence as you change my heart to accept your desire for my prayers of justice for the world and for the way I am called to embody those prayers in my daily life.  In the name of Jesus Christ, the One who brings Justice to the World.  Amen.

Read Luke 18:1-8.  Engage in Lectio Divina, Praying with Scripture.  Allow yourself to be drawn deeply into God’s Presence as you read and pray and listen for the whispers of God.   Allow yourself to notice how you would feel if you were the widow crying out for justice.  Is there anyone that you know who may be in this situation and whose seems to be “losing heart?”  As you read and pray and walk with this passage move in prayer and solidarity with that person.   Perhaps that person is you …

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.  He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.  In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.'  For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'"  And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?  I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
Read this passage again slowly.  Consider where God is calling your attention.   Reflect on just a word or phrase.  Spend time with your word or phrase and listen to the whispers of God through the words that have drawn you into the text ... Listen!    Take a walk on the Labyrinth or spend some time outside in nature.   Find a place to sit quietly.  Let the Spirit of God guide you.  

Turn your word or phrase or image over in your mind. Let God speak into your heart as you listen.  Take time to "Release" anything that emerges that you need to let go of in order to move on in your prayers.

As you pause at the center of the Labyrinth, take time to "Receive" and welcome God's word for you. Consider these questions or others that may arise in your time of pause:  Where is God speaking into my life through my word or phrase?  How is my prayer life touched by my word or phrase?

Before you begin your journey anew from the center, slowly Read the passage again.   Turn your attention to your word or phrase.  Know that it is ok if you are being drawn in a different direction on this reading!   

Consider how you will "Respond" to what you have heard from God …

As you walk or move out of the center along the same labyrinth path you took in, know that you are gaining strength for your continuing journey of life.  Who is God calling me to pray for or to reach out to through this passage?  How is God calling me to change?

As you reach the end of the Labyrinth pathway, it is time to Rest in the silence of God's Presence.  Allow God to draw you deeper into the shining light of the Holy Presence and into the prayerful sense of God’s Spirit, ever holding you and loving you.  Let all the words fade away and stay in this lovely place as long as you can.

Simply BE with the God who always hears your prayers.

Be aware that you may find a desire to express what you have received.  This is a wonderful time to journal, to write about your experience, thoughts, feelings, and insights.   Some persons find that God’s voice is clarified through the writing process.

Prayer:  O God of my Heart, I know you hear my prayers but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.  Help me to be patient and to simply continue praying even when life doesn’t make sense.   Help me hear your gentle whispers in my heart as I pray and change me.  Help me to notice and pay attention to those places in life where I can not only pray for justice but can work for justice too!   In the name of Jesus Christ the Justice-Bringer, Amen.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Quote to Ponder ...

“There's a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people 
that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. 
One of them asked, "Why on our hearts, and not in them?" 
The rabbi answered, "Only God can put Scripture inside. 
But reading sacred text can put it on your heart,
 and then when your hearts break, the holy words will fall inside.”

~Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Friends, I'm on a "Sacred Writing" Retreat this week ...
Back next week, will post on the Lectionary Reading for October 20! 
Peace and Blessings, Cindy

Friday, October 4, 2013

Faith ... the size of a Mustard Seed

The short passage this week contains 2 very short points that Jesus is making.  And yet I wonder points about what ... faith, servanthood ... discipleship?   And why?  Taken out of context, it seems rather random and often I find the saying, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you," used as a way to tell people they must not have faith because they are not producing acts of miracles on a daily basis.  As a matter of fact, in Matthew's gospel, a form of this saying is used to explain why the disciples cannot cast out demons. (See Matthew 17:14-21) I personally sometimes say to myself, "well, I must not have any faith at all because I am not experiencing life and accomplishing ministry as I think a "faithful" servant of God would.

What am I missing here?  When in doubt, check the context!  What is the reason Jesus is saying these things to the disciples in this Gospel.  After Jesus has an encounter with the Pharisees who are grumbling about his "welcoming and eating" with sinners, he moves into the story about the "prodigal son." Remember this story about the deep and amazing grace of the Seeking God who is always waiting for those who are lost to come home?  If  you are not familiar with the story, you can read it here: Luke 15:11-32.

After he tells the Prodigal story, he turns and has a strange exchange with the disciples, then with the Pharisees again followed by a final exchange about forgiveness with the disciples (Luke 17:1-4) which sets the context for our focus passage.    Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen. It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin. Watch yourselves! If your brother or sister sins, warn them to stop. If they change their hearts and lives, forgive them. Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I am changing my ways,’ you must forgive that person.”

I'm not sure but I feel like this may be directed at the Pharisees through this exchange with the disciples.   Jesus accepts ALL people but sometimes people (not just the Pharisees but many people throughout history and not always religious people) have a hard time accepting others ... "bad" sinners ... as if there is a sliding scale upon which there is a line that says, "ok, too far you're done, no forgiveness for you, you are toast!"   Although I did believe that once upon a time, thought I was going to hell for sure, some other people thought that and told me so ... today, I don't actually believe that, I think we ALL fall short.  And God will forgive everyone!  That's just who God is.  As I read through the larger narrative, especially considering the message of the Prodigal son story and what Jesus says above, it sounds to me like he believes that too.  This stern warning seems to be pointed toward those who "cause" others to stumble and to those who keep others from the forgiveness and grace of God.  Once again, Jesus says there is NO line and there is no person too far from the grace of God to heal and forgive.  Sometimes, this is a very hard thing for our human minds to accept.  At least, humbly, that's what I believe.

Yet, flowing from our own self-centeredness, sometimes we take the things Jesus says and are so afraid that we have crossed over that line and are in danger ... that we cry out "increase our faith" along with the disciples when, honestly, we have plenty of faith to turn to God, to forgive others their shortcomings, to admit our own mistakes and go on. This faith is enough not because of who we are or aren't nor because of who others are or aren't, but because of Who God IS.  Sometimes, we expect all kinds of bells and whistles to assure us that God still loves us.  Sometimes, we think we need mountaintop experiences to assure us that God is present with us.  If we continue to live in the fear that we have been forgotten or abandoned by God because we haven't had bells, whistles or mountaintop experiences lately, it is not long before it is the bells, the whistles and the mountaintop experiences we want, almost desperately, more than God.  At least, that is where I was for a long time. 
Mustard Seeds.  Photo used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) 
Did you know that God, through the Spirit, is closer to us than our very own breath. The Hebrew word for Spirit is Ruach ... means wind or breath.  Perhaps we might begin to focus on God through a Breath Prayer for as long as it takes to quiet our souls.  Use this one or create your own ... Breathing in a Name for God, Breathing out your greatest growing desire ... 6-8 syllables are best but mine is 11 this week and yet it works!

Breathing in ... God of the Mustard Seed
Breathing out ... Help me share my faith

When you are ready to enter into the biblical narrative through Lectio Divina, start with this prayer:  Faithful God, open my heart to your grace and help me deeply know the assurance of your love and forgiveness as I read and pray.  Help me to grasp the depth of your presence in all of my life no matter how I feel.  In Jesus, Amen.

Step 1:  Read Luke 17:1-5 slowly and reverently ...What word, or phrase calls for your attention in your reading?  Spend a few moments pondering how God may be inviting you through this word or phrase ... 

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Would any of you say to your servant, who had just come in from the field after plowing or tending sheep, ‘Come! Sit down for dinner’?  Wouldn’t you say instead, ‘Fix my dinner. Put on the clothes of a table servant and wait on me while I eat and drink. After that, you can eat and drink’? You won’t thank the servant because the servant did what you asked, will you? In the same way, when you have done everything required of you, you should say, ‘We servants deserve no special praise. We have only done our duty.’”

Step 2:  Read your selection again and Reflect ...
How does your word or phrase from this passage illuminate your life right now?  How is God inviting you to change or grow or pray or act?

Step 3:  Read your selection again and Respond ...
What do you say to God about your life and how you feel you are being invited?   How do you pray when you consider what God is saying to you?

Step 4:  Rest ...
Come to a place of silence within yourself and just "be" with God.  Try for 10 minutes or beyond ... When you are ready to move on,  pray: 

God of Faith, sometimes I cry out with the disciples, "increase my faith!"  Help me to realize that I have all the faith I need.  Help me to offer my small mustard seed of faith to you ... not so that I can work miracles of nature but so that I can reach out to those who feel lost and offer them the message of love, grace and forgiveness that will bring them closer to You.  Amen. 

By Amit Kaushal (originally posted to Flickr as mustard) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

If music is a pathway to God for you, listen to this song by Chris Rice called "Home Tonight" which is a beautiful song about the journey of the lost to find God.  The Anime photos add a quiet haunting poignancy to the song.  May those who are lost in all walks of life and in all the world find just a small seed of faith through which to find their way home tonight.