What Should I Pray?

Sit With Me Prayer

Dear God,

I’m not quite sure what to say to you today. Is it ok with you if I don’t say anything? Can I just be aware of your presence? Will that be enough? I picture you out there. It’s comforting, but you’re not as close as I’d like you to be. Can I picture you within me instead? A spark of life deep down inside? Offering answers, hope, love, and comfort. A tiny spark to be sure, but it’s there. Let me just sit with this knowledge for today. That your spark lies within me. I don’t need to go outside of myself searching for it. I don’t need to sift through the rubble of broken hearts, bigotry, violence, and judgment to find you.  You abide in me, offering me all that I know is true and right. Maybe what feels like my gut instinct is really you, telling me what you wish and dream for me. I can follow that if I know it’s you.

AMEN.

A Cup of Tea for Advent

Christmas teapotAs the hectic pace of the holiday season ramps up, I encourage you to take a (short!) break from the shopping and decorating and sit down with a nice nourishing cup of tea. And when you do, spend some time reflecting on the teapot.

What makes a teapot a teapot?  Your answer might start with the materials it’s made of. The picture above is a ceramic teapot, so it probably started with clay baked in a kiln. Then some kind of glaze and paint.

But what if I took this teapot and broke it into pieces. It would still be ceramic, glaze, and paint, right? But would it still be a teapot? Looking at it another way, what if I took a solid lump of clay and baked it in a kiln, glazed it and painted it with this same Christmas image. Would it still be a teapot? No.

The missing element in both these scenarios is the empty space inside of it. That’s what makes it a teapot. The place that holds water and tea leaves. The part that bubbles and comes to life. Whistling when it’s ready. The empty space is critical for the teapot to fulfill its purpose.

Just like the teapot, we have an interior space within us, and that’s where our soul lives.  What happens in that space defines our relationship with God. It’s where our spiritual journey takes place. The empty space (and what we do with it) is what makes us children of God.

And so we are called to come to the Cross as empty vessels to be filled up with God’s love and grace. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he writes: “But this precious treasure—this light and power that now shine within us—is held in a perishable container, that is, in our weak bodies. Everyone can see that the glorious power within must be from God and is not our own.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

We may claim the outside surface…the walls of the pot…but the space inside belongs to God. And we want to keep our interior space as empty as possible so that God can fill us.

Fr. Anthony Ndang Ndichia, a missionary priest in Africa writes: “For God to enter our lives fully, we must be ready to create space: longing opens the heart to receive. The door to our inner self, heart, and mind must be opened: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.’ God needs openings in our lives to get through to us, to communicate with us, to stretch us to greater growth, to nourish us, to revitalize and renew us with love.”

Spend some time thinking about how you might be more like the empty teapot.  How will you make room for Jesus during this Advent season? In doing this, the weeks leading up to Christmas become an exciting time of possibility.

What is God going to do with the interior space of your soul?  How will He fill you up?

Sacred Struggle – Journeying through the Desert

desert

My parish choir sang a hymn on Ash Wednesday that described Lent as a “sacred struggle.”  What a beautiful and thought-provoking phrase.  It suggests that Lent is not a time for putting up a front of spiritual tranquility.  It’s not a time for pretending everything is rosy and perfect.

Think of Lent as a pilgrimage—a journey—and not necessarily an easy one.  It’s time to dig deep.  To walk in the desert with Jesus.

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit out into the parched wilderness to be tempted, tested and prepared, just as the ancient Israelites wandered the desert so many years before, in preparation for their entry into the Promised Land.  We are called to make this same 40-day journey.  To be tested, prepared, and renewed.  To encounter God in new ways.  And to ultimately be transformed by the experience.

Let us approach this Lenten season as an opportunity to embrace that which is difficult.  To face temptations. To examine our personal failings. To reveal our doubts. To work through blocks and barriers to our faith.

Don’t be afraid to walk through the desert.  You are not alone in the journey.  When you encounter thirst and drought, cry out to God to quench your spirit.  Know, without a doubt, that God will answer.  “They were not thirsty when he led them through the deserts; he divided the rock, and water gushed out for them to drink.” (Isaiah 48:21)

A desert journey is not a time of punishment, but a time of strengthening.  Jesus left his time in the wilderness with a renewed and strengthened spirit to begin preaching the message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. (Matthew 4:17)  Your time in the desert will lead you closer to that Kingdom.  To a place of deeper connection to our Divine Creator.  To a greater understanding of the gifts we receive – brought to fruition with the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday.

May your Lenten journey be blessed, as you come out of the desert with a renewed spirit. Amen.

Responding to God’s Invitation

 

jesus-knocking

“Stop in anytime!”

“My door is always open.”

I’ve never felt comfortable with these kinds of open invitations. They’re much too vague and raise way too many doubts for me.  What if I choose a bad time?  What if they don’t really mean it?  Maybe I’ll put it off for now.  They’re not really expecting me, so I won’t go today.  It becomes too easy to let time fall away and never really take advantage of the invitation.

I’ve always preferred something more formal.  An invitation addressed specifically to me with a specific date/time and specific details of the event so I know what to expect.  (As you can see, I’m big on specifics!)

As we begin this holy season of Lent, we are told that God invites us into an intimate relationship with Him.  Again, this sounds a bit vague.  How do we take advantage of this invitation?  When and where do we show up?  What is expected of us?

Today’s Ash Wednesday blog post is my attempt to make God’s invitation a bit more personal and… specific!

WHO
Make no mistake… God is directing this invitation to YOU.  Not to a general group of chosen people to which you may or may not feel you belong—but to you.  Our Lord says: “I have called you by name.  You are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)  God promises that He will never forget us, for He has written our names on the palm of His hand. (Isaiah 49:16)  John’s Gospel introduces Jesus as the Good Shepherd, caring for each of His sheep in a deeply personal way.  “The sheep hear his voice and come to him; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3)  What a powerful thing to realize that this invitation from God—through His Son Jesus Christ—comes to each of us so individually.  Close your eyes for a moment and imagine God calling you gently and sincerely by name.  You are a child of God… and you matter.

WHERE
Interestingly, our holy invitation does not direct us to God’s house, although we do visit there every Sunday.  But our connection to God takes place within our own hearts.  Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God abides in us; and for our faith to flourish, we have to let God in.  There’s a famous depiction of Jesus standing outside a door… but there is no doorknob on the outside.  It is based on the Scripture from Revelations 3:20: Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” God respects our free will.  Jesus will not enter unless we let Him in.  He is always there, waiting for us, but it is up to us to open the door.

WHEN
Our invitation from God is for NOW.  Today.  Right when you finish reading this blog post.  It is a daily call to keep Jesus with us always.  God should be invited into every moment of our day.  If this is still too vague or overwhelming to contemplate, then look for ways to make it more specific.  Plan “dates” to be with God.  Set aside a few minutes each morning to pray or read Scripture.  Attend a Lenten retreat.  Take advantage of any spiritual programs offered by your parish.  Spend some time in silence each day.

WHAT TO BRING
All you need to bring is an open heart.  A willingness to let God in.  A desire to be connected to God in all that you do and say.  A willingness to live out the teachings of Jesus in your words and actions.  Jesus tell us:  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4)

My prayer for you this Lenten season is that you accept God’s invitation.  That you remain connected to the Vine as we await the promise of our Savior on Easter Sunday.  That you live in God’s love just as God lives in you.  Amen.

Finding Beauty in Bleakness

january-sunrise

Today is Valentine’s Day… 45 days into 2017 and I’ve already broken almost all of my New Year’s resolutions.  This is a more impressive feat than you may realize, because every year I make dozens and dozens of them.  It’s one of my favorite thing to do; like an opportunity to create a whole new me: spend more time outside, eat more vegetables, take up yoga, learn to knit, spend more time in silence, improve my posture, try new recipes.

Something about the unlimited potential of New Year’s resolutions gives me a lift every year. And I like to believe that somewhere out there is an alternate universe where I’m doing all these things and feeling fantastic.

But there’s one resolution that I’m determined to stick to in THIS universe:

To discover—and rediscover—the beauty of God’s creation.

I’m sure you’ll agree this is not so easy to do in the winter.  Record setting rainy days in January gave us a bleak, dreary month of cloudy skies, dead grass, and bare branches.  February seems to be replacing all of that with snow, ice, and wind.  Not exactly the best conditions for taking in the splendor of God’s creation.

Unless you’re willing to look a little harder and a lot closer. A lone bluebird perched on a dead branch. Rays of sun peeking out behind the clouds. The glittering silence of a midnight snowfall. A winter sunrise, like the photo at the top of this post, taken by a dear friend on a cold January morning

After searching God’s landscape in this new way, we can turn our eyes to our brothers and sisters.  There is great beauty to be found in human actions and interactions.  The core message of Jesus was PEACE and LOVE.  Where do you see this in your daily experiences?  For me, it was recently, as I saw hundreds of faith communities across the country embody these teachings in the compassion and concern they showed for our refugee sisters and brothers.  Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1-2)

We are all created in God’s image.  What’s more beautiful than one human treating another with compassion, dignity and love?

I invite you to join me in being on the lookout for glimpses of God’s beautiful creation in the midst of these winter months, as we move into the most holy season of Lent.

Be Now My Vision: Seeing With Eyes of Faith

blurred Easter cross

This morning while driving to work, I put on my sunglasses and quickly realized that they were smudged, making everything a bit blurry and unfocused.  I could see well enough to drive safely, but I couldn’t wait for the next red light so I could clean them.  Wouldn’t you know… for the first time in the history of my commute, I hit nothing but green lights all the way!  So I was stuck with a smudgy view for this ride.

It took an embarrassingly long time for me to realize the solution was simple – just take off my sunglasses.  Ah!  My vision cleared and everything looked crisp and bright and focused. The experience got me thinking about “vision” and how we see the world.  It reminded me of a gospel story we hear during the season of Lent.

Meet Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who lived on the streets of Jericho.  Life was difficult for Bartimaeus, but his blindness and his life on the streets made him adept at hearing and listening.  He had heard stories of a man they called Jesus who could heal people with the touch of his hand.  A man who told stories about lost sheep, a mustard seed, and a new kind of kingdom where all were welcome at God’s table.  Bartimaeus knew if he could just meet this amazing man, maybe touch his cloak, perhaps he, too, could be healed.

It was this rock-solid faith of a blind beggar that drew the attention of Jesus on the road to Jericho.  Instructing his disciples to bring the man to him, he asked Bartimaeus what it was that he wanted.

“Son of David, I want to see.”

Seven simple words and his life was changed forever.

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.”

Easter cross

Though he was blind, Bartimaeus did not lack vision.  He was able to “see” with eyes of faith.  He could see… and believe… that Jesus came to bring us new life and a new way of living. He believed that Jesus was here to show us the way if we only seek him.

On Palm Sunday our church sang a beautiful song called “Christ in Me Arise.”  The first verse contained the following lyrics:

Be now my vision; open these eyes,
Showing me all that I must see.

During this holiest of weeks, let us take an honest look at how we view the world.  Are there times that we see through the smudged glasses of fear, jealousy, anger, or indifference?  Are we unable to see what’s really going on because of entrenched ways of thinking?  Does ignorance make us blind to the suffering of others or the true feelings of others? When we fail to see with eyes of faith, our world is smudged, like my cloudy commute to work.  We can’t see what’s really important.

We’re aren’t blocking out the “sun” with these glasses.  We’re blocking out the Son.

Let us pray that Jesus, the healer, will open our eyes and help us let go of whatever it is that prevents us from seeing things clearly.

Be now my vision, O Lord of my heart!

Finding Purpose in the Journey

staircase MLK

How often do you find yourself asking the age-old question: What is my purpose in life? We know that God is calling us, just like Jesus called the disciples to come and follow Him, as I wrote about last week. But how do we know what God is calling us to do? Where’s the roadmap…or the specific set of instructions?

I should be honest and say I don’t really have an answer to that question. But I do have a theory. For some reason, God doesn’t choose to reveal Himself to individuals in the same way. I believe those people who hear a more distinct calling—like the 12 disciples—are quite rare.

For reasons beyond our understanding, God wants the rest of us to embark on our journeys without really knowing where we’re headed. In many ways, this “not knowing” becomes the greatest stretch of our faith.   There’s a plaque that used to hang in my old office with the following quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” What better way to show our trust in God than to set out on this blind journey, confident that He will reveal Himself to us when the time is right? That He will reveal our purpose when we’re ready to hear it. So for those of you who come up blank when you ask yourself, what is my purpose in life? It’s ok. Maybe you’re not supposed to know what your purpose is just yet. Maybe it’s enough to say you’ll know it when you see it.

So…what do we do in the meantime?

To quote a popular phrase, “Keep on keepin’ on!” Just because God has chosen not to reveal His plans for you just yet, that’s no reason to go running back to the security of your fishing nets. For now, let the journey become your purpose. Let the journey become your calling. Commit yourself to leaving the seashore and following Jesus, wherever He might lead you. Commit yourself to taking the next step on the staircase. To the belief that Jesus is leading you to your destiny.

The next time you see a spider web, think about—comparatively speaking—how far that spider had to travel to complete the web. If you stretched all the tiny little lines and squares of the web out into a straight line, imagine how long it would be. But a spider doesn’t travel in a straight line. I read this in a book, once, and it really stuck with me: to make a web, a spider must continually return to a center point. Like a compass that always points North, this constant return to center is what enables the spider to create that intricate and beautiful spiral shape we are so familiar with.

So a spider is really taking a series of little journeys, always coming back to center. I challenge and encourage you to do the same. Keep your relationship with God at the center, and venture out on an endless series of little journeys…with each one, learning more about yourself and more about your purpose in life. This allows you to keep moving, even when you don’t have all the answers. And I absolutely believe that’s the way God wants it. He wants us to venture out on the journey without knowing exactly where it will lead. He wants us to be open to it. He wants us to learn, to make mistakes along the way, to keep on keepin’ on. And this becomes so much easier to do when you know you can always come back to the center—to God.

The only thing that God does NOT want is for us to give up the journey entirely. For it’s what happens on this journey that will give our lives purpose.

What Makes Your Life Full?

night sky remember quote

The essence of wisdom is remembering what we already know.
So what is it that we already know?

We know that God is always with us.
But do we REMEMBER to feel His loving presence during difficult times?
We know how important it is to spend quiet time in prayer.
Do we REMEMBER to break from our hectic schedules to pray or sit in the stillness?
We know that God called us from the womb, a precious creation in His own image.
Do we REMEMBER to value ourselves as gift?
We know that Jesus died for us.
Do we REMEMBER to reflect on the enormity of that sacrifice
and what it means for us?

Life is FULL of distractions, interruptions, interferences, disruptions.
We say we’re busy, chaotic, hectic, frenzied.
Life if FULL of the unforeseen, the unpredictable, the unexpected, the unplanned.
We get pulled away, wrapped up, preoccupied, sidetracked.

REMEMBER how much God loves you.
REMEMBER that God is always waiting for you.
REMEMBER all of this…

And your life will be FULL indeed!

An Introvert’s Guide to Advent

winter branches

My sister and I have a long-standing joke that she’s my “Wake Wingman.”  I’m an introvert and so immersing myself in large crowds has never been my thing. Small talk can be draining for me. I also internalize emotions and wakes are brimming with feelings.  My sister, on the other hand, is a gregarious, extroverted, social being.  She always knows what to say, and large crowds of overflowing emotion bring out the best in her.  So whenever possible, I tag along behind her at wakes.  I mean I literally stand behind her the whole time, glued to her side.  As we work our way through the line, she says something to the neighbor or co-worker and I nod my head in agreement, offering a sympathetic look or a gentle smile if appropriate.  We’ve been doing this for years and it works for us.

My expression of sorrow is no less sincere; it just has a different delivery method.

It got me thinking about the challenge for introverts to live out the message of Jesus.  Jesus was all about relationships.  Love your neighbor, help the poor, gather in communities to pray.  For some, this comes as naturally as breathing.  Serving a meal to a hundred patrons of a soup kitchen would leave an extrovert feeling energized and ready to take on the world.  For me, I would want to crawl under the covers and turn out the lights.  Not because I don’t love my neighbor.  Or I don’t care about helping those in need.  It’s just harder for me.  Being an introvert means that you’re more energized by time spent alone rather than with people.  Social crowds can quickly sap the introvert of energy.  There’s a tendency to seek out quieter, less publicly stimulating environments.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your faith into action, particularly at times of the year when we’re reminded of the importance of doing so.  And so I offer you:

AN INTROVERT’S GUIDE TO ADVENT

WRITE.  Introverts need time to think about what they want to say and how they want to say it.  Writing is an ideal outlet for this kind of communication.  Use correspondence to live out Jesus’ Great Commandment.  For the remainder of Advent, send one email or note each day to someone you care about or admire.  Tell them how you feel.  Plan for bigger goals in the New Year.  Start a blog!  Join an online Bible study.

LISTEN.  Introverts are gifted at listening and their calm, gentle demeanor is the perfect balm for someone in distress.  The holiday season can tap into loneliness and sadness for a lot of people. Look for opportunities to lend a listening ear to someone who needs it.  A meaningful one-on-one connection allows you to be Jesus for that person, and to see Jesus in them.

PRAY.  Quiet prayer comes naturally to introverts and what better time of year to embrace the silence and stillness than Advent.  Seek out a moments of quiet solitude as often as you can. “For God alone, my soul waits in silence.” (Psalm 62:1) Try new forms of silent prayer like meditation or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Use this holy season to deepen your relationship with God.

BE CREATIVE.  Many churches and faith communities offer opportunities for community service at this time of year.  If helping others by being in the thick of the action doesn’t work for you, find ways to help behind the scenes.  Instead of mingling at a fundraiser, volunteer to help design the flyer, or stuff envelopes.  Your contribution is no less important because you weren’t “in the spotlight.”

STRETCH.  Don’t let being an introvert become an excuse. It’s a huge temptation for introverts to hide away rather than engage with the world. Look for ways that God is gently challenging you to stretch out in faith.

Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between—my prayer for you this Advent season is that you will seek ways to grow in your relationship with our loving God, as we await the coming of our Savior.  Come, Lord Jesus, come!

God is Waiting For You

rainbow blog

This is the time of year for high school graduations, and it’s got me thinking about my own high school years.  Some of my fondest memories are the nights I would come home after an evening out with my friends.  My mother always waited up for me, and my return home had a lovely sense of ritual to it.  I would come in, join my mother on the couch, and she would ask to hear every detail of my night out.  Sometimes my stories were filled with joy, other times heartache and teenage drama. More often than not they were probably pretty boring.  It never made any difference to my mom.  She listened with total focus and rapt attention.  How wonderful it felt to know that she cared not only about me but about every facet of my life.

I can’t help but compare this memory to a doctor I used to see years ago when I lived in Boston.  She would breeze into the examining room and spend as little time with me as she possibly could.  She was a nice woman, but it was obvious she was overbooked and had other patients waiting.  I didn’t doubt her skills as a physician, but I never really felt like she cared about me or what I had to say. It got to the point where I felt guilty asking her questions about my health…believing she had more important or sicker patients to deal with than me.

Which of these two examples matches more closely with your image of God? When you approach God in prayer, do you do so with comfort and confidence or with a sheepish sense of apology?  “I don’t mean to bother you, but…”

It’s easy to believe that God is too busy to hear us.  How many billion people live on this planet?  Why would God care about the details of one little soul?  The answer is simple.

Because God created your soul and you belong to Him.

Our relationship with God is one of constant invitation.  Like my mom sitting on that couch, God is always waiting, eager to hear from us, no matter what we have to say.  He’s strong enough to bear it all:  our complaints, our doubts, our fears, our anger, our sorrows, our joys, our moments of transformation.  Nothing is too dark or too trivial or too overwhelming for God’s loving ears.

There are many different ways to pray, but one that I love the most is just talking to God.  It brings home for me the fact that God is not a remote power, too busy or lofty to hear from us.  God is present and close, and wanting an intimate relationship with each and every one of us.

“To be present is to arrive as one is and open up to the other.
At this instant, as I arrive here, God is present waiting for me.
God always arrives before me, desiring to connect with me
even more than my most intimate friend.
I take a moment and greet my loving God.”
(From “Sacred Space” at http://www.sacredspace.ie)

My prayer for you today is that you will truly believe that God cares for you and is waiting to hear from you.