Carpe Aeternum

Finding the Eternal in the Every Day

Archive for the tag “prayer”

Every Breath a Prayer

I have been exploring meditation. Trying to learn to slow myself down and do little more than just breathe a few minutes each morning. Most days, of the days that I do it, I can do about five to ten minutes before it becomes a struggle.. Occasionally I can last a little longer. And some days, I just can’t/won’t even start.

Sometimes this feels like when I was a kid trying to learn to hold my breath longer and longer so I could swim farther underwater.

The days that I meditate tend to go better than the days I don’t. The obvious value is physiological. I slow down my life a little. I slow down my breathing, which slows down my heart. It helps relieve my stress. Less stress, even if for only part of my day is a good thing. Doing this in the morning helps me prevent my stress levels from getting a good running start before my day really gets going. If I start worrying about work problems, or a crowded schedule or something I forgot to get done yesterday right as I get out of bed, then I will feel overwhelmed before I can do anything about resolving any of those problems.

And physiologically I don’t need that. I have enough health issues without compounding them with stress. Without creating new health issues born of stress.

But is it something miraculous about meditation? Perhaps. I do believe in the spiritual realm and the power of spiritual disciplines to make our lives better. I think that part of the value derives from the spiritual act in itself.

Richard Rohr talks about the importance of breathing in the spiritual realm. He explains that the unpronounceable name of God (YHWH) is traditionally expressed as the sounds we make as we breathe. The first syllable equates to an inhale and the second to exhaling. Thus every breath we take is calling upon the name of God. Literally, every breath is a prayer. Our lives depend on God so much that we are repeating his name over and over and over each day.

That means every breath is a cry for God’s mercy and compassion to keep me alive. It is then very much a quiet thanks for that incredible gift.

Scripture gives stories of God breathing into Adam, or the reconstructed bodies in the valley of dry bones. His breathe brings life. The Holy Spirit is referred to in terms of breath, of God or Jesus breathing on people and they receive the inflow of his presence.

The very word inspiration, to breathe in, also means to take in spirit.

For a few minutes everyday, I try to be aware that this is happening, to slow down, calm down and just breathe. In those brief moments I do find peace. I do feel closer to a God that I am calling to every few seconds and who responds to me each time. A conversation that continues when I am not aware of it, even continues as I sleep.

Take a deep breath now and enjoy knowing that you and God are connected.

Imagine That

Scripture tells us that God is able to do more than we ask or imagine. Every time I read that passage, I wonder how much our imagination, or lack of it, defines our world. Not just how we perceive the world but how it actually functions.

What if many of the age old problems in the world remain age old problems because we accept them to always be true, to be part of reality. What if we could imagine a better world, one without those problems, we could actually bring it about.

One if the more perplexing aspects of the Bible is the concept that God answers our prayers and that he intervenes because we ask and sometimes doesn’t because we don’t. I cannot explain the theology of that.  I can try to accept it and pray with faith an hope that it actually works that way. Some of the time. If it is true, and my prayers and yours sway God in some way, then why not seek his help with more? With everything. Even the small stuff. Or, even the really big stuff.

What if poverty exists because we can’t imagine a world without it so we don’t pray for that. Or war. Or disease. Or pollution. Or… You can fill in the next 50 “ors”.

In the movie Searching for Debra Winger, several actresses are interviews, including Whoopi Goldberg. she discusses being a child and watching Star Trek. The impact of Lt. Uhura affected Whoopi. She remembers telling her mom “There’s a black lady on television and she’s nobody’s maid.” That was an astounding item when Star Trek first aired on TV. Racism and sexism still drove what roles people played. Gene Roddenberry dared imagine a world, albeit a far distant future world, where a black woman could be an officer. Not the maid.

Would we have gotten to a black president without Star Trek showing us something different than the expected in the mid sixties? Probably, but it may still be coming. One man’s imagination changes how other expected and accepted things to be.

Granted other people played other roles, other imaginations added to the momentum of this movement. But someone, several someones maybe, imagining something different helped other imagine something different. And change followed.

Someone imagined a world without slavery and started acting on that. Others joined in. It was a nasty mess to get to an America without slavery, but it has happened. There is a long way to go. Slavery still exists in the world. Racism still causes problems in the U.S. but things are better and they will continue to get better as we imagine such a world and act on making it so.

But what does any of this have to do with prayer as I started out? This is about art. This is about activism. It’s not about prayer.

Or is it.

The book of Jeremiah includes a letter he wrote to a bunch of people in exile. He tells them that God wants them to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city where they live. As they do so, God will bring it about.

What if praying for the peace and prosperity of the city we live in, or state, or nation, or world, is the first step toward them becoming better places to be? What if imagining it could be different enough to want to pray for it is the first step to God motivating someone to take action about it?

Whenever I pray this, I feel that if I am asking God to bring peace and prosperity to the place I leave, that I need to ask him to make me an agent of that peace, that prosperity. I am told that faith without action is not really faith. So I try to find how to take some action about what I ask God to do.

I think we could have a drastically better world if we dare to pray for it, dare to take action to make it, have the guts to make paintings and songs and stories that show us what it would look like.

Take a minute. Imagine what such a world would be like. Then ask God how you can do something about making it happen.

I dare you.

Foxhole Prayers

There are no atheists in a foxhole, or so I’ve been told. Mike Warnke, before his fall from grace, told a story of a Marine in Viet Nam who was Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox/Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu, just in case. He wanted all his bases covered in case things went bad.

People often talk about the desperation prayers that soldiers say when facing tragedy, imminent death or terrifying circumstances. The movie Guadalcanal Diary from 1943 captures this beautifully, when a marine named Taxi hiding in a bunker confesses to the chaplain that he doesn’t pray because he changes things but sometimes like the horrendous barrage they are under makes him realize that he needs someone bigger than himself, someone God big to do something. He then details what kind of prayer he would say if he knew how to pray. When taxi stops talking, the priest crosses himself and says, “Amen”.

In the church I grew up in, these weren’t considered real prayers. They felt that a relationship  with God was necessary to have real prayers. Prayers sent up by nonbelievers and sinners had no value. They were the equivalent of spiritual barfing.

But I wonder if the emotional realism of those prayers are more significant that properly theologized prayers given by the faithful.

The counter argument is that relationship builds a better prayer life. The closer you are to God, the easier it is to pray and the more meaningful the prayers. Based on my experience, I agree that those are both true statements. Neither, however, negates the value of the desperate prayers of desperate people. Those prayers have power too.

The counter argument to this is that these prayers are the equivalent a friend or relative that only calls when they need something. They reach out in the time of need but never to just connect, or to see if they can help you. Those people are annoying. And it sucks to feel like you are nothing more than a contractor to resolve their issues, that you get nothing out of the relationship. And it’s worse when you want to have connection but it only comes when fixing their problems.

And I’m sure that as much as people like that annoy us, they also annoy God. He desperately wants relationship with us. He wants the connection of everything all the time, like the daily (or weekly)call back home when you first move away. The family wants to know everything that’s happening. God wants the regular, connected prayer that brings us closer.

But he is far more patient with  us than we are with each other. Jesus tells us to forgive far more often than we want to. Scripture tells us that God is ready to forgive us even more than that. If that is true of forgiveness, wouldn’t also be true of requests for help?

The thing that pissed Jesus off more than anything else were those instances that people prevented others from drawing nearer to God. Religious rules that made it hard to connect with God riled him up. Perhaps telling people that their prayers are lacking blocks them from God. Maybe we should be crossing ourselves and saying “amen” instead of assigning bad grades to the attempt to call out to God.

What if, every prayer we say is a foxhole prayer? What if our lives are in dire enough situations that every request for God’s presence or providence is an act of desperation.

We are all in the process of dying. Sure, we are living but we are also dying. The trick is to live as much as possible before we die. Some of us are closer to death than others, but we all face a significant risk of dying today. And tomorrow. And the day after. Prayers to get through today or to be done with today are as much foxhole prayers as they are anything else.

As simple as it is, a prayer of “God, help!” is significant. It is reaching out to someone cares and can do something about it. But most of all it is reaching out.

And that prayer may just connect you to a God who is already reaching out to you.

Brad Bellmore Gets a Life – 7

In the Vineyard (the denomination that I attend) they often bounce around this phrase: Faith is spelled R-I-S-K.  Actually taking some sort of a risk is promoted, typically in a realm where it puts our faith on the line and we have to expect God to do what scriptures say he’ll do.

My last post here I mentioned that I want to try to take more risks. So, as a good Vineyard boy, I should be doing churchy things to accomplish that. And in some ways, that is a good place to start.  The idea of praying for people and expecting God to make a difference always stretches me. Even if I’m comfortable with the concept, the environment and the person being prayed for, I still feel a little worried that it won’t turn out the way I want.  The way I want shouldn’t be the issue, but what God will do for the person we are lifting in prayer should matter, but I focus more on what I want. Like not looking stupid.

So, again, this is a decent springboard for me. If for nothing else, taking the risk of looking stupid in order to see if God will interact in someone’s life.  But I think some slightly bigger risks might be in order. Like accepting the opportunity to preach in two weeks.

I am one of those odd people who like to speak in public. I get nervous and I worry about what to say, but it’s fun to d while I’m doing it. I look forward to it. But there is always the fear boiling inside of me that I have nothing of significance to say. Or that even if I do that my audience will not understand it or care. In short I fear that my efforts, though fun, will be pointless.

But beyond that, and maybe this is one of those for the future things, is meeting people. Quite honestly, I’d rather speak in public than meet people. I hate meeting people. It is too personal. Speaking to a group is a bit removed and not as risky because of that. If they don’t like me it’s they. If I meet you and you don’t like me, that is a tangible real person; you are not they. So someday, as this “taking risks to develop the ability to take bigger risks to tell a better story grows out of me trying to get a life”, I will have to meet some people. I will have to man up and make some new friends. Or enemies. Or more likely, acquaintances.

So, baby steps. Risky baby steps aiming toward that eventual big leap. God, have mercy on me.

The Miracle of Prayer

So often I approach prayer as a discipline. I need to do it each day, preferably on schedule. I allot time for it. Usually in the morning before the day has begun. And then I try to fulfill my obligation to actually do it.
More frequently I forget to as it falls prey to other urgent priorities. Sometimes apathy is just greater than the obligation to pray. And, depending on the reason for not praying, I feel guilty about it and vow to do better next time. Or just continue to not do it because it is always easier to not do something than it is to do it.
Then I hear tales of people that pray beyond any sense of what I consider reasonable, great preachers or saints that prayed large portions of their days or prayed extensively before making any decision. Again, this either heaps guilt because there is some intrinsic implication that I have failed because I don’t pray like that. Or I consider those guys freaks and write them off and discredit their experiences. I can’t deliver those kinds of obligations
But how did it end up being an obligation?
The God of all creation, the wonderful and almighty God himself has offered us the chance to pray and somehow we have reduced it to an obligation.
Now, the hard part of writing this is to do so in a way not to heap a new kind of guilt on everybody. The Church has too much of that already. Think how much shorter the road to heaven would be without all the side guilt trips.
What I’m hoping I can do here is change how we think about prayer.
Rather than an obligation, prayer should be approached as a privilege. And this is why.
How many songs have been written about the amazing fact that God loves us and cares for us? How often have we been asked to ponder the fact that Jesus cared enough about us as sinners that he would die to redeem us and set us free from the curse of sin? A holy God called us holy because he restored us through the sacrifice of his son, and by the very proclamation of holiness made us holy.
This is truly the most boggling part of Christian faith. God loves us. Jesus loves us. The Holy Spirit loves. They want to be in relationship with us. They want to be part of our lives and express their love to us. And all the miraculous events of history have been expressions of that from the first second of creation to the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension. To even the fact that I am breathing at this very moment and so are you. Expressions of mercy and grace and love of the great and glorious God we worship and serve are boundless.
And he did all that, and continues to do all that for us. He did it for the generations before us and will continue to do it for the generations to come. He does all this for those we love and those we hate. God’s love is abundant. Illogical, perhaps, from a human perspective, but is all the more amazing for that.
And this astounding fact needs to pervade our theology. It needs to seep into practice of faith. It needs to mold our relationship with God and our following of Jesus. It needs to redefine how we relate to the people around us.
The more I grow to understand the depths of God’s love for us, the more I realize that this is truly the greatest miracle of all. I find it far too easy to disdain people I think are below me. Sometimes, I treat them as less than human.
I am truly, significantly less than God, yet he pursues me as a person of great value to him. He does the same for all of us, even those I disdain.
So, in light of this miracle of God desiring to connect with us, to be part of our lives, I want to look at the privilege of prayer. This is our chance to communicate with God. He wants to hear from us. He wants to talk with us, to know what we’re feeling and to speak to us. Everyone of us.
Recall some point in your life when you have been madly in love with someone. Remember that craving to speak with them? To hear their voice? That is God’s perspective on prayer. He’s eager to talk to us. He craves to hear us speak to him. He longs to share his heart with us. Just the very act of raising our voice to speak with him and sharing our heart with him gives him joy. When we pray, we cause God to smile.
God delights in us. And we forget it all the time. He constantly reminds us. As we spend time in prayer we can know this in a deeper way. Spend time with him and you can experience this joy and delight.
And how does that knowledge change us? Not just acknowledging that this is a theological fact, I mean knowing it. To quote the oracle form the film The Matrix, “It’s like being in love. You know it, from balls to bones.” Once this truth moves from a concept and into the reality of our lives, we will live very differently.
We most certainly will pray very differently.
So, I ask, why aren’t we diving into prayer as boldly and passionately as we can? I pray as you ponder that question that guilt will stay far from you and that you can see what really is in the way. The lover of your soul wants to whisper in your ear; run to meet him as if you were smitten with him, longing to spend time with him, aching to hear his voice.
Just like he is pining for you.

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