Advent, Anxiety, Adversity

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This time of the year may be the most wonderful time for many people, but for some it is a time of sorrow, regret, and stress. This is the time of the year the Christian Church looks toward the promise of Advent. A promise of the return of the Lord.
Yet, when I look to the prophets of the past, I find that hoping for the Day of the Lord, is not always a pleasant promise or one of a celebratory perspective.
What a terrible day! The day of the LORD is near; it comes like chaos from the Almighty. (Joel 1:15 CEB)
Doom to those who desire the day of the LORD! Why do you want the day of the LORD? It is darkness, not light; (Amos 5:18 CEB)
The great day of the LORD is near; it is near and coming very quickly. The sound of the day of the LORD is bitter. A warrior screams there. (Zeph. 1:14 CEB)
Look, I am sending Elijah the prophet to you, before the great and terrifying day of the LORD arrives. (Mal. 4:5 CEB)
Now if it seems like I am saying I am not looking forward to the possibility of be accepted by the Lord, I am not. The hope of heaven is the only really hope we have as human beings. What I am saying is I believe Advent needs to be set in the context of not just anticipation, but also in the reality of the Job-like experience some/many people, even Christian people, live.
So, day in and out,
He ran from the doubt,
Never finding earthly peace,
Or any sustained release,
Just seeking to cope,
In the absence of human hope.
Oh, when will come the day,
When at last in the grave
He will lay?

At last!

Advent was a sobering season in the past. The season was so serious, the Church felt in necessary to add a pink candle and have one Lord’s day focus on joy. I fully agree that people need to have times of joy, still, for some any joy is a fleeting, frustrating, and at times futile endeavor.

Yes, I know this post if dark. And no, this author is not in a state of absolute despair (well maybe 97%) and in no way, would consider the even remote possibility of ending life through a self-action.

No matter, even when pain is a constant companion, even when a person feels like the world would be better without them and it could not get worse, be assured it can!

I cannot image, or perhaps I dare not image, what it would be like trying to explain to God why you felt like you had to right to decide to end your own life. There is no excuse or explanation for something so selfish. This is true especially in the light of what God incarnate, Jesus, endured because of human life’s value. What pain could be greater than injustice, betrayal, humiliation, abandonment, crucifixion and descent into hell? Even in the worst darkness, we have no idea.

I am writing this post so that those who read it and are struggling with the feelings this season can stir and aggravate know they are not alone and that it is okay to not feel compelled to be happy, joyful when you are supposed to be (or at least pretend to be) and it is alright to cry out to God, “Perish the day I was born, the night someone said, “”A boy has been conceived.”” That day– let it be darkness; may God above ignore it, and light not shine on it. (Job 3:3-4 CEB)

What is important for those who hope is to one day be accepted into the presence of our Lord is to remain vigilant and endure knowing, “I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18 CEB)

Spontaneous Prayer

Anthony Bloom, in his book, Beginning to Pray, writes, “Spontaneous prayer is possible in two situations: either at moments when we have become vividly aware of God, when this awareness calls out of us a response of worship, of joy, all the forms of response which we are capable of giving, being ourselves and facing the living God, or when we become aware suddenly of the deathly danger we are in when we come to God, moments when we suddenly shout out from the depths of despair and dereliction, and also from the sense there is no hope of salvation for us unless God saves us.”

Knowing this to be true, I write this simple, spontaneous one word prayer bead prayer today.

Cross:
Mercy
Invitatory Bead:
Help
Cruciform Beads:
Forgive
Weeks Beads:
Renew
Benedictory Bead:
Clean
Cross:
Hope

Amen………

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A Prayer During Darkness

Tragedy is a part of human life. Paradise, as a place of no problems or sorrows, is not a reality when we live in a world of decay and death. We can never know when an accident, a storm, a disease, or another person may act in a way that brings tragedy to our doorstep.

It is not a matter of if, but of when.

In American culture this tension is lessened by our ability to utilize material resources to distract us from this certainty. We are skilled at isolating tragedy and imagining that such things will not happen to us. We are very good at finding ways not to think about the terrors or transforming them into entertainment in which we can hit the reset button or change the channel.

I am told there was a time even in America, when death was more visible, real, and feared rather than denied. A time in which people prepared for the darkness rather than trying to ignore it or escape it. A time in which faith was more prominent and practiced. I believe this is true. I believe it was during a time in which places of worship and spirituality center life in a community rather than being an option on the edge of our culture.

But who am I to question such things.

Still, I pray. I try to prepare. I seek the foundation and relationship needed to face tragedy. I am striving to learn how to suffer with hope. I understand my time will come to endure the darkness. I understand, even in darkness, their is light to be experienced.

 

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Cross:

“God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” (1 Jn. 1:5 CEB)

Invitatory Bead:

Oh Lord, in our darkness we need your light. In our struggle against the darkness, bring us to hope. In the pain inflicted by the dark unknown and even darker evil, only you can sustain, only you can rescue. Lord, be my light now, bring light to my prayer.

Cruciform Beads:

You are the one who lights my lamp– the LORD my God illumines my darkness. (Ps. 18:28 CEB)

Weeks Beads:

Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” (Lk. 1:78-79 CEB)

Benedictory Bead:

Psalm 23

Cross:

Lord, bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

 

Seeking Formation Rather than Information

WP_20130721_003In the days after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the responsibility to continue the work of making the Kingdom of God known to the world fell to the disciples. From the influence of their experiences, the teaching they received from the Lord and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Way (the first name for the Christian faith) expanded. The Way transformed lives and became salt and light to a world of decay and darkness.

The Church, more than just a social movement, brought power “on earth as it is in heaven” to humankind in the form of a hope in spite of and in place of the world. God created the Church to be the incarnation of God now dwelling the hearts of a people in the process of formation. This process of formation would demonstrate God’s ultimate superiority over humanity’s inclination toward constant self-deception.

Yet, we human beings as we are, still were and are greatly influence by our natural nature to desire to be informed rather than being formed. We still look to information as the power to be equal with God. Such a tendency seems to lead so many on the wide road of seeking the comfort of certainty (an illusion) rather than the narrow road of being shaped by the mystery of perfect love. What a mistake we make when we allow this self-deception to keep us from becoming what God desires for us to be.

Cross:

Lord,

I’m sent to bring about the faith of God’s chosen people and a knowledge of the truth that agrees with godliness. Their faith and this knowledge are based on the hope of eternal life that God, who doesn’t lie, promised before time began. (Tit. 1:1-2 CEB)

Invitatory bead:

Forgiving God, I know I shouldn’t live my life like the world anymore. The people of the world base their lives on pointless thinking, and they are in the dark in their reasoning. They are disconnected from God’s life because of their ignorance and their closed hearts.
(Eph. 4:17-18 CEB- paraphrased)

Spirit lead me away from this kind of life!

Cruciform beads:

Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is– what is good and pleasing and mature. (Rom. 12:2 CEB)

Weeks beads:

Fear of the LORD is where wisdom begins; sure knowledge is for all who keep God’s laws. God’s praise lasts forever! (Ps. 111:10 CEB)

Benedictory bead:

Lord’s Prayer

Cross:

Thank You for working Your miracles through me.
Thank you for peace of mind, heart, and soul.
The world and I are One with You,
God of my heart, Breath of my breath, Throb in my veins.
Your loving world is the real one, and my gratitude is profound.
And so it is.
Amen.

(http://www.prayerforce.org/transformation-prayer.htm)

 

 

God Does Hold On

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No matter who we are, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we pray, there will be times darkness that cannot be avoided. These times may be of our own making, of our reaction to others, or pushed on us by the nature of a fallen, hostile world. When these times of darkness come, there may not be a Bible verse, a prayer, or a comforting word to be heard. We may seem very much alone in our own mental blindness.

What then? Are we to just listen to the negative voices that fill our thoughts during such times? Do we just let the darkness shape how we live or wish not to live? Do we seek to retreat to a place where thoughts cannot follow (so we think) and try to cocoon ourselves in a imaginary world of distractions and denials? Oh, what a temptation the latter offers!

It really doesn’t matter what we do. Such times are likely completely out of our control. We are there in that darkness. We are there, isolated, sick with self-desolation.

Then sometime, through no action of our own, the darkness begins to slightly clear giving us a reprieve, a chance to glimpse, even if briefly, what is in the darkness with us.

It is there we find God feeling everything we feel. We find God, with eyes of sorrow and compassion for our suffering, looking at us, holding on to us even when we cannot or will not feel the Divine embrace. In this time I now pray:

Cross:

If I hope for the underworld as my dwelling, lay out my bed in darkness, I’ve called corruption “my father,” the worm, “my mother and sister.” Where then is my hope? My hope– who can see it? Will they go down with me to the underworld; will we descend together to the dust? (Job 17:13-16 CEB)

Invitatory Bead:

Thank God the stars are set beyond my power,
If I must travail in a night of wrath,
Thank God my tears will never vex a moth,
Nor any curse of mine cut down a flower

G. K. Chesterton

Cruciform Beads:

If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me; the light will become night around me,” even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you! Nighttime would shine bright as day, because darkness is the same as light to you! (Ps. 139:11-12 CEB)

Weeks Beads:

Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Matt. 28:20 CEB)

Benedictory Bead:

Lord’s Prayer

Cross:

My crucified and risen Savior,
With your loving  and open heart help me in my darkness,
to know that you are there.
Forgive me O merciful one when I sink into my weakness
and allow personal pity have power over hope.
Lord nothing I go through do I go alone.
You are following in my footsteps.
Take me from the dark.
Hear me now O lord.
Amen

Praying When you Cannot Pray

20141213_231329000_iOSToday is a very hard day. It is a day filled with a stunned stumble, an unsureness of what is next or even why is there a next. Funny how these things can happen to us. We can seeming be on the joyful swing of life and then, snap, something breaks.

I wish I knew what broke, but I don’t. I remember the surge of emotion, the overwhelming pressure of an off-guard assault and the response that came to quickly, first as a defense and then, the snap.

I was no longer standing in my house, in my hallway. I was 50 years ago facing another’s anger that I did not understand. I wanted to run and hide, but to late, the beating came anyway. I was standing once again being told I was the reason for her problem. I was my fault. The voice cut and something inside broke. It just broke, and I don’t know what to do.

Yes, something finally broke, I do not know if it can be fixed. The pain, a dull, pulsing presence that will not be ignored. The only way to lessen its impact is to replace it, distract it, with another pain or discomfort. There is the escape of sleep, but the broken whatever is waiting, laughing, mocking as soon as I wake up.

I should pray, but I cannot. I am so embarrassed that I broke this easily. Last night, I did not want God to touch it. In the small hours of the morning, I did not want God to be around me. Such a horrid, numbing mind to have. I did not want God. This too has its own agony.

So, here I am, a supposed spiritual leader, broken, filled with thoughts of failure and apathy. What will I do. My mind will not pray. So I turn to my hands, to my beads.

The Cross:

The heart feels pain even in laughter, and in the end, joy turns to sorrow. (Prov. 14:13 CEB)

Invitatory Bead

In my distress I cried out to the LORD; I cried out to my God. God heard my voice from his temple; my cry for help reached his ears. (2 Sam. 22:7 CEB)

Cruciform Beads

My whole body is completely terrified! But you, LORD! How long will this last? Come back to me, LORD! Deliver me! Save me for the sake of your faithful love!
(Ps. 6:3-4 CEB)

Weeks Beads

“I have faith; help my lack of faith!” (Mk. 9:24 CEB)

Benedictory Bead

The Lord’s Prayer

Cross

I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one. They don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth. “I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. (Jn. 17:15-20 CEB)

May the beads and this prayer help with what has broken in me, and the thoughts and specters stop and I can patiently embrace the pain, without loosing my compassion.

A Matter of Choice in the Protestant Rosary Prayers

At a recent small seminar on using the Anglican rosary (Protestant prayer beads) I encountered some criticism of my using the word Protestant instead of Christian for describing the prayer beads. I felt no need to get into a open debate about this at the time and I understood the reasoning behind the person’s criticism.

However, a bit later, I was also criticized for telling those attending the seminar they could use written prayers, songs, or sections of Scripture to develop their own content for prayer.

“No!” I was told, “It must not be long or complicated! It must be a short as possible!”

Still, I felt there is little value in arguing with someone who obviously had taken an immovable position and was intent upon disruption. I let the comment pass and moved on with my presentation.

I understand where this person was coming from. This person is a strong advocate for the centering prayer. This person feels that this is the ultimate form of contemplative prayer, without exception.

Each person is entitled to their own opinion.

I love to spend time entering into the land of silence. I, too, strive to enter into the joy and blessings of the centering prayer. However, I also find times of spiritual growth and intimacy with the Spirit through prayer that come through using the beads and sources I have felt lead to put together to guide my heart and focus into the presence of God.

Some people, myself included, deal with a discursive mind that in made even more chaotic by a clinical disorder (for me ADHD) and, without taking medication, find the centering prayer a difficult (if not impossible) discipline. It is not that I do not want to struggle against the “monkey mind” but I do not find it as productive as taking up the beads and using the physical contact to focus my prayer thoughts. I find in doing this God’s presence and enter stillness (not necessarily silence) which is as restorative and as formational as the centering prayer.

Also, I have found God’s presence and blessings in the creative process of creating prayers for my Protestant rosary. The Holy Spirit, in my opinion, is not limited to using short phrases in guiding us to a deeper spiritual encounter with the Ever One, the Holy Trinity.

Because of my experience with a “fundamentalist” mindset in my own life, I seek to be very careful in telling people what is the “right way” or the “wrong way” to seek growth toward the Kingdom. As a spiritual director, I want to provide people the space and freedom they need to discover what God is doing in their lives.

So, here in this post, where a person can choose to read or not read, agree or not agree without disruptive contention or rude interruption, I encourage those who are discovering the joy of using prayer beads to find and choose the best way for them to proceed.

Blessings………