Tag Archive | prayer

Let’s Pray, Floey

Floey sitting - profile cropped“Hey, Mom. We need to have a talk.”

“OK, Floey. What’s on your mind?”

“Ever since you stopped writing your blog every week, I feel that we don’t talk at all. Oh, I know we still talk about the birds and the bees and the gophers when we’re on our walks – how beautiful the goldfinches are, how annoying the wasps are, and how fast the gophers can run when I chase them… But we don’t have deep conversations like we used to have. I miss that.”

“Well, I’ve got some time now. What do you want to talk about?”

“I don’t really care. I just want to spend some time with you, talking about some of the things we’ve each been thinking about. I know. Last month you played the piano in jail twice for the women’s worship service again. How did that go?”

“Oh, that was really something, Floey. The main theme we talked about both weeks was God’s healing. We sang There is a Balm in Gilead and Amazing Grace. You know what was the best part of those services?”

“I bet it was singing those beautiful hymns!”

“Nope. It was when we prayed for each other. Remember we all sit in chairs arranged in a circle, and near the end of the service we pray out loud for the person sitting on our right. That means the person on my left prays out loud for me. When she’s finished, everyone says Amen, and then I pray for the person on my right, and so on.”

52b21b2c62fef-image

Inmates are no longer permitted to hold hands while praying, as pictured. Internet image.

“Well, the first week, Marie, the woman on my left, prayed a long prayer for me. She thanked God for bringing me to play the piano to help them sing hymns. She asked God to bless me and my family. She thanked God for all kinds of wonderful attributes that she thinks I have. I felt really blessed as I heard her pray. Silently, I thanked God for letting me participate in a worship service with these kind, caring women.”

“That must have felt really good, Mom, to be prayed for like that. The woman who prayed for you sounds like a really nice woman.”

“It did feel good, Floey. And Marie seems like a good, kind, Christian woman.”

“After the service I told the chaplain how surprised I was at the long, glowing prayer Marie prayed for me.”

“The chaplain then told me a little about Marie. She was in jail awaiting trial for murdering her teenaged niece. Apparently Marie had been taking care of her niece, and had used physical punishment as a means of disciplining her. When her niece died, she moved the body out of state and managed to keep her hidden for a long time before a relative finally told the police.”

“How can that be, Mom? Do you think she really killed her niece?”

Floey-Marian faces selfie

“I don’t know, Floey. Life is complicated. Maybe killing her niece was an accident. Maybe Marie has severe mental illness. Maybe not. All I know is that she prays like she really loves God and wants to please God regardless of what happens in her life. And I know that she blessed my life by praying for me. And I will continue to pray for her that God will comfort her and bless her regardless of where she spends the rest of her life.”

“Wow. How about your next week in jail? Was prayer time the highlight of that service, too?”

“Yes, it was, Floey. It wasn’t quite as dramatic, but the woman who prayed for me thanked God for bringing me into their services to provide music, and then she thanked God that my spirit was there the weeks that I wasn’t there in person.”

“It sounds like you like to be prayed for, Mom. But I don’t blame you. I’d like to hear someone pray for me sometime, too.”

“I pray for you, Floey, but I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve ever prayed for you out loud in front of you. We’ll have to pray together sometime. We should pray for each other like we do in jail.”

“I’d like that, Mom.”

skmbt_c28016091209590“On the subject of prayer, Floey, Joan Chittister talked about prayer every day in August in THE MONASTIC WAY. She used a quote by Teresa of Avila as the theme for the month’s daily devotions.

Authentic prayer changes us, unmasks us, strips us, indicates where growth is needed.

“Chittister’s reflection on August 5 really grabbed my attention.

The role of prayer is not to coax God into doing what we think would be good for us. It is to embolden us with the courage it will take to do, ourselves, what scripture shows us Jesus would do in a similar situation.

“On August 12th she wrote:

When we discover who we really are, we are finally able to understand others. To be compassionate toward them. To be a gift to the world.

“Then on the 18th she said:

Prayer is the wail of the soul to become what we are really meant to be.

“Near the end of the month she reached the conclusion:

If we are too busy to take time for prayerful reflection every day, we are too busy to be human, too busy to be good, too busy to grow, too busy to be peaceful.

“You know, Floey, between jail and Joan Chittister, I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer over the past several weeks. I think I see prayer a little more broadly than I used to. It’s not just talking to God about what I perceive to be my needs and the needs of my friends, or thanking God for all the good things in my life. It’s communicating with God on a deeper level, learning more about why God created me, and how I may fit into the big picture of life. And it’s about learning to appreciate all of God’s creation. It’s about communicating with God in many different ways throughout the day and night. And I’m just beginning to learn…”

“OK, Mom. That’s enough deep conversation for now. Let’s go for a walk to look for goldfinches and gophers.”

“Good idea, Floey. Enjoying all of God’s creatures is another way of praying…”

american-goldfinch-fredric-d-nisenholz

Goldfinch and bee on thistle. Internet image.

 

Flipping Patterns

Mom and Nancy, many years before I was born.

Mom and Nancy, many years before I was born.

One of my favorite stories that my mom used to tell is about when she was trying to make a dress. She laid out the fabric on the table and pinned the pattern to the fabric. She carefully cut out each piece, but she was having trouble with the dress sleeves. She kept getting two left sleeves. Regardless of how she positioned the pattern on the fabric, she always got the same result – another left sleeve. Finally, my sister, a preschooler at the time, suggested that she turn the pattern upside down. It worked! She got a right sleeve. My mom was a very intelligent woman – she just wasn’t a seamstress.

Working with patterns is how we learn many things. Prayer, for example. Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, and he gave them a pattern that we now call “The Lord’s Prayer,” or the “Our Father.” It has become a pattern for prayer that’s repeated weekly, or even daily, around the world. In my church, everyone in the congregation holds hands and sings the prayer together every Sunday morning.

When I was in eighth grade and taking classes to be confirmed as a Methodist, we were taught a variation of the Lord’s Prayer pattern to use when we prayed. It was a basic outline for personal prayer:

1)      Praise God and thank God for all the blessings I’ve received;

2)      Confess my sins and ask for forgiveness;

3)      Pray for the needs of others;

4)      Pray for my own needs.

(At least that’s the way I remember it.) I recall serious discussions about whether reading a prayer was actually praying, or if it needed to be completely personal and spontaneous to count with God. (Reciting or singing the Lord’s Prayer was an exception to the spontaneity rule.)

Marian playing BaldwinOver the last 50 years or so, I’ve tried several different prayer patterns. One of my favorite ways to pray is to sit down at the piano, sometimes with a hymnal and sometimes with just the hymns in my mind, and talk with God through music.

The actor Kelsey Grammer described this prayer pattern as, “Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you’re listening. Playing the piano allows you to do both at the same time.”

This year I’m trying a new pattern, using a prayer book, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, by Edward Hays. The prayer book consists of four sets of morning and evening prayers, one set for each season. Each set includes a morning prayer and an evening prayer for each day of the week.

Here’s an excerpt from today’s morning’s prayer:

Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim… As a planetary pilgrim,
I marvel that I have traveled over a million miles in space since yesterday morning.
My personal journey this day will be small in distance,
but I pray that it will be significant and sacred in my drawing closer to you.
As the Earth turns toward the sun, I turn my whole self toward you, my God,
as I now enter into silent prayer.

Period of silent prayer or meditation

Your Word is written large across all the universe,
in the wonders of creation and in holy books,
written by the pen of your Spirit.
Open my heart to your Word as I now pray.

A psalm, spiritual reading, or personal prayer
[Note: I’m working my way through a new hymnal in this part.]

May this morning prayer and all my prayers this day
be one with all this Earth, which you have ordained to prayer…

I dedicate this new day to you and ask that as spring unfolds before me
I may unfold according to your ancient dream.
As I reflect upon my personal needs this day,
I ask this blessing:_______________________

I ask that you look upon my work this day
as a sacrifice performed in solidarity with __________________
who is (are) in need of your grace and assistance.

Imprint upon my body, and upon all that I shall touch,
your sacred signature as I conclude this prayer
in your holy name
and in the name of your Son
and of the Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever, ages without end.
Amen.

Personally, I’m finding this more structured prayer pattern very refreshing this year, and a nice complement to my “piano prayers.” It’s kind of like Edward Hays has suggested that I flip the pattern over to learn new ways of talking with God. Just as my mom finally got all the pieces together for her dress, I’m slowly getting more of the pieces together for learning how to pray.

Philip Yancey, a prolific evangelical author, said it this way, “For me, prayer is not so much me setting out a shopping list of requests for God to consider as it is a way of ‘keeping company with God.’”

“Keeping company with God” – that’s something worth learning how to do! I’m thankful for patterns to help me learn how to “keep company with God.”

Lords Prayer

 

 

Maria’s Story – Part 2

Another conversation with Abbey

Another conversation with Abbey

When I came home from playing the piano for the Women’s Worship Service at the county jail last Thursday, Abbey met me at the door. “Did you see Maria?” she asked. “Did Maria come to worship?”

“No, Abbey,” I replied. “Maria has already been transferred to the women’s prison in northeastern Wisconsin. That’s where she’ll serve her 13-year sentence for killing her little boy.”

“I’m sorry you didn’t get to see her again, Mom.”

“Even though I won’t be seeing her every month like I have for the last couple years, I won’t forget about her. And, like you suggested last week, Abbey, we can keep praying for her.”

“That’s right, Mom. I’m sure going to keep praying for her. I want God to keep her safe, and help her remember how much she is loved, and help her be an example of God’s presence in prison.”

“You know, Abbey, lots of people are praying for Maria. After last week’s blog post, several people responded on the blog saying they will pray for her. Others told me on Facebook, and some sent me emails. I told the chaplain in jail about all the people who are praying for Maria. The chaplain said she has printed out the blog along with the reader comments and she is going to mail it to Maria in prison. She expects Maria will be quite encouraged when she reads the blog and the comments.”

“That’s good. I hope she gets it soon. I bet the first few days in prison are especially hard for her. She is completely surrounded by strangers – the people she will live with for many years. I wonder if any of them will be friendly – like most of us dogs are.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, Abbey. But that’s something else we can pray for – that she’ll make some good friends quickly. That reminds me, Abbey. I just finished reading a book entitled 10 Prayers You Can’t Live Without, and subtitled, How to Talk to God about Anything.  It was written by Rick Hamlin and was published this year by Guideposts in New York. It’s a wonderful book!”

“Oh, how I wish I could read. You talk about so many good books, Mom. Tell me about this one.”

“Well, there’s a separate chapter for each of the 10 prayers. The chapters are:10 Prayers

  1. Pray at Mealtime
  2. Prayer as Conversation
  3. Pray for Others
  4. Praying the Lord’s Prayer
  5. Praying for Forgiveness
  6. Pray through a Crisis
  7. Sing Your Prayer
  8. A Classic Prayer to Focus Your Thoughts
  9. Pray in Thanksgiving at All Times
  10. Pray Yes

“Each chapter is filled with stories from the author’s life or from other people’s lives about why or when that particular kind of prayer was extra important for them.”

“I bet that book was fun to read with all those personal stories.”

“It sure was, Abbey. It was very inspiring. Now that you and I are talking about praying for Maria, the chapter on praying for others (chapter 3) is very relevant. I’m sure God cares about Maria whether we pray for her, or not. But you know what really happens, Abbey, when we pray for someone? Listen to what Hamlin said in the middle of that chapter:

Prayer expands your world. You learn to care about people you would never have known otherwise, and you find out what makes them tick. You grow in your ability to love…[p. 53]

“We ourselves benefit, Abbey, by praying for others. And the person we pray for benefits, too. Later in this chapter the author talks about Bob and Lee Woodruff. Bob was the ABC News anchor who was seriously injured in the Iraq war.

You don’t go through something like that without being changed. For Lee she gained a new understanding of the power of prayer. When she was weak, when she was struggling, when she feared she was at the end of her rope, others were thoughtful enough to pray for her. They covered for her. They gave her strength. [p. 66]

“Wow! I get it, Mom. Just think of how Maria must feel if she knows that all of us care about her enough to pray for her. That must make her feel good, even though she knows she has many years of rough times ahead of her.”

“I think you’re right, Abbey.”

“Let’s see, God wants me to pray for others. That kind of prayer is a benefit to the person prayed for and it’s a benefit to me, too. Will you tell me about some of the other kinds of prayers in that book sometime?”

“I’ll try, Abbey. But meanwhile, we have a perfect opportunity to practice this kind of prayer by praying for Maria.”

“That’s true, Mom. AND, I can think of some other people I want to pray for, too. I’m going to start right now …”

Abbey eyes closed-praying

How do you talk with God?

My mom and me looking pious for a program in church about 1955.

That’s something I’ve been trying to learn ever since I was a little kid. I remember the first prayer I ever learned: “God bless our food. Amen.” I said that prayer and then my brother and sister said the Norwegian table prayer, and then we could eat. My mother never had the patience to teach me the Norwegian prayer.

In kindergarten, I learned the prayer I still use before meals, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed. Amen.”  When my sister (eleven years older than me) went away to college, my mother dropped the Norwegian prayer, and whoever was at the table recited the “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer. It was easier for everyone. And, I guess that prayer let God know we appreciated God’s providing for our physical needs even if the words were English. The prayer didn’t have to be in Norwegian.

As I grew older, I sometimes thought that we should say a more mature prayer like visiting ministers or missionaries would sometimes say, something like “Our Father, thank you for the food that Thou hast provided, and for the hands that have prepared it…” When I was asked to pray in front of guests, I sometimes tried to say something like that, but was never quite sure I was saying it right. I hated to be asked to do the prayer. It didn’t feel like I was talking with God with that kind of prayer. I was doing a ritual for the approval of the guests around the table.

My bedtime prayer was always more spontaneous. Typically it was something like, “Dear Jesus, thank you for keeping me safe today and for giving me a good day. Take care of mother and daddy, Nancy and Danny, grandma…” and whoever else I was thinking about that evening.

In Sunday School and confirmation classes, I learned that my prayer should include several sections: praising God, thanking God for specific gifts to me and those I love, praying for the needs of others, and lastly, praying for my own needs. My bedtime prayers got longer, more inclusive, and more structured.

But praying before meals and at bedtime didn’t really cover all the times I felt I wanted to talk with God about something. Inevitably, there were moments of crisis when I wanted to pray to God for help or protection – like needing to do well on a particular test in college, or walking alone on a street in Chicago when I sensed someone was following me. That’s when I really wanted God to hear me, and I wanted to have God reassure me that I wasn’t alone.

As my understanding of how to talk with God continued to develop, I discovered that music was an amazing way to communicate some of my thoughts and feelings to God, and to gain new insights into what types of communication were possible with God. One old gospel song that helped me envision what my relationship with God could be like was “In the Garden” by C. Austin Miles.

I come to the garden alone,
while the dew is still on the roses;
and the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain:
And He walks with me,
and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share
as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
and the melody that he gave to me
within my heart is ringing.
Refrain.

Over the years, music has become one of the most meaningful ways for me to visit with God. I don’t sing, but I take a hymnal, sit down at the piano and pray the words as I’m playing the music. I can spend hours having a conversation with God through the hymnal.

A few years ago I came upon the book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I’ve mentioned this book several times in this blog. It’s a book of daily devotional writings, with each day’s entry written as though Jesus is talking directly to me. Scripture citations are listed at the bottom of the entry as proof that the Bible really does say those things. This book has been very helpful to me in making my conversations with God true dialogs rather than just me stating my immediate concerns. Here’s today’s entry.

Welcome challenging times as opportunities to trust Me. You have Me beside you and My Spirit within you, so no set of circumstances is too much for you to handle. When the path before you is dotted with difficulties, beware of measuring your strength against those challenges. That calculation is certain to riddle you with anxiety. Without Me, you wouldn’t make it past the first hurdle!

The way to walk through demanding days is to grip My hand tightly and stay in close communication with Me. Let your thoughts and spoken words be richly flavored with trust and thankfulness. Regardless of the day’s problems, I can keep you in perfect Peace as you stay close to Me.

James 1:2; Philippians 4:13; Isaiah 26:3

I know I’m not alone in wanting to know how to have a conversation with God, because the disciples also asked Jesus how to pray. In Matthew 6:5 Jesus told them, “… whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Then Jesus went on to say what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father.”

So what prompted me to write about talking with God today? Saturday I participated in a centering prayer workshop at Whispering Winds. Prior to this workshop I had a vague understanding that centering prayer was a Christian form of meditation, somewhat similar to the meditation practices of eastern religions. Saturday’s workshop was led by three leaders who had been trained by Contemplative Outreach, the organization founded by Fr. Thomas Keating in the 1970’s to develop methods of reviving the contemplative dimension of the Gospel. (More about centering prayer and this organization is on their website www.contemplativeoutreach.org.)

In the workshop we learned practices to help us quiet our mind and sit silently with our eyes closed for periods of 20 minutes or longer. At this point, I’ll have to admit that I’m somewhat intrigued by centering prayer, although I’m not about to say it’s the “sliced bread” of prayer. The process of sitting still and emptying our minds of distracting thoughts so that God can fill us is suggested by the Psalm that I have always loved reading, “Be still and know that I am God.” [Psalm 46:10]

One of the key messages from Saturday’s workshop was that as we continue to develop our own personal relationship with God, prayer – or communication with God – takes on many forms, not just one. I can still say “Come, Lord Jesus…” and know that I’m including God in our mealtime. I can pray for my friends and family and others as I understand their needs. I can worship God and ask for help in my life by spending time at the piano with a hymnal. I can read the Bible in a variety of forms to hear God speaking to me. I can go for a walk and hear what God has to say through the songbirds and the rippling brook just down the road from Whispering Winds. And, I can sit silently in a straight-backed chair with my eyes closed for 20 minutes of centering prayer.

God wants to talk to me – and you – just as much as we want to talk with God. We have a lifetime to learn all the ways to do that.