Let’s chat about intention for a few minutes. Yes, there are days that drive us, and days that we need to leave open and easy for some sabbath rest… but I’m a believer that we need to be shaping our days with reflection and intention.
There’s nothing new in that opening statement. And there’s probably nothing terribly new in the following words, as we all know that “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Still, as I start today with some reflection and intention I find myself with the blogging itch, so I’d like to share with you one of the ways I begin many of my days.
A couple of years ago I preached a message series at Church in Bethesda on seven practices that help facilitate transformation in our lives. The idea sounds terribly deep, but it’s actually a simple idea that there are things upon which we can focus thought and action that will affect the kind of positive change in life we desire. If you’re completely content and never want a single thing to change, then I don’t recommend this exercise.
The seven practices are repentance, prayer, stillness, study, sharing, service and ritual. Within the seven practices I tried to imagine the corresponding values or virtues they cultivate in life, things like integrity, vision, strength, wisdom, maturity, love and action.
In any given morning I take some time to pray and then think about the last few days and the coming day. How’s it been going? What have I not liked about my days? What has not gone as right as I would have liked? What can be better? What has been good? What do I want to keep going? I will often use my list of practices as well as the list of values to see if I am led to choose one or two of them to make some micro goals for the day.
As an example, I might be feeling a distinct lack of vision one day or come to realize that I am not really sharing with others as I ought. Maybe I’ve been frustrated and allowed myself to ignore some important needs in my life or my family, or I’m acting defensively over a hurt or a perceived hurt. Maybe I’ve slipped into being overly critical of others and not as supportive as I should be? Once I have a couple things I have identified for my focus, then I pray a little more and think of concrete action to take that day to address the needs in life I have identified.
So, below is the way that I list the practices, their corresponding values and under each a brief list of things I associate with each of them. Any given day I will reflect and choose one or two of the practices or the values, and make a goal or two for the day…
What do my micro goals look like? Let’s say I choose to zero in on ritual and wisdom. Upon reflection I have identified that I’m feeling but disconnected from daily prayer exercises; prayer has become a bit hit or miss for me. And I have thought that I’m needing to brush up on some deeper study on an issue that is giving me trouble. I’ll need to set some goals for the day so I don’t let another bunch of daylight hours slip away. I’ll make the following goals: 1) I want to be involved in the ritual of prayer more, so I’m going to set reminders on my phone to stop me at noon, 5pm and at 10pm to pray with Psalm 116, and 2) I’m going to cruise Amazon for a good book on the passage or theme I’m struggling with and borrow it with my Prime membership, before dinner. Your goals might be simpler or more involved, but should reflect your way of doing life.
One concrete goal I have made several times as I prepped for work at my Apple Store is to focus on sharing by really emphasizing a clear and sincere welcome/greeting for every person I meet that day, whether at work or out of work, whether another employee or a customer at the store. Good greetings involve things like a smile, eye contact and sincerely expressing “I’m glad you’re here.” One important thing to convey, though in presence and spirit and less in exact words would be “you’re safe with me.” =) You know when you’re nailing that one because you’re interactions suddenly get deeper and more transformational.
Now, I’m no guru, professor or Saint. This list is simply a way I organize some thoughts on my daily life and the change I want to experience and become in this world. I invite you to improve the list. Make it your own. Pray and play with it, and leave it better for having been sifted though the matrix of your own life and faith. Make some goals today and be the change, be changed!
This morning I am tired, and in my fatigue I turn to prayer with one of my favorite saints: Christopher. His name means Christ-Bearer. As the stories of saints go, his is an ancient and beautiful story of finding the will, the strength and the opportunity to serve.
Christopher sought the greatest King to whom he might pledge his strength and battle valor… he found instead a gentle King who called him to serve the weak and the needful. I begin my prayers today with the hope that I could be deeply reminded that my strength, when spent, belongs to the needful around me. I pray that my will is brought together with opportunity to be a servant like Christopher.
Christopher was a convert to Christianity in the 3rd century; he was a violent warrior who wanted to serve the mightiest leader he could find. When he discovered that others pointed to Christ as such a leader he went in search of more knowledge about Jesus. A gentle hermit taught him of Christ and set him on a path of dangerous service to local villagers, not a service of killing or violence, but a service of strength and protection. He would carry them across a river that was to strong for them to cross on their own. He did this service faithfully, and one day is said to have carried Christ himself across the river.
It would be a terrible loss to get too caught up in only trying to find the historical Christopher. You will have to sort thru various names, traditions and stories. He has interesting iconography, almost always holding a staff, most often carrying a child, and even sometimes having the head of a dog. (Say what? That would be just my luck if I have have an icon, lol.) Who martyred him? Where did it happen? Why did it happen? These are probably not going to be discovered to an historian’s satisfaction. You’ll also discover that he’s been dropped from many calendars of saints, mostly because of the lack of concrete evidence for his story. But an ancient story of faith leading to service instead of fighting? An ancient story of faith leading to the strength to serve instead of seeking to dominate and to make demands? It’s a needed story for our times.
St. Christopher is often considered the patron of travelers, and the prayers around him reflect that affinity to travel. I’ll end with a prayer that invokes Christopher’s strength and dedicated service, a prayer for the day…
Grant me, O my God, a watchful eye and willing heart.
I would be a willing servant to all and an enemy to none.
You give all people the gift of life, and I pray my actions and words honor that gift.
May all who share this day with me receive only blessings for our time together.
Teach me to use my strength, my will, and every opportunity, to serve others;
help me to slow down and to turn from myself to see their beauty and value.
Give me the strength, the will and a calling to serve, such as you gave to St. Christopher,
and therein help me to follow this epic example of a living and a serving faith
which uses each day to protect and enrich this world for others by sharing your peace.
I beg these things through the graces of Christ, our Gentle King. Amen.
Links about St. Christopher:
I feel like an apology at the beginning of the post might be appropriate… I’m feeling wordy today. This is going to be a little long and maybe even a bit convoluted, even though it’s just some current devotional thoughts. If you can dig that, then carry on. You have been warned. =)
I’m going through a time of exploration again with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and I am in wonder at the way familiar verses open up to me in reading, meditation and prayer. Not that it’s magic, or that I’m magical, but the old words find new ways to resonate in my mind and soul.
Ignatius called this resonance and awareness a testing of the spirits when we feel a response rise from within us and we stop to explore that feeling. This is just a way of practicing awareness and allowing God to be heard with more clarity in our lives. Today’s reading in my prayer time was Isaiah 43:1-7.
1 But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give nations in exchange for you, and peoples in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth– 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
This is a repeat passage in that I have already spent time with it in the past seven days, but reading the words this morning again allowed me time to recognize a new response within myself. It was the dual movement of God describe as made and redeemed. In my previous reading I had focused on the beautiful imagery of not being washed away by the floods or consumed by the fires.
There’s a lot going on in this passage… notably, some nations are not just passed over in favor of Israel, but given in ransom for her. To be honest, I’m immediately in cringe mode over the disregard for Egypt, Seba and Cush. They were rejected and became a sacrifice for Israel’s safety and inheritance. It’s important to stop and take a deep breath and place the passage in its historical and original context, which was nationalistic and specific. Israel was threatened by other nations, and in her deliverance, those nations were rejected by God. This doesn’t mean that they are forever rejected or forever out of God’s love and favor. But they were at that time a sacrifice given to save Israel.
So when I feel my very personal reaction to the words, “But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.'” I begin by realizing that these words are for Israel at a particular time and place. The movement of made and redeemed belong to Israel and her story with specificity and context, and not to me in the same way. And yet I do feel a resonance that God may have made me and redeemed me similarly, God being both my source and resource, my beginning and my future.
I believe that we always want to start with the specificity of a passage like Isaiah 43, and then move to place our own claim of faith on the words. Just as we lay our claim of faith upon the God of Jacob and Isaac, the God of Sarah and Abram, the God of Eve and Adam, the God of Hannah and of Isaiah, we by faith place ourselves into an extended context of messages like this one. We by faith reach for a handhold on the promises and the strength of God being our source and re-source, our making and re-making, our past and future.
This dual movement of having been made and remade (redeemed) give power to next couplet, that God has summoned and called by name. This movement of God speaks of love, intimacy and good things to come. By faith as followers of Christ we place ourselves in that love and covenantal grace existing between God and Israel in these words of Isaiah. I myself, in faith, can hear that God did indeed make me and then has continued to make me, and will continue to summon, call and I believe to even keep remaking me as necessary. I have both source and resource. I am not alone, finished, done or un-summoned. I can look forward and see God making a way for me.
This was a resonance I needed to hear, today. And I trust that I do not place my own claim of faith upon the making and redeeming activity of God in vain. Maybe it’s the Spring tulips outside after a long winter chill in our region. Maybe it’s the sun finally shining warm and my chance to flex some bare toes in my sandals again. Maybe it’s new life of each breath I’m suddenly aware of as I sit and type away here at the coffee shop, but I see God doing these things… I see the redeeming. I see what has been made being remade. I see hope happening all around me, and in Isaiah, and I want to take a satisfying measure of that hope into me as my sustenance and life for the day. If you’re thirsty, Jesus invites you to drink deep and trust that the flow never ends.
Ash Wednesday is next week, February 18th! If you know me, then you’ve probably heard me mention growing up without a Lenten tradition. I was raised in an interesting little brand of Protestant Christianity which emphasized that days like Christmas Day and Easter were not to be religious holidays for us. We could celebrate them, but not religiously. We didn’t wear “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” buttons and we were told that “Every Sunday is Easter!” So yeah, Lent didn’t exactly fit the model we used for faith.
I discovered that Lent holds hidden treasures and depths of spirituality that I desperately need. Growing older and going deeper in studying Orthodox Theology and exploring my own affinities for high church experience with beloved Episcopal and Roman Catholic friends and guides, I have come to appreciate the practice and I insist on the cleansing cycle of Lent for my life. It is always a good time, time well spent and effort rewarded by drawing closer to God in tangible ways.
Here are some of the things I’ve found across the web that can help us get into a Lenten journey this year. These are recommendations on things from photo-a-day projects to creating your own sacred space for prayer and meditation…
I would also like to share a few things I have worked on over the years for Lent… the first is a Lent With the Psalms 2015. I made this last year for 2014 and have updated it for the days of Lent in 2015. Also, two years ago I made a daily life retreat that I have updated and readied for this year: 2015 Lenten Daily Retreat. Finally, new for this year… I will be tweeting/blogging/Facebooking daily during Lent on the Theme of Compassion! Hope you’ll jump in and participate!
Here are some other related posts on prayer from my blog…
Have a blessed Lenten Season!