Prayer

A Spring Novena

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StFrancisGood morning, beloved. This past weekend was our Pentecost celebration in churches around the world, and it got me thinking of making a novena, a nine day prayer exercise for my daily life; it’s a little Spring Cleaning for my soul. I’m starting mine tomorrow, on Wednesday, May 18th. My little novena is not officially sanctioned by any church body, Catholic, Anglican or Episcopal… it’s just my own effort to focus my prayers for the next nine days, and I invite you to go along with me as a spiritual friend.

I’m structuring my novena with an intention, prayers and a practice. You’re invited to join me in that intention, the use of these prayers and my framework of practice, or to change them and use them as seems best for you.

Intention

My intention for this novena is to focus on the spiritual flow of my day, to slow down my mind and still my heart to a place where I can sit with God in the middle of my hectic flow of work and play. In short, my intention is a greater awareness of God’s Spirit with me at various points in the day.

Prayers

I’ll be using three prayers as a beginning place for each prayer time during the nine days, my own daily prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer for the human family In Times of Conflict. I’m going to have these all on my phone for easy access, and I usually have my Book of Common Prayer (also found online and in most used bookstores) in my backpack. Plan for prayers!

My Daily Prayer: “Let me love, let me learn, let me serve.”

Our Father, who art in heaven, 
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come, 
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, 
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

28. In Times of Conflict
O God, you have bound us together in a common life.
Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth,
to confront one another without hatred or bitterness,
and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  BCP pg. 824

Practice

My practice will be to stop before each meal or a break time when I get something to eat (I sometimes take a break at work and grab a samosa and a diet Coke), and feed my soul before feeding my belly. Again, my beginning prayers are all in the Book of Common Prayer which I normally carry, but will also be in my phone and iPad. I also plan to begin each of the next nine days upon waking with our baptism vows of the Episcopal. If you’re familiar with them, they end with the following lines (my favorites):

Celebrant: Will you proclaim by word and example
the Good News of God in Christ?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons,
loving your neighbor as yourself?
People: I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among
all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God’s help.
BCP pg. 305

If you join me on this little journey, I’d love to hear about your prayers and days. If you have a different intention or vary the prayers and practice, I’d love to hear about that, too.

AMDG, Todd

Praying for Syria

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love everyoneI was driving to work this morning, to the sounds of my radio and the BBC World News, no bombs, no gunshots, no screams. The program was about Syria and the experience of everyday folks still trying to make a life in the war-torn city of Aleppo.

My soul is heavy and burdened for the thousands killed in that conflict, a death toll estimated to have almost reached half a million people as of February. The number of refugees has been placed at 4.5 million. Let this quote sink in for a moment: “More than 85 percent of the country is living in poverty, with close to 7 in 10 Syrians stuck in extreme poverty — unable to afford essentials like food or water. At the start of the war in 2011, joblessness stood at 14.9 percent. By the end of last year, it surged to 52.9 percent.” from the Syrian Center for Policy Research.

These victims of a brutal war are women, men and children, our neighbors. Love them. Each and every one of them is a human being made in God’s image, carrying the value and worth that God has placed within each of us. They are God’s beloved. They have died and they are hurting, and so I pray with them, today.

Pray with me for peace to break lose in Syria. Pray for the fighters and the rebels, the soldiers and the leaders. Pray for the mothers and fathers, the children and the entire nation to know peace. Pray for the souls of the dead and the tomorrows of the living. Stop and desire in your heart the best for them and the richest of choice blessings. Sit with me and we will bend our wills to love them deeply.

I learned an East African proverb from our mentors at seminary years ago, “When the elephants fight it’s the grass which suffers.” Pray that the love of war, the pride of hate and the tendency to violence may be overcome. Pray that the winds and ravages of war may end and that the Syrian people can again stand straight and tall in the warmth of God’s sun.

Believe that our prayers are heard, and given any chance speak for peace! Speak for the blessing of the Syrian people. Speak for the refugees. Believe that our prayers are heard, and given any chance act for peace! Find an agency that is helping the people of Aleppo, and give. Find a group that is serving the refugees, and donate. In this way we show our faith that God hears us and we offer ourselves to be part of the answer.

All things to God’s glory and the blessing of God’s world.

AMDG, Todd

Jump Starting a Friday

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IMG_0073

For me, this has meant…
listening to my EDM playlist including Exostomp by Flux Pavillion,
eating an asiago cheese bagel at Starbucks,
stretching to do some toe touches and rotating my neck,
reading some good words in the book of Sirach chapter 4,
and praying for the energy and joy to better love, learn and serve.

Happy Friday, beloveds!
AMDG, Todd

Hard to Wake Up But Worth It

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Oh my, it’s Thursday. Thursday can be a special torture… so close to the end of another week and a herald of the weekend, and yet so far away from that coveted rest. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me today, on this glorious sunny Thursday, but I can’t wake up. It’s several cups of coffee, a hot shower, two pop tarts and my drive into work later, and I could still close my eyes and drop right back to sleep where I sit at a nearby Starbucks.

But it’s worth waking up! This day is mine, given by God’s grace and pregnant with meaning and opportunity. It’s nothing special in and of itself, just another Thursday. But when I stop and imagine the prayerful love, the intention learning, and the healing service to which I can give this day… it makes me sit a bit straighter, take another sip of coffee and pray sincerely, “Wake me to love, wake me to learn, wake me to serve.” I repeat it. I chant it. I write it. I even take a moment to put it in a nice graphic for my blog.

Daily Prayer Break Down

I’m not always so sure what my human mind and human body are doing. I’m not totally sure why it can be so difficult to wake up on a Thursday like today… maybe I didn’t sleep as well as I thought I did, or I have some stresses I need to face and relieve, or the barometric pressure is different and my body is sluggish while it adapts? But I do know that on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and even tomorrow on Friday and then on Saturday, my prayer remains and moves me: love, learn, serve.

From the joy of a sincere and happy greeting to the healing of honored dignity and worth, this is a day of love, learning and service. This is not a prayer to win anything, outdo anyone at something, or prove a single thing. This is a prayer that strips away the false and selfish hopes which wear me out day after day, the wanting and the buying and the hoarding. It’s an embrace the joyful servant of Christ, the Jesus of washing dirty feet, touching outcasts, eating with the unpopular and refusing to condemn even the blatantly guilty.

When I most need that boost into a day, a reason to stretch and make myself get up and get moving, there’s a daily prayer for just that thing: Let me love. Let me learn. Let me serve. It’s worth waking up to give a day to the increase of love. It worth waking up to embrace a day with eyes and ears wide open to the truths and insights all around me. It’s worth waking up to offer a hand or heart of service to my friends, my family and the most needful of my neighbors.

I’m waking up, because it’s worth it.

AMDG, Todd

Mutual Love, February’s Intention

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Weekly Grace Feb 7 2016As we enter into February and the Lenten Season, let’s pray for a mutual love to deepen and expand among us, against all odds. Each week we’ll dig into a single biblical author’s thoughts or account of mutual love and we’ll re-affirm our own commitment to the love that should be growing between us.

It’s going to be my personal prayer this month that I will be able to grow in deeper love for the people who are least like me and think least like me. I believe I have more often been taught to try to change those people, or at least to avoid them. If I wasn’t taught to do so, then I have certainly learned through experience that this is usually the easiest course.

Perhaps with some prayerful creativity and reflection I can discover ways to listen to them better; I may even find some ways to more fully offer them the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully, I will imagine some new ways for us to maintain our unique experiences and perspectives, but still coexist in harmony and shared love. It seems that when Paul was speaking to the church in Rome he fully expected them to be a diverse people, but never released from that debt of shared love.

Let’s just go ahead and accept it: we won’t awake tomorrow to find that everyone thinks and believes like we do, even in our own families or congregations. So, what’s next? Without a universal agreement on all doctrine and faith issues, may we still maintain a sense of mutual love and shared harmony? Without our complete similarity of conviction, may we nonetheless value and support one another’s spiritual journeys and affirm the mutual love and things we do share in common? It may go “against the grain” by some human sense, but that may just be the signal that we’re moving into a truly transformative practice. Lord, teach us to pray.

AMDG, Todd

An Unfinished Sketch

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IMG_1965I rarely show anything I’m doodling until it’s completely done, but I realized this morning that I haven’t opened my sketch book in a week! This is a piece I started a couple of weeks ago that I need to finish.

I recently made another move in my job with Apple, from retail sales back into the tech support group. It’s a step on my journey into a new role with Apple as I go full-time. I’m one our store’s newest Creative, joining the team that leads workshops and does training sessions. Until I finish my own training for my new position, I’m doing a lot of tech support for mobile devices again, and that can be a stressful job. We work with people in stressful situations. From the failure of a device to incidents of accidental damage, we are helping folks get through some anxiety filled time as they feel the withdrawal pains of being momentarily unplugged from our tech-connected lives.

One thing I do to prepare for each day at work is practice my work mantra on my drive to the store. It goes something like this:

I love my customers.
I am so glad I can serve them.
I love my customers.
I’m going to do my best for them, today.

This mantra helps me get in the mindset of service. It helps me center on the truth that our customers are coming to us with real needs, and my response must focus on those needs. It would be too easy to just become defensive or upset, to reflect back their anxieties and stress. No, I have to let their anxieties and frustrations be authentic and real, spoken and experienced, and let those anxieties and frustrations pass through me and past me without landing in my own spirit. Then, I’m ready to get down to business with helping them determine the best solution for their situation.

My mantra is an action of intentionally deciding what will be planted within me so that I can choose what I’ll be producing from the soil of my heart and mind. This is not just a service industry principle, but a life principle. I must choose the seeds of peace, compassion, empathy and love as what I cultivate within myself if I want to have those things to share with others. This is a daily effort, forever unfinished and being finished. I guess it’s ok to share a doodle before it’s done, as its unfinished state can meaningfully reflect the on-going becoming of life.

AMDG, Todd

Finishing a Month on Civility

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Weekly Grace Jan 31 2016I realized today that with the drama of Snowzilla last Sunday, I forgot to make a Weekly Grace! I mean, wow. I haven’t missed one in a few years. So, I wanted to make sure we finished and finished well this month of intention based around civility.

It’s an election cycle year, and it’s a pretty heated race for all concerned. That’s one reason I wanted to start the year on civility. Another reason is that sometimes it’s so hard to keep my words flowing from love. It’s so easy to let something else step in and drive my speech.

In our focal passage written to the church in Corinth, Paul says that nothing is as important as love. Nothing should be allowed to take it’s place. There’s no miraculous spiritual gift, no self-denial, not even any great knowledge or correctness that surpasses love. This is not a message that religious people like to hear. We are very enamored of our personal gifts and, oh my… our correctness? We often like to stake our very salvation on it or deny another person theirs.

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 
2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 
5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 
6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 
7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 
9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 
10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 
13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Paul says that his ability to understand every question and mystery is nothing if he does not have love for others. The capacity to love matters more than the capacity to be right. I won’t belabor this point too long, but come on! I think it’s one of the clearest passages that teach us that we should let our love help us understand more often than letting our understanding teach us to love.

Our civility will grow as we move more fully toward letting love take it’s place of preeminence in our lives. Our words will grow to reflect that we have matured past the idea that our own perceived correctness gives us license to fight, humiliate, defame or condemn. We will listen better, with more desire to understand one another. We’ll ask good questions, meant to free and not to trap. We’ll grow together as we share and understand one another better. This could be a good year, even with a presidential election.

AMDG, Todd

Our Prayer Intention of Civility

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Weekly Grace jan 10 to 16 2016Civility begins within and then manifests in speech and action. This is true of everything, good and bad, better and worse. Out of our hearts we incubate ideas and expressions that take form in our words and responses. For this reason our God is not just standing around waiting to slap our wrist and cluck at us, but God is working to rehabilitate our heart and inmost being!

Are we open to this? It’s one thing to capitulate and obey a greater power or a higher influence, but are we ready to allow ourselves to be fundamentally changed from the inside out? This is the difference between obeying the great sermon points in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 out of legal and religious obligation or allowing the Beatitude Statements in Matthew 5 to frame a change of our hearts and minds as we navigate the reorienting of life that Jesus presents for us to follow.

This is not Christianity 2.0 or any new innovation or deeper level… this is actually the beginning of religion and faith. Jesus often gave this invitation to people, “Follow me.” This is the invitation of a teacher, mentor and life-changer. This is an invitation to reflect on who we are and how we are, with Jesus’ help. And it’s an invitation to change. 

Want to change the urges and reflexes of destructive negativity in your life? Begin by reflecting on your heart and cultivating a change there… work with energy and consistency to remove the negative things and plant beautiful things in their place. Where their is hurt and injury, sow some forgiveness. Where there is anger, sow some quiet and prayer. Where there is hatred, sow some empathy and hope. Christian saints and mystics often rooted this in their prayers: St. Catherine of SienaSt. Ignatius of Loyola & St. Francis of Assisi.

Even as I begin a new year no longer serving a congregation as pastor and shepherd, I want to renew my commitment to being a spiritual friend and brother to you. And I have to remind you that I need you. Jesus didn’t invite one person or single individuals to follow this path of change, he called us into community, together. Let’s do this together. Let’s chat.

AMDG, Todd

A Weekly Prayer Intention?

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Weekly Grace Jan 3 to 9 2016I’ve been making a weekly prayer intention for several years for our congregation at Church in Bethesda and for myself, but I’ve been wondering about continuing the practice now that I have left my pastoral duties with the congregation. After some thought and prayer I’ve decided to continue.

First, I do hope it blesses someone to have some weekly help with prayers. We all have time and even seasons when prayer is drier and more difficult to start. Second, it does help me to have it in mind and carry it as a daily reminder. Third, it’s a practice of intention, study and creativity that I don’t want to lose. Instead, I’m thinking of ways to expand on the weekly grace and what  it’s intended to be.

This is a Presidential election year… oh my. In honor of the coming strife and internal warfare that we are about to incite, I thought we’d begin the year with another reminder of civility. For people of faith civility is actually at the core of who and how we are to be interacting with our communities, nation and world. Civility is scriptural. Civility is Christian. Civility is a core element of a life of faith.

I’m personally so tried of the arguing around the phrase “politically correct.” It gets used too often, sometimes to minimize our responsibility to one another, the exact opposite of its intention. Some people proudly say that they don’t care about being politically correct as an excuse or a prelude to their incivility, rudeness and meanness. Being non-politically correct has become a badge of honor to many, as they see the need for sensitivity toward others as a type of censorship. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Being sensitive of others is a foundation of civil discourse and a very deep, important spiritual practice. We must work hard to remove racial slurs and demonizing language from our daily and shared conversation. We need to speak and act in ways that welcome the other and invite the other to participate in life with us, even in disagreement and dissimilarity. Christian Dominion, our elevation and dominance in religious, political and social affairs where all others are supposed to be made to conform to speak and act and think as we do, is not a scriptural idea. Truly, our scriptures teach the opposite. We are the world’s servants, broken and spent for the world’s good.

God blesses all. God’s blessings are for all. This is a teaching of our Christ, and maybe one that we by and largely ignore as we deeply fear its implications. (Matthew 5:43-48) The faithful are not the sole object of God’s love and peace… we are invited to share God’s burden of being used to bring more love and peace to the human family and all of creation.

So, as we begin the new year and look forward to electing a new President to lead our country, let’s renew our intention of civility in speech and action. Let us refuse to follow voices of indignity, disrespect and disharmony. Seek the voices that speak to bind us in love and peace. Be a voice that builds others up.

AMDG, Todd

Shaping the Day

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sometimes we fallLet’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.

leo tolstoyThe 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…

Seven Pratctices

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!

AMDG, Todd