This morning at Church in Bethesda we’ll be talking about prayer that cultivates vision in our lives. A component of that kind of prayer is what we’ll call “rhythm.” Rhythm is all about intentionality that becomes part of the daily flow and life of a person. It’s not just a habit, but part of one’s identity… it’s an extension of hope and joy. It’s an expression of relationship with God.
Rhythm begins with intention. I want to see and to move. I want to grow and to be. I want my feet to move a certain direction and my soul to dance along in step. I want to bring sacred space and time into my daily life and envision God’s kingdom in my words and actions. We aren’t wind-up robot toys that God sends chattering across the table top of the world until we fall off and spend our last struggles kicking against the tile floor. We’re invited to enter into God’s movement of grace, light, forgiveness and peacemaking. We are gifted with an amazing invitation to move in a grace-filled rhythm through the years of our life.
So, what are our dreams of the kingdom and how will we play that song in our lives? This is not about want we want to get, but what we are called to be. There are many ways to start tapping out a rhythm and growing this music in our daily walk. Here are just a few ways to begin building intention and rhythm into our prayer life that I’ve found helpful:
- The Weekly Prayer Intention page here at this site is intended to help make a prayerful rhythm through each week.
- Loyola Press offers a daily 3-minute devotional.
- The classic My Utmost for His Highest is online.
- Did you know that you can follow along with Pope Francis’ monthly prayer intentions?
- Sacred Space is an amazing online and daily resource.
- You can find many published prayer books and guides for making a rhythm of daily prayer and devotion.
- Really, just ask the internet what people are doing for daily, weekly or monthly rhythms in prayer, and see if any of it fits into your faith and life!
Make your own! Perhaps it’s time that you spent some effort this week on creating your own daily intention or special rhythm of prayer. What is that spark of desire when you think of your place in God’s kingdom and the Spirit’s movement in the world? What are key words or values for you? What are special images or metaphors for the way you feel God moving in you and leading you into the lives of your neighbors?
Last summer I wrote a daily prayer that flowed from my own rhythms of life but also was an expression of how I wanted to shape the rhythms, and it has continued to be a daily prayer for me… “Let me love. Let me learn. Let me serve.” There’s nothing new in that prayer. I didn’t invent any of the words.
Still… I feel that God calls me to do these three things, to become a person of loving, learning and serving in greater and deeper measures. I hold those intentions close. I let them tap out a rhythm for my words and actions. I try my best to let them lead, in my daily dance.
What is your calling? What do you hear? How does God’s love and grace challenge you in making a daily rhythm?
I’d like to share a prayer that I composed for the opening of today’s session of the Montgomery County Council, delivered in Rockville, MD. It was an honor to open the session and wish everyone an amazing day.
for the energy
to face our tasks
for the wisdom and knowledge
to make decisions
for the creativity and imagination
to overcome obstacles
in our discourse
in our communities
in the service we will
provide to our neighbors
for all these things
and every needful blessing
to accomplish the work of our day,
we pray. amen.
I’m kinda geekin’ out here… I composed this blog in Chrome on my iPad. I haven’t had a ton of luck with such an exercise in the past, but it was fairly seamless, today. Woot!
reflecting on the latest shooting at Ft. Hood, for #NaPoWriMo…
how many names do these demons have?
also have names
one does not
domesticate these demons
one does not
harness a demon
without paying a price
lead us not into temptation
nor the arms of a demon
deliver us from the price
I have my own demons, as we each carry them through our lives, leaving some behind and finding new ones all along the way. The latest shooting at Ft. Hood put a shadow over me, yesterday. It stirred my demons. We like the heroes in our comic books and stories to destroy whole armies, to fight and kill, to slaughter the bad guys and gals by the dozen, and to face down all the enemies they find… but in real life we are much more fragile than the characters of our fantasies. I pray that we take ever more seriously the price we pay for sending our women and men into conflict after conflict, and that we take seriously the price they pay. The men and women who serve us are too great a treasure to take for granted or to leave to the demons.
Yesterday, just to show my age, it was John Denver who helped sing my demons back into the shadows.
“Have mercy on me, God.
As is the way of your great and enduring love
look away from my mistakes and forgive me.
Wash me in the stream of your compassion.
When you purify me I become clean,
clean and without any need to fear,
without any need to feel guilt ridden.
This day, take my heart and renew it,
and make my spirit strong and steadfast.
Always let me be the residing place
of your Holy Spirit.
And I will turn the joy of your presence
into service to my neighbors.”
An adaptation from Psalm 51, first as a communal prayer for our church family, and then for a single voice. The communal voice is found below…
“Have mercy on us, God.
As is the way of your great and enduring love
look away from our mistakes and forgive us.
Wash us in the stream of your compassion.
When you purify us we become clean,
clean and without any need to fear,
without any need to feel guilt ridden.
This day, take our hearts and renew them,
and make our spirits strong and steadfast.
Always let us be the residing place
of your Holy Spirit.
And we will turn the joy of your presence
into service to our neighbors.”
Psalm 19:12-14, “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
I love those words, and it’s tough not to sing them in the melody in which I learned them long ago: “O let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O God.” I truly first heard the melody and placed this verse in my heart many years ago when first hearing Keith Lancaster singing the words, as he and his companions have sung so many verses of scripture into the fabric of my heart and soul. Just as a bonus, here are some the Acappella guys singing many beautiful passages woven together, including this prayer from Psalm 19: More Precious Than Gold.
About a year ago I began adding these words to our opening prayers at Church in Bethesda. It was a spontaneous move one morning, and it stuck. It really gets at the root of what we often hope and pray: we want to please our God. We want our words and actions to make God happy and to honor all that God has said and done. These words are usually slipped in right after inviting God to be our “honored guest” in worship and right before we all together pray the words of the prayer Jesus left to us in Matthew 6.
I realize that the words in Psalm 19 are probably most reflective of the preceding prayers that David has articulated: forgive my hidden sins and bend my will to your own. It’s safe to say that such a desire is going to be pleasing to God. To take the prayer “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight…” out of Psalm 19 and apply them to my daily life is not to steal them from their truest meaning, but to give them a broader reach of hope. To bring them into my prayers for civility is not to misappropriate them, but it is to lift my daily words and actions into a new realm, into a new kingdom.
Have I brought my civility to God’s throne? Have I lifted my hopes and prayers to the level that David lifted his, to become an offering to God? If I see you on the street today, or if you drop by my office, or if we discuss politics or faith or fine dining, will I honor God with my meditations and words? Have I prayed it to the point that it’s woven into the liner of my heart and the tapestry of my soul? I won’t be up to the task every moment of every day, and I can easily imagine the times I will fail and fail memorably… but that is not a good enough reason not to journey on.
O God, forgive my hidden and secret sins, the ones I treasure too much and keep safely tucked away. I would be your servant, and that means I want to follow your lead in all my life, all my words and all my actions. I want to be more blameless, more worthy and more aware, of what you are doing in this world… and what you would do in me. May it be so.
I’ve been meditating on the story of Saint Christopher. It’s got my imagination fired up and my soul is energized by the images and icons of service that he represents. You can research the story here or here or here, as a few places to start. The story is readily available.
For some it will sound very odd to be meditating with or on a Saint. I didn’t grow up with the Saints, so I understand… it’s been a relatively new thing in my life, for about 6 years now, to read about and explore the lives of the Saints. My recent prayers, focusing on the short litany, “Let me love. Let me learn. Let me serve.” have brought me to the study of St. Christopher. Well, that and finding a sweet St. Christopher medallion at a flea market. =)
This Saint’s story is one of honest searching for a king worthy of serving. It’s a story about one’s strength and giftedness being used as a blessing to others. It’s a story that shows how we aren’t all the same in our coming to Christ or in our following of Christ. I like the story a lot. It’s a story of the divine in the mundane, and reminds me of a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
Don’t faint when you realize that we aren’t sure if he lived in the 3rd or 4th Century. Don’t give up on him because of the interesting divergence of details among the myriad traditions. The story of Christopher is not scripture, so we aren’t looking in it for that kind of divine revelation… but we can find in it divine vibrations… we can find in it a picture of humanity that points us to the divine.
Who can’t relate to the redemption of Christopher? Who can’t relate at some time in life to physically standing out, by our stature or appearance. Who can’t relate to seeking someone worthy of our service and fidelity? Who among us doesn’t live next to “raging rivers of life” that force us to journey together? I like the story. It inspires me.
I want to be a Christopher. I want to serve with fidelity and strength. I want to be a useful neighbor in the world. I want my service in this life to be service to the One who gives life. Perhaps one day we’ll each get across this river and wipe our tired brow, and sigh real big, and look around and say, “Dude, I just barely made it through.” And our Christ is going to high-five us and say, “No way. We rocked!”
“Prayer” is just a word, and the word is not the reality of actually praying. I’m kinda tired of the word to be honest. In my own life it’s just accumulated too much baggage and confusing background noise. I want to pray, but I’m tired of trying to pray. I find myself wanting prayer, but what I need is to pray.
Back in the day, the New Testament most often used a handy compound Greek word for prayer that signified both intimacy and longing. In Hebrew we have the history of an even more amazing word that conveys attachment and self-evaluation. I’m not going to painstakingly link my readings in for you. I usually do, yes, but this time I’ll let you do some Googling and digging if you’re interested.
In English we have a nice latinized word we are all used to, “Pray.” Our good friends Merriam and Webster tell us that the word has two general meanings: 1) to ask for or entreat (the linguistic roots of the word), and 2) to address God (the general historic use of the word for the last bunch of centuries).
But I’m more interested these days in praying than in prayer. I picked up a quote some years ago from my reading of Thomas à Kempis in The Imitation of Christ, “I would rather feel compunction than know how to define it.” Let me to just say “Right freaking on!” to that sentiment. That statement can be made of many things, not just our bigger more complicated terms like compunction. It’s how I feel about prayer. I need to experience something bigger than the word.
So, thinking about the Hebrew roots and the Greek roots and thinking of the way Jesus taught and practiced praying, what is a word for what I’m looking to find and do? What word captures what prayer would be in my life if prayer becomes freed from some of the baggage it’s been carrying?
I think often of a lost word for most of us in the West: meditation. Years ago, as in like over 20 years ago, I heard of “soaking.” Soaking was the practice of laying in bed or sitting in a chair with the lights down and headphones on, letting music guide you into a meditative state for connecting with God. It’s good stuff. Worthy of a try or two.
In Mother Teresa’s “Simple Path” prayer is sandwiched between silence and faith. Hmmmmm. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
Rumi has an amazing quote about passion, what I will call “passionate swimming“: “With passion pray.
With passion make love. With passion eat and drink and dance and play. Why look like a dead fish in this ocean of God?” But I’m not sure that replacing prayer with passionate swimming will be useful for me in a daily way. He does though capture in a beautiful style the desire to revel in the fully present and enlivening God.
A quick look around shows an affinity we have with linking dance and prayer, and not just among those who follow Christ. Like swimming, I think dancing embraces an immanence that I want to experience in prayer. But I’m not even a bad dancer. I just don’t dance.
I want to have a word like imagining. I want to have a word like creating. I want a prayer experience that is foundational to a constant becoming. I want a word that can include riding my scooter, painting, crying to God in anguish, singing a hymn and journaling. I want a word for the capture and crafting of a soul.
I need a word for at one moment losing and finding myself in God. I need a word for at moment experiencing and re-creating the reality in which I live. I already know that hugging one of my sons is praying. I know that every kiss I give my wife is a prayer.
I’m still looking, and still trying to find it, even if I can’t define it. I am hopeful and expectant, that even a simple blog post becomes prayer, an imagining and a rooting of myself in something unseen and yet present. And for a while, in a moment of time and place, my soul is remade a little closer to the image of God’s heart.
“I lift my hands to your commands, which I love,
and meditate on your decrees.” Psalm 119:48
I’m practicing some body prayer at my desk this afternoon as I read my Midday Psalms. You’re invited to do this with me. My prayer is: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Sitting at my desk I straighten my back (though it can be done standing) and cross my arms on my chest, hands open and flat against each shoulder. Throwing my head slowly back I look up and raise my hands into the air, gradually bringing them apart in a circular sweep outward until both rest at my sides. I do this several times praying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
And I am awakened.
So much better than drinking another cup of caffeine, my afternoon changes as my joints pop and I feel my back loosen a bit. My prayer is no longer just whispered or thought, but now it seeps into my body in newly opened places.
I’ve been working on “Thoughts on Preaching: Part 2,” but this afternoon I just had to stop thinking for a while and do some painting. Painting is prayer, a form of meditation for me. I make no claims to be good at it or have a style I can all my own, but it is one of the most freeing times for me.
I’ve been reading and thinking about St. Francis of Assisi for a few days and I was thinking of doing a self-portrait, so I combined the two and came up with this painting, today… an acrylic meditation on the first line of St. Francis’ formative prayer,
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.”
I worked two hours straight on it from the beginning to completion, and it’s drying now in our bedroom. I have a spot on the wall all picked our for it. Don’t worry, I am under no delusions about the difference between myself and the great saint. I just used a little artistic liberty to focus my efforts.