Friday, March 30, 2012

The Prayer of St. Francis: a series

Every morning the Daily Office provided by Mission St. Clare includes the Prayer of St. Francis.  It's a beautiful prayer, but alas it appears St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th century saint, didn't say or write it, according to Wikipedia. It first appeared in France in 1912.

It is, however, a beautiful prayer and a summation of how we should live the Christian life. So I decided to write a series of meditations on it and when I figured out it was 14 lines, have asked some friends and bloggers I admire to chip in and write about a particular line.

My co-writers include: my friends Helena and Lory (who don't blog), Sarah of Whispers on a Journey, St. Henry, Christianne Squires, and Joseph Pote of Redeemed!.

Here is the prayer:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. 
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
 where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

A Meditation on the First Line

"Lord, make us instruments of your peace."

I have been thinking a lot lately about how God works in our lives. Does God still work the way he did in the Old Testament? I haven't seen any pillars of fire or burning bushes lately, have you?

I think since the Holy Spirit was gifted to the disciples at Pentacost -- a gift that gets passed on through baptism for those in the Christian faith -- God now works through us.

If we but listen. If we but stop to take heed of the Holy Spirit within us. When our greed, when our apathy, when our entitlement, gets in the way, we don't hear. That's why we need to pray this prayer. 

To remember. 

The hymn by Stephen Temple begins: "Make us a channel of your peace." God acts through us, with our consent.

We are the agents of change in this world. God created humankind to be stewards of creation -- and that means of each other too. Something we epically fail at throughout the ages and today.

So it makes perfect sense that we should ask God within, God the Holy Spirit, to make us instruments of His peace. Because we cannot do it alone. We need God's help.

And what does His peace mean? It's all the ways listed throughout the rest of the prayer. 

It is love.

(To read other posts in the Prayer of St. Francis series, click here.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A prayer for Presence

The Jesus Prayer comes from the Eastern Orthodox tradition but I first learnt it a few years ago during a Lenten series on Isaiah 55.

It was taught as a breath prayer, breathing in on the first part of the phrase, breathing out on the second half. More on that in a moment.

I struggled with it because it seemed to reflect a dated, medieval view of God. In truth, it was because I didn't want to acknowledge my faults.

The version I learned was this:
(breathing in) Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God
(breathing out) have mercy on me, a sinner.

I hadn't yet come to the understanding that I was broken, that we all are in some way. Nobody's perfect. (Your mileage may vary on what "sin" means for you.)

The traditional prayer (which I'm bringing up before someone else does) goes: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner." and it isn't used as a breath prayer either according to one website I read.

Another version is: "Lord Jesus Christ, be gracious to me, a sinner."

It's a powerful prayer. That first night learning to pray it, I had a very real sense of the presence of Jesus for a brief moment.

But it became a firm part of my practice when I used it to calm myself. I'd be on the verge of a anxiety attack: the praying to Jesus, the controlled breathing, and it took my mind of the problem.

I don't use it that way much any more, having learned better ways to handle it.

I still use it as part of entering silence, as a way of transition from work problems to being with God.

As I've written this, I am now curious to make a prayer practice in an of itself: not a cry of help, or a method of transition.

Have you ever prayed the Jesus Prayer? When do you use it?

Oh -- on Friday, I'm starting a weekly series on The Prayer of St. Francis, one line at a time. Stay tuned!

[edited to add the link I forgot to add. Oops.]

I am linking this to Ann Voskamp's "Walk with Him Wednesdays".

Monday, March 26, 2012

Joy Dare Monday

I am thinking about using Ann's prompts next month. From what I read last Monday from various people's posts, some were wondering if using the prompts meant they couldn't share other gifts, and others found it difficult. I think that maybe looking at the prompts might open my eyes to additional ways to give thanks that I haven't seen yet. We'll see!

237. having time to read about everybody else's gifts
238. hearing rain throughout the night, so soothing and alive
239. dog woofing in his sleep
240. sunshine
241. warm blankets
242. a dog that hogs the warm blanket
243. gift of healing
244. refrigerator door handle
245. dogs sunning themselves

246. spending a good chunk of the day thinking and writing about God
247. pink hawthorn bushes blooming
248. being able to sing fairly well (am still congested)
249. dog's arthritic leg
250. silliness at work
251. first poppy
252. husband making dinner
253. "snot" in choir
254. grateful for choices
255. rain (even if it did knock down the first poppy)

Am linking this up to Ann Voskamp's "multitudes on Mondays" (or will as soon as it goes up!)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

When Loving Yourself Is Hard....

About a month ago, while watching "Glee", Quinn Fabray learned that she'd gotten into Yale, despite going from most popular cheerleader to teen pregnancy to goth rebel to blackmailer. If there was a mistake to be made, Quinn made it.

Quinn said this to her Glee club friends on announcing her acceptance into Yale:
"I wasted so much time hating myself for the mistakes that I made ... I was the only one standing in the way of myself. You can't change your past but you can let go and start your future."
Yeah, I rewound the scene to make sure I got the quote right.

Loving yourself is hard when you hate yourself for the mistakes you've made.

In reality, I was loved and supported, but in that dark place I put myself, I couldn't see that.

I think part of the problem was that I felt I hadn't been punished enough for the mistakes I made. I've already shared once the dread I felt when I faced God with my mistakes.

All this to say that Quinn hit the nail right on the head.

I am the only one standing in the way of myself. I am the one who blows things out of proportion. I am the one who chooses to react instead of respond.

Thanks to God's love, my supportive loving husband and my therapist, I am learning to get out of my own way. I am learning to let go of my past and be present to God's gifts in front of me.

I still struggle. I suspect I always will. And Quinn will too (that is, if she survives the cliffhanger ending...). But like Quinn, and like me, you can find your way out of the morass of hating yourself.

Because I didn't do it on my own and neither did Quinn who had the support of teachers and fellow Glee club members, although not her family.

You are not alone. God is with you. God loves you more than either you or I can comprehend. Let God help.

And remind me of that the next time I freak out.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Joy Dare Monday: Finding Gifts When Sick...

A shorter list this week, because I have been sick with whatever this cold/congestion/throat bug is. Ick.

223. waking up with a sore throat and feeling like a cold is coming on -- and going about my planned day anyway.
224. half hour afternoon nap
225. working from home (sick)
226. flowering calla lily handy for photo for Sunday "Notes"

227. blue fingers

228. fruit popsicles
229. light hearted workplace
230. scheduled bus not showing up (a gift because apparently someone had been sick all over the bus and it needed cleaning. Ew.)
231. "And God Cried" earworm (the second key change gives me chills).
232. actually taking a day off (still sick, but not working from home)
233. hubby doing all the laundry
234. wind howling around church
235. Tom's piano playing
236. My nose has finally started running. Praise be!

Am linking this up to Ann Voskamp's "multitudes on Mondays" (or will as soon as it goes up!)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Praying through Art

I am enjoying my Suzi Blu class "A Lovely Dream" and green seems to have  become a theme. For growth, perhaps? Anyway, I thought I would share a couple of pages.

We were asked to do self portraits in two different ways. I still think this page is too green, but it's okay.

What I wrote in watercolor pencil and then washed over was this:
God, I need to remember your love. I bow my head and pray for the constant reminder of your presence ... 
I will praise and lift up my head to receive your boundless, infinite love, your grace, mercy and forgiveness. I give You thanks.

Yeah, there was a bit I wrote that got washed almost completely out and I don't remember the prayer any more although I'm surmising from the bit I can read it has something to do with seeing God in others "for we are all God's..."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Making The Sacrifice of Silence...

Silence, for me right now, is both a sanity-saver and a sacrifice. I struggle to be silent before God.

Part of my Rule as an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross (AHC for short, thank goodness!) has a section on cultivating silence:
Personal Prayer
I need to spend time in silence with God. I would like to have quiet time every day. Three times a week, however, appears to be workable.
Yeah, my Rule is a bit informal in style. The first version was epically detailed, the 2.0 version got a little more concise, but still chatty.
fountain at St. Mary's Retreat House

My current practice is to head to the church sanctuary and take a seat in a pew. I set a timer (the Equanimity app) and close my eyes. I usually start out with the Jesus Prayer (I pray a slightly different version which I will blog about sometime!), breathing consciously, and being aware of my body. And then I try to stop my babbling mind from, you know, babbling.

Which doesn't always work, probably because I'm trying to rush things. Often my thoughts go like this:

"Ok, I am going to be quiet and listen now, God."

(breathe in, breathe out, work thoughts invade)

"No, really, I am going to listen."

Rinse, repeat.

And it's almost like an exasperated sigh: "Be present."

"Oh! Oh yeah. Where am I? Hey, feet, how's it feeling down there? Are we anchored? This pew needs more padding."

"Stop trying so hard."

"Right, right. Relax, be present... How much longer before my time's up?"

And it's only 10 minutes.

And I usually peek at the timer before it runs out.

So, silence, I thought, is really hard.

But then I got to thinking. I mean, my internal conversation doesn't sound like I'm longing to spend a ton of time with God, even though that's what I long for. So why do I have this drive to find silence?

Because while on retreat, silence is the space where I found God: as an insight, a lightning bolt, His love, the comfort of His presence.

During Diurnum (noon day service) at the monastery at West Park, NY, there was silence right in the middle of the service. And after the first disconcerting time, my mind began to still. Not "feel" God, but feel the souls of the community around me: monks and guests. I was even starting to get the hang of it by the end of my week there.

I think that's where I got the idea it had to be inside, in a church, although I have sat on a couch and attempted it.

The why of being silent was being connected to God.

So why wasn't it working when I wasn't on retreat? I looked at where I am silent on retreat and in my life.

On retreat at West Park, it's been Diurnum, the silent cloisters, the Great Silence from Compline to after breakfast. At my last retreat in Santa Barbara, left to my own devices with only a couple of other guests around, I spent most of it in silence, except for services, meals, and a daily phone call to Dan. Oh, and I chatted with Br. Tom on the last day.

Some of that silence was straining to hear God, seeking his help. Some of that silence was just being present.

Like first thing in the morning, before Lauds (morning prayer), I grabbed a mug of tea and took it out onto the patio that overlooks the Santa Barbara hills and listen to the birds and morning traffic. And just be.

morning @ St. Mary's Retreat House

And the time, on that visit to West Park, after working all day in the monastic library, reshelving and cleaning, that I grabbed a mug of tea and leaned on the balcony near the refectory and watched the Hudson River...

Hudson River from West Park...

I complained that there was no lightning bolt, no clue by four, no overt presence of God, but a sense of calm and rest and contentment ... and God was in that too.

And so, I have discovered that it's not what prayer I say, not what cup of tea I have in my hand. It's taking the time to stop, to listen, to be.  A monk-led silence helps that, a cup of tea while waiting for the Lauds bell to ring helps that.

If I review my day, I'm silent on the bus (except for the rare conversation and I'm usually spending most of the trip in praying Morning Prayer via the Mission St. Clare app), when I'm walking to/from work, and aside from the occasional nattering to the dogs, quiet at home until the husband gets in from work.

The silence isn't about silence. It isn't about stilling the mind to hear answers from God. The challenge of silence lies in being present in it. Not lost in daydreams, pondering about work, wondering if I remembered to defrost the chicken, or if the dogs are sick again ... or playing Angry Birds. 

It's about being intentionally present in the presence of God. I think that's the heartfelt desire ... and that's the challenge ...

As for the sacrifice: it's to stop thinking of dinner, work, to stop wasting time with games.

I clutter my thoughts with things other than God. Who is amazing and who loves. 

I struggle with letting the clutter go. And that's a sacrifice.

One worth giving.

I am linking this to Ann Voskamp's "Walk with Him Wednesdays".

Monday, March 12, 2012

Joy Dare Monday...

The counting of my one thousand gifts are like the sacrifice of a thank-offering on the altar...

17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you  
           and call on the name of the LORD. 
18 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD    
           in the presence of all his people, 
19 in the courts of the house of the LORD—    
           in your midst, Jerusalem. 
-- Psalm 116

In Nan Merrill's "Psalms for Praying", she rewrites them like this: 

"I will offer to You the gift of gratitude
           and acknowledge your Loving Presence with joy.
I will bear witness to You, O Giver of Life,
           in the presence of all the people,
In the Sacred Altar of my heart,
           in your midst, O Beloved...."

"sacrifice of thank-offering" == "gift of gratitude" ... and I just broke my rule of quoting a ton of scripture. Ah, well. Forgive me.

How the wisteria looks this week!

This week's list has been a struggle to compile, but I persist.  I need to be better about writing them down during the day.

202. seedlings and growing plants
203. vinegar gets grease off the kitchen floor
204. making bread, juice, iced tea and art
205. patterned acacia bark

206. wishing I knew when to shut up (angry, annoyed today)
207. full moon rising

only had my iPhone on me and this is the best I could capture it at

208. getting to the deli to pick up order before they closed
209. eucharist for three
210. lily of the valley flowering

yes, there's a wee green spider!

211. first rose of the year

212. baby, even if fussy
213. "free" lunch
214. choir practice
215. summer-like day
216. gusty wind
217. witty banter after watching The Artist
218. chanting Lauds
219. the kindness of others
220. calling home
221. "spring forward" on a  gloomy morning
222. the Colonel's stories

Am linking this up to Ann Voskamp's "multitudes on Mondays" (or will as soon as it goes up!)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Five Fun Facts...

Let's take a break from seriousness for a moment ... well, blue hats aside!

The lovely Natalie over at Vanillery Garden asked us 5 questions. I thought it'd be fun to answer them here and leave her a link. Feel free to join in the fun!

1) What is your favorite movie and why?
2) How much time do you spend on your own?
3) Do you often ask yourself what others think of you?
4) What kind of temptation is impossible for you to resist?
5) Do you believe that 2012 will be the end of the world?

1) My favorite movie ... so hard to pick just one! I love The Princess Bride -- it's fantasy and funny and just wonderful. I also enjoyed the Young Victoria movie although I haven't seen it since it came out. If it's on TV, I'll just sit down and start watching A League of Their Own. That's an empowering story. And "there's no crying in baseball!"

Oh here we go: The Pirate Movie. Does anyone besides me remember this one? Starring Kristy McNichol and Christopher Ames it was a 80's rewrite of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance with 80's pop and G&S tunes mixed willy-nilly. It was silly, it was camp, it had a load of double entendres, and I loved it :)

2) Most of my alone time is on my day off, although I do run errands and make the epic trip to see my spiritual director so I'm often surrounded by people...

3) I don't think I often ask myself what others think of me, but if for some reason forgot something or failed to do something, then I become hyper-thoughtful of what others think of me. It's the reason why "Grace for the Good Girl" is on my to-read list.

4) Chocolate is an impossible temptation to resist. So's salty chips. Especially if they're sweet chile or jalapeƱo-flavored.

5) I do not believe 2012 will be the end of the world. 

What about you? Let me know if you join in on Natalie's fun questions!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Joy Dare Monday ... Lenten Awareness

Work has been really busy and if it wasn't for the book I'm reading for Lent, I'd forget it was even Lent! ... no, that's not true. I've spent much of the week working on Holy Week for church (which is where I work), which has included some creative work that I am grateful for.

Some interesting discoveries this week, or re-discoveries in a couple of cases. Plenty of things to be grateful for. I guess part of this counting of 1,000 gifts is the remembering, the relearning.

My lessons this past week seem to be surrounding pride, and letting go of the outcome and accepting of something new that's been tried has failed.

181. getting home before it rains
182. heating
183. pound cake and lemon curd
184. hubby wearing headphones while playing SimCity so I wouldn't be disturbed
185. on the road to rediscovering being present with Jesus
186. deep royal blue of twilight
187. the planets (Venus, Jupiter) lining up under the moon
188. new growth on bushes
189. unexpected lunch
190. girl scout cookies
191. finding out the name of my Jehovah's Witness lady ('cause I'd forgotten)
192. dandling a baby to calm me after the staff meeting
193. moonlit cloud
194. short day @ work
195. burst of warm sun when I emerged from deli with my breakfast
196. hard midnight conversations
197. heat of sun
198. sick puppy
199. playing with liturgy
200. relaxing
201. the knowledge I don't sacrifice enough

Am linking this up to Ann Voskamp's "multitudes on Mondays" (or will as soon as it goes up!)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

God's Love Stories: Who Else Is Telling A Similar Story...

There is so much out there that touches the heart. The following posts over the last month have been blog posts that have resonated with their beauty, their gratitude and their hearts reflecting the hearts of God.
The book for Lent is going well. (I am not going to illustrate this so beautifully like Pam did.) There are tasks I don't have time to do on the day, but that I will do. Oddly though, I am struggling with pride as I read it. *sigh* That's probably why I voted the way I did on Friday....