Thursday, July 9, 2020

Being Good Soil: Speaking to the Soul, July 9, 2020


Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

It is a fitting time to hear the parable of the sower this Sunday in our gospel reading from Matthew 13. Down here in Oklahoma, the wind that comes sweeping down the plains helps to blow off the day’s heat and marauding mosquitos, and early morning or late evening are prime times to sit outdoors and enjoy the lingering warmth, the air carrying a tang of tomato plants, basil, mint, and roses from my mother’s garden containers scattered around the driveway and yard. It is the time of sweet corn, green tomatoes, and farmers’ markets. It is the time of Porter peaches, a local delicacy of which people outside of Oklahoma may not have heard—simply because the locals often eat up the entire harvest before they can be sent out of state.

When I was a kid, this was the time of year my mom would load us up along with some of the neighborhood kids in a rattling old station wagon and we would head south to the neighboring town of Bixby, where a place called Conrad Farms allowed us to go out into the fields to pick our own fruits and vegetables—green beans, zucchini, strawberries, watermelons, and especially their locally-famous corn. Even though we were suburban kids, we gained an appreciation for the work and resources that went into the food you could find in the supermarket. Walking out into the fields, we knelt down in the loamy soil and knew we were literally reaping the benefits of someone else’s sowing, weeding, watering, and tending throughout the previous months—and the flavor that burst from these fruits and vegetables when we would eat them was like biting into the accumulated sunshine of spring and summer. It starts with fertile soil, though.

Not all of us find it easy at times to be fertile soil to receive the gospel that Jesus is sowing. We go awry if we seek God only for our own benefit, however. Just as the abundance of the fields comes about only through a partnership with soil, climate, sower, and reaper, the beauty of the gospel of Christ becomes visible in our world through our own discipleship and willingness to align our lives with the beauty of Christ and his gospel. If we practice self-reflection and cultivate self-awareness, we can work on the places in our hearts where the soil is hard or rocky. We can do this vital work of growing in discipleship, knowing that we are not alone in our endeavors, but that God is always by our sides as we seek to grow deeper and more fertile in faith, in hope, in love—things our world right now is starving for. When we invite love into our lives, we invite God to plant the seeds of mercy and grace within our own hearts, so that we ourselves become abundant fields of grace and mercy in the lives of those around us. We just need to soften our hearts to be the good soil to nurture and share the seeds of God’s love, mercy, and grace.

You call us to wakefulness, O God,
our Ground and Stronghold:
may we follow your ways,
rejoicing in your mercy.

May we open the eyes of our hearts
to see that we dwell in the presence of the sacred,
for the living Earth sings your praise!
Sow within our hearts, Lord Christ,
the seeds of tranquility and holy action,
grounded in justice and loving-kindness.
Turn the desert places in our hearts
to springs of clear, cool water, O Holy One,
that your mercy may flourish within us.

Let us seek understanding among us;
may our companionship be steadfast and true,
guided by God's grace and love.
Grant, O Lord, your aid to those who call upon You,
and bless those for whom we pray.

Amen.



This was first published on Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on July 9, 2020

Prayer, day 2721: A Prayer for Believing in the Power of Good


Loving One
we ask that your kingdom come on Earth,
and peace and equity reign throughout this land
and all lands.

Help us to never surrender to contempt,
but instead to believe
that we can choose good over evil,
that we can deny the power
of resentment, division, and indifference.

Help us to lay willing hands to the plow of justice
as we seek to turn the soil of suffering
into a field of hope.

Help us to plant seeds of compassion with each step,
and make our hearts the fertile ground
to bring the common good to life.

Help us to tend the tender shoots of faith
in You and in each other, Beloved Savior,
to create a verdant field of witness
to the love we bear each other without distinction.

Merciful God, lift up those who struggle,
comfort those who mourn,
soothe those who are anxious,
we humbly pray.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Prayer, Day 2720: For compassion


Holy One, we open our hearts to you,
welcoming your guiding Spirit into our lives
as we humbly seek to walk in your Way.

Give us compassionate, charitable hearts, O God,
with the courage to name and resist
the everyday callousness and cruelties we see.
Beloved Savior, help us live more fully the gospel of love,
bearing with each other in gentleness and empathy.

God of Mercy, You know our faults and our failings,
yet embrace us as we repent again and again:
grant us the will to live by grace and forgiveness,
releasing ourselves from the wounds that bind us.

Spirit of Hope, spread wide the wings of your wisdom
to lift us above our fears, we pray,
and grant your comfort and healing
to all those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Prayer, day 2719: To Flourish in Justice


God of Mercy,
we bow before You,
grateful for your abundant grace,
laying our cares at your feet in faith.

Holy One,
make us like green olive trees in the house of the Lord,
comforting those in need of shade and embrace,
nourishing those whose hearts hunger for compassion.

God of Justice,
make us steadfast in our willingness
to stand alongside our kindred in solidarity
against hate,
violence,
and prejudice in any form.
May we never be silent, O God,
in the face of injustice or exploitation,
but embody the Way of Love
and shield the vulnerable among us.

Blessed Redeemer,
we rest within your abiding compassion,
and ask your sheltering, healing hand
to be placed over those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Prayer, day 2718: A Prayer for Endurance


Most Merciful God,
we thank You for the protection of your holy angels
through the watches of the night.

O Comforter,
shelter and shield all those who are in distress,
and grant them strength and perseverance.
Enfold us like little children in your mercy, Lord Christ,
and forgive us our sins and offenses,
we humbly beseech you.

Make us gentle and faithful caretakers and friends,
seeking to serve others as we serve You.
Grant us wisdom and patience, O Holy One,
that we may replace our hearts of stone 
or hearts of tenderness and grace.

Guide us in pathways of peace,
and give us the humility and compassion to follow, we pray.
Send forth your Spirit of healing and comfort
over all who call upon You, O God,
especially those we now name.

Amen.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Prayer 2717: The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost



O God of All the Nations,
with one voice we join in the song of all creation
in worshiping and praising you
on this day You have made.

Our hearts are filled with wonder
at the abundant grace with which You sustain us,
calling us to unity and kinship with all that is:
Your hand has shaped the mourning dove
and the human heart, both of equal size.
May our hearts take flight
to the glory of your gospel, Lord Christ,
and be filled with the Spirit you breathe upon us
so that we may be inflamed by love and justice
for the lifting up of the Beloved Community
You call us to embody.

May we bear your yoke with honor,
sharing each other's burdens
and caring for the oppressed and the weary
as You did, Blessed Jesus,
with gentle hands and a healing heart,
looking with love on the cares and the beauty of the world.

Loving One,
gentle us and center us within You,
that we may act out of our hope
rather than our fear,
and out of our faith
rather than our contempt,
holding fast to your promise of life abundant.

Spirit of God,
bless us and guider steps today,
and grant your peace to those we now name.

Amen.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Prayer 2716: For Independence Day


God of All Creation,
in wonder and awe we thank You
for your abundant gifts and blessings.

May we put those gifts and blessings
into service to You and to each other, O Holy One.
Make us a generous, enlightened nation
devoted to liberty and justice for all
regardless of race, creed, or origin.
May we never misuse our liberty to hurt others,
or to treat anything in your creation with contempt.

May we remember our country's independence
is only possible through shared toil,
shared sacrifice,
and shared burdens.

May we rededicate ourselves to our common life,
and renew our common bonds,
the knitting together of many nations
into one country, O God Our Shepherd.
May we always seek to strengthen the bonds of union,
and work for true justice and peace,
established upon the solid rock
of sacrifice, responsibility, integrity, and wisdom.
May we care for each other
with compassion and generosity of spirit.

Place the hand of your guidance upon us, Lord,
and grant us wisdom and courage
to grow in faith and lovingkindness.
Lift up the weary and the suffering by your grace,
and grant your blessing to these beloveds.

Amen.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Prayer, day 2715


Lord, you have called us and known us 
since the moment of our birth: 
we abide in your lovingkindness 
with grateful hearts.

Your grace restores our souls, O God: 
we praise you for the mercy 
you shower upon us. 
Forgive us for our hardness of heart: 
part the clouds of our willfulness 
with the glorious light of your Son, we pray. 
Pour out your peace 
like a shaft of sunlight 
to dispel the darkness we cling to; 
grant us courage to serve You 
and each other.

Strengthen those who falter, O Lord, 
and comfort those who ache, 
for You are our Shelter and our Redeemer. 
Pour out your blessing like a balm, Lord Christ, 
and gather into your embrace those we now place before You.

Amen.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Prayer, day 2714



O Holy, Blessed, Abiding One:
Great are your mercies,
and greatly to be praised is your truth!

We give thanks
for your steadfast and patient instruction,
for your teachings that seek to lead us into peace.
We give thanks
for the beauty of your creation,
for the earth that supports our feet
nd the skies that elicit our wonder.

Help us to walk faithfully
in the paths of your wisdom,
and live into the life you have called us.
Help us to dwell
in gentleness, patience, and compassion
with every living thing.

Almighty God,
we depend upon your grace
and celebrate your abounding love:
place the shield of your blessing over those we now name.


Amen.

Heart and Mind: Speaking to the Soul, July 2, 2020


Romans 7:15-25a

 

Last Monday was the third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood alongside two of my good friends, held on what the Church celebrates as the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. I have to admit I was not thrilled with that choice of an ordination date—not only because it was when some of my family of choice could not be there with me, but also because there are times when both Peter and Paul give me the pip—at least, as we encounter them in scripture.

Read the Book of Acts, and you see two apostles who are obviously locked in a struggle for dominance in the early Church. Read the gospels, and you see Peter as wildly impulsive and also utterly prone to getting it all wrong in spectacular fashion. Read Acts and most of the epistles, and over and over you are confronted with “Paul” as a self-righteous claimer of a pure inheritance, not to mention the Pauline passages that are used to clobber women, slaves and other oppressed groups. If I had a dollar for every eyeroll I have performed when Paul states he is not going to boast and then goes ahead and does it anyway, or says something weird about married people, I’d be rich.

However, since this feast is also a day now personally very meaningful in my life, I have spent some time looking for avenues of connection with these two apostles. One of the things I have always wondered at in placing these two saints together on one feast day is the way that they often seem to be the yin and the yang of discipleship—where Peter is emotional and impulsive, Paul is analytical and holds himself rigidly in check. Peter is all heart and passion, whereas, much of the time, Paul is all mind and rhetorical prowess.

Surprisingly, though, in the 7th chapter of Romans from which we will read this Sunday, we see one of the places in Paul’s writings where Paul humbly places himself squarely alongside the rest of us in all of our struggles. Modern interpreters protest that here, in the Epistle to the Church in Rome, Paul is using a very common rhetorical device known as prosopopoeia, which means “speech-in-character,” which allowed an author to speak in the character of someone else in order to make a point. Yet, Paul also elsewhere claimed that we are all subject to the same struggles. I find this passage one of the most humble and most relatable within Paul’s body of work.

The inner conflict Paul describes in this Sunday’s reading is between our intentions and our actions—between our minds and our hearts, in a way. The basis of most sin is deranged relationships: with God, with each other, with creation, and within ourselves. Nearly every sin one can think of occurs on at least one of these axes. When we turn away from the commandments; when we seek revenge, or take advantage of those who have fallen under our power; when we treat God’s creation as something we can dominate and suck the value out of rather than care for; when we indulge our appetites today to the detriment of our health tomorrow—all these are examples of the ways in which we can beguile ourselves into doing wrong. We cause pain and imbalance in relationships that we should instead cherish when we rebel against “the more excellent way” that Paul spoke of so movingly in 1 Corinthians 13. No one wants to sin, but avoiding sin requires discipline and self-denial in so many cases, and most of all penetrating self-examination and honesty about what we are really trying to do—especially when we sit in judgment or take the opportunity to correct others while ignoring or justifying our own faults.

Paul almost sounds like a member of a twelve-step group here, admitting his powerlessness over his addiction to sin. And that may be a really good analogy to make to describe the power that sin can wield in our lives, especially when we lull ourselves into taking our eyes off the horizon of love that we have to work toward in our lives as children of God. Real love, and true holiness, do not come naturally. Yet there is hope. In verse 24, Paul cries out: “Who will rescue me?” and immediately, he gives the answer in verse 25: God, through the Incarnate One, our Savior Jesus Christ. He then continues to point out that our intellectual assent (“with my mind…”) to be disciples is often at war with our own weaknesses (“with my flesh…”).

And yet, people who have read verses like these as condemnations of the material world and of earthly existence forget that Jesus as the Word made flesh also shares and at the same time hallows our embodied existence, this earth that teems with everything from fungus to bluebirds to blue whales.

How can we be both justified by faith, and yet still continue to sin? Only by understanding how we are recipients of God’s grace, and to recognize the struggle within us and to be alive to the consequences of not questioning our true motives when we claim we are acting on the behalf of something outside ourselves. Jesus’s religious opponents, then and right now, put their trust in the letter of the Law while forgetting the intention of the Law. We moderns tend to put our trust in our own rights and freedom to act as we want. In both cases, the consequences of one’s own actions are ignored, especially as they affect others.

Here is where Paul speaks to us right now, as coronavirus cases don’t just spike but surge even while some among us petulantly act as if wearing a mask for the sake of others is akin to clapping themselves in irons. Each time we choose to elevate ourselves over the Other, we harm ourselves. Each time we choose the easy way rather than the right way, we break a little piece off of our own hearts, and make ourselves more indecipherable to not just others, but to ourselves, as Paul points out in verse 15.

Yet here is the miracle: that no matter how many times we turn our backs on the One who loves us beyond all understanding; no matter how unfaithful, pigheaded and hard-hearted we choose to be; no matter how much our minds and our wills are at war with the vows of our hearts, we are forgiven and welcomed back again and again and again. Where we would throw up our hands and lock up our hearts and divorce people from our lives, God is always seeking us and calling us back to forgiveness and love. A love that we can exercise more care about by being more true to our authentic selves, both heart and mind.


This was first published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on July 2, 2020.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Prayer 2713: to be led by God's mercy


Most Merciful God, 
we worship You and praise your Name, 
setting our wills before You 
and seeking your guidance. 

 On the wings of morning
we lift our hearts to You,
and at day's end we rest in your mercy,
O Ground of Our Being, 
grateful for your sustenance and truth. 

Pierce our hearts, Lord Christ, 
with the knowledge of our responsibility to one another
to carry your light into the world
by all that we say and do.

May we make you our model,
showing us how to live as children of God, 
unified by love and justice. 

Spirit of the Living God, 
help us to approach day's end rejoicing, 
glad for our labors in your Name, 
and grateful for your abundant blessings.
Extend the awning of your mercy, O Holy One,
over all for whom we pray.

Amen.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Prayer, day 2712



Holy One of Blessing,
You encircle us and enfold us;
in your constant love we are kept safe and protected.
You are with us always, O God, 
You gaze tenderly upon all creation,
the work of your fingers and wisdom,
lovingly crafted and upheld by your mighty hand.
Set our feet upon the plain of justice,
and make us a bulwark for the oppressed and the vulnerable.
Make us one with each other:
may our arms open wide to encircle our neighbor,
as you encircle us all.
O Comforter, grant us your benediction,
and pour out your peace like a balm over us
that we may sing out your glory in our lives.
Grant your comfort to those whose hope is in you,
especially those whose needs we lift before you as we pray

Monday, June 29, 2020

Prayer, day 2711: On the third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood



Almighty God, who is making heaven and earth,
we lift our hearts to You in gratitude and praise.

Let all the round Earth sing out your glory;
let heart tell to heart the wonders of the Lord.
Plant within our hearts the strength and courage
to serve You and your Holy Church in all we do.
May we celebrate the beauty of God
in every person we encounter,
aflame with the light of Christ,
who is mother and father of us all.
Make us steadfast laborers in the fields of justice and peace,
standing with all oppressed in body, mind, or spirit.

Abide within our hearts, Blessed Jesus,
that we may sing your love into the world.
Make us healers, hearers, doers,
shepherds for the found as well as the lost,
grounded in your grace and mercy.

In humility, we lay our lives before You:
bless and hallow them to your glory, O Merciful One.
Spirit of God, rest upon us,
and extend the shade of your blessing over all for whom we pray.

Amen.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Prayer 2710: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost A



Inspired by Matthew 10:40-42, Proper 8A


Most Merciful God,
with joy we come before your altar 
and gather together 
to praise You and learn from You. 

Light of the World, 
you call us to see the needs of those around us, 
and to welcome and care for each other 
as we would welcome You -- 
to root out our prejudices and fear, a
nd be tender and merciful to all who struggle. 

May we offer the cool water of compassion 
to all who thirst, 
in the Name of the Living Water 
who graces us abundantly in all our paths. 

Spirit and Advocate,
deliver us from hardness of heart,
and fill us with determination
to live in integrity, lovingkindness, and mercy. 

Holy Trinity, united in love, 
grant the blessing of your peace 
to all for whom we pray.

Amen.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Prayer, day 2709: For Pride Weekend


Most Merciful One,
we gather before your altar
to sing out our praise to You: 
lory and honor be yours forever!

Grant us the courage
to walk in love alongside You, O Savior,
holding aloft the banner of reconciliation
for all creation.

Let us proclaim the gospel of Christ in all we do,
and put our hand to the plow of justice,
never turning back from preparing the field for seed.

In your mercy, give us boldness of Spirit
and strength of heart, O Savior,
to follow You in welcoming all under your tent.
Grant your blessing to all who call upon You, O God,
and pour out your peace upon those we now name.

Amen

Friday, June 26, 2020

Prayer 2708


Creating God,
we sing before You,
opening our hearts to your truth,
and praising your holy Name:
hear our humble prayers,
and lead us in lovingkindness this day.

Wash us clean
of the fear that is the foundation of all our basest impulses:
greed, selfishness, tribalism, hopelessness, and violence.

Grant us the wisdom
to let go of all that harms our souls,
lashing out from our own woundedness and pain.

May we welcome your healing, O God,
and lean into the beauty of your love.
Give us the ability 
to turn our wills to the relief of the suffering,
and the compassion to place ourselves alongside those 
in any need or trouble,
that we may worship You, Lord Christ, and not ourselves.

Holy One, we are all your children:
help us grow in wisdom, grace, and generosity.
Set our feet within the paths of justice and peace,
and place your comfort upon all for whom we pray.

Amen.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lessons in Prayer: Speaking to the Soul, June 25, 2020



When my kids were little, we really enjoyed watching Disney movies. No, let me be honest—we still do even now that the kids are grown. Before our kids were born, my husband and I were unashamed to go see Disney and Pixar movies even without a child along with us as cover. One of our favorites, Aladdin, came out two years before we had our first child—and we couldn’t wait to share it with her and her siblings when they were old enough. The genius casting of Robin Williams as the Genie made this film and its lessons about love, friendship, integrity and personal honesty just about perfect (after they fixed some troubling song lyrics).

And yet, as much as we have all at one time, wished for a genie of our own, I remember that as I was growing up and putting away childish things (except a love of animated movies) I noticed that I had a tendency in my prayer to try to make God into a genie. When I would pray each night, I would catch myself reciting a laundry list of wants and wishes. Some of them were exceedingly shallow—“please help me get through this test”--- and others were just as misguided, like praying that there would be less fighting and yelling in my home. God is NOT a genie, or a wish-fulfillment device. The only people each of us can pray to God about changing is—yep, each of us ourselves.

As I was meditating on this Sunday’s readings, I struck by this statement in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Very early in my life, I realized I didn’t know how to “pray as I ought.” Once I stopped the God-as-genie prayers, I prayed rote prayers, like the Lord’s Prayer, but the problem was that it was too easy to skim over the words when they became too familiar, instead of feeling anew the sentiments behind them. I began to study prayer traditions around the world and collect prayers, like this one by St. Augustine for purity which was so funny and yet real:

“Oh Lord, help me to be pure,
but not yet.”

I learned I could pray with beads, or by tying knots, or by focusing on my breath, or by mindful, deliberate movement, like yoga.

A few years ago, I began to write a new prayer almost every day. I even wrote a prayer cycle based on the Lord’s Prayer. I became aware of, in the words of the 17th century monastic Brother Lawrence, prayer as the “practice of the presence of God,” to begin to try to spend time in conversation with God, “living as if there were none but God and I in the world” and yet of listening rather than talking, and of offering up whatever I was doing to God whenever I could. On the week before I started seminary, when Michael Brown was killed on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, I meditated about “praying with our feet” as we marched in peaceful protest against systemic racism—a kind of prayer that has bloomed again from yet still more violence against people of color in the last few weeks.

I am still no expert in prayer. But here we are Lord, standing in the need of prayer, as the old beloved spiritual goes. As we face rising COVID-19 surges again, and as we face more deaths of people of color in their homes and in the streets, never have we needed to pray “as we ought”—prayer where we listen to God, prayer where we seek God’s wisdom, prayer where we admit our faults and refusals to see injustices, and resolve to set our feet upon a better path. Prayer that doesn’t focus on what we ourselves hope to get but on what we can offer to the world to the glory of God. Prayer that is led by the Holy Spirit, if only we are brave enough to set her free within our hearts and our lives. Prayer that leads us deeper into community with each other, and strengthens us for the holy work with which God blesses us: to love each other in word, and love each other in deed, and love each other even if that means giving way in our own desires so that another may flourish. And so, right now, I pray:

Our Father in heaven,
loving Parent and Creator,
tender Mother,
save us from the time of trial,
for we are prone to wander
and lose our way.

Make us stronger in our faith
and more willing to wrestle with the angel of doubt.
Guide us into living and loving more fully
according to your precepts.
Help us turn aside all vain ambitions
and concentrate fully upon your Word.
Give us courage to make our hearts bigger,
even if that makes them bigger targets,
for love is always the answer.
Help us to persevere
through the difficulties of life,
knowing that You are always with us.
Give us the sight to see hope amid darkness.

O Loving One, hear our prayers
and grant your benediction and grace
to those whose needs we now raise before You.

Amen.

This was first published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on June 25, 2020.