Friday, June 29, 2012

Intercessory Prayer Isn't So Easy

Dear friends, today I am going to share with you one of my failures.  My friend Shelby has a close friend whose husband is undergoing a medical procedure which is very dangerous, but which may very well save his life.  She has asked everyone she knows to pray for him and his family every day for the next three weeks.  She has constructed a schedule so that if people commit to pray during specific fifteen-minute time periods, it would be possible for him to be prayed for constantly throughout the most dangerous part of his recovery.  Of course I signed up for a time slot in the evening, and when I saw that the schedule was not yet full, also took on a morning time slot.  Both are right next to my usual morning and evening prayer times, so should be a piece of cake.  So far, so good!

I started last night and quickly discovered that it is one thing to pray through a prayer list, asking God to help each one on the list, picturing each one in turn and praying for each one's needs, and for whatever else God knows they need; however, it is a different thing altogether to keep on praying for fifteen minutes straight for one person.  Take it from me, my friends, this is REALLY HARD!

So I started out with naming them, saying what the problem is, then suddenly thinking how do I know this is what God wants for them?  What if I am praying for the wrong thing?  This is where I had to start getting honest, because I could see that I did not have a prayer of making it through the whole fifteen minutes, let  alone helping anyone else.  I reminded God that he promised that the Holy Spirit would help us if we didn't know what to pray for or how to do it.  YOU SAID!  Well, now is the time, because I really need the help right now.  All right.  Jesus did say that we should pray in his name for people's healing, so I guess this isn't too presumptuous.  Okay, now the prayer is all about me instead of the people I'm supposed to be praying for.  Great!  How do I fix this?  I must be the worst pray-er in the world!  (I see that you have to keep talking out loud, or else you totally lose focus and forget to pray at all!)  OK, Lord, I'm just going to keep on talking, and hope that you can stick this out with me.  I'll just keep saying their names, and whatever else occurs to me, trusting that you get it, and will know what to do with this mess.  I did, in fact, make it through the whole fifteen minutes, using this "technique."

Next decision:  do I set my alarm to be sure I wake up in time for praying in the morning?  I probably need the sleep, if I sleep through.  Wait a minute.  This has all the earmarks of a temptation.  I said I would do this, so I will.  ("I will, with God's help" is maybe the most helpful phrase in the whole Book of Common Prayer.)  I set the alarm.  Sure enough, the alarm woke me from a deep sleep, though I usually wake up easily to the dawn chorus.  I'm groggy, I make coffee, I look at the clock -- fifteen minutes before starting time.  I check my email and see Rohr's meditation for today.  Yes, you guessed it!  Next time I checked the clock, I had to start the prayer with, "Oh, Dearest Heart, I am already two minutes late!"  I knew that the Holy Spirit had started on time and was waiting for me to join in.  That is a blessed relief, so I started with naming the people, and thanking God for his faithfulness in filling in for me until I got there.  Good thing Rohr said that God teaches us more in our failures than in our successes, because I think God will teach me to pray if I can just keep on spending fifteen minutes with him every morning and night working on this at the same time we are praying for the young man and his wife and family.  Oddly enough, at the end of the fifteen minutes this morning I knew I had been brought closer to God.  I guess it's like anyone you know -- if you work together on a difficult project, it brings you closer together.
If any of you dear readers have tips on how to do this, please please comment, as obviously I do not have a clue.  We Christians need the companionship and support of the Community of the Faithful to help us sustain our efforts along the way of our spiritual journey.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Eighth Day Books: An Allegory

Philippians 4:8
King James Version (KJV)
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

There are certain places where there is a piercing between heaven and earth, like the wardrobe entrance to Narnia, where you can sense that you are standing in a holy place, on the threshold of something beyond earthly knowledge.  Some have been holy since time immemorial, as El Sanctuario de Chimayo, and other places have become sanctified by the people who gather there, through their prayers and actions over time.  The Eighth Day Bookstore is an example of sanctification by the gathering there of people dedicated to growth into God's will, people who have turned themselves over to the working of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives, and who are quietly and steadfastly allied with God in the process of holy creation.

Sometimes when you walk into Eighth Day, you perceive something tangible and sensory:  music, a faint hint of incense, a visual attraction to a certain icon, the sound of an honest and serious discussion about something that matters.  Joshua (pictured), Victoria, or Warren will give all the time in the world to help you find what you are looking for, even when you don't know what that is.  You can sit quietly and read, or study, or think, allowing yourself to enter into the intangible, which at Eighth Day is very nearby and easily accessible.  

I love to go there.  Eighth Day is a haven of peace in a world addicted to sensory overload.  The powers of evil are very much at work today keeping us distracted and numb, giving us the illusion that we are multitasking, when really we are only living in "fast forward," a state in which we cannot think or feel or caringly listen to other people.  We are being fed "information" instead of taking the time and making the effort to become who we are.  We must intentionally choose and have the courage to be countercultural if we are to find our true selves in right relationship with God and in love with our neighbors.  The name Eighth Day means (among other things) a time and a place to rest.  It is a time and a place to enter more fully into being, to immerse yourself into whatever things are true and honest, good and pure and beautiful.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Solstice

Today the earth is at a tipping-point.  We are as close to the sun as we will ever be this year, and this day will be the longest one of the year.  Today we turn away from the sun to begin our journey into the dark and cold of winter.  All night long the wind that gave our state its name was singing and swaying through the boughs of the trees.  The Native Americans who lived here called themselves the Kansa, meaning "People of the South Wind."  The air is alive with the summer wind, the wheat is in, and this morning the birds' dawn chorus was dominated by the cardinals, singing "birrr-chee, birrr-chee, birrrr-chee, chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp."

The first (human) message I received this morning was from my dear friend Jacke.  I was surprised she  was up so early, until I remembered that she lives in Nova Scotia.  They all get up early there.  She sent me the Richard Rohr meditation, which today is on the solstice.  He said that the way we understand another person or another thing is that there is a little bit of it already in you.  "Like knows like....So God planted a little bit of God inside of us -- and all things.  It seduces us into even more universal love and life."  We can recognize within ourselves a response to everything in God's creation, but above all we can recognize God as he pulls at the God within us.

God doesn't just pull us toward himself.  Our spiritual growth waxes and wanes like the seasons.  First God pulls us toward himself, then he lets us go, so that we can have a turn at seeking him.  After all, love is reciprocal.  God wants us to love him back.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Attack of the Animals

A week or so ago, as I was driving home to Kingman on the country road from Haysville, I soon learned that I had made a mistake.  It was just after dark, and the roads were swarming with wildlife.  I deftly avoided five or six deer, a skunk, and a turtle.  When I reached Highway 54 at Midway, still I scanned the ditches for whatever might emerge from the shadows.  Finally I approached Kingman.  Ah, here's the sign to slow down to 40 mph.  Home free!  At that moment a deer came at me from behind, and smacked into my rear fender.  Great. Oh rats.  I got my name in the Leader-Courier for filing a police report, so next day everybody in town was asking me if I was all right, and laughing at me for "going deer-hunting after dark."

Sooo... a couple of days ago I went out to start my car for church.  I had parked it across the street because Roy Erdman was riding his giant mower around my so-called "lawn."  He does a beautiful job, but still, he is a charter member of that great fraternity of "guys with tools."  I was carrying flowers for the altar, and the wind was blowing, so I thought I would drive, rather than walk.  When I started the engine, it made an unusual noise, "Thunk!" and the engine died.  I started it again, and found that there was something wrong with the steering.  Halfway up the block, a red engine warning light came on.  Oh, terrific!  Now my car is broken, and I can't afford to fix it.  After church I looked up that warning light on the internet and found out that it is the generator light, and you absolutely cannot drive with it on, because your engine will be cooked.  Unless it's really the generator, in which case you can't drive because your battery will croak.

My cousin Carl came by to bring me some new potatoes, and offered to take a look at it to see if the belt was broken.  He looked, did a double-take, pulled a flashlight out of his pocket (Yes, he has a flashlight in his pocket.  He's an amazing person!) and looked again.  He told me to look in and see if I could see a cat.  What???  I couldn't see anything in there.  Then I saw it -- a patch of fur deep down amongst the machinery.  He said one belt was broken and another was twisted upside-down.  Ewwww!  Yuck!  One less feral cat in downtown Kingman!  Nightmares all night.  At least I have the comfort of knowing it didn't make a sound -- never knew what hit it.  But still....

Next morning Ed Meis towed the car and its problems to the Volkswagen dealer in Wichita.  I've spent the last two days talking to insurance people and car repairmen.  They're going to take it to the body shop to get an estimate for the deer part after they finish fixing the cat part. Between phone calls, I've been finishing my big final paper for one of my classes -- an exegesis on Ezekiel's dry bones, and trying to get my garden and house in order.  I have to get that Christmas stuff sorted, washed, and put away before my dinner guests come on Sunday.  This was going to be the paycheck when I would finally catch up on all my bills, and maybe have enough left for a pair of new shoes.  If the weather hadn't been so gloriously beautiful these past few days, I might be depressed right now.  But I'm not.  I'm just tired.  And financially worried.  Here's something to listen to at the end of the day when you feel tired and somewhat discouraged.  It lifts your soul and opens your heart for Evening Prayer.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Small Disappointments and Simple Pleasures

On bakery mornings, I have to get up at 5:00 in the morning, because most things just HAVE to be baked the morning they are sold.  The best way to wake up is with a song in your heart that answers what you prayed about when you went to sleep, or else with praise on your lips, such as, "O God, Thou art my God; therefore early will I seek Thee."  Well, that didn't happen this morning.  Despite all my best efforts yesterday the house was not immaculate today as I had envisioned it would be.  Nor was the running of the bakery a smooth and well-oiled machine.  I ran out of butter, the milk was sour, and I was short on coffee.

I discovered that for some unknown reason, the paper (THE paper means the Kingman Leader-Courier) had not printed the ad I sent in, so nobody knew the bakery was opening, so almost nobody was going to come.  This being Kingman, however, if you say you are going to do something, you'd better do it, or nobody will believe you next time, or maybe ever again!  The Gospel lesson for the daily offices today is about what defiles a man, and the Epistle was one of those "the law blah, blah, blah..." readings.  Just so you know I did not skip Morning Prayer.  So I set forth to produce all the things I had said I would make.  The pies were beautiful, the scones were good enough, the oatmeal bread was absolutely perfect, but I had trouble with that darn potato bread again.  I'm giving up on that recipe for awhile!  Worst of all were the cinnamon rolls.  After I had the dough kneaded to a nice smooth elasticity, I turned around and saw the yeast overflowing the edges of the bowl in which I had started it and set it aside to begin working, AND continuing down the front of the kitchen counter.  That same yeast that was supposed to be already mixed into the dough.  Indeed, that very yeast that is almost impossible to add after the dough has been kneaded.  I got it in there somehow, called my dear cousin Evelyn to beg her to bring butter, milk, and coffee, swept and arranged the front porch, and shoved the Christmas things out of sight.  I vacuumed and dusted the foyer, and put chairs to block the entrance to the living room, then dusted what could be seen from the foyer.  It looked pretty good, as long as you looked in the right places.

The organized and generous-hearted Evelyn materialized with the goods and a hug, and a couple of people I haven't had opportunity to visit with for eons came by. We sat on the porch and drank coffee, time slowed down, and we just enjoyed the companionship and the perfect summer morning.  The leaves were rustling and swaying, birds were singing, and propeller planes were flying overhead (there's some kind of an air show at the airport this morning).  People drove by and waved,some of them came up and joined us, and I sold enough bakery stuff to pay for the ingredients and to buy myself groceries until payday.  The front garden, the porch, and the foyer are clean.  And so, after all and for now, "All's right with the world."

Addendum:  next day, Sunday
I am horrified to read what a bad attitude I had yesterday morning.  Today's Gospel reading was about sins against the Holy Spirit, and it is NOT good news for someone who has been irreverent toward the Holy Scriptures.  Well, I must have been full of myself to write what I did.  All I can say is that this provides a good example of God's grace toward someone who does not deserve it.  And I remind you that I did promise to talk about the ups and downs of growing into God's calling.  That would have been a down.  It also provides an example of how one person's kindness can turn another person's day around.  That would be Evelyn.  You see -- her arrival and selfless ministry provided the turning point in yesterday's story.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Water-coloring is like life -- you do the best you can, but really, you have almost no control over the outcome. It's pretty much a one-shot deal.  It is the doing of it that is the real thing, not so much the outcome.  Finally, after most of a year, I have time to finish the painting I started late last summer at the Kostner's farm.  I love that Cottonwood tree overlooking the Ninnescah, and Tom and Sharon have been very kind about letting me paint on their farm, ever since I first painted their cows.  Yes, painted their cows -- that's a joke we share.  It's so much fun to say that to people.
I plan to do more painting this summer.  Like singing, it is a thing to do that takes complete absorption and unites body, senses, and soul.  The difference is that in music, a group of people are breathing together, sharing the same inspiration, you might say.  But painting is solitary.

Here is a video of Stella Canfield painting.  She is my Daaaaaahhhliing Bulgarian teacher.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Valley of the Dry Bones

Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones (Eze 37:1-14) is one of the most vivid and fascinating stories of the Bible.  What listener to this story could not see the bones gathering, hear them clicking, feel the goose bumps rising, as the scattered bones began to spin sinews and move to weave themselves together into skeletons?  Who has not loved to sing, “The foot bone’s connected to the (pause) leg bone, the leg bone’s connected to the (mmm) hip bone…?”   And who does not love to say the name “Ezekiel”? 

Ezekiel was given this vision by God at a time when God's people were crushed, confused,  and utterly stunned because everything they had believed about their future had been snuffed out.  When Assyria conquered the North Kingdom, the people of Judah still thought they were invincible; they believed God had established his residence in Jerusalem and had promised that the House of David would rule forever.  When the leaders of Jerusalem were exiled to Babylon, they still thought the problem would soon be over, everybody would come home, and everything would be all right.  But after the siege and fall of Jerusalem, and the terrible massacre, everybody understood that things were NOT all right, and would never be the same.

When we are stripped of everything, have lost our homes, our jobs, our children, have been betrayed by our family or friends, when we are stunned and cannot think what to do--these are the times we need God the most.  We are forced to understand that we sons and daughters of man have no power when we are exposed and humiliated, torn apart with grief, and dry as dust, like the bones in the valley.  God asked Ezekiel, "Can these bones live?"

The answer, of course, is that we do not know.  When we mortals finally acknowledge that there is none to trust except God, then he will send us his Holy Spirit to breathe life into us as he did for the man and woman of clay at the Creation of humankind.  There will be a stirring, a refreshing breeze, a renewal of life, creativity, and intelligence.  There will be even the beginnings of joy, knowing we are held in the hands of our Maker.  We will know that he is our Lord, the all-powerful, and will be our God forever.