Do you feel as though you are living in the midst of a storm? COVID-19 spreading rapidly across the globe. Stock markets crashing as people panic in response. Grocery shelves empty of toilet paper and cleaning supplies. It feels as though a tornado has struck and there is Jesus sleeping peacefully in the back of the boat.
Later that day, after it grew dark, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” After they had sent the crowd away, they shoved off from shore with him, as he had been teaching from the boat,[a] and there were other boats that sailed with them. Suddenly, as they were crossing the lake, a ferocious tempest arose, with violent winds and waves that were crashing into the boat until it was all but swamped. But Jesus was calmly sleeping in the stern, resting on a cushion. So they shook him awake, saying, “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are all about to die!” Fully awake, he rebuked the storm and shouted to the sea, “Hush! Calm down!” All at once the wind stopped howling and the water became perfectly calm.Then he turned to his disciples and said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Haven’t you learned to trust yet?” But they were overwhelmed with fear and awe and said to one another, “Who is this man who has such authority that even the wind and waves obey him?”
This morning as I read through the story of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4:35-41 something struck me that I had never thought much about before – Jesus was actually deeply asleep in the midst of this storm. Now I lived on a ship for 12 years and I know that it is hard to sleep in the midst of a storm when the ship is rocking and rolling, the waves are crashing and the cargo groans against its bonds threatening to break loose at any moment. We need everyone to help keep the ship on an even keel.
Even now when I live in a stationary home, I know how anxiety can keep me awake, often creating its own storms of fretting, fear and anxiety.
Sleeping in the midst of storms is a sign of extreme stupidity or of supreme confidence.
Jesus’ response when the disciples woke him shows that his sleep was one of confidence. He trusted completely that the God who formed the waters and allowed the storms, the God who called him beloved Son, was still in control and would keep them all safe no matter how violently the waters raged. In the midst of the storm, he was able to find rest and refreshment.
Sometimes I think that we forget that Jesus is in the boat with us.
Sometimes I not sure that we really want to wake him. The storm itself is frightening, Jesus calming of the storm is terrifying.
We are in the midst of stormy times. None of us know what the future holds. We are anxious about losing our jobs and homes. We are not sure if we will have health insurance to cover us if we get ill.
How much confidence do we have that Jesus is in the boat with us? And what would it look like for him to calm this storm? It is so easy for us to pray for the solution we want to see happen. That COVID-19 would disappear quickly. That there will not be another recession as a result of the economic downturn. That those we love will not get sick. It is hard for us to have the faith to believe that whatever God allows to happen in this storm, Jesus is still with us. It is he, not us who is in control.
Yet in the midst of storms good happens and there are signs of hope if we will only look at them.
A woman in Wuhan posted on Facebook a couple of days ago about the good her family has experienced since the lockdown. Here is a glimpse of what she said Her family has spent more time together and they have grown closer as a result. Her prayer life has never been better and she has become aware of the amazing community around her. She can hear the birds that are usually drowned out by traffic noise and the beauty of the spring bursting forth around her is magnificent.
In the midst of storms do you notice only the difficult things? What about the good? What have you already experienced that has been good in the midst of this storm?
My prayer today is that God will calm the storm and that we will be able to find rest and confidence in whatever that calming looks like. May we also notice the good of what God is doing in our midst.
Paul Neeley has put together a post of a variety of prayers that people have written as we face this storm. Take time to read through them and sit still allowing God’s calming presence to fill you.
Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. As I reflected on this, I was reminded of my own challenges for equal acceptance within society and the church as well as the, often overwhelming obstacles that other women have faced and still face in the battle for freedom.
What Do You Think Of Mary Magdalene?
Mary Magdalene has become one of my favourite New Testament figures. She is also one of the most misused and abused a fitting symbol for women throughout the ages who are still misused abused and blamed. Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ most dedicated followers. She was present at his crucifixion and the first to see Jesus after his resurrection. Yet what most of us believe when we think of Mary Magdalene is a “fact” for which there is no evidence. She is remembered as a prostitute rather than as the faithful first bearer of the Good News, whom some would elevate the level of apostle.
Why do we so easily believe this? Part of it is because there are so many Marys mentioned in the New Testament that it is confusing. However, though her prominence in the story of Jesus probably began to deteriorate shortly after her death, the transformation to penitent prostitute was only sealed on Sept. 14, 1591, when Pope Gregory the Great gave a homily in Rome that pronounced that Mary Magdalene, Luke’s unnamed sinner, and Mary of Bethany were, indeed, the same person. And it is easier for a male dominated church to accept a prostitute than a female leader.
We easily forget or ignore the fact that other women too played a prominent part in the leadership of the early church. Sadly as Christianity became more mainstream it also became more patriarchal and the roles of women as disciples, elders and leaders (some even say as apostles) was quickly overlooked or reinterpreted.
We Like to Keep Women In Their Place
We still like to think the worst of women and want them to “keep their place”. Like most women in leadership, I am quite familiar with this. As a young doctor, I was told it was wrong for me as a single woman to earn more than a married man, and I was, on several occasions, refused positions of leadership just because of my gender. Even now, I often feel that when I walk into a gathering of male leaders I may as well be a fly on the wall. I feel as though I have to shout make myself heard.
Yet compared to many women, I have enjoyed amazing acceptance. I still remember the heartfelt cry of one Cambodian refugee I worked with years ago. She told me “My hope is that one day my daughters will have the same freedom you do.”
The church is often at the forefront of abuse and discrimination towards women. When Sarah Bessey started a Twitter conversation using the hashtag, #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear in 2017, it took off in a way few expected and the conversation rippled round social media for months even before the #MeToo movement took root. Women shared stories of rape, abuse, and sexism in the church and how the bible was used to justify these things and keep them quiet. Men blamed women for not submitting to their husbands or leaders or just for wearing provocative clothing. “They deserved to be raped”, some said.
More recently, we have all watched the furore in the Southern Baptist church as Beth Moore spoke out about sexism in the church, as well as the often very heated discussions about whether David raped Bathsheba. In his Christianity Today article: Why It Is Easier to Accept David as A Murderer Rather Than A Rapist, Kyle Worley states: We don’t want David to be a rapist. We actually find it easier to stomach him being a murderer of a man than an abuser of a woman. This kind of an attitude seems to pervade both the church and our society in so many ways.
The discussion about pregnancy and health insurance here in the U.S. was the final straw for me. So many inequalities still separate women from men in almost every country in the world and it seems to me that our present political environment exacerbates it. Prior to the Affordable Care Act women often paid more than men for the same health care coverage but health insurance for pregnancy, labor, delivery, and newborn baby care became mandatory in 2014 under Obama’s plan. That could soon change, however, and when women are at their most vulnerable, they could once more be made to suffer financial hardships. It’s not as bad as when masters could impregnate their servants and then throw them out onto the streets but it seems to have some of the same flavor to me.
What Is Your Response?
As you can tell, this is an issue that is very upsetting for me and I pray that you will forgive me. However, I believe that Jesus brings the freedom of equality to all persons and where we see inequality we all need to speak out. As Galatians 3:28 says, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Biblical scholars have told me that this was one of the creedal texts of the early church, so why do we not believe it? The gender gap is still very obvious not just in our world, but in God’s family.
Prayerfully consider your own response firstly to Mary Magdalene and Bathsheba, then to women in your life. Are there misconceptions in your views of them? Are there ways in which you discriminate against women by not treating them as equals? How would God have you respond.
This beautiful and compelling rendition of the Lord’s prayer was posted by the Society of the Sacred Heart. I thought that it made a great addition to our Lenten collection of prayers.
Our God who is in heaven,
And all of us here on earth;
The hungry, the oppressed, the excluded.
Holy is your name.
May your reign come.
May your reign come and your will be done:
In our choice to struggle with the complexities of this world,
And to confront greed and the desire for power in our selves,
In our nation and in the global community.
May your reign come.
Give us this day our daily bread;
Bread that we are called to share,
Bread that you have given us abundantly
And that we must distribute fairly, ensuring security for all.
May your reign come.
Forgive us our trespasses;
Times we have turned away from the struggles
Of other people and countries,
Times when we have thought only of our own security.
May your reign come.
Lead us not into temptation;
The temptation to close our minds, ears, and eyes
To the unfair global systems that create
Larger and larger gaps between the rich and the poor;
The temptation to think it is too difficult
To bring about more just alternatives.
May your reign come.
Deliver us from evil;
The evil of a world where violence happens in your name,
Where wealth for a few us more important
Than economic rights for all,
Where gates and barriers between people
Are so hard to bring down
May your reign come.
May your reign come, for yours is the kingdom,
the power and the glory forever and ever. AMEN!
Aaron Niequist, worship leader, author and musician invites to pray with our bodies, praying the Lord’s Prayer with gestures. It’s a great way to reconnect with the Lord’s Prayer and a great way to get kids of all ages to pray with you. This might be a great addition to your Lenten prayer practice this year. Try it! Pray the Lord’s Prayer with Gestures
Because of its simplicity, breath prayer is a great way to start when introducing a group to contemplative prayer, and breath prayer is a great way for an individual to slow down and remember God’s presence in the midst of everyday life. I know a family that engages in breath prayer at the beginning of their Sabbath day, and if the parents forget to make time for it, the kids remind them. I’ve used breath prayer in many different small group settings and occasionally in worship services as well, and most people take to it easily.
One way to engage in breath prayer is to imagine breathing out all our concerns and worries into God’s presence, while breathing in God’s love and care. At the Areopagus in Athens, the Apostle Paul said about God, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28). If God’s presence and love surround us, then it is not a stretch to imagine exhaling our troubles into God’s presence and inhaling God’s love and care with each breath.
When I engage in this kind of breath prayer, I focus on one concern or one person in need as I breathe out. As I feel the air leaving my lungs, I picture myself relinquishing that concern or person into God’s care. Then I breathe in, imagining God’s love filling the empty space where the concern or worry was located inside me.
Sometimes the concern is so great that I spend several breaths on the same issue or person, always relinquishing the concern into God’s hands as I breathe out, and always imagining God’s love coming into me as I breathe in. Sometimes I simply name all my family members as I engage in breath prayer, saying one name silently with each breath out, knowing that God is aware of that person’s needs even more than I could be.
Another form of breath prayer uses the ancient prayer called the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer is based loosely on the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 8:9-14 in which the tax collector says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (verse 13). One phrase of the Jesus prayer is prayed on each breath, with the breaths providing a rhythm for the prayer.
In groups, I have used a white board to list the favorite names for Jesus that the group members suggest, such as Prince of Peace, Bread of Life, Light of the World and True Vine. I suggest to the group that they pick one of those names and adapt the Jesus prayer to that name, along these lines:
Lord Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, have mercy on me. I need your peace.
Lord Jesus Christ, Bread of life, have mercy on me, feed me.
Lord Jesus Christ, Light of the World, have mercy on me, shine your light in me.
Lord Jesus Christ, True Vine, have mercy on me, help me abide in you.
Then we spend some time as a group praying the new prayer silently in harmony with our breathing.
Breath prayer works well as a first stage of prayer for many other kinds of contemplative or intercessory group prayer. It provides a good introduction to guided meditations. So simple and non-threatening, breath prayer helps people relax and feel competent about silent prayer when they might feel a bit unsure about engaging in quiet contemplative prayer in a group.
Breath prayer engages the physical body and helps us experience God’s presence in our bodies and in the physical world, integrating the physical and spiritual parts of our lives. Focusing on our breath slows down our breathing, which has the effect of slowing down all bodily functions, a way to experience peace from the One who gives us breath and longs to give us peace.
Breath prayer also reminds us of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God in our lives. When leading breath prayer with a group, any of these connections can be highlighted for the group, helping them to deepen their experience.
This post is excerpted from Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation by Lynne M. Baab which you can order here:
By Sue Duby —
My happy place is a coffee shop. Not just any coffee shop. Something special and unique. Comfy chairs. A new discovery. Quiet music. A corner where I can get in to my “groove” and let my thoughts drift. A strong latte laced with heart-inscribed creamy foam.
I’m always on the hunt for a new one. I’ve graced the doors of most every coffee shop in Northwest Arkansas at least once. In the process, favorites have emerged. All unique. All drawing me in for varied reasons.
The “Quiet Starbucks”. Loads of tables and room to stretch and breathe. Safety to chat with a friend, knowing neighboring “sippers” won’t hear much. Who knew absence of a drive-through window creates a blanket of calm inside? Definitely preferred for deep girlfriend conversation. And the cold brew…perfect for a stiff wakeup of concentrated caffeine and tummy-happy low acid.
“The Holler”. A massive buzzing space filled with “youngsters”… you know, the 20 and 30 somethings with cool boots, ear buds and laptops. Some surrounded by files, books and notepads. Others gathered in energized groups, hunched over tables, puzzling through challenges I’ll never understand. The air drips with vision, creativity and intensity. In the midst, I sip my latte with a smile that says, “Go grab your dreams!”… grateful for a fresh generation.
Kennedy’s. The hipster corner spot that first grabbed my heart. Loud music, always a buzz of excited conversation. That corner, window seat claimed as my own. Where my heart settled and I wrote our first update to friends and supporters from our new home in Arkansas. Where I realized if I sat still long enough, shifted my focus to a listening pose for God to nudge and whisper, I’d get in my “zone” and words would come forth.
Of all my coffee wanderings, only one led to an unexpected ongoing journey of wonder and anticipation, watching God’s hand at work. It all began with a “toe- tipping”, cautious “gonna check it out” moment, looking for a quiet place out of the house, peeking through the doors of a hotel lobby minutes from our driveway. Soothing splashing from a central fountain, high-backed chairs gracing multiple empty bistro tables and a tucked-away coffee bar led me to heave a deep sigh. “This is going to be great!”.
While grabbing my coffee from the barista, I smiled and gave the learned-from-Chuck-gratitude response…”Thank you for your service!”. . . more automatic than genuinely “in the moment”. Still, the woman smiled back with an “I love my job!” kind of posture. Two hours later, after delightful quiet with my computer and classical tunes coursing through my headphones, I headed home.
The following week, I grabbed Chuck to experience my new discovery. This time, a teenage boy stood at the register. A slow, stuttered, “Hi, I’m William!” tumbled out of his mouth. With those few words, we knew immediately William struggled with limited skills. The barista stood behind him, calmly encouraging… “Push the latte button… that’s right… now take her card… remember to thank her… good job, William!”.
With each new visit, I began to pay attention. Barista woman became “Miss Sarah”. William greeted me with a big grin-laced “Hi Sue!”. Miss Sarah continued to stay in the shadow and let William shine. One day, I finally pulled her aside and blurted out, “You’re amazing! How do you have such patience! William is so lucky to have you!”. She smiled shyly and went on to explain that their dance together was actually part of a hotel-sponsored program to train young autistic adults.
As the months passed, my register visits were met with a “Hi Sue… same order?” I began to notice an employee discount on my receipts. Miss Sarah often managed to slip a free refill on my table with a knowing nod and infectious smile. One day, I looked up to find her standing with a new trainee. “This is Leslie. You need to meet her! She’s a writer too!”. Not sure how my coffee sipping presence had morphed in to some kind of famous posture, but from her I joyfully received the accolade. . . and marveled, realizing she’d just managed to simultaneously affirm Leslie in the presence of another adult (me).
One day, after Chuck and I had lingered for a while on our now almost always free lattes, Miss Sarah stopped by our table to say hi. After once again lavishing praise on her amazingly gifted heart for people (especially the trainees), she shrugged her shoulders with a quiet, “Well. . . I just want everyone to know they are special!”. Exclaiming that we, indeed, were part of her “everyone”, an “only God” conversation unfolded. Chuck’s gentle coaching questions. Miss Sarah’s vulnerable responses… “I’m not a good student. I never went to college. I’m not a book learner. I love my job and want to do more”. We pondered together. Brainstormed possibilities. Sighed and then promised to pray God would open doors, encourage her vision and passion and remind her of her own gifted heart.
On the way home, I excitedly turned to Chuck. “I have to buy her a book…you know that children’s book You are Special? I have to!!”. I know those God nudges. I also know if I ponder for more than a few minutes, I’ll go “chicken” and not follow through. Later pressing the online “purchase” button, I thought, “I’m crazy or on track… but in any case, I’m in with both feet on this one!”
The next week, Chuck and I returned, wrapped package in hand. We pulled Miss Sarah aside. “We have a gift. It’s to encourage your vision to make everyone feel special”. Her eyes widened and with a tearful smile whispered, “Can I open it now?”. As the paper crumbled, she looked up with childlike wonder. “Thank you… can you sign it? I’m going to read it as soon as I get home!”. Feeling like a much undeserved star, I scribbled a prayerful greeting from both of us. After big hugs, she skipped (really!) back to serve another customer.
Just this week, I returned to the hotel. I felt my heart warm with the now settled routine. Miss Sarah and I exchanged smiles of affection. Without a word, she grabbed my “normal” cold brew with vanilla and a splash of cream. I handed her my credit card. She pushed it back. There’s a mutual understanding that debate won’t change anything! I asked a few questions of the new trainee Leslie and commended her good service. Miss Sarah nodded from the corner. I waved and pronounced, “You are my sunshine!”. Immediately, I heard “You are my rainbow!”.
I’m reminded often now to pay attention to the moments. Who is in front of me right now? How can I best acknowledge their presence? Do I truly “see” them? Do I see what makes them special? Will I dare to be bold through my fear and remind them? Can this be my 2020 posture every day… all day?
Lord, may you continue to show me the value and wonder of each person that crosses my path. Give me Your eyes to see beyond my human vision to the heart. Show me how to follow Miss Belinda in her passion to make everyone feel special and to know that God sees them as His own treasure.
Last Wednesday, I went to Costco for my usual fortnightly visit, arriving early to avoid the crowds. Or at least, I thought I was. The place was crowded and people were loading carts with what looked like a year’s supply of toilet paper, rice and other staples. Over the weekend, it was even worse and when I went to Best Buy yesterday, it was totally deserted. Seattle has become like a wasteland as people panic, bulk buy and hoard as much as they can as though they expect to be under siege for a year or more.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it is now officially known, is a serious threat to the stability of our communities, but it grieves me to see the panic that has gripped so many in our neighbourhoods as the virus spreads. My concern is that many Christians have responded with the same fear and panic when I think that we should be responding in a very different spirit. So here is a very quick post with a few suggestions.
Don’t Panic – Prepare
“The Lord alone is our radiant hope and we trust in him with all our hearts.
His wrap-around presence will strengthen us.” (Psalm 33:20 )
I think that as people of faith we need to start by reminding ourselves each day that our trust is in God alone not in how much food we have on hand or even in how little contact we have with people around us who may be infected. Reciting the verse in the morning and then repeating it several times a day is a good place to start.
Second, pray for all people who are sick and those who live in fear of contracting this novel and unpredictable virus. Please pray for family members and all caregivers, especially, our emergency response and health care workers. They do not have the luxury of staying at home to avoid the virus as they care for us and respond to our needs.
Having said all that, I know that we do need to be prepared for the possibility that people will be asked to stay home. Schools here in Seattle (where most of the deaths in the U.S. have occurred so far) are already closing, though only for a day to disinfect all surfaces, and some major venues have been cancelled. So, what should we do?
There is lots of good and bad suggestions out there at the moment. I like this very balanced article on npr.org and am just highlighting a few of the suggestions here.
- Stock up (enough for a few weeks not for a year) on dry goods like rice, lentils, and beans. (Sounds like a great Lenten diet anyway). You probably also want to make sure that you have enough toilet paper, hand washing soap and other cleaning supplies – again for a month not for a year. As one of my Facebook friends commented – leave enough for those of us who really need to buy toilet paper at the moment.
- Get an extra supply of essential medications if possible. Hopefully your health provider will be able and willing to do this. I know many insurers are not.
- Wash your hands whenever you walk through the door back into the house.
- Avoid hand shaking, kissing and other forms of bodily contact and if you do have contact with people, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer afterwards.
- Don’t wear a mask – masks, especially the simple face masks that so many are buying, can actually spread disease because germs cling to the mask and you are more likely to touch your face when you have a mask on, infecting yourself with whatever is clinging there.
Prepare Your Church
I was very pleased when our rector gave a very forthright and comprehensive overview of the behavior that is best in church at the moment:
- If you are sick, stay home.
- A bow rather than a handshake or hug for passing the peace or as the initial greeting when you arrive, and then use hand sanitizer after doing that.
- We use a common cup for communion and interestingly the very few studies that have been done show no difference in infection rates of those who take communion from a common cup to those in the general population. It is possible that the high alcohol content of the port used, and the combination of the silver chalice, kills viruses and bacteria. There has never been a case of a virus spread by use of common cup. However having said all that, I should add that in response to the King County health department, we have discontinued the passing of the cup and only bread is being served. Even then it is important to make sure that the distributers wash their hands before they serve the bread.
- Don’t pass the offering plate, leave it in a central place where people can add their offerings.
- If you have a baptismal font, remove the water from it until this uncertain time is over.
- Find out if there is something you can do to help the vulnerable members of your congregation weather the crisis. Could you provide a special supply of food and cleaning items for those that cannot afford them?
Prepare to Be God’s Presence in Your Community.
God’s people are meant to be people for others, not for themselves, so I think that one of the major discussions needs to be, “How can we help the vulnerable people in our communities prepare and cope with this crisis?” I was delighted to see that Microsoft has decided continue paying their hourly workers even though they may not be working. Perhaps we can encourage our churches and work places to do the same.
When businesses close, poor employees suffer most because they do not have savings they can live out of. They can’t afford to buy extra supplies either because they live week to week out of their pay check. And they can’t afford to take time off because usually their place of work does not pay them for sick days.
So if you put together emergency supplies for yourself, who else should you be doing this for?
Who are the vulnerable people in your community that could need help if they get sick, maybe with meals, a lift to the doctor or help with medications and shopping?
One thing that has challenged me as I read about the history of Christianity is how often more people of strong Christian faith died in epidemics because they were the ones looking after the sick. Are we willing to be Christ’s hands and feet during a time of crisis like this? Are we willing to put our own lives at risk for those who are the most vulnerable in our communities?
A Prayer for the Day
God of life and love, help us to be your people in times of crisis. May we respond out of love and not fear, out of trust and not panic. Help us to be sensitive to those who are vulnerable, to those who are afraid and to those who are confused. Amen.