By Talitha Fraser —
“No one is going to stop human nature from its impulse to shape the mystery that lies about us. Thank the powers that be that we can dream in this sense, that we can send out feelers in the unknown and fly coloured kites into the azure or the storm. It is as natural to fabulate as to breathe, and as necessary… the human heart would suffocate if it were restricted to logic.”
p.74-75 Theopoetics, Amos Niven Wilder
I cried when I first read Wilder’s book Theopoetics for the wild joy and familiar of it because I had never read the words but they were somehow already mine. A truth I didn’t know yet. Theopoetics can be an embodied way of knowing and, I think, another way of being and engaging in the world.
To grieve: I make a representation of the home I’m losing and the home I hope for. A vessel for my hopes, fears and prayers and I carry it. It is outside of my head, small enough to hold in my hands. Colourful, soft and warm – it is not cold and dark – a grief I am able to bear more easily for that.
To love: A dear friend and I no longer live in the same country. We cannot share in the day to day, nor in the hard times, nor the small graces. Some misunderstanding arose that I could not make right with words in an email and I felt the fragility of time and distance, and a fear I might be losing something very precious. I chose a grand gesture. Something embarrassing, risky, a little stupid and, maybe, just a little bit brave. I went to her work, a public library, wearing prop alien glasses and used the catalogue to find a copy of “How to Make Friends and Influence People” which I proceeded to pretend to read, upside down, moving from place to place in her line of sight around the library. She didn’t notice me. Weird stuff happens in public libraries all the time. You have to go bigger than that if you want a librarian to pay attention to you. I had to yield my melodramatic impulses in favour of the expediency of just talking to her so we could sort it out over lunch. And we do. Two humans talking it through. (Pro tip: People will find it hard to stay mad at you if you make yourself ridiculous).
To hope: A Love Makes a Way action to advocate for the release of children from detention centres provides paper doll chains to be signs of our prayers, our fears and our hopes. Leaked documents from the Nauru files reveal the terrible treatment and trauma of women and children held by the Australian government. We blu tack these to the windows at the office of our local politician but first I take a series of photos – these children are sitting with me at the table, playing soccer, at a school, in a playground, riding a bike. Ordinary kid things they don’t get to do but in my hands they can. Hope manifest.
The common thread here was listening. Listening for the eternal breath that connects me to the home I’ve lost and new one I haven’t found yet, the refugees I may never meet and could not directly help, and friends far away. Grace finds a way when it feels like there is no way, creates moves where I feel ‘stuck’, empowers when I feel hopeless. Breathe and pray, you may yet find a way to dream, and shape, to feel and to fly. Breathe and pray.
By Lynne M. Baab —
What’s your favorite place in nature? A beach, the mountains, a lake, a meadow? What’s your favorite aspect of nature? Flowers, reflective water, a specific kind of animal, a tree?
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how we can pray more deeply for God’s creation and how we can feel like we are walking with Jesus when we care for creation. I’ll give you some ideas here, and you can see more of them in the online Lenten devotional I co-wrote for our church last year.
Gratitude and praise. Thankfulness prayers are deeply appropriate – and even foundational – when we pray about God’s creation. We don’t have to look very far to find things to praise and thank God for when we look at the beauty of flowers, trees, hills, mountains, lakes, oceans, clouds, and thousands of other manifestations of God’s creativity and beauty.
Lament. We also don’t have to look very far in God’s creation to feel upset about damage to the beauty of the world God created so intricately and carefully. Lament prayers express sadness, grief, anger and frustration. We tell God what we’re upset about. Lament prayers are appropriate in so many areas when we see or think about environmental degredation.
Confession and assurance of pardon. If you’re like me, and you feel guilt about not engaging in creation care as much as you’d like to, or as much as you’ve felt led to, God invites you to bring those thoughts and feelings into a prayer of confession. God always forgives us and gives us a fresh start.
Intercession. Prayers of intercession for creation are appropriate in so many areas. So many people are involved in aspects of caring for God’s creation. So many people create policy that impacts the earth. Where can we start in our prayers?
I’d suggest picking something you love in nature, and think about all the scientists who do research in that area, all the people who are involved in taking care of that part of God’s creation, all the policy makers who make decisions that have an impact on that part of nature, and all the ordinary people whose decisions have an effect on that part of nature you love. Pray for those people and for God’s continued sustenance and care of the beautiful earth.
To deepen prayers for creation care, I suggest reading Psalm 103 and 104, and then praying the words to both psalms. They can be read as a pair, each reflecting one of God’s major roles in human history.
Psalm 103 focuses on God the Redeemer, and if you confess your sins about anything, including not caring for creation as well as you should, you’ll find joy and assurance from God in the words of Psalm 103. If you read it, notice how many nature analogies are used to make the points in the psalm.
Psalm 104 focuses on the way that God sustains the plants and animals. And humans! I find it delightful.
“O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. . . .
These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” (Psalm 104:23, 27, 28)
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: