Category Archives: Prayer

The Light of Lent

As a child, I experienced Lent as an extra-long prelude to Good Friday. It had a dark, somber feeling to it. The themes all seem to center around the suffering of Jesus and the cross. Confession of sin was the central act of worship.  The dark sanctuary was a contrast to the bright morning light of Sunday worship.  The hymns we sang felt heavy and ponderous.   We did not walk to the cross – we crawled with scrapped knees and heavy hearts.

Is Lent meant to be so dark?  Does our Papa in heaven delight in the ways we berate ourselves?

One of the early purposes of Lent was to prepare new Christian believers for their baptism on Easter.  It was a time of instruction, and even fasting, but it had a joyous destination:  to be joined to Jesus in both his death and resurrection.

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4).

The new life in Christ was the destination of celebration which colored the time of preparation with joy and light.

Gethsemane window background removed

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane

The word Lent comes from an old English word that means “spring.” This year at Trinity Lutheran (where I am serving as interim senior pastor), our Lenten theme will have a spring like quality: The Garden of Prayer.  Inspired by the stain glass window above Trinity’s pipe organ, we will join Jesus in prayer.

The theme verse will be “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Each Wednesday evening together we will embrace a specific Christian form of prayer.  We will celebrate the rich ancient spiritual practices of Gratitude, Confession, Intercession and Meditation.  Like a loving father or mother, God delights in spending time with God’s children.  Let us join in that delight this coming Lent.

Lent begins next Wednesday, February 10.  Encourage you to find a way to center in with God’s Love during this holy season.

I will also be using this blog to highlight these different forms of prayer.  If you want to follow along sign-up for the weekly e-mail using the form in right hand column.

How has Lent impacted your life in Christ? 

Resigning from Resurrection

Monday I resigned as Lead Pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church.  My last Sunday will be October 25, 2015.  You can see my letter of resignation here.

The path to the decision was a long and winding one.  (The twisting path was also a partial reason I have not posted on this blog for six months.)  It was not made suddenly or without prayer and conversation.    Though there have been many contributing factors,  three key events shaped my decision.

Retreat CenterThe first was an eight-day silent centering prayer retreat in June.   Though it was held at a non-descript  wooded camp, the experience was life transforming.  The silence time of prayer and reflection helped solidify my longing for contemplation and deep prayer.   I had a couple of profound experiences that I need to write about in future posts.  I want to go back.

18395_10153362640945266_2272565119671433986_nThe second was the five-day ELCA youth gathering in Detroit in July.   Thirty thousand youth packed into Ford Field, praising, dancing, singing in the joyous, raucous Spirit of Christ.  There were times when I felt like I was 17 years old again, swept up in the celebration.   It was a powerful trip for me, the three adults, and ten youth from Resurrection.

Taken together, the silent prayer retreat and the youth gathering, could be seen as two ends of a spiritual spectrum.  One end  is the quiet, contemplative Spirit of God, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7) The other is the joyous noisy  Spirit of God, “You will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.” (Jeremiah 31:4)

Both are good and healthy, but they rarely live together in the same tent.

Still Dance SpectrumThe two are significant in that I see my own spirituality moving towards the quiet, contemplative end of the spectrum, while I see the needs of Resurrection’s spirituality is for the joyful dance.  Neither is better than the other, but they were not working together within me, especially since I am called to be the leader.   Thus for months my own spirit has been restless.

The third event was a private conversation with two trusted leaders of the congregation.  They initiated the conversation in a caring environment.  During the conversation they asked me was a simple, yet profound question, “Do you feel like you still fit at Resurrection?”

praatgroepenLike a skillful politician I hemmed and hawed and dodged the question that evening.  But as I drove home from the conversation, I realized in my heart-of-hearts that I no longer fit.   It was a blow to my ego.  I wanted to be in control, yet I was not.  I wrestled with the question all through that night and several afterwards.  Yet I woke up each morning realizing that the answer was the same.  It is time for me to leave Resurrection.

In the next couple of days, I will post on what my plans are for the future.   For now it is sufficient to say that I am both sad to leave a fantastic congregation like Resurrection and at peace with listening to the call of God’s Spirit.

I have been reflecting on these words from Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak.

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.  Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. (page 3)

One Day at a Time

Just past the familiar opening phrases of serenity, courage and wisdom in Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer comes this statement:

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time,

The prayer invites us to stay focus on the present , not to be trapped by  past regrets or future anxieties.  To live fully alive today, not drifting off to yesterday or tomorrow.

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matt 6:34)

boarding-a-plane-11282012-113858_horiz-largeI have struggled with this.  I remember preparing for a wonderful vacation trip with my family, but even as I boarded the airplane, my mind raced ahead.  In my mind’s eye I could see myself boarding the plane to return, the vacation over and done.  I felt this wave of regret that the vacation would end, and it had barely begun!  I was not living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at time. I had become anxious about tomorrow, not heeding Jesus’ warning.   I was letting my mental thoughts race ahead to the completion, focused on how transient my week of vacation would be.

Yes, there is value in recognizing that all things in life, including vacation trips, are transient and impermanent.   The old proverb, “all good things must come to an end” holds truth.  But I was pushing away the enjoyment of the good with my future focus, unable to savor the gift of one day, one moment.

The practice of centering prayer (a form of mindfulness practice)  has helped me recognize when my thoughts are running away from the present.  The practice has taught me to simply see such wandering thoughts and feelings as “thoughts and feeling” that are not necessarily reality.  In my vacation example, I could not predetermine how I would feel when I returned.  Today if I were to encounter a similar thought/feeling as I boarded, I might respond, “Oh that is an interesting thought.  I will be curious to see how I feel when I board to come home.  But for now, I am here at the beginning of my vacation.  I will find my seat and enjoy the novel I brought along to read.”

How do you find ways to live one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time?

Lord Jesus, help us to live in this moment with you.

The Courage to Change

I knew something needed to change as I hiked one summer along the Pacific Crest Trail.  I had looked forward to the seven-day backpack for several months.    I had entertained frequent day dreams in which I visualized myself hiking across open alpine meadows, surrounded by the snow-laced  peaks of the Cascades and swimming in cold sky-blue lakes. But as my fantasy became reality I notice something troubling.   My mind had trouble staying on the trail.

IMG_20130816_105142_210Instead I would discover that my thoughts were ruminating about some worry or concern back home in Minnesota.    For a moment I might be able to enjoy a colorful alpine flower or a striking mountain peak, but all too quickly my mind jumped to some pestering concern at my church or my family.   My intention was to be on the PCT in Washington; my mind seemed to be at dozens of other locations.  And I wanted that to change.

bowl-with-spoonWhen I came back to Minnesota, I began to hear about “mindfulness” – the ability to be in the present moment.    My health plan offered a simple six-week exercise that focused on mindful eating.   I thought it would be easy to simply focus on my meal as I ate.   I discovered that it was incredibly hard for me.  My eyes continually looked for something to read; my ears sought the noise of the radio.  The challenge was to simply be present to my bowl of cereal, to see the color and texture of the granola, to taste each bite, and to give  thanks to God for the meal.

Emotional LifeI began to read more about mindfulness and my emotional impulsiveness.  A key book  was The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson.   I remember reading about how our brains have plasticity, that they can be rewired or remolded with certain practice.  The author discussed how people who have participated in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction classes have been able to deal with their chaotic, impulsive mental thought patterns.   After reading the book, I signed up for a MBSR class.

“Courage to change the things I can” is the second part of the Serenity prayer.  I once thought courage was reserved for the “big” things like racism or sexism.  I admire Dr. Martin Luther King’s courage to challenge the racial injustice of his time. We need such models of courage in every age.

Yet there is also the daily kind of courage to face our own flaws.  Through the MBSR class I learned the practice of daily meditation.  The practice has begun to calm my busy mind and to live in the present.   I am thankful that God gave me the courage to change the ways I look at the world and to be fully alive in each moment.

How do you stay living in the present moment?

Lord Jesus, thank you for your promise to be always with us.

The Serenity of the Serenity Prayer

The Serenity Prayer begins with three requests:  the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

When I first prayed this prayer, I wondered if the order should not be changed.  I wanted the courage to act, to move, to change things.  I sought the power to DO God’s will and to ACT in God’s name.  Should not courage come first?

Serenity in Winter

Serenity in Winter

Instead the prayer starts with the serenity to accept things that cannot be change, to be at peace with the way things are before any changes come.  Four years ago I wrote about the Serenity Prayer and the challenges of accepting Minnesota winters.  The weather is definitely something I cannot change (though I can change where I live).

The weather is not the only thing I cannot change.  On a more profound level – and where I think AA and Al-Anon see the prayers connection to their program – I cannot change other people’s behavior or attitudes.  Oh, I can love and care for, cajole and advise other people.  But I cannot change them.   A spouse or parent is unable to change the addictive behavior of a loved one.  A family intervention might help a spouse or child seek rehab but ultimately the alcoholic or addict must seek healing for themselves.

Backpack Tent 2014

I carry a one man tent when backpacking

But it does not need to be as dramatic as alcoholism.  In marriage, husbands and wives need to able to love, accept and support each other as they are.  When I first married Carolyn, I thought I could change her to share my love of backpacking.  I thought that I simply had to get her in the right setting and she would see the light.  I was wrong.  Though we both enjoy day hikes and the beauty of God’s creation, she does not share my fascination with sleeping on the ground in sweaty clothes after eating dehydrated gruel.   At the same time, she has come to accept that she will not expunge my fascination with carrying a forty pound pack up and down trails for days on end. Instead we accept each other as we are while enjoying the passions we share.

One passion that Carolyn and I share is our love for our grandchildren.

One passion that Carolyn and I share is our love for our grandchildren.

The prayer uses the word serenity as the heart of this acceptance.  Serenity is NOT the grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it attitude, but rather the calm, internal state of mind that sees reality for what it is: reality.  I remember experiencing such serenity when my father died twenty years ago.  He had contracted pancreatic cancer and then had a debilitating stroke.  When I sat by his bedside during his final hours, I felt sadness that the father I loved was dying, but also serenity that this was his reality. I could not change it.

To develop such serenity takes practice.   We may have moments of instant serenity, but to have consistent serenity takes the practice of prayer and meditation. Saint Paul connected prayer and peace.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

How have you experience serenity?

Lord Jesus, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

Serenity Prayer: Intro

For the past two and half years I have participated in a clergy spirituality group.  The six of us meet each Thursday morning for conversation and prayer.  We started out with an adaptation of the The Twelve Steps used by Alcoholic Anonymous and other recovery groups.

downloadOur first book was a kind of spiritual workbook titled: The Twelve Steps: A Spiritual Journey,  A Working Guide for Healing Based on Biblical Teachings by RPI Publishing, 2012.  Though we have moved on  in our reading to other books (that I might highlight in other blogs), we continue to use some parts of the The Twelve Steps.  The book included questions for personal reflection based on the 12 steps and a format to guide our group conversation.  It was a helpful book to start our group.  What I appreciated was that we ended each meeting praying together the full Serenity Prayer:

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the different.
Living one day at a time
enjoying one moment at a time,
accepting hardship as the pathway to peace;
taking as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with you forever in the next.  Amen

Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr

This prayer is attributed to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, though he was taping into older Christian and other wisdom traditions that shaped this prayer.  As the above Wikipedia link shows, the prayer had oral roots back to the early 1930’s, but was not formally published until that 1940’s.

The prayer strikes a deep resonates in me, especially as we use it in our group.   We pray the Lord’s Prayer to open the meeting (often with a few minutes of silent meditation) to bring focus.  The Serenity Prayer has become a kind of ritual and blessing that brings closure and hope as our group concludes its meeting.   I find great comfort in such simple rituals.

Lately I have been feeling tugged to explore the spiritual depth of this prayer.  I plan to write reflections on the Prayer and what certain words or phrases mean for me.  I admit that this will be highly individualistic; not everyone will agree with my insights.  Yet hopefully it will spark your desire to pray this prayer or other prayer as part of your life in Christ.

What written prayers are shaping your spiritual life?

Christ Jesus, grant me the courage to pray with hope and utter trust in you.

PCT Reflection – Playing Hide and Seek with Mt. Rainier

States have notable geographical landmarks.  New York has Niagara Falls.  Minnesota has 10,000 lakes.  Arizona has the Grand Canyon.  Florida has the Everglades.  And Washington has Mt. Rainier.

pink mt rainier

When my father bought a lot outside of Bremerton, Washington, he made sure that our house took full advantage of our view.   The house sat on a hill overlooking an inlet of the Puget Sound.  On a clear day, Mt. Rainier rose on the horizon like the top of giant ice cream cone.  Granted, clear weather comes at premium in Western Washington with the weeks of grey, low clouds obscuring all mountain vision.  Yet when the clouds cleared, the mountain was always there, sunlight gleaming off the multiple glaciers.   In high school and college, I remember sitting on our deck, transfixed by the magenta alpine glow on Mt. Rainier at sunset.

When I decided to do the southern section of the PCT this summer, I deliberately chose to hike from south to north for the explicit reason of hiking towards Mt. Rainier.   Though I would be hiking near Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens, and directly beneath Mt. Adams,  my heart and eyes were focused on Mt. Rainier.   And I was not disappointed.

First Glimpse of Mt. Rainier from Mt. Adams on the PCT

First Glimpse of Mt. Rainier from Mt. Adams on the PCT

As mentioned in my previous post, my first two and half days were mostly in the forest.  But on my third day, as I climbed the ridges surrounding Mt. Adams, I caught my first glimpse of Mt. Rainier.   For the next four days I played a game of hide and seek, wondering where the next view would come. There were several from Mt. Adams, but the best view of Rainier came when I entered the Goat Rocks Wilderness Area.  Though the haze and midday sun made photography difficult, I made sure my final  lunch stop included a Rainier view.

Last Day Lunch Stop

Last Day Lunch Stop

After such splendid views, I started to think again about hiking The Wonderland Trail.  Its 93 miles circumnavigates the mountain and offers many elevation challenges as one hike up and over the many ridges that radiate out from the peak.  Due to its popularity, access is limited to a kind of lottery system in reserving backcountry campsites.  But now I am convinces it would be worth the gamble.

I often use Mt. Rainier as part of guided meditation prayer that helps me stay grounded in Christ.  Also I sing a song based on Psalm 46.  “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.  In the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiest, beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth – is Mt. Zion on the side of the north, the city of the great king.”  From an early age, I have associated Mt. Zion with Mt. Rainier, both places of beauty, elevation and holiness.  And I know the mountain has brought me much joy.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the holy places in our lives.