Category Archives: Prayer

Prayerful Eating

I have written in the past about Slow Lent and how this season of spiritual discipline can be a time to deliberately slow down. The slowing down can be an intentional way to make space and time to listen for God. My Lenten discipline for this year has a specific deceleration: prayerful eating.

I am not sure how or why but I grew up eating my meals in a hurry, but  I have continued that practice today. I seem to inhale my food without giving it much thought or reflection. I don’t even really taste and enjoy the meal. I noticed my rush at a recent dinner with friends from Resurrection; I cleaned my plate ten minutes before anyone else. And I was engaged in the table conversation!

fruit-basket-still-620When I was at the Pacem in Terris hermitage earlier this winter, I decided to take my time eating the simple meals of fruit, cheese and bread.  To give thanks for my daily bread. To be mindful of the taste, texture and smell of the meal.  To enjoy each mouthful as a gift from God, the farmers, bakers, and handlers of the food.  I reflected on verse 4 of Psalm 103, “who satisfies you with good as long as you live.” Each meal became a holy moment in my retreat.

I have continued that practice after I left. So I was surprised and pleased when our national church office of the ELCA recommend a similar approach as a Lenten discipline. It is called prayerful eating and it is adapted from Mindful Eating by Jan Chozen Bays, M.D. The first four steps are:

1. Prayerfully express your gratitude throughout the meal.

2. Pause before beginning the meal. Look at each item of food, taking it in with your eyes. Notice the color, texture, and shape of the food.

3. Take a moment to say grace. Thank God, animals, plants and people who provided these gifts of food.

There are further steps and explanation which you can access at this link.

rice and beansI am planning simple meals this Lent. My daughter Christina taught me the delicious value of rice and beans this past summer. (My other daughter , Suzanne, taught me the delicious value of a cheesecake, but I plan to enjoy that after Easter.)

The whole purpose of the prayerful eating discipline is to become aware of God’s presence in the midst of my daily life.

How do you build such awareness into your life?

Lord Jesus, thank you for my daily bread.

Slow Lent – Third Season

YOUNG WOMAN RECEIVES MARK OF ASHESToday is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.  With the placement of ashes on our forehead, we acknowledge the words, “From dust you come and to dust you shall return.”   Words that describe our mortality, the prospect that we will all die some day.  So we take time now to face our own death as we also reflect on Jesus’ death on the cross.  “For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.

I continue to be a fan of the Slow Lent Movement.  I have posted in past years regarding it and still think it is helpful today.   I wrote this a couple of years ago.

Bishop Margaret Payne introduced me to the Slow Lent Movement several years ago and her passionate explanation of our need for it still rings true.

She spoke on how pastors have bought into the seduction of our culture’s three A’s: Accomplishment, Adrenalin, and Affirmation. As pastors we think our worth is based on how much we accomplish in our congregations and we enjoy the adrenalin rush that comes from having much to do and being needed by many people. And we relish the public affirmation that often comes from having our hands in many programs and ministries. I found myself nodding my head several time, recognizing my own self-delusions being exposed by her words.

But I don’t think her words are limited to pastors. In spite our professed trust in God’s grace, so many of us who are Christians still seek our self-worth based on our accomplishments. We rush about trying to fulfill the many “shoulds” we carry inside our heads. We seek public affirmation even as we feign humility. We have bought into the prevailing culture without seeing our need for a new way of life.

This year for Lent, I am focusing on a specific act of slowing down: prayerful eating.  I will write more about this in next week’s post.

Lord Jesus, teach me to rest in you.

Rock and View

In my last post, I described my initial yearning to be with God during my two night hermitage at Pacem in Terris. I wanted to be still and simply rest in my heavenly Father’s presence.

St John the Beloved hermitage insideThe inside of the hermitage encouraged my yearning. The large rocking chair helped me slowly rock my anxious thoughts away and enter into a time of quiet rest. Windows covered the whole east wall and the view, though not stunning, was calm and serene. The many trees were stripped of leaves and dappled with snow. In the distance I could see portions of a small snow-covered lake. The view invited me to be at peace.

I spent time simple rocking, reflecting, and reading scripture. I also was feeling blessed and  meditated on a favorite psalm, 103.

Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

Later the Psalmist writes.

Who satisfies you with good as long as you live,
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. v5

I reflected on the down-to-earth satisfaction of being open to God’s Spirit. I prayed for all who seek satisfaction in our world. I prayed for my family, my congregation and the world, that we might be satisfied in God’s gracious love.

I went to bed early and slept well. I rose before dawn, observing the slowly brightening sky. I rocked as I watched the sky turn shades of red and magenta as the sun lifted over the horizon. What a simple yet profound joy to watch the sun give light and life to our world. That east window gave me perspective on my life.

Tahuya River near my father’s cabin

Years ago, my dad bought a small piece of property on the Tahuya River (really more of a creek than a river) in an isolated section of Washington state. Every week-end he would drive the thirty miles to the property where he constructed his own cabin in the woods. I had started seminary at the time; he was about the age I am now. He constructed the cabin without power tools, mixing the cement by hand with water from the river. It was a plain A-frame cabin, with few frills. He spent years building it.

I visited the cabin only three to four times during the time he owned it. I never slept in it; my dad rarely did either. One thing it seemed to lack in my memory were any large windows. I remember it as a dark, dreary place – though I also remember how satisfied and content my father was when he visited it. It was his place of rest.

We each need places of rest and restoration, though each of us may discover different places that suit our personality. I know that if I should ever build a cabin in the woods it will need windows and lots of them.

Where do you find your window on the world?

Lord Jesus, open the windows of my heart that I might see you.

Experience the Way

Christina with her sister Suzanne and holding nephew Jack

Christina with her sister Suzanne and holding nephew Jack

My daughter, Christina, was not quite three. She was waking up from a nap and my wife noticed that she did not seem fully responsive. Christina’s eyes were open and she was breathing, but her face was blank and she did not respond to any touch or sound. This persisted for a few minutes, so we called 911 and an ambulance came. We rushed off to the children’s hospital, uncertain what was happening, but praying for God’s intervention.

I think about that ambulance ride, when I read the story (John 4:46-54) of the royal official whose son was ill. The official traveled more than twenty miles by foot to Jesus and “begged him to come down and heal his son.” The official was someone who normally gave orders and told people what to do. Begging was not part of his daily life—especially with a wandering, controversial preacher. Yet he was desperate to help his son and if begging was necessary, he would do it.

Many parents would do the same. I know my prayers in the ambulance were a form of begging, “God, help my daughter.” It was raw and real and I waited for God to hear me.

Jesus’ response to the official sounds ambivalent, almost callous, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” It sounds like it is meant for the crowd that surrounded Jesus and not for the official.

Yet the father persisted. As I said he was desperate. “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.”

I hear and empathize with this father’s plea. At times God seems distant and silent, yet I persist in my prayer for God’s assistance.

Jesus responded, “Go, your son will live.”

This is not what the father asked. He wanted Jesus to come with him, to be present and touch his son. I would want the same. I want Jesus to be physically present, reassuring me as much as my child.

Yet the official believed the word of Jesus. He started on his way, not knowing what would happen, but simply trusting in the promise of Jesus. I wonder what thoughts and feelings he experienced as he walked towards home. (I let you read the story to discover how it concludes.)

Sometimes the WAY seems isolated and cold.

Sometimes the WAY seems isolated and cold.

Many parents live right there in the story.  We are walking the way, unsure of the future.  We have the promise of God’s love and healing, but are uncertain how it will unfold. We walk, trusting in the promise of God for our children and for ourselves. We are on the way, but the way seems dark and cheerless.

Shortly after my daughter arrived at the hospital, we met with doctors and discovered that she had experienced a mild form of epileptic seizure, something that could be treated with a prescription. They assured us that she would grow out of it. And she has.

Still I remember clearly that feeling as we drove to the hospital, the begging quality of my prayer and the simple trust in the promise of God’s love. We all walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  We try to remember that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6)

When have you walked by faith and not by sight?

Lord Jesus, I believe, help me in my unbelief.

Day Five: Pride Goes Before the Fall

IMG_20130818_134449_651Day Five of my backpack started much like day four: the glorious beauty of Glacier Peak surrounded me and I felt tremendous joy as I ambled down the trail. My feet felt as light as my heart. With my lightness of feet I jumped a couple of streams. I thought, “It’s going to be a wonderful day.  Thank you, Lord!”

The Cascade Mountains are a named for the many streams cascading down from the glaciers and snow fields. The Pacific Crest Trail crosses many of these streams. On major rivers, there are often bridges. Some of these have been battered by the spring floods. I wondered how long Kennedy Creek would keep its bridge.

Kennedy Creek Bridge on the PCT

Kennedy Creek Bridge on the PCT

Shortly after crossing Kennedy Creek, I came to Sitkum Creek. Sitkum is rather small and has no bridge. I stopped to consider my options. I noticed several larger stones that could be used to boulder-hop across. I also could easily wade across since it was less than 6″ deep. I did not have trekking poles and my shoes were dry. After a moment’s reflection I decided to try boulder hopping, thus keeping my shoes dry.

Sitkum CreekI loosened my pack and started across. One boulder, two boulders. . .  .

Suddenly my foot slipped and I fell into the stream. Unable to catch myself with my hands, my face slipped below the water and my head hit a rock.

I heard a crunch and felt the sharp blow to my head. I quickly scrambled up to my knees. I felt my forehead and discovered a rising lump above my right eye. I also discovered my glasses were gone, swept away by the stream.

I got to my feet and splashed across to the far side of the stream. I took off my pack and took stock of my situation. Other than the bump on my head, I had no other scrapes or bruises. I went back to look for my glasses in the stream, totally oblivious to how wet my shoes had become. Though I looked and felt all around the area where I fell, no glasses could be found. I suspected that they broke in the fall (the crunch sound I heard). Since I was packing light, I did not have a spare pair of glasses with me.

LumpAfter a fruitless search, I considered my options. I am nearsighted and usually wear glasses, but I am able to see okay without them. I could clearly see the trail, trees, stream, and rocks around me. I had not blacked out in the fall, nor was my vision more blurred than normal. I was at least twenty miles from any trail head and still forty-five miles from Steven’s Pass. So I picked up my pack and marched on.

I must say I was having a small pity-party as I hiked. “Why didn’t I simply wade in water?” “If you had brought your hiking stick, you probably would have regained balance before falling.” “A spare pair of glasses isn’t that heavy.” There is plenty of time for self incrimination walking down the trail.

For a moment I thought, “Why did God let this happen?” Then I remembered what I have so often said to confirmation students and others, “God gives us free will. He does not wrap us in Kevlar bubble wrap that keeps us from experiencing the consequences of our poor choices.” Upon further reflection, I thought it may have been God’s voice telling me to “wade in the water.”

I covered more than sixteen miles and several thousand feet of elevation change that day. I passed several people who could have helped me if I needed it. Even though I was in some of the most scenic alpine country, it was all blurry for me.

I joked to myself that I was hiking through a Monet impressionistic painting.  (Perhaps Monet’s Bridge would fit over Sitkum Creek.)

Late that afternoon, I met a younger man who was hiking in the opposite direction. After I shared with him a bit of my story, he looked at my bruised head and said, “And I was going to complaining about my blistered feet. I am going to stop my complaining right now.” We both agreed that simply being out in the beauty of creation is sufficient.

What I would have seen if I had still had my glasses.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your protection even when I fall.

 

The Path Chosen

I subscribe to other blogs and two recent posts caught my attention. Both had stunning pictures and described walking in a kind of spiritual wonder and beauty.  I appreciate each photo and  written reflection.  They described paths I yearn to follow.

The first is from Jacob Schriftman.

Morning Walk in Heaven

I love to walk beside the ocean.  One of my most memorable runs was along Seven Mile beach in c, Jamaica.

The second photograph is from Sister Pat Farrell, OP,  a Dominican Sister of San Rafael.

Muir Woods Trail

I also love to hike forest paths.  I am looking forward to a hike this summer on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Yet today, on the first day of spring, my morning run in St. Paul, Minnesota, was on snow and ice. I felt somewhat deprived. I grumbled and complained as I ran. This is not path I would have preferred.    Then I watched a video on the beauty of trail running even in snow.  (It is only two minutes in length, yet inspirational.)

Show me your ways, oh Lord, teach me your paths.  Whether snow-covered or not, teach me to walk, run, and dance with you though all circumstances and situations.

The Day I Killed a Pastor

Yesterday I preached on Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). In my sermon I stated that the rich man had not “died” spiritually because he still wanted to order Lazarus to serve his needs. The rich man still acted as if he was in charge. He had not died to himself.

Afterwards I remembered when such a death became real for me.

mark_web

Pastor Mark Wickstrom

I have always felt comfortable about my ability to pray extemporaneously in front of large groups. Years ago I served on the staff of a large congregation with four other pastors. One Sunday morning I was preparing to lead prayers during worship when a pastoral colleague, Mark Wickstrom, handed me a prayer request. He asked that we pray for a former staff person who had died the previous week. Mark was not participating in this specific worship service so he wrote out the name of the person on a prayer request card with his stereotypical scribbled handwriting. I glanced at the card, recognized the name as a former custodian who had health issues and continued the preparation for congregational prayer.

As I lead prayer, we prayed for many written requests. When it came time to pray for those who are grieving, I glanced down at Mark Wickstrom’s scribbled note and prayed, “Lord comfort all who grieve the death of   (pause)   Mark Wickstrom.”

An audible gasp came from the congregation. Mark was a much-loved pastor whose death would be devastating. I immediately knew that I had made a huge gaffe and felt the red crimson of embarrassment rising in my face.

The next words out of my mouth must have been a gift of the Holy Spirit, because after a brief pause I continued, “And Lord, we thank you that you have raised Mark up and that he is alive and well, serving you in a different part of this building right now. (pause)  But we do pray for those who grieve the death of Mark Webinger, our former custodian.”

There was an audible sigh of relief from the congregation as well as a few chuckles. After worship during the coffee fellowship, Mark received many affirmations for being alive, while I endured some ribbing for “killing a pastor.” But what happened that day was not simply a prayer faux pa, but also my trust in myself as a pastoral leader. I realized that I can become too self-assured in my abilities, even in prayer, and that I need to ‘die’ to myself and rise to newness of life in Christ, even as I pray for others. In a way two pastors “died” that morning. Thankfully, also two “resurrections.”

I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:19b-20).

Lord Jesus, let me die to self and live for you.

P.S.  Dr. Mark Wickstrom continues to live and serve as lead pastor of Community Lutheran Church in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Snow Days and Daily Bread

sleddingsnowblastwebYesterday was a snow day for many school districts in the Twin Cities area. The foot of snow was a fun excuse for many families to be outdoors, sledding on hills and building snow forts. Afterwards they could warm up with hot cocoa or bake fresh cookies.

But the school districts in Saint Paul and Minneapolis did not have snow day. Instead the buses took their time delivering these urban children to their school. I don’t know all the reasons they stayed open, but one of them was probably hunger. For many children in poverty, school is the one place where they are assured of getting a nutritious meal. According to Bread for the World, 16.2 million children struggle with hunger every day. You can learn more about hunger through the new documentary, “A Place at the Table.”

BreadAs a Christian I pray the Lord’s prayer daily. In it I pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” I am not simply praying, “Give me today my daily bread,” but for OUR daily bread. I am praying for my brothers and sister in Christ who need food today. After all the book of James cautions,

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? (James 2:14-17)

I am thankful for the efforts my congregation (and many congregations) who work to fed others. Efforts like the Cure Ministry that serves meals at East Emmanuel Lutheran in St. Paul and the Christian Cupboard that provides food to many families in the Woodbury area. But I sense that more can be done. What do you think?

Lord Jesus, give us today our daily bread, especially for the hungry children in our midst.

Slow Lent Revisted

Slow Lent Movement

Slow Lent Movement

In two days, Lent begins. Lent is a church season of preparation, looking towards Jesus’ passion. I have written about Lent before and as I stopped to reread it, I realize that I need to learn once again to slow down, to realign my life.

Two years ago I wrote about Bishop Margaret Payne’s passion for a Slow Lent Movement. A brief section of what I wrote then,

She spoke on how pastors have bought into the seduction of our culture’s three A’s: Accomplishment, Adrenalin, and Affirmation. As pastors we think our worth is based on how much we accomplish in our congregations and we enjoy the adrenalin rush that comes from having much to do and being needed by many people. And we relish the public affirmation that often comes from having our hands in many programs and ministries. I found myself nodding my head several time, recognizing my own self-delusions being exposed by her words.

But I don’t think her words are limited to pastors. In spite our professed trust in God’s grace, so many of us who are Christians still seek our self-worth based on our accomplishments. We rush about trying to fulfill the many “shoulds” we carry inside our heads. We seek public affirmation even as we feign humility. We have bought into the prevailing culture without seeing our need for a new way of life.

I confess that I continue to find my primary worth in my accomplishments, rather than my identity as God’s child. This Lent our congregation will be focused on the Lord’s Prayer and the opening phrase always give me pause, “Our Father in heaven.” Jesus instructs us to approach God as a loving father who seek us out.

I pray for you that the season of Lent will provide be a time of slow, reflective prayer, of simply being with God.

Yes, there is much to do.

Yes, our neighbor needs love.

But in our anxious hurry, you and I forget who we are. We need to slow down and be with our loving papa in heaven.

Lord Jesus, remind me once again to slow down in you.

Prayer Challenge

Title: The Prayer of Jesus (St John Passion - ...

Title: The Prayer of Jesus (St John Passion – 3) Painter: Jacek Andrzej Rossakiewicz (b.1956) Year: 1990 Characteristics: Oil on canvas, 245 x 137 cm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus made radical promises regarding prayer.

  Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. (Matthew 7:7)

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)

Jesus promised that his disciples could “ask whatever they wish” and God would make it so. Such bold promises challenge my observation of the church and the world. So many prayers seem to go unanswered or forgotten.

I am not talking about what I consider “childish” prayers, like winning the lottery or finding a parking spot at the shopping mall. I am thinking about those real prayers of the heart, when day-after-day you pray for the healing of a loved one. A friend is afflicted with cancer or an addiction, a spouse is battling depression or a child is traveling in the wrong crowd and we pray. We pray asking God to bring healing and peace to this person believing that this is God’s will for God’s people. Jesus certainly brought healing to those in need; healing and wholeness is what God desires for all of creation, especially his children.

Naturally if the person resists God’s healing, God will not force mercy. Often a person wrestling with addiction has to hit bottom before they can see how powerless they are in their addiction. God does not force healing.

Still many of us pray daily for God’s healing and we do not experience it. Oh, there are those occasions when miraculous healings occur. Thanks be to God! I have participated in prayer services where God’s power has restored the sick to health. Yet such answers seem almost arbitrary because others have not had the same prayers answered even when their faith was strong and their prayers persistent.

I do not know the answer to my own question, other than to look to Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed for his own cup of suffering to be taken away, yet the next day he walked to the cross and death. His prayer was real and deep. And though he did drink the cup, his prayers gave him the strength and power to walk to Golgotha . . . . and three days later, the empty tomb.

And that is what we each need: the strength and courage to walk the path God has given us. So, like Jesus, we pray, “your will be done.”  The final answer to all prayers comes in Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of new life in him.

Lord Jesus, your will be done in my life.