Category Archives: Prayer

Hooked on Backpacking

The destination we missed

My dad was leading our family on a short one mile nature hike to Marymere Falls in Olympic National Park. The trail was near my childhood home of Port Angeles, Washington.   I was about seven years old and enjoyed racing ahead of my younger siblings.   I sometimes hid along the trail in an attempt to scare them.   It is no wonder therefore that in the confusion of children running up and down the trail, we missed a critical trail junction and plunged deeper into the forest of Barnes Creek.

We probably went an extra mile or so with no sign of Marymere Falls.  As a child I thought we were deep in the jungle, all alone.   Then around a corner came three individuals, carrying large bundles on their backs.   They told my dad that he had missed the junction and that we should probably turn around.   “The trail gets pretty rugged up ahead.”   In a moment, the three were gone.

A more recent backpacker

But their memory stayed with me.   I asked my dad what they were doing.  “Oh they were backpacking.  Did you see those large packs?   They carried all their own food and tents to stay in the mountains.”   Wow, I thought.   To camp out in the woods, far from roads and car campgrounds –that is a real adventure!

Ever since that hike, I wanted to go on a backpacking trip in the mountains.   Then in the spring of 1969, a high school  friend invited me on a trip to Lena Lake in the Olympics over Memorial Day week-end.  I immediately said yes.   Even though it rained the entire two mile hike to Lena and I was soaked to the bone, even though I had a borrowed pack that did not fit me, and even though I made a fool of myself trying to light a fire, I fell in love with backpacking.  I experienced a sense of place and belonging.   I was hooked.

Over the decades I have completed scores of overnight backpacks, each unique and rewarding.  Last year I blogged about completing a section of the Pacific Crest Trail in northern Washington state.   Tomorrow, I start another hike along a section in southern Washington.

Mt. Adams and Goat Rocks Wilderness are part of the trail this year.

Backpacking has become a kind of spiritual refuge for me, a time and method to be centered in God’s grace and love.  I am reminded of one on my favorite prayers from the Lutheran Book of Worship:

Lord God, you have called your servants
to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I will be carrying good maps (and an extra pair of glasses – see here) so I don’t expect to become lost.  But if I do, I am confident that God will provide me with three strangers to guide and inspire me, just like he did years ago on the trail beyond Marymere Falls.

Where do you find your spiritual refuge?

Lord Jesus, guide us.

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Healing at the Center

Centering Prayer is saving my mind while healing my soul.

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St. Paul Monastery in Minnesota

I just returned from a five-day silent retreat at the St. Paul Monastery.  I practiced Lectio Devina (a form of prayerful reading and conversation).  I was familiar with the practice – we use a form of it during our staff meetings at Resurrection – yet the monastic practice strengthened my love of God and God’s Word.

Jesus in the Center of Prayer

Jesus in the Center of Prayer

However the most profound part of the week was the practice of Centering Prayer.  Each morning at 7 am we sat together for an hour simply breathing and praying our holy word.  We repeated it again at 10 and at 3.  Too many it sounds incredibly boring.   For me, it was drinking from the river of the water of life (Revelation 22:1).   It was simply resting or floating in God’s gracious love. Emptying the mind so God’s love could fill it.  Not just thinking about God’s love, but actually resting in it.

Oh, my mind fought the emptiness.  My thoughts and feelings would race from one idea to the next.  The river seemed to be covered with all kinds of flotsam and debris.  “What is happening at church?”  “Why did I say that to her?” “What will we have for lunch.” This would happen hundreds of time during the quiet.   Each time I caught the thought skipping across the surface, I let it go and return to my breath and my word.  To simply BE in God.

Henri Nouwen wrote in Here and Now, 1994

The real enemies of our life are the “oughts” and the “ifs.” They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and the now. God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful. When Jesus spoke about God, he always spoke about God as being where and when we are. “When you see me, you see God. When you hear me you hear God.” God is not someone who was or will be, but the One who is, and who is for me in the present moment. That’s why Jesus came to wipe away the burden of the past and the worries for the future. He wants us to discover God right where we are, here and now.

Centering prayer is a form of mindfulness practice, living in the current moment.

Fire Creek was ablaze with color.

At times I missed the beauty that surrounded me

I discovered my real need for this last summer when I was backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail.   I had looked forward to the trip for months and was in absolutely beautiful alpine country, yet my mind kept racing back to worries in Minnesota or to past actions that I regretted or wished I could change.   Here I was in the place I wanted to be, and my mind could not stay there!    I knew I needed help.

This past spring I took Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class which is a secular form of Buddhist meditation practices.  It was incredibly helpful.  The Centering Prayer has similarities to meditation, yet centers the practice in the love of God in Christ Jesus.   That has been healing.

Now next week, I head back out to Washington state to do another section of the PCT.  I will continue my practice of Centering Prayer and Lectio Devina.  I trust that my mind will be able to stay on the trail with my body this year.

How does prayer touch your life?

Lord Jesus, teach us to pray.

Centering Down in Patience

Tuesday morning I visited a centering prayer group in a congregation near my home. I had discovered it on their church website and wanted to practice with them. Centering prayer is a Christian form of meditation in which the purpose is to silently wait in God’s presence. You can read more about centering prayer at http://www.centeringprayer.com.  After taking a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Class I wanted to bring my meditation practice into a more explicit Christian context.

Jesus in the Center of Prayer

Jesus in the Center of Prayer

The seven women who gathered together were an eclectic group. They graciously welcomed me. The small chapel had a cross with candles and comfortable chairs for sitting quietly. The group is self-lead and we started with a brief devotional reading about being open to the love of Christ. They read it as a form of Lectio Devina, preparing one’s heart to listen. Then we sat in silent prayer together for about twenty minutes.  I appreciated a deep joy in sharing this time of centering down.

51KNK7QgraLRobert Roberts on his chapter on Patience in his book The Strengths of a Christian writes about how silent prayer is essential to developing the virtue of patience, the art dwelling gladly in the present moment.

Centering down is a matter of purifying your attention, collecting it into a focal point which is the God whose identity is known through Jesus Christ. As such, centering down is the practice of the presence of God and at the same time, the practice of patience defined as dwelling gladly in the present moment.  In centered prayer the individual is “absorbed,” though not in the sense of dissolved, in glad fellowship with God. (p. 73)

When I practice centering prayer I focus on my breathing, using a short prayer like “Jesus is Lord” or simply “Yah-weh” (the ancient Hebrew name for God – I am who I am – Exodus 3) with each breath. “Jesus” on the in breath; “is Lord” on the exhale. Recently I taught our congregation the simple prayer, “Papa is here,” based on the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus used the familiar word “abba” or “papa” in his address of God the Father. The exact words of prayer are not as important as consistent use of heart, mind and breath.

Like all who practice centering prayer, my mind wanders off on tangents and I need to gently bring it back to my breath and prayer. I don’t berate myself about the wandering but rather simple note it and come back to my prayer. I know that God knows my desire is to center on him and I believe He will bless my attempts. Like a good papa, God is patient with us.  Can we be patient with God?

How have you found ways to Center Down in patience?

Lord Jesus, let me be centered in you.

Rejoice in the Lord Always

Yesterday I preached on a favorite verse from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” (Phil 4:4).  I memorized the verse as a simple song in high school and I continue to use it as a prayer mantra as a I run.   Joy is an attitude that I seek to encourage in various ways (Four Lessons for Joyful Habits).

Joy is often confused with happiness, but I think there are some critical distinctions.    I used Pharrell Williams music video to help introduce the contrast between happiness and joy.

The video is a lot of fun; various people, in all shapes, ages and sizes, dance to the song.  However I do struggle with one phrase Pharrell makes, “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.”   I wonder how such an ephemeral feeling like happiness can be considered the truth.   Like all emotions, it comes for a brief time and then fades, replaced by another emotion, like disappointment, grief, boredom or anger or contentment.  I think of truth as having a more lasting quality.

Like many emotions it is often triggered by circumstance.  I used a metaphor yesterday in which I described how different people approach a vacation day at a Minnesota lake.  A fisherman is happy with overcast skies, cooler weather and a bit of chop on the water, so the walleyes wouldn’t see the boat.  A water skier likes perfectly smooth water and bright sunshine. And a sailor likes a stiff breeze to fill the sails of the boat.  Each prefers different circumstances to enjoy their sports.  And no one is really happy with a series of violent thunderstorms moving over the waters.

Joy is not dependent on circumstances.  Paul states that we are to rejoice in the Lord.  Joy is the knowledge and trust that I am surrounded and held by God’s grace and love, no matter what the circumstances.   To push the lake metaphor a bit, joy is sinking beneath the surface circumstance (whether bright sunshine or stormy waves) into the peace and calm of Jesus’ love.   The calm, warm water surround and supports us no matter what may be happening on the surface above.

A few verses later Paul reminds the church “The peace of God which surpasses human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).  God’s peace (and joy) exists in the place beyond daily circumstances.  Contemplative prayer is a way for me to drop below the daily surface circumstance and rest in God’s peace and joy.   I imagine myself floating in the embrace of Jesus’ love, guarded by the promise of God’s Word.

How do you Rejoice in the Lord Always?

Lord Jesus, teach me to find my joy in you.

 

 

Experience Maundy Thursday

This evening at Resurrection Lutheran Church our Maundy Thursday worship will include participatory prayer stations where worshipers will experience the story of Jesus’ final hours. The worship will begin in our familiar pattern of singing, call to worship, scripture reading and sermon. The pattern will change during the Lord’s Supper. Instead of simply coming forward for communion, worshipers will have the choice of participating in four different prayer/story stations. People will be free to move about the worship area, engaging in the stations for as long as they desire. The stations are as follows:

communion_elementsHoly Communion
Holy Thursday is the night when Jesus transformed the Passover meal into our meal of Holy Communion. People can come to the altar for the bread and wine of communion. There will be kneelers available for those who would like to kneel as they receive.

 

Washing of Feet Station

Washing of Feet
During the supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, as sign of loving service. Worshipers will have the opportunity to either wash the feet of a family member or have their feet washed by a staff member or others.  Warm water, basins and towels will be provided.

 

 

Garden of Gethsemane stationGarden of Gethsemane
After the supper, Jesus and his disciple went out to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. Worshipers are encouraged to pray for the whole Christian church around the world. They can light a candle and mark a nation on a world map for which they are praying.

 

 

 

christ mocked by soldier, bloch

 

Trail of Jesus
While praying in the garden, Jesus was arrested and taken to the High Priest Caiaphas and later Governor Pilate for trial. He was beaten and mocked, dressed in a purple robe and a crown of thorns. People will have time to reflect on Jesus’ suffering while confessing their own sin and recognizing that our baptism both connects us to Jesus’ suffering while forgiving us our sins.

Silent Reflection
If a worshipers prefer not to participate in the stations, they can sit in their seat and pray while reflecting on a series of audiovisual paintings and photographs are displayed on the video screens.

The purpose of each station is to make the story of Jesus come alive for us, that we are participants in Christ’s story. People can choose to participate in all stations or simply stay at one the whole time (about 12 minutes).

The worship will conclude with a song and blessing. We will gather again on Good Friday evening to remember Jesus’ crucifixion.

Lord Jesus, let us walk with you this day.

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.