Tag Archives: peace

Prayer

I have written in the past regarding the difficulties I  have had “staying present” to the trail.  My mind would get stuck in some endless loop of worries, narratives, thoughts and concerns that often pulled me away from my time in the wilderness. I would be lost in some past experience or future anxiety; my thoughts raced everywhere but on the trail itself.  My 2016 trip had some of that, but much less than the past.  My daily practice of meditation has quieted (but not tamed) the wild beast.

04-0815-granite-pass-1-2Part of my practice on this trip was to deliberately take time in the morning to practice lovingkindness meditation, something I learned in my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class. Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Full Catastrophe Living describes the practice

To practice lovingkindness meditation, we begin with awareness of our breathing.  Then we consciously invite feelings of love and kindness towards ourselves to arise, perhaps remembering a moment when we felt completely seen and accepted by another human being and inviting those feelings of kindness and love to re-emerge. . . . Then perhaps saying inwardly to ourselves simple phrases that you can make up yourself, “May I be free from inner and outer harm, may I be healthy.”  After a time we can then go on, if we care to, to invoke someone else, perhaps a person we are close to and care deeply about.   We can hold the person in our heart as we wish the person well: “May she (he) be happy, may she (he) experience love and joy.”  In the same vein we may then include others we know and love. (page 214-215).

I see this as a form of intercessor prayer and have adapted it to my own meditation practice.  On the trail each morning, I would invest time reciting the following prayer, starting with myself,

May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be filled with peace and ease.
May I be strong and alert.
May I be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I then expanded the prayer to my family and to those I know.   As the hike went on, my circle of names grew wider and wider: the thru-hikers I met, the trail crews clearing trail, the National Forest administrators and staff.   Often I ended including the whole creation.

49-0818-indian-pb-by-trail-compress

Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!  Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!  Young men and women alike, old and young together!  Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. Psalm 148:7-13

 

Each morning, after my time of prayer, I discovered that I was centered and at peace.  I could actually be present on the trail through the rest of the day.

What forms of prayer bring you peace?

 

Homework: The Body Scan

This post is the third in a series focusing on my path to Christian Mindfulness.  The series starts here.

Our homework for the first week of MBSR was to do a daily “body scan.”  This was a guided meditation exercise in which I laid on the floor on my back.  I listened to a thirty minute audio recording during which my instructor systematically guided me through my body, focusing my attention on different parts.  She started with my feet and with a gently voice helped me observe any tension and/or sensation occurring there.  She gave me visualization cues to help my feet relax.  Then she moved on to my legs and through the rest of my body.

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The corpse pose in yoga is useful for the body scan

The process was relaxing and peaceful. I remember having a similar experience in my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) class in seminary decades ago.  My CPE supervisor was active in meditation and he led us in a similar exercise each Friday afternoon.  That pleasant memory reassured me that scanning my body was a healthy and life-giving form of prayer.

As a Christian I have experienced a love/hate relationship with my body.  My Christian belief sees the goodness of God’s creating human bodies, including my own.  I was taught and still believe that God chose to become a human being in Jesus Christ (John 1:14) and that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 3:16).   Yet my Christian heritage also has elements that negate or de-emphasize the body, seeing it as corrupt and evil.  My sinful appetites (the lust of the flesh, I John 2:16) are centered in my body.  I was taught that my body was not to be trusted, since it was weak and prone to sin.

Growing up, I  learned to live mostly in my head. I was a bright child intellectually and grasp new ideas and concepts quickly.  I received most of my affirmation from being a good student, which also focused my attention on the thoughts and ideas revolving in my head and less on my body.  I was not much of an athlete, so my body did not receive much consideration growing up.  I was a gangling naïve nerd that basically ignored my body.

iStock_000016821441SmallThat began to change when I began to train for my first marathon in 1999.  As I ran I learned a lot about my body (what ached, what thrived) and became more familiar with it.  Yet even my running seemed to be in my head.  Running friends shared how running helped them calm their minds and relieved their stress.  My running rarely did that.

As I continued to practice the body scan meditation, I discovered tension that rested in my shoulders, as if I were carrying the load of the world’s troubles. I often fell asleep, showing me how tired I was. I explored the knot or ache that sat in the bottom of my stomach and how often I ate for emotional reasons.  My body was trying to tell me something, but I was so busy living in my thoughts that I rarely listen. Now I was learning to listen.  My home work was starting to lead me home.

In what ways do you listen to your body?

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.

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.

Strong Peace

A favorite scripture verse of mine is Philippians 4:7 “The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Like many in this crazy, stressed-out, constantly-running-to-catch-up world, I long for peace. Peace that will last not just for a moment, but for days, months, years. Peace that will calm my stormy seas.

Paul describes God’s peace in some unique ways. First, he states that God’s peace will surpass human knowledge or understanding. This means that God’s peaces comes even when I have not figured everything out or have everything under my control. The future may seem very fuzzy and relationships may be very rocky, still God’s peace can rule. After all it is God’s peace, not mine.

Second he testifies that God’s peace is strong, because it guards us. Paul recognizes that there will be many struggles and conflicts in our daily life. The evil one will harass us. Yet God’s peace is a rock or fortress that guards our hearts and minds from the assaults

Third, God’s peace guards both our hearts and our minds. The heart is the seat of our emotions and the mind is the home of our thoughts. God’s peace is to rule in our emotional and intellectual lives, our feelings and our thoughts.

Finally God’s peace directs us to Jesus Christ. Jesus was a model of peace to his disciples, sleeping in the boat when the stormy sea threatened (Mark 4:35-41). God’s peace is not found in the absence of problems, but with the presence of Jesus.

Right now, as you read this, take a moment to close your eyes and visualize God’s loving, peaceful arms surrounding you. Perhaps you can visualize yourself floating in the peaceful river above. Take a deep breath and say, “God’s Peace surrounds me.” Take another deep breath and say it again, “God’s peace surrounds me.” Practice that breath prayer and discover God’s abiding peace is always near.

Lord Jesus, breathe into me your peace.

Go In Peace?

Every week at the end of worship, I walk to the back of the worship area and after the last song I say, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” The congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.” I have said those words over a thousand times in a variety of settings. I believe in the power of those words, that the congregation is sent into God’s world to be God’s ambassadors of light, hope and love. I proclaim the words with enthusiasm and hope.

Last week I was at our Synod Assembly, where representatives of the 115 congregations of the Saint Paul Area Synod of the ELCA gathered to do the business of the church and to reflect together on what it means to Live Lutheran. We started with worship and at the end I heard the words again, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” Of course, we were going “nowhere,” but remaining at our table and chairs for the Assembly. The oddity of the phrase triggered deeper reflection on the words, especially the idea of going in peace.

Peace in the Biblical sense is wholeness or fullness. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, means that you have everything you need to be whole in your relationship with God, neighbor and self. To “go in peace,” means the worship has filled your cup of blessing and you leave worship whole and empowered to serve.

However in our culture, peace often simply means the absence of struggle or conflict. We are often use peace for a sense of calm and almost passivity. A peaceful lake is calm and tranquil. There are times in our lives when each of us needs a place of tranquil peace.  But such peaceful waters have the danger of becoming stagnant and dead if no outflow occurs.

I wonder if the word “peace” communicates what God truly wants from us? Could it be that instead of going in “peace,” God would want us at times to go with PASSION, the fullness of God pushing us out the door to serve with passion, energy and conviction? The energy and life of a cascading river might be a better picture of what God call us to be in the world.

God’s peace is not passivity but passion.

Go with passion. Serve the Lord.

Lord Jesus, energize my soul with your power and grace to serve you and your world.

Christmas Peace

Christmas Children and PresentsI normally add a picture after I write my post, but today is different. The picture above became my inspiration. I was struck by the serene, peaceful aura of each child as they opened a Christmas present. This is obviously a stock photo of an idealized Christmas morning, especially how the little girl is observing her brother as he opens his package. It is what families hope for, but somehow it is appears too surreal to be true.

None of my siblings did that with me when I opened a present and I don’t remember it happening with my children either. We did take turns; it was not a free for all. Still the rapt attention the girl gives to her brother is off the charts. I bet they ate their Christmas oatmeal and made their beds before they started opening presents.

But there is something else that caught my attention. It is the bookshelf behind them. I always like a well-stocked bookshelf. That made me wonder if the children know the Biblical story of Christmas: the birth of Jesus, the shepherds in the field, the angelic announcement.

“Behold I bring good news of great joy for all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.” (Luke 2:11).

What troubles me is that this idealized picture does not need a savior. The kids are angelic already. Now it is simple a moment caught in the lens. Who knows if chaos erupted immediately after the present was opened.  I wonder if there is a Nerf gun inside.

Now I hope your Christmas morning is peaceful and joyous. I pray that your children, grandchildren, cousins, or siblings experience a special moment of Christmas love and cheer. But remember, even if chaos reigns, a Savior has been born. One who comes to rescue us from our self-centered ways. And that might be the best gift of all.

Lord Jesus, come.