Prayer

“Praying for you.” It is something we say to one another and often do for one another. And frankly, it means a lot to hear that from someone. It encourages us and strengthens us in our faith and as a community. 

Prayer can seem really complicated, but I think that is why Jesus reminded the disciples that it could be simple – as simple as the ten lines of the Lord’s prayer. The disciples asked for a lengthy teaching on prayer. They said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1). Most Rabbi’s of Jesus’s day spent days and weeks teaching their disciples to pray. Jesus simply gave them a summary. He told them to come to God like children – open, eager and expecting God to answer, and to pray for God’s will to permeate their lives and the world.  

In approaching prayer it helps to listen and learn from those who have engaged with it deeply. In fact, Richard Foster writes about prayer as a learning exercise in and of itself. He writes, “[i]t was liberating for me to understand that prayer involved a learning process. I was free to question, to experiment, even to fail, for I knew I was learning” (Celebration of Discipline). He described how he started with small prayers, for a cold to dissipate or earache to heal, not the big things like cancer or life and death matters. Then he waited to see God work. He also noted that in those prayers he learned to pray with confidence. That posture of confidence came from first seeking God’s heart. Foster looked back to writers like Teresa of Avila and King David and realized that they first sought to understand God’s will, to enter into God’s presence, before seeking to lay their concerns and desires before God. And Jesus taught the same thing, the Lord’s prayer starts with “…thy kingdom come” and ends with supplication and requests. Foster learned that as he sought God, and saw the fruits of his small prayers, his confidence in prayer grew and his connection to God deepened. 

Seeking God’s will, God’s heart, places us in the proper posture for prayer. It reminds us of God’s love for us. Tim Keller write that we experience God’s love through prayer, “[p]rayer is the way to sense and appropriate this access [to God] and fatherly love, and to experience the calm and strength in one’s life that results from such assurance of being cared for.” We can come to God with confidence because God promises that what we seek we will find. When we truly seek to do God’s will, God will answer those prayers in mighty and surprising ways. 

InterVarsity recently shared this prayer Robert J. Foster from his book entitled “Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.” It is a great reminder to recenter ourselves in God and in God’s will. 

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to You.

May Your will be my delight today.

May You have perfect sway in me.

May your love be the pattern of my living.

I surrender to You my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions.

Do with them what You will, when You will, as You will.

I place into Your loving care my family, my friends, my future.

Care for them with a care that I can never give.

I release into Your hands my need to control, my craving for status, my fear of obscurity.

Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish Your Kingdom on earth.

For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

Through prayer we connect with the heart of God – for us and for others. It allows our prayers to be grounded in love and allows God’s love to flow through us and into the world around us. 

Exercise for today: 

Find a quiet spot and position yourself in a space and in a way that will not distract you. Re-read the prayer above as your prayer today, reading slowly one line at a time. If you feel a need to pray more deeply, pause after each line and listen for God’s voice. If distracting thoughts pop in, talk to God about what is surfacing in your heart and mind, and then proceed to the next line. End with a minute or two of silence (whatever is comfortable) and listen for God to speak to you.

Meditation

Meditation

A couple of months ago a friend introduced me to a meditation app on my phone called, “Calm.” It has hundreds of meditation lessons and some bedtime stories for adults (G rated) that can help you fall asleep. The app has exercises for stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness – and more breathing exercises than you can possibly imagine. Most people think of apps like “Calm” or books from the self-help section of a bookstore when it comes to meditation. Meditation as presented in those resources promises that with practice you can calm your anxiety, lower your blood pressure or even elevate your mood.

The meditation written about in the Bible and performed by Christians for centuries is simpler than most of the practices you will encounter on-line or in a bookstore. Richard J. Foster writes that “Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey [God’s] word” (Celebration of Discipline, 15). When we meditate we create space in our lives and hearts, so that Christ can enter, and God can speak. The skill of Christian meditation, and the ability to connect with God through it, improves with time and practice. 

Meditation can be as simple as finding a place to sit (or stand) that is quiet, and then listening purposely to what God is saying to you. Christian meditation can also involve nature, taking time to look carefully at a tree, listening to birds singing or watching a squirrel as it digs in the earth. The goal is seeking God’s voice and stilling our own thoughts long enough to be open to “the still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) that speaks through our personal whirlwinds. Meditation can also involve scripture, a practice called “meditatio Scripturarum” in which the reader reads a word, verse, or a passage and then waits to hear what God is saying to them through God’s word. This type of meditation can also involve imagination, not to make up meanings or interpretations, but to think about what it would be like to be present in the story. The idea is to think about what it would be like to be in the upper room with Christ during the last supper – the sounds that would have been heard, the food that would have been eaten, and the tension that built up in the room when Jesus named Judas as His betrayer. 

Regardless of the form of meditation we choose, the practice of meditation can bring us closer to the heart of God. It allows us to slow down and re-order our lives. It reminds us that God’s presence surrounds us and uplifts us. Through it, God will give us insight into both the mundane and the divine. God will show us how to love our friends, and what it means to step into God’s presence. And it is a practice. When we first start out we might need to set aside time to meditate, to find a specific chair or room to sit in. But as we practice it will get easier to hear God’s voice. And as St. Teresa of Avila wrote during her years-long quest to enter God’s presence more fully through prayer and meditation, “God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.” 

Exercise for today: 

Meditate on Luke 8:22-25

Choose a place to sit and read that is quiet, and where you will not get interrupted. Pray before you get started and ask God to open your heart and mind to the Spirit’s leading as you read. Then find the passage in your Bible. The passage tells the story about Jesus and the disciples being caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. 

Before you begin to read the passage, take a few deep breaths and allow your mind and heart to settle. Then take a minute to think about the context of the story: Jesus had been teaching the crowds and healing people along the edge of the sea of Galilee, the disciples had been with Him. At the beginning of Luke 8:22-25 Jesus and the disciples left the crowds behind them and stepped into a boat which would take them across the Sea of Galilee. See if you can picture the crowds and shoreline, and then begin to read. Read slowly, picturing the boat, the disciples and the storm as it begins to rise. When you have finished reading, spend a few moments (or minutes) in silence listening, and then end in prayer to God. Talk to God about what you felt, what you are wondering about, and what you learned – about God and about yourself.

The Disciplines

Every summer I find myself looking for ways to relax, disconnect and recharge. Summer sunshine, long days of light and the slower pace demanded by the heat and humanity of Michigan summers, coupled with vacation time with friends, does wonders for my soul. Those lengthened days and easier rhythms of life often open up more time to reflect and do some actual soul searching. These past few weeks I have had a growing desire to pause and determine what practices I want to take into the coming year. Getting up earlier, taking more time to read scripture, adding a few more helpings of vegetables into my diet are all on the list. 

But I also know that I want to go deeper. The fatigue and tension of the past year is still lingering, and I know that I need to connect to God and connect to others in lifegiving and heart strengthening ways. I long to catch a glimpse of God’s shalom – God’s full-bodied, all-encompassing, world healing peace this summer. So, I decided I needed to take a journey through some of the spiritual disciplines found in Richard J. Foster’s book “Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.” And I would like to invite you with me on that journey. 

Beginning next Tuesday, I am going to be posting a short reflection on a different discipline each week, for the next five weeks, with a short exercise connected to the discipline. The reflections will cover: Meditation, Prayer, Worship, Celebration and Fellowship. All of these disciplines are “disciplines of engagement,” actions and activities that invite us to engage with God and with one another. They help us build habits that move us toward deeper lasting connection and love for God and with another.  

There is no exercise tied to a discipline today, but I have include an exercise as a sample of the types of exercises you will see each week (this one would be for meditation): 

Exercise for today:

Read Psalm 1 three times slowly. 

  • The first time you read the passage consider: what does it tell you about God? 
  • The second time you read the passage consider: what does it tell you about God’s love and care for God’s people? 
  • The third time you read the passage consider: what is the passage telling you about the way God loves and cares for you? 

Then take some time to talk to God in prayer about what you have heard and or what you are feeling. 

Where Do We Go From Here? 

This coming Saturday, Campus Edge Fellowship is hosting an event entitled: Where Do We Go From Here? A Conversation on Calling and Vocation for Graduate and Professional Students. It is open to all current MSU graduate and professional students – and to recent graduates as well. It centers around finding our calling as Christ followers in our individual contexts and careers. Here is the description of the event if you or someone you know might be interested in attending:

Where Do We Go From Here? A Conversation on Calling and Vocation for Graduate and Professional Students

Date: April 10

Time: 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM

Where: On-line via Zoom

Are you questioning your plans for graduate school or your post-graduation plans? Do you wonder if there might be more to life than the plans you already have in place? Are you losing sight of what you were meant to do because you are so busy pursuing what you think you should do?

In his book “Let Your Life Speak,” Parker Palmer addresses the idea of vocation, suggesting that we listen for the calling God has put on each of our lives in order to recognize the work that God has uniquely gifted us to do: 

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen to 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.”

Campus Edge Fellowship invites you to an evening dedicated to exploring these questions of calling and vocation. This interactive event will feature a short talk about vocation by Lorelei Blackburn, guided reflective exercises, breakout room discussions, and a roundtable panel featuring five discussants who will help us consider the ways God may call us after graduate school–sometimes in unexpected directions and sometimes to the very places we planned to go. 

Email info@campusedge.com to register for the event. We’ll send you a Zoom link the day of the event. 

Lenten Reflections Week 7: Rest and Sabbath

Scripture: Genesis 2:1-3

Reflection: Often we look at humankind as the final and most important work of creation. After all, when God finished creating humankind, God looked at the whole world and called it “very good.” However, the scriptural account of creation does not end there. In his book “Living the Sabbath”, Norman Wirzba argues that the final act of creation was truly the creation of the Sabbath, the “rest, tranquility, serenity and peace of God” that all of creation is invited into. Passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy echo this idea by reminding God’s people to “keep the Sabbath holy,” to refrain from work and to give their animals and land respite each week and every seven years. 

The Old Testament emphasizes the importance of Sabbath as a rhythm of life. It is included in the ten commandments, and honoring it sets God’s people up as examples to the nations. But Jesus helps us truly understand God’s intention for the Sabbath. When the disciples are chided for picking grain to eat Jesus tells the Pharisees, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Jesus reminds them that the Sabbath is not about a prescriptive act. It is not meant as a limitation, but a gift. It is a reminder to cease our busyness and to pause and contemplate God’s world in its vast array of beauty. Honoring Sabbath reminds us to set aside time to experience God’s life giving peace and to extend it to all of creation. 

Suggested action: As we head to Easter and the resurrection of life it represents, take some time to think about which of the suggested actions brought the most life into your week and prayerfully consider adding it to your daily or monthly routines. And because part of this exercise is about connection, to God, to creation and to others – consider inviting friends or family into the exercise with you. 

Suggested resources:  “To the Ends of the Earth” (Vimeo) and “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” and “An Inconvenient Truth” (both on Prime) and the books “Don’t Even Think About It” by George Marshall and “Six Degrees” by Mark Lynas.

All film suggestions form from the PBS Independent Lens blog “Earthy Day Watch list: 17 Films About Sustainability and Climate Change” (with the exception of “Chasing Ice” and “Black Fish”  which are from other sources). All the listed movies offered as suggestions by CEF as starting points for discussion around sustainability and stewardship.  https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/earth-day-watch-list-17-new-films-about-sustainability-climate-change/

Image: Artist and title unknown

Lenten Reflections Week 6: Humans and the Earth

Scripture: Genesis 1:24-31

Reflection: The word “created” is used sparingly in scripture with it most often referring to God’s work in creating the world. However, the first chapter of Genesis uses it five times. The chapter opens with a statement that God “created the heavens and the earth.” The birds and the fish get that special designation as “God created” as well. And finally, when the text talks about the creation of humankind it uses the word “created” three times. 

It is always important to look out for repetition in scripture. It means something. It always asks us to take a deeper look at what is being said. There is deep repetition in the verses that describe God’s creation of humanity. These verses remind us that God made us, that we are made in God’s image and that God chose to create humans in different sexes (plural) that reflect that image. But the repetition also does something more, it reminds us that we are in fact created beings. 

That “created-ness” should give us pause when we think of God’s mandate for us “to rule” over the other parts of God’s created world. It reminds us that like the earth and the sky, like the fish and the birds, we were created by God for a purpose. Our rulership is a positional one, not one of materiality. We are made of the same building blocks and atoms as the world around us and our origins all begin with the same Originator. But we are special because we are called to reflect our creator’s heart for the world, to care for and rejoice in everything that God declares “good.”


Suggested action: Buy fair-trade chocolate and coffee, and purchase sustainably-raised meat. Plan a garden that will provide habitat for birds and insects around your home: pollinator flowers or shrubs for shelter. If you are able, make a donation to an organization that works for justice for God’s creation such as A Rocha (https://www.arocha.org/en/) or choose one of the actions from the Climate Caretakers website (https://climatecaretakers.org/take-action).

Image: Katsushika Hokusai, “Peasants and Travelers in Autumn Landscape

Lenten Reflections Week 5: Birds, Sea Creatures

Scripture: Genesis 1:20-23

The image of God filling the sky and the waters with owls, flamingos, sparrows, tadpoles, starfish, whales, sea urchins and swans is a beautiful one. It is as if God looked at the blank canvas of the world and spread life and color across it, and called it good. 

The variety God created is so vast that we are still discovering new birds and new sea creatures on a yearly basis. In fact scientists estimate we have only discovered 20% of the world’s life forms, and have only explored 5% of the sea. But the reality is that we are losing species faster than we are finding them – in fact some of the newly discovered species went directly on the endangered species lists. Knowing about them helps scientists preserve them, but we can be a part of that preservation process by lessening our impact on the environment around us. 

The book of Matthew tells us about how much God cares about everything God created. Jesus reminds his disciples of God’s care for them by reminding them of God’s love for His creation. He says to them, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matthew 10:29).

The truth is that we are all in God’s care, as are the birds, insects, amphibians and fish. We are all woven into the fabric and splendor of God’s world and with each strand we lose we miss out on a glimpse of God’s handiwork and the beauty and whimsy of the diversity of the world we live in. God cares for all of it and calls for us to do the same.

Suggested action: This week use reusable bags, try making your own cleaning products with vinegar, water and baking soda, and try using cotton cloths instead of paper towels. Avoid take-out food. Plan to purchase ecostrips for your laundry, and shampoo and soap in bars rather than liquid soaps and shampoo. Consider alternatives for coffee, tea and snacks that use a lot of packaging.

Suggested resources: Two films –  “Black Fish” (Netflix) and “The Memory of Fish” (Prime) and check out these two links for examples of fish and birds that have been recently discovered: 

https://www.audubon.org/news/10-new-birds-described-biggest-avia-discovery-more-century

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/22202733/2020-new-species

All film suggestions form from the PBS Independent Lens blog “Earthy Day Watch list: 17 Films About Sustainability and Climate Change” (with the exception of “Chasing Ice” and “Black Fish”  which are from other sources). All the listed movies offered as suggestions by CEF as starting points for discussion around sustainability and stewardship.  https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/earth-day-watch-list-17-new-films-about-sustainability-climate-change/

Image: M.C. Escher, “5th Day of Creation”

Lenten Reflections Week 4: Sun, Moon and Stars

Scripture: Genesis 1:14-19

On the fourth day of creation God created the sun, moon and stars. With that act, God also created our means of tracking days, staying warm and feeling a sense of wonder when we look at the night sky. In most early cultures the sun, moon and stars were worshiped. They were given names, festivals and sacrifices. But the book of Genesis points to a different truth – that God created and controls the lights in the sky and that those lights do not control us, at least not in the way early cultures understood them. They still play a huge role in our lives. The moon controls the tides, the stars help us navigate and understand the vastness of the galaxy and the sun warms our planet and causes things to grow…by God’s design. 

In our day to day lives it is easy to believe that we are no longer as dependent on those heavenly bodies, and therefore less dependent on their creator. Electricity has reduced our need to pattern our days on the sun and moon’s movements. It has also in some ways pulled our eyes from the wonder of the heavens by giving us flashing screens and new worlds to contemplate on our phones, TV’s, tablets and computers. We are less likely to “consider the heavens” as Psalm 8 suggests that we do. We are less likely to remember the glory of the God that created us, created the galaxy – and who called it good. If you have time this week, read through Psalm 8 and take a walk outside in sunshine and look up at the starry night sky. Let the heavens remind you of God’s love and care.

Suggested action: During this week, try to eliminate as much electricity from your life as possible. Light only the area in a room that you need for your activities, and only the room that you are in. Try a week with no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, television, or Youtube cat videos…instead try candlelit dinners, use your phone only at a set time each day, use a drying rack instead of your dryer, unplug appliances when not in use, and turn off lights when not in the room. Instead of TV or social media, take a walk, play a board game with a housemate or family member, have a virtual “coffee time” with a friend on the phone, read a book, plant something, or start a new hobby. 

Suggested film: “To the Ends of the Earth” (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/endsofearthfilm) and “The Future of Energy: Lateral Power of the People” (Amazon Prime)

Action suggestions are from: “A Fast for the Earth: Lent 2021 a resource created by The Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care Diocese of Toronto”

All film suggestions form from the PBS Independent Lens blog “Earthy Day Watch list: 17 Films About Sustainability and Climate Change” (with the exception of “Chasing Ice” and “Black Fish”  which are from other sources). All the listed movies offered as suggestions by CEF as starting points for discussion around sustainability and stewardship.  https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/earth-day-watch-list-17-new-films-about-sustainability-climate-change/

Image: Edvard Munch, “The Sun”

Lenten Reflections Week 3: Plants and Trees

Scripture: Genesis 1:9-13

Reflection: On the third day of creation God created land, seas and vegetation. I remember sort of skipping past this day when I was a kid when I read the story of creation. The stars and animals in the following days that caught much more of my imagination and attention. But now being older and wiser, I realize the incredible value, complexity and beauty that can be found in plants and trees around us. It was no mistake that God made plants and trees before the animals and humans that would need them for sustenance and shelter. We literally could not survive without them. Plants and trees feed us, they pull carbon-dioxide from the air, they give us oxygen, hold soil in place, they push nutrients into the ground, they provide shade and protection, we use them for clothing, bedding, furniture and for enjoyment.

God designed us to need them and also instructed us to cultivate them and care for them. But somewhere along the line in our modernized world we have lost connection with them. We think in terms of products and profits, and can lose sight of God’s provision for us through them.

Suggested action: This week, try to avoid all food waste. Instead plan your meals for the coming week and purchase only the food that you need for those meals. Use a shopping list so that you don’t buy food you already have. Store food properly. Use wilted vegetables and fruit for soups or smoothies, or freeze them before they go bad. Use leftover bread for breadcrumbs. For other suggestions on simple ways to cut back, check out 20 Ways to Reduce Food Waste: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/reduce-food-waste

Suggested resources: Two films, “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” (Amazon Prime) and “Kiss the Ground” (email CEF for a link to view it for free or visit https://kissthegroundmovie.com/) and “The Green Bible” NRSV (Zondervan).

Action suggestions are from: “A Fast for the Earth: Lent 2021 a resource created by The Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care Diocese of Toronto”

All film suggestions are from the PBS Independent Lens blog “Earthy Day Watch list: 17 Films About Sustainability and Climate Change” (with the exception of “Chasing Ice” and “Black Fish”  which are from other sources). All the listed movies offered as suggestions by CEF as starting points for discussion around sustainability and stewardship.  https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/earth-day-watch-list-17-new-films-about-sustainability-climate-change/

Image: Georgia O’Keefe, “Autumn Leaves”

Lenten Reflections: Week 2 – Water

Scripture: Genesis 1:6-8

Reflection: On the second day of creation God spoke the water and sky into being. I love the image of God’s breath becoming the water that gives us life, that makes up over 60% of our bodies and over 70% of the surface of our world. Water gives us life. Very little on our planet exists without it and is untouched by it. And when God created it, God called it “good.”

One of the themes of scripture is that water brings life. The Psalms use water as an image for our longing and need for God (Psalm 1:3, Psalm 23:2, Psalm 63:1). Jesus also uses that language and idea when describing our need for Him: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water”” (John 7:37). Water is necessary. We need it to survive and if we do not have it our bodies scream out for it. We are dependent on it. Just as we are dependent on God for our life and being. Water is both a life giving gift from God and reminder of our need for Christ and for the life He gives us. 

God’s creation is dependent on water as well, and God has positioned us as co-creators and carers for that creation. When water is depleted, poisoned or degraded, neither we nor creation can experience its life giving properties. It ceases to be a picture of God’s sustaining grace. It’s easy to take water for granted, especially when we live or work in places where it’s readily accessible. But if we remember that every molecule and crystal of it comes from God’s own words and will, how do we begin to think about caring for it differently?

Suggested action: If you have unlimited clean water, try to reduce your water use, and save energy by using cold instead of hot. Try to spot-clean clothing so that it doesn’t have to be washed as often, and wash only full loads of laundry. Set the timer for 5 minute showers, and turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Instead of using the hot water setting on your washing machine, wash your laundry in cold water. Consider taking a walk near your local body of water and thinking of the ways that water sustains the world around it and the way God sustains us.

Suggested resources: Chasing Coral (Netflix) or Chasing Ice (Prime) and the book “Climate for Change” by Katherine Hayhoe

Action suggestions are from: “A Fast for the Earth: Lent 2021 a resource created by The Bishop’s Committee on Creation Care Diocese of Toronto”

All film suggestions are from the PBS Independent Lens blog “Earthy Day Watch list: 17 Films About Sustainability and Climate Change” (with the exception of “Chasing Ice” and “Black Fish”  which are from other sources). All the listed movies offered as suggestions by CEF as starting points for discussion around sustainability and stewardship.  https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/earth-day-watch-list-17-new-films-about-sustainability-climate-change/

Image: Claude Monet’s “Sunrise”