Be Faithful in Little: Prayer

Amaury Gutierrea @amaury_guti

The following reflection is from Lee Eclov, 40 year retired pastor who contributes to the weekly e-newsletter Preaching Today.  Rather than quotes bits and pieces, I am including his post in its entirety for your contemplation on prayer, and perhaps you might be interested in subscribing to this free newsletter:

Faithful in Little: Impromptu Prayers

My Dear Shepherds,

Pastors offer a lot of short prayers. We pray short prayers beside hospital beds and in church hallways, to begin and conclude meetings and dinners, before sermons and to wrap up counseling sessions. Often our words tumble out half-formed. We pray for the same things so often that we can’t help but fall back on clichés. Spur-of-the-moment prayers are part of our calling. The danger is that in becoming so repetitious they become lifeless. It’s an occupational hazard.

We’re often expected to pray without advance notice. Not expecting to pray and being unprepared to pray are two different things. When I was a very young pastor, I remember a morning when I consciously resisted the Spirit’s prompting to spend time alone in private devotions. Late that afternoon, I got word that the father of a young woman in the Bible study I was about to lead had collapsed and died. It fell to me to tell her. I knew that my failure to pray that morning left me weak and wordless in that crisis. Jesus, of course, was merciful to me and her but it was a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

Impromptu prayers draw their life from our quiet times of deeper prayer. The Scripture we read gives us handholds in that spur-of-the-moment situation. We easily re-enter the quiet place where we’d been with the Lord. Our faith is still garden fresh. We’re not so much praying new prayers as we are adding another paragraph to our ongoing conversation with God.

Unexpected prayers are diluted by a verbal running start, sort of preliminary yammering. Now I try to be quiet long enough to find the Holy Spirit in my mind’s crowd. I try to think what is most needful for the soul I’m with. After all, short prayers don’t need to be rushed.

Someone told me about a pastor they admired who ended virtually every conversation, no matter how ordinary, with a brief prayer for that person. You know my reaction when I heard that? “Really?! Why didn’t I do that more often?” I have prayed spontaneously for people often enough to know that it is one of those little ministries of good shepherding.

I love how short prayers can be grace-filled surprises. Like the guy I heard about who prayed with a weary waitress, or the pastor who prayed for a parishioner’s roommate in the hospital, or a friend who would stand on the steps of the courthouse offering to pray for people facing a stressful hearing. We’re so used to people praying for us that we forget that we encounter people every day who have never had anyone pray for them personally.

Our short prayers bring the presence of Jesus near. Sometimes we pray because they can’t. We ask of Jesus what they don’t know to ask. We approach God’s throne boldly when they don’t know how to face him at all. We do priestly work, even in a few moments, and they feel heard and loved by the Lord.

What matters most about our short prayers is that we actually pray and not just say a prayer; that we genuinely intercede. Then our prayers, even poorly put, are reworded or un-worded by the Holy Spirit, lifted up, and met at heaven’s altar by our High Priest. We speak our small prayer and there, set afire, they become the incense of heaven.

Be ye glad!

Lee Eclov

Retired Pastor, PT Contributor, leeeclov.com

 

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Invitation to Brave Space

Image by Adam gong/Unsplash, Public Domain Dedication (CC0).

Invitation to Brave Space

Together we will create brave space.
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space” —
We exist in the real world.
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love.
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be.
But
It will be our brave space together,
and
We will work on it side by side.

Published September  11, 2020 in “On Being“.


Since I first read this on the “On Being” website, it has been found that Jones plagiarized this from the poem Beth Strano wrote in 2015. Thus “On Being” has taken down the plagiarized rework of Strano (to see Jone’s statement of admission, see Micky ScottBey Jones Facebook page). Admittedly, Jones wrote her edition based on the image of a door of an anarchist group in Phoenix known as “The Sp(a)ce”. Though Jones tried to find the author, it wasn’t until her poem went viral that the original author was found… talk about an invitation to brave space…

Micky ScottBey Jones calls herself the Justice Doula; she is an author, speaker & facilitator and the Director of Healing & Resilience Initiatives with the Southern-based collective Faith Matters Network and an Associate Fellow of Racial Justice with Evangelicals for Social Action. Find her on Twitter at @iammickyjones

The opening line caught my attention for its honesty and its invitation,

“Together we will create brave space. Because there is no such thing as a “safe space” — We exist in the real world.”

I ache to be able to co-create brave spaces in a time of division and separation in my personal space and in the spaces around me.

Though it is the invitation to community, I believe the thread that connects us all to the  desire to connect is the Triune God: Father, Son, and Spirit in expressive and eternal communion from which we gain, grow, and give each other the connection for which we were created.

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At a Child’s Deathbed

A Child’s Deathbed, by: Bartholomeus van der Helst, 1645 (Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands Art Collection).

At a Child’s Deathbed, by Willem Elsschot

Earth wasn’t forced out of its orbit
When your little heart stopped beating
The stars didn’t fade
and the house stayed standing.
But all the wails and silent sobs
even while drinking a comforting coffee
cannot make your voice sound,
or put the light back in your eyes.

Today I will attend the funeral of a son of friends of mine.  He was a man-child, severely disabled and not expected to live much beyond age ten; but remarkably, with the love and care of his parents and so many others in his world, he lived to age 29.

Lyon lived and touched virtually everyone he came in contact with; he was alive with cogency and agency; he was a worshipper and a prayer. He was loved and loving.

In the time between his death a month ago and his funeral today, I caught an episode of a PBS series from Belgium, Professor T, in which the eccentric criminology professor repeats this refrain from a poem written by the late Flemish poet, Willem Elsschot. It seemed timely. He writes it as if to the child himself.

One might read this sad and blunt poem, and accept its reality. Others might howl at their loss as the writer for “Downward Slope“:

 I disagree.

The world tilted wildly and shook. When I looked at the heavens, there were no stars. The house fell down around me.

Nevertheless we are not without hope, though we would fully grieve. We are not without joy in the memory of someone who lived and enlivened our world. We are not without the substance of faith in this curious and all too short life.

Both birth and death does this to us; we are destabilized and grab for something solid. It is a walk of increasing humility with the One who made us for Himself.

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Repair the Inroads

If you don’t want to, you don’t have to excuse the image above – but it is a stark reminder of what we know to be true. You may have known it personally, or have been around people who appear to live in the chaos of fabricated drama, bad news, and negativity. And how does a diet like this get ingested? We will have to admit eventually that we make these dietary decisions; we chose to eat the bad fruit of decay; we let social media scramble our minds and degrade our soul.

Thomas Merton put it another way:

Your life is shaped by the end you live for; 

You are made in the image of what you desire.

It begs us to face the questions:

What is the end you live for?

What is it you desire?

What sources do you go to in order to feed your soul?

Here is a bit of wisdom from the 17th century, well before social media and the frenetic pace of distraction we now endure.  This is from a collection of “spiritual letters” written by Francois Fenelon. See if this doesn’t strike a chord with you now:

You should redeem some time from the world for reading and prayer. Try to rescue half an hour morning and evening. You must learn, too, to make good use of chance moments – when waiting for someone, or when going from place to place… seize every chance moment.

Take half an hour in the morning, and another half-hour in the afternoon, to repair the inroads which the world has made.  And in the course of the day, make use of such thoughts as touch you most, to renew yourself in the presence of God…

Francois Fenelon,  Spiritual Letters, 17th C

Redeem, rescue, repair, and renew are all ways of saying we need to be intentional against the destructive currents of our time. As it is written:

Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

In the mean time, do the work of soul repair, and renew yourself in the presence of God.


Francois Fenelon was born merely one of 15 children in 1651. He survived internal political antagonism of the Catholic Church in France at the time and wrote these spiritual letters with “discreet reserve and extreme hesitation.” His understanding of redemption runs through many of his letters.


For more see “Overfed and Undernourished?

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Does the Sparrow Worship You?

 

Does the sparrow worship you?

When making a nest in some hidden place

When laying a clutch

When anticipating the hatch

When feeding the insatiable

When watching them fledge;

Does the sparrow worship you?

 

Does the nuthatch trill to you?

Does the northern finch chant to you?

Does the chickadee twitter with you in mind?

Does the robin chirp and peep to you?

Does the ruby throated hummingbird hum her hymns to you?

Does the goldfinch plumage glorify you?

Tell me again, does the sparrow worship you?

 

Do they join in all creation to praise you –

Exuberant in their veneration?

Do they adore you with abandon?

Do they cherish you like a child?

Do they thank you profusely?

Do they receive you jubilantly?

 

Tell me again, does the sparrow worship you?

You who made each rachis and barb,

and imagined each feather and plume;

You who made the morning stars sing together,*

and the seas resound, and the fields exalt;**

You in whose presence is unspeakable joy,***

tell me again, is this what You made us for?

* Job 38:7  ** Psalm 96:11, 12  *** Psalm 16:11


Spring erupted as it usually does with life and the return of song birds and blossoms.  Our bird houses were fully occupied while seasonal visitors filled the airwaves with song, and beckoned us to join them in adoration of the One who made us for Himself. I suspect it takes Spring to energize us to keep worshipping throughout each season, though each season has all it needs to nourish our adoration of the One who loves us.

The Psalmist recognizes the congruity of the humble sparrow finding a home in the holy temple of the Lord:

Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you.

May we be found, like the sparrow, worshipping the Creator God.


For more, see “Sparrow Symbolism & Meaning“.

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For those who do not know exactly what a Prayer is

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver


Oliver’s well quoted “The Summer Day” has embedded in it this statement:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I suppose we can say, “welcome to the club.”  But she goes on to say that she does know how to pay attention, among other things.

She ends with that wonderful question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

But this question comes out of observation; it comes out of what exactly a prayer is.

Prayer includes being idle and blessed, strolling through fields, and just paying attention:

Pay attention to the Creator and His creation – the world, the swan, the black bear, and the grasshopper.

Pay attention to yourself as you stroll through the fields.

Pay attention to those who die at last and too soon.

Pay attention to this one wild and precious life.

Pay attention to the One who made us for Himself all that is wild and precious in life.

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Learning to Live

Silver Weeping Birch Tree

I Learnt to Live, by Sofia Kioroglou

Before I got cancer
I cavilled at everything
Caterwauled and spat out
Unmentionable adjectives

Before I got cancer
My children hated me
I was controlling and unbearable
A helicopter hovering over them the whole time

Before I got cancer,
I didn’t know I had a present
But now that I am suffering 
I cherish the moment and the now

Before I got cancer
I didn’t know I had a future
I sucked each potential out of its viability
Before I got cancer, I was dead


​Copyright 2018; reblogged with permission

A new poetry book by Sofia is available at :https://payhip.com/b/zK7h


Sofia understands the paradox of life and death – the threat of death that exposes the deadness that already exists, and the catapulting to life that the diagnosis of cancer can give. One would think that the harsher reality would be living (or dying) with cancer. But the poem ends with the harsher commentary on life before cancer.

Before I got cancer
I didn’t know I had a future
I sucked each potential out of its viability
Before I got cancer, I was dead

She exposes something of what it takes to come to life under the shadow of a potential death sentence. I can relate to this in my own experience (31 years ago this month) and I can actually look back with some fondness at the gift of that season with cancer, or as Sofia put it, realizing that “I didn’t know I had a present.” I love the play of words where present offers both gift and presence.

And I can relate to the life recently lost to cancer of a friend who’s artistic output in her last years was so fruitful but not frenetic. She offered herself and her gifts freely and generously.

A number of years ago my neighbour’s weeping birch tree (image above) started casting off more seeds that I had ever seen before; coincidentally a friend of mine was visiting who is an agricultural expert. When he saw the weeping birch he commented that the tree was actually dying, counterintuitive to such fruitfulness. This prodigiousness is what these kind of trees do before they die. It is a knowing without cognition: the dying tree weeps off thousands of seeds before it’s life cycle ends.

I might add therefore,

Before I had cancer, I didn’t know I could be so fruitful


Oh, I’m still dying (and so are you), just not at the hastened pace of cancer. In the mean time, cast seeds wherever you may be.


Since I posted this, a friend sent me this clip of Jane Marczewski – stage-name “Nightbirde” -who sang her original song “It’s Okay” at “Americas Got Talent”.  

Written in the last year of her life (with a 2% chance of living beyond her 6 month prognosis), she said:

You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.

For more from Nightbirde see: “God is on the Bathroom Floor; if you can’ see Him, look lower.”

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