Tuesday, February 24

Praying through the day

A beautiful practice of many Christians is the use of written prayers.  The church tradition in which I grew up did not encourage the use of written prayers or prayer books, insisting that their use would be the kind of "vain repetitions" of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 6:7.  As I've grown older, though, I've learned that the use of written prayers is a great help to my walk of faith.

These praying hands were given to me by my grandmother.  
She had a pair of praying hands, and she gave me this child's version when I was a tiny girl.  Actually, she gave me more than one set of them--I broke the first pair!

I recently compiled a daily prayer guide for my local church family.  We're currently in a study of Genesis, and our pastor has impressed us with the importance of the first four words in our English translation of the scriptures:  "In the beginning, God."  I was inspired by those words to put these thoughts together, and I'm using this as part of my prayers each day.  I thought you might like to use them, too.

PrayerS for the day

Morning Prayer
In the beginning, God

Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
  In the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.  Psalm 5:3, NRSV

Breathe on me, breath of God;
Fill me with life anew.
That I may love what thou dost love
And do what thou wouldst do.

Heavenly Father, I know that you are my Creator.  Help me today to understand how much you love me and guide me to love others as you do.

I will sing of your might;
   I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.  Psalm 59:16, NRSV

Midday Prayer
In the middle, God

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?
   If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
   Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  Psalm 139:7-10, NIV

Breathe on me, breath of God, until my heart is pure;
Until with thee I will one will to do and to endure.
Breathe on me, breath of God, ‘til I am wholly thine,
‘Til all this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine.

Lord Jesus, I know that you are my Redeemer.  Help me today to understand how much you love me and show me how to love others as you do.

Show me your ways, Lord; teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.  Psalm 25:4-5, NIV

Evening prayer
In the end, God

By day the Lord directs his love; at night his song is with me—
  a prayer to the God of my life.  Psalm 42:8

Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with thee the perfect life
Of thine eternity. (Edwin Hatch)

Holy Spirit, I know that you are my Sustainer.  Help me tonight to understand how much you love me and teach me to love others as you do.

I will lie down and sleep in peace,
 For you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.  Psalm 4:8

Final petition: Now guide me waking, O Lord, and guard me sleeping; that awake I may watch with Christ, and asleep, I may rest in peace.  Amen. (from Compline, Book of Common Prayer)

For a printable copy of these prayers for the day, click here.

What helps you to pray?  Do you ever use written prayers or prayer guides?

Friday, February 13

A message from Chapel Hill

My community has been the focus of national and international news this week, for a horrible reason.

When my husband and I checked email just after dinner on Tuesday night, February 10, this message appeared:
screenshot from my computer
You can imagine our concern as we hurriedly texted our son Preston, who is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, and our relief in discovering that he was alive and well.

That relief never came to the parents of UNC dental student Deah Shaddy Barakat or the parents of his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha.

The site of the killings is about 15 minutes from my house, in an apartment complex close to the UNC campus.

The scenery in this part of the world is lovely, almost idyllic--and usually peaceful.  But not this week. This week our community has been shaken to its core by the actions of a criminal.  As the story unfolds, we've learned that Craig Stephen Hicks, who turned himself in to police, has had long-running disputes with his neighbors over--get this--parking.  

Parking is, of course, a big deal around here.  We live right in the middle of university country, with Duke University on one side and UNC-Chapel Hill on the other.  With many thousands of students and thousands more faculty and staff, parking is at a premium in many parts of our community.  The apartment complex where the victims and the killer lived had limited parking, and the killer had a history of becoming visibly angry over parking disputes.  He had reported parking violations so often that a local towing company had finally made a policy of not responding to his calls to have cars towed.  

But seriously. . . parking?  Mr. Hicks was angry enough about parking that he killed three people in cold blood?

We may never know the issues lurking in this man's heart and mind.  What little we do know so far comes in part from his own Facebook page, where he proclaims himself not just an atheist but an anti-theist.  It would appear that he hated religions of all kinds.  His victims were faithful Muslims, so perhaps his passions were fueled by hatred of their religion.  

A number of people around the globe have called upon American authorities to denounce the murders as "hate crimes," which are officially defined as "criminal offenses against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation" (www.fbi.gov).  In this case, it would appear that the crime was motivated at least in part by the offender's bias against the fact that the victims were religious, although it's unclear whether he had a bias against their particular religion.

As I've wept and prayed along with everyone else in this part of the world, I've reflected on the fact that the heart of the matter really IS hate.  Whether this crime should officially be labeled a "hate crime" is for authorities to decide, but it is without a doubt a crime full of hate.  

"Hate" is a word that's bandied about often in our world.  Perhaps I'm naive, but I'm always  surprised how often the word "hate" is used in everyday conversation.  Around here, fans of Duke University will say that they hate UNC, and UNC fans will say that they hate Duke.  In fact, UNC's alma mater usually ends with the chant "Go to hell, Duke!" instead of "Rah, rah, rah!" While I understand intense rivalries, particularly in sports, I'm still amazed that such vitriolic verbiage is the norm. 

Of course, it's not against the law to hate.  In a society like the U.S., where personal freedoms are guaranteed by the Constitution, people may hate something or someone as much as they like, provided that they do not act on that hate to do harm.

But my heart is heavy at the thought of how much this atmosphere of hatred must grieve the heart of God and how much damage is done to our society when we not only tolerate but sometimes champion hate.  

As a Christian, my charge is clear.  To love, not to hate, is my calling.  

When Jesus was asked which commandment is most important, He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)

In talking with His closest friends just before His death, Jesus said:  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another:  just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 
By this all people will know that you are my followers--if you have love for one another."  (John 13:34-35)

And one of Jesus's disciples later wrote: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God, for God is love."  (I John 4:7-8)

With such violent acts as those perpetrated in Chapel Hill this week, it would be easy for us simply to despair about the state of our world.  But God calls us not to despair.  He calls us to be world-changers, wherever we are.  How? By loving God first and by loving our neighbors.  All of them.  #AllLivesMatter to God.

I may not be able to influence public policy, but I can love my black, Latino, and Asian neighbors. I can love my Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu neighbors.  I can love my disabled neighbors.  I can love my gay neighbors and my straight neighbors.  I can even love those neighbors who choose to hate me because I am different from them.  And in so doing, I can change my own little corner of the world.  Even if hate still reigns in my community, there will be love mixed in.

Thank God, I'm not left to try to summon up these traits under my own power.  Neither are you. These things we need are the fruit of the Spirit that lives in us (Galatians 5:22).

I'm convinced, even in dark days like this: hate will not prevail.

What do you think?

Monday, February 9

A Valentine for your soul

Valentine's Day is this week, so naturally our thoughts turn to love.  In our hectic lives, though, we may find that our minds are completely occupied with how we're decorating or what we're hoping to receive as a Valentine's Day remembrance or how we're going to make sure that our children have the best treats to deliver to classmates or whether we should watch a steamy movie.

In the midst of all that, we may easily forget what love really is.  I found this little reminder in an old book, and I thought you might need it as much as I do.

As I stop to ponder what love is, I am reminded of these words from Jesus:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another:
  just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
By this all people will know that you are my followers--
  if you have love for one another.  (John 13:34-35)

Dear Lord, teach us to love one another as you love us.

How do you keep in mind the true meaning of love?

Wednesday, February 4

Prayer for a midwinter day

At this point of the year, many of us are tiring of winter.  The cheery holiday season is long since past, and spring seems very far away.  Some of us are buried in snow and ice.  Leaden skies and gray landscapes do little to lift our spirits.

But I'm convinced that there is value for our souls in all four seasons.  I ran across this bit of a poem about the seasons that helped me re-think winter: to welcome it as a respite from the bustling busyness of other parts of the year.  

When Winter bars the woods and streams,
When flowers are lost in happy dreams,
     When brooks are dumb and winds are loud,
     And earth puts on her snowy shroud--
In home's pure pleasures may'st thou find
True solace for both heart and mind.
     The firelight's glow, the welcome guest,
     The well-told tale, the merry jest,
The sunshine glad of loving looks,
The fine companionship of books;
     May these inspire such full content
     As makes a joy of banishment.

And I pray:  Lord, help us to fashion our homes so that we enjoy every season You created and learn more of Your goodness and grace.

How do you tend to your soul's needs on gloomy days?

Monday, February 2

Valentines for your heart and soul

Although I'm tempted today to wallow in a post-Super Bowl stupor, I've decided to concentrate on something happier.

Valentine's Day is around the corner, and I figured we could all use some encouragement for our hearts and souls.

That's what I aim to have: a good head and a good heart.  Like bacon and eggs or cookies and milk--they're both good, but they're better together.

How are you preparing for Valentine's Day?