Sunday, April 9, 2017

The shape of prayer

 Thanks to the Deepening Friendship book I'm working through, I've been thinking about prayer. As regular readers can probably tell, prayer is something that is often in my thoughts. It's been a pretty big part of my life in all sorts of iterations. I started thinking about that variety over the years:

  • booking time in a prayer room at Bible school and at churches where that was possible
  • being on a prayer team at the different churches we've attended over the years
  • starting a mom's prayer group at the school our children attended 
  • being part of care groups with strong focus on prayer
  • going on silent retreats

And then there's the way my prayers have changed over the years:

  • the prayers of my childhood - "now I lay me down to sleep..." and "Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and may this food to us be blessed, Amen"
  • the ACTS method (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication)
  • lectio divina
  • centering prayer
  • the examen
  • the Jesus prayer
  • prayer beads
  • praying the Office  (set prayers at certain times of the day)
  • welcoming prayer

I've appreciated learning different ways of praying, and some I fall back on more than others, but I wouldn't say there's one method that stands out as my default method. There are some that I use more frequently in certain types of circumstances, but I rather like being able to switch it up. I didn't really feel that way in my younger years. Whether it's because I'm an oldest, or because of my temperament type, my love of organization and structure, or whatever, it's fair to say I've absorbed some wrong ideas about prayer. Things like, if I'm disciplined all the time, and if I pray the right way (whatever that might mean), and if it's in the morning like Jesus did, and (insert your own thinking of what God honors here), then God will hear me and will answer my requests.(Have you ever wondered why we're encouraged to write down prayers and answers to them? Are only the ones that are answered the "right" prayer?) Oh yes, I know that's not really how it works, but still, a part of me bought into thinking that all these steps would serve as kind of a cosmic vaccination against the spiritual equivalent of small pox or the plague.  A little far-fetched to say the least yet perhaps I'm not alone in these misbeliefs. It begs some questions: 

  • what is prayer? Does it even work?
  • why are some prayers answered and others aren't?
  • why does something get answered when it hasn't even been asked!!? Is God capricious?
  • will God still be at work if I don't pray?
  • how do I know what to pray for?
  • what kind of prayer does God answer? Are my sighs and tears enough or do I always need to use words?
  • If I'm really eloquent in my praying, will that make a difference? Why do I sometimes feel so inept in praying?
  • does prayer only count if it's protracted and persistent? What about unspoken prayers, or the mostly unspoken thoughts that flit in and out of one's mind? 

I actually have ideas about some of these answers, some of which may be more accurate than others but that's neither here nor there. Ultimately, I believe that when we reach out to God in whatever prayer form we use, we're responding to His invitation. And however He chooses to answer, is up to Him. Sometimes my desires may align with His, sometimes they won't but as Father Tim says in the Jan Karon Mitford series, the one prayer that is always answered is "Thy will be done". And there's great peace in leaving it there, knowing that God is still at work.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Nothing like it!

There's nothing quite like a phone conversation with a 4-year old to brighten one's day:

N: Nana, did you know I went to the dentist today?
Me: No, I didn't know that. What did the dentist do?
N: He said I had bugs in my teeth.
Me: Bugs!!
N: Yeah, but they're gone now.
Me: Oh, he cleaned your teeth?
N: Yeah. And then I got to pick something from the treasure chest.
Me: What a lucky girl! My dentist doesn't let me do that. What did you pick?
N: A ring. And a bracelet. I'm wearing them now.
Me: I'd wear my new jewellery too.
N: And did you know we're going on an airplane?
Me: Yes, I did - you're going on a holiday!
N: I'm going to go in the water.
Me: Yes, and play in the sand and lots of fun things
N: I'm going to wear my ring on the airplane

 And that was about all it took to put a smile on my face for the afternoon. Priceless!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A brief moment

I was on my way downstairs to get a cup of coffee at work today when a dear friend of mine was coming up from the parkade. Her head was down as she came up the stairs so she didn't see me right away but I waited for her to get to the landing and then exclaimed about what a nice surprise it was to bump into her (we work at the same place but seldom see each other). 

We talked abit before her appointment and she said as she was coming up the stairs, that she'd been asking the Lord for some kind of affirmation today. And then she looked up and there I was. Well, I was delighted to be an answer to her prayer today! It made my day too. A little thing perhaps, but we were both lighter as a result of that five minute encounter.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Lament

When I find an author I really like, I'll usually read a few (or all) of their offerings. My tastes are as eclectic as Louise Penny (love the Armand Gamache series), Eugene Peterson, Madeleine L'Engle, Ravi Zacharias, PD James, Richard Rohr and David Benner.  Hmmm, years ago, that list would have been all fiction writers. Strange bedfellows now perhaps, but I learn much about life and humanity from all of them.

I only recently came across another writer that I've added to this group, thanks to my avid reader friend, Kim. The author is Vinita Hampton Wright who now writes articles over at Ignation Spirituality. While I was looking for Velma still Cooks in Leeway (which I read on my Kobo while on holiday and thoroughly enjoyed), 

I came across a bunch of other books that piqued my interest. Hampton Wright is an author and an editor at Loyola Press and she writes both fiction and non-fiction. My first read was this one (good stuff, file for possible use at some later date):

Then I moved on to getting unstuck - simple little suggestions grouped under types of acts: creativity, daring, generosity, healing, integrity and joy. Simple, yet profound in its simplicity.

And for the past couple of months, I've been working my way through this thoughtful and challenging study on friendship with God, written for women by a woman.

I say months because this isn't a quick read. I'm not really sure what genre it fits into. It's sort of a devotional, but not really. It has questions at the end of each short chapter that are taking a lot out of me. It's also very rewarding but I can manage small doses only, which isn't such a bad thing, I don't think. 

I'm tempted to say that it's because Hampton Wright is Catholic, that this book defies what typically passes for deepening one's spiritual relationship with God. But it's also what draws me to it. For instance, have you ever been asked to consider the beginning of your life as a river and to describe what the river was like at the time you were born? No, I didn't think so. But isn't that a fascinating way of looking at what your world was like at the time you were born? Was the river peaceful, or turbulent? Sparkling or calm? Stagnant or rushing? Interesting, no? Well, I think so and these types of questions are digging away at my many layers.

The most recent chapter I worked through included some prayers of confession. These are not a part of my heritage, but I do love a good lament. Perhaps lament and confession aren't quite the same thing but bear with me. I find they both validate more of the human experience.  As we're now well into the Lent season, I thought I'd share one with you that resonated with me.

This is attributed to Mechtild of Magdeburg:

Lord, my earthly nature is stood before my eyes like a 
barren field, which has few good plants grown in it.
Alas, sweetest Jesus and Christ,
now send me the sweet rain of your humanity
and the hot sun of your living Godhead
and the gentle dew of the Holy Spirit
that I may wail and cry out the aches of my heart.

May you find time this Lent season to incorporate a lament into your reflections and have your friendship with God deepened as a result.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Prayer

A phrase from the lovely Christmas hymn "O Holy Night" has grabbed my attention.

Leanne, our oldest,  gave her sister Charlene, a subscription to a magazine as a Christmas gift. Charlene had discovered this magazine online as she was looking for homes for some of her own writing, as she likes to put it,  and she brought her first issue along on a visit home this weekend:

It's a beautiful magazine, well put together with stories, poems, art and includes letters from readers. The title of this particular issue is there at the bottom - "And the soul felt its worth".

I guess the readers are given a preview of what the upcoming issues are and invited to write in with something along that theme and then some are selected for inclusion. There were some poignant stories that people wrote about when their soul felt its worth.

In case you're wondering where that line fits in the song, it's in the first verse and honestly, I'd never much thought about the whole phrase until now:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

For many years, my sister and I played this song as a duet on the piano at every family Christmas gathering. We'd haul out the music a week or two before Christmas and practice it enough not to embarrass ourselves. It was tradition and though we acted like it was time to give it up, we both kind of liked revisiting this song each year.  The way the music hushes and then builds to that high soprano, along with the well-known words, well, it does kind of give you goose bumps doesn't it?

Anyway, back to the phrase and the line in the song -  it was Jesus' appearing that gave our souls their worth. Think about that for a moment. How did Jesus' coming to earth give your soul its worth? Wow. I'm finding that to be a very powerful thought and I can't help but think what a wonderful prayer this would be for all those who may not yet know their soul's worth. And maybe even for you - may this year be the year you come to know your soul's worth.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

And wrapping up

To finish off our trip, I have to give some highlights of New Zealand too. Especially, as I'm watching the rain come down outside, I thought a little detour would be nice!

We got onto a cruise ship in Sydney and spent the next 2 weeks going around New Zealand. We had 2 ports of call yet in Australia - Eden, a quaint whaling village and Hobart in Tasmania.
Beautiful beaches here too, but the water was full of these nasty things, so going for a swim was out of the question.

 How can something so innocuous looking be so dangerous?

Lovely seascapes and geography - could sit and enjoy this for a long time, even without going in the water!!

We had quite a few hours in Hobart so we spent the morning exploring the CBD, including the church where we met Maz, and then went on a tour that took us further out. We went to an animal sanctuary where we saw quite a few indigenous animals to Australia - some of which we hadn't seen elswhere.
 Kangaroos love it when you scratch their chests. They can't reach it themselves and so they just go all soft and relaxed when someone does it for them!

 This is a wombat - pretty solid little animal. We didn't see any in the wild but the road signs indicate to watch out for them too.
And yes, this is a Tasmanian devil. They're actually quite shy. The handler was able to get this one to come out by bribing her with kangaroo meat (yes, roadkill gets recycled for these types of sanctuaries). She doesn't think they deserve their name but can understand it because they make alot of noise when they're eating, and their ears get red when they get excited and when they're feeding. They sort of glow in the dark so when the Europeans came and discovered these creatures, it seemed like a good name.
 And of course, the Koala. They have a plate in their bottom which enables them to sit in a tree like this without falling out. They sleep for about 19 hours a day so kind of important that they aren't toppling off their perches!
And this is either a rainbow lorrakeet or a rozella. Whichever, they're certainly colorful but also quite noisy.
A lot of Tasmania was developed by convict labour, including this beautiful bridge.

This was our first cruise and while we enjoyed it, we didn't feel as connected to New Zealand as we were to Australia. We did a few weather issues and missed a couple of ports because we were trying to get ahead of a low pressure system. Yes, this meant most days at sea were not that pleasant or warm. But when we got to the various ports, we had delightful trips and enjoyed what we did see.

Dunedin has a lot of Scottish influence and had a wonderful museum called the Otago Settlers Museum which we both thoroughly enjoyed. Usually, Larry could spend much longer in a museum than my attention span allows, but this was one exception. We also did a tour of Cadbury and brought home some wonderful chocolates that we don't get over here!

Wellington was windy, we missed Christchurch, Akaroa and Picton because of weather. At Napier, we opted for a tour to Cape Kidnapers to see the Gannet colonies and that was a highlight. Fascinating birds. These are the ones who divebomb for their fish at 40 mph. When ready to leave the colony, they fly 1500 miles to Australia and only 20% make it back to the colony. Not very great odds.

 This young male wass trying to find a female who would accept his gift of seaweed. No luck, as far as we saw...

Napier has some beautiful art deco buildings - wish we'd had time to explore a bit more here.

Of course, we had to stop here and it was really fun. Even with all the other tourists. This is NZ's number one tourist attraction - 2500 people/day. The sets are all permanent now and kept in pristine conditions so if Peter Jackson ever wants to do more filming, the set is ready to go.

 My favourite item from the gift shop - but no room in the suitcase for a welcome mat, alas.

While on the cruise ship, they had a Maori group on board for a few days, giving Haka and language lessons. Lots of tongue-sticking-out (an intimidation tactic apparently). The language has lots of vowels and not many consonants - sounds beautiful but tough to get the hang of. They cringed every time we'd say Tauranga.You've got to draw it out and make the ending nasal. I think I got it by the end!

In Tauranga and Rotorua, we went to the geothermal springs and this geyser was blowing off. Some of the buildings are heated by this method and almost every hotel had a spa offering the mud baths that are famous in this area. There was even an arthritis clinic dedicated to using this as a treatment method. Sure wonder how well it works.

We ended in Auckland and had a somewhat personalized trip with only one other person from the ship. Our guide was Maori but had lived for 4 years in White Rock, selling Australian and New Zealand wines to BC, so that was a very fun day. And he took us to this spot, which made us laugh the most:

And with that, I'll draw this travelogue to a close.Hope you enjoyed this experience vicariously and will make you consider Down Under for a vacation of your own one day!

Sunday, December 25, 2016


Perhaps because our Christmas thus far has been a bit quieter, I've had time to reflect a bit and today, my thoughts have turned to Maz, an artist we met in Hobart, Tasmania, who really embodies incarnational living.

All the beautiful, old churches in Australia and New Zealand are open to the public and so we often went in when we had the chance. I really love sitting in these spaces where there's beauty in the architecture, the stained glass, the old wood and high ceilings, and the peace that comes from being in a sacred space. Anyway, we entered St. David's Anglican Cathedral in Hobart 

and noticed a variety of art panels hung in between the stained glass windows. 

There were a couple of older women sitting off to the side, chatting quietly but they didn't bother us. Larry and I sat quietly for awhile and then got up to look more closely at the art and the descriptions. Then Maz came over and started talking with us. She was the artist of the panels and had donated them to St. David's. St. David's wasn't her church but she donated them there because she knew cruiseship passengers and other tourists often stopped in and she wanted them to be visible to as many people as possible. She was on a mission to try to get other people from the church to volunteer their time to be in the church on days that cruiseships were in port so someone could be there to engage in conversation, should the opportunity arise. Eighty-four cruiseships per season. That's a lot of days to find people available to be present in the space, not to mention being comfortable engaging in spiritual conversations. 

She always wanted to be an artist, her family wasn't too thrilled so she was in her 40\s before she took it up more seriously and really believes that her art is a way of connecting spiritually with people. She participates in all sorts of art shows, shows that many of us would probably avoid because of the spirit surrounding them.. She treads in without fear it seems and lets her art speak for itself. She doesn't do too bad with words either!

Maz from Taz - a most delightful person who was also interested in my life. There were about 3 personal conversations I had on this trip that seemed to be ordained and this was one of them. She's using her gifts in her culture to be Jesus to others. What an inspiring example of incarnational living. 

May we all find ways to be more incarnational in the places open to each of us. Lord, give us eyes to see what's already waiting.

Merry Christmas!