Baby steps


Markthal, Rotterdam  (Photo: Irene Bom)

 

“Baby steps build the
  strongest foundations.”

(Michelle Ward, life coach)

 
 

Call to Worship for [the start of] Advent

[also for the middle of Advent]

 
What will set us journeying in search of the Christ this Advent?
How far are we prepared to go out of our way
to look for the signs of His coming,
and to prepare a path?

How will we travel through this season?
Will we be burdened by responsibilities and tasks,
loaded with others’ expectations, overwhelmed by their needs?
Will we be full of joy or weary of grief?

What will guide our steps in these weeks?
Will we follow a thread of longing,
the hint of an alternative pathway,
the words and music of the gathered community?

Sisters and brothers in Christ, Advent awaits us.
Let us place our feet on the road and begin the journey.
May we find in familiar words, rituals and customs
the birth of the new thing that awaits us.

 
written by Ann Siddall, and posted on the Stillpoint Spirituality Centre and Faith Community website.
 


 
From the blog
See also the series of posts with a journey theme from August 2017.

3 Prayers for Advent


 

To kick off this month’s theme, Prepare, here are 3 short prayers to ready our hearts for Christmas and for Jesus’ Kingdom to come, now and in the future.

 
(Links to additional resources for Advent included below.)
 


Prayer of Invocation

(inspired by Matthew 11:3-5)

O God,
we come today echoing John the Baptist’s question to your Beloved Child:
“Are you the one who is to come?”
Give us eyes to see and ears to hear the answer for ourselves:
In the work of justice: Christ!
In the practice of mercy: Christ!
In good news for the poor: Christ!
In the vision of peace: Christ!
Make us ready, with open hearts and joyful spirits,
to follow in Christ’s Way.
Amen.

by The Rev. Susan A. Blain, and posted on the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways website.
 


Prayer of Confession

It is never easy for us to confess our sins, Waiting God.
There are the hurts we have caused to our families and friends,
     which we would like to forget.
There are those we believe are impossible to love,
     and so we don’t try.
There are people who live on the edge of our society,
     and we ignore their cries for help.

Forgive us, God who comes near to us.
When we have lost our way, show us yours.
Lead us in humility down the streets of your kingdom.
Teach us your truth,
     so we might be able to keep your Word,
     revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

by Thom Shuman. Source: re-worship.blogspot.com
 


Prayers of the People for All Ages

We have listened to God’s Word.
Now let us come to God full of hope for all our needs:

For a real sense of excited anticipation of the coming of Jesus
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord hear our prayer

For peace in our homes, our schools and our communities
as we approach the Christmas season
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord hear our prayer

For peace and harmony in countries torn apart by war around the world, that weapons be remade into garden tools
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord hear our prayer

That we always learn to be alert and aware of God’s presence in our daily lives
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord hear our prayer

God of light,
we bring these prayers to you through Jesus Christ our Lord
Amen.

~ from Children’s Liturgy of the Word, First Sunday of Advent Year A. Posted on re:worship.blogspot.com


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

These days there is so much material available online to accompany us on our journey through the season of Advent.

Here are a few examples:
Church of Scotland Advent Calendar
Pray as you go Advent retreat
Abbey of the Arts online Advent retreat

I also commend our 2017 Advent series on Faith, Hope and Joy, featuring meditations by three ministers in our Presbytery.

 

In the school of prayer with Ignatius of Loyola


Signs used in the 2018 Good Friday service in Rotterdam  (Photo: Irene Bom)

 
I recently wrote this little song inspired by a good day in Zacchaeus’ life, as recounted in Luke 19:1-10:

You see me in all my shame and glory
I hear you speak my name
What joy! my Lord and Saviour
to meet you face to face
I am changed from the inside out
by your gift of grace.

The Examen

One spiritual practice that helps us reframe our experience – both the shame and the glory – is called the Examen, a contemplative prayer developed by Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits.

The basic format

  1. Become aware of God’s presence.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  5. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges.

(Source: www.ignatianspirituality.com)
Visit the website for a more detailed outline.

Consolations and desolations

Here are some practical guidelines, taken from Gary Neal Hansen’s chapter on Ignatius in his book, Kneeling with giants: Learning to pray with History’s Best Teachers.

“In … the examen, we focus on the task of discernment by examining what Ignatius calls the ‘motions of the soul’ – the inner nudges that draw us toward God or away from God. He calls these tuggings ‘consolations’ and ‘desolations’, things that give a sense of the gracious presence of God or the seeming absence of grace, the absence of God.

The process is quite simple: we give thanks to God and quiet our hearts to reflect on the past day or week. In God’s presence, we bring to mind both the consolations and the desolations, in prayerful silence or writing them in a journal. We ponder their significance. We close with a prayer thanking God for being present in our experiences, offering ourselves to God anew. … the examen can be done individually or as a gentle, conversational way to pray with a friend or in a group. It can be especially helpful for married couples who want to pray together … It is also a delightful way to deepen prayer with children.” (p. 104)

 
More practical guidelines, this time from Chris Heuertz’ book, The Sacred Enneagram:

“The heart of the examen uses memory to explore the day searching for a ‘consolation’ – a moment, memory, or experience in which we felt God moving toward us or in us. Our consolation can be something as mundane as our first cup of hot coffee in the morning, something as sweet as an interaction with a child we love, or something as profound as a personal eruption of grace (such as receiving forgiveness from a friend, noticing growth in our faith journey, or realizing in a deep way that we are loved). Whatever the consolation is, once it is discerned we allow ourselves to be held by it, listening to what God may be trying to say to us through it. This step of the prayer also invites us to find the courage to search for a ‘desolation’ – a moment, attitude, or experience in our day in which we found ourselves moving away from God’s love and presence. Perhaps it’s those voices in our head – shame, guilt, doubt, regret, disappointment, or fear – that we mistake for the voice of Love. The person who hurt us isn’t the desolation, but rather the resentment we might feel toward that person; the family member who constantly annoys us isn’t the desolation, but rather our impatience with them; the painful memory we’ve tried so hard to forget isn’t the desolation, but rather our inability to receive healing for it. Whatever the desolation is, we acknowledge it as an invitation to grace so as not to be overcome or overwhelmed by it.” (p. 230)

 


Tip

Go to the Index for more posts in this series, as well as other series.

Reminder: Love is …

The observant among you will recognize this plaque from an earlier post

 

Design your own plaque, as a reminder of what you hope for in your life and your relationships.

 

Prayer of commitment

(inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Lord,
Because love is patient …
Help me to be slow to judge, but quick to listen,
hesitant to criticize, but eager to encourage,
remembering your endless patience with me.

Because love is kind …
Help my words to be gentle and my actions to be thoughtful.
Remind me to smile and to say “Please” and “Thank You”
because those little things still mean so much.

Because love does not envy or boast, and it is not proud …
Help me have a heart that is humble and sees the good in others.
May I celebrate and appreciate all that I have and all that I am,
as well as doing the same for those around me.

Because love is not rude or self-seeking …
Help me to speak words that are easy on the ear and on the heart.
When I’m tempted to get wrapped up in my own little world,
remind me there’s a great big world out there full of needs and hurts.

Because love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs …
Help me to forgive others as you have forgiven me.
When I want to hold onto a grudge,
gently help me release it
so I can reach out with a hand of love instead.

Because love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth …
Help me stand up for what is right and good.
May I defend the defenceless, and help the helpless.
Show me how I can make a difference.

Because love always protects and always trusts …
Help me to be a refuge for those around me.
When the world outside is harsh and cold,
may my heart be a place of acceptance and warmth.

Finally, because love always perseveres …
Help my heart continually beat with love for You and others.
Thank you for showing us what the word love really means. Amen.

~ written by Holley Gerth, and posted on Taking it one step at a time.

Food for thought


(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)

 
If you recall, few posts ago I featured Romans 12:1, about offering our BODY as a living sacrifice.

In the following verse – Romans 12:2 – Paul highlights the role of the MIND in keeping us on the straight and narrow so we may “live a beautiful life” (Romans 12:2, The Passion Translation).

Here, to reflect on:

Romans 12:2 three ways

NIV UK
Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test
and approve what God’s will is –
his good, pleasing and perfect will.
 
J.B. Phillips
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould,
but let God re-mould your minds from within,
so that you may prove in practice
that the plan of God for you is good,
meets all his demands
and moves towards the goal of true maturity.
 
The Passion Translation
Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you,
but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit
through a total reformation of how you think.
This will empower you to discern God’s will
as you live a beautiful life,
satisfying and perfect in his eyes.

If you’d like to explore further, follow this link to all English translations of Romans 12:2 on biblegateway.com.

More food for thought

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Colossians 3:1-2 (NIV UK)

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
Romans 8:5 (NIV UK)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Philippians 4:8 (NIV UK)

From the blog:
The Gift #3 : Re-minder

Daily prayer

Jesus,
by your Holy Spirit,
keep my mind firmly set
where you want it to be focused today.

by Judy Allen, from Five steps to renewing your mind

Fearfully and wonderfully made


(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)

 

Here are some radical verses from one of my favourite psalms and a blessing from one of my favourite writers, Jan Richardson of paintedprayerbook.com.

 

You created my inmost being;
     you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am
     fearfully and wonderfully made;
     your works are wonderful,
     I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
     when I was made in the secret place,
     when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
     all the days ordained for me were written in your book
     before one of them came to be.

 
(Psalm 139: 13-16, NIV UK)
 


Known

A Blessing

First
we will need grace.

Then
we will need courage.

Also
we will need
some strength.

We will need
to die a little
to what we have
always thought,
what we have allowed
ourselves to see
of ourselves,
what we have built
our beliefs upon.

We will need this
and more.

Then
we will need
to let it all go
to leave room enough
for the astonishment
that will come
should we be given
a glimpse
of what the Holy One sees
in seeing us,
knows
in knowing us,
intricate
and unhidden

no part of us
foreign
no piece of us
fashioned from other
than love

desired
discerned
beheld entirely
all our days.

 
written by Jan Richardson
from paintedprayerbook.com
 


From the blog:
Body of water

Offer your bodies


(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)
 

“I urge you, brothers and sisters,
in view of God’s mercy,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God –
this is your true and proper worship.”

 
Romans 12:1 (NIV UK)
 

A prayer

O Living God,
we who are partly living,
scarcely hoping,
and fitfully caring,
pray to you now
to make us fully alive.
Give us the vitality, awareness and commitment
that we see in Jesus Christ,
through the power of his death and resurrection.
We ask this in his Name.

John V. Taylor

from The Book of a Thousand Prayers by Angela Ashwin, #46

We are a body


 

The body of Christ is one of many metaphors used in the New Testament to describe the community of believers. Here is an all-age song I wrote in the mid-90’s incorporating some of these images.

Song


 

We are a body, we are a family,
we are the church of Jesus Christ.
We are a body, we are a family,
we are the church of Jesus Christ.
We are living stones,
we are a temple for God’s Spirit lives in us.
Hallelujah!  God has made us the church!
 


Call to worship: Here we are

inspired by 1 Samuel 3

God whispers to each of us:
you are my beloved,
created in love for love.
My spirit answers,
Here I am, Lord.
Speak to me anew.

God breathes on us the Holy Spirit,
knitting many members into one body,
the body of Christ.
Together we answer,
Here we are Lord.
Come, Holy Spirit.

God has yet more vision for the people.
Who will work for God to extend God’s kingdom
into our hurting world?
Here we are Lord.
Empower us for your work.

God calls the small, and helps them do great things.
God calls the weak, and reveals their hidden gifts.
God calls the rejected, and opens their eyes to their worth.
Here we are Lord, humble and waiting.

Then let us gather, old and young, small and great,
to dream God’s dreams,
receive God’s power,
and do God’s deeds.
Here we are Lord.
Shine the light of your love on us.
Kindle your Spirit within us.
Work your redeeming will in us,
that all the world may be one
through the power of your love. Amen.

 
by David Inglis
Posted on the Henrietta United Church of Christ website

Body talk


“rejoice with those who rejoice”  (Photo: Irene Bom)

 
A while back our evening ladies Bible study group spent about 3 months studying the different dimensions of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)

One of my lasting memories of this series is trying to discern the body posture that is best associated with a specific dimension of this multi-faceted fruit. Joy, for example, requires loose-fitting clothing, so you can move and extend your limbs; patience is a quiet, expectant trust; kindness is close, attentive other-centredness.

We experience and express these qualities in our bodies and in responding to the ‘body talk’ of other bodies around us.

Paul writes in Romans 12:15:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice;
mourn with those who mourn.”

It’s quite easy to recognize the body postures that express these extreme emotional states. Sadly, strong emotions in others can form a barrier. Paul says, be brave and seek connection under all circumstances. And take advantage of occasions like weddings and funerals, natural opportunities for us to connect with others in their joy and sorrow and so strengthen bonds.

Not all ‘body talk’ is that obvious, but God has given us His Spirit, as well as eyes, ears, minds, hearts and bodies as antennae. Be curious. Be open to learn.

 

Pray for discernment to understand ‘body talk’ – both our own and the ‘body talk’ of the people around us – and pray for discernment and courage to respond appropriately, graciously and generously.


A prayer

O God, the source of our common life,
when we are dry and scattered,
when we are divided and alone,
we long for connection, we long for community,
Breath of God, breath on us.

With those we live beside,
who are often strange to us,
whom we may be afraid to approach,
yet who have riches of friendship to share,
we long for connection, we long for community,
Breath of God, breath on us.

With those we have only heard of,
who see with different eyes,
whose struggles we try to imagine,
whose fierce joy we wish we could grasp,
we long for connection, we long for community,
Breath of God, breath on us.

With those we shall never know,
but whose lives are linked with ours,
whose shared ground we stand on,
and whose common air we breathe,
we long for connection, we long for community,
Breath of God, breath on us.

When we are dry and scattered,
when we are divided and alone,
when we are cut off from the source of our life,
open our graves, O God,
that all your people
may be free to breathe, strong to move,
and joyful to stand together
to celebrate your name.

by Janet Morley
from The Book of a Thousand Prayers by Angela Ashwin, #495

Sabbath rest


(Photo: Irene Bom)

 
To draw this month’s theme of “work” to a close, a post reflecting on work’s counterpoint: the Sabbath.

Built into the rhythm of the universe is “Sabbath rest”, a holy rest that we are invited to participate in on a weekly basis.

The primary source for this blog post is Barbara Brown Taylor’s chapter on Sabbath – “The Practice of Saying No” – from her book, An Altar in the World.

May these reflections awaken in us all a fresh appreciation and hunger for “Sabbath rest” as a way of life.

Two “therefores”

The invitation to “Sabbath rest” has two formulations in the Bible, one linked to creation and the other to the exodus out of Egypt.

“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:11)

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15)

The two candles that observant Jews light at the start of their weekly Shabbat meal represent these two “therefores” – rest and freedom.

Lighting the two candles sets the tone for the rest of the day: “made in God’s image you too shall rest” and “made in God’s image you too are free”. (Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, p. 131)

A Sabbath vision

After exploring the benefits and challenges of setting aside one whole day a week when “More God is the only thing on my list” (ibid, p. 126), Barbara Brown Taylor writes,

“… I think it is good to have a Sabbath vision, even if it seems impossible to you right now. Here is mine, which you are free to borrow while you are envisioning your own.

At least one day in every seven, pull off the road and park the car in the garage. Close the door to the toolshed and turn off the computer. Stay home not because you are sick but because you are well. Talk someone you love into being well with you. Take a nap, a walk, an hour for lunch. Test the promise that you are worth more than what you can produce – that even if you spent one whole day being good for nothing you would still be precious in God’s sight – and when you get anxious because you are convinced that this is not so, remember that your own conviction is not required. This is a commandment. Your worth has already been established, even when you are not working. The purpose of the commandment is to woo you to the same truth.” (ibid, p. 138-9)
 


 
To close, a prayer – quoted by Barbara Brown Taylor in her book – that captures some of the gift and the tension that is Sabbath, celebrated sunset to sunset on a weekly basis.

A prayer: Welcoming Sabbath

Our noisy day has now descended with the sun beyond our sight.

In the silence of our praying place we close the door upon the hectic joys and fears, the accomplishments and anguish of the week we left behind.

What was but moments ago the substance of our life has become memory; what we did must now be woven into what we are.

On this day we shall not do, but be.

We are to walk the path of our humanity, no longer ride unseeing through a world we do not touch and only vaguely sense.

No longer can we tear the world apart to make our fire.

On this day heat and warmth and light must come from deep within us.

 
from Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayer Book (Weekends, Sabbaths, and Festivals), ed. Chaim Stern, p. 245