SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Prayer

And With Your Spirit

Ritual is the way we (learn to) believe with our bodies.
James K.A. Smith in Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works

There were no announcements, no instructions, no words of welcome, and no introductions. We gathered, called by the melodious sounds of music. We settled into our places, hushed, by a few chords on the instrument. Before we knew it, we were worshipping.

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Abbey Church at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Benedict, Louisiana

I’ve been to mass many times. Parishioner’s family funeral, weddings, and the occasional “stop” to worship. I love the worship rhythms of this ancient tradition, its sensuality, earthiness, and aesthetic. I love how those around me know by heart the movements, gestures, and words. I love how you can “sneak in” and still feel part of what is happening, even if you don’t know the choreography.

I am not saying that it is perfect. Sitting in Mass reminded me how thankful I am that our tradition includes women as leaders. I also longed to partake of the Eucharist alongside my brothers and sisters. For the un-initiated it could be intimidating: with its movement, responses, and gesturing. And there are a series of other important theological differences that make Wesleyan Christianity my home.

In the end I’ll have to say that from the moment I entered the space — with its smell of incense, the baptismal waters, the gathered community kneeling as they prayed — I began to be transported into God’s presence.

I wish those of us in the protestant tradition would lean more towards this kind of kinetic aesthetic. I think at times we are too “chatty,” explaining too much, acknowledging too much, and moving too fast. We leave little room for silence and we certainly struggle with using our bodies.

It is our bodies that open the door for the holy to shape us into a sanctified people. It is our bodies that move us into a life of discipleship. Theologian James K.A. Smith tells us:

[P]ractices — communal, embodied rhythms, rituals, and routines that over time quietly and unconsciously prime and shape our desires and most fundamental longings.

We need these movements, silence, and common language to fully experience God’s transformative presence. Our ministry of hospitality should extend in worship as we “teach” each other what it means to worship in this place, at this time.

Our Christian tradition is rich with ritual, movement, and embodied practices. Our Wesleyan heritage is rooted in an experienced grace, through sacrament, through looking over one another in love, through study and reflection on God’s word, and through worship on the Lord’s Day.

My prayer is that we find ways to move, to bow, to kneel, to raise our hands, to pray together, to hear God in the silence, to allow the smells and sounds to call our bodies to a posture of prayer. Our bodies becoming visible temples of the Holy Spirit.

Advent: End Becoming Beginning

Who will put a prophet’s eloquence into my words
to shake from their inertia
all those who kneel before the riches of the earth –
who would like gold, money, lands, power, political life
to be their everlasting gods?
All that is going to end.
There will remain only the satisfaction of having been,
in regard to money or political life,
a person faithful to God’s will.
One must learn to manage the relative and transitory
things of earth according to his will,
not make them absolutes.
There is only one absolute: he who awaits us
in the heaven that will not pass away.

(Archbishop Oscar Romero)

On the eve of what is normally dubbed the “biggest shopping day of the year,” a day we reflect on the many blessings given to us, the economy continues to struggle. We are not alone; our struggles, it seems, are common with other nations in the world. Fear, uncertainty, and suspicion abounds. Many corners of our world are in the midst of war and strife, injustice abounding, power struggles widespread. From whom shall our help come?

The least everywhere find themselves living their everyday. While many others who could make ends meet just a year ago are finding themselves with less and less, with little hope ahead. Some of our citizens out of frustration and anger have taken to the streets to “occupy” places of power. Can we stand aside while the rich become richer and the poor poorer?

Our politicians are in a gridlock. Extremes abound and I can’t see any sign of helpful conversation and a way forward. I wonder if the “common good” will ever dominate our decision making.

This Sunday we’ll gather in the midst of uncertainty only days after many will spend beyond their means hoping to make this season meaningful. They have struggled through early mornings, long days, and crowds of people, all for the chance at the “great deal.”

For so many this is no season to be merry. So many have lost jobs, others have lost loved ones, still others have lost hope. It might be better to skip this all together.

In the church we might be tempted to get on the celebration bandwagon, while ignoring the plight, the hurts, and the reality of so many. We might ignore our own uncertainties, the ways that our ecclesial world is also changing. We could act like no end is needed and jump to the celebration of new beginning but the reality of life speaks to the great narrative of our faith in the promise that only in an end can a beginning be found.

There is no better time for Advent!

Advent comes to remind us that God’s story unfolds towards a renewed creation. The brokenness in our world will not prevail, God’s kingdom of justice and peace will have its last say. In the meantime we wait; we continue experiencing loss, despair, and pain. We continue experiencing ends and wonder if that is all there is?

During these special times of the year, seasons of so called “celebration,” we are more aware of ends experienced. Yet in surprising ways these “ends” can become agents of new life, of renewed relationship, of a transformed world. The story of faith seems to know these rhythms of life: Fruitfulness after a fall, an olive branch after a flood, a journey home after settling as strangers, a child in old age, empowerment after captivity, freedom after slavery, a word of the Lord in a strange land. . .

Here are the words of Jesus from the Gospel for this Sunday:

In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.

Mark 13:24-27 (CEB)

So today I pray for the in-braking of God in our world:

Come once more gracious God, shower us with your grace, and empower us by your Spirit so that we can become agents of your kingdom. Heal our brokenness; bring justice to our world; make love our way of life. Come, Lord Jesus, come make our endings into beginnings, come bring us your salvation!

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Daddy’s “God” Book

We promised to raise them in the faith . . . I still remember each of them as infants receiving the waters of baptism. I will never forget the promises we made that we would teach them “the way that leads to life.” So from the moment that they were born we have gathered as part of what we now affectionately call our “evening ritual.”

Bath, pajamas, tooth brushing (when they were old enough), and prayer. At first it was a simple blessing as we rocked them in the middle of the night. In those early days the prayers were mostly for us, for strength, for wisdom, for rest! From the beginning we used the prayers of the church, we sang the psalms, said the Lord’s Prayer, and used the ancient antiphon “Guide us waking O Lord, and guard us sleeping . . .”

As our oldest reached pre-school age we began to use the full Night Prayer service (the office of Compline). It became our time together as a family, a powerful way to end our day together. I began to pray Compline as a college student and has been a part of the closing of my day on and off since then, but saying it together has been more transformative than I would have ever thought.

My prayer book sits on the side table in the living room, that way its available for our evening gathering. The other night as our two year old came into the living room with his pj’s on, with his blankie and his George (stuffed monkey) on one hand, he headed straight to the side table, picked up the prayer book and said: “daddy’s God book, pray daddy, pray.” He proceeded to crawl on my lap ready to begin our time with God.

We were surprised. Somehow the rhythms of prayer and gathering were actually forming, shaping, and calling our children. God’s Spirit called upon them at their baptism doing a work in them, reminding them of who they are in light of our story of faith. We made a promise but in the end what is blooming is God’s promise to them, that they belong to God, that sin and death do not have the last word.

It has not always been easy. We have been busy, tired, sick, or just not in the mood. At times we have allowed so many other things to get in the way. But now, over seven years into it, we are grateful that we have kept at it, that we have gathered, that we have rehearsed the prayers of our faith.

Through our children we are learning that our faith is learned. That the way of Jesus is not automatic, that it does not happen, it does not take root, unless it is modeled and practiced. It turns out that learning to love God and neighbor is a lifelong task but that it starts with the life of prayer.

So, we’ll continue to gather around “Daddy’s God Book” and pray that they will continue learning the way of Jesus!

My Response to Bin Laden’s Death

I joined the many others who watched with surprise the news that Osama Bin Laden had been found and killed. It was almost unreal, the face of terror for almost a decade was now gone. What would our response be?

I can only speak about my response. I say this carefully and humbly knowing that we all respond to things very differently. My feeling last night (and as I continue to reflect on it today) has been sadness.

I am saddened that thousands have been the victims of the madness of one mastermind.

I am saddened that fear continues to influence so much in our world.

I am saddened that many lives have been lost in search of a madman.

I am saddened that in the end this inevitable act does not mean that justice has been done.

So I am struggling today, I cannot celebrate, although I can understand why some might feel jubilant. I am struggling today, I cannot celebrate, although I understand why some think justice has been done. I am struggling today, I cannot celebrate, but I can pray for the world, for the common good, for people of faith, for God’s kingdom to come.

May we respond to each other honestly, humbly, and lovingly. May God’s people, who continue to celebrate this season of Easter, may reflect on what our loving response should be, to each other, to the events happening around us, and to the way forward, as a people of resurrection!

Holy Saturday: Dressing the Church

A nod to my brother Josh Hale (expatminister) who has written a wonderful post about how pastors can observe Holy Saturday.

His post got me thinking about what I enjoy the most as a pastor on Holy Saturday. I especially enjoy sleeping late (by sleeping late we mean till around 7:30 am due to our living alarm clocks), spending time with the family listening to music, and taking extra time drinking my coffee with Shannon.

Yet, my favorite part of Holy Saturday is dressing the church for Easter. This started some 3 years ago when I was appointed here at Squyres UMC. In a small congregation we need all hands on deck and after a very busy Friday (which includes an amazing fish fry & Easter egg hunt) everyone in the church is exhausted. So my first Holy Week I volunteered to be the one to come in on Saturday evening and dress the church.

Maybe it reminds me of those wonderful days at Candler School of Theology where I served as the sacristan for the Office of Worship. There I prepared the space for worship every week. I would walk into that sacred space and take my time, almost as if each movement was a prayer, getting the space ready for the community to gather.

All these years later it is still a prayer. I walk into a bare space (it was “stripped” on Holy Thursday) and begin to bring back signs of celebration. Banners, paraments, fine linen, candles, the cross that will hold flowers, the book that holds the Great Thanksgiving.

Each detail reminds me of the events of the past season. I can remember my dirty hands on Ash Wednesday, what seemed like an endless set of Lenten Sundays, the Hosanna’s of Palm Sunday, our re-membrance of the Last Supper, and the blowing out of candles last night.

Now little by little it comes to life again.

I am thankful for this time in an empty sanctuary. A time to reflect and remember the great honor that it is to be a pastor. I am thankful that this time reminds me of these words from Gordon Lathrop:

The pastor lives among symbols. The pastor cares for symbols, sets out symbols for other people, hopes these symbols may hold people’s lives into meaning. Symbols are, as Gerard Manley Hopkins would say, the “gear and tackle and trim” of pastoral ministry. Or they ought to be. Words, stories, sacraments, images, gestures: pastors have really nothing else.

(from Pastor: A Spirituality, pg. 1)

As we continue on this journey to Easter, may we take the time to reflect, rest, and be thankful. And for those out there who will be walking into empty sanctuaries to prepare, may dressing the church become your prayer today!

Bible in 90 – Day 70: Prosperity

Jesus responded, ‘I assure you that if you have faith and don’t doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree. You will even say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the lake.’ And it will happen. If you have faith, you will receive whatever you pray for.’

Matthew 21:21-22 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

No wonder there are so many prosperity preachers out there! Reading through Matthew so far I have encountered numerous passages (see 17:20-21) that seem to suggest that with enough faith we can get whatever we want. This obviously proves to be a popular message, so it should not surprise us that many of these “prosperity gospel” churches keep on growing.

In an effort not to be in the prosperity camp nor in its close cousin, the let’s manipulate God camp, I have at times leaned on the, “prayer must not do much camp.” I rationalize it like this: It’s good to pray because it transforms us as we seek to be in relationship to God, intercession is good, the bible tells us to do so, and it helps us become aware of the needs of others and the world, so that we can be moved to do something about them.

In this scheme prayer becomes an empty practice that we do out of duty instead of faith. What’s the middle ground?

The Christian tradition reminds us time and time again of the mystery that is God. We cannot manipulate God (although in the Old Testament God at times changes God’s mind), nor can we in prayer demand for an in-braking of God in the world, no matter how hard we try.

Prayer is about a relationship, about getting to know God more intimately. As we grow in this relationship we are indeed transformed so that our desires, requests, and petitions begin to be centered on the other, and on responses of Love. At times miracles do happen, those remain part of the mystery of God.

I want to claim today my deep conviction that prayer is not magical but is indeed powerful. As we continue to hear about and see the devastation in Japan we must gather and pray. We must pray for those affected, we must pray for emergency responders, we must pray that there will be no more earthquakes. Most of all we must pray as a people who believe that prayer can indeed change things, it can change us, it can transform the world.

As the Lord prayer teaches us, is not about us, our prosperity, our blessing, our healing. In the end is about God’s kingdom calling us again and again to be about it in the world.

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