Sunday, November 28, 2010

Praying through chaos

Prayer is the most important thing I/we do. It is also the thing I feel least skillful at doing. These reflections are in part a response to Johan Maurer’s recent blogs on the topic (“Experimenting with prayer” and “More on prayer”). I write as a fellow-struggler in prayer, not an expert (such a nasty little word!), and I invite others to share their insights and struggles, because this is so important.

I write at a time in which I find myself in the middle of more crisis situations that is reasonable for one person to bear. And so I find myself throughout the day praying the Jesus Prayer in its briefest form, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy!” (Mercy on me, on whomever I am praying for at the moment, on different situations, and so on.)

Last Sunday (a week ago now) in unprogrammed worship, I got some insight on how to expand this cry to God. The centering Scripture for our worship was Psalm 136, that ancient liturgical prayer with its repeated refrain, “His mercies never cease.” So all this past week, to my cries for mercy I have added the affirmations of the psalmist. And, while I still sense the weight of the burdens I bear, a small and hopeful lightness has come into my prayers.

As I pray over impossible situations, I often find myself meditating on that mysterious image of creation in the first few verses of Genesis—the Spirit of God hovering over the chaos and darkness, waiting for God to say, “Let there be light.” I ask for the same Spirit to lovingly hover over whatever chaos I am holding up to him. I imagine the Spirit hovering over specific people and situations. I ask him to hover over Pakistan and Afghanistan. I ask him to hover over me.

Most of all, I pray the Lord’s Prayer, understanding that at its heart is the cry for the kingdom of God to be made manifest in the specific circumstances of life. It is asking that the future fullness of the kingdom come into the chaos and confusion of this present moment. I barely understand what I am doing as I sit in my chair praying this way. It’s audacious, almost arrogant. I’m sometimes asking for impossible miracles. And I just sit there, wearing ordinary clothes, sipping coffee, petting my cat and praying these extravagant prayers. What right do I have? Shouldn’t I at least be wearing a crash helmet? Shouldn’t I be more afraid?

Yes, probably.

I’m hesitant to write and post this. I have not been an exemplary pray-er. These past few weeks I have staggered through my prayers, sometimes sensing mostly desperation. The cry for mercy has been constant, especially when I don’t know what else to say to God.

Oh yes, there’s that other biblical prayer, straight from the mouths of the often befuddled disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Yes, Lord, please do that. Amen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Spirituality and small children

For the past month I have not written regularly in this blog. Nor have I faithfully followed my usual spiritual disciplines. Prayer and silence have been scarce. And it all has to do with the intimate increase of children in my life.

My grandmotherly “duties” have clicked in big time. Of the past 30 days, I have spent 23 of them as a live-in grandma. While this is a privilege I relish, it also takes its toll. I do this alongside my work of being associate director and professor in a semi-virtual graduate school of theology for Latin Americans.

For two years now, I have been giving our daughter and her family one week out of every month. Kristin lives in a town two hours from us, so this means I pack my bags and move into Paige’s room. Kristin’s kids are 2, 5, and 8 years old, and they seem to be excited to see me each time I come. Spending time with them releases some of the pressure on Kristin and allows her to advance in her online courses. She is working on a graduate degree in special education, focusing on children with visual disabilities. (Her two boys are visually impaired.)

This is a special year for us in that our son David and his family are home on missionary furlough from Rwanda. They are living right here in our town. Their four kids are 8, 12, 14, and 15 years old. When David and Debby travel to report to their supporting churches, we stay with the kids. Since we don’t see them that often, we gobble up this opportunity to be a part of their lives.

Right before my last trip to be with Kristin’s family, I asked the small group I meet with to pray specifically that I would be able to find some kind of routine of spiritual disciplines appropriate for my time there. But somewhere in the middle of the week, I noticed that it just wasn’t happening. As I was considering this, a thought came to me and I recognized it as the voice of Jesus. He said, “Nancy, what you are giving to your children and grandchildren is a spiritual practice of devotion. I accept it as worship to me.” I felt immediate relief and joy.

I’m back home now, for a week, and I do enjoy the freedom to manage my time and have adult conversations. That’s one of the privileges of this stage of life. One of the challenges is the temptation to look back and wonder, “Did we make a solid contribution? Did it matter that we lived and worked in these particular ways?” Probably, yes, it did matter. I’m slowly learning to leave the results of my life in God’s hands and just rest in his presence.

But Hal and I agree that, however our life’s work will be judged or evaluated, the time we’re investing right now in the lives of our grandchildren is one thing, at least, that we’re getting right.