Monday, September 23, 2013

Prayer walk on the shore

Several years ago I participated in a week-long retreat for “Personal Growth in Christ,” sponsored by Twin Rocks Friends Camp. Most of the week was actually spent in silence, but every morning the directors would present a spiritual discipline for us to try out during the day. It was there I learned about prayer walks, a practice common in rural monasteries. It seems each monk chooses a route through the surrounding countryside. At set locations, the monk stops and prays in specific ways, repeating the process each day. These are prayers for personal growth.
We were encouraged to try it on the beach, imagining walking the path with Jesus and directing our prayers to him in conversation. We were encouraged to memorize the path and the prayer sequence, so that when we went home after the retreat, we could continue the practice in our imaginations. Since my imagination is alive and well, and since I love the ocean, I tried it, and it’s become a prayer exercise I frequently come back to. Photos of my “prayer stations” help. Here’s the exercise as I developed it:
Preparation: As I walk the path to the beach, I read a portion of Scripture and prepare my heart to meet Jesus. I joyfully anticipate our meeting.
Station 1: A bench with a view of the ocean. As I approach the bench, I see Jesus coming to meet me. We are both smiling. We greet, hug and sit down together. We don’t talk much at this point. We both sense a quiet joy in being together. If needed, I confess whatever I need to, receive his pardon, and then just rest in his love.

Station 2: We get up, and walk slowly down the beach to a log, where we again sit together. He asks me what gift I would like him to give me. I repeat my theme verse (2 Peter 3:18) and tell him I want to grow in grace and in my relationship with him. I ask him that I might more and more live out my core values of gratitude, wisdom, compassion, poetry and humor. We linger for a while, and get up and approach the surf.
Station 3: At the edge of the water, I pray for relationships. I present to Jesus my key relationships and ask his help in being the person I need to be for the people he has brought into my life. I present myself as wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, friend, elder, and in any other relationships that God is currently placing in my path.
Station 4: Then we continue walking down the beach, hand in hand, until we reach the river, coming down from the mountains. We sit on another log. As the river runs into the sea, I focus on the various ministries God where has asked me to partner with him. I consider myself as a writer, teacher, intercessor, elder, and however else God may want to use me. I ask help in being a good team member, able to value and encourage the contributions of others. I ask to grow in my ability to hear God’s voice and work as a co-laborer in God’s mission. I take my time.
Station 5: We arise, walk back to the surf and follow the water home. We are silent. My heart is full of praise. I glory in the beauty of the sea and the sky. I glory in the presence of my Lord and friend, amazed that he is both. I carry the beauty back with me into the world. Amen. Amen.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Thick air, good stories and going home: More grace sightings

I'm thankful for.....

--The air I breathe: After three weeks in the high altitude of La Paz, I’m very conscious of the thick oxygen-rich air of Santa Cruz. My whole body is relaxing. I usually don’t pay attention to air, but right now I breathe it in as pure grace.
--The stories I hear: Last Sunday in church, still in La Paz, a Quaker Aymara woman named Rosario gave a testimony that matched the stories I hear coming out of the house church movement in China. She told of persecution of Christians in her village and of how one night the villagers decided to attack as the believers were gathered in a home. But as they approached, they were surprised to see the house guarded by police, and they had to give up. Of course, there were no police. What a unique disguise for angels!  
Another lady told the story of a time a few months back when the church was sponsoring a day of prayer and fasting. She sensed God wanted her to participate, but she didn’t feel she could afford to miss a day of work. She has a booth on the streets of La Paz from which she sells food to meet her family’s needs. Finally she gave in out of obedience to the voice of the Spirit, and went to church. That evening she discovered that a truck had crashed into the site that day, killing two people and injuring several others. Her booth had been completely demolished. Since that time she has recovered her business.
--Long-lived friendships: Susan, Ruth and I met weekly, for years, to pray for each other and our families. That was back when we all had babies to care for. When we get together now, it’s like no time has passed. Except that now we pray for our grandkids.
­­--Old friends in the pages of well-worn books: Some enterprising parasites have forced me to spend time quietly reading, and I’ve been getting re-acquainted with my old friends Bilbo and Frodo. These old paperbacks still have my maiden name written on what’s left of the covers. It feels good to immerse myself again in the charm of unlikely heroes and common grace.
--The year-round Christmas colors of Santa Cruz: Looking out over the neighborhood from my second story apartment, in every direction the red tile roofs contrast to the many shades of green as the tropical trees sway in the wind.
­--Going home: Our bags are packed, except for Hal’s inevitable last minutes projects. Later tonight—or better said, tomorrow morning, at 2:30—we board the plane for the first phase of our journey. Tomorrow night I will again be in my own bed.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Suffering and discernment, or “Lord, what have you gotten us into now?”

After 16 days in the high altitude of La Paz, this morning I woke up feeling fine. Good, actually. Healthy and whole. But 16 days is a long time, especially when we are here for only three weeks with a lot to accomplish.
A time of adjustment to life at 12,500 feet is a normal part of serving here. We’ve done it for years. Now that we’re older (in the privileged grandparent bracket), it takes a little longer. So when we have a trip scheduled, we plan two to three days in La Paz of pure rest. And then it’s best to gradually ease into our work assignments and people commitments.
This time the schedule only allowed two days before we facilitated a two-day seminar for the leadership team of the Bolivian Friends history project. It was a key seminar as we are just in the beginning phase, still making plans and finding our way forward.
The seminar went well, with a high level of participation and commitment. The Bolivian leaders seem to be taking ownership, and that is a major accomplishment. We began each morning with a Bible study of Nehemiah, asking what this book has to tell us about involvement in a large project. The insights that came from the different small groups were profound and encouraged us all. Then we went on to reviewing and designing the purposes, perimeters and processes of this huge undertaking that we estimate will take five years, ending just before the centennial celebration of the INELA (Iglesia Nacional Evangelica “Los Amigos”). The two days ended with a time of prayer and brokenness that knit the team together.
Yes, the seminar went well, but it was intense, and we have paid the price. Hal’s cough lowered and eventually became altitude pneumonia. We both carried the pressure headaches, bouts of diarrhea, and body aches that typify this stage of adaptation to the altitude. But, while in the past this has lasted for several days and gradually tapered off, this time the ordeal stretched over two weeks. Two weeks we can’t afford.
I don’t mean to whine or complain, but this experience has us wondering. For one thing, people were praying for us specifically for a quick, smooth adaptation to the altitude. And a few of these people checked up on us by email for a progress report. I do not believe that their prayers went unanswered. But this only adds to my wonderment.
One of my friends and prayer partners, Mary, asked me these questions as she pondered our situation:  “I am concerned about the way La Paz is affecting both of you and will pray about God's will.  When do we choose what is hard on our bodies?  When is that part of the cost of discipleship?  When does God ask us to pray about others to carry the torch from here on out?”
Several times during the last weeks, I have thought that maybe our physical reactions were God’s way of telling us it’s time to stop running around, go home, retire, and enjoy life. But we sought the voice of Jesus before proposing this crazy project, and that included seeking discernment from those we trust. I’m reminded that just because something is hard, that doesn’t mean it’s not God’s will. In fact, the opposite is probably true. Hardship just may be part of the evidence we’re heading down the right path.
On the other hand, the voice of common sense is part of the way God speaks. We are getting older. Is it right to subject our bodies to this torture? Are we fools? Is it time to pray for our replacements? Perhaps. But here comes that ubiquitous “other hand”  again. Because of our experience and particular knowledge of this work, and because of the relationships we’ve built over the years here among Bolivian Friends, it seems like everything is coming together to open this door. It seems that now is the time, and we are the people. Everything seems to be saying that. Everything, that is, except our bodies.
And our bodies demand to be taken seriously.
How do we discern what this particular suffering is saying to us about God’s will? One thing I know is that we need to keep listening. And we need to continue to invite the discerning voices of people who know Jesus well and who know us well.
To be continued………