Faith & God

Faith is a fickle thing. There are moments in our dealings with God that the conversation is fertile and believing instinctive; and others when the seed of faith shrivels in the hand. There are moments when intimate language flows and seasons when it feels like heaven’s doors are bolted — ‘the Great Wizard’ is out.

Experience tells me that such fickleness is standard. It’s par for the course in believing. Yet reading through the psalms this past month, I come away with this sense: while faith may be capricious, God is not.

I cannot claim to understand this God. But in both the acclamations and accusations of the psalmists, there is something consistent about God’s being that holds when life, and even faith, fails.

In preparing prayers yesterday for another occasion, I came across these familiar words from Frederick Ohler. Aspirational perhaps. Regardless, there is something about them that resonates today.

AWE – FUL

Great and holy God
awe and reverence
fear and trembling
do not come easily to us
for we are not
Old Testament Jews
or Moses
or mystics
or sensitive enough.

Forgive us
for slouching in Your presence
with little expectation
and less awe
than we would eagerly give a visiting dignitary.

We need
neither Jehovah nor a buddy—
neither “the Great and Powerful Oz”
nor “the man upstairs.”
Help us
to want what we need …
You God
and may the altar of our hearts tremble with delight at
Your visitation

amen.

Frederick Ohler, Better Than Nice and Other Unconventional Prayers, Louisville, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989.

A call to grace

Grace: it’s never far away.
Hold out your hands now.
Open your heart
and receive its gift.
For the undeserving and the spent,
for the wounded and the weary,
the discarded and the grieving —
grace is here.
Grace is ours.

Grace is not over there and out of reach.
There is no striving
that will claw it closer than it is.
Grace is not later or yesterday;
it’s not ‘if’ and ‘when’.
Grace is now.
Grace is ours.

Grace is not reward for the righteous.
It’s no gold star for the best and brightest.
Grace is gift freely given.
It’s lavish and deep,
today and always.
Grace is yours.
Grace is ours.

So come now.
Lay aside your reservations
and your tiredness.
Turn away from voices
that condemn and ostracise.
Let it go, all of it,
and know again this boundless gift of God.
Feel again the balm of God’s forgiving love.
Hear again God’s persistent call upon your life.

Come now,
for grace is here.
Grace is now.

A prayer for today

God … are you there?
I’ve been taught,
and told I ought
to pray.
But the doubt won’t go away;
yet neither
will my longing to be heard.
My soul sighs
too deep for words.
Do you hear me?
God … are you there?

Are you where love is?
I don’t love well,
or often,
anything
or anyone.
But, when I do,
when I take the risk,
there’s a sudden awareness
of all I’ve missed;
and it’s good,
it’s singing good.
For a moment
life seems as it should.
But, I forget, so busy soon,
that it was,
or what
or whom.

Help me!
God … are you there?

51h4cyW5xxL._SX491_BO1,204,203,200_Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace, Augsburg Books, 1981.

An evening prayer

Early last month I spent a week on the far north coast of England. With a distant view of the cold North Sea, I stayed at Nether Springs, the Mother House of the Northumbria Community. It’s here a small group of men and women live, work and pray according to the daily rhythms of a semi-monastic way of life. Their gifts of hospitality and welcome are extraordinary.

The time to be still was a gift. Time to write and read was restorative. And the daily disciplines of prayer provided a structure: morning prayers, midday prayers, evening prayers and the gentleness of compline to end the day. And all contained in a simple daily office. My introverted self was in heaven!

Included in the office are various ‘declarations’ of faith. These were especially helpful. They are not detailed credal statements, more affirmations — words through which I could name what I hold onto in faith and what holds me.

This evening prayer I have found especially helpful and have returned to it routinely since returning home.

Lord, you have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.

Lord, you have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.

Lord, you have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though I am of anxious heart,
today I believe.

Lord, you have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tired as I am,
today I believe.

Lord, you have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.

Lord, you have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.

Lord, you have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

DSCN2698-200x300The Northumbrian Office, Northumbria Community Trust

Fallen in love with solid ground

THE OPENING OF EYES
by David Whyte

That day I saw beneath dark clouds
the passing light over the water
and I heard the voice of the world speak out,
I knew then, as I had before
life is no passing memory of what has been
nor the remaining pages in a great book
waiting to be read.

It is the opening of eyes long closed.
It is the vision of far off things
seen for the silence they hold.
It is the heart after years
of special conversing
speaking out loud in the clear air.

It is Moses in the desert
fallen to his knees before the lit bush.
It is the man throwing away his shoes
as if to enter heaven
and finding himself astonished,
opened at last,
fallen in love with solid ground.

Sunlight and the Word

From time to time a favourite niece provides words that speak gently, deeply. I am always grateful. These are from the poet Tony Hoagland.

The Word

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between ‘green thread’
and ‘broccoli,’ you find
that you have penciled ‘sunlight.’

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing

that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,

but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

—to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.

The Dressing Prayer

A Celtic prayer for daily life

This day I bind around me
The power of the sacred Three:
The hand to hold,
The heart to love,
The eye to see,
The Presence of the Trinity.

I wrap around my mortal frame
The power of the Creator’s name:
The Father’s might.
His holy arm,
To shield this day
and keep from Harm.

I cover myself from above
With the Redeemer’s love
The Son’s bright light
to shine on me,
To protect this day,
to eternity.

I pull around me with morning light
The knowledge of
the Spirit’s sight.
The Strengthener’s eye
to keep guard,
Covering my path
when it is hard.

This day I bind around me
The powers of the sacred Three.

UnknownDavid Adam, Tides and Seasons: Modern Prayers in the Celtic Tradition, SPCK, 1989, 11.

‘Better Things’ by George MacDonald

Better to smell the violet
Than sip the glowing wine;
Better to hearken to a brook
Than watch a diamond shine.

Better to have a loving friend
Than ten admiring foes;
Better a daisy’s earthy root
Than a gorgeous, dying rose.

Better to love in loneliness
Than bask in love all day;
Better the fountain in the heart
Than the fountain by the way.

Better to be fed by mother’s hand
Than eat alone at will;
Better to trust in God, than say,
My goods my storehouse fill.

Better to be a little wise
Than in knowledge to abound;
Better to teach a child than toil
to fill perfection’s round.

Better to sit at some man’s feet
Than thrill a listening state;
Better suspect that thou art proud
Than to be sure that thou art great.

Better to walk the realm unseen
Than watch the hour’s event;
Better the Well done, faithful slave!
Than the air with shoutings rent.

Better to have a quiet grief
Than many turbulent joys;
Better to miss thy manhood’s aim
Than sacrifice the boy’s.

Better a death when work is done
Than earth’s most favoured birth;
Better a child in God’s great house
Than the king of all the earth.

Discovering_the_Character_of_GodGeorge MacDonald, Discovering the Character of God (compiled by Michael Phillips), Mineeapolis, Bethany House, 1989, 192.

Believe in Beginnings

There are times when I feel my blemishes more than others. I have no more than most, I’m sure, but sometimes those I have stare me down with force. Just this morning, struggling for sustenance, I read aloud a prayer from the Methodist Ted Loder. His repetitive cadence can sometimes irritate, but today these words were good for me, repetition included.

Help me to believe in beginnings

God of history and of my heart,
so much has happened to me during these whirlwind days:
I’ve known death and birth;
I’ve been brave and scared;
I’ve hurt, I’ve helped;
I’ve been honest, I’ve lied;
I’ve destroyed, I’ve created;
I’ve been with people, I’ve been lonely;
I’ve been loyal, I’ve betrayed;
I’ve decided, I’ve waffled;
I’ve laughed and I’ve cried.
You know my frail heart and my frayed history —
and now another day begins.

O God, help me to believe in beginnings
and in my beginning again,
no matter how often I have failed before.

Help me to make new beginnings:
to begin going out of my weary mind into fresh dreams,
daring to make my own bold tracks in the land of now;
to begin forgiving
that I may experience mercy;
to begin questioning the unquestionable
that I may know truth;
to begin disciplining
that I may create beauty;
to begin sacrificing
that I may accomplish justice;
to begin risking
that I may make peace;
to being loving
that I may realize joy.

Help me to be a beginning for others.
to be a singer to the songless,
a storyteller to the aimless,
a befriender of the friendless;
to become a beginning of hope for the despairing,
of assurance for the doubting,
of reconciliation for the divided;
to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,
of comfort for the sorrowing,
of friendship for the forgotten;
to become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,
of sweetness for the soured,
of gentleness for the angry,
of wholeness for the broken,
of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.

Help me to believe in beginnings,
to make a beginning,
to be a beginning,
so that I may not just grow old,
but grow new
each day of this wild, amazing life
you call me to live
with the passion of Jesus Christ.

UnknownTed Loder, Guerrillas of Grace, Augsburg, 1981, 104-5.

A call to stillness

Coming to God: First Days

Lord, what shall I do that I can’t quiet myself?
Here is the bread, and here is the cup,
and I can’t quiet myself.

To enter the language of transformation!
To learn the importance of stillness,
with one’s hands folded!

When will my eyes of rejoicing turn peaceful?
When will my joyful feet grow still?
When will my heart stop its prancing
as over the summer grass?

Lord, I would run for you, loving the miles for your sake.
I would climb the highest tree
to be that much closer.

Lord, I will learn also to kneel down
into the world of the invisible,
the inscrutable and the everlasting.
Then I will move no more than the leaves of a tree
on a day of no wind,
bathed in light,
like the wanderer who has come home at last
and kneels in peace, done with all unnecessary things;
every motion; even words.

UnknownMary Oliver, Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver, Boston: Beacon Press, 2006, 23.