On Being Human 7: Presence

The night had a bite. That crisp, dry cold that quickly whisks away any moisture (however little) that might be on your lips or nose. The sky was just letting go a fresh, dry, powder snow. Bundled up, I made my nightly walk down to the barn to bring in the horses, feed them evening grain and fresh water, and close up the stable against the winter elements. I finished the evening chores and bundled back up to head back to the house, and the chill seemed to steal my breath as I gasped at the fresh half inch of fresh snow that fell while I was busy in the stable.

Everything looks different with a fresh coating of snow. It seemed I had new eyes as I saw my familiar surroundings that cold winter night. I noticed the silhouettes of the leafless trees outlined in snow against the midnight-blue sky, the stars piercing the darkness of the night, the snow seemingly falling from the darkness overhead. It all called out to me, afresh. Then it hit me—the stillness, the quiet, the silence that seems to accompany a snowy winter night—and it stopped me in my tracks. It seemed I couldn’t take it all in: the stark and brutal beauty of the bitter cold, the snow-covered landscape, nature in its barren rest; the freshness filled my every sense.

Standing in the stable drive, halfway between the stable and my home, I was awestruck. Nature in all its beauty, power, and force had arrested my attention, and I sensed afresh my connection to all that was made. In that moment I came to my senses; aware that I was present, that I belonged, and that I was welcome to be a part of the landscape on that winter night, standing on the gravel drive along our horse pasture. I was overjoyed, and I spontaneously raised my hands to receive all the moment had and to take it all in. My voice broke the still and silent frozen air as I whispered, “Thank you.”

A Prayer for Being Present

Creator and Maker of all, open our ears so we might be aware and appreciative of your creation and alive to you and all who bear your image today. Help us have eyes to see you in that which is around us, ears quick to hear you in stillness and in the words of others, and hearts soft to your touch and full of compassion toward all that moves your heart. May we come to our senses today, wholly centered on the here and now.

May we be fully conscious of the truth that you are near, here and with us. We ask this in the name of your Son, Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.


On Being Human 6: Authenticity

Authenticity demands a vulnerability that too few have the courage and trust to reveal.

For the past eleven years, my wife and I have had the privilege of working in dog rescue. We have offered our home as a temporary oasis for no fewer than fifty dogs over the years until we could find a family who would adopt these canine refugees. One of the ways we gauge each dog’s transition from uncomfortable to at ease with our home and its occupants is when our foster dog lies on its back. This cockroached position of revealing its belly is one that demonstrates a trust and level of comfort that tells the story that they have transitioned well.

For a dog to show its belly is a position of great vulnerability. A dog on its back is revealing its soft underbelly, putting the dog in a position of trusting that no foe will take advantage of it. For humans, as babies and as young children, our vulnerability is apparent to all. As a result, laws, expectations, and social safety nets are established to ensure that infants and children are protected and cared for. But as we become older, most of us tend to hide our soft underbellies. Our vulnerability is something we don’t show; we cover it up, often revealing it to few people, if anyone.

Despite this, the fact remains: We are all vulnerable. To grow into a deep humanity means growing in our authenticity and demonstrating a vulnerability that is too rare in our world. Through prayer, a good friend, God-given discernment, and courage, we can reveal our true selves.

A Prayer for Healing and Vulnerability:

Mighty and gracious God, slow to anger and quick to forgive,

Thank you that we can come to you with our honest and vulnerable hearts.

Thank you for sending Jesus that we might find in your presence welcome, a hearing, grace, mercy, healing, and adoption.

Forgive us,

Heal us,

Cleanse us,

Empower us,

That we might be able to represent you, our speaking, moving, and active God.

Send us out and lead us in this new beginning. Amen.


On Being Human 5: Otherness

When we live in such a way that we are attentive to the present moment and growing in our awareness of the wonder of life, it helps us see the extraordinary in the ordinary of life. We become able to see each individual as unique. We hopefully see others as having a deep significance, worthy of love, dignity, kindness, and mercy. Until we see others as more than an extension of ourselves (as unique individuals) we have no hope of seeing the presence of the Transcendent Other. It may be that we best begin to see God’s presence when we encounter him in providing hospitality to strangers.

Extending Hospitality:

  1. Ask God to give you new eyes to see your community with ability to see the hurting and needy in your midst.
  2. Once God begins to reveal those who are in need of care and hospitality, consider the following ways to enter their world and listen to their story:
    • join their routine and enter their day for a period of time
    • buy two cups of coffee and share a coffee break with them
    • spend your lunch with them (share a bag lunch together)

3.  When you feel there is a mutual respect and trust

    • invite them to a meal in your home
    • involve them in a family tradition/picnic

 

A Prayer for Others

Open my eyes that they may see the deepest needs of people;

Move my hands that they may feed the hungry;

Touch my heart that it may bring warmth to the despairing;

Teach me the generosity that welcomes strangers;

Let me share my possessions to clothe the naked;

Give me the care that strengthens the sick;

Make me share in the quest to set the prisoner free.

In sharing our anxieties and our love, our poverty and our prosperity,

we partake of your divine presence. Amen.

With All God’s People: The New Ecumenical Prayer Cycle (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1989), p. 344.


On Being Human 4: Wonder

You remember that deep emotion that wells up within us when we stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon or watch a child discover his or her fingers for the first time? The astonishment and awe that overcomes us in those moments taps into our capacity to decipher the mystery in the mundane and the sacred in the everyday. So often we walk inattentive to all the wonder-filled dramas going on about us; burning bushes go unnoticed.

Wonder seldom emerges in our lives if they are crammed with work, people, words, and noise. We need to make room in our lives to cultivate an outlook of wonder. It takes care to refresh our senses to see beyond the programming of our culture where efficiency, technological distractions and consumeristic tendencies are glorified. With effort, perseverance, and desire, we can definitely open our lives to God’s reshaping and recapture a sense of wonder.

Wonder is essential in our befriending mystery, cultivating hope and helping us discern where God is at work in our community and world. If your childlike wonder has been blunted by the battering of years filled with pain, questions, doubts, and skepticism, don’t lose heart. With prayer, some time in creation, and an openness to God’s Spirit, the wonder can return.

Restoring your Wonder:
1. Watch the sunrise or sunset.
2. Lie on your back on a star-filled night.
3. Sketch a landscape or your hand.
4. Go to an art gallery and lose yourself in a piece of art that captures your attention.

Transfiguration Prayer
You were transfigured on the mountain,
and Peter, James, and John saw you in your glory.
Master, Beautiful One, Jesus
Shine clearly in all your radiance, in our world,
reveal your glory today through the wonder of our world.
May we have attentive eyes and open hearts to receive
and clear minds to comprehend your love and truth
for us today.
In the name of the one who is the radiant splendor of
the Maker of All. Amen.


On Being Human 3: Awareness

“Pay attention!” One of those statements we have inevitably encountered coming from a parent, teacher, or spouse over the years. What that often meant was to quiet the imaginations, fantasy worlds, or thoughts that had captured our minds and pulled us away from the present moment. In our spiritual lives, learning to pay attention or growing our awareness of the present moment is an important matter that also calls to us. To become deeply human in the likeness of Jesus demands that we pay attention. To be aware is to take a long, loving gaze at the real; to be open to and receive from the present moment; to be present.

The exercise that follows is one you can return to again and again to develop your awareness. The intent is that, over time, you will spend more of your time and attention living present in the world God has made, where God is present.

  1. ENVIRONMENT: Find a place where you can sit and not be interrupted by a phone or acquaintance for the duration of your time.
  2. TIME: Schedule a minimum of 20 minutes (which can increase over time) to go through the awareness exercise.
  3. PREPARE: Become aware of your breathing and take a few deep breaths. As you inhale, pray, You are here, and as you exhale, pray, Here I am. Slow down and become conscious of this rhythmic prayer that flows with your breathing.
  4. BE HERE: Come to your senses. Take in one view and focus on observing one vantage point. Avoid too quickly diverting your attention from that focus (you can look down and take in all that is seen in a patch of grass or trunk of a tree; just choose one line of sight). When your mind wanders, return to your prayer: You are here; here I am. Then focus again on what is before you. Just take it in and be there, fully present.
  5. RETURN:  When your time is up, take a minute or two and give thanks for being with God and ask him to help you grow in awareness.

On Being Human 2

What makes us human? Is it our ability to reason? I think; therefore, I am? Is it our ability to connect emotionally and sustain long and deep relationships? The question is one that has been discussed and debated for many years and will continue to be batted around for years to come.

I contend that to be human is tied up in our ability to be and our drive to become. One of the unique aspects of being human is the desire in the depth of our being that longs and often strives to be all we can be. The quest to flourish and become is embedded in what it means to be human. It is part and parcel of what it means for us to be created in the image of God.

Within us is a spiritual hunger to grow, be formed, and realize the purpose and intent that our Creator has for each of our lives. When we listen to “our life/our becoming,” it can be a guide to curb our penchant for pursuing any and every activity, falling into the trap of doing and acquiring to achieve (the one with the most [fill in the blank] wins mentality). Inherent to this understanding of being human balances being and doing. Our striving and the focus of our work/doing is toward becoming and being who God has made us. With our becoming always in sight, we keep our doing in better equilibrium.

What makes us human? How would you respond to this question? Do you think the response to this question I offered above gets at the heart of it? Chime in using the comment box below.


On Being Human

Formed of the dust of the earth and the life-giving breath of our creator we became human beings. To be human is not an excuse to be flawed. To be human is not something we are to avoid. To be human is a reality to embrace and become more fully.

Jesus goes before us, and we are to keep our eyes on his example and strive to be as he was. If this is our goal, then to be deeply human is a path we must embrace, a way we are to go, a reality we cannot put aside. One thing we know: Jesus was fully human and the greatest example of a human being who has ever lived. To follow in the way of Jesus demands that we become comfortable in our skin, learn to live in harmony with our senses, accept our limitations, and bring our heads, hearts, and hands into union with God’s will and way.

Being human entails that our spirituality, faith, and our practices will be rooted in our everyday living and embodied in the soil and sanctity of the mundane. Over the month of April we will look at a spiritual and formative approach that makes us ever more human (and, as a result, ever more formed in the likeness of Jesus). The aspects of a humanizing spirituality we will sketch out are:

  1. Accepting our humanity: the spirituality of being and becoming.
  2. Awareness: the meeting of body, spirit, and soul.
  3. Wonder: making mystery our friend.
  4. Otherness: loving others, including our enemies.
  5. Reality: embracing authenticity and unmasking the impostor.
  6. Presence: being here, now.

More Than A Day

The day we often refer to as Easter is only the beginning. Easter is not a day; it is a season of fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. In contrast to the fast of Lent, Easter is a season of feasting. A celebration and time in which we focus on Christ risen among us and the new life he has won for us to put on.

Easter is a time when we are called to remember that we are raised to new life, just as Jesus was raised to walk out of the tomb after three days. As we enter each day of the 50 days of Easter, may we do so conscious of our new lives as daughters and sons of God; full of God’s Spirit, we are privileged to reveal love, mercy, grace, goodness, peace, patience, and many other good things toward all God has made. This is why we rejoice!

A Prayer for Us During Easter

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

[Contemporary Collect for Easter Day, The Book of Common Prayer]


Lent: Follow

We are mere days away from the end of our yearly Lenten journey. For too many of us, the wandering in the wilderness, the abstaining, the humility and perseverance of this season will be forgotten amidst the Easter feast and return to normal life. Before we become victims of our cultural excesses, may we hear a helpful warning to war against this tendency.

“There can be no doubt that monastic life should always have a Lenten character about it.”

-St. Benedict, The Rule, Chapter 49

Since Benedict was writing for everyone, I am of the opinion that we could read this simple quote today in the following manner: There can be no doubt that the life of a follower of Jesus should always have a Lenten character about it.

Said another way by N. T. Wright in reference to the ultimate goal of our Christian life:

The idea of a goal, an ultimate aim, calling us to a hard road of self-denial—the idea, in other words that Jesus of Nazareth meant what he said when he spoke of people taking up their cross to follow!—has been quietly removed from the record, not only of secular Western life but also, extraordinarily, of a fair amount of Christian discourse.

-N. T. Wright, After You Believe, p. 53

It is time for us to return to the hard road of self-denial as the default position in the life of following after Jesus. Not merely as a part of our Lenten observance (although, it needs to be intensified during this time) but as a part of our everyday living.

May we keep a blessed Lent (and keep a Lenten character to our everyday living).


Lenten Prayers 5

This week we remember the final week of Jesus’s life. Too often we can go from the shouts of praise of Palm Sunday to the triumph of the resurrection with little reflection, consideration, or involvement of the seven days that fall between these major events. The prayers that follow below are intended to help us be conscious of and enter into Jesus’s final week leading up to his betrayal, suffering, crucifixion, death, and burial.

Lenten Blessing*

God, as we walk through Holy Week, may we remember that beyond sin there is love inexhaustible, beyond death there is life unimaginable, beyond brokenness there is forgiveness incomprehensible, beyond betrayal there is grace poured out eternally. May we remember and give thanks. Amen.

Dawn to Dark, p. 244

Daily Prayer*

God, as we walk through this week we recognize it is not life as usual. This week we remember your last week on earth, which ended with your death on a cross and your being laid dead in a tomb. As we walk with you through this final week may we grow in holiness; may we deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow you. We long to grow in our trust in, love for, and devotion to you, our one true and living God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dawn to Dark, p. 245

*The first prayer is an opening prayer. It is suitable for you to pray first thing in the morning, as a prayer of blessing over a meal, or as a call to worship in a public setting. The second prayer is intended to be prayed throughout the day as a way to join your heart with your sisters and brothers who make up the body of Christ.