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Jan 17 21

Do not restrain your lips

by davesandel

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 17, 2021                       (today’s lectionary)

Do not restrain your lips

Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the Lord, and the Lord called. After God’s fourth call, Samuel spoke up, “Speak, Lord for your servant is listening. After this the Lord did not permit any word of Samuel’s to be without effect.

A friend said he likes to write, but only in poetic bursts. And indeed, his bursts of words when we talk sometimes overwhelm me. We talked about ways to survive and even thrive in between epiphanies, in between the poetic bursts that, really come upon you rather than from you. Bursts of spirit and soul from the Source of spirit and soul, that’s what they really are.

So … yesterday as I spent hours sorting and cleaning, packing and projecting what would fit in the car, I left my spirit behind. And then I was exhausted – in between epiphanies for sure. But I remembered just in time that I do have a way of life, a “rule” of life, a simple set of words that fit on a post-it note: Read, Write, Listen, Pray, Every Day.

I wait, I wait for the Lord, and stoops toward me and hears my cry. The Lord has put a new song in my mouth, a hymn to him. Behold, O Lord, I come.

I didn’t have time, but I stopped to write. My friend Leon called me in the middle and we talked a few minutes. I listened. I’m reading a biography of Galileo and found a few minutes to read a chapter. Lord, teach me to pray. Every day.

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? And whoever is joined to the Lord becomes on Spirit with him. So glorify God in your body.

Single syllable words are the best for me. Read. I keep a list of the books and magazines every month and share the list of books with my librarian buddy in Nebraska. She shares her with me, but she annotates her list. I love reading about those books.

Write. Well, this devotion blog speaks for itself, I guess. I planned to stop writing after Easter last year, but I didn’t. And it’s been a great year to write, right? Covid wanderings, quarantined clusters of words that matter more than ever – to me for sure, I hope for you sometimes as well.

Listen. During my four days in Urbana I had fifteen meetings with clients and five with friends and family. Why not stop talking once in a while and listen? Just keep my mouth shut, I tell myself. And then I tell myself again.

Andrew found his brother Simon and said, “We have found the Messiah!” Then he brought Simon to Jesus, and Jesus told Simon, “You will be called Cephas, which means Peter.

Pray. When Margaret told me Miles and Jasper discovered my prayer beads and icons, I laughed. That laughter was a prayer for me. When I got home Tuesday after driving 1000 miles and the electricity in our house was crazy – on but not on, some lights dim, others brighter than bright – I felt anxious and I prayed for God’s help. When everything was fixed in a couple of hours, I felt grateful and I prayed that way. Every day there is something. Pray. When there’s nothing, that’s the best time of all to pray. Be still. And know. That God is God.

O God you are my delight. And I will not restrain my lips.

(1 Samuel 3, Psalm 40, 1 Corinthians 6, John 1)

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Jan 16 21

Sort the stones, bake the bread

by davesandel

Saturday, January 16, 2021                (today’s lectionary)

Sort the stones, bake the bread

The word of God is living and effective, penetrating even between soul and spirit, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.

I was disking up a soybean field. The dust was thick around my John Deere tractor cub, but inside I was snug and clean. The radio was mostly set to WPEO, 70 years old now but back then Peoria’s first Christian radio station. Jack Hayford’s was on at 1 pm, after Steve Brown and before Chuck Swindoll. Or was it the other way around?

Jack Hayford said one day that I should not worry about what I asked God for, because he was an expert at sorting out stones from bread. And he never gave his kiddos stones. Just like us, he fed his children bread. If I asked for a stone, he would give me bread instead. This is Jesus’ dad we’re talking about. Relax. Let him love you, Jack said.

Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. We have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, who been tested like us in every way, yet without sinning. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and rescue in our time of need.

Rosalind Rinker in Prayer talks about “faith-sized requests.”

This is not a request so large that the very size of it makes you wonder if God will answer. It is a request for a particular situation, in which you pray for a special person or thing, and ask only for that which you can REALLY BELIEVE GOD WILL DO, in a given time limit.

If I’m going to talk to God about what I want, I might as well help us both out by sorting away the stones and let Ros show me how to bake bread.

O, let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O God. You are my rock and my redeemer, and your words, O Lord, are Spirit and life.

Ros was a missionary in China, then a missionary in Chicago. She spoke often with college students. They appreciated her simple way of speaking, and even more her direct way of praying.

About the time I began to be aware of honesty and simplicity and brevity in audible prayer, I listened carefully when others prayed, and also checked myself after I had prayed. I asked myself three questions:

    1. For what DEFINITE thing had I prayed?
    2. Did I believe I would get it?
    3. Could I picture myself receiving it?

The tragic answer all too often was that I wasn’t asking anything definite and I wasn’t receiving anything definite. I was praying platitudes. Bless this, bless that, bless him, bless her.

So Ros focused on two things: gratitude and small requests.

I was careful to ask only for that which I BELIEVED He could do. If you think that’s easy, try it, and keep your mind focused on being definite. I kept editing my prayer, until finally I would arrive at one small request which I confidently believed God could and would do in the situation … my prayers became less cliched, less padded, more honest and much simpler.

A couple of days ago Miles and Jasper found my drawer full of rosaries and icons and candles. Miles came out of the bedroom with a rosary around his neck and another one wrapped around his wrist. Jasper was carrying a 6 inch grocery store candle with Our Lady of Guadalupe painted on the holder. They made a proud procession!

I want to drape my prayer beads and light my candle, say thank you and leave the complicated prayers to someone else. Those kids and I are in the same league when it comes to prayer. Just do it. Say stuff, and let God do the rest.

Jesus said to Matthew, a tax collector, “Come and follow me.” Later he told his Pharisee critics, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. And I didn’t come to call the righteous, but the sinners!”

In Dallas Jenkins’ video “The Chosen,” Jesus pays particular attention to the children. They get along so well together. Later he meets Levi (Matthew), and calls him to join his throng of followers. Jesus rescues Matthew from his obsessive, compulsive life. Matthew’s prayers are answered.

These guys are a match made in heaven. Jesus needs a chronicler, and Matthew keeps a vigorous, daily journal. Of course Matthew was a sinner, as were the Pharisees, as are we. So Jesus calls us all to his hospital of mercy. For each of us, that is a match made in heaven.

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. His decree, his precepts, his command and his ordinances are trustworthy, right, clear, pure and true.

(Hebrews 4, Psalm 19, Luke 4, Mark 2)

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Jan 15 21

Listen to the warm

by davesandel

Friday, January 15, 2021                     (today’s lectionary)

Listen to the warm

Let us be on our guard while the promise of entering his rest remains. We who believe enter into that rest, to be with him whose works were accomplished at the foundation of the world.

In the presence of God who made the world, we come in from the northern Massachusetts storm. Driving snow is covering the roads and building up against the walls of our house. Our poet and landlord, Mr. John Greenleaf Whittier, struggles to get back home.

As night drew on, and, from the crest

Of wooded knolls that ridged the west,

The sun, a snow-blown traveller, sank

From sight beneath the smothering bank.

At last there is a knock at the door. We open it and see, standing in the blowing snow so we are barely able to make them out, there is Jesus with our frozen poet, waiting for our invitation in.

We will declare to the generation to come the glorious deeds of the Lord and his strength, that they too may rise and declare to THEIR sons that they should put their hope in God. Do not forget the works of the Lord!

And we do invite them in, and Jesus shakes  the snow off his sandals, takes off his cloak and hangs it on a chair. His robe, white itself like the driven snow, shimmers in the candlelight. “Come and sit!” we say, and we pour Jesus and Mr. Whittier mugs of white hot chocolate with simple shots of peppermint schnapps.

We piled, with care, our nightly stack

Of wood against the chimney-back,—

The oaken log, green, huge, and thick,

And on its top the stout back-stick;

In our rockers we encircle John Greenleaf Whittier’s fireplace, circa 1866, and settle down for conversation. The fire is laid, and now we wait, snowbound and covered in our lap blankets, for the blaze to burst forth.

Shut in from all the world without,

We sat the clean-winged hearth about,

Content to let the north-wind roar

In baffled rage at pane and door,

While the red logs before us beat

The frost-line back with tropic heat.

What matter how the night behaved?

What matter how the north-wind raved?

Blow high, blow low, not all its snow

Could quench our hearth-fire’s ruddy glow.

What will Jesus and our wise friend share? We clamor for their stories. What have you seen in the distance through the storm? Where have you been, and who have you been talking to? Who are you really? And what were you before? What did you do and what did you think?

In Capernaum so many gathered to hear Jesus that there was no more room, and four men opened the roof and lowered down a paralytic to the feet of Jesus. “Child, your sins are forgiven,” Jesus said. And to quiet the scribes and their whispers, Jesus then said, “Which is easier, to say your sins are forgiven or to say to this paralyzed man, RISE, PICK UP YOUR MAT AND WALK!”

Both have seen men die and seen men live. Jesus has shown our poet the power of God’s love, and now he shows us too.

Alas for him who never sees

The stars shine through his cypress-trees!

Who, hopeless, lays his dead away,

Nor looks to see the breaking day

Across the mournful marbles play!

Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,

The truth to flesh and sense unknown,

That Life is ever lord of Death,

And Love can never lose its own!

The flames flare up in their fireplace, and the dry oak wood sizzles and pops. All of us are silent, thinking of the far off living room in Capernaum, and the broken man waiting for Jesus to turn back to him, for him to speak the words of healing and give him back his legs. We remember our own paralyses, so much more than once lost in despair or fear or anxious helplessness. We hold our breath. We look at Jesus. We feel how much we’re loved.

Then Jesus said, “Rise, pick up your mat, and go home,” and the once paralyzed man did rise, and he did pick up his mat, and he went away in everyone’s sight. All were astounded and glorified God.

As do we. We exhale in sudden and complete relief. Our lives are worth living, and Jesus’ love carries us all.

We have never seen anything like this.

(Hebrews 4, Psalm 78, Luke 7, Mark 2)

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Jan 14 21

Fruit of God’s Spirit

by davesandel

Thursday, January 14, 2021               (today’s lectionary)

Fruit of God’s Spirit

Let us kneel before the Lord who made us.

We teach our children to be honest above all things. Any consequence for disobedience is made much worse when they lie about it. So what happens to us as we grow up, and the crusts of disappointment and fear settle on our skin? My unwillingness to share my own secrets makes me the crassest kind of hypocrite, and I feel it from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head. I’m a liar.

I’m a sinner, that is to say. But Rosalind Rinker in her book Prayer calls out my preoccupation with my own ugliness, the “morbid, negative daily condemnation that saps the life out of me and keeps me from receiving all He wants to give me.”

She invites me to be a child again.

When you find something that condemns you, bring it at once to His feet, and it will be transformed. Because all the fruits of the Spirit are sins transformed. Resentment is changed to love. Sadness is changed to joy. Unbelief is changed to faith. Rebellion is changed to acceptance. These are simply the gifts which accompany the Giver. Where He is, and where He lives, are all the good things He wants to give to us. We don’t pick faith out of the air, or off a limb. Jesus Christ is our faith.

At our prison Kogudus renewal retreats, we talked in our groups about picking one fruit from Galatians 5:22, one we knew we needed help with. Love? Joy? Peace? Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self control? But I see now that these are gifts from Jesus’ heart, and all that stops my receiving them are their opposites. So the “work” I need to receive these gifts is all about confession. Kneeling before God with what I am afraid to share, but know I must.

The Holy Spirit says, “Oh, that today you would hear his voice! Harden not your hearts.” We have become partners of Christ. A leper came to Jesus and knelt before him. The leper said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” And Jesus, moved with pity, stretched out his hand and touched the leper. He said, “I will do it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately.

C. S. Lewis in chapter 11 of The Great Divorce tells the story of a Ghost who lives with an ugly Lizard-demon whispering constantly in his ear. The Spirit offers to remove the creature. “May I kill it?” he says over and over. But the ghost is afraid he won’t be able to live without him, and of course the lizard assures the man that he is right. “Don’t listen to that God-guy,” he tells him. But God continues to offer, and finally in desperation the man accepts his invitation.

In a flash the demon is burned up, wailing, and then gone. But no … not gone. As the demon withers, it is transformed into a beautiful white stallion. And even more, the ghost is transformed into a beautiful strong man, who now holds the stallion’s mane in his hands. He falls on his face before the Spirit, rises up, leaps on the stallion and rides away. All the trees around them clap their hands.

Let us kneel before the Lord who made us.

With the children, surely as children ourselves praying, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep,” we can sleep the sleep of angels.

(Hebrews 3, Psalm 95, Matthew 4, Mark 1)

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Jan 13 21

One thing after another

by davesandel

Wednesday, January 13, 2021            (today’s lectionary)

One thing after another

Driving from Austin to Urbana, many things have to go right before I get from Texas to Illinois. Our Prius has to keep running for 1028 miles and 15 hours. The cars around me, sometimes driving into the blinding sun just like I am, or zipping along a concrete barricade inches away just like I am, have to stay in their own lanes. The semi drivers need to be diligent in checking the blind spot on the right side of their trucks.

I marvel at the miracles that make driving work, day after day. There are so few accidents. So many people do not get hurt. For this, and for several other joyful moments, I am profoundly grateful.

The Lord remembers his covenant forever.

I, on the other hand, can’t remember where my credit card is, but then I pray and find it. We expect delivery of a small upright freezer that is pretty heavy for Margaret to bring into our apartment alone, and it arrives just as I am leaving for the trip to Urbana, two days early. I tear up the innards of our toilet trying to install a bidet, and our maintenance guy Charles shows up outside our apartment just when I am about to give up. He takes one look, goes to get a few tools and has my destruction repaired in ten minutes.

Last night when I got to our home, the electricity was all messed up. Lights were dim and then too bright. Mostly it was cold, because the furnace was barely working. My friend called his electrician friend, who told us to call Ameren, which we did. The first time we met a barrage of automation, the second time we found a real person immediately. She put in a work order and the repair guy was here in 30 minutes. He immediately found the problem and fixed it. In the dark, in the cold, by himself.

He told me he’s responsible for Champaign-Urbana-St. Joseph-Philo-Sidney from 2 to 10, and he’s the only one working. How did he get here in 30 minutes? He was just checking his calls as he was driving by our house. So I need to say it again …

The Lord remembers his covenant forever.

Marc and Myranda and I sat outside in an “igloo,” eating Greek salad and sliders and loaded baked potato soup. We thought we’d have to cancel because of the electric problem, but we had time after all. God is so good.

Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.

Jesus never stopped turning to Abba Father for everything. I am learning slowly to never stop turning to Abba Father. In my anxiety, caught up in false catastrophe, I remember sooner now. Turn to God, trust God, let God love me. Ask him for what I need.

Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand and helped her up. Then the fever left her.

(Hebrews 2, Psalm 105, John 10, Mark 1)

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Jan 12 21

How Christmas was different in 2020

by davesandel

Tuesday, January 12, 2021                 (today’s lectionary)

How Christmas was different in 2020

It was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. Instead, someone has testified somewhere, “What is man that you are mindful of him?”

We had to work harder, seemed like. Smaller events took bigger planning. We wore masks when we wanted to kiss each other. We bumped elbows when we wanted to hug long and deep. We didn’t get together in large gatherings, super-spreaders, the news called them. Or if we did get together, we felt guilty. Weren’t we making everyone around us sick? Might we not get sick ourselves, and even die?

O Lord, our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have given your Son rule over the works of your hands.

With our friends, we Zoomed, and with our families, we Zoomed. Zoom was always better than nothing, but sometimes not much better. And when we could get together, we did. Our family had two small gatherings, one in Urbana and the other in Austin, Texas. We ate ham and pizza, we opened gifts under Christmas trees that were decorated and lit.

What was missing, mostly, was the pizazz provided by camaraderie with the Rest of Us, parties down the street, prayers in churches at midnight attended by throngs of worshippers, and the thought-provoking freedom of imagining Santa visiting all of us without a mask, getting home to Mother early on Christmas morning, and settling into his long winter’s nap. Did he do all that this year? Wouldn’t he get sick if he did all that? Did Santa die?

It was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.

Our kids’ questions might have been our own, if our imaginations were up to it. And as I grieve my own wilted imagination, I also ask God to wake me up again. Remember Scrooge? For him every Christmas was a pandemic Christmas. Ebenezer Scrooge didn’t wear a mask, but he avoided everyone. He went home alone on Christmas Eve, or intended to anyway. The ghosts of Christmas paid his intentions no mind, however, and in the early hours of Christmas Day Scrooge was transformed. I can just imagine Charles Dickens, so angry with his creation at first, but then …

Dickens softens toward the old man. God’s grace falls lightly at last upon Scrooge’s shoulders. Given God’s famous second chance, Scrooge claims it, Scrooge rejoices in it, Scrooge will not let it go. He bought the biggest turkey in the shop and had it sent post haste to the Cratchit kitchen.

By the end, Mr. Dickens fell in love with his old man:

To Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.

And so this can be my story too, right, and yours? Does God stop with Scrooge? Not on your life, cries Charles Dickens, not on your ever-loving life! God pours out both conviction and forgiveness from his never-emptied glass. All the differences wrought by our pandemic come to nothing in the end. Drink up this Grace, this gift of Grace, and sing. Christmas is coming, Christmas has come, Jesus is with us always.

Receive the word of God, not as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God.

(Hebrews 2, Psalm 8, 1 Thessalonians 2, Mark 1)

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Jan 11 21

Let us commit unrecognized acts of imagination

by davesandel

Monday, January 11, 2021                 (today’s lectionary)

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

Let us commit unrecognized acts of imagination

In times past God spoke in partial and various ways through the prophets, and in these last days God spoke to us through the Son, through whom he created the universe.

When I was a child, I thought like a child. And Bible stories were colorful and true. I didn’t question them. God made the world with his own two hands, and Moses raised his staff and parted the Red Sea, and Jesus’ mother was a virgin. Pick a story, and in Sunday School our teacher got out his flannel board figures and told us all about it. I was in my “pre-critical” stage. I never questioned anything. I believed every word. Why wouldn’t I?

The Lord is king, let all his angels worship him. Let the earth rejoice.

Later after four years in high school and four more years at Valparaiso University, I turned my back on those stories. God couldn’t have been as violent and destructive as the Old Testament said he was. And Jesus might not have risen from the dead, if he even existed at all. For me the Bible lost its reputation as a textbook for truth and became just another book. This was my “critical” stage. The problem is, it left me in what Brad Karelious calls a “skeptical desert.”

But it doesn’t end there. Paul Ricoeur, along with countless scholars and teachers who read his work, recognizes a third stage of thinking he simply calls “the post-critical stage.” This second childhood or second naivete restores mystery and drama to my experience of religion. I can read the Bible again with an open mind and discern truth which is more subtle, nuanced, and interesting.

The Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.

What we always do with the Biblical text, says Walter Brueggemann, “is commit mostly unrecognized acts of imagination by which we stretch and pull and extend the implications of the text beyond its words.” The Ignatian Exercises, as experienced by Brad Karelious, “invite Jesus to be with me, open my imagination and draw me into the scripture. My old skeptical distance fades. I feel called again to the place of wonder I knew many years ago.”

T. S. Eliot knew of this circling back. “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Jesus says to us, “Come after me. Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.”

G. K. Chesterton grew up and then chose to see the world as a child again … witness a bit of his poem “A Second Childhood:”

When all my days are ending and I have no song to sing

I think that I shall not be too old to stare at everything,

As I stared once at a nursery door, or a tall tree and a swing.

On this morning-after-an-unbelievable-Sunday in Austin, looking up and covered with inches of giant snowflakes falling for hours from the sky, the child in me loves to hear the stories of Jesus, and know the truths they teach me with my own given-by-God imagination. Seek and find. Listen to the Warm.

(Hebrews 1, Psalm 97, Mark 1)

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Jan 10 21

Down to the river

by davesandel

Sunday, January 10, 2021                   (today’s lectionary)

The Baptism of the Lord

Down to the river

Here is my servant, my chosen one upon whom I have put my spirit. He shall bring forth justice, but without crying out. He does not make his voice heard in the street, he will not bruise a reed or quench a smoldering wick. I have called you as a covenant, and a light, to open the eyes of the blind and release those who live in darkness.

Jesus knew these words of Isaiah, knew them from childhood. He carried them everywhere in his heart. I wonder if he knew even then how the words were all about him. Jesus walked through the desert sand to join a throng of men and women listening to his cousin, John the Baptizer. From far off he coud hear the ringing words of John: “I baptize you with water, but the one coming after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

All you who are thirsty, come to the water. You who have no money, come and eat, be renewed with the everlasting covenant.

Jesus saw the line of people going down to the river to pray. Who shall wear the starry crown? Good Lord, show me the way. He watched John dressed in his camel skins wade into the water and turn toward the shore. He beckoned and they came, men and women one by one. Many were weeping.

Jesus’ heart broke as God’s compassion for Jesus’ fellow humans rained down on the Jordan River. Jesus joined the line.

Just as the rain and snow come down from the heavens and water the earth, which gives seed to the sower and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth.

John sees Jesus, recognizes him his cousin and is nearly burned by the light shining from his face. John can barely breathe. Oh sisters and brothers, oh mothers and fathers, let’s go down, come on down. Down to the river to wade deep in the water, to pray and sing and never stop. We are not worthy, Lord. You should be baptizing me! O praise you, Father, who has given us heaven and earth.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters. The God of glory thunders, and in his temple all say, “Glory!”… Then as Jesus was baptized he saw the heavens torn open and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son, and with you I am well pleased.”

John saw the dove, and Jesus heard the words. Jesus knew more now than he had known before. He received the freedom to teach and heal, to open the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven and invite everyone in. In all this he knew the temptation of power, and so for forty days he retreated further into the desert and saw no one except his Father.

John the Baptizer watched him leave. He saw the change in his face and was glad to have been there, to pull his cousin up from the deep waters, steady Jesus as he stood up on his feet. John held his hand, and then he let him go.

(Isaiah 42, 55 and 12, Psalm 29, Acts 10, 1 John 5, John 1, Mark 1)

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Jan 9 21

How to have a conversation

by davesandel

Saturday, January 9, 2021                  (today’s lectionary)

Saturday after Epiphany

How to have a conversation

Beloved, we have this confidence in him that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. So if that is so, then we know that what we have asked him for is ours.

Prayer takes many forms and fits into many formulas. One of my favorites is A-C-T-S … adore, confess, thank and supplicate (which means ASK). But prayer is usually something we do, rather than something that is done to us. We don’t experience God praying for us, at least not often. We mostly pray to God more than praying with Her.

Rosalind Rinker discovered and then shared with the world what she calls “conversational prayer.” But before she writes about this kind of prayer, she explores the idea of conversation itself. What is it exactly? What’s involved in the art of good conversation?

Conversation is a practice which should provide communication between two or more people. Unfortunately, it is usually listed among the lost arts of today.

“Two or more people” means marriages, and it means friendships. Two or more applies to politics and business and negotiations of every kind. It applies to what we call “self-talk,” conversation between parts of myself. And it certainly applies to prayer, with two or more gathered and especially with God himself. How do I talk to God? Can I talk to God like I talk to everyone else, and is that even a good thing? Do I trust God to trust me when I talk with him? Can I learn to listen as much as I speak? And if that’s the case, then how can I know who I am listening to when God is not present like a human companion?

Ros Rinker has much to say about all of this. But first …

To understand conversational prayer, it will be a great help if we get the following four points about real conversation clearly in our minds.

      1. When we converse, we become aware. Aware of the other person, his rights, his privileges, his feeling, and if we converse long enough, his total personality.
      2. Good conversation implies that we must take turns and do it gracefully. When one person does all the talking we call it (if we are polite) a monologue.
      3. Finally, it should be clear that to converse we must all pursue the same subject, and pursue it by turns. We are, in a sense, the listening and speaking members of a team. We have agreed to agree upon our subject of conversation, and to do this each one must decide what is relevant and important at the moment.
      4. To carry on a conversation of any significance or interest, each person must use his memory to recall, his patience to wait, his alertness to jump in, his willingness to get out, and above all his capacity to hold back the disruptive. In other words, he should be in tune. Rosalind Rinker, Prayer (p. 24-25)

Sometimes I feel frightened by my imagination, when fevered images of danger and death attack me. But quite often and in quite a different way, my imagination provides a yellow brick road for me to travel toward God. Is that good, is it safe?

Dear children, keep yourself from idols. Jesus must increase; I must decrease. No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven.

I’m halfway through Rosalind Rinker’s book. Soon I think I’ll have more to share. Prayer is such a simple thing, until we grow up and suddenly it’s not. I am sure God wants it to be simple again. We don’t know his thoughts, but we have our own thoughts, we don’t understand his ways, but we have our own ways, and more than anyone else, God is interested in hearing about them and sharing with us what he thinks.

Sing to the Lord a new song of praise, for the Lord loves his people. Let our praises for you be in our throats. This is the glory of all your faithful.

(1 John 5, Psalm 149, Matthew 4, John 3)

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Jan 8 21

Durable, undomesticated holiness

by davesandel

Friday, January 8, 2021                      (today’s lectionary)

Friday after Epiphany

Durable, undomesticated holiness

Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, the one who came through water and Blood, Jesus Christ, testified to by the Spirit, and the Spirit is truth.

I’ve been reading Walter Brueggemann’s A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming. Ity turns out that Jeremiah has plenty to say about our contemporary social network as well as Israel’s in the days before exile. And today, after the strange and frightening lapse in sanity at the US Capitol on Wednesday, I find myself reading more closely.

Jeremiah speaks to, from and about deep public disruption. His book dares to reflect on the ground of disruption, on the practice of survival in the midst of disruption, and on life possibilities beyond disruption.

As is usual for my privileged white male self, I sit outside the actual circles of disruption, watching. Like most of us, my participation is limited to thoughts and feelings when I read news stories or, occasionally, watch them. Outside the sun is shining and traffic is flowing right along, while inside savory smells come from the kitchen and our furnace comes on when it needs to. But the confused concert between our quiet daily lives and chaos in the news stories calls for the presence of Christ, and I pray.

Jeremiah sounds the utterance of holiness in the midst of disruption, sounds about and from the Holy One that summon us to honesty and to hope. Jeremiah dares to ponder the odd connection between public disruption and durable, undomesticated holiness. It is a daring notion that holiness is at work in our own barbaric setting, just as it was in that ancient situation.

Mostly I’m grateful to be alive in a time of great change. Countless men, women and children of many races and from many other countries come to America to find freedom, freedom from heavy-handed oppression and freedom to go mostly where they want to go and say mostly what they want to say. Grinding gears of government notwithstanding, that freedom has not stopped growing. God is not dead, and he’s not sleeping.

In spite of Israel’s (America’s) obduracy and recalcitrance, Yahweh nonetheless wills a continuing relationship. This will is rooted in nothing other than God’s inexplicable yearning for his people.

Power is often lodged in politicians and kings, who have been given the privilege of giving and taking away. I suppose it’s true that power corrupts us. So prophets like Jeremiah, made so famous by ancient texts, are just as necessary today. Like Jeremiah, Martin Luther King spoke from outside the power circles, but Lyndon Johnson listened to him. As a result a southern president reared in racism inspired Congress to pass monumental civil rights legislation that moved American equality ahead a hundred years.

You have strengthened the bars of your gates and blessed your children within. Grant peace in your borders and send forth your command to all the earth … Jesus proclaimed the Gospel and cured every disease among the people. Great crowds assembled to hear and be cured, but often Jesus withdrew to deserted places to pray … Whoever possesses the Son has life, and whoever DOES NOT possess the Son of God does not have life.

Jeremiah, then David, and later Matthew, Luke and John write to make this perfectly clear. There is no middle ground. Our lives consist of constant choosing, and in our moments of time we choose life or we do not.

Centers of domination imagine they are immune from the risks and responsibilities of the historical process. But they still lead to exile and death, while God’s sovereign graciousness continues to be a fragile offer of life.

Nothing seems easier than giving in to the stories of the day. And although we might be bombarded by noisy 24-hour news, really there is nothing new about this. We have always succumbed both to rumors of disasters just beyond our view and recipes for quick solution that have no merit. About this Jeremiah has much to say, and Brueggemann wants us to listen. A final thought from the good professor:

We can succumb to a fraudulent discernment, that the present is decided by the policies of empire and not be the pathos of the holy, faithful God. We might imagine that our situation is occupied only by despair and alienation, and that God’s arm is shortened. Then we would miss the summons home and faint beginnings of new laughter in Jerusalem. But everything depends on the Word we hear, which in its odd offer of both rending and healing dismisses ideology, exposes propaganda, overrides anxiety and offers forgiveness in the place of brutality … This powerful mediating Word shocks our intellectual self-confidence and invites us to re-engage life with courage, awe, and submission.

What we casually call the Old Testament is worth looking into. It speaks and speaks to us today.

(1 John 5, Psalm 147, Matthew 4, Luke 5)

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