prayer

     i brought two books that i have enjoyed reading lately, with me to NC, thinking that for sure, there’d be ample down-time for me to sit and read and maybe even finish one or both. As it was, i barely touched them. i read through the remainder of March in Dobson’s book before dinner one night, but that’s it. His writing through March has been primarily about prayer, which just so happens to be the subject matter of the other book (Yancey’s book on Prayer) that i brought with me. Coincidentally, the sermon this past Sunday @ the church i went to, focused on this topic as well [MATTHEW six].

     At this point, i have LOTS of thoughts on prayer. Granted, these thoughts don’t come with much expertise — i don’t think reading books about it or even necessarily doing it makes you an expert about prayer. In fact, i s’pose i’d be bold enough to say, there’s no such thing as “expert” regarding a practice/communication that will always hold a certain amount of mystery. There are however wise people who know a thing or two about it. i wouldn’t consider myself in that category either though… i think i am lacking in reverence and much too casual about prayer at best.

That being said, i still want to write about it (again) anyhow! Sunday, in a portion of the sermon, the pastor warned about vain repititions and lofty words and the root being, what i would interpret as, our heart-matter. Ritual for the sake of ritual or lofty words for the sake of impressions regarding prayer is straight moot. People may be impressed by many facades, but God isn’t. A stuttering heart-felt commune with God, while sounding rough around the edges, may end up being far better than any well-formed Shakespearean prose. Far be it for me to be the measuring stick on that one, since i can’t see others hearts. This is a gut-check for myself. In my lack of it, i am impressed by people who have control of their spoken word and it tends to lead towards self-consciousness that i’d rather not pay such close attention to. i thank God that He doesn’t only hear my spoken-in-group-settings prayer. If i’m uncomfortable, i almost forget to whom it is i’m praying to.

     People say they are praying for one another all the time. i’ve heard the term “prayer-warrior” to describe those who seem to be more dedicated to it than others. There are prayer lists, which i’ll admit, in the past have seemed closer to gossip-columns than needs to lift each other up. There are prayer meetings and seminars which make prayer sound stodgy and corporate and formulaic and members-only. Sometimes prayer seems closer to a hot-potato game, where each one holds the prayer potato for long enough to not get burnt or fumble. i can remember going to my first Bible study group a handful of years ago, with people around my age. At the end we’d stop to pray. i kid you not, my heart would begin to race. i was not used to praying out-loud. i didn’t even know how to begin. Do you start with “Lord” or “Father” or “God” or “Help me Jesus!”? It didn’t help that there’d be that long awkward silence where people expected you to jump in. My desire to connect with other Christians superseded the inevitable heart-attack i’d have each time we met. And then there were the points where i saw or felt prayer move. 

     In the past, i bought and have read some of Red Moon Rising: How 24-7 Prayer is Awakening a Generation by Pete Greig and Dave Roberts. What i did read inspired and reminded me that prayer is an organic thing, much more than just a checklist item on a list of things i should do as a follower of Christ. It was brought to my attention how powerful prayer really can be; how prayer is capable of changing things. It also inspired me in freedom of creativity – without need of rigid formula, the various ways i could come before God excited me. How prayers could be expressed and shared and communicated seemed endless & likewise how God could communicate back with me made me… hm… fall in love. That may sound weird, but i can’t think of any better way to put it other than falling in love.

     In the past year or so of reading the Old Testament, i’ve been humbled at how much of a privilege prayer is. In Yancey’s book on prayer there’s an excerpt from someone named “Sergey”, who lived under a Communist regime in Siberia. He wrote about different groups of people that in essence,  fought against the regime with prayer. He also says,

Now that we are free, we are in danger of growing complacent, of not treasuring the freedom to worship. In fact, Christians in parts of the former Soviet Union have actually voted for the Communists to return to power because the church was so much more pure in those days. Itseems we handle persecution better than prosperity.

p.119 Prayer Does it Make Any Difference excerpt: Free at Last

While i’ve never lived under Communism, i can identify with the sentiment. i’m much more likely to have a healthy prayer-life (simply meaning, constant communication with & reliance on God) in troubled waters than when all is smooth sailing. i want the calm waters, but i don’t want the complancency it seems to inherently breed. The two are like star-struck lovers, oblivious of anything other than the comfortable touch of each hand holding the other.

***

     So about this whole “vain repetition” thing. It’s the whole reason i decided to start writing this post, because my thoughts on this have shifted some.

Up until just a few years ago, i would have just nodded my head and not given much thought to this. i’ve never questioned that repetitions are pointless. To be clear, when they’re just repetitious words for me to systematically recite without thought of meaning, then i agree, it’s pointless. As i’ve gotten older or maybe it’s better to say as i’ve grown spiritually, i’ve realized my tendency towards irreverance. In the midst of reading about all the rituals they used to have to do, to even just come before the presence of God, i’ve started to wonder…

     When it’s done with the right intent, can’t ritual can be rich? If i’m mindful of the words i’m saying, can’t repetition can serve as reminders? We do it when we participate in the Lord’s Supper. 

[In my haphazard ongoing attempt to read through the Bible in its entirity, it’s struck me how much of the scripture tells stories about how quickly people forget to remember.] 

Accepting the fact that i am human, i believe i will inadvertantly lose sight and destroy the beauty of both ritual and repetition, given enough time. But does that mean i discard them as pointless? On the flip side, to weigh my salvation on the mastery of either would be just as silly. The temptation would be to impress with something like that. Now, i haven’t given it a ton of intense thought, but i think there could be creativity within those two ‘r’ words, that may help some with keeping it pure, with a hopeful outcome of further reaching towards reverence. [Can “ritual” be flexible in creativity?] If i’m reminded of God – who He is, what He has done and has promised, and who i am in relation to Him, i would think it would lead me towards a more reverant state of mind.  i’ve become more open-minded to what i used to consider formulaically closed off to grace. i’ve never put it like that before, but i guess that’s it in a nutshell.

     All that being said, when Dobson started writing about praying the rosary, i got that old familiar pang of, “how pointless!” Keep in mind, i still lean towards the free-flowing prayers and i do not see any point still in praying to anyone other than God. Mary’s wonderful, but i am not compelled to, nor do i feel a necessity or any extra comfort in praying to her. When Dobson started to write about what is prayed and meditated on in the midst of a rosary, i was surprised.  (maybe that should be another post entirely, since this is already getting lengthy as is.) i will say that, it seems to me that Dobson slipped into praying the rosary while trying to live like Jesus, mainly out of curiosity and perhaps finding a creative way to meditate on the scriptures, in order that it did not become that “vain repetition”. On top of trying to live like Jesus, he was also dedicated to “reading” (quotes, because for personal reasons he chose to listen to them on his iPod, rather than read them) the Gospels every week for a year.

     As i mentioned earlier, a portion of March was dedicated to him exploring how Jesus would have prayed. So far i’m getting more of a sense of what a Jewish man, who happened to be Jesus would have done. This is interesting, given the popular WWJD craze. i know this is a broad statement and i may be in error but i don’t think anyone who bought the bracelets, bumper stickers, t-shirts, keychains, license plates, etc. ever truly thought What Would Jesus – as a Jewish man in that time –  Do – nowadays?

But Jesus was Jewish. He lived in the Jewish village, worked as a Jewish carpenter, attended synagogue, and read the Torah. He ate like a Jew, dressed like a Jew, and prayed like a Jew. So what were his prayers like?

p. 58 The Year of Living Like Jesus

     Dobson talks to Rabbi’s for further understanding and reads up on Jewish traditions and rituals and prayers. He talks about the Siddur (“order”), a prayer book which gives a sense of order and elemental understanding of prayer. He lists them out on p. 58: the prayer of petition; the prayer of thanksgiving; the prayer of praise to God; the prayer of confession. He goes on to quote further from To Pray as a Jew: A Guide to the Prayer Book and the Synagogue Service by Rabbi Hayim H. Donin,

The Hebrew word for prayer … does not mean to ask or to petition God. It is derived from a stem … that is closest in the meaning to the last of these four types of prayer. It means to judge; therefore … [to pray] … could also be translated as to judge one’s self. Here lies a clue to the real purpose for engaging in prayer. Whether we petition God to give us what we need, or thank him for whatever good was granted, or extol him for his awesome attributes, all prayer is intended to help make us better human beings.

p. 58-59 The Year of Living Like Jesus

     Now i’ve never heard anyone describe prayer to me like that. Part of me isn’t in full agreement (with the intentionality part), but that may just be misinterpretation of the exclusivity of the words. He also talks about The Amida which is prayed within a Jewish synagogue service.

The Amida is from the Hebrew word meaning “standing.” … It is a series of eighteen blessings that are divided into three categories: words of praise, petitions, and thanksgiving. All of these prayers are done while standing.

p. 60 The Year of Living Like Jesus

He lists the first three of the Blessings, which are beautiful and based on the words of Hebrew Scripture. Here is where he brings up vain repetitions, that i had to smile at. He’s right.

In Northern Ireland, where I grew up, we were a part of the non-conformist church movement, which meant that we were against all forms of liturgy. Invocations, benedictions, and even praying the Lord’s Prayer were all foreign to our experience. We believed that prayer ought to be free-flowing — flowing along with the Holy Spirit who guided the prayers. We were taught that formal liturgical prayers were “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7 KJV). As I listened to these free-flowing prayers, of course, I soon realized that most people generally said the same thing over and over again. Even though we were against liturgical prayers, our free-flowing prayers ended up being liturgical themselves.

p. 61  The Year of Living Like Jesus

     i don’t think i’ll ever lose the organic side of prayer. i think that’s ingrained in me and my personality automatically gravitates towards it. Ritual and repetition are somewhat foreign matter to me. i’m not against it anymore. In fact, i see a lot more how we all do it, to a certain extent anyhow — just perhaps a bit less formally. What makes one vain and the other not? Where’s that line? If it’s truly about my heart, then no one else can really answer that for anyone else.

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beards and golf carts

     ohmagosh, this book.

     So i’ve made it through the month of January in my reading so far. This seems like it will be a quick read. The multiple times i’ve looked at it, i haven’t read in too far, ever. It truly is a diary of thoughts, sometimes a bit scattered and piecey. i don’t know what i was expecting, but this wasn’t it. i think i’m pleasantly surprised — i say i “think” cuz i’m only in the first month.

     i guess, somewhere in my brain, i didn’t think Dobson was referring to ‘live like Jesus’ in the ‘live like a Jewish man, in that culture, who happened to be Jesus.’ Apparently my brain didn’t make that auto-connection quite as thoroughly as perhaps i should have. It’s fascinating and heavy-laden with rules that he seeks clarification and understanding from rabbis on. If these laws were truly meant to make them holy, as he says in day two, then it must be through their thoughts being absolutely consumed with contemplation of how their physical bodies moving in action, did and didn’t end up breaking a rule. It’s exhausting and overwhelming to even consider, let alone actually follow through with adhering to them. Maybe it would be easier had i grown up with them. 

     Day thirteen he wrestled with what i had hoped he would address, and i hope he’ll address it even more: Giving freely, without judgement or conditions or expectations over what has been given. Keeping in mind, he doesn’t give answers, only offers up an honest representation of his own struggle with trying to follow Jesus. There was a drunk man on the street that him and his wife pass by, who asks them for money. And he goes through all the classic judgement calls we, as people, make on surface evaluations of others, about this drunk man. In fact, at first he walks on by, and then the man says something which touches Dobson personally, to which he turns back around and gives him a dollar, against his better judgement. But somehow he feels (in a sense) better in line with what Jesus would have done. And he does quote & say,

“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” It’s as simple as that — give to the one who asks. He asked. I had an obligation to give.

     Dobson goes on further to recognize how he’d failed even in the follow through of that giving, being what Jesus would have done, on the basis of what it took for him to initially turn around. i’m not getting any clearer picture/answer from this interaction, other than to recognize how much we’re connected and tied to our own ..humanness? ((…i wanna say “flesh”, but i’ve always thought using that term, as many Christians do often without reserve, sounds inevitably horror flickish.)) This topic may be one of those things i never fully understand… but always encourage more discussion over. Perhaps i’ll ask some friends tonight…

     Have i mentioned Dobson is hilarious? i have laughed. a lot. loudly. Case & point:

     Almost everyone here at the community drives a golf cart. Since I wanted to go to the beach today, which is less than two miles away, I decided I’d drive the cart — but only leisurely, since it was Shabbat. Normally I drive the cart as fast as possible, pressing the accelerator to the floor. But not on Shabbat.

     The first thing I discovered was that it’s really hard to drive a golf cart slowly. Second it’s frustrating for the people behind me. They were like, “You idiot! It’s the the other pedal.” Several carts got frustrated and pulled out to pass me. As they passed, they looked at me like I was crazy.

     “I’m just trying to be like Jesus,” I muttered under my breath.

{Day five  p. twenty-one}

talmid

     yesterday, i went into B&N in pursuit of NEEDTOBREATH and surprisingly enough, i found them (& as i thought i would, i luff their new CD)!  i got distracted on my way to the music section and stumbled across (for something like the tenth time) a book i’ve wanted to read for a while. In an attempt to not be too impulsive, i also picked up two C.S. Lewis books; one that i’ve wanted to read for a while now (The Four Loves) and one that just happened to catch my eye (The Great Divorce). My intent was to find a spot to read some of each and then make a decision from there, on which would get purchased, but that didn’t end up happening. In the end, i walked out with the CD and The Year of Living Like Jesus by Ed Dobson. i read just a portion of his dislike for the labels that people give him and it was enough for me to realize that this is definitely a book i need to read ~ especially given what i’ve been wrestling with lately. i’m wondering if he’ll dive into how to balance ownership of material things. i would imagine he’d have to, but …who knows. In listening to some of his sermons through Mars Hill, Dobson’s already won me over a while ago. i already cracked up, just reading through the intro last night. It was interesting to find out that what inspired him to do this. i’d never heard of A.J. Jacobs. Dobson says at the end of the intro:

     Of course, I’m a bit nervous. At this point I don’t know where this journey will take me. Jacobs, a nonreligious Jew, spent the whole year trying to obey the Bible as literally as he could, and at the end of the year he didn’t seem to find God. I begin the year having already found God. Now I hope and pray that by the end of the year I don’t lose God.

:{p. fourteen}

Jacobs, who wrote the forward to this book, states “I explored both the New and Old Testaments, but my journey was weighted toward the Hebrew scriptures, mostly because I’m Jewish. Ed was inspired by my book The Year of Living Biblically (a fact that makes me commit the sin of pride) and decided to spend a year living as much like Jesus as possible. His was a more Christ-centered journey.”  :{p. seven}

     It *sounds*, even though he says he explored the OT and NT, that  Jacobs was more concerned with much of the OT Levitical Law, than with Jesus. I’m assuming that, so i could be wrong. It’s a snapshot from Jacobs journey that Dobson shared, which cracked me up.

This is (not the funny part, but) my favorite part of the intro:

     There’s a story in the Bible about Jesus and his disciple Peter. After Jesus finishes preaching to a crowd, he tells his disciples to get into their boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (which is actually a lake, not a sea). Jesus, however, goes up on a mountain and begins to pray. Meanwhile, his disciples are in the middle of the lake when a storm blows in. Just as they think the wind and the waves are about to sink their boat, Jesus comes to them — by walking on the water.

     They think it must be a ghost, but Jesus says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then Peter says, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water. ” Jesus tells him to come and he does — he walks on water.

     Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  [Matthew 14:29]

     Eventually, Peter begins to sink, but at least he did something that no other disciple ever tried. Why did Peter even get out of the boat? What possessed him to attempt to walk on water?

     One of the desires of a disciple (talmid in Hebrew) is the desire to be just like the rabbi. The disciple wants to walk like the rabbi, talk like the rabbi, live like the rabbi, move like the rabbi, respond like the rabbi. So when Peter sees Jesus walking on the water, his own consuming desire is to be just like Jesus. He figures that if Jesus can do it, he can do it as well.

     So he gets out of the boat.

:{p. twelve-thirteen}

yes

     Ed Dobson rocks. i can’t remember whether i’ve mentioned it here or not, but i subscribe to Mars Hill (based out of Grand Rapids, MI) sermons. On January 3rd, Ed Dobson preached about the very same verses that i have based the title/web address of this journal on, which also happen to now be included on the sidebar section of this layout too.  i painted Dressed Like Wildflowers on the pottery i worked on last Saturday. i’m slightly obsessed with those verses. They are good ones to be obsessive about… at least i think so. He talked about the birds and i felt comforted that i’m not the only one that does that whole envying of them. Then he referenced Psalm 55 and i realized i am FAR from being alone. There’s not a day that’s passed recently that i haven’t taken notice of the blackbirds around here — how they seem to go to work the moment i do and leave again when i do. Now don’t worry, i’m not crazy; just imaginative and fairly easily amused.

     i got a real big refreshing kick when Mr. Dobson said,

i have had people say to me, Well, just trust God. Dude, what do you think i’m trying to do? Just trust the Bible. Yo, that’s what i’m trying to do. So it’s a journey.  

word. thank you.