Thursday, December 24, 2009

Give us this day our daily bread

As I was preparing this entry on the Lord’s Prayer, I mistakenly thought I would be wrapping up with at most one or two brief entries. Instead, after reading Evelyn Underhill’s explanation of the concluding sections of the prayer, I find that there is much more to consider and practice. So instead of one or two brief entries, there will be several more. Here is the next in the series of reflections on the Lord's Prayer, focusing on the daily request for our “Daily Bread.”

”In the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, we are wholly concerned with God’s glory . . . In the second part, we turn from the Eternal Splendour to our earthly limitations, and bring before God our burden, neediness, and sinfulness of our state. Give us this day our daily bread.

“With this proclamation of our utter dependence, the presentation before God of the simplest and most fundamental of our needs, we pass from adoration to petition, and enter into the full paradox of Christian prayer: the unspeakable majesty and abiding perfection of the Infinite, and because of that majesty and that perfection, the importance of the claim of the fugitive, the imperfect, the finite.

‘The Heavens declare the Glory of God
Lord, I call upon thee, haste thee unto me!’

“There is a natural tendency in man to reverse this order of approach; to come before God in a spirit of heaviness, greatly concerned with his own imperfections, needs and desires—‘my soul and its shortcomings,’ ‘the world and its wants’—and defer the putting on of the garment of praise; that wedding garment which introduces us into the company of the sons (and daughters) of God and is the only possible beginning of real prayer.

“Here, Christ’s teaching and practice are decisive. First, the heavenly, then the earthly. First ascend in heart and mind to the Eternal, adore the Father, seek the Kingdom, accept the Will; and all the rest shall be added unto you. Again and again the New Testament insists on that. The contrast of the two worlds is absolute; but their interpenetration is complete. No human need, however homely, is negligible; none lies outside the glow of God”

(Abba by Evelyn Underhill, in Treasures from the Spiritual Classics, 1982, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA, third printing , 1996, pages 37-39; a compilation of extracts from Abba, 1940, Longmans Green & Co Ltd).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

An Athlete Prays . . . Lord, hear our prayer!

I recently saw photos of two football teams gathered in prayer. The photos appeared in the media during the same week for vastly different reasons.

One team came together to pray because one of their star players was knocked unconscious and had to be stretchered from the field. The other team had gathered to pray following a victory on the field.

Two teams, both praying—but experiencing vastly different emotions. I found myself wondering who led prayers for the injured ballplayer? Did a team captain call the team together, or was it another player? How do you pray when a teammate is badly injured in the midst of a game? And what motivates a team to pray after an important win? Does the team also pray after losing? Do the same players lead the prayers on each occasion? Or do the coaches initiate prayer times on the field?

If you’re an athlete, do you pray when you step onto the field, or ready yourself for the start of a race? Are you known as one who prays as well as being known as a competitive athlete? Do you pray for your opponents as well as for your own team? Do your teammates know they can ask you for prayer when they are struggling on or off the field? Is your life different because you pray daily?

“Lord, teach us to pray!” was the request made by some of Jesus’ first disciples. Like them we can let out an urgent cry when an injury brings down a teammate: “Lord, have mercy!” “Lord, help!” “Be with the trainers and doctors who are treating my injured friend!” “Lord, help our teammate regain full health and strength!”

In celebrating a victory, we can express our gratitude: “Thanks, Lord, for the joys of winning!” “Thanks, Lord, for coaches who’ve helped us train and prepare!” “Thanks, Lord, for the referees who enforce the rules of our game.”

While processing a tough loss, we can pray for God’s wisdom: “Lord, help us learn from this loss!” “Help us accept this setback without unfairly blaming our teammates.” “Bring us together as a team, Lord. Help us make adjustments and prepare well for our next game.”

"Lord, help us to pray! Lord, teach me to pray!"

Thy Will Be Done . . . Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Evelyn Underhill helps us practice the next movement in the Lord’s Prayer with these words:
‘Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.’ We do not know what possibilities, what mysteries, may still be hidden in the unexpressed design. Yet because each step of this descending prayer is a movement of faith, obedience, and love, we bring the Infinite with us as did Christ Himself when He came down from His nights of communion on the mountain to His redemptive work among men. Here, again, the life or prayer follows the path of the Incarnation.

“The Wisdom that came forth from the Mouth of the Most High entered deeply into the common life, and there accomplished His transforming and redeeming work. We too are not to experience eternity and take up our obligations in respect of it in some exalted, other-worldly region; but here and now, right down in that common life which is also dear to God, finding in our homely experience the raw material of sacrifice, turning its humble duties and relationships into prayer.

Be it unto me according to thy Word—here, where I am. Not my will but Thine be done. This is the act of obligation which puts life without condition at God’s disposal; and so transforms and sacramentalizes our experience, and brings the Kingdom in.”

(Abba by Evelyn Underhill, in Treasures from the Spiritual Classics, 1982, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA, third printing , 1996, pages 31-32; a compilation of extracts from Abba, 1940, Longmans Green & Co Ltd).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thy Kingdom Come . . . Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Mark tells us that Jesus came into the world proclaiming good news: “The time has come the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). Later Jesus taught His disciples to pray: “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10). But what did He mean by using those words? What do we expect should happen when we pray like this?

Our pastor recently defined God’s Kingdom as “Right relationships under God’s gracious rule.” He described Kingdom Prayer as a way of praying that is:
• Grounded in a trusting relationship with God
• Radically God-centered
• Revolutionary (God overturning the effects of sin and changing lives in radical ways)

As Evelyn Underhill writes: “Thy Kingdom come. Here man’s most sacred birthright, his deep longing for perfection, and with it his bitter consciousness of imperfection break out with power. We want to bring the God whom we worship, His beauty, His sovereignty, His order into the very texture of our life; and the fundamental human need for action into the radius of our prayer.

“Thy Kingdom come! We pray for this transformation of life, this healing of its misery and violence, its confusion and unrest, through the coming of the Holy God whom we adore.

“The Christian turns again and again from that bewildered contemplation of history in which God is so easily lost, to the prayer of filial trust in which He is always found: knowing here that those very things that seem to turn to man’s disadvantage, may yet work to the Divine advantage. On the frontier between prayer and history stands the Cross, a perpetual reminder of the price by which the Kingdom is brought in. Seen from the world’s side it is foolishness; seen from the land of contemplation it is the Wisdom of God.

“When we said ‘Hallowed be Thy Name!’ we acknowledged the priority of holiness. Now we offer ourselves for the purposes of holiness: handing ourselves over to God that His purposes, great or small, declared or secret, natural or spiritual, may be fulfilled through us and in us, and all that is hostile to His Kingdom done away . . . It is here that the praying spirit accepts its most sacred privilege: active and costly co-operation with God—first in respect of its own purification, and then in respect of His creative and redeeming action upon life. Our attitude here must be wide open to God, exhibiting quite simply our poverty and impurity. . . but still offering ourselves such as we are. Thy Kingdom come! Here am I, send me” (Abba by Evelyn Underhill, in Treasures from the Spiritual Classics, 1982, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA, third printing , 1996, pages 25-31; a compilation of extracts from Abba, 1940, Longmans Green & Co Ltd).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hallowed be Thy Name . . . Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Since our pastor will be preaching on the Lord’s Prayer this weekend, I decided to read Evelyn Underhill’s Abba. Here is a quiet, reflective perspective on prayer and how prayer prepares us for action:

“Hallowed be Thy Name. The modern mind, living sometimes prudently and sometimes carelessly, but never theocentrically, cannot make anything of such words as these; for they sweep the soul up, past the successive and the phenomenal, and leave it in abject adoration before the single reality of God.

“This first response of creation to its author, this awestruck hallowing of the Name, must also be the first response of the praying soul, if we ask how this shall be done within the individual life and what it will require of us in obligation and adjustment, perhaps the answer will be something like this

‘Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed, revered, be Your mysterious Name in my dim and fluctuating soul, to which You have revealed Yourself in such a degree as I can endure. May all my contacts and relationships, my struggles and temptations, thoughts, dreams and desires be coloured by this loving reverence. Let me ever look through and beyond circumstance to You, so that all I am and do may become more and more worthy of the God who is the origin of all. Let me never take such words on my lips that I could not pass from them to the hallowing of Your Name. (That one principle alone, consistently applied, would bring order and charity into the centre of my life.) May that Name, too, be hallowed in my work, keeping me in remembrance that You are the doer of all that is really done: my part is that of a humble collaborator, giving of my best.’

“This means that adoration, a recognition of the life and action of God, subordinating everything to the Presence of the Holy, is the essential preparation for action. That stops all feverish strain, all rebellion and despondency, all sense of our own importance, all worry about our own success; and so gives dignity, detachment, tranquility to our action and may make it of some use to Him.”

(Abba by Evelyn Underhill, in Treasures from the Spiritual Classics, 1982, Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA, third printing , 1996, pages 19-21; a compilation of extracts from Abba, 1940, Longmans Green & Co Ltd).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Timeless Word . . . on the value of recollection and sensitivity for Christians today

Millions of us are spending time interacting with social media. The global village hums with the sound of beeps announcing another contact sent or received.
How do we evaluate the benefits of investing our time and energy online?
Do our social media contacts improve our well-being?
Do our online activities contribute to our relationship with God?
Or are they a form of distraction subtly leading us away from God?
These questions are timely, and a powerful reminder comes to us from a passage in “The Art of Prayer” written by a man who lived centuries ago:
“This is how lukewarmness arises: it begins with forgetfulness. God’s gifts are forgotten, and so is God Himself, and our salvation in Him, and the danger of being without God; and the remembrance of death disappears—in a word the whole spiritual realm is closed to us.
“This is due to the enemy, or to the dispersion of thoughts by business cares and excessive social contacts.
“When all is forgotten the heart grows cool, and its sensitivity to spiritual things is interrupted: and so we fall into a state of indifference, and then into negligence and carelessness. As a result, spiritual occupations are postponed for a time, and afterwards abandoned completely.
“And then we begin again our old way of life, careless and negligent, forgetful of God and divine things, seeking only our own pleasure. Even if there is nothing disorderly in it, do not look for anything divine. It will be an empty life.
“If you do not want to fall into this abyss, beware of the first step—that is forgetfulness. Therefore, walk always in godly recollections—in remembrance of God and divine things. This will keep you sensitive to such things, and these two together—recollection and sensitivity—will set you on fire with zeal. And here will be life indeed” (Theophan the Recluse, as quoted in The Art of Prayer, London, Faber and Faber, 1966pages 122-123).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Start a Daily Habit--7 Minutes with God

For many years now, I have used The One Year Bible (Tyndale) as a helpful Bible reading guide because it assigns passages of Scripture by calendar date. It is a "no-brainer" for regular Bible readers. Just ask yourself “what is today's date?” then find those pages in the One Year Bible and there’s your reading for today (365 daily readings).

Once you get started, this is a great way to read the whole Bible through in a year, then repeat year after year after year--the Word of God never grows stale!
For those who have not yet established a daily personal quiet time, the One Year Bible is an excellent resource. If you already practice this spiritual discipline, you may want to share the following tips on getting started with a friend who wants to start spending personal time getting to know God better.

Robert D. Foster
, in his classic booklet: Seven Minutes With God (NavPress), provides very practical guidance for anyone who wants to begin a daily “morning watch” or “quiet time” alone with God. Bob writes that it was "in 1882 at Cambridge University” in England that “the world was first given the slogan: 'Remember the morning watch.'" He adds: "One of the missing links has been a workable plan on how to begin and maintain a morning watch." Foster's simple prescription for getting started spending daily time alone with God follows:

"I want to suggest that in order to get under way, you start with seven minutes . . . How do you spend these seven minutes? After getting out of bed and taking care of your personal needs, you will want to find a quiet place and there with your Bible enjoy the solitude of seven minutes with God.

"Invest the first 30 seconds preparing your heart. Thank Him for the good night of sleep and the opportunities of this new day. 'Lord, cleanse my heart so You can speak to me through the Scriptures. Open my heart. Fill my heart. Make my mind alert, my soul active, and my heart responsive. Lord, surround me with Your presence during this time. Amen.’

Now take four minutes to read the Bible. Your greatest need is to hear some word from God. Allow the Word to strike fire in your heart. Meet the Author!

"After God has spoken through His book, then speak to Him--in prayer.
You now have two and a half minutes left for fellowship with Him in four areas of prayer that you can remember by the word ACTS. Adoration. Confession. Thanksgiving. Supplication."

Foster sums up the seven minutes as follows:

• 0.5 minutes Prayer for guidance (Psalm 143:8);
• 4 minutes Reading the Bible (Psalm 119:18);
• 2.5 minutes Prayer—Adoration (1 Chronicles 29:11); Confession(1 John 1:9); Thanksgiving(Ephesians 5:20); Supplication (Matthew 7:7).

He then concludes: "This is simply a guide. Very soon you will discover that it is impossible to spend only seven minutes with the Lord . . . Do not become devoted to the habit, but to the Savior.

"Do not do it because other men are doing it--not as a spiritless duty every morning, nor merely as an end in itself, but because God has granted the priceless privilege of fellowship with Himself. Covenant with Him now to guard, nourish, and maintain your morning watch of seven minutes."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

All the Days of My Life

I try to share a daily "Text for Today" with my immediate family members via email. The other day I sent them Psalm 139:15-16. As she often does, Cheryl (my wife) shared her insights and response. I am always encouraged by the way God's living Word inspires us to respond. So here are the texts, and Cheryl's insightful response. You can read more of her writings on her blog

"My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:15-16).

"You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day" (The Message).

"What does God's train of thought toward me look like? His thoughts would not be idle thoughts, or malicious or scornful. His thoughts are about redeeming my days and making them purposeful. He thinks of how to love me and how to carry me through fires and floods. He takes delight in me--as strange as that seems since I often don't find very much that is delightful about myself.

"He looks forward to the future with me. He forgets my broken past. He fills the present. Every time I awaken to any new form of consciousness about my life He is there. He never stops speaking to me with the voice that is compared to the sound of many waters in the Bible...roaring and murmuring, perhaps like the sound of a river running through a campground at night, He is ceaseless in His thoughts and expressions of Himself to me.

"He is Jesus, who was impossible to ignore while He walked this earth. He is kind, compassionate, confrontational, soft-spoken and angry at sin. He is welcoming. He is gentle and thoughtful, always ready to give an answer to every question, but perhaps in puzzling ways. The conundrums He allows in my life are invitations to me to come closer to Him and learn more.

"Everything He thinks and does about me is meant to draw me more deeply into relationship with Himself and each thought is new, as fresh as the current moment itself. I have never lived this moment before and God is thinking fresh, creative thoughts about me right now. How vast He is. How vast are His thoughts."

Friday, July 31, 2009

Praying for the Church

We have so many opinions and views regarding the Church, but do we give as much time to praying for the Church as we spend debating its structures, styles, and programs?

Today I read the following prayer for the Church in The Book of Common Prayer (as used in The Episcopal Church, Oxford University Press, New York, 1990). Let us pray these words for the Church worldwide:

“Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.”

Saturating Minds, Filling Hearts, Praying Daily

Have you ever asked the question: how can we influence others to want to get to know Jesus Christ personally? Towards the end of Prayer, The Mightiest Force in the World,Frank Laubach raises this timeless question, and sketches an answer:

“How shall we help all men to know Him? That was Paul’s question, and it still is ours. The greatest way to help Christ conquer the world is to saturate our own minds with Him. We do this by thinking about Christ and His Kingdom as much as we can. If we think about Him we shall inevitably witness for Him and work for Him. Other people will catch Him from us by our deeds and words. ‘Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh’”(page 97).

“How can we saturate our minds with Christ? There is but one way to get a true picture of Him. That is to read His life in the four Gospels so often that we know it by heart. We who wish to be Christlike ought never to allow a day to pass without reading at least a chapter of the Gospels. We get the best results if we take a definite hour (and a fresh hour) every day.” (page 98).

In the final pages of Prayer, Laubach challenges his readers to give time, and heart and mind and soul and strength and prayer to God’s world task . . .He writes that we must think thoughts worthy of the sons and daughters of God. He concludes his practical call to prayer with a prayer of his own that we would do well to pray in our day:

“God, use my prayer to help the delegates and officials of the United Nations to feel a sense of awful need for Thy wisdom. May they pray, listen to Thee intently, hear Thee correctly, and obey Thee perfectly. Use my prayer to give Christians everywhere a sense of awful responsibility to pray, to listen to Thee and hear Thee right, and obey Thee fully. Use me as an open channel for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon mankind” (page 126-127).

Monday, July 13, 2009

Friends . . . With the Breath of Kindness . . .

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. Several personal health-related experiences, the debate on the pros and cons of the latest “social media” technologies, and watching personal friends work through challenging relationships, these are some of the sparks that prompted my thinking about friends and friendship.

One favorite quotation that I first heard many times many years ago surfaced often as I mused about the meanings of friendship in today’s world. I thought this quote was specifically a quote on friendship, but thanks to a Google search and a quick check on Wikipedia, I learned that it was first published in Dinah Mulock’s novel, A Life for a Life, published in 1859.

150 years later Dinah Mulock’s words aptly describe what happens when real-world friends engage honestly with each other:

“Oh, the comfort--the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person —
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but pouring them all right out,
just as they are,
chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thinking About Thinking

When our four children were growing up, and especially during their teen years, we encouraged them to learn to think for themselves. At times the effort seemed boring and repetitious. Especially when I frequently quoted the lines “Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a destiny.”

But looking back, I think this well-intentioned effort was worthwhile. Our thoughts do shape us. In today’s world, some other relevant questions are not just: “What’s on your mind?” but also, “What’s on your phone?” “What’s on your laptop, your PDA, or your desktop computer?” The input, what we deliberately fill our minds with; the memory banks, what we store in our minds; and the daily renewal of our minds and hearts—these are all practices that we must pay attention to in order to become authentic followers and disciples of Jesus.

Disciples learn how to manage their minds by learning how to think effectively. For 21st century followers of Jesus, these personal mind management practices will also extend to how we manage our electronic brains, internet pages, avatars, and more.

Mother Janet Stuart, challenged her sisters to “Think glorious thoughts of God and serve Him with a quiet mind” (Life and Letters of Janet Erskine Stuart, by Maud Monahan, page 307).

As Frank Laubach writes: “A clean mind is good--but not good enough. It isn’t enough to cleanse the mind of evil thoughts, though that is essential. An empty mind will not stay empty or clean! Jesus’ strange parable about a devil which left a man’s mind and came back with seven more devils was exactly to the point.

“The demons found the man’s mind cleaned and a vacuum, so they rushed in. The only way to keep out demonic ideas is to have the mind full of “a good treasure” of thoughts, vital, burning thoughts, big enough to fill the mind and heart.

“That is why Paul was speaking a truth he got straight from Jesus when he said: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things’ (Philippians 4:8).”

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (The Message).

(Prayer, The Mightiest Force in the World, Fleming H. Revell Company, Westwood, New Jersey, 1946, pages 94-95).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Learning to Pray the Jesus Prayer—A lunch, a book, and a video.

I was having lunch with a friend recently when he said a book that helped him learn about prayer was The Art of Prayer published by Faber and Faber. A quick search on produced a list of similarly titled books including The Art of Prayer an orthodox anthology compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo translated by E.Kadloubovsky and E.M. Palmer edited with an introduction by Timothy Ware (London, Faber and Faber, 1966). I purchased the book online and began reading.

The Introduction alone makes this a book worth studying carefully. The goal of the book is summed up in the first five lines of the Introduction: ‘What is prayer? What is its essence? How can we learn to pray? What does the spirit of the Christian experience as he prays in humility of heart?’ Such are the questions which this book sets out to answer.

As Timothy Ware explains this book was compiled by Igumen Chariton, a Russian Orthodox monk in the community of Valamo on an island in Lake Ladoga on the borders between Finland and Russia. After the death of his spiritual director (a staretz or elder), Chariton turned to books for guidance.

“It was his custom to copy down in a special notebook the passages which particularly impressed him, and so in the course of time he compiled an anthology on the art of prayer . . . in 1936 he decided to publish the material in his notebook. Deliberately self-effacing, he added no comments or connecting links of his own—‘not daring even to presume,’ as he puts it, that he had ‘achieved Inner Prayer’—but he left the authors to speak entirely for themselves” (page 10).

While most of the quotations are from Russian writers in the second half of the twentieth century, the collection goes back as far as the fourth century. “Taken as a whole, Father Chariton’s anthology sets before the reader the spiritual teaching of the Orthodox Church in its classic and traditional form” (page 10). The quotations focus on the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.”

After reading the introduction, and discovering a kindred spirit in Igumen Chariton, I decided to learn more about Timothy Ware. Thanks to Wikipedia, I soon followed a link to iTunes U, where Seattle Pacific University’s Annual Alfred S. Palmer Lectures in Wesleyan Studies are posted. Here, Timothy Ware now known as Bishop Kallistos is the featured speaker on four free video lectures that can be downloaded to your iPhone or iPod. His talk “What is Prayer” provides an especially helpful overview of the Jesus Prayer. You can find Bishop Kallistos’ talks here

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More Practical Ways to Pray Every Day

As Frank Laubach observes, “when we experiment with prayer, we become scientists in the most important and least understood of all fields” (Prayer, The Mightiest Force in the World, Fleming H. Revell Company, Westwood, New Jersey, 1956, page 81). Here are some more of his recommendations adapted for 21st century readers:
• Throw a cloak of prayer over people
• Pray while you read or watch the news . . . pray for world leaders . . . “Lord, may this man or woman be hungry for You”
• Pray while listening to music . . . pray while performing music
• Pray for all whom we remember . . . every person who comes to memory
• Pray when awakening and when falling asleep. We can easily develop the habit, so that closing the eyes at night or opening them at dawn automatically reminds us to pray. ‘When I awaken I am still with Thee.’
• Precede, enfold, and follow all deeds with prayer. Prayer and action should be wedded. Just as a great surgeon does his best work when praying while he works, so all of us do our best work.
• It is not essential in praying to close or raise the eyes, to kneel or stand, to fold the hands or lower the head, nor to make the slightest change of position . . . Rev. Calixto Sanidad, a Filipino saint, wrote: “I used to farm with my hand on the plow, my eyes on the furrow, but my mind on God.” That was real. Prayer and work were wedded!
• Glenn Clark writes: “We discovered that to pray truly, to pray with the greatest abandon and with all of one’s being. It must be a technique that would include one’s body as well as one’s mind and one’s soul.”
• One of the best ways to pray is to take a vigorous walk, talking to God in rhythm with the steps. There is no more exhilarating way of taking exercise than a walking prayer.
• Practice makes perfect. From now on, you must NEVER fail to pray whenever you think of it, if only for a second. Habit building is a process of starting and sticking to it.
• Teach young people to make brief sentence prayers many times a day; teach them that prayer is the best way to meet every need and every task.
(Excerpts adapted from Prayer, The Mightiest Force in the World, pages 81-92.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Last Visits to a Literary Oasis—Stacey’s Bookstore in San Francisco

Here’s a glimpse of a once bustling bookstore slipping into history. The shelves are half empty, today books are 40% off the retail price. Tomorrow, the shelves will be all that’s left to buy.

During my first attempt at a “last” visit to one of my favorite lunchtime haunts, I bought a C.S. Lewis book telling the story of his radio talks broadcast during world war two that were eventually published as Mere Christianity.

After another week or so, I was back again, for a second “last” visit. This time three books left with me, the first a classic autobiographical work by William Styron: Darkness Visible, A Memoir of Madness. Next came The View From a Monastery, The Vowed Life and Its Cast of Many Characters by Brother Benet Tvedten. Then sixty years of poetry by a Poet Laureate, Donald Hall: White Apples and The Taste of Stone, Selected Poems 1946 to 2006. The last came with a CD of the poet reading selected poems which I look forward to listening to on my iPod during our Sea Ranch vacation.

I almost didn’t return for a third and “final” visit, as the sight of the now mostly empty shelves was slightly depressing. Then to my delight I found one more book in the basement. Surprised by Hope by the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright became my last book from Stacey’s Bookstore. Two weeks ago the very last book was sold at the store, and only brave booksellers who need more shelves were searching through the remains as another literary oasis passes into history.

After 85 years of bookselling on Market Street in downtown San Francisco, Stacey’s Bookstore will close in March, 2009. Sales have dropped 50% since 2001, and a shaky economy and a 15% year over year decline for last year’s final quarter combined to bring this favorite haunt of browsers to the end of its run as a full service bookstore.

In the store’s heyday there were Stacey’s bookstores in Palo Alto, Modesto, Richmond, Cupertino, Los Angeles and San Bernardino. Stacey’s San Francisco store has always carried a wide-ranging selection of books. While Stacey’s built its reputation around technical books for professionals, the San Francisco store always carried something for everyone. Three floors of opportunity for booklovers meant the store was always a popular lunch-hour retreat. The remaindered books, conveniently organized and displayed with blue and white “Stacey’s special value” stickers in the basement were an especially powerful magnet for bargain-hunters.

Stacey’s former customers are now exploring downtown San Francisco’s lanes and alleys, searching out alternative oases where we can browse and buy the books that feed our minds and strengthen our souls.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Three Practical ways to Pray

Frank Laubach’s Prayer, The Mightiest Force in the World, presents many helpful suggestions on how to pray. Here is a selection that you can try:

PRAY with pencil and paper at hand

“When God sends a thought, write it down and keep it visible until it can be carried into action. Pray for individuals by name. Vital prayers always suggest things to be done. Indeed, prayer and action must be mates, or both are weak. The mightiest men and women on earth are strong in prayer and strong in deeds ” (pages 74-75).

Flash Prayers
“Everybody in every ordinary day has hundreds of chinks of idle wasted time which may be filled with flash prayers ten seconds or a minute long.” Here are (selected, and modified) illustrations of such moments:
• Upon awakening in the morning
• Dressing
• Asking the blessing at table
• Leaving the house
• Driving or walking to work
• Between appointments
• Preparing meals
And a hundred more chinks of time all day long until crawling into bed and falling asleep (pages 75-76).

Pray for Others

“Far from making one tired, this prayer for others is the finest tonic I know. When you are utterly tired from work or study, walk out into the street and flash prayers at people. Your nerves will tingle with the inflow from heaven. Prayer ‘is twice blest, it blesses him that gives and him that receives’” (page 78).

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Will The Chronicle Survive? Will Digital Papers Soon Replace Newsprint?

As a Bay Area commuter, most of my work days for almost 24 years have started with the San Francisco Chronicle as a regular morning companion. In the early days Herb Caen's column was a favorite morning read. Lately, Jon Carroll's column has provided many wry smiles. Sports, Business, then the front pages, then Bay Area and World, finishing up with Datebook, Food on Wednesdays, and what used to be Wine on Fridays.

Recently the sections and layouts have been modified but my reading habits have followed their usual trails. Last Friday, I had to take this newstand photo as the news is not so good these days for the Chron. Will it still be on the stands next week, next month, next year? After more than 140 years of publishing daily news and entertaining features, the paper has been losing $50 million a year and the Hearst Corporation must now find ways to save or it will be the end of the Bay Area's major daily newspaper. Founded in 1865, the Chronicle ranks as the daily with the 12th largest circulation in the U.S. But like so many traditional newspapers, its future is now in question. Will all of our major papers be replaced by digital editions this year, next year, or sometime in the next decade or so? Will the Chronicle survive as an online resource?

On the same day that I shot the Chronicle in the newspaper vending machine, some online research pointed me to a moving video that tells how the Rocky Mountain News, another major urban newspaper, reached the end of its long life. All who love journalism will appreciate the story as told by those who worked for the paper. And commuters may have another reason to move their daily news reading habits online. Click here

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Heart Speaks to Heart

Last September 23rd I wrote a blog posting on the prayer of the heart that prompted some questions via Comments:

I responded with a lengthy comment and noted that another post would continue the conversation. Here, then, are some words of Henri Nouwen’s (The Way of The Heart, Ballantine Books, 1983, pages 74, 76-77) that may be useful to anyone questioning how far he or she should go in the pursuit of prayer:

“Prayer is standing in the presence of God with the mind in the heart; that is, at that point of our being where there are no divisions or distinctions and where we are totally one. There God’s Spirit dwells and there the great encounter takes place. There heart speaks to heart because there we stand before the face of the Lord, all-seeing, within us.

“We have to realize that here the word heart is used in its full biblical meaning. In our milieu the word heart has become a soft word. It refers to the seat of the sentimental life. Expressions such as ‘heartbroken’ and ‘heartfelt’ show that we often think of the heart as the warm place where the emotions are located in contrast to the cool intellect where our thoughts find their home. But the word heart in the Jewish-Christian tradition refers to the source of all physical, emotional, intellectual, volitional, and moral energies.

“From the heart arise unknowable impulses as well as conscious feelings, moods, and wishes. The heart, too, has its reasons and is the center of perception and understanding. Finally, the heart is the seat of the will: it makes plans and comes to good decisions. Thus the heart is the central and unifying organ of our personal life. Our heart determines our personality, and is therefore not only the place where God dwells but also the place to which Satan directs his fiercest attacks. It is this heart that is the place of prayer.

“The prayer of the heart is a prayer that directs itself to God from the center of the person and thus affects the whole of our humanness.

“The prayer of the heart challenges us to hide absolutely nothing from God and to surrender ourselves unconditionally to his mercy.

“Thus the prayer of the heart is the prayer of truth. It unmasks the many illusions about ourselves and about God and leads us into the true relationship of the sinner to the merciful God.

“Temptations and struggles will remain to the end of our lives, but with a pure heart we will be restful even in the midst of a restless existence.”

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Greet the Coming Day in Peace . . . Orthodox Prayer

An Orthodox Prayer that I discovered in an online newsletter:

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace.

Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will.

In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me.

Bless my dealings with all who surround me.

Teach me to treat all that comes to me with peace of soul
and with firm conviction that Your will governs all.

Grant me strength in unforeseen events.

Let me not forget that all are sent by You.

Teach me to act lovingly, firmly, and wisely,
without embittering or embarrassing others.

Grant me strength to bear the fatigues of the coming day
with all that it shall bring.

Direct my will. Teach me to pray. Pray You Yourself in me.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Athlete’s Prayer--for The New Year, New Season, New Team or Coach.

The Athlete’s Prayer:

“Lord, take my life, my energy, my event, and help me compete fairly and to the best of my ability today. I give you the New Year. Help me respect my opponents, and compete by the rules. Help me accept the outcome—win or lose—grant me the insight to evaluate and improve my performance, to support and encourage my teammates, and to listen to my coach. You created me with this love for sport, please use sport to mold me into a person whose life glorifies You. ”

“You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25, The Message).

As 2009 begins many athletes are setting new goals, devising new training programs, and developing new strategies. You may be starting a new season, adjusting to a new coach, or getting to know the members of a new team.

Whether you are an experienced pro athlete, a college player, or just starting on a high school team, you have a drive to excel, to compete, to always give your best.

To paraphrase the oath taken by Olympic athletes, you want to play by the rules, without doping or drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship. You are dedicated, like athletes from every corner of the world, to going all out for the glory of your sport and the honor of your team.

For the Christian athlete, the New Year, a new season, a new team or a new coach all create reasons to pray. The Christian athlete prays because he or she wants to excel not just for the applause that fades but to honor the Lord by giving Him each race, each game, as a personal expression of thanks, of joy, and a token of personal commitment to being a faithful disciple. Whether you are a standout, a reserve player, or just a weekend athlete, if you follow Jesus your sport will give you relationships and opportunities to share your faith with others. Pray you’ll be ready when those opportunities come.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Finding Strength in Scripture Reading

As a New Year begins, the following quotation from Kathleen Norris' The Cloister Walk, fits my thinking on a way to approach living with Scripture. Norris writes:

"For a long time I had no idea why I was so attracted to the Benedictines, why I keep returning to their choirs. Now I believe it's because of the hospitality I've encountered in their communal lectio, a hospitality so vast that it invites all present into communion with the text being read. I encounter there not a God who rejects me because I can't pass some dogmatic litmus test but one who invites me to become part of a process, the continuing revelation of holy word. Heard aloud, the metaphors of scripture are roomy indeed; they allow me to relax, and listen, and roam. I take them in, to my 'specific strength,' as Emily Dickinson put it in her poem 'A Word Made Flesh is seldom.' And I hope to give something back" (The Cloister Walk, Riverhead Books, New York, 1997, page 217).

Now I invite you to share your response, to post your thoughts, to leave a Comment.

Make 2009 a year when you relax, listen, and roam whenever you hear or read or meditate on Scripture. Make it your aim this New Year to give something back to the God who invites.