Dec 2 2009

Prayerlessness

Silent All These Years by Susan Forshey

Silent All These Years by Susan Forshey

The irony of my life-long interest in prayer is my constant wrestling with prayerlessness.

At times it has been simply the result of not making time or taking time–which really means just being focused elsewhere without bringing the “elsewhere” into prayer.

Other times it has been due to the loss of a name for God, feeling that the three-letter word was too small, too human, too burdened by centuries of baggage.  Prayer at these times began will an abyss of absence, where God’s name should be, which I couldn’t cross, so I didn’t pray.

For the longest time, prayer has been weighed down by a reaction against personal petitionary privilege–why should I pour out to God my fears and desires for such and such, when three billion people have trouble finding food and clean water?  Why ask for healing when others ask and are not healed? What then do I do with scripture which encourages me to bring my whole self and requests to God?

And then the harder times when prayer has simply not made sense, beyond a sort of self-therapy, because it suggests that there is a loving Someone who is not only listening, but who also cares to listen and act in response.

This past summer, I realized that these reasons not to pray would never go away, and the only way through the difficulty was either to decide that prayer was unimportant or to live as if…live as if prayer and life are better when integrated, as if the abyss of who God is can be crossed by prayer, as if God does care about my fears and hopes (and also the other six billion people on the planet, and all life forms everywhere), and as if there is a God, and not only one who listens with love, but can act and does act through my prayer in daily life.

In trying to live as if, I have realized how theology-laden prayer is.  Practices of prayer bear an internal theology, answering certain questions–who God is, how God acts, how prayer works, why pray in the first place.  Living at the intersection of  worldviews and theologies in contemporary theological education, I am seeing how prayer practices cannot function divorced from the theological worldviews which nurture them, and may not be able to be practiced at all if their practice-specific worldview is lost.  In the Christian tradition, this is not a new insight by any means.  The early theologians talked about lex orandi, lex credendi, a Latin phrase meaning as you pray, so you believe.  It can also mean the reverse: as you believe, so you pray (or don’t pray).

So I now am asking these questions:  In what theological worldview did my prayer practices once function?  How has my worldview changed and how have these changes affected my prayer practice? What images of God and humanity (and their relationship) affirms prayer? How can practices of prayer function (and be nurtured) in academic theological education, at the intersection of multiple worldviews and theologies?


Oct 20 2009

Eucharisto

Birch by Susan Forshey

Birch by Susan Forshey

If spring is hello, autumn is thank you.

After a particularly long four weeks, walking sometimes gently and  sometimes stubbornly with  personal and academic fears, I sensed this morning a still small nudge to the Tuesday morning Eucharist at my church.  My keys seemed to place themselves into my hand and I was out the door without much thought.   I went closed and distant, but during the prayers, we were asked to speak out something for which we were thankful.  The stunning leaves of gold, orange, and red, came to mind and speaking the words aloud shifted my attitude, widening my heart just a little.   The message of thankfulness then went much deeper as we remembered in prayer a marriage of six decades.  After Eucharist, a lovely woman spoke about her husband, her gratitude hugging every word and every detail of memory in the midst of the pain of her loss.

Leaving the church, I saw again the autumn colors, and the crunchy leaves at my feet.  Winter is close, and soon the colors will dim and disappear to browns and frost. The leaves which had greeted the first touches of  spring warmth with nuanced greens and yellows, are now flaming in the crisp chill with thankful beauty.  They seem to say, Thank you, sun, soil, rain, wind.  Good-bye for now.

Winter Song / Emily Smith

The leaves are falling from the trees
Farewell for now warm summer breeze
Weather has been good this year
Now the winter will soon be here
The nights are drawing into shorter days
I hear the old folk and the country people say
Don’t fear the dark, nature has it all in hand
Time to reflect and renew the tired land

So we’ll stoke the fire and light the lamp
Turn our backs in from the damp
Settle down beneath the starry sky
Endure the winter passing by

I see the frost etched upon the glass
In the morning sun he soon moves fast
But he’ll be back to claim the frozen ground
With each clear day he surely will be found
The geese fly south to find a warmer home
While the weary bull he soldiers on alone
Children’s laughter it crackles in the air
Sparks fly high and they catch them if they dare

So we’ll stoke the fire and light the lamp
Turn our backs in from the damp
Settle down beneath the starry sky
Endure the winter passing by

With carols sung, the trees been taken down
We’ve passed a dram and the bells no longer sound
Snowdrops rise with promise of the spring
There’s talk and wonder
At what the year might bring
The blackbird starts to thicken up her nest
While the early lamb, he takes a snowy step
But the north wind’s grip it tightens with his chill
And holds the buds closed against their will

So we’ll stoke the fire and light the lamp
Turn our backs in from the damp
Settle down beneath the starry sky
Endure the winter passing by


Oct 19 2009

Begin Today

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Vermont Autumn by Susan Forshey

“How you spend your days is how you spend your life.”

Last December,  I began this blog as an exploration of contemplative living, but over time, writing entries fell by the wayside. Humbly, I realized I did not have a clear understanding of what I meant by the contemplative life, nor what living it entailed.  My interest in contemplative spirituality is decades old and my fact-based knowledge was just enough to get me into trouble!

This summer I spent time pondering what daily ingredients make up a contemplative life.  Rather than formulas, techniques, or check-lists of practices (meditate for 15 minutes, read scripture, lectio divina, etc.), vivid and emotion-filled images came to mind: relationships of intimacy; committed community; a life marked by a spacious daily rhythm;  life partnership; restful sleep; meals that are a celebration of life, rather than a means of injury to my body or the bodies of other creatures; times of silence; work in balance with the rest of life; noticing beauty; attention to the earth; meaningful conversation; and lots of grace.  I found Maria Lichtmann’s understanding of  contemplative living helpful: a “non-consumptive” way of life.  Rather than driven by an insatiable appetite to consume life experiences and people, contemplation is a  patient and loving attention to whatever and whoever is in the present moment.

For me, attending to the present moment often takes courage.  I shy away anxiously, procrastinate, and distract myself through the vast array of technological or media options.  Practiced daily, this shying away can become a habit.  Living is full of small practices, day in and day out, like piano scales.  These embodied life scales are challenging in the beginning and then become more and more effortless, more habitual.   Not all scales are life-giving.  As I enter the next decade, I am asking : what small practices, what scales, will form in me the life I desire to look back on at 70?  What practices will craft a life of intimacy, courage, follow-through, rhythm, attentiveness, love, and grace?  As I live this day, how am I living my life?

Practice for today:   Attend deeply to the task that is causing anxiety.  Simone Weil writes that sustained attention to a difficult geometry problem also cultivates the practice of attention necessary for both prayer and relationship.  As I consider my prospectus, attending to its completion is a life-giving practice that will spill into other areas of my life.


Jan 19 2009

Word of the Day: Justice

Women Singing Earth by Mary Southard, CSJ

Women Singing Earth by Mary Southard, CSJ

Martin Luther King, Jr, quoted Amos, saying: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

What is justice?

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus describes his vocation to justice when speaking in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Often justice and “prophet” are put together–the people who take a stand against injustice and call for change. A connection that is not often made is that of “prophet” and “artist,” but Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Roman Catholic theologian, suggested that the vocation of prophet and artist are intimately united. The prophet-artist, while prophetically calling for justice, can creatively paint a picture, weave words or use other mediums of expression that inspires people with a new vision. The prophet-artist uses their own hope–their very life–as the medium for crafting an image of a transformed future. When I listen to MLK’s “I have a dream” speech, I am caught up in his hope–his words and his life richly enfleshed his prophetic call for justice and hope for change.

What is your vision of justice? What is one vision that engages your heart and the heart of your community? Maybe it is racial reconciliation, an end to hunger and economic justice, humane health care, a future without human trafficking, earth stewardship, or educational opportunities for all children. Describe it as richly as possible–paint it, cook, write, or sing it. How do you already embody this vision of hope in your daily life? What are other ways? Share your vision with your family, with your children, with your friends and ask them for ideas.

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