Do you ever wonder about prayer?

Why do we pray?

How should we pray?

When we pray, what are we hoping for?

Do we have the power to influence God?

Is there a wrong way to pray?

If there is a wrong way, does that mean there is a right way?

I don't ask these questions in order to engage in theological banter. I ask them because people I love are struggling and I often feel helpless. I want to ask God to help them.

And I do! I do ask God to help them.

But often, if I am honest, it feels as if God does not respond to my requests.

Do you ever feel that way?

I have a hunch you do. Some of you come to my office and tell me you do.

So, let's talk about prayer for awhile, shall we?

I'll post my thoughts in the coming days and weeks.

In the meantime, Ole Hallesby's definition of prayer has been saving my life lately.

Hallesby basically says that:

Helplessness + Faith = Prayer

Do you feel helpless about something? (Yes)

Do you have mustard seed-sized faith that Jesus has the power to help? (Yes)

Then, you have all you need for a powerful prayer life.

Take what you feel helpless about and combine it with a modicum of faith ... that's it. That's the secret formula. You almost don't need words. Just a turn of the face toward Jesus with what you feel helpless about in your hands. And you will have set into motion supernatural power beyond your imagination.

Now, there's more to be said, of course.

But let's start here: Helplessness + Faith = Prayer


Beauty makes us feel more alive ...

I just took a walk through our neighborhood with my dog, Stella.

The sun is shining in a blue sky. The birds are singing. The crusty, dirt-tinged mounds of snow and ice are gradually melting, revealing trash and brown grass and the once-hidden sidewalks.

I listened to a podcast of an interview of an Irish poet named John O'Donohue and something I heard struck me:

"Beauty," he said, "is that which, when we encounter it, leaves us feeling more alive."

What a thoughtful, lovely definition. What a stark contrast to most definitions of beauty which too often feel shallow and unobtainable and reserved for those who can pay.

As I walked, I asked myself, "What makes you feel alive, Alice?"

The answers were easy: The spring sun on my face. The cool wind in my hair. My old, faithful dog trotting happily next to me. My mom's kind, aging face. My friends' compassion. The pile of books on my chair.

I made a small resolution to seek beauty at every turn, realizing God gifts beauty to us to bring life to our souls. It can be found anywhere. It is never reserved solely for the well-off.

The apostle Paul knew this. He writes to the church at Philippi:

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.

If you can, get outside sometime this week. It will make you feel more alive. Spring is making its grand entrance. Beauty is everywhere for those who have eyes to see.


The only thing is that we don't see it ...

Some words from Thomas Merton on this snowy winter's day:

Life is this simple:

We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent

and God is shining through it all the time.

This is not just a fable or a nice story.

It is true.

If we abandon ourselves to God

and forget ourselves,

we see it sometimes

and we see it maybe frequently.

God shows Godself everywhere,

In everything,

In people and in things and in nature and in events.

It becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and

in everything and we cannot be without God.

It is impossible.

The only thing is that we don't see it.

Each of us is the swing vote ...

We need each other.

Each of us is responsible for what happens on this earth.

We are each absolutely essential, each totally irreplaceable.

Each of us is the swing vote in the bitter election battle now being waged between our best and our worst possibilities.

(Leonard Peltier, b. 1944)

What outrages you?

Such important reading this morning in Fleming Rutledge's brilliant book on the Crucifixion of Christ.

In it, she writes:

... in our world, something is terribly wrong and must be put right. If, when we see an injustice, our blood does not boil at some point, we have not yet understood the depths of God. It depends, though, on what outrages us. 

To be outraged on behalf of one's own group alone is to be human, but it is not to participate in Christ.

To be outraged and to take action on behalf of the voiceless and oppressed, however, is to do the work of God.

I fear many, including myself more often than I wish, do not dig deeply enough into classic and orthodox Christian theology, and so our understanding of God and what he did for the world on the cross is truncated, shallow, self-centered and without teeth.

Rutledge is reminding me that the message of the cross is much more than simply "Jesus died for my sins so I can go to heaven." Much, much more.

The cross carries deep, deep messages about the very nature of God. So deep that the human mind can never plumb the depths. Nevertheless, we should try.

If the cross and what happened on it does not shape our lives on behalf of our neighbor, especially our oppressed neighbor, we have seriously misunderstood the cross.

All this feigned outrage on the part of rich, white, Western Christians that is erupting in our country today is bunk.

In light of the cross of Christ, it is just bunk.

Tell 'em how you feel ...

Regret #3 in the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying is:

"I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings."

I think we all hope and pray for those death-bed moments when our loved one is lucid and we are present and we will get to say all the things we've not said to them when we thought they'd be around forever.

I have a hunch that kind of priceless moment is more rare than we know.

So, we need to say things now if we don't want to face this particular regret.

Some families are better at this than others. Some speak words of gratitude and kindness and generosity all the time. Others are more reticent, for all kinds of reasons.

I think the key to this is to be who you are, but to push yourself just a little, if need be.

One of the ways we've tried to do this in our family is upon both of my parents' 80th birthdays (Yes, I probably should have done it sooner) I encouraged all the grandchildren, the children and the kids-in-law to write a letter of any length to each grandparent expressing  their favorite memories, what they learned from each of them and how much they loved them. 

It took some poking and prodding to get everyone to complete the task, but oh my soul was the end result worth it.

My mom called it a "red hanky moment" in honor of her own father who carried a red bandana in his pocket and used it more and more the older he got when all kinds of moments brought him to tears.

My dad felt the same.

And I felt like maybe just maybe I was crossing this regret off my potential list, at least when it came to my parents.

But what about the others in my life? My husband? My kids?  My friends?

What about the loved ones in your life?

Might it be time for a short and sweet conversation?

Or if that is not your style, an e-mail or a hand-written note work just as well.

You don't have to say everything. Just say something.

I think someday it will matter more than you will ever know.

Spend it all ...

I have not written much at all lately.

I keep getting great ideas and I write them in a notebook and promise myself that I am going to write a post on this blog!

And then I fail.

I am not beating myself up; just noticing the way I am navigating this issue.

So, I came across this little bit of writing this morning from Annie Dillard - an incredibly nuanced and prolific writer.

She motivated me to start afresh and actually WRITE!

Dillard says,

One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Don't hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The very impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful; it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."

I don't want to open my safe and find ashes.

More writing coming soon!

Regret #2 ...

Regret #2 from the book The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying is ...

I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

This can immediately make some of us feel guilty because we are working hard!

And there are certain seasons of life where this is unavoidable.

There is also nothing that implies this statement only applies to paid work.

There is nothing that implies that laziness is what will leave us with no regrets.

What I believe this statement does imply is that people - when they get to the end of their lives - regret:

 ... that they didn't create enough space to nurture important relationships

... that they focused too much on gathering more stuff, rather than more meaning

... that they didn't make time to read, rest, relax, recreate, refresh, renew

... that they spent too much energy and effort on self-improvement rather than self-acceptance

... that they worked too hard on home improvement rather than on travel, hospitality, and generosity

... that they allowed the Protestant work ethic to keep them on the treadmill of endless busyness

Again, this regret can be a great springboard for self-reflection:

Where and how am I working too hard? Too much?

Am I creating enough margin in my life for the things that really matter most to me?

Are my closest relationships thriving or withering?

Do I allow myself the freedom to cease work without guilt?

Is my life a balance of hard work and deep rest?

When is the last time I "wasted" a day doing something that refreshed my soul?

Maybe take a bit of time this weekend to ask yourself a few of these questions

... and be sure to do it with your feet up!


God is doing a new thing ...

The people of God were in exile when the Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote words of hope and conviction to them from the mouth of their God.

This morning I read: "Remember not the former things, nor consider things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Isaiah 43:18-19)

I could not help but be reminded of the earthquake we are experiencing in the arena of women and men and sex and harassment and inappropriate behavior and flat-out rape.

For men it may seem as if allegations and accusations are appearing out of thin air. Memories that have been buried in women's minds, psyches and bodies are emerging on a daily basis.

Bill Cosy - BILL COSBY! - was sent to jail today for drugging and raping women. The ground shakes ...

And I get that there is fear.

Because the ground IS shifting. The old ways are gone; new things are happening.

Innocent men feel fear. But I believe that fear is unfounded. Less than 2-3% of these kinds of allegations are made up.

Less-than-innocent men also feel fear. I believe that fear IS founded. Perhaps the chickens really will come home to roost.

Women have always felt fear. Fear that we will be touched when we don't want to be. Fear that we will be harassed and no one will believe us. Fear that we will be taken advantage of at a party or if we have an extra glass of wine. Flat out fear that we will be raped if we jog, or walk, or stay home alone.

So, fear is now a common denominator.

And if fear is what is needed for some men to understand that inappropriate and unwanted behavior on their part may very well cause immediate and future damage to their lives and their careers, then fear may be just what we need until this ship gets righted.

Over two decades ago while attending a church different from the one at which I currently work, I, and several other women, reported a pastor who inappropriately touched us. We did this at great personal cost. We were all "crucified." The man is still a pastor. Thus, #WhyIDidntReport.

Currently, I face innaproppriate male behavior every month or so as I live out my calling to preach and teach. Never from my colleagues, however. If they saw some of these men do what they do, they would punch them.

All too often, I have been silent. I don't want to be rude. I am a pastor; I'm supposed to be nice! I don't want to make men feel bad. Maybe they don't understand that times have changed and it is no longer ok to either touch or comment on a woman's body. Sometimes, I am so shocked that I am rendered speechless.

No more.

It is past time for me to speak up.

For myself.

For the women who will come after me.

And for the men who do this stuff. For their sake, too.

The God who created us male and female desires that we treat each other with immense respect and fierce tenderness.

When we do this, men AND women, we will have absolutely nothing to fear. And everything to gain.

"Behold," God says, and continues to say, even in our day, "I am doing a new thing."

Accept being shipwrecked ...

I have always loved this little story from an essay by Brennan Manning. Hope you do, as well.

"One day Saint Francis and Brother Leo were walking down the road.

Noticing that Leo was depressed, Francis turned and asked: 'Leo, do you know what it means to be pure of heart?'

'Of course. It means to have no sins, faults or weaknesses to reproach myself for.'

'Ah,' said Francis, 'now I understand why you're so sad. We will always have something to reproach ourselves for.'

'Right,' said Leo. 'That's why I despair of ever arriving at purity of heart.'

'Leo, listen carefully to me. Don't be so preoccupied with purity of heart. Turn and look at Jesus. Admire him. Rejoice that he is what he is - your Brother, your Friend, your Lord and Savior. That, little brother, is what it means to be pure of heart. And once you've turned to Jesus, don't turn back and look at yourself. Don't wonder where you stand with him.

The sadness of not being perfect, the discovery that you really are sinful, is a feeling much too human. It even borders on idolatry. Focus your vision outside yourself on the beauty, graciousness and compassion of Jesus Christ. The pure of heart praise him from sunrise to sundown. Even when they feel broken, feeble, distracted, insecure and uncertain, they are able to release it into his peace. A heart like that is stripped and filled - stripped of self and filled with the fullness of God. It is enough that Jesus is Lord.'

After a long pause, Leo said, 'Still, Francis, the Lord demands our effort and fidelity.'

'No doubt about that,' replied Francis. 'But holiness is not a personal achievement. It's an emptiness you discover in yourself. Instead of resenting it, you accept it and it becomes the free space where the Lord can create anew. To cry out, 'You alone are the Holy One, you alone are the  Lord,' that is what it means to be pure of heart. And it doesn't come by your Herculean efforts and threadbare resolutions.

'Then how?' asked Leo.

"Simply hoard nothing of yourself; sweep the house clean. Sweep out even the attic, even the nagging painful consciousness of your past. Accept being shipwrecked. Renounce everything that is heavy, even the weight of your sins. See only the compassion, the infinite patience, and the tender love of Christ. Jesus is Lord. That suffices. Your guilt and reproach disappear into the nothingness of non-attention. You are no longer aware of yourself, like the sparrow aloft and free in the azure sky. Even the desire for holiness is transformed into a pure and simple desire for Jesus.'

Leo listened gravely as he walked along beside Francis. Step by step he felt his heart grow lighter as a profound peace flooded his soul."