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Prayers and Meditations for Lent
O God, we praise you for the small, simple things:
For music that pierces the chaos of life with joy,
for the health at the edge of sicknesses,
for the moment's quiet in the hours of storm,
for the few that held when the many broke and ran,
for the honest sound in a city of noise.
We praise you for the minor key,
the oblique kindness,
the hidden joy.
God of the moment,
God of the music:
Thank you for those brief, precious times
of peace or joy or sustenance.
Each of these moments we want to last forever,
but they never do.
So we hold each moment tightly in our hearts,
fearing it may never come again,
angry at our fading memories.
We live our lives in constant change
and constant challenge.
And you are there,
in those brief, precious moments,
usually in music—in the brief handshake of note with note,
between and in and through each challenge,
to lift our spirits
and carry us through the rest.
Thank you for letting us make music with each other, for each other, and for you.
For risks not taken,
For fears that paralyze us,
For living shallow when the times are deep,
For forgetting how much you love us, Mighty, Seaworthy God, Forgive us.
Grant us a rare kind of courage. Teach us to swim and to float.
Let us be eager for the deep water, more afraid of silence than we are of
speech, more afraid of risks refused than risks
returned to the Great Risk-Taker.
Collect our hopes and deliver them from minutiae for minutes and moments of relief and gladness. For time wasted poorly, we confess our sin. For time wasted well, we rejoice. We are so rarely able to just be; we are so often crazed by a destination. Discipline us, Holy Sprit, with the calm we see in Jesus. Let us trust the coming of your time, your destination, at your speed. Let us glean the meaning in each passing moment. Wake us in the night with what we forgot and let us be glad to know what it is. Let us be the people on whom nothing is wasted. Amen.
Collect the gifts we bring into one mighty offering capable of transforming measly history into magnificent eternity, worthy of creation and your intention for it. We mark time, make time, "step up" and take time. And all the time you are with us. We speed up, slow down, watch the clock, and forget to turn it forward or back, whichever it is. And all the time all our time is really yours. Focus us, Great Watchmaker, who gave us the gift of time. Let us consciously enjoy it. Amen.
We are almost always counting. Precious Lord, teach us, soon, to count our blessings. We are in a terrible hurry. We repent over-sleeping and its laziness, insomnia and its anxiety, fogginess and its refusal to focus. We seek vigor and calm and attention. Right us, Holy Spirit. Make us someone Jesus would call friend. Amen.
No one loves yard sales as much as I do. No one. I am the queen of Saturday mornings. To me the poking and hunting into other people's lives and throwaways is a spiritual experience. I appreciate what they can no longer appreciate. I firmly believe that we all have too much stuff, times three, and that yard sales are a great way to de-clutter. They are also a great way to reclutter—adding other's discards to our own joyful abundance. Life is a long process of spiritually de-cluttering, letting go, and re-cluttering, taking on. The clutter is a prop for other things—the making of an identity by costume, or a home by accessory. When we spiritually look at what another tosses away, we become more able to toss away ourselves. Simultaneously, there are some things that just can't be let go. We need them. We don't know why. Thrift stores are also a way to God. God really doesn't know how to throw anything away. We of course must learn if we are to avoid becoming permanent slaves of our stuff. But throwing away is not in God's vocabulary. We may enjoy that grace.
Closets and cellars and attics all hold the parts of us that we don't want on display but also can't get rid of. We may need the size twelve jeans again. We may want to put up that poster of the Dead or the souvenir from the Robbins Island visit. We surely can't throw away what adorned our life in our developmental-stage twenties or thirties. Closets are places where we hide things.
Hiding is always a great risk. Living in the open, without secrets, is always better than playing the game of hide and seek so well that the other children can't find you. When we look at our closet, we need to make sure it has no secrets that God would be willing to reveal with and for us.
Cellars are places where we store our past and the past of our children. Those old report cards will someday have a story to tell. What a privilege it is to have a past and to be able to hold on to it. Unlike immigrants who often have to leave everything they love behind, many of us are quite stable. We pay moving companies to carry our cellars around! What a privilege it is to have a past!
Attics are a place for our future. They contain the hope chests and the old dresses that may yet fit. They are places where children go to play in quiet moments. They are places of great strength and light and openness. Very few attics are completely full. What a wonderful thing to be in a useless room that still has space for new identity and the thoughts of the imagination!
Houses are symbols of us. They are places where we enjoy the art of personal development. Gleaning our identity and giving thanks to God for it is a marvelous way to spend Lent. We might even clean out our attics, basements, and closets. Then again we might learn to enjoy them, just the filled-up way they are.
Taking out the recycling bins always makes me feel like I am preparing for my death. I too will someday go to the landfill. I too will someday make good compost. So will you. When we say good-bye to the milk cartons and wine bottles, the newspapers and magazines, we are saying good-bye to the week in a physical way. Recycling days are great days to make sure we have said our prayers of thanksgiving—and to get ready for the great Thanksgiving when we will be reused by God.
Did you ever go to a farm auction? The item for sale is held up by someone while another barks prices at a fast pace. People bid items up or down. Some items are all but given away because no one wants them.
Have you ever been unemployed, for a long or short time? Do you remember what that feels like? Glean the meaning of unemployment—and you will go a long way toward appreciating your job, both in its value and its price.
Certainly not every job is worth keeping. Gleaners know that—and gleaners know that we often don't realize what we have when we have it. We often ignore the blessings of today on behalf of some greed for a better day. Be careful. Life can be a party you miss instead of a party you attend. Learn to glean thanksgiving.
We never know what we have while we have it. We never glean the glory of our husband or wife or partner. We never glean the full glory of any two-year-old. We spend so much time doing "something else" that our two-year-old becomes a three-year-old becomes a thirty-year-old—and we missed life as it passed by.
Focus us on now, Holy God. Let us learn to love the present moment. Let us be gleaners of the glory of now.
As we move through Lent and as we move through life, some of us get broken. We agree with Paul in Romans 7:19. The good that I would have done I did not and the evil that I would not have done I did.
We find ourselves oddly linked to our own illnesses. If not fully responsible, surely there is reason to search for some culpability. We don't just "get" broken, we break ourselves. We eat wrong, we don't exercise enough, we don't take care of our bodies. Very few of us are immune from worry about our health and what we do and don't do to care for it. We feel the cracks.
Or we find ourselves struck down by guilt as we pass a homeless man holding a sign: "Will work for food." We could have done something before now! We are still full from lunch, a lunch we didn't need, and here he is with nothing. We see Christ in his face and turn our eyes and hope the light turns soon. We may fish in our purse for a few coins but guilt grabs us. We know those few coins won't make that much of a difference. We feel the cracks in our consciences as much as in our bodies.
Whenever we feel our own brokenness and take responsibility for it, we develop spiritual muscles. They have a certain serendipity. We never really know what "garbage" is going to give what gift. What we do know is that life's garbage, the body's cracks, and the spirit's embarrassments do bring gifts.
Let us be the people who see grace in garbage and who carry on. Amen.
Difficulty gives closeness to God that doesn't come many other ways. The poet Rumi asks why, if trouble is such a blessing, we don't charge for it. He understands that cracks in the pottery can be a source of joy just as we know that garbage brings gifts. We learn experientially what Psalm 63 means when it says: Your love, O God, is greater than life. Let us learn to be grateful for difficulty. Amen.
Savior and Friend, you know how much I was hurt by something this week. You know how sad I am. You also know that disappointment and regret grow in me as a fertile field for doubt the size of Thomas's. You also know that the best revenge is not to become like the one who hurt you. Let me rise above hurt and into grace. Let me not become the monster I want to destroy in those who hurt me. And let me find the support I need to live elsewhere. Let me let the church carry me when I can't carry myself. Soon let me become one who carries others as well. Restore me to strength. Increase my faith. Allow me the honesty to know how much I ache. Let me not be afraid of my pain.
Of all the things that need gleaning, that need to be saved from the trash heap of history, surely our overused, overconscious, overobserved selves win the prize. We spend so much time in the trap of self-consciousness. Lead us to self-surrender as the true way of saving ourselves. Let the self fall to the ground. Let it drop lightly. Let it be our servant, not our master. Let us save the good parts and let the others go. Bring us to self-surrender and from there let us re-experience your holy seasons. Amen.
When things do spill in our lives, let us not be surprised. Emptying is as important an action as filling. When a vessel shatters, let it not so much lament as glean new uses. Let it realize its newly expanded openness to embrace the light of the world. Let "broken open" be our theme in this holy season before Easter. Let us not walk away from the crippled, the spilled, or the broken. Instead let us glean the meaning of each and all. Amen.
Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm, a wise person said. If we struggle with depression, let us befriend it instead. If we have lost our enthusiasm, send us on a search for it. Send us to parks where children play and fight over trucks in sand. Send us to junior high lots where kids flirt with each other. Send us to a wedding, even if we haven't been invited. Send us to a rock-and-roll party. Do something with us. Life is too short to be lived without enthusiasm. Let us pick up what most other people throw away—and keep these discards as our joy. Let cheer be our dissent from the way life is. Amen.
For the late shift worker at the nursing home,
The migrant worker whose pay is delayed,
The tired mother who still has to find the shoes before she can put her children to bed,
The father who knows the car is failing but can't bear to tell its truth to a worried family,
The son whose report card is going to be bad,
The daughter whose soccer game is terrible and whose parents can't take the news,
For all people who live in disturbed and deep water, for their fatigue and their persistence through it, we pray.
We ask for courage, for patience, for trust, for the refusal to substitute addictive calms for the real thing.
Help us, O God, to act on what we believe. Help us to act as though the cross is true. Help us to know that we have an underworld of which we are not afraid. We go there to rise. We follow Jesus. We are not afraid of evil because he is not afraid of evil. Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us, surely, from evil.
Help me not blame others for what is wrong in myself. Help me not to blame others for not being sufficiently enthusiastic about me or my house or my garden or my work. Let me instead learn to be excited about others—and therein to keep responsibility close to home. Let me give to others what I want for myself. And in that spirit let me receive the gifts of Jesus. Amen.
When I have to go to other worlds and underworlds of my own, guard my goings in and comings out, O God. Let me remember that I stand in a long line of people who have had to go down to go up. Let my tradition be theirs—and let me be a person who is not afraid of the dark so much as afraid of not knowing the light. "Weeping endures for the night, but joy returns in the morning." Amen.
Hoping for a Sparse Lent
"We think of Bach on the harpsichord; one does not know whether the beauty is in what has been subtracted, or in what has not been added."
Yesterday late in the day we got a call that a grandmother had run over a grandfather holding her eight-month-old grandchild. She just didn't see them. She was going out for groceries. The grandfather was standing in the driveway with the child. Both her husband and her grandson are dead. Family is still being notified. This poor woman has to go on living.
We are all balanced on our own slender life thread. We are each less than a century of one combination of DNA, luck, chance, talents, upbringing, and culture. We don't need Jesus to talk about spilled wine or rent cloth to know that things break. We don't need Lent to tell us that our containers are fragile. We know about spill. We know about tear. We know about things that break at the wrong moment.
Fragility, finally, is not just about terrible tragedy or hyperactive worrywart-ism. Think of a bird's nest. How God could trust baby birds to a pile of little sticks, poised high in trees, I'll never know. But our strong and wonderful houses are not that far away from birds' nests. They look bigger and stronger, but we know they are not. They house us as well as they can. In fact one New Yorker cartoon suggests a man who wants a smaller house: "I want fewer walls to defend."
The Web site www.snoflake.com says, "Stuff falls out of the sky and we have to understand it."
We don't know what we have when we have it! Indeed one sure message of Lent is that we might look at what we have when we have it. Jesus puts it as his being new wine. He says that he is with the disciples now and that's why they don't need to fast. Now they should feast.
During Lent, let's be sure to not box Jesus up and tie a bow around him. He will escape all our understandings. Too often, if we are social activists, then Jesus is a social activist. If we are lonely, then Jesus is someone who assuages loneliness. If we are oppressed, Jesus is someone who liberates us. Jesus is also the forgiver of our sins when we're obsessed, or our good luck charm when we need to be caressed. There is massive evidence that Jesus is all these things and more to people. The central point, though, is that God in man, Jesus Christ, is not captive to any one of our viewpoints—Mel Gibson's or mine or yours or anybody's. Let us learn to be careful with our Jesus.
Give us Lenten eyes, O God, so that we can turn the forces of evil coming at us back toward themselves. There, with Jesus, we imagine the triumph that can come out of trouble, the good news in the bad news. There we see what the poet said about the broken vessel. It crashed on the floor, leaving itself wide open for something new. Let something new find us, let us live in the transformed now.
"Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds.... Let me Walk in Beauty and make my eyes ever ready to behold the red and purple sunset."
—"Let Me Walk in Beauty," Chief Yellow Lark, 1887
Lent is the time of spring in many parts of the country. Let nature teach us God. Let nature spring us to God. Let nature lengthen us to our full stature. Amen.
Rachel Carson finished Silent Spring while suffering from late-stage breast cancer. She knew she was ill but didn't want anyone else to know. She finished the book.
Hear our prayer, O God, that we can finish what we have started no matter what we face. Hear our prayer for finality and fullness and the capacity to suffer well. Amen.
Excerpted from Prayers for Lent, Easter and Pentecost by Donna E. Schaper. Copyright © 2005 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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