Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Lord is My Shepherd: Simple Prayer Practices for Engaging with Psalm 23




Many of us rallied through the sudden changes brought by COVID 19 with equal doses of information and humor this past week. I personally, have read more news this week than at any other time in my life - I'm even checking local news several times a day. 

As we roll into Sunday, our minds are distracted and full and many of us may struggle as we turn to new church routines - with our hearts and minds so weary and full, how can we absorb much more? Even if the content is different (prayers and sermons and scripture rather than news update) I'm still finding it challenging to take it all in. 

I'm so thankful to see that Psalm 23 happens to be included in the lectionary reading for this fourth Sunday of Lent. Psalm 23 is a favorite of many and a familiar comfort in times of distress because it speaks directly to our anxious, wandering minds and hearts by rooting us in tactile, embodied images. 

Reading the Psalm, we're asked to put data and information aside and engage the imagination. "I am like a sheep," the Psalmist says, "lay your worries aside and come take a walk with me. Let me tell you about my shepherd. He cares for you too." 

The Psalm is ripe with colorful images of green pastures, still waters, dark valleys, and even the decadent spread of a picnic laid out right smack-dab in the midst of a place of great threat. 

If you find yourself struggling to "do church" or "find God" this week, I want to offer two simple practices you might try (these work great with kids too). 

Imaginative Prayer: Try praying Psalm 23 using your imagination. This form of prayer comes from the Jesuit tradition and involves moving through a passage of scripture slowly, intentionally, and imaginatively. Read the passage once, to become familiar with it. Then, read through again, pausing to paint a mental picture of each image the Psalm presents. 

For example: Imagine yourself as the sheep, feel your own thick wool. Feel the grass on your hooves, lay down in the great greenness, nibble some grass, if you want. Feel the shepherd's presence beside you. How does the shepherd look at you? 

Continue moving through the passage one verse at a time, imaginatively using all of your senses to engage with God. If you find your mind wandering, gently return to the verse or image at hand. You might move through the entire Psalm in this way, or you might move through one verse at a time over the course of several days. Taking time to journal about the experience afterward might help make any insights more concrete. If weather and circumstances allow, this imaginative prayer might be enhanced by being outside. 

Praying With Your Body: Whether you're trying to "do church" with several children or simply need a way to move away from your own mental gymnastics of fear and worry, praying with the body offers a great way to focus during times of stress. 

Pardon the blurred images, but I've posted below a simple body prayer that accompanies Psalm 23. This prayer is taken from Roy DeLeon's book, Praying With the Body: Bringing the Psalms to Life

The first image below shows the adapted prayer and accompanying postures. The next two are a close-up of the first and second half of the prayer.

All of these postures (as drawn) take place on the floor - you'll want to lay out a towel or exercise mat. They can also be easily done in a seated position in an upright chair (steal one from the dinning room table). Take the time to breath several times in each pose and repeat the suggested phrases. Breathing through your nose in a focused way (such that it makes a bit of noise) helps slow you down and bring attention to your breath. 

You could move through this prayer once, slowly or several times as the postures become more familiar. I think this prayer movement could also be a lovely way to unwind and move toward bed at the end of each day.







DeLeon closes the prayer practice with this adapted interpretation of Psalm 23:

O Source of all life's goodness,
you provide everything we need.
You teach me contentment, and true happiness,
the grass is not any greener where I am not.
In times of trouble, chaos, and calamity,
let me be wise and turn to you for comfort. 
For you are a kind and merciful God,
a faithful friend with whom all is possible.

I hope these resources help you find ways to be grounded today and receive the Love and Comfort that's available at all times and in all places as we open ourselves to God.

Got questions? Hit me up in the comments below. 


Finding comfort or insight in focusing on this Psalm? Please feel free to share that too in the comments. Feel free to pass this resource along to any friends you think might benefit from these simple prayer practices. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Hidden Life and Its Questions




If I were to tell you one more thing, it would be this: Do not believe that the one who seeks to comfort you lives without difficulty the simple and humble words that sometimes help you. His life contains much grief and sadness and he remains far behind you. Were it not so, he would not have found these words. – Rainer Maria Rilke

I was thinking about these words from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet in the shower this morning as I pondered this online life of mine and the hiddenness of the life that lies behind it. Online, you see what I show you and I try to show you what edifies, but I also try to be truthful, as much as is possible without causing harm.

For example, I posted a picture on my personal fb page yesterday, a picture of my cat and dog taken after eating lunch on our front porch, surrounded by sun and sky. It was a good picture and a lucky day (mid 70s!) to be eating lunch at home. It was the best part of my day and I shared it with friends online.

But I didn’t share waking up at 5 am and being unable to get back to sleep. I didn’t share how I curled up in bed at 7 pm while the boys were out with John. My daughter came to find me, and I told her, half-joking, “Come get me in twenty minutes, I think I might have depression, or maybe it’s just PMS.”

//

I resigned from my job as Associate Pastor at a local church just over a week ago. It was not a decision I was planning and was not easily made. It’s a choice that comes at a great cost to my family and me. It’s a choice I was privileged to make.

I am grieving. I am free. I am wandering through days suddenly empty, unpacking the contents from my office at the church into my office at home. I’m grateful all over again for the shelter of this place we call home, for the animals and children to tend, for the office and work of my own.

I am grateful. I am grieving. I am wandering. I am free. All of these statements are true.

But I’ve been careful in what I share.

//

Looking through Rilke’s letters, I find another line that rings true for this time: “Do not draw conclusions too quickly from that which is happening to you. Just allow it to happen.”

I’ve been thinking about the space between a thing and its naming; how mystery and possibility dwell there. The space before naming invites a posture of curiosity, which is open and probing, rather than judgement, which is closed. When we name a thing – an experience or person – we lose access to all the other names that might have been. Labeling an experience ‘good’ we deny the bad. Naming a person ‘evil’ we sign an unspoken pact to overlook any glimmers of goodness.

Think of the way naming the humble dandelion a “weed” blinds our eyes from the glory of this roadside yellow friend. There’s one even now (in March!) in my front flower bed, but I won’t celebrate its golden head with anything near the welcome I offer to the purple crocus nodding just two feet away.

There’s a space between a thing and its naming and I’m living there these days. It’s a space of mystery and possibility. It’s a space of occasional fear and dread. For the most part, I’m trying to lean toward Gerald May’s summation in The Dark Night of the Soul: “To be immersed in mystery can be very distressing at first, but over time I have found immense relief in it. It takes the pressure off.”

Few of us are very comfortable once the pressure’s off. Sure, it’s good for a day, or maybe a leisurely week or two. But most of us want to be quickly back at it, whatever it may be, if only by naming experience, cordoning it off, somehow checking a virtual box marked “done.”

Which brings me, finally, to another piece of Rilke's advice: 

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

"Live everything," Rilke says. This is the point. 

Do you see what he does there? So often we live for the answers, as though they were the point, not the living itself.

Live everything: Live the grief. Live the freedom. Live the gratitude. Live, also, the fear, when it comes. Live it all.

Even if it never quite all makes it onto your newsfeed. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Enough (a poem)



Some days, I would
sell my own soul for thirty
pieces of silver, just
to hear the coins,
solid and real, clinking
in my pocket.

Some days, I too
would sell my birthright
for a steaming bowl of stew,
because hunger is here
and now.

I would throw myself
from the highest cliff;
I would light myself on fire,

if it were not for the voice
that whispers, “That
is not what I ask of you.”

 //

Some days, that voice
is enough.

- K. Chripczuk


* I've spent weeks thinking about whether and how to explain this poem, feeling it needed an explanation to soften it. For now, though, I'm letting it stand as is. I'm curious, what do you hear in it? How does it speak to you? Thanks, as always, for reading and sharing.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

On Boundaries and the Necessary Magic of the Word, 'No!'



no
is a necessary magic

no
draws a circle around you
with chalk
and says
i have given enough

- boundaries

(anonymous)

//

I was walking down to the garden the other morning, when a line from Maurice Sendak’s, Where the Wild Things Are ran through my mind. A friend had texted, asking if I might bring flowers in to work. I had paused before replying – I didn’t know if we had flowers left in the garden or not.  More importantly, though, I didn’t know if I had it in me to bring flowers or not.

I texted back, “Lemme see . . .”

After the boys got on the bus, I did a quick internal scan. Did I have it in me to bring in flowers? Yes, I did. Plus, the act of walking through the early morning dew, scanning stems for suitable blossoms, and arranging them in a vase would be good for me.

//

I am someone who grows and cuts flowers to bring into the office. I am someone who spreads poetry in the world, who writes, who tells jokes, and listens, and gives, and gives, and gives.

Most of the time, people like this about me. “We appreciate you,” they say. “You bring something we need.”

Most of the time, I like being liked.

Maybe you do too?

//

Liking being liked can be a problem.

Needing to be liked can be a more serious problem still.

It can lead to a giving that depletes so completely that the giver is left with an empty shell of self.

//

“. . . we’ll eat you up – we love you so!”

This the line I recalled from Sendak’s book. It’s what the wild things say to Max when he’s feeling lonely and longing for “someone who loves him best of all.”

I thought of that line and recognized something in it about the way church work can be; about the way parenting or teaching or any other form of service that involves deep self-giving and sacrifice can be. Caring for young children, tending a sick loved one, feeding a hungry church – all of these have the potential to eat us up, especially if we're looking to them to replace "someone who loves us best of all."

//

I went back and re-read Where the Wild Things Are a few days later.  I read how it’s Max’s realization of his loneliness and need for love that causes him to give up his position as “king” of where the wild things are. Aware of his own needs, Max prepares to leave. This is when the wild things cry, “Oh please don’t go – we’ll eat you up – we love you so!”

Then, a wonderful, magical thing happens in the story: Max says, ‘No!’

Of course, the wild things don’t like this one bit. In response, they “roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.

But Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye . . .”

//

I hope you know the power of the word ‘no.’

I hope you see how every ‘no’ is also a ‘yes’ and that choosing self care is sometimes the best gift you can give to the wild things who love you so.

I hope you don’t give in to the “terrible roars” and “gnashing teeth” and “terrible claws;” I hope you have the wisdom to see they love you so and they're just afraid you won’t return.

Go ahead, step into your boat and sail away, “in and out of weeks and through a day” and find yourself home, again, in “your own room” where Someone who loves you best can care for you for a while.

Don’t worry. We know you’ll be back. We know you’ll bring flowers and, probably, a poem or two. We know. Because that’s who you are. 

But that's only part of why we love you so. We love you also for your ability to say, and to help us to learn to say, that magic word, 'no.'