Archive for the ‘Grace in Unanswered Prayer’ Category

From the very young age of 10, when I first read the Bible from front to back, I decided that the book of Ecclesiastes would be (and continues to be) my favorite book of the Bible. Here are words to live by from chapter 3:

“I know God has made everything beautiful for its time. God has also placed in our minds a sense of eternity; we look back on the past and ponder over the future, yet we cannot understand the doings of God. 12I know there is nothing better for us than to be joyful and to do good throughout our lives; 13to eat and drink and see the good in all of our hard work is a gift from God. 14I know everything God does endures for all time. Nothing can be added to it; nothing can be taken away from it. We humans can only stand in awe of all God has done. 15What has been and what is to be—already is. And God holds accountable all the pursuits of humanity.*”

Excerpt From: Nelson, Thomas. “The Voice Bible.” Thomas Nelson, 2012-02-23. iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

This year I intend to enjoy the “awe” just a bit more each day instead of trying to fix perfection.

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I received this from my sweet Mother-in-law. Clearly there is no replacement for the original 10 Commandments or their counterpart Yama-Niyama from the Hindu traditions. However, these “commandments” have much to offer.

 Layman’s 10 Commandments….
Someone has written these beautiful words. It’s a must read. Try to understand the deep meaning of it. They are like the ten commandments to follow in life all of the time!
 1] Prayer is not a “spare wheel”that you pull out when in trouble, but it is a “steering wheel”that directs the right path throughout the journey.
 2] So why is a Car’s WINDSHIELD so large & the Rear View Mirror so small? Because our PAST is not as important as our FUTURE. So, Look Ahead and Move on.
 3] Friendship is like a BOOK. It takes a few minutes to burn, but it takes years to write.
 4] All things in life are temporary. If going well, enjoy it, they will not last forever. If going wrong, don’t worry, they can’t last long either.
 5] Old Friends are Gold! New Friends are Diamond! If you get a Diamond, don’t forget
the Gold! Because to hold a Diamond, you always need a Base of Gold!
 6] Often when we lose hope and think this is the end, GOD smiles from above and says, “Relax, sweetheart, it’s just a bend, not the end!
 7] When GOD solves your problems, you have faith in HIS abilities; when GOD doesn’t solve your problems HE has faith in your abilities.
  8] A blind person asked St. Anthony: “Can there be anything worse than losing eye sight?” He replied: “Yes, losing your vision!” 

9] When you pray for others, God listens to you and blesses them, and sometimes, when you are safe and happy, remember that someone has prayed for you.
 10] WORRYING does not take away tomorrow’s TROUBLES, it takes away today’s peace.

Amen to that!


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When prayer became my primary vocation, in all honesty, I saw it a my default operating system. No longer able to withstand full time employment or even to responsibly and consistently volunteer, I began to see prayer as the way I could justify my existence. Was I in for a surprise! God has provided for my every need, including a husband who cherishes me and a retreat-like home condusive to prayer, meditation and healing. Then God brought into my life teachers and friends to support my new life as a Christian mystic and contemplative. I have come to see prayer as not only aligning myself with the Kingdom of God but as an essential foundation for God at work in time and place. My heart has become filled with joy, cradled with peace and empowered in Christ-conciousness. All I can say is “Thank-you, Thank-you, Thank-you!”

Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.

-Mohandas Gandhi

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I, like millions of others, have a chronic condition that causes me days of extreme pain and zero visible accomplishment. My daughter has the same. When we are together and in pain the presence we are to each other is a unique and holy kind of love. It is truly very hard to be with someone in their pain. It is almost reflexive to run away physically if not emotionally. When we ourselves are in excruciating pain, we too want to run from ourselves. The current psycho-babble admonition to be fully present is at best annoying and at worst cruel. But when two people in pain are together, there is a bond that needs no words. That is where I am today. I am not practicing being present. I am gratefully remembering I am in the Presence of Holiness.

May God bless us with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

– Four-fold Franciscan Blessing

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Psalm 130:5 “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”

I have had a daily practice of meditation for close to 30 years now. After that much practice, most days this comes naturally. But there are always those times when life has other ideas. My favorite memory of this comes from my early days of pastoring when I started a sermon series on spiritual disciplines with a tutorial on Chritian mediation. I had designed a guided meditation based on Psalm 1 with Pacabel’s Canon playing softly in the background. All was going well until I heard a man running down the aisle towards the organ carrying a fire extinquisher! The organist softly said: “I’m sorry but the organ appears to have caught on fire!”

More recently, a woodpecker was determined to destroy our cedar siding. This loud tatoo greatly interrupted my quiet. I don’t know if that was better or worse than my dear husband shooting at squirrels with his pellet gun. So much for oneness with the All of creation!

Then there is that persistent to-do list that keeps interrupting my enjoyment of God’s loving presence. If that becomes too loud, I write it down and return to the task on hand. Repeating every name for God that I can think of sometimes speaks louder than the to do list. But then there’s the chance that Amy Grant will be singing El Shaddai in my mind. Which come to think of it, isn’t a bad meditation all by itself. I believe God blesses even the intention to quiet one’s heart even if we don’t “feel” that blessing in the moment. Over time, God’s presence becomes a greater reality than even a burning organ or a persistent woodpecker.

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“There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then God must be dug out again.”

– Etty Hillesum, from The Letters and Diaries of Etty Hilliesum 1941-1943

It is customary in our culture to look for any sort of fulfillment outside of ourselves. I am reminded of the words in our constitution guaranteeing our right to pursue happiness as an inalienable right, as if happiness were a thing to capture. We often are taught to seek God in this way as well. If we just found the right church, or read the Bible for long enough each day, or listen to this or that guru, or wait until we die and are rewarded with heaven….pursuing God. But this isn’t how God is found. God dwells within the deepest recesses of our being. God has already been “captured” so to speak within the holy walls of our human self, deep in our hearts. When we endure the silence of attending to this Presence, we can live there even in the most difficult of circumstances, even in the worst as did the writer of the quote above before she met her death in Auschwitz.

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“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit”. Psalm 51:12

I haven’t been very joyful lately. I have motherly worries that I do my best to change into prayers, with limited success. This has drawn me closer to Mary the Mother of Jesus in a rather unorthodox way as the tune “Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be!” plays gently on my mind.

I am truly, truly, truly terrible at letting anything be. I have this persistent delusion that anything that I perceive as wrong, or even troubling can be fixed…by me…with God’s help of course! This is a particularly distructive delusion.

The above verse is the last line of David’s psalm of repentance after he was called on the carpet for trying to fix his rape of Bathsheba by killing off her husband and then marrying her. His life went down hill from there. Some things can’t ever be made right.

However, a heart broken is the only fertile field for God’s grace. Mother Mary certainly knows about broken hearts and the joy that only God can grow

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It wasn’t too many years ago that news of a recession and the falling of stock prices would have been meaningless to me, mostly because I didn’t have any stock in anything and didn’t own a home. Being healthy and able to work myself to death gave me a sense of self-righteousness about monetary wealth. I would preach, much to my embarrassment now, about trusting God for our financial needs and not depending on savings accounts and retirement investments. Easy for me to say to all those wonderful people who took time each week to hear me preach and to pay my paycheck. Ah the simplicity of being young and naive! I wonder why someone didn’t just slap me or try to not pay me and see how well I practiced what I preached.
There is a subtle difference between living with faith that God will provide and being just plain irresponsible.
God has been faithful in providing for me anyway. This would lead me to believe that God is less interested in my being perfect than am I. Sure I’ve learned some painful lessons about debt and credit and needing versus wanting. But in the end, God has provided what I needed when I needed it regardless of me getting it all right.
Here we are in the midst of a panicking financial world. Those with wealth in investments are feeling the pain. But those who have nothing, still have nothing. I may have been naive about financial matters, but I have to say that there is a freedom in having nothing to lose (I think that was Janis Joplin’s line in Bobby Magee….). Financial crisis does bring clarity about what is needful and what is merely materialistic idolatry. I may not have known what I was talking about but the truth is still the truth. If God is not on the throne of our hearts, no amount of material wealth will satisfy. Perhaps this current crisis in the marketplace is all a corrective to the god of market-based living and a reminder that God is not mocked.

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I haven’t been able to post much the past few days. Travelling does me in. Insomnia and other sleep disorders are par for the course with Fibromyalgia. I have developed an adverse reaction to Ambien and Lunesta – I sleep walk and sleep eat to the tune of a 30 pound weight gain…and I needed to lose more than 30 pounds before this all started. So no medications, just giving the herbal remedies a try. This means I am unable to get to sleep until 5 or 6 am and then only for a few hours. Which means the pain I have raises to the level of tranisiton labor pains. Fortunely these pains move around from one muscle insertion point to another so I don’t get bored and I have relief in the area the pain has left.
If you are still reading this and are not totally bored with this list of complaints, I have found a way to redeem this experience. About five years ago, I learned several chants – Hebrew, Latin and Sanskrit. They are all prayers to God for clarity or mercy or disolution of delusions. Because I have practiced them so many times, they come to my mind automatically. So when the sleeplessness persists, my mind automatically goes to the Jesus Prayer “Om Jesu Christ” and then a few hours later to the Gayatri mantra (the most ancient prayer known to us) or to the Shema (the ancient prayer of the Hebrew people). As these prayers sing through my mind, I am lifted out of myself and into the presence of God. There I remember all the people who have asked me to pray for them. And I bring the battlefields of our earth to God’s attention. I remember the terribly disfigured and emotionally racked veterans of these most recent wars and I imagine their spirits to be healed. By the time the sun comes up, I am usually very relaxed and able to rest deeply with a sense of peace that is so full and abiding that it brings tears of joy to my eyes. I have no words to describe this. I can only say that I will gladly, fearlessly, welcome the sleeplessness and pain to reach this place of heaven on earth.
I offer you this prayer that has helped me re-imagine my own burdens: “O Lord, sculpt thou me according to thy desires.”

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We have a spiral staircase in our home that connects the basement with the two floors above it. It is a steel staircase (made by US Steel – it says so right on one of the railings). In it’s nearly 30 years of existence, these stairs had never been painted. We decided a nice coat of black Rustoleum would greatly improve it’s appearance. Six hours later, the stairs were looking pretty good. However, an unfortunate splatter on a new carpet, a few unintended spots on the otherwise white ceiling and inky black cuticles were vivid reminders of my amateur status.
Not knowing any better, I dabbed the carpet stain with Mineral Spirits. Did the same with the spot on the wall. To my horror, the black oil spread making the stains even worse. My on-line search yielded many solutions, including cutting the carpet out and gluing a new patch in it’s place. But I was determined not to go that route.
Application after application of Mineral Spirits and gentle dabbing, the carpet looks almost like new. Hours of soaking my hands in mineral spirits and then my fingers in nail polish remover eventually yielded minor improvement. It’s taken days of washing and a professional nail technician to restore my cuticles to some semblance of normalcy.
What does this have to do with the delusion of sin? Have you ever known a recent convert or a reformed addict? When newly “born again” we think we understand it all and that we will never be deluded again. But in reality we’re looking pretty much like that black stain in my carpet. Just a layer of delusion wiped away and we think we are in the clear. Yet the confusion remains – we are most in danger when we think we’ve finally “got it.” Instead, we’re just spreading the ink.
Each moment we spend in the presence of God, in prayer, in silence, in Scripture, in praise is like the mineral spirits dissolving the inky delusion just a little bit more. Time after time, day by day, the delusion gets a little less messy and the light of God that is there inside at all times shines through.

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