Archive for the ‘Grace in Unanswered Prayer’ Category


I have become enamored with the TV show “House.” The main character, Dr. House, is an obnoxious but brilliant diagnosticians. His bedside manner is almost hateful but not quite. One suspects that underneath it all is a man who cares deeply about life. Dr. House is in chronic severe pain and can only function when on high doses of Vicodan.
Dr. House has a younger assistant neurologist who was recently transformed by a near-death experience. As a result this doctor has become a peaceful, contented, rarely angered human being. Dr. House cruelly tries to break his new found equanimity. I don’t have this quote completely right but it went something like this: “I need you to be angry. People who are at peace are happy to live in mud huts and meditate all day. Only people who are out-raged make a difference and change things.”
I can relate to Dr. House. I, too, am in chronic pain and I have days when Vicodan is the only thing that keeps me from total panic. I also can relate to his assistant. Every day I spend several hours in prayerful meditation. I am at peace with myself and with this world. I’m not so angry these days. I don’t have such a need to change much of anything except those things I am able to change. Only chronic illness could teach this to me.
But I wonder sometimes. I believe that the depth of prayer and conscious-living that I have come to know make a difference, probably much more difference than all my frantic activity of the 30 previous years. But I wonder. I used to be a change-agent. In any given situation, I knew how to make it better and I usually busted my butt to do so. Now, I don’t really care so much. I’ll do what I can but I don’t feel that I need to do so. I have more of a sense that things happen all in God’s good time. My efforts might be helpful once in awhile but only in a fleeting way, like the vapor of a burning candle.
I used to say “I’d rather burn out than rust out.” Perhaps I’ve done that. Or perhaps I have found a way to flow with the Spirit. Life is much better and I certainly don’t miss being angry. Still, I think of the t-shirt my daughter once gave my husband: “If you aren’t totally outraged, you aren’t paying attention.”

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The Shape of Living: Spiritual Directions for Everyday Life by David F. Ford utilizes the concept of being overwhelmed as a way that we are spiritual formed by the events in our lives and how we respond to those events. He calls these “overwhelmings” which got me to thinking.
We’ve had some overwhelmings in this part of the country – literally covered with a flood. Fortunately for us, we are fine – just lost a hunk of property to erosion from our creek that is usually 5 feet across and a few inches deep. Last week it was 35 feet across and about that deep, a raging river.
That makes me think about what it is really like to be overwhelmed when there is nothing to hang on to. I remember many times like that in my life, the last time being when I became too ill to work about five years ago and have since been in unremitting pain. I keep returning to the first chapter of John and to the 23rd Psalm, going deeply into meditation on phrases from those scriptures.
We’ve watched houses floating down our rivers, homes completely lifted off their foundations. It is no wonder that when people are overwhelmed, they dip into the darkness. Sometimes it appears that the darkness is all there is. Certainly I have had times when that was all I could see. In those times, it was only God holding me that saved me but I certainly was not aware that I was being held in the moment. Like those homes and pieces of homes swirling down the flooded rivers, there are times we have no choice but to just wait until we land and hope we don’t drown in the process. There is no ability to hold on to anything during those times. The floods move too quickly and unexpectedly.
We may not turn to what appears as darkness (whether it be drugs, sex or alcohol) but we might shrink back into being judgmental or clingy or angry or completely insecure or any number of other attitudes that are equally destructive. For myself, I have found that anything that I have judged negatively in someone else, I end up finding in myself at some point in time. Life just seems to me to be an adventure in one humbling experience (one overwhelming) after another with moments here and there where the light shines brightly and peace overwhelms into depths the darkness cannot reach.

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The following is a prayer used by the Anglican church in it’s ministry of deliverance. This is a powerful prayer to counteract any sense of psychic attack. You will also find it in more traditional hymnals.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord

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‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ (Michelangelo)

“O Divine Sculptor, chisel thou me according to thy desires.” (A prayer taught by Parmahansa Yogananda)
This is my paraphrase of a portion of an informal lecture by a devotee of Yoganana, Brother Anandamoy:

Our souls are like the angel that Michelangelo freed from the marble: perfect and beautiful. The circumstances of our lives are the primary way the Divine Sculptor releases our beautiful soul. Troubles come and a chunk of stone (sin, or in other words that which keeps us from God’s intention) is carved away. This is very painful and we often react by grabbing that big chunk of “stone” and glueing it back on! Troubles come again, often the very same sort of trouble that has plagued us before….and the chunk of “stone” is released once again. When we finally surrender and hang on to God rather than our need to be right and perfect in other’s eyes, that chunk of stone is really gone for good. We no longer have to experience that same set of troubles.

All of life is this process of being sculpted, or rather, being released from this stone that entombs the beautiful soul that is ours as sons and daughters of the Divine Sculptor. It is a most powerful prayer: “O Divine Sculptor, chisel thou me according to thy desires.” I commend it to you but with caution – having one’s soul set free is quite the painful process. But being freed is the point of it all.

The celebration of the resurrection of Christ, the rolling away of the stone from the tomb will soon be upon us. It is tempting as Christians to believe that a simple prayer of repentance or being “born again” frees us in a magical way, suddenly taking away the “stone” of sin from our lives. On a cosmic level, this is true. But on a practical level of life in this plane of existance, the spiritual practice of surrender to Christ requires our daily cooperation. Surrender (i.e. devotion to Christ, not just an intellectual belief) is the process by which the soul is set free.

“O Divine Sculptor, chisel thou me according to thy desires.”

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In my sorting through old papers, I came across this reflection I had written 20 years ago randomly tucked in a folder of bits and peices:

“Prayer has always been a mystery to me. My first memories of prayer (other than Grace said before meals) are my early grade school prayers of confession which I deemed necessary for assurance of salvation. At eight, I was taught such theological truths as eternal security and salvation by grace alone. Although relieved of my burden of laborious confessions, I began to wonder what the point of it all was.
For awhile, it was enough to know that Jesus prayed and therefore so should I. But soon I began to wonder anew, why did he bother? Some mystical soul pointed out to me that the book of Revelations describes the prayers of the saints as incense offered to God, as something which delights and pleases him. That’s a beautiful thought to me but I don’t really understand it.

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In preparation for a move in March, I’ve been sorting through old papers – things I’ve moved around the past three moves without even thinking about it. 26 garbage bags and two trips to the Salvation Army later, I feel much lighter. There’s something both cathartic and affirming about it all. As I read through things I’ve written, bills I’ve paid, notes of encouragement, little post-it notes from my children reminding me to do something a decade or more ago, I remember the many lessons over these past two decades and find I have learned many of them in spite of myself. Here’s what I think I’ve learned imperfectly but deeply:

1) Trust in God always no matter how horrific life may look.
2) Be a blessing in whatever circumstance life has brought – we are created to be a blessing to others.
3) Say no firmly and repeatedly to anyone who tries to destroy your person.
4) Treat yourself and your life as a gift to unwrap rather than as a thing to endure.
5) Be grateful for the forgiveness of others when you fail them and pass on that forgivness to anyone who has failed you.
6) Never be ashamed of love even if you have loved someone or something that was not worthy of that love. Love is never wasted.
7) Trust that God is placing all around you invisible forms of support to bring you home to God’s heart.
8) Hold on to true friendship but let go of those that fall away from you naturally.
9) Anxiety and depression aren’t necessarily things to avoid. They often are flags to alert you to something you know unconciously but don’t want to see.
10) Believe in your own worth and face your own weaknesses with love.

I’ll probably want to add to this list or modify it over time. But here it is for now.

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The Soul of Christianity by Huston Smith is like talking with a friend on the journey to authentic Christian faith and practice. To quote from the book cover:

“In this elegant and passionate treatise, the dean of world religions defends the essentials of Christianity, the worlds largest religion. Bestselling author Huston Smith stakes out a path between that of culturally rigid, intolerant evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity and the nontranscendent, liberal Christianity. He presents a convincing argument for a vital alternative that is a deeper more authentic faith, a faith that guided the Church for its first thousand years.”


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Matt Stone contributed a comment a few weeks ago about meditation. I’m new to this whole blogging adventure so it took me a while to figure out that clicking on his name took me to this marvelous website. I recommend it to you: Matt Stone

From his website, I discovered another one that has Christian classics on-line: Christian Classics Ethereal Library I know that the internet sometimes provides more information than we can handle but I, for one, am quite thankful for it. As with anything else, it can be used for good or ill.

The one thing that stands out to me in these troublesome times is that secrets are much harder to keep. With the information traveling between all countries and time zones, it seems to me that the truth eventually rises to the surface, if one is patient and diligent in seeking that truth.

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I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for,
But everything I had hoped for.
Almost, despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, truly blessed.
(Author Unknown)

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It was my first visit to yet another health care professional. If I counted up the miles, money and minutes spent trying to pull out of this strangle hold of the weird symptoms call Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS) , I.d probably be depressed. But I.m not. I.m actually pretty happy most of the time.

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