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Archive for the ‘Grace in Unanswered Prayer’ Category

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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House

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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