Chapel Prayers

by Victor ZambranoA little out of time with the season in one sense but appropriate in another given how the days are filling and changing. May this prayer fit the growth cycles in your life, too:

As the days are lengthening and the earth spends longer in the light of each day, grant O God that I may spend longer in the light of your presence.

And may the seeds of your Word, which to now have been long-buried deep within me, grow, like everything around us, into love for you; love for your people; and trust in your abiding and healing power.

May I become a visible declaration of your presence in the midst of life.

Grant, O God, that in this springtime I may be a tree in your world,

Getting nourishment as I am rooted in you;

Giving comfort to others as trees give shade in the heat of day;

Giving shelter from the winds of life to my family, friends, and those around me.

Revive me, O God, even as you revive the world of all living things this spring.

Amen.

Prayer for Compassion

by Leeroy10Compassionate One,

when I am irritated or discouraged

by how my loved one responds

or does not respond,

fill me with compassion and kindness.

When memories of unpleasant experiences

of the past return,

assist me in extending forgiveness.

Help me, also, to be kind to myself,

to not deny the struggles.

Soothe my sore spirit

when I find the days especially difficult.

Forgive me for my own failings

and help me to overcome any guilt I have

for not always being my best self.

You know that these days are not easy ones.

Bless both of us with your merciful kindness.

From May I Walk You Home (pg. 35)

Quote of the Day

Photo Thanks to Milada Vigerova

Photo Thanks to Milada Vigerova

I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from Timothy Jones (Workday Prayers, 39):

Sometimes our words get in the way of what we want to express and do. We may pile them on even after they cease being truly wise or thought out. In these times, silence is usually more helpful to others than our words. “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength,” the prophet said (Isaiah 30:15). On the job today, in what may be a wordy, noisy world, consider ways to nurture a silence that gives others room to speak, that gives God room to move.

Ready

Thanks to Jazmin Quaynor

Thanks to Jazmin Quaynor

I participated in a readiness consultation Friday before last, which in a sentence is a meeting with my clinical supervisor and a small circle who’ve read more than a hundred pages about me and my ministry for the purpose giving me feedback on my ministry as a pastoral educator, particularly as I start supervisory education. It was a consultation that was as much for my supervisor as it was for me. We attended and participated together.

I’ve been a pastor for nearly fifteen years, serving my current church for just over nine and my first church for five. I’ve taught in two seminaries, including my own seminary for the last seven years. I’ve led small groups and taught others to lead them. I’ve been in peer group consultations as a CPE student. I’ve been in individual therapy and couples counseling. Of course, I’ve been around the table with people who know me. I’ve developed and practiced clearness committees in my own life. And I have not had an experience like a readiness consultation.

I’ve gotten feedback before. I’ve been in spiritual direction and been supervised during clinical pastoral education, which are the closest experiences to a readiness consultation. But the purposes of those moments are distinct.

Spiritual direction is a monthly time where my director listens to me, hears me, and helps me hear me as we listen for the “grace that I need.” I’ve gone to direction for seven years and it’s a jewel in my spiritual life. I wouldn’t be in pastoral ministry if I wasn’t in direction.

In my experience, clinical supervision is based upon the agenda that I bring and for the purpose of my growth, learning, and strength as a minister to people. I have supervision weekly, and it’s based upon my needs for my work. It’s a gift because the feedback, the Q&A is directly applicable for what I’m doing, thinking, and processing.

My readiness consultation was a compressed combination of both those types of experiences. Readiness was this huge collection and assembling of myself in order to present myself to chaplain and supervisors in order for them to help me prepare for what’s next.

Since every consultation is unique, my sense is that their questions for me were their questions for me. These meetings are tailored to what materials are sent and to the questions the presenter raised when thinking through the materials. So it was an individualized time of conversation. I led it based upon where I needed things to go.

Even though we only got through 4-5 questions in the hour and a half time, the words spoken went deep. It wouldn’t help for me to post them because you didn’t read my materials or the presenter’s report. Still, they were well-written, reflective comments and questions which had me thinking about me, about others, and about the ministry of supervision.

I will be reflecting on that consultation for a couple weeks. Really. But here are a few immediate takeaways that I expand to you even if you’re not in CPE:

  1. Having assembled myself in written form, I’m only clearer about my work as a pastoral leader in multiple contexts. I serve the church and I serve the hospital, and I have a greater sense of why.
  2. Writing is an indispensable leadership act. Leaders should be asked to, and able to, articulate critical things about themselves such as a brief history of her life, a theology of ministry, and a statement about his motivations.
  3. No matter how much you prepare, being aware of (and being able to tell) your stories will always connect you to another person. Stories are human tools, and the more we share them, the more human we become.
  4. Experiencing something like a readiness consultation is important for pastoral leaders, be it in a clergy group, a therapy support group, a circle of trust, a gathering of church elders or trusted friends. We need people–whenever we serve–to raise quality questions about us, about our plans, about our readiness.
  5. Driving to a meeting a few hours away provides needed space to prepare beforehand and to reflect after upon words graciously spoken. Most of my time in the car is productive or destination-based and doesn’t leave room to think, and traveling to Wisconsin was contemplative space.
  6. Process is more important than content. Attending to what’s happening in us is more interesting than the obvious stuff.
  7. Talking to people is a gift. Being heard and being seen are gifts too, and I’m more thankful for spiritual direction, for quality supervision, and for slow, considered words when they’re spoken.

Advent Post #25

“Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months…” (Luke 1:56)

I love that Mary lingered with Elizabeth. She did what most of us don’t know how to do or don’t take the time to do. Mary and Elizabeth practiced a spiritual discipline in their waiting together. There was probably moments of personal solitude, likely times of conversation and eating and exercising, walking from here to there.

But they were together and they were waiting. For Elizabeth’s delivery. And to get closer to Mary’s. They were waiting to see God bring what God said would come.

I imagine that could have been a time of great turmoil and great anticipation. Any time God is at the quiet work of forming the unseen, it’s both thrilling and unbearable. You know God’s working, you sense it, but you can’t see the full product. You can only wonder if that work will look this way or that, if the fruit of God’s toil will “sleep through the night” or if you yourself will be calm or frenzied when it finally comes.

Will I be equipped? Will I fail? Can I support him through it? What good will I be to her when she needs me? How will we make it?

I don’t think we have those answers when we first want them. The answers to our questions almost never come at our desired speed. We want God to act more quickly than God does. We want to know more than we do. We want answers when all we’re faced with are more questions.

What’s the consolation? What sustains us through the quiet darknesses of the nights before. The night before Christmas. The night before a surgery. The night before a meeting. The night before a move. What helps us manage?

I think the answer is in Luke’s description. Mary and Elizabeth stayed together. So simple. They were together, befriending one another through the unseen things. They were present to one another while they waited for whatever God would do. They monitored one another’s progress, one another’s souls, one another’s care.

Perhaps the presence of others is all it boils down to at moments like those these women lived through. After all, time doesn’t move any faster. One teacher showed me that five minutes is the same whether or not you’re looking at the clock, even if it feels differently. What helps? Another person. Mary staying with Elizabeth. My friend falling into a chair in my office. The text that was a reminder that I really wasn’t alone. The prayer someone had been praying when I couldn’t reach God myself. All examples of someone staying with someone else.

May this Christmas be an opportunity for you to be present to others, and may you never feel alone. May you feel, in a good way, surrounded by grace, mercy, and all the other gifts that make life life.

Creating a Rule of Life, pt 8

There’s one more post next week on this, where I’ll try to offer a grid to pull things together.  The final category that Debra Farrington teaches we should include in the Rule of Life is hospitality.  It comes after prayer, service, self care and so on.  Hospitality builds upon these previous traits, these earlier acts.  Centering our efforts in these other places, as hospitable people, we show who we are and how we’ve become and how we are becoming.

When I think of hospitality, I think of my mother’s regular, unmentioned, almost unseen way of opening our home to several people when I was a child.  I think of how our table on Sundays was the church’s table, our house turning inside out as people came and ate at her hand.

I think of Grammie and how she takes us in each winter for a week in the upstairs of her home, with a water pitcher on the nightstand, how she considers our time, how we make meals together, and how we have our long liberal conversations which cover beginning to end of the current things that matter.

I think of my sister friend, Maggie, and how she naturally exerts herself into the hearts of people by preparing meals, cooking simple and elaborate options, listening and making me listen, and talking about so many things I’d never notice.

I think of the earlier Bishop and Mrs. Trotter from my boyhood who granted me an essential hospitality, taking me into their home and allowing it to literally become my home.  Each memory was somehow sweet behind those trees on Hopkins place and like these other powerful events have shaped me into someone attempting hospitality when people come around.

Hospitality is a peopled act.  It’s not between me and God.  It’s defined by the interaction between people.  It doesn’t always involve food and housing, but hosting is that plain way we take or accept or invite or keep people in our presence.  It’s about how well we notice and sustain contact between us and another.

I don’t do hospitality well when I’m tired because of my natural bent toward interiority.  I know I need to retreat regularly in order to be like Mama or Maggie or Grammie or the Trotters of my childhood.  What seemed easy for them is good work for me.

And that’s where the Rule comes in.  The Rule of Life asks us to be intentional about those times when we’ll turn toward others, not for service, but for humanity.  We need others.  We don’t need to do things for others, but we do, simply, need people.  Like food and water, our lives only make sense in relationship with others.

There is an essential rightness to friendship, a wrongness too when it’s real, but the rightness signals how we just require people.  The same with marriage or long-term working relationship and so forth.  We need those peopled affairs because those affairs compose or lives.

Where will you stretch in this area over the next months?  Where will you extend yourself and thereby become your self?  Where will you intentionally place people in your day or week so you can be hosted and so you can host?

 

Creating a Rule of Life, pt 7

This message gets a lot of play in church.  In my church, there is an assumption that serving is so much a part of our Christian life that there’s rarely a Sunday when service of some kind isn’t mentioned.

I almost don’t need to connect this to the practice of developing a Rule because we live by the implied rule that doing for others is Christian or religious or spiritual at its core.  It’s hard to live in the world and not care for others, give to others, and serve for others.  It’s even harder to be a part of a religious tradition and not serve, because service is a part of most, if not all, religious traditions.

Still, the placement of this in the work of developing a Rule is important because having service somewhere in this instrument of spiritual growth will help us 1) reflect on our service, 2) inspect our motives for service, and 3) discern what we’ll do next as we care for others.

That’s the framework when it comes to questioning or discovering what kind of service needs to be in your rule.  Where have I served or given to others?  To serve is to be generous; it is to give of one’s self and one’s stuff.

Serving, when paired with reflection, is another way of reflecting upon our motives.  We ask, “Why am I doing this?”

Richard Foster wrote, “When the heart is purified by the action of the Spirit, the most natural thing in the world is the virtuous thing.  To the pure in heart, vice is what is hard.”

I agree with Foster.  For the person whose heart continually turns toward the Divine, sin and wrongdoing and wrongbeing is what’s hard.  But that transformation of motivation takes a long time, i.e., a life time.

I’d love to know that rather than jumping at the chance to serve, the people in my church were pausing long enough to question their motives.  Not so that their motives would be pure and sacred.  It’s impossible to get to the clear ground of a person’s motivation.  No matter how long we search or how long we look, we’ll never be truly aware of our motives.  But we can survey them.  We can question them.

Third, placing service in your rule is a simple way of looking forward to what’s next.  There is a host of ways to serve around you.  In your family or your apartment building, in your residence or in your workplace, there are countless needs–some of which you can meet.  What do you do next?  Carry with you your clarified sense of intention, your hopes and expectations, your goals for personal transformation, your awareness of God who works–always–through people.

Then, listen to that voice that’s within you, that voice that either sounds so familiar you gauge that it isn’t God’s or that voice that is so strange and uncommon that it could be nothing other than God’s.  Perhaps that voice is the hushed voice of friends who are sure that you should do this or do that.

Don’t retreat from the service others call you to.  Inspect it prayerfully.  Wonder around in it for a while.  See if there’s a place in it for you.

That’s the way I came into ministry.  I was headed toward the more effective arena of politics in my earlier view.  I wanted to study law so I could write law.  I wanted to give my skills over toward the social-political world and have God use me there.  I knew I wanted to be of service, and of God’s service, in the world.  But I didn’t entertain ministry until others told me to.

I tell people who ask about my “call story,” that the story was written by the community of people who told me to face this way and go that way when it came to my call.  I was headed elsewhere, but the persistent whisper emerging in me was repeated, distilled, and clarified in the inflections and voices of church people around me.  And they’re as much responsible for my life of service as anybody.

So, for you, what service do you need to start doing?  What will you write into that Rule to turn you both inward, toward that inside voice, and outward, toward the world that very much needs you?