Morning Prayer: Reflection & Invitation

A photo of St. John’s Abby Church. The windows are much prettier from the inside.

Last week I attended a Collegeville writing workshop on the campus of St. John’s College in Minnesota. I found myself praying with the monks most mornings—not because I’m particularly holy, but because I kept waking up before six and our sessions didn’t start until nine.

The benedictine sisters in Atchison, KS, are quick to welcome guests into their prayer and gracious in walking us through the somewhat intimidating (for protestants) liturgy. The sisters at St. Benedict’s, the sister college to St. John’s, proved equally hospitable—getting out the books we would need, whispering in our ears what pages we should turn to. The sisters make an unfamiliar situation comfortable and warm.

The brothers, however, have more of a “you figure out where to sit (good luck realizing you need to pull the seat down before you sit) and we put the random page numbers on the board so if you can’t figure out the book situation then I guess you can just listen” approach to hospitality. (To be fair, one very kind brother brought me the special book we used for the Feast of St. Benedict on the last morning.)

Still, I did manage to find a seat in the choir stall for morning prayer. And I noticed the need to pull down my seat before I sat. I looked at the board and looked at the people around me and managed to get the books ready. While I felt a little awkward and quite unsure of myself, it was truly a sacred space and I breathed deeply as I waited for the prayers to start.

In typical Benedictine style, we read several psalms responsively. One side of the congregation read one stanza, waiting to begin until I thought they might all have fallen asleep, then speaking each word slowly, deliberately, with a pause between lines to show there was no rush. Then my side of the congregation responded with the next stanza. I fought against my natural rush through the text, trying to wait for a monk’s voice to begin the line, sometimes speaking prematurely into the silence and feeling embarrassed before God.

Maybe with a month of morning prayers, or a year of practice, or a life more focused and steady and constrained, I would learn to pace myself. But one week was not enough. Even on the last day of prayers, I still wanted to rush ahead; I still had to focus on my breathing, to tell my lips to remain still until I heard a monk begin the next line.

A week of morning prayer was not enough to change my hurried pace. But it was enough to make me realize that I want to pray like this more often. I don’t necessarily want to pray with responsive psalm-reading or even the leisurely tempo, but I would love to begin more of my days in worship and prayer with other people.

I’ve long struggled to maintain a morning devotional/reading/prayer practice. I’ve tried praying before I even get out of bed; I’ve tried making a little home worship space; I’ve tried lots of different prayer books and devotionals and practices. Nothing sticks. I know that part of this inconsistency is just because of my personality type. I realized last week that it’s also, partly, because I REALLY like praying with other people.

So my friend Susan and I have talked about what it might look like to bring a community together on line for morning prayer. Honestly, we have no idea. But we’re excited to try it. If it’s something you would also like to try, check out the details below and get in touch.

What: Morning Prayer using the liturgies from Common Prayer. (The necessary material is available online.)

When: Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:30 Central (Begins July 25, 2016)

Who: Anyone can participate. I will lead Monday prayer; Susan will lead on Fridays; we still need someone to lead on Wednesdays. Also if you’d like to play guitar sometimes, that would be great!

Where: In cyberspace! We’ll use Google Hangouts for now.

How: Let me know if you want to participate. I will need your email address and you will need an active Google account.

A Prayer for Palm Sunday

God of the cross, tottering down the streets of Jerusalem on a donkey,
You are not the savior we expect.
Your power doesn’t look like the power we want our God to have.
Your wisdom makes no sense to us.
We are happy to join the crowd, waving branches,
But not so sure we want to follow you through this Holy Week:
into the temple courts
into the upper room
into the Garden of Gethsemane
to the high priest’s house,
to the assembly of elders,
to Pilate,
to Herod,
to the place of The Skull,
to the foot of the cross.
We need you to go with us on this journey.
Grant us clear vision,
Courageous hearts,
Persistent steps.
Even though we know what this week will bring, we sing:
Hosanna, hosanna.
Save us, we beseech you! Amen.

palm leaf
Paper and ink collage by Joanna Harader

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Rule of Life

Photo from Mike Licht, Some rights reserved.
Photo from Mike Licht, Some rights reserved.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., I thought I would re-post his Rule of Life. It was a Rule for himself and a Rule that those who wished to join him in his efforts toward justice were expected to adopt as well. You can find it published in the book Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson, and on various blogs and web sites around the internet.

King wrote and spoke many, many encouraging words. These are the ones I’ve carried in my wallet and pinned up in my office:

  • Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  • Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham [or anywhere] seeks justice and reconciliation, not victory.
  • Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  • Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free.
  • Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  • Seek to perform regular service for others and the world.
  • Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  • Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

Holy Communion

8885024392My family shared communion bread in my father’s hospice room before he died. We blessed it, broke it, and ate it. My mom caught a few medical professionals off guard by holding the loaf out to them when they came into the room to check Dad’s blood pressure or give him his medications.

But all awkwardness aside, it was a beautiful thing to share this ritual with my dad one last time. . . . Except that Dad was past eating, even something as small and perfect as a piece of holy bread. So my mom tore off a piece for him and laid it on the pillow near his mouth.

As he took his final breaths–those breaths that are ragged and uneven, those breaths that make you count the seconds between them–I imagined that small piece of Jesus’ body filtering the air. As Dad drew air into his failing body, as his lungs struggled to push air out, it flowed through the blessed and broken bread.

That bread remained there when Dad died, on the pillow next to his beloved face–small and white and still.

This final image of my father is a painful blessing. It comes unbidden each time I speak the words, “This is my body,” each time I offer the loaf to those who can still take and eat.

For me, the phrase “communion of saints” used to conjure up vague images of sparkling lights scattered out there, somewhere–kind of like stars, but less specific, less real. Now the “communion of saints” is that hospice room. Too specific. Too real.

It is the gummy bread in my mouth, the labored chewing, the effort of my tongue and throat muscles as I swallow. It is holding hands with my brother and my husband, scrunching down and twisting my head to wipe the tears on the sleeve of my sweatshirt. It is watching my mom lead this ritual as both faithful pastor and grieving wife, somehow standing strong and collapsing all at once.

It’s a painful blessing–every time there is a loaf of communion bread, I am in the hospice room with my father again. I realize that I never saw anyone take that torn-off piece of bread away. And so it will always be there, on the pillow, next to Dad. It will always be there, holy and broken and unconsumed.

Praying for Creation

On August 13, a group from the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance organization gave a presentation at our church. They talked about the terrible environmental damage done by leaking and broken tar sands pipelines and the substantial health issues faced by (inevitably poor) people who live near the pipelines and processing plants. (For a very brief overview, see this video from the Sierra Club.)

They also told us that this Saturday, August 24, is a National Day of Action Against the Tar Sands. This observance is in solidarity with First Nations groups who are planning a blockade on Alberta highway 63 to protest oil company infringement on sacred native lands.

I will not be participating in any public protests on Saturday, but do plan to spend some time in prayer for our precious Earth. I invite you to do the same.

Here are some suggestions for prayer:

  • Take a prayer walk in a beautiful natural setting–pray your thanks for that place and pray for the healing of other places on the planet that are being destroyed and polluted.
  • Prayer a prayer of confession for the ways that our North American lifestyle uses and abuses natural resources. Prayerfully consider one or more ways you could reduce your ecological footprint.
  • Pray particularly for the work of the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, the Indigenous Action Alliance, and other groups working to oppose the building of tar sands pipelines through Canada and the U.S.
  • Read Genesis 1 and offer a prayer for the restoration of God’s good creation.
  • Pray a psalm about creation. (Try Psalm 8, 9, 33, 104 or 139.)
  • Write a prayer and share it with others.


*And just a personal update: My mom has moved into the new house with us and we are still waiting to get our internet hooked up. I realize my poor blog is a bit neglected these days. Now that I’ve found the camera I’ll try to get some pictures of the new place posted soon.

Monday Prayer Practice: Decluttering

My dresser--Before
My dresser–Before
My dresser--After(Don't look in the mirror or off to the side. We're focusing on the dresser!)
My dresser–After
(Don’t look in the mirror or off to the side. We’re focusing on the dresser!)

Can decluttering be a spiritual practice?

I’m sure it can. But I’ll be honest, my decluttering efforts these days are spurred on more by anxiety than spiritual maturity.

My husband and I are hoping to buy a house on some acreage just out of town. He wants to have (more) chickens and gardens and fruit trees. I want to have a space in which I can offer retreats–day retreats soon and overnight accommodations eventually.

Barring an unexpected inheritance or lottery win, we will need to sell our current house if we want to buy a new house. And according to our real estate agent, we have to declutter and clean our house if we want anyone to buy it.

I realize my situation is extreme–most of you aren’t planning to move in the next few months. Still, many of you may be doing (or thinking about doing) some spring cleaning of your own.

Moving forward, I’m going to see if I can do what I have to do with more peace, gratitude, and awareness of God’s presence than I have been able to muster so far. And may you, also, find the holy in the messiness of your life.

Monday Prayer Practice: Coloring!

The church I serve is pretty non-traditional, but we do have some traditions. One of them is that the children are invited to color the bulletins every Easter. We have a potluck breakfast before worship, and when the kids finish eating they can gather around a table with a stack of bulletins and assorted crayons, markers, and colored pencils. Our Easter cover image is something in outline–this year a cross with flowers wrapped around it–and the kids color away.

This year, an interesting thing happened. A mom started coloring with her daughter. Then another mom. Then another member walked by the table and said, “Oh, can I color too?” And another sat down with a smile on her face saying, “I haven’t colored in ages.” And soon there were more grown-ups than kids coloring in the crosses and flowers. (Our bulletins looked fantastic!)

I was reminded of the soothing joy of applying color to paper, and that grown-ups sometimes need an excuse to color. So this morning I got out my Colored Pencil Prayers book because I knew that whatever my prayer time would be, it needed to involve coloring. Flipping through, I found “Offering & Receiving Prompt 3: Offering Indecision.” Bingo!

My husband and I are currently looking at a home in the country. Wanting to move. Worried about moving. Wondering about money and the future and what might or might not happen with family situations and me having a little retreat center and him wanting to be a kind-of farmer. I’ve been going back and forth between excited and apprehensive, certain and doubtful. My usual intuitive discernment methods are all off kilter because I’m still in deep mourning for my dad.

“Great!” I thought, “I’ll color my way to an answer.” Which, of course, didn’t happen. Because I still have to wait and listen and talk and crunch numbers (ack!). But the prayer let me rest for awhile in my desire to be faithful and re-reminded me of God’s presence and faithfulness in every cranny of my life.


So today I commend to you the spiritual practice of coloring–whatever form that might take for you.

And blessings to you on this first week of the Easter season!