When it’s too big (a reflection on Syria)

When you’ve tried your best to educate yourself,

When the more you learn the less clear it all becomes,

When images of disfigured children creep into your dreams,

When you watch as things get politicized and theologized and shoved into 140 characters,

When you want to love your enemies but don’t know how,

When you’ve sent money for the refugees but feel foolish for the smallness of your efforts,

When you'd like to think you would open your doors to them, but aren't really sure you would, 

When you catch yourself worrying about what to wear, what movie to see, 

When you doubt yourself, doubt your government, doubt your pastor, doubt God,

When you hate how the news has made graphics and theme music,  

When you realize that your opinion will do nothing to change the matter,

When your utter helplessness follows you around like a dark presence and laughs at all the empty things you say,

When it’s just too big….

All that’s left is prayer and fasting.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

All that’s left are tears and ash.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

All that’s left is to acknowledge your smallness.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

All that’s left is to sit in quiet with the world and beg for peace and wisdom and clear paths.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s enough because it’s all that’s left to do.

So be faithful, and do it. 

Be helpless for a while.

Be at God's mercy and pray.  

***

This is what I've been telling myself lately because I feel so totally baffled and helpless by the situation in Syria. Pope Francis has called for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, in the entire Mideast region, and throughout the whole world to be held on Saturday, September 7th, and I’m inclined to join...mainly because I have no idea what else to do. 

Also, while I cannot believe that Christ is in sarin gas or airstrikes, I believe Christ is in the stranger, the foreigner, the poor, the sick, and the hungry, so consider praying especially for Syria’s refugees and supporting the people and organizations caring for them. (See The UN Refugee Agency, World Vision, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, and Samaritan’s Purse.)

Does anyone have appropriate prayers to share?  

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How I pray for you…

When we discussed structured prayer a few weeks ago, I forgot to mention how this practice has helped me pray for you, my readers. 

Many of you I know by name, and when I’m asked to pray, I do my best to remember. A perpetual doubter, I am humbled when entrusted with such requests, and grateful to The Book of Common Prayer for providing the words when I cannot generate them on my own.  When praying more generally for you—for those I know and those I don’t know, for the commenters and lurkers, for the fans and the criticsI love this simple compline prayer, which reminds me of the old adage that “everyone you meet” (even on the internet!) “is fighting some kind of battle”: 

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for you love’s sake. Amen.

I know that tonight there are those of you who are working and those of you who are resting, those of you who are celebrating and those of you who are suffering, those of you who are sick and those of you who are tending the sick, those of you who just want a few hours of quiet, and those of you who feel lonely, those of you who will stain your pillows with tears, and those of you who will sleep with smiles on your faces….(or, if you’re like me, with drool on your lips!) 

I guess I just want you to know that I think about this from time to time, that I do my best to acknowledge and pray for the unique and sacred people you are. 

What prayers do you gravitate toward when praying for others? How do you pray for those you do not know well? 

 

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Perhaps I am stronger than I think

'Sunset Gradation' photo (c) 2006, mrhayata - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Perhaps I am stronger than I think.
Perhaps I am even afraid of my strength, and turn it against myself, thus making myself weak. 
Making myself secure. Making myself guilty. 
Perhaps I am most afraid of the strength of God in me.
Perhaps I would rather be guilty and weak in myself, 
than strong in Him whom I cannot understand. 

- Thomas Merton (from Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours)

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40 Ideas for Lent (2012)

'Candle' photo (c) 2011, Armin Vogel - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Believe it or not, Lent begins next week!

As has become a tradition here on the blog, I’ve compiled a list of 40 ideas that I hope will help you make the most of this season of reflection, penitence, and preparation. Some ideas are repeated from last year, others are updated, and others are brand new. Please feel free to add your own ideas and plans to the comment section. 

10 Questions to Ask Yourself:

1. When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different? 
2. Is there a habit or sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of loving God with my whole heart or loving my neighbor as myself? How do I address that habit over the next 40 days?
3. Is there anyone in my life from whom I need to ask forgiveness or pursue reconciliation? 
4. What practical steps can I take to carve out time for daily contemplation? 
5. What spiritual discipline do I need to improve upon or want to try? 
6. What are some things in my life that I tell myself I need but I don’t? Can I give one or two of them up for 40 days? 
7. Why am I giving this particular thing up? How does giving it up draw me closer to God and prepare me for Easter? 
8. What am I going to tell myself when self-denial gets hard? 
9. Is it necessary/helpful for me to share the nature my fast with others or should I keep it private?
10. What do the ashes mean to me this year? What  does baptism mean to me this year? 

10 Book Recommendations:

1. A Place at the Table: 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor by Chris Seay 
2. 40 Days of Living the Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight 
3. Lectio Divina Bible Study: Learning to Pray in Scripture by Stephen J. Binz
4. Eastertide: Prayers for Lent Through Easter by Phyllis Tickle (link fixed)
5. One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp 
6. A Book of Hours by Thomas Merton 
7. Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Orbis Books)
8. The "30 Days With a Great Spiritual Teachers" Series (I've used, and enjoyed,  Julian of Norwich,Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux)
9. Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ by Dallas Willard
10. Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent by Richard Rohr 

10  Disciplines, Fasts, and Rituals:

1. Pray the offices for 40 days. The Daily Office, (or the Divine Hours), consists of four times of prayer each day: morning prayers (Matins/Laudes), midday prayers (Sext), evening prayers (Vespers), nighttime prayers (Compline). I love praying the hours, and for Lent this year, I’d like to try to get into a more consistent schedule, at least sticking to morning and evening prayers, no matter what. If it’s your first time praying the hours, I recommend using Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours. If you’re looking to add something new to your prayer schedule, I recommend A Book of Hours by Thomas or Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro. 

2. Institute a Way of Light wreath or an Easter Tree (via Ann Voskamp)
 

3. Eat and drink like the poor for 40 days. Then donate the money you save on groceries to a charity or project that serves the poor in concrete ways. This is the challenge offered by Chris Seay in his new book,A Place at the Table. Chris is teaming up with Compassion International and Living Water for this project, and you can learn more on his Web site

4. Take the 40 Days of Water challenge from Blood: Water Mission to help bring clean water to Uganda. Give up all beverages except for water for the 40 days of Lent 2012 and donate the money you save to Blood: Water Mission. They have a great Web site through which you can track your progress and learn more. 

5. Traditionally, Christians abstained from eating meat during Lent, so consider joining millions of Christians around the world in this fast. It’s a great way to feel connected to the historical, worldwide church. 
 

6. Spend a weekend at a monastery. It sounds crazy, but I spent three days at St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama as part of my “biblical womanhood” project last year, and it was one of the most meaningful times of prayer and contemplation I’ve ever experienced. There are dozens of Benedictine and Trappist monasteries around the country that open their doors to overnight guests, usually at very inexpensive rates. Just be sure to contact the monastery ahead of time to inquire about their guest services. (And remember to be respectful of the silence and prayer schedule while you are there. Many monks eat in their meals in silence...so don’t go expecting to chat it up during lunchtime!) 

7. Commit to memorizing a significant portion of Scripture, like the Sermon on the Mount, or Isaiah 58, or (one of my favorites) 1 John 4. 
 

8. Unplug—TV, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, etc. This is perhaps the single best way to carve out some extra time in your day for prayer and meditation. 

9. Commit to 40 days of praying for your enemies. And I don’t mean ruminating over all they have done wrong and praying that they will change, but praying that they will be blessed, that they will find health and peace and grace, that they will come to know Jesus or experience the love of Christ more fully. (Does anyone know of a good resources on how to do this well? If so, please leave a note in the comment section.)

10. Get outside! Commit to spending at least 20 minutes a day outside – walking, meditating, taking pictures, journaling. The transition from winter to springtime provides so many beautiful,  tangible reminders of the significance of hope and rebirth in the Christian faith. 

10 Meditations:

1. Psalm 51
2. Psalm 139
3. Isaiah 58
4. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)
5. The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13
6. Litany of Penitence (You can find another version in the Book of Common Prayer - I love this litany!)
7. Litany of Humility 
8. Prayer of St. Francis 
9. Penitential Prayer of St. Augustine 
10. This one, from Thomas Merton: 

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, 
and the fact that I think that I am following your will 
does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always, 
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, 
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone
.

Please add your own ideas and plans to the list! I always love reading the comments after this one.

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