Wednesday, March 11, 2009
When in Doubt... Consult Jane R's Fabulous Book
Oh, today was not an easy day.
First a gathering of (regional) church leadership which was tense and difficult. And long.
Then, late for a meeting back in my neck of the woods, which meant...
late to church to prepare for the mid-week Lenten series...
for which the bulletins hadn't been finished...
and the meditation hadn't been started.
And then, some people dropped by.
Thanks be to Godde for one Jane R, prayer guru for all of us. I've been (re-)reading her book these last days, and I was blessed to be able to use her lovely and clear method of Lectio Divina (being careful, in my Presby congregation, not to use all that popish Latin). An hour and ten minutes, and I was pulling this off the printer as I threw my stole around my neck and ran into the santuary...
where the candles had not been lit.
(But the youth choir's singing "Lamb of God" made me teary.)
Not one of my best moments in ministry. Even for me, that last minute stuff was a little hairy. But people seemed appreciative of an opportunity for quiet reflection. And Jane-- you saved the day! Thanks my friend.
“Praying with Scripture”
Lenten Series Mediation 3
March 11, 2009
As we listen to the voices of our young people this evening, we are experiencing their leadership. Through the music they make, they are leading us in prayer. When I saw that the texts from Jeremiah were a part of the daily readings this week, it seemed just right that we might turn to this story.
It’s a story about a very young man… he calls himself a boy.
It’s a story about a boy who lives during a particular crisis… a world crisis, to him… that affects his life.
It’s a story about God’s love for Jeremiah extending back in time, even to when he was a child in his mother’s womb. He was steeped in the love and care of God long before he took a breath of air or blinked at the brightness of the sun.
It’s a story about young Jeremiah’s growing understanding that, in the midst of this global crisis, God has a task for him to do, a big task… and that task has something to do with speaking up, and speaking out.
It’s a story about not feeling ready, about not knowing what words to say.
It’s a story about falling to your knees before the holy mystery of God and letting that mystery call the shots.
And all this… about a boy. A child. A child who is a leader.
No matter where we are on our life’s journey… whether we are 7 years old or younger, or 70 years old or older, or somewhere in between, I think this passage has the ability to speak to us. Tonight, I’d like to offer us an opportunity to see where our own lives intersect with this passage of scripture, by offering way to pray with scripture.
When I first learned about this way of praying with scripture, I had a hard time with it. That’s because I tend to be very goal-oriented. I want to say, “Today I will read chapter 1 of Jeremiah, so that tomorrow I can read chapter 2 of Jeremiah,” and so on. I like to set goals for myself to reach—markers so that I can say, “Accomplished,” and check it off my list. But this way of praying with scripture—a process called Sacred Reading -- does not work that way. This way of praying with scripture is not about accomplishing this or that task, or checking things of a to-do list. It is about openness to God speaking to us—the kind of openness Jeremiah demonstrated.
Here is how it will work. I will read the passage from Jeremiah again. As I read it, I will ask a few questions for you to ponder. The idea is to lead you deeper and deeper into the scripture and also into a sense of openness of God speaking to you through the scripture. You’ve heard the passage from Luke’s gospel: seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened to you. The method of sacred reading can be summarized in this sentence: Seek in READING, and you will find in MEDITATION; knock in PRAYER, and it will be opened to you in CONTEMPLATION. These are the four phases of Sacred Reading: Reading, Meditation, Prayer, and Contemplation. Listen.
Once again, I will ask you to sit upright, comfortably, taking a few deep breaths to relax yourself. You may close your eyes if you feel it will help you. I will read the passage from Jeremiah.
1. Reading: This is the first phase. As I read, listen to the passage carefully, with full attention. Personalize the words as God speaking to you, now.
4Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, 5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” 9Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
2. Meditation: Meditation is the second phase. Respond to the passage by receiving it at a deeper level. What does your imagination tell you about the scene? What images from the passage stand out to you, strike you, grab your attention? How do you experience the voice of God? Is it frightening? Is it comforting? Is it awe-inspiring? Is it powerful and loud? Is it so quiet you can hardly hear it? Let it move you. Experience whatever feeling you are having.
3. Prayer: Now, let your heart go where it wants to in response to the leading of the Spirit. Let your heart take over, let it long for God, and call out to God. Take just a few minutes for prayer. I’ll keep time.
At this point, you can open your eyes if you like. I’ll describe the last phase to you. It’s called “Contemplation.”
4. Contemplation: In the other three phases, activity has remained a dominant factor. In contemplation, you move beyond words. Words fall away. Prayers fall away. Images fall away. All you are left with is silence, and the presence of God. This is a phase of interior silence and loving attentiveness, of being drawn into the darkness of God’s love. For that reason, it’s hard to do this in a group, and much more natural to do it in solitude. Contemplation is a strange new land, where everything natural to us seems to be turned upside down: we learn a new language—silence—and a new way of being—not to do, but to simply be—and come to understand God’s seeming absence as presence.
As we experience the leadership of our young people tonight, we have also prayed through a young person’s experience of God’s call.
Because, in the presence of God, each of us is very young… a boy, a girl.
And each of us is living in a time of world crisis that affects our lives.
And each of us are loved in the same way by God, even to when we were just a child in our mother’s womb. We have been steeped in the love and care of God since long before we took a breath of air or blinked at the brightness of the sun.
And each of us, undoubtedly, has been singled out by God for some task that is a part of God’s great and mysterious plan, a task for which, perhaps, we don’t feel ready.
But still each of us is able to fall to our knees before the holy mystery of God, and letting that mystery direct our lives. Thanks be to God. Amen.