Shepherd Me, O God – Prayerful Tuesday

Psalm 23:1-3 1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul.*He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 

In the last several months I have been struggling to find the calm midst the shootings in Umpqua, the deaths of those fighting wild fires, more shootings (at least one a week), floods, earthquakes, and all of the other disasters that seem to be all that is ever reported by news media.  I know I will not find any meaning in any of these crises, so, I am looking for a way through the noise and pain I hear, read about, and feel within.  Yesterday I found my still point when I happened upon the following poem written by grandfather:

Commentary on the 23rd Psalm

“In pastures green?” Not always: sometimes Thou
who knoweth best, in kindness leadeth me
in weary ways, where heavy shadows be.

And by “still waters?”  No not always so;
oft times the heavy tempest round me blow
and o’er my soul the waves and billows go

But where the storm beats loudest,
and I cry aloud for help, The Master standeth by
and whispers to my soul “Lo, it is I.”

So where He leads me I can safely go,
and in the blest hereafter I shall know,
why, in His wisdom, He hath lead me so.

By Grandfather Rufus Miller, 1937

As I read the familiar lines I remembered I don’t have to understand the why of things.  I don’t have to carry the burdens of the world on my shoulders. I don’t even have try to carry all of the world’s problems. I can’t change the way people treat others, I have no control over how one person treats another. However, I do have control over how I treat those around me.  I do have control of how I respond to the many crises trumpeted in the news.

My grandfather’s poem reminds me that life is not a bed or roses where everything will always be “hot coco, and peanut butter toast by the evening fire.”  No there are bad people in the world and even though I, or my loved ones, have done nothing wrong, or done anything to cause a tragedy, other people will affect my life in both good ways and bad.  I can’t stop it from happening.  I know I can’t stop the hate, but, I can stop the hate from residing in my heart.  I can stop myself from acting out of anger and rage.  I can stop and take a deep breath and let the real me come up from deep inside.  That is all I can do.

For the prayer practice this week I am offering a chant that helps me when I am feeling lost.  It is the refrain of a hymn written by Marty Haugen and below is the score for the chant.  Above is a video of Haugen’s complete hymn.  Watch the above video and when you are feeling a little lost this week sing the refrain.  You don’t have to chant out loud, and you can chant anytime of the day, driving, riding public transit, cooking dinner or even working on that paper for class or the boss.

©1986, GIA Publications, Inc Chalice Hymnal, #734b
©1986, GIA Publications, Inc
Chalice Hymnal, #734b

May you find your still point, and may it bring you comfort.

Ruth Jewell, ©October 27, 2015

The Voice in the Wind – Prayerful Tuesday

“. . . a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:2b, NRSV

Photo, Ruth Jewell, 2014
Photo, Ruth Jewell, 2014

I am sure all of you noticed we had a big windstorm 2 weeks ago.  John and I lost our power on Saturday just before noon and didn’t get it back until after 3 pm on Sunday.  For those of us in Edmonds that was a really long time.  Normally our power losses are quite short due to the presence of the Hospital and the transit center so close to us, but not this time.  What has been most frustrating for John and me is the lost of our internet, which we still don’t have, because we both have things to do.  While I gladly gave up internet access when we were on Holiday in the spring I was not quite so happy without this time.  I have things to do such as writing for my blogs, ordering pet food, doing activities for the committees I am on, you know the daily little things that we don’t normally think about but just do.  However, we have finally been reconnected to the rest of the electronic  world and so I am back at writing.

However, despite my irritation with the loss of technology, I have been thinking about the wind how strong it was, how persistent, and how loud.  Wind, spirit, ruach, the Breath of G-d made me listen whether I wanted to or not.  G-d made me stop and listen.  I slowed down, and I listened to God speak. I heard tears in the wind for those whose lives were lost, in the storm, in the wild fires, in world conflict, and in the madness we call a gun culture. I heard laughter for those who thought technology was everything and, like John and I were, ‘forced’ to read by oil lamp or candle light.

Sometimes we need to stop and listen to the wind.  Sometimes we need to slow down.  Two lives were lost in that storm and we need to stop and offer a prayer.  But for the rest of us our lives will go on with few changes to our daily routine. Saturday was an interruption nothing more unless we choose to learn from slowing down.  Walk outside, or open a door or window, listen to the wind, take in the breath of G-d, listen for the sound of tears and laughter.\

May you feel the breath of G-d as it kisses your cheek, may your hear the still small voice in the gentle breeze, and in your moment of stillness may you know the presence of G-d.

Ruth Jewell, ©September 9, 2015

In The Beginning . . . – Prayerful Tuesday

Genesis 1:1a In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,

45th Anniversary of the Earth Rise Photo, NASA
45th Anniversary of the Earth Rise Photo, NASA

Genesis 1-2:4 The Message (MSG)

1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

3-5 God spoke: “Light!”
And light appeared.
God saw that light was good
and separated light from dark.
God named the light Day,
he named the dark Night.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day One.

6-8 God spoke: “Sky! In the middle of the waters;
separate water from water!”
God made sky.
He separated the water under sky
from the water above sky.
And there it was:
he named sky the Heavens;
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Two.

9-10 God spoke: “Separate!
Water-beneath-Heaven, gather into one place;
Land, appear!”
And there it was.
God named the land Earth.
He named the pooled water Ocean.
God saw that it was good.

11-13 God spoke: “Earth, green up! Grow all varieties
of seed-bearing plants,
Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.”
And there it was.
Earth produced green seed-bearing plants,
all varieties,
And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Three.

14-15 God spoke: “Lights! Come out!
Shine in Heaven’s sky!
Separate Day from Night.
Mark seasons and days and years,
Lights in Heaven’s sky to give light to Earth.”
And there it was.

16-19 God made two big lights, the larger
to take charge of Day,
The smaller to be in charge of Night;
and he made the stars.
God placed them in the heavenly sky
to light up Earth
And oversee Day and Night,
to separate light and dark.
God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Four.

20-23 God spoke: “Swarm, Ocean, with fish and all sea life!
Birds, fly through the sky over Earth!”
God created the huge whales,
all the swarm of life in the waters,
And every kind and species of flying birds.
God saw that it was good.
God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Ocean!
Birds, reproduce on Earth!”
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Five.

24-25 God spoke: “Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind:
cattle and reptiles and wild animals—all kinds.”
And there it was:
wild animals of every kind,
Cattle of all kinds, every sort of reptile and bug.
God saw that it was good.

26-28 God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”

29-30 Then God said, “I’ve given you
every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth
And every kind of fruit-bearing tree,
given them to you for food.
To all animals and all birds,
everything that moves and breathes,
I give whatever grows out of the ground for food.”
And there it was.

31 God looked over everything he had made;
it was so good, so very good!
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Six.

1Heaven and Earth were finished,
down to the last detail.

2-4 By the seventh day
God had finished his work.
On the seventh day
he rested from all his work.
God blessed the seventh day.
He made it a Holy Day
Because on that day he rested from his work,
all the creating God had done.

This is the story of how it all started,
of Heaven and Earth when they were created.

These verses from Genesis have always been some of my favorites of Biblical Scripture.  The poetic depiction of creation never fails to lift my spirits, especially when I step outside on a clear night and look up into the starry expanse.  In these days of fear, violence, and injustice we often forget that we are part of a something bigger than we can imagine.

We cannot minimize the injustice we see between races, gender groups, cultures and social-economic groups but we also need to see our world as it is and put all of that in a perspective of who we are, and what we are meant to be.  We are better than the injustice we see, or the violence we do. We have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to remember that the earth came into being because of huge forces of which we are just very small parts. To live as if we are the only ones who are important in all the universe is hubris at its greatest.

Today I offer both Lectio Divina and Visio Divina as prayer practices.  Pray the first photograph of our great big blue marble in the universal sky.  Or pray all the scripture reading or just a part of it.  But this week spend time with the knowledge that we are part of the universe, every one of us, good or bad, rich or poor, healthy or ill.  Sit with the wisdom of the universe, remember are we all made up of the same elements as the stars in the sky, and all of it came from the very beginning of the very small dot, which became the explosion of creation.

Instructions for Lectio Divina:

  • Choose a portion of the text or all of the Scriptures you wish to pray with. It makes no difference which text is chosen, as long as one has no set goal of “covering” a certain amount of text. The amount of text covered is in God’s hands, not yours.
  • Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Focus for a few moments on their breathing; or use a “prayer word” or “prayer phrase” you gently recite to gradually center your thoughts. Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.
  • Turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect lightning or ecstasies. In Lectio Divina, God is teaching us to listen to him, to seek him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, he gently invites us ever more deeply into his presence.
  • Take the word or phrase into you center. Hold it in your thoughts and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories, and ideas. Do not be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself that, Allow this inner pondering, this rumination, to invite you into dialogue with God.
  • Speak to God. Whether you use words, ideas, or images–or all three–is not important. Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. And give to him what you have discovered during your experience of meditation. Experience God by using the word or phrase he has given you as a means of blessing and of transforming the ideas and memories that your reflection on his word has awakened. Give to God what you have found within your heart.
  • Rest in God’s embrace. And when he invites you to return to your contemplation of his word or to your inner dialogue with him, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.
  • Sometimes in Lectio Divina, you may return several times to the printed text, either to savor the literary context of the word or phrase that God has given or to seek a new word or phrase to ponder. At other times, only a single word or phrase will fill the whole time set aside for Lectio Divina. It is not necessary to assess anxiously the quality of your Lectio Divina, as if you were “performing” or seeking some goal. Lectio Divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Scriptures. In addition it is often helpful to journal your insights, writing often helps clarify what we have heard.

Instruction for Visio Divina:

  • Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, places and things.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
  • Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges?
  • Respond to the image with prayer. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer your thoughts as prayer to God.
  • Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

May you hear the music of the universe this week.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 18, 2015

Thinking Cool Thoughts with Lectio and Visio Divina – Prayerful Tuesday

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

 My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

 He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

 The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Yost Park, Edmonds WA March 1, 2007
Yost Park, Edmonds WA
March 1, 2007

You probably are thinking the heat has gotten to my brain, or maybe it’s the pain pills for my back pain. But, on one of the recent warm summer days I picked up a book of poetry and it opened up to one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost.  So in all this heat we’ve been having here in the Northwest I thought this might make for a peaceful, cool meditation using either Lectio Divina with the poem or Visio Divina with the photograph, or do both.

Lectio Divina with Poetry, using poetry to hear God in the silence

  1. Choose either a single verse or the whole poem portion you wish to focus your meditation on.
  2. Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent, focus for a few moments on your breathing.
  3. Read the chosen text through, slowly and gently. Listen to yourself read, let yourself to savor each word and phrase.
  4. Read the text a second time. What words or phrases stick out for you? Remember God speaks to us in silence and in our listening. The words that pop out do so for a reason, pay attention to them.
  5. Read the text a third time. Are there any other words that speak to you?
  6. Sit now in silence, letting the words you have heard, speak to you and for you in your prayer, your conversation with God. What images, ideas, words spring forward?  Or maybe all of them are present in mediation.  Sit with those insights as you experience the presence of God.  Give your insights to God.  Do the insights give you new meaning or transformation of your actions, or prayer life?
  7. Now rest in God’s arms. Let God’s presence give you comfort. Do you feel the pull to return to your meditations? Then begin again. If not close with a prayer of gratitude for the time you have spent in God’s presence and the insights you have received.

Visio Divina with a Photograph

  1. Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, people, places and things.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
  2. Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the photo? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges?
  3. Respond to the image with prayer. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer your thoughts as prayer to God.
  4. Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

May the presence of  the Holy Spirit blow through your heart cooling your spirit and giving you new strength.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 28, 2015

Laughter – Prayerful Tuesday

Psalm 126:2a our mouths shall be filled with laughter,
our tongues, with songs of joy

happy mouse

Photographer Unknown

Last Christmas Day my gift from Santa was a pinched nerve in my back. Apparently our dear Santa thought that was either funny or I was really bad last year.  Actually the problem is due to the fact that we humans stand upright. If we still walked on our knuckles like other apes we would have fewer problems. But then we wouldn’t be able to see over the tall person, in the tacky Uncle Sam hat, during the 4th of July parade would we.

Any way I digress.  What I am trying to say is in order to deal with the pain I have rediscovered the value of laughter as a spiritual practice.  Like the little mouse above I have learned the grace of sharing my joy at being alive instead of being the grouch my beloved John says I can be.  After all what does he know he only lives with me?

Spending time finding joy in all that is around me, offering that joy as prayer, and letting the response of joyful light to enter deep within does much for my own spiritual well being and for the life of those around me.

I am not the first to promote laughter as a spiritual practice, remember I said I rediscovered this practice.  But it is one we forget when life overwhelms us.  Taking ourselves seriously is important but it is also important to not go to the extreme.  No matter what we do, how we feel, or how badly things have gone there is always something to laugh at, even if it is just ourselves.

Before you all get your knickers in a knot I want you to know I am not making light of those who fight depression every day of their lives. Because depression isn’t a choice it’s an illness that needs to be addressed.  Caring for and helping those who fight mental illness is also a spiritual practice and an important one and something we all need to do.

However, for those of us who are fortunate not to experience depression learning to laugh, to find joy in life, and to bring joy to others is a spiritual practice, a spiritual practice that helps us all to not take ourselves too seriously.  For me laughing at life in general and discovering the joy in simply living each day brings me closer to God, who, I am sure, is laughing along with me.

Today I challenge each and every one of you to find something that brings you joy.  May your joy be your gift others and may it be a door to a deeper inner joy where you and the Holy Spirit have a good laugh.

Ruth Jewell, ©June 9, 2015

Breath of Life—Prayerful Tuesday

Genesis 1:1-2, 2:7  1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

2:7 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Amos 8:11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.

Have you ever been unable to breath?  I mean you just couldn’t get air into your lungs.  I have several friends who suffer from Asthma and they tell me it is the most frightening thing to happen to them.  Without air we can’t live.  It is the first requirement of life, the first thing we do upon birth is to take that first breath and the last thing we do at our passing is to let the last breath go.

Genesis tells us that air is the first gift God gave to the earth. I mean it says so right there in the second verse, “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters” and then in chapter 2 God brings man to life by breathing into his nostrils, breath is life.  Without air we don’t live.  Breath, ruach, spirit, is the palpable presence of God in our lives.

I guess that is what makes Amos’ words so scary to me. If the God I trust to be there when I am frightened tells me that She will no longer come to me, that she is separating himself from me that means no air, no breath, no spirit  to enliven my life.  I mean you can’t have words without breath and no words means no breath of God, no life.

With every inhalation we partake of God’s gift of life and with every exhalation we give back life.  We have been doing it since our first breath at birth and will continue until we release our last breath at our dying.  Breathing is a sacred act of life giving; it is the ultimate communion with God and each other.  Turn to the person next to you and watch them breathe, the air they release is the air you take in and the air you release is the air they take in.  Breathing is the most intimate act of our lives.  Breathing connects us to all life, past, present, and future life.

Every breath we take has been blowing across this earth since God blew the wind across the waters.  With ever inhalation we breathe there is a molecule of air breathed, and passed on to us, by Jesus on the cross, Moses as he spoke to the burning bush, Sarah as  she delivered Isaac, Dinosaurs, Amos, even Hitler.  We breathe air given to us as a life gift and how we use it depends on us.

This week I ask that you think about breathing and contemplate who is sharing your breath.  Breathe deeply, take each breath into your lungs and feel the life fill you as your lungs inflate.  Treat each breath as the gift from God that it is, and grace each exhalation with a gift of your own gratitude.  Offer a prayer for those who struggle to breathe and remember how much their life, and yours, depends on the breath of God.  Treat the air as sacred and refrain from fouling it with contaminants.  With every breath you take this week let it be a prayer of thanks to God for the breath of life given at the beginning of time.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 10, 2015