A Thanksgiving Prayer? – Prayerful Tuesday

for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

Matthew 25:35

Artist Unknown
Artist Unknown

Giver of abundant gifts, on this Thanksgiving we celebrate . . . we celebrate. Ah what are we celebrating God?  It seems to me that we have nothing to celebrate, nothing to be thankful for, except empty hearts and soulless comments.

Too many children are dying before our eyes on beaches, in stormy seas, in mountain passes, and refugee camps.  Too many are blinded by their fears, unable to see the path to your love.  I don’t know God, I can’t really think of something to be thankful for this year, you see my eyes are clouded with tears and my heart is screaming in pain for those who are being denied entry into our so called circle of love.  By the way if it is a circle of love would there really be boundaries?

God I don’t know how to say this but I do believe we humans have failed you and maybe it is time to pull the plug on this experiment. We are tired, I know I am, so please just let us go and let us be thankful for the too few moments when we recognized your love and shared it with the world.  Let some other species give being your priestly people a go at it. That task is very plainly to difficult for us. Dogs would be a good choice they love without condition just by being who they are, yes; Dogs would do a good job of being your treasured people.

So I guess I do have something to be thankful for.  I am thankful for your love, for your compassion, your presence in the darkest of times.  I am grateful for the times we danced in the sunlight, and sang at the moon. I am grateful for your faith in us when we have no faith in ourselves.  I am thankful for the many blessings you have given us, sunrises and sunsets, a newborns smile, oh so many gifts. So if it’s alright with you God I will lay my gratitude down at your feet and if it pleases you Lord, I would like to come back as a Dog.    AMEN

Ruth Jewell, ©November 24, 2015

Psalms of Lament and Hope – Prayerful Tuesday

Paris, Beirut, Syria, Iraq, The World God in your mercy, hear our prayers
Paris, Beirut, Syria, Iraq, The World
God in your mercy,
hear our prayers

The only gift I have to offer this week is my sorrow for Paris, Beirut, Syria, Iraq, and all of us.  So I offer the Psalms I go to when I am in the midst of sorrow and pain.  May your hearts be comforted by the words of the psalmist and may you find solace knowing others cry with you.

Psalm 36:1-4 (MSG)
A David Psalm
1-4 The God-rebel tunes in to sedition—
all ears, eager to sin.
He has no regard for God,
he stands insolent before him.
He has smooth-talked himself
into believing
That his evil
will never be noticed.
Words gutter from his mouth,
dishwater dirty.
Can’t remember when he
did anything decent.
Every time he goes to bed,
he fathers another evil plot.
When he’s loose on the streets,
nobody’s safe.
He plays with fire
and doesn’t care who gets burned.

Psalm 42 (NRSV)

1As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
3My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
4These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng, and led them in procession
to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
5Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help
6and my God. My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan
and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
7Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
8By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
9I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
10As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
11Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Ruth Jewell, ©November 17, 2015

Overwhelmed with Sadness – Prayerful Tuesday

Band-Aids don't work anymore, Huffington Post
Band-Aids don’t work anymore, Huffington Post

I have been trying to think about what to say about the Umpqua shootings but my heart is breaking and my mind won’t process this.  So I am asking you for your prayer this week to write letters to your legislators about gun legislation, talk to your neighbors about keeping safe, and get involved in your community and/or church youth programs.  Talk kids and get to know your own children and the children they play with. Keep the kids involved with family and community and help them find safe ways to release anger and frustration.  If you need a gun for hunting then talk to every member of the family about gun safety and keep your guns in a secure gun safe when you aren’t using them.  I know that isn’t much but if all of us become more aware and involved in the efforts to regulate guns in a responsible manner than maybe, just maybe we won’t be speechless anymore.

Ruth Jewell, ©October 6, 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

Stand up and say NO MORE – Prayerful Tuesday

We are all Homo Sapiens sapiens but we will never be Human Beings until we stop just surviving and begin to live in harmony with each other and all creation.  

NO MORE
NO MORE

I have been trying to comprehend the shootings in South Carolina at the First Emanuel AME Church.  Just as the acts in other mass shootings I simply can’t get my mind around a hatred that produces such evil.  I have listened to the prayers for comfort and supplication.  I have listened, unwillingly, to the NRA and other public speakers who blame the church pastor and members, or minimize the acts of the shooter.  I can’t, or won’t, believe that 9 innocent people were the cause nor can I believe the shooter acted without encouragement.

You see, I believe we, you and I,  are to blame for what happened in South Carolina.  You and I, and everyone else regardless of skin color, privilege, ethnicity, or any other cultural classification are equally responsible for pulling the trigger and this is why I believe this.

We refuse to stand against acts of injustice, violence, discrimination, or the use of degrading speech.  We listen politely and shake our heads and tell ourselves that offering a prayer that people will change is enough.  We are afraid of what others might say about us if we stop someone in mid speech and tell them NO, I will not listen to this.  We look the other way when someone abuses another.  We tolerate public servants who degrade people of color, are poor, elderly, or have a religion they don’t follow.  We have tolerated public servants who have spoken as if they are the only ones who matter, who have verbally abused our President and anyone else they disagree with or disagree with them.

We have created this atmosphere of hate and violence found in country today.  Yes, I admit I am right there along with the rest of us.  Have I stood up and defended someone being abused, sometimes yes but not always.  I do it when it is convenient for me and that is not what we are called to do.  We, you and I, are called by the Divine to be better than that.

This week I am recommending a spiritual practice of standing up and defending the voiceless.  I am asking each of you to speak up when you hear someone abusing or degrading someone else.  I am pleading with each of you to stand and be counted when you see injustice happening.  As you go through this week remember this:

8 But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.” Micah 6:8 The Message (MSG)

Ruth Jewell, ©June 23, 2015

on being human—Prayerful Tuesday

Nursing an Ebola Victim Picture by Dr. Rudyard, Health Pictures
Nursing an Ebola Victim
Picture by Dr. Rudyard, Health Pictures

Matthew 25: 36 “I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

One of the books I read while I was on my sabbatical was Fields of Blood, Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong.[1]  As always I was impressed with her writing and level of scholarship but more than that in this book Ms Armstrong lays out the reasons for our love of violence and power.

Right at the beginning she identifies one of the factors in our continuing struggle between living in a harmonious world or living in a power driven world, the construction of our brains.  We have 3 brains, the old brain or reptilian brain is responsible for our fight or flight actions. It drives us to defend our territory for food and other resources, it is the self-centered part of the brain, most concerned with keep ourselves safe; the mammalian limbic system, which formed over the core of the reptilian brain is our second brain. It is responsible for new behaviors such as care of our young and the formation of allies with others; and the new brain, the third brain, the neocortex, is responsible for our “reasoning and self awareness that enables us to stand back from the instinctive, primitive passions.” (pg 4-5)

Ms. Armstrong proposes that the reptilian brain and limbic system are dominant within power systems that manipulate and control others.  The limbic system extended the actions of the reptilian brain to include family or a community unity but, still, this drive for power and control of others for territory and resources requires violence.  It wasn’t until about 20,000 years ago when the neocortex evolved did the idea of standing back and evaluating actions was there any question about the use of violence. Humanity really didn’t have a chance of becoming a reality until after the evolution of the neocortex and we have yet to learn how to  use the “new brain” to begin to evolve into who we are meant to be.  By this I mean most of us haven’t learned to overcome the impulses of the reptilian brain and limbic system and use our neocortex to evaluate our surroundings or our actions.  In general we humans are “subject to conflicting impulses of [our] three distinct brains.” (pg. 5)

Fortunately there is hope for us all.  A few of us are developing our neocortex’s and discovering what it means to be truly human.  I was listening to NPR this past Sunday morning when a story about Dr. Kent Brantly was broadcast. Dr. Brantly was one of the American Doctors who contracted Ebola last year and survived.  He was asked to deliver the graduating speech to the 2015 graduating class of the Indiana University School of Medicine.  What he says about compassion is important for all of us to hear (italics are mine):

“In the first seven weeks of treating patients with Ebola, we had only one survivor; one survivor and nearly 20 deaths. Losing so many patients certainly was difficult. But it didn’t make me feel like a failure as a physician because I had learned that there’s a lot more to being a physician than curing illness. In fact, that isn’t even the most important thing we do. The most important thing we do is to enter into the suffering of others. And in the midst of what was becoming the worst Ebola epidemic in history, we were showing compassion to people during the most desperate and trying times of their lives. Through the protection of Tyvek suits and two pairs of gloves, we were able to hold the hands of people as they died to offer dignity in the face of humiliating circumstances, to treat with respect the dying and the dead. And in my opinion, that made those weeks, those difficult weeks of my career a success.”[2]

Compassion isn’t offering help, it is being with the suffering of others, it is living the suffering, walking together down a road you may or may not know where it leads.  That is what Jesus did.  He entered into the suffering of others, he walk the road to where ever they were headed, that is one, maybe the first, step to becoming human.  Dr. Brantly has taken a step on a road most of us are afraid to even look at let along step onto.  The Prophet Micah tells us “He has told you, O mortal, what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). To do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God, sounds easy does it not?  Ask Dr. Brantly how easy it was for him and he will tell you it is the hardest road you will ever walk, but if we wish to be the humans God has always wanted us to be it is a road we must walk.

This week my spiritual practice is more of a spiritual way of life.  I would like to invite you on a journey with me to become the “human” God wants us all to be.  To look at our actions by taking a step back and asking ourselves the following questions (I am sure there are more than these and please let me know what you would ask):

  1. Does this action support justice or impede justice?
  2. Is this action a loving act?
  3. Does that action move me closer to God or does it separate me from God?

Simple questions, but, sometimes hard to answer.  Our lives are filled with gray areas and we will need to determine how those gray, in between, spaces fit into our lives and either nurture or kill the life we want with God. This is not an easy practice or an easy way to live but I believe, at least for myself, a profitable one.  I know I will stumble and so will you.  That’s OK, just pick yourself up and start over again.  Failure is a lesson in how not to do something.  Loving life as God meant it to be was and is never easy.  Just remember you are not alone.

Ruth Jewell ©May 19, 2015

[1] Armstrong, Karen’ Fields of Blood, Religion and the History of Violence, The Bodley Head, London, UK, 2014.

[2] National Public Radio: Rachel Martin interview Dr. Kent Brantly, May 17, 2015, All Things Considered Sunday Edition.

It is Good?—Prayerful Tuesday

Garden of Eden, Jan Brueghel, 1612
Garden of Eden, Jan Brueghel, 1612

“And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:10b

In the last weeks God’s creation has seemed anything but good.  Terrorist attacks, ambushing of police, and police shootings of unarmed young men continue to rent the very fabric of our society.  Yet God did not create an evil world, in fact God proclaims this world a good world where everyone, and I mean everyone, has what they need to live and be the person they are meant to be.  It is our choice’s, not God’s, that have created a world that is unsafe.

Spending time in silent contemplation with a focus on what we could have been, and still could be, seemed the only way for me to center myself and see the world as good.  So today I offer as our prayer of the week another Visio Divina using the above painting of the Garden of Eden by Jan Brueghel.

Prayer Practice:

1. Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, the placement of the plants, animals and, people.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.

  1. 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? What feelings about the world rise in you? Are there any images that you are particularly drawn too?
  2.  Respond to the image with prayer for the world. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer that prayer to God.
  3. 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.

Please do not let your belief, or non-belief, in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent fall from grace prevent you from seeing the good things in creation. Our world is in need of prayer right now.  All of our people, all of creation is crying and in pain.  Let your prayers go out into the world and let them lead you to be the person God has always wanted you to be.

Peace, Blessings

Ruth Jewell, ©January 13, 2015