Ecclesiastes Haiku

Recently I decided to read through the Book of Ecclesiastes and write haiku that captures it’s thought. It begins in verses 1-11 with an almost numbing melancholy. Creation seems to be, for the writer, an unending cycle of meaninglessness.

life is meaningless

begins Ecclesiastes–

weariness is the norm

Today perhaps we can appreciate this view in light of pandemic, injustice, and race riots. Disease and violence return like months of the year. But Jesus rescues me from this debilitating worldview. Ecclesiastes expected nothing new, but Jesus brought a fresh breeze from God, that cleanses the staleness of our inner rooms if we will but open the windows of our souls. It is a cleansing that renews my hope for a better day, a better world. It enables me to speak confidently for compassion, justice, and reconciliation.

As always, if you like what I have written, feel free to share it with others and encourage them to become followers.

Peace, LaMon

The Lord’s Prayer in a Time of Pandemic

Last year, I wrote several blogs on the Lord’s Prayer (or the Our Father). It is certainly the most prayed prayer in the history of Christianity. Many churches use it every Sunday. Many individuals pray it daily. I am one of those.

The truth about praying prayers created or written by someone else is that, it is possible to say the words and not think about them. In order to really pray these prayers, we must learn to pray them with intention. This means pay attention to what we are saying.

During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain phrases from the Lord’s Prayer have become filled with new meaning for me. When I pray them with intention, I am brought more closely into the presence of God.

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I think about God’s desire for love to rule the day on earth as it surely does in heaven. So, in that phrase, is the implicit request for an increase in compassion on earth.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” I remember all the lines of people waiting for food in this time of scarcity and joblessness. They become a part of my concern.

“Let us not fall to temptation.” (This is the phrase I picked up from Roman Catholics which seems clearer than “Lead us not into temptation.) Two temptations are especially prevalent in today’s world; a temptation to despair and a temptation to anger. Both can be found in sad abundance, though the second one is more likely to rise in my heart. So, my concern for the emotional and spiritual welbeing of others and myself highlight this phrase.

Finally, there is “deliver us from evil.” I think of the evil of the virus and I think of the evil of divisiveness in American society. Both call for deliverance.

May praying the Lord’s Prayer bring you closer to God and to God’s will for your life.

As always, feel free to share this post with others and encourage them to click the follow button, if they like it.

Peace, LaMon

A Prayer for Today

It has been a while since I last wrote. I have been busy writing some memoirs for by grand-kids. What a great experience, going back over 40 years of journals, and remembering various events in my life.

Of course, that may not be the only reason I haven’t written. What can one write during these days of pandemic? Here is something I have found helpful.

Richard Rohr’s Center Center for Action and Contemplation sends out five meditations every week. Included with those meditations is this wonderful prayer:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

I pray this prayer everyday. And I spend time praying for my “heart’s longings for the healing of our world”–for individuals, for groups special to me, and for the world. Perhaps you can find this prayer a helpful outline for expressing your own intentions.

As I have said before, prayer is one path into the presence of God–the “Great Love” of all creation.

Peace, LaMon

Affirmation of Many Paths

It has been months since I last sent out a blog! But this morning as I was reading in Carl McCorman’s book The Little Book of Christian Mysticism: Essential Wisdom of Saints, Seers, and Sages, I ran across this quote from Rufus Jones on page 41:

There is no one exclusive ‘way’ either to the supreme realities or to the loftiest experiences of life. The ‘way’ which we individuals select and proclaim as the only highway of the soul back to its true home turns out to be a revelation of our own private selves fully as much as a revelation of the ‘via sacra’ to the one goal of all human striving. . . . God so completely over arches all that is and . . . is so genuinely the fulfillment of all which appears incomplete and potential that we cannnot conceivably insist that there shall be only one way of approach from the multiplicity of the life which we know to the infinite Being whom we seek.

The spiritual life demands humility of us all. Indeed, humility is an essential for spiritual growth. It is like plant food for our souls.

And, for my Christian friends, Jones’ words does not negate a full-hearted commitment to Jesus Christ. For according to the Christian scriptures, Christ is the logos or Word of God present in all of creation–not only in the Church.

I hope in the coming year to begin writing again perhaps talking about the ways of beauty, truth, and goodness.

Peace to you all, LaMon

Trials and Temptations

This is the last in my series of meditations on Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. Since prayer can be one of the ways we connect with God, it seemed to good idea to look at the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray. It is one of those pathways into God’s presence.

The last phrase according to Luke’s version reads, “and do not bring us to the time of trial.” (NRSV) A footnote indicates that it could be translated as “do not bring us into temptation.” The connection between the two translations is clear. Trials may tempt us to abandon our trust in God. Trials may tempt us to fall out of love with God our Father (or Mother, if you prefer).

The disciples were going to face a lot of trials and temptations in the years to come. In this prayer, Jesus encourages them to ask God to protect them from those trials or temptations that might destroy their faith or dry up their love.

One question that needs asking is, does God intentionally lead us or bring us into temptations or prayers? I say, “No.” In fact when I pray the prayer (as in Matthew’s version), I follow the French Catholic practice recently adopted by the Pope. So I pray, “Do not let us fall to temptation.”

I can pray this with confidence because I know the love of God revealed in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

Forgiveness

We have been meditating on the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father as it is found in the Gospel of Luke. Prayer is one of the ways we experience the presence of God. In today’s passage we will be reminded of the importance of forgiveness, which action, I believe, is another significant way to know God.

This month we have come to “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” This does not have the words “transgressions” and “transgress” that many of us have used over the years. Neither does it have the words “debts” and “indebted” that others are used to. The word “sins” and “transgressions” are close enough to be used as synonyms. And in Luke’s version the prior word “sins” must be used to interpret the phrase “indebted to us.” So, to make it clear, in praying Luke’s version we are asking God to forgive us our sins because we are forgiving those who have sinned against us.

So, two ideas are at work. On the one hand, we have a need to be forgiven because of our own sins–doing wrong against God and others. And we have a need to forgive others who had done us wrong. I would simply point out that in this prayer, we are basically asking God to treat us like we treat others!!?!

While that sounds frightening, it need not be, as long as we understand what forgiveness entails. Forgiveness is seem most clearly on the cross. There, God in Christ was forgiving the world for its sin. This involved two types of acceptance. First, God in Christ accepted the pain of our sin without retaliation. The pain stopped on the cross. Second, God in Christ accepted the responsibility to help those who had caused the pain. (Remember Christ praying, Father forgive them.)

In forgiving others we accept two things. First, we accept the pain without trying to get revenge. We absorb the hurt as it were. Second, we accept the responsibility to help the other person. This can be most easily done by praying for that person’s own well being.

Forgiveness in it’s most basic elements does not involve forgetting (which we can’t will anyway!) nor the emotions of liking or loving.

Paul understood the connection between our forgiveness and our forgiving: “forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 5:7).

May we know the presence of God as we pray even for our enemies that God’s mercy would prevail in their lives.

Praying to Love

We are looking at Luke’s version of what we traditionally call the Lord’s Prayer. The form we are most used to is found in Matthew, but Luke’s gospel may contain the earliest form. Its simplicity may make it more ideal for examining how this prayer can help us experience God’s presence. In the first blog of this series, we saw how an Aramaic word abba was behind the word translated “Father”. It was a word that pointed toward intimacy, trust, and love. This is highlighted further in the next two phrases of the prayer: “Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.”

Unless one is at home in the Christian tradition, these phrases may sound strange–even off-putting. I believe that both of these phrases carried the same meaning. And that meaning is “May your purpose in creation be achieved.” It is a prayer that what God began in creation would be completed.

As the wonderful abba word focuses on the nature of God, it also helps us to understand God’s purpose. In creation, God’s desire was that God’s character would be fully revealed in all of the created order. And that character is love. God created us in love and wants us to manifest that same faithful love; to be open to the intimacy of love which can flow through all things.

Now, I am not naive about our world. Love is not yet seen in all things. Intimacy is not possible where patience, gentleness, and kindness have not yet blossomed. Nevertheless, God’s purpose still remains. If we want to join with God in fashioning the world of God’s dreams, let us pray.

The prayer might be something like this: Gracious God help us and all of creation to have spirits overflowing with your kind of love–a love that is patient and kind, unselfish and giving.

It may be that every time we pray such a prayer with sincere hearts, the world turns a little more toward love–God’s beautiful purpose.

Imagining God

One pathway to God is through prayer, but not all prayers bring us into God’s presence. One day the disciples of Jesus asked him to teach them how to pray. The story and subsequent teaching is found in Luke 11:1-4. Here we find the earliest version of what is traditionally called the Lord’s Prayer. It is not the version most people know. The more liturgically full version is found in Matthew’s gospel. However, for the next several blogs I am going to look at what is surely the original version in order to think about how, in adapting and using this prayer, we can find ourselves in the presence of God.

It begins with one word–Father. (There is no “our”, nor “who is in heaven”). This prayer does have a corporate side as later blogs will show, but it begins one on one–the one praying and and the One listening. And the One listening is not far away, but is as near as a the air we breathe.

For those who balk at the use of the word “Father” as patriarchal, I would quickly add that in English I sometimes use Mother, for as Julian of Norwich correctly affirmed, “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.”

But let’s stick with what Jesus said and try to imagine what he meant. In Jesus’ native language, Aramaic, there are two words for the male parent; abhi and abba. The first word is the ‘higher’ word. It is a word of respect and honor. The second word is one of the first words an Aramaic baby would learn to say (along with imma). It is the child’s word. It is also the word adult children would use for the male parent when there was a close feeling of love and trust between child and parent. It was the word of intimacy. Perhaps our English words daddy and papa correspond best to the meaning. This Aramaic word is found three times in the Greek New Testament, indicative that it was the normal word Jesus used in his prayer language and the word he taught his disciples to use. (A side note: as far as we know Jesus was the first person to use this familiar language for God.)

Jesus taught his disciples to imagine that God is exactly like what Jesus had experienced God to be. God is entirely trustworthy. God is infinitely loving. God is eternally open to an intimate relationship with seekers.

So, when you pray, no matter how you might address God, imagine God to be like that. Perhaps it will help you to find a path into God’s presence.

Gospel Reading

In my last blog I talked about there being many spiritual practices or exercises that can help us experience the presence of God or the Divine. Most of the religions in the world seek to find and follow a path or paths to God. I have found spiritual treasures in careful readings of the Tao Te Ching, the Upanishads, the Dhammapada, Zen writings, the Songs of Kabir, a host of poets, and, of course, the Bible. In the Hebrew scriptures, I have been especially drawn to the Psalms, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs.

However, most significant to me has been reading the four gospels in the Christian scriptures. Some 25 years ago, a spiritual adviser encouraged me to focus my scripture reading solely on the four gospels–at least for a time. Of course, as a Christian since childhood, I had read in the gospels off and on for many years, along with all the other books in the Bible.

However, as I began to focus primarily on the life and teachings of Jesus, I was changed. Jesus became more than just the one who died on a cross and rose from the dead for the sake of our ‘salvation’. Jesus became the paradigm for how I was to interpret everything else. Jesus became the model or example for how I was to live and think. In this eye-opening understanding of Christ, my own connection with God deepened.

Of course, I read many things these days, but my pattern always includes a portion of a gospel reading. I read and then reflect and/or pray in my journals. (Unless I am determined to write a few lines in a journal, my reading can become shallow and meaningless.)

In the next few blogs I will write about other practices that connect me to God through Jesus Christ. However, if you want to try this practice, I suggest that you begin with a journal to write in and begin reading the Gospel of Luke, and next on through Mark, Matthew, and John. Then repeat and repeat and repeat. For 25 years it has not gotten old!

Pathway(s)

Pathways to God is not strictly speaking about how one can be ‘saved’ in the traditional Christian sense. It is about how we can experience the presence of God. In one Hindu pattern there are three ways–the way of knowledge, the way of selfless work or action, and the way of love and devotion. In Neo-Platonism, the divine can be approached through beauty, truth, and goodness.

As in other religions and philosophical traditions there exist a variety of routes to the presence of God, so in the Christian spiritual tradition there are many practices or disciplines that have been used successfully. One important thing to remember is that not every Christian practice will be effective for every person, nor will one Christian practice always and forever be effective. That is, your particular needs in the spiritual life may change from time to time, so that what was helpful before is so no longer. Other practices need to develop.

For example the practice called Centering Prayer is very popular today among many Christians. It is a way into silence by quieting or emptying your mind. As I noted, many Christians have found this practice helpful. Me–not so much. But I would never denigrate the practice. It has helped a lot of folks. It is one way into silence.

A pattern that has been a better one for me also includes silence, but it is not the same kind. I no longer try to empty my mind, but I want to fill it. I have taken the advice of the Apostle Paul, “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)

There is one who embodies all of these. That one, for me, is Jesus Christ. So, I try to fill my mind with him. In the next few blogs I will share some of the ways that I do this. I hope you will join me.

As always, anything you find helpful that I have written, feel free to share it with others.