Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

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January 16, 2019 — The way of the seed

Today’s Bible reading

Read Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
   we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
   and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
   “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
   and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
   like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
   reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
   bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
   carrying their sheaves.

More thoughts for meditation

There is a wisdom that we find in religious literature that teaches us that fate is like a great wheel that turns, at once to fortune, then to calamity, then back to fortune, etc. We even find this kind of philosophy at places in the Bible. In such a universe, our task is to resign ourselves to fate, endeavoring not to be too upset when things are not in our favor, nor be too confident when they are. The wheel will turn and we will have to turn with it, whether we like it or not.

Are we bound on a course of necessity? I can think of two things that may have lent credence to the worldview outlined above: first, cycles do indeed seem to govern the events of nature; and second, a lot happens that is beyond our control. If nature itself is bound to the inevitability of the seasons and the day, and if nature is more powerful than ourselves, then we must admit that we also would be unable to escape the inevitability of fate.

But the vision given to us in this Psalm is not of inexorable fate. It is of the miracle that grows right up through all of the so-called inevitable cycles of the world. It is the miracle that our tears, when buried in the earth, burst forth into laughter. But not only that, it is also the miracle that a seed, buried deep in the earth, turns into a stalk of wheat. Existence itself is a miracle. It defies explanation. Even before we are given to meditations on the cycles of life is the fact that there is life at all. Each season is more or less abundant, but do not let this obscure the fact that existence itself is something profligate.

And yet, all life seems caught between two opposing forces. It seeks abundance, but all the time is pulled toward deprivation. It reflects and manifests God’s wholeness while also succumbing to the disintegration of time. God made a universe that gives Him glory, but also a universe that is moving toward entropy. So also for our lives. We live in the same collision of opposites. We feel the force of pain and loss, even while our faith tells us of a deeper love that brings light to darkness. It seems sometimes that life is as delicate as a candle flame. The miracle of existence gets swallowed up by our knowledge of its fragility.

Given that, the temptation is to hold ourselves back from participating in our own life, from letting ourselves feel the pain and grief of reality — with good reason. The seed that is sown into the earth ceases to be a seed, even if it becomes a grain of wheat, which is what it was all along. Loss tugs at us, and threatens to undo everything that we are. We should honor the trepidation we feel and the impulse to protect ourselves. We feel our life to be something precious, and are afraid that we are going to lose it. Yet Jesus teaches us the way of the seed: only by losing our life do we find it. Not all things pass away, but all things are brought to their fulfillment in God’s eternal life.

Listen, and you can hear the voice of nature whisper all things will be lost to the dust. No one, from the rich to the poor, escapes the wheel of fate. But listen more closely, and God whispers more quietly but more strongly, nothing of mine is ever lost, even if it sleeps in the earth. Though you sow in tears, you will reap laughter. The miracle of existence, which stands prior to all of our philosophical reflections, becomes after all the miracle of ever-lasting life.

Suggestions for action

Pray: “Nothing of Your is ever lost, Lord. Grant me the peace that comes from knowing that all things are in Your hands.”

Listen to this recitation of Psalm 126, set to music by Philip Glass. Glass captures well the majestic joy of the people of Zion, whose fortune has been restored. Notice how he plays with the idea of repetition and elaboration. He works with repeating structures that reveal subtle movement and development.

January 15, 2019 — Our strength is in our capacity to forgive

Today’s Bible reading

Read Psalm 123

To you I lift up my eyes,
   O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants
   look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
   to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
   until he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
   for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than its fill
   of the scorn of those who are at ease,
   of the contempt of the proud.

More thoughts for meditation

This Psalm continues the theme of rest in the Lord’s care, and reliance upon his saving help in the midst of a world that is often numb to our pain. Notice that the prayer of the community in this psalm is not to be numb to the world, nor to see the downfall of their persecutors. It is a prayer that re-establishes human relationships in our relationship with God. This willingness to bleed yet not draw blood is the only way to stop the cycle of violence that overtakes human affairs.

The spatial imagery of the Psalm shows our natural inclination to think hierarchically about relationships. The psalmist’s eyes are lifted to the heavens; the servant looks up to the master; the maid looks up to the hand of the mistress. Those who are higher than us are more powerful; those who are lower than us are despised and scorned. Psychological experiments show our predilection for spatial thinking when it comes to power. Studies have shown that we not only put people in lowly positions because we despise them, but we come to despise people only for the fact that they are in a lowly position.

The hierarchies that we create with one another are distortions of the hierarchy that exists between us and God. We are, naturally, skeptical of hierarchies, since power corrupts. However the hierarchy (or asymmetry) between God and us only acknowledges that God is the Creator, we the creation; God the giver of life, we the receiver of life. Our harbor is in God, not the other way around. But when the soul is unmoored from its harbor in God, it drifts wherever it will. In its insecurity, it fills the world with fears and obsessions of who is greater and who is lesser. Absent of love, power becomes the arbiter of human relationships, and with it come scorn, contempt, and mistrust.

Such is the situation of the world. God, however, has taken on the form of a servant in order to lead us wayward ships back to our harbor in God’s love. A great reversal is introduced when our souls become re-anchored in God. How does this reversal take place? The security of our anchorage in God makes us able to resist the powers of the world that seek to move us. The effect of this is two-fold. First, the powerful are robbed of their power. Their contempt is de-weaponized. How can you coerce someone who cannot be coerced? How can you buy someone’s birthright for a bowl of soup when they are already satiated by God’s love? Second, our security in God enables us to act out of genuine freedom. We even become capable of appealing to God on behalf of our persecutors, that they might be granted mercy. As servants of God, not only are we no longer slaves of any human actor or institution, but we gain the power to forgive and turn aside the weapons of destruction that mark our world. In this way the first become last, and the last first.

Suggestions for action

Pray: “Insofar as I have been harmed, grant that my safety in You would give me the power to forgive; insofar as I harm, grant that by your mercy I would have the courage to receive forgiveness.”

I couldn’t find any musical settings to this Psalm, but it does make think about this song by Nina Simone.


January 14, 2019 — Get some spiritual sleep

This week we will be using the Psalms of Ascent as our prayerbook. These Psalms, fifteen in number, were possibly recited by pilgrims as they ascended the road up to Jerusalem, or during Temple worship as the religious leaders climbed the steps of the Temple (15 in number). Their devotional quality has led to several of them being used in Christian liturgy as well. They generally evoke a sense of thankfulness for and confidence in God’s loving protection and provision. Since the Psalms were intended to be sung, a musical setting of each Psalm is provided, when possible. Singing, or even listening to music, is a good way to pray as it helps us move from our head to our heart.

Today’s Bible reading

Read Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
   from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
   who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
   he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
   will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
   the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
   nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
   he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
   your going out and your coming in
   from this time on and forevermore.

More thoughts for meditation

It is fair to read this Psalm with incredulity. The psalmist seems to be making a promise that God will not be able to make good on, or at least so far has not. How can we say that “the Lord will keep [us] from all evil,” when we have felt the hurt of evil people? How can we say that “he will not let [our] foot be moved,” when we have slipped and fallen many times?

A theological answer could be made, and is worth making. It might go something like this: humans, made in the image of God and given the divine breath, have that in them which remains untouched by the various forces of destruction that are loose in the world. Despite the effects of sin, something deep within us still hungers and thirsts for God. Our essential humanity is preserved, even if we have been hurt.

Regardless of whether we believe that theology, our soul still craves to feel directly God’s doting care, like a sick child craves a parent’s comforting voice and arms. We would like to feel that God has not abandoned us. Unfortunately, standing in the way of that feeling is the fact that we have been abandoned, often by the people who were charged to protect us in our vulnerability. At the very least, the love that we were given was not enough to “keep us from evil” throughout our lives. And thus we have learned the hard way that we have to be the keepers of our own life, staying vigilant, even going without sleep (literally or metaphorically). Either that or we are ready to give the care of our lives to the first person or institution that seems willing to take it.

Vigilance is a testament to our resilience. That children survive situations of abandonment is heroic. But a still greater heroism is required to let go of your vigilance, and let God be the keeper of your life. Try this idea on for a minute: It is not your job to worry about yourself, because God worries about you. Let me clarify that I am not talking about the problem of ignoring your own needs for the sake of others. Instead, I’m saying that you can lie down and rest once in a while in God’s care. Give to God the job of “taking your spiritual temperature,” as a friend of mine says, instead of always doing it yourself. Or, to change metaphors, if you are constantly opening the oven door to check the roast, it’s never going to cook. Get some sleep. God will keep you.

Suggestions for action

Pray: “You who watch over my soul, slumber not nor sleep. Grant, Lord, that I might sleep the deep, restful sleep of those who belong to Your care.”

Listen to a famous setting of this Psalm by Felix Mendelssohn. The repetition of lines, common in these oratorios, is done so that the music can draw out nuances in the words. Let it be a prayer on your behalf, and maybe also hear in it an answer to your prayer.

Lift thine eyes to the mountains, whence cometh help.
Thy help cometh from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He hath said, thy foot shall not be moved;  thy Keeper will never slumber.

He, watching over Israel, slumbers not, nor sleeps.
Shouldst thou, walking in grief, languish, He will quicken thee.

January 13, 2019 — We are being converted into new creations.

Conversion on the Way to Damascus — Caravaggio (circa 1600-1601)

Today’s Bible reading  and an excerpt 

Read Acts 9:1-19

“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

More thoughts for meditation

Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus is probably the most famous conversion story in the New Testament. He undergoes a radical change in how he sees himself from a zealous persecutor of first believers to one of their most devoted leaders, a servant of the church.

His conversion starts when he is knocked off his horse and left blind. He ends up with a new name and a new job and a whole new life. In his helpless state of blindness, he asks the central question that we’ve been working with in the last few daily prayer entries: “Who are You, Lord?” He discovers that he had it wrong about Jesus and the only way to see is to turn away from his former view of himself and to take on a new life as a servant of Jesus. He later reflects on all this and writes that anyone who belongs to Christ becomes “a new creation” (see 2 Corinthians 5 and Galatians 6). Jesus calls us to this conversion – a new view of self as a new person belonging to God.

Suggestions for action

Pray:  Lord, it is so easy to fool myself about myself. Draw me to the truth that sets me free. Help me offer all of me to You and allow You to make me new and give me a new view of myself. When I slip back into old views of who I should be or am, please knock me off course, restore my vision and remind me I belong to You.

Return to our practice of Francis’ prayer, “O God, who are You and who am I?” Take 10 minutes now to let go of the tasks that press in upon your mind and the worries that might lurk in the corners of your mind. Let the Spirit of the Living God renew your vision of what’s important.

One of the important things Jesus will likely reveal is that he continues to seek people to “knock off their horses.” You might be used for that, too! Deep people make disciples.

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