Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

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January 14, 2020 — Flight and pursuit

Today’s Bible reading

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Ninevah, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. — Jonah 1:1-3

More thoughts for meditation

Later in the book, Jonah will explain his flight, but before we arrive at that explanation we have only the flight. In the same way, before any of us understands our own flight, we have the fact of our own flight from God as the condition of our existence. Why are we running? We’re not sure… we’ve always been running. When we were born, the whole world was running, and we never knew or thought to wonder why, and maybe never even thought that we were in flight.

Jonah, in a way, recapitulates the story of humanity. The word of the Lord comes to Jonah just like it did when the word created Adam in the very beginning. And just as it gives Jonah a charge to carry to Nineveh, so it gave Adam the charge to till the garden he was given. And in both cases, this is followed by disobedience: flight from our intended destination. Instead of arriving at that shore for which the Word of God has created us, called us, and prepared us, we have boarded a ship and fled to other lands. What is Tarshish, but the name of any other place we want to go except the one that we can call home? 

But, there is no flight without pursuit. Like a hound from heaven, God pursues Jonah, and pursues us as well. First with a storm, then with a great fish, then with a worm and the heat of the sun. Jonah says that he fled because God is “a gracious God and merciful.” Why would he flee grace and mercy? The name of the hound does not matter except the fact that you can feel it at your heels. Whether we call it love or fear, we only know that it pursues us hotly and will consume us when it catches us, as a giant sea monster would swallow us up. Even if we know that the name of our pursuer is Love, we fear the teeth of love because they will pierce us like nails. 

Our intuition is true: we will not survive the encounter with grace. It will devour us completely. But though we are swallowed by God’s love, it does not mean that we are swallowed up. Love strips us bare, but it is only the falsehoods that the world has clothed us with and we have clothed ourselves with that are taken away. When we pass through the teeth of love, our outer person is destroyed – and painful it is – but our inner person is brought to life.

The multitude of all our flights, millions and billions of them, are finally met by our Pursuer on the hill of Calvary. Here is a great fish provided, with teeth like nails and a mouth like a tomb. It is large enough to swallow us all who are floundering in the wind and waves, not for the sake of our destruction but of our resurrection. 

Suggestions for action

The cross is the possibility of turning, no matter how long we have been running or how far away we feel. Prayer is the act of stopping, and turning around. It is listening for the God who is looking for us. It is letting ourselves be found, even at the bottom of the ocean. Take some time (a few minutes) to be still, a crucial discipline for listening for God’s presence. Use this as a refrain to begin and end: “If I ascend to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”

January 13, 2020 — A fool for Christ

This week our prayer will be informed by the prophet Jonah. He is a peculiar prophet with peculiar adventures, made even more peculiar by the fact that Jesus points only to Jonah as a sign of his Messiahship. Yet in his peculiarity he gives insight into the work of God’s grace, which is often (maybe always) peculiar to us.

Today’s Bible reading

The Book of Jonah (it’s pretty short)

More thoughts for meditation

According to Jesus, Jonah is important. He says as much to the Pharisees who ask him for a confirmatory sign of his identity: “No sign will be given to [this generation] except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Of all the people, events, and prophecies in the Scriptures, Jesus picks Jonah to be the portent of his ministry. This was surely an unexpected choice. If the Jewish leaders of the time had made a list of Scriptures likely to give important information about the Messiah, Jonah might have been at the bottom.

Curiously, if we were also to make a list of the most absurd parts of the Bible, Jonah has to be at the top. It is full of funny (haha and peculiar) moments. First, Jonah wants to flee the “Lord who made the sea” on, of all things, a boat, as though the best place to hide from a bear were in its den. Then, the captain finds him sleeping in the middle of a hurricane. He’s given a few days to cool off in the stomach of the whale, apparently so that he can literally say “the waters closed in over me,” which was for most psalmists more of a metaphor. Animals are made to wear sackcloth and fast. Jonah spends the rest of the story sulking in the sun. In fact, Jesus’ reference to Jonah seems to be a kind of joke. “Ask me for a sign, will you? Well then, consider Jonah who was swallowed by a whale. Don’t worry, you’ll get it later.” At the very least, it would discourage any follow-up questions.

I do not think that this is accidental, the fact that the funniest book of the Bible is also the one that speaks most directly to Jesus’ passion and death, an act as absurd as any. Jokes play with contradiction and upend our idea of dignity, and by that criteria the cross is a great joke. The early Christians who worshipped the crucified God no doubt felt how absurd their faith must have been. But then, they were likely grateful enough to be rescued from the belly of the whale as to worry about the rather undignifying particulars of their salvation. 

The real tragedy is that Jonah never quite gets the joke. The end of the story finds him still taking himself and his feelings far too seriously to have a genuine turn of heart for his fellow-human Ninevites, who like him needed rescuing from their own watery depths. Mercy is still something of an inside joke for him, and he is the one looking in from the outside. I’m not sure if it is a worse error to take yourself too seriously or to be unable to take anything seriously, but something like the release of laughter – or tears – is needed to “get” the weird logic of grace. Jonah has neither laughter nor tears, and so the book concludes with us still rooting for him to let go of his narrow idea of his own dignification so that he can be brought to a wide place of delight and joy. That’s ok, God is rooting for Jonah too. And for us.

Suggestions for action

Nothing good in life – whether laughter, tears, sleep, love – can be forced. But just take a minute and remember the last time that something made you smile for real. Those are good moments, and worth remembering. 

January 12, 2020 — And whisper in the ears

Today’s Bible reading

For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. — Isaiah 51:3

A psalm for meditation

Oh Lord, hear my cry
When walking through this life
I look around, to see beauty and joy, destruction and despair
Sorrow fills my heart
Saying goodbye to people I have loved, flora and fauna, and neighborhoods and nations

What is Zion?
What is Eden?
Are you there with the finch on the tree branch?
Are you there in the tents on Lesvos?
Do you walk with those who seek refuge?
Are you on the streets where homeless people wander? Where opium dreams and smoke-filled pipes lurk?
Do you feel the fires ravaging mountain and valley, animals and trees?
When disease erases memory, and body loses strength
……………Do you keep watch, and whisper in the ears?

And whisper in the ears
I listen
I look
I long for you
Seeking to find the comfort of love
A glimmer of hope

Awaken in my heart a song of Eden, a song of Zion
To open arms and hearts
And see one another
To find strength for the journey
Lead me with your will
Of love, of light, of being with my neighbors
Of being in this world

Keep me on the ground
Keep you in my heart
Singing a song that can be heard
Harmony and harmony
Join voices, join hands
To see the birds aloft
Insects and elephants
The lowly and the exalted
Lord, be with us all
Lord, help us see the vision of Eden, the vision of Zion
Bring us out of blindness
Lead us to peace, lead us to love, lead us in love, Lord, lead us in love

Suggestions for action

Pray the psalm.

Write your own.

Appreciate the Circle of Hope psalmist who offered their prayer.

January 11, 2020 — The Good Given

Today’s Bible reading

But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the our humble bodies that they may be conformed to his glorious body, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. — Philippians 3:20-21

A psalm for meditation

The Green Lady relished the fruit she was given.
Blessed is the one who does not regret what was not received
but feasts on the fruit of the day.

I spent that year enduring the corral
with a dull plow horse and gamboling colt.
My eye continually scanned the top rail;
my heart ached to jump the fence;
my legs longed to run among the mesquite,
wind in my mane, dust behind my hooves.

I chewed on the bit in my mouth:
is my duty serving beyond necessity?
is the goal itself arbitrary?
is my endurance too long?
But you heard my whinny.

Francis gave back Pietro’s clothing
and demanded the covering of the church.
Running around naked is the dream of infants.

The good given is a tether, as well as a pleasure.
Blessed is the one who does not regret what was received
but feasts on the fruit of the day.

Suggestions for action

Pray the psalm.

Write your own.

Appreciate the Circle of Hope psalmist who offered their prayer.

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