Lent 1 (Ash Wednesday)

This.
This blissful moment
of dawn warming the night’s frost
of the finch and wren brightly chattering to the blue sky
. . . surely, O my LORD, this is not dust or ashes
for the moment uplifts my soul
to sing “Alleluia! Life!”
No?
My soul could be
satisfied here in this moment,
content with the delicious gold of sunrise,
sated by the delicate artistry of the hoarfrost crystals.
But your Spirit nags: “Not even close! This delight you embrace
is not even close to the Blissful Goodness that is
GOD. You have been easily pleased
by a moment, yet there is
an abiding
peace
beyond your lifetime.
Do not be content here, nor
let your spirit mourn the dust and ashes.
Here I am: feel my breath
on the dust that is
your cheek
and in
the ashes that are
your lungs. Let not your dusty, foolish heart
despair over the temporary. Rejoice with the warbling birds
and seek That Which Will Not Fade
with all of your soul.”

Writing to God Together

More than many of us would admit, prayer can be a struggle. We worry that we’re not saying the right words or praying for the right things, we internally compare our prayers to others’ more eloquent & poetic prayers, we stress when prayer feels stagnant, we tell ourselves that we’re not disciplined enough in prayer. And sometimes, overcoming our hesitation in prayer really is a matter of discipline … but often it’s a matter of facing our fears of prayer.

How can we tackle our insecurities about prayer? First, try a new prayer style! Just as we all have different learning styles, we all have different affinities for varied styles of prayer. By exploring new prayer styles, we can discover prayer habits that resonate beautifully with our souls and we can test methods of prayer that uncomfortably stretch our spirits. You might gravitate toward meditative prayer while I love using devotional books. You may challenge yourself with the discipline of the Daily Hours, while I play with Praying in Color.

One of my favorite methods of prayer is prayer-writing. With a pen in my hand, I find that I can focus on prayer in refreshing ways, no longer distracted by my grocery shopping list or my church work or the dust on my desk. Writing my prayers also shifts my self-consciousness into creativity; I am no longer captivated by my insecurities about prayer, but rather captivated by the prayer itself coming together on paper before my eyes. My fears are diverted as I enjoy meeting the Word Made Flesh through written words.

In addition to exploring new prayer disciplines, to tackle your fears of prayer gather a small group to pray together. Although praying in a group may seem counter-intuitive in light of our fears (not many of us feel perfectly comfortable praying in front of others!), in fact, studying & practicing & discussing prayer in community can encourage our spirits tremendously. Together we realize that we’re not alone in our prayer struggles. Together we discover moments of grace and delight in prayer. Together we learn from one another’s journeys. Together we take prayer “out of our heads” and we engage prayer in breath & body & conversation & fellowship.

To write prayers in your own small group, I suggest inviting persons who enjoy writing as well as those who are seeking a fresh approach to prayer. Find a regular time to meet together; weekly meetings are best to build rapport in a newly-formed group. Choose a gathering place where everyone has room to write around one table. Sometimes the church is a logical meeting space, but I encourage writing groups to meet in non-church locations; the change of scenery provides a tangible reminder that prayer goes beyond our church walls. (My writing group loves a local tea shop, where hot cups of freshly-brewed tea and warmed muffins delight our senses as we write.)

For more tips on starting a prayer-writing group, and for six weeks of guided writing resources and prayer prompts, download my free Small Group Guide for Writing to God. And you can always drop me a message on this website to ask questions about your prayer-writing small group.

 

O Holy Construction Truck

The voice of God speaking through the prophet Isaiah: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert to give drink to my chosen people.” (Isaiah 43:19-20)

In the desert and wilderness places that we fear, God is making a new road with a clear fresh river to quench a traveler’s thirst. And the jackals & ostriches that would alarm us along that new way through unfamiliar territory: they are busy honoring God! Do not be afraid, God is doing a new thing!

What new thing has you feeling apprehensive? Pick up your pen, write it out in a prayer, and invite God to give you courage for the changes and perspective to trust that God is doing a new thing.

O Holy Construction Truck: you frustrate me — driving at 5 mph, narrowing the road to a single lane of traffic, backing up with that dog-calling beep! beep! beep! There is nothing elegant about your lumbering, nothing pleasant about your hot asphalt, nothing appreciated about how long it takes you to finish a project. You seriously test my patience! Please move. I’d rather speed along the grooves of this freshly-shaven highway than wait for it to be done, even though I know I’ll be glad when the new surface is completed. O Holy Construction Truck: I’m short on patience but clearly in need of perspective. Let me not be discouraged by the mess and the wait and the construction signs. Teach (and reteach) me to be hopeful and grateful for the new thing that is coming.

Groovin’

My daughter prefers that I keep my dancing to myself
but—O my God!—I’ve got to dance because you are so good!
I’m gonna tap my toes with the joy of knowing
that your Spirit is on the move!
I’m gonna shrug my shoulders and lean my hips into
the rhythm of this noisy suburban traffic song,
glad in the knowledge that you are the substance of this life!
I’m gonna nod my head—with terrible, white girl obviousness—
in agreement with the tree boughs nodding in the breeze
to the beat of your glorious refrain!
I’m gonna crank up India.Arie on the car speakers
and swim my hand through the passing current of air
because your mercy was new with today’s sunrise
and your loving kindness will last beyond tonight’s sunset!
I’m gonna swing my arms high (not while driving)
and throw off the tensions and strains—
remembering that clouds change,
the tides pulse and
the seasons turn,
but your grace remains forever!
Your blessing beckons me to shed my stress, loosen up,
and groove with a dance of thanksgiving! Watch out! 

What’s your dance today?
“God has turned my mourning into dancing…”
(Psalm 30:11)
Write a prayer that dances with joy!

Taste and See!

MORNING CAFFEINE
Sear my tongue like freshly brewed too-hot coffee,
O burning Spirit, for the sharp heat relaxes my soul.

GARDEN TREAT
Bring me home, O nourishing God, with the warm
earthy taste of a tomato ripened in the summer sun.

VIETNAMESE NOODLES
Make me dance, O enlivening Spirit, like my taste buds
frolic between the spicy broth and snapping vegetables.

LATE NIGHT
Laden my tongue to silence the way that bitter chocolate
interrupts my senses with its dry heaviness, O complex God.

Taste and be delighted by God’s goodness—in each bite, each meal, each sip you take today! Let your mouth be amazed by the bounty of the earth, and grateful for the labor of hands that prepare the food. Then put your delight on paper by writing a descriptive prayer of thanksgiving to God for the delicious amusements of your taste buds.