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Steeped in PrayerOctober 29, 2013
I wrote the following article this evening for our church's Life Together newsletter. It is for the "Christian Formation" section.
Growing up, it was not uncommon for people in my church to pray together in small groups. These prayers werenít pre-written, they were simply people coming together and talking with God. Sometimes there was a sense of urgency and criticality to these prayers. Likewise, when the pastor prayed from the front of the church, it had a spontaneous feel to it. To contrast this, when I first started attending SJMC, I noticed that often when people prayed at the front of the church, it sounded like they were reading a poetic pre-written prayer. Thereís a different feel there, and I was curious at the difference. I also noticed that prayer in small groups was more rare, and when it happened, it was a focusing prayer said by a leader before a meeting rather than a prayer involving everyone. Over the years I have sometimes thought about this, and wondered about these differences -- both their causes and effects.
Part of this reflection is that for me personally, listening and participating in spontaneous prayer was an effective form of faith formation. It helped develop the language of faith, which is an important part of oneís faith development. Our human minds are wired with language, and without the ability to both listen and speak in that language, we are missing important pieces.
Spontaneous prayer also models for children how we can relate to God. In any relationship, communication is key. We want to learn how to listen and discern how God is speaking to us, but we also want to learn how to express ourselves and our faith back to God. Any relationship which is unidirectional is missing a whole dimension. As I have read, faith is more often ďcaughtĒ than ďtaughtĒ. Inviting children, youth, and young adults to be part of spontaneous prayer is consistent with this principle of faith being ďcaughtĒ. I delighted in hearing from Derek and Rebecca how prayer is experienced so much differently in Benin. Strikingly, children are often invited and even expected to pray spontaneously in front of the group. Is that scary or what? But itís also fascinating, exciting, inspiring.
There are significant barriers to spontaneous prayer. Itís a cultural thing, and if itís not a churchís culture, then itís going to be difficult. If it misses a generation, how do we get it back? If we as parents arenít comfortable praying with each other, how will it ever be natural for our children? Chatting with a middle aged person from our congregation, they feel that it wasnít always so rare. What have been the forces at work changing this part of church culture?
I was recently reminded how challenging it can be when itís not part of the culture. I was home for Christmas last November and felt led to ask my parents to pray with me about our Christmas traditions and seek Godís guidance on how we could reform our ways and try to make our Christmas time together more centered on Jesus and less about buying each other things we donít need. But I donít pray with my parents. Itís just not something we do. So asking them felt incredibly strange. Iím glad I did, and I hope some day it wonít be strange. Iíll bet for many of us, praying with our parents, or our teenage kids, or even our spouse, isnít part of your culture. Where it is, I think we should be so thankful, and where it is not, we should ponder: Are we missing out on a part of faith formation that carries tremendous potential?
When Iím putting Eli to bed, itís not often that Iím excited or motivated to pray with him. Usually by that time of the day Iím tired and wanting to get the kids in bed, which lowers my stress level. But as I sit there some nights reading him his story, asking myself whether I can summon enough energy to pray with him, I wonder whether those 5 minutes of prayer might be among the most important and critical things I do all day. Just maybe.Popping the StackOctober 25, 2013
Computer code is made up of many "functions" that software developers write. As the computer processes each line of code in a function, other functions can be "called", which causes the current function to pause and the new function to start being executed line by line. When that new function finishes, the program "pops the stack" and resumes running the line of code in the original function directly below where the function call was made. It is not rare for a computer program to be many functions deep in its execution.
An analogy for life is that you might be cleaning your house when you notice you're hungry. You pause cleaning your house to attend to your hunger. While making your sandwich, a phone call comes in. You pause your sandwich making to answer the phone. While on the phone someone knocks at the door. You pause your phone conversation briefly to answer the door. Each of these things represents a new context for your mind. When you're done each thing, you return to your previous activity.
The realization today is that one analogy for our journey through our life and through our day is that we can be many levels deep in terms of what we're working on, how we're progressing through our day, our life, etc, and this compounded stack of context can make us feel very burdened and drained. But we can parachute out of this stack back to the ground level, where it's just us and God. We can set our context down and walk back at ground level, where God is our God, and we are God's child. A kind of communion between just us and God, where the many details of life have faded away.
What are our rythms? How often during our week and during our day do we mentally and spiritually pop the stack and return our minds and souls to the most profound context of all?National AnthemsOctober 23, 2013
I was a few minutes late dropping off Eli to school today, and so I was standing in the office with him while the national anthem played. It is extremely rare that I hear Canada's national anthem being played. I was surprised to hear "God" mentioned in this day and age.
As I stood there and listened, the anthem felt foreign. Not simply because I hadn't heard it in a long time, but because the notion of an anthem felt strange. Declaring allegiance to a country. A sense of pride. Using words like "patriot". Phrases like "on guard for thee", etc. The subtext almost seems to suggest that one is willing to die for country. The sinking feeling is that I don't think our national anthem represents at all who I am and what I believe in.
Conversely, I don't feel special allegiance to Canada, or any country for that matter. My allegiance is to God, and then people. The Canadian border doesn't define in any way for me what people I feel called to love and sacrifice for. I don't feel proud to be a Canadian -- but rather am extremely grateful for the many blessings that come with that privilege. Rather than national pride, I am more often embarrassed by the way that Canadians live in the wider context of this world. I am not on guard for Canada. I am not willing to die for Canada. I will not fight for Canada in the literal sense.
So it's probably not a big surprise that standing at attention and singing a song about my country feels foreign.
May God continue to richly bless Canadians, and may we in turn humbly ask how our resources, health, and education, be used to serve those we are called to serve.older >>