Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Holy Week: Hosanna! Crucify Him!

I have not been so faithful about writing weekly during Lent. I had grand aspirations. My hope was to write the whole series before Lent began and schedule the posts to ensure this series actually got finished!! But, sadly that didn’t happen, and life did happen. So here we are, a series half finished and Lent on its way out. Oh well, I guess. 

But this week is a week commonly referred to by Christians as Holy Week. A specially sacred time set apart (holy) to remember the myths of our traditions and meditate on how they apply to our lives. 

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday. 
For weeks we have reflected, fasted, prayed, served. We have slowed down, quieted down, made room. 

This week we remember deeply. 

We remember Passover, when God led the Israelites out of slavery and bondage in Egypt. 

Remember Jesus’ final Passover meal, when he remembered, celebrated, and taught his friends that God’s salvific and redemptive work did not end in Egypt. 

Remember the day Jesus was arrested as a rabble-rouser, as a troublemaker, as a threat to the state. Jesus’ followers claimed that he was the messiah, the king of the Jews, come with power and a sword to bring deliverance from the Romans! Passover had long been a remembrance of deliverance and a hope for deliverance. The Romans knew Passover was the ideal time for a reformer to rise up among huge crowds and excite them to rebellion against the authorities. Thus, they were on strict lookout. Jesus was a threat. The prefect Pontius Pilate dealt with political threats swiftly and without remorse. Jesus was no different. 

We remember the day that Jesus died for love, the day when the powers of greed, selfishness, and pride arrested this man of love. Remember the day when he did not back down from his message of redemption and radical acceptance. Even unto death, he did not forsake God’s love and truth. As he hung on the cross, his oppressors mocking, still he loved them. This image of God loved even unto death. 

We remember darkness. Remember sadness. Remember grief. Acknowledge the darkness, sadness, and grief in our lives and in our world. Acknowledge all the ways that we kill Christ over and over and over in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do. 

This week, we see darkness. We feel darkness. We remember darkness. We welcome darkness. Pain is not bad, and we will not run from it. 

~ ~ ~

On Sunday, Palm Sunday, we celebrated. We celebrated Jesus entering the holy city, the capitol, to the welcome of a king. We celebrated joyfully and welcomed Christ into our lives. 

Tomorrow, the crowd will shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Historical accuracy aside, I am concerned with what we can learn from this story, what this story teaches us about who we are. 

This story speaks to the ever-changing nature of humanity. We shout loud hosannas one day, only to crucify God the next. 

We march for justice one day, only to go home and yell at our children. 

We cook at soup kitchens one day, only to drive past the homeless the street corner the next. 

We welcome Christ in so many wonderful ways, but forget to keep Him with us. We welcome Christ, and then in small and simple ways, crucify him over and over again. 

We are not faithful. We are not steady. We are not consistent. 

But God is.

God IS faithful.

God IS steady.

God IS consistent.

And more than that - God’s LOVE is faithful, steady, consistent. 

And that’s what next Sunday is about - Easter. Easter says that no mater how bad it gets, no matter how dark, no matter how hateful - love and life will reign victorious. We killed this Christ, and he rose again, exalted on high. He rose to even greater power. He rose and gives us another chance to welcome him. On Sundays we welcome. During the week, we so often fall short and crucify him. 

We are not faithful, but God is faithful. God’s love abides whether we are welcoming him or crucifying him. God loves us wherever we are on the journey. This is a cyclical journey, not a linear one. We will welcome and crucify Christ many times over the course of our lives. We will never get it right. But God will love us through our weak human efforts. And God will love those who are hurt by our lack. Sunday will always come. Jesus will rise victorious, ready for us to welcome him into our hearts and homes, ready to give us another chance. 

On the Sundays of our lives, we are joyful and triumphant in our welcome of Christ and our proclamation of Love. On the Thursdays and Fridays of our lives, we kill the Christ and mourn for the darkness of our world. But all hope is not lost, because Sunday will always come back around, giving us another chance. God is forever tries. 

This week, let us remember. 

Three Years

Three Years.

As a new member, I used to pray often that I never lose sight of how grand and glorious a blessing the gospel is.

Well, it didn't work. This year, my baptism anniversary totally caught me by surprise. I have not been reflecting all week about what baptism means to me or how this past year has gone. Nope, haven't thought about it a bit.

What does baptism mean to me? Particularly, what does my believer's baptism into the LDS church three years ago mean to me?

That day was the first time I really made a decision for me, regardless of what anyone else said or thought I should do. Some people told me I shouldn't join the church, that I didn't know enough, that it wasn't safe. I said I'd never know "enough" to commit myself to any church, and I was choosing this one on faith. I know I might get hurt, but I took the risk anyway, believing that life will hurt me wherever I got and trusting that God would be with me through the hurt.

And I have been hurt. Not necessarily by the church. Just by life. And I think God has been with me. Or perhaps God is truly with us whenever we think to acknowledge God's presence. Really, I believe God is everywhere, all the time. That's the kind of God I believe in. A lot of times we feel without God simply because we have failed to see what's right under our noses - plenteous provision.

Baptism. A forgiveness. A rebirth. A cleansing. Baptism means that my past has no power over me. My past before my baptism, and my past since. Baptism means that the best is yet to come.

Baptism. A testimony. A loud proclamation of what God has done in my life and what God will do. In the waters of baptism I publicly proclaimed my belief in the Savior God, proclaimed His work in my life, and proclaimed bright hope for what lay ahead. Baptism is a testimony of God's faithfulness - past, present, and future.

Baptism. A covenant. A covenant to always remember the Lord and the work He has done for me. To always remember how the Lord has delivered me and saved me. How the Lord has given me worth when I felt I had none. How the Lord has organized and been sovereign over the details of my life. Remember.

Remember. Re-member. Come together, Baptism is a covenant to come together, with knowledge of my true self, with my God, and with God's people. At baptism I covenanted to re-member myself to God, and God promised to always re-member me. God promised to never leave my side. I promised to never forget God's presence at my side. How intimate and holy.

At baptism, I also covenanted to re-member God's people, to be present and vulnerable and true with the communion of saints. To take God's people as they are. To pursue authentic community, not just superficial "Hi, how are you?" This might be what I have failed most at. I'm not really a people person, or so I like to say. We're all people persons. God made us that way, to live in community, to live in relationship, to live face-to-face with other humans. That's why we Christians often describe God as a community - Father, Son, Holy Spirit - because that description rings to true to a reality that we have experienced in our lives.

For the past six months, I have been working in a Methodist Children's Ministry. Teaching children who God is, helping them discover God's character for themselves, sharing stories of Jesus, trying to answer brilliant questions, and honoring the season of Advent and Lent as a community. This has all been a joy. I have had the opportunity to research and think deeply about what I believe, who I am, and where God may want me. I don't think I'm Methodist, and that's okay.

I have loved immersing myself deeply into the liturgical calendar, which I'd never given much thought to in the past. I love the cycle of honoring seasons and seasonal changes. Our God is the God of seasons. Our world has seasons, how can we worship a God without or live a life without seasons? I love the liturgical calendar for the rhythm it gives me, the way it grounds and centers me to thinking deeply about certain subjects. In Advent and Lent, we have meditated on darkness.

In Advent, the world was dark and waiting for light. And then - light came! Just after the winter solstice, as light is returning to earth, we celebrate the birth of God's Light in our world! Then we had a short season of meditating on the life of Jesus and the things he did in a mortal body just like mine. What wonderful stories.

And now, we rest in Lent. We wait for Easter. We wait for spring. We wait for resurrection. We wait for God to bring new life.

We wait for baptism. We wait for April showers and May flowers. We wait for God to bring a cleansing on our lives and on our world. We wait as God does work that we cannot see, trusting that work is being done and that we will see the May flowers.

Spring is a time of baptism. Easter is a time of baptism. I now see why the Catholic tradition baptizes yearly on Easter Sunday. It makes so much sense.

You're the God of Seasons, my Lord.
Through summer and winter, through desert and harvest, though Advent and Lent,
          You are there.
My Lord and my God, I trust that you are working, even when I cannot see.
Work in me, Lord. Work in me and work in my life. Let me be a tool in Your hands.
Bring life from death, and let me be a field hand to aid Your work in the lives of others.

Three Years.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Prayer: Reflections for Lent - Yoga

Most people associate yoga with sweat, butts in faces, and maybe farts. We in the West have no idea. 

Yoga is an ancient practice originating from the Hindu religions of India. The word yoga comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “to yoke” or “to link.” Think yoking, like Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you.” The whole point of yoga is to be linked and yoked - mind to body, thinking self to the true or inner Self, human to the Ultimate Power, to God. 

In the West, we think of yoga as physical, something you do in workout clothes at the gym. But this is only a small part of what yoga actually is.

Yoga is a collection of “spiritual disciplines designed to clear the mind and support a state of serene, detached awareness . . . [and] balance, purity, wisdom, and peacefulness of mind." 

There are four basic types of yoga, or paths: raja, jnana, karma, and bhakti. 

Raja yoga is the path of mental concentration, or meditation. An ancient teacher of yoga describes eight “limbs” of yogic practice including moral codes, physical conditioning, breath control, concentration, meditation, and a “state of peaceful absorption.” The first limb, moral and ethical principles, are similar to what is found in spiritual paths worldwide - truth and honesty, not stealing, not coveting, devotion to God, and others. The second limb, physical conditioning, refers to asanas, or poses. This is what we Westerners usually think of when we think yoga. The other limbs refer to breathing, mantras, and other tools to focus concentration. 

It’s important to realize that at it’s core, yoga is for the mind and spirit - not the body. We often reduce yoga to a physical exercise, but in fact the physical portion is just a tool to achieve mental concentration, spiritual wisdom, and connection to the divine. 

Jnana yoga is the path of “rational inquiry.” While raja yoga attempts to transcend our rational mind to receive spiritual enlightenment, jnana yoga uses the mind as a tool to gain spiritual knowledge. This might be compared to philosophical or apologetic endeavors in Christianity. 

Karma yoga is the path of “helpful action in the world.” The two previous paths, raja and jnana, have been inward paths focusing on meditation and the self to gain enlightenment. Karma yoga grows closer to the divine by helping others. Mother Teresa is famous for acknowledge that she serves not the poor of Calcutta, but “Jesus in his most distressing disguise.” She knew that every action to those around her were actions done to Jesus - that is the path of karma yoga. 

Bhakti yoga is the path of personal devotion, and the most common among Hindus. This pathos one where the human is completely in love with and utterly devoted to a deity. One Hindu poem reads: “Thy Name is beautiful, The form is beautiful, and very beautiful is Thy love, Oh my Omnipresent Lord.” In this path, “the devotee’s whole being is surrendered to the deity in love.” This reminds me of the Hebrew “Song of Songs,” when it is interpreted as a song between the Lord and humanity, or of nuns who consecrate themselves as being “married to Jesus.” This is the path we follow when we sing songs of love and devotion:

“Heaven meets earth like a passionate kiss, and my heart beats violently inside of my chest, and I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way He loves us.”  
“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God - it chases me down, fights till I’m found.”  
“Jesus, we love you, oh how we love you. You are the one our hearts adore. . . . Our affection, our devotion, poured out on the feet of Jesus.” 
“How we love you, how we love you, how we want you, how we want you. . . . Your love we can no longer keep inside. It’s opened up our eyes; It makes us want to sing.”
As we can see, these three yogic paths - jnana, karma, and bhakti - have parallels which we are familiar with. Thus, I will focus now on the spiritual discipline of raja yoga. We are familiar with the first limb, the moral codes. In the West, our religions certainly require certain moral action. 

We don’t often think about how the asanas (poses), breathing exercises, and mantras can be used to facilitate connection to the Divine. And truthfully, I don’t know if I can explain how this happens. Maybe that’s something that I love about it - I don’t know how it works but I know that it does. I know that when I do sun salutations in the morning, my mood is lifted. I know that when I take time to be still, I touch something deep inside of me that is the same essence of that which is central to the soul of the Universe (wow, sounds wacky). But really, when I engage in this practice, I’m surrendered. I can’t push my body to do things it can’t do, and there’s no reason to. This is an exercise in radical acceptance - of my body, of my self, of my circumstances, of the people around me, of the world. This is a place for me to acknowledge that I am not in control - and come to terms with that. The long inhales and exhales slow my heart rate, slow my thoughts, slow my anxieties. It allows me to let go of my worries and hand them off to the Person who “will generously provide all [I] need” (2 Cor 9:8). 

I know that sometimes I wake up and I don’t know what to pray. I feel lost and broken and without words. So I sit cross-legged and say to the Almighty, “Lord, here I am. Surrendered.” And then I proceed to use this body that is a “temple of the Holy Spirit” and breathe this breath that is not mine but belongs to every living being collectively. I am connected to everything else by this breath, which comes into my lungs after being used by someone else, and which will leave my lungs to give life to someone else. This practice reminds me that we are all One. This life force, this breath, this ruach - it comes to me from the Divine. It connects me to the infinite, it connects everyone else to the infinite, and it connects all of us to one another. 

With this humbling reminder, with this use of my body for something good and beautiful, I am calmed. I have prayed, I have connected with the Divine, and I have been changed by the encounter. 

All quotes are from Mary Pat Fisher, Living Religions.
~ ~ ~

This post is the second in a series, Prayer: Reflections for Lent, which explores prayer in a variety of ways. Click below to read previous posts: 

Come back on Thursdays during Lent for the next post! 

Monday, February 26, 2018

NEDAwareness: What We Want You to Know About Eating Disorders

I've never blogged for NEDAwareness, though this is something that's dear to me and something I post about on Instagram almost every year. Earlier this evening, though, I had the idea to write something for this week, though I wasn't sure what kind of post I'd write. Links to awareness websites and support resources? Personal experiences? For whatever reason, these didn't seem right for this time.

I settled on what we, people living our lives with this disorder, want you, those who are not and have not dealt with these particular struggles, to know about us and our illness.

While I know that some of my ideas are shared by others with eating disorders, I should specify that I didn't give this enough forethought to survey the community. Thus, I really should call this "what I want you to know." I understand that I come from a privileged position in this discussion. I am white, I am female, I became ill as an adolescent, I usually fall on the normal-thinner side of average, and my illness was primarily restrictive. My voice is the voice that we often see from this community. My family had the resources to seek treatment for my disorder. We had insurance that helped pay treatment and medication costs. I lived in an area with several professionals to choose from. My story is SO not everyone's story. There are struggles that come with having this disorder in a different body, in a different socioeconomic status, in just different circumstances. My perspective is not final or representative of everyone's. I encourage you to read the stories of people with eating disorders whose stories do not often get heard. The National Eating Disorders Association has a wonderful Marginalized Voices project which presents the perspectives of those voices often overlooked in the walk towards awareness.

In pursuit of awareness surrounding eating disorders, my hope is to address some of the myths surrounding eating disorders and the people who struggle with them, as well as to possibly talk about some things that may not get talked about as much. Some of these deal with the disorder itself, some of them deal with recovery.

With all of that said, here's what we want you to know.

We're not all women.

We're not all white.

We're not all adolescents.

We're not all rich and spoiled.

We're not all thin.

We're not all straight.

We're not all cisgender.

Eating disorders can affect anyone, at any time.

It's not as simple as "just eat a burger!"

We're not just doing it "for attention" (in my experiences with people I've spoken to, sometimes the intention is just the opposite - to fade away and disappear).

You can't make us recover before we're ready. Pushing or forcing someone into recovery won't work. You might see a decrease in behaviors, but without the full commitment of the person, they're likely using different behaviors and hiding them from you.

Recovery is really hard.

Recovery is not just about weight restoration. This is really really important for those who have lost weight, but reaching a healthy weight is by no means the end.

People don't have to be losing weight to have an eating disorder.

People don't even have to want to lose weight to have an eating disorder.

Not all eating disorders are restrictive (like anorexia, which involves restricting food intake to certain amounts, food groups, times, etc).

Not all eating disorders involve purging (vomiting, laxatives, extreme exercise or fasting to overcompensate for eating, etc).

People with Binge Eating Disorder aren't just lazy, fat, slob, whatever else might be used to describe them. It's a real illness that needs to be treated by a qualified team of professionals.

Don't forget Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED, formerly EDNOS). This is a diagnosis that might be used to describe individuals who use behaviors that cross diagnoses (ex. restricting along with binging in purging in cycles), or who experience all symptoms of anorexia but are not underweight or do not have amenorrhea. (Read about it here) It might be complicated, but the main point is: it's not just anorexia and bulimia.

It's not about vanity. Most of us couldn't care less about what the world thinks of how we look. We're too concerned with like, having a mental illness.

Just because we think we're fat, doesn't mean we think you're fat.

Please don't belittle us or devalue our feelings and fears. You don't know what it's like to think of dinner and have a full-blown panic attack. You just don't know. This is an illness of the mind that alters normal responses to hunger, food, and fulness. Please respect our feelings and fears, and believe us.

This is SO not about food. It's actually about a lot of other things - depression, stress, societal beauty standards, perfectionism, a hyper-controlled childhood, or a grocery list of other causes.

While eating disorders aren't caused by New York Fashion Week and Victoria's Secret models, a culture obsessed with thinness and dieting does contribute. We live in a culture that is constantly telling us that thin is best, that eating is a reward, that we work out to burn off calories, that we should be dieting and counting calories, that it's good for young people to participate in dieting programs. That thin and fit are more worthy of life and love. Terrible message. When people feel they are unloved, unworthy, undeserving, our culture gives them an easy fix - just lose weight and you'll be happy, you'll be lovable, you'll be loved, you'll be worthy. That's the trick. And that culture is a lie. Dismantling a culture defined by patriarchy, able-bodiedness, white supremacy, heteronormativity, and the like is crucial on the path of a systemic fight to prevent eating disorders.

These are addictions. Just like alcohol, just like cocaine. Some theories propose that people with restrictive eating disorders have an abnormality in the part of the brain that deals with hunger cues and rewards. Usually, humans experience hunger, feed ourselves, and the brain releases chemicals lifting our mood. For people with restrictive eating disorders, the opposite can happen - hunger itself can light up the brain's reward system. So rather than getting hangry, we might feel high. The same can happen after purging. Like an addict looks for the bottle or the drug to lift the mood after a hard day, someone with an eating disorder will look for the behavior that lowers stress and brings a high, whether it's fasting, purging, exercise, or another behavior.

Recovery doesn't happen overnight.

Just because someone is weight restored and behavior-free, that doesn't mean their mind is healed. And since this is an illness of the mind, a behavior-free but ill mind will in time revert to those old behaviors.

Some of our rules about food, fears about food, or practices surrounding food or our bodies might seem weird to you. If it's just "weird" and not dangerous, let it go. We'll work with our treatment team to achieve healing, and you just support us where we're at. Let us be weird while we're healing.

Don't yell, fuss, shame, scold, or the like if we use behaviors. It's not a disciplinary problem, it's a mental one. Instead, ask about what happened to cause the urges, and deal with that.

Talking about how gross vomiting or laxatives is won't stop us from using those behaviors.

Commenting on our weight loss or restrictive eating patterns with envy, cooing about how you "could never do that" is really . . . just don't do it. Don't be jealous of the weight loss. Don't envy the "self-control" people with restrictive eating disorders have. It's just not cool. Eating disorders are so not cool or enviable.

PLEASE don't comment on our body size or how we look. Not that we've gained or lost or "look healthy" - nothing. This can be quite triggering, and there's lots more cool stuff to talk about. "Wow, the weather, huh?!?" (The only exception I can think of is if you know someone in recovery from a restrictive or purging eating disorder who seems to be losing significant weight and isn't in treatment - then you might think about GENTLY voicing your concern.)

We might be real jerks sometimes. We're sorry. We don't want to be jerks and ruin our friendships. Often, we want to do everything except hurt you, and sometimes it seems that our eating disorder is the solution and the way to avoid hurting those we love. We might not really realize how we're hurting you. Or we might feel like this is the only choice we have to deal with whatever is going on in our lives. While I'm totally not encouraging anyone to get stuck in a codependent relationship with no boundaries, I do ask that you give us grace. Keep a distance if necessary, but try to realize that when the ED mind is in control, we're not ourselves and we're not thinking rationally. We're sorry for hurting you.

Please don't give up on us. Even if you're not sure you have hope that we'll ever recover, fake that hope for us. Tell us we can beat this. Remind us what you like about us (but don't lie, that's not cool, either). Tell us that things will get easier. Show us your hope, because we often feel like we have none.

~ ~ ~

If you have experienced an eating disorder, what would you add? What do you want people to know about your eating disorder or recovery?

Click here for more information about National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Prayer: Reflections for Lent - Using a Journal

I am a huge fan of the prayer journal. As I wrote in the intro to this series, a prayer journal was the way I started praying. I am a writer, and it’s much easier for me to write to God (or anyone else) than to have to say words out loud. A pen and a page is my comfort and security. 

Over the years, I’ve used prayer journals in three ways. I’ll write about each of them briefly. 

The first prayer journal I had was simply a collection of prayers. I was raised Methodist, and we prayed the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday in service. 

"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,      on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses      as we forgive those who trespass against us, And lead us not into temptation      but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom,      and the power,           and the glory forever. Amen.

(Sidenote: If you look, you’ll notice that Jesus here uses a PATH or ACTS pattern of prayer. He begins by naming and describing who God is, praise and adoration - Father in heaven, holy are you. Then he goes on to ask for help, or supplicate - thy will be done, give us bread, forgive us, help us forgive others, keep us from sin. We talked about these patterns of prayer in a previous post.)

My first prayer journal included some of my grandmother’s Catholic prayers, too:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,World without end. Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.Blessed art thou among women,and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.Holy Mary, Mother of God,pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Later, I prayed using the Upper Room devotional and I would write the provided prayers as a letter to God in my prayer journal.

If you’re interested in a prayer journal like this, you can find pre-written prayers al over the place. Just google, and you’ll likely find a prayer for every situation you could imagine. 

Another fabulous place to look for pre-written prayers is scripture itself. The book of Psalms is a collection of ancient hymns (ever noticed that the word “psalm” sounds a lot like “song”? Yeah, that’s a linguistic connection). When you don’t know what to pray, the Psalms are an excellent resource for joining yourself with a great legacy of faith. There are also prayers scattered throughout the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants that you could use verbatim or alter to suit your needs. The Quran also includes many passages of prayer. What’s so great about these is that you’re not praying alone, but joining with thousands of even millions of other people praying just as you are. 

When it came time to pray - morning, evening, lunch, whenever - I would find the prayer that was appropriate. This type of prayer journal was immensely helpful when I didn’t know what to pray. 

~ ~ ~

Once I became somewhat comfortable with the idea of praying, I would use my journal as a place to write personal letters. I’d write my prayers (Dear God, . . . ) but I wrote my own words. I’d sometimes still go for the PATH/ACTS formula. Other times I’d write like I was writing to a friend from summer camp, simply telling God what’s going on in my life, how I was feeling, what I was looking forward to, and asking for help with things. 

I did this during what I would call my strongest period of prayer. This was during my first year in college, when I was investigating the LDS church. I would wake up each morning, get dressed, and walk to the cafeteria. I’d start my time with a short, simple prayer in my mind, thanking God for my food, asking a blessing upon it, and asking for the Holy Ghost to be with me as I read and prayed. Then, I would read as I ate. I always started with a Psalm or Proverb - something to remind me how to pray or how to live. Then, I’d read through a few chapters, usually in the Book of Mormon. After reading and eating, I’d write. I’d thank God for what was going on, I’d pray for help implementing the things I’d learned during my scripture study, and I’d ask a blessing upon my day. I treasured this morning time with God. And I dreaded when anyone wanted to stop by to say hello in the cafeteria! 

If you’re unsure about the whole praying-out-loud thing, I’d recommend writing prayers as a starting point. 

~ ~ ~ 

The final way of using a prayer journal is one I just recently learned about and began utilizing. It’s not better or worse than any of the others, just different. I was inspired to follow this method after hearing from a local preacher and from Alyssa Joy Bethke (married to Jefferson Bethke, whom you might know from this video).

In this way, I have separated sections for each part of prayer. I pray along a sort of PATH/ACTS pattern. I have a page with a list of who God is - merciful, generous, judge, redeemer. Then, I have a list of what God does - You hear my cry, You protect me, You are making me new. Both of these are based on what I read in scripture, hear in songs, and experience in my daily life. Next, I have a (very short) list of things to thank God for. Finally, I have a list of people to pray for by name - my family, friends, coworkers, a child I sponsor through Compassion International. I also have a list of personal requests - things I’m asking God for myself, rather than prayers for others. I ask God to help me love others, to know what to do, to bless my work, and more. 

This is the method I’m using right now. Each morning, I begin my time with a Psalm, one of those ancient prayers that have been spoken to God for thousands of years. Then, I read in the scripture (right now I’m reading through the New Testament, then I’ll go through the Book of Mormon). After that, I have a daily devotional that was given to me - Tozer on the Almighty God. This book has a verse, an excerpt from the writing of Tozer, and a simple prayer (to be honest, I’m not crazy about it, but I’m giving it a go since I received it from a friend). Once I’m done reading, I kneel to pray. I go through my journal, praising God for who God is and what God does, thank God for what God has provided for me, and humbly asking God to bless myself and the people in my life.

~ ~ ~

The prayer journal has been the most important and influential tool for prayer in my life. If you aren’t praying, if you feel like you don’t know how to pray, if you want to start a daily habit of prayer, or if you’re looking for a way to improve your prayer time, I highly recommend trying a journal! 

~ ~ ~

This post is the second in a series, Prayer: Reflections for Lent, which explores prayer in a variety of ways. Click below to read previous posts: 

Come back on Thursdays during Lent for the next post! 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Prayer: Reflections for Lent - A Path of Prayer

My life has been shaped by one extremely influential mentor. If I was Samuel, she was Eli. For years she taught me how to serve and how to discern the Lord’s voice. 

She made sure I knew I was loved by God. When I came to her, panicked because I didn’t know if I was “saved,” she stopped right there and prayed with me. When I joined the LDS church, she stood with me wholeheartedly. She gave me my first real job and taught me to be confident in my abilities.

But before all that, she taught me how to pray. She first taught me using the PATH method of prayer. It’s so easy to remember, it’s stuck with me since. PATH is an acronym, standing for Praise, Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Help. I’ll share some thoughts and insights I’ve gained about this method and each of its parts as I’ve used it.

We begin prayer like Jesus did, always praising and thanking God before asking. The purpose of this is not to remind God who God is, but primarily to remind US of who God is. Beginning prayer with praise, adoration, and thanksgiving puts us in the correct mindset. We are awed by God’s majesty and we are filled with hope because of who God is and what God has done for us in the past. 

Praise is to “express warm approval or admiration of.” When we praise God, we say, “God, You’re great!” Another dictionary defines praise as “to glorify (a god or saint) especially by the attribution of perfections.” God, You are perfect in Love, perfect in Creating, perfect in forgiving, perfect in hearing us. 

If we think about how we commonly use the word praise, we think of praising people for things. We praise actors for superb performances in films, we praise singers for moving performances on stage, we praise painters for exquisite works of art in museums. We praise politicians for enacting fair and just policies, we praise juries for demanding justice. We praise people for what they do. And I think it’s beneficial to think of praising God using this comparison.

In praise, we thank God for what God does: God, I praise You because You are working in me and making me new, I praise You because You hear my cries, I praise You because You protect me from harm, I praise You because You provide for my needs.

This is different from adoration, where we simply adore God for who God is. “I will worship You for who You are,” Hillsong Worship sings. In adoration, we simply stand (or sit or kneel) in awe of who God is. God is powerful, just, mighty, fair. God is a rock, a fortress, a safe place. God is mindful, God is merciful, God is gracious, God is extravagantly generous to us. God is “my author, my maker, my ransom, my savior, my refuge, my hiding place. You’re my helper, my healer, my blessed redeemer, my answer my saying grace. You’re my hope in the shadows, my strength in the battle, my anchor for all my days” (Worthy of Your Name, Passion). 

After praising and adoring, we thank. We thank God for all that we have and all that God has done for us. We are profoundly grateful and we express that gratitude to the Source of all that we have. 

Then, we are finally positioned to ask for help. A proverb says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This is true because when we delight in the Lord, His desires become our desires. Since His will always comes to pass, our desires will be given in that way. Beginning prayer with praise, adoration, and thanksgiving is a way to delight in the Lord. After we have done that, we’ve invited the inspiration of the Spirit and can better know what to ask for. 

Prayer is a time to be filled with God’s spirit, That should be one of our primary requests. In the Help portion of prayer, we pour out our hearts to God and seek comfort in His hands. 

We pray for our families, our friends, our churches, our cities, our nations, and our world. We ask God to help us. We ask God to help our world. 

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Another acronym for prayer, similar but not identical, is ACTS. This stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. 

Here, we begin with adoration. We begin by declaring and reminding ourselves how big our God is. God can do anything. 

Then, we move to confession. “We confess that we have not loved you with our whole hearts,” one prayer says. Here we come before a holy God and confess that we are not God. And how freeing it is to not be God. 

Then we give thanks. We thank God. We thank, we thank, we thank. Because nothing we have or are is by our own doing. Everything we have and are is due to God’s grace and mercy on our lives. It’s all chance. So we are grateful, and we express that gratitude. 

Finally, we end again with supplication. The time when we come before the all-powerful, whom we have adored, confessed, and thanked, and humbly ask. We ask for revelation, for strength, for help, for healing. We ask for ourselves and on behalf of our whole world. 

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And then, we listen. 

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This post is the second in a series, Prayer: Reflections for Lent, which explores prayer in a variety of ways. Read Part 1 here. Come back on Thursdays during Lent for the next post!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Prayer: Reflections for Lent - A Story, a Goal, and a Plan

Prayer is something that I often struggle with. 

When I was younger, I never prayed. It just wasn’t something we did except at church. I can remember sitting in a treehouse one summer in Dallas, sent out on assignment to pray and  listen to God. What? I read the Bible instead - something I never did and wasn’t interested in. 

Even though I didn’t practice prayer, I had learned a method of prayer. It’s stuck with me all these years, and it’s a blueprint I use today. As I learned it, this method is called PATH prayer. It’s an acronym reminding us how to pray. Praise, Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Help. We start out with how awesome God is, and then move on towards supplication. 

When I returned to religion after my first period of atheism, I kept a prayer journal. I subscribed to a little devotional magazine called The Upper Room. Each issue includes daily Bible readings, and short reflection written by readers, and a very simple prayer. I would walk to the cafeteria on campus for breakfast and have a date with Jesus, reading the passage and reflection, then copying the prayer word for word in my prayer journal. It was a great start for me.

I got the journal idea from my grandmother. She keeps a prayer journal and writes every morning. I don’t know what she writes, but she’ll use up three pages or more and spend an hour sometimes just writing to God. I thought writing my prayers down, like a letter, might be easier than just “thinking” them (there was no way I’d be praying out loud at that time, by the way). 

After a while, I became more confident in beseeching the Almighty. During my first year of Mormonism, I’d meet Jesus for breakfast still, reading Psalms and a few chapters in the Book of Mormon. Then, I’d write a letter to God from the heart, rather than copying one someone else wrote. By that time, I’d become comfortable kneeling in prayer every evening and telling God about my day. Out loud, unless my roommate was there. 

I prayed regularly, but my relationship with prayer was not always the best. I often felt like I was talking to a wall. I often felt uninspired, like my prayers didn’t matter or weren’t being heard. I usually prayed anyway, begging God to show me that I was being heard. 

In spring 2016, I lost my faith and stopped attending church. I stopped praying, too, because I didn’t believe in God. 

Many months later, when my heart began opening up to the idea of religion again, the first way I prayed was yoga. I’d started doing yoga prior, mostly for the physical benefits I gained as a dancer. But I started doing it as a way to connect to myself, to others, to that Presence that permeates all. I’d start each class with stillness. I set an “intention” - I decided what I was praying for during each session. 

I also was intrigued by the use of prayer beads. I memorized a couple of short prayers - the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and a couple of others I found or wrote. I found a beaded bracelet (a full rosary seemed way too long for me to start out with) and created a pattern to pray. I found this an excellent way to calm and center myself, letting the words of one or two prayers sink deeply into my being. 

When I was ready to worship and pray with a community again, I attended many churches. I was really attracted to methods of reaching God that included my body - things like yoga, prayer beads, kneeling in worship, and others. I attended Catholic mass sometimes, where people kneeled in reverence and asked God for forgiveness. I attended Pentecostal churches sometimes, where people clapped, danced, and lifted their hands to heaven praising and thanking God for forgiving them and doing all kind of other things. I was and am amazed at all the ways that humanity had found to pray. 

Regardless, I haven’t been really disciplined lately about making time to pray alone. Sure, I go to church and I pray with my kids at church and I pray in church services. But outside of church? I prayed close to never. 

Just a couple of weeks ago, I finally watched the film War Room. WOW. Highly recommend. This film inspired and challenged me to really think about my prayer life and what kind of efforts I was making to connect to the Divine. Then, that very same week, the pastor at the church I attend gave a message about spending time with God through prayer. His emphasis: Pray without ceasing. Pray not just in church, not just morning and night, but all the time

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The Christian calendar is moving into the season of Lent. Lent is a season of penitence and preparation. Lasting forty days (like the Biblical flood or Jesus’ time in the desert), Lent is a time for us to recenter our priorities. Some people fast during Lent, clearing out space to make room for God. 

In Lent, we have there main focuses:

  1. Disciplined walking with Jesus. Lent is the time to reflect on our discipleship and recommit ourselves to spiritual disciplines. 
  1. Renewal of the baptismal renunciation of sin and evil. At baptism (certainly in Methodist and LDS churches, possibly others), we take a stand against evil and register ourselves in the fight against sin. We covenant to a life filled with work to eradicate sin in our lives and evil, injustice, oppression, and societal sins in the world. 
  1. Daily adherence to Christ. This is more than just following Christ or behaving like a Christian. This is about spending time with Jesus, soaking up Jesus’ being into our souls. This is about loving deeply and looking into the eyes of Jesus to become like him. This is about tying ourselves up in Christ, adoring Christ, and listening purposefully. 

This Lent, I am challenging myself to get serious about prayer. 

Prayer is a spiritual practice, a spiritual discipline. Being disciplined about this will bring rewards as I develop a greater relationship with God and listen. Through prayer, I can receive strength to follow through with other religious disciplines as well. Prayer is the foundation upon which all other disciplines are built.

Prayer is a renunciation of sin and evil. One Muslim wrote regarding the five daily prayers something like, “If you are sincerely praying five times each day, you will not just stand up and sin.” Prayer is a defense against evil. Prayer strengthens us in the fight. When we pray, we receive spiritual aid to fight injustice and oppression. Further, prayer opens the door for instruction on what are to do in this fight. Once again, prayer is the foundation upon which the renunciation of evil is built. Prayer is fundamental and completely necessary. 

Finally, prayer is adhering to Christ. What other way have we to directly experience our Lord? When we read the Bible or stories of saints, we read how God interacted with others, and how they experienced God. In prayer, however, we are directly linked to God - no intermediary. Prayer is a date with Jesus. In prayer we speak to God and we listen to God. In prayer we learn the nature of God and our souls are filled with God’s goodness and life. In prayer we listen purposefully and receive nourishment to go on. Prayer is the foundation for any relationship with the divine. 

Prayer is our foundation. Prayer is the foundation of every spiritual discipline and of the Christian life itself. Prayer is the foundation of the renunciation of sin and evil. Prayer is the foundation of a relationship with the Divine. 

This Lent, I intend to pull out my hammer and work on that foundation.

“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”

Helaman 5:12

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This post is the first in a series, Prayer: Reflections for Lent, which explores prayer in a variety of ways. Come back on Thursdays during Lent for the next post!