If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Strategies for Prayer -- seventh in a series (imaginative)

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1).

Another prayer strategy I use is ‘imaginative prayer.’  I thought I had invented imaginative prayer. Just goes to show how little I knew -- and know -- of prayer.

My use of the Rosary as a prayer tool initiated me to the practice. For readers unfamiliar with the Rosary, I posted links to information in my last Strategy blog to help explain its history and its use. You can follow these links here and here.

I do not use the Rosary as traditionally prayed, but modify it to better meet my prayer and worship needs. When I ask someone to pray for me, I usually tell them what I need prayer for. And so, I modify my petition on the ‘Hail Mary’ beads this way: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, please pray for (name of a person, or a situation). Amen. (For readers familiar with the Gospel of Luke, you might have recognized two portions of Scripture in the Hail Mary – Luke 1:28 and 1:42).

The Rosary also includes the recitation on the Apostles’ Creed, the ‘Our Father’ (the Lord’s Prayer) and the Glory Be’.  By the time I’m through these sections of the Rosary, 20-30 minutes might have passed because I take time to reflect on specific words or phrases in those prayers. This is in addition to the half hour or so I spend reading Scripture and worshiping Jesus through music CDs. But I don’t like to leave the Rosary without meditating on at least one of the Mysteries. For readers unfamiliar with the Mysteries, please follow this link.

It was during my meditation of the Mysteries that I stumbled on what I thought was my invention of ‘imaginative prayer.” I later discovered people have practiced imaginative prayer for centuries. St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote of that prayer method in the 15th century. When I searched the internet for other explanations of the practice I found many sites. Here is one link (click here).

As I meditate on one of the Mysteries of the Rosary, I focus on that particular time in Jesus’ life. For example, one of the Mysteries has to do with His flogging. I imagine I am there, in the courtyard. I try to smell the dust swirling in the wind, to hear the mob’s shouts behind me, to watch His mother crumble with grief as the soldier’s whip slices Jesus’ back. Click this link to read my essay resulting from such an imaginative moment. Another Mystery – the Resurrection – resulted in this essay.

Scripture is replete with stories and vignettes that easily lend themselves to imaginative prayer – yet another strategy to engage us more deeply into the art and practice of communion with God.

I’ll post another of my strategies in a few days.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Practice the Presence of Jesus?

I wrote this some time ago. Decades, actually. I thought it would be good to bring it back.

Practice the presence of Jesus?
I tell you, it’s not easy to do.
And God surely knows it really is tough ‑
I hope He sees my point of view.

There's no time to read from the scripture
when my favorite show's on TV.
So a quick word of prayer to the Saviour ‑
Really! What more do I need?

And the kids each need to be chauffeured
cross-town to practice their game.
My hair then needs to be coiffured,
and tomorrow's just more of the same.

Practice the presence of Jesus?
I wish it were easy, don’t you?
But with my busy life ‑ enough is enough!
What does He expect me to do?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Strategies for Prayer -- sixth in a series (Chaplet)

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1).

Another of my prayer strategies – one that has quickly become my favorite – is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. The prayer uses the traditional Rosary beads, but the pattern of prayer is quite different. (For readers unfamiliar with the Rosary, these links here and here will help explain its history and use).

The Chaplet starts with the “Our Father,” moves to the “Hail Mary,”* and then to the Apostle’s Creed. Here the Chaplet departs substantially from the Rosary. Follow this link to the Chaplet beads.

The prayer on the bead that separates each series of ten beads begins with: “Eternal Father, I offer You to body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” On each of the ten traditional “Hail Mary” beads, petitioners pray: “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” Finally, at the end of the five ‘decades” (series of ten beads), the following is prayed three times: “Holy God, Holy, Mighty One, Holy and Immortal One, have mercy on us.”

The Chaplet can be prayed with our without music, but I use the musical rendition because the combination of the words and melody tugs at my emotions. For an example of the Chaplet set to music, Click here (this is Donna Cori Gibson’s YouTube version of the Chaplet. Start part one of the video at around 2:15. You can find part two here. I do not watch the video during my prayer time because it would distract me. Instead, I downloaded Gibson’s song from iTunes).

Although the music readily engages me, my personality is such that continual repetition becomes monotonous. Consequently, my mind drifts after the third or fourth “For the sake of His sorrowful passion . . ..”  I also have difficulty wrapping my mind around “ . . .  and on the whole world.”  The concept is too vast for me to not only pray with passion, but with purpose. Therefore, I modify the prayer this way:

Bead 1: For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on Nancy (my wife), and on our whole family.
Bead 2: For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on Kerry (our daughter), and on our whole family. 
Bead 3: For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on Zion (our eldest son), and on our whole family.
Bead 4:  For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on Nathan (our youngest son), and on our whole family.
Beads 5-10: I call the names of other family members on my side of the family.

On the second series of beads I call the names of those on Nancy’s side of the family. On series three through five, I call the names of my students, friends, members of our parish, and so forth. Praying for individuals in my personal ‘world’ helps me pray with passion and purpose because I know and care about the people for whom I’m praying. I like being able to put faces with names.

The Chaplet of Divine Mercy includes elements of several strategies I often use in my private morning time with my Lord: lists, music, and scripted prayers. And best of all, it's all about Jesus. From beginning to end, it's focus is on my Lord, Saviour and Friend.

I enjoy this strategy so much that it has become my most used method of prayer during my evening time with the Lord. I encourage readers to try this method. You don’t need Rosary beads to pray the chaplet. You can just as easily use your ten fingers.

 * For those unfamiliar with the Hail Mary, Catholics say: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen. (Readers might recognize two portions of Scripture in the Hail Mary – Luke 1:28 and 1:42).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Strategies for Prayer -- fifth in a series

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1)

My purpose in posting this series of prayer strategies is to help readers win the battle that is often set against our attempts at consistent prayer. About the battle, the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us valuable guidance. You can read some of what it teaches in paragraphs 2725 to 2745. I cited 2725 in an earlier post. Here is one more:

2729 The habitual difficulty in prayer is distraction. . . . . To set about hunting down distractions would be to fall into their trap, when all that is necessary is to turn back to our heart: for a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to, and this humble awareness before the Lord should awaken our preferential love for him and lead us resolutely to offer him our heart to be purified. Therein lies the battle, the choice of which master to serve.

I rarely use only one method of prayer during my time with the Lord. While “lists” form the foundation, I often build on that foundation with music. On that subject, the Catechism quotes St. Augustine: How I wept, deeply moved by your hymns, songs, and the voices that echoed through your Church! What emotion I experienced in them! Those sounds flowed into my ears distilling the truth in my heart. A feeling of devotion surged within me, and tears streamed down my face - tears that did me good. And, Augustine added: He who sings prays twice. (CCC 1156, 1157)

As I begin my time of prayer, I listen to two or three worship songs through headphones, preferring lyrics in the second person rather than the third (e.g. ‘You’ instead of ‘He’). While I listen I pray the words back to God. Here are a few songs, along with portions of their lyrics, I use in my prayers (I included in this post the links to YouTube videos only because I am unable to embed the songs alone. I do not watch videos during my prayer time because they would be a distraction). 

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded (click here) 

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down. Now scornfully surrounded with thorns Thine only crown: how pale thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn! How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered was all for sinners' gain; mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain. Lo, here I fall, my Savior! 'Tis I deserve thy place; look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe to me thy grace.

Here is another: Worthy is the Lamb, by Hillsong (click here)

Thank you for the cross, Lord. Thank you for the price You paid.
Bearing all my sin and shame, In love You came, and gave amazing grace.

Thank you for this love, Lord. Thank you for the nail pierced hands.
Washed me in Your cleansing flow, now all I know, Your forgiveness and embrace.

Worthy is the Lamb, seated on the throne. Crown You now with many crowns,
You reign victorious. High and lifted up, Jesus Son of God, the Darling of Heaven crucified, worthy is the Lamb. Worthy is the Lamb.

Here is another by Hillsong: At The Cross (click here)

Oh Lord, You've searched me, You know my way. Even when I fail You, I know You love me. Your holy presence, surrounding me. In every season, I know You love me. I know You love me.

At the cross I bow my knee where Your blood was shed for me, there's no greater love than this. You have overcome the grave, Your glory fills the highest place, what can separate me now?

You go before me. You shield my way. Your hand upholds me. I know You love me. And when the Earth fades, falls from my eyes, and You stand before me, I know You love me. I know You love me

And one by Michael W. Smith:
This is My Desire  (click here)

This is my desire to honor you, Lord with all my heart
I worship you. All I have within me, I give you praise.
All that I adore is in you

Lord I give you my heart, I give you my soul, I live for you alone.
Every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake,
Lord have your way in me.

It has only been within the last several years that I discovered how wonderful prayer can be when prayed through music. And I have begun to understand a little of what St. Augustine meant when he wrote: Those sounds flowed into my ears distilling the truth in my heart. A feeling of devotion surged within me, and tears streamed down my face - tears that did me good.

Yes, it is good to give God thanks and praise. Music – for me – enhances that joy.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fairy Tales and the Gospel

In the midst of my prayer strategies, I've been mulling this post for the past few days since I received the call from my mother.

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

During the decades I’ve told others about the gospel of Jesus Christ, I’ve heard the term ‘fairy tale” more than a few times. I just heard it again when my mother called. She’d been sharing Christ with a friend for nearly a month. Even bought her a Bible and underlined Old Testament prophecies about Jesus and their New Testament fulfillments. But mom was frustrated when she called to ask my advice. Her friend told her, “It sounds like the fairy tales I grew up hearing.”

I understand Mom’s frustration. When something is so clear to one person, but veiled to another, it’s easy for the one who sees to become frustrated with the one who doesn’t. On the other hand, I also understand her friend’s skepticism. It can seem far-fetched that the holy and almighty King and Creator of the universe would even trouble Himself to rise from His throne on our behalf, much less stoop and lift us into His arms. Even more so, it could certainly seem a fairy tale that, after we returned His affection by spitting in His face (so to speak) – that this most-sacred, transcendent God would nonetheless sacrifice His Son to the penalty our sins deserved, so we – you and I, and anyone who asks – might be completely forgiven, and made righteous in His eyes.

Yes, I understand how some might think that a fairy tale.

But what some think false is for me the substance of unchangeable truth. It is the bedrock reality in which I live and – I pray – for which I would even die. So my advice to Mom? “God permits some of us to plant seeds, and others to water. But only God can give life to the seed.  Let her know you are here to answer her questions. And pray that she will one day see through eyes of faith the astonishing truth of what she now calls a fairy tale.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

Strategies for Prayer -- fourth in a series

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1)

Scripted prayer. I used to think that was an oxymoron, that scripted or "canned" prayers, like those in prayer books, are less meaningful (read: less spiritual) than spontaneous ones.
How foolish of me. Men and women of God have prayed scripted prayers – such as the Psalms – for millennia. But what of those offered to God by spiritual giants such as St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, John Wesley and A. W. Tozer? For example, when offered from the heart, doesn't Tozer's prayer carry a sweet savor to the Father? I think so:

Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to You and
be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but sin has clouded my vision till I see You but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in Your own precious blood, and make me inwardly pure, so that I may with unveiled eyes gaze upon You all the days of my earthly pilgrimage.

Or this one by
John Wesley:

I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me
with whom You will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for You or laid aside for You, exalted for You or brought low for You; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal.

Or St. Augustine:

Narrow is the mansion of my soul; [please] enlarge it, that You may
enter in. It is ruinous; [please] repair it. It has that within which must offend Your eyes; I confess and know it. But who shall cleanse it? Or to whom should I cry, [except to] Thee? Lord, cleanse me from my secret faults, and spare Thy servant from the power of the enemy.

Or St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let
me sow love, Where there is injury, pardon Where there is doubt, faith, Where there is despair, hope, Where there is darkness, light, Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, not so much to be understood as to understand, not so much to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.

But I discovered it doesn’t take a ‘spiritual giant’ to create beautiful prayers. Anyone who loves Jesus can write a beautiful and meaningful prayer. Here is an example. It’s part of a prayer written by my friend, Cyndi. I love the way she refers to our Father in heaven as her ‘Papa.’  It reminds me of Jesus’ and St. Paul’s use of the Aramaic term for ‘daddy’ – Abba (Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6):

To You, Papa, do I lift my voice. . . . My Redeemer, You rescued me from myself. You have cast my sins as far as the East is from the West. You delight in me and your plans for me are good.

Nothing can stand against You or separate me from your love. My heart is inclined to fear and shame. The voice of my enemy assails me with accusations. But You, Papa, are my safe refuge. My strong protector and faithful advocate. When my soul longs for comfort, You wrap your love around me and hold me close . . . Your love is my security. My hope and strength are in You.

When I am blinded by tears and I lose my way. You are my light and my salvation. . . You remain constant though the storms of life threaten and winds of doubt persist. . . Please use this broken, fearful and willing heart for your glory. Glory and honor be to You, O God.

And finally – there really isn’t a ‘finally’ when it comes to the kinds of prayers we or others can write – here is part of a prayer written by Jeanne St. John Taylor, an internet acquaintance of mine. You can find many of her prayers on her blog (click here):

O God of the Ineffable Name, the Great I AM, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, You are a God who hides himself -- for our protection since human flesh is not capable of looking on your face and surviving. But because you want us to know you, you continuously reveal yourself in Creation. The changing colors of the clouds, the thunder of waterfalls and the multitude of stars have shouted your name since the beginning of time.

We hear you in the whisper of breeze in the trees. Sense your presence in the sweet incense of cherry blossoms. We long for you even if we don’t know what we’re longing for . . . .

Come fill us with the flow of you love, Holy Spirit. . . . Show us how to quiet our hearts and trust you to handle things we can’t handle. Pry our fingers loose from control of our own lives and those around us. Teach us to empty ourselves of self-effort and open ourselves to you so you can heal us in mysterious ways we don’t understand. Give us your peace that passes beyond understanding. Remind us that when we don’t have words to express our deep ache, your Spirit prays for us with groanings too deep for words – and you hear. And answer . . . .

Like prayer lists, acrostics, or alphabet prayers, scripted and self-authored prayers can become the means of a deepening relationship with Jesus. Such prayer strategies can help us focus on our communication with Him.

I’ll share yet more strategies in later posts.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Strategies for Prayer -- third in a series (Alphabet)

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1).

Another strategy I use from time to time is what I call the spontaneous alphabet prayer, because the 26 letters of the English alphabet form its basis. For example, using the sequential letters ‑ A, B, C, D and so on, my ‘made up’ prayer might sound like this:

A: All heaven declares Your glory. And so, O Lord, I proclaim it as well. There is none like you ‑ in holiness, righteousness and compassion. With all the saints around your throne, I bow in worship and adoration. 

B: Before time, you are God. And after time, you are God. And in time, in my time, you are God. Where can I go that you are not? Day and night, east and west, to the furthest horizon or the lowest ocean depths, you are there. And that comforts me.

C: Come, Holy Spirit, I need you. Woo me back to Calvary where the Savior suffered and died for me. Capture my heart, mind, soul and spirit. Protect me from turning aside to worthless treasures. Keep the eyes of my heart focused on Jesus, the author of life and the source of faith.

While I pray I don't pay attention to grammar, nor do I worry if I repeat myself. God is not grading my prayers according to the rules of English. Like a parent loves to hear his toddler speak, our heavenly Father is pleased to hear us speak to Him.

Each prayer does not always begin with the letter for that section. However, at least one word in each section will begin with the appropriate letter. For example:
D: Father, Don't ever cast me from thy presence. Don't take thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

E: You have given me Eternal life because you enabled me to believe that Jesus bore my sins in His most holy Body, that He became sin for us, that we ‑ in Him ‑‑ might become Your righteousness.

And so I continue through the rest of the alphabet.

The letter X poses a minor problem because not many English words begin with it. But this problem is easily circumvented. For "X" I use the letter's sound ("ex")" as the basis for the prominent word in that section. For example, "O Lord, how EXcellent is thy name in all the earth."  Sometimes I modify a Scripture, such as the first verse in Psalm 127, which reads, "Unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain who build it."  I adjust the prayer, "EXcept the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it." Or Psalm 139, verse 23: "Search me, O God, and know my heart," I modify to, "EXamine my heart, O God."

Z is more difficult, but still workable. For example, "Lord, as your servant Zaccheus climbed the tree to catch a glimpse of you, make me willing to go out on a limb, risk the disapproval of others, risk reputation and fortune, just so I might see you."

Because so many words begin with (or sound like) the various alphabet letters, my prayer changes nearly every time I use the format. Let me give you another few examples of A through E:

"Lord, you command me to Abide in You and to let your words abide in me. Help me to abide. Help me in my unbelief and weariness to keep my heart focused on you. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Lord, bring peace to my heart so I might work for peace in our world. Comfort me, Lord Jesus. Unless you are my comforter and counselor I cannot know the peace that passes understanding. Help me Die to myself and live more fully devoted to You who are from Everlasting to everlasting . . . .

Praying through the alphabet is a useful tool to help me "pray without ceasing." I've used the alphabet pattern during my twenty‑five minute commute to and from work. I've prayed the letters during my morning time with Jesus. Sometimes I am unable to get through all 26 letters because I have to give my attention to daily chores, but finishing the alphabet is not the point. Drawing closer to Christ, is. And I am discovering through each letter, each word and each syllable, I draw closer to the One who died so we might live.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Strategies for Prayer -- second in a series (Acrostic)

You can find part 1 here: http://thecontemplativecatholicconvert.blogspot.com/2011/10/strategies-for-prayer-series-of-helps.html

Lord, teach us to pray (Luke 11:1).

In addressing the battle of prayer, the Church offers another bit of advice:  Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness  . . . disappointment over not being heard according to our own will; wounded pride . . . . The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2728).

I do not typically employ only one strategy during my time with the Lord. I often mix and match two or three. Strategy One dealt with prayer lists. Strategy Two uses acrostics to keep me centered on prayer. In this post I talk about one of the acrostics I call: CROSS.

C— I meditate on the Crucifix on the wall in front of me and I let my mind wander to what Christ’s Crucifixion might have been like for Him. What did the cross accomplish for me? How did my sins cause His agony and death? My thoughts often take me to Gethsemane, the courtyard where He was whipped, the road to Golgotha, the soldiers hammering the spikes into His flesh. Sometimes I can even hear Him cry out in pain.

R— Then I meditate on the Resurrection. What might it have been like for the women to arrive at the tomb, only to find it empty? How does that empty tomb validate God’s promise of redemption, salvation, forgiveness and the offer of eternal life? What promise does His resurrection hold for me when I die? What might it be like when I am resurrected on that last day, and I stand before Him who died and rose again for . . . for me?

O— After the Crucifixion and Resurrection, I meditate on the “Our Father” (the Lord’s Prayer—Matthew 6). Instead of simply reciting the prayer, I pause at each verse, sometimes each word. For example, what does “Our Father” really mean in context with the whole Church? Who are my Christian brothers and sisters? Sometimes my thoughts take me across the world to places such as Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Iran where Christians are, at that very moment,  persecuted, tortured, imprisoned for no other reason than their faith in Christ.  My prayer continues to “Hallowed be thy name.” Have I forgotten the holiness of God? Do I misuse His name by how I act toward others? Do I live in such as way as to give unbelievers reason to sneer at His name? And so I move through the rest of the prayer in similar fashion. As you might imagine, meditating word by word and sentence by sentence through this prayer can take quite some time.

S— the first S is for Supplication. At this point, I begin my prayer for others . . . family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, politicians, students in my classes – whomever the Holy Spirit brings to mind and who might not yet be on my prayer list.

S— the second S is for Sacrifice. Now I offer myself as a living sacrifice to God. Using a prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I ask Him to take my memory, my freedom, will, understanding, health, wealth, talents -- everything I have and cherish -- and to use them for His Kingdom.

Like prayer lists, acrostic prayers like this one help me maintain focus on the battle. Perhaps this strategy will also be useful to you. I’ll talk about the other strategies I use in later posts.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Strategies for Prayer -- a series of helps (Lists)

“Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).

Thereupon the Lord Jesus gave His disciples – and all the Church – the model prayer known as the “Our Father,” or “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6 contains the fuller version). And for most of my Christian life, I spent about as much time in prayer is it takes to say those few verses. Yet, I knew intuitively there was more to prayer than my experience to that point.

Prayer, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2725) tells us, is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer . . . all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. . . . . The "spiritual battle" of the Christian's new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer. (The Catechism teaches some very valuable lessons about prayer. I urge you to look through paragraphs 2725-2745. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes).

I’d always known prayer was a battle. And that it required effort. Sometimes a lot of effort. But I was mostly unaware of the various tools – let’s call them weapons – available to the Christian, weapons ensuring victory in the battle. Weapons to transform effort to ease.

Today, and in the next several posts, I will share my prayer strategies that help keep me focused when my mind starts to drift, and energized when boredom begins to settle in. My strategies are not new. Christians throughout history have successfully used tools like these in their own prayer battles. But they were new for me. Some may be new for you.

Strategy One: The Prayer List.

During the last forty years I have used ‘to-do’ lists for just about everything. Everything, that is, except prayer. I don’t know why it took so long for me to figure out I needed a list to help me remember to pray for people or particular needs. But not long after I began the list, it had grown to the point of being unwieldy. I needed to make it more manageable. And I thought of a calendar.

I divided my list into nine columns. I labeled the first, “Daily” and the succeeding seven Monday, Tuesday, and so forth. I labeled the ninth column “Others.”

In the Daily column I write the names of people I commit myself to pray for every day – for example, family members, pastors and others. Into the columns labeled by the days of the week I place people, such as friends and their families, various politicians and those in Church leadership, people I work with, and students in my classes. Sometimes I put specific people into more than one weekday column so I remember to pray for them more often during the week. In the last column (column nine) I add people as they come to my attention during the day, either when the Holy Spirit drops their name into my heart, or the person asks me for prayer. Those names often get added to either my daily list, or a weekday list, depending on the need.

In review, each day I pray through my “Daily” column, a weekday column, and the “Other” column. Depending on the needs of those for whom I pray, I spend 15 to 30 minutes remembering them before the Lord. At that point, I either conclude my prayer time with the Lord, or I add one of the other strategies cited in later posts to continue my prayer time.

Next time: Strategy Two -- an acrostic.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dirty Rocks and Grub Worms

I published this some time ago. I thought now is a good time to revisit it:
"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).

As soon as they burst through the emergency room doors, I knew something was wrong. The parents, still in damp bathing suits, almost threw their limp two-year-old daughter at us and screamed something about a swimming pool.

Within moments, physicians, nurses and technicians swooped into Trauma Room One. In what can only be described as a coordinated frenzy, the resuscitation team slapped wires from the heart monitor onto the child's chest. They inserted a plastic tube into her throat and forced air into her lungs. They pierced her veins with intravenous catheters and pushed emergency medications into her blood stream. In the corner of my eye I spotted the hospital chaplain standing quietly with the child's parents in the hallway, his arm around the dad's sagging shoulders.

But nothing we did -- no amount of drugs or machines or prayers brought her back. Nearly two decades later, I can still see the dad draped across his daughter's body as it lay on the hospital gurney. I can still hear her mom's convulsive sobs echo across the caverns of my memories.

During the years I worked as a nurse in that emergency department, hundreds of desperate people tore through those same doors. They arrived in rusted-out Chevy pick-ups and high-gloss sedans, in ambulances, taxis and on foot. Young and old, rich and poor, educated and not-so-educated, blue-collars and executives. I saw no one is guaranteed safe passage through human experience. Heartache slips in and out of life's shadows, and when it chooses its victim, neither power, money, prestige . . . nothing restrains its hand.

I think it is because I've seen the tragedies rip so often into others, as I move past my sixty-first birthday, I find myself often re-examining my own priorities. That's why the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip caught my attention.

Calvin is shoulders deep, busy shoveling dirt from a hole, while Hobbes, his stuffed tiger watches.

"What have you found?" Hobbes asks.

Calvin's eyes sparkle. "A few dirty rocks, a weird root, and some disgusting grubs. There's treasure everywhere!"

Isn’t it true? Children find treasure in the most unlikely places, and no one is surprised when they showcase rocks and worms. But I found another message in that comic strip. As a child, I also showcased things like rocks and roots. But now I am more sophisticated. Instead of grub worms, I showcase "real" treasure -- new cars, university degrees, job prestige and a continuing litany of "bigger-better-more."

I could be quite content with those adult treasures were it not for the gnawing memories of emergency rooms where bigger-better-more never comforts those who grieve at the bedside of their dead. I learned long ago that a hospital room is where everything we hold dear washes out: money, popularity, passions, careers -- like charred timbers after a house fire, a death-bed places it all in cold, clear perspective. Perhaps that's one reason the Psalmist prayed, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).

I don't believe it coincidental that the day I read Calvin, I was also studying my way through Ecclesiastes. King Solomon had it all -- money, power, prestige. And he used them all to satisfy every whim that tantalized his flesh and thoughts. "All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them," he wrote in chapter two. "I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure." For years, possibly decades, he fed his lust for bigger-better-more, and it was not until he neared the end of his life that he recognized the true worth of his treasures.

"Vanity of vanities," he called them. He could have just as easily called them dirty rocks, weird roots and grub worms.

To his credit, Solomon recognized the truth about his treasures before it was too late to make things right. Before his body returned to dust (Ecclesiastes 12:7) he discovered the bankruptcy of bigger-better-more. At last, he understood true treasure. "The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment . . . whether it is good or evil" (v. 13-14).

At the time, I taped the Calvin cartoon to my refrigerator doorwhere it remained awhile to remind me of the importance of checking my spiritual bank account day by day. It reminded me to nurture my real treasure -- my relationship with Christ -- through frequent deposits of Bible study, prayer, Sacraments, and fellowship with other believers.

Someday I might be on the other end of the emergency room doors. I don't want to discover at that moment my treasures were nothing more than dirty rocks and grub worms.