Monday, July 29, 2013

The Progression Of Prayer

" Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, ' Lord, teach us to pray. . .'  He said to them, ' When you pray, say, ' Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone in debt to us.' " [ Luke 11: 1-13].

I grew up in a dysfunctional family, a family without faith. My mother and father did not teach me to pray. They did not pray for me or with me. They considered church to be a "waste of time and money."

In my family, there was anxiety and depression, alcoholism, and dependence on nicotine. There was greed and materialism. There was a sense of great superiority over others, as if a religion of self- importance could fill that great inner void of the soul. In the extended family, there was even suicide. A life without prayer is a desperate, solitary trip into depression and the death of the soul.

As children, we learn to pray orally at first. My grandmother taught me how to pray the Our Father. This is the precious prayer, given to us by Jesus Himself.

But learning the Our Father happened only when she was minding me, when my mother was not there. Prayer taught in secret takes on an atmosphere of shame. This is absolutely not what God wants.

I applaud my grandmother for teaching me to pray. Only, no one ever explained the words. What did "hallowed" mean; what was the significance of "trespass"? Prayer by rote is meaningless.

When I went, as an adult, to a pastor at an overwhelming time of my life, I was in a panic because I thought God was gone! God never does really leave us. But we can leave Him, by forgetting to pray.

I told the priest that I was not born Catholic, in fact, I felt like I had no religion at all. He told me not to worry about knowing the Hail Mary or any other oral prayer, just talk to God every day.

So it was that I progressed to the second kind of prayer in our relationship with God:  that is, Meditative Prayer. I found myself examining what I knew about God at various times of my life. I found myself meditating on Scripture and attempting to relate the Word to my life.

Recently, I was privileged to attend a workshop on Contemplative Prayer. This is considered to be the highest form of prayer. It was at one time  believed that only monks and nuns in a cloistered community were capable of Contemplative Prayer.

But in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is now clear that Contemplative Prayer is available and achievable by anyone.

When we practice Contemplative Prayer, we seek simply to rest in God's Infinite Love. We lift a Crucifix up to our lips to bestow a kiss, and we hold the Crucifix up to our hearts, heart to heart with Jesus.

When I closed my eyes, and began to practice Contemplative Prayer for the first time, I was afraid that God's Love would be too big. You see, growing up, no one had ever hugged me or said, "I love you." I was often physically hungry, and worse, I was spiritually hungry.

The minute I closed my eyes, all sorts of objections came up. I think I was still stuck in Meditative Prayer. I said to God, " BUT my son struggles in certain school subjects, I worry about him." I "heard", "It does not matter." I brought up other worries: finances, the stresses of daily life. Once again, I heard, " It does not matter." Suddenly, I understood that no matter what earthly concerns I might have, God would be there for me.

Only then, could I simply rest and reach up for God's never-ending Love. At that point, I imagined God's long arms reaching down to give me a hug. Prayer is the practice of entering into healing from God. I know that now. I could feel it.

The priest leading the workshop brought us out of our Contemplations, by reciting the Magnificat, or the Prayer of Mary. I had never heard this prayer before. The Magnificat says in part, " God has shown the strength of His arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty." [ Luke 1: 46-55]. That was me, lowly, hungry, needing the strength of God's arms.

I have often felt foolish, because there are so many basic things that I do not know about  my faith and religion. I am not "book smart" when it comes to my religion. Perhaps I was the only one in the room who did not know the Magnificat.

But I had found the most important aspect of all, the ability to receive God's Love and to  enter into a trusting relationship with Him. This is the most precious, the most miraculous aspect of Prayer.  Nothing else matters at all, if we cannot begin to approach God and feel ourselves worthy of His Love.

For more information on Contemplative Prayer, contact the author of "The Prayer of Jesus Crucified", Father L. Tucker, at

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Are You Martha or Mary?

" Jesus entered a village, where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed Him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat beside the Lord at His feet, listening to Him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to Him and said, 'Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.'  The Lord said to her in reply, ' Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.' " [ Luke 10: 38-42].

Martha is the older sister of Mary. Martha believes that serving the Lord means to stay in continual motion, tidying up, sweeping, preparing food, setting a perfect table, waiting on Jesus and the others present. In her mind, she would be ashamed to offer anything less than Perfect Hospitality, in all of its details, to her honored guest.

Mary, on the other hand, spends her time with the Lord, sitting at His feet, taking in His every word.

The first time I read this, I thought that Martha must surely be the one to be judged as right. After all, we are commanded to Love AND to Serve! [Related posting, " Show Me Your Faith",  September 16, 2012].

So here is Mary, doing nothing, simply sitting at Jesus's feet, while her sister Martha does all the work?! And yet, Mary is the one whom Jesus praises?

I guess that I have a hidden agenda when I choose Martha over Mary. You see, I am a Martha. . . .

When I was thirteen, my mother and grandmother sat me down in the kitchen and told me that they wanted to talk to me. I knew something was up, because my grandmother rarely came in and sat down in our kitchen. She was active and busy, always to get to her home and get on with her day.

My mother and grandmother told me that they were so happy that I had made it to age thirteen, because the truth was, I had almost not been born! My mother had gone into distress at the hospital, when she was in labor with me. As the medical staff wheeled my mother into emergency surgery, all my mother heard was, "Get the baby!"

I was speechless. Here I had gone along, all of my thirteen years, assuming that my life was inevitable. I imagined what my life would have been, if my mother had died. I imagined what my mother's life would have been, if I had died. I imagined what my father's life would have been, without his wife and baby daughter.

Above all, I could not comprehend how I might have died before I had a chance to even be born. I would have had no life at all.

My grandmother went home. My mother started fixing dinner, as usual. But my life was utterly changed then, and I knew it. What, oh what, was I going to do with this life, that had almost never been?

I almost asked my mother if I could go talk to the Episcopal priest? I had so many questions: 'Did God really choose me to be born? If He was capable of making very sure that I was born, I must have a purpose. How do I know what my purpose is? How do I make my life worthy of God's call?'

I had everything I would say to the priest all worked out in my head. But I did not dare ask my mother. My parents took me to church only under the watchful eye of my grandmother. Meanwhile, outside of church, my parents were mocking Christians.

What were we, Fake Christians? I  knew that my parents would scoff, and tell me, 'Just be happy.'

In the next several days, I could not stop thinking- Yes! I mattered, because God had made sure I was born. Now what?

So, on my own, at the age of thirteen, I decided to fill every moment of every day with purposeful activity. With life being so precious, I was determined not waste a minute of it. And that is how I became a Martha. . . .

Like Martha, for years I would berate my family that they were not doing enough to help me and that I was so very tired. My husband would say, " If you are tired, sit down. You do too much." This would infuriate me.

Many years later, I lost my father, my best friend, my mother and my mother-in-law, all in a two year span. I became overwhelmed and confused. I realized that I could not keep up this pace. I needed to have that conversation with a priest, the one I had longed for so many decades ago.

I made an appointment with my current priest. I told him, ' My God is gone!!' He said to me, "God is not gone. You are too busy. Go into the chapel every day, and meditate and pray. It is never a waste of time to reflect and spend time with God."

I did that-- and God came back in an instant!

I still struggle with being a Martha. I find that I spin myself into exhaustion and confusion, trying to fill every moment of every day. I have to force myself to sit down and rest, or I get confused and anxious. Then, I am no longer good to myself or to anyone else. I am no good to God, either.

My time spent in being "Mary", simply sitting in the chapel in front of the Tabernacle, is essential to me now. I see that, in giving so much of myself to others-- something I absolutely love to do--  my cup becomes empty. My cup is not bottomless. I need to fill it up again.

I fill myself up again, by spending time in contemplation with the Lord. May you do the same!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Good Samaritan

" Jesus said, ' You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' A scholar of law said to Jesus, ' And who is my neighbor?' Jesus replied: ' A man fell victim to robbers. They stripped and beat him and went off, leaving him half- dead.  A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise, a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then, he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him. The next day, he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, 'Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.' Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?' He answered, 'The one who treated him with mercy.'  Jesus said to him, 'Go and do the same.' " [Luke 10: 25-37].

The first time I read this story, I was reminded of the beginning of a riddle or a silly joke. Think of it: "A priest, a Levite and a Samaritan are walking down the road . . . ."

But this is no joke. This is a parable, with a deadly serious moral at the end.

I write a lot in this space about stories that seem merely Biblical, like a parable out of the Bible. But, everywhere I look, these Scriptural parables are not fiction. They are Real.

The story of the Good Samaritan is a well-known and well-loved Bible story. But there is a little known fact, buried in plain sight, in this story. You see, the victim was likely Jewish. The Samaritans were pagans. And, at that time, the Samaritans and the Jewish people hated each other. The individuals who passed the stranger by were, shockingly, a priest and a Levite, persons of faith. One would think, merely by virtue of their "office" or station that the priest and the Levite would have been the ones to help.

Can this story be for real? Why not?

Almost a decade ago, three young girls were kidnapped and held in a house in Cleveland, Ohio against their will. A neighbor, hearing one of the girls yelling out the window,  kicked in the door and pulled her out.  An inspiring story, no?

The fact is, the girl he rescued, Amanda Berry is white. And the neighbor, Charles Ramsay, is black. Does this change the story for you? Interviewed later, Charles Ramsay said, "I knew something was wrong when a little, pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms."

How easy it is for us to assume that "our neighbor" should be someone just like us!

I have a Good Samaritan story of my own:

I went down South to university, to study in a graduate school program.

Now, I thought that the American Civil War was long over. . . . .

From the Southern students, I would get comments like, " You are pretty gentle and nice for a girl from up North. My mama warned me to stay away from girls like you, who come from above the Mason-Dixon  Line."

Or, I was told stories about the Civil War: " You Union people burned our crops and stole our chickens. Atlanta was burned to the ground. We had to plant vegetables near the house and watch over them. We had to boil dandelion greens in water and we called it "soup". "Pot Likker" is what we called it."  They made it sound like I had done all these things to them personally; and it was as if it had all happened yesterday.

One day, the unthinkable happened. I was home in my graduate student apartment, when I was the victim of a home invasion. It is a miracle that I survived. The attacker started strangling me, and he let go of my throat only as I was starting to pass out. He had a knife. I was left for dead, when he finally exited.

The police came. I was taken to the ER in a squad car. How surreal. I was not hospitalized, but I was a mess; unable to roll over in bed, in pain from superficial knife wounds, unable to fix a meal, too scared to return to class.

It took me three days to call my crazy, dysfunctional family, to tell them what had happened to me. I was afraid that they would blame me for the attack. My parents did blame me -- for opening the apartment door. They came down to see me, took me out to dinner and to lunch.  Then, they left me there to cope alone. One would think, merely by their station as mother and father, that my parents would have been the ones to help.

The fact is, it was my classmates, most of of them Southerners, who got me through this. Maybe they had once pictured me as the Enemy. Maybe they expected me to react to them in the same way.

But- they let me sleep on their couches, when I was too afraid to sleep alone. They shared meals with me-- on a student budget. They shared class notes and helped me study. They took me out for a meal of comfort food when they thought I was feeling too down.

Think of it-- instead, it was the Southerners rallying around to help this Northern girl --  the kind of girl that they had been warned away from!

It is still painful and unreal for me to realize that my own family abandoned me at my worst hours. I wish with all my heart that my own family had had enough Love in their hearts to gather me up in their arms and bring me home to heal.

But how grateful I am for each and every kindness I received from my classmates. The truth is, I could not have survived without them. I had to stay in school, since going home was not an option. My classmates collaborated to make sure that I was able to stay in school.

I learned a lot from this experience. I learned that even a stanger can become a beloved Neighbor.

I learned not to allow myself to be boxed in by labels, categories or names. Love knows no boundaries. Sometimes, Love-- even from one who simply happens to be walking by-- is enough! God's Grace is enough.

I learned that sometimes your relatives do not act like family; but you can find Brothers and Sisters anywhere.

[Related posting, "The Kindness of Strangers", July 5, 2013].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

" Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace [be] to this house.' If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet, we wipe off against you.' " Luke 10: 1- 12].

 Imagine a life like this! Going out on the road, following wherever life took you. Taking no purse-- that is, no money. Taking even no sandals. Taking no bag, which probably meant taking no change of clothes.

Is this kind of person a "free spirit", brave and trusting enough to depend on the kindness of strangers? Or simply crazy? Merely existing at the fringes of society?

I have relied on the kindness of strangers my whole life.

In my dysfunctional family, Love was hate. Money was love. Neglect alternated with cruel, cult-like control.

I was fed inedible food. If I did not eat it, my father would say to my mother, "Do NOT feed her."

I realized at age five, that I would have to find food myself, or I would be so hungry, I could not sleep at night.

There was my little friend Carol. She would take me to her grandmother's house, right next door to her own house. When you entered the grandmother's house, the light was dim, even on a bright day. It took my eyes time to adjust. Then I would focus on the sweet upholstered chair with a pleated skirt, but without any arms, a lacy doily draped on the back. This "lady chair" was covered in a faded fabric of scattered flowers. There was a honey colored side table and an old-fashioned lamp. Her grandmother was tiny and thin, but her eyes were kind and loving.

She would offer us a piece of bread with butter and a glass of milk. These tasted like the best things in the world to me. She saw that I was hungry, so she always offered me a second piece of bread. I wondered why she didn't have any Oreo's but I didn't complain at this unorthodox snack. I ate quickly, standing up. I knew I would get in trouble at home for eating at someone else's house.

Then, there was my friend Susie. I was a quiet, even timid girl. Being so polite, I was the only girl in the neighborhood allowed to swim in Susie's above-ground pool. After our swim, Susie's mother would heat up a can of chicken noodle soup for us to eat. It tasted like the best soup I had ever had. I would eye the pan on the stove, hoping for seconds.

Then, there was my friend Marti. I was over at her house the day after Thanksgiving one year. She offered me Thanksgiving leftovers.  I knew I would be called home for lunch soon. I knew I would get in big trouble for eating at Marti's house. And yet, I feasted: turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, and coconut cream pie. I stuffed myself. I went home and I was sent to my room for eating at Marti's house and for not being hungry for my own lunch at home.

I remember all these foods I was given, in infinite detail. I was blessed with the kindness of strangers.

I would walk myself to school, about a mile and a half each way. All the other kids took the bus or their mothers drove them, if the weather was bad. I walked in the pouring rain, I walked in the heat, I walked in the snow. I was afraid I would get in trouble for accepting a ride from a neighbor. But, I remember every single time a mother stopped the car and gave me a ride home. I would be freezing, or drenched. The car was warm and dry. It felt like being in Heaven.

By the time I was thirteen years old, I knew I had to get out of that house. I was like the disciples, in a home where I was not welcome. I had to shake the dust off my feet, and make a plan to go somewhere where I WAS welcome. I began saving my money from my babysitting business. I was paid so little, it was painstaking business to save up money. My purse was never that full of coins.

By the time I was eighteen years old, I left an "escape kit" at my girlfriend's house. It included an old washcloth that I had taken from my mother's linen closet. The wash cloth was so tattered, I hoped she would not notice it missing. I also put in the kit an old toothbrush. Then I told my mother I needed a new toothbrush. My girlfriend's mother would let me sleep over whenever I wanted to. This was my Safe House. I remember every time my friend's mother was that welcoming.

I have blamed my sorry life for being so dependent on strangers. I have blamed my parents for putting me in that position.

I think, how awful a life to wander around, hoping a stranger will rescue me! THIS is how bad things were, that I had to rely on strangers to feed me, to keep me safe in storms?!

At the time I was going through all this, I knew nothing of Luke 10.

Around five years ago, I began Bible Study at my church. I encountered Luke 10. I realized, I have lived Luke 10, my whole life.

 But-- far from being a detriment, I now am seeing that this kindness of strangers has been a true blessing!

Yes, my family was harsh and cruel. But I was open enough to wander from my house and see what Love there was, elsewhere in the world..

I was forgiving enough not to get angry or bitter or hateful, towards my family or anyone else.  I had enough Grace to see that it would also be totally wrong to hate myself.

I was wise enough to see that, like the disciples, if I was not welcome, the best thing to do would be to simply move on.

This "Luke 10 Life" was a hardship. A sad commentary on how I was treated as a daughter.

But my life is also an awesome testament to the Power of God's Love! I did not find what I needed from my family. But God did send strangers, who fed me, nurtured me, kept me safe.

I really had no family. But God was my Father all along.  And He gave me, as my family, the whole world!

Now I see that we are meant to have Faith that, where out life is lacking, God sends people to help us.
We are mean to trust, like the disciples, that if we are not welcome, we can move on and find a better place.

Who can YOU love, as a brother or sister, as you wander through your days?--because, if you bless someone with your kindness, you just might save a life . . . .

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.