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Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Perhaps any conversation about spiritual formation includes prayer. My personal prayer life has been influenced by my faith tradition. We have encouraged prayer while seated, while standing, and while kneeling. Prayer is encouraged as both an individual act and as a corporate act. Of course, sometimes prayer seems to break out unexpectedly and during unlikely activities. However it occurs, I hope to view my daily schedule as a context for prayer. While some space is specifically set aside for the purpose of prayer, I hope for prayer to become as natural as walking or breathing. Perhaps this is what the apostle had in mind when he writes to “pray without ceasing.”

It is not enough to carve space for prayer. Prayer itself is not the goal, but a tool to help us grow in God. An activity that often unexpectedly becomes prayer for me is reading. Sometimes this is the reading of scripture but not always. I often find myself in dialogue with an author and God becomes part of the conversation. Currently, my reading tends to include an assortment of theology, nature, and some classics. As I write, I am thinking that reading authors who are more contemplative might benefit me on my journey. I can benefit from those who have walked with God and have shared their experience about intimacy with the divine. I have already made plans to read more from Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Richard Rohr. I plan to acquaint myself with Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. I would also benefit from re visiting some of the works that have shaped my spiritual life in the past. I am intrigued that John Wesley in “Letter to a Friend” emphasizes reading as a means of nurturing the soul. “Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily… Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer.”

Eugene Peterson suggests that we have been given an old prayer book known as Psalms. In fact, he claims these are the best tools for working on our faith. Just as a gardener picks up a rake or a hoe on the way to the vegetable garden, he claims people of faith should pick up the Psalms. I will read the Psalms multiple times in multiple translations during the coming year, all the while listening for the voice of God. I will be open to prayer in new ways by listening to these old prayers.

But my reading of scripture shall not be limited to the Psalms. I shall read from the whole canon.  I will read texts from the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. I will read the New Testament narratives and the Letters. I will read them to be caught up in the ongoing story of God. This is not only to strengthen preaching and exegesis, but to listen to the voice of God and find my role in that story. We have tendencies to try to fit God into our stories; it is time to start looking for ourselves in God’s story.

It is easy to become content driven, what J. K. A. Smith calls “brains on a stick.” It is even easy for worship to become a cognitive exercise. But, it is not enough to articulate a position; I want to taste the sweet word of God even when it leaves me with a sour stomach (Revelation 10.9-10). Systematic statements may smooth out some rough edges, but we are a people who live on the edge. We want to acknowledge the rough parts and embrace them as important parts of the story. I will listen to the biblical writers talk about walking with Jesus. I will read out loud in order to hear differently. I benefit when I read scripture not as a scavenger for practical purposes, but in order to listen for the voice of God.

This conversation about prayer is only a beginning. I desire that prayer become something more, something like Robert Mulholland once described “prayer is not what we do, it is what we be.” It is important to know that prayer is more about becoming than it is about getting. Again, I am reminded of Mulholland who said, “it is one thing to be in the world for God, it is quite another thing to be in God for the world.” The former seems so “activist” while the latter takes us into unknown territory. My prayer is that I will follow Jesus into the unknown whatever we find out there.

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Steeping with the Text

I am a simple guy. That includes my beverage of choice. I am a tea drinker and all I require is black tea brewed properly and poured over ice. It seems so simple. Yet, I have had to suffer through some nasty tea. Some of my friends would call me a tea snob. They are probably right. If I am served nasty tea someplace, it is highly likely I will not be going back.

Joe Dongell is also a tea drinker. Much more sophisticated than I, he drinks specialty teas from exotic places. He would claim the secret is to make sure it “steeps” properly. Good tea cannot be rushed. On that, I agree. I agree with Dongell on an even more important matter as well. He claims we tend to be scavengers with the biblical text. We often abuse it, reading it just to get what we need from it.

His recommendation – we need to “steep” with the text. We need to sit with it and listen to it. We need to explore it, asking questions without pressure to find answers. “Who, what, when, and why” open up possibilities. Of course, we are interested in the content of the text. But we also want to be attentive to the process and movement.

This sounds like a recipe for a good morning. Exploring text while sipping iced tea. I should put that on my schedule.

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We have been gathering on Wednesdays to read the Old Testament book of Daniel. Together, we are asking questions of the text, engaging the text, and trying to discern what the text means for a church in the twenty-first century. Surprisingly, Daniel does not encourage a particular diet or give tips on dream interpretation. Here are some things that Daniel does seem interested in;

1, the state wants us to become good citizens of the state, the state is uninterested in making disciples for Jesus.

2, it is not only a Babylonian notion to acknowledge God as a prop for the state.

3, exile continues to be a good metaphor for where we live and how we are to live today.

4, catering to a culture of power, control, and unrealistic perspectives of self can drive one to insanity.

5, it is possible to live in a pagan culture without becoming tainted by it.

6, we should care about rulers and pray for them. We should appeal to their humanness, not their sinfulness.

7, rulers and governments will continue to come and go – only God remains eternal.

8, God is ruler over kings, nations, and history.

9, the wisdom of God is superior to human wisdom, even the best Babylon has to offer.

10, God has always been a delivering, saving God.

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A Christmas Reading

The waiting is over, a child is born
The waiting is over, a Son is given
The waiting is over, the government is on his shoulders
The waiting is over, his name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

We light the first candle to remind us of hope in a dark place. We light the second candle to join heaven and earth in celebration. We light the third candle in thanks that the news has come to us. We light the fourth candle because God welcomes surprise visitors.

Tonight we light the Christ candle because the waiting is over.

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Wise Men from the East came asking for the king of the Jews. They followed the star. They gave elaborate gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They worshipped the child king.

We light the first candle and remember the message of hope the prophets talked about. We light the second candle and celebrate the good news of great joy the angels spoke of. We light the third candle and are thankful Christmas comes for ordinary people.

Today we light the fourth candle and are reminded that God welcomes unexpected visitors at Christmas.

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God sent angels to announce the Good News of great joy. News about a Savior to be born. News that caused heaven and earth to join together in celebration.

We light the first candle and remember the message of hope the prophets talked about.

Today, we light the second candle of Advent and celebrate this Good News shared by angels, Good News of glory in heaven and peace on earth.

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A Reading for Advent

The world was a dark place. God’s people had been lost in wilderness and in exile. And the people were unfaithful.

So the Lord planned for a messenger, a prophet to prepare the way. To prepare the way for the Lord to come.

We light this first candle of Advent and remember the message of hope that the prophets talked about. The hope that one would bring light into a dark place. The hope that we could be saved from our unfaithfulness.

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