Have mercy: a prayer

blog 6-23-2017 good samaritan

 

Gracious God, Merciful God

We praise and bless you as the merciful one.

We thank you that your mercies are new every morning.

We thank you that you love to extend mercy to us.

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Because of your mercy we are encouraged to confess our shortcomings, our sins.

We confess our distractions from you—our lives are filled with other things, duties and responsibilities, working for peace and justice, that we forget you.

We forget that all we do is to be centered in you.

Have mercy on us, God and help us to mindful and aware of you.

We confess the dividing walls that separate us from others. 

We confess that we carefully construct these walls to keep others out—those who disagree with us, who hurt us, who are different from us.

We admit that in keeping others on the other side of the wall, we also keep you on the other side of the wall. 

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Have mercy on us, O God.

Have mercy and give us the courage to break down those walls and begin to trust others, listen to others, to open our hearts to others. 

Please give us the courage to be bold and to move toward reconciliation with those in our life with whom we are estranged.

Have mercy on us.

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Gracious God, Merciful God, we thank you for your forgiveness.

We thank you for your gracious and merciful heart. 

Holy Spirit, flame of love, we praise and bless your Merciful, Gracious name.

Let us proclaim that you are our God and we are your children.

We praise your holy Name. Amen.

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Embracing the Other: Engaging a theology of “embrace”

two_friends_shaking_hands

I shared this post originally in the winter and am sharing it again as the polarization within families, communities, and churches continues.

I am unsettled by the frequency I have unfriended or blocked people leading up to the national election. I have placed friends and family members into a metaphorical box, labeled it Others and placed it in the back of my heart closet. I exclude Others from my life and create a distance from, whether that be an emotional or physical or relational distance. I dismiss these Others by not taking them seriously, by trivializing or mocking them, by refusing to listen to their heart stories of joys and pains, and ultimately, I exclude them from God’s love. I consider them unworthy of God’s love, grace, and mercy.

In his book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), Miroslav Volf describes three qualities of exclusion. First, exclusion entails the cutting of bonds that connect individuals to one another. The Other emerges either as an enemy that must be pushed away and driven out of its space, or as a nonentity that can be disregarded and abandoned. We see this everywhere on social media, cable news, and even within the church. We see people disregarded and abandoned, with news reports of refugees and immigrants fleeing their homes only to be refused entry into other countries. We see this in our national political conversations. We see this in all forms of social media. And we see this refusal to meet the Other within our congregations, conferences, and denominations.

Second, exclusion entails erasure of separation, meaning the Other emerges as an inferior being who must either be assimilated by being made like ourselves, or be subjugated to ourselves. We see this in the continued fragile relationship between people of color and white people; English and non-English speakers; LGBTQ and hetero persons; progressive believers and fundamentalist believers; Republican and Democrats. These are all forms of exclusion.

And third, exclusion is judgment. Volf writes, “Strong disagreement with a lifestyle, religious belief-system, or a course of action—a disagreement that employs adjectives like ‘wrong,’ ‘mistaken,’ or ‘erroneous,’ and understands these to be more than expressions of personal or communal preference—is felt to be exclusionary.”

Volf suggests a “theology of embrace” as the way of loving and reconciling with the Other. He breaks down the image of an embrace into four movements to help us understand how we might do this. These elements of embrace include:

  1. Opening the arms is a gesture of the body reaching for the Other. Open arms are a sign that I have created space in myself for the other to come in, and that I have made a movement out of myself so as to enter the space created by the other. Open arms are a gesture of invitation and hospitality.
  2. Waiting is the act of postponing the desire of welcoming the Other to myself until I know the other is willing to open their arms in reciprocation. Waiting on the Other allows the other to decide if they wants to be reconciled or left alone. The Other cannot be coerced into an embrace, otherwise the embrace becomes an act of violence. If embrace takes place, it is because both individuals want it—embrace must be reciprocal.
  3. Closing the arms is the goal of the embrace. It takes two pairs of arms for one embrace.
  4. Opening the arms again allows the individuals freedom to be themselves. Additionally, opening the arms again begins the cycle of embrace.

The embrace transforms the Other—the person I have dismissed or hated or oppressed—into my brother or my sister, one that I can truly love. In truly loving my brother or my sister, I enter into a relationship based on trust, forgiveness, reconciliation, and intimacy, as modeled by Jesus Christ. I begin to see the Other as God sees them—as one who is created and loved by God—not as a monster to be rejected by the world.

Our ability to embrace the other is not based on our willfulness, on our insistence. Our ability to embrace the other is based on God’s embrace of us. We can embrace because God first embraced us. We can love because God first loved us.

A longer version of this post was published in Leader magazine, Fall 2016.

Photo: By Dhiriart – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46459574

Have mercy (continued)

hands-doves-blog-5-31-17

 

Gracious God, Merciful God‑

This Sunday is Pentecost and we praise you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We praise and bless you for the gift of Easter which had to precede Pentecost.

We also praise and bless you as the creator of our world.  We thank you for the beauty and mystery of nature.  We thank you that in the midst of storms, you are with us.

We praise and bless you as the merciful one. We thank you that your mercies are new every morning.  We thank you that you love to extend mercy to us.

***

Because of your mercy we are encouraged to confess and to receive mercy.  We confess our distractions from you‑‑that our lives are so filled with other things, duties and responsibilities that we forget you. Forgive us for our absorption of social media, of politics, of our anger rather than focusing on you.  Have mercy on us God and help us to turn our minds and hearts to you.

***

We confess our meanspiritedness toward others. We confess that our hearts are too small.  And having small hearts limits our abilities to see and to hear others with attentive love.  We cannot see the good in others, we cannot hear their voices longing for love.  Have mercy on us God and enlarge our hearts so that we may have eyes to see and ears to hear.

***

Gracious God, Merciful God, we thank you for your forgiveness.  We thank you for your gracious and merciful heart.  Because we are forgiven we are now bold to bring others to you.

***

God we bring before you the families grieving across the nation.  God have mercy on us as our world creates young men who hate others because of their race, their religion, their sexuality. We pray for wisdom and boldness to reach out to these young men and offer them mercy, healing, and love. We watch and listen in disbelief to the stories of violence‑‑we cannot believe that humans can do these things to one another.  We grieve because our country is being torn apart. Oh God, we ask‑‑in fact, we plead and implore you‑‑to breathe peace into the world. We ask for wisdom and courage for those working for justice and peace.  We ask for wisdom for us in how we are to respond to these painful situations as well as how we should talk to those in power.  We don’t know how to pray for our leaders but we offer them to you, trusting that you will move and act in their lives.

***

Holy Spirit, wind of love, we praise and bless your Merciful, Gracious name.  Let us proclaim that you are our God and we are your children.  We praise your holy Name.  Amen.

 

(My earlier prayer, “Lord, have mercy” can be found here.)

 

Unidentified. Wonders by Their Hands, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55766

I fret, therefore I am.

Jesus appears to Thomas - John 20:24-29John 20:19-31

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

I can fret about anything. And fret is the best word to describe it because it’s different than worrying or fearing. It is a wringing of my hands, a low-grade thrumming that underscores my day. Sometimes I will fret over the outcome of an anticipated conversation, an appointment with a doctor, a conversation with an authority figure. And, more often than not, I am surprised by reality.

The consequences of this thrumming are that I am perpetually anxious, easily angered and begin to obsess like a hamster running on its wheel going round and round without relief. I become so tense that I unconsciously shift into brittleness and clench my hands into fists. And, because my hands are in fists, if something is offered to me I am unable to receive it.

However, when I am at peace, I feel serene, calm and my soul feels expansive with a desire to extend grace and love to those I encounter. I feel relaxed and loose, my hands are open and I can receive the good gifts that are offered to me.

In this passage from John 20, the disciples are fearful, hiding behind locked doors days after Jesus’s death and resurrection. The tension and fear in Jerusalem has spiked so the disciples are hiding, with good cause. Were they next to be executed?

And in the midst of their fearful fretting, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.”  The text tells us—in a foreshadowing of Thomas—the disciples also had to check Jesus’s wounds first. And again, Jesus said to them: “Peace be with you.”

The phrase, “Peace be with you” was a regular greeting in Israel at this time. The phrase was “Shalom” meaning wholeness, health, and completeness; to have the physical and spiritual resources to meet one’s needs. So the disciples were familiar with this expression. But Jesus meant more when he said, “Peace be with you.” In John 14:27, Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and don’t let them be afraid.

(Or, “fret not.”) Simply put, Jesus is our peace.

Then Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on to them as a gift. I imagine this as a kind of resuscitation, breathing the LIFE of the Spirit into their fretting, gasping souls.

Eight days later, with Thomas present in the group, Jesus appears among the disciples again. Rather than scolding him for his doubt, Jesus meets Thomas at his fretful, tightly wound place and says, “Peace be with you.”

And Thomas responds from the depths of his heart, “My Lord and my God.” His tight, suspicious heart opens up and he receives Jesus and Jesus’s blessing of peace.

As I ponder this passage I ask myself:

  • Where am I fretting and remaining closed to Jesus’s peace?
  • Where do I need Jesus to resuscitate and breathe peace into me?

 

What has been capturing my attention

Reading

*My friend Eric Massanari is a chaplain at a retirement center in Kansas. He recently wrote about an interaction with a resident here.

*Another friend, Rachel Miller Jacobs, is an associate professor of Christian formation at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) wrote an powerful reflection on Psalm 146 here.

*The book, The Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. You can find my review here.

*Reflections about Michael J. Sharp, a Mennonite man working in the Democratic Republic of Congo with UN and human rights violations. He was kidnapped on March 12 with his colleague, Zaida Catalan from Sweden, and their bodies were found earlier this week. From Mennonite press and from mainstream media.

 

Watching

*The “George Gently” series on Acorn. I love British mysteries!

*The Trevor Noah stand-up special on Netflix. His impression of Nelson Mandela is riveting. Warning: some language.

*The documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” about writer and activist James Baldwin. I saw this in a full movie theater where everyone was silently engaged with the film. Very powerful film and necessary viewing for everyone.

 

Pondering

*We placed this sign in our front yard about a month ago and I am pondering how I can support local refugees. I’ve been reading D.L. Mayfield’s blog and she offers many suggestions for developing friendships and supporting refugees. Also, her book Assimilate or Die is excellent and you can read my review here. (You can read the backstory about the signs here).

Glad You are Our Neighbor Sign

*Lent. I’ve been reading Paula Huston’s book, Simplifying The Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit for daily reflections. I’ve also been participating in the Lectio Divina Lent study with Abbey of the Arts.

We are quickly approaching Palm Sunday (April 8) and Easter (April 16). I am enjoying my gospel lectionary study as well. Here are my reflections for Lent 2 and Lent 4.

Celebrating

*Kevin and I celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary this weekend. This photo was taken a few years ago at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia when we celebrated his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary with Kevin’s family. I love this photo of us.Kev and June at Peggy's Cove

 

What is captivating you?

Waking up singing a prayer

celtic triple knot with swirls

“Confitemini Domino”

(“Come and fill our hearts with your peace.

You alone, O Lord, are holy.”)

–from the Taize tradition

Fill my heart with peace, O God.

Only you can fill my heart.

Only you can give me peace—

the peace that is incomprehensible,

unexplainable, beyond knowing.

You are peace beyond peace.

You are peace beyond.

With this peace, fill my heart.

You, only you.

The Wisdom of Peace Pilgrim (Part 3)

Peace Pilgrim at Cal State LA

 

“I have walked 25,000 miles as a penniless pilgrim. I own only what I wear and what I carry in my small pockets. I belong to no organization. I have said that I will walk until given shelter and fast until given food, remaining a wanderer until (humanity) has learned the way of peace. And I can truthfully tell you that without ever asking for anything, I have been supplied with everything needed for my journey, which shows you how good people really are.

With me I carry always my peace message: This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love. There is nothing new about this message, except the practice of it. And the practice of it is required not only in the international situation but also in the personal situation. I believe that the situation in the world is a reflection of our own immaturity. If we were mature, harmonious people, war would be no problem whatever—it would be impossible.

All of us can work for peace. We can work right where we are, right within ourselves, because the more peace we have within our own lives, the more we can reflect into the outer situation. In fact, I believe that the wish to survive will push us into some kind of uneasy world peace which will then need to be supported by a great inner awakening if it is to endure. I believe we entered a new age when we discovered nuclear energy, and that this new age calls for a new renaissance to lift us to a higher level of understanding so that we will be able to cope with the problems of this new age. So, primarily my subject is peace within ourselves as a step toward peace in our world.”

–Steps Toward Inner Peace

(Peace Pilgrim lived 1908-1981 and walked more than 25,000 miles from 1953-1981 spreading her message: “This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”)