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.”)

Prayer for compassion

june mears driedger

A cross-stitched labyrinth made by Kevin Driedger for Christmas, 2007. A cross-stitched labyrinth made by Kevin Driedger for Christmas, 2007.

O God, Compassionate One-

I pray for a compassionate heart this new year.

I pray for a heart that is willing to expand with your compassion, with your love.

I pray for a set of compassionate eyes that see what your eyes see.

I pray for a set of compassionate ears that hear what your ears hear.

O God, Compassionate One-

I pray for a heart willing to extend compassion to those who annoy me, infuriate me, enrage me.

Help me to see these people as your children, worthy of your love and compassion and therefore deserving of my love and compassion.

O God, Compassionate One-

I pray for a heart that is bold enough to seek reconciliation with those whom I have hurt, harmed or dismissed.

Help me to understand, to know (deep in my bones)…

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Ash Wednesday

640px-crossofashes

Today is Ash Wednesday marking the beginning of Lent.

This Lent season it might be time to venture, as Jesus did, into the shadowy areas of our lives, confident of God’s merciful light surrounding us as well as willingly accepting the support of others. Lent is not about the ostentatious fasting that Isaiah (58:1-12) scoffed at, but a time to open ourselves to more light by lifting the lamp a little higher, by being God’s light to others and receiving it from them. It’s time to learn something new about God and move outwards to do something with it.

Lent might also be a time for us to move inwards with trust, to allow God to show us more of our own need and do something about that. As we live with the memory of the light and the hope of the Easter light to come, may the shadows we encounter become for us places of healing, wisdom and hope as well as fuel for the flame of light that we pass on to others. As light-bearers, let us be for others as merciful, gracious, and loving as God has been to us. God has taken the risk of sending the light of the Word into the chaos and terror of the world, and the darkness has not overcome it. God trusts us to keep ourselves faithful and transparent carriers of that light for the world. As the saying goes, “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

candle_slava_celebration

During this upcoming Lent season, let each of us carry God’s light into the shadows of our own lives, of our families, of our communities, and of the world.

 

 

Cross photo by Jennifer Balaska:candle photo by Petar Milosevic

The Wisdom of Peace Pilgrim (Part 2)

peace-1316745

“My friends, the world situation is grave. Humanity with fearful faltering steps, walks a knife-edge between complete chaos and a golden age, while strong forces push toward chaos. Unless we, the people of the world, awake from our lethargy and push firmly and quickly away from, all that we cherish will be destroyed in the holocaust which will descend.

This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

The Golden Rule would do as well. Please don’t say lightly that these are just religious concepts and not practical. These are laws governing human conduct, which apply as rigidly as the law of gravity. When we disregard these laws in any walk of life, chaos results. Through obedience to these laws this frightened, war-weary world of ours could enter into a period of peace and richness of life beyond our fondest dreams.”

Steps Toward Inner Peace

peace_pilgrim-1980-hawaii

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.”

The Wisdom of Peace Pilgrim (Part 1)

peace_pilgrim-1980-hawaii

“There’s no greater block to world peace or inner peace than fear. What we fear we tend to develop an unreasoning hatred for, so we come to hate and fear. This not only injures us psychologically and aggravates world tension, but through such negative concentration we tend to attract the things we fear. If we fear nothing and radiate love, we can expect good things to come. How much this world needs the message and example of love and of faith!” —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.”)

Praying For My Enemies

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

As I read the newspaper, I came across an article that quoted then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich saying, “I’m not going to get in an argument with Jesse Helms.” The now-deceased Republican congressman from North Carolina was advocating that Congress cut back on AIDS funding because, according to Helms, the disease allegedly “was caused by deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct.”

Gingrich’s refusal to correct—or, even condemn Helms for his statement, infuriated me. His refusal equaled assent to me. In ager, I crumpled up the newspaper, tossed it aside, and prayed, “Please let Newt Gingrich get AIDS.”

Of course, I immediately regretted it and repented of my prayer, but I held onto my vengeful feelings. Because I held on to those feelings they began to fester inside of me–I grew angry and bitter, stewing over his comments. As these feelings continued, I couldn’t listen to him on the news or read about him in the newspaper without becoming enraged. I was making Newt Gingrich into my enemy.

Over the next few weeks I realized that I readily make other people my enemy, including folks who interpreted Scripture differently from me, folks who held different political views from me and people who had made life choices different from my own. Simply put, I was developing a hard heart.  And yet, I wanted to take Jesus seriously when he said to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matt. 5:38-48).  Often Jesus’s words are given lip service but rarely practiced as if Christians mean to follow in spirit but not in daily life.

During the following Advent season I decided to practice praying for my enemies, beginning with Gingrich. I told myself that it wouldn’t cost me very much of myself—silly me, I thought wouldn’t have to open my heart too much for God to actually work in my heart. I thought this would be sly way of circumventing God and not too dangerous for me, so I launched into this discipline with bravado. Additionally, I decided to read some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s writing about loving one’s enemies. As an Anabaptist Mennonite committed to creative nonviolence, I was familiar with MLK, Jr’s writing about nonviolence and loving one’s enemies. I recalled reading the particular sermon on loving one’s enemies and I had an intuitive sense that God wanted me to re-read it.

In November 1957, King preached a sermon, “Loving Your Enemies” at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He began his sermon by emphasizing the importance of Christ’s command to love one’s enemies. “Jesus was very serious when he gave this command;” King said, “he wasn’t playing…this is a basic philosophy of all that we hear coming from the lips of our Master.” Although I might have entered into my Advent discipline with bravado and a bit of swagger, Jesus proved to not be playing with me. That first week of Advent, I resisted the discipline of praying for my enemy. As I prayed with a reluctant heart, I discovered that I resented sharing God with Gingrich. I simply did not want him to experience God’s loving presence–I did not want God to love him. I wanted to keep God all to myself.

In King’s sermon, he rhetorically asks: “How do you go about loving your enemies? I think the first thing is this: in order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing yourself.”  God was beginning to change my heart by letting me see my heart, my resistance, and my selfishness. I was beginning to analyze myself, as King suggested.

By the middle of the second week I noticed a breakthrough in my heart. I began to pay attention to Gingrich as a person and I watched and read the news with my heart rather than just my head. I imagined Gingrich as a person with hopes, dreams, sorrows, and losses rather than a one-dimensional political figure in the national media. I wondered about his family, his staff, and the people who were close to him. I began to pray for his family, that they might experience God’s presence during the Christmas season. I prayed for Gingrich and his family throughout Advent, into Christmas, and I continued praying for them until Epiphany.

Newt

Newt Gingrich

After Epiphany I assumed this spiritual practice was completed, but God invited me to continue the practice of praying for my enemies for an entire year. I chafed against this invitation but in conversation with my spiritual director my heart began to soften until I was able to surrender to this practice of praying for my enemies. God wanted to transform my heart from bitterness and hostility to generosity and compassion.

King described this heart shift as discovering “the element of good in [one’s] enemy.” In his sermon, he advises, “every time you begin to hate that person …realize that there is some good there and look at those points which will over-balance the bad points.”

I learned during the year that when I view people as my enemies, I objectify them. They no longer are persons with hearts, souls, dreams, and disappointments like myself. Instead, they become one-dimensional characters who are then easy for me to dismiss and disregard.

Jesus understood this aspect of human nature, and in response he called us to mirror God’s nature by challenging us to love our enemies rather than objectify them, leading us to hate our enemies. This attitude of love toward all, including our enemies, causes us to become like “children of our Father in heaven,” as seen in Matt. 5:45.  Praying for my enemies is a serious attempt to see my enemies as God sees them. There is a Hebrew word, chesed, that is translated as loving kindness and compassion. When I pray for others, I begin to see the world as God sees the world with this loving kindness and compassion. And when I view situations and people with loving kindness and compassion, I begin to deeply love just as God deeply loves. When I pray for my enemies I begin to reflect the nature of God.

Dr. King said in his sermon:

 … and when you come to the point that you look in the face of every [person] and see deep down within [them] what religion calls ‘the image of God,’ you begin to love [them] in spite of. No matter what [they do], you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that [they] can never sluff off. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate [them], find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.

I discovered during my year-long discipline that I began to feel more generous toward Gingrich, and my other enemies by default. I was no longer stingy with love and mercy, giving them out in measured teaspoonfuls, fearing what might happen to me if I was loving and merciful toward those who harmed me. Rather, I began to realize that with God there is more than enough love and mercy to go around for everyone and that, indeed, there is so much love and mercy within God that God blesses both the righteous and the unrighteous.

King described this love and mercy as an “overflowing love … and when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love [people], not because they are likeable, but because God loves them.”

As I prayed, I became humbled — I had to if I was to be honest with my “self-analysis.” In the midst of opening my heart to God about my enemies, pouring out my pain and anger, I became more sensitive to the pain and rage in the world around me. I discovered that it becomes difficult to honestly pray for my enemies without being reminded of how God is able to love me despite my own disobedience and insensitivity. In my self-analysis, I became grateful for God’s deep love and patience toward me.

love enemies image

After the year was over, I stopped praying regularly for Newt Gingrich—although I continued to occasionally pray for him and his family. A few years after my year of praying for him I was visiting the Mennonite Central Committee–Washington office and I learned that Gingrich and his second wife rented an apartment in the same building. I was captivated by this information. Before I left Washington, D.C. my colleague graciously showed me to the foyer outside the Gingrichs’ apartment and left me alone. In the foyer were some chairs that sat along their apartment walls and I sat down, placed my hands on their apartment walls and prayed for Newt Gingrich once again. With an honest, open heart I asked God to provide abundant love within those walls, that the former Speaker of the House of Representatives would see the world with God’s eyes, ears, and heart. And, in full sincerity, I asked God to bless him.

I’ve returned to King’s sermon this past year as I’ve listened to and read so many acrimonious responses to the election. Avoiding family members or friends who disagree with me is not the answer. Unfriending or blocking someone because of their enthusiastic support of a particular presidential candidate or party is not the way of love.

King concluded his sermon, “Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all [people], so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in your soul.”

Loving my enemies is hard work and requires a discipline of will over emotions, intentional prayer for that person, and for my own conversion of heart. Loving my enemies requires me to see the face of Jesus in the other—and this is the most challenging discipline. Praying for my enemies opens the way to loving my enemies.