Friday, September 30, 2011

Growing Pains

I don't know, God.
This is craziness,
this life into which
you've called me,
these continual twists & turns
through which you rebirth me.
I'm uncertain
about what it all is,
about how I'm doing
...and I'm still processing
life from three "contractions" ago,
still growing into myself in this space.
Good Lord! (I mean that in both senses.)
Should I pray to
catch up with you
in this birth experience,
or pray for peace in knowing
that you're ahead of me in the curves
beckoning through each twist and change?

Monday, September 26, 2011

God's Grace Will Outlast This Trouble (Rejoice Always)

Paul's letter to the church in Philippi is a caring "How are you?" written on paper and sent via messenger to this women-led community of faith that he is clearly so fond of. If you haven't read the whole of Philippians recently, here is the one paragraph summary of Paul's message:

"Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for worrying about me while I'm in prison. Please keep being the best church community that you can be. Trust that God is at work through you. Remember that life wasn't given to you to be easy, but also know that God is in the struggle. Understand that there are those who want to use the name of Jesus for their own gain, so be careful. Support the women who lead you, Euodia and Syntyche. Don't be discouraged; let the peace of God settle into your hearts."

Or, an even shorter summary: "How are you? I'm okay, despite everything. Are you okay? Are you taking care of each other and finding strength in your faith?"

From what we read in Paul's letter, the Philippian church doesn't appear to be experiencing a particularly aggravating internal struggle or any external persecution. Paul writes as a friend and mentor checking in on the community, just knowing from his own life experiences that sometimes life adds up and builds up to the point of boiling over...and when it does, it helps to hear a friend say, "You'll be okay, don't panic. God is here, and God's grace will outlast this trouble."

What do you need to hear, what do friends say to you when life hits saturation point? What would it take (what does it take) for you to not panic when life knocks the wind out of you? What would it take, what would you need to know to hold on to just a sliver of breathing room so that you don't feel constantly maxed out and stretched thin by life?

We could probably rattle off a list of devices and programs that are sold with the promise of improving our journey through life. We could make a long list of our own vices for coping when life presses down harder than we think we can stand. There are whole philosophies about happiness and balance. I know that a number of us learn from meditation practices and we just try to remember to breathe through the moments as they come.

Paul's response to life's pressures is "Rejoice always."

And I don't know what you think of Paul -- I'm generally not his biggest fan -- but most definitely Paul is not being glib or theoretical or cliche when he writes this, because Paul has been through some stuff! I give Paul plenty of room to be angry with God for the fact that he's in prison (again!) for talking about Jesus. I wouldn't fault him if he decided to take a hiatus from faith and ministry when I remember that, on his first trip to Philippi, Paul was arrested with Timothy for intervening to heal a slave girl; they were stripped down in the public square, beaten and whipped, and thrown in jail...which isn't a bad time in one's life to cry out, "What is up with this, God?! Where are you in all of this?" So we can trust that Paul is not being flippant when he encourages the church to rejoice always.

Still it's a daring thing to say -- "Rejoice always" .... and it's a difficult thing to hear -- "Rejoice always? I don't think so, no thank you, not today."

But here's what I think Paul knows:

When I asked earlier, "What do you need to hold on to just a sliver of breathing room so that you don't feel constantly maxed out and stretched thin by life?"....we see in the letter to the Philippians that Paul holds on to the people who care for him and encourage him, and he is reminded through their care and through their stories of growth that God isn't done.

What I asked, "What would it take for you to not panic when life knocks the wind out of you?"....for Paul, it takes knowing that God outlasts jail and God outlasts any circumstances that might temporarily bind or limit him.

I asked, "What do you need to hear when life hits saturation point?" .... When Paul's life is saturated with troubles, he repeats to himself, "This world doesn't own me. The people who are making my life hell do not own me. My citizenship, my life belong to God who can transform all things. And transformation might come today, transformation might come tomorrow, transformation might not come until after my lifetime, but God is transformative so I am at peace."

Rejoice always, rejoice!

Rejoice -- not because it's easy but because it's true.

Rejoice -- not because you're carefree but because God is caring.

Rejoice -- because there are people walking beside you, carrying God's Spirit beside you.

Rejoice -- because you don't know, you don't know how this one's gonna play out, which means that there's plenty of room for God to create a different, a transformative ending.

Rejoice always. Again, I will say, Rejoice! The Lord is near, and God's grace will outlast this trouble.

Amen.

Friday, September 23, 2011

In any case...

Ah, God, if only I could find some peace,
I swear then I would pass it on to others.

If only I could catch my breath, then for sure
I'd be more present for a neighbor, a friend.

If you'd just give me a respite first,
then I promise I'd give more, love more.

. . . No?

Is that the answer I'm perceiving
as life continues at full throttle and maximum strain?

Or am I missing your inflection of the vowel,
carried on a Spirit's whisper?

In fact, did you say "Now"?

As in, "Yes you need peace . . .
now share peace and grace with others."

As in, "Yes you must pause to catch My Breath
. . . now listen, as you pause, to those around you."

And "Yes, I am your rest, now with this rest
you have more loving to give, more giving for love."

Not "No."

"Now."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Meditating on Beauty

Perhaps the true beauty of the trees
is their willingness to obey your seasons,
to bloom & thrive for a time,
to rest & sleep for a time.
Meanwhile I scramble for time,
believe that I can manipulate it,
pretend that my body and spirit
do not need respite or rejuvenation.
For my failure to see beauty within
the movement of time, forgive me.

Perhaps the ocean captivates me because
its faithfulness to your rhythm is relentless;
storm and sand cannot distract
the ocean from your tempo.
Meanwhile I build sandcastles with moats
against even the hint of a dark cloud,
and I stubbornly dig in my heels
against the push and pull of tides.
For turning a deaf ear to the beauty
of your musical rhythms, forgive me.

Perhaps the marigold plant is resplendent
because every flower is enough,
no matter its shade of orange
or its multitude of petals.
Meanwhile I am restless and unsatisfied,
certain that I could do better
that I could be better
that i could do and be more.
For lacking trust in your incarnate beauty
within all of life, forgive me.

A prayer-writing prompt for you: "On the beauty of your holiness and on your wonderful works, I will meditate" (Psalm 145:5). In your written prayer, praise God for the beauty of an object, an interaction, a moment that caused you to catch your breath and offered a glimpse of God's beauty to you.

If you would like to receive a prayer-writing prompt each Friday in your email, go to rachelhackenberg.com and sign up on the
Contact page.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Writing to God" on God Complex Radio

Check it out! My interview with Carol Howard Merritt and Landon Whitsitt, about Writing to God: 40 Days of Praying with My Pen.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Stretching

It feels like a luxury
to remember
that You are in this day
long before my toes
stretch off the bed
to touch the carpet;
an indulgence
that means
I don't have to
charge into this day
to create it --
You already have!
(Thank goodness.)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Religion's Demons (James 1:27)

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:27)

To care for orphans and widows in their distress...
...or to blame the hungry and red-tape food stamps.

To love neighbors as we love ourselves...
...or to harbor suspicions of the "other" and tell lies about fairness.

To be generous to the stranger and the worker...
...or to wield money and power in defense of "ours".

Ah, God, how you must judge us -- and rightly so -- for our contortions of religion and our abuses of faith. Religion is naught but a weapon in the politicking for power, a language for other-ing and one-upping, a self-righteous reason not to care or understand. Not even the "spiritual but not religious" can pass your judgment; their worship of individualism and personal epiphany reveals just another form of ego-driven religion. Surely you have thrown up your hands over religion and given us up to our mockeries of faith...

...and yet I love religion dearly. Ack, what a quandary within me! I love religion's pursuit of understanding the divine (when it remembers to pursue rather than indoctrinate). I love its questions of mortal purpose and meaning, and its challenge to be defined by the Other. And I love its calling to community (although too often we never get past the calling to the embodying).

Do not abandon religion, please God, even though it has abandoned you. Instead, shake every foundation upon which we have built religious laws and idols. Disrupt our assumptions of one another; even more, disrupt our assumptions of the Holy. Tear down our Tower of Babel, stone by stone, until politicians have no religious rhetoric to shroud their lies; until phrases of faith are no longer code for hatred; until scriptures cannot be manipulated into documents for war. Indeed, strike us altogether mute about faith, so that our religious convictions can only be understood by our actions -- for better or worse -- and our gods are revealed by our deeds to be the demons they truly are.

If you would like to receive prayer-writing prompts via email every week (like the prompt that inspired this prayer), go to rachelhackenberg.com and fill out the contact form.