a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 22, The Annunciation, Saturday, March 25, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

The Annunciation (1898), Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)

On The Annunciation:[1] O Jesus, as Gabriel, messenger of God, appeared to Your Mother-to-be, the Blessed Virgin Mary, saying, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” and proclaiming Your coming birth, may this angelic announcement rekindle my faith that You, through Your Spirit, are conceived in the womb of my soul and that, in my living and doing, I may bear the likeness of Your lovingkindness in the world. Amen.

 

Illustration: The Annunciation (1898), Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937). Of the many, nearly countless depictions of The Annunciation, I favor Tanner’s, in historical part because he is one of the first African American painters to gain international renown and in artistic part because of his imaginative visualization of the angel Gabriel not in human form, but rather as a vertical white line of celestial luminescence and of Mary with a posture and countenance that capture her wonderment in doubtful expectation.

Footnote:

[1] See Luke 1.26-38

a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 21, Friday, March 24, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

On waiting and persevering in prayer: O Jesus, Word of God, Word of Life, continuously, rhythmically, I call out, I cry out to You with every pulsation, exhalation, and contemplation; and I, as my heart for the next beat, my lungs for the next breath, my mind for the next thought, wait for You, trusting, by faith that as Your Word stands forever,[1] that as You are forever, You will answer. Amen.

Footnote:

[1] My reference to Matthew 24.35: Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.”

a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 20, Thursday, March 23, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

On the paradoxical nature and work of the Holy Spirit: O Spirit of God, by Your Presence within me,[1] I, in the flesh of my human living, the very same dust into which the Lord God breathed life at the dawn of creation,[2] the very same dust inhabited by God’s Word in Jesus,[3] have the blessing of bearing His likeness and sharing in His ministry.[4]

Still, O Spirit of God, in Your indwelling my sinful human being, You, wholly Holy, Wise, and True, inhabit what is impure, imprudent, and imperfect. A more deserving earthly house I would imagine for You, though among humankind, whether that of mine own or that of anyone, there neither is nor can be.

Thus, O Spirit of God, I pray You stay. Abide within me and, by Your continual work of sanctification, make me, day by day, more and more as You are: holy, wise, and true. Amen.

Footnotes:

[1] My reference to John 14.15-17 (my emphasis): Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” Note: The Greek word έη can be translated into English as “among” or “in”; this latter rendering I prefer.

[2] See Genesis 2.7: The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

[3] See John 1.1, 14: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

[4] My reference to 2 Corinthians 4.7: We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 19, Wednesday, March 22, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

On (re-)learning to pray: O Jesus, Your disciples bid, “Lord, teach us to pray.”[1] You answered with what, through the ages, is known as Your prayer, The Lord’s Prayer, for thus You spoke; though, surely, You did not mean it to be so-called, for in giving it to us, it is our prayer, The Disciples’ Prayer. And I am ever grateful for this, another of Your sacred offerings of gifts that continue to give. For, doubtless, the times are countless when I, in my life of prayer, have said the words, “Our Father, Who art in heaven…”

Still, O Jesus, numberless, too, are the times I yearn to bid that You, “Teach me to pray.” For oft I call out, I cry out to You with a mouth dry as a discarded potsherd,[2] with a gravelly voice laden with care whose sound I despise uttering feeble words of rote petitions and intercessions;  passionless, lifelessly ghostly orisons without pattern or purpose!

O Jesus, my spirit is willing. Thus, though weak my flesh, I sleep not, but watch with You through many a night,[3] beseeching that You teach me to pray! Teach me that for which and those for whom I am to pray! Teach me how!

O Jesus, by Your Spirit, refresh my mouth, revive my voice, renew my words! Amen.

Footnotes:

[1] Luke 11.1: (Jesus) was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John (the Baptizer) taught his disciples.”

[2] Here, I think of the language and imagery of Psalm 22.15a: My mouth is dried up like a potsherd and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.

[3] My reference to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane who, accompanying Jesus as He prayed to God, the shadow of the cross of His crucifixion looming over Him, could not fulfill Jesus’ command, “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial”, leading Him to say, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26.41, Mark 14.38).

a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 18, Tuesday, March 21, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

On waiting, doubting, and listening in prayer: O Lord, some (most? all?) of the time, when I call Your Name and wait for Your reply, sometimes patiently, sometimes not, I do not hear anything; not even Your still small Voice that, though the sheerest of silences, must, I (want to) think, bear a detectable sound. (Elijah heard it!)[1]

And I wonder: Are You there? Are You anywhere?

Or are You, Your Presence, Your Power, Your Person, only a thought that I was taught to believe, which, as ephemeral as vapor, now, as I draw e’er closer to the psalmist’s discernment of the length of years at this business of living,[2] my experience has convinced me to rule out of existence? (I confess that occasionally I allow my self this thought or rather this thought cannonades the citadel – sometimes the crumbling castle in need of shoring up! – of my faith in You, O Lord!)

O Lord, in the face of this, my wonderment, my doubt, nevertheless, within me, daily, hourly, moment by moment, I sense an urge, unquenchable and irresistible, emerging from the depths of me and rising to my conscious awareness, to call out to You.

O Lord, in this, as I continue alway to listen for Your Voice, I have learned to listen also for the echo of my voice as it grows fainter by the instant until I no longer can hear the sound of it. In this, in faith, I believe, I know that my plea has reached You. Amen.

Footnotes:

[1] I refer to God’s Word to Elijah (1 Kings 19.11-13a) (my emphasis): “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it

[2] My reference to Psalm 90.10a: The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong…

a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 17, Monday, March 20, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

When (the prodigal son) came to himself he said…“I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran and put his arms around his son and kissed him (Luke 15.17a, 18-20).

On God’s Goodness and my prodigality in prayer: O Lord, I keep comin’ back ‘round to my waywardness. For with my best intentions, I seek You in prayer, yet most often (not that I need confess this to You, for I trust You know!) I cannot stay the course. I cannot hold my thoughts together in any semblance of order. Daily distractions, try as I might to ignore them, e’en for an instant, get in my way and lead me wayward. (E’en when I try to thank You for Your boundless Goodness, verily, Your beneficent God-ness to me, I lose my way and end up beseeching You to help me to thank You!) I would fear: Dost I weary You, Lord? Yet, by faith, I believe, I trust, I know that I do not (though I oft weary my self!). For You, Who is Love, love me and delight that I come to You – whether lying down or kneeling, walking, running, or wobbling, standing or stumbling, back-or-side-stepping – just as I am without one plea.[1] Amen.

Footnote:

[1] Here, I think of the words of Charlotte Elliott (1789-1871), which, set to the tune Woodworth, is one of my favorite hymns, Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come. In this, find a stupendous mystery and miracle that God, through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, provides the “plea” for the sake of which, I, without the proverbial leg of merit or deserving to stand on, can come to the throne of mercy and grace!

meeting at the well

a sermon, based on John 4.5-42, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 19, 2017

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a religious insider, came to Jesus “by night.”[1] A Samaritan woman, a religious outsider, comes to Jesus “about noon.” In this literally night-and-day difference between a respected insider and a recognized outsider, there is an understated, yet unmistakable point about what God values. Not outward prominence, but an inward hunger to seek God’s Spirit. In God’s eyes, Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are equals.

This encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (in the spirit of equality, I identify her by her name from Eastern Orthodox tradition, Photina[2]) is a story about God who persistently, passionately looks, longs for us precisely where we are. And what an unlikely encounter! For Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, a Samaritan is a member of the wrong race; one sharing a historic enmity with the Jews, and worshiping, not in Jerusalem, but on Mount Gerizim, in the wrong place. And Photina is the wrong gender and a serial monogamist; a lifestyle at best unconventional, at worst contemptible.

The Samaritan Woman at the Well, Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Nevertheless these two implausible dialogists engage in conversation; also unlikely, for they don’t speak the same language. Jesus talks of “living water.” Photina thinks in purely physical terms, observing Jesus has no bucket and the well is deep. Nevertheless, as Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about new birth, he speaks to Photina about new life.

Photina, inquiring about the proper place of worship, still doesn’t “get” it, but she’s thinking of spiritual things. Jesus never rebukes her ignorance, rather rejoices in her interest, acknowledging her deepening reflection with this revelation: “The hour of true worship is coming, indeed, it’s here!” Photina cautiously makes a connection: “I know the Messiah is coming!” Jesus honors her dawning recognition: “I am the Messiah”, offering her the gift of new life. In joy, she receives it, becoming an evangelist, sharing this good news, bringing others to Jesus.

Deeper still, this story is about God’s inclusive love. The welcoming love, inherently mutual, of Jesus, a Jewish male rabbi, and of Photina, a Samaritan woman. Each a reflection of the “otherness” of the other. And, in the likeness of their awareness of their “otherness”, they find common ground on which to stand, bridging ancient animosities.

We, as individuals with individual histories and memories, perceptions and opinions, are always “other” to every other one of us no matter how bonded by blood or by choice, by similarity of culture and behavior, creed and belief, or any other likeness that evolves in the loving container of our relationships.

If this is true, how much more “other” is any one of us with another whose essential humanity is different in origin and orientation: cultural, philosophical, political, theological? Infinitely more.

If this is true, how much more “other” is any one of us with another who has hurt us, thus one against whom we wear the armor of resentment; perhaps bear the arsenal of revenge? Incomprehensibly more.

If this is true, how much more “other” is any one of us with parts of our personality or character we don’t like? I’m intolerant of what I consider the imperfections of others, though I’m patient with my own. And, in the expediency of the moment, I can be indifferent to the love and justice I frequently, freely profess to value. While these attitudes and behaviors arise sometimes, thus not always, their root is an internal and abiding brokenness that yields the bitter fruit of my lack of integrity.

Here’s some good news for you and for me! With the people who differ from you or me, Jesus and Photina meet us at the well. With the people who have hurt you or me, Jesus and Photina meet us at the well. With the parts of ourselves we don’t like, Jesus and Photina meet us at the well. Encountering us. Calling us into conversation, into relation with those who are “other”.

Yes, this encounter, this conversation involves the pain of acknowledging our separation from the “other” and from ourselves, the peril of attempting the miracle of dialogue with others and ourselves, the problem of acknowledging, accepting others and ourselves. Yet Jesus and Photina meet us at the well, offering, sharing the gift of living water, the grace of new life, so that we can walk away from the well as changed people able to love “the other” and ourselves.

 

Illustration: The Samaritan Woman at the Well, Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Footnotes:

[1] John 3.1-17; the appointed gospel for the 2nd Sunday in Lent.

[2] Photina, from the Greek phos, “light”, as the Samaritan woman at the well was enlightened by Jesus who promised her the gift of living water (i.e., the Holy Spirit; see John 7.37-39) and as she, as an evangelist, enlightened others, sharing the news of Jesus.