Prayer

On the sidewalk, he talked to many people

                But they were not to be seen.

As he approached me, I wondered,

                Does my “here” exist for him?

But he spoke to me as to those other –

so I am real,

I guess.

And the King of Austria introduced himself

To me

And me to his own cloud of witnesses.

People who were there for him if not for anyone else.

He talked to me and to them in turns.

                Seeking help and advice and counsel from us all.

At times I could not keep up, but as time went on

                It was no longer strange, or weird, or uncomfortable

                Instead, it was what it was:

Prayer.

                I’ve been asked to explain it, teach it even.

                                But had I ever really lived like someone whose whole life was prayer?

                I held the door open a little longer than usual as he/they left

                Just to be certain they all went with him.

                But when the curtain, the door closed

                                Between us

                                It might just have been that

                                                One or two

                                Stuck around

                Just waiting for me to pray.

Lent 2020 – A Prayer

ashwednesdayLord, as your children, we gathered together and received the reminder of being dust and returning to dust. Do you remember the sight of your children with the smudges of ash on their foreheads? Do you recall the fervor that we entered into a season of turning around, being ourselves in your presence, and promising changes in our lives for good? Do you remember, Lord.

We do. We remember. Many of us can still feel the grit on the ash falling upon our eyelashes. We can recall blinking back tears brought by the invasion of a mark from you that we were freely accepting. We can remember looking at one another – side by side – and wondering if the cross we wore was as neat and tidy as the one we saw on our sister or brother. We remember.

But now we are a lifetime away from a night that was only a fortnight ago. And our eyes blink again, and we feel the grit of an invisible invader bearing down upon us. We long to travel together into this unknown time of change and growth, but our love for your commandment to love one another forces us to chose to be on our own. We wish we could covet the sight of a dirty forehead, of a hundred dirty foreheads of your children together with us.

In this season of Lent 2020, our vision is not perfect and our way is completely unknown. Like the children of Abraham, we find ourselves wandering in a wilderness full of the knowledge of your mercy and shuddering with confidence in your wisdom. It is doubtful, Lord, that we will forget these days of being apart. We pray that we will use them to turn both to you and to our neighbor who may need more than we do. You gave us this season, and the world gave us a reason to lean into the faith for which we lowered our foreheads for a map.

This cross we carry in Lent 2020, is one that we know that you have already borne. These steps we take, we know are on a road you have already walked.

Give us the courage to look to the very hills around us for our help. May they remind us that our help comes from the one who made not just the hills, but the earth, the heavens, and all of creation. You, O God, are our help.

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And when we step forth from this journey – crossing whatever river lies ahead us – may we do so with the joy of those who know the presence of Christ’s victory over death. May we step from this journey to celebrate with one another the calling you have placed upon us to be in this time, and every time those who are clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. May we bear one another with love and may we see your very face in the ones we seek to love.

We pray this as those whose only hope is your grace, your mercy, and your faithfulness. We pray as your children who walk through Lent to be changed.

Amen.

 

Prepare

I sat alone in the cathedral after a long day of visiting the campus. Yeah, I know that because it is a Protestant building it is called a Chapel, but when you are in it calling it a chapel is like calling the Empire State Building a tent. It just doesn’t capture the immensity of the structure. Doesn’t come close to the holiness. Whatever it was, I sat there tired and either prayed or thought, not sure which.

Then and now, I sometimes have trouble telling the difference between praying and thinking.

Prayer for me has always had little bit to much gray matter involvement. I would love to be one of those people who always seem to be able to let the Spirit pour into them and through them as their words rise up to God’s ear. Instead, the synapses will always start firing inside my noggin and I would “think” to God. I am communicating with God so I always count it as prayer.

It’s not always that way though.

There was the time I held my youngest daughter’s head for the first time. (Yeah…just her head, but don’t worry, it will make sense in a few.) It was before she was even born. (I’m not doing very good clearing this up…) Okay, the most precise way to say this is that it was immediately before her birth. the nurses had underestimated the progress of my wife’s labor but after our first child I had picked up a couple of important clues from the woman I love. One of the most important was the moment when she went from labor to transition. On her, it was like a switch going off deep inside her and involved her whole body and face. I knew it the instant I saw it. There were labor pains (that we had been dealing with all day) and then without much warning there was this “Okay, this baby is getting out of my body right now and nothing short of God is gonna make me stop pushing and even if God does show up God had better have a Plan B that works” kind of focus on her face.

I pushed the button to call a nurse and they were quick to respond. When she came in I said, “I really believe she is in transition and needs to push.” She smiled and said, “Let me check things out but after only a quick peak she started hitting other call buttons, turning on lights and said, “I will get the doctor right now. You get her to breath instead of push.”

I would have rather tried to blow back a freight train, but I did my best.

It wasn’t long till a lot happened all at once. More lights were turned on, the room got crowded with equipment dropping out of the ceiling and being pulled from the walls, and a doctor came in and stood between my wife’s legs. It was a blur of activity. the doctor was struggling to get his gown and gloves on when I heard him say, “Dad. I need your help here. I need you to do us all a favor.”

“Ok.” was the best I could muster.

“Put your hand down here and hold your child in a moment while I get ready to catch. Can you do that?”

That was a moment the synapses didn’t fire. I just prayed. I did what I was told but when my bare fingers touched that wet mound of baby hair there was a groan rising up out of me that just was not from me. I’m sure it wasn’t audible. The room was full of medical people and I’m certain if they had heard it, I would have become “patient” instead of Dad. But my heart felt it and I knew that God heard it.

It was prayer as I’ve never prayed before.

When I said, “Thanks,” after the doctor took over for me, I was disappointed when I heard him say, “Thank-you” back to me. I honestly expected a thundering “You are welcome, my child” to fill the room. I knew to whom I spoke even if the doctor didn’t.

I also recall a time when someone very dear to me was on the verge of dying. My brain could not wrap around the concept of her leaving, especially at such a young age. My heat couldn’t contain the grief that I knew would flood over others who were even closer to her. Nothing fired between my ears but somehow or another I heard myself start to hum. It was a stupid tune given the gravity of the situation and the noise of the life sustaining equipment running in the room: “I sing the body electric. I glory in the glow of rebirth…” I knew I was just humming the tune but the words hung in the air all around me and it felt more like a prayer than anything else at the moment. Weird, out-of-place, poorly timed prayer, but prayer nonetheless. I was actually relieved when someone in the room said, “Stop that. No music. I can’t take music right now.”

They had no idea that I was praying. I barely knew that I was praying. Truth be told, in the face of this very unfair death playing out before me, I couldn’t handle even thinking about praying.

So I was relieved to be able to stop.

Prayer still is a funny thing for me. It was that day I sat in Duke Chapel years before either of these other more spiritual moments in life. My prayer that day was my normal think-through of a conversation with God.

Duke ChapelIs this the place God wanted me to go to and prepare to be a pastor? Was Duke the right fit for me to learn about sharing life and death moments with people I would meet later in churches? Would this place shape me the way I needed to be shaped and molded? And God forbid, would they really be able to teach me? Could they reach down to my level in such a way that I would actually learn here?

Somehow through all the firing of neurons in my brain a peace over me in that giant space. I was still thinking. It wasn’t a “Aha, this IS it” sort of peace but more of a “Do you really think I’m the kinda God who wouldn’t be here? I’m mean, look at this cathedral they built me, Scott!”

I laughed out loud at that thought and knew without any doubt that The Divinity School was the place for me. I figured if God didn’t know it was just a Chapel, even my “in my brain God,” I’d do just fine.

We’d do just fine.

And we did.

 

Peace!!

Pray before you post…

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place
where he could be alone in prayer.
Mark 1:35 (CEB)

Okay, we live in an age of where connecting with one another is as easy as taking a phone out of your pocket. Because of that, and because of social media, I sometimes think I know more about what is going on in my children’s lives now than I did when they were living at home. I also know that the house is a bit more quiet than it used to me, however, I am almost certain that our two cats are attempting to make up for that by fighting more often and more loudly. At the same time, I realize that Pam and I have much more time to just sit, talk and reconnect.

I’ve been at this “empty nest” thing for over a year now and truthfully, it hasn’t been all that bad. I miss my girls…but we are still connected. I loved watching them grow up…but now I am so very proud of all that they are becoming as young adults that I hardly notice.

And then there’s that time that Pam and I have to just reconnect as a couple. That’s nice, to say the least. It’s also crucial to any relationship.

Jesus took time away from the crowds that needed his teaching and healing and tried to find a place where he could connect again with the Father. Jesus walked away from his responsibility of leading the disciples so that he could spend time with the Father in prayer. Jesus was fully human and fully God and yet, and yet, Jesus found it absolutely necessary to take time to be alone with God.

I wonder how many times we have said, “Oh, I’ll have time for that later…” or let interruptions (cue the fighting cats) get in the way of our time to spend with God the Father.

So much of what ails our society today could be helped greatly with more Christians taking more time to just pray. It would cut down tremendously on the amount of time they spend finding things that make them angry and give responses before thinking about how those responses look in light of the Kingdom of God.

So much of what ails our society today could be helped tremendously if more Christians would take more intentional time to stop “doing things” and just spend time in prayer. Perhaps there, they would reconnect with the very Creator of the Universe and realize that there is not one single person in the world today that this Creator does not love.

So much of what ails our society today could be helped if Christians spent more time alone – empty nesting it – with God. Their relationship with God would grow stronger. They would know God better and in the process they would know themselves better. When we work on our identity as it stands with God, there is much less chance that we would seem one way one moment and another way the next.

Over the past month, I watched the horror of white supremacy raise its ugly head again in Charlottesville. And then I watched as white privilege tried to explain it all away. And then I watched people engage in battles of words that tore apart even more of the wasting fabric of humanity that we have left in this world.

And there is only one thing I wanted to do. I wanted to take everyone I could and say, “Hey, do you think we could pray for a while? Just take some time and pray for a bit? You know, reconnect with God the Father, Jesus the Savior, and the Holy Spirit a while?”

The Son of God did it…I can’t think of any good excuse for us NOT to do so.

Take A Breath: Reflecting on Two Conferences (Guest Post)

The following post is by my daughter Erin Sears. Erin just completed her sophomore year at Marshall University. She is spending this week at the West Virginia Annual Conference both as a member of our General Conference delegation and a member of the communications team. Although the feelings and opinions are hers, I just happen to agree with them. She has a good message here.

Erin pauseOn Tuesday of this week, overwhelmed with preparations for Annual Conference, I set out for an afternoon walk around the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College. A rain storm changed my plans, and I shortly found myself nestled in the quiet of the Meditation Chapel. For the first time all week, I allowed my mind to wander and settle into the familiar thoughts that seemed to consume me these days.

The thoughts began a year ago this week when the 2015 West Virginia Annual Conference elected me as a part of the delegation to General Conference. As I sat in the Meditation Chapel, I remembered those moments as if they were yesterday. I had been filled with awe at first because the people of West Virginia had affirmed the calling I felt from God last year at Annual Conference. However, the awe was tainted ever so slightly with fear. I wondered if I would be able to handle the enormous responsibility of being a delegate to General Conference.

The emotions of last year’s Annual Conference faded away.

My mind jumped to this past January, when I held the Advance Daily Christian Advocate, the workbook for General Conference, in my hands for the first time. I was oddly giddy for a college student who had just received an additional thousand-page reading assignment for the spring semester.

The work of General Conference seemed real for the first time. It was not just talking anymore. That first night I spent hours skimming through the various petitions and resolutions. My excitement faded, and anxiety crept back into place, again. The deadline that once seemed so far off started rapidly approaching.

As I digested petitions and resolutions, I began to worry I lacked all the knowledge I needed to make the right decisions for the global church. I felt backbreaking pressure about the importance of each decision.

The anxiety and pressure remained with me when I arrived in Portland, Ore., for General Conference. The time was now for the United Methodist Church to show its true self. Each decision we the delegates made could define us, the church.

My mind raced through the events that unfolded over the course of General Conference. I was so overwhelmed by emotions that I did not know what I felt. Each day was an emotional rollercoaster. One moment I experienced pure joy. The next, devastating sadness.

Fast forward to this week.

I could not focus on my emotions anymore. Instead, my mind turned toward the decisions that the delegation was preparing to report at Annual Conference. A long list scrolled through my mind – the bishops’ proposal, episcopal tenure, Imagine Abundant Health, withdrawal from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice – and anxiety overtook my confused emotions. I wondered how the Annual Conference would handle the news of all the decisions from General Conference and how they would see me afterward.

Would the Annual Conference, still see me as a young lady called by God?

As I wondered, I looked around the Meditation Chapel. My eyes drifted towards the stained glass window beside my seat. I was taken back by the sight in front of me. I had placed my full water bottle in window sill when I had walked into the room. Etched across the tumbler was the General Conference logo “Therefore Go.” The logo pointed directly to the cross.

Then I realized that I must go and set aside my anxiety and be filled with the living water Christ offers.

That living water began to flow through me as glimmers of hope from General Conference emerged in my mind.

After one intense session, I walked into the hallway on the brink of tears. Someone gently ushered me toward Bishop Larry Goodpaster, one of the several bishops offering prayer outside the plenary hall in the Oregon Convention Center. As Bishop Goodpaster poured out a prayer, I felt God’s presence enfolding me and filling me with love and hope.

Another glimmer of hope: During legislative committee, my group spent time seeking to understand one another and the various contexts of our ministries. The dynamic of our conversations about petitions changed because of this process. Although we did not all agree, we worked respectfully with one another and left continuing to develop relationships with one another in spite of our division.

Yet another glimmer of hope: One morning, I met a fellow delegate while in line at the coffee shop inside the convention center. As we worked our way up to the front of the line, we shared a little bit about ourselves. He offered up encouragement that I needed to hear that morning and graciously bought my coffee.

Even in the mess of emotions of General Conference, God kept showing up like a breath of fresh air.

However, my anxiety had covered up those movements of the Spirit. I allowed something other than Christ to consume me. When I laid that down at the cross, I was refilled with something greater and more satisfying than that which consumed me – the living water of Christ.

May it be so with us.