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Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Over the past few years, I have read tons of blogs, articles, and church leadership books that list reasons why churches are failing or declining. Many times they are in the format of the top 5 or top 10 reasons that people are leaving the church.

One thing I realized after a while was that reading those articles caused a bigger gap between my thinking and the thinking of the people I serve. I had to remember where my thinking was when I was a church attender before I became a leader of a church. Some of these changes in thinking would have been difficult for me too.

So I got to thinking, how can churches be led forward into their new future without having to change the things that they hold near and dear to their hearts?  The answer is –  we have to experience a better way.

It hit me yesterday when I was making this delightful black eyed pea dip from a cookbook my daughters gave me for Christmas.  The recipe called for raw corn, cut right off the cob. For my entire life, every time I have eaten corn on the cob, it has been boiled.  I had no idea you could even eat raw corn. But today, those sweet little chunks of corn, bursting with flavor amongst the black eyed peas, were so delightful and no cooking was necessary. It didn’t take anyone telling me that my way of making corn was outdated or irrelevant, but instead, I just had to experience the joy of a new way.

While I value tradition, I have realized the difference between habit and tradition.  Habit is boiling the corn without any thought about whether or not that is the best way to prepare it.  Tradition is preparing a dish that I thought my family would enjoy.

We stay stuck in church ruts because we haven’t experienced a better way.  Some of the past changes have only been different, not better.

A better way has to be one where we stop doing things out of habit and instead use the value of tradition to help us be creative and find a new way.

Contemporary worship has developed habits that bind us just as much as traditional ones have. Whatever style of worship, there are unwritten rules about what is appropriate.

So, how do we push through and find new life? I really believe it starts with an openness to trying new things. How is the fresh wind of the spirit blowing into the life of our church to make this environment one of excitement, joy, healing, and love? What happens when everyone feels safe enough to go a little outside their comfort zone?

A couple years ago, in a sermon about prayer, I changed the whole service to give everyone a chance to practice the prayers I was teaching about. Instead of the usual order of worship, I divided up the sermon into different parts with different practices of prayer after each one.  It was one of the most meaningful services I experienced there, with people praying out loud for others in the community.  The gathered community was fully engaged in the act of worship and prayer.

In a time where Christian legalism seems to dominate the news, there has to be a renewal of our hearts to set aside the habits and open ourselves up for new life. I can’t think of a better time than Holy Week for this transformation to come.

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I thought about calling this blog 50 Shades of Purple, as I think about how we sometimes use the season of Lent to punish ourselves. There can be a distinction between a healthy season of self-denial and an unhealthy time of beating ourselves up for not measuring up to some standard that may not have anything to do with growing in holiness.

This season is an invitation to enter more deeply into that healing pool of grace.  This year I am sensing a need for a kinder, gentler Lenten practice, one that will take root in my life even after the joy of Easter has arrived and this season of penitence is over.

Two years ago, I committed to a vegan diet for the season of Lent, after learning about the horrors of what God’s beautiful creatures endure in factory farms to allow us to have cheap meat.  I fasted from animal products as an act of justice.  As it turns out, I am perfectly happy substituting alt’s for blt’s (avocados for bacon), cashew or almond milk for cow’s milk, and discovering the joy of beans, rice, and a whole new world of vegetables and grains. While this may have started as a form of self-denial, it turned out to be a door to a more fulfilling world of food.

This year as I wrestle with balancing the demands of ministry with restorative self-care,  it seems that sitting with the temptations in my own wilderness is more important than having a test of willpower.  Adopting a sense of mindfulness about those things that I would like to change seems to be a more appropriate way of letting God’s love into those broken places than drawing a line in the sand and daring myself not to cross it.

While I could give up certain things, it’s more important for me to be more in touch with what unmet need those behaviors represent.  Do I watch Netlix too much because I need to have more pals to hang out with?  Do I eat too much sugar, when I am really craving a more thoughtfully planned home cooked meal?

For me,  there has to be a practice, otherwise nothing really changes. Last night at our Ash Wednesday service, we had a fire pit outside as one of a series of stations for people to experience.  The smell of the fire added a wonderful multi-sensory experience to the disposition of the ashes. We had post-it notes on a table next to the fire pit where people could write down sins or habits or other broken things that they wanted to get rid of and throw them in the fire if they wanted to.

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I tried to sum it up on a post it – (like one guy in our congregation who said he would need a legal pad) – and finally was able to articulate what exactly I wanted to get rid of.  Kind of a decluttering of the soul.  When I tossed the paper into the fire, it just sat there for a few seconds.  I actually thought that maybe this was something too big or too vague to get rid of.  But then in a couple of seconds, it was engulfed in a flame and was gone, just like that.  I felt immediately changed.

I noticed a renewed sense of peace and assurance immediately and it is still with me today.

My Lenten practice of mindfulness is to add another time of prayer in the evenings. This will be one where I review the day and plan for the next day, thinking about what I want to be and do and experience, not what I feel like are the “shoulds” on my to do list. While I have had some wonderful structured time  of morning prayer in the chapel and beautiful experiences of centering prayer in the afternoons, I haven’t prayed at night.

I’m looking forward to adding a nurturing time of prayer in the evenings in a way that lets me just sit with how things are going.

I hope that you have also found a fulfilling way to enter the wilderness of the Lenten season.

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Morning Prayer

Window of the Edge Memorial UMC Chapel

Window of the Edge Memorial UMC Chapel

The first time I ever went to a structured service of morning prayer was at Duke, at an 8 AM service using the Book of Common Prayer. While I loved the idea of it, this format of prayer didn’t always resonate with me at that particular time in my life.

Instead, the practice of centering prayer – 20 minutes of silence –  was a better fit in a time where my brain was on total overload from all that I was learning.  The quiet was a chance to let everything sink in, where the morning prayer with others was just more overload.

Now, I am sensing more of a need for structure, so I am enjoying a book that was given to me as a graduation gift called A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants.  There is a different theme every week that goes along with the Revised Common Lectionary.  I spend about 30 minutes reading the Scriptures for the day, reflecting on how they are speaking to me, and praying for the people of my church, my family, myself and others in the community.

I normally do this at home, in pj’s, with a dog curled up next to me with a cup of coffee in my hand.  But for Advent this year, I took my morning prayer time into the chapel at church and invited others to join me. While only a couple of people came, I loved the dedicated time and space for prayer and will continue to make this the way that I start my day.

There are so many demands for my time these days, it helps to begin in a great state of well being, with a clear focus.

Another resource I find myself going to every day is www.pray-as-you-go.org.  It is an audio resource with music, Scripture, and reflection.

Sometimes when people say things like, “prayer works,” I put on my skeptical face, thinking that they are going to say something like – they prayed for a parking place and then found one.

But I have to agree that prayer works.  It connects me with the divine source that puts me in touch with my true self and my true purpose.  I am strengthened for the holy work that enters my day as well as the knucklehead stuff that I have to deal with.

As I ponder the things from 2014 that I want to keep and the things that I want to let go, this one is a keeper.

 

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Loving warmth of God: redefining expectations of the holidays

Dec. 14, 2012 @ 09:44 PM

Pastor Heather Burdick, City Road United Methodist

Burdick, Heather WEB.jpg

Pastor Heather Burdick, City Road United Methodist

In this busy season, most of us have had that moment where we feel that there is something else we should be doing, but we just can’t fit it all in. This time of year brings so many expectations and sometimes we try to do it all. It’s at this point that we have to define what is most important in our lives.

The other day, I was talking to a neighbor who told that the person who lived in my house before me went all out with wonderful Christmas lights and decorations. Immediately, I felt like I was letting the neighborhood down because I’m not very good at putting up Christmas lights, so I haven’t done any outdoor decorating. Then, there was a special Christmas breakfast where I brought store bought cookies instead of making the homemade Christmas tree shaped cookies that Martha Stewart made on the Today show. This would be a good time to mention that I have yet to purchase the first Christmas gift this year or mail my first Christmas card.

In year’s past I might feel that I don’t have the “Christmas spirit” because I haven’t done all of the things that we normally think of as festive activities that mark the celebrations of Christmas. But, this year, maybe we can all redefine our priorities and realize that these are not the most important activities. While I haven’t made the time for shopping, baking and decorating, I have had time to immerse myself in a daily advent study and have spent more time reading scripture and connecting to God in prayer. I have had time to be with people and give them my unstressed and undivided attention. I have had time and resources to give to the local charities that do such meaningful work in our community.

It’s nothing new for people to have different expectations as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Before Jesus was born, people were waiting for a Messiah. Many were living in situations of injustice and darkness. Their only hope was the promised coming of the Savior of the world. While they expected someone who would be a powerful military leader who would conquer the current leaders by force, Jesus ushered in this era of peace and love in a way that was very different from what people expected. He taught by example what it looks like to love through self-giving and that being his disciple means following him in serving instead of expecting to be served. He showed us that doing the will of the Father is more important than doing what we want, but that in that obedience to God we find our ultimate fulfillment.

The joy that we celebrate this Christmas comes from finding our true, authentic identity in God, and connecting in love with all of God’s children. It inspires us to recommit ourselves to a more faithful walk in growing closer to God.

Maybe over the next week I’ll have a chance to bake those Martha Stewart cookies, put up a dazzling light display, and buy some thoughtful gifts for the people I love, but I know that the true Christmas spirit doesn’t come from any of these things. It comes from a heart filled with God’s love. My Christmas wish is that you will all experience the warmth of God’s love this season.

This is a column from the Henderson Daily Dispatch Faith section, Saturday, December 16, 2012.

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Thank you God for all of the blessing and gifts that you have given me and for all of the beautiful people who have been a part of my spiritual journey.

Thank you for my spiritual mentors, John Powers, Carolyn Sargent, Joanna Walsh, Sam Wells, Steve and Jeannie Harper, Billy Ray Jennings, Wally Cook, Jim Lake, Brinda LeBleu, Linda Tice, Isaac Hunter, Don DeBevoise, Jeff Linman, David Baxter, Rod Pinder, Mark Bates, Paul Chilcote, Sally Bates, David Harris, and Jim Mitchell who continue to shine light on my spiritual journey and guide me closer to God.

Thank you for all of my music colleagues and mentors who have helped me grow in my love of music to where I have finally found my place as a musician – in the audience!  I am especially grateful to Laszlo Marosi and Alex Jimenez for introducing me to the most beautiful orchestral music that I have ever experienced and instilled a lifelong love of it in my heart.  Thank you for my former colleagues who provide this for their students, and enrich our society by enriching their musical souls. Thank you for the organists Kraig Lenius and David Arcus who have reached a place of my soul with their music that is too beautiful to describe in words.

I am grateful to my former students, who taught me how to be a student and served as great examples of high achievement. They all live in my heart.

Thank you for all of the people who made it possible for me to study and worship and Duke Divinity School – the people who wrote recommendations, the people who gave generously in the form of gifts and  scholarships, and the professors, preceptors, administration, and staff who make it such a beautiful place to be.

I am grateful to my friends in the churches that I have belonged to and who are in school with me now.  I give thanks for their love, acceptance, friendship, and their presence in my daily life that gives me strength each day.  I am especially grateful for the FUMCO choir members, Starbucks Sisters, Señora DeLima, the Emerald Pond Bible study group, and Bridddge 2011 participants

Thank you for my ex-husband David – who called me on my religious hypocrisy and broke my heart open so that the light of God could enter it and work the miraculous healing power that has shown me the way to become a true disciple of Jesus.

Thank you for my family:  My beautiful daughters who are a delight in my life, my sister who has been with me through it all, Aunt Charlotte who taught me about love and comfort, and all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins who live such honest and authentic lives.

Thank you for the time with my parents and for the honor of being with them at the end of their lives and for the legacy of wholeness that they leave to me.  This Christmas, I have everything I could possibly want. I have so much gratitude that I can’t possibly name everyone who has touched my life.  I pray for that peace to envelop everyone who has been part of my spiritual journey and surround them with the love that brings healing to all of their hearts.

Be with us all and live in our hearts this Christmas.

Amen.

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For those patient people who endure my ramblings and read my blog regularly, you may remember that I started a series on prayer this summer and wanted to finish it with a post about praying the Psalms.  This is that post.

In my spirituality class discussion we were asked to think about how we would lead a one hour study on prayer.  I didn’t speak (shocking, I know) in the discussion, but I think the best way to learn to pray is to pray the Psalms. In them, we have examples of prayers for a wide range of emotions and circumstances, an order to stay disciplined about the practice of prayer, and a long history of people before us who have prayed them, sung them, and interpreted them for us.  Through these prayers, we grow closer to God and find the presence of God in us.

I use the lectionary to choose Psalms for my weekly Bible study at the retirement community, with the idea that if they hear it on Wednesday, it will be familiar on Sunday.  Psalms are also part of the format for prayer in the Book of Common Prayer.  In the Jewish faith, there are Psalms that are read every day. In monasteries, there is a schedule of Psalms to pray daily, so that they will all be prayed during a week.

When I started my prayer journal, I started with the first one and read one every day (until the slacker in me won out and I stopped at Psalm 78, but I have since returned to the practice). Having this prayer book right in the middle of the Bible is a disciplined way to pray daily with no need to buy a daily devotional book.

When I went through them on my own, before I studied the Old Testament in an academic setting, I would occasionally get to one that I didn’t want to pray. When you want to be in touch with the peaceful, forgiving side of yourself, how do you pray for your enemies to have their teeth knocked out of their head (Psalm 58), or pray for their destruction (Psalm 109)?  How is that uplifting?  When I asked my professor about this (Dr. Ellen Davis) she said that we have to think about who would pray that prayer.  Who is in need of justice?  Is there anyone that could be praying that prayer about us? (Yikes!)  If we look back on our life, is there a time that we needed that prayer?

When there were prayers about kings, I wondered if I should skip over those, since we don’t have kings.  But can you imagine how our political climate would be shaped by people praying FOR the success of our leaders and for them to be mindful of the poor instead of working against them and seeking the interests of the wealthy (read Psalm 72)?

In using some type of set order of the Psalms, you don’t always pray for yourself or for what you want, but are reminded to expand your view to the needs of others.

When we get to challenging passages in the Bible, a lady in my Bible study group always wants to know how those passages are interpreted at Duke.  She sees the university as a reliable, authoritative source that will provide the “right” answer.  Bible interpretation is complex, though and of course there is no “right” answer.  Part of reading the Bible is putting ourselves in the place of the divine inspiration that comes to us, unique to our life situation and experiences.  But to quote Dr. Davis, “The Bible is not idiot proof.”  People have used scripture to justify all kinds of hatred and violence.  I believe that this is why being part of a small group is so important, so that we grow in understanding. Wrestling with the scripture is a lifelong journey.

Another question that comes up is, “Does God always answer our prayers?” I read two interesting quotations on that this week.  One was from Martin Luther, saying, “Lay the need, not the solution.” When we are tempted to pray for something that is a solution, paring that request down to the need that lies within is more meaningful. For years I prayed for a partner, a soul mate and got what I asked for (well, temporarily anyway).  But that didn’t fill what I really needed.  The underlying need was to be filled by God’s presence.  As I grow closer to God, the wish or desire for a human soul mate to fill an emptiness has disappeared.

The other quotation was from Schleiermacher that said, “A prayer that wants to claim the right to be heard must not have arisen merely from superficial and transient feelings.  It must be the expression of a heart totally pervaded with its condition, a heart that knows not only in this moment, but in every moment, no other wish or desire than to obtain that for which it has prayed.”  So, don’t pray to lose weight and then go out and eat a bucket of chicken.  Instead, pray for your heart’s desire and then take every step possible to enter the work with God to bring it about.

Praying the Psalms gets us to the bare, emotional place of our deepest need and gives us permission to lay that need before God, whether it is for us or someone else. Praying them every day is taking an action to align our will with God’s will and taking steps towards all that God wants for us.

Tomorrow, I will start sharing some of my Psalm reflections on my Facebook God in the City page. I invite you to read along and share your Psalm reflections. If you aren’t a Facebook user, feel free to share your reflections as comments here.

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Praying My Heart Out

I spent a lot of time thinking about prayer this summer.  You’ll notice that I didn’t say I spent a lot of time praying – but thinking about it.  I realized that even though I have prayed throughout my life, I didn’t really know how to pray.  I even prayed to learn how to pray.

I had never gone to a prayer service until I visited Duke.  When I told my spiritual formation director this she said, “Never?!!” But I don’t remember being part of a church that offered a daily prayer service.  My first experience with it was a combination of amazing and awkward.  Awkward because I wasn’t sure when to stand, when to kneel, what page we were on, and all of that, but amazing to be in a group of people praying together words that have been prayed together for thousands of years.

When my dad died a few weeks ago, I couldn’t stop crying.  Pretty much every day I would think about something and just get all emotional.  Not that crying is so unusual for me, since I am a huge sensie. But along with it was an internal hurt that just injured me. I wondered if would be able to return to school and finish the semester or if I would have to drop out and heal.  The night before his funeral service, I picked up my daughter Brittany at the airport and the delight in being with her calmed my soul and started to heal me as soon as I saw her.  That night we slept on my cousin’s fold out couch (in the mini-mansion) and stayed up late talking. (Staying up late for me is anything beyond 10 PM).  Finally, I started getting sleepy, so we turned off the light and went to sleep.  But I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t want to keep tossing and turning and keep her awake.  I tried to pray, but couldn’t focus for very long without my mind flying off in another direction.

As I was lying there unable to sleep, I had a melody in my head from the Faure Requiem. I could hear the words in Latin, and even though I couldn’t remember what they meant, this became the soundtrack for my prayer.  I tried to pray what was in my heart, but I my mind kept drifting away.  In an effort to focus, I prayed everything I could think of that I had memorized, which pathetically is not very much, so mostly The Lord’s Prayer and my favorite line in the whole Bible “Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46.  Trying to zero in on a place of peace was kind of like Maverick trying to lock in on a MiG in Top Gun.  (Lame analogy, I know, but it’s all I’ve got). After many repetitions of these things and some teeth grinding in Latin (that’s right, I know how to grind my teeth in Latin), I finally was able to zero in on God’s peaceful presence and feel calm enough to go to sleep.

I woke up the next morning, surrounded in love from my daughter, my sister, the magic of the mini-mansion, and feeling excitement about seeing my other daughter.  Even though I was prepared for a difficult day, all I felt was joy!  Pure, extreme, soul lifting joy.  I attribute this to Sprinkles from Heaven that I blogged about a while back and the presence of God that came upon me the night before.  During the service, I was able to sing hymns joyfully and cherish every moment of the memorial for my dad (which I will write about more another time).

I looked up the words in Latin for that section of the Requiem that was in my head.  It was from Libera Me and the words in English meant:  Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them.  This is what I was praying that night with my teeth grinding, without even knowing what I was praying.

After coming back to school, I have mostly been feeling joyful, with a few bouts of random tears, but I thought I was fine.  This past Thursday, the Divinity School Choir presented the Faure Requiem during our chapel service.  Even though I had a big paper due the next day, I decided to go, especially to watch my friend Katie perform.

Before the performance, they read a litany remembering people who died.  I started to have little tearlets and of course, no Kleenex. When the music started, the tears became bigger.  When the performance was finished I tried to wait until people left for the tears that I couldn’t hold back any more, and they came out in full force. I cried with my whole body shaking and knew that this was going to take some time.  My friend Sarah sat with me and the chaplain joined us. One of the things that kept bringing the tears was thinking about the pain that both of my parents suffered toward the end of their life and wanting to be able to change that, but also thinking about the concept of eternal rest and trying to be comforted by that.

Sister Joanna told me a few weeks ago that our tears are prayers, that they are one of the most authentic expressions of our true heart to God.

In class on Friday, Dr. Davis told us that “rest has deep resonance with Biblical tradition – it doesn’t mean vacation, but life as it’s meant to be.  Life in the intimate presence of God. We can relax our guard.  Be still and know that I am God – let go and know that I am God. ”  I could finally picture my parents at rest, in the intimate presence of God.

Our last class assignment for OT 11 is a prayer journal on the Psalms, something that I actually started right after Christmas last year. Through everything, God is teaching me how to pray more genuinely and authentically every day.

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