Sunday, March 31, 2013

Learning to Pray

I grew up in a church tradition that eschews liturgy. The actual reasons for this philosophy are many, but the main argument I always heard growing up (not from my parents, more from other church members) was that liturgy is bad because it causes people to "just go through the motions." When you recite certain prayers or Scriptures at appointed times, it becomes empty. It's better to pray in your own words "from your heart."

This always struck me as a bit hypocritical, seeing as we had no problem singing songs written by others. It seemed to me that "going through the motions" could happen no matter what worship style you ascribed to. And, in fact, many of the prayers I heard Sunday after Sunday sounded rather, well, scripted. People used the same phrases over and over again. If I ever prayed in public (which was somewhat rare, given my gender) or even in front of close friends or family, I felt the need to utilize these phrases and style.

As I've gotten older, my ideas regarding the purpose of prayer have changed. I struggle a lot with the questions of what I should be praying for, why God will answer one prayer and not another, and what tone I should have in prayer (reverent? familiar?). I still don't have answers to my questions, but I do know that the prayers I grew up hearing and saying don't fit with my newer conceptions of the purpose of prayer. When I pray, the old words come out, and they sound so false to me now. So I've found myself slowly distancing myself from prayer. I can't seem to pray in a way that's authentic to me, so I just don't pray. I really don't like this, because I do feel like prayer is an important spiritual discipline and that we don't have to understand it completely to practice it. It's mystical nature is part of its very design, I'm sure.

Wanting to redevelop the discipline, I decided to ask for a book for Christmas, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime, edited by Phyllis Tickle. This book is based on the early Christian and monastic tradition of praying set prayers at various times of the day. Each day has texts for the morning, midday, vespers (evening), and compline (just before bed) offices. The texts include Psalms, other readings from both the Old and New Testament, and prayers (most from The Book of Common Prayer, but some from other sources).

I decided to start slowly and only observe one office per day (whichever was most convenient that day). If I am at home at other times, I try to do more than one, but I figured if I started out with all 4, I'd just give up. I've been using the book since February, and I've really enjoyed it. It's nice for me to have some structure to my prayer time. And I really appreciate the beauty of the prayers. It seems strange to me that we will readily admit that some people are better teachers, singers, writers, etc., than others. But we don't consider that some people might be better prayers. I enjoy praying the prayers of others who are able to express what I'm thinking in a more eloquent way. And, surprisingly, I've found that I'm more likely to pray spontaneously on my own now. I really do feel like this practice is re-teaching me how to pray.

One of my goals for myself personally and for my future family is that we would observe traditions related to the church calendar. I find it meaningful to know that I am participating in something that has been practiced by Christians for centuries and is currently being practiced by Christians all over the world. I have been following my book's special section for Holy Week, and I've felt that this has been one of the most meaningful Easters I've ever celebrated. I attended a Good Friday service for the first time, and I was really moved by the symbolism and history behind it. I feel like, as a person who really loves structure, tradition, and routine, liturgy is hugely helpful for my spiritual life.

Here are some of my favorite prayers from the book:

(each morning) Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen. 

(at bedtime) Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen. 

Heavenly Father, in you I live and move and have my being: I humbly pray you so to guide me and govern me by your Holy Spirit, that in all cares and occupations of my life I may not forget you, but may remember that I am ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

The Gloria: Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, so it is now and so it shall ever be, world without end. Alleluia. Amen. (I can't really explain why this prayer moves me so much. I just find it incredibly beautiful.)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Our last big snow (I hope)

According to the news, we got 11.5 inches of snow last night. Quite a shock after spending five 70-degree days in Texas. I'm sooo ready for spring, but I must admit it's pretty. Classes were cancelled, but I don't have any classes on Mondays, so it's just a regular day for me. I'm grateful I don't have to get out in it until this afternoon. I'm also extremely grateful to Darby for spending an hour shoveling our driveway and sidewalk this morning. If I had had to do it, I'd probably still be out there!

Maybe should have brought the patio furniture in for the winter. Oops!

Friday, March 22, 2013


Remember how I was all proud of myself for being so patient about this whole job search thing? Well, yeah, that's out the window. :) As our expected moving date creeps closer, it's getting harder and harder to be ok with not knowing where we're going. Due to a coincidental convergence of events, it seems like much of my life is waiting now. And I'm getting tired of it!

Two Sundays ago, the sermon at our church was all about taking advantage of where you are now and not wishing your life away. This is something I have always struggled with, especially in the last two years or so. I do want to enjoy the present moment, and there are a lot of good things about my life right now, but it's so hard not to wish I were on to the next phase. Have any of you struggled with this? How do you live in the present while still making plans for the future? What do you do to distract yourself while you're waiting?

Sunday, March 03, 2013

January/February Books

I didn't read very much in January and got kind of behind on my posting, so I decided to combine January and February's books into one post.

The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
This was another book I downloaded to Kindle and then forgot what it was about before beginning to read it. Turns out, it's a memoir of a young mother who is diagnosed with breast cancer. Perhaps not the best choice to read at this time of my life, but it was so good that it made the difficulty worth it. Primarily, the book focuses on the author's relationship with her father, who is also battling cancer. "The middle place" refers to that stage in life when you are an adult and have children of your own to take care of but you still feel like you need your parents to take care of you. It was touching and hilarious, and the family dynamics were very relatable. Highly recommend.

A Single Thread by Marie Bostwick
This was a sweet, if somewhat trite, book about a woman who begins a new life in New England after her divorce. She opens a quilt shop and befriends a group of women who help her as she gets treatment for breast cancer (surprise! it's everywhere...sigh), and, in the meantime, work out their own problems. While the friendships between the women were touching, the book was a bit to predictable and preachy.

Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit by Francis Chan
This was the third and final of the free Francis Chan books. As with the other two, I was a bit underwhelmed. I guess I'm just not a Francis Chan fan. I did like one point he made about how people get caught up figuring out "God's will" for their life in terms of the next 10 years, when usually we need to think about God's will for our life in terms of the present moment. 

The Search for Major Plagge: The Nazi Who Saved Jews by Michael Good
This was the fascinating true story of the author's search for the Nazi officer who was in charge of his mother's Lithuanian work camp and who his mother and others credited with saving their lives. I didn't know a lot about this particular part of WWII history and it was fascinating. As usual, I was so impressed by the tenacity of those in the labor camps. This book also brings up a good point about what it means to be a hero. Does one have to give up everything, including his or her life? Or can relatively small actions, but ones that others are too afraid to do, really make a difference?
Life from Scratch by Melissa Ford
This novel about a blogger who finds herself through cooking was an enjoyable read. But, the fact that it was fiction and not memoir made me like it less than Julie and Julia, which it seemed partly modeled on.

I'm taking a class on children's literature this semester that requires a lot of reading. I've really enjoyed being introduced to quality children's literature. I won't share all of the picturebooks I read, but I will share the young adult books. 

Saving Sky by Diane Stanley
This was a thought-provoking story set in an America in which the terrorist attacks continued after 9/11, and anti-Arab sentiment reached levels comparable to anti-Japanese sentiment during WWII. A young girl and her family choose to help one of her classmates. 

Honeybee by Naomi Shihab Nye
This was a great collection of poems and short prose. Honestly, it seemed just as appropriate for adults as children. I was first introduced to Nye's work at ACU. One of my professors really admired her, and she even came to do a reading on campus. She is hilarious and scathing (often at the same time) and eloquently captures the experience of growing up Arab-American in Texas (she's from San Antonio).

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
I absolutely loved this memoir of a girl who was 4 years old when she and her family were forced to flee their home when Israel occupied the West Bank. It was a great window into the Palestinian experience, of which I was virtually clueless. Highly recommend.

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
This was my first graphic novel, and it was easier to follow than I anticipated. It was a darkly funny story about a teenage girl who is haunted by the ghost of a girl who died 90 years earlier. Despite the somewhat strange premise, it's basically a story about the teenage tension between being true to yourself and fitting in. I'm a little too far removed from high school angst (thank goodness!) to be totally captivated by the story, but it was a fun little read.