…a place of peace and Presence by the sea
“Awakening to Beauty, Falling in Love with the World”
Focus: “Divine beauty shimmers and shimmies through the universe and in every barrio where someone is singing or weeping. Because of beauty, our spirits are enlivened.” – Wendy Farley
Music: The Well (by Casting Crowns) -Michelle Currie
Threshold Moment: (Video)
Call To Worship:
Leader: A love that never ceases,
All: A creativity that designed the universe,
Leader: A hope that cannot be quenched,
All: A pursuit of reconciliation no matter the cost:
Leader: These are the things that are of God,
All: Then let us worship God.
Divine Goodness, Holy One,
Pause us for this moment,
bear us up in this time,
hold us for eternity.
We open to your warming presence.
We remember we came from you.
We affirm all beings are your beloveds.
And all the people say, “Amen.”
Scripture: Psalm 147:1-11 (Video)
Sermon: “Prayer Changes” — Stephen Fox
Contemplative Moment: (Video)
Music: Anthem (by Leonard Cohen) -Michelle Currie
Musical call to Prayer: (two times) Hush now in quiet peace, be still your mind at ease. The Spirit brings release, so wait upon the Lord.
Prayers of the People:
Closing Music: The Well (by JJ Heller) -Michelle Currie
The world is so varied and beautiful.
Seek wisdom wherever it is to be found.
And may the goodness of the Creator,
the companionship of the Christ,
and the insight of the Spirit,
infuse your life now and always. Amen.
Postlude: Go In Peace
For the Week Ahead:
With each week’s message, we will find a way to integrate contemplative practices into our daily lives as a way of opening to the Divine in deeper ways, thereby training our spirits for compassion in all things. This week’s ritual action could include journaling –take a moment each day to contemplate your own healing process. Or it could be a contemplative moment of fixing something you’ve been putting off for a time. Does something need some super-glue or spackling or mending? If so, do this with a prayerful intention. You may want to put a note somewhere in a highly-visible place–“Find beauty within the imperfections of life and accept peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay. Be reminded to offer grace for imperfections… for the beauty of the earth.”
Psalm 147: 1-11
How good it is to praise our God!
[It is a pleasure to make beautiful praise!] (a)
YHWH rebuilds Jerusalem,
and gathers Israel’s exiles.
God heals the brokenhearted,
and binds up their wounds.
God knows the number of the stars
and calls each one by name.
Great is YHWH, and mighty in power;
there is no limit to God’s wisdom.
YHWH lifts up the oppressed,
and casts the corrupt to the ground.
Sing to our God with thanksgiving;
sing praise with the harp to our God—
who covers the heavens with clouds,
who provides rain for the earth,
who makes grass sprout on the mountains
and herbs for the service of the people,
who gives food to the cattle,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
God does not thrill to the strength of the horse,
or revel in the fleetness of humans.
YHWH delights in those who worship with reverence
and put their hope in divine love.
The year is 1955.
I’m four years old and my mom is in the hospital.
I am kneeling bedside, saying my nightly prayer under the watchful eye of my grandmother.
The prayer is a familiar one, and I recite it for you now.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
This was my introduction to prayer, and indeed, one of my earliest childhood memories.
Upon reflection, I think it is a remarkably awful prayer.
Think about the phrase: If I should die before I wake… My four-year-old mind says, “ You mean there’s a good chance I won’t survive the night?”
Is his the sort of comforting message for a four year old whose mother is hospitalized? It was not comforting to me.
This prayer for children was first published in an essay by a Joseph Addison, which appeared in The Spectator in the year 1711. It quickly found its way into the New England Primer, the first reading primer published in the American Colonies. The primer was rife with religious, Puritan maxims expressing a strong disapproval of childhood. Children were seen as existing only in relation to parents and God. This prayer served as a confusing, if not frightening introduction to my spiritual life.
When asked about my religious heritage, I tell people my father was Catholic, my mother Lutheran, so naturally I was raised Presbyterian.
For most of my childhood I attended a Presbyterian church with my mother and sister while my father attended mass. When, at the age of 4, I was in the care of my paternal grandmother, I was taken to Mass pretty much on a daily basis.
My memories of attending church as a child are hazy. Mass was incomprehensible, with much standing, kneeling and sitting at odd times and for no discernable reason. When I was with my mother and sister at the Presbyterian service, although the I understood the language, I recall the formulaic and robotic recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, which carried little meaning for me.
This background could only have added to my confusion.
My family did not have a prayer life with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at which time the responsibility of providing a prayer fell on my uncertain shoulders. I vividly recall my complete inability to express a thought appropriate to the occasion or summon forth simple words of gratitude to share at the dinner table. The embarrassment was painful. When I did pray, my childhood prayers, and I believe they echoed the prayers I heard from adults, were ego driven, imploring God to provide me with the things I wanted.
Sadly, my experience with prayer failed to improve as a young adult when I began to attend a Lutheran church. My adult self talk about prayer was little changed from that of childhood and went something like this:
“Prayer is hard. I don’t have the right words. When I pray I sound stupid and needy. Why would God listen to me?”
To make matters worse, it was about this time that the events of 9/11 occurred, and the response of my church to this tragedy was to pray to God for protection from and destruction of the enemy. These prayers seemed to me to be antithetical to what Jesus taught. I was disillusioned, and I felt spiritually bereft. I left the church shortly thereafter.
These stories I tell you to illustrate that my child and early adulthood experiences with prayer were aversive. I viewed prayer as unproductive, ineffective and unrewarding, a waste of time. As a result, my relationship with church and prayer for many years thereafter can best be described by one word: Avoidance.
I didn’t return to church until Easter Sunday, 2013, here at Union Church in the company of my girl friend and now also my wife Patricia. The warm welcome we received here coupled with the discovery of a different way to experience God is one of the great blessings of my life. I began to sense that prayer could be something else beside a collection of words whose meaning is lost in a formulaic recitation. Prayer can be thoughtful, reflective, an inquiry, sometimes even a struggle with God, but most of all, an open door to being present with God.
Earlier I spoke about the lack of meaning the Lord’s Prayer held for me as a child. That the Lord’s Prayer can be an active and personal involvement with God was eloquently demonstrated in a sermon shared one Sunday morning by Bob Sherman. In that sermon, Bob uses the Lord’s Prayer as a way of dialoging with God. Bob struggles with God. Bob challenges God. Bob asks some hard questions of God and of himself. Bob’s sermon, his dialogue with God, gave me a deeper appreciation for the Lord’s Prayer and more importantly provided a radically new way to experience the process of prayer.
Thank you Bob.
Over the past few years, more doors have opened. Paula referenced Henri Nouwen in a sermon and recommended his writings for a meditation I did a while ago. In his book Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, Nouwen defined prayer this way: “Prayer is wasting time with God.” This notion certainly conflicted with my long held assumptions about prayer, namely: prayer must be productive. If I am not expressing the correct thoughts, using just the right words, if nothing tangible is accomplished, I am wasting my time, and that’s not OK.
Nouwen goes on to write “prayer is being unbusy with God instead of being busy with other things. I found this wonderfully freeing. I don’t have to do anything! I don’t have to come up with just the right thoughts, expressed in just the right way. I don’t have to please God or anyone else. What a relief! Prayer needs to be nothing more than hanging out in God’s presence. It sounds so simple, yet I find it takes practice.
One of the blessings of this COVID stay at home mandate has been the opportunity for Patricia and I to begin that practice through a regimen of daily meditation by joining an online meditation group. Interestingly, my self talk around meditation mimicked that I had concerning prayer. I thought: It’s too hard, it won’t help, I won’t be successful. The woman leading our group offered encouragement by saying that meditation is a practice and that it requires practice. She recommended starting slow, and with no expectations, but to be consistent with a daily practice. Our practice focuses on learning to be still, both physically and mentally. As Nouwen said, being unbusy with God, instead of being busy with other things, like problem solving or planning. It’s about doing nothing, it’s about wasting time with God.
Back in the day when I provided counseling in person, face to face, instead of via Zoom, I was sitting with a man, in his 50’s, the son of a pastor, who shared with me that he had only recently learned to pray. He talked about learning to be silent and simply letting his feelings guide him into prayer, what he called a “prayerful state”. I asked him what the difference was between prayer, meditation. He quickly and emphatically said that there was no difference.
I believe that whenever I hear the word meditation I can substitute the word prayer, and vice-versa. They are two words for the same phenomenon.
The title of this talk is “Prayer Changes”. There are two meanings to the title for me: the first being the change in how I experience and participate in prayer, and the second being how prayer changes my spiritual life. I believe the first meaning, the change in the process of prayer needed to precede the second meaning, the positive effects of prayer on my life.
This is my reflection of my own relationship with prayer, how it has changed from my first experience with prayer bedside with my grandmother to a deeper spiritual awareness here at Union Church and through our meditation practice. I invite you to take a moment and identify your first experience with prayer. Take some time to trace your history of your relationship with prayer.
Waste some time in the presence of God.
Searching for Beauty: A Time for Children
Invite children to find something that has a crack in it or an imperfection of some kind. We are being reminded this summer how beautiful the world is and everything and everyone in it. In our “search for beauty” today we are looking for an object that is broken or imperfect. How can something broken be beautiful?
This week the Bible tells us that God takes care of broken things. Can you see something that is broken around you somewhere? Let’s find something right now. Do you see something?
I want to teach you a fun word today. It is a Japanese word, “wabi-sabi.” What a fun word. And what it means is also really wonderful. Wabi-sabi is the idea that everything is beautiful, even things that are imperfect–things that might have been broken or made in an unusual way. In fact, this Japanese idea says that imperfection or out-of-the-ordinary makes things more interesting and special. There is also an ancient art of repairing broken things with gold. That’s called “kintsugi.” Instead of hiding the cracks, gold is put there to show us the beautiful design that the crack made.
Have you ever had to put a bandaid on a cut or have you, or someone you know, ever broken a bone and had to wear a cast? We love to color on casts or wear bandaids that are colorful and fun. You are invited to journal a bit or create a picture with colors, writing your thoughts about the broken parts of life that you’d like God to help you see as opportunities to be changed and seen as beautiful. The beauty of life includes all things. Let’s pray a prayer:
Thank you for life…
even when things break…
repair broken hearts…
offering color and love…
for the beauty of the earth…
Worship Materials: “Beguiled by Beauty,”
Worship Design Studios, Dr. Marcia McPhee.