For many years I have found the individual and group study resources from The Upper Room ministry to be a valued source in deepening my spiritual journey in prayer and bible study. During Lent 2020, I used their study guides to be a source of spiritual renewal. Since Easter, I’ve been reading online devotionals that are centered on enriching my prayer life during COVID-19.
My inability to find the right words led me to write about praying without words during this pandemic. The part most meaningful to me is placing my palms down to symbolize that I’m entrusting this situation to my Heavenly Father who is all-knowing and all-loving:
“When you pray, use words if you must,” might evoke some of the writings of St. Augustine concerning prayer. I don’t know about you but there are times during our pandemic siege when I find it hard to vocalize my prayer thoughts. This has led me to come up with a nonverbal way of praying.
I place my hands in a steeple pose and raise them toward the sky, thanking God for his constant love and eternal promises.
Slowly I bring my hands down to my waist and extend each hand in a horizontal stretch, asking God to shower us humans – the good, the bad, the indifferent – with his lavish love.
I then bring my hands together at my waist and bow my head, confessing my sins and asking for renewal,
Finally, I take my hands and place them facing downward, while acknowledging the issues surrounding this pandemic baffle me, and that I’m willing to leave the unknowns in his loving hands as I trust in His mercy, grace and abounding love.
I leave this sacred time expecting God to use me to be His presence to someone in need.
SUGGESTION: You can use the movements and thoughts I’ve expressed or, if you prefer, adapt the positions and/or the thoughts for your own prayer without words.
My Shepherd was originally written as a eulogy to honor a friend from First Baptist Church of Rossville, Georgia, and it was published in Mature Living magazine in March 2001. Since then it has undergone numerous revisions.
The prayer springs from deep within my inner being and is a source of growing affirmation during these perilous days of Covid-19. My hope is it will likewise enhance your journey forward.
The Lord, my Shepherd, leads me. Sometimes we travel through lush meadows or linger by still waters. Often we wind our way through rough terrain and I feel I can’t stand it any more. Then, the Lord, my Shepherd, restores me.
When my soul is barren and my dreams crushed He opens for me windows of hope.
The Lord, my Shepherd, walks with me. Sometimes we laugh and sometimes we cry. Sometimes we run and sometimes we crawl. Ah yes! The Lord, my Shepherd, walks with me.
The Lord, my Shepherd, sustains me. He replaces my sorrow with joy. He picks me up when I stumble and cuddles me when I’m afraid.
The Lord, my Shepherd, is a Forever Guide. When this life ceases He’ll whisper, “Come with Me. The best is yet to be!”
A group from Brow View huddled in Club 51 to hear a report on mold. Instead, what we heard that hour has forever altered our lives. One phrase Terry repeated haunts me to this day: “It’s not a question of if someone at Alexian will become infected with the Covid-19 virus, but when it will happen.” Terry followed through with some sensible suggestions while assuring us that addressing such a crisis was something Ascension Living was skilled in combating. After responding to a mountain of questions he closed by saying, “Expect to make some changes in your day- to-day lives and stay tuned to channel 98 for updates.”
Wow! For over two months we’ve experienced mammoth changes. We basically stay in our apartments, wash our hands a zillion times each day, and wear a mask, a little akin to the Lone Ranger’s attire when we venture outside our apartment while staying at least six feet away from anybody. We buy our groceries online and we worship online. Our meals are hand-delivered and we do our own house cleaning.
You might think we’d become stir crazy under such restrictions. Not us. That’s because heroes work at Alexian! We’re surrounded by a host of workers all the way from Ascension Living’s front office to the hundreds of employees that serve us daily.
I asked a number of residents to add their personal comments and each of them was happy to participate. Their range of responses contained kudos to workers throughout our Alexian complex, some of which I’ll mention:
Front desk staff’s welcome smiles morning, noon and night;
Our activities threesome with their online exercise programs, grocery buying, face masks and video bingo;
Continual help of maintenance in our apartments;
Kitchen crew including servers who daily bring us our meals attached with encouraging notes;
Health care personnel who risk their lives daily;
Prayers of the Alexian brothers and others;
Terry Thompkins: God knew we’d need someone who is gentle but firm, truthful but encouraging, demanding but loving, so he sent us you.
To each of you we place our hands across our hearts while we ache to give you a big bear hug. You’ve turned a dark time in our lives into a determined journey.
During the season of Lent my thoughts naturally pivot toward Christ’s resurrection. There are two Easter Sundays that have their own special spot for me. One coincides with the death of my husband and the latter is yet to occur.
It was the Saturday before Easter Sunday in 1994 and I had gone early to the ICU section of our local hospital to visit my husband, Claude. I remember him telling me he’d had two young men in his room during the night and they seemed to be measuring something or someone. I smiled thinking at the time he was perhaps hallucinating. His attending doctor arrived and said my husband was doing so good they were initiating the process to take him out of ICU and onto the ward with other heart patients.
Delighted with the doctor’s recommendation I decided to return home, go to the post office to get our mail and to walk our dog. Blacky missed his walk that Saturday. I also missed attending, with two of my cohorts, an egg hunt for disadvantaged children. When I returned home from getting the mail the phone was ringing. It was the hospital. Claude had died!
For the seven years between Claude’s first heart attack and subsequent cardiac arrest we had lived under a cloud of uncertainty. Upon my preacher husband’s request, I‘d typed his obituary and we got to the place during our prayer sessions to where we used the open-close palm technique, sans words. We turned the palm of our hands upward saying, “Father, you know what is best. We don’t.” Then we would turn our palms downward to declare, “Lord, we trust you. Please take over.”
All day on that Saturday before Easter, 1994 family and friends began gathering at our home with food offerings, special thoughts and hugs. There was one thing clear to me: I would join with the faithful the following Easter morning to confirm that Christ had indeed risen from the dead and that my husband was now with Jesus. Sharing this with those we had served with for over 17+ years seemed the right thing for me to do.
In all my 89 years I can’t remember a time when I haven’t attended church on Easter Sunday. For the last 12 years I’ve played the role of Easter Bunny for lots and lots of children on the Saturday preceding Easter. Hundreds of bunny rabbit doting parents woud wait in line to take a picture of their child with the Easter Bunny. Alas! There was no Easter bunny this year at our annual Signal Mountain Community Egg Roll, as it was cancelled.
Today I sit isolated in my apartment with my meals delivered to my door, washing my hands what seems like a zillion times to the tune of Happy Birthday, staying 6 feet apart from all the other residents and wearing a face mask when I go walking on our campus or come in contact with other residents. A local grocery fills our food orders twice a week and a local pharmacy delivers our meds. Thank God for Pruett’s Signal Mountain Market!
This will be the fifth consecutive Sunday my church family, following national & state guidelines, has self-isolated ourselves from corporate worship. Our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services were also broadcast online. So, what will it be like to observe Easter on Facebook or YouTube Live Stream?
I’ll have bread and juice ready to participate in the Lord’s supper on Thursday and on Friday. Perhaps I’ll have on hand a hammer and nail to remind me of our practice of personally driving a nail into our conceptual cross. If I close my eyes I can hear the clanging of hammered nails.
On Sunday morning I’ll have my bell ready to ring during the singing of “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” My bell’s sounds will join with the others who are watching and responding when we get to the Alleluias.
The format will be different–very different–but the message remains the same and even vibrates with deeper meaning during this pandemic that has shaken the world.
Our words define us. You can learn a lot about the character of a person by reading or hearing the last words they spoke. This led me to explore the seven phrases Jesus uttered while suspended on a cross on Skull Hill, just outside the city of Jerusalem.
Before reading my thoughts on the seven sayings of Jesus you need to know I’m taking the position that Jesus was totally divine and totally human. This religious tenet, while completely irrational to many, is one I believe and accept wholeheartedly. I readily admit there are times when I find it difficult to let Jesus be completely human. His sayings from the cross, I believe, reveal both his divine and human nature.
1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Since midnight on Thursday until around 9:00 a.m. on Friday Jesus had gone through six trumped-up trials and endured the excruciating ordeal of being flogged until his back became a mass of bloody pulp. He was then forced to bear his cross to Skull Hill where He was stripped of his seamless robe, nailed to his cross and left to die.
It would be logical to expect Jesus to spew out vitriolic words against the religious establishment. Instead he says, “Father, forgive them, for the know not what they do.” I don’t know about you but that reaches a level of loving I’ve yet to obtain!
2. Truly, I say unto you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”(Luke 23:43)
A criminal, also being crucified, said to Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ response is instant and to the point. “Truly, I say unto you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus doesn’t stutter. He doesn’t hem and haw. His forgiveness then and now, is bountiful and without reservations.
While most of his followers hid behind locked doors a few, namely John and a cadre of Mary’s, linger nearby. In the midst of excruciating pain Jesus calls to his weeping mother saying, “Woman, behold thy son.” To John he says, “Behold thy mother!” Jesus’ concern for the welfare of his Mother is beautiful and revealing. Jesus wants his mother to know that one of his most trusted friends will be caring for her.
4. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!” which means “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
For Jesus to be forsaken by God is indeed a paradox. I readily admit I don’t fully understand this phrase. In fact, I find it disturbing!
There are two classic meanings of this tear-provoking lament. One says that when Jesus voluntarily became the sin bearer for mankind that God, who is sinless, had to abandon Him. While I have no trouble believing Jesus died on my behalf I have trouble believing God, at this point, turned his back on Jesus.
I don’t believe God abandons us because of our sins nor that he abandoned His sinless Son. Abandonment, to me, is inconsistent with the very nature of God!
The second view is that Jesus is reminding his fellow Jews of a passage of scripture with which they would all be very familiar, namely Psalm 22. This psalm certainly gives a vivid description of what was currently taking place on Skull Hill.
5. “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
We sometimes forget the Christian tenet that Jesus was 100% human as well as 100% divine. Accepting his divinity is easier for most of us than accepting his humanity.
Uttered on Skull Hill around 3:00 p.m. this haunting cry for a bit of physical relief is telling. Perhaps it also refers to his spiritual thirsts.
6. “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
With a triumphant shout Jesus exclaims, “It is finished!” In the original Greek, I’m told, it consists of only one word—one commonly used to mark bills “paid in full.” Unknown, even to his most devout followers, Jesus knew why he was dying.
By His death, in our behalf, Jesus gave each of us direct access to Himself. “It is finished!” No longer is there a need for endless rituals to obtain God’s forgiveness.
7. “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
When Jesus utters these words, he demonstrates a powerful humility about his relationship with his Father as well as a divine connection to God, leading to his ultimate reunification with our Father in Heaven, thus opening the path for our salvation through his life and sacrifice. Jesus “pays it all” on behalf of humanity, leading to the reunion of his spirit and body, the miracle of resurrection, three days later. The path for our salvation has been opened.
As I will talk about in my upcoming Easter Sunday blog, Jesus’ prayer is one that many of us who are afraid, sick, or facing our own death understand: “I commit myself to you, O God. In my living and in my dying, in the good times and in the bad, whatever I am and have, I place in your hands.”
Many, many years ago my first cousin and I sat on the second row at Central Baptist Church, Waycross, Georgia. I was 12 and my cousin was 11. We had come with our minds made up. Today we would profess our faith in Jesus and ask to become part of the family of believers at Central. I also remember the choir, that Easter day, singing a hymn about Jesus paying it all. I was disappointed! I wanted them to sing, “Just as I Am.” When I expressed my dismay at the song they had sung a choir member told me, “Someday you’ll understand that ‘Jesus Paid It All’ is truly a great hymn.” She was so very right! Today one of my favorite hymns is “Jesus Paid It All.”
And my heart sings, “Hallelujah! What a Savior.”
Today’s blog closes with a sobering thought. If you were conscious and able to communicate your thoughts and had only 12 hours before you would die what would you do and say?
All scripture references from: The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised Standard Version, Oxford University Press. 1973.
In these odd times of isolation during this coronavirus pandemic, many of us have been forced to turn to worshiping in our homes–perhaps connected virtually to church services, like those at my own First Baptist Church, Chattanooga. In some ways, this was a concept I had in mind when I wrote my Lenten and Advent Encounters–brief monologues for worship in church, Sunday school, or at home. If you are feeling isolated and seeking avenues for reflection and individual worship, I encourage such an approach, either from a published work or through creative thought or online dialogue with fellow church members.
The world in general and Americans in particular scorn meek leaders. They equate such a person as a Caspar Milquetoast, a character who existed in our national comics from 1925-1953 as “The Timid Soul.” Made famous by H.T. Webster, Caspar was a character who spoke softly and got hit with a big stick. Caspar was spineless and a person who was easily dominated and intimidated. Even his last name is a derivation of milk toast!
People will say, “Surely you aren’t suggesting our national leaders practice being meek in our dog eat dog society of today?” However, that is precisely what I am suggesting.
My understanding of what it means to be meek, i.e. humble, comes from my faith journey. About a decade ago I participated in a small group study of the beatitudes — a synopsis of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew, and I began to look at this topic from a different angle. Lots of people can recite the Ten Commandments, but not many can quote any of the beatitudes. A host of us, including me, also find them difficult to put into practice!
In thinking about the focus of this blog, my thoughts kept going back to the fourth beatitude. Here are two translations, plus my own paraphrase.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. ~ NRSV Matt. 5:5
You’re blessed when you are content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourself proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
Happy is the person whose relationship with God overflows into actions of love toward all mankind. Such a person is comfortable in their own skin and doesn’t feel the need to constantly advertise his/her virtues to the world.
These translations bring with them some worthy goals for all of humankind:
Be gentle and then you can become bold and humble.
Be frugal and then you can be liberal.
Look at the world through your heart.
Being humble is accepting that without God’s wisdom and love I am empty.
Being humble is refusing to use one’s position of power for personal gain or as a tool of retaliation.
When politicians use the following talking points you can be sure that humility isn’t in their game plan:
I am never wrong.
No one can stop me.
I’m the only person who can fix our problems.
I have all the answers.
The humble resist making rash statements — especially false statements simply to gain political clout or to throw up a smokescreen to detract attention from a more divisive subject. Creating a life of humility is a daily practice that becomes fulfilling and trickles down to fill up our hearts and minds.
QUOTES I LIKE
A true genius admits that he/she knows nothing. — Albert Einstein
Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others. — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Stay hungry, stay young, stay foolish, stay curious, and above all, stay humble because just when you think you got all the answers, is the moment when some bitter twist of fate in the universe will remind you that you very much don’t. — Tom Hiddleston
Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast. — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Following Jesus is very hard, though it is not complicated. — John Pierce
True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. — Rick Warren
It is so very easy for each of us to express our anger visibly. On the other hand, withholding judgment with those with whom we disagree requires giving criticism sparingly and acknowledging our solution might not be the best option.
We Americans are politically caught up in an aura of distrust while a multitude of hate groups, led by white supremacists, are often hailed as heroes. I personally think that when it comes to politics the words compromise and respect are essential elements in a healthy society. Positions we and others take are seldom totally right or totally wrong. I’m old enough to remember a time when my husband and I, after casting our vote, would laughingly say, “I just cancelled your vote!”
Today, I turn to the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to enlighten my journey. May his words speak to each of us.
There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.
I have decided to stick to love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
There comes a time when silence is betrayal.
We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal.’
Certainly, there are various degrees involved in the concepts of love and hate. It seems nothing profitable for our nation or the world would ever get done if someone didn’t get upset over something they deem immoral or despicable. Our anger is only productive, though, if it evolves into acts that lead to healthy resolutions. However, unchecked anger, egged on by hate groups, can produce disastrous results.
That said, I offer some of my salient thoughts for 2020 while recognizing you have every right to disagree with me.
While respecting the legal rights of individuals or groups to the use a weapon for sports or self-defense, I will shun political candidates that either by their actions or rhetoric refuse to commit themselves to gun control measures on semi-automatic guns.
I can’t vote for a candidate who refuses to take a firm stand on human rights. It’s past time we Americans respect each other regardless of skin color, sexual identity or religious preferences (including the right to have no faith).
I will not vote for a candidate–Republican, Democrat or Independent– who spends more time downgrading his/her opponents than they do in sharing their well- calculated proposals for improving the lives of all Americans.
Today and every day, I choose love over hate, and every day I choose to surround myself with others who do the same.
Contrary to the teasing of some current family members, I was not at this election, but I always vote. This image is from the League of Women Voters website, regarding their history.
The League of Women Voters of the United States encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. The League is proud to be nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or political parties at any level of government, but always working on vital issues of concern to members and the public. You can also register to vote, find your polling place, ballot info, and more at VOTE411.org.
The new year began like so many prior years – I gave thoughtful reflection on the past 365 days, while I looked forward to what’s to come. In doing so, I realized that my 2020 pledge to myself is to explore the bedrock beliefs I want to see operating in my life as we move toward the election. No sooner had 2020 arrived than chaos reared its ugly head, and I tremble for what may develop with our neighbors in the Middle East.
It’s a sad coincidence since I was already planning on writing this January blog about the Peace Prayer of St. Francis that resonates with people of all faiths and of all nations. The prayer reminds us that we can live a joyous and happy life created in our own unique rhythm while maintaining unity.
Peace Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The bottom line: None of us has or ever will score 100 percent on the lofty ideals ascribed to in this prayer. However, wouldn’t it be serendipitous to find ourselves and our political leaders in 2020 moving the conversation to civility and honestly seeking for points of acceptable compromise?
Now, more than ever, uncertainty seems to keep knocking on the door, attempting to set us off course. To counteract this insecurity, I also plan to carry with me throughout 2020 the thought found in the church bulletin of First Baptist Church of Chattanooga during December 2019:
The Prayer of St. Francis and these words from my church bulletin echo through my mind more than ever, and I carry them with me each day.
It’s Christmas Eve at First Baptist Church Chattanooga and as usually happens at holiday services our church is brimming with people. A large Christ candle in the middle of the Advent wreath is lit and the solemn service of Scripture and music begins to unfold the story of Jesus’ birth. It’s a very old story that is ever new!
The final action of our service is dramatic. As we entered the sanctuary each of us was given a small candle. Now the electric lights are extinguished, and we find ourselves sitting in an inky black sanctuary. One by one we light each other’s candle. Gradually the light consumes the darkness. We turn around and lift our lighted tapers high and sing in unison Silent Night.
We get the unspoken message. One little light doesn’t give off much light but collectively we can shake off the shackles, of fear, hatred, and dishonesty.
As we offer our gifts, may our hearts and minds open to give compassion recklessly, criticism sparingly, and forgiveness unconditionally.
This service for me isn’t yet over. I have one more tradition to honor. For the past five years my adopted Parker family and I crowd into one of the booths at the local Waffle House and indulge in whatever suits our fancy.
Below is a video of a sister church in Texas that captures the solemnity of this beloved Christmas Eve meditation.
Yesterday marked the fourth Sunday of Advent and the lighting of the love candle.
Have you noticed how often we malign the word love? We love pizzas, a new car, a promotion at work, a bought outfit … the list is endless!
However, the love reflected by the rays of the love candle is unfathomable. Don’t ask me to explain it with words because I can’t do it justice. God, our Heavenly Father, chose to come to earth as a tiny baby so we would know how deeply He loves each of us. Madeleine L’Engle in her book, The Glorious Impossible, says, “The birth of Jesus was a Glorious Impossible. Like love, it cannot be explained, it can only be rejoiced in. Possible things are easy to believe. The Glorious Impossible is what brings joy to our hearts, hope to our lives, and songs to our lips.”
One of my favorite monologues from my book Advent Encounters is Anna, and I’d like to share it with you.
Hello, I’m Anna. I wasn’t always as you see me now. My wrinkled, gnarled limbs were once smooth and my gray hair was as black as a starless night. You probably find it hard to believe my poor arthritic body once ran with the speed and grace of a gazelle. As you can tell that was a long, long time ago.
My husband and I had been married only seven years when he died. I had a hard time accepting his death. I felt God had turned his back on me. I’d go to bed crying and wake up crying. One day God broke through my grief and I began to see things in a new light. That’s when I joined with the quiet ones of our land. We never leave the Court of the People, and we spend our days and nights preaching, praying, and singing.
Today brought me a glorious blessing! From a distance I heard old Simeon’s voice. I could tell something awesome was taking place. I wasted no time pushing my old body to the scene of action. I arrived just in time to hear Simeon say, “Lady, many people will be unhappy when your son reveals their evil thoughts. Expect them to treat him badly. And, because you love him so, you’ll feel as if you have been stabbed by the same sword.”
The young mother flinched and looked as if she were about to burst into tears. Simeon handed the baby over to my waiting arms. “Anna, don’t you agree this baby is God’s gift to our universe?”
I looked deep into the child’s eyes and it was as if the heavens opened. “Ah, yes, Simeon. This baby is very, very special.”
I turned to the young mother and patted her arm. “Little mother,” I said, “you hold in your arms the hope of the world. Not even death will sever the tie that bind you and this little one together. Go in peace and the God of Israel go with you.”
Anna’s experience with Simeon and her baby reveals that there is an inner light shining brightly within each one of us that equates to love. Madeleine L’Engle beautifully tells us a similar message through her writing. Sometimes that light is dimmed by life’s circumstances, but we all have the power within us to reignite the flame and shine on. How do you keep your light glowing brightly this Advent season?
Prayer Thought: Lord, there’s something wonderful about fleeing from the frenzy of daily living to it unfettered at your feet. In your presence we are free to dream, to wonder, to adore and to hear God whisper.