Lessons from Nature

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Prayer Tip:

This week in worship we will be exploring the question: How can we know God’s will for our lives? The fancy word for trying to figure out what God is leading us to is “discernment.” Discernment is a difficult thing, especially because it can take so much time!

I don’t know about you all, but I often struggle with patience. I love this old FedEx commercial because I think it captures what a fast-paced world that we live in. Take a look.

This week, was Earth Day. Apart from Jesus, nature is my favorite teacher. I love this quote from poet and naturalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. He writes: “Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience.”

Nature has taught me a lot about the type of patience required in discernment. A few years ago, for instance, I set out to start a garden. I nurtured my seeds into fragile little seedlings over the course of a few weeks and I was filled with joy when it came time to plant them. Unfortunately, the morning after I had planted, I went out to check on the garden, only to find that a squirrel (the “evil one”) had snatched up my seedlings. The only problem was I couldn’t be sure if the little booger had taken all of my plants, so I tended and watered the soil as if something might be within it.

James 5:7-8, talks about this sort of waiting: “Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

As Christians, I believe we have a calling to learn to wait patiently in hope. There are so many areas in our lives that look like the fallow soil in my garden. We don’t know if anything will come up. All we can do is wait carefully and patiently.

There are so many situations in which we just don’t know the future. Take these for instance: Will the treatment work? Will I be able to find a job? Will I find a partner? Will our marriage work? Will our baby be healthy? Will my granddaughter make good choices? Will we ever get along again? Will I ever see him/her again? Will today be a good day? Will I make the right choice? Will I make a difference? Will the darkness ever pass?

In mid-late summer, I started noticing new growths in my garden, a bell-pepper plant or two, 2-3 carrots, 5-6 radishes and what I didn’t expect, little oak tree seedlings. The new life that came up wasn’t as illustrious as I had hoped for, but after a spring of waiting and hoping, the fruit of my garden brought me more joy than I could have expected.

I say all of this to inspire and challenge you towards prayer this week. What is an area in which you are discouraged by uncertainty? Commit the situation or the question that overwhelms you to God in prayer. Practice waiting upon God’s faithfulness, understanding that the new life God might bring may be unexpected, but will be good.

– Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier

 

 

Who Hears When We Speak in Silence

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One of my favorite observations about prayer comes from author Anne Lamott in her wonderful book Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers:

“Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence.”

If we are honest, when we pray, we sometimes feel like that God must not be listening. We prayed for ACTION – healing, change of heart, change of circumstances and we just don’t see it happening. Things didn’t magically get better, the pain still exists, the broken heart shattered into even more small pieces. We feel like our prayer has gone unanswered.  Sometimes we fall silent because we just don’t know what to pray any more.

But God still hears us:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.  Romans 8:26-27

Prayer is more than just words. God still hears us when we run out of things to say, when we are spent, exhausted and broken. God answers those silent prayers with one great reassurance: “I’m here.”

Prayer is a relationship. When we pray, we invite God in to our messy, sometimes painful, often confusing lives. That is where the miracles happen—not always outward miracles, but sometimes inner miracles like peace, faith, or resilience. When we are out of words and we “speak in silence,” the Creator of the Universe speaks for us and to us and tells us, “I’m here.”

This week, in the sermon and the GPS guide, we will reach out of our comfort zones and look at all the questions surrounding prayers that seem to go unanswered. As we do that, let’s not be afraid of our own silence and lack of words. Let’s try to listen and hear God’s certain reply, “I’m here.”

 

–Jennifer Creagar, Resurrection Prayer Ministry

Examen

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Prayer Tip:
Over the course of late middle school and early high school, I lost both my grandmothers—affectionately known as “Nana” and “Mimi.” I remember feeling for the first time the sting of death as a teenager—the indescribable pain, hidden deep in one’s heart. Both of them were extraordinarily kind, good humored and they served as the “glue” in our family. They also shared a love of the garden. Nana had a love for flowers and my sisters and I would play for countless hours, climbing the trees in the garden—while the rest of the family acted like “grown-ups.” Mimi, on the other hand, had a “Secret Garden” and a tree-swing in the backyard and we played make-believe all the time when we stayed at her house.
Easter, in our family, was a time in which my sisters and I put on our prettiest dresses (which the grandmas had often purchased) and gathered for a meal, followed by magical Easter egg hunts. When my grandmothers passed away, one in late January and the other in early March, I remember the pain I felt when Easter rolled around. The deep pain of losing such dear role models was coupled with the excitement and joy of Easter. I was feeling so much all at once.
I wish I could say that arriving at Easter overwhelmed my complex emotions. But I am beginning to realize complex emotions are fairly common. This week, for example, I watched as a sweet baby was born early and went on to heaven, I prepared a funeral for a woman who I looked forward to seeing each week in service and I learned that a dear family member has cancer. All of these things recreated the sinking feeling I felt when I lost my grandmothers. Alongside these heart-wrenching experiences, I also planted my garden and enjoyed the sights and smells of spring, met with a teenager who was recovering from a health scare and shared laughter with my husband as we shared a meal. In these situations, I felt a fullness—a joy, bubbling up within me.
An article got me to thinking: is feeling complex emotions not the pattern of Holy Week? Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. Talk about an emotional roller-coaster! When we journey with Jesus, when we accept that we are fully human and live courageously, our lives are full of ups and downs. These swings often feel like more than our hearts can bear, but our hope is that God is present with us in all of life. And, at the end of the day, we turn to God praying and trusting that God will make us people of hope. I so loved this quote:

“…God also has planted within each human being a seed of hope that, if properly nurtured grows into a confidence that all will be well, all manner of things shall be well. The breath of God reaches into even the smallest and most remote garden and human heart and infuses life.” (Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening, Vigen Guroian)

So this week, my prayer challenge to you is that you find time to engage in the practice of Examen. Answer the questions as honestly as you can. These questions allow us to slow down and take a closer look at what God may be speaking to us in our everyday lives. They help us see moments of resurrection in both the joyful and painful experiences life throws our way. Here are the questions:

  1. When did I feel closest to God?
  2. When did I feel farthest from God?
  3. When did I feel the most alive?
  4. When did I feel like the life was being sucked out of me?
  5. When did I feel the most like myself?

– Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier, Pastor

Forgiveness

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This week in the GPS guide, as we approach Good Friday, we will have many opportunities to view Jesus’ example of forgiveness. As he hung on the cross, with criminals on his left and right, below him were the soldiers who had tortured him, humiliated him, and driven nails through his body. Now, as he hung there helpless and in tremendous physical and emotional pain, they were standing just below him casting lots for his clothing. And then Jesus prayed:

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

We have this example of extreme forgiveness in front of us this week, but if we are truthful, many of us will say that forgiving is hard. Most of us can think of at least one person we cannot honestly say we have forgiven completely for a serious wrong that has been committed. We try. In our minds, we can say we have forgiven and moved on. But in our hearts, we are still holding on to just a little bit of resentment, some coldness or hardness towards that person and the wrong that was done to us. When we are all alone and our minds wander to that incident, or those words that have hurt us, we may take them out and examine them once again and feel the same anger and lack of love and compassion for this person that we did when we were first hurt.

How do we find forgiveness? How do we get those thoughts and feelings of anger and resentment out of our hearts and minds? Jesus gives us the key to forgiving others right there in Luke 23:34. Jesus is hanging there on the cross, looking down on his torturers, and he prays for them.

If you struggle with forgiveness, as we all do at some point, try praying for the person you just can’t seem to forgive. It can be hard at first, and you may find yourself giving God a report on how this person hurt you instead of focusing your prayer on asking for healing and forgiveness for them, and for yourself. Maybe you could begin your prayer with Jesus’ prayer from the cross: “Father, forgive __________ . It is very hard to continue to hate and resent someone you are praying for every day. Go a little further. Try to find out what this person’s needs are, and pray for God to meet those needs – spiritually, emotionally and physically. As God to show you that person’s heart and mind so you may pray specifically for them. God’s healing and peace will come to you, and may very well come to this person who has hurt you. Here is a prayer that might get you started:

It feels impossible, O God,
totally beyond my reach,
to forgive what has been done to me.
You know my pain, you know the hurt I hold.
Surely you, O God, know the storm within my heart.

But I’m doubly caught in this bind,
snagged on the sacred fence of my friendship with your son Jesus,
who has told me I must forgive, seven times seventy times,
those who injure me, who cause me pain.

Caught between pain and pardon,
I wish to choose the way of pardon.
Nailed by pain to his cross,
covered by the spit of scorners and whipped by his torturers,
he prayed the impossible prayer.
This prayer is one I now desire to make mine,
“Father forgive him, her, them, for they know not what they do.”

O Infinite Sea of Mercy,
make this unworthy servant
the channel of your gift of pardon,
that I also may be healed
as your forgiveness passes through me to others.

Amen

(Prayers for a Planetary Pilgram, Edward Hays ©1989)

Mandala

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For those of you who were in worship this last Saturday night, you probably heard me share a bit about my recent vacation to Georgia. My awesome husband and I journeyed to Atlanta to spend time with my sister and brother-in-law. We spent the week hiking in the mountains, watching movies and eating fantastic food. They are in seminary and my husband and I are both pastors, so we were all so thankful for a spring break. The trip was so refreshing! As we were on our way back to Kansas, though, my husband Andy and I both started weeping. Car rides provide a lot of great time to talk and in our conversations we unpacked a seasons worth of reflections – our dreams, heartaches, joys, fears, doubts and concerns for others. I thought it was so strange that our reflection happened at the end of the trip until I stepped back and thought a bit more about it. I think it took both Andy and I being willing to step back from the busynes s of our lives to actually look at and deal with our feelings. This is so important because when we are able to reflect on our feelings, I think it becomes easier for us to see where God has been/is/will be at work in our lives.

So this is my challenge to you this week and I think it works perfectly in the season of Lent—a time of reflection. Do your best to step back from the busyness of life – for 10 minutes, for an hour, for the afternoon, for a week and be honest with yourself and God about your raw emotions. Invite God into the places that even you are afraid to go.

For some of us this is really hard (myself included), so I have included a Mandala. Mandalas are basically glorified coloring sheets with patterns that are repetitive. They contribute to our spiritual discipline insofar as they allow our minds to detach and also concentrate simultaneously – this is often the place where I can be more in touch with what is going on within me and what God is communicating to me. After you have been coloring for a while, my hope is that you can go to God in prayer with a greater sense of awareness of the God of love. [Download the Mandala here]

Peace to you,

– Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier, Pastor

Praying for those we hold dearest

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This week in the GPS guide we will explore the lives of Mary and John, and their lives both as they witnessed the crucifixion and after as his followers received the Holy Spirit and began their ministry as Christ’s people.

As a mother, Mary is near and dear to my heart, and an example to follow. I always thought I was ready to do hard things God asked me to, at least in theory. Then my children reached adulthood and started following God’s call on their lives. That’s when I discovered what real faith and commitment meant and began to truly appreciate Mary. God’s call on my children’s lives has included some real adventures for them, and many, many sleepless nights for Mom!

I’ve heard God ask, “Whose child is this? Yours or mine? Are you willing to pray for My will to be done in this child’s life, whatever it is?”

I won’t even pretend that my answer was as instant or as graceful as Mary’s, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” To me, the greatest example of faith in Scripture is that when Simeon blesses the child Jesus and prophesies his future and then tells Mary, “…and a sword will pierce your own soul, too,” Mary continued on, through his adulthood, ministry and horrible death. She remained faithful and saw the risen Jesus and the beginnings of the early church.

God is good, and I have come to remember that those amazing human beings I think of as mine are, indeed, God’s children and I want God’s will for their lives, scary as it may be.

You may have a child, or some other loved one, that you hold so dear that their struggles and pains pierce your heart. Mary must have taken comfort in God’s promises, and that is what we must do when we pray for God’s will for those we love.

Since this week also brings us St. Patrick’s day, I offer this prayer and blessing from the Celtic Christian tradition, to pray for all those nearest and dearest to our hearts, and for ourselves as well:

May the Father of Life pour out His grace on you;
may you feel His hand in everything you do
and be strengthened by the things He brings your through;
this is my prayer for you.

May the Son of God be Lord in all your ways;
may He shepherd you the length of all your days,
and in your heart may He receive the praise:
this is my prayer for you.

And despite how simple it may sound,
I pray that His grace will abound
and motivate everything you do;
and may the fullness of His love be shared through you.

May His Spirit comfort you, and make you strong,
may He discipline you gently when you’re wrong,
and in your heart may He give you a song:
this is my prayer for you.

May Jesus be Lord in all your ways,
may He shepherd you the length of all of all your days,
and in your heart may He receive the praise:
this is my prayer for you.

 

Why?

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Why, God? Why? I believe this is a question we find ourselves asking often over the course of our lives. Why do we have to endure losing a loved one? Why are our bodies so susceptible to illness? Why do people go hungry? Why do we have to face tragedy? Why is there so much discord and hate in the world? Ultimately we are asking: Why do human beings have to experience so much loss and pain?

Pastor Adam will be helping us think about these pressing questions in a sermon series after Easter. They come to mind again and again. But during Lent, I find that there is a lot of talk about what disciplines we can give up or take on to honor God as we prepare for Easter. So often, though, I forget that this season of Lent is a time for us to remember our fragility—a common human experience. I believe Jesus, whose life and death we focus on in anticipation of Easter, helps us come to grips with both the deepest pains and the highest joys. I believe Jesus often asked the “Why?” question.

Often during Lent, as I try to open my heart to God anew, I find that I have let my questions and doubts color my understanding of God. I have forgotten that the God we follow is a God of love. I need God’s love revealed in Jesus to give me a fuller picture of who God is. In 1 John 4:9-11, we read of God’s great love:”This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” So this Lenten week, I challenge you to think about how you can seek healing, and ready your heart for Easter, by inviting the Spirit to help see God’s love for you anew. All of this so that when Easter comes, we can rejoice in our loving God!

Matthew, Sheila, and Dennis Linn, authors of Simple Ways to Pray for Healing offer this “Prayer Process”:

1.    Close your eyes and breathe deeply, breathing in the love of God that surrounds you.

2.    See the faces of the one or two people who have loved you the most. Breathe in the special gift of each person, such as gentleness, loyalty, listening, wisdom, etc.

3.    Take a moment to be with God as you understand God and appreciate how God loves you in these same ways.

4.    If there is any way you can’t experience God as loving you at least as much as the person who loves you most, be with your hurt and longing. Breathe in God’s love and let God love you just as you are.

-Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier, Pastor of Prayer

Holy Seeing

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This weekend the plans for Resurrection’s stained glass window will be revealed. This window will be a visual image of the story of God’s love for all people in every generation past, present and future. We are surrounded by images in our lives. What we see around us in the world, and then the bombardment of media of all kinds – pictures on our phones, images on the computers some of us spend hours a day in front of, entertainment images….

An excellent way to slow down this rush of images and use what we see in an intentional and contemplative way is a prayer practice called Visio Divina, or “holy seeing.” It invites us to open our eyes, hearts and minds to really see one thing and one thing only for a period of time, and see that thing deeply, learning what God might say to us in our seeing of this image. Someday in the not-too-distant future, perhaps you will use this prayer practice sitting in front of the Resurrection stained glass window.

There is no set time for Visio Divina, but you should expect it to take at least 20-30 minutes.

The first thing is to choose an image. There are several ways to do this. You can choose a piece of art, illustration, or other work. Maybe there is a picture somewhere that has always reached out to you, but you’ve never spent time really seeing it. One of my favorite methods is to take a walk, taking a number of random photos as I go along, then choosing just one to sit with and pray. You can use a print on paper, set the image on your phone, computer, or tablet or sit close enough to the original image to really examine it. Another alternative is to choose a three dimensional object to see, like a leaf or a rock, or a specific view along the walking trail.

Before you being, spend a few minutes in quiet, casting off the distractions of the day and opening your mind and heart to God. Ask God to speak to you in this time of prayer and to open your eyes to God’s presence in the world around you.

Examine the image slowly. At first, look at it with a soft focus, not trying to see every little detail. Release any expectations and for a few minutes, just see.

Slowly explore the details. What relationships do you see? How do the colors influence your feelings? Are the edges soft or hard? Curved or straight

Focus on one small detail that seems to reach out to you. What do you see? Not “a rock” or “a green leaf.” What is special about this rock or this leaf? How would you describe it to someone who couldn’t see it?

Using your imagination, enter into the image. What do you see from inside?

Does this image bring up feelings, or memories? Does it stir something up? Do you see something you haven’t seen before?

Where do you see God in this image? Does some small part, or the whole of the image, remind you of God’s presence?

Now, respond to the image with prayer. The image may have shown you a need for healing, or reminded you of someone in need of prayer. It may produce a desire for praise and thanksgiving, or a joyful reaction to the wonder of nature or other small things. It may bring to mind past events, or questions. Whatever your thoughts and feelings as you explore the image, share them with God.

What does your prayer tell you about this particular moment in your life? Are you called to a new awareness or a new way of serving or a new way of seeking God’s presence?

End your time by sitting in silence, listening. Rest in this silence and let God pray in you.

If you like, spend some time following your prayer journaling about what you have seen and what God spoke to you through the seeing.

This can be an interesting exercise in a group, or with your family. Choose one image that each person can carry with them to a quiet place and sit for a time in holy seeing. Come back together and share what you saw. Remember each will be very personal, and there is no “right” or “wrong” answer.

Lord God who gave me eyes to see and the gift of your holy presence,
let this time of looking be blessed with true vision
and an increased knowledge of your presence
so I may carry a new understanding of your power and love
into the world and learn to see all as you do.
Amen

Jennifer Creagar
Resurrection Prayer Ministry

 

God’s Great Works in the Ordinary

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I have spent a lot of my life just waiting around for God to show up, to make things so obvious, I can’t avoid responding. Now, God certainly does work this way in the world but for most people many days seem pretty ordinary. Can any of you all relate to this?

For a long time I despised the ordinary. I wanted the drama of a burning bush, the parting of the Red Sea, a visit from the angel of the Lord, a wakeup call from God’s “thundering” voice and a special invitation to “Follow Me” from Jesus (—in person of course). How awesome would that be?

A couple summers ago, though, my ideas about how God teaches us and gives us vision changed. I spent the summer living and working at Koinonia Farm in Georgia. There, I met an African Methodist Episcopal preacher named Norris Harris. Norris grew up in rural Georgia and has a way of seeing things in a refreshingly simple, yet extraordinarily wise way.

One day, Norris took me out to the pecan tree orchard and said to me, “Pick anything you see in nature and I can promise God is teaching us something through it.” He went on to teach me about the lessons we can learn from the trees, the sunrise, the bees, the grass, etc. I had been studying really hard in seminary, trying to figure out and to experience God’s wonders, but Norris was the best teacher I ever had—he helped me realize that I was missing the wonders right in front of me.

That summer I was reminded that God is constantly teaching and giving us visions, we just have to remember that this world we are living in is Gods and walk through each day reverently. Author Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “Reverence requires a certain pace. It requires a willingness to take detours, even side trips, which are not part of the original plan.” (An Altar in the World, 24)
So my prayer challenge to you all this week is that you open each day with this prayer and then to pay attention to God’s great works in the ordinary.

Amazing God-
I believe that you are at work in the world, doing tremendous things.
Today, I pray that you would give me the faith to follow the Spirit rather than my own agenda
Give me the eyes to see that you are ever-present in the seemingly ordinary parts of life.
Amen.

-Rev. Katherine Ebling-Frazier

…May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

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In the GPS guide for February 9-13, we read a lot about justice, action, and putting hands and feet on our faith. We will read scripture about caring for widows and orphans, loving strangers and providing for their needs, God’s provisions for the needy, justice that rolls like waters and righteousness like an every-flowing stream, being doers of the word, giving honor to the poor and loving our neighbors as we do ourselves.

Wow.

And what is a prayer we can be praying while we think and see and act and love? There are many, but there is one you very likely know. If you participate in worship here at Resurrection, I know you say it out loud at least once a week.

“…May your kingdom come and may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

This week we could pray this daily, and expand a little, asking God to help us live into our real desire to do his will. We can ask:

  • Where am I called to participate in bringing God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven?
  • How can I contribute peace and love to all whom I encounter?
  • How can I grow in humility so that I may seek to serve others?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.* put it this way:

Forgive us for what we could have been
but failed to be.
Give us the intelligence to know your will.
Give us the courage to do your will.
Give us the devotion to love your will.
In the name of the spirit of Jesus, we pray.
Amen

*Thou, Dear God: Prayers that Open Hearts and Spirits (edited by Lewis V. Baldwin, Beacon Press, 2012)

Jennifer Creagar
Resurrection Prayer Team


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