Posts Tagged ‘discipline

16
Nov
22

Why I Pray

Back in the day, (to be perfectly honest, WAAAAY back in the day), the group Lovin’ Spoonful sang a song that asked the musical question, “Do you believe in magic?”

If John Sebastian and his bandmates asked me that today, I would have to say, “NO. Frankly, I don’t.” 

That is because my rational, scientific brain tells me that quarters don’t somehow mysteriously appear in my ear, rabbits – not previously residing inside a top hat – don’t suddenly materialize there. I also know there is an entirely plausible explanation for why the man in the black cape astonishingly knows which card I secretly selected. 

No. While I do enjoy watching it, I don’t believe in magic.

I do, however, believe in the power of prayer. 

Hearing me speak that last sentence out loud might prompt a skeptic to stand up and proclaim, “Balderdash! That’s a contradiction!” They would then go on to explain that there is no rational, scientific connection between my inaudible pleadings to an invisible, supernatural power and some hoped-for outcome. Furthermore, they would go on to stridently declare that any IMAGINED connection between the two is pure illusion. 

They would then likely conclude by patting me on the head condescendingly and saying, “But if it makes you feel better to do that kind of thing, go right ahead, sport. I suppose it doesn’t hurt anyone.”

To which I would reply, “Not so fast there my skeptical friend.” While it DOES deal with invisible, often inexplicable realms of reality, prayer is not magic

Magic is unnatural. Meaning it defies nature.

Prayer is SUPERnatural. Meaning that it stands outside and above the natural order.

Praying is predicated on the belief that – though we cannot see it or even remotely understand it – there is SOMETHING that exists beyond the reach of limited, flawed, flesh and blood humans. 

Prayer is also based on the conviction that the character of this SOMETHING is benevolent… even to the point of being able to be called LOVING. 

Finally, the practice of prayer rests on the understanding that communication can be established between HERE and THERE… between the EPHEMERAL and the ETHEREAL… between the VISIBLE and the INVISIBLE. 

And since I am firmly on board with all three of those propositions, I pray.

  • Sometimes I pray for an outcome or a resolution to a problem I am facing.
  • Sometimes my prayers consist of silently spitballing solutions.
  • Entirely too infrequently, my prayers are lists of things I am grateful for today.
  • On even rarer occasions my prayer takes the form of silent listening. 

Seeing this list, you might be inclined to ask, “So… does it work?”

What you might mean with this question is, “Does your prayer generally bring you the outcome you were seeking?” If that is what you mean, I would have to answer, “No. Not always.”

But if instead you mean, “Does your praying succeed in renewing your sense that there is a connection between you and that loving, benevolent SOMETHING you talked about earlier?” I would hasten to answer, “Why yes! Almost always.”

And when that connection is renewed, the funniest thing happens. Suddenly I am able to see the problem I was trying to solve, or the person I was trying to influence, or the mood I was trying to lift in an entirely new light. 

I suddenly see them each in the light of eternity.

Abundant blessings;

03
Apr
22

Lent and the GTS

The ubiquitous logo

I miss Facebook.

You see, my chosen Lenten discipline this year was pursuing a fast (i.e., a period of intentional self-denial) from Facebook. Facebook had become something I found myself being sucked into WAAAAY too often. I rationalized that I used it mainly to stay in touch with out-of-state family members. But the truth is, I used it for many other purposes… most of which were much less noble than I was willing to admit.

But mainly, Facebook had become a GIGANTIC TIME SUCK (GTS) and I decided I needed to forcefully wean myself from for a time.

Thank you, Lenten fasting discipline. Your timing was perfect.

For the first four or five days, it was rough. Gone were the photos of other people’s dream vacations and new toys. “Adios” to the truly groan-worthy puns and memes. Vanished in a puff of smoke were those ill-informed political opinions – and sports takes – that I so enjoyed ripping into and exposing the fallacy of. 

And believe it or not, I really came to miss those times when friends would post truly profound truths about life that made me pause, scratch my chin, and say, “Hmmmm. Never thought of it that way before.”

And oh yes… this “fast” has also caused me to live without those delightful pictures of grandchildren, siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews that so regularly warm the cockles of my heart. 

Who am I kidding… here now on Day 33 of my fast, it is still rough. Every day I have the sense that some genuinely good “stuff” is passing me by… never to be seen again.

At the same time, I don’t miss Facebook AT ALL!

I don’t miss all the trivial nonsense. I don’t miss the disruptive ads. I don’t miss the pointless bickering, based on the mistaken notion that it is possible to argue someone over to your side of any question. I don’t miss the “VagueBook” postings that make me guess where that picture was taken, or what that bizarre phrase really means. I don’t miss the invitations to jump into a multi-level marketing scheme. I don’t miss the crowing, “Hey! Look what WE’RE doing right now! Don’t you wish you were this cool, too??” posts. 

But most of all, I don’t miss the GIGANTIC TIME SUCK (GTS) Facebook had become in my life.

They warned me about it before I even signed up. But did I listen? NOOOO! “I’m too smart for that,” I replied, with a thinly disguised air of superiority. “I’ll be the master of my own domain. I won’t fall for those schemes designed to draw me in and trap me. I am immune to their fiendish addiction tricks.”

As it turned out, I wasn’t immune. 

Not at all.

Which is really the point of any kind of fast, isn’t it? When we become so dependent on a THING that we imagine that we can’t do without it (of course except for essential things like air, water, food, God, and human community), it might be a signal that it is time to take a step back and reevaluate our affections. To ask ourselves, “Is that _____ really that important, in the grand scheme of things? Do I really need it as much as I think I do?”

I know – without the slightest shadow of a doubt – that the very SECOND Lent is over (on Easter morning, April 17, 2022), I will be eagerly scrolling through to see what I missed. I will lap up all those vacation photos, corny memes, passionate political punditry, and hot sports takes like a man in the desert laps up water. 

I am a bit ashamed to admit it, but it’s true.

But hopefully, in the meantime, I will have gained a little distance. Maybe this period of intentional denial will teach me to stop for a beat or two before diving so readily into this (or any) form of electronic voyeurism. 

Maybe I will emerge from this fast on Easter morning with a new commitment to things like silence… reflection… prayer… listening… meditation… and rest.

It’s a long shot, but who knows?

After all, this is the time of year of resurrection and new birth, isn’t it?

Abundant blessings;

09
Mar
19

Repentance Muscle

“From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”(Matthew 4:17)

Muscle builderMost of us have muscles that can use a little strengthening.

Maybe it’s a bicep to allow you to do a little heavier lifting, or a deltoid for a little faster throwing of a baseball, or maybe you need a stronger glute for whatever it is glutes help you do.

Personally, I could stand some stronger hamstrings. Mainly because I keep pulling the ones I have now.

As I was preparing for the arrival of the season of Lent the other day, I encountered another muscle of mine that appears to be in EXTREMELY flabby condition.

This muscle needs some serious building up, starting right NOW.

It’s my REPENTANCE muscle.

I decided that building up the repentance muscle is exactly the purpose of the church’s observance of the season of Lent.

So what does that mean, exactly? And how does one do that?

REPENTANCE is a churchy-sound word for a very basic human practice. It is about stopping… recognizing that you have wandered off your chosen (or necessary) path… turning around… and heading back in a better direction.

For example, I was driving along a little two-lane country road the other day which had a posted speed limit of 55 mph. I glanced down at my speedometer and saw that it read 71. So my act of repentance was to ease off the accelerator and bring the little Prius down to a more reasonable 62.

Writing is another activity that involves a lot of repentance. We tap out some keys in a sequence that seems to make sense, step back, read it, and say, “EGAD! That’s a bunch of hogwash!” We then work to make the needed corrections. Or sometimes we repent by throwing out the work completely.

So how does one BUILD UP one’s repentance muscle?

I mean, what do you do with any of your other muscles if you want to strengthen them? You put extra STRESS on them for a limited time, right? You overload them in a measured way, under supervision, let them rest, and then do it again.

Then gradually, the exercise physiologists tell us, the muscle becomes stronger.

And so there I was… sitting there thinking about what Lent was really supposed to be about (because pastors do that kind of stuff), and the light bulb suddenly clicked on! Maybe THAT’S the real point of all this fasting, praying, meditating, journaling, and reflection we do during Lent!

Maybe Lent is the “spiritual gym” where we really focus on getting that repentance muscle whipped into shape.

And like any good exercise program, it doesn’t really work if you focus on it once and then ignore it for the next 364 days. It has to become a regular part of your life! It has to shape and re-energize the way you go about everything else you do.

I mean, sure, a handful of potato chips would really hit the spot about now. But (grunt!) do I really need it? (Sweat!)

(Ugh!) Naaa. Probably not.

23
Oct
17

Soul Hygiene

brushing-teeth-too-hardMy mom would be so proud of me.

She has been gone now for 47 years, but I have to believe she is looking on from the Next Realm and smiling a proud, satisfied smile.

You see for the past 47 years – more, in fact – hardly a day has gone by on which I have not brushed my teeth. Every single one of them.

Big deal, you say?

So what?

Giant YAWN!!??

Well, let me tell you; for quite a long time during my childhood, the practice of regular teeth brushing caused tremendous battles between my mother and me.

I really don’t understand why, but back then brushing my teeth was one of my least favorite things in the whole world to do.

When bedtime rolled around, I just wanted to put on my PJs, crawl under the covers and zonk out. I didn’t have time to detour to the bathroom for any sort of hygienic nonsense.

My mother tried everything. She cajoled me, threatened me, withheld my allowance and told me scary stories about toothless boys eating nothing but Jello for the rest of their lives. At one point she made me come back into the living room and breathe on her to demonstrate the minty freshness of my mouth.

Nevertheless, I resisted. It was a pain and a chore and I just flat didn’t want to do it.

What a strange, strange child I was!

Today I wouldn’t dream of starting and ending my day without brushing my teeth. Now and then you might catch me brushing them in the middle of the day, too. And flossing!

Obviously somewhere along the way, something changed. The thing I once saw as a tedious chore, forced upon me by cruel, uncaring authority figures suddenly became an important discipline in my life.

After all that resistance I came to see the value of brushing my teeth. No one had to watch over me and badger me to do it… I finally WANTED to brush my teeth. In fact, I looked forward to doing it. I actually have come to miss it dearly during those times when – for one reason or other – I am unable to brush my teeth.

That which was once a CHORE and an IMPOSITION on my precious time has somehow become a valuable DISCIPLINE. I am not sure it has morphed all the way to the status of being a JOY yet, but hopefully, it will get there while I still have teeth left to brush. I am not sure when or how this transformation of my attitude happened, but it did. Today I am an avid tooth brusher!

But I have to confess; I have still not quite arrived at that same place when it comes to my daily prayer and scripture-reading discipline.

Don’t get me wrong: I am much farther along the transformation road than I once was. I no longer require an authority figure to stand guard over me, threatening to withhold my allowance if I don’t do my daily devotional reading. (But honestly… is that really an accomplishment to crow about for a guy who was ordained into Christian ministry 12 years ago? Yeah, probably not.)

I still regularly let obstacles block my path on the way to “the reading chair.” A schedule that looks too full… an early household chore that MUST be attended to… a grumpy or lazy state of mind that rears its head and says – in a low, surly voice – “Aw, just skip it today.” All of these can too easily derail my noble intent.

My goal is to arrive at that place where I feel just as incomplete and ill-prepared to face the world without my daily dose of prayer and scripture as I would with unbrushed teeth.

I’m not there yet.

But I believe I am getting there.

Would you please pray for me?

21
Mar
17

A CASE OF THE DRIFTS

Shoulder-rumble-strips-.com-April-5-2013I got a little bit of a scare the other day.

As I was driving back home after having spent the day in the two small communities where I serve, I noticed a bit of weariness beginning to set in. The old eyelids drooped a little and fogginess slowly began to enter my brain.

Instead of doing the smart thing and pulling off the highway for a couple of minutes to get out of the car, walk around, and revive myself a bit, I decided just to grit my teeth and push on. You know… the manly way.

Suddenly I heard a loud BRRRP, BRRRP BRRRP as the wheels of my car started rolling across the rumble strips that are cut into the shoulder of the highway. I sat up with a start, corrected my steering wheel, and got back into my lane.

WHEW! That was close, I thought to myself. And yes… I did pull off the next exit and walked around the car three times to help wake myself up.

In addition to vowing to be more cognizant about my overall state of alertness, I was also struck by how quickly and easily this whole thing had happened. One minute I was just driving along the highway, happy as a clam. The next minute I was headed for the ditch.

The change from “focused, purposeful driving” to “unconscious, aimless drifting” took less than an instant.

All of which made me cock my head a little to the right, knit my eyebrows together, and then ask myself, “Is it possible that there are other areas of my life where a degree of DRIFT has also begun to happen… except that there are no ‘rumble strips’ to warn me about it?”

Drift is a tricky thing to pick up. By definition, the act of drifting is slow and gradual. It is not at all like suddenly yanking the wheel to the left and abruptly changing direction.

It happens almost without noticing.

Drift can happen in many different areas. It can happen in our important relationships… such as when we start taking a spouse or loved one a little bit for granted… when we stop noticing or commenting on the small, yet important differences they make in our daily life… when we stop thanking them for the micro-favors they do for us, or the subtle change they made in their appearance.

Drift can happen in the way we tend to our own health. “What the heck,” we say. “A little extra helping of this is no big deal. I’ll work it off later.” Or, “Yes, I know I really should walk there, but I’m in a hurry so I’ll just hop in the car and drive.”

Or it can happen in the 1,001 little reasons we can ingeniously invent to avoid exercise yet again today.

And if you – like me – have been a practicing Christ-follower for more than a few years, you know how easily we can begin drifting in our faith.

We get comfortable. For the most part, those of us who profess Christ are not persecuted for our belief. We stand as the dominant expression of religious faith in our culture. We don’t have to arrange secret meeting places and code words in order to gather for worship.

And so… in our comfort, we drift.

We get tired. Or even bored. We celebrate the same holy days, observe the same liturgical seasons, say the same prayers, read the same scripture passages and – mostly – hang out with the same people in our places of worship.

And so… in our boredom, we drift.

We get proud. We fall in love with our place of dominance and start to feel a sense of moral superiority about being a Christian. We sing praise songs with titles like, “How Great is Our God,” and add our own little, “He’s lots better than yours,” to the end. We honestly can’t believe that people would NOT be a part of our faith, or would purposely choose to practice something else.

And so… in our pride, we drift.

Paul Simon sang about drift in his famous 1982 song, Slip Sliding Away. He said, “The nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away.”

John the Revelator wrote about the phenomenon of drift in a little more direct, less lyrical way. He said, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:15-17, NRSV).

And so, just like last year and the year before and the year before that, we again stand in the middle of the season of Lent. We’ve been told a thousand times before that Lent is the season of renewal and repentance… a time to “wake ourselves up” and shake some new life into our relationship with God.

And we generally respond to that urging by saying, “Sure. OK. Great idea.” And we then go right back to checking to see what’s for dinner tonight.

day I am praying that God might help me hear the “rumble strips” in my life and jar me into aliveness and alertness and into “focused, purposeful driving” in my discipleship.

 

How about you?

 

Abundant blessings…




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