what is prayer

“Why must people kneel down to pray?
If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do.
I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep,
deep woods and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if
there was no end to its blueness.
And then I’d just feel a prayer.”

L.M. Montgomery


(the quince are slowly forthcoming / Julie Cook / 2018)

According to Merriam Webster prayer is:

1. a (1): an address (such as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought said a prayer
for the success of the voyage

2. a: set order of words used in praying
b: an earnest request or wish
2: the act or practice of praying to God or a god kneeling in prayer
3: a religious service consisting chiefly of prayers —often used in plural
4: something prayed for
5: a slight chance haven’t got a prayer

Books have been written, lectures have been given and the search engines are endless…
Everyone has an idea, a thought, a notion…
as to what prayer is…
Both personally and publically

For you see prayer can be both.

There are the: ‘what types’, ‘which ways’ and ‘how-tos’…

Gandhi, a Hindu, offers one nice thought on prayer…
“Prayer is not asking.
It is a longing of the soul.
It is the daily admission of one’s weakness.
It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

While Mother Teresa, a modern day saint, offers another thought —
“Prayer is not asking.
Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition,
and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”

Yet both saint and Hindu offer similar thoughts along a similar line…

Asking or not asking
Longing yet nothingness
Listening versus hearing
Words or silence.
Knees or standing
Thoughts or shouting
Loud versus quiet
Individual versus group
Need or praise
Hope or hopelessness…

We know that Jesus both wept and prayed..much as many of us do to this day.
He also implored…as in an earnestness that almost borders on begging.

Moses prayed and implored
Abraham prayed and implored
Just as every prophet, every apostle and every saint on down the line has done since.

I saw a sign outside of a church not long ago that read ‘to worry is an annoyance to God
As in God tells us not to worry…and yet our prayers are so often overflowing with
the very worry that this sign tells us is an annoyance to God–for it is a manifestation
of our doubt…our lack of faith…
and to some, it is even considered sinful…as in a lack of trust….and did not God state
to us to pray without ceasing, and to trust.

So I suppose I’ve annoyed God considerably over the years.
Sometimes more than others.

Sometimes I’ve known Him to listen, other times I’ve been left to wonder.

This is where the nonbeliever loves to pounce…taking hold of that latter notion with a
sneering “see, I told you so”…”for there is no God.”

But none the less, I pray.

Because none the less,
I believe.

Silence and frustration
Sound or emptiness
Annoy or implore
Wordless or shout
Anger or sorrow…

I pray.

“In the silence of the heart, God speaks.
If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you.
Then you will know that you are nothing.
It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness,
that God can fill you with Himself.
Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”

Mother Teresa

is it well with my soul?

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul”

stanza from the hymn It Is Well With My Soul
Horatio G. Spafford


(an end season skipper visits a blooming wildflower/ Julie Cook / 2017)

Is all well with your soul?

Probably not.

I know it’s not with mine….not in recent months…

If you are a breathing, sensory processing, thinking, feeling sort of human being,
chances are, that given the current day and times, all is not well with
your soul either.

How could it be?

I for one have gravitated from being an observer to what all is currently happening
around us to feeling angry, helpless, sad and frustrated.

From natural disasters that seem to ride in on each incoming wave to to the human
tragedies as seen in Las Vegas, to just our constant state of civil unrest and
disdain for our fellow citizens…
this oh so divided nation is breaking my heart.

Add in to that each of our own personal struggles and tragedies—
and life is becoming heavy to say the least.

Those of us of the faith pray, we read scripture, we listen and often we grow weary
by the weight of it all.

Those non believers amongst us often then jump on that weariness as some sort of sign of
our waffling and inner struggle as they gleefully shout that they told us all along…
there is no loving God….

And of course we know better than that…but it sure gets frustrating because we pray
and we pay and we just keep wrestling with the never-ending madness.

Growing up in the Episcopal church, the hymn It Is Well With My Soul was not
one of the hymns we sang…however I was familiar with it none the less…

So as I sat here today stewing a bit with the current condition of my “soul”—
as the heaviness just seems a bit heavier today than usual,
I did a little digging into the background of the hymn.

What I found was heart wrenching to say the least.
If there was a soul who wrestled with the heaviness and frustration and heartbreak
of life, it was Horatio G. Spafford…a successful businessman out of Chicago during
the mid 19th century.

I offer to you the following back story to this well know hymn…a story of reality, tragedy and eventually peace….
a peace in knowing that there is One who is always greater
than any trial, tragedy or frustration that we will ever face in this life….
A peace in knowing that there is One who has overcome each and every sorrow…

It Is Well with My Soul”
Horatio G. Spafford

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

With this hymn comes one of the most heartrending stories in the annals of hymnody.

The author, Horatio G. Spafford (1828-1888), was a Presbyterian layman from Chicago.
He had established a very successful legal practice as a young businessman and was
also a devout Christian.
Among his close friends were several evangelists including the famous
Dwight L. Moody, also from Chicago.

Spafford’s fortune evaporated in the wake of the great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Having invested heavily in real estate along Lake Michigan’s shoreline,
he lost everything overnight.
In a saga reminiscent of Job, his son died a short time before his financial disaster.
But the worst was yet to come.

Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck tells the story:
“Desiring a rest for his wife and four daughters as well as wishing to join
and assist Moody and [his musician Ira] Sankey in one of their campaigns
in Great Britain, Spafford planned a European trip for his family in 1873.
In November of that year, due to unexpected last-minute business developments,
he had to remain in Chicago,
but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead as scheduled on the
S.S. Ville du Havre.
He expected to follow in a few days.

About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic,
the Ville du Harve collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Suddenly, all of those on board were in grave danger.
Anna hurriedly brought her four children to the deck.
She knelt there with Annie, Margaret Lee, Bessie and Tanetta and prayed
that God would spare them if that could be His will,
or to make them willing to endure whatever awaited them.
Within approximately 12 minutes, the Ville du Harve slipped beneath
the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the passengers
including the four Spafford children.

A sailor, rowing a small boat over the spot where the ship went down,
spotted a woman floating on a piece of the wreckage.
It was Anna, still alive.
He pulled her into the boat and they were picked up by another large vessel which,
nine days later, landed them in Cardiff, Wales.

Another of the ship’s survivors, Pastor Weiss, later recalled Anna saying,
“God gave me four daughters.
Now they have been taken from me.
Someday I will understand why.”

From there she wired her husband a message which began,
“Saved alone, what shall I do?”
Mr. Spafford later framed the telegram and placed it in his office.
Spafford left immediately to join his wife.
This hymn is said to have been penned as he approached the area of the ocean
thought to be where the ship carrying his daughters had sunk.

Another daughter, Bertha, was born in 1878 as well as a son, Horatio, in 1880,
though he later died of scarlet fever.
After the birth of daughter Grace in 1881,
Spafford and his wife moved to Jerusalem out of a deep interest in the Holy Land.
There they established the American Colony,
a Christian utopian society engaged in philanthropic activities among Jews,
Muslims and Christians.

After decades of benevolent activities, the Colony ceased to be a communal society
in the 1950s, though it continued in a second life as the American Colony Hotel,
the first home of the talks between Palestine and Israel that eventually led to the 1983 Oslo Peace Accords

(excerpted from both an article written for the United Methodist Discipleship Ministries
by Dr. Hawn who is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU as well as from a story that ran in the St Augustine Record)

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding,
shall keep your hearts, your minds through Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

May there be…

“I am content; that is a blessing greater than riches;
and he to whom that is given need ask no more.”

Henry Fielding

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(the grounds of Ross Castle / Co Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received,
and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones,
and allow your soul the freedom to sing,
dance,
praise
and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.”

Teresa of Ávila

forgiveness

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because
God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

C.S. Lewis

“Out of the depths, I cry to you, Lord”
Psalm 130:1

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(Pope Francis walks through the gate at Auschwitz. Photograph: Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock)

This past July,
July 29th to be exact,
Pope Francis journeyed to Oświęcim,
a small industrial town in southern Poland…
He next ventured a bit further to the small village of Brzezinka…

He had come to Poland to meet with an excited and joyful throng of young people
who had journeyed to Krakow in order to celebrate World Youth Day.

Yet it was to Oświęcim and Brzezinka that Francis made a solomon detour.
For in this once obscure and quiet area of Poland, 76 years ago,
the first of 23 concentration camps was opened to receive its first prisoners of war…
This was the beginning of Hitler’s incomprehensible final solution…
this was Auschwitz…

There were major camps…camps where exterminations took place,
of which were scattered throughout Poland,
And there were sub-camps…camps where hard manual labor was the focus.
But it was at Auschwitz that an estimated that 1.5 million people
died during the 5 years it operated.

Six million jews and an additional 11 million individuals
lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis, most of which died in the camps.

And it is estimated that 80 million people lost their
lives during the course of the war.

Pope Francis came to Auschwitz to reflect and to remember…
to remember what the world must never forget…

Yet like all of us who claim Jesus as our Savior,
that Savior who, when nailed to a cross, lifted
his face toward Heaven and asked His father to forgive…
to forgive those who knew not what they were doing…

to forgive us…all of us…
over and over and over…
for our egregious sins…
sins that are unfathomable,
sins that are horrid,
sins that are unspeakable,
sins that are unthinkable,
sins that are inhumane….

All of which leaves us…you, me, the Pope…
charged with that same living and dying example…
to forgive…to forgive those who have sinned against us,
just as we have sinned against others…

It is the most difficult and challenging action of the human ego…

Seventy-five years ago, when Francis was a four-year-old boy
called Jorge living in Buenos Aires,
this cell at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp was occupied by prisoner number 16770,
Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar.

When 10 fellow inmates were selected to die in punishment for the escape of another prisoner,
Kolbe stepped forward and volunteered his life instead of that of Franciszek Gajowniczek,
who had cried out in anguish for his wife and children. Kolbe’s offer was accepted.
He was thrown into the starvation bunker for two weeks and finally given a
lethal injection on 14 August 1941.

The pope came to Auschwitz on Friday to pray in silent memory of Kolbe and the
other 1.1m people the Nazis exterminated there. Jews made up the vast majority-
960,000, including 185,000 children–
but thousands of Polish Catholics, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war were also put to death.

He had signaled his intention to visit the memorial “without speeches, without crowds”.
His simple plan was:
“Alone,
enter,
pray.
And may the Lord give me the grace to cry.”

In the shadows of the cell, his long silence was an eloquent tribute to the suffering of so many and a profound condemnation of evil.
At the end of his prayers, he raised his head, crossed himself,
stood and left.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/29/no-words-as-pope-francis-visits-auschwitz-death-camp-in-silence

“Lord, have pity on your people.
Lord, forgive so much cruelty.”

Pope Francis

fruits and umbrage

“Whenever anyone has offended me,
I try to raise my soul so high that the offense cannot reach it.”

René Descartes

The Bible, that powerful book, has many effects:
it comforts, counsels, instructs, and brings us into the presence of God.
But trying to erase offense as one of its functions is a fundamentally misguided task.

Frederica Mathewes-Green

The first and most essential means of making peace with those who offend and
persecute us is to pray for them,
according to the commandment of Christ.

–Saint Leo of Optina

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(my first fig from my small tree / Julie Cook / 2016)

We are known by our fruits, just as we may know others by theirs…

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Matthew 7:16-20

Meaning…
It is to the goodness and the positive…those good deeds, exploits and actions we do for
which we will be remembered and recognized…

And yet sadly on the opposite side of all of this, many of us are actually recognized by the bad fruits and the negative things that we do.

As we are more likely to remember one bad offense while forgetting the 99 good—

All of which is human nature I suppose…

And as I have stood watching all of this election business of ours..
the good, the bad and the very ugly…
Just as I have watched this racial unrest or ours,
This polarization of ours,
This ever deepening and widening chasm of ours…
splitting this Nation of ours in half…
All with both amusement and alarm,
sorrow and bewilderment,
disdain and even wonder…
I am left to ponder as to the fruits that we are to recognize in our fellow man / woman
That of which we shall see and be drawn to and remember….

I’ve never seen anything like all of this growing spectacle of ours.
This debacle of democracy.
It’s grown into something so laughable and so ridiculous,
that I want to stop everything and just ask one simple question…
can we simply start all over??

As we are about to have to decide between the two people who are currently
seeking the highest office in our Nation…

One has proven herself to be a liar who…
has spent a lifetime covering up so very much…
conveniently forgotting so much…
all the while…
living with spilt blood on her hands…

The other one lacks tact, decorum, civility and often decency of thought and word…
all the while forgetting to shut his mouth lest he shoves both feet in for a snack.

And yet I am being chided into voting for the woman of this pair for the mere reason that I too am a woman…

As when Madeleine Albright so ridiculously and even threateningly stated that “there is a special place in hell for women who will not for vote for a woman…”
It was shades of Dante’s Inferno…
however her motives were not nearly as pure or just as our dear Dante…

Is that not just another way of saying vote white because you’re white,
vote male because you’re male,
vote black because you’re black,
vote latino because you’re latino….

As ludicrous as that all is–that is exactly how many out there are coaching fellow
voters to in turn vote….

And yes, I have taken grave umbrage with such…

Why?

Because I am a woman and I can vote…
that is in itself the very reason why I can vote for someone other than a woman…

And at this rate, Charlie Brown is looking pretty darn good….

We’ve definitely got a mess on our hands and there is, I’m fairly certain,
neither divide nor doubt about that from either party or side.

So here’s the thing…
We can either honor God and His covenant to us, His children.
We can either honor the Nation of Israel, the land of God’s chosen inheritance
We can either turn back around from our wicked, yes wicked, ways…

or…

We can continue down our path of destruction…

So what are we to do?
Who are we to vote for….????

We pray……..

The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me;
his word is on my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken;
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
When one rules justly over men,
ruling in the fear of God,
he dawns on them like the morning light,
like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,
like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.
“For does not my house stand so with God?
For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
ordered in all things and secure.
For will he not cause to prosper
all my help and my desire?

2 Samuel 23: 1-5

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compartmentalized

“…what you don’t believe strongly enough to teach doesn’t do you any good.”
A.W. Tozer

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(Bonaventure Cemetery , Savannah, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2016)

Here’s the thing…
The thing about us…
Those of us who profess to be Christians…

We have a penchant for keeping our little worlds nice and tidy.

We lean our preferences to keeping things neat and overtly orderly.
We don’t like to mix things up too much.
And we really prefer keeping our church life, well, at church.

Oh we might give to that homeless beggar whose path we cross as we’re headed here and there.
We might reluctantly serve on this or that committee.
We’ll send in that monthly tithe check to the church…
a little tax write off you know guised in the form of a “donation”
We’ll take the kids to the Wednesday night pot luck or the occasional youth group gathering.

Chances are our daily conversations with colleagues and friends has us talking about what happened last night on…
The Batchelor…
What sort of Oscar shindig will we be putting together…
Or…that we actually can’t believe who got kicked off American Idol, The Voice, Dancing With The Stars or of that so called Island…

Sundays’ Gospel lesson or that killer line from the sermon most likely isn’t causing our tongues to wag as we simply don’t have that same sort of zeal to share those amazing moments as we do the more trival….for if the truth be known, we can’t much remember what last Sunday’s sermon was about, or what verse we even read this morning during our wee hour devotional or we can’t exactly really recall the last time we prayed…I’m talking really prayed.
Not the rote Lord’s prayer…not grace at a meal—I’m talking down on your knees, head bowed before an amazing Omnipotent Creator sort of prayed….

This is because we, those of us living in this western civilization of ours, tend to compartmentalize our lives.
Each and everything in our little world(s) has it’s place.
There is the social side of our lives, the school side, the business side, the serious side, the “religious” side, the fun side…
every aspect has it’s place…
and some of those aspects are only afford a limited amount of playing time.

That’s why when we read such news stories such as yesterday’s coverage that Iran is paying the families of its martyrs, those who have died while raging some sort of havoc (aka jihad) on Israel a nice $7000. equivalent for the “sacrifice” of their loved ones in the name of all things Iranian and Muslim…
as it seems that that recent US billions of dollars gift is now being put to good use….

Yet that sort of story just passes over our consciousness for the brief moment as our eyes quickly scan to the next headline…moving on to reading the more pressing latest weather updates.

We don’t see a correlation between our neat little compartmentalized worlds and the constant torment of Israel by the Muslim world as being relevant. We don’t recall God’s word about the Christian responsibility of honoring Israel.
We rationalize that’s over there.
That’s their business, not ours and if the truth be told,
we don’t really care for how they do their business.
We think “leave well enough alone…you live your life, let them live theirs as we live ours…”
simple as that.

We’ve forgotten that little parable that Jesus told of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46).
You remember…
You know that little story of the “bad” tenants who schemed to milk the landowner for all he was worth… eventually, after having beaten and killed the landowners representatives, they in turn thrashed, beat and killed the owners own son…thinking that would force the landowners hand in their favor…
And do you remember how Jesus then went on to explain that it, the land of inheritance (aka the vineyard), will all be taken away form the ungrateful ones (i.e. the ungrateful, unfruitful nation) and given to a different more grateful group (i.e.the grateful fruitful nation)—one that actually honors what it has been given—the nation that heeds to the word of God—

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Matthew 21:43-44)

Kind of like us today in the US…as we no longer heed God’s word as Sovereign…and the thing is, very few who call themselves Christians care to speak up…speaking up about our responsibilities as Christians…let alone taking on those very responsibilities and living them out with unabashed enthusiasm.

Compartmentalized verses the truth of Salvation…hummmmm

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
Romans 1:16

Then and now

Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.
Guillaume Apollinaire

“Wishes are memories coming from our future!”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

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(dandelion / Julie Cook / 2015)

With eyes tightly closed,
and lips readily posed,
we blew hard for what might be. . .

There were dreams and wishes,
along with a few stolen kisses–
That’s what I longed for back then. . .

But today is much different,
With all that now distant,
As my wishes are no longer my own. . .

For health and for happiness,
along for a world without madness,
As we now find ourselves praying for what should be. . .

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