Monday, 29 January 2018

Questions in Prayer

(originally journaled Christmas eve 2017)

Lord God--Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit--

Are You here? Are You listening? Do you really answer prayer?

I know You do--but oh, dear God, why does it seem like our prayers and Your answers so often seem so far apart? I know You know best, and Your timing and plans and purposes are perfect, but...

And, oh dear God, my hopes and dreams and efforts seem so often to have been so wrong-headed and futile and helpless. I really, truly have tried (at least some of the time) to follow You the best way I knew how...

But what about my deepest cares and concerns about family and friends that just seem to go on and on. What about loved ones who don't seem to be coming to You? What about those, even those who love You and follow You, but seem to suffer loss and illness and other tragedies far and above what seems "fair"? What about people who have begged for Your healing and trusted You through thick and thin--and then they just get worse and worse? Are You in some way giving them extra-special love that the rest of us just can't see? Is suffering really Your best way of drawing us closer to You?

What kind of a world is this? What about all the people caught up in never-ending wars? What about children living in poverty, or born with the addictions of their drug-addicted parents? What about people stuck in refugee camps for years and years? Children starving to death?

What about politics that are tearing the world apart? What about the whole thing with America, under Trump, trying to make Jerusalem Israel's capital alone? What about the Palestinians who've lived there for thousands of years? Don't they deserve some part of it, too?

What about our uber-liberal society?

What about wars? Nuclear threats?


Where is "Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men"?

I want to "practice Your Presence" and follow You closely. Why am I finding it so hard? I know I went far astray for a while. I know I doubted You. I know I called down Your church (at least the sad, seemingly "wrong" parts of it).

But You know I've never really given up, never really denied You. (Have I?)

I know You've really taken care of our family, and we have few sufferings compared to so many people. I know You answer the prayers that have been prayed for my children--You do, I have seen many wonderful answers... and yet....

What about all the prayers I've prayed? The prayers my parents prayed over many long years? The prayers other family and friends have prayed? What about that? Are You still "working on" those prayers?

"God answers prayer."

"Thy will be done."

Aren't the prayers I'm referring to (You know what they are) in Your will?  Or is there still lots of time (and I'm just panicking because I'm getting older and feel like I'm running out of time...) and You really are working things out? Oh dear God, PLEASE answer!

I'm tired, dear God.

And I'm sorry for all my doubts and wonderings.

I need to put aside "me" and "my worries" and focus on You--and trust You to work these things out, right?


Friday, 26 January 2018

Seeking God's Plans and Purposes--for Me?

Yesterday, I was reading the words of the morning hymn, Awake My Soul, And With the Sun, and the following lines stood out to me:

...Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with Thyself my spirit fill.
Direct, control, suggest, this day
All I design, or do, or say;
That all my powers, with all their might,
In Thy sole glory may unite.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
- Thomas Ken, 1695, 1709

And then this morning I was reading a prayer that I have been praying for the past year or so, adjusting the words from time to time to reach its present form:
Lord, I pray for your plans and purposes in my own life. Help me to follow you, obey you, love you. Please guide me in my business, too. Help me to make right decisions. Show me how to focus every part of my life, including my writing--with God, and tutoring--with God, and speaking--with God, and church--with God, and family and friends--with God, and so on, knowing, obeying, loving, trusting and serving You. "With God." Thank You. Please be with me as I prepare for the new engagements You have planned for me--and may all I say honour and point to You, no matter the audience. Thank You for Your help and guidance, and Your amazing surprises and adventures! Your will be done always! Thank You for Your rest provided in surprising ways. Amen.
Like many--if not most--believers, I was taught early to seek God's plans and purposes ... for MY life. What career (and ideally, "ministry") should I plan for? What education (ideally, involving Bible School and/or seminary) should I get? Who is the mate You have planned for me? And so on  ... the "big plans."

Later, I came across a poem that reads, in part:

He does not lead me year by year 
Nor even day by day 
But step by step my path unfolds 
My Lord directs my way. 
Tomorrow's plans I do not know, 
I only know this minute; 
But He will say, "This is the way; 
By faith now walk ye in it." ...
What need to worry then or fret? 
The God who gave His Son 
Holds all my moments in His Hand 
And gives them one by one. 
- Barbara C. Ryberg 

And that was helpful because I realized that God's leading is in the small, everyday decisions, activities, thoughts as well as in the big plans of life--and I realized He really does care about each of MY moments. 

But this morning, as I read that morning hymn and as I reread my daily prayer, I began to wonder if "God's plans" are really so centred on me so much? I wrote the following thoughts in my journal...

What does it mean to follow God step-by-step, my path unfolding through His direction? Is it a detailed plan of His for my every step in life, or is it more a matter of just my life unfolding naturally--and in that, making moment by moment decisions based on what I've learned of His will and commandments, with His Spirit giving me deeper enlightenment and understanding of that? With an openness to His Presence and guidance: mainly spiritual, moulding my heart into the image of Christ, as mercifully He loosens me from my old sinful nature moment by moment?  And that change in my inner being then being reflected in my outer, physical and mental and emotional aspects of my being ... with the possibility then of unexpected, distinct changes of "big" directions and plans from time to time?

And though these are changes in ME, does that mean that "I" am the centre, the reason for it all? Yes, He loves me individually. Yes, He cares for me as much as for each of His children? But am I perhaps being more "ME-centred" that I should be? The words in my prayer stood out: follow, obey, love, know, trust, serve--and oh! What about "glorify God"?  Scripture's focus is always God-ward, isn't it! Read and meditate on the Psalms. Yes, the Psalmist cries out for help--but always, in the end, his focus returns to glorify God.  Is God's light shining in my heart always for MY benefit? Or is it for His glory? "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus." (2 Corinthians 4:6)

And then there is "loving your neighbour". Are "His plans and purposes for me" sometimes more about His plans and purposes for others, for all mankind, for all His children, for my "neighbours" to whom I can reflect and demonstrate HIS love and mercy? Are "His plans and purposes for me" very often (most often, even?) about His plans and purposes for others, and for His glory, more than about "MY journey, MY life, MY purposes, MY plans"? (And if so, that does truly make my journey an adventure and surprise, doesn't it, as the focus moves to Him and all those He has created and loved.)

The ancient prayers of the church--and the prayer taught us by Jesus--do demonstrate His care and purposes for me ... but each of them ultimately points me back to Him as the Centre, as THE Purpose and Plan. We've often pushed away the "old-fashioned prayers and hymns and scriptures" in favour of ones (which we, perhaps ironically, call "worship choruses") that are really, when we admit it, ME-focused. It would do us well, I believe, to become a little bit more old-fashioned, realizing that those old-time prayers and hymns and scriptures have lasted for hundreds or even thousands of years because their focus is where it belongs! 

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom and the power
and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, you heavenly hosts,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Glory be to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning,
Is now,
And ever shall be, world without end.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

Oh Lord, save Thy servants
that put their trust in Thee.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Don't Know What You're Doing Until You Do It?

In her book, Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott writes, “Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it.”

This is true, I think ... about writing, yes, but also about the believer's life journey. Maybe there's a need for less planning; a need for more just stepping out, and see where the, well, the stepping-stones take me. Step by step. 

Where You take me. 

And maybe, in my writing, just record my observations and learnings and thoughts and wonderings--and also the epiphanies, the amazing things You sometimes point out to me, that stop me in my tracks. 

Especially when those tracks of mine are maybe tending to take me off in directions where the destination is a dark, endless whirlpool instead of the far shoreline to which You’re leading me. 

Hmm…. Did that picture, those words, that bit of Light, just come from You? 

Thank You! Help me listen, please. And share…. Step by step. 

Monday, 15 January 2018

Paying Attention to Your Presence

(originally journaled Dec 14, 2017)

I was hoping that You would "speak to me" like back in the day when You used to give me words to write down and publish for people to read.

But just as I started to sit quietly and listen right now, I feel/hear You urging me instead to pay attention to the many ways Your presence (and thus Your voice) is seen, heard, recognized, experienced all through each day. Like in Brother Lawrence's little book, The Practice of the Presence of God.

Yes! I have never been very open like that. Please help me.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Springtime Inside (Though It's Winter Outside)

(originally journaled October 2017)

I just can't imagine how I got so deep in a hole for so long.

But I feel lately like my head--and maybe my heart, too--is reopening. I hope.

Lord, You know my heart. You know how the Spiritual Disciplines are arousing feelings and thoughts that I've buried for so long. As well as longing for singing and worship and prayer. Not just alone, but with others, with Your church, too.

Last night we were invited over to a friend's place for coffee. All day long I'd been kind of tired and flat. And then there I was--belly-laughing. Something that hadn't happened since ... well, I don't know since when. It just rolled out of me, and I was so astonished and couldn't stop it. Just good old-fashioned laughter over silly stories and memories.

Yesterday was cold, grey, and rainy at the start. So I put the garden to bed. Thinking, okay, I don't need to do anything about this for a long time. Long winter's nap, you know. And now, today, I am longing to get out and really garden--and go out into the countryside and forage, too. And start using my bike and/or walk every day.

Something is waking within me, stirring. Here it's well into fall and heading fast into winter--and my mind and heart feel like spring has come inside--March, spring break, early April ... Easter resurrection, maybe?

Thank you, Lord. I was feeling very afraid that I'd "left" You for so long that You'd not want me back. But You're here now. You are.

Thank You.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Wondering How Far a Writer Should "Get Into" a Character?

(I originally journaled this in Sept 2017)

Before I woke, I had a dream that helped me understand what fiction writers say about "getting into" their character--feel what the character is feeling, follow where the character leads, see from "inside" the character.

In this dream, I was laying relaxed on a park bench with a random group of young adults. I say "I" but, unlike my usual dreams, it wasn't me in particular. Rather, it was a young woman, perhaps between 19 to 22 years of age. She was dressed in jeans and a winter jacket. I don't really know what "I" (she) looked like because I couldn't see my face, though I know I had fairly long hair, dark, quite thick and a bit wavy. Remember, I was seeing through this character's eyes, so some things weren't visible, obvious, or immediately apparent.

People were coming over and joining the group while others were randomly wandering off. A young man, who appeared to have a kind of classic Italian look about him, wandered over and sat on the end of the bench I was laying on. The way he was dressed, it looked like he'd probably been traveling, and a few random things he said gave the impression he'd been traveling by bus, which, along with the other young people coming and going made me assume a bus depot was just "off stage," so to speak. We were all kind of lazily engaged in the kind of random conversations that strangers strike up in such a situation, and I felt comfortable and open, willing to see what might develop.

Eventually, the two of us got up and just naturally wandered off across a park field. At some point, I noticed he was wearing a long, fitted skirt rather than trousers. We were chatting, and he was telling about seeing the Edmonton area by bus, and I mentioned I'd been there too, but by car.

We were holding hands, and then he laid his arm across my shoulder as we walked, and I started noticing more details of the place and weather--a kind of grey, hazy, but comfortable wintry day. A couple people came by and said a word or two to us in passing, but mostly we were in this comfortable, quiet space together. I had an anticipatory, light feeling, wondering where this unexpected friendship might be leading, if anywhere. It didn't seem like he was trying to pick me up, but the possibility seemed to be lingering on the edge of my feelings; on the other hand, I thought maybe he was just looking for a moment of close, comfortable friendship during his journey.

And then I woke up.

The thing is, the whole dream moved slowly and dreamily--"dreamscape" really fits--but instead of being an external observer (as I almost always am if I try my hand at imaginative creative fiction), I felt like I was "in" my character, seeing, feeling, experiencing from her viewpoint, unfolding as events unfolded, kind of like a scroll slowly unrolling and spreading out. In fact, the whole walk across the snowy field felt that way.

I experienced a wondering at what might develop, looking off with a kind of curious anticipation across the wide, wide field to a hazy kind of horizon with what appeared to be a band of trees at its far edge ... and I felt I was just pleasantly walking into it as it was unfolding.

I wasn't exactly my character, yet I was her, within her and feeling at one with her, seeing and feeling from her own unfolding experience. This was a feeling I've not had before--and yet now I think I understand what writers mean about following and getting into and with their characters.

One side note: periodically, the "real me" would kind of interject, worrying about what my husband would think if he saw or found out I was like this with this guy--but I found that if I pushed that "me" out of the edge of my dream, I'd find myself safely back in her (while still not being her precisely, but an observer in a kind of intimate, knowing way that I haven't experienced before, except occasionally, to a degree, in a book or movie where I started to really relate to a character).

I wonder if this what a writer (and a good reader) needs to do--push one's personal conscious ego and mind of the way in order to live the character's experience? And if so, if that is a potential problem--an "opening oneself" to "outside forces" (eg. "principalities and power") that might come in and cause spiritual havoc?

I can really see how my upbringing (and thus beliefs that have stuck with me all my life, even when I've questioned and/or tried to rebel against them) may have been in some ways quite responsible for my inability to get out of my head and into a character's own personhood (physical, spiritual, mental, emotional). Physical and mental seem safe enough, but emotions, and especially potentially alternate spiritual experiences and understandings, have me jumping in and slamming the door like there's a huge "danger!" sign waving in my face. Is this a good thing, a safe thing? Or does it stop my imagination, empathy, creativity from flowing; does it inhibit my ability to inhabit other lives--those of my potential characters?

Is this why I've always had difficulty creating fictional stories and characters, although I certainly enjoy reading about them and watching them in movies--and observing real-life "characters"? In fact, I can help other writers develop characters, but for some reason, I've always run quickly into a "block" when I try to develop "my own" characters.

I wonder, do other writers have this kind of issue? What do you think? Have you experienced anything like this? Lot's of Christians write fiction; I wonder how they deal with this, or if it's just a problem I face?

Monday, 1 January 2018

New Year 2018

I'm back ...

Well, actually I never was away, but the past 4 months have been incredibly busy with my Pen And Paper Mama Services business (tutoring and editing) and family responsibilities.

But I've been pretty faithfully following my "read through the Bible in a year" schedule (6 chapters a day, divided into the following sections: Genesis - Ruth; 1 Samuel - Job; Psalms - Song of Songs; Isaiah - Malachi; Matthew - Acts; Romans - Revelation). I also have personal daily prayers (which I outlined on here earlier in 2017), and I read and/or sing 2 to 3 hymns a day from the "Hymns of Faith and Life" hymnal (of the Free Methodist and Wesleyan churches). This summer I started doing "The Divine Hours" following the Prayer Manuals compiled by Phyllis Tickle (I highly recommend them). During Advent, I followed 2 Advent booklets.

For 2018, I will continue to follow the above plan, except that for this year, I will follow a "Thematic" plan which I am really looking forward to.

I also continue to "journal" -- not as regularly as I'd like, but hope to do so more regularly in this new year.

I have continued to gather with a group of believers at a small house church in our community--but have also been attending a local Anglican church sometimes (the more traditional service), and have also explored Eastern Orthodoxy and discussed Roman Catholicism with my aunt. I am happy to find that there are true believers in all these groups (as well as the other denominations I have attended during my life, as I've moved from small town to small town--Alliance, Free Methodist, Faith Gospel, Nazarene, Pentecostal, Mennonite Brethren, Baptist, etc. What a rich heritage the church of Jesus has, if only we keep our eyes focused on Him.

I look forward to sharing more of my journey here, and welcome your comments--let's have a great conversation!