Prayer Practice Week 5

During Lent at Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, we want to encourage holy experimenting with faith practices.  There are many ways in which we are doing this through the church programming.  Please check for the full schedule of events on our Website under “News and Events”.

One of the ways we are helping to provide ways for disciples of Jesus Christ to practice their faith is through Prayer Practice Triplets.  If you are reading this blog, it may be because you are already a part of a small group who has agreed to meet once a week during Lent to learn about and to practice different types of prayer.  Or, you may have come to this blog through our Facebook page or by accident.  It matters not how you got here!  I am just glad that you are here.  Feel free to use these Blog posts and the attached Prayer Practice Guides (see attached PDF at the bottom of each blog post) to experiment with your own faith practice.  Feel free to reach out to a couple of friends and form your own triplet if you would like.  If you do, I’d love to hear from you about your experience!

Holy Lent!

Rev. Ellen Fowler Skidmore

***********************

Mindfulness

In October of 2015 many Columbia neighborhoods were flooded by a combination of extraordinary rain fall and the failure of many local dams.  When the bridge between my home and Forest Lake Presbyterian Church washed away, what had been a quick 2-minute drive to church became (at least initially) about a 15-minute traffic crawl as everyone worked to figure out new routes around washed out roads.  There was much about those days that tested our patience.  But I learned very quickly how much driving I was doing by habit.  I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I left my driveway and – without thinking – drove towards the missing bridge only to remember that I could no longer go that way.  I was driving by habit and muscle memory while my mind was a million miles away.  It was mindless driving.  I began to pay attention to how much of my life was mindless living – just out of habit.

Being mindful of one’s surroundings is not only a good safety practice, but can also be a spiritual practice.  We often do things without thinking about them, or do two things at once without noticing either.  This is what happens when we sit down to watch a movie and wonder where the bag of popcorn went!  This is what happens when we are worried about something and realize that we have just burned the toast because we were not paying attention.  When we are in a relationship with God, just imagine how a lack of mindfulness allows us to miss what God is saying and doing in the world around us.

Take just a moment and try something.  Stop what you are doing and just sit for about 30 seconds.  Bring your awareness to where you are.  About what percentage of your awareness is present to the moment?  Can you bring more of yourself/awareness into the room?  Notice colors, sounds, smells. Try to stay present in your chair – without other thoughts flooding your mind.

This week our assignment is to try to pay attention to God, to people and to things.  I warn you, this is a humbling and frustrating assignment, because when we are honest with ourselves, it quickly becomes clear how much of our thinking is consumed with our own needs and wants.  The “tapes” that play in our heads are full of self-justification; how we did well, how we could have done better if only someone else had done something different, or how we were wronged and things should change.  Mindfulness is an attempt to put God and others at the center of our focus, and our egos don’t like that practice very much.  So, this prayer practice more than any other is likely to provoke frustration.  Think of this feeling of frustration like a tired muscle.  If you feel frustrated that you cannot keep your mind focused on another person or on God in prayer, then this means that you are doing something right!  Only by exercising the muscles of mindfulness will they grow stronger.  And most of us are normally only able to focus our attention on God in brief Nano-second bursts.  That is OK.  It is a beginning!  Don’t be discouraged. As we grow in our ability to love God, our ability to focus will also grow. In Luke 1:38+, it was Mary’s great love for Jesus that allowed her to understand that giving him her full attention was what was most important.

Prayer Practice Guide Week 5

Prayer Practice Week 4

During Lent at Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, we want to encourage holy experimenting with faith practices.  There are many ways in which we are doing this through the church programming.  Please check for the full schedule of events on our Website under “News and Events”.

One of the ways we are helping to provide ways for disciples of Jesus Christ to practice their faith is through Prayer Practice Triplets.  If you are reading this blog, it may be because you are already a part of a small group who has agreed to meet once a week during Lent to learn about and to practice different types of prayer.  Or, you may have come to this blog through our Facebook page or by accident.  It matters not how you got here!  I am just glad that you are here.  Feel free to use these Blog posts and the attached Prayer Practice Guides (see attached pdf at the bottom of each blog post) to experiment with your own faith practice.  Feel free to reach out to a couple of friends and form your own triplet if you would like.  If you do, I’d love to hear from you about your experience!

Holy Lent!

Rev. Ellen Fowler Skidmore

***********************

 

Examen Prayer Exercise

Examen is an ancient prayer practice that affirms that God is present and active in every moment and event of our daily lives, willing and working for good.  God’s intent is for us to give and to receive more love, to see Christ in the faces around us and to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”  (Micah 6:8)

 Examen is a tool that helps us cultivate the ability to recognize the movement of God’s Spirit in our lives.  In this exercise we are invited to reflect upon the specific experiences of our daily lives using the question, “Where is God in this?”

  1. Find a quiet spot where you will be undisturbed, and a comfortable place to sit (without falling asleep). Take a minute or two to quiet yourself.  This can be done simply by paying attention to your breathing and making it deep and regular, or by repeating and focusing upon a phrase.  I suggest something like, “Come, Lord Jesus” or “Prepare me to hear your voice, O Lord.”
  1. Begin to think about the events of the last week and the calendar that lies ahead of you. Don’t rush, but instead take time to remember fully your experiences, plans and calendars.  If it helps, write the events/plans down.  As you write down or remember events and plans, pay attention to your feelings about each.  Do the events, plans or experiences evoke feelings of joy and anticipation or anxiety and stress?  What about this calendar of events do/did you enjoy, and what frustrates, worries or disappoints you?
  1. Ask God to bring to your awareness one or two of the events/plans/experiences for which you are particularly grateful. Savor those events/experiences.  Pray to God, thanking him for the gifts that God has given to you in the form of these events and experiences.
  1. Now ask God to bring to your awareness of one or two events/plans/experiences for which you are not grateful – where the emotions associated are negative (anger, sadness, guilt, weariness, drained of energy). Evaluate what makes these experiences so difficult?  Knowing that God is present with you in those experiences, just as in the experiences for which you are grateful, ask God to give you wisdom about these events/experiences.  Ask God in prayer what to do with these events/experiences.  If you are able to imagine it, imagine God being present with you in the room, and imagine you’re offering these events/experiences to God.  What does God want you to do with what you offer to him?
  1. Write down any convictions that seem clear to you as a result of this examination. Before you end, pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God for what you have experienced, and also pray for a growing ability to sense God’s presence in all of your life.

 

Prayer Practice Guide Week 4

Prayer Practice Week 3

During Lent at Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, we want to encourage holy experiments with faith practices.  There are many ways in which we are doing this through the church programming.  Please check for the full schedule of events on our Website under “News and Events”.

One of the ways we are helping to provide ways for disciples of Jesus Christ to practice their faith is through Prayer Practice Triplets.  If you are reading this blog, it may be because you are already a part of a small group who has agreed to meet once a week during Lent to learn about and to practice different types of prayer.  Or, you may have come to this blog through our Facebook page or by accident.  It matters not how you got here!  I am just glad that you are here.  Feel free to use these Blog posts and the attached Prayer Practice Guides (see attached pdf at the bottom of each blog post) to experiment with your own faith practice.  Feel free to reach out to a couple of friends and form your own triplet if you would like.  If you do, I’d love to hear from you about your experience!

Holy Lent!

Rev. Ellen Fowler Skidmore

***********************

 

Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed Theologian who is considered by many to be one of the greatest Protestant theologians of the 20th Century.  He became a leader in the Confessing Church in Germany which actively opposed Adolph Hitler and the Nazi regime.  So, now with that context, re-read the quote that is at the top of Prayer Guide #2.  Barth knew what it was like to live in a chaotic and uncertain world.  And, he knew the power of prayer.  Barth also said, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”  When we hear about war, famines, abuse, natural disaster and terrorist attacks we can (a) decide to ignore and not listen to the news, (b) despair (c) worry, (d) be angry (e) be fearful, or (f) we can pray.  Scripture says that “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)  Christians believe that God wants and expects us to pray and to ask for what we need.  Being bold enough to pray for the world is based on the faith assumption that God was, is and will be actively involved in the world.  In fact, our faith is based on the belief that God chose to come to earth in human form and lived among us, changing history and humanity forever.  God is not a “gum ball machine”:  where we put in our prayers, turn a handle, and get exactly what we want.  But God – throughout Scripture – responds to and answers the prayers of those who seek his presence.  Christians believe that prayer is effective.

At the same time, the people of God have affirmed both that there is evil in the world and also that not all prayers are answered in the way in which we want them to be answered.  Christians do not believe that God is the author of evil.  But evil certainly exists and will exist until the Kingdom of God comes in full.   In fact, the Nazi regime that Barth resisted killed millions of people before it was stopped.  Faithful Christians can affirm the reality of evil, suffering and grief in the world, and also have hope and pray that God will intervene, cause good to triumph and redeem.  We believe that God’s purpose in the world IS redemption and love (see John 3:16-17)!  And we also believe that evil is real.  Because we believe both of those things we pray.

This week, take the newspapers and magazines that you read (or the news that you watch) and use them as a jumping off place for prayer.  Bring your newspapers to your Prayer Practice Triplet meeting.  Then, in your Prayer Practice Triplet after your discussion, talk over the articles that trouble you the most and decide what you think you want to ask God to do or to accomplish. And don’t forget to say prayer of thanks and praise for good things.  Say those prayers out loud with your eyes open and have the other members of your Prayer Practice Triplet respond to your prayer with the words, “Hear our Prayers O Lord!”  Take turns praying your way through the newspaper or news magazine in this way.  Try praying for both those who have done harm and for those who have been harmed by name.  Pray for the families behind the stories.  Pray for the families of those whose loved ones are listed on the obituary pages and for the newly married couples.  As you pray, imagine that you are “taking the people off the pages of the paper” and lifting them through your heart up into the hands of God.

Prayer Practice Guide Week 3

Prayer Practice Week 2

 

During Lent at Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, we want to encourage holy experimenting with faith practices.  There are many ways in which we are doing this through the church programming.  Please check for the full schedule of events on our Website under “News and Events”.  http://www.flpc.org

Prayer Practice is one of the ways we are encouraging disciples of Jesus Christ to live out their faith.  If you are reading this blog, it may be because you are already a part of a small group who has agreed to meet once a week during Lent to learn about and to practice different types of prayer.  Or, you may have come to this blog through our Facebook page or by accident.  It matters not how you got here!  I am just glad that you are here.  Feel free to use these Blog posts and the attached Prayer Practice Guides (see attached pdf at the bottom of each blog post) to experiment with your own faith practice.  Feel free to reach out to a couple of friends and form your own triplet if you would like.  If you do, I’d love to hear from you about your experience!

Holy Lent!

Rev. Ellen Fowler Skidmore

**************************

When I was in sixth grade, my church (enforced by my parents) decided that it was time for me to go through Confirmation.  I don’t remember having a choice.  Confirmation – way back then – meant that I worked over the course of several months to memorize both the questions and the answers of The Shorter Catechism (107 Questions and Answers!)!  Everyone did it, and so it didn’t occur to me that I should ask questions or even ask for clarification about what I was memorizing.  But every Sunday afternoon for months I went to the church and sat and memorized a few of the questions and answers.  When I felt that I knew them, I went to where Mrs. Marie Adams sat in a classroom, waiting for us, and I recited them (questions and answers) to her.  If she judged that I recited them adequately, then I got those questions marked off and I began on the next few questions.  The church has come a long way in its practice and understanding of how children learn.  I would not now be in favor of repeating this plan as our confirmation.  I want our confirmands  both to know and to understand what it means to confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

However, there were several things about my experience for which I am very grateful.  First, Mrs. Marie Adams – who appeared to my sixth grade self to be at least 200 – was a kind, gracious and loving Christian lady.  And the importance with which she approached her task was not lost on me.  If this was so important to Mrs. Marie (as we called her), then I knew that it must be important.  Parents and teachers need to use their leverage to set priorities for our children.  If learning the faith is important then we – adults both parents and not – make it a priority for ourselves and for the children entrusted to our care.  I know that our Sunday School teachers are not just filling time!  They are teaching the basic Gospel story to our children and youth.  What they are doing is important.  And when we believe it is important, our children and youth notice.

Second, my memorization of the Shorter Catechism communicated to me that I was stepping into a river of faithful people that was much bigger, broader, longer and deeper than my little self.  I learned that faith is something that is not just personal to me, but that belongs to the Church (in the largest sense of the word) and into which I am invited.  The words of the Shorter Catechism were penned in England in the 1600’s!  Sometimes we have been conditioned to expect a customized experience everywhere we go.  And “how we feel about something” is all important.  How we feel is important, but in terms of faith “how we feel” is not always reliable.  It is a comfort and a guide to me to know how Christians throughout the ages have believed and said what they believed.

Third, though I do not remember all of the questions and answers I memorized, I am constantly amazed how many of the questions and answers (or portions of them) appear in my consciousness from time to time.  Especially this is true of the first question and answer.

Q1.  What is the chief end of man?

A1.  Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

This question and its answer have become very precious to me.  Even as I grew and chafed against the patriarchal language, I knew that I was included in the “man”.  That is to say, MY main purpose in life was to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.  I have really come to appreciate and cherish that idea:  that I exist for a purpose beyond myself, beyond my own happiness, beyond my own success, and beyond my own understanding.  Glorifying God – and not me, myself and I – is at the center of what it means to be really human!  And I would not have been given that gift if I had never been required to memorize The Shorter Catechism.

I have found the memorization of both scripture and hymns to be a powerful prayer practice.  Maybe one day I will go back and work on the Catechism again.  In fact, during this Lenten season at Forest Lake, we will be using questions from a contemporary catechism created by the PC(USA) – Belonging to God:  A First Catechism – with our children during worship.   This week, your prayer practice is to memorize a few verses or questions or even perhaps a hymn that is meaningful to you.  Don’t pick too much.  It is ok to pick only one verse and to focus in on that one verse all week.  I find it helpful to write it out in longhand and to carry it around with me on an index card.  For longer selections I suggest that you write it out as you say it.  Then, erase a few words and say it out loud again.  Erase a few more words and say it again.  Continue to do this until you can say the whole thing without any help.  I have given you some of my favorites below, but please know that you are not limited to these suggestions.

The goal is to embed the language of our faith deep in your mind (conscious and unconscious).  In such a way, I believe, God works on us, changing and molding us into people who know, love and live Scripture and the faith.  What have you got to lose?

Possible Memorization Ideas:

Psalm 23

Psalm 51:10-12

Psalm 130:5-6

John 1:1-5

1 John 4:7-8

The Questions from Belonging to God:  A First Catechism (the whole catechism is available in the Church Library) –  during Lent the questions and answers  used in worship will be available for pick up at the Connecting Point Desk.

prayer-practice-guide-week-2

Prayer Practice Week 1

During Lent at Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, we want to encourage holy experimenting with faith practices.  There are many ways in which we are doing this through the church programming.  Please check for the full schedule of events on our Website under “News and Events”.

Prayer Practice is one of the ways we are encouraging disciples of Jesus Christ to live out their faith.  If you are reading this blog, it may be because you are already a part of a small group who has agreed to meet once a week during Lent to learn about and to practice different types of prayer.  Or, you may have come to this blog through our Facebook page, or by accident!  It matters not how you got here!  I am just glad that you are here.  Feel free to use these Blog posts and the attached Prayer Practice Guides (see The Guide attached at the bottom of each blog post) to experiment with your own faith practice.  Feel free to reach out to a couple of friends and form your own triplet if you would like.  If you do, I’d love to hear from you about your experience!

Holy Lent!

Rev. Ellen Fowler Skidmore

*************************

In the 1960’s there was a Trappist Abbot named Father Keating who presided over the St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Monastery in Massachusetts.   A few miles down the road from St. Joseph’s was a Buddhist Meditation Center.  The monks reported to Father Keating that there had been a steady stream of (mostly) young people who were stopping at the Monastery asking for directions to the Buddhist Meditation Center.  Father Keating was dismayed and began to engage the “direction seekers” in conversation.  He asked them what they were seeking and why they wanted to find the Buddhist Center.  He reported that the response nearly always was, in the language of the 1960’s, “A path, man!  We’re seeking a path.”  As he talked with these visitors, Father Keating discovered that almost all of them had been raised as Christians, and so he asked them why they didn’t search for “a path” within their own Christian tradition.  Again, the answers very often were the same.  The seekers responded with astonishment, “You mean Christianity has a path!?”  Keating concluded that what all of those seeking the Buddhist Meditation Center wanted was a path – a practical way of praying and meditating that could actually change how they lived and perceived life.  Keating then began to devote more and more time to helping Christians discover the very real path of prayer that was a part – already – of the Christian tradition.  [quoted from Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault; p. 56]

Very often Christians have been told to pray, but with few exceptions we have not be taught HOW to pray.  Beyond The Lord’s Prayer – which is an excellent rubric – the Christian Church has done a dismal job of helping Christians walk a path of prayer that is actually life changing and faith strengthening.  I know that we cannot “fix” this lack in seven weeks, but these Practice Prayer Triplets are a beginning place from which to address this lack.  Thank you for making time and energy to try to experiment with an authentic path of prayer.

Before we begin I want to make one very important distinction.  I believe that is important to distinguish between Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Transformation.  Both are essential, but they are as different as law and grace.

Spiritual Formation is what we do.  It is a choice to live for Jesus Christ (worship him as Savior and serve him as Lord).  This step requires us to make decisions, to learn practices, to live in a certain way so that we may be open to how God will work in our lives.  Spiritual Formation is our job as Christians.  We establish a pattern or series of actions we take that put us in the way of God’s grace more often/readily.  We plant seeds.  This is what we are attempting to help you practice in the Prayer Practice Triplets.  Our commitment  is that we will decide to spend time being present with God so that God can work in us.

Spiritual Transformation is what God does.  It is a work of grace that God accomplishes for us on God’s time schedule.  This part is a gift, not earned and not controlled by us, that may be experienced but not measured.  Spiritual Transformation is never completed, but is evident in how we are changed and able to produce the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22+).  God causes growth, but that growth often happens while we are not looking or over the long term. We are not in control of the growth.  I am reminded of advice that Thomas Merton once gave to a student who was frustrated with his prayers. [from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, p. 72]  Merton told him to stop trying so hard.  “How does an apple ripen?” asked Merton.  “It just sits in the sun.”  In other words, there is nothing that the apple can do to make itself ripen.  God alone causes apples to ripen.  It is the apple’s task to sit in the sun and wait for God to do God’s work.  Spiritual Formation is choosing to sit in the sun.  Spiritual Transformation is God causing us to “ripen”.  And we know that God is at work in our lives when we have joy, peace, patience, kindness, and generosity (see the whole list in Galatians  5:22-23).  So, it is an oxymoron to try to “succeed” in spiritual formation.  If in fact God is at work in us it would be impossible to be successful in the sense of being proud or finished.  In fact, whenever we are proud (or impatient, or resentful, etc.) we reveal only how much we need God to work in us.  Spiritual Transformation is God at work in us.  So, decide right now that you will not compete or measure yourself against Mother Teresa in your prayer life.  But decide right now to choose to experiment with some faith practices that will (according to the witness of the Christian tradition) put you in the “sun” of God’s presence so that God will cause the fruits of the Spirit to ripen in your life!  Come and walk the path with us this Lent!

 

IF YOU WANT MORE . . . .

  • Teach Me To Pray by W.E. Sangster (available through Amazon) – published by Upper Room Books is a good, short ( 91 pages) place to begin.
  • Or for an even shorter introduction, try reading the chapter on “Prayer” in the book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster (Harper & Row Publishers)

prayer-practice-guide-week-1

Journey to Transformation

Forest Lake Presbyterian Church invites you to Journey with us to Transformation this Advent Season. And as a part of that journey, Artist Margaret Harris (with her helpers) have created worship banners that help us consider the season and contemplate the God we worship. The posts here will show the banners and pair them with a devotional based on the banners for the week. Here are the banners we received  for the second Sunday of Advent.

advent-2

Please come and worship with us!

Christmas Eve Worship at 5pm and 8pm

Christmas Day Worship at 11am.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

Journey to Transformation – Advent 1

 

Forest Lake Presbyterian Church invites you to Journey with us to Transformation this Advent Season. And as a part of that journey, Artist Margaret Harris (with her helpers) have created worship banners that help us consider the season and contemplate the God we worship. Each week there will also be a devotional based on the banners for the week. Here are the banners we received on the first Sunday of Advent along with the devotional.

advent-1

Please come worship with us throughout the Advent and Christmas Season!

Rev. Ellen Fowler Skidmore