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All Hallows’ Eve: A Time for Remembering

Katherine Mead-Brewer

I’ve been thinking a great deal about death lately. Not only is it the week of Halloween, but I’ve also recently had more than a few friends suffer through major surgeries, vehicle collisions, and severe illness. And so maybe it’s because of these events and meditations that I’ve also been feeling especially grateful to have such a life- and living-centered faith. For although many focus on the torment and violent death of Christ, it is important to also constantly remind oneself of what it was he was dying for. To my mind, Christ was not simply a sacrifice, but a man who died for his dedication to the love, life, and eternity of the world. The legacy of Jesus then, for me, has always been a life-centered faith. A faith where the mysterious God empowers us to conquer death, where all things are interconnected and eternal rather than isolated, linear, and full of endings.

Despite this legacy, however, the Christian Church, like many religions, has left in its wake a tremendously bloody history thanks to the failings, fears, and prejudices of its practitioners over the centuries: persecution of countless men and women as witches, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and many other instances of war, terrorism, conquest, and “cleansing.”

As Halloween is nearly upon us, it strikes me as a strangely ideal time to pause and give a moment of remembrance to those who have suffered and to those who continue to suffer at the hands of people who claim to be acting in the name and service of God.

To aid you in this, I leave you with a prayer from Michel Quoist’s classic meditation, Prayers:

            Grant me, Lord, to spread true love in the world.

            Grant that by me and by your children it may penetrate a little

                        into all circles, all societies, all economic and political

                        systems, all laws, all contracts, all rulings;

            Grant that it may penetrate into offices, factories, apartment

                        buildings, movie houses, dance halls;

            Grant that it may penetrate the hearts of men and that I may

                        never forget that the battle for a better world is a battle of

                        love, in the service of love.

(Quoist, pg 103)

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Christ Church Cemetery, Alexandria, VA

Photo by Jessica Sexton, OSP Youth Minister

Grateful to God for Rain in West Africa

Reading Katherine’s post, “Experiencing the Presence of God through the Weather,” was very timely for me because I felt the presence of God in the weather this morning. I am currently in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso in West Africa, and the weather here is quite different from Baltimore’s. The hot season (108 degrees when I arrived on Saturday) is hanging on longer than normal, and the seasonal rains have been slow to begin.

Village of Saaba
Village of Saaba

As I looked out the hotel window this morning, I could see the storm clouds gathering in the distance. Very soon, high winds kicked in, bringing a swirl of dust and trash blowing through the streets. The clouds of dust in the sky, after months of no rain, suddenly made it look as if it was night again. The streets emptied as pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists (cars are less common here) all took cover. The raindrops started to fall, slowly at first, then began beating down on the dry clay soil and dusty pavement.

Rain is a precious commodity in this part of the world as the Sahara desert advances southward. There is less rainfall every year, not so much due to God, but rather because of our collective inability to care for the environment that God created for our well-being. When it does rain, people are so thankful—their lives and livelihoods depend on it in a country where many people still eke out a living through rain-fed, subsistence farming. (Remember this the next time someone claims that climate change is a hoax.)

By the time I left to go to work, the rain was already starting to taper off. It did not last long, but it is hopefully the start of another agricultural season for farmers here. When I reached the office, my Burkinabe colleagues were all extremely joyful and grateful for God’s answer to their prayers for rain. Thank you, God.

—Post & Photo by David Leege

David Leege works for Catholic Relief Services, which implements international relief and development programs in 100 countries around the world. He travels internationally from time to time to provide technical support to CRS programs.

Experiencing the Presence of God through the Weather

How do you feel the presence of God?

This past spring, The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley dedicated one of our Sunday Forums to a meditation on and discussion of just this question. People dove straight in, giving all kinds of fantastic and unexpected responses, everything from “in the love of family and friends” to “it isn’t something I necessarily have to feel, but experience.” Everyone was being so forthright and brave that I was surprised to find myself suddenly and unusually shy. Because although a very specific answer immediately leapt to mind for me, I was sure that no one else would understand, that it’d be thought of as juvenile somehow (despite all my trust and love for my fellow Old St. Paul’s congregants). This, for some reason, I was nervous to share.

And then, to my great astonishment, I didn’t have to—someone else spoke up and said precisely what was on my mind: I experience the presence of God through the weather.

My heart lifted and I know I felt God’s presence in that, in this bold woman’s admission.

I, also, so often experience the presence of God through the weather.

Tetons & Yellowstone 2014 310

When I’m walking through my neighborhood and feel a breeze that has me looking up at a tree in bloom, a tree I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, or get to take off my jacket when the clouds part for a great bolt of sunshine, I’m reminded to be thankful—reminded to acknowledge the presence and hand of God in these small but life-filling pleasures.

When I’m sitting at home writing and rain pounds against the windows, I’m reminded to be grateful not only for the rain that feeds the Earth, but also to be grateful for my mother who loves the rain (but rarely gets it where she lives). I’m reminded to be grateful for having a home at all—a dry, safe place to go to when I need shelter from the wet and the storm. And I’m reminded to lift up a prayer for those who do not enjoy the same blessing.

When the sun’s out in full yellow force such that I have to go around my apartment flipping on the window AC units to cool things down again, I’m reminded to appreciate the way my body naturally responds to the world—getting chills or sweaty or tired or energized. And I’m likewise reminded to be grateful for my apartment and those window AC units, knowing how many people go without these life-preserving comforts each year, and I’m reminded to pray for them.

Whenever the weather is just so

I’m reminded of my childhood in North Carolina, picking strawberries with my brother.

I’m reminded of spending a May week with my mother-in-law in Whidbey Island, WA where together we walked along a chilly beach and were grateful for each other.

I’m reminded of Christmases at home in Texas with my parents, brother, and little niece who I miss/worry about/am proud of/am excited about every day.

I’m reminded of my husband and the pumpkin patch we hunted through this past autumn.

I’m reminded of my husband and the time he kept us both safe while driving home through the one honest blizzard I’ve ever been in.

I’m reminded of my husband and of the walk we took together in remembrance of Freddie Gray.

And I’m reminded of just how few people get to relax enough to appreciate these weather elements as they walk outside, knowing how many women have been attacked or harassed on streets all over the world, knowing how many gay people and people of color have been attacked and harassed, knowing how many differently-abled people find navigating outdoor pathways painful/frustrating/unfair, knowing how many people are forced to live outside and expose the intimacies of their life to the weather in all its moods.

I experience the presence of God through the weather—a pervasive, constant force that fuels the world, touches every life every day, and helps keep me mindful, grateful, and praying.

—Katherine Mead-Brewer

(Photo by Evan Mead-Brewer)

Let Us Pray for Baltimore

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Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton leads us in a singing march after our Prayer Service for Baltimore

Last night, we gathered at Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore to offer our prayers for the healing of Baltimore. Here is a copy of the prayers that we used, which were adapted in part from some prayers in the New Zealand Prayer Book for the Anglican Church. Friends from all around the country joined us in prayer last night, and you are invited to pray with us too.

Prayers for Baltimore        

Leader: Let us pray:

-O God of many names, lover of all peoples; we pray for justice and peace in our hearts and homes, in our city and our world. Amen

-We pray for Freddie Gray and for all who mourn his death. Amen

-for those who are angry about the ongoing problems of racism, income inequality, education disparity and police brutality. Amen

-for all who are hoping for accountability and systemic change. Amen

-for the young adults in our city who have lost hope and turned to violence. Amen

-for parents who worry about their children getting into trouble     Amen

-for the protesters and police, for the National Guard and the Fire Department. Amen

-for Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and all who direct law enforcement. Amen

-for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Governor Larry Hogan, and all in authority. Amen

-for religious leaders working with our citizens, and for community organizers who are bringing people together. Amen

-for the small businesses that have suffered due to vandalism and looting. Amen

-for reporters and those in the media who are telling our story to the world. Amen

-for teachers and educators who are making a difference in the lives of children. Amen

-for all citizens who live with fear and a sense of helplessness. Amen

-for those who yearn for equality and a kinder world. Amen

People: Be our companion and guide, O God, so that we may seek to do your will.

Leader: For the broken and the whole

People: May we build each other up

Leader: For the victims and the oppressors

People: May we share power wisely

Leader For the mourners and the mockers

People: May we have empathy and compassion

Leader: For the silent and the propagandists

People: May we speak our own words in truth

Leader: For the peacemakers and the agitators

People: May clear truth and stern love lead us to harmony

Leader: For the unemployed and the overworked

People: May our impact on others be kindly and creative

Leader: For the hungry and the overfed

People: May we share so that we will all have enough

Leader: For the troubled and the thriving

People: May we live together as wounded healers

Leader: For the vibrant and the dying

People: May we all die to live

Leader: Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be a cause of suffering to one another

People: May we ease the pain of others

Leader: Knit us together in mind and flesh, in feeling and in spirit

People: And make us one, united in friendship

Leader: Let us accept that we are profoundly loved by God

People: And need never be afraid

Leader: May God kindle in us the fire of love

People: To bring us alive and give warmth to the world.

Leader: Let us now name before God, either silently or aloud, those persons and problems that are on our hearts this day.

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All of us out together to sing over our street and neighbors

All Say Together:    The Prayer Attributed to St. Francis

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

–The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Photos by Rebecca Giordano Dreisbach

Praying for Baltimore, Singing, and Walking the Block

Last night our church, Old St. Paul’s, hosted a prayer service for healing in Baltimore. While three different protest groups passed down our street during the service, we sang “Amazing Grace” and prayed, and listened to a sermon from Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton about weeping, doing justice, and walking humbly with our God. After all that has happened in our beloved city, it was a relief and a comfort to gather with fellow Christians to lift up our hopes for equality and peace for all citizens of Baltimore.

At the end of the service, Bishop Sutton spontaneously invited all of us to go outside to stand on the front porch of our church to sing hymns as a few protesters and neighborhood folks walked by.

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Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton leads us out on a singing march after our Prayer Service for Baltimore

Singing “This Little Light of Mine,” we walked the block, with the bishop and our crucifer in the lead, and we waved to the many people having dinner in nearby restaurants and shops, many of which had been vandalized and looted in the recent uprisings.

As cars passed, people rolled down their windows to clap and wave and give us a thumbs-up. The bishop shook hands with a man sitting at the bus stop, and with people on the street. As we walked, the bishop kept prompting us to sing another new version of the song, apparently that he was making up as we walked along:

Up and down this street, I’m gonna let it shine!

Prayin for Freddie Gray, I’m gonna let it shine!

For Baltimore, I’m gonna let it shine!

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

Tears streamed down my face as I felt a sense of grief that we still live in a world where we have so much injustice and racial discrimination.

By the end of that short walk, there in the middle of downtown Baltimore, I also felt that our songs were healing our neighborhood. It made me smile when I saw that someone had put up balloons on every streetlight along the row of shops that had been vandalized near our church.

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Jessica Sexton, our Youth Minister, helps lead the singing march as our crucifer

It was just a little prayer service with fifty-four people gathered, and it was just a short stroll around our neighborhood, singing a children’s song, but something significant happened as our group tried to do our small part to bring some healing and hope to the people in our beloved city.

It will take a million little acts of kindness and even more actions, large and small, to correct all the injustice in our world before we can get to the point when we will no longer feel the need to march around our city, proclaiming that all lives matter, especially to God, who loves all people equally and unconditionally.

–The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

Photos by Rebecca Giordano Dreisbach

Crisis in Baltimore: Seeking Peace and Justice for All

Baltimoreans have long had a complicated relationship with their police force, and this latest tragedy in the death of Freddie Gray highlights just how far we have to go. I have only lived in Baltimore for a couple of years now, having moved here from my childhood home in Texas (a place also greatly troubled by violence). Yet, more than I can ever recall experiencing in Texas, police sirens and presence are now a very regular part of my daily life.

 
It’s often tempting in a world filled with violence (both in reality and in the stories we tell), to turn to yet more violence to solve problems, seek revenge, take power, and/or find solace. However, in this “Statement By Faith Leaders Regarding the Current Crisis in Baltimore City,” I find reassurance that it isn’t through increased firepower, strife, violence, or surveillance that we will discover peace (of mind, body, environment, and spirit), but through understanding, respect, and love for our neighbors. As these Faith Leaders so rightly declare, “We profess that every life is precious to God, and are committed to building a City marked by peace, unity, and opportunity for all.”  

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33

–Katherine Mead-Brewer

Climate Change: Fragile Earth, Our Island Home

“At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile Earth, our island home. By your will they were created and have their being.”

—Eucharist Prayer C, Book of Common Prayer, pg 370

Growing up Methodist, I never encountered this prayer. But as an Episcopalian today (freshly confirmed!), I thank my blessed stars for Eucharist Prayer C, because it stops me in my tracks every time. Unlike so many other prayers, creeds, and rituals (however important and valuable), this one always zings straight to the heart of me, reminding me of the vastness of the universe and of the Creator’s role in this vastness (not limited to me and my limited imagination; not limited to fragile Earth, my island home).

Artist Point, Yellowstone National Park (one of my most favorite places in the world)

Artist Point, Yellowstone National Park (one of my most favorite places in the world)

As well as a Christian, I am an environmentalist, and both have led me to a firm belief in the reality of climate change and of my significant role as a human being in the exacerbation of this phenomenon.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve done all I can to alter my behavior accordingly. This doesn’t mean I’m doing all I can to honor and protect the sanctity of Earth, fragile Earth—my sacred, God-given island home. And why? Because I’m imperfect. Selfish. Wasteful. Thoughtless. A sinner.

But, as with all sins, there are ways to repent and reform. There are other roads to take. So, where are they? What can I do today to change these things? What actions and new roads can I take now?

As poet Wendell Berry explains in his Yes! article, “To Save the Future, Live in the Present,”

“None of us knows the future. Fairly predictably, we are going to be surprised by it. That is why ‘Take…no thought for the morrow…’ is such excellent advice. … I am not an accredited interpreter of Scripture, but taking thought for the morrow is a waste of time, I believe, because all we can do to prepare rightly for tomorrow is to do the right thing today.” (emphasis added)

I love this advice from Berry (as well as his poetry!), because it speaks to me as both a Christian and environmentalist; it reminds me that both of these identities are activist ones, demanding action today rather than countless empty promises, pity parties, and nail-biting worries for the future.

Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” This isn’t scripture giving us an “out” to stop worrying about issues like climate change or to leave such things for future generations to figure out; it’s a moral imperative to take action and do what’s right today. Now.

Or, as Berry puts it:

“The right thing to do today, as always, is to stop, or start stopping, our habit of wasting and poisoning the good and beautiful things of the world, which once were called ‘divine gifts’ and now are called ‘natural resources.’”

And there are many things we as individuals can do today to “start stopping” our wasteful behaviors and become better stewards of these divine gifts. For myself, I’m working to spend more time out in nature (both urban and rural); to dedicate more time to reflecting on and learning about Nature’s variety, strength, and fragility; and to adopt more conservative energy-use habits at home (such as unplugging computers and other appliances when not in use, avoiding the overuse of AC and heaters, avoiding the use of cars when possible, and by keeping more aware of my water usage). I also strive to keep myself as up-to-date on the latest energy and environment-related legislation as possible. But these are only starting places.

Don’t let worries of the future draw you into complacency in the here-and-now. Don’t let the vastness of the issues at hand convince you that you have no role to play or that the solution lies in the hands of others. Whether you’re an environmentalist or not, if you’re a Christian, you’re an activist—charged to love the world as God loves us, to love and care for the whole package: this fragile Earth, our island home.

Now, my fellow activists, let’s go act. (Now!)

–Katherine Mead-Brewer