I had every intention of continuing to nurture my Centering Prayer practice. I started working on it in February in anticipation of a special event in my life: becoming a parent. I had visions of early mornings, peaceful moments in the quiet, anchoring my soul to God’s presence to get me through the day, etc., etc., etc.
So … now, it’s happened. I’ve become a parent to an 11-year-old. And my centering prayer practice has gone out the window, along with most of the quiet and peace. (OK, folks. I can hear you laughing even from here!) I’ll have to take a break on the centering prayer until another time.
Jesus set such a seemingly impossible standard when he said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5). I’ve been all jumbled up inside since I heard that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. I felt relieved, but also sad. When I saw and heard the crowds of people cheering, I was uncomfortable. I was nervous this American response would stir up even more hatred and violence toward our country. During the night I had strange, disturbing dreams, and I woke up feeling tired and anxious.
I was worried about the current issue of Alive Now on “The Household of God,” in which we hear the voices of people from all over the world, from several different religions all talking about how we are invited to a banquet where God is the host. What if, I worried, there’s a backlash against the magazine because of these current events? (We were aware that the content of this issue would be challenging for some.) Then I remembered how we turn this magazine over to God as we begin to work on each issue, asking for God’s guidance and wisdom as we gather and shape the content. Perhaps, I thought, this issue on “The Household of God” in some way represents what God wants to say to us today.
It makes sense that Osama Bin Laden’s death would bring up emotions. 9/11 was an event of terror that brought trauma to an entire nation. And events such as Bin Laden’s death bring the trauma back as if happened only yesterday. For me, it’s brought back feelings of fear and sadness. I imagine that this event has stirred up a variety of responses in us all, especially for those who were directly affected by the attacks ten years ago and the wars since then.
Those of us who are Christ-followers have the example of Jesus, who set that seemingly impossible standard when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). May the God of love guide us. And may we keep learning how to be Christ-followers, even as we seek our place in the world community.
Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
O you who answer prayer!
By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds
are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning
and the evening shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy. – Psalm 65:1-2a, 5-13 (NRSV)
I just returned home from two weeks in Italy. I’m grateful for the opportunity and still processing everything I saw. Here’s the Top 10 according to me.
10. Olives — From olive oil to antipasto to the olive groves surrounding the places we stayed, olives were everpresent.
9. Clotheslines — Thank goodness for clotheslines — they add so much charm to the scenery of an Italian town.
8. Sculptors, artists, and artisans — Thank goodness for the sculptures and those who made them.
7. Cappuccino — Even I (not a coffee drinker) fell in love with Italian cappuccino. (My favorite bar in Vernazza put a smiley face on my morning drink.)
6. Siestas — Of all the Italian ways of life, this may be the one I’d most like to bring home.
5. Gelato — Of all the Italian ways of life, this may be the one I’d most like to bring home. 🙂
4. Church bells — from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. They reflected the rhythm of life — a rousing peal to wake up creation, quieter during siesta time, another rousing peal at 5:00 p.m., silencing after 10:00.
3. Symbols of faith — Icons, statues, reminders of faith were everywhere I turned. I’m always looking for signs of God’s presence. In Italy, the reminders were everywhere.
2. The evening light — the warm light of evening bathed the buildings with such beautiful color. I stopped each evening to watch the slow, beautiful progression of the sun.
1. Churches and candles — Nearly every church I entered had a place where I could light candles and pray for others.
Excerpted from a sermon I preached on Psalm 23, April 20, 2010, Scarritt-Bennett Center, Nashville, TN.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” – Psalm 23:1, NRSV
I wonder — Who are your shepherds?
My dad — Charles Richardson — is one of my shepherds. I grew up watching him every Sunday morning as he led worship in little Methodist churches in Oklahoma. Because of him, I wanted to work in the church. Dad gave me many gifts–love of nature, music and photography. When I was ordained, he was here to lay hands on me in the ordination service.
Now he’s walking through the shades of death … the disease of Alzheimer’s. Every day, his world shrinks just a little bit more. When I was with him two months ago, we sat and ate dinner with my brother and Anna, my step mom. Dad said to me, “So, tell me where you have lived.”
I answered, “Well, I was born in Norman, you know, and then we moved to Mooreland.”
Dad said, “Oh, I did a stint there in Mooreland. What’s your last name?”
“It’s Richardson,” I said. (My heart was getting heavy.)
“Well,” he exclaimed, “My last name is Richardson! Who’s your daddy?”
I said, “You’re my dad! I’m your daughter, Beth.”
He turned and looked at Anna and she nodded to him and said, “That’s Beth. She’s your daughter.” He looked a little uncertain, and then he stood up, opened his arms to me and said, “I need to give you a hug.” I stood up and we hugged — a good, long embrace.
We sat back down at the table and he listened as I told him about myself: how I had been to seminary, was ordained in the United Methodist Church, worked at The Upper Room, had written a couple of books. He was delighted to know who I have become.
Our dinner conversation turned to other things, and then he turned to me and asked, “Do you know my daughter?” And I said, “Yeah. Isn’t she great?” As the rest of us chuckled, he looked at me closely and said, “Oh. You’re her, aren’t you?”
I know there are so many like him — wandering through dark valleys of illness or depression or struggle.
My dad’s shepherd is his wife. He is tethered to life through her presence. But there will soon come a time when he doesn’t know her as his wife. And he will depend on shepherds who will care for him even though he may not know who they are. It’s heartbreaking to think of him in this way, and I trust that God, the great shepherd, will tether his heart in love. That “goodness and love will pursue him every day of his life.”
I need shepherds to guide me through these days of the loss of my Dad. I need to know and trust that he will have shepherds who will take good care of him. And I want to watch for opportunities to be a shepherd to others — to serve, to love, to witness to goodness, to give comfort, to nurture hope.