“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pray All the Time, Use Words When Necessary

A reflection on the readings for Proper 24C:Jeremiah 31:27-34; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8; St. James, West Dundee, IL

Occasionally I have a craving for LIFE cereal. The other day I opened a fresh box of Life cereal and poured it in a bowl for breakfast. But the cereal, instead of being those little squares in a basket weave, were crushed and came out shredded. The box was perfectly unmarked, no indication that the cereal inside was crushed. I wonder what happened? Did I just get the last dregs from the factory that day, all tumbled into one box? Who knows?

Likewise, we don’t know the exact circumstances that led the widow to the judge in our reading from Luke this morning. What we know of ancient societal customs tells us that widows were often social outcasts, poor, desperate, and struggling. We have no idea who her opponent is. But none of that is point of the story, the point is, like the judge, God hears our desperate pleas for justice, and grants them. God brings justice to the world. Of course, like all of Jesus’ parables, that’s the basic point, deeper meanings are uncovered as we delve into the story.

For example, I often wonder, especially in this day and age, what does God’s justice look like? How do we know it? These days an awful lot of people seem to have opinions on who God is and what God does. Opinions are flung around like the sand that blew thickly through my backyard when I lived in southern Arizona. Sand that would land in my pool leaving a thick residue of mud. That’s the image I have of the energy in our world today, whether we’re talking religion or politics...a lot of mud everywhere. I think this hostility and anger is a reflection of how broken and helpless we all feel.

Our readings have one thing in common – they speak of God’s call to us and our response. And that means they are speaking to us about prayer. Prayer is how we talk to God or rail at God or plead with God. And prayer is how God speaks to us. In the silent moments of prayer God speaks. I know, that sounds odd. How do we know God is speaking if God is silent?

Our reading from Jeremiah has something to say about that. This prophet Jeremiah is speaking about pain and suffering. He’s addressing the injustices of the world he lives in. There is a disproportionate amount of wealth held by leaders while the ordinary people go hungry and struggle. Jeremiah proclaims that God is with the people, God does not abandon the people, and will work to ease their life suffering. God promises that a new generations will be born in hope, with God implanted in their very beings: We hear God saying, “I took them by the hand, I married them” (Wil Gafney, Workingpreacher)

Essentially, Gos is promising that God's love will be internalized within all people. The love of God is internalized in us, it is part of who we are. God’s love is not dependent upon giving and receiving, it’s organic and innate to who we are. The words of Jeremiah feed our starving sprits. God has put God’s spirit, God’s love in us, where it lives and moves. How do we know this, you might wonder?

For me, I know God is at work in and within me when I feel a sense of peace regardless of the circumstances I’m facing. And it’s not just me who feels this peace. The mystics speak of it. The desert mothers and fathers speak of it. It’s a reality. Life can be rough. Life can throw us harsh curve balls. And yet, an inner sense of peace is possible. This I think God’s justice, is God’s love living within us and it manifests as a deep internalized sense of peace.

It reminds me of a poem by Wendall Berry:

When I rise up
let me rise up joyful
like a bird.

When I fall
let me fall without regret
like a leaf.

The ability to rise joyful and fall without regret, to live gently in this way, is perhaps a sign of God’s peace residing within.

But, how do we tap into God’s peace and enable it to resonate within us? For surely we can all say that there are times when feeling peaceful is impossible. And that’s true. There are times when being peaceful is impossible. There are times in life when it’s impossible to even imagine a sense of inner peace. We feel fraught and fractured and rail at God. We are, in essence the widow with her relentless petitions.

This parable tells us that the judge, who cared for no one, not God nor others nor this widow, is made weary of the barrage of petitions from the widow, relents and gives her justice. But God, unlike this judge does care – God cares for me, for you, for the widow, for the judge, for everyone. And because God cares God’s justice is deep, pervasive, and expansive.

But how is it that we open ourselves up to the potential of God’s justice, the possibility of God’s peace to reside in and through us? Elsewhere in scripture Jesus assures us that one way God’s justice manifests is through prayer. Think of the Lord’s Prayer, and of all the references to Jesus going off to pray. The last thing Jesus does on the cross is pray. Prayer is how we connect to God and how God’s justice is served in us and through us. Prayer is God’s love enlivened, and God's love enlivened is God's justice.

Now, if you are like me, you may think, but I’m no good at praying. I don’t know what words to use....and, again, I think of a poem. This one by Mary Oliver:

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak. (Mary Oliver)

Prayer can be as simple as sitting in silence – or as theologically complicated as the Eucharistic prayer we will pray in a few minutes. But either way we are making room for God to speak in and through our lives. God invites us into a relationship and when we take time to nurture that relationship and develop it God’s love grows within us and God's justice reigns.

One way we participate in nurturing our relationship with God is through prayer. Max Lucado, in his book, When God Whispers Your Name says this: “Pray all the time, use words when necessary.”

Prayer opens us up to God, prayer sustains our faith, and enables God’s peace to resonate inside of us. Living with an inner sense of peace puts a new perspective on our problems and the problems of the world around us. It’s like realizing that even if the cereal is crushed it still tastes the same, it’s still nutritious and good for me.

This new perspective
formed in prayer,
centered in peace
and expressed as love,
is God’s justice
made manifest.