AN ANNUNCIATION PRAYER

Today (March 25) is the Feast of the Annunciation. Let’s say a prayer that we would have the faith of Mary, who said “yes” to God. The prayer comes from David Bennett, an author and speaker.

***

Annunciation - Christus
The Annunciation, Petrus Christus, ca. 1450

Lord Jesus Christ,
Eternal Word,
You became Incarnate as man
in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
You, through whom the universe was created,
began your earthly course,
in the womb of a humble and chaste Virgin.
At the annunciation of this miracle,
Mary responded in faith:
“let it be done to me
according to your word.”
May we who are made new creatures
by your grace,
respond with such faith,
when you call us to your service.

Amen

 

Source

Scar on the Cheek: Betrayal: A Post by Prasanta Verma

As we meditate and pray during this season of Lent, one aspect of the upcoming days of Jesus’ trial is clear: there was a betrayal. This betrayal led the guards to finding Jesus, arresting him, and eventually his dying a brutal death nailed to a cross.

What is quite remarkable, however, is how Jesus responds to Judas. Even though Jesus knew what would happen, he still kept Judas near him as one of his twelve disciples.

The same is true for Peter. Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, yet Jesus still washed Peter’s feet.

Jesus still kept them near. He did not deny them nor betray them, but served and loved them.

If it were not Judas, though, it would have been someone else. It could have been me. Or you. God’s plan will be carried out. If we are honest, we know we also betray Jesus. Have we denied him? We betray him.

“There is no one righteous, not even one…” (Romans 3:10). Even so, to all of us who are unrighteous, we are all offered the gift of reconciliation to God Himself. We are all offered the hope of restoration and redemption. The scabs of our wounds, the scars of sin, and the scratches of pain may be healed, restored, and transformed into gifts that flow from our words, hands, and feet. We are new creatures, sewn up from the inside, able to give love and shine a light into darkness around us.

We have hope to live an abundant life on earth. We have hope for eternal life spent with God. With this kind of hope, this kind of love, our pain transforms into joy, which spreads to others in this hurting world—all made possible by forgiveness. That is love. That is Jesus.

Below is a poem I wrote a few years ago, meditating about Judas’ betrayal, our betrayal, Jesus’ response, and the hope and love that flowers and blossoms out of God’s love for us.

***

 

Scar on the Cheek

The kiss on the cheek
planted swift, turns
to thorny scratch, burns
long and thin, drips

red on black dirt.
Fragile petals live a breath
away, a thin vein from death.
Roses keep distant,

far from drawn swords
ready to impale petal-skin.
Repent and attempt
to pluck stems

of delicate short-lived beauty,
for arrangements in a vase,
that fragrance may erase
the scent of love’s demise.

But watch when red drips:
seeds bloom anew,
emit ethereal perfume, transform
into wild, vibrant, hybrid,

blood-red rose. Are you a rose?
Are you a thorn?
Or one scratched by scorn
of deceiver’s kiss?

Show me your scar.

(Prasanta, 2011)

***

Prasanta Verma, a poet, writer, and artist, is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @ pathoftreasure, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Welcome, friends, to Friday Favorites. The world seems a bit different this week, doesn’t it? There is fear and anxiety over the rapidly emerging public health crisis. There is disappointment as events are cancelled and loneliness creeps in. There is concern for the most vulnerable in our society.

This week, Prasanta Verma and I offer prayers and posts to help us in these troubled times. The first four links below concern the Coronavirus and our spiritual response to it. We also have a post on holding on to hope and a beautiful resource for Lent.

Keep prayer, hope, and beauty in your lives this week and always.

Love from Lisa and Prasanta

***

 

A Coronavirus Prayer via Kerry Weber (a prayer for this time)

Social Distancing with Jesus via Michelle Van Loon (finding comfort and courage in a time of concern)

The Spiritual Practice of Social Distancing via Charlotte Donlon (social distancing to protect the vulnerable among us)

The Surprising Gift of Cancelling Plans and Staying Home via Lesley Sebek Miller (with forced stillness and quarantines, we have the opportunity for quality time and creativity . . . what will you do with this gift?)

Are You Tending a Deep Hope? via April Yamasaki (when you’re tending a deep hope yet not seeing results)

The Lent Project via Biola University (daily Scripture reading, artwork, poem, and devotional–beautifully done)

God the Fugitive

On Monday, we celebrated the Feast of Epiphany. Following a star, Magi from the East came to worship the Christ Child. This season in the church year invites us to witness the manifestation of Christ to the whole world. And, as this post explores, to see his heart for those on the margins of the world.

Shortly after the Magi visited Jesus, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” (Matthew 2:13) Joseph and his family escaped in the night in an event often referred to as the Flight into Egypt.

How are we to think of this event in Jesus’ life? Differing interpretations have been flying around the web, many of them concerning the question of whether, in fleeing to Egypt, Jesus was or was not a refugee. Jesus was a refugee because he fled government persecution. Or. He wasn’t a refugee because, technically, he didn’t flee to a foreign country.

I’m going to call on one of my favorite authors from the Middle Ages to weigh in here: Jean Gerson, a fifteenth-century French scholar and the chancellor of the University of Paris. In ca. 1415, Gerson wrote a narrative poem, the Josephina, celebrating the life and faith of Jesus’ earthly father, St. Joseph. The poem includes all kinds of scenes about the daily life of the holy family. And it begins with the Flight into Egypt. Towards the beginning of the poem, Gerson makes a statement that stopped me cold when I first read it:

“Deus est fugitivus et advena.” Let’s look at the terms in this statement. Fugitivus means fugitive. Advena means foreigner or stranger. Hence we have the striking pronouncement:

God is a fugitive and a foreigner.

I’ve often wondered why Gerson uses the term “fugitive” here. We often think of a fugitive as someone involved in a criminal case and who flees “the long arm of the law” (thank you, Harrison Ford). But it can also describe a person who flees to escape danger or persecution. Merriam-Webster suggests “refugee” as a synonym.

Was Jesus a refugee? Was he, to use a slightly different term, a fugitive? Gerson believes that he was.

Flight into Egypt, Giotto
The Flight into Egypt by Giotto di Bondone (1304–1306, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua)

Perhaps it’s the terms and technicalities that sometimes trip us up. Does it matter whether or not Jesus fled to another country or did/did not cross a particular border? He fled persecution from a ruler and escaped, quietly, hurriedly, in the night, finding refuge in a land not his home. That makes him a fugitive in my (and Gerson’s) book.

I also think it’s important that in the phrase quoted above, Gerson uses the word “Deus” instead of “Christus” or “Jesus.” Jesus and God are, of course, one and the same, but the name “God” carries huge implications. God, as in – the Lord Almighty. The Creator. The God of the universe. So think about that for a minute: The God of the universe became a fugitive.

And it’s not just God who needs and seeks refuge. After the Holy Family arrives in Egypt, Gerson writes that each one of us is like them—we are strangers, foreigners, immigrants.

Whoever you are, deeply longing to be citizens of the heavenly country,
act in this way,
thus remembering to contemplate the fact that you are a foreigner.
Let Christ, Joseph, and Mary be an example to you.

As fugitives who had to settle in a land not their own, the Holy Family are to be examples for every Christian. We are all strangers in this world, strangers who walk toward and await their true home.

Yet Gerson also helps us to see that in the Flight, God aligns himself specifically with those on the margins of the world–with the persecuted, the powerless, the poor, the refugees, and, yes, the fugitives.

Let us remember that during this season. As we reflect on the Flight into Egypt —

May we see our fugitive selves in Jesus.
May we see Jesus in our fugitive neighbors.
May we see God’s heart for all those on the margins of this great big world.

***

Note: I am no Gerson scholar, and for this post I relied on the work of Brian Patrick McGuire’s essay in The Making of Christian Communities in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (pp. 131-152). I would also like to thank Randy Blacketer for his translation of some of Gerson’s Latin text.

 

 

WEEKLY PRAYER: Frederick Buechner

For this third week in Advent, we pray with Frederick Buechner:

*****

Lord Jesus Christ, thou Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, be born again into our world. Wherever there is war in this world, wherever there is pain, wherever there is loneliness, wherever there is no hope, come, though long-expected one, with healing in thy wings.

 

Holy Child, whom the shepherds and the kings and the dumb beasts adored, be born again. Wherever there is boredom, wherever there is fear of failure, wherever there is temptation too strong to resist, wherever there is bitterness of heart, come, though Blessed One, with healing in thy wings.

 

Savior, be born in each of us as we raise our faces to thy face, not knowing fully who we are or who thou art, knowing only that thy love is beyond our knowing and that no other has the power to make us whole. Come, Lord Jesus, to each who longs for thee even though we have forgotten thy name. Come quickly. Amen.

 

(Source)

When Jesus Did the Dishes

Last week I wrote about dishwashing as a spiritual discipline. By channeling the wisdom of a Buddhist monk and a medieval master, we can “wash each dish as if it were the baby Jesus.” We introduce tenderness into a chore that usually invites frustration.

Did you know that Jesus himself was said to have done the dishes?

We can thank the Middle Ages for this insight into the Savior’s life. In the fifteenth century, Jean Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris, wrote a narrative poem called the Josephina. This poem celebrates the life and faith of Jesus’ earthly father, St. Joseph. In the poem, we find all kinds of scenes about the daily life of the holy family, including the boyhood of Jesus. And this brings us to the dishes. Gerson writes:

Thus Christ was subject, as he was to you, Mary and Joseph,
What kind of subjection did he wish for himself?
Was he not showing obedience in your midst, as one who rightly serves?
Carefully and often he lights the fire and prepares the food;
He does the dishes and fetches water from a nearby fountain.
Now he sweeps the house, gives straw and water to the donkey.*

This tidbit about Jesus is, as you’ve doubtlessly realized, extra-Biblical. Gerson uses his imagination to bring to life the Bible’s brief statement that the boy Jesus was obedient to his parents (this was after Jesus was “lost” for three days in Jerusalem–see Luke 2:51).

Gerson’s poem represents the medieval imagination at its finest. Like Ludolph of Saxony’s Life of Christ (discussed in my previous post), it paints a picture of Jesus meant to delight us and to invite us into his daily life.

There’s some good theology behind this and related scenes. Jean Gerson says that there is no better way to soften hard hearts than to see God acting as a child. He wanted to help Christians delight in the boy Jesus and to affirm that God became human—a small human with parents, chores, and child-like faith. Gerson’s imagination is in service of the incarnation.

I think we could use a little more imagination in our faith today. We are so good at studying the Bible. We parse its meaning verse by verse and even word by word. We defend our beliefs with arguments and analysis. We listen to three-point sermons that tell us how to live.

But sometimes, this approach leaves me exhausted. I feel like I’m drowning in interpretation. I recently turned down an invitation to join a Bible study because, frankly, it seemed too labor intensive. It involved too much homework, too many workbooks, and too many lectures. I love God’s word, but sometimes, instead of study guides, I need to be guided to some lighter moments. I need to enjoy my faith and to delight in who Jesus was and is. “God laughs into our soul and our soul laughs back into God,” writes Richard Foster about experiencing delight in our Lord.

Gerson’s poem opens the door to a moment of delight, one I can experience even at the kitchen sink. Thanks to this medieval chancellor, I can no longer do the dishes without imagining the boy Jesus scrubbing away at the nearby fountain. I think of the incarnation, which is good. I remember that Jesus participated fully in the messiness of life.

But more than all that, I smile. I like thinking that God did the washing up, in more ways than one.

***

*Source: Brian Patrick McGuire, “When Jesus Did the Dishes: The Transformation of Late Medieval Spirituality” in The Making of Christian Communities in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, ed. Mark Williams (London: Anthem Press, 2005), pp. 131-152.

Long Night of Struggle: A Post via Prasanta Verma

Today’s post is by Prasanta Verma, a member of The Contemplative Writer team.

***

“It is clear we must embrace struggle. Every living thing conforms to it. Everything in nature grows and struggles in its own way, establishing its own identity, insisting on it at all cost, against all resistance. We can be sure of very little, but the need to court struggle is a surety that will not leave us.” – Rainer Marie Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet

No one can see the internal dialogue while I sit at my desk and gaze out the window or while I sit at a coffee shop, quietly sipping a cup of coffee, while others bustle about, my laptop on the table with an empty screen facing me.

“I have this deadline—and the article isn’t coming together.”
“How should I rearrange these particular paragraphs?”
“I’m too distracted.”
“This is digging up too much emotion.”
“Can I even do this? Why did I say yes?”
“Why didn’t they accept my submission?”
“What do I even write about?”

Based on what I have read from other writers, I believe I am not the only one who has said the above; I am sure you could add your own statements to the list.

For many of us, we are sure to encounter a season of struggle in our writing at one time or another. Maybe we even find ourselves in longer seasons of dry spells, struggling to put something of value and beauty onto the page.

Perhaps the struggle is against a deadline. Perhaps a struggle ensues in seeking the exact word or phrase, or the overarching purpose and length of a particular piece. Perhaps the struggle arises from within—a struggle with ourselves—of willpower or motivation or something else.

If struggle is inevitable, how can the writer “embrace struggle” as Rilke describes it? Must we?

I came across something recently that gave me some hope in those times of struggling and digging.

In Luke 5, Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people near the Sea of Galilee. He spotted two boats on the shore, climbed into Simon’s boat, and continued speaking to the crowd from the boat. After he finished speaking to the crowd, Jesus told Simon to go into the lake and do some fishing.

Trouble was, Simon had been fishing all night long, and had come up empty, and was even cleaning his nets. He says, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” (Luke 5:5, NIV). He pretty much says, “Been there, done that, Jesus.”Furthermore, it is not just any place in the water that Jesus is asking Simon to fish: he tells him to fish in a deep part of the lake (Luke 5:4).

Jesus asks Simon to take the nets he’d just cleaned, and go out try again. I don’t know about you, but I’m usually tired after I’ve been out fishing all night! (I’m joking, of course; I have never been fishing all night.)

Presumably, experienced fishermen already know where the fish bite, when to fish, what parts of the lake are best, etc. I wonder if it felt somewhat insulting to be told where to fish and to go out again.

I can’t say I blame Simon. When Jesus, a carpenter and not a fisherman, tells them to go out again and drop their nets in the deep part of a lake, it must have sounded like a strange, fruitless, and unnecessary request.

Sometimes, writing (or service, or a job, or ministry, or some other activity requiring long-term diligent focus and attention) can feel like a long night of fishing with no catch. Maybe it can feel fruitless.

Yet, Simon and the others, already tired from the long night of fishing, do what Jesus asked: “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5).

When they pulled up their nets, the nets were overflowing with such an abundance of fish they had to summon the other boat to come and assist them.

I do not know how long the particular obedience has been for each one of us. I do not know how many times we have dipped down our nets and come up empty-handed.

Rilke says, “embrace struggle”, and “everything in nature grows and struggles…establishing its own identity.” If the need for struggle is a “surety”, instead of fighting these seasons, viewing them as blockages, perhaps we are meant to embrace them. Perhaps the struggle is part of the formula needed to forge our own identity, the part that takes us to a deeper, truer level while also resulting in an astonishingly abundant net. Perhaps the growth occurs as we struggle; that one cannot occur without the other.

This little passage reminds me that no matter how many long nights have yielded nothing, that words and hope-filled stories are swimming and breathing underneath. A treasure is stirring in the deep, waiting for its time to surface. The next net pulled up may contain tender morsels of light and love for a reader who needs them.

***

Prasanta Verma is a writer, poet, and artist. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @ pathoftreasure, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer from St. Gertrude the Great (1256 – ca. 1302), a German Benedictine nun, mystic, and theologian:

*****

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God,
Help me—
in every need,
with all my heart
and a thirsty soul—
to reach for You,
and in You who are sweet and happy
may I find my rest.

With my whole spirit and self,
let me desire You,
for You’re the only One who holds true happiness.
In Your priceless blood, Lord of mercy, write
Your wounds in my heart.
Help me read there both Your pain and love.
May the memory of Your wounds
forever remain in my heart’s secret places,
kindling compassion in me.

Help me focus solely on You,
who are the sweetness of my heart.

(Source)

WEEKLY PRAYER

The Contemplative Writer is back with weekly prayer each Tuesday. These prayers are drawn from the annals of church history–contemplatives, mystics, and other women and men of faith who enrich us with their conversations with God.

When I pray one of these prayers, I feel part of the great cloud of witnesses that makes up the church eternal. This year, I’ve made an effort to coordinate our weekly prayers with the major Feast Days of the year. I hope you’ll join us each Tuesday.

All-Saints

This week’s prayer comes to us from St. Gregory the Great (ca. 540 – 604), Pope, Doctor of the Church, and Church Father. St. Gregory’s Feast Day is today (September 3).

*****

O Good Jesu, Word of the Father and brightness of his glory, whom angels desire to behold: teach me to do thy will that, guided by thy spirit, I may come to that blessed city of everlasting day, where are all one in heart and mind, where there is safety and eternal peace, happiness and delight, where thou livest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

(Source)

WEEKLY PRAYER

Today’s prayer comes from The Venerable Bede (ca. 673-735), an English Benedictine monk, historian, and theologian. This is an especially good prayer to say after spending some time in the Word.

I pray thee, merciful Jesus,
that as Thou has graciously granted me
to drink down sweetly from the Word which tells of thee,
so wilt Thou kindly grant
that I may come at length to thee,
the fount of all wisdom,
and stand before Thy face forever.

Source