Way of Love: Pray

We began our bible study with a prayer, in the form of what we know in The Episcopal Church as a Collect. A Collect is a prayer to God which calls us together around a common intention, offered in the name of Christ. Last year, we worked to write a Collect for our bible study group, Faith from the Margins to the Web. We prayed this together, and reflected on the way in which our lives are shaped by prayer:

Gracious God who is made known to your people through your incarnate Word, we ask your prayers for those who study, reflect, and share your good news through Faith from the Margins to the Web. Be present in every conversation and through your Holy Spirit, carry the good news to all those who yearn to hear. Be known to us in each other across the divides of this world through sharing the eternal words given to us in the life of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Each member of the group took a turn reflecting on the role of prayer in our lives:

Jamillah:

“I pray at home and in church; in church I pray to the Lord to show me things. At home, I pray with my hands folded before I do to bed. I think of words, you know, I’m actually studying the bible and I put my head down and pray and see what words come to me.”

Paulette:

“I pray anywhere and everywhere. I pray before I eat my food, to bless my food and to bless me. I could be walking along the street and things just hit you and sometimes, you know, you end up praying right there in the middle of the street.

I go to the park sometimes where I can be isolated from people, to get myself concentrating. I sometimes pray with my head down and my hands folded and sometimes I just speak to God like I was talking to my friend. I pray for safety, my health, my strength and for finance. I pray to keep all harm and all danger away from me. I just pray all the time; whenever I feel I need prayer I pray. Amen!”

David:

“Prayer to me is a cleansing. I’m a silent prayer. I might, you know, I might have to get to the point where I break down and then I get silent and that is when I really pray, pouring out myself.”

Marvin:

“I just pray to God like I’m talking to a friend. Just talk to Him, you know, and the Holy Spirit offers me feedback. There’s no specific time or place to pray, you just pray whenever you think about it. I was trying to think of a simple way to put it: you’re getting ready to do something and you know that maybe it’s a problem and all of a sudden you here, “hey hey, don’t do that.” You know, that is also prayer. That’s when I know that God is also talking to me. “

Arthur:

“I pray every morning and every night. That’s the way I was come up in Church to do, every morning and every night. My day say that everything would be alright if you do that. And you know, that’s right. When I keep with that it seems to me that things have a way of working out, or for me understanding them.”

Mrs. P

“I pray constantly. There is always something going on my life with my kids or my grandkids. So you know, I just realize that I pray all the time. Not always for me. But I love them so I pray for them. Anywhere and everytime, I pray a prayer. Pray when I’m happy, pray when I’m sad. Pray all the time.”

Sarah

“I sing; it’s how I most love to pray…there’s this saying that “those who sing pray twice” and for me that is true. There are some chants I sing every day, and sometimes it a song or a hymn that comes into my mind. There are other ways I pray, too. But my soul feels deeply connected to God when I sing.”

Way of Love: Learn

Psalm 119:33-42

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
and I will observe it to the end.

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.

Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.

Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.

Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.

Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.

Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good.

See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.

Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
your salvation according to your promise.

Then I shall have an answer for those who taunt me,
for I trust in your word.

Our group read this psalm and then considered the question:

“Who taught you about God, and what did you learn?”

Jamillah began the conversation: 

“For me, ‘teach me oh Lord the way of thy statutes’ this tells me to abide, to learn the statues so that we can live life. My parents first taught me by taking me to church and to bible study, learning the then commandments. You have a lot of bible scholars, but also some people who try to take a verse and just put their own thoughts on it to press on you. I think what they taught me most was how to really read the Bible, how to discern the ways that God speaks to us through His Word.”

Mrs. P considered her own situation, “I know I’m an old lady, but my mother was the minister. We were brought up in Holiness, and that was a women’s movement. Women were the preachers and the teachers. So it was my Mother that taught people, and my mother who taught me. The Church and Family were one and the same for me. And we’re still all together.

Arthur added his recollections as well: “You know, we were made to go to Church because it’s where my Momma was. But, I learned that we have to live the way that Jesus wants us to live. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that there are rules in the everlasting life. It’s isn’t love and do what you want. It’s that when you align yourself with the things that you want to do but the things that God tell your are the ways that your life should be lived in the world.”

What have you learned about God, and who are the teachers in your own life?

(leave your comments below)

Way of Love: Turn

Romans 6:3-11

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

There are moments when a group has been working together that someone speaks truth, and others listen. After Paulette read this lesson, it was Mrs. P who gave us words to ponder in our hearts:

“Everything that we do is really there for God to help us. It isn’t that God wants to punish us; we might think that way but when we die to sin, we are asking for God to help us. God has given us every opportunity to know what it is to be pure, to have a relationship with God. But you have to get yourself out of the way!”

We took a moment there in the group to name the ways we each can stand in the way of God’s pull to turn from death to life, and the joys when we remember God’s presence with us and in the wise words of Mrs. P, get ourselves out of the way!

Way of Love: Bless

Ezekiel 36:24-28

I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

What is one word that describes your blessing: the new spirit that God has put within you?


Here is the word cloud our group created of the new spirit alive in us.

What word describes the new spirit that God has put in you?

(please respond in comments)

Way of Love: Rest

Matthew 11:28-30

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

The question for the group was: Where do you find rest?

David, who logs miles every day on his bicycle running errands and tying together odd jobs was first to chime in: “When I kick my feet up and I finally get off that bicycle, when I put my feet up on that crate. That is rest!”

Mrs. P was thoughtful, sharing with several pauses:

“I should be really resting now as much as I want to, at this age, but I’m not at peace. I have it a lot of times, and I want to be peaceful. People don’t know that I’m not at peace. But, I carry it. For my daughter, for people I love. But, I have to remember to give it to God. Then, it’s an exhale, I can actually feel it releasing to God’s love and care.”

“When you give your burdens to God; when you really, really release that, then it is like a sigh”

“A mind that is stayed on Jesus is kept in perfect peace.”

Way of Love: Go

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

In our group, we pondered the questions: Where is love needed in this community or the world? Where do you see the hope of resurrection?

“I think with the resurrection, it wasn’t that people didn’t want to believe, it was just so hard to believe. To go and share something practically unbelievable is a risk. But that is how God’s love is.”

“Love is needed on the streets of this world; there are people who come from lives where they have no love. We have so much love to share, and there are people whose hearts need to be filled with that love.”

What are the corners of your world where love is needed?

(Please respond in comments)

Way of Love: Worship

Luke 1:46-56

And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

The day of this particular group happened to be the Feast of the Annunciation. So, the Magnificat was a particularly significant song of worship to reflect upon.

Jamillah really resonated with Mary’s song and with this question, “I mean, wasn’t she scared?” I acknowledged that I imaged Mary had emotions like any of us, but also (I believe) made a choice to trust deeply in God, and in this she found her steadfast hope. That, to me, is the incredibly significance of the Magnificat, with all its reversals of power and expectation. It is a song of worship, as well as the coming a life-changing, power-reversing intervention of God into our human lives. This brought another reflection from Jamillah:

“God deserves our worship; when we worship and pray it isn’t just about us; it is living into a relationship with God”

We moved together into our question for reflection:

Mary gave thanks to God in this song; what would be the song of thanks your heart sang to God?

This question brought such an amazing response from the group. Not only did each person have a song to offer up, we began singing them. It was easy for this group to become a sort of worship service in itself. For the online version, rather than just naming the songs, I’m posting links to the songs of thanks welling up from our Faith from the Margins participants; I hope this gives you just a hint of the deep faith and worship experiences of our participants:

So Much Love

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B 

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 3:14-21

 

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

 

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

 

Faith from the Margins to the Web Contributors:  Alisha and Lynette

In these recent days and weeks, I’ve heard more than a few (good, kind, caring) people say that they fail to understand how God could love this world. We are human beings who get lost sometimes, wandering in the darkness of violence, death, and destruction where we can’t quite find our own way out.  We can feel helpless and even hopeless. But, here in the midst of our Lenten wilderness, we are reminded of a deep and resonant truth: God loves us. God profoundly loves all of us, and the collective “us” that we can even have trouble loving ourselves.  Let me say that again: God loves each of us as individuals, but God also loves US, the world, even when we are fed up and even with all the times we fall and are drawn in to the structures and power of evil. God loved the world so much, that God’s very self entered into this world to experience life with us.  It’s probably the first bible verse you memorized as a child.  Maybe it’s the one we most need to hear…really hear…as adults.

This week, two of God’s beloved children, Alisha and Lynette, share for us something about this message of lavish, divine love:

Lynette, a regular visitor at feeding programs throughout the city, began the conversation by reading the Gospel lesson.

Alisha, a student just getting ready to embark on a spring break mission trip, chose to spend the afternoon with our Faith from the Margins bible study.  She began by asking Lynette what stood out to her. Lynette said was familiar with the verse, but what stood out to her right now was amount of evil she had been feeling in the world. “These killings, and these kids. It’s just too much to hear about, too much evil every time I turn on the news.”

Alisha nodded, realizing that Lynette spoke for the way so many of us feel rocked by the nature of violence.

Lynette went on to tell the story of someone she knew who was killed, leaving behind young children. “I’m sorry that I feel like I don’t have much to say these days. It seems like the world isn’t going to last long.”  The sadness hung on Lynette’s voice of age and experience.

Alisha paused and seemed to reach into a place in her heart where God was speaking.  “I hear you” she said, “but what stood out to me is love, ‘For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son.’ Those words are about so much love. Not everyone believes that, not everyone believes in Jesus or God. But God doesn’t just love the people who believe or who read the scriptures or who go to church or who know how to pray. God loves the world, the whole world. Jesus came for everybody, no matter what. I think people don’t see how great that is, how amazing it is to be loved that much. He didn’t make the world a bad place, or to hurt people or set them against each other. He did it because of love.”

Alisha continued, as Lynette listened thoughtfully.  “You were talking about the darkness of the world, Lynette, and I think that it does say in here that people are drawn to the darkness. God knows people will still choose darkness, but Jesus, in a way, is the Light because God knows there will be darkness. So no matter how dark the world seems, the Light of Christ cannot be taken away. His light will continue to shine no matter what. I think that’s a hope to hang onto, especially when we see so many shootings and so many problems going on. The President, the United States acting like we don’t know how to run a country, and then our regular struggles of everyday life on top of that. It’s a lot. And Jesus the Light is still here.”

Lynette smiled a little, feeling some of that light.  Finally, she said, “You know, I see God everywhere I go. You know, when you have good days, you think, “God is on my side.’ If you are happy, having a good day, you see God everywhere. Then if anything happens, you have to remember that God is still on your side.”

Alisha said, “Right now, I’m trying to seek God more. I’m realizing that God is putting people in my life to help remind me, to know God is there. Like you said, on good days its easy to feel that God is there. But then there are other days when you think, ‘why does this stuff keeping happening? Where is God in this?” and its usually through those other people, the people who help me see God again.”

“Do you believe in God?” Lynette asked.

“I do, I really do!” said Alisha.

“That’s good” said Lynette, “Not a lot of people do. But I do, too. I go to bed at night and I pray. I say that God wakes me up in the morning and when there is a new day, I am grateful for that, and I pray again.”

“There’s something about praying by yourself” said Alisha. “It’s like it’s just you and God, and you feel like you can be more open. It’s like I get my faith and reassurance about who I put my trust in most. It isn’t just the words, its the meaning in my heart. I try to see God.”

“He’s around!” said Lynette.

They both laughed.

“People need to read this scripture” said Lynette, “they need to be reminded of what is going on, not just to get stuck in the darkness.”

“It’s nice for us to read it,” said Alisha, “but we’re also supposed to live it and spread it, too. I think just sharing a word sometimes…especially the love, that fact that God loves us no matter what, no matter if we don’t even believe it or don’t even believe in God…that message is something we need to share.”

“Do you have family around here?” asked Alisha. They started to talk about their families, the sisters and brothers and for Lynette, her children.

“Did you grow up in the Church?” asked Alisha.

“Yes, well, almost every Sunday my Momma made sure that we were in Church.” answered Lynette. “How about you?”

“It was the same for me” answered Alisha.  “Now, I try to go to church every Sunday.”  This was a commonality they both valued; the way in which attending to God had been made a priority in their lives, even when there was a lot of other things and many other challenges happening.

Alisha and Sheryl each shared a time when they knew unconditionally that they were loved by God.

Lynette shared about her good days. “Things are going my way, and I think, I’m loved by God. I know it doesn’t sound exciting, but when I go to the doctor, I get out, I realize God is good and I feel really loved by God.”

“For me,” said Alisha, “there was a time when I was really lonely. I mean, I had friends and people around but there wasn’t really anyone that I could talk to, that I could connect with deeply. And then I went to church one Sunday and they were singing this gospel song, it was “Halleluia, you have won the victory, death cannot hold you down, you are the risen King…” I remember that vividly.  It was a just a time, a moment for me when I realized it wasn’t even about me feeling good all the time. If I felt lonely, or if I felt down that God was still with me. God loved me for me. So, remember that God loves you, no matter what has happened to you, good day and bad days.”

May these grace-filled words from Alisha and Lynette fill you with love, this day and in the days to come…