Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Being Present in Prayer

November 2, 2015

Anytime I’m in a discussion about prayer, it seems like I hear the same thing: “I can’t concentrate, my mind wanders, I can’t focus long enough, and so I just don’t feel a connection to God.”  It’s a common refrain, and many times I have offered different methods or patterns of praying, because having a deep prayer life can enrich our faith lives. People seem to like the idea that they can “learn” to pray; even the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray after they had seen how his prayers connected him with God. And it’s true, you can learn methods of prayer or different types of prayer. But if we want a deeper connection with God, how do we make that happen? Or can we?

Last week I read an article by On Being blogger Susan Salzburg called “Simple But Not Easy: The Right Effort of Beginning Again.” Ms. Salzburg is a Buddhist and teaches meditation; she has practiced meditation for years and studied under a Burmese master named Sayadaw U Pandita. She told a story in the blog I read about going to study with this master and having the assignment of meeting with him 6 days a week to discuss her meditation experiences with him. She diligently meditated each day, making notes and trying to remember how her sessions had gone. But every time she met with U Pandita and described her experiences with him, he always replied, “It is like that in the beginning.”

This article reminded me of how many Christians feel about prayer– as if we should just be able to sit down and pray, and connect with God with little effort. Or that it’s ok to be a beginner– in the beginning; but like our productivity-oriented society, we want to have something to show for our efforts; we want to feel as if something has been accomplished or achieved. In a similar way we talk about “growing” in discipleship or our spirituality– as if discipleship or spirituality is something that can be measured or weighed. And if we’re unable to focus on who or what we’re supposed to be praying about we feel we’ve failed; if we don’t see a measurable answer to our prayer or solution to our problem, we think God isn’t there, doesn’t hear us, or doesn’t care.

But maybe, like Ms. Salzburg, we can learn that it isn’t progress that we need, it’s presence. Being present in the moment whether we’re praying or working or exercising. Listening and watching and waiting for God in our everyday lives so that when we do sit down to pray we’re already clued into the rhythms of God’s world instead of letting the human world distract us. As Ms. Salzburg said, If we make a commitment to living in the present moment, we are always “at the beginning” of whatever it is we are doing, constantly presented with thoughts, judgments, observations, and/or sensations that interrupt up us amidst our daily activities. The challenge is in the choice to accept these things and simply “begin” again, returning to the present moment, or to grip tightly to some idea of what we should be doing and flood ourselves with judgment in the process. In the same way, when in our prayers we try to focus on God and we lose concentration, we can bring ourselves back to the present and begin again. We begin to worry less about “accomplishing” something with our prayers and more focused on being in the presence of God. Which to me, is the very essence of what it means to pray.

Refugees, Not Criminals

July 18, 2014

 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.    -Leviticus 19:33-34


 Not like tStatue of Libertyhe brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  -Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus (written for the Statue of Liberty)



MP900178845[1]Much has been said and written about the influx of refugee children coming across the border into the United States in recent weeks. This phenomenon is not new, but it has reached crisis proportions as the number of children coming steadily grows and the media has taken an interest in what’s going on.

Some of these children are coming to find a relative who lives here; some of them are coming alone, with nowhere to go and no one to turn to.

It is true that the facilities for caring for refugee children are overrun. There isn’t enough food, there aren’t enough beds, there aren’t enough judges and lawyers to facilitate their cases. And so they sit in limbo, probably afraid, probably still suffering, maybe wondering where to find that better life that they came for.

Where these children have come from, you see, it’s dangerous. Violently dangerous. Drug gangs and war lords come into schools and villages and take the strong to be used as child soldiers or drug mules. Drug gang fights happen in the midst of villages, putting the lives of everyone in danger. Parents send their children away to a far away land, a land that they think of as the promised land, perhaps never to see them again– just to ensure that they won’t be caught up in this trouble.

One thing that gets lost in all of this is the United States’ culpability via the “war on drugs.” Since the 1970s the United States has spent over a trillion dollars trying to get rid of drug cartels in Latin America, through various means which, while somewhat successful in doing away with larger cartels, have allowed multiple smaller cartels to take over. The drug trade hasn’t been eradicated; it has been changed and moved from place to place. In some cases the US looked the other way  while governments that the US needed, or were friendly with, continued and supported drug trafficking in their countries. In the meantime, the number of people involved in illegal drug use in the United States hasn’t changed significantly, though there has been a change away from drugs such as cocaine and meth and toward marijuana. (Source: David Huey in The Guardian.) And so even though we have had a hand in creating the very conditions that these children are trying to escape, we turn away when they come to us for help.

It’s so easy and tempting  to some of  us to write these children off as “illegals” but what they really are is “refugees” who are coming here, seeking safety and succor and comfort and mercy from the land of the free. When I see these children arriving on our borders, I think of my own children, and I think, “how bad would it have to be for me to put my kids on a bus or a train to go to another country, knowing I would quite likely never see them again?” I can’t even fathom having to do that. I believe most US parents can’t either– with our helicopter parenting and our constant monitoring of our children, we can’t even imagine sending our children off like that.  And so we make judgments– we convince ourselves that those parents don’t love or care for their children as much as we do, that they are lawbreakers who just want to take advantage of a rich nation like the United States.

We also call ourselves a “Christian” nation; but the people who go to the borders to scream their hate at these children give lie to  that ideal. The God of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Jesus Christ of the Christian Scriptures taught the people to welcome and care for widows, orphans and strangers– the reason given in the Leviticus text quoted above is that the people of God were once strangers, aliens in the land of Egypt. As God rescued the people from slavery to the Egyptians, so God expected the people to treat outsiders better than they were treated in Egypt. And Jesus lived the example of welcoming children to be with him, as well as breaking bread and spending time with the outsiders in the society. The Christian ideal of justice, so deeply based in Hebrew and Christian theology, isn’t being served when we turn away refugee children from our borders.

The New Colossus, a poem written by Emma Lazarus to commemorate the Statue of Liberty and raise funds for its pedestal (see above), speaks a vision of America that reflects the Judeo-Christian ideal of welcoming the stranger. The Statue was once a welcoming beacon for people worldwide who yearned for freedom and safety in a new land. We seem to have lost that vision. For those of us who follow Christ, we must work to get that vision back, beginning by holding ourselves accountable for a problem we helped create, by welcoming these refugee children instead of criminalizing them, by stepping up as people of faith in whatever way we can to do justice for them, to show kindness to them, and walk with God in making this right.