Archive for the ‘prayer’ Category

You’ve Got A Friend, A Spiritual Friend That Is…

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

We’re doing 5:30-6:00am Lenten Devotional meditation series at the church right now.

This morning’s devotional lesson talked about the importance of having and nurturing spiritual friendships.

We have different friendships for the different sides of our personalities. We have friends we go out with. We have friends we work out with. We have friends we keep up with online. We have friends we talk to about books. We have friends who knew us back in the day. We have friends we trust with certain secrets. But what the ancients called spiritual friends are different. Spiritual Friends are people who pay attention to the presence and movement of God in your life. Their friendship brings focus to your spiritual life. When you hear from them, their queries about how you’re doing come down to one thing, “How goes your soul? Is it well within? Are you any further along on your spiritual path?”

In a general way, all true friendships are spiritual in the sense that they involve our spiritual faculties — the emotions and the will. Obviously this is not what is meant by spiritual friendship in the ancients’ mind when they wrote about spiritual friendships. They called those friendships spiritual which are created, sustained and nurtured by the Holy Spirit. A friend is someone who helps me get by. But a spiritual friend is someone who goes deeper, and helps me get by to another place … a place closer to God. In all honesty, some seasons you don’t want to hear from your spiritual friend. But those are precisely the times when you need most to talk and share with your spiritual friend. It is when you don’t want to be around your spiritual friend is when you need to hear most from her. You know she will be honest. You depend upon her honesty. You know she sees.

In a spiritual friendship we share about our spiritual lives in a way that encourages each one’s growth in God. More importantly, it’s with a friend of your spirit that you feel comfortable enough to admit to feelings of spiritual emptiness, sadness, anger, or nothingness. And your spiritual friend listens without judgment. After all the key characteristic of a spiritual friend is her ability to engage in “holy listening.”

Those of us who are great talkers often make lousy listeners.

According to Kay Lindahl, founder of the Listening Center, “most of us spend about 45 % of our waking hours listening, yet we are distracted, preoccupied, or forgetful about 75 percent of that time. Marketing studies indicate that the average attention span for adult is 22 seconds. When someone has finished speaking, we remember about half of what we heard. Within a few hours we can recall only about 20%. The number of adults who have had training in listening skills is less than 5 % of our population. Most of us listen just enough to prepare for what we want to say in response. Lindahl concludes, “Deep listening is a forgotten art.”

Think of who might be a possible spiritual friend for you. If no one immediately comes to mind, ask God to help you find a person who can help you grow spiritually. Write down in a journal what you might want and need in a spiritual friendship. Write down what qualities you think are important in a spiritual friend.

And now comes the hard part. Make an honest appraisal of yourself. Ask yourself: Are I capable of being a good spiritual friend to someone else? Are there aspects of my self that might need to change before I can be an authentic friend to another person’s intimate journey with God?

Name 3-4 friends that help you connect with God? Can you name 2? How about 1?

Now and Then…

Monday, July 20th, 2009

I reconnected with someone very special from my past this weekend. The experience has me still reeling here on Monday morning. And since I was too weepy yesterday in the pulpit to explain to the church who she was to me, I guess I should say here what I tried and failed miserably to say on yesterday.

First, it pains me to admit that I couldn’t place her face when she first walked up to me on Saturday after the Prayer Breakfast. You know what I mean. Someone comes up, and you know the face, or supposed to know, but you can’t remember the name. Your mind races through the files on your hard drive.  The quick search turns up empty. You sense that she was once someone very important in your life, but you can’t seem to locate the file yet with all the information on it. Something about her face told me that I once loved her dearly. The feelings came trickling back before the actual memories did.  And then it slowly dawned on me. Mrs. Vivian Thomas.  The secretary at my old high school. But Vivian Thomas wasn’t just any secretary. Mrs. Vivian Thomas  had been my guardian angel, my confidante, my friend, my play mother during some of the stormiest days of my teenage years.

In my homeroom class I was the designated person to turn in attendance sheets and lunch money to the principal’s office there where Mrs. Vivian Thomas worked.  I took the job because I always looked forward to my talks with Mrs. Thomas as she stood there across the counter with her short brown frame, her warm eyes and gentle smile, and the lovely mole between her lip and nose. I was a mother-hungry girl and knew how to wiggle my way into other mothers’ hearts, even though I never succeeded with my own. Mrs. Thomas had children of her own, but that didn’t keep her from nurturing other young people who came through the principal’s doors.

I know now that Mrs. Thomas looked forward to my morning visits as much as I did. I was a ham, a brooder, a wall flower, a girl with a quick wit who loved the attention she showered on me. Every morning I came in she’d asked me how I was doing, and our conversations about home, boys, school, and life would start from there. Mrs. Thomas knew when I was happy and she knew when I was brooding over something that left me short and snappy.  And she knew how to tease me out of my moods,  love me into submission, and scold me into behaving like I ought. Did I mention that I was something of a terror to my teachers when I was in my early teens? Don’t ask. It’s a long story. I’m just grateful I got through those years.  Fortunately there were three or four colored school teachers who in the course of my childhood  impacted my life by noticing that there was more to my brooding personality than met the eye and found a way to give me the attention and direction I sorely needed back then. I’m convinced that my life would have turned out completely different had it not been for these colored school teachers from my childhood…and Mrs. Vivian Thomas, the high school secretary.

“Renita, get in here and calm yourself down.”
“Renita, what’s this I hear about you acting up in class?”
“Renita, don’t let that boy I’ve been seeing you with talk you into doing something that ruins your life.”
“Renita, you going to college and you’re going to make something out of your life. You hear me?”
“Renita, you’re going to make it baby.”

Mrs. Vivian Thomas is in her 70s now. It was my time on yesterday to beam when she was introduced as a deacon (not deaconess) at her church. She’s also a cancer survivor, thank God. But since time will not be denied what’s due it, Mrs. Thomas walks slightly stooped over and slower than she did decades ago. But her eyes, those twinkling eyes, they are still the same.  And that smile, the one with the power when I stepped in the principal’s office to melt my heart and reassure me things would be alright, it’s still there too.

Mrs. Thomas went home and composed a letter to me Saturday night after seeing me at the breakfast and had someone hand it to me before I went into the pulpit on Sunday. In it she reminded me, encouraged me, and let me know how proud she is of the woman I’ve become. She was also thankful to God that she’d lived long enough to see her prophecy come true.


And so there we were on yesterday. Me, the preacher, standing in the pulpit sniffling and choking up, trying to find the words to thank a woman God decades ago sent into my life to save me from myself.  And there she sat on the front pew Deacon Vivian Thomas weeping and wiping her nose and shaking her head in wonder and gratitude to God.

Here and there, now and then, God allows us glances back at our past and glimpses into the future, permitting us to see a larger view of what God has in store, and has had in store, from the beginning…

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

This I Believe

Friday, April 10th, 2009

praying man

I BELIEVE in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Universal Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

We repeat this ancient creed every first Sunday just before taking communion at my church. Ours is a young, restless church in need of the wisdom of the old church. As a minister the words to the creed roll off my tongue with ease of habit. With ordination in the African Methodist Episcopal Church came years of rehearsing what others have said about the faith. I never thought years ago that I’d say this, but there’s something to be said for tradition. Landmarks help gauge where you come from and how far you have strayed.

These days I stand and lead a young, restless church in the ways of the faith and the tradition.  They are curious about what I believe, but more often they want something to believe that’s older than me and them. The creed gives us a place to start. From there we continue to build our own traditions. Some of the words to the creed come easily for me, others leave a lump in my throat. “I believe, help thou my unbelief” I whisper under my breath.  In truth, some months it’s easier to believe than others. But every month the creed calls me back. To belief. To believing in believing. To belonging to people who believe. To making a decision, to putting down roots, to staying put, to giving belief a chance.

Have a blessed Easter everyone!!

Holy Wednesday

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

I woke feeling spiritually parched. I didn’t need to write, I needed to read. I reached for a book in search of a cool drink of water for my soul. It’s been a tough Lenten season where I live. And even though a ray of light is beginning to peep through, there’s no denying that the wait has taken its toll on us all. It’s left me fresh out of insight and wisdom.

cup from the wellWhat do I do when my cup is bone dry? I sip from others’ cups. Until a little moisture gathers again in my own cup. And it will. It always does. But today my cup is empty. And it will probably be empty tomorrow as well.

What better way to honor and acknowledge the sanctity of Holy Week than to shut up and listen as others wiser and more Enlightened than myself describe what they’ve witnessed and  experienced on this exquisitely mysterious path toward God. I drink from their cup until my cup is refilled, at which time I can turn around and offer others a little drink to refresh themselves.

Life either dwarfs us or grows us. there is no in between. There is no standing still in the spiritual life. there is only the unending opportunity to become or to die. We see people die spiritually every day. Sometimes the look very religious in the doing of it, in fact. they go on believing, reading, praying, thinking, what they have always thought. In the face of new questions, they dare no questions. At the brink of new insights, they wan tto insights. the y want comfort and a guarantee of the kind of heaven they imagined as children. They think that to think anything else is unfaithful….But those who grow in the spiritual life know that spirituality begins where answers and pictures stop. the spiritual life is seeded in darkness and ends in light. It is about love, not law; it is about grace and energy, the cosmos and creation. It is about hope at the edge of despair and a beginning where only an end seems to be.” (Joan Chittister, Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir).