Learned From My Mother, Ministry, Prayer, The Inner Landscape


Do you ever think about who taught you to pray?

I guess I learned from my mother, goodnight prayers taught and repeated over and over again. She liked prayers with a form. I think she found them reassuring. 

"God is my help in every need. God does my every hunger feed."

When she was dying, she avoided her own church and had a friend take her to the Unity church mid-week. In those last months of her life, those friends committed to pray for her each morning at the same time. I found it fascinating that they prayed separately, in the privacy of their own homes. 

The other thing she liked was quiet. She didn't like the hubbub of a busy church service, or the appraising looks of anyone not in her carefully chosen inner circle.

I am not like her. 

On the RevGalBlogPals cruise in April, Nanette Sawyer asked us to think of things that helped us find the feeling of God's presence in the core of our beings — or something very close to that, I may not be saying it right. And I remember jotting notes on a post-it, one of which was "Praying with others." 

It's not something we do a lot in Congregational UCC churches in Maine, at least not in my experience. As a little Baptist girl growing up in Virginia, I remember the whole Sunday School class praying, sentence prayers we called them. If you felt shy or didn't know what to say, you could squeeze the hand of the person next to you. So from Bernadette Lane, and other teachers, I learned to pray on my feet, to find something to say no matter what the situation, to be comfortable putting words on the murmurs of my heart that I could speak aloud in a room full of people.

I liked the way it felt, that we all prayed together.

As a pastor, I get to pray in worship almost every week. Sometimes I write a prayer, but often I bind up the themes of the day the way a florist wraps ribbon around the stems of flowers to make a bouquet. I hope the effect will be evocative, that people will hear something and feel something that brings them closer to God.

In my first church, I remember sitting in my little garret office with a woman who worked for a Nazarene congregation. She came to see me about starting an afterschool program, but somehow, most likely because of her kind pastoral presence, I told her about the job search I was in at the time. I remember that on a darkening autumn afternoon, she offered to pray for me. I remember feeling cared for, deeply, both by this person I hardly knew and by God. As she said "Amen," tears slipped down my cheeks.

I pray a lot with other people, prayers for and about them, their needs, their worries, their fears and hopes. I do it willingly, gladly, sincerely.

But when it comes to praying for myself, I find I am quite inarticulate. Many of my prayers are monosyllabic, consisting of "please" or "help!" 

It helps me understand my mother's love of that prayer already formed, meant to be repeated, comforting. I can pray those prayers. In the first months of being treated for Rheumatoid Arthritis, awake at night due to the prednisone that helped so much, but made life a little miserable at the same time, I dug from memory the Serenity Prayer, or something close enough to it that repeating it made me feel less alone.

But what I really love is to pray with others, and sometimes my desire for that and the lack of it means I don't pray as much as I might should.

In this phase of my life, as I try to discern what's next, taking into account the multiplicity of personal and professional factors involved, I find I am confused and changeable. Friends whose natures are more organized recommend lists and systems, but I live by intuition, and I also know how to "con" a list of factors, for and against. I know how to con myself. Robin recommended the Ignatian method, and since I am ignorant of it, I turned to Google for further information.

First on the list: Pray assiduously.

And I suspect that means some combination of all of the above: prayers with others and alone, prayers sitting still or walking the dog or driving the car (eyes open!), prayers sung and prayers written, prayers of one word and of many words and of no words at all.

One of the other things my mother taught me was that there was always a right way to do something, one right way. I'm not sure she was right about that. I suspect God could use me in more than one place or more than one way. But it's my hope that there is a better way than others, a place I can be fierce and fabulous for Jesus, a place I can honor as many aspects as possible of my call to be a minister and my call to be, well, Songbird.

So I will pray, assiduously. Feel free to join me, wherever you are.

Grief, Prayer, Writing

A blank page

Paper I've been staring at a blank page all week when it comes to writing about something that didn't impact me directly but did impact part of my extended family, in particular my nephew who is 13 years old and suffered a terrible loss when his best friend jumped off a bridge, killing himself.

Usually when I'm troubled, I find a way to tell the story, typing the words at my laptop, watching them appear on the screen. 

Writing, I work things out.

When it's too hard, or too complicated, or too inexplicable, I write it down, and in the writing, things happen.

This is probably why the story of this week sat like a rock, because I prayed so differently, without words, for once. I have a lot of words! But this did not have, not readily. 

Maybe it helps when I know the role I'm supposed to play–the role guides me to what I'm supposed to say or do? Is "supposed" as bad a word as "should?"

This week all I could do was love inarticulately, from a distance.

It did not feel wonderful.

But it was prayer. It was. Maybe the best prayers I've prayed, personally, in a long time. My heart felt hot, a glowing, pulsing rock, full of love and sadness, not a burden to lay down but a trust to carry.

A trust to carry.

So when I say they have been in my thoughts and prayers–my nephew, my niece, their mother–I as much mean they have been my thoughts, they have been my heart prayers.

(I'm grateful to Jan at Yearning for God for the post that inspired an exercise we did at Soul Spa this morning, and to all who inspired her in the first place. It was entitled "A Blank Page is Prayer." This morning I gave blank paper to the Soul Spa attendees, and part of this post is what I wrote on that page.)

Disaster Relief, Prayer

In Haiti

Bendrott This is a picture of the Bentrott family: Kim, Patrick and Solomon.

Kim and Patrick are Global Ministries (UCC and DoC) missionaries in Haiti. I just found their blog and read Kim's recounting of the past few days

Kim's position is sponsored by One Great Hour of Sharing, and that is one place you can donate to help people in Haiti right now. Money is being sent directly to the UCC's mission partners in Haiti:

"In terms of giving, UCC constituents have contributed a record-breaking $135,000 in online donations to OGHS International Disaster Relief in the first day of the Haitian relief request. Three donations of $2,000, 14 of greater than $1,000 and 31 of greater than $500 lead the list of giving.

Funds from these and previous donations are already flowing to mission partners in Haiti including $20,000 to Church World Service for relief kits and $5,000 to Interchurch Medical Assistance who will provide medicine and supplies to area clinics. Additional distributions will be made as relief and recovery efforts continue." (From the UCC website)

Kim Bentrott also mentions Doctors Without Borders, the wonderful organization I've been supporting in a modest way ever since the tsunami in 2004. I got started because of a plea from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, otherwise known as Yarn Harlot, who asked readers of her blog to step up and give whatever they could to Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders. Their hospitals in Haiti were destroyed, but they have — get this!!! — an inflatable hospital

We're giving as a family both via the UCC and to Doctors Without Borders. 

And I'm also doing what Kim Bentrott suggests (among other things I hope you will read) on her blog:

"So many have asked "what can we do?" To this I say, keep praying." 

Friendship, Prayer

Caring Bridge

We met standing in line for something at the beginning of seminary, our last names different by only one letter. I had a different last name then, a different husband, only two children. They were a married couple, both leaving another profession to pursue a calling to ministry. They had two very little girls, an infant and a preschooler; I had two boys, 8 and not quite 4. 

We had classes together our first semester. We were all in our mid-thirties, and that made us fairly young students. S told me she'd been diagnosed with cancer, breast cancer, and from there the details are faint in my memory. Did she delay treatment to have the baby, or am I remembering a story from my girlhood, superimposing one young mother's death over another young mother's illness?

My third child arrived shortly after the end of our first year, and our paths did not cross during the second when I attended only very part-time. You will laugh to think that I did not have an email address or the Internet at home in 1995-96. I typed my Field Ed sermons in the church office. Once I was off-campus, I was out of the world of seminary.

So the next part of the story is misty to me. All I can tell you is that she died. While my marriage and seemingly my life fell apart in the winter and spring of 1996, her cancer returned and that summer, she died. She was 34.

She popped into my mind yesterday morning, sweet and funny, a situational friend. You know what I mean: someone you wish you could have known better, but circumstances did not allow. While she became ill again in a suburb of Boston, I fought the darkness of postpartum depression here in Portland, and we had no way of knowing each other's troubles.

Brooklyn-bridge That wouldn't be true now. We would hear through the grapevine of email or Facebook, the back channels of Twitter, the stories on a blog, or perhaps for her, a Caring Bridge website.

Today I'm thinking of another sweet person with the same first name, battling another kind of cancer, and praying for the living S and those who love her, at the beginning of a week when the world believes in miracles, when the lights of love connect us over the miles and the years, in life and beyond it.

New Church, Prayer

A Prayer of Jesus

Tonight I went to a bittersweet celebration for my friend, RevFun. At the same time we marked the 25th anniversary of his ordination, we looked ahead to the closing of the church he founded, which will worship together for the last time on September 13th.

Lots of new church starts don't make it, in the sense of becoming numeric or financial successes. You have to hit a sweet spot of demographics and energy and skills in the congregation and who knows what else. RevFun and I learned all about that at the New Church Leadership Institute last summer, and we whapped ourselves in the heads and said, "THAT would have been good to know!" More than once.

But what they did so well at Open House is something the rest of us need to learn and make part of ourselves and our churches.

The old way of doing church will not sustain itself forever, and it's just possible God is calling us to new life, not just with new vocabulary for the things we do and but with completely new ways of being. We need to welcome people not just with a handshake and a nametag but by talking together about what we do and why we do it, and maybe by deciding what we do is no longer what pleases God if it leaves people cold, people who won't have the experience of Christ's loving community because the way we worship feels like, well, nothing to them.

At Rock 'n Roll Church, they rewrote The Lord's Prayer. Heresy, right? I remember wondering, what the heck? Why'd they do that? But tonight I heard their words, the ones they discussed and chose together, set to music, and they moved me. They moved me. I hope they'll move you, too.


A Prayer of Jesus

Dear God who is everywhere

You are pure and perfect.

May this world become entirely yours.


Help us to do what you want,

Completely and perfectly,

Until earth is like Heaven.


Sustain us in life and spirit today,

And forgive us the harm we cause,

As we forgive those who harm us.


When we are tested, keep us in the light

And don't let us be lost to darkness.

For to you belongs the whole universe

The mighty strength and everlasting love.


Let it be so.


A Prayer for Sunday Morning

O God, you contain all wisdom, hold all knowledge, hear all stories and inform all truth.

Creating God, we who live in the era of science may think we know it all. Our world seems to bypass the deep knowing that connects us to you. But our hearts need your wisdom; open us to you.

All-Knowing God, we also come to you this morning aware of how little we truly know,  watching the world speed by, unable to take in all the words and images of this era of media. Expand our thoughts to include your wisdom.

God of All Times and Places, some of the old stories we know well and some we may not remember at all, but each of them holds the power to surprise and inspire us. We can learn much when we are attentive to your word. Center us and open us, inform us and expand us, we pray.

In all that we do and in all that we are, may we seek to follow the wisdom of  the living Word, Jesus Christ, who came from you and is part of you and will always be part of us through your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Children, Prayer, Travel

Gang aft agley

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley.

~Robert Burns, "To a Mouse"

Traveling on a one-way plane ticket with two changes of airline, Snowman became separated from his suitcase today. Either no one told him, or he did not understand, that he he needed to pick up his checked bag at LaGuardia and check it in again before getting his flight to Chicago. He's now in Mitten-Shaped state, and his bag? Not so much.

US Air says he must come to LaGuardia and claim it.

It's a nice rolling bag from LL Bean, a present from his grandparents, the bag that ganged agley. Snowman carried on his clarinet and music and his laptop, so now he is at Land o' Lakes with only the clothes on his back. Tomorrow he'll get a box with his uniform clothes, but all his non-work clothes are in that suitcase.

Parents will intervene, have no fear.

But who intervenes for us, when our plans go awry?

The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you! (Psalm 20:1)

Now, this problem might have been prevented without prayer, either through better explanation or better understanding. But when we're on the phone with a faceless representative of the airline industry, when we want to hang up the phone and write off the bag full of clothes or whatever else has gone astray in our lives, it's a good time to pray. It may not bring back the bag.

It mostly likely will not, in fact.

But it may bring back the person we want to be, not captive to frustration with self or others, but able to face what's in front of us, or what we've left behind.

No one set out to make Snowman's day difficult or to ruin his summer or to take away the very same madras shorts on which I so carefully sewed a button just last night.

The best-laid schemes sometimes end up at LaGuardia, going around and around on the baggage carousel. We can't change that. But we *can* change how we respond.  In those moments, let us pray.