prayer

A Prayer for All

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

He comes into my office for a few minutes every morning.  His name is Mr. Joe.  He is our eighty-seven year old custodian at church.   He always asks me, “How’s it going today, Pastor?”  He also asks about my children and after I answer he says, “That’s a fine boy you got and a sweet girl, too.”  I’ve told Joe on several occasions that I hope I am in as good a shape as he is when I am sixty-seven, let alone eighty-seven.  This morning when I said that, he said, “Pastor, every night when I go to bed I pray that I might wake up with love in my heart.  Love for God.  Love for Jesus.  And love for everybody I meet that day.”  I thought that was a pretty good prayer to say every night, not just for Joe, but all of us.

Meeting Joe is another one of those wonderful gifts of grace that has come my way after my life took a turn that I did not expect almost two years ago.  When things happened the way they did with my marriage, it was nearly impossible for me to see any of the grace filled goodness of the life that was around me.  But that has changed for me. I am rediscovering in many ways the wonder and beauty of this life. 

Yet, even as I rediscover this sense of joy I realize that there are many people, for numerous reasons, who are at the place I was at.  A dark place where joy seems to have vacated and even God seems absent.  A place that when you are surrounded by people, you can still feel very much alone.  Though I am at a different place now in my life, I still remember the dark, loneliness of that place.  Which helps me to feel a deep sense of compassion for others who are there.

There are a variety of situations that can lead someone into that dark place. The loss of a relationship, a dream or a hope.  The struggle many folks have as they live pay check to pay check.  I think many of the refugees who are forced to leave their country and look for a new life, only to find themselves living in the tent cities that offer little to change the reality of their situation.  Families whose lives are broken by the gun shots that claim too many lives in our own nation.

The church is to be a healing place for such folks.  A place where tears can be shed, pain can be shared and ultimately hope restored.  I don’t always know how to provide the care folks need.  But I know that part of that care begins with Mr.  Joe’s prayer – “Let me wake up with love in my heart tomorrow.  Love for God.  Love for Jesus.  And love for everyone I meet.”  Tonight that will be my prayer too.

A Spiritual Routine

By Rev. Mindi

This post originally appeared on Edge Pieces, the blog for Open Gathering, a new Disciples of Christ Church plant on July 9th, 2013. It has been adapted slightly for [D]mergent for a wider audience.

One of the concerns I have as a pastor, and a parent of a child with special needs, is bringing spirituality into AJ’s daily life. As for many parents, church can be hard work. Sometimes people at church do not understand and can make church an unwelcoming place for those with special needs, who cannot sit still or stay silent. Sometimes sensory issues make it difficult to attend worship, and sometimes the older buildings are not fully accessible to those who have mobility needs. Traditional church, because it is only once a week and not every day like school or other activities, and it is not primarily focused on a specific person like once-a-week therapy sessions are, can be difficult to add into one’s weekly routine. We know many families for whom going to church is such a struggle, they do not even bother.

While I am at Open Gathering now, I also serve a small church in Burien, WA.  AJ goes to church most Sunday mornings with me to Burien Community Church. When I was not serving as a pastor when we lived in Oklahoma, I was able to sit with him and try to help him understand the order of service—now we stand, now we sing, now we sit quietly and pray, etc. Routine for many children with special needs is important, and in many of our church worship services, we can establish a routine more easily as the service usually follows the same format every Sunday.  I no longer am able to sit with AJ every Sunday morning as I am pastoring a church now, but I still try to help him understand the routine.  Because I cannot sit with him, sometimes he only understands the greeting time, and I let him use his iPad to stay quiet in the pew until the Children’s Message.  But he understands the routine: he puts the iPad down and comes to sit next to me on the chancel steps.  Then after the prayer, he can run down the aisle to the back and go downstairs for Children’s Church at my church in Burien.

But at home, spirituality is just as important. We try to model that God is in our lives everywhere, not just at church. Church is often just one day a week, and while we may be at the building during the week at other times, we do not have the same routine there.  So at home, we at least say prayers every night, something I have been doing with AJ since he moved from a crib to a bed. We read a book, and I try to read a child’s prayer book or baby Bible as the last story, then I say a simple prayer but fold his hands as well, and I close my eyes. Then I tuck him in.

During Advent, we began a routine of lighting the Advent Candles at home every night and doing a short reading and prayer. We did this at the dinner table so AJ was already sitting. We made sure the TV was off and no other distractions were on. It was a nice ritual of quiet time and reflection for our family during the Advent Season, but it also introduced something new for AJ. While I’m sure he didn’t understand the complete significance of it, he seemed to enjoy us sitting together and lighting candles.

Routine is important for many children with special needs. Establishing a spiritual routine, just like establishing a hygiene routine or any other practice takes practice.  Some families say grace before meals, and that is another wonderful (and traditional) way to introduce spiritual practice in the home.

At Open Gathering, what makes us unique is that we have made worship even more accessible for those used to routine because, while doing emergent-style worship, we have kept the same routine every time we gather: Music, Wondering, Table.  During Music we sing five or six songs from our songbook, songs that become familiar (we usually do two or three that we did the week before).  At Wondering, all are invited to come sit near the table for the Story—in which the Bible Lesson is shared in a Montessori-style storytelling. As part of the Wondering, we also do Work, in which we respond to the story. One can do Work by sharing one’s perspectives on the Bible lesson in a dialogue-sermon (often many of the adults do this in a corner of our shared space), or by staying put at the table and responding with art, crafts, and play. Then we all return to the Table for prayer, offering, and communion. We end by singing our benediction song together “Peace Before Us.”

Because our routine is simple and not a long list in a printed bulletin, Open Gathering is more readily accessible to those with special needs because it becomes familiar more quickly. We also have fewer “rules.” People are invited to dance and move as needed or desired during the Music time. During the Wondering time, we are invited to sit closer for the story, then during work we can sit or stand or move about as necessary.  We gather at the Table again for the end. We are invited to pray together, sometimes to sit together, but we are also invited to be ourselves.

***** 

Church leaders, there are many different ways to do worship. Perhaps you can inspire others to begin a spiritual routine at home, establishing a semblance of spiritual life that works for them and their family’s unique needs.  Perhaps there are families who simply are not able to attend worship due to unique needs or work schedules, but maybe there is still a way to reach out and include others by inviting them to begin a spiritual routine at home.

 

Two Prayers

By Rev. Mindi

Two prayers I learned during my summer as a Clinical Pastoral Education intern were:

“Lord, help me not to run,”

and

“Lord, shut my mouth.”

I carry these two prayers with me into my ministry. 

There are plenty of days when I want to run. When the umpteenth person calls or rings the doorbell to tell me they are down on their luck, need gas money or food money, and how they can’t get help from social services for one reason or another or they are just short until the end of the month and will pay me back.  When a church member tells me of all the problems they are facing: relationship struggles, financial struggles, mental health struggles, and it all just seems too much for them to bear and now I have been drawn in.  When someone calls and is mad about the church lights being left on one night, or a building user is upset because the piano was moved, or something is broken or missing and immediately another group is blamed for it.  I want to run.

I want to run instead of going into the hospital room to face the family that is not ready to see their loved one go and just believes if we say the right prayer God will answer.  I want to run when the alcoholic parent tries one more time to make amends and set their life straight and wants me to try to talk to their estranged family.  I want to run when I’m told once again we’re behind in the budget and we’re going to have to cut something.  I want to run.

But I pray that prayer, breathe, and go on. Sometimes I go rather slowly, but I go on, by the help of God, I go on.

And then I pray that second prayer.

I shut my mouth when I am tempted to give the easy answer.  When someone tells me their personal struggles with faith and with the church I listen. When the waitress at the diner tells me about her faith journey I listen. When the elderly woman goes on and on about her dogs as if they were her children I listen.  I listen because it’s the most important thing I can do.

I listen when the pastor in the next town calls me up to try to get me on board with a movement I don’t agree with. I listen when a man tells me how I can’t be a pastor because I’m a woman. I listen when the person laughs that I am a minister and tells me what’s wrong with organized religion.

I listen because it’s not only what I’m called to do, but I pray for the strength to do it.

In my time as a pastor, I have found that one of the most precious gifts we can give to those in need is of our time and of our ears to listen. I have also learned for those who have axes to grind that listening is one of the most disarming things we can do. I’m not advocating for listening and taking in hate speech, but for someone who is looking for an argument, a person who simply listens can dissipate the intensity. Sometimes even listening can change someone’s mind.

When I was a CPE intern that summer, I was called to a room on a floor that never called in the chaplains, even laughed when we checked at the front desk. But this morning I was called in because a patient had requested spiritual support.  But it turned out she had not. What had happened was that she was a talker and the nurses were tired. And it also turned out she was an atheist and the last person she wanted to see was a chaplain (the nurses had failed to mention to her that they had requested the chaplain nor bothered to ask her if she wanted the visit).  But she did turn out to be a talker, and so I prayed for the strength to listen.  I maybe got in 5 sentences in 2 hours of conversation. But by the time they were taking her away for tests, she asked me to pray with her, and so I did.  When I returned the next day she had been discharged, but I believe that was one of the most powerful days as a chaplain. I simply listened.

And I carry those prayers with me on days like today, where I listened to the diner patrons complain about daylight savings time and the government. I prayed not to run when someone called me about a difficult conversation they needed to have with me. I prayed to listen instead, and I believe it went well.