Musings: August 2018

One true gift of God is the tension of struggle:

challenges that come out of nowhere just when you think the coast is clear;
the demon Comparison that threatens to anchor you always in the Desert of Lack;
besetting sins that cycle and re-cycle in a life that resembles an on-going game of Whack-a-Mole.

Up close, the struggle feels overwhelming, but taking one step back so the light of Truth can fall upon the day’s page, it becomes clear that struggle is evidence of life. Paul knew this in his bones, following up his Romans 7 howl (“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”) with a Romans 8 rallying cry (“If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”).

The struggle is not for nothing.
Watching my grandson’s fervent pursuit of the ducks on Damariscotta Lake is a study in futility, for he is still learning that his feathered friends have the secret weapon of flight –which is not available to him. By contrast, the believer’s pursuit of righteousness is supported by every weapon in the Spirit’s arsenal.

Your struggle is exactly fitted to your soul,
your soul to it exactly fitted.

The mark of a sincere following life is struggle, but we do not struggle alone, and we do not struggle in vain.

The World of Words

Five books read and five books reviewed!

 

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Of course there’s always reading going on behind the scenes, and the number of books that have shown up in my mailbox this month tells me that this must be book launch season! I’ve been sharing my meandering through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community over on the Living Our Days Facebook page (which, by the way, passed the 500 followers mark this month, so thank you to everyone who gathers there!).Bonhoeffer Listening

Now I’m moving on to C.S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory, and the edition I’m reading includes an introduction by Walter Hooper, Lewis’s assistant during his final days. He shares biographical insights I have not read elsewhere, and then, of course, Lewis’s incredible essays follow.

Capture

Desiring God very graciously shared an article that I wrote from the gleanings of one of our more challenging seasons of parenting. Based on John 17, it’s a call to prayer for our teens, and a reminder that when parents pray over an open Bible, the words of Scripture wrap themselves around the desires of our hearts and give us the words we don’t have. While you’re there, be sure to take advantage of their many helpful resources.

The Gardening Life

My basement shelves are filling up with shiny jars of spaghetti sauce, pickles, relish, green beans, salsa, and canned tomatoes. Much to the delight of our adorable grandson, we’re growing a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes this year, and in addition to squirreling away the bounty, it’s been a delight to have plenty to share with family and friends.

Around the Dining Room Table

The youngest son and I have already resumed the daily routine of homeschooling. This will be my last round of algebra and chemistry, and since he’s taking his English at the local community college, someone else will be singing the praises of the Oxford comma with him this year. God has used the rhythms and routines of homeschooling to speak patience into this flibbertigibbet of a soul with the reality that school happens one day, one subject at a time, and the thick textbook that looks so intimidating in September is conquered by showing up and doing the few things required on any given day.

Standing with you in the freedom of the struggle,

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase any of the books mentioned in this recap post, simply click on the image below, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Ancient Way of Praying Made New

Last summer, sitting on a rocky beach with family all around, I noticed a small white shell among the scramble of stones and shards of driftwood. Soon I had collected a handful, all pure white and perfectly whorled, the former dwelling place for some diminutive, absentee mollusk. For a few days, I carried them around in my pocket, reaching in to finger their smooth contours, already wondering what practical use I could devise for them, and their story would have ended in a dark kitchen cupboard if Paraclete Press had not sent me a copy of Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New.

I am Protestant to the bone, and it would never have occurred to me that ten small white shells in my hand could represent ten members of my family and serve as a tactile reminder to pray for each, one by one. Author and jewelry designer Suzanne Henley reminds readers that ancient practices of prayer were very tactile. Bead by bead, fingers remembered what the heart cherished, and words would spring to mind.

As a glass artist, Henley has the unique privilege of crafting customized prayer beads, and her creative view of the world lends a gritty practicality to the business of prayer that so many of us talk about — but so few of us practice in the way we want to.

“Praying is not just an arcane, dusty practice that a group of humorless, self-righteous old men sat down and made up a long time ago. It is not just words in a prayer book. It’s not a milquetoast, rehearsed exhortation delivered in a faux-devout voice to begin a citywide prayer breakfast with cold scrambled eggs. We carry this need for connection in our guts . . .”  (xi)

The History of Prayer Beads

So, as Suzanne scoops handfuls of Mongolian sand beads from the Gobi Desert and beads crafted from ancient Roman glass fragments, she invites us to look with new eyes at a tradition that, by the time of the Reformation, had deteriorated into an empty piling of slippery words upon which the praying saint hoped to ascend to heaven. Fast forward to 1987, however, and to the statisticians’s great surprise, as church affiliation begins a decline, the use of Protestant prayer beads is in an upswing.

Madeleine L’Engle described prayer beads as a tool to “enflesh the words, make thought tangible.” Maybe our distracted, squirrel-chasing, social-media-saturated brains are seeking an analog anchor. Apparently, the earliest known example of tactile prayer reminders were used by the Desert Fathers who committed to praying the 150 Psalms twice a day. In order to keep track of the number, they carried 300 pebbles in their cloaks, tossing one out after each prayer. Because I am unfamiliar with the historic prayers associated with the rosary, I appreciated a charming child-drawn diagram, as well as the road map for Protestant prayer beads which proscribes no set words or prayers.

Prayer and Work

Suzanne and I are kindred spirits in our numbering of the tedious steps of grocery shopping:  “Into the basket, out of the basket onto the checkout stand, into the bags, into the car, into the house, and into the fridge and cabinets . . .” (43) However, instead of an occasion for grumpiness, Suzanne sees grocery shopping as a “weekly prayer-bead adventure” in which she meditates on the fruit of the Spirit in the produce section, wordlessly blesses fellow shoppers, and quiets her heart while pushing her cart.

Cracking 360 eggs to make breakfast for a gathering of homeless people, Suzanne also practices a ministry of prayer with each thwack against the rim of the bowl, reminding me of prayers I lifted while pinning small socks to a clothesline (Thank you for the gift of this small life . . .), or, more recently, over sports uniforms and tattered work pants (Bless this boy with safety and success . . . ).

Whether we use beads or seashells, the events of our life, or the fingers of both hands to mark the practice of our prayers, the prayers are offered, word-by-word, thought-by-thought. This is also the nature of a life poured out, not in a great gush, once and for all, but drop-by-drop as we pay attention to the voice of the Spirit and open our hands as well as our hearts in gratitude, thanksgiving, and love.


Many thanks to Paraclete Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Joining you in thanksgiving for a God who hears and answers prayer,

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.