I find leading the Prayers of the People during worship each Sunday requires my full attention. First, I must read slowly and distinctly, with a pacing that evokes a state of prayer. Second, I am editing the written prayer in front of me to link to the sermon and current events. Third, I watch for subtle body language changes from the congregation to my words and pacing. Fourth, in the middle of this prayer, I pause and ask for individual petitions, most of which I cannot hear clearly enough to understand, some of which I are so softly spoken I must guess when the speaker has finished. And finally, I get to attend to my own connection with God after I saying, “and those concerns we hold deep within our hearts,” while I count slowly and silently to seven.
The electronic road signs in Illinois show a new public service announcement: “Drop it and Drive.” Our neighbors to the west have a new law prohibiting talking on a handheld phone while driving. They reason that holding a phone is one to many tasks to do while driving. Unfortunately, merely talking with someone not in the car is the major distraction for the driver’s mind is no longer on the road ahead.
I have come to realize that spoken prayers are like a table edge that a toddler might use to steady himself while learning to walk. Spoken prayers guide our connection with God. But strengthening one’s connection with God requires letting go of the guide and stumbling. First a few seconds of quiet, wordless prayer, which after practice can lengthen to a minute, and eventually, fifteen minutes or more of solid, undistracted connection with God.
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites;
for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners,
so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door
and pray to your Father who is in secret;
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do;
for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
— Matthew 6:5-8 (NRSV).
When a stranger asks me that question I brace myself for a sales pitch. I know they are not looking for a list of my current symptoms but an opportunity to make a personal connection. The humorous response: “Sitting up and taking nourishment,” allows for that connection, but I believe there is a better response.
Staunch Calvinists might reply to this question: “Better than I deserve.” While theologically sound, this response tends to stop conversation. Would you dare ask: “And what do you deserve?”
Through their book, The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Zander and Ben Zander have introduced me to a response that opens possibilities for the speaker as well as for the hearer: “I’m perfect.”
Claiming perfection bolsters self-confidence and affirms each person’s capacity to offer something to the world. Claiming perfection opens conversation about what makes each of us perfect. Claiming perfection energizes the speaker.
We proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
— Colossians 1:28
Can you trust your eyes to show you everything? Or do our questions guide what we find?
For example is what you are sitting on really solid? For over a hundred years scientists have known that large empty spaces separate atoms in even the densest solids. What appears as a solid surface is on an atomic level widely separated nuclei held together by electromagnetic forces.
Conversely, can you plant ten trees in five straight lines each with exactly four trees? (see below for the solution) To solve this problem you need to change your point of view from planting trees in straight parallel lines and some of the trees must lie on more than one line.
If our philosophical framework for determining how we view life determines what we expect to find, then changing our perspective changes our reality.
Through his letter to the church at Rome, Saint Paul invites us to change our perspective and discover our perfection in Christ.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect. — Romans 12:2 (NRSV)
Our culture wants a clear separation between science and religion, dividing them into two different spheres with very little if anything in common.
Yet when I pray with people in the hospital I often thank God for working through doctors, nurses, and technicians, and for the gift of medicine. Increasingly I meet with others via phone or via the internet and we begin our work with prayer while using technology. As an engineer I would consult with the Engineer who designed the human body and been led to solutions.
Imagine being in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. They had sewn fig leaves into clothing; the first recorded instance of technology. While large enough to offer some covering, these leaves are rough and stiff; thus ill-suited for clothing. Further as the leaves dried they crumble necessitating frequent repairs. Later God “made garments” for them. But, based on how I have seen God in my life, I doubt God merely handed them ready to wear clothing, but instead led them through the process of learning to make clothes so they could teach their children and grandchildren. Imagine watching them learn how to skin an animal, prepare its hide, and finally cut it to use as clothing. The gift of learning how to make clothing would be as much a divine miracle as ready to wear.
My have come to appreciate science and theology as two ways of viewing the same facts. Science seeks to discern the logical sequence of steps to yield observable facts. Theology seeks to discern their purpose. While both modes of study can be used to anticipate the future, only theology can answer: “Is it good?” Only theology can identify the source of the inspiration that connects one technical solution with another.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. Hosea 11:3 (NIV)