Saturday, March 21, 2009

School of Prayer – Meditation

SCHOOL OF PRAYER - Part IV – Meditation

Thomas B. Woodward

We will look at several forms and approaches to meditation, both secular and religious, none of which are too demanding for people with limited time or background.

I. Recollective Meditation.

This form of meditation focuses on quieting our distractions and returning to a natural state of undisturbed, relaxed consciousness – who we are beyond our thoughts. The most popular form of this form of meditation is probably an offshoot of Transcendental Meditation. Dr. Herbert Benson, in The Relaxation Response, compares TM and various other approaches to meditation and finds remarkable similarities. You can get this book at for the price of postage.

a. The use of a candle. Sit comfortably in front of a lighted candle and focus on the light given off as goodness, purity or another virtue. When you are ready, pay attention to your breathing and then breathe in the light and exhale the darkness in yourself. Don't be specific about the referents for the light or darkness. (Experience in the Committee on the Status of Women)

b. "I/We are in the presence of God." This introduces a brief meditative time before the beginning of a meeting – or of a new part of your day. (Dawley)

c. Dealing with distractions: when you are distracted in a consistent manner, you should consider focusing on the distraction as the matter to be addressed in your prayers at that time.

II. The Jesus Prayer

a. The classical form of the Jesus Prayer is, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
The actual words of our short prayers can vary. We might say the classic version of the Jesus Prayer, or we might say, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." or "Lord Jesus, have mercy." Or, we might say a Psalm verse, or a Bible quote, or some other prayer. (from St. Vladimir's Seminary). The prayer is repeated for long periods of time, often tied with our breathing. The end point is when we are repeating the prayer unconsciously.

b. While saying the Jesus Prayer, allow your mind to affix the five parts of the Five Finger Prayer to the time you spend in this form of prayer.

III. Meditation on an Object or Process

a. The Anglican use of the Rosary. Check this out on-line.

b. Michael Quoist's Prayers is a stunning collection of prayer/meditations on such things as a tractor and a Twenty Dollar Bill, as well as the events surrounding the Passion of Jesus Christ. You can find the book in the parish library and at Allibris for less than $2, plus postage.

c. Ken Feit's approach to joining American Sign Language to haikus. "Since my house burned down, I now have a better view of the rising moon."

d. Affirmations, as a way of contradicting the ways we have been badly conditioned.

e. Allowing the core of a story from the Bible to penetrate our hearts and souls. "Alleluia" and imagining various retelling of the core of the story.

IV. Jesus before my eyes, Jesus before my heart, Jesus in my hands.

This is the form of classic Christian meditation. It is similar in nature to our response to a successful advertisement: we are attracted to an image promoting a product, we begin to long to have that image for ourselves, we go out and purchase it.

The form of being attentive to a virtue or an image of Jesus in the Scripture, then longing for it in our own life, followed by a specific resolution for implementation or use of that virtue or quality is a needed corrective to simply meditating on a virtue without implementing it with specific action.

V. The Parables (and stories) of Jesus from the Inside

This approach can be used individually or in a group. It was developed by Walter Wink and based on a Jungian approach to Scripture. Wink believes that we can find important parts of ourselves in the various persons and elements in the parables and other stories – and can use that information in the spiritual transformation of ourselves.

First, select a parable or story from Scripture. Then discover the meaning of any technical terms that have an impact on the story (e.g., "What is a Samaritan? What is the significance of a Levite?" in the Parable of the Good Samaritan). Read the parable in more than one voice – and then ask yourself the question, "Who am I in the thief, the Levite, the Samaritan, and other elements of the story?"). Allow yourself to feel the pain, affirmation or struggle of that identification – and then ask for God's healing, guidance or whatever else you find you need at this point. (The Parable of the Good Samaritan) "The Parables of Jesus from the Inside," by TBW in The Sewanee Theological Review, Christmas 2003.

Other Matters

Basic meditation: You can subscribe to various elements of beliefnet – Christian, Jewish and Buddhist daily postings are often very helpful. They are free!

"Alleluia" based on the story of the healing of the demoniac in Mark's Gospel, with encouragement from Ken Feit.

"Recent Entries from the Diaries of God V," by TBW. You can find this entry at:
another entry is a little earlier in that year's postings.

Monday, March 16, 2009

School of Prayer – Praying the Psalms


Praying the Psalms

The Psalms were written at various times in Israel's history and were written for various occasions and needs. They have provided "the spiritual and theological grounding for both Judaism and Christianity. The Book of Psalms "presents nothing short of God's claim upon the whole world and that it articulates God's will for justice, righteousness, and peace among all peoples and all nations." (The New Interpreter's Bible, p. 643). They represent both human words to God and God's word to humans.

Allusion to Shakespeare and King James' Version of Bible: Psalm 46.

CATEGORIES OF PSALMS (not exhaustive)

Lamentation of an Individual (Prayer for Help – you will find yourself in these)
opening address
description of the trouble or distress
plea for God's response (often with reasons for God to hear and act)
expression of trust or confidence in God
promise to praise God (or offer sacrifice)
Psalms 5; 7; 11; 17; 26; 59; 109 (people falsely accused)
Psalms 3, 25, 56-57 (maybe by king or military leader)

Thanksgiving Song of an Individual
expression of praise and gratitude to God
description of trouble from which psalmist has been delivered
testimony to others
exhortation to others to join in praising God or acknowledging God's ways
Psalms 30, 34, 92, 107, 116.

Lament of the Community
same as of an Individual, but with first person plural.
Psalms 44, 74, 79, 80, 83, 77, 85, 89

Hymn of Song of Praise
opening invitation to praise
reasons for praise
recapitulation of invitation to praise
Psalms 100, 148, 150

Royal Psalms
Psalm 45 – royal wedding
Psalm 2 – coronation ritual
Psalms 72, also 18, 20, 21, 89, 101, 132, 144 for the king (on coronation day)

Wisdom/Torah Psalms (reflecting the spirituality of Proverbs and the Law)
Psalms 1, 37, 73, 128 (1, 19, 119 are Torah Psalms)

Entrance Liturgies

Psalms 15, 24

Prophetic Exhortation -urging decision about God's sovereignty, liturgical sermons
Psalms 81, 95

Psalms of Confidence/Trust
"eloquent professions of faith in God's protective presence and power amid threatening circumstances."
Psalms 16, 23, 91

The Psalms are intended for daily prayers of all the faithful. In our Book of Common Prayer, as you go through the Psalms, they are grouped by each day of the month, for morning and evening. So every month you will go through the whole Psalter.

Magnificat reflects Psalms 98 and 113
Royalty Psalms reflected in the Incarnation, title of Anointed One.
Nativity recalls content and movement of Psalm 29
Baptism of Jesus and Transfiguration, Psalm 29. 7
Beatitudes and Ministry of Compassion, Psalms 24, 37, 73; also 24, 37 and 73 (Beatitudes)
Entry into Jerusalem, Psalm 118
Crucifixion, Psalm 22; also influenced by Psalm 69

Psalms 23, 42, 43, 44, 84, 137, 139
Psalm 42, 84,, 93, 139 translated by Stephen Mitchell, A Book of Psalms
"Praying to Big Jack," Anne Sexton, 45 Mercy Street
"Thanksgiving after Communion," "A Bird in the Hand," by Vassar Miller (If I Could Sleep Deeply Enough)
"i thank You God for most this amazing" by e.e. cummings (XAIPE)
"Thank You" by Robert Creeley (The Charm)
Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Pied Beauty" and "God's Grandeur"

Illustrations of contemporary reflections on the Psalms – use them!

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

e.e. cummings

Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

God's Grandeur
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge & shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast & with ah! bright wings.
Gerard Manley Hopkins


God acts within every moment
and creates the world with each breath.
He speaks from the center of the universe,
in the silence beyond all thought.
Mightier than the crash of a thunderstorm,
mightier than the roar of the sea
is God's voice silently speaking
in the depths of the listening heart.
Stephen Mitchell, translator

Saturday, March 07, 2009

School for Prayer – Resources from the BCP


Resources of the Book of Common Prayer


Several books – Occasional Offices, Prayers and Thanksgivings, Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

View Prayer Books at: and for some supplemental texts.

In the future more texts and resources will be published on-line or in loose binders. (The Rite Stuff)

ASPECTS OF PRAYER: Contradicting Cultural Assumptions - meditate or reflect on "You are My Beloved" addressed to you.

Conforming Our Lives to Biblical Vision – Prayers for Prisons, St. Francis., Self-Dedication.

Burial Office – not the guilt and impersonal, celebration of a life (p. 493)
Lay Participation – prayers of people in almost every service.
Full humanity of women (Churching of Women – Thanksgiving for a Child)
New Ministry for clergy and lay people.
Prayers written by women – many different kinds.
Form for Private Confession
New Saints – Women, Aelred (p. 19), George Herbert, Evelyn Underhill, MLK, Jr. - more in Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

THE DAILY OFFICE -- We now have many alternatives for Morning and Evening Prayer, as well as for Noonday Prayers and Compline (just before going to bed).

Rite One and Rite Two
Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer – Rite One
Morning Prayer – Rite Two (p. 75)
Noon Prayers (p. 103)
Evening Prayers (p. 109)
Evening Prayer Rite Two (p. 115)
Compline (p. 127)

DAILY DEVOTIONS (pp. 137 ff)
Early Evening
Close of Day

THE COLLECTS for use in daily offices and Eucharist as well as in private devotions.
Advent III (p. 212
8th After Epiphany (216)
"All Holy Scripture written. . . ." (p. 236)

COMMON OF THE SAINTS (lay ministry)
Ember Days (#1 at p. 205)
Vocation in Daily Life (p. 210)

Commitment to Christian Service (p. 420)
Thanksgiving for Birth or Adoption (p. 439)
Reconciliation of a Penitent I and II (private confession) (p. 447ff)
Laying on of Hands for Healing ( pp. 455 ff.)
Litany at the Time of Death (p. 462)

PRAYERS AND THANKSGIVINGS (p. 810) for many occasions, e.g.,
For our Enemies (p. 816)
Church Musicians and Artists (p. 819)
Armed Forces/Conscientious Objectors (p. 823)
In Times of Conflict (p. 824)
Leisure (p. 825) For the Oppressed (p. 826)
Prisons and Correctional Institutions (p. 826)
WWI Prayer (p. 831) (not knowing if person is alive or dead)
TBW for use at meetings "Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings. . ." (p. 832)
After Worship (p. 834)
Grace before meal when Jews are at table. "Blessed are you. . ." (p. 835)

Compline p. 134 "Keep watch, dear Lord. . . "
Burial Office p. 493 "O God of grace and glory. . . "
Prisons (p. 826)
For Knowledge of God's Creation (p.827)
Addiction (p. 831)
Self-Dedication (p. 832)
St. Francis (p. 833)
Thanksgiving for the Diversity of Races and Cultures (p. 840)
All Saints Day ("knit together") (p. 245)

Exorcism - there are provisions for its use in the Episcopal Church
Vocation to Pray for Parish - might this be your vocation?

School for Prayer – Session I

School of Prayer – Session I – Back to the Basics

WHO WE PRAY TO: We believe that the heart of reality is personal. The experience of Jews and of Christians is that Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier are personal (the Trinity is apparent in the Book of Proverbs).

GOD THE FATHER: In Diane Tennis' " God as the Reliable Father, " she shows that OT references to God as Father are all non-patriarch, non-paternalistic, loving and enfolding. We should keep the reality of God the Father, she says, in part because so few of us have had reliable fathers. It is also Scriptural and part of our Anglican tradition to pray to God our Mother.

Generally speaking there are several ways we pray: Impromptu, Set, Ritualized and Reflective Prayers - each is important in our living and growing spiritually.

IMPROMPTU:     Initiating – arrow prayers ("God help me get out of this traffic jam.")

SET PRAYERS – BCP, Lord's Prayer, St. Francis, Serenity prayer*, collections of prayers


    Daily Offices (rich array of choices, next week)


    Structured Prayer Life – mixture of set and impromptu

    The Eucharist – a comprehensive prayer and dance with several movements.


Various Forms of Meditation (e.g., "Jesus before the eyes, heart and hands")

     The use of Scripture, guides, lists of qualities.

OUR LIVES ARE A PRAYER: both an important truth and a cop out.

The Full Serenity Prayer

"God grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it:

Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen

                    Reinhold Niehbur.


No matter how good you are at something, it is always a good thing to go back to the basics.

    Pianists. .. even when playing Rachmaninoff, Chopin still go back to their Hanon scales.

    Jugglers go back to the motions of one club, one ball . . . back and forth.

    Saints, who seem so close to God – most got there because of the basics.

Today: a structure for a complete life of prayer you can use effectively with 30 seconds a day.

    Ron Popiel: "You can find prayer disciplines out there requiring 2 hours a day, 1 ½ hours a day, one hour a day. . .what we are offering you is not 2, 1 ½ or even 1 hour a     day, but 30 seconds a day."


FIVE FINGER METHOD OF PRAYER (hold up your hand – each phrase attaches to a finger)

I Love You

    For most, the hardest: it is easier being thankful, sorry, needy or generous. For me, the best place to start: say the words and be quiet or use a favorite Psalm.     There are a lot of ways we love God with our lives: working for justice. . . caring for one another . . .doing the dailies, but that is another dimension of prayer. Here we take time just to offer our love or our desire to love God.

Thank You

    A good place to start: just say the words or make or review a list, e.g.,     "Dear God, I thank you for x, y, z, . . ." The ore for which I am intentionally thankful, the more personal universe becomes. A priest in the Diocese of Dallas, Homer Rogers, looked nightly at his children when they were asleep as a way of remembering that his life with them was rooted in gratitude. Often when I preach a wedding sermon, I remind the couple that they are, quite literally, God's gift to one another – so in waking up, from time to time look at that scraggly, dragon-breathed person next to you and say to yourself, "This is my gift from God." The heart of many funeral sermons – what is it that God has been giving us in this life. . . .?

Thanksgiving is the Basis for our Life: Stewardship has to do with what we do, in thanksgiving, with what we have been given:

        not just our pledges,

        how we create our lives

        how we create and nurture our communities,

        what we give in our work, our friendships, volunteering.

I learned the basics of Stewardship at Esalen Institute: The only important question is "How am I going to spend my time?"

I'm Sorry

Episcopal Church is a full-service church: we confess sins of Commission and Omission; Commission is what we have done to hurt others, or hurt ourselves and . Omission is what we have neglected to do.

When I was younger, I used to have a check list of sins from the pamphlet "A Litany of Penitence." Good place to go for help in being comprehensive is Ash Wednesday litany or ask your spouse or best friend for help! (that is mostly a joke).

Hamartia: the word used for sin in Christian Scriptures is hamartia, a term used in archery for "missing the mark." It is missing "all that we can be" or "all that God wants us to be/ created us to be." We confess our sins and our sin (our     missing the mark in our vocation in the world.)

Help Others

God uses our prayers, much the same way God uses our actions. To get something changed in the community, God uses us in different means - letters, speeches, raising money, telephone calls, demonstrating. It may be that God uses our prayers in the same way. (Maxie Dunham)

Today Show – Rabbi Kemelman and Joe Garogiola. Joe asked the rabbi to open the interview with prayer. He then said, "Dear God, assist everyone watching this show to turn off their TVs, take out paper and pen and write their Congress people to pass the Voting Rights Act." We pray with words and action.

Parishioners know and feel your prayers. I have felt the power of others' prayers for me. Intercessory Prayers – like karma, there is something almost palpable about them (The Holy as the Fourth Dimension explained briefly.

Some find it helpful to keep a list – it is OK to cross names off.

Help Me

This is both the easiest and the hardest of the Five Fingers - easiest because we ask for little things (arrow prayers) and hardest because in asking, we entrust ourselves to God's care and to God's Will. Most of us want a relationship with God in which he serves us as consultant. Truth in that: Act as consultant in knowing God's will for us and the world and Act as consultant as we figure out what we want.

Frederick Buechner on Vocation: it is the intersection of what most needs to be done and what I most need to do. (The example of Rabbi Zuzya.)

Ask for what you want and what you need. Sometimes in asking, discover you don't want or need it. We are beloved children of God – so we ask within that relationship.

PHYSICAL PRAYER – ways of centering our lives in God:

When you get out of bed in the morning and your feet hit the ground, feel that connectedness to the heart and center of the universe – let that represent your rootedness in God.

When you have no attention span or are in intense pain, let your bed represent the hands of Jesus Christ, holding and enfolding you. "Into your hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit."


HOW AND WHEN FOR THE FIVE FINGER METHOD OF PRAYER: Choose a time for your five finger method of prayer and stick to it. Begin with something really short, like 30 seconds and then increase the time as you wish.