Prayer Habits for Parents Sharing my recent post from The Homely Hours

For many, like me, spending time in personal devotion is what may define our faith. But juggling the realities of childrearing or fast-paced careers (or both), often eliminates any routine which requires extended time at the table sipping coffee, or focus enough to read more than a sentence of the Bible. We feel drained and all attempts at finding quiet are daily obliterated by sticky hands and wailing toddlers.

As we battle to preserve our personal faith practice, we often need a reminder that it is God Himself who gave us these little ones. And so, when He says to pray continually, He likely doesn’t mean for us to abandon our children and sit in quiet solitude all day. God does not expect us to do the impossible; He calls us along with our family, not apart from them. . .

To keep reading and for some beautiful resources on growing a spiritual life at home check out one of my favorite places on the internet,  The Homely Hours.

 
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On listening to God and knowing when it’s time to stop asking for more

For all of you who have been praying for us in our infertility struggles I have a story to tell you (before you get too excited  this is not a lead in to a  pregnancy announcement).

 

My one year old daughter was swaddled and snoozing, I was home from work after anther 16 hour day, at my desk, head in my hands, praying the evening prayer service at The Trinity Mission, Exhausted, I was mostly reciting the words trying to get my heart in sync with.

And then the room changed.

 

God was there.  There was no bright light or angels singing but a heaviness descended over me. I was absorbed in peace that felt full and continued to get fuller as I sat.  There was no audible voice but in my heart I heard these words,

 

“I’ll give you a full household. . . but not of your own children.”

 

And that was it.

 

No amount of longing or reaching could make that peace stay, it lifted and I finished my prayer wondering if I had made up the whole thing.

 

Sometimes when I share this story, others think it means we should adopt. At night I worry that it means my daughter will die. But when the words came they didn’t feel like a command or a warning. They just felt like God’s presence.

 

Over the past three years I have hated those words. I’ve convinced myself that I misheard or was delusional.

And at the same time, I have loved them. They assure me that God is with me, that I am seen and known and loved and through them my grief is far more bearable (I’ll add that I do believe that God could still give us another child, far be it from me know the extent of His plans for me, all I know is that these are the words He has given me and my sense after He spoke them was that we wouldn’t have more children.)

 

This week I read this by an Orthodox Saint,

We shouldn’t ask God to release us from something, from an illness, for example, or to solve our problems, but we should ask for strength and support from Him to bear what we have to bear. Just as He knocks discretely at the door of our soul, so we should ask discretely for what we desire and if the Lord does not respond, we should cease to ask. When God does not give us something that we ask for insistently, then He has His reasons. God, too, has His ‘secrets.’ Since we believe in His good providence, since we believe that He knows everything about our lives and that He always desires what is good, why should we not trust Him?

Let us pray naturally and gently, without forcing ourself and without passion. We know that past present and future are all known, ‘open and laid bare’ before God. As Saint Paul says, ‘Before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to His eyes.’ We should not insist; such persistence does harm instead of good. We shouldn’t continue relentlessly in order to acquire what we want; rather we should leave all things to the will of God.

 

And then over the past few months on our Liturgy of Life reading group  has been reading and writing about grief and suffering in the life of the Christian.  In my own family we have been  singing and meditating on the psalms, lately these words have been constant on my lips.

Here my prayer O Lord give ear to my cry for mercy.

In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness.

Enter not into judgement with your servant;

For no one living is righteous before you;

For the enemy has pursued my soul,

he has crushed my life to the ground.

He has made me to dwell in dark places

like those long dead.

So my spirit grows faint within me.

My heart within me is desolate.

 

In desolation I’ve been revisiting God’s words over me.  And today I am ready for a new prayer, a prayer I’ve never prayed in all these years. Today I stand with open hands, my heart longs for more children, but in longs for Christ more. Today I take my eyes off of the, “not of your own children,” and remember that God always words for my best. Today I remember the first part of his words to me.

Today I pray for a full household, whatever that could mean.

 

gratitude

 

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Eating in Innocence This morning's thoughts on violence and hope

Eating in innocence, thoughts on hope and violence, liturgy of life. liturgyoflife.com

 

The world hasn’t changed to my daughter who blows bubbles in her milk and chews her buttery toast this morning.  Violence across the ocean means nothing to her.

 

She doesn’t know that we live in a dangerous world.  I could tell her, in fact I have told her, but she doesn’t understand.

 

She can’t fathom genocide, persecution or slavery.  She doesn’t know that while our biggest upset of the day is being late to preschool there are kids, just like her, begging for food, going to bed hungry, or that the very shoes on her feet were likely made by one of these kids, who instead playing lives in a factory and spends her days working with callused hands.   She hasn’t realized that if we had been born on the other side of the ocean our family would be a target simply by living the life we live, praying our prayers,  making the sign of the cross over our chests before dinner.  I can’t explain to her that even here there are no guarantees, that life changes fast and that security can disappear in a night.

 

She knows  affection,  peace, and help.  And the world she knows is also a true.  She is safe, she is loved, violence is not likely to come near.   She is surrounded with others who will protect her.  Life is beautiful, this world is hers to discover.

 

I’ll be honest, though I’m ashamed of it.  I gave in to fear.  Last night I sat up in bed trembling with fright.

 

It has only recently dawned on me how much my world feels falsely stable.  That simply because I have grown up in time and place with little violence it does not mean that violence has disappeared.  Stability can only be found in a moment.  If we look at every nation, overtime we see patterns of war and exploitation.  I shudder realizing that there are ever more places in the world where at this moment my life would be in danger for wearing around my neck the cross I was given at as a baby at my baptism.

 

My faith isn’t strong enough to  quiet my trembling.

 

I wish I had reason to believe that I will be spared the suffering that wrecks havoc on the world but I can’t find one that gives me assurance.   I hope for an end to violence, for an everlasting stability, yet I see that to expect this, in the light of the history of the world, is madness.

 

I am afraid.  Not so much for my own life but for my daughter’s, for the decisions she will have to make and for those choices she will never be allowed to have.

 

My only hope is that God loved the world enough to come and live with us, to suffer and die with us.  That He is alive and will restore all things.  If I am wrong I have nothing yet if I forsake Him I live without hope.

 

This morning we spread our butter on our toast with heavy hearts longing for justice.  And we pray to a God that hears us for a hope in Paris, in the middle east and for all the kids in the world who eat in innocence this morning.
Thanks for reading friends,

 

Erica

 

To learn more about Liturgy of Life click here, or join us in our reading group, where we are currently reading, The Art of The Commonplace by Wendell Berry. Feel free to comment here or join in the discussion on facebook.

Music Teachers,
Monastic Chants
and Me.
Reflections on The Cloister Walk

Music Teacher, Monks and Me, Thoughts on The Cloister Walk

“He who sings prays twice.”

This little quote is attributed to St. Augustine and  I came across it today as I read along with The Liturgy of Life Reading Group in Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk. Norris and I are opposites when it comes to our experiences with music. Her father was a professional musician and she grew up singing in the choir.

I grew up in a non-musical family.  Recently my mother, aunt and Yiayia were all visiting and I mentioned that there would be hymns at the church service we were about to attend.  Each looked up at me in horror shaking their heads, then uniformly  announced that they could not and would not sing in church.

Early in my education  I found that participating in music was outside of my capabilities as well. I was in fifth grade and we were given the option between choir and study hall for our last period class once a week. Of course all of us preferred to be in choir, but instead of making it open to everyone,  ( I mean really, this is 5th grade in a small, urban school, not some sort of arts academy) auditions were required.

I still remember it, walking alone down the stairs to the gym where the stage was located. Sitting alone with my teacher, she pounding away at the piano notes and me trying to match them but really having no idea what matching even was. I didn’t make it and instead I shared a shameful study hall hour with Kevin who was known for eating boogers, Lisa who gave the class lice and Carley who was known for wetting the bed at sleepovers. We were quite a misfit crew hanging back in our seats while we watched the rest of the class head off for choir rehearsal.  Any hopes I had for music in my life were dead. It would be years before I would dare even try to sing again.

Yet our church services growing up in the Greek Orthodox church were almost entirely musical. The music was a mysterious sort, filled with ancient hymns and chanting.  I wouldn’t have known then to describe this as worship music. It didn’t feel like what I even now think of as worship either, but it did feel holy and it did serve a great purpose. Sitting there surrounded by the rich tones I was transported  to a new place, a place where I became more willing to meet God.

When I married Michael he was still spending most of his time as a singer songwriter.   Quickly music became part of my life. And through his influence and recognizing that over and over again Scripture commands us to sing (in fact Norris points out, this is the most common command given to Israel throughout the whole Bible).  I slowly got up the nerve to sing and though I am very often out of tune (I’ve finally at least learned to recognize in tune and out of tune some of the time) I’ve begun to enjoy music and to realize it still has that same power I experienced in my years at the Orthodox church.  Through music I find I can  stay engaged in the present moment,  in fact I can even feel more fully connected to what is going on around me  but at the same time it lifts my spirit to another place.

When we first realized a few months ago that my husband’s job was going to be ending unexpectedly and that in addition to being unemployed we would have to leave a place and people that we loved, this song, a favorite from back in college, by a group called Over the Rhine got stuck in my head. I would find myself singing it as I packed and unpacked boxes. My heart was aching and I didn’t have the words to express it except these.

What a beautiful piece of heartache this has all turned out to be.
Lord knows we’ve learned the hard way all about healthy apathy.
And I use these words pretty loosely.
There’s so much more to life than words.
There is a me you would not recognize, dear.
Call it the shadow of myself.
And if the music starts before I get there dance without me.
You dance so gracefully.
I really think I’ll be o.k.
They’ve taken their toll these latter days.
Nothin’ like sleepin’ on a bed of nails.
Nothin’ much here but our broken dreams.
Ah, but baby if all else fails, nothin’ is ever quite what it seems.

 

In the months to follow it felt like nothing was working out and things were just not coming together.  I was down and dark, it felt like a shadow hung over my every breath, weighing me down. Somewhere in my soul I found this old hymn which we hadn’t sung in years and I clung to it, grateful for the writer’s words that reminded me that despite my feelings I do have Hope.

Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition,
All I’’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.

Indelible Grace

 

Now six months have gone by since our move.  I still find my head spinning and my soul grieving. I wonder what we are doing with our lives. I agonize over why there is so much suffering in the world. I get into low places and question whether our lives really matter. And in all my unanswerable questions this old Benedictine hymn is there to meet me. We sing it often. It is a song and a prayer and as we sing it we meet God. He doesn’t give us the answers to our questions but as we  continue to sing I am reminded again that no matter the question, He is the answer.

Lord God and Maker of all things,
Creation is upheld by you.
While all must change and know decay,
You are unchanging, always new.

You are our solace and our shield,
Our rock secure on which we build,
You are the spirit’s tranquil home,
In you alone is hope fulfilled.

To God the Father and the Son
And Holy Spirit render praise,
Blest Trinity, from age to age
The strength of all our living days.

 Sung by The Monks at Worth Abbey

 

If you are interested in learning more about Liturgy of Life please feel free to contact us. Or consider joining our reading group as we read through The Cloister Walk together.