Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What is Prayer?

Hello Readers,

Lately I've been examining prayer. Actually, I've been examining everything I was taught in the church, bit by bit, pulling it all apart and re-examining it again. I feel like I'm learning to ride a bike again. Or maybe I'm like a person who was completely paralyzed but is slowly regaining feeling in my body. I'll hopefully walk again, but for now I'm just learning what my toes and fingers feel like.

Today I posed a question on facebook about prayer:

Survey time. What does prayer mean to you? Meditation, relationship, conversation, listening, none of the above? I'd like to hear from all faiths on this one!

So far I've heard from a Jew and a Christian. I'd really like to hear from someone who believes in God but has never attended any church or religious institution. They would have no filter, pre-conceived notions, etc. (I wish had re-worded my initial question to state that those who don't have a religion are welcome to share.) Anyway, I'm trying to open my mind up to what prayer is to me personally, not simply what the church told me it was. This is my interpretation of prayer I wrote on facebook: "For me prayer can take on many different forms. I'm realizing that prayer isn't simply a conversation to or with God. It's a communication of the soul that goes far beyond "Our father who art in heaven." For me art can be a prayer, as can dance or other artistic forms. The traditional "church prayer" has hemmed me in for years and now I'm finding my own personal prayer language."

One of the main reasons I'm re-examining prayer is that I've been thinking about something a good friend told me some months back. She was going through difficult things in her life and said to me, "So I've been praying, a lot, and you know what? God isn't doing anything! Prayer doesn't work!" I've heard people say that before and have even felt it myself, but for the very first time in my life I heard what she said suddenly realized that maybe prayer isn't about getting the answer I want...maybe it's far more than this. Maybe prayer isn't even traditional "prayer" as the church taught me. Then I started thinking about all of the prayers I've prayed in my entire life - from the most desperate prayers I prayed in the emergency room, "God, please don't let me die. Don't let my baby die", to the "God please give me a parking spot" prayers. I realized that few of the prayers I prayed were answered the way I wanted them to be.

The past five years of my life have probably been the most difficult, which is saying a lot since I've had chronic illness my whole life, I've had three miscarriages, I've survived a very unstable upbringing, I've have had heart surgery, I've had an eating disorder, and the list goes on...The past few years have been physically, financially and spiritually challenging on every level. I've battled horrible depression, anxiety, and grief with few reprieves. As my kids get older I'm facing the demons of my past and some of the most difficult years I've lived have seemed to come alive to me again in an unrelenting torrent. There have been times when I went to bed and I prayed I wouldn't wake up. Living wasn't living and there was no point to existing if life was going to be so full of pain and misery. Then I got to the point where I just quit praying. What was the point when there was no change, no reassurance, no voice guiding me. It was like God took a very long vacation to Hawaii and forgot I existed. Then I began to wonder if the only reason I ever took comfort in prayer was because church told me it was good and that it worked. It wasn't working for me, so why should I continue doing it? So I told God that I wasn't doing it that way anymore, period. He was going to have to intervene if we were going to keep the conversation going. A few times I was horrified when I realized I hadn't prayed for months at a time. I felt great guilt and condemnation but then I remembered that I was free.

Now I'm defining what prayer means to me personally. I'm intentionally opening up my mind to it outside of religion and the answers I'm getting are surprising me. I didn't ask God to show me...I'm simply opening up my spirit and mind. God knows what I'm thinking, I don't have to approach Him formally and say a traditional prayer. I'm beginning to see prayer as this beautiful connection between my soul and the one who created me. I'm finding answers in surprising places and the pain of the past is unraveling slowly like a ball of yarn. Some of the things I prayed to be freed from for years are letting go finally. The condemnation I used to feel fenced me in. It closed my ears to the truth, it blinded me to who I am and who God sees me as. I see the lies for what they are. I'm still exploring, still searching and reaching out. The peace and freedom are growing like flowers in my soul.

My friend Maddy wrote this on facebook and I think it's really beautiful: "Growing up jewish, a lot of our prayers were either of thankfulness for food/wine/friends/family, or thankfulness for the ability to atone and improve on one's life. Even though I haven't really been involved with the temple for years, I try to live in a way that practices this gratitude. I don't think prayer is or should be just asking god a favor; it's thanking god for the endless favors from the minute you were born, and living in a way that uses those favors wisely. Does that make sense?"

So, what is prayer to you?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The C Word

Well, it's been nearly two months since my last post...where does the time go? Life has been full to say the least with a week long family vacation, school starting, and an unexpected trip to Idaho, getting back into the school routine, etc. I'm finally getting grounded again,....well, at least I like to tell myself that.

Anyways, I've had a few thoughts swimming around in my head as of late regarding church. The other day I ran into someone who attends the last church I left. After exchanging pleasantries he asked me if we'd found a church yet. Immediately I said no, and then I said that I'm done with that is. I think I really scared the poor guy, I mean seriously spooked him and then some. He responded with wide eyes, "Really?" and again, "Really?" I told him briefly that I was done with the system, structure, etc. and honestly I didn't want to go deeper into it since there were several friends there who aren't Christians, so I left it at that. He responded with, "Oh, well, I don't care...I mean, it's not my deal...umm,...urr..." At that point my daughter bounded up to him and gave him a huge hug thus abruptly ending the extremely awkward conversation, which had been laced with my unsuspecting friend's nervous laughter. Later I thought over the conversation and realized I could have been less direct, abrupt, and down right scary. Part of me wanted to say something like, "So where does it say in the Bible that we have to go to church anyway? Church isn't defined as a building even one time in scripture." Then I would have launched into my whole definition of "gathering", and on and on. Next time I will just say that I haven't found a church yet...after a few years that won't work, and then I'll come up with something else polite and tidy that will hopefully dispel any speculation or horror.

Since this conversation I've been mulling over the definition of church and what it means to me. I've thought it over before, yes I have. I've spent hours reading, studying, trying to wrap my brain around what church is supposed to be, and why and how we've gotten so off track with it all. I know it's far more complex than just one little blog entry, but I realized that it's become way too complicated than it should be. Then something hit me today - I'm confused about what church is. I haven't sorted and sifted through all of the programming the church put in me; it's all in there still tumbling around making me feel crazy. I left the whole system behind, and now I'm unraveling all that the system had to offer and I've come to a bit of a dead end. It annoys me when people say that they're still searching, especially coming from Christians. I want to look at them and say, "You mean God hasn't shown you? If God is truly God, and you believe in Him, then ask and He'll tell you." That's what religion always told me: Have faith, seek God, and He will answer you. But what if He doesn't, what then? It must be a lack of faith, yep, that's it. I knew the system didn't work for me, so I got out. The freedom I've encountered has been beyond words, and my faith in God has increased beyond what it was before. But now that I really have to seek God for myself the truth is I don't know how to! Nobody is there telling me what to do, and why, and what happens if I don't, and on and on. It's a bewildering feeling to say the least.

In thinking about all of this I came to the realization that the church has it backwards. The first and foremost important thing in Christendom is that you attend church. Because what is the mark of a Christian you say? A person who attends a church, and denomination follows suit behind that as well as relationships and community. But what if someone asked me where I went to church and I answered, "I have lots of relationships with other believers. We hang out over dinner, talk on the phone, text, etc. and it's awesome." They would look at me like I lost my flippin mind. They would most likely think I attended a house church, (I call them mini churches), home fellowship, whatever you call it. I was always taught that if you left the church you were a backslider. You were "out of fellowship." Um, so going to a building where you sing a few songs and listen to one guy talk for an hour, (if you're lucky - it's generally at least an hour and a half), and talking for a few minutes afterwards is fellowship....really?

Nowhere in the Bible does it say you have to meet at a building for a specified period of time with other believers. An example of the New Testament believers is shown - they met in homes and broke bread together. Occasionally they met publicly in large groups, which was customary of the day and believers and non believers alike met this way in Greek culture. Other than that we're not told a whole lot. So, back to my original question - what is church? If it's not a building, then I figure there must be an essence, a meaning, a purpose for this thing we call church. What is the glue that holds it together? What makes it tick, and what makes it attractive to people? Let's face it, what we've been doing certainly isn't attractive.

I've come to the point where I have to honestly say I don't have the answer. I know it's out there and I know it's tangible. So I'm going with my gut and following the white rabbit. This past month I've had more connections with like minded people than I did in two years of attending church. I don't have an agenda for these relationships - where they lead is any one's guess. But I do know that for the first time in my life I feel like the journey I'm on is as important as the destination, and that's a beautiful thing. I'm seeing all of these complex little puzzle pieces fall out of the sky like snowflakes. Each one is like a small present all wrapped up just for me. This time I'm going to know what I know because I sought it out on my own and nobody can take it away from me.

By the way, I hope my blog can be a two way conversation, heaven knows we've all had enough of the one way kind. If you have any thoughts on what church is (outside of the box) I'd love to hear them.

Until next time, keep looking up for those puzzle pieces. The truth is out there.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Nature's Symphony

Hello Dear Readers,

Life has been blissful this summer and between camping trips, beach days, and weekend get aways to beautiful places I haven't had a shred of time to post here. Being out in nature has been amazing this summer and has brought healing and restoration I hadn't ever imagined. I've also been enjoying being "unplugged" from technology for days at a time. There is a special simplicity to life without e-mail, facebook, blogging, etc. I do a lot of driving normally; to and from school every day, ballet lessons almost every day, and the typical busy mom schedule. The lack of driving time has been so wonderful. When I'm home I've tried to spend at least a half hour outside every day just to soak in the sun, the garden, the breeze, and life itself.

A few weeks ago we went on a family camping trip to get a little mini weekend vacation. We were disappointed to find that the campground was full, but there were some environmental camp sights open. This means basically that our camp was off the beaten path and we had to hike in quite a ways to get to our camping spot. By the time we got all of the gear packed in we were exhausted. It was hot, and it had taken us about an hour to get everything out of the car and to the site. After we were done the kids went down to the creek and Ron took a nap. It turns out we were camping in the midst of an old apple orchard and there were beautiful apple and cherry trees right above us! I closed my eyes and just listened to the quiet lull of the creek trickling by. Then I heard crickets all around me and they sounded like a small orchestra singing in unison. The wind blew through the trees and the leaves rustled, softly at first, then with a crescendo like an orchestra. I sat there listening to this incredible nature symphony, entranced by the beauty, surrounded by peace. A bird started singing the most beautiful song which fit in perfectly to the symphony and I heard God say to me, "This is you. Some people are made to be like others, to be part of the symphony or the choir, but you are a soloist." All of a sudden I realized that I've seen myself as being different, not fitting into organized religion. That "being different" has been lonely, challenging, and has tested and stretched my faith beyond where I thought I could go. It has made me feel like an outcast and a freak at times. But I'm seeing that I wasn't made to fit into a mold. I think this is the beginning of healing for me and I'm seeing my perspective shifting.

The IC tells us who we're supposed to be and it discourages individuality. How can a bird be a cricket, or a leaf a bird? So who are you; the quiet lull of the creek, the loud rustle of the leaves, the sharp chirping of the cricket, the soloist bird, the graceful deer....or maybe you're like Buster the alpaca in the picture above...who wouldn't love that face?!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Thoughts on Freedom

This new journey has brought me into freedom in Christ I could have never imagined possible. The freedom I thought I had before was a far cry from what He's been showing me this year and I find that I finally am beginning to understand what freedom truly means. This morning my husband was reading the Declaration of Independence out loud to the family and with every sentence I was amazed that I could apply the words accurately to my spiritual freedom as well. The phrase "All men are created equal" rang loud and clear for the first time. In the IC I didn't ever really feel equal as I saw those around me being treated differently, some exonerated while others were put down, and the rules and regulations bearing down more for some than others. The freedom our forefathers spoke of is I believe closer to the freedom God gives us in some ways than the church has prognosticated it to be. We've been missing out on a freedom so grand, so all encompassing and full of love, seasoned with grace and mercy.

So what exactly does freedom in Christ mean? Where is the line drawn between freedom and sin - grace and punishment? It's a fine line, but not one that should be taken with fear and confinement. I believe it is a freedom that is void of rules and religion, but full of love and power. It is in true freedom that power in Christ can be found. The rules hold us back from experiencing Him fully and knowing how to find Him in every circumstance. This freedom doesn't come with guilt, the what if's, and the notion that if we blow it punishment will follow. This freedom bends the rules, makes the religious in people squirm, and reaches out to the broken in love.

Today I worshipped God as I created a mosaic. I thought about how the grout comes from thousands of pieces of rock ground up into a tiny powder like sand on the beach. I used my hands to fill in tiny crevices in glass and with every motion I worshipped my creator. I celebrated my independence from the Sunday ritual I felt obligated to do every week my whole life. I can worship Him every day with all of my being because He is so great, and I'm created to worship. Not because it's time for us to stand and sing, raise our hands and face the same direction in a building. I have freedom to be who I am because He made me that way. My mold was made to be broken, and I will explore my freedom with every ounce of my being because I can! Lack of freedom confines and creates rules while freedom supports creativity in spirit.

I still have a long way to go on this journey. I find myself falling into the old patterns of guilt and religiosity. Every time I do I remind myself that Jesus came for freedom. He who the son sets free is free indeed. What does this mean for me? What is holding me back? I want people to look at me and want that freedom. It should ooze from every pore of my being. That freedom is God, it's His essence. He didn't make the stupid rules we come up with - they were never His idea. I'm trying to open my mind up to the freedom in Him. I'm seeing it appear more every day and I'm finding the guilt is falling off as I embrace it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

On Community

When we moved away from our rental a year ago into our new neighborhood we had no idea what to expect here in regards to a community. We had lived in the previous town for 6 years and so much had happened during that time! We had initially moved there to be close to the university for Ron, and we had also joined a faith community. Our church was right down the street, as was the college, Sarah's school, dance studio, and Ron's later place of employment. Our gas bills were very low back then! We ended up becoming close friends with some of our neighbors which was amazing and such a blessing at the time! We would share food, have barbecues together, hang out and watch movies, take walks together, (I miss those walks Allison!), laugh together and cry together. Two of our neighbors were studying to be nurses so we would get free health checks off and on, and advice when we got injured, (I fractured my tail bone, ouch!) It was a community utopia for a time and I couldn't imagine not having that support and love. In fact, I feared losing it...

Well, all good things must come to an end and when it ended it was over, there was nothing left there for us, and we were more than ready to move on. We moved to the next town over not knowing anyone close by really and wondered how God would knit us into this community. We knew some people a few blocks away, but not well, and at first it felt pretty isolating here. As the months wore on we were amazed to see how we found families and made friends in the area; it was uncanny. We've gotten to know the family we knew who lived a few blocks down. They are awesome people, so full of faith and love. They have a boy and girl just like us and I pass down Justin's clothes to their little guy and we switch off babysitting for date nights. Ron knows a co-worker who lives a few blocks further as well. He and Ron both love to garden and we share our veggies with them and they give us home pressed apple juice and awesome gifts for our garden. We have dinner with them off and on and their cooking is so delicious! I met another family through a friend who lives a few blocks away as well. They are on the same spiritual journey I'm on and "get" where I'm at. I'm so blessed to have found them! So a mere year later, and we have three families we're friends with who live just a few blocks away in our little community!

The other day we had a dinner that was mostly from our garden: Potatoes and herbs, a fresh salad with carrots and peas, and spaghetti flavored with herbs from our herb garden. After dinner we went out and picked some lettuce, spinach, carrots and potatoes, loaded them into bags and went on a walk through our neighborhood dropping off our garden bounty and veggie starts to our friends a few blocks away. It was the most wonderful evening! Our hearts felt full and we were loving our community.

That night has gotten me thinking a lot about the meaning of community. I always thought that community was a place you had to set up - a place that had to be painstakingly planned in every way. The element of fear was always there - what if someone moves away?, what if God takes us away from our support system?, etc. What I'm realizing is that God is fully capable of setting up community anywhere! It's a no brainer for Him. We're the ones who add in the complications and strings to the whole situation making things much more complicated and messy.

I look around us now at the community we're blessed with and I'm in total awe. Community has come to us in such an incredible way and now we get to nurture it and see it grow in beautiful ways. I feel so lucky - SO blessed! I cherish our neighbors more than ever because I feel they're a gift God has given me. I don't feel like I deserve it, but the universe has smiled on us and we're blessed.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Crazy" Ideas

Hello dear readers! It's been almost two weeks since my last post. Life has been busy with the end of school, dance recital, and life in general. I've hardly had time to return phone calls, e-mails, you name it! I detest this kind of busyness honestly; I like life to have a stable predictable pattern. But it seems my life has been anything but stable these past few years! I'm learning to "go with the flow" so to speak in more ways than one.

Yesterday I was pondering about life as I was driving along in the beautiful afternoon sun beside the bay. U2's song "Where the Streets Have No Name" came on the radio and I was thinking about the spectacular places I've seen in the world and how much I want to go back to every single one of them, and more. But, I'm here for now, in my little town living my life. Then I felt like God asked me, "What do you want to do?" I paused and thought a minute, "Really, anything?" "Yes, what is the most outrageous thing you want to do?" I sat there in stunned silence, really not knowing what to think or say back. I'm still pondering the question, and maybe haven't come up with an answer because if I do answer then He'll probably take me up on it...yep, I can totally see Him doing that. But it got me thinking - How much do I set the rhythm in my life? In the IC I always heard the cliche - if it's supposed to happen God will allow it, but if it's not He'll close the door. I wonder now if I was the one closing the door, not Him. Yet, there are crazy ideas I've had for years that have actually happened. I've been to England and Scotland twice, I went on a missions trip to Thailand last summer without my family and survived it, I had a baby despite a very high risk pregnancy. Now I'm starting to wonder if all of the other ideas I've had that I excused away as not being "God's will" actually ARE God's will. Maybe I've been setting them all aside and creating my own rhythm apart from Him...

So I'm going to share with you one of my crazy ideas and I'd love to hear some of yours....maybe if we start talking about these ideas we'll see that they're not so out there after all...and maybe they will start happening.

Here goes: I want to go and live in a third world country for a year with my family. I have a desire to reach out to women who are oppressed and live in poverty with no hope. This idea is crazy because for one my husband has no desire to do this right now. I have two kids ages 4 and 11 which would make this even more challenging. But, it's my wild dream and I'm owning it!

What are your crazy ideas?

Friday, June 4, 2010

More on Hearing

The longer I'm outside of organized religion the more I seem to be hearing God's voice and acting on it. The most profound thing about hearing His voice now is that I don't even realize I've heard it until the words are out of my mouth and it becomes obvious I was hearing Him. It's kind of like this: Remember when you first met your spouse and you had to ask him/her what they meant when they said something? Then over time you came to know them so well that you could sit in the same room with them and know exactly what they were thinking, or know what they were going to say before they said it?

The other day I was hanging out with some of my friends who don't know Jesus yet. We were talking about life in general and one of the girls I was talking with mentioned the fact that she doesn't have a relationship with her father. She talked about growing up with her mom and what it's been like to not have a dad. This led to a discussion on the topic of bad people. I don't remember how I brought up the topic, but I ended up talking about child molesters. She spoke up and said that her father was a child molester, and that this was the reason she has chosen not to have a relationship with him. In the past I would have most likely felt God speak directly to me about this, but this time I had no nudging from the holy spirit whatsoever. I just spoke out, and I feel my words were absolutely inspired by the holy spirit. After this discussion I noticed the girl was much more open to me. I feel that I now have a bridge into her life because of our conversation.

After this happened the thought occurred to me: Can we become so in touch and intertwined with the holy spirit that our conversation is guided by the spirit's leading all the time? Not only that, but can we live a life where we constantly speak words of knowledge/wisdom that are so accurate to a situation without even knowing it?

When Jesus walked the earth He spoke truth because He was truth. Then He told us that we would do even greater things than He did. I'm sure He never had the thought, "I feel like God is telling me such and such." No, He simply spoke and His words were truth. So why can't we as followers of Jesus have this same authority and truth? I think we can. The question is, what is holding us back from this authority?

I'm perplexed as to why I'm hearing God so much more now that I'm out of the IC. Especially when it seems that now I'm not "trying" to hear His voice. I used to toil and sweat over hearing from Him honestly! Maybe that was the problem - maybe too much of me was in the way. Now I live my life following Jesus, and if He chooses to speak to me I'm in awe, but if I don't hear from Him for a while I'm not stressing out about it. Maybe I was trying too hard...

My daughter has taken ballet classes for the past four years. I've watched her skill develop slowly over time and now all of the years of technique and training are beginning to show. Dancing is becoming a part of her, and she doesn't have to think before her next step; the steps flow naturally without premeditation. She is finding herself in her dance, her confidence is rising, and when she moves she isn't afraid of making a mistake. Her movement looks effortless and graceful. This is how I want to hear God's voice. I want His words to flow through me without effort. I want the dance of my life to be fused with the music of His voice.