Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Do We Pray?

Children of the Street
Jacob Riis
Public Domain

After weeping until he could weep no more, after strengthening himself in the Lord, even in the face of the murderous ire of his companions, David called for Abiathar the priest to bring him the ephod, and there, where the symbols of priestly love and watch-care dwelt, David inquired of the Lord.

It was a simple question, “Shall I pursue?  Will I overtake?”

What questions would we like to ask this day?  We are often afraid to ask, because Zachariah was struck dumb!  Yes, he was, but he was still given a son in his very old age, and he still held him in his arms and named him, ”John.”

We do try not to ask the Lord, “How will we know that You are a faithful God?”, but other things we must know: how to proceed, what route to take, what special instructions we ought to heed.

Today is the day for this.  How can we best pray for those we love, for those we see bowed down by oppression?  What are the special needs of those for whom we pray?  Are they merely willful and disobedient, or are they being tempted and led astray?  Are they as angry as they seem, or are they fearful? 

One thing we do not wish to do … we do not want to cast off the lost, the captives, as though they must stay lost!  Jesus didn’t, David didn’t, and we mustn’t.  As long as the impossible is possible with God, we seek to know how to pray, and to call upon God like the widow did before the unrighteous judge. 

Our God wants our day and night prayer.  (Luke 18:6)  If we are in a place where we cannot help but pray without ceasing, we pray.  If we are in a place where we must teach ourselves to pray fervently and continually, we set out to learn and to learn quickly.  Those around us have been hurting, have been “bent double,” for too long.

Day Three - Deep Compassion

For the next few days we will return to the account of the abduction of David’s family at Ziklag.  From it we may learn a few things to help us pray during these forty days.

The first thing David and his men did was . . . weep!  They wept, in fact, until there was no strength left in them. 

We remind ourselves . . . this is not a fairy tale.  This man and his soldiers returned to their families to find them gone, taken captive, and the encampment burned up.  May God grant us all to hear today, if any of our family members have been abducted, if our hopes and dreams seem to be nothing but a pile of ashes, if we have cried until we haven’t strength left for tears . . . we may do as David did, and we may yet see a victorious end to every terrible ordeal.

David wept, and when he was weak with crying, his men thought perhaps they would stone him for letting this thing happen.  David did what ought to be the first thing we might do in our own grief or fear, he “strengthened himself in the Lord.”

If we are praying for others, people whose lives do not touch so immediately upon ours own, we may still weep for them, if we will, and we may still strengthen ourselves in God.  We know that the Holy Spirit is praying with “groanings that cannot be uttered.”  We may enter into God’s divine and exquisite compassion.  We may begin to care that much by that Spirit.  For that kind of care, the strength of God is required.

The Scripture tells us that the Lord hears the groanings of the people of earth.  If we are praying for those who groan in their private anguish, or if they are so lost to the dangers of their condition that we must groan for them, God will hear.  The Lord Jesus Christ, we know, is touched by the feeling of our infirmities.  (Hebrews 4:12)  Once again, we may join Him there on behalf of others.  Entering into His deep compassion, we may strengthen ourselves in the knowledge that He is near to the broken-hearted.  (Psalm 34:18)  When we share His compassion, we will be strong in faith, hope, and love.

Jesus commended us to the care of widows, orphans, those sick and in prison, and the poor.  We don’t need to harden our hearts against what we cannot help; we need only begin to care deeply, to care continually.  He will show us what can be done.  Tomorrow we will look at that aspect of David’s victory.

Memorial House of Mother Theresa,
by permission, Danielmkd

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Day Two - Bound to Love

God Himself will contend with those who have contended with us.  Halleluiah!  He will confront and prevail against those that have sought to overpower and thwart and position against us!  Where the enemy of souls has taken men captive and held children as prey, God will deliver.  He will save our sons.  He will save us.  Only imagine!  Only pray!  The Lord will take the position of strength in our battle against wickedness.  (Isaiah 49:24, 25)

It is for us in Cor Unum to recognize that sometimes, when the Lord challenges spiritual tyranny, He will be challenging our lethargy, our selfishness, and our fears.  He knows that our cruel oppressors, spiritual forces that do come against us, set up bulwarks of darkness in our souls.  The devil’s minions hide in self-pity and in the cold turrets of unrequited love and in many other shadowy nooks and crannies.  How we must rejoice that the Lord with Whom evil does not dwell (Psalm 5:4,) loves those that have been afflicted by it!

That is how we pray in this Abbey.  We answer the challenge that lies against the love of God.  The enemy, the vile enemy of the souls of men, first tempts us to wrong and then torments us when he has trapped us in sin, but blessed be the Name of the Lord, the captives of the tyrant will be rescued, and the prey will be taken from the mighty!  

There is a wickedness that is strong in the strength of deception.  When the heart begins to believe that there is no hope of rescue, no love, no escape from guilt and pain, it can sink into a thick, almost impenetrable darkness.  We see bondages in our world that are so alarming, so without human explanation, that even those who do not know the Scripture will dare to say that “something evil” took hold.  Students murdering other students at random, shooters taking aim at passers-by from bridges and buildings, horrible self-destructive inventions … that kind of blind rage had a beginning, a starting point.  It might have been a loss, an insult, or a fear, real or imagined, with no bedrock human ability to keep faith with God.  Oh, dear Sisters and Brothers, on behalf of those so wounded, help is on the way!

For today, on this second of forty days of prayer, let us be sure that our God knows how to make distinction between those who have been held captive in darkness and those who have led them and held them there.  To be sure, there is a time to cast off the works of darkness, but there is also a dungeon so deep and bonds so cruel that those held by them need help to escape.  As with all things in the life of Christ which has come to us, we have a part.  Our God will rescue, but it is for us to pray, as we are doing now and for these forty days.  We must love the unlovely, even those who would slap our hands away.  Whether they cry out for help or resist it, our prayers for them are before the Lord, Who loves them.  His love will prevail!  We will not fail them, because He will not fail them.

“Father, it is certain that You love beyond the bounds of our understanding, and You have chosen us to love with You.  To learn of You is to learn to love, and You love those who have suffered in the torment of their own sin … we know that, first hand!  Your Son came to destroy the works the devil, and we pray for these who are not yet set free where evil has bound them.  You will not fail them!  You will vanquish their enemies and set them at liberty to receive Your lovingkindness and to live by faith, as we do, here in this monastery of the heart!  Amen.”

Dungeons of Blarney Castle
by permission,

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Held Hostage

We are observing a forty-day prayer fast in Cor Unum.  Some may wish to incorporate a Lenten fast, perhaps snacks or desserts or coffee … or criticism! … as well, but we are praying between now and Easter for someone in desperate need.  A sick child, an overburdened mother, a prisoner, a discouraged pastor – forty minutes or four minutes each day, or something in between, only let us be faithful, let us trust that our prayers will be heard, and let us remember to rejoice along the way.  We are before the Lord!  We are His own worshiping, triumphant Army - and we have set out to see captives set free!

Today’s Scriptural weapon is found in the 49th chapter of Isaiah.  This book is like a Biblical manual for warriors in the Spirit, and our Sword is a spiritual blade:

“Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?  Surely thus says the Lord: ‘Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken and the prey of the tyrant be rescued, for I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your sons.’”  (verses 24 and 25)

Most of us have known people, even children, who seem to have been taken into the captivity of darkness and sin.  When we in Cor Unum come to understand that the Lord our God loves mercy more than judgment, then we have begun to know His heart, and we will begin to fight and defend and rescue those who have been kept in captivity, those who do damage to themselves and others, instead of the “pointing of the finger” that marks unbelief and perhaps even cowardice.  That abomination is mentioned in Isaiah 58 as the practice we need to put off when we fast! 

It is celebratory . . . and salutatory! . . . to live in this monastery for the sake of others, looking for the mercy of the Lord.  It is never hard to find.  He Himself told us that, though He is just and He will dispense justice, it is mercy that He longs to show.  Happily, His desire is to bring judgment down on the heads of those (spiritual forces of wickedness – Ephesians 6:12) that have so long tormented and held people in bondage of fear, regret, grief, depression, and addiction.  In wisdom we know that most anger and violence stem from one of those categories.  For forty days we are privileged to pray that someone we know, someone we care about, will be set free from the captivity and the mighty power of such evil.

 Today we pray, “Mighty God, how we thank You that Your mercy is strong and Your truth is able to deliver ______________________ from the power of wickedness.  There is no bondage that can hold where You choose to set free.  We ask today that You send Your Word and heal these for whom we pray . . . send Your Word and heal them, and deliver them from even their own destructions!  Let those that have put them to shame be put to shame, and let these that we love be risen and stand upright! Set the captives free, Lord God! All by Your mercy, all by Your Power, all according to Your love for them.  Amen, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

Jean-Paul Laurens
public domain

Monday, February 18, 2013

Forty Days

We know, of course, that the forty-day length of time has special significance in the Scripture and the epochs of Israel and in the life of our Lord.  Here are some of those forty-day intervals; they would make a terrific study:

·   Moses went up on the mountain and stayed before God for forty days  … and then another forty days when he came down and saw Israel’s apostasy!
·      Jesus was led into the desert for forty days. to be tempted by the devil,
·      Elijah went forty days to Mount Horeb on one angelic meal,
·      Jonah preach to Ninevah for forty days, resulting in their repentance,
·      Noah waited forty days after the rain before he opened a window in the ark, and 
·      Goliath taunted Israel for forty days, morning and evening.

Beginning tomorrow, and continuing through Saturday (March 30) before Easter Sunday, we have a forty-day time span.  One of the Sisters in this online monastery has committed forty minutes of prayer, daily, to the Lord for the next forty days, on behalf of someone in desperate need.  She doesn't really have the time for it, but she is doing it, anyway.  She said that, as so often happens, this wasn’t the person she might have thought would be the focus of this intensified prayer, and yet she wasn’t surprised.  The Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep to search for the one that is lost.  Thanks be to God.

Perhaps the rest of us can join her in this fast, on behalf of someone God has given us to love.  Some will consider and say, "I can find forty minutes each day."  Many other Sisters will say, "I can make a start with four minutes, daily."  Always in Cor Unum, we commit ourselves to do what we can, not what we cannot do.  Four solid minutes of daily prayer for one person is an astounding, beautiful, powerful blessing in heaven, in our hearts, and in the life of the one for whom we pray.  More time allows more breadth - more time in worship and praying and proclaiming the Word of God - but oh, my dear Sisters, don't withhold four minutes in prayer to someone in need, if you haven't got forty!

These forty days have an interesting earmark, when we think about Goliath’s boasting.  The great Army of Israel cowered before him, because he certainly looked big and he certainly boasted large.  In point of fact, his size and boastings weren’t the cause of Israel’s timidity, for they had come up against mighty foes before.  They had won tremendous battles without having to lift a sword, for the Lord had delivered their enemies into their hands.

It is not a good idea for His Majesty’s warriors to hearken to the lies of those who set themselves up against the Lord and His people.  There is a time to fight, and for David, the younger brother, the messenger, the shepherd boy, that time had come.  He was incensed to see Israel reduced to knocking knees and pre-battle defeat, but he was even more enraged that a bragging giant would boast against the God of Israel.  Rightly understood, there are few words more stirring in all Scripture than these, “Who is this uncircumsized Philistine that he should defy the armies of the Living God?” 

Today we prayerfully consider: is there someone in the scope of our prayers who is in spiritual danger, someone lost, someone who has too long trembled before the lying braggadocio of the emissaries of darkness?  Perhaps an individual, perhaps a church, a family, a city, or even a nation in trouble, fearful, unbelieving, full of dread . . . without hope.  Now we return forty days for forty days ... and forty minutes each day, full of worship, prayer, of spiritual travail and of our own proclamation.  Where Goliath teased and belittled, we speak the truth over those for whom we pray, “God has loved them with a everlasting love … with great lovingkindness He will draw them.”  "What has been meant for evil against them, He means for good." 

Pray and choose where God would have you topple the giants that have been wounded far too long, find and set aside a forty minute sanctuary … and together we are going to bring the Lord’s “boast” to bear over those for whom we pray.

“I am the Lord, the God of all mankind … is anything too hard for me?”  (Jeremiah 32:27)

"David Slays Goliath"
Gustav Dore, public domain

Friday, February 15, 2013

From Little to Large

Today is a reminder . . . we are “warping” our looms with strong strands of devotional commitment, which is another way of saying, “We will spend time with the Lord, daily, plenty of time, quality time!”

We probably haven't always, but we won’t be those who say, “The Lord understands how busy I am!”  We won’t say, “He wants me to have some fun and take time for relaxation,” for none of that is the point for the Cor Unum monastic.  What we do isn’t religion or duty, it is nothing that has been foist upon us.  It doesn't surplant our fun or hinder our valid occupation.  The fabric of our Cor Unum habits is woven of privilege and of our choice to order our days to allow us to spend time with God.  This is a tapestry of time at His feet and time before His face, with the threads of daily life woven between.  Our worship and prayer and study and stillness will be with Him, not just “for” Him.

If we have two fixed devotional hours daily, if we are headed toward four or even seven intervals of worship and prayer, or if we have just begun and find it hard to stay focused on Him even for a few minutes at a time, all that matters is that we know He meets us when we come.  He walks with us when we leave.  We seek to know Him, and we will abide in His Son.  We make use of every opportunity.

So far we have looked into the monasic practice of Lectio Divina, of learning to read Scripture in His Presence, asking our questions and  hearing His comfort and encouragements.  We are practicing Benedictine “Conversatio,” addressing very small but lasting changes that we know need to be made, leaving off gossip or fretting, taking up a little daily exercise or praying 3-minutes prayers over one or two souls in great need.

Those who can do more, press on.  Those who are beginning, rejoice to have made a start. 

We have added the discipline of a “Spiritual Rx,” of reading a short passage of Scripture (Colossians 3:1-3, 1-14, or 1-17) three times daily, like a healing medicine.  Here in Cor Unum we banish doubts that our little practices are not enough, or too legalistic, or too small to have real effect.   We are true monastics, and we know that large grows from little, and strength and glory increase in the Presence of the Lord.  We DO what we really can do, and we look for opportunity everywhere.

May God bless you this day in Cor Unum Abbey.  It is good to find the Nearness of God.  It’s even better to make that place our home.

Trappist monk in prayer
Daniel Tibi, by permission

Thursday, February 14, 2013

St. Valentine

There lived, in the great city of Rome, a priest who attracted the evil attention of an evil emperor, Claudius II.

            Valentine had been marrying Christian couples, and no service or sacrament was to be administered to them under Claudius’ unholy reign.  Valentine was arrested, and then became something of a favored prisoner, by which we infer a godly, a pleasant, an interesting, and invigorating character.  While prisoner, it is recorded that he restored the sight and hearing of the daughter of his jailer.

            Valentine was not content to be favored or famous . . . he wanted to see Claudius walking in the fullness of new life, and this cost him his life.  Claudius had him stoned and beaten with clubs, and when he yet lived, he was beheaded.

            Man or myth, this Valentine?  Let us consider that to us, the history or the legend of the man only lines up with what we know to be true of those early Christians whose love for others did result in healings, conversions . . . and martyrdom.

            Here is a Cor Unum valentine for each of us . . . shall we not minister the word of life to someone perishing today?  One twentieth century evangelist set out to share the Gospel with someone every day that he lived, and while that did not result in 365 conversions each year, the cumulative numbers were astonishing.

            Let us each give a “valentine” in Jesus' name today - something that comes with grace and kindness and gentle wisdom from the heart of God - where we may before the sun goes down on this Valentine’s Day. 

Shrine of St. Valentine
Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church,
Dublin, Ireland
blackfish, by permission