One open gate after another

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I listened to a podcast the other day. It was evangelical in flavor, interviewing a Christian semi-public figure about the ministry work she’s been doing.
 
She spoke of a terrible season of her life, one of emotional loss and physical suffering. As she told her story in that interview, she was asked what was her biggest regret of that season of despair and pain. Her answer was that she wished she had regular Bible reading during that time, and not let her physical pain keep her from God’s presence.
 
And as I listened, I felt a internal constriction, my chest tightened and my breathing sped up. This is my kryptonite, when another believer discusses what she failed in doing during a painful season of her life. I know all about failure, all about spiritual practices I should have done.  There’s a scarcity mentality that I see often in the evangelical church, an acceptance of shame that my younger self learned to live in, that I still work hard to push back against, knowing that shame warps my faith to look more like fear than freedom.
 
After hearing about her suffering, I longed for her to say she regretted not leaning into God’s kindness sooner, not letting herself experience grace. I thought of how close God must have been then, how much God’s presence must have longed to warm her and hold her, to cover her broken body and spirit like a blanket. But instead I heard failure in her voice, failure in her answer.
 
Now, to be fair, I can’t judge her answer, or her experience of God in that season. She spoke as someone who loves scripture. And I so value her commitment and love for experiencing God through the pages of the Bible. The response I had to her words in that moment was born out of my own shame, my own fear that God’s grace is not enough, that my success at spiritual practices is the only way God will want me, accept me, love me. I’ve been on a long, ten year journey of believing that what God wants to offer me is an invitation, not an obligation: That prayer and Bible reading is not a way to earn God’s love or delight.
 
Spiritual Practices are an invitation into that blanket, that covering of God’s love. Spiritual practices are gifts we can receive, not tasks we perform to make God happy, or feel better about ourselves, or even to heal ourselves. 
 
As we head into the Advent season, my prayer is that we would choose to practice God’s presence with a lightness of heart, a belief that we are not on a spiritual performance hamster wheel, but that instead we are on a walk through a beautiful garden. Every time we pray, every time we open our sacred texts, we’re entering through another gate, invited into another garden. This one holding something new, something hope-filled, something good.

A poem for Holy Week

Last year my church commissioned me to write a poem for our Good Friday service based on the Seventh Station of the Cross. I'm publishing it here because I'm glad to share it with you.

Feel free to use with attribution.

Jesus cares for his mother - John 19:25b - 27

Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

 

Near the Cross, Christ’s Mother Speaks

By Micha Boyett

 

Oh God, I sang those words like the angel who once blazed before me,

left me light-soaked, my virgin-clear voice lifting the poems

of the ancients into song. I was only a girl then, and still

you gave me this child. I received him, I believed.

 

His birth was worship. The praise I sang in naïve faith:

Magnify the Lord, rejoice in God. I claimed mercy

for generations, for this generation. I sang because you chose me,

because my child’s very living was hinged in wonder. 

 

God, despite your quiet retreat, despite the early years of fear,

when my exhaustion and earth-bound vision cast a veil between us.

Though he pulled from me toward you, toward danger, toward this world.

Still, I told him his story, his past and future as the Always-One.

 

I sang him into the song the prophets wrote:

How Yahweh shows strength with his mighty arm.

I whispered in the dark, his boy-body resting on mats,

You are the Mighty Arm, child.

 

And here, oh God, is where it ends: That boy I dressed,

the one whose meat I cut in bits, who—for your sake, Lord—

I told the Story. There he is—your Mighty Arm—

on that cross, writhing, calling his mother, Woman.

 

I’ll go with John to his home, my old shoulders

wrapped in wool, I’ll shiver by the fire,

grief my companion, let the women spoon me broth.

But I will not sing the song you gave me.

 

I will not sing of deliverance, of mercy, or strength,

of hungry filled, of goodness in the hands of weak ones.

No, I will die an old woman without a son,

in the home of a stranger who loved my child.

 

And what will become of our visions and dreams, of the prophets’

words I pressed into that boy’s hands? Your angel promised power,

vowed to shatter thrones in Yahweh’s name. Yet my son—

our son, Lord—was power cloaked in peace. He shattered us all.

 

What can I do but receive this? Let John

lift the bread and wine to my lips, bitter in the mouth

of this old woman who waits to kiss—one last time—

the face of her broken, miraculous son.

 

Or perhaps you will grant me hope enough

for a solemn hymn, the final prayer of a desperate mother:

 

Look upon your Mighty Arm, Lord. Save us all.

 

© Micha Boyett 2017. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Liturgy and the Wild Stream of Prayer: Prayer for the rest of us

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Liturgy, a practice as old as the Church itself, had been a room closed to me in my faith tradition. And when the door opened, I discovered within it the treasure of wisdom. Liturgy was prayer I couldn’t use to make myself look better. It humbled me, reminded me of how many of the faithful had come before me. I found in that room an antidote to my skepticism.

 

I read Episcopalians and Catholics, writers who spoke of prayer as something they were invited into, not something they were creating for themselves.. I had been living as if prayer was my daily task to produce, words I needed to speak or think to build a bridge of connection with a living God. What I began to see was that prayer was not dependent on me: it was a living organism—a stream—I could enter. It was, thank God, beyond me and outside of me and something I was invited into.

 

Nowhere was that clearer than when I begin to pray with liturgy, something I’d been warned in the past was “hallow” and “vain repetition.” What I found in those early days of breaking open The Book of Common Prayer and fumbling through the local Episcopal church service, was that these prayers written hundreds of years prior were new and fresh to me. They were a reminder of the depth and breadth of the Church—both past and present. When I prayed a prayer someone else had written down—words that had been uttered around the world, in generations past, words lifted in expectation toward the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, words that would be voiced again long after me—I entered the miracle of the Body of Christ. Something which was (shockingly!) bigger than my generation, my understanding of faith, my culture, and my personal experience of God. Suddenly, prayer was opening up my world.

 

What was at first a way for me to pray when I no longer trusted my own words became a connection to the people of faith who came before me. Through liturgy the communion of saints offered me prayer when my own words had run out, when I was full of doubt, when I didn’t know how to thank God, or ask for help. Far from being empty, the words of the morning prayer liturgy gave me life when I couldn’t find it anywhere else.

 

Today I have a new piece up in my "Prayer for the rest of us" series at Off the Page. Find it here!

Prayer and Panic Attacks: Prayer for the rest of us

Sometimes you find yourself walking out of the challenges of your life, and you no longer recognize the landscape that changed while you were in the fog.

So it’s true to say that these years have brought me to a richer spiritual space. But it doesn’t look like I would have expected. My faith is deeper but also ragged. I’m a bit battered and I’m still figuring out what it means to live here, on the other side of the crisis. What does faith look like now, when the wild wind has calmed, and I’m not sure I remember how to walk without being forced to lean in?

 

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A couple of months I wrote a piece about panic attacks for my "Prayer for the rest of us" series over at Off The Page. Find it here to read the rest

 

Introducing . . . My new series at Off The Page!

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I'm excited to announce that this month I began a new series on prayer and spiritual formation at one of my favorite sites, Off The Page

Each month I'll be exploring "Prayer for the Rest of Us," aka those of us who don't have our spiritual stuff together. What does prayer even mean? Why do we do it? How do we do it? I'll take on a different spiritual practice each month and talk about my experience with it, and invite you into with me. 

This month I'm sharing about the desperation and the "Uneasy Silence" we face every time we come into the sometimes uncomfortable space for prayer.

If you haven't seen the article yet, I hope you'll take a look. Here's a bit for you:

 

Here’s what I know: When the doctor’s reports refer to your two-year-old as “malnourished,” and when he’s vomiting (again), and refusing to eat (again), when the doctors’ appointments and the therapists’ evaluations recommend a new system for eating, a new medication, a new calorie-heavy product to try or to stop trying, when you think you cannot face another day of begging your child to eat, and telling yourself it is not my fault when he doesn’t get the 200 calories he was supposed to get this morning, because you tried (because you used the vibrating mouth tool, and the cheesecloth trick, and made the elephant puppet sing about how yumminess of the bagel with cream cheese), when you aren’t sure if there will ever be a day you won’t wake up afraid for his beautiful, tiny body; that’s when prayer is breath.

 

Desperation often clarifies the why of prayer. I’m learning I pray not to let God know I’d really like some help over here (God knows, I’m sure), but to train my own eyes to see the help already available: the presence of God’s spirit in the kitchen, at my son’s highchair, holding us both.

 

Lately, it’s been helpful for me to think about the spiritual life as a movement towardor away from the presence of God. If Jesus is a dot in the middle, and we’re all arrows positioned at different places, spaced at varying times further and closer to the holy bull’s-eye, what matters isn’t how close we are to the middle, but whether or not our arrow is pointed toward the center.

 

What prayer does is reorient our arrows toward the presence of God. It reminds us what direction our true life comes from. It turns us from the darkness to the sun. It helps us shift and lift our faces from the anxiety or grief, the uncertainty or monotony, the desperation or maybe just the boredom of our lives, toward the One who holds life in its completeness, its fullness.

 

Read the rest at Off the Page.

God has a surprise for you (Guest post at Her.menuetics)

Today I'm sharing the story of my prenatal diagnosis of Ace's Down syndrome, which I received exactly one year ago this week. I've been thinking about as my own "annunciation" of sorts, God showing up and letting me know that my life was about to change, all because of one little baby. Sound familiar?

Here's a little bit of it.

I stare at this morning’s passage in Luke. The angel has just said to Mary, “God has a surprise for you” (MSG, 1:29-33). I’m reading The Message transliteration, and its words sound fresh to my ears.

I’m practicing , an ancient form of Scripture-reading long used by Benedictine monks to encounter the Bible anew. It can be translated as “divine reading,” a way of listening for God’s voice in the text of Scripture.

When I’m talking to people about lectio divina, I usually describe an image of the heart as a metal detector hovering above the words. I ask God to help my heart go beep beep beep when I hit the word or phrase that God wants me to see in some new, valuable way. Maybe it’s a message I need to take from the passage. Maybe it’s just a moment to tell me that I’m not forgotten, that I am God’s beloved. Either way, on good days, I come to this time listening.

There it is: God has a surprise for you.

In my experience, God’s surprises are almost always complicated. Last year during Advent, God interrupted my typical pregnancy with news that my life was about to change. It happened about as quickly as with Mary.

Click here to read the rest of this story on her.menuetics.


When God Meets Us in the Wilderness

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My friend Amber Haines released her book this past summer. That Amber Haines can write gorgeous sentences. And her book's theme of how our desires point to the kingdom we serve has challenged me to go back to another friend's book. Jen Pollock Michel's Teach Us To Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith is about the theology of desire.

Today I'm guest posting as part of Amber's Wild in the Hollow series on her blog, and thinking about Jen's words and what my own desires for comfort and ease reveal about me.

Here's a little peek:

There are parts of me that only want comfort, ease. I want a life of surface-level pleasure. I want my kids to be healthy and happy and get good grades and score winning soccer goals.

What is false desire and what is true desire? There are big longings in me: I want to win the hardest worker awards and be a perfect mom and be the person everybody loves, and never feel overwhelmed, or afraid.

But those longings for ease and a life where I’m not afraid? They are the shallow side of my story. They are desires that only scratch the surface of who God longs for me to be. My most real desires are the result of God’s grace in my life.

To get to my truest desires I have to be courageous enough to dive into the darkness, through the pain, and find myself on the other side in the bright sun, in the place where my false desires are exposed for what they are: fear, selfishness, comfort at the cost of others.

Rich, miraculous love exists on the other side of pain.

And to get there, I must first walk boldly into the wilderness, where God met Moses in a burning bush, where the people of God wandered for forty years, where Jesus fasted and was tempted. The wilderness is the space between the promises and the promised land. The wilderness is the pain between our shallow desires and our deeper, more real desires. We move from loving our own comfort to loving the things God loves.

 

Find the rest over at Amber’s Wild in the Hollows blog! And be sure to check out both Amber Haines’s Wild in the Hollow and Jen Pollock Michel's Teach Us To Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith . They are both worth your time and meditation.