November 14, 2006
Pray In Your Own Way
Reverend Linda Yates
There is much material written about prayer and meditation. There seems to be some evidence that meditating or praying in some routine way is good for you. I think the benefits of connecting with the Divine through prayer are only felt when the act of praying suits your own individual personality.
For years I tried to meditate. I read books. I took courses. They all taught that meditation is essential if I want to get to know God more fully. Despite that, I could never meditate with any success. In fact, if I am honest, I would have to say I failed at meditation. It was too free form for me. My mind was too busy
When I shared this with my friend Britt Jessen, she suggested that because I am an organized kind of person, perhaps the order inherent in the use of prayer beads might be helpful. I ignored her. Then, one time when she was visiting me with her daughter, Erika, she presented me with a set of ecumenical prayer beads she had made herself and taught me how to use them. Ecumenical prayer beads are a variant of the traditional Roman Catholic rosary beads. They contain a different number of beads which can be ascribed a variety of meanings to suit the user. Subsequently my prayer life as been revolutionized. They work for me. I spend some time with them every day.
If you are interested in getting to commune with God on a more regular basis, find something that works for you, some practice that enables you to spend some time listening to what God might be trying to tell you. Active people can pray as they walk, run or ski. Reflective, free-form types might like meditation. People who are very connected to their body can try yoga. Others, like myself, who prefer organization might like prayer beads. Take some time to think about it, then do some research. Do some reading, ask around or search the Internet. Most of all, trust that God is waiting persistently and patiently for you to connect.
Sin as damage
I have gotten out of using the word sintoo much. The term is overladen in our culture with much baggage. For women, the term sin is wrapped up in all kinds of complicated thinking around body image and sexuality, most of it negative. In my work with women and self-esteem I try to get them thinking about the term damage as an equivalent to the word sin. Using the word damage seems to enable women to understand the biblical term sinbetter, in terms of its practical and spiritual applications. Any time I damage someone I am committing a sin against them. Any time someone damages me, they are sinning. We sin daily because we damage ourselves and others on a daily basis, sometimes on purpose, sometimes unwittingly.
When I was living with the terminal diagnosis, suddenly I realized I had to ask the question of myself, "Did I really believe the things I told my parishioners Sunday after Sunday?" Ultimately I came to the conclusion that I did.
As I began to think very strenuously about the possibility of an afterlife and whether there is a time of judgement within it, I was overwhelmed with a realization of my own sinfulness - of the times I have done things or left things undone that may have damaged others. I also thought about our corporate sinfulness, particularly about the issue of the residential school legacy of the United Church of Canada. How could good, caring people have taken First Nations people's children away in the name of education and then turned a blind eye while the worst kind of abuse was heaped on them? How do I know that I am not participating in some corporate sin now? Paul tells us that we sin even when we think we aren't sinning. Therefore, if we think our ticket to heaven is in living a flaw free life or a sin free life, we are doomed before we even get there (Romans 7:14-25).
We can not know all things. We can not fix all things. We can not save ourselves. It is clear then that we must rely on the eternal promised love of God alone. We can not earn a spot in heaven, whatever that might look like. When I finally comprehended this, I took a step back and looked at my life. I believe I sat on so many committees and did so much church work because at some level I was trying earn a place in heaven. We don't have to do that. We are freely and infinitely loved despite our damaging ways. This runs counterintuitive to a market-based economic system that dictates we must earn everything.
In our global economy, which is powered by the concept that anything scarce is the only thing that is valuable, the overflowing abundant nature of the free love of God is not valued. It is not rare or scarce. God's love is everywhere and available to everyone who opens themselves up to it.
It is that knowledge that ultimately freed me to live a life of more tenacious gratitude for grace. I love because God loves and I work in the world to relieve suffering as best I can. I do this as an act of faithfulness to the reality of that Love, knowing that as I do so I will necessarily do it in a flawed manner. I am human. You are human. God loves us and if we are good enough to be adored by God, we should love ourselves and love others as much as we love ourselves. This is important. If we don't regard ourselves positively with any kind of truth and intensity, neither will we love others. In fact, in hating ourselves we make damaging (sinful) decisions that hurt ourselves, others and the planet.
I learned to live a life of tenacious gratitude and have ever since prayed blessings of thanks over every pill I take, every medical test I receive and every medical visit I go to. This is not to say that I have stopped pushing our inadequate Nova Scotian health care system for better care for cancer survivors. However, working out of a stance of gratitude has changed my life. I will speak more about this later. This stance is, in some ways, a seditious act of treason in a North American world where the fear of scarcity powers economic growth. It is, however, one I have come to believe is essential not only for the healing of the physical body of every one of us, but also of our planet.
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