Pillow Prayers 6

These “pillow prayers” in a little book I have continue to provide some extravagant, poetic faith-expressions.  I offer them because a) my words aren’t this good, and b) I think some of us, including me, need to have material like this for our own prayers.

God Who sees . . . I’m grateful that your view is not obstructed by darkness. I await your intervention for my shadowed existence. Liberate me from myopic tendencies lest I live out my life in a restricted space.

Some days, my opinions block out healing truth. My dingy motives can slip past me unrecognized. Release me from the entanglement of sight-altering distractions–inconveniences, interruptions, and other people’s behavior. The horizon brightens as I focus on You.

– Patsy Clairmont, in Pillow Prayers.  

© 2005 Patsy Clairmont
Published by J. Countryman/Thomas Nelson Book Group
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Pillow Prayers 6

King Jesus, reign over my indignation.  I must confront an enemy today.  Truth can be treacherous and feel lethal.  It’s not my desire to inflict additional wounds but to walk in the light.  Teach me to attack the problem and not the person. . . .  I kneel before You and ask that You equip me for this encounter.

. . .

Voice in the Stillness, speak to my listening heart. . . .  Whisper holiness into my heart for all of our sakes.

 – Patsy Clairmont, in Pillow Prayers.  

© 2005 Patsy Clairmont
Published by J. Countryman/Thomas Nelson Book Group

For other Pillow Prayers entries, just search for “Pillow Prayers” on this blogsite.  Or, better yet, buy Patsy Clairmont’s little book.

Pillow Prayers 5

Holy Helper, I’m in need of your Assistance.  Today, I’ll have to make many decisions.  Life is risky, and that scares me.  Yet I’m aware that You redeem our mistakes.  Knowing that’s the case should take some of the threat out of my choices . . . yet I waver.

. . .

Holy Healer, I know pain is a teacher, but do we need such a severe instructor?

. . .

Alpha, today is a new beginning.  This page of my life is still clean.  Help me not to scribble meaninglessly all over such a precious gift.

. . .

Breath at Daybreak, resuscitate my courage to enter the demand-strewn path ahead.  Help me not to pick up problems before they materialize.  When I hit a dead end, help me not to camp out there.  When I encounter a difficult person, help me not to join their fraternity. . . .  Breathe on me that I might rise up righteous from having been in Your presence.

– Patsy Clairmont, in Pillow Prayers.  

© 2005 Patsy Clairmont
Published by J. Countryman/Thomas Nelson Book Group

Pillow Prayers 4

Shepherd of the eventide, gather me close to your heart.  Oversee my night.  Still the restless inner voices of discontent that cause me to flail.  Whisper goodwill into my spirit.

Thank You that in sleep we recover flagging energies.  I pray you would purify my human longings, instill in me a deepening faith, and and emblazon my hope….  

In morning’s first light may You find me committed to the tasks at hand, but for now I deliberately release my hold.

 

Patsy Clairmont, in Pillow Prayers.  
© 2005 Patsy Clairmont
Published by J. Countryman/Thomas Nelson Book Group

Pillow Prayers 3

Morning Manna, I hunger for a word from you. I’m having trouble entering this day with joy.  Pressures of work and the personalities of people have tax my energy.  Emotionally I feel edgy, mentally I feel scattered, and physically I feel worn.

May I taste and see that You are good.  Feed me, Lord, that I might grow in grace toward others and rise up strong in you.

The rumble of thunder in the heavens reminds me of your fierce power–power to handle the entire universe, much less my personal tempests while I sleep.  

I [try to -bc] rest in confidence.

Patsy Clairmont, in Pillow Prayers.  
© 2005 Patsy Clairmont
Published by J. Countryman/Thomas Nelson Book Group

Pillow Prayers 2

Holy Guard of the night watch, I relinquish myself to Your care.  The day, crowded with demands, has wilted my strength.  So, with gratitude, I lay my head on my pillow.  Quiet my mind.  Smooth from my brow the wrinkles that were knit by the concerns of the day.

~ ~ ~

Twinges of regret threaten my calm, but release comes through Your mercy and forgiveness.  Deliver me from the turmoil of surmising.

 

Patsy Clairmont, in Pillow Prayers.  
© 2005 Patsy Clairmont
Published by J. Countryman/Thomas Nelson Book Group

Pillow Prayers 1

Champion of the weary, thank You for undergirding my fragile being.  I ache with exhaustion.  Oh, Lord, help my whirring mind to settle into the quiet night.

… Rinse Your Spirit over impure and unkind thoughts that have found harbor within me….  Give me tenacity for Your higher plans. . . .

I sink into my bed and, more importantly, into Your reassuring arms.  Sleep comes as a friend.

Patsy Clairmont, in Pillow Prayers.  
© 2005 Patsy Clairmont
Published by J. Countryman/Thomas Nelson Book Group

Voices: [anonymous]

I have the permission of the writer to share this anonymous “voice” — one that intones the periodic thoughts of many of us, I think.

I sat in a church foyer with a group of Christian women for the purpose of ‘prayer’.  All of the language was very respectable, but the atmosphere was stifling and tense.  Prayer requests were given as gossip.  Judgments were made with vocal tones and facial expressions. It was as if a huge vacuum sucked the very life out of the air, leaving everyone depressed or angry.  It was a huge serving of yuck topped off with slop, with a healthy side of blah, blah, blah, blah. (unattributed)

Have you met with that same group before? I have….

Balancing input & output

 

A paradox occurred to me some time ago.  In a way, it relates to the old computer-programming adage “garbage in, garbage out.”

I’m not often at rest.  That is to say, I’m not often simply relaxing without doing something else—or thinking about getting up to do something else—in the next 3 minutes.  I’m often concerned with having relatively high-quality input and will actually consider which pieces of mailed propaganda to take with me on a drive or a walk, if indeed any of it has any redeeming qualities.  I think about whether the piece will have anything to think about, anything I might need X (the number I expect to have) minutes to take in or to understand.  I think about the value and my state of mind and whether in a five-minute walk to “town” on this or that day I might be able to be thoughtful, or merely of a business mindset.

I kept a couple of library books around the house for more than a year because I believed they were of sufficient quality to warrant revisiting/completing.  My reading material is almost all nonfiction[1] and ranges from biblical hermeneutics and church history/issues, to a neurologistic look at the effects of the internet, to exhortations from well-known conductors and other musicians.

In sum:  it’s important to me to have good input for my head and heart.

Leaving alone the question of input quality (assessment:  am I really feeding myself well, or fooling myself?), the output of late has been less than usual.  Part of the reason for that was the different, lesser opportunities I had in the summer.  But one element of output—prayer—had been more lacking than usual, and more difficult, at that.

I’ve been told before (being kicked when I was down, I felt at the time) that when I’m struggling spiritually, I need to spend more time in scripture.  Earlier this fall, I was doing a fair amount of that.  So far, though, this increase in spiritual input has not led to more, or better-quality, output in the form of prayer.

The word “balance” comes to mind.

I once replied on someone’s Facebook wall that I tend to prefer movies known as “chick flicks.”  There are too many fights and sirens and gunshot wounds in “action” movies that males are supposed to like, and so much sci-fi is just stupid.  Someone else responded to the effect that a good street fight or gunshot wound is normal.  Then someone else wrote something about balance, as if to say “one chick flick, then one shoot-em-up Bruce Willis movie is healthy.”  The point here is not to comment on movies.  (If either of these folks had seen parts of “The Untouchables” that I saw the day before I started writing this post, I don’t think they would have responded with any interest in shoot-‘em-up movies.)

On the other hand, I think the Monty Python In Search of the Holy Grail scene in which body parts are being slashed off of an armored knight is hilarious.  The torso alone ends up on the ground, bobbing and hopping around, saying things like “it’s only a flesh wound” and “come back here … I’ll bite you, you pansy!”  The over-the-top “violence” of this scene is more along the lines of televised  pro wrestling, making it more fictional than truly violent.  I definitely don’t mean to get all self-righteous here; my standards are doubtless impeachable, and the input I experience is anything but consistent.

The paradox is that even when I’m most engaged in tremendously filling, nutritious input (read:  seriously involved in scripture), for some reason the output has not seemed to come in a balanced way.  There are more ways and means of output than prayer, and for me, thinking and writing/blogging is one important type of output, and musical compositions and arrangements represent another.

Maybe I’m more balanced than I realize.  Or, maybe not.  (Is there an emoticon for feigned diabolical laughter?)


[1] Dealing entirely in nonfiction printed matter is one reason I fail to comprehend the proliferating desire for so-called “reality” TV shows.  When I sit in front of the tube, I want fiction.  This is not necessarily an admirable quality, and I have difficulty imagining Jesus needing fiction, but I want to be “taken away” from reality.  Even baseball games, which I love on one level, are hard for me to sit in front of sometimes, because they don’t engage my mind enough that I’ll get a reprieve from pressing realities.

Mumblo jumblo

Today, two times over, I was reminded of why men need to be in the habit of using microphones when they speak in church gatherings.  Otherwise rational, sensical men can overestimate their voice volume in a sort of false machismo: “Oh, I don’t need to use one of those.” And often, what they say, unamplified, is wasted.

The very “meaningful” essence of what I picked up from one of the communion prayers today was “mumble, mumble, mumble.”  I also completely missed any sense of (what I assume was) a sincere, heartfelt confession from another man who needed a mic but didn’t realize it.

When speaking publicly–no matter your gender–it is important to speak a) slowly and b) at an audible volume. Otherwise, you may not be understood … and then, why speak?

Exegesis attaca, *non* ad hominem

How’s that slug for mixing languages?  I’m sure the syntax and forms are mixed up, too, but it’s got echoes of Greek, Italian, and Latin.  Fun with linguistics.  Anyhoo….

A few days ago, I read my friend’s proposal to a publisher for his book on how to read (and how not to read) the Bible.  Among other positive aspects of the proposal, I noticed his claim not to have “attacked” individuals who differ with him.  Such attacks are known as “ad hominem,” and I applaud him for not taking the route of attacking individuals and their opinions.

Once in a while, I do name an individual on this blog.  Often it’s a positive mention; sometimes it’s not.  I might do better to avoid using names when engaging in open criticism; on the other hand, the criticism may be better understood, and better applied, if a name is used.

Today, I will not use the person’s name when criticizing something he wrote–1) out of respect for the author, and 2) because I can see no purpose that would be served by using his name.  From this essayist’s recent piece:

Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. — (Luke 11:1)

While it was customary for a rabbi to teach his disciples a simple prayer that they could use in their devotions, there are things especially informing about this request. As far as Scripture reveals, this is the only thing that Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them. They were soon to go abroad preaching and teaching, forming congregations, and dealing with multiple problems, but they asked only that he teach them to pray, as if appropriate praying would take care of all else.

First off, I love it that [I’ll call him “Howard”] starts with scripture.  I also love that Howard’s scripture knowledge is broad enough that he can legitimately make the claim “as far as Scripture reveals, this is the only thing …”).  I wish I knew scripture that well!

I’m also glad Howard reminded me that it would have been customary for a rabbi like Jesus to teach his disciples a simple prayer, and that the disciples were soon, according to Luke, to be missionaries.  These bits help to set the stage for the text, and for what Howard says in the rest of his essay.

It’s the last couple of phrases that trouble me, exegetically speaking.

they asked only that he teach them to pray,

as if appropriate praying would take care of all else.

Let’s pause to consider those.

First, about inference. We do not know that this is the only educational request they made of the Master (whether Howard means on that occasion only or throughout their association).  What we know is that 1) Luke tells us 2) they asked 3) this thing 4) at this time … and that Luke in particular has purposed to be orderly/organized  in his account.  So, we legitimately assume that it was in fact at this time (i.e., prior to the sending out as missionaries, etc.) that the disciples made the request.  Luke does not say, “This is the only thing the disciples ever asked Jesus to teach them”; that Luke doesn’t explicitly relate other such requests is a different reality than the presumption that there were no other such requests.   It’s quite possible that even weak humans such as they asked to be taught a few other things.

Second, about presumption. The “as if” follow-up may make a good point to duff-sitting Christians who don’t do stuff but only warm pews.  However, this is speculative:  we don’t know what the disciples were thinking when they asked Him to teach them to pray.  Maybe it was exactly as Howard suggests–that they thought this was the end-all question, and that when they learned a certain prayer-incantation, they’d be set for life.  Alternately, though, they could have asked the question …

  1. as if beginning a long series of quests and questions that would prepare them for the disciple’s hard life.”  (Maybe this was just the beginning.)
  2. as if they merely, genuinely wanted to know.”  (Maybe they were genuinely interested in what they perceived of Jesus’ prayer consciousness and wordings, and maybe there was nothing else present or missing in their spirituality at the time.  Maybe, in other words, there’s not much to read between the lines here.)
  3. as if (or since) they wanted to impress disciples of other rabbis such as John.  (Maybe they had only ulterior motives, wanting to be seen as cool.  Maybe John was distant and they were using him as a good example–while really caring more about impressing the disciples of rabbi Ben-Joses from around the corner.)
  4. as if they had come to see prayer as a springboard to supernatural power.  (Maybe they had witnessed Jesus praying and then healing.  Maybe they wanted some of that.)
  5. as if they were jockeying for position in the horse-race of following Jesus.  (Maybe they wanted to impress Jesus enough to be picked as “top gun disciple.”  What?  Our disciples not getting it?  Read Mark!)

There are doubtless other possibilities, too.  The motives and background thoughts of the disciples not stated.  All ascriptions of motives are speculative.

We should take care when supposing what’s behind the express written message of scripture.

Quiet time (4) — the hermeneutics of it all

In what will probably be the last post on this subject for a while (rather than thinking and writing about Quiet Time, if I have the time, I probably need to use it as Quiet Time!), I want briefly to treat the notion of “following Jesus’ example” as a subtopic of hermeneutics.

First, to retrace a few steps.  (Skip this paragraph and the next one if you’ve been with me all the way.)  I suggest that Quiet Time (hereinafter “QT”) is, to some extent, a creation of the marketable Christian world and is not, as such, a requirement put forward by scripture.  As support for this, I call attention to the facts that a) supposed “habits” of Jesus cannot be assumed based on scripture, and b) nowhere in the NC writings — in either a general imperatives or a specific, problem-addressing context — have I found an injunction that says “Christians are to have a regular, set period of quiet time.”  I quickly acknowledge that my particular personality type needs QT–however one defines it and works it out–more than I take or get it.  18% of me also suspects, on some gut level, that I would be better off spending this time right now in QT activities as conceived by Christendom than in explaining why QT is not a law.  While for me it is an imperative to resist attempts to legislate doctrines and practices not legislated by scripture, I do acknowledge that, in general, QT is a good idea.  The devoted advice “if Christ did it, we should do the same” is eminently well-intended, but the assumption that our Christ did QT regularly is just that–an assumption–thereby weakening the supposed imperative.

The verb tense in Luke 5:16 is ambiguous:  when the wording in English is “But he would withdraw into the lonely places and pray,” the Greek tense does not necessarily imply a habitual activity on Jesus’ part.  It doesn’t preclude a habitual action, but it doesn’t require one, either.  Even less to the point, Mark 1:35 mentions one instance and brings to the scenario no implication of a regular practice.  In my lifetime, I’ve probably heard 101 sermons and devotional talks that encouraged regular QT, and many of them appealed, obliquely, to English translations in these isolated verses.  Those appeals are largely bogus.  Now, if I had to guess about Jesus’ habits while on earth, I would suspect that He often, or at least periodically, had QT, but I seriously doubt that He always prayed for 30 minutes at 7 a.m. or before going to bed, or that He read a Torah chapter per day.

Now, for the new stuff:  hermeneutics. I think I learned this word when I was in college, and it’s been with me ever since, as my perspectives grow.  Not merely a religion word, it derives from Greek; a relationship may be seen with the name Hermes, the messenger “god.”  Hermeneutics, put succinctly, is the science of literary interpretation.  (Pause for excursion into Wikipedia land, where I just spent a few minutes making minor edits on the hermeneutics page!”)

In the American Restoration Movement tradition, a somewhat standard biblical hermeneutical formula emerged and has endured, to an extent:

  1. command
  2. example
  3. necessary inference

Although I am no real student of hermeneutics, I have been around long enough to observe the effects–both positive and negative–of adherence to this formula.  (Many more aspects and questions come into play in hermeneutics; in no way do I suggest that these three items encapsulate it all.)  Initially, it seems sound to categorize in this way, and I have assumed that those who propound this method of interpreting scripture view it as hierarchical, i.e., that commands come above examples, and examples, above inferences.  In actual working out, the 3rd level–the necessary inferences–have proven divisive within the ARM, even creating branches and sub-branches of denominations, while the 1st- and 2nd-level commands and examples are more universally problematic.  Stated another way:  while few outside the ARM care much about provincial “necessary inferences,” there is sufficient disagreement on the nature and implications of “commands” that plenty of arguments can occur there without descending to the 2nd and 3rd levels!

Commands

In scripture, at first blush, a command would appear to be just that–an authoritative instruction issued by the Father, the Son, an apostle, etc.–for us to follow, no questions asked.  However, it’s not that easy.  Jesus said “Go thou and do likewise.”  Does that mean I have to find myself a Samaritan?  When we read in Paul’s letter to the Romans, “Greet each other with a kiss,” should I pucker 77 times per Sunday, or are handshaking and hugging approved substitutes?

Examples

In scripture, we find abundant examples.  Which ones are meant for us to follow, and which are merely to be taken as records of other people’s behaviors?  (Before I write what I’m about to write, I want the world to know that I have called my old friend to warn him that I was going to do something like this, letting him hear the grin in my voice before I actually wrote this, tongue in cheek.)  When scripture tells us that Jesus once (or more) had QT, you tell me I should follow that example?  Yeah, I guess you’re right.  Pardon me first, though, while I go change a Brita water pitcher into one filled with Chardonnay, chuck demons into pigs, precociously ditch my parents, sting a flock of Pharisees with my sharp criticism, weep because of Jerusalem has rejected me, and get transfigured.  🙂

You get the point, I’m sure.  In the world of examples, we must interpret contextually.  Some examples are clearly meant to be followed, others are clearly not to be imitated, and a bunch of examples in the middle are left to our interpretation.  We must figure out if and when we are to follow this last group.

Inferences

One question about so-called “necessary inferences”:  who decides whether they’re “necessary”? This question, for me, swings a heavy axe near quite a few roots:  of religious freedom, of the institutional church, of the clergy system, and even of the basic nature of Christian discipleship.  I may infer something that you don’t infer … or, you may infer it, too, but not find it as significant as I find it.  If it’s “necessary” for you, it may not be “necessary” for me, and after all, it was only an inference, not a clear statement.

Finishing off …

It’s not always easy to determine what falls in the command category,  the approved example category, or the necessary inference one.  I immediately think of a major area of Christian doctrine that is perpetually the source of significant disagreement and disunity.  In my estimation, for instance, Billy Graham was wrong in this area, having made little of the commands and examples involved, and not having inferred enough from the scriptural implications.  On the other hand, some in my tradition have been too insistent on particulars and have not found viable frameworks for Christ-centered unity, where sincere, studied differences surface.  For me, in this area, it’s a matter of a) what seem to be clear commands, b) supported by many examples, and therefore c) implications that are abundantly clear.  But for others, based on what I believe is  legacy-inflicted error, the commands are explained away, and the examples are neatly ignored … the inferences therefore become wispy to the point of non-existence.  A tough area for Christians, historically, and it all comes down to hermeneutics.

The “example” level in this ARM hermeneutical model–and particularly the assertion that “if Jesus did it, we should, too”–led me into this blogpost, but I’ve gone far afield of the initial topic!  One thing is certain:  heremeneutical differences create disunity.  How we handle that disunity, it seems to me, is highly significant.  For now, I’ll try to have more (and more focused) QT, and you have your QT … but please don’t try to require QT of everyone.  I know of no valid biblical hermeneutic or exegetical principle that requires QT or even suggests that it is to be a pattern.  At this juncture in my walk, I am opting for a more broad list of “devotional” practices, including communal experiences in Christian gatherings, worshipful noticements of nature on casual walks, special moments of closeness with God inspired by gratitude for private experiences of exercising gifts (such as musical gifts), biblical studies, some QT experiences, writing on things I believe are important to the Kingdom, and the like.

If I’ve annoyed or offended you in this essay, please know that two results of my thinking and writing about Quiet Time are

  • a greater consciousness of QT in general
  • a sense of increased need for QT in my own life

Quiet Time is no Christian law, period.  However, as one valid expression of the Christian disciple’s devotion, it can be highly valuable in deepening the connection with God.