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PRAYER FOR ORDINARY PEOPLE
August 10, 2004
 
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be used this Sunday in Church. The first is the usual sermon preparation eMo; the second, a meditation for preachers who wish to focus on the Church's work with the poor and victims of disasters through the ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution.
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Prayer for Ordinary People

For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11


Nothing forms us better than the simple discipline of showing up in the place where what we want to be can be found. We think we must manufacture all our growth, invent and design it all by ourselves, but we really don't have to -- we will absorb a lot of it just by choosing to place ourselves in the environment where it lives. It'll be hard to live among a group of musicians who are all practicing every day and not practice yourself. Living in a writers' colony makes you write -- everyone else is writing, and there's nothing else to do until evening.

Many people who come and talk to me remember with longing how easy it was to pray on a visit to a monastery or a convent -- the very walls are soaked with the years of prayer that has gone up within them, and the whole day is structured around the hours of prayer. The house is quiet, most of the time, and the people in it value the landscape of the inner life. Showing up is easy there.

It's different back at home in what we inaccurately all "the real world." As simple as showing up is, it's odd that we should so rebel against doing it at home, as if it were something hard. It's not as if we needed any equipment or any new information. But we feel adrift without the support of the holy place, the community of the holy people, adrift and unable to do it on our own. In short order, we also feel guilty: I am not a faithful person. I am unspiritual.

We forget: people band together in religious orders because they, too, are "unspiritual" and need the support of one another in order to approach holiness. Human beings are a pretty unspiritual bunch. It shouldn't surprise any of us that the discipline of prayer is hard all by oneself.

The trick, I think, is to find ways to remind yourself that you are not all by yourself in your walk with God. There are many: the Geranium Farm is one, for instance: you can connect here with other people who are also trying to be faithful -- go to http://www.geraniumfarm.org/ and find the section called "Vigils," where you will see candles representing many peoples' prayers, read prayer requests on the message board, start your own topic there to discuss things with other people who care about what you care about.

The invitations to pray for specific things in the Daily Office is another aid-- go to http://www.missionsaintclare.com/ , and you will find an invitation to pray for a different part of the world every day, and a different faith community every day, as well. A prayer for the armed services brings the war home to you in a way that joins you to everyone involved in it. A list of the sick brings you together with them no matter where they are. A note to pray for the people of Haiti connects you with them in a heartbeat. Pray like this for a while, and you begin to read the newspaper in a different way.

And find a physical community to support you in your life of faith as well. Forget your suspicion of organized religion -- most churches are a mess in some way, so you're perfectly safe. Just go to a few, listen and talk to people. You'll know when you're home.

And don't be too hard on yourself about praying. God is delighted whenever and wherever you pray. Make it as easy on yourself as you can to gather discipline to yourself -- use the same place each day, the same time, light a candle to focus your senses, imagine the saints and angels in heaven, including your own personal ones, joining you as you begin: The Lord be with you, you will say, and they will answer you with love. And also with you.

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Jeremiah 23:23-29
Ps 82
Hebrews 12:1-7(8-10)11-14
Luke 12:49-56
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And here is the ERD meditation:

From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided... Luke 12:53


It is hard to remember a time when the impoverished island nation of Haiti was not divided -- the only unity it has known in the last fifty years was the oppressive dictatorship under which it groaned during the terrible Duvalier era. After the expulsion of Baby Doc and his family, there was a chance for a democracy with the promising leadership of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but the promise was short-lived: at the moment, President Aristide is in exile and the country reels with the aftershocks of what amounted to a civil war.

Things got really bad earlier this year. On American television, we saw the flames of burning houses in areas throughout Haiti, the phalanxes of stern-faced young men armed with machetes and machine guns, the women and children hiding in their homes, taking their lives in their hands just by looking out their own windows. Looking out the window was dangerous enough -- nobody dared leave home.

The eight young children of the Bien-Ame family in the town of Gorman were close to starving during the worst of the fighting. Their parents didn't dare leave in search of food -- they might not make it back. But food came to them, in the form of emergency food supplies from Episcopal Relief and Development. There was enough to tide them over until it was safe to go outside again. The parents said it was like a miracle.

That was one miracle, but the people of Haiti will need many more. Here is Marie, who lives in Port-au-Prince and witnessed the violence firsthand, talking about her future and that of her family: "Prices are rising fast, the little electricity we had is now gone and our children are living on the edge. The state hospitals were closed months ago. If my children get sick, where will we turn?"

Episcopal Relief and Development worked with the Diocese of Haiti to deliver medicines to local hospitals and clinics, serving in conditions that would daunt almost any healthcare worker. When it was too dangerous to go to the markets, food relief from ERD was delivered by Episcopal priests, who carried it to the people, house by house. The courage it took to do that is something you don't see every day.

Something approaching calm has returned to Haiti. Her formidable problems are far from solved, but the worst -- for now -- is over. And the Church stays put, in prayer and service and great danger. For better or for worse.

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Visit www.er-d.org for more information on the work of Episcopal Relief and Development.
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