Sermon: Praying for God’s Future

When Jesus teaches us how to pray, he gives us what is now known as The Lord’s Prayer. The prayer emphasizes three things:

  1. God is a member of our family.
  2. There are three requests we are making — bread, forgiveness and deliverance.
  3. We should trust that God will provide.

Most Christians are comfortable with the idea of God as family and trusting that God will provide. And our for the most part, our requests for bread, forgiveness and deliverance are easy to comprehend. However, when it comes to forgiveness, The Lord’s Prayer commands us to forgive those who have sinned against us, just as God forgives us when we sin against God. Jesus tells us that forgiveness received is forever linked with forgiveness given.

Jesus is clear: prayer is effective and God responds. But it’s most effective when a prayer is paired with our willingness to act lovingly in relationship to others … all others.

Homework: Every single person here has someone they need to forgive … Forgive them, reach out and pray for them.

Praying for God’s Future • Sermon by The Rev. Elaine Puckett • Luke 11: 1-13

“Praying for God’s Future”
Sermon by The Rev. Elaine Puckett
Luke 11: 1-13
Aug. 4, 2019

Listen to The Word in Song, “To You I Call.

Sermon: “In the Time of Trial”

Prayer is a practice with which many of us struggle.

It’s seems like such a waste of time to sit in nothingness. We begin to think, “Wouldn’t it be better to be more productive with that time?” Our anxieties begin to arise. Our deepest fears are unwrapped. Our saddest thoughts become present. These are the times in prayer when we just might be at the forefront of something good.

Our anxiety over the future, our frustration over our job, our concern over an ailing loved one — these are the places where we fail and fall, and these are the paths back to God. Rather than run from it, go down into the darkness a little further and see where it leads. God will be there.

Prayer is less something we do, and more something we find ourselves in doing. God must do it within us, or it will not get done: when our faith is dried up, God graces us with streams of living water in the most parched places of myself.

Sermon: “In the Time of Trial”


“In the Time of Trial”
Sermon by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Luke 22:39-46
April 14, 2019 • Palm Sunday

Lenten Devotional: Monday, March 25

God the Pipe Bomb
by Alys Willman

You thought God was an architect, now you know.
He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow
And everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames
—Jason Isbell, “24 Frames” 

You thought God was an architect.  Isn’t that what most of us are taught? We bring God down to our size, try and fit God into the limits of our own understanding. The Great Creator of the universe is reduced to a dude with glasses hunched over a drafting table. The power of the One who surpasses all understanding is focused on helping me secure a nice parking spot.

The truth is, most of probably never stop to consider how powerful God actually is. And that means we reduce our idea of God’s work to the things we consider reasonable.

This Lenten season, I am coming to believe in a God who is capable of things I cannot even begin to understand, a God who is waiting to create through me. I am coming to believe in God the Pipe Bomb. 

On Ash Wednesday, I taped a piece of paper over my prayer space. It says, “What if God is capable of anything?” When I sit with this prospect sometimes, I hear a voice whispering to me, saying things so crazy, so impossible, and yet so tantalizingly exciting I can barely stay still. What if you spent today writing poetry instead of working? What if you learned to juggle? Auditioned for a band? 

Inevitably, these whispers are met with a clamor of protests from the other voice in my head (the one who sounds like my mother, if I’m being honest). Who’s going to pay for this? Are you really going to sit around writing mediocre poems, or playing guitar, instead of picking the kids up from soccer practice? What will people think? These voices sound suspiciously to me like the ones who tempted Jesus in the desert. This Lenten season, I am trying to tell those nagging, critical voices to get behind me.  They have served their purpose and now, well, time’s up. 

I am beginning to believe that my wildest dreams and talents might just be  a gift straight from God.  I am asking myself how I would spend my time if I really believed that. Maybe, just maybe, chasing my dreams could be an act of worship. Maybe writing, singing and creating would be acts of service instead of  guilty pleasures that must be earned and negotiated. 

As we move into spring, my heart is restless at the prospect of a second chance. The resurrection is coming. May we be open to it, ready for God to burn away everything we have built that’s all for show, and trusting that something amazing  will rise from the ashes. 

Prayer: God, I confess I put limits on Your power. You send me gifts, and I send them right back. I am sorry. Obliterate me with Your love, burn away my small self and flow through me, that my life may be a prayer to You. 

Lenten Devotional: Thursday, March 7

Make Room for God
by Joe Gunby

Adapted from the “An Invitation to Lenten Practices” from the Oconee Street UMC Ash Wednesday service on March 6, 2019.

Luke 6:12 One of those days, Jesus went out to the mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.

In Christian tradition there are three modes of prayer: confession, assurance and petitions. These are central to what Christian prayer is all about – ways of reconnecting with God one-and-one and corporately. These practices of prayer are ancient, but they still make so much sense today.

In confession, we let go of those things we regret – things we are sorry about. We let go of them and let them slip out into the past. It feels really good to unburden our hearts in that way. In Christian belief, any time we say we’re sorry to God, we are forgiven. Assurance is when we’re reminded by the Holy Spirit that God will never abandon us. In prayers of petition, we let go of the worry in our own hearts and entrust them to God. 

Instead of giving something up this Lent, make room for God by making room for prayer. Designate room in your calendar when you will pray. Create physical room in your home where you will pray. And develop spiritual room in your heart and mind for what you will pray. Make room where you can ask God to be with you and hold you near, drowning out the noise of the things that bother you. 

Prayer: For the times when we have been too busy for you Lord, forgive us. For the times when we have filled up our lives with things, so much that we have no room for others, forgive us. For the times when we have been to busy to let our loved ones know how much we care … and to put ourselves in the world for the common good, forgive us. Help us be open to your nudge this season, to adjust to your time for us. 

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 31

by Carla Dennis

Matthew 6:5: And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be temped to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense God’s grace.

First of all, let me apologize. If you have ever received one of my voicemail messages, they are absolutely the worst and I know it! Imagine the most rambling piece of audible nonsense you’ve ever had the (un)pleasure of hearing. Yep, that’s my voicemails. Unfortunately, this awkward communication style has spilled into other aspects of my life – storytelling, joke telling, and especially saying prayers aloud.

I think excellent prayers. When I pray in my head, I feel so connected to God. The prayers just flow from my heart and it’s not unusual I’m brought to tears. Everything just seems so organic and authentic. But when I need to pray out loud, my brain takes over control from my heart. I overthink words and phrasing. I babble and sometimes even smile mid-prayer at my inadequacy of voicing my petitions. I often wonder, have I yet to fully develop that part of my brain that can appropriately put my feelings into words? It’s not that I’m worried about how my prayers are being judged by others or whether I said the “right” words, it’s more that I can’t seem to honor the feelings I have in my heart with the words that come out of my mouth.

This Lenten season has brought listening to God as a focus for Oconee Street, and frequently that’s accomplished through meditation and prayer. So what’s wrong with praying internally?  Absolutely nothing … as long as you’re not doing it because you’re embarrassed to be heard praying!

One of the strategies I’ve employed to help my external prayers be more meaningful is to write down what I want to pray about before I actually pray. The act of taking pen to paper allows my feelings to flow, and in fact, often generates additional reflections. Writing down simple concepts lets me look at the word and stirs up emotions and other thoughts. This concept works really well when praying out loud with kids as they, like us, are also uncertain about how to express their thoughts and feelings through prayer. Creating a prayer list helps prepare me to pray, but it also helps me hold myself accountable to truly pray for those who have asked for prayers in the last week.

Prayer is at the core of a relationship with Jesus, and as with any good relationship, regular communication is imperative in order to maintain it and grow from it. Therefore, if we want our kids to have a relationship with Jesus, we must look for opportunities to help them get comfortable with prayer aside from what they see and hear on Sundays. Whether it’s at mealtime, bedtime or anytime you see an emergency vehicle drive by, praying as a family is important.

This Lent, our family kept a routine of writing prayers using a Western Wall made of Legos. For those of you unfamiliar with the Western Wall, the Wall is a Jewish holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem. Each year, millions of people from all faiths and all countries journey to the wall to leave their prayers and petitions in the cracks and crevices of its massive limestone blocks. These written prayers are tucked in wherever space allows and represents voices of gratitude, adoration and desperation. The belief is that God’s divine presence filled the Temple built in the surrounding space many years ago and still rests upon the Western Wall. Once a year a local rabbi collects the notes and buries them in the nearby Mount of Olives.

Now while our Lego wall lacks the historic and divine presence of the Western Wall, it does provide a visual reminder that anytime can be prayer time. Life is so busy between work, school church and baseball that so much of our time is occupied. Rather than give something up for Lent, this is a way to support a more prayerful routine as a family – bringing ourselves as individuals and our family unit closer to God.

I’ll be honest – Matthew was a little confused at first and thought this was an opportunity to get ahead on his Christmas wishlist for Santa. But once we got past the whole praying-for-toys-petitions, I think everyone genuinely used it as a pause in their day to pray about what was on their heart. Of course, you can take written prayer beyond the world of Legos  and consider the spiritual habit of journaling, but similar to the small written notes, don’t make it too complicated! Simply write down what you’re saying to God, and write down what God’s saying to you.

Prayer: Dear God, there are times when the words I speak do not match the profound feelings in my heart. Please help me grow in my prayer routine and to remember that it’s not about the grand things I wish I could say. Whether written, oral or in my head, God, help me keep my prayers honest and simple.

Homily: Stop Making Sense

Days before Jesus was sentenced to death, a woman busted open a jar of very expensive perfume to pour it on Jesus. While some rebuked her for “wasting” her very valuable possession which she could have instead given to the poor, Jesus praised her, saying, “She poured perfume on my body … to prepare me for my burial.”

This woman recognized the importance of Jesus. And while her critics were noble in their criticism — recommending she sell the perfume and give the proceeds to the poor — Jesus praises her for putting God at the center of her faith. She was not concerned with “wasting” her precious resource on God.

For many of us, time is our most precious resource. And we often make excuses to not attend church, to not pray, to not dedicate time for God because we don’t have enough time. However, “the true test of our love for Jesus is the willingness to ‘waste time’ in worship.”

 

“Stop Making Sense”
Homily by The Rev. Joe Gunby
Mark 14: 3-8
March 25, 2018 • Palm Sunday

Lenten Devotional: Tuesday, March 20

by Robert Foster

Isaiah 31:1: Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, seeking salvation from horses and putting their trust in numbers of chariots, and riders because they are very strong.  But they have not looked for salvation from the Holy One of Israel and they have not sought the LORD.              

Around the same time that we learned that our focus during this Lenten season at Oconee Street UMC would be on listening, I received a request to write a little piece on the importance of contemplative prayer in the work of racial justice and reconciliation.  I have been contemplating that assignment ever since and have finally had some space to write on the subject this week.

To me, contemplative prayer differs from my regular praying in that, in my regular praying, I tell God about things going on in my life and world and how I wish God would act in each of these circumstances.  Contemplative prayer seems to me to reverse this process.  In contemplative prayer I listen to what God seems to be telling me in Scripture or perhaps a line from a song or the content of a recent conversation or news about a recent event, and so on, with a commitment to act on what I hear from God.  And, just as I find it more difficult to listen than to talk in conversations with family and friends, I find it more difficult to hear what God says to me than to tell God what I want and need from God.  Contemplative prayer requires contemplation, slowing down to mull things over, until I finally hear what God has to say to me.

So, even if I have an understanding of contemplative prayer in comparison to my regular prayers, I often do not practice contemplative prayer simply because it takes more time than my regular prayers.  Yet, if I am honest, maybe the major reason I do not engage contemplative prayer more regularly is because in contemplative prayer I am more likely to hear God’s demands of me.  Emilie Griffin, in her wonderful little book on prayer entitled, Clinging, writes that many of us should admit that a major reason we do not pray, period, is because we have heard stories of someone who was “just praying” and suddenly found themselves selling their home and moving to Madagascar to follow the call of God on their lives.  If this can happen during regular prayer, how much more dangerous might contemplative prayer be?!  In contemplative prayer I commit myself to listen and then to act on what I hear from God.  I can hardly imagine a more foolish act in the known universe.

Which brings me back to Isaiah 31:1.  At first glance, maybe God’s simply upset that the people of God seek help from mere mortal like the Egyptians not giving due respect to God.  Is the Creator of the Universe and Redeemer of Israel not enough for you?  Seriously?  But, as we keep reading in the following verses, the prophet takes this passage in a different direction.  After reaffirming that the people should turn to God instead of consulting Egypt—or idols of silver and gold (Isa. 31:6-7)—the prophet proclaims a word of assurance:

Behold, a king will reign with social justice and princes will judge uprightly.  Every one of them will be like a refuge from the wind and a shelter from the storm….And the work of the just will be peace…and my people will dwell in peaceful homes and in secure dwellings and in untroubled places of rest.  – Isaiah 32:1, 2, 17, 18

According to the prophet Isaiah, the downfall of Israel did not the result from the formation of bad political alliances.  No, real problem that precipitated the exile of Israel was that God had hoped to find in Israel justice in the courts and, instead, God found injusticer justice in the streets and, instead, found iniquity (Isa. 5:7).  The people of Israel did not need better political alliances.  They needed leaders committed to working for justice in all its aspects.

And this is one of the reasons I think contemplative prayer is so important in the work of racial justice and reconciliation: I need God to remind me that the problem does not (solely) lie “out there.”  When I stop to listen for God, contemplate what God might be saying to me in a Scripture from the book of Isaiah or in a line from a song by Kendrick Lamar or in a conversation with my friend Broderick or in the chained bodies of black women and men appearing in the local court system, I often enough will hear God speak to me.  I hear God telling me to stand up for justice.

God challenges my commitment to ongoing work of racial justice and reconciliation.  I hear God telling me, “Go,” use my words, my time, my energy, my monies, my life for the cause of racial justice and reconciliation in the world.  To be fair, I often don’t practice contemplative prayer because not because I find it difficult to comprehend or that it takes more time; I simply don’t want God to confront me with my  need to change.  I would rather just cast aspersions on those people “out there” for their failures in racial justice and reconciliation.

Prayer: Dear LORD, Holy One of Israel, give me courage to stop speaking and, once again, to listen.  Tell me what you want me to know, what you would have me to do.  Speak, O LORD, for your servant is listening. 

Lenten Devotional: Saturday, March 17

by Shannon Mayfield

Isaiah 58: 3-10:
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
 Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.

Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, 
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.

 A Theology that Works

Guy Clark wrote the song “Stuff That Works” about uncelebrated things in his life: an old blue shirt, an out of tune guitar, a pair of boots that fit just right, a used car that runs like a top. These, he said, constituted stuff that works. “Stuff that holds up. The kind of stuff you don’t hang on a wall. Stuff that’s real, stuff you feel, the kind of stuff you reach for when you fall.”

Unremarkable and old and used. No cache. The kind of things anyone can have. Yet they stand in sharp contrast to new and showy things which, frustratingly, often do not work and do not hold up.

The people of Jerusalem worshipped and fasted in showy ways, practicing the kind of faith they could “hang on a wall,” for all to see. And they despaired that it did not impress God. In Isaiah 58, God pulls out the theological equivalent of Guy Clark’s list. Well worn. Time tested. Still effective.

These powerful verses point us, I think, toward the conception of a God who is not moved by pious displays. They tend to hit a little close to home as we labor over our lent commitments.

The ancient Israelites wondered why God was unimpressed as they fasted and wore ash. God seems to wonder why they bother with the form if the substance is so lacking. Why fast if only to justify yelling at one’s kids? Why smudge ash when simultaneously oppressing one’s employees. It’s all show and no go.

God spells it out for them, and us, in words that deserve always to be shouted or sung:

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

A theology that works for us, in other words, is a theology that works on behalf of others. God does not wish for us to heap misery upon ourselves, but rather to alleviate the misery of those who can’t avoid it. Break the chains, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, open our homes to the homeless.

That, God says, is the stuff that works. Kind of old and threadbare as theology goes. It hasn’t been new and shiny for a very long time. It doesn’t get us noticed in the fancy places. But it just happens to catch the attention of the one we seek.

“Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”

Stuff that works.

Prayer: Loving God, as we Christians use this season to develop skills to help us turn away from ourselves, let us remember that these are means and not ends. Let us approach them as exercises which build the muscle we need to break chains that oppress. Let fasting shrink our stomachs so that we might be satisfied with half a loaf and happy to share the other half. Let us rejoice that we worship a God who calls us not to suffer but to work joyfully to heal and reconcile. Thank you, God, for showing us through Oconee Street, a theology that works.

Homily: The Voice of the Healer

“The Voice of the Healer”
Homily by The Rev. Joe Gunby
John 5: 2-9
March 11, 2018
Audio of this sermon is unavailable.
John 5:2:   Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Bethesda, which has five porticoes.  3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.  5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”  7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”  8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
At the heart of the encounter, Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” Jesus doesn’t ask, “what can I do for you?” He doesn’t begin with pleasantries. Jesus knows what the man needs—he needs to be made well, made whole. When Jesus saw him lying there he knew that he had been there a long time; Jesus knew his condition and its duration. Jesus the Remedy knew the man’s ailment. So he asks, “do you want to be made well?”
At first it seems a silly question. We can imagine the disciples standing there might have asked, “C’mon Jesus, you know how long he’s been here, you know how much he needs to be healed, so go ahead and heal him already.” But this is one of the places where our Lord shows a tremendous amount of restraint. Jesus could have healed him with a word, but it seems that he wants the man to co-operate with his healing. Jesus knows that there is something occurring inside the man that needs to be brought to the level of awareness, and the man’s answer shows this to be true. Rather than recognize the presence of the healer in his midst, the man gives an explanation, “hey look,” he says, “as you can tell, I’m having a hard time walking here, and as you can tell, the pool is over there, so put two and two together.”
I’ve often heard it said that the man is here giving excuses, and that in fact, the fact that he lollygags is just a sign that he is looking for a handout, but notice, the text is not interested in his motives, as is often the case with the Bible. While it seems obvious to say, if you want to know what the Bible means its usually best to start with what the words and sentences say. The story says that in answering Jesus’ question, the man actually answers a different question.
The question the man thought he heard might be something like, “hey, lame guy, why have you been here so long?” To which his response is, “well, because nobody will put me in the waters.” I should also add that some people at that time thought that the waters at the pool of Bethesda were healing waters, but only at certain times, when, as legend had it, an angel would come and “trouble the waters,” or stir them up. When that happened, people would rush forward to get in within a certain time, after which time, the water was just water again. In short, the man is saying, I can’t get there fast enough because the competition is just too intense.
On the other hand, the legend of the angel who troubles the waters isn’t necessary to understand the man’s predicament. His problem may simply be that the waters did not heal in the way they were thought to. It doesn’t really matter how the man answers the question he thought he heard, what matters is, there is another question we can answer—a question about being healed. This story focuses our attention not on all the things that do not heal, but raises to our awareness the presence of the One who can heal. Even though the Source of all Life was standing right in front him, this man played the same old tapes that had been playing in his head for who knows how long—and how could he have done otherwise? The pain of illness is often more accutely felt in the mind than in the body. But in spite of voices in our minds, we are still never out of earshot from the healing voice of Jesus.
Contemplative prayer is such useful aid in the life of the spirit because it is a practice that helps us turn off the noise of our own mind. At the first level, we’re able to silence the constant chatter that is constantly overdubbing our more substantial thoughts. Once that is turned off there are deeper patterns of thought that begin to surface—the stories we tell ourselves out of fear, or anxiety, or pain—the stories of why we can’t be healed or why we’re not good enough. When we learn to pay attention to our thoughts, we begin to notice how the operate on us, how they can take the wheel of our consciousness and drive us to all sorts of strange places. But in the habit of silence we learn to sit as someone in a quiet church, hearing the cars drive by on the street, but by no means hopping in to be taken to their strange destinations.
I’ve seen how silence can bring people back from the destinations they’ve found themselves wanting to leave. As your pastor, I have utter confidence in recommending the practices of contemplation and silence because I’ve seen up close lives that have been changed. My friend Sherri was a pastor working 80 hours a week at a large congregation when she found herself absolutely exhausted and run down. She discovered contemplative prayer on a weekend clergy retreat and at first, she took to it because it was the only time she could ever stop, but then, over the course of weeks and months, she began to hear the voice of anxiety that had been pushing her to exhaustion and beyond. There was voice saying, “if you don’t work as hard as the Senior Pastor, you’ll be a failure and everyone will know it.” “If you don’t work harder than everyone else, they’ll know you don’t belong here.” After a time, she was able to hear these voices without running from them, to let them in without letting them tell her who she really was as a child of God.
When we learn to be aware of these voices without letting them control us, what we discover underneath them is the presence of Jesus. I should add here that contemplative or centering prayer is nothing on its own. Like any spiritual discipline, it’s gift to us insofar as it puts us into contact with the healing of Jesus. The presence of God is always with us—we cannot do anything to diminish it. Christ is the ground of our being, the source of our life, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ is always present to us. When we quiet our minds and silence the stories in our heads, we can hear the Voice of the Healer, asking us again, “do you want to be made well?”

Lenten Devotional: Monday, March 5

by Daniel Malec

Romans 12:2 (NSRV): Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.

“Let the Monkey Run”

One of the fasts that I have chosen for Lent is a sleep fast.  During the days of Lent, I have set my alarm 20 minutes earlier so that theoretically I have more time to listen to and for God.  Before Lent, my alarm would usually go off with just enough time for me to roll out of bed, go to the bathroom, stumble over to our prayer and meditation space and rush through about 10 minutes of prayer time before having to get Oscar up and ready for school.  These additional 20 minutes have felt like a lifetime to me.

So far, this attempt at “listening” to God has been quite a journey.  If I’m not careful, I can find myself halfway through my prayer time deep in a rabbit hole of one sort or another.  Left to its devices, my egoic mind can lead me on a constant meandering between the past and the future, adeptly avoiding the present moment and any chance I have of listening for God.  All of a sudden, I might find myself deep into the minutia of planning our future outdoor kitchen; thinking through the measurements, choosing materials, or growing anxious at how challenging it will be to build.  Or, I might be in the middle of some sort of harsh judgment about the words or actions of a neighbor or a friend.

Photo by Sanish Suresh

Some practitioners of contemplative prayer and meditation call this the monkey that runs.  Applied to Paul’s letter to the Romans, we might call this “conforming to this world.”  In other words, allowing your egoic mind to lead you unchecked through a minefield of thoughts – from worry, to fear, to judgment, to anxiety, to resentment – is the way of the world.  God invites us to a different way.  As Jesus said, “do not worry about your life … but seek God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be given as well” (Matthew 6:25-34).

In order to be able to listen for God and to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness, contemplatives would invite us to see the monkey, be aware of the monkey, but not to chase the monkey.  As soon as we become aware of our egoic mind leading us into the past or the future, we can notice what is happening and then we can return to our breath and root ourselves once again in this present moment. After all, it is only in the present moment that we can encounter God.  I believe this is what Paul meant when he said, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

I have found mantras to be helpful with this process and so for the closing prayer, I invite you to try one.  I invite you to repeat the words:

Lord Jesus, come.

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.  Notice your breath in, and your breath out.  As you breathe in, repeat silently, or aloud, Lord Jesus.  As you breathe out, repeat silently, or aloud, Come.  When your mind wanders, or the monkey begins to run, don’t chase it, just notice it, acknowledge it is there, and then return to your breathing and the mantra. Continue with this process as long as you are able.  Then, try again tomorrow.  May we be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Lord Jesus, come.