Stamp Collection

Here are a few weeks of my Lenten stamp prayers. Even though this looks like the artwork of a kindergartner, the visual collection of prayers reminds me to pray. Praying in Color is not about creating great art. It’s about taking time to pray and creating a visual prayer list.

Sybil MacBeth ©2010

Palm Sunday Procession

One of my favorite Sundays of the year is today–Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday. We read the Passion narrative and receive communion inside the church. Then we parade with palms and drums up to City Hall–about 2 blocks away. We gather there with up to ten other downtown churches and pray for our city. Each church prays for a different aspect of the city–its children, schools, workers, residents, businesses, government….We represent the races, ages, and Christian denominations of the people of Memphis.

Our city has problems, but it also has wonderful gifts. As we feed from all directions into the plaza in front of city hall, we wave our palms and say “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” We remind ourselves of God’s incarnation in the midst of a hurting city and a hurting world.

Sybil MacBeth ©2010

Party-Line Prayer

My friend Ron and I talk a lot about prayer. He says he thinks of prayer as a “conversation already in progress.” I’m not sure exactly what he intended when he said this, but it reminded me of the phone system my family had when I was a young child. We had “party-lines.” Two to three neighbors had different phone numbers, but the calls came and went on the same shared lines. My mother might pick up the phone to make a call and hear her neighbor in the middle of a conversation. She would hang up and wait until the line was clear.

Maybe prayer is like having a party-line. But instead of hanging up when I pick up my prayer phone, I join the millions, maybe billions of other people, already in conversation with God. I can start talking or I can be still and listen.

I guess I’ve always imagined a private line to God. But I like the idea of a party-line. All of those prayers from all around the world swirl around and cover me. Even if I can’t find the right words for my own prayers, I imagine there is someone, somewhere with the exact same need as mine. Their prayer becomes a prayer for me as well. This gives me the courage to “always pray and not give up.” (Luke18:1 NIV).  I join the faithful and worshiping masses in a conversation already in progress.

Sybil MacBeth ©2010

Portable Prayer

I almost always carry a small notebook or sketch pad in my purse or backpack. It gives me a place to make notes or draw a prayer. Here’s a prayer I drew while waiting for a organ concert to begin. When people see me hunkered over a pad of paper they hesitate to begin a conversation. The pen and pad create a little prayer corner in the midst of a crowd of people. I can retreat to it for some silence and prayer.

This prayer is a vine and a bunch of wacky leaves drawn with a black pen–no artistic skill or fancy equipment necessary!

Sybil MacBeth ©2010

A Greed of Glasses

On Tuesday, my husband and I jumped in the car at 8PM and drove four hours en route to participate in a Lenten preaching series two states away the next day. Andy was preaching at noon; I was presenting a mini Praying in Color® workshop in the evening. We packed the car with clothes, sermon, book on tape, read-aloud material, laptop, markers—and, of course, the spare pair of reading glasses and sunglasses. Losing glasses throughout the house, the car, and the whole USA is an unfavorite pastime, so I often grab an extra pair on the way out the door.

Andy drove the first few hours. I navigated in the dark and read aloud from a book we had started earlier in the week. For a little extra entertainment, I rooted through the glove compartment and the various cubbyholes in the car.  And in my rooting, I made an embarrassing discovery: 10 pairs of glasses—4 sunglasses, 4 readers, and 2 pairs of progressives—all mine.

Call me ditzy, if you will. But it felt worse than ditzy. It felt wasteful, even greedy. It made me realize I have spares of lots of things, almost everything. There are the spare sets of sheets, towels, hairbrushes, black socks. You name it: spare paper, spare dishes, spare car, spare weight. Not to mention the spares of spare shoes. I keep complaining about owning too much, but then tend to buy spares, just in case I might need them.

In Mark 6:8-9, Jesus spoke to his disciples: “These were his instructions: ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff–no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.'” (NIV) When Jesus went on a preaching mission he did not turn his Toyota into a mini apartment with clothing and toys for every eventuality.

The irony of having so many spares is that it doesn’t make me feel more in control or more secure. It makes me feel encumbered, bogged down. I would like to believe the Message version of Mark 6:8-9: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.” Maybe someday I’ll believe it. With God’s help I will be the only equipment necessary for the journey.

Sybil MacBeth ©2010

More Stamps

My prayer-stamp drawing exercise has been erratic. Instead of a stamp or two a day, it has been more like four stamps one day, no stamps for five days. So much for daily discipline. A daily discipline is supposed to help me with my binge-purge mentality about life. I can be so excited and grateful one day, so grumpy and despairing the next; so energetic and active one day, so lethargic the next. I want to cultivate a “This is the day the Lord has made” mentality, rather than a “perfect/imperfect” consumer evaluation of each day.

When I was a kid, I practiced radical perfectionism. For all of my elementary school years, my teachers never received a paper from me with an erasure. I wrote and rewrote my homework assignments until there there was not one corrected word or problem—no smudges, no smears, no imperfection.

I’ve made some progress in this area. So I refuse to chastise myself for an imperfect Lent. I can restart the daily discipline effort at any time.  And when I fail again, I will know that this has been a successful Lent. Lent is not about what I can do, but about what God does. A stamp a day will not keep imperfection away. I will try to remember the whole point of this season—my need and gratitude for a savior.  John Michael Talbot‘s* version of Psalm 62 sings it so well for me: ” Only in God is my soul at rest, from Him comes my salvation. He only is my rock, my strength, and my salvation.”

*John Michael Talbot,Psalm 62, Come to the Quiet, 1980

Sybil MacBeth ©2010

Noise Pollution

Our adult son lives with us–not an uncommon statement by parents in my age bracket. It’s temporary–or so we keep telling ourselves–until he gets acclimated to a new career. About a week ago, he started on the graveyard shift: 11:30PM-7:30AM.

Not only does his nocturnal work disrupt his sleep schedule, it disrupts my awake schedule. Today I’ve been typing on my keyboard, baking a cake for a friend, and emptying the dishwasher. What I notice is this: I’m a noisy person.  I crash around the kitchen, stomp up and down the stairs with elephantine footwork, and sing and mutter all day long. Even my keyboard strokes are loud and harsh.

So for the past hour I’ve been working on my quiet and gentle skills. Instead of my usual “grab four plates at a time and slam them into the cupboard,” I took one plate from the dishwasher and placed it with clatter-free care on top of the others. With my eyes shut I imagine the way I used to place a slumbering infant in his crib and pray for continued sleep.

Emptying the dishwasher took about eight minutes instead of three. But I remember each plate, each dish. For those few minutes I did not wish this part of my life away as I often do with daily chores. Maybe next time I’ll say a prayer with each plate. Today I just had the pleasure of a job done with attention and care. And I enjoyed the lack of noise pollution in the house.


When members of my family come in the door after a day at work or time away, I’m likely to send a barrage of greetings and questions: “Hi, how are you? How was your day? What did you do? Did anything exciting happen?” On the surface, these questions may seem like friendly queries of interest and care about my loved ones. But sometimes it’s too much–too soon, too intrusive, too invasive, too yacky, too nosy…. Their responses are often terse or uninformative–conversation stoppers rather than starters: “Fine, Terrible, Nothing, No.” I get irritated and say stupid things like, “Oh c’mon something happened, tell me.”

I’m learning, however. Sometimes a simple, “Hi it’s good to see you” is enough. If I manage to be quiet and wait, stories and feelings will emerge. Maybe not on my time frame or maybe not even that day. But my silence and waiting honors both the privacy and rhythm of the other person’s life.

The other day when I heard some people talking about WAIT as an acronym, my ears perked up. I will try to remember it whenever my urge to wrack information from others or fix them or give them unwanted advice tickles my vocal chords and trickles close to my tongue.

“Fools care nothing for thoughtful discourse; all they do is run off at the mouth.” (Proverbs 18:2 MSG)

Sybil MacBeth ©2010