Here is a simple way to draw prayers for others. Take a colored marker and write or print the person’s name. Take a dark pen and outline the name. If it’s in script, outline the outsides and then the insides. Add other markings and doodles to the name—lines, dots, shapes…. Think of each mark as a prayer, an offering of the person into God’s care. If verbal prayers come to mind, pray them. If not, continue to pray in silence by drawing, holding each person as the “image and likeness of God.” (Genesis 1:26)
Actually, the word actually drives me crazy. It must be the most popular word of 2009-2010. Radio and TV commentators say it; my friends say it; and I say it. We polka-dot every other sentence with the word. “Actually, we weren’t in town last weekend.” “We actually spent more money on our dogs’ medical care than our children’s last year.” By adding an actually, are we trying to give the information more credibility or authority? “I actually read 100 books last year.” If I left off the actually from my statement, would others be less likely to believe me?
Actually actually grates on my ears when I hear it. An aural cringe shudders through my Eustachian tubes. The use of actually makes me understand how contagious words are, how quickly I become a verbal lemming and follow the latest fad in jargon. But more than my awareness of the frequency of actually, I notice what a cranky, judgmental person I can be. Why should the overuse of a word make me so irritable?
So for a post-Lenten or maybe Easter discipline and behavior-modification exercise, I’m actually going to try something different. Every time I hear the word actually, I ‘m going to say to myself. “Thank you.” I’ll use actually as a prod for prayer, as a way to follow 1Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (NRSV). I hope I can actually pull this off.
Sybil MacBeth ©2010
Spring in Memphis is like a miles-long altar decorated for Easter Sunday. Azaleas, dogwoods, tulips, and redbuds are in full bloom in yards, on median strips and along the highway.
In a grouchy and sad mood earlier this week, I plopped down on a front porch chair and glared. At first it was the narrow-eyed, pinched stare of a malcontent. But as I let the creamy baby-bonnet blossoms of the azalea bush come into view, my glare softened. I noticed details of the blossoms: the five or six slender tendrils or filaments reaching like little fingers and the graceful handkerchief-weight petals. Dozens of bumble bees hovered over the blossoms; one nestled down in the center of the bloom as if in an intoxicated sleep. I also noticed the whole baby-blanket array of flowers swaddling the bush.
I experienced what I call “eye awe.” My friend Page calls this “gazing prayer.” Either way it is worship without words. I get to look and see the magnificence and beauty of God’s creation. For a few moments, “the grandeur of God”* is more important than my sadness and my anger.
*from God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877
Sybil MacBeth ©2010
One way I test my spiritual well-being is to notice how many people have crawled into bed with me at the end of the day. If it’s just my husband Andy I’m in pretty good shape. But if the phantasms of many others are clinging onto me and taking up precious psychic room under the covers, I’m in trouble.
Worries about his night shift as a cop in a bad part of the city allow my adult son to jump in the bed. The person who said something hurtful to me on Sunday morning at church hogs the blankets. The ubiquitous thought, “What would my family think,” opens the door for my parents and other relatives to vie for a place on the mattress. When my worries, resentments, and obsessions morph into human form and want to share the queen-sized bed, my sacred place of loving and rest becomes the scene of a massive pillow-fight.
My task is to try to leave everyone but my husband and God outside the bedroom door. Even if I say prayers in bed, I want them to be prayers of letting go and not clinging. Some nights I have to work hard to throw all of the scrabbling bedmates out of my head, out of my bed, out of the room, and into the hands of God.
There may be a new hallway nighttime ritual in the making here—an order to the interlopers: “Sit, Down, Stay,” a slam of the bedroom door, and a prayer committing the unwanted guests and my thoughts into God’s care. “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.” (An Order for Compline, Book of Common Prayer,The Church Hymnal Corporation, New York, 1979, p. 134)
Sybil MacBeth ©2010
I’ve spent years of my life warming-up at ballet barres and dancing in lines in the center floor of ballet studios. What every one of those studios has in common are mirrors on as many walls as possible. Dancers learn to correct their technique and their artistry in part by observing what their bodies are doing.
Mirrors are a wonderful tool. But mirrors can be a hindrance, even an enemy. When I take a ballet class I sometimes forget that I am not the image I see in the mirror. I have to force myself to return to my own body space and observe what the movement feels like inside and on my body. My skin, bones, muscles, and cells create the reflection in the mirror–not the other way around.
When I become mirror-dependent I don’t dance well. I look at the image and judge it as fat, ugly, or clumsy. More than once I’ve missed the delight and challenge of the movement because I was so busy rejecting the person I saw in the mirror. My self-image tanks and so does my dancing. More than once I’ve been tempted to quit dancing altogether because of a bad-mirror day.
In one of her books (I can’t remember which) Madeleine L’Engle talks about a “self-image” (either good or bad) as undesirable. We should not seek to have a “self-image,” she says, but a “self. ” This reminds me that I am not the sum of my over or under-inflated self-impressions. I am the self which God created and restores. “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it – we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.” (1John 3:31 MSG)
Today in Zumba class, I was lucky to have an unmirrored spot in the room, right in front of a brick wall. There were no reflections, no judgments, no self-images–just gratitude and joy for the well-used sinews which allowed me to be a dancing self and not just an image in the mirror.
Sybil MacBeth ©2010
Last night at church, a pair of women washed my feet. I washed a few sets of feet as well. Tittering and giggling were plentiful from the people hunkered at the basins of water. I heard multiple apologies like, “I did just take a shower before I came.” “I had a pedicure today.”–Three times I heard this comment. The feet at our footwashing last night were probably some of the cleanest and most well-heeled in the world. And yet awkwardness, even shame abounded.
Imagine what it was like for Peter to receive the ministrations of Jesus. Peter’s feet were probably some of the filthiest on the planet–fish guts and city sewage between the toes. In the embarrassing act of footwashing, Jesus taught the disciples about serving and being served, about loving and being loved. He gives them a mandate: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV)
I wonder if the footwashing was also an anointing. Jesus anointed the disciples’ feet for the sacred and dangerous journey they were about to begin—the journey to “Go and make disciples” and the journey to their deaths.
Sybil MacBeth ©2010