“Praying My Clothes”

The congregation I pastor is located on a busy street, South Grand in the city. We have a food pantry, clothing room, health services, and employment counseling and emergency services. Many people come each weekday for some kind of care. A number of these are people living on the streets with untreated mental illness; people our society has abandoned. One woman comes regularly to the clothing room where she gathers more clothes than she can possibly use. Efforts at rational conversation with her have been without success. Usually her responses are a confusing jumble of words and phrases.

This afternoon, I arrived back at the church to find clothing spread out across the front of the church. A lot of clothing! It was on the lawn, laying up on top of some bushes, and spread out on the concrete porch. Each piece had clearly been laid out with some intention; no one piece was touching another. The clothes were not wadded up and thrown down. They were laid out. There was not a person in sight, but I knew. I went into the church to get the director of our Isaiah 58 Ministries (the Ecumenical outreach ministry of which the clothing room is a part.) When she and I came back out, we saw the woman who gathers clothes standing in front of the church and we went to talk to her. When we said that she needed to pick up her clothes, she responded by saying, “I’m praying my clothes. I don’t leave my clothes laying around. I’m praying my clothes. I can see them all. I’m praying my clothes.” Then she began picking them up.

Knowing from experience over time just how sick and confused she is, I am hesitant to attribute particular meaning to her words. I cannot assume to know how her mind works or how she processes the world around her and her own experiences. However, I haven’t been able to let go of the image of clothing laid out across the church lawn so that she could see every piece and her words, “I’m praying my clothes.” What comes to mind is ‘lectio divina’, a process of praying scripture in which we read scripture not for the whole of the story, but until a word or image stands out to us. At that point we stop and focus on that word or image and enter into our prayer around it. Norvene Vest, in her exploration of lectio divina, extends the process beyond scripture to life events. In such she invites us to pray the events of life; to listen for God’s word to us and God’s movement in the variety of experiences each day.

I wonder if we, who have so many clothes (and so much food, and ….), might do well to ‘pray our clothes’ — to place them where we can see them in their abundance, and focus our prayer on the provision of clothing. What would be the result? Perhaps increased awareness of God’s care. Perhaps increased awareness of our thankfulness. Perhaps a stark awareness that we have more than we can use and that God’s calls us to sort out and share with those who need them. Perhaps ….?

I don’t know what will happen, but I think I need to ‘pray my clothes … and quite a few other things. I won’t lay them out on the church lawn. But I will lay them before God.

Healing Prayers

As the clock moves past midnight and on to Tuesday morning, I am preparing for my lectionary study group, knowing that tomorrow’s time will be a bit different. A colleague and friend was in a bicycle accident this last Thursday and has a broken collarbone and ribs. He has asked me for prayer and anointing. I told him that I would, indeed, have the oil for anointing with me. Even as I say the words, I can smell that strong scent of frankincense and myrrh that flows from the tiny container of oil in my purse. It goes to hospitals with me and has often been used when one is dying.
I would usually go to a special resource for prayers for healing, but tonight (this morning) it occurred to me that it is Tuesday and the Tuesday prayers in my daily prayer book are focused on healing. And so I will use and adapt the Tuesday prayers. One of the morning prayers moves me deeply:

In the beginning O God

You shaped my soul and set its weave

You formed my body and gave it breath.

Renew me this day in the image of your love.

O great God, grant me your light

O great God, grant me your grace

O great God, grant me your joy this day

And let me be made pure in the well of your health. Amen.

And one of the evening prayers:

As I utter these prayers from my mouth, O God

In my soul may I feel your presence.

The knee that is stiff, O healer make pliant

The heart that is hard, make warm beneath your wing

The wound that is giving me pain,

O best of healers, make whole

And may my hopes and my fears

find a listening place with you. Amen.

— from Celtic Prayers from Iona, J. Philip Newell, Paulist Press.

Noon Prayers

This past week we started a new “Wednesday Noon Prayers.”  Each week hundreds of people come to the church for care of some kind.  People come for food, clothing, health  screenings, emergency referrals, utility assistance, employment counseling, computer training, community youth programs, and pastoral care.  And, of course, we gather on Sundays to worship, share in Spiritual formation discussion classes, and community time.  We reach out to serve people in the community and to act for God’s peace and in a variety of ways. We are struggling to make our building accessible and to find the ways for a small congregation to grow and to continue ministry in this urban community.  Very often we find ourselves digging deep for the resources to carry on the ministry to which we feel called, and very often we must make hard choices with our resources.  It is exciting and challenging to be the Church in this place in this time.

In the midst of all of this,  we must live as a community of prayer. My hope is that we will be able to draw together those who come in from the streets for care and assistance, those who come to worship, those who volunteer,  area residents, area workers — people from all parts of the neighborhood to spend a few minutes together in Wednesday noon prayers.  Prayer for the community, the concerns of those who gather, those who are ill or grieving, those who are without jobs.  Prayers for the world, for the healing of our hurts and divisions.  Prayers of thanksgiving for the goodness of God in our lives and prayers for the journey, the pilgrimage we are on.

I hope others will join me in noon prayer. We will be using The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle as a structure for our mid-day prayers, though we’ll adapt and add some music, and a wonderful resource of Everyday Psalms.

Education in the Household

We have just returned from Chicago where we were celebrating the graduation of a dear one from the The Divinity School of the University of Chicago and from the Disciples Divinity House. These were days of true community celebration.  Yes, the individual graduates and their close family and friends celebrated.  But in this particular instance, I was moved by the depth of community celebration.  Those students who live and study in Disciples Divinity House (an institution of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)), live in a supportive community throughout their time in the Divinity School.  Whether they are Disciples House Scholars or Ecumenical Residents they have lived together as a household through this time of study and formation for ministry.

In the DDH Convocation on June 7, the homily was given by Hubert G. Locke, DDH Trustee and Professor of Public Service Emeritus, University of Washington.  Referring to Ephesians 2:19-22, Dr. Locke spoke of our being “members of the household of God.”  He reminded those gathered that a household includes more than those with blood ties.  In the time the text was written, “household” included servants and slaves.  Households throughout the centuries have included many different people in different relationships.

As he spoke, I could not help but think of the relationships that form and sustain us: family – yes, but so often we are formed by relationships with friends, mentors, employees, employers, neighbors, caregivers, colleagues.  Not members of our immediate household, but certainly members, along with us, of the household of God.  On Thursday night, as I watched the Disciples House Community celebrate, I saw people who have not only received an academic education for ministry, but people who have lived in a formative community throughout this process. Having lived and studied  a number of years ago in the Disciples Divinity House at Vanderbilt University, I give thanks for the gift of education in a “household” that helps to form our understanding of Church and ministry.

Not Just a Newsstand

I was meeting a friend and colleague for lunch today at Liluma, a favorite restaurant in the Central West End. I was early so I asked for a table outside along the sidewalk. As I waited for my friend, my attention was drawn to the man who ran the newsstand on that corner. First, I noticed that he spoke to just about everyone who walked by his stand. These were not sales interactions. They were warm greetings with a smile, sometimes a handshake. Often he would step out of the boundaries of the stand to talk a little bit. He seemed to know many of those who passed by and joked with folks. And then there were the dogs! People with dogs came by and the dogs seemed to know to go to a particular side of the newsstand, where they waited for him to reach into his can of dog biscuits. He would make sure they ‘sat’ for their treat while carrying on a conversation with their person.

Then the moment came that truly got my attention. A city bus pulled up and honked. The newsstand man ran over and met a man with a white cane coming down the bus steps. They greeted, as the man took his arm, and then our newstand man led him across the street and down to the bank. About that time, my waiter approached and I commented on the interactions I had been watching. He told me that the guy at the newsstand cares for everyone in the area; that the bus drivers know to honk when they have someone who could use some help. Elders and those who are differently abled in some way are often aided by the newsstand man.

It had been a while since I had eaten at this restaurant and the newsstand was not there before. What occurs to me is that this particular corner in the city feels different now. People are more interactive, more open to each other. I believe it has to do with the newsstand man. So simple, yet so profound. Someone who spends his days building relationship with the people who pass by a certain corner has the power to create of those people a community. What about us and our corners? What can this urban hospitality do to transform a city?