Savannah Pauses at the Tomb

Savannah at the Tomb

This past week we went to York for a few days as we won’t be near enough to visit the city in the near future with our move down to Kent. As we usually do when we go to York, we made a stop at the beautiful Minister Church. As we are still in the Easter season, the church still had it’s large Easter Garden display with the crosses and the tomb.

The Easter story really fascinated Savannah, just as much as the Christmas story did. Though there being no plays we have not had to put on Easter plays as much. She has also asked some fascinating questions, like why do the pictures of Jesus always have him leaning forward; or why are the clothes still in the tomb? And usually when she sees vinegar she will tell us that the soldiers gave it to Jesus to drink but he didn’t like it.

So she was quite excited to see the large tomb, if a little surprised at first. She named all the parts and we took her photo with it. Then April and I walked away, expecting her to follow. I turned around and I saw the scene in the photo above (which, I couldn’t resist taking and I was far enough away that I did not disturb her). I called April to turn around. Savannah was sitting in front of it quietly, taking it all in. Maybe she was just waiting for us to finally leave her alone so she could have a moment.

It was also a beautiful reminder that York Minster was not a tourist site, but a place of prayer.

Can I Pray to Change God’s Mind?

Steve Manskar at his blog, Wesleyan Leadership, wrote recently on prayer. He began by recounting the scene in the film Shadowlands where C.S. Lewis speaks to colleagues about his wife’s recent battle with cancer. It’s a beautiful scene and gives a profound statement on what Lewis believes about prayer: ‘In these many days of prayer at Joy’s bedside I have learned that my prayers do not change God; God changes me.’ Steve Manskar writes:

This scene has stayed with me over the years because it helps me understand more fully the nature and purpose of prayer. It also tells us about the importance of practice and what happens when we live with a practice over time.

Prayer is a means of grace. A “means of grace” is a practice, ritual, place, or object that provides access to grace, which is the power and presence of God. Prayer is a practice that opens our hearts to the power of God’s love that heals and forms our character, damaged by sin, into the image of Christ. In prayer we become available to God and God’s love.

I really don’t have a problem with what Rev. Manskar writes. I would actually say I agree with him. My practice sometimes is a view prayer as something as just me talking to God. If I am honest, probably the dryness in my prayer life is where I move away from opening myself to God and letting that be the only thing that matters.

Still there’s something that bothers me:

If my wife or one of my children were ill in hospital with little hope from doctors, I would not be praying that God would change me.

OK, maybe it isn’t proper to say that I am asking God to change, but I would certainly want something to change. If I ended up losing someone I love, I can’t say that I would be praising God for the way I have been changed. I remember someone whose father had died when they were young who told me that she had grown has a person and been made stronger – but she’d rather have her father back.

I can’t help but feel that however right C.S. Lewis (and Rev. Manskar) are, I sometimes wonder if it’s a little bit of a downgrading of prayer to turn and say that the main point is for God’s love to poured into us. Not because I think that’s not sufficient, but I always hear this in the context of this Shadowlands story. There seems to be a little bit of, ‘Well, if the person we pray for isn’t healed, then really that’s not what prayer is about.’ It doesn’t seem to convey the ‘cheekiness’ of Abraham bargaining with God or Moses telling God not to destroy the Israelites.

There seems a bit of a need for balance. On the same day as I read the above, Eddie Arthur, being the bible translator that he is, writes about our word choice in talking about praying for others. Eddie’s point only overlaps with Rev. Manskar’s and as far as I am aware, the two don’t know each other. Eddie writes:

I’ve always been slightly uneasy about the statement that prayer changes things. As far as I can see, prayer doesn’t change things; God changes things in answer to the prayers. It might seem a bit of a picky thing to say, but it is important. God is Sovereign and he chooses to act in response to our prayers – it isn’t that our prayers have some sort of magic property in and of themselves to change things. I suppose there is a sense in which the act of praying does change the person doing the praying, but that is rather a special case.

I like what Eddie says as well. Does it have to negate what Rev. Manskar says? I would be interested in hearing from anyone else on their thoughts. Yes, I want a life overflowing with God’s healing love in my soul, but I also want to know that I can beat down the doors of heaven should someone I love be in trouble and not have to stop and think about how this will change me.

Teaching Kids to Pray

My friend Shawn from St. Paul UMC gives this link on her blogTeaching Kids to Pray. I like the advice that says, ‘Don’t discourage a child from including a song from The Little Mermaid in her prayer.’

It reminds me of a story that our Evangelism Enabler Nick Moxon once told. When leading all-age worship and he asked for prayer requests the kids asked to pray for Bob the Builder, who had been poorly on an episode that week. Nick did, and the next time he was there the kids told him that Bob the Builder was better. Nick said, ‘See, prayer works!’

What Can Christians Do about Egypt?

Blogger John Meunier has asked a question that I have been thinking about today as I have turned on the news off and on today: what is our response to the situation in Egypt? I admit I don’t know. I can barely keep up with all that’s coming out and understand all that going on. I certainly hope for reform, but hope against the violence that been caused.

John also points to some links about other areas in the world that, for whatever reason, are not making the top headlines. In these situations, John’s answer is as good as any I have seen.

In the face of this, I think the faithful prayer is the one we pray every Sunday. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.”

As we are able, we Christians should do good to all people and resist all evil it is in our power to resist. Most of what is happening in Egypt is beyond our personal reach for good or ill. Nothing is beyond the reach of our prayers.

That may not be a sufficient response for the blogger who got me thinking about these issues, but it is the most Christian response I can see.

How Do You Teach Children the Bible?

Savannah shamed me last night. Lent is the time for confession, and I can see no way of avoiding this and there’s no point in trying to make myself look good on the blog. Last night, as I closed the curtains in the lounge, Savannah asked, ‘Is it dark?’

‘Yes,’ I replied.

‘We don’t do Advent any more,’ she said a little sadly. ‘Not even the blue Advent.’

I felt a pain in my heart. I mean gut-wrenching experience. The background to this story is that we bought an Advent Calendar that a scene of Bethlehem, a package of stickers, and a devotional. Each day of December had a scripture verse, a devotion (too long for a 3-year old, but that was OK), and a sticker to place on the background scene. The devotion itself was mostly really good, but two or three days of appalling (e.g., the census was on obeying good laws – WHAT?). What captured Savannah’s imagination was the stickers – she loves stickers. But, here she could only do one a day and had to put it in the proper place. It was a learning experience for her. Then we would read her ‘red Advent‘ book (as she called it) – it was just a very short, simple reading around themes of Advent (almost all VERY excellent).

Savannah fell very easily into the rhythm and loved it so much that each day she would say, ‘I want to do Advent,’ or ask is it time. Our response came, ‘When it’s dark.’ This became our own Advent Afternoon Liturgy. I have no idea why we said this rather than after dinner or when mummy gets home. I guess the theme of darkness seemed to fit well with Advent. [That's the story of why darkness connects to Savannah with Advent.] The week after the 30 days finished, April and I desperately tried to find something in the same vein (church publishers have A LOT on Advent – not so much the rest of the 11 months of the year). Whatever we tried was never as good as what she had experienced. We do have a Lent version of ‘red Advent’ (it’s purple, which sometimes Savannah confuses with ‘blue’, hence the ‘blue Advent’) that we started, but got crazy with visitors and simply dropped.

Now, my daughter is asking to do an evening prayer practice, and we have nothing. Have any of you found a good way to teach children the bible, but even more so, what pattern do you set to do it? At the moment, we generally reserve it for bed where we sing (generally short songs with ‘And Can It Be’ mixed in with Bob the Builder and Balamory and Baa Baa Black Sheep), a bible story from the children’s bible, and then prayers. But, Savannah connects this more to her bedtime ritual than any family prayer time. And April and I want to expand it. Any suggestions?

Chanting the Psalms

My fellow sandlapper and the Southern Baptist blogger Wyman Richardson has some interesting tastes for a Baptist. He has an affection for the creeds (usually off-limits among Baptists) and now I find out chanting! On his blog he points to a website where the Athanasian Creed is chanted in English. When I followed the link I found downloadable mp3s for all 150 Psalms. All the Psalms are beautifully chanted by a soloist using the Authorized Version. If this sounds like your sort of thing, follow the link here.

This is produced by a group called the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood (so props to the tradition of my wife April and PamBG).