Peaceful Thoughts On A Sunday Morning

This morning I sat outside and listened to the birds sing and watched the squirrels scamper down the street. Afterwards I settled in for my morning readings. I wrote five things I was grateful for in my gratitude journal. I then turned to my Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much by Anne Wilson Schaef. Next up was the next chapter in Opening Windows written by many Christian authors. Today was Chapter Eleven by John Guest. The title…Open to Life Changing Prayer.

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I am in the time of my life where I seek peace. Drama is high in my house on some days with the life changing memory loss of a family member. Each day is different but what I have come to realize is the day is easier depending on my reaction to events. That’s where God and prayer help me. Taking the time to pray feeds my spirit and calms my brain.

Sunday mornings used to be a “go to church no matter what morning.” Part of that was my Catholic upbringing and it was what I had hoped to instill in my children. You went to church on Sunday morning no matter what. Strange phrase but I heard it constantly growing up. Maybe it’s a Minnesota thing. Leaving church on many Sundays I didn’t always feel peaceful. Church politics and the expectations of some congregation members left me feeling unsettled. There were days I didn’t feel I measured up to the rules of dress, proper protocol and even praying right. It was never the Pastor which made me feel that way and we’ve had many Pastors. It might not even be a true representation of the members. It might possibly just have been me, feeling the way I felt about myself, and blaming it on to the church.

During the pandemic I attended more church services online then I have been to in person in years. I have shared my faith and had faith conversations online, in private bible studies, and in person during this time. I feel the peace of not having to lose that peace because of church politics.

It’s Sunday morning. Soon I will listen online to my church. Our Pastor is leaving. I want to hear her sermon and then I am going to church to the going away shindig. Yes, you heard that right, I am not going to church in person but going to the after party.

One of the reasons I love listening online is there are no distractions during the sermon. There are no distractions with my prayers. I can sing or sit back and listen to the beautiful music. I can open the Bible app on my phone to follow along or look things up without criticism of using my phone during the church service. It also allows me to read various interpretations of the verses during worship. I find peace at home during church.

The argument we hear the most is that we need our church family and we do. I have realized church family doesn’t always mean those people that are in your home church. It can mean those in your Bible Study, your next door neighbors, friends, and yes, even strangers you meet when you share your faith.

We need churches. They are pivotal to our lives. However, does the old form of church still work in 2021? Could the people be the church and the building take second place when it comes to worship priority, expanding church services to other places in the community? Think of the money we spend beautifying our church buildings. What would happen if we put that money into staff and outreach instead, and the building be well kept but not a shrine. A church home should be a comfortable place which feels like home to everyone.

I must admit I have questioned over the years why we can’t always get along and share the outreach with all the congregations in the community. It shouldn’t be a contest as to who has the best church but each church setting the others up to success, even if we believe different doctrine. Don’t we believe in one God? It’s the doctrine and divide over correctness in denominations that divide us. It’s our way or the highway. yet we all have one common denominator and that is our belief in God.

In my old age I have been influenced by my Catholic upbringing, my dad’s EUB and Methodist religion and the religion of my cousins and ancestors which have roots in the Assembly of God church and the Jehovah Witnesses. I also had good friends whose roots were Mormon and I learned from them too. Because of this I have a hard time escribing to what I was brought up with, and that is each church believing their church was the one true church, and the way they worshipped God was the only right way. That might account for my thoughts concluding a church isn’t the building, the way we dress, the way we line up the spoons in the silverware drawer or even the rules for prayer which dominate each denominations church services.

Maybe it’s time we let go of that belief that we have to have the perfect and beautiful building to be our church, to hold our services. Wouldn’t it be great if our buildings were well kept but not so perfect that they welcome strangers, let us be casual, accept us as we are and take that church out in the community, worship services taking many different forms?

I am past the age where I care if people will talk about me because I just showed up at the party but not for the service. I am past the age where I care if people talk about me because they think I’m not doing enough volunteering in church. I have fifty years of volunteering under my belt. It’s time to volunteer to be kind to others, pray with others and feed the birds and be in background volunteering for church things that no one knows about, and that might include just being a friend to someone who needs one.

This week in a backyard in my hometown, sitting with a young mother and watching her kids splash in their kiddie pool, I had a beautiful, spiritual experience. She turned to me and asked if she could pray with me and pray for me. The birds were singing, the kids were splashing, the breeze was blowing through the trees and we prayed, right there in her backyard. I was in church, God’s church of nature. What more could I ask for?

The pandemic may have changed how we view worshipping God. Some need that in church moment. For others they need the peace and quiet of home to hear the word or the. connection of prayer in the most unexpected places such as the streets we walk everyday. Recently I told my Grandchild that God doesn’t live in a building. He’s with us all the time. I hope he remembers that throughout his life.

I’m rambling with thoughts today. Over my lifetime the place where I’ve felt the most judgment from others for things that don’t matter, such as being on tune when you sing or you can’t belong to a choir, fighting over what group is appropriate to use our church for meetings, making sure the floors are spit polished were in the organized church. We weren’t arguing about spiritual subjects such as the Bible or the Ten Commandments but material matters. And at times we were fighting about exclusion of who has the right to worship God with us. Who was welcome.

Perhaps one thing we’ve learned this past year is that things don’t have to be perfect when we worship. We aren’t perfect and we shouldn’t expect others to be.

I long for the day where it doesn’t matter how you dress, how much money you have or the color of your skin to be able to walk into a church and be accepted as who we are, all sinners and all in need of caring, having a place to take a breath without being judged by each other, leaving that to God. He sees us and he is the one who will change what needs to be changed if we have faith. I am guilty in the past for also being part of the problem with my judgment. I hope that is one thing God helps me change in me.

Yes we all need church family. What does that look like in your place of worship?

To Pray or Not to Pray?

person holding bible with cross

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I have a granddaughter that will be confirmed this weekend. We will all be there to celebrate this milestone in her life.

I remember my confirmation. It was a moment in my life that I do remember and treasure. I know what I wore and I remember the day and what I chose for my confirmation name. We had to do that in my church at that time. Usually, it was a Saint’s name.

As much as I have written about my days growing up Catholic and telling you the tales of things that unsettled me about my religion, there were many positives too. As a young child, you don’t appreciate all the prayers you need to remember or the religion classes, but those are the very things that get me through my life.

I changed religions for a couple of reasons. I wanted to attend church as a family and I was impressed with the faith of my new nieces and nephews and their religious instruction in the Lutheran Church. I was impressed with their knowledge of the Bible. I was impressed with their confirmation programs that encompassed many hours of study. I was impressed with their Sunday Schools. I was impressed with their knowledge of other religions.

Today I use some things from my upbringing still, and I use things I learned as a Lutheran and from other relatives of other religions. But forming my faith started as a young child.

I have fallen away from church time to time when I was lost and searching, but I was always drawn back because of prayer and what I learned from both religions.

One day I was at a baseball game with my grandson. They were losing by over ten points and it was getting worse by the minute. Before the game I asked him if he prayed for help to do his best, not win, just to do his best. He told me no and gave me a funny look. I decided I would pray for his team, not to win, but to do their best and possibly bring the score up so it was a little closer and they wouldn’t feel so defeated. I did and I have to admit, I was amazed they scored over ten points and brought the game to a tie that inning. They did lose but not the terrible loss they would have had. I told my grandson I did that, and again I got the funny look. I was convinced it helped, but he wasn’t convinced.

Another time when chatting with another grandson who was about to play in a basketball game I again inquired if he asked God to help him do his best. His funny look appeared and he said no. I told him he should. I asked him later if he took my advice and he didn’t because he thought it was a strange request.

Both these boys go to church and Sunday School. I was taught to pray without ceasing no matter how little or unimportant my needs seemed. We’ve all heard the “someone needs it more than I do” speech.

Sunday School was more intense when I was growing up, and I know this even though I was not in a protestant Sunday School. We Catholics in our school had to go to church every day during the school year. Sunday School for people my age in protestant churches, and for my kids was every Sunday morning for an hour. Going to church was a requirement. It didn’t matter what was happening in the community with sports, church and Sunday School came first.

Confirmation was another matter. Saturday mornings for my Protestant friends and for my children were for two to three hours and Wednesday nights were church time. There were memorization and work that had to be done, and if it wasn’t, you were not allowed to be confirmed. Some might argue that this is too harsh for the young ones of today, but I argue it is why I have a foundation to hold on to at my lowest times; even the times I shy away from my church community.

John McCain tells of how his faith was strengthened, restored and tested as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. One of his prayers was to be given another minute to keep living. Orson Swindle was a Marine Captain who spent six years in captivity. He and his fellow prisoners would cough the letter C for church and tap a code so they knew it was time to pray together, and they would say their prayers on their own, but at the same time. The prayers were the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. Prayer was their sustenance. Had they not learned that at their parent’s knees and in their Sunday Schools and churches they would not have had those memorized prayers in their darkest hours or been able to whisper their personal words of prayer.

Our churches today have changed in what they expect of our youth. Sunday School classes are shortened. After confirmation teenagers disappear from their churches because they are given the option by their parents and society to not be a part of a community where their faith will be sustained. Many teenagers, even Confirmation age have a hard time reciting any rote prayer such as the Lord’s prayer or the 23rd Psalm. We have dumbed down the teaching of our children to conform to society’s expectations, rather than keeping the expectation of what our children should be learning to be able to withstand the world today. Sunday school and education programs, along with youth events, are among the first cut when trying to save money. We seem to lower our standards for our youth to keep people in our churches yet churches are emptier. We expect less and we are getting less. How is that working for us?

I know people are falling away from the church communities for many different reasons. There is a lack of trust in the old church establishment. Yes, fragile leaders have let us down. Judgment has driven us away. The politics of churches have driven us away. Yet we still need that “old time religion” to grow up those kids so that if they are in situations they cannot handle they know prayer and faith will help. They can turn to a common prayer together as those prisoners did or if they cannot eke out a prayer of their own because of their situation. Our children today need a foundation and we are failing if we don’t give that to them.

If I can leave one moment of wisdom for my grandchildren, it is to never quit praying in all instances, no matter how small the request might be. Memorize those prayers; there will be times you can’t find your own words for prayer but your heart will pull up that which is memorized embedded in your heart.

There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees. — Victor Hugo

We Can’t Find Five Minutes

Note: This is the first post in a series of thoughts and meanderings of my mind about how our past shapes our life now, and the way our perception changes as we age. Mainly it is about my faith life and what affects it has on what I do and feel today. This is a part of my life journey I thought I would share in case others had the same feelings. There is no right or wrong. Your journey may be different than mine but I was relieved when I took time out of my busy life and found others who share with me letting me know I am not alone in the journey.

Chapter One: We Can’t Find Five Minutes

img_1600Last year my emotions ran amok. One of my best friends died. There were health problems with my husband and I was exhausted. Through all of this one book helped me. It was Max Lucado’s book Anxious for Nothing. There were days I would only read a paragraph or two and there were days I would read an entire chapter.

Something about this book drew me in, gave me comfort and made me feel as if I could conquer my anxiety and fear with God by my side.

Taking time to read also became an issue in my life. I read books from author friends to give them an honest review but I was so busy spinning the wheels in my head, that my brain told me I had no time in the midst of my chaos and sadness to do what my inner voices said were frivolous things.

I kept writing my column, Something About Nothing, becoming more honest about my feelings on various subjects, but some weeks it was hard to find inspiration. In 2018 I did not put out a single book in either one of my cozy mystery series. I drifted along advertising the ones I wrote the past five years. I could not find the inspiration for a new book. Out in public I would smile and joke but I felt sad inside.

During this time I decided to start a Facebook Group called Slices of Life. It is a private group for those who wanted to read Max Lucado’s book and discuss it. I found I was not very good at leading a book group because no one had the time to read and I was shirking on my duties to lead for that very reason.

This group all has anxiety and fear as I do and I hoped together we could take the journey and find some kinship and answers. I wanted it to be a shared group but I found many could not have the time to find five minutes a day to sit down and read. And trying to find that time made them more stressed. To be fair, I work from my home and many in the group had families and work schedules.

I decided to read a page out loud every day and some liked that but then it became a burden and stress for me because if I didn’t do it I felt as if I was letting people down. Have you ever felt that way? And that feeling left me pondering what it is we are looking for to help us when we can’t take the time to help ourselves.

Tomorrow’s post: Anxious About Everything