Celtic Prayers on St. Patricks Day


On St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would be nice to share here some simple, everyday prayers from the Christian Celtic tradition that have blessed me over the years.  They had prayers that acknowledged the presence of God in the simplest of human activities–milking a cow, stoking a fire, extinguishing a fire, rising and retiring, and embarking on a journey, to name a few. (And, again, remember that most of my blogging now is over at The Leadership Institute blog. You can subscribe to those posts on the linked page).

Below are some of those prayers:

(Excerpts from the Carmina Gadelica taken from The Celtic Vision. Edited by Esther de Waal. Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications, 1988. Page numbers in parentheses)

Rising Prayer (39)

Thanks to Thee, O God, that I have risen to day,
To the rising of this life itself;
May it be to Thine own glory, O God of every gift,
And to the glory of my soul likewise.

O great God, aid Thou my soul
With the aiding of Thine own mercy;
Even as I clothe my body with wool,
Cover Thou my soul with the shadow of Thy wing.

Help me to avoid every sin,
And the source of every sin to forsake;
And as the mist scatters on the crest of the hills,
May each ill haze clear from my soul, 0 God.

Smothering the Fire (77)

The sacred Three
To save,
To shield,
To surround
The hearth,
The house,
The household,
This eve,
This night,
Oh! this eve,
This night,
And every night,
Each single night.

Night Prayer (95)

I lie down this night with God,
And God will lie down with me;
I lie down this night with Christ,
And Christ will lie down with me;
I lie down this night with Spirit,
And the Spirit will lie down with me;
God and Christ and the Spirit
Be lying down with me.

Death Prayer (123)

O God, give me of Thy wisdom,
O God, give me of Thy mercy,
O God, give me of Thy fullness,
And of Thy guidance in face of every strait.

O God, give me of Thy holiness,
O God, give me of Thy shielding,
O God, give me of Thy surrounding,
And of Thy peace in the knot of my death.

Oh give me of Thy surrounding,
And of Thy peace at the hour of my death!

House Blessing (132)

Be Christ’s cross on your new dwelling,
Be Christ’s cross on your new hearth,
Be Christ’s cross on your new abode,
Upon your new fire
blazing.

Be Christ’s cross on your topmost grain,
Be Christ’s cross on your fruitful wives,
Be Christ’s cross on your virile sons,
Upon your conceptive daughters.

Be Christ’s cross on your serving-maid,
Be Christ’s cross on your knee of promise,
Be Christ’s cross on your coming generation,
Upon your prospering cattle.

Be Christ’s cross on your means and portion,
Be Christ’s cross on your kin and people,
Be Christ’s cross on you each light and darkness,
Each
day and each night of your lives,
Each day and each night of your lives.

Journey Blessings (154-55)

May God make safe to you each steep,
May God make open to you each pass,
May God make clear to
you each road,
And may He take you in the clasp of His own two hands.

May God shield you on every steep,
May Christ keep you in every path,
May Spirit bathe you in
every pass.

Encompassing (161)

The compassing of God be on thee,
The compassing of the God of life.

The compassing of Christ be on thee,
The compassing of the Christ of love.

The compassing of Spirit be on thee,
The compassing of the Spirit of Grace.

The compassing of the Three be on thee,
The compassing of the Three preserve thee,
The compassing of the Three preserve thee.

In what life situations might we develop simple prayers to acknowledge God’s presence, welcome His generous grace and offer ourselves to Him? Booting up a computer? Taking our morning shower? Sitting down to a meal? Preparing a make a phone call or send an email? How might you deepen your own moment-to-moment awareness of the real presence of Christ with you?

 

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Outflow is Overflow


www.gemhelen.comI love the insight I’ll share below from a classic on the spiritual life, S. D. Gordon’s Quiet Talks on Power (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1903). The first chapter is titled “Choked Channels.” At one point, Gordon is commenting on Jesus words in John 7:37-38, “On the last and greatest day of the Festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’

“The stream must flow in, and must flow through, if it is to flow out, but it is judged by its direction, and Jesus would turn it outward. There must be good connections upward, and a clear channel inward, but the objective point is outward toward a parched earth. But before it can flow out it must fill up. An outflow in this case means an overflow. There must be a flooding inside before there can be a flowing out. And let the fact be carefully marked that it is only the overflow from the fullness within our own lives that brings refreshing to anyone else. A man praying at a conference in England for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit said: ‘O, Lord, we can’t hold much, but we can overflow lots.’ That is exactly the Master’s thought. ‘Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’” (p. 22-23.)

Father, how are You desiring to so fill me that my life overflows with love, wisdom, grace, compassion, and other expressions of Your presence? Where are the parched earth places around me that You wish to renew and refresh through the overflow of Your life from mine? I can’t hold much, but I can certainly overflow as much as You wish to pour through me.

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How to Begin Praying


Hole in a wine barrel.

[Excuse the male-centered language. It is a 50-year-old quotation]

“Let a man begin in prayer where he is, and that means anywhere, with any problem, with any desire. If what he asks for has him in its grip, that means that God can meet him there. If he has a ruling passion to be liked by others, to be selected to an important post, to be able to hold his marriage together, to recover the confidence of a son or daughter, why should this not come squarely into his prayer? We can begin anywhere in petitionary prayer.” (Steere, Douglas V. Dimensions of Prayer. New York: Women’s Division of Christian Service, 1962, p. 67.)

“How do I start praying?,” the question comes. I start praying exactly where I am. But I may have to begin by admitting that I’m not quite sure where I’m at. I may feel I’m standing in a fog as I begin to pray. I may have to acknowledge that I feel anxious, distracted and fearful as I come to an intended moment of prayer. This can be the starting point of my prayer. I get stuck when I try to start my prayer from a place where I am not, when I try to pray prayers I imagine God wants to hear rather than the actual things on my heart.

So here’s the quotation in my own words: “Let’s begin in prayer just where we find ourselves—anywhere, with any problem or any desire. If what we ask for has us in its grip, God can meet us right there. If we are overwhelmed by a craving for the approval of others, for an important position, healing in our marriages or reconciliation with a son or daughter, why wouldn’t we bring that right into our prayer? When it comes to prayer, it’s best to start right where we find ourselves.”

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Seek God First


IMG_0808Since the beginning of December, I’ve been reading in the Philokalia as part of my morning rhythm. These are writings in the Orthodox tradition that begin (in volume 1 that I’m reading) with the Christian desert fathers in the fourth century. These were followers of Jesus who, when Constantine made Christianity the official Roman religion, felt they could only remain faithful in their following by separating themselves from this whole religious system, following Jesus into the wilderness. They lived in the deserts of Egypt and surrounding regions. Their lives are so distant from me in time, place and culture, but I’ve found much to nourish my soul in what they said.

In this morning’s reading, I came across this in Evagrius the Solitary’s On Prayer: One Hundred and Fifty-Three Texts.

“Do not be distressed if you do not at once receive from God what you ask. He wishes to give you something better—to make you persevere in your prayer. For what is better than to enjoy the love of God and to be in communion with Him?” (Text #34)

I’ve heard this insight before, but I’m awfully slow to establish it in my assumptions and expectations. If I always got everything I asked right when I asked, how would perseverance grow in me? And if I limited myself only to what I asked, how would I learn to notice Jesus giving me something better, namely, communion with God? Am I primarily seeking God, or am I mainly seeking something from God? He is seeking to lift my gaze from the blessings in his hands to the blessings of his own gaze. Will I let him teach me by being patient when what I ask does not come very soon?

Reflection: What prayer seems to have gone unanswered in your life? How might Jesus be drawing your attention to himself, seeking to deepen your perseverance in seeking Him even more than whatever else you’ve sought from Him?

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The Practice of Watching Our Hearts


OC Sunset - August 2010

OC Sunset – August 2010 (gemhelen.com)

“[Regarding meditation and reflection] it is better to begin with something which is alive for us, either with those [scriptural] sayings which we find attractive, which ‘make our heart burn within us’, or else, on the contrary, with those against which we rebel, which we cannot accept; we find both in the gospel.” (Bloom, Anthony. Living Prayer. Springfield: Templegate Publishers, 1966, p. 52.)

We can make healthy spiritual progress if we’ll pay attention to those feelings, impulses, attractions or resistances that are especially strong within us, whether they feel holy or unholy. These may well be markers of a way forward for us, whether in further following the path of consolation, or pushing in to the place of resistance to discover behind it further opportunities for growth. Grow me in this, Jesus. I’m so grateful that I can pray this prayer even if I know perhaps only 1% of what I’m asking. Amen.

For Reflection: What strong feelings or desires have you noticed in your heart lately, whether they feel positive or negative, holy or unholy? How might Jesus want to be present with you to help, encourage or counsel you in that very place?

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Freedom is Harder Than It Looks


IMG_2884I recent came across these words on the temptation to hold onto familiar slavery at the cost of unfamiliar freedom. I have the promised land in my hopes, but still a bit of Egypt in my appetites:

“[Reflecting on the Exodus of Israel out of Egypt] God’s will is that the security of slaves is to be forsaken and replaced by the insecurity of free men in the making. This is a difficult situation because while we are in the making we do not yet know how to be free and we do not want to be slaves any more. Remember what happened to the Jews in the wilderness, how often they regretted the time when they were enslaved in Egypt, but fed. How often they complained that now they were without a roof, without food, dependent on the will of God, which they had not yet learned to rely upon completely; for God gives us grace, but leaves it to us to become new creatures.” (Bloom, Anthony. Living Prayer. Springfield: Templegate Publishers, 1966, p. 27.)

When it comes to the slaveries in my own life—obsessions, compulsions and such–there is a security in familiar slavery that I hold onto in the face of the insecurity of true but unfamiliar freedom.

“Jesus, I feel the substance of this insight. There are ways that I want and need to be free, but I resist surrendering something that seems to have met a need for me (like being fed as a slave) for an unknown (though I’m sure truer and better) way that need would be met. Help me step into the freedoms You have for me with courage and mature perspective. Do not let me fall back to childish fear. Amen.”

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Never Worry About Anything


peaceful_place_wallpaper_4f3f3Anxiety is all too often my unwelcome traveling companion on the journey. I can autopilot my way into fairly high anxiety with both hands tied behind my back (which also makes me anxious). A familiar text that is also becoming an intimate friend is Paul’s counsel about anxiety in Philippians 4:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (vs. 6-7).”

I’m inviting into a peace that cannot be comprehended. I have a preference for things that I can grasp, but this peace is not one of those things. How do I experience this peace that I can’t wrap my arms around? Verse 6 is the counsel I pursue. Verse 7 is the fruit it produces. Sequence matters here. I must remember what is God’s fruit and what is my pursuit.

So, instead of lingering in my anxious thoughts and feelings, I can acknowledge what I am fearful of being without and ask the Father for it through Jesus. I can also give thanks that whatever it is I need will be generously provided. This way of responding to inner movements of worry and anxiety enable me to live peacefully beyond any human explanation.

Too often, my efforts to follow this counsel feel like a skeleton with no meat on the bones. Thank You, Jesus, that Your Spirit is able to re-assemble dry bones and knit muscle and flesh into them. May your Spirit knit muscle of willing action onto the bones of my intentions. Amen.

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Psalm 27: A Heart That Listens


 Psalm 27:8 (NLT):
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
      And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

This passage raises many good questions for me: Is my heart perceiving the Lord’s personal invitation to come and talk with Him? Am I sensing just how wanted I am in His presence? Am I counting on His strong desire for my company? Do I feel this when I rise in the early hours of the morning, or is my anxiety evidence that I really believe He harbors frustration or disappointment towards me? Do I believe that my failures in doing good or my offenses in having done wrong are foremost in His mind when He thinks of me or sees me? Am I failing to experience Him as the gentle, gracious, merciful, forgiving God that He actually is? Do I see Him as fully committed to helping me awaken fully from all of the deceptions that currently capture my thinking and my imagination? These things are true. I want to know them as true in my very body.

Enable me to be a person truly and deeply focused on the one thing of dwelling in Your presence wherever I go and whatever I do. Forgive when I focus on my own imperfections rather than on Your perfections.

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Dealing with Distraction in Prayer


“As to distractions, it seems true that the way to meet them is not by effort, but by cessation of effort; not by wrestling with them, but by simply dropping them.” (R. Hugh Benson. Spiritual Letters of Monsignor R. Hugh Benson to One of His Converts. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1919, p. 9.)

I love this simple counsel for dealing with distractions in prayer. Anyone who prays regularly or even occasionally knows the experience of inward distraction. I’m not talking so much about the dog barking next door, the noisy neighbor or the garbage truck banging around the neighborhood. I’m talking about distractions of the mind and heart. Nothing increases distraction more than wrestling with them. I’ve discovered that acknowledging them, but basically ignoring them has been a much better approach.

Last night, a couple of young men from the Church of Latter Day Saints knocked on our door. I normally don’t answer to be honest. But my sons are more hospitable than me so they did. I let the two know that we were having a Labor Day evening as a family, but to come back another time. Unlike answering the door to these young men, answering the door when distractions knock is a quick way to give them greater access to my thinking and feeling. And that not exactly what I actually want!

For Reflection: When you pray, do you experience inward distractions? How do you tend to deal with them? How is that working?

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When You Can’t Pray for Yourself


b15architecture_interiors007-imagea“When you cannot pray for yourself, begin to pray for others. When your desires flag, take the Bible in hand and begin to turn each text into petition; or take up the tale of your mercies, and begin to translate each of them into praise.” (F. B. Meyer. The Secret of Guidance. Chicago: Moody Press, n.d., p. 31)

This is what I read just before my response to Matthew 9 shared in the last blogpost. F. B. Meyer served me as a wise spiritual director in a place of felt dullness and disconnectedness in prayer. I imagined sitting together with him. What might he have actually said in counseling me?

“Alan, if you don’t feel you can pray for yourself, let God bring the concerns and needs of others to mind. Let your heart be turned inside-out to extend grace to others in prayer. Don’t let your life stay small.

“And do you find that your heart just isn’t ‘in it?’ Take a text and let each verse become a point of connection with God. Respond to Him. Pray honestly just what you think and feel in the moment. Talk to Him about what matters to you, what concerns you, what involves you. Be patient and persistent. Be there and stay there with God. You won’t be sorry if you persevere. You may well be if you don’t try.

“Do you need a sort of jump start of the heart? Let the Spirit surface in your thoughts and feelings a remembrance of His many mercies–present and past. Let Him raise the level of gratitude in you as you remember the many good things He has done on your behalf.”

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