Implicating Prayer

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
James 5:13-20

The little boy seemed perfectly formed. Five years old. His tanned skin contrasted sharply with the crisp white sheets, and hinted of summer fun around the pool, maybe rides at the local carnival. But something had gone terribly wrong. Unknown to anyone, he had carried a hidden, ticking time bomb in his chest since the day of his birth, and one day as he played with his brothers and sisters, it detonated. When I got there the breathing machine and the drips and tubes were simply marking time. He was gone.

His parents’ preacher had come in the night before, talking big, staking a claim for the boy’s recovery. Faith would raise this child up, he said, and the only thing that could ruin the boy’s healing was lack of faith. The preacher was home in bed when the child was pronounced dead, which was a good thing, because several of us present around that bed would have welcomed a few minutes alone with him. Instead we were left to watch, and wait, and weep. Read more

Desert Silence

Second Sunday After Epiphany
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time


1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51 OR John 1: 35-42

I woke up this morning and looked out the window. A light snow had fallen overnight on the high desert of the Navajo Nation. It was much quieter than usual in town. It was, in fact, nearly silent, perhaps because of the snow, but more likely because it was Sunday morning, and many were still sleeping.

As the sun rose and the snow began to melt, sounds emerged: water dripping from the rooftop, the low grumble of a raven perched on a lamppost, the chattering of finches and sparrows. Were I back home in Baltimore, all that would have been lost in the background noise from the busy intersection nearby. The desert is blessed with the quiet necessary to notice these subtle changes. It’s part of what keeps me coming back. Prominent among my desert memories are sounds made audible by ambient silence: the wingbeats of a raven flying just overhead, the cheery cascade of notes from a canyon wren, the roar of a Colorado River rapid around the bend, still hidden from view.

Prayer comes naturally in such moments, or rather, I find myself already in an ongoing prayer I had only to notice. I’m not the first person to associate encounters with silence and encounters with God. A long line of witnesses sought God in desert silence: Abraham, Moses, the prophets, John the Baptist. Jesus went to “remote places” to pray and was “cast out into the desert” to be tested. When Constantine made Christianity safe within the Empire, those seeking a less domesticated encounter with God left the cities and became desert fathers and mothers.

Yet, even to me, much of that seems a bit off, counterintuitive. Read more

Holy God

13th Sunday after Pentecost
Exodus 3:1-15

How do your prayers usually begin? Chances are there is a phrase, a title, an address that is more natural to you than all the others. I begin with “Loving God” about nine out of ten times—which undoubtedly says as much about my needs as it does about God’s character. All the other adjectives are left fighting for space in my remaining prayers: gracious, merciful, living, everlasting, and perhaps least of all, holy. These days, holy is a word reserved for the covers of Bibles, or to pair with the occasional expletive; holy is a word with far less popular appeal than love. And yet, holy is a word with deep roots in our faith—used consistently across the church’s history and throughout Scripture. So why has it all but dropped it from my/our language for God? Read more

Shown, Not Told

Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:6-14
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11


“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

-often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but of uncertain origin

The late New Testament scholar, John Pilch, noted that Jesus, as rendered in the Gospel of John, “tends to get a bit long-winded.” All those extended discourses, repetitions, and interlocking phrases stand in stark contrast to Mark’s rustic efficiency, to be sure, and if it seems like Jesus has been saying goodbye to the disciples for weeks now, you’d be right. This is the fourth week in a row in which the lectionary’s gospel reading comes from John – unless you’re celebrating the Ascension this Sunday, in which case you get a synoptic reprieve. And yes, this is the third consecutive week culled from John’s multi-chapter Farewell Discourse.

Those lost in the Johannine word-cloud might be forgiven for missing the clues in today’s gospel that Jesus has stopped talking to the disciples and is now directly addressing the Father. In other words, Jesus is praying, not preaching. Or is that a misleading distinction?

Perhaps a more helpful terminology comes from the first principle of good writing: Show, don’t tell. In what is sometimes called “The Great Intercessory Prayer,” Jesus stops telling his clueless disciples how to serve, love, and live peacefully with one another. He stops telling them that the Father and Son are one in the unity of the Holy Spirit. He stops telling them they must turn from the world’s ways in order to experience true joy. He stops telling them these things, not because the disciples already know and understand – their behavior over the next several days will destroy that illusion – nor does he stop because the lessons no longer apply. He stops telling them in order to show them. Read more

Wasting Time in the Banquet Hall

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 OR Proverbs 9:1-6
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

My children have a beloved book called Clown of God by Tomie de Paolo. I will not give much detail here so that if you haven’t yet read this book, you can enjoy the book’s surprises. Yet I don’t think I give away too much of the story to say that in this beautifully illustrated book set in medieval Italy, readers discover that yes, someone as silly-looking as a clown – even someone who “only” juggles for a living – is a follower of Christ.

I mention my kids’ book because I think this week’s lectionary readings are about discovering what it takes to become a wise fool, a clown, for Christ. This week’s first readings are variable depending on your tradition, but whether you’re reading in 1 Kings (2:10-12; 3:3-14) or Proverbs (9:1-6), you’ll find each author describing God’s wisdom in contradistinction with human wisdom. Read more