Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Baptizing Dishes and Other Weird Ways to Pray.

Flickr photo by seizethedave, creative commons
I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I'm really bad at prayer.
Whether I try to pray as I pull up the covers at the end of the day or give it another go after morning coffee has jolted me into speed mode, mere seconds after I force stillness, my mind drifts. I start thinking about tomatoes or why the vacuum cleaner doesn't work anymore or the fact that I never sent that graduation gift and it's been a month already. Sometimes I play Prayer Policeman, constantly pulling myself over for a lecture, then returning to the road to drift again. Other times I just fall asleep.

Prayer is hard work. Some people are better at it than others.
It even wore Moses out once in a while.
Want to hear a story from one of the TOP TEN WEIRDEST BIBLE STORIES EVER?
Sure you do!

God's people were fresh out of Egypt. Moses had asked God for food, and He treated them to manna and quail, and then water from a rock. Life was looking doable.
Then the Amalekites attacked. Moses had Joshua pick men for the battle and climbed to the top of the hill, taking along his brother Aaron and buddy Hur.
Yep, I know this doesn't sound that strange so far. Hold tight.
The weirdness cometh.

Moses stands on the hill and raises his walking stick into the sky.
Remember the stick? The one he threw down in front of the king, and they watched it turn into a snake? He holds it high where everyone can see, and he keeps it there.
For hours.
And hours.

We assume he's praying, since this was a common prayer stance in those times.
His men are fighting, he holds the stick, and he notices that something weird is happening.

"As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning."
Exodus 17: 11

Crazy, huh? It's like a cartoon. Up, down. Up, down. Up.
He better not stop praying but his arms are so tired. Aaron and Hur step in to save the day.

"When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword."

Exodus 17:11-13

Ever since I've read this story, I've been trying to figure out what it means.
What do you think?

Here's what I've come up with:
1. For the God's people to succeed here, they needed to fight AND Moses needed to pray.
Prayer + Action can lead to the fulfillment of God's will.
2. It encourages people to know that they're being prayed for. God can use that encouragement to heal them or their situation.
3. I need people in my life to bring in the stone, to hold up my arms, to support me in my relationship with God.

Today I'm thinking about Point #3. It's so helpful to see the different ways my friends connect with God. I find it all over the blogosphere and right in my hometown, with my neighbors and friends. When I see that there is more than one way to be still with God, I think, hey, maybe I'm not a prayer failure after all.

Barbara Brown Taylor reminds me too with her exquisite, arm lifting words. Until I devoured her book, An Altar in the World, I thought it was a little weird that I connected best with God while doing mind-numbing chores.
It sounds corny and silly and maybe a little Pollyanna to find God in mundane housework, and I'm really not so Betty Homemaker (though my family and I wish I would be!) but it happens that way quite often for me.
So when I read Barbara's words that pinning wet laundry on a clothesline made her think of hanging out prayer flags for God, that housework could actually become a spiritual practice, I heard myself sigh with relief.

Maybe I know how to pray after all!
So what if it sounds crazy that as I dip my dishes in the sudsy water and lift them out again, my brain flickers phrases of being washed clean, burial and resurrection.
So I baptize my dishes. I'm enjoying God and celebrating who He is.
(And I see myself in the baked on grime. The kind that requires a scouring pad!)

I clean the toothpaste flecks off the bathroom mirror and a voice pops up, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face" "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast." I enjoy the scripture, wipe the mirror, and feel my brow relax.

Sometimes it happens when I'm not cleaning, too. I'll watch my boys dip Oreos in milk, and a wafer and chalice will spring to mind. I pour myself a glass and join them. "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." I don't have to bring up God. I know He's there. Ben and Sam and I joke around or just enjoy the cookies, and I thank God for His presence and for blessing me with these kids.

And today I'm thanking him for one of the weirdest Bible stories ever.

I hate to admit it, but it made me think of the video below. (Sorry, Moses, but it does.)
Enjoy the weirdness. And then, if you feel like it, I'd love to hear from you.

When and where do you best connect with God? In your garden? While driving? In a quiet time? Or maybe in desperation at Chuck E. Cheese?

Have a great Wednesday!
Love, Becky


Sarah said...

For coffee and God are a great combination...I need daily reminders as well since I can't always have the quiet, noise free time.

Alise said...

I absolutely find that the repetitive actions can yield some really interesting prayer moments. I admit, I have a tough time doing the hour long prayer marathons, but I do try to grab moments of prayer all throughout my day.

Paula Clare said...

Hi Becky,
I find I have an ongoing dialogue with God...He kind of goes through my day with me. Maybe like Brother Lawrence (Practicing the Presence of God) it's easy to see God in the every the ordinary?

After all, it was God's using ORDINARY people in the Bible to DO EXTRAordinary things, yes?

Paula Clare

Anonymous said...

I've always liked that story in the Bible because it was humbling. Moses needed the other people around him as support--no man goes it alone and the others were there to prop him up.

Leah Skaggs said...

Liturgy is the work of the people - the repetitive work of the people. Thanks be to God.

Felicity said...

I wrote about prayer today, too!

Wonderful thoughts here. I like to pray through song - little tunes that run through my head all day long. I also like to slap little PostIt notes everywhere with snippets of written prayers that I love. This one is in front of me right now. It's from Scott Hodge describing how his preacher father always asked people to pray for him: "Pray that I hear God's voice everyday. Pray that I have the faith and the courage to obey Him."

Unknown said...

I love this! It doesn't come natural for me, however, to see these moments as prayer. Rather, when I started using these times to draw close to Him, I found them immensely more rewarding. I'm a terrible crab when it comes to housework. I really have to work at my gratitude in those things :)

Thanks for reminding me this today. Time to fold the laundry...

Ronnie said...

I don't find this strange at all.
My favorite saint of all time is Saint Theresa of Avila. She could go into a state of rapture while peeling potatoes.

Laura@OutnumberedMom said...

Yes, there is more than one way to be still with God. Thanks for introducing me to Taylor's book -- I'm going to look for it now.

Dipping Oreos and milk. I love it. Finding the extraordinary in the everyday.

Liz Mays said...

I very much like popcorn prayers, those instant spur of the moment ones. I have never been able to pray well in front of other people. I feel like I can't do it as well so I've always avoided it. I know that is so silly.

Rebecca Ramsey said...

Beautiful thoughts on prayer, y'all. Thank you for sharing.

Cathy said...

There is a great little book called the "Quotidian Mysteries" by Kathleen Norris - which addresses our ordinary work of the day being prayer. I think "thinking outside of the box" of what prayer is, makes it easier for me to pray.

Jennifer @ said...

I think this is part of what Paul meant when he talked about "praying without ceasing." We speak to God in the midst of our moments and days.

We can find the Holy and the Sacred in the grime and toil of our lives -- not just in the polished pew on Sunday.

I find your words here a beautiful reminder of how we can pray during even the most mundane of tasks, the most ordinary of moments.

√Āndrea said...

I can absolutely relate. I am so bad at saying my prayers. When I remember, it doesn't matter where I am, I take a moment and talk to God...mostly in the car. The thing I've found most helpful is to pray with my kids when tucking them in. If I don't remember, my 4 year old will...he forgets NOTHING! ;) I also have many fond memories of praying as a family before bed when I was young. I love that my parents did that with us.

Leah Skaggs said...

"Quotidian Mysteries" is a must read - And don't forget Brother favorite dish washing monk.

Attic Rat said...

I have a hard time with formal praying aloud in groups. The phrase, "Teresa, could you lead us in prayer?" makes my mind go absolutely blank.

My preference is to send up short prayers throughout the day.

Glynn said...

As several have already pointed out for themselves, I find repetitive actions -- as mindless and automatic as they can be -- to often be restful. I often do some of my best writing while weeding in the garden. And washing the dishes.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for that post! I fall asleep if I try to pray at bedtime and after reading my morning devotional, my mind races to what is going on for the day. I usually don't have music playing when I'm doing chores or gardening and that is when I feel like I am somehow closer to God. You said exactly what i needed to hear!

Roxane B. Salonen said...

All of the above. I used to have sort of a prayer routine that was very elaborate. No more. Life has taken over. But I'm reminded of the way Mother Teresa often approached prayer. "Your life is your prayer," she once said, or something to that effect. That's what I often feel. There are times I realize I haven't talked to God for a while, so I'll say, "Hey there, how you doing? Sorry it's been a while." And then it's very strange because I am overwhelmed with this sense of, "No, it hasn't been. We've been hanging out together all day long." "Well," I say back, "indeed, we have! Of course we have!" I think because I am so verbal, I sometimes forget that prayer isn't always done through words. Sometimes, prayer happens through the simple act of breathing, of laughing, of admiring, of singing, and yes, of doing dishes. Prayer can happen all sorts of ways. Prayer is communion with God and very unlimited. Isn't it nice to realize that? :) (Another long one, sorry!)

Rebecca Ramsey said...

Such wonderful comments on prayer. Love you people!

Unknown said...

So glad to have found your blog!

I find my mind wandering frequently in prayer and shared it with my small group...

Funny how easy it is to be focused on a conversation with a friend and yet our minds wander in prayer. So we gathered up a bunch of old cell phones and now when we need some focused prayer time, we talk on our "God phones". I've even texted Him in moments of desperation.

When you have a cell phone to your ear on the commute home or even at the end of the day - "shhh, mommy's talking to God" - it's incredible how much more prayer time you can get in.