March 14, 2021
The Fourth Sunday in Lent
Celebration Circle has invited mission groups to offer sermons about their life together. Today, Billy, Trish, and Ron spoke about their own prayer life and their group life as members of the Eyes to See, Ears to Hear Peace Prayer Mission Group. Billy spoke “On Prayer,” Trish focused on “On Engagement with What We Don’t Want to See or Hear,” and Ron titled his section “On the Mundanity of Self-Care and the Need for Community.”
When we as the Eyes to See, Ears to Hear, Peace Prayer Mission Group gather for our weekly meeting, we begin with a reading by one of us, usually Sandra, to lead us into a time of prayer. I’d like to do that now by reading part of a poem entitled The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac by Mary Oliver:
I know you never intended to be in this world. But you’re in it all the same.
So why not get started immediately. I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro. Bless the eyes and the listening ears. Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste. Bless touching.
After the reading, we begin to pray, aloud and silently in our hearts, for 30 – 35 minutes. The time of prayer is an invitation to leave our chatter-box state of mind and enter into a deeper state of consciousness. But while many mission groups begin their time together with prayer before getting on with their core purpose, we make prayer our MAIN EVENT and the reason we have come together. In this way everything that follows our prayer time – such as a discussion of a collective project, and our personal sharing – emerges from that prayerful state of mind we have put ourselves in.
Why make prayer the core element of our mission group? I will answer only for myself, not on behalf of my mission group, as each of us has their own reasons. But I hope what I say about prayer, in the short time I have, might be meaningful to you.
Prayer is a means of creating and sustaining an intentional relationship with Divine Energy, the Life-force, the Beloved, God – the many names we give to that Source of Energy that has called me and everyone and everything into existence, and with which our faith invites us to develop a personal relationship.
A relationship by definition requires care and maintenance if it is to grow and have meaning; in short, it demands time and effort. I begin my day with prayer – after showering and getting dressed but before breakfast or stepping into my work life.
Beginning the day with prayer helps keep the awareness of God-energy alive throughout the day, not just when I set aside time to pray. If God is the energy that makes it possible for me to breathe and for everyone and everything around me to exist, then at different moments during the day I can repeat to myself a simple phrase like “Have mercy” or “Bless this time” or “Be with me, I pray” or “I give thanks” to remind me of the centrality of my relationship with God without having to stop whatever else I am doing.
The awareness of God-as-Energy centers God in my body – at the core of my physicality. I can feel God simply by breathing mindfully or noticing sensations, all of which are manifestations of God’s life-creating energy. This moves my awareness from my head to my heart and to my entire physicality, and I am invited to care for myself as a whole physical being. By physical being I mean to include everything about us that we call mind, spirit, soul, and body, because these aspects of the self are rooted in our physicality. I don’t merely have a body, I AM a body. It is enough for one tiny vessel in my brain to burst for the lights of my entire being to go out.
Our Christian tradition, which is centered in recognizing the embodiment of the divine in Christ, and which puts the Body at the center of the highpoint of the liturgical year as we celebrate the Resurrection at Easter, has not been kind in shaping our understanding of the body over the centuries. Instead of celebrating the unity of our physicality, we are split off into body and spirit, where the body is synonymous with the passions of the flesh that lead us astray and spirit is held up as pure and leading us Godward. This unnatural splitting off of ourselves has caused much confusion and unnecessary suffering. Through prayer we can locate the life-creating energy of God, of the Beloved, at the core of our embodiment and heal the split of body and mind.
I am speaking here of a personal relationship with God. Why then pray together with others and put it at the center of our time together, as we do in our mission group?
While it is up to each of us to develop our relationship with God, we all participate in and depend on God-Energy to be alive and become fully human. It is from this common ground of our humanity that we can pray together to share in and amplify our awareness and understanding of how God’s life-creating energy is at work in the world and how we can together join in relationship with it to promote love and do good work.
I would like to end by affirming my practice in prayer of asking the Beloved for things that are in my heart. Christ tells us, “Ask and you shall receive.” We know that intention gives direction to our lives. If I am intentional about embracing what is in my heart when I pray, then I can overcome my fear of claiming my deepest desires. So I pray that the energy of God connect with my heart-energy in some very specific ways. Strangely, the act of asking allows me to accept more easily that which is actually given if it isn’t what I prayed for. It is paradoxical, but by claiming what I desire in prayer, I can also release my desire more easily and be open to the new reality that God is bringing forth. This is so even when my initial response at not “receiving” what I prayed for is disappointment.
The truth is that the story of my life is larger than what I can know in my heart. Prayer keeps my heart open to its always surprising unfolding.
And so, with Mary Oliver I say,
Bless the feet that take you to and fro. Bless the eyes and the listening ears. Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste. Bless touching.
Let us now take a moment of silence, and then Trish and Ron will continue to bring the Word.
— Billy Amoss
On Engagement with What We Don’t Want to See or Hear
A few weeks ago, as part of a 30-day Anti-Racism challenge curriculum, I was reading the 70+ page report on lynching in the United States prepared by the Equal Justice Initiative. I had previously read a fair amount about lynching, including how crowds gathered, how postcards of the events were made for sale, how body parts and pieces of clothing were offered as souvenirs. How Emmitt Till’s courageous mother, Mamie, had demanded that her son’s mutilated body lie in open coffin so the world could see what a lynching victim looked like. I knew how awful lynching was. Or so I thought. But this report was something else. It had details, and more details. Story after story after story. It was part of EJI’s effort, along with its moving physical memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, to say the names of those who suffered death by lynching, and to make us see what we don’t want to see. I DID NOT WANT TO READ THIS REPORT. I did not want to see and know these details. But I am a member of the Eyes to See, Ears to Hear Peace Prayer Mission group and it is part of my commitment to that group to be look at what I don’t want to look at, to hear what I don’t want to hear, even when there is nothing I can do about it. I confess it’s a commitment honored in the breach as often as not. But I did read the full report.
* * * *
Eyes to See was started in the early 2000s by Sandra Miller and Jeannine Caracciolo as an informal prayer group. After a while I joined, then others and eventually, after a few years, we decided to become a formal mission group.
Here’s an excerpt from our former mission statement:
The group’s name, chosen by Jeannine, is taken from a sermon preached by Pat Conover in 2006 at Seekers entitled “Seeing What You Don’t What to See.”
The essence of the sermon was that we can’t run away from the awfulness, the suffering, the injustice of the world, that we have to face it all and that to do that, we need each other, in all our brokenness, our ugliness, and our unending ways of hurting each other whether we mean to or not. You might want to read the sermon; Pat says it much more eloquently than I have. It is found here on our website: https://seekerschurch.org/qseeing-what-you-dont-want-to-seeq-by-pat-conover/. I commend it to you, though I warn you, it is tough material.
In Eyes to See, we know how heavy and numb our hearts grow from the news of violence and injustice all around us, and so we create space to be with each other to pray, even when we don’t see any “way out,” any action step, even, perhaps, any hope. We create a place to hold the suffering and agony. And we hold each other, in the midst of everything. We also seek to promote engagement in addition to prayer in those places where we see possibility for connection.
And so, over the years, we have offered many places of engagement for Seekers. Our offerings tend to arise organically from interests of one or more members of the group.
Among many other activities, we have sponsored a peace camp for children, shown films and led discussions about the US government’s use of torture in Iraq and about environmental racism, led classes in the School for Christian Growth, and created and led a Sunday School trying to help our children understand what immigration is all about; we preached – all of us in one sermon – about guns and gun violence. We offer ongoing coordination for the weekly peace and justice prayer.
In some ways, for me, our most meaningful engagements have been supporting others in their own challenging work: meeting with Bshara Nassar, formerly of New Story Leadership, as he brought to life his dream of the now successful Museum of the Palestinian People in DC; being a sounding board and spiritual home for Paul Costello when he was creating and, over many years, directing New Story Leadership, and, I hope, providing both spiritual and practical support for Rosa Argentina Campos and Oswaldo Montoya as they engaged with the tragic and impossible political situation in Nicaragua in recent years.
Current Members of Eyes to See are: Margreta Silverstone, Elese Sizemore, Sandra Miller, Pat Conover, Ron Kraybill, Billy Amoss and me. During the past year, we’ve invited Rosa and Oswaldo, Paul and Sallie Holmes and Roy Barber to meet with us every other week as part of an overall Seekers effort to keep us all connected during the covid era.
Our meetings begin with a meditation leading us into a half hour of silence/praying out of the silence followed by business and personal sharing. Ron will talk more about that.
We do our business and sharing over a meal, brought by a different member of the group each week. This ritual grew out of a particular need in our early years – it was not a part of our original format. It is a much cherished part of our meetings and we have all missed it very much during the pandemic.
After our shared meal and fellowship time, as we depart from each other, we gather in a circle for a big hug and invoke Ann Lamott in the prayer that many of you use as well: Thank you Thank you Thank you. Help us. Help us. Help us. WOW!
– Patricia Nemore
On the Mundanity of Self-Care and the Need for Community
“They looked at the bronze snake and lived.”
So who holds up the bronze snake?
People in all walks of life are called to the work of peacebuilding. For some, peacebuilding is also their job and their financial livelihood. But anyone in any job can experience and be responsive to a call to notice and care about brokenness and alienation and to do what they can to be an agent of healing.
A mark of calling generally is a sense of “joy and gladness” in the work of the calling. God calls us to do things we love to do. I feel alive, deeply engaged, and energized when I’m immersed in conflict as a peacebuilder. Prayer is easier than any other time. I frequently feel that God is at work through me.
BUT, I have learned to be careful. To notice and care about brokenness and alienation, to feel called to do something about that – can be DANGEROUS to emotional and spiritual health. I saw these dangers first in the exhaustion and burnout of colleagues. But eventually I came to see it in my own weariness; in the chronic compulsion I feel to work to “save the world”, in the reduced sense that I had that this was God’s work, in a growing sense that it’s all a hopeless grind.
It was a long journey, but I came to see that if we are to be agents of healing in the world, we have to take self-care seriously as a spiritual practice. The suffering and brokenness is far larger than what one human being can mend. It will break us if we do not constantly renew our connection to life and to God the Creator and Sustainer.
Something I see more clearly about self-care in the context of a mission group is the mundanity of it. Pat Conover and I have served as spiritual partners for the last 2 years or so, which means that we sit and talk every few months and also exchange journals every week or two (well, aspire to). [Go to Pat’s journal]
When we pay attention to the mundane activities and practices and habits of our life, the care of our body, and the practicalities of life, and how they affect our well-being and our ability to be molded in the image of God, we position ourselves for spiritual growth.
Note: I did not say, when we master many good habits, or succeed in the all the disciplines we aspire to…. I said “When we pay attention to them.” As the Buddhists say, “Notice….”
A second aspect of self-care is that doing it alone is like walking with one leg. The structures of modern society evolved to provide maximum freedom of choice, ambition, and ego for individuals. That supports certain purposes – it does not support emotional and spiritual survival of those in challenging circumstances, especially those called to attend to the collateral damage of injustice, violence, racism, and the god of materialism. Human beings are social creatures. The vocation of healing is a social calling. We cannot sustain ourselves alone, nor can we rely on the superficial social structures of the world we live in to provide us the support we need to survive.
We need to create alternatives. A mission group provides a setting for connection, caring, intimacy, dialogue, inspiration, and accountability. We provide it for each other and thereby sustain the strength required to be responsive to the pain of a broken world. And of course, those attributes and actions that we bring to each are precisely the ones needed for our work out there. Mission group is both sustainer of and laboratory for our work in the world.
– Ron Kraybill