Prayer of Lament, When Life Is A Mess – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Psalm 511-12

The psalm appointed for our liturgy, Psalm 51, is an intensely personal lament expressed by David, the magnificent King of Israel whose character is so terribly flawed. He is owning up here to abusing his power and for being both an adulterer and a murderer when he prays:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin…

Tradition has it that King David is the author of Psalm 51, which we have just prayed. What’s significant here is not that David prays these words of Psalm 51, but that we do, and throughout the year, even if we are not adulterers and murders. For our own quite personal reasons, we can relate to the lamentful words of this psalm. Of the 150 psalms, about one third are psalms of lament, expressing to God sorrow, or grief, or rage, or regret. Sometimes it is we who lament being in the wrong; sometimes the lament is from our being a victim of someone else’s wrong; and sometimes it’s a kind of tragic bad blend of things, a collusion. A prayer of lament is usually a mess, when life is a mess. Read More

Evelyn Underhill, and the God Who Comes to Us, Secretly – Br. Curtis Almquist

Commemoration of Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), Mystic and Writer

Br. Curtis Almquist

Matthew 6:5-8

In the calendar of the church we remember today an English woman, Evelyn Underhill, born in 1875. She had a vast influence on the spiritual formation of her own generation, and to generations since. In her prolific writing, speaking, and retreat leading she was revered as faithful, as insightful and passionate, as wise and practical, and all of it laced with her disarming humor.[i]

She taught how the “mystical life” is not just for the saints, but for all of us.[ii] Mysticism, for her, is how God is always coming to us in “the Sacrament of the Present Moment.” Pay attention to now. God’s presence is always in the present. Now. There will be “thin places” where God breaks through to you, often mysteriously, in here-and-now. Pay attention to now.

Evelyn Underhill comments on the Gospel lesson we have just heard: Jesus’ saying, “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”When you pray, shut the door. “Shutting the door” can be very challenging. She says: Read More

Ask, Search, Knock – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

Matthew 7:7-12

Ask… and it will be given. Search…and you will find. Knock…and the door will be opened for you.

What prevents you from asking, searching, or knocking?

It might be literal lack of clarity. Who should I ask? Where should I search? Is this the right door, or is it that one?

It might be an emotion on the fear continuum: anxiety; suspicion; pessimism; insecurity; loneliness. What if I hear “No” in reply? What if I spend all that energy searching but find nothing helpful, nothing worthwhile? What if I knock and that door remains shut tight, with not a light to be seen behind the dark window panes as night falls?

It might be a well-intentioned desire for independence or self-sufficiency; or the desire to appear competent or smart. What if I can just figure this out by myself? That way, I won’t have to be a burden or impose my question or need on someone else…

It might even be fear of the very gift, opportunity, or invitation we long for.  What if I hear “yes” in reply? Am I ready to walk through that door if it does open? What would I do or say next? Read More

The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Word, and the World – Br. Curtis Almquist

John 1:1-5

This icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, so endearing. On her breast the medallion of the infant Christ. Mary’s arms extended in the orans position, the posture of a priest at the altar. Here Mary pre-figuring how she is carrying and offering the body and blood of Christ who comes from within her.

Mary carries Jesus, who is hidden. God’s taking on our human form, hidden for nine months in his mother’s womb. It will happen again to each of us: Christ’s hiddenness. How Christ who comes to live within us is sometimes so hidden, sometimes working out in the secrecy of our own hearts what cannot be seen. Not yet. Not by us; not by others.

This image of Christ, whom the Gospel of John calls “the Word.” Such a paradox, because the Word pictured in this icon cannot speak even one human word. The Word of God, alive and present in a completely silent way.

And then Mary, whose eyes are not on Jesus. Her eyes are on the world, which she sees and shares with Jesus from her heart. Since the meaning of Christ’s coming is to save the world, the Church’s primary mission must be worldly: the church, not radiating its holiness to a godless world, but giving itself to a world God so loves: people, skies, waterways, plants and trees, birds and creatures big and small. The Church’s primary mission must be worldly, offering God’s love and care to a world dying to be saved. Read More

Properties of Mercy – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Matthew 9:27-31

Our lection this morning is one of three or four concentrated stories of healing in Matthew’s gospel. Usually, they are considered together in context. But this morning we hear only one of these: two blind men following Jesus and crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” Jesus engages with them and asks, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They reply, “Yes, Lord.” He then touches their eyes and says, “According to your faith let it be done to you.”

For me, this story brings to mind a prayer which we find in the Rite I liturgy of the Eucharist in the Prayer Book. The Prayer of Humble Access[i], while beautifully worded in the archaic poetry of the Rite, evokes different feelings in people depending on their experience. Some find the language self-deprecating. Yet, others find in it inspiration. It begins: “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.” Read More

The Prayer of Jesus – Br. Curtis Almquist

Luke 6:12-19

“Jesus went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.”[i] Why? Why did Jesus pray through the night? It seems that in the morning Jesus had the clarity whom to call to be his 12 apostles. But why didn’t he just know that without praying? Why so many times in the Gospels do we read of Jesus’ setting off to pray to God whom he called “Father”?

In the Gospels, we read Jesus prays:

  • at his baptism[ii];
  • when he withdraws from the crowds[iii];
  • after healing people[iv];
  • when he is transfigured with God’s light while on the mountaintop[v];
  • before walking on water[vi];
  • after he learns of John the Baptist’s death[vii];
  • before he brings his dead friend, Lazarus, back to life[viii];
  • for his apostle, Peter, in the early days and at the end[ix].

We are told Jesus prays about food:

  • at meals[x];
  • before the miraculous feedings of the multitudes[xi];
  • before and after his “last supper” when he meets with his disciples[xii];

At the end of Jesus’ life, he prays:

  • three times in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion[xiii];
  • from the cross his agony and then his surrender[xiv];
  • after his resurrection when he breaks bread for his friends at Emmaus[xv].

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Loving Arms – Br. Luke Ditewig

Exodus 14:21-15:1

Tonight’s first lesson is the rescue at the Red Sea. Remember the story. Through Joseph, sold by his brothers into slavery, God saved our family from famine by bringing them to Egypt. Later expanding in number, they were made slaves and remained so for 400 years. Freedom seemed impossible.

Through a burning bush, God sent a shepherd, Moses, to say: “Let my people go.” When Pharaoh refused, God turned the river to blood, sent frogs, gnats, flies, and more. God’s people packed their bags and ate a meal of lamb with its blood above their doors so that “death’s dark angel [would] sheathe his sword” and pass over them. Finally, fed up, Pharaoh said: Go. Our people fled into freedom!

Soon they found themselves on a dead end at Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army approaching. Trapped between water and the enemy, our people panicked: Why did we leave if only to be slaughtered out here?

Moses said: “Do not be afraid; stand firm and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today … . The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”[i]

A pillar of cloud blocked the Egyptian army’s view. Moses raised his staff, stretched out his hand, and as we heard read today, God drove back the sea, turned it into dry land, and the people walked right across. The Egyptians pursued them, also coming into the sea on the dry ground. God clogged their chariot wheels, let the waters return, tossing them into the sea. God saved our people and destroyed the enemy.

The Exodus is the story of epic escape, freedom from slavery. The Lord—and only the Lord—saves. Humanity cannot save itself. Deliverance is definitively divine. While wonderfully good, this is hard news. Like our ancestors, we desperately try to save ourselves. We want to work our way out. We resist asking for and receiving help. We complain, deny and don’t trust. The Exodus reminds us of this somber truth: we cannot save ourselves. We are like slaves in Egypt and dead-end at the Red Sea. We need a savior.

Listen again to Moses: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Like Psalm 46: “Be still, and know that I am God.”[ii] We often shoot off panicked prayers, frenzied, striving and scared. How can we be still?

Stop. For a minute or for a few. Stop what you’re doing. Stop the noise. Disconnect from devices. Take deep breaths. Go outside to breathe fresh air. Shake out the panic, or walk or run. Gently sway, rocking, calming yourself. Gaze at something beautiful: light and shadow, tree, bird, or you own hand. Pray your desire: “Let me be still, and know that you are God.”

While we run, fight, and hide, we were also created for stillness. Nightly we surrender to sleep. Whether bird, dog, or human, we can calm ourselves and one another. Imagine a bird gathering her young under the shadow of her wings. Imagine an adult picking up a child and rocking until the child relaxes in loving arms.

Dear children of God, we have a savior who knows our necessities and our weaknesses.[iii] When there is no way out or it appears we are at a dead end, our God continues coming to save. “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” God invites our still surrender, and when we cannot, we may find ourselves being picked up, held and rocked in safe, loving arms.


[i] Exodus 14:13-14

[ii] Psalm 46:10

[iii] Collect for the Sunday closest to July 20: “Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” Book of Common Prayer

Prayer for Protection – Curtis Almquist

Matthew 8:28-34

In Jesus’ day, demons were thought present most everywhere, especially in the desert, in places without cleansing water, in woods and gardens, to those with sickness, around tombs, accosting lone travelers, to the newly-married, to a woman in childbirth, to someone who sneezes.[i]  Demons were especially unruly at sunrise and sunset, and in the heat of midday. Demons were troublesome when one was eating, so the mealtime prayer was not just for thanksgiving but also for protection.

Saint Paul presumed a battle being waged in this world between good and evil, and it is we who are being fought over. He writes, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against… the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”[ii] Meanwhile, Saint Paul adds the assurance that “we are more than conquerors” to every spiritual distress.[iii]

Whatever kind of spiritual armor or spiritual vaccination you need for your own protection, pray for that. It is a good way to begin the day. Pray it for yourself, and for those who have a place in your heart. And at the end of the day, pray for a kind of inner cleansing of any distress which could otherwise infect the soul. This is a way of co-operating with God’s provision, and protection, and power to face the challenges of life – the physical, mental, spiritual challenges – with confidence and freedom.[iv]


[i] In addition to Matthew 8:28-34, similar accounts of Jesus’ power over demons may be found in Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39.

[ii] Ephesians 6:12.

[iii] Saint Paul writes, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

[iv] The English word “confidence” comes from the Latin, confidere: “to have full trust or reliance,” that is, confidence in God’s presence, and power, and protection.

The Vindication of Wisdom – Br. Keith Nelson

Zechariah 9:9-12;
Romans 7:15-25a;
Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30

Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?’ [i]

There are some who listen and follow, who find her dwelling and hold her fast. But there are many in the broad places of the world who ignore her. The marketplace is for many things, but not for wisdom. They don’t bother to look up from their tiny screens. Nimble fingers text and tweet faster than hearts can pause and feel.

‘We played the flute for them, but they didn’t dance. We mourned, but they didn’t wail.’ [ii]

With each comment thread, the bitter bickering shrinks the circle. Wisdom has not played by the rules.

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.[iii]

Jerusalem, Jerusalem! he cries, ‘How often have I desired to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under wings, and you were not willing.’ [iv]

When the words of Wisdom finally find their target, the reaction is visceral. As one body united for the first time and the last, they cry: ‘CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM!’[v]

Yet – Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.[vi]

Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. Or, in Luke’s version, Wisdom is vindicated by her children.[vii]  In books such as Proverbs and Job, Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon, we encounter God’s Wisdom personified as a Woman of great gentleness and strength, offering food and drink, shelter and instruction, scorned by the masses but taking her stand nonetheless. In the book Sirach, the wise elder instructs a disciple: “Listen, my child, and take my advice, do not reject my counsel: put your feet into [Wisdom’s] fetters, and your neck into her collar; offer your shoulder to her burden, do not be impatient of her bonds… For in the end you will find rest in her and she will take the form of joy for you.”[viii] In the gospels of Matthew and John, we bear witness to a Spirit-led conversation between this multifaceted tradition of personified Wisdom and the early Christian experience of Jesus Christ. For us as for them, Wisdom is Jesus, the embodiment of all good things in Wisdom’s treasury and the incarnation of God, the source and ground of Wisdom. This Jesus is without doubt a Savior to be worshipped and an exemplar of how we are to act in the world. But he is also a Teacher of the heart, what today we are calling “inner work.” Read More

The Pearl of Great Price – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

St. Margaret of Scotland – the Pearl of Great Price

Matthew 13:44-46

Pearls are very beautiful. Their beauty has something to do with their unique luster. Light reflects and refracts from the translucent layers – layer upon layer of mother of pearl. The luster becomes finer as the layers become thinner and more numerous. Some people spend their lives collecting and marveling at pearls.

Today we celebrate Margaret, a 12th century queen of Scotland, who was acknowledged by the whole country as a good and deeply holy woman. She was a woman of profound prayer, who also worked tirelessly for the welfare of the poor. Many people wrote about her, and made much of the appropriateness of her name, for in both Greek and Latin, the name Margaret – Margarata – means pearl. There’s the lovely passage written at her death by Turgot, the 12th century bishop of St. Andrews: “In this virtuous woman, the fairness indicated by her name was surpassed by the exceeding beauty of her soul. She was called Margaret, that is a “pearl,” and in the sight of God she was esteemed a lovely pearl by reason of her faith and good works. She was a pearl to her husband and children, to me, to all of us, even to Christ. And because she was Christ’s she is all the more ours, now that she has left us, and is taken to the Lord.” 

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