Let All Around Us Be Peace

by Vinita Hampton Wright on 08/22/2014

This is a good meditation any time, but I’d like us to pray this song while remembering the many people who have been forced from their homes by war. I’m thinking especially of Christians having to flee Iraq. As we enjoy our own quiet prayer today, may we pray for quiet, relief, and care for refugees all over the globe.

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Five Ways to Relate to Family Members Spiritually

by Vinita Hampton Wright on 08/20/2014

mother and adult daughter sitting outside

It can be quite difficult to express personal spirituality in family situations that are not particularly friendly toward religion. Especially if a family has experienced religion as judgmental or strident—and all it takes is one or two people to create that atmosphere—the door to spiritual conversations and expressions might be shut tightly.

But if we loosen up on our concept of spirituality, we might discover that we can relate quite spiritually with people who otherwise would resist religion.

1. Extend your gratitude practices to the people you love.

I believe more and more—and I think I’m with St. Ignatius of Loyola on this—that gratitude is foundational to spiritual health. If I go through life in a posture of gratitude, that will transform so many situations that would otherwise deteriorate. What I need to remember is that gratitude toward God is key—but gratitude toward others is important, too. If I make a practice of expressing to others, on a regular basis, what I’m grateful for in terms of their personality, gifts, efforts, and so on, I will be relating to people in a spiritually healthy way. And that will make a good impact sooner or later. I may help someone recognize her gifts, or I may help another be kinder to himself.

2. Help others become comfortable with silence.

People who can become comfortable when there’s no noise, activity, or talking, will be better equipped to handle stress, problems, questions, and all sorts of emotions. I can help others make friends with silence by being silent with them, by showing them that I’m fine with sitting together for a while without saying anything, by not rushing to get an answer or to form an opinion. I can model this sort of calm, and eventually others who spend time with me might just come to value that spiritual discipline as well.

3. Receive—always—a person as he or she is.

It can be especially difficult to withhold judgment with members of your own family or circle of friends, because we feel responsible for those we love. But if we can relax, trust God, and simply receive loved ones in whatever shape they’re in, they will be more likely to open up to us—maybe not right now, maybe some time from now—and allow us to be part of the conversation about the struggling marriage or the drug problem or the personality flaws that are making it difficult to hold down a job. Meeting a person first with judgment will send that person far away, even if she lives in the same house. And many people have been conditioned to think that if they turn to religion the first thing they will experience is God’s horrible judgment and anger. We have to model God’s open arms and forgiveness, otherwise how will anyone know the truth about Divine Love?

4. Reject cynicism and promote hope.

It can be a real challenge to reign in the negativity when people get together. If you have a certain friend or relative who has honed criticism and sarcasm to fine points, then pray for the patience to be just as energetic with encouragement and praise. When the conversation comes to a dark, thudding halt because everyone has helped everyone else become even more depressed about world affairs, dare to tell the story of someone doing a wonderful, brave thing. Of course you can’t always be on task with this, or it can seem that you’re arguing just as much as the other person, only with a positive emphasis. But hope is a spiritual practice, and sometimes we have to counter despair quite purposefully.

5. Care more about healing than about justice.

I am doing my best to swear off vengeance, because the world is rank with it, and we have to make a stand. I even refrain from seeing some films because it’s clear that vengeance is the major theme. I become vengeful easily enough on my own—I don’t need cultural reinforcement. So when dealing with daily issues, even conversations at a family gathering, I hope to not chime in about people getting what they deserve. And if a friend or family member is the one who’s receiving the harsh judgment, I may be the only voice advocating not for vengeance and punishment but for mercy and growth.

Well, these are just ideas. What do you think?

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Praying with People

by Vinita Hampton Wright on 08/18/2014

family eating outdoors

In the summer, many of us spend time with people more than usual. We’re on vacation with family, or we host visitors. We go to special events such as weddings and anniversary celebrations. We attend concerts, parties, and sporting events. Is there any way to incorporate prayer in all of this?

No, I’m not going to suggest that you try to lead your fellow sports fans in a prayer before the game starts. But think of the various kinds of prayer we’ve discussed this summer: attentiveness, gratitude, praise, quiet. We often think of prayer as a solitary activity, but can we include others in our communion with God? And can we do it in ways that are inviting, not intimidating or awkward?

This is new territory for me, I must confess. As an introvert I go out of my way not to intrude on others or create social situations that could turn awkward. But, really, do I value individual, and also communal, engagement with God my creator? Can I take a chance every now and then? Here are a few ideas about praying with others.

Worship in a faith community. It’s so easy to skip church and other faith community commitments when a full summer agenda is calling. But it’s not wise to neglect those relationships and faith practices. Summer can be a more relaxed time at church, often with smaller numbers in attendance. At our church, we combine two services during the summer, and so we’re able to spend time with members of the community we rarely see at other times of year when we attend different services.

Simple prayers with family. Rather than a fast and cursory grace before meal when extended family is gathered for a picnic or birthday party, take this opportunity to offer a prayer from the heart: “Lord, we’re so grateful to be together, grateful for the safe travel, and for every person able to be here. Bless us with good conversations and help us make wonderful memories.”

Indirect prayer. Especially when there are children present, it can be a powerful experience to go around the room—or porch, or backyard—and have each person state what she or he is thankful for. You may not begin with “Heavenly Father” and end with “Amen,” but you have done something sacred together, and its impact might be felt for years.

Quiet presence with someone who is struggling. If you’re sitting with an elderly relative or friend in the nursing home, allow the lapses in conversation to be silent prayers for grace and help. And don’t be afraid to use touch when a niece or nephew appears to be having a rough time. Who is going to fend off a hug or a pat on the shoulder from a loving aunt or uncle? These are simple gestures, but they can mean a lot, and each touch can be your prayer for that person’s welfare. Also, I doubt that anyone will object if, at a family gathering, you ask for a few moments’ silence to honor people who are no longer with you.

Spontaneous prayers with children. How many of us learned to pray from grandparents and other loving adults when we were growing up? If you spend time with grandchildren, it can be quite natural to use whatever is happening as prompts for prayer. If a child is worried, you can talk to Jesus together about it. If a child is happy, you can say thank-you together. Unless parents have objections to this—and it’s important for clear communication about it—take advantage of grandchild time to pass along the hope and faith and gratitude you hope to see develop in these young ones.

How have you prayed with others during family and other social events?

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Morning and Evening Prayer

August 15, 2014

This is a long prayer, and you may not resonate with every phrase of it, but there’s a lot of really good material here. I suggest you choose what is true for you and form just a sentence or two as your morning prayer for the next few days. And here’s an evening prayer, short […]

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Hours of Light and Dark

August 13, 2014

I don’t know how old I will be when I have finally learned to live in synch with times of day and night. Thanks to electricity, many of us humans no longer sleep at night and move around in the daytime. I wonder how many health problems are related to that. And I understand that […]

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