Friday, November 13, 2009

Pray Without Ceasing…

That quote (from 1 Thess. 5:17) was the theme of the 2009 National Council of Churches Annual Assembly, which met in Minneapolis this week. They chose our state because Rev. Peg Chamberlin, of MN Council of Churches fame, is the new President of the NCC. Her charge- Project Minnesota Nice onto a national stage! Well, maybe not exactly… Still, I thought it worthwhile to think about the NCC this week, and especially their Annual Assembly’s theme.

“Pray without ceasing” strikes me as a noble goal, though perhaps unrealistic. Who has time, really, to pray without ceasing? I barely remember to say grace over lunch, or “Goodnight, Jesus,” when I hit the hay. Without ceasing?! Fat chance. But Paul was a smart guy. So presumably, when he wrote those words, he meant something different than, “Speak only and always to God, and no one else!”

It reminds me of a 16th century spiritual classic, Practicing the Presence of God. It’s a small book, and easy to read, so I recommend it to all. What it describes so beautifully is the pure simplicity of God’s grace-filled presence. The author is Brother Lawrence, a French monk of no rank. He wasn’t an abbot, or famous scholar; just a cook in his simple monastery, and a potato peeler. But he understood the depths, and simplicity, of spiritual living. He wrote, “We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of (God)…It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God…Is it not quicker and easier (to enter God’s presence) just (by doing) our common business wholly for the love of God?” Good stuff. While peeling potatoes, he tried to pray without ceasing.

But even if becoming aware of God’s presence is that simple, simplicity can be hard work. Just ask anyone who’s tried to ‘simply’ her/his life by cleaning out a cluttered house. Simplicity is tough! I guess that’s why Brother Lawrence uses the term ‘practice.’ You don’t get it right away.

This past Monday marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I’m sure you saw news coverage. For a people with as long a history as Germans, national unity sounds simple. But we know that tearing down that wall was hard work, for Europeans, for Americans, but most especially for Germans themselves.

I heard about a Lutheran Pastor, Rev. Christian Fuhrer, who ministered in Leipzig, East Germany at the time. He described how, for almost eight years, his church held Prayer Vigils for Peace. They prayed to re-unify their broken country, but to do so without recreating the violence of their country’s recent past, or of their communist authorities. For some time, the state overlooked these Prayer Meetings. But as years went on and pressures, both external and internal, intensified, the secret police increased surveillance. Random arrests would occur outside the church, in an effort to intimidate Rev. Fuhrer to stop. But he posted names of the arrested on the church door, and prayed without ceasing. On October 9, 1989, 70,000 gathered for a prayerful peace demonstration. Police forces assembled to harass and provoke the protestors, but they chanted, “No Violence,” marched to the city center non-violently, and prayed without ceasing. A month later, the wall fell. Rev. Fuhrer describes it as a “miracle of Biblical proportions. We succeeded in bringing about a revolution which achieved Germany’s unity. This time without war and military might.”

When I think about why groups like the National Council of Churches are important, I guess that’s it. When Christians get together to pray and pay witness to God’s love, great things can happen. Walls fall down, families are fed, lives transform. It can be as simple as praying without ceasing. Or more especially, praying together without ceasing. With so much pressure these days for Christians to worship in isolation, or just not believe we can change things for the better, folk like the NCC need to keep working. And praying. Without ceasing. And we should pray with them. In all things,

Grace and Peace,


P.S.- Next Tuesday, the Board meets. If you’ve yet to answer their recent question, “Why does Plymouth Creek need to exist,” please email me by next Tuesday, and I’ll pass your thoughts along. Thanks!