Prayers from the Island God is Everywhere!

God is Everywhere!

Chicory or cornflower is blooming on the island, lining the road near the park.  Whenever I see the sky-blue blossoms, I am suddenly swept back into my childhood.  One summer I had to cross a busy street to reach vacation Bible school.  As a group of us waited for traffic to clear, I stared at the chicory awash with color in a nearby vacant lot, mirroring the blue of the sky.  Each morning in school we sang, “God is in the flowers and the birds that sing—God is everywhere!” My attention was captured by God’s presence in the chicory, as if I could watch him at work in the flower.  Perhaps then I could see him at work in my childhood innocence; perhaps I still can.  I pray, God, you will give us both a world that is beautiful and eyes to appreciate that beauty.  I thank you, Lord, for being in those chicory blossoms and for welcoming me into your world here on earth and your world above in Heaven. Amen.

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Prayer When There’s IllnessPrayer When There’s Illness

Dear Heavenly Father, recently a dear friend gave me an icon, a primitive necklace from Taos that represents Archangel Raphael.  According to the small note that accompanied the icon, “your negative thoughts have created your illness.  You must change your thinking.”  I know, Dear Lord, that many people believe this, that I caused my illness, that it’s my fault, and that I alone can cure myself.

I do not believe this.  I didn’t cause my illness, my thoughts are not to blame, and it is not true that I alone can heal my illness.  Where are you in this equation? What is your role as healer?  And what of children in utero who are born with an injury or a condition—what of a young child who suffers from a fatal illness?  Has that child already accumulated negative thoughts?  What of years and years of medical history which each day comes to a clearer understanding of illness and its treatment.  If I caused my condition because I don’t think ‘right’, and if I don’t get better, then I’m to be blamed for that as well, and so the guilt spirals and spirals.

No.  Illness exists because we live in a fallen world, a broken world, a world in which wars and tornados and sudden death exist.  I can acknowledge that there are things we may do which could contribute to illness—over-exposure to the sun or smoking, for instance.  But even then, not all who seek sunshine to excess contract skin cancer and not all smokers fall prey to lung cancer.  And there are those who do neither of those activities, but who succumb to cancer regardless.

I believe too we may inherit a propensity to a particular sickness—in our genetic make-up we may be more likely to develop high blood pressure or cancer, or heart problems.

However, in the deepest recesses of my heart I do NOT believe God uses sickness as punishment.  God does not want us to suffer, to be in pain, to waste away.  Alzheimer’s is as painful for Him to watch as it is for any family member.  God is our Father—He is our family member as well, and He loves us more than we are capable of loving one another.

No, God doesn’t cause illness, but He does use illness for His purposes.  Once the sickness is there, He works to bring good from the evil of illness.  Always He gives us a choice of responses.  We can, in the face of illness, get angry.  If we choose to get angry with God, sadly we slam the door shut to any comfort or healing He could provide.  If we get angry with our physicians, we waste energy that could be used to help us heal—the doctor will move on to other patients and our anger accomplishes nothing.  We can get angry at ourselves, blame ourselves, silently shout at ourselves for deserving or not deserving God’s punishment.  And as our energy is depleted, as an auto-immune disease is worsening, we contribute to the self-destruction that some illnesses are.

God gives us another choice.  We can work with Him to benefit from the experience of illness.  If we work closely with God, we can deepen our sense of dependency, use the illness to focus on God in our lives, on the role He plays in our thinking and feeling and action.  We can use sickness to develop a closer relationship with ourselves, to explore and confront who and what we are.  When I was 37 years old, I spent six months helpless in a body cast, totally rigid, unable to bend and confined to a hospital bed.  During that period I had time when all I could do was burrow into myself, find the strengths God gave me, and identify too the weaknesses and temptations I succumbed to.  I came to love myself as Jesus taught us we must—that until we love and respect ourselves, we can’t love our neighbor.

And finally, through illness God gives the gift of altering how we relate to others.  Through my own sickness I came to understand that we are all ill—we all suffer in one way or another.  Each of us is ill, whether that sickness is physical or spiritual or mental.  Once I have learned to be gentle with my own sickness, how can I be unforgiving of all those I meet who also suffer from their own illnesses?  I used to hear “there are no atheists in a fox hole”—well, I’ve discovered atheists are rare in an oncology office, or a cardiologist’s office, or in the waiting rooms of many specialists.  Very often in such offices there is a gentleness of spirit, a breath of kindness and understanding less common in the world outside.  It’s possible, through illness, to become compassionate, empathetic, to grow in a sense of shared spirit, of common pain. Each of us in the waiting room has a ‘story’, and in the telling of our own story we bond together, uniting as one.

No, the little note with the icon necklace is wrong.  I didn’t cause my illness and I alone can’t cure it by changing my thinking, my negative thoughts.  God does not give illness as punishment, but He does promise to use sickness for a greater good; He promises to bring good even from the evil of illness—if we let Him, if we make a choice to help Him and learn from the experience.

I profited from my illness; I am wiser, closer to God, and closer to the people around me—even those who are strangers.  We have the choice of how to respond—to use our energy to benefit from what we go through, or to expend our energy wastefully, accomplishing nothing other than depleting ourselves.   I pray, Dear Father, that You would help each of us to work with You, to choose to include You in benefitting from illness, to use our broken bodies in your service and in our deepening faith. Amen.

He Has RisenHe Has Risen

 Prayer for Easter

      Dear Lord, every Easter card shows flowers blooming, bright sunshine, and smiling disciples. But it wasn’t that way, was it, Lord. It was chilly and dark when the women went to the tomb. In their scarves they carried gums and spices to undo the abuse and torture your body had suffered two days earlier. So much fear! The boulder blocking the tomb, the soldiers guarding it, the Roman soldiers patrolling and then, to add to the fear, an earthquake.

      They whispered to one another as they walked. Hopeless. Disappointed. The loss of everything they believed. Jesus wasn’t powerful as He seemed. He could heal and restore and feed and make people believe—but it all came down to this—a broken body in a borrowed tomb. Here was the hard truth; Jesus was a mortal man like every other man. Shivering in the darkness, bent over as they hurried, eager to have this business finished, to show their respect for a dear friend who had taught them so much.

      It’s ironic, Lord, isn’t it, that none of the followers coming to the burial site in small, separate groups, expected an empty tomb. Though Jesus had told them repeatedly, at least nine times, that he would rise from the dead, they didn’t believe him. In fact the only ones who heard Jesus’ message were the Jewish rulers. The high priests and Pharisees warned Pilate Jesus spoke of rising from the dead. They heard the message, though his followers didn’t. To prevent their stealing the body, Pilate posted guards.

      When they reached the tomb in separate groups, there was no sudden epiphany, no delirious shout of joy over what had taken place. No. Fear, confusion, disbelief overwhelmed the followers as they scuttled back and forth, reluctant to believe the angel’s message. Only John announced his belief as did Mary Magdalene after Jesus spoke her name. It took hours, days, weeks in some cases, before skeptic followers could believe in the living Jesus. Even those who saw Jesus in person were reluctant to believe!

      And what of us, Lord, what of our disbelief? All the Easters since that first morning and we continue to wonder, still question if it’s real. Like those followers we grope in the chilly darkness, doubting the value of life, despairing of purpose. We go to wrap the dead, not celebrate the living. The search is the same, Lord, a hunt for meaning. Strangely enough it is only an empty tomb that contains all we need to know. In that emptiness lies fullness and joy—promises kept and new life given.

      Easter isn’t a one-time event; it is a repeated search whenever we forget the promise or reject its premise. Each time we face that empty tomb, we find a living Lord who is among us, loving us, forgiving us. Dwelling with us until the end of time. Never has empty space held so much. On this Easter morning may each of us find our way to an empty tomb regardless of the pain or doubt that drives our search. With courage we look inside rediscovering the life that lies beyond. “He is risen!” So will we.

Sandra Ratliff

Salt SpraySalt Spray

   An eastern wind blew against my face as I walked on the beach today.  My glasses quickly covered with salt spray and I couldn’t see the markers that usually determine the length of my walk.  I was cold and huddled inside my jacket, trying to draw breath against the wind.  And all the time I knew when I turned around and retraced my steps, that same wind would propel me home.  What was once an adversary would become my propeller, making the walk easier and swifter.  Thank you, God, for showing me that even in adversity I can take comfort in your presence. On the other side of every painful event there is the joy of your presence.  May the crises of my life give me an opportunity to grown in faith and spirit.  May I pass through hard times and emerge more swift and refreshed in my walk with you. Amen.