Psalm 94

Not so many years ago, challenged by a conversation with MaryKate Morse, I vowed to pray aloud all of Psalm 94 each day for a week. MaryKate was working on A Guidebook to Prayer, and this particular prayer practice was one of those delineated in her book. 

During that week-long prayer practice with Psalm 94, I found that the hardest part was the noise.

On Monday afternoon, I prayed in a hotel room; I was attending a conference. I read, “Great is the Lord,” as a vacuum bumped against the wall in the room next door. As I pondered God’s steadfast love, I could hear the television in the room on the other side.

On Tuesday evening, I prayed in my room again but at a later time. And it was quiet. But the lack of noise made it hard for me to read the psalm aloud. I was concerned with what others might hear (and think). The most difficult line of the psalm was the one I whispered: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth.”

On Wednesday afternoon, I prayed while walking. It was raining lightly, and a nearby park was deserted. Still, I found Psalm 94 one that was difficult to speak aloud with its cries for vengeance on the wicked.

On Thursday morning, I found shelter from the rain in a coffee shop. And I read the psalm to myself, taking a sip of coffee and a bite of coffee cake before and after each reading as a symbolic step forward and back.

Then, when I was done, I wondered at why such a simple practice had seemed so hard. I wondered at my need for a kind of quiet that goes beyond silence. Because I found a quiet room on Tuesday and an empty space on Wednesday. But I could not pray as though it were just me and God. I could not stop thinking about others and what they might think if they saw, if they heard.

I could not quiet my mind, and I did not have a quiet heart. There was too much noise. Stress. Shame. Internal noise.

But I didn’t give up. Instead, I viewed my difficulty with prayer as evidence that I needed more practice.

Don’t we all?

And now, six years later, I’m not sure I’ll ever be done practicing. Because, as it turns out, prayer is a discipline. And I’m praying for you. I hope you’ll pray for me, too.

Eric Muhr

In the present

This evening, pastors from Northwest Yearly Meeting will be gathering for their annual retreat at Twin Rocks Friends Camp where FUM General Secretary Colin Saxton is speaking over a stretch of four sessions. At the same time, we’re featuring short devotional thoughts from Colin in Fruit of the Vine. This morning’s reflection is on Luke 24 in which Colin challenges us “to be continually aware of Jesus’ Presence. . . . Unfortunately, there are many distractions and diversions that come our way.”

We must learn to be where we are when we’re there, to be  “in the present,” a practice Colin calls “the premier skill of the spiritual life. After all, the present is the only real moment we can count on; the past is gone, the future uncertain. Now – this moment in time – is the one opportunity where we can always encounter the Living Christ, opening ourselves to his presence and power.”

As I’m reading, I notice that the light is brighter than it’s been in weeks, so I stop for a moment in order to pay attention to my breaths in this silent space of early morning. A space that is already changing into day. It is hard to be here. Already, I’m thinking about what comes next (and it’s mainly a list of things I should have done last week).

That is what happens in this passage from Luke. “Cleopas and his companion . . . get stuck in the past, reflecting on what has already occurred. Similarly, it is just as easy to get swept up in worrying and wondering about what may lie ahead.” Colin writes that even “though both past and future have an important place in our thoughts, they can so preoccupy us that we may miss the One who is with us right now.”

That's a question for me. Am I aware of Christ with me? It’s a question for us. Do we believe God is with us? Do we sense the presence of Jesus?

In today’s text, Colin notes that “the smoldering sadness of Cleopas is transformed into incendiary joy, when he recognizes that the stranger he has welcomed, walked with, and listened to is Jesus. What if he had not been paying at least some attention? Might he have missed Jesus altogether?”

Colin continues, “Right now – the proceeding Word of God is being spoken in your ear. Do you recognize the voice? Right now – as you open your grace-healed eyes, Christ is before you. Do you recognize his face? Right now – is Christ kindling something new within you?”

I hope the answer is yes.

Eric Muhr

P.S. Each morning’s reflection in Fruit of the Vine is designed to replicate our experience in open or waiting worship. Out of the silence, someone stands and shares a story of God’s presence, a way in which they’ve been touched by Truth. Over the days and weeks and months, these gathered testimonies shape us as individuals, and they have power to shape our faith communities, to guide us into the work to which God has called us. If you’re not already subscribed to Fruit of the Vine, I hope you’ll consider doing so. And if you already subscribe, please think of someone in your life who might benefit from a gift subscription. Available in print or digital versions.

A kernel of wheat

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Paul Almquist reflects on John 12:23-33, a passage in which “Jesus likens his death to a kernel of wheat falling to the ground.” It’s a telling image, illustrating the reality that death is separation and an ending. But it’s more than that. Because, “at the right time [the seed] sprouts up and produces many more seeds.”

Paul reminds us, “Jesus predicted that his death would produce an amazing harvest.”

This is not how I’m used to thinking about death. For instance, we’re in a time of cultural change and institutional decline. Death – or the threat of death to so many of the things I’ve invested in and that I love – makes me tense, worried, fearful. What if everything we’ve worked together to build fails to hold together? What if we’re done?

Paul’s reflection is a reminder that what I fear, although a real possibility, isn’t the whole story. There’s a deeper truth here. The kernel’s death is also the seed of new life. The end is also a beginning. This reality explains the confidence of Jesus, who “resolutely declared he would not turn back. He would not seek safety. This was what he was born for!”

This morning, in light of Paul’s reflection, I’m prompted to think about what this means for Barclay Press. And I’m prompted to think about what this means for us. As old institutions, structures, and forms decline in size, number, and strength, what new things might be birthed? What new opportunities might open for us? What seeds has God already planted?

Where is God already at work, preparing to surprise us with hope? I don’t know. But I do know that “at the right time,” a “kernel of wheat falling to the ground” might take root and “produce an amazing harvest.” And I trust that it will be good.

Eric Muhr