the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Contemplative Life

I am drawn to the contemplative life. I think I have been drawn in that direction since I was a young boy. I have always had a longing in my inner self for the presence of God. When I was just thirteen, I spent my waking moments talking to God. I talked to Him about everything.

Although we lived in a suburban community, there was a large section of woods behind our house. I would walk there for hours enjoying God's creation and talking with him about what was going on in my life. I have always been a solitary fellow. Even today, I find places to be alone in solitude with God.

My family went on a religious retreat one summer and I saw a prayer garden for the first time. It was a thicket in the woods where there was a rustic altar and some benches arranged in a semi-circle. Groups of people would come and have their vespers services there. I went a couple of times when I was alone so that I could be with God in my solitude.
Back at home, I quickly found a suitable place in my woods for a prayer garden. I located a large piece of stone and spent many afternoons carving a cross in the stone. This stone became my altar. I had no benches, but I didn't need them. I would kneel in front of my altar and pray to God, or just talk to him in regular conversational tone. I believed that He was there with me. I believed that He heard me, and that He cared for me. I wanted to devote my entire life to Him. I can't remember the time before I wanted to devote my life to Him.

I expect that if I had been raised in a devout Catholic family, I would have become a monk or at least, a priest. Instead I was raised in a Southern Baptist family, in a fundamentalist church. The paths of religious service open to me were as a missionary or a preacher.

I did spend my college years studying for the Baptist ministry. The school I attended was far more liberal in its theology than my fundamentalist roots. I quickly became disenchanted with all things religious and abandoned God and my life of devotion to Him.

Then about fifteen years ago, following a serious crisis in my world, I again felt drawn to God. After a lengthy struggle, I became an ordained Baptist minister and pastor of a small church in a rural community.
About an hour's drive away is a Trappist monastery, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit near Conyers, Georgia. Sandra, that's my wife, and I go there often. She too is drawn to the peacefulness of the monks and the quiet solitude of the public grounds. We spend our money in the Abbey Store buying trinkets, nicknacks and books.

I often wonder what life would be like if I had become a monk. At age 60, there would be no point. But instead, I shepherd my little flock and spend much of my waking moments talking to God. I live the life of a contemplative vicariously through the writings of Thomas Merton, Thomas à Kempis, Saint Benedict and Saint John of the Cross.

Stanzas of the soul that suffers with longing to see God

by St. John of the Cross*

I live, but not in myself,
and I have such hope
that I die because I do not die.

I no longer live within myself
and I cannot live without God,
for having neither him nor myself
what will life be?
It will be a thousand deaths,
longing for my true life
and dying because I do not die.

This life that I live
is no life at all,
and so I die continually
until I live with you;
hear me, my God:
I do not desire this life,
I am dying because I do not die.

When I am away from you
what life can I have
except to endure
the bitterest death known?
I pity myself,
for I go on and on living,
dying because I do not die.

A fish that leaves the water
has this relief:
the dying it endures ends at last in death.
What death can equal my
pitiable life?
For the longer I live, the more
drawn out is my dying.

When I try to find relief
seeing you in the Sacrament,
I find this greater sorrow:
I cannot enjoy you wholly.
All things are affliction
since I do not see you as I desire,
and I die because I do not die.

And if I rejoice, Lord,
in the hope of seeing you,
yet seeing I can lose you
doubles my sorrow.
Living in such fear
and hoping as I hope,
I die because I do not die.

Lift me from this death,
my God, and give me life;
do not hold me bound
with these bonds so strong;
see how I long to see you;
my wrtchedness is so complete
that I die because I do not die.

I will cry out for death
and mourn my living
while I am here
for my sins.
O my God, when will it be
that I can truly say:
now I live because I do not die?
* The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross, revised edition, translated by: Kavanaugh, Kieran, O. C. D. and Rodriguez, Otilio, O. C. D.; ICS Publications; 1991.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sunday 10/30/05 - Year A - Proper 26

Joshua 3:7-17
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12

Psalm 43

1 Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.
2 For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
3 O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.
4 Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.
5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

{This is a work in progress}

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Sunday 10/23/05 Year A - Proper 25

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46
Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Do You Love God with All Your Heart, Soul and Strength?

Love is a word very much misused in our world today. In the day of King James and his Authorized Translation of the Holy Scriputres, the Greek word αγαπη was translated in to English with the word Charity. And perhaps this word captures more of the true meaning of the Greek, except that in our mondern day the word charity has it's own probllems.

Love, the kind of love that God has for us and that we have for whatever our god is, has a self sacrificing nature. It is a giving up of our own self centered wants and desires for the wellbeing of the other.

In a marriage of two people, each one learns through love, to put their own issues on the shelf until they are sure that the other has been taken care of. Then, and only then, will they assert their own needs and desires, knowing that, through love, the other will be as caring of them as they are of the other.

Jesus said, he that seeketh his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

And yet, there is still some passion, some desire in the longing for the reunion with the separated one. When we are away from our loved one, we feel empty, lonely, incomplete. We need the presence of the other in our life for wholeness.

We inately feel separated from God. That separation has been felt from long ago. The ancients stood in the dark and gazed at the night sky. They felt that longing, that emptiness, that sense of smallness. They presumed that there must be something out there bigger than they. Religion and religious expression in all cultures and in all times has been, and is still, the seeking of reunion with the God from whom we have been separated.

These descriptions of love and need for other people act as metaphors for describing our love and need for God.

Today we are going to examine five scriptures and one theologian to help us answer our question: Do You love God with all your Heart, Soul and Strength?

Our first scripture is in our Gospel text: Matthew 22:36-40. Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment. In giving his answer, Jesus quotes the Old Testament: Deuteronomy 6:5. In the parallel passage in Mark (12:28-34) Jesus uses verse 4 and 5 which, to the Jew, ancient and modern, is the most sacred of all the texts of the Bible. It is called the Shema., and is our second scripture:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

Our Theologian, Paul Tillich, says in his Dynamics of Faith that our object of ultimate concern is our god. For Tillich, ultimate means highest, most important and most urgent.

Moses spoke the words of God in the first commandment: NRS Exodus 20:2-3
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
For the Jew and Christian, both ancient and modern, the LORD must be the object of ultimate concern.

Loving God with all our heart means our passions, our feelings, our emotional selves. Loving God with all our soul means our reason, our intellectual selves. And Loving God with all our might, or strength, means our physical selves. For God to be our ultimate concern we must love him with our whole person. And for Tillich, this is ultimate, highest, most important and most urgent concern. Tillich calls this ultimate concern Faith.

After giving the answer to the Pharasees' question, Jesus immediately follows with the second commandment in importance which he says is like the first. "Love your neighbor as yourself." This is a quotation from the book of Leviticus and brings us to our third scripture:

NRS Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Dylan Breuer says that the first commentary on this verse is to be found in James 2:1-14 (our fourth scripture). The advice given here first of all is that we should not show partiality in dealing with people of different status. In fact, thinking in terms of status is foreign to the way Jesus would have us see people.

James goes further in his interpretation, however, to ask the question: What good is it...if you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? This is the never ending debate over faith vs. works. Pauls says yes, we are saved by faith not by works. Paul means by works keeping the law in the manner of the Pharasees. James says no, faith without works is dead. James means by works caring for our neighbors, loving them as ourselves.

Returning now to our Theologian, Tillich says,
In the great commandment of the Old Testament, confirmed by Jesus, the object of ultimate concern, and the object of unconditional love, is God. From this is derived the love of what is God's, represented by both the neighbor and oneself. Therefore, it is the "fear of God" and the "love of Christ" which, in the whole Biblical literature, determines the behavior toward other human beings...Faith implies love, love lives in works: in this sense faith is actual in works...Faith as the state of being untimately concerned implies love and determines action. It is the ultimate power behind both of them.

But John says it best in his first letter to those he addresses as "My little children," which is our fith and final scripture: 1 John 4:16-21

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

And now abide Faith, Love and Works, these three...and you can't have one without the others.

Returning now to an earlier metaphor, here are the words of a song popular in the 1950's:

Love and Marriage
Love and Marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage
Let me tell you brother
You can't have one without the other.

Let us pray...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Adventure of the Blackheaded Silverback

If you haven't lived in the country, especially in a heavily wooded area, you probably won't relate well to this story. I live in rural Coweta County, Georgia, a part of the state that is a mixture of forests and farm land. Our house sits way back off the road and is surrounded by trees and brush.

We spend a lot of our time and concentration on the whereabouts of various types of critters. You know, small animals, spiders, lizards, rodents, snakes, etc. Several times we have run into invisible spider webs. Of course when you do that you immediately begin to feel hundreds of things crawling all over you.

Most critters love the dark. They especially like the darkest places, like under tables, in boxes and buckets, and inside an automobile. That brings me to my story.

One morning, about 6:00, I left the house for work. I got into my old Dodge Dakota to make the twenty-five mile commute into Atlanta where I work. I had several things to carry, my cell phone, a stainless steel coffee cup with one of those black "Tommee-Tippee" lids for adults, a laptop computer in a shoulder carrying case, and a roll of construction plans.

At 6:00 in the woods it was dark. I felt my way to the truck and to the door lock. I opened the door and threw my stuff inside taking care not to spill the cup of hot, freshly brewed coffee. After getting settled, putting the key in the ignition, fastening my seatbelt, and putting in my ear bud for the cell phone I turned the ignition switch to start the car. Oh, did I say I was running late? Well I turned the ignition and nothing happened. I turned it again and still nothing but a sharp click of a starter badly in need of replacement. I'm late and my nerves are beginning to fray. After several tries the truck engine starts and I ease out to the end of the driveway.

The road that goes by the house is an old country road that now connects the new subdivisions with Interstate 85. We call it the Coweta 500. Cars speed by so fast they almost blow down the 45 MPH speed limit sign. I waited at the end of the driveway until I got a sufficient break to pull out into the traffic. When my moment came I pulled out into the road as fast as I could. That's when it happened.

I felt a sharp pain on my right leg just below my knee. My first thought was SPIDER! But no, the pain was too great for a spider bite. I reached down to feel my leg. The leg was hot. My next thought was SNAKE! At that moment I felt something brush the back of my hand. With lightning reflex action I swatted whatever it was. It shot across the truck and hit the passenger side door with a thud.

While all of this action was going on inside the truck, the truck itself was choosing it's own path down the road. I looked up in time to notice the ditch directly in front of me. I quickly gained control of the vehicle and looked for a place to pull off the road. A small country church was just up ahead. I turned into the church yard, nearly hitting a light pole in the process. By now I am in a state of severe panic and out of breath from hyper-ventilating.

I jumped out of the truck as fast as I could. That's when I felt my cold wet pants against my leg. I looked in the truck but couldn't see across the transmission hump. I quickly and carefully reached in and turned on the dome light. And there it was, laying on its side in the corner of the floorboard on the passenger's side. It's warm rich elixir was spilling out on to the floor of the truck. It was my coffee cup.

Apparently as I pulled out into the traffic the cup had tipped a little and had spilled hot coffee on my leg and had been the source of both the pain and the hotness felt when I touched my leg.

We now sit around the fire gleefully and tell of the adventure of the blackheaded silverback that attacked grandpa.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Sunday 10/16/05 Year A - Proper 24

Isaiah 45:1-7
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Psalm 96:1-9

1 O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD, all the earth.
2 Sing unto the LORD, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people.
4 For the LORD is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the LORD made the heavens.
6 Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
7 Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength.
8 Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts.
9 O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.


All year, we have been following the story of Jesus as told by the Gospel writer, Matthew. We are nearing the climax of our story. The climax of arrest, crucifixion and resurrection.

For several weeks now in our scripture lessons Jesus has been in Jerusalem. But in the story he has been in Jerusalem for only a few days. He entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, which was the ancient custom for the coronation of Israel's Kings. He went into the Temple, also part of the coronation service, but instead of being crowned King, he overturned the tables and drove out the money changers. At night he and his disciples left the city and walked two miles to Bethany, where they stayed at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

The Chief Priests, you might say the City Fathers, the power brokers in Jerusalem, were angered at Jesus' rampage in the Temple. They were trying to find a way to trap Jesus into comitting blasphemy or at least showing him up as a hypocrite, himself. So far, it has not worked.

In our reading today we learn of a secret meeting between the Chief Priests, the Pharasees and members of the party of Herod. Instead of a bipartisan comittee, this was a tri-partisan committee. They conspire about how they can entrap Jesus.

When they went out to Jesus they greeted him with flattering words. If there is one way to put someone off his guard and open him up to entrapment it is to shower him with flattery. "Teacher, we know that your are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth." Nothing was further from the truth. They did not revere Jesus. They did not think him sincere. And they certainly did not think he was preaching the word of God or they would have believed in him instead of trying to entrap him.

Then comes the trap. The trap is in the form of another question. Hear the question: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?
By lawful, they meant in accordance with God's law as written in the Torah and interpreted by the rabbis. If Jesus answered yes, then they could accuse him of disobeying God: Thou shalt have no other Gods besides me. If he said no, then they could have him arrested by the Romans for preaching sedition. They had him. There was no answer he could give that could save him.

Jerusalem, all of Judea and the surrounding area of Palestine had been under the strong arm rule of the Romans, since 66 BCE, when they were invited to come and put down a civil war. When they were invited, they never left. A period of occupation of nearly 70 years.

To put that in perspective, the Nazi regime in Germany lasted barely 20 years, the Soviet Union dominated Eastern Europe for less than 50 years. The current period of conflict between the Arabs and the Jews in Palestine has been going on for about 60 years.

The emperor, Tiberius, like Augustus before him had declared himself to be a god. He had decalred that all persons in the realm should give tribute to him. Paying the tax was an act of worship to a man who claimed to be God. The Roman money was embossed with the image of the emperor and this was the only money that was accepted for paying the tribute.

God had said, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." The Jews had no statue representing God. They had no pictures depicting a likeness of God. For this reason ancient Judahism is almost devoid of art. The coins with the Roman emperor's image on them were not allowed inside the Temple. That is why there were tables of money changers at the gates to the Temple. The Roman coinage had to be exchanged for Temple currency to prevent people from blaspheming God.

Jesus asked to see a coin that was used to pay the tribute tax to the emperor. They handed him such a coin, a denarius, the value of one days pay for manual labor or about $100.00. On the coin was the image of the emperor. Jesus asked whose image is this? They responded "The emperor's" So Jesus simply said, give to the emperor what belongs to him and give to God what belongs to God.
What belonged to the emperor? In the mind of the devout Jew, or Hebrew, NOTHING! On earth nothing belonged to anyone except to God alone. And what belonged to God? EVERYTHING!

Everything belonged to God. But Jesus here is using a little irony on his accusers. On the coin is the image of the emperor. It clearly belongs to the emperor because it has its image on it. But God created man in his own image. Mankind, men women, children are all created in the image of God. We all belong to God.

So the answer to the question I asked you earlier is a resounding YES! YES! YES! Yes I am created in the Image of God, So What? So what? So what?

If I am in the image of God, if I have God's image on me then I belong to God. Every thing that I have, All that I am, every breath I take is from God. SO WHAT? So if all I have comes from God, if I, in fact, belong to God then why don't I behave like it?

Why don't we act like we are a child of the King? Instead we act like we belong to the world. We worry about not having enough money. Not having enough things or the right things. Not having the best clothes or the right car or the house in the right neighborhood. We worry about not having the right friends or not belonging to the right society. It is not God and his way that concerns us, it is the way of world that concerns us.

Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me." If we are truly made in the image of God we should behave like his children. We should obey his teachings and apply them to our daily lives. Jesus gave us two commandments that sum up the entire scripture: Love God, Love eachother. So I implore you today to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your strength. And I beg of you to love your neighbor as yourself. Do good them who abuse you and treat you spitefully. And above all, remember the words of Jesus who said "If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Imitation Of Christ by Thomas à Kempis

I am beginning a new series on the Imitaton of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. This book is providing me with a new level of inspiration. Each week I will be quoting a chapter of this work. I may or may not add commentary. Feel free to add your comments.

To read the book, click on the link below:

The Imatation of Christ
by Thomas à Kempis

Text is from Cyber Books
Footnotes are from: Tylenda, Joseph N., Translator; The Imitation of Christ;Vintage Spiritual Classics; New York; 1998.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sunday 10/9/05 Year A - Proper 23

Isaiah 25:1-9
Philippians 4:12-20
Matthew 22:1-14

Psalm 23

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Do you have an inner strength?
Philippians 4:12-20

vs. 12
I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.

I think that many of us can empathize with Paul on this point. I know in my life I have had times of relative prosperity, times where the cost of living exceeded my means, and times when there was no means at all except by the generous gifts of others. And I suspect that you have those same experiences in your life.

vs. 13
In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.

In those times, how did you live? Not how did you get by, but how did you conduct your life? Can you look back on times of prosperity and say that you gave all the credit to God? Or that you even thought about God and his graciousness to allow you the time of prosperity?

In times when your pay check didn't quite go far enough to meet all your expenses, who did you trust for strength and relief from anxiety?

And in times when you got by only because of the generous gifts of others, were you appreciative of the grace that your friends showed toward you? Or did you believe you were entitled to that help and assistance?

What was Paul's secret? He found the secret of life that got him through both the good times and the bad.

Thomas Merton said,* "In our age everything has to be a 'problem.' Ours is a time of anxiety because we willed it to be so. Our anxiety is not imposed on us by force from outside. We impose it on our world and upon one another from within ourselves."

Can that be possible? Is it possible that anxiety is a choice? Paul's answer, Thomas Merton's Answer and David's answer in Psalms 23 that we read a moment ago, is an emphatic YES! ANXIETY IS A CHOICE!

Thomas Merton was a Monk who lived most of his life in a world of silence and solitude. He has written about problems and anxiety, "[they] have always existed in the soul of man. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all [problems] but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison."

David said, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want...[but] I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, forever."

Paul says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

But we must ask the never ending question: How? How can we find peace in a world of problems? How can we find the strength to endure the pain of daily living? What does it mean that Paul could do all things through Christ? Where is this strength in Christ that he speaks of?

I would offer three points in search of an answer:

First, remember that anxiety is a choice. We can choose to worry, or to let it go and trust in God to take care of us. Now, you can't let the problem itself go, because it still requires a responsible solution. But you can let go of the ultimacy, the urgency, the angst of the situation. That is where your choice comes in.

Unfortunately, the ability to do this comes with much experience. We build up a memory of countless times we have experienced crises in our lives and, looking back, we realize that we did survive them.

The second and the third points come from one verse Luke 17:21.

Let's read the pertinent passage, verses 20 & 21, in the New Revised Standard version:

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you."
In fact what makes this two points instead of one is the little greek word (en) and how it is translated by the various biblical scholars who gave us our more popular translations.

In the New Revised Standard version we read "the kingdom of God [or God's rule over your life] is among you."

For something to be among us, it implies a group or communal relationship. If God's rule is among us it comes from the relationship we have with each other. In times of trial we have to depend on each other to stay the course. We depend on the encouragement and the love of each other for comfort and assistance.

What is the condition of our communal relationship? The bonds that we share with each other as Christian members of this church? When you are in a time of need do you share that need with your brother or sister in Christ? Or does pride get in the way?

Alcoholics Anonymous recognizes the value of having another whose strength one can rely on in times of weakness and distress.

Jesus tells us that it is among us where we will find the rule of God for our lives.

Now let's look at the King James translation. "the kingdom of God [or God's rule over your life] is within you.

Where is the Peace that passes all understanding? It is within you. It is in you that you need to seek the strength that Christ gives us.

But that seems hardest of all to believe. So, let me give you some suggestions for practice in finding the inner strength Christ gives us.

1. Reading the scriptures. Especially the Psalms and the Proverbs. But also in the New Testament, the words of Jesus, and the letters of Paul. Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians are especially helpful. The First letter of John to the churches of Asia Minor is another source of strength.

2. Pray. Pray often. Pray with all of your soul. Talk to God. Tell him what you are facing in your life. He knows it already, but it does us good to hear ourselves say it to Him. And don't forget to pray for others. Sometimes taking our focus off of our own issues, thinking about others and their issues, is the very thing that brings us to see our own issues in the context of reality.

3. Sit in Silence. Following a time prayer sit in silence and listen for the word of God to come to you. Thomas Merton writes, "In silence...God rises up out of the sea like a treasure in the waves, and...His brightness remains on the shores of our own being.

Our prayer is the 139th Psalm:
1O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
2You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
5You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast...
23Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

* All of the quotes attributed to Thomas Merton are taken from his Thoughts in Solitude, 1956.