Have you ever said something that the minute the words came out of your mouth you realized, "Oh brother, why did I say that?" Our gospel story today reminds me of that experience. One of my favorite movies, Napoleon Dynamite, can give us a contemporary experience.
Here's another! One evening a family was having some people over for dinner. At the table, the mother turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, "Dear, would you like to say the blessing?" "I wouldn't know what to say," replied the little girl, shyly. "Just say what you hear Mommy say, sweetie," the woman said. Her daughter took a deep breath, bowed her head, and solemnly said, "Dear Lord, why the hell did I invite all these people to dinner!?!" (www.happyfunny.com/content/3037.html)
This morning I’d like to ask you a question that might not make sense in light of this story: What exactly is Prayer? I have dozens and dozens of books on prayer. I have books on how to find your prayer personality. I’ve got one on how to pray for spiritual healing, and another favorite that explains the purpose of the Catholic rosary. There are great books on praying in the Buddhist tradition, and also the significance of prayer in other religious traditions, such as Islam and Hinduism. But one of my favorites is this book on Meditation. It instructs a person on the different levels of prayer as it relates to the energy centers of the body—or chakras. Its basic premise is that prayer is focused energy.
The book also gives an account of a Catholic priest who set up an experiment to test the power of prayer. This priest studied the effects of prayer on 406 distressed people, half of whom received prayer and half of whom did not. The research discovered that those who were prayed for improved in all eleven of the criteria he used to measure self-esteem, anxiety and depression. But the startling discovery was that the agents doing the praying improved more than the subjects for whom they were praying for in ten of his eleven criteria. Prayer in this sense was a means of connecting with a much deeper layer of meaning and spirituality. It acknowledges being a part of a greater whole, and also recognizes the influence of this greater whole on individuals. Prayer is in effect a statement by the person praying that they desire to be whole, to be greater, and to be connected with a greater whole. Scientific research has already proven the energetic effects of sound and thought. But more importantly, it is the authenticity of the prayer that makes it effective. Effective prayer really is very simple. It comes from the heart.
A Native American was in downtown New York, walking along with his friend, who lived in New York City. Suddenly he said, "I hear a cricket." "Oh, you're crazy," his friend replied. "No, I hear a cricket. I do! I'm sure of it." "It's the noon hour. You know there are people bustling around, cars honking, taxis squealing, and noises from the city. I'm sure you can't hear it."
"I'm sure I do." He listened attentively and then walked to the corner across the street, and looked all around. Finally on the other corner he found a shrub in a large cement planter. He dug beneath the leaf and found a cricket.
His friend was duly astounded. But the Native American said, "No, my ears are no different from yours. It simply depends on what you are listening to. Here, let me show you." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change--a few quarters, some dimes, nickels, and pennies. And he dropped it on the concrete.
Every head within a block turned. "You see what I mean? It all depends on what you are listening for." (“More Stories for The Heart” by Alice Gray, Multnomah, p. 99. – www.biblecenter.com/illustrations/prayer.htm)
So if prayer is not so much about what we are saying, but what are we listening for, how do we take our ears and hearts away from earthly things, and tune them into spiritual things?
This is where the story of Jesus’ transfiguration is so interesting. For it is not really a story about what happened to Jesus, according to Mark. It is a story about what happened to those who were with him when it happened. The writer of the gospel of Mark wants to focus our attention on what happened to the disciples, not Jesus. In particular he wants us to see what these very human people, people like each one of us in the church, had trouble seeing and understanding.
First of all, Peter, never shy about being the first to open his mouth, wants to "institutionalize" what has happened. " . . . Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" because, Mark says, "He did not know what to say . . ." It's what religious people do when they don't know what else to do - start a building campaign! It’s like our anti-hero in the video clip this morning. Napoleon Dynamite is at such a loss for words that he says something really stupid to the girl he wants to impress.
Then somebody, presumably God, tells Peter and all the others to shut up and listen for a change. “This is my son, marked by my love. Listen to him!” God says listen…don’t speak! “Don’t be so rushed to do something! Stop being so concerned on what differences you are making in the world, and focus on why! Think about your relationship with me and with each other.” And that’s our entry into the story this morning. We all can identify with the problem of how we can make a difference in the world—especially when things just don’t seem to go our way.
Because you know - or know somebody who does know first hand - what it feels like to fail big. And I don't mean failing to win the lottery! I mean failing after you have tried your hardest to be faithful to the gospel, to do the right thing, to stand up for the truth, to hope and dream, to finally see things put right for yourself or somebody else - to do everything in your power to see that happen but never see those hopes and dreams come true, never taste the success that justice would mean, maybe even to be punished for your efforts. You know what that feels like or you know somebody who does.
Transfiguration Day is your day as much as it is anybody's. You are also on that mountaintop with Jesus and all the saints - because that's what the transfiguration was all about. It was about the one who stood alongside and lived in radical faithfulness to the law of love. Jesus’ story merges with all of our stories too, and becomes a part of the great story that God has been writing down through the centuries. That is what the divine voice wanted us to hear that day. When we take seriously this discipleship journey, when we are prepared to connect our lives with others, our story begins to merge with all of humanity. It is then that we know our story is part and parcel of what human history is really about. That is what the Transfiguration meant to Jesus…and what is means for you. We are not alone. You are not alone. (Excerpts from Barry J. Robinson’s sermon, “Paths of Glory” for March 2, 2003 – www.fernstone.org).
I would like you to think about ways in which you can become more connected to God through Jesus’ story and to each other. Often we think we can only connect to God through spoken prayer. But prayer doesn’t always have to be spoken. We can engage in conversation with God through many different means; through singing, reading, writing, silent meditation, lighting candles, sending cards, painting—practically anything that helps you focus on God is a means of prayer and communion with God.
Have you ever purchased an adult coloring book? Many studies say that they can be very therapeutic. Every major news outlet from CNN to CBS News has reported about the adult coloring phenomenon. What once was an activity that kept so many of us entertained as children, has resurfaced over the past few years as a trend adults are coming to love. Therapeutic elements that parents used to keep their children calm or entertained before dinner, are now being applied to adults, to help them disconnect from the daily pressures of life. That said, here are the top 7 benefits of coloring for adults:
- Your brain experiences relief by entering a meditative state
- Stress and anxiety levels have the potential to be lowered
- Negative thoughts are expelled as you take in positivity
- Focusing on the present helps you achieve mindfulness
- Unplugging from technology promotes creation over consumption
- Coloring can be done by anyone, not just artists or creative types
- It’s an activity that can be taken with you wherever you go
Now, this is not a commercial for adult coloring books. Although I must say there are lots of great resources out there to engage this mindfulness practice. But it is interesting to me that these same mental health benefits are exactly the same for meditation. And the reality of meditation is that it also assists in one other important area:
- Meditation helps you listen for God
I’ve come to understand meditation as a bit different than prayer. For me, Prayer is talking to God, and Meditation is listening for God. The purpose of meditation is to clear out the clutter in your head, so that you can hear God speaking. You may not hear God speak to you in an audible voice, as in our sacred story today, or even get some kind of internal feeling…but I guarantee you will have a better understanding of God’s love and purpose for you after spending some quiet time in thoughtful meditation. The scriptures tell us this is true in Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God!”
One of my favorite ways to prepare my heart and mind for listening to God in this very simple prayer:
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know
I invite you to use that prayer to enter into meditation with God. In your bulletin is a finger labyrinth. A labyrinth is a path which leads, via a circuitous route, to the center of an intricate design and back out again. A labyrinth’s route has only a single path. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth is designed for ease of navigation, and it is impossible to get lost within one. A prayer labyrinth can be used to facilitate prayer, meditation, spiritual transformation, and global unity. The labyrinth could symbolize several things: the hard and winding road to God, a mystical ascension to salvation and enlightenment, or even a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for those who could not make the actual journey.
During our offering reflection or communion time I invite you to take a labyrinth journey. Follow the path with your finger…and clear your mind of the clutter. Focus on finding God at the center, and meditate on those words from Psalms 46: “Be Still and Know that I AM God.” Amen!