Saturday, November 14, 2009


A quote from Jean Vanier that describes where I'm at right now:

"There is a freedom that I sense exists but that I do not have.
I cannot always describe it but I do want it.
I sense I still have a long road to walk in order to reach this freedom.
I see the goal but I am not yet there.
I love and want it but sometimes I am frightened of the road I must take.

I am frightened of the disappearance of my walls of defense,
sensing that behind them there is an anguish and a vulnerability that will rise up.
I see that I still cling to what people think of me
and am fed by the way people love, want, and admire me.
If all that fell away, who would I be?
But that is where freedom lies, the freedom to be rejected,
if that is the path I am to take in order to live more fully.
Is that not the freedom that Jesus announces in his charter of the Beatitudes,
when he talks of the blessedness of those who are persecuted,
or when he says, "Woe to you when people speak well of you"?

(Becoming Human)

Friday, August 21, 2009

My name is Beth Malena, and I have bed bugs.

At least my house does. Or did, hopefully.

It does feel like an admission, or a confession. I half expect people to take a step back when I say it. When Cara (an unlucky friend who is subletting at our place) was at a coffee shop, chatting on the phone with her mom about the bed bugs, two nearby strangers picked up their drinks and moved to a farther table.

And though I think they are overreacting, I don't really blame them. Having been through this awful experience, I would not wish it on anyone. I am trying to remind myself that it could have been much worse. For instance, I haven't had to get rid of furniture, like some of my friends who have been through this. Also, I haven't been bitten. Danice, Cara and I have not had bites - either we don't react to bed bug bites, or we have been avoiding them by sleeping on the porch futon. It was Lindsey who got attacked by the bugs, and possibly Lynn. Both of them are out of town now - how convenient! :)

After finding Lindsey's bites, we looked up bed bug pictures on the internet and performed our own search. We found nothing. Last Monday, we got a pest control guy to do an inspection. All he found was one bed bug shell, on Lindsey's bed. Because she had been traveling, he thought she had brought one or two in with her, but it was nothing serious - he recommended we just vacuum the room really well and wash her clothes. The next morning, I was laying my mattress back down on the bed post-inspection, and I found three live bed bugs crawling on it. I'm not going to lie: I cried. Danice calmed me down a bit, but we both knew this meant a lot of work and worry in the weeks to come.

If you've had bed bugs, you know the pre-extermination drill. Every scrap of fabric in the house (clothes, curtains, bedding, bags) must be washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer for about an hour, then sealed in garbage bags. Everything else in the house, with the exception of things in the kitchen and bathroom, must be shaken over a bucket (to eliminate any hiding bugs or eggs), then sealed in garbage bags. All furniture is moved 6 inches from the wall, and the whole room must be vacuumed extremely well, including the mattresses.

Danice, Cara and I braced ourselves to tackle the belongings of five women. We decided not to wash Lynn and Lindsey's things, but we still had to bag everything up and get it out of their rooms. We started Thursday after work, at 5:00 pm. Almost 80 extra-large garbage bags (piled on two porches) and ten hours later (!), at 3:00 am, we finally had the house ready for the exterminator.

The most unexpected and difficult aspect of those ten hours was the constant mental battle. We had only seen a couple live bugs, but we knew bed bugs could hide almost anywhere, so we knew we had to follow the exterminator's instructions. But it's hard to keep shaking item after item into that bucket, and not see any bugs or eggs fall out. You wonder about the chances of them being in the item you're holding. You wonder about the chances of them hiding in things you've already bagged, things you perhaps didn't shake well enough. You recall stories of people who never succeeded in getting rid of them, after multiple extermination attempts, and you wonder if any of this will be worth it. You wonder if it would be simpler for humans and bed bugs to just learn to coexist. You wonder if that little brown thing over there is a bed bug - no, it's just a piece of lint. You wonder if they were just a figment of your imagination the whole time. And then you see a huge live bed bug saunter across your bed, flaunting its existence in your house, and your skin crawls and you feel like they're all over you. You don't want to be in your house one more second. Then, at 3:00, you go to bed exhausted and all you can dream about is... searching for bed bugs and putting things in garbage bags. Or, if you're Danice, you dream about a human-sized bed bug ringing the doorbell and moving into our house.

The pest control guy sprayed yesterday. I arrived home after the appropriate amount of time, smelled the spray, and wondered how those chemicals could be less harmful to my health than a few bed bugs. Our landlords (who are so understanding and wonderful!) let us hang out in their suite while our floor aired out. We're still running loads through the laundry. We're still sleeping on the porch. We're still living out of garbage bags, and will be doing so until the re-inspection in two weeks.

One of my coping mechanisms during the ten hours of cleaning was to force myself to find the positive. I thought of four benefits of this whole ordeal.

1. Our house is likely cleaner than it was when we moved in. I don't think we would have ever done such a thorough cleaning otherwise.

2. I've always thought I lived fairly simply, without too many possessions or clothes, but as we cleaned, I purged a lot of stuff, and plan to get rid of more when we un-bag. I hope my roommates also discover this urge to purge. :) Hooray for bed bugs for providing impetus toward simple living.

3. I can now sympathize with my friends who have felt stigmatized, contaminated, or unclean because of bed bugs. I felt dirty and ashamed even though I read that they have nothing to do with cleanliness - they are a big problem in the Downtown Eastside, but also in the high-end apartments in Yaletown, and many fancy hotels. I was amazed how much sympathy, advice and prayer I received from friends at church and at Jacob's Well.

4. I developed a new appreciation for my roommates, who kept me sane (Cara and Danice, I'm glad we all "hit walls" at different times, and I'm grateful for our fits of laughter!), and my landlords, for caring and footing the bill!

Well, my confession is over, and so is this experience, I hope.

Gotta go change the laundry!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Generally overwhelmed

I want to write so many blogs right now but I don't know where to start. My head is full of half-formed thoughts, things that still need to be discussed, read-up on, challenged, refined, and put into sentences and paragraphs. This overwhelms me, especially because I have a couple of chances to teach in the near future, and I kind of want to know what I think before I teach other people! I am humbled by my own confusion, and my sense of the complexity of things.

In addition to my favorite topics of the year so far (eg. homosexuality and faith), my work this summer has opened up whole new doors in my mind. My first learn-to-pastor job is in a brand new church in the Downtown Eastside/Strathcona area of Vancouver, a church geared toward families, a church that meets outside in a park, a small church with no name and no money, but a lot of vision and a lot of love. Although I've worked in the neighborhood for several years with Jacob's Well (and continue to work there), the last couple of months have stretched me in very new ways. I've been through a cycle of intense emotions, which I try not to take out on my roommates. I fluctuate between intense despair in the "impossible" situation of the neighborhood and many people I know there, and crazy hope in the already-coming Kingdom of God. I've been hanging out with a lot of kids and learning from them. I've been trying to figure out what God is up to with this whole "church" idea in general, and more specifically in this neighborhood. I've been reading and thinking about so many issues: colonization and the past/present situation of First Nations people, dependency, generational cycles, trans-cultural church communities, the God who suffers, addiction and harm reduction, systemic evil, incarnational ministry, poverty and homelessness, worship with the least of these, and how mercy interacts with justice.

How do I as a white person pastor a church of primarily First Nations people when the white church has done so much injustice and caused so much suffering among First Nations people? How do I pastor in ways that give power away and break cycles of dependency and pain? Should I move into the neighborhood (right now I live 10 min. away), or would that be too much for me right now? Where is the Kingdom breaking through in the neighborhood? What does worship look like here? How do I best use my twenty hours a week? Is this the kind of place where I'm meant to serve long-term? These are only a few of the questions I've been asking. Maybe I'll blog about some of them once I get my head around them.

For now, you can read about our little church at this blog, which I will be contributing to regularly. Also, if you're interested in committing to pray regularly for me in this church-planting thing, and getting on a prayer e-mail list, please let me know.

Today for the Kingdom.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Christians and GLBTs - bridging the gap

I’m doing something I’ve never done before – I’m participating in a synchroblog. If you’ve never heard of a synchroblog (I hadn’t!), it’s when a bunch of people all write blog posts on the same day on the same topic. This synchroblog is organized by New Direction Ministries, whose mission is to “bridge the gaps” between, and within, the Christian community and the gay community. I wrote earlier about New Direction in this post, and my respect for them has only increased since. Over fifty people (including Brian McLaren and Donald Miller - famous people!) are blogging their ideas about how to “bridge the gap” – please check out the full list of participating blogs here.

For eight months now, the number one question I’ve been thinking about and reading about and discussing with friends is this: How does homosexuality mix with the Christian faith? I began seriously asking this question in October when someone whom I deeply love came out as gay, but the question had already been raised in other friendships I’ve had with lovely GLBT people, and also in my efforts to figure out my own sexuality, which turned out to be less straightforward and more “fluid” than I thought. I now think this may be one of the biggest questions I will encounter as I begin my ministry as a pastor, not only because I am pastoring in a neighborhood with a lot of same-sex couples and families, but because the only thing many young people know about the North American church is that we are “anti-gay.” The church is becoming known above all for being against a group of marginalized people, people whom Jesus would be busy befriending and loving, considering how much time he spent with the “outcasts” of his day. We no longer look like Jesus. This, in my opinion, is a huge problem.

So how can we start looking more like Jesus? There are a lot of answers to that question. When I read the Gospels, I see Jesus building relationships with people very different from Him by initiating honest conversations on their turf. Lately I keep coming back to the apostle Paul’s three favorite nouns: faith, hope and love. They pop up everywhere in his letters, and they also defined Christ’s way of relating. I think these words are important as we think about how to build relationships between people of different sexualities and beliefs. (I will be primarily addressing the Christian community here, but I think these three words should define the conversation no matter your faith background.)

Faith. Faith is throwing your weight on something you can’t know for sure. Many would say the opposite of faith is doubt, but I prefer to think the opposite of faith is certainty, or perhaps indifference. Like many Christians, until recently, I had a vague certainty about how Christians should think of homosexuality. This was an inbred and unquestioned conservative view, which I came by too easily, due to both laziness and fear. When I started seeking out and listening to gay-affirming theologies, views I initially disagreed with, I was surprised to be thoroughly challenged by some of their arguments, so much so that right now, I am sitting on a theological fence on the topic of homosexuality. But even when I settle on one side of the fence, I know I will stand there lightly. I am continually sobered by this fact: Sincere, intelligent Christians disagree on the morality of homosexual behavior – and not just the kind of people who say ‘Lord, Lord,’ but real Christ-followers, the fruit-producing kind (Luke 6:43-49). I am privileged to know real, fruit-producing Christ-followers who are "practicing" gays (talk about bridging the gap - these people embody the bridge!) I am reminded that none of us has a corner on the truth, and this means that we must be humble in conversation, listening before we speak, expecting to hear truth in the most unlikely places, to be challenged by the most unlikely people (see 1 Cor. 1:27-29). Uncertainty is scary, but it is honest. We must start by admitting that we could be wrong. In the end, I’ll throw some of my weight (faith) on what I think about homosexuality, but I’ll throw much more of my weight (faith) on the good news that Christ lived and died to reconcile a broken world to God, because this is the center of my life. My salvation does not depend on what I think about homosexuality. Christians who think differently from me on homosexuality are still my brothers and sisters in Christ, because they are on a Christ-led journey of healing and redemption, as I am. I throw my weight on Jesus, not on being “correct” on one ethical issue.

Hope. Hope is grabbing hold of a scandalous promise in the middle of suffering and seeming failure. Many would say the opposite of hope is despair, but I prefer to think the opposite of hope is idealism, or perhaps cynicism. Idealism says that friendship with those who disagree with me will be easy; I will soon convince them to see things the way I see them, they will be forever grateful, and we will live happily ever after. Cynicism says that we will never fully accept or love those who are different, we will only suffer, so we should limit our community to people who look like us and think like us. Hope, on the other hand, says that relationships with people who are very different from us involve getting hurt, hurting others, sharing in people’s suffering, loving in a costly and self-sacrificing way, and living with tension and mess – but in the end, both my friend and I will be transformed to look more like Christ. Both of us will see the kingdom break into our lives in fresh ways. To put it another way, idealism skips over the crucified Christ, and cynicism keeps the crucified Christ in the ground, but hope wades right through the mess and pain of the crucifixion clutching the incredible truth that Christ conquered death and now lives (!) to bring His kingdom in full. Jesus willingly waded into a mess by calling both Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Publican, sworn enemies, to be in his band of disciples. What crazy hope he had for these men! I think that we need to have more hope in the power of Christ to break down walls that divide us, and give us love for people who are very different. We are called to join Christ in His hope-filled kingdom work, pursuing justice and shalom, adopting a confessional stance in recognition of the ways the church has failed to love (or even spurred on the hate of) gay people, and advocating for the rights of our GLBT friends.

Love. Love is laying down your life (your priorities, your time, your opinions, your rights, your reputation) for the sake of your friends, or what’s more, for your enemies. Many would say the opposite of love is hate, but I prefer to think the opposite of love is fear. John said that there is no fear in love, in fact love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Paul said that love is the “greatest of these,” and in the same vein, I think it may be the greatest way to look like Jesus in our relationships: moving from relating out of fear to relating out of love. We are afraid of so many things: fear of stirring up controversy in the church that could lead to division; fear of “slippery slopes” or societal breakdown; fear of offending people; fear of uncertainty; fear of our views being misunderstood by others; fear of our own fluctuating sexual identity or purity. These fears lie at the heart of prejudice; they drive judgmentalism, preventing us from seeing all humans in the image of God. We must learn to look at every person as Jesus does, with unconditional love, from the most flamboyant participant in a pride parade to the most vindictive participant in a “God hates gays” rally. This is no touchy-feely warm-fuzzy love; as Dorothy Day says, “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” She also says, “Love is the measure by which we shall be judged.” It is our mission. The greatest commandment is not “love God and convert your neighbor,” or “love God and ensure your neighbor’s theology is correct;” the greatest commandment is “love God and love your neighbor” (Luke 10:27). It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convert and transform our friends, and to convert and transform in our own lives. Our job is to watch what the Spirit is doing and join in where He asks us to, always relating out of love instead of fear.

I pray every day for a makeover, a personal makeover and a church-wide makeover: I pray for the grace to look more and more like Jesus, who is alive in us, so we can bridge the gap the way He did – through friendships and conversations built on faith, hope, and love. I want us to risk “ruining” our reputations because of the people we love. It’s a dangerous and messy road, but it’s the road Jesus chose, and I want to follow Him.

For anyone who’s interested, I recently wrote a paper for school (Regent College) about the pastoral care of people who are same-sex attracted, in which I explore some of these ideas in more detail. I’m happy to e-mail it to anyone who wants to read it - just let me know.

Now go check out some of the other people’s blogs!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I have too much money.

"I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Phil. 4:12-13)

"And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19)

On Wednesday, I found out that I would be making $3000 less at my two jobs this summer than I had originally thought, due to misunderstandings and cutbacks. God was gracious, because He also gave me overwhelmingly fulfilling experiences that day, confirming that I'm working where He wants me to work. I went home and looked at my bank account and budget. I saw that I'd still have enough to get through my last semester of school, but I wouldn't have much money going into 2010. I had wanted to save up some money for next year, because I plan on continuing my non-profit and pastoral work in the Downtown Eastside, the poorest neighborhood in Canada, likely without a very stable income.

I let this stew in my brain for a while, alternately worrying and pushing worries out of my mind. But on Friday morning, while I was reading a Psalm that had nothing to do with money, everything changed. Out of the blue, this thought ran through my head: "You have too much money." And then this: "You don't need to make more money - in fact, you need to get rid of more."

These ideas definitely didn't come from me, because I had been thinking the exact opposite. I think God was trying to show me that in my worrying, I'd been buying into the same old myth: that my security was in my savings.

I think we all know that money is not bad in and of itself, but it sure can tempt us: greed, over-spending, stinginess, failing to tithe, frivolousness, avarice. I consider myself a pretty generous person, I hate shopping, and I probably err on the side of under-spending rather than over-spending. But like most North Americans, I succumb constantly to a far more subtle and sinister temptation: to treat money as my safety blanket, maybe even my savior, and to depend on money for future well-being rather than on the God who sustains my life.

Maybe it takes is a recession for me and many others to recognize the folly of so-called "financial security." Maybe as investments depreciate, as the money we buried in the bank accounts loses its value, we will realize that we need something (Someone) far more secure and unchanging to depend on, and we'll start throwing the weight of our future plans and hopes on Him. Maybe we'll realize that everything we have is on loan to us, and we'll start being more thankful for it and open-handed with it. Maybe we'll learn Paul's secret for living in plenty or in want, and we'll actually thank God for the recession! As Wendell Berry puts it, "When I hear the stock market has fallen, I say 'Long live gravity! Long live stupidity, error, and greed in the palaces of fantasy capitalism!'"

Before you think I've become a communist, or St. Francis (though I'm not sure they're such bad things to be), I will clarify one thing: I don't think it's wrong or sinful to save money. I'm just realizing that the majority of people on this planet don't even have the privilege to save money. I think God calls us to wisely use the resources He's given us in North America, and sometimes this means saving, but probably it means giving more often than we think. When I was a kid, my parents saved money that enabled my siblings and I to study at university, and I'm grateful for that. Now, my parents may be moving to Kenya, and I'd like to start saving money so I can fly to visit them. But if I start clinging and worrying and depending on money to get me to Kenya instead of the God who wants both to reunite families and to teach me to trust Him, I've slipped again.

My friend Joyce says that if we buy something, we should be willing to redistribute it to someone who needs it more than us, if God asks us to do so - after all, it doesn't really belong to us; it belongs to God, and God may want to challenge how much we really believe this. I think the same applies to our savings - if God wants us to use our money in a different way than we had planned, or if He wants to challenge our dependence on our savings, to challenge us to live more simply, then we need to listen and welcome His guidance. I can't assume He's saying the same thing to you as He's saying to me, I can only tell you my story.

I've talked to some friends and co-workers in non-profit and pastoral work who have had to live far closer to broke than I ever have, and they have such amazing stories of how God was faithful to provide for them when they needed it, and He often used strange and unexpected means. Their faith increased because it was tested, because they clung to the God who provides. At first, I saw this as irresponsibility - maybe they should have saved more so they wouldn't have to ask so much of God. Now, I crave these same chances to learn and grow in faith.

So I'm thinking about getting rid of some of this money, before it whispers to me yet again and convinces me that it can secure my future. Anyone need any money?

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Busy" - er, I mean, "Holy" Week

Turns out that being in a creative writing class takes up all of the time and writing energy you would otherwise pour into a blog...

Easter weekend is possibly the busiest weekend of the year, and likely will be the busiest for the rest of my working life. I do look forward to next year, when I will not have to juggle writing final papers with planning and playing in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday services.

Yep, we've got all those services going on. Someone at Jacob's Well, upon hearing all of these liturgical celebrations at our church, asked me what denomination I'm from. When I said, "Baptist," he seemed shocked. We aren't really known for our attention to the church calendar.

Last night was our Maundy Thursday service in Kits. We walked to six different places in Kits that represented brokenness in the neighbourhood, including the alcove where a homeless man died last fall, and the Georgia Straight offices (the last several pages of that newspaper, advertising "massage" and "escort" services which essentially pimp women, make the newspaper $2 million a year). Each place was linked to one of the "shadows" or "tenebrae" of Jesus' journey to the cross: desertion, accusation, crucifixion, etc. We talked about the brokenness, read Scripture, prayed, and sang a short song. We picked up a large stone that had been placed at each spot, and carried them to the final spot, under the Burrard Bridge, which represented the tomb.

This afternoon, we're doing a similar service in Strathcona, which is where my new church will be, as of this week. Though we've invited a lot of guests, and this feels nothing like a "launch", I am conscious that this is our first time worshiping together as a church plant. Jodi wisely pointed out that we couldn't "launch" on Easter without first walking through Good Friday together - you can't skip over the cross. So we will name the brokenness in that neighbourhood as our first act of worship together. We may have a Native drummer join us. Gladys will serve us bannock and deer stew.

Saturday night, we will hold a vigil in Kits, under the Burrard Bridge, where we laid our tombstones. We will sing songs about waiting and longing and disappointment and fear, marking the space in between Good Friday and Easter.

Sunday at sunrise, we will celebrate the resurrection in Strathcona Park. Sunday at 9:30, we will celebrate the resurrection at Kits Church, and that congregation will officially "commission" and send us to Strathcona for the church plant. All of this back-and-forth, overlapping, will hopefully help me to transition between the two communities, though it still feels so sudden and overwhelming. I am excited, and I am anticipating good things, but I also know that church planting is hard and requires much patience.

On top of this, I must finish three papers and one creative writing portfolio. And this seems to be the week for visits from Saskatoon, because Jordan, Evan, Anna, and the Emmanuel youth mission team are all coming to Vancouver in the next few days.

It is a rich time! I am praying for sunshine (though rain is forecast for Easter - which would make it the fourth rainy Easter day I've had in Vancouver). I am praying for energy and imagination, enough to live in the present moment and walk through this weekend faithfully, alongside the disciples.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How I've stopped sucking at praying.

Hey, only a three-month hiatus since the last time I blogged. Not bad.

The problem for me at this moment is that blogging is not on my to-do list. That makes it a dangerous thing to be doing right now, because I'm not sure I even have enough time this week for everything that's actually on my to-do list (most of which involves a class I'd prefer not to talk about called History of Doctrine. Argh.).

I really do need "to do" a blog, because I have something to say, but also because I need to start writing again. Rather, I need to get into the habit of writing. I am starting a class called "Creative Prose," and I will need to be cranking out the non-fiction in large quantities and high qualities very soon. Time to prime the pump.

So today I was thinking about prayer. I recently realized that I'm not very good at it. I've been praying my whole life, and it's taken me all 25 years to figure out and confess that the majority of what I've labeled "praying" has actually been one of two other things: talking to myself, or talking to other people with my eyes closed.

I am being too harsh with myself? I don't think so. It's not that I don't think God has heard me - I believe He's patient and merciful and listens even when I'm messing it all up. But it's time for change.

The problem is that I get into these praying "modes." When I'm praying by myself, like I do almost every morning (and try to do at other points in the day, though I have far to go on the "pray continuously" front), I slip into this habitual mode of mentally reviewing yesterday and today (along with all the good and bad things I've done and all the problems I can anticipate), mentally scrolling through close friends and family (especially those with problems - ha) and trying to think of anything or anyone else I've promised to pray for or "should" pray for. In a process that's somehow simultaneous with this mental review, I sort of "google translate" all of this into a prayer in the 2nd-person. All this time, my main focus is on analyzing and phrasing my desires and emotions and issues, and phrasing my interpretation of the issues other people have. My head is talking to itself, even as my mouth (or mental mouth? I don't always say my prayers out loud...) is trying to aim it all in God's direction.

And when I'm praying with other people, it's worse. I may have already written a blog about this several years ago, because it's always bugged me. Praying with groups of people is hard! Most of the time I'm trying to listen and pay attention to other people's prayers without my mind drifting off to a thousand other things. This takes a lot of energy. Then when it's my turn, I slip into another "mode." This time the mode is called: "try to sound articulate, reflective, and even a little bit creative as you cover all the bases of this prayer "item;" if you're praying at the beginning of a meeting, show that your focus is in the right place; if you're praying at the end of a meeting, try to cleverly sum everything up; definitely don't say anything heretical, and definitely make it "flow" nicely out of your mouth - don't pause too long in the middle or someone may think you're finished and interrupt you." I know it's not all about how many people go "mmm" in agreement while you're praying, but come on, it feels good, doesn't it? It can become a game. And I'm actually pretty good at the game of praying in public, at talking to people (trying to present myself well to people) even as I'm aiming the words in God's direction.

It's not that I try to slip into these modes. Usually I really intend and want to talk to God. And I'm not even very aware of how often I'm not talking to God.

That's my confession. But here's the good part... I've had somewhat of a revelation recently that is helping me actually talk to God when I pray. Ready for it? Here it is:

Jesus is a person and He is alive right now.

Earth-shattering, isn't it? Praying is about talking... to... a person! Haven't I taught this a million times to cabins of girls at camp and Sunday school classes? So why am I still talking to myself or my peers when I pray? Why is it so hard to talk to Jesus?

Well, I can't see Jesus, and I can't usually hear Him audibly, and this makes talking to Jesus different than talking to any other person. When I'm having coffee with a friend or even talking to my sister on the phone, I don't have to remind myself they're there. But with Jesus, I have to continually remind myself that He is there, seeing and hearing me. I have to get the conversation out of my head, or out of the group I'm in, and put all my focus on someone I can't see or hear. This is incredibly hard! Why don't we talk about how hard this is? Why don't we encourage each other? Why don't we stop in the middle of our group prayers and make sure we're all still talking to Jesus?

Jesus is a person and he's alive right now.

It's helped me to remember that Jesus is alive right now. Too often I just picture him 2000 years ago, in some Middle Eastern setting, instead of picturing a present-day person. It's helped me to remember that Jesus has a human body (a resurrected human body, but human nonetheless). So often I turn him into some spiritual, intangible figure. But Jesus didn't just disappear when He ascended. Check out this quote from a book I've been reading:

"As in the incarnation
we have to think of God the Son becoming man
without ceasing to be transcendent God,
so in his ascension
we have to think of Christ as ascending above all space and time
without ceasing to be man
or without any diminishment of his physical historical existence...

In the incarnation we have the meeting of man and God in man's place,
but in the ascension we have the meeting of man and God in God's place,
but through the Spirit these are not separated from one another." (Thomas Torrance)

As a friend of mine put it, it's not so much about "What Would Jesus Do?" as it is about "What Is Jesus Doing?" Because He's still alive and working and serving as our High Priest and making our humanity present to God - at this very moment! This helps me tremendously. I can picture Him - I can keep Him in my mind's eye. The Spirit makes Him present to me where I am.

So I have a new practice when I pray. I do some "centring prayer," inspired by Tony Campolo, yoga, and the Catholic literature I've been reading lately. I breathe, I quiet my own mind, I repeat Jesus' name to focus myself on Him as a living, breathing, alive-right-now person. I try to listen for Jesus and become aware that He is listening to me (Mother Teresa talked about this). We both listen for a while. I wait until I'm fully aware of my own smallness, my own weakness, my own inability to even pray without His help. I wait until I'm fully aware that Jesus is there with me, that the Spirit has made Him present to me, that my friend and Lord is sitting across from me. Only then do I start speaking, and I speak as I would speak to any person sitting there. It doesn't flow nicely out of my mouth, and I say some silly things, and I forget a lot of things (as I do in most conversations). My main goal is to be constantly aware that He's there, listening. Once that awareness slips away, once I slip into merely talking to myself, I stop and do more centring prayer. It's a slow process, learning to really talk to someone you can't see! But it's good.

I haven't tried it too much with group prayer yet - that's the next step. I'm pretty sure I won't sound quite as polished as I have in the past. But I'm very excited! I think this is going to deepen my relationship with God. How about you? Any thoughts on prayer?