A Prayer in Times of Stress

My new book is out, and the topic is . . . stress! Finding Peace: Letting Go of Stress and Worry is a new title in Little Rock Scripture Study’s Alive in the Word series. Each short book in the series explores three Scripture passages on a single theme, helping individuals or groups pray with the Word and apply it to their lives. Finding Peace is available on Amazon or at bulk rates for groups at Little Rock Scripture Study or Liturgical Press.

Below is an excerpt from Finding Peace—a prayer I wrote for stressful times. Feel free to share it with anyone who might like to have it. I wish you peace!

And speaking of peace, thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement that many of you sent my way after my rather fragile Easter blog. As Scully once said to Mulder, “I had the strength of your beliefs.” Easter in us!

 
A Prayer in Times of Stress

Lord God, you have promised
that you are never far away, even when I feel alone;
that you will never leave me, even when I feel abandoned;
that I will never be overcome, even when I feel defeated;
that there is beauty where I do not see it;
that there is music where I do not hear it;
that there is life where I do not feel it.

Whatever I am going through,
whatever the future may bring,
whatever questions I have,
whatever bad news I hear,
whatever pain comes my way,
whatever I cannot control,
be with me, my God, and this will be enough.

Whatever I lose,
whatever I have lost,
whatever is said,
whatever is done,
whatever is broken,
whatever won’t heal,
be with me, my God, and this will be enough.

Whatever decisions I struggle to make,
whatever pressure weighs down on me,
whatever I regret,
whatever I confess,
whatever I remember,
whatever I forget,
be with me, my God, and this will be enough.

Fill my restless spirit with your presence, and this will be enough.
Fill my tired mind with your peace, and this will be enough.
Fill my aching heart with your love, and this will be enough.
Amen.

Amy Ekeh
© 2019 Little Rock Scripture Study

 
 

And the Soul Felt Its Worth

In the book of Genesis, God’s first words to human beings after sin enters the world are: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9).

Deeply emblematic of the rupture between humans and God, these probing words both sadden and inspire us. On one hand, we respond: “I’m sorry! I’m ashamed!” On the other: “I’m here, God! I’m here!”

It is in answer to both of these gut responses that Jesus has come. It is in response to both that he is born in us at Christmas. For God so loved the world that God also calls out: “I’m here!”

This Christmas, my prayer is that a reassurance, a peace that passes all understanding, will lodge in our hearts—a reassurance that there is no more need for God and for us to call out to each other with those heartbroken words: “Where are you?” No more rupture, no more shame. Christ our Savior is born . . . and the soul felt its worth!

Merry Christmas, all!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Thank you to my friend Jeanne for sharing these words of encouragement from the New York Times: “Staying Catholic at Christmas.”

My December column for Catholic Digest is available online: “5 Bible Facts for Advent.”

The Saint Ann Choir will give a free Christmas concert on Sun., Dec. 30, 4:00 p.m., 501 Naugatuck Ave., Milford, CT. I look forward to seeing some of you there!

A note on today’s blog: The fact that God’s first words to Adam and Eve after they sinned were “Where are you?” is pointed about by Enzo Bianchi in his wonderful little book God, where are you? Practical Answers to Spiritual Questions. He says that God asks Adam and Eve where they are, but soon enough, we begin to ask God where he is! Christmas is an especially fruitful time to ponder these questions.

Saincilus Ishmael, Acrylic on Wood, Courtesy    Sacred Art Pilgrim   .

Saincilus Ishmael, Acrylic on Wood, Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.

They Worshiped But They Doubted

I’ve always appreciated Matthew’s resurrection narratives (see Matt 28), which include two powerful accounts of disciples worshiping the Risen Christ. In one such account, they literally embrace his feet in a deeply symbolic act of homage (28:9). In another story (which we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel) Matthew includes this wonderfully realistic statement: “When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted” (28:17).

This may strike us as odd. Worship and doubt are essentially opposites. Worship means you’re “all in.” You’ve decided. You believe. You’re in awe, fascinated, engaged. Worship is a total giving over of yourself. But doubt means you aren’t sure. You’re wavering. You hesitate. You’re afraid of something, or afraid of yourself. Doubt means you’re holding back.

 “They worshiped, but they doubted.”

This is what we do. It's a familiar human rhythm. We worship, but we doubt. We’re all in, and then we’re not. We believe, and then we waver. We’re in awe, then we’re afraid it isn’t real. We’re fascinated, then we wonder why. We’re engaged, then we falter. We start to give ourselves; we hold back.

The disciples were only human. They were simply and genuinely human, even at that moment, on a mountaintop, face to face with another human being who had (impossibly!) risen from the dead. They worshiped him glorious and glorified, but they doubted.

My brothers and sisters, don’t be ashamed in the moments you doubt, or when your worship does not achieve a total gift of yourself. Don’t be disappointed when you waver. Remember these disciples on the mountain. We know that they loved Jesus, and he loved them. In your worship and in your doubt, you love him too. In your moments of being human – high and low moments – moments in liturgy, moments at home, moments at work, moments in your car, moments alone in a quiet church, or at the beach, or lying awake at night in your bed – you worship, you doubt, you love the Risen Christ.

Worship and doubt, this unlikely pair, are as natural for humans as breathing, as living and dying. You are human, and he loves that about you. Haven’t you found that worship creates a relationship that leaves plenty of room for your doubt? So when you can, embrace his feet and do him homage (28:9). And when you can’t, be at peace. He embraces you.
 

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
 

Frances Watt. Mixed media painting. Courtesy  Sacred Art Pilgrim .

Frances Watt. Mixed media painting. Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.

Announcements

  • It’s great to be back with you after my hiatus due to our big move! We’re still busy getting settled, but we’re moved in and happy in our new home.
     
  • My Advent book is out! You can purchase it at Liturgical Press, Little Rock Scripture Study, or amazon.com. I’m currently working on a book in the same series about finding peace in a stressful world.
     
  • I’m enjoying my work with Little Rock Scripture Study! Cackie Upchurch, the Director of LRSS, recently interviewed me for Little Rock Connections. The interview is here.
     
  • Everyone is invited to a concert at my home parish in Milford, CT. The Saint Ann Choir will give an encore performance of their inspiring Pentecost Concert on June 21, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. (501 Naugatuck Ave., Milford). The concert is free. I promise you’ll be glad you came!

Sunday's Gospel: Jesus Loved a Good Paradox

The following is republished with permission from my column in Catechist magazine. For subscription information, visit catechist.com.

This Sunday’s reading from John’s Gospel (click here to read John 12:20-33) prepares us for the imminent death of Jesus. We hear Jesus’ own words of dread (“I am troubled now”), but above all, we hear hints of the glory to come.

The Gospel’s message about Jesus’ death is conveyed in several paradoxes. (A paradox is a meaningful combination of two seemingly opposite truths.) The first paradox Jesus uses is from nature: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus’ death, painful as it will be, will bear fruit. Death, which seems like an absolute end, will do something. It will produce.

Another paradox encourages the disciple of Jesus to espouse the same attitude of self-giving: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Of course, Jesus does not literally want us to hate our lives. The powerful language is meant to convey the reality that Jesus is about to live out. It is only in willingly giving ourselves up that we actually preserve our lives. It is only in willingly giving ourselves up that we follow Jesus and remain with him.

The greatest paradox of all is the fact that in death Jesus is glorified. One might think of death as a defeat or an end, especially a violent death such as the one Jesus will face. But Jesus is clear: In his death, he will be glorified! Because of this perspective, the Passion Narrative (the story of Jesus’ suffering and death) in John’s Gospel has traditionally been called the “Book of Glory.”

This is an essential reminder as Holy Week approaches. It will not be a week of doom and gloom. It is a week of glory!

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you are ready to lay down your life like a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies. May I be there with you, to witness your glory and imitate you so that I also may bear fruit.

Frantisek Burant, Drypoint. Courtesy  Sacred Art Pilgrim .

Frantisek Burant, Drypoint. Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.

My New Year's Slogan

This year I wasn’t planning to make any New Year’s resolutions. What I really wanted was a New Year’s slogan. I wanted a phrase or a saying to echo like a guiding refrain throughout 2018.

I hoped the fortune cookie following my New Year’s Eve meal of Chinese dumplings might provide the wisdom I was seeking. After all, I’ve had some pretty awesome fortunes in my day. Unfortunately, I didn’t even understand it. (This was not the first time one of my kids had to explain the meaning of a fortune to me.)

“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

My daughter Siobhan can explain this to you, if you’re interested. All I knew was that this was not my New Year’s slogan.

A few days later, I was reading through my students’ homework assignments. They were responding to a series of questions about 1 Corinthians 12-14. In 1 Corinthians, Paul was addressing a community of eager but immature Christians. They wanted to follow Christ, but they were still learning. Among other issues, they seemed to be in constant competition with one another. They even bragged about their own spiritual gifts! One Christian might flaunt that she could speak in tongues, another might boast that he had more knowledge, and so on.

How did Paul communicate to the Corinthians that this behavior, this attitude, had to stop? He wrote to them about the value of their spiritual gifts, and how wonderful it was that they were all unique parts of a functioning whole. And then he offered them one guiding criterion for determining how their gifts were to be understood and used. One by one, my students noted Paul’s simple guiding rule, echoing like a refrain: “Does it build up the Church?”

And here was my slogan. Here was a simple question to ask myself in many situations, in many decisions: “If I do this...does it build up the Church? If I think this way...does it build up the Church?” To build up is to provide support, to bolster, to help, to heal. This is why St. Paul brilliantly concluded that love is the greatest spiritual gift – better by far than teaching or leading or speaking in tongues or prophecy. Love never divides as these other gifts sometimes do – when they are used to exclude, to compete, to denigrate or to build up oneself at the expense of the community. But love? Love only serves. It is patient and kind. It is not inflated. It does not brood. Love never fails.

I thought you might be looking for a slogan too, so I’m sharing. Here’s to 2018!

“Everything should be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26).

Too complicated for me.

Too complicated for me.