Lament, an essential spiritual practice for our violent times

mourn sorrowHow do I stay resilient in the midst of so much violence, evil, corruption, need, and pain? Is there a way to stay awake to the needs around me without becoming overwhelmed and despairing?

I wish I could’ve asked these questions in such a thoughtful way, but I couldn’t. I was crying and had lost count of the number of tissues I’d used.

My spiritual director listened with great compassion and then asked a simple question. “Do you practice lament?”

I didn’t. I didn’t know much about it. I learned and started that same day. It’s become an essential spiritual practice for me as I stay on the front lines with so many in need.

What is Lament?
“Lament is not despair. It is not whining. It is not a cry into a void. Lament is a cry directed to God. It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are.” – Emmanuel M. Katongole and Chris Rice, Reconciling All Things

Common Fears of Expressing our Anguish to God (Fear of Practicing Lament)  

  • I don’t want to appear weak. I have to be strong for myself and others.
  • I don’t want to burden my loved ones and friends.
  • Fully expressing my pain will only increase my pain leading me down the path of despair rather than the path of hope. What if I can’t stop the floodgates once I get started?
  • It feels unfaithful to question, complain, doubt. (Here’s the good news, it isn’t!)

Lament is not a failure of faith, but an act of faith. We cry out directly to God because deep down we know that our relationship with God is real. God cares. God understands our pain. God can and wants to help. 

Psalm 130: 1-2, The Message
Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.

Lament in the Scriptures
We find laments from the beginning to the end of the Bible. From the ground crying out over the murder of Abel in Genesis to the martyrs crying out for justice in Revelation.

  • 1/3 of the Psalms are laments
  • Much of Job is lamenting
    • Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?”- Job 3:11
  • The Old Testament Prophets often lament. The prophet Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet.
    • For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no healer there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? –  Jeremiah 8.21-22
    • If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.”- Jeremiah 9:1
  • An entire book of the Bible is called Lamentations- written concerning the fall of Jerusalem

Jesus Lamented
Jesus weeping at the grave of his friend Lazarus. This reminds us we can lament our personal pain.

Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. This reminds us we can lament people not recognizing the gifts of God’s grace and salvation. We can also lament the brokenness of society. If they only knew the things that make for peace (Luke 19:42)

Jesus weeping all night in the Garden of Gethsemane. This reminds us we can be totally honest and totally vulnerable. No feeling or thought is taboo.

Jesus crying out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” from the cross.

How to Practice Lament

1. Rest

  • To lament, we must stop. Feel it fully. Recognize what we’re up against.
  • We medicate with activity. Busyness keeps us distant and the pain at bay.
  • Rest is “not an invitation to become unconcerned about the conflict and chaos in the world but to imagine that the salvation of the world does not ultimately depend upon us.” – Katongole and Rice
  • Rest enables us to cease from grasping, grabbing, striving, trying to be God

2. Direct our cries to God

  • “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!” (Psalm 130:1)

3. Make your Complaint

  • express your anger, pain, heartache, sadness- Uncensored feelings
  • ask heartfelt questions
    • “How long, O Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:2-3)
    • I do not understand what is going on. This makes no sense. How long? Why?
    • Questions can be more than requests for information, they can also be cries of pain.

4. Make Your Request

  • Describe the affliction. It might include rage against your enemies
  • Look toward me, and have pity on me, for I am alone and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.  Put an end to my affliction and my suffering, and take away all my sins. Behold, my enemies are many, and they hate me violently. Preserve my life, and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. (Psalm 25:16-20)

5. Affirm your trust in God

  • God’s presence
  • God’s power in the past
  • The attribute/character of God
  • The promises of God that you’re thankful for and that you are claiming

Psalm 130:5-7           
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord, there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.  

What spiritual practices help you stay resilient? 

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Lament Article © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Contact Lisa for posting and publication considerations.

Extending Blessing (Ephesians 3)

detail from the Hagia Sophia mosaic of Christ

detail from the Hagia Sophia mosaic of Christ

For this reason, I kneel before the Father,
from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. – Eph. 3:14-15

Blessing begins with reverence
A reverence for our Wondrous God
Who bends low to welcome us
Birthing us through water and Spirit
Naming us and claiming us
beloved and blessed
Who not only welcomes us but welcomes all
Knitting us together
in the Body Miraculous
Strangers becoming brothers and sisters
A family far beyond class, clan, or culture
Far beyond what we could ask or imagine

I pray that out of his glorious riches
He may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. – Eph. 3:16-17

From an incalculable treasure of grace upon grace
God pours out strength
Not as the world gives
Not with obvious outward displays
But hidden in the very depths of our frailty
God pours and floods with blood and breath
The very power of life
Driven and danced by Holy Spirit
That we may find our true home in Christ
Our true self in Christ

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,
May have power, together with all the saints,
To grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,
And to know this love that surpasses knowledge—
That you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Eph. 3:17-19

This power
This companionship
This indescribable, priceless love of Christ
This is the blessing
Infinitely wide and long and high
Poured forth and driven deep
All the way down to the roots- our vines anchored in God’s grace
Rooted and Established- tilled till all the wild branches embrace
and the sweet fruit overflows the cups of justice and joy

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
According to his power that is at work within us,
To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
Throughout all generations, forever and ever! – Eph 3:20-21

Glory be to the Blessed One
Opening our lips in blessing
With power to make new

Glory be to the Blessed One
Opening our hands in blessing
With power to make whole

Glory be to the Blessed One
Opening our hearts in blessing
That the grace poured in by Christ
Would overflow
Generation to generation to generation
An endless procession
To all, in all, and through all

Amen.

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This prayer was inspired by by the Ephesians Reading Challenge. Click Here for more information on the challenge to read and reflect on the entire book of Ephesians 3 times in 3 weeks. 

The Ephesians Reading Challenge accompanied a sermon series entitled Sit Walk Stand which was inspired by Watchman Nee‘s book Sit Walk Stand, a study of Ephesians. You will find recordings and notes from this series on the blog as well.

Extending Blessing © 2014 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Fully Me, Fully Us (Ephesians 3)

cup overflowingGod keeps bringing Ephesians 3:14-21 before me- in my devotions, in the writing of others. Repetition means pay attention, so it continues to drive my prayers. – Lisa <><

Steadfast and Faithful One,
Your Holy Spirit is at work in all things, even me
Thank you for your persistent, pursuing grace

This is my desire- to trust you more than I trust myself
what I know and what I know how to do
This is my desire- to be full of you
no longer this shallow shadow of me
but me, really me, fully me, in the light of Christ

The power to be fully me is from you alone
What I am when I am at home with myself in the home of your love

Dwell in my heart of hearts
Dwell in my every desiring
Dwell in the depth of my soul
that I may grasp the depth of your love
Infinite
Extending in every direction
Surrounding every person and need
A flood of grace

Flood our being
That we may know that we know that we know
We are completely known by you and loved by you

Your love surpasses every plan
Every logic
Every statistic
Every theory and theorem
Every fix and solution and discovery
It is above all we can ask or imagine or know

Your love covers all and conquers all
It makes us us
It makes us your people, your body, your church

Fill us with this love
This power
Fill us with you
Amen

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This prayer was inspired by the Ephesians Reading Challenge. Click Here for more information on the challenge to read and reflect on the entire book of Ephesians 3 times in 3 weeks. 

The Ephesians Reading Challenge accompanied a sermon series entitled Sit Walk Stand which was inspired by Watchman Nee‘s book Sit Walk Stand, a study of Ephesians. You will find recordings and notes from this series on the blog as well.

Fully Me, Fully Us © 2014 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Sit- We Receive When We Rest (Ephesians 2)

sit-walk-stand

Sermon Series: Sit Walk Stand
Inspired by Watchman Nee‘s book Sit Walk Stand, a study of Ephesians

Message 1 of 3: Sit
Scripture: Ephesians 2:1-9
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 5/19/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Click Here for more information on the Ephesians Reading Challenge
Read the entire book of Ephesians 3 times in 3 weeks

The main theme of Ephesians: What it means to move with Christ from death to life

Read Ephesians 2:1-3  
Paul describes what life is like before we place our trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It can look like life- doing, accomplishing, living. In reality, life before Christ is basically the walking dead.

Read Ephesians 2:4-9
The passage now shifts from death to life. Notice the descriptions of God’s motivation, God’s character, God’s heart. God is rich in mercy. Rich in grace. God has great love and uses that great love to love us. God loves us even when we are dead. When we have nothing but death to offer.

Death to Life. Jesus raising us up. We are Easter People.

For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. – Ephesians 2:8

Gift Box Illustration
Jesus offers us the gift of mercy, grace, and salvation. We pass it by again and again. How can we receive the gift of God if we are constantly in motion, constantly striving?

  • We are busy doing life: do the laundry, do my job, go to the grocery store, go to the doctor, cook the meal. We make to-do lists.
  • Busy doing for God: do my devotions, do my volunteer work, do the Bible study, do my duty and invite my new neighbor to worship

You can only receive when you rest– when you sit; when you stop. This is why it is first. Sit Walk Stand. Sitting is our position in Jesus Christ. It is being before doing.

Faith is depending on what Christ has done and is doing before you do anything. Jesus raises us up from death and seats us. Sit- We receive when we rest.

What would it be like for you to do the Ephesians Reading Challenge? For you to read the chapter from Ephesians and just sit with God’s Word. It’s not about acquiring knowledge, not about getting answers, not about checking off something from your to-do list. Read. Sit with Jesus, the Word. That’s the challenge.

What would it be like to sit with Jesus in prayer? The only thing you say is, “I just want to be with you.”

Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

How many of us sit down, even lay down, and we have a monkey mind. Our souls are full of anxiousness. Jesus will give us rest for our body, mind, emotions, and soul. This is why sit is first. We receive when we rest.

Instead of being yoked with the world and the ways of the world, we are yoked with Jesus and His ways. The best way to learn from Jesus is to be with him all the time. Not doing with Jesus or doing for Jesus, but being with Jesus.

Pilgrims progress lay down sin burdenWhat burdens is Jesus inviting us to lie down?
We often think of the burdens of life: sorrow, anxiousness, trouble, stress, pain, overwhelm, grief, worry…

The first burden Jesus invites us to lay down is the burden of our sin. That sin is tied to busyness and distraction.

  • The sin of trying to save ourselves is Pride. I don’t need what you did in your death and resurrection. I can do it myself.
  • The sin of trying to be worthy to be saved is also Pride. What you did in your death and resurrection isn’t powerful enough so I’ve got to help.
  • Can a dead person do anything? No! Jesus makes the first move because we can’t. By grace, we are saved through faith, and this is not your own doing it is the gift of God.

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:4-6

In Genesis, humans are created and what is the first thing they do? Rest. Created on day 6 and the next day is day 7, the Sabbath, the day of rest. Being before doing. We can only receive when we rest.

Death to Life. See yourself resurrected from the dead and seated with Christ. Receive salvation as the grace gift that it is. You are alive in Christ.

Already Raisen by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Live as if you are risen

The fear-tombed, nay-saying, people-pleasing
prisoner of scarcity, shame, and threat— that one has died.

The stone of Outcomes has been rolled away.
The linen grave-clothes of Consequences are lying abandoned.

You are free.
Forgiven, accompanied, love-enabled, miracle-powered,
you are a member of the risen body of Christ.

You are those hands with holes in them Jesus shows, and says, “Peace.”
You are the flesh the Spirit moves to do her next wonders.

You’ve already died and gone to heaven,
no mere flesh now, but pure love,
unafraid of death and its useless threats,
with unshakable courage,
nothing to lose, everything in your hands.

Don’t live as if you’re afraid to be crucified.
Live as if you’re already risen

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Sit Sermon © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Cast Your Net Again (John 21)

Cast Your Net Again by Daniel Bonnell

Scripture
Jesus said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

Sermon/Poem
This poem was inspired by Matthew 13:47-50, John 21:1-14, John 12:31-32, Psalms 40:1-3, and the painting Cast Your Net Again by Daniel Bonnell. It could be voiced with one or two speakers.

Cast Your Net Again
It’s been a long night of fishing
We smell of bait and salt-
salt from the sea
salt from the sweat
salt from the tears
It’s a strange combination of perspiration and desperation

The sun is about to come up, and we haven’t caught a thing
We downhearted
Not so much because we haven’t caught anything,
But because everything’s changed
He’s gone
our leader
our teacher
our friend
our future
We missing Jesus

He called us from our nets years before,
Come, follow me…
And that’s what we did
We gave up everything we knew
our nets
our lives
“Fishers of men,” he said…

Now he was gone and all that ‘s left is the nets… empty nets…

Children, you have no fish, have you?
                                                                     No, no fish
Cast your net again and you will find some

Cast your net again,
We know this familiar foolishness
So we cast it… we cast it wide, drag it deep, sweep it around the sea
Suddenly! So many fish!

The cry goes up with our hope
It is the Lord! It is Jesus!

He sank down to the bottom
Down to the mud and the darkness
Down to the pain and the brokenness
Down to our level

Until he was lifted up- lifted up on a cross
Up went the fists
Up went the curses
Up went the sign
Up went the stares

Down came the hammer
Down came the tears
Down came the blood
Down came the love
Down to our level- buried beneath waves of fear and injustice and sin
Buried beneath earth

He did as he promised
Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself

It is the Lord! It is Jesus!
He is lifted up from the earth!
Up from the grave
Up goes the shout
Up goes the sun with the Son

Cast your net again, my Jesus
Cast it wide, drag it deep, sweep it around the sea
Draw us up from the bottom with you
Draw us up from the mud and the darkness
Up from the pain and the brokenness and the selfishness and the loneliness
Draw us up from the fear and the hate and the sin and the death
Draw us up from the bottom with you

Draw us up,
Draw us all, my Jesus
Fisher of men and women, sober and addicted, poor and prosperous, infant and aged
Draw us up, Draw us all, my Jesus
Healthy and ill, free and imprisoned, questioning and confident
Draw us up, Draw us all
Fisher of nations and galaxies

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

Cast your net again into the sea of humanity
Cast it wide, drag it deep, sweep it around the sea
Draw us up
Draw us in
We are caught in your saving embrace

“Now follow me,” says Jesus.
“Come, cast the net
Cast the net again and again and again and we will find some more
Cast it wide, drag it deep, sweep it around the sea
So many, so different, so beautiful
Use all your strength to bring them in
Have no fear, the net will not break.”

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© 2009, revised 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please, leave a comment for information/permission to publish this work in any form.

A Tale of Two Baptisms (Romans 6)

adult background beach blue

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

A Tale of Two Baptisms
Scripture: Romans 6:3-11
Notes from a message offered Easter Sunday, 4/28/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Reading: Romans 6:3-11

Testimony: Timothy’s Baptism in the ICU

Testimony: Towery Boys’ Baptism on Siesta Key

Recommitting to a robust faith, awake, alive, thankful for all God has and is doing for us in our baptism.

We commit to living our baptismal vows:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sins?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in His grace, and promise to serve Him as your Lord, in union with the church, which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

According to the grace given to you, will you remain a faithful member of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representative in the world?

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A Tale of Two Baptisms © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Three Reflections on Betrayal, Denial, and Forgiveness (Matthew 26)

peter judas betray deny

Extended Quote from Destination: Known, Readings for Holy Week in the Upper Room Disciplines (2012) by Thomas R. Steagald
Sometimes in our familiarity and haste, we bypass verses of scripture. Because we already know the story of who “betrayed” Jesus, our attention in this passage [John 13:21-32] jumps quickly ahead to the conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter, the piece of bread, and Judas’s leaving the meal to meet with the religious officials.

But what of verse 22: “The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking?” …

Could it be that each of the disciples is humble enough, uncertain enough, to know that given the right set of circumstances or stressors, any one of them has it within him to do what Judas would in fact do?…

For only those who love Jesus can betray him. His enemies might hate him; others might disregard or ignore him, but only those who sit at the table can get up and leave, and only those close enough to kiss him can give the kiss of death. That Judas is the one who guided the soldiers to Gethsemane on fresh-washed feet, his breath smelling of sacrament, is a particular instance of what is possible for all disciples.

It is unfortunate that we so quickly rush to blame Judas, so quickly leave him and this verse of scripture behind; for indeed, this Holy Week calls us to examine ourselves, to hear Jesus’ prediction, uncertain of whom else he might be speaking.

Forgive me, Lord, when I turn away from you and your purposes. Amen.

Matthew 26:21-35
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” … Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

The Seat of Greatest Grace by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Jesus, my Friend,
my Beloved, my Person,
I love you, and I will falter.
I will deny you. I will betray you.
Three times, ten thousand times
I will deny you.
The silver pieces lie in my pocket
I have the nails
And you, knowing, invite me to your table,
to the place of honor even,
this seat of greatest grace,
beside you,
to share your bread with me,
and lay down your body for me
I can hardly look into the sun
of such forgiveness,
love’s empty tomb
that defeats me,
re-makes me.

I confess. I return.
Knowing, I follow,
drawn in your grace,
this burden that is light.

Matthew 26:74-75
Then Peter began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Denial, by Steve Garnaas Holmes
I deny you, Christ,
when I deny my own divinity.
I deny you when I deny
the divinity of those I condemn.
I deny you when I do not hear you
in the oppressed and rejected.
I deny you when I turn
from my glorious giftedness.
I deny you when I am afraid
to stand with those at risk.
I deny you when in my guilt
I doubt your love.
And still, you love.

Let remembering’s bitterness awaken me.
Let my weeping be my wisdom.

To the frightening, to the infinite,
to the compassionate, to the holy,
help me say yes.

Let me die with yes on my lips.

I am grateful for the writing ministry of Steve Garnaas Holmes. His work inspires me, challenges me, and draws me close to God. Find more of his work at www.unfoldinglight.net and consider subscribing.