Prayer

Enneagram prayer practices

Sunday marked the end of our Enneagram series during Lent.  To close out this journey we thought it would be great to dive into the prayer practices that disrupt our habits & lead us back to health.  We wanted Sunday to reflect the idea that our friend Aaron Niequist articulates that church should be "more of a spiritual gymnasium than classroom".  We wanted to practice praying together rather than just hearing about it.

That being said these were not our ideas.  We've been borrowing heavily from Christopher L. Heuertz's book "The Sacred Enneagram" during this series & his ideas were central to our practices on Sunday morning.

We decided to walk through 3 practices that were related to each of the intelligence centers.  See the chart below for specifics of each type.

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The first practice we dived into was chosen primarily for the Thinking/Head center, 5-7s.  This practice originates with Julia Cameron, author of "The Artist's Way" & as one author writes they're designed to "unlock a lot of the chains of my mind and open up the dam so that creativity can flow".

You can read more about the how to do them here but it's not that hard.  Just write, dust out the cobwebs & settle your mind for the day.

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing,
done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*–
they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about
anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes
only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page...and then do three more pages tomorrow.

The second practice was chosen primarily for the Instinctive/Body center, 8-1s.  We introduced this very simple practice of a prayer labyrinth back in 2016.  You can read about it & download the labyrinth here.

Walking a labyrinth with your feet or your finger, as you can do here, is meant to be a meditative practice to draw you into the mystery of God, to a place beyond words, images or other mental content.

Our third & final practice was for the Feeling/Heart center 2-4s & was facilitated by community member Theresa Elwell.  You'll have to listen back to the service to fully experience what she walked us through but here's an excerpt from the practice she led us through the week before to get a taste:

First, just drop into your breathing… noticing your inhale and your exhale….

Now bring your awareness to your heart area, noticing any feeling or sensations there…

I invite you to allow these words into your heart….
gently and quietly reciting them to yourself if that’s comfortable for you.

I am imperfect, and I am worthy of Love. 

I am flawed, and I am worthy of Grace.

I love and accept myself just as I am. 

Breathe into the Divine Spirit that lives within you. 
Breathe into this energy.
Breathe into this power.
… and give thanks.

When faced with the next challenge or struggle, we can practice
pausing, 
breathing,
coming back to our centers, 
back to our hearts,
and remember that we are loved. 

Amen.

Here's the full service for you to experience or relive these practices:

"Hineni" - Here I Am - Mindfulness Exercises

On Sunday in Brooklyn we started our Six Words series by learning about the Hebrew word "Hineni" which means "Here I am." Moses used this word in response to God calling to him from within a burning bush in Exodus 3. You'll be able to hear the full sermon here.

Theresa Elwell, a leader in our community who has developed a practice of meditation and prayer for herself over the past year, led the whole community in a mindfulness exercise before reading the scripture on Sunday. Then during communion people were invited to take home a marble to use as a grounding object in their prayer life this week. 

Below are two exercises to help you practice prayer and mindfulness this week. Use them throughout your day to calm your anxiety, to center yourself, and say "hineni" - Here I am, Lord.

Exercise #1 - Grounding in the Present Moment                                          

(This exercise is adapted from the book Sacred Wounds by Teresa B. Pasquale, p. 30-31)

1. Wherever you are, become aware of your surroundings. Where are you sitting or standing in this moment?

2. Begin to notice your breath. Engage in the practice of intentional breathing, even if this just means breathing in your nose and out of your mouth.  

3. Begin to feel your surroundings. Touch whatever is closest to you - this might be a marble or the case of your cellphone, the object nearest to you, even the fabric of your clothes.

4. Notice the texture and dimensions of this object you are holding or touvhing, as you continue to intentionally breathe through this moment of stress. Is the object you're holding jagged or smooth, rough or textured? Notice how it feels. Pay attention to the dimensions of it.

5. You will have memories, thoughts, and feelings flutter through your mind. You will have ideas, worries, or concerns begin to crowd your brain and tense your body. This will happen. This is part of the human struggle. Your goal is to 1) not attach to any one thought, feeling, or sensation, 2) return to breath as a way to ground in the moment, and 3) return back to the object you are using as your point of grounding. 

6. Feel the breath moving through your lungs and then begin to ground your whole body in the present moment. 

7. Continue to breathe and ground with your object of choice. Be present with how it feels to sit; stand, and be wherever you are in this moment. Feel your feet on the ground, your body in the seat (if you are seated), and the object grounding you.

8. Distractions will always come, and the intention of this practice is to return to your breath and ground yourself in the present moment whenever you are feeling carried away by the chaos of your mind, life, and body. Allow yourself these moments of peace and when you are ready, begin to gently chant to yourself praying "Here I am, Lord." Repeat this phrase over and over in your mind or aloud as you ground yourself in the present moment with your God.

Exercise #2 - Centering with Scripture

Before you begin, choose a passage of scripture to read at the end of this practice. 

Begin by simply noticing how you are sitting. Place your feet flat on the floor, hands on your lap, palms up. Slowly close your eyes and begin to notice your breath. The inhale, filling the lungs, the exhale, letting go. Breathe in deeply, and as you breathe out, let go of any thoughts or worries that you might be holding onto. Take another one, breathing in your day, your week and then exhale, letting it all go.

Feel the ground beneath your feet and the chair underneath you, supporting you. Notice the places on your body that are making contact with these supports. Allow your skin, muscles and bones to soften and relax into these grounding surfaces. Release any tension in your shoulders. Feel the spine long and at ease. Allow the head to be gently supported by the neck.

Open your senses. Take another deep breath in, noticing the smell and air passing through the nose and into the body. Turn your hands over and rub them on the tops of your legs. Feel the fabric of your clothes and the heat of your hands on your lap. Soften the eyes. Release the jaw.

Notice any sensation you may be having inside the body - tingling in the hands or feet, heart beating in the chest, the energy buzzing inside the body. Whatever is there, be present with it. Now widen your attention so you can feel the whole body present in the room with others. Allow your ears to open, letting sounds and words wash through you. Awake, alive and open to God’s word in this moment.

When you are ready, slowly open your eyes and say..."Here I am, Lord" then begin to read your Bible passage. Read it twice through slowly. Allow yourself time to notice the words and thoughts that stick out to you but don't overanalyze them. Simply let them resonate through you. When you are finished, lift up your thoughts in prayer to God. 

FCQ 2016: David Bazan

when Job asked you the question
you responded “who are you
to challenge your creator?”
well if that one part is true

it makes you sound defensive
like you had not thought it through
enough to have an answer
or you might have bit off
more than you could chew
— David Bazan, In Stitches

The first time I heard this song it felt scandalous. David Bazan is talking to God. He’s talking about suffering. I listened to David Bazan’s music back when he fronted the band Pedro the Lion. This new music felt like a departure. I was offended. I felt that I needed to defend God. 

“Who are you to question God’s infinite and unimaginable power? Who are you to easily dismiss God because of a few bad experiences or doubts? Isn’t that throwing the baby out with the bathwater?”

Then I listened to the song again. And again. And then I listened a few more times. And I realized that this song was a prayer. 

This song was a prayer similar to this prayer.


Wake up!
Why do You sleep, Lord?!
Arise!
Do not abandon forever!
Why do You hide Your Face?
Why do You forget our persecution and our oppression?
For our souls have been pounded into the dirt,
our stomachs are stuck to the ground.
Get up!
Help us!

Or this one.


How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

What I recognized from David Bazan is that the laments that we read in scripture, in the book of Psalms, decidedly tell us what it means to fully live out a life of following Christ. In order to live this life, it must include wrestling with pain, abandonment, suffering, questions, and unbelief. In order to live a full life there are times when we echo the words of King David, Christ on the cross, or even David Bazan. 


Before the truth sets you free it tends to make you miserable.

I think David Bazan is on to something. I think his music, questioning, doubts, and anger are pointing to a greater truth for all of us. It’s pretty tough to see the truth if we’re not willing to wade through the misery. 

I’m excited to announce that David Bazan will be our first guest in 2016’s Faith, Culture, and Questions series. I’m going to ask you to open up your minds, bring some of your questions, and prepare to be set free that the truth that comes from honest and thoughtful lament. 

In the meantime check out more of Bazan’s music. I promise it will make us think, make us react, and I hope, lead us to the truth of a full life in Christ. 

David Bazan will be performing stories and songs at The Bell House on Thursday, September 22 at 7pm, with opening act Lindsey Luff. Tickets are available at Ticketfly.


Centering - A Prayer Exercise

This summer at Forefront Brooklyn we're hosting monthly nights of prayer and meditation called Centering. Last week several members of our community met up in my home where Katie Knipp Willis and I led us all through an hour of meditation, journaling, silence, and prayer. It was a great night of calm and focus during a busy, hot summer. 

Below is the transcript of the exercise we led everyone through. We encourage you to take the time to follow this prayer practice on your own time. You'll need a quiet space and a journal or document to write in.

You can also RSVP to join Ben Grace as he leads our August night of Centering and takes you through different practices of prayer on Tuesday, August 16th. 

Centering: An Exercise in Prayer

Opening Meditation:

In lieu of all the events going on in our world over the past few months, we encourage you to take some time to sit in silence and reflection, to ask yourself some personal questions, and contemplate over who God is calling us to be as his people.

Allow yourself to find stillness amidst the business of life. Meditation is a practice of listening. Listening to our own thoughts and listening to God. Prayer is the talking part of our dialogue with God, and meditation is when we listen to Him. How often do we forget to sit still and listen? Like a lake, if the water is constantly churned up, the water will be murky, and you can’t see anything. But when the water is still, you can see to the bottom. Right now, give yourself that time. Allow the events and thoughts of the day to fall away, and open up to a place of quiet contemplation.

As you continue to read, you’ll find a mix of scripture reading, guided meditations, and quiet reflection. At some points your mind will wander, it’s natural, just bring your attention back to the present moment. When emotions arise, let them, when images or memories pop into your mind, notice them. Take your time to read and reflect and write down anything that comes up as you move through this post. 

The most important thing to remember is to be gentle with yourself. You're not working towards or striving for anything. You're learning to just be - to just listen.

Let’s begin by relaxing and centering ourselves. Make sure you’re nice and comfortable in your seat, and just begin to notice your breath. The inhale, filling the lungs, the exhale, letting go. Breathe in deeply, and as you breathe out, let go of any thoughts or worries that you might be holding onto. Take another one, breathing in your day, your week, your year, and then exhale, letting it all go.

Feel the ground beneath your feet and the chair underneath you, supporting you. Notice the places on your body that are making contact with these supports. Allow your skin, muscles and bones to soften and relax into these grounding surfaces. Release any tension in your shoulders. Feel the spine long and at ease. Allow the head to be gently supported by the neck.

Open your senses. Take another deep breath in, noticing the smell and air passing through the nose and into the body. Allow your ears to open, letting sounds and words wash through you. Soften the eyes. Release the jaw and relax the tongue inside the mouth. Notice any sensation you may be having inside the body - tingling in the hands or feet, heart beating in the chest, the energy buzzing inside the body. Whatever is there, be present with it.

Open your heart, and feel it from the inside out. Gently listen, simply letting everything be as it is.  

As you read the following passage, take a moment to observe what in God’s word catches your heart’s attention. Is there a word or phrase that resonates with you? Allow yourself to simply dwell in the word as you listen. Turn your thoughts to God and quietly enjoy being in God’s presence.

A Reading from John 16: 5-15:

The Work of the Holy Spirit

“But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.  And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.

“There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

Journal Exercise #1: 

Now take a deep breath and turn to your journal. Write about anything that came up as you've been reading. Below you’ll find a couple of questions you could journal about if you choose. Allow yourself to take as much time as you need to reflect as you write and sit quietly, listening to how God is speaking to you through his word.

  • What in your world and the world around you has recently felt like it is unjust, or spinning out of control?

  • Trust that by asking for God’s voice, and quieting your mind, God can speak to you, and send you His guidance. Take a few minutes to listen, and then write what you hear.

A Second Reading from John 16: 16-24:

Sadness Will Be Turned to Joy

“In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.”

Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.”

Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again.  I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.

Journal Exercise #2:

What words or phrases stuck out to you? Or what thoughts or images came up in the passage. When did your mind wander, and what did it wander to? Write down what you noticed. Here are some more questions you can answer as well.

  • What does joy look and feel like to you?

  • If nothing stood in your way, how could you bring about joy in your circumstance? In our community?

  • What healing do you want to ask for?

A Third Reading from John 16: 16-24:

“I have spoken of these matters in figures of speech, but soon I will stop speaking figuratively and will tell you plainly all about the Father. Then you will ask in my name. I’m not saying I will ask the Father on your behalf, for the Father himself loves you dearly because you love me and believe that I came from God. Yes, I came from the Father into the world, and now I will leave the world and return to the Father.”

Then his disciples said, “At last you are speaking plainly and not figuratively. Now we understand that you know everything, and there’s no need to question you. From this we believe that you came from God.”

Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe? But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Journal Exercise #3:

One last time, take your journal, and write about anything that came up. And here are some more questions you can answer as well.

  • Notice what is in your way for moving forward. What ways do you feel stuck?

  • In what areas of your life are you seeking peace?

  • In what ways do you feel or hear God calling you to make a change in yourself or in the world around you?

Meditation:

Feel your feet, and feel the support of the ground. Feel yourself rooting yourself into this world, this earthly plane. There is work to do, and feel the support of the earth, giving you strength to do it. Imagine what that work looks like in your life. Feel the support growing for you, and that grows your energy, your drive, your fire for justice.

Now feel that strength traveling up your spine, you sit taller, but without tension. Your heart opens more bravely to face upcoming challenges with love and compassion- no small feat. You feel your heart growing stronger, larger, more capacity to love and heal.

Lift out of the neck and brow, and then picture light flowing out the top of your head. Feel this lift, this light releasing you from being attached to any fears, any preconceived outcomes. This light travels to a vision of God- picture in your imagination the Source of Light, and you pour out your burdens to this source, it receives it, supporting you. Feel the anchor of the earthly plane supporting you, feel the anchor of the heavenly plane, supporting you.

A Quote:

“I prayed a prayer and I prayed out loud that night. I said, “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I think the cause we represent is right. But Lord I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage.”

... And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, “Martin Luther, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even to the end of the world.”      - Martin Luther King Jr.

Breathe and reflect in this place. Close your eyes and sit in silence for a few moments. 

Closing Prayer:

By Travis Eades

Oh God, because you are with us, we stand with courage.  

As chaos spins around us, we know that you are with us.

We are prone to wander, but not you. You are steadfast in your love.

We know that we are not alone in our trials.

 

Oh God,

You will not leave our side.

Your love stands firm,

and our fear is overcome.

 

Oh God, because of the courage and hope that we find in you,

we know that our calling is not only to stand for ourselves but to stand for justice and mercy for others.

 

As you stand with us, we are called to stand with those who find themselves oppressed or marginalized by the injustices of our world.

Those who have felt the flames of hatred, racism, violence, and inequality of all forms

Those who have been cast as outsiders by religious fundamentalism

Those who have been left out, looked past, and let down by those who claim your name

Those who have been promised grace and only been given shame

Those who have been declared free by the system, but only experienced systematic oppression

Those who have tried to quit, over and over and over, only to relapse again and again

Those who have bought into the lie that they are defined by the labels that are imposed on them

 

Because you stand with us,

We stand with them.

Because you are with us

We are with them.

Because we are them

We are with them.

Because of your love

We pray that we can be love.

 

Allow us now to name aloud the people and things that are on our hearts and minds tonight:

(free prayer is welcome here)

 

Lord,

May we be the hope that we have received.

May we be the strength that we once needed.

May we be the hands that lift the burden from the oppressed.

The mouths that speak out for the voiceless.

The eyes that see those who are invisible to this world.

The feet that walk toward reconciliation.

The defenders of the weak.

The providers for the poor.

 

Everything that you are for us,

May you be through us.

 

May we be the presence of joy amidst sorrow, the hope that overcomes the world,

Because you are with us.

Amen.


Stations of the Cross

In 2016 we'd like you to invite you into a rhythm of praying and meditating through the Stations of the Cross.  We have set these up in our offices and you can visit at any time during office hours.  The office will also be open before and during our three "Scatter" events on Monday, Wednesday and Friday should you wish to participate in an intimate communal worship experience.

You can walk through the Stations of the Cross resource over here.

We're grateful to Creighton Universities for the guide through the Stations and St Richard's of Chicester for David O'Connel's amazing art that walks us through this imaginative exercise.


LENT PRAYER LABYRINTH

This prayer labyrinth marks the 46 days of Lent, 40 week days of fasting & 6 Sundays of feasting, beginning at Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday.

Download it here & print it your personal use.

Use this resource in your meditation time.  Fill, color or sketch in the circle for the day & then slowly trace your finger from today's circle in & around the prayer labyrinth to the center through the empty circles.

In the liturgical planner "Sacred Ordinary Days" Jenn Giles Kemper writes:

For some, the circuitous path represents our life-long journey towards Christ-likeness and for others it is a way of entering into a pilgrimage of imagination without going on a long trip.  Using a labyrinth helps me approach God with humility, curiosity, wonder, and undistracted presence.
Walking a labyrinth with your feet or your finger, as you can do here, is meant to be a meditative practice to draw you into the mystery of God, to a place beyond words, images or other mental content.  Apophatic prayers such as these are about resting in and being present to God, paradoxically, through the absence of what we normally consider to be prayer.  Using a labyrinth is one of many methods of entering into apophatic prayer.  Surely we recognize that while God is unknowable, we cannot fully grasp all that God is.  Experiencing grief and even joy can give us glimpses into parts of God and ourselves that lie beyond what our senses and faculties can comprehend,  How comforting, then to know that those places, too, are doors that open to realms of God we cannot discover, otherwise.
Given how foreign the apophatic approach to prayer still is to me, I find walking labyrinths helpful, because it gives my "outside" self - my physical body - something to do.  This employment allows my "inside" self - my heart, mind, and spirit - to simply be present without having a responsibility in the moment.  While labyrinths look like mazes, the path is singular and without deception.  They do not require decision-making or problem solving.  Once you enter, you simply continue moving forward ... each step draws you inward to the center.

We hope this practice allows you some emptiness and slowness in this season of Lent.

Use this in conjunction with other resources such as "Seeking God's Face" or "unhurryUp!"


Advent Bible Study

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.
— Psalm 130:5

Our Park Slope/Gowanus Small Group Leader, Caroline Hughes, put together a Bible study from the psalms in Seeking God's Face during this Advent season. If you don't have a copy of the book, you can learn more about it here. You can also do this study alone, with family or in your small group with or without a copy of SGF. All you need is your Bible and a ready heart.

 

Reflect:

"No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame..."

Read Psalm 25:1-10

In this season of busyness and distraction, do we ever think we're forgotten by Christ because of our inadequacies and failures?  How do these verses promise otherwise? 

 

Prepare:

"Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved."

Read Psalm 80:1-10; 7-19

Christ has brought us into a new freedom; the Israelites leaving Egypt is a foretelling of this freedom to come for us all. Everything is leading us closer to peace. This Advent season, in what ways do we want to ask Christ for freedom? Maybe it's freedom from regrets in your past, from bad habits or insecurities. Make a list of all the things you want to ask Jesus to free you from this Christmas. 

 

Discern:

"I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants..."

Ps 85:1-2;8-13

Christ came to offer us forgiveness and love. He came to free us and give us a hope. Do we struggle to believe this? Do we struggle to listen to his calling for peace in our lives? How can we make peace with our imperfections? 

Pray through the list of things you want freedom from this Christmas season and ask God to bring you shalom, wholeness and peace in the freedom offered through his son. Christ has already forgiven us. Pray for belief and the heart to listen to his forgiveness and love for you.

 

Hope:

"May he be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth."

Read Psalm 72:1-7

We know the world is not as it should be, but that through Christ's birth and death there is a hope for peace and reconciliation. These verses remind us of the hope that is to come. How do we see celebration of Christ's return, the second coming, in these verses?  How does the imagery in these verses remind us of Christ's everlasting presence, the Lord Almighty who is and was and is to come? In what ways do we see his presence alive in our world this holiday season?

 

Further readings...

Psalm 146

Psalm  89

Psalm 126

Hebrews 6:16-19

 

Closing Prayer: 

Coming Savior, you are the Word, the wisdom, and the very image of the Father. Ready my ears to hear your word of truth, to believe in your forgiveness and love for me. Ready my heart to learn the ways of your wisdom, to move me to be an agent of your justice and mercy in the world. Ready my eyes to see the beauty of your likeness, to embrace your presence and peace all around me. Fill me with the greater hope this Advent season that in Christ's love, I am on my way to shalom, to new life in your presence. 

In Jesus' name... Amen.

 

 

Advent Resources for 2015

It's officially Christmastime in New York City! While it's easy to get wrapped up in the parties and decor of the season, we as the church are called to remember the true essence of Christmas...

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life
— John 3: 16

Here at Forefront we observe Advent during the Christmas season. It's a time of waiting and preparation. It's a time of compassion and giving. In these four weeks leading up to birth of Jesus, Christians around the world will embrace daily and weekly rhythms of prayer and reflection as we await the hope, peace, joy and love that comes with the birth of our Lord and Savior. 

If you'd like to join us in these divine rhythms, then check out a few of the resources below. We've recommended some of our favorite devotionals for you to walk through individually, as a family, and with your small group this Advent season. Click the links for additional resources and the pictures for direct links to buy the books on Amazon.

For Individuals:

Richard Rohr's Preparing for Christmas - Daily Meditations for Advent

This is a simple daily scripture reading and commentary that finishes with a question for reflection. The book is written on a three year cycle with different passages to read each year. This is a perfect resource to start your day or to further your journaling time. It can also be read and discussed with friends or spouses. You can get a taste of it from reading Rohr's article on Huff Post here. 

For Small Groups (or individuals):

Seeking God's Face: Praying with the Bible Through the year

You've heard us talk about this book often over the past year. We refer to it as "the Daily Office." It provides a twenty minute rhythm for you to walk through the season of Advent and the whole Christian calendar. Read more about how to use the Daily Office and how to meditate through it Lectio Divina style on your own or with your small group.

 

We Make the Road by Walking by brian mclaren

This is one of our favorite new resources that we've recently introduced to our small groups and leaders. It's a weekly study through scripture that covers the entire year in the Christian calendar. Each week covers three passages and is accompanied by commentary from McLaren and questions for reflection and meditation. The book is divided into parts to follow the rhythms of the yearly calendar. To pick up with the season of Advent you can begin your study at the start of "Part Two: Alive in the Adventure of Jesus." There are also appendixes with prayer and liturgy that small groups can use in their study together. 

For Families:

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name -  A family Reading plan for Advent

Every time we dedicate a new baby into the Forefront community, the child receives a gift of a children's Bible. We even used this Jesus Storybook to teach our adults in our ReTold series last summer. It's a well-written collection of illustrated stories from the Old & New Testaments that move your child toward understanding the significance of Christ's birth, life and death. This year we've found an Advent Reading Plan that helps you read 24 of the stories in your Jesus Storybook Bible as you walk through the days until Christmas. Read this blog post for all the details. 

FAMILY ADVENT CALENDAR

On Sundays this December our elementary students will study the Christmas story together in Kidstuf. Through it they'll learn that one aspect of God’s character is compassion. God saw our greatest need, and He met it in the most remarkable way. Our Kidstuf curriculum includes a Family Advent Calendar with a line from the Christmas story and a different action each week to get kids and families thinking about how they can show Christ-like compassion this holiday season and all year round. You can print the PDF of the calendar for your family to use here. 

For further reading:

Why observe Advent? Read this article by Rob Bell for some timely thoughts on the season.

Learn more about the Christian calendar and why we follow it as a church. Click here to find posts about Advent and the calendar on the Forefront Blog.

Listen to the Forefront NYC podcasts. Walk through Advent with us each Sunday and revisit the messages from Advent 2014 for even more great history and thoughts as we continue to once again "go back in order to go forward" as the church.

“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”
— The Polar Express











Meditation Resources

I like being the go-to “meditation person.” When we did the Vapor liturgy, I led the centering prayer at the end. Mike asked me to lead a similar centering prayer during a Union. I was honored to lead a meditation from stage on Sunday this past week. [Click here to listen to Ryan's message and the meditation practice.] But here’s a secret - I’m not always good at meditating, personally. The key to reaping the benefits of meditation is consistency in practice, and let me tell you, I am very inconsistent. I’m sharing this to say, don’t feel frustrated by lack of consistency in your life. Do what you can. Be encouraged to keep coming back to a meditation practice, even if you miss a few days or a few weeks. Try a different style of meditation if one doesn’t work for you. Before I go to bed is a good time for me to spend time in silence; first thing in the morning works better for some people. Find what works for you. Here are some resources that help me when I feel inconsistent or afraid to start my practice again:

 

How God Changes Your Brain by Andrew Newberg

[My #1 resource on meditation, suggested by Science Mike.]

 

Meditation podcast - The Liturgists

[Still not sure about meditation and spirituality? Listen.]

 

Seeking God’s Face

How to Use the Daily Office

[Meditate on the Bible; plus a helpful blog post on how the Forefront staff uses SGF.]

 

Lectio Divina

Praying Through the Psalms

[Blog posts from Jen Fisher on praying and meditating through Scripture.]

 

Daily Meditations from the Henri Nouwen Society

[Read online or sign up to receive via email.]

 

The Cloud of Unknowing 

[Ryan Phipps's favorite resource on prayer and meditation. He wrote a blog post about it too.]

 

FAITHEISM

Lock: “G _ _ _ _ _ _ it, Morpheus! Not everyone believes what you believe!”

Morpheus: “My beliefs do not require them to.”
— The Matrix

 

SEASONS

I've gone through two seasons in my life where I was on the verge of giving up my faith altogether. Nothing tragic had occurred. I didn't get sick. I hadn't lost anyone I loved. I wasn't disappointed about anything in my life. I had just come to the conclusion that my faith was of very little use to me any longer. 

As I observed the world and all that went on in it, I saw that those without faith and those with faith both suffered and succeeded in equal measures. 

A few of my closest friends identify as agnostic or atheist. They are some of the kindest, moral, ethical, and charitable people that I know. 

My larger circle of friends identify as people of faith. They are also some of the kindest, moral, ethical, and charitable people that I know. 

My non-believing friends attribute their admirable behavior to the innate goodness of humans. 

My believing friends attribute theirs to a God at work in them. 

 

FAITH IN AMERICA

We believing Americans are plagued with a strange vice. For many, God is a kind of being or presence that we pray to and do things for in hopes of receiving something good in return. 

For instance; one may want a change of career, a mate, a child, maybe even a bigger apartment (me!) and so we pray to God for these things.

We also pray for emotional things; perhaps a better mood, the courage to be more kind or to have a greater surplus of patience. 

Still, other times we pray for those we love that are suffering, or even those that we don't know who have been touched by tragedy.

But how many times have you asked God for something and never received it?

If I had to count, it would outnumber all the grains of sand in the seas. 

 

THEN WHAT IS THE POINT?

I was counseling someone in my office the other day and he said, "Jesus said that if I ask I will receive. Why am I never receiving what I ask for, even when what I am asking for is not rooted in anything selfish?"

I responded, "What if prayer is more about what it does to you than what you receive from it?" 

"What do you mean?" he said. 

I responded, "What if prayer is about the shaping of the heart and not about the getting of things?"

He threw his hands in the air, raised his voice and shouted, "Then what's the point of believing in God at all, then?"

And therein lies the capitalist, American gospel.

Many of us believe that faith, prayer, good behavior, charity, whatever, are all a means of getting the things that we want from God- a tether of sorts that transports goods and services from the divine realm into our lives of "spiritual" materialism. 

We incentivize faith. Many of our prayers are nothing more than transactions- a cost of doing business with God.

 

FAITHEISM

Like the gentleman in my office, I too have gone through the same frustrations many times over in my life.

What I have learned over the years is that my faith, my prayers, and my doing of good is not something required of me to "purchase" the things that I need (and want) from God.

The point of my faith is that it deepens my human experience. By drawing closer to God I find myself drawn closer to others, wanting to see a world that is ever on a brighter trajectory.

And you may rebut, "But isn't that what skeptics want, too?" 

Yep. It is. And that gives us a kinship that is deeper than debates, doctrines, and dogma. It makes us partners in the making of a better world. Gandhi once said that, "God is conscience. He is even the atheism of the atheist."

God is conscience. He is even the atheism of the atheist.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Whether spiritual or skeptical, this is what the vast God of the cosmos is trying to draw humanity toward- conscience

What of all that I believe then? Jesus. Prayer. The doctrines I do hold to? 

I would posit that these are not devices that I use to get what I want from God, nor strategies for convincing the unconvinced to believe what I believe. They are bits of grace, ever shaping me into a person of greater conscience. 

Conscience is the prize. It is the point. It is the key.

Selah. 

 

THE LIFE OF PIE

Each time you sit down to pray, there’ll be a reason not to. Do it anyway.

TIME

I am ever tormented by time. 

For those of you sci-fi buffs out there, you may have an intimate understanding of the jealously that I feel for creatures who lack the need for sleep - i.e. Vampires, Terminators, and other A.I. Machines. 

I'd even be willing to clone myself and download my consciousness into another body altogether if it meant I could free up more time in my life for the things that I want to accomplish. 

Perhaps I should look into purchasing a robot? Who knows? Every day of my life is filled with too many tasks and too little time. 

My life is like a pie that's sliced up every morning and eaten throughout the day. By the end of the day, nothing is left but the crumbs. 

I'd love to have more than crumbs left over at the end of the day.

 

THE SLICE THAT I TRADE

There is one slice that I forget to eat sometimes. Or rather, I label it as something else and eat it anyway, distorting it's intended purpose in my "life of pie."

That is the slice that is dedicated to God and God alone. My time with God is the first slice I am always tempted to re-label and trade for something else.

This is a strange paradox I struggle with being a Christian. I know that God is the very source of my breath, my life, and my wellbeing, yet I trade him so easily. 

One thing I am learning about prayer and meditation, a slice of the pie, is that there's always a reason not to do it due to the pressures of time. What's even more daunting is that I, a being bound by time, am spending some of that time trying to connect with a being that isn't bound by time at all. 

O' the confinement of matter. But it is my lot, nonetheless. I am human. 

What I can say, is that when I keep this slice as a regular part of my day, all the other slices of the pie seem to have more substance to them. They are less rushed. They are less reactive. There's a steadiness, a calmness underneath them that they lack when I trade my "God-slice" for something else.

The truth about my prayer life is that each time I sit down to pray, there's always a reason not to. But I do it anyway, because it adds depth to the rest of my life, and at the end of my day, strangely enough, there is more left than just the crumbs. 

Selah. 

God our Mother

Yesterday at Forefront Brooklyn we explored a few ideas in worship round the idea of "God as Mother".  I've been thinking about this for over a decade and I'm grateful to "The Liturgists" for putting words and music to this last year on Mother's Day.

I just published a post on our Brooklyn worship blog about the music from yesterday and you can even hear live versions of the songs we sang there and here.

I'm reposting below the meditation below written by Rachel Held Evans and you can hear the entire "God our Mother" piece here and read the lyrics and guided prayer here.

 

PINK AND BLUE

Yesterday we went for a walk in the forest preserve, and two deer stood in the clearing. One grazed and wandered, took no notice of us. And the other stared at us, completely still, tensed and ready at every moment.  The young deer was careless, wandering, unworried. Because the one who watched us was her mother. 

The young deer was safe, because she was with her mother. And this mother deer did what mothers do: she protected, watched over, looked out for, stayed on guard over. She was looking across the field, eyes scanning back and forth, ready to protect her young at any moment.

We live in a world that draws a deep distinction between fathers and mothers—there are things that fathers do and things that mothers do, and in our world they’re not the same at all. It starts before we become parents, actually.  We do this with all men and women, and before that, boys and girls.

A sonogram, black and white and gray swirls. It looks like old footage of a moon landing more than anything. But in that moment, gender is spoken, or maybe a few months later in a hospital room, and then you tumble into a world of pink, pink, pink, or blue, blue, blue–forever.

That’s how people are. We split people into pink and flowers and babies and high heels. Or blue and bravado and machines and muscles. 

But God isn’t pink or blue. God doesn’t fit into our Game of Life pegs, tiny woman or tiny man, riding around the board in a tiny sedan.

God nurtures and protects and feeds his children, just like that mother deer in the clearing, with ferocity and power, ready to do anything for the children he loves. God listens and draws near. God holds and heals. 

God our Mother. 
God our Mother.

We know all about God our Father, and the beautiful images that go along with that idea: the strong, faithful, unshakeable love of a father. But to only know God the Father would be like only knowing daytime but never night—to see the sunrise, but never the gentle, haunting rise of a harvest moon, low in the sky, blood red and beautiful. To know only the Father God would be like seeing the bright, dazzling sun, but never the stars spreading across the sky like so much fairy dust.

God our Mother, reaching out to us with those hands—mother hands, strong and coursing with love, binding up wounds and soothing scrapes, holding us together, holding us safe.

God our Mother, feeding us, nourishing us, giving us what we need to grow and thrive, taking care of us in big and small ways, seeing us, knitting us back together with love and grace when we’ve been broken.

God our Mother, believing in us. That’s what a mother does: she looks into your eyes and she says, I believe in you. I know you. I know you were made for great things. A mother says, you’re not too small or too scared. You’re not too frail or too flawed. You’re mine. And that’s all you need to know.

God our Mother whispers to each one of us You’re mine. And that’s all you need to know.

PRAYER TRANSACTIONS

“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Matthew 21:13

 

WHY DO WE PRAY?

Why does it matter? Does it matter at all, or is it just something that we do because it's always been done?

What's a good metaphor for prayer?

- Is it like exercise?

- Is it like presenting a case before a judge in a court of law?

- A business transaction, perhaps? 

Though these metaphors may all make sense at some level, they don't get very close to what prayer really is. Prayer is simply what it is. Prayer is talking to God

In the passage above, from the book of Matthew, Jesus has just entered the temple where he becomes outraged when he finds that "God's house" had turned into a marketplace- a place of exchange- a place of commerce- a place of business- a place of bargaining. 

You may know the story. He begins flipping over the booths of the vendors and then he utters these, words- "My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it 'a den of robbers.'" 

If we'll slow down and think about what is really going on here, we see very plainly what God thinks about prayer. 

This "house of God" that was supposed to be a place where people would go to talk to God had become a place of transactions. It had become a place where, as one would approach, they would start thinking things like

- What will I get today?

- Will I have enough?

- How can I get more?

- Who can I deal with to get what I want for a better price?

And this is what angers Jesus. Instead of people coming to God's house to pray, they begin to think of "transaction" as a proper metaphor for prayer. 

 

MY OWN PRAYER LIFE

The greatest temptation in my own prayer life is to do the very same. As I approach that quiet place of prayer, my mind is often occupied with things like,

- What will I get today?

- Do I have enough spiritual stamina and eloquence to get what I want from God?

- What do I need to barter with God about so that he will give me what I want?

And without even realizing it, I find myself there before God, performing transactions. Sure, they are spiritual, but they are incorrect. I am praying, but praying for all the wrong reasons. 

The truth is, when we go before God, he already knows where we are and what we are. He sees us like no one else in our life does. He knows our fears, our hangups, and our handicaps. What God is wanting more than anything is for us to just talk to him. He wants us to simply open our mouths and say whatever it is that is on our minds. 

- Sometimes this looks like asking him for something.

- Other times it is to voice our frustration about something.

- Other times it is to thank him for what he has done.

But these are not meant to be transactions. Transactions are a wrong practice, for they betray our true motives.

Transaction-prayer sounds a lot like,

- "God, I'll do X for you, if you'll do Y for me." or,

- "God I promise to be more _______ if you will give me _______."

And these are the very things that frustrate Jesus. Why? Because that isn't how this is supposed to work. 

 

PRAY FREELY

The next time you sit down to pray, I'd like to encourage you to do an internal inventory of why you are praying. Examine your motives about your prayer life. 

Are you praying to get something, or are you praying because prayer is... well... just "prayer?"

Do your prayers sound like bargaining, or do they sound like you're just talking with a friend, sharing about all that is going on in your life?

My hope is that we would learn to simplify our aims, and reform our motives concerning prayer, for we follow a Jesus who, above all things just wants to hear us talk to him about where we are.

Selah. 

 

 

Thursday of Holy Week (Response)

Response

Having spent time remembering, it seems natural to want to respond in some way. Take time to journal or pray, expressing your thoughts on the actions, attitudes, feelings, and interactions you’ve remembered as a part of this exercise. You might need to seek forgiveness, ask for direction, share a concern, express gratitude, or resolve to make changes and move forward. Allow your observations to guide your responses.

Beginning today, how do you want to live your life differently?

What patterns do you want to keep living tomorrow?

“Ever-present Father, help me to meet you in the Scriptures I read and the prayers I say;
in the bread I break and the meals I share; in my investments at work and my enjoyments at play;
and in the neighbors and family I welcome, love, and serve, for your sake
and that your love and peace may reign now and forever. Amen.”

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
[Hebrews 13v20-21]

God’s peace be yours.

 

Would love to hear if you've used the Examen throughout Holy Week and how you've found it.  
Please comment below.

Wednesday of Holy Week (Review)

Review

The function of prayer is not to influence God,
but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.

―Søren Kierkegaard

Over-packed lives can rob us of the opportunity to learn from the past, to see how yesterday might inform today. “Where did the time go?!” we ask ourselves, often struggling to remember what we did just a week ago. Here we can benefit again from taking time to look back over the past 24 hours. By intentionally reviewing our interactions, responses, feelings and intentions, we can avoid letting days speed by. We can pause to learn more about ourselves and about God’s activity in our lives.

Try to look back objectively as you review. Rather than interpreting, justifying, or rationalizing, the intent is to observe and remember. Allow your mind to wander the situations you’ve been in and to notice details. The questions in this exercise should help you bring specific experiences to mind.

When or where in the past 24 hours were you cooperating most fully with God’s action in your life?
When were you resisting?

What habits and life patterns do you notice from the past day?

“Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul … Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”

[Psalm 143v8b,10]

Tuesday of Holy Week (Gratitude)

PORTION 2: Gratitude

“If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘Thank You,’:
wrote Meister Eckhart, “that would suffice.”

As you think about the past 24 hours, what causes you to be thankful? Look back over the past day, the big and small aspects of life, and recognize what reasons you have to be grateful. Focus on these experiences and encounters, helping your mind and spirit center on the goodness and generosity of God.

If you’re using a journal, consider capturing your thanks in writing, expressing words of gratitude and giving testimony to God’s generosity and faithfulness. Find encouragement and reminders of God’s goodness, and be thankful.

Looking back over the past 24 hours, for what are you most grateful?
What makes you feel thankful?

Using simple words, express your gratitude to God.

“Praise be to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.”

[Ephesians 1v3]

Monday of Holy Week (Intro to the Examen)

We're inviting you into prayer with us throughout Holy Week as we step through the events of Jesus' betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.  At the beginning of Lent Jonathan highlighted a resource which we've been using as a staff and so we thought we'd take our time to walk through this particular prayer practice as a community.

We stumbled across this resource via Aaron Niequist who leads a community called "The Practice" which is part of Willow Creek church in Chicago.  I would recommend buying this & having it on your smart phone to listen to on your commute or in your prayer time each day.  I've put the full liturgy at the bottom of this page as well even though we'll be walking through the Examen on our blog one portion a day.

About the Prayer of Examen

The Prayer of Examen is a daily spiritual exercise typically credited to St. Ignatius of Loyola [1491 - 1556], who encouraged fellow followers to engage in the practice for developing a deeper level of spiritual sensitivity and for recognizing and receiving the assistance of the Holy Spirit. At the heart of the practice is increasingly becoming aware of God’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s movement throughout your day.

Practicing the Prayer of Examen

This Prayer of Examen is primarily an exercise in remembering. One is invited, through four portions [presence, gratitude, review, and response], to concentrate on experiences and encounters from the past 24 hours. The beauty of the practice is its simplicity; it is more a guide than a prescription. If some portion feels especially important on a given day, feel the freedom to spend all or most of your time in that portion. The purpose is to increase awareness and sensitivity, not to finish or accomplish a task.

For this practice

  • A comfortable and relatively quiet location is likely most conducive for reflecting
  • The experience doesn’t need to be a certain length—as little as ten minutes could be sufficient, and you could spend more time on certain portions compared to others
  • It might be helpful to journal your thoughts and recollections or to write out what you notice during your times of prayer
  • Consider sharing your experiences: allow encouragement and insight from others to influence you and cheer you on, and when appropriate give the same, together striving to be an ever-faithful “community of solitudes”*

PORTION 1: Presence

Begin this practice by recognizing the presence of God. Remind yourself of God’s presence with you and His desire to be with you. Consider praying for the Holy Spirit to help you be attentive to God’s presence. To become more focused, it might be helpful to repeat a simple phrase during this time, like “Be still and know that I am God” [Psalm 46v10]. It’s important to begin this practice in a calm and centered state. There may be days when you’ll need the entire time to remember and focus on the nearness of God. Don’t rush past this portion. Take the necessary time to wait and find comfort in God’s presence.

“Gracious God, in these moments please remind me of your presence and generosity, and give me the wisdom and courage to live gracefully with myself, others, and the world you have wonderfully made. For the sake of Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Amen.”

Take some time and focus on the nearness of God. Open yourself to His presence.

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”
[Psalm 145v18]

“The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
All you have made will praise you, O Lord; your saints will extol you.”

[Psalm 145v9-10]

THINGS THAT ARE SHAPING US, PART 6

PART 6

by Ben Grace

 

Slow Starts

I've never been a morning person & when Brian Moll preached about using the morning to be more productive I wanted to punch him.  Especially because a lot of my work & interests take place at night, rehearsals, shows, meeting up with people after they're done with work.  So this year I've been trying to reclaim some of my mornings as mini Sabbaths.  

Sometimes it looks like waking up a little earlier & taking my time to get out of bed.  

Sometimes its walking with my wife Sara Ann & puppy Gigi to get coffee & Dough donuts.  

Occasionally I've used this slowing down to reclaim my love for sketching.  

If you're excited about trying, or even letting me know about a slower morning rhythm that you already have, I'd love you to join in with the #slowstarts hashtag on Instagram

 

 

Diversity

For almost two years my alarm has gone off at 10am to remind me to pray & think about diversity.  This constant pursuit has led me to some amazing people that I follow regularly in my attempt to understand & have dialogue with people who are not like me.

Multicultural Worship Leaders Network (MWLN) - http://multiculturalworship.org 
I blogged about this a little bit here already but this network has been an extraordinary blessing  to me.  Obviously most of you in our church are not worship leaders but if you feel compelled to support their mission in any way please email to receive their newsletters & stay in touch with how you can support these wonderful people.

Nikki Lerner - http://www.nikkilerner.com
One of the founders of the MWLN & a phenomenal singer/songwriter/worship leader based in Columbia MD.  She came up to NY earlier in the year & led us in an incredible weekend of music, worship & even took time out on the Sunday afternoon after leading 2 services in Brooklyn to discuss diversity with my worship leaders.  This woman's voice & heart are HUGE.

Paul Neeley - http://globalworship.tumblr.com
Paul curates one of the wildest & most eclectic worship blogs I've ever seen.  For instance he recently shared a Korean jazz pianist playing an English hymn that was originally a 15th century French burial chant.  Oh, its that tune you know "O Come O Come Emmanuel" ;p 

Christina Cleveland - http://www.christenacleveland.com
Jonathan already blogged about her here

 

 

Liturgy: Seasons & Rhythms

I've blogged before about how the seasons of the church calendar (Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Eastertide) have really helped to shape & grow my creativity.  This boundless source of energy & creativity led me to collaborate & curate a bunch of worship resources under "The Calendar Years" and we released an Advent EP for free a few weeks back.  

Here's a few people who have inspired me along the way: 

The Liturgists - http://www.theliturgists.com

The Brilliance - http://www.thebrilliancemusic.com 

A New Liturgy - http://www.anewliturgy.com

Cardiphonia - http://cardiphonia.org

DELIGHT

 Photo by Photo Guild member, Angie Vuyst 

Photo by Photo Guild member, Angie Vuyst 

"God saw all that he had made, and it was very good."

- Genesis 1:31

As we celebrate the 2nd and 9th birthdays of our Forefront locations and begin a new series titled, MATTER, it's a great time to stop and contemplate all the good God has made in our lives and in our world. Below is a simple exercise that our friend, Chris Travis, at Everyday Church shared with us this week. Our staff was so grateful for the opportunity to smile and enjoy talking about what we love with people we love. We encourage you to do the same...

 

What do you love? 

To do? To see? To make? To experience? 

Who do you love?

Where do you love to go? 

 

Take a few moments today to slow down and contemplate the things that bring you genuine delight. Make a list. Write down the things that bring your heart delight, and then go do one or more of those things today. Just as you delight in what you make, savor, experience and love, so God delights in you, His creation. 

      "The Lord your God is with you,  the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you;  in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”  - Zephaniah 3: 17

Remembering the Dead on 9/11

 Photo by Kerncakes 

Photo by Kerncakes 

As a child, every year my grandfather would ask me, "What day was Pearl Harbor bombed?" 

"December 7th, 1941, Grandpa." 

Every year when I look into the night sky and see those two heavenly beams of light shining straight up to God in the first two weeks of September...I think of my Grandpa. 

It wasn't until 2001 that I truly understood why he felt it was so important that I know what happened on that critical day in Pearl Harbor. It is a day that changed the world for a whole generation of Americans. You can be sure I will honor my Grandpa's memory by asking my children and grandchildren the same question he asked me. But then I will follow it with another question....

"Do you know what happened on September 11th, 2001?" 

This time of year always slows me down to consider the ways we commemorate the lives of loved ones who have passed away. Every culture, family and religion has a tradition they follow to honor those who are no longer living with us. Roman Catholics have All Saints Day, Mexicans have El Dia de Los Muerta, and the Chinese have an annual day called Qingming, Ancestors Day or Tomb-Cleaning Day, when families go to the graves of their deceased family members and clean and care for them.

The Christian theologian, Henri Nouwen, has some beautiful thoughts on how we can remember the dead:  

"As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us.  It is very important to remember those who have loved us and those we have loved.  Remembering them means letting their spirits inspire us in our daily lives.  They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys.   Parents, spouses, children, and friends can become true spiritual companions after they have died.  Sometimes they can become even more intimate to us after death than when they were with us in life. Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship."

My Grandpa died from emphysema on the one year anniversary of September 11th. I keep him with me by honoring the things he honored and keeping his questions close to my heart.

I didn't live in NYC on the day the towers fell. But I join in the sense of solemnity and reverence that overcomes our city on the morning of September 11th every year and I take my own time, in my own way, to silently lift up a prayer for the victims and families who were directly affected by that day. 

The 9/11 Memorial site suggests we play an important role in memorializing those who were killed, honoring the sacrifices of the first responders, and remembering the spirit of unity that emerged in the aftermath of 9/11 by performing an act of service in our communities to commemorate the day. They even have a list of ways you can do this.

At the very least, you can simply take a moment today to pause and read a poem that was written by Billy Collins, American Poet Laureate, entitled "The Names" or listen to his reading of it here.