Thursday, May 24, 2012

You don't have to be a worship leader to worship God in the mall parking lot

"Jesus, please find me a parking space.  Please, Jesus."

"Jesus, thank you for finding us this parking spot!"

Many years ago while riding with my dear aunt through a mall parking lot, I noticed her habit of praying without ceasing for Jesus to show her a parking space.  I especially noticed this habit because she prayed the same way for the same kinds of things as her sister, my mother, prayed.  I wish at the time I'd had the maturity to appreciate this act of prayerful dependence.  Instead I remember a smug sense of superiority that prayer was intended for more important things than parking spaces which, as I think about it now, was really quite hypocritical since my own journals at the time were probably overflowing with prayers for help with such lofty world needs as boy trouble and fashion emergencies.

Listening to my aunt's prayers with less teen-induced smugness, I'd have remembered the story she shared with my mother and their other three sisters.  The story of watching their father sit down in his favorite living room chair on a normal childhood everyday sort of day and a moment later watching him die from a cerebral hemorrhage long before their need for a daddy had passed.  And when their mother had to leave home to go to school in order to be able to provide for her five daughters all by herself, they were left in a big country house to take care of each other with the eyes of their little well-wishing town watching over them the best they could.  Five girls learned young the gift of living every day with their God-with-them who, as it turns out, cares deeply about providing the smallest of gifts for his children.  

I remembered the story these past weeks meditating the practice of everyday worship.  Thankfully, I'm old enough and wise enough now to appreciate my aunt's dependence on Jesus.  Also, I live in Austin now and have learned that sometimes dependent prayer is the only tool I have left to find decent parking.

Good News Bears team huddle

"But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:23)
Aunt Madolin's parking lot prayer beautifully exemplifies the practice of living the with-God life.  The day in and day out knowing of God's with-ness.  The God who sent Himself to us in Jesus, who did not leave us alone but gave us His Spirit to connect us to Him and to each other throughout all ages and times.  This God travels with us through the rutted-out strips of our daily existence.  

We meet Him corporately, yes.  Each week, if we are faithful to show up, we get the opportunity to remember we are one small part of a whole Body.  We listen together, confess together, remember together, learn together and are led together in worshipful response.  If we're lucky we are led by skilled worship leaders, teachers and preachers.  Those men and women who have been trained to lead us as a whole, rather than as private worshipers, play a key role in the spiritual formation of God's people, yes.  

At the same time, Jesus appoints each one of us as His own worship leaders for our friends, our families (co-workers? neighbors? classmates?) and our very own selves in daily acts of worship.  We are ministers of the gospel of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit and we've got a lot of daily reasons to express in words, music, rituals and silent adoration the greatness, beauty and goodness of God.  Because of Christ's finished work -- his sinless life, sacrificial death and burial, glorious resurrection and ascension -- we are invited in His merit to enter without fear into the supernatural reality of God's throne room.  We are welcomed by our friend Jesus to behold the shekinah glory of our Father God.  

just an ordinary Monday night sunset 
"To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God." 
                  -- William Temple, from A Year With God
We live in our Father's world, and if the earth is his footstool then certainly the earth's parks, softball fields, riverbanks, bedroom floors and, yes, mall parking lots are worthy places for our worship sanctuaries.

During the past couple of weeks I tried to notice these moments and spaces for worship:
  • Sprawling across the red-quilted bedspread with my daughters and husband each night for compline prayers.
  • Laying in the shade of an Austin live-oak, next to a natural-fed spring water, and knowing quietly the goodness of an outrageously generous God.
  • For some reason, standing at my refrigerator door serves as some sort of sacrament of worship, it's where I most often found myself singing out loud some hymn of praise.
  • Criss-crossing the highways and streets of Austin, collecting donations for the food pantry of Mission:Possible! Austin
  • Driving those startling neighborhoods of East Austin with my freshly-scrubbed and unharmed daughters, knowing the presence of our wounded and risen again Christ among our city neighbors
  • Coffee shop poem-writing, blended iced coffee and giant snickerdoodle my Mother's Day eucharist.
  • Early morning rehearsing with my husband the too-many-to-count ways God has rescued us through His people during our 21+ years of marriage;
  • then writing out-of-the-blue thank-you notes to some of the people we remembered.
our resident personal chef
"To worship God means to serve God. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for God that God needs to have done -- run errands for God, carry messages for God, fight on God's side, feed God's lambs, and so on. The other way is to do things for God that you need to do -- sing songs for God, create beautiful things for God, give things up for God, tell God what's on your mind and in your heart, in general rejoice and make a fool of yourself for God the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love." 
 -- Frederick Buechner , Beyond Words quoted in A Year With God
  • Listening to my son strum (guitar) and pluck (banjo) tune after tune from his bedroom and pondering these fast-ending days of being together under one roof
  • Family dinners, especially the ones we all pitched in to prepare.  This month included grass-fed beef burgers Andrew grilled for us.  And, always, the blessing before the meal that may or may not be interrupted with giggles for the silly things we tell Jesus at dinner time.
  • Praying in living rooms and kitchen tables, softball fields and parking lots with people -- new friends -- we did not even know less than a year ago.
  • Rainy-after-dark walk up the street to the mailbox, pausing to listen to the tirade of frogs and crickets in the neighborhood water habitat, tripping over toads all the way home
  • A congregation of family and friends standing on the patio late at night, applauding God for his supermoon.
  • Repeating morning after morning the ritual of reading, reflecting and reciting prayers.
the gift of a Mother's Day meal with my family
 Our hope in worship is to, "as much as possible, see God in full glory and worthiness."  Study precedes worship as a tool to help us understand who God is and remember all that He has done.
         -- A Year With God, "Everyday Worship"
  •  Noticing my resurrected geraniums sitting in their buttery yellow planter on the rock next to the apple-green old rocking chair.
  • Ripping open the long-awaited arrival of my daughter's passport.  Her very own passport ready to be stamped with God-travels.
  • Knowing we are held up in the intercessory hospitality of our tribe, knowing the daily joy of holding them up in the same way.  
  • Hearing confession; giving and receiving forgiveness -- from family, friends, and for my own sin-blemished heart.
  • Knowing forgiveness and freedom.  Sitting with peace and good humor in a situation that would have -- only months ago -- turned me into an anxiety-ridden, self-protective tossing-and-turning woman.  Being able to think beyond my own fear for a change. 
 Glory hallelujah!

"God is a God of symbols, who impregnates common objects with divine significance. The precision with which God creates the Passover meal will be a precision he brings to the law and to the construction of the tabernacle. Why is important and what, but also how; how we speak, how we pray, how we act,  how we worship. This matters to God, and it ought to matter to us. It plays a role in what we retain and what kind of persons we become."  
                                                                                      -- A Year With God, Day 90
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