Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Prayers made visible

My Prayer Tree
One thing I've noticed about prayer is that I often promise to pray for the concerns of others, but sometimes I forgot. This wasn't always the case. Sometimes a prayer concern touches my heart and I keep returning to it over and over, but I couldn't find a pattern in my prayer behavior.  I wanted to stop being erratic about my prayers. In the excellent "Unbinding the Gospel" series of books I learned about creating a prayer wall, and I put a simple one together at my church using an old painted board and some post-it notes.

Image from

The wall helped our congregation become more intentional about prayers, but because we turned down the heat when we were not using the building, the post-its sometimes fell. Then I remembered the wishing tree I had seen at a wedding. Guests were invited to attach written wishes to branches of a "tree"  (branches anchored in a pot by stones.)

Wouldn't a prayer tree work just as well? I did some searching and discovered that prayer trees existed. I wanted to adapt the idea for my home, so I secured a branch above a china cabinet.

To carry out my vision I needed to create the prayer cards. I wanted mine to be shaped like things you find in a tree--flowers, leaves and birds. I found clip art shapes and sized it large enough to write prayers.

Next, I created double-sided paper by gluing colorful scrapbook paper back-to-back. 

I tried a variety of methods for gluing the paper back to back. Spray adhesive worked the best by far.

Spray adhesive is found in art stores, craft stores and craft sections of discount stores. Be sure you read the directions before using it. It is very difficult to control the spray and difficult to clean up stray sprays. Spray in a well-ventilated area and protect the surfaces with newspaper or waxed paper.  I usually take the project outside if weather permits.

I like my leaves to have 2 different designs on them but you can match the papers however you like. Working quickly, spray the back of one page of colored paper and then place the back of the other on top of it.

When you are finished trace and cut your desired shapes from it. I then punch a hole and add a yarn or ribbon tie.
The completed leaf is ready for a prayer.

While I enjoy the free-form look of the prayer tree, the shapes could also be fashioned into a garland or tied to a wreath.

Feel free to send prayer requests my way...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Blooming where you are planted


Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:5-7

We think of Jeremiah as an angry, or at least pretty intense, prophet. The word "Jeremiad," meaning, you know, more or less, an intense rant, is even named after him. And then we get this:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters...

Jeremiah! Is this really you? What happened? Did you write this, like, right after you just fell in love with your wife or something?  You seem so--serene, I guess is the word I want here.

I mean, don't get me wrong--this seems like the right advice at the right time. And you do preface it by saying it is coming straight from the Lord, so I guess the Lord is pretty multi-faceted. 

I guess I should explain what this is about. It is pretty good general advice about how to have a contented life, but the actual context is the Babylonian exile, specifically the third Babylonian exile, during which people from Jerusalem have been displaced to Babylonia (which is mostly modern-day Iraq) after the total destruction of the city. God advises the people to, the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

This does seem kind of weird coming from you, Jeremiah, if it is true, as legend has it, that you also wrote Psalm 137, which has this to say about the same Babylonian exile:

O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!  Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

I guess you and God are having different emotional reactions to the whole destruction of Jerusalem and subsequent exile from it. At least it isn't affecting your working relationship at all. Or maybe being so spiritual and so close to God for so many years is enabling you to be a less angry prophet. 

But this is good advice--let go of the hurt and anger and desire for revenge. It's kind of a spooky coincidence that this is the reading that comes up this week, the week that Elizabeth Smart's biography is released. Elizabeth Smart knows a thing or two about suffering. She was kidnapped by a crazy guy and his wife for nine months, and tortured every day. She even almost starved to death at one point. In spite of all that she went through, today Elizabeth is fine, thanks to advice her mother gave her.

 "Elizabeth, what this man has done to you is terrible. He has stolen nine months of your life that you will never get back.  But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy.”

This may be the motivation behind the advice that Jeremiah gives to the displaced in Babylon. It is possible to heal and move on, but it isn't easy. Sometimes the healing takes more than just one generation. Whatever it takes, healing is a worthy goal, and it can't be accomplished by sabotaging the place where you make your home. Wherever you are, God seems to be saying, and no matter how you came to be there, seek to bring something good and useful to that situation. That's just good old-fashioned solid advice. It was good advice almost three thousand years ago, and it's good advice today.