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Prayer, Plain and Simple

Alex Ness is a writer, poet, and social critic. Recently Alex interviewed me about my book, The Karma of Jesus. Here are some excerpts:

AN: Can a Christian believe in Karma too?

MH: I think Christians have to believe in the verdict that Karma levels against us: we screw up and we have to pay for the price. We don’t however believe that the universe is merely mechanistic. We believe that a person, not a machine lies behind things. So yes, I as a Christian do accept that all actions have consequences and I’m responsible for all of mine. But it’s God, a person, who hold me to that standard and can, by choice, intervene in his own established process. This, we believe is where Jesus comes in. If Jesus lived perfectly, he also loved perfectly. Such perfect love came with a perfect desire to share that love and to share the outcomes of his perfect life. In the language of today’s New Age culture Jesus had “perfect Karma.” His perfect love would lead him to want to give this away for the sake of others. So when Jesus died on the cross he became the “toxic waste dump of the universe.” He takes all the horrible consequences of our choices and gives us his purity in exchange. Jesus gets my punishment; I get his goodness, peace and joy. His grace trumps my Karma.

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John Wesley’s “Covenant Prayer” is a prayer used for the renewal of the believer’s Covenant with God. It is often recited in special worship services, but is also a wonderful expression for individuals who want to affirm their commitment to God.

I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,

exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

(as used in the Book of Offices of the British Methodist Church, 1936).

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February 18, 2010

Day 48

Weight: 197 lbs

Weight lost: -9 lbs

 

I’m giving up austerity for Lent. My impulse to beat myself-up in order to win God’s favor seems to die hard.  So I’m tackling this with a diet of joy, supplemented by a daily dose the Lord’s Supper. The original Christians didn’t celebrate Eucharist with cardboard wafers and diluted grape juice. They shared communion the midst of a common meal and sometimes inside a genuine feast. I wonder what we’ve lost. So, I’m giving up austerity for Lent.

The wonderful film “Babette’s Feast” tenderly and playfully challenges Christendom’s assumption that self-denial cuts a path to spirituality. The story takes place on the desolate coast of Denmark in the late 1700’s. Martina and Philippa are the two beautiful daughters of a devout clergyman who prior to his death preached salvation through austerity. Both girls sacrifice their youthful passions, marriage and family to carry on their father’s legacy. Now years later, they still manage to keep alive his version of faithfulness among the townspeople.

Then one stormy night Babette, a refugee from France’s civil war finds her way to their doorstep. She is weak and frightened, and the sisters quickly bring her in. For room and board Babette agrees to cook and care for the house. The sisters draw up rules about what they should eat and how it should be prepared – bland fish and potatoes without seasoning. Babette faithfully complies. Years pass.

Then one day Babette learns that she has won a French lottery. Her winnings would give her full independence. But instead of leaving her new home Babette asks permission to prepare a gift of gratitude for her village – a gourmet French meal! Babette, it turns out, had been one of the most renowned chefs in Paris.

In the end her friends accept her gift and come to see, reluctantly perhaps, that God has created all good things for our enjoyment.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good!” says the Psalmist (Psalm 34).

“Lord, at the moment of creation you declared all the things you’d made on earth ‘good,’ and even ‘very good.’ I do the same. In this season of Lent help me to pause and enjoy the wonders of your creation, including the delicacies of food that feed my body and soul. Especially help me to be grateful and to remember that you are the source of all good gifts. I remember this in my celebration of communion today. You are with me, in me, over me, around me. You are my God, my everything, my sustenance and satisfaction. Thank you, Jesus!”

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Is it possible to discover God in a short stack of pancakes or cloud formation or in a paint smudge on the sidewalk? Some people believe it is. Beliefnet.com has created a new photo gallery called “Seeing Jesus (and Mary) in Food and Other Objects” Check it out. It’s a fascinating question – the power of the eyes of faith. In my book, co-written with Jennifer Schuchmann, “Nine Ways the God Always Speaks” I address this question of “seeing signs from God” in natural phenomena. Here’s an excerpt.

 

“It’s a sign from God!”

People apply those words to everything from a phone call to a natural disaster. When confronted with a coincidence, do you immediately assume that God’s behind it? And if you think he is, do you think he’s trying to tell you something?

Is it possible that some things just happen?

Or is everything a sign from God?

In August of 2007, Deb Serio, a high school teacher from Forest, Virginia, discovered that a slab of concrete in her driveway contained a sealant smudge resembling the face of Jesus.

Was concrete Jesus some kind of pavement prophet?

Was it a sign from above?

Deb, a church-going Lutheran, considers the smudge little more than an odd occurrence–not a sign or miracle. “There are some people who need this kind of thing to sort of start them on their faith journey. I don’t,” she said. “That’s why I don’t mind parting with it.” She sold it to a winning eBay bidder, islandoffthecoast, for $1,800. After the sale, the slab was removed from Deb’s driveway and shipped to the unidentified bidder.

It seems that Deb believes the face of Jesus is a sign only if you need it to be.

 

In 2004, a ten-year-old toasted cheese sandwich said to bear the image of the Virgin Mary sold on eBay. The owner grossed $28,000. Is the mother of Jesus in a cheese sandwich also a sign if you need it to be?

Perhaps the winning bidder thought so. The past-its-sell-by-date sandwich was bought by Goldenpalace.com, an online casino. Representatives of the casino considered the decade-old lunch a slice of pop culture. They planned to send their toasted cheese trophy on a world tour before reselling it and donating the proceeds to charity. (We can only hope they didn’t send it coach where it could easily be confused with airline food.)

 

Apparently, Holy Communion during mass isn’t the only time you can eat the body of Christ. While cooking breakfast for his family, Mike Thompson of Beachwood, Ohio, was astounded to see the face of Jesus appear on his pancake. Mike claimed the likeness was a sign from God, and in February of 2006, posted the Holy Pancake on eBay with an opening bid of $500. The bidding soon reached $14,999 and was headed higher when eBay pulled the sale claiming Mike had violated posting rules. Too bad he missed that sign.

Mike, Deb, and the original cheese sandwich owner, all claim their findings were not a sign. We respectfully disagree.

Each of these individuals saw a sign,

 the same sign–

 a dollar sign.

When Deb walked down her driveway and stared at the face of Jesus in the asphalt, whether she admits it or not, she saw a sign. When the ten-year-old cheese sandwich went up for auction, it was also a sign. And when Thompson stared down the spatula into the flour and water face of Jesus in his pancake, he definitely saw a sign.

There are countless stories of individuals who have seen dollar signs, but the question is, are any of these dollar signs also signs from God?

Is it possible that seemingly chance events: a haphazard splattering of sealant, the random melting of cheese, or the peculiar patterns of pancake batter, add up to something greater than what they seem?

Is God trying to tell us something through these seeming coincidences?

 


 

 

 

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