The Lute and the Plectrum

Today is Friday, the fourth of February, 2022, in the fourth week of Ordinary Time.

Peace be with you!

Day 23,339

It is currently 20 degrees outside, and everything is still covered in ice/snow. Mostly ice. I received word about 3:25 PM, yesterday, that the library would be closed again, today. So I don’t have to worry about getting out there and driving until tomorrow. We are supposed to get above freezing sometime this afternoon, possibly up to 40 (although the hourly only shows it getting to 37). It is sunny outside, as well, though, so hopefully, even though it looks like it will get down to 20 again tonight, the roads will be clear in the morning.

We have had no more power outages since night before last, which is good. I know at least one family that had to get a room in a hotel, because their power has been out since early yesterday. They live in a rural area, north of DFW, though. I’m not sure what’s going on with their power.

There are no plans for the day, since I would have been working. We were going to have our pizza tonight, but we don’t have enough ingredients to make two of them, so I’m not sure, at this point, what we will do. I may make a trip to the store, this afternoon, though. I don’t know what the shelves will look like. We may just order out, this evening.

I got lucky with my Wordle guess today.

Wordle 230 2/6*

⬜🟨🟨⬜🟩
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Lord, I dedicate this day to You.
May my feet walk only where You want them to walk.
May my eyes see only what You want them to see.
May my ears hear only what You want them to hear.
May my mouth say only what You want it to say.
May my mind think only what You want it to think.

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.
(Psalms 150:6 NIV)

Today I am grateful:

1. that I am alive and breathing; I have breath, so I'm praising the Lord
2. that God is constantly making all things new
3. that we have heat and electricity and plenty of food
4. that, in God's kingdom, I have nothing to fear
5. that prayer is like God "strumming my heart with His fingers"
Praise the LORD! 
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, 
in the company of the upright, in the congregation. 
Great are the works of the LORD, 
studied by all who delight in them. 
Full of splendor and majesty is his work, 
and his righteousness endures forever. 
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; 
the LORD is gracious and merciful. 
(Psalms 111:1-4 ESV)

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
(Romans 8:19 ESV)

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, 
are being transformed into the same image 
from one degree of glory to another. 
For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
 teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, 
singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, 
with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 
(Colossians 3:16 ESV)
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, 
so walk in him, 
rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, 
just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 
(Colossians 2:6-7 ESV)
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, 
to which indeed you were called in one body. 
And be thankful. 
(Colossians 3:15 ESV)

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,
(1 Corinthians 6:19 ESV)

Can we find a common thread in all of these passages? They occur in a reading on prayer, in the Spiritual Classics book. In this reading, prayer is likened to a lute player strumming his lute. In this imagery, the lute is the heart of the player, and the strumming is done with a plectrum (in modern days, we call this a “pick”), which is God’s Word, or the recollection of it, as well as the Name of Jesus.

The question is asked, do we view prayer as more of a burdensome duty or obligation? Can this idea of playing a musical instrument make it more a gift of grace? As a musician, I can identify with the attitudes presented. There are times when it’s a burden to grab my guitar or turn on my keyboard and begin playing.

In this reading, a selection written by Andre Louf, the idea presented, if I am understanding it correctly, is akin to the thought, “just do it.” However, it isn’t as simple as that. Before the section on prayer, there were a few readings on meditation, which is a precursor to prayer, and away to allow the Word of God to begin doing the “strumming” on our hearts. It reminds me of a song (that I never liked very much) in which the singer said that someone was “strumming my heart with his fingers.” Through meditation and contemplation, we allow the Spirit of God to begin the work of prayer in our hearts. And then, it becomes a gift of grace.

I have experienced this, in my own prayers. There have certainly been times when my prayers were mechanical, more of a burden or obligation than a joy. However, like practicing a musical instrument, there are times when it is more important to simply do the duty. It will not always be a joy. But the more we practice, the more it will become joyful.

That passage from Colossians 3 is instrumental in this endeavor. We allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts (and trust me, this is a choice that we must make), work to be thankful (another choice that must be made), and then allow His Word to dwell in us richly. All of these are choices that we must consciously make. They won’t just happen. Just like becoming proficient in any musical instrument will not just happen.

Louf makes a statement that prayer can’t be learned from someone else. Actually, Louf is quoting Callixtus II, a fourteenth century Byzantine monk. “Nobody can learn how to see. For seeing is something we can do by nature. So too with prayer. Authentic prayer can never be learnt from someone else. It has its own instructor within it. Prayer is God’s gift to him who prays.” I agree with this to a point. However, we must not allow this idea to keep us from reading what other great people have to say about the subject. And it certainly doesn’t prohibit the use of pre-written prayers.

All of this was launched by the question, “is praying difficult?” And the question is not answered. In fact, Louf goes so far as to say that “No one is going to give you the answer to that question.” There will be some who try to tell you that it is easy. I say they do not fully comprehend prayer. As we learn to allow ourselves to be, in a sense, taken out of ourselves by the Spirit, prayer becomes more of an intricate part of our being. And we learn that prayer can be both difficult and easy.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil, 
for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, 
they comfort me. 
(Psalms 23:4 ESV)

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.
(Luke 12:22 ESV)

Today’s prayer word is “step,” in the sense of taking one step at a time. A Chinese proverb is quoted. “Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” I once had a pastor who spoke of something he called the “one-percent grade.” As long as you are moving upward at even a one-percent grade, you’re doing okay, he would say. And, of course, we’ve all heard the famous statement that says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” And, for a little levity, “How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time.”

The kingdom life doesn’t have to be “all or nothing.” It’s easy to interpret some of the commands in this way, but that only leads to a life of impossibility and frustration. It eliminates the concept of “grace” altogether. It is good to know that God remembers that we are dust; He knows we are imperfect.

Father, as I pray for You to keep teaching me how to pray, I also ask for more of an understanding of how prayer works, how I am to go about it. I pray that You would, indeed, strum my heart with Your Words, with the Name of Jesus, reminding me constantly who I am and whose I am. I pray for consistency, but I also pray for real, authentic prayer in my life, prayer that comes, not necessarily easily, but naturally, as I become more and more consumed by Your Word.

Remind me, please, that I have nothing to fear in Your kingdom, and that, as long as I am moving in Your direction, thought it be only one step at a time, I am doing okay.

I pray for people I know who are still without power. Please intervene and give them power and heat, that they may be safe and warm in their homes. I pray for any who might be without shelter, during this time, that they might be able to find someplace warm to stay. I also pray that they would have food to eat.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Eternal God,
who are the light of the minds that know You,
the joy of the hearts that love You,
and the strength of the wills that serve You;
grant us so to know You that we may truly love You,
and so to love You that we may fully serve You,
whom to serve is perfect freedom,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Prayer to Know God, by St. Augustine)

Grace and peace, friends.