Two Recent Poems

These two poems are reflections on recent news and the paltry response to sexual violence in the church. If this topic is an open wound and a trigger, please skip reading this. As a follower of Jesus and a man, I want to have a compassionate response toward the #metoo movement and the stories women are telling. Too often, Christian men have failed to really listen and we have also failed to call victimizers to account. 

You see God, but do You hear?

El Roi—the God who sees.
Well, God,
we all see too much.
Open your ears
and hear the
cries of the broken,
scattered mass
crying ‘me too.’
We don’t want,
the mercy
which papers over
the sins of victimizers
demanding we forgive
the things that
never owned.

Hear us.
Hear us.
Times up,

Spring, 1998

 [warning: graphic content, press the link above to read Jules Woodson’s story]

That was Savage there,
at the end of
the dirt road,
taking by force
what was yours alone
to give and then,
quaking with chagrin
pleading with you
to pledge
to him your

Later that savage
told a flock of
horny teens:
True Love Waits—
Take the long view!
your future wife
is a Jewel that 
ought to be

Did you feel treasured, Jules?
When he unzipped his pants
and demanded of you: Suck it?
Or when he had you
unbutton your blouse
and jumped from
the driver seat,
aware in
that moment
of the damage
this would do
to (no, not you)
his career?

You were crying in
the church office,
the senior pastor,
conspicuously absent.
He saw your tears,
but Larry,
Cotton in his ears,
wouldn’t hear.
“So you are saying you participated?”
“We’ll handle it.”

Twenty years later,
The rich man fatted
with lamb,
No prophet Nathan
came to stand
before the man
and demand
For what
he took.

But you stood—
for you
(but not just you),
for the others,
so no more
Cotton men
to hear.

L is for Litany (an alphabet for penitents)

lit·a·ny [ˈlitnē]

    1. a series of petitions for use in church services or processions, usually recited by the clergy and responded to in a recurring formula by the people.

    2. a tedious recital or repetitive series: “a litany of complaints” (Source- Oxford Living Dictionaries via Bing)

 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)

‘Tis the season for a tedious recital of complaints. Like Advent, the season before Christmas, Lent is a preparatory season—a season of waiting. We are nearing the midpoint and dreaming of the comforts we cast aside for our lenten journies. We want chocolate, we want sweets, we need coffee and a nice cut of meat. We want to binge watch Netflix and drink red wine and post cat memes on our friend’s timelines. We complain, “How long O Lord?” as we look forward to Resurrection (or just a return to normal life).

But we don’t just complain about our own discomfort. As we have used this Lenten season to shake our souls out of complacency  and followed Jesus on the way of the cross, we are becoming sensitized to the suffering of the world: children with absent fathers, the single mom struggling to make ends meet, a global church being martyred for their belief, people of color enduring violence, discrimination and incarceration from unjust systems, the elderly neighbor living alone, our friends gripped by grief, those suffering pain of chronic illness, the anxious and depressed, and the hurting and the dying. We should have compassion at all times, but our Lenten practice allows us to stretch our empathy and see the world beyond the comforts we use to distract our souls.

Christian worship often includes litanies. Liturgical traditions (such as Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, or the Orthodoxy) incorporate itemized prayer lists into their Sunday liturgies, often with congregational responses: Lord have mercy. Have mercy on us. Spare us, Good Lord. O Lord, deliver us. We beseech you O Lord.  Less “high church” churches, still have a place for a pastoral prayer, or ‘prayers of the people,’ which do in essence what these formal litanies do.

The line items of a litany get us to pray specifically about the needs around us in our struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We pray for deliverance from personal sin and systemic evil. We pray for the poor, oppressed and marginalized, and for the success and wisdom of national leaders, we pray for the healing for the infirmed and the global church. We pray those who are serving Christ and that the world would long to know Him. We name every area of contemporary life in hopes of seeing God’s Kingdom break more fully into this present age.

I thought of posting a litany here, but there are tons of Lenten litanies online. For example, check out Christine Sine’s Morning Litany for Lent.  I will close this post by just saying don’t waste your seasonal discomfort and newfound empathy on personal complaints. Find some way to systematically pray for the needs of the world, preferably with a worshipping community. Keep on praying in the Spirit at all times with all kinds of prayers and requests. Certainly litanies can become dead rote, but with our hearts sensitized to the suffering of the world, it is a way to share both in the pain of others and in the Spirit’s life. Communal intercession reminds us that the Spiritual journey is not just a private affair. Always keep praying for all the Lord’s people. 


Men Drawing Close to God: a book review

Praying in Black in White by Sybil and Andy Macbeth

Last month I read Sybil MacBeth’s  Praying in Color(Paraclete Press, 2007). In that book, Sybil Macbeth tells about her method of doodling her prayers. A number of Sybil’s friends had cancer and in the process of lifting them up through intercessory prayer, Sybil took pen to paper and created a visual representative of her prayer.She then offered some other creative ways of using the same method to maintain focus in other forms of praying (praying for discernment, using scripture, etc.). As an occasional artist and compulsive doodler, I enjoyed it a lot.

In Praying in Black in White, Sybil has teamed up with her husband, Episcopal priest, Andrew Macbeth to offer an updated look at the methods she prescribes in Praying in Color, with an eye to aiding men in prayer. Sybil lays out the method of doodling prayer she first presented in her earlier book. Andy explores the way men are wired and the peculiar gifts and challenges they have when they set out to pray. He also shares his experience of prayer and praying in this method.

So what is the difference between ‘praying in color’ and ‘praying in black in white?’ Are men’s prayers less colorful? Essentially, the method is the same, though simplified. In Praying in Color, Sybil suggests the use of colored markers in prayers, here, a pen and paper are all that are necessary (though journals and graph paper are suggested). I think Andy and Sybil are trying to make this method as accessible as possible for men. I don’t know what the exact statistics are, but women on average are better pray-ers than men (just like there are more women in church, more women read their Bibles, more women describe themselves as spiritual, etc.). Either book would describe the basic method, what this book does is tailor the message specifically to men. In terms of describing the method, I think Praying in Color does a better job (which may be because I read it first). But Praying in Black and White has some helpful comments directed at us guys when we come to pray.

In Andy’s chapters of this book, he discusses the challenges he has in coming to prayer as a man. These include his desire to feel like he’s doing something significant and not wasting his time, the ways his prayers feel superficial and, well, boring.  But he also shares how he comes to prayer to put his life in context of something bigger than himself, to deal with anxiety,  to reach out to someone greater than him to meet the needs of those he loves, because he cares deeply about his world,  and desires to anchor himself to God and unite himself with others.

While Andy’s experience in prayer is not  necessarily universally applicable to all men, he does pick up on some characteristics of masculinity and how men are socialized.  He claims that men bring to prayer their independence and self-sufficiency, their task-oriented nature, and their goal focus. He also discusses how we learn through concrete experience, physical movement and how we do our best work in groups.

As Sybil unfolds her prayer method, she tailors it to these features of the masculine psyche. Sybil and Andy both share stories of their practice of this method and suggestions about how we can integrate their doodling prayer into our prayer life.  They also share plenty of example of what these prayers look like. Here is an example I took from their website ( :

But there is a fairly big variety in what these can look like (hence doodling).  and it could comprise several pages as you go through various stages of prayer (like Sybil’s description of using doodles in Lectio Divina).  They also provide reflections on barriers to this sort of prayer (honestly it won’t work for everyone which the Macbeth’s readily admit) and they discuss how to use this method in leading prayer groups.

As I said, I think that this method of prayer is helpful in maintaining focus on prayer and calling you back to prayer (much like a breath prayer, which they also discuss how to doodle). Parts of this book I think are more helpful than others. I personally like to use the scripture throughout my practice of  Lectio Divina, whereas the Macbeth’s use the Biblical text as a jumping off point.  I find that too subjective for my tastes though I would acknowledge that people can follow their steps and have a fruitful experience of prayer.

As a short book, this is ideal for a guy (or the guy in your life) who wants a quick encouragement and method for prayer.  Regardless of whether you follow all of the Macbeth’s suggestions (I don’t) or agree with them on every point (I don’t) you will find good food for thought and encouragement to enter more fully into prayer.

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me with a copy of Praying in Black and White in exchange for this review.


On praying the hours: Thoughts on my first week of fixed hour prayer

So Having prayed the hours (using the Prayer Book of the Early Christians) for a week, I thought it would be fun to examine some of the things I am learning and experiencing. It took several days for me to see fruit of this discipline and I have several weeks to go. Here is what my experience has looked like so far:

Praying in Time & Space

One of the joys and struggle of this sort of prayer is getting into the rhythm of it. I have more or less stuck with my original plan (7am, 10:30, 1:30, 8pm, 11pm). The morning daytime prayers have been easier for me to do at my scheduled intervals than my evening prayers. My ‘vespers’ prayer I have scheduled for 8pm because that is around the time that the kids are already in bed and I can do it without leaving my wife to handle everybody. However, as any parent probably knows kids do not always go to bed in a timely fashion so there is fluidity with when it happens. My 11pm Compline gets pushed around if I’m watching a movie or doing something with Sarah. It happens sometime before bed.

Each of these prayer times is relatively brief. Matins and Compline are the prayer times which are slightly meatier. The others take about 10-15 minutes each. Vespers is starting to take me slightly longer because I have integrated some of my intercessory prayer lists into saying the litany.

When I have been at home, I have prayed in the corner of the guest room in our house. This is relatively private (kids are kept out) and quiet and out-of-the-way. Although this room is located directly over our bedroom and the first time I said Compline there I woke my wife up who was wondering what I was doing. When I have been away from home all my prayers have happened inside my car in a parking lot.

Praying in Community

One of the things that I’ve learned from this experience is that prayer, even personal prayer, is always communal prayer. I struggled for several days wanting to pray I, me, my, instead of the prayer-book’s we, us, our. The prayer I am most used to is more intimate and personal than this sort of praying but also can be highly individualistic. It’s been good discipline for me to say ‘we’ and pray with the whole Church.

But another way that I have learned that prayer is communal is by seeing how my personal Lent discipline impinges on my family. Despite my efforts to set the times for prayer around my other responsibilities invariably my ‘discipline’ has been an inconvenience on those around me. On the third day of praying, when my wife was doing something and asking me to watch the kids, I told her my plans and when I was to do my prayer time. She dutifully completed her task and said to me, “Is it bad that I find your Lent practice annoying.” Needless to say, that wasn’t my best prayer-time but we talked about it (argued) and I realized that even my own private prayer practice was enabled and supported by my family, even if they weren’t participating with me. We’ve worked this out, and I have tried to be more thoughtful (and proactive) in seeing that my personal practice is not burdensome.

Praying with the Body

As part of this practice, I have tried to pay attention to posture and what I do with my body. I have used a kneeling stool I built and dutifully following instructions to ‘cross myself’ in prayer and bow to the ground after certain phrases. The first couple of days my legs fell asleep during Matins and I could barely walk. It also took several days before the bowing and crossing didn’t feel awkward.

Part of embodying prayer is vocalizing them. I’m still trying to train myself to say the whole pray out loud. This is easier in the day when I am fully awake. I find my Matins prayers drifts towards mental prayer and I begin to read silently, and therefore quicker. Certainly posture, bowing, speaking prayers and crossing myself have helped focus my prayer and keep me on task. Certainly there is symbolic significance to each of these acts, but I find them most helpful in keeping my attention.

Allowing the Psalms to shape my prayers

This has been one of the joys of using a prayer-book. Each day I read a significant chunk of the Psalms. In my prayer book these are not arranged liturgically, nor do they rotate. I pray the same psalms everyday. But it is a good selection and repetition over several days has helped me enter into certain psalms in a new way. Here are the psalms from the various offices (I switched the psalm numbers from the Septuagint numbers to the more familiar numbers from the Masoretic text):

    Matins: Psalm, 20, 21, 3, 38, 63, 88, 103, 143, 11
    First Hour Prayers: 5, 90, 101
    Third Hour Prayers: 17, 25, 51
    Vespers: 104, 141
    Compline 51, 70, 143, 91

Only Psalm 51 is repeated in this list. The total number of psalms recited as part of my daily prayers is twenty. They represent various genres: personal and communal laments, praise, invocation, royal psalms, etc. I have appreciated the richness this has brought to this practice.

There is more about fixed-hour prayer for me to entangle. I love the depth of theological reflection in many of the prayers but some of them do not sit as well for various reasons. I may blog about this later but thus far its been a good experience.