My Father Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills

Today’s blog shares with you three mantras which come into my life every day.

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it.”  (Psalm 118:24 ESV) This is the mantra with which my wife Miran and I begin every morning.  It jolts us to several Merton Prayer realities:  God is in control, He knows which road we need to follow, we don’t even know ourselves, He will lead us on the right road even though we may not even begin to understand why it is the right road, He is with us every step of the journey, and He will never leave us to face the dangers and perils which we will encounter.

Often, giving vent to my well-known goofy side, the next mantra I cite was learned from my father when I was a young child: “every day above ground is a gift from the Lord, so thank you Lord for allowing me to have another day of life.”  Sometimes I share this latter lighter mantra with a stranger, say the person in line next to me at the check-out counter, and many times a delightful spontaneous conversation erupts, often with the store cashier joining in also.  Other times the stranger gives me a look of pity and turns away, clearly not interested in chatting with me!

Ever since my 2017 bout with deadly cancer, these two mantras have meant so much more to me.  I literally thank God every day for extended life.  “So, Steven, what are you going to do with this gift from God of one more day of extended life?”  As I write these words it is 4:30am, I look out my window and the sky is pitch dark, I see maybe three windows lit in the 20 story apartment building a block away from me, my wife is in California with our new granddaughter, the condo could not be quieter (save for the quarter-hour ringing of the Grandmother Clock, not to be confused with a Grandfather Clock!), and once again I come face-to-face with “Lord, why did you allow me to have an extended life?”  I hope I do not waste this day.

After breakfast I will walk the two blocks to my office, spend two hours with Ed and Kevin the junior members of the Cutie Pie (Senior) Lawyers Club.  These spiritual companions usually go deeper in our conversation and friendship than most of my acquaintances.  I am always enriched by my time with them.  Then at 11:00am I will spend at least one hour with my co-counsel Michael working on our cases which are either in suit or being prepared for suit.  This afternoon I hope to relax at home while watching some of the March Madness basketball games, rooting for my Kentucky Wildcats to go further in the tourney this year than they did last year when they lost the first game [who had heard of the St. Peter Peacocks?]!  Tonight, I will enjoy attending a birthday dinner honoring my friend Richard and my extravertive side will delight in meeting new people and connecting with known friends. 

At various times during this day, as with every day of my life, I will be tempted to ruminate and worry about many things confronting me and some family members.  I forget the blog I wrote on December 4, 2022, titled “Worry and worship cannot coexist,” and I find myself allowing fear to creep in to my psyche. This is when my third daily mantra is so helpful.  My Father Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills.  My annual income as a plaintiff’s trial lawyer is either feast or famine. One year when my adjusted gross income was -$14,000 I had a memorable conversation with my three young children.  I told them we would have to cut back on unnecessary spending this year since my income was so low.  I wanted my kids to not be afraid, to trust the Lord, so I adapted the words of Psalm 50:10 with my words of reassurance, “Kids please don’t worry since God has always provided for us.  I choose not to ever worry about finances, since My Father Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills“; to which my eldest Katrina said, “Does Granddaddy Denny own a farm in Kentucky?”  Stifling laughter I calmly said, “well, it sort of does mean that, but not a real farm with real cows!”

Yes, every day above ground can be a very good day, I am required by my Lord to rejoice and be glad in this day, and when tempted to worry about some of life’s problems I will recall just how much God has blessed me, over and over and over and over.  Recounting those blessings will indeed bring me to an attitude of worship rather than worry.  May my three mantras be a blessing to you today and every day!

[NOTE:  If your organization, church, or school would like a workshop/presentation on The Merton Prayer please email me at  I can Zoom all over the world and have done 90-minute, 3 hour, 5 hour, weekend, or five-day workshops/retreats.]

Leave a comment, if you wish, regarding this post or how you found The Merton Prayer and why it is important to you.  Thanks for visiting!

My Name is Ishmael

Genesis 16 contains the well-known and agonizing story of one woman’s pain and God’s response to that pain.  Abraham’s wife Sarah reevaluated her plan to get a child for her elderly husband by letting him sleep with her handmaid Hagar.  Sarah’s pain led her to banish Hagar.

That’s when the coolest God/Human encounter happened:  Hagar is hiding and running to save her life, and voila, she sees and hears an angel of the Lord.  “You are pregnant and will give birth to a son!”  (So much for ancient pregnancy tests!) “God has heard your cries of distress.  You are to name your son Ishmael.” 

The name Ishmael comes from two Hebrew words shama’ (to hear) and ‘el (God).  Ishmael  means “God hears” or “God has heard.”   This baby will grow up to found one of the world’s three great religions, Islam.  Hagar was told that God had not abandoned her, that her cries of distress and pain had been heard, and that she was to commemorate that fact by naming her little boy Ishmael.  Everyone reading this blog can likely identify with Hagar’s cries of distress to the Lord.  Just yesterday, I literally yelled to God, “Please Lord, you are the Great Physician, you can cure my restless legs syndrome condition which drives me crazy.”  (I was alone in my office and only God and I heard my wailing!) I suspect that you also, at some point in your life, have  “pulled a Hagar,” and cried out to God asking, begging, for God to hear your cries of distress.

Every time I get to the end of The Merton Prayer, I feel like my name should be Ishmael. Thank you Lord for hearing my cries of distress and for this promise: “You are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”  No matter where we are or what our circumstances are, My Name is Ishmael, since God indeed hears my cries, every time!  Facing a diagnosis of terminal illness? My Name is Ishmael.  Just fired from your job because of an awful  misunderstanding?  My Name is Ishmael.  Your spouse just left you after announcing they had been unfaithful on numerous occasions:  My Name is Ishmael. Your sibling has lied about you to others which causes a breach in your relationship.  My Name is Ishmael.

In the book I share many stories of how God meets us in our deepest need and never abandons us, never, in spite of our severe or catastrophic situations.  After being told by my doctor that I had “aggressive prostate cancer,” I walked to my car quietly reciting The Merton Prayer.  I just as easily could have repeated over and over My Name is Ishmael since I could never be out of range for God to hear me.  And then there is the story of my fear of heights, or more accurately my fear of edges, as I was stuck behind the wheel driving my car up the narrow road to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado.  My Name is Ishmael.

May God bless you this week as you encounter times of pain and uncertainty.  May you gain much strength and blessing and peace as you “pull a Hagar” – because you and I can always claim My Name is Ishmael – and then enjoy the peace which comes from knowing that God had indeed heard our cries.

[NOTE:  If your organization, church, or school would like a workshop/presentation on The Merton Prayer please use the contact tab and let me know!  I can Zoom all over the world and have done 90-minute, 3 hour, 5 hour, weekend, or five-day workshops/retreats.]

Leave a comment, if you wish, regarding this post or how you found The Merton Prayer and why it is important to you.  Thanks for visiting!

Please Pray for Me

My sister-in-law Mikyoung Lee is an amazing artist who also is a Professor of Iconography at Incheon Catholic University in Incheon, South Korea.  She teaches university students how to create beautiful/meaningful paintings of Christ, Mother Mary, and other Saints of the Church, which elicit worship and connect people to God.  Her artwork is a focus of our private worship center in our Illinois condo.  In the world of Christian iconography, Mikyoung Lee’s artwork is well known and respected.

The English word icon comes from Greek eikennai which means “to be like or to resemble” which is why in English we usually just say “image.”  In Christianity, icons are normally paintings done on wooden panels, usually pine or linden.  Their production can often be a long, laborious, and complex process which may involve a layer of linen cloth soaked in sturgeon glue which is put on the wooden panel before the painting is done.

As a Protestant I grew up believing that Christian icons were evil since I was told that people prayed to the painting rather than to God, which I am sure may be true in some cases.  However, my faith journey has now brought me to enjoy and respect icons as points of connection with God.  One of my absolute favorites is of Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, who was the human being entrusted by God with helping Mary raise our Lord to adulthood.  When I gaze upon this icon, I do not pray to Saint Joseph, I ask Saint Joseph to please pray for me and my family and my country and my world! No different than my asking spiritual companions in my small group for prayer requests; if heaven is real, then by faith we can believe that all the saints are able to receive our requests and to intercede for us in prayer.  A truly amazing and glorious thought, yes?

If the above prayer assertions are true, and I believe they are, then the two people who taught me to pray, my mother and father, are also available to intercede for me now as they enjoy singing in the heavenly chorus of millions, yea billions, of the saints who have gone before us.  No artist creates icons of my parents, or your parents; however, the “image” of my mother and father needs no enhanced depiction on pine or linden.  The “icons” of Gayle and Mary K. Denny are implanted somewhere in my brain, never to fade by sunlight or spilled water!  Please pray for me my mother and father!

So here is our query in a nutshell:  Is intercessory prayer real or just stupid fantasy we humans have created to soothe our worried souls?  I could point you to websites with titles like “35 Scriptures for Intercessory Prayer” but all I need do is cogitate on James 5:16. The half-brother of Jesus said this: “Pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”  (NLT).  The next query is this:  Their bodies died but are their spirits/souls alive to hear our requests and pray for us?  This is answered for me in Luke 23:43 where Jesus turns to a criminal whose body is dying and who will be dead in a matter of moments, and he says this to him: “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (NLT)

Unashamedly, thus, I say Please Pray For Me to the Apostle Paul, Billy Graham, Martin Luther, Earl Hargrove (founder of Lincoln Christian College), Chuck Colson, Dean Dickinson (brother-in-law), Pope John Paul, Joseph (stepfather of Jesus), and Mary K and Gayle Denny (my parents).  May you enjoy the blessings which come from your prayers for others and from others’ prayers for you.

[NOTE:  If your organization, church, or school would like a workshop/presentation on The Merton Prayer please use the contact tab and let me know!  I can Zoom all over the world and have done 90-minute, 3 hour, 5 hour, weekend, or five-day workshops/retreats.]

Leave a comment, if you wish, regarding this post or how you found The Merton Prayer and why it is important to you.  Thanks for visiting!

Light, A Matter of Life and Death

When I was a high school senior, I only needed a couple of courses to graduate, so I signed up for some Freshman courses at the University of Kentucky.  While there I connected with a group of students who were spending the summer in Bogota, Colombia, transforming a barrio (slum) into a beautiful park which greatly enhanced the opportunities for the residents, especially the youth.  I loved that summer for so many reasons, especially for the opportunity to take amazing weekend trips to explore new areas.

In the book, I described one weekend trip where I walked in total darkness into the heart of a mountain for a thousand feet, holding onto a rope connecting me to my companions.  Our leader told us to stop walking, and then she flipped a light switch which revealed that we were now standing in the middle of a beautiful sanctuary – a church inside a mountain!  Each of us uttered “wow” out loud as our eyes adjusted to the light and beauty of this church!

But I confess that my most favorite weekend trip was the one that took me and three colleagues into the deep jungle at the small southern Colombia town Leticia, which was on the Amazon River at the junction of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil.  One friend and I connected with two locals who took us alligator hunting on the Amazon River! At night, in a canoe, we would quietly float a hundred feet off the shore and one of our guides stood in the front of our canoe wearing a hat which had an incredibly bright light (reminded me of what miners wear).  He focused his light on the shore just above the water line. All of a sudden, I saw what he was seeking:  two shining yellow eyes looking directly into the strong light beam.  He had found his first alligator of the night. 

Now here, to me, is the amazing part of this adventure.  As long as he kept his light focused on the alligator, the alligator could not move, his body seemed to be frozen by the streaming light.  But if the guide moved his light even one inch off the target, the alligator quickly fled into the shoreline’s brush and was gone.  Light, a Matter of Life and Death!  Literally.

Several alligators that night lived because the light wavered from their eyes; but several alligators were shot as the boat inched closer and closer until we were only five feet from the shining yellow eyes.  Even in that last moment, several alligators got away when the light beam veered just an inch.  The guide shot the alligators right between those shining yellow eyes, used a grappling hook to get the dying alligator into our boat, where I was horrified to have a squirming dying alligator crawling over my feet as I sat in the boat.  I was also horrified when the guides caught a very large turtle, cut into the turtle with a knife, reached deeply inside the turtle, withdrew their hand holding several warm turtle eggs and then proceeded to eat the eggs with great joy while offering me this snack!  I said, “Yuk, no thanks!” and was only too happy when they dropped me on the shore at the conclusion of the alligator hunting experience.

The first chapter of 1 John comes to my mind as I contemplate Light, a Matter of Life and Death!  As Christ-followers, if we walk in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have Life!  However, if we walk in the darkness, we will assuredly only have Death.  Once the alligators’ eyes caught the light, they had no chance to be in the darkness as long as the source of the Light was steady and did not change its path.  Certainly, this application is perhaps a tad labored, but to me the Light of Life which comes from the Creator God Yahweh, is steady and constantly gives Life, never Death.  Only when I choose to avert my gaze do I lean into Death.  The big difference, the alligators have not the ability to avert their eyes from the Light, whereas each of we Christ-followers have constant urges AND the ability to not only avert but to permanently remove our eyes from the Light who is Life. 

In The Merton Prayer, “I cannot see the road ahead of me, I do not know for certain where it will end” begs this question, “So is there not enough Light for me to see the right road?”  A very good question, don’t you agree?  Why is it that we just so often cannot even see the road, much less make an informed decision to choose the right road?  To me the very next phrase in the Merton Prayer gives the answer: “Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so!”  May we keep our gaze on the Light that offers us abundant Life in the coming days.  Why?  Because truly Light, a Matter of Life and Death is constantly before us.

[NOTE:  If your organization, church, or school would like a workshop/presentation on The Merton Prayer please use the contact tab and let me know!  I can Zoom all over the world and have done 90-minute, 3 hour, 5 hour, weekend, or five-day workshops/retreats.]

Leave a comment, if you wish, regarding this post or how you found The Merton Prayer and why it is important to you.  Thanks for visiting!

Take Care of Everything

In the book I mention how my wife and I (often along with daughter Julie too) pray the Father Dolindo “Surrender Prayer” regularly.  This prayer is known and loved by Catholics the world over for its simplicity and power!  It’s a nine-day novena which means that we pray a different “verse” for nine days while the “chorus” is the same every day.  Here is a beautiful musical version of the nine days of this prayer:

The verses each focus on real life situations where we humans have a choice to either trust God and surrender to Him, or not; a marvelous companion to The Merton Prayer.  The surrender called for in this prayer is always couched in the promise that God will take care of whatever our perplexities or confusions or fears might happen to be then raging or whispering in our lives.   Each verse in essence has God saying, “give it to me in real surrender and I will take care of it.”  Following the verse we repeat this phrase ten times:  “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you; take care of everything!”

I am ordinarily not a fan of repeating phrases in my conversations with God, having been raised a Protestant and today only half-way across the Tiber according to some of my Roman Catholic friends.  I hear the strong admonition of Jesus against mindlessly babbling words in our prayers over and over.  Immediately preceding Jesus’ teaching us how to pray with the Our Father he says this:  “When you pray don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do.  They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.”  [Matthew 6:7]

So how, you may ask, is this ten-times-repeated-chorus not “babbling on and on”?  It could well be.  But to me it is not.  This is one context where my mind does not wander aimlessly while repeating the chorus.  God will “take care of everything” if only I can offer pure and undiluted “surrender” to Him.  Like The Merton Prayer, however, these words are not a magical incantation which brings God onto the scene to do what we deem best.  Not at all.  Not even close.  In this kind of true surrender, the result will always be what God deems best!

Day One has this:  sometimes we act like little children who tell our mothers how best to parent us!  Day Three has this: sometimes we act like patients who tell our doctors what to do and how to heal us!  Once these words are in my brain the repetition of the “surrender” chorus always brings me a huge sense of calm and confidence that, indeed, God’s plan for this situation I am facing may or may not be the same as my plan.  But getting “take care of everything” into my soul and my brain and my gut always reloads my confidence and faith that God loves me and will lead me on the right path, even though as Merton prayed, “I may know nothing about it.”

So now I get to my favorite verse of the “Surrender Prayer,” which occurs on Day Two.  God is speaking to me: “Surrender means to placidly close the eyes of your soul and put yourself in My care.”  The first time I encountered this phrase I was aghast with curious amazement.  I wondered how does one go about “placidly closing the eyes of one’s soul”?  And why would one want to close the eyes of one’s soul?  In chewing on this little phrase, I have come to love it, again for the simultaneous simplicity and depth.  My “soul” is my inner essence, the core of my very being, the load-star of my existence.  My soul functions like a sentry guarding the city while standing alert on the city’s walls constantly scanning the horizon for enemy approaches.

So what good is a sentry whose eyes are closed?  Can there be a more powerful metaphor for true and total surrender?  For a “closed-eyed sentry” to be a successful guardian of the city s/he must have a higher power handling the watch-tower duties for him/her!  But wait, there’s more!  I am asked to “placidly” close the eyes of my soul, and that word always and only means that this act of surrender is done “peacefully” which can only happen when I recall how God has in the past “taken care of everything.”  This is the kind of surrender we are called to have, and once I have closed down my own navigation machine it is such a joy to sit back and watch how God will indeed take care of everything.

Leave a comment, if you wish, regarding this post or how you found The Merton Prayer and why it is important to you.  Thanks for visiting!

[NOTE:  If your organization, church, or school would like a workshop/presentation on The Merton Prayer please use the contact tab and let me know!  I can Zoom all over the world and have done 90-minute, 3 hour, 5 hour, weekend, or five-day workshops/retreats.]

Happy or Not, the New Year Cometh!

[NOTE:  If your organization, church, or school would like a workshop/presentation on The Merton Prayer please use the contact tab and let me know!  I can Zoom all over the world and have done 90-minute, 3 hour, 5 hour, weekend, or five-day workshops/retreats.]

Is there anyone reading this blog who has not ever made “New Year’s Resolutions” to start a new healthy habit, to stop an old unhealthy habit, to finally read the Bible through in one year, to purge the attic or basement of unneeded “stuff,” or to learn a new skill/language/subject which we have been thinking about learning for years (decades)?  Sometimes we make these resolutions out loud and share our intentions with our spouse or families or friends; sometimes we totally keep them to ourselves, sparing our embarrassment when we hit the month of February having totally failed!  If we succeed in our resolution, then indeed it is a Happy New Year.  But happy or not, the New Year cometh!

Today is January 1st and all over the world people are making resolutions to change and improve!  Nobody ever makes a resolution for negative change (“In 2023 I sure hope to be more slovenly!” or “this is the year I want to gain so much weight that I can have that gastric bypass surgery!”).  And if we are honest with ourselves, we usually admit that we need help to get it done.  We need help from God and we need help from family and friends.  Of course, nobody will give us help unless we ask them; the presence of “mind readers” in our lives may be limited to spouses!

But what about God, do we have to make our request for help known to Him or does He already know about all of our needs, including our New Year’s Resolution?  I say Yes, He already knows, after all that’s what Omniscience is all about isn’t it? 

In one of my seminars/workshops on The Merton Prayer someone commented in the Q & A time that this prayer does not ASK God for anything, when compared to the Our Father, which is filled with requests.  I agreed, The Merton Prayer does not implore from God any actions; instead it acknowledges wonderful actions done by God.  “Leading us on the right road even though we may be lost and in the shadow of death;” removing fear; promising omnipresence (“for You are ever with me”) and God’s aid and strength so that we will “never face our perils alone.”

So whether you share your resolutions for the new year, or hold them deep inside without sharing, The Merton Prayer just might be a source of strength for you on your journey.  And don’t forget Merton’s belief that “the desire to please [God] does indeed please [God]” so maybe craft your resolutions always and only to please God in all things.  After all, happy or not, the New Year cometh!  May we make the choices which please God, knowing that true happiness lies therein.

Leave a comment, if you wish, regarding this post or how you found The Merton Prayer and why it is important to you.  Thanks for visiting!

Sometimes I Feel Like a Loon

I have a friend named Ken who clearly falls into the rare category of “very close friend” – by that I mean he occupies a place in my heart which is not populated with very many other human beings.  We are the same age (a tad over 70); we had small children who went to the same private Christian school; he took my oldest daughter on a trip with his daughter to London where the two teenage friends had a marvelous time; he came to my wedding; he came to my surprise birthday party; when I had cancer surgery he was there at the hospital; we meet regularly and discuss very deep things; we share issues facing us that we just do not speak of with people other than our wives; and we respect each other’s opinions on a wide variety of issues. 

You see, and here’s the point, Ken and I could hardly be more different in so many ways.  He is way to the left of me on almost every issue we discuss. In a recent airing of some differences between us he said, “Sometimes I feel like a loon when I get into these back and forth discussions with you Steven.”  To which I said, “I have always loved Loons, they are probably my most favorite bird!”  And get this:  Ken recently retired as the CEO of an insurance company which defended doctors, and I am a trial lawyer who sues doctors – only when I detect egregious negligence which has seriously injured the patient.  Ken hired me once to come speak to several hundred doctors on “How not to meet me in court!”  Do you see what I mean?  Ken and I could not be any further apart in so many ways. Yet we love each other with a sense often that we are “brothers from a different mother!”  Many of us are sitting down today with family and extended family and friends, and we just may hear from the elder head of the table: “We don’t talk about that at the Christmas dinner table” followed by awkward silence for a few seconds, minutes, or hours! 

I said all of the above, to say this:  we live in such a divided world right now where the blue states hate the red states and where political parties spend untold sums of money in an effort to change the minds of those who do not believe in or follow the same party line; so is it any surprise that families and friends are divided also which can and does make for some very awkward holiday table discussions!

I confess that with many of my immediate family members (adult children, siblings, and aging parents of my wife) I purposely avoid discussing such topics.  But not so with Ken.  He and I go toe to toe with polar opposite views!  When we hit on a really hard topic that does not bode well for either of us to “give in” to the other’s view, we respectfully leave the topic and move on to wish each other a wonderful day, often with a promise to pray for each other. 

This is unique.  Does not happen with anybody else in my world.  Another friend and I had to stop being “friends” since he could not tolerate even listening to views and positions which were totally opposite of his views and positions.  I wanted to have a “Ken” relationship with him but he walked away, unable to even speak with me about anything.

If you do not have some “Kens” in your life, please ask yourself these questions:  “Why not?” Am I the one who is too loud and mean-spirited in conversations?  Do I speak way more than I listen?  While your friend is speaking am I composing my brilliant rebuttal instead of really listening?  Can I say, Sometimes I Feel Like a Loon, and then see my friend as a gift from God whose opinions I dearly respect without criticism since, after all, the person speaking to me is important to me!

If the first six lines of The Merton Prayer do anything, they always help me with a reality check of just who I am, whose I am, where I am, where I think I am going, and how I just might be totally walking a wrong road!  With that in mind, I am always open to hear Ken’s position on everything because, who knows, maybe, just maybe, this time, on this one topic, he might be right, and …maybe, just maybe, I might be wrong!  Merry Christmas Ken, and thank you for being my very good friend!

Leave a comment, if you wish, regarding this post or how you found The Merton Prayer and why it is important to you.  Thanks for visiting!

Once We Have Seen Him in a Stable …

One of my favorite authors and speakers, a Presbyterian minister who a few months ago died at 96 years of age, is Frederick Buechner. In his book “The Hungering Dark,” Buechner’s famous and oft-quoted comment about Christmas is this, “Once we have seen Him in a stable, we can never be sure where He will appear or to what lengths He will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation He will descend in His wild pursuit of men.”

The incarnation of Yahweh, the divine creator of the universe, into our world as a little bitty baby is so incredibly awkward for we serious minded sophisticated thinkers, that we often relegate all incarnation-talk to that box labeled “unexplainable.”  And there we leave it, along with the many other dictums of the Christian faith which simply cannot be logically understood, communicated, or reduced to simplistic edicts of the church.  For example, one man dying so that all humanity might have hope for eternal life just defies any logical presentation among modern thinking humans.

The incarnation has a regular appearance in our world and worship:  the Christian calendar touts December 25th as the precise day of birth of Jesus, Immanuel, the Savior of humanity.  Whereas other unexplainable doctrines of the Christian faith get dumped into tomes of scholarly books by scholarly authors, the incarnation gets front and center attention every year.  Often once we have seen him in a stable is adorably presented in the voices and cherubic faces of our children’s choirs singing and wearing ancient near eastern garb to add authenticity!

But Buechner’s quote is much much deeper.  If Yahweh, the creator all-powerful God, can appear as a helpless baby in a stable who needs his diapers changed, his food delivered via breast-feeding, and his tiny body being carried to and fro, then isn’t the mind boggled by trying to imagine how else Yahweh might have appeared or be yet still appearing in our world!  Can He be seen in a neighborhood homeless bum?  How about a convicted criminal just out of jail?  An abandoned adorable little puppy?  The majestic eagle flying above our heads?

And how about “his wild pursuit of men”?  Everybody loves a baby, do we not?  And the changes from month to month in a newborn are fantastic to watch!  (My nine-month-old granddaughter Aria Marie is a totally different person than when she was only two-months-old!). “For God so loved the world” surely confirms His “wild pursuit” of his creations!  And think about “the ludicrous depths of self-humiliation” seen in the all-powerful creator God choosing to be totally 100% dependent on two human beings, a mommy and a daddy, for His life to be sustained!  His plan for that tiny baby to spend 30 years getting ready for the ministry which gives my and your life meaning and a purpose for existence!  The message of Easter – He is alive, risen from the dead – which gives us hope for eternal life – cannot happen without once we have seen Him in a stable

And where do we see Him today?  In the neighbor whose skin is not my color?  In the “Illegal foreigner” walking across our borders in search of new life? In the person who has chosen a lifestyle which I view as sinful? In the knife-wielding rider on the mass transit train?  In the homeless drug addled person living in a sleeping bag on a sidewalk?  Yes.  Yes.  Yes. The imago Dei is present and alive in each human being.  What will it take before we start believing that every human being bears the image of God?

Incarnation. Once we have seen Him in a stable.  “Then God said, ‘let us make human beings in our image, to be like us’” (Gen 1:26 NLT). The Merton Prayer asserts “the desire to please [God] does in fact please [God]” and I cannot think of a more profound way to please God than to acknowledge God’s image in every breathing human being! May the wonderful, delightful Christmas stories we enjoy propel us to contemplate the deep significance of once we have seen Him in a stable!

Leave a comment, if you wish, regarding this post or how you found The Merton Prayer and why it is important to you.  Thanks for visiting!

Rat Poison Consequences

A friend recently told me that he just couldn’t deal any longer with a relative and had drawn a boundary so that their paths would never cross. And then he said this, “I know it’s not right, but I just love to hate her!” I could not get over that conversation and only later, during my quiet time of prayer – where honesty with God is sort of a requirement, wouldn’t you agree? – did I figure out why those words had lingered in my brain. I realized that I had been perseverating on The Merton Prayer’s “nor do I really know myself,” which allowed me to honestly ask myself, “Is there someone in my life I love to hate?”

When the clear and powerful answer came back “Yes, you know there are such people in your life,” I blinked, took a deep breath, and asked myself “Why would I ever choose to hold onto that attitude, almost like it’s a covenant that I cannot break away from?” The image surely fits here of a person drinking a cup of rat poison, hoping that their enemy, “that stinking rat,” will die! There is only one person who gets sick in that scenario and it’s the person drinking the cup of rat poison! Rat poison consequences are many and well known: internal unrest of the soul; constant replaying on the screen of my brain how awful I was treated by that “stinking rat”; unauthentic prayers by me for the “stinking rat” to “mend her ways, repent, and seek reconciliation with me”; and total denial by me of the fact that my “stinking rat” is a person filled with the imago Dei.

But how does God expect us to let go of the pain caused by hurtful actions/words of others, which can grip us for years, for decades, or even for our entire lifetime? With two people in my life I have constructed boundaries, as my friend did, which keep these folks out of my sight, never likely to cross my path with even a conversation starter, “How are you Steven?”

I believe that folks reading this blog take very seriously the words of Jesus about the rat poison consequences of our behavior when it comes to forgiveness. Jesus, immediately after teaching his disciples how to pray with what we call The Lord’s Prayer, or The Our Father, said this:

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sin.” (Matthew 6:14-15; NLT)

Hanging onto my hurt not only will eat me up on the insides while here on earth, it will guarantee for me eternal damnation! I’d say that one is the biggest of the rat poison consequences. Even though that rat poison tastes so good while I am savoring the flavors as I watch for my “stinking rat” to get sick and die! Instead, my “stinking rat” seems unaffected by my drinking this poison! And I get sicker and sicker, further and further from the will of my heavenly Father. Lord, help me and all readers of this blog take steps to heal the broken relationships in our lives, starting with true and honest forgiveness of the painful hurts inflicted on us by our “stinking rats.”

Leave a comment, if you wish, regarding this post or how you found The Merton Prayer and why it is important to you. Thanks for visiting!

Worry and Worship Cannot Coexist!

The definition of worry is well known and easily understood: “Mental distress or agitation resulting from concern usually for something impending or anticipated” [Merriam-Webster Dictionary].  Likewise, the definition of worship is also well known though not as easily understood: “An act of expressing reverence offered to a divine being or supernatural power” [Merriam-Webster Dictionary].

We all have many situations which cause us to experience worry.  Those of us who believe in a “divine being or supernatural power” have many situations which cause us to worship. Both of these human experiences can be intentional or unintentional.  One thing I have learned as a follower of Christ is that worry and worship cannot coexist.  When worry fills our hearts we are in no condition to worship God; and as we are worshipping God we cannot start worrying about anything.  We may flip back and forth quickly between the two, but never will they both occupy our hearts and minds at the exact same time.  Can’t happen.  Never has.  Never will.

The intentional worries in our lives are situations which we go into knowing that something could happen which causes us to experience mental distress or agitation over what is about to happen.  We see a situation ahead and choose worry over peace.  We have been here before and know that we “need” to show and feel fear.

On the other hand, when we left our house, the roads were clear and the weather was sunny; but only 20 minutes later we enter a blizzard and the roads are covered with ice.  Unintentional fear grabs our heart and mind causing us to grip the steering wheel and slow down considerably. 

In the book I share true situations where I and others experienced very real fear, both the “intentional” and the “unintentional” kinds of fear.  In hindsight, and of course with guidance by the Holy Spirit, I can easily now see when the fear was replaced by worship.  Indeed, the move from worry to worship generally is accompanied by “Thank you Lord” – e.g., my walk from the physician’s office to my car after hearing I had “very aggressive prostate cancer;” after a three-week trial of a complex medical malpractice wrongful death case when the defense attorney presented a “motion for directed verdict” at 11:00pm; and when I drove up the very narrow road leading to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado.

The Merton Prayer’s “I will not fear” is not a magical incantation, but since 1990 when I first read it, those words have helped me live out my belief that worry and worship cannot coexist.  Reciting this prayer in moments of fear helps me focus on God and not me, which seems to pretty easily result in more worship and less worry.  May God bless you richly with the words of The Merton Prayer – fear is overcome and erased by focusing on the fact that God is “ever with me” and “will never leave me to face my perils alone.”  Thank you Lord!

Leave a comment, if you wish, regarding this post or how you found The Merton Prayer and why it is important to you.  Thanks for visiting!