Feb. 15: Reflection and prayer before the NH Senate

Senate Reflection on Psalm 90:4

Donald Knuth began writing his life’s work, The Art of Computer Programming, in 1962. Since then he has written three volumes and is currently working on a fourth volume. Now: computers have change a lot since 1962. I’m amazed that these books are able to remain a standard reference work for computer programmers even when the books were first conceived 55 years ago.

When the pace of change is fast, how can Don Knuth stay on top of it all? He doesn’t. He refuses to. He acknowledges that his “role in life” is not “to be on top of things. But …[his] role is to be on the bottom of things.”

When the pace of change is fast, when the deadlines are frequent and short, we make an effort to slow down, to find things that don’t change, values that endure, the truths that are the most fundamental. We prefer not to “stay on top of things,” but rather “on the bottom of things.”


Let us pray. Eternal God, for whom “a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past,” we are about to walk into the State of the State address and we fly toward crossover day, keep us rooted in our values, that we speak to each other on the deep level of the heart and so find, for ourselves and for others, peace. Amen.

Senate Reflection for February 4, 2016

In 1981, Prince Charles and Diana were engaged. There was an immediate press conference, full of wedding plans. Toward the end of the press conference, one journalist just couldn’t contain his excitement and blurted out, “You two must be so in love.” Diana gave a kind and polite (if a little embarrassed) smile. Prince Charles said, “I suppose so. Whatever ‘in love’ means.” Poor Diana.

You and I have similar callings: to protect, serve and provide for a community of people in a specific place and time, for better and for worse. That is: to love. Sometimes it’s difficult, but if we try, we can see our work, the committees and the legislation as expressions of love.

And we must do better than, “I suppose so. Whatever ‘in love’ means.” Our districts deserve better than Hallmark card love or Prince Charles love. They deserve the same real love that we live daily in our marriages and families and in the couples, spouses and partners that we see all around us. The kind of love that doesn’t eyes better options but does endures hard times.

To help us today, we could remember wedding vows that we made or hope to make some day. How well do they also describe our relationship with our people? As an example, I’ll read the wedding vows of the Episcopal Church with only a little alteration:

In the Name of God, I, [Senator N.], take you, [District 1, 2, 3…22, 23, 24], to be my spouse, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.

Senate Reflection for January 21, 2016

Disaster literally means being “without a star” or being “with a bad star.” It meant a lot to the ancient navigators who sailed according to the stars. If the sky was cloudy, you couldn’t see the North Star. If you were on a ship with an unskilled astronomer, you could sail a long time with the wrong heading. Either way, your journey was a disaster from which you would not return.

We all must find our star, the fixed, shining light that leads us safely home. That star may be your faith that demands your best efforts. That star may be a story that continues to inspire you, a principle that you can never ignore, a person that your life and your actions must always represent. No one should find themselves into service like yours without such a guiding star.

Find it again and fix your eye on it. Even as the North Star gets obscured in the clouds, so our guides are hard to find amid the papers and the agreements. It’s a sad fact of our psychology that our eye always gets attracted to the glittering, wandering, moving lights that promise much but lead us off-course to disaster. Stay true by your star, whatever it is, and you will marvel at how every time she brings you safely home.

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman, “When I heard the learn’d astronomer,” Leaves of Grass,  1900.

Senate Prayer for January 14, 2016

“Did the Republicans win?” she asked me from her bed at Hospice House. Kit asked me that right after the 2010 midterm election. As she lay, literally dying, she needed her priest to tell her how well the Republicans did in the election.

When people are dying, sometimes they ask seemingly inappropriate questions, “How is the car running? When did you last call Aunt Jane?” Those questions don’t seem to bear the weight of life and death. But with a little reflection we discover their meaning: people are asking, “If I die now, will everything be OK?”

For Kit, knowing that the Republicans won was a sign, a symbol, a metaphor that the world was in good hands, that she was now free to leave this world behind. (I know that not everyone here felt that way in 2010, but this is a story about Kit, not about you.)

But if the story were about you: what would the sign be? What sign do you need from God, from somewhere beyond that all will be well? And if you know that all would in fact be OK, how would that change you? What could you let go of? How would you now be more free?

Let us pray.

Holy Spirit, give each one of us a sign, a sign made for each one to see and know that all will be well, that things will get better and that things will be OK. Take our hearts filled with anxiety, pessimism and the self-centeredness of overwork, as though it all depended on us. Free our hearts to be trusting hearts, sure in the truth not it’s not us and our effort that will save the world but rather the truth that it is by your sign, your gift, your word alone that the world finds its wellness and its peace. Amen.

Senate Prayer for June 11, 2015

One afternoon I reached for a cup of coffee on my desk. The cup had been there all day, tepid at room temperature. I don’t know why I expected it to still be hot. As the coffee touched my lips, my head jerked back and my hand nearly threw the cup and I nearly spit the lukewarm coffee out.

Psychologists distinguish between “fast” and “slow” thinking. Fast thinking is like that, intuitive and reactionary. While it makes us look decisive, fast judgments are often prejudiced and poorly thought-out.

To overcome snap decisions in favor of slow thinking and long-term planning, we must have a spiritual ballast of prayer, meditation and silence.

Let us pray.

I know not what this day will bring, O Lord, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Amen. (Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer, p. 461)

Senate Prayer for June 4, 2015

I went out to till the garden. I ran the tiller over the hard soil, mixing in compost and manure. At the end I saw rich dark loose earth ready for seeds and plantlings.

I was satisfied with my work but had to realize that the work wasn’t done. It wasn’t done for the rest of the season: the planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, canning and eating were still yet to come.

Even though the work was incomplete but it was enough for the day. Even though the work wasn’t perfect, even if it was only good, then I could take rest in it being good enough for the day.

Let us pray.

Almighty God, in whom no work is perfect except your work and in whom no word is final except your Word: we offer you our work today, imperfect and incomplete. Take this offering from us, limited as it is, and give us rest and peace to serve you for one more day. Amen.

Senate Prayer for May 28, 2015

Our bodies produce one quart of saliva every day. Unconsciously, we swallow it without a problem. But, if someone brought us a glass of our own saliva to drink, we’d find it tough to swallow.

Externalizing is the process of getting an idea out of our internal world and looking at it from the outside. Doing this is hard because we must set aside our own logic, motivations and ambitions. We also must have the courage to take something close to us and dare to see it in a way that makes it harder to swallow.

For this reason we turn to God in prayer, as God alone, by definition, is external to all of us and our vested points of view.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Spirit, help us acknowledge the limited horizons of our vision and give us the gift of courage to see all things from your elevated, ineffable, external vantage. Amen.

Senate Prayer for May 14, 2015

Almighty God, our creator and our redeemer. When you created us as human beings you gave us minds to reason and to reflect; you gave us hearts for compassion, and kindness, and understanding. We confess to you that all too often we neglect the gifts of heart and mind when we succumb to fear, and to pressures from others, and to sloganeering. And so we ask that you restore us to cast off fear and take on courage, and to use our minds and hearts as the gift you intended them to be. And seeing in one another that we are all frail human beings, succumb to the same fears and pressures and, yet, aspiring to be the noble stuff for which you have created us to be. And seeing each other in this way, strengthen us to work for the service of your people, created, here in New Hampshire, together. Amen.

Senate Prayer for March 12, 2015

There are two refrains in parish ministry that you all can relate to. The first is, “Nice sermon, Father.” That one comes with a good handshake and is either from someone who doesn’t know what to say to a priest or is from someone who wants something from me.

The second is, “What are you thinking, Father?” Recently I was pulled into a pew after Sunday services and thoroughly dressed down by a parishioner who didn’t like how I taught the youth Confirmation class.

Unfortunately, both harsh criticism and ingratiating praise come your way and may way because they work on us so well. Because our egos are manipulated by the tiniest of words, we must set aside time to clear our minds and listen only to God for a moment.

Let us pray.

Holy Spirit, sweep out our minds of the loose dirt of praise and criticism, not that we be true to ourselves but keep our selves true to your wisdom, your word and your Love. Amen.