Breath Prayer

Kindred in Christ,

Last week we began a new sermon series titled, Serenity: Courage, Wisdom, and the Presence of God, which is all about how to deal with anxiety. We are looking at the book of Proverbs. But we’re not just looking at scripture cognitively, seeing how scripture understands anxiety and serenity. We are also pushing a little bit into the contemplative practice of prayer.

There’s a lot of smart people that can talk about these things, and that is great! But what does it mean to experience these things that we talk about?

One practice we explored last week is the simple Breath Prayer, which will be helpful this upcoming Sunday as we move into the second part of the Serenity Prayer—accepting the things we cannot change. You can create your own Breath Prayers, but here are some prompts:

 

INHALE:

We are more than our pain.

 

EXHALE:

I make space for beauty.

 

INHALE:

I accept the things I cannot change.

 

EXHALE:

I know the story is never over with God.

 

Alongside you,

Rev. Paul Ortiz

The Serenity Prayer

Kindred in Christ,

Happy New Year! I am excited to witness and participate in God’s unfolding future for us at U Gathering in 2023! And to kick us off, we are beginning a new worship series titled Serenity: Courage, Wisdom, and the Presence of God. As you may have guessed, the series is inspired by the famous Serenity Prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr (above). This prayer has personally shaped my spirituality deeply, as it reminds me that there are things that I cannot change or others that do not deserve my worry. Yet, it also empowers me to have the courage to act when God prompts me to speak up and act for change in our world. And lastly, the wisdom to know the difference saves me from being passive or angry all the time.

Often our lives are filled with anxiety. And the temptation may be to try to solve everything, or just check out from any responsibility at all. Yet, God offers us the deep serenity to remain present and rooted, and to see clearly through the lens of divine wisdom.

As a church we will also gather this Sunday to hear an important update regarding our building project. It will invite us into a month-long discernment process of further conversations and decision making. My prayer is that we can rely on God’s wisdom to accept the things we cannot change and the courage to act together to bring about the change that needs to happen for the sake of our continued ministry in the U District.

Alongside you,

Rev. Paul Ortiz

José y Maria

Kindred in Christ,

I look forward to gathering with you during our upcoming Christmas Eve candlelight service and our Christmas morning celebration! After two years of not being able to gather in-person for worship during the holidays, it will be a gift to light candles next to one another and welcome the coming light of the Christ Child among us. Yet during this season, I am also reminded of how easily it is to miss God’s emerging light. In fact, I find that the four weeks of Advent and our Christmas celebrations only begin to prepare our hearts and minds for what the manger means in our world today.

One of the things that I love about the depiction above, by Everett Patterson, titled José y Maria, is that the more time you spend looking at it, the more you’ll notice. Drawn in literary comic-book style, in shades of purple, lavender and gray, it depicts a gritty street scene with a poor young Latine couple standing on a sidewalk in front of a convenience store at night. The man has a public telephone wedged between his shoulder and ear. He looks worried. His wife rests at his side, resting by sitting sideways on a child’s mechanical pony ride. She holds a hand over her very pregnant abdomen. She looks worried too, and tired.

Are you starting to see the picture? The artist loads it with evocative hints: The woman’s hoodie reads “Nazareth High School.” A sign in the store window, advertising Starr Beer, bears a blue neon star. A poster calls out “Good News.” Around the corner, a lighted sign for Dave’s City Motel reads “NO VACANCY.” And my favorite, in a crack in the sidewalk a hopeful green shoot has sprouted between the man and woman. What other hints do you see?

Join us this Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, in-person and online, as we explore further what it means to witness and welcome the coming of Christ in our world.

Rev. Paul Ortiz

The Annunciation

Kindred in Christ,

After being sick with the flu and lying in bed for almost a week, I am happy to share that I am almost back to feeling like my regular self. A big THANK YOU to those that stepped-in and stepped-up last Sunday to lead our worship service in my absence! I especially appreciated our new worship leader, Ben, sharing a reflection and personal testimony. If you missed it, you can watch the service here.

I am excited to be back with you for the final Sunday of Advent, as we consider The Annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), as seen depicted above by Scott Erickson. My favorite aspect of Erickson’s modern icon is the upside-down messenger inviting Mary into an upside-down way of looking at the world. Join us as we explore how Advent is about God showing up in our lives and transforming the way we see the world.

Alongside you,

Rev. Paul Ortiz

Advent in the Dark

Kindred in Christ,

One of the things I love most about Advent is the invitation to embrace the darkness and mystery in our lives. During the four weeks leading to Christmas, we get to only light one candle per week. A slow progression from darkness to light. This serves as a reminder that our spiritual lives are nourished from both the certainty of the light, and the mystery of darkness.

Join us this Sunday, as we reflect further on these themes in our series, The Unexpected Gifts of Advent. And in the meantime, I invite you to take time to meditate on the prayer below.

 

Advent in the Dark

We wait in the darkness,

expectantly, longingly, anxiously, thoughtfully.

The darkness is our friend.

In the darkness of the womb,

we have all been nurtured and protected.

In the darkness of the womb

the Christ-child was made ready for the journey into light.

It is only in the darkness

that we can see the splendor of the universe –

blankets of stars, the solitary glowings of the planets.

It was the darkness that allowed the Magi to find the star

that guided them to where the Christ-child lay.

In the darkness of the night,

desert people find relief from the cruel relentless heat of the sun.

In the blessed desert darkness

Mary and Joseph were able to flee with the infant Jesus

to safety in Egypt.

In the darkness of sleep,

we are soothed and restored, healed and renewed.

In the darkness of sleep, dreams rise up.

God spoke to Joseph and the wise men through dreams.

God is speaking still.

Sometimes in the solitude of the darkness

our fears and concerns, our hopes and visions

rise to the surface.

We come face to face with ourselves

and with the road that lies ahead of us.

And in that same darkness

we find companionship for the journey.

In that same darkness

we sometimes allow ourselves to wonder and worry

whether the human race is going to survive.

And then, in the darkness

we know that you are with us, O God,

yet still we await your coming.

In the darkness that contains both our hopelessness and our hope,

we watch for a sign of God’s hope.

For you are with us, O God,

in darkness and in light.

 

~ from the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand (abridged).  Posted by James Hawes, on Sunday Papers. http://www.sundaypapers.org.uk/

Rev. Paul Ortiz