Prayer as Interruption, Honor & Imagination

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I want to allow my life to be interrupted by God, to be open to divine possibilities. For most of this year, prayer has been an interruption to my sleep, my work, my conversations, my free time and my thoughts. At points, I wrestled to stay present, to stop what I am doing to engage God and pray for the city. At other times, it has been a respite and provided a needed refuge from my to-do list, anxious thoughts and addiction to self-sufficiency. As much as I have both enjoyed and struggled with praying 3 times a day, it has become a needed and necessary interruption. The discipline of communal prayer helps me remember to turn toward God in the mist of my busy day, to unplug from my work and my story enough to lift up the healing of the city, to ask God for help, grace and strength. I am reminded that I am not alone, that God is at work, that whatever I am thinking about, working on or dealing with, I can lay down for a few minutes. I can receive these few minutes as a gift and an invitation to listen, be renewed and focus on God. That is indeed a beautiful blessing.

Tuesday Mornings and Thursday Evenings are my favorite prayer times. I lead prayer on Tuesday mornings. I turn on the lights, light the candles, unlock the doors and read prayers and scripture. Something comes alive in me when I have to wake up a bit early to be ready and seated before everyone arrives. I get to prepare the way. It is an honor and privilege to usher our community into the heart of God. The responsibility has been delightful.

On Thursday evenings, Anne Campbell leads prayer by telling stories. This is a spirit filled time. Jesus told stories and the bible is full of them because stories are a good tool for opening our understanding and a way to renew our hearts and minds. When Anne tells stories, Chapel is transformed into a space of imagination and creativity, a space of merriment and freedom. These are words I associate with God, so I am glad Anne tells stories to shepherd us into God’s story with such dynamism. Leading prayer and listening to these stories alongside biblical stories has kept me alive and awake in prayer.

During evening prayer, Mary’s Magnificent has resonated with me. I have the words memorized but it is the way they reverberates through my chest and head that is striking to me. It feels like something is being prayed through me. Mary’s song is a signpost for me to continue to say yes Jesus, to whatever it is that the spirit wants to birth in and through me and to respond by praising God for his greatness, favor, mercy, strength, provision and help. Her response to God penetrates my being.

Experiencing prayer in these new ways has been stretching which has created more space for God

Let us go rebuild the ruins!

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Last Friday, I attended the national conference of the Association for Community Design. It was mostly comprised of urban planners, urban designers and community advocates who want to make a difference in their community. We were all at the conference and in our respective professions and communities looking to be a catalyst for a change we can see. Maybe even a change we have a part in designing and facilitating. Days like these remind me why I went into urban planning. I wanted to be a rebuilder of ruins, restorer of hope not only socially, but physically, of homes, buildings, streets, parks and neighborhoods. Most of the people I met from the conference had that same passion, so I was in good company.

Neighbors

The theme of the conference was “neighbors.” I believe this was a good place to start because community usually begins with being a good neighbor. And with that theme, we had our sessions at different galleries along Broad Street that allowed us to walk and see the area, took neighborhood walking tours to understand the history of various neighborhoods and dined at restaurants around Richmond to get a flavor of Richmond’s best eateries. We took in the landscape, engaged businesses, arts organizations, history and local residents during our time. We practiced being good neighbors by getting to know the places and people of Richmond. We did this simply by getting out, eating together, walking and talking.

Love and Forgiveness

Sitting next to other planners and designers at lunch, our table discussion prompt was “what does love and forgiveness have a role in your work?” Wow, what a good question. This was my kind of conference, going from practicing being a neighbor; walking, open and curious, to practicing love and forgiveness. In the work I’ve done in community building these two themes are much needed, as we move toward one another to help build trust and understanding. Being open to change, challenge and growth as well as doing things for the better of the larger community are important, that’s love. I also think forgiveness is necessary. In the physical, social, economic and political arena of a city, there are many wrongs that have been done in the name of the good of the city. For example, we walked the Jackson Ward neighborhood in Richmond and stood next to the highway that destroyed a neighborhood and social fabric of its residents. Yes, love and forgiveness are necessary daily if we are going to get on with the business of building community. Forgiveness can help us reckon with the ills of the past and its impact on the present and love can bring us together in the present and bind us to one another as we go forward into the future.

From Noxious to Nature

One session really blew me away, it was about an African American neighborhood outside of Houston that was plagued for about 20 years from illegal dumping. There was enough trash on these few acres of land if piled up would be taller than any sky scraper in the city. The residents called and complained for years, but nothing happened. They were plagued by air pollution, noxious odors and toxins, rodents, debris and ash from recurring fires and constant light and truck traffic from dumping. The neighborhood brought suit against the city and finally won and the dump was shut down after 20 years. To reconcile for this offense, the city cleaned up the dump and turned it into an outdoor habitat and recreational center for the community. There was such a stark physical transformation, from noxious to nature. This type of change, ma be one of my favorite things to hear about and witness. It reminds me that one day, all things will be made new, but while we are here, we get to participate in the process.

Watch the documentary “Out of Deepwood” to learn more.