Prayers by the Lake…

Amidst the racket and ridicule of people my prayer rises toward You, O my King and my Kingdom. Prayer is incense, that ceaselessly censes my soul and raises it toward You, and draws You toward her.

Stoop down, my King, so that I may whisper to You my most precious secret, my most secret prayer, my most prayer­ful desire. You are the object of all my prayers, all my search­ing. I seek nothing except You, truly, only You.

What could I seek from You, that would not separate me from You? Should I seek to be Lord over a few stars, instead of reigning as Lord with You over all the stars?

Should I seek to be first among men? How shameful it would before me, when You would seat me at the last place at Your table! Should I seek for millions of human mouths to praise me? How horrible it would be for me, when all those mouths are filled with earth. Should I seek to be surrounded by the most precious ob­jects from the entire world? How humiliating it would be for me for those objects to outlast me and be glistening even as earthen darkness fills my eyes? Should I seek for You not to separate me from my friends? Ah separate me, O Lord, separate me from my friends as soon as possible, because they are the thickest wall between You and me.

“Why should we pray,” say my neighbors, “when God does not hear our prayers? But I say to them: “Your prayer is not prayer, but peddling merchandise. You do not pray to God to give you God but Satan. Therefore, the Wisdom of heaven does not accept the prayers from your tongue.” “Why should we pray,” grumble my neighbors, “when God knows what we need beforehand?” But I sadly answer them: “That is true, God knows–that you need nothing except Him alone. At the door of your soul He is waiting to come in.Through prayer the doors are opened for the entrance of the majestic King. Does not one of you say to the other at your door: ‘Please enter’?

“God does not seek glory for Himself but for you. All the worlds in the universe can add nothing to His glory, much less can you. Your prayer is a glorification of you, not of God. Fullness and mercy are to be found in Him. All the good words that you direct to Him in prayer, return to you twofold.” O my illustrious King and my God, to You alone I bow down and pray. Flood into me, as a raging stream into thirsty sand. Just flood me with Yourself, life-giving Water; then grass will easily grow in the sand and white lambs will graze in the grass.

Just flood into my parched soul, my Life and my Salvation.

Third Prayer by the Lake…

Are there days gone by, O man, to which you would wish to return? They all attracted you like silk, and now remain behind you like a cobweb. Like honey they greeted you, like stench you bade them farewell. All were totally filled with illusion. See how all the pools of water in the moonlight resemble mirrors; and how all the days that were lit up with your levity resemble mirrors. But as you stepped from one day to the next, the false mirrors cracked like thin ice, and you waded through the water and mud. Can a day that has a morning and an evening as doorways be a day?
O luminous Lord, my soul is burdened with illusions and longs for one day—for the day without doorways, the day from which my soul has departed and sunk into the shifting shadows—for Your day, which I used to call my day, when I was one with You. Is there any happiness gone by, O man, to which you would wish to return?

Of two morsels of the same sweetness the second is the more trite. You would turn your head away in boredom from yesterday’s happiness, if it were set out on today’s table.Moments of happiness are given to you only in order to leave you longing for true happiness in the bosom of the ever happy Lord; and ages of unhappiness are given to you, to waken you out of the drowsy dream of illusions. O Lord, Lord, my only happiness, will You provide shelter for Your injured pilgrim? O Lord, my ageless youth, my eyes shall bathe in You and shine more radiantly than the sun. You carefully collect the tears of the righteous, and with them You rejuvenate worlds.

Prayers by the Lake…

You pour Your holy oil into the stars, O Holy Spirit, and out of senseless conflagrations You make vigil lamps before the Glory of Heaven. Pour Yourself into my soul also, and out of a passionate conflagration make a vigil lamp before the heavens.

You stroll through fields of flowers without being heard, and You sprinkle the flowers with Your grace, so that the blood of the earth may not look through, but the beauty of God. Sprinkle the field of my soul with Your grace also, so that it may not be said that the field of my soul sprouted from the blood of the earth, but that it is adorned with the beauty of God.

You mingle with every heap of ashes and pour in life. Pour life into the ashes of my body also, so that I may live and glorify Your works.

You tame the fire and wind, and out of demons of fury You make servants of the Most High. Tame my pride and make me a servant of the Most High.
You are kind to the animals in the woods. Show kindness to me also, who am animalized by ignorance.

You fertilize every seed of life. You hover in every womb. You sit in the egg of a bird’s nest and masterfully form a new miracle of life. Fertilize, I beseech You, the invisible seed of goodness within me also, and keep watch over it until it reaches maturity.

O Awesome and Almighty Spirit, by Your presence You turn a den of thieves into a haven of Heaven, and a terrifying universe into a temple of God. Descend into me also, I beseech You, and turn a handful of ashes into what You know how to do and can.

A Modest Proposal…

Who says Lutherans don’t have wit?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009, 5:38 AM

Last summer, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted  to accept actively homosexual persons as members of their clergy and to condone gays and lesbians living in “lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships.” This has caused a firestorm of controversy in that church body. In response, the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, an independent pan-Lutheran organization that produces a magazine called Lutheran Forum, and a newsletter Forum Letter, published an article titled “Temple Prostitution: A Modest Proposal” by the Associate Editor of Forum Letter, Pastor Peter Speckhard, nephew of the late Father Richard John Neuhaus. I asked for permission to share this brilliant piece of satire here and they kindly granted it. And so, here is the article printed in the December 2009 issue of Forum Letter. Copyright 2009 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. All rights reserved. For further information about Forum Letter, visit [Editorial warning: May be unsuitable except for mature readers]

Temple prostitution: a modest proposal
by Peter Speckhard, associate editor

November 2009 Forum Letter

Every now and then a new way of looking at things not only solves a problem but opens up unexpected opportunities for that one solution to lead to a whole host of related solutions. The recent decisions of the ELCA regarding homosexuality solved the problem faced by gay couples seeking church weddings. But even better, the new way of looking at the issue could solve several more perennial problems in the church with one grand innovation.

Facing our problems

What are the biggest problems, practical and theological, that Lutheran churches in America face today? I would submit the following:
—Inability to retain or reach out to young, single people, especially men. Think about it—on a typical Sunday in a typical Lutheran church, how many 28-year-old single men are sitting in the pews? How might we draw them in? What are their felt needs?
—Failure to use the gifts of the laity. Sure, it is easy to use the gifts of creative, educated, energetic, talented people. But many Christians are none of those things. Like the Little Drummer Boy, they have not much to offer. But if they sincerely, humbly, and faithfully offer whatever gifts they’ve been given, shouldn’t they expect their offering to meet the approval of their God?
—Declining revenue. Especially in a tough economy, we need new and creative ways to raise money if we’re adequately going to fund critical ministries such as feeding the hungry or blanketing Africa with condoms.
—Legalism. We can’t be a gospel-centered church with a do-this, don’t-do-that mentality. Legalism, a focus on rules and moralistic preaching have always threatened the freedom of the gospel.
—Biblicism. Too often we use selective proof-texts merely to maintain traditional opinions rather than really listening to the Spirit.
—Irrelevance. We need to address the real social needs in and of the world as it exists around us, not as it supposedly was in the 1950’s or how we might wish it were. We must face the joyful challenges of today.
—Worship without impact. Too often our worship is only a matter of words and music rather than an expression of radical freedom that encompasses the whole person.

Prostitution solution
Now imagine all those problems solved with one simple innovation. The answer: temple prostitution.

I know, I know. Outrageous and offensive. I can hear readers already dismissing the idea out of hand. And I admit that we may not be ready for it quite yet. But please hear me out on this.

First off, let’s address the common objections. Sure, there are a handful of Bible verses that might seem to condemn the practice. But all the condemnation of temple prostitution involves pagan practices or worship of false gods. The objectionable thing is the idolatry, not the physical act itself. Sanctified, faithful prostitution in service of the true God is a new thing. The Biblical writers never foresaw or contemplated sanctified, faithful, God-pleasing prostitution in the churches and thus never wrote about it. Attempts to find a Biblical injunction against the practice therefore fall short.

Interpretive nuance
Secondly, let’s not cherry-pick verses selectively. We don’t stone disobedient children to death. We don’t refrain from pork or sodomy merely because this or that verse says we should. We have to look at the whole Biblical witness in light of the freedom we have in Christ. For example, God ordered Hosea to marry a prostitute. Such Biblical precedent offers interpretive nuance to seemingly black-and-white prohibitions.

Thirdly, Jesus himself seemed to have a soft spot for prostitutes. Many reputable scholars today think he may have been married to one. And Jesus showed radical inclusivity, breaking taboos by hanging out with prostitutes. So he would want us to celebrate and affirm their prostitution and give them a venue for making it their true vocation, a way of serving God by serving man—selflessly and with their whole being.

Fourthly, some primarily Lutheran nations in Scandinavia have already legalized prostitution. Left-hand kingdom legalities need not stand in the way of the general idea of sanctified, faithful, God-pleasing, church-sponsored prostitution.

Science tells us
Lastly, the idea that church prostitution would cause any harm has been put to rest by a host of studies. The opportunity for a woman to explore her sexuality in a controlled, churchly environment surely beats the back seat or back alley. She would have the mutual trust of knowing her client is a fellow faithful Christian. There would be proper testing, protection, and hygiene standards in a suitably sterilized environment. What she might have done in service to the devil, the world, and her own sinful nature she would now do in service to God, whom we serve by serving our fellow man.

No more living a lie
And for the client there are similar advantages. Think of the number of single males who would be saved from living a lie concerning their deepest emotional and psychological desires. The plain fact is that most of the unmarried men in the congregation are sexually attracted to women. Right now their cruel alternatives are to deny those urges and live a lie, carry out those urges in secretive and destructive ways, or leave the church because their desires are not welcomed and affirmed. But with temple prostitution available, they could avoid dangerous, destructive behavior, help the church raise money, use the gift of sexuality in a God-pleasing way, and sit in the pew focusing on spiritual things without all that pent up desire and frustration getting in the way.

Love conquers all
So there are no valid objections to sanctified, faithful, God-pleasing prostitution in the churches apart from tradition and conservative morality, which are surely trumped by love.

Furthermore, even if there are some controversial points, they do not touch the heart of the gospel. This plan does not eliminate John 3:16; it exposes more people to John 3:16 on Sunday (or, more likely, the Saturday night service). And if there is some Biblicist objection that such behavior could be considered immoral according to traditional, puritanical mores, well, everyone is a sinner, right? Salvation by grace through faith says nothing specifically about prostitution, right? And Jesus never explicitly addressed the issue, either. Do we think we’re saved by proper sexual behavior? I think not. Nor are we saved by our interpretations of a few non-gospel related verses of the Bible.

Benefits abounding
Now think of the benefits. This program would attract the very demographic we have had such trouble reaching (young men). It would end our fiscal woes. Think of the money we could raise to feed the hungry! Or do you want them to starve because of your puritan hang-ups? It would also provide a teaching opportunity against the age-old heresy that the body is evil. God made us with perfectly natural sexual urges. Why are you so hung up on sex?

The Law is fulfilled in Christ; we are a free, gospel-centered people. We can serve Christ via sanctified, faithful, God-pleasing, church-sponsored prostitution.

Needn’t be church-dividing
But hey, I understand we’re all in different places on this. This needn’t be church-dividing. We can live together with diverse views on this. Some traditionalists may not be comfortable having temple prostitutes in church. They don’t necessarily hate prostitutes; they might just need time. They don’t have to offer it themselves; besides, what seems crazy at first might, with several years of repetition and refining, become perfectly acceptable. Must those of us who are in favor of it be written out of the body of Christ?

Some of us are ready now. I certainly don’t insist that anyone become a temple prostitute or worship God with the help of one. But I do say that there have always been willing prostitutes and willing clients who have been marginalized by traditional sexual mores, and the time has come to change that. And the way to change it is to stop the marginalizing. We’ll all benefit from being a healthier, more inclusive, more faithful, more forgiving, and more satisfied church body if only we’ll be open to the idea of God doing something new.
—by Peter Speckhard, associate editor

Wise Thoughts…

From St. John of Kronstadt...

“When you are praying alone, and your spirit is dejected, and you are wearied and oppressed by your loneliness, remember then, as always, that God the Trinity looks upon you with eyes brighter than the sun; also all the angels, your own Guardian Angel, and all the Saints of God. Truly they do; for they are all one in God, and where God is, there are they also. Where the sun is, thither also are directed all its rays. Try to understand what this means.”

“There is nothing impossible unto those who believe; lively and unshaken faith can accomplish great miracles in the twinkling of an eye. Besides, even without our sincere and firm faith, miracles are accomplished, such as the miracles of the sacraments; for God’s Mystery is always accomplished, even though we were incredulous or unbelieving at the time of its celebration. “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” (Rom. 3:3). Our wickedness shall not overpower the unspeakable goodness and mercy of God; our dullness shall not overpower God’s wisdom, nor our infirmity God’s omnipotence.” — My Life in Christ

“Oh, what great happiness and bliss, what exaltation it is to address oneself to the Eternal Father. Always, without fail, value this joy which has been accorded to you by God’s infinite grace and do not forget it during your prayers; God, the angels and God’s holy men listen to you.”

“The enemy of our salvation especially strives to draw our heart and mind away from God when we are about to serve Him, and endeavours to adulterously attach our heart to something irrelevant. Be always, every moment, with God, especially when you pray to Him. If you are inconstant, you will fall away from life, and will cast yourself into sorrow and straitness.”

“Do not be despondent when fighting against the incorporeal enemy, but even in the midst of your afflictions and oppression praise the Lord, Who has found you worthy to suffer for Him, by struggling against the subtlety of the serpent, and to be wounded for Him at every hour; for had you not lived piously, and endeavored to become united to God, the enemy would not have attacked and tormented you.”

“Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it; where there is no struggle, there is no virtue. Our faith, trust, and love are proved and revealed in adversities, that is, in difficult and grievous outward and inward circumstances, during sickness, sorrow, and privations.”

“Prayer for others is very beneficial to the man himself who prays; it purifies the heart, strengthens faith and hope in God, and arouses love for God and our neighbor.”


I Prefer…

the sounds of birds to TV,
the sounds of cars passing by in the night as well.
Distant trains,
moving water,
woodpeckers rapping,
and the sound of nothing in particular is just fine.

Singing in the kitchen,
the hum of a basement furnace,
wind in the trees,
anything not plugged in to something.
It’s all better than TV,
even the TV I like,
and the only ads are for the
handiwork of God.

It's Been Grey and Raining…

here in Minnesota the past week. The clouds have prevailed this week and there’s even a bit of fog floating down the street in front of my house.

Around here whenever it rains or snows, even when its a deluge, we always seem to say “We could use the moisture.”  Part of it, I think,  is that Scandinavian stoicism that has bled into the larger culture. Part of it, too, is that many of us are one, maybe two, generations off the farm. We still thinking like farmers even when we live in the suburbs. We must have space. We must have green living things around us. We still look to the sky with knowing eyes to determine the weather.

It’s the price we pay, I suppose, for living on this land. There is a harshness to it, extremes of one sort or another. Yet there is a life to be made if you know how to do it and have the will to flow with the changes. The whole world around you is always vivid with color. White as white can be in winter. Green that Saint Patrick would envy in spring and summer. Fall is when everything explodes in colors from yellow to brown. If you learn how to live in this place you can be alive in ways that are never possible stacked on top of each other in a far away eastern big city.

So for now we wait. We could use some sun. We would prefer it if you actually got our honest response. Until it comes, though, we can still use the moisture.

Your Spring…

has come early this year.
The air is warm.
The earth gives up its cold.
Ice becomes fresh water.
Trees and people wake from their winter slumber.
So it is with me.
I am waiting for Your spring.
Tired and frosted, my face turns towards Your sun.
Out from snowy darkness and bathed in light.


Being Orthodox…

is like living in another world, not a particular ethnic world but rather a world that intersects with what we commonly understand as the “world” and yet at its core is very different and directed towards wholly different ends. I’m not sure that a person could understand Orthodoxy in its best sense and not be a little bit, or sometimes a lot, estranged from the everyday world. You are part of a tribe that ultimately belongs elsewhere and your travels have such a remarkably different destination.

To be Orthodox is to always be ill at ease, in the best sense of that phrase, with what’s around you. As you grow in your faith you begin to see the fallacies, the errors in logic, the terrible consequences of live lived without God. By seeing them you become “peculiar” as St. Paul would like to say it. How you process information. How you see and envision the world. How you actually live in the world. All these things begin to happen on different terms and those terms make you irregular in the usual course of things.

To be Orthodox is to wake up from a bad dream, a night vision of a world broken by its mortalities and subject to the unnatural rules of sin.  There is more. There is better. There is truth and reality and it’s not where your old dream told you it was but rather where your new vision leads you. It’s why people left civilization for the deserts. It’s why wealthy people gave their riches to the poor. It’s why you feel best when you’re closest to the Holy. You are being transformed from a citizen of earth to a citizen of heaven. New rules apply. Old patterns lose their charm. A new person is being built inside your existing body and one day you, body and soul, will realize its potential.

For now we have to be here. This is okay. There is beauty and truth and love and many good things, shadows of the perfect that cause us both to mourn for Eden past and to know, in part, what good lies ahead. Yet we, if we are true to our faith, will always be a little unsettled while we’re here, involved but not attached, alive but not totally belonging, present but not completely accounted for. There is a great freedom in this and life abundant as we grasp this truth.

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