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Like many of you, my first prayer was “Now I lay me down to sleep”.  I learned it by heart and repeated it every night—on my knees, at the side of my bed, starting with the sign of the cross. For most of my life, my prayers were those someone else had written and I recited them from memory. I can still recite the entire rosary—without the aid of rosary beads—on particularly turbulent flights. The exceptions were those that are probably familiar to all of you: Hey, God, it’s me. I didn’t study for my test, but I’m basically a good person. Can you help me out?  Dear God, if you help me negotiate these snow and ice-covered roads and deliver me home safely, I will give up eating chocolate forever. Oh, God, whatever you do, keep me from telling that person what I really think!  Thanks for the save!

So, imagine my surprise, in the middle of my 6th decade, when I discovered prayer—deep from the heart, faithful and meaningful prayer. It started nearly three years ago. At first the signs were subtle—slight shifts in language, invitations to pray, beginning and ending meetings in prayer. Soon I was noticing prayer everywhere. I started to take tentative prayer steps—but silently. Christian Believer, a 30-week intensive study of Scripture and Christian belief with its strong component of prayer provided me with the language of faith and a growing confidence in my ability to express it. That confidence was put to the test on the first night of our mission trip to Cuba when we were each asked to give testimony to our faith. In halting English, with the aid of a Spanish interpreter and a lot of hand gestures, I was able to bear witness to the presence of God in my life and in the lives of those gathered.

There are times in our lives when we hear God calling from the distance. At first, we aren’t sure what he intends. We pray and we listen. And then we pray and we can begin to hear more clearly. Prayer flags. At first it was a whisper and a remembrance of a project that local weaver Sarah Haskell initiated in 2007. The whisper grew louder and I began to share the kernel of an idea with members of the Bread of Life group. And then, in a voice loud enough for even the most hearing challenged followers: The theme of vacation bible school is Mt. Everest! Prayer flags! Got it? Got it!

With the kids leading the way, and some funding from Thrivent Financial, First Parish is now literally surrounded by prayer—prayers that embrace us as we enter church--prayers that are floating on the wind to places near and far. Yesterday our mission group brought prayer flag supplies to Elizabethtown  PA. This morning after worship, you will have an opportunity to make prayer flags for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Iraq.

The prayers are written from deep places in the writers’ hearts:

  • Dear God, I miss Mimi every day;
  •  please take care of my friend’s family they are going through a hard time;
  • God is faithful, we can be faithful;
  •  help me to fit in;
  • please make all people treat people the way they want to be treated;
  •  help me be a better person, and bless the world;
  • give me guidance, give tolerance, help me see clearly, guide and protect those that I cherish.

They are prayers of thanksgiving:

  • for family and friends;
  • for all the breakfasts, lunches and dinners that I eat;
  • for Bill Foster who made the world a beautiful garden;
  • for our earth and all who live on it;
  • for helping me become a great dancer;
  •  for restored health;
  • for our beloved youth mission team.

They are prayers of supplication: 

  • help me be a better person;
  • help all people to be accepting of all your children’s differences, you made us different for your purpose;
  •  prayers for our precious and fragile earth;
  • prayers for Super Joe and the medical staff caring for him;
  • please help little kids who need love
  • healing for all who suffer
  • for reconciliation and forgiveness

The stories shared around the prayer flag table are as poignant as the prayers themselves:  

  • The family who has sought sanctuary on the seacoas, fleeing from a life of street violence;
  • a visiting divinity student who offered prayers of comfort;
  • a Hindu family who shared the prayer practices of their faith;
  •  families on vacation who asked to bring their prayer flags home so they could share them with their community;
  •  grand-children who wanted to remind their grand-mother how much they love her even when they are far away.  

God’s community of faith ministering to each other. One young woman said, as she sat down to make a flag, “I can do this. If there is one thing my mother taught me to do, it’s how to pray.” “Me too.”

Dear God, you have called us together at this time and in this place to minister to each other. Our faithful and steadfast pastors teach us your ways and lead us on our faith journey.  The path is not easy, we stumble and sometimes fall. We lose our way or imagine another way is a better way. We become discouraged, disheartened. But you are always there, holding your light before us, calling out to us, embracing us with your love.  Our Lord and our savior. Amen? Amen.