Sunday Catechism: Prayer


NOTE: I lead the Children’s Service at my church on Sundays. Most weeks I write a reflection on a question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Please note that these posts reflect a frank expression of my faith (Reformed Presbyterian) and are specifically aimed at the parents of children at my church.

Q: What is prayer?

A: Prayer is offering our desires to God in the name of Christ for things that agree with His will, confessing our sins, and thankfully recognizing His mercies.


Last month, as part of our formal curriculum on the elements of Sunday worship, we covered prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer in particular.

As it so happened, Father’s Day fell last month, and it gave me the opportunity to frame the Lord’s prayer as analogous to the conversations we might typically have (or should have) with our earthly fathers:

  • “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name”: I love that you’re my Dad; I think you’re the best
  • “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven”: I’ll obey you because I know you know best; I trust in your leadership
  • “Give us this day our daily bread”: Please
  • “And forgive us our debts”: I’m sorry
  • “As we also have forgiven our debtors”: Help me, I’m hurt
  • “Lead us not into temptation”: Help me, this is hard
  • “But deliver us from evil”: Help me, I’m scared
  • “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever”: You rock; thanks

We’re in the final stretch of the Shorter Catechism, and it is entirely focused on this prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples. It is a prayer that God wants us to have with him, one that is intimate and immediate and childlike.

It is also a prayer that is only possible through the sacrifice of Jesus himself. We invoke his name in all our prayers because it is through the prism of his death and resurrection that our relationship with God is possible. We can say “Our Father” because the curtain in the inner sanctum has been torn in two.

The prayer also reminds us of our own roles as parents: to meet needs, to set a vision, to correct and teach, and to lead with mercy. And, most importantly, to ultimately direct these concerns, confessions, and thanks to the greater parent. Let us try to convert our conversations with our kids into introductions to our Dad.

Coming up this week


Dig nature this week. World Ocean Day at the Natural History Museum; an Astronomy Festival at the National Mall; a Kids’ Bike Parade at Potomac Yard; and a Tree Identification Hike at Potomac Overlook Park.

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Wednesday, June 8

Celebrate World Ocean Day at the Natural History Museum
10 am – 1 pm
1st Floor, Sant Ocean Hall; Ground Floor, Q?rius

Come celebrate the ocean with scientists from the Smithsonian, NOAA, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Living Oceans Foundation, and more!
Programs include: nudibranch encounters, exploration of ocean currents, discussions on squid, marine archaeology, reef games, and more!

Friday, June 10

Astronomy Festival at the National Mall
(North of the Washington Monument — 15th St NW & Constitution Ave.)
6 pm – 11 pm
Public parking is available at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center Building, entrance on 14th Street NW just 1/4 block North of Constitution Avenue, for $13.00 from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m.

In Washington, DC, on Friday June 10th from 6 to 11 pm, visitors to the nation’s capital will be a given a free guided tour of the sky at the Sixth Annual Astronomy Festival on the National Mall. The rain date is June 11th at The Catholic University of America, 620 Michigan Avenue Northeast, Washington, DC Metro stop Brookland-CUA, Red line.
This free public stargazing is organized by Dr. Donald Lubowich, Coordinator of Astronomy Outreach at Hofstra University. The Astronomy Festival on the National Mall (AFNM) will feature solar, optical, and radio telescope observations of the Sun, Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; hands-on activities, demonstrations, hand-outs, posters, banners, and videos; a planetarium show with a portable blow-up dome, speakers from scientific and educational organization, and a chance to mingle with astronomers.
Dr. Lubowich and local amateur astronomers will set up twenty telescopes on the Mall. Starting at 6 pm, visitors will be able to view sunspots with the help of specially filtered telescopes. After dusk and until 11 p.m. telescopes will provide close-up views of the Moon, Saturn with its beautiful rings, Jupiter and its moons, Mars, colorful double stars, and star clusters that sparkle like diamonds on black velvet.
Representatives from some of the nation’s foremost scientific institutions, organizations, and universities will present exciting demonstrations and answer questions about the latest astronomical discoveries or careers in science.

Saturday, June 11

Kids’ Bike Parade at Potomac Yard
9 am – 11 am
$9 fee

Bring out your bikes, trikes, scooters and wagons to the 1st Annual Kids Bike Parade. Decorate them and show off your creativity as family and friends cheer you on in our Kids Bike Parade!

Tree Identification Hike at Potomac Overlook Regional Park
1 pm – 2 pm
Reservations required

Oak, Maple, or Dogwood? Now you’ll know the difference! Learn the tricks to identifying many of our native species in the park during this informative walk. Meet at the nature center.

Coming up this week


Parks in Northern Virginia are starting their summer free concerts; National Doughnut Day is on Friday; and the annual Cardboard Boat Regatta will be in Lake Accotink next Sunday.

7 or 7:30 pm
Lee District Park (Alexandria)
An evening of jazz with the David Bach Consort, performing at the amphitheater in Lee District Park. This can be a nice way to relax after some water play at the nearby Harbor Spray Park (now open).

National Doughnut Day — get a free doughnut at Krispy Kreme

7:30 pm
Ossian Hall Park (Annandale)
Korean Cultural Heritage performance (song and dance)

Lake Accotink (Annandale)
The Cardboard Boat Regatta
Judging begins at 12:00. Races begin at 2:00.



This past Saturday, Biggie and I trekked out to Piscataway Park to participate in the National Parks BioBlitz. The BioBlitz has been a DMV tradition for about a decade, and this year, because of the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, it took place in parks nationwide. It’s basically a biodiversity census where teams of citizen scientists partner with park rangers and professional scientists to identify as many species as they can within a specific area.

We took part in the Insect Walk at Piscataway, my first time at this park, a former tobacco farm that now features the National Colonial Farm and walkways over freshwater wetlands.

It was a misty-then-drizzly day, and only four others (two kids and two adults) joined us as civilians, but we were guided by Therese the entomologist, Bryan the science teacher, and Adam the park ranger — a mighty trio of effusive and erudite experts.

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Our local guides were sporting rubber band macro lenses and ollo-clip lenses on their phones. They gave us bug nets and jars, and as we caught things, they logged our species finds into the iNaturalist app. We took a scenic walk through fields …

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… where we witnessed a tussle between an eagle and osprey — and forest and finally arrived at an algal pond …

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… where we caught a leopard frog tadpole …

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… oh and bugs. Lots of bugs.

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On our way back we saw these beauts on the ground, not five feet away from each other:

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When we got back to the Visitors Center, we got a chance to make Foldscope microscopes. An effervescent young team from Stanford showed us how to punch out paper patterns and fold and assemble them together to make a portable microscope that you can magnetically attach to your phone. You’ve really got to see it to believe it.

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And another shout-out to iNaturalist. You can use the app anytime to take pictures of flora and fauna and either identify your findings or ask an online community to help identify them for you. The teams at Piscataway ranked third-place in logging the most number of species nationwide for the BioBlitz.

It was a wonderful way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.

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Sunday Catechism: Magical Thinking


Q: How do the sacraments become effective means of salvation?

Q: The sacraments become effective means of salvation, not because of any special power in them or in the people who administer them, but rather by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in those who receive them by faith.

This week, after going over what sacraments roughly are and when we practice them, we spent most of our time discussing what was “magical” about them. The answer to this week’s catechism question is careful to state that they are “effective” but don’t have innately any “special power.”


Presbyterians in the Reformed tradition often get characterized as undervaluing or downplaying the Holy Spirit. I think we’ve seen as we work our way through the catechism that this is patently untrue. Sure, we may see with a jaundiced eye some of the flagrant manifestations of what may be deemed “Holy Ghost possession,” like speaking in tongues and so on, but the role of the third person of the Trinity is critical in doctrines of salvation and sanctification. We cannot come to belief on our own; we need the Spirit. We cannot repent on our own; we need the Spirit. We cannot understand the Word on our own; we need the Spirit. And we cannot, without the Spirit, find meaning and power in the sacraments.

There is no holy water. There are no holy men. There is no magic bread nor juice. There are no magic incantations. What there is is the grace of the Spirit, animating our rituals and deepening our remembrances.

I think this is an important distinction to keep in mind not only with the formal sacraments, but also with all the little tricks and hacks and props and systems that we use to organize and improve our lives. Magical thinking is actually a form of mechanistic thinking: we link direct causalities between actions and results to impute to ourselves a sense of control. We think, “if only I follow these rules or apply these techniques, I’ll gain the edge I’ll need.” We exaggerate our hopes and idolize our means.

Which is not to say these things cannot be of use. We need to remember, though, where the true power and credit actually lies. Instead of constantly fiddling with our tools, it is far more important to seek the companionship and presence of the transcendent God who is not so far away. Do we spend our time constantly looking for fixes, obsessing over little adjustments to improve our lives? Or do we stay fixed in grace, a work-in-progress, a vessel of blessing?

Sunday Catechism: Ready to Listen


Q: What makes the word effective for salvation?

A: The Spirit of God causes the reading and especially the preaching of the word to convince and convert sinners and to build them up in holiness and comfort through faith to salvation.

Q: How is the word to be read and heard in order to become effective for salvation?

A: For the word to become effective for salvation, we must pay careful attention to it, prepare ourselves, and pray for understanding. We must also receive it with faith and love, treasure it in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.


In Children’s Church this week and last we took care to emphasize several theological points:

  • The importance and privilege of Scripture as an instrument of God for the benefit of our life after salvation
  • The critical role of the Holy Spirit, not just in divinely inspiring Scripture, but also in understanding it and making it fruitful in our lives
  • The centrality of preaching and teaching to corporate worship on Sundays

This week, in taking some time with the latter catechism question, we discussed some practical issues when it came to getting the most out of the reading and preaching of the word. For while it is true that we depend on the Holy Spirit to graciously enlighten and enliven us to the truth, we can work as hard as we can to be fertile and prepared for its sowing.

Kids intuitively and intimately understand that the zone of “paying careful attention” is a tricky one. We are often distractible, nervous, antsy, and bored. Or tired, sleepy, docile, and resistant. Oftentimes we are defeated in difficulties with our attention because we mistake it as our inevitable processing of the world; we passively just let it be what it is, leaving the onus of engagement to the external agents trying to capture our attention instead of actively directing it ourselves.

Again, it is a struggle with sin. We can be victimized by it, trapped in our nature, or we can seek salvation and grace and — with the assurance of power and rescue and support — take steps to turn into a different direction. When we take a step back from our situation, we can see that we are not our impulses, and instead of being buffeted by whatever grabs at our attention, we can choose to follow the truth.

With this attitude, we can become active learners of the word rather than passive hearers. Older students can take notes. The preachers at our church usually take care to announce and outline the structure of their sermons from the outset. Parents can write these “three main points” down and challenge their children to notice when the preacher is hitting each one in the course of the sermon. Or younger students can look for a single illustration, example, or lesson that they can understand and latch onto. They can then reflect upon it imaginatively, or make a picture of it, or think of questions, connections, and hypotheticals around it.

We also become problem-solvers of our situations. If there is a recurrent distraction, we can choose to move or ask for help in addressing it. We can interrogate what is HALTing us: whether we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Pastor Dan’s adult Sunday School class is going through Powlison’s model of Biblical counsel and change, which is a more intensive and thorough investigation.

There’s been a great deal of emphasis paid to the 10:20 initiative at our church (NewCity’s push to come to Sunday worship a little earlier). Even though the structure of our service itself is designed to transition us into hearts of worship, it pays to give oneself an anteroom to put the brakes on the momentum of our quotidian busy-ness and ease into a day of Sabbath. It’s a great time to address issues of physical needs, emotional hangovers, and situational distractions before worship. Relatedly, some people greatly benefit from a leisurely walk or a time of singing before the “meaty” part of their daily devotional.

Most importantly, though, is that we seek supernatural aid — pray for understanding — whether we are finding it hard to pay attention or not. Our efforts and intentions are moot without the grace of the Spirit and magnified with it. Turning to prayer redirects our hearts to communion and aligns us with his sovereign will. We move from hapless to hopeful, and the word lights up from dross to treasure, comfort, and tool.

One last word: we’ve begun basic scripture memorization. The children have practiced Psalm 95:6-7 with hand motions. Have them rehearse it for you!

Hōkūleʻa in Alexandria


Hōkūleʻa is a voyaging canoe, built in the traditions of Polynesian explorers. Originally built in the 1970s, it sparked the Hawaiian Renaissance, where young native Hawaiians sought to recover and reaffirm their heritage. Now celebrating its 40th year of travel, it’s embarking on a worldwide tour of awareness not only of that culture but also of ecological stewardship. It’s a hell of a story, and the boat is docking in Alexandria on Saturday and Sunday, and DC the following week (more info at bottom of post).

To celebrate, the National Museum of the American Indian is showing documentaries about the boat and the Polynesian Voyaging Society throughout this weekend (and next):

Friday, May 13, 12:00 p.m.
Rasmuson Theater, First Floor

The Navigators: Pathfinders of the Pacific

Over 1,000 years ago, the islands of Polynesia were explored and settled by navigators who used only the waves, the stars, and the flights of birds for guidance. In hand-built, double-hulled canoes sixty feet long, the ancestors of today’s Polynesians sail across vast ocean areas. Today, only a handful of people continue to practice these traditions, most of them taught by one individual from the island of Satawal, Mau Piailug.

Saturday, May 14, 12:00 p.m.
Rasmuson Theater, First Floor

Papa Mau: The Wayfinder
Filmmaker in attendance.

At a time of cultural reclamation for Native Hawaiians, known as the Hawaiian Renaissance, a group of young, Hawaiians looked to restore the traditional arts of canoe building and wayfinding; non-instrument, celestial navigation. Their search led them to the Island of Satawal in Micronesia, and the master navigator, Mau Piailug. Over three decades, Mau taught younger generations of Hawaiians the ways of their ancestors aboard the voyaging canoe, Hōkūle‘a.

Sunday, May 15, 12:00 p.m.
Rasmuson Theater, First Floor

Stories from Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage
Filmmaker in attendance.

Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia, the Polynesian voyaging canoes, are sailing across Earth’s oceans to join and grow the global movement toward a more sustainable world. The Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage began in 2013 with a Mālama Hawaiʻi sail around the Hawaiian archipelago, and will continue through 2017 when the new generation of navigators take the helm and guide Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia back to Polynesia after circumnavigating the globe.
Each leg of the journey has been documented by crew and supporters. Come watch a few of the videos and hear the stories shared along the way.

Monday, May 16, 12:00 p.m.
Rasmuson Theater, First Floor

Voyage: Ola I Ke Au A Kanaloa
Filmmaker in attendance.

This coming of age film captures the history making voyage of 14 students from Halau Holomoana on a 1500 mile journey of a lifetime. Lead by Bonnie Kahape’a-Tanner, the students would train for months to prepare themselves for a 10 day open ocean sail to Papahanaumokuakea. The voyage, named Ola I Ke Au A Kanaloa, would chart a course leaving the security and familiarity of home into a realm the students had only studied about, challenging even the strongest of them. Cinematographer Ruben Carrillo uniquely captures this story while playing a significant part as the father to one of the 14 students on board. Ruben shares with intimate detail the struggles and triumphs of this life changing voyage into the depths of Kanaloa.

Friday, May 27
Dinner in The Mitsitam Native Foods Café – 5:45 p.m. Café will offer dinner options available for purchase.
Film screening in the Rasmuson Theater, First Floor – 7:00 p.m. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Visions in the Dark: The Life of Pinky Thompson

Visions in the Dark: The Life of Pinky Thompson celebrates the life of a great figure in Hawaiian history. Myron “Pinky” Thompson (Kanaka Maoli), a veteran who survived the Invasion of Normandy, was also a social worker, community leader, trustee at Kamehameha Schools, and longtime president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) who believed that the ancestral traditions and values of the Hawaiian people were the key to their success. He fought against prevailing colonial views of Native Hawaiians building educational programs and health systems that would support the success of the Hawaiian people of today long into the future.

Tours for the Hōkūleʻa will be available at Waterfront Park on Sunday from 3:00 to 5:00 and in the Old Town City Marina on Monday from 1:00 to 5:00. It will be at the Washington Canoe Club in DC next week and New York the week after that. Check here for details.