Bless This Mess

In the days before my second child was born, I watched my toddler play while I flipped through the pages of Bless this Mess: A Modern Guide to Faith and Parenting in a Chaotic World. I read every word offered by my United Church of Christ colleague Molly Baskette and her former church member Ellen O’Donnell. I cherished each word that these two wise women had to offer me but I’ll admit that it felt a tad strange.

Here is my toddler who doesn’t fit into the age brackets for which this book wisely counsels. She has no idea what is about to befall her though I did everything in my power to talk endlessly about the baby in Mommy’s belly. We tried to tackle every transition and mitigate every disaster even as my husband was mere days away from deployment. How in the world can I spend any time worrying about what struggles my daughters will face as teenagers when I have no idea what the next nine months will hold?

Bless this mess, indeed. Bless it all. Bless every last bit of it.

That was the affirmation I found in these pages. Here is a friendship born in the struggle of parenting young children. It’s a friendship that I’m not sure I would have allowed myself if I had been the pastor. Molly had a young son while she was still pastor of First Church Somerville UCC. (It’s also the church that she references in her book Read Good Church.) There she met Ellen when Ellen came looking for how to raise a young Christian. She didn’t identify with her Catholic roots anymore but she wasn’t sure what else there was. Molly became her pastor and they carpooled to their kids’ school together. I have shied away from close relationships with those in the congregations I’ve served. I’ve chosen firmer boundaries before I had kids. It’s something I couldn’t help but ponder as these two women shared their hopes and fears in parenting.

The military has required me to be a stay-at-home mom. Opportunity has not emerged for ministry in this season, but if it did and I was serving a church, would my boundaries be different? Would I suddenly relate to my age cohort in this whole new way just because I’m now a parent? It seems messy and perhaps it should be.

Both ministry and parenting are messy. This world is messy. It is so messy that there are ethical, wise people that are choosing not to have children, but that wasn’t my choice. I wanted to have children. I knew that I wanted to have children the minute I met my husband. I don’t think I realized it until I cracked the spine of this book but I needed blessing.

I needed to hear words of blessing in making this choice. I needed to be reminded that even in all that I fear about what challenges the world will offer my girls, there is grace. There is wonder. There is even delight. It is what these two women offer in the final chapter of this treasured book. They remind parents like me that there is lots to fear. We might even be raising small animals in an age of fear but this wonderful tome reframes that fear theologically. Picking up on the ancient wisdom in Proverbs, it is suggested that the “right way” to raise our children is to pay greater attention to who God created them. It is this that is our stewardship as parents. It is this that is our spiritual practice. Our daily contemplative prayer is to notice who our children are becoming. Fear need not win, but our minute-by-minute attention to love. This little nugget has already reframed how I approach all the worries and struggles of parenting. It’s reminded me to breathe. To slow down. To encourage my tiny toddler to share her feelings even when she doesn’t yet have words for everything on her little heart.

It’s the kind of book I want to give to friends. It’s the book I wish I had had ten years ago when I was the pastor that was supposed to know how to faithfully parent small children. It’s what I like most about this book: it’s not focused on how to raise progressive Christian children but how to best parent as a progressive Christian. I want my children to know my values. I want them to understand my faith even if they don’t choose to profess my faith when they’re old enough to do so. I need to know focus on my own actions so that I’m practicing forgiveness, sabbath, service, honoring my body and my stuff (including my finances) in such a way that my kids can see my faith.

I want this because I’m a Christian. Heck, I’m a pastor. I’m also married to an atheist. I co-parent with someone who does not share my faith and that’s the struggle I find in these pages. It is assumed by both Molly and Ellen that you have a partner who shares your progressive Christian values. I don’t have that. Honestly, I wonder how many parents that pick up this book have that. I think about all of the women that have brought their children to church while their partners did other things. I totally get Molly’s insistence that readers seek out a church and regularly worship as much as I love the practices she shares for rituals at home but these are not things that will work with my family. We’ll have to find a different way and there’s still no book written for that hope of progressive parenting. As many questions and hopes that this book offers, there is still some mess that needs blessing.

I am honored to have been part of the Bless This Mess Launch Team where I got a free copy of this book from Convergence Press for my honest review. It is my greatest joy to recommend this book to other parents. 

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Ingredients for Ascension Sunday Communion

As I was trying to fall asleep last night and the baby growing inside of me was kicking my insides with every bit of strength she’s got, I realized that I had agreed to preside over communion on Sunday. I thought briefly of winging it, but then I thought better of it.

I love to play with words of liturgy. I love to craft these words that bring us together as a community to share in the wondrous work of God. My church tends to do lots of explanation on how to receive these gifts so I felt like I needed to include that, though it’s not my preference. Ours is also a congregation that includes both the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. It is the tradition within the Disciples that a deacon or elder blesses the elements and so I haven’t included a prayer for such blessing.

We Give God Thanks & Praise

Our hands gesture toward the heavens above
whenever we might refer to God’s handiwork.
We refer to the Big Guy Upstairs
but Jesus asks us, as we come to this table again,
Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?
Jesus guides our hands away
from those upward movements.
He insists that our reach doesn’t need to be so lofty.
It is not our hands that must ascend,
but it is ours that must reach out to
touch and hold our sisters and brothers.
It is our hands that must heal and reach.
Taking into our hands ordinary lives
and ordinary objects like this bread and this cup
to find heaven poured out and broken
right before our very eyes. So come.
Come to this table to feast and drink
not because you have it all figured out,
but because you need to hold onto
a little bit of heaven right here and right now.
Come to this table because Jesus invites
you to use your own two hands to realize
that God is right here, right now.

For it was on that fate-filled night that
Jesus gathered his friends around a table
just like this one and encouraged each of them
to reach out and take a piece of bread.
It was on that night that Jesus invited
his followers to wrap their hands around
the cup of salvation because it was
something that they could take
and hold in their own two hands.
And so, we remember. We remember
how Jesus took the bread…

Words of Institution

Blessing the Elements of Bread and Cup

The deacon will now pray.

Communion Music

Sharing the Sacrament

Here at UCC Austin, we receive communion
with gluten-free bread and white grape juice
so that all can partake. You’ll find wine on the trays
that the deacons pass if that’s more your style.
As the trays come to you, please take a piece
of bread and cup of wine or juice.
You’re welcome to eat of the bread right away
but let’s hold onto the cup so that we might
partake this drop of heaven as one body.
These are the gifts of God for the people of God.
Come, as all things are now ready.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Holy One, let us remember all that
Jesus taught from the very beginning.
Let us go from this table to find
other tables where hearts are broken
and your love is needed. Let us remember
the tiny bit of heaven we have found here.
Make our hands ever ready to reach out
and hold onto your love
… let all God’s people say:
All: Thanks be to God! Amen.

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes. I’d also love to hear how you handle the instruction part of the communion service.

Making Things Beautiful Or What Might Otherwise Be Called Nesting

I used to paint watercolors.

I was an art major in college. I thought that making things beautiful would be my life’s ambition until the overwhelming fear that I couldn’t hack it as a full time artist set in. I didn’t want to sell myself. I wasn’t interested in marketing beauty. I just wanted to make it but I never imagined that I would stop creating. Even as ministry and the church fostered new expressions of my creativity, I thought that I would still carry my tiny watercolor set into beautiful places to sit and paint.

My watercolors are packed away in some box now. My brushes have long since been dipped into water. I’m not even sure which box I’d find my watercolors and brushes in if I dared to look. Still, the desire to make things beautiful hasn’t gone away.

I make regular visits to my local ACE hardware store to acquire quarts of semi-gloss paint. Stools, tables and chairs are constantly changing hues in my home.

It’s been that way since I moved into my very first apartment. My brother worked for Sherwin-Williams at the time and got me my first quarts of paint that turned my coffee table bright yellow and the my bedside table a brilliant schoolhouse red. Since then, that $10 coffee table acquired at a church’s rummage sale has been green and is now blue and the bedside table no longer functions as a table.

I’m not painting watercolors anymore but I’m still painting. Layers of semi-gloss paint transform the furniture around my home to something eye-catching and surprising but it’s not the kind of beautiful I once dreamed of creating. It’s not something for a gallery wall or even an object that reorients the participants through the brokenness of life to find hope.

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The IKEA bedside table between coats of paint. Oh, and the other table I painted with the surplus paint.

It’s just a set of bedside tables from IKEA in my garage waiting to be slathered in paint. I spent several days this week hunched down on the floor of my garage attempting to add coats of baby blue paint to these tables. Pregnancy made it difficult to stoop and bend to reach the corners of these tables. My back ached and my belly was constantly in the way but it may well have been pregnancy that created the urgency to finally transform my bedroom.

Nesting is what they call it. The American Pregnancy Association claims that there is an old adage that once nesting begins, labor will soon follow. (Lord, hear my prayer.) It’s an old wives tale like most of the common knowledge about pregnancy but nesting is a common experience among pregnant women. It’s the overwhelming desire to make your home ready for baby. It’s the impulse to take on projects like painting and sewing and scrolling through pages and pages of curtains on the countless websites to create the kind of place that you hope your child will love to call home.

Or if you a military family, you spend extra hours agonizing over whether or not the movers will ruin this new thing you’ve just created with their carelessness in the next move. Will it survive that move? Will it survive the move after that? Will my child even remember any of this?

I lamented once to my dear friend Caitlin that I wasn’t making art anymore. We had spent one glorious summer together in upstate New York daydreaming about our future as brilliant artists. She has since realized that dream with gallery shows and exhibits where I was simply repainting the furniture in my home. She laughed and said that she does it too. Her home is her masterpiece. It’s the work that is never finished and so she keeps on adding layers of paint and moving furniture from here to there in search of beauty.

It’s all beautiful, she told me. There is nothing more amazing than making things beautiful. It will never be perfect but that just gives us permission to keep on creating.

Ingredients for Worship in Holy Week

Though I’ve continued to write liturgy throughout the season of Lent for my lovely church here in Texas, I have completely failed to pepper my blog with any of those prayers. I managed to share semi-regular posts during Epiphany but it seems that my writing project which has long since surpassed 70,000 words has taken up all of my head space. Or perhaps I’ve been cooking up other things. I’m honestly not sure.

Nonetheless, Holy Week is here. On Sunday, we’ll wave palms and find ourselves in the midst of a confusing celebration before we find ourselves washing feet and weeping at the foot of the cross later in the week. Pastors and musicians are busy creating meaningful worship moments for this holy season of transformation and change.

These particular prayers pick up on theme of stones and hard places as you may have found in the liturgy I wrote for Ash Wednesday. On Palm Sunday, we pay particular attention to the stones shouting out and focus our devotion on Easter on the stone being rolled away.

Poetry plays heavily into the style of worship at my lovely church and so I’ve included a selection of poems we shall be hearing in these holy days, plus a few that I found just yesterday from the beautiful offerings of my sisters in the RevGals community.

Poetry for Holy Week

States of Being by Luci Shaw

Sweet Darkness by David Whyte

Who Baked the Bread by Katherine Dale Makus

Like The Water by Wendell Berry 

Roll Away the Stone by Janet Morley 

It’s All About Her by Liz Crumlish

If These Were Silent by Rosalind C. Hughes

Ingredients for Palm Sunday

Call to Worship

One: We begin here, together,
waiting and wondering
what could happen.
Many: What will happen when
Jesus enters through those gates.
We wonder what will change
and how it might change us.

One: Hosanna! We chant with the whole crowd
for we need saving. We need for things to change.
Many: Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

One: We begin this holy week
pushing through the crowd
kicking at the stones
and hoping that this year will be different.
Many: We begin waving our palms
and hoping that God’s steadfast love
really does endure forever.

Benediction

One: Go into this holy week
raising your voice:
shouting for justice,
speaking your questions,
naming even your doubts aloud.
Many: We will ask for God’s salvation.
One: Dare to hope and dream
that change can come. Change will come.
Love will endure again.
Many: May love find us when we are silent.

Ingredients for Maundy Thursday

Call to Confession

On this holy night, when we remember
friends gathered in an upper room,
we step into the sweet darkness ourselves.
We wonder if this new commandment includes us,
and we lament all of the ways we already fall short.

Prayer of Confession (unison)

Holy One, our worlds have been small.
We have settled. We have made exceptions. We haven’t felt like we could
ever be enough. We have felt way beyond love, even your love.
So we have wondered where we fit, believing that someone else could
bake the bread. Someone else could make the wine. Someone else could clean up
the fragments left behind. Someone else could mop up the spilled water
on the floor. We are thirsty for your love. Forgive us
for all the ways that we have allowed ourselves to believe
that we are beyond your love.
A time of silent meditation and personal prayer follows.

Assurance of Grace

One: Lift up your heads, dear ones, to hear the good news:
It is a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as Christ has loved you, and will love you to the end,
we are to love each other but do not miss out on the fact
that God in Christ has loved you from the very beginning
and will love you to the end of the age.
Many: Thanks be to God!

Ingredients for Resurrection Sunday

Call to Worship

One: No more shall there be in it an infant
that lives but a few days, or an old person
who does not live out a lifetime.
Many: No more shall the sound of weeping be heard
or even a cry of distress.

One: They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
Roll away the stone from your hearts.
Remove the rocks from your eyes
and dare to see the new heavens and new earth
that God has created.
Many: Create joy in us, O God.
Fill our hardened hearts
with your delight.

Benediction

One: Roll away the stone.
Dare to be perplexed, even amazed.
Many: We will look for new life.
We’ll try not to expect death.

One: Roll it away! Let the former things
not even come to mind,
but go into this world be glad.
Go and rejoice in what God is still creating.
Many: God is doing a new thing. Alleluia!

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes.

A Service to Break Down Walls on Ash Wednesday

Sometimes cooking begins just by opening the pantry and realizing that that something delicious with peanut butter (because you mysteriously have a surplus of peanut butter) sounds really good. That’s kinda how this service came together.

It all started with an email from the Salt Project which brought me to their blog to read this familiar poem. Or at least, it should be familiar. It should be one that I know well but I realized as I read these words that I don’t think I’ve ever read the whole poem. And then, there’s the fact that there is a larger news story that activates this poem. It gives it new energy when the United States has gone through a shut down, a national emergency, charges of sexual abuse of young children and ongoing separation of families all because of an imagined wall along the Southern border of our nation.

Lent begins with a similar tension. There is awareness that something is amiss. The world is not as it should be but no one quite seems to know how to fix all that is wrong. It is a season in the Christian calendar when we recommit ourselves to seeking God’s help. We confess that we’ve made other gods. We’ve separated ourselves in countless ways and we need help. We want to break down those walls that we’ve built with our very own hands.

To imagine such a thing, I’ve called upon poets. There are three poems in this service. I’ve linked to the poems in other places. You’ll hear lines of those poems repeated in the liturgy as we move through the ritual actions of this day.

It is a service that invites dramatic play with the news headlines in that the congregation is invited to literally break down a wall that has been set up on the communion table. Each brave soul gets to carry one of those rocks home with them, holding onto it through the 40 days of the season. I didn’t dare interpret what it might mean to carry that rock but trusted that God will lead in making it known what it means to carry that weight.

I’m really looking forward to being in the pews and experiencing this myself.

A Service for Breaking Down Walls 

Gathering Music

– WE GATHER IN FAITH

Welcome

Opening Words of Meditation

Mending Wall by Robert Frost

These words of poetry are to be read without introduction by a liturgist or pastor. 

Song of Invocation

Beginning the Journey

One: We begin this journey together
on the other side of the wall,
feeling separate, distant and alone.
All: We have built this wall.
We have placed each stone
for our own protection,
to feel safe and secure.
One: We begin here, again,
wondering what we have walled out.
All: Each boulder was set in place
to guard our hearts and souls.
One: We meant well but this construction has blockaded us
from so much more than we ever intended.
All: Holy One, help us to move these stones.
In the forty days ahead, help us to break down
the barriers we have erected from your love.
Blast through our arrogance
and push us toward your grace.
One: We know now that we’ve separated ourselves from
neighbors, friends, strangers, and our truest selves,
but Holy One, we’ve distanced ourselves the most from you.
All: Holy One, give us strength for the journey.

WE LISTEN FOR GOD’S WORD

Song of Illumination

Seeking the Word in Scripture

Psalm 51:1-17 

These words of scripture are to be read with an introduction that fits the norm of that congregation by a liturgist or pastor. 

Song of Illumination

The people are invited to sing the song once more.

Meditation on Scripture

Lent 1991 by Maren Tirabassi

These words of poetry are to be read without introduction by a liturgist or pastor. 

Anthem

–– WE CONFESS OUR BROKENNESS ––

Call to Repentance                               

One: We begin this sacred journey by remembering together, the very things
that challenge us from experiencing and knowing God’s love. These are the very things that have caused us to build walls.
All: We are called in this holy season of Lent to struggle against
anything that leads us away from the love of God and neighbor. We
recognize that so much is broken in this world and even in ourselves and together we commit to partner with you, Holy One, in mending what has been so very broken.
One: You are invited to come forward and find a rock along the constructed wall
along the communion table. Take that rock, the one that calls to you as a
reminder of all that has separated you, all that has distanced you from love, all that has caused you to seek protection instead of grace. Take that rock from the wall and place in your pocket to keep with you on the journey through these next forty days to remember that you are called to mend what has already been broken. You are called into love.

You may come forward, as you feel so moved, to remove a rock from the constructed “wall” on the communion table and place it in our pocket for the journey through the next 40 days. 

Kyrie

Affirmation of Faith           

One: Having stepped into the unknown together, daring to seek another way,
we are upheld by God’s grace as we remember:
All: All things, even our troubles, become dust. We give over to Holy Mystery that which we cannot solve or heal alone. We dare to trust the promise that the Spirit of Christ takes these first steps with us. We begin this journey courageously together into the unknown love that awaits us.

–– WE SHARE OUR GIFTS AND HOLY COMMUNION ––

An Invitation to Mend the Brokenness

One: Here, now, we enter into Lent.
We draw the holy comma
between what was and what could be.
We stumble over our humanity. We admit we’re stubborn
and confess that sometimes we think we know better even than God.
We begin here, at the table, where all are fed.
We begin here where grace abounds.
We begin here to mend what has been broken
in the ourselves and in the world
with the crazy contradiction that we don’t have the answers.
We don’t know what is best
but we dare to believe that resurrection matters.
Change can come and so we place ashes on our foreheads.
The dust of a thousand stones reminds us that we have
come from earth and one day will return to earth.
We remember here that life is fragile and delicate
but so deserving of blessing, as are we.
We come to remember that blessing
with bread and cup, oil and earth,
that will mend all that has been broken.
All: Holy One, give us strength for the journey.

Holy Communion and Stations of Devotion

All are welcome at Christ’s table – members, guests, first-timers, long-timers, baptized or not – all who desire to know and share the love of God are invited. When and if you are so moved, you may visit any or all of the following prayer stations during our time of communion: 

    • Imposition of Ashes: All are invited to come forward to receive ashes to remind us of the hard truth of limited lives. The sign of the cross in ashes will be given to all who desire saying, “Remember, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
    • Anointing: You may also receive this ancient blessing of the church to remind us of the never-failing power of God’s limitless love. Holy oil will be placed on the top of the head or hand saying, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
    • Holy Communion: By the side aisles, you may receive communion by intinction, coming forward to take a bit of bread and dipping it in the cup.
    • Offering: Finally you may place your tithes and offerings for the work of the Church in the plate.

Table Song

The Prayer of Our Savior

using these or whichever words are closest to your heart:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

–– WE GO FORTH TO SERVE ––

Closing Words of Meditation

In My Soul by Rabia

These words of poetry are to be read without introduction by a liturgist or pastor. 

We Are Sent Forth

One: We go forth, O Holy One, on a quest to find you.
All: We go forth with our senses heightened
to recognize the needs of the world around us.
One: We go refreshed with our hearts lifted up to you,
All: With our minds open to your leading,
One: With our gifts to share with others,
All: And always with your word of peace on our lips.

Sending Music

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes.

70,000 Words

Earlier this month, I took a Memoirs 101 online class with the Writer’s League of Texas. The instructor emphasized structure and form, both of which feel like high ideals for the random assortment of memories that are currently cobbled together in a massive Word document that takes forever to open on my laptop.

I should be writing right now. My baby girl is napping and this is my chance to add to that document. Or maybe to polish it. Instead, I’ve procrastinated by cleaning both of the bathrooms in my house. It needed to be done, but still.

I sat down to write but I’m still thinking about one of the instructor’s closing thoughts. She shared, at the end of her presentation, that memoirs can take different formats. They can be anything from a short essay of 2,000 words to a full book of approximately 70,000 words.

That massive Word document on my laptop currently has 71,917 words and it does not yet feel complete. Instead of inspiring me to edit and economize, this little fact has debilitated me. It has left me paralyzed.

I am not usually one that speaks or writes at great length. My sermons are always short. I can barely manage to preach for 15 minutes and am completely and totally flummoxed that anyone could orate for 45 minutes or more. I know churches that have asked for it. They expect it more than the churches I’ve served where worship better be under an hour, or else.

Neither of the theses that I wrote in college or in seminary were this long, but here I am staring at a blinking cursor wondering if there could really be more to say. I believe there is. There are moments from my childhood grief that I haven’t fully explored. There are things that I still don’t fully understand and that’s why I’m writing this anyway. It’s why in the sixth or seventh draft of this book, I’m no longer reflecting back as an adult who has grieved for thirty years but choosing to find my voice in that little girl who first bumped into the terrible things that are so often said when someone is dying.

I want these words to matter. I want these words to speak beyond the grief of my inner child to articulate something that others have felt. It won’t speak to everyone. There will still be some that don’t understand. There will always be someone who says they’re sorry I haven’t gotten over this sadness already, but I really hope that all of these thousands of words I’ve written have some meaning beyond the fact that I wrote them.

So maybe I should just write. Each day has enough trouble, Jesus said. Tomorrow will worry about itself and there is only so much I can do toiling and spinning in my worry over word count.

Prayers for Epiphany 5C and 6C

I am blessed and honored to continue to cook up liturgical elements for worship at the United Christian Church in Austin. Admittedly, it feels like I haven’t been in the kitchen in a very long time. I’m editing more. I’m pulling more books off the shelf.

I don’t have the familiar recipe of these liturgical words memorized anymore. It’s not a part of my breathing as it once was when I led worship every Sunday. I am shocked that Epiphany has been so short in years past and I don’t have anything in my folders from past worship services, but it’s forcing me to be creative.

Our church is in the midst of transition. The Senior Pastor left for another call just before Advent and so the first set of prayers reveals a bit of that angst and struggle. (Honestly, I don’t think that this church is struggling at all.) Having done work with churches in transition most recently, it felt right with the Gospel.

The second set of prayers for the Sixth Sunday of Epiphany pick up with the Beatitudes. As we are a congregation in transition, I pushed myself to write something that wasn’t a unison prayer following the Call to Worship. And so, the second ingredient for that Sunday is something to spice up our prayer time. This will be shared after the congregation shares their spoken prayers and just before the Prayer of our Savior.

Prayers for Epiphany 5C

Call to Worship

Adapted from a poem by the Persian poet Rumi

One: Come, come, whoever you are.
Many: Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving — it doesn’t matter,
One: Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Many: Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times,
One: Come, come again, come.

Prayer for the Weary in Transition (unison)

We come tired, weary and worn.
We have already done so much work, so much heavy lifting.
We long to hear assurances or maybe even “a job well done,”
but instead we are invited again to roll up our sleeves.
We must haul out the boats and put in another hour, maybe two.
There is more to be done. There is always more to be done.
We wade together into the deep water, dragging the boat out of the sand,
wondering what could change. What will one more hour do?
We let down our nets, just as we are told.
We wait for what will catch us. O Holy One, catch our tired bodies today.  

Prayers for Epiphany 6C

Call to Worship

One: We have come to this level place.
Many: We have come to look each other in the eye.
One: No one will stand above or below,
Many: but we will turn to each other
and call each other blessed.
One: We have sorrows and woes, God knows,
but we have come to rejoice.
Many: And so, we will leap into blessing.
Holy One, be with us in this praise.

Praying Our Blessing and Woes

One: There in that level place,
Christ looked upon his disciples and said,
Woe to you who are rich.
Many: Remove from us the lust for power.
Let greed not enter our hearts, O Christ.
One: Woe to you who are full now.
Many: Remind us that our full pantries offer no guarantees.
Make us aware of how very vulnerable we are, O Christ.
One: Woe to you who are laughing now.
Many: Forgive us for every sarcastic comment.
Empty us of snark, O Christ.
One: Woe to you all speak well of you,
Many: O Christ, heal us of our arrogance.
Call to us with your words of blessing.  
One: Here in this level place, Christ heals us, saying,
Blessed are you who are hungry now.
Many: Blessed are we who believe justice has not yet come,
for we will be filled.
One: Blessed are you who weep now,
Many: Blessed are we when life just feels much too hard, for we will laugh.
One: Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you,
revile you, and defame you.
Many: Blessed are we who feel we haven’t done enough and know we
could do more. Blessed are we no matter what other names we’ve
been called, for in this level place there is healing.
One: There is reason to leap for joy. We’ve been cured of our evil spirits. We’ve been touched with grace and love. We are children raised in blessing, who dare to pray:

The Prayer of Our Savior

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes.

Grief in the Midst of Joy

In just four days, it’ll be thirty-two years since she died.

It will be thirty-two years since my mother died. I have to pull out a calculator every year to subtract from the current year. Surely, it hasn’t been that long. It hasn’t been this many years without her. It seems impossible to believe amid so much joy.

My sassy little girl started walking this weekend. She’d taken a few hesitant steps about a week ago but we went to a birthday party on Saturday full of four year olds and she wasn’t going to be left in the dust. She toddled across the room. She sat at the big kid’s table. She had chicken nuggets for the very first time and her smile was just so big.

Though she has no interest in my growing belly, I’ve started talking to her about her baby sister. She won’t be the baby anymore. She’ll have a baby sister. Of course, this doesn’t register at all but she will retrieve her baby doll from across the room and shove a bottle in its mouth with great force. Every time, she looks up with this great big smile.

I don’t remember how it was last year.

I don’t remember if grief consumed my entire January in a blizzard of tears, as it once did. I don’t remember if the change in climate made the days before Groundhog Day feel less heavy. Or if I was too tired from a newborn baby waking up to the world in new ways to notice that it was even that time of year again.

There has only been one Groundhog Day since I became a mother. Only that one, and I don’t remember how it was.

I only remember how my husband and I ordered Chinese for dinner because, as a New Yorker, this is my preferred comfort food. I remember the excitement of finding any restaurant that would deliver to our rural address only to be horrified by what was in that delivery bag. Jalapenos should not ever be in Chinese food. It was only this unsettled feeling that this is not how this day should be that remains.

There is that sense about this day for me. Somehow, the day my mother died should be set apart. It should be different. I want it to be different so that heaven might mingle with my ordinary world. It’s something I’ve felt in the days before. As the new year dawns, a sadness emerges. A sense of loss comes close. I’m more aware of what is missing than what might be just beginning and so I’ve allowed myself this one day to feel all of that grief but that’s harder to do with a giggling ball of energy always at my side.

She’s not old enough yet to understand what happened thirty-two years ago. It’ll be a few years yet before she has any real understanding of death, but she’s started to look more like me. When she smiles now, it’s my grin. She tilts her head like I do. She makes the same silly faces that my mom probably made with me. I don’t know how I’ll ever tell her that she looks like her grandmother. I guess that’ll be how grief feels for this season.

It’ll be caught up in this wonder and delight that I don’t get to share with my mom. It is that absence that I grieve every year. She’s not here to play on the floor with her granddaughter. She won’t be here when her second grandchild will be born. There will be a lot of love around these two little girls. They have three full sets of grandparents. They have a great grandmother and a military community that will always be there. There will be churches that will love them and watch them grow. There will be lots and lots of love, but it’ll be my job to tell both my girls about the grandmother they never met. It’ll be hard because I don’t remember her that well.

It’s something I’m struggling with every afternoon as my daughter naps. I sit down again and try to write about where my grief started. There are things I remember, snapshots mostly of doctor appointments and strange things that grownups said to me. There are a few memories where cancer didn’t overshadow, but I mostly remember her as being sick. I remember her dying.

I don’t remember what she loved and what made her giggle. Those are the things I want to share with my girls, but what I do remember is what we did after she was gone. I remember what it felt like to do fun things after my mom died. I still have that guilt. It’s what hangs on tight thirty-two years later. It’s why I’d rather hide and quitely mourn by myself, but I can’t. This year, my sweet girl and I will be in my favorite city before my sister tries on wedding dresses for the first time. There will be a lot of joy surrounding us as I try to figure out how to grieve in the midst of it all.

Fear, Love and Another Supreme Court Decision

Yesterday, the Supreme Court decided by a 5-4 vote to uphold the ban on transgender service members fulfilling their call to service in the United States military. It was said by one woman just four years short of retirement in the Navy that this decision “speaks volumes about where we are as a country.”

This brave woman is right to point out that the biases of a few are having a huge impact on an entire community, but I am not sure that it speaks volumes.

I don’t want to that fear to trump everything, because I believe there is a voice we cannot quite hear yet.

I believe that there is a louder voice in the next generation, those that are not yet old enough to serve as justices on the Supreme Court. Maybe they’re not that loud yet because they aren’t even old enough to vote, but I have faith that these children will lead us. These are the kids who grew up only knowing a black president. These are the kids that don’t remember anything before legal marriage for all people. Maybe they remember the Supreme Court decision. Maybe. Or maybe it has just been a fact of their lives.

The Pew Research Center reported last week that these kids make up “the most racially and ethnically diverse generation” we have ever seen in this country. They haven’t had to learn gender-neutral pronouns. They haven’t stumbled over their words like I have because they’ve grown up with this vocabulary. It is said that this young generation, called Generation Z, is more liberal and more inclusive than their elders have ever been.

My daughter is too young to be a part of this young generation. She is only 15 months old and so she fits with some evolving generation that doesn’t yet have a name. I don’t know what new things will be normal for her, but the statistics seem to hint that my little girl will only be more liberal. Generation Z is already 10% more confident with gender pronouns than Millennials. They are 3% more determined than Millennials in their certainty that our society is not accepting enough and their 6% more determined that the government needs to do more to solve problems for individuals and businesses.

I don’t know who my little girl will grow up to be. I don’t know if her fascination with shoes and beaded necklaces is just a phase that will lead to something else, some new identity where gender is much more fluid. I know I will struggle because I am part of my generation, but I’m excited about what she will teach me.

I’m eager to see how she challenges her old liberal mother. I hope she makes me squirm. I hope she pushes all my political buttons. I hope she teaches me more about love than I know now, not just because she’s my kid and my heart has grown in loving her. But, I hope that she thinks it’s silly that her Mommy ever had to fight for marriage equality. I wonder what she’ll think of the story I’ll one day tell her about officiating my first transgender wedding as much as I wonder if she’ll feel called to serve in the military like her Daddy.

Watching her play on the floor yesterday with her wooden pots and pans, mixing up air with her play spatula, she’s already cooking up trouble. I couldn’t help but smile and think “it’s gonna be OK.” There is a temptation to despair. There’s a tendency among us old(er) liberals to think that the prejudices of a very small few will ruin everything, but I’m not going to fall into that fear.

As it says in those words that we once carried through the streets in the name of marriage equality, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:.18, NRSV). I’m gonna strive for that perfection, that perfection that my daughter will one day teach me with a gigantic roll of her eyes. Fear doesn’t motivate or inspire, but love always does.

I won’t be paralyzed by the feeling that there’s nothing I can do to reverse a Supreme Court decision. I’m not going to nervously analyze statistics across the generations, but I’m gonna figure out how I can raise my daughter and my family in the love that we believe should exist in our nation and especially in our military.

I hope that that love is the loudest.

Prayers for Baptism of Christ Sunday and Epiphany 2C

I attend a church with a super talented and dynamic staff, but as it happens when a lead pastor leaves for a new call, they’re carrying more than they usually do. There’s more work for each and every one of them. I could see it on their faces. It wasn’t obvious but I knew that look in my own eyes when it was me that was feeling overwhelmed in parish ministry. So I asked if I could help and somehow I ended up writing liturgy.

I wrote liturgy for all of Advent and then asked if it would help if I could create bulletins while they search for a new administrator. My heart breaks for them. No administrator? Now? Good grief. So, I kept writing prayers and now I’m formatting bulletins and having a ton of fun doing it.

The following are the prayers I cooked up for the next two Sundays. The first prayer will be Call to Worship and the congregation will be invited to come forward and touch the water. I suggested even having small cups so that people could take a drink, but I don’t know if that will actually happen. There is a sung response between it and the Prayer for the Many Waters.

Prayers for Baptism of Christ Sunday

Gathering Around the Baptismal Font

Adapted from the Call to Celebration for a Baptistry Dedication at Grand Avenue Christian Church (Disciples Of Christ).

One: We are a people of the water!
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like a rain shower, awakens the sleeping seed
within the soul and lures it to blossom.
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like a wading pool, inspires the delight of children, jumping,
splashing, spraying each other, shivering with wet joy.
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like a hot shower after a long day’s work,
cleanses us, reawakens us.
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like little drops, drips from fingertips to forehead;
like a great depth, in which to sink in and immerse our entire body.
Many: Through the waters of baptism, the family of faith always,
lovingly, makes room for one more.
One: And so, God makes room for us by inviting us again and again to remember the gift of water. Come and touch the water to remember God’s love for you.

Prayer for the Many Waters

Awesome God, we thank you for the water in our bath tubs and sinks.
We thank you for the water that rains from the sky and the water inside our bodies. We thank you for rivers and lakes and Barton Springs.
We thank you for oceans and ponds full of fish, turtles and frogs.
We give thanks for the gift of water. May water always remind us
of your love. Amen.

Prayers for Epiphany 2C

Call to Worship

One: Your steadfast love, O God, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds that rain
down the blessing of water upon our heads.
Many: How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
One: There is wonder and mystery for all the people
that you invite to drink from the river of your delights.
Many: You are the fountain of our lives.
One: You pour out your blessings.You bring us to overflowing.
Many: We worship you in wonder and love.

Prayer to Open Our Hearts

Today, O Holy One, we might not feel like there are miracles all around.
We might not feel like there are things to celebrate or wonders to behold.
We might feel like there is nothing we can do with our gifts, our services or even
our activities for the common good. Still, Holy One, gather all our doubts and wonders into this hour and fill us like jars of water. May we be changed
in our wondering about you and your love, we pray. Amen.

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes.