Ingredients for Worship

Way back when I left my last full time call, nearly five years ago, I established this little home on the internet. I had read a bunch of books about blogging then. The trouble was that my internet home wasn’t what those books had imagined.

There isn’t a whole lot of click bait in worship resources and ministry ideas. I wasn’t going to trend even if I had been consistent with the features I imagined way back when. And I wasn’t. I wanted to write. I imagined a book. I spent hours upon hours writing that book and it was too much to maintain both my writing practice and this internet home.

Most of that book is now written. There is one last chapter to write and a whole bunch more editing to do. I’d spent the very end of last year writing a book proposal. Friends gave me feedback on that proposal and then a worldwide pandemic walloped all of us. The world is not the same as it was. No matter how ready I had been just a week before to send in my proposal, the urgency disappeared. It no longer felt like it mattered.

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This is my quarantine.

I’ve occupied my time in isolation potty training my toddler. I have spent most of the past month staring at my bathroom tile, reading books about poop and dancing around like a maniac when my sweet darling actually peed. Poop is a whole other story. At the same time, my baby girl learned to crawl. She has decided she has places to be.

I haven’t read much nor taken on any projects. I have not written a word outside of a text message but it was in a text chain that I felt a nudge to revive one of the old features. Some of my favorite clergy women were lamenting the fatigue and exhaustion that felt all the more palpable after Easter was over. Somewhere in the middle of Lent, they got locked within their own rooms. Few of them were upper rooms. It happened fast without much preparation. They innovated the crap out of those last few Sundays in one of the most holy seasons in the Christian calendar. They became producers and televangelists. They brought meaning and purpose. They built community in a format that most of their church members have bemoaned before the pandemic hit. And then, they made Easter happen with butterflies and choral anthems. It was amazing to watch. I am truly in awe. Then, Easter was over and all of the hope that this might only last through that Sunday vanished. They are tired. They are grieving.

They have no idea how much longer this will go on. They are, as we are all, hunkered down which another dear friend described really well earlier this week. They don’t know how to temper the expectations of those in their congregations any better than they know how to filter their own feelings. It is so much. It is just so much.

Before Easter, and especially during Holy Week, these amazing women told me that there was a wealth of resources. Artists and musicians were gifting free material to use in worship during those High Holy Days. There was so much good stuff that could be copied and pasted so that they could spend the time figuring out how to do a funeral for the saint that died in isolation at the nursing home or the young man who fell victim to this virus that has upended all of our lives. This broke my heart.

So I’m reviving this old feature so that my colleagues and friends can copy and paste into Zoom and Facebook Live when they are doing so much.

Ingredients for Worship will once again feature prayers following the Revised Common Lectionary. New liturgies will appear each week on Tuesday for the upcoming Sunday starting this coming Tuesday. All of the prayers will focus on this strange new interim season in which we now find ourselves. Themes in these prayers will emphasize change, uncertainty, discernment and discovering who we are and who God is now.

It’s a small thing that I can do and I hope it helps.

I’m praying with you and for you, dear clergy.

Embracing Wonder with Children

There are specific things with instructions that parenting requires. Potty training, I am learning, is one of them. There are steps that your child must understand for success. First, she’s got to pull down her pants and then sit on the potty before she pees. There is an order to this process.

It’s important not to skip steps or accidents will happen. Such has been my past two weeks. There have been lots of accidents even as my toddler learns. She’s making progress but she’s still learning the steps.

41QTbYRZWeL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_Mystery does not have steps. There is no process. No order but instead it is something to behold and even embrace. It was the first thing that caught my eye about Amelia Richardson Dress’ new book and it was right there in the title. This is the Mystery of Easter is an adaptation of a pastor’s careful reflection on how to share the power of death and resurrection with the children. It reads like a children’s sermon with clear reference to scripture and a tenderness toward the hardest part of the story.

The crucifixion isn’t skipped or ignored. Nor is it glorified and lauded. It’s instead shared carefully just as a parent might share the difficult news of a pet’s death or the news of the coronavirus. It’s something hard that has happened. It is something sad that causes the people to be sad. It breaks their hearts.

There are several pages devoted to this mystery with beautiful illustrations that hint toward the feelings that children might be feeling in hearing such news. Death isn’t explained. There are no steps outlined as to how Jesus got onto that cross but that it happened and it was sad because it was the opposite of love.

Children know what love does. They know how it feels when they are loved and when they are not. They know what it feels like to be loved even when their parent is having a really rough time after being stuck inside for the millionth day in a row. That’s what I love about this book. It doesn’t attempt to explain things that are hard for even adults to understand. It picks up on something we all know even if we don’t feel like we have felt it enough. It shares a mystery that is already known.

It puts that wisdom int this man called Jesus who “loved big enough to change the whole world” and encourages children how they too could “love God, love yourself [and] love everyone else.”

Maybe there is some kind of step-by-step instruction for how to do this. Maybe there is some magical parental formula that explains death and resurrection to children but I haven’t yet found it. Nor am I quite sure that it exists because we have a hard enough time explaining it to ourselves as adults. We opt for metaphors. We ponder questions like those that the author indicates were important to how she told this story:

  • Why do we have a cross hanging in our church if the cross was a bad thing?
  • Why did Jesus die?
  • Who killed Jesus?
  • Did God want Jesus to die?
  • How do we act after someone dies?

We pray that the hard thing is not the last thing but it is a matter of faith. To choose the resurrection. To claim that love will change the world. To live into the mystery isn’t easy. There are no simple steps. Nor is there ever really a moment when it is fully mastered whereas I hope potty training has that end point. Dear God, please. Let it be so.

As much as my toddler lights up when she goes pee in the potty, I want her to experience that with God. I want her to be proud of what she knows and what she can do. I want her to feel like she has something she can do to help but I also want her to experience awe and wonder. I want both my girls to play within the mystery without ever feeling like they need to explain it. I want them to feel it even when they don’t have words for it.

There is no greater mystery than the one that begins and ends this children’s book. It is that good news that we are in God and God is in us. God’s love can change the world. It can change us. I’m so glad to find a children’s book that invites my children into this mystery. I hope it grows right along with them.

I am thrilled to share This is the Mystery of Easter after I learned about it from the author and was asked for an honest review. You too can download a free digital copy after subscribing to Amelia’s weekly newsletter or you can order a copy for your children’s Easter baskets.

Thirty Three Years Later

Last night, my baby girl couldn’t sleep.

It has been many months since she was up every two hours but last night she returned to this familiar routine. She wasn’t always hungry.

It seemed that she just wanted to know I was there. It had only been a dream. It was only some trick of the mind, something that happens when we close our eyes. Fears jolt us awake. Terror takes hold but it was only a bump in the night.

It was only a dream. It wasn’t real.

Once she was cradled in my arms again, her little body would release those fears. She would grow heavy in that comfort that can only come from Mom.

It is, of course, not true. That was what I was telling myself every time I picked her up. Every time I gently patted her back and bounced her in my arms, I tried to convince myself that this isn’t something that only comes from a mother. It can come from a father. Or grandparent. It comes with love.

It comes with presence. It comes when that child knows that this is the person who is there. This is the person who will always be there. This is her scent. That is her voice.

I don’t remember these things about my mother. She was there when I was little. She was always there but when I was nearly six years older than my sweet baby girl, she died. I have no memory of her scent. I swore I’d remember the sound of her voice. I told myself I couldn’t but I did. It happened faster than I would have ever thought possible, but of course, I was only seven when she died so I didn’t really know what was possible. I thought I knew. I knew more than the adults thought I did but after thirty-three years of feeling this grief, I didn’t know. I couldn’t.

It is the anniversary of her death today. It has been thirty-three years since that day. It seems impossible but it also seems impossible that that same little girl who didn’t sleep last night and didn’t nap much today was determined to crawl across the floor this afternoon. It seems just as impossible that my toddler cleaned up all her toys tonight with only one tiny bit of encouragement. It’s impossible that they will never know their grandmother and I will never quite know how to explain it to them.

When they’re finally old enough to understand that Mommy can have a Mommy, I’ll try.  I’ll try to tell them about the love that I know shushed and patted and cradled me. I’ll do my best but until then I’m going to be amazed by this thing that happens over and over again with my kids. There is so much love around them but it is my embrace they want.

I’d awake with the same fear. I was older but it would shake me from slumber just the same. It was the same except that she was never there. She had died. She was dead. She was never coming back. It wasn’t just a dream. It was real.

It is still real, so real that I don’t know how to respond when my darling girls seek my comfort. I wonder if I should assure them of how much love surrounds them. It’s not just me that loves them. There are so many others but then it doesn’t feel right to push them away. I still crave that comfort, that comfort that only my mother can provide.

That has never gone away.

I don’t know if it ever will.

An Expert In My Own Grief

Expert was the word that made me laugh in her email.

I do not feel like an expert in anything. I’ve rather owned that pastors are the last generalists. We dabble in this and that. We have a lot of theological thoughts (hopefully) and some leadership skills. We know a little of this and a little of that. Even when members of our congregation or community assumes we have wisdom in all things, we are more often than not stumbling over the answers like everyone else.

Expert was the word that she used. It was experts that she sought out for her congregation to share in conversation about important topics, like grief. I replied to her email assuring her that I really was not an expert.

She assured me that I was. I am an expert of my own grief. It is an experience that I have had that no one else has had. No one has walked the particular shadow of death I have known. There may be similarities. We may have tripped over the same paths and wandered through the same heartbreak, but no one else can tell me exactly what it was like. It is my experience alone. I am an expert.artworks-000481291728-wv34tk-t500x500

What was even more laughable about her email was the invitation was to appear as a guest on a parenting podcast. Parenting is something I do all day every day, but it is new to me. My peers have teenagers whereas I have a toddler and an infant. I’m looking for experts. I don’t imagine myself as one.

Still, Amelia Richardson Dress was adamant. Amelia is one of the pastors of United Church of Christ Longmont in Colorado and host of this wonderful digital ministry. She’d read something on my blog that led her to believe my wisdom was needed on her congregation’s podcast In Other Words. It is described on the church website in this manner:

Parenting is full of important, funny and sometimes downright awkward conversations. Each week, Amelia Richardson Dress talks with experts about the things that matter when it comes to raising kids. If you’ve ever had a question about sex, race, death or peer pressure sprung on you before your morning coffee, this podcast is for you.

I am most honored to be a part of a ministry that is just so dang innovative. I love the idea of a podcast for adult education whether the topic is parenting or something else. I think this is just brilliant and I hope that sharing a bit of my story helped to spark some important conversations for how we talk about death with children. You can find the episode entitled Grief, Parenting and the Failure of Quick Fixes below.

I’d love to know what you think and how you are attempting to become an expert in your own story. It seems to me that is no easy task.

Christmas Comes

Christmas comes in the ordinary.

It comes into a guest room where strangers are welcomed as friends. A place is made for another night of rest. Two expectant parents wonder if this will be the night.

No matter what may have been foretold, it could be any night. The baby will come when its ready. No amount of walking or spicy food from a food cart in Bethlehem will change that.

I wonder how ordinary it seemed to Mary: this long trip to the hometown of her betrothed, the lingering impact of a celestial visitor, the frustration that no part of this wonder could have been easy for her. I wondered all of this as I unloaded the dishwasher and rinsed off the breakfast dishes and piled them into the machine that makes my life easier. I pondered this as I bent down to haul clean wet clothes from the washer to the dryer. It was my second load of laundry this morning. I had promised myself yesterday that my Christmas gift to myself would be to not have to do a load of cloth diapers on Christmas. I didn’t succeed in avoiding other laundry.

Kathleen Norris finds laundry to be one of the ordinary tasks that most inspires prayer. I don’t usually feel that way, but I found myself musing over her wisdom. Wondering, again, if these ordinary chores on Christmas Eve might have value just as Norris suggests because they’re “never completed, but only set aside to the next day.”

I wondered what Mary did to clean up that borrowed space where she would give birth. After such a long journey, did she feel the need to scrub her clothes clean? Did she lament that Joseph always manages to clump so much dirt to the souls of his feet? Did she slosh a bucket of warm soapy water his way and insist that he chip in by at least cleaning his feet off, for the love of their unborn child?

These are the kinds of questions I wonder every year on Christmas. It’s a question I ponder on other days when something fantastic is supposed to happen. Miracles abound but I’m otherwise preoccupied with laundry or the dishes. I’m supposed to feel something different about this day. Something is supposed to shift but I’m too worried about the things that keep me busy every other day.

Still, I wonder. I wonder how much Mary worried about bringing a child into this world. I wonder too about those other children she had. They came later, we are told. This would be her first child. She would learn to be a parent for the very first time when her child’s life was threatened. She would become a refugee for his safety but as I sat breastfeeding my baby girl I wondered if there were other children she was protecting. Did she sit there in that borrowed room feeding her baby for the first time while she watched her toddler playing with blocks by the manger? Did she know in that instant that she would do anything for these kids? Did she berate herself for not feeling as certain in this conviction until she had children of her own?

There is nothing ordinary about these questions, but perhaps that is why this story matters again every year. We might repeat the same prayers and sing the same old carols. We might prepare the same feast without ever experiencing the magic of Christmas, but Christmas comes.

Christmas comes into the monotony. It comes into the back-breaking frustration that the work is not done, that justice hasn’t yet come. It comes into the constant struggle to do more because the world needs more. Our children need more. Our hope needs more. Christmas comes when nothing seems to be any different. Christmas comes when we have so exhausted ourselves that we can’t believe in miracles. Christmas comes anyway. It comes into ordinary flesh. It comes in the tiny cry of a small child. Christmas comes again.

 

 

 

Insistent Hope

It is the first Sunday of Advent and I sat in church.

I sat in that pew with my baby bouncing on my lap to hear hope insisted upon. Maybe hope needs to come that way. Maybe it will only come by our stubborn determination or it’ll only be something that dances through our daydreams, but it felt forced.

It felt like hope was being poured over me, like it was drowning me. It wouldn’t dare let me catch my breath as it made itself known in the ministries of this particular church. I love this church. It’s the first church in so many moves that I’ve felt at home. I feel like I belong and this is a strange new world for this preacher and military spouse. It is good. It might even feel like hope.

But hope is not something to be named on the first Sunday of Advent. It’s the stuff of possibility and imagination. It lives over there in that land of moving on and getting over. It’s the thing we are never quite sure we’ll find though we’ll fight like hell to keep believing is out there.

Hope is that kind of thing for me. Advent is that kind of place, a liminal space between what was and what is. An open expanse where there is room to dream and curse and lament and wonder. Mostly, I think it’s too short. Four Sundays is not enough though I was reminded just yesterday that historically there were six Sundays in Advent as there are in Lent. (I think that they did actually teach that to me in seminary and I managed to forget it anyway.) That same wise woman pointed out that we need this space. We can’t jump into the celebration of Christmas like our culture seems to want us to do. We can’t live in the hope because we must ask ourselves, in her words:

How do we assess if we’re self-medicating, erasing, avoiding the realities of the biblical moment leading up to Christmas by skipping the critical part of the story?

What if the part about Mary exclaiming that her Son would tear down injustice and literally withhold food from those who had grown fat while others starved…what if that part is in the bible for the people who are comfortable to be awakened to their role in addressing their fellow human’s suffering, not just as an act of charity but as an act of systemic restructuring?

What if the season of Advent is about people with stuff having to do without, to literally feel what longing and absence and need are, to cultivate empathy, the way our Muslim siblings are supposed to feel deeper empathy for the poor during their fasting season of Ramadan?

What if Advent’s point right now is to wake us up and shake us loose from the illusion that democracy actually addresses the needs of the poorest, the darkest skinned, the longest on this land when it was designed for the wealthiest, the lightest skinned and the newest arrivals of a certain type?

I sat in church and wondered if there is any hope in shaking us loose from our illusions if we go right along and start naming all those things that remind us of God’s hope. I wrote the liturgy for this Sunday. There is a piece of this liturgy, as there will be in the three weeks to follow, in which we’re asked to wonder how we are collaborating with God in realizing hope and peace. I want to live into this stuff too. I want to roll up my sleeves and do my part but there is still part of me that approaches this season asking for a break.

I grimace too. I hear my privilege in uttering these words. Hold me accountable to all of that because I think it matters as much as our white churches fail to nuance the promise that a light shines in the darkness, as if darkness can only be bad.

Still, it’s that tiny light that so many of us are holding onto. The wax is burning our fingers. The wick is getting shorter and shorter but we’re not going to put that candle down. We need it. We need that damn thing to shine maybe even brighter than it did last year. That’s what people in the pews are doing as the church enters into its new year. They’re thinking back over the past few months. They’re recounting all that has happened in the past year and gritting their teeth to face another would-be celebration where they’re told what hope looks like again.

In our American culture, that Christmas hope centers around the family. After all, it is what our economy values most. It’s why marriage in queer communities took so long to win. It’s how our entire tax system in structured. In this idealized family, all the relatives get along and want to be together. (This is actually true for my family and it’s still hard for me to be away for the holidays, even if my vocation requires me to work on those high holy days.) But, in our death-denying culture, it also assumes that there has been no loss. There’s no struggle to imagine this holiday without those that first made it magical. There’s no space for that.

It’s that space I craved this morning. To bellow with the prophets and lament with the saints. To wonder about this strange teaching where one is taken and another left. To me, that’s not the Second Coming. That’s just living with grief because grief has been redefined all over again this year.

Three years ago, I sat in another pew with blood pooling between my legs from a miscarriage. I sobbed through the expectant hope of that morning. The familiar hymns stuck in the back of my throat as they had in years past. Grief is not unfamiliar. It’s not unchartered land but it’s always changing. It’s never just the death of my mother but that loss piled on by so much more. This year, I sat there pissed off that I had to pray about another cancer diagnosis even if we don’t actually know it’s cancer yet. This time, it’s my Dad that hope is stuck on.

I don’t want to hear promises of what hope we’ve seen. I don’t need to have hope insisted upon but only for it to be named as a place we might live one day. One day, after all the cancer is gone and racism has ended. Justice hasn’t come and so I’ll still be waiting on hope.

Christmas will be when it comes, when that hope really comes.

 

Grief and Parenting, Part 5678

I didn’t take my daughters to my mother’s grave. 

I meant to. It was something that I intended to do while we were in the area for my sister’s wedding. My brother had even asked if we could go together. That was something we hadn’t done since he and I were small children, but it didn’t happen. We didn’t go. 

We had the opportunity but we didn’t go. My girls don’t know the difference, of course. At three months and nearly two years, it wouldn’t occur to them that Mommy had missed this opportunity. They barely know that Mommy had a Mommy, not just in the usual way that children can’t fathom relationships beyond themselves but in the fact that Mommy had a Mommy that died. Mommy had a Mommy that they will never know. 

Last time I was so close to my mother’s grave, I took my daughter. It was just the two of us and it felt important. It felt like something I had to do to introduce my then ten-month old daughter to her grandmother. So why didn’t I feel that way again with my second daughter? Or why didn’t it feel just as important to bring my eldest daughter back? Surely she doesn’t remember the last time. Repetition is kinda important at this age but I didn’t do it. 

We didn’t go and it’s only now that I’m wondering why. On Thursday, I’ll have the opportunity to be interviewed for In Other Words which is a ministry of United Church of Christ Longmont. That’s right. This lovely church in Colorado hosts a podcast that focuses on the unique issues parents face. I am amazed by the brilliance of this idea and so honored to be among its guests. The host and pastor found me through my blog. She actually found me through this post and suggested that I was an expert on parenting with grief. I laughed when I read this in my email. I’ve only been a parent for two years whereas my grief has consumed thirty-two years of my life. 

I was back East away from the Texas heat for a big family event and it was wonderful. It was wonderful to be together because there is something truly magical about placing your child in the arms of a cousin or aunt or grandparent, but then it was my sister’s wedding, my sister who is the only child of my step-mother. I don’t see much value in pointing out that Mary is my half sister  or even that Jana is my step-mother. They are family and I love them fiercely, but I do wonder how to best explain this to my girls. How do I tell them about Mommy’s Other Mommy without it tarnishing their love of the grandmother they know? How do I share my sadness with them? Or maybe the better question is when? 

I’ll wait because they’re not quite old enough but if I’m honest, it feels dishonest to wait. It feels just like it did when I was eight years old and laughed at something silly when I should have been sad because my mother had died. Gosh, I wish that feeling would go away. It has been long enough but it persists. It hasn’t yet gone away. I still don’t know how to overcome it. Until I do, there will be a picture of my mother cradling me in my girls’ room. It doesn’t feel like enough but its all I know to do right now.

I don’t yet have words to explain how it feels to have my mother in the background. Since I became a parent, she’s more present than she was. There are memories I didn’t know I had and instincts that have startled me. My mom is here as much as she’s not here. 

Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel like I needed to go to her grave this time. Grief has taught me in this new season that there’s nowhere I need to go to find her. She’s always with me. 

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. 

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.