Pandemic Prayers for the Second Sunday of Lent

I really relate to Abraham falling on his face.

I don’t think that has anything to do with the pandemic but the simple fact that I’m always tripping over myself. I am my own worst critic. I am endlessly hard on myself for things that I have said and done. I always believe I can do better. I want to be better. I’m not sure how to be better this Lent. I still haven’t landed on what this season needs to be for me but I relate to Abraham with his face in the dirt.

Of course, I don’t want to just be a better version of myself. I want a better world than the one that exploded into this new year with riots and protests and more death. There has been so much death. I believe we can be better. These prayers lean into that hope even if I have dirt on my face.

Call to Worship

Do not be afraid.
It was what we come 
together to worship 
and praise to remember.
We do not need to fear.

It is the encouragement 
we are given through angels
and visions. Do not be afraid.

Here, we come to tell the truth.
We have been afraid. 
We've feared so much 
in this past year
for ourselves 
for people of color, 
immigrants and refugees
for the common good
and the goodness of people.
We have been in awe
of how terrible things
could get and felt
like we couldn't do 
anything to change
the arrogance and hate
that overpowered our hope.

Today, we come to hope.
We come to put 
that horror behind us
and lean into the possibility 
of what will be in the days ahead. 
We come to worship
the One who makes
all things new
and assures us 
again and again
not to be afraid.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 and Mark 8:31-38

O God, we need to feel
your presence behind us
as much as we need to know 
you are leading us forward.

We need you behind us 
to encourage us and push us forward
for if you are not there, we will 
drag our feet and refuse to move.

We have wondered so much this year
about what our lives are worth.
Masks have covered our nose
and mouth because we believe
that others have worth
but if we are honest, O God, 
we haven't found our own worth. 
We have been scared
by unknown particles 
and airborne germs
and we have felt so human.
We have been so aware 
of our humanity and 
all of its limitations
so that we haven't really
allowed ourselves to see 
beyond this moment. 
We are just trying 
to get through this disaster
so that we can think 
of blessings and 
other such divine things. 

We are wrong, O God. 
We need to feel your push
square in the center of our backs
to dream and wonder 
and believe that 
there will be more than this. 
Get behind us and 
push us toward 
the fruitfulness of tomorrow. 
We pray in your hope. Amen.

I don’t feel ready yet to write an affirmation. I want to but I haven’t yet found the words. So, that’s all I’ve got for you this week so far, dear pastors.

I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

An Affirmation of Faith for Texas

Dear pastors, I hope and pray that you have someone in your life that you can call to say you have no words.

You have a draft of a sermon and this week has been another beast so it feels like you should say something, but the words aren’t coming easily. I hope you have someone to call who hears this and nods knowingly through that little FaceTime screen. I hope that that person asks you if you really need to preach because you are struggling to care for yourself right now when your whole city has been without power and water and now you’re just trying to conserve as much as possible but there are so many people to care for right now. I hope that when you brush off that question that that someone asks it again because you too need a break.

The pastor of my sweet Texas church and I chatted today and this is basically how our conversation went. She’s in Austin. She has power but she hasn’t slept with worry for so many she loves dearly. She has a pastor heart as big as I know so many of you do. She told me that there would be a baptism this Sunday which seems really perfect for the Gospel Lesson and I asked her if I could help. I asked her if I could help write something for her.

She sent me an affirmation of faith she had written to follow the baptism. I promised I would add to it. It is a collaboration as all the best things are and so my thanks goes to Anna Kreisle Humble and her endless creativity. My thanks also goes to you, dear pastor. I know you are doing such amazing things and I hope that there is someone who is helping you carry that heavy load.

An Affirmation of Faith 
for Baptism and Belovedness in Texas
Inspired by Mark 1:9-15

We believe in you, O God, 
our Everlasting Source, the fountain of life,
who filled creation with rivers
and oceans and pools 
deep and wide enough 
to cover the whole earth
and is creating still
in the patience
we must find now 
that no water comes 
from our faucet.

We believe that 
water is right. 
It is a gift
that reminds us 
again and again 
that we are forgiven 
and loved and redeemed
and we believe that it is freely given 
so that every body and soul
might be hydrated 
in the grace of good news.

We believe in you, O Christ,
our Beloved One, who 
rose from the waters
of baptism to fight 
for peace and justice
and teach that
there are no limits 
to what love can do.

We believe that 
love is the fuel 
in our hearts that burns
so hot that even when 
the thermostat dips down
to terrifying depths ,
we will not grow cold
to the needs in
our community.

We believe in you, O Spirit, 
our Guide, the radiant heat 
of possibility in this moment 
and every moment
who made herself known
by sweeping over 
the waters of creation
and reminding us 
to breathe. 

We believe that
we are called to do
more for our community,
for the world and even for ourselves
but we first we must catch our breath
and warm our hands
to remember what love
lives in us.

The heavens might 
be torn apart
but we dare to believe
even now 
that we are beloved
and the Holy Trinity
is well pleased with
what we dare to dream
is possible.
May it be so.

If you serve a congregation in Texas and want to use this on Sunday, please do so with my abundant blessing. If you live somewhere else where you are still waiting for a thaw, use this and edit it as needed. Do your best to stay warm and care for each other. I know you are doing this. I know you are doing so much more than this, dear pastor. I hope that there are blessed souls caring for you just as tenderly.

Pandemic Prayers for the Return of Lent

I do not feel ready for this season to arrive.

I know that it will be different. It will be less disciplined but no less introspective than every other day since that first case changed our whole lives. There is the Lent that I typically yearn to experience where I exert extra energy on figuring out who God is now. I don’t know that I will do that this year.

I’m still not sure what I will do to mark this season for myself. I know that sometime on Wednesday or Thursday my family and I will begin the practice of welcoming apologies just by saying thank you. That’s the first practice in A Hopeful Lent. I’ll read some special bedtime stories to my children and maybe I’ll convince my husband to talk about some big questions. (My husband is not a person of faith and though I designed these questions with him in mind, I’m still not sure I can convince him. We are both so tired.) I bought the book my sweet Texas church is sharing in for this season and I hope that that connects me to that community currently covered in ice and so many without power.

Lent will begin even if we don’t have pancakes today. I decided that teaching my toddlers to play with food in pancake races was really a recipe for disaster. Their table manners have already plummeted. Still, I want there to be joy and hope as we wonder together about the promises of God.

Responsive Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 25:1-10

It seems impossible 
that we find ourselves here again
to wonder about who we will be
and what God can do.
We lift up our souls.

We have been waiting
and wondering what will be. 
We yearn for hope 
and knowing more 
of the ways of God.
We seek what is true.

Our minds are quick 
to wander and we have lost
focus more times than we can count
but we hope that in these days 
we will be more and more 
aware of mercy and love.
We learn to walk this path together. 

Lent begins again.
May our souls awake 
to trust and hope.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Genesis 9:8-17

O God, it does not quite 
feel like the clouds have parted. 
It does not feel like the storm
has yet passed. It will rain
for several more days. 

We confess we are tired. 
We are so very tired.
We have given up searching
the heavens for new wonders
but it feels like nothing 
will change even 
as a vaccine ever so 
slowly rolls out 
and numbers of 
infections and 
hospitalizations
diminish. We 
don't yet see
hope in technicolor
reaching across the sky
and so we pray that you will 
wrap us possibility. 
Remind us again
that your love reaches 
through the doubts
and worries of this moment
and leads us into 
the promise of possibility.
O God, we pray
for the blessing of 
your colorful 
possibility. Amen.

I shared last week the possibility of sharing in Pandemic Easter Affirmations where people could share in the practice of proclaiming what faith feels like right now. I suggested a workshop and that maybe these could be gathered into a booklet to lead the congregation through the Easter season. I also mentioned that examples are helpful to get the creative juices flowing and that I might be sharing such affirmations for Lent. Here is the first for this season.

Affirmation for the Wilderness

We believe that 
God is working wonders
in the wilderness of our lives.
We have felt tested.
We've hit a pandemic wall
but walls crumble
with trumpet blasts
and hope grows 
through the cracks
on the sidewalk.

This is not the end. 
We know this. 
Of course, we know
this is true for we are people 
of possibility and hope
who know that the worst 
thing is never the last thing.

We are people 
who have wandered 
though the wilderness
to find the way to freedom. 
We've crossed seas
and moved mountains 
with faith as small 
as a mustard seed. 

We believe that
these wonders
will come again.
It is the promise of new life. 
It is the promise
that we cannot yet see
but God still reaches across
creation to show us
again and again 
that wonders 
never cease.

We believe 
God is working
wonders in us 
right now.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for Transfiguration Sunday

I love the transformation on this mountaintop.

I love it so much but it feels different this year as we wait for what will be.

We are waiting for what will come. We are hoping that transformation will come but it hasn’t. Not quite yet even as we are starting to ask what we will need when this is over-ish. Laura Stephens-Reed offers this wonderful reflection that landed in my email this morning when I was procrastinating on writing prayers. She offers several bits of wisdom but the one that leaped off the screen for me was the need for outside voices to understand what the church will be.

I think we’ve been struggling for years on what the church will be and we have really muddied the water on what we intend as evidenced in Bruce Springsteen praying for unity through a Super Bowl ad. Diana Butler Bass pointed out its many flaws and called us to a better middle. I’m pondering that as I try to find wonder in this present moment where things don’t feel all that different than they did 10 minutes ago.

Call to Worship
Inspired by 2 Kings 2:1-12

Stay here.
It has been a whirlwind
of confusion and wonder
but you are here. 
You are right here
in this place 
where nothing 
and everything will happen. 

Stay here.
Right here 
in this very room 
where life has unfolded
is now where God will be.
God was always here.

God never left.
God has always
been right here
with you. You have 
wanted to wander. 
You have wanted to be 
anywhere but here
but stay. Stay 
and find God
is here again. 

Maybe this is song or something similar could follow such a prayer. I love it though I admit this is one of those moments I’d rather not sing it in English.

Prayer for the Middle
Inspired by Psalm 50:1-6 and Mark 9: 2-9

Mighty One, you called
for a new day 
in the setting 
and rising of the sun.
It was good. It is good. 

We have been waiting 
for change to come.
There is no high mountain here.
We are in our living rooms
and our kitchens still. 
We go for walks
but we don't get 
to climb to new heights. 
We are not even 
sure we have the strength
but we do not want 
to stay here. We don't want 
this to be all there is
for we dream of what will be
after this is all over.

We dare to believe 
that dazzling things await us.
Somehow, we will step out 
of these dwellings after 
a year or more 
transfigured from 
what we once were,
but we are not there yet.
We are still in the middle 
of this pandemic. We are 
still waiting for the dawn 
of the new day. O God, 
show us what change
has already come. 
We pray in your hope. 
Amen.

I wrote a Transfiguration Communion a few years ago that may also inspire your worship this Sunday. That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Illuminating the Way to Hope in Another Pandemic Lent

Years ago, and I mean years ago, I wrote this liturgy for the six Sundays in Lent. It was an extended Tenebrae or a reversal of the Advent wreath. I wish I had explained it better in the original post.

I had completely forgotten about it until some kind soul mysteriously found it in my archives. I remembered that the dare came from Ashley Goff when we were sharing in a virtual liturgy lab with Janet Walton. I remembered how much fun it was to share in those calls with our worship professor from seminary but I didn’t really remember the moment in worship. There are some liturgical moments that stick with you. They etch into your being and reframe your hope. This wasn’t one of those but I liked it when I reread it enough to play with it again.

In the original post, I comment about how lovely it was to hear these words spoken by one of our youth. In these days of online worship, I’m not entirely sure that’s possible. I think it might be possible to record the audio and play it over the central set of candles that guide this weekly practice but that also sounds annoying. I wanted something simpler and something a little less somber. That doesn’t feel like the right tone for this Lent. We have had enough quiet introspection about our humanity and plenty of questions have arisen about our mortality so that it doesn’t seem like that should be the focus of this season.

This will not be super traditional and that’s OK. It’s OK to break the rules. It’s ok to play with tradition and sometimes that means that you turn tradition on its head as you try to find hope and make it real. So instead of a central set of candles that is the focus, this imaginative play invites each household to make their own worship centerpiece.

My inspiration comes from this gorgeous Advent wreath created be a member of my sweet Texas church pictured here.

This was an unprompted creation of Kimberlee Flores, but of course our focus is Lent so it’ll look a little bit different.

You might choose to send home these elements in bag of goodies your church offers for each season or you might include a simple supply list (perhaps even using the one below) and see what creativity comes with this invitation.

I’m suggesting some familiar symbols from the season including rocks and water. Rocks recall the temptation Jesus experiences in the wilderness. Sand is maybe a smaller version of that and something that can be dug out of the children’s sandbox easily. Water reminds us of the water that washes the feet of the disciples and the living water that the woman finds beside the well. Bulbs remind us of resurrection and the promise of new life. I really like the greenery in Advent and I am really uninterested in seeing anything barren on my table so bulbs feel right to me. I might just order some paper whites for myself. I received some as a gift years ago and they are a wonder to watch. They fit perfectly in a pie plate if you are not interested in ordering a kit.

If you do blessing bags as my sweet Texas church calls them, you might want to order paper white bulbs to send home to each household. Your local nursery should be able to provide them.

They require no soil to grow and they will bloom by Easter without the gross overwhelming smells of lilies.

They would be a lovely addition to a centerpiece and if you share in this little ritual below, you can compare blossoms over Zoom.

I like hearing diverse voices in worship and I know you, dear pastor, are tired of hearing the sound of your own voice so my hope is that it is easy enough to ask six different households to share in this simple ritual in the beginning of worship. It would be my choice to send this simple liturgy and collect videos from those households. Or if Zoom worship is your thing, I’d unmute that household for this moment but you know what’s right for you and your church, dear pastor.

It could take the place of the Call to Worship or could follow an invitation to contemplate God’s wonder and hope. (Yes, you will see such prayers here soon.) I would repeat these words each week. The things that surround it can change as hope is continually made new.

Invitation to Hope 
Inspired by Psalm 25:1-10

It is in this holy season that we are led into hope.
We have been waiting for hope to come for so long. 

We have put our trust in scientists and experts
and more often than not, 
we have not put our trust in God. 

We have felt unsteady as the sands 
have shifted again and again underfoot. 
We have been waiting for the waters 
to part so that we can find our way
into the hope we know will come.

We need to remember 
that hope is promised. 

Lighting the Way to Hope 
We light one candle today
to remember that hope is promised in 
rainbows and stone tablets. 
Hope is promised in the light 
that shines in you and me.

[Candle is lit.]

I would conclude this moment of worship with song. Maybe the song changes every week or maybe it’s the same refrain about hope that carries us into the promise of Easter. I’m undecided on what that song should be though I am strongly thinking about this hymn. Or really, let’s be honest, I can’t resist singing this song to myself in these strange pandemic days.

This is not covered by CCLI license. You knew that already but it’s a really great version.

That’s all I’ve got so far for Lent, dear pastors, but I’ve got more cooking up on the back burner. Until then, I’m praying for you.

Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany 5

The other night I read such encouraging words from the editors of the New York Times reminding us again that we shouldn’t get caught up in the ineffectiveness of the vaccine. It’s not even infections that scientists are worried about with such things, but their focus is on the tally of deaths and hospitalizations. Those are low — nearly nothing actually. This is good news.

They used that phrase. They reminded me to believe in good news. Granted, it’s not the good news that we preach exactly but it is the promise of life. Still, I’m weary.

I’m not sure if I trust this good news. I want to but I hear the nagging questions in Isaiah and I know that I’m not there yet. Maybe you are. I hope so. Still, these are prayers for the frustrated.

Prayer of Invocation 
Inspired by Isaiah 40:21-31

Come close, O God.
Come to lift up our eyes
so that we can see
the wonder of your creation
because clearly 
we haven't looked.

We haven't dared to look, O God, 
because we are so worried 
about the future. We are so tired 
of this present moment but 
it's impossible for us to believe 
that there will be anything else 
but this. We know. 

We know. 
O God, we know.

You ask us what we
have known and 
what we have seen.
You ask for our attention
and our willingness
to dream. O God, come
because it feels 
like a dream 
just to remember 
what you made.
We are too afraid
to really look.

Lift up our eyes
and call us by name
so that we can remember
what power feels like 
in our exhaustion. 
We are tired of waiting
but we need your understanding
so come. Come into our worship  
and renew our strength.
Come close, O God.

This second prayer was actually written for my little Texas church originally. They were — at that point and still are — doing the hard transition work of interim ministry between settled pastors. I offer it here without any adaptations because I just like it.

Prayer for those Weary in Transition 
 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.  

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

A Hopeful Lent

Where are you finding hope? What does hope look like for you right now?

In my own struggle with whether or not to get dressed in the morning, I know that I’m struggling to find hope. It feel like a nice idea or even like something that we once had. Maybe even something we will have again but that still feels like a long way off. Like so many, I am exhausted.

My children are little. They know about the yucky germs and know that we can’t go near people without our masks on. I keep more distance because my youngest isn’t old enough to wear a mask and we still live in Texas where there are people that think this is a hoax and refuse to wear their own masks. I worry about what I’m teaching them by telling them to keep such distance. I worry so much about my own sanity and theirs that I’m not sure that I have energy for anything dramatic this Lent, but I know I need something. I need something to reframe my frustration and sorrow.

In her new book, The Hopeful Family: Raising Resilient Children in Uncertain Times, Amelia Richardson Dress invites us to imagine that by doing simple things that hope could come live inside us. She begins by naming parenting with hope like this:

Hope has both an inward component and an outward one. Practices of resilience help us to find courage and trust. They comfort us in times of struggle. But they also inspire us to believe in the vision that Jesus gave us, that God’s reign will come here on earth.

Amelia Richardson Dress

It took my breath away. It is repeats again in other wonderful words throughout the book but I don’t want to quote so much that you feel like you’ve read the book. You should read the book especially if you find yourself struggling in this uncertain time. If you are not struggling, you are a superhero. I am not sure what hope looks like right now. That’s the honest truth and that’s why I need to enter into these simple practices of generosity, hospitality, forgiveness, blessing and storytelling. Yes, all of these are possible even for someone like me who takes quarantining to a whole new level.

With Amelia’s abundant blessing, I’ve adapted the practices she offers for the seven weeks of Lent. It’s seven because it includes Holy Week which means you get one more practice to share in with the wisdom offered in this wonderful book. I can’t take on that much more and I am willing to bet that’s true for the families in your church. It might even be true for you, dear pastor. You are doing so much raising your children and caring for the blessed souls in your congregation. Whether or not you feel on edge like I do, you really are a superhero. You are doing amazing things every damn day.

There is nothing strict about this approach to this pandemic season of Lent. There is a calendar but it’s really only because I don’t know what day it is and I need something to orient me on some kind of timeline. There aren’t practices for every day but something you are trying together as a family each week. As Amelia says again and again, try this. It’s an experiment in hope. Try it. See what it might show you about God.

It could even be fun. There are a few extra practices if you get bored or want to try something else.

Each week, there is a blessing written by Amelia, the practice that will frame your week, and some hints at beautiful books to read with your children in the Bible and from children’s literature. I also included some questions for grown-up conversation so that you can practice talking to grown-ups again about big ideas and stuff that matters.

I designed this for myself. It’s what I’ll be doing with my family. I’ll be dragging my husband into the conversations even though he doesn’t do God or church. I framed these questions in such a way that they are not too Jesus-y because I know that there are more families like mine, but I also wanted there to be something like this that would be easy for you, dear pastor, to send to the families in your church.

I know you’ve worked hard to create brilliant and wonderful things for families all year long and that some of you feel like you have no good ideas left. This is for you. You’ll find the link to A Hopeful Lent (for Congregational Use) here. By ordering this version, you have full ability to share it with your whole church for this season in whatever way makes the most sense to you.

I also created a version for families to use at home on their own. You’ll find a link to the A Hopeful Lent (for Family Use) here. When you purchase this version, you’re promising to be a nice person and tell your friends about this cool thing you found and directing them to the link rather than forwarding them the rad PDF you just got in your email.

I’m so thrilled with how it came together and I pray it will help families, like mine, find hope in this pandemic season of Lent. I’m so grateful that Amelia blessed this project. You should totally buy her book even if you don’t do this for Lent. It is, indeed, a gift for this uncertain time.

Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany 4

Healings just feel like a weird thing to explore right now.

Many of us are refreshing our browsers wondering when we can get in line to get the vaccine. Or we are eagerly seeking out that first dose for a loved one. We are not amazed, but we are asking each other, “What is this?” We just want to be clear on what this is. I don’t know that we can answer that — at least not yet. I’m not even sure I want to go there.

Epiphany is about the revelation. It’s about what you learn about God and so I wonder at this moment what we think we know about God. That’s what inspired these prayers.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 111

It begins here.
It begins with love. 

Love is in the beginning of 
all wisdom. It is the work of God's hands. 
It is what gathers us here
across wires and signals
to praise and give thanks.

It is love
that delights us
It is love
that changes us.
It is love 
that we practice
in our worship
today. 

It begins here
in the wisdom
we seek. 
Let us worship.

I really want an alleluia but I can’t find one on YouTube that actually leads me to worship. And yes, I have heard your laments about a song by that name that is not a hymn. The secular canon of hymns is small, friends, but we need music and it is why we offer these refrains to each other. They remind us of something. Art speaks when our words do not. So, here’s a song that might draw upon the blessing that we are not God but we need God’s goodness. That is the epiphany.

This song is covered by the CCLI license.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

O God, we have puffed ourselves up.
We confess that we have thought 
more than once that we had
all of the necessary knowledge,
but we are still learning the ways 
of your love, O God.

We see in the mirror dimly. 
We know only in part
what wonder your love 
can offer to this world
and to our lives. 

O God, forgive us
for believing in ourselves 
more than you. Amen. 

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany 3

I am really excited when poetry takes the national stage. I was surprised when it happened in the beginning of the pandemic. Major news outlets started sharing poems chosen by their editors to speak this moment. Poetry became popular while we have been home in our pajamas.

It happens every four years — or nearly so — that a poet is invited to speak this moment in United States history. We need such words to speak to the unknown. We need the wisdom of artists to sing their prophetic hope and so I am eagerly awaiting what will come when Amanda Gorman takes the stage tomorrow to share her poem The Hill We Climb. There are other things about tomorrow that are in my thoughts but I have channeled all of that restless energy into a deep dive into the gifts and talents of this poet laureate.

Watch this and you will fall in love with this talented woman that the same news outlets that celebrated the gifts of poetry in the pandemic now only speak to this woman’s youth. Let’s not do that, friends. Let’s remember that our faith is centered on the very idea that a little child shall lead us. Age does not dictate wisdom.

This might not be something you share in worship but I hope it’s something that emboldens you, dear pastor, to use your words boldly and prophetically. You might be especially wondering how to do that this week as we wait to see what will happen tomorrow and after the nightmares of last week. I’m not sure that the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary this week are much help though I found wisdom both in this and this to see the gospel truth in this moment as kairos time.

What I especially love about Matt Skinner’s wisdom in Dear Working Preacher is that it might not feel like time to stir the pot right now. My friend Stacey said something similar last week on Twitter. It does no good to condemn each other to the urgency that might be felt but we do have a responsibility to invite each other into what could be. The kingdom of God hasn’t been realized but it is still near.

I am going to borrow the brilliance of Amanda Gorman in her poem In this Place (An American Lyric) in the prayers I offer this week in the hope of uncertain hope of kairos time. This poem is not public domain and so it should not be used in the context of worship but it might be a link that is shared on social media or in the church newsletter to continue reflection on what could be.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Mark 1:14-20

Now. The time is now.
Now is the time 
for good news 
and to fulfill
the hopes and fears
of all the years. 

Now. It could be
time for us
to believe
that we are 
just beginning. 
We are just now
finding lyrics for 
our hope. Just now
we are finding words
to claim what it might 
mean for the 
realm of God 
to come near. 

It has all come to
this. It has come to this moment
when we gather for worship
to wonder again 
how we will 
fulfill this time. 
Let us worship
and wonder.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 and Mark 1:14-20

We will not pretend that our whole lives 
will change, O God. We would be lying. 

Things might look the same: same partner, 
same job, same lament, same hope.

But we pray today that something 
changes with us and through us
so that we are not so afraid 
of letting go of our pride,
our privilege, our assumptions 
about the past and the present 
and even the future. Forgive us, O God,
for our arrogance 
and allow us to find grace
in following 
your love. Amen. 

This final prayer was written for a curated collection of prayers for the Overland Park Christian Church and the First Christian Church in Smithville, Missouri. The wise pastors of these congregations have broken from the Revised Common Lectionary for Epiphany and are leading a preaching series through the prophetic works of exile challenging us to wonder what we can learn about who we might become after our own pandemic exile. I am so honored to write prayers for this inspiring series. Their focus text for this week is Ezekiel 37:1-14 so there will be illusions in this adapted prayer to that resurrection hope. If your congregation is interested in doing something similar and would like to work with me in creating liturgy, please contact me here.

Prayers of the People
Inspired by the poetry in Christian Scriptures and of Amanda Gorman

O Spirit, we have feared
tyrants. We have 
been astonished 
by what their words 
can incite. We have felt like
our words were not enough
so we haven’t spoken.
We have been silent
while history has its 
eyes on us. 

We have been
stuck in this feeling
that the world was passing away
and we did not know 
if we could do anything 
to change it or even
care that it was happening. 
Our apathy won.
We haven't said 
that out loud.
We haven't wanted 
it to be true
when our despair
was the only thing that
we could really pin down
in this appointed time. 

We haven't felt the 
urgency of this moment
even though it has now
become clear 
that something 
needs to change. 
We feel the tension 
more than the hope.
We feel the hate
more than the love.
We feel the long arc of the moral universe
more than the immediate justice. 

It has been 
hard enough to get
out of bed
and change 
out of our pajamas,
but we know that 
your hope 
only lives 
if it has flesh. 
It will only breathe
possibility into creation 
if that hope 
finds its rhythm
within our souls.

Give us, O Spirit,
the wisdom 
to see ourselves 
and all of creation
with the eyes
of artists and prophets,
dreamers and poets.
Let the old
dream dreams
and young see visions
for what could be.
Let your hope, O Spirit, 
be the muse that 
flows from within us
and give us courage to
climb over the hill
of our hopes and fears.
 
We might not get 
to the Promised Land. 
We might not get 
to see all that you 
hope for this 
world, O Spirit of God,
but that does not mean 
we give up the fight. 
Challenge us to soar 
to new heights
where there will be
new dreams and visions 
for your people.

O Spirit, breathe
hope into our lives
and into all of creation.
Dare us to dream  
of what could be
on the other side
of our despair.
We pray in 
your grace. Amen.

You might not have had the leisure of wandering through the exquisite words of this poet laureate like I have but I don’t want you to miss hearing her read one of her poems. Thus far, this is my favorite.

Though her books haven’t released yet, she has two children’s books that will release soon. You might want to read this bedtime story to your children as much as I do. Or you might want to share in the energy of the inauguration in this forthcoming picture book within your ministry to children.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Ash Wednesday in Coronatide

Lent is a mere six week away. Do you remember Lent last year? Do you remember that awkward feeling of sitting in church that first Sunday when we were told not to touch our faces? I remember laughing about it with the person next to me in the pew as someone then touched the face of my nursing baby. (Do not touch babies even when it is not a pandemic.) Do you remember feeling like we would only have to worship remotely until Easter? Or maybe Pentecost?

Here we are nearly one year later preparing to honor that same holy season when the pandemic began.

Tradition holds that Lent is a time to contemplate our humanity. It has been a season to wonder about our limitations and our possibilities beginning with the dust that graces our foreheads on Ash Wednesday soon followed by temptations of all shapes and kinds on the first Sunday of Lent. We give up those things that muddle of our connection to God and take on things bring God closer. You know all of these things already, dear pastor. You would probably have better wording for the theological implications of this season and probably have a few things to say about what it means to be a human right now.

One of my dearest friends claims that she now believes in the depravity of humanity though she never did before this long season of coronatide. I don’t think she’s wrong but I’ve also been thinking about those palm branches. It is a strange twist where the joy and hope of last year is charred and burned. Ashes are what is left after the fire. Nothing will become of them. They are swept up and disposed. There is no other use for them but Lent is always an awakening. It always leans into the hope of renewal where what has been reduced to ashes will find new life. I can think of no better way talk about this moment in 2021 as we anticipate a world transformed by disease and destruction. It is that that we are preparing for this Lent. We are preparing for what will come.

It doesn’t need to be palm branches though. There is no rule about this as my colleague Leah Robberts-Mosser recommended we “go to our local tobacco store or head shop. Buy dime bags. Put a teaspoon or less of ash in each. Make kits with whatever folks need for your Lenten worship series to distribute. Given how long it will take for vaccinations, it’s safe to assume we won’t be gathering in person until mid summer at the earliest. Plan for a remote Lent.”

This year will be different. We’ve said this so many times but why not live into the wonder of this possibility. One of my all-time favorite post How to Make Ashes reveals my bias that this bonfire is something to be shared.

It’s something we can encourage in the priesthood of all believers. We can invite this spark to ignite what we hope this year will be. When so many of us are looking for something to do, especially in the midst of so much brokenness, we can dare to believe that lighting a fire might prepare us for the work ahead.

Such preparation requires ritual and prayer. You’ll find both in this simple free downloadable bulletin to share with your church community. Download Fire and Ashes: A Ritual to Begin the Season of Lent here. It requires your supplies but hopefully these are things that already exist at home and do not require an additional trip for curbside pick-up.

It was my first instinct to let this service be shared at home without any gathering online.

I thought, instead, it might be more more fun as we approach Lent again to follow another suggestion I saw from a talented and wise minister. She plans to celebrate Shrove Tuesday by hosting a Zoom cooking lesson for kids to test various pancake recipes. This sounds fun but let’s include adults. We need fun too. I don’t know how in the world you do pancake races online but they are my favorite part of Shrove Tuesday and silliness might be just want we need this Lent. Plus, who doesn’t love playing with your food?

That was my first instinct. It was not my last because there are many living alone. There are many, like me, who have not formed a pod. There is so much loneliness even for those surrounded by children and relatives that they can now never escape.

There has to be something for those blessed souls to begin this holy season. I might suggest using the same liturgy because it’s less work for you, dear pastor. Lead it from your backyard and stream it as you usually do. Or gather everyone on Zoom and share in this ritual together which will be lovely except for the fact that unless you sent ashes home, these good people will have nothing to impose. No problem. They’ve got oil in their kitchen for something: olive oil, vegetable oil, canola oil all works. If they really want to have ashes, tell them to burn a piece of toast and scrape off the charred bits with a butter knife into a tiny bit of oil. This might be what they are doing while you are building the fire in your backyard. Or you might ask them to write down all of their sorrows on paper they then tear to tiny shreds. This will make more sense, of course, after you have downloaded Fire and Ashes and decided if it is the right thing for your congregation right now. You know your people, dear pastor. You know what is needed in this holy season.

I know, too, that there are pastors considering skipping Lent this year. It is too much. I wrote Fire and Ashes with this in mind. It’s traditional but not. It has some of the familiar elements but after all that has happened this week in Washington DC, I want to talk more about possibility than mortality. I want us to believe that we don’t have to burn it all down or even that this life is just a dumpster fire of destruction and loss, but that there is something else. We can emerge from the ashes. We can imagine new life together. We can still be Easter people in a Good Friday world.