Pandemic Prayers for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

This lovely meditation on the Magnificat was in my email from The Work of the People a few days ago. I love the slightest twist on the more familiar words from those verses in Luke’s first chapter. If you’re looking for another paraphrase to bring these words to life, there is this adaptation by Jim Taylor. (Scroll down to Psalm Paraphrases.) There’s also this one by Katy Stenta that is just fabulous.

I find it really weird that there aren’t more actual singable congregational songs about this beloved text but maybe this one will work as you share the good news that is about to break forth.

Please be sure to research permissions based on your congregation’s licenses.

Lots of you are probably doing a pageant where the good news is told through actors, movement and song. If there aren’t enough young people in your congregation, this might be an option for you. Oh, I kinda want to write that service now. Maybe I can find time to do that!

My favorite song for this text is this one from Taize and I wonder about weaving it through worship as part of the Call to Worship as the prayer below might lead. It could appear again in the silence that follows the Prayer of Confession before the Words of Assurance as the congregation tries to claim that forgiveness for themselves. It could even be part of the Prayers of the People as the congregation continues to sing this hope.

Please be sure to research permissions based on your congregation’s licenses.
Call to Worship
Inspired by Luke 1:46b-55

All generations
gather here to find
blessing and hope.

We come to join 
our voices and sing
for what could be
and what we pray
will be soon.

Mary taught us
to sing big words
of hope and wonder
so that in our signing
this dream deepens and
intensifies. Increase
our hope as we sing
together in every
generation. 

There is so much goodness out there that it is really tough to choose the right words that give the power that Mary’s words need for our time — like these terrific suggestions from Barn Geese Worship. A Eucharistic Prayer grounded in the Magnificat?! Yes please! Also check out the prayer for December 19. It’s another goodie.

As you look beyond Advent, you might be looking for new poems to tell the story on Christmas Eve or during Christmastide. I’ve started to update this list for this year but still have a few more to add — I think. I also have a complete Lessons and Carols Service in Coronatide from last year that you might opt to use if you are looking for something a little different than the usual Christmas Eve celebration. I also think it’s a great way to celebrate that first Sunday after Christmas which comes really soon after Christmas Eve this year. Or you might opt for this fireside experience designed for Zoom. You get to stay in your pajamas, dear pastor, and you deserve it.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for the Third Sunday of Advent

A few years ago, I heard Gaudete by Brad Reynolds in worship and I loved it so much that I have no idea what happened through the rest of the service. I was lost in wonder of these joy-filled words. I am not sure I am one of those people that does joy well.

I am keenly aware of that when this Sunday pops up — or it’s friend over there in Lent. I’m not sure I am ready for it. I’m not sure what to do with it because it feels like it has be bigger than I am able to claim when it really does feel like the world is ending. I’m just never sure how to enter into it fully while still in this sense of expectation. I love how this poem welcomes me into a joy that feels possible even when every passage this week seems to insist on that joy. I don’t like the bossiness of this week’s epistle. I really don’t. I prefer the playfulness of Gaudete that can be hard to find in sacred text.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Philippians 4:4-7 

It doesn't feel right 
to sing when there is
so much that is wrong.
Judgments, condemnations,
variants and fears
make us quiet. 

We don't make
a sound when terrors
and worries overwhelm.

We forget to look 
for joy -- and there is 
always joy just as this
world is always moving closer
and closer to your hope. 

Forgive us
for not rejoicing 
in the tiny wonders. 

Forgive us
for not singing
into our fears.

Forgive us
for ignoring
how close you 
are, now and always.

Silent contemplation follows.
 

There’s another version of this song that mixes this song with Joy to the World. It’s a lot peppier and maybe that’s the vibe you’re going for but I rather like this one as an Affirmation of Grace. I’m pretty sure the You is supposed to be God so maybe you’d rather use it in the Prayers of the People but I think it could work both ways. That said, I have no idea about permissions with your congregation’s licenses and you would, of course, need to make sure that it’s possible to use this song. I want to offer an alternative but I can’t find one I’m really excited about so please share in the comments your ideas.

Please be sure to research permissions based on your congregation’s licenses.

Last year, I wrote these prayers for this third Sunday of Advent. The confession might not work but the Call to Worship inspired by What Child is This? might work for your worship planning if the above suggestions don’t work for you.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for the Second Sunday of Advent

Last week, I shared my own candle lighting liturgy for Advent but then Maren Tirabassi posted this beautifully simply liturgy inspired by Howard Thurman and I love it. If you haven’t chosen something because you’re exhausted and it’s Thanksgiving and all of the other things that are taking up your time, go and find this wonder.

I was also delighted to find these offertory prayers by Joanna Harader in my email a few days ago. These are just delightful and a blessing to hand off to any nervous layleaders that aren’t quite sure how to find words of their own. (This is a compliment to you, dear pastor. You do such an amazing job crafting worship that these dear souls only want to addd to your hard work. They might not have the words for it so I’m here to remind you.)

This is that Sunday where John steps into the murky river waters and starts pointing fingers. It’ll happen again in the early weeks of January and I like that full story told then. Here, I want hints of what it means to welcome such change.

I found myself singing this after reading the lections for this week. This is a quiet, meditative version that could work for the beginning of worship if your licenses allow use of it. It might lead into the following call to worship.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Baruch 5:1-9

It is morning and 
sleep still clings to our eyes.

It is morning and 
there are new wonders
awaiting our tired eyes.

It is morning and 
we have shuffled into 
the living room to find
community and praise 
before we've really prepared
for the day. We cling to
our mugs and sip on hope
because sorrow and affliction
clung to us all night. It has wrapped
us up and held tight for too long.
We are ready for something else.

It is morning and 
we are ready to put on Jesus.
Let us put on our robes of splendor
and may God show us glory in
every thing under heaven.

It is morning and
we are ready for glory.

Could there be a wee hint of those angels singing from Angels We Have Heard on High here? Why not? Really, bring on the glory. We all need it. Or at least I need it. I also really like Jesus, O What a Wonderful Child but I can’t find a version that I like.

As I wonder about singing in these Advent days, I wondered about what would lead to singing a Nunc Dimittis. It’s so often used as a blessing or even a funerary song as this collection of variations from Natalie Sims reveals. I wanted it to be something else for those other moments of worship when we are not sure how to praise but we want to find God’s peace. I wrote this thinking that it might lead toward singing one of these songs. Or maybe just listening to a soloist sing as it is in these pandemic days.

Sometimes Prayer for Peace
Inspired by Luke 1:68-79

Sometimes it is hard 
to remember all that is promised
and imagined to be with
God's glory. Sometimes
we forget or we are 
just too tired from another 
restless, sleepless night
so full of worry for the world.

Sometimes we are not
sure what blessing 
looks like or feels like.
We get stuck on what it was 
back then so that it feels
impossible to find now.

Sometimes it doesn't feel
like anything will ever change.

That is when it is too hard
and we need a tender hand 
to hold. We need to know 
that we are not alone in 
these shadows and frustrations.
We need to remember
that God is with us
just as God has always
been with us leading 
us to the peace 
we need most.

Sometimes this 
is what peace feels
like. Sometimes it 
is just like this.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for the First Sunday of Advent

It was just yesterday that I was in a Zoom meeting daydreaming about what Advent might look like in 2022 with my collaborators at Seasons of the Spirit FUSION. It was such a fun conversation with so many ideas on how we might claim ritual and community in whatever stage of the pandemic we might be then.

Pandemic Lighting of the Advent Wreath

I’ve already been daydreaming about this year. Hopefully, you’ve already found the Pandemic Lighting of the Advent Wreath I wrote for multiple voices and storytelling within your church community. It will 110% work on Zoom but it will take some extra planning. That might not be what you need to hear, dear pastor. You might be looking for something simple and easy to cut and paste.

I wrote the following prayers for that reason and though they’re intended to pair with the wreath lighting I wrote last month, you could opt for this beautiful Advent Wreath liturgy infused with poetry by my friend Martha Spong. It’s written for the Narrative Lectionary but I still think that it works for the mood of this year. Another Narrative Lectionary version written by another friend is this God-With-Us Advent Candle Lighting but if you’re not interested in reworking anything then there is this one from NEXT Church.

I find myself wanting there to be singing perhaps because I still haven’t felt that wonder of singing together in worship. It’s an active part of my pandemic grief and I long for a song to sing that will make sense for the living of these days when I’m exhausted by the waiting and wondering what Christmas will look like this year when it seems that lockdown is just around the corner here in Germany. I find myself — again — leaning into our most ancient hymns for lyrics to stir my heart.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 25:1-10 and Luke 21:25-36

Come, lift your hope 
to listen for the singing
echoing from the hills.

Come, lift your wonder
to hear the gentle humming 
of neighbors and friends
needing a song to sing.

There are angels
announcing good news
here and there and everywhere. 

Come, come and join 
the song. God leads you in truth. 
God sings to you with wonder.
Come, lift your voice and sing. 

Advent is one of those seasons where we want to sing the familiar hymns that we have sung for so long. Full disclosure: they are some of my favorites. There are even some who think that this is a time to sing carols. Tsk tsk. I don’t even know if I am kidding about that anymore. Is that a hardline to hold? I remain uncertain especially in this second year of the pandemic but this particular invitation to worship makes me wonder about this hymn that isn’t commonly heard in Advent.

There’s a version of this that has been made popular by John Bell but I rather like this recording and confess I have no idea what the permissions might be for this talented choir. According to Hymnary, it appears in quite a few hymnals so that might help you out. I love chants like this one as they can be learned and repeated throughout the worship service.

As you look beyond Advent, you might be looking for new poems to tell the story on Christmas Eve or during Christmastide. It’s a list I update every year — but I haven’t done so yet. Last year, I also shared this Lessons and Carols Service in Coronatide and this year I created this Pandemic Fireside Prayers for Christmas to use in on that Sunday immediately following Christmas Eve.

There are other wonders in my kitchen for Advent and Christmas and if you sign up for my email list, you’ll be the first to know about this new release I’ve linked to way too many times. I’m putting final touches on it now so get excited!

I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Lighting of the Advent Wreath

There are some readings that can be handed out to the families of your church without explanation. They know to read the script and light the candles. This is not that.

This Advent is not that. We have learned to do worship differently in the past two years. Our traditions have shifted and we have made room for new possibilities. It will soon be cold and some congregations will return to online platforms for their worship because it’s not possible to safely gather in their sanctuaries at this point in the pandemic. The risk is still there. It is still too great or it may be the designated worship space is being completely remodeled as it is at Old First United Church of Christ in Philadelphia, PA and there is no alternative space that would quite work.

Old First was the inspiration for digging up this liturgy from too many years ago when I first imagined how we might share simple stories about our faith. It has back in those days when we were all excited about testimony. Or at least we were in the United Church of Christ and I spent a whole lot of time trying to imagine how our traditional New England worship would allow for more truth telling. (They were so patient with me and I’m still proud of the risks we took together. I’m so grateful for the ways that they taught me to do church.) The liturgy that follows is adapted from one I wrote way back then but it needed to be spruced up a bit for the wonderful people of Old First who will be using this liturgy with their pandemic pods.

Their brilliant pastor and the elders formed groups to meet on Zoom early in the pandemic. It’s a urban congregation where people knew names and faces and a smattering of tiny details about each person but these groups have introduced a new level of intimacy and connection. They’ve stuck together through all of this and it’s changed their community in the best way possible. Old First won’t have traditional families lead these candle lightings, but these new pandemic families who will share some part of their story and connection as they light the Advent candles.

These scripts do not require a ton of extra explanation for the church people that have done Advent a few times, but they are not the kind of thing that can be read without advance preparation. And so, I offer the following instructions to share with your good people.

  • Please read the whole liturgical moment for your designated Sunday and then decide how the reading might be shared, if it is desired to use more than one voice.
  • Read slowly and with intention. Allow us to feel the expectation and wonder in each word.
  • Pray together with those that you will share this candle lighting about what the vision will be that you’ll share. It does not need to be a long explanation. It may only be two or three sentences to explain something you experienced together. Try to make it personal to your shared experience.
  • You may choose to script the vision you’ll share or invite someone within your group to speak that truth in their own words at the designated moment. Try to make it brief but powerful. Tell the truth with great love.

Surely, you will add to this list as certainly as you will make a series of technical choices that make sense for your community in sharing in this moment of worship. Hopefully, this gets you excited to do this thing that you’ve done so well throughout this pandemic. Dear pastor, you are a true wonder. Thank you for all you do in the world. I am blessed by it and so it is with gratitude I offer this liturgy for lighting the candles of the Advent Wreath.

First Sunday of Advent

Our expectation begins now.
It starts here after so much 
has happened but we still 
expect more.

We begin our journey, like Joseph and Mary,  
in darkness. We cannot see the way ahead.
We cannot know what hope will come but
we trust God to journey with us,
beckoning along with the prophets,

"The days are surely coming, 
says the LORD, when I will fulfill 
the promise I made to 
the house of Israel 
and the house of Judah.
It is coming." This is our hope 
today as we light the 
first candle of Advent.  

[First Candle is lit.]
		
We light this candle 
to remember what was promised
and every dream we dared to dream
about what could be. We light this
candle full of hope because 
we know the days are surely 
coming as we have seen signs 
of God's hope in…  

(name a vision of hope 
you’ve recently seen 
in your daily life, 
in your relationships,
or in the news).

With this hope, we know
that the days are surely coming
and so we pray together:

O God, who gave us the Light, 
thank you for giving us hope 
in the form of a child at Bethlehem.  
As we prepare to celebrate 
the birth of this holy child, 
may we see signs of your hope 
in the darkness of despair. Amen.

Second Sunday of Advent

When so much feels uneven
and unsteady, we push 
into the wild possibility 
that change will come. 
We imagine the peace 
how the world might 
shift in the hope 
John the Baptizer 
dares us to dream,

"Every valley shall be filled, 
and every mountain 
and hill shall be made low, 
and the crooked shall be made straight, 
and the rough ways made smooth; 
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
It is in this wild possibility that we light
the second candle of Advent.  

[Second Candle is lit.]

We light this candle 
in search of your peace.  
We look forward to the days 
when all the rough places are smooth, 
but for now we seek your comfort…  

(name a time when
you have recently 
been found comfort 
in words, in a kindness, 
or even in an idea).

With this possibility, we believe
our rough places will be made smooth
and so we pray together:

Prince of Peace, you came to us 
in the innocence of an infant.  
Comfort us when the world feels too rough.  
Give us the courage to find friends 
in unlikely places as we work together 
toward your peace.  Amen.

Third Sunday of Advent

We come find warmth 
together in the light
of God’s love. We have
often felt so misunderstood 
and even unloved, but today
we marvel in the love that
begins in God. We celebrate
the love we have known
in the words of the Apostle Paul,    

"And the peace of God, 
which surpasses all understanding, 
will guard your hearts 
and your minds in Christ Jesus."
It is in this peace that 
our guarded hearts break 
open to welcome the light
of this third candle of Advent.

[Third Candle is lit.]

We light this candle 
to celebrate your love 
that unites all people.  
In the warmth of 
this shimmering hope, 
we dream of that all people 
might experience this kind of love 
that surpasses all understanding. 

(Share a brief story about 
how you’ve experienced love together. 
Begin this story 
with the words, “I dream…”)

With this love made real,
we find new understanding 
of what love could change
and so we pray together:

Loving God, pour into our hearts 
this day the light of your love, 
warming us to one another, 
enlightening our understanding of others,
 and revealing the love that 
guards our hearts and minds. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

We might not feel quite ready, 
still we praise God. There is
joy in the inexplicable and
the extraordinary. We celebrate wonder
of what could be just as
Mary sang,

"My soul magnifies the Lord, 
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
for he has looked with favor 
on the lowliness of his servant. 
Surely, from now on 
all generations will call me blessed.”
It is with this joy that 
our souls unite to magnify 
the good news so full of blessing
in the lighting of this 
fourth candle of Advent.

[Fourth Candle is lit.]

We light this candle 
to celebrate our joy for the world. 
Like Mary, we might hesitate
and be cautious with our praise
but when we remember how
what God has done, we 
can only sing with joy.

(Share a brief story about 
you’ve been surprised by joy.. 
Begin this story with 
the words, “I remember…”)

With this deep joy,
our hearts join together
in prayer to God:

Eternal God, who magnifies 
each of our souls, 
surprise us this joy 
in these last few days 
before Christmas. Warm our hearts 
to feel the joy of your presence 
in our lives and in your world. Amen.

Christmas Eve

In the silence of this night, 
we celebrate the tiny hope 
of birth in Jesus, our Christ. 
As we wonder what this 
birth means to us, we recall 
all that we have found
on the way to Bethlehem. 

We remember every bit of
hope, peace, love and joy 
we have shared in sacred story.  
These lights shine bright
as the work of Christmas begins.

(Reader pauses as each candle is lit in order.) 

The light of hope ... (Candle is lit.)
The light of peace ... (Candle is lit.)
The light of love ... (Candle is lit.)
The light of joy… (Candle is lit.)

Now, as the shepherds worship 
and the cattle low, we sing 
with the angels that 
God has come into the world. 
We join in that song, singing,

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, 
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
It is in this glory and awe 
that we light the candle of our Savior.

(Christ candle is lit.)

We light the Christ candle 
to celebrate our Savior. 
We join the chorus of angels 
with our glad tidings and great joy.
God has been made real 
again. God has come close. 
We add our praise, 
remembering...

(name a time, at Christmas 
or some other time, 
when you’ve been 
able to see God
in another person.)

As God becomes known
again in human flesh
and ordinary wonder,
we join our hearts
to pray together:

Holy God, we rejoice in your presence! 
The birth of this baby at Bethlehem 
gives us wonder and delight. 
The birth of your holy child 
is your answer to our unrest, 
our confusion and our sorrow. 
Tonight we live in Hope, 
we pray for Peace, 
we share your Love, 
as we are filled with your Joy. 
Thank you for sending 
your Child to be our Immanuel. Amen.

If you are having trouble copying and pasting, you can download a PDF version of this liturgy by following the link below.

As you encourage your good people to find their words, there might be interest in these special workshop opportunities offered by Maren Tirabassi following the release of her book of poems last year entitled Christmas Eve at the Epsom Circle McDonald’s. (I have a copy. It’s really, really good.) This year, Maren is offering two workshops Zoom for the price of 10 books. Find out more here.

There is one more candle lighting buried in the archives of this blog. You can find it here. You might also be interested in this Pandemic Liturgy for Advent from last year. If you’re looking for more ideas for Advent, you can find some liturgies and group studies in my kitchen. I have a few more things cooked up for you as the season draws near including the my very occasional potluck newsletter that is just about ready to land in your mailbox. You can sign up here.

I am praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. I’m praying for you so much as this season of wonder and light comes again.

An Advent Invocation

Remember when I said I wasn’t going to offer weekly prayers?

That is still my intention but it seems that I cannot write Christmas Eve without first wandering into the lamentation and hope of Advent. I have been working on a service for the Longest Night and Christmas Eve but couldn’t quite get into the movement of these liturgies until I first wrote this prayer. It came after listening to this song a few zillion times.

There is another version of the song here though I rather like the visuals in the one above. This shouldn’t be surprising if you’ve seen the liturgy I wrote for this season.

Prayer of Invocation

Sometimes, O God,
it feels impossible.
It all feels so impossible.
For here we are again
watching and waiting
for something 
to change 
so that your hope 
for this world 
might come alive
but now
now
now
O God
the earth is charred
and burnt.
There is weeping 
and wailing
for all 
that has 
been lost.
We are not certain
that change will come
even as we pray 
for the heavens to be torn open.
O God, come and teach us to sing again
for we need a new song. We are ready for a new song.
Come, O God. 

This prayer has sat in the working document for these other liturgies and I decided it might be worth sharing. I hope it is a gift to your planning.

You have already been busy planning for weeks, dear pastors. I know. You’ve wondered how you could possibly share the good news of Christ’s birth this year. I promise it will be perfect. All that you have planned will be all that it needs to be. Your love for these people and your hope for our world will shine through every stress. Remember that Saint Francis encouraged the faithful to preach the good news by walking and use words only when necessary. You are doing this, dear pastor. Every day, you are doing just this.

Pandemic Prayers for Advent and Christmas

Though I am not posting weekly prayers during these four weeks, I do not want to leave you orphaned. I also do not think that I am Jesus. For some reason, that Gospel Lesson is working on me so there it is. If you are looking for prayers for this season, I am here for you. That’s what I meant.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a Pandemic Liturgy for Advent. It is a complete liturgy centered around a series of worship videos with some things left open for you to customize to your context.

If you are looking for more prayers, be sure to check out RevGalBlogPals Worship Words updated each and every week. I will look forward to sharing in that collaboration and you can look for my words on Advent 4 but I really love this collection of voices. Use these gifts. I also commend to you the work of LiturgyLink which includes some of my older prayers. There’s a search bar on the left to find the particular Sunday you need. You might also check the archive of News from My Kitchen to find a few other wonders I found. (Click on the previous link and then click on the red View Letter Archive.)

I can’t resist not sharing SALT Project’s Advent Candle Lighting Litanies. I just think that everything they do is gorgeous and I’m so excited my little Texas church sent me a blessing box with some of their materials for Advent. I know there are other great candle lighting liturgies out there and I’ll attempt to link to them on Instagram. You can find me @pandemic.prayers.

Oh, but I also want to share one more from the amazing Theresa Cho who shared this At-Home Advent Ritual Set last week. It’s just stunning. Download it even if it’s just for you.

You might also wander over to YouTube which I never thought I’d spend so much time on before the pandemic where I am always adding songs to my playlists for Advent Music and Christmas Music.

I created a few resources for this season that are unique including Keeping Watch Under Pandemic Skies. It is an outdoor meditation that wanders through Advent into Epiphany. You probably want to opt for the shorter path if you’re just finding it now but it includes an outdoor Christmas Eve service so you could check that off your list.

I also created a group discussion guide based on the devotional that I had written years ago to explore the grief that is so palpable in the third wave of this %$#!@ pandemic. And just so you don’t have to go searching for it, you can find all the info for Twinkly Lights in Blue Pandemic Days by following that link.

If you are planning ahead to Blue Christmas or Longest Night, I have something in the works for you. If you cannot wait, this Pandemic Liturgy for All Saints Day could be adapted. Unless you already used it in November and then you’ll have to wait for what is yet to come or find one of the other gifts that other talented souls are offering in yet another pandemic holy season. Remember how we thought it would just be Easter? That was funny.

If you are planning even further ahead, you might want to use Lessons and Carols for Coronatide for Christmas Eve. I really recommend it for the First Sunday of Christmas — not only because I’m working on something else for Christmas Eve but also because it gives you a break from preaching and extends the joy of this season. We need some joy. We need lots of joy. Also, you have the option of the outdoor Christmas Eve service from Keeping Watch Under Pandemic Skies unless you are in a northern climate where there is already three feet of snow, then that’s the worst idea ever. If you are not in that category and want just the Christmas Eve service and not the whole bundle, shoot me a note.

In these four weeks, I’m going to write two more liturgies for the Advent and Christmas season. I might even write one for Epiphany. I have a rough idea on that one where the others are already drafted. I’ll be sending out the next edition of News from My Kitchen including some ingredients for your worship in the season of Epiphany and Lent. I plan to return to weekly prayers after Christmas.

This is a busy season when it is not a pandemic. This is a time of year full of sweet memories and time honored traditions and all of those things will look and feel different this year. I know you will hear this from members of our community. They will lament, but I’m going to hold the space for you, dear pastors, because I know that you are carrying some sadness about this season too. Laura Stephens-Reed named this well way back in September. You are doing an amazing thing right now, dear pastors. You are offering wonder, light and hope even if you do not feel those things yourself.

You are light. I promise you that.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 29, Thanksgiving and Keeping Watch Under Pandemic Skies Release

I have already moved into Advent. I made the leap. The Christmas carols have been turned on though I’m refusing to put the tree until after Thanksgiving. It feels like it has been Advent for months already though, doesn’t it? Still, the huge uptick in COVID-19 cases across this nation mean that any worship plans to be together have most likely changed…. again.

My dear friend and pastor at my sweet Texas church wanted to provide something different. Something that allowed the community to experience this season in a new way while still being connected to the physical space of the church, even if that physical space was outside in the garden, outdoor chapel and labyrinth instead of inside the sanctuary. She asked me to help and so I’m thrilled to finally release Keeping Watch Under Pandemic Skies for all of the changed plans of 2020.

I’m really excited about how this turned out and hope that it might be a blessing to all of your changed plans. It’s meant to be simple though there is a bit of legwork in getting yard signs set up along the two different paths you create on your church property. The meditations unfold over Wednesdays and Sundays throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons with music, reflections, prayers and actions to take. I’ve included sample yard signs in the bundle and even an outdoor Christmas Eve service. Order your bundle here.

I will be taking a break from writing weekly prayers in Advent so you won’t see new prayers for weekly worship here next week, but I do have a few other things up my sleeve so be sure to sign up for my News from My Kitchen so you don’t miss out. That said, I have a prayer for this week. It’s not my favorite but it’s something for the weird cacophony of this Sunday. It feels like too much to me every year. Too many things at once as we try to honor the Reign of Christ, Reformation Sunday and the end of the church calendar. It’s too much especially when I just want to bellow into the unknown future.

I want to know what will be. I’m hoping that the hatred and contempt so embedded in our national life right now will change. I’m longing for hearts to change and hoping that God will be known in new and wonderful ways. I’m hoping for a vaccine but hesitant to name that prayer too loudly.

Prayer for the Wondering
Inspired by Matthew 25:31-46

O God, tell us what can be
where we divided 
and separated 
like sheep from the goats.

On the right 
and on the left,
we need blessing
and grace.

Our foundations 
have been shaken. 
We never imagined
that this would be
our reality. Here we are, 
O God, wondering what 
could be. Speak to us
in sacred story
and modern parable
so that we can see
your place in every thing.  
We need to 
know that you
are in every thing, 
O God. Fill our jagged
edges and open questions 
with your presence
so that we can 
wonder what will 
be with you. Amen.

At the same time, I’m thinking about gratitude because that’s supposed to be something we are feeling this month. Maybe that’s for only when we are not in the third wave of a global pandemic. My first call was in Maine that marked that occasion with joy of pilgrims. We know better now, I hope. We are working harder than ever at learning from our mistakes and our implicit bias. I think that requires a new language of gratitude that is not tied to that childhood tale of strangers becoming friends around a table of abundance. We will be isolating this year. We won’t be with our families. Gratitude can’t be found in the familiar. At least for me, it’s a little bit sassier.

Prayer for Pandemic Gratitude
Inspired by Deuteronomy 8:7-18 and  2 Corinthians 9:6-15

O God, bring us 
to that good land 
full of your living water
and the abundance of 
good things. Bring us 
to that place where
we might be full 
and satisfied
because 
this nagging feeling 
is exhausting. 

This constant
agonizing feeling
that nothing will 
get better and 
nobody cares 
because we can't 
agree on what love
looks like now
just needs to stop.

We are not cheerful.
Don't ask that
of us, O God,
because we don't
have that in us. 
Sorry. It's true.
Skip ahead 
to the part 
where we 
give to the poor
and multiply the seeds
for the farmers 
and bread bakers
except that we've confused
what we can do in this 
great and terrible 
pandemic wilderness 
with what you can do. 

Remind us 
that gratitude
doesn't have to
turn over every table
but only had to turn 
our hearts 
to notice the indescribable
wonder of living in your love.
O God, with every
breath in our bodies,
help us to live 
in our love
enough to praise
you with thanksgiving.
Amen.

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

Pandemic Liturgy for Advent

If you read my newsletter, you may have already clicked over to these painting advent videos and wondered what might be done with them. I started thinking about them again last week as I drove over the mountains here in West Texas listening to someone at the local university imagine how art might be shared during homecoming. She made the statement that artists were still sculpting, painting, composing and scripting while in isolation. Somehow that struck me.

It made me wonder about all of the angst that I felt reading about THE GREAT THINGS that people were going to do in lockdown when I was just trying not to go insane raising two toddlers. It also made me wonder about what creative edges are missing for us in this season apart, especially as we dare to imagine the creative forces that come together with such force in the Prologue of John. I wanted to create a simple liturgy that would lead through these four Sundays where preaching would be completely optional. Inspired by these evolving paintings, I wanted to make a space for our creative hope.

The first video is the only one that is uploaded to YouTube and so it is embedded below. The following videos appear as links. All four videos can be downloaded for free here. A donation to Level Ground Mennonite Church is strongly encouraged for this gift.

First Sunday of Advent

Opening Prayer
Inspired by Mark 13:24-37

Come, O God,
into the deep hues
of wonder. Brush
beside us with brilliant
yellow because in
these days it only feels dark
With impossibility.
So dark that the moon
does not glow and
we do not know
what will happen.
We wait.
We wonder
and we wait.

Waiting Song

Lighting the Advent Candles

Reading from Scripture Isaiah 64:1-9
Prayer for the Waiting

O God, we are waiting
for your creative spark
to ignite us
and transform us.

We are waiting for
your healing and comfort
for lives taken by the coronavirus
for the damage done
to our earth
and the violence
has ripped through
too many communities.
O God, we wait in hope.

We are waiting for
your justice
to sway the rich and powerful
to care for the poor,
the lonely, the orphaned
and the immigrant
but also know
that our hearts and hands
must act for change.
O God, we wait in peace.

We are waiting for
the whole world
to tilt away from
death and destruction
toward play
and imagination.
O God, we wait in joy.

We are waiting for
love to come
remind us
again that it does not
require any talent to
do you work.
O God, we wait with love.

Help us, O God,
to paint and dance
to sing and scribble
to use our hands
to create your realm
even as we wait.
Amen.

Waiting Song

Closing Prayer
Inspired by 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Do not quench
our spirits, O God.
Do not limit
our creativity
but dare us
to rejoice always.
Call us to prayer
again and again
as we try to hold
onto what is good
and filled with wonder.
May we be surprised
our hands can do
as we watch and wait.
Amen.

Second Sunday of Advent

Opening Prayer

Come, O God,
and look at the mess
we have made.
Look at the trash
full of crumpled paper
and frustrated scribbles.
We wait, O God,
to summon the courage
to find beauty
in what feels so broken.
We wait, O God. We wait.

Waiting Song

Lighting the Advent Candles

Reading from Scripture Isaiah 40:1-11

Peace Video Download

Prayer for the Waiting

O God, we are waiting
for your creative spark
to ignite us
and transform us.

We are waiting for
your healing and comfort
for lives taken by the coronavirus
for the damage done
to our earth
and the violence
has ripped through
too many communities.
O God, we wait in hope.

We are waiting for
your justice
to sway the rich and powerful
to care for the poor,
the lonely, the orphaned
and the immigrant
but also know
that our hearts and hands
must act for change.
O God, we wait in peace.

We are waiting for
the whole world
to tilt away from
death and destruction
toward play
and imagination.
O God, we wait in joy.

We are waiting for
love to come again
and remind us
again that it does not
require any talent to
do you work.
O God, we wait with love.

Help us, O God,
to paint and dance
to sing and scribble
to use our hands
to create your realm
even as we wait.
Amen.

Waiting Song

Closing Prayer
Inspired by 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Do not quench
our spirits, O God.
Do not limit
our creativity
but dare us
to rejoice always.
Call us to prayer
again and again
as we try to hold
onto what is good
and filled with wonder.
May we be surprised
our hands can do
as we watch and wait.
Amen.

Third Sunday of Advent

Opening Prayer

Come, O God,
to bring color
to our world. Come
into the chaos of creation
to paint new wonders
in this world.
We wait for you,
O God. We wait.

Waiting Song

Lighting the Advent Candles

Reading from Scripture Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Joy Video Download

Prayer for the Waiting

O God, we are waiting
for your creative spark
to ignite us
and transform us.

We are waiting for
your healing and comfort
for lives taken by the coronavirus
for the damage done
to our earth
and the violence
has ripped through
too many communities.
O God, we wait in hope.

We are waiting for
your justice
to sway the rich and powerful
to care for the poor,
the lonely, the orphaned
and the immigrant
but also know
that our hearts and hands
must act for change.
O God, we wait in peace.

We are waiting for
the whole world
to tilt away from
death and destruction
toward play
and imagination.
O God, we wait in joy.

We are waiting for
love to come again
and remind us
again that it does not
require any talent to
do you work.
O God, we wait with love.

Help us, O God,
to paint and dance
to sing and scribble
to use our hands
to create your realm
even as we wait.
Amen.

Waiting Song

Closing Prayer
Inspired by 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Do not quench
our spirits, O God.
Do not limit
our creativity
but dare us
to rejoice always.
Call us to prayer
again and again
as we try to hold
onto what is good
and filled with wonder.
May we be surprised
our hands can do
as we watch and wait.
Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Opening Prayer

Come, O God,
reveal your dreams
in our muddied palettes
and the layers of paint.
Help us to see
With your heart
how much is possible.
Color our hope
with bright red
ribbons of compassion and love.
We wait, O God. We wait.

Waiting Song

Lighting the Advent Candles

Reading from Scripture Luke 1:26-38

Love Video Download

Prayer for the Waiting

O God, we are waiting
for your creative spark
to ignite us
and transform us.

We are waiting for
your healing and comfort
for lives taken by the coronavirus
for the damage done
to our earth
and the violence
has ripped through
too many communities.
O God, we wait in hope.

We are waiting for
your justice
to sway the rich and powerful
to care for the poor,
the lonely, the orphaned
and the immigrant
but also know
that our hearts and hands
must act for change.
O God, we wait in peace.

We are waiting for
the whole world
to tilt away from
death and destruction
toward play
and imagination.
O God, we wait in joy.

We are waiting for
love to come again
and remind us
again that it does not
require any talent to
do you work.
O God, we wait with love.

Help us, O God,
to paint and dance
to sing and scribble
to use our hands
to create your realm
even as we wait.
Amen.

Waiting Song

Closing Prayer
Inspired by 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Do not quench
our spirits, O God.
Do not limit
our creativity
but dare us
to rejoice always.
Call us to prayer
again and again
as we try to hold
onto what is good
and filled with wonder.
May we be surprised
our hands can do
as we watch and wait.
Amen.

This is not a complete liturgy. You already noticed that, dear preachers. You noticed the repetition of repeated prayers week after week which might calm the chaos of this year. You noticed it was short and wondered if it might fill your usual hour.

Because this isn’t a full liturgy, you have options particularly for the lighting of the Advent candles. You might choose this poetry-filled liturgy by Martha Spong or opt for this candle lighting that captures the full lament of 2020 by Maren Tirabassi.

You might choose familiar hymns from your favorites for congregational singing for the Waiting Songs. There are so many gems in our hymnals for this time of year but in this new loooong season of coronatide, you might choose from these less familiar tunes:

I have other complete liturgies in the works for the four Sundays of Advent, Blue Christmas and Christmas Eve. I’m also working on a newsletter looking toward Epiphany if you’d like to sign up for News from My Kitchen. That’s where those other full liturgies will appear before I offer them here on my blog. I’ll share more about that soon but I pray this might spark your creative hope for this season.

You are, as always, in my prayers, dear pastors.

Twinkly Lights in Blue Pandemic Days

Several years ago, I created a devotional for the grieving and brokenhearted. I called it Twinkly Lights in Blue Days. It’s sat there in my kitchen for anyone that might have wanted it or needed in the years that followed.

Grief is close to my heart. My mother died of breast cancer before anyone really understood the disease that affects so many women. I was seven years old then.

The shadows of that loss have cast eerie shadows over the blue days of this pandemic. Something has felt familiar and terrifying. Something that I have known deep in my soul since I was a small child but was told over and over again never to discuss. Grief was always taboo.

Grief still is taboo. It remains one of these mysterious paths after tragedy that is accomplished by steps and stages. It is what resilient people overcome. I believe that we will get there but that discomfort we are feeling is grief. It is not going away quickly. It’s sticking around and insisting that we come to understand it differently than we did in all of those losses before. It is different. The losses keep coming. The death toll increases. The changes and adjustments we have been forced to make to better care for our neighbors and community keep adding up.

There is sorrow and heartache that needs to be shared.

Twinkly Lights in Blue Days: An Advent Small Group Discussion Guide for the Grieving and Brokenhearted seeks to encourage that conversation. It is an adaptation of those words that I wrote for the devotional, but this version seeks to bring a group of people from church, book club or a unique group to this Advent season together weekly to share in honest reflection about what grieves them.

Words from sacred scripture, a meditative reflection and questions to ponder are provided in these pages to explore before the group meets. A simple discussion format is provided that includes written prayers and more discussion questions for the group to use as they wander together through these blue pandemic days. Though I assume most of these groups will meet via Zoom or Google Meet, I opted to not provide instructions on how to share space in a group in these unique formats. (I presume most people have figured that out by now.) I did, however, provide some hints on how best to share in vulnerable honesty so that all are honored and valued. I also included some books, essays and podcasts for the group to continue the conversation as the Spirit moves.

Like the devotional version, this discussion guide leaves room for wonder. It concludes before the baby is born.There aren’t even any shepherds in the fields, but there’s a feeling that something could happen. Something might happen. That’s what the prophets dreamed. That’s what I hope every day my grief feels too heavy to carry. It won’t always be like this. God is here. Somehow, God is still here.

I pray it is blessing for those that are brave enough to wander into these blue pandemic days and share the brokenness that feels so vast. Or if a group discussion is too overwhelming for the particular season of grief you find yourself in, you can find an updated version of the devotional here.

I pray so many many blessings into this Advent season of grief, lament and hope. May there be hope and love. We need both.