Pandemic Prayers for Proper 14B

My colleague and friend, Sarah Lund, shared on Facebook the simple joys of making banana bread. She called it Banana Bread Therapy. That sounds right to me.

I should add Sarah is also a talented and wise writer who offers her whole heart in writing about her own mental health and the struggles within her family in her two excellent books. She is committed to breaking the silence about mental illness and it is so inspiring.

Banana bread is a quick bread. It doesn’t need need any leavening and so it can simply bake after being folded together. It doesn’t need time to rise. There is no yeast to coax. It happens quickly and deliciously.

Banana bread is one of those wonderful comfort foods that so many of us share. It was the first recipe I really learned to make on my own with the guidance and encouragement of my stepmother. We both still use that recipe from my first cookbook geared for children. It was and is just that good.

I wonder what it would be like this week to invite people to share their favorite quick bread recipe. Perhaps zucchini bread is the best option for all that is bumping out of the garden or in other regions there might be a preference for cornbread. It may even include drying and grinding your own corn from the farmer’s harvest. How might we experience the Bread of Life come alive if we were to nurture our hearts and souls in something like Banana Bread Therapy?

Here is a prayer for such a possibility.

Prayer for Bread Making

Inspired by Sarah Griffith Lund 
and John 6: 35, 41-51

Stir us together, O God,
in the simple act of making bread.

Let our clothes and 
our counters be covered in flour. 
Let it clap from our hands 
so that it might feel like
a part of who we are. 

I am the bread of life
says our God. Let us 
meditate on this 
living surrounded 
by all of these ingredients
that we so carefully fold
into the batter with love
and hope. There is joy 
in this bowl too
as surely as there
is a hint of grief 
and loss. This recipe 
has been shared 
so often that 
it too has life. 

Bake with us, O God,
and make us ready
for another slice
of life together. Amen.

Here is one more prayer that might be a better fit within congregations that are struggling with the reversal of what was hoped for in the emergence of the delta variant. For the record, I have plenty of complaints of my own.

Prayer for Complaining Anyway

Inspired by John 6: 35, 41-51

Do not complain among yourselves.
Do not complain is the wisdom
that the Lord gives
when we have so many 
complaints to air.

It is a long list to worries
and concerns as the delta variant 
makes us pause again
to consider how 
best to care for ourselves,
for our children and our neighbors. 

We have complaints
and we know that God 
is listening. We are not being 
told to be silent but are invited 
to learn from God. As it is written 
in the prophets, we could choose 
to be taught be God and 
it is this understanding
we need now. O Lord, 
teach us now. Teach
us especially through
all our complaining.
May it be so.

Two week ago, when these bread words first appeared in the Revised Common Lectionary, I shared this Prayer of Illumination. It could be used with these prayers or in your personal devotion and study.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I’m praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 20

It has been six months. I lost count.

I could have sworn it had been longer since my husband redeployed from South Korea and we almost immediately cancelled the vacation I’d been looking forward to for nine months and went into lockdown. We moved across the state but my kids and I remain in lockdown while my husband goes back and forth to work. Complaining feels good. It feels right. It matches my grief in this moment and so I’m drawn to the Exodus story where our ancestors find themselves, as Michael J. Chan points out, in the “uncomfortable space between departure and destination—or in the case of Exodus, between liberation and covenant.”

I feel less certain about the destination and more and more removed from the departure. I feel all the discomfort. I don’t think I’m the only one that feels this tension that is profoundly explored in the Letter to Philippi. I want to figure out what it means right now to “live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ” especially when I feel anything but firm in my Spirit. But then, there are many that are struggling with suicidal thoughts that I wonder how we dare to preach that bit about being pulled to depart but then choosing to remain in the flesh. There is good news in there. I know it, just as I know there is good news in you.

Gathering Together for Worship

Singing from the Lectionary suggests John Bell’s Stand, O Stand Firm for the epistle. I love the refrain and think it would be lovely to begin worship and repeat in the prayer time. You can find the full version for purchase here. You might even request your members send in pictures of themselves standing tall and use those images as a visual for this prelude.

Or you might be feeling really punchy and start worship with this. Kidding. Sorta.

I offer the words below but if you are focusing on the Gospel, you might prefer this beautiful invitation. Some of the prayers I wrote for Labor Day could also be adapted or you can find the liturgy I wrote six years ago for Worship Ways here. Here is another possibility that could work no matter what your focus text is.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Exodus 16:2-15 and Philippians 1:21-30

We come with the whole congregation
to find ourselves still in the wilderness
between where we were 
and where we are going
and we are full of complaint.

We cannot stop complaining
for what we do not understand
and whatever forces brought us here. 
We complain about our leaders
and the lack of available resources.
We bemoan every injustice
that now seems so obvious. 
We are tired and we are scared.

We come with this 
whole congregation
because we are convinced -- 
even in our constant complaint -- 
that there is joy.
There is abundant hope
when we can stand firm
in one spirit. Together,
we strive for the faith of the gospel.
Hope by hope, heart by heart,
we struggle together to see
what God will do.

Or for something completely different, you might start with a poem like Wait by Galway Kinnell particularly if you are wandering into the struggles of suicidal thoughts. It’s a poem I found reading this essay and I rather like the wildness of it. It might be followed by this favorite Taize song of mine.

Prayers for the Day

Picking up on the complaining spirit in Exodus, here is a confession and assurance to center this prayer time. I wonder if there might be an action for this week so that in the week ahead when members of the whole congregation notice that whine inside them, they could be compelled to act with hope. This simple recipe for gratitude might be an easy enough place to start. I’ve also wondered about neighborhood walks in the pandemic particularly for neighborhood churches.

Prayer of Confession

O God, we have complained so much.
We have felt stuck and scared
and so we've summoned the only power
we could find. We know you haven't seen our best sides.
Forgive us. Forgive us for ignoring that every whine
and worry reveals our hope. Help us 
not to not to get stuck in our fears 
but to lean into what we hope
will come in the future of your realm.

Assurance of Grace

I have heard your complaining, God assures us.
I have heard your worry and concern
and I will feed you with grace
and love and hope. I will assure you
that all is forgiven. You are my beloved,
now and always. Amen.

I also felt pulled to write a prayer that spoke to the particular words of the poem mentioned above and the issues surrounding mental health and the pandemic particularly in National Suicide Prevention Month. I wondered if I should write it as if this is happening to others but that would be dishonest for me. I’m not one of those people who has never considered this, particularly in my youth but even now. Still, I confess that this is an issue of which I’m still learning and so these words may drastically fall short and I hope that I will be corrected.

These words reflect my own struggle. As with so many things, we are works in progress but endlessly and completely in the struggle together. Or so I pray. Similar to the above prayer, this might be a good week to encourage some action particularly around suicide awareness if you use these prayers. I’ll link to the United Church of Christ toolkit because it is what I know best but there are tons of great resources out there.

Prayer for the Waiting

Wait with us, O God,
in the wilderness 
where it feels like we have been separated 
from every one and every thing we ever loved
only to be told to wait. We don't trust it.
We can't and maybe that is why depression 
and suicidal thoughts feel so familiar here.

We have complained 
and we have felt like nothing matters
even if we wish that everything did. 

Wait with us, O God,
in this wilderness
because it is familiar
and we haven't yet given up.
We are still waiting.

Wait with us, O God,
wait with all of us
who struggle with futility
and suicidal thoughts in this coronatide.
We pray in your holy name, Amen.

Prayers of the People

I haven’t written as many prayers of the people or intercessory prayers but I’ve seen that there is interest and need for them. It feels awkward to write as those prayers are so intimate for me. Those are the prayers I’ve prayed from the heart without a script for sheer love of these people God has called me to serve but I know you’re struggling for words so here are some great words that I found written by other wonderful people. It is admittedly a short list.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. I hinted last week that I was going to do some thinking about All Saints and Christmas Eve but I hope to spend some time this week daydreaming about World Communion Sunday. It’s apparently soon. Gulp. There is so much to think about. I am continually in awe of you, my dear colleagues. You are amazing.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always.