Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany

A new year dawns. 2020 is over.

That is the hope that we have put all of our energy into as we count down the last few days of this wretched pandemic year. We are waiting even after Advent is over. We are waiting for what is still to come. Maybe this will be the year that we will grasp that Christmas continues for all twelve days when so many that haven’t put up a tree in years have done so just to experience a little bit of joy. Will they also log into Zoom to hear the promise that this season offers? Will we imagine that this good news will truly lead to better days?

I confess I’m not there yet so I’m gonna keep singing carols for as long as it’s even remotely acceptable. The first Sunday in January is the ninth day of Christmas and is technically the Second Sunday of Christmas though many will likely celebrate Epiphany on that day. I would have zero qualms about putting a carol into worship especially one that is as beautifully fresh in these new words.

I had shared in my last newsletter some ideas from Epiphany including recommending Traci Smith’s resource for families looking to practice a new way into experiencing the twelve days of Christmas. You can find it in her Etsy shop.

Maren Tirabassi wrote this beautiful communion liturgy for this Sunday as she has for each month in coronatide. She plays with the imagery of the Twelve Days of Christmas which I confess I had to sing through all nine days until I could remember that there are nine ladies dancing. I think singing the song or playing the song instrumentally before communion (even if its secular) might help for the worshipping community to hear what I didn’t catch too quickly. It’s fun though. We need fun and I will always recommend Maren’s words.

This could be the Sunday that you preach the Prologue of John. I’ve been playing with that for next Christmas and I have no more ideas than what I’ve already written for it so these prayers might not speak to you. I am using a hybrid of inspiration from the second Sunday of Christmas and Epiphany Sunday so I hope these prayers might carry you into the new year. If you find yourself leaning into the hope of the new year, there are a whole bunch of new year prayers on re:Worship. I’m also not assuming that all of these prayers go into the same service but wanted to provide options and follow where the sections led me.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Jeremiah 31:7-14 

With weeping we have come,
feeling blind and lame
and barren
without hope
even in this season
full of hope.

We come wobbly 
and uncertain
but God assures
us that we will not stumble.
We will not fall
but we will rejoice.
We will sing.
We will dance 
and hold hands
and be merry.
We shall not languish forever.
God will shepherd 
us into the future.
God is leading us 
under the stars.

I’m not sure where this song should go but I like it and I thought this pastor did a lovely job with the visuals. It also wouldn’t let me save it to my epiphany playlist which I found annoying. Because it is still Christmas and I am not one to put away the Advent wreath until Christmas is actually over (that is, after January 6), I always include a liturgy for the lighting of the Christ candles. That version is responsive with the same refrain repeated by the congregation. I don’t think that works online so it’s been adapted again.

Lighting the Way of Christ
Inspired by Sirach 24:1-12 and Isaiah 60:1-6

In this season of possibility, of wisdom telling of her glory to all the people,
 of love made known and peace kept close at home, still we seek light.
 
We seek light from the highest heavens
wondering what this year will hold, 
fearful and hopeful 
and praying with 
all our hearts that 
this year will be different.

[Light first of the Advent candles]
 
We seek light over the waves
of the sea, and all the earth,
for creation is hurting
and we too often feel
like we have no sway.

[Light second of the Advent candles]

We seek light as we listen
for God's command and wonder
what the ministry of the church,
this church and every church,
will be when the world 
has changed so much 
in just one year. 

[Light third of the Advent candles]

We seek light because
we have not yet found a resting place
to dwell where there is enough 
for the immigrant, the refugee,
the poor and the widow,
or even for those who
abide in black and brown skin.

[Light fourth of the Advent candles]

We come seeking light
in the One is Light
and Wisdom and Love.
It is in this great light
that we will rise and shine
for our light has come. 
We will open our mouths
and share in the glory
that continues the work 
of Christmas. 

[Light Christ candle]

Epiphany is rich with so many images but my favorite has always been the stars. I am fasciated that the star stopped or that it felt that way as it does when the hairs stand up on our necks and we know that we have touched some glimmer of God’s grace. I went back to look at old liturgies I have created for this day and none of them seem to speak to this moment of online worship in ten million months into a global pandemic. Can we speak of these things in the same way? Do we need new inspiration to speak of what the heavens reveals in these tiny bursts of gas?

I might find a prayer that speaks to this moment like Joyce Sutphen’s Naming the Stars which names the hope of those future reunions full of hugs, at least to my reading. Or maybe this poem by Mary Jo Bang written early in the pandemic. Mary Oliver has a lovely poem on stars and Ann Weems has a whole bunch of poems that might work especially well if you are doing star words. I think it would be fun to adapt this poem by John Daniel into a Call to Worship but I’m not sure we all share the same vision of the post-pandemic future. There are some universals, of course, but do we all begin in the same place with that hope? I’m not so sure but it would be fun to play with that poem and the Gospel. Here are a few prayers that muse on the wonder of stars.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21 and Matthew 2:1-12

O God, lead us 
on different roads 
from the paths that 
brought us here into this new year. 

Open us to new treasures
from the chests
that we have carried 
over so many miles
always assuming that 
this was what was needed
because you imagine 
more than just one moment 
of revelation. Your light 
does not stop with that star
in one spot in the night sky.
You continue the 
orbit of love 
beyond that 
brief pause. 

We have thought 
we were holy and blameless.
We thought so all last
year and so we did
what we thought was right.
We took risks
that were comfortable 
for our own comfort
and read headlines
only to the point 
that we could 
sit with our own
racism and privilege. 
We still don't really 
know what freedom
means for those that 
are truly oppressed.
We thought we knew.
We thought we 
were so wise.

Lead us
by another way, O God,
where light teaches 
us humility and grace.
Lead us through
all our blunders
and missed opportunities
to find new signs
and wonders 
that overwhelm us 
with joy. Lead us 
ever into joy, O God.

Like so many, I really wanted to do something with this Christmas Star business. I went outside at dusk with my children to try to find it on the horizon. In one of the many news reports I listened to for some hint that this could have anything to do with Christmas (and I confess I’m still unconvinced), it was suggested that the Star of Bethlehem might actually have been an alignment of planets as Jupiter and Saturn aligned on the Longest Night. I can no longer find where I heard that. Sorry. I am using a lot of poetic license with this prayer and so my apologies to the scientists and maybe also to the psalmist.

Prayer for the Stars Alignment
Inspired by Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Will the stars align, O God, 
so neatly in the sky
that it might feel 
like this is what
you always dreamt 
would be?

Will the paths of planets 
reveal more to us
of your justice and love?

Will these celestial events
change how we live 
in this world 
as it was once sung
in ancient song?
Will we see your justice
come into the mountains 
and hills? Will hope for 
the poor and needy
rain down in stardust?

O God, we need a little bit 
of that hope right now.
We need some sign
in the heavens that will 
assure us that you are 
leading us, all of us, 
into justice and joy.
Align the heavens 
above with our
hope-filled prayers
for justice and joy. 

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. You’ve made it into the next calendar year. You have done amazing things for the love of Jesus. I mean that. You embody the love of God right now. Hold fast friends. We will get there.

Pandemic Prayers for Advent 3

I hope you already found the beautiful prayers gathered by RevGalBlogPals in their weekly Worship Words. I am honored to contribute to this collection of wonderful prayers and appreciate the nudge that to remember that those in the Southern Hemisphere welcome this celebrations with an entirely different set of metaphors.

I wanted to use the words of familiar carols to fill our prayers in full awareness that one of the things many of us will be missing this year is singing together these favorite tunes. These carols, especially the one featured over on Worship Words, have a bias toward the cold and frost that is familiar to me at Christmas. I know there is a collection of songs that sing a whole different experience of this birth but they are unfamiliar to me. It’s a complicated place to be in right now. I both want the familiar but know that it won’t be what it was. Those familiar things will not be the same, not this year.

Here are a few prayers for worship on Advent 3B peppered with the words of familiar carols before I go back to working on Epiphany and Christmas worship for next year. Can you imagine writing prayers for next year? What will the world look like? How will we welcome that birth then? Yikes. Don’t worry too much about it, dear pastor. There are people faithfully writing those prayers for you. You don’t need to think about it now. That’s my job.

Call to Worship
Inspired by What Child is This?

Shepherds and prophets keep watch and wait
wondering what child is this?
They were like those who dream
of a world turned upside down
where joy erupts like laughter.

This, this is not how it is now.
This is not how it feels 
in these dwindling Advent days.

Haste, haste to bring 
such joy and love 
even into this 
pandemic year.

Let us greet such wonder 
with anthems sweet
and joy. Let there be
joy in our worship today.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by John 1:6-8, 19-28 and O Little Town of Bethlehem

Who are we? Who are we now?
We’ve asked this question so many times
over so many months of isolation. 
Have we changed? Does it matter?

Our meek souls wait 
to receive the Christ Child
into this world of sin. 
Or at least into 
our little pod of sin.

What do we have to say about ourselves?
What will we say now
as we pray together for the hopes and fears
of this very long year?
O God, cast out our sin
and enter in. Become
light and joy to us today. Amen.
Words of Assurance
Inspired by 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 

So much has happened 
in just a few months. You have tested everything.
Now, hold fast to what is good. Give thanks 
for the joy God finds in you every day.
Beloved, you are made in joy. Thanks be to God.

Small Pandemic Joys

It has been so long that this pandemic has gone on.

I have lost count. I no longer care to count.

I have yelled at my kids. I have been short. I have been unkind solely because I have been so isolated. My family is great. Yeah for family but I really miss people. And so, I’m trying to remind myself of small joys. I am terrible at this spiritual practice. I know Diana Butler Bass says its a good idea. It’s healthy. It builds good things but I resist. Instead, my gratitude practice more boldly extends to conspiring with the United States Postal Service. I shared a recipe for that years ago here.

And yet, bizarrely, I find myself whispering prayers of gratitude in these strange days where my frustration feels off the charts. Beyond the obvious things (family, a roof over our heads, food in our bellies… that stuff), I feel compelled to share my growing gratitude list. It’s my own tiny reminder that small things are everything.

  • My fifteen month old baby has started kissing so that any time she goes upstairs she makes this little guppy noise to say good night. It’s not always bed time when we go upstairs but it makes me laugh every time.
  • Walks around our neighborhood where my nearly three year old daughter and I each squeal with delight at the bright colored flowers. (We live in Texas. It’s still hot here and even in the desert, there are plenty of flowers.) We are slowly learning the names of these new plants and each time I point and name a plant, I hear the distant echo of my grandmother doing the same thing over my shoulder.
  • While my children are too tiny for homeschool and we still don’t have many screens in our lives, I’ve definitely noticed my phone is in my palm A LOT. One of the ways I’m trying to separate from screens is to turn off all screens 30 minutes before bedtime and read an actual paper book. My husband wakes up so freaking early that I invested in a reading light that I adore. Right now, this is a great joy.
  • Writing prayers and hearing that these prayers are actually helpful when I know that so many pastors are on the brink of giving up their vocations out of sheer exhaustion.
  • Online church. I know I might be in the minority on this one but we moved to a new place two months ago and I still get to see and be cared for by the church community that has been the only church my kids have ever known.
  • Before it was a yeast shortage this spring, I had decided that this would be the year I learned to bake bread. I’m really grateful for my friend Meghan for buying me the book and and cheering on all of my bakes by text.
  • Teeny tiny adventures outside the house. We went to White Sands National Park last weekend which is only 90 minutes from our house and it was magical to be outside playing with our kids. I am also really keen on the fact that my nearly three year old has learned the word adventure and wants to know when the next one will be.

It’s not a long list but it’s a reminder that there is joy. There is always joy.

I pray there is joy for you too.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 10

It has been over a month since I shared these pandemic prayers. I got swallowed up by the logistics surrounding our move across Texas.

It seemed at every moment that something had settled that something else would fall through. It still feels that way two weeks after arriving here. Boxes still aren’t unpacked. There are things I can’t find because I didn’t hover over the packers for their safety and my own. It is still a pandemic after all and it’s raging across Texas even though I was little ladied more than once across this vast state by men insisting that this was a hoax.

I am still so freaking proud of the church and all that you dear pastors are doing in the midst of this chaos especially because I feel like I’m barely holding it together right now. These prayers are appearing late in the week and may not be helpful because you’ve already recorded. I hope you rest then. Or find whatever feels like rest right now and maybe even read these gorgeous words of encouragement from my friend Laura Stephens-Reed.

Thank you for all that you are doing to walk in faith and hope. Here are some words that might lift a small burden from your shoulders.

Gathering Together

As the numbers increase and it becomes a point of pride for some not to wear a mask, I am struck by the words of Psalm 119 asking God for life. I’m captivated by the image of scattering seeds as an act of resistance more than Miss Rumphius who scattered lupine seeds to reveal the earth’s glory. Sowing seeds feels like a determined prayer. There will be life. Abundance is possible.

Gathering Words
Inspired by Psalm 119

Give us life, O God.
Give us breath and strength
and a bit of courage
to speak you words of love.
Give us life, O God,
because we’e not so sure
how to live and move
and have our being.
It feels like we’ve given our all.
We’ve tried our best
but we cannot give up.
We must go on.
This is not over.
This is not all there will be.
Give us life, O God.
Give us abundance.
Give us power.
Give us grace
so that we can feel it
beating in our hearts.
Bring your heart into our own.
Give us joy
in this time of worship
and wonder.

Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Grace

There is a lovely prayer of the day written by Julia Seymour that would be lovely. I feel the need to confess lately. Most of my prayers while unpacking boxes have had a health amount of profanity. I need some forgiveness.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Isaiah 55:10-13

O God, it hasn’t felt
like there is new growth
in my heart and mind.
I’ve worried too much about the world:
the selfishness of others,
the arrogance of my own heart,
the number of things that need
to change and need to change fast,
the sins of racism,
the betrayal of isolation,
the desire for something normal
even though I have no idea what that might be.
I have not felt joy or peace
but outrage and fury.
I cannot believe things have gotten this bad
and I wonder what I can do
to water the earth with change.

Assurance of Grace

Beloved, you are saturated in God’s love.
Hear these words with joy. Let them take root
in your heart and mind:
you are forgiven
and so very loved by God. Amen.

Gospel Meditation

In seminary, I worshipped with Judson Memorial Church where they had an Old Testimony and a New Testimony. The old always being something from the Bible and the new was a poem or an excerpt from an essay or book. It added something that wasn’t in the sermon and sometimes wasn’t even explored in the sermon. It revealed something about these words from scripture. It made us think. Silence always followed.

I have always loved this tradition and have adapted it in places I’ve served. It worked sometimes and other times it totally flopped. This week I want something to meditate on this passage from Matthew. I’m so used to hearing Luke that I’m so curious about this happening by the water. Does that make the land more fertile or less? Maybe I’m too landlocked right now and I just want to dip my toes in some body of water that is not sweltering hot from sitting out in the sun. (That would be my kid’s kiddie pool.) I offer these possibilities as a new testimony or centering words or whatever you might choose to call them before or after the Gospel Lesson.

Untitled by James Baldwin

Instructions on Not Giving Up by Ada Limón

Matins by Louise Gluck

A Blessing with Roots by Jan Richardson

I know there are others that I’d like to add but my kids are refusing to nap so that’s all I’ve got for this week.

While I was packing and stressing about moving in a pandemic, I received a sweet note thanking me for these liturgies. An email also popped up yesterday asking to use my Blessing for Face Masks. You can find the gorgeous image Mary Dicken created here. It’s amazing what we can do together.

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