Pandemic Prayers for Palm Sunday

I have been so lucky to write prayers in this season that I know have been a blessing. Some of you have kindly commented and encouraged me. Some have messaged me and thanked me personally. Others have commissioned me to curate prayers for their congregation through a series of their own design. (If you are interested in such a blessing to your creativity, contact me here. I would love to work with you.) Still others comment in those groups of clergy on social media looking for a particular kind of prayer and I quickly chime in with questions.

The Call to Worship I offer for Palm Sunday in is the last of these wonders. There was a request for a readers theatre or a choral reading with cheering and waving that would work for an online format.

There will need to be instructions for this which I usually do not enjoy and try very hard to avoid, but this is a listening challenge to hear good news with fresh ears. So there will be certain things that will call to the attention of the worshipping body in this Call to Worship. Those responses appear in bold in the invitation below but would be omitted if it is to appear in print. I wouldn’t even have the leader read those parts but allow for the worshipping congregation to fill them in which means there will be gaps and the reader will need to pause for those words to be filled in. If you are using multiple readers, that might be where you cut to the next person so that there is a natural gap.

I offer this suggestion for a lead into this Call to Worship:

Today, we begin again to wander into the unknown as we have done so many times before. We enter in a city full of life and love where it feels like anything and everything is possible, but where still so much could go wrong. The days ahead will hold death and destruction. There will be grief and devastating loss but all of that is still unknown just as it was one year ago when this pandemic first became real. 

We didn't know. We couldn't know and so we listen closely for what good news might feel like now. Listen for good news and respond with your whole body so that every time you hear "God is good," you reply, "All the time, God is good!" Each time you hear "gates," you respond, "Prepare the way!" Each time you hear "Jerusalem," you respond with booming organ music that sounds like "Duh duh daaa."  Every time you hear "the people shouted," you fill in their response with "Hosanna!" 

I recommend practicing these prompts a few times so that they become familiar. I also didn’t include anything about waving palm branches as it doesn’t feel that there is one prompt that works best. Shouldn’t there be all kinds of palm waving anyway? I would suggest this Blessing of the Palms for that possibility but don’t let that limit you in adding it to the Call to Worship. Here is what I imagined for such an interactive experience in worship intended for all ages.

Interactive Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Mark 11:1-11

Give thanks to God
for God is good. 
All the time, God is good!

Give thanks to God
for love that knows 
no limit. God loves
across every boundary
and division. God's love 
opens the gates.
Prepare the way!

Love makes a way
through every city 
and village but on 
this day when still 
so much feels unknown
and the future is hard to see
God's love makes
way into Jerusalem.
Duh duh daaaaa.
God's love opened 
that city's gates.
Prepare the way!

Nobody really knew why
this was happening.
The disciples made 
preparations in Jerusalem. 
Duh duh daaaaa.
Once they got to that city
near the Mount of Olives, 
they did just what Jesus 
had told them but they did not know 
what would come next.
They couldn't have believed it 
even though they knew that
God makes a way where there is no way,
even though they believed 
with all their hearts and minds
that God is good. 
All the time, God is good!

Give thanks to God
for something was happening
that day. God's love is 
always busy moving
and changing what
we think we know
and that day was no 
different when 
love paraded 
through Jerusalem. 
Duh duh daaaaa.
There was a sense
that things could be different
as the people shouted, Hosanna!

We come today
with the same hope
trying to believe with 
all our hearts and minds 
that God is good.
All the time, God is good!
We open our hearts
as the city opens its gates.
Prepare the way!
Like the people throwing
palm branches and cloaks
on the ground, 
we are shouting just 
as the people shouted, Hosanna!
Again, the people shouted, Hosanna!
This song is covered by the CCLI license.

I wanted a song to followed the Call to Worship that functioned as a meditation on Hosanna. I don’t have to tell you, dear pastor, that this is so often confused with celebration and it’s really a bit more complicated than that. Icky atonement hints aside, I like this one. As I went through my files, I found an old benediction I really liked but didn’t save where I found it. Oops. Nonetheless, it’s been adapted so it isn’t exactly what the original was and I love how it leads into Holy Week for those of us that aren’t ready for the passion part of this Sunday yet. (Sorry. I’m in that camp this year.)

Benediction
Adapted from an unsaved source 

May we have courage as 
we move into the unknown 
that awaits us. We do not go alone.
Love will carry us.
The nights ahead will be long.
Love will carry us.
It will not be easy 
and we may fear
nothing will ever change. 
Love will carry us.
We go now together 
into the unknown.
Love will carry us.

If you haven’t yet planned something for Holy Week, you might relish in the gift that is this Easter Pageant for a Pandemic Year. It does require some legwork so it’s not recommended for the last minute planner. There are some other ideas here including some alternate suggestions for Palm Sunday. I also have a very short playlist of Easter music on YouTube that might help your sermon writing or worship planning.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

We began the new year with Jeremiah. It was the same chapter even though it was a few verses earlier. There was still the invitation to remember and hold onto what might be coming. We are still in that space so many weeks later as Lent begins to turn into Holy Week.

Likewise, we heard the words from this psalm when Lent first began. We need to be reminded of God’s steadfast love again. We can’t hear it enough especially after the calendar turned to mark one year of this pandemic. Photos have been shared from those last moments before it became real. Some have wondered what we would have told our past selves while so many of you, dear pastors, created gorgeous meaningful worship to mark this time physically apart.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming.
This is the good news
that we need to hear
right now. It is 
why we come
to find wonder
and possibility 
in the days ahead. 

The days are surely coming
is what we need to hear
after this long year
of isolation, worry
and fear. We come
to remember that 
this is not all 
there will ever be.
This is not the end 
but a beginning of 
the days ahead  
where we will be
a new people. 
We come, O God, 
to wonder who
we might become 
in your love.

I would be tempted to include some meditative time for writing to happen in this service so that there can be greater intention as Holy Week approaches and to speak to what God is writing on our hearts right now. I might offer these words as an invitation to that quiet contemplation. It could also be used as a confession, I think, with some adaptation.

Invitation to the Heart
Inspired by Jeremiah 31:31-34

We have guarded our hearts
so carefully in this past year 
of disease and distress. We have
just been trying to survive
that we are not sure 
how to open ourselves
to what might come next.

As much as we have 
hoped and dreamed that 
this pandemic would end, 
such possibility seems beyond
our grasp. It still feels too big
to pinpoint and so we haven't 
allowed our hearts to soar into 
the wonders that await us.
We believe there are wonders
even if we are cautious. 
We know there are wonders
that awaited our Christ after the horrors
of betrayal, suffering and even death.
We believe that new life awaits us 
too and so we share in this time
through quiet wonder
with pens and paper
to write down the promise
that we dare to believe await us 
in the days that are surely coming. 

We write these on paper
with our own hand
hoping that you, O God,
will write this hope 
on our hearts as
surely as you have 
written your law of love. 

Dear pastor, I hope you are getting the rest you need in this busy season. I hope you are caring for your soul with good friends and time away from any and all responsibility. I hope you’re planning for vacation even if it’s staycation or an escape to a quiet cabin in the woods far away from even your children and spouse. I hope that this Easter Pageant for a Pandemic Year might give you that escape for one Sunday where this resource can be given to talented leaders who can do all the work to assign parts and gather videos. By God’s good grace, I hope that there is enough talent in your congregation by now to actually have someone else do the video editing so you don’t have to — but I know that’s a long shot and I hate that for you. Still, I hope it’s enough to give you a break if you’re not already prepared to use resources from your denomination or others for the Sunday after Easter. And if you are still trying to figure out the days before the resurrection, there are some ideas here.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

I’m thinking about my own prayer life a lot right now. I’m wondering about how I’m caring for the tender part of my soul that needs to grieve and sing and wonder — and it’s hard. It’s hard to find that space in this long season for parents whether we have children learning online or toddlers who can’t understand why we can’t go to the playground.

I have been so worried about so many things that prayer has continued to fall to the bottom of the list. Seriously, I work out first. That’s how bad this is. It is that bad. I work out first, friends. I’m thinking about that as I offer these prayer for communal meditation for your weekly worship. There are the prayers that we mutter when the siren blares and the governor makes a really stupid decision for the good of the entire state, but there are the things that we need to hear from God in the stillness. There are things that we can only find in the quiet when we allow ourselves to listen for what God might be saying to us.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Tears have been 
shed this week
and just yesterday
in frustration and anger.
O God, we are impatient
and restless and so very tired.

We have cried for 
people and places
and things that 
don't even make sense. 
We have cried to you, 
O God, in the trouble 
of this year and you 
have saved us 
from our distress.

We come to worship
and praise the mystery 
of your love that is 
with us always. It is 
with us now and so 
we sing with joy 
for all you are doing
right now. O God, 
we come to worship
your goodness.  

In the online worship formats I’ve been attending in coronatide, I haven’t seen silence been used a lot. It has been brief if it has happened at all. I suspect that there are reasons for this. We are spending so much more time with the silence of our own souls that to spend those few blessed moments when we get to escape that inner quiet only increases the chaos when we try to be silent together, but it has been a year. It has been a whole year now and silence in worship is important for our collective listening. I think it can be done without it feeling like there is nothing happening.

I have wondered if it could be as simple as lighting candles for the lives that have been lost. In the United States, we jumped from 400,000 lives to 500,000 lives in way too little time. Maybe grief is what needs to be felt in this moment or maybe it is frustration of hitting this last pandemic wall. Can I say it’s the last? Will that ruin everything?

Opening for Silence
Inspired by Numbers 21:4-9

We have spoken against God
and each other. We have let words get 
in the way of our hope 
for we have feared that 
this will never end. 

More death will come
and we don't know 
how to make it stop
other than to close our mouths
and open our ears. 

Together, we will listen 
for a word from God 
that will remind us 
of what it means to live. 

In the silence we will share,
ask God for a word 
of hope and renewal.
Ask God for a word 
of corsage and strength.
Ask God for a word 
in the silence we now share.

I would conclude this silence that should be no less than 120 seconds with some music. I would choose this hymn because it’s what popped into my head as I was writing this invitation and then I might follow up on social media by asking people for their words. There are hundreds of creative ways to share such words that you’ve probably done already in this pandemic but in this moment it might not be so much about the creativity as the attentiveness to listen to each other’s prayers.

I have wondered how to mark that it has been one year since worship shifted online. It has been more than a year since so many have died. It has felt like an eternity since we adjusted to this new season of living. I want there to be something to mark the moment and remind us that we are in this together which reminded me of something my spiritual director taught me. She led me though this sensory grounding practice in one of our recent sessions. A grounding practice like this seems like a good way to mark the moment that we are in now and so I offer such a possibility for such a practice as the calendar reminds us that it has been a whole year of coronatide adapted from the gifts my spiritual director gave me. It functions like a guided meditation that could work anywhere in worship.

Pandemic Call to the Senses

Beloved, find yourself here with two feet planted on the ground. Take off your slippers or socks or whatever is covering your feet. This is holy ground right here in this place where two or three are gathered in worship and wonder. 

Take a deep breath full of the dust of the ancestors and the lives lost this year. Feel the the presence of the whole cloud of witnesses here with us now. Breathe in and breathe out.

Look around this space where you have spent so many hours in this past year. Life has happened here. So much life had happened here. Notice five things that you can see from where you are sitting that remind you of what this life has felt like this year. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

Reach from where you are sitting to touch four things that connect you to someone you have loved. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

Notice in this space where you have lived abundantly three things you can hear. Listen for the hum of life that is in this place. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

Call to your awareness two scents, aromas or smells that remind you that there is goodness here in this moment. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

Notice what stirs on your tastebuds and excites you about the future and for now acknowledge one thing that you can taste. (Long pause.) Breathe in and breathe out. 

For these things that you have tased, smelled, heard, touched and seen, we give thanks. We give thanks for the rich blessing of this life and for the ways that we seek to live into the days ahead. We give thanks for the life we have shared across internet connections and telephone wires. We give thanks and praise to God. Amen. 

I would invite the worshipping community to share in coffee hour (if your church is doing that kind of thing) what they found through their senses. I might even suggest some simple discussion questions to suggest what felt most like life in this pandemic or what felt like it was missing.

That’s all I have for you, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for the Third Sunday of Lent

I am trying to spend some time working on Holy Week things this week but I will confess I don’t think that I have ever preached on the Ten Commandments but opted to skip over it.

It never felt like there was more to say about these words etched in stone. In these pandemic days, it feels different. There is something comforting about these words that remind us of who we are and what matters. It feels harder and harder to name these things right now for this time. I find myself wondering how we might rewrite these familiar words for this time. I wish I had the brainpower to imagine it right now but luckily there is a beautiful remix offered by enfleshed so I don’t have to do so.

I offer only one prayer this week but commend to you the Worship Words shared weekly by RevGalBlogPals. I will hopefully get my act together to share some more prayers there for next week in addition to the gifts I hope to offer you for Holy Week including an Easter Pageant. Click over to my kitchen to see more hints of what else I’ve got cooking.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Exodus 20:1-17 and Psalm 19:1-4

We have ordered 
our days as best as 
we could in this season.
It has been a whole year
and we have tried to be
faithful. Even if we 
haven't changed out 
of our pajamas
or left the house, 
we have been waiting
for you to speak, O God.

We come to worship
today needing to hear some 
word of good news. 

We come to worship
today listening for what
we have forgotten or ignored
about your steadfast love
in these days that 
we are just trying 
to survive. 

We come together, O God, 
waiting for you to speak.
Pour out your speech
and declare your knowledge.
We are ready, God. 
We are ready.

That’s all I have for you right now, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

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.

Recipe for Resurrection Awe Strolls

Here in Texas there has been a terrible freeze. There was snow and it left a good chunk of the state without power including most everyone in my sweet Texas church back in Central Texas.

We did have snow over here in West Texas and it actually stuck around for a day or two but now there is only the faintest hint of white on the peaks of the mountains that surround the city. We never lost power. We have water. These were not worries we had being on an alternate power grid than the rest of the state. Instead, like the rest of the country, we watched in horror and dismay. We wrote angry letters to people in power. We prayed and I thought this was a really stupid thing to post when the sidewalks in places that are not even used to getting snow are frozen solid with sheets of ice.

It is not the right time to go out for a walk but now the snow is starting to melt in Austin. The thaw is coming and hope is always out there waiting for us to find it again.

I am interested in how we encourage each other to find hope right now. It’s why I wrote this liturgy to carry us through this whole season until Easter comes again. I want us to see it and feel it. I want to be able to point to it beyond the vaccine card that proclaims that my parents and my husband got their first doses of the vaccine this week. I need tangibles here.

This idea comes from an article I read way back when in Coronatide about awe walks. Another article from Psychology Today describes these walks like this:

An “awe walk” is a stroll in which you intentionally shift your attention outward instead of inward. So, you’re not thinking about the tight deadline, the unfinished project, the strain in your relationship with your spouse, or concerns about the coronavirus.

Psychology Today, 3 November 2020

It reminded me of resurrection. There is death and destruction all around us. There is so much that has gone wrong in this Good Friday world but we are people who dare to live in hope. We dare to look for possibility and wonder. We choose delight.

Or at least, we try. Sometimes I think we need to have someone help us see what is possible. It’s why all of the encounters after the resurrection are with a community. It’s a shared experience. We are never left alone to wonder if that amazing thing really did happen. We merely have to turn to the person beside us, and ask, “Did you see that?”

In the original study of these awe walks, there were groups that went walking together. They were not alone. They did not have a toddler with them to point out every bit of fantastic amazingness in this world that it takes forever to walk the half block to the cluster mailbox just to get your mail, but they were together to take selfies before, during and after the walk three scientists were able to observe the changes in their faces with this simple practice. I did not want to assume that others might have a walking buddy whether it might be someone in their own household or someone within their pod. I wrote this recipe as a personal prayer practice. As with everything else I offer, please feel free to adapt it as it best fits your ministry. Use it as a spark of creativity and see where it leads as you encourage people to find hope in this time.

Just as I didn’t want to assume that there might be groups walking together in masks, I wanted this to be an accessible experience to anyone and everyone assuming that the streets in their neighborhood are safe to walk. That feels like a big assumption in itself but I also wanted it to be something that could be done while rolling on a wheelchair or pushing a scooter. (I confess that is my toddler’s preferred method of walking.) I called it a stroll because I didn’t want anyone to get the impression that we were going for distance here. That’s not the point. It doesn’t matter how far you go in your 15 minutes of strolling upon your chosen path. It matters what you see and what you feel. It matters that you train yourself to look for wonder and delight while all of the things that have kept you up at night are left behind the locked door at home.

If I were to encourage this in Lent or Easter, I might borrow from the original study and encourage people to take selfies after their walks to share with the church community on social media with a witty hashtag about the hope that they’ve seen. It would be a simple way to share hope beyond the church community.

We all need hope right now. I hope this recipe helps you to cook up some creative ways to find hope in your ministry. I am praying for you, dear pastors. I am praying so much.

Recipe for Zoom Prayer and Pretzel Making

I want there to be lots of fun options for connection and community in Lent. I have been brainstorming ideas and wondering what is possible while we are still online.

I want there to be silliness in this season that is usually so somber. We can do that another year. We can revive that tradition when the pandemic is over but let this year have a little festivity. Let it have joy not just on Sundays.

I really want to figure out how to adapt Maren Tirabassi’s caroling idea for Lent but I haven’t figured it out. Caroling requires beloved songs. That’s not exactly something that I associate with Lent but why can’t we have singing? Maybe there could even be dancing? It has to be possible to share in the joy of music. As you’ll see, I took this idea and combined it with pretzel making because why the heck not?

Most often we do the fun things with kids. It’s what we say we are doing to reach kids on their level. We engage them in hands on activities and we add a little something that links it to our shared faith, but grown ups can be tactile learners too, can’t they?

Grown ups need fun too. So I want to suggest that this activity is not just for kids but for anyone interested in adding a few ingredients to their grocery list and rolling up their sleeves to pray with their hands.

Though I tested this recipe with my kids, that is not the only reason I opted not to make this a heavy conversation about prayer. All of these questions and prompts were way above the wonderings of a three year old and a one year old. They did, however, rolling snakes and painting on that egg wash. Oh, there was so much egg wash everywhere.

We also opted to use our sourdough starter with a recipe from King Arthur Baking so I haven’t actually tested this recipe. I just didn’t want to assume that everyone has starter at home. Nor would I assume that that is something everyone wants to start.

I find that I don’t have a ton of room for big thoughts and ideas even as I attempt to share resources and gifts for pastors and ministry leaders like you. As the one year marker of this pandemic sinks in, it seems that many of us just want connection. We want to feel not so alone. We just want to have some fun. This is a recipe for fun for all ages.

Pretzels are a very familiar tradition that go back to the Middle Ages. There is an Italian legend or two. There is another rooted in the German monastic tradition. There are probably several more that seek to explain why the twisting of the arms of these delicious snacks call to mind arms folded in prayer. I confess I got a little overwhelmed in my search for a simple story. If you have a simple story of your own that you’ve shared over the years, I would love it if you would share it. I had never heard before that the three spaces in the pretzel are thought to be spaces for the three parts of the Trinity. I couldn’t help but think about all of the spaces in life right now that would be so wonderfully filled by the Creator, Christ or Spirit One.

Most of the activities I have seen for pretzel making over the years conclude with learning a new prayer which might even include sending a prayer card to all of the participants in the mail after this virtual gathering. Maybe that is how this ends too or maybe it is enough to sing the Doxology as we wait for the holy to fill the gaps in our bodies and souls. I opted not to make mention of this and let you imagine what makes the most sense for your context. I opted to feast together in a shared meal that might feel like communion or a tiny bit of normal gathering with beloved community.

My twist on this familiar activity was not to talk too much about prayer but to actually put prayer into our bodies through movement. The baking time in this particular recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction is only 10 minutes. That is not long to be silly. I wonder if it’s even enough time for the awkwardness to settle and for joy to release. When I imagined this, I thought I might make a playlist but then I got to thinking about the playlists that Molly Phinney Baskette, author of Real Good Church and Bless this Mess, makes for every Resurrection Day. You can find her 2019 playlist here. I know. It’s not Easter yet but we need joy. Let there be joy. Or you could take requests for joy-filled songs and let that be the playlist that dance sequence. That collection of songs that will surely last more than a mere 10 minutes and it might be a playlist you compile to share with the whole congregation as they take new joys into their bodies.

Have fun this Lent, dear pastors. It’s the encouragement I’m giving myself and I offer it to you too.

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.

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.

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.