Pandemic Prayers for Proper 11

As you may know, I recently moved. I’m in a new place where the landscape and the unbearable heat (even though I’ve now lived in Texas for three years) make this place feel so foreign and strange. I live in a new construction home which is something I’ve avoided for 41 years. The houses all look the same in my neighborhood and it pushes me to think about diversity in creation, people and, yes, even houses.

I feel dislocated on top of the isolation that I’ve felt for the past four months. I’m now in a place where I don’t know my neighbors. I don’t have friends or family that I can socially distance visit so that I’m instantly drawn into that Psalm. I long for the familiar: to be known and loved. I miss that.

It’s where my heart leads. I wonder how many might feel the same at this moment.

Gathering Together

I love this Opening Prayer by my friend Teri Peterson so much that I’m tempted to not write my own. Or I might take this video suggestion from Singing on the Lectionary to begin worship (or maybe use in the time for children) to learn this song in English and American Sign Language.

I want there to be art. Maybe that includes Vincent Van Gogh’s The Sower with the accompanying reflection by Liam O Comain as Suzanne Guthrie suggested last week to begin worship because I want to see myself among the scattered seeds. Or maybe you just watch this guy garden in some mix of silence and words of poetry, scripture or words like these that follow. (You probably have some gardeners in your community and could make a better version of this too, right? Because you totally have time for that. Kidding.)

Gathering Words
Inspired by Psalm 139 and Romans 8:12-25

We have groaned
so much as the days and weeks
have added up
and the frustrated
arguments have escalated
about whether or not to wear a mask.
All of creation has groaned
with us and we are waiting
still. Our backs are tired.
Our knees are weak
and we shudder to wonder
what it means now
to reap what we sow.
O God, search us.
Search us out in this
time of worship
and wonder.
Know that we are looking for you
in every tiny plant
growing in our gardens
and the cracks in the sidewalk.
Sit down beside us
and dial in
so that we might rise
with you in hope and love.
Lead us on your way
again, O God. Amen.

Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Grace

These prayers have been adapted for some I wrote for an interim season at the United Christian Church of Austin. I wrote these prayers as a volunteer because I could help in this small way and when I concluded this service, I received a card thanking me that included a celebration especially of hearing the words poopy diapers in a prayer. Well, it’s here for you too. This is my reality and maybe now the image at the top makes sense.

Call to Confession

We have been led together to this very moment
where it feels like God is both near and far,
when we wonder what the future might hold.
Let us confess our fears together.

Prayer of Confession

O God, we never feel ready for the good news.
It comes in a trumpet blast one morning
and we can’t help but feel like we should have done more to prepare.
We have our excuses: too old, too young, too many poopy diapers,
too little money, too immunocompromised,
not enough hours in the day, not really believing
that it’ll matter; but you know the truth, O God.
We don’t ever really feel like we could be called but we are.
You have searched us and known us and you know that
we are called to this moment. We will be the ministers of the future.
We are called to this.
O God, forgive us for all our self doubt.

Assurance of Grace

Who hopes for what they cannot see?
We hear the complaint in the epistles and our own tongues
but let anyone with ears listen. God knows your heart
and God forgives your fears. You are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

What I haven’t tackled in these words is the repetition of the word slavery. It should for American Christians push us to wrestle with our nation’s history of enslaving black and brown people. It should challenge us how we preach these words as good and force us into an uncomfortable place again. To that end, I commend The Word Is Resistance to you in particular to delve into these sacred words that can lead to such sin. The Rev. Anne Dunlap, who hosts the podcast, offers several other excellent resources if you follow the link.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I’ll be guest preaching next Sunday so you can expect that I’ll be more on top of things next week.

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

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.

Ash Wednesday

My sister died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

It’s a fact that has haunted these first few months of my own daughter’s life.

She died before I was born but the memory is alive. I wake to hear my little girl breathing. I check. I triple check. I am careful to keep every blanket or pillow as far away from her mouth as possible so that history will not repeat itself. She’s almost made it. My little girl is nearly four months old, which is how old my sister was when she stopped breathing. She was only four months old.

As with so many of those stories, I don’t know the specifics. I know now that there are many things that could have contributed to her death. My father was a smoker. She was probably lying on her tummy. There were definitely bumpers lining the crib in the hope of protecting this blessed child, but even with these facts, I don’t know much about that story. It reads from my family’s history as something that happened, but not something that wanders into conversation.

There’s not much to be said. She died. It was terrible. Of course it was terrible, but what else can be said about such things?

I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I was thinking about it today as the Gospel Lesson was read before ashes were placed upon my forehead. My daughter wiggled in my lap. Her little toes kicking, dancing to some distant beat. Alive. Unrepentantly so. Alive and kicking.

Here I was sitting with this squirming little reminder of life to hear it proclaimed again that we are dust, both she and I. We are dust and to dust we shall return. Life will end, even when it is so new. It will end. We do not know the day or hour, but life will end. It always does. Sometimes it happens far too soon.

It is always that way. It was that way in Florida today. While I sat in my pew, seventeen children were killed in a high school in Parkland. Seventeen children were killed. It bears repeating because it’s too terrible and the specifics are even more overwhelming.

It is the eighteenth school shooting this year. It seems impossible.

It doesn’t have to be this way. This doesn’t have to happen, but somehow we have failed. We have missed something. We have allowed this to happen and I can’t help but think that it has something to do with what happened in that tiny chapel this afternoon.

When it came time to receive the ashes and remember that we are dust, I stood in the aisle waiting with the other worshippers bouncing my baby girl in my arms. I heard the familiar refrain repeated again and again. Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return until I stood before the deacon and he pressed his thumb into the ashes. He took a breath, looked into my eyes and said again, Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return. And then, I turned so that he could offer this same mystery to my daughter peeking over my shoulder.

I heard him say the words, just as I heard her coo, but when we sat back down in the pew there were no ashes upon her forehead. Somehow we won’t allow ourselves to believe that children die.

 

Before the Fireworks

IMG_0184It was in August of last year that my beloved called from Kuwait to ask if I would move across the country with him. Only a few hours later, after I grappled with all that it would mean to leave my church and follow my heart, I said yes. I would go with him. I would move all the way across the country — back home — to make a life with him.

It was a few months after that that I sent him a link to the ring I had chosen for myself. Because we had already spoken about getting married. And we knew it was something we both wanted. It was about that time that he bought that ring.

It was in March that we packed our bags and moved. We settled into our new home together and I watched him freak out one night because he couldn’t find the ring that he had stupidly packed up with the movers. I knew it was in the house. I never went looking for it. But, I knew it was in the house.

I had told my love before we moved that I expected a proposal soon. I gave him a deadline. I never imagined that I would be the kind of girl that gave a deadline. But I also never imagined myself to be the kind of girl that would follow a man across the country. I never thought I would make that choice. So I gave him a deadline. He needed to propose by the end of June.

It was in the beginning of June that I started to freak out. Because we had reached the month for which the deadline had been set and nothing seemed to have changed. He was still telling me the same thing. There are steps, Elsa. There are steps, he would say. So I freaked out. I freaked out to my dearest friends. They heard me cry and wail. And yes, there really was some wailing.

It was about three weeks ago that my beloved and I decided we would spend the Fourth of July in New York City. We bought a Groupon for a fancy hotel. We made plans to see the Macy’s Fireworks and that’s when he said, “Oh. Fireworks would be romantic.” That’s when I knew that it would be that weekend. It would be that weekend that he would finally ask me to marry him. But, it didn’t happen under the fireworks. It happened before in a wine bar down by the South Street Seaport. It happened there over a bottle of wine — something we both love — that he told me he loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. It was there that he gave me the the ring and I said yes.

Yes, of course I will marry you.

Because everything really does work out in the end.