Saturday, October 31, 2015

Prayer, day 1012

O God, the night has ended, and a new day awaits us. We seek to be thankful for the joys it will bring and strong to face its challenges. You are with us always, both in the rejoicing and in the fight. May we reach out not only for our own cares and concerns, but to help those around us. We may not be able to do everything, Lord, but we certainly hope to do what we can. May we live this day as a credit to our faith in You. We ask your care and blessing upon these, your children.


Friday, October 30, 2015

The hands that unbind us: Speaking to the Soul, October 30, 2015

Raising of Lazarus, by Giotto, 1306. Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy.

“The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’”

As we prepare to see a parade of ghosts, ghouls, monsters, mummies this Saturday, even our gospel for All Saints’ Day includes a dead man wrapped in bandages. How apropos.

All Saints’ Day is also one of the days in the calendar of the Church on which baptisms are encouraged. At the parish where I am serving as seminarian, we will have a temporary altar with ofrenda, or offerings and mementos, on it to commemorate our loved ones who have passed away, especially within the previous year. We will also celebrate a baptism. We will remember those who have been saints in this life as we also welcome a new Christian into the Body of Christ. Loving hands will hand over that baby, and other loving hands will pour the waters of baptism over her head, symbolizing death and new life and the hopes of a family and a congregation. It’s a particular blessing that, in the Episcopal Church, baptisms are performed in the midst of the main worship service, to remind us of how we are woven together into one fabric, one body, one hope, one faith, one promise.

The gospel we will hear before that baptism will be the story from John of Jesus weeping over his friend Lazarus, and calling him forth, not into his old life, but into a new life--  a life of resurrection and hope. It is a story of death and life held in tension, as of course it is for us all at every moment. But it’s the last words in this story that capture my attention. Lazarus can’t really be free of the prison of death until he is unbound-- with the help of others.

We Americans in particular take great pride in the belief that each person is completely responsible for his or her lot in life. The myth of the “Self-Made Man” or “Woman” looms large over the cultural landscape, especially at election time (which seems to never end).  And this is one myth that I am certain does no one any favors. It leads to denigration and shame on the part of those viewed as “unsuccessful,” and to hubris and self-delusion on the part of those who are considered “fortunate.” Yet a vital part of the miracle of Lazarus’s resurrection is not just his new life, but his restoration to the community.

Perhaps Lazarus’s bandages symbolize all that holds us within the grip of sin and death, separating us from true communion with God and each other: our angers, our jealousies, our vanities, our competitiveness which always comes at the expense of others, our malaise, our lack of empathy, our compulsion toward dominance and power, and our festering wounds from the past that we often use as excuses-- and simultaneously seem vindictively determined to pass along to others.

We are often unaware of the things that weigh us down, so that grief subsides to grief.  We cling to what we know even if it does us no good because that familiarity is more comfortable than getting a hand free to take hold of something better. We gouge out a path of anxiety in not just our hearts but the hearts of those around us. Those old patterns only serve to deny love the power to heal, even when we name that healing as our most ardent wish. Yet, that last line in this story of Lazarus also reminds us even when we answer the call of Christ, there are other loving hands waiting to help free us and welcome us into new life. We can’t always unbind ourselves, but we can be grateful for those who are there to help. It is only when loving hands reach out to release us from our bonds that we can walk free. That’s why Christ calls us to follow him in that fsmily and community known as “Church”- that ragtag rejoicing host of witnesses remembered as saints that extends from antiquity to friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers who themselves are attempting to shed what binds them too.

Lazarus had been shut away, his memory eventually to be forgotten forever, yet the voice of love spoke the breath back into his body. Loving hands helped him discard the raiment of death, and welcomed him back into the light. We long for that quickening, too—to be set free to live with the integrity and compassion that is the foundation of the life to which Jesus calls us to not just imitate but make our own. If we want to be like Lazarus, we have to shed those bindings, with some help at times, so that we can walk out of the dank tomb and feel the light and love of resurrection. All that we leave behind makes us lighter for the journey, and there will be companions with us. The hands that unbind us are just as important as the words that call us into the light, because they witness to us as well about the love of Christ in our lives.

(This was first posted at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on October 30, 2015.)

Prayer 1011

O God, all that we have and all that we are we offer for your service and glory: let us renew our hearts and minds to dwell in You. 

Help us to accept and welcome the cost of following you, Lord Jesus, in our daily lives and work. Let us live our lives in joyful praise of all God has done for us, and love and serve each other in amity and peace. Keep us steadfast and true in walking in your wisdom, O Holy Spirit. 

Refresh our souls and restore our hearts, O Holy One, and unite us to each other in love as we pray for all whose hope is in You.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Prayer 1010

Blessing and honor and praise to You, O God, Creator of the heavens and the earth all that is in it! You clothe the morning skies with royal hues as day approaches: your love never sets or fails. Set our spirits ablaze like the morning star, remembering to turn to You for guidance and hope. 

Draw us under the shadow of your wing, O Holy One, and renew our hearts and minds to do what is good in your sight. Beloved Savior, press your blessings upon us like a mother kisses her children's brows, and draw the faltering into your embrace. 

Merciful One, You remember both the laughter and the tears of your creatures: may your peace abide with those we now name.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Prayer 1009

Marigolds in the Shepherd Farms garden, Church of the Good Shepherd, Town and Country, MO.

Lord Jesus, we invite your presence into our hearts, 
that we may abide with You,
and learn your ways of peace and justice. 
Renew and restore those 
whose souls are cast down within them, 
O Holy One;
refresh them with springs of living water. 
Shield us from the arrows 
of those who lie in wait for us, Merciful One, 
and heal their hearts of their angry wounds. 

Guide us, O God, 
that our ways be gentle and blameless, 
sowing peace where there is discord and strife. 
Help us seek a deeper knowledge of You 
and of your saving ways, O Redeemer. 
Let our thoughts and prayers be directed toward You in hope, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that we may humbly hear your word, and act. 

Gathered with all your saints, O Merciful God, 
we lift up those whose hope is in You.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Prayer 1008

Draw us near to You, O Love Divine, and give us hearts of beauty in place of our hearts of stone, we pray. 

Bring us to repentance and renewal, that we may turn from our presumptions and carelessness toward our neighbors. 

Keep us in the hollow of your hand, Lord Christ, and on the lee side of your sheltering love. 

Draw us in to sit in the presence of Eternal Love and Truth, O Holy Spirit, and set alight our adoration. 

Open our ears, O God, to hear the music of eternity in cool autumn rains and skittering leaves, and wonder at your creation. 

Bind up the wounds of those who ache or weep, and soothe the fevered brows of those in distress, O Redeemer. Secure within your embrace, O Holy One, we ask that your blessing descend upon those we remember before You.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Prayer, day 1007

Loving, Almighty God, you have called us to be your children and you embrace us every moment. You set the stars in their courses yet keep your eye on the sparrow, and we know that joy in you is our strength as we abide forever in the shadow of the Most High. We thank and praise you for your faithful love for us even when we despair. We lift up those who suffer lack of food, of home, of safety. We lift up those who have been the victims of crime. We lift up those who are sick in body, heart, or mind. We ask that you comfort, heal, and restore these, your children.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Prayer 1006- for Church Social Media Sunday 2015

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, we come before your altars today joyfully singing our praise of your abundant help and grace. 

Let our prayers of thankfulness ring out to all the world, that Christ be known in every heart. 

Let our prayers of hope lift every soul to witness to Your truth, O God, to shine into the corners of every habitation. 

Let our prayers of peace turn our hearts and hands to building your kingdom of heaven here on Earth. 

May our words, our songs, our hearts, and our lives be dedicated to your service, O Holy Lord, our Redeemer and Guide. Loving One, we turn to You in gratitude for your saving help: send now your blessing on all the world.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Prayer, day 1005

Merciful, Beneficent God, you provide a canopy of love to give us respite from all our cares. When we are tired, You bid us rest. When we weep, You embrace and hold us. When we are weighed down with sorrow, You give us respite. When we are weighed down with pain, you lift us up in Your Hands. Thank you, Loving God, for bending near to us, and especially for these loved ones in all their needs.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Love is never lost: Speaking to the Soul, October 23, 2015

The Rev. Emery Washington, Sr.

It had been a long day, a hard day—the day of the funeral of my priest, friend and mentor, the Rev. Emery Washington, Sr. The service had been so achingly beautiful—the choir and congregation had sung hymns of praise and hope; a poignant, gently humorous homily had been preached, and a great servant of Christ had been remembered to smiles, laughter, and only a few tears, as Father Emery would have preferred. Hundreds of people had packed the church to pay their final respects to a man whose integrity, wisdom, godliness, and kindness had made such a difference in the world.
But perhaps one of the most striking things that day happened after the service was over. My husband said he would meet me at the car, and I got halfway there when I realized I had forgotten my alb, so I had to turn around and get it.
When I came out and walked down the hill to my parking spot, I saw my husband, Bill, talking animatedly with a gentleman who looked to be just a few years older than ourselves. I thought perhaps my husband and this gentleman knew each other—after all, Father Emery had friends from all walks of life, and St. Louis is really nothing sometimes but a great big small town.
This man– whose name was Jim, he told us– talked about the wonderful life he had led, about how he was the youngest of his mother’s children, and how much his mother had meant to him. He said that before she had died at almost 100 years of age, he had taken her to Hawai’i, Europe, all around the world.  Jim said he had been trying—and failing—to give back to her in her final years just a fraction of what she had given to him. He also spoke of his deep faith, which he had learned from his mama.
Jim was so forthright, so sincere, as he looked both of us in the eye and talked about the principles which had guided his life—principles very much like those that had guided Father Emery throughout his life—honesty, loyalty, hard work, all guided and uplifted by a deep faith in God. Our conversation was delightful, free and easy. It felt like we had known him for months or years, and during the entire time we three spoke together, I thought my husband had known this man for years, so relaxed and happy he was in his presence. Although we came from different eras (we later found out he was 78 years old), different races, different parts of the country, our backgrounds were in some ways so similar—we could commiserate about mamas who don’t act their age, and about working hard, and finding joy in simple experiences.
It wasn’t until we had parted ways and Jim had walked off, singing, down the street to his car, that Bill told me how their conversation had started. While I was back in the church alb-hunting, Jim had made eye contact with Bill as he stood by our car. He had then walked up to Bill and spoke to him:  “Brother, I’m not going to ask you for money,”  which is an interesting way to start a conversation with a stranger. Instead he took hold of Bill’s hand and looked into his eyes as he continued, “I just want to know if if anybody has told you today that they love you? Especially anyone not related to you?”
Bill thought for a moment, and then replied, “Well, no, not today.”
Jim then responded, “Well I have come 400 miles from Alabama to tell you that. I love you.”
And that had been the start of a conversation between three strangers that was open, joyful, and fascinating. A conversation fully grounded in the bonds that are supposed to unite us into the body of Christ, that gave us a foretaste of the love of God that we are promised will bind the kingdom of heaven together.
Throughout the evening, my husband was bemused, and kept talking about what an amazing man Jim was; how he had felt to be in the presence of someone who was filled with the light of Christ, someone who really had no agenda but to reflect some of that light into the lives of two strangers on what had been an already incredibly emotional, bittersweet occasion. Bill kept repeating how remarkable, starkly beautiful, and authentic that experience had been, especially on the evening that we had said goodbye to a dear friend and respected spiritual advisor. As Jim held Bill’s arm, and gazed into his eyes, my husband felt lifted from this unusual love communicated so clearly from a complete stranger. When he left our presence and bid us farewell, he walked off, and he sang a hymn with a clear pure voice. His message reminded us both of what Father Emery had emulated throughout his entire life.
It was the way Father Emery had lived his life that made this encounter actually seem not-so-strange. He too had always made sure that he frequently told the people in his life what they meant to them. It may be that only in this context, as we were still adrift in memories of how much Emery had meant to us, that we were able to be open enough for our encounter with Jim.  The day had been filled with a reminder that we are indeed called to love each other that fully, that recklessly.
A couple of days ago in this space we were asked to think about the angels who had appeared to us in our lives. Bill and I both agreed that our most recent encounter with angels was our remarkable time spent with Jim on that sidewalk outside our parish. And it reminded us that Emery’s love and faithfulness still reverberated through the world. That love may linger in the memories and lasting example of a beloved friend.  It may also walk up to us in the guise of a stranger. But no matter what, love is never lost.

(This was first published at the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on October 24, 2015.)

Prayer 1004

A detail from a window at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Webster Groves, MO.

Lord God, Heavenly King, we praise You for your mercy and loving-kindness in bringing us to this day. 

May we labor with humility in your service, O God, going forth with joy, carrying our sheaves. 
May we acknowledge our wrongs and turn from our errors, seeking reconciliation with penitent hearts. 
May we plant justice in the heart of every nation, and let our lives tell out the wondrous grace of your love. 
May we rejoice in your creation, and walk gently upon the earth, tending it in gentleness and gratitude. 

In your tender love, lean over us and guide us, O Holy One, holding us in the hollow of your hand. We ask your blessing upon those we now name.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Prayer 1003

Sister-leaves from a single tree, Eden Seminary, Webster Groves, MO.

Almighty God, breathe your hope into us at our rising, that we may center ourselves within You throughout the day. 

Plant your gentleness like an oak, deep within our hearts, O God, that the branches of your blessing may shade us always. Imprint your Spirit upon us, O Holy One: fill us with your truth, so that we may proclaim your justice and peace in all places. 

Let our lives proclaim our love for You, Lord Christ, and may our actions be testimony to your compassion and love. 

May the beauty of this fragile world fill us with awe and wonder, that we may tenderly minister to all living things. 

Strengthen and guide all doctors, nurses, surgeons, and caregivers, O Lord, and bless them for their care and skill. Remember those who call upon You, Lord, and send your angels to minister to those we now name.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Prayer 1002- Prayer changes things

The corner of the altar in the chapel at Holy Communion reflects the evening light as we would gather for prayer.

As we lie in our beds in the dawning light, we know, O Lord, that prayer changes things, especially our own hearts. 

As we feel your hand of blessing in so many corners of our lives, we know, O Lord, that You are our portion and our cup. 

As we think of the times we have failed to live as we ought, we know, O Lord, that our prayers of penitence call us to renewal. 

As our hearts are hurting and we are beset by storms within and without, we know, O Lord, that You are with us. 

As we pray for friends and loved ones who are sick, sorrowing, or in trouble, we know, O Lord, that you in your mercy remember them and keep them. 

Send now, O Lord, your blessing upon us who turn to You, and comfort those whom we now name.


This morning's prayer inspired by this song.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Prayer 1001

Almighty Lord, we turn our faces to You as the sun rises, feeling the warmth of your presence wash over us, and are at peace. 
With each beat of our hearts, let us breathe in your loving-kindness, O Savior, and breathe out our thanksgiving for your compassion. 

Holy One, let us recount your manifold mercies to us, and seek to reflect that generosity of spirit in our own lives. 
Give us grace to pray for those who seek to hurt us, that their hearts be turned and their anger be healed. 

Send forth your Spirit, O God, to abide with those in distress and pour out like a balm over the ill and the lost. 
Loving One, we ask that You envelop in your love those whom we remember in our prayers by name.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Prayer Changes Things

Today is the 1,000th day that I and my friends and their friends have prayed together in a mutual prayer circle I started on a whim on Facebook nearly three years ago. I want to thank everyone who has joined together on this journey, who have been faithful prayer warriors on Facebook, twitter, and here on my blog. 
It has been an incredible blessing to me, and has helped ground my spiritual practice, as I have written a new prayer the majority of days this group has been in existence. These prayers have also been shared over twitter, first at @holycommucity as part of its ministry, and for the last few days now on my own personal twitter account. 
Thanks be to God! I know that prayer changes things, not the least of which is my own heart when I pray.

The great Mahalia Jackson explains some of my understanding of prayer:

Prayer 1000- inspired by Psalm 103

This is the 1,000th day that I and my friends and their friends have prayed together in a mutual prayer circle I started on a whim on Facebook nearly three years ago. It has been an incredible blessing to me, and has helped ground my spiritual practice, as I have written a new prayer the majority of days this group has been in existence. Thanks be to God!

Inspired by Psalm 103
Most Merciful God, you remember all your beloveds, and know us each by name: let us center our souls in You. You have poured out your blessings upon us, O Holy One: let us sing out our thanks with all that is in us. May we extol your glorious works throughout creation, and sing out our wonder at your saving help, O Creator. 

Anoint us with your loving-kindness, Lord Christ, and fill our eager hearts with your wisdom and grace. 

Bless us with discerning minds and gentle spirits, O Life-Giver, that we may turn to paths of peace and compassion. 

Speak your benediction over us, Lord, and strengthen and renew your children who put their trust in You.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Prayer 999

From last year's Christmas Cantata at my home parish of Holy Communion. I performed the vital task of page turning-- there I am next to Mary Carol, our pianist. Original photo by my husband Bill.

Holy God, Heavenly One, let us rejoice in You, our Maker and our Savior! Let us lift our song to You in harmony, united in telling out your truth and love. 

You, Lord Christ, are our mighty foundation, our guide and brother in leading us to holy living and loving. Almighty God, shield us from hatred, envy, and anger, from without and within, and accept our repentance of our failings. 

Let us seek to live with each other in gentleness. Help us to examine our ways that we may come to your table as one people knit together by love and forgiveness. Fill us with a Spirit of compassion and forbearance, that we may walk gently throughout this land. 

Protect the sick and afflicted, Blessed Savior, and place your healing hand upon them, especially those we now name.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Prayer 998- in honor of the Rev. Emery Washington, Sr.

He was my priest. He was my role model. He was my friend.

In Memory of the Rev. Emery Washington, who exemplified each one of these gifts.

Holy One, we lift up our hearts to You, and give thanks to You for the continuing witness of the life of your servant Emery, and all your saints who have entered into joy.
May we be inspired to never lose our wonder at the beauty of your creation.
May we lead with boldness and humility, seeking to be servants of Christ.
May we join hands and walk with each other in equity, amity, and fellowship, destroying the barriers that seek to divide us.
May we pursue justice with steadfast, loving hearts, seeking to build up what is good and abolish what separates us.
May we sing out the glory of God and follow the path of Christ with joy, inspired by God's grace.
Maybe seek wisdom in the heart of God and praise your Holy Name, remembering our path is our witness.
May we be upright and gentle, giving graciously of ourselves with true love and faithfulness.
May we remember the kindnesses of our own mentors, and generously encourage those who follow us.
May we minister in constancy and devotion to all our brothers and sisters, inspired by your Holy Spirit.
Above all, may we love each other, O God, just as you love us.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Work and honor: Speaking to the Soul, October 16, 2015

(This was first posted at The Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul for October 16, 2015.)

Detail from a window at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Ferguson.

Earlier this week, a judge in the city of St. Louis, the heart of the metropolitan area where I live, ruled that the recently-passed law which sought to gradually raise the minimum wage to eleven dollars an hour by 2018 was unconstitutional under state law, since it contradicted the state minimum wage. There is a lot of push-back in some quarters against raising the minimum wage. Some people claim that such a raise will cost jobs and raise prices. It would be refreshing to actually look at, rationally, the costs and benefits, as well as the history of the minimum wage in this country, free of ideology. I am not so foolish to think that will happen anytime soon.

But one of the arguments against raising the minimum wage troubles me greatly. There is a narrative out there that states that those who work in what are called “menial” jobs do not deserve to earn what would be termed a living wage. This would be a wage that, if one is working 40 hours a week, would enable that person to be able to attain food, shelter, health care, transportation of some sort. There is a disdain inherent in this attitude that overlooks our interdependence on all sectors of workers in order to build a unified economy and a unified society.

Essayist and poet Kathleen Norris, in her book The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work,” spoke of a moment of in-breaking clarity once when she attended a wedding in a Catholic Church. Being relatively unchurched, she was sitting at the back after the communion had been distributed, watching the proceedings, when she suddenly tugged on her fiance’s sleeve: “Look at that! The priest is cleaning up! He’s doing the dishes!” She goes on to explain her sense of wonder: “I found it remarkable—and still find in remarkable—that in that big fancy church, after all of the dress-up and the formalities of the wedding mass, homage was being paid to the lowly truth that we human beings must wash the dishes after we eat and drink. The chalice, which had held the very blood of Christ, was no exception.” Those of us who have served on the altar guild, or as acolytes, deacons, or priests, can affirm: even at the Lord’s Supper, someone’s got to do the dishes. And sweep, and polish, and press linen.

How easy it is to take for granted the holiness of simple, plain work in making our lives together! It is a common conceit that if one wants something to seem fancy, one must attach a fancy name for it. A good example is in Ms. Norris’s use of the word “quotidian” rather than its synonym, “everyday.” We downgrade the menial, repetitious, yet necessary labor upon which we are all dependent, and take it for granted that this kind of labor requires no skill and therefore deserves marginal compensation and no honor. Let’s also note that Ms. Norris’s title also places “women’s work” in quotations, as an acknowledgement that this label has been used traditionally to denigrate and marginalize said work—the cooking, cleaning, mending, and caring for the needs of the family-- that traditionally was performed by those within the household whose work was vital, yet unhonored.

Minimum wage workers are often engaged in the service sector of the economy, with making and providing access to food, cleaning, and caring for the needs of others. In other words, work that has ties very often to that same “menial” work once centered in the home. Work that also, traditionally, was unpaid. Work that is still not seen as “noble,” in and of itself--regardless of the alleged fascination with the so-called “self-made man or woman” that runs through American civic mythology. P. J. O’Rourke once remarked, “Everyone wants to save the planet; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.” Unpaid and low-pay work is often invisible work, but it is still work that matters. And it’s not just fast-food workers who have seen their work devalued over the last many years: masons, carpenters, mechanics, and other trades have seen their standards of living, and their ability to pay their bills, plummet.

In our gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus asks us to reexamine the issue of status and privilege. James and John ask Jesus to give them positions of honor when he comes into his glory. As the other disciples catch wind of it and begin arguing among themselves, one imagines how patient Jesus must have been to see once again that his message has gotten completely lost.

Then as well as now.

Sometimes the greatest among us are those who are the lowliest- the ones whose labor in the most modest corners of the economy make it possible for others in more “esteemed, positions to do their own work more effectively. It is in the most self-effacing activity that we often show the most love for each other, or support our own disparate vocations. As the gospels show us again and again and again, it is in feeding each other, healing each other, tending to each other, comforting each other, that we are most united as community. The humblest work is that which Jesus commends to us as the greatest work, because it tends to basic needs. It is in the prosaic that self-giving is often found. Might we recognize the dignity inherent in such work, and in those who perform such labor, and honor that work not just with platitudes but just compensation?

(This was first posted at The Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul for October 16, 2015.)