Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Defending Yourself: Speaking to the Soul, May 31, 2016

Galatians 1:11-24
As part of my seminary training, I took a class this past spring in Biblical Studies entitled “Paul and His Interpreters.” We read the epistles actually believed to be written by Paul, the epistles written in the name of Paul, and the Book of Acts, where Paul was introduced in the New Testament. At the end of the class, the students in this class were required to meet with our professor to talk about what lessons in ministry we had learned from our study of these works. My answer began with “Never write a letter or email when you are angry and send it before you have a chance to cool off.” It also included, “Don’t try to constantly defend yourself, or you will never get anything done except talking about yourself all the time.” Both of those statements were lessons I absorbed from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Last Sunday, the Revised Common Lectionary began a series of weeks devoted to the Epistle to the Galatians. It’s an unusual letter that violates most of the rules of the letter form used in the Mediterranean world at that time. As we heard on Sunday, it starts out with no personal greeting, no real thanksgiving or flattery. It just slams into rebuking the Galatians for abandoning the message Paul felt he had planted among them for a “perverted gospel” brought by others. It is obvious Paul also feels betrayed, and he lets that come through forcefully. This next Sunday, we will hear Paul’s long justification of himself and his bona fides as a Jew and as an apostle—twenty-four times we will hear Paul refer to himself as either “I” or “me” in Galatians 1:11-24. In this coming Sunday’s readings, Paul will attempt to emphasize the zeal that has characterized his life—first as a Pharisee, then as an apostle who, although not one of the original twelve, carved out a vital mission as the apostle to the Gentiles. This initial three year missionary journey helped those in Jerusalem accept the reliability of the conversion of one of the most notorious enemies they had thought they had among Jerusalem’s Pharisaic authorities.

One has to wonder if Paul’s relationship with the Galatians ever recovered from the forceful criticism and palpable anger that radiated from the opening verses of this letter. I imagine it probably never was the same—and I wonder if he ever regretted sending that letter. If the Galatians had already been persuaded by other evangelists, being angrily and bitterly denounced by someone who spends thirteen verses talking about himself right at the get-go is probably not going to make the Galatians smack their foreheads and admit that he had a point, human nature being what it is. One usually cannot persuade people by attacking them.

Defending himself is important to Paul in these verses. I was thinking about how ironic that fact was, in light of the fact that many Episcopal churches will also be talking about gun violence this Sunday as part of the call from leaders of Bishops United Against Gun Violence to wear orange on June 2 and June 5 and engage in conversation (and hopefully conversion, in some cases) regarding our moral obligation to address the scourge of gun violence roiling our country. The actions of some Episcopalians this Thursday and Sunday is part of a broader Wear Orange movement for Gun Violence Prevention Day on June 2. Many of the tragic incidents with gun deaths in our country begin with an avid proclamation of the right of people to be able to defend themselves, too—using not words, but personal weapons.

We began this week by remembering, on yesterday, Memorial Day here in the US, all those who have given their lives in defense of our country. Yet, according to statistics from Everytown for Gun Safety, in the seven days between the start of Memorial Day and the end of next Sunday, 637 people (91 people a day) will likely die as a result of the use of a gun. Forty-nine of those people will likely be teens and young children. Adding further to the carnage, more than 1200 people will be wounded by guns but survive during that same week. How better to end the week than by remembering all those whose lives have been taken through senseless although often willful violence, made deadly all too easily through ready access to machines designed solely to kill other human beings? Sadly, and all too often, we see guns used not to defend one’s self from harm, but being used in suicides (two-thirds of all gun deaths), domestic violence, drive-by shootings, and incidents when children not only are the victims (about 100 a year) but also sometimes the shooters themselves, often of friends or loved ones.

Defending ourselves is a natural instinct. But when that instinct leads to far more harm than good, we need to try to find another way to feel safe—a way that doesn’t increase the danger that originally caused us to be afraid. The debate over guns in our society needs to be just that—a debate, with the willingness to listen. Too often, tragedies happen at the end of a gun barrel, and how many of those times would the people involved give anything to take back what had happened? Too often, like Paul with the Galatians, both sides have been prone to attack first and intractably defend their positions, rater than listening or seeking common ground. Let us try to reason together, starting with an acknowledgement that each of these precious lives lost through gun violence was entirely preventable. Then let us pray and work together for real transformation this week, and in the days thereafter.

(This was first published on the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on May 31, 2016.

Prayer 1225: On the Visitation of Mary

Apostles look down from the facade and towers of La Sagrada Familia.

Almighty and Merciful God, we rise to bless Your Holy Name: hear our prayers. 
Come, Precious Jesus, and lead us in the paths in which we should go, that love will reign in our hearts and minds. 
Come, Holy Spirit, and guide and illumine our hearts today with a sacred flame of holiness. 

Forgive us, O Lord, for our failures and carelessness: open the closed fists of our hearts, and renew our spirits, we pray. May our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord, for You are the Source of all our blessings. 

Bend near, O Spirit of Healing and Wholeness: lend your aid to those we now name.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Prayer 1224: For Memorial Day

This flag flies every Memorial Day in honor of my father, who was a Seabee in World War II.

For Memorial Day 
Most Precious Jesus, we rise to give you praise, and lay our thanksgivings at your feet. Breathe upon us, Breath of God: renew our hearts and spirits that we may love as little children love, in joy and wonder. 

Help us honor those who have fought overseas or at home for the freedoms we now enjoy, and who longed for peace. 
Help us remember our call to defend the oppressed, the impoverished, the marginalized, and the weak. 
Strengthen us, O Almighty God, to stand against those at home or abroad who espouse violence, hatred, inequality, or tyranny. 

Lord, you know the inmost secrets of our hearts: comfort all who mourn. O Gracious Spirit, illumine our hearts with your truth and glory, and lift up those we now name.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Prayer 1223: Second Sunday after Pentecost

Gloria! Window exterior at La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.

Almighty God, we joyfully gather before You to worship and honor You with our hearts, souls, and bodies: alleluia! We thank You for watching over us as the night has passed, and raise our spirits toward You, offering all that we are for your service. As we gather around your altar, may we also have joy in each other's presence, and honor the face of Christ reflected in each other. Nourished by Christ's love, send us forth into the world reflecting the light of Jesus into all the corners of our lives. Holy One, send forth your Spirit upon us, we pray, and upon those for whom we pray, especially.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Prayer 1222: in gratitude

A window from the interior of La Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Barcelona, Spain.

Lord Jesus, in your mercy, bend near to us, and brush our hearts with the warmth of your goodness and lovingkindness. May our gratitude well up like fresh water in a dry land and soak into our bones, bringing forth shouts of praise to our God! 

Guide us, O Almighty One, into paths of peace, that we may be true children of your gospel. Make us bloom with compassion, reflecting the grace that shades our steps and overflows our hearts. Blessed Savior, place your hand of blessing upon us, and turn your healing heart toward those whose cares we lay before you.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Prayer 1221: for all who wander and long to return

Looking down a staircase in a tower at La Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Barcelona.

Most Merciful God, we rest under your neverfailing love, centered within your compassionate Spirit. Let us sing a song of unending praise, and open our eyes to the light of holiness that pervades all creation. 

Bless and keep us this day, we pray, for we are lambs of your own sheepfold. Forgive us for our wandering, headstrong ways: we are manifestly and heartily sorry for all our offenses. Send your angels to give their tender care to all in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble, and give us compassionate hearts to love the least of your creatures as much as we love ourselves. 

Spread the tent of your mercy over all who call upon You, O God, especially those we now name.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Prayer 1220

Window inside La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona.

Most Merciful God, we bless Your Holy Name and give You thanks and praise. Holy One, we bow before You, awash in your grace and mercy: hear our prayers. From the sparrow on the rooftop to the swirl of stars overhead-- all are secured and upheld by you grace and love, O Creator. Let us not get so busy that we forget that all we are and all we have comes from You, O God. Gentle those souls in tribulation or grief, we pray. Let us sigh and turn to You in peace when day is done, secure in your care. Press them to your holy breast, O Holy One, and grant them peace and respite from care. We remember before You especially this day.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Prayer 1219

The top of this pillar at La Sagrada Familia represents grapes, reminding us of the wine we drink in the Eucharist.

Lord Jesus, we rise to give you thanks, for your love has watched over us through the night. Our spirits take wing before You: keep us as the apple of your eye, we pray. Let us open our hearts to your everlasting love, that we may be transformed and bearers of that love into the world. Holy One, we turn to You in hope and faith: accept the whispered prayers of your people as we pray for those we now name.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Prayer 2012

Holy God, who grounds our hearts in love and calls us to faithful hope, we worship You. We turn to You, O God, as the round Earth turns from sleep to awakening, and stirs itself to praise: alleluia! Heal our hearts of bitterness, and forgive us for seeking to hurt others in our own anger. Let the waters of your grace pour over us and restore us, O Merciful One, like rain on a parched field. Refresh the bodies and spirits of the faithful and the seeking, Lord Christ, for we find our wholeness in you. Remembering your abundant mercy, Lord, we place our concerns at your feet as we pray.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Prayer 1211

Lord Jesus, we rise to give you thanks, for your love has watched over us through the night. 

Holy One, keep your hand upon us as we journey through this day, that we may turn aside from evil and embrace good. Help us to have open, grateful hearts, and serve each other in love and joy. Give us eyes to see the glory of your creation and the face of Christ in each person we meet. Let us put aside all that separates us from love, and remember that we are your hands in the world. 

Almighty God, preserve us in peace, and make your face shine upon those we now name.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Prayer, day 1210- for blessings

Azalea in my garden

Holy God, we give thanks to You for your gracious mercy upon us, and for the beauty of loving hearts in the world. 

 We thank You for steadfast and faithful friends, whose love and support strengthens us each day. We thank You for the glory of your creation, which inspires us to love and care for this Earth. We thank You for your angels who bend over us at sleep or at work or at play. Kindle our hearts and minds with a holy fire to serve and worship You with all that we have. Soothe the pains and sorrows of those who mourn today those lost in defense of hearth and home. 

Accept the whispered supplications of your people, O Holy One, and scatter the blessings of your love and tenderness upon those we now name. 


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Prayer 1209- for Pentecost

The sun is in her heaven, and all the world shouts Alleluia to God our Creator and Hope: Let us bless God with all our strength! 

Almighty God, fill us with your holy fire: kindle within us a Spirit of fierce love, we pray. As You have called us to You from every race, nation, status, and birth, draw us together to fully love each other as your children. Let us build compassion in our hearts and practice peace and justice in the world, inspired by your Holy Spirit. 

Precious Savior, we are your hands and heart in the world: let us pour out your hope to all. Bless those who call upon You, O God, and those whose needs are within our hearts.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Prayer 1208

Holy One, we thank you for the blessing of this day, and for tending us through the watches of the night. We thank You for blessing us with reason, talents, and skill: help us to use them to the glory of your name and for the sake of your creation. Place the shelter of your mercy over all those who are traveling are undergoing transitions in their lives. Give us the grace to seek to serve You in caring for others, remembering our common bonds within your love. Lord, lift up the hearts of all who call upon You, especially those we now name.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Prayer, day 1207

Hitchcock's Annunciation at the Art Institute of Chicago.

We acclaim You, O God and Ruler of our hearts, and draw near to You in faith and trust. You have called us forth to rise from our beds, and we turn our face to the rising sun. 

Let us be like the birds who sing dawn into the sky, joyful for whatever the day may bring. Let us stride forth into the day like a sower in a spring field, cultivating kindness and compassion. Let us drink deep of your Word and Wisdom, O Merciful God, and feed upon your steadfast love. For with You at our right hands we shall not fear or stumble: this is the day that the Lord has made, and we rejoice in it. 

We lift up our hearts as we lift up our prayers, and ask your blessing this day.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Prayer, day 1206

Walk with us, Lord Christ, that we may use
this life which, through you, we have been blessed.
Be with us before the rising sun;
be with us as we lay down to rest.

Be known to us who seek your wisdom,
be known to us as our guard and guide; 
Be known to us as we break bread together,
shoulder to shoulder, and side by side.

Be known to us in every stranger,
in all who hunger or have no home
Be known to us who cry out for mercy-
in those whose hope is in you alone.

O Prince of Peace, You know our sorrows
You know our joys and you know our cares:
Abide with us who call out to you
as we lift our hearts to you in prayer.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Prayer, day 1205- Prayers for blessing

Today, I need some Archangel Michael badassery.

(inspired by Matthew 5:1-10)
O God, You bless us in every moment, and uphold us by the strength of your Love: hear our prayer, for our hope is in You.
Bless those who work as your servants, for they have fixed their hearts upon salvation in each moment
Bless those who are gentle and kind, for they draw others to You through their witness.
Bless those who hunger for a just society, for they seek to build the kingdom of God.
Bless those who demonstrate mercy and forgiveness, for they live out a life of Love and Charity.
Bless those who are innocent and childlike, for their hearts are always open to You.
Bless those who spread peace in their wake, for they call us to live as better people and children of your household.
Bless those who suffer for their faith, for their resolve will never be shaken.
Bless those who cry out to You, for they know that God will fulfill all their needs.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Prayer, day 1204- for those in the path of storms

(inspired by Psalm 31)
In You, O God, do we take refuge:
our trust is in You as we cry out in distress.
Even when the darkness surrounds us,
when walls close in upon us,
You are our mighty fortress.
Preserve us within the storms of life,
for though the tempest rages about us,
You are our God.
Mighty winds may blow and howl,
but You,
O God,
are our rock of refuge and stronghold to keep us safe.
For You take heed of our souls' distress
and will never give us up to the power of darkness and despair.
We rest in the hands of the Almighty:
we rejoice in your mercy and lovingkindness.
Watch over your children, we pray,
and embrace those who rest within You.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Prayer, day 1203

Loving One, abide with us this day. Draw us into paths of wisdom and peace. Watch over those who are facing changes at this time, that the new chapters in their lives be filled with blessing. Give hope to those who falter and courage to those who waver. Help us to discern how we may be better disciples and how we may build your kingdom today. Inspire us through your Spirit to new devotion to your wisdom that we may be a holy people. Make us advocates for freedom and justice in service to others. Bless and defend those for whom we now pray, Lord Christ.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Prayer 1202- for Mother's Day

A long time ago, the three Barnes women were gathered....

Blessed Lord Jesus, we rise to gather in your courts, to give honor and praise to your holy name! 

Holy One, we thank You for all who have guided us with a mother's hand in our lives. O God, bless all mothers: 
birth mothers, 
mothers-in-law, and 
mothers of the heart. 

Open our eyes to see your presence in those who have adopted us, loved us, taught us, and nurtured us, drawn to us in love. 

Help us to ourselves be loving signs of grace and acceptance in the world, that we may spread motherly love throughout our lives. 

Bless those mothers who are gone from us, or are far away, as we remember them and honor them in love. 

With your arms stretched wide, Lord Christ, envelop us in your truth, and give us a new birth of hope and faith, we pray. Gather to your heart, sweet Jesus, those whose needs we lay before you.


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Prayer 1201- thanksgiving and praise

Detail from Chagall's American Window, Art Institute of Chicago.

Almighty God, accept our prayers and praises for your bountiful gifts as we turn our hearts to the glory of this day. The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the spring breeze adds its whispered "Alleluia!" Our eyes are filled with your glorious creation, and our hearts are made glad as a lark on the wing: thanks be to God! 

Prosper the works of our hands, O Holy One, that we may join in the work of your kingdom with joyful, open hearts. Bring us to new unity in Christ, that all may know that we are Christians by our loving faithfulness. Envelop all those who call to You, O Holy One, with your Spirit of Comfort and Healing, that they may be refreshed and renewed. 

Place your blessing especially on those whose cares we lay before You, we pray.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Prayer 1200- the wideness of mercy

Marc Chagall, American window detail, at the Art Institute of Chicago.

 Let us bow before the Lord of Life, with gladness and joyfullness of heart: Alleluia! We know that no power on heaven or on Earth can separate us from your love, O Holy One: your grace is everlasting. 

Lord Christ, forgive us our failures of heart; strengthen us to love fully, each breath a prayer, each footstep a step toward holiness. Make us a joyful, loving people, that your glory in the world be revealed in the compassion and care we have for all living things. Let us seek reconciliation over vengeance and enmity, following the example of our Savior Jesus as loving disciples. 

Lift us up, Blessed Lord: hold us within the hollow of your heart: for your mercy is wide as the sea. We lift up our loved ones, our thanksgivings and our concerns, O God: bless and keep them as we pray.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Prayer 1199

Holy One, we come before You, led by the glory of your gospel of compassion and love: hear our prayers, in your mercy. Let our prayer rise like incense on the morning breeze; let us bow before the Almighty One, Creator of All. 
Keep us as the apple of your eye, secure in your tender care, that we may serve You and your creation, O God. 

Give us the strength to resist evil in all its forms, uplifted by the power of the Holy Spirit, we pray. Help us seek to be not just right but merciful, that we may never act out of malice or fear to hurt others. Help us see the face of Christ in the outcast, the oppressed, and the suffering, to serve the common good in Christ's name. 

Lord Jesus, you know the cares and concerns, the joys and sorrows that have been made known to us. In your undying love, O Savior, cast the light of hope and healing upon those we now name.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Gospel Growth- Speaking to the Soul, May 3, 2016

Matthew 13:18-23 

I walked outside into our backyard garden yesterday, and was amazed at how quickly all the hostas and ferns had suddenly unfurled and covered the wakening landscape. The Jacob’s ladders have elfin, white flowers hanging from their leaves like wee bells that sway in the slightest breeze. The red buds have shed a carpet of faded delicate fuchsia blossoms all across the landscape like confetti, and in their place on the branches are diminutive, heart-shaped leaves that flutter in the wind like tiny toddler hands clumsily clapping their delight. 

There’s growth, and anticipation, and hope in each new sprout from the ground. Dutch iris with their feet in puddles left from Monday’s rain prepare to surge into bloom, but not yet, not yet. A woodpecker has discovered that a pine in the common ground beyond the fence is filled with insects, and has already worked a pattern of holes all over the rough bark like the brogues on a pair of wingtip shoes or tatted lace, hammering a spiraling, pointillist tale of his search for sustenance, his drumroll also warning me that this tree may not be long for this world. But still, this is the way of things, and this is where I go to feel what poet Wendell Berry calls “the peace of wild things.” This is where things grow mostly despite me rather than because of me, at this point. 

Being a gardener is a humbling enterprise, at least the way we do it. Long ago our family surrendered the idea of a manicured, orderly system of plantings. We just couldn’t keep that up. Instead, we hopefully hacked holes into the clay that was all we had left after years of erosion, poked in a few bargain plants that supposedly could handle all the shade and poor soil, and hoped for the best. 

A few years ago, this was just a barren hillside. There were plants that were placed carefully in their spots who lasted a season, maybe two, before feebly subsiding without a trace. Yet each spring, something amazing starts to happen. This year it’s the ferns and the groundcover—some of them are naturalizing, declaring their independence and asserting title to their own spots where once it seemed nothing could grow. Now the plants were claiming the hillside for their own, finding the good soil and the perfect light by themselves. Just as in Jesus’s Parable of the Sower that we read in Matthew, a balance has been achieved between the soil and the seed, sunlight and shade, boggy areas and dry areas. There is more than simply science or even art involved in how hearts, sometimes hardened from abuse or neglect, can nonetheless be transformed into the foundation for new growth in Christ. 

I often think Jesus would have recognized this landscape—after all, most of the land of Palestine was also hilly and marginal, and coaxing life from the rocky soil and uneven precipitation was far more likely to fail than to succeed. His listeners understood this far better than most of us do, as our knowledge and care of the land has become more and more marginalized in our daily experience. 

Yet to be a gardener or a farmer is to trade in hope, and to refuse to give up even when the odds for abundant growth seem long, indeed. But Jesus encourages us to plant anyway, yes—but also to be willing to receive the gospel in faithfulness, in response to the promise that the gospel will bear fruit in those who receive it in a spirit of compassion and joy. 

Who knows where the gospel will go, where it will take root and flourish? Yet we must be willing to proclaim it in our words and deeds just as the Sower scatters seed. We can learn from the garden that one can’t simply will new growth into being, nor will it follow our schedule. But the garden also suggests that the life that Christ has borne into the world can take root in the most unlikely of spots, and that all hearts potentially remain fertile fields for the flowering of grace that seeks to bear fruit in all of us. Jesus as Lord of Creation reminds us that transformation is not simply a precise, orderly blueprint. Rather, grace breaks through and out in the most unexpected places within us, bringing us to new life in Christ.

This was first published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul, May 3, 2016.

Prayer 1198- for rededication

Mother and Child, Auguste Renoir.

Holy One, with undivided hearts uplifted before your light and truth we praise You and bless You: in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Blot out all our offenses, and by your grace bring us to repentance and amendment of life, O Lover of Souls. Purify our intentions and our wills that we may embody your love, and walk in the way of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. 

Abide within the sanctuary of our hearts, Gracious Spirit, that our lives may be a pure testimony and a new creation. Let us rededicate ourselves to the repair of the world, dedicated to the work of peace, justice, and compassion, we pray. Remain with those who are sorrowing or in distress, O Holy Comforter, and press the kiss of thy blessing on those we now name.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Prayer, day 1197

The azaleas are blooming! Hallelujah!

Loving God, spread the tent of your protection over us today. Guide us with your loving, almighty hand that we may walk in your paths with integrity. 

We fervently thank you for our abundant blessings: help us to spend our time numbering them rather than our worries. Bring us within your enclosure, that we may abide there forever, rejoicing that we are your own. 

Embrace us, Loving One, despite our manifold faults, for we seek to be worthy of You. Let our lives sing out a testimony of your love and faithfulness, your compassion and your forgiveness. Help us to speak in love, never in anger; help us to act with charity and forthrightness to all we meet today. 

Hear our prayers as we remember these, your beloved children, in their petitions and thanksgivings.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Prayer 1196- For Rededication to Service

 On Rogation Sunday, the Rev. Pamela Dolan leads the people in asking a blessing of Shepherd Farm,
which produces hundreds of pounds of food for the area's hungry.

Blessed Lord, we bow before You, giving thanks for all your blessings in our lives: in your mercy, hear our prayer. Turn our hearts, O God, that we may be made new in Christ, through whom all things were made. Bless and keep us, O Merciful One, that we may serve You in each other and be a blessing in the world. May we open our spirits to be one with all creation, loving your handiwork in which we have our home. Through your love, O Savior, let us seek reconciliation, and be compassionate and mindful of our actions upon all living things. Send forth your Spirit over all who are suffering or in need, precious Lord, especially those we hold in our hearts.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Prayer 1195- Rogation Day

Reflections of the setting sun on the chapel altar, Church of the Holy Communion, University City, Missouri.

Almighty God, we join the chorus of praise as the morning stars sing out a song of ongoing creation and blessing. We rise to set our feet toward thy courts, and to gather as one people around your altars to give you thanks. Make our hearts fertile fields to manifest your saving help in the world, we pray.

O Creator who established the foundations of the universe, we thank You for setting your plumb line in our hearts. Let us work for the peace, equity, and justice we see modeled in your Holy Communion. Let us seek to do the work of the company of saints in proclaiming your kingdom of peace and well-being for all. Let us live out your gospel and be living testaments to your glorious love and faithfulness in service to others. 

Lord Christ, we offer you our all, for all comes from you: renew clean hearts within us, we pray. Stretch forth your healing hand over all who are suffering or in need, precious Lord, especially those we now name.