Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Exulting in the Spirit: Speaking to the Soul, May 31, 2017

The Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, statue at Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Jerusalem.

Today in the church calendar we remember the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. In the readings for today we hear two of the three great anticipatory “parent songs” of scripture—we hear Hannah and Mary’s songs, but not Zechariah’s, although, as the husband of Elizabeth, his song lingers at the edges of our hearing. The stories of hope and joyful expectation attached to this remembrance loomed large in my family’s personal narrative as I was growing up. My mother had been told she would never have children, and yet after 16 years of marriage, she would not give up. Even after those sixteen years, in which she prayed deeply over the stories of women like Hannah and Elizabeth, my mother did eventually have a baby (me), and then two other children: my brother and my sister. This story was told to us over and over as we grew up. It was not lost upon us that this placed the weight of expectation upon us.

As I got older, the story of Mary and Elizabeth’s exchange became imbued with its own weight in my own life, after I nearly died giving birth to my own first child. A few days after I was released from the hospital, my mother took me to the Saturday evening service at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, and the supply priest who was serving that day led the praying of Mary’s song over me there in the relieved embrace of my parish family. Ever since then, this feast has been doubly meaningful for me. 

In the gospel reading for today’s feast, the first verse takes up the story right after the angel has informed Mary that she will bear a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. What’s interesting is the way the story depicts Mary’s first reaction after her faithful, surprising assent: she sets out “with haste” to see her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who herself is expecting a baby after years of childlessness. Mary’s response to this news is to want to be with someone who will be able to support her in this surprising change of life, and she hurries to her kinswoman Elizabeth’s side, one who herself is in the midst of a joyfully surprising pregnancy, one that mirrors the miracle that Hannah exults in in the reading from 1 Samuel. Hannah’s song rejoices in emptiness being filled, and Mary’s song echoes that as well, stripping out the resentment Hannah justifiably feels but doubly exclaiming about the hoped-for coming of God’s shalom and righteous re-ordering of society.

Mary and Elizabeth meet with jubilation, and the Holy Spirit seizes both of them and draws from their very depths rapturous exaltations of triumph and hope. Elizabeth feels the child within her leap for joy at Mary’s approach, and responds with part of the prayer we now know as the Ave Maria, which is a combination of the angel’s greeting to Mary, and Elizabeth’s exclamation: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth continues in astonishment and prophecy, for both she and her unborn child know that the Mother of God, and the savior she will bear, have drawn near, bringing also nearer the kingdom of God.

Two women, so different in age and status in life, are nonetheless bound together by their willingness to cling to God’s promises, both astonished and joyful at the changes that will present themselves in their lives. Both are willing to have their lives be completely upended and transfigured by faith that God’s promises will be fulfilled within them. They are transformed by anticipation of a re-ordering of justice based on trust in the tandem qualities of God’s strength and mercy in both their own lives and in the life of their community.

The victory songs we hear today predict a re-ordering of life from human injustice to God’s justice, the approaching triumphant flourishing of shalom foretold in prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Deborah. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God calls us to serve as handmaids to the causes of justice and peace that was woven into the very fabric of creation itself, yet derailed by humanity’s omnipresent arrogance and willfulness. As the outbursts of joy coming from Elizabeth and Mary at their greeting make clear, the approaching Spirit calls us back to the beginning. As God sang creation into being, so too the response elicited by new life and new creation experienced by Elizabeth and Mary is a powerful exclamation of anticipation, hope, and fulfillment. These are hopes that we ourselves cling to in the times in which we struggle against despair and strife in our own lives, and in our own communities.

How often do we grope and grasp for some reassurance of God’s presence in our lives, and struggle to hold on to hope when the anxieties and pressures of life seem to crush in upon us? The life-giving presence of the Spirit as manifested in the visitation between Mary and Elizabeth reminds us that God’s power breaks loose in the most unexpected times and ways. In response to the in-breaking of God’s Spirit into these women’s lives, they are given a vision of a new triumph of peace; structures of injustice and weapons of war have been shattered; the hungry are satisfied and at peace; the oppressed are lifted up and exalted, while the oppressors are humbled and crumbled. In times of struggle, hopefulness itself is an act of rebellion and resistance. Those who have been empty, without hope, have been, and will be, filled.

As we await the coming of the Pentecost event, when the Holy Spirit looses a thunderbolt to launch the Church out into the world, we are reminded that God’s Spirit is always seeking to be welcomed within our deepest beings, and that when we open ourselves to the Spirit’s mighty power, hope is born anew, and we will sing out with joyful testimonies to the power of God working and creating within the world in each moment.

This essay first was posted at the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on May 31, 2017.

Prayer 1587: The Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth

The Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, by Jesus Mafa, a Christian community in Cameroon.

O God, Our Rock and Our Savior,
You have done great things for us,
and we praise and bless your Holy Name.

Come, Holy Spirit,
and awaken our souls to magnify the Lord;
let us praise our God unceasingly.
Most Merciful One,
let it be for us according to your will:
may the joy of Christ leap within our hearts.
Help us to bear Christ into the world,
and testify to the power of his love in our lives.

Holy One, grant your mercy upon all who seek your help:
satisfy the poor and oppressed with justice.
Look with favor upon us as your servants, O Holy One,
and preserve in hope all those who call upon You.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Prayer 1586

Shalom is more than peace-- it is well-being, completeness, righteousness, and justice.

Most Merciful God, we bless and praise You,
lifting our hearts to be filled with your grace.
Lord Jesus, you have brought us to this new day
to do the work of love you have set before us.
Bring us to a deeper knowledge of your truths, Lord,
firmly rooted in kindness, joy, and hope.
Help us to put away all rancor and division,
embracing instead the cause of peace and holiness.
Encircle us in your arms of healing and blessing, Lord Christ,
and settle your peace like a mantle on those for whom we pray.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Prayer, Day 1585- For Memorial Day

My dad, on the right, graduated from Hobart High School in 2002 two days before his before his 80th birthday. He dropped out of high school after the Pearl Harbor attacks and joined the Navy, to serve in the Seabees in World War II. In 2002, the Oklahoma legislature passed a law granting diplomas to any veteran who was in a similar situation. The entire school district put on a remembrance of World War II, and all the kids and my dad's entire family were there.

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 28, 2017

Prayer 1584: Ascension Sunday

O God, we bless and praise You,
lifting our hearts before You as we come before your altar.
When we survey the marvelous beauty of creation,
O God, how can we keep from singing?
Rise up, O soul, and seek the Holy One;
place your trust in the gospel of love, and be free.
Knit together in your grace, O Spirit of Hope,
make us one people;
let us stand against anger, envy, and malice.
Lord Jesus, we lift our eyes to see your glory;
in your wondrous mercy guide us,
that we may reflect your truth in the world.
Plant us deep within your peace, Lord Christ,
and make us a blessing to all we meet,
walking in mercy and kindness.
Lord, you gather to you even the fallen sparrows;
draw unto yourself those whose needs we remember.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Prayer 1583: Inspired by Psalm 90

Morning light, La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Most Merciful God, we praise and bless You,
remembering your faithfulness and care for our souls.
Holy Spirit, abide within us,
and give us charity toward each other, as you love us.
You are our refuge,
You who uphold the stars as they tell their tales,
You who uphold us in life and in death.
Teach us to number our days as your holy gift,
that we may serve You and each other with joy, Lord Christ.
Bless and keep us, O Redeemer,
and place the seal of your gracious love upon those for whom we pray.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Prayer 1582

The Caribbean sea, Santiago de Cuba, last February.

Merciful One, we bless your Holy Name,
and offer You our praise and thanksgiving.
Make us worthy to serve you, Lord Christ,
renouncing the ways of hatred or contempt.
Restore us for service in your sanctuary;
consecrate us with the Holy Spirit that all may be one.
Let us make a home for you in our hearts, Blessed Jesus,
that we embody your compassion and peace.
Raise your hand of blessing over us, O God,
and give your angels charge over those we now name.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Prayer, Day 1581-- Ascension Day

The Ascension of Christ, Salvador Dali, 1958.

(For Ascension Day)
Blessed Lord Jesus,

you are our Shepherd and Savior:
remember all those for whom
you lived and died and rose again.
Help us to spread your message
of love, service, sanctity, and compassion
throughout the world
by our words and our deeds.
Help us to be a testimony to justice and peace,
and bind us together
in the name of love, amity, and charity.
Send the Holy Spirit to empower us
to serve the weak and outcast
and to make disciples of all who seek you.
Through your example, let us unfailingly act
with love and mercy,
even to those who set themselves against us.
Let us always be witnesses to your truth,
and servants of your truth.
Lifting our eyes to heaven,
where you are enthroned in glory,
we lift our prayers and petitions before You, Lord Christ,
especially for those we now name.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Prayer 1580: For Rogation Day

Mother Pamela asperges Shepherd Farm garden, whose produce is donated to the hungry.

O Holy One of Blessing,
who spreads this day before us in glory and beauty,
we praise and bless You:
hear our prayer.

Bless, O God,
the fields and gardens
that bring forth your bounty to a hungry world:
may all who hunger be fed.

Bless, O God,
all those who labor to plant, tend, and harvest:
may we honor their work
and our dependence upon it.

Bless, O God,
all those who protect this fragile Earth:
awaken in us a love of creation,
that we may preserve its integrity.

Almighty One, with the ravens and the lilies of the field,
may we testify to your goodness and providence
with grateful hearts.
As all creation works together in Spring,
may we also in unity sing out your praise
in our green song of joy and rebirth.

Lord Jesus,
plant within us new hope and faith,
and place your hand of blessing over those we now name.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Prayer 1579: Inviting Christ into our hearts

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

Most Merciful Jesus,
Love Incarnate,
may we open our hearts to you today,
that we may be guided by your truth.

Lord, enter into our own woundedness,
our carelessness,
our arrogance,
our anger.
Give us strength
to break the cycles of exploitation and pain we encounter,
and instead sow grace,
and healing.
May we seek to walk in your way of service,
and welcome for all,
embodying love and kindness.
Give us healing hands and hearts,
and the will to walk into the darkest places
by the light of compassion and hope.

Holy One, in the Spirit of Love lead us today,
and give your angels charge over those for whom we now pray.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Prayer, day 1578

Some of my friends at Eden, many of whom graduated with me last Friday.

O God we come before You in prayer, for by prayer You turn our hearts, minds, and spirits to You. 

Blessed Christ, you are our anchor and our wings: in Your love we are confident to act in love to others. May we live this day as witnesses to the healing Spirit of the grace of God. May we receive that grace, regardless of our unworthiness, and the let the love of God restore our souls and refresh our hearts. 

Let all we do be blameless in your sight, O Holy One, and be an offering of love in thanksgiving for all our blessings. Heal the hurting and soothe the suffering, and let your peace fill the hearts of all for whom we pray.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Prayer 1577: Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogation Sunday observance)

From last year's Rogation Sunday service at Church of the Good Shepherd.
O God, we rejoice to come into your courts today,
for you are our portion and our cup, our good above all others.
Accept the offered prayers and praises of your all creation
as we sing out in joy before You.
Let us live in such a way that testifies
that Christ is in us, and we are in Christ,
with holiness and mercy.
Fill us with your wisdom, hope, and compassion,
that we may serve You and each other, O Spirit of Truth and Faithfulness.
Make us forces for reconciliation and healing,
honoring your call to service, Lord Christ.
Make your face to shine upon us, O God, and this good Earth,
and pour out your blessing on those for whom we pray.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Prayer 1574: New every morning

Detail from a window in the McCarthy Room, Eden Theological Seminary.

New every morning is the blessing of our God:
let us sing our thanks and praise from our first waking thought.
Order our minds and wills for your service, O Lord,
and open our hearts to share the love of Christ.
Inspire us in the Spirit of Truth, Righteousness, and Peace
to follow Jesus in every step.
Let us see the holiness of God
reflected in each bloom and branch
and in each face we see today.

Almighty One, your mercies are unceasing:
fill us through thy grace with compassion and charity.
Lord Christ, heal us and guide us to abide in You,
and bless especially those we now name.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Prayer 1573

Gate at Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis.

Holy One, your lovingkindness is everlasting:
accept our prayers and praises as we seek your will.
Make us holy and humble before each other,
for we are sustained by your grace in all things.
Lead us to acknowledge our faults
and reconcile with those we have treated with contempt.
Guide and direct our steps in the paths of peace of compassion,
trusting in Love Incarnate to lead us.
Fill us with your compassionate Spirit of Wisdom, O God,
and make us healers of the Earth.
Press the kiss of your blessing
upon those whose needs weigh upon our hearts.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Prayer 1572: Inspired by the Parable of the Sower

A field ready for harvest.

On the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:1-15)

Most Merciful God,
we thank you for the gift of the day that lies before us.
You have sown your gospel of love in our hearts:
make us rich, fertile soil for your truth and justice.
May we bear your witness abundantly, Lord Christ,
and embody your healing compassion.
May we be fields of grace and mercy,
sources of nourishment for hungry souls
who seek deeper knowledge of You.
Spirit of God, fill us with the light of your wisdom,
and grant your peace to those we now name.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Prayer 1571

We thought this clematis was dead, but she has roared back to life this spring.
May resurrection be always in our hearts.

Holy One, we praise You with joyful hearts,
as the dawn comes singing into being
uplifted by your hand.
You have held us fast upon your breast, O God,
through the night which is past,
and we rise to serve You today.
Make us steadfast in faith,
a living testimony to your love and grace,
proclaiming your gospel with joy.
Make us forces for reconciliation and forgiveness
in the face of strife and turmoil,
and in the hearts of all who are troubled.
Send forth your healing love, Lord Jesus,
on all whose needs we lay at your feet.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Prayer, day 1570: On Mothers' Day

Two summers ago, Mom and I took a road trip on the *original* Route 66 from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. We found this quirky little museum of Americana along the way, run by this amazing gentleman. Every inch of this place was filled with oddities. Here is his homage to the aliens who landed in Roswell, NM: and my Mother hams it up. As usual.

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 13, 2017

Prayer 1659: inspired by Frances Perkins

Frances Perkins was also an Episcopaliam who lived an intentional life of service.
She is remembered as a saint today in the Episcopal Calendar.

God came among us to sing out truth and compassion,
with compassionate hands the lowly were healed.
Let us therefore bow in gratitude before our God,
and be nurtured and strengthened in wisdom and grace.
Let us carry ourselves and each other in paths of peace,
acting in love, in honor, and in humility.
Let our hearts be ruled by the peace of Christ,
acting for good and justice wherever we can.
Holy One, breathe your spirit into us
and bless us to do the work of reconciliation you have given us.
Press your blessing upon those who call upon You,
especially those whose needs we now offer.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Prayer 1568: inspired by Psalm 40

Detail from a table at St. Augustine's Chapel, Nashville.

Place a new song in our mouths and our hearts, O Lord:
let us sing our praises from the deeps of our souls.
Give us a joy in doing your will:
to act justly,
to love mercy,
and walk humbly with You in love, O God.
You have lifted us out of the pit we ourselves have dug;
You have delivered us to abide in your light.
Take us by the hand and lead us for joy;
may your healing radiance shine through us.
Knit us together in justice, reconciliation, and peace,
loving each other as ourselves.

Spirit of Peace, spread the wings of your redemption and grace over all who call upon You as we pray.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Prayer 1567: on the path of wisdom, grace, and compassion

Labyrinth at the Cathdral during Holy Week

Most Merciful God, who was watched over us during the night storm:
we bless and praise You, now and always.

You have laid a path before us
of wisdom, of grace, of compassion,
grounded in love.
Give us the spirits of little children
filled with wonder at your creation,
hearts open to each other.
Teach us to walk gently upon the Earth
and with each other,
breathing alleluias with each step.
Make us bold and joyful in our witness
to your saving help and steadfast love
that never fails.
May we demand justice for the oppressed,
mercy for the fallen,
and release for the poor.
Draw all who suffer under the wings of your sheltering love, Lord Christ,
that they may be refreshed and restored in You.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Safe on the Rock: Speaking to the Soul, May 10. 2017

One of the first sights that greeted me as I entered Eden Theological Seminary

 If you ever pray the service of compline from the Book of Common Prayer, then some of these words, from Psalm 31, are familiar to you.

In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Incline your ear to me;
make haste to deliver me.
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold;
for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me,
for you are my tower of strength.
Into your hands I commend my spirit,
for you have redeemed me,
O LORD, O God of truth.
My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.
Make your face to shine upon your servant,
and in your loving-kindness save me.

The first five verses are an option for the psalm reading in that service. I think that’s a beautiful choice.

When I was a little child, I went through a period where I was afraid to go to sleep. It may have had something to do with that terrible prayer that is taught to so many children. You know the one:

Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I’m sure that whoever wrote that had the best intentions. . Really. This prayer was written at a time when a perfectly healthy person could go to sleep, and by morning be afflicted by terrible diseases and never wake up. I know the history of that—NOW. Then it just scared the bejabbers out of me. When I was little, all I could think about was that some people referred to dying by the euphemism of “sleeping.” Therefore, I resisted sleep with every fiber of my being. And my being, even then (who am I kidding—even now), had a lot of fiber when it came to stubbornness.

Yet the excerpts from Psalm 31 we will see on Sunday provides a n prayer of trust that uses imagery that, then and now, appealed to me as being much more comforting by referring to God as our “rock.” When I was a kid, I was fascinated by rocks. I had a neighbor who lived across the street, a retired teacher named Myron. He was a “rock hound,” and had a tumbler that polished rocks in his cellar. It amazed me how ugly gray rocks put into the tumbler could come out a day later, still intact, yet revealing a myriad of colors with a glossy sheen. Rocks were solid. Rocks last for millennia. No wonder the psalmist refers to God as a rock and a crag. Myron showed me that rocks can withstand water, erosion, and even tumbling only knocked off the sharp edges. They share their timelessness and trust-worthiness with the Almighty One.

As a child, I was too innocent to think about people setting nets to trap me, as the central verses note. But, as an adult, I find those situations of betrayal to be the thing that hurts the most, which also means that that verse brings me comfort as I attempt to relax into sleep now. The words excerpted from Psalm 31 here are comforting words to focus on as we attempt to quiet our minds, still our souls, and relax into rest for the night, because they are based on the everyday erosions on our heart that can rob us of the peace we need to rest.

When we pray, sometimes we can feel God’s presence as if we could touch it; at other times, we try to reassure ourselves that God indeed hears us. This part of Psalm 31 starts out with admitting that the psalmist, and all of us, are in need of refuge and deliverance. Yet these first 5 verses are at the same time a prayer of confidence. At the end of our reading, we are reminded that God is with us always.

The psalmist does not express doubt in the verses we see, of God’s never-failing love. There is confidence here even in the very start, for one does not take refuge in a God who has not already proven to be trustworthy and righteous. The demonstration of God’s saving power will also be a testimony to the world, as pointed out in the third verse. God’s leadership of the psalmist will glorify God’s Name before all who witness God’s saving work.

At the end, the psalmist states that he knows that every moment one has, in the past, present, and future, all belong to God, and God will provide protection. “Make your face to shine upon your servant” is similar to praying for “the light of God’s countenance.” We have all felt the physical force of being in the beam of a smiling, loving face turned toward us. Thus, our psalm selection for Sunday ends with a resounding image of trust in God’s love.

Our times are in your hand, O God, who has made us, known us, and loved us anyway. Your promises of love and mercy are never-failing. With that knowledge, we can lie down in peace, come what may.