Thursday, August 31, 2017

Prayer 1679: for protection and respite

Detail from the pulpit at Benton Chapel, Vanderbilt University.

In peace we awaken to draw near to our God:
deliver us, O Lord,
and place us within the lee of your embrace.
Set us safely upon the higher ground
and drive back the rising waters of fear and anxiety.
Place your protection over all who are in danger:
O God of All Comfort, be our refuge and our stronghold.
For we know You are with us always,
in joy as well as trouble,
and we turn to You in assurance, O Holy One.
Grant us the gift of the Holy Spirit
to lift us up and heal our hurts,
and the mind of Christ to do right.
With one heart,
we place before You all our concerns, O Lord,
and ask your mercy to rest upon them.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Prayer 1678: Restore our hearts

Navajo Madonna and Child by Bro. Robert Lenz.

Eternal One,
who is making the heavens and the earth,
holy and honored be your Name.

In humility, we bow down before You,
who have loved us into being:
abide within us always.
Grant us wisdom, O God,
that we may turn our minds toward peace
by building foundations of justice and love.
Help us cast away our hearts of stone
that beat like fists within us;
place within us hearts for love and service, we pray.

Take us by the hand and lead us
in the way of your commandments,
abounding in amity and hope.
By the love of Christ,
mark us as your own sheep,
and place the seal of your healing
on those for whom we pray.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Prayer 1677: for reconciliation

Most Merciful Savior,
may our prayers be acceptable and pleasing to You,
grounded in praise and gratitude.

Empty our hearts of all that divides us, O Lord,
that we be filled instead with a spirit of unity and hope.
Awaken the better angels of our natures, O Creator,
that we seek not to exploit others,
but serve each other.
May we seek and see the face of Christ in every person
and the thumbprint of God in all of creation.

Lead us into wisdom grounded in compassion,
that we may testify through our lives
to your goodness, O God.
By your love, we rest in You, God,
and ask your blessing and healing
over all the cares we now lay before You.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Prayer, day 1676

As the morning sun blesses us with light,
we rise to ring out praises to our God:
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lead us into the path of life,
O Most Holy Spirit,
for we need your tender care and guidance.
Settle us into the crook of your arm, Almighty One,
for we are prone to wander and worry.
You are our strength and our stronghold:
send us forth, renewed and fired with joy,
to do your work in the world, O God.
Give us courage in the face of adversity,
and hope in the face of struggles:
Lord Jesus, may we walk with you this day.

We lift our prayers and praises before You, O Lord:
spread your sheltering wings over those for whom we pray.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Prayer 1675: the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

The "Space Window" at Washington National Cathedral.

Beloved Savior, we invite you into our hearts
as we gather in community to praise your saving help.
Forgive us our sins,
and lead us into a new life of healing and compassion.
May we empty our hearts of all
that separates us from living in the love of God.
May we walk in your ways, Lord Christ,
reflecting your care for the poor and the oppressed.
May we testify through our lives
that you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Holy One, place your healing hands
upon all who are anxious, hurting, or lost,
and comfort those who mourn.
Bless and keep all those we now name,
O Shepherd of Our Souls.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Prayer, day 1674

Holy, Merciful Lord, we lift up our hearts and our hopes to You, rooted in your abundant love. 

May God grant us wisdom and discernment in choosing the path we take up upon our waking, that we walk in justice and charity. 
May God guide us on our going out and our coming in, that our actions may be blessings for those we encounter. 
May we place ourselves in the hands of the Holy, that we be molded and shaped by love and compassion. 

Blessed Savior, let us abide with You and open our eyes to your unfailing presence, that we be at rest when day is done. Gather within your embrace all who call upon You, Lord Christ, especially those we now name.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Prayer, day 1673

The insects and the birds tell out the wonder of the Lord:
may our prayer ascend on the morning breeze.
Anchor us within your mercy, O Holy One,
for we are foolish and prone to wander.

Give us humble hearts and generous spirits,
that we may serve our neighbors
and build your kingdom of justice and peace.
Let us always remember your compassion
when we consider those who have wronged us.
Give us a thirst for your Word, O Creator,
and a zeal for sharing your love.

Send us forth from our prayers
to honor and glorify your Holy Name,
more beautiful than a thousand sunrises.
Extend the shelter of your solace and blessing
upon those who seek your face.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Prayer 1672

During totality of the eclipse, August 21, 2017.

Let us rise and give thanks to our God,
who has kept us safe throughout the night.

From our depths,
may we testify to your steadfast lovingkindness and power,
O Blessed Savior and Guide.
We put our trust in You, O Lord of Hosts:
turn our hearts to seek your truth.

Knit us together in devotion and charity;
lead us in paths of kindness and wisdom.
Make us companions in your service
and witnesses to your saving deeds.
Deliver us from enmity and strife:
soften our hearts and strengthen our wills to love.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
place the seal of your kiss upon us, Lord,
and your protection and blessing upon your children.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Heavens Are Telling: Speaking to the Soul, August 23, 2017

Moment of Totality, August 21, 2017, Lonedell, MO.

Along with millions of other people, my husband and son and I were excited to learn that we were living in the path of the solar eclipse this week. I remembered seeing the partial eclipse in 1979 when I was a kid in Tulsa, and it was an amazing experience. Wanting to fully experience the full effect this time, we decided to travel a few miles from our home to a retreat center fully in the path of totality that also had a sweeping vista that would allow us to see much of the horizon around us.

For more than an hour, using glasses and cameras with eclipse filters, we watched the shadow of the moon interpose itself over the sun. With the help of special apps, we were able to input our location and be told exactly when it was safe to look at the eclipse directly at the time of full coverage.

As totality approached, the shadows on the ground grew sharper. Although we were surrounded by all kinds of wildlife, a profound stillness and silence began as the shadow of the moon slipped completely over the face of the sun. For many seconds there was silence—and the light turned a bluish-purple the likes of which I have never seen before. Stars and planets appeared overhead.

From a nearby town, we could then hear people shouting in amazement. Some people nearby set off a burst of fireworks. But mostly, for 2 minutes and 40 seconds, it was like a curtain was drawn back from across the heavens, and the stars and planets seemed to vibrate to a lilting praise song to the Almighty.

I had been led to expect darkness, but there was actually a living presence of light that dazzled the eye, especially after all those minutes spent wearing eclipse glasses. The temperature dropped significantly. The wind grew still so that even the trees seemed to hold their collective breath.

It’s funny. In the writings such as the books of Joel 3, Isaiah 13, or Job 9, the darkness similar to solar eclipses was represented as signs of God’s wrath, invoking feelings of terror and dread. But those were not the scriptural images that came to mind.

Instead, I was reminded of the passages in Psalm 89 and in Deuteronomy 10:14-19 that reminds us that “heaven and all the heavens of heaven,” and the Earth and all that is in it belong to God. Not only are we are blessed to be given this beautiful, fragile speck of a planet that carries us through the vast expanse that lay before me in the middle of the day, we are also charged and trusted to care for creation, including each other, in humility and service, as the passage in Deuteronomy affirms in covenantal language.

I recalled Psalm 8, Psalm 102, and Psalm 19, which portray the heavens as the awe-inspiring work of the fingers of God, plaiting together the very fabric of heaven, fashioning the celestial bodies and setting them on their courses as a master craftsman, felt with the psalmist the deep humility invoked by the wonders that spun before us overhead. This last text especially came to me as I reeled in wonder, and I remembered Haydn’s use of it in his oratorio on the Creation:

The heavens are telling the glory of God,
The wonder of His work displays the firmament.
In all the lands resounds the word.
Never perceived, ever understood,
ever, ever, ever understood.
The heavens are telling the glory of God,
The wonder of His work,
The wonder of His work displays the firmament.

All too soon, it was over, and the blue opaque curtain fell back across the sky as the sun began to emerge from behind the shadow of the moon. The birds and insects resumed their songs. The surrounding countryside seemed to shake itself from its collective-breath-holding, exhale, and resume.

The people in the next town gave another great shout, and then, being true Midwesterners, probably scrambled into their cars to take part in creating a 50-mile-long traffic jam on all the major highways leading away from the path of the eclipse. For another hour, the eclipse subsided overhead. And yet, the resounding echo of the music of the heavens lingered in my ear as it never had to me before, a low susurration resident in the beautiful stillness of the amethyst light that lay over us like a mantle.  Yet we are reminded, even now, that the heavens ARE telling the glory of God, and calling on us to do the same.

(This was first published on Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul, August 23, 2017.)

Prayer 1671

Detail from a mosaic in Washington National Cathedral.

We open our eyes to the dawning of the day,
and praise your loving care over us, Lord:
hear our prayer.

Blessed Jesus,
gather our restless spirits close to you,
and bring us into the light of your compassion.
Teach us the beauty of a life lived powered by love,
grounded in the power of your truth and hope.
Let our lives resound in harmony,
that we offer a melody of praise to You, O God.

Our hearts are firmly fixed, O Savior,
upon your path of peace,
that we may follow You in all things.
May the warmth of your healing love
enfold all those who suffer,
for our hope is in You alone, O Holy One.
Lord Christ, Beloved Savior,
turn your tender gaze upon those we remember before you,
and grant them your comfort.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Prayer 1670

Holy One,
Blessed Savior,
we offer You our prayers,
filled with the hope of a new day.

We glory in the beauty that surrounds us,
spread before us like a tapestry by You, O God.
Like rain that caresses the earth,
bringing it to bloom,
may your wisdom fill our hearts to overflowing.
May we meditate upon your Word,
that we may honor your Name in all things.

Extend the awning of your mercy upon all who seek You,
and your steadfast love over those we now name.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Prayer 1669: On the day of the total eclipse

We give thanks to You, O Creator,
for holding us within your care.
You have placed us within a wondrous universe,
filled with beauty, made by your own hand.
Night and day are the same to You, O God;
may your light draw our hearts to behold your glory.
We worship you, Lord Christ,
for your love is brighter than the heavens.
May we treasure the blessings you have given us,
the delicate systems of life and love
that support our common life in You.

Abide with us as we marvel at all your works,
O Lord Most High.
Shine the light of your countenance on those for whom we pray.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

From Strangers to Kindred: Sermon for Proper 15, Year A

This week, my son, who has a very eclectic taste in music, was listening carefully to the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Sound of Silence.” He asked me what it was about, and I talked about it being written during the protest era for civil rights in the 1960s.

I started really listening to the lyrics of this song again, and what struck me is the power of the sound of silence, particularly when that silence is in the face of hatred and prejudice. We live in a time of distractions by the neon gods we ourselves have made, things that distract us, things that entertain us, things that we try to use to fill the holes in our lives that should be filled by real, honest relationships with each other. Silence, like a well, can swallow hopes and dreams when no one dares to break it and speak the truth. Silence can infect our common life together and spread like a malignant force, encouraging complacency in the face of injustice and oppression.

Our gospel account of the Canaanite woman asking Jesus to heal her daughter reminds us that silence often gets you nowhere. Society at that time expected her to be silent, as a woman and as a Canaanite speaking to a Jewish man. Canaanites and Jews had been enemies for as long as people could remember. Yet in her interaction with Jesus, powered by love, she does not stay silent but pleads for healing for her child. And in her approach to Jesus, she betrays a deep understanding of who this man was, regardless of her different ethnicity and religious background. The Canaanite woman asks for healing for her child, will not be denied, and actually argues back to make her case. Only one who believes that Jesus could actually do something, that he is a powerful healer, would be so determined.  

Her actions are also deeply liturgical. She uses the language of intercession, words that we repeat in our prayers of the people and in the Kyrie eleison: “Lord, have mercy.” She kneels before him, humbly yet defiantly, demanding that he see truly see her. And yet, unlike other stories we hear in scripture when confronted by people who seek healing, Jesus at first does not respond to her, and then when he does, he insultingly rejects her request. Yet, this unnamed woman alone of all the people who interact with Jesus in the Bible manages to go head to head with Jesus in a debate, and win. When he insults her, she doesn’t deny it, but turns his words to her advantage. Powered by love, she resolutely keeps demanding that Jesus see her and her daughter as worthy of acknowledgment, and of the blessing of wholeness. Although at first Jesus answers rudely to our ears, her great faith and love eventually turns his heart—and that faith makes her daughter well.

Throughout Matthew’s gospel, the plea “Have mercy on me, Son of David!” is used by people asking Jesus to be healed. In each case of healing, Jesus makes it clear that their healing comes about through their faith, and this Canaanite woman is no different. Her faith is so great that she believes that Jesus can heal an outsider’s daughter regardless of distance. Her powerful love for her daughter and her faith in Jesus overcomes all obstacles, and wins her the healing for which she prays. Love wins.

Here is where also we see the tie with the claims in Romans by Paul—God’s grace and mercy is for everyone, and no one is left out, not Gentile or Jew or anyone. Where we might expect Jesus to proclaim this himself, here we see an outsider CLAIM this for herself and her daughter. The teacher is taught something by the student he is inclined to disdain. This epiphany to Jesus reminds us again that he was fully human as well as fully the Son of God, and could learn things and be surprised by them.

It also reminds us that far too often are we prone to see others of different backgrounds as the enemy when in fact they are our brothers and sisters, with just claims upon us that should stir just responses, grounded in empathy and mercy rather than resentment. God’s grace and mercy are universal, not limited to just people who hold the correct sets of beliefs or lineage. The healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter, brought about by her, yes, “dogged persistence” and great faith fueled by love, bears this out.

This woman was not willing to stay behind the barriers that were placed between her and her dreams for her daughter to be restored to wholeness. Her assigned gender role, her religion, her ethnicity and her location all were supposed to serve to prevent her encounter with Jesus. Yet she relentlessly breaks through every one. She learns of his approach, and goes out to meet him in the margins in between Jewish and Gentile territory, and loudly places her claim upon Jesus’s help, refusing to let anything get in her way.

Our communities today are in desperate need of healing, and it seems at times that there are just too many barriers that are placed in the way for that healing to begin. To some of us, it is obvious that there is a demon that has seized some of our brethren, and especially the events of the last few days from Charlottesville to Barcelona have raised the specter of fascism, prejudice, religious divisions, and hatred.

In the face of this threat, some people choose silence, wrongly equating silence with peace. But the kind of peace silence would create leaves the wound in our communities in place. It does not lead to healing. It leaves far too many groups feeling abandoned, isolated, and physically threatened by those whose deadly ideologies. Too many people who already HAVE a voice and take their voices for granted, and just like Jesus’s disciples, they don’t want to hear the voices of those they consider to be a stranger, or worse, an enemy, claiming the need for healing and reconciliation from them. They want to portray those protesting against the open or hidden cultivation of hate-filled ideologies as being the ones who are out-of-bounds, as strangers, as enemies.

Yet the fact that some of us march in the streets gives me hope, for such actions cannot be rooted in destruction or despair. Instead, I am convinced these protests are acts of faith just as strong as the faith of that Canaanite woman. Faith that we CAN be better than this. Faith that we can overcome our divisions and meet together at the margins. Faith that, here in the US, we can live into our nation’s motto of E pluribus unum—from many, one.

What would it be like if we allowed the surprising faith of those on the margins, despite all the odds, to grow into the spaces that currently divide us, and help create bridges and unification instead? If even Jesus can grow into new understanding through the claims of the Other and overcome his initial rejection, can’t we have hope that as disciples of Jesus we can look at our own refusal to see the full beauty of God in others, and learn how to do better? We CAN defeat the forces of hate if we remember the power of the love that drove that woman to her knees before Jesus, demanding that he see her and hear her cry for healing as a child of God as well.

We talk an awful lot about feelings nowadays in our society. And that’s fine—except when we talk about or privilege feelings above reason, facts, or the quest for justice. Feelings of superiority and inferiority, fears of losing status or rights if others gain them drive much of the current backlash against the drive for full civil rights for oppressed or marginalized peoples within our society and throughout the world. Yet rights, like blessings, are not diminished by more people having them: it’s not pie, as the punchline goes. Rather the extension of rights and equality to others makes the continued possession of rights by those who already enjoy them MORE secure, as equality leads to justice and freedom for all—the very bedrock principles we espouse but still struggle have yet to fully achieve for all.

In Jesus’s time and in our own, there are multiple man-made barriers that separate one group of people from each other, contrary to the common heritage we all share as beloved children of God. Our faith that we affirm in our baptismal covenant calls us to renounce the forces of evil and respect the dignity of every human being. Those are not just empty words. They are part of a sacred call and covenant which we reaffirm repeatedly throughout our lives not just at Pentecost or All Saints’ Day, but in our words and actions. We are called not only to believe in the healing and saving power of Jesus, but, as the motto of the Diocese of Missouri puts it, to make and be disciples of Jesus for the life of the world. A world that is too shattered by hate and violence.

The fact of the matter is, many of us in this particular section of the Jesus movement don’t talk much about what “being saved” means. We ARE Episcopalians, after all.

Here’s one part of it: God created us in freedom, and that freedom includes the freedom to love, and the freedom to hate. One part of this problem may lie in our difficulty with accepting that we NEED to be saved from our tendency to resent and fear each other. Another part comes from the other direction, internally in each one of us, where we cannot believe we are worthy of God’s love and attention, that God would be interested in us either as individuals or as members of communities that are struggling to find peace, justice, and hope.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is not only a great theologian, but also a great leader in the struggle against hatred and division in South Africa and around the world. In his book God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, he says this:

MANY OF US can acknowledge that God cares about the world but can’t imagine that God would care about you or me individually. But our God marvelously, miraculously cares about each and every one of us. The Bible has this incredible image of you, of me, of all of us, each one, held as something precious, fragile in the palms of God’s hands. And that you and I exist only because God is forever blowing God’s breath into our being. And so God says to you, 'I love you. You are precious in your fragility and your vulnerability. Your being is a gift. I breathe into you and hold you as something precious.' But why, we ask in our disbelief and despair, would God care about me? The simple reason is that God loves you. God loves you as if you were the only person on earth. God, looking on us here, does not see us as a mass. God knows us each by name. God says, 'Your name is engraved on the palms of My hands.' You are so precious to God that the very hairs of your head are numbered. ‘Can a mother,’ God asks, ‘forget the child she bore?’

As I pondered those those words, I thought of this unnamed woman in our gospel today. God loves us as a mother, as the very best mother any of us could ever hope for. God loves us as fiercely as that Canaanite mother loved her child. And like any mother, God has dreams for us of healing and wholeness and unity.

Archbishop Tutu concludes with these words to summarize the promise of the gospel for us today: “We are those precious things that God carries gently. God carries each one of us as if we were fragile because God knows that we are. You are precious to God. God cares for you."

These are simple words, yet they are powerful. They are words that, if we dare to hope and believe in them, call for the transformation ourselves, and then of the world around us, because if they are true of you and me, they are true of everyone. And that hatred that is spilling out into our streets here and across the worls is rooted in a denial of the truth of those words. Each one of those torch-carriers and bombers has lost sight of God’s love for them, and God’s love for every other living thing in creation. And yet God loves them, too, the lost as well as those who are trying to be found.

But the story of the Canaanite woman and Jesus remind us that ALL are beloved children of God, worthy of recognition, worthy of being heard when we cry out to God and to each other from the depths of our need. But we also have a part to play in tearing down the barriers of suspicion and fear that lead us to deny the humanity of others. We are called to recognize the beauty of God in ourselves, and in others. As Christians, we are called not to remain silent but to turn to God when we are in need of healing, and have faith that the power of God is more than enough to heal the wounds in ourselves and in our communities. The power of God is the power of love.

And love heals. If we will let it.

Our readings today promote the idea of justice, mercy, unity, and above all love as being the foundations of the beautiful dream God holds for each of us, and for ALL of us. As we have watched the protests against racist and fascist ideologies in Charlottesville and Boston and across the nation in the last many days, we can hear an echo of the Canaanite woman’s cry and make it our own:

Have mercy, Lord, for we stand before you in need of healing.
Have mercy, Lord, for we have denied our brothers and sisters and kindred the hearing and response their claims deserve.
Have mercy, Lord, for we have denied your goodness in ourselves, in each other, and in the world around us.
Heal the breaches that divide us, not through our silence, but through a willingness on our part to examine our hearts, and live into the promises of freedom that have hung over us, waiting to break through the clouds of injustice and prejudice for too long.

I dream of a day when we can break through the silences that seek to cover over our divisions in the name of a false peace that is grounded in denial of justice to those oppressed by evil systems of exploitation.
I dream of the day when we too can sing of how good and pleasant it is when brethren live together in harmony, when we listen to each other with open hearts and recognize our common humanity.
I dream of a day when we live into taking seriously God’s promises of abundance, grace, and healing, and responding in kind to each other.

We can break through the silences that serve to divide us. God calls us to real unity, grounded in justice. If we have faith, and believe in the power of love to bring us together, strangers no longer, but beloved kindred in God.

(Preached at Christ Church Cathedral, August 20, 2017)

Prayer 1668: 11th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

Most Merciful God,
we come before your altars today
in faith, hope, and love,
trusting in your mercy.

Have mercy upon us, Lord,
and bring us to unity in You.
Have mercy upon us,
and forgive us for our denial of your goodness
in ourselves and each other.
Have mercy upon us, Lord,
and heal us of the fears that possess us
and separate us from You and each other.

Through the power of love,
may we be reminded of our kinship
with each other and all creation, Lord Christ.
Place the blessing of your peace,
O God our Mother,
on each of us as your children, those for whom we pray.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Prayer, day 1667

O Loving One,
may we make our home in You today,
and love You with our whole heart.
May we open our arms in embrace
to the amazing gifts of your creation.
May we be guided by the light of compassion,
walk the path of wisdom,
and dance to the song of justice.
May we rest upon your breast like a child
when we are in need of comfort or ease of mind.
May we listen more than we speak,
learn more than we profess to know,
and give more than we take.
May we make ourselves a family of those we meet,
and always celebrate the chance to love and be loved.
We ask your blessing upon your beloveds,
whose needs we lift up to You,
especially those we now name.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Prayer 1666: for renewal in the face of hatred and terror

Waterfall and rainbow, Yosemite.

Creator God,
whose Spirit moved over the waters of creation,
we thank You for our life and breath to sing your praise.

We ask your Spirit to move over us
and create clean, restored hearts,
purged of violence, prejudice, and hatred.
We ask the light and love of Christ to dwell within us,
that we be healers and helpers to those in pain.
May we stand resolutely
in the breaches of our common life,
renouncing terror, malice, and exploitation.

Spread the wings of your comfort, Lord,
over all those in pain or in mourning,
in fear or despair or awash in loss.
Be with the sick, the weary, and the abandoned;
may we act to ease their pain in your Holy Name.
Lord, we place our cares and concerns before You,
and ask your blessing on those whom we now name.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Prayer 1665: for transformation

God of Love,
cast the mantle of your mercy over us,
and bring us to peace and harmony.

Help us cast away our sinful impulses to disunity and division,
our worship of self and power.
Lead us from the base instincts of fear and anger
that we may be wise, just, and compassionate.
Beloved Jesus, we have wandered far from You:
let us hear your call to us,
and open our hearts to your truth.

Lord, you are the champion of the dispossessed
and the hope of the hurting:
take us by the hand, we pray.
Pour out your Spirit of Holiness upon us, O God,
and bless and keep those in need of comfort.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Prayer, day 1664: for hearts open to love

O God Almighty,
open our eyes to your wonders
and open our mouths to speak your praise.

O Christ, you opened your arms to embrace the world
from the heights of the cross:
may we be drawn into your embrace.
Open our minds to your wisdom,
that we may walk on paths of righteousness and justice.
Open our hearts to receive your words,
and allow them to take root in our hearts.
Open the clenched fists we nurture
that we may let go of fear and hatred
and join hands with our brothers and sisters
to seek peace. 

O God, your Mercy is as vast as the night sky,
yet your love shines as the noonday Sun:
hear our prayers we offer before You.