Thursday, April 30, 2020

Prayer 2650: The Prayer of the Dog in Time of COVID-19




O Loving Creator, I bow before your generous gifts:
a warm house and comfortable sofas,
food for my belly and cool water to drink,
and days unending with those I love.

My sigh of peace
as I lay my head
on the feet of those I love
or in the lap
of those who stroke my brow
and rub my ears
is my prayer to You, O Guardian of Life.

May tasty scraps fall plenteously
from the tables of your abundance, O God.

Make me ever joyful and merciful
even if children pull my tail.
Help me be ever watchful
that I may protect my home
as you have protected me, O Steadfast One.

In the morning
in the noonday
in the evening
may I ever rest in your presence,
and be grateful for the smallest delight
with a generous heart and steadfast faith.

Place your soothing hand, O Master,
upon all who look to You in hope.

Amen.

The Legend of the Dogwood: Speaking to the Soul, April 30, 2020


Long ago,
the trees spoke to us,
and we listened,
and treasured their lore and wisdom.

After all,
woods and forests are ancient places,
giving life to creatures both great and small,
and many trees live longer than any of us individually.

Every tree--
from great, towering redwoods,
    tallest sentinels of the overstory of the forest...
and smooth baobabs, with trunks as wide as elephants…
to graceful birches with their curling paper bark...
to quivering stands of aspen...
to whispering pine...
and stubborn burr oak--
each of them reminds us
of the wisdom of community and generosity.

Every tree gives of itself,
shelter and shade,
habitat for birds and insects,
fruit and seed for food,
sap for sweetness,
even purifying the air that we breathe.

This story is from that time long ago
when we listened to the trees speak to us.

Today, dogwood trees
only grow in Europe, East Asia, and North America.
But ages ago, some have claimed
that the dogwood was a mighty tree,
with a broad straight trunk.
It was prized by carpenters everywhere,
especially around the Mediterranean.

Ancient Israel was not known to have many large trees,
which is why buildings were often made
with cedars from Lebanon,
or acacia wood.

When the Romans invaded a country,
they ruthlessly put down rebellions
by executing rebels on wooden crosses.

The trees hated being put to such uses.

Worst of all was when the Romans crucified Jesus.
The trees wept at being forced to take part
in this terrible spectacle.

The tree that wept the loudest was the dogwood.
It cried out to God
to keep it from ever being used
in such a way
ever again.

And so God granted the dogwood's wish.

"Henceforth, O loving dogwood,
you will become part
of the understory of the forest.
Your wood will be twisty
and your trunk will be narrow.
You will bear flowers
of softest white, red, and pink.
You will be close to the earth,
and you will carpet the forest floor with beauty.

"Your flowers will tell the story
of Jesus's resurrection.
Each year at Easter time,
you will burst forth with blooms 
even while the other trees are bare.
Each bloom will be cruciform—
four petals in the shape of a cross.

"On the end of each petal
will be a mark,
to remind all who seen them
of the four wounds in Jesus's hands and feet
just as the disciples saw long ago.
At the center of each bloom
will be Jesus's crown of thorns,
now turned green and golden
as a sign of victory."

And so it has remained to this day.

Each time we see a dogwood tree
bloom in early spring,
we know that Easter is here,
and that Christ is risen.



This story is very old; it was first retold at St. Martin's Story Time #13 on April 23, 2020 during the time of coronavirus pandemic; it was also published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on April 30, 2020.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Prayer, day 2649: Casting Off Our Indifference


Almighty One,
you have crafted and tended the galaxies in their glory
and the wren in her spry industry:
we praise your wondrous works--
the tapestry of life, visible and unseen,
that supports us throughout the day.

Inspire us, O God,
to defend the weary and the oppressed,
the poor and the refugee,
in obedience to your law of love and righteousness.

As we confess the things we have left undone,
let us consider our own indifference to suffering,
our justification for inflicting pain on others
for our own comfort
or to assuage our own fears,
and let us turn from the darkness of cruelty and greed
to the light of love and empathy.

For by your grace we live and move and have our being,
O Creator and Lover of Our Souls:
may we seek to do your will
in the name of healing and restoration,
for the sake of this world You have made
and charged us to tend and preserve in peace.

Pour out your reconciling power, O Holy One,
on all who cry out to You,
and place your hand of protection
over all those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Prayer 2648


Abide with us, Lord God,
and accept our prayers and praises
offered with grateful hearts.
Inscribe your love in our hearts, O Merciful One,
and bear us within your grace, we pray.

Make us single-minded
in the pursuit of mercy
and open-hearted virtue,
O Loving Savior,
that we may walk through the gate of wisdom
and set our feet on the path of charity and compassion.

May we turn aside from ignorance and hatred,
and embrace each other in generosity and hope,
walking humbly in the Way of Jesus.

May we pursue kindness and integrity
in all our steps, O God,
and be a blessing to others this day.
Pour out your mercy upon us, O Giver of Life,
and grant your peace to those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Prayer 2647: A Prayer of the Sheep at the Gate (John 10:1-10)


In peace and humility,
we pray to You, Most Merciful One.
Show us your ways,
and bring us to delight
in your paths of mercy, charity, and compassion,
O Lord of Life.
May we enter your gate with joy,
and be gathered within your pastures of plenty.

Let us never seek pardon without penitence,
clemency without contrition,
reprieve without redress for the injury we have inflicted.
With You, O Shepherd,
is abundant grace and ample forgiveness 
for those who acknowledge their fault,
and seek a new path of healing
and amendment of life.

Let us throw open the windows of our hearts
and pull back the curtains of our fears,
that we may rejoice
in the steadfast light and love of Christ,
a balm for the spirit and an aid for the weary.

Love, Hope, Truth, Compassion,
in all your beauty and tenderness,
take a walk with us
and guide us ever deeper
into dedication and service
in the Name of the Redeemer
and Lover of Our Souls.

May the flame of your Spirit, O God,
be kindled within the hearths of our hearts,
and may we burn brightly with truth and love.
God Our Refuge and Stronghold,
extend the hand of your mercy over all who seek You,
and grant your peace to those we now name.

Amen.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Journey of Hope: Sermon for the Third Sunday in Easter A



The metaphor of “journey” is an important theme in Luke’s writings, and here we see the story of another journey. Our story today takes place on Easter Sunday. Two of the disciples—only one, Cleopas, is named-- were walking along a road, when suddenly a stranger begins to walk alongside them. It could be that this Cleopas is the Cleopas mentioned in the gospel of John (19:25). Some scholars interpret the pair to be Cleopas and his wife Mary. 

Typically, when I think about the Emmaus story, my attention gets attracted to the Eucharistic overtones: that Jesus suddenly is recognized by the disciples when he blesses, breaks, and shares the bread. But this year, as we are separated from each other, as we have been fasting together from Eucharist since March 15, that’s not what draws my attention. 

Instead, this year, what jumps out at me is one of the most honest, heart-breaking statements right there in the middle of the story—a throwaway line that we may have skipped over dozens of times. As Cleopas and Mary explain to this stranger who begins walking alongside them, seemingly unaware of what has transpired just three days before in Jerusalem, they admit “We had hoped” that Jesus would be the obvious solution to all their problems.

That idea of hopes seemingly being broken certainly resonates with me right now—and probably with many of us. We had certainly never thought, when this year began, that we would be living the life we are right now—one filled with wariness, and anxiety, and fear of illness. Just like those disciples, the journey we are taking right now is NOT the journey we had hoped to be taking. Some journeys are physical, and yet others are spiritual.

Physical journeys are often just about the destination; but spiritual journeys, or pilgrimages, are about the process of growth and movement, about walking with Jesus and being transformed, heart and soul. Some pilgrimages don’t even require us to leave home at all but instead to welcome the stranger. I was reminded of one such journey a few days ago, as I couldn’t sleep and was watching a movie that I hadn’t watched in a long time. 

In the film fable Chocolat, the people of a small, conservative village in France claim that they treasure “tranquility” – yet it is a tranquility that comes by rigidly enforcing predictability and conformity, a false “peace” that attempts to shun anyone who is different or an outsider.

One windy Sunday a woman and her daughter arrive, wearing matching red capes, and rent an abandoned shop and the apartment overhead. They open up a chocolate shop right across the village square from the village church, which scandalizes the mayor (also the count) of the town, since it is Lent, and he demands strict piety from everyone. Chocolate is decadent, pleasurable, even slightly addictive—and therefore dangerous.

The village’s young new priest, Pere Henri, has been there barely a month. The mayor, though a layman, writes his sermons for him each week, and they are heavy on the penitence and judgment. When the mayor learns that the young mother, named Vianne, refuses to attend Mass and that she has a child but has never married, he sets out to drive this woman out of business and thereby out of town. She is the complete opposite of his staid existence in every way. She claims to be from no particular place, but she and her daughter drift from place to place—with the wind.

Yet over the course of Lent’s 40 days, Vianne and her magical chocolate charms some of the people in the village—especially those who are themselves marginalized for one reason or another. She wins over her crotchety old landlady, estranged from her daughter and kept apart from her grandson; she offers refuge to an abused wife whose violent, alcoholic husband runs the local bar. She plans a festival with decadent treats for Easter Sunday, which further scandalizes those opposed to her freewheeling ways.

Matters are made worse for her when she befriends some seemingly disreputable river people who arrive in town. The mayor rails against these outsiders, and the violent bar owner sets their barges on fire right after a party that some of the townspeople attend, endangering dozens of lives, including Vianne’s young daughter. 

After this shock, Vianne gives up on ever being accepted and decides to leave, even though her daughter implores her to let them stay. But as she comes down to the kitchen, she sees members of the town helping to make the chocolate creations for her festival. She realizes that she has made an impact of the town for the better, and decides to stay.

The mayor sees these overtures to Vianne as a betrayal against him. Even as some of the other townspeople decide to welcome Vianne and the simple pleasures she represents and the kindness she brings into their lives, the mayor holds himself even further aloof and disapproving of her planned hijacking of Easter’s solemnities with her chocolate festival. On Holy Saturday evening, the mayor actually breaks into Vianne’s shop to destroy the chocolate confections she has prepared for her festival. He starts smashing Vianne’s delicate confections, but ends up tasting how delicious her chocolate is.

Suddenly, the rigid hold he has had on his sense of propriety and his pent-up misery breaks. He indulges in a fit of eating chocolate, weeping, until he eats himself into a stupor and falls asleep in the shop window. 

Vianne finds him there the next morning, sleeping among the wreckage on Easter morning, but rather than being angry, she covers for him, and a grudging respect begins to grow within the mayor’s heart at her kindness.

Meanwhile, across the village square, the Easter Mass starts, and the mayor has to admit to the young priest that he hasn’t written the sermon for him. As all the townspeople sit there in their Easter best, their young priest climbs into the pulpit, for once freed from being handed a sermon by the mayor, and speaks from his heart: 

“I'm not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord's divine transformation? Not really, no. I don't want to talk about His divinity. I'd rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His kindness, His tolerance... Listen, here's what I think. I think that we can't go around... measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think... we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create... and who we include.” (1)

This is the message of hope and care for each other that is at the core of our common humanity and compassion. The mayor goes wrong when he thinks that the core of decency is a rigid adherence to propriety and humorless self-control. He has forgotten that the Jesus at the heart of Christianity was kind, compassionate, encouraging. Pere Henri’s Easter homily makes it clear that Vianne has taught the townspeople about how to live a more Jesus-shaped life—even though she herself may indeed be a skeptic. Or maybe she's just reflecting the fact that Jesus himself founded a movement, NOT a "Church." Even though she herself isn’t perfect.

We can’t look for Jesus among the perfect. We CAN look for Jesus among each other, and try to embody his radical goodness, embracing, caring, and inclusion. 

Last Sunday, we learned that Jesus can use even our doubts to inspire a deeper faith and witness. This week, perhaps we can learn that Jesus walks alongside us without us knowing it—each and every day. Even when hope is strained to the breaking point. As we see in the story of the Road to Emmaus, Jesus appears when we least expect him, and the comfort of this story is that he walks alongside us. He encourages us to tell our story and share our heartbreak and broken hopes. And he reveals himself to us in simple things. Teaching. Listening. Breaking bread together or making sure people are fed.

But we have to take the risk of asking him into our hearts, just as Cleopas and Mary asked him to stay with them in their home, even though he still seemed a stranger to them.

It’s all too easy during Easter to move to talking about Christ—the divine Son of God. But, as Pere Henri noted, we must never lose sight of Jesus being also fully human. If we open our minds to remember Jesus’s humanity, we may be surprised to notice that Jesus then appears to us in all sorts of ways. We can easily see Jesus in each doctor and nurse going to work each day tending to the sick, caring for those who are isolated the second they enter a hospital for whatever reason, in these times of pandemic in which we live. We can see Jesus in a child’s chalk drawing of hearts and rainbows on our daily walks, reminding us to keep our hopes alive, and of the innocent goodness that we might otherwise overlook.

The road to Emmaus is a road awash in heartbreak, in anxiety, in hopes that seem smashed to bits. It’s a reminder to us of the importance of understanding that Easter resurrection is not a singular moment in time. Not everyone learns of the Risen One at the same time.

Just like Cleopas and his wife, Jesus usually appears to us unrecognized. He is not who we have convinced ourselves that he is. He doesn’t come swooping out of the clouds with a flourish. Instead, what is the risen Savior doing on the evening of Resurrection Day? He’s taking a walk in the cool of the evening—which reminds me of the walks that Adam and Eve would take with God in the garden in the cool of the evening.(2) 

It’s true, for the last 6 weeks, we haven’t been able to sit down at table together, and share in the breaking of the bread that reminds us of Christ within us and among us, host and gift, reaching out to us in mystery. But here the Emmaus experience can be helpful to us in this hour. Even without the physical breaking of the bread and drinking of the cup, we can look at the Emmaus story and remember that Jesus is with us all along, calling us to an inward journey of transformation that fills us to the brim with love and kindness, and then spills over to remind us of the love we owe each other. Even if that means that the most hope-filled thing we can do is to say yes to the holy task of caring for each other by continuing to stay home for the sake of people we may never know we’ve helped by staying home.

The story of the Emmaus journey invites us to open our hearts to see God in unexpected places. Jesus walks alongside us, listening, loving, hearing our fears and our hopes mixed together. Even when we can’t gather around the altar together right now, we CAN invite Jesus to stay with us a while, just like Cleopas and Mary did. We can be fed by his kindness, his embrace of life, his inclusion—and make that part of our journey, too. The journey of hope, and compassion.

Amen.

Preached at the 10:30 am online service on Facebook Live due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from St. Martin's Episcopal Church.

Readings:
Acts 2:14a,36-41
Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35


Citations:
1) Chocolat (2000), based on the novel by Joanne Harris- screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs, directed by Lasse Hallstrom
2) Debie Thomas, "But We Had Hoped," at Journey With Jesus, April 20, 2020.

Prayer, day 2646: The Road to Emmaus


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.


Amen.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Prayer, day 2645


Almighty God,
who puts a song in the throat of the sparrow and wren,
whose praise is found in the voices of children,
receive our hearts as we offer them to you today.

Zeal for your law of love
inspired Jesus to cleanse the Temple:
may we, too, cleanse our hearts of all impurities,
all that draws us from dwelling within your love,
that we may be a fit habitation for your Spirit.

All that we are belongs to You, O God,
Fountain of All our Blessings,
Our Hope in Time of Trouble:
hold us and shield us in the hollow of your hand.

Pour out your blessing on all in sorrow or distress,
we humbly pray, O Lord of Life,
and grant your peace which surpasses understanding
to those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Prayer 2644


We give you praise, O Loving Creator,
and lift our hearts in wonder before you,
grateful for your multitudes of blessings.

Guide us into wisdom and grace,
that we may seek out the stranger and the outcast,
seeing the face of Christ in all,
drawing wide the circle of mercy and redemption,
as you call us to do, O Lord.

Lift us on the wings of hope and healing,
that we can be witnesses of your power,
and draw the world closer to You, O God,
by the generosity and love
we bear for each other and all creation.

Holy One,
your tenderness is a balm in suffering,
and a reminder of the sweetness of the life of faith:
pour out your Spirit upon us,
and gather within your embrace
all those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Prayer, day 2643


In stillness,
let us open our hearts to the Infinite One,
whose love is the foundation of all that is
from particle and wave
to humpbacks and aspen groves
to galaxies whose dance through space
sings out glory and wonder.

May we center ourselves
in the hope of shalom for all:
peace, contentment, plenty, well-being, wholeness,
and may we work to make that a reality
in word and in deed. 

May we remember
that you have called us to be a priestly people,
embodying the way of Jesus in the world,
loving, reconciling, mending,
living in loving integrity and hope.

Merciful God, in your tender compassion
bend near and hear 
the whispered sighs and thankful songs
of your beloveds
as we lay bare the depths of our souls before you.


Amen.

Earth Day Prayer: Speaking to the Soul, April 23, 2020



Yesterday was Earth Day, centered within what some of us call “Earth Week.” I am lucky to be on retreat right now, listening to bird song and woodpecker drumming and wind. Gratitude for this moment and the greening trees draws my heart closer to God to see wonders in the smallest budding leaf.


Creator of the Universe,
who is making Heaven and Earth,
let all that lives tell out your glory.

Rocks and hills,
ocean depths and craggy peaks,
the wind that caresses them,
all join to sing out your Holy Name.

You planted your holy song, O Lord,
in laughing brook and rambling river
fed by rain before time.

Murmuring grass and field of wheat
whisper “Alleluia!”
as the beauty of the Lord passes by.

Thunder and rain, summer sun and shadow
work together with soil and seed
to prepare a table in the wilderness by your will.

The works of your Hand, O Mighty One,
testify to your steadfast kindness and mercy:
You crown all you see as good.

Forgive us for our trespasses against each other,
and against the Earth, our mother,
for seeking to hoard her riches
and denying her integrity.

May we walk gently upon this Earth,
that bears us like a chariot through space,
upheld by your wondrous Love.

May we care for all creation,
being dedicated and blessed by You,
called to serve its renewal and guard its unity.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
she that moved over the waters of creation,
the waters of birth and life,
renew and recreate in us
a reverence for the Earth and all her inhabitants.

Lord Christ, center us in your wisdom,
and pour out your healing
over all we remember before You.

Amen.

Published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul, April 23, 2020.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Prayer, day 2642: for Earth Day


Loving Creator, Blessed Savior, Holy Spirit: 
we praise You 
and bless You for all your marvelous gifts, 
and sing your praises in joyful thanksgiving. 

We thank You for the wind that stirs
the prairie grasses and treetops, 
the breath of the Earth as she carries us through space. 

We thank You for the whispered prayer of pines 
and the trilled alleluias of forest-birds. 

We thank You for the grandeur of canyons, 
and the patient power of water and wind to carve them. 

We thank You for the warm, hallowed earth 
that bears us in its embrace, 
pregnant and precious with new life and growth. 

We thank You for the mantle of sky 
that brings us breath, light and rain, 
a starry testament to the depth of your infinite love. 

We thank You for giving us today our daily bread, 
generously bestowed from your abundance,
drawn in our nets 
from the profligate beauty of earth and sea and sky. 

Most Merciful God, forgive us our vain strivings 
that have wounded, disquieted, and trammeled your creation.
Forgive us for our failure to love creation as You do.

Give us the eyes of children 
that we may see the wonders of your handiwork anew, 
O Holy One. 

Give us wisdom
to use our hands 
not vainly to mold and subdue your creation 
but heal it and tend it. 

Give us hearts 
to treasure and revere it 
as a sacred gift and trust. 

May we always remember that You formed us
in your likeness, 
made from the dust of stars 
and the richness of humus, 
the brine of the sea in our veins: 
of one being with all that is created.

May we remember that we are created
to be rooted in the land 
but long for your heavenly kingdom,
placed gently in the care of this Earth by You, O Creator.


Amen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Prayer 2641: Prayer of the Meadows


Lord of Life, 
all things are upheld by your tender hand; 
as the earth turns gratefully under your gaze, 
may our hearts revolve within your love. 

May we open our souls to receive your truth, 
and be molded by your generating Spirit
to care for this earth,
dappled and spangled with bud and bloom.
May we walk mindfully among the lustrous grasses
watching waves of light and shadow 
testify to the Wisdom You breathed into creation,
and dance to the tune of resurrection
that springs up from the waking ground.

May we praise You, O God, with joyful abandon,
joining the song of bluebirds, titmice, and wrens.
As the fields awaken gratefully
before the warming southern wind,
may we bow our heads in thankfulness
for all the You have done for us, O Holy One.

Center us, Good Lord,
within the greening boughs of your mercy and grace
and grant your sustaining help 
to all those whom we remember before You.

Amen.