Posts Tagged With: prayer

How Many Candles?

455623650Sunday morning at the beginning of worship, I lit our peace lamp and then I lit four white candles: for Paris, Beirut, Aleppo, and Baghdad.

I almost skipped the candle-lighting altogether because I couldn’t figure out how many candles to light. Beirut and Paris, of course. Those were horrific terrorist attacks among people who don’t experience such things on a regular basis; places where people expect to go about their daily lives without encountering a suicide bomber or masked gunman. I definitely wanted to light candles for the 41 killed in Beirut, the 129 in Paris.

What about Aleppo and Baghdad? They had terrorist attacks last week, too. But, sadly, I barely paid attention. The words “bombing” and “attack” and “violence” and “dead” are so often heard in connection with these cities that those reports can feel more like a recurring news script than a real-life event. Still, the fact that those attacks were expected doesn’t make them any less tragic. It doesn’t make the 13 killed in Aleppo and the 26 killed in Baghdad any less dead. So Aleppo and Baghdad got candles too.

It was hard to stop with the candle-lighting.

I wanted to light a candle for the Palestinian family whose house was destroyed by the Israeli military because one of the men of the family was accused of killing an Israeli soldier.

And I wanted to light a candle for the dead Israeli soldier.

I wanted to light a candle for people in the cities of the United States killed by guns—those involved with gangs, those caught in the crossfire, those shot by police, those who are police.

I wanted to light a candle for the death-dealing racism of our culture.

I wanted to light a candle for the transgender people who are attacked physically and emotionally every day.

I wanted to light a candle for the 459 civilians killed by US airstrikes as part of our “war on terror”—especially for the 100 children.

I wanted to light candles for the tragedies we all knew would come in the wake of the Paris attacks—for the Muslims threatened and yelled at and physically assaulted; for Syrians killed as the French warplanes “pound” ISIS; for the refugees who are shut out and put down because of our misplaced fear.

I wanted to light candles for all of them. And I knew I couldn’t. We don’t have enough candles in our church cupboard. We don’t have enough time in our worship service.

It’s an odd thing, really, to light a candle in the face of death. It’s a small act. It’s almost a nothing act. Almost. But not quite. Lighting a candle is something. Which, however inadequate, is at least better than nothing.

And for me, for many of us, lighting a candle is prayer. And prayer opens our hearts and our minds to God, which means that our hearts and our minds are more open to each other. Which is something, too.

This morning my devotional reading was Matthew 1; a chapter I know well and am likely to breeze through. But this time I was caught by the angel’s words to Joseph: “You are to name [Mary’s son] Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

He will save his people from their sins.

We are all God’s people. And our sins are killing us—physically and spiritually.

In the midst of so much death–in the midst of such sorrow, such tragedy, such brokenness—it is hard to know how many candles to light. It is hard to know what prayers to pray. It is hard to know what steps to take. It is hard to believe in the promise of salvation.

But here is what grace means for me right now: One candle is enough . . . or four . . . or sixty. Any prayer will do—art, music, words, groans, silence. Even one step will get us to a new place, eventually.

And the promise is real even when we can’t believe it.

Categories: Ponderings, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Thoughts on Hannah and Prayer

[This reflection is excerpted from an earlier sermon.]

1 Samuel 1:4-18

We have before us in the text this morning a very odd scene. There is a woman, probably in her thirties. She comes to the shrine at Shiloh—the most holy of Jewish worship sites in these pre-temple days; the place where the sacred Ark of the Covenant was kept. But she does not approach this holy sanctuary in a reverent, respectable manner. She is out of control with grief. She is wailing and flailing and mumbling to herself. Her lips are moving, but the listening priest can hear no words, only deep groans and ecstatic shrieks.

I imagine that this scene makes us almost as uncomfortable as it made Eli. If someone were to pray like that in our building, we too might think she was drunk. Hannah’s prayer is simply not proper. She is far too bold before God. Far too emotional.

We are much more comfortable with the way Jesus taught us to pray. Head bowed, eyes closed. (O.K., that’s not actually in the Bible, but we know that’s how it works.) “Your will be done; give us our daily bread.” It’s a modest, humble, controlled prayer.

There is much good in the prayer that Jesus taught us. It is our model. That is why we pray it—or a version of it—almost every Sunday.

This morning, though, I want to lift up the virtues of the improper prayer; of Hannah’s gut-wrenching, emotionally charged tirade and bargaining session.

Hannah breaks the rules established by the ancestors of the faith when she approaches Yahweh directly about a child for herself. Hannah comes in a long line of Israelite matriarchs who were barren: Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel. In all of these cases, the women’s husbands interceded for them with Yahweh. But Hannah goes boldly before God herself, not submitting her request to her husband or even the priest.

She also breaks the rules in the way she prays. She is standing before God, tears streaming down her face. She is moving her lips, but no sound is coming out. This is obviously not the way prayer was done in the shrine at Shiloh, because Eli accuses her of being drunk.

Hannah also breaks a theological rule about prayer; she prays: “Give me a son.” No “if it be thy will.” No, “God, the path I would prefer for my life would be for you to give me a son.” Just, “I want a son; give me one.” And God answers and honors her request.

There is danger in asking God for specific things, in putting God to the test. God might not cure the disease or give me the job or fill the offering plate. I think the so-called “name it and claim it” theology is one of the most dangerous forces in our society right now. This teaching that you simply ask God for what you want (and send a little seed money to the preacher) and your prayers will be answered with a “yes.”

But I also think that in my resistance to that theological extreme, I have sometimes missed out on the blessing of approaching God with the longings of my heart and watching in faith as God responds to my prayers.

Prayer is a mysterious thing. I do not understand it. I do not know why God sometimes answers “yes” and sometimes answers “no.” But I do know that it is better to participate fully in the mystery of prayer than to distance ourselves from God because we don’t understand it.

Categories: Bible Study | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Good Friday Worship, 2015

Good Friday, April 3, 2015
Peace Mennonite Church

Welcome and Introduction

Hymn: Abide with me 

Call to Worship

We are Jesus’ disciples, following him even as he moves toward the cross.
Even as he wraps a towel around his waist. Even as he kneels to wash the filth from the feet of his friends.
We are Jesus’ disciples, longing to be faithful even as the night grows dark.
Even as betrayers loom. Even as the powers that oppose the way of Christ press in around us.
We are Jesus’ disciples, struggling to love others even as Jesus loved us.
We are Jesus’ disciples, gathered here to worship God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen.

Service of Footwashing

Scripture Reading: John 13:2b-17 

Prayer of Preparation (In Mennonite Hymnal #782, “All” section only)

Washing each other’s feet

Ubi caritas et amor
What wondrous love is this 

Responsive Prayer

Holy, loving, suffering God,
as we have served each other in this place,
let us also reach out to serve others who are hurting.
Give us eyes to see
the injustice and suffering that abound.
Give us hearts to feel
the depth of this world’s brokenness.
Give us ears now to hear
the words of your passion.

Passion Narrative

The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus (John 18:1-11)

Responsive Reading

On this dark night, as the shadows deepen,
We come to be present with Jesus.
With the glory of Palm Sunday behind us and the victory of Easter not yet come,
We will sit together in this space with our breaking, our broken hearts.
In this world that is at once beautiful and holy and tragic,
We seek to be present with all who suffer.
In the dark valleys of life, when sorrow threatens to overwhelm,
We long for a safe and sacred space to sit with our grief and our questions.
Jesus Christ, holy friend,
we know that you are here with us.
Let us be here with you. Amen.


Jesus before the High Priest (John 18:12-14, 19-23)

Prayer against Police Brutality

Holy God,

We grieve for the reality of police brutality in our country and communities.

We pray tonight for the families and friends of Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Dante Parker, Tamir Rice, and others who have died at the hands of police. Grant them comfort; grant them strength; grant them a way forward toward justice.

We pray for those who suffer verbal and physical abuse at the hands of police: for the mentally ill who do not understand; for those targeted because of the color of their skin; for those protesting the violence and injustice of the past; for the innocent who are in the wrong place at the wrong time; for the guilty who need to be shown a better way. Grant them healing of body; grant them healing of spirit; grant them a way forward toward justice.

We pray for the police officers who risk their lives to serve our communities: for those who have grown harsh and bitter; for those who hold fear deep within them; for those haunted by mistakes they made in the heat of the moment; and for the many working against the violence and racism within the systems and within themselves. Grant them wisdom; grant them protection; grant them a way forward toward justice.

We hold our community in the light of your love, your justice, your peace. Amen.


Jesus before Pilate (John 18:24, 28-38)

Prayer for those in Power by Brian McLaren (excerpted)


Jesus Tortured (John 18:38-19:5)

Misheberach (prayer for healing) for Victims of Torture by Rabbi Gilah Langner


Jesus Sentenced to Death (John 19:6-16)

Prayer for Abolition of the Death Penalty by Sister Helen Prejean


The Crucifixion of Jesus (John 9:17-27)

Prayer for Those who Grieve

God of the broken-hearted,
God of the broken heart,
Receive our sighs
too deep for words.
In your time
by your grace
heal us.
In this meantime
hold us
as we weep.
Hold us and rock us
with the rhythm
of your own


The Death of Jesus (John 28-30)


Hymn: When I survey the wondrous cross

Depart in silence

*Unless otherwise noted, liturgy elements are written by me and you are welcome to use them in your own worship contexts.

Categories: Lent/Easter | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Practices for the Second Week of Lent

cross collageCreative Prayer Experience

You will need a piece of brown paper; pen, colored pencils or markers; collage materials if desired

Cut or tear a cross shape from the piece of brown card stock. On one side of the cross, write, draw, or collage the burdens that you feel you are carrying.  On the other side of the cross, write, draw, or collage the promises of God that will support you as you bear those burdens.  As you create, offer your burdens to God; receive God’s promises with joy.

Creative Writing Exercise

Write a scene parallel to the one found in the reading from Genesis 17, placing yourself in the place of Abram: “When ___(name) ____ was ___ years old, the Lord appeared to __(name) ___, and said to her/him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you. . . . Then __(name)___  fell on her/his face; and God said to her/him: _____________”

What would God say to you today?  What new name would God give to you?

Categories: Lent/Easter | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

Preparing to Enter Lent–Thoughts on Ash Wednesday

FBpixThree years ago I developed a creative arts Lenten retreat based on the Revised Common Lectionary passage. And guess what? The Lectionary has cycled back around to those same passages this year! So I will be sharing from that retreat material throughout Lent: scripture reflections, visual art prayer practices and creative writing prayer practices.

The title of the retreat is “Holy Spaces.” I pray that you experience Lent as a holy space in your life this year.

– – – – –

We begin our Lenten journey into holy spaces with the observance of Ash Wednesday; with a reminder that we come from dust and we will return to dust. The black smudge on your forehead. The ashy grit under your fingernails. It is a holy space, yes. And an uncomfortable space. To receive the words into your heart and the symbol onto your flesh requires a deep humility: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

A few years ago I was offering the imposition of ashes at our church service. Sketching the black crosses onto the offered foreheads as those who came forward pulled their hair out of the way and bent towards me. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” I spoke the words to each person. Then I looked up and saw my 12-year-old daughter. Suddenly the ashes were heavy and hot on my fingers. The words stung and stuck in my mouth. I did not want to say them. I did not want them to be true. Not for her. But I did say them because they are true.

The words are true and good and right. But it takes humility to trust God’s truth and God’s love over our own. Trusting God takes a humility, a relinquishment of control, that can prove very hard for a mother, for a pastor, for a lover, for a deep friend.

Humility is difficult, and it is necessary if we hope to inhabit a holy space. If our own ego–our own pride, our own sense of self, our need to be the one in control–is too big, there is not room for God. If our focus is on ourselves, we will miss seeing God’s presence around us and within others.

The readings from Joel and Psalms indicate the human need for confession and repentance. They happen in that order. First we must admit to the sin in our lives. Name it within ourselves and before God. Then we are able to receive God’s grace; to turn from our sin toward God. For Joel, this call for confession and repentance is communal. The faith community as a whole has turned from God. The people are called to come together; to confess their sins together; to fast and weep and mourn; to turn together toward God. The psalmist’s plea is more personal: “Have mercy on me O God.” As we enter into Lent and confess our sins, it is important that we consider both individual and corporate sin. It is important that we humble ourselves not just as individuals, but also as families and churches and communities.

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 urges humility in our religious practices. We should not give money or offer prayers as a way to show other people how spiritual we are. This is a good lesson to hear at the beginning of Lent, because this is a season when there is an emphasis placed on spiritual practices. Many people give things up for Lent or they take on new disciplines. And there are appropriate times and places to share about our spiritual commitments as a way of encouraging others and receiving encouragement for ourselves. There is also a danger of turning Lenten practices into a sort of spiritual Olympics: “The bronze goes to Fred for giving up red meat. The silver goes to Susan for giving up Facebook. And the gold medal for Lenten deprivation goes to Mary who gave up caffeine–including coffee and chocolate!” The reward for our spiritual practices comes from God, not from other people. We give things up or take things on in order to be more aware of God’s presence in our lives–not so that other people will think that God is more present with us than with them.

One of the reasons I like the term “spiritual practice” so much is the sense of privacy that it invokes. You do not practice in front of an audience. You practice by yourself, or with a gifted teacher, or with a group of other people who are trying to master the same skill. We all need a lot of spiritual practice. There is very seldom a call for spiritual performance. So if giving up caffeine increases your awareness of God’s presence in your life, by all means deprive yourself of chocolate for forty days. Just don’t expect a medal. Instead, expect an encounter with God; the God who knows you deeply; the God who loves you deeply; the God who dwells within you and around you, whether you recognize this space you inhabit as holy or not.

Categories: Lent/Easter | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Prayer for MCUSA Executive Board


The Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA is meeting this weekend. They will be discussing the denominational response to Mountain States Mennonite Conference (since they licensed Theda Good) and talking more generally about issues of denominational structure and maintaining unity in the midst of theological disagreements–particularly related to our varied understandings of faithful sexuality.

If you know me at all or follow this blog, you know that I do not agree with the current denominational “teaching position” on sexuality. You know I have been frustrated with the failure of the Executive Board to make a clear and safe space within the denomination for LGBTQ Mennonites and their allies. You may not know that  some of the board members are people I consider friends. I know that they are feeling a heavy weight as they enter into these meetings. I have a deep respect for the work that the board is called to do this weekend. It is hard–and hopefully holy–work.

So, for those of you on the board,  my prayers are with you.

For those of you not on the board, I encourage you to join me in prayer this weekend–beginning on Thursday evening. You may pray the prayer below if you like. You can also go to the MCUSA Executive Board page and pray for the board members by name. I would love for those joining in prayer to leave a comment–or even a prayer–below.

Eternal God,

May those gathered for the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board meeting this weekend know the powerful presence of your Holy Spirit. May the Spirit dwell in each breath, each word, each silence.

Lift the heaviness that weighs on the board members’ hearts and replace it with the easy yoke, the light burden of Jesus.

Let them discern the false wisdom of the world from the true wisdom of God, which we know in the foolishness of the cross.

Lead them not into temptations of people-pleasing and conflict avoidance, but hold their feet on the path of Christ.

Do not let the obligations they may feel to rules and institutions get in the way of their faithfulness to the Gospel.

Burn away their fear and let them be inflamed with courage.

May each word that is spoken come from love and be heard with love.

May those who are present speak for those who are not at the table, so that even absent voices may be heard and held.

Remind these leaders, and us, O God, that our church is not our church; it is your church.

And because it is your church, we pray that your life-giving, death-defying, justice-making power will be at work within and among the MCUSA Executive Board members this weekend. We cling to the promise you give–that your power is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or even imagine. Amen.

Categories: GLBT Concerns, Mennonites | Tags: , | 11 Comments

Missional Prayer

6299495645This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog on Missional Spirituality.  With this event, MennoNerds is exploring  Spirituality through an Anabaptist lens and what such spirituality means concerning participation in the mission of God.

– – – –

“Missional Prayer.” That’s my topic for today. And it seemed like a good topic weeks and weeks ago when I signed up for it. Plus it was one of the latest topics on the syncroblog schedule. So here we are. “Missional Prayer.” And now that I actually have to write about it, I realize that it is a rather odd phrase.

Some might even consider it an oxymoron. “Missional,” after all, generally makes us think of going out into the world, doing the will of God. “Prayer” makes us think of retreating to a quiet place and simply being with God. How can we go and retreat, do and be?

I think that is exactly the challenge of the faithful Christian life.

During my first round of seminary, I fell in love with the theology and practice of Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C.. They preach the Good News and they enact the Good News. They host Bible studies and soup kitchens, hold worship services and art shows. At the heart of their way of being in the world is a commitment to the Inward/Outward journey.

The longer I try to live as a follower of Jesus in this world, the more important this Inward/Outward journey becomes to me. As Christ-followers, we are called to go and retreat; to do and be. It is a balance, a dance between receiving spiritual sustenance and being the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

The mission and the prayer are both necessary for a life of faith; and they are not two separate actions or two distinct parts of one’s life. The inward and the outward, the prayer and the mission, nurture each other; they intertwine in ways that make the Christian life possible when it would otherwise be impossible. “Missional Prayer” is not an oxymoron. It is the opposite of an oxymoron . . . an oxygenius?

“Missional Prayer” is any way of being with God that allows us to better understand God’s work in the world and that empowers us to participate more deeply in that work.

Such prayer can involve praying for specific people. These prayers can deepen our sensitivities, open our eyes to needs beyond ourselves.

Such prayers can involve praying for God’s will in certain situations. These prayers can keep us watching for God’s presence in our world.

But more than offering up requests for people or for certain situations, missional prayer means receiving God’s word about the people and situations around us. It means receiving the power of the Holy Spirit to join with the work God is already doing.

If we understand prayer as a conversation with the Divine, then in missional prayer, we should be doing less talking and more listening.

There are, of course, all kinds of ways to listen to God. Many of them won’t look like prayer to anyone who happens to be watching. Many of them might not even feel like prayer to us at first–or they might feel like prayer but seem, somehow, like we are cheating.

But it is not cheating to take a walk in the woods–or in your neighborhood. It’s not cheating to linger in an art gallery–or get out your own art supplies. It’s not cheating to read good poetry or enjoy a good meal or watch a good movie or listen to good music. It’s not cheating to have a real conversation with a friend–or an enemy.

And it’s not cheating to read the Bible or to bow your head and close your eyes or to show up at church on Sunday morning.

All of these can be prayer or not prayer. Missional or not missional.

Missional prayer is not about what we do. It’s about what we notice God doing. And how our noticing then inspires what we do, what we say, who we are.

Missional prayer is not about the words, but when we feel like we need some words anyway, we can simply pray with Jesus: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.” Amen.

Categories: Prayers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Advent 4 Worship Pieces

IMG_2302And for this week:

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 63:7-9 and Luke 2:8-20

Call to Worship:

Glory to God in the highest!
And hope to every discouraged heart.
Glory to God in the highest!
And peace to every conflicted soul.
Glory to God in the highest!
And joy to every downcast spirit.
Glory to God in the highest!
And love to every one.
Let us sing praises to our God.
Let us offer this light against the darkness.


Holy God of Love,
There is light in our lives because of the abundance of your steadfast love. A love so vast, so deep, so real, that you became one of us. May we live within the power of this love. And may we share its light with a world where too many dwell in darkness. Amen.


May you live within the light of love in these coming days. May love call forth the songs you sing. May love enliven your celebrations. May love be within you, and may love surround you. May you know–deeply know–the abundance of God’s steadfast love. Amen.

Categories: Advent/Christmas, Benediction/Blessing, Call to Worship, Worship Pieces | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Advent 3 Worship Pieces

This past Sunday we focused on the song of Mary and practiced group lectio divina together.

(The children had been invited to draw a picture as a way to reflect on the scripture readings. I nearly lost it when one boy handed me his drawing to share with the congregation. It pictured the annunciation with a startled Joseph standing next to Mary saying, “What the heck!?”.)

Anyway, here are some pieces of the service that I actually planned ahead of time:

Scriptures: Psalm 146 & Luke 1:46-56

Call to Worship:

Our souls proclaim your greatness, O God.
And our spirits rejoice in you.
We will praise you as long as we live.
We will sing praises to you our whole lives long.
We will not trust in the powerful of this world,
But will trust in you–Creator of heaven and earth,
the One who gives food to the hungry,
the One who enacts justice for the oppressed.
Our souls proclaim your greatness, O God
As we worship you in this place,
As we light these candles in hope, peace, and joy.


Holy God of Joy,
We rejoice in the reality of who you are. We live within the joy of your love for us. Our contentment comes and goes. Our happiness ebbs and flows. Our feelings depend upon our circumstances, our physical health, our brain chemistry. But our joy is deeply rooted in our identity as your beloved children. And we give you thanks. Amen.


As you go out, go with the light of joy. In moments of delight, in moments of frustration; in moments of beauty, in moments of fear; in moments of enthusiasm and moments of exhaustion; may the joy of Christ be ever-present, grounding you in the deep love of God–our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen.


Categories: Advent/Christmas, Benediction/Blessing, Call to Worship, Worship Pieces | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Worship Pieces: Advent 2

I thought I had already posted these, but I guess not.  Our scriptures are Matthew 3:1-12 and 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Hannah’s song).

Call to Worship

We come to prepare the way;
The way for Christ–
the hope of Christ, the peace of Christ–
to enter our world,
to enter our hearts.

We cry out together in the wilderness:
The kingdom of heaven has come near.
We come to be part of the light–
the light that shines in the darkness.


Holy God of Peace,
We seek your peace in these darkening days. We seek a calm within, yes. And an absence of conflict between people and nations. But more deeply, we seek your shalom–the deep and abiding peace that will come only through the justice of your kingdom. Amen.



May you carry the light of peace with you this week. A strong and holy peace that strengthens the weak, feeds the hungry, exalts the poor, and guards the feet of the faithful. Amen.

Categories: Advent/Christmas, Benediction/Blessing, Call to Worship, Worship Pieces | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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