Light of Light,
On this silent and holy night
we begin our prayer with concern for those in our human family
around the corner and around the globe
who are suffering their darkest nights of the soul.
We pray for all people suffering in war and fascism, especially:
The people of Syria both within its borders and the millions of refugees beyond,
The people of Africa’s youngest nation, South Sudan,
Palestinians and the people of Israel,
The people of North Korea;
We pray for all of our armed forces, foreign intelligence workers, and peace corps workers and their families who cannot be together this Christmas, and we pray for the well-being of our veterans.
We pray for all those who suffer oppression, especially:
People without homes,
All those who have lost or are soon to lose emergency unemployment benefits,
Those who are forced to try and support their families on minimum wage,
All people in Uganda, Russia, around the world, and even here in the United States who live with fear for their lives, their jobs, their homes, and their families because of who they are and who they love.
We pray for all who suffer in mind, body, or spirit, especially:
Those who have received troubling diagnoses,
People who have suffered recent loss or betrayal,
All who are mourning the loss of a friend or loved one this holiday season,
All people who struggle with mental illness,
Our human siblings who are trying to rebuild their lives after prison,
All people who feel alone, voiceless, marginalized, abused, and forgotten.
Giver of all peace,
As the morning sun puts even blinding darkness to flight
break war’s stronghold in all lands where force reigns,
liberate all who are oppressed,
heal all who are unwell,
that all of us might be free and well to grow into wholeness;
that all of us might be free to love and to serve this hurting and beautiful world.
Source of all inspiration,
On this silent and holy night
we celebrate once again our deep, shared faith
that this mystery we call existence,
this venture we call life,
is not meaningless,
is not hopeless.
We celebrate once again
that though the world is mired
in war and hatred, prejudice and greed,
the human family was always meant for better things.
As the earth yields to the cold of winter,
as our bodies yield to the tiredness of this night,
as our skepticism yields to the joy of this season of family, friends, and fellowship,
so, too, will the world one day yield to the power of Love.
For the light of Love – lived and embodied human Love –
shines in the darkness,
and the darkness will not overcome it.
whose other name is Love,
On this silent and holy night
Ignite inside each of us a curious wonder
about how Love’s light is coming to birth
in, with, and among us.
Rekindle our childlike excitement
about how that newborn Love
might grow and change,
challenge and transform
us, and the world around us.
Just as a single fluttering flame
Can recall the might of the noonday sun,
may our time together in worship tonight
call us back to the power of almighty Love:
Love that we so often have no room for;
Love always born fragile and vulnerable;
Love endangered by cynicism and apathy;
Love nurtured and reared by human care;
Love willing to give up being liked for what is right;
Love that speaks truth to power;
Love that risks even life itself to insist the Truth –
Truth that everyone is a sacred gift;
Truth that everyone bears the image of God;
Truth that the Light of the World shines in and with and through us all.
These and all things we pray for Love’s sake.
Ground of all being,
out of the deepest of mysteries,
with the biggest of bangs,
all that is
the very existence of existence
came into being.
And each time we behold the magnitude
and fragility of our earth, our galaxy, our universe,
we behold these miracles
and our hearts echo unceasingly
over and over again,
Breath of life,
in billion-year-old seas,
with tiny atoms and majestic molecular replications,
with beauty and failure, pain and splendor,
all that lives has evolved into being.
We behold these miracles
and our hearts echo unceasingly
over and over again,
God whose other name is Love,
it is your Love that gathers us together,
in this miraculous universe
on this miraculous earth,
And each time we behold the power of your love,
each time we feel the squeeze of another’s hand,
the care in another’s eyes,
the sound of our name on another’s lips,
our hearts echo unceasingly,
over and over again
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you for the beauty of this autumn season,
for the yellows and reds, oranges and indigos,
for the bounty of the harvest,
for the cold, crisp air that makes our homes and our churches and our beds feel that much warmer.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
A government shutdown, long predicted by some Washington insiders, now seems imminent. To make a very long story very short, the Republican-led House won’t vote to approve a temporary national budget unless it defunds or delays the Affordable Care Act, whereas the Democrat-led Senate won’t approve a budget that does either of those things. Unless the House and Senate are able to negotiate a compromise (which isn’t likely), no budget will be passed, and the many, many people who work for the federal government will face indefinite job insecurity and financial uncertainty.
Even setting aside my distaste for the Machiavellian way House Republicans are using fear to try and force the defunding of the Affordable Care Act (which, by the way, has already been passed into law and deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court) I can hardly believe so much time and energy is being devoted to barring the 48 million uninsured Americans from access to affordable, adequate healthcare.
I believe deeply that we are all entitled to our own opinions about the best way to govern this nation, however I do not believe we are entitled to our own facts. Republican leaders may disagree strongly with the method being used to provide access to healthcare and drive down premium costs, and I affirm their right to that opinion. However, I just need to say out loud that I cannot abide the argument that people ought not be required to pay for something they “don’t need.”
While individuals may feel they “don’t need” insurance, either because they are young and/or they don’t often get sick, the fact is that our emergency rooms charge insurance companies the outrageous fees that they do because of the many uninsured Americans who experience accidents or catastrophic illnesses and then aren’t able to afford to pay their bills.
The notion that the current healthcare system is clear-cut and that individuals are charged only for the services they receive is a myth. In fact, insured Americans are already subsidizing the system; they are already paying for coverage they “don’t need” because it’s actually money going to cover other people who thought they “didn’t need” it (or more likely couldn’t afford it – see below) either. This inflation of fees and insurance premiums then makes it all the more difficult for the nation’s poor and working classes to afford insurance.
We all need access to healthcare when we get sick or are in an accident. And since the nation’s leaders voted to continue with a privatized healthcare system, in order to have access to that healthcare the reality is that we all need medical insurance, maybe not always for ourselves, but always for one another.
As the sand continues to stream out of the hourglass and tonight’s midnight budget deadline looms, I will be praying. I will pray not only for all of my friends and family whose livelihood may be in jeopardy tomorrow, and not only for the 48 million uninsured Americans whose access to affordable healthcare may be delayed yet again. I will also be praying for the nation as a whole, that together we can come to perceive the truth of our profound interdependence, the truth that we all need help sometimes, the truth that we are all indeed in this together.
Long before you were born
the Gardener was here
weeding and pruning a place
for your new life to take root.
Long before we were born
the Spirit was here
leading and guiding our lives together
for our friendships to bud.
Long before this church was born
Love was here
calling all people to the world’s hated and forgotten places
for Love itself to blossom in and through us.
prepare our minds today
that we might understand ourselves more deeply.
Spirit in, with, and among us,
prepare our hearts today
to be refreshed and renewed.
Love that unites us,
prepare our spirits today
to go boldly wherever you lead and guide us
in our worship together
I could hardly believe the story I read on Friday from the Associated Press. While I like to stay well-informed, my heart has been heavy with news of violence from around the world and around the corner these last few weeks, so I had decided Monday that I would take a news fast.
On Friday I decided it was time to break my fast, and you can imagine my surprise when the very first story I stumbled upon was some happy news about the Bellingham Christian School. This nondenominational Christian school just 90 miles north of Seattle had decided to cancel classes that day not because of catastrophe, not because of a scandal or a problem or any kind of wrongdoing, but simply because the weather was glorious!
Here’s some of the story:
In a sun-deprived part of Washington state, the promise of nice spring weather prompted a small private school to give students a day off to enjoy the sunshine… Principal Bob Sampson said he wanted to give students some time to re-energize and enjoy the weather, adding that he wanted to recreate the excitement snow days get among the kids. [He said] “In a world that’s got a lot of hard things going, it’s fun to create a moment of joy.”
There certainly are, as Bellingham’s principal put it, a lot of hard things going on in our world. There are so many hard things that I have been struggling to partake fully in the celebrations and outdoor fun of Spring. In the wake of the Marathon bombings and the ongoing investigation into the suspects, amid deeply troubling news about untried prisoners continuing to be held in Guantanamo for going on eleven years, and as the poorest in this nation are surviving the Sequester suffering much more than long waits at the airport, it seemed frivolous to think about anything other than the serious and somber.
And yet, the sunshine, the smell of newly grown flowers blooming in the breeze, the curiosity and laughter of children, the very fact that life goes on during and even after tragedy and pain and suffering, all of these things beckon us to come out, even if just for a while, from under the weight of the world. They beckon us the same way our favorite song or painting or story can draw us outside of ourselves until we lose our anger and lose our worries and finally “lose ourselves” in it.
The reality and seriousness of life is inescapable, but play gives our hearts and spirits space and rest, levity and liberty. Play reminds us that there is a dimension to the human experience that extends beyond the crush of deadlines and competition, out ahead of strife and injustice and even the laws of physics. Play reminds us of the power of our imaginations.
I’ve always loved the movie “Miracle on 34th Street.” Not the new one, the original with Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara. In it, Kris Kringle describes the imagination this way:
Now you’ve heard of the French nation or the British nation. Well, this is the imagi-nation. It’s a wonderful place. How would you like to be able to make snowballs in the summertime? Or drive a great big bus right down Fifth Avenue? How you would like to have a ship all to yourself that makes daily trips to China? Australia? How would you like to be the Statue of Liberty in the morning, and in the afternoon fly south with a flock of geese? It’s fairly simple. Of course, it takes practice.
In this scene he’s talking to a little girl, and I think for most children entering the imagination is as simple as pretending. Fortunately and unfortunately, pretending doesn’t play that big role in my life at this point. But my imagination certainly does. I may not imagine having a ship that makes daily trips to China, but I often imagine what it would be like to win the lottery, what life would be like if my family were to welcome the birth of another child, what it would be like to live in another country, or just to come home to discover my husband has cleaned and organized the house from top to bottom.
Whether about little things or big things, imagination is simply the ability to envision new possible realities for ourselves, new possible realities for our world. But as Kris admits, “it takes practice.”
It’s funny, isn’t it, how it can take so much work to make time for play? In between the demands of earning a living, cleaning the house, and getting the oil changed it can feel daunting to have to work at making time and space in our lives for the thing that is supposed to be free of work. And yet, once on vacation, all of the work it took to plan the trip and prepare things at work for our absence usually feels worth it. The same is true for play, and the same is true for any spiritual practice. They are less activities in which we engage, and more places we can go, spiritual retreat centers where we can go to spend time with the still, small voice that is our constant, yet at times elusive, companion.
I love learning where words come from, as so many clergy do. So I was pleased but not really all that surprised when I learned that the English word “silly” actually comes from a Greek root which means “blessed” or “blissful.” Given these many links between the sacred and the silly, I hope this spring season you, too, will find – or make – more room for play. For there are indeed a lot of hard things going on in our world, and it is good to make time for joy, time to journey to the imagination, to envision new realities for ourselves and our world.
On this joyful Easter morn,
with springtime hallelujahs
resounding as loud in our hearts
as on our lips,
we give thanks, Great Spirit of Life,
that within each seed of hope
there is new life,
waiting to be harvested.
The ground that not long ago was blanketed with snow,
the earth that just weeks ago was devoid of life,
the soil that just days ago was rich only with the smell of decay,
is now as empty of winter
as the tomb was of death.
It has been said
that “the tombstone was moved
not to let Jesus out
but to let the disciples in.”
Lead us then,
into life’s empty pastures,
that our kernels of new hope and faith
might find fertile ground.
As bold hands will soon plant crops in untried lands,
and winds will scatter blossoms far from the trees that grew them,
give us courage to take risks,
and break with convention,
for the sake of planting new life.
As the earth will be warmed by the sun,
as the rivers will overflow from Spring rains,
as animals will grow fat from the bounty of field and forest,
nourish our seeds,
that the new life they hold
might bud and blossom and grow
both within and far, far beyond us.
In the midst of planting for our future,
for the lives we yearn for,
for the world that is to be,
we are a people living in the here and now
in the world as it is
with joys and sorrows,
dreams and worries.
We share the prayers of our own hearts grateful that in this community of faith we need bear no burden alone…
Assured again that the power of life
is greater than the power of death,
we affirm our faith that we are
all siblings in spirit,
children born of life-giving love,
and all meant for love beyond belief.
With thanks, hope, and commitment,
empowered as God’s own hands and feet in this world,
we make our prayer
to that Spirit, alive
in, with, and among us.
For all of these things,
and in the name of all that is holy
whose love knows no bounds,
we welcome you into the gates of our grateful hearts.
With stories and psalms,
palm fronds and prayer
we greet you, grateful that nothing
– not even barriers of our own making –
can block your presence in, with, and among us.
we cannot help but see
again and again and again
why so many sages throughout the ages
wrote and sang and taught about an angry God.
Anger at a world so wicked
that it denies the poor and immigrant and imprisoned
like clean water and kindness, medicine and education,
so that the wealthy and privileged
can stay entertained, well-invested, and well-insulated
from the brutal consequences of our global economy.
Anger at a nation so troubled
that it limits access to health care but not deadly weapons,
scapegoats welfare mothers
while enabling corruption
among the authorities in our political temples.
we too are angry.
We are furious.
And we pray for forgiveness for the ways we have been complicit and contributors – even unknowingly – to hypocrisy, oppression, and corruption.
This Holy Week,
grant us the courage,
to be more than your fair-weather friends.
Give us the strength to welcome your impatience
with as much enthusiasm as we do your joy and light,
as you make your entry into the temples of our hearts,
overturning our reticence and comfort-laden tables.
Remind us that it is not our ancient structures
but our ancient callings that deserve our sacrifice,
And as your hands and feet,
help us turn this troubled world we know upside down
for Love’s sake.