Author Archives: Johnna

About Johnna

I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

Collecting Paul

Almighty Savior, who at noonday called your servant Saint Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles: We pray you to illumine the world with the radiance of your glory, that all nations may come and worship you; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

Illumination is a gift from God to be sure, but it comes at the cost of the life we assumed we would lead. Paul had no desire to bring the love of God to Gentiles, but that was the holy calling and life that he got. The flash of light and the voice from heaven stripped him of his spiritual blindness courtesy of a three day physical blindness.

Perhaps it is only when we are stripped of the illusion that we see reality clearly that we are willing to rely on God’s vision. It’s quite a bold thing to ask for, as an individual and as part of the nations of this world, this clarity of vision. If it changed Paul’s life so dramatically, it’s likely to do the same to ours…

The Second Collect

Blessed Savior, at this hour you hung upon the cross, stretching out your loving arms: Grant that all the peoples of the earth may look to you and be saved; for your tender mercies’ sake. Amen.

I haven’t spent much time thinking about when Jesus was on the cross. Only in Holy Week does the movement of my hours align with the hours of crucifixion. But here it is, in the middle of my routine day: a prayer to remember the cost of true love.

If I claim Jesus, then Jesus has a claim on me. I doubt it will involve martyrdom, but it does demand that I take up the cross of my own life. I’m meant to love truly in this time and place, and to sacrifice to foster that love for and in others.

It’s the best of all possible realities, not the easiest.

Collect

Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts, to direct and rule us according to your will, to comfort us in all our afflictions, to defend us from all error, and to lead us into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. BCP, p. 107

Most mornings, I remember to pray when I wake up: Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace…in all things, help me to rely upon thy holy will…in every hour of the day, reveal thy will to me. There are more lines, asking for the strength and wisdom to act with kindness and steadfast strength. It’s been my way of putting my feet on a good path for the day.

There are some mornings that I skip the prayer – I forget to set an alarm, I’ve slept past my usual time, it’s a day packed with more than the usual activities. Oddly, it’s on the days when I most need to say my morning prayer that I don’t.

The morning has come and gone without me noticing the direction of my feet, heart, mind, and will. Now it’s noon, and there’s still time to take a deep breath and ask God for a reset. Here is my second chance to collect myself and set my feet on a good and loving path. May I be wise and loving enough to take it.

Shortened

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Lord, hear our prayer.

And let our cry come unto you.

Let us pray. (BCP, pp. 106-107)

The last couple of lines are left off – the kingdom, the power, and the glory are missing at the end of the prayer. Morning and Evening Prayer services don’t leave them off, just the prayers at noonday. It could be to save room – the end of the service is the last line available on the next page; it could be that everyone is so familiar with the prayer that the last couple of lines aren’t necessary – we’ll say them anyway; perhaps, it’s because these lines vary in different versions – leaving them off allows us to fill in our own versions of how the prayer ends. Any one of these reasons would be sufficient, and a combination of them even better.

But I wonder. If I am honest with myself (and with God), affirming the eternal and ever-present kingdom, the power, and the glory of God takes hope and nerve when I’m only halfway through a day of traffic, short tempers, frustration, worry, envy, and distraction.

I’m going to need divine intervention to finish the prayer. So I cry out for just that…

Silent or Spoken

A meditation, silent or spoken, may follow. (BCP, p. 106)

Words, spoken aloud or within the heart, have the power to change our perceptions. They can reassure, humiliate, amuse, and frighten. Some can bring us closer to God in new and unexpected ways; others can assault the spirit and break us. They can be the words spoken by others, and they can be our own self-created and sustained inner dialogue/diatribe.

This meditation isn’t at the beginning of noonday prayers; it is in the middle, following psalms and a couple of other short scripture passages. The Lord’s Prayer follows soon after. But in between the two are these words:

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

Have mercy, loving God, on the words I ponder within my heart or speak out loud. May they be words that reveal your love, imperfect as they are. Give me the courage to speak and meditate. Give me the wisdom to recognize and admit my limitations. Fill in the gaps with your grace. Amen.

In Every Place

From the rising of the sun to its setting my Name shall be great among the nations, and in every place incense shall be offered in my Name, and a pure offering; for my Name shall be great among the nations, says the Lord of Hosts. (Malachi 1:11) (BCP, p.106)

People: Thanks be to God.

It doesn’t say that the nations will follow a holy path, or that love of God, self, and neighbor will be the guiding political principles. But somewhere in the world, among the many nationalities and faiths, there are people who offer sincere and honest prayers to God. Every moment of every day (the sun is always rising, shining, or setting somewhere, after all!) God is loved, honored, called upon, and recognized.

There isn’t a single place on the planet that lacks the spirit of prayer, or the Spirit that guides them. There isn’t a single faithless, prayerless moment.

Every day, from the rising of the sun to its setting, you and I are invited to participate in this most holy endeavor. What a wonderful thing to remember as morning transforms into afternoon.

Reconciled, reconciling

If anyone is in Christ she/he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Godself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (BCP, p.106, 2 For. 5:17-18)

God offers us the chance to be a new creation, every minute of every day. The old can pass away at any time, and the new ushered in with gladness. This isn’t something we do for ourselves – it’s a blessing Christ offers.

Thanks be to God, we respond.

But there’s something missing if we leave it at that. God also gave us the ministry of reconciliation – the joy and responsibility of handing on that reconciliation in our own lives, our own relationships. It’s not an easy or pleasant thing in all times, places, and circumstances. Sometimes, reconciliation is painful, difficult, and at the expense of something we’d rather do or have.

This ministry of reconciliation doesn’t seem like much of a gift compared to the chance to be a new creation. But there it is. I’m going to take it on faith that this ministry of reconciliation is every much the gift that new life is. For that reason, I’ll respond:

Thanks be to God.

A Suitable Passage

One of the following, or some other suitable passage of Scripture, is read.

The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Romans 5:5 (BCP, p 105)

Yesterday morning, a homeless woman wandered into the library just as the doors were unlocked for the day. She wanted help finding an affordable place to live. The two librarians offered to help as best they could – looking online for options, getting her in touch with local outreach groups, etc. She refused the help; it wasn’t in the form she could accept, so she didn’t.

Before she left, she looked at the books on display and read a few of the notices posted on the board. When she walked out the door twenty minutes later, her circumstances were the same. She was still homeless. But something had changed.

For twenty minutes, two people listened to her. They looked at her, and they talked with her rather than at her. They did the best they could to help, and when the help was refused, they didn’t roll their eyes or offer sarcastic comments. They just stayed in that uncomfortable space.

For me, it was as sure a sign as any that God’s love is alive and well, and the Spirit dwelling in our hearts shows herself in all kinds of circumstances.

Sung or Said

One or more of the following may Psalms is sung or said

Psalm 119: Your word is a lantern to my feet, and a light upon my path.

Psalm 121: I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?

Psalm 126: When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, they were we like those who dream…

It makes a difference, whether you sing or say a psalm. Psalms are poems, sung or spoken in Jewish and Christian worship services. Singing comes from a different place in the heart and brain than speaking does – it’s why people who cannot speak can sing (and swear!).

There are times when I cannot speak to God. Words fail me, or seem incapable of conveying what is most important and true for me. Grief can steal my words; anger can keep me from talking with God; I can murmur memorized words without really paying any attention to them or God.

Singing is different. It bypasses my grief, anger, and complacency. Singing can bring me before God when I most need to be there and I am least able to find my way.

There is such wisdom in setting our prayers to music. Sing along, why don’t you?

Always and Forever

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Glory to the Mother, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

It has a different feel and flavor in the mouth, the glory going to the Mother rather than the Father. It’s not particularly heretical – there are feminine images for God throughout scripture; but it’s not customary or common. So why the insistence on God as male to the exclusion of God as female?

It’s important to notice gender differences, especially if one gender is valued above another as a general rule. But alternating male and female pronouns shouldn’t be the end goal: a deeper awareness of and openness to God’s presence is what we seek. The words are sacred not because of any magical property, but because we are drawn through them into God’s loving embrace.

Isn’t that the point of this often said phrase? God is, was, and will always love us; God holds our past, present, and future; we are never lost to God.