Category Archives: worship

Looking for God in all the wrong places…

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Luke 24:1-5a, NRSV

When you were a child, did you ever run into your teacher somewhere unexpected- the market, a fall fair, gas station, or restaurant? If you are like me, it made you feel really uncomfortable. Teachers are supposed to be in school, not picking out cold medicine and birthday cards at the drugstore in downtown Farmington, New Hampshire. That teachers have a life beyond their roles in the classroom, that they might be living and breathing people just like me – what a strange thought! That they might not live in the limited, school-shaped box I assumed they did was a shocking idea: that meant they were more than what I knew of them and how I experienced them.

The disciples who loved Jesus, who followed him and put their hopes in him, had expected to find Jesus in a tomb-shaped box among the dead. When he wasn’t confined to their limited understanding of him, when he wasn’t where they placed him in the grand scheme of things, it must have been the shock of a lifetime.

I hope I learn this lesson well enough to stop putting God in a box of specific shape and size – no matter how lovely the box, it won’t be big enough to contain the creator of the whole universe. Even church-shaped, denominationally decorated boxes will not contain a living Christ.

[The Deer’s Cry, Rita Connolly, from Shaun Davey, The Pilgrim, released 1983, recorded at Festival Interceltique de Loriant, Glasgow royal concert hall, Tara Music]

Where there is Poverty

Where there is Poverty and Joy,

there is neither Cupidity nor Avarice. St. Francis, The Admonitions XXVII

[For the complete prayer, click “Walking from Easter to Pentecost with St. Francis]

There is a lot packed into these twelve words, so I’m taking my time with this sentence. Today, just the first four are quite enough.

Poverty is the ability to see what is necessary and what is not – and paring life down to avoid confusing the two. For Francis, that meant giving up everything he owned and trusting that God would hold him fast. For such a leap of faith, he gained a life of joy and peace.

Is my life where poverty lives? If I read the lines right, avarice takes up residence wherever poverty doesn’t. Avarice is that awful compulsion to stuff everything possible into my life’s shopping cart, trying to avoid spiritual bankruptcy with cases of ramen noodles, pricey cars, marble countertops and designer fixtures. There’s never enough of anything, so everything must be grasped at and held in clenched fists; nothing can be spared, even for those in true need. Avarice is malnourishment to the point of starvation, because I’ve stuffed myself full of empty things and have no room for the daily bread that sustains. It’s starvation by excessive consumption.

Poverty is choosing daily bread over cotton candy, enough for today over hoarded junk food. When I trust that my life is safe in God’s embrace and in my neighbor’s company, I will rest content with what my labor brings me and I can happily give of what I have to help someone else.

Gracious God, I want to see what is necessary and good. I want to live a generous life. Help me give up everything that keeps me from such a life. Amen.

Where to look…

Where there is Patience and Humility,

there is neither Anger nor Annoyance.

St. Francis, The Admonitions, XXVII 

[for the complete prayer, click “Walking with Francis from Easter to Pentecost” above]

I see anger and annoyance almost daily. Where is patience and humility? Are they hiding somewhere or do I just have to look harder? I certainly don’t see much of them in myself. Then I open A Sense of the Divine: through the Christian Year with St. Francis to the reading for Easter day and read St. Francis:

You are holy, Lord God; you do wonderful things..

You are love, charity; you are wisdom, humility…

You are patience, you are beauty, you are meekness..

I look to God for love and wisdom, patience and humility. As I find it there, I find it here.

Offered by Bill Albritton, seeker of God and prayerful servant to neighbor.

 

Sources Quoted:

Sister Nan and Father Maximilian Mizzi, The Message of St. Francis (New York: Penguin Studios, 1998), p. 9

Brother Tristam, A Sense of the Divine: Through the Christian Year with St. Francis (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2002)

My Mouth Will Proclaim

Readings: Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; 2 Samuel 6:1-11; Hebrews 1:1-4

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;

with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.

I declare your steadfast love is established forever;

your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,

I have sworn to my servant David:

I will establish your descendants forever,

and build your throne for all generations.”

Psalm 89:1-4

Offered by Colin Fredrickson, artist, college student, child of God.

Worry, the Vice?

Readings: Psalm 79; Micah 5:1-5a; Luke 21:34-38

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the earth. Luke 21:34-35

Worrying is focusing on all that could possibly go wrong and wasting the precious few days I have on this earth trying to outsmart a reality that isn’t real and most likely never will be. It drains color and harmony from the unique work of art that is this day, as if it were an oily smudge on a dirty canvas. If the worst doesn’t happen, worrying is in vain; if it does happen, worrying robs me of the strength and courage to face hardship. It robs me of hope and trust in God, self, and neighbor; it ruins my present because it’s fearful of my future. No wonder it weighs down the heart like a wasted life or boozy befuddlement.

I trust that God will hold me fast no matter what happens. I trust God’s love for my family, friends, strangers, and this beautiful broken world. What will be will be. I’ll have my share of sorrow and joy in this holy gift that is my life. Worrying can’t turn sorrow into joy, but it’s fully capable of turning joy into despair. If I’m not careful, I just might let it…

Lord, give me strength, courage, and a good sense of humor so I won’t waste my time worrying. Amen.

Love and Cherish

A friend of mine was married for many years before her husband wanted a divorce.

“Don’t you love me?” my friend asked.

“Sure, but I want a do-over before it’s too late,” he said.

Her take on the whole thing: we may take for granted someone we love, but not someone we cherish. Somewhere along the way, her ex forgot the worth of all the qualities that were unique to her and all the shared experiences that made their life together precious.

It’s been years since we spoke of it, but I haven’t forgotten it. Cherishing is remembering the holy and unique characters that make up a person. It is seeing in that familiar face the infinite mystery of life, even after years of living together. It’s recognizing that life didn’t have to bring me this family and these friends, and being thankful that it did.

In sickness and in health

In the Name of God, I take you to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.

Two days after we got back from a family wedding, the hectic pace of the last few weeks caught up with me in the form of a virus. Headache, upset stomach, and a low grade fever put my plans on hold. I only did the bare minimum of work, leaving the rest for later. My husband picked up the slack without complaint, getting meals and making sure everyone got where they needed to be. I don’t think either of us thought much about it – that’s just what we do when one of us is sick. It’s part of being family.

My mother and father accepted sickness as part of married life. When one had the flu, the other shopped and cooked; when one had surgery, the other prayed in the waiting room. Through countless colds and viruses, diabetes, and one cancer each, they honored their marriage vows by caring for each other. This they did until they were parted by death.

It isn’t often I think about the “sickness and health” part of my wedding vows. It’s been a given for my husband and me for almost twenty-three years. But this week, I see it for what it is: an ordinary miracle of love and steadfast support. And I am profoundly grateful.

We Will

Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in you power to uphold these two in their marriage?

We Will.

Along with standing as the bride walks down the aisle, this is where the guests at a wedding do more than observe. This vow is made countless times in churches, restaurants, and on beaches every Saturday, but how often do those of us who make this promise give it even a second thought? In the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, at my niece’s wedding, a whole bunch of us were given the chance to take this promise to heart.

Instead of moving right along in the service, the minister had the bride and groom face the gathering of family and friends:

These are the people who will help you grow together. They will be there when you need them, he said. Remember them. They love you.

I don’t think anyone expected such a statement, or the chance to see the bride and groom face to face during the ceremony. We looked into their eyes, accepted the weight of our promise, and the privilege of honoring it. I count it an extraordinary blessing – and considering the number of people who continued to talk about this part of the wedding into the next day, I am only one among many.

Thank you, Grace and Tommy, for the honor of making such a promise. Thank you, Dave, for the blessing of a face-to-face that brought new meaning and strength to this vow.

Given and Given Back

Accept these prayers and praises, Father, through Jesus Christ our great High Priest, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, your Church gives honor, glory, and worship from generation to generation. AMEN.

When my boys were young, even before they could walk, we played a simple game. I would offer a wooden block or soft toy to them. They would take it, hold it for a moment, smile, and then stretch out their hands to offer it back. I would take the toy, smile and say thank you, and begin the game again. After the first couple of handovers, it was hard to tell which part they enjoyed more – the giving or the receiving. The toy itself didn’t really matter that much; it was the accepting and offering that brought them joy.

Sometimes when I pray, it feels like I’m an infant playing this game. I’m given a day and the miracles it holds. I hold it for a moment, then hand it back to the Giver. It’s a delightful game, at least for me and I assume for God – why else would God play? But there is one big difference: whatever I hand over to God in prayer comes back in a different form. The love of God transforms it into something more precious than whatever it was I handed over. Or perhaps it’s only when it’s given back that I see it for what it truly is. Either way, I am made new by what I’ve given and then been given back.

I think that’s one way to understand Church at prayer: a group of God’s beloved receiving Jesus, holding him close, then giving him back.

And this meal we share on Sundays? What a wonderful way to recognize in Jesus the giver, take the gift of life, and offer it back out of love and delight.

Eyes To See

Lord God of our Fathers; God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Lord God of our Mothers; God of Sarah, Leah, and Rebecca; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.

Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.

[Prayer C, Book of Common Prayer. For full prayer, click “prayer C” above.]

Do I have eyes to see the hand of God at work in the world around me? With everything wrong and negative, everything harmful and hurtful reported with detail and (sometimes) relish, it’s easy to miss the good, gracious, and holy that surround me. If I don’t ask for eyes to see, will I miss it? If I miss it, how many will I encourage to miss it as well?

There’s a difference between knee-jerk optimism and a hope and joy that nourishes the soul. The first is dependent on things going well (or on denying when things aren’t going well), the second is laying claim to the presence of God in this creation, whatever the circumstances. Blessing and grace are everywhere, but they aren’t always immediately obvious and they come in unexpected forms and by unexpected paths. That makes sense, though. God is constant but not predictable: wouldn’t God-given blessings be the same?

When my eyes are open to God’s handiwork, I will find solace for my grief and strength to make of it something good. I will admit my mistakes and seek forgiveness; my life will be renewed so that I don’t make the same hurtful mistakes in the future.

What a marvelous truth, what a gracious life is offered to me and everyone else. How can I be anything but grateful?