Liturgy for Uncertain Times

Prayer by Thomas Merton

Corporate Liturgy by Stacey Gleddiesmith


Some advice for implementation: This corporate liturgy was written for our Columbia Bible College faculty retreat this week. I have posted previously about memorizing prayer as a way of finding words when words are difficult to find. Memorization allows us to start with someone else’s words and then to populate that prayer with our own. This liturgy is designed to do that as a community. This prayer by Thomas Merton moves beautifully from a place of disorientation to a sense of re-orientation (think Brugemman’s unpacking of the Psalms of Lament). I have found these words profoundly comforting and helpful in our current moment. I hope they provide you and your community with a way into prayer in the midst of uncertainty.

I would recommend beginning with a slow and thoughtful reading of the original prayer (the first block of text below), followed by a slow movement through the communal liturgy I have written based on Merton’s prayer. In the midst of the communal liturgy there is time for silence–and I would recommend inviting people to speak into that silence their own prayers (either individual prayers, or, if you, too are using this in an organizational or congregational setting–focus your prayers on your shared life/task). I have included a prompt you could place on a screen or you could instead have reader two use the simple invitational language also included.

Most importantly, don’t rush the silence. If you’re worried about pacing, I would recommend a slow count to 10 or even 15 after the last person speaks. If someone else speaks as you count, begin the count over again. Some sections will prompt more out loud response than others. I would give each section of response at least a minute of time, even if no one speaks. If your community is comfortable with silence, give each time of silence up to 2 minutes. If people continue to speak into that moment–don’t cut them off even there.

I would also recommend that you conclude the liturgy by singing together. A communal praise song like The Doxology would work well (we did this over zoom despite the delay and messiness and the fact that it sounded awful). The silliness of singing aloud in your own house and the delay causing everyone to sound like they are singing at a different time can bring added lightness and joy to the conclusion of this liturgy. And it’s still powerful to lift our voices together in song in praise of our Triune God–even if it sounds terrible.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always

though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 

                                                                                                         –Thomas Merton

Reader 1: Our Lord God,
We have no idea where we are going.
We do not see the road ahead of us.
We cannot know for certain where it will end.

  • Leave silence here that can be spoken into by your community:
  • Suggested screen prompt: in what ways are we experiencing uncertainty at this moment?
  • Spoken Invitation: We invite you to speak aloud or silently the ways in which you (or we as a community) are experiencing uncertainty at this moment.

Reader 2 (once enough space has been given): We lift our uncertainty to you

Reader 1: We do not see the road ahead of us
We cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do we really know ourselves,
and the fact that we think we are following your will
does not mean that we are actually doing so.

  • Leave silence here that can be spoken into by your community:
  • Suggested screen prompt: in what ways are we struggling to trust ourselves at this moment?
  • Spoken Invitation: We invite you to speak aloud or silently the ways in which you as (or we as a community) are struggling to trust ourselves.

Reader 2 (after leaving space): We lift our selves to you.

Reader 1: the fact that we think we are following your will
does not mean that we are actually doing so.
But we believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And we hope we have that desire in all that we are doing.

  • Leave silence here that can be spoken into by your community:
  • Suggested screen prompt: in what ways do we desire to please God at this moment?
  • Spoken Invitation: We invite you to speak aloud or silently the ways in which you (or we as a community) desire to please God.

Reader 2 (after leaving space): We lift our desires to you.

Reader 1: We hope we have the desire to please you in all that we are doing.
And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road,
though we may know nothing about it.

  • Leave silence here that can be spoken into by your community:
  • Suggested screen prompt: What decisions and decision makers do we need to place in God’s hands at this moment?
  • Spoken Invitation: We invite you to speak aloud or silently the decisions and decision makers you (or we as a community) need to place in God’s hands.

Reader 2 (after leaving space): We lift our decisions to you.

Reader 1: You will lead us by the right road
Even if we can’t see it.
Therefore we will trust you always
Though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

  • Leave silence here that can be spoken into by your community:
  • Suggested screen prompt: In what ways do we trust in God at this moment? How do we KNOW we can trust Him?
  • Invitation: We invite you to speak aloud or silently the things you (or we as a community) are trusting to God at this moment. We also invite you to speak out the reasons for that trust.

Reader 2 (after leaving space): We place our trust in you.

Reader 1: Therefore, we will trust you always.
Though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
We will not fear, for you are ever with us,
and you will never leave us to face our perils alone. 

  • Leave silence here that can be spoken into by your community:
  • Suggested screen prompt: What thanks and praise can we lift to God in this moment?
  • Invitation: We invite you to speak aloud or silently the things you (or we as a community) are thankful to God for–lift your praises to him.

Reader 2 (after leaving space): We lift our thanks and praise to you.

Reader 1: We will not fear, for you are ever with us,
and you will never leave us to face our perils alone. 

Amen.

Words to “The Doxology”:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen.

3 Comments

    1. You are most welcome, Chris. Thank you for your kind words. We are doing mostly well–although it’s definitely a challenging time to navigate! Especially the constant decision-making. How are you holding up? I’m sure Andrew would love a walk and a pint with you right now! (sigh.)

      Reply

  1. […] Don’t just use the written prayers of others—allow space for others to fill them with their own prayers. I call this “populating a prayer” with words of your own, or with the words of your local church community. Most prayers—psalms included—can be broken into sections quite easily. All you need to do is find the transition points where the poet/pray-er is shifting from one type of thought to another. Between those two thoughts—add some space: perhaps a time of silence; perhaps a prompt to have people speak aloud sentence prayers; perhaps a prompt to have people share just a single word that expresses their response to the portion of the prayer just read. There are many ways to do this. An example of this type of prayer can be found here. […]

    Reply

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