Posts by Stacey Gleddiesmith

Having spent over 20 years of my life leading worship and studying theology of worship (most recently during my MDiv at Regent College in Vancouver, BC), I am now on faculty at Columbia Bible College, where I am the Director of the Worship Arts Program. This program is unique in it's four-pronged approach to worship arts. Students begin with a solid grasp of the biblical theology of worship, are equipped with music and pastoral practice skills, and are also encouraged to explore other art forms. I love my job!

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.

Holy Saturday: Pushing into Liminal Spaces

Last year at this time I was preparing to speak to the 2019 graduating class of Columbia Bible College. Speaking to them at an “in-between” moment, the crux of a teeter-totter: on one side the predictability of grade 5, then grade 6, then grade 7… all the way up to completion of College; on the other side, overwhelming possibility.

Graduation is a liminal space.

“Liminal” is an art and literature term that describes the space between two realities—it comes from limin, which means: threshold. When you stand on a threshold (in a doorway), you have exited one room, but have not yet entered another. It’s an in-between moment. I told the class of 2019 that it was oddly appropriate that they were graduating on Holy Saturday.

It’s also, however, strangely appropriate to return to this thought on Holy Saturday 2020. I’ve been describing the feeling of this pandemic as follows: “It’s like we were all on a trampoline together, and someone threw something large and extremely heavy right in the middle, and everything—us, all our plans, all our stuff, everything—flew up in the air… and we froze there.” It feels like an in-between moment. Planning is difficult in constantly shifting circumstances, finances are imperiled, we are either far too stretched or far too bored, events are put on hold. Our 2020 graduates will graduate, but without the usual weight of ceremony and communal celebration. It’s a liminal moment.

So I’m coming back to the story of Holy Saturday—because it feels like a moment I need to push into right now. It feels like we might need to sit in the dark, to hold a vigil, to allow for grief, to acknowledge the “in-between.”

Yesterday, we mourned Jesus’ death and walked through his pain. Tomorrow, we will celebrate (in whatever way we can manage) the joy and bursting light of his resurrection. But today—today is a liminal space.

 On Holy Saturday, Jesus is entombed. When we think of Easter weekend, we usually talk about the room before and the room after: about the first day, and then… on the third day… but we rarely talk about the day in the middle: Christ’s death accomplished, his resurrection yet to come.

Other years, on this in-between day, I have found myself wondering what that particular Sabbath was like for the followers of Jesus. Luke 23:50-56 tells it this way:

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

“But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”

Why have I never noticed that sentence before? What a radical form of obedience: to rest when it’s the last thing you want to do.

Imagine you are Mary, or one of the other women who had come with Jesus from Galilee… or perhaps you are Peter or one of the other disciples, or Joseph of Arimathea:

You have been waiting for the kingdom of God.

You have pinned your hopes for your self and your nation on one man.

You have watched him heal the blind make crippled legs strong again.

You have heard him teach, and have marveled at his wisdom, maybe trembled at the challenge of his teaching.

You have dreamed that a Messiah would rise to throw off Roman oppression—to give back to the Jewish people full rule of the land from which they had been exiled by their own sin.

And you FOUND him! You FOLLOWED him!

And now……

A tomb.

What must that long Sabbath rest of felt like?

You can’t work to take your mind off it.

You can’t even do for Jesus’ body the things that should be done.

Pause and imagine what it must have felt like.

Untitled, Claire Astra Mackenzie https://www.claireastra.com/

I imagine Jesus’ followers felt as entombed as him on that long Sabbath day.

Today, another Columbia Bible College graduating class stands on a threshold between two rooms. And we all stand on a sort of threshold together: life before this virus feels very far away; and life after it is unclear, unsettled. Everything is up in the air. We wonder when it will land—and how we will cope when it does.

Like the tomb, like that long Sabbath rest, it’s a liminal space. And it won’t be the only in-between space in our lives.

There will be waiting rooms: literal and figurative. There will be changing of seasons: literal and figurative. There will be days, weeks, months of uncertainty with decisions to be made, transitions from one place to another, from one job to another; there will be relationships lost and gained.

You will face them. As you face this moment now.

But you will not face them—or this current moment—in the same way that Mary did, or Peter, or Joseph of Arimathea. Because you know something they did not.

Holy Saturday is the threshold between the terror and pain and trauma of Good Friday, and the explosive, unexpected joy of Easter Sunday—just a step across, from one to the other. Just one day.

Poet John Donne used just one small comma to express Holy Saturday: “Death, thou shalt die.”

When you move from one city to another, you do so knowing that the Living God has gone ahead of you.

When you stand between relationships lost and gained, you do so with the promise of Jesus that he will never leave you, never forsake you.

And in those moments—like now—when there seems to be nothing you can do but wait… you do so knowing that you serve a God who waits with you. A God who knows what it means to be entombed. A God who has been to the in-between spaces.

Untitled, by Claire Astra Mckenzie https://www.claireastra.com/

Just last week, one of my favourite artists (who I also have the privilege to name as a friend—and who gave me permission to include some of her work here), Claire Astra Mackenzie, posted some new work on her facebook page: Claire Astra Studios. Working in India Ink and Gold Leaf—she described her new work as “Unfocused. Frenetic. Still believing there is beauty. Taking a moment to breathe.” Allowing the darkness of India Ink to bleed on the page, she picked out some of the liminal spaces with gold—it’s the work you’ve been looking at as you’ve read this blog post. I find it incredibly hopeful! To me, these seem like Holy Saturday paintings: the darkness is still there. There’s stillness, there’s messiness, there’s a sense of waiting, even grief—but the light is there. Glimmering in the liminal space.

My childhood piano teacher, Mrs. Johnson, always told me to pay attention to the space between the notes. The rests—the liminal space between the notes—are really what create the music and give it shape. The silence is just as important as the sound.

In the light of the resurrection, we can begin to see our liminal spaces—even this moment now—as a location for transformation.

Because God is not in the habit of wasting things.

He did not waste Jonah’s time in the whale—but used it to convince Jonah to preach to a bloodthirsty people and turn them toward repentance. He changed the Ninevites, but he also changed Jonah… even if it took awhile.

God did not waste the Israelite wanderings in the desert, but used their wandering to cause them to follow him more closely.

God did not waste Peter’s denial, but used it to make the foundation of his church stronger.

God did not waste Job’s trials, or Gideon’s doubt, or Elijah’s breakdown, or Barnabas and Paul’s argument over John Mark.

He has not wasted my liminal spaces; and there have been many. He used those in-between, difficult times to sharpen skills, to narrow desires, to increase empathy, to build something stronger in me.

He will not waste this liminal space right now. Or any of the liminal spaces you encounter over the course of your life.

            He will not waste your waiting.

            He will not waste your isolation.

            He will not waste your grieving.

            He will not waste your doubt.

            He will not waste you.

Untitled, Claire Astra Mckenzie https://www.claireastra.com/

So right now—on this Holy Saturday—in this liminal space… get ready to sing. Sing from the tomb. Sing from the in-between. Sing the gold-leaf from between the branches. Sing suspended in mid-air as you wait to find out where everything will land… Sing like you mean it:

“Ain’t no grave that can hold this body down.”

Prayer in Times of Crisis

Last week, my College (Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, BC) asked me to film a video for our students on the theme of paying attention to what God is doing in our current moment–including some kind of practice that students could use to foster spiritual health.

Honesty break: I have been wrestling with this myself. In this time when all seems uncertain, and yet many of us can’t put our finger on actual sources of pain… I’m finding it difficult to pray.

So I have been returning to a practice I began three years ago when I walked part of the Camino trail with family: memorization. Sometimes–in times of crisis, we need the words of others to help us pray our own prayers. The process of memorization, going over and over the words of someone else’s prayer, helps me to begin to populate that set prayer with my own words, and worries, and desires.

Walking the Camino

The prayer that I’ve been returning to in the last couple of weeks is by Thomas Merton–each morning on the Camino I began my day with the words “My Lord God, I have no idea where I’m going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.” Poignant words for days that were given over to simply following a trail set in front of me. But these words are resonating in me in a different way today.

Below is a link to the short video I filmed, and the prayer I have been clinging to. Maybe you, too, are struggling to pray these days. Consider starting with the prayer by Thomas Merton I have included below. Or maybe a psalm (121 and 72 come to mind). Find an ancient prayer from one of the desert fathers, or a prayer from the liturgical tradition, or a sung prayer from a favourite artist, or a Taize song…. Chew on it. Wrestle with it. Turn it over and over in your mind as you commit it to memory. Populate it with your own worries, and joys, and uncertainty–may it bring you peace.

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

A Prayer for Containment

When  we are tempted to be fearful, teach us peace.

When we are temped to hoard, teach us generosity.

When we want to look only to the wellbeing of our own family, teach us to expand our care.

When we become overwhelmed and disengaged, teach us to feel the pain of others.

When we are financially unstable, teach us to find ways to live smaller.

When we are disappointed, teach us joy in sacrifice.

When we are tempted to despair, teach us to remember that you are still God, and that you are still good.

When we think we know it all, teach us to listen harder.

When we struggle to decide what to do in small ways, teach us to pray for those in positions of authority.

When we are tempted to despise the actions of others, teach us to see behind foolishness and negative behaviour to the hurt beneath.

When we respond to rising tension in haste and without consideration, teach us patience.

When we are tempted to blame others, teach us to have grace for decisions made in a time of fluctuating information and changing conditions.

When we are isolated, teach us to find ways to connect–with you and with others.

When we feel bored, teach us to expand our creativity.

When we feel alone, teach us to ask for help.

When we feel strong, teach us to care for those who are not.

When we are tempted to despondency, teach us to see all the varied goodness that surrounds us.

When we are tempted to be careless, teach us to see each action we take as resonating in the lives of others.

When we feel we can do nothing, teach us how very wrong we are.

Above all this, teach us to love.

Now more than ever.

Amen.

How are you finding ways to reach out to your community despite “social distancing”? How are others reaching out to you? In what ways are you finding beauty, life, and creativity in a time of increasing anxiety? Feel free to leave a comment to encourage others!

Cut and Paste Faith

Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper 1913 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973

Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper 1913 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973

 

I’ve got a new article out today in “Christ & Cascadia”, reflecting on how the modern art of collage is illustrative of the way we tend to piece together our faith. Follow this link to read more:

How to Cut and Paste Your Faith 

Here’s to Erasing a False Dichotomy!

Photo by Wil C. Fry, accessed through Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo by Wil C. Fry, accessed through Flickr Creative Commons.

Today the Robert Webber Institute for Christian Worship drew my attention to an article by Jonathan Aigner called “How to Make Worship Kid Friendly” published by patheos.com. As I am always interested in learning how to better facilitate multi-generational worship, I clicked through to read said article. My enthusiasm, however, quickly turned to frustration. Enough frustration to make me sigh audibly in a way that caused questions from those with whom  I was sharing a living room.

What Aigner has done here, (and I would encourage you to read the article by accessing the link above) is to provide some great ways in which parents and congregations can engage kids in “traditional” “liturgical” worship services. Unfortunately, rather than simply provide this very positive help, he has chosen to do so while also asserting not-quite subtly that “contemporary” worship “engages” kids at the cost of spiritual depth and personal growth. The underlying assumption is that “contemporary” worship uses modern entertainment as a “hook” to get young people in, but then doesn’t provide any transformative teaching or historical richness.

Interestingly… mid-way through his post, Aigner asserts:

The self-imposed contemporary/traditional worship dichotomy has had far-reaching negative effects on traditional worship. Instead of being a place for multi-generational participation, it’s been labeled as “old people worship and turned into a self-indulgent, “get all your blue-haired friends together” all-request golden oldies hour.

Yes. Absolutely. That has been the cost… on one side. Aigner seems to feel the debate has left “traditional” worship out in the cold (sorry, couldn’t resist.), while simultaneously spouting the opposite, equally damaging, generality: that all “contemporary” worship is empty and simply a lure to keep young people in the church.

I have worshiped, with depth, and with cultural relatively (for lack of a better phrase), in both “traditional” and “contemporary” congregations. My perception is that a tendency to blame or praise a style of worship for a common failing or beauty of worship generally portrays not the truth of whether or not worship is scriptural, or alive, or transformative, but rather the personal preferences of the one speaking.

I chose to respond to the article in a comment,* but have expanded into a blog post in order to seek your wisdom in the matter. There are also many good points and creative ideas in Aigner’s article–which is possibly why I’m so annoyed. Am I over-reacting? I throw it to you, readers. Please read the original article before commenting here. My comment below the article is included here:

I agree with the premise of this article, that kids don’t need “contemporary” in order to connect in worship. I, myself, grew up in a liturgical church—and, even as a kid, loved going to church. Sometimes it felt long… sometimes I was distracted or bored (my childhood church also kept kids in during the sermon!), but the difficulties yielded results in perseverance and attentiveness and richness that I’m still reaping today. You have also identified some key ways in which parents (and other community members) can help kids to engage in worship within a more traditional structure. I am disappointed, however, that you felt the need in this article to set traditional/contemporary once again at logger-heads, painting all churches within those very generalized categories with the same brush. The fact is, contemporary worship is only empty when we make it empty. Not every church that would describe itself as contemporary has “sold-out” to popular entertainment values. And traditional worship is only full when we bring our full selves to it. Not every traditional church is alive to the life in their liturgy. Yes, I would absolutely affirm that kids can be engaged in traditional worship—that they don’t need hype and volume in order to be involved—but can’t we also affirm that kids can be engaged with depth, and without dumbing-down, and without catering to increasingly shortening attention spans in both traditional and contemporary congregations? Why make it a dichotomy?

*Update: My comment was apparently unfit to be post under the article, which I find additionally disappointing.

Bottling Summer

DownloadBanner[1]At this year’s Columbia Bible College (CBC) Christmas chapel, I adapted a creative non-fiction piece I wrote awhile back to serve as a structural liturgy leading up to communion. CBC decided to offer this reflection as a gift to their constituents, and made it into a beautiful e-book. You can download it for free here (Bottling Summer) or simply click on the banner above.

Merry Christmas! May it be a season of storing up plenty. And if it feels more like a season of want this time around–may this be an encouragement to pull a few jars off the shelf and feast on the provision from richer seasons past.

Stacey