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.

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!

A Prayer for Iraq and Syria

1623617_10152579606750590_2673355775065316097_nI have been watching with growing horror the news reports out of Iraq as ISIS continues to take ground there and systematically and brutally murder religious minorities. I have read of atrocities I would like to disbelieve. I have seen pictures I wish I could forget. I have found myself in tears listening to a Yadizi member of Iraqi Parliament plead for her people. And in tears again as I read of people fleeing – with nothing – from a place of terror to a place no longer considered safe. And in tears again as I read of thousands of people trapped in the mountains in the heat – with no water, no food, and little hope of survival. I have felt utterly helpless, and have been tempted toward despair.
 
But faith tells me that prayer is effective. So I offer this prayer on behalf of all the minorities suffering in Iraq and Syria at this moment (not just those who follow Christ).  And, because God’s compassion does not discriminate, I offer this prayer also for those who were indoctrinated with hate at a very young age and are now committing atrocities that will, one day, by the grace of God, fill them with horror.

Lord, God – how long?

How long must we bear the taint of sin

That sucks and pulls at our humanity?

Suffering God, hear the cry of your people in Iraq and Syria!

In your name ISIS butchers.

In your name ISIS tortures children.

In your name ISIS rapes and steals and murders.

Lord come quickly to uphold your name.

Reveal to the blinded their own actions.

Bring them to their knees with weeping.

Unveil to them the depth of their evil.

Turn them from darkness before they are lost.

You are the living water – bring water to the thirsty.

You are the bread of life – bring food to the hungry.

You are the good shepherd – guide the escape of the fleeing.

You are the true vine – provide community for the wandering.

You are the light of the world – give clear vision to those who lead.

You are the gate – provide safe haven for those in danger.

You are the resurrection and the life – give hope to the dying.

You are the way, the truth, and the life –provide a future for the destitute.

For you have not despised the suffering of the afflicted ones.

You feel every cut of the knife.

You share their agony.

You share their fear.

You share their weeping.

You share their hunger and thirst.

You share their poverty and displacement.

Lord Jesus, come quickly to help them.

Lamb of God, hear their cry.

And for us, who are distant:

Keep us from complacency.

Help us to not be overwhelmed into inactivity

By the size of this struggle.

Open our eyes to what we can do.

Teach us to pray.

Teach us to use our resources wisely.

Keep our hearts broken.

Keep our eyes wet with tears.

Come, Lord Jesus,

come quickly.

Thank you for taking the time to pray. If you want to explore other options for action, consider writing a letter to your local politician asking for political action in this situation – including the offering of asylum to refugees. Or participate in an international day of prayer and fasting on Wednesday, August 15th (link below). Also consider supporting one of the organizations (listed below) doing good relief and reconciliation work in Iraq and Syria.

The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East: http://frrme.org/

Iraq Refugee Crisis: http://www.gofundme.com/iraq-refugee-crisis

An Urgent Call to Prayer

Canadians can sign this petition to urge their government toward action.

This is a good interview that puts some things in perspective: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/07/25/wearen-media-misses-iraqi-christian-persecution/

Support the persecuted church: http://info.persecution.org/iraqi-crisis/

Please feel free to suggest additional organizations in the comments.

The Fruit of Lent (Easter Sunday): Joy

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace

Week 2: Forbearance
Week 3: Goodness
Week 4: Faithfulness
Week 5: Gentleness
Week 6: Self-Control
Good Friday: Love
JOY

You are a joyful God, and you invite us to share in your joy.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have preferred sorrow to joy. Forgive us for focusing on our failures, on the things we don’t have, on the things that have not gone as we wanted or expected – and so failing to recognize your blessing. Forgive us for seeking individual happiness over and above the joy we find only in you, and in the community you have formed for us. Thank you for the great gift of your Son, for his life, for his offer to share in his joy through the power of the Spirit and in concert with his church. Spirit, teach us how to live fully within the joy of Christ. Help us to enjoy each other, and your good creation, as you intended us to. Thank you, once again, for your wonderful, sacrificial gift that fuels our everlasting joy.

Sung Response:  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God. You are raised, with Christ, to eternal life!

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

The Fruit of Lent (Good Friday): Love

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace

Week 2: Forbearance
Week 3: Goodness
Week 4: Faithfulness
Week 5: Gentleness
Week 6: Self-Control
LOVE

You are a loving God, and you ask us to love one another.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have forgotten what it means to love. We so often forget your great gift of love to us. We so often forget that love gives without asking anything in return; so often we pursue the return rather than love itself. Forgive us for failing to love you with our whole hearts. Forgive us for turning our backs upon those we have deemed unworthy of our love. Forgive us for the many times we fail to pursue your example of sacrificial love, choosing the easy road instead. Spirit, teach us how to chase after this difficult love. Help us to understand the fullness of Christ’s gift to us, and thereby gain the strength to extend that gift to each other, to our family, our friends, and especially to those who seem unlovable, who give us nothing in return.

Sung Response:  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

The Fruit of Lent (week 6): Self-Control

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace
Week 2: Forbearance
Week 3: Goodness
Week 4: Faithfulness
Week 5: Gentleness
SELF-CONTROL

You are a righteous God, and you ask us to live according to your word and character.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we struggle to control ourselves in the midst of a world filled with temptation. Forgive us for giving into our impulses without considering the consequences, without considering the order you have established in this world. Forgive us for bowing down to our own desires. Spirit, teach us to resist that which will harm us. Help us to understand our bodies and our own desires so that we can make good decisions.

Sung Response:  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

The Fruit of Lent (week 5): Gentleness

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace
Week 2: Forbearance
Week 3: Goodness
Week 4: Faithfulness
 
GENTLENESS

You are a gentle God, and you ask us to be gentle with each other.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have forgotten who we are in light of you. Forgive us for treating the sins of others without compassion. Forgive us for endlessly putting ourselves forward, and setting others behind us. Spirit, teach us how to treat one another with gentleness. Help us to understand our equality before you, and therefore extend our hand to those who have fallen, helping them up rather than sitting in judgement over them.Sung Response:  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven.  You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

The Fruit of Lent (week 4): Faithfulness

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace
Week 2: Forbearance
Week 3: Goodness
FAITHFULNESS

You are a faithful God, and you desire your people to be faithful to you.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have been unfaithful far too often. Forgive us for allowing ourselves to be blinded to the truth, pursuing money, or approval, or success for their own sake, without reference to you. Forgive us for allowing our circumstances to negatively affect our understanding of you. Spirit, teach us how to strengthen each other’s’ faith. Help us to hold on to you when we experience blessing, and to hold all the more tightly when we experience pain.

Sung Response:  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

The Fruit of Lent (week 3): Goodness

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace
Week 2: Forbearance
GOODNESS

You are a God of enduring goodness, and you desire your people to act out that goodness in the world.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have failed, so often, to do good. Forgive us for extending kindness only to those we feel deserve it. Forgive us for allowing excuses—of business, of resources, of capacity—to erode the simple command to follow your example. Spirit, teach us how to extend your goodness to those around us, even when it costs us something. Help us do good to all, without expecting good in return.

Sung Response:  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

The Fruit of Lent (week 2): Forbearance

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace

 
FORBEARANCE
You are a God of deep forbearance, and you desire your people to be a people of forbearance.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have been impatient and unkind. Forgive us for our thoughtless busyness that allows us to push others aside in favour of our own agenda. Forgive us for simply dismissing those who have stood in opposition to us, rather than taking the time to know them. Spirit, teach us how to bear with each other, especially when it hurts. Help us to refuse retaliation in favour of kindness.

Sung Response:      Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Amen.