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.

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

JESUS CALLED – HE WANTS HIS BODY BACK

One of the wonderful things about blogging is that you sometimes cyber-meet someone who is a partner in the work God has given you. Paul Clark Jr. is the Director of Worship and Music ministries for the Tennessee Baptist Convention. He is wise, well-spoken, and well-read, and he writes one of my favourite blogs on the internet. The following post is a good reminder to us of what worship is and what it should not be twisted toward.

Paul Clark Jr's Blog

Body of Christ This may sound overly blunt, and some may think does not even need to be said, but under an unction to do so, I need to posit that the church’s worship is not a proving ground for trying out a song, seeing how people react to new lighting effects, a cool video clip illustration, or a hymn arrangement. I am certainly not proposing that none of these innovations be used in worship. I am cautioning that one of the many ways Christian worship is stolen away from its sacred purpose is when it becomes utility experiment with the means rather than unadulterated focus on the ends. We are not gathered to market a worship product to consumers we dub “worshipers.” We are engaged in eternal sacred practice with the Bride of Christ to the glory of God.

The church is a body. It is not just a compilation of individual…

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Theologian Valentines

Some special Valentines for my readers… enjoy. (I just wish I had thought of them first!)

The Monday Heretic

A few years ago, I saw some hilarious Valentines based on dictators. And I thought, I should totally do that with famous theologians! (Because, you know, that’s how my brain works.) So here you go!

Also, if you don’t present the Calvin valentine with a bouquet of tulips, you are missing out on a prime pun opportunity. Just sayin’.

Theologians

Disclaimer: I have the greatest respect for all of these folks from church history and their contribution to the faith. I also think they might have found these amusing.

Any alternate caption ideas or ideas for theologians who aren’t featured?

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New Year’s Reclamations – 2015

I was going to post some resolutions for this year, but I decided I liked my friend Corrie’s resolutions so much, I would steal them for myself. Enjoy!

Pastor with a Purse

In the past two weeks I’ve moved away from Hawaii, celebrated Christmas in Phoenix, bought a car and moved to California. It’s been 11 days of constant motion, packing and unpacking, traffic, goodbyes and hellos. So yesterday I took my Sabbath and went out exploring with no particular agenda. I ended up at the largest Starbucks I’ve ever seen and bought a latte. As I waited for my coffee, I noticed that every single person filling the twenty-odd tables had some kind of screen in front of them. People were sharing tables but no one was talking, making eye-contact, or smiling. It struck me as odd, for a room to be so full but so devoid of life.

I grabbed my latte and went to sit outside in the sunshine. For thirty minutes I watched the parking lot bustle with activity. Drivers zoomed in and out of parking spaces with…

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I Don’t Know Everything

I am pleased to announce that I have accepted a position at Columbia Bible College, in Abbotsford, BC, as the Director of their Worship Arts Program. I am delighted with this opportunity, and have been nothing but impressed by Columbia: by its administration, its faculty, its staff, its students, its programs. I’m excited to begin teaching. And I’m terrified. In almost equal measure.

Columbia Bible College

Columbia Bible College

When I was in elementary school I was one of those kids that looked forward to school in the fall. Oh, I loved summer. No doubt about that. But my nostrils would flare at the smell of pencil crayons, and I would spend weeks salivating over back-to-school flyers – meticulously making my lists, marking off the cheapest prices, and then dragging my poor Mum to at least five different locations in order to purchase the items I had circled carefully in each and every flyer. But, every year – just before the start of school – the twinge of anxiety would begin. “There’s no way I can handle grade four. They have to do multiplication and division. They don’t just colour maps… they have to know things on them!” It’s a pattern that continued, at least somewhat, throughout my academic career. “I can’t do High School. They have to read Shakespeare!” “I can’t do University. They have to write papers and complete labs!” I can’t do Grad School. They’ll actually expect me to know things!”…..

We often miss the point of education. We get so caught up in the idea that we must know all things, that we must be “enough” for every aspect of our lives, that we are no longer able to learn. We either decide that we must pretend to know everything in order to appear smart, or that we are incapable of knowing anything more because we do not know it already. Both decisions are clearly ridiculous. Both decisions result in a closed mind and stilted personal growth. The only way to learn something is to begin by acknowledging that I don’t know it, and to proceed on the understanding that I am capable of learning it.

I don’t know the demographics of everyone who reads this blog, but I do know that every single one of you is a student. And a teacher. All of us – students, teachers, butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers – have something to learn and something to teach. We reach a hand forward and a hand backward at all times, hoping to pull someone else along behind us, even as some of our weight is taken by the person ahead of us.

There is a certain delight in being able to teach someone something you have learned well: whether it be a concept, a skill, or an attitude. There is also joy in the admission that you don’t know everything – because that means there is more out there to discover. And I definitely don’t know everything. I know some things. I have some experience. But the diversity and richness of this goodly-created world means that we can exist in a constant state of wonder and learning.

Tomorrow I step onto the steepest learning curve my life has thrown me to date. But I enter into this new chapter knowing that I have much to give and that there are people who will be willing to receive it; and knowing that I have lots to learn and that there are people – staff, faculty, students, writers, practitioners – from whom I can learn much.

I think I’ll go buy some pencil crayons.

Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit While Practicing

Listening in Two Directions: Preparation
Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit
Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit While Planning

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

The idea of listening to the Spirit during practice may seem silly. After all, you’re simply figuring out who plays what, when, and making sure everything will go smoothly when it’s time for the real deal.

But practice is more than rote learning, or getting our musical ducks in a row (if only we all had musical ducks!). It’s also a moment of confirmation and adjustment. Either practice confirms that I’m following the Spirit’s voice or it is another opportunity for the Spirit to interrupt the “me-show” and re-align my plans with his calling and purpose.

We may have planned well and thoroughly, and tried our best to listen as we did so, but sometimes our sin-selves still get in the way. As we, with prayer, enact the prayer-soaked plans we made, we hear we feel the places that are “not quite right.” The spots where my pride, or my agenda, or my selfishness got in the way of my service to the Spirit.

Listening during practice is also essential because it is at this point we invite others to enter our conversation with the Spirit, adding richness and diversity. It is often in practice that I realize someone else should lead a certain song. Sometimes a band member will offer a Scripture passage that completes a transition – or a band member’s sharing of their spiritual journey through the week will subtly and beautifully transform the shape and flow of the service. Sometimes it becomes very apparent that a certain song simply does not work, or needs to be placed elsewhere.

Again, there is no set way in which the Spirit speaks during practice: except that your practice should lead you (and your band, if you have one) to Jesus. If that happens, you can assume you have heard the voice of the Spirit. If that happens, you can assume that you are serving this part of your “audience” well. That you are offering a gift to the Spirit by joining in his work.