Monday, January 15, 2007

Does bloggin' prepare you for prayer?

I had a prayer-writing experience Saturday night that was not unlike blogging.

Just as when I blog, I sat down at the computer thinking I had a sense of what I wanted to say. (Usually I let things dwell in my head and heart for a few days before I sit to write, which is how I come to the keyboard thinking I have anything to say at all.)

And, just as when I blog, I had been contemplating recent events in my world and in the larger world and (because this was a pastoral prayer) in the congregation's world.

And, just as when I blog, I got lost in the writing, looking up when I finished to realize almost two hours had past.

Unlike when I blog, I realized within just a few sentences that I needed and wanted to pray for the prayer creation and a collaboration with the Spirit before I went further. I prayed to dance a Spirit dance together not only as I wrote but for when I would pray in church.

As I continued, I contemplated all the hopes and concerns I wanted to voice on behalf of the congregation.

I would be praying on a baptism Sunday, so I knew I wanted to acknowledge that sacrament, but I was surprised by how the theology and beauty and grace of baptism overtook the prayer, almost as if it (or the Spirit) was the muse.

I knew, too, that I wanted to acknowledge, though not by name, the death of a woman the pastor called "a matriarch of our congregation." Her favorite hymn was "God of Grace and God of Glory," which we had sung together more than once. She told me that it was especially helpful when her children were teenagers for its chorus: Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the facing of this hour.

I also tried to consider the news, something, ironically, that I sometimes forget to consider in church work. I had been moved in the past week by the transition in our government and the hope/concern that brings, depending on how you feel politically about the change. And, more recently, I had been incensed by the decision to send MORE troops to Iraq.

I was also more aware than I might have been about the ice storms that had cut power and, therefore, heat in Oklahoma and the Midwest because my mother had worked by phone to get someone to take my grandmother out of her home when her power failed. And then, as I was writing the prayer, I saw a headline that said at least seven people had died in the storms.

I had been at church on Saturday to observe the meeting with the parents of the children to be baptized and I was struck by all the activity on campus that day and the hope and excitement each gathered group held for the future.

As always, I wanted to acknowledge those who are grieving or ill. I always pray for those who are hurting, whether their pain is physical, mental or spiritual. This is standard language for me in prayer, but even it had more significant meaning this week because I had experienced directly the pain of someone whose strong exterior belies some deep and long-fought internal frailties, someone for whom all I can really do is pray.

I always contemplate the lectionary scripture almost as a prayer of preparation but also for images that seem to call out to be shared in prayer, they, too, seem to insert themselves without much guidance from me. (This week it was Simeon's story from Luke 2:25-35.)

And, I read a draft of Jim's sermon to see how the prayer could be both in conversation with and in affirmation of his message. His title was "New Eyes" and his central theme was the need to be forward-looking. And, as always this was a complex challenge both to deeper faith and a more deliberate faith walk in the world. And, it was from Jim's text that I remembered that it was MLK's birthday weekend.

Then there was the little matter of the Chargers. I could have left them out of the prayer without incident, but they, too, or at least the community's enthusiasm for them kept insisting their way into the prayer -- though not in the same way the Spirit insists. (And, thank goodness I don't believe my prayer could affect the outcome, otherwise it really would be time to return to journalism.)

I had so much emotion -- all of it blissfully in normal ranges -- around the beauty of the sacrament of baptism, the death of this woman who -- on my last visit to her in the hospital -- had prayed for me when I finished praying with her, the chaos and arrogance and, especially the senseless dying, associated with Iraq, and the sad reality that winter storms kill some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

So Saturday I wrote as I prayed and Sunday I prayed what I wrote. And I felt more vulnerable than I have felt before in the pastoral prayer role, and it was the same vulnerability I felt while preaching last week at Water's Edge. I think I feel the vulnerability because I am putting more of my authentic self into the public parts of ministry. I'm letting go more, which frees both me and the Spirit. Nevertheless, it's still a bit unsettling.

The four times I have prayed a pastoral prayer in the main sanctuary, I have left room and time to combine elements of the service or the spirit of the day into the prayer. Today, it was the choir's anthem based on Isaiah 43:1-4 and an unscripted line from Jim's sermon about the necessity of goodness and godliness that asked to be included.

Here then, is my fourth pastoral prayer, including the last-minute revisions as I recall them:

God of Grace and God of Glory,

Today we celebrate life. We celebrate the life of the infants we welcomed into God’s church in the sacrament of baptism. We celebrate the life of Jesus, who even as an infant was a sign of salvation to Simeon. We celebrate the life and vision and hope and grace we know as children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ. And we celebrate baptism as a sign of your grace.

Loving God, your baptismal covenant to us is your promise to love us and to always be present to us through your Spirit. This place is filled with your Spirit today, in the gathered fellowship, in your words of assurance sounding through the harmonies and melodies of the choir and organ, in the cries and coos of infants and the joy in the eyes of parents and grandparents.

But this place was filled with your Spirit yesterday, too, as dozens of singers gathered to begin the challenge of learning Bach, as new mentors gathered for training to help others, as leaders in the United Methodist Women from throughout our district gathered here to learn how to guide and inspire the women of their home congregations and as parents gathered to prepare for today’s baptisms. We thank you for the gifts they all bring and we pray that you will lead each of us to find ways to share our gifts.

We pray, especially, that you help us to fulfill the promise we made to these children when we welcomed them into the life of our church. Our promise to live according to the teaching and example of Christ so that we may help these children and all the children of our church family grow and thrive as faithful disciples of Jesus.

Even as we celebrate these joys, we are also aware that life is both fragile and precious. We celebrate new life even as we mourn the death of cherished others who are now home with you and held eternally in your love. We pray that your presence would be apparent and comforting to all those who grieve.

We pray too for those who are nearing their last breaths and for all those who are ill or injured, whether their pain is physical, mental or spiritual. We pray your healing presence for them and those who love and care for them.

We pray for the families of all those who have died as a result of this week’s harsh weather. We pray relief and warmth and sustenance for those who are without power. Lead friends, neighbors or caring strangers to help those stranded in homes without heat.

Guiding God, at a time of transition in our country, we are grateful to live in a democracy where changes in government occur in peace. We pray now for all of our leaders. Give them the wisdom and courage they need to make good decisions. We pray for all who are serving in our military in Iraq and throughout the world. We pray for their safety as well as the safety of all people who live in lands in turmoil, in countries at war. We pray, too, for peace.

This weekend, we remember the strides that Dr. Martin Luther King made for freedom and justice, leading hundreds of thousands of followers and inspiring generation after generation to strive for his freedom dream. We remember, too, Coretta Scott King, who carried on her husband’s legacy for almost four decades until her own death last year. We thank you for their forward-looking courage and we pray that you will lead others to continue their work for justice.

Fair and equitable God, we are aware that there is a competition near here today that is of very little consequence to you, but we pray that those who do care can enjoy the game and perhaps even see the results they hope for.

Guiding God, keep us all always forward looking. Grant us new vision. Let us see as Simeon saw and feel as Simeon felt the satisfaction of knowing that we are in the presence, even now, of the Lord of our salvation. And grant us the courage to face our future in goodness and godliness. Dismiss us in peace to realize your dream for all creation. And as we join together in that familiar prayer that Jesus taught us, help us to see with new eyes what it means in our lives when we pray:

Our Father,
Who art in heaven.
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

1 comment:

RevErikaG said...

Gorgeous. Holy. Thanks.