Monday Muse: Glimmers

The spiritual practice of lectio divina is a contemplative style of reading Scripture, a prayerful listening to a biblical passage and to our souls’ response to that passage, accompanied by an attention to God’s presence. (Here is BeliefNet’s overview of lectio divina, as one example.)

Lectio divina reminds me of the experience of searching for a lost contact lens: When I drop a contact lens, immediately I get down on all fours, I lean my head close to the floor so that my gaze is parallel to the floorboards, and I scan slowly across the floor. I’m looking for a gleam of the room’s light on the concave shape of my lens, just enough to distinguish the contact from the floor. Similarly, lectio divina looks slowly over a section of verses, watching to see what will glimmer — perhaps words or images or emotions or stories — and to listen for God within those glimmers.

As I read through the Narrative and Revised Common Lectionary texts for this coming Sunday, May 25, I catch sight of so many lovely glimmers — any one of which could be developed into liturgies and sermons — that I want to celebrate and savor the glimmers themselves, and to share them with you to see what these might reflect within your own spirit.

“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23b). In the unknown, in an unfamiliar space, there is still a story to be told and affirmed.

“Always be ready to make . . . an accounting for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) Can we ask honestly: what is our hope? what is my hope? Oh, we know the “right” answers, but what holds your soul together when your world crumbles?

“I will pay you my vows, those that my mouth promised when I was in trouble. (Psalm 66:13-14) What if we kept those promises we made to God in moments of panic?

“You will keep . . .
You will see . . .
You will know . . .” (John 14:15-21)

“This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best…” (Philippians 1:9-10, Narrative) Picture this: your love overflows — an outward, more-than-enough, blessing-others type of action — but it overflows with knowledge and insight — both inward-directed developments. An outward-flowing, inward-filling fountain?!

In this continued season of Eastertide, this season of resurrection,this season of wildly unexpected life and empowering joy, may we continue to seek and find glimmers.

Sunday Prayer: Storytelling

And now we have told you our stories, O God:
named our worries and shared our delights,
confessed our sins and witnessed you among us.
Now tell us your story, Most Holy God, write it
upon our hearts in the silence of prayer.
Tell us again of your magnitude over the earth,
of your presence in every breath,
of your love in all of life.
Write upon our hearts your story
of the living stone that is a foundation
for a place where all are welcome in your light.
We hold onto your story above our own,
grateful in the knowledge
that you are a sheltering God
from the forests of Nigeria to the fires of California,
a comfort to the mourners in Turkey
and to the persecuted in Sudan.
When we despair that justice and healing may never come,
when we feel lost in all that is unknown,
we hold onto your story: that you too are supremely unknown,
yet you know every one and you know every story.
You name us. You hold all in your hand.
You continue to live out your story of faithfulness.
Let your story be full of life within us
and within the world, we pray.
We ask these things in Jesus’ name.

A pastoral prayer based on the Revised Common and Narrative Lectionary readings, cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.

A Litany of Lament

One: Hear the world, O God. Uncover your ears and know your people’s anguish.

Many: Do not hide yourself from the cries for relief, from the noises of war.

One: The world is distraught, O God. People and nations live in fear, and creation echoes their trembling.

Many: Do not hide yourself from the lament in Chibok and Soma, from the wailing and the protesting.

One: Day by day brings news of crisis, news of pain, news of waste, news of violence. Have you not seen and heard the news, O God?

Many: Do not hide yourself from the tears in San Marcos and Khartoum, from the devastation of death.

One: Let God hear and be stirred from sleep. Let us hear and be driven from complacency.

Many: Do not hide yourself from the women in Gaza, from the women in Chicago, from the daughters and sisters endangered by the world’s agitation.

One: Attend to those who need you most, O God. Our prayers will not cease while we watch for your justice; we pour them out continuously into the pool of the world’s tears.

Monday Muse: How Soon Will We Forget?

Monday morning, and I cannot put this thought to rest: we have consumed the names of the kidnapped Nigerian girls for the sake of our own piety.

If Facebook is any indication, yesterday (Mother’s Day) many American churches prayed for the Nigerian girls and young women who were abducted from their school on April 14, and many of those churches prayed for the students by name using a list that was circulating online. Churches took extra time in worship to read the names as a litany, or distributed the names on pieces of paper for individual prayer. Some preachers used the occasion to call attention to the dire treatment of women globally, daring to preach about justice on a day when the pews brimmed with corsaged women and their families en route to Mother’s Day lunches.

If Facebook is any indication, yesterday we American Christians felt good to have joined the cause, prophetic to have added our prayers to the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Never mind that many of us didn’t know about the abduction in Nigeria before last week. Never mind that many of us don’t understand & didn’t bother to research the economic, political, religious, tribal, and historic dynamics of the country.

Never mind that the abduction itself happened one month ago, unnoticed by American churches and barely reported by the media.

Never mind that the girls’ mothers and families in Chibok, as well as Nigerian activists and writers, were already rallying and demanding action from their government.

Last week, Americans took notice and determined that the world needed us to come to the rescue, and American churches vowed to bedeck that bandwagon with prayer.

Forgive my cynicism.

I believe that prayer is powerful. I believe that churches prayed yesterday with sincere faith and genuine concern for the fate of the Nigerian students. I believe that my colleagues in ministry planned the prayers for worship thoughtfully, carefully, not meaning to exploit the girls’ stories or names.

I also believe — I fear — that we did just that.

We called them “our girls” — a casual familiarity especially problematic in white American Churches — as if we were their mothers, thus abstracting the girls from their own mothers and families (like a viral child sponsorship program for our time of prayers). We splashed the face of a brown girl (any brown girl would do, we didn’t need to know if she was one of the kidnapped or even Nigerian) across Twitter and Facebook and maybe even on the projector screens in our churches. We pretended that the girls’ names and their faces were ours to distribute, ours to wail over, ours to make into poster children whose brown eyes would teach us to pray.

Now it’s Monday morning, and the worship bulletins have been recycled. The slips of paper have been posted on our refrigerator doors to collect dust. Next Sunday’s worship service will return to its usual habits and hymns. We’ll share the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag a few more times, but otherwise in pulpits and in pews we believe that our duty to the Nigerian girls was accomplished; the girls served their purpose to help us feel — for one Sunday — that faith has an urgency and an impact. Next Sunday, we’ll again prefer our faith to be sweet and consoling.

Next Sunday, I fear the girls will still be missing.

Next Sunday, I fear many American churches will forget them.

Next Sunday, I fear we will neglect to repeat our prayers for girls and young women who are abducted, abused, raped, sold — not only the Nigerian students whose names we consumed in faith, but many other Nigerian girls and young women, many Native American women in both the US and Canada, many women in war zones around the world, many women cis and trans* alike, women who live next door and women who attend our churches.

Next Sunday would be one too many Sundays in a row to cry for justice from the pulpit and raise a lament in the pews.

. . . In fairness, pastors plan weekly worship with the whole life of the congregation, the whole span of local & global events, and the whole work of God in mind. We do not pray or preach every Sunday with only one village in mind any more than we pray or preach Sunday after Sunday with only one scripture passage in mind . . .

Yet I suspect that our fervent prayers over the Nigerian students may be revealed as self-righteousness if, in retrospect, it becomes apparent that we intended only to name the girls once so that God could soothe the lament in our own souls.

When the girls’ names were released — and who bothered to double-check them, because we were satisfied that they sounded foreign — we gobbled up that list without so much as a pause to consider the over/undertones of our centuries-long American habit of devouring Africa. My discomfort with the fervent rush to pray for the girls reflects my suspicion that our flash-in-the-pan interest in acquiring their names for the sake of our prayers is paralleled in the shadows by our inability/unwillingness to examine critically the relationship between our faith and our American white savior complex.

I don’t intend that we should backtrack in guilt over yesterday’s prayers, sermons, and worship services. I’m observing the need to move forward with care, minding the ways in which we consume and appropriate others’ stories for our own spiritual fodder … with a particular caution to predominantly white congregations, because good intentions and sincere faith do not extricate us from participation in systemic racism.

I’m suggesting that our prayers (and our political action, if we connect the two) remember with humility that we are not spiritual patrons or great American rescuers in the effort to #BringBackOurGirls. At the forefront of the protest are the mothers, fathers and families in Chibok; we are their supporters, not their saviors.

And I’m suggesting that maybe — just maybe — we practice remembrance more than forgetfulness next Sunday in worship, and for many Sundays to come.

Sunday Prayer

How blessed are we, holy and unending God,
by your faithfulness in love.

How blessed are we, good and gracious God,
by your comfort amidst life’s storms.

How blessed are we, mighty and just God,
for the salvation that you are working out
in us and for all creation.

We sing our praises and thanksgivings
every day and all through the night
in joy and all through our tears
along smooth paths and all through the valleys.

We sing our praises and thanksgivings
for those persons who, like you O God,
walk with us, guide us and shape us,
and we name them aloud in gratitude: . . . . . .

We sing our praises and thanksgivings
in chorus with the cries and laments
that rise to your ears, joining our voices
to invoke your presence and power.

We pray especially for women and girls
around the world, from Nigeria to Syria,
from South Sudan to indigenous communities,
agonized that our world does not value
female and feminine lives.

Tell us again that you are like a shepherd,
not losing sight of any one person
despite the world’s violence and neglect.

Tell us again that you suffer with us,
but that suffering is not your vision for life.

Whisper to us in the voice we long to hear.
Call us to seek life for all people, all creation
within your faithful care.

We appeal to your grace in the name of Jesus.
Amen.

A pastoral prayer cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.