Ferocious: A Pentecost Prayer

How great you are, O God our God,
and how foolish are we to call you ours!
Your power cannot be measured,
your holiness cannot be contained.
Without you, we are entirely hopeless …
with you, we are completely unsettled.

How to choose:
between your Consuming Fire
and the embers of complacency?
between your Dance of New Life
and the brittle familiarity of these bones?
between your Righteous Justification
and this world’s systems of injustice?

In the power of your glory,
save us and grant us courage
to draw near to your ferocious grace.
Give us strength to bear down
through the labor pains
of reparation & restoration.
Fill us with visions beyond our wildest dreams,

and as we dream,
we will sing your highest praises
if you will hold our deepest sorrows;
we will remember your promises of life
if you will hold our stories of death;
we will say your name often & loosely as though drunk
if you will hold our names intentionally in your hand.

Be fierce, O Holy God —
the world needs you to be fierce,
and the world needs us to be fiercely convicted
by your power and grace.
We dare to say
that we are ready to be
changed by your Spirit; we are ready.
Amen.

Cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.

Awaiting the Return of Pentecost

At long last,
O Mighty God,
will you mercifully set on fire
all that is yours,
reducing to ash & coals
the injustices, the impurities,
while emboldening to brilliance
truth-telling tongues & fiercely-loving lives?

At long last,
O Raging God,
will you set ablaze
complacent hearts & dry bones
until there is an wholly unprecedented
conversion of stubborn perspective,
a confession of false gods,
a radicalization of love?

At long last,
O Most Wild God,
will you break mountains and send whirlwinds,
will you send us into the streets with shouts;
will you toss & turn us with nightmares,
make us blush & burn with daydreams,
make us alive in defiance of death
even now while we groan in despair?

Skeptical

Is that you, God,
peering through the crap?
Is that muck of life truly you in all your glory,
or is it me kicking my dirt in your direction while you
as the gardener examine how to make good use of such shi*?

Is that you, God,
burning within my core?
Is it your holy restlessness that drives me
or is this my own anxiety and fear causing trouble,
keeping me on my toes in a dance of agitation and discontent?

Is that you, God,
leading in the wilderness?
Are you in those clouds I am chasing
or is it an illusion of desire and ambition in my eyes,
a desperate need for the fog to bear some deep meaning?

Is that you, God,
blustering and blowing with change?
Are you the wind that spins and disorients me
or is it just a bunch of hot air: my own combined with
the nonsensical whims and furious cyclones of this world?

Is that you, God?
Will you mind terribly if I choose
to sit here in safe retreat until you become clear?

Monday Muse: On Birthdays and Pentecost

First, a confession: I’m not a big fan of my birthday.

Actually that’s not quite accurate. I like my birthday just fine, but as an inherently private person I’m not a big fan of others’ expectations of how I should spend my birthday, so I’m deliberate about keeping the actual date under wraps.

Last year's birthday cake. Guess who's children know her well?

Last year’s birthday cake. Guess whose children know her well?

There’s a whole host of reasons why I resist the norms of birthday celebrations, why “doing something special” doesn’t appeal to me, but ultimately my reasoning is terribly dull and practical: at the end of whatever hoopla people engage in on their birthdays, after twenty-four hours of sucking whatever specialness can be sucked out of the day, what has changed?

Nothing.

You are still you. I am still me. Life is still life.

Perhaps you are a little fuller from eating cake. Perhaps you are a little more tired from partying hard. Perhaps you had a good laugh, maybe a good cry. Likely your wallet’s a little lighter.

But birthdays don’t change anything — or, to use religious language, birthdays aren’t conversion experiences.

Which is why I find myself perplexed this year as I (re)consider the annual “Pentecost is the Church’s birthday” liturgical theme.

Now maybe your church doesn’t celebrate Pentecost as the birth of the Early Church. In fact, Pentecost may not be a significant Sunday in the life of your congregation at all. But I’ve been a part of some churches that sing “Happy Birthday” during worship and even pass out cupcakes during the children’s time on Pentecost Sunday, and this year I’m wondering: “Why?”

Why sing “Happy Birthday” to ourselves as the Church? What impact does it have on our daily & spiritual lives to celebrate the Church’s birthday? Do our modern birthday habits contribute anything to our understanding of Pentecost? And how (if at all) does the Church’s birthday celebration convert us year after year?

The Pentecost story that we celebrate as the birth of the Early Church was a dramatic, wind-rushing, flame-throwing conversion experience:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:1-4)

On the birth day of the Church, something changed. Those disciples changed: their fears changed to audacity, their tongues flowed with fluency. The community around them changed: it multiplied and bridged divides as the story of Jesus was heard in many languages.

In our Pentecost birthday celebrations this coming Sunday, what do we expect to change?

Anything?

Despite my personal apathy toward birthdays, I think there’s potential value in using the Pentecost birthday theme in worship as a mechanism to love on ourselves a little bit as the Church (especially as we strive to respond to the statistical decline of American Christianity), in order to change & ease the Church’s anxieties and to nurture our joy so that we might dare more brazenly to be Church.

Notice: in order to. In order to inspire change. If we’re celebrating Pentecost-as-birthday, a pastoral & liturgical purpose beyond chocolate cake is worth identifying.

So perhaps Pentecost-as-birthday emboldens the Church toward change. But regardless of cake and candles: What will be different — in our personal living, in our congregational living — because of this year’s Church birthday? How will Pentecost convert us this Sunday? 

  • Will our bones be turned loose and set dancing? (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
  • Will the beauty and glory of God finally undermine our arrogance until we kneel to care for the earth? (Psalm 104)
  • Will we believe at last that the Spirit is boundless in speaking through the young men and women who are protesting in the streets, who are dreaming new dreams via social media — and, believing that the Spirit is at work, will we finally trust & follow the leadership of these new prophets? (Acts 2:1-21)
  • Will Pentecost bring a conversion of the Church to hope, to possibility, to faith? (Romans 8:22-27)

Birthdays may not be days of guaranteed change in our individual lives, but Pentecost celebrates and continues to call the Church to conversion. How will we celebrate and change this year?

Sunday Prayer: Sanctified

To what can we compare your glory, O God?
By what measure can we examine your abundance?
How can we begin to praise your faithfulness?

sun-and-field

We are chaff in the field
and you the wind that sweeps us about.

We are wilting trees
and you the flowing stream for our roots.

We are half-sentences and mumbles
while you are the living word.

We are weary routines of death —
you are new patterns of life.

wooden-chapel

Have mercy, O God,
for the sake of your reputation.
Have mercy, by the abundance of your grace.

We continue to live in death though you
have taught us the ways of life:
we continue to justify violence and bias;
we continue to covet our own security above all else;
we continue to want for ourselves more than we want for one another;
we continue to be mired in the shadows and distracted
by navel-gazing, forgetting to look up
so that we might see you.

As you have always done, as you will always do,
speak to us once again of life:
of the beauty of planting our roots in your ways,
of the joy found in knowing and animating your story,
of the peace that comes from trusting that
our names are written on your heart.

Pilgrim Firs

Confuse our convictions
with the foolishness of your love.

Deepen our faith
by the frustration of your mystery.

Sanctify our lives
with a calling of hope.

Amen.

Cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.