Advent prayer: Soul

An Advent poem/prayer on the theme of “soul.”

Soul

God,

I want to live and move 
out of the depths of my soul.

I want to see soul in everyone I meet. 

I want to be connected with my soul.

So many forces have tried to break this connection.
Sometimes it feels like they have succeeded.
But not entirely.

I want to know my soul, 
and to know that she is worth knowing.

I want to live in communities 
where souls are seen and honored, 
reconnected with themselves, 
connected with one another
in love, trust, acceptance.

God, they say institutions have souls. 
So many of them are so bent, so broken. 

I don’t want to move in spaces 
that ask me to cut my soul off at the door.

God, restore my soul. 
Heal her. 

Help me trust her again, 
even when everything around me tells me not to. 

Amen.

A couple other pieces elsewhere on the web, if you’re looking for some (short and sweet) Christmas break reading:

  • A prayer and some reflections on joy – over at Christians for Social Action. Reflecting on the connections between joy, activism, and purpose. And Mary’s Song, because it’s Christmas. With appreciative shout-outs to Karen Walrond, Rebecca Solnit, & Cherrie Moraga.
  • I participated in a Patheos “seasonal holidays” initiative where I got to choose among a number of predetermined prompts…thinking and writing about New Years resolutions seemed fun, so here we are: How Do I Make Religious New Years Resolutions?
  • Still meandering through the Bible-themed part of a series of reflections on faith-related things I’ve changed my mind about. The latest: What Does It Mean to Read the Bible for Guidance?
  • Also, if you want to get an email whenever I post on Patheos, feel free to sign up here. (I believe this link should get you my posts specifically, not just Patheos Progressive Christian posts in general – please let me know if you experience something different :).)

Peace to you this Christmas.

Advent prayer: Release

A poem/prayer, reflecting on the theme “release.”

I’ve been reading an indigenous memoir called The Woman Who Watches Over the World, by Linda Hogan. One of the things Hogan says happened when she was in the hospital recovering from a traumatic brain injury was that she asked all the questions that had gone unasked and unanswered in her family.

Something about the ways her brain had changed and was changing released her from whatever fears or inhibitions had kept her from asking these things before.

I wonder what it looks like to be released into freedom to say the things we are afraid to say, but which are important, and which hold possibilities for healing.

Here’s the poem/prayer:

Release

God,

We hold anxiety in our bodies, more than we know.
We hold so much.

The news is depressing, overwhelming.
Our lives fall apart in an instant
and there is no room to mourn.

The pressures of our world build up inside us 
over a long time.
Muscles clenched and tight, hearts hurting.

What would release mean?
Is it in our power?

And if our souls found release, 
what exactly would come out?

Words unspoken, thoughts unvoiced, 
fullness of humans shrunken too long
to fit whatever was expected of them. 

A valve holds back all the “too much,” 
all the improper, the inappropriate, 
the rage.

These rivers were not meant 
to be dammed up inside us.

God, hold us in the release.

In your voice that says exactly what needs to be said 
and never lies.

In your being that encompasses us 
and is not drowned by our rivers.

God, provide safe people, 
safe spaces for release.

Provide people who will bring their full selves, 
and who won’t run away when we bring ours.

Because we’re all a lot.

God, release us into freedom.

Amen.

Advent prayer: Favor

A poem/prayer on the theme “favor.” Perhaps a loaded word depending on the church-y circles you may have been in. I’m wrestling with that here, as well as more generally what favor could mean in an unjust world.

Favor

God,

I don’t want the kind of favor 
where I have more and someone else has less.

I want your favor for everyone I know.

Favor in the good things they’re doing.
Favor in the good people they are, 
the good inside of them.

Favor to know they’re loved.

Favor that gives confidence 
to keep trying, keep growing, keep moving.

God, I don't know that I want unconditional favor.

I want the kind that will get my attention 
when I start to go the wrong way.

The kind that will direct and redirect 
my feet onto good paths.

I don’t want the kind of favor 
that keeps me happily singing Jesus songs
while my theology, my words, my actions, my attitudes 
make others suffer.

I want the kind of favor 
that opens up a new world.

Favor to level mountains and raise up valleys.

Favor such that all are valued, 
all live freely and in joy.

Favor toward a world where barriers, hierarchies, injustices 
are washed away.

Favor like the sun’s warmth 
after weeks of rain.

Favor like the smile of a baby 
who has not yet learned to distrust.

Favor that holds us together 
when everything falls apart.

Amen.

Unrelatedly, a few other updates:

Advent prayer: Wisdom

Continuing with the theme of “Advent poem/prayers from 2021 that I’m still feeling”… The word for this one is “wisdom.”

Wisdom

God,

There is wisdom in our souls, deep down.
There is so much we don’t know.

We carry some wisdom 
and we need other humans for the rest.

We need the whole of creation
as our wisdom teachers.

The wise ones move in cycles of receiving, giving,
mutual respect, gracious attention.

God, in our world 
the wisest ones often go unheard.

We clamber after the confident ones, 
the smooth-talking ones, 
the quick-thinking ones, 
the shiny put-together polished ones.

But wisdom is carried 
in bodies who keep the score of suffering,
in wrinkled faces who have laughed and cried too much 
to bother putting up a front.

Wisdom is slow-moving.
She refuses to be commodified. 
We often rush right past.

God, help us not miss wisdom 
in our rush to say the right thing.

Help us not miss wisdom 
in our inattentiveness, 
in our tendency to think we know things.

Help us not miss wisdom 
as we still ourselves and wait.

Give us patience, as long as it takes.

We wait in the dark, where wisdom hides, 
that we might find her.

Amen.

Advent prayer: Open

Last Advent season, in 2021, I wrote a bunch of poem/prayers, responding to different daily one-word prompts offered by my church.

This Advent season felt like a good time to revisit these prayers and share some of the ones that still resonate. This one is on theme: open.

Open

God,
I want to be open 
with an openness that knows its boundaries 
and guards them zealously.

An openness that wells up from deep within 
and is not pressed or forced or manipulated.

I want to shut out so much.

I need to learn to shut out so much:
the insulters, the tired misogynist tropes, 
the name-callers, the actors in bad faith.

And yet, as I learn to shut them out, 
I want to be open.

Open to wonder. To awe. 
To the things I have yet to learn.

Open to beauty, to nature, to art.
Open to joy, to breaking open and being remade.

Open to challenge and correction 
from those who love me and are for me.

Open to letting people surprise me 
with their generosity, their kindness, 
their capacity for transformation.

There is goodness in the world.
It is not only sorrow.

God, in your extravagant profligate openness 
you created humans—
raw, unpredictable, glorious, fickle.

You know everything but were open 
to being surprised by us.

Help me be open to being surprised, too.
Amen.	

Are there parts of this prayer that you feel? Other prayers or reflections that come to mind when you think of openness?

On an unrelated note, this is what I’ve been up to writing-wise since the last update (and as a reminder, you can always go to the “on the web” page to see what’s new…or old…).

  1. Do Not Worry: A Communal Approach (Red Letter Christians)

For a while (like, October 2021 – Feb 2022), I was blogging a lot about the passage in Matthew where Jesus tells people not to worry. It started with a mini-sermon from church and then went all sorts of places, from worry as a good thing, to the feminine side of God, to what does and doesn’t add an hour to our lives, to what it might look like to learn from the wildflowers. And those are just a few.

Do Not Worry: A Communal Approach is a piece I wrote as part of that series and then thought, I wonder if someone wants to publish this one. Many months later, here we are!

2. On Hope: Prayers & Reflections (Christians for Social Action)

This is the first in a four-part series on the weekly themes of Advent (hope, peace, love, joy). It incorporates some of the prayers I wrote last year with new reflections on what these words might mean in our world. Featuring lots of engagement with activist scholars & writers.

3. When Clarity of Belief is Important (Patheos)

I wrote some things about my discomfort with belief statements and how they’re sometimes used – but of course everything is more complicated than that. When Clarity of Belief is Important adds a little of that complexity, particularly with LGBTQ+ people/communities in mind.

4. A Crisis of Authority – or, Life in the Mud (Patheos)

Starting off a series of reflections on how my views of authority (Bible, church, pastors, etc.) have changed over time. This post explores in a general way what crises of authority can look like…and how they can feel.

As always, thoughts about any of this are very welcome!

Fourth grade child, crucified

Processing the grief and horror of the school shooting in Uvalde, TX with a poem. God, have mercy.

Fourth Grade Child, Crucified

Fourth grade child on the cross,
you did not choose this.
There is nothing in you 
nor your family, friends, or schoolmates
that deserved this.
All forever changed without consent.

Where was Christ to wipe your tears
and who was there to honor 
all the sacred blood that left your side?

Fourth grade child, crucified
because the Romans shouted “freedom”
and would not give up their guns.
Because lobbyists lobbied 
and senators are spineless
and lines are drawn unjustly
and our addiction to violence 
is strong.

You deserved to live 
among a people who cared. 
You deserved a long life
among a people who are for life.
And now you deserve the birthing of a world
where this will never happen again.
Even so, you’re gone forever.
It would not be enough. 
It would be something.

Fourth grade child, 
the grief of those who love you
is real and raw 
and right and angry.
You were unprotected by 
the ones who pledged to keep you safe.
We failed you.
No excuses remain.
Nothing to be said
and nothing left to do
but bear witness and not turn away.
To grieve and scream.
Hold vigil.
Refuse to forget and move on.
Demand better.

Fourth grade child, innocent,
I need you to know -
I need us to show you tangibly -
your life was worth more than all the money in the world
and all the power thrown around
by those who lead 
but do not love us.

Reflections from a Lenten porch sit practice

For Lent this year I thought I’d add a daily practice of sitting on our back porch for ten minutes, doing nothing. I didn’t actually end up doing this every day. Maybe about half the days total. But hey, twenty-ish days of porch sits are better than no days of porch sits, right?

I don’t really have a neat and tidy take-away from it, but I did enjoy slowing down and noticing what’s all around me every day. There are many things I don’t always take time to look at.

I also felt like it was an opportunity to say a small little “screw you,” in my own way, to the destructive capitalistic forces that try to make us feel guilty and worthless if we don’t spend every second of every day doing “productive” things. I’m here to listen and watch for one who said, pay attention to the birds and wildflowers and learn thoroughly from them. And if that isn’t a bit of an anti-capitalist manifesto, I’m not sure what is.

After each porch sit, I wrote a sentence or two about what stood out to me from that time. I’d like to share these thoughts with you. I edited some of them lightly but didn’t wrap them up with a neat introduction or conclusion, because I think they resist that. (The real world resists that . . . although if you get something in particular out of these thoughts, or if you relate to some of them, I’d love to hear it.)

Do you have a practice along these lines—maybe one you’ve been able to sustain beyond Lent? I’m all ears.

Here’s what I wrote:

Today I noticed a plant I never noticed before, high up over the neighbors’ yard, poking out between cedar boughs, reaching toward the sun.

Today I thought about how I don’t often go outside and look up. I thought about how tall the cedar trees are. Then I watched the clouds wisp surprisingly quickly across the sky until there was no blue left, all gray.

Today I watched a small black-headed bird perch on a hanging basket and turn his head back and forth, almost watching me, until my phone made a noise and startled us both.

Today I noticed and gave thanks for the trees all around us that have not been cut down.

Today I felt the wind and watched everyone else feel it, too: the cedars, the grasses, the cat whose ears twitch at every rustling sound. To be attuned like that to the Spirit who moves like wind.

Today I watched the rain come down in steady gray mist-lines and felt that God is close to those who weep with broken hearts. I can think of many.

Today I looked at the neighbors’ newly re-growing fig tree, dramatically chopped down, finding ways to grow again.

Today I noticed that the raspberry plants I feared were dead are making new leaf-buds.

Today I felt unsettled, not sure where to focus, until I closed my eyes and listened to the rain. It plops and splatters with so many different sounds.

Today I thought about how each fruit tree returns to life at its own pace: the pear buds ready to open, the sweet cherry buds farther along than the sour ones. 

Tonight I let the airplanes taking off on the right and the cars driving down Ambaum on the left surround me with sound.

Tonight the clouds stood still and the fir tree silhouettes were striking against the darkening sky. Mostly, though, I just watched the cat who is now ours as she sat in the grass, grateful that her shelter days are over.

Tonight I listened as one bird sang four notes over and over, trilling and warbling a little differently each time. I wondered what her song meant. 

Tonight the rain dripped in rhythm with the wind. I heard the airplanes and yearned for silence.

This evening I couldn’t believe I could sit outside in a short-sleeved shirt. I felt the gift of an unseasonably warm day.

Tonight I looked West and marveled at how much brightness was still in the sky after 8 pm.

Tonight I thought about how small the pear tree buds were at the beginning of Lent. Now, they’re blooming. And yet the air is still cold, so cold.

Tonight, in the dark, I thought about how delightfully slowly plants grow. I thought about the miracle it is that the strawberry plants are starting to flower even though it’s still so cold. 

Today I watched the long-haired dark cat with the white boots—the one who always scurries away quickly when he sees me—saunter slowly across the backyard, not noticing me, or not caring.

Today I saw little bugs flitting about and hoped they might be pollinating the fruit trees and not eating the leafy greens.

Today I feel sad about many things, but I also feel joy when I sit still long enough that birds feel safe venturing to the bird feeder a few feet away.

Place of Manna, Place of Silence (a Good Friday poem)

This poem sits somewhere at the intersection of Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday, and George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Derek Chauvin, and the reflective wilderness-themed space currently set up in the sanctuary at my church.

Place of Manna, Place of Silence

Wilderness spaces
forlorn places
take a rock 
and toss
it in the river
plop
and now it’s gone.

Life is 
that short.
Some have 
no shame.

And some are murdered
by the state
in broad daylight
with everybody 
watching.
Many want to help
but are not able.

And some double down
on their excuses
for the inexcusable
while others 
double over 
in their pain.

And the “if only”s
are too much.
How could they not be?

Questions 
at the cross
unanswered
pour like blood
like water 
from the sides
we hardly dare 
to show
they’ve been so
wounded. 

Sound
the breath
the silence.

Did you want 
your death 
to be an object 
of reflection
subject of our art
subject to our
wounded imaginations?
And which parts
of all that
honor you?

So many questions.
Bring them.

And so 
many limitations.
Bring them 
here.

This is the place
this is the site
where what has 
gone to waste
may someday sigh
and struggle shivering 
with signs
of life.

This is the time 
of tombs
of spacious 
grasping
gasping yawns 
of trauma.

This, the place 
of manna
daily 
not too much.

And though I hunger
for a feast
tonight I’ll settle for
the knowing 
gnawing
through my soul
that you were not alone
and so
it's possible
neither am I.

So see the river
in the distance
wilderness
so stop and listen
stay a while
let it flow
for now
away.

Post-acquittal prayer

A prayer for mercy as the news of Trump’s acquittal in his second impeachment trial sinks in.

God, have mercy on everyone who grieves this.
Have mercy on everyone who rejoices.
Have mercy on everyone who is oblivious.
Have mercy on everyone who is numb.

Have mercy on everyone who carries disillusionment
like weight within their eyes
that weighs still heavier each day 
as justice is, again, again, 
again, denied.

Have mercy on those who were, somehow,
surprised. 

Have mercy on the ones who find no revelation
of American depravity 
in any way surprising, 
anymore.

Have mercy on the ones for whom the scales 
are finally falling from their eyes,
and on the ones whose eyes are weary
from the witnessing of yet another round
of scales falling, utterly exhausting.

Have mercy on the ones to whom America 
has not been merciful.

Have mercy on everyone wrongly convicted, 
often racistly convicted, 
and on all who love them,
as we watch the rich white criminals go free.

Have mercy on us in our wounds that fester
through the generations
and have not been aired to heal.

How can we go forward, stumbling, lurching 
into hope,
when half would leave the other half to die,
and laugh at all the stuff that makes 
their nightmares?

Election Week Blessing

Because I wanted to be cool like Nadia Bolz-Weber (just kidding―I’ll never be as cool as Nadia!) and write some blessings of my own. (Check out Nadia’s beautiful “Blessed are the Agnostics” piece here, if you like. It’s really lovely.)

These words are loosely inspired by the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), and much less loosely inspired by a bunch of different pieces of news I’ve seen recently that relate to this week’s election.

Election Week Blessing

Blessed are those who stand and wait for hours
in lines that wrap around buildings and stretch into the street.

Blessed are those who take selfies at the ballot drop box
and do a little dance.

Blessed are the elderly whose bodies no longer move as they once did,
but who are determined to make it to the polls.

Blessed are those who receive death threats
and vote anyway.

Blessed are those who grit their teeth and vote for a candidate 
they did not choose and do not like.

Blessed are those who staff the polls and count the ballots.

Blessed are the postal workers.

Blessed are the employers who give people the day off to go and vote.

Blessed are the lawyers fighting legal battles for every vote to be counted.

Blessed are those who refuse to manipulate statistics
to make themselves look better, or to give false hope.

Blessed are those not too consumed by hubris
to admit when they have lost a contest.

Blessed are those who march to the polls,
stop and take a knee for eight minutes and forty six seconds, 
and are tear gassed by police.

Blessed are the Black Lives Matter organizers.

Blessed are those who hold vigil for lives taken violently before their time.

Blessed are those still in the streets after a hundred and fifty days,
who are desperate and will not stop knocking at the door of justice.

Blessed are those whose blood boils and hearts sink 
at the sight of Austin police officers posing with Proud Boys for a photo.

Blessed are those who have tried and failed to reform police departments.

Blessed are those who feared for their lives on that Biden campaign bus,
and those who felt sad and angry watching the video of the trucks surrounding it and trying to force it off the road.

Blessed are the white people who consider themselves recovering racists,
and who know the journey is a life-long one.

Blessed are the immigrants maligned as murderers and rapists,
called animals and hunted by a system that does not care about them.

Blessed are those who tremble at the thought of the results of this election,
because it might mean life or death for them or those they love.

Blessed are those who live among a violent people, in a violent nation,
and refuse to take up arms.

Blessed are the pastors willing to preach justice and hold out for real shalom,
though their congregants want to hear them say “peace, peace.” 

Blessed are the church leaders driven out of their jobs and their communities
because they refuse to toe the Republican party line.

Blessed are those less concerned with saving disembodied souls
and more concerned with living in a way that values every whole and complex person.

Blessed are those who sit in church pews and want to mourn the state of everything,
while everyone around them smiles and claps their hands to upbeat praise songs.

Blessed are the ones who know how to wail in lament.

Blessed are those who still have hope, 
and those whose hope is gone.

Blessed are those who have been gaslighted over and over again
and now know how to resist it,
and those who have not been able to resist.

Blessed are those who are not afraid to look at all these hard things.

Blessed are those who crave righteousness and truth and goodness
more than power.

Blessed are the poor, the mourners, the weak, 
the hungry and thirsty for justice, 
the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, 
the ones persecuted for their pursuit of justice.

Blessed are you.