Advent 2: A Sonnet

I’ve barely squeezed out a sonnet for the week (2 hours before the week ends, at least in my time zone). But somehow I did it!

Collect for Advent 2:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

My sonnet for Advent 2:

Oh Merciful God, come help us hear
Your messenger birds, the prophets preach
Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near,
The kingdom of heaven is in our reach.
Prepare the way, prepare the way,
Repeats their morning warning song.
Prepare the way, prepare the way,
The kingdom of heaven is coming along!
Come help us see and still our sins
That we may come to, joyful, greet
The perfect sun that’s entering in
In earthly form for us to meet.
Helped by those birds, who say awake,
In you, through Christ, we may partake.

 

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Advent 1: A Sonnet

I used to write poetry. A few poems in middle school, a few more in high school, and a few semesters worth (enough to get me rather burnt-out) in college.

These days, I don’t write poetry, although I continue to write poetically.

And as of today? Apparently I write sonnets based on collects (pronounced coll-ects and amounting to short prayers focused on one theme, for those who don’t know) from the Book of Common Prayer, inspired by the liturgical-year sonnets of poet-priest Malcolm Guite.

Maybe, just maybe, this will even be the start of a spiritual practice of sonnet-writing, in which I try to write a sonnet for each week’s collect. Maybe. Stay tuned.

Here’s the collect for Advent 1:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

And my poem for Advent 1:

Almighty God, come give us grace
To wipe the dust from corners dark,
To clear in us for you a place,
To set the wreath and light the spark
That must precede our every flame
That must precede our every fire.
Your son so humbly, spark-ly came
To make more light be our desire.
We’re making room, so visit please
In hurried, blurry homes and hearts.
You visit and the darkness flees
From oft-forgotten crevice parts
Through him who lives and reigns with you
And readies us for Advent new.

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Jesus, Take The Wheel (Of My Prayer Life)

fall-foliage-road-trips-kancamagus-highway-jpg-rend-tccom-1280-960Some people take prayer walks. I’ve been one of those people. But lately, I guess I take prayer drives.

Day-to-day drives past joggers, bikers (of the Harley Davidson variety and the Lance Armstrong variety), construction workers, and panhandlers. Or longer road-trip drives like I took this weekend through the hills of rural Virginia.

Inevitably, I made observations about my surroundings. Miraculously, some of the observations turned into little prayers. And, suddenly, some of the little prayers turned into little slaps upside the head.

The GPS happened to take me a scenic route off the interstates, abounding in autumn beauty and lacking in public restrooms (unfortunate since I was drinking coffee the whole time).

I counted one “My boss is a Jewish carpenter” and rolled my eyes. Then, something happened and I wondered what Jewish-Christian relations might look like if everyone who’s ever had that bumper sticker not only stood up for their Jewish carpenter boss but also stood up to modern-day anti-Semitism. Then, something else happened and I prayed for the probably-perfectly-nice folks in that minivan, for their faith and family and “traveling mercies” (to quote both my grandma and Anne Lamott, which is a funny thing to be able to do).

I counted two Confederate flags and cringed and prayed for black local residents or highway passersby who might be reminded of and affected by systemic racism. And then something happened and I prayed for white local residents, for the flag owners and land owners, community members and maybe KKK members.

I counted five Trump-Pence 2016 banners and two lingering Clinton-Kaine signs and sighed and prayed for those who have been hateful (which I hated to admit might be all of us) and for those who have been hated.

I counted couldn’t count all the churches. Some dilapidated, mostly lovely. And here’s my wish for them:

“Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.” (BCP, 816).

No matter what I prayed — whether for “local” or “foreigner,” “friend” or “foe,” “conservative” or “liberal” (all terms that I’m finding hard to define much less affiliate with these days) — these prayers felt tinged with tension amidst a recently hyper-politicized, hyper-polarized nation and world.

All I know is that Christians are absolutely, unequivocally called to sit with tension and pray even — or especially — for those whom we find hard to define much less affiliate with. To pray for red and blue. To pray for black and white. To try our feeble finest to follow the life and teachings of Jesus. Teachings like this:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” – Matthew 5:44-47 (RSV)

Trust me, it rarely occurs to me to pray like this. Liturgy helps. Accountability and prayer partners and spiritual directors help.

And God more than helps. God, through the person of the Holy Spirit, hears and challenges and pushes the boundaries of my prayers. All the way through rural Virginia today. All the way through life eternally.

Discipleship According to Sara Bareilles

altar-torch-7-8-top“I used to be scared of fire,” I said calmly, as a thin flame danced before my face.

I was serving as an acolyte maybe a month into my time at divinity school, recruited at the last minute to help with a chapel service. The kind of recruitment that starts with a simple favor (carry a candle) and spirals into several additional tasks like “Oh, by the way, can you also do the Scripture reading? … Oh and be a chalice bearer? … And arrive an hour early so we can go over things?” (Welcome to ministry life, I suppose.)

“Uhh, are you gonna be OK?” the other acolyte asked nervously, eyeing my fire-lit face.

With a smile and shrug, I replied in the way in which we affirm our baptismal vows: “I will, with God’s help.”

I will, with God’s help.

This has become a mantra for the new tasks I’m invited to attempt these days — tasks which can appear humanly impossible but are, in fact, divinely possible.

Or, in the words of Sara Bareilles’ hit song “I Choose You,” which “coincidentally” came on the car radio the day of that chapel service both as I drove to school and as I left, running through my head like a helpful earworm throughout the day:

“I am under-prepared, but I am willing.”

I am under-prepared to figure out vesting in vestments and processing down aisles, assisting at the altar and knowing the terminology (good Lord, the terminology) for anything that goes on and around the altar. I am under-prepared to lead morning prayer — much less the chanted morning prayer that I managed to lead a couple weeks ago. I am under-prepared to write most of the papers I am writing, because there is simply not time to develop expertise or even understanding of a topic in the one week or even one day allotted to that topic in class.

But, somehow, I am willing.

I’m quite certain Sara Bareilles was not thinking of Christian discipleship when she composed “I Choose You” (in fact, I’ve heard she was writing about marriage, which is also a lovely way to interpret the song). But, when I hear this song on the radio, I can’t help but think of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples, recorded for instance in Matthew 4:18-22:

As he [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zeb′edee and John his brother, in the boat with Zeb′edee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

A call from God. And a “yes” from humankind.

God who doesn’t mind in the least — in fact, perhaps intends — that we be under-prepared for the work to which we’re invited. And humankind who needs only to be willing.

Prayers of the People: A 2016 Rendition

2016Last summer, the Internet started asking questions like “Is 2016 the Worst Year In History?” and compiling collections like “Tweets That Perfectly Sum Up 2016 So Far.”

I’m not usually one to catastrophize like that. But, after this past week, I toss up my hands and say yes, 2016 has lost its mind. Then, alongside the raw frustration, maybe because I’m Episcopalian and in seminary and doing a semester-long project on the spiritual discipline of lament, I toss up my hands to the Lord and say something like this (modeled after Prayers of the People, Form I):

With all our heart and with all our mind, let us pray to the Lord, saying “Lord, have mercy.”

For the 336+ Haitian souls deceased as a result of Hurricane Matthew; for the 4+ missing, 211+ injured, and 60,000+ displaced; for the mourning mother, fearful father, hungry child, and tired aid worker, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For the woman who was sexually assaulted at the hands of Donald Trump and for the woman or man who hears audio bragging of the assault and recalls all too viscerally their own unwanted encounters, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For the faithful LGBT-affirming InterVarsity staff worker losing or quitting his job and for the student feeling confused, alumnus feeling betrayed, and administrator feeling pressured to impossibly appease all parties, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For the transgender woman fighting for dignity in her state, school, and restrooms, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For the black man who fears that wherever he goes he cannot truly go in peace or safety, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For the anxious student who sleeps little, worries lots, and insists that he would rather die of shame than accept any grade lower than an A, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For deliverance from all danger, violence, oppression, and degradation, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.