Better When Writing – interview at A Sanctified Art

Recently, I was the WholeheARTed Guest at A Sanctified Art, where I answered questions from Lisle Gwinn Garrity that inspired contemplation of my creative process. Thanks, Lisle, for thinking of me! Check out the resources being created by A Sanctified Art here.

SA: When did you first consider yourself a creative person?

MS: From the time I was a little girl, I loved thinking up stories. I would draw (very bad) pictures of the children I hoped to have and invent names and identities for them. I retold myths and adapted adventures of favorite characters from literature. I especially loved Bible stories and would “tell” them on the flannel board I stored under the high old-fashioned bed in my childhood home. A wonderful Sunday School teacher at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, Virginia, gave me permission to expand my storytelling when she developed curriculum for 5th and 6th-graders that taught the Old Testament through drama and the New Testament using puppets. We learned stories, wrote scripts, and acted or performed the stories.

SA: Tell us about how you express yourself creatively?

MS: I experimented with many forms of writing both in school and personally, but I never found a form that suited all my interests until I started writing for church—plays, sermons, and liturgies all felt like lively and faithful ways to use my gifts. Even when I write about my life, as I began doing in blog form in 2004, the most meaningful storytelling happens in dialogue with scripture. I now write prayers especially for pastors. My newest favorite thing is combining words and images using Canva, Prisma, and Instagram.

SA: What is your creative process like?

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MS:
My creative process almost always starts with a text I will be talking to, and I wish I could say that inevitably means I study and pray, but often it means I read the text and go for a walk, or have to run an errand, or find myself waiting at a child’s choir practice or watching a Little League game, and something flashes through my mind. Ten years ago I would rifle through my purse for a tiny notebook, but today I open the Notes app on my iPhone and one-finger type or dictate the thought before I lose it. It happens that way because I cultivate openness and privilege originality.

(Read the rest at A Sanctified Art.)

In that moment (a prayer for pastors)

Dear Holy

in that moment
when we rise
to speak

(words they may not want to hear)

in that moment
when we pause
to look

(and see faces we cannot read)

in that moment
when we feel
the mood

(and whether it agrees with ours)

in that moment
when we know
we can’t

(do it the way we have always done it before)

move us past
the way we do things
in all the other moments

to the words
of Your Mouth
and the meditations
of Your Heart

Amen

After a Sunday off (a prayer for pastors)

Dear Holy,

After a Sunday off,
I find it hard to come back.
I am grateful for the rest,
but still managing re-entry.

It’s probably true that
I haven’t forgotten how
to write a sermon, to craft
a prayer, to offer a blessing,

after a Sunday offbut somewhere in the middle
between“I got this!”
and “what was I thinking?”
is the post-vacation muddle,

not so much “not ready”
as “not fully present”
not so much “unwilling”
as “not sure I’m able.”

Ground me, dear Holy,
in this time and space,
with the people I serve,
and a true word from You.

Amen.

I bought this t-shirt

I bought this t-shirt at UCC General Synod in Baltimore and wore it home yesterday. I’ve admired it on friends’ social media and went to the Exhibit Hall looking for it on Monday. The back of the shirt lists all kinds of Black Lives that Matter, including women and trans* people. I especially feel convicted by the line on the front in smaller print, “White Silence is Violence.”
When I stopped in Shrewsbury, PA, to get an iced coffee, I got out of my car in the Starbucks parking lot and wondered if anyone would react. I don’t wear politics on my clothes much. In the town where I live, I’m running an action as an LGBTQ+ person every time I grocery shop, go to the doctor’s office, or attend a school or sports event with my wife. When I was in a pulpit, I preached Black Lives Matter, but I’m not in a pulpit now and don’t know how likely it is that I ever will be again, at least around here.
At Starbucks, the family parked next to me included a White dad, a Black mom, and their two teenaged daughters. I stood in line with the dad while the rest of the family used the restroom. I wondered what they thought of the shirt. I know in my town we’ve heard People of Color say they don’t want attention drawn for fear of getting racists more riled up than they already are. I don’t want to make things worse for any particular person in order to make a larger point, do I?
While I stood waiting for my drink, the mom passed me on her way to the door. As our eyes met, she said, “I like your shirt.” Then we both said, at the same time, “Thank you,” and she touched my arm, and we both had tears in our eyes.
I am not looking for cookies here. That moment in the Starbucks felt unearned, although I appreciated the moment of connection. I’m pondering the difference between sharing articles online, which is easy for me to do, not only because I do a lot of my work online, but because it feels safe, and actually showing up, which I don’t often do because … why? I have a list of reasons (a few) and excuses (quite a few).
Mostly, being transgressive feels scary, which I conclude is the point. We can’t make change by staying in our safe zones.
The back of the shirt. Buy it here.

You changed our lives (a prayer for pastors)

When You called us into ministry,
You changed our lives.

Service became discipleship –
an awareness that any good we do
is from You and for You.

Caring became vocation –
a commitment to love others
on Your behalf.

Prayer became preparation –
a discipline not just for self-improvement
but for Your people.

Contemplation became profession –
an arrangement of divergent strands
for Your glory.

Worship became work –
a commitment of all our gifts,
given for You.

Help us to equip all people
for Your worship, for Your work
in the world.

When You called us into baptism,
You changed our lives.


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a God-shaped mystery (a Trinity Sunday prayer for pastors)

I fear I do not explain You well.

I get the pronouns wrong
when I speak of You;
somehow an “all” creeps in,
suggesting three separate
entities, functions, realities.

The intellectual approach –
(explanations of doctrine,
refutations of heresies,
the specialties of some Internet guy)
feels flat to me:
a demand that truth be granted
and no questions be asked
does not turn a hard concept
into metaphysics, much less poetry.

It seems like a God-shaped mystery
should be felt, not reasoned:
a heavenly triad in three voices;
a sumptuous braid of silk ropes;
a fidget spinner blurred to a circle.

Yet all my analogies fail the test.

Perhaps I am an inevitable heretic,
trying too hard to get it right.

Is it enough to feel awed
by how You loved us into being,
and how You became one of us,
and how You are always on the move?

I hope so.

Amen.

Push Us Out (a Pentecost prayer for pastors)

Pastors and preachers, this is my prayer for you.

O, Holy Spirit,

Help us to interpret you.

Give us speech that tells your truth by transcending barriers, trustworthy and true, convincing and convicting.

Help us to understand each other.

Give us words that mean something to those who listen, bringing the aggressive blur of violence, hate, and fear into focus on your peace, love, and mercy.

Help us to stand in your truth.

Give us a key to read the signs in the dreams and visions you send us, to make your will so plain that all people can comprehend it.

Help us past what feels safe.

Come into the places we meet and push us out into the world with Holy Wind and Fire.

May we speak your words with courage, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.