Let us pray, Great Holy (a prayer for pastors)

Let us pray,
Great Holy,
for your servants
up in the night
wondering how
to best express
your love,
with an ear out
for sick children.

have an ear out
for us.

Let us pray,
Great Holy,
for ourselves,
up early,
full of plans
for how to serve You,
counting carnations
and sorrows,
one eye open.

keep an eye
on us.

Let us pray,
Great Holy,
for this world
full of troubles
for the the oppressed
and the hungry
and the homeless
and the terrified,
all birds in your nest.

spread your wings and
comfort us.

Let us pray,
Great Holy,
for the change-makers
and the talk-walkers
who inspire us.
Make us more like them:
forthright, courageous,
truth-telling despite risk
unsafe, but secure.

give that push
to us.

In Christ’s name. Amen.

From this thin place (a prayer for pastors)

Holy One,
From this thin place I pray:

For the women who

Gathered here

Long ago

Living together,

Away from their worlds,

Yet in yours, devoting

Their lives to prayer and service;
For the women who

Gather here

On retreat

In temporary community,

Away from our worlds,

Yet in yours, sharing

A time of prayer and respite;
For the women who

Need a break
Right now, 

But do not have it,

In the midst of their worlds,

Which are also yours, serving:

Their work continues.
Grant us all

Times of renewal,

And the will to take them,

To center ourselves

And return refreshed

To serve you wholeheartedly

In the work that never ends.

In Christ’s name. Amen.

Out of Steam (a prayer for pastors)

Dear God,

Some days, some weeks
we struggle to serve you.
We are flat out of steam.

We are grieving
for lost colleagues,
friends and family.

We lament decisions
by authorities and

We wonder at the rise
of certain kinds
of people.

We know too well
why your gifted ones

We are dismayed,
flat out of steam.

Our fires burn too low
to keep us

We need you, Lord Jesus,
and the gasp
of recognition.

We need you, Great Spirit,
and the heat of
Holy Flame.

We need you, God of all,
for the stoking
of our hearts.

Light your fire in us
and under us,
we pray.

Later in the day

We’ve had a very low-key Easter Monday at my house, with our 12-year-old, Mr. Dimples, in the middle of what is a terribly-scheduled Spring Break for a clergy family. The weather was beautiful, full-gloried springtime. We’ve been out with the dog numerous times, admiring the crabapple trees and the tulips in the neighborhood, and I sat on a bench for a while at the park, watching kathrynzj pitch to Mr. D.

Now it’s evening, and the baseball noise floating from my living room emanates from the PlayStation 4, which is startlingly realistic. The crack of the bat sounds almost exactly right. When it comes around every year, in a real game, it’s as much a sign of new life as the daffodils.

On Easter Sunday, later in the day, we watched our favorite team, the Nationals, play the Phillies. When our hero, Bryce Harper (I mean, we named our cat after him), came up in the bottom of the 9th, the Nats trailed 4-3, with two men on base and 2 outs.

He worked the pitcher to a 3-2 count. This is basically the point of baseball, to make you swing so hard between despair and hope that you declare you will give it up forever…

Then, “kkraakk!” sang his bat! (Click here if that’s your thing.)

He stood and admired the ball as it sailed away. It’s bad form, but who could blame him?

When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. (Luke 24:28-31, CEB)

It may seem sacreligious to compare Cleopas and his companion, let’s say Mrs. Cleopas, to baseball fans, but we are so far from their moment that it’s hard to capture their emotions in a palpable way. We read up on how far it really was to Emmaus, and ponder whether it’s a metaphorical destination. Buechner has described it (paraphrasing here) as a place representing our lowest moments, but even that feels detached to me. How can we get out of our heads and feel that swing between hope and despair?

Jesus worked Mr. and Mrs. C like an excellent batter works a pitcher, stretching it as far as he possibly could.

Then, “kkraakk!” sang his bat!

And in the fleeting moment before he disappeared, I feel sure he admired his handiwork.

Dear Jesus, dear Jesus, I love the way you work. Keep working on me. Amen.

I read and blogged about Luke as my Lenten discipline in 2017, and this is the last post in the series. The full list of posts can be found here.

Fierce and Fabulous for Jesus (an Easter prayer for pastors)

When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. (Luke 24:9, CEB)

Fragrant were the spices they carried
to the tomb that morning,
pungent and piercing,
like the words of women today
who call on us to speak the truth
not just with our speech
but with our actions.

Fabulous were the angels they saw,
two men in dazzling array,
good news bringers
like the powerful sisters
who remind us the gospel
is not white sugar-coated
but for everyone.

Fierce were the women themselves
in their trip to the garden,
and in their encounter with the men,
like clergywomen of our time
who call lairos on patriarchy:
the powers cannot keep him on the cross;
Christ is free in the world.

Fierce must we be, my sisters,
for we serve that risen Lord
This is my prayer for you:
Be fierce and fabulous for Jesus!
Go out and preach Christ resurrected!
Alleluia! Amen.

I offer this prayer with gratitude for Wil, Traci, Naomi, Kentina, Leila, Denise, Jan, Anne, Laura, Katie, Angie, Marci, Amy, Carol, Hannah, Kwame, Ruth, Julia, Joanna, Sally-Lodge, Mary, and Karyn, and so many others in the RevGals community who speak the truth fearlessly like the women on that first morning. May the world have ears to hear.

Sit with it

This is a weird, in-between day for pastors, in particular, but for any church folk involved in the work of the congregation. We’ve laid Jesus in the tomb, but we know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and in the meantime, we have to get ready. There are flowers to arrange in the sanctuary, groceries to buy (or reservations to make), maybe even eggs to hide or last-minute additions to baskets for our little ones, and Lord knows, a word of witness to the Resurrection to polish, if not write from scratch.

Hoagie, the last of the Berners, at Evergreen on Holy Saturday, 2011

When I lived in Portland, I always took whatever dogs I had for a walk at Evergreen Cemetery. It seemed like the right place to be, a resting place with markers and monuments going back hundreds of years, yet still in use for more recent losses.

And there is a duck pond.

I found it to be the perfect liminal space, where thoughts of the unthinkable – a literal victory over death – seemed somehow plausible.

Every year I did my work there, walking with my words, from the first year when I wondered if I really believed in a bodily resurrection, to the last, when I believed it wholeheartedly.

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph. They saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid in it, then they went away and prepared fragrant spices and perfumed oils. They rested on the Sabbath, in keeping with the commandment. (Luke 23:55-56, CEB)

I’ve often thought of them on that in-between day, not knowing what was to come, expecting the sad but obvious ending – a chance to perform a ritual of respect and love for their friend and teacher. Unlike the busy preacher, chorister, or flower arranger, they could not fill the day with tasks. They could not, like my mother, press the pleats into a tiny Easter dress; or as my friend Mary Ellen and I used to do, make fresh ravioli on my big dining room table; or walk the dog or go to the German bakery to choose an appropriate dessert for tomorrow or stop by the dry cleaners for the pastor’s robe that needed cleaning (for the Lord’s sake, get there before they close).

They just had to sit with it.

Let’s remember they were not at home, so picture them in a rented room in Jerusalem, maybe the same Upper Room where the apostles retreated, or maybe in their own 1st century Air BnB. They lack the comforts of familiar space. They are each other’s family now. Which stage of grief were they in that day? After witnessing the crucifixion, I suspect shock was primary, but I want to think some among them were angry, too, angry at the betrayal, denial, and cowardice of the men who should have known better.

It’s tempting to rush ahead to rejoicing, so tempting that many in our churches skip straight from Hosannas to Alleluias. Today, at least for a long moment, I’m trying to sit with the shock, the anger, the grief, even the helplessness, as if I didn’t know what comes next.

Thank you, Lord, for the women you gathered around you, for their stories, for their courage. Amen. 

I’ve been reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. The full list of posts can be found here.


Standing witness

I’m living through this Holy Weekend the same way I lived through Lent, engaged by the scripture but still … at a distance. It’s not the first year I’ve been unoccupied by a church at this season – 2013 and 2014 were the same – but it’s the first year I’m fairly sure I won’t ever be in the role of local church pastor again. If I skipped church this weekend, who would notice? It’s a strange feeling.

And everyone who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance observing these things. (Luke 23:49, CEB)

I wonder about the experience of the women around Jesus, not just on this day, but throughout his ministry. Luke is less specific about the support they offered. Here they have simply “followed him from Galilee.” I’m not sure what that implies, although it certainly tells us that they traveled with him to what they must have assumed was the very and most bitter end.

We trust they were really there, both because someone had to bring back the eyewitness accounts, and because if the tradition gave women credit for something, it must have been true. Who were they? Were they friends from the beginning? Did they jostle each other for his attention, form alliances, keep to themselves? (The disciples certainly behaved like contestants on The Bachelor, each one making the case for his own superiority, each one taking pride of place.) You’ve got to say this for the women: they didn’t scatter.

At my Bible Study last week we considered how they found the courage to stand by and watch, even at a distance, the terrible things that happened to Jesus on that Friday. Maybe, someone suggested, they thought there would be a miracle! Yes, and I have often wondered if they expected some heroic rescue, whether by allies or by a change of Pilate’s mind.

Even at a distance, it was terrible. This feels like the most obvious statement one could make. The situation was terrible, the death was terrible.

Even at a distance, even today, it is terrible.

And even today, the world is full of terrible things, terrible violence and mayhem and cruelty.

I wish it felt like comfort to know that God in the person of Jesus suffered the reality of some of the worst things humans can do, wish it felt like comfort to know he understands the hearts and minds of 8-year-old murder victims and poisoned babies, to know he feels the outsider pain of queer and trans folk, to know he hurts with brown and black people oppressed everywhere, to know that he embodied the story of death by religious bigotry.

Last night I thought hard about whether to even go to church. I’m feeling powerless to do much, and aware of my lack of place in any congregation. I wondered, who will care if I go? What difference will it make? Then I got a text from kathrynzj encouraging me to come to worship. The other preacher at my house said later she could feel me trying to decide what to do.

As I crossed the street, I thought, “I guess Jesus will notice I’m here.”

And I want to think he noticed them, too, that he knew, in those last terror-full hours that someone cared, that the women understood how to bear witness and embody a ministry of presence, even at a distance.

Holy Jesus, I cannot stop the troubles of the world, but I promise to keep standing witness. Amen.