Prayers for Pastors

When there’s nothing you can do (a prayer for pastors)

Sometimes the news comes
And there’s nothing you can do.
It’s too late, or too soon,
Or the middle of some
Slow-moving crisis
That is not yours to tend.

Sometimes they forget to tell you,
Or call late but say,
“Don’t come now.”
You lie awake.
Maybe you pray.
But there’s nothing you can *do.*

img_8588

Sometimes you are right there,
But immediate needs are bodily,
And it is not your turn to act.
Sit still. Listen.
Just be.
You can’t always act the hero.

And on those days, those nights,
When your part to play is
Spouse, Parent, Lover,
Child –
Let someone else take over.
If they offer to pray, say, “Please.”

Church Life, Ministry

Why Do You Go to Church?

The two preachers at my house have a disagreement in principle about church attendance. Oh, we’re both for it under ordinary circumstances! We grew up in families where everybody went to church. We loved Sunday School and Youth Group and special choirs. Really, seriously, most of the time we are eager to get up and go on a Sunday morning, to lead worship in our respective congregations.

But on vacation? There we disagree. I love to visit other churches on vacation. My spouse does not. And she may have a point. Church is our workplace, and maybe the occasional Sabbath spent on a beach or walking in the woods is a good thing. (Although we spent the last joint Sunday off on the road returning from vacation.)

Perhaps when I visit other churches I do it with the keen, appraising eye of a professional, taking notes for my own worship leadership. In fact, I’ve been guilty of preaching at one church while taking vacation from another, a kind of busman’s holiday.

Why do you go to church?

Some do it out of obligation, and others to see their friends. Some do it because they always have; it’s a habit. Some do it out of fear they will end up on God’s bad side. I’ve heard people say they went to church every week when they were younger because in the day of the Blue Laws, there was nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. I find I wonder this about the people who come and listen to me on Sundays, particularly when they look unenthused about the experience. Believe me, I bring that home to ponder.

Why *do* you go to church?

In October we heard the Ten Commandments in worship and received the reminder to keep the Sabbath holy. Christians worship on Sunday to mark the Resurrection. It’s our less elaborate adaptation of the Jewish Sabbath. Most people feel no cultural pressure to attend, and some have no experience with church, and others have made other choices for legitimate reasons of their own including past hurts.

Why do you go to church?

In February I visited my childhood church in Virginia, where, yes, I preached on a vacation Sunday. It’s the place I first heard the words “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1, King James Version) And I think that’s the reason I keep going to church on Sundays, the reason I responded to God’s call to local church ministry: I go because I am glad, week in and week out, to go into the house of the Lord.

Why do *you* go to church? I would love to know.

Stained glass windows in the balcony at my childhood church.
Stained glass windows in the balcony at my childhood church.
Prayers for Pastors

When it’s hard (a prayer for pastors)

simpsons_church_sign_closed_for_summerLord,
when it’s hard,
when the words do not come easily,
when the pews empty for summer,
when the night was short,
hear our prayer.

Lord,
when it’s sad,
when the hopes we had are dashed,
when the miracle does not occur,
when death comes despite our efforts,
hear our prayer.

Lord,
when it’s frustrating,
when we love process but the church does not,
when we thought it was a call, but no,
when we look for you but cannot see you,
hear our prayer.

Lord,
when it’s late,
when it’s too soon to say so,
when it’s early days but not really,
when it feels entirely futile,
hear our prayer.

Lord,
when it’s painful,
when we realize it’s a mismatch,
when we see there is nothing we can do,
when we wonder why you wanted us here,
especially then,
hear our prayer.

Then, Lord,
remind us
you cried out, “My God, my God,”
you spent three days in a tomb,
you knew the chill of darkness,
but then the light came
and a new day.

Remind us, Lord,
and please,
hear our prayer.

Prayers for Pastors

Sunday after Easter, in my study (a prayer for pastors)

Sometimes the texts for the day are perfect.
Sometimes the texts for the day are perfect.

My Lord,

It was exactly the right morning to call a town meeting.

The sun was shining, and the roads were clear, and the people came. I thank you.

Thank you, too, for showing up on that evening of the first day of the week, for showing up despite locked doors and shuttered windows, for showing up and blowing your Spirit into our spiritual ancestors, the ones who first shared the good news beyond the inner circle, once they got themselves together to go back into the world again.

Our churches, dearest Heavenly Parent, are so often locked like that room. We proclaim that all are welcome, but we feel shy to ask people in, or we kind of hope no one *too* new or different will turn up, or we have lost hope that there is any life in the Old Girl we love so much but fear may die soon.

Please show up, we pray, please show up again, and blast through our leaded windows and our safety doors and the firewalls around our hearts. Breathe your Spirit into us, a spirit of courage and daring and imagination and whimsy and practicality and wonder and skepticism and childlike faith, for we need all these qualities to serve you in this world today.

Show up, Mother of us all, and baptize us with your Spirit.

Please.

We are ready.

Amen.

#amwriting, Books, Ministry, RevGalBlogPals

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

RevGals book coverI’m excited to announce the publication in April of There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor (SkyLight Paths Publishing)

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

It was a joy to edit this collection of stories and prayers written by me and over 50 of my colleagues who are members of RevGalBlogPals. We represent 14 denominations, 5 countries, and more than a dozen seminaries. Our stories will bring both laughter and tears as well as a unique perspective on the number and kind of plates clergywomen keep spinning in amazing fashion.

“In ministry, we constantly balance the sacred and the ordinary, juggling the two as expertly as we manage a chalice and a [baby] bottle. Even as we do things as simple as light the candles, set the table, break the bread and pour the wine, we invite people into a holy moment…. The women [in this book] not only have a wellspring of deep wisdom, but they also have the ability to dish out their knowledge with side-aching humor…. I am thrilled that their great wisdom and intelligence will be bound into the pages that I can turn to, lend and appreciate for years to come.”

—from the Foreword by Rev. Carol Howard Merritt

Intended for laypeople, women hearing a call to ministry and clergy of all denominations, these stories and prayers will resonate with, challenge, encourage and amuse anyone who has a passion for their work and faith. A group reading guide will be available on the SkyLight Paths Publishing website – consider choosing it for your book group!

Advent, Prayers for Pastors

Buy more butter … find words (a prayer for pastors)

Holy One,

My “to do” list ranges wildly.

Buy more butter
Finish knitting the thumb
Find time for secret errands
Mail packages
Get train arrival times on calendar

Confirm Christmas Eve readers
Finalize 4 more bulletins
Preach two more sermons
Check height of Advent candles
Remember where we put Baby Jesus

These are the outward manifestations of my attempts to be faithful
to my family
to my vocation
to you.

They all seem small this year.

Usually I undertake some discipline in Advent:
read a devotional or a book of poetry.

12/13/14 New York City
12/13/14 New York City, from Twitter via Facebook

This year, instead, I read the news of outrage
and protests. I scan social media for images and stories.

I hope for good news but prepare for disappointment
in the world
in people
in people who claim you
in people who look like me.

Where is the line, Lord,
the line between showing love
for those I treasure,
and ignoring the reality
of other mother’s children?

Somewhere between Amtrak and Amazon,
I fear.

You call preachers to describe that line.

It’s all there in the text,
the call to repent,
to release the prisoners,
to give sight to the blind,
and to warn the powerful.

I add to my list:
find words
words I need to say
words people can hear
words that proclaim justice
in your holy name.

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Ministry, The Inner Landscape

Visibly. Invisibly.

Invisible Illness Awareness Week, or something along those lines, just ended, and I am thinking a lot about the things that show and the things that don't. When I got home tonight, after a pretty long Sunday at church–a very good day, but long–I wanted to take Sam for a walk. LP had given him dinner, and the window of opportunity for being outside before dark was narrowing. He seemed excited to go with me, but when he realized I planned a neighborhood walk instead of a ride in the car to more exciting places, he balked.

This happens often. It's got nothing to do with his cancer. 

But my desire to stay in the neighborhood had to do with my invisible illness, Rheumatoid Arthritis. After a long day, and sometimes after a regular day, I have joints that complain. My right rotator cuff is the worst, so I did not want to get back in the car and take the kind of short car ride that involves a lot of turns. 

I find it sort of hilarious, in an awful way, that the joint I find most bothersome is one I never knew anything about, except in other people's stories. I'm not sure I even knew exactly where it was.  A friend refers to it as my "old football injury," and that entertains me. It's surely true that the only throws I make now are gentle, underhand slow pitches of a cookie into Sam's mouth. 

But to look at me, you wouldn't know anything was the matter. 

Sam, on the other paw, now has a big lump on his back leg. It was invisible, at first, because black and rust-colored fur covered it. I found myself talking about his diagnosis at the Farmer's Market the other day, and then hearing someone else repeat it to the person she was with, pointing out the tumor as if I could not hear her though we were only a few feet apart.

A histiocytic sarcoma is pretty awful. The sarcoma interferes with limb function, so when it appears in the extremities, the limb needs to come off, which was not really an option for Sam in the opinion of our vets or, frankly, our family. He's 7-and-a-half, which is beyond the average life span for a Berner, and he has arthritis in both elbows and one wrist, and it all sounds like too much trauma when there is no guarantee it will extend his life. 

Though of course it might.

But then he's left with one adult in the house to rehab him after surgery, one adult whose invisible illness makes her less able to help a big dog who might require if not lifting then support for walking. 

This makes me sad and not a little angry. I felt the same way as Molly declined, and we discussed her care and recognized that as she needed to be lifted in and out of the car and had trouble even with the ramp, I would not be able to manage her by myself. It was a hard, hard situation as we got ready for my husband to go away for work and weighed her enthusiasm for life against her increasingly crippling arthritis in three legs. 

Her visible illness, my invisible one.

My tendency to take the blame for everything, to take full responsibility, probably sounds a lot like what my own illness does. In Rheumatoid Arthritis, your immune system attacks your joints. Because it's a disease found primarily in women, books are written that speak the self-blaming, self-attacking language in ways that hurt even more. The medicines that are effective suppress immune response, so the system stops freaking out.

As the person for whom The Onion headline "Area Mom Freaking Out Again for No Reason" may have been coined in the first place according to my kids, I get this. 

When the groundwork has been laid so effectively, so deeply, so invisibly, how do you stop blaming and attacking yourself for everything?

I'm going to say that one of the biggest growth steps for me has been working as a pastor. Somehow in my pastoral life, I can see the difference between things that are actually my responsibility or fault, and things that are not. I may not be able to do it 100% of the time, but it's a vastly larger percentage than the one in my personal life. Over the past eight years, I've experienced a slow-growing understanding of the distinctions, and maybe someday I'll be able to apply the recognition, visibly, to heal the invisible wounds long since scarred over, the wounds of self-blame.