A Morning Prayer for Reformation

Last Saturday Waterloo Lutheran Seminary and Renison University College co-hosted a symposium on the theme of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. I wrote the following prayer for the opening worship and so share it here for you. Allen

Holy God, as we gather together today around your redeeming and reforming will for this world, we acknowledge You:

In grand rivers rippling with grace

In soil saturated with stories of Your faithfulness

In mighty forests bearing You, and here, in this place:

Your finger prints in wrinkles, dimples and folds of skin;

Your scent in bannock, curry, sausage and sage;

And in your desire for a church as

Supple as a moss on rock and as

Solid as tall cedar tree.

We celebrate you, and pray your passion for peace among us. We plead your impatience for justice within us. Form us that we might be living sacrifices in your Reign coming to us here, now in your Son, Jesus. Amen. May it be so.

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Of Sermons and Such

Last weekend I attended the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting in Atlanta.  While I had opportunity to hear some marvelous papers, and reveled in the occasion to meet with old friends and to greet new ones, by far the highlight of the weekend came on Sunday morning.  After a hearty breakfast at “The Diner,” I joined two friends in a cab that took us to (the new) Ebenezer Baptist Church, the home church community of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  We arrived a bit early, and had opportunity to wander about a bit, looking at the Peace Garden and reading some touching reflections on peace written by children of various ages from many locales.  We took a very quick look at the museum before getting back to the church.  We arrived at 10:30 or so, for an 11:00 service.  At a quarter to the hour, one of the church leaders introduced three young people seeking baptism, and while the choir sang “Take Me to the Waters,” they were baptized by immersion on confession of faith in a baptismal font located some 20 or 30 feet above the sanctuary proper.  I was hereby reminded that this was not my home, which was the very thing I was hoping for.  The service proper began at 11:00 with a thanksgiving hymn, followed by prayers, the Pastor’s Brief, a stewardship presentation, special music, an offering, etc.  All of this moved the community artfully towards the sermon, which was altogether unlike anything I have heard.

 

The preacher was Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, a celebrated preacher in North America.  His oratory skills were moving, his treatment of the biblical passage insightful, his engagement of justice issues jolting, and his ability to connect the text to the trials and temptations of the folk in the pew profound.  The sermon began with a measured pace and a close reading of a written text.  As the sermon advanced, the pace picked up, the preacher left the written text, and by the end what transpired was as much song as speech as he spoke with ringing and rolling phrases that reached for justice, pressed for peace and sang mercy.  People stood and clapped when a phrase, or an idea, or an admonition hit their hearts.  Certain themes brought the majority of the congregation to their feet, but never all the people.  It was clear to me that standing, and/or clapping was a part of a personal engagement with the sermon rather than a required or expected response.  As the sermon reached its conclusion, folk were invited to come forward to shake the Pastor’s hand in a gesture of welcome for those wishing to join the Ebenezer Community.  It was really a most memorable and transformative event.

 

I am a little reticent to call what I experienced a sermon.  Or, perhaps I should be reticent to call what I hear in most churches I frequent a sermon.  The genre was so utterly other than what I know.  I am aware that, to a degree, the character of my experience was formed by my being outside of my zone of familiarity and comfort.  And so, I am neither romantic nor naive about what I experienced, recognizing that what transpired at Ebenezer is a product of events, and skills, and communal commitments that cannot be replicated in my context.  Nor is it the case that Dr. Warnock’s sermon was “better” than what I normally hear.  In fact, it seemed so utterly different that comparison seems like an evasion of the need to simply take in what occurred.  The experience was one of those which seems so rich as to require a long deep breath, and willingness to sit with it for a bit.  Something happened in that historic community for me, and I suspect it will take a while before I know what it was.  But in the interim, I am grateful for such an unusual experience, as well as the usual experiences which allow this one to stand out so.

Whispering of Love

Today I stood on
an empty dock,
its splayed fingers gently
lifting me, lowering me, lulling me
into a vision, where the horizon
told me that woven into the
lake’s warp and woof is
the gift of space,
the giving of time.
And a wave pointed out
that even boats need to sleep,
while dock-hands lift
palms to God
caressing the sky
even while I
divine the lake
whispering of love.

Treasure in Heaven

Wet leaf, framed by pavement

bleeding blue;

Chipmunk, startled by human eyeing

its surreptitious caching;

Sky so clear that it waters

eyes with beauty;

Child smiling at seeing me

seeing her;

Paddle in still water, and

the soft sweep of canoe;

Laughter around table, sweet

breath upon cheek;

Words that work soul as soil;

Bread and wine taken and taking in;

Water washing;

Silence.

These – all – treasure in heaven and so earth.

The Streets Where We Live

I wrote the following poem for the Art & Vespers service at our school a week ago today. It is a reflection on Isaiah 58:1-12

The streets where we live
are not paved with gold, no
trees of life lining their ways.
Ours is this brokenness,
shattered dreams
lost seasons, too many reasons for
regret, we forget
our whence, our whither, our why.

The streets where we live
are cobbled together, a stray
stone of hope alone on
a gravelled road of
slippage, everything
sliding out from under us. And
yet that strong stone sings
to us, who
are well wearied, harried
and vulnerable. Cracked open.

The streets where we live
are alive. Yes,
they weep, they worry, they
wonder why we won’t
tend them and so
they wait on us, these streets.

These streets where we live
never despair of repair.
These broken streets work on us, we who have
been over-worked, over-looked, under-fed
are now led by streets who reveal their wounds
to us, so that we weep with them, and
our sobs repair this breach
our tears restore that street.
.
The streets where we live are holy ground, all
around us are streets
hallowed, so that with
feet well shod, we trod
where we are – in awe.

Come, walk with me.

Just Singing

I just returned, late last night, from a worship symposium held at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I belong to a choir called Inshallah, based at the school where I work: Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. Inshallah sings the songs of our neighbours around the world, especially – although not restricted to – the global south. The songs reflect the reality of the communities of their provenance: poor and yet rich with a deep joy; marginalized and yet attentive to a sustained realization of hope; victimized and yet marked by a sure grasp by and of the Reign of God. Our choir is led by Debbie Lou Ludolph, who inspires and coaxes beauty out of some 120 voices, which includes some – such as mine – that have little or no formal musical training. About 70 of us made our way to Calvin, where we gave two workshops and led one evening prayer service.

We travelled by bus, which is always a rich way to be together as a community. A certain comradery evolves in the gift of losing control of our transit and handing it over to the bus driver and tour coordinator. A kind of ebb and flow ensues between busy chatter, and then hushed attention to books, or the scenery, or the evolving landscape of a mind en route. The odd nap envelops those so inclined. You have opportunity to know people differently in this venue.

The symposium was rich. I learned much, met some wondrous folk, and had opportunity to grow more deeply into our repertoire and its community of singers. It strikes me, increasingly, that at the heart of justice is the task of simply being together. Song enables the singers to be together, a phenomenon we experienced anew over the weekend. But as our choir director regularly reminds us, the songs themselves also provide us with a bridge to those who sing them in their own context so that we can be with them, in a fashion. She asked me to provide a blessing which reflected the content of some of these songs at the end of the Vespers service we led. I offer it here for you.

May the creating God, who covets your brokenness, meet you deep in the world’s wounds.
May the crucified God, whose arms wrap the world round, draw your circle wide.
May the spiriting God, who is our grace, our peace, make of you peacemakers.
And may you rest forever blessed in our God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.