Categories
lent Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessory prayer to the God who flips tables

Dear friends, please join me in raising all our prayers —
all our joys and griefs, gratitudes and longings —

to the God who helps us discern
when to hold fast and when to let go,
which tables to fix
and which ones to flip.

As one, we pray:

For those who engage in the long and thankless labor
of stripping tables of their unjust trappings:
who drag folding chairs into the rooms where decisions get made
and refuse to shut up until every voice is heard —
for the ministers, teachers, advocates
calling for reparation and constant reform,
we pray.

And also for those courageous ones who recognize
that some tables are beyond refurbishing —
who refuse to cover up rotten foundations with surface fixes —
for the protestors and activists who cry
for abolition, for revolution
we pray.

For those who struggle with anger, anxiety, or trauma,
who lash out at the wrong targets,
who sabotage themselves and their relationships —
or else who keep their anger bottled up,
too tangled up in niceness and respectability
to make their hurts known and set boundaries,
we pray.

For those whose trauma stems from Christianity,
from churches claiming to act in God’s name —

for persons of color, disabled persons, women, LGBT+ persons, and others whose dignity has been denied and gifts rejected;
for those who have suffered abuse at the hands of faith leaders;
for ministers wounded by backlash and burnout;
and for those impacted by antisemitism, islamophobia,
and attempted genocide against Indigenous religions and cultures;
we pray;

and also for those who fight the good fight
to put an end to such injustices in our midst
through education, reparations, and collaboration,
we pray.

O God, Incarnate in the person of Jesus,
you teach us how to be fully human
with all the emotions involved therein —
teach us how to comfort the afflicted
and afflict the comfortable.

Teach us to be kind to ourselves;
give us the courage to face our grief and trauma with tenderness,
giving them the time and space they deserve
so that we can move forward.

Teach us to be kind to others
both by responding to their pain with grace and understanding,
and by loving them enough to tell them when they are doing harm,
offering to work with them as they make things right.

O God with us, You who dwell in the midst of our struggling,
for these things and for all the wordless yearnings of our hearts,
we pray.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around Exodus 20:1-17 and John 2:13-22.

All of us involved in the service and sermon planning were grateful to find Jewish professor of New Testament Studies Amy-Jill Levine’s commentary on the “cleansing of the temple” story. She combats traditional readings of the text with their antisemitic layers by evincing how Jesus’s anger reflects the anger of his predecessors Jeremiah and Zechariah — an anger focused not on the simple fact that sacrificial animals were sold in the Temples’ outer courts, but on the way the Temple (like many of our own worship spaces) had become a safe place for corrupt oppressors, who behaved as if their daily atrocities would be overlooked by God if they paid for a sacrifice every now and again.

Levine also discusses Jesus’s (and Jeremiah’s and Zechariah’s) anger as holy anger thus:

“…There are times, we may find, that business as usual is not only inappropriate, it is obscene. Something has to be done. If we do not become angry when we see images of suffering children, if we do not feel some sort of rage when preventable tragedies occur, if we do not feel compelled to act, then something has gone terribly wrong, with us.

Some of my students insist that anger is a sin. I think whether it is a sin depends on the type of anger we manifest. It is true that the Wrath is among the classical “Seven deadly sins” (the others are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, and sloth). But “wrath” here refers to a temper out of control, to rage, and so to hate and the desire for revenge. That is not the same thing as righteous anger. Righteous anger seeks restitution, not revenge; it seeks correction, not retribution.

We can see the different types of anger manifested in the Gospels: Jesus forbids anger against a person. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22), he states, “I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” The anger he forbids is anger against another person. But he does not forbid anger against systemic evils: hypocrisy, exploitation, harassment, molestation, drug pushing, and so on. Such forms of injustice should make us angry, and that anger should lead to constructive action.

Categories
Holy Days lent Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessions: for those desperate to be named, known, loved

My siblings in Jesus who earnestly asked his friends,
“Who do you say that I am?”,

I invite you to pray with me for all those made in this God’s image who are desperate to be known, to be named, to be respected and remembered. Let us pray:

For the Black lives stomped out by police brutality and white supremacy, for whom we shout “Say their name!” — from Breonna Taylor to Ahmaud Arbery, from Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland, from Michael Brown to George Floyd, we pray.

For the Black lives that have shaped our world, who have labored and lamented, invented and constructed, yet whose names are not printed in our history books — or whose names are shared only during Black History Month, the shortest month of the year — we pray.

For the trans person whose chosen name, whose true name, is rejected by the ones they love the most;
or who must keep their true self hidden to preserve their job, their home, their safety;
or whose very grave is marked by a name that is not theirs — the final insult in a world bent on destroying their dignity — we pray.

For the children crying out their parents’ names in ICE’s cells;
and for the over 26,000 human beings deported under the Biden-Harris administration thus far, we pray.

For those most isolated by this pandemic, who hunger to hear their name uttered by someone, anyone, we pray.

For those who are weary with applying for job after job, waiting for their name to be chosen from the pile, we pray.

For those who stand on street corners asking for money, asking for recognition that they too are human beings with a name, with dreams and griefs, with the Image of God glowing within them, we pray.

For the 500,000 and counting human beings killed in the US alone by this mishandled pandemic, whose names are printed in one inky blur, whose lives are unknown by any but those who loved them not as a faceless mass, but as parents, children, teachers, friends, we pray.

For all those desperately calling to Divinity under one of Their many names — Jesus, Allah, HaShem, Mother Earth, Great Spirit — we pray.

And finally, for the groanings and gratitudes, named and unnamed, of this congregation, we pray.

O God of many names, God the giver and restorer of names,

Ignite in us a burning urgency to
SAY THEIR NAMES,
to cherish their names,
to dig up the names
that white supremacy and all unjust powers would see buried.

O El Shaddai, the rain-bringer, the seed-tender, the nursing Mother,
come gently to each of your hurting children; whisper our own names back to us, reminding us of our worth.

Holy Spirit, we thank you for taking the achings and longings beyond words and groaning them out on our behalf. Comfort us, compel us, encourage and empower us, to be your hands and feet in this aching world today.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around Genesis 17:1-16 and Mark 8:27-38, with themes of God who names Themself and others; who seeks to be known by us just as She knows us.

Categories
Holy Days lent My poetry Other search markers Reflections for worship services

Crucifixion poem: “your death was nothing special”

your death was
nothing special

it was the death
of uncounted criminals
convicted under Roman law

in fact, two others died with you
on that same hill, on that same day
in that same way: bloody suffocation on a cross

so if you had lived today your death
would have been likewise ordinary
and likewise brutal:

exploded veins in the electric chair
after an unfair trial

or blood gushing out
on a road with a busted street lamp,
an officer’s bullet in your gut,
no trial at all.

Jesus, Jesus
this is why
your death matters.

because it didn’t — not to the ones who killed you,
not to the soldier who thrust a lance in your side
as he had done to so many men
on so many days like this one
not to the men who cast lots for your clothes,
profiting off your pain

your death matters, your death is precious
because it was common, ordinary —
you share the agony
of every tortured spirit who has ever walked this earth

you share every cry
muffled under the boot of one in power.

and so i know that
they with whom you have shared
agony
will also share in your rising.

…i have no words for this.
it is beyond words.
all i have is
thank you.
thank you.

thank you.


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem:

Womanist theologians and other Black theologians, joined with Latin American liberationist theolgians and many others, have argued that substitutionary atonement deeply harms some of the world’s most oppressed persons — the very persons with whom Jesus most intimately identifies. As Miguel De La Torre explains in Embracing Hopelessness,

“There is nothing salvific about crucifixion. We are not saved through unjust suffering; although the oppressive suffering of the many who offer up their broken bodies as living sacrifices does provide abundant life for the elite few.

…The eleventh-century theologian Anselm of Canterbury would have us believe the purpose of the cross was necessary to satisfy God’s anger, to serve as a substitute for us. Sinful humans could not redeem themselves before an angry God who required blood atonement. Only a sinless God-as-human could complete the process, make restitution, and restore creation.

In other words, in order to satisfy God’s vanity, God’s child must be humiliated, tortured, and brutally killed, rather than the true object of God’s wrath, humans. …The problem with Anselm’s theology of atonement is that it casts God as the ultimate abuser, the ultimate oppressor who finds satisfaction through the domination, humiliation, and pain of God’s child. …”

But as we let go of these beliefs in God’s “need” for a sacrifice to assuage “his” anger, does the cross retain any meaning at all?

The answer is, of course.

Jesus’s death was hideously ordinary — and hence infinitely meaningful. As Richard Rohr said, “God did not die for us. God died with us.”

Through the cross, Jesus exposed the violence that is so commonplace that many of us have become desensitized to it for the evil it is — a key example being antiblack violence that forms a core tenet of white supremacy and is one foundation of the United States. Jesus’s execution is akin to the lynchings, shootings, and executions of countless Black lives in the United States — and, James Cone argues in The Cross and the Lynching Tree,

“Until we can see the cross and the lynching tree together, until we can identify Christ with a “re-crucified” black body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.

Through the cross, Jesus showed us that God’s power is not human power — is not control through violence, but rather is compassion, is co-suffering, is interdependence and solidarity and letting go of the need for control. But God’s power is antithetical to white supremacy and other oppressive powers, and so Christianity entangled in Empire will continue to promote the God whose anger demands blood and tortures it out of “His” own son.

Furthermore, the dominating powers of Empire — from first century Rome to today’s America — attempt to strip humanity and dignity from those they deem useless or dangerous. But through the cross, Jesus reaffirmed the humanity and dignity of the world’s most reviled, tortured, and discarded — for what they suffer, God has suffered. This is why Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion still matter, even if they are not the key to salvation. De La Torre’s discussion of the cross continues thus:

For Christians from marginalized communities, the importance of the cross is not its redemptive powers, for all aspects of Christ’s life, death, teachings, and resurrection are redemptive.

The importance of Jesus’s crucifixion is the point when Christ chose solidarity with the world’s marginalized, even unto death. Christ becomes one with the crucified people of his time, as well as with all who are crucified today on the crosses of classism, colonialism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and religious discrimination. For Christians to die with Christ so they can also live with him means they too must find solidarity with the world’s crucified people.”

We must find solidarity with the world’s crucified people. How will you and your communities do so?

Categories
Catholic vibes Holy Days lent My poetry Reflections for worship services

Lent births herself this year – Pandemic 2021

Lent births herself this year, no midwife braving
the cold to come to her and coax her out
with strong sure hands
into a thankless world.

Lent crackles like a sheet of ice this year
creaking underfoot her timeless chant
memento mori
remember the sudden plunge the icy fist that grasps the lungs
to beings sick to death of that same song
and bodies wrung bare
from holding themselves at arm’s length for so long.

Unbidden
Lent comes.

Unwanted
Lent comes.

Yoke gentle
this year
Lent comes.

One fist opens to expose the ash
she’ll paint upon your brow
if you’ll let her.

In a year bereft of touch
you may shiver as her fingertips brush flesh
and startle at their warmth.

And once
you’ve let yourself be marked by dust
Lent’s other fist will open for you
gentle as spring’s first petals.

This palm glows with embers
that flicker out Lent’s second song:
This too remember
o frail Dust — you’re born from Splendor
and Splendor thrums within you even now.

Lent births herself this year
into a world already stripped bare

and beckons to the embers in her palm.
Come. This year
they need only the faintest breath to stir them.
Come.



This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem:

I wrote this before the sun rose this Ash Wednesday morning, my sleeping wife’s warm limbs embracing me, her breathing a steady rhythm at my back. Be gentle to yourselves and to others this season, beloved.

Many souls are already weary in this time of pandemic, and Lent is the last thing they feel like embracing. But Lent is not suffering for suffering’s sake, or increasing our burdens as some kind of challenge for ourselves. Lent is for acknowledging what suffering already is present in the world, and bearing it together; Lent is an intentional remembering of what binds us, all of us, and nourishing those ties.

Lent is stepping into solidarity – alongside Jesus on his journey to crucifixion – with the tortured and discarded of the world.

Lent may just be what our tattered spirits and weary bones need right now.

The concept of splendor comes from Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, who writes in A Tree Full of Angels:

“Why shouldn’t our experiences be filled with God? Who do we think it is who is breathing in us? Where do we think this ache has come from? And has it ever crossed our minds that God, too, has a deep yearning for us? …You are the dwelling place for the Source of All Life. You are an offspring of the One who said, ‘I Am who Am.’ If the One who gave you birth lives within you, surely you can find some resources there in your sacred Center. An expert lives within you. An expert breathes out you. Your life is entwined with the God who gave you birth. Frail dust, remember, you are splendor!”

Categories
Autistic pride My poetry

Poem: at that banquet

there will be straws
at that banquet

and all the bread will be gluten free

and no one will go away hungry because
there was no food that fit their dietary needs

and the table will be high enough
for wheelchairs to slide easily beneath it

and no one will gawk at those of us
who have trouble sitting still so long
and stand instead, and stomp our feet

and no one will grab our flapping wrists and hiss, “quiet hands!”
(God, i cannot wait to never hear that hateful phrase again)

and Jesus, there you will be,
not at the head of the table

but in the middle of things
breaking bread with hands that struggle a little,
impeded by the damage done to your fine motor skills
when the nails pierced your wrists

and with a wheelchair stationed behind you
that friends can push you in when the chronic pain
in your nail-damaged feet becomes too much

and we will all share in the lopsided chunks
of gluten free bread that is your body
or the cups of juice with straws in them that is your blood

and there will be laughter, oh there will be laughter
loud and carefree

communicated through AAC
or sign language or smiling mouths
as we finally learn what it means to be

truly One: united, not in spite of but through
diversity.


[image: a mural by Hyatt Moore based on Luke 14′s parable of the banquet. There’s a blue background and lots of people gathered at a long table with a white tablecloth piled with food. There are persons of many different races and cultures and with various disabilities, including several in wheelchairs or with canes or crutches, several who have down syndrome, one with a service dog, and so on. Jesus stands near the right end of the canvas, conversing with a child of color in a wheelchair and an older Black man in a wheelchair. /end id]


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem: I wrote this poem as part of a project on disability theology for a class in seminary. I began my research into Luke 14’s parable of the banquet during that project, and I’m pretty sure at this point I’ve read more articles and books on Luke 14 than any other scripture passage (except perhaps Exodus 4). You can watch me discuss this text at length on my YouTube channel in the video “Luke 14 – Disabled persons are vital guests at God’s banquet.”

This poem is one of a few in which I try to envision what “perfect accessibility” would look like. In our own world, such a thing is nigh impossible, because sometimes what accommodates me may actually harm another disabled person. For instance, I struggle with loud chaotic noises and crowds, which are pretty much unavoidable at a banquet scene like the one in Luke 14 or in this poem! Could the banquet hall include a side chamber for people like me to calm down when needed – but somehow not isolate us? Will my autism manifest itself differently in heaven so that I do not become so overwhelmed by crowds – without losing what makes me me? These are important questions to explore as we work to make our faith communities as welcoming and accessible as possible – even while knowing we probably will never get it perfect for everyone. Being willing to own up to our mistakes and truly listen to what individuals say they actually need is key.

Some notes that might help in the reading of this poem:

  • Straws are mentioned a couple times as they are a vital tool to some disabled people and movements to ban straws were spreading across the United States when I wrote this poem. See this article for more information: https://www.vox.com/first-person/2018/7/19/17587676/straws-plastic-ban-disability
  • the mentioned phrase quiet hands is one frequently used in abusive therapies (such as ABA) that try to get autistic people to be as “normal” (read: non-autistic) as possible. “Quiet Hands” is a command to keep one’s hands still rather than stimming with them. Being forced to repress behaviors that come naturally, such as stimming, can go so far as to cause PTSD in autistic people. See this webpage for more information: http://autism.wikia.com/wiki/Quiet_Hands
  • AAC stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication – methods of communicating apart from verbal speech. AAC devices include writing in a notebook and electronic speech-generating devices. See this webpage for more information: https://www.prentrom.com/caregivers/what-is-augmentative-and-alternative-communication-aac
  • For more on Jesus’s own disabling wounds, with which he chose to rise and ascend into heaven, check out The Disabled God by Nancy Eiesland or by listen to/read my sermon on John 20 The Wounds of Jesus: Goodness Embodied.”
    …Or just email me – it’s like my favorite topic ever and I’m always thrilled to get to discuss it!

“The disabled God is God for whom interdependence is not a possibility to be willed from a position of power, but a necessary condition for life. …For many people with disabilities, too, mutual care is a matter of survival.

To posit a Jesus Christ who needs care and mutuality
as essential to human-divine survival does not symbolize either humanity or divinity as powerless.
Instead it debunks the myth of individualism and hierarchical orders, in which transcendence means breaking free of encumbrances and needing nobody and constitutes the divine as somebody in relation to other bodies.”

– Nancy Eiesland in The Disabled God

“The text [of Luke 14] clearly situates people with impairments at the final banquet just as they are, not with their impairments erased or made invisible. …Consistent with the presence of the scars on Jesus’ resurrected body, here the marks of impairment are not cured or expunged.

What would a world in which impairments
will not be eliminated but rather “redeemed” look like? For Eiesland, such a world is one in which justice comes for disabled people in the form of perfect accessibility and mutuality:
a justice that removes the barriers which constrain our bodies, keep us excluded, and intend to humiliate us.’”

– Amos Yong in The Bible, Disability, and the Church

Categories
Charge and Benediction Christmas Invitation to the table Liturgy Opening prayer Prayers of the People

Liturgy for Christmastide – God of the manger, God of the stranger

OPENING PRAYER

Immanuel, God with us! 

You are indeed with all of us, wherever we are
across the many miles, under our assorted roofs.

In the birth that we celebrate this Christmas season,

You stripped off omnipotence,
burst through the border between Creator and Creation
to curl Your infinity into a finite form,
a frail, physical, form — an infant 

utterly dependent on others to survive.

You who choose
interdependence over self-reliance,
society’s outcasts over mighty kings,
abundance for every creature over excess for the few,
You are indeed worthy of our praise!

As we worship you today, 
may the same Spirit

who brought new life to Hannah and Elizabeth,
who came in dreams to change the mind of Joseph,
who took shelter in Mary and spoke through Simeon and Anna

come upon us all —

a rushing wind to stir up fainting spirits,
a gentle breeze to refresh the weary body.

Spirit of God! Here today!
Breathe new life into us
that we may join the ones who prepare Your way!


PASTORAL PRAYER / INTERCESSORY PRAYER

Like Simeon and Anna, we eagerly anticipate God’s restoration,
which is unfolding even now — yet is not fully here.

We look forward to the future in which all needs will be met,
all cruelty will be transformed into compassion,
all sickness and suffering will give way to flourishing 

for all of humanity, and all of Creation.

In the meantime, we pray for those whose needs we can name –
and for those whose needs we do not know,
those who do not know how to ask for what they need.

Join me now in offering our joined prayers up 
to the God who loves us, who is with us, who is bringing about abundance for all.

God of the Hope born anew at Christmas,

We pray for persistence as we continue to keep each other safe 
in this time of pandemic, even when it means keeping physically apart.

Make your warming Presence felt to all those struggling with loneliness or depression, O God,
and pour your blessing upon those who reach out to their fellow human beings 
in large ways and small.

Encourage and protect all who act in solidarity
with the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned, the oppressed.

We give thanks for protestors who continue to demand justice and equity,
For those who speak out against the violence we wage against this good world you created,
For those who dream of a better reality for all peoples, all creatures,
And who invite all of us into the hard, holy work of making those dreams reality. 

We pray also that those in positions of power will be moved
to take the steps that only they can to reduce sickness and suffering.
We pray for a major transformation of the heart 
in those who shrug off wearing masks,
And in those who perpetrate hate crimes — or who by their silence enable them.  

And God, we offer our deepest gratitude
for the vaccines that are rolling out:
Bless and hover over those who create them,
those who administer them,
those who have received them, those are still waiting to receive them.

As we live into this new stage in our long waiting, revitalize us.
Empower us to be your Presence in the world,
helping others where we can
And attending to our own spirits when there is little else we can do.

God of the manger, God of the stranger,
Carry the most vulnerable of us safely into the future that is coming,
that we can almost reach out and touch, and that we continue to wait and work for.

Amen. 


INVITATION TO THE TABLE

My siblings in the Living God,

The infant born to impoverished Jewish parents
is the one who invites us to his table today. 

He who knew poverty and homelessness
Welcomes you, even if you don’t think you have anything to bring to the table.

Having spent some of his youngest years
as a refugee far from home,
Jesus welcomes refugees and immigrants,
As well as spiritual wanderers, those who do not feel at home at church,
And those who deeply miss gathering physically in their church building.
Jesus welcomes you.

Jesus welcomes oppressors who strive to make amends,
The oppressed who seek sanctuary and justice.
Jesus welcomes you.

Whoever you are, whatever you believe,
Whatever hopes and fears, griefs and doubts you carry to the table with you,
You are welcome here.
Come. Eat. This table is for you. 


BENEDICTION

Siblings in Christ,

having been nourished by the Word made flesh,
by songs that welcome in God’s Kin(g)dom,
by bread offered to us from the one born of Bethlehem,

It is time for us to depart:
to carry our renewed hope out to the despairing,
and to seek the Spirit of God
in the most shunned corners of the world.

Let us go now in peace,
rejoicing that the God who creates, sustains, and redeems us all
goes with us.



I wrote these pieces for a virtual service on December 27, 2020 (First Sunday of Christmastide) centered around the story of the Presentation at the Temple as told in Luke 2:22-40. There are also some references to Isaiah 61.

Categories
Christmas communion meditation Holy Days Liturgy Reflections for worship services

Communion Meditation for Christmastide – Jesus of the House of Bread

Two thousand years ago, 

Divinity entered the world in the form of an infant 
born in Bethlehem — a town whose name means “House of Bread”!
He was swaddled by parents poor in the eyes of the world,
but rich in love,
and laid in a manger —

a food trough for cattle!

Thus it is that from the very moment of his birth,
Jesus made known his intention to feed the hungry world
with his very being —
to be bread for empty stomachs
and nourishment for flagging spirits.

His life was a continuation of a Movement that God had begun
long centuries before Jesus:

a Movement that glimmered in the starry sky laid out for Abraham,
that invited Jacob to wrestle faithfully and fervently
until he came away wounded and blessed;

a Movement that carried the enslaved Hebrews out of bondage
and taught them how to live into true freedom;

a Movement kept alive in times of corruption, and empire, and exile
by fearless prophets who would not be silenced
and who looked forward to the liberation of all prisoners, the uplifting of the poor.

It was those prophets’ message that was boldly sung by Mary,
and that she and Joseph, faithful Jewish parents,
taught to the boy Jesus
with the help of their community’s synagogue. 

It is this message, the proclaiming of God’s World-Upturning Movement,
that infuses the bread and cup we share today.

Eat, drink, and let the sharing of this meal unite us across the miles
into one Body of the liberating Christ
who walks and breathes among us even today. 


I wrote these pieces for a virtual service on December 27, 2020 (First Sunday of Christmastide) centered around the story of the Presentation at the Temple as told in Luke 2:22-40.

Categories
advent My poetry Reflections for worship services

poem: God’s Revolution

if you are content now
you will be devastated then

for when the world is flipped upside-down
all your riches will go spilling into space.

a voice cries out in the wilderness
cries out: prepare the way! prepare –
for what? for peace? perhaps, eventually

but first a revolution – woe to you
(to us) who sit too comfortably! for soon
all thrones will be upturned, and those who served
as footstools wear the crown!

(o come, Immanuel! come and turn
the whole world upside down!)

if you are satisfied now
you will be inconsolable then

when all that succeeded in filling you up
is razed to the ground to make way for a table

built of once-rejected stones – the ones
too crooked, too jagged, too small,
too broken to ever be chosen before.

…will those of you (of us) accustomed to
places of honor at the table
accept the humbler seats
when those once trampled underfoot
are seated at its head?


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. This is a revised version of a poem included in their volume The Kin(g)dom in the Rubble. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem: Many of the Bible’s prophets speak of the End of Days and God’s in-coming Kin(g)dom as a fearsome time indeed for any of us who are comfortable with the status quo. In this poem I follow in their footsteps, and hope to remind myself that even though I belong to several oppressed communities, as a white middle-class US citizen there is much indeed I will “lose” when God transforms the world. Will I be ready? Will I be able to let go of my comfortable seat and embrace the revolution?

For more on these ideas, see this sermon I preached in 2018: “When the Good News Feels Like Bad News” on Amos 7 and Mark 6. Here are a few excerpts from that sermon:

“But it turns out that always being accepted, always being liked, is not what following Jesus, what sharing God’s news for the world, is all about. Because sometimes, sharing God’s news for the world comes as bad news for the people who have to hear it, ourselves included. And no one likes the bearer of bad news. …”

“There’s no denying the similarities between our society and the one God called Amos to prophesy against: we too have gross income inequality, the mistreatment of immigrants, refugees, and other vulnerable people, the worship of money at the expense of the marginalized…

Our fancy homes and all we have in them, our malls and factories, all razed to the ground to make way for a system that does not exploit the poor?

In theory, sure, I like the idea of no one being exploited…but does it have to mean I must sacrifice some of my favorite luxuries? Must there be chaos, must there be destruction of the old, to bring in this new world of justice?

When we are at the top of the social ladder, when we are the ones benefiting from other people’s suffering, God’s good news about the world flipping upside down sounds a lot like bad news.”

Categories
advent Holy Days Liturgy Reflections for worship services

God’s vastness, fearsome and comforting

When I sit with God in quiet moments, I feel
so small. Sometimes, this is a beautiful thing:
I become a little child in the lap of their mother,
I become a baby chick under the soft, warm wings of their mother hen;
I feel safe, and comforted, and loved.

But other times God’s vastness in the face of my own littleness
becomes overwhelming: then I am an ant
under God’s magnifying glass, I am one atom in the face
of the ever-expanding universe that is God

and I become discouraged. Surely no gift I could bring to the table
is big enough for this God to even notice, is big enough to make any impact
on God’s vision for the health and wholeness of this world!…

so why bother? Why even try? Who am I
to talk to God or about God,
to lead church events, to participate in worship services,
to go to a rally for immigrant rights? What change can I or any of us make?

…Then I remember
that God became little Themself,
as little
as any of us ever was.

The impossible hugeness of God
folded itself down into a microscopic embryo,
was nourished by an umbilical cord, was born as a fragile infant,
dependent
on the love and protection of impoverished human parents.

In this season of Advent looking forward to Christmas, let us pray together
to the almighty God who became small, vulnerable, one of us:

Jesus of the manger,

When we grow discouraged at our own littleness
in the face of the work that needs to be done,
in the face of God’s greatness,
Remind us that you know our smallness, and delight in it! —
that each and every one of us does have gifts to offer to you
and to our fellow living beings, gifts that matter,
gifts that make a difference.

Remind us of your parents,
a poor young couple shut out from the inn,
who made use of what they had to care for you,
for God in their midst.

Remind us of how you adored
the little ones among us:
the children who were meant to be seen and not heard
but to whom you said, “Come to me!”

And in the remembering of your love for the littlest ones,
the poorest ones, the scorned ones,
may we be inspired to use our gifts
for the betterment of your world, to do
small things with great love, to keep hope burning bright
for the coming of your Kin(g)dom, where the small are lifted up.

Amen.


If you want to make this a call to the passing of the peace,
you can add:

Friends, now that we have recognized that our littleness
is not something to be lamented
but embraced, we can share the peace of the One who became small to live and love among us.
The peace of the infant Jesus be with you.

And also with you.


About this piece:
I wrote this for a Advent worship service some years ago; it was our pageant day, when the children enact the nativity and we sing songs of how the divine Word became human flesh, how the great became small so that the small might become great, how each of us has a gift to offer God.

I was also channeling something I’d learned from classmates in a seminary class where we’d been discussing Psalm 139, that Psalm where the speaker wonders at how there is no place they can go that God is not there, knowing their every move:

To me, this has always been a very comforting and indeed awe-some thing to marvel at! But for one classmate, it was a thing of terror – she said it made her feel trapped in past times when she’d been desperate to escape the image of God that had been forced on her, a God who is judgmental and cruel, ready to pounce on her and damn her for any little slip-up.

She reminded me that God’s bigness can be a terrifying thing, even while it is a comfort when we meet God as a child meets a loving parent. I wanted to hold up her fears as legitimate in this piece, while hopefully softening and soothing them.

Categories
advent Catholic vibes Reflections for worship services

Advent: a time to embrace the Divine in us

“Dust, remember, thou art Splendor!”
– Sister Macrina Wiederkehr in A Tree Full of Angels

If Lent is a time to admit to our Dust –
the death that awaits us, the sin that permeates our cells,
our littleness and our frailness and our need –

perhaps Advent can be a time to embrace our Splendor:
our intimate connection to Divinity
who gave birth to us,
who calls us Good and calls us to be better,
who is the breath within our lungs and the warmth in dancing bodies.

Divinity embraces mortality;
God entered our world and fused the physical with the Divine
so inextricably that we can declare
that every cell of us pulses with Splendor, despite the infection of sin.

Now is the time to be a womb for Splendor,
nourishing it within ourselves.

Now is the time to prepare for the labor:
the teenage girl birthing God into the world.
God birthing a new world around us,
inviting us to serve as Her midwives.


About this piece: I first wrote this in Advent 2019 for Instagram.

If you’re interested in more on Sister Macrina’s concept of “splendor,” here’s the longer passage from which the pull quote was taken:

This brings me to the heart of this book, which is trusting the God who speaks to us in our experiences at every moment. No one ever gave me permission to trust my own experiences as prayerful and holy. It was something I stumbled upon, like a treasure hidden in a field. …In recent years, I seem to hear God say, ‘Put your books away. Be with me. Trust your experience. There are no experts in prayer, only people who have been faithful to the ache.’

…Why shouldn’t our experiences be filled with God? Who do we think it is who is breathing in us? Where do we think this ache has come from? And has it ever crossed our minds that God, too, has a deep yearning for us? …You are the dwelling place for the Source of All Life. You are an offspring of the One who said, ‘I Am who Am.’ If the One who gave you birth lives within you, surely you can find some resources there in your sacred Center. An expert lives within you. An expert breathes out you. Your life is entwined with the God who gave you birth. Frail dust, remember, you are splendor!”