Categories
Affirmation of Faith Call to worship Confession and Pardon Liturgy Opening prayer

Liturgy for a service exploring God’s place in our suffering

Leader:

We gather here and now, 

All:

separated in space
and joined in one Body,

fractured by discord

and united by love,

to worship God,
to open ourselves to God’s voice,
to grow towards God’s will

together.

Come, let us worship God!

Opening Prayer

O high eternal Divinity,
You who are both
Unknowable, Other, utterly Beyond all sense and space —

and Presence itself, 
pervader of all things, 
glimpsable
in every human face,
in the wheeling of the stars
and the miniscule machinations of ants —

Remind us of your vastness.
Make room for our littleness.

Through this time of worship,
stoke in us a burning desire
not for easy answers
but for grace to guide our questioning;
not for light that forces out all shadow
but for the wisdom encountered only
by those who brave the stormy night. 

Amen.


Another prayer (read after reading Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32)

God whom even the seas obey,
All praise belongs to you,
for you journey with us
into troubled waters
and guide us out again.

As we ride the perilous waves together,
Surround us in your Spirit of wisdom and courage —
a whirlwind stronger than the gusts of any storm,
a breath that stills the most agitated soul —
to carry us through.

Amen.


Call to Confession

We have come to worship the Creator
not only of ourselves, but of all peoples,
all creatures, all the cosmos;

Yet we fall into self-centeredness,
becoming so lost in our own hurts, our own desires, our own needs, 
that we fail to look around to see how we might attend
to the hurts and needs of others.

Only in acknowledging our complicity
in the continued wounding of the world
can we join in God’s restoration. 

So let us confess our failings,
first in silent reflection,
and then as one.

Silence

Prayer of Confession

Borrowing from the words of Thomas Merton, we confess together,

Lord God,
We have no idea where we are going.
We do not see the road ahead of us.
We cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do we really know ourselves,
and the fact that we think we are following your will
does not mean that we are actually doing so.

When we fool ourselves into certainty
in our own rightness,

Remind us of how limited we are, Infinite God,
how prone to calling evil “good” and good “evil.”

When we favor being right over accepting truth,
cheap grace over the long hard road to justice and reconciliation,

Jolt us from our egotism, self-giving God.
Help us let go of our defensiveness.

When the way seems too hard
and we nearly succumb to despair,

Surround us with support, sweet Trinity;
suffuse us with wisdom and courage.

Returning to the words of Thomas Merton, we rejoice because…

We believe that the desire to please you, o God,
does in fact please you.
And we hope we have that desire in all that we are doing.
We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire.
And we know that if we do this, you will lead us by the right road,
though we may know nothing about it.

Therefore will we trust you always, 
though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
We will not fear, for you are ever with us,
and you will never leave us to face our perils alone.

Assurance of Pardon 

In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!
By the Holy Spirit, we are empowered 
to strive ever deeper into God’s will!

Thanks be to God!

Passing the Peace of Christ

In Jesus Christ, we know God’s forgiveness and peace — 
not an easy peace, nor a halfhearted peace,
but a peace entwined with justice, 
a peace that empowers us to survive all discord.


Affirmation of Faith / Responding to God’s Word

Ours is a God who makes room for our demand for answers,
hears us out and guides us into wisdom
as far as our finite forms can go.

Our God affirms our cries for justice,
for in the cries of the oppressed and despairing
Holy Wisdom cries for justice too.

Rejoicing in God’s welcoming of questions,
let us use poetry as a medium for framing some of our deepest doubts,
with all the messy human emotions that come with them:

my God, you better be ready when i come
and stand before you face to face at last
because you know how many questions i have for you
and you know the very first that will
burst from my lips will be

why?

why did you conceive and birth a world
roiling with so much pain?
why did you make human beings
capable of such atrocities?

why did you make our skin so frail, our stomachs
so prone to hunger and thirst, our minds
so quick to judge and scheme and place ourselves first?

and why, why do you seem to watch passively
as we raze forests into barren dust
as we pour poison into rivers
as we tear flesh from each other’s bodies with our teeth?

…i don’t know, yet. 
but when i think of you
cradled in the arms of a single mother 
with calloused brown hands

and of you
walking miles between towns to bring
healing on tired feet,
your stomach eating itself with hunger, 
your tongue parched

and of you
being nailed to a cross
by hands that have shed their compassion for gain
as you cry out “my God, why! why have you forsaken me!”

…then, i feel a little better.
i still do not understand
but i trust.

we trust because you do not watch us suffer from
some lofty throne high above,

but rather
wherever a child sobs with hunger
a woman aches with grief
a whole community is being trampled into the mud
you are there. 

your face is tear-tracked too. your wrists
and feet and torso bear wounds, too.
so i question, constantly.

and i will demand answers. 
but also, i trust you.

truly, truly
our hope is in you.


These pieces were written for a service centered around Job 38 and Mark 4:35-41, with themes of God’s bigness and God’s co-suffering with us.

Categories
Holy Days lent My poetry

poem for Holy Saturday: this moment matters

they wanted – no, they needed
to touch you one last time.

so they trudged the tombward path
with their perfumes and their spices
their strips of cloth to cocoon your body in
for its final transformation back to dust

their shoulders almost broken with grief,
heavy as the cross
that crushed the life from your flesh.

let me fall in step behind them.
let me take my place in that line
of broken hearts bearing a cross of grief together.
let me shoulder my share of the burden

and let me not rush
to the first fingers of dawn, frail and trembling,
reaching past a rolled-back stone
to empty space where your corpse should be –

no. let me linger in the moment when
your corpse still lies there
and anguish fractures the air
into splinters that cut the lungs.

this moment matters:
your brown body
with the breath pressed out
by the inexorable boot of Empire
matters.

and the moment that comes after
cannot ease this one.

it never has, and it never will, for

there are still bodies broken,
breathless, beaten down
by Empire’s brutality or else its apathy.

and you, with us to the last,
still lie among them – you hold them close
and share their final exhalation
be it in a hospital bed, the street, a cell.

so let me not sprint to sunrise
when your body can still be found
nestled with cold bodies in their graves.

blessed be the hands
that carry the spices and perfumes, water and cloth!
blessed, blessed be the throats
worn rough with sobs
yet refusing to be silenced,
broadcasting the crime lest some claim ignorance.

i’ll not dishonor them by racing past
to the future reunion of
form to dust, breath to body, lover to loved
before they’re ready.

keep watch! soak in! be present with them!
this moment is holy.


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:

This was my prayer for Holy Saturday, 2020 – 
in the shadow of pandemic
and from under the enduring boot of state violence and negligence: 
Spirit, help us learn to linger in the shadow of the tomb,
so as not to abandon those who are not ready to look beyond it yet. 

In this poem I lean on the promise of the Brief Statement of Faith:
“in life and in death, we belong to God.” And I draw from Black theologians like James Cone who argue that God is Black, that Jesus Christ is executed again wherever human beings are lynched or tortured. This poem is written in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Categories
My poetry

poem: glory to the God who tires

Glory be to the God who tires, rests.

Jesus, you felt the world’s weight across your shoulders
even heavier than the rest of us.

the lepers whom most of us can choose
to let our gaze slide over
ran after you, calling, clinging at your hem:
there was no denying them.

there is never
cessation of need.
the earth is one mouth gaping
hungry, groaning, calling
never filled, never silent, never closed.

yet
you took the time

to row yourself into the sea’s dark belly
and let her cradle you.

you knew the crowds were teeming on either shore,
that they would coalesce upon you,
waves replacing waves as soon as you rowed back —

and there would be time
for them.

for now, you let the croon of wave lapping at boatwood
lull you to sleep.

God, will you be the sea
and i the boat
rocked to sleep in your lap?

slow my breathing
until it matches yours.
still, still.

promise me:
there will be time, there will
be time

 but for now
there is only rest.

rest.


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!

Hear Avery read this poem on YouTube.

About this poem: I wrote this poem while I was serving for a semester as a hospital chaplain – a time in which I was inundated with grief and need, both my own and that of others. It’s inspired by Psalm 131 and stories in the various Gospels where Jesus withdraws from the crowds that seek his healing and wisdom to pray and rest (e.g. Matthew 14:13, Luke 5:16, Mark 4:35-41).

Categories
My poetry

poem: first question

my God, you better be ready when i come
and stand before you face to face at last
because you know how many questions i have for you
and you know the very first that will
burst from my lips will be
why?

why did you conceive and birth a world
roiling with so much pain?
why did you make human beings
capable of such atrocities?

why did you make our skin so frail, our stomachs
so prone to hunger and thirst, our minds
so quick to judge and scheme and place ourselves first?

and why, why do you seem to watch passively
as we raze forests into barren dust
as we pour poison into rivers
as we tear flesh from each other’s bodies with our teeth??

…i don’t know, yet. but when i think of you
cradled in the arms of a single mother with calloused brown hands

and of you
walking miles between towns to bring healing on tired feet,
your stomach eating itself with hunger, your tongue parched

and of you
being nailed to a cross
by hands that have shed their compassion for gain
as you cry out “my God, whywhy have you forsaken me!”

…then, i feel a little better.
i still do not understand
but i trust.

i trust because you do not watch us suffer from
some lofty throne high above 
but rather

wherever a child sobs with hunger
a woman aches with grief
a whole community is being trampled into the mud
you are there. your face is tear-tracked too. your wrists
and feet and torso bear wounds, too.

so i question, constantly.
and i will demand answers. but also, i trust you.

truly, truly
my hope is in you.


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them, and has been published in their text 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!

Hear Avery read this poem on YouTube.

About this poem: If we learn nothing else from scripture, it’s that God welcomes our questions and difficult emotions. And a common question with which we all wrestle is the question of why good people suffer while those who do wrong seem to thrive – see Psalm 73, the Book of Job, and this post for more on what theologians term “theodicy,” the place of God in suffering.

Categories
Confession and Pardon Liturgy

Confession and pardon: trauma, isolation, scarcity and individualism

God With Us, as one we confess our failings:

In times of trauma and hardship,
you call us to lean on one another and on you.
But we retreat into ourselves instead,
to wallow in our own troubles alone.  
We imagine ourselves to be burdens,
or accuse others of being dead weight. 

In a world whose resources we have poisoned,
a society divided into the haves and the have-nots,
your promise of abundance is just about impossible to believe.

And so we fall prey to myths of scarcity and individualism
that transform friends into enemies,
comrades into competitors.

When we deny our place in the network of your Creation,
when we reject the protests of those who thirst for justice,
when we fail to question authority,

Challenge us. Teach us. Restore us to your Way. 


ASSURANCE OF PARDON

Friends, our remorse is a sign of God’s grace already at work within us.
Assured of God’s mercy, we are liberated to seek new ways of being together. 


I wrote this for a virtual service centered around trauma and community’s role in the journey to recovery; an affirmation of protest is also woven throughout the liturgy. My sermon was based around Exodus 17:1-7, looking at the wilderness wandering through a lens of generational trauma and applying it to the collective and individual traumas we are facing today, from those caused by pandemic and police violence to personal struggles.

Watch or read my sermon here.

Categories
Call to worship Liturgy

Call to worship and opening prayer: God the sower who invites our partnership

Beloved community, we gather to worship the God who invites us to join Them in creating a new world.

When our souls are trampled on, made too hard to bear fruit,
Let us gather.

When our hearts exclaim over God’s word for a moment,
but never break open to let it sink in,
Let us gather.

When the cares of the world prick at and stifle our spirits like thorns,
leaving no room for joy or hope, no time for kindness or compassion,
Let us gather. 

And when God comes, heals, cultivates in us hearts soft enough to receive, to nurture, to blossom,
Let us gather to worship our Creator, our Redeemer, the Breath within our lungs.


OPENING PRAYER

God of Life in all its seasons,
you are the Sower who softens us like soil,
slowly but surely, so that your Word may sprout in us. 

You are the source of the water, the sun, the air 
that sustain our being and unite us with all living things. 

You are the Wind that stirs our stagnation,
who takes us by the hands and pulls us into action,
inviting us to be co-laborers in the hard harvest work
as your Kin(g)dom takes root, grows, and blossoms across the world.

We come to worship
you who guide all Creation into flourishing.


I wrote this for a service with a central theme of imagination, and how God’s gift of imagination can help us envision and enact a better world, a world liberated from oppressive binary and hierarchical structures like cishetero-patriarchy and white supremacy. My sermon’s text was Genesis 25:19-34 and explored the relationship between Jacob – with his marginalizing identities who assimilates into patriarchy – and Esau with his privilege who eventually seeks out reconciliation with his brother. You can read or watch the sermon here.

While the Genesis text was my sermon focus, I wanted to fit the lectionary’s Gospel reading into my liturgy. That reading was Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, the Parable of the Sower – hence references to God as sower in the liturgy above.