A Prayer for Those Recovering from Denominational Meetings

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Loving God, Compassionate God—

We gathered to do the work of the church which we believe is your work.

We were sincere, hopeful, uncertain, and anxious.

We were eager to see old friends and anticipated making new ones.

We hoped to worship together as your people.

 

But, O God, it is really hard to work with other people sometimes.

We feel unheard, misunderstood, dismissed by others who also feel unheard, misunderstood, dismissed.

We are hurt, angry, and flirting with bitterness.

We are exhausted: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. And we wonder: why I am working so hard to do the work of the church?

 

So, Loving God, restore us.

Restore our energy.

Restore our hope.

Restore our desire to create your kin-dom here on earth.

 

And, Compassionate God, help us to release our bitterness and in our releasing, receive your lovingkindness.

Help us to release our hurt and in our releasing, receive your comforting presence.

As we reflect on the meetings, gives us eyes to see and ears to hear what needs to be seen and heard.

 

Finally, O God, let us see where you were present and moving in the gathering.

Most of all, as always, reveal to us your loving face in all and throughout all of our life and in the lives of others.

We praise and bless your holy name. Amen.

 

Have mercy: a prayer

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Gracious God, Merciful God

We praise and bless you as the merciful one.

We thank you that your mercies are new every morning.

We thank you that you love to extend mercy to us.

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Because of your mercy we are encouraged to confess our shortcomings, our sins.

We confess our distractions from you—our lives are filled with other things, duties and responsibilities, working for peace and justice, that we forget you.

We forget that all we do is to be centered in you.

Have mercy on us, God and help us to mindful and aware of you.

We confess the dividing walls that separate us from others. 

We confess that we carefully construct these walls to keep others out—those who disagree with us, who hurt us, who are different from us.

We admit that in keeping others on the other side of the wall, we also keep you on the other side of the wall. 

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Have mercy on us, O God.

Have mercy and give us the courage to break down those walls and begin to trust others, listen to others, to open our hearts to others. 

Please give us the courage to be bold and to move toward reconciliation with those in our life with whom we are estranged.

Have mercy on us.

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Gracious God, Merciful God, we thank you for your forgiveness.

We thank you for your gracious and merciful heart. 

Holy Spirit, flame of love, we praise and bless your Merciful, Gracious name.

Let us proclaim that you are our God and we are your children.

We praise your holy Name. Amen.

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Embracing the Other: Engaging a theology of “embrace”

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I shared this post originally in the winter and am sharing it again as the polarization within families, communities, and churches continues.

I am unsettled by the frequency I have unfriended or blocked people leading up to the national election. I have placed friends and family members into a metaphorical box, labeled it Others and placed it in the back of my heart closet. I exclude Others from my life and create a distance from, whether that be an emotional or physical or relational distance. I dismiss these Others by not taking them seriously, by trivializing or mocking them, by refusing to listen to their heart stories of joys and pains, and ultimately, I exclude them from God’s love. I consider them unworthy of God’s love, grace, and mercy.

In his book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), Miroslav Volf describes three qualities of exclusion. First, exclusion entails the cutting of bonds that connect individuals to one another. The Other emerges either as an enemy that must be pushed away and driven out of its space, or as a nonentity that can be disregarded and abandoned. We see this everywhere on social media, cable news, and even within the church. We see people disregarded and abandoned, with news reports of refugees and immigrants fleeing their homes only to be refused entry into other countries. We see this in our national political conversations. We see this in all forms of social media. And we see this refusal to meet the Other within our congregations, conferences, and denominations.

Second, exclusion entails erasure of separation, meaning the Other emerges as an inferior being who must either be assimilated by being made like ourselves, or be subjugated to ourselves. We see this in the continued fragile relationship between people of color and white people; English and non-English speakers; LGBTQ and hetero persons; progressive believers and fundamentalist believers; Republican and Democrats. These are all forms of exclusion.

And third, exclusion is judgment. Volf writes, “Strong disagreement with a lifestyle, religious belief-system, or a course of action—a disagreement that employs adjectives like ‘wrong,’ ‘mistaken,’ or ‘erroneous,’ and understands these to be more than expressions of personal or communal preference—is felt to be exclusionary.”

Volf suggests a “theology of embrace” as the way of loving and reconciling with the Other. He breaks down the image of an embrace into four movements to help us understand how we might do this. These elements of embrace include:

  1. Opening the arms is a gesture of the body reaching for the Other. Open arms are a sign that I have created space in myself for the other to come in, and that I have made a movement out of myself so as to enter the space created by the other. Open arms are a gesture of invitation and hospitality.
  2. Waiting is the act of postponing the desire of welcoming the Other to myself until I know the other is willing to open their arms in reciprocation. Waiting on the Other allows the other to decide if they wants to be reconciled or left alone. The Other cannot be coerced into an embrace, otherwise the embrace becomes an act of violence. If embrace takes place, it is because both individuals want it—embrace must be reciprocal.
  3. Closing the arms is the goal of the embrace. It takes two pairs of arms for one embrace.
  4. Opening the arms again allows the individuals freedom to be themselves. Additionally, opening the arms again begins the cycle of embrace.

The embrace transforms the Other—the person I have dismissed or hated or oppressed—into my brother or my sister, one that I can truly love. In truly loving my brother or my sister, I enter into a relationship based on trust, forgiveness, reconciliation, and intimacy, as modeled by Jesus Christ. I begin to see the Other as God sees them—as one who is created and loved by God—not as a monster to be rejected by the world.

Our ability to embrace the other is not based on our willfulness, on our insistence. Our ability to embrace the other is based on God’s embrace of us. We can embrace because God first embraced us. We can love because God first loved us.

A longer version of this post was published in Leader magazine, Fall 2016.

Photo: By Dhiriart – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46459574

Have mercy (continued)

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Gracious God, Merciful God‑

This Sunday is Pentecost and we praise you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We praise and bless you for the gift of Easter which had to precede Pentecost.

We also praise and bless you as the creator of our world.  We thank you for the beauty and mystery of nature.  We thank you that in the midst of storms, you are with us.

We praise and bless you as the merciful one. We thank you that your mercies are new every morning.  We thank you that you love to extend mercy to us.

***

Because of your mercy we are encouraged to confess and to receive mercy.  We confess our distractions from you‑‑that our lives are so filled with other things, duties and responsibilities that we forget you. Forgive us for our absorption of social media, of politics, of our anger rather than focusing on you.  Have mercy on us God and help us to turn our minds and hearts to you.

***

We confess our meanspiritedness toward others. We confess that our hearts are too small.  And having small hearts limits our abilities to see and to hear others with attentive love.  We cannot see the good in others, we cannot hear their voices longing for love.  Have mercy on us God and enlarge our hearts so that we may have eyes to see and ears to hear.

***

Gracious God, Merciful God, we thank you for your forgiveness.  We thank you for your gracious and merciful heart.  Because we are forgiven we are now bold to bring others to you.

***

God we bring before you the families grieving across the nation.  God have mercy on us as our world creates young men who hate others because of their race, their religion, their sexuality. We pray for wisdom and boldness to reach out to these young men and offer them mercy, healing, and love. We watch and listen in disbelief to the stories of violence‑‑we cannot believe that humans can do these things to one another.  We grieve because our country is being torn apart. Oh God, we ask‑‑in fact, we plead and implore you‑‑to breathe peace into the world. We ask for wisdom and courage for those working for justice and peace.  We ask for wisdom for us in how we are to respond to these painful situations as well as how we should talk to those in power.  We don’t know how to pray for our leaders but we offer them to you, trusting that you will move and act in their lives.

***

Holy Spirit, wind of love, we praise and bless your Merciful, Gracious name.  Let us proclaim that you are our God and we are your children.  We praise your holy Name.  Amen.

 

(My earlier prayer, “Lord, have mercy” can be found here.)

 

Unidentified. Wonders by Their Hands, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55766

Finding my way at Krogers

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After finally finding a parking spot adjacent to Krogers I enter the grocery store to find no available shopping carts. I turn around, return to the parking lot, and find one in the metal shopping cart carrels. My annoyance and impatience are beginning to grow.

I find a cart with a cranky wheel which causes me trouble as I try to push it back into the store while clutching my grocery list written on recycled paper and my reusable bags. As I follow my mental store map I notice just how very busy the store is with many people maneuvering carts filled with groceries. Feeling irritated, I begin to focus on my breathing: in deeply, out deeply, in deeply, out deeply. I move slowly through the store unable to quickly navigate at my usual pace and any remaining patience I had is now gone.

At last, I push my cart into a check-out line behind someone with a full cart, so full I can’t load my groceries onto the conveyor belt yet. The woman, appearing unkempt, asks the cashier several questions which slows the process. And with each question, the cashier gives the woman her full attention, patiently and graciously answering the woman’s questions.

Meanwhile, I am tapping my foot, feeling peevish toward both of them.

The cashier turns toward customer service to ask a question and the woman turns to me, smiles, and says, “Sorry for taking so long. I don’t know how to use the new WIC cards. Before I moved away we had paper coupons and now that I am back, I have to learn the new cards.” She sheepishly smiles at me.

Lying, I tightly smile and say, “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

Then the cashier returns and they continue checking out.

As I wait, an inner voice says, “June Mears, you speak and write about compassion for the poor yet when a poor woman slows you down, you lack compassion and mercy.”

I immediately see my Self and repent.

As the woman leaves she apologizes again and I truthfully and heartfully smile at her and say, “It’s no problem. I hope you have a good day.”

As I reach the cashier, I thank her for her kindness and patience with the woman. The cashier responds, “Well, it’s hard for people to learn to use the WIC cards and they need them to feed their families.”

“Well, you were very generous with her and thank you,” I say.

She slightly shrugged as she swipes my groceries over the scanner. “Well, it’s super busy when the accounts are refilled and folks buy their groceries.”

“I thought it was busier than usual,” I say.

“That’s why”.

As I wait for her to finish I gaze at the loving face of God as seen in the face of the Kroger cashier. I find God at Krogers.

***

“Love and mercy are sovereign, if often in disguise as ordinary people.”

–Anne Lamott

Mothering God: A Prayer

 

 

Mothering God

 

Mothering God, we praise and bless your holy name.  You are our God and we are your children‑‑we have no other Gods before you. You pronounced our name and called us into existence, breathed the breath of life into us. Like a baby in the womb of its mother, it is in you that we live and breathe and have our being. You are our Mother and our Father. You are the Creator. We stand before you with praise and thanksgiving.

We thank you for those who carried and birthed us into existence. We thank you for our mothers and grandmothers and all the other mothers who precede us. We thank you for those other women who were mothers to us‑‑aunts, neighbors, teachers, others. We thank you that we experienced your loving, watchful care from these women.

Yet God, we lament with those women who are unable to have children, for whatever reason. We carry their sorrow and grief for their empty wombs. We lament with those mothers who have lost their children, who have had to bury their children.  We weep alongside them. We lament for those children who did not know their mothers, who have lost their mothers. Our hearts ache on their behalf.  You, Mothering God, who is the originator of life and love, we know that you hear our lament and grieve and weep as well.

Merciful, mothering God, because you love and watch and care for the world, we again bring before the cares of the world, in order for you to move and act. We pray for estranged families who do not know your peace. We pray for the families were there is abuse, in whatever form, we pray for your merciful justice.  We pray for those who are alone and feel desperately lonely and isolated from others and from you‑‑break through the protective barriers they’ve constructed in order to cope with the loneliness. Draw them near to your heart‑‑let them know they are not alone, but you are with them. We hold all of these broken, hurting lives before you.

We pray that you will continue to strengthen the healthy, thriving families with your love. We thank you for these families because they are homes where those who hurt can be healed. We thank you for the faithful families in our lives. Continue to pour out your loving mercy upon them. Let those families become deep wells of your mercy and your grace and your love that others can drink from. Continue to give each of us wisdom in relating with one another. Help us to see with your eyes and to hear with your ears. Enlarge our hearts with love.

Mothering God, we again thank you for brooding over us like a hen with her chicks.  Thank you for your watchful, attentive eye on us. We thank you for the privilege of being your children, of being called the daughters and the sons of God. We love you and we bless you.  Amen.

 

Befriending My Depression

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As I meet with a new doctor she reviews my list of prescriptions.

“Do you still need this one?” she asks while pointing at my anti-depressant medication.

I take a deep breath and proceed to tell her my history with depression: “I had my first depression when I was 13 years old, the next one at age 19, another one in my mid-20s, then again when I was 40,” I said. “That last one was deeper and longer than any of the others and I started the medication.”
“Okay,” she said while nodding. “Sounds like you’re a lifer for meds.”

“Yep, probably.”

***

I’ve had this conversation with a variety of physicians, including a dermatologist who said, “You look fine to me!” To which I replied, “That’s because of the medication—it helps me not to be depressed.”

Another doctor suggested I see a therapist and I said, “I’ve done years of talk therapy and have met with four different therapists during my life. I know my depression well enough that if I need a therapist, I see one.

***

My depression is part of who I am and I am well-acquainted with it. When I notice the inner flatness I take a survey: how have I been sleeping? Do I need to increase my vitamin D and/or B12? Do I need to get out of the house and move more? And, as an Enneagram 4, am I veering toward the unhealthy attributes? If so, do I need to do a life correction and move toward the Enneagram 1? Or, is this the return of “darkness, my old friend?”

***

For decades I’ve been ashamed of my mental illness.My friends remember my depression at 19 and describe me as sitting in the corner at Bible Study with a pullover hoodie and greasy hair. I’m ashamed by that description. A few months after I began anti-depressants I wanted to stop because I was “feeling better and don’t need them anymore.” My husband wisely said, “You feel better because of the medication. You have a disease—the mental illness of depression.”

I don’t like the phrase “mental illness” because of the portrayal of people mental illness in popular culture—scary, erratic, irrational. I want to appear normal, steady, and have-it-all-together, not someone who lives with a mental illness.

***

When I first learned of the “dark night of the soul,” I wondered if that’s what I experienced. I asked one of my seminary professors and he quickly responded, “No, that’s depression, not the dark night.”

“How can you tell the difference?” I asked.

In the dark night you still function in life and you have full expression of your emotions,” he said. “With the dark night God is silent. God’s silence is leading you into a deeper or newer form of prayer.”

***

A wise friend suggested that I “befriend my depression” which seemed ridiculous to me. Nevertheless, I’ve pondered this idea and I have come to understand that to befriend my depression is to accept it as an essential part of me as much as my delight at a good joke. To befriend my depression means not disowning and heaping shame on this part of me in an attempt to appear normal. I will never be cured of my depression but medication helps me manage it. I know I will need to introduce this friend to future doctors as “my friend.”

I consider my daily pill as a gift from God. And because that pill is a gift from God it is a daily reminder of my dependency on God. I cannot make myself whole, only God can and there is the grace which allows me to befriend my depression.

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