A prayer for gridlock (with audio)

Loving God—

I confess my anger toward Congress.
I confess my foul language when I listen to or watch the news.
I confess my hate-filled thoughts toward particular politicians.

Forgive me, loving God.

I pray for the politicians who are caught in the entrenched fight.
I pray that you soften and ease the entrenchments.
I pray that you provide a solution (or, solutions).
And, I pray for wisdom and peace for the national leaders.

Hear my prayer, loving God.

I pray for the federal workers who are on furlough.
I pray they might have something productive to do during this unexpected free time.
I pray they might not simmer in anger and resentment for this forced downtime.
I pray they might not overly worry or fret about the financial ramifications of the furlough.

Hear my prayer, loving God.

I pray for others impacted by this government closure.
I pray for those who might not receive their Social Security checks.
I pray for those whose much-anticipated plans are disrupted by closed national parks
and monuments.
I pray for those who are working without guarantee of payment.

Hear my prayer, loving God.

I pray for you to breathe your loving, gracious Spirit onto this country and help all of us to  breathe deeply of your love and compassion.
I pray that you help us make amends with those we’ve argued with, cursed at, and maybe blocked or unfriended.
I pray you will remind us that, ultimately, our allegiance is to you and our citizenship is in your kingdom.

Hear my prayer, loving God.


Prayer for healing

Boston images

God our Healer,
you have already healed us in many ways–
and still we know our need for healing.

We thank you for the healing we have received:
for relationships, now mended by your healing touch,
for bodies racked with pain, now made free,
for emotions once crippling us, finally restored by love.

At the same time, we come to you for healing
for wounds that have injured our spirits
and continue to stab us,
for words said to us, perhaps even unknowingly,
that have killed our joy,
for actions against us and those we love,
that have nearly crushed our breath from us.

For all this and much more–we need your healing touch. Amen.

–Bj Leichty, Words for Worship 2, (Herald Press, 2009)

Prayer of the week: the flu (now with audio!)

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Healing God—
Be present to all of those who are sick—family members, friends, and acquaintances.
Be with them as they rest and repair their bodies.

Healing God—
Be present to the family members and caregivers of the sick ones—give them stamina, patience, and wisdom as they tend to those they love.

Healing God—
Be present to the medical professionals who desire to meet the demand for medications, for full-health for their patients, and calm fearful caregivers. Give them stamina, good health, patience, wisdom, and a sense of humor as they care for a sick population.

Loving God—
Be present to the families whose loved ones have died due to the flu. Touch their sorrowing hearts as they grieve their loss.

Wise God—
Be present to those in power that they may make wise decisions about both health care and sick leave. Give them compassionate hearts toward those in need and not overly concerned about money.

Wise God—
Be present to the media and give them wisdom and prudence to not make a challenging situation worse by over-reporting. Let the media be of assistance to the community—local and national—rather than creating more fear.

Wise God—
Be present to each of us and enable us to be wise and prudent in how we care for others and for our own bodies. Help us to be gentle with one another. And remind us: “Come, you that are blessed by God, inherit the kingdom prepared for you …for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me,” Matt. 25: 34-36.

Loving God–
Thank you for listening to our prayers, today and always. Amen.

All Saints Day: Remembering Five Friends

Photo by Kevin Driedger

The origins of this day are found in the East, where a memorial for all of the Christian martyrs was celebrated, beginning in the fourth century. Currently the day is celebrated in different ways in various church traditions.  When I was on the pastoral team at College Mennonite Church (Goshen, Ind.), we celebrated All Saints the Sunday after November 1. Because CMC has a large group of retired persons and beyond, individual deaths are a regular part of congregational life. Remembering all the people who died throughout the year became an important and solemn ritual with each named called out, followed by a brief period of silence, and lighting a candle in their honor. When I was there, a large box of wooden matches was used to light the candle and in the midst of silence we heard the scratch of the match on sandpaper before it touched the candle wick. The rough strike of the match symbolically reminded me of the pain of our grief as we pondered the person’s death.

Today I want to remember and celebrate five friends who have died this past year: Gene Herr, Lori Waas, Marie Reamer, Betty Snyder, and Dave Haarer.

Gene Herr, Jan. 1: Gene, with his wife Mary, were the founders of The Hermitage, (Three Rivers, Mi.), a contemplative prayer retreat center. Kevin and I volunteered there in the fall of 1999 during a time of transition for us and worked alongside Gene and Mary and continued our friendship after we moved to Lansing.

During that fall, Gene and Mary visited Mennonite churches in Japan. When they returned, Gene told me about traveling by train and seeing the beauty of the Japanese countryside. He said: “As I looked out the window I kept praying, ‘Thank you God for all this beauty that you created. Thank you that I get to see it!’”

Gene died of cancer in Kansas. On his Caring Bridge blog, his daughter described his final days as surrounded by hymns, prayer, and love.

Lori Waas, April 6: I met Lori at church and although I didn’t know her very well, we had many things in common—quilting, music, politics, and theological questions. Now, whenever I listen to the Pink Martinis I think of Lori who was friends with several of the musicians.

Lori also died of cancer. More than fourteen months ago her breast cancer returned and this time it moved elsewhere in her body. When she could no longer eat food she wrote on her Caring Bridge blog how sad she was to no longer enjoy the sense of taste with a delicious meal.

Marie Reamer, April 23: I also met Marie at church where she sat in the same location of the pews. In her early 90s she always wore beautiful costume jewelry and colorful clothes, which I always admired (and, maybe, a few times, coveted).

When we talked after church, she would take my elbow to hold onto for balance but I always received it as a gesture of affection as I leaned toward her to listen to her.

Betty Snyder, July 23: Betty was one of my “faith idols”—someone whose faith I admired and appreciated. Betty was a kind, gentle woman who like a good giggle. She was a giggler. I often thought how I’d like to be like Betty when I grow up.

My favorite memory of Betty is from a sharing time at MSU Mennonite Fellowship. One Sunday she told us about her prayer time earlier in the week: “And I just told God, “I love you! I love you so much.” She cried a little as she shared this and it was a sacred gift to peek inside Betty’s relationship with God. I continue to be grateful for her vulnerability in sharing this.

Dave Haarer, Sept. 25: Dave was an enthusiastic, sincere man who believed the best of others. Once I called him, asked how he was and he responded: “I love my life and I love my wife!” Later that day I recorded this in my gratitude journal as I appreciated his zest for living.

Dave was sick a long time and lived longer than many expected. His beloved wife Ann, unexpectedly died before him and as Dave moved closed to death, she appeared to him in his dreams. Their son Eric, a priest with the monastic community Spiritual Life Institute described his father before Dave died:

“One of the last things mom said before dying was, “I’m ready to go home.” Dad sees her a lot in his dreams. He talks to her in his sleep, and I guiltily yet greedily eavesdrop. Each time is similar: they are in a car on a journey through the countryside near where they first met. Once dad reached out with both arms, “I’m ready, I’m ready. Let’s do!” He wakes up, looks around,  is bewildered. He turns to me and the look of disappointment is heartbreaking: “I’m still here.” He tells me mom said it wasn’t time, he must wait a bit longer. He has more to endure, more to accept, more to let go.” (Desert Call, Fall 2012, p. 29).

Today I light a candle on our home altarscape in memory of these five friends. The stones surrounding the candle are each engraved with a word: “Courage. Love. Hope. Peace. Wisdom.” Words I associate with them in their lives and in their deaths.

A peek into spiritual direction

Spiritual direction by Kevin Driedger

I enter the room for spiritual direction. My director, J. is there, lighting a candle and smiling as she greets me. I meet with her about every four-six weeks, depending on our schedules. Meeting with a spiritual companion is one of my spiritual disciplines, which are things I regularly do to deepen my relationship with God. With a spiritual companion I have someone who listens compassionately as I discern God’s presence and movement in my life.

We sit in chairs facing one another, near the windows looking out onto a meadow, and together we wait in silence, in prayer.

“I don’t know what to talk about today,” I say.

J. nods.

“I’ve been working on some writing projects ….” My voice trails off.

She attentively waits.

“And I’m writing some stuff for my blog but I think I have offended some people.”

J. raises her eyebrows and asks, “Really?”

And in this moment I see that I have no idea if someone was offended.  God reveals to me that I am very fearful of rejection and criticism—I am afraid of offending someone who will in turn reject me. And I see my fear as something God wants to heal and transform in me.

“I’m afraid and I feel very bound up by fear,” I say.

“Well, how do you pray about your fear?” she asks.

“I often pray, ‘Perfect love casts out all fear,’” I say. “But I don’t know if I believe this is true because I feel so afraid.”

“Do you want to talk to Jesus about your fear right now?” J. asks.

I nod yes and she leads me in a guided meditation where I offer my fear to Jesus but also ask him to help my unbelief. I use a lot of tissues during this prayer time.

We conclude the guided prayer and I feel some relief, some resolution, but I know this is a lifetime struggle for me.

J. says to me, “The opposite of fear is freedom that comes from faith. I suggest a breath prayer like, ‘Set me free Lord, set me free.’ I think if you focus on this prayer for the next several months you will begin to experience some inner freedom.”

I agree with her and tell her I will begin using the prayer this very day. She doesn’t often suggest a specific prayer or assign “homework” but because I trust her—her wisdom, experience, and faith–I do as she suggests. We sit in a comfortable silence until I say, “Thank you—even though I didn’t have anything to talk about today, God certainly had a plan!”

We laugh together then she closes our time with prayer. My spiritual director shares her time, presence, and wisdom and through our sessions together I have a greater awareness of God’s healing, transforming movement in my life. We set our next meeting, I pay her, hug her, and leave the room knowing that I have encountered God during this time of spiritual companionship.

Creating quilts for children

“Our praying and creating hands become God’s resource as we determine how to embody what we are experiencing through the cloth.”
—Susan Towner-Larsen
and Barbara Brewer Davis,
With Sacred Threads: Quilting
and the Spiritual Life
, p. 98


Last summer a dear friend asked me to make quilts for her two daughters using the baby clothes she had saved. She handed over two large plastic containers filled with sweet baby dresses, cute onesies, and charming knitted caps. As I sorted through the bins I wondered what I could do with these clothes: how can I make a quilt for each of the girls?

I decided to cut up the adorable clothes into 2.5” squares. I first traced squares on the various clothes then cut them out using scissors rather than my favorite cutting tool, a rotary cutter.

As I worked with these clothes I remembered each girl as a baby. I met each girl shortly after they were born and leaning over the hospital bassinet to stroke their heads and whisper a blessing: “We are so glad you are here. We’ve been waiting a long time for you and here you are! We are so happy!  You ____, are beloved and blessed child of God.”  (I try to whisper this each time I meet a new baby. It’s an idea I got from my friend Susan who is a labor and delivery nurse).

And during my work recalled how the girls have grown from babies to elementary school children, each with her own distinct personality. I also held the entire family in my heart, grateful four our friendship and the joy I experience being with them.

As I assembled the quilts I imagined how the girls might use them—reading books under the quilts, snuggled under them in the winter, and, maybe, if the quilts are still in shape, taking the quilts with them to college.

I like to hand-sew the bindings as a final way of handling the quilt and praying that the recipients will experience God’s loving embrace when they are using the quilt. My hope is that my loving energy will be transferred onto the quilt and love will be felt by the quilt owner.

One of the quilts is pictured above–here’s the other one. I made three columns of three squares of those baby clothes but never did incorporate those charming knitted caps! When my friend came to pick the quilts up she burst into tears when she saw them.  I took it as a sign that she liked them.

Recently, my friend Sarah posted a picture on Facebook of her husband and their two children reading together with a quilt over them. It was a quilt I made when Sarah was pregnant with her first child and it was a joy to sew together. I prayed for Sarah and her husband Matt as I sewed the squares together—I prayed for a healthy pregnancy, a safe delivery for Sarah, and for wisdom for both of them as new parents. I knew Sarah and Matt well as I officiated their wedding and worked with them in premarital counseling. And because of this experience I could tenderly carry them in my as I sewed.

Matthew, Aaron and Joan under quilt. Photo by Sarah, 12/2011

When I contacted Sarah for permission to use the photo she said her son continues to sleep with the quilt and used it a lot. This makes me happy!

As I write this, the fabric for my two-year-old niece is in the washing machine. I hope to begin working on the quilt this week and finish it before my visit to California in early March.

“Playing with cloth to birth a new design can be an act of prayer. When one is aware that the Divine is guiding the process of creation at every step, there is a profound sense of a partnership, a Guiding Hand, and a readiness to receive a magnificent message from the Holy Other. Our praying and creating hands become God’s resource as we determine how to embody what we are experience though the cloth patches.”–ibid