Chapel Prayers

by Victor ZambranoA little out of time with the season in one sense but appropriate in another given how the days are filling and changing. May this prayer fit the growth cycles in your life, too:

As the days are lengthening and the earth spends longer in the light of each day, grant O God that I may spend longer in the light of your presence.

And may the seeds of your Word, which to now have been long-buried deep within me, grow, like everything around us, into love for you; love for your people; and trust in your abiding and healing power.

May I become a visible declaration of your presence in the midst of life.

Grant, O God, that in this springtime I may be a tree in your world,

Getting nourishment as I am rooted in you;

Giving comfort to others as trees give shade in the heat of day;

Giving shelter from the winds of life to my family, friends, and those around me.

Revive me, O God, even as you revive the world of all living things this spring.

Amen.

Prayer for Compassion

by Leeroy10Compassionate One,

when I am irritated or discouraged

by how my loved one responds

or does not respond,

fill me with compassion and kindness.

When memories of unpleasant experiences

of the past return,

assist me in extending forgiveness.

Help me, also, to be kind to myself,

to not deny the struggles.

Soothe my sore spirit

when I find the days especially difficult.

Forgive me for my own failings

and help me to overcome any guilt I have

for not always being my best self.

You know that these days are not easy ones.

Bless both of us with your merciful kindness.

From May I Walk You Home (pg. 35)

Prayer As Protest (3 of 4)

I said to my church Sunday, in advance of a public witness Monday, that the church was gathering to pray. I emphasized prayer and said that our focus wasn’t protest but prayer. Even while saying it, I was questioning my cadence, my precision, and my intent.

I was using an approach in the brief appeal, one I’ve heard the preacher use in the church of my upbringing. I was italicizing the word I chose. And I said it because the focus of the time Monday was to be public witness generally and prayer specifically.

But the more accurate reflection of my thought and, I think, the biblical material from which I draw is that prayer is protest. The people of the book protest through the particular form of prayer. Protestations as we understand them now are foreign in the world of scripture. It would be anachronistic and arrogant, unfair and unreasonable to say that the bible includes protest unless that protest takes the form of a kind of prayer, on one hand, or prophetic utterance, on the other.

In other words, the way that we see protest occurring in the scriptures is through prayers and prophecies–prophecies of the forth-telling flavor, not the foretelling kind. I’d call these two gestures really good metrics for gauging our contemporary public witness. If there is no prayer and if there is no prophecy in public places, there is no public witness. If there is no public witness, what role does the (local or gathered) church have in that civic arena?

Monday NightIn thinking since about prayer as an act of protest, I’m holding onto the following truths I see in the scriptures. And I’m correcting my own use from Sunday. I didn’t take as much time to enrich my invitation, because Sunday was very full, but I would edit myself to clarify a bit to involve the following.

Biblical people call God out. The bible is about a people who are a noisy folk. There is quiet in our text but not a lot. When the people of God needed God, they did not shrivel in a corner. Rather, they called upon their God, even during long days and nights when they felt unheard and disinherited. The Hebrew people cried out while enslaved, and you can’t tell a slave to hush. You can’t convince an unpaid laborer that calling out for “one more day” is reasonable, particularly when the audience of his pain is the Divine Audience. But the people called out nonetheless.

Biblical people name harsh, right-now reality. The content of lament is real life. The guts of the people’s prayer is what happens now. People who know the Black faith tradition know that this has always been a part of the common religious stream of beautiful Black folk. We have been unrestrained in our proclaimed expectation for life now to mirror life wherever else God dwells. If life in the white neighborhood is good–replace that with “suburb” or heaven if you please–life in Englewood and Auburn-Greshem and Washington Heights should be good. When reality is harsh, the prayerful protest calls for another reality.

Biblical people state interior experience unequivocally. There is a false sense that we carry and that is that we cannot be honest with God. It’s wrong. God desires truth in the inner parts says the songwriter. The truth is that God wants you and your interior reality, your vulnerability, and your honesty because those things combine to equal who you really are. God isn’t concerned about your front or my social self. God cares less for that because it’s a grand mask. God’s people state what is real: their pain when they’re in pain and their joy when they’re in joy. Wouldn’t your life be better if you told the simple truth? Wouldn’t you feel freer with your God if you were honest? That’s the God-offered requirement anyway.

Biblical people assume that prayer changes everything. Ms. Virginia used to sing in the choir at Sweet Holy Spirit that she knew that prayer changed things. Oh, can she sing it! She was informed by her life and her reading of scripture. Even when the church and Israel before her lived in the exact opposite condition; even when Babylonian exile seemed to be the only gift the Jews could hold; even when the crucifixion was the longest reality during those dark days from Friday to Sunday; people gathered to pray. They knew that faith would collect them and inspire them to acknowledge fear but to acknowledge that fear wasn’t the only feeling in the room. In faith, they prayed because prayer moves and changes and turns and performs. Prayer is a means of grace, and where grace is change is.

Biblical people start from a corporate location. I could flip the order of these points in my post. Surely, it’s fine to start with this point. Biblical people aren’t individualistic. They are individuals, for sure, but their orientation and the orientation of all the words of God are that God is up to wide, massive, increasingly participatory redemption of the entirety of creation. The writings of scripture have personal application but that isn’t the starting place. God’s people and God’s words to that people involve a regular communal nature that is very different from me and mine.

May we pray better. May the Lord teach us to pray.

Prayer As Protest (2 of 4)

On Monday night my friend David Swanson organized a prayer vigil at the Chicago Police Department’s administrative headquarters. There were a few hundred people present, including dozens of clergy.

When David told me about the planning of the event, I was delighted in the way that a pastor is delighted when the church looks forward to a specific way to respond to crisis and social unrest. Having been bruised by the consequences leading up to the needs for our prayers, I was glad we’d be able to pray.

When I mentioned to our church that they should come, I told them that we’d be praying, not protesting. Of course, I’ve thought better of how I put it last Sunday. Still, here are my reasons why I’m grateful for the act of prayerful education in front of the police headquarters.

Photo Thanks to Geoffery Stellfox

Photo Thanks to Geoffery Stellfox

Prayer was an education in what the church’s first role in society is. I remember taking a course in seminary on the church and community. I have a very specific appreciation for that class because it’s where I met Michelle Dodson, one New Community’s pastors. Beyond that, I recall the course introducing me to the language of organizing in faith terms. I remember that what we discussed in the graduate course was a reflection of what I lived at Sweet Holy Spirit when as a boy I built memories boycotting and chanting against something Daley did or didn’t do. What I don’t recall from our class discussions is how much we talked about prayer. I think we assumed it, but I don’t know if eleven plus years ago that prayer was explicit in the academic work we did. Now, I find myself saying in the midst of all the poverty of character, poverty of leadership, poverty of political will, and poverty of explicit justice for Black people in Chicago–and I’m hardly talking about the narrow and deep anguish of this latest moment–I find myself saying that prayer is our first response. There are certainly other things to be done. But at the bottom of those important next acts is the usually unseen gesture of regular prayer. We rehearse the happenings of this world in the ear of a God who expects to hear us. It’s what we do: the church prays.

Prayer was an opening to the wideness of an agenda unformed by our best plans. Pastor Swanson was caring in his planning, a post I’ll leave for the book he and I will write together one day. His manner in this circumstance will be its own chapter. What I will say is that he took care to plan to include a set of prayers from repentance to triumph. We were led in praying about apathy and action. And we were given time to pray as a people, not just being led in prayer by leaders. And there were enough reminders in the vigil that all his orchestration and prayer still had to be humble in the moment, open to the wide possibility of hundreds of people doing other things. There was a secondary protest that kicked off. There was a sister in the crowd with stated opinions and how we ought to pray. It was messy and lovely. Because what the gathered church did was become more open to what the Spirit was doing. And doing in the moment. The Spirit was taking what was done before, enriching it in the moment, and enlivening it for witness. We weren’t closed to those spontaneous expressions of grace. We were open because the church is open. The church invites.

Prayer was the connective tissue between people from varied social locations and ecclesial circles. People came from south suburbs and far north neighborhoods. I saw a sister pastor from Evanston. I met a guy from Humboldt Park. I have a new pastor friend who offered a prayer that moved us, and his church is near North Park. More than who I expected arrived. Their were people who I knew were Baptist and people who were from the Episcopal community. And we were all praying together. The vigil was diverse. Now, a lot of Black people were there. But a lot of non-Black people were there. Together, we held banners about Black life mattering. We chanted and prayed and lamented and declared the name of Jesus for sixteen minutes and beyond as we thought about the sixteen times a teenager was shot, killed over and over if a child can be killed more than once. We prayed for the officers in the CPD, knowing they “are our sisters and brothers and wives and husbands.” In that prayer vigil we weren’t from our different places, split from the whole. We were one. We showed that the church unites.

Prayer was the story, filled with the backgrounds, moments, and shifts of all our plot points. Pastor Harris encouraged the media to take their photos of a united church, a peaceful church, a justice-seeking church. He said that what was happening was the story. That the people doing what we were was the message worth sharing. All our stories converged at the moment. All our pasts and all our backgrounds, good and bad, with the police came to the fore. Present with us was the beautiful and the horrible, the joy and the sorrow. We stood and we prayed out of a collective consciousness that justice keeps at it because that’s the only response God would engender. We were in the moment with all those many moments, and we were there to call forth the basic goodness that springs out of our spiritual history. We were there to tell and to show that our story demands for a just end, a hope in the midst of death, a lovely treatment of Black bodies like they’re filled with the content of God’s splendor like any other body. We prayed in the name of the one who took embodied form to prove such prayers were expected. We prayed and in our praying we were telling that story because the church proclaims.

Prayer As Protest (1 of 4)

On Monday night my friend, David Swanson, pastor of New Community in Bronzeville, organized a prayer time that included dozens of clergy and hundreds of participants. It was a time of prayer at the Chicago Police Department’s administrative headquarters, prayer specifically and protest generally, insofar as prayer is a particular protestation.

I wanted to follow up to reflect on the action in a few posts. This one is meant to guide my thinking and stepping forward, perhaps, the first being an attempt to sit with and pray with the scriptures informing such prayerful acts.

I invite you to join me in holding some of these heavy words as you pray around some of the sad realities happening in Chicago these days. Where I’ve included only single verses, feel urged to visit the contextual addresses so as to pray more fully.

by Dariusz Sankowski

God said, “I’ve taken a good, long look at the affliction of my people in Egypt. I’ve heard their cries for deliverance from their slave masters; I know all about their pain. And now I have come down to help them, pry them loose from the grip…” (Exodus 3:17, MSG)

Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them (Judges 2:18, NRSV)

In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted (Psalm 77:2, NRSV)

This is what the Lord says: “At just the right time, I will respond to you. On the day of salvation I will help you. I will protect you and give you to the people as my covenant with them. Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel and assign it to its own people again (Isaiah 49:8, NLT)

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end (Lamentations 3:22, NRSV)

Even though the destroyer has destroyed Judah, the Lord will restore its honor. Israel’s vine has been stripped of branches, but he will restore its splendor (Nahum 2:2, NLT)

And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you. I will save the weak and helpless ones; I will bring together those who were chased away. I will give glory and fame to my former exiles, wherever they have been mocked and shamed.(Zephaniah 3:19, NLT)

…for your Father knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6, NRSV)

But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ (Luke 10:10-11, NRSV)

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him (Ephesians 1:17, NRSV)

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.(1 Peter 1:6, NLT)

 

 

Even Me

The other day, as I was walking through an alley from the office to the hospital, this song came up through me. I heard it in the way we used to sing it in the Soul Children. I was having trouble that morning, pressed against myself in some painful ways. I tried to pray. I needed to try since I was going to pray with and for others.

My prayers didn’t work and I took deep breath as I walked and smelled garbage and donuts and saw the hospital where I was suppose to bring grace to others. I remembered a concert where we sang this song; we sang it during my audition for the choir all those years ago. It felt in those moments like the first song I learned with a real choir.

The prayerful words stayed with me as I walked to the hospital and were my meditation as I was reaching for the One who felt too distant for what I was facing. I hope this song takes on meaning for you. Though she has back up, Yolanda Adams is her own choir with this rendition. I’m so thankful that she’s put this prayer and music to voice.

 

The Sheltering Canopy

I’ve thought a lot about the tragic deaths of my friends, spiritual relatives, and faith heroes who were killed last Wednesday, and though I’ve written a liturgy, waded through psalm 77, and listened to the cries of our local church in worship this previous Sunday; though I’ve read carefully through the powerful reminders friends have written to keep me on a sane path; though I’ve taken comfort in the words of trusted brother who told me the best thing he could the day after that soul-bruising scene and the arms of many others since that night; I still can’t write.

I still can’t quite put feelings to words. My own words. So these days, I’m trying my best to pray. And I’m soliciting the prayers of better people when I cannot. As it is, prayer has gotten harder over the last few years, something my spiritual director has not tired of inhearing me rehearse. She keeps telling me to name the grace I need as best I can, to celebrate the moments when prayer comes easier, to try to accept that darkness is as much as part of the contemplative life as light. She’s praying me through too.

In many ways, these words and phrases and gestures are entirely prayer and of a particular nature, an intercessory nature: prayers on my behalf which keep me positioned in Divine sight, even when I cannot glimpse in that direction myself.

This prayer was the end of Rabbi David Wolkenfeld’s sermon last week. He discussed sanctity and holiness, drawing upon two primary views within Jewish thought, essentially whether God’s people are already holy–holiness as an adjective describing God’s people–or whether God’s people are becoming holy–holiness as an aspiration for God’s own.

His sermon was encouraging and thought provoking to read on a few levels, and I’m grateful for my colleague, Rabbi Paul Saiger, who sent it to me. You can access the full message here.

God full of mercy, grant rest under the sheltering canopy of your Presence to the souls of the nine martyred men and women who were murdered this week in Charleston as they engaged in the study of scripture and in prayer and sought knowledge of You. May they bask in your Presence and study wisdom and insights of your Torah in the beit midrash shel ma’aleh – the heavenly academy. Bind up the nation’s wounds and grant us the ability to experience a true Sabbath of Peace. Amen.