Over the past year I have had the opportunity to be part of the Pray Now Writing Group. For those of you not in the know, "Pray Now" is a daily prayer resource published by St Andrew's Press, and those who form the writing group are ministers in and members of the Church of Scotland.
When I was first approached I wasn't sure if this was for me, but up for a challenge I thought I would give it a go.
A year on, and beginning to write for "Pray Now 2013", I still find the process a challenge. Writing for worship is entirely different from writing material that other people may use for prayer. When you write for worship, it is likely that it will only be you who will use it, and so right up until the moment when the words are spoken there is an opportunity for inspiration to whisk you in another direction.
However I've found learning this new process energising of the kind of worship I would hope to create. Writing Group meetings, where we have looked over each others' work, have been encouraging experiences. Criticism has been blended with what it is we like of another's writing, and often I have found myself inspired to look at a Biblical passage in a new way because of something someone else has written. The Group have been very kind to my strange habit of ending up with more writing than I need, and have suggested we should create an "out-take" book just for all the pieces that didn't make it out of the folder and onto a page to be shared.
Never having had my work published before, I'm quite excited. I see from Facebook today that "Pray Now 2012" can now be purchased on-line. Should you buy a copy, I hope you find something that offers you an encounter with the Spirit wrestling inside you.
I'm sure others are well ahead in their planning, however I plan to sit down sometime this week and give serious consideration to Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Easter. I share the other Holy Week Services with others, and so this year am relieved of the reponsibility of preparation for those.
That was not the case last year, where the Good Friday Service was hosted by my congregation.
I thought I would post what happened last year just in case it is off use to others. I would love to say that what you will see is all my own work. However I am grateful for the creativity of others, and so much of the framework and words are borrowed from something in Seasons of the Spirit from a while ago, along with readings from from other writers. In the text there is credit given. Every so often there is an original thought from me.
Before the service begins an empty cross is carried to and displayed at the front of the church
We gather again on this Good Friday
at the foot of the cross
which call us on, not in shame or fear,
but ever more deeply
into the costly journey towards life.
There is wounding and there is weeping.
In Jesus Christ, God is not separated from that.
One: In the shadow of our suffering
ALL: IS THE SUFFERING OF JESUS.
One: In the shadow of our weakness
ALL: IS THE VULNERABILITY OF THE CHRIST.
One: In the shadow of our pain
ALL: IS THE GOD WHO CRIED OUT.
One: We are never rejected,
ALL: WE ARE NEVER LEFT ALONE.
Hymn 380 “There is a green hill far away”
On this dark day
we walk with you into the darkest places of our world,
and our lives.
Bearing your cross
you lead us to discover that even in the darkest places
your love is ever present
that the place of pain
might be transformed to a place of sharing that pain
and in leading us to carry pain and sorrow in life
we discover the healing found within pain and sorrow.
So on this day,
we see the betrayal of friendship and its consequences.
On this day we remember that your enemies appear to have the upper hand.
On this day we remember that all your prophecies about the end were justified.
On this day we see how unreliable your followers proved to be in a real crisis.
On this day we appeared to see the death of God.
As we gather at the foot of the cross,
may we know your presence,
as we reflect upon this day
and the effect it has on our lives.
Enable us to remember
that the passage of events is not some distant history,
but an experience of the religious bigotry, cruelty and unreliability
that continue in our world today.
Grasping at your suffering
may we meet your willingness to walk on the boundaries of what is comfortable
that we might learn the lengths and depths of God’s love.
Scripture Reading: John 18: 1- 11
Four people gather at the foot of the cross carrying stones.
Betrayals lie like stone of death within us,
weighing down our lives with guilt or pain.
We place these stones of betrayal
and lay them at the foot of the cross.
Two stones are placed at the foot of the cross
Scripture Reading : John 18: 15 – 18, 25 – 27
Humankind has not changed.
We still give power to those who use it to oppress and destroy.
We still fail to challenge those who allow the good to die.
Pause with silence
We place these fatal stumbling blocks to love,
those which lie in our own lives
and in the life of the world,
at the foot of the cross.
Two more stones are placed at the foot of the cross.
God in Christ,
you travel with us towards the most wounded places in our souls.
You know the agony of pain, guilt, and hurt deep within us
as we face the fact that we have betrayed others
or been betrayed ourselves.
Hymn 395 “What wondrous love is this”
Scripture Reading: John 18: 28 – 40 While reading is being read, there is the sound of paper being ripped.
Reader: “What is truth?”
Now, there’s a question! What is truth? And truth was standing right there in front of him! Had he not said, “I am the way, the truth and the life!” Yet what was a king doing “bearing witness to the truth?” What sort of kingdom could he have?
Hymn 537 “We do not hope to ease our minds”
Scripture Reading: John 19: 17 – 30 While reading is being read, somewhere nails are being hammered into a piece of wood
Lord Jesus Christ,
wounded and crushed;
You gave your life that we might live.
hanging in agony,
sharing the death of criminals,
we pray for those who wait:
those who wait in pain,
those who wait in anger,
those who wait in sorrow,
those who wait without hope.
We pray for ourselves,
wanting an end to pain, anger and sorrow;
aching for a new hope.
May your lingering Spirit
be the source of our life
as we witness to you
sharing pain, anger, sorrow and hope
however we can.
(Janet Lees taken from “let justice roll down”)
Hymn 385 “Here hangs a man discarded”
During this hymn a white cloth is laid on the floor to the front of the Apse.
Scripture Reading: John 19: 38
The cross is laid on the cloth.
Scripture Reading: John 19: 39 – 42
Reading : “Myrrh – A Reflection” from “Let justice roll”
Three Kings came
Cradled the Babe in bejewelled arms,
Gave of their gifts and left a different path,
I wonder at their gifts as I
Cradle the Babe in homespun arms.
Gold is a useful gift.
The Babe likes the glitter and clink of it
And we are glad of the security it offers;
As we walk a different path to a new land.
I cradle the Babe in my lap
And wonder at God’s mercy on it.
Frankincense – what to make of that then
Sweet smell and curled smoke rising.
A fitting sacrifice for God’s Son in Jerusalem’s Temple.
‘A sword shall pierce my heart!’
I wonder at those two old dears and their words surprising.
Myrrh – myrrh causes my heart to tremble
As I cradle the Babe against my breast.
Myrrh betokens all the world’s pain and all the world’s loss
Anointing the dead – ah let me hold Him yet awhile –
Sweet, sweet child, grow not away too fast.
Abba, heavenly Father, let me know what is best.
Myrrh anoints all the world’s pain and all the world’s loss.
‘Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted!’
‘Talithi cumi – give her something to eat.’
‘If you want you can cure me.’ ‘Of course I want to be cured.’
‘Do not cry. Young man, I say to you get up.’
As salve takes the sting from the pain
Abba’s son and mine restore them to life again?
I wonder at this gift of myrrh
As I watch his body on the gibbet racked (wracked?)
My heart pierced by the pain he bears,
His head upon my breast and he, inert upon my lap.
Once more I embrace my son and wonder what we lacked
That Abba allowed it thus.
I wonder at this gift of myrrh
As I walk with the women to the tomb
How his body we need to anoint – the last comfort give.
And as I grasp the myrrh’s portent; believe: in entering the pain
Break the barriers to find him living again.
Oh Abba, loving Father, Amen, Amen.
We remember the death of our innocent selves.
We remember the death of innocent fragile things in the person of Jesus Christ
for all eternity, no matter what that may cost.
Let us cherish this Body, as did the first disciples.
Let us reverently touch the place in which our pain now lies
and cover it with fragrant flowers and herbs.
People place petals and herbs from some bowls over and around the cross, and return to their seats
Cloth is folded over the cross to cover like a shroud.
(Before worship on Easter morning the shroud is pulled back and the cross removed leaving the cross mark in the petals.)
It is time to leave this place.
Jesus said “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.”
In faith, we also commend ourselves into the hands of a loving God.
After we receive a blessing,
let us sing and then quietly leave this place together.
Go in peace, embraced in the love of Christ.
Walk deeply into your own lives, with all their frailties.
Discover, as you do that in spirit and in truth,
that you are walking towards the joy of Easter Day.
Thank God for creative people. People who touch your life with the beauty of their imagination.
Artists who sweep colour across a blank canvas, and take you into different worlds. Not all of them scenic pictures of beauty, or pretty images of little girls. But portraits that capture anguish, and pain. Images that reach within and wrench at primal emotions.
Sculptors who take clay or wood or wool and silk, and shape forms that offer the invitation to embrace and grasp. A maleable or solid form that asks to be touched, that in the encounter a response is drawn forth.
Writers who carefully craft words that transport from this present moment to another place or time; who open eyes to what it might be like to live within another skin. Pages to ponder, or return to, as layer of nuance reveals a path.
Musicians who in major key might skip across the open field in golden sunshine, while in the minor transport you to the depths of Sheol to face the terrors hidden deep within. With melody and rhythm tantalising hidden passions for dance and song. Caressing the sorrowing and bereft with engulfing phrasing.
Thank God for creative people, who imagination and encourage with their dreams and visions to never settle for one view. Instead they lead to the myriad of creation's display.
Today is a glorious sunny day and because of that I had thought I would take advantage of the spring-like weather and venture out and catch up with the world beyond the manse door. This morning I have managed to fit in two meetings that add a little bit of direction to some of the things that might happen around congregational life. One alleviated me of a convenership, while the other gave me a new task but not one I have to necessarily hurry over.
This afternoon, I headed out the front door not long after finishing my lunch and wandered along to visit one of the congregation members. I had promised to do so before heading off on holiday and today presented an ideal opportunity. On meeting the Nursing Home manager at the door my plan was thwarted as said lady was watching a film - these things happen.
So taking advantage of being in an area I thought I might try some of those who lived near-by. They too were obviously taking advantage of the weather, and hopefully they will be enjoying the world as it presents itself today.
However having rung four doorbells, I have given up my plan for the afternoon and am following my one-time supervisor's advice - if after four doors there is no-one home, go and do something else.
Of course had I phoned ahead I might have known there would be no-one there, but I left with a planned visit I thought might take a while. My thought had been to make the journey to that area worthwhile once my original plan had failed.
So now to make an hour's unexpected desk time worthwhile. Who knows, perhaps this week I might have a sermon idea before Friday.
For personal and spiritual reasons I've been thinking about "birth". I'm in the midst with some others of preparing meditations and prayers for devotional material and one of the themes I have is about being born or giving birth.
I thought this would be relatively easy to write as the experience of birth is one I've been part of on three occasions - my own and both my children's. Obviously I don't have any particular memories of my own, and while I should remember my children's, the wonderful things called nature has made them perhaps not as memorable for me as they seem to have been for my husband who was probably the more conscious of us on both occasions.
I like devotional material that allows me to take more than one interpretation from a piece, so that it can appeal in different ways at different times in my life. I think as I'm beginning the sketching outlines that is what I'm aiming for with "birth".
For me the individual relationship with the unborn child or idea is about both nurture and struggle. While the unborn is within your internal womb, it is for the one who mothers it to dream of what it may bring in the future.
Yet in the moment of birth, that child or idea no longer belongs to you alone. Instead it is set free in the world for others to mould and shape. You may still play your part but as the child or idea grows there is a time for the mother to step back and allow independence if the fruition of the womb-time dreams are to become real.
In my aging years, I hope someone reminds me of these thoughts. Should I hinder my children's independence as they grow beyond the needing my immediate attention and support, I'm hoping someone will have the kindness to remind me that birthing is but a moment (although sometimes lengthy and painful). Instead may I be willing to share with others the celebration of growing life that finds a place within the worldly community.
With the children finally back to school, and some sense of normal routine moving into place, this morning I awoke with plans for the day. At 9am I sat at my desk and wrote my list of things I hope to achieve, most of which was arranging meetings for the next few weeks. Sadly I am now waiting for confirmation that two meetings can take place before I organise the next two.
This is often my frustration and one of the reasons why it seems to take so long for things to happen or I then forget to progress things forward as the task drops off the list of "to-dos" for that week. Sadly it is part and parcel of what I think most ministers do. For many of us, the volunteers who take part in meetings and organisation either have day jobs or commitments during the day and so cannot respond to e-mail or phone calls immediately. Instead a waiting game for knowledge of availability takes place.
By this time tomorrow I should have a rough idea of when meetings are happening so that I can start organising the next batch. But by this time tomorrow there are two new items to be added to the list already.
So while I wait I might work on a couple of the written items on my list, for there's a funeral to write and the fun of writing a "theology of hall letting". That in itself may result in another wander into blogging as I work through some of the questions I have and responses that the elders have made.
A Church of Scotland minister of the fairer sex. I like to ponder faith, and not always in an academic way. Beaches have been an important part of my faith formation - from childhood family holidays, a place of solitude, adventures with children, and romantic encounters. In encountering the Gospel, poignant moments take place at the waterside. So this is a new waterside - a place to share and encounter a journey of faith.
All thoughts in this blog come from my own head or are inpsired by others and the world around me. Where I express the views of another, I will aim to credit them and/or link to their blog. Photos for the most part are taken by my husband, and should you wish to use them please provide a link back to them.