Sharing sacred space

A few years ago, I started one of my sermons with the words “prayer is simply coming before God as you are.” Then I kicked off my shoes … and savoured the feeling of new-found freedom:
~ in my preaching,
~ in my prayer life,
~ in my innermost being.

These days, most of my prayer time is spent in the sacred space of my study which is full of family photos, little love tokens that my children have crafted and collected for Mothers’ Days and birthdays, journals and art supplies, flowers from the garden and lights from precious people, and Bible stories which change with the seasons and ground me in my continuing journey into the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory.

This sacred space is truly a physical expression of my interior life – of all that I love and dream of and value – into which I can retreat for a little silence and solitude ….

Lately, however, there has been a constant stream of “intruders:”
~ from “Little cat” who plants his not-so-little bottom on my wheel of the year and stares out into the garden before coming to rub his nose against mine,
~ to big galumphing Mumford who “sneaks in” with his eyes averted and lies down peacefully at my feet, snoring contentedly,
~ to our rather hyperactive Rory who lies against me on the soft carpet, tongue out, feet up in the air, forepaws touching together as if imitating a posture of prayer,
~ to Big and Little who first peek in to see what I’m up to and, on being invited in, put their heads on my prayer cushion and talk with me in hushed voices about the deeper things that don’t often get discussed amidst the noise and nonsense of the dinner table and – if I’m very lucky – give me a decent cuddle before getting back to the “business” of the day ….

Yet, rather than interrupting my prayer life, this sacred time has become even more precious to me with the realisation that it’s not just mine. The light and the calm and the love in this little space has made others feel welcome. And when they enter in, they are different. And when they’re with me, they’re part of the prayer. And when we leave, we carry the love and the peace and the joy of the Lord with and within us.

O God-who-bids-us-welcome,
You meet us at the door,
show us to the circle,
sit beside us on the floor.

The candles dim around us
in the glory of your smile
as You weave for us a story

and we wonder for a while

at how tenderly You love us
and hold our hope, our pain, our care,
as we gather in Your presence
in the sacred space of prayer.  




Attentive

At every moment God seeks entry into your heart. He gives you the opportunity to be part of his kingdom. You are offered the opportunity to live in the kingdom of light, the very kingdom of God, or to go your own way and walk on still in the darkness.

Why do you not choose? Why not leave the darkness and walk in hope? Leave your loneliness and learn to walk with God.

David Adam ~ The Path of Light

I have been guilty this year of neglecting attentive prayer.

I have prayed. Oh, have I prayed. Yet, as I look back over the year I realise that it has all been productive prayer i.e. prayer for a my purpose.

Wisdom.
Patience.
Healing.
Forgiveness.
Rest.
Guidance.

Prayers for my needs.
Prayers for the church.
Prayers for the world.
Prayers during pastoral visits.
Prayers from the lectionary.
Prayers for the pray-ers.

I have prayed. Oh have I prayed. And God has been faithful.

God has been there for me. In a big way. But in my busyness, I have often only been half present with my wandering thoughts and divided attention.

There have been, it seems, so many things more pressing than attentive prayer – with the result that I have dislocated myself from the divine presence; placed myself in hell by attending to all the pressing things (even the really good and noble things) before attending to the presence of God that is my hope and my redemption.

So, this morning, as I lay quite still upon my bed, I affirmed that “the Lord is here” and gave myself up to the silence. At which point, my stomach rumbled. Loudly. And the neighbours’ dogs began barking. And Little Cat hopped up to purr a happy hello.

“The Lord is here,” I muttered again and again, as if it were a wish – no, a command! – rather than a reality.

My stomach gurgled. The dogs a little further up the street took up the call. The garbage truck passed by. And Little Cat curled up against my side, a warm and welcome lump of love …

… which is when I felt it. Like soft light through wind-stirred leaves, God embraced me. And my soul smiled.T

The Lord is here.
The Lord is.
The Lord….

An acrostic prayer – Psalm 34

This week’s worship is inspired by Psalm 34 which is an acrostic poem following the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. 

Written at one of the lowest points of David’s life, it is full of encouragement to drink deeply and feast with plenty on the One who provides – even in the most difficult of circumstances. 

Combined with the other readings, the many words relating to taste, touch, sight and sound all invite us to experience the reality of God’s presence which moves us from desperation to deliverance, fear to joy, seeing to believing.

The opening prayer/call to worship below is based on the Psalm but written to represent the English alphabet.

A mighty shout shall fill this place
Because God is good.

Can you understand God’s purpose?
Do you doubt God’s saving power?
Evil does not go unpunished
for the Lord listens to his people.
God stoops down to hear our prayers.
He encircles us, empowers us, shows us how to escape.

I’m boasting of his miracle-deliverance;
Jumping for joy over what God’s done for me.
Know that my testimony is true:
Love wins.
My lips are full of perpetual praise!
Nothing can destroy me.

Oh, if only those with crushed spirits and broken hearts would cry out,
“Protect me, Lord.
Quiet my fears.
Rescue me from my many troubles.
Shelter me in your love.”
Then joy will come.

Unfettered, we’ll feast with plenty;
Victorious, we’ll walk with our heads held high.
We’ll glorify God together;
eXalt his glorious name;
yoke our lives with his.

Zestily – that’s how God moves us to live!

For the prayers of praise and thanksgiving that follow, the congregation can be divided into small groups – each receiving a piece of paper with a word relating to your meditation they are to use to form their own acrostic prayers. The invitation is for them to share what they are grateful for and then try to express this in an acrostic form. After a few minutes, a representative from each group reads their prayer aloud – perhaps interspersed with verses from a hymn/chorus of praise.   

 

Best and worst

*an opening prayer inspired by the story of David and his son, Absalom,
in 2 Samuel 13-18 and Ephesians 5:1-2*

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Ephesians 5:1-2, The Message

Praise to You O Suffering God.
You know the wounding of skin that was made to love,
the piercing of flesh with nail and thorn,
and the far greater rending of heart and of hope
through deception,
denial,
and desertion.

By humbling yourself in human form,
You have seen us at our best –
and at our worst.

You understand that love can lead to light and life
as easily as it can to death and destruction;
that a word spoken in anger can be an instrument of justice
or a wrecking ball of devastation;
that one day our family is a sanctuary, a source of strength and support,
the next, the people who we have given the most power
to drive us crazy or do us harm.

As we gather, this day, in Your holy presence
– our whole being hoping for Your faithful love
and great redemption –
we pray that You will gather together
both our beauty and our brokenness,
with Your infinite tenderness …

Graham Kendrick “O Lord, Your tenderness”

Divine DNA

*a prayer inspired by Psalm 139*

Lord, You know everything
there is to know about us.
You perceive every movement;
You are present in every moment:
Your Divine DNA woven into us
within our mother’s womb
as You shaped the delicate inside
and the intricate outside
and knit them all together in marvellous complexity.

When we awaken each morning,
You are with us –
and within us.
You know every step we will take
before our journey even begins.
You’ve gone into our future to prepare the way
and, in kindness, You follow behind us
to spare us the pain of the past.

May Your hand of love be upon our lives
as we meet You now,
in the light of this day.
Amen.

 

Imaged sourced at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/dna-tree-erzebet-s.html

A season for snuggling

*a winter prayer*

O extraordinary God
who reaches into the ordinary moments
of our days and nights,
with such tender, transforming touch:
smoothing and shaping,
healing and breaking,
soothing and stretching,
warming and pruning,
I give You thanks and praise
for this changing season
which invites me to snuggle and settle
into Your unchanging love.

Forgive me for failing to see the signs of Your presence
in the rot of leaf litter and the chilling breeze.
Forgive me for my resistance to solitude and silence
and slowing down.
Forgive me for my
hard heart,
harsh words,
and relationships damaged by coldness.

As the heartbeat of the land slows down
and the darkness lengthens
and the harsh cold reminds me of my need
for shelter, and warmth, and light

may Your Spirit offer assurance
that beneath the surface the seeds of life are being tended,
that what is needed for future growth will burst forth
in the rampant joy of spring,
and that each season’s turning and re-turning
is just an ordinary part
of an extraordinary life with You.

Glory

An opening prayer based on Psalm 29 (The Message)

Bravo, God, bravo!
All authorities and all angels shout, “Encore!”
In awe before Your glory,
in wonder before Your visible power.

Yahweh Melek*,
Yahweh Tsebaoth**
,
Your voice rolls over the waters
like thunder tympanic: 

smashing the cedars,
skipping the mountain ranges,
shaking the deserts,
setting the oak trees dancing …

as we fall to our knees
and cry “Glory!”
“Glory to God
who rules and reigns
over everyone and everything.”

“Glory!”
“Glory to God
who gives his people
strength and might.”

“Glory!”
“Glory to God
who blesses her people
with peace.”

 

* King of kings
** Lord of hosts, of all

In harmony

*an opening prayer, responding to the harmony in Psalm 133*

Psalm 133 – The Passion Translation

A song to bring you higher, by King David

How truly wonderful and delightful
to see brothers and sisters living together in sweet unity!
It’s as precious as the sacred scented oil
flowing from the head of the high priest Aaron,
dripping down upon his beard and running all the way down
to the hem of his priestly robes.

This heavenly harmony can be compared to the dew
dripping down from the skies upon Mount Hermon,
refreshing the mountain slopes of Israel.

For from this realm of sweet harmony,
God will release his eternal blessing,
the promise of life forever!

Gracious Gathering God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

from the beginning, connected
and through the connection, creative
and in all creation, communing

with Your children –

fashioned in Your divine image,
woven together with Your own hands,
named “beloved” and called according to Your good purpose and plan,

how wonderful,
how truly delightful it is
to enter this day into the sweet harmony
of Your salvation song:

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

As we meet together in this moment and this place
with all our sisters and brothers across time and space,
may our togetherness be a source of blessing
and a sigh of our deep yearning
for the day when You will gather up all things
in heaven and on earth
into Your perfect peace,
forever and ever.
Amen.

Transfiguring Worship

The texts for Transfiguration Sunday this year expand on last week’s reading concerning God’s constant presence and activity (light) in our lives, focusing on the dramatic interplay between light and dark, veiling and unveiling, sight and blindness: 

  • Psalm 50:1-6 – in both the rising and the setting of the sun, God shines forth – or “blazes into view” as the Message puts it; 
  • 2 Kings 2:1-12 – Elisha’s request to inherit the prophet’s mantle from Elijah is honoured when he watches his mentor ascend amidst whirlwind and fire until he disappears from sight;
  • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 – Paul proclaims that the brightness of the Gospel fills our lives up with light but is veiled from those look only for the god(s) of this age;  
  •  Mark 9:2-9 – as God’s glory is displayed in the transfigured radiance of his Son, a word of affirmation is spoken from deep within a cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

 

Setting up the altar/focal point:

Familiar symbols on the altar such as a Bible or candle can be transformed this week with the simple addition of a gauze or veil draped over the items, hiding them partially from view.

Additional items include a piece of dazzling white cloth, folded or draped down the altar, or a simple arrangement of bright white flowers like lilies, tulips, or even daisies in a clear vase.

A lovely idea which does require planning, practice, and precision is to set up prisms or mirrors on blocks (at various heights) around a large candle or electric lantern. During the course of the service/sharing, these could be unveiled and lit – resulting in beautiful refractions of light or multiple mirror images of the flickering flame.

A wonderful idea for children or more informal/experiential worship:

images

Scratch art is the term given to creating an image by removing a covering layer with a pointed object like a toothpick or kebab stick.

To prepare for the exercise, colour in a sheet of cardboard with oil pastels or wax crayons. This can be an actual picture or simply blocks of colour.

Next, cover the entire drawing with a layer of acrylic black paint or a thick layer of black wax crayon (painting is far more time efficient!).

Depending on the level of involvement that you would like, you could prepare a single sheet and scratch out images related to one of the Scriptures for the day (I like the idea of God blazing into view with the rising of the sun and its setting and can see a lovely picture of the sun emerging between two mountains or over an ocean in my head) or share around how the true nature of things are sometimes hidden.

Alternatively, you may like to give each child their own scratch sheet (or teach them how to make one of their own) and see what emerges as they create and explore.

I will be using my scratch pad to illustrate the story of Elijah being taken up into heaven – etching the watching Elisha and ascending chariot into the dark paint.


Gathering In/Call to Worship – based on Psalm 50:1-6 (NIV)
:

The call to worship below centres around the decreasing repetition of the Psalm’s first verse amidst the others, drawing a deeper attentiveness to the mighty One, God, the Lord who has summoned us to worship.   

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun …
Our God comes

and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth …
He summons the heavens above,

and the earth, that he may judge his people.

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks  …
“Gather to me this consecrated people,

who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

The Mighty One, God, the Lord …
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,

for he is a God of justice.

A hymn/song of praise follows.


An encircling prayer:

An encircling prayer from The Carmina Gadelica III through which we enfold ourselves in God’s care. This can be used as a benediction or blessing or, even, in smaller groups as a prayer for healing or provision accompanied by wrapping the person being prayed for in a shawl or cloth.

My Christ! My Christ! My shield, my encircler,
Each day, each night, each light, each dark:
My Christ! My Christ! My shield, my encircler,
Each day, each night, each light, each dark.

Be near me, uphold me,
my treasure, my triumph,
in my lying, in my standing,
in my watching, in my sleeping.

Jesus, Son of Mary! My helper, my encircler,
Jesus, Son of David! My strength everlasting:
Jesus, Son of Mary! My helper, my encircler,
Jesus, Son of David! My strength everlasting.

 

Paying attention: a prayer of confession

In response to Isaiah 40:21-31

O True Light,
our Constant Companion,
we confess that we have not always paid attention to the signs of Your presence with us;
that, often, we have failed to grasp the immense gift of Your eternal love.
We spend our days scurrying after the insignificant and insubstantial –
worrying about how to get by,
how to compete
how to get ahead,
how to move on,
how to afford what we have,
how to get more,
how to find balance,
how to juggle it all
until we are burnt out, exhausted,
wondering where You are
and why You’ve lost track of us.

Great God who marches out an army of stars each night,
counts them off, and calls them by name,
forgive us for our foolishness
and set us in the firm foundation of Your faithfulness.
Remind us that You have not overlooked a single one of us,
nor a single moment of our circumstances.
As we wait upon You now, give us fresh strength
to persevere,
to hope,
to flourish
in Your presence
and through the power of Your love.
Amen.