Friday, March 08, 2013

Prayers of illumination

Preparing for Pocket lamp worship first, with Jonny Baker and CMS Pioneers, second with the mission shaped ministry Board, a few weeks ago got me thinking about Prayers of illumination. I think it was holding the pocket lamp open, thinking about light, and the phrase – prayers of illumination – sort of floated through my consciousness.

Liturgically, a prayer of illumination is the prayer prayed before Scripture is read and spoken. In churches that consider themselves non-liturgical, it has a predictable pattern asking for God’s help as Scripture is preached, a predictable place just before the sermon and a performative dimension, inviting a focus on what is about to be said.

In liturgical churches, when used (curiously more infrequently, in my experience, than in non-liturgical churches), it tends to be a set prayer, more likely to be varied, drawing from church tradition or various Scripture.

One example of a prayer of illumination, slightly varied from Scripture, is drawn from Psalm 19:14

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer.

What is interesting is the context, what comes in the 13 verses prior. You see, in the Psalm illumination comes from two places – nature and Scripture.

The first six verses (1-6) reference illumination in creation – heavens, skies, sun, heat – all of these are proclaimers of God’s handiwork. From them “pour forth speech.” (19:2). As for example, in this “baptism” experience, or in this recent book release – Forest Church: A Field Guide to Nature Connection for Groups and Individuals by Bruce Stanley – which I am hoping to blog review chapter by chapter over the next few weeks.

The next five verses (7-11) reference illumination in Scripture, and the hope of wisdom, joy and light.

So, presumably when the prayer of illumination is prayed, it is invitation to consider both the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. And it suggests that the sermon that might follow will tell stories of human experience, offer insights from nature and reflect on Scripture. Perhaps in at least equal measure? Now that’s the type of prayer, I’d love to say Amen too.

Because, according to the Psalm, both are arenas of illumination. Sure, not without discernment. I mean, you sure need discernment to read Leviticus, or Proverbs, or Revelation or any portion of Scripture. And yes, you need discernment to read nature. Which is probably why you pray the prayer. Because illumination is a gift, from God’s Spirit. And prayed in community, because faith is corporate and discernment is always about what seems “good to the Holy Spirit and us.” (Acts 15:28)

In community and in need of God.

So a variant on pocket lamp worship would be to spend an entire service exploring Prayers of illumination. Place a whole lot up around the walls. Give people a lamp. Get them to walk, to read. Invite them to place their lamp beside the one that most connects. Share this in groups. Invite discussion on where God reveals Godself, on how discernment happens, both in practice and in the history of the church. Invite them to chose the prayer most meaningful, and pray it individually, at home, as they gather around Scripture. In so doing, the use of Prayers of illumination corporately would be enriched and renewed for another season of the life of the church.

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 11:06 AM

Sunday, April 01, 2012

holy week at the movies

Last year, in the week leading up to Easter, each day I posted a movie a day that I consider speaks directly to the challenges, unsettling questions and faith demands of Jesus’ journey toward the cross. It is one way to respond to the importance of popular culture in faith expression -

The fact that popular media culture is an imaginative palette for faith … the church has to take that imaginative palette seriously… if part of the pastoral task of the church is to communicate God’s mercy and God’s freedom in a way that people understand then you have to use the language that they’re using, you have to use the metaphors and forms of experience that are already familiar to them. Tom Beaudoin

This year, I’ll summarise it here as a resource:

  • On Monday, The Insatiable Moon (2010), while reading Mark 11:15-16.
  • On Tuesday, Serenity (2000), while reading Mark 14:3.
  • On Wednesday, Gran Torino (2008), while reading John 12:23-14.
  • On Thursday, Dark Knight (2008), while reading Mark 14:10.
  • On Friday, Never let me go (2011), while reading Mark 15:33.
  • On Sunday, Never let me go (again) and Invictus, while reading Mark 16:6-7.
Posted by steve at 09:46 PM

Saturday, March 31, 2012

palm sunday worship as mission – with more time

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

I posted earlier this week some Palm Sunday resources, first some creative prayer stations and second some soundtrack ideas. They were in relation to the 20 minute chapel services we do as part of our prayer life at Uniting College.

If I had more time, both in preparation and in length of service, I would have added two further stations – indoor spirit signs and outdoor spirit signs.

Indoor spirit signs – this would involve some large street maps and some stickers, probably circles and in different colours. I would invite people to consider the city through Jesus eyes. I would invite folk to place the stickers on the map in places they consider spiritually significant. For examples, places that Jesus might weep over, temples that Jesus might want to overturn, annointing places where Jesus might unexpectedly be annointed with perfume. I would want to keep the maps and place them on the walls around the church/chapel, as places for ongoing reflection and prayer in the months ahead.

Outdoor spirit signs – this would involve giving people chalk (washes off in water) and invite them to walk their streets. As they walk, to draw signs on the pavement that might symbolise the entry of God into their neighbourhood. Perhaps tears, perhaps rainbows, perhaps broken perfume bottles. And perhaps to take pictures of these, to text back into the church, which could be added into a powerpoint.

If I had even more time, I would get people to make the symbols prior to walking, as stencils (see here and here).

The aim of both of these are an attempt to connect worship and mission, our neighbourhoods today with the activities of Jesus in Holy Week.

Posted by steve at 01:09 PM

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

the J(esus)POD on Palm Sunday

So if Jesus were entering Jerusalem today, what songs would be on rotate on his ipod? (4 other Palm Sunday prayer stations are here). 

Here are the contributions so far from the twitter-verse and facebook-verse.

  • U2 – City of blinding lights, Yahweh, New York, Angel of Harlem, Elevation
  • Jefferson Starship – We Built This City
  • Diana Ross and the Supremes – Stop in the name of love
  • Lou Reed – Walk on the wild side
  • Elvis Costello – What’s So Funny About Peace, Love, & Understanding
  • Laura Marling – All My Rage
  • Arcade Fire – Abrahams Daughter
  • Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
  • Ben Harper – Pictures of Jesus
Posted by steve at 03:55 PM

Friday, March 09, 2012

inking the stations of the cross

This takes the Stations of the Cross to a whole new level:

A pastor of a Montrose-area church recently challenged members of his congregation to live out their faith in an atypical way by getting tattoos that represent different Stations of the Cross, images of Christ’s journey from condemnation to resurrection. (Full story here)

Tattoing the stations of the cross on one’s person! (Lots of pictures here)

The church’s artist-in-residence, Scott Erickson, designed 10 distinct Stations of the Cross tattoos and as part of Lent, the church were challenged to chose one of the tattoos (all the designs are here). “The tendency we have as Christians is to skip past Jesus’ suffering. Not only do tattoos come with a bit of suffering, they are also an art form that has not fully been embraced.” (here) More than 50 folk decided to participate.

Here’s a radio station interview with the Pastor, Chris Seay.

Posted by steve at 08:42 PM

Monday, August 08, 2011

Prayer for the dead of winter

God
in this winter I run,
and so much feels dead
in me, in others, in our world.

God,
help me not forget
nor run on by
the unseen sap of your presence
the hard-worn history,
summer work and autumn blaze
hope in blossom

If you want to make this prayer your own, you could add your initials in the comment section. Similar prayers can be found here.

Posted by steve at 05:52 PM

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Prayer for those with a common cold

I’m suffering from a common cold – sore ears, sore throat, snuffles, blah.  This prayer (hat tip Michelle Coram) is proving helpful.

God bless those who suffer from the common cold.
Nature has entered into them;
Has led them aside and gently lain them low
To contemplate life from the wayside;
To consider human frailty;
To receive the deep and dreamy messages of fever.
We give thanks for the insights of this humble perspective.
We give thanks for blessing in disguise.
Amen – Michael Leunig

Posted by steve at 10:24 AM

Friday, February 25, 2011

prayer to a mothering Jesus: updated

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) was the outstanding Christian theologian of the eleventh century. I’m not sure that he ever lived through an earthquake, but he certainly lived in a world subject to the whims of nature. Here’s one of his prayers, A Song of Christ’s Goodness, that I find moving, both in light of the earthquake in Christchurch and in light of my own struggle to live as a child of God.

Jesus, as a mother you gather your children to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.

Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.

Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.

Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us;
in your love and tenderness, remake us,
in your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.

Read it listening to Sinead O’Connor’s This is to Mother You. (From her Gospel Oak CD which was produced in June 1997). (This still leaves the theodicy question – what type of mothering was happening during the quake. But that’s a matter for another time!)

Posted by steve at 08:19 AM

Saturday, February 05, 2011

a fabulous Lent and Easter resource

I’m working on a distance course for lay folk on the subject of Jesus Christ. In preparation, I’m reminded again of what a fabulous resource is Richard Harries The Passion in Art. It is part of the Ashgate Studies in Theology, Imagination and the Arts, which means that you not only get 33 full colour art pieces, but also a few pages of written reflection. Some words that probe theology, provide background to the piece, offer information about the artist and their techniques.

So in looking in this distance course for examples of people reflecting on the relevance of Jesus and suffering, what better resource than a few pages reflecting on the Isenheim Altarpiece, linked to the Holocaust.

In looking for ways people find hope in Jesus and reconciliation, what better resource than a few pages reflecting on Supper at Emmaus by Ceri Richards and the call to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

In looking for Jesus as liberator of all creation, what better resource than a few pages reflecting on the Carolingian Bookcover, depicting all of creation being integrated around Jesus.

I brought The Passion in Art a few years ago. At the time I was about 10 years in preaching Easter. I was getting a bit flat and needed some fresh resources. The Passion in Artbeen a fantastic help ever since, opening me visually, deepening me theologically, broadening me through exposing me to the global church.

Posted by steve at 11:58 AM

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

prayer for ordinands

May you have the courage and discernment to name yourself,
and those you serve,
both truly
and uniquely.

My prayer for those from Uniting College today who received candles as a symbol of transition from phase 2 (intentional training through formal and in placement mechanisms) to Phase 3 (first full-time ministry placement).

Posted by steve at 07:05 PM

Sunday, September 05, 2010

being church in an earthquake zone

Given that only a few months ago, I was pastoring in Christchurch, my thoughts in the last 24 hours have revolved around wondered what I’d do if I was pastoring, being church in the midst of such destruction.

My current thoughts (and I’m at distance, so might be way of beam) revolve around creating some sort of communal drop-in point for at least the next 7 days. Open the foyer from 9 am-3 pm. Provide hot soup. Set up some breadmakers and get a lovely warm, home smell into the place. Since schools are being closed, set up an area for kids to play, with a range of games. My hunch is that people will want ways to be together, to share, laugh, cry. So tables with food allow that to happen naturally.

Some people might want a more focused listening ear, so I’d set up some “sharing couches” and have some designated “listeners” who would simply be there to listen. I’d tell them to keep an ear out for those who might need more focused help, 50+ after shocks and counting might led to trauma for some.

I’d set up a range of prayer stations, that would allow people to engage with God. Words are hard to find in the midst of shock, so I’d focus on simple, tactile ways to pray.

“Oh help” station – with candles and sand trays to lit in memory of things that are lost, broken, damaged, missing. Simply helping people name the grief and the shock.

“Whew, that was close” station – post-it notes or clothes line prayers (string and some pegs), in which people could give thanks for what they still have – life, food, neighbours, friends, a professional Civil Defence … and so on. Simply helping people pay attention to moments of grace.

“Seeking beauty” station – a sort of craft table, in which people could make something of beauty. For some this would be facile. For others, it’s a part of being human and it can be a way of helping people focus beyond themselves. I’d make it communal and expect that lots of healing chat would happen.

“Where is God” station – a thinking station. Often at times like this God’s name get’s used in some pretty naive ways. Quietly ignored for years while the good times roll, yet suddenly named in the midst of devastation. In all sorts of ways – judgement for sin or suddenly micro-manager of the world. At this station, I’d probably put up some prayers prayed by those who throughout history have experienced tragedy. Perhaps blow them up big ie A2 size, with pens, and expect people to engage in response. Some examples might be Psalms of lament of which there is a huge range. Without checking them all for suitability:

  • some Community Psalms of lament include 12, 44, 58, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 89, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129; while
  • some Individual Psalms of lament include 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 36, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52*, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89, 120, 139, 141, 142. Yes, heaps, because unexpected tragedy and pain is part of being human.
  • here is a sermon I preached, using one particular Psalm (69), after the Mangatepopo River tragedy plus some words and liturgical ideas we used at the time
  • a pile of other prayers in disaster are here (textweek.com),

I’m not sure whether I’d have a station in relation to giving aid – whether practical or financial. My hunch is that at least for the first few days, the most important thing is simply space to pray and most of all, ways to naturally be together, eat together, laugh together.  But again, I’m miles away, so might be really out of touch.

Posted by steve at 02:46 PM

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

little boat blown across the mighty Tasman sea

College worship today was framed around Jeremiah 18 and God the potter. We were offered a piece of play dough and invited to play as the service progressed. What was formed was laid on the communion table as an act of response, and then could be taken with us post-Benediction.

Here is my ponderings (thanks Sarah) …

… my little boat, blown by the wind of God’s Spirit. Echoes of Brendan the navigator, green the colour of this season in the church year that of growth in ordinary time. The backdrop a gift I gave myself a few years ago, that I have with me whenever I speak, as an evocation of grace and possibilities and God’s future.

Posted by steve at 05:04 PM

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

creationary: Good samaritan prayer for those loving neighbour in a CNN world

I wrote this prayer out of a day spent sitting with the banquet parables in Luke 14, made tense by the call to love our neighbour in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, being woken by morning news updates of the flooding in Pakistan.

God who is closer than our neighbour
we thankyou for the places you plant us,
the comforts of home, the familiarities of place

God who call us to love our neighbour
we thankyou for variety,
diversity,
our globality that gifts us spice and rice

God who points us to our neighbour in need
only till we turn on CNN,
to see,
the bigness of our world with 6 billion neighbours

And so we pray for aidworkers living love
Your hands, our feet amid flood and famine

God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills
we are grateful for the gifts of science
for researchers multiplying food to grow
We ask for honesty in the climate change industry
Our courage to make Your creation our moral issue

God who healed the ones among many
You gave every gift with it’s corresponding service

Grant us discerment,
the signs of our time – ourselves and your world
and so be your hands
of love of neighbour
today.

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. (For more on what is a creationary go here; for other Creationary resources, go here).

Posted by steve at 09:08 AM

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

pass the peace in God’s world as acts of prodigal fathering

I fumbled the benediction in chapel today. Life’s a bit full at the moment, so I was bound to fumble something at some point and life’s like that.

The Biblical text was the prodigal son and around that Jonny Baker and I framed call to worship, an imaginative engagement with the text, some stations to allow reflection, confession, intercession and communion.

I was aware that there was no “passing of the peace” and aware that this has been a feature of various Uniting College chapel service’s I’ve been a part of. I’d been teaching just before chapel, looking at New Testament images of church. Which include the new creation and salt, as an image for a church deeply immersed in the world.

So it seemed to me in light of that impulse, that passing the peace could thus be an act of benediction, an invitation to mission as Christ’s reconciling people, offering the embrace of the father as an act of prodigal fathering.

So I decided in the midst of the service to conclude with a benediction, “Go, Pass the peace, in God’s world.”

So I invited people to face the door. But all that came out was the word “peace.” I waited for more. So did those gathered. I knew I had more to say, but my brain had simply stopped working. And so we all exited, knowing that something had not quite been completed.

Life’s like that sometimes.

So I simply note it here for completeness, for humour and as a theological and liturgical question:
What are the implications of making the passing of the peace the benediction, rather than an act in worship and after confession?

Posted by steve at 01:22 PM