In the Name of the Many and the One

we are made of stars“We are made of stars” by Robert Couse-Baker on flickr.com

You who move in the spaces between all of your creation,
You who bind us in relationship to all things:

Sometimes we despair at the divisions in the world;
our hearts clench fearing an ugly tomorrow;
our brows furrow at the offense of others and we wall up our hearts.
Some days it’s just easier to be right than to understand.

So, today we step into your Holy Mystery:
finding ourselves vulnerable, dependent, and totally loved.
Help us rest in the web of life that supports us, our children,
the winged and the four-legged,
the orbiting planets and spinning atoms –
the bond that makes us all one.

We pray this in hope and trust in the name of the Many and the One.  Amen.

Blessing for Everyday Sacraments

blessing 3.PNGIt’s not a secret.  That sandwich you’re holding… holy.  That baby you’re changing… blessed.  That fight you’re having… tinged with grace.  What?!!! You’r not Catholic?  No matter.  What?!!!  You haven’t darkened the door of a church in over a decade?  Fine.  Everything around you is still buzzing with an invitation.  Find our more with  Jamie Manson, columnist with the National Catholic Reporter and public speaker, when she talks Sacrament with us on A Priest and a Bishop Walk into a Story.  Listen… and walk away changed.

Here is the blessing that flowed from our conversation:

May everything you see, eat, touch, smell, hold and love today
illuminate your life with the grace its Source longs to express.

Blessing beginnings

blessing 2A beginning is often layered with excitement and anxiety and tinged with the grief of endings.  The beginning of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion was no different.  Founding Bishop, Peter Elder Hickman, joined us for a Visit to the Start of the ECC on a Priest and a Bishop Walk into a Story.  This blessing is for the beginnings budding in you today:

May the God who makes all things new bless you.  May even the smallest parts of you pulse and move and change with the tides of hope and curiosity and desire.  And let each moment be a beginning in a world that surges toward a new tomorrow.

 

Podcast blessings

Blessing 1Some wondered how I would use my dual majors in Broadcast and Theology.  Televangelism?… no.  Podcast blessings..yes!  Have you listened to A Priest and a Bishop Walk into a Story, co hosted by Bishop Francis Krebs and yours truly?  It’s been a wild journey through some heart expanding, mind opening stories.  Each story deserves a blessing and blessing is what I like to do.  I’ll be posting the blessings I write here in pretty WordSwag (and plain text).  This blessing is from our very first episode, “Introductory Rites – Our Podcast Launches.”  Walk away changed…

Today, your story is captivating because the introduction of a character, a new twist, a fresh insight will change its telling tomorrow.  May you be blessed by the unfolding epic that is your life, beginning new every day.

In Praise of Green – an Ordinary Time Liturgy

Enjoy this stretch of green!  Here is a liturgy you can add to beef up your resources.  As always, feel free to adapt and change these prayers to suite your community.  If you use them in corporate worship settings please give a girl credit and include the address of this blog (©Jessica Gazzola, storiesandseason.wordpress.com) in your program, bulletin or liturgical text.  I would also love feedback.  Leave me a comment below or on Facebook

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photo by Claire TRESSE on flickr.com

In Praise of Green – A Eucharistic Prayer for Ordinary Time
text written by the Rev. Jessica Gazzola

Presider: Blessed are you, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made.  It will become for us the bread of life.

ALL:  Blessed be God forever.

P/: Blessed are you, God of all creation.  Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink.
ALL:  Blessed be God forever.

P/: Blessed are you, God of all creation.  Through your goodness we have these gifts of time, talent, and treasure to offer, gratefully given and the work of our human hands.  They will become your presence in the world.

ALL:  Blessed be God forever.

 

P/:   Let us pray… God of all creation,
may these gifts, offered and shared,
be like seeds scattered
that produce a harvest one hundred fold
for the sake of the world.
We pray this through the One who offered himself
as food to a starving world, Christ Jesus.

ALL:   Amen.

 

P:   My friends, the God of Love is always with you.     

A:        And also with you.

P:   Let us lift up our hearts.

A:        We lift them up to our God.
P:   Let us give thanks to the One who loves and sustains us.

A:   It is right to give God thanks and praise.

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving

It is indeed right and good to thank you, Fruitful God.

Out of darkness light is born;
out the depths spring life.
You gifted humanity with a garden planet,
surging with greens and blues.
Yet we sometime find ourselves surrounded by desert,
feeling barren and lost.
So you send us prophets and poets and seers
to point to the Source of life
surging just below the surface.

And so, from the greening desert,
we praise you with all of creation –
air, water, earth, fire –
singing of your greatness:

Sanctus: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. …

Living God,
You long for humanity fully alive,
so You gave us Christ Jesus
who reveals vibrant souls thought dead by the world
and blooming colors of community
where walls once blocked our view.
As tears wash the dust from our eyes
we see the power of hope in the dying seed
and the tenacity of spirit in vine and branches.

And so we gather around this table offering ourselves as living Sacraments.

Epiclesis

Hands are outstretched over the gifts

And we ask that You send your life-giving Spirit upon these gifts.
In the bread which we eat
and in the wine which we drink,
may She make us one with your Son, Jesus Christ,
in + body and blood given for the life of the world.

Institution Narrative

On the night before he died,

The priest takes the bread and raising it a little above the altar, continues

Jesus took bread, gave you thanks, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, saying,
Take, eat: this is my body which is given for you. The priest genuflects

In the same way after supper he took the cup,

The priest takes the cup of wine and, raising it a little above the altar, continues.

again gave you thanks, gave the cup to his disciples, saying,

Take and drink this, all of you, this is the cup of the new and everlasting covenant, my blood which is poured out for you and for all. Do this in memory of me. The priests genuflects

Memorial Acclamation

Compassionate Parent,
we celebrate the memory of your Son, our brother.
People put him to death
but You would not let him wither away.
Christ is alive
and pushes through the frosty ground to newness
in every generation.

Deacon / presider:

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith.

All:

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

 Presider:
Christ, our resurrection and hope,
appears to us in sidewalk cracks and broken hearts,
in gardens planted by aged hands and harvested by children.
Wherever flower and thorn,
courage and vulnerability,
life and death
grow inexplicably side by side
there Christ will be…

Until the day when all divisions are washed away,
and together we will rise in dignity
and turn our heads to the Sun
to become one in the light of God,
forever and ever.

Doxology

The priest takes the takes the cup of wine and bread lifting them up says:

(All:)

Through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Passing of the Peace (or following intercessions before EP)

Lamb of God

Presider:

This is the bread of life and the cup of salvation.

All:

We, though many, are one body for we all share in the one bread and in the one cup.

Communion

Prayer after Communion

Presider:

Harvest of Plenty,
From seeds buried in dark earth,
to tiny shoots of green
bearing unimaginable abundance –
we thank you for nourishing us with food for our souls.
Help us to trust your life as it unfolds around us.
Awaken us to the small miracles
that bear so much fruit for those with eyes to see.
With hearts full of gratitude, we pray through Christ Jesus.

All: Amen.

 

A Prayer for Lent

I’m in the middle of Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong.  Its arrival is perfectly timed and every word rings true – reckoning with emotions, rumbling with the difficult and shadowy parts of our story, and discovering the revolution of rising to a life worth living in spite of fall after fall.  I didn’t think I would have paid Lent much mind this year except I can’t seem to avoid it; and this book is inviting me to dive headlong into something of a Lenten practice – nothing as benign as abstaining from chocolate – something entirely new.  As I try to sort out my relationship to Lent, I run into my complicated relationship with Christ.  Jesus lived in a way that reverberates through the centuries.  But I wonder, is he so unique?  Brown dedicates her book “to the brave and broken hearted who have taught us how to rise after a fall.  Your courage is contagious.”  I write this prayer to Jesus, just one example of these brave people, in my estimation.  A younger version of me may have considered this prayer heretical, but it’s where I stand in this moment. My prayer is for me, but it is also to and for all of the souls that seek to move beyond mere self-preservation to real life!

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photo by susan on flickr.com

You,
my brother, my model, my hope;
you who, like me,
contend with slippery lies
that say you need them to survive;
you who, like me,
face authorities unaware of the content of your soul;
you who, like me,
confound your family and make them wonder
how best to love you;

You embraced springtime,
in spite of the shadows falling on the path
or the death contraptions waiting in the holy city.
You washed the mirage of survival from your eyes
to see the truth of being alive;
You noticed the strings that rendered the authorities
puppets and toys;
You became a brother to humanity
and you made your home the world
because love lives in flesh and stone.

I do not need your sacrifice
or your righteous titles this Lent.
I just need to know that it can be done,
that you are not so different from me;
that lies, strings, and obligation are nothing to fear
and that death is but a mirror
that makes this moment brilliant and free.

Through your vulnerability,
you are rising strong
through me, with me and in me
In the unity of the Spirit of life
all glory and honor is yours,
Undying Truth,
today, tomorrow and forever.
Amen.

 

Invoking the Spirits of Night

dark nightphoto by Matthew Sheridan on flickr

I need a reminder this time of year that darkness offers me gifts.  The night need not push me indoors and make me feel wilted.  Darkness’ dance with light offers texture and depth for my soul to play and explore.  I was commissioned to write this invocation for a ritual that brought together a circle of friends supporting each other through the winter darkness.  It is my prayer prayed when my instinct is to flip on more lights instead of revel in the darkness.  I offer it as my gift during this month of long nights.

Prayer leader:  Into our circle we welcome the wise spirits of the night to speak to us of darkness and teach us their ways.  We ask these spirits in one voice: (repeat after me) Draw close and whisper your secrets.

Response: Draw close and whisper your secrets.

To the blanket of night air, thick and damp, that smells of earth relaxing into shadow, we invite you to…

Response: Draw close and whisper your secrets.

To the celestial lights that wink to us from lives past, spinning and burning through the darkness; we invite you to…

Response: Draw close and whisper your secrets.

To sister moon who grows full and wanes until she disappears, preparing for three days to rise again; we invite you to…

Response: Draw close and whisper your secrets.

To our nocturnal sisters and brothers, the four footed, two footed, winged, and creepy crawlers, whose senses are keen and who know life to be found when the burning star sets; we invite you to…

Response: Draw close and whisper your secrets.

To the monsters in our dreams and faceless fears lurking in the shadows; you wake us up to our primal selves; we want to trust you and hear the wisdom you hold for our lives, so we invite you to…

Response: Draw close and whisper your secrets.

To the rich creative mystery that resides in our own inner darkness, gestating and waiting to be born, we invite you to…

Response: Draw close and whisper your secrets.

Spirits of the night, draw close and whisper your secrets.  Thank you for accompanying us this evening as we explore darkness’ depths.  Aide us as we learn to walk in the dark.  Amen.  Let it be so.

Nesting: The stone the builders rejected…

photo by Carolyn Lehrke on flickr.com

photo by Carolyn Lehrke on flickr.com

A bird circles overhead, searching.  She swoops down to pick up a ribbon from discarded gift wrap picked up by the wind on garbage day.  Back at her nest she skillfully weaves it into a perfect example of found and functional art.  Brush pile twigs, twist ties, yarn from pulled sweaters, and dryer lint are the stuff of the dwelling that will house her children.

“The stone the builder rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us something about what it means to build a nest, to build a dwelling for our souls.  It’s a process that can look very different from the building projects of city planners that rely on logic and tested and trusted materials.  Nesting is about redefining family, softening our boundaries.  It can be a project that reclaims things lost or rejected. Songs, stories, and experiences that have grown dusty become essential again.  Nesting can pull up strands of memories and feelings (good and bad) put by the curb long ago.

“The stone the builder rejected has become the cornerstone,” proclaims Peter, quoting Psalm 118.  At face value is seems like an attack, “Religious leaders, you had Jesus killed!  You rejected him and yet he still has power!”  But the cornerstone, rejected and reclaimed, is more than a verbal attack, it’s a personal statement of faith. “The stone the builder rejected has become the cornerstone.”  Peter would know: Peter, the disciple who pledged his allegiance and then rejected Jesus in his hour of need.  “I do not know that man!” he shouts in the courtyard of the high priest’s house as Jesus is interrogated inside.  Today we read he has cured a crippled man and, questioned before the Sandeherin, he is filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly names the source of his courage and power. Peter’s story bears witness to the rebuilding of a soul and the rebuilding of a community from material once rejected.

“The stone the builder rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Maybe this will feel familiar to you.  Peter is a fisherman doing what’s expected, living the life within the approving circles of society.  He becomes a disciple of Jesus and in this community he discovers hidden gifts.  He learns he can be bold; he learns that he can teach; he finds he can heal.  In Galilee, among fishermen, farmers, shepherds, his voice never wavers.  But in Jerusalem, among the religious elite, the scholars and priests, in an environment hostile to Jesus and his message – Peter hides behind the guise of an innocent bystander, rejecting the insight and empowerment that made him Peter, “the rock,” back in Galilee.  He not only rejects knowing Christ but rejects the Christ that is in him (all of the boldness, the power, the authority he discovered) – because of fear, because of pressure, because of the social awkwardness.

We too reject pieces of ourselves for being impractical, shameful, mundane, or embarrassing.  We function out of assumptions we’ve picked up about what it means to be a man, a woman, to be family, to be a Christian, to be a responsible citizen.  But then we have experiences that reveal more of our wholeness: an experience of love and sexual awakening, a new idea that contradicts what we’ve known, an encounter with God that seems crazy, unexplainable, an encounter with a group or a friend where we don’t need to hide our quirks.  But for one reason or another we closet ourselves again, we reject these truths for the sake of building a life that makes sense, that’s practical.   But today we are challenged to look at the rejected pieces of our identities as the cornerstone of anything worthwhile we’re going to build.

Peter had to decide to reclaim Christ even though it would make him look foolish or silly, or even put him at social and physical risk.  Peter had to come to terms with the truth he knew in the absurdity of a dying God.  He had to trust the power that no earthly authority had given him.  He had to be okay with being perceived as ordinary and uneducated by the high priests and boldly speak his truth.  This project of reclaiming what was rejected took time, like a bird slowly gathering found pieces.   A lot happened between Jesus’ death and the moment we read about today – including many experiences with the risen Christ.  Peter slowly reclaims and rebuilds his soul and thus reclaims Christ.

Brothers and sisters, this is not just the project of individual souls, this is the building project of the Church.  It’s our communal project.  It’s a project that is too often derailed by builders that insist on marble and gold, builders that invalidate experience for the sake of stability, builders that reject the very material that holds the Church together.

At Sts. Clare & Francis we are not about building a cathedral of stone.  We are building a church.  It astonishes me.  The best materials are the ones that get lobed into the dumpster.  Again and again, the pieces that have been rejected become the cornerstone.  You are the stone the builder rejected because you love the “wrong” person… you are the cornerstone.  You are the stone the builder rejected because the life your pregnant belly carries began in a doctor’s office… you are the cornerstone.  You are the stone the builder rejected because you, wise with experience, have nowhere to share your story… you are the cornerstone.  You are the stone the builder rejected because you are a woman who dares to lead… you are the cornerstone.  You are the stone the builder rejected because you gave your life to serve the homeless, the sick, the AIDS patient, the single mother… you, women religious of the United States, are the cornerstone.  You, all of you, are the cornerstone.  You are Christ.  We, collectively, are like the bird sitting in the tree watching the trash put out and know ourselves to be blessed.

And our building is never complete!  There will always be new experiences to integrate, new lives to embrace as we move closer to imaging the Body of Christ.  We build our spiritual nest, not out of hard stone, but lives made soft with true living.

This is an abridged version of a homily I preached at Sts. Clare & Francis on Acts 4:8-12 for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2012. 

 

Transition: A reflection for Palm Sunday

"Birth" by Jonathan Waller. bit.ly/Lmk1IE

“Birth” by Jonathan Waller. bit.ly/Lmk1IE

The lash still cut my flesh, the nails still pierced me, I was still mocked by those I came to save, I was still abandoned by those who had followed me.  Would you ask a woman in the midst of labor how it feels to be a mother?[i]

This piece comes from the imagination of author and artist Thomas Schmidt, but it evoked in me a fresh sense of wonder at these moments of suffering and violence that we relive every year during Holy Week.  It’s an interesting analogy (please, indulge this nine month pregnant priest for a moment) – all of motherhood cannot be summed up in the experience of labor and neither can all of Christ’s faithfulness be summed up in the crucifixion.  There were plenty of times when Jesus stood up to violence and evaded suffering, but this moment is different.  This is the moment when Jesus has a sense that giving into the powers both inside and outside his fallible human body would bring something new to birth.

There is no doubt that this moment in Christian history is a touchstone moment, a transition moment when new life about to be born was yet overshadowed by the pain of the birthing process, and that’s one reason why we feel the need to retell it year after year – as a mother needs to tell the birth story to their child. Risking overstating this analogy, there are some striking parallels between the passion narrative we just read and the experience some women have of labor.

At the onset of labor there is a kind of excited anticipation, the woman is often chatty and confident.  Jesus seems to have this sort of early energy and calm at the Last Supper.  Though aware of his coming death, he is able to communicate his desire and purpose and remain calm in the face of the difficult day ahead.

As labor progresses the woman grows increasingly quiet as the pain of the process requires more of her attention.  Without the support of calm understanding people with her, she may begin to panic at the growing pain, ask for medication for relief.  At the scene in the Garden, Jesus’ anxiety clearly grows and he requests support from his friends, a request that goes unfulfilled.

In unmedicated childbirth, the woman hits a point called transition.  It is the most difficult part of labor, but it also signals the nearness of birth.  It’s those moments when it feels like the pain will swallow you, when your body feels like it’s falling apart.  Some women have been known to try and flee the room, as if they could flee the pain.  This is the moment of blame – when partners get cussed at and the only companion seems to be the pain itself.  The rush of birthing hormones as well as endorphins in the brain makes the woman seem like she’s in a trance, “Labor Land.”  As Jesus bore the cross and cried out his sense of abandonment from his posture of death, his transition was nearly complete.

At the moment of his death, at the moment of birth, scripture poetically imagines that the curtain of the temple is torn, the earth shakes, tombs are opened.  The veil between the material and spiritual worlds are very thin.  But we have not yet arrived at the end of this process, we have not yet seen what this new life looks like.  Today we are left at the moment of transition For me, it’s a good reminder that part of the journey of faith is and must be the experience of despair, pain, uncertainty, and even abandonment.  These are not signs of faithlessness, but of fully engaging the process of birthing God into the world again and again, of ushering in new life.

At key moments in every individual’s life there is pain and transition.  Growing into adulthood for men and women alike undergo years of agonizing labor, i.e. adolescence.  The pain and despair of this part of life is real and does work to allow the child to die and the adult to rise.

We are reminded today as we gather around the table to tell the painful story of death and birth again, that to be human and to be a person of faith is not safe, it’s not clear and uncomplicated, and it’s not always comfortable.  Today we honor and even give thanks for those moments of transition when we are so given to the process that the next life is still masked in shadow and death – when the cry of the newborn is still unheard, when the announcement of resurrection is still buried in a tomb.

[i] Thomas Schmidt, A Scandalous beauty: The Artistry of God and the Way of the Cross, (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002) 60.

This is an abridged version of a homily I preached for Sts. Clare & Francis Palm Sunday 2011.  I was nine months pregnant with my second child.  My daughter was born exactly two weeks later.

Prayers for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

photo by Monique Popp on flickr.com

photo by Monique Popp on flickr.com

Kyrie

We have come to the place of reckoning.  And what can we say, “Save me from this hour?”
Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground a dies…”  You are the promise that more than death comes from breaking open.
Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

Touch the infinite place, deep within, where you have written your Word.  May we kneel and reverence the altar you have placed there.
Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

 

Opening Prayer/Collect

Voice of Assurance,
We are yours
and You are ours.
Your Words, etched on our hearts,
are untouched by storm or violence.

Speak to us of Passover,
when thresholds are painted with life blood
and we are invited to walk through.
Teach us to have faith in abundance –
through falling, dying, and becoming something new.

We ask this through your Son, Our Passover and Peace,
who lives with you and the Holy Spirit
One God, now and forever.

Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

God be with you!
And also with you!
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up the Lord.
Let us give thanks to our loving God.
It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Indeed, our praise breaks through cracks in the earth,
pushes into air and light,
defies gravity and raises up higher still.
Your people seeking your sacred presence
came to know it in the vessel of their heart.
How could we know that such life could issue
from hearts breaking?
You showed the power of the broken heart
when your Beloved, Christ Jesus,
was lifted by the hands of death.
Upturning all that seemed solid and unchanging,
You spoke of glory in thunder and rain and mud and green.
Loving God,
We give you thanks and praise!

 Lectionary Readings

Please, use or modify these prayers! That’s why they’re here. If you use them in corporate worship settings, though, please give a girl credit and include the address of this blog (©Jessica Gazzola, storiesandseason.wordpress.com) in your program, bulletin or liturgical text.