Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. Below you will find songs, scripture or poems, and a short message to frame and guide your time in worship. Each week, by Friday I will be publishing a new worship outline. The scripture used generally (though not always) comes from the weekly Revised Common Lectionary, connecting the Friends tradition to other Christian traditions around the world. For some of you this worship space may be a place of sanctuary when you are away from in-person worshiping communities. For others, this worship space may help you prepare for your weekly Sunday or mid-week worship.
I suggest that you open each link in a separate window and play through the beginning of the songs to get over any ads, preparing for your worship time. (Though you may want to first check to see if ads play while the songs are embedded in the post. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t!) You may also want to have a candle and a journal nearby. Since this worship is designed in the manner of Programmed Quaker Worship, it includes a period of waiting worship. There are several communities around the world that host online unprogrammed Quaker worship, for which I have included links. These communities worship together at certain times each day and week, so you may want to plan your worship around theirs.
If you would like to set up a regular time to worship through this site or if you have specific prayer requests to be held by my home worshiping community, please contact me through this site. If you would like to leave a message on this page, perhaps a message that rises for you during your worship, please comment below. Messages are filtered to counter spam attempts and it may take me up to 24 hours to approve a comment. Thank you for joining me in this weekly online Quaker programmed worship. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
Advent III: Gestational Holiness
Centering Silence: Take a few moments to center yourself. Perhaps light a candle, find a comfortable place to sit and put away any distractions. Take a few deep breaths as you center yourself for this time of worship. Feel your body relax as your breaths become deeper. Turn your attention to the presence of the Divine throughout your body and throughout your life. When you are ready let the following worship elements guide your worship.
Scripture: Psalm 146:5-10, New International Version
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.
Scripture: Luke 1:46b-55, New International Version
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
Message: Gestational Holiness
During this time of Advent, we turn our spiritual imagination to the birth of Jesus as well as the pregnancy of Mary. I gave birth to my own son a little over a month ago, which makes my mediations on Mary’s birth particularly special. As I listen to the song “Mary did you know?” I find that I am brought to tears—especially with the lines “That the child that you delivered will soon deliver you.” and “when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.” Quakers believe in an incarnation theology, the belief that there is that of the Divine, that of God in each of us. So that in essence, when I kiss my son, that of God in me is kissing that of God in him. It is a holy moment.
When I was pregnant with him, such a sense of having the Divine within was magnified as I felt this miracle of creation move inside me. Mary’s exclamation of God’s magnificence in the passage of Luke glorifies this miracle even as it is embedded in the mystery and fear of her pregnancy!
Margaret Gunther writes in her book Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction, in the chapter “Midwife to the Soul”:
“The maternal and birth imagery of Scripture, along with its stories of nativities both miraculous and ordinary, have become so much part of our religious consciousness that they threaten to recede into the background like dull spiritual wallpaper. To be “born again” has a charismatic and almost disembodied ring to it; to traditional Christians it smacks of emotional excess. The Annunciation, too, has become metaphor, transformed by artists—from Hans mewling to the unnamed crafters of Christmas cards—into a beautiful tableau instead of a terrifying encounter. It helps purge the scene of sentimental piety if one is able to imagine it occurring in the ordinariness of daily life. How would I feel, I ask myself, if the angel turned up in my kitchen at the end of a long day? Or was waiting in my office when I returned, frazzled, from a class or a committee meeting? Yet these and other stories of birth and birthing are not mere background, but form the rich matrix of our faith.”
Considering pregnancy though as a metaphor, I wonder what we as a community of faith are pregnant with right now. What aspects of pregnancy and birthing offer us insight into how to midwife the holy processes within and around us?
First Trimester: For me my first trimester was marked with trying to grasp the fact that I was pregnant. It all happened so fast and at week six I started getting really sick. I was working at the time as a chaplain in the NICU and in Labor & Delivery, so I saw on a daily basis the best and worst of pregnancy and birth. I was terrified that I would lose my child; so many of my friends had had miscarriages, still births, or had lost their children at a young age. My prayers to God were simple, please keep this baby alive, please help this baby be healty, please guide me to do what is best for my baby.
Spiritual first trimesters are often similar. An idea has been planted, discernment has been done, and there is an excited but fearful sense of expectancy. There may be a wondering about when to tell the world about your call, how to share with other’s the experience of holy conception, and fear that something will happen once you tell everyone and you will have to return to those people in grief and disappointment. We do see though, through Facebook posts and announcements after worship, the sharing of new calls, new ministry, new initiatives. There is daring there, to open ourselves up to the possibility that our newness will not make it through to its birth. There is a trusting of the community to hold us in this fragile time.
Second Trimester: In my second trimester I began to feel the baby move inside me. This was an incredible and kinda creepy sensational at first. I could feel the baby, but my husband Ben could not (for a while at least). There was a time when our baby would kick and I would shout to Ben, “our baby is kicking!!” and he would rush over and place his hands on my belly. We would wait and wait and wait, but our baby would be still. We would laugh off our disappointment and wait for the next opportunity. I wanted so much to share with him this phenomenon inside me, but it wasn’t time yet.
Then when the baby started kicking regularly and Ben could feel the kicks, there was a brief period of awe followed by the rest of the trimester which felt more like a slog than anything else. I was still sick (my morning sickness didn’t go away for the entire pregnancy) and now I had this thing inside me kicking me incessantly night and day!
When I think of a spiritual second trimester, these different experiences have their place too. The first new developments in a ministry or call, prayers that have been answered, an internal sense of rightness that no one else can fully grasp. Then times of sharing these new developments followed by the hard work, sometimes annoying and exhausting work that is building up to the birth.
Third Trimester: Then the work gets harder. For a spiritual pregnancy and a physical pregnancy. The Third trimester for me was so much about slowing down, surrendering my expectations of productivity, and giving myself grace. The work was hard, everything felt hard some days, sleeping, walking, showering, putting on my shoes, etc. Yet the sense of expectation also increased. How do I prepare for this baby physically? mentally? spiritually? What do I need?
In a spiritual pregnancy there may even be a sense of "Is this ever going to happen?" You’ve grown so used to be pregnant, that doing the hard work seems endless. There might even be days when you don’t feel led down that path anymore and feel angry at God for the hardness of the call. Yet there is still a sense of expectation that is propelling you forward. How am I preparing for this ministry? What do I need?
Birth: When the day of birth arrives, there is a sense of surprise mixed with fear, joy, and for so many of us birth parents, a million other emotions. Every labor is totally different—from short to long, natural to C-section, not-medicated to medicated, smooth to complicated, and the variants go on. One thing that I heard about and then experienced was a moment, the contraction right before my son was born, when I was consumed with panic. The pain was intense and I couldn’t relax my pelvic floor muscles and I just didn’t know what was happening. For a moment I didn’t think I could do it—I didn’t think I could give birth. The people around me were reassuring and positive and a moment later the last contraction happened and after a brief searing pain, my son’s head came through and the pressure was immediately relieved.
As we birth the holiness in ourselves and in our community, I wonder about this moment of panic and of doubt. I have seen it in my own path of ministry, moments when I have almost turned around, and sometimes I have turned around and given up. We have work to do as midwives of the soul, midwives to each other to be prepared for that moment and reassure each other. Be prepared to tell each other that that panic, that doubt is totally natural and that we can do it, we can wait it out just a little while longer for that last push, for that chance to hold our call, our ministry in our arms and gaze into the face of God.
Post Partum: And then there are the months that people rarely talk about. In the excitement of birth, spiritually or physically our society expects everything to be shiny and happy. Yet here you are, a new birth parent, or a new steward to your call, and you are exhausted. You might have days when you feel like a failure, that you can’t believe that you just birthed all of this, that you are unworthy.
They say that Baby Blues in the first couple of weeks are natural, as are feelings of being overwhelmed with the transformation that your life and body had just experienced. There is a needed time of healing, learning new skills (like nursing), and hormonal, physical and mental adjustment. Many birth parents also experience Post-Partum depression, for which they need clinical help. How might there be a spiritual parallel to this experience? Do we support each other after our call, our ministry is birthed? There is so often a period of feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and unworthy even months after we supposably “have it all together.” How do we support each other through this time?
Miscarriage and Still Birth: And finally, there are the calls, the ministry, the experiences of gestational holiness that do not make it to birth. Birth parents who experience miscarriage and still birth experience deep grief over the loss of their child, this grief is laced with guilt, feelings of being overwhelmed, and disbelief. As a society we so often let birth parents suffer silently through their loss. We also ignore those in spiritual pregnancy who lose their call. There is a tender tending to these experiences that is needed, pastoral care, community care, and gentleness.
The experience of birth and birthing is beautiful, awe-inspiring, mysterious just as it is gross, messy, bloody, and painful. There are so many parallels to the experience of spiritual birth, yet these experiences have been sanitized and the support so often withdrawn. In this time of holy expectancy, this time of gestational holiness, how do we honor the experience of spiritual birth and support it fully in ourselves and in our community? How do we prepare ourselves for our “re-birth” and how do we prepare to be midwives to each other?
Silence-Waiting Worship: This is a time for you to turn your attention fully inward. The songs and passages and the offered message have prepared you to listen deeply to the Divine. Spend at least 20 minutes in silence listening for that still small voice of God. You may want to join an online waiting worship community. A few links for these can be found below.
When you have come to a place of closure in your waiting worship, continue on to bring your time of worship to a close.
Afterthoughts: Afterthoughts are thoughts that rose for you during waiting worship that didn’t completely form into a message. Perhaps you discerned that what was rising for you in waiting worship was a message for you alone, something not to be shared with others or perhaps you only received fragments of a message and it didn’t come together completely during the silence. Take a few minutes to journal these afterthoughts so that you can look back at them another time. Perhaps God is speaking to you through these partial messages and the fullness of their meaning will be revealed in time.
Joys and Concerns: It is traditional in Programmed Quaker Worship to have a time for the sharing of joys and concerns. Take a few moments to write down in your journal a few things from this week that you are thankful for and a few things that you are holding in prayer. Feel free to post these in the comments below as well (though remember that it may take up to 24 hours for them to be available to others to read) so that others can include your requests in their prayers and celebrate your joys alongside you.
Closing: Take another few moments of silence to close your worship time. Breath deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready end in vocal prayer, either of your own creation or read out loud the following: “Holy One, nurture this growing holiness that you have placed inside me and inside my community. Support us and help us support each other through the pregnancy, labor, birth and post-birth experiences of growing this holiness. Walk with us as midwives of the soul and be by our sides as we experience doubt, pain, and fear. Help us, dear Lord, to surrender to your magnificence, and help us trust in this experience of deliverance. Amen.”