Welcome to this Online Meeting for Worship. Below you will find songs, scripture readings, poems, and a short message to frame and guide your time in worship. The scripture used generally (though not always) comes from the weekly Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), connecting the Friends tradition to other Christian traditions around the world. This year we are in Liturgical Year B (2017-2018).
I suggest that you open each link in a separate window and play through the beginning of the songs to get past 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! Ad blocking software is helpful in this case.) You may also want to have a candle and a journal nearby.
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. 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. We do not have a "live" worship time and place yet, though discernment is underway to designate one.
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.
if you would like to receive an email each week with a link to the week's worship outline as well as updates on this ministry projects, please subscribe at the bottom of this post.
Thank you for joining me in this weekly online Quaker programmed worship. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
Preparing the Way
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.
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”
You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
— Isaiah 40:1-11, New International Version (NIV)
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way—
a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
— Mark 1:1-8, New International Version (NIV)
Message: Preparing the Way
This is certainly the time of year for preparations. It’s also the time of year that I feel the most behind. Even when my house is decorated, presents are bought, and all the ingredients for holiday cookies are standing by for my cookie-baking day, its hard for me to not feel like there are a million of other things that haven’t gotten done. This year I’m also preparing to start a new job and to put my son in daycare for the first time. My to-do list seems endless and my procrastination muscles are sore. It’s like I drag my feet about everything. Do I really need to bring in more wood for the fire? Do I really need to wrap those presents for Christmas? Can we send out a New Year’s card instead of a Christmas card? Can I just get a few more moments of sleep?
The scripture this week presents preparation in a very different light. It’s supposed to be joy-filled and awe-inspiring. Prepare the way for the Lord by proclaiming the good news! Those words remind me of the black and white films that show gleeful families preparing for Christmas, children laughing and everyone full of energy and love. Yet with the nights growing longer and the days growing colder, preparing even for something as joy-filled as Christmas feels at times like a burden.
While Quakers did not traditionally observe holidays, they were quite familiar with the idea of preparation. Friends were encouraged to prepare themselves for worship on Sunday. That preparation was done throughout the week and included Bible study, small worship groups, prayer, and time alone with God. It was expected that you came prepared for worship. A gathering of prepared Friends sank quickly into the deep waiting silence and gathered together under the Spirit of God to listen to the messages that emerged.
While I’m sure that at times, for some, these weekly preparations for worship felt like drudgery and burden, the hope was that each day was lived with the joy and reverence that such preparation brought to Friends. It was both a solemn activity and one of beautiful revelation.
These days, rarely are we prepared for worship on Sundays, or worship any other time of the week. Getting out of bed, getting our families fed and ready to leave, and simply arriving at worship is itself a feat. Some of us have daily devotionals or regular spiritual practices that help prepare us for worship, but during times of stress and busyness, often even those get pushed to the side. So what does it mean today, to prepare for the Lord?
There is a current Quaker myth that preparation of any kind is unnecessary for ministry, that God doesn’t need us to be prepared to work through us, to speak to us, or to use us. While it is true that God has unimaginable abilities and power, it is foolish of us to not prepare ourselves, just like it is foolish to hire pastors without seminary training or experience; just like it is foolish to hire hospital chaplains who haven’t had clinical hospital training; just like it is foolish to release ministers without study, support, or follow-up. Yes, God can use us and speak through us even if we aren’t prepared, but what about after? Does that person have the tools, experience, and support to process, follow-up on, and continue to listen for God’s presence?
I think about this in terms of our social justice work too. More and more I am seeing Friends who are led into undoing racism work seek out trainings, mentorship, and group support. Friends starting churches use resources to learn how to do their work sustainably. Friends interested in pastoral care, spiritual writing, Quaker leadership, and many many other kinds of ministry are joining cohorts, taking classes, and developing practices of reflection and accountability.
I’d like to think that this all is happening because we are collectively becoming smarter. However, I instead suspect that this wisdom is coming from a deeper collective listening to God. There is this joke I’ve heard over and over about a man in a rowboat who is lost at sea. He prays to God to be rescued. First God sends a tug boat, but the man refuses to be towed in. “God will save me,” he says. Then God sends a large fishing boat, but again the man refuses to be towed to shore. Finally God sends a huge cruise ship, and again the man refuses. Eventually the man dies and when he stands before God, he asks “God, why didn’t you save me?” God replies “I sent you a tug boat, a fishing boat, and a cruise ship, what else did you want!” When we ask God to use us regardless of our preparation, we forget that the preparation is itself a gift from God. The classes, the cohorts, the Bible studies, the practices of reflection and accountability, and all other kinds of preparations are boats that God sends to us to help us fulfill the ministry to which we are called.
There are plenty of us—myself included—that can get lost in the preparations: the shoulds and the oughts, the classes and the requirements, the perpetual studying and studenthood. Even when I drag my feet, don't attend ministry support meetings, and complain about all the things I need to do, preparations are often safer and easier to predict than the ministry, the action itself.
So my spiritual practice this holiday season is to find joy in the preparations. When Mary birthed Jesus, the hard work of raising him began. In this advent season of preparing for something new, for birth, for newness, I hope to find joy in the moment, find joy in the traditions, and surrender the shoulds, the oughts, and the might-have-beens. Because when Christmas morning comes, when that birth moment, with all of its labor and pain happens, there is joy in the sense that we have been well prepared for this moment. As you look at your own life, at what work you are called to do, how are you preparing? How do you birth the moment when you feel joy that you are well-prepared for what is before you? How can you live into that feeling, as Julian of Norwich wrote, that, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” How are you finding joy in what is now and joy in what is to come?
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. Breathe deeply and give thanks for your time in worship today. When you feel ready, end by praying out loud, either a prayer of your own creation or the following: “O Holy One, excite in me the passion to prepare for what you have in store for me. Guide my preparations so that I may be ready to do your will in the world. Humble me by what I have to learn. Stir a boldness in me to act with faithfulness. Let me find joy in what is now and joy in what is to come. Amen.”
Advent Photo Project
Each year the Society of St. John the Evangelists organize an advent photo project where they assign a word for each day of advent and invite people to tag photos on social media that illustrate that word. Check out the #adventword website to learn more. This year I'll be posting my own submissions on my instagram account. I invite you to join me this year and follow along either on my website or through instagram. Don't forget to include @rachelguaraldi so I can follow you!