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.
Lord, Let My Body Go!
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: The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
— Genesis 18:1-15, New International Version (NIV)
Scripture: Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
— Matthew 9:35-10:23, New International Version (NIV)
Message: Lord, Let My Body Go!
This week I’ve been carrying the scriptures around with me with a heavy heart. I have a friend going in for major surgery today and another friend whose son is suffering from the effects of childhood cancer treatment. A family friend has a very young nephew who is undergoing the same treatment for cancer and my social networks feel like they are full of people who are hurting.
I’ve struggled with what to bring in this message this week because the reality around me feels so dissonant with the scriptural message. The scriptures this week talk about bodies. They talk about healing and miracles and release from bodily suffering. Sarah, who had lived a lifetime of grief and shame because she couldn’t have children, is suddenly told that she will have a child. Jesus sends his disciples out to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, [and] drive out demons.”
These are stories about people’s bodies. These are stories of suffering and of liberation. And these are stories that can be interpreted in harsh and hurtful ways just as they can be interpreted in kind and helpful ways.
Let me back up a moment. Body theology is a field of theological study that looks at how the body is considered in spiritual experiences and religious social history. I haven’t been able to find exactly who coined the term, but it was a phrase that we used in seminary quite a bit. Body theology includes my friend’s research about women covering their heads, and another friend's research about women's bodies and preaching. Body theology includes body prayer, breath prayer, and walking prayer. Body theology includes looking at how the church has objectified, commodified and oppressed people whose bodies were not straight, white, and male. Body theology shows up in womanist, feminist, liberation and queer theologies. Body theology is intimately part of disability theology and body theology is ever-present in the work of hospital and hospice chaplaincy.
In Christianity, Jesus came down to earth as fully human as well as fully divine. Therefore he experienced—he bodily experienced—life with all of its suffering and joy. There are parts of the scriptures that accompany us in our suffering. Matthew 27:46 shares with us the story of Jesus, broken before God, saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken men?” This moment is the climax of the human experience, the ultimate question: Why is this happening to me?
As a hospital chaplain, I heard this asked with deep questioning of God. And yet it so often also comes with incredible displays of faith. H. Richard Niebuhr (brother of Reinhold) writes about this juxtaposition in his book Christ and Culture. Niebuhr writes about Christ and culture being in paradox with each other. This includes the murky places between law and grace as well as between divine wrath and mercy. It includes that age old question: why do bad things happen to good people?
We can get ourselves into danger here as we consider suffering and liberation. Must one suffer to grow closer to God? Is suffering evidence of evil, punishment, or something worse? I have patients who have asked me what they did to make God so mad at them. The thing is, they didn’t do anything. And God isn’t mad at them either. Suffering is part of the human experience and while it does draw us closer to God, I can’t believe in a God that created suffering for this purpose.
When I think about the body, I think of beautiful, perfectly imperfect mysteries. I think about how my body has changed as I have aged and as I have birthed a child. I think about my son's body and how, for the time being, I am tasked with protecting and caring for him. I think about how I want to raise my son to understand consent as well as to respect and celebrate his body.
And when I read about the story of Sarah who was told that she was going to have a child, I think of my friends who grieve because they will never have the children they want. The grief and loss that these friends of mine carry can’t be washed away with a scripture that says wait, you never know, maybe God will still grant you a miracle, just have a little more hope. What about all the people for whom that miracle will never come? How do we honor the bodies that we have? How do we help each other hold the grief and loss of our bodies being other than what we want? How do we heal from all that?
And then the passage from Matthew speaks of the disciples being granted the power to heal. They are granted the power to heal in very specific and physical ways. And such miracles as these are amazing and beautiful, yes, but they aren’t what most of us get. I sat with a nurse late one night after a code where a patient had died and she said to me, “People get so mad when their loved ones die because the miracles they prayed for didn’t happen. I wish those people would just realize that miracles happen in this hospital all the time. Ten more minutes to say goodbye to grandchild, five more days to gather to the family, medicine that makes the suffering less—these are all miracles, people just don’t see them that way.”
Another time I was called in to speak with a patient who was getting ready to be discharged. His medical team was exasperated because they wanted him to seek treatment for his diagnosis and he refused. The medical team wanted to be sure that this refusal was sound on all levels and the team had requested a visit from chaplaincy to check in about religious and spiritual reasons behind his decision. The patient and I sat together for a little over a hour sharing together. He told me of his own birth and the story that he wasn’t expected to live but he did. He had been the miracle child of his family and had lived a good and full life. Then, about a year ago, a grandchild of his had been born prematurely and no one had thought the little boy would live. Now the child was flourishing. The patient told me that his deepest desire was to be home with his grandson and to spend the rest of the time he had left sharing the joy of life that he and his grandson shared. We cried together in that room over the rightness of his decision. We cried together about the injustice of a broken sick body. In the end we prayed together for life and for death and for the presence of the Holy Spirit throughout it all.
In the African American spiritual “Go Down Moses,” the lyrics sing, “Let my people go!” The plea from Moses to the Egyptians has become an anthem of liberation. When I think about the ways that culture, religion, scripture, society, politics, et cetera have grasped hold of our bodies, I see our bodies in bondage to opinions of what “should” be. When I think about the deeply complicated, often paradoxical relationships between suffering and faith, illness and healing, surrender and struggle, hope and grief, I think of our bodies caught in the middle of all of that. So among the prayers for friends and family that I have today, I also pray that our bodies can be released from the "shoulds" and the "oughts" that define what miracles we should pray for and the "shoulds" and "oughts" that define what is good for our bodies and what is not. Instead, I pray that those who are suffering find relief, and those who are questioning find peace, and those who are grieving find solace. Lord, let our bodies go.
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 in vocal prayer, either of your own creation or read out loud the following: “O Holy One, guide us in celebrating and honoring the bodies that we have and the bodies that we steward. Help us take care of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Amidst a world that claims our bodies and defines what is good and what is not, may we find freedom from such bondage. Lord, let our bodies go.”