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, if you would like to receive an email each week with a link to the week's worship outline, please subscribe at the bottom of this post. May your time in worship be deep and faithful.
When We Don't Know How to Pray
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: Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.” So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife.
— Genesis 29:15-28, New International Version (NIV)
Scripture: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:26-39, New International Version (NIV)
Message: When We Don't Know How to Pray
It’s been a hard week for our country. We’ve been hit hard by everything around both the health care bill and Trump’s announcement discharging trans people from the U.S. military. More and more people I know are sick and hurting. Even the Red Sox are doing poorly. It seems that another wave of mourning is occurring; one of many now since last November. Wave after wave has come over the past many months now, waves of fear, disappointment, pain, and grief have left many of us without faith. What do we pray for? Is God listening? Is God punishing us?
It’s a dark time for many of us, like we are strangers in our own land, like we are lost in our own bodies and in our own lives. Suspicion surrounds us. Are we being tricked? Are we being cheated? Is the wool being drawn over our eyes? Is there some kind of smoke screen before us?
The first scripture in worship this week tells the story of Jacob being cheated by Laban. Jacob is a foreigner in a strange land and the contract that he makes with his soon to be father-in-law is broken. What is Jacob to do? He has no rights. He has no ability to take legal action. He has no outlet to correct the injustice done to him.
Biblical Scholar Wilma Ann Bailey writes, “The story of ancient Israel is a story of alienation and a search for a place to call home.…Their earliest memories of being aliens and immigrants caused them to understand the vulnerability felt by those who longed for the security of place. Their laws and customs taught them to be kind to aliens and strangers, remembering that they were once aliens and strangers in foreign lands.…It is hard to be in a new place where it is difficult to make yourself understood because the language is different and where people take advantage of your ignorance of the local laws and customs. The model of ancient Israel is one with which we can all identify if we reach deep enough into our memories, because all of us are immigrants from somewhere. The call of these lectionary texts is to be just and kind and walk humbly with God, knowing that whoever you are, you and your people were once aliens in a strange land.” (Preaching God’s Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year A. Allen, Andrews, & Wilhelm, 2013, p. 333-334)
Reading Wilma Ann Bailey’s commentary makes me think first of the travel ban from several months ago. The many posters at the protests read things like, “We are all immigrants.” This country that is the United States cultivates the myth of freedom, new promise, and justice, yet at our most basic level we fail at being kind to the stranger.
Some of you who are reading this sermon may have other opinions about immigration. Perhaps you have lost your job to immigrant labor. Perhaps your schools or your communities have changed because of the settlement of immigrant communities. Perhaps for some other reason you are angry or have been hurt by someone who is a recent immigrant to this country. Turning our attention back to the text, we read that Jacob didn’t know what he had done until the morning after his wedding night. So on top of Laban being responsible for the trickery and the exploitation of Jacob’s immigrant status, Jacob too is at fault, perhaps for his intoxication or perhaps his lack of consideration of his bride, Jacob contributed in victimizing Leah. When morning came all are at fault and yet circumstances argue that no one is.
Many years ago I spent time in Israel and Palestine doing peace work. The activists that met and worked with there had a saying about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “You come here for a week and you can write a book. You come here for a month and you can write a single sentence. You come here for more than that and you can’t write a single word.” The more you hear the stories and the more you live the complication that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the more that you see that everyone is wrong and everyone’s response appears justified. People start talking about just and proportional responses. There are no absolutes because no one is blameless anymore.
When we place immigrants in impossible situations, it makes sense that they break or skirt the law. When we feel that all our options are closed, our will to survive breaks free. None of us are blameless yet our responses to each other appear justified. When we consider the people affected by immigration, then the topic is deeply complicated and beyond absolutes. And even so, Scripture teaches us through the story of Jacob, Laban, and Leah that we can ease that complication by simply being kind and welcoming to the stranger. We can disrupt the cycle of reactionary injustice by putting our love into action. Indeed, that is what Jesus calls us to do.
While the story of Jacob, Laban, and Leah helps us identify with the feelings of alienation, injustice, and yearning for home, the second text this week, Romans 8:26-39, touches us when we are in our deepest darkest night of the soul. It is here that the immigrant cries out in loneness, the seeker sits down lost on the path and weeps, and even the most hopeful of us cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned us?” This is the time when we put our head in our hands and say, “I just don’t know what to pray for.”
Some of us have been there this week. Others of us have been there time and time again since November, and perhaps before. The scriptural message here though is simple: when we don’t know what to pray for, God prays through us.
It is a message that comes after Paul writes about the whole of creation groaning in the labor of childbirth (Romans 8:22). When we don’t know how to pray, God prays through us and our prayer becomes our bodies and our prayers are our bodies’ deepest expression of emotion. It is an experience that is primal, that is healing, and that is God incarnate in each of us.
When I gave birth to my son, there was a period of time during active labor and through the actual birthing of him that I wasn’t myself. Some people say that this phenomenon is when animal mind that takes over. My husband likes to use a computer metaphor. He says, “It was like when I open my computer I see OS X, but then this one time, I opened my computer and Windows was running instead. All my files and folders were still there, but everything was different. It was like Rachel was running on a totally different operating system.” The Apostle Paul uses a very carnal metaphor in Romans 8:26: When we don’t know how to pray, God intercedes and prays into our groans deeper and fuller than we have capacity for. When we think that we have nothing left to put into prayer, God takes over and births the prayer through us.
Both the story of Jacob in the first scripture and Paul’s words in Romans 8 are messages that subvert cycles of violence and depression. Kindness and love, prayer and surrender interrupt systems that call for more anger, more pain, more apathy, and more grief. At the end of the passage from Romans 8, Paul assures us that no matter what, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” will separate us from God. This is the call in the wilderness and this is the call in the wilderness of our souls.
When everything around us seems like it is going to hell in a handbasket, God is right there with us. God is crying with us. God is angry alongside us. God is frustrated. God is overwhelmed. God is intricately part of our human and spiritual experience of life. And when we run out of things to pray for, when we throw up our hands and lose the ability to pray at all, God takes over and groans that deep, primal groan that gives birth to new life.
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... Amen.”