Prayer of solidarity in a string of beads

Bowl of glass stones

Sisters and brothers in Christ, today we gather around the baptismal font, remembering both God’s gracious promises to us and our sisters and brothers in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (and Egypt). We are united by a common faith in Jesus Christ and a family bond that reaches from east to west, and north to south around this globe; one that covers all time.

This was the start of a prayer of solidarity for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. Mission co-workers with our denomination, the PCUSA – and friends of mine – came to our pulpit to share stories of their first year living in Beirut and working with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. Powerful stories. I have shared a few on this blog myself, that I have experienced personally. I recognized the places, the faces and the loss and grief as Scott and Elmarie spoke.

And since we are God’s children, we are God’s heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share Christ’s glory, we must also share his suffering.

On this day we shared by praying together in solidarity with them. And to remind ourselves to keep praying, we each came forward to the baptismal font and took a polished stone to hold in our hands.

Glass stoneMine is green glass. Polished. Smooth. Easy to hold and to admire. And when it is cupped in my hands, clasped in a gesture of prayer, it is a tactile reminder of those who are heirs to God’s glory and even now sharing in his suffering.

As I look at that picture of the collection of glass stones, I can easily assign names to them; each representing a real person, people I know and love.

There’s Lamis from Lattakia who gave me lovely earrings in 2010 in a quieter time and place.

There is Toeh, a young woman from Homs, now a refugee with her family in Amr Hasn, who doesn’t even have any photos to remind her of life before the war.

There is Huda in Yazdieh, the pastor’s wife who collects food and blankets and distributes with love and prayer to some 1700 families, like Toeh’s.

There are the eight pastors still serving fifteen Presbyterian congregations in Syria: Salam, Ibrahim, Yacoub, Ma’an, Michel, Boutrous, Firas and Mofid.

There are the synod leaders: Fadi and Josef and Adeeb and George, along with Assis Salim, the head of the organization of evangelical churches.

There are the pastors in Lebanon as well, serving their own congregations plus those who have fled there: Mikhael and Rola and Fouad and Hadi.

Educators bringing the word of God and the values of Christ to new generations: Najla and Dr. Mary and Nellie and Hala and Izdihar and Riad.

Pastors and elders and priests who are doing the same work of provision and reconciliation in Iraq: Haitham and Farook and Magdy, Patriarch Louis Sako, Fr. Aram and Fr. Turkum and Msgr. Emad and Zuhair and all the teachers in the kindergartens.

One polished stone for each of them, and I hold this green one in my hands and pray.

Saving God, hear this day the cries of those in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon (and Egypt) who have been over-run by violence. For those who are able to flee, guide them to safe havens. For those who stay, whether by choice or lack of means to leave, grant them courage, perseverance, hope and what they need to survive. May your church embody and freely share these gifts with those around them.

RosaryI always carry a rosary with me, a habit from my Roman Catholic upbringing. It’s a tool for prayer: 59 beads strung together with a crucifix on the end. My Aunt Carolyn, a Franciscan nun, gave this one to me on a trip earlier this year. She received it on a trip to Rome in 1998 and it has been blessed by Pope John Paul II. It’s a lovely remembrance of her trip, her vocation, and my connection to her and to the faith I was raised in.

Adeeb's prayer beadsI also have a set of beautiful amberwood prayer beads that I purchased in Lebanon this past November from a street vendor named Mohammed. Many of the pastors I know in the Middle East carry these same 33-bead strands with them everywhere, constantly moving the beads through their fingers, not out of habit, but in prayer. It was one of the first things I noticed about Assis Adeeb when I met him in 2010.

And this green polished glass stone that is now in front of me while I work, is a visual and tactile connector for me to these strings of beads used in prayer by people like me who follow Jesus. It may be a solitary stone, but it binds me in solidarity with each of those other stones as we pray together.

So let us pray.

God of peace, empower and guide those who are working to make visible your kingdom ways of justice, peace, and transforming love in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (and Egypt). Bring your transforming peace to these lands. For Christian schools and teachers working with both Muslim and Christian students we pray – grant them wisdom, creativity, and enduring love. For Muslim and Christian students studying side-by-side – grant them the courage to live into a new kind of future together in the Middle East where there is respect and opportunity for all, regardless of religious creed, ethnicity, or gender. For those working with children orphaned and traumatized by war – grant them daily hope and joy-filled love. For children, women and men maimed in spirit, mind, or body by violence – grant them healing and a new future. For government officials – grant them the will to seek the good of their people and courage to turn away from personal or outside agendas that seek gain from war and instability. For those caught up in violent political and religious radicalism – wake them up to true life. Grant that we, disciples of Jesus from east and west, north and south, bound together by baptism and the Holy Spirit, may live each day with Christ’s kind of self-giving love: doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with you. Amen.

And amen.

(A special thank you to Revs. Scott and Elmarie Parker for this prayer, which is adapted from The Worship Sourcebook, pp. 286-304; Job 19:7; Habakkuk 1:2; Romans 8:17; I Thess. 5:16-18, 23-24; Micah 6-8.)

Remembering

I had a great email discussion this week with some of my younger colleagues here at West Hills. They are all so smart! So passionate! So willing to discuss and wrestle… Their parents should be proud and I know they are.

It started with this blog post about liturgy:

http://millennialpastor.net/2014/10/07/confessions-of-a-high-church-millennial/

This was the part that really resonated with me:

…the liturgy was more of a timeless aspect of our worship. As a kid and then teen, I could feel the prayers, the liturgical songs, the actions of standing, sitting, praying, responding, receiving were starting to ingrain themselves in my very body. I remember myself starting to set the hymnbook down more and more. I would simply pray or sing or respond. The phrases like “And also with you” or “Thanks be to God” or “Amen” started to come naturally and unbidden.

The actions, the words, the songs…ingrained in my very body. Remembered.

This was my response in one part of our conversation about liturgy:

I think the reason I sent the blog out originally was because of the part that resonated with me most: the act of liturgy as remembering. I think we forget sometimes that the work of the people or for the people was handed down by real people who lived so long ago and set the rhythm in motion that we would remember who it was that brought us there in the first place. That we remember that the Gloria was sung by the angels to the only one worthy of it. That the bread and the cup were first lifted by the one who gave his life for us. That when we say the Lord’s Prayer it is in the words he taught to those listening to what he had to say. That when we arise and declare what we believe in the Apostles’ Creed, it is the work of ancient generations hammering out what do we believe anyway.

So remembering is important to me so we can pass it on to others, just as it was passed on to us.

I surround myself with touchstones of memory, not gathered to me for the importance of having stuff, but important because of what is attached to them: remembrances of real people and places that God has put in my path.

20141010 rosaryIn my purse is this old rosary. It’s there next to a glow-in-the-dark plastic statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I need the rosary when I attend the rosary service of dear people who are Roman Catholic. It reminds me of the rosary we had when my own mother died. It even takes me back to grade school – first and second – at Christ the King here in Omaha. One service in the gym was led by Father Hupp and a human chain of rosary beads in the form of the altar boys and others. Father carried the big crucifix and they all followed behind him as we recited the creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the decades of Hail Marys, the joyful mysteries of Christ. The rhythm of that celebration is ingrained in my body. I don’t need the rosary to count; I can do that with the motion of my hands in the praying. But the rosary itself in my purse with the plastic Mary helps me remember who passed that faith on to me and helped me grow in it.

I have a credenza full of the stuff of memories.

There are photos of my German daughters Fine and Johanna and Kathe who remind me that young people still come20141010 inside credenza to faith and want to share it, even in another language!

There is my West Hills Holy Cow award from Kathy Leach, who loved our group portrayal of the Little Sisters of Perpetual Responsibility at a Super Supper several years ago. It reminds me that others love the joy of worship with laughter.

There is my reminder from Jody Filipi to “SING: make music with your hearts to the Lord,” from Ephesians chapter 5. If there is one thing I NEVER forget, it’s to sing.

There is the picture of the peace pole that George Moore took for me in the Holy Land. “May peace prevail on the earth.” That pole with a prayer reminded him of me, and now the picture reminds me of him and how he knew how much I long for peace.

There is a picture of me and my siblings with our dad at Easter, 2007. He stopped his dialysis the next day and went to be with mom and Jesus two weeks later. It is a reminder of how we all laughed and joked and ate a big dinner in celebration of life and then two weeks later, sat by his side together as he took his last breath in this life and was released from his earthly pain into an everlasting life.

20141010 credenza topThere is a framed poster from the church in Germany that represented their theme for that year, “Himmel und Erde werden vergehen. Meine Worte aber werden nicht vergehen.” (Mark 13:31) “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will never pass away.” It will not be forgotten. It will be remembered.

There are a number of other things up there from my travels in the Middle East. There is my Druze princess hat from Byblos in Lebanon. There is an acrylic plaque from the Middle East Council of Churches and a porcelain plate from the Sunday school in Damascus, Syria. The silly together with the sacred. They all remind me of names and faces of people dear to me, but even more dear to God.

20141010 map of middle eastAnd next to me, on my wall, is a map of the world. The reminder is that God’s people are everywhere. His family, my family, everywhere. And the ones who handed down this faith to me started right there in the middle. They are in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq, in Egypt, in Palestine. Some of them still offer their worship – do their liturgy, their remembering – in languages that go back to Jesus.

And as I look at that map and watch the news, I remember that many of them are in great pain, undergoing a horrible time of trial, as they come face to face with war and death and evil. And I remember to pray.

And that is my liturgy, the ingraining in my body and heart, the remembering, the work of this person.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Amen.