Not an epic fail, but maybe a holy one

this pictures captures what the story was about

this pictures captures what the story was about

Yesterday in my sermon I committed the cardinal sin of pastor-parents: I told a story about my child without getting her permission.  Rookie mistake for this pastor of 20 years, but there you are.  It just fit so well into the sermon, and we had talked about it but in my mind we had not settled the matter.  But as it says in Galatians 6:7 (part of the passage I preached on) “you reap what you sow.”

So I’m in the first third of the sermon; my husband is sitting on the chancel near me and our daughter is sitting by herself in the front pew, as she usually does.  She hears me telling the story and she begins to cry, prostrating herself on the lovely needle-pointed pew cushion, weeping for not all but many to see and hear.  Crap.  Just the word the preacher wants to hear in her head while she is delivering the beautiful word of God.

I can handle a lot in worship.  I can handle crying babies, coughing parishioners, people who live on the streets wandering up and looking at the offering plates, fainters, barfers, organ ciphers, mangled liturgy, and laryngitis, but what absolutely does me in is when I have to be pastor and mom at the same time.  It doesn’t happen very often but when it does I become completely unglued – maybe because I suspect I’m not particularly good at either one, or maybe because it feels like both demand so much of my being.

So in the first third of my sermon, while my daughter is crying, I break the fourth wall of sorts, interrupt myself, and ask my husband to sit with her, which he does.  I then resume preaching, talking about accountability when we do something wrong, and being in community in our suffering, and reconciling with brother or sister before coming to the communion table.  And did I mention we celebrated communion yesterday?

At the end of the sermon, I issued this invitation to the congregation:

“I don’t know if gathered here this morning are people who are at odds with each other; sheer numbers would suggest that there are. I’m not going to ask  that we now pause for a minute for reconciliation – that would be putting all of us on the spot. But perhaps in the silence after the sermon, we might think of those we are at odds with. We might think about them, and about bearing their burden, about carrying our own load, about forgiveness and grace. We might imagine, as we all say the Lord’s Prayer during communion, sitting next to that person, and saying the prayer with them.”

It was so nice of the Holy Spirit to provide me with an opportunity to practice what I preach, and during the silence after the sermon I thought about how I could check in with my daughter before going to the table.  My husband/co-pastor came back up and said she was fine, mostly because one of her friends sweetly came up and sat with her and got her out of her funk.  During communion, my daughter passed by all the other celebrants to come receive the bread from me, and gave me a hug, and I told her I was sorry and I love her so much.

I thought it was a mediocre sermon that was made worse for the wear by my embarrassing my daughter.  As it turns out, what the congregation heard and saw were opportunities for grace, and realness, and empathy, and kindness, and grace again.

But if I ever tell a story about her again, I will get her permission in writing.

Praying for a miracle

candleOnce a month our congregation offers an evening service of healing and wholeness in the Taize style of worship.  I attended the service for the first time last night – for the first time, not because I don’t have those to pray for who are seeking healing and wholeness, but because, really, my colleague is beautifully suited to lead that service and usually at 5:30 on a Saturday night I don’t want to be in church.

But I went last night, in part so that I could experience it but also because a few of us were staying afterwards to decorate for the Pentecost service today.  It was a lovely service and I’m glad I was there as it feels that there is a lot to pray about right now .

So the choir is leading some of the Taize songs, and my mind wanders in a good way.  I start thinking about a friend of mine who has been diagnosed with cancer, and the prognosis is so-so.  I start thinking that I would like a miracle for this friend, which gets me thinking about miracles in general.

Once in my life I prayed for a miracle.  A very dear parishioner in the first congregation I served was in a coma.  It was a cardiac thing, an utter surprise for this healthy, relatively young, fabulous, beautiful, kind woman. She lay in a coma and I stood by her bedside and prayed for a miracle, that she would come out of the coma, that they would shrink her enlarged heart, that her husband and sons would enjoy decades more with her.  But the miracle didn’t happen, and eventually she died and it was awful.

I haven’t prayed for a miracle since, but last night as I was thinking about my cancer-diagnosed friend, I thought about miracles again. What if there was some rule that you could only get one miracle granted in the course of your lifetime?  Would I hoard it for myself or my child or my husband, save it for a rainy day? Or would I be burdened by the miracle and offer it up the first ripe opportunity, and not be weighed down by the decision of when to use it?  Would I not pray for the miracle and then regret it the rest of my life?

I know people who have experienced miracles.  I know people who have experienced answers to prayer that they would call miraculous.  I’ve only prayed for a miracle once, and it didn’t happen.  And I know that should not be proof that God doesn’t grant miracles (or perform them?  I’m not sure what verb to use.)  But it’s hard to ask for something and get a ‘no’ and then be willing to ask again; harder to do that again and again and again.  It leads to a world of disappointment and not a little bit of doubt about the good intentions of the Divine Creator.

Meanwhile the choir finished their Taize song and we had moved on to other prayers.  I didn’t pray for a miracle last night.  Instead, I went to light a candle, for my friend, and for a few others.    I added a little light in the darkness, and in that moment, that felt better than a miracle.

Word Nerd at Prayer

I am the first to admit that I am not great at prayer, which might not be a problem for you, except that I am the pastor of a congregation, and with that comes a certain expectation that I will also be a good pray-er, that I will be devoted to my inner spiritual well-being, that I have set aside time each day to bask in the presence of God.

I intend to, I do.  But….

So the other night I was in bed, lights were out, and I was trying to fall asleep but couldn’t, so I decided to pray (since, frankly, prayer often does put me to sleep.) I am still ruminating on the murders at Newtown, and as the mother of a six-year-old, I’m having trouble letting it all go. So I’m praying for my daughter, and I ask God to protect her and guide her and to help me keep her-

Then I derail. “No,” I’m thinking to myself, “Keep isn’t the right word. It’s not a good word to use before God. ‘Keep’ suggests control, and I don’t want to control her; what’s the right verb?” And off I go into my little cranial thesaurus, all thoughts of God swept to the wayside.

It’s a privilege to love words and the Word. I love that my calling lets me use words all the time – words for prayer and for sermons, words for classes, even knowing when no word is appropriate. Maybe that’s a gift from God, and maybe God understands if my prayer gets derailed by my verbal crisis. After all, as the poet of Genesis 1 says, God used words to make the world.

Or I could be completely wrong about all of this, have ticked God off by my inattentiveness, and await the word of condemnation from on high.

Word.