A Prayer for Joyous Moments

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Not all moments are full of joy, not all lives are brimming with happy events, but we can always find a joyous moment or two even in the saddest times. They shine, not like beacons, but like tiny birthday candles in a field of darkness. They are glimpses of something better. 

Dear God of Joy,

In the midst of my despair I have found a moment of joy,
and for this I am so grateful.

I am grateful to myself for taking the time to enjoy this joyous moment,
grateful to those who were there with me, and grateful to the moment itself.

This joyous moment has given me a glimmer of happiness.

This joyous moment has filled me with a sense of divine compassionate love.

Help me be a joyous moment for those in need of one,
and help me find joyous moments everywhere.

Amen.

Like all the prayers on this site, this prayer is just a beginning, so everyone is welcome to modify it, customize it, and re-create to better fit their own journey and beliefs. If you would like to share you re-creations, we welcome you to do so in the comment section, or to submit your reworking of this prayer or your own prayer.  

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Faith and Fear

By: Autumn Elizabeth

Fear not, you shall not be put to shame; you need not blush, for you shall not be disgraced. The shame of your youth you shall forget. –Isaiah 54:4

It is often said that if we trust in God, we need not fear. But here’s the thing. I am afraid. I have not forgotten the hard times of my youth. The disappointment of being a millennial looking for a job, the pain of enduring the violence done to my body and psyche, the hopes dashed, the dreams broken, I still feel them all, and it makes me afraid.

I am afraid to make anything permanent, for fear it will be taken away again. I am afraid of showing my passion for justice; for fear that the world will beat it out of me. I do not yearn for confrontation, yet this is what our world gives me. I am afraid that the world will continue to throw away all the lives, black, brown, queer, female, trans*, that don’t matter to those in power.

Yet, I know that for myself, as a follower of the radical Jesus, I cannot let this fear win. Perhaps, that is what all those passages in the bible are about. Maybe when they say “do not be afraid”, they mean “do not let fear own you”.  I cannot stop fear, but I must dare to move beyond it.

I have to dare to co-create a better world side-by-side with the spirit of universal justice. I have to dare to believe that we can all be valued and safe in this world.  I have to dare to show my heart to the people I love, and to show kindness to the people I don’t know.

I have to dare to believe in a better world, because I believe in a loving God, a powerful force that holds every creation dear. I believe in a God that does not victim blame, does not value some lives more than others. I believe in a God that moves with me in this world so that even the smallest acts of service, of change, of care, matter.

Yes, I am afraid. My faith does not erase my fear, but neither does fear annihilate my faith. They walk hand-in-hand with me as I travel through this messy, broken, and beautiful world.

It’s Your Church Too

10304700_10100837314741541_5443715570065754002_nToday’s post is from Patrick Cousins, who works as a campus minister at Saint Louis University. Patrick grew up outside of New Orleans and spent fifteen years in a Catholic religious order, teaching in high schools in Zimbabwe, Louisiana, and Arizona before moving to St. Louis in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. His post is a beautiful reflection on what LGBTQ people of faith can face and really relates to Autumn’s post about her own experiences with the church as an LGBTQ person. His post is filled with insight, wisdom and hope for LGBTQ people, and really all people of faith.

I have worked as a campus minister at Saint Louis University (a Jesuit university in St. Louis, MO) for a long time, and over the years I have worked with a number of students who have been in the midst of the coming out process. For many of them, religion has been a source of pain, shame, and confusion: churches claim to speak on behalf of God, and therefore too easily claim absolute and unchanging certitude for themselves. But religious communities and traditions can still be places of affirmation and growth. There is still plenty of misunderstanding out there, but more and more, members of religious communities are coming to understand that using appeals to tradition or church history or doctrine to deny other people the ability to form communities and relationships does not further people’s well-being.

For too long, members of  LGBTQ communities have been faced with terrible options when it came to dealing with their religious lives. These terrible options include:

  1.  Hide in plain sight. Religious communities that impose a culture of silence, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of situation, tell LGBTQ people that they can only be loved and welcomed if they wear a mask or simply don’t share their personal lives in community. That is no way to form healthy relationships or build trust.
  2. Deny your own experiences and self-understandings. As the Jesuit priest Tony DeMello says, “When reality comes in contact with a rigidly held belief, reality is usually the loser.” That is, when someone else gets to tell you what is true about you, your experience can easily be dismissed or chopped up to fit their beliefs.
  3. Leave. For too many people coming out means losing their spiritual homes, the rituals and traditions that have been so formative in their lives, and even feeling that God has told them they have no place in the community.

So, what would I like you to know about religious life as a member of  LGBTQ communities?

 

  1. There are a lot of straight allies out there, even in faith traditions that do not support LGBTQ equality. A lot of people are struggling with how to stand with their LGBTQ friends. For some of them, that means leaving their religious communities, but for more of them, that means offering a voice of encouragement and welcome. We don’t always do that like we should – we put a foot in our mouths, we don’t understand your experience, our cowardice overcomes our love and we don’t stand with you like we want to – but we want to make our religious communities and our society a place that makes real the love we talk about on Sundays.
  2. The God I believe in does not want you to lie. Having to pretend to be something you are not is no way to wholeness or well-being. If God knows you in your deepest self, then trying to deny who you are is like hoping God won’t know who you really are, and that seems a little silly to me. Trying to lie to yourself about who you are does not seem like an expression of loving kindess for yourself, either. Knowing and acknowledging yourself in your greatness and smallness and beauty and silliness is part and parcel of allowing yourself to know that God knows and loves you that way too.
  3. It’s your church too. Often enough I hear people say something about how if you are a Catholic and you support same-sex relationships, then you aren’t really Catholic (or whatever other denomination). It can feel like “the church” is really the leadership – the Pope, the pastors, the officials, but your voice and your experience matter too. I don’t fault anyone who no longer feels at home in the tradition they grew up in, and for those who stay, it can still be a challenge, but I know a lot of people who have simply refused to allow someone else to dictate to them whether they are “good enough” or not.
  4. The risk is worth it. I can’t tell you that your religious community won’t let you down. Mine lets me down all the time. But the alternative is worse: presuming that religion can only let you down, that religious people can’t change or will only act on their worst impulses, is a lonely way to go.

I could run through all the Bible verses that get used on either side of the aisle, but you probably know them better than I do. I can tell you about church teachings that have changed, advances that this or that denomination has made in its affirmation of the dignity of LGBTQ people and their relationships, but you already know what is going on; progress is happening, sometimes slowly, but there is still a long way to go for a lot of religions.

Instead, I encourage you to do something that is at the heart of the Jesuit tradition, the driving force behind SLU’s mission: reflect on how you see God active in your life. If God is active in our world, then surely God is active in your daily life, not just in headline-worthy news stories and political decisions, but in how you care for your friends, how you go about your job or your studies, and how you share your gifts with people. Think for a few minutes about how you have seen healing, reconciliation, mindfulness, and encouragement in your daily life. Think about the communities that have fostered that kind of well-being. If you can find a community that energizes you, keeps you engaged in being thoughtful and generous, and helps you to see the activity of God in your daily life, that’s a community worth hanging on to.

All are Welcome

By: Autumn Elizabeth

This is a story that is quite personal.  It involves my home church, and our struggle together to witness the equality God has shown us. This is not a story with a happy ending, or a story that is meant to chastised. This is the story about how I asked my church to marry me, and how this request was denied.  This is a story about what it means to ask for radical welcome.

When I joined the Disciples of Christ Christian church, I left behind a church where, as a woman, I was seen as unequal, and where I couldn’t embrace me whole self. Living now, far away from the home church that denied me the nothing except the one thing I asked for aloud I have come to face the heart breaking reality that although I still firmly believe in a Jesus who would have fought the police at Stonewall and a God that suffered along side Matthew Shepard, my faith in humanity finds itself on softer ground.

I several years ago, I asked this welcoming church to bless the marriage of my same-sex partner and I. There was hesitation. There was discussion, there was love, there was support, and then there was an answer. That answer was “no”.  The church continued to journey towards a place where that answer might someday be “yes” for someone else. But the truth remains, before I came along, no one stood for me. Before I asked these questions no one asked. Before I argued, no one made a peep. I do not mean to imply that I was alone among my fellow chruch-goers in my sexuality, far from it in fact. But the de facto “don’t ask don’t tell” policy of many christian churches, where LGBTQ people are not shamed, but not welcomed, meant that I had to be the one to ask, and I had to be denied.

My favorite Disciples of Christ quote is etched on the side of my home church. “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity.” Indeed this is the quote most often shown to me as a claim that I must not force any church to be open and affirming of LGBTQ people. Yet, when one looks closely at this argument, it becomes clear that despite the importance of “all are welcome”, welcoming all people, regardless of sexual orientation, or gender identity is actually not essential. Thus, I use this quote to disagree, to advocate that welcoming everyone means equality is essential in the eyes of God.

As long as the single most important essential of disciples doctrine remains “all are welcome”, then in fact, there can be no questioning, no doubt. In all things we must offer charity, we must always have our hearts, our hearths and our doors open. What I offer you, I cannot deny to the person who asks me next. Acceptance of all people, blessing of all unions, welcoming of even our enmities is an essential tenant of Christianity, or at least it is an essential tenant of any Christianity I want to believe in. As people who beleive in the radical love of God, the impossible expanse of God’s welcomeness, we must let everyone participate equally. This radical equality means we must love and accept all who enter our churches’ doors, and it means LGBTQ people must be allows to participate in every ritual of the church. It also means that as LGBTQ people, we cannot deny ourselves access to being full members of our faith groups, nor can we deny ourselves the freedom to be open and honest with our fellow church members about who we are.  Finally, the radical love of God insists on all of us, that we not wait for someone else to ask for justice, whether we are part of LGBTQ communities or not, we all must demand that our faith communities act with justice, act with love, act with radical welcome.

My faith in human nature now rest, as it often does, on the next generation, and in the fact that, despite the outcome of my personal request I have done my part. I have ensure that when the next generation stands, they will not do so alone.  They will be able to look back on this moment, when I asked, you denied me..will you deny them too? They will know that someone, hopefully many someones, have stood up for the radical love that Jesus preached, and asked again and again until their voices were heard, “When will you truly welcome me to the table?”

A Prayer for Strength

 

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Dear Universal Source of Strength,

We pray for the strength to listen to the burdens of others, and the strength to bear burdens of our own.

We ask for help in negotiating the fine line between personal strength and public aggression.

We hope the we show our own strength in the wisest of ways.

We pray for those who must summon strength all too often, those who battle, those whose suffering seems unfairly immense.

We hope that their strength is honored, not exploited.

We ask that you continue to show us the ways we can support the strength in those around us.

We ask for strength that comes from a friend’s hug, a warm cup of tea, and a good meal.

We hope that we find this strong support easily.

We pray for those for whom the strong support of loved ones is not available.

We hope that when we search ourselves for strength in times of trouble, we are able to find it.

We pray that when we cannot find it ourselves, someone does us the kindness of showing us our own strength.

We ask for the wisdom to recognize our own strength, even when it comes in quiet forms.

We pray that the strength of this world, this time, be a strength of compassion, love, and tenderness toward all things.

Amen.

More Than Just Godliness

Today we are delighted to feature our second post from Alexa. In her first post this month, Alexa talked about the strength she sees in her mother’s face. Today, Alexa looks at how her travels, and her passion for  travel as a means of personal growth and self-fulfillment, have given her wider perspectives on the strength people can derive from faith and religion. Check out more of Alexa’s writing on her blog, Past the Horizon.

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My First Communion

My mom has always said that if there were a gift that she could impart to me before she dies, it would be her faith in God. It is this faith that gives her strength and has kept her afloat throughout life’s tough moments. She believes that God works in mysterious ways, and though there are challenging moments in life, that pain and suffering isn’t pointless. It’s all for a reason. So perhaps when you are going through a rough moment, what you’ll learn from that experience will help make you a more compassionate person towards others in similar circumstances, or make you a better friend or parent in the future.

All of my life, I have seen and admired my moms’ faith for what it is, but for whatever reason it is something that I have just never felt in my being.
At this moment in my life, I would most aptly describe myself as an agnostic. Despite personally not feeling this faith in a higher power, I do recognize the strength that it can offer individuals when dealing with life’s many knocks.

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At the Blue Ridge Mountains with Different World Views

I don’t think; however, that this strengthening faith has to necessarily be constricted to the realms of godliness. I think that if you marvel at the mystery of life, nature the cosmos, the world, existence, and how the world works in cycles…you can see that nothing lasts forever, and whatever you are going through, it will change eventually.

I think there is solace in knowing that even with you lying perfectly still the world still revolves and life continues. Everything happens for a reason and faith in God, nature, and even other people’s faith is something that can be comforting and offer you added strength when you have none to spare.

The Strength to Survive with Grace

Today’s post is again about the strength of mothers. Sharon Thomas, who has been a church planter and pastor for many years throughout Chicago and the Midwest writes about her mother’s strength to survive, to endure, and to do it all with grace. According to Sharon, this where she gets her strength from…

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Sharon’s mother as a young woman

In honor of my mother who went to be with Jesus when she was only 44 years old. I wrote this several years ago for a college composition class. Mom I love you. . . .
 There are many ways to measure success. I doubt my mom would have considered herself successful, no matter how you measured it. My mom’s success can only be measured in intangible ways, like her unselfish devotion to her family and her godly character that she knowingly or unknowingly passed down to me.
 Mom would have thought of herself as rather ordinary looking, but now when I look at the old black and white photographs of her, I can’t help but notice how pretty she was. She was quite tall and rather large boned. She had a strong, slender body and long, lanky arms and legs. Her face had a pure, clean look, like she had just scrubbed it with fresh, cold water. When I was going through adolescence, my mom diligently instructed me to never pick my pimples, because doing so would cause unsightly, permanent scars, and since she had none of these unsightly scars, I figured she knew what she was talking about. She also urge me to sit up straight. I never did that as well as she did. She sat with her long, slender back straight and her shoulders up as if she had just seen her date arrive at the senior prom.
 A person could not tell by the way she carried herself that she had a hard, difficult life, and that she was raising eight children with none of the modern conveniences enjoyed by most people during the ’50’s and ’60’s. The only tell-tale sign of her hard life was her rough, calloused hands. I can see her now as she would go out the back porch to hang up the heavy, wet laundry with the cold, north wind howling around her like invisible arms trying to whirl her around and her ungloved hands fumbling to get the clothes pins in place. Several hours later, she would hurry out again to take the now frozen clothes off the line. They were freeze dried and looked like they could walk in by themselves, and I could not help but notice her red, chapped hands.
 In the late evening after the dishes were washed and put away, mom would sit on the worn, faded couch between my sister and me with an old, frayed hymn book in those rough, cracked hands, and we would sing up a storm. The singing and laughter filled the house like the aroma of mom’s fresh baked bread, and it made us feel warm and secure. The memories I have of her bringing in laundry, kneading her bread dough or rubbing Vick’s mentholatem on my chest when I had a chest cold instilled in me the knowledge that her hands were an extension of her heart.
 A difficult life seems to have a way of making us bitter or better. Mom was successful at focusing her life on what she could change and not on what she could not. Her inner strength and joyful spirit enabled her to live above her circumstances and thankfully she passed that strength and spirit down to me. It was her nature to think the best of every situation, so I have learned how to respond to unsettling and difficult situations in my life by watching my mother. Mom was successful because she lived her life for something that would outlast it.

Choosing to Let Go

By: Autumn Elizabeth

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You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

― Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

Being an immigrant can be frustrating, so can being a Christian, and being a traveling Christian feminist…that can definitely get frustrating. Most of my frustration comes from concentrating too much on the results of my life. I want things to go my way, want my prayers to be answered the way I want, want everything to go as I have planned. Once I choose a path, I want it to be the right one. I want to be the one in control of all the outcomes.

But that’s the thing, I am not in control, not of my life as an immigrant, and not as my life as a Christian. I have to give up that illusion.  Now, I am not one to say “let go and let God”. I don’t believe that if I sit at home and do nothing God will make everything perfect.  I am pretty sure God wants us all to strive, to work, to hustle for a better world.

However, sometimes, when we are doing the best we can, when we are working to change the world with thought and action, we can give our frustration to God. We can choose to let go of the result, if and when we have given our best to the process.

So this is what I am choosing. I am choosing to let go of those things that are out of my control, like the result of a job application, or a visa application. I am deciding that my hard work will eventually pay off, even if I can’t see it.

Isn’t that the whole mystery of the universe, of God anyway? None of us, not a one, can know the ultimate effect of our actions. Yet we are called, as humans of a hurting earth, to act, to create, to work, even if the end result goes unseen by our eyes.

I choose to continue to support organizations like Faith Aloud, even when it seems like we fight the same battles every day. I choose to continue to pray for the people of Syria, of Ukraine,and  for all people who live in the mists of this world’s conflicts, even when it seems my prayers go unanswered. I choose to continue on this life path as immigrant, even when I don’t know if it is the right one.

I choose to believe that my work and my life are important for this world, even if I never see the good they do.  I am constantly, forever, choosing to believe that I am a child of the universe, a child of a loving God, and, that with my help, the universe is unfolding as it should.

If you want to tell us what you believe, what you choose, and how you are making a difference, you can submit your words, photos, and prayers.

Honoring the Choices of Others

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Today, we start a series of responses to Faith Aloud’s multi-faith Forty Days for Prayer. After looking at the prayers, which are currently being prayed during the Christian season of Lent, we invite you to send us your responses. Today’s post comes for our very own  Autumn Elizabeth.

I have made a lot of choices in my life. I’ve chosen which church to attend as an adult. I’ve chosen which birth control method to use, which people I want as romantic partners, and even which countries to live in. I’ve chosen to make a lot of decisions that other people may not understand. But in every decision, I know that God understands.

The God I know, the Jesus I follow, does not require me to justify my choices to those who do not know me. I am called only to make my choices with my God, and to let the choices of others remain between them and their God.

We can never know the real reasons for the choices of others. Yet, the universe calls us to love, not hostility.

I have chosen to protect the very women today’s prayer honors. I have stood in front of anger, hatred, and violence at abortion clinics and tried my best to project the love of God. That was my choice–to protect the choices of those who I do not know.

So today, I choose again to use my voice, my faith, and my love to shield people from harm.  I pray for the women who must walk through crowds of hostility and anger. I pray that more people will choose to protect everyone’s right to make their own choices with their own God. I pray that we all choose to honor choice with love, respect, and care. 

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What You Choose to Believe Can Save the World

By: Jenni Taylor

When we were young, we were told we could be anything. Ballerinas, fire fighters, dragon killers and ostrich riders. We were unbeatable- until a scratch, cut, or broken limb sent us running back to the adult world to fix the things we couldn’t fix on our own.

I belong to the adult world now, but my feelings are the same. I am unbeatable- until an unkind word, work disaster, or soul crasher send me running to the hills looking for someone, anyone, who is bigger and more capable than me. Adult suffering is child suffering, except with large walls to hide the wounds.

The monsters I fight are sneakier now. They come in the guise of whispers, of shiny success, of matchstick “love” that puffs into smoke. I find myself swinging my sword at Goliaths- racism, sexism, hate, injustice- and not making a dent.

That’s when I have a choice.

Faith is believing in what you can’t see. I will never prove Gods existence to any of you, and that has never been my goal. But I can choose to believe that:

If I seek wisdom, I will find it.
If I am broken, I will not be broken forever.
If I am weak, I can be made strong.
If I need comfort, I will be comforted.
If I believe I have a purpose, I have a purpose.

If I choose to believe I am loved by the creator of the universe, I will have the courage to love others. If I make the choice and believe that love is bigger than the monsters, then I know that love will change the world. Like a little girl running to her mom for a bandage for a bleeding knee, I choose to run to my faith and know it will heal my broken heart.

So here I am, in all my adult glory, choosing to be small, choosing to be brave, and choosing to believe I am never alone.

I stand here knowing that what I choose to believe in could save the world..