I had taken a pretty significant sabbatical from posting. I didn’t know how long it would be, or if this marks the return of daily posts, but I could not keep from articulating this experience that emerged from our worship yesterday. At the beginning of October my church launched a new, fully-emergent worship service that was a step out of our comfort zone and well into the darkness of uncharted territory. It was to be drastically different from our other two worship services, both of which are twists on high church Traditional worship, and it is.
One of the major divergences from classical worship experiences is our prayer cards. We have folded card stock in which everyone is invited to down their prayers. Sometimes I offer a suggestion to guide them, but they are always free to pray about anything and everything. The prayers are anonymous, and both clergy echo the prayers during the course of the week. From the first Sunday of worship, I was shocked by the level of prayer being offered. They were authentic, vulnerable, and often articulated with such moving words. Sometimes the pleas inside haunt me. Other times I find myself smiling, and swelling with joy at what God can and is doing. I have come to expect the unexpected when I read these prayer cards first thing on Monday morning, and yesterday topped them all.
Sunday marked the end of a worship series on Taboo Topics in the Church. We covered mental illness and physical disabilities, Capital Punishment, suicide, and finally yesterday we addressed abortion. It was a heavy series, pushing us into confronting stigma and how the Church has been so guilty of hurting rather than healing in how we attend to people who suffer through any of these issues. We sought ways to be vessels of grace and love. We named those we know and love who were impacted by writing their names on a mirror with the topics on across the top, we lit candles marking our pledge to be present when our lives crash into these issues, and we repeatedly sang songs that affirmed that God is our rock, our stable foundation when our world get rocked. It was not uncommon to see people openly weeping. I watched their faces reveal the internal struggle as they sought to reconcile what God was calling us to be versus what we had so often participated in. So when I opened the prayer cards for the abortion worship I expected to once more read impactful prayers, but I was unprepared for the profound words within.
One person asked for the power and strength to say “no” when they were asked for sex, so that they would not have to consider making the decision to have an abortion. Another gave thanks that one day they would meet the child that their sibling had aborted. They gave thanks to God for the promise of meeting that child whom they named their nephew or niece. Wow. Now that is profound. I just stood there, prayer card in hand, and marveled. What a depiction of restoration, redemption, and grace: meeting the child that never became through the power of God Almighty and the grace of Jesus Christ. My eyes well with tears typing this just recalling that prayer.
I recall saying in worship that I once had a conversation with a woman in the hospital while I was a chaplain who had an abortion and was recovering. As she expressed the struggle and regret that often follows in the wake of abortion, we shared a deeply personal conversation about the loss of a child where I revealed that I had a miscarriage, and we mourned the loss of once bearing life and then being emptied of it without a baby to hold. But as is often the case with hospital ministry, I never saw her again after that. I told the congregation that I wish I could have, because I wanted to tell her about the promise of Resurrection. That I believed that she would one day meet that child being held in trust by God. That the Day of Resurrection would be the union that never took place in this world and in this life. I don’t have any Scriptural evidence for that proclamation. I just have this sense that came to me as I mourned the loss of my child. I remember that promise coming to me when I was praying, that God held my baby who was too young to even know the gender. While I was mourning what would never be, God revealed a promise of what was to come. It was an experience of God’s comfort, and when I spoke it in worship I earnestly believed it, but then when I read it on the prayer card, I knew it.
Worship can be profound. It should be, and it is when we get real, are authentic, and allow for vulnerability. I am always amazed by what people willingly share in those prayer cards. I get humbled by the glimpses into pain, struggle, triumph, and gratitude I read. I find myself connected to them despite the anonymity. Maybe we will speak these words together one day in future worship, or maybe not. Either way, right now our worship together as the Body of Christ is pushing us beyond ourselves where we encounter Christ in new ways. We impact each other. There worship is so profound, and I pray that we just continue to seek that.