These are dark and corrosive times. As a writer and ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, I use prayer, poetry, reflection, and scripture to re-align our embattled spirits with the uniqueness and urgency of our God-given identity and call.
You, who summon us from the depths of human struggle and into the bright light of day, we extol your name. Clinging to lifelong patterns of hiding our insufficiency, our gnawing inadequacy, and darkest shame, You, in Your Mercy, You in Your Glory, summon us to stand in the light of day. Who would have ever guessed that boasting of the very things that terrify us – could be the means of your saving grace? Who would have believed it is that which torments us and not our obvious strengths that lead to the perfection of your power?
God of Amazing Grace, whose grace is sufficient and whose power is perfected even in the likes of us, we implore you to open our hearts and minds to hear your unwavering Words of promise. And giving thanks that you continue to walk alongside us even in the worst of times, let us pray as Jesus taught us saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”
Gathering Prayer: You who take us from the shores of Galilee to the byways, zoom sessions, and the post-vaccinated sphere of common life, we praise your name. Though relying heavily on electronic communication and physically separated from loved ones these past sixteen months, You, in your majesty, You, in your glory, invite us to stand in the light of your countenance. Even when overcome by the darkness and uncertainty of it all, You, in your audacious love assure us, saying, “Do not fear,” and “Go in Peace”
God of all Solidarity, during this worship hour, we beseech you to open our hearts and minds to hear your word of restoration and hope, so that by your grace, we may be empowered to live out a new story.
Giving thanks that You staunchly refuse to give up on us, let us pray as Jesus taught us saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”
In response to the humanitarian and environmental crisis that continues to unfold in occupied Palestine and the egregious loss of lives on both sides, I’ve written to representatives concerning the passage of HR 2590. It is a bill to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. I would encourage you to consider reaching out to your representatives as well. A copy of the letter is below:
May 19, 2021
The Honorable Senator…(followed by address)
RE: H.R. 2590 A Bill to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and to ensure that US taxpayer funds are not used by the Government of Israel to support the military detentions of Palestinian children, the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the West Bank, or further annexation of Palestinian land in violation of international law.
My name is Rev. Dr. Jessica McArdle. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, I am an Environmental Justice advocate whose work includes challenging the systemic impact of unjust and predatory practices directed against communities of color, indigenous, and other vulnerable populations. In particular, the occupation and aggression against Palestine and Palestinians in favor of illegal Israeli settlements, has devastated the already limited water supply, uprooted established agriculture, accelerated soil erosion, and has increased toxic waste and dumping.
2) Along these same humanitarian lines, the displacement of Palestinians in favor of Israeli settlements, violates international law: Violation of International Law.
3) The continued occupation and aggression against the Palestinian peoples including the illegal seizure of their property, has devastated arable land, led to the depletion of water resources and increased toxic waste and dumping: Environmental Degradation of Land Due to Occupation
On a personal note, I saw this flagrant violation of the land and its people firsthand when visiting Palestine several years ago. Traveling with a seminary delegation, we stayed overnight with Palestinian families in occupied Bethlehem, toured a Palestinian farm whose lush olive trees were later uprooted by Israeli soldiers, and met advocates who against overwhelming odds sought to provide a measure of protection and well-being for their communities. Throughout our visit, the barrier that cut deep into Palestinian-occupied territory loomed large. Still, through it all, I observed an unparalleled commitment to human dignity, was afforded generous hospitality, and experienced a quality of kindness that touched me deeply.
As a minister, advocate, and constituent, I urge you to support the passage of this bill. Given the current escalation of violence in this region, I believe this bill addresses some of the root causes behind it. As your constituent, I would appreciate knowing where you stand, relative to this issue and in particular, this bill.
Thank you, Senator…, in advance for your consideration.
Rev. Dr. Jessica McArdle, (followed by your address)
Commemorating the 51st anniversary of Earth Day while speaking to the “spring song” of justice long-denied for those in the black community, a poem by the late African-American poet, Langston Hughes. Given the events of this past week, his words are timely.
An Earth Song
It’s an earth song,
And I’ve been waiting long for an earth song.
It’s a spring song,
And I’ve been waiting long for a spring song.
Strong as the shoots of a new plant
Strong as the bursting of new bud
Strong as the coming of the first child from its mother’s womb.
“When God saw that the people had changed, how they turned from their destructive ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that would be brought upon them.” Jonah 3:10
How often does God change God’s mind?
The story of Jonah is recorded not as an account but parable. Here, a prophet called, Jonah, after emerging from the “belly of a whale” astonishingly succeeds. Cut to the heart by the prophet’s warning, the entire city mends its ways. When seeing that the people had turned from their evil ways, God changes his mind and spares the city.
But what if God wasn’t poised to destroy the city of Nineveh? What if Nineveh, like the fall of the Roman empire or the rampant deforestation leading to the collapse of Easter Island and Norse Greenland, were well on their way to destroying themselves? What if the figure of God in this parable and elsewhere, isn’t bent on bringing about the destruction of whole civilizations as much as trying to get our attention – using prophets like Jonah – before it is too late?
Prayer: God of the Whale and the Dolphin, who broods over the waters of the deep, in your steadfast love summon us to make amends for the harm we have committed against each other and this planet we call home. Teach us to turn from the violence that readily insinuates itself into every corner of human life. Quell our voracious appetite for hoarding, while abolishing the meanness that festers and the parsimony that corrupts.
In your mercy, transform us by thy grace. So that you can change your mind about us, once more. Amen.
Stepping into the woods and down a narrow path of gnarled branches on both sides, within the span of a heartbeat I entered nature’s womb. Sometimes straight, other times the trail would veer off and curve into an unbidden direction. Though not sure what lay ahead nevertheless I walked on, held fast by its raw but tender embrace.
Wrote the psalmist, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”  Though heavy-laden with grief, the tightly knit trees, and forest floor held fast incarnating the Spirit’s embrace. Lovingly hemmed in from all sides, the sweet caress of your hand was upon me and this sojourner felt secure once more.
Creation’s Glory, be upon us this day and those ahead, we pray. Lay your hand upon us, and smooth our furrowed brows. Through your incarnation, surround and sustain our broken hearts, so that we may be strengthened for the work that lies before us. For just as the path before us is uncertain, hem us in from all sides – so that whatever we say or do – will illuminate your mercy, justice, and steadfast love. We ask all this in Christ’s name. Amen.
 Photo image by Barry McArdle, Fells Reservation
“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, the foreign kings and ambassadors left for their own country by another road.” Matthew 2:12
Of all the dimensions of human experience, some of the most compelling are dreams. While Herod was compelled to grant three distant Persian kings audience while they sought a newborn child (and even feign interest in seeking him out as well), to their credit the Magi were not fooled. Perhaps they are best remembered for not only seeking and paying homage to the Christ Child but paying heed to the ominous signs before them.
Writes minister and blogger, Ken Sehested, “By now you may have noticed the odd coincidence of today, Wednesday, January 6th being the date of Epiphany AND the Electoral College Presidental Tally. [Usually, a proforma ceremony, opposition fueled by the current president is challenging the states’ votes.]”  But then, Epiphany reminds us that blind ambition, feigned motives, and deadly violence are not remnants of a distant past but like Herod, continue to cast their ominous shadow.
Resisting all attempts to sentimentalize this narrative, Epiphany asks, ‘Like those travelers of long ago, will we pay attention to the signs before us? Will we, like those ancient travelers, risk returning by another way?”
Divine Interuper, what were you thinking? Surely you knew that having Gabriel show up unannounced and speak openly to an unchaperoned fifteen year old girl would place her at risk? You knew, did you not, that she was already betrothed to another? You knew that the society Mary inhabited was rigidly patriarchal and would never tolerate any deviation from this norm.
Yet when Gabriel informs her that she will be impregnated outside of the only acceptable option at the time, she responds by saying, “I am a servant of the Lord,” But then this is what sets her words apart. Given a frightfully risky endeavor, a ‘mission impossible’ nevertheless, she consents. “May your word to me be fulfilled,” she then adds.
Have you ever regretted saying, ‘no?’ Have you wondered if your life would have take a different path if you had not clung so closely to the expectations of others and yourself? Have you pondered what it may have been like, if you took that ‘leap of faith’ and in spite of everything put your trust in God?
Holy One, we are a people mired in the land of mourning. Not merely hundreds or hundreds of thousands have perished, but almost two million globally. Many, who only weeks or months ago were making plans for the morrow, were consumed by a predator virus that shows no sign of abating. Fear has overtaken us, invading our waking hours and haunting our dreams.
Yet you have promised your people beauty instead of ashes, the balm of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of stumbling and faint spirits. In reclaiming those who are bent down with grief, torn asunder by fear, consumed by anxiety – you transform weary souls into mighty oaks of rightfulness. You do this, so that all may see this as revelation of your radiance.
So in your mercy, in your steadfast love where the fullness of grace in Christ Jesus abounds, deliver and restore us, we pray. So that through your Spirit, we may build up whole communities torn asunder by contagion, and raise up a people devastated by hatred and division. By your audacious Spirit, equip us once more to repair what was devastated and even ruined:
rundown urban centers and neglected national parks,
decimated reservation outposts and ravaged inner city neighborhoods,
struggling small towns and migratory farmhands,
fragments of civil discourse and frayed legislative bodies,
vacant seats at the dinner table and traumatized families,
overrun hospital wards and exhausted care providers.
In this Season of Advent, hear our prayer, O God. In your mercy, let your light once again shine in our darkness. In your steadfast love, let your garland of gladness brighten our days. Amen.
From Isaiah 61:3-4, “…to provide for those who mourn…to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
And they shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” Isaiah 61
Mercy, as in showing compassion when it is within your power to punish.
Truth, as in what is genuinely based in reality.
Justice, as in righteousness or moral rightness.
Peace, as in Shalom, signifying completeness, wholeness and wellbeing.
Here mercy, truth, justice and peace not only belong together but as declared ty the psalmist, they meet and embrace.
In this Season of Advent but in the wake of an escalating pandemic, economic peril, perpetual chaos and disquieting uncertainty – if seemingly oppositional qualities of mercy AND truth, justice AND peace were brought together – what might that look like or be?
When reflecting on this, I kept fast forwarding from when this psalm was written to the time of the Gospel of John’s composition, centuries later. This particular Gospel does not open quietly. If anything, the writer begins by making an audacious if not thunderous claim, unequivocally stating, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In other words, if you and I sought to come up with one element of speech or writing that would be the culmination of all that is merciful, all that is true, all that is just and all that is peaceable – it would be this singular WORD.
“The Word became flesh,” wrote John’s author and then added a few verses later, “…from his fullness we have received grace upon grace.” Perhaps even as we long for the coming of the Beloved One of God – we will discover rest in the singularity of this wondrous WORD that became flesh and dwelt amongst us. That through his fullness, we can at last taste the unfathomable riches of mercy, the assurance of truth, the equimity of justice and the sweet splendor of peace.