“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
 from Psalm 139:5
 Ken Sehested www.prayerandpolitiks.org
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. Truth. Justice. Peace.
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.
May it be so.
 Image from Crosswalknapa.org
A Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent
Advent One, awaken us from our self-induced slumber, we pray. Numb from uncertainty and isolation, our senses have dulled. We confess it is easier to nurse diminished hope, than respond to the suffering of our neighbors, or the hurt lodged deeply within.
Yet we know that just as you came before, you will come again. You who seek to awaken our innermost self. You who come to us in the inconspicuous, the marginalized and the forgotten. You who know our fear of being released from this numbness. Yet in love you urge us on, saying, “My children, keep awake!”
So, God of All Awakening, in your mercy awaken us, we pray. Rouse us from this deadened slumber. Sharpen our senses and set us on our feet. For we want to prepared when we see you – be it in glory or in the least of these.
So we may be counted, as blessed, once more. Amen.
 Image from Kekovacs.blogspot.com
 Based on The Gospel of Mark 13:37, “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Grateful for this sheltered place
With light in every window
Saying, “Welcome, welcome, share this feast
Come in away from sorrow”
from the Thanksgiving Song, by Mary Chapin Carpenter
As we continue to shelter in place, O God, will we ever be able to sing your praises? Will these anxious hearts weary and heavy from sorrow be lifted? Can Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas even be celebrated this year, when we’re separated from those we love?
Before you and you alone, we acknowledge these painful uncertainties. Loss of employment, housing and health, are ravaged further by inequality. Loved ones lost are unable be mourned. Events that once sustained us have been put aside. Deep divisions and threats to our democracy persist. Our planet and her peoples crumble under the weight of injustice and exploitation.
So, we cry out, when will we be able to throw our doors wide open, O Lord? When will lighted windows signify the sharing of the feast? When will the Thanksgiving Song be joyfully lifted up even as we clasp hands with others?
Yet you remind us that you are always in the face of the least of these. You come as the ignored, the marginalized and the hungry. Yours is the face lined with sorrow. Yours are the eyes who have seen too much. You come as the one who is incarcerated, the one who is sick but without adequate health-care, the one who stands outside a food bank wondering if there will be enough.
Great Redeemer, in our searching and longing for you, be with us in the light of your countenance and shine through the windows of our hearts. Let your welcoming affirmation accompany us when we bring food to the shelter, make a phone call to the lonely and write a message of cheer to the imprisoned. So that all your children – through your unfathomable grace – may come away from sorrow, seeing one another not as strangers, but as long-lost brothers and sisters who together share in the feast of gladness. May it be so. Amen.
 Photo image from Goodfon.com
“If I say [in my despair], ‘Surely this darkness shall engulf me and what remains of light will become as night,’ even gloom’s obscurity is no match for you; for its darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139:11-12, paraphrased
It has been said that the late Howard Thurman, black activist, theologian and Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University turned daily to Psalm 139 during the course of his lifetime. What was it about these words that kept this theologian and activist going? And what advice would he give us in the wake of a joyful, historic and momentous victory – yes – but knowing full well that we face a challenging and hazardous road ahead?I
Injustice and weariness were not unknown to Thurman. He witnessed firsthand depravity’s cruelty and was no stranger to the viciousness inflicted on the marginalized and most vulnerable. Yet it was because of these things, that he could unwaveringly make the case for God’s proximity even when feeling acutely alone. Indeed, he was convinced that grief, heartache and being cast into utter darkness – especially for those in the trenches and on the frontlines of seeking justice – will not or cannot diminish this intimate connection with the transcendent One.
Such was this daily practice that sustained him through the years. Thurman’s legacy radically affirms God’s proximity whenever any of us finds ourselves in the throes of darkness. A darkness that is lifted whenever we turn to the psalmist’s profound and undefeated words, day after day, month and after month and year after year.
 image from http://stephintaize.blogspot.com