Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Evening Prayer with Pastan's Poetry: A Liturgy for Reflection

We Episcopalians love our Book of Common Prayer.  In fact, we love several Books of Common Prayer.  While we mix the language with special flavorings (Gender Neutrality, U2-charistic Hip, Ye Goode Olde English...), the basic outline for any worship goes back to the days of Cranmer and Queen Elizabeth I, and it's both steady and flexible, able to withstand innovation.  

For our latest class meeting of Education for Ministry (EfM), I brought out a liturgy for evening worship based entirely on poetry by Linda Pastan.  Why?  She often works with figures from the Hebrew scriptures, and some of the class had read Exodus this week.  Also, she reflects deeply on ordinary things. Last, I expected her many images to stimulate memories and tangential thoughts in members of the class, which we would in turn use for a theological reflection.  

It worked!

Here is the short service, with just enough of each poem to give a reader its flavor.  I am a fan, and wouldn't want to make Ms. Pastan have to call her lawyer.  I post the service here just as an idea for others.  As my 7th graders would say, "If you want to know what happens in the rest of the poem, go buy her book yourself."   My interpolations are in italics.


Liturgy for Reflection
Using poems by Linda Pastan
From C arnival Evening: Collected Poems 1968-1998 and The Last Uncle, 2002,
edited for collective recitation

Opening song of praise  to be read responsively, by verse, after each asterisk
Wearing their formal clothes,
their serious, funereal expressions*

The last things of our lives prepare
their final speeches.

While they are busy, let me praise
penultimate things: *

the bent branch
outside my window,

due to be kindling
next fall;*

the car I taught my next to last
child to drive on...

ALL:  Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.
(“Penultimate Things” from The Last Uncle, p. 33)

A  Reading that reflects on the Hebrew Scriptures , a different reader after each space break


I set my table with metaphor:
the curling parsley – green sign nailed to the doors
of God’s underground; salt of desert and eyes;
the roasted shank bone of a Paschal Lamb,
relic of sacrifice and bleating spring.
Down the long table, past fresh shoots of a root
they have been hacking at for centuries,
you hold up the unleavened bread – a baked scroll
whose  wavy lines are indecipherable.

The wise son and the wicked, the simple son
And the son who doesn’t ask, are all my son
Leaning tonight as it is written,
Slouching his father calls it.  ...

excerpt from “Passover,” from Carnival Evening, p50-51.

A Homily – “The Vanity of Names”

When the house of flesh disappears
in an earthquake of its own making,
this house of wood and glass
will stay fixed in its landscape.
Rooms will be swept clean
of all memories.  Doors will close.
I know all this.  But to acquiesce
is never easy. ...

from The Last Uncle, p. 38

Prayer - “Grace” responses added.

When the young professor folded
his hands at dinner and spoke to God
about my safe arrival
through the snow, thanking Him also
for the food we were about to eat,

                        We thank Thee, O God

it was in the tone of voice I use
to speak to friends when I call...
                        We thank Thee, O God...


from The Last Uncle, p. 13

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