Recently, Lee and I led a workshop on “Being Theologically Creative in An Age of Polarization” at the NEXT Church Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. Our workshop aimed to model creative ways to reframe critical questions that can lead to embracing and creating space for holiness in time, to explore the biblical text as a living narrative, and to identify stories of resistance and reformation.
At the end of workshop, we invited participants to pray for each other using a closing ritual collaboratively written in 2009 by Cory Lockhart, Gloria Thornburg, and me as a way to honor the 2007-2009 cohort of students graduating from Bellarmine’s Master of Arts in Spirituality program. If you are not familiar with Cory’s and Gloria’s work you may want to learn more. Cory Lockhart is a Christian peacemaker, trainer in compassionate communication, and a religious social activist. You can learn more about her ministries here: https://www.heartcommunication.net/about. Gloria Thornburg currently teaches a course on the Quest for God as an adjunct faculty member in Bellarmine’s Theology Department and holds a Doctor of Ministry in Christian Spirituality. She has also served as campus minister at Assumption High School in Louisville, Kentucky.
The closing ritual that we wrote together intentionally connects social action and passion with prayer and contemplation and reminds us of friends who walk with us along the way. Since then, Lee and I have adapted and expanded this prayer for a variety of different contexts and communities. We invite you to do the same.
What you will need: There are a few things that you will need for this ritual, including a candle, seating for participants arranged in a circle, and a copy of the prayers provided below. You will need to print (or provide some other sort of electronic access to the prayer) and divide it into parts. Two leaders need to begin and end the ritual. Then, participants will need an individual petition that they can read to the person to their right. At the beginning of the ritual, light a candle as a symbol of God’s presence within and among the group. Pass the candle around the circle so that each participant can hold the candle while reading the prayer for the person sitting next to their right. One of the leaders will then close the ritual at the end.
Prayer for the Person to the Right of You
Leader One: In the gospel of Matthew Jesus is remembered to have said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp put it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God …”
Leader Two: “There is an art to beginning, but an even greater art to ending.” As we end our program and our time together on this phase of our life journeys, we will acknowledge and affirm the mystery of each one of us by reading a special prayer calling the wisdom of the people we have studied to be with us as we end and go our separate ways. The word from the scripture reading is light…and from another scripture reading we believe that the word becomes flesh and dwells among us. So, take a look around our circle. Where is that light made flesh? Who is the person sitting next to you?
The person next to you is an inexhaustible reservoir of possibility… a unique universe of experience…really a whole collage of persons met during a lifetime…the light for a world that desperately needs it.
As you light the candle for the person to your right, please read and hear the special blessing, knowing that it is meant particularly for you both.
One: You are the light of the world, _____________. May you have the mystical awareness of Thomas Merton enabling you to see your own light as “shining like the sun” so that you, too, might know “There are no strangers! The gates of heaven are everywhere.”
One: You are the light of the world, _____________. May you hold with you the inspiration of Saint Alphonsa and bring healing across the lines of religious traditions and social divisions.
One: You are the light of the world, _____________. May you, like Elizabeth Johnson, find the beauty in mutual relationships and promote understanding and healing among women and men; between humanity and the rest of God’s abundant creation.
One: You are the light of the world, _______________. May you have the insight of Wendell Berry to see your own light in the graceful simplicity of a single candle flame, realizing that the mountaintop, the river bottom field, or the close knit relationships of a lifetime are reflected in the flame’s radiance.
One: You are the light of the world, _____________. May you experience the vision of Julian of Norwich to whom God was revealed as Trinity, “the power and goodness of fatherhood … the wisdom and lovingness of motherhood … the grace which is all blessed love …”
One: You are the light of the world, ______________. May you embody the humility of Mother Teresa. In her work, caring for the poorest and most rejected people in society, she did not claim to do “great things, only small things with great love.” May you seek not to do great things, but to fill everything you do with great love.
One: You are the light of the world, _____________. May you have the holy assertiveness of Hildegard of Bingen, protecting that brilliant light, shielding it from elements that seek to extinguish it, moving it to where it will flame faithfully and dancing with the Divine.
One: You are the light of the world, _____________. May you have the courage of Sojourner Truth who, “like the first woman God made,” was strong enough to turn the world upside down, and get it right side up again!
One: You are the light of the world, _____________. May you be a dreamer like Jacob and envision each day how what is done on this good earth glorifies God. May you wake each day saying “Surely the Lord is in this place …”
One: You are the light of the world, _____________. May you, like Joan Chittister, find your own holiness. May you recognize that you have a special place in our world. Chittister writes: “We are not here to feed off the world. We are here to complete the world.”
One: You are the light of the world, _____________. May you speak with clarity like Isaiah who reminded us that God envisions a new earth where the sounds of weeping will no longer be heard and all will know the safety of well-lit homes and streets and benefit from their own labor.
One: You are the light of the world, ____________. May you have the sense of presence of Abraham Heschel illuminating shadowy places of doubt with your prophetic light, assuring the lost or the lonely, the searching or the settled that “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”
One: You are the light of the world, ____________. May you find the ability to see, like Catherine of Siena, the inseparable link between loving our neighbors and loving God. May you find love in your heart for those who are difficult to love and use your love of God and neighbor to cultivate peace when there is conflict.
One: You are the light of the world, _______________. May you blaze with the fire of Daniel Berrigan, melting swords into plowshares, unable to be contained even when confined, incapable of being extinguished until violence is consumed by your passion and peace flourishes in the ashes.
One: You are the light of the world, _______________. May you have the dedication of Marian Wright Edelman. “Assign yourself” when you see problems in the world. Don’t ask what someone else is going to do about it, but ask instead “What can I do about it?”
One: You are the light of the world, _____________. May you have the perception of Thomas Berry, understanding the story of the universe, living in harmony with the land and all the varied images of God on it, seeing each new mysterious morning as something marvelous and sacred.
One: You are the light of the world, _____________. May you find in yourself the curiosity of Loren Eiseley, scientist and writer. Pursue your questions until you discover the beauty and poetry that lie in the answers.
One: You are the light of the world, _______________. May you be tenacious, like Fannie Lou Hamer, and continue to rekindle your own flame even when others seek to extinguish it.
One: You are the light of the world, ______________. May you find, like Jon Sobrino, solidarity with the poor. May you recognize that the poor “inspire and motivate the creation of a civilization of solidarity, not of selfishness.” Seek not to enrich the poor but to allow yourself to be enriched in relationships with them.
One: You are the light of the world, ______________. May you gain the memory of Rosemary Radford Ruether who illuminates the forgotten work of women and men who have throughout the ages hoped to live in community.
One: You are the light of the world, _______________. May you hold within you the spirit of Benedict, embodying peace as you bring together work and prayer.
One: You are the light of the world, ______________. May you like Dorothy Day, discover the “little way” and find satisfaction in working alongside others to accomplish courageous acts of feeding, sharing, and creating community.
Leader One: As we leave this place we are encouraged the think about the famous passage from Matthew in a new way by activist and spiritual guide Marianne Williamson. She reminds us that too often “It is our light, not [the shadows of our existence] that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” May that be our aim today and in the days to come. Go in peace.