New Year Reflection

Before you enter the new year, I invite you to reflect over this last one. Imagine God sitting next to you as you do. Ask God to guide you through the year as you look back, drawing your attention to where it is needed.

Are there experiences to which you still need to be present ? Listen to what they have to say to you. Is anything else needed? Do they still need you to grieve them? What wisdom do they offer you as you listen? Gently look back and spend time with any such spaces still calling for your attention.

Are there places, people, or things that it is time to let go of? Spend some quiet time in reflection and prayer, asking God to show you. You may even want to journal about these things or talk with someone you trust.

As you look back, review those moments, persons, and experiences for which you are grateful. Savor them and offer God your thanks. Maybe send a note of thanks to those who touched your life this last year.

As you look to the New Year, where are you most drawn? Where do you feel most energized to invest yourself? Fredrick Buechner says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” What is that life-giving place for you?

Is self-care something you need to attend more to? How do you play and rest? Are your relationships inviting you to invest more in them? As you reflect on these questions, pay special attention to what energizes you. You may want to journal about these things and talk with someone you trust.

Each year there are a few spiritual practices I do to help me enter the new year. I do an Examen of the Year, I redo my Life Rule and look at my Personal Compass. I commend these spiritual practices to you as you begin the New Year. If you want to know more about them, you can easily find resources on the internet, or email me and I will be glad to share resources with you.

New Year Blessing
May you be aware of God’s leading and God’s presence with you in each of your moments and days. May God grant you clarity of vision, a renewed sense of call, and meaningful people to journey alongside you. May God’s deep blessings be yours, as you seek “to see God more clearly, love God more dearly, and follow God more nearly, day by day.” (Lyrics from Godspell Day by Day written in 1971 by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak.) Amen.

Because You Are

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Opening Prayer
Emmanuel, God with us, we give you thanks and praise for who you are and all you have done.
In these moments, help us to soak it in, that we may be filled with joy and the awareness of your presence within.

Invitation
Christmas soon approaches. Some of you may be connected to the joy it brings. For others of you, grief may be intensified. Wherever you find yourself, with questions and heartache, or with joy and promise, may you sense Emmanuel, God with us, coming to you right where you are.

Because You Are
Giver of Joy and Promise
We pause to take in
This wonder of wonders
Beyond our imaginings
That You come as one of us
To know what we know
To experience what we do
To share your life with us
Your life within us

Because You are
Hope is realized
For you bring hope from despair
beauty from ashes
Comfort from sorrow
Honor from shame
Transforming our pain
Giving us life anew

Because You are
Joy comes in the morning
Because you come to us as we are
Calling us by name
Lifting our face
That we may gaze in your eyes
And see your love and acceptance
reflected there

Because You are
Love heals us
For You come
Embracing us to yourself
Imprinting upon our hearts
That we are your beloved
Made in your image
Each one of us

Because You are
We are restored
For You walk beside us always
Your presence healing and renewing
Because You came
Because You are
Because You are
Emmanuel, God with us.

Amen.

(Rev. Eva Sullivan-Knoff, copyright 2019)

While We Wait

Third Sunday of Advent

Opening Prayer
Gracious God, as we sit with you, may your presence illuminate us with light and warmth like that of a glowing fireplace. We draw close Lord.

Invitation
As you read the poem below, notice the ways in which Emmanuel, God with us, comes to us, comes to you, even in the waiting.

While We Wait
While we wait,
Longing for answers
and for hope realized
We slow our step,
Pausing and paying attention
Noticing and Pondering
Signs of your presence
Around us
We quiet ourselves
Listening for your whispers
Reminding us we are your beloved
For You leave us not alone
And so
Pausing and paying attention
Noticing and Pondering
We seek to recognize you
In the faces we meet
And in the little gifts received
A warm smile
Shared tears
Children’s laughter
The words of a friend
While we wait
Longing for answers and for hope realized
We seek to recognize you
In the many ways you come to us
Reminding us
We are your beloved
And You leave us not alone.
Amen.
(Rev. Eva Sullivan-Knoff, copyright 2019)

Waiting in Hope

Opening Prayer
Gracious God, as we sit with you in these moments,
fill us with your peace.

Invitation
In God alone, our soul waits in silence.
Sit for a moment or two and breathe in God’s peace.

Reflection
Advent touches all the places in our lives
and in our world where we wait.
All the prayers waiting for answers. All the aching waiting for good news. All the dreams waiting to be realized. All the waiting for a new start, a new season.
Sometimes all we can do is cry out.
Waiting is draining. Hope can seem elusive.
In our waiting, in our crying out
for ourselves and for our world,
May we find ourselves met by God right where we are.
May we find comfort and hope right in the midst of it.

Read the poem below a couple of times.
Pause where you are most drawn.

Waiting
We are in a season of waiting
for good news
for comfort in our mourning
for hope in the midst of despair
to get on the other side of whatever it is
with which we struggle
We are waiting for peace
to calm the chaos within
for a glimpse of light in the darkness.
We are waiting for joy to return
for longings to be realized
for promises to come to fruition
We wait but not without hope
We wait in remembrance
of who God has been
and what God has done
for the uncountable moments of:
God’s presence by our side
when God’s tears have merged with ours
when our prayers have known answers
and our joy has been reborn
We wait in remembrance of the miracles of all sizes
We wait in hope
because of who God is
because of who God has always been
That hope allows us to keep walking toward the light
It keeps us believing and moving forward
It keeps us loving and reaching out to others
offering what we have received.
We wait in hope
because we know Emmanuel, God with us
has been felt by our side
and will be again.
Amen.

(Rev. Eva Sullivan-Knoff, copyright 2019)

Advent Begins

Opening Prayer
Lord, it seems hard to quiet my heart and mind. So much is swirling around and within me. In these moments, please quiet me within. I need your peace of heart and mind to have strength for the day. Hear me Oh Lord, I pray.

Invitation
Pause for a moment or two to quiet your mind, heart, and body. Take in a few deep breaths. Inhale God’s peace and release any tension. Do this a few times. Breathe in deeply God’s peace for you.

Reflection
As we begin Advent, so many troubles and heartaches in the world clamor for our attention. Climate Change has reached a state of emergency. Children continue to be separated from their parents at the border. Power and privilege continue as weapons to hurt others. Too many people are still without their basic needs. Racism still oppresses. LGBTQ lives are still not honored with value. If ever we longed to connect to the hope of Advent it is now.
Read the poem below through a few times. Pause and reflect on a word or phrase on where you are drawn.

Advent Begins
Longing and yearning
Stretching and straining
Desiring with all my being
Your light in the midst of the encompassing darkness
Heartaches cover my vision
And dim the light within
I cling to Hope to wrap myself in
like a soft warm blanket
Lift my eyes above and beyond
All that aches without and within
May the light of hope kindle a fire
Bright to warm the hearts of all who gather
Radiant to fill our eyes with your vision
Ablaze with your hope and your life
We gather you within and around
Just as you gather us in
And embrace us with yourself.
Amen.

(Rev. Eva Sullivan-Knoff, copyright 2019)

Thanksgiving Prayer

Gracious God,
There are seasons in our lives
when it is easier to be thankful
than at other times.
Sometimes we feel beaten up by life’s struggles
and disheartened by one loss after another,
including all the places of heartache
we see around the world.
When we feel downcast remind us
that when you were here
You too knew struggle and loss and heartache.
Remind us how your presence
uplifted and made a difference
in each of the lives you touched.
Deepen our awareness yet again
of how you do that with us.
Deepen our awareness of how you do that for others through us.
We are your hands and heart and feet.
Help us to love well.
So Lord, on this designated day of giving thanks,
Thank you for providing for our needs.
Thank you for all the ways you touch our lives
and uplift our spirits.
Thank you for all the ways you help us
put one foot in front of another.
Thank you for holding us when we are grieving.
Thank you for giving us strength when we are weak.
Thank you for encouraging us in so many ways.
Thank you for loving us always.
Thank you for being as close as our very breath.
Thank you for being you.
We love you Emmanuel, God with us.
Thank you.

Easter – The Great Yes

Opening
Living God, quiet my heart and mind to be attuned to you in these moments. I check within to notice what feelings and needs are there, aware that sometimes the joy of the holiday doesn’t match the feelings within. I bring my full self to you. Speak to me and meet me where I am on this most meaningful of days.


Woman, Why Weepest Thou?
Fritz von Uhde between 1892 and 1894
Public Domain

Reflection
Meet us in our own stories as you met Mary, and bring life to them. Risen Lord, we have waited for this day after the journey of this week. We have needed to get to Resurrection and Hope. Speak to us deeply through your Word.


Invitation
As you read the scripture, pay close to attention to the disciples. Are you drawn to a particular one? What do you notice about them? Watch how Jesus responds to Mary. He invites her to speak her pain, to tell her story before he reveals Himself.  Notice the way in which Jesus meets her where she is.


John 20:1-18
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.  Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb;  and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.”


Prayer Response
Lord,
My heart is bursting with the Yes of today.
Even though there is still sorrow and shadows,
hardships and corners of despair, they do not have the last word!
Indeed they cannot.
Easter is about Yes, the Great Yes that says,
death and sorrow and despair
are overcome.
Hope becomes real and deeply felt.
We know promise and presence because You live!
Thank you that the light is greater than the darkness.
Thank you that life is stronger than death.
Thank you for the way you share our lives.
Thank you for the way you bring life and Yes to us.
We praise you for the unspeakable joy of living with you and the hope it brings.
Amen.


Holy Saturday

Opening

I quiet myself.  I breathe deeply. I seek to be present to it all.

Reflection

Between Good Friday when Jesus died and Easter when He rose to life again, lies Holy Saturday when Jesus lay in the tomb. This day was filled with grief, darkness, and mourning for those who loved Him.  I am struck by His experience of the depths of darkness for us, the way he entered the depths of grief with us. I breathe deeply. I seek to be present to it all.

Invitation

Read the scripture through a few times. Imagine this day and what it was like for his followers as you read. Allow yourself to pause where you are drawn.

John 19:38-42

“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body.  Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.  They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.  Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”

Prayer Response

Oh Lord, this day…

This day…

 my heart cries out

In the deafening silence

My heart moans and groans

From the depths of what you knew

Your suffering death

Is so hard to fathom

How much you love us

To give it all

To experience it all

To choose it all

How deep is your understanding.

So I will sit here in silence

In vigil

Knowing it is you who sit here

In vigil with me.

I sit with you in companionable silence,

Just as you have sat with me in it

More times than I can number.

Thank you for all this day means.

Amen.

Copyright © 2019, Journey Center of Chicago,  All rights reserved.

Good Friday

The Crucifixion
Jacopo Palma the Younger (Italian, Venice ca. 1548–1628 Venice)

Opening
I quiet myself. I humble myself. I breathe deeply. I am here Lord.

Reflection
I listen and watch
as the loving and pain filled journey
Intensely unfolds before me.
I walk attuned to Jesus’ journey towards the cross.
What stirs within me as I encounter humanity’s shadow and my own?
What stirs within me as I witness Jesus’ entering the darkness for us all?  
I take my time in order to genuinely see.  
I take my time to be present to Him
As He is to me.

Invitation

John 19:1-30(To read the whole account, read from John 18:1-19:42)

Read the scripture through slowly, pausing where you are drawn. Take as long as you need. Imagine you are there. As you read keep your eyes on Jesus. Listen to His words. Imagine his face as He speaks. What do you see in His eyes? Watch his actions. How does He respond? Stay focused on Him as you read. As the Holy Spirit to guide you in your prayerful reading.

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face.  Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.”  So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”  When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever.  He entered his headquarters[j] again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer.  Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”  Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”  From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha.  Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!”  They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”  Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus;  and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.  There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.  Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth,the King of the Jews.”  Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.  Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’”  Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”  When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.  So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says,

“They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”  And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”  Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.”  A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.  When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

Prayer of Response
Moved by all that has been given,
By all that has been done,
I sit in silence with Jesus.
I remain with Him.
I offer my heart in silence.
Amen.

Copyright © 2019, Journey Center of Chicago,  All rights reserved.

Maundy Thursday

“He Loved Them to the End”

Opening
In these sacred moments, I quiet myself.
I humble myself.
I lean in.

Reflection
I listen and watch
as the loving and pain filled journey
Unfolds before me.
What do I notice within me?
I take my time
Moved by Jesus’ great display of love.

Invitation
You are invited to enter the scripture through your imagination. Ask the Spirit to guide your thoughts as you read. Read the scripture through slowly a couple of times. Take it in through your senses. Enter as an observer focusing on Jesus’ words, actions, and affect. Notice what draws you and pause there. Talk to the Lord about what stirs within you.

John 13: 1-17, 31b 35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.  I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’  I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.  If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Prayer Response
“Having loved his own
Who were in the world
He loved them to the end”
These words never fail to move me.
Your love doesn’t stop
Even when you are troubled in spirit
Even when you know what lies ahead
Your love doesn’t stop.
So invested in my freedom, my life
My healing and my wholeness
Your love doesn’t stop.
Help me to believe in
How much you love me.
Help me to believe
There is nothing that can keep me
From your love.
Let the knowledge of it
Seep into my very bones
And permeate all that I am.
Let it set me free
From my doubts
and insecurities.
Let me live and walk
In that love.
And having received it
May I reflect it
To all around me.
Thank you gracious Savior.
Thank you. Amen.

Copyright © 2019, Journey Center of Chicago,  All rights reserved.