By Allyson Sawtell

A Bit About Me

I am a person with deep passions, callings, pullings-at-my-spirit that I can’t ignore. I am passionate about care for and with creation, about racial and gender/orientation inequality and justice, and about our connectedness to each other and all things. I believe that life is hot-wired for community, for connection, that we humans have forgotten that fact, and that we are destroying ourselves and “our common home” as a result. Because I feel so strongly about these things, I find myself called to write, to help us return to that sense of community, to help us look at ourselves and the world in a different way.

I believe passionately that the Church is a prime location for developing transformational, prophetic-witness types of living, for sustaining communities of hope and hard work. I have a 40+ year history as an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ that has pushed me, called me, and given me experience. So I write prayers, liturgies, reflection pieces, and the occasional rant. I offer them to the Church.

These works, and many others, are on my website “Not Ordinary Church” (https://allyson.revsawtell.org/). You are welcome to use any materials there, as is; permission is granted under the boundaries reflected in the Creative Commons.

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1 “Our common home” refers to On Care for Our Common Home—Laudato Si,’ the encyclical by Pope Francis, written in 2015.

Prayers

A Prayer of Praise and of Opening

Leader: God of earth and sky, of seas, forests, mountains, and meadows—

People: We give thanks for your good Creation, and we celebrate your family of life!

Leader: God of stars and planets, of bugs and birds and all creatures great and small—

People: We give thanks for your good Creation, and we celebrate your family of life!

Leader: Open us, God to the wonder of your good Creation, its beauty and grace. 

People: And even for those parts we have a hard time with, like wasps, or foxes eating baby
            rabbits, we still give thanks for cycles of life and everyone’s part in it.

All:       Open us, God, to gratitude and celebration.

Leader: Open us, also, O God, to the pain of your good Creation, to the cries of all your children.

People: Give us courage to feel the grief and outrage and to work towards justice
              and healing of all your children.

All:       Open us, God, to wonder, grief, courage, and gratitude. We give thanks, O God,
              and we celebrate with you and your whole community of life!


Here We Are 

Leader: O God, here we are, in this space made sacred by the power of love and community. 

             Here we are. 

People: We are not so sure about the “we” part. Who are we who stand on holy ground?

Leader:  Are we consumers, controllers? Helpless, fearful, disempowered?
              Are we lovers, hope-bearers, seekers? Ordinary folks of spirit, energy, and beauty?

People:  We repeat: Who are we who stand on holy ground?

Leader: We are children of God, called to redefine ourselves as one within the community of all              
              life, sharing sacred space with all your beloved children of all species and types.

People:  Don’t let us forget that, O God. In our work and worship, in our lives outside the doors
              of your church, don’t let us forget that we are all connected. That we are, in truth, one
              Body.

All:        Here we are, O God, in this space made sacred by the power of love and community.
              Put us to work!

O Beautiful and Wounded Creation

Leader: O beautiful and wounded Creation, we confess we have sinned against you in thought,
            word, and deed, and in what we have done and left undone.

People: We have imagined ourselves a species apart. We forget or deny that we are all
            connected. We push away from each other out of fear or greed or ignorance. 

Leader: O beautiful and wounded Creation, you are Christ hanging on the cross of wildfire-      
            burned lands, parched with the thirst of drought, life’s blood draining away with the
            riverbeds gone dry, and dying with each species gone extinct.

People: Your cry, O Christ, is the silence of extinction, the weeping of dispossessed peoples.

Leader: O beautiful and wounded Creation:
             You land, water, air, seas;
             You who are torn by war, racism, deforestation, power, disease
             You souls who cry out in hopelessness and fear, and you who have no voice,

             We have sinned against you by what we have done and what we have left undone.

ALL:    We confess, dear God! We confess. 

             Turn us around, dear God, for it is not too late to mend and tend your beautiful and
            wounded Creation.

Readings

Called Together (A Call to Worship)

We are called together to create. To celebrate. To flow through darkness and light. 

To proclaim something—hope, joy? 

To grieve. To confess. To listen. To give voice. 

To hear again God’s call to bring forth a new Creation.

And to do the work.

All are welcome here. 

Some of us, sometimes, may not wish to stay long. 

Some of us, sometimes, may wish to keep our eyes closed. 

All we can say to each other is “Welcome” and “Let’s get to work.” 

       And “You are not alone.” 

       And “You are stardust.” 

Reaching back through time, reaching out through space, there is healing that happens, 

      through the gentle touch of starlight, 

      the caress of tender darkness, 

      the embrace of a bending universe. 

There is healing that takes place. 

All this is why and how and where we gather. 

And who we are. 

And we move through the worship that is our life, 

      in the sure and certain knowledge that we are stardust and to stardust we shall return. 

And in between, we get to love and be loved. To create and be created. 

We are ancient. We are new. We are not alone. 

We have gathered. 

Today. And always.

The Cry of Christ

Reader 1: The cry of Christ is the cry of Creation.

Reader 2:  And when Creation cries out in pain, rage and sorrow, whose voice is it?
                The One born of Mary, proclaiming the reversing of things, and the tumbling of
                empires.

Reader 1: The One who ran the money changers out of the Temple, enraged at their exploitation
                of the vulnerable and voiceless. (Let those who have ears, hear!)

Reader 2: When Creation cries out in pain, rage and sorrow, whose voice is it?

                 Christ of the cross, whose death at the hands of greed, apathy, fear, and business-as-
                usual, invalidated those same powers.

Reader 1:  It is the voice of the Risen One:

                 The Risen Christ, bearing memories, scars, wounds, and wonder. 

                 The Christ of cup and bread, of calling out into community and power.

                 The One who calls Creation to rise again.

Readers 1&2: And now we are the pierced hands that see to that work.

Not Ordinary Times

These are not ordinary times

We hide from the “not”

We cling to the “ordinary” in our little boxes, calmly adjusting our blinders,

Shaking our heads at these times.

But a pit opens up in our stomach

The sense of something not right settles in our bones

A “yes, but…” sits uneasily in our souls and gnaws and nags

And a grief too heavy to bear chokes us like summer wildfire,

Hot and violent.   

Embers scorching all we know.

A suspicion grows in us that if we

Embrace the “yes, but”

And peer into the pit,

A way may be found.

Or a hope of a possibility of a way

May be found

And a hole might be burned through our little boxes of protection,

 Releasing the toxic gases of denial and despair

 Dissipating into the clear cold air

 Transforming to hope and hard work.

These are not ordinary times.

 Yet we wave it away,

    (“Can’t happen to us…”

       Sea levels won’t reach our mountaintop.”)

  And in ignorance, or desperation, or simple greed, we make the “over” the ordinary

     Overfishing

     Overcrowding

     Overgrazing

     Overconsuming

     Overwhelming loss and devastation

But a pit opens up in our stomach.

Subterranean fear gnaws,

     Chewing holes in our denial.

“Something is not right” echoes in our souls:

The cry of Creation

The voice of God.

“These are not ordinary times”

   may be the path towards our resurrection.

So we bathe in courage, grasp for community

    Leave the shelter of business-as-usual

And stare into the face of this unknown future.

We leave our little boxes and cast off our blinders

    And the bright light of Creation’s pain nearly blinds us

    And grief nearly chokes us.

But not quite.

Because when there’s enough of us stumbling around, trying to make a way,

Sooner or later we’ll begin to connect,

  And the power of that connection explodes in hope

  And a different way can be made

  And life can flourish in new and extraordinary ways.

Do you believe? Do you dare?

Falling in Love With Creation

Falling in love with Creation means falling in love with
    ourselves
    each other
    our neighbor

And who is our neighbor?

Draw the circle wide. What does it include?
Who sits with you at the table? And whose table is it? Just yours? Or a co-creation?
Do you join hands—and paws—and wing—and rock—and waves?
    Or just hands?

Who is our neighbor?
    The guy next door with the loud stereo?
    The hive of bees across the street?
    The family boarding the bus to head north to new life, a new language, a new home? New cages?

Draw the circle wide.

Who do you love? How do you love?

Is love a feeling? A decision? An act of will?

We do not stand outside of the Creation we love;
    there is no “out there” out there.

Lament, Confession, and a Song to the Future

“Ok [Okjökull] is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done.
Only you know if we did it.”
Ágúst 2019
415ppm CO2
(“A Letter to the Future,” written by Andri Snaer Magnason, on a plaque placed as a memorial on the mountain)

How does confession embrace all of creation?

Words are so small

Ice so thin it will not move 

Tears melting unshed

We want to avoid this pain if at all possible, but it needs to soak into the parched earth,

into the thin layers of cold and despair because it cannot be turned away. 

Like a glacier slowly advancing, the future crawls out in front of us 

but wait, 

   the glacier is retreating, the future is shrinking 

       we’re skating on thin ice.

We want to avoid this pain if at all possible, but it needs to soak into the parched earth, into the thin layers of cold and despair because it will not be turned away.

O God of snow and ice, of rain and ocean, of tears and barren ground,

    we face the rising oceans and the melting ice with fear, grief, anger,

      helplessness.

We seek the comfort of denial and business-as-usual,

    and we know none of that is really the answer.

So we confess, together.

We confess that the workings of our institutions and systems,

   the use of our own power,

      the choices we make,

         the actions we do—or do not—take

all too often lead to the devastation of all you love.

It is on our hands.

O God of hope and healing,

     Words are not enough.

     Thoughts and prayers are not enough.

We need to change as a country, as a species

    and that terrifies us because we do not know what that looks like or 

      how to do it.

So we watch the glaciers disappear, and feel sad or scared or powerless.

And the future waits for us and seems to shrink 

   with each flawed system

      each misuse of power

        each choice

           each action or inaction

that gives us a way out, a sense of comfort, a denial of desperate urgency.

And the future waits for us. 

And we try not to hear its cries.

O God of all history,

   we no longer live in “interesting times,” in crisis times.

We live now in times of dire emergency.

O God of all time, it’s running out.

Get us moving.

Where leaders fail, help us lead in whatever way we can, with the strengths and gifts you have given us and others have called out from us.

Move your Church to the frontlines of this emergency,

  To proclaim and embody hope

    To proclaim and embody new definitions of what it means to be a people of progress and promise

       To proclaim and embody a new creation.

In the sure and certain knowledge of your all-encompassing love, we confess here and now to the damage we have caused Creation. 

With great fear and trembling, we take the steps to proclaim and embody what needs to be done —now—for the healing of your world and our home.

And we promise.

  We promise we will dare to celebrate and love in the midst of all of this.

And we will sing to the future of ice and oceans, earth and sky, healing and peace, which our children’s children will see, 

   because we promise to do the work that it will take. Somehow. Some way. 

With you, O God, and your community of life.

Touch the Wounds of Creation

When we have the courage to admit it, we know that we live in a wounded world.

When we have the courage to do it, we reach and touch the wounds of Creation:

      the jutting ribs of the polar bear, 

      the ripped, stripped skin of the mountains

      our hands immersed in the stream bled dry

      the bleached coral 

      the flooded crops 

      the flooded neighborhoods                    

      the melting glaciers.    

Extinction.

Take it in; take it on—Creation’s stigmata

Touch the wounds of Creation:

      body broken, blood shed: no inner grace, that.

  Without redemption? 

Touch the wounds of Creation:

      and Creation’s pain touches back, 

      reaching into our hearts with fingers of ice, anointing with dust and tears.

What do we do with our grief? 

      Do we submerge ourselves in the tears and the dust, 

      and find ourselves—unthinkingly—simply remaining there?

When we have the courage to feel it,

      grief carves out the soul, calling us to confession. And then to change.

When we have the courage to dare it, we begin to imagine,

      and we rise from the dust and tears, to claim the improbable vision,          

      to begin to do what can’t be done: change hearts and minds,

      and with others, to chip away at the systems that destroy,

      to strip their greed bare and starve their power.

And to make something new from the dust and ashes.

When we have the courage to live it,

      we engage in the work of redefining

            Progress, the Good Life, the Bottom Line.

What matters? Who we are.

Touch the wounds of Creation.

There is much that can be healed.

There is courage to be found.

There is redemption to be had.

Songs

“Creation Will Dance”  

Lyrics: Allyson Sawtell © 2019   Tune: Shaker Tune; public domain                                           

1.    It’s our call to live simply; this is Earth’s fervent plea:
      To be one with Creation, as we were meant to be.
      We’re all tied together, and connected by life.
      Though we need each other, we live in strife

2 .   It’s our children’s right to have a world that is free
      from hate, war, and fear, and inhumanity.
      To inherit a world where all earth can thrive,
      And with love and justice, be truly alive!

Refrain:

       Live rightly within the Web of Life!
      Bring healing and justice—not greed and strife,
      And when we get ourselves to that place just right,
      Creation will dance out of sheer delight!

3.    It’s our call to be listening, it’s a gift to be wise
      To hear life growing beneath Creation’s cries
      To keep finding hope where we thought there was none
      To celebrate even small victories won

4.    It’s our call to live simply, it’s our call to be one.
      We need each other; God’s work is never done.
      To live, to love as God would have us be
      Then all Creation will truly be free!

Refrain

Hope and Promise

Lyrics Allyson Sawtell © 2019   Tune: Beach Spring, public domain

1. Where is hope and where is promise, in a world that’s gone astray?

    Fear and apathy wreak havoc; web of life just slips away.

Refrain:

When Creation’s pain is ours, too, when hard truths we dare to hear,

We will live with power and justice. Hope will triumph over fear!

2. Let’s not live in deep denial of Earth’s woes, the power of greed.
    As we try to build a new world, courage is our deepest need.

Refrain:

When Creation’s pain is ours, too, when hard truths we dare to hear,

We will live with power and justice. Hope will triumph over fear!

3. Be the hope and be the promise, be the peace the world must know.

    This is good work that is hard, too, and frustratingly so slow. 

Refrain:

When Creation’s pain is ours, too, when hard truths we dare to hear,

We will live with power and justice. Hope will triumph over fear!

4. This is hope and this is promise: laugh and love in spite of fear!
    Dare to know you make a difference! Change the world and dry a tear.

Final Refrain:

Then Creation’s joy is ours, too, dance with all we hold so dear.

We have lived with power and justice. Hope has triumphed over fear!