Worthy of Love

The Rev. Kerri Clark shared the following message with her congregation and on her blog in the final days of 2020. We want to share her wisdom and encouragement.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

As 2021 begins, we’re already being inundated with messages about new year’s resolutions, weight loss, and diet plans. Our holiday feasting is labeled as an indulgence, and even sinful, and we are made to feel guilty about, or at least apologetic for, the weight we carry or the state of our bodies in general. The reality, however, is most often not about wellness, but rather money. The diet and exercise industry is hugely profitable, taking advantage of our feelings of discontent and shame about our bodies.

So – here’s your annual reminder that you don’t need to change your body in order to be worthy of love. You are made in God’s image and called good and beloved just as you are. Your body doesn’t need to be able, or healthy, or a certain size to be worthy of love, compassion, and care. Your weight and health are not indications of your goodness, morality, or anything else.

The incarnation is God’s declaration that our bodies are good. We celebrate that Jesus was fully God and fully human. He was not a deity pretending to be human, wearing skin like an ill-fitting costume. Instead, he was born among us with a body like ours, that grew and moved and experienced both joy and pain.

We celebrate all the ways that Jesus’ ministry was embodied – all the meals he ate with his friends; food provided for hungry bellies, and encouragement for hungry hearts; the times he noticed and touched those whose bodies were broken or in pain; when he wept at the death of his friend; when his own body was lovingly anointed and prepared for burial. We give thanks for his resurrected body, which still bore the marks and scars of his life and death, and which promised that our bodies will be resurrected, too.

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You Have to Put the Baby down Somewhere

“You have to put the baby down somewhere”
A Sermon for Port Royal Baptist Church
Christmas Morning 2016; Year A
Luke 2; Titus 2:11-14

Hiking, working in the field all day, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden: Humans are able to do a surprising number of things while holding babies.

A mostly broken animal nativity set that manages to stay in use each year in the author’s house. Here, baby Jesus naps under the kneeling adoration of a lamb while a donkey and camel approach to pay him homage.

Washing hands, cooking, drawing up medicines one-handed, riding in a car, taking a shower, using the bathroom, doing laundry, teaching, preaching, leading worship, eating, washing dishes, typing sermons, studying:

All these things have been done either holding a baby or with a baby strapped on somehow. Did I mention carrying 70 or so pounds of firewood? I’ve seen it done.

You can hold a baby while doing almost anything, if you have to.

But sooner or later, you have to put the baby down somewhere.

You can’t hold them all the time. And sometimes that place is going to be less than ideal:

On the table, in a sink, in a laundry basket, in a dresser drawer, on the ground, in a shoebox on the door of an open oven, on the floor of a public restroom to change a diaper, under the Christmas tree, in a big box in the back of a car, on the floor of the house, in a car seat atop the dryer to soothe colic, on the floor of the shower, on the public restroom floor, propped up on couch cushions, in the bed between you, in the bed with a sibling, in the laundry hallway…

These are all some less-than-ideal places that babies have been put down, and I am sure you can think of a few more.

I had help with this list. I surveyed a group of clergywomen, and they had lots to say about where they slept when they were born, where their older relatives were placed as infants. (The shoebox on the oven door was with premature triplets, and I’m told dresser drawers were pretty common once upon a time.) They had long lists of places they’ve had to put babies down that were less than ideal.

Humans can do an astounding number of things while holding babies. But sooner or later, you have to put the baby down somewhere.

And so did Mary and Joseph.

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A Prayer for the Waiting

Do you like waiting? I write about how in dealing with infertility, you are often stuck in two-week increments: two weeks to ovulation, two weeks of waiting. Repeat. Only, it isn’t always so simple either — long cycles or short cycles, closed clinics or other disruptions. For 53 months, I felt like I was endlessly waiting. Advent is celebrated as the liturgical season of waiting, waiting for Christ to come again. But waiting is exhausting. It’s even demoralizing sometimes. The following prayer does not romanticize the waiting but seeks to be open to God’s presence in the midst of it.

God who wipes our tears away, hurry up already. The weight of waiting has left me spent, unable to focus. I have no control, no reasoning can get me out of this, and scrolling often makes it worse. I want you to swoop in and zap my struggles away. I want you to lift up the lowly, now. I want you to make the world new, now.

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When Christmas Isn’t Joyful Part 2: A COVID Christmas

When I was a kid, I loved going to my grandma’s house on Christmas. Of course I loved the gifts and being with family, but what I really loved was Grandma’s Christmas tree. Have you ever seen “icicle tinsel” that is basically thousands of loose shiny silver strings? That was Grandma’s tree. And by “Grandma’s tree,” I don’t mean a few scattered here and there; I mean the tree in its entirety. Though my grandparents always cut down a live tree, by the time Grandma was done decorating it, nary a pine needle or branch was visible, only silver tinsel illuminated by multicolored Christmas lights she had surely owned since the 1970s.

The author’s 2020 annual ornament.

That tree brought me pure joy. If I close my eyes, I can still see it.

On All Saints Sunday, my spouse and I sat around the breakfast table with our kids and recounted some of our favorite memories of family members who died before they knew them, memories that bring us joy even in the sadness of these loved ones’ deaths. Grandma’s tree was one of those memories for me.

In 2020, we need every ounce of joy in every place we can find it.

Last Advent, I wrote a piece entitled “The Story of the Bird: When Christmas Isn’t Joyful.” I shared about how our family has a particular ornament that commemorates a particularly difficult year, and how we hang it up and tell that story every year. In December 2019 when I wrote that article, I had no idea what 2020 would be.

But here we are, revisiting our ornaments and the stories they tell. You’ve probably seen some of the 2020 ornaments going around this year: dumpster fires, toilet paper, masks, or my personal favorite of the Grinch pictured next to the year 2020 with the words “Stink, Stank, Stunk.”

But did it? Did the whole year “stink stank stunk”? I am not one to silver-line things, as last year’s essay reveals. When we only focus on the “happy things” while overlooking what’s underneath, we aren’t being honest about our true emotions and experiences.

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In Search of a Non-White Baby Jesus and Post-Partum Mary: Board Book Edition

The author’s kiddo approves this message.

My internet search for “Christmas Board Book” was yielding snow, candy canes, Santa, and saccharine messages about “giving” as the true meaning of Christmas. Worse, searches for “Nativity Board Book” and “Baby Jesus Board Book” turned up white Jesus and a skinny post-partum Mary. The closest to a non-white Jesus I could find was the Holy Family as animated vegetables, and even there, Mother Mary was a very skinny veggie with eyeliner and bright red lipstick after just giving birth to a baby pea.

I was searching for a board book that tells the original Christmas story with Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, and baby Jesus. I am okay with a little historical inaccuracy (like a nativity mash-up that includes the magi with the shepherds – or even a shepherd made of asparagus), but I am not okay with teaching my blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby boy that Jesus looks exactly like him. I don’t want him to connect holiness with gendered beauty norms. My white son needs to know that God chose to come to earth as a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew, and that God celebrates bodies of all genders and sizes, including body shifts after pregnancy. In short, I don’t want illustrated children’s books to promote white supremacy or patriarchy.

There are children’s nativity stories that fit these parameters (like Who Built the Stable? by Ashley Bryan and the out-of-print The Story of Christmas by Jane Ray), but they aren’t available as board books. My toddler is old enough to insist on turning the pages himself but not old enough to turn the pages without ripping them. This means that we need baby-friendly board books with a non-white Jesus and realistic post-partum Mary. “Does this book exist?” I asked on social media. Fortunately, my crowd-sourcing revealed that four such books do exist. Here they are.

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Advent Family Prayers

Advent 2020

For my daughter’s first Advent and Christmas, my husband and I got an Advent wreath for our home, wanting to expose her to a tradition that has been spiritually meaningful for us over the years at church. During her toddler years, it was chaotic to light the candles in a place she could see but not touch, and it was nearly impossible to try to get her to focus for just one minute on saying a prayer.

But last year when she was four, one night at bedtime she told me, “Today was hope candle day. And next week is peace!” She remembered joy and love too. This year, with a five and three year old, we light the candle(s), share answers to a question, and say a short prayer. In response to the hope question, my older daughter inevitably answered, “I hope I get everything I want for Christmas.” Before we could talk that through, our younger daughter chimed in, “I hope for Mama, Papa, Eve, and Rose to be happy.” The girls looked at each other, then us, and then the purple candle burning, and it was quiet for one sacred second of kairos time.

I offer the prayers and questions we’re using this year for you to adapt in ways that fit where you are and who you’re with this Advent season. May they point you to the Light of the World, the One who is already here and who is on the way again this year, yes even in 2020.

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A Prayer for World AIDS Day in a Time of Coronavirus

The author with faith community leaders at a Methodist HIV/AIDS awareness and response event in Durban, South Africa in 2011

Bonjour, mon Dieu.  Comment ça va?

(Hello, my God.  How are you?)

Je suis triste aujourd’hui, mon ami.

(I am sad today, my friend.)

 

But God, you knew what this plague was, as we floundered and feared for years for explanations.

And God, you know what this plague is, as we struggle and stumble to disperse treatment.

 

And you know us – so well – every fragile sinew and cell of our being.

 

And we know you –

we know you to say that if one suffers, we all suffer as one.

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A Prayer for Unseen Parents

Today, we offer a prayer for those individuals and families who grieve the absence of a child due to death, infertility, or other loss. The absence of a child does not take away the coveted title of “parent.” Love for a child, seen and unseen, is what makes an individual a parent and what forms a family. We pray that all of these parents and families feel God’s peace this season.

 

In this season focused on joy and hope, we pray for the unseen parents, carrying the hope and prayer for a child out of the sight of others…

Aching as they send another Christmas card, filled with adventures and excitement but missing the laughter of a little one…

Looking past the dinner seat where a high chair should be…

Struggling to be thankful when so much seems wrong…

Grateful for a reason to miss a family party where they will feel forced to celebrate another new baby, not their own…

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The author prays over her morning coffee.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

The author prays over her morning coffee.

The author prays over her morning coffee.

Holy One,

Source of all good things in this world:

Let’s be honest. It’s 2020.

You’ve seen this year happen.

In a year of pandemic, and politics,

and isolation, and exhaustion,

we feel a lot more like saying,

“How long, O Lord?”

instead of “in all things, give thanks.”

 

Give us eyes to see your wonders, O God,

even in a year like this one.

Give us hearts that overflow with gratitude

for the ways we’ve made it through.

For binge-worthy shows and new crafting skills,

for fresh pots of coffee and surprise deliveries of wine,

for fires to burn and rooms to paint,

Good Lord, we give you thanks.

For decent internet connection and love-to-hate-it Zoom,

for the ding of a text and long phone chargers,

for online shopping and unemployment checks,

Good Lord, we give you thanks.

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2020 Thanksgiving Prayer

“Thanksgiving Drive” by katmeresin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

God of all of us,

Life as we knew it has changed.

Thanksgiving as we knew it is different this year.

We have lost people we love.

We have lost gathering in the ways we used to gather.

Some of us have lost jobs or trust or optimism.

So we grieve today, even as we give thanks.

We lament today, even as we hold onto moments of joy.

You are a God who hears and knows our lament.

We also lament the state of our nation and the division among us.

We don’t want to move too quickly to unity

without addressing the pain that lies under that division.

We give you our hurt. We give you our anger.

May your hearing of our prayers and our pain

open the way for healing and new hope and restored community.

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