Services and Prayers

What follows are examples of worship materials. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to see more examples of my writing.

Baby blessing for Malcolm Jude Mawler

Homily for memorial service of Luke G, age 15 months

Pastoral Prayer, First Unitarian Church of Portland, September 15, 2013

Pastoral Prayer 8 July 2012, All Souls Church, Unitarian, Washington, DC


Baby Blessing for Malcolm Jude Mawler

Lea Ann and Stuart Mawler brought their child, Malcolm Jude, to be blessed at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church. What follows is the end of the Baby Blessing. Before this portion of the service, several others had offered their blessings, including the children in attendance.


Malcolm and his parents with Catharine

“What is the full name of this child, blessed here in this assembly of love and care? (Malcolm Jude Mawler)

Malcolm Jude, you are and will always be, a child of earth and starry heaven. Whatever you come to believe, wherever your life may take you, this truth remains and will remain forever. And so I offer this blessing of the four elements of the earth, knowing too, that you are a child of heaven.

Malcolm, the breath of air blesses you. Every breath you take now and always will sustain you. May you be blessed with mindfulness of the centering, clarifying gift of the air.

Malcolm, the warmth of fire blesses you. The warmth of your heart and those who love you always will sustain you. May you be blessed with mindfulness of the power of your own passion, the gift of fire.

Malcolm, the flowing water blesses you. The salt tears you will cry and the blood of your veins always will sustain you. May you be blessed with mindfulness of love, your own and others, the gift of water.

Malcolm, the ground of earth blesses you. The bones of your body and the earth upon which you stand always will sustain you. May you be blessed with mindfulness of the beauty of nature, the gift of earth.

For all the blessings gathered here today, each shared in our own ways, we give thanks. We honor the many paths of the spirit of life that have blessed Malcolm and his family. May we all continue to bless this family, Lea Ann, Stuart, and Malcolm, today and always.

So may it be.”


Memorial Service for Luke G.

Luke G. was diagnosed at 5 months with a condition that left his brain smooth, without the wrinkles that develop with normal learning and growing. He was unable to develop normal cognition, and his family knew very early on that he would not be with them for long. His parents believed strongly that “Luke was meant to be a little boy,” and they wanted a service that celebrated the service Luke had brought into the world. They are strong theists, and they believe that Luke came into the world to teach them love. What follows is the homily I shared at the service.

Family and friends of the Golden family, I welcome you again to this holy time and place, a time of both remembrance and of celebration. Today we celebrate the surprising and beautiful life of a great teacher, Luke Golden. The more I have learned about Luke, and the more I have reflected on his life, the more convinced I have become that everyone who knew him has been touched by a messenger of love, a beacon of love, certainly a teacher of love.

As many of you know, Luke was diagnosed with Miller-Dieker syndrome at age 5 months. Miller-Dieker is a rare anomaly that caused Luke’s brain to be smooth, rather than wrinkled and ridged the way others are. Doctors did not see much to hope for in Luke’s future. He will not make eye contact, they said. He won’t smile. And his lack of muscle tone will make it impossible for him to really play with toys or manipulate anything.

One of the wonderful and surprising things about Luke’s life is how he surpassed expectations. Any of you who knew him personally may have seen him at play with his beaded necklaces, watching them hang and batting them with his hands. And you have seen for yourselves how his bright blue eyes sought out the eyes of others. How those eyes held in them a depth of compassion, wisdom, and fulfillment far beyond any doctor’s prognosis. And any of you who knew Luke surely saw his radiant smile, and the way that smile and his laugh expressed and offered you a sense of pure joy.

It was clear that Luke’s greatest joy was other people. He sought out friends and loved ones. He wanted to hold the loving gaze of those who loved him. And so many of you loved him and love him still. Certainly one person who has loved him and who he has loved—and doubtless still does—is the family’s nanny, Ody. Josh and Jenny describe Ody as Luke’s soulmate, his dearest friend, and one who understood him in a way no others did.

Another who has loved Luke is his sister Hannah. She has loved taking off his socks and putting her soft cheek against his feet while sucking her thumb. She understands, of course, that Luke has died and gone away from us, but that in the place he is now, he no longer has the limitations and difficulties he had while he was alive. Hannah knows that Luke is free, just as many of us here may take consolation in knowing. Luke, clearly a light of God’s love in his life, has returned to the embrace of that love, that God who sent him.

Of everyone who knew and loved Luke, everyone who was changed by their connection with him, his parents, Josh and Jenny, have been on a unique journey. Early on, Jenny spoke to her friend Christine. Jenny was ready. Jenny was going to be strong. Jenny was going to find out everything she could, make sure that Luke had the best medical help, the best adaptive technology, the best of everything she could give him. She knew her life was going to change radically, and she was open to what that might look like. Firing on all cylinders, it sounded to me, she spoke with Christine about what might be necessary.

Christine replied, “You could do all that. And whatever you decide, I’ll support you all the way.” She suggested, though, that Jenny think about what all the technology, all the intervention, all the adaptive therapy would give Luke and his family in the longer term. And she had a suggestion for Jenny. “You can do all of that. Or you can just love him.”

And just loving Luke, just loving him in every way they could humanly do, is what Luke’s family did. And, it seems to me, Luke led the way. While it was certainly the Golden family’s inclination to love one another, Luke brought a dimension to their love that was new. Something that taught his family and everyone else around him that love really is the core of what we need.

Josh talked about how having a child with special needs was something he “pushed away” from his thoughts. He didn’t know what it would mean to have a child who had capacities different from those his parents had come to expect. But knowing Luke, loving Luke, being a father to Luke, Josh says, was a greater blessing than anything he could have imagined. Of course, there was grief and sadness at the time of Luke’s diagnosis. Of course both Jenny and Josh grieved for the future paths they might have projected for their son. But Luke taught them not to grieve for the future he would not have, and rather to delight in the presence he so richly shared.

When Josh and Jenny found out about Luke’s diagnosis, they were ready to jump into action, to be the best parents they could be by whatever means necessary. What that seemed to be at the beginning was not what Luke showed them it could be. He showed them just by his being in their lives that there is nothing so powerful as love.

Realizing the love is the most important thing, that a benevolent God has created us in the image of love, specifically to learn to love one another and to receive love from one another—this is one of the most powerful lessons of a lifetime. And Luke taught it and is still teaching it to everyone who knew him or who hears of him now. I know that in the few days since I’ve met Jenny and Josh, I’ve spent part of every day wondering, as Jenny said to me, at the power of love, simply love, to make us all better human beings.

“I had the realization that I loved him just because he was,” she said.  “Because of his be-ing.” Not because he could give something back, not because he would have what others might consider accomplishments. But because he was and was with us for a little while. And as Josh said very near the beginning of our meeting, “Luke was meant to be a baby. He was meant to be a little boy.”

Part of what I think that means is that Luke’s mission on earth, so great as it was, was a mission he accomplished not in spite of his limitations, but perhaps because of them. For example, Luke’s sister, Hannah, who loves him so much, learned from him. She has learned what it is to care for someone really different from herself. And she has learned about accomplishment. About how what comes easily to one person may be difficult for another; we all have our own accomplishments, our own achievements. None of us is like any other.

And so one day when Luke was eating—not an easy task for him—Hannah and Luke’s parents explained to Hannah that eating was difficult for her brother. Just as learning to ride her bike was difficult for her and she felt accomplished when she learned, so was eating hard for Luke, and it was great when it went well. Right away, Hannah exclaimed, “Good job eating, Lukers!”

A simple expression of love and understanding. A simple expression of encouragement.

We all need love and understanding. We all need encouragement. And Luke’s life has been a reminder that we can give one another these things, and that when we do, all of us—the people giving, the people receiving, and everyone around them—are better for it.

Of course, the process of letting go of the projections of what Luke’s life what might be, the process of what Josh called, “abandoning a fantasy,” was doubtless wrenching for the Goldens. What they came to do, though, was not simply accept Luke’s limitations, but to embrace every aspect of his being. Just as Luke was never meant to sprout wings and fly, Jenny said, neither was he meant to be here with us any longer than he was. He was meant to be a baby. He was meant to be a little boy.

Clearly, the wisdom in Luke’s bright blue eyes affected everyone who experienced it. I know that just from looking at photos, I felt it myself. There was something deeply rooted in who Luke was and is as a person. Something profound, as though Luke were a messenger sent from God to remind all of us what is most important. A word I might use to describe Luke, then, is holy. He was special, sacred, wise, and loving. What more could any of us ask from anyone or from ourselves?

Luke didn’t only teach that we all need love, but he taught his friends and family that we have a greater capacity to love, a greater fullness within us that can reach out to others, than we ever knew before. Jenny remarked that she knew she could do it – that is, parent a child with special needs, parent Luke – but she didn’t know how much she’d love it. Luke surprised her.

The thing about Luke is that his life was surprising. Not only in his diagnosis, not in what he couldn’t do, but in what he COULD do. In the effect he had on others. In the way he called out love and support for his family from friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends from far-flung places all over the country. Luke attracted love and friends, because he loved so easily and clearly. Because he looked on everyone he met with compassionate wisdom, as though he came straight from God’s hand to our lives. Perhaps Luke most needed the friends and family with whom he lived. It’s clear to me that all of us need Luke, in whatever way we have been privileged to know him.

Great job living, Luke! Thank you, teacher, and may God bless you always.


Pastoral Prayer

First Unitarian Church of Portland, September 15, 2013

Will you pray with me?

Spirit of Life within and beyond us,we bring our wounded hearts to you. In a world disfigured by wars that mar the face of the Earth, in a world in which we mourn losses daily, we come to you with bitter tears.

Given the loves we have lost, how is it that our hearts are not permanently crushed to the ground? Given what is done globally in our name, how do we not give in to endless outrage? Given what we have done and left undone, how do we not fall forever into the deep well of guilt?

An answer, O Spirit of Love, is that we come to You and are healed in Your embrace. It is You, first and last and forever, who holds us in being. It is You who holds us with infinite care on the lap of Earth. Like the waters, You will hold us if only we lie back into Your arms. And so we come to You now, mystified, outraged, wounded. Or perhaps we come in gratitude, in hope, and in health. These too we offer in prayers of thanksgiving and awe. Whether our eyes are full of tears or sparkling with joy, we come to You.

And so today we pray for those whose names have been spoken and those we hold in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts. We pray for world leaders, that they may be bringers of peace and not war. We pray for those in other countries, other places, whose lives will will never know. And we pray for ourselves, that we may be healed and made channels of peace and love. In the end, we commit ourselves to the care of Earth’s children, and we rest sure in Your love.  Amen.


Pastoral Prayer

All Souls Church, Unitarian, Washington, DC, July 8, 2012

O hearts that beat with love and worry, let us give our attention to you.

We are weary with anxious toil. We fret about the things that will not concern us when we come to die. We give worrying attention to things that do not give us life.

And we drive ourselves with work, drive ourselves to distraction. We steal our time and presence from those we love. We steal even from ourselves the love and care we need. All in the name of productivity, in the name of work.

In these moments of worship, in this time out of time, let us model for ourselves the great wisdom of rest and celebration. Let us fully enjoy the time we have together, the time—so short—when we come to pray, to sing, to think, and to appreciate those around us. Let this church—this sacred container for the celebration of life—be a place where we remind ourselves of Beloved Community.

May this Beloved Community take root in hearts pouring out compassion, in eyes looking with love and care, and in hands reaching out to gently touch. May this Beloved Community grow and mature among us, among us who love both ourselves and our companions. May the Beloved Community grow strong through our rest, attention, work, and play. May we remember that it is not only our work, but also our delight and rest that bring together this community of traveling companions.

O hearts that sing with joy and break with grief, lead us always further toward the world we dream about, that Beloved Community we seek.

Blessed be, and amen.