Praying the Hours Through Holy Week by Susan Forshey

Susan Forshey just sent me this beautiful reflection with a link to the Booklet of prayers for which is a simple liturgy of the hours for Holy Week that she has produced. Enjoy and thanks Susan for sharing this with us.

A Prayer Booklet for Holy Week

With Palm Sunday, we enter into the Passion week, a Holy Week, remembering the Lord’s final days and building in anticipation toward the Resurrection.

For the world, this is much like any other week, and paradoxically, for ministers and others working in Christian contexts, it can be a week with little time for prayer and reflection.

To counter-act what feels like a break-neck race to Easter, I long to pause and rest in ‘unforced rhythms of grace’; to walk with Jesus through these days and let his Spirit transform my DNA; to practice a new way of thinking by remembering my small story in the midst The Story; to be patient on the hard days before the Glory, even as I learn to be patient in the whole of an often Holy Saturday life.

We live in death. We see it all around.

We live in-between. We are residents of  the Now but Not yet of the coming Kingdom. We live in that moment of baptism, under the water, the moment between death and resurrection.

Yet we also live resurrected in promise and hope, taking in that wonderful first gasp of earthly air as we rise from the baptismal water. One day we will take in that full sweet heavenly breath as we rise with Jesus.

I’m a rushing wind through life right now, a whirlwind of activity blowing through, a Tasmanian Devil of the old cartoons, and I’m not remembering to breathe earth’s air, and even less of heaven.

Last night at 3am, I woke to blessed silence and lit a candle and made some tea and journalled the Spirit’s prayer in me: Your life is wonderful–two awesome jobs and a wonderful community–but it is not sustainable. Pray and reflect, but use your night hours to sleep and learn to pause during the day. 

Let Me be the wind and you breathe Me.

I’ve read enough books on prayer and gotten myself into this kind of pickle too many times to know that pausing in the midst of being a one-woman tornado of activity is easier said than done.

But I also know that our rich prayer tradition offers centuries of helps for just such a situation.

One way to pause, to mark the days and hours of Holy Week, or any week, is to join with the wider Church in the Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours. For centuries, the Office was the prayer of  Benedictine monks and sisters, but then the Office moved into the lives of laypeople.

This week I will take a couple moments to pause and pray the Hours. Would you join me?

Here is a simple Liturgy of the Hours  for Morning, Noon, and Compline prayer, starting with Palm Sunday evening.  It offers a pattern based on the full Liturgy of the Hours, some simple chants, and scripture passages from The Message translation of the Bible.

I invite you to mark this week with me as different from the world’s calendar, to enter into the Now, but Not Yet, to pause and rest, and breathe in the wind of the Spirit as we are caught up in our Savior’s story.


If you want to print the PDF, select the file and choose booklet settings on your printer. It should print two pages horizontally on  8.5 x 11 paper in the proper order so you can fold and staple it. Or enjoy it as a digital prayer book on your phone or tablet.

Praying with Icons by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent is one of several reflections inspired by my new book Return to our Senses by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year you might also like to check out her other posts in the series: 

The language of Prayer by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

This Place of Grace by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Praying With Tears by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Eight Ways of Looking at Water By Kimberlee Conway Ireton


In mid-February, my friend Susan gave me my first ever icon. It’s of Mary, the Theotokos, or God-bearer. The child Jesus leans against her cheek, one arm around her neck, the other resting on her chest, just above her left breast. His eyes look up at her in love; her eyes look out of the icon, at the viewer, at me.

I hung the icon on the east wall of my bedroom, above my writing desk, next to the window. Every afternoon, when I lie down on my bed with my two-year-old twins, to put them (and myself) down for a nap, I can see Mary looking at me with pity and compassion and love.

I need that kind of look these days. I’ve been worn out, worn down, just worn, like an old sheet that’s been washed way too many times. When I get this tired, the nasty voices in my head, which I can usually fight or keep at bay with prayer and Scripture recitation, get really loud and insistent, and in all their clamoring, I start to listen to them.

They say, Jesus never yelled at his disciples, and they bring to mind the way, earlier today, I raised my voice or lectured or even shamed one of my children.

They say things like, Jesus hung out with poor people and prostitutes. When was the last time you hung out with a poor person or a prostitute?

They say, There are people in this world who live on a dump. You, on the other hand, live in a two-bedroom house with running water and indoor plumbing in a nice neighborhood. Why can’t you just be grateful?

They don’t actually say that I’m a disappointment to Jesus or a bad Christian, but they imply it. They speak just enough truth to hook me, and I bite—and believe. And then they leave me floundering and gasping for air. So day after day, I fall exhausted on my bed, with one twin on either side of me and guilt and fear and shame circulating through my body like blood.

When I look up, I see Mary looking at me. Her gaze is one of infinite compassion and pity. She does not look like the kind of person who would say buck up and deal or quit complaining, you spoiled princess or you think your life is hard? Try living in a refugee camp.

No, she looks kind. So kind, in fact, that some afternoons, I find myself talking to her. I ask her if she ever got mad at Jesus, if she ever yelled at him, if she ever, in frustration, slapped him—all things I have done to my children, all things I am ashamed of. I ask her if it’s okay that I’m not feeding hungry people (unless my children count, and maybe they do, Mary?) or hanging out with prostitutes and criminals or even with people who aren’t at-home moms more or less like me.

She doesn’t answer. She just looks at me with pity and love.

When I tell Susan that I’ve started talking to the icon she gave me, she smiles. She says that I’m actually praying. She says, “An icon is a glimpse of heaven. You don’t talk to the icon. You talk through it, to the reality it points to, to Mary herself, who sits in heaven, praying to Jesus on our behalf.”

I was raised evangelical. We thought icons, if we thought about them at all, were just pictures. Susan, who was baptized in the Catholic Church, is far more comfortable with this whole praying-with-icons thing than I am. She continues, “In the Orthodox tradition, icons are a window through which we glimpse heaven, but through which Heaven can see us, too. Mary’s eyes of love in that icon are, in some mystical sense, really Mary’s eyes of love. She is really looking at you. The icon’s a glimpse of Truth, of the Really Real.”

I confess, despite (or perhaps because of) my evangelical upbringing, I love this idea. I love the thought that Mary, the mother of God; Mary, who raised the Son of God; Mary, whose mothering had eternal, cosmic consequences far beyond any that my own mothering might have; Mary who must therefore completely understand the heartache of being a mother, and also the joy and the frustration and the near-constant sense of failure—this is the woman whose loving eyes look into mine as I lie here on my bed

This afternoon, as I look at Mary, I think of my friend Jan. Jan is my mom’s age. She sort of adopted me when I moved to Seattle for college. On Sunday, Jan held me while I cried out much of the fear and frustration I’ve been carrying inside me these past weeks. She held me and rocked me like a child. She spoke words of reassurance and love. As she rocked me and held me and let me cry all over her sweater, Jan embodied the loving gaze of Mary, the loving gaze of Jesus. She became an icon of the love of God.

Now, looking at Mary, I see Jan, too. I see that if Jan, one of my fellow sinners, can look at me with love, without contempt, how much more must Jesus look at me with love? The contemptuous and venomous words that I’ve been listening to these past weeks aren’t the voice of God. God sounds like Jesus, with his arms of love outstretched on the cross. God sounds like Mary, with her eyes of love fixed on me as I lie here between my boys. God sounds like Jan, whispering prayers of grace and gratitude over me as I weep.

God looks at me with their eyes, eyes full of compassion and kindness and love. God speaks to me through their voices.

Jesus said, “The Father himself loves you.” (John 16:27) The Father himself loves me. The Father himself loves you. Amen. Amen.

Were You There? by Mary Elizabeth Todd

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent is the second written by Mary Elizabeth Todd. Mayy was born in the mountains of Western NC and grew up in East Tennessee- She went to Erskine College and majored in Behavioral Science and Religion. She started writing poetry at 10 years of age, grew up listening to her father’s poems. She worked 28 years as a foster care worker and was awarded Social worker of the Year in 2004 for the state of South Carolina by the Foster Parent Association. She retired in 2006 and reckons she is a mountain woman thru and thru, loves the Lord but fails often, but always gets back up.

You may also like to check out her first post Stranger at the Door

Art by Oswaldo Guayasamín

Art by Oswaldo Guayasamín

Were You there…

Were you there…”*

I was told that I needed to take up my cross and carry it.

It didn’t worry me.

What trouble could that be?

I had seen crosses made of brass hanging on the walls
Of small country churches.
I had been amazed at the majesty and workmanship
Of gold crosses encrusted with pearls and rubies.
I had seen small white crosses
Standing on the roadsides,
And I had worn a tiny gold cross.

I could do that…pick up my cross and walk.

But the Cross I was given wasn’t one of those I had seen.
It was rough new timber.
I lifted it to my shoulder and it was heavy and damp.

I said no problem…still sure of myself.
The first few days,
I called out and said look at me.
But then, I had to say no when I wanted to say yes.
The cross became heavier and heavier;
My hands were sweating and it would slip from my shoulder.
Splinters cut into my hands.
I picked it up over and over again.

I tried again to pick it up…just had to find the trick of carrying it.

I found that I tripped over the small stones.
My feet could not lift over them.
I thought how easy it had been.
I thought about all the reasons I picked up the cross;
No one told me how heavy it would be.

I was ready to ditch it…no one would ever notice.

I had seen others go to churches and smile
Sing songs of praise and go out the doors
To say yes to things they shouldn’t.
No one said to them, “Where was their cross?”
I wondered if it was that or they never really heard the question.

I laid the cross down gently…I could not walk away.

I sat down by the roadside.
My back hurt from the weight.
My hands bleeding from the splinters and cuts,
My feet were stone bruised and tired.
I buried my face in my hands.
Then I heard Jesus, as he washed my wounds and hurts,
“Why did you think you must do this alone?
I said I would be with you.”
He pulled the splinters from my hands and they healed as he said,
“Here, let me help you carry this.
I have been there and know the way.”
He wiped the tears from my eyes, and said,
“Come and rejoice; it is a beautiful day.”
He smiled and I smiled.

We picked up the cross…I knew I would follow Him anywhere.

“When they crucified my Lord?”*

Mary Elizabeth Todd
January 28, 2001
*Traditional African-American spiritual can be sung.

Resources for Holy Week 2013 – Maundy Thursday

This is the fourth in a series of posts on resources for Holy Week.

You might also like to check out the previous posts:

Resources for Holy Week #1: Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday Prayer 2013

Resources for Holy Week #2: Stations of the Cross

Washing the Feet - Jan Hynes - Used by permission

Washing the Feet – Jan Hynes – Used by permission

Today I am focusing on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, which commemorates Jesus’ last Supper with the disciples and the institution of the Eucharist. Its name of “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “command.”This stems from Christ’s words in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you. Love one another as I have loved you”. Many of us associate it with foot washing:

 a rite performed by Christ upon his disciples to prepare them for the priesthood and the marriage banquet they will offer, and which is rooted in the Old Testament practice of foot-washing in preparation for the marital embrace (II Kings 11:8-11, Canticles 5:3) and in the ritual ablutions performed by the High Priest of the Old Covenant (contrast Leviticus 16:23-24 with John 13:3-5). The priest girds himself with a cloth and washes the feet of 12 men he’s chosen to represent the Apostles for the ceremony. Read more

It is the oldest of the observances peculiar to Holy Week but seems to have attracted the least attention and I must confess creative suggestions were hard to come by. 

Foot washing has taken on new significance for me this year as I read two posts that have been contributed to my blog. Some of you might like to revisit these too.

The Dirty Job of Special Needs Parenting by Barbara Dittrich

Living Into the banquet Feast of God

Maundy Thursday reflections – this post includes a link to a this  great Maundy Thursday reflection by Beth Stedman.

I have adapted other customs of Maundy Thursday here that you may like to consider for your own observances:

  1. Visit 3 or 7 local churches or other places of worship after (or before) your own service.
  2. In Germany, Maundy Thursday is known as “Green Thursday” (Grundonnerstag), and the traditional foods are green vegetables and green salad, especially a spinach salad. Consider planning a vegetarian Last Supper banquet for your celebrations and highlight the environmental issues you are concerned about.
  3. Visit a local homeless camp or home for the elderly (make sure you get permission first) and do foot washing and pedicures for the inhabitants.
  4. This is the traditional night for an all night vigil of prayer and meditation. Give yours a new twist by holding an all night reading of Dante’s Inferno as St Philips in the Hills Episcopal Church has done for the last 5 years.
  5. This is a day to reach out and help someone in a special way: consider looking after a child so that the mother could have a free evening, undertaking some mending or darning, humble, unostentatious things like that.
  6. In Mark Pierson’s Lenten devotional he comments: Jesus, a king who acted like a slave. Perhaps on Maundy Thursday you would like to consider a special way to reach out to those who are still in slavery. 
  7. One symbol of Easter I grew up with that is not so common in the U.S. is hot crossed buns wich some think originated from a 12th-century English monk who placed the sign of the cross on the buns in honor of Good Friday. So if you want to have your hot crossed buns ready for Good Friday make them on Maundy Thursday, together with your family or community. Here is the recipe I use

For those celebrating with kids I rather liked this Fill Your Seder Plate game

So consider including this day in your Holy Week celebrations and if you do something creative let me know.

Palm Sunday Prayer 2013

Palm Sunday Prayer.001

I had hoped to use a more contemporary image of the triumphal entry but because of the challenge of getting permission decided to use this instead. However I thought that you might like to see some of the beautiful images I have come across.

I particularly like this one by Dinah Roe Kendall who lives in the U.K

And this by Townsville artist Jan Hynes

Or this by William Hemmerling

Today We’ve Disappeared by April Yamasaki

Today’s post for the series Return to Our Senses in Lent is written by April Yamasaki. April is a pastor and writer who blogs on spiritual practice, faith, and life at Her new book is Sacred Pauses: spiritual practices for personal renewal available from Menno Media/Herald Press, Amazon, and your local bookstore.

A year ago, I was pretty much a stranger to social media. Once upon a time, I had joined Facebook to see some pictures sent by a friend, then promptly hid my profile since I hadn’t wanted to take the time to fill it in or find new friends. I had several invitations to LinkedIn that I had dutifully saved instead of deleting. Every so often, one of my sisters would send me an email signed from “your Facebook Liaison,” so I wouldn’t miss out on any family news.

But last May, I finally followed up on my LinkedIn invitations–and yes, they still worked even though they were a few years old. I signed up for my own Facebook, then Google+. I started blogging. By Christmas, I had signed up for Goodreads and Twitter too.

As Lent approached, I learned that one friend was planning to give up Facebook for his Lenten practice. “That’s not for me,” I said to myself. The world of social media was all still new to me. It was something I could dip into or out of at any time. I wasn’t immersed in it every day.

Then a Twitter friend said he was going to “disappear” for just one day on Feb. 27 in honor of the 27 million men, women, and children who’ve disappeared in slavery around the world. I decided to follow suit—no Facebook, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, no Google+, no Goodreads, no blogs. I posted this on my own blog the night before:

Today We've Disappeared

I didn’t think anyone would miss me. After all, I don’t blog every day. I don’t post something on Facebook or Google+ every day. Even my daily Twitter activity was just a few tweets. Who would notice?

As it turned out, I noticed—much more than I thought I would. I thought about the millions of people who have disappeared. I wondered about the people they were missing and that were missing them. I held them all in my prayers: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. That was the reason I had “disappeared” from social media that day. But I also discovered that I felt more focused. I felt freer from distractions. I felt less pressed for time.

I’ve been reflecting on that experience as I’ve been reading chapter 9 of Return to Our Senses on “Facebook, Blogging, and Go To Prayers.” Is social media “a wonderful tool, or a terrible distraction”? I can see the potential for both.

And so even as the end of Lent is in sight, I’m making a new commitment not just for Lent but for the future: for a once-a-week, social-media-free day, Saturday 6pm – Sunday 6pm, and I’m coupling that with a commitment not to look back endlessly through everything I’ve missed.

The truth is, a person is always missing something. It’s not humanly possible to know everything about everything. And that’s okay. God knows. God is sovereign. I’m resting in that thought.


Resources for Holy Week #2: Stations of the Cross

This year I thought that I would separate out the stations of the Cross from other Good Friday resources as I know many churches like to have Stations of the Cross available for people to walk throughout Holy Week. This year I tried to put together a collection from around the world attempting to highlight some of the challenging issues of our turbulent world that are portrayed. Most of the images are far from the traditional stations of the cross though I have ended the collection with a mimed rendition of Sandi Patty’s Via Dolorosa. If there are other international images you think should be a part of this collection please add them in the comments. Enjoy!

From Australia

Stations of the Cross by Indigenous Australian Shirley Purdue via

From New Zealand 

This series comes from Hamilton New Zealand

Cityside Baptist church in Auckland New Zealand has held an exhibit of contemporary icons to reflect on at Easter for a number of years. The photos shown were taken at their 2002 and 2004 presentations.

From Middle East and Sudan – 

Here is a heartrending presentation of the stations of the Cross using images of refugees from Iraq and Sudan as spectators and participants.  (The stations of the Cross are down the side of the post)

I also came across this  interesting set of Jordanian stamps which  Mansour Mouasher has found depicting the Stations of the Cross.

From South America

very powerful presentation of the stations from the perspective of liberation theology by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel of Argentina

From Asia

I enjoyed meditating on this series by a nun in Bangalore India

And another very beautiful, Korean Stations of the Cross by Korean sculptor Choi Jong-tae from Myeong-dong Cathedral.

From Africa

I love this stations of the cross from Hekima College, Nairobi, Kenya. The designs were created by Father Angelbert M. Vang SJ from Yaoude, from the Cameroon who was a well-known historian, poet, musician and designer and executed by a Kenyan artist.

This meditation is a poignant reminder of those who struggle daily to carry crosses we cannot even imagine.

From U.K.

This Stations of the Cross series by Chris Gollon was commissioned by the Church of England for the Church of St John on Bethnal Green, in East London. Gollon took the unusual step of using his own son as the model for Jesus, his daughter as Mary, and his wife as Veronica. Fr Alan Green is cast as Nicodemus, and David Tregunna (Gollon’s friend and agent) as Joseph of Arimathea. The juxtaposition of real figures with imagined ones creates a heightened sense of reality. I think that the images are both compelling and powerful.

From Netherlands

I found this mimed rendition of Sandy Patti’s Via Dolorosa very refreshing.