Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Saints and The Great Feast of Heaven

Remembering My Mother at the Table

When we come to the table, we feast with Christians far and near as well as Christians past and future. We find a profound and mystical connection around the bread and cup and are drawn together in ways that foreshadow the great feast of heaven. All pain and division is set aside, just for a moment. We become one.

As I look forward to the celebration of "All Saints" tomorrow, I am reminded of one of my most precious memories around the eucharist. It was just a few Sundays after my mother died in 2003 and we were gathered around a communion table that had been hand crafted by a church member in memory of my mother. I finished serving the Morningstar UMC congregation communion and I turned to walk back up the steps and return the bread and cup to the table.

In a flash, in my mind's eye, I saw a vast choir seated around the table. I noticed my mother's face in the crowd, in the midst of the section to my right, smiling at me. I was so startled, I almost tripped on the steps. Then it was gone.

Call it a vision or call it imagination, but for me, it was a moment of great healing and insight. The wedding feast, where all are welcome, is one of the most vivid scriptural metaphors for the kingdom of God. Each time we come to the table, we experience what the old hymn calls "a foretaste of glory divine!"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Beyond Anxieties, Fears, Preoccupations, and Worries

Henri Nouwen is perhaps my favorite spiritual writer and I ran across this excerpt recently. It resonates with my soul, since at times I realize I am so prone to carry the weight of anxiety heavily.

"Lord, life passes by quickly. Events that a few years ago kept me totally preoccupied have now become vague memories; conflicts that a few months ago seemed so crucial in my life now seem futile and hardly worth the energy; inner turmoil that robbed me of my sleep only a few weeks ago has now become a strange emotion of the past; books that filled me with amazement a few days ago now do not seem as important; thoughts which kept my mind captive only a few hours ago have now lost their power and have been replaced by others.

"Why is it so hard to learn from this insight? Why am I continuously trapped by a sense of urgency and emergency? Why do I not see that you are eternal, that your kingdom lasts forever, and that for you a thousand years are like one day? O Lord, let me enter into your presence and there taste the eternal, timeless, everlasting love with which you invite me to let go of my timebound anxieties, fears, preoccupations, and worries. 'Seek first the kingdom,' you said, 'and all these other things will be given you as well.' All that is timebound will show its real meaning when I can look at it from the place you want me to be, the place of undying love."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Great Thanksgiving to HYMN TO JOY

I am continuing to post on my blog some liturgical resources I have published elsewhere. This is a version of the Great Thanksgiving which can be sung to HYMN TO JOY (commonly sung with "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee").

A version set to music may be much easier to read and sing. You may find it published at the General Board of Discipleship Worship Website. Here is the text:

May the Lord our God be with you.
May God also be with you.
Let us lift our hearts and voices.
Yes, we lift them to the Lord.
Let us give our thanks and praise to God Almighty, Lord of love.
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above.

We give thanks to you, Creator, maker of the heavens and earth.
You have formed us in your image, breathed into us holy breath.
With your people on the earth and all the company of heav’n,
Now we lift your holy name and join in their unending hymn:

Holy, holy God of power, heav’n and earth are full of you.
Blessed is the one you sent. Hosannah in the highest praise!
Holy are you, and most blessed is your Son, Lord Jesus Christ.
Through your Spirit you anointed him to be our saving grace.

By baptism of his suffering, death, and resurrection life
You gave birth to Christ’s new body, Spirit-born and water-blessed.
You delivered us from evil, from our slavery to sin,
And have made of us new creatures, now the Church with faith professed.

(Words of institution may be spoken here, followed by the congregationally sung response below. Or the celebrant may continue singing.)

On the night that Jesus gave his heart for us, he took the bread,
Offered thanks to you and broke it, gave it to his friends and said:
"Take and eat, this is my body I am giving up for you.
As you eat it in remembrance, you will taste of life anew.”

When the holy feast was over, then he took the cov’nant cup,
Lifted it in thanks, and shared it, gave it to his friends to sup:
“Drink this, all of you, this is the blood of life poured out for you,
Every time you drink, remember I’ve poured out forgiveness, too.”

In remembrance of these acts, we give ourselves in thanks and praise.
Holy, living sacrifices, we proclaim faith’s mysteries:
“Christ has died and Christ is risen, Christ will come again one day.”
Pour your Holy Spirit on us, gathered in this place today.

Breathe your Spirit on these gifts of breaking bread and pouring cup,
Make them be for us the body and the blood of Jesus Christ.
By your Spirit, we become Christ’s body given for the world,
‘Til he comes in final victory and we feast forevermore.

Through your Son, Our Savior, Jesus, with the Holy Spirit’s power,
May the Church that you created honor you in every hour.
Yours the glory, yours the kingdom, all who live in love are thine,
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.

Adapted by Stephen P. West, copyright 2007 Stephen P. West

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hymn "People of the Mantle"

I am continuing to post on this blog some of my hymns that are published elsewhere. One entitled "People of the Mantle" can be used either for general use or for ordination. I enjoyed writing it with the Academy for Spiritual Formation in mind.

A musical setting to the tune CWM RHONDDA may be found at the General Board of Discipleship Worship Website. Here is the text:

We are people of the mantle, with Elijah’s cloak in hand.
He has passed along the blessings of the Spirit for each land.
As Elijah with Elisha shared the presence of the Lord,
Christ is with us in this love outpoured.

‘Twas the cloth Elijah wrapped in at the opening of a cave,
When he heard the holy whisper of our God who came to save.
Just a simple body covering for protection and for wear
Had become a blessing for his heir.

When the mantle struck the water and it parted to each side,
Then Elisha knew the Spirit of Elijah was his guide.
This began a holy passing of the mantle down the line.
We have taken up a sacred sign.

We’ve received a double portion of the Spirit from each saint.
They have run the race before us, they have walked and not been faint.
Since our lives are lived in context of the faith that’s gone before,
We pass down a mantle ancients wore.

When our hearts are deeply aching and our knees are tired and worn,
When our journey leads to failure, when we suffer loss and mourn,
We recall Elijah’s mantle that we’re holding very near;
For the Spirit of the Lord is here.

Copyright 2005 by Stephen P. West

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Communion Song "This Is the Table of Welcome"

I am continuing to post on my blog some things which I have published elsewhere. I wrote the words to "This is the Table of Welcome" and our music director at Grace UMC, Nylea Butler-Moore, set it beautifully to music. It can be sung congregationally or as a solo or duet.

It was originally published by Abingdon Press in the periodical "Church Music Workshop." The music is available for downloadable purchase at the Cokesbury Website. Here is the text:

Refrain: This is the table of welcome, this is the font of God’s grace.
This is the book of love’s beckon, this is the warmest embrace.
Come at the Lord’s invitation, join in the peace of this place.
We are God’s newest creation, gathered in this holy space.

Joseph received all his brothers, setting the stage for amends.
Abraham showered three others, welcoming strangers as friends.
Those to whom grace has been given find that their circle extends.
Love is our reason for living, people the gift that God sends.


“I was the stranger you neighbored, I was the hungry you fed,
I was the prisoner you favored.” These are the words Jesus said.
Welcoming sister and brother into the banquet he spread,
We’ll find the Christ in each other, known in the breaking of bread.


Christ is the source of all healing, he is the kiss of God’s peace.
His light and love are revealing, he brings the joy of release.
All who are hungry and thirsty find that their yearnings will cease,
Wrapped in the arms of his mercy. Come, be his guest at the feast!


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hymn "Water and Spirit"

It occured to me that I have never posted in this blog some of the hymns and liturgical resources that I have published elsewhere. Here is my favorite of my own writings, the baptismal hymn "Water and Spirit" which may be sung to SLANE. I wrote it for my son's baptism and it was originally published in Alive Now.

For a setting to music, you may check the General Board of Discipleship Worship Website. Here is the text:

Water and Spirit are joined in this place,
Visible sign of a spiritual grace,
True act of God, not earned but received,
Love we have known before we were conceived.

Eternal streams of your life waters flow,
Creative power one day we will know.
First from the womb, and now from the bowl,
Clean us and wash us by making us whole.

Children of God we forever will be,
Marked with the sign of the flood and Red Sea.
Elder and child are born from above,
Graced with the freedom that leads us to love.

Copyright 2006 Stephen P. West

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Grace of a Random Phone Call

Last Wednesday, my "raccoon devotional" appeared in the Upper Room. Just after the office opened, I got a random phone call from a kind woman in another part of the world (the Upper Room is published in 40 languages and 100 countries, read by almost 3 million people). Until I got the call, I had forgotten Wednesday was the day it appeared.

I answered, "Grace Church, this is Steve." She said, "Steve ... West?" "Yes it is, who might this be?" She told me her name and where she was from, and she told me her story. She had seen my devotional that morning about praying for those who cause us trouble, realizing they are troublemakers because they are hurting deep inside. She was moved, since her sister was going through a painful divorce and her whole family had been very angry with her husband. She took my devotional over to her sister's house, and they realized that throughout this process they had never prayed for him or thought about how he must have deep pain inside they don't understand. So they wept and prayed together for him for the first time.

She said she had worked really hard to find my number, because she wanted to thank me and tell me the story. "And you know what's really funny?" she added. "My sister's last name is Coon!"

What a blessing that on the week of World Communion Sunday, God has reminded me of the spontaneous ways the Spirit works in bringing people together all across the world!

To read the complete raccoon story the brief Upper Room devotional was based on, click the raccoon picture in the right column of my blog.

Friday, October 2, 2009

My First Hymn Published

It's official. One of my hymns is being published in real hymnal for the first time. In the spring, a new hymnal called "Celebrating Grace" is being published in association with Mercer University for use in various settings. Mercer is associated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and this is an alternative to "The Baptist Hymnal" published last year.

The hymn, "Lord, You Call Us to Your Service," is an ordination hymn which may be sung to LAUDA ANIMA. It was co-written with Bishop Will Willimon to be used for ordination services in the North Alabama Conference.

More information about the new hymnal may be found at Celebrating Grace. To see the hymn set to music, go to the General Board of Discipleship Worship Website. Here is the hymn text:

Lord, you call us to your service, summon us for work divine,
Reach to us for life’s vocation as the witness you design.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Send us as your kingdom sign.

Great Creator of the living, in the dark your light shines through.
Out of nothing, you have made us priestly people, holy, true.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Make our lives as songs to you.

Son of God, great incarnation, Father’s gift of suffering love,
In your teaching, healing, working, you have shown us life above.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Grant us holy lives thereof.

Prodding Spirit, holy presence, calling each of us by name,
In our leading, preaching, witness, help us not your pow’r to tame.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Lead us, all your gifts to claim.

Lord, you call us to your service, grant us fruit as you ordain.
Risking all, we make disciples, working for your coming reign.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Faithful servants we remain.

Copyright 2006 by William H. Willimon and Stephen P. West