Rev. Laura Kisthardt serves as the Associate Pastor at First Congregational Church of Southington. This summer she is joyfully leading worship outdoors on Sunday mornings in June and July at YMCA Camp Sloper in Southington, CT.
Scripture: Psalm 42:1-3 (NRSV)
To the leader. A Maskil of the Korahites.
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
‘Where is your God?’
For many years, I thought that I hated poetry. There must have been some assignment, an English class, or a particular teacher in elementary school that gave me this idea. I thought poetry was too slow and confusing.
In my early 20’s, poetry was broken open for me in a new way; it was like a spiritual experience. A friend invited me to attend a poetry reading by Dana Gioia, former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. Gioia spoke with passion about the importance of reading and speaking poetry out loud. Listening to his poetry, I felt like the deer longing for flowing water in Psalm 42. I realized I had an unquenchable thirst for the beauty and simplicity found in poetry. Around the time I discovered my newfound love of poetry, I started attending a new-to-me church. After worshiping with the congregation for a few months, I learned of a newly forming poetry group. It felt like fate (or God’s handiwork).
For the second summer in a row, the congregation where I serve will be using Daneen Akers’, Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints, as our guide for worship services. Each week we feature a different profile from the book. On Sunday, June 19th, our Holy Troublemaker/Unconventional Saint will be Mary Oliver.
I see many parallels between Oliver’s poetry and Psalm 42. Many of Mary Oliver’s poems focus on natural objects, animals, and plants. She also asks big questions about faith, life, and relationships. In the poem, “I Happened to Be Standing,” Oliver opens with the provocative statement, “I don’t know where prayers go/ or what they do.” She then goes on to consider whether animals and plants can pray.
Both the psalmist and Mary Oliver write in the first person. I think the first-person perspective is especially engaging during the summer time. It may be stiflingly hot in worship on a summer Sunday morning. The first-person perspective gives the reader or listener a little leg up in connecting with the text. The psalm and poem’s point of view draw the reader in; they invite us to put ourselves in the shoes of the psalmist or poet. Someone sitting in the pews doesn’t have to struggle to recall the narrative arcs of Isaiah or the Gospels. The Psalms offer reflections for the present moment.
The image of a deer longing for flowing water is an example of the noticings commonly found in the Psalms. Natural images are noticed by the Psalmist and connections are made to faith and the relationship between humans and God. Mary Oliver’s poetry also relies heavily on noticings. In another well-known poem, “The Summer Day,” Oliver notices the simple movements of a grasshopper. She describes in the poem the way the grasshopper eats out of her hand, washes its face, and floats away. In “The Summer Day,” Oliver remarks, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. / I do know how to pay attention…”
May we allow the Psalmist and Mary Oliver to guide us as we reflect on Scripture this week. The simple noticings can offer brilliant reflections. And when we allow time and space to pay attention, we might be inviting God to meet us in prayer.
Living Water, nourish our soul as we read Scripture. Help us to find you and draw closer to you O God. Refresh us with your Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
- For the people of Ukraine whose lives continue to be shattered by war
- For those grieving or suffering due to mass shootings, including another 11 mass shootings recorded this weekend in which 10 people died and 44 were wounded
- For the family and friends of Rev. Dr. Robert L. Wood, UCC pastor and pastor Emeritus at United church of Christ in Medfield, MA. Rev. Wood died May 29
- For those grieving or suffering after a recent series of crashes involving military aircraft which left 5 service members dead and several injured
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For those who stand up, speak up, and show up at the many Pride events which have occurred this month
This Week in History:
June 17, 2015 (7 years ago) Dylan Roof enters a historic Black church in Charleston, NC, and opens fire, killing 9 people, including 3 men and 6 woman. Roof was arrested and the investigation revealed his white supremacist beliefs. Roof was tried and found guilty. In 2017, Roof was sentenced to death, becoming the first person in the U.S. to be sentenced to death for a federal hate crime.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Laura Kisthardt is Associate Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Southington, CT.