Writing workshop, words from Arlington, Virginia — offer to lead a group in other settings

I led an Advent dated Writing Workshop sponsored by Rock Spring UCC in Arlington, Virginia, with most, but not all, members of that faith community. To make it “of use” (words from a poem of Marge Piercy’s that was given to me on the occasion of my ordination) the prompts were for Christmastide and Epiphany rather than Advent itself. There were twelve of us and five are willing to have their words shared here and used by anyone for whom they touch a heart. This group is going to continue meeting.

I offered this workshop as presentation of the book ” A Child Laughs — Prayers of Justice and Hope” because that book with its seventy-seven contributors specifically celebrates people writing together for a project. We live in an era when writing often is seen as a solitary art which makes it hard for us to fully understand the Christian Testament. I would love to come to another church group, interfaith group, library group, as I have to many community based groups (seniors, recovery, correctional institution, survivors, etc) and lead a writing workshop, with a secondary “how-to-hour” for those who would like advice on making an ongoing healthy writing group. Contact me at giftsinopenhands@gmail.com if you would like to discuss such a group.

But more important are these amazing shared writings.

From Ann Zuniga
Homecoming (based on Howard Thurman’s “the Work of Christmas,” for adoption, for fostering)

When the classes and home visits are over
When the courts find the papers they’ve lost
After I have called my congressman
After I have driven hours and miles for meetings

The work of family begins:

to welcome this small stranger, to find the words to reach him,
to sing the songs, to weave the daily rhythms
that bring calm, that keep us safe;
to open my arms, to break my heart,
to heal the past, to promise tomorrow
and today to stand with him forever,
to bring him home.

From Carolyn Rapp:
The Work of Saving the Earth

When the votes are counted,
When petition after petition after petition has been signed,
When my feet are sore from marching and the Women’s March is a year ago,
When my bank account is running low from contributions to organizations
fighting for what I value,
When nobody seems able to stop the steam roller –
The work of saving the Earth must intensify:
To hold on to hope when many days feel hopeless,
To fight rather than weep when powerful forces put Earth on the auction block,
To preserve public spaces that engender wonder of the natural world,
To keep some of the Earth available to all of the people,
To make the Earth whole again, to make the Earth laugh.

This is a little poem I (Carolyn Rapp) wrote at the beginning of the workshop when I sat down at the table:

My Pal

My left breast is my good pal.
She has always been with me,
but now she is reminding me
that she’s there,
part of me.
She hurts.
I comfort her.
I tell her she is beautiful in her new outfit
of tie-dye purple yellow green.
I’m gentle with her.
Forgive me, please, I say,
we have to go to the operating room again.
But we’ll be together
And everyone is so nice to us.
The surgeon even makes me laugh.
We do it and now we’re waiting again,
until they tell us what comes next.

From Laura Martin:
And There Shall Be No End

See, of these there shall be an end—
the wars played out on others’ bodies in trampled lands,
the crucible of jealousy— hot, hot,
the hunger of the small ones,
the ones who gather after midnight to worship Wealth and pass a bill in adoration.
But of this strand of light,
and of the way you live in Hope
even when you cannot speak her name, there shall be no end.
But of this way you order the world when you stand rooted in it,
paying attention and being deliberate in kindness,
there shall be no end.
But of this way you come anyway
when the outcome will not be different,
there will be no end.
And of the way a child dips her feet in cold water,
and laughs,
there shall be no end.
There shall be no end.
-inspired by “and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:33)

From Carolyn Hart:
(the getting-to-know-you prompt was a bandaid and a Christmas tree ornament – symbols of tears and joy. the task was to write on one and put it on the other.)

My “bandaid prayer” was this —

A prayer for those without hope.
And for those whose abundant hope is
masked, tarnished, challenged
by these times. Amen.

And Carolyn Hart’s response to the main exercise was this —

1 Samuel 3:1-10 begins with “In those days the word of the Lord was rare…”, which feels like today, to me, as well. The reading goes on to describe how Samuel three times heard a call while sleeping at the temple and he jumped up and went to his boss, Eli, saying, “Here I am! I heard you call.” The first two times Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to sleep!” The third time Eli realized it was the Lord calling Samuel, and told Samuel to listen for the call again and to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

So my prayer is:

When the word of the Lord is rare,
you’d expect to recognize it when you hear it.

But when the word of the Lord is rare,
you may have to tune your ears differently to pick it up,
to know who’s speaking, to hear who’s calling,
to respond to the right cue,
to open the right door.


If you say “Here I am,”
“Here I am,”
“Here I am,”
one day it will become your lived reply
to the Lord.


From Jerry Hebenstreit
God of Many Names: Inclusive Language

Gracious God, we know that you are so much more than gender or color;
you are mother, father, sibling, stranger, friend…and more.

You speckle the ink-dark night with your star-writing,
soften the sun-stark day with your cloud brush.

From the single-celled to the infinitely-complex creatures, you created and are creating.
You peek slyly from inside the bosons and stride boldly beyond the galaxies.

You cannot, must not, will not be contained by our meager words and skewed vision,
yet you answer our cries, no matter the name we use.

Teach us to work beyond the bounds of our labels and language.
Help us to leave the comfort of our narrow images.
Remind us that you are All in All:
there is no right name to call you
no wrong way to picture you.

Help us to see you as we see you, but to know you, also, as you appear to others.

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