Lament over Jerusalem: FREE Prayer Resource

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often have I longed to gather your children as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.  Matthew 23:37

Not long after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus' conflict with the religious leaders intensifies dramatically.  The closer he comes to the cross, the separation between those who Jesus has gathered and those who refuse to be gathered becomes markedly clear.  As tensions mount, Jesus reveals, again, the deepest longing of his heart - to gather us to himself in love.  

As a mother, I know what it is to spread my arms wide and gather my children in - in moments of joy, fear, or comfort.  I also know the bittersweet moments when new-found independence, willfulness, or hurt feelings cause my children to resist being gathered.  

As a chicken farmer, I know the way a mother hen spreads her breast feathers wide over a nest.  I have seen a newborn chick burrow into its mother's feathered cocoon, have felt with my own hands the warmth beneath her wings, the close, dark hidden-ness.  

When I read this verse, I wonder what it means to be gathered.  I think of the intimacy - the safety, calm, and rest.  I imagine, even the darkness of that hidden place would feel welcome.  There is, in all of us, sometimes buried deep, a longing to be gathered.

Yet, still, we often resist.  And even when we do allow ourselves to be gathered we are still painfully aware of the desperate, aching world just beyond our sheltered rest.  Gathered to God, resting against God's very breast, we cannot help but be shaped by the heartbeat we hear.  Gathered, we become gatherers; loved, we long to be lovers.  We become the kind of flock that follows God to the cross, through the cross, and into the kind of life that multiplies and makes manifest the longing love of God. 

God's longing love seeks to gather us ALL in.  Sit with that for a moment.  

One strange fact about hens is that, when brooding, the mothering impulse is so strong that they will mother almost anything they can find - puppies, kittens, piglets.  It seems, with hens, the longing and love are wide enough to gather all who are willing.  The same is true, of God. 

As we wait and prepare for Easter morning, I want to invite you to spend some time with this verse: 

What do you imagine it would be like to be gathered by God?  

Who do you long to see gathered into God's longing love?  

What parts of you resist gathering?  

To help you along, I'm including a simple coloring page/prayer activity I created just for you.  All you need to do is clink on the link: Gathering Love Prayer Resource and hit print, then follow the prompts on the page.  Jesus' words paired with prayer and coloring make a simple activity for you to enjoy alone or with a small group of individuals - kids will love it too. (If you do download the page, leave a me a comment below.)

Imagining Palm Sunday (from the perspective of Simon the Zealot)

(painting by John Dunn, available here.)
(This piece of fiction is loosely based on Luke 19:28-40 and is told from the perspective of Simon the Zealot who I imagine being asked, along with Philip, to go to Bethany to get the colt for Jesus. Here's hoping you also find some time to wander around inside the gospel stories in the week ahead.) 

It felt like the first day of spring. Like everything we waited for was so close we could almost taste it. 

We were close to Jerusalem. The closer we got, the edgier we were. Jesus was quiet. When we reached the Mount of Olives, Jesus turned to me and Philip. He chose us, and told us to go and look for a colt in the next village, it would be tied to a post and we were supposed to just walk up and take it. 

How did he know this? 

We didn’t ask. He chose us, that was all that ever mattered.  Jesus and the others stayed resting in the shade of the olive trees. Philip and I walked alone. 

When you were with Jesus, walking beside him, it felt like the sun on your back – faith rose and blossomed. But with every step we took away from him, faith dimmed. Clouds of doubt rolled in, confidence wilted as we walked toward the village. 

We hardly dared think, much less talk about what might happen when we reached Jerusalem.  Instead, Jesus' stories ran through my head. Everywhere we went he spun stories, painting pictures with words. I tried to make sense of them, but I couldn’t. Maybe I didn’t want to. 

Bethany was small and dirty, like every other village, nothing special. The smells and sounds nearly knocked me out after the quiet walk through the countryside. It was hot, the sun unbearable. I envied the disciples left behind, resting under the trees. The village seemed to go on forever. Women stared as we passed. Children ran up to touch our robes, then scrambled away laughing. We felt strange and out of place. 

The further we walked, the more foolish we felt. Reason raised its head - why this village? Why a colt? And where? Where was it? 

At the far edge of town, we heard it. A donkey brayed. I stopped mid-thought, and put my hand out to stop Philip in his tracks. Again, we heard it, the screeching sound like metal grinding against metal.  It came from somewhere to the right. We followed a small path through a thicket. Our steps slowed, nervously. Then we came to the edge of a clearing. An ancient stone house stood silent, a fire smoldered in a pit. Chickens pecked the ground. Off to one side stood a young donkey tied, just as he had said. 

My heart leapt. Philip grabbed my arm and squeezed tight. Our eyes met wide with surprise and glee. It was all we could do to keep from laughing. 

Giddiness propelled me, I rushed toward the colt. It skidded sideways, stretching the rope taunt, and erupted in a string of screeches, its lips pulled back, teeth exposed. I lunged and wrestled the rope until Philip again grabbed my arm. 

“Simon,” he said. 

I followed his eyes toward the house. A small man slowly emerged from the shadows. I pulled my hand back from the colt immediately. Behind the old man a woman and a small child peaked out of the doorway. Chickens squawked and scattered as he crossed the open yard. 

I have never seen such a short man, he would’ve made Zaccheaus look like a giant. He had a grave and wrinkled face and seemed coated with a lifetime of hard work and dirt. My heart sank. He would never let us have this animal. I thought of the sword at my side, it wouldn’t take much to force the plan. But the woman and child watched from the doorway. 

Philip bowed in greeting and I followed. The little man bowed. 

Braced for anger, his simple question startled me. “Why are you untying the colt?” 


Why not, I thought. Why shouldn't we take whatever we needed to overthrow the Romans? Why try to explain the unexplainable to this dirty man in his dark hut? 

Philip’s hand was still on my arm. I stared at the man, so solidly rooted to the ground, and remembered Jesus’ words, “If they ask why, tell them ‘the Lord needs it.’”

Everything was always so unbelievably simple with Jesus, the simplicity itself was confusing. 

“The Lord needs it,” I said. 

The little man caught my eyes with his own and held them. I watched him measure the truthfulness of my words. I knew he likely guessed my thoughts about my sword, my urgency, and frustration. 

Something in my eyes satisfied and he turned to the colt. He reached out and patted the animal, murmuring into its long ears. “Take it,” he said simply, then turned and walked away. 

Our excitement grew with every step back through the village. We marched into the olive grove like victors returning from battle. The donkey brayed and bucked at the rope. Everyone gathered around shouting questions, slapping us on the back, startling the colt. “How? Where?” they asked. 

“It was just like he said, just like it,” I repeated, grinning and proud forgetting the doubt I’d carried across town. 

Then, Jesus pushed in to the circle. He smiled at our surprise and delight. His tired eyes crinkled in the corners. His robe was wrinkled and dusty from resting on the ground. 

“You did well, Simon,” he said, clamping his hand on my shoulder and fixing his eyes on mine. “You too, Philip,” he added. Like I said, he was like the sun, you know? And when he shone on you, it was something you never forgot. 

Jesus took the rope and leaned in quietly toward the donkey. He patted it, whispered in its twitchy ears like the old man had. I think in that moment, the colt felt just as loved as we did, just as happy and full of hope and excitement. It stamped a foot and brayed flicking Jesus’ face with its ears and we all burst out laughing. 

Peter pulled off his cloak and laid it on the donkey’s back. Nathan too, and Andrew, until the poor animal was draped with a rainbow of dirty robes. 

It was time for Jerusalem. 

I knelt right there in the dust and made a step with my hands. Jesus stepped and leaned while Andrew tried to steady the donkey. But the animal sidestepped and I teetered, pitching Jesus forward. His stomach landed with a thud on the donkey’s back.  My face reddened with embarrassment, but Jesus pulled himself up laughing and swung his leg over the side. 

When he laughed, it unleashed something inside of us. We were like boys again, free and happy. Here we were, caught up in the biggest adventure of our lives, with Jesus at our side, and the wonder of it carried us all along.  

Jesus turned the colt toward Jerusalem, leaning to whisper again in its ear, scratching the coarse hair where the rope hung around its neck. Moving forward, a nervousness settled over the crowd of us again. Then, we followed, and with each step our excitement grew. 

Thomas started the singing. His deep voice rose and the others joined in following the words of the psalm we all knew. The psalm of victory. I heard the words entirely new as we sang them there in the dusty streets, under the open sky. 

I waited all of my life for a king. 

Here he was and here we were together, marching into Jerusalem. But not marching, nearly dancing. As much as I wanted it to be different, as much as I remembered the sword at my side and my dreams of a mighty king on horseback leading me into battle, I was happy. Happy with this fool of a man plodding along on a donkey’s back, this man who loved me. 

I felt my love for him surge in my chest as we repeated again and again the chorus of the psalm, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever.” 

I wasn’t the only one off pitch. Philip had no rhythm, not an ounce of tune, and we were an ugly bunch weaving our way into town, drunk on good news and friendship and the love we all needed. They heard us first (probably smelled us second) and women and children wandered out to watch us. 

Such a strange parade. We sang at the top of our lungs, jostling each other, slapping shoulders and backs. Peter reached out and grabbed a boy in the crowd, swung him on his shoulders and Andrew jumped to reach a palm branch. Breaking it, he placed it in the boy’s hand and the boy cheered and waved like mad. 

There’s something about a people, so beaten down with sorrow and fear, there’s little left to lose. Maybe this is what made them join us, welcome us, break branches of their own and join the singing, the dancing and shouting. Some stripped off their robes and laid them in the street and Jesus was there in the middle of it all, steady and solid as the sky.

Things got a little out of hand. 

But that never seemed to bother Jesus. He got tired sometimes, needed rest and space, but he didn’t try to control us. He let us be however we were, welcomed us and that day we were happy and he didn’t bother to contradict. 

But the Pharisees did. 

It was one of the things they hated the most about him, the way he refused to control us. He didn’t seem to need to control anyone and therefore refused himself to be controlled. It bothered me too, if I’m honest. I couldn’t figure out how he might overthrow the Romans without taking for himself some measure of the power and control they exerted over us. But it bothered me less when I was with him, then it felt like I could believe anything and, if I’m honest, I thought he would change when we got to Jerusalem. 

To the Pharisees, it was blasphemy, all of it. The way we sang and danced in the street, the image of Jesus on the donkey like some kind of street urchin playing king, it was all offensive. But mostly it smacked of disorder and freedom, two things they feared and fought tooth and nail. 

“Rabbi, tell them to stop, make them stop!” they shouted. 

Jesus turned from watching the dancing children, the singing men. I watched him meet the Pharisees’ eyes. My hand involuntarily drifted to the hilt of my sword. Jesus held the donkey still while all around him the crowd rose and swelled. There was amusement in his eyes and he smiled a sad smile. 

“If I tell them to stop,” he said, “the stones you walk on will rise up singing and dancing. You cannot stop joy, my friends, cannot stop praise that flows like a river. Heaven and earth are being un-damned. We will sing and dance while we can.”

If we ever needed permission, we had it. We cheered and sang all the louder, “Give thanks to the lord for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever!”

It felt like the first day of spring, I tell you. Like everything we waited for was so close we could almost taste it. It was glorious.


It’s harder now, to talk about the rest. When we reached the inner edge of the Jerusalem, Jesus burst into tears and the words he spoke terrified and confused us. Confusion and fear followed us everywhere that week; it hunted us, hounded us. 

For a long time, when I remembered Palm Sunday, I felt regret, embarrassment.  I see how little we really understood. 

But Jesus, he loved it. Now I know he carried our praise with him through the darkness that lay ahead. He focused on the memory of our singing when the crowds cried out for his death. 

Jesus’ first desire wasn’t to change us. It was to be with us.

And his being with us, changed us, slowly into something closer to who he was, what he was. 

I like to think of it like that – he carried us with him, our joy, our love, to the cross and we carry him with us, his joy, his love through every week ahead, singing and dancing or weeping in sorrow.  We carry him, he carries us. 

Imagination: Creative Power, Curiosity, Vision

I do not think that the opposite of imagination is reality.  Far from it.  The opposite of imagination is cynicism and boredom; they are influences that deny reality (cynicism) or escape it (boredom).  They blind us to the beauty of human experience or lead us to distract ourselves with shallow, unsatisfying elements of it.  We need strong words.  We need strong images.  We need our minds shaken from time to time, if not all the time, to keep us from drowning in the swamps of cynicism or boredom.  And that’s what imagination does.

. . . when I speak of imagination, I mean the ability of our hearts and minds to create images and stories that express truths greater than can be expressed in a philosophical essay.  A failure to imagine is simply a failure to hope: in myself, in others, in God.

- Eric Ramirez, SJ

Imagination: (n) the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality; creative power.  

Last night, I led a brief Imaginative Prayer session at a local church.  Imaginative Prayer is a method invented and taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola in which individuals or groups spend an extended period of time reflecting on one of the many gospel stories featuring Jesus.  The aim of this type of prayer is a direct experience of God's presence.  

In preparation for my class, I spent some time noodling around on Ignatian Spirituality .com and was delighted to discover these downloadable Imaginative Prayer Guides published by Pray As You Go .org.  I thought about the role of imagination in my own life, my experiences as a child and young adult, and times when I've stifled or encouraged imagination in myself and my children.  I learned that imagination is the capacity to form ideas and images of that which is beyond the senses, which sounds an awful lot like faith, to me.  And I discovered that the Latin root for the word 'imagination' means 'to picture oneself.' 

I listened to the Imaginative Prayer Guide on the Healing of Blind Bartimaeus three times yesterday.  Each time, I found something new and, like an athlete doing reps at the gym, I felt my imagination grow stronger with use.  I noticed, as I cooked, how my dog imagined I might drop the chicken carcass, dripping broth on the cutting board.  She knelt at my feet in anticipation of a world where miracles like that happen.  I watched the House Finches imagining the nest they'll build in my daughter's window, eyeing every angle of the ledge on which their future will rest.  I realized the church is called to be the imagination of the world in which we live - to be the link between that which can and cannot be seen.  

Today, I'm wondering what it is you imagine.  Maybe it's something big or something small or something silly beyond belief.  When is the last time you let your holy imagination run wild?  I'd love to hear about it.       

Just Beyond (on Spring Snow and the Kingdom of God)

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

If the weather-watchers are correct, we’re due for snow tomorrow and possibly more on Sunday.  Snow in March isn’t unusual, but it’s definitely unwelcome.  Arriving just as the world starts to sing its wake-up song, spring snow often feels like the last straw. 

I’m doing my best not to check and double-check my weather app, though I’m anxious to know how the snowfall will impact my work-life and the kids’ school schedule.  Friends online are sharing weather predictions with accompanying proclamations of despair and dismay.  The more time I spend online, the easier it is to believe spring will never arrive.

But the songbirds, the ones who now make daily inspections of potential nesting places sheltered beneath our window awnings, tell a different story.  Something in them seems certain of spring’s promise, despite the cold-again nights, the frost-filled mornings.  Intrigued by their perseverance, I’ve been listening to them almost as much as I’ve been looking online.  I wonder what it is the birds sense, something just a hairsbreadth away from my bumbling human perception.

The songbirds, of course, are not alone.  The hens are laying like gangbusters, the dog and cat have begun they’re annual shedding extravaganza (Lord have mercy), and the tree branches bear red buds ready to burst at the slightest provocation. 

This week I remembered something my Spiritual Director told me several years back, when my kids were much younger and we were cramped in a small apartment together all the dark winter long.  There was snow on the ground then too, spring seemed like a fairytale – a nice idea, but nothing to stake your hopes on. 

“Do you hear the birds?” she asked, as we sat together in her sunlit meeting space.  “They only start to sing when they’re getting ready to build nests and mate.”

I took her word for it.  I allowed the birds to sing hope into my weary-with-waiting heart and I too started to live like spring was just around the corner. 

Maybe it shouldn’t be news to me that our hope, our faith, our love, are so easily influenced by the voices around us.  But most years I need reminders, just the same. 

Being a person of faith means living in light of a reality that may be just a hairsbreadth beyond our bumbling human perception and allowing that reality to shape the songs we sing, the nests we build, the future we work to bring to fruition.  And when we grow weary in faith it helps to tune into the lives and voices of those around us who seem to hear and live a bit more clearly.  

This week, Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, was one of those voices for me.  Quoting from the prophet Habakkuk, regarding the coming kingdom of God, Boyle says, “The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and it will not disappoint; and if it delays, wait for it.  What we all want to create and form is a community of kinship such that God might recognize it . . .  It shouldn’t surprise us that God’s own dream come true for us – that we be one – just happens to be our own deepest longing for ourselves.  It turns out, it’s mutual.”

If you find yourself also near despair - due to snow or otherwise - why not take 20 minutes to hear what Boyle has to say.  His words point to realities just beyond perception and his life's work continues to bring the kingdom into fulfillment.