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137: A liturgy for hope and more with Audrey Elledge and Elizabeth Moore

137: A liturgy for hope and more with Audrey Elledge and Elizabeth Moore

Right about now, as you are dashing through the snow…or around town…you might be wishing upon a star for a way to hit pause.

Maybe you could use a prayer for hope.

Or a prayer for paying the bills.

A prayer for when you’re too busy.

Or a prayer for going on a walk.

Maybe a prayer for friendship.

Or a prayer for giving thanks.

Authors Audrey Elledge and Elizabeth Moore offer these and more in their newly released book titled “Liturgies for Hope: Sixty Prayers for the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between.”

These contemporary, comforting liturgies break through the noise of modern life to offer time-tested wisdom.

Audrey works at SparkNotes and Elizabeth at Penguin Random House as these two friends both live in New York and serve with the Church of the City New York.

They’re on the show to share more about the liturgical tradition, this new collection of prayers and the hope that is available to you and me today.

Show highlights include:

  • More about the authors’ stories.
  • An introduction to the book and what led the pair to write it.
  • How the collection speaks to the continued needs of our time.
  • What the practice of liturgy is.
  • What the authors hope people encounter in these liturgies.
  • How they went about writing it.
  • How they intend it to be navigated.
  • A favorite from each.
  • How writing the book has changed their prayer lives.
  • A reading of one prayer from the book, “A Liturgy for Showing Kindness to Strangers.”

Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

* * *

Christin Thieme: Well, Audrey and Elizabeth, welcome to the Do Gooders Podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Elizabeth Moore: Thank you, Christin.

Audrey Elledge: Yep.

Christin Thieme: As we start out here, can you give us a little bit of a window into your story, who each of you are and kind of what brings you to today?

Audrey Elledge: Yeah. Elizabeth can start off.

Elizabeth Moore: Oh, great. Okay. Well, my name is Elizabeth. One of the co-authors of ‘Liturgies for Hope,’ and I am from Louisiana originally, but I now live in New York City and I work in publishing as my regular day job, but also am an author as well. So delighted to talk about ‘Liturgies for Hope’ and we’ll get into more of those details later. But Audrey, you can introduce yourself too.

Audrey Elledge: Yeah. So I’m Audrey Elledge. I also live in New York, I work publishing-adjacent. I work as an editor at SparkNotes and also co-author of ‘Liturgies for Hope.’ And it’s also worth saying that Elizabeth and I are like the best of friends, so-

Elizabeth Moore: Yes, absolutely.

Audrey Elledge: A creation of all of this with our friendship.

Elizabeth Moore: Yes. Worth noting.

Christin Thieme: I love it. Well, so you’ve mentioned your new book, ‘Liturgies for Hope: Sixty Prayers for the Highs, Lows and Everything in Between.’ Can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Audrey Elledge: Yeah. So I can take this. So just like you said, it’s 60 prayers and the origin of this book was actually a few years ago in 2020. So March 2020, I know is seered into all of our brains and it almost feels like a fever dream now. But like, the turmoil and the confusion and the toilet paper hoarding and you know, the isolation. And obviously we still are living in the post-pandemic world, but during that time, when it was all new and fresh, Elizabeth and I were just kind of stunned, especially as residents of New York, which was known as the epicenter of the pandemic. Which, is just a very scary phrase to have labeled in the city you love. And so during that time, we basically just decided to write some prayers that we felt reflected the anxieties or addressed the anxieties and the fears that we noticed in our own community.

So we noticed it in our family, our friends, our coworkers and our church. And so we basically just over the course of a weekend, we sat down together. We came up with some ideas for different prayers, like a prayer for those concerned for their physical health, a prayer for those concerned for their loved ones, very pandemic centric fears. And then we split those up and we just wrote prayers. We tried to put words to the fears that were rooted in Scripture and hope. And basically we were just praying as we were writing, we were to give the words back to God that we felt we needed. And so then after that, we presented it to our church and they published them and then fast forward to now, and now it’s going to be a book. So that, is the very story there.

Christin Thieme: I love it. So you wrote in it that it started as an act of defiant against fear. It was really, as you said, born out of this very specific time. But now, how does this collection speak to the continued needs of our time?

Elizabeth Moore: Yeah, we really were trying to write prayers that spoke to evergreen needs. So as you said, it started as, okay, we’re in this time of life that’s so scary. And we have these anxieties that are at a new level and from a new source that we’re not used to. So we wanted to provide language for those newer anxieties, but then as we were developing them, we thought, well, actually these do carry on into our normal lives. Like we always will be battling with fear or loneliness or hopelessness or any different kind of, anything that we need hope for from the Lord. And so, we just saw this really big need for hope. And we saw it in us first, we were like, we as writers need hope and we just, we love words, we love to write.

And so we were like, what can we do? What can we give to our community? And we figured, let’s give words. And so it was a beautiful process personally, for the both of us that we hope will bless people who also are lacking the words with which to express how they’re feeling. And hopefully these words can provide a way for people to connect with God.

Christin Thieme: Yeah. That’s such a gift. That’s a good point that you’re offering words to people who sometimes don’t have the words to express exactly what’s going on. So that’s, so important. I’ve seen it described, the book, as ‘an original collection of modern liturgies, reminiscent of past generations of faith designed to awaken your prayer life.’ What exactly is the practice of liturgy?

Audrey Elledge: What a question, that’s a great question. So, both Elizabeth and I didn’t grow up in churches that practice the liturgical tradition. We very much grew up in modern evangelical settings. And so, I used to think liturgy was this like dry rot, like reciting old words sort of practice. And it wasn’t until, I guess recently, and in my faith personally, when I started feeling very seen by words that were written in the liturgical tradition and were written by disciples who came before us. And liturgy, I think traditionally is meant to be recited in community. So usually it’s like a statement of truth or like something rooted in Scripture that is presented in a group setting and then everyone recites it together or responds together. And so for us, we’re playing with the word liturgy a bit and, we’re writing prayers that could be used in that setting.

They could be repeated by a group, but we also think they can be just as much repeated by an individual in their own quiet time, like in their own secret place with the Lord. And so, we just think it’s beautiful that prayer can take so many shapes and forms and praying in community is beautiful and so refreshing. And you can get words that maybe you wouldn’t usually receive, but then praying individually. We want our prayers in our book to provide a good catalyst for meeting with God in those spaces too.

Elizabeth Moore: Hmm.

Audrey Elledge: Yeah.

Christin Thieme: Kind of along those lines, what do you hope people really encounter through these specific liturgies that you’ve written?

Elizabeth Moore: Yeah. We, at least I specifically would love for people to encounter the wonder and the beauty of God in a new way. I think that often it can be easy to believe that God is this far off distant being that doesn’t have a lot of care, doesn’t have a lot of beauty or creativity or intimacy or relevancy to our lives. And Audrey and I have both found that to be the complete opposite in our experiences. Like the Lord provides so much inspiration for our creative lives and for our personal lives. And so, yes, I hope that people discover the wonder and the mystery of God and they are excited to explore that through prayer. And that these liturgies are just the first step into them discovering, oh wow, when I talk to God with my words and my spirit, I’m led into this adventure with him, this is so cool.

And so hopefully, this is just the first few steps into discovering just the infinite beauty and wonder of God and of like letting him lead us into the depths of all that he is and the depths that all that we are and all that he’s created. So I just think it’s incredibly fun to be in a relationship with God and very hopeful and redeeming. And so, that’s what I hope people get out of these prayers, is just that experience for themselves.

Christin Thieme: Yeah. I love it.

Audrey Elledge: All of that times a million. I think it’s also, this sounds so simple, but I just want people to feel loved by God. I just want people to open this book, find the prayer that meets the need they feel in that moment and feel so seen by God and know that God is just looking at them with grace and not condemnation. And so I hope that as a reader or a prayer is going through this book, that as they’re praying, they feel unburdened. Or even just as they encounter the words, maybe they’re not even taking the step to pray yet, but just they’re reading the word on the page.

Elizabeth and I just hope they feel unburdened from a lot. It could be unburdened from whatever was stressful that day. Or it could be unburdened by a very serious trauma that they’ve been wrestling with. Or it could be unburdened by the wrong view of God or a skewed view of God or religious trauma, or hurt from the Church. There’s so many things that I feel like we need to kind of release, as we come to God’s presence. And sometimes, it just takes like something or someone to help us. So that’s, really our hope.

Elizabeth Moore: Yeah. And if I can add one more thing, we’re just going, but also like for people to feel safe, to wrestle with God and to ask questions and to really press in. I think some of these topics that we have are tough and for a while I thought were off limits. Just like a liturgy for those deconstructing their faith, a liturgy for those who don’t pray, liturgy for those who’ve been hurt by the Church. So we hope that this provides a safe place for people to really press into those things, wrestle with them and find the safety to be super honest with God in prayer. I think that’s really transformative, is when we get extremely honest in prayer.

Christin Thieme: Yeah, for sure. So you’ve divided the book into sections from faith to location, health, relationships, wonder. How did you go about writing all of the different liturgies that are included?

Audrey Elledge: Great question. You know what’s funny is, so there’s a lot that went into it, but the main thing was that Elizabeth and I sat down and we said, “What prayers do we need?”

Elizabeth Moore: Yes.

Audrey Elledge: And wherever we were in our life during the manuscript brainstorming time, that really bled onto our table of contents. And so, we were at different places in relationships and career and health and family and city life, like all these different things. I think that we were currently going through, or we had just gone through really just spoke to us. And so we were like, “What if there was a prayer for this? Like, I could really use a prayer for this, so I’m going to write it.” And then we found that when we would present it to our editor and to other people working with us on the book, they were like, “Oh yeah, this speaks to me too. Like this transcends your personal experience and actually really encourages me. I would love a prayer for that.”

And then, we also just really prayed a lot. We asked God like, “Who are the readers of this book going to be? And what do you want to say to them?” And so we did write some liturgies about things we have no experience with, which was really funny because now when we go back and read them, we’re kind of like, “Who wrote that?” And I feel like I wrote stuff for this book last year, that is now helping me now, when I’m going through it now. And while I wrote it, I didn’t really know what I was talking about, necessarily. I felt like I was just relying on the Spirit to provide words. And so, and then we also crowdsourced with some of our friends. We asked people like, “What would you like a prayer for? What is something you’re going through right now? And you feel like you may not have the words.” And so, that was really fun to see what people had, what they needed.

Christin Thieme: Yeah. And kind of the next level of that, once you had the ideas of what types of prayers you wanted to include, what went into writing each one? What was that kind of process like?

Elizabeth Moore: Yeah. I can speak to mine and I bet we each had a little bit of a different process. But I know for me, I would think about that specific topic and go to different places in Scripture where I know, or then discovered, like, where is this addressed? Where does God talk about this? What does he have to say about this? And then, I would just free write in my journal for a long time. Just like all the thoughts I had, all the questions that I had about this, like what Scripture was saying. And like kind of as, I was having this conversation between myself and the Word and the Spirit and just got it all out on paper first. Specifically asking not only like, “God, what do you want to say about this? But what do you wish we would say to you about it in this time?”

And then would just transfer all of the journal etchings onto the computer, a more like nicer format. And then, would just start to kind of move through like first kind of pouring out either, the lament, the request kind of like situating the reader and like, what are we feeling in this time? Like addressing this topic, are we feeling like if it’s a liturgy for a lonely evening. Like, what does that feel like? What does a lonely evening feel like, look like? So that the reader can feel understood, so they can feel seen, and then we just move through some different points of Scripture and really highlight the truth about what God says about loneliness or what have you. So that’s, a little bit of my process. And then of course, there was editing, polishing, making sure it sounds nice, looks nice. Best words in the right place. All of those wonderful writing techniques, boring stuff. Audrey, what about you?

Audrey Elledge: Yeah. Very similar. I would start with a brain dump, I think that’s what I was calling it. And I would have a brain dump note on my phone for each liturgy topic where I would just sit with the topic and whatever came out or whatever I would think of, whatever Scripture came to mind, I would just jot it down. So unorganized in a note, and it was so jumbled. And I just trusted it would come together later and I really just was sitting with the topic for a while. Just like Elizabeth said, for instance, I wrote one called a liturgy for those feeling butterflies. And so during that time I had just started dating my boyfriend. And so I was pulling out personal feelings and jotting those down, like all these things I was feeling. And then I was talking to people, asking what is like feeling butterflies, feel like to you?

And then I was looking up like poetry by poets I loved, or poets maybe I hadn’t even heard of, like love poems, trying to get ideas there. And then Scripture, of course, was the main source for both of us, for our inspiration. And I really just remembered Anne Lamott’s advice, which is just write a bad first draft. And so my first drafts will never see the light of day and they’re really embarrassing but they’re so earnest.

So I would just try to get bad first drafts and then, move into like, okay, how can I polish this line? How can I say this better? Elizabeth, what do you think of this? Is there a better turn of phrase? Where can I include Scripture? Where right now it’s just my idea that’s maybe not rooted in anything good. So that, was really… It was kind of, I would say it was a mess, like a messy, magical experience. This is our first book, you probably already said that. But we learned how to write a book, basically, which was, it was like running a marathon when we had only trained for a 5k before. So, good times.

Elizabeth Moore: Messy and magical. I love that.

Christin Thieme: So how do you hope people navigate the book? I mean, this isn’t necessarily the kind of book that you would start at the beginning and work your way through, right? Is it something you would more suggest keep on hand as kind of like a toolbox or how would you describe that?

Elizabeth Moore: Yeah, I think we envision this living on a nightstand or somewhere close by where you can go to the table of contents, read the topics, see what resonates, which one feels like something you need right now, or which one feels like something a friend of yours needs right now. And that people then just go directly to the liturgy that they need, that it provides them the words that they’re looking for. And then there are Scripture references at the bottom of every liturgy that informed our writing of the prayer. So then hopefully, that readers can also go to God’s Word and read more about that topic and just listen from him from there. Like hear what the Lord has to say to their own heart.

Christin Thieme: Do you each have a favorite?

Audrey Elledge: Oh yeah.

Elizabeth Moore: Let’s see, a lot of favorites. I feel like I’m flipping through the little table of contents right now. I feel like my favorites are the weird ones.

Audrey Elledge: What if we shared our favorites from each other?

Elizabeth Moore: From each other? Yes. A million percent. Okay. So you mean what? My favorite one of the ones that you wrote, Audrey?

Audrey Elledge: Yeah, So many that I want to brag on Elizabeth though.

Elizabeth Moore: So the first one that comes to mind, Audrey, that you wrote is liturgy for the wrestling with God. I just, I read that often and it is so good.

Christin Thieme: And who doesn’t, right? That’s a good one.

Elizabeth Moore: Yeah, so good. There’s a repeated line in there that just says like, “I will not let go unless you bless me.” Which is directly from what Jacob says before he was renamed Israel, I believe. And he wrestles with God. It’s just like such a good… That particular liturgy is so good. It makes me feel like I’m physically wrestling with God. Like I just have both hands and it encourages me. It reminds me that God can take it. Like God can absorb my full weight. He can, I can throw myself upon him and he’s like, “Yes, that’s what I’m here for. I want you to fully throw yourself onto me.” So, I love that one.

Audrey Elledge: Yeah. I love the one that starts the entire book. Elizabeth wrote a liturgy for those who don’t pray, which I feel like is just the most warm invitation into prayer for anyone on the spectrum of faith. Like someone who doesn’t believe and is maybe even antagonistic toward prayer and think it’s dumb. And then the person who’s like, I’ve been praying my whole life and like kind of ran out of words. And so I think that one is beautiful. And then she also has one, Elizabeth, what is it called? It’s called a liturgy for loving someone who doesn’t love you back. Oh, how unrequited love and will tear you apart in the best way.

Elizabeth Moore: That one slays me.

Audrey Elledge: Yeah. It hits so good.

Christin Thieme: I love it. How has this whole process changed your own prayer and faith life?

Elizabeth Moore: Yeah, so much. Wow. I feel like for me, it’s allowed me to sit with attention and with things for longer. I feel like before I was like, my prayers would be kind of quick and like moving on and then, I pray for something, but then I’m distracted and I just forget to care. But it doesn’t actually get resolved or I’m not really in an active, productive conversation with God about it. You know, like working through something. And the liturgies has made us sit down for hours and hours at a time and like thinking through a thing and like really getting to the bottom of something. And so I think for me, at least it’s helped me stay with a certain topic or a certain area that I feel like I’m wrestling with God about and just stay there for a long time.

It’s just helped me grow at like, I’m more comfortable sitting in the tension of not knowing or just sitting in the tension of waiting on God to lead me to the next thing. But, just being in prayer for longer and being okay with that.

Audrey Elledge: Yeah. Not rushing through prayer, putting it like a checklist item, but really wrestling with it. I would say for me, it brought back simplicity to prayer because I was finding, as I was writing these liturgies as a writer, I was trying to come up with the most beautiful words, terms of phrase. And then in reality, the things or the lines or words that felt most true were the ones that were the most simple. And so I think it just reminded me that prayer is not supposed to be impressive. It can be beautiful and I think should be beautiful and reflects beauty, but it can be really simple because what it boils down to as a conversation with God. And so there’s no need to use huge vocabulary or like rhyme or anything, or give a speech whenever you’re talking to your Creator, who already knows your request before you ask him and already knows what’s going on. And so I think it just brought me back to the basics of prayer.

Christin Thieme: What’s your best advice for somebody who maybe is struggling with prayer or doesn’t pray often, like you open the book with that one liturgy, what’s your best advice for someone like that? For any of us that really.

Elizabeth Moore: I think, two things come to mind. One is to start with honesty, if you’re just like, I don’t know what to say. I don’t even know what the right words are, just start there, just to be like, hi, I feel awkward. Like that can be the first line to truly just be super honest about where you are, what you want, why this is weird. And then to imagine what it would be like to speak to someone who loves you very much and like kind of to go from there, just bring your full, honest self. And even if it’s difficult to imagine God, to picture, if you’re like, who am I talking to? Like, I don’t know, like that, I would also say that’s so normal for prayer to feel like a little bit weird or a little bit like, wait, who am I talking to?

Is anyone listening? Are these just thoughts in my brain? Like, I think that is very normal to feel that, especially starting out and the level of comfortability or recognizing God’s presence within you grows over time. So to get started, it’s just like, imagine what it would feel like to be perfectly, completely loved. And that is exactly true. It’s just actually just like the scratching the surface of what is deeply true, which is that God is love and is perfect love. So the most that we can imagine being loved is like, yes and more. So I think that perhaps, I hope helps give people a good place to start.

Audrey Elledge: Yeah. I love that. It reminds me of Brennan Manning, the love. I think for anyone struggling to pray, I would say you don’t always have to pray with words. Sometimes you can just sit or sprawl or lay down on your bed, or on the floor and just sit and just hope that God is near. Even if you don’t feel him, like trust that he is near and that you don’t have to articulate anything you can just kind of be. And you know, the Word says, pray without ceasing [1 Thess. 5:16-18]. And I used to think that meant just continually talk to God, but I don’t think that’s what he’s asking us to do. I think he’s saying live in a posture of prayer and that can mean like lay out and just rest and just close your eyes. And even if you can’t formulate a word, that’s okay.

Elizabeth Moore: I love that.

Christin Thieme: Well, this is a busy and exciting time for everyone as we are almost to Christmas here. So I’m wondering if we could close this episode with you reading one of the liturgies that I really loved. One called a liturgy for showing kindness to strangers. I just thought that was so perfect for any time, really, but for this time of year, especially, as a reminder and a prayer to really show love as we go about our day. So if you’re willing, I’m wondering if you could close us out in this episode by reading it. I don’t know how you want to do it, jointly, back and forth or one of you, but if you’re willing, I’d love to close the episode with that one.

Audrey Elledge: Yes. I’d love to. Thanks, Christin. Okay: ‘A Liturgy for Showing Kindness to Strangers.’

‘Today, Oh God, we will brush against many we do not yet know

in the places that mark our lives:

offices,

stores,

traffic,

street corners,

lines.

Before stepping outside, we first ask for the unwarranted grace and self-forgetful love

to face the myriad and unpredictable temperaments of those around us.

Refresh our memory of the kindness You first extended to us

so that we may freely give it to those we meet.

Oh Lord, we do not know the weights others carry. We do not know the heaviness with which a person got dressed this morning.
We do not see the grief that sits in their ribs like stones

or the joy we could so easily crush with any stray snideness.

May we walk and drive and move today as if the gospel were emblazoned on our chests,

as if every word and action were an ambassador for You.

May even our thoughts toward strangers be lovely, rooted in humility and dressed in compassion.

Oh Faithful One, we know that generosity of heart will not make us poor

and that we will not lack anything after giving away kindness too liberally.

Today we will practice blessing our fellow sojournerss

and will expect nothing in return except for the pleasure of our Messiah.

For if kindness is motivated only by hope of reward, then how are we living like You, the One who humbled Himself to the point of death?

Purify our intentions and rid us of pride

so that all who encounter us may be surprised by our light,

paused by our patience,

touched by our tenderness,

and—above all, Oh God—seen by the One who created their inmost being.

Amen.’

Christin Thieme: I love it. Thank you. And thank you both so much for sharing today. Thank you for this collection of hope, and Merry Christmas.

Elizabeth Moore: Thank you, Christin.

Audrey Elledge: Thanks, Christin.

Additional resources:

  • Read “Liturgies for Hope: Sixty Prayers for the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between” (Waterbrook Press, 2022) by Audrey Elledge and Elizabeth Moore.
  • Get on the list now for The Light Will Come: A 28-Day Advent Journey for Families and prepare a simple, meaningful celebration with your family.
  • You’ve probably seen the red kettles and thrift stores, and while we’re rightfully well known for both…The Salvation Army is so much more than red kettles and thrift stores. So who are we? What do we do? Where? Right this way for Salvation Army 101.

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