Thursday marked a new day for so many people. Near the tarmac a gargantuan hangar on an airbase was the womb bearing the new into the 43rd Air Mobility Squadron at Pope Army Airfield. For weeks I’d pondered the prayer to be offered as “Invocation.” And, as my sister-in-law pointed out, and so very rightly, it is ironic that a pacifist would be the one to pray in such a setting.
Anxiety is the meal on which I feast whenever I am a part of any military affair at the request of my brother. The military has so many unspoken rules and traditions that form its complex culture. It also has a knack for exacting a toll on the one whose non-military companions, present through invitation, fail to adhere to those unspoken (and therefore unknown) rules and traditions. My brother would likely disagree with me on this matter, or so I suspect, but I do recall on more than one occasion when things like a rainbow “decolores” pin worn by me caused people to think I was championing gay rights, when in fact I was wearing the logo of a Christian renewal retreat. My brother was forced to pay a toll—– to offer explanation to his military culture. And I hate it when my brother has to explain away either things said or done by me, or for that matter has had to offer explanation for me, myself.
So–it was with joy and fear—that I’d received his invitation to deliver the “Invocation” for the change of command ceremony.
Because I love my brother and his family dearly, back when in seminary, I took an elective—Military Chaplaincy. It was an intensive course taught in what is called J-term. A J-term course is a mid-Winter course offered in some seminaries during January. I took this course because I wanted to know how to better support and love my brother and his family, while gaining deeper understanding of what their journey looked like, and what were truly their needs as opposed to my perceptions of their needs. To these ends, the course was invaluable.
And a part of the learning done that January was the business of crafting prayers for military occasions. Since those days of learning, I’ve concluded that such prayers:
- have to be open, inclusive, respectful of all religions
- mindful of the irreligious
- take into account what the ceremony seeks to accomplish
- take into account what the ceremony seeks to convey, i.e. authority, office, etc.
- take into account what the ceremony seeks to teach or “unteach.”
- speak to who and what is being affected
- treat God as active participant as opposed to unconcerned passive bystander
- speak to the future and to the past—and the both in hope
- put the prayer giver in no position compromising their own religious practice
So with these in mind, I prayed for a few weeks, considered Lutheran and Episcopal collects, then having used a CRI Voice text as the frame, crafted this prayer offered at my brother’s change of command:
Giver of life, Creator of all, with deep gratitude we celebrate you and praise you for every gift given.
We acknowledge your presence. And are mindful that apart from you, nothing done here today, or for that matter on any other day, is anything worth.
We raise our common voice to you in thanksgiving for Lt. Col. David E. Morgan, Jessica his wife, and their children: Lukas, Caleb, Katy. Their time here sets as the sun and their next adventure, like that same sun, dawns upon them. Guide them through the transitions and changes to be had this day and in days to come. Grant them the courage to surmount the fear of the unknown adventure, and find beyond it the beauty and satisfaction to be discovered through faithful service rendered in unexpected and surprising ways. Be their guide, and as you mercifully lead them, sustain them by your grace.
Even as Lt. Col. David E. Morgan releases command, and with it all the appurtenant responsibilities, authorities, accountabilities, and traditions, Lt. Col. Paul W. Bryant receives that same command. Assure him, Gracious One that he is up to the task, that although new experiences and lessons are sure to come his way, this community and his training are sufficient, that he has adequate experience, and is thus prepared for his new role. Give him the wisdom to be humble, to know that he doesn’t have every answer, to appreciate the imperfections of people, organizations, and even himself. Make him mindful that what is done through him, if done apart from you is nothing worth. Grant him confidence to believe that this is your new adventure for him. Imbue him with clarity of vision that he will rightly and faithfully lead in this new command and within his home where this change of command brings new transitions and change.
Therefore, we pray for Kimberly, wife of Lt. Col. Bryant, and for their sons: Daniel and William. They, too, begin a new adventure. Give them strength to weather the bumpy parts of their journey in patience and a cheerful spirit to enjoy all of life with laughter: holy, pure, and clean. And make them ever mindful that you are sufficiently capable to hear their complaints, bear their burdens, carry them on their way, and lead them by your grace.
Together with these petitions, hear our prayer for the 43rd Air Mobility Squadron, for in this change of command, they too, face new transitions, new frustrations, and new adventures. Give the squadron patience with the differences that will naturally come when one leader releases command and another takes it up. Grant this squadron the wisdom to know that a different leader brings difference. And difference is neither good nor bad, it’s simply different.
Build camaraderie into this community that it might be a source of comfort, security, joy, and blessing not only for itself, but for all whom it touches and serves here at Pope Army Airfield and throughout the ends of the earth.
Make us mindful to realize in this change of command that it is your strength enabling us to protect others, your providence keeping us safe; turn our hearts to you, for again you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Therefore, Gracious One, give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us all the day long. Amen.
This prayer, 3 minutes and 26 seconds long, covered the event, the intent, those affected by the change and pointed to hope. And, in truth, I don’t think it will cause my brother to pay any tax for some foible of my making. I am so very proud of him, of his wife, and his sons.
His speech, given as he received upon himself the command, showed him to be the grounded, compassionate, humble, plain-spoken farm boy of our youth. And as he spoke I cried—not from a pride-swollen heart—but from the place of seeing a humble healer receive command authority, and the office to exercise the same, in a world so completely in want of humble healers. The tears on my cheeks acknowledged the holy. For in the moment of his speaking, I realized the last movement of the prayer was being answered in our midst. Truly our protection is not being forged by the hands of military might but through the hands of humble healers.