Rabbit Room Press is releasing a brand new volume of EVERY MOMENT HOLY, titled Death, Grief, & Hope. This new book of prayers and liturgies releasing in February is written for seasons of dying and grieving. The book contains over 100 prayers including those for "the Scattering of Ashes," "the Loss of a Spouse," "the Wake of a National Tragedy," "Embracing Both Joy & Sorrow," and many more.
EVERY MOMENT HOLY was written as a series of liturgies and prayers for the ordinary events of daily life. Authored by Douglas McKelvey and illustrated by Ned Bustard, the project began as a single hardcover volume, released in 2017, and a pocket edition of that same volume, released in 2020. On February 12, Rabbit Room Press is releasing EVERY MOMENT HOLY VOLUME II: Death, Grief, & Hope. This new book of prayers and liturgies are written for seasons of dying and grieving and will arrive in time for the Lenten season.
Every Moment Holy will be available February 12th, 2021 through Rabbit Room Press and www.EveryMomentHoly.com.
We are honored to catch up with author Douglas McKelvey for this exclusive interview.
Q: Douglas, thanks for doing this interview with us. Tell us a little about yourself and your ministry.
Thanks for inviting me to have this conversation with you. I'm a husband and the father of three adult daughters, and as of a few months ago, a first-time grandfather as well. I've spent the last three decades in a number of creative pursuits vocationally, including songwriting, script and video work, and authoring works of fiction and non-fiction. For the past five years I've concentrated most of my creative efforts on writing books, and more specifically, on creating collections of prayers.
Q: What is your new book "Every Moment Holy" about?
Every Moment Holy Volume 1 released in October of 2017. The unofficial subtitle was "New liturgies & prayers for daily life." The broad concept was to create a body of prayers that individuals, families, small groups, or churches might naturally incorporate into the rhythms of their daily lives. As such, Vol 1 covered a wide cross-section of subjects, including A Liturgy for the Changing of Diapers, A Liturgy Before Home Repairs, A Liturgy for Stargazing, A Liturgy for Those Fearing Failure, A Liturgy for Waiting in Line, and a hundred or so other prayers.
My hope was that most people would be able to find several of the prayers that might serve them on an ongoing basis, and that would, even in the midst of tasks that seem mundane or moments that seem uneventful, remind them that God is present and at work even in those hours and circumstances, wooing and shaping their hearts into a greater Christ-likeness, and working in and through and around them to advance his eternal kingdom and his good purposes.
Every Moment Holy Vol 2 is scheduled to release in April (2021). The new book is considerably longer than Volume 1, but is more topically focused. EMH Vol 2 is a collection of prayers and liturgies that cover topics of grieving, loss, caregiving, and dying, and also of the eternal hope that holds the children of God even in the midst of those inevitable seasons of loss and grief.
Q: What is liturgy?
In a very specific sense, the word liturgy is often used to mean the order and content of a church service. All churches have a liturgy, a way of ordering their service, even if part of that order is to leave space for things to happen spontaneously. But in a broader sense, liturgy can refer to the acts and practices we engage in repeatedly, those things that become a part of the rhythm of our lives and so have a power to shape who we are, either to form our hearts more fully in Christ's image over time, or to deform our hearts toward some lesser hope or desire.
So in that broader sense, we all have habits and practices that function as personal liturgies, some of them orienting our hearts toward our Creator, and others that can potentially distract us from His kingdom and purposes. The habit of spending four nights a week uncritically binge-watching shows online might become a personal liturgy with power to dull our eternal hopes and desires, for instance, just as time spent every morning meditating on God's word might be a liturgical practice that continually reorients us to the bigger story that God is telling through history and creation.
Q: The word "liturgy" often signifies lifelessness. We want our worship to be spontaneous and passionate, so what is the role of liturgy in worship?
I think for some people an instinctive aversion to the idea of things liturgical has to do with a past history in a church in which they found no real connection between the formality of what happened in the services, and any sense of God's presence or of his activity in the wooing of their own heart.
But I don't believe that disconnect actually has anything to do with what we would call liturgy. As with any other style of worship-including what happens in churches that place a high priority on spontaneity-there is the danger that at some point the form will begin to overshadow and even replace the living content, and then the notion that those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth becomes lost in an empty ritual. Personally, I grew up in church circles that prized spontaneity, and time and again I saw how the emphasis on spontaneity itself could become an empty ritual-an emotional high sought for its own ends and no longer tied to scripture or any meaningful pursuit of Christ.
So I don't think the underlying issue has ever actually been with the form of worship, whether it's spontaneous or highly ordered, but instead with the orientation of the heart of the worshipper. Yes, there are times when our responses to God should be spontaneous. There are times when our prayer takes the form of natural conversation, or lament, or pleading, as we unburden our hearts to our Creator.
But there is also tremendous value for the church in the rich and time-tested prayers that followers of Jesus have labored over, testing the truth of them against scripture, and carefully (and sometimes very poetically) articulating deep scriptural understanding and giving articulate voice to the hearts of believers in the midst of joys and trials alike. A well-crafted prayer, like a well-crafted song or sermon or essay, can often give voice to things that in a given moment we have no ready words for. So as we employ liturgical prayers (as one of the many types of prayer we might pray) we often find that these words that others have diligently crafted for us have a power to guide our thoughts and hearts into truth.
The dynamic is no different than when we sing songs of worship that others have written. Such songs are not in any sense spontaneous, but are pre-written by other people, their words and melodies offered to us that we might through them engage our hearts in worship of our Creator. We sing the melodies and voice those words that we did not write, and yet we find that they have power to give expression to what is also in our own hearts, and that we are able to pray and praise and seek God through the words that someone else has carefully, prayerfully, and deliberately written in advance for us to use.
We recognize that the fact that we did not personally pen those words is in no way a hindrance to our own hearts to begin fully engaged through them. And as they are in a set form, we find the value in returning to some of those same songs again and again, experiencing their power to shape our theology over time, and to express the yearning and desire of our own hearts in worship. I'm convinced that the Spirit of God is similarly pleased to use thoughtfully crafted prayers to shepherd our hearts in the same way.
In particular when we look at the psalms, we see prayers written thousands of years ago that still have power to give voice to our own struggles, doubts, hopes, worship, and also to our faith in the faithfulness of our Creator. David and other psalmists crafted those prayers that the people of God might then recite and sing them again and again. The people of God never saw them as being lifeless expressions because of the fact that they came to them as pre-written texts for repeated use.
The church historically has prayed the psalms, and found them a fitting articulation of the heart of the Christ-follower in varied seasons of struggle and celebration. And when we look at the incident where Jesus' followers come to him and ask specifically that he teach them how better to pray, we see that his response isn't to give them general pointers about prayer, but to offer them a very specific prayer that they might offer repeatedly to reorient their hearts again and again toward a right worship of, and right relationship to, their Heavenly Father, and to the hope of his coming kingdom, and to right relationship with other people, and to an ongoing awareness of their dependence on God's grace and mercy that they (and we) might live lives for his purposes and glory.
When we pray the Lord's prayer, certainly we can put our brain in autopilot and not consider the words we're saying, but that doesn't make the very prayer that Christ himself gave to us a dead or empty collection of words. It merely reveals the distractibility of our own heart at the time. And most of us have personal experience with how easy it is to offer mindless and empty words even in a "spontaneous" prayer. So the issue isn't whether the prayer we're praying, or the worship song we're singing, is already written, or is born in the moment. The issue is the posture of our hearts, and whether in that moment we are actually engaging with our Creator via the words we're voicing.
Q: How can liturgy minister to us especially in moments of crisis?
As we return to familiar prayers again and again, over time they have power to shape our thoughts and understanding toward a greater orthodoxy (a right thinking about God), which might then move us toward greater orthopraxy (right action in light of the gospel). In that way liturgical rhythms become a shaping tool that God might use for our good and for his glory. Another way to put it is that liturgy can articulate truths about God and his presence in our lives and world, that then filter down to our hearts and change our very hopes and desires. Liturgy in that context can be one of many tools that the Holy Spirit uses to conform us gradually to the image of Christ.
And if we have been submitting ourselves to that ongoing sanctification process, when moments of crisis do overtake us, then like the psalmists we can give honest voice to our fears and struggles, but then find ourselves again anchored in the knowledge that we are held in the everlasting arms of our Father, our hearts firmly fixed in the great hope that he will one day redeem all of our hardship and loss, including whatever moment of crisis and disorientation that we find ourselves temporarily thrown by. If we have made a long habit of practicing a mindfulness of God's presence with us at all times, and of continually re-orienting our minds and hearts to his goodness and faithfulness (liturgical prayers being one of the many means we might use to avail ourselves of such grace), then we more readily trust him in those times of storm and confusion.
Q: Tell us about the prayers in your new book, how can they help us in our lives?
The new Volume 2 of Every Moment Holy focuses on those seasons of death, grief, and loss that enter each of our lives at some point. The valley of the shadow of death is perhaps the most difficult terrain any of us must endure. And that is true whether we are the one grieving the loss (or impending loss) of a close friend or family member, or the one who receives a terminal diagnosis, and must navigate the hard and uncertain season of our own dying. My desire was that the prayers in this book might serve the Body of Christ during those most difficult seasons, giving voice to their grief and lament, but also directing their hearts toward the supreme hope found in Christ and in the promised resurrection of our bodies, and of the restored and unbroken fellowship yet to come.
I think it's fair to say that wide segments of the church in modern times have lost any significant theology of dying, and of understanding how death has context as an expected step in the life of a believer, and of how we might prepare our hearts unto that end, living our lives and making our decisions always in the light of our own mortality.
The church today (at least in much of the West) is more insulated from the realities of death than our ancestors were. In the past the church had a greater focus on what it meant to die well, to serve Christ and others even through the process of one's own decline and death. So I hope this book might also serve to spark discussions amongst friends, families, and churches, that might lead to recovery of some understanding of how a Christian ought to view and approach their own inevitable death, and also of how we might better mourn with those who mourn.
Q: How have these liturgies and prayers in this new book helped you in your own life? Can you give us an example from your own life?
I'll give two. We see clearly in scripture that God's heart is inclined toward the broken and the poor in spirit. His mercies extend to those who suffer and who mourn. When I began writing prayers for this book I knew I could never complete the project apart from the voices of community, and in particular, the voices of those who were presently experiencing these very kinds of grief and loss. I knew that I would need to engage in ongoing conversation with them, to listen to their stories and to labor with the intention of articulating in prayer those things I heard them expressing. So as I wrote I was in frequent conversation with a wide variety of people who were either grieving or dying.
I don't think it's possible to be immersed in those sorts of conversations without being changed by them, without beginning to take on a small measure of that burden and grief. So one thing that I saw happening in myself as I spent two years writing this book, was that I was learning in a more tangible way what it means to grieve with those who grieve, to mourn with those who mourn.
I think the process has given me a better understanding of how to walk with someone in their grief, rather than trying to fix their pain, and a better understanding of how grief is a messy and often awkward journey that requires presence, faithfulness, and humility from those who would serve one who grieves, more than it requires any sort of profound wisdom or ability. This experience has also opened my eyes to a greater sense of how many people around me on a given day are carrying deep grief, and so has made me want to be a person more outwardfocused, more aware of the hearts and needs of those around me, instead of being so absorbed in my own interior life of petty concerns and irritations.
Finally, working through passages of scripture related to dying, grief, and hope, and carefully parsing my own thoughts as I wrote these prayers, has served to better prepare my heart for my own eventual dying, I think, and has given me a much clearer sense of how that leg of my journey will come down to a simple following of my Lord, one step at a time, as I cross that last valley, even as my entire journey from the moment I was baptized into his death has been about a daily bowing of my knees, seeking to die to my own dreams and desires, and learning more and more to trust in his faithfulness and mercy and love, as I follow him step by step.
Another very immediate way the prayers in this book served me was through a personal experience of grief. The afternoon that I was finishing a final edit of the manuscript, I got a phone call, and learned that one of my best friends had just died unexpectedly a couple of hours earlier. I finished the last of the work on the book through tears, lament, and disbelief, but at the same time -because my heart had been steeped for two years in consideration of the hope of eternal life-even in the midst of that first shock of loss I found that I was held and comforted in an unshakeable certainty that this was not the end. I would see my friend again. Our fellowship will one day be renewed.
The reality of the kingdom of God and of the coming redemption and restoration of all loss, including the physical resurrection of those who have died, seemed such a near and present reality in that moment. And so I found that I could weep and grieve and rejoice all at the same time. I believe that freedom to simultaneously weep and find joy was the direct fruit of those two years of considering what God has revealed in scripture about death and grief and eternal hope.
Q: Where can readers learn more about your ministry and purchase this book?
EveryMomentHoly.com offers an overview of the whole project, as well as a number of resources for individuals and churches. Many of the liturgies are offered there as downloadable pdfs formatted for use in small gatherings or worship services, and we always have a half-dozen or so of the prayers available for free. The website also has links for those interested in obtaining the hardback or pocket editions (Vol 1 only) of the books, as well as a newly-released audiobook version of Vol 1 read by Fernando Ortega and Rebecca Reynolds. Thanks so much for inviting me to the conversation.