Essay

A Promise More Incarnate, by Jane Zwart

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I’ve grown to love what has become a bit of a tradition for me: to post prayers from my dear friend, Jane Zwart, every time she writes one for her church. Words are so difficult, even (maybe especially) words to God, so I’m very grateful for Jane’s profound gift, her lovely ministry of language, her lively and provocative imagination. I always think more deeply after I read one of Jane’s prayers, see God and the creation from all sorts of new angles, understand the ways that the “promise is more incarnate.” Today’s contribution is no different as Jane weaves the words from last Sunday’s lectionary with her own. May it bless you as it blessed me.


Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.

You nested the earth in the vastness of the Milky Way. You lent the whale its breath and ballast. You engineered the dandelion and dared the finch into flight. And you could not have fitted the atoms of our first parents together with any more delighted ease if they were made of tinker-toys.

Of course our delight is too small–and often too hard-won. So startle us into joy. Lend us breath to praise you. Dare us to name you, to sing your praise. 

Heal us of our indifference, of choosing boredom in a creation that teems with miracles.

And heal us of the ailments we do not choose.

Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

We would pray for miracles, dear Jesus. We would ask you to vanquish cancers, to fix the heart that won’t keep time, to snuff out epidemics, to vaporize our anxieties. We would ask you to annul the awful diagnosis, to leave the doctors speechless.

Then again, we need also to thank you for the doctors, for their careful minds and steady hands. We need to thank you also for hospice nurses, for therapists. We thank you for research scientists, for chaplains. For we know, in part through them, that you have stretched out your hand to heal us.

But you haven’t just stretched out your hand to heal us, Jesus. You have stretched out both your arms for us You have let mortals hammer nails through your wrists. That is why your cross is the sign we live under, your resurrection the wonder we stand on. Indeed, your gospel does what Paul says: it brings life and immortality to light.

So we are also bold to pray for those who grieve, that you will bring life and immortality to light–acutely–for them. We do not ask that they will suddenly quit grieving, that those they miss will become less precious to them. We pray, instead, that the sign of the cross will become more precious to them. We pray that resurrection will become, for them, a promise more incarnate.

We pray comfort for those who mourn among us. But we also ask you to comfort those who mourn in languages we do not know, in villages we could not find on a map. 

And we pray that the gospel will reach them. May it reach the nations with whom our nation is sparring: China, Iran, North Korea. May it reach tribes in Cameroon and Chad. May it reach the poorest corners of Tijuana and Mumbai and the zipcodes we ourselves detour around.

May the gospel reach even the cynical neighborhoods of our own hearts.

Indeed, send us to the places that need its light. We do know there are so many such places. No wonder the Psalmist’s question echoes again:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

Why do we, Sovereign Lord? Is it a lack of good news? Is it the dark?

Then send us. Skewer our vanity. Quell our false fire.

Be our Sovereign Lord.

Put the words of your good news in our mouths, the light you brought to the world in our hearts. In your name, Amen.

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids, a city I've come to love. I count myself rich in friends and family. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” I don't have the car anymore, but the sentiment is still true.

6 Comments

  • Dale Cooper says:

    I pause this morning to give our Lord deep thanks for Jane. Her words blest me when first I heard her speak them on Sunday morning. Reading them this morning, I am blest again.
    Dale Cooper

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    “. . . dared the finch into flight.” Dared. That is lyric. Thanks, Jane. Thanks, Jennifer.

  • Carol Van Klompenburg says:

    Jennifer,
    I would like to request Jane’s permission to use this prayer the next time I am responsible for Prayers of the People at my church.
    How would I go about doing that?
    Carol VK

  • Mike Weber says:

    Thank you for sharing this.

    I am meeting today with a family whose 14 year old son died of leukemia and so I am especially moved by the lines. “We do not ask that they will suddenly quit grieving, that those they miss will become less precious to them. We pray, instead, that the sign of the cross will become more precious to them. We pray that resurrection will become, for them, a promise more incarnate.” These words speak to my heart and offer a good perspective on grief and hope.

    Thank you

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