By Micah Bucey
Foreword by Pádraig Ó Tuama
Fordham University Press (2021) Use code GIFT2021 at checkout for a 30% discount!
Book Review by Nancy Hastings Sehested
Micah Bucey raced through the streets of New York City looking for a bank that was open. It was the afternoon of March 24, 2020 and the city was shutting down with swift notice as the pandemic spread. Micah was determined to pay one more bond to help one more immigrant friend with release before everything closed. While on his search, his phone screen popped up with the news that playwright Terrence McNally had died from complications from the coronavirus. Struck with the loss of this hero, Micah immediately typed a 23-word tribute that he titled “Today’s Tiny Prayer (for Terrence McNally).” He added an amen and posted it. The next day he posted a prayer for healthcare workers. It started out in that unexpected way, one daily posting after another, until the practice took hold. Responses from readers encouraged him to keep on. Meditations from the year of the plague were born.
Scrunched into the tiny place called quarantine, Micah discovered a large territory to roam in his own heart. While some of us felt like our interior language was stuck on mute, he found words that fit into the small spaces between breaths and shared them. He paid attention to our agonies, our confusions, our griefs, our angers, our fears, our weariness, and our longings. Seeing us kneeling at the vast abyss of our jumbled-up feelings, Micah became our pastor. His prayers were a merciful hand on our shoulder, touching our sorrows, tendering our troubles. For those who are grieving he prayed “…reject any calls to move through this more quickly.”
Many of us moved slowly through the year anchored in those prayers. Micah, minister of Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, called us into the sanctuary of our souls, to see the best of divine strength within us in the worst of times. He invited us to look around and see that we were not alone. There were others, many others longing for a release and a confirmation of the cries emerging from the disasters. Educators, postal workers, elected officials, journalists, parents, children, graduates, elders, transit workers and faith leaders were remembered, along with “bubbles on the ballot.” There were entire communities overcome by trauma and standing in the need of prayer for justice and mercy: the Navajo Nation, Black communities, Indigenous peoples, LGBTQI people. The suffering from the fires in California, the explosion in Lebanon, the winter storms in Texas… all these and more were brought into our collective laments. His small prayers invited us to the communal wailing wall, mourning our particular heartaches yet revealing our interconnecting hopes as one human family. He grounded us in gratitude and a sense of a holy presence that does not forsake us. He drew the circle large enough to draw us all into the Mystery.
On Christmas Eve of 2020, before the vaccines were available, Micah was diagnosed with Covid-19. His own illness shaped his prayers with a renewed depth and urgency. In the prayer for “those who woke up already exhausted” he offered “…may you forgive yourself for being human, and may you do something that we humans should really be very good at, though we most often will ourselves to forget: Rest.” Even when he acknowledged those of us who don’t know where to begin to pray, he gave us an avenue through an expansive gratitude, connecting us “to a steady stream of goodness and good-enough-ness, even in the midst of present pain.”
Perhaps tiny words are best to describe this book. Beautiful. Honest. Raw. Courageous. Tender. Tough. Transforming. Holy. Through a tiny aperture of the tiny word “may,” Micah slipped us into the land of our hearts exposed to the untamed feelings of the first pandemic year. “May you stop..” “May you refuse…” “May you remember…” “May you marvel…” “May you gather…” “May you observe…” From this tiny touch in a year of bombarding tragedies, we were fortified against despair. We leaned into hope together. We were opened to the possibility of change in us and around us. The book takes us on the journey of that unforgettable year, but the prayers will keep us on the journey every year to being more fully alive, honest, compassionate, just, encouraged, graced.
Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested recently retired as Co-pastor of Circle of Mercy, a Baptist and UCC church in Asheville, North Carolina. After serving for thirteen years as a prison chaplain, she authored Marked for Life, which chronicles the misery and miracles she witnessed in the lives of those impacted by our country’s mass incarceration system. Rev. Hastings Sehested is a graduate of the City College of New York and of Union Theological Seminary. The mother of two daughters, she lives in Asheville with her husband Rev. Ken Sehested.