Words For When

life happens

December 15, 2014
by Words for When

Song: Snow Falling Down on Bethlehem

Hearing of snow in the Middle East last winter got me imagining snow on the traditional Christmas narrative. Somehow, that made me feel more connected to the story, thinking there could have been snow falling on Bethlehem all those years ago. This is the song that came from those wonderings about connections between then and now. Again, I’m accompanied by Daryl Snider on guitar and harmonies, and the lovely folks in my congregation sang along on the chorus.

Snow Falling Down on Bethlehem
written in December, 2013


snow falling down on brown skin
snow falling down on Bethlehem
snow falling down on a traveling family
snow falling down on Bethlehem

the snow white sheep grazing the hills
lift their soft brown eyes to see
the clip clip clop of a donkey bearing
a girl holding the world, a girl holding the world
a little one, still hidden one
who would take their jobs one day*


in a far-off palace, rages a king
for he cannot put out a star
and the word had come from the wise in the world
of a brand-new power and light, a brand-new power and light
a little one, still hidden one
would he take his job one day?


this very day there are holy families
walking down the road
la Posada, they ask to stay
but we turn them, turn them away . . . we turn them, turn them away
their little ones, still hidden ones
will they take our jobs one day?


the story goes as the story went
as then, so it is today
but Christ was born, Christ is born
Christ was born, anyway . . . Christ is born, anyway
the little one, the hidden one
who came on Christmas day
in little ways, in hidden ways
still comes to us every day


*In reading up on whether snow ever falls in Bethlehem (yes, apparently!), I also read that in winter, most flocks of sheep are not grazing near Bethlehem—the only sheep who would have been in those fields would have been the sheep kept nearby to be temple sacrifices.

December 4, 2014
by Words for When

Song: All Get In

Although I wrote the bulk of this song this summer during my inspiring week at Darrell Scott’s SongFood songwriter’s workshop in Nashville, the idea was a long time coming. My grandfather was a tent evangelist, and I’ve always felt that I had a revival vision of my own to express. With a very different kind of altar call. This song is what has finally emerged. You can listen to a recent recording by and with Daryl Snider on guitar (thanks, Daryl!), and me (cold and all) trying to power through on vocals. Lyrics are pasted below that.



Well, I got no sign and this ain’t no road, and I got way more stuff than my suitcase holds.
I’ve been hitching rides upon the faith of others, anyway.
And I’ve been sending bottles out to sea, with messages: “Dear God,” “From, Me,”
like throwing paper airplane prayers to heaven.

Do we all get in? Do we all get tickets for the ride?
Will we be welcomed at the end? Will we hear, “Well done, weary friend”?
Do we all get in? Are we just measured by our sin?
Or is the love of God so wide, we will be lifted in its tide?
Do we all get in?

I promise you: if I get in, I’ll wedge the door with a big old shim,
and send a charter Greyhound down to fetch you and your kin.
By hitch or hike or a hotrod car, by the light of the brightest evening star,
we’ll ride our paper airplane prayers to heaven.

Chorus (repeat above)

There’s a big ole tent up in the sky,
a beach plane ad is flying by, it says: “Come one, come all!”
Something’s calling out our names,
a gentle voice to stoke the flame that shame would gutter low.

Chorus (alternate):
‘Cuz we all get in! We all get tickets for the ride.
We will be welcomed at the end. We will hear: “Well done, weary friend.”
We all get in. We are not measured by our sin.
The love of God is so wide, we will be lifted in its tide.
We all get in.

March 12, 2013
by Words for When

Prayer: on the occasion of a family welcoming a baby


Watch over this family as they settle into life with a new soul in their number. May Love and Wonder surround them and cushion them in the wakeful days ahead.

Through them we witness one of the miracles of Your love: that, like the loaves and fishes, there is always just as much for everyone, no matter how many it is divided between. (Thank you!) Please whisper this reassurance to the little big brothers and sisters who need to know this about You: that nothing and no one can dilute Your love. And please remind our grown-up hearts and bones that we, too, were once so new, so held, so loved.

Watch over this family these healing, harrowing, hallowed days. May they soon become fluent in the new language they will build for each other, and be patient with one another when their intentions get lost in translation.

In the name of the One who also came to a little family on a winter night … nuzzling and rooting and looking and learning and crying and turning their world around,

                           ~Susan Gascho-Cooke

March 11, 2013
by Words for When

Song: No Miracle

I wrote “No Miracle” at least five years ago after a particularly hard day at work as a hospital chaplain. I needed words for the frustration but also wonder of life out beyond whether “miracles can really happen” or not. The chorus was inspired by a greeting card I found and sent to a friend. The image on it looked like an image from Alice in Wonderland — a girl surrounded by emptied tea cups with the words, “The human heart is insatiable, and I didn’t know! I didn’t know!” I sent it to a friend, and now have no idea how to credit the creator of the greeting card. You can hear me singing it here, with the inimitable Russell Weeks, who arranged the song, accompanying on guitar. Lyrics are below.

I have only tears to baptize,
only fumbling hands to bless.
One little fish and a handful of crumbs,
I am waiting here … no miracle comes.

Your body is tired, my spirit is weak.
You ask me to pray, I ask your forgiveness.
If Heaven proves false I promise that we
will rival that feast in my kitchen.

We’ll fry bitter onions in the fat of the land.
We’ll toast the strange brew of time and neglect
turning to wine our own water and weeds
and hide in the truth of the vigil.

Oh the human heart insatiable is, and I didn’t know…
NNNNNNNNoh I didn’t know…
The human heart insatiable is, and I didn’t know…
NNNNNNNNoh I didn’t know!

Did I lead you where you would never have gone?
Did I find you where you already were?
Like Hansel and Gretel we are hungry and lost,
for we squander our bread on the journey.

But then you flash me green irises, sweet as a wink.
Mine swim in their own salty brine.
We are just babies beneath all the years,
so fat with such empty bellies.

Oh the human heart insatiable is, and I didn’t know…
NNNNNNNNoh I didn’t know…
The human heart insatiable is, and I didn’t know…
NNNNNNNNoh I didn’t know!

I have only tears to baptize,
only fumbling hands to bless.
One little fish and a handful of crumbs,
I am waiting here for a miracle … come.

NNNNoriginal song by Susan Gascho-Cooke, arr. by Russell Weeks

March 10, 2013
by Words for When

Never say never.

I was never going to start my own blog … just like I was never going to move back to the town I grew up in, or grow up to be a pastor, or expose my children to trademarked characters (cue “do-do-do-do-do-Dora!”). Yeah, well.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been looking for websites, blogs, pages, you name it — if it’s an online rock, I’ve turned it over, because I am so often in need of words, and don’t have much time to find them.  I need words, prayers, blessings or poems to offer folks when life happens and hope (or comfort or understanding or sympathetic co-bewilderment) is needed but pieties or niceties just won’t cut it. I know the words are out there, I’ve found a lot of them, but they’re scattered (covered and smothered), and I’d really like to have a searchable collection. After all, I can’t quote Rainer Maria Rilke, Mary Oliver and John O’Donohue on every occasion (can I?).

So, I’m going to use this blog to share the words I find and the words I write for when…

Mostly I imagine this will be a catalog for me.  But maybe others are out there looking for words, too.  If you are, feel free to use these if it’s helpful to do so. If they’re mine, use or edit them for your own (non-profit) needs. If they’re not mine, I’ll credit them accordingly.

It would be amazing if this blog brought out leads to other peoples’ words — where you go to find words for when… or even what you yourself have written because you needed words for when…


March 9, 2013
by Words for When

Prayer: Come running to us anyway

Today is Lent 4C and the story of “The Prodigal Son” which is actually about a father and his two sons (Luke 15:11-32). I wrote this as a prayer of confession for my own congregation … trying to put into words how this story speaks to me, and how it makes me want to speak to God …

We run away from home
NNNNNNNNfor so many reasons
We long for love and connection, but
NNNNrefuse to ask for or accept it
NNNNNNNNfor so many reasons
We righteously rage as we compare wounds, but
NNNNchoose the isolation of resentment
NNNNover the vulnerability of sadness
NNNNNNNNfor so many reasons
Yes, we run away from You
NNNNNNNNfor so many reasons
Bring us to our senses, to ourselves.
See us, even when we are still far off.
Come running to us anyway, O God, we pray.
~Susan Gascho-Cooke

The lines about resentment and sadness were inspired by The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz & Katherine Ketcham.