Kyrie eleison. Translated “Lord have mercy,” this short prayer has been spoken by Christians for centuries. Recently Julie Tai, director of chapel, adopted the words as her own—“it is my intimate and fragile prayer,” she says—and brought the prayer to life as a hymn.
When the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts sought new music for a worship recording project, Julie worked with Ed Willmington, Fuller’s composer in residence, to record the song. What had been a quiet prayer of mercy was now a lament for “the vast amount of suffering, injustice, and pain in our world we see and are responsible for.”
On Fuller’s Day of Prayer in Pasadena, on the steps of Payton Hall Julie and the chapel team placed photos, names, and stories of lives lost in the black community due to systemic violence. Around the images they placed signs from a local protest, including one with the two words Julie had been praying for months: kyrie eleison. At the end of the day, Julie found she couldn’t take the memorial down. “This is something we need to learn to pray for,” she told herself, so she started tending the prayer station, sustaining an unexpected memorial in the middle of campus.
Weeks passed. When it rained, Julie gathered coworkers to clean the photos. When the candles burned their wax, she replaced them. When debris covered the names and stories, she swept the steps. Soon, the chores became a spiritual practice: “As long as this is on the steps, we can’t ignore it—it’s an intentional disruption,” Julie says. “Are we willing to seek justice and pray for these communities who have lost loved ones?”
Over time, students have congregated on the steps, lighting candles and sharing stories. Local children have picked flowers from around campus to place by each photo. Inspired by the display, staff members have engaged difficult conversations about racism. Neighbors just passing through have stopped to read stories or relight candles that have blown out. Grief and offense, stories and lament—these and much more have been encouraged within the clearing the memorial has created.
“We are dealing with real fears and prejudices we didn’t even know we carried in our hearts,” Julie says, reflecting on the months since she lit the first candle at the memorial and since she first turned her lament into music. “We need spaces for conversations that lead us into deeper prayer and commission us to act.”
Lord, have mercy!
+ Hear Julie’s hymn “Kyrie Eleison” on REVERE | RESTORE, a worship album by Fuller Seminary students and alumni created through the Brehm New Music Initiative.