Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Evolution of a Prayer

During a Holy Week service earlier this week we were led in the following prayer:

Let us pray for all who suffer and are afflicted in body or in mind;
* For the hungry and the homeless, the destitute and the oppressed
* For the sick, the wounded, and the crippled
* For those in loneliness, fear, and anguish
* For those who face temptation, doubt, and despair
* For the sorrowful and bereaved
* For prisoners and captives, and those in mortal danger
That God in his mercy will comfort and relieve them, and grant them the knowledge of his love, and stir up in us the will and patience to minister to their needs.
It's a good prayer and worth praying. But it struck me as I prayed it that folks in these circumstances are often the objects of our prayers. And to pray this prayer is not, generally, to act more practically on their behalf. It is, essentially, to outsource their cares to God, while (inadvertently, of course) taking credit for their care.

One workaround would be to pray as a larger whole of whom these folks are a part:

Let us pray for all among us who suffer and are afflicted in body or in mind;
* For the hungry and the homeless, the destitute and the oppressed among us
* For the sick, the wounded, and the crippled among us
* For those among us in loneliness, fear, and anguish
* For those among us who face temptation, doubt, and despair
* For the sorrowful and bereaved among us
* For prisoners and captives, and those in mortal danger among us
That God in his mercy will comfort and relieve them, and grant them the knowledge of his love, and stir up in us the will and patience to minister to their needs.
At the very least changing the prayer in these minor ways acknowledges our proximity to these others in need. This takes the prayer up a notch in a couple of ways, most notably that we must acknowledge that we often do not have the will and patience to minister to the needs of those among us - and even more soberly, that there are potentially people in our midst who are in some way in mortal danger, imprisoned or held captive. We often think of the church as a place of escape, but in reality it is in many ways a microcosm, a locus for all the suffering of the whole world.

A more intriguing prayer, perhaps, is to pray not for those who suffer but for those who impose suffering on others:

Let us pray for all who inflict suffering or pain in body or in mind:
* For those who hoard food or refuse shelter, and for those whose actions have left others destitute and oppressed
* For those whose actions and decisions foster illness and injury, both temporary and chronic
* For those who engender fear, anguish and loneliness in others
* For those who sow or exploit temptation, doubt, and despair
* For those whose actions and decisions increase sorrow and bereavement in the world
* For those who hold others captive, or who place others in mortal danger
That God in his mercy will confront them, and grant them the knowledge of his love, and stir up in us the will and patience to minister to their needs.
Here we are forced to acknowledge that suffering has its origins in real places, among real people. We are confronted not with the noble, distant, conceptualized poor but with the human headwaters of evil. Further, we are forced to contend with the idea that God loves even those who perpetrate evil, and that confronting evil is, in some mystical way, a ministry to those who perpetrate it.

And then, perhaps, to take the final step and acknowledge our complicity in the world's suffering:

Let us pray for all of us who have inflicted suffering or pain in body or in mind:
* For when we have hoarded food or refused shelter, and for when our actions or decisions have left others destitute and oppressed
* For when our actions and decisions have fostered illness and injury, both temporary and chronic
* For when we have engendered fear, anguish and loneliness in others
* For when we have sown or exploited temptation, doubt, and despair in others
* For when our actions and decisions have increased sorrow and bereavement in the world
* For when we have held others captive, or placed them in mortal danger, for our benefit
That God in his mercy will confront us, and grant us the knowledge of his love, and stir up in us the will and patience to repent and conform our actions and decisions to the God who died for the sins of the world and rose again to conquer death.

1 comment:

RETA said...

WOW. Thanks for writing.

RETA@ http://evenhaazer.blogspot.com