Sunday, November 6, 2016

2016.11.06 The Cloak of Prayer, No Matter What

Our diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. Alan M Gates, has called for a 48-hour prayer vigil from Nov 6-8, 2016 throughout our diocese of Massachusetts. It could be a wall but I prefer the image of a cloak, velvet soft and warm with the crackly energy of unconditional hope.

Sometimes when we send lots of energy towards a hope in prayer the energy moves things in helpful/healing directions. If I didn’t have some faith in that spiritual power I would never pray at all. It’s no guarantee, I know. But that’s no reason to stay away from the prayer or polls, or avoid heinous challenges, or crawl into a clam shell of shame or fear. It is rather an act of profound trust—an act of love with risks, as all true love carries. Prayer is unconditional. One of the psalms (69) prays: I am my prayer to you.
No one mentions prayer much in this alarmist and boiling-over national climate, but I bet some people are praying, yes, for a candidate maybe, but also for the health of our country and our democracy and our common humanity. The bishop said that individual desires will naturally be in whatever personal prayers we offer, but more broadly, he adjured us to pray with full understanding that God will be fully present in the whole process:
    -that there will be a peaceful transition, no matter what the outcome
    -that there will be no further stoking of demonizing language
    -that all who are elected be moved and strengthened to lead us all through this fractured time
May I suggest as well that after each focused petition we conclude with:
    In praise and thanksgiving,
    I pray to you, O Lord

We are accustomed to framing our collective prayers in a dependency framework: Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.  We ask Godde to hear our prayers. We know, or should know by now, that the nature of God is Love, and Love does listen and hear prayers. It's courteous of course to ask, but perhaps it has become a spiritual habit that is no longer consistently useful.

As Christians we also know that Jesus Christ proclaimed a God whose nature it is to desire peace and reconciliation—not resignation, but active seeking of listening connections—another attribute of Love, no? Love requires mutuality: caring and respect that goes both ways. In short: your needs are as important as my needs. When there is a clash, we negotiate—asking and listening with respect as we arrive together come to truth AND reconciliation—everyone a little uneasy and a little awed.

That is what this vigil is about. It has to do with this particular election, in real time. It also has to do with prayer as an agent of Love in this world of brokenness. Many of us have mistaken our fears for enmity with others, or worse, for the wrath of God.

The bishop reminded us at our diocesan convention that while the Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear, the reverse is also true: perfect fear casts out love. Our culture right now is on the verge of perfecting fearfulness and moving into paranoia where everyone looks like an enemy, or a potential enemy.

Pamela Greenberg's translation of a line of Psalm 23 reads: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my deepest fears." (Most translations say: "my enemies.")  Hear the difference.

With prayer we make room for the work of the Spirit of God, called in Greek metanoia, which means "change of heart and mind." I don't know how I will feel if Mr. Trump gets elected. At first I will lament and moan and fear. Then I will, in fact, ask God for help; then I hope I will go forth and go forward and leave enmity behind—with Godde's help.

So when we say AMEN, or so be it, let's mean it. Let’s sit in silent vigil and reflect, looking at whatever is before our senses: a nutty squirrel scampering across my fence, a neighbor’s dog with a high-pitched bark, the kids in the neighboring yard playing and laughing with glee, the smell of Sunday-only bacon sizzling, the comfort of a dear and familiar touch, letting me know it's time to leave the keyboard and join the world—for breakfast.

When we say AMEN, and mean it, we exchange obsessing for trust.

1 comment:

wenvirly said...

Thank you so much for this Lyn. So many good points. Right now there IS a lot of interest in prayer on the part of religious organizations. I was at a funeral yesterday in a historic UCC church in a tiny VT village. Outside, a sign proclaimed: Prayer Vigil, 6-6:30pm, Nov 1 through Nov 8. We are having an interfaith vigil on the green in Suffield this evening, and a brief prayer service at church tomorrow evening. The CT bishops picked up on the recommendations of the MA Diocese.

I love the discussion of our prayer conclusions, both the response that assumes that God hears our prayers (and has mercy) as intrinsic to God's being, and also the AMEN (reminding me of the NZ night prayer: "what has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be.) "Let it be" harmonizing with "so be it" - food for thought.

And I thought of Paul Tillich: "The first duty of Love is to listen", which I have been considering a lot in the in the past few weeks, as I have been guilty of not listening when it is so 'obvious' that "I know best" - and how well I listen to those who agree with me! It is clear that there are people in this country who have not been listened to by the 'establishment' or the 'media', and they are not all ethnic 'minorities'. Wherever these discouraged, sometimes hopeless voices get even a transient or superficial hearing, I can understand that they might grasp at this hope, and become more vulnerable to the exploitation of their genuine fears. But this analysis still smacks of an 'us' and 'them' mentality which is probably a result of having listened to so few of 'them'. To your point - "Love requires mutuality: caring and respect that goes both ways. In short: your needs are as important as my needs." Obviously, I could use some vigil-time around these thoughts.

I am reading the book "Dignity" by Donna Hicks, which offers an excellen, though not specifically 'religious', perspective on the sources of brokenness/division and reconciliation.

We will need the "cloak of prayer" long after November 8.