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.