Thursday, December 03, 2015

Advent 1: What shall we pray for?

At the edge of a grave near Bellmullet, Ireland
I made dinner last night while the soundtrack of KTLA's coverage of the horror in San Bernardino played.  This morning I sat down to draft the intercessions for this coming Sunday, pulling up the readings, "Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you..."  Baruch holds out glory, mercy and justice, the mountains that separate us leveled and the chasms filled in.  Those who sow in tears, promises the psalm, will reap rejoicing.  The words grate.  I want to stop up my ears, to cry "not now."

I listen to the sirens wail, the helicopters hover.  I read of the bombings — plural, not once, but twice, a "double-tap" — of the MSF hospital in Al Zafarana, Syria last weekend.  And try as I might, I cannot scrub this Pulitzer Prize wining picture of a dying 8-year old, popped into a rapid fire presentation Tuesday night, from my mind.  Women and children. Fathers and mothers.  Lovers.  Dear God, the children.

"And for what should we pray on Sunday?" I ask, my hands restlessly tapping on the keyboard.  Should we pray at all, or is that just a way, as the NY Daily News suggested with its cover, to slide out from under any obligation to act? God's will be done, eh?

I think of C.S. Lewis:  "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God — it changes me." I hear Karl Rahner, SJ.
Beg so that your continuing prayer of petition appears to be a pledge of your faith in the light of God in the darkness of the world, for your hope for life in this constant dying, for your loyalty of love that loves without reward. — from “The Prayer of Need” in The Need and the Blessing of Prayer
Four years ago, I drew a line in a column for CatholicPhilly between "diffident 'whatever you wish' prayers" and "fierce prayers that transfigure 'I beg You' into 'I offer all that I am for You.'" What happens when I pray with the understanding, however pitiful, that I am praying not for a miracle, but for courage.  That I'm praying not for some deus ex machina miracle, but offering to be conformed to Christ, to act in God's eye what in God's eye I am, to take a line from Hopkins. Christ.

What should we pray for?  "For those whose lives have been torn asunder by violence:  in San Bernardino, Paris, and Syria...we pray"  I want to write a litany.  Beirut. Nairobi. Colorado. Georgia.  North Carolina. Guinea.  El Salvador. Chicago. Jerusalem.  Palestine. To keep going until we all fall to our knees, or throw ourselves onto the altar for the offertory.

What should we pray for? To be changed. To be the hands of God made flesh dwelling among us.  I'm not begging.  I'm offering.

See, too, James Martin SJ's response to the NY Daily News cover at America.

1.  It's a great quote, but it's not clear C.S. Lewis actually said it, though screenwriter William Nicholson puts the words in Lewis' mouth in  Shadowlands.

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