Litany for Not Losing Hope

The Lectionary text for October 16 is Luke 18:1-8.

I have been thinking a lot about how easy it is for me to become overwhelmed with the suffering of the world in the Smartphone age. We have twitter and facebook and all manner of news at our fingertips or in our pockets literally all day long. I can know about nearly every terrible thing that happens on the earth at any given moment and become crippled with sorrow, a crumpled mess. And I have. Which is ok sometimes to do, even recommended. But I think I have work to do to figure out how to be engaged and aware and prayerfully participating but not consumed and overwhelmed.

In fact, I’d started some notes for a post along these lines, about not losing hope, staying engaged, keeping on praying. And then I read this week’s passage from the gospel of Luke.* How bout that? A parable about our “need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Jesus, you rascal, with your uncanny sense of irony.

So how do we, folks who care, folks who pray, folks who want justice for the oppressed both at home and abroad, how do we not lose hope? How do we find the strength and perseverance to keep on praying, even though new tragedies happen every day and the work is never done? Even though kids are dying of chlorine gas attacks in Aleppo; Hurricane Matthew has devastated Haiti; race relations in the US (and elsewhere) result in death and devastation nearly daily; 1 out of ever 113 people on earth is currently a refugee; women all over the world are marginalized, abused, and underpaid; the U.S. political scenario is currently discouraging (at best!), and on and on.

Well, I’m convinced of a few things:

Contemplative Christian faith has valuable things to offer: ancient practices of the church which inspire peace within and without, and which ground and unify us and give us words and space for lament and grief and heart-change and focus. We would do well to learn them.

Real faith expresses real emotions, even the ones that we might consider negative. We don’t have to do the happy-happy-joy-joy constant victory dance. We can be present to suffering. We can express lament. We can weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. We can feel our feelings and allow others to feel theirs. This is part of our work of compassion in the world, and part of our victory. We can take our example in this from Christ himself.

Sabbath makes sense, and not just for resting from work. We can embrace the divine offer of Sabbath by turning off our personal news outlets one day a week. The world will survive while we take a moment to re-group. I don’t advocate sticking our heads in the sand, except for one day of the week, which you choose in the freedom and goodness of God, to receive the mercy of God in your own heart.

I don't think these are a panacea for hopelessness, but in my life I’m seeing them ground me in hope, and I know I can get better at leaning into them.

If you need help with hope, pray with me.

 

God, our faithful Friend: we know that you are not like the unjust judge in the parable.
You are just and merciful and compassionate,
We often find it difficult to hold suffering in our minds alongside hope.
Our hearts are often fragile and our minds forgetful.

Help us to be ok with expressing a full range of emotions:
Lament and joy
Anger and affection
Gratitude and disgust
Excitement and sadness
Doubt and empathy.

Help us to be disciplined, grounded in practices that bring us life
Prayer
Meditation
Fasting
Sabbath-rest
Worship

May the fruit of our practice be a river of hope
That flows beneath all we do
Into which we may refresh ourselves
Whenever we grow weary.

And help us to be as persistent as the widow
Not losing hope
Praying without ceasing
Seeking and working for justice.

Amen

 

*I try not to read ahead from week to week before preparing the Litany, just as a way of keeping an open mind

Litany for Persistence

I liked last week's exercise in which I wrote a litany to go along with the Lectionary text from the Gospels for the Sunday, so much so that I wanted to do it again even while I'm away this week on vacation. So I was pretty enthused when I read this week's sermon text from Luke 11:1-13, in which Jesus himself offers us a litany of his own devising: the Our Father, known to Protestants as The Lord's Prayer. Various translations offer various versions of it, and I read a handful of them. Here it is, simply presented in the NRSV, Jesus' own litany:

Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.

I'm grateful for this prayer. It's so helpful. "When you pray, say this" says Jesus. It's always there when we need it, covering most of our prayer bases, easy to memorize, easy to say under your breath while jogging or cooking or driving.

But then, just after giving them the litany, Jesus starts talking to the disciples about persistence in prayer; about knocking on doors in the middle of the dark night and shamelessly asking for your needs to be met, and doing it even thought it seems like the person you're asking is annoyed or inconvenienced at being asked. It takes a certain amount of audacity to knock on someone's door in the night to ask for bread. It's rude and socially inappropriate and maybe a good way to lose a friend, and yet Jesus urges us to ask anyway.

"For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened."

I wonder if any of us have gotten tired of asking. Or ashamed of being so needy. Especially those of us who are interested in asking for things like peace, racial reconciliation, an end to violence, and healing and rest for those who have been traumatized by evil. I wonder if we are starting to feel that God is sleeping and doesn't feel like coming to the door. I wonder if we would do well to be reminded to keep asking even though we feel ashamed, or doubtful, or fearful, or like we don't even know which door to knock on.

Let me be clear: I don't think God is sleeping. I'm just saying it might be easy for us to project onto God that God might be sleeping, that God is grumpy or curmudgeonly (or an exhausted parent who has finally gotten the kids to bed and just doesn't want to deal with anyone else's problems) and doesn't want to answer the door, drag Godself to the kitchen to rustle up yet more bread for yet another needy person. No. Jesus says God will give us good things (verse 13).

I don't think God is annoyed with the prayers of God's friends. (I think God also welcomes the prayers of folks who don't consider themselves God's friends.) I think God is sad about all the bad stuff happening in the world, and has endless grace and love for us all, victim and perpetrator alike. And I do think, in some ways, that it is the middle of a long, dark, night. How gracious for Jesus to offer to let us ask and receive even then, and to remind us that it is when we will need the most persistence and audacity in prayer.


God of heaven and earth,
We exalt you.

Some of us have grown tired of asking
for peace, for reconciliation.
Some of us have grown tired of hearing bad news
of evil and pain.

Yet you encourage us
to keep asking,
keep seeking,
keep knocking.

In a long, dark night, full of evil,
we are knocking on your door,
we ask again for your kingdom to come;
we ask again for peace.

Hear the prayers of your people,
Give bread to all,
comfort those who mourn,
allow the weary to rest,
encourage the disheartened,
show us the path to peace.

May we not grow weary of doing good,
and keep on praying shamelessly and boldly.
May our faith grow, and peace reign in our hearts,
even in darkest night.

Amen