Tag Archives: Prayer

Scripture on Sunday – 1 Samuel 1 (Cont)

Read 1 Samuel 1

As the book of 1 Samuel opens, Israel is a loose collection of tribes sometimes bitterly divided as portrayed in the book of Judges, and oppressed by the Philistines. The book charts the development of Israel from this segmentary tribal society to a centralised, monarchical state. As with the Judges, a central question of this book concerns who will represent Israel in its military struggle, who will maintain the law, who will judge Israel? “First Samuel is about the development, under God’s providence, of a tribal brotherhood into a state. It is a work of political theology” (Murphy, 2-3). Thus the story of Hannah, and of Samuel’s birth must be understood not simply in terms of the psychological aspects of Hannah’s situation and action, but primarily in terms of the divine sovereignty that leads Israel. Hannah is not simply a powerless woman whose prayer is an expression of personal catharsis, which in this case results in blessing—although all this may be true (see Evans, 26-27). Rather, as Murphy also insists,

What Hannah wants and achieves is not psychological closure but open converse with the one God. The heart of the drama in this episode is interior, within the heart that Hannah opens to God the life-giver. … In this encounter, Hannah is given the social role for which she asks from God (8).

Hannah is caught up into what God is up to, and her desire for a son, into his purpose for Israel.

Shiloh at this time is not a capital city—for Israel is not yet a centralised entity—but it has become an important religious and political centre within Israel’s life. As such, Eli, introduced as sitting on a chair (a throne?) in the temple doorway, represents both political and clerical authority, “at the apex of the network of local judges and assemblies” (Murphy, 12). Over against this institutional and hierarchical power is the silent heart-cry of a powerless woman whose prayer has the character of “making a deal” with God.

Prayer remains a mystery, even to those well-practised in the art. It would be wrong to take this passage as a pattern for prayer in the expectation that one could manipulate God and so gain what one desires. Prayer cannot be reduced to “making a deal with God.” Hannah’s prayer is novel; she is not following a liturgical formula or pattern of prayer. It is presented as a vow that she makes to God, a vow that she takes with utmost seriousness. Her prayer is answered and she gets her heart’s desire—but only to give it up again in an act of self-sacrifice that perhaps is not only reminiscent of Abraham offering Isaac, but greater: at least Abraham got to take his son home. Hannah’s act of handing little Samuel over to Eli’s care at Shiloh almost beggars belief. Her prayer is indeed heartfelt, powerful and effective—but also costly in the deepest and most personal sense. Her act is witness that we are not owners of our children however much we desire and love them, and in fact, we might learn from Hannah that an essential aspect of our parenting is learning how to entrust the lives and destinies of our children into the care of the sovereign God from whom they have come.

Prayer, then, has the character of encounter with God in which we truly pour out our hearts to God, but also find ourselves engaged in and drawn into the mystery of his providential dealings not only with ourselves, but with the broader circumstances of our people and nation. In prayer we find that not only are we actors but acted upon; we must learn to speak of prayer using the passive voice. Here, in the genuine freedom in which we pray, we are grasped by a grace greater than ourselves, co-opted into activity broader than our own lives, and made participants in what God is doing in ways that call for costly self-giving that will mark our lives forever. Prayer, then, is not for the faint-hearted or those seeking to make a (selfish) deal with God. And even as I write these words, I find I am challenged concerning why it is prayer is so superficial and sporadic in my life: do I really want to encounter this God who demands my all? Do I really dare to pray if this is what prayer is and does?

I will give Murphy the final word:

In this episode, which introduces the overall theme of Regum [i.e. the four books of Samuel and Kings], the author goes to lengths to show the priority of the personal over the political, by contrasting Hannah’s interior cries for help and Eli’s narrow-sighted public gaze. The insistence of church fathers like Clement, Origen, and Chrysostom on inward faith is rooted as much in the Old Covenant as in the New. Literally and physically, as well as spiritually, this inward root was the womb of Samuel. … Hannah is a pioneer, leading the religious spirit of her times into new territory. In the new political culture that has begun to appear by the end of the book, not only prayer but the action of God occurs silently and in a hidden manner. … A novel conception of divine guidance appears, and one that fits a political theology. From henceforth, God’s action in history is largely, though not solely, presented as providential, working in cooperation with nature and human freedom, rather than in the overt supernatural, interruptions of nature that we call the miraculous. … The Spirit is staking his ground in the privacy of the hearts of men and women (15-16).

Scripture on Sunday – 1 Samuel 1

Read 1 Samuel 1
The story of 1 Samuel opens with the story of Samuel’s birth and family, and especially of Hannah who is introduced as one of two wives of Elkanah, a devout and rather wealthy man from Ephraim. That Elkanah has two wives is unexceptional in the text and suggests that the practice of polygamy was not uncommon in ancient Israel, though it was probably only practiced by those sufficiently wealthy to support two wives.

But all is not happy in Elkanah’s household—a regular note in biblical portrayals of polygamist households (cf. Abraham and Sarah, Rachel and Leah), and echoed to some extent in the recent HBO series Big Love. While polygamy may not have been uncommon, it seems the biblical portrayals of the practice present it in a manner that indicates it is less than what God intended. Hannah is first mentioned of the wives which suggests she may have been the first of Elkanah’s wives. But Hannah is also childless. Peninnah, the second wife, has multiple children, both sons and daughters, and provokes and torments Hannah on this basis. Neither woman is enviable; both have reason to be unhappy: Hannah on account of her childlessness, and Peninnah on account of Elkanah’s apparent preference for Hannah. Hannah’s heartache in the story is palpable, Elkanah’s love notwithstanding. Indeed, female commentators on the book note Elkanah’s patronising attitude toward Hannah, and his seeming blindness to her distress.

1 Samuel 1:8
And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

Elkanah is viewing Hannah’s distress through only his own eyes, aware only of his own situation and desires. Sons were evidently more important to him than he is willing to admit, for if Hannah were in fact his first wife, the lack of sons led him to marry Peninnah. The daily presence of her rival was testimony to Hannah that in fact, she was not loved simply in and as herself, but also—or worse, simply—on account of her function as child bearer. In tribal and clan-based societies, a woman’s fertility is her primary gift, for children, and especially sons, are the future of the family and of the society generally. For Hannah, her childlessness is not simply a tragic personal disappointment, but a marital and social failure.

Verse five provides the reason for Hannah’s failure to conceive: “the Lord had closed her womb.” It is likely that this is more than a pious accounting for the situation, a referring of all outcomes to the hand of God. Rather, in an agrarian environment where even the people of God participated in the worship of fertility deities, the text immediately regards Yahweh as lord over all matters of fertility. It is Yahweh who has closed her womb; it is only Yahweh who can open it (Francesca Aran Murphy, 1 Samuel BTCB, 8). Thus in her desperation and grief, Hannah pours out her heart to God, and makes a deal with him: if God will grant her a son, she will devote him to the Lord for the whole of his life.

The chapter also introduces Eli and his two sons as priests at Shiloh which had become the centre of Israel’s worship. Although in this chapter we learn nothing of Hophni and Phineas, Eli reproves Hannah and is critical of her. It is easier to criticise an unknown woman than to reprove his own sons—as we shall learn in chapter two. He, too, is insensitive of her heartache and the depth of her anguish. Hannah, it seems, is utterly alone in her grief, with only Yahweh as her hope and comfort.

Hannah’s prayer was desperate, focussed and prolonged. She came to God in her misery, praying at the place of prayer, and despite initial misunderstanding during which she defended herself against accusation, received a blessing from the high priest. Old-time Pentecostals used to speak of “praying through.” Hannah “prayed through” to peace and to blessing. Her prayer was a cry for recognition, offered in the context of worship and sacrifice—“and the Lord remembered her” (v. 19). Just as God “remembered” Noah stranded in his ark (Gen 8:1), and his people when they cried out to him in the bondage of slavery (Ex. 2:24), so now he has remembered Hannah and opened her womb to conceive a son—one who would become leader and judge of God’s people.

A Prayer of Confession

I came across this prayer in Ray Anderson’s On Being Human. Then I prayed it as part of the congregation at Evensong in Adelaide last Sunday. It is the last line of the first stanza that grabs me: and there is no health in us. The prayer is from the Book of Common Prayer (1928), “Morning Prayer.”

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father;          
We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.          
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.    
We have offended against thy holy laws.        
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;
And there is no health in us.

But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.          
Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults.      
Restore thou those who are penitent, according to thy promises
declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.         
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake
that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,          
To the glory of thy holy Name.           
Amen.

New Barth Books

Two new Barth books arrived in the post this week, all the more exciting because they are primary documents rather than new books about Barth.

The first A Unique Time of God: Karl Barth’s WWI Sermons contains thirteen sermons preached by Barth to his small congregation at Safenwil from July 26 through November 1, 1914 – the first three months of the war. Here is the young pastor Karl Barth, twenty-eight years of age, wrestling with the meaning of the war in the light of Scripture and theology. Nine of the sermons are based on New Testament texts, and four on the Old Testament. This is the first time these sermons have been translated for an English audience, and I am very much looking forward to reading this volume, together with its introductory essay by Canadian translator and editor William Klempa.

The second volume is also early Barth. The Epistle to the Ephesians were amongst the first lectures given by Professor Barth in the winter semester at Göttingen, 1921-1922, just months after Barth had ended his pastorate at Safenwil and finished the second edition of his Romans commentary. It seems Barth spent most of the course exegeting his way through the first chapter of the epistle, and then devoted the final lesson to chapters two through six! This volume also comes with introductory essays by Francis Watson and the late John Webster.

I have dipped at random into A Unique Time and present a brief excerpt (pp. 112-113):

So war, even this terrible war, has its place in God’s purposeful design of peace for us. Hence, for us men and women, what matters is that we have a living experience of the wrath and of the unspeakable grace of God, to which the European nations now tread so near. Nothing else will help us. In this time, victory and defeat can again be quickly reversed. For thousands of years the history of humanity has simply been a story of alternating victories and defeats. God has permitted time and again that humanity would go its way and on its way find only misery. Victory and success should no longer be what they want; what do they get out of them? Surely, we should all let God speak to us through the present storm, for which human beings are at fault. This will pass away, but you remain! As long as we keep on praying only for victory and success, God will not hear us, and we will continue to be confronted by new storms through our own fault.

Moveover, we Swiss should not think and pray in this manner. Yes, we want to pray for our beloved country, but not to a god of war and victory, in accordance with the practice of the ancient Jews and the pagans. Nor are we to pray that narrow-minded selfish prayer: “Spare our house; instead, burn down someone else’s!” Yes, and if the situation were to become serious, in no way could we boast about our just cause! Nor could we at all demand without question that the good Lord stand right behind our soldiers and cannons. We also are culpable in our whole being for the present world’s situation. Rather, we must pray as Jesus taught us: “Your kingdom come! Your will be done! And forgive us our sins! And deliver us from evil!”

Lord, set us free, not from the enemies but from the powers of darkness that are in and around us, from falsehood and arrogance, meanness and thoughtlessness. Lord, let us be victorious, not over foreign nations but over ourselves, over our selfishness. Lord, let us triumph, not in outward success but in letting ourselves be filled and empowered with your love, freedom, and justice. Dear friends, let this be our war prayer, the war prayer of a neutral nation. . . .  May God grant this. If we so pray, God hears us. 

Reading Karl Barth on Election (13)

Selection: The Church Dogmatics II/2:122-127, Jesus Christ, Electing and Elected.

In his reflections on Jesus as the elected human Barth raises two issues worthy of additional comment. First, he provides a brief glimpse of his theodicy; second, is his portrayal of the prayer of Jesus as the true fulfilment of his creaturely existence.

In his discussion of the election of Jesus Christ as suffering, Barth explores the reason for this. God, for the honour of his own name and for the honour of the creature also, will not allow evil and sin, and Satan and his kingdom to overthrow his good work or to have the final word. Rather, in his Son, God determines to confront and conquer this evil. Nevertheless the question must inevitably arise concerning the origin of this evil. Here, Barth insists that “from all eternity judgment has been foreseen” (122).

For teleologically the election of the man Jesus carries within itself the election of a creation which is good according to the positive will of God and of man as fashioned after the divine image and foreordained to the divine likeness (reflection). But this involves necessarily the rejection of Satan, the rebel angel who is the very sum and substance of the possibility which is not chosen by God (and which exists only in virtue of this negation); the very essence of the creature in its misunderstanding and misuse of its creation and destiny and in its desire to be as God, to be itself a god. Satan (and the whole kingdom of evil, i.e., the demonic, which has its basis in him) is the shadow which accompanies the light of the election of Jesus Christ (and in him the good creation in which man is in the divine image). And in the divine counsel the shadow itself is necessary as the object of rejection. To the reality of its existence and might and activity (only, of course, in the power of the divine negation, but to that extent grounded in the divine will and counsel) testimony is given by the fall of man, in which man appropriates to himself the satanic desire. When confronted by Satan and his kingdom, man in himself and as such has in his creaturely freedom no power to reject that which in His divine freedom God rejects. Face to face with temptation he cannot maintain the goodness of his creation in the divine image and foreordination to the divine likeness (122).

Barth provides an ontological account of the origin and mystery of evil. For Barth, evil arises as that which God does not will. It is the “shadow” cast by the light of what God does will. The mystery of evil emerges as it were almost as a consequence of the divine will. Evil has reality but not substance. The fall also has an ontological basis in the inherent creaturely incapacity to withstand the attraction or temptation of evil. Yet there is also a moral component to the fall: humanity “appropriates to himself the satanic desire” to be a god, and in so doing becomes, like Satan, a rebel. “In himself and as such man will always do as Adam did in Gen. 3” (122).

Humanity’s fall, then, is both inevitable and culpable. On account of human culpability it lies under the divine wrath; on account of human weakness, however, it is the object of divine pity. Jesus Christ as the elect human stands in humanity’s place under the divine wrath and for humanity suffers and dies taking their rejection upon himself. Yet Jesus Christ is also the electing God and although subject to the same weakness and incapacity that afflicts the rest of humanity, actually can do and does for humanity what humanity cannot do for itself: resist Satan’s temptation.

Why this imposition of the just for the unjust by which in some incomprehensible manner the eternal Judge becomes Himself the judged? Because His justice is a merciful and for this reason a perfect justice. Because the sin of the disobedient is also their need, and even while it affronts Him it also moves Him to pity. … Because in the powerlessness of sinners against Satan He sees their guilt, but in their guilt He sees also their powerlessness. Because He knows quite well that those who had no strength to resist Satan are even less able to bear and suffer the rejection which those who hear Satan and obey him merit together with him. Because from all eternity He knows “whereof we are made” (Psalm 103:14). That is why He intervened on our behalf in His Son (124).

That God did this is, of course, due to his own grace in which God elected humanity in his Son. The grace of election is also at once the grace of reconciliation for the same Jesus in whom we are elected is also the Judge who takes the place of the judged.

In the One in whom they are elected, that is to say, in the death which the Son of God has died for them, they themselves have died as sinners. And that means their radical sanctification, separation and purification for participation in a true creaturely independence, and more than that, for the divine sonship of the creature which is the grace for which from all eternity they are elected in the election of the man Jesus (125).

This sonship, this radical sanctification, this true creaturely independence seen in the steadfastness of the humanity of Jesus, and specifically in his prayer by which he “fulfils His creaturely office” (126). Jesus’ prayer is his intercession with God on behalf of his people. It is the human answer and assent to the will of God as it confronts his own will. It is his affirmation of the divine right in the exercise of holy wrath against human sinfulness to which he submits as victim, even as he is both priest and judge.

The election of Jesus Christ, therefore, stands as the pattern for the election of all, for they are elect in him.

The mystery of the elected man Jesus is the divine and human steadfastness which is the end of all God’s ways and works and therefore the object and content of the divine predestination. … Being elected “in Him,” they are elected only to believe in Him, i.e., to love in Him the Son of God who died and rose again for them, to laud in Him the priest and victim of their reconciliation with God, to recognise in Him the justification of God (which is also their own justification), to honour in Him their Leader and Representative, their Lord and Head, and the kingdom of God which is a kingdom above all other kingdoms. It is as they love Him and laud Him and recognise Him and honour Him in this way that they can have their own life, their rejection being put behind them and beneath them, rejected with His rejection. To believe in Jesus means to have His resurrection and prayer both in the mind and in the heart. And this means to be elected. For it is the man that does this who “in Him” is the object of the divine election of grace (126-127).

The Virtues of Prayer

In his discussion of the usefulness of Scripture in moral formation, Allen Verhey, drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre, considers the virtues of prayer:

Prayer is learned in Christian community, and it is learned not only as an idea but also as a human activity that engages one’s body as well as one’s mind, one’s affections and passions and loyalties as well as one’s rationality. Prayer is an activity that focuses one’s whole self on God. In learning to pray, one learns the good that is “internal to that form of activity”; one learns, that is, to attend to God, to look to God. … In learning to pray, we learn to look to God; and after the blinding vision, we begin to look at all else in a new light.

In learning to pray, we learn as well certain standards of excellence that belong to prayer and its attention to God, standards of excellence that are “appropriate to” prayer and “partially definitive” of prayer. 

We learn reverence, humility, gratitude, hope, and care. Prayer-formed persons and the prayer-formed communities — in the whole of their being and in the whole of their living — will be reverent, humble, grateful, hopeful, and caring. One does not pray in order to achieve these virtues. They are not formed when we use prayer as a technique. They are formed in simple attentiveness to God, and they spill over into new virtues for daily life and discernment. (Verhey, Remembering Jesus, 63-64.)

Scripture on Sunday – Isaiah 38:1-5

Prayerful Tears
Desmond Cole wipes away tears as he takes part in a prayer service in the aftermath of the police shooting in Ferguson, USA. Picture: Portland Press Herald, November 29, 2014.

In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, and said, “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, saying, “Go and say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.

Several things in this passage have always arrested my attention. First, Hezekiah was at the end of hope: when even God says you’re finished, you’re finished. Second, Hezekiah did not ask God for healing, or to save or lengthen his life. He asked God to ‘remember’ him and he wept. The imagery of Hezekiah turning to the wall is evocative: he is turning away from all other support, help and comfort. He is confronted with God whose word is as implacable as a wall. But he turns.

The word of the Lord which came then to Isaiah said, “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears.” It appears that Hezekiah’s tears were as much a part of his prayer as were his words, and perhaps, more so. Perhaps his tears were the greater part of his prayer, a soul vulnerable and broken-hearted before God; honest.

Jesus, too, prayed with tears:

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety (Hebrews 5:7).

Such prayer is a world away from the polite and professional prayers of which I am so often guilty. Prayer can become so routine and run-of-the-mill it loses its heart. Hezekiah’s tears were his prayer as much as his words were. Although tears of brokenness and disappointment, they were not tears of despair: his continuing faith is revealed in the very act of prayer itself, in his turning away from all else to God alone.

Some expositors have suggested that the extra fifteen years given to Hezekiah were not a blessing but a judgement, for in those fifteen years seeds were sown which later led to the downfall of Judah. Miserable commentators!

This is one of those biblical texts that hints at the awesome privilege, power, mystery, and responsibility of prayer. God heard his prayer. God did remember. God changed his mind! God gave him his heart’s desire. We sometimes hear that God never changes, and that prayer does not change God. “Prayer changes things,” we are told. Or, “prayer changes us.” Certainly. But in this instance, God himself had said, “You shall die and not live.” And that which God himself had declared was turned when this man prayed.

Scripture on Sunday – Psalm 13

Airplane-passes-over-an-eclipse-resizecrop--Read Psalm 13

How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever?           
How long will you hide your face from me?    
How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

In these first two verses, the psalmist cries plaintively to the Lord who seems absent and unhearing, removed and uncaring. The words carry a sense of duration—interminable drudgery and aloneness, the fourfold repetition of ‘how long’ emphasising the silence and inactivity of God. The reader feels the tension; on the one side an unrelenting enemy and on the other an unresponsive God, the desperate psalmist caught helpless in the middle.

The enemy is singular, though the psalmist’s adversaries are multiple (cf. v.4). Craigie has no doubt that the enemy is “death” which is fast approaching, the singer being struck down with a life-sapping illness of some kind (Craigie, 142). Whether or not Craigie is correct, the circumstance is common in these early psalms of David: his enemies are ever present, and it seems they have the upper hand, their triumph assured. He has a sense of being alone and vulnerable in the world.

In the midst of this ‘dark night of the soul,’ the psalmist prays (vv. 3-4)—“lament is pointless unless it culminates in prayer” (Craigie, 142)—his faith evidently deeper than his experience, a bulwark against despair. Nevertheless, only the Lord can rescue him from the ever-present threat of death, and so he prays for God’s attention and action: “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!” Kidner (77) notes that in the Old Testament “God’s ‘remembering’ and ‘seeing’ are not states of consciousness but preludes to action” (cf. Exodus 2:24-25). Thus the prayer is for deliverance, that God would turn again toward the psalmist, rather than ‘hide his face.’

Given the desperate tone of David’s lament, one is unprepared for the final couplet, where optimistic praise and trust seem incongruous with what has preceded. David has trusted in God’s lovingkindness, and so his heart shall rejoice in God’s deliverance. Because he has trusted, he will rejoice and he will sing. David’s faith is deeper than his experience because God is a deeper, more enduring, and more encompassing reality than his suffering. God’s love is steadfast despite his seeming absence; his salvation is assured; his grace is bountiful: therefore David will trust in anticipation of deliverance, and even rejoice and sing.

If the path is prayer, the sustaining energy is the faith expressed in verse 5. … However great the pressure, the choice is still his to make, not the enemy’s; and God’s covenant remains. So the psalmist entrusts himself to this pledged love, and turns his attention not to the quality of his faith but to its object and its outcome which he has every intention of enjoying (Kidner, 77-78).

The idea of being forgotten by God haunts us—could God, would God, actually forget us? Could God utterly overlook us or cast us behind his back? Does God hide his face from us, turn his back, keep his counsel, and ignore our hurt and dire straits? It is likely that no one who has tried to live a life of faith has not had the experience the psalmist describes here. It is an experience that Jesus, too, endured when on the cross he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Our experience is often at odds with our expectation, and to the extent that a Christian’s expectation is that their faith should exempt them from the common trials of life, their expectation is unrealistic. Our expectations with respect to God, however, are another matter entirely. We expect God to care—and not only to care, but to act. Is this also unrealistic? Not according to this psalm.

Kidner captures something crucial with his observations about God’s covenant and David’s faith. David’s faith was not a vague or amorphous hope, but conviction born of a lifelong awareness of God’s covenant love toward his people, including himself. Because God is the ultimate reality of all things David cannot help but pray. His being caught in the tension between God and his enemy is an inevitability on account of his faith.

Even if it makes sense to be a practical atheist, as Ps. 10 suggests, distrust of divine oversight is not psychologically possible for those who cannot but believe in both the loving-kindness and punishing judgement of God as the moral grounding of society. To believe otherwise is to succumb to a morally chaotic reality in which might makes right and personal agency is denied, further robbing the sufferer of power (Ellen Charry, Psalms 1-50, 64).

David laments because he has faith, and prays for the same reason. Indeed the power and astonishing boldness of his prayer lies precisely here: God’s own integrity is at stake. In this psalm there is no confession of sin, no self-blame or condemnation, no blaming of the victim: the reason for divine silence is not judgement on the psalmist’s sin. “On the contrary, God’s failure to act reflects badly on God, for it enables the enemy to gloat” (v. 4; Charry, 63). And so David calls God to account with a boldness born of a faith so deeply embedded in his soul it contradicts the seeming finality of his experience.

Years ago the Corrs, an Irish singing group sang “forgiven, not forgotten.” The words, if not the song, catch the reality of covenant existence with God. We are forgiven. We are never forgotten. God’s covenant lovingkindness is the deepest reality of our lives, and of all reality, something upon which we can trust, and so also rejoice and sing. Lament turns to praise because God’s covenant love and grace is the defining reality of the psalmist’s existence.

A Prayer on Sunday

Mirza-Shoaib: Dancing on a Cloud

I bless you, O most holy God, for the unfathomable love whereby you have ordained that spirit with spirit can meet and that I, a weak and erring mortal, should have this ready access to the heart of him who moves the stars.

With bitterness and true compunction of heart I acknowledge before you the gross and selfish thoughts that I so often allow to enter my mind and to influence my deeds.

I confess, O God–

That often I let my mind wander down unclean and forbidden ways;
That often I deceive myself as to where my plain duty lies;
That often, by concealing my real motives, I pretend to be better than I am;
That often my honesty is only a matter of policy;
That often my affection for my friends is only a refined form of caring for myself;
That often my sparing of my enemy is due to nothing more than cowardice;
That often I do good deeds only that they may be seen of men, and shun evil ones only because I fear they my be found out.

O holy One, let the fire of your love enter my heart, and burn up all this coil of meanness and hypocrisy, and make my heart  as the heart of a little child.

Give me grace, O God, to pray now with pure and sincere desire for all those with whom I will have to do this day. Let me remember now my friends with love and my enemies with forgiveness, entrusting them all, as I now entrust my own soul and body, to your protecting care; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

(John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, 75, adapted.
Photo: Mirza Shoaib: Dancing on a Cloud)

A Prayer on Sunday

HauerwasSpirit of Truth,
Direct our attention to the life of Jesus
so that we might see what you would have us be.

Make us, like him, teachers of your good law.
Make us, like him,  performers of miraculous cures.
Make us, like him, proclaimers of your kingdom.
Make us, like him,  loving of the poor, the outcast, children.
Make us, like him, silent when the world tempts us to respond in the world’s terms.
Make us, like him, ready to suffer.

We know we cannot be like Jesus except as Jesus was unlike us, being your Son.
Make us cherish that unlikeness, that we may grow into the likeness
made possible by Jesus’ resurrection.
Amen.

(Stanley Hauerwas, Prayers Plainly Spoken, 27.)