Sunday, March 31, 2013

Shouting Rocks and Brittle Bones

Prayer and Reflections on Prayer

When I finally put away my thoughts of how to reach You and reach,
When I stop trying to pray correctly and pray,
When I let my mouth curl up instead of down,
You meet me.
You are always there.
Just on the other side of self-absorption.
Augustine writes, Late have I loved You.
I could write, seldom have I loved You.
Yet, this day, again Eternal, again Sovereign, again Grace, again Love, again wholly Sufficient for my sins and for those brittle bones of all Your children,
Thanksgiving Father,
May I commit this day to You.
For my husband and our son, thank You.
May they know You today and love You today.
May Your peace and blessing fall effortlessly on them,
But mostly, may Your path be our path.
For the Church, Father thank You.
For You when I struggle, thank You.
For this world, Father where we see dimly
For its rancor and Peace,
Its filth and Beauty
Its apathy and Joy.
That Your truth is not
bits of confusion strung out in tiny crumbs of rigor,
sinew and nerves that never quicken,
Even the rocks shout Your name.
Thank You.
That I may know You Lord,
That I may I tend forgiveness for myself and others.
I do love You.
Bind me to You that I may not stray.
May I love You more. 

 Reflections on Prayer

    Early in childhood, I prayed. I didn’t pay attention in church, couldn’t understand Scripture and my brothers told me not to sing anymore, hymns or no, until I could carry a tune. Still I prayed. Nothing was out of bounds; the reversal of a beloved pet’s death, the solution to a minor sticky wicket, Momma’s annoyance at my latest insurrection, and the beauty of the sunset. Vending machine prayers, trust and awe, I lumped them into a teaming mass that made up my childhood fears, hopes and respects.
    Along with my sister, I grew up with three brothers; two older and keener for mischief, one younger and keener to be part of the gang surrounding the fun. We played together, my younger brother and I tagging along.
    During our rough re-enactment of The War Between the States, I played the wounded or dead, or worse prisoner from the traitorous north. I was unceremoniously draped across the back of our mean little Shetland pony, arms dragging the dirt on one side and toes likewise on the other. I prayed to receive a better role next time, a part that didn’t involve keeping my head down (way too near Junior’s flanks) or remaining still and quiet. Mostly I asked that God keep letting me play with my brothers. I lost the part when I grew too tall for the pony and I had to sandwich my hands under my stomach so they didn’t scrape roughly on the rocks.
    One Christmas morning after the gifts were opened and breakfast eaten, my older brothers took apart my brand new sewing machine. They claimed they wanted to know how it worked. I didn’t accept their line any more then, than I do now. My younger brother watched the process and probably really did want to know how the machine worked. He ran and told me of the deconstruction.
    I saw the parts, shiny with clean oil, laid neatly on a towel next to a screw-driver and a hammer. I wondered about the hammer. It may have been the very one I used to bean my middle brother when I was three and he had angered me. I am certain we are born into sin. It takes a while to show in others, but in me, my earliest memories confirm my certainty.
    Gazing at the mess of my new machine, I abandoned hope. In a wave of descending shock and irritation, I bellowed, a long feral wail. From the corner of my eye, I could see my older brothers elbowing each other, half scared half delighted. They had won the round.
    When Momma arrived, she eyed the Brothers-Three, lining them up by force of will rather than verbal command. “Explain.”
    “We can fix it.” All three smiled sweetly. “We just got going and it was too...” They added the appropriate superlative for the common parlance.
    Fuming and ill-equipped to answer their beauty, I wailed louder.
    “Quiet, young lady.”
    Both the command and the appellation fell on deaf ears. My mouth seemed ever open, squared in rage and will, pleading more with God than my mother. I am no lady and I simply don’t know quiet. God understood this. Momma kept trying.
    The Brothers-Three were sentenced to an apology. Perhaps my father dealt more harshly with them. I never knew.
    This manifold lack of justice appalled me. After, what my father called a double-barreled hissy fit, I spent an hour in my room learning to appreciate the day we celebrate as Christmas. I remember praying. I couldn’t cuss my siblings, especially not that day, so I prayed, “God, it’s just no use.” I prayed that prayer often, never identifying the ‘it’ that was no use. I know now that I had abandoned hope, maybe a childish hope, but humanity had no shine at the moment. The Brothers-Three would press their ears to my bedroom door just long enough to hear the final word, ‘use,’ and break into peals of laughter.
    From my point of view, I would never win. I was not a lady, not quiet, not prone to innocent sincerity and not a boy. I didn’t know about the ugly underbelly of human nature, but I did know I couldn’t do this thing called life on my own. The ‘it’ of my prayer didn’t yield to my demands, square wailing mouth, open sepulcher, loruhamah and all. I kept praying in clumps of twisted life.
    When my mother had her second series of strokes, I prayed angrily to our Father. I knew the sentence, she wouldn’t die, but she would never live again. This wasn’t my mother, frail flesh, muddied, sad eyes. How could God do this to Momma or to me? Once again, I lay across our mean little pony’s saddle, hands and toes in the dirt to no purpose, living a make believe war. I would love without response. Still, I prayed. “Alright God, alright, just keep letting me be with You.” I couldn’t understand God’s purpose, but I didn’t expect understanding. By that time in life, I simply expected enough strength to take the next step.
    My pastor gave me a book entitled Prayers for a Privileged People. I wondered, and still wonder about the title. Why that book? Did my pastor know me so well. Of course he did. I was and remain human. The book is inspired, a new perplexing, vexing challenge on every page, what I need each day. In it Walter Bruggeman writes at the end of the prayer, Our Charter of Entitlement, “Return us to innocence, even when we are frightened. Exhibit to us your great simplicity among our complex habits. Call us at last by our right names, because we are yours.”
    I read this and thought of Isaiah 49:15-16 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.”
    Lately I wonder, what is my right name, Privileged, Lobbyist, Wounded, Prisoner? I know God knows me and loves beyond my simple boundaries and silly self-definitions, as in Hosea, finally wholly loved. Then I ask, what are my bounds, the walls in Isaiah 49:16, the ruined walls of Zion, walls that separate me from God, or the fence of Psalm 139:5? In the final verse of Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson writes:
     O to grace how great a debtor
    daily I'm constrained to be!
    Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
    bind my wandering heart to thee.
    Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
    prone to leave the God I love;
    here's my heart, O take and seal it,
    seal it for thy courts above.

    Such a prayer, I have never created, but this verse speaks to my heart. I am prone to wander, let me be bound to You Father, even when Momma dies so slowly as if she never really passed, my father too, in gruesome horror declared dead only to breathe again an hour more.
    Bruggeman also writes, in a different book “I have come to understand in ways that have been an enormous challenge to me, the dialogical quality of faith that leaves our life with God always open and unsettled, and available for new demanding/yielding venture.”
    This dialogue is hard God, but don’t forget to call me. Pass me not oh gentle Savior. Call me finally by my right name.
    When I began to study Scripture, not too long ago, I studied prayer also, thinking I might do a better job, I might get away from the painfully earnest, over-simple yammering, I called talking to God. This led me to praying the Psalms. I committed a few to memory. Then I ran across Bruggeman again saying, “Psalms offer speech when life has gone beyond our frail effort to control.” Later in the same passage he continues, “This is in contrast to much human speech which is in fact a coverup.” Still later he adds, “This means that the agenda and intention of the Psalms is considerably at odds with the normal speech of most people, the normal speech of a stable, functioning, self-deceptive culture in which everything must be kept running young and smooth.”
    Hum, well that solves that. I am neither young or smooth. And, while I have been young, I have never been smooth. I think I want smooth. What would I give up for smooth?
    In Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis counters someone who tells him his prayers are being answered. He responds to the observation with the quote: “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.”
    Me too. Oh yes, me too. I am weak, and without prayer I am lost. Seldom do I love, but not a single step of living life can I take without You my savior, My father, my Counselor, My God. Amen.