Jesus, remember


Detail from “Crucifixion with Two Thieves,” by Beato Angelico
Photograph by Asaf Braverman
Ark in Time via photopin cc

The Bible shows us so many ways of praying, so many circumstances under which we might pray. My father used to say, “The most honest prayer in the Bible is when Job told God, ‘God, come down here – I’m angry with you!” (It was years before I learned that God answered that prayer, and not with an apology, either.) But the Bible doesn’t deal in superlatives when it comes to prayer – as in so many other areas, the Biblical witness about prayer is varied. Anger is not absolutely more honest than any other emotion we can express to God – it was the most honest note that my father could sound, and he generalized from his own experience. The Bible can be like a Rorschach that way – we are revealed especially in the details that we notice.

About 10 years ago now, I was doing a unit of CPE, which is to say I was interning as a chaplain, at a state psychiatric hospital. I would pray as I walked between buildings, singing whatever rose up in me. Near the end of my summer there, I noticed that I kept coming back to the Taize chant based on Luke 23:42 – “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

Why that one? Because it is plaintive sounding, and repetitive, which is comforting when everything seems strange and wrong? Because it is something to ask when I don’t know what to ask – notice me, see me, remember me? No, that didn’t really get at it.

I haven’t been writing lately. I have been ill. What we thought might be pneumonia turned out to be medication withdrawal – which has a much more uncertain course. I have gone six years without feeling so depressed for so long. Many days, it is hard work to simply convince myself that life is not pointless. I am reminded of the terminal nature of this illness.

This morning is a good morning. Better than the new normal, anyway. I was in the shower, and I began to sing – first a song without words that I was composing as I went along, and then, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” And as I sang it the fourth and fifth and sixth time, my mind was taken back to the cross, and I remembered the one who first prayed this prayer, hanging beside Jesus. A terminal case, wracked with pain and guilt (“we are getting what we deserve”), a man without hope, who reached out to Jesus at a time when faith in him was most absurd, when Jesus seemed least likely to be who he said he was.

This morning, it is the truest note I can sound: I am in pain, and God seems unlikely. That Jesus has not yet come into his kingdom seems self-evident. But I give thanks that I can pray into the not yet, “Jesus, remember me…”

Undependable – a prayer of confession

In the Book of Common Prayer‘s daily lectionary, today’s psalter readings are taken from Psalm 78. The psalter readings repeat themselves about every 7 weeks, so the next time Psalm 78 will be read in morning and evening prayer will be on a Tuesday in early November.

This prayer of confession is inspired by Psalm 78: Part II, as found in the BCP psalter:

O Holy One of Israel, as you saved your children from Pharaoh, so also you saved me from slavery to sin and death. Forgive me, for I am as undependable as a warped bow. You aim me true, and yet I miss the mark, again and again. I am inconstant, turning from false idols to your constant love, and back again. I yearn for a heart that is faithful and true; reshape me, untwist me, that I may become your reliable servant. In the Name of your Son, Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit is worshiped and glorified, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

“Long time, no read!”

It has been a long time since I went 5 weeks between original posts.  (That is, not counting posts that direct you to something I published somewhere else, or posts when I aggregate other people’s work on a subject.)  But illness and holidays and time with family and updating our adoption homestudy and writing other things and helping out friends all took precedence over blogging.

All this time away gave me an opportunity to re-examine how I feel about blogging in general, and about this blog in particular.

Generally, when I write for my blog, what you all are getting is a rough draft – I click publish, and “voila!” – my disorganized first stab at taking on a subject appears for anyone to read.  Admittedly this is not how blogging has to be, but it seems to be how I do it.  It is not my best, most poetic, most polished, most thoughtful work.  It is what I am thinking now that I have a feeling might be useful to someone.  It is like starting a conversation and not getting to stick around to see how it goes.  Or sowing seeds for another to harvest, maybe, if any land on fertile ground.

In the past few months, I have been re-learning the art of slow writing – of multiple drafts written and set aside and re-read and re-organized, until I reach something that is better than I imagined I could have produced.  It is only at that point that I declare the piece finished, mostly out of fear that if I touch it again it will get damaged.  (I am still working out a better way to figure out when I am done than: 1-fear; 2-hit the deadline; or 3-editor says so.  Let me know if there is a better way.)

Slow writing for me means not for this blog.  I am not sure if this is mostly because I want to take advantage of the larger readership of other publications, or if it is because it is nice to get paid sometimes, or if it is because I am old enough to remember a time before the internet, when you didn’t really count as a writer unless you got a publisher to sit up and take notice.  Anyway, there you have it.  Or, there you don’t have it, until it is published.

In the meantime, while all of this other writing and bronchitis and traveling and parenting and other things were going on, the blog was still here, like… actually, all of the analogies I thought of would only make sense to someone born before 1980.  So let’s just say – the internet is always on.  The blog is here, with all of the entries, whether I am writing anything new or not.  And it is encouraging sometimes to read the search terms that brought a new reader to a particular entry that will hopefully make a difference to them.

And so in blogging, as I hope in all of my endeavors, I pray along with Thomas Merton:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.