When asked what I do for a living, I no longer answer “clergy” or “Episcopal priest.” Frankly, lots of people just don’t know what to do with that. Stereotypes abound. We only work on Sundays. We are not allowed to drink nor to curse. And God forbid you should curse around us! (Truth be told, in private, most of us swear like sailors.😊)
Because of media caricatures, many assume “Christian” means fundamentalist or evangelical. When in all honesty, personally I am neither of these things. I am just a mainline, broad church, ordained Episcopalian.
I earn my daily bread with words: healing, honest, provocative, faithful, hopeful, joyful, sorrowful, humorous, seeking, stumbling, stuttering, confusing, and hopefully sometimes life-giving words. A professional wordsmith, I struggle to get this “right.”
I am blessed to be the parish liturgist. What the heck is a liturgist? Well, it is something I never thought I would grow up to be, I am a big picture person, you see. And meaningful liturgy is found in the details and details have never been my best thing. But now sweating the details of liturgy is a labor of love.
In an Excel spreadsheet, I map out Sunday services across the seasons, six months at a time. At Emmanuel, we cycle though the depth and breadth of every option the Book of Common Prayer has to offer.
Each week, I weave through our prayers notes of both celebration and sadness; comfort and loss. New babies and new beginnings. Lost loved ones and lost jobs. Grateful for life’s blessings while mourning its pain. I am a translator of sorts, translating both hope and tragedy into prayer.
And, of course, there is no shortage of tragedy, right? Each week I furiously bang out on my MAC the Prayers of the People — attempting to keep our intercessions in sync with world events, as best I can.
Prayers after natural disasters: hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.
Prayers responding to crises: here and there, near and far, and in our own backyards.
Prayers for mending and tending the brokenhearted and brokenness of this world.
It is my pastoral calling to write such prayers. But I confess to you that it is also frustrating to the point of feeling absolutely pointless.
Case in point. Here is James Martin, S.J.’s prayer, that I have rewritten umpteen times and added to our liturgy. So many times over the last seven years I can barely keep count. Just two weeks ago, I added it. And here it is again:
Loving God, we come before you, once again, after shootings in Colorado Springs; Phoenix,, Arizona; Woodlawn, Maryland; Los Angeles, Compton & Citrus Heights, California; Newark, New Jersey; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and St. Louis, Missouri. We grieve, God. We ask you to embrace the souls of all the dead and to comfort and heal the wounded; to console family, friends in these shattered communities; to strengthen the hands and hearts of first responders. In Christian charity, we pray, also for the shooters. Wrestling with demons, we plead for the gift of discernment that your wisdom may guide our faithful response to such tragedy, both as citizens of the nation and followers of Christ. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.
How many times, how many injured, how many dead, how many communities torn to shreds?
Pointless to pray, right? Like spitting into the wind. But pray, we must.
Do you recall the Parable of the Persistent Widow?
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Yes, pray we must, persistently, doggedly, annoyingly, frustratingly, and seemingly meaninglessly, storm the gates of heaven for the sake of this god-forsaken earth.
Prayer is not so much about God doing our will, but allowing God into our heads that we might do his. We pray that somewhere along the way, our hardened hearts be converted to get us up off of our knees, inspired to do God’s justice. To do something concrete that will make a difference, something to save actual lives.
Let’s ponder in these prayers the ways we might advocate for mental health resources, sponsor responsible gun violence legislation, support law enforcement and first responders.
What else can we add to this list? What else can be done?
Continue to pray, my friends, like the Persistent Widow, no matter how pointless it may seem.
Pax vobisum, Joani
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog