Hear our prayer

It’s “the Monday after,” the “normal” week beginning after an unthinkable tragedy, in which we reinsert ourselves into the routines that orient us with a sense that, this time, the usual work and rest won’t set it all right.

We live in a world in which a stranger’s tragedy can become “mine” too quickly. One of the lessons of 9/11 for me was that the infinite news cycle does not bring resolution; continued exposure does not move the plot along. At some point I know enough to pray, how and if I can help, and maybe that’s when it’s time to stop.

It is not my tragedy, but as foolish as it would be to pretend I suffer as these victims do, it would also be foolish to deny that I am part of the world they occupy. “We can only be human together,” says the good Bishop Tutu. We are bound by our humanness, and we are bound to this journey together.

And what can we tell one another, and what can we tell our souls?

So we turn to the Psalms, the prayer book of Israel,

the prayer book of Aurora,

the prayer book of Afghanistan,

the prayer book of Skid Row,

the prayer book of Jesus,

our prayer book, in every stage, and every phase, in every incident along the way, in old words that mean something different each time they come to our hearts,

and they continue to pray for us:

It is hard here.
Wake up, God!
You are there, you are able;
don’t be silent on this.

God is the only hope we have, and in each of our laments is the opportunity to see his sufficiency in the midst of our instability and fragility.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.

Come, God, and hear us again.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shrivelled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live for ever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.


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