I continue looking at prayers that have both pulled me and others through personal trials and struggles. In the last several posts I have looked at the Lord’s Prayer itself.
Here are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, as included in my United Church of Christ Book of Worship:
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
As we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Today I continue to continue considering “thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen”.
Last time I talked about doxologies and similar forms of prayer in Scripture and the experience of Christians through the years remembered in the hymns, prayers, and writings of those believers as not only praising God but pointing out for us, for those times in which it might be uncertain to us in the midst of our trials and temptations which disorient us like the sudden fall of a summer storm upon us which, at least here in the Carolinas, can blacken a once bright sky, where God can be located.
As a little boy often it was momma’s voice that let me know when the dark cloud fell overhead where home was. Shocked by sudden darkness and the loud thunderclaps we Carolinians all know as signature of the sudden storms of August, I would hear her calling out my name and telling me I better get my little self home. And I would follow her worried voice.
Such doxologies act as God’s mothering voice to us, telling us where home is.
I remember my first time experiencing this role of such prayers, while I was working as resident chaplain to the psychiatric and neurological floors at UNC. During this time, my now late wife had her first big neurological event from her Arnold Chiari Malformation, the condition that later took her life. She had been working at a church two hours from the hospital I was doing my residency. I would commute home to see her over the weekend, then return early Monday morning to Chapel Hill to do my work.
Suddenly her whole life changed – and mine with it – with an event like a stroke. She could not care for herself, continue her work as a pastor. She ended up moving with me out to Chapel Hill and going through the heartache of having to tell her church that they had to find another pastor. For a few months, the two months or so after that before we began attending my current church which supported us both through her illness until her Creator took her home under the shelter of God’s wings, I had to take care of some of her most basic needs, until she began to recover some mobility and speech.
For me, as I’m sure in a more pronounced way it was for her, my whole life turned on its side. Everything that made sense seemed to pass through my fingers like sand through your toes when you stand in the ocean. Up seemed down, left seemed right. Everything I used as a guide for how to make sense of life seemed out the window.
It was then, as it would be later when she passed, very hard to see and make sense of where God was.
I had come out of deeply evangelical traditions in which worship was not done by any historic plan or liturgy, with mainly extemporaneous prayers and songs of the heart both old and contemporary. Though I had become quite liberal in my own theology, since many of the churches I’d been at were emergent-style church starts, they too had this free-flowing style of worship devoid of regular liturgy.
The shock I had on attending United Church of Chapel Hill, where I still worship while I serve as a hospice chaplain in the Triangle, on that first Sunday we came in for worship! I did not expect the peace I would feel in singing the Gloria and Doxology, which United Church sings every week. For a moment, when I sang those words that first Sunday and the Sundays that follow, I suddenly felt a break in the surrounding storm of my life.
Those words reminded me that in fact God was there. Not in the thunder and noise, nor the fire and earthquake I felt all around me, but in the quiet center I experienced as repeated these ancient word, words that located God for me in certain parts of my life, really in its center.
Likewise these words of the Lord’s Prayer locate God’s presence in particular places in our shared experience.
First, we have “kingdom”, which is the heart of what Jesus talked about. On the one hand, this is a highly revolutionary statement for, in Jesus’ day, Caesar was viewed as god incarnate, and his empire one that was ordained by the gods. It was viewed as bringing the pax romana, the peace of Rome. Yet this peace came not through in the terms of the Hebrew prophets in whose shoes Jesus of Nazareth stood, the shalom which is peace found not as simply absence of conflict but found through the full flourishing of life expressed in the rich health of every person, all living things, and the interconnected web of relationships in which life is best known truly being healthy and vibrant. No, as Tacitus is said to have proclaimed of Caesar, “To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace”. It was a peace of flattening under foot the least of these through force and violence. Jesus’ peace in which God is present is the work to build the shalom of life fully flourishing for all people and creatures, a reality that cannot be discovered through the violence that tears apart the web of life but instead through the movement toward justice, compassion, healing of the breaches in life’s web his life embodied. And this is a social reality found in community both with other people and even all living things.
Power, then, is not the coercive power of Rome, but the power at work in the web of life itself. In the New Testament the Spirit is spoke of as that power that raised Jesus from death, and in Psalms 104 as the energy of God at work in such a way that where things have been desolate, life breaks forth. This is why in Luke 4 Jesus can locate God’s presence as the Person of God the Holy Spirit as being in those people whose actions are setting free captives, pushing aside barriers to accessibility to people like those with blindness our modern world would say have disabilities, through bringing glad tidings to the poor and marginalized, in proclaiming the acceptable day of the Lord which is the Jubilee that ends indebtedness and servile oppression. This is the non-coercive power that is ever present, calling us to become its vessels. When we work together with this power, which 1 John calls love, as Martin Luther King says we do justice by removing every barrier to love being expressed in our hearts, lives, and communities. For as many a person has said, justice is what love looks like when lived out in public and in community. This is the power to mend the web of life itself included broken relationships, communities shattered by prejudice or war or poverty, broken hearts of those damaged by our failure to live love, and even the earth itself which our failure to fully embody the kingdom and power of Jesus has threatened with death. Where do we find God? Wherever such power is at work – and it is at work in every place and person, if we have eyes to see. When will we find God? When we embrace and partner with that power wherever we find it.
Glory, has the sense in the Biblical language of weight or heaviness, like the thick sheet that falls upon us in a mountain fog. Yet it also has the sense of light, shining brightness. To me, it’s far harder to understand than I can easily explain, but perhaps the best picture of it for me is the Gospel of John and the words of 2 Corinthians.
In John 1 we read:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Although John’s point is to say that Jesus is the embodiment of Divine light or glory, a part of what John says is also there is a light that shines on every person, regardless of their background, age, race, gender, or sexuality. This is the light which Asheru seems to hint at in their song “Judo Flip”, used as the introduction to the animated show “Boondocks”:
“I am the stone that the builder refused
I am the visual, the inspiration
That made Lady sing the blues
“I’m the spark that makes your idea bright
The same spark that lights the dark
So that you can know your left from your right
“I am the ballot in your box, the bullet in the gun
The inner glow that lets you know to call your brother son
The story that just begun, the promise of what’s to come
And I’mma remain a soldier till the war is won”
The glory of God is the weighty light which shines upon every human heart, which is the source of our inspiration – for art, for music, for goodness, for light. Ultimately in the heavy fog of human life in which trials and temptations, suffering and longing, pain and desire, can make the way ahead seem uncertain, if we will but stop our ceaseless moving, quiet the noise of our lives, and listen so that the inner eyes and ears of our souls can see and hear, there is a light and music there. If we let ourselves we can find that inspiration, guidance, and truth.
For Christians, this is the Logos, or Creative Word, which John speaks of, that we see as the Cosmic Christ who through the Holy Spirit has always been in, with, through, around, under all that lives even ourselves. There is never a point, no matter how dark, that light does not shine.
For me what I felt in saying that Doxology at that dark moment was my connection that, though it felt severed due to my pain, never can be severed, to this light of life.
2 Corinthians 3-4 beautifully pictures the ways in which taking time through prayer, meditation, mindfulness raising experiences, spiritual reading, and most of all looking and listening within and around us, can change us:
“when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit…
“For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
“7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
“13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
“16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
By taking time to cultivate an awareness of that light of God present in your life, the lives of those around you, and available in every experience you encounter, an inner awareness develops which, though it doesn’t take away your heartache and pain, does enable you to develop a center in the midst of life’s storms. It enables you even to encounter your moments of suffering, temptations, and heartaches not as what threatens to destroy who you are but as the very things which can teach you a deeper awareness of this sacred light.
For me, that is what such prayers as this one and others have helped me to do in the face of the darkest heartaches of my life. So I find great solace, both in moments of joy and pain, having the space and time to regain my center, to get in touch with God’s presence there. It allows me to take those experiences and place them in the context of how they can be seeds planted in the soil of my life that help grow the garden of shalom in the web of my relationships and life in this world, how they can be openings in my armor through which the power of life can take hold of me in new ways, and moments that, however destabilizing, cause me to look and listen afresh to the light and music that guide my days.
Whether in joy or sorrow, may you find and embrace such in your life this day.
Your progressive redneck preacher,