Prayer in the Midst of Crisis
By Charles Ringma tssf
It seems that one way or another our world has become more precarious – the COVID pandemic, the war in the Ukraine and its possible long-term implications, rising prices and flat wages, the effects of global warming, and our deep-seated anxieties about our governments and major corporations – are all white-anting our inner being.
In all the circumstances of life, we are invited to pray. But I wonder whether we know how to pray well in times of crisis.
One possible reason for this difficulty, is that we are more familiar with the language of blessings and have a limited range of prayers of despair, anguish, and protest.
This limitation of ours is not reflected in the Psalms of the Bible. There we find the language of honesty – “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears” (Ps 6:6); the language plight and frustration – “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1); the language of demand – “Rise up. O Lord them, overthrow them! By your sword deliver my life from the wicked” (Ps 17:13); the language of escape – “I would fly away and be at rest; truly, I would flee far away” (Ps 55:6); the language of questioning God’s justice– “For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked…They are not in trouble as others are…They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression” (Ps 73:3,5,8); and the language of judgement – “O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? (Ps 94:3). And there is much more!
To pray is times of crisis, we need more than our usual prayers of personal piety. The Psalms can help us. And so can Claudio Carvalhaes’ Liturgies from Below: Praying with People at the Ends of the World (Abingdon Press, 2020). In this book we find many prayers and liturgies from Christian voices in the Majority world (non-Western) – a world so often marked by poverty, injustice, oppression, and violence.
Here are some prayers and liturgies. In the “Liturgy of Joyous Rebellion” we read “Do you renounce racism and nationalism?” And the congregation’s response is: “We renounce them” (p.344). In the liturgy of the “God of Freedom” there is the prayer – “Do let us, not only resist oppressors, but also help them be free from their evil manners, so that all people in this world live in freedom and peace, the shalom that Jesus has already given us” (p.100). In a Liturgy of the Eucharist we proclaim these words: “As we lift this bread, asking you to consecrate it, bless our land to flow with milk and honey; plentiful harvest for all. As we break it, break the hearts of the empire and the chains of the oppressed. As it is shared among us, may we embrace each other’s burdens in solidarity and love” (p.133). And this prayer: “Forgive me, Great God, I am hurting but I believe in your time, you will answer, you will come to my help, restore justice, cause wars to cease, heighten sensitivity. Replace my anger with your peace. Amen (p. 182).
There is so much more in these pages. And the language is far more honest and at time a little brutal.
May we find this language for ourselves!
Charles Ringma 11/3/22.