Once again this week, we have been inundated with heart wrenching images of lives upended and torn apart, with the ravages of death, destruction and displacement with the horrific tornados in Oklahoma. And once again I’m reminded that, on the one hand, such horror has always been part of our human experience on earth and yet never before have we collectively had such instantaneous and comprehensive images and details so quickly, bringing the chaos right into our family rooms. And, on the other hand, we live with the knowledge that terrible, heart-stopping events are happening all over our planet all the time, many of which go unnamed and unnoticed far too often.
There is something of a paradox here, it seems to me. We are called to see ourselves as one with all others and, at the same time, we can’t possibly respond nor even truly absorb everything we see and hear. It is hard to know how to hold it all, how to deal with our own feelings of helplessness and how to not simply shut down and pretend we can live in our own “bubble.” How do we acknowledge the darkness but not drown in despair? How do we hold to light, love and hope—having the courage to bear witness to God presence and love in our lives, in the lives of every human being, in and through all things?
Prayer is one way to both remind ourselves to live in hope and to share in bringing hope and love to life in the world. By naming before God all who are in need, those we can name and those not known to us, we reaffirm our belief in the light, in the Holy One’s presence, in the power of love. And in a very real way, prayer changes us, bringing us into partnership with God, inviting us ever more deeply into desiring and helping to make manifest the fullness of love here and now. Sometimes we are prompted to respond to this particular situation for which we pray in this moment and other times the manifestation happens later in our lives.
Two of my favorite prayers are found in the service of Compline, in our Book of Common Prayer.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I appreciate that both touch on the reality that whether life is particularly challenging right now or not, whether the storms of life are raging in your own life or the lives of those near you, God is present and, by being part of the community of faith, we are all present, all part of this “common life that depends upon each other’s toil.”
At church on Sunday you will find a table with candles in the back, as we have done on occasion. I invite you to light a candle (or several), and name those for whom you pray. You might take a moment at home each morning or evening to say a brief prayer, perhaps lighting a candle as you do so. When you feel the helplessness, the darkness or the impulse to shut down, I invite you to reach out in prayer to intentionally connect with the Holy One, with those in need as well as with the power of hope.
And, if you feel drawn to respond to Oklahoma disaster relief in a more concrete way, I encourage you to consider giving to Episcopal Relief and Development, or another organization whom you trust to bring the light and love of God most tangibly to a particular situation.