Prayer for the Forty-Second Day of Lent
God who made us and sustains us— God, immortal and mysterious— when we are ungrateful, even our complaints are manifest of sweet abundance: air and water; bread and butter; shelter from the cold; and your embrace when we surrender deep in prayer—as babies, weary even of exploring all the wonders of the world, its lights and colors, sounds and textures, burrow into Mother’s shoulder, fearless in her equanimity.
Yet we fancy ourselves victims of ungentle circumstance. A small annoyance, not attended to, becomes infected. Swollen, red, and tender to the touch, it spreads to the extremities, and farther— others suffer the contagion. Thus can friends on Saturday be enemies on Sunday, and, by Monday, legion.
Gratitude does not require the sky to be forever blue, or that the sun appear at every moment we consider opportune. Not every day is halcyon, not every month is June, and there are bitter winds that penetrate each layer of protection, entering through skin and bone to pierce the heart. Small comfort then to know that even when the sun’s invisible behind the storm or hidden by the circle of the Earth, it shines as bright and will be visible precisely when it ought to be. Small comfort too are food and shelter — even friends, if friends remain (we might have driven them away). A few are stubborn: let them in, for they can rub our feet and startle languid faculties awake — the ones that sense not heat or cold but grace.
We are not patient, though, no matter that we’ve had our share of warm, fair days and peaceful nights. We hear the thunder of a distant storm; we witness human cruelty, we wonder at the blind impartiality of nature, and we are bewildered at the magnitude of evil, at the unpredictable caprice of fate, or doom. Disaster may be out of sight but looms in some malicious posture, poised to strike when least expected. So we watch and worry, like a sentry whose antagonist has neither form nor name; and we neglect whatever bounty has accrued in our distraction. We forget to feast. We lack the energy and appetite for our accustomed satisfaction. Those who suffer and survive have told us they were somehow more alive than when the breezes were benevolent and calm. They learned to be astonished that amid catastrophe and cataclysm, life goes on.
You have warned us to be leery of the sleek vocabulary of the merchants of salvation. When they speak, their words are vacant. When they pray, their prayers are memorized and animated, artful, eloquent, and uninspired. Their lines are well rehearsed, but had they truly died and been redeemed, their phrases would reflect (it seems to me, and I have been there) something of the grave; not so articulate—there are no words; would be forever fresh, a quiet wonder— if they had been saved. If one has been to the abyss and fallen in, then one is humble, having little need to understand, no reason to pontificate… but rather one is moved to celebrate the mystery and to be newly grateful, day by day by day.
Having suffered condemnation, having been appraised and come up short, and having then been lifted and embraced — one cannot judge, cannot condemn. The court has been adjourned and all the prisoners released. We have no jurisdiction; it is not our place to round the sinners up and put them back again. Our duty, then, is light and brings us joy: To know as friend a stranger, one who will, like each of us, be tried; and one thing more: To gratefully remember how the tide that swept us out to sea — when we, in mortal danger, cried out, “Save me!”— pulled us gently to the shore.