While praying for the people of Christchurch …

Christchurch quaked again this afternoon. And even here in Dunedin, some 360 kms away, there were not a few who felt the earth rumbling, giving way, somewhere beneath us.

And this afternoon, many of us paused to pray again for those who have for many months lived with uncertainty and amidst regular aftershocks. Somewhat stuck for words, I turned to two prayers in Walter Brueggemann’s Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth to help me find a voice and to give me somewhere to start.

Even on such a day

We prattle about your sovereignty … especially we Calvinists;
all about all things working together for good,
all about your watchful care and your severe mercies.

And then we are drawn up short;
by terror that strikes us, in our privilege, as insane;
by violence that shatters our illusions of well-being;
by death that reminds us of our at-risk mortality;
by smoke and fire that have the recurring smell of ovens.

We are bewildered, undone, frightened,
and then intrude the cadences of these old poets:
the cadences of fidelity and righteousness;
the sounds of justice and judgment;
the images of Sodom and Gomorrah;
the imperatives of widows and orphans.

Even on such a day we are not minded to yield on your sovereignty,
We are, we confess, sobered, put off, placed in dread,
that you are lord as well as friend,
that you are hidden as well as visible,
that you are silent as well as reassuring.

You are our God. That is enough for us … but just barely.

We pray in the name of the wounded flesh of Jesus. Amen.

While reading Isaiah 1

◊◊◊

The terrible silencing we cannot master

Holy God who hovers daily round us in fidelity and compassion,
this day we are mindful of another, dread-filled hovering,
that of the power of death before which we stand
thin and needful.

All our days, we are mindful of the pieces of our lives
and the parts of your world
that are on the loose in destructive ways.

We notice that wildness midst our fear and our anger unresolved.

We mark it in a world of brutality and poverty and hunger
all around us.

We notice all our days.

But on this day of all days,
that great threat looms so large and powerful.

It is not for nothing
that we tremble at these three hours of darkness
and the raging earthquake.
It is not for nothing
that we have a sense of our helplessness
before the dread power of death that has broken loose
and that struts against our interest and even against our will.

Our whole life is not unlike the playground in the village,
lovely and delightful and filled with squeals unafraid,
and then we remember the silencing
of all those squeals in death,
and we remember the legions of Kristy’s
that are swept away in a riddle too deep for knowing.

Our whole life is like that playground
and on this dread-filled Friday we pause before
the terrible silencing we cannot master.

So we come in our helpless candor this day …
remembering, giving thanks, celebrating …
but not for one instant unmindful of dangers too ominous
and powers too sturdy and threats well beyond us.
We turn eventually from our hurt for children lost.
We turn finally from all our unresolved losses
to the cosmic grief at the loss of Jesus.
We recall and relive that wrenching Friday
when the hurt cut to your heart.
We see in that terrible hurt, our losses
and your fill embrace of loss and defeat.

We dare pray while the darkness descends
and the earthquake trembles,
we dare pray for eyes to see fully
and mouths to speak fully the power of death all around,
we dare pray for a capacity to notice unflinching
that in our happy playgrounds other children die,
and grow silent,
we pray more for your notice and your promise
and your healing.

Our only urging on Friday is that you live this as we must
impacted but not destroyed,
dimmed but not quenched.
For your great staying power
and your promise of newness we praise you.
It is in your power
and your promise that we take our stand this day.
We dare trust that Friday is never the last day,
so we watch for the new day of life.
Hear our prayer and be your full self toward us.
Amen.

Good Friday, 1991

4 comments

  1. I’ve read these a couple of times now. Trying to prepare for Sunday’s service is quite harrowing. I’m caught between the desires to defy the helplessness that such tragedys induce, and this nagging thought of having the ‘courage to be silent’.

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  2. Yes Malcs, its a difficult one. I don’t know which takes more courage, silence or speaking. I am very conscious the the lectionary gospel for Sunday gives us the ‘do not worry’ text from Matthew 5, followed by ‘seek ye first the kingdom’.

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  3. I guess in a service of worship silence is it’s own word, a way of speaking. So the question is what word we are called to.

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