Friday, July 01, 2005

Behind the Curtain: "Prayer"

About "Prayer in My Loneliness"

Two weeks ago yesterday, I went to confession. Yes, the Episcopal Church has a rite called "Reconciliation of the Penitent". Just about every other service in the Episcopal Church has a General Confession, and most members feel they are covered by that. A few, however, find the burden of a particular sin - or group of sins - to be intollerable. The reconciliation rite is for those people.

It must be noted that the Episcopal Church does not put a lot of emphasis on sin. There's an old joke that we regard the Decalogue as the "Ten Suggestions". So it's fairly rare that an Episcopalian requests confession. I'm not aware of an Episcopal church in the OKC metro which has a traditional confessional booth. Not even the Cathedral - which would probably have one if it were a Roman Catholic cathedral - has a confessional booth.

No, I'm not going to tell what I confessed. That's not the point of this reflection.

I have made this sort of official, personal, confession three times before - shortly before I was confirmed, once in the late 70s, and once in the early 80s. Each time I did the form as found in the Book of Common Prayer - similar to what you've seen in the old movies - stated my sin, received absolution, and was given a penance.

Unlike those times, the priest and I spoke at length prior to performing the rite. She was not satisfied with simply hearing the name of the sin, she wanted to know what lay behind it. She wanted to know where my regrets lay. She wanted to know what made me vulnerable to temptation.

I worked harder, and went deeper, than I have in some time. I was frequently uncomfortable. I often felt defensive. But I walked through it.

Toward the end of this work, she again asked what I believed made me vulnerable to temptation in this instance. I answered with the first feeling that came to mind: "Loneliness". And it fit.

My penance was two-fold: find a Psalm which addressed my loneliness, and pray it for thirty days; and, to offer my loneliness to God. Now, on the first point, I sought a Psalm which used the word "lonely" or "loneliness"; there aren't any in the New International Version (one of two concordances I have handy). So I am following a system in the Book of Common Prayer whereby one reads about two and half psalms in the morning, and the same number in the evening. Using this system, one reads the entire Psalter in a month.

Since there wasn't a psalm that used the word "lonely" in it, I decided to write my own. While I was at it, I decided to reflect on other ways I tend to err. This resulted in "Prayer in My Loneliness". It may sound like a cry for help, but it's more the result of a cry for help (eg, my confession).

The poem quickly found its own form, as these things do: a five-line stanza, in which the first two lines offer something to God (in Jesus). The next four lines vary somewhat, but basically attribute some complementary quality to Jesus, then affirm that only Jesus has the power to heal the wound or dis-ease.

Each stanza begins with a different titles for Jesus - intentionally avoiding the standard title of "Lord" (which I find meaningless). The titles do not necessarily reflect on the sin I'm discussing in that stanza; or if they do, it's mostly unintentional. The final stanza returns to the focus on my loneliness with the hope - perhaps even assurance - that Jesus will find blessing in the loneliness.

Obviously, one thing which caught my attention was the priest's directive to "offer" my loneliness to God. I heard this as being distinct to "turn it over to Jesus" which has become so rote to have lost its meaning. But to offer something to another implies that it is a gift; I don't know what benefit there is in my loneliness at this time, nor what blessing it may hold. But I trust that my prayer and the discipline of reading the psalms each day will lead me to discern the blessing.

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