The Dangerous Prayer of Blessing

This blessing is dangerous because it takes you (and me) out of the equation and dares to allow God to work what and as He will. I read it first from an emailer who got it here, via here

This ‘blessing’ was prayed over Henri Nouwen by his spiritual mentor:

May all your expectations be frustrated.
May all your plans be thwarted.
May all your desires be withered into nothingness.
That you may experience the powerlessness and the poverty of a child and sing and dance
in the love of God the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

That sounds like a terrible prayer if you are praying it, for example, for a dying loved one, for parents of a sick child. But is it, really? In fact, it sums up the whole idea of “not my will, but thine be done…” it is precisely what Jesus taught us, but we forget that. We’re so into “feel good” Christianity and “Expect a Miracle” thinking (and there is much to feel good about, in Christianity, and many miracles to expect) that we forget the hard truth – that beneath all of that we’re supposed to be disposed toward surrender, we’re supposed to be getting out of the Creator’s way (and our own) so that He may increase as we decrease.

We pray “thy will be done…” but I think many times we don’t mean it. We say it because we know we “should,” but it’s bittersweet. “Okay, Lord, you’re going to do it your way, so I’ll acquiesce…but, please, please, can’t you do it my way? Think about it, Lord! My way is pretty good, too, isn’t it? And you want me to be happy, don’t you? Get back to me, Lord! Love ya! Mean it! Call me!”

Okay, I’m indulging in a little silliness, but only because this is such an un-silly prayer, an un-silly topic.

The reason I am thinking about this prayer, and about the sort of surrender my sister and her family are tearfully making, is because of this “I want what I want when I want it” mindset I am seeing in stories like this one:

A sperm donor passed an extremely rare and dangerous genetic ailment to five children born to four couples, doctors reported Friday in a case that exposes a gap in the screening process.

No, you don’t have to go the sperm-donor route in order to pass a genetic illness on to your children; it happens to married couples all the time. But this brings up the whole idea of “wanting what you want, when you want it” and being completely unwilling to simply accept the gift of your own basic circumstance. And I am about to become very unpopular, but I hope you’ll stay with me a little, before blasting me.

By basic circumstance, I mean this: A child-loving couple finds they are infertile. This is an agonizing situation, to be sure. But while they pursue every and all possible means to have “their own” baby, or one that is “mostly” their own, do they ever stop to think, “Lord, what are you trying to show me…is it your will that I not have children, is there a path I am supposed to be treading, that is not this one?”

We rarely stop to think that way. In a noisy world full of possibilities and sciences – most of them good – the idea of not having what you want is almost unthinkable. Of course we should all have precisely what we want. That’s why God gave us science, right?

Well, maybe…but maybe not. Maybe that couple was supposed to adopt a kid who ended up unadopted. Maybe they were never supposed to have kids at all – they were supposed, instead, to rescue dogs, or put enormous time into volunteer work.

I’m just putting it out there – do we ever stop to think that the stuff we’re being given to deal with we are meant to actually deal with, live through, emerge from in a changed and beatific way?

How about another scenario – and this one will really tick some off – you’re gay. You’re a human being, with a human sexuality and a human longing for love, and romance, too; and you’re gay. The church in which you’ve been raised says, “okay, so, you’re gay. No sin in that, but as such, you may not marry – because marriage is the province of men and women whose coming together assists in the continuation and revitalization of all creation – therefore, since you may not marry, you are called to the same celibacy as any unmarried person. One gift has been denied you, but if you pay attention you will be shown your gift, and your calling – perhaps you are called to be a necessary other, perhaps you are mean to believe wholly to me, in ways I will teach you. Do you accept this dangerous blessing?”

The answer these days, of course, is “no, hell no, screw this, screw the church, screw this crazy idea of my having some sort of otherness or calling I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it, and don’t give me any crap about thinking differently or you’re a freaking homophobe and I will take you down…” But I know there are some gay folk out there who read a book like Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and think, “maybe I am called to more than a gay pride parade, a DVD collection of Will and Grace and allegiance to my almighty orgasm. Maybe there is something else I am supposed to be doing, that I am not? Maybe I am too much in the world, and there is mystery to which I have not surrendered?”

We all think we’re supposed to hear “yes” all the time. And “yes” feels so much better than “no.” Although, for most of us, we can look back on our lives and find a few times when the “yes” we wanted so badly would have been better off a “no.”

I am not proposing that the whole world take a look at the cards in their hand and “fold.”

To surrender is not to fold. It is to play the hand you’ve been dealt – to take it as far as you can, in faith and obedience (there’s a word you never hear anymore…)

Sometimes you have to play aggressively and even radically. No child born should have to “surrender” to racist treatment because they were dealt a skin shade others may not appreciate. No gay man or woman should have to submit to violence or public scorn or disrespect because they were dealt homosexuality. But perhaps part of our whole human experience is meant to contain a moment wherein we say, “okay, God, you dealt me this hand. I don’t particularly appreciate it – it’s not the hand I would have chosen. Therefore, I’ll let you play it, I’ll follow your lead and trust that it will not come up a stinker.

Tough to do; it goes against our every instinct.
And yet, this is what Christ lived out for us. His trial, torture and death were NOT what his followers had in mind. It did not meet their expectations. It seemed to have thwarted all their plans and turned their desires into nothingness. And they had no choice, they had to just deal with it, accept it, live through it. And on the third day, Christ rose, and the entire world was made new, due to that surrender – due to playing a hand no one really wanted to see dealt, faithfully, and to completion.

There is a lesson Fr. Nouwen taught:

First Christ takes us as we are.
He blesses us.
Then He breaks us.
And gives us to the world to bless.

We are – historically – a stiff-necked people. And we more and more refuse to be broken, to allow ourselves to be given out.

I have an idea buzzing in my head – I’m not ready to articulate it; it is for another post, possibly a multi-parter – but I’m thinking of another group demanding “what it wants, when it wants it,” my friends who have taken the uncompromising stand on illegal immigrants, the stand that says “ship them all out, no amnesty, not even for folks who have been here a long time and been productive…and by the way, Bush sucks. He sucks about everything, now, because he didn’t say yes to us.”

(And damn you, Moses, leading us out of slavery and into the desert. When we were slaves in Egypt, at least we had melons and meat. You suck, Moses – we can’t see the sense in what you’re doing and we don’t like it. You’re slow of tongue, you’re stupid, you’re letting us down, you’re breaking faith and you should put someone else in charge. You’ve only given us 75% of what we want! Yeah, the Red Sea parting was nice, but what have you done for us lately? And you’ve been too long on that freaking mountain, too. Let’s melt some gold!)


Yeah, all your sickness
I can suck it up
Throw it all at me
I can shrug it off
Theres one thing baby
That I dont understand
You keep on telling me
I aint your kind of man

Aint I rough enough, ooh baby
Aint I tough enough
Aint I rich enough, in love enough
Ooh! ooh! please

Ill never be your beast of burden


The beast upon which we ride – individually and collectively
– is so enormous we cannot see its beginning or its end. We cannot really describe it. Were we to dismount, we would find it looks nothing like what we imagined – we might not even recognize it as our beast of burden. And yet, we are all so very sure about what it is, exactly, and where it is taking us.

I expect a lot of people to completely misunderstand this post -mostly because I’ve probably written it poorly, expressed myself without enough clarity. That is my fault, and I apologize for falling short and lacking the lucidity it might demand. I just put it out there as food for thought.

Mick Jagger said it much better:

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://happycatholic.blogspot.com Julie D.

    A lot of people may indeed completely misunderstand this post but it is not becuase you have expressed anything poorly.

    What you have written is nothing but the plain truth. As I am coming to see more and more, there is a great wisdom in what our priest says to us time and again … “People know the truth when they hear it. It resonates deep inside them. They may not like it. They may choose to ignore it or run away. They may get mad and fight back. But they can’t ignore the fact that they know it is true.”

    You have spoken a great wisdom here. Thank you.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/emperoraf andy

    Thank you, Anchoress. I’m a better human being just having read it.

  • newton

    Anchoress,
    *
    The article in the Baltimore Sun is no longer available. I’m giving you the MSNBC link.
    *
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12874888/

  • anniebird

    There’s not too much to misunderstand, here, A, just stuff that is hard to look at because it means uncertainty and hardship. I love what you’ve written – it rings true, and advocates a wonderfully hopeful and exciting future when you consider the fact that God’s plans are always better than our own.

  • http://americandigest.org vanderleun

    I too have been thinking that to express what are commonly called “bad thoughts” is perhaps the way to light a lamp towards the truth. We spend so much time not saying what is in our hearts, that our heads no longer know what to think.

  • Mark C

    Another “classic”, Anchoress. Thank you.

    It brought to mind Exodus 13:13…
    “Every firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. “

  • TheAnchoress

    Thanks, Newt, I fixed it.

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  • stephanie

    My first instinct, having infertile friends and, gay family members is to automatically reject out of hand what you say- because their suffering is hard to bear, and I don’t want to accept that god thinks they should suffer so when so many people seem to get everything in life they want. But I do have to admit sometimes I do wonder. Sometimes I wonder how much suffering they brign upon themselves by refusing accpetance. HOWEVER, I cannot choose it for them. For some, maybe accpetance is the right answer- but I don’t have the right to tell or expect a childless couple they should just accept it, or a gay man that he should live celibate and apart. Or, for that matter, that childless couple- the purpose for their union, after all is procreation- if they can’t procreate, shouldn’t they also be celibate and apart? But I digress…
    I think you are right, Anchoress, that we frequently make our crosses harder to bear than necessary by refusing to accpet them.

  • http://www.worshipnaked.com tracey

    Thank you, A. Over the last few years, I’ve come to many of the same conclusions regarding our own childlessness.

    It is the hardest thing truly and wholly to surrender one’s fondest dream and endeavor to live, really LIVE, in the tension of the no. You are separate. You feel lonely. But you are not ALONE. If you take your eyes off yourself long enough, you see that you are not alone.

    The road you walk is sparsely populated and full of judgments on your “selfish” lack, but even then, I’ve learned, there’s blessing worth the walking.

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  • http://kmaru.blogspot.com KMaru

    Brilliantly expressed thoughts on a ‘difficult’ topic, Anchoress. This is the flowering of some ideas you’ve been hinting at and building up for well over a year. I suspect that it is only in prayer that we can discover the line that God has drawn for each of us on the path He has set before us between working hard and overcoming obstacles to doing His will and being willful on our own account. It may be tougher (and more dangerous) than we imagine to do it for others (though your examples are good and highly illustrative). Keep up the good work!

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  • alnw

    Anchoress, I’m delighted to have found your blog for the first time while looking for that blessing you attribute to Henri Nouwen’s spiritual director. We are so quick to want God to bless our plans when his plans involve a deeper joy (but sometimes look like a train wreck!!). I’m looking forward to plumbing the depths with you in the future…

    Umm, neither here nor there really – but for the sake of accuracy – that blessing was actually written by Larry Hem, Brennan Manning’s spiritual director. Manning quotes it in his book, Abba’s Child, and you can find it in a newsletter on his website: http://www.brennanmanning.com/list/mail/21.html

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