I love to pray. I love to spend time with God, in silence, in community, in Word and in liturgy. Sometimes, though, at the most inopportune times, I’m called upon to lead prayer and I just want to laugh in despair (Who, me? Lead you in something vulnerable and heart-opening? When I feel like THIS?!) At a recent planning meeting in which I was supposed to launch a new ministry, I gave our pastor the look, turned to the person next to me and said, “Please let Richard lead. My prayer right now is disingenuous, trite and lame. I can’t do it. I need someone else.”
Luckily I’ve got a pastor who rolls with reality well. Richard led us in prayer, I tried desperately to locate some humility and authenticity in the presence of the Living God, and, lo and behold, the psalmist was right: a broken and contrite Spirit God will not despise (Ps 51:17). The prayer of my brother in Christ reached my heart, as well, and we proceeded with the meeting, genuinely renewed.
Well, my spirit is pretty broken right now, and I don’t have Richard here to lead us in prayer. If you’ll allow it, we’ll just have to travel in a little fragmentation here together. In addition to the Neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, the escalating threat of nuclear war with North Korea, the reversal of DACA and the continued attempts to strip away the Affordable Care Act, people are being publicly mean to both my friend and a certain priest I admire. It’s pissing me off, and reading Scripture is not really my bag right now, if you know what I mean.
Still, I open my prayer book. Saint Paul is writing to the Philippians, but also, ostensibly, to us.
Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.
“Thinking one thing”? Are you joking? Listen, man, I want to experience this “encouragement in Christ,” and I have before. But I’m having a really hard time figuring out what that means right now. I really believe in this Body of Christ thing—you know, we’re all connected, we’re all members of one another, we’re Christ’s body on earth. I buy it. I’m into it. But what in hell does it mean when the members are poisoning each other? What happens when we’re actively killing the Body in some kind of perverse murder/suicide pact?
I mean, really, think about it. If I cut off my finger, refuse to stanch the blood, then I gouge out my eyes, hit myself over the head repeatedly, causing a serious concussion, then ask someone to strangle me and take away my breathing, this becomes a less-than functioning body, right? So too in the Body of Christ. If the entire freaking Body is bleeding and broken with untreated wounds, how in hell do we get to the center, the meaning, the source of this “solace in love” and “encouragement in Christ?”
But maybe Paul saw that, huh? Maybe instead of a beautiful, but slightly admonishing text, this is a cautionary missive. Maybe Paul saw the opportunity for utter destruction of the Body, but also saw a clear way out: compassion and mercy. “Love one another as I have loved you” and all that. Maybe rather than writing the Philippians a flowery pep rally, he’s got his hands on his face screaming in horror like that freaky-ass Edvard Munch painting, more or less saying, “Please! Please! For all that is good and holy, if you all ever want to experience ANYTHING good, you have got to stop ripping each other in blog posts! You’ve GOT to whip those mothereffing swords into plowshares and put AWAY the doctrinal Inquisitions! Learn how to love and you will have solace in Christ!”
Okay, Paul, I get it. I’m down with that. But I’m still writhing around inside this beaten and broken Body, and I’m not really able to think straight yet. I’m not there. But my heart is starting to soften a little, and I’m ready to think I’d like to be there.
Pray for me. I need you to lead this time.
Holly Mohr is an attempted unifier, bridger (but sometimes creator) of chasms, and truth-seeker living in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s trying really freaking hard to learn how to love well, but probably not hard enough. She seeks to build a coherent reality between her work in ministry, her efforts with Eric to raise peace-loving, justice-seeking children, and her own wholeness of spirit.