How are you dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic? Has your extended time at home, away from the pressures of the outside world, allowed you to find a sense of centeredness and calm? Or has the nonstop drumbeat of negative news left you feeling anxious, maybe even angry, about your predicament and the plight of the world?
I’ve written before about dealing with anger. I’ve also written extensively about prayer. But I was surprised to recently discover that there’s a place where these two things meet, where our anxiety and anger can be channeled through prayer. It comes via a part of the Bible many of us are not familiar with, the Book of Psalms, a series of verses that can be used as prayers.
Writing in his Center for Action and Contemplation newsletter, Richard Rohr informs us that there are 150 psalms in the Bible and a full third of them are “psalms of lament.” It is rare that you hear these verses in the Protestant or Catholic church and Rohr speculates this is because “we think they make us appear weak, helpless, and vulnerable, or show a lack of faith. So we quickly resort to praise and thanksgiving. We forget that Jesus called weeping a “blessed” state in Matthew 5:5.”
Do you pray? My prayers are usually prayers of gratitude, giving thanks for all the good in my life. Yet, in times like these, asking God for help may be the right thing to do. Maybe (with apologies to Jim Morrison) we can “petition the Lord with prayer.” The author Brian McLaren explains the importance of petitionary prayer this way:
Whether we’re dealing with anxieties, wounds, disappointments, or other needs or struggles, there is enormous power in simple, strong words—the words by which we name our pain and then translate it into a request to God. Through this practice of petition, we discover something priceless: the sacred connection can grow stronger through, not in spite of, our anxieties, wounds, disappointments, struggles, and needs.
Rohr quotes the Reverend Aaron Graham who says that psalms are “a way to voice your own complaints, requests, and trust in God, who is always waiting to hear.” We need to be reminded that our cries are not too much for God. God wants us to come to the Divine Presence in our anger, in our fear, in our loneliness, in our hurt, and in our confusion.”
Graham points out that psalms, or prayers of lament, have a 3-part structure to them. It goes like this:
- Psalms begin with a complaint that things are not as they should be.
- They turn to a request. God: Do something! Help us! Heal me! Show mercy!
- These laments end with an expression of trust that God is going to make things right.
To show you how this works, here’s an example provided by Rohr:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
Notice the transition during Psalm 22, from crying by day and finding no rest—to trusting God because God has been there and rescued “our fathers” in the past.
Here’s another example, Psalm 13, that comes via an email I received from the St. Francis Retreat House in Easton, Pennsylvania. In the email’s preamble, it says that at this time “it can feel as if God has forgotten us. It seems God is in hiding as the Corona virus appears to prevail.” It concludes, “we are all in this together and God will get us through it.”
How long, Oh Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Following the structure set up by Aaron Graham earlier, it is easy to see how you can create your own Psalm-like prayer for these Covid-19 times. Here, I’m going to borrow from the work of Reverend Donna Schaper, who believes everyone can write their own prayers. In her words, “a prayer notices where we are now and then imagines we have a destination.” What follows is an adaptation of one of her prayers for those who are “hurt, ill or lost.”
When will this Covid-19 pandemic be over, dear Lord?
When will the fear, suffering and death stop?
How will you make things right for those who have lost their jobs and livelihood;
those who are sick or who have lost family members and friends?
God, makes this virus go away!
Heal the sick! Take away our fear! Show some mercy!
Help those who need your assistance, though they do not know to call out to you!
(Of course, at your pace, as we learn the lessons we need to know.)
You have been there before to assist us in times of need.
So I make this personal plea:
Where there is stress, help us manage it.
Where there is illness, help us cure it.
Where there is fear, help us chase it.
Focus our attention and intention today on what really matters.
I trust you and know there are better days ahead.