We are living in a time of enormous contrasts. On the positive side, we are finally seeing the rates of COVID-19 fall (although there are still warnings of a possible surge), along with rates of vaccination going up (although plateauing in some places). We can be grateful that our vaccines are being shared with people that need them around the world; for the ambitious initiatives of the Biden-Harris Administration that are widely supported throughout the country; for the sacrifices of first responders of all kinds; and for those in public life who stand up courageously for the rights of all, especially the oppressed. As we emerge from the pandemic, there is much to be grateful for.
At the same time, we face enormous challenges, including a number that are nearly if not actually unprecedented: cyber attacks on many fronts, most likely from our adversary Russia, that significantly impact millions of us; dozens of oppressive and anti-democratic legislative attempts to suppress votes in most states of the Union that are based on the Donald Trump’s Big Lie; inadequate child care that prevents millions of women from returning to the workplace; the ongoing fear among people of color when they encounter law enforcement officials that should be protecting all of us. If we are in particular life situations, or even if we are only just paying attention to the news, we are confronted with overwhelming, suffocating problems that were with us even before the pandemic: destructive natural events exacerbated by climate change; gross income inequality; a disgraceful health care system that costs way too much and delivers way too little; underfunded municipal services and crumbling roads and bridges; the exorbitant cost of higher education that strangles young adults financially and hinders them from buying a home or starting a company.
It is no wonder that the incidence of depression, suicide, illicit drug use and mental health challenges in general is of great concern at this time, with rates having increased among adults during the pandemic. Death has been all around us, with some families suffering multiple deaths due to the pandemic. Even those who are relatively safe and have made it through this time with few adverse effects are feeling hopeless and desperate.
There is a great temptation, once we come out of the pandemic, to get back to “normal” and quickly put this behind us. We know, however, that there is still a tremendous amount of work to do, and that “normal,” for so many Americans, is an unacceptable status quo. How do we keep hope alive? How do we keep putting one foot in front of the other, not only on our own behalf but on behalf of those who depend on us? How can we prevent ourselves from becoming jaded, cynical and perhaps even bitter about the state of our country and our world?
Earlier we discussed the thirst among many for a spiritual dimension of life and how prayer can help quench that thirst. We raised the issue of what prayer is and what good praying does – sometimes it seems like a futile exercise in wishful thinking. We noted, especially when considered from the perspective of paranormal research, that there are actually many benefits to prayer. Prayer is a form of thought, and the souls of our loved ones in the afterlife communicate primarily through thought. Through prayer, we connect “our minds to our hearts,” in the words of medium James Van Praagh. Praying for others “directs energy away from the egocentric self and redirects this energy to others.” Positive prayers for both the living and the dead are never wasted.
Many experts in therapy, psychology, spiritual direction and related fields have written widely about the benefits of meditation, deep breathing, centering and contemplative prayer, yoga, and other practices to improve self-awareness and self-esteem, lower levels of stress and anxiety, foster kindness to others and enhance spiritual growth. Most mature activists understand very well that they need to balance their outward focus toward striving for justice with “recharging their spiritual batteries” – caring for themselves.
Earlier we quoted a number of eloquent prayers from the Book of Common Prayer that direct our thoughts and positive energies toward our common life, our nation, our elected officials, those who influence public opinion, elections and even our enemies. Here we will offer a selection of prayers, petitions and hymns specifically for our current situation – petitions to direct our energies not only toward calming ourselves but also toward acknowledging the enormous problems around us, admitting that we cannot fix them all by ourselves, and calling to mind the need for solidarity with like-minded souls. When praying or seeking the help of other beings, recall that we are directing energy and positive, loving intent into the universe. We Christians may pray mainly to God, but there are other options: Divine Love, Energy, Mary the mother of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Yahweh, Allah, our guardian angels, our ancestors, our loved ones who have gone before us, and many others.
Guardian Angel Prayer (Roman Catholic traditional)
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits thee here.
Ever this day, be at my side,
to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.
For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority (Book of Common Prayer, 820, edited)
O [Divine Love]: We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace. Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this State (or Commonwealth), and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in your fear. Amen.
For those who suffer for the sake of Conscience (Book of Common Prayer, 823, edited)
O [Holy One], acknowledging that Jesus forgave his enemies while he was suffering shame and death: Strengthen those who suffer for the sake of conscience; when they are accused, save them from speaking in hate; when they are rejected, save them from bitterness; when they are imprisoned, save them from despair; and to us your servants, give grace to respect their witness and to discern the truth, that our society may be cleansed and strengthened. This we ask in the name of mercy and righteousness. Amen.
For the Poor and the Neglected (Book of Common Prayer, 826, edited)
[Most Holy One], we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Amen.
For the Oppressed (Book of Common Prayer, 826, edited)
Look with pity, O [Divine Spirit], upon the people in this land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land. Amen.
For the Victims of Addiction (Book of Common Prayer, 831, edited)
Dear Jesus, you ministered to all who came to you: Look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost their health and freedom. Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy; remove from them the fears that beset them; strengthen them in the work of their recovery; and to those who care for them, give patient understanding and persevering love. Amen.
Hymn: Come down, O Love divine
1982 Hymnal #516; Bianco da Siena (d. 1434?); tr. Richard Frederick Littledale. Tune: Down Ampney, Ralph Vaughan Williams
Come down, O Love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
And so the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace,
till Love create a place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.
Prayer of St. Francis (Book of Common Prayer, 833)
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.