Prayer: a Hammer and a Trap-Homily 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time 10/20/13
Today we consider the true power of prayer. To do that we must consider what it means to pray. I am not always sure that I know. When my heart is moved by nature, a person, an animal, a movie or a book, a sunset or a call from someone, and I say “Thank you God!” I know I am praying. When I join our congregation in the prayers of the liturgy on Sundays, or at a Prayer Service, or at a hospital bed side, I am praying. When I call out in desperation, “Help!” I am praying. When I take my morning walk and chant names and faces to God, I am praying. When I sit quietly and look at my lake, I am praying. When I see pain in people and places, I am praying. When I read the Scriptures, I am praying. I am not always praying in words. I am not always praying as Jesus suggests, but I do pray when I am not even conscious of praying. How about you? What is prayer to you?
In Luke 18:1 Jesus tells us to pray always and not lose heart. Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem. He full well knows the path he is on and where it will lead for one who has the courage to confront the powers that be in “church and state”. He also knows the plight of those who accompany him and whom he accompanies- the poor, the dispossessed, the sick and outcast, the stranger and all those without power, including widows. He tells the story of the persistent widow to encourage those who have no power to keep on speaking up, if no one else will hear them, God will and God will deliver justice speedily to those that call upon God (verses 7-8a). Jesus does not want those who nobody hears to lose heart. God is with them. God hears and will act.
In choosing the persistent widow as the unlikely heroine of this parable, Jesus once again empowers women. While some, including the corrupt judge, may see her as a pest and a whiner Jesus sees her as a winner. He is teaching here about the relationship of our loving and just God to the “weakest” among us. He is not comparing his loving Parent to a bad judge who needs to be pestered into doing right. Jesus is saying God is listening to the pain and need expressed to God.
In Jesus’ time, widows, left without a wage earner and the one from whom they derived status, had no power. The word for ‘widow’ in Hebrew means ‘silent one’. Yet this widow needed justice enacted and she spoke up-she wanted “legal protection from an opponent” (verse 3, TIB translation). I think of the many women who seek orders of protection against abusive men in their lives. I think of women who live in places where the law of the land clearly does not protect them. I think of women here who are still too frightened to get orders of protection and the violence and death that ensues. I think of women who are locked into abusive relationships dependent on a man’s income. I am thankful for the few housing opportunities we have for women with low or no incomes, especially for those with disabilities. Below is Karen who, at almost fifty years of age, now has her very first independent home through counseling, support, and Goodwill Housing. Karen prayed for her own home.
Happy new home. Hooray for you, Karen!
I think of the young girls who were shot for speaking out for the education of girls in Pakistan and elsewhere. To Malala Yousafzai,16, who survived being shot in the head and neck by the member of the Taliban for her views, and to her friends and classmates, I say, don’t give up, don’t lose heart, God is with you, and so are we.
In the reading from Exodus Moses represents God’s power even in armed battle by holding his arms up. I think of how tired his arms were. And I am so thankful for Aaron and Hur who gave him a seat and stood on each side holding up his arms. I pray that we can find ways of holding up the arms of our sisters in lands where women are shot for wanting education. Perhaps we do it through public outcry and education, perhaps we do it through donations or diplomacy, but do it we must. A few years back, in Pakistan, some businessmen (Mr. Chapbra and Mr. Ahmad among the leaders) got together and developed TCF, schools for the poorest children in the land. They are trying to get 50% enrollment of girls and are near that goal. They are funded by individual and corporate donations and are making a big difference. (PBS and Undertold Stories, University of St.Mary’s, Minnesota).
I think that addressing the issues of abuse in relationships is one of the hardest things we do pastorally, especially when economic issues reinforce the problems. I think of how tired we in the Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community get in trying to hold up the arms of women and men who face despair, both economic and personal. I am so thankful for our Aarons and “Hers” who stand side by side with us to help our poorest sisters and brothers. When we act in community we can do anything. When we unite ourselves through prayer with the Birther/Father/Mother of the Cosmos we are truly empowered.
That is the essence of prayer-to unite ourselves with the power and love of God. Scholar of the Aramaic language, Neil Douglas-Klotz in Prayers of the Cosmos translates the beginning of Jesus Prayer, not “our Father, who art in heaven” but from Abwoon d’bwashmaya-
O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos…
Wordless Action, Silent Potency-
Where ears and eyes awaken, there
When we pray, make time for communication with God, we tap into God’s power and God’s dream for the world and for us, and we awake. Then we bring God’s kin-dom to this world.
Another Aramaic scholar, Rocco Errico, says “that the word for prayer in Aramaic is slotha. It comes from the root word sla, which literally means ‘to trap’ or ‘to set a trap’. Thus, prayer in its initial sense implies ‘setting your mind like a trap so that you may catch the thoughts of God’-in other words, ‘to trap the inner guidance and impulses that come from your inner spiritual source’…It is an ‘alert sense of total sensitivity and attentiveness’.” (Setting a Trap For God, pp.6-7). These definitions that come from the language Jesus actually spoke help us to understand how Jesus prayed and how we too can set the stage for being open to God in our praying. I think of the old hymn “In the Garden”-“I come to the garden alone when the dew is still on the roses…and the joys we share as we tarry there none other has ever known”. Prayer is a time of conversing and communicating with God who is communicating with us and loving us. Errico suggests that rather than play a recorded tape to God in prayer, that we come to God with a blank tape/DVR and receive the message that God has for us, and the power, love and joy that comes with our prayer relationship with God. Prayer is attunement. When we are open to all God has for us and gives us, our response is thankfulness. And we are inevitably guided into action.
The story of the persistent widow assures us that God is attentive to us and in turn prayer is us being attentive to God as well. God will deliver justice and enable us to deliver it as well. In a sense the brave widow “hammered” on the bad judge’s door until he opened up and delivered justice. Our hammering is our speaking up for justice and enacting it with God’s help. The old folk song by Peter, Paul and Mary runs through my mind-“If I Had a Hammer.” The song is prophetic- we sing out “warning and danger and the love of our brothers and sisters all over this land.” Here is the last verse-through prayer we do have what we need to make noise and act for justice. We will sing this in church on Sunday.
“Well, I’ve got a hammer
And I’ve got a bell
And I’ve got a song to sing
All over this land.
It’s the hammer of justice,
It’s the song of freedom,
It’s a song about love between my
Brothers and sisters
All over this land!”
So, let us set a trap for God by attuning ourselves to our loving and just God. Let us open ourselves in prayer to hear God’s message and receive God’s gifts of love and power to enact justice. Let us take our hammers, bells and songs and with the help of the community of believers let us hold up our weary arms and enact God’s power for and more importantly with those without power to change their lives. Then we can not only pray but live
“teytey malkuthakh”- “thy kin(g)dom come”.
“Create your reign of Unity now-
Through our fiery hearts and willing hands”.
(Douglas-Klotz, Prayers of the Cosmos, p.19).
Pastor Judy Lee, ARCWP
Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community
Fort Myers, Florida