"Could there be any more grief in the world?”
That was the question a friend of mine asked last week, as she sat on the phone with me and tearfully told me some heavy personal news.
Robin Williams’s suicide. An unjust death and racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri. ISIS terrorizing many and most recently, beheading a journalist. Continued strife in Gaza. But it was this phone call from a friend that bent my soul down to the ground. All I could do was cry with them, truthfully.
I’m only 26 years old, and yet I’ve watched several friends walk through very painful seasons. I myself have walked through seasons of grief. And at times the sorrow of the world at large and the sorrow of my own small world threatens me to despair.
In those times, when my own words fail me, when I cannot offer someone else or myself comfort, when I feel pressed down by the sorrow and the pain and the grief, sometimes I run out of words to pray. But not only words. Sometimes I run out of emotion. Sometimes the sheer magnitude and scale of the suffering or sadness, especially in a month like this horrible August, depletes me of the emotion and the passion that motivates my prayers.
And so where do I turn? Lately, I’ve found myself turning more and more to the liturgy. To the prayers of the saints gone before me. To the books full of prayers that are penned on pages and anchored in truth. To the words that engage my heart and my mind in thoughtful, contemplative prayer, on behalf of my friends and my enemies, my neighbors and my world.
As I run my fingers over the words in the book of these common prayers, there is something that shifts inside me. My emotions that run both high and low are stabilized, and I when I feel adrift in a sea of broken humanity, these long-ago written and oft-repeated words anchor me to something deeper and truer — an ongoing testament to the faithfulness and goodness of God. Rather than respond with anger or avoidance, these prayers of the people of God help me constructively engage the world around me.
In the last few days, I’ve turned my eyes and my voice to The Supplication, found in the Great Litany. It is a beautiful prayer, but there is one section that captures me again and again:
From our enemies defend us, O Christ;
Graciously behold our afflictions.
With pity behold the sorrows of our hearts;
Mercifully forgive the sins of thy people.
Favorably with mercy hear our prayers;
O Son of David, have mercy upon us.
Both now and ever vouchsafe to hear us, O Christ;
Graciously hear us, O Christ; graciously hear us, O Lord Christ.