patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Sunday, December 11, 2011

my first complete prayer

My dad told me the other day, in his first week of chemotherapy, that, although he was “not good at praying,” he had just prayed “the best prayer I ever prayed in my life,” and it was this:
Thank you for giving me cancer, because it gives me time to make peace with my neighbor.
It’s such a thrilling prayer, I think, simultaneously expressing acceptance of, even gratitude for, the horrible reality he’s been given and a plea for the promise of the season: peace on Earth, goodwill towards men. He called it “a complete prayer.” Although I don't know what he meant by that, exactly, it seemed right.

I’m not much good at praying, either—particularly, strangely, about such big scary things as my dad’s cancer and my mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s—so I decided to just pray his prayer with him. I have tried it various ways.
Thank you for giving him cancer because it gives him time to make peace with his neighbor.
Thank you for giving him cancer because it gives me time to make peace with my neighbor.
Thank you, Father, for time. For my neighbor. For your promise of peace between us.
Whatever way I tried to pray it, though, the only thing that would come out of me—my first complete prayer, perhaps—is Come, Lord Jesus!

I have never really prayed this prayer before, and, though it is a common phrase, the wording strikes me as odd. Odd coming from me, that is. To pray Come, Lord Jesus! is to pray for the end times, it seems to me. It is to pray the book of Revelation, not my favorite part of the Bible. It is a plea for God’s authority in all things, his will, which seems in my messed up brain to be at odds with his love. To pray, Come, Lord Jesus! is to pray to the Lordness of Jesus—his power, his differentness from me—not his humanness.

I was talking to my colleague Jake about my weird new prayer the other day.

“I’ve never called Jesus 'Lord' before,” I told him.

He looked shocked. Then he caught himself and made some joke. Surely she must be joking, I heard him thinking. Then he got serious again (Jake is Presbyterian, a preacher’s son, etc.) and said, “Well, it’s that you can’t deal with authority.”

Which is true.

“I mean,” he went on, “you’ve told me you don’t like the whole set up of church: some man standing up above everyone else, literally, and telling them how it is and everyone else just having to accept what he says without any chance to say anything back.”

Which is also true.

But my surprise at praying Come, Lord Jesus!—my surprise at praying anything at all to this Lord Jesus—was not about welcoming the sort of authority I object to in churches. Nor was it about authority, really. Rather, it was that Jesus was Lord: not merely God's son but God himself, the creator and provider and ruler. In praying Come, Lord Jesus!, I was welcoming the Jesus Paul was talking about when he wrote that by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:16 NIV). Somehow, in spite of myself, I was suddenly seeing God’s power and God’s love as synonymous in a word.

Lord. A word we no longer use much, except for things religious, and then only in reference to power. Etymologically, though, it comes to us from the Middle English “ruler of the household.” And, before that, “guardian of the loaves.” I like that homey conflation of God’s power and love.

Praying Come, Lord Jesus! is about praying to the Maker and Giver and Guardian of the Loaves, all in one.

Come, Lord Jesus!

1 comment:

  1. In my most recent paper I expound a little about the incident in which Peter tells Jesus "No Lord" when He offers him a sheet full of potential pork chops, snake sausage, and duck soup or something (Acts 10); and how that phrase in and of itself is a contradiction. Reading this blog entry after I just sent you an email through LinkedIn made me laugh a soft sort of little laugh at the possibility of you reading my paper... I also really liked the comment about how "it is true" that you can't deal with authority and it is "also true" that you don't like the whole setup of a man standing up above everyone else, literally, telling us how it is and everyone just having to accept what he says without any chance to say anything back... haha, I don't like that either, and that's why I think you might like my paper. I also vaguely make mention of you in my writing when I describe 4 former professors I had...

    Hope to get in communication with you Mrs. Kirk!