Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ted Kennedy, the Our Father, and Me

A friend confessed to me that her dithering about praying for Kennedy has forced some introspection - the good old Catholic notion of “examining the conscience” forced her to look at where she was lacking. But of course, taking the time to make that examination, and to locate her fault, helped her to move past it and to find herself both willing and able to pray for Kennedy and for his family. It is funny how locating our own beams make it easier to look past other’s splinters.
The Anchoress and I were exchanging emails this morning and, while I may not have been the only one, my email is well represented by her in the above excerpt. She has a very good piece examining the reactions she has heard to Kennedy's illness and you should go read the whole thing.

I was shocked (shocked!) at myself this morning when realizing that my reaction upon reading about Ted Kennedy's brain tumor was a distinct disinclination to pray for him. Certainly not publicly! Why people might think that I agree with him politically. How startling to realize that this man's personal tragedy was solely looked at from the context of me, Me, ME!

How humbling. Or it should have been. I merely was ashamed and then went to pray. Did I remember to pray for Teddy? Nope. I had forgotten about it. (Ahem ... I mentioned it's all about me, didn't I?)

I must pause here to add an aside that Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life has been living up to my hopes and expectations. I have not been allowing myself to read it at any other time than as a sort of lectio divina (sacred reading) in the morning. As a result, where I once dutifully went to prayer time, I now eagerly "take up and read" a section and then ponder it with the intention of letting God guide me.

Appropriately, this morning, I was finishing up the commentary on Matthew 6:9-15, the Our Father, or Lord's Prayer. Specifically, the bit on forgiveness.
12 and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. If read outside of the context of the Lord's Prayer, the language of this petition sounds like something we might say in court to a bankruptcy judge: please forgive all that I owe, as I am forgiving what is owed me. But in Aramaic, the word debts was also used for sins; our sins create, as it were, a debt we owe God--damages owed to him. We pray that God will forgive us what we owe him, just as we forgive those who have harmed us and owe us recompense....

14 In order to emphasize the importance of one of the petitions in the prayer Jesus has taught his followers, Jesus expands upon it: If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. To receive the forgiveness we need from God we must forgive those who have harmed us.

15 To refuse to forgive others blocks out our being forgiven: But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. Jesus will later put God's forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others in perspective (18:21-35), making it clear that God extends his forgiveness first, and that the forgiveness we receive from God far outweigh all the forgiveness we will ever grant. Here Jesus is content to emphasize that we cannot expect God to forgiven us if we refuse to forgive others. Two centuries earlier Sirach had linked receiving God's forgiveness with our forgiving others (Sirach 28:1-5), and Jesus upholds this view.

Forgive your neighbor's injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Should a man nourish anger against his fellow
and expect healing from the LORD?
Should a man refuse mercy to his fellows,
yet seek pardon for his own sins?
Sirach 28:2-4

For reflection: Who do I find it most difficult to truly forgive? What step might I take to extend forgiveness to that person?
I didn't connect this with my self-realization earlier but it came back to me when reading this comment from The Anchoress.
But then I thought - how awful it must be to live out all of your mistakes and sins in public - to go through life with people presuming to know the state of your mind and soul, when all of our minds and souls are sometimes quite mucked up?
Suddenly, in my mind, Teddy Kennedy went from being a political figure with whom I vehemently disagree and became a living, breathing, human being. A person. For whom I could easily pray, despite my feelings one way or the other about him.

I had brought Matthew's Gospel with me to work so I could begin sharing some highlights with y'all and I dug through it to my morning readings. They became a finger shaken at me by Jesus as I read over them again. Another tiny step toward my trying to live my faith and not just give it lip service.

This brought me again to the hard truth that the Christian faith, truly lived out, is no easy road. John C. Wright said it quite well.
Have you ever had one of those days, where you are exasperated by the opinions and bad personal habits of well-respected artisans in your particular craft, and you find that you are an opinionated blow-hard who enjoys complaining and bellyaching about other people's shortcomings, and you also have a live-journal where you can express your most private thoughts of contempt and disdain for the yammerheads whose idiocy so richly merits insult ---- but then you remember you are a Christian, and so you are under orders not merely not to complain (for even the Gentiles are well-bred) but to love and pray for such people? Worse yet, you cannot pray for them in an ungenerous spirit, because Our Boss who art in Heaven does not accept sacrifices offered unwillingly.

What a difficult, annoying religion!

To those of you who think religion is a self-delusion based on wish-fulfillment, all I can remark is that this religion does not fulfill my wishes. My wishes, if we are being honest, would run to polygamy, self-righteousness, vengeance and violence: a Viking religion would suit me better, or maybe something along Aztec lines. The Hall of Valhalla, where you feast all night and battle all day, or the paradise of the Mohammedans, where you have seventy-two dark-eyed virgins to abuse, fulfills more wishes of base creatures like me than any place where they neither marry nor are given in marriage. This turn-the-other cheek jazz might be based any number of psychological appeals or spiritual insights, but one thing it is not based on is wish-fulfillment.

An absurd and difficult religion! If it were not true, no one would bother with it....
Lord have mercy on me and bless Teddy Kennedy and his family in this dark time for them.

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