Prayers for People who have Nothing but Prayer

See the source imageSIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

PRAYER OF THE DAY: God of the covenant, in our baptism you call us to proclaim the coming of your kingdom. Give us the courage you gave the apostles, that we may faithfully witness to your love and peace in every circumstance of life, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

You may have noticed that my blog has a new look and that its name has been abbreviated. The latter was necessitated by my retirement from the full-time ministry of Word and Sacrament at Trinity Lutheran Church in Bogota effective June 30th. My last Sunday will be June 24th, after which Sesle and I will be taking up residence at our new home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Accordingly, as I am no longer affiliated with Trinity, I can no longer properly use its name in the title of my blog.

That left me wondering what name I should use going forward. It occurred to me that I might go with “Pete’s Portico” or “Wellfleet Pete.” Trouble is, I hate alliteration and nobody has ever called me “Pete.” I have always been Peter. So the first option is out. The second option suffers from the same denominational infirmity and has the added problem of being just a tad dishonest. “Wellfleet Pete” suggests that I am a fixture in this place, that I have some deep affinity for Wellfleet and a strong connection here. I hope that will one day be the case. But for now, I am a newcomer just learning my way around. I don’t yet know the aspects of this town that can only be known by listening to the stories of long time residents, getting lost on the side streets and eating breakfast in the local restaurants. So, after mulling the matter over for several weeks, I elected simply to stick with “The Portico” dropping only the name of the church. This name still captures the “front porch” atmosphere I want to create-insofar as that can be done in cyberspace. What’s more, I now actually have a “portico” or front porch at my now home with a couple of rocking chairs and a little table for a pitcher of lemonade or ice tea. So the name, albeit short on novelty and creativity, captures something of who I am and how I now live.

Names are important. Over time, they infuse the people to whom they are given. I find it nearly impossible to separate my children from the names they were given at birth. When I hear their names spoken, their faces immediately come to mind-and vise versa. When someone I have met only a time or two calls me by my name, it tells me they made an effort keep me in their memory. It tells me that I matter. This Sunday’s psalm speaks on behalf of a people largely forgotten, nameless and marginalized. Yet the psalmist is convinced that s/he addresses a God who remembers his/her name and the names of his/her people. The psalmist appeals to God because, frankly, there is no one else upon whom to call. The psalmist’s people have been treated with “contempt.” They are people suffering the scorn of the “proud” and those who “are at ease” in the land. Whether this is a prayer of all Israel at a low point in her history or the prayer of an oppressed class of people within Israel, it reflects the desperation of a people living at the margins.

It is hard not to draw the parallel between these desperate petitioners and the largely nameless families of refugees now being torn apart at our southern border. No one lives further out on the margins than the refugee driven out of his or her own country and unwelcome in all others. No one knows desperation better than the person with no country to call home, no safe haven and no community of support. It is hard to find a group that has been treated with as much contempt, such scorn and such self-righteous spite  by so many Americans than these folks who have the audacity to enter into “our country.” This psalm is particularly fitting for them and it should give us pause when we reflect that it will be chanted this Sunday by millions of us whose position in this country is secure, who have homes in which to live and communities where we are recognized and respected. Are we acting in good faith when we sing the songs of the marginalized as though they were our own? Can we call ourselves followers of the messiah whose family fled persecution as refugees even as we identify with the nation that persecutes refugees? Does it not bother us in the least to identify as disciples of Jesus?

If these questions do not come to the fore as we pray this Sunday’s psalm, then I fear we have become deaf to the Spirit’s call to us through the scriptures. I fear that we may have become like the “a nation of rebels” to whom Ezekiel was sent, a people incapable of hearing the voice of our Lord appealing to us through the cries of “the least” among us. I worry that the voice of prophecy might be incapable of penetrating our hardened hearts, that the voices of nationalism, xenophobia and the subtler undertones of white supremacism are drowning out the voices represented by the psalmist. Perhaps there is no more pressing hermeneutical imperative this Sunday than to ensure that the psalmist is heard.

Here is the voice of another psalmist speaking for the nameless that ends with prayer. He is the poet, Ray Gonzalez.

One El Paso, Two El Paso

Awake in the desert to the sound of calling.
Must be the mountain, I thought.

The violent border, I assumed, though the boundary
line between the living and the dead was erased years ago.

Awake in the sand, I feared, old shoes decorated with
razor wire, a heaven of light on the peaks.

Must be time to get up, I assumed. Parked outside,
Border Patrol vehicles, I had to choose.

Awake to follow immigration shadows vanishing inside
American walls, river drownings counted as they cross,

Maria Salinas’ body dragged out, her mud costume
pasted with plastic bottles and crushed beer cans,

black water flowing to bless her in her sleep.
Must be the roar of illegal death, I decided,

a way out of the current, though satellite maps never
show the brown veins of the concrete channel.

Awake in the arroyo of a mushroom cloud, I choke,
1945 explosion in the sand, eternal radioactive wind,

the end of one war mutating the border into another
that also requires fatal skills of young men because few

dream the atomic bomb gave birth in the Jornado,
historic trail behind the mountain realigned, then cut

off from El Paso, the town surrounded with barbed
wire, the new century kissing car bombs, drug cartels,

massacres across the river, hundreds shot in ambushes
and neighborhood soccer games that always score.

Wake up, I thought, look south to the last cathedral
in Juarez before its exploding bricks hurtle this way.

Make the sign of the cross, open your eyes to one town,
two cities, five centuries of praying in the beautiful dust.

Source: Beautiful Wall, (c. 2015 by Ray Gonzalez, pub. by BOA Editions Ltd.) Ray Gonzalez is a poet, essayist and editor born and raised in El Paso, Texas. His work is heavily influenced and shaped by his Mexican ancestry and American upbringing in the deserts of the Southwest. He is currently a full professor at the University of Minnesota.  Gonzalez served as Poetry Editor of the Bloomsbury Review for twenty-five years and founded LUNA, a poetry journal, in 1998. He received a 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award in Literature from the Border Regional Library Association. You can read more about Ray Gonzalez and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

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