Several years back, I began a discipline of praying the four-fold Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer. Of course, my family thought I was nuts, and they may be right. Over time, the busy-ness took hold, and noontime prayer went away, then evening prayer, and then morning prayer as well. But since 2001, I have continued to pray Compline each night. The office of Compline is a beautiful one to me. The language is poetic, and it is how I place myself into the arms of God each night before I go to sleep. I am terrible at memorization, but I was so pleased when I found that the nightly repetition had engraved the words in my brain. Now, when I turn out the light and settle myself in my bed, I close my eyes and begin to pray Compline, and peace washes over me. (Funny part: my brain automatically starts saying Compline whenever I lie down, even if I’m taking a nap at 2pm!)
There was one line that always used to give me a hard time, though, and it’s a line that comes up today, Good Friday.
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
These were very hard words for me to say. Because, you know what? I rather like my spirit, and I’d like to hold on to it, thankyouverymuch. The first time I came to them, I balked. I fell silent, with my prayer book open, and fought hard against them. I didn’t want to commend my spirit into anybody’s hands, even God’s. I also knew, at the same time, that when I balk at a phrase like that, in worship there, that I have a rich opportunity. Not that I always appreciate being faced with a rich opportunity, especially when it would be so much easier to just close the prayer book and go to bed, but once I recognized that it was there, I knew it would not let me rest. So I gritted my teeth and said the words, even though I did not agree wholeheartedly with them.
And this is okay. More than once I’ve had doubts or questions about words I say in worship. “I believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Do I? What on earth could that possibly mean? How could the Incarnation have possibly come to be, much less the Resurrection? And now, I’m supposed to give up my spirit? I don’t THINK so!
Well, grace happened, as grace does. Somehow, I came to peace with those words. I came to realize that God knows I don’t want to turn over my spirit, and I think God loves us for this. God created each and every one of us to be unique and marvelous and wonderful, and though God yearns for us to be with God, I believe that God also delights and rejoices in us as we are, here and now. But in saying the words, night after night, I come to terms that I am not in control of everything, and that I don’t have to be in control of it. God is there, and God is good, and if I can place myself into God’s loving, delighted, rejoicing hands, then I will find that all will be well, and I will sleep in peace.
One aspect of the Daily Office is the repetition of the most wonderful book in the bible, the Psalms. Every emotion ever felt by a human being appears in the psalms, in one form or another. Anger, frustration, vengeance, love, delight, joy – it’s all there. And I’ve been coming to the increasing conclusion (as my lenten fast from harsh language becomes less and less sustainable) that the psalmist probably cussed a lot more than the current translations let on. I mean, how much of a leap is it from “How long, O Lord, how long?” to “Okay, so just exactly how the hell long are you going to keep me waiting, God?” Or from “O God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” to “O God, why the f**k have you forsaken me?” Because, let’s be honest, when you’re really feeling that stuff, sometimes we really need the grit and the darkness.
I remember once telling my confessor (and I’ve probably blogged this before) that I just wanted god to F off and leave me the hell alone. I was sure he was going to break out the holy water and start an exorcism on the spot, but he didn’t. He smiled gently and said, “That sounds like a very authentic prayer,” and then talked about God and humans and authenticity. Because, when it comes down to it, if there’s nobody else in the universe who can handle my authentic self, I know God can. God knows all about my authentic self, from the dark corners to the cobwebs to the parts I try to hide from everybody. And God loves my authentic self. God hungers for my authentic self. God delights in my authentic self. So the message was, don’t be afraid to tell God exactly what I really think. Why would God want to hear praise that I don’t really feel? Do you want to hear praise that you know is insincere? It’s insulting! So why insult God? Or, perhaps I should say, why the f**k should I insult God?
Have a blessed Good Friday. Today, there is darkness and death. Tomorrow, there is loneliness and sorrow. But the next day… on the next day is the light, and the life, and the Feast. On the next day is the rock that has been moved, the empty clothes, the angel, the strange man in the garden. In the meantime,
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.