“Let there be light in all the nightmare places,
in the millrace of license, in the stifled room;
let there be joy in starved and leaden faces,
in charred or sodden furrows, where no tears bloom.”
That’s the first stanza of a poem called “Benediction” by William R. Mitchell. I read it for the first time several days ago, and can’t get it (the whole poem, but that first line especially) out of my mind and heart.
This week has been a week of prayer for our broken and hurting world. Everywhere we turn there is news of violence. The radio and my Facebook feed keep sending me to the only places where I can begin to make any sense of the suffering and madness in the world: the Scriptures, and my knees. Yesterday I prayed my way through Isaiah 49, feeling every verse so powerfully and personally on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters that it almost felt like the ink on my Bible pages must still be wet.
I was working yesterday morning when S. woke up late (summer tired, and dealing with allergies and an antihistamine that makes her drowsy) and stumbled into the living room. We settled on the couch together to begin our usual morning prayers. Our first words in prayer together every morning are “Lord Jesus Christ, be with us today. Help us in all we think, and do, and say” followed by the singing together of “This is the day that the Lord has made.”
We were into the line “we will rejoice and be glad in it” when I glanced up and saw, a few feet away on my computer screen, a news headline about children being killed in Iraq. I averted my eyes (not to block out the reality, but to try to stay in the moment with S.) and returned to our prayer and song with a lump in my throat. Part of me wanted to scream out: “How can I rejoice and be glad in THIS day, Lord! How can I rejoice when your children are dying?”
Yet we are still called to rejoice, even as we are called to mourn and lament. And the two are not always so far apart.
Later in the day (after talking and prayer as a family) S. confessed something that I appreciated for its honesty. She said, “sometimes it’s hard to feel like all of this is real and happening when it’s not happening here.” She’s right, though most of us aren’t nearly so honest. It’s hard to feel someone else’s suffering when we are safe and secure. It’s hard to feel someone else’s suffering because when we let ourselves feel it, it hurts. It’s hard to feel it, because we don’t know what we can do, and we feel powerless.
But we’re not powerless. We have prayer.
So we pray for ourselves, that we would properly mourn, lament, and rejoice in this broken but still-blessed world, and we pray for those who suffer, that they might find release, deliverance, comfort, courage, strength, and whatever else that God knows they need.
“Thy kingdom come” takes on more urgency in our prayers in times like these. Truly, Lord Jesus, come and make your presence known. Come and take your throne.
We pray today for Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Nigeria, Syria, Sudan and South Sudan – and so many other places.
The final stanza in the Mitchell poem:
“Say for me, God, their blessing I am seeking;
Lord, decree for them the sun, and Jesus speak aright
my scattered syllables – for past my yearning, past
I have been stammering, let there be light.”