Friday in Lent 3
Morning Office Readings: Psalm 88; Jeremiah 11:1-8, 14-20; Romans 6:1-11; John 8:33-47

“For those experiencing loss, absence, darkness, isolation, and seemingly hopeless situations.”  I found this prayer request scribbled on a small gray sheet of paper and posted on a bulletin board outside my office.  We call it “The Prayer Wall.”  It’s a new thing at Candler—not that we don’t pray a lot as a community, but the students wanted a place to make their prayers more visible, more tactile, more human; they absolutely did not want to create another Facebook page.  To me, it functions sort of like a kitchen refrigerator.

The prayers on the Prayer Wall catch your eye as you walk by, reminding you of people and situations for which you already knew you needed to be praying and others you didn’t.  Some are specific and local (“Mr. X’s radiation”); others are specific and global (“the Coptic Christians killed by ISIS”—with a list of their names).

Many of the prayers, though, are framed more generally, and they do cause you to wonder who and what are behind those requests.  Like this one, scribbled on a small gray sheet of paper, on behalf of persons who sound like they could identify very well with the speaker in Psalm 88, someone experiencing bad, bad trouble and getting no response from God.  We don’t know exactly what the speaker’s trouble is, and we don’t have any real clues about why God is not responding, but what we do know is that whoever is addressing God in this psalm is “experiencing loss, absence, darkness, isolation, and [a] seemingly hopeless situation.”  And praying really, really hard.  Psalm 88 increases in intensity with every lack of response from God—from entreaty, to blaming God, to poignant bargaining (or sarcasm, depending on your take on verses 11-14), to even more vehement accusation.  At the conclusion of the psalm, this passionate pray-er is alone, with darkness for a companion.  Psalm 88 is the only one that ends this way, with no word of reassurance or hope.

I sometimes think Psalm 88 is the most honestly faithful experience of prayer in the whole psalter.  It is amazing to me that this pray-er does not give up, despite God’s silence.  The pray-er’s voice is not silenced.  In fact, his or her stubborn insistence on remaining a conversation partner with God, however one-sided that conversation seems to be, may be the reassuring or hopeful word in the psalm.  It’s human.

And one other thing—darkness is the pray-er’s companion.  Maybe read it more like, “Hello, darkness, my old friend.”   Barbara Taylor’s written a wonderful book about re-thinking darkness, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  If you haven’t yet read it, it would make a good Lenten read.