To your table
you bid us come.
You have set the places,
you have poured the wine,
and there is always room,
for one more.
And so we come.
From the streets
and from the alleys
From the deserts
and from the hills
From the ravages of poverty
and from the palaces of privilege
We are bloodied with our wars,
we are wearied with our wounds,
we carry our dead within us,
and we reckon with their ghosts.
We hold the seeds of healing,
we dream of a new creation,
we know the things
that make for peace,
and we struggle to give them wings.
And yet, to your table
Hungering for your bread,
thirsting for your wine,
singing your song
in every language,
speaking your name
in every tongue,
in conflict and in communion,
in discord and in desire,
O God of Wisdom,
Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon–
I, only I.
Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
– Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)
In her poem “Good Friday” Christina Rosetti imagines herself witnessing the crucifixion. Troubled by her hard-heartedness she asks God, and no doubt herself, ‘Am I a stone and not a sheep? Am I less than human, less even than the inanimate sun and moon?’ In my own contemplation of the cross I have often asked myself (and sometimes God) a similar question: Why don’t I feel worse about this than I do? What is wrong with me? Have I become desensitized by sixty-some years of hearing the gruesome details of Good Friday? Has my heart has been hardened by the violence, cruelty and suffering that seem to permeate the very atmosphere we breathe? Perhaps my own sin history does not seem quite as hefty as that of those I consider truly evil, making it easier for me to imagine myself a passive bystander at Calvary rather than an executioner. And finally, maybe I am a fraud. Maybe I do not really love Jesus to the degree I claim. After all, if I were recalling the torture of a loved one, a stranger, or even a pet, I would likely find myself “weeping bitterly” and overtaken by “exceeding grief.” It seems Rosetti was mistaken when she claimed, “I, only I.”
To some degree these may be valid considerations for my seeming callousness. However, I would like us to consider one more: Though in and of itself time does nothing to diminish the horrors of the crucifixion, the subsequent centuries have distanced us to the degree that there is not a “Jesus Film” out there that can effectively span the years. Imaginative prayer may ‘transport us’ to the scene and awaken dormant feelings, but it is soon back to business as usual. Though it was essential to the fulfillment of the scriptures and our redemption, perhaps Christ’s suffering alone does not hold the undiminished potency capable of rending our hearts. Rather, when we consider that Jesus willingly “laid down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), that he “steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), that it was “for the joy” that was set before him that he endured the shame and torture of the cross (Heb. 12:2), is it not the timeless experience of his love and grace that spans the centuries and is presently powerful enough to cause our pain and compassion to rise to the surface? This is Love that stamps no expiration date on our hearts. This is Love the time-traveler, who was, and is, and is to come. This is patient, invitational Love who has longed since the days of Eden to adopt all his estranged children. This is Love whose momentum was behind the hammer that drove the nails at Calvary and is still behind the suffering that drives broken hearts to the cross. This is Augustine’s timeless “Beauty so ancient and so new.”
The prayer of Christina Rosetti’s “Good Friday” is met by Love’s invitation in this stanza from her poem “Despised and Rejected.”
But all night long that voice spake urgently:
‘Open to Me.’
Still harping in mine ears:
‘Rise, let Me in.’
Pleading with tears:
‘Open to Me that I may come to thee.’
While the dew dropped, while the dark hours were cold:
‘My Feet bleed, see My Face,
See My Hands bleed that bring thee grace,
My Heart doth bleed for thee,
Open to Me.’
– Pat Conneen
Christians for centuries have practiced varied forms of praying just before they go to sleep. Everything from monastic and liturgical forms of Evening Prayer or Compline, the Ignatian Daily Examen to simple prayers of thanksgiving or a gestured surrender of care to God. Communing with God before sleep provides the body and soul a sacramental closure punctuating the day’s end in order to enter more fully and intentionally into the rest of God, making distinct the separation between day and night. Too often, we are prone to take the day’s concerns right into bed with us blurring margins of work and rest, losing sleep, habituating ourselves in worry rather than surrender.
Bed-time praying of any sort benefits us. We can look over the day and see ways God was present to us, how we were present to God. We can spend a moment offering thanks for the gifts of God’s protection and provision. We increase awareness of God’s hold on us and discover we are not alone.
Bed-time prayers can be penitent. As we examine our heart in light of the day’s activities we notice sin: in word, thought or deed – in what we have done or left undone. Confession before bed provides a way to off-load the weight and worry of sin as we accept the peace of God’s forgiveness and acceptance which enables true rest.
What emerges from any practice of prayer before sleep is the sense of relinquishment at day’s end. Praying before sleep offers a way to bring our entire life, body, soul, spirit and social self, to God entrusting it into his hands. It avails us of a regular and conscious way to give up control for a set and sacred time when the body, in vulnerability, becomes unconscious and utterly dependent on God, who through sleep and without our will or effort, carries us into the next day. Dawn becomes the sacred threshold of awakening into the newness of life and the experience of having been sustained, held, and cared for through the darkest time of each 24 hour cycle. Bed-time praying can foster the deep belief that God can actually hold the world, us, our families and our cares as we rest in a keeping not our own.i
At the end of Jesus’ Work Day, he relinquished himself into the hands of the Father, praying the words of the psalmist: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46; Ps.31:5)
Below is a simple bed-time prayer. Try it tonight. Take a few quiet moments to entrust yourself into God’s hands. When you wake the next morning, ask yourself: WHO held my world while I slept? Or HOW did I get here today from yesterday?
Yes, you, O Beloved, bring my fears to the fore, exposing them to the Light;
I abandon myself into your hands,
into your heart I commend my soul, in you will I place my heart.ii
– Elizabeth Khorey
i Berry, Wendell, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997, Coutnerpoint, Berkeley, California, 1998, Poems from 1989 VII.
ii An excerpted adaptation from Psalm 55, Merrill, Nan C., Psalms for Praying: An invitation to Wholeness, Bloomsbury, New York, 2007, 103.