HUMBLE THE ARROGANT—please!
Some people collect saltshakers; I collect prayers. Perhaps my most impressive example is an
edition of the Carmina Gaedelica, a collection of ancient Celtic
prayers. It is thick enough to have, on
occasion, doubled as a booster seat for grandchildren. I am particularly moved by how various
peoples and cultures have sought to find words to express their longing to
Recently I came across the Amidah Payer or
Eighteen Benedictions, a central prayer of Jewish religious life, that goes
back to a time before Christ and is meant to be prayed daily. Much like the Orthodox Evening Prayer that
gathers up all the needs of the world and places them before the feet of God,
these eighteen prayers both praise and petition God for ourselves and for the
world. In somewhat formal language with
all the raw emotion of the Psalms, they bless God and pray for gifts like
Understanding, Forgiveness, Healing, the Rebuilding of Jerusalem, etc.
Blessing Twelve, however, stopped me in my tracks: "For the
Destruction of the Apostates and the Enemies of God.” Here was a prayer request I had never
entertained before. I read on with not a
Let there be no hope for slanderers, and let all wickedness
perish in an instant. May all your
enemies quickly be cut down, and may you soon in our day uproot, crush, cast
down and humble the dominion of arrogance.
Blessed are you, O Lord, who smashes enemies and humbles the
This was pretty dicey business, a prayer not to be said by
the faint of heart and downright dangerous for its fill-in-the-blank
potential. "May all your enemies quickly
be cut down” oh so quickly morphs God’s enemies into my enemies, i.e. whomever
I see as what’s wrong with the world, and I get to pray that they "perish in an
instant.” Ta-dah! I am a toddler with a prayer light-saber,
spinning around, decapitating bad guys left and right. Hmm…maybe not.
Another line jumped out at me: "humble the dominion of
arrogance.” Oh, to be relieved of the
arrogance that assaults me daily! I turn
on my computer in the morning and a succession of angry faces hurl blame at one
another, each supremely confident of their superior righteousness and the utter
error of the other. Yes, Lord, please
do, please do uproot, crush, cast down and humble the dominion of
Man, that felt good.
But then as prayers do, this prayer began to turn its light upon the
pray-er. I should not have been
surprised, for I have learned that prayers are dangerous in that way. Arrogant—me?
How by any stretch of the imagination, could I be considered
arrogant? Maybe the arrogance of
thinking I am not arrogant? Maybe even
the arrogance of thinking I get to decide who is the enemy, of assuming my
enemies are God’s enemies, that the labeling of any kind of enemy is mine to
do. For I have found, like Pogo, that "we
have met the enemy and he is us.” Could I possibly pray that God uproot, crush, and cast down
the enemy of my own presumption? Maybe
if I wore a crash helmet.
For two months
before bed, I turned to Blessing Twelve, took a deep breath, and
prayed—refraining from filling in the blanks, even in my imagination. Let’s just say the crash helmet came in
handy. Awareness popped up daily,
sometimes hourly, of my need to be right, my judging others, my tone of voice,
impatience, or pettiness. I like to
think there’s been a slight course correction in my life. Maybe the world, too, is incrementally
kinder—I haven’t yet noticed.
What I have noticed is that prayers, like saltshakers, are
only useful when taken from the shelf, dusted off and applied to life. I’ve learned they keep their potency far
longer than salt, that even 2000-year-old prayers can shake things up. I’ve learned to handle them with respect,
even caution, for their unpredictable effect, particularly upon the one doing
the praying. And it turns out, I am
indeed, humbled, maybe, even, less arrogant.
So, I add another prayer: Thank You!