Sisters in Scripture
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 God. 
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 little trepidation:
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 arrogant. 
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 arrogance.  Amen.
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!

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