Tag Archives: Intercessory prayer

Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair

In early March of 1991 I watched the horrid beating of Rodney King in south Los Angeles on our television in Holton, Kansas. We lived in a big older home with a  wrap around porch. I often rocked my daughters on the porch swing. Ages 9 and 7, they played on the swing – reading books, eating popsicles, and spending long afternoons with Barbie dolls. On summer evenings I would sit there listening to the crickets and birds. That was where I took a harrowing journey of prayer with Mr. King and other brothers and sisters.

A year later in April of 1992, we learned the news of the acquittal of the four officers involved in the brutal beating. Soon after this news a white man was pulled from his truck and beaten until dead by some black men. What followed were riots in south Los Angeles. The riots lasted five days. More than 60 people died and over 2000 were injured. Damages were estimated at one billion dollars.

At the time I was studying the story of the stoning and death of  Stephen in Acts, thinking about deep intercessory prayer, and feeling helpless to make a difference.

So I wrote a  poem in the style of a rap, which reflects the story of Rodney King, and other stories similar to his and the story St. Stephen. This poem has numerous references to scripture texts, which I have provided here at the end of the poem.

Twenty five years later I still believe we are called and capable of deeply transforming prayer for people we may not even know, as well as acts of justice and mercy. Rodney King himself became a sign of the power of love and sacrifice. In April of 2012 his autobiography, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption. Learning How We Can All Get Along was published. In June of 2012 Mr. King died.   I offer this poem in his memory and the memory of all who suffer injustice.

-Loretta F.  Ross

LA Riots92

New York Daily News 1992

Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair

Run brother, trapped in the ghetto
in a gangland nightmare, run.
Here, look quick, a hole in the darkness,
startled with starkness,
a tiny crack of light at the end of the street,
a rupture in time, a rent in the curtain,
the one thing certain,
a valve slid open in the throb of a heart beat.

Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair
weaving hopefulness out of thin air
Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair
exchanging your lives for a thing more fair
Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair
rock in the porch swing, singing your prayer.
Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair
run through the dark streets meeting death’s dare.

“I see an opening in the heavens,” Stephen cried,
and slipped in an instant to Eternity’s side.
“Jesus, receive my spirit,” he prayed.
“Forgive them!” he shouted, knelt unafraid.
Stephen preached full of power and grace
doing wonders and signs with his angel’s face.

“You stiff-necked people!” he railed, then died,
killed by the stones in the hearts he’d tried
to turn from malice and murder and lies
to the truth of a Love which could die and rise.

I’ll hold the door open for you,
I’ll lift the latch that seals the catch
that quarantines time from eternity,
heaven from hell.

And then the first stone fell.
Hip thrust out against the door,
arms spread wide, shoulders aching, stomach quaking
straining beneath the blow of doubt and pelt of defeat.
Promise’s child prays on the porch swing.
Promise’s child picks up the beat.

Here, you running down the street,
looters, shooters, losers, boozers, resisters,
you who don’t believe, cannot conceive
a way out, an open door
you lost, walking in circles, blinded by pain
you know this voice, hear it again
here is the way, the cleft, the gate, the threshold
make for it with all your heart,
and safely enter the sheepfold
before she loses her nerve and the sea unpart.

Brother, sister, God hears your cries!

And she spies the skies opened and glory spilling out,
God’s tears like golden rain down mercy’s spout.

Help is coming. Here this life laid down for you,
for love of you, for love of Love –
this life laid down, fallen down,
hunched in a ball and rolling down,
spread out, offered down to the quick,
to the dregs
this life drinking your cup of sorrow,
swallowing your poison,
handling the vipers, walking across the floor of hell
this life laid across yours like a shield
absorbing the shocks that you may be well.

You there running down the streets with your gun,
has anyone ever laid down her life for you?
Can one white lady sitting on a porch swing in Kansas
turn the tide of rage and hate you carry in your bones?
Maybe tonight you catch a glimpse of hope.
Maybe tonight the fear that clutches you releases
and you imagine a new future –
maybe somewhere something lets go in the cosmos,
something stopped up, clogged, frozen, held enthrall.
A new wind wakens, rushes in and you are freed.

She prays for you, child of Despair,
running down the streets carrying your VCR,
running down the streets grabbing for what you never had,
running after a stolen dream.

The politicians rant.

The child on the curb by the burnt out building is hungry.
We need a new program, a plan, an idea, a solution…
some mental gymnastics to comfort us
that there is something that can be done
without costing us too much.
And then they will all settle down
and we can turn back to our own affairs.

We shall not get out of this
without paying to the last penny.
Sit down on the curb with the hungry child
and drink her cup.

The sickening blows fall again and again.
The man draws up his knees and rolls in pain.
Still they come, faster and harder,
mercilessly over and over,
slamming into the soft flesh,
pulverizing bone and sinew –

speak to him of eternity now
while sin and evil rain steady destruction
speak to him of salvation now

But she is beyond talk,
running for her life, lungs straining,
gasping for air in the smoke,
tears coursing down her cheeks,
sweating, legs aching, hearing the shots,
backing up against a wall of despair,
the bitter gall moving through her
like a stream of fire,
holding his bounty to her heart, darting out of alleys
running home.

And her brother is sitting in the sweet night air
swinging in the porch swing calm and cool,
listening to the mourning dove, waiting for the fireflies
swinging low, carried home.

They say it can happen like this
if you have a mustard seed of faith:

 One night while sitting at supper, talking about your day, asking for the salt – you are transferred in a wink of an eye to the camp, where you stand in line with your cup for rice and wrap the thin blanket around your shoulders against the chill . . .

and a gaunt refugee woman sits down at our table munching your hamburger,
and we pass her the salt.

Cram your cranium into heaven,
poke a hole in eternity
hold it open with your body
and be transformed
in a twinkling of an eye
by the renewal of your mind
unconformed
and cradled in the looter’s arms

and no one can snatch you out of his arms
and you shall never perish
for you belong to him and he to you
to have to hold and to cherish.

The daughter of Promise sings her lullaby:
Swing low, sweet brother
and have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

Sweet brother, swing low.
Hear the wind blow.

For days I have lain in your pain.
And I have lain in that thick smoke-filled darkness
murky with ambiguity and lies
oned with you and with the one from whom we come
descended into your hell
that you might rise
and I be carried home
in this dark world no more to roam.

Swing low.

~ written in April of  1992

Stoning of St. Stephen – Domenico Piola, early 1650s

Scriptures cited:
Acts 6: 8-15, 51-60

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit[a] with which he spoke. 11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13 They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth[b] will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” 15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.  . . . 

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.[j] 55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Romans 12: 2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

I Corinthians 15: 49-52
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

John 10: 27
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 

John 10: 14-16  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Learn more about Rodney King and the LA Riots of 1992

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Prayer that Hurts

He lay slumped on her lap like a great heavy mail sack stuffed with the cards and letters of creation’s lovelorn. They spilled from him with the blood. “Save me. Heal me. Help me. Love me. Save me. Heal me. Help me. Love me.” Over and over the messages were the same. Some were written in the scraggly script of the old, some in the sprawling letters of the very young, some on the finest stationary. Others were on scraps of newspaper, prison walls, and sheets from hospital beds. Some were stamped out in the snow, and some were imprinted on faces, especially around the eyes and mouth. “Save me. Heal me. Help me. Love me.” https://theprayinglife.com/tag/pieta/

_____________________________
I felt a particular urgency and conviction as I was praying and writing the summer issue of Holy Ground, A Quarterly Reflection of the Contemplative Life. Restricted by a back injury and needing to rest as my body healed gave me time to focus on the needs of the world as the news broke on my iPad:
pockets of conflict throughout the world, atrocities
back to Iraq
another kid dead on a street in Missouri
Ebola virus striding across Africa, now penetrating our borders
melting ice sheets, rancorous election season
and on and on…
Lying there on the couch, I had little escape. What can I possibly do to stem this tide?
I hope you find some help and direction in ways to responding this unique and important period of history. It is no accident we have been born in this time.
Here is an except from one section of this issue on Intercessory prayer. ( You can read the entire issue here.  Holy Ground, Intercede, Part 2 – Summer 2014)

Prayer that hurts

If anyone claiming to be united to God is always in a state of peaceful beatitude, I simply do not believe in their union with God. Such a union, to my mind, involves great sorrow for the sin and pain of the world; a sense of identity not only with God, but also with all other souls, and a great longing to redeem and heal. St. Teresa of Avila

Vulnerable involvement with the broken world will expose our own wounds and need for forgiveness. If I pray for my enemy, I risk having my mind changed. To pray for others is to consent to experiencing the cross. It may be as simple as dying to my own desires for a particular outcome, or dying to my desire to do something other than to respond to someone’s need for prayer.

Intercessory prayer asks what good is my peace, my sense of well-being, when my sister is hurting? What good is my abundance, if it does not give me the freedom and strength to bring my faith and peace to someone else’s weakness and sorrow?

Sometimes intercessory prayer tends to be more a desperate act of love, than eloquence; a messy melodrama, than a polite request. It is as though the intercessor has one foot in the darkness and terror of human existence and the other in the beauty and joy of abundant life. The presence and being of the intercessor becomes a life line through which moves the power of God. To stand in the gap of another’s need without being pulled to one polarity or the other requires spiritual strength and maturity.

The formality and reticence of ecclesiastical prayer is utterly foreign to the Bible. Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, and indecorous. It is more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar than the polite monologues of churches. – Walter Wink, Methodist pastor and author

 

child in ghana praying

When I began this ministry of prayer, I did not have a clue as to what praying would mean. I took on too much. I felt too much. I was a child playing with fire. I carried other people’s pain. I became ill. There were periods when I strongly identified with Christ on the cross in ways I wondered if I was going crazy. Over time I learned what God was teaching me about suffering and redemption, vulnerability, and the presence of Christ in our lives.

Some people do suffer in prayer for others. Saint Therese of Lisieux saw this as her vocation as a Carmelite nun. 18th century Presbyterian missionary, David Brainerd wrote: “God enabled me to agonize in prayer. My soul was drawn out very much for the world. I grasped for a multitude of souls.”

Evelyn Underhill notes, “As the personality of the saints grew in strength and expanded in adoration so they were drawn on to heroic wrestling for souls..Real saints do feel and fear the weight of the sins and pains of the world. It is the human soul’s greatest privilege that we can thus accept redemptive suffering for another.”

I believe we all suffer for one another within the larger mystery of Christ’s suffering. However I also believe Walter Wink’s caution:  “We must not try to bear the suffering of creation ourselves…We can only give it expression and let the groaning pass through us to God. Only the heart of God can endure such suffering. Our attempts to bear them are masochistic, falsely messianic, and finally idolatrous.”

We have limits. We need to know the difference between suffering with another at God’s invitation and when it is merely tragic and spiritualized self-abuse. There is a difference between prayer and acts which are codependent, manipulative, ego driven meddling, and prayer and acts which are life-giving. Knowing when to back off, what is truly my concern, how to protect myself with clear boundaries, and when one’s work is finished comes with experience.

Teach-Girls-End-World-Poverty

It is difficult to open your heart and mind to the raw suffering before you and remain there steadfast and watching in someone else’s Gethsemane. Yet to wait in faith and hope at the foot of your neighbor’s cross is one of the most healing acts we can offer one another. This is because here in the darkness at the end of the road is where divine action meets human limitation and leaps from heart to heart.

Maybe you light a candle, say the rosary, ask others to pray with you. Maybe you go outside and spread yourself over the ground and let all the sorrow and pain drain out of you into Mother Earth. You might pound on the table or the wall. You might shout to the heavens, “Do something! Be merciful! Be God for us.” You reach out, call a friend or a hotline, write a letter, or paint a picture of the great groaning earth crying for mercy. One way or another we each funnel a piece of the anguish of this broken world through our being to the One we believe can help.

Your prayer does not have to sound beautiful. It just needs to be honest. Carry what you have been blessed to bear over the terrain of your day into the heart of God.

Pretty soon your life will be etched with little channels running between the ocean of suffering in this world and the endless mercy of God.

Read entire issue here:  Holy Ground, Intercede, Part 2 – Summer 2014

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