One year ago, on this first Thursday of February, I spent the day in a Lord-have-mercy prayer mode. Someone I dearly loved was having the first of two scary surgeries. This morning I revisited the long written list of bad outcomes I had begged the Lord's mercy to spare him.
Spared he was. Healed he is.
Thanks be to God, and surgeons, and operating room nurses, and lab techs, and surgical instrument designers, and custodians, and researchers, and bandage makers, and antibiotic manufacturers, and the list could go on and on.
If you’re adding film titles to your 2013 must-see list, here’s one to consider: Longford, an HBO drama telling the true story of British Lord Longford, played by Jim Broadbent. I’ve recommended it many times since I first saw it in 2009 and did so again a week or so ago. Few films still have me thinking about them years afterward.
A devout Christian, Longford visits prisoners as part of his spiritual practice. In the beginning, the film shows him in an interview saying that the greatest achievement in his life is visiting and helping prisoners. Then the story begins.
A notorious criminal asks him to visit her, a woman convicted of a heinous crime involving the most vulnerable and precious members of society. They begin meeting regularly, and he helps her over many years in her legal battle. His long-term relationship with her becomes the greatest achievement of his life’s greatest achievement.
Yet his efforts collapse in complete and utter failure. If I told you why it would be a spoiler, yet your guess probably comes close. Lord Longford is devastated and broken, an object of public scorn.
Time passes and he eventually writes a book on another topic. In an interview about this book, the subject of his visits with this prisoner comes up. The interviewer asks him if he regrets helping her. Longford pauses and says no. (Disclaimer: I don’t have a transcript of the film and so this is my memory + paraphrasing kicking in.) He says he is grateful to her. He says that deepening his faith is what his spiritual journey is about and that his experience with her helped him at that. The film doesn’t end there and I won’t say anymore about the plot lest you plan to watch it and think I’ve spoiled it enough already.
“Blessed is the road that keeps us homeless. Blessed is the mountain that blocks our way.”
This is the start to “Prayer at Winter Solstice,” a poem by Dana Gioia and included in his new book, Pity the Beautiful. On Thanksgiving, he recited it on American Public Media’s program, “Giving Thanks - A Celebration of Fall, Food and Gratitude.” My husband and I were in the car at the time, chatting but also listening along to the program of interviews and music, but then hushed up quick when Gioia started talking, particularly when he began this poem. Originally titled “Thanksgiving,” the poem is about being humble in and grateful for life, no matter what it brings. And sometimes, often even, what life brings is hard.
“Blessed is the pain that humbles us. Blessed is the distance that bars our joy.”
You can listen to the entire interview with him and his recitation of the poem in its entirety by clicking this link to the Thanksgiving program. You’ll find a 2-hour and 1-hour program option. If you choose the 1-hour option, Gioia’s interview starts at 24:43 and the poem starts at 25:43. You’ll also hear him in the 2-hour program, but there you’re on your own to find the minute markers.
“Blessed is this shortest day that makes us long for light. Blessed is the love that in losing we discover.”
For a review of Pity the Beautiful, see also "Redemption Songs" by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell in America magazine.
Today I’m praying for love and grace and healing of all varieties to infuse the circles in which I live and move. A family member will be undergoing surgery. A good friend’s husband will be having an operation for cancer. Two people I love will be battling in court. I’m thinking also of an aquaintance I care about who is hospitalized. And a dear friend who has been waiting far too long for a new employer to call and say “we want you”; maybe today’s the day.
[Here is space to acknowledge all your “todays,” dear readers.]
I like this little “caim” prayer, a prayer of surrounding, from the Celtic Daily Prayer book. You personalize it within the parentheses. The prayer in the book is longer, but this is the beginning and really, sufficient in itself to carry along on a day of needs.
Circle (name), Lord. Keep (grace; comfort; hope; or?) near and (discouragement; despair; danger; or?) afar. Keep (love; peace; health; or?) within and (turmoil; anxiety, illness; or?) out. Amen.
Common wisdom is that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But book publishers bet on book covers all the time. Covers and titles.
Once I heard an editor--or was it an author?--offer this suggestion for confirming a working book title's merit. Stop in at your neighborhood coffee shop and tell the barista as he's foaming the milk for your latté that you're writing a book and here's the title. Go back the next day. Hopefully the same barista is there. Order again and ask him to tell you the title of the book you mentioned to him yesterday. If he can remember it, the title gets a couple points in its favor. If not, discard it and try again with something else.
Recently I was at the Festival of Faith and Writing, where tables of books abound, and this book pictured here, When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life, caught my eye. It was the first day of the conference and I hadn't yet taken out my wallet or started forming my to-buy list. By the end of the next day, however, I couldn't get this book--its title or its cover--out of my mind, so I went back to the table and bought it without knowing anything about it or the author, Jane Redmont, other than what you can read on the cover and bio page. Kudos to the book's designer, Katherine Robinson Coleman.
The title of this book is apparently drawn from one of the chapter titles, and what a great title it is. A word of wisdom in and of itself: when in doubt, sing. It's like a getting a freebie prize along with your purchase.
I haven't started reading it yet but have flipped around and dipped in a few places. Each chapter has a number of prayers attributed to other people, some I'm familiar with but most I'm not. Here's an excerpt of one that's new to me, "Benedicite Aotearoa" from a New Zealand prayer book:
All prophets and priests, all cleaners and clerks, professors, shop workers, typists and teachers, job-seekers, invalids, drivers and doctors: give to our God your thanks and praise.
All sweepers and diplomats, writers and artists, grocers, carpenters, students and stock-agents, seafarers, farmers, bakers and mystics: give to our God your thanks and praise.
All children and infants, all people who play: give to our God your thanks and praise.