Friday, September 18, 2009

A Holy Frailty

From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine,

Good Lord, deliver us.

There are many, many things we cannot control in life; perhaps this is for us the great “problem.” Secularism, in denying the essential brokenness of humans and the Creation, needs to create a “heaven on earth” in order to seem plausible. Replacing God’s grace with scientism and the doctrine of inevitable progress, the secular human expects ever more solutions to the problems of life. Yet, some things remain beyond our grasp. Therein is a great cause for anxiety in modern life. The current H1N1 flu scare is only the latest occasion for these concerns. While there are a number of ways we can lessen our exposure, and some of the finest scientific minds have worked diligently to bring us a vaccine to battle this particular virus, humans remain vulnerable to various “plagues” today as we have from the beginning. This petition in the Litany brings that vulnerability to the natural world to fore.

The Gospel recognizes that humans live in a dangerous world. Jesus rules out the simplistic idea that bad things only happen to bad people (the victims of Pilate, the Tower of Siloam in Luke 13:1-5). Sometimes, terrible things happen because of terrible coincidences. We hear about this through the news on a regular basis. Many have experienced such life-changing events first hand. Lancelot Andrewes, the great 17th century Anglican bishop and preacher, lived through a rare earthquake in London. It occurred on a Wednesday; for the rest of his life, each Wednesday he called that event to mind, standing in awe of its power, and recognizing – as Jesus taught – that such unforeseen events are a call for us to live our lives in active repentance, ready to enter Eternal Life each day.

Rather than living in fear, or running away from our vulnerability by becoming “control freaks” (in the process often making everyone around us part of our anxiety), the Litany bids us bring to the surface our vulnerability, to admit it and offer it to God. Once again, we are called to be a priestly people: to offer to God in holiness and thanksgiving. Bringing to the surface our fears, our frailty in prayer and calling upon God for protection does not result in “magical” protection. Instead, it places us honestly before God, offering up our absolute need for his protection and strength. It also offers to God the reality of our mortality, something modern people, with our delusions of control and expectations of absolute security, have a particular need to do. Only by being free of the fear of death may we truly embrace Life in its fullness.

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