Lenten Prayers

Since I’ve been having a bit of a hard time getting up and praying or going to church, I thought it might be worth taking another look at the prayers that I’ve been in large part neglecting, or not paying very close attention to. Prayers like this:

Where shall I begin to lament the deeds of my wretched life? What first-fruit shall I offer, O Christ, for my present lamentation? But in Thy compassion grant me release from my falls.

Have mercy on my, O God, have mercy on me!

Come, wretched soul, with your flesh, confess to the Creator of all. In future refrain from your former brutishness, and offer to God tears in repentance.

Have mercy on my, O God, have mercy on me!

Having rivaled the first-created Adam by my transgression, I realize that I am stripped naked of God and of the everlasting kingdom and bliss through my sins.

Have mercy on my, O God, have mercy on me!

I believe that this must be true, but it’s not what naturally occurs to me when I actually do reflect back on the deeds of my miserable life. What actually happens when I do that is that I notice a lot of flaws that I would much rather be rid of (like spending too much time on the computer, or sleeping through church), but I also notice that, among human persons, only an insane dictator would be especially upset about any particular thing, even if they did fire me for my lack of discipline and efficiency.

Christians tend to be extremely committed to blaming ourselves first, which is, in general, a good and true quality, but it also tends to make of the moral world an enormous blurry mess. Then we end up saying things like “I slept through church today — and not only today, but last week as well! — and that must be morally equivalent to murder, I guess, because if you break one command you’ve broken all of them, and… I guess there’s a command that one oughtn’t be slothful? Which is surely confused, and it’s no wonder that it’s then not so likely that one will, in fact, weep for that, except perhaps in frustration.

Not being quite sure what brutishness one was involved in leads one to an uncertainty about how to go about refraining from it. I when to a bar with some friends, and drank a glass of wine. It that brutish? They told some crude and not especially funny body part jokes and I laughed at them. It’s hard neither to laugh nor to judge at the same time. Should I weep for that? Orthodox say that Protestants shouldn’t expect people to interpret the Bible without the help of the Church. That’s probably true, but it’s sometimes just as hard to interpret the Church.

I want to write until this makes sense, but I don’t know that this can be had by reason. Any thoughts?


10 thoughts on “Lenten Prayers

  1. In the naughty joke instance, I tend to see being judgmental as the greater vice. As young Scout says in To Kill a Mockingbird, “There was something about [men], no matter how much they cussed and drank and gambled and chewed; no matter how undelectable they were, there was something about them that I instinctively liked…they weren’t–hypocrites.” As far as going to church, sometimes forcing one’s self to go helps, other times, it only makes it harder to go next time, until you don’t go at all. Everybody goes home afterward at the catholic church I go to as well. To me, it makes it harder to meet people but it encourages me to make friends outside church.

    1. I tend to think so as well, but then the main lenten prayer is “O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust for power, and idle talk.” I understand the first three, but am not quite sure what “idle talk” I’m praying to be saved from, exactly. It seems to be exactly the idle talk that comprises pretty much my only interaction with other native English speakers here, which is sort of a dilemma for me, since it seems to kind of strange to ask to be saved from idle talk right before knowingly going to a bar to talk idly for three hours.

      1. To which the monastic answer is obvious: don’t go to bars to hang out during Lent. But if I go incommunicado for six weeks, I’m pretty sure I’ll lose touch with those people, and won’t be able to talk normally with anyone at all. Or is that just an excuse?

  2. My guess would be idle talk means gossip, but I don’t know for sure. Its up to you whether you decide to go to bars or not during lent, but if you decide to go incommunicado, I would let the people you hang out with know what you are doing (a lenten obligation), and keep them in the loop, if you don’t want to lose touch with them. (Socially adept people think they did something wrong to you if you just stop talking to them without an explanation). Perhaps your collective minds can come up with a solution.

  3. I don’t think giving up idle talk means giving up all social talk. In a non-monastic setting, it means perhaps cutting the talk a little shorter when things like gossip or inappropriate jokes come up. There are plenty of things one can talk about with friends that are not idle talk. But what to do if said friends just want to talk idly and you can’t just leave or say something that might sound judgmental? I really don’t know. Pray, perhaps?

  4. Boy, is this avatar ugly! You people at gravatar.com should be ashamed of yourselves for bullying innocent commenters into creating an account with you in order to customize their avatar and get rid of this horror. Well, I’m not going to do it.

  5. I’m way behind the times here, but the only way that some of this stuff makes sense to me is to figure you’ve got to set your standard really high. It’s not so much that we may be terrible people by any ordinary standard, but that compared to St John, Fr Arseny, or Mother Theresa, we’re kind of failing miserably. Like failing as in failing the people around us, or something like that? I don’t know.
    And no, I don’t think a glass of wine with friends has anything to do with “brutish”.
    I also like Fr John’s “stare into the abyss for a while, and then go have some tea.” As in, there’s a time for being lenten-repent-y and a time for drinking a glass of wine with friends. ??

  6. And I bet you would happily hang out with these people in not-a-bar and drink herbal tea and avoid all off-color humor if you could – but not being in a position to dictate other people’s lives, here you are.

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