Saturday, July 10, 2010

Prayers for protection - they're not just for bedtime

In the last few days prayer requests for "protection" have been prominent at Church of the Good Shepherd.

-An email requested protection for people fleeing an ugly domestic situation.

-An LGBT person asked protection from vandals after a recent incident.

-A family asked prayers for their home after a series of damaging mishaps.

There were others like this, not to mention the news of a church robbery on the Rosebud Reservation and the reports from persecuted Christians around the world.

Traditionally, the late night prayers of the church, or Compline, emphasize divine protection, since our labors are suspended and we put ourselves in God's hands for the vulnerable hours of sleep.

One of the prominent Psalms of Compline is #91, which begins

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

It is a rich source of prayers for protection. It calls on God to show strong, attentive love amid life's hazards.

Although it's not one of the night Psalms, I like Psalm 18 as a resource as well. The old Hebrew preface for musicians says,

A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song on the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies...

It helps us put our anxieties into words of prayer,

The breakers of death rolled over me, and the torrents of oblivion made me afraid.

The cords of hell entangled me, and the snares of death were set for me.

I called upon the LORD in my distress and cried out to my God for help.

then offers powerful images of God moved to action by those things that threaten us:

He heard my voice from his heavenly dwelling; my cry of anguish came to his ears.

The earth reeled and rocked; the roots of the mountains shook; they reeled because of his anger.

Smoke rose from his nostrils and a consuming fire out of his mouth; hot burning coals blazed forth from him.

He parted the heavens and came down with a storm cloud under his feet.

Psalms 91 and 18 both assert that God's justice is the quality that generates favor toward the afflicted:

With the pure you show yourself pure, but with the crooked you are wily.

You will save a lowly people, but you will humble the haughty eyes.

Your eyes have only to behold to see the reward of the wicked.

Because you have made the LORD your refuge, and the Most High your habitation,

There shall no evil happen to you, neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.

These are not magic incantations, of course. Just saying these words doesn't make danger go away - in fact, these prayers remind us that dangers are a fact of life. And Jesus taught about persistence in prayer and the need for much prayer in the face of some threats.

But frequent prayer, especially the God-breathed prayers of the Psalms, can shield us from some dangers, transform us in ways that eliminate other threats we are inviting, help with the healing of life's inevitable hurts, and most of all put us in touch with the eternal love and justice that can carry us through all things.

Good night. Good prayers. Good rest. I'll end with a Compline antiphon:

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake
we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.

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