December 11, 2016
“Prayer of the Children”
Do you ever feel like you are sleepwalking your way through your days? You get up and get ready for the day. You show up where you are supposed to and contribute when you can. You arrive home and feel spent with little energy and before long you are in bed hoping that the morning doesn’t come too soon.
“In the summer of 1969, a young doctor named Oliver Sacks was working with an experimental drug. He was giving the drug to patients who suffered from a condition commonly called "sleeping sickness." Patients with "sleeping sickness" existed in a catatonic state. They weren't completely unconscious-- they might respond to some stimuli-- but they were never fully awake. They were like sleepwalkers, if they walked at all, lost in cloudy dreamland. Dr. Sacks' use of the drug on these patients yielded such dramatic results that he wrote a book about it. His book was later made into a movie, called "Awakenings," starring Robin Williams as the doctor and Robert DeNiro as Leonard Lowe, the first patient to be "awakened."
After thirty years of existing in a sleep-like state, Leonard suddenly regains his ability to walk and talk. In one scene in the movie, he's so excited by his new life that he calls the doctor in the middle of the night and says he has to talk to him. The doctor hurries over and Leonard says: "We've got to tell everybody, we've got to remind them, we've got to remind them how good it is."
"How good what is, Leonard?" the doctor asks. Leonard picks up a newspaper: "Read the newspaper. See what they say, all bad, it's all bad. People have forgotten what life is about, they've forgotten what it is to be alive, they need to be reminded, they need to be reminded about what they have and what they can lose. And what I feel is the joy of life, the gift of life, the freedom of life, the wonderment of life!"
Having just been awakened from his "sleeping sickness", Leonard discovers anew the joy and wonder of life. He also discovers that most people, even though they're walking and talking and seemingly living their lives, are in fact just as asleep as he was.” (http://www.yateschurch.org/clientimages/41513/sermons/2011-12-18%20streams%20in%20the%20desert.pdf)
In these winter days with so many people at risk, it is easy to feel like the people Leonard is talking about as we watch the news. Yet there are signs of hope. The Dakota Pipeline took a turn this week. I can’t stop thinking about the Native Americans showing up not with weapons, but to pray. Their days were steeped in prayer. It takes my breath away that in the miserable weather, in the face of water cannons and tear gas, they prayed. When I saw the veterans kneel before them to ask forgiveness, I cried. Isn’t that what we are here to do – to seek reconciliation with those we have wronged, to pray in everything, but especially in times where there seems to be no hope, and to know that God is doing something whether we can see it or not?
Isaiah wrote in a time of exile. People were weary and couldn’t imagine a future that looked any different than their current state of oppression. They were giving up because things seemed hopeless to them. So, Isaiah paints a picture of God’s work in creation. The days may be short now. The trees may be bare, but soon the crocus will bloom. The cactus will explode with color.
Rather than wait until everything was right with the world, Isaiah sings a song of promise. It begins in creation and extends to the healing of human beings. A highway will be there to lead all who are in exile home. This promise exists for us today. There is a word for this action of God, it is called veriditas (also spelled viriditas). It was coined by 12th century abbess Hildegard of Bingen. It is the marriage of two latin words “green” and “truth” and it describes the action of God restoring creation which is then translated to humans. It is about the power of God to heal what is broken.
Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann says, “Israel’s doxologies are characteristically against the data.” It is easy to look around and see all that is broken. So much is broken. So many lives are in terrible shape, but as Isaiah reminds us that is not the last word. The data tells us to be very afraid, but God tells us to trust that “waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.” God is not finished. God will not give up on this world. God is coming in the form of a child to show us the way.
If you doubt what I say, look at our beautiful children. Each week I see in them the healing power of God. I know that there is goodness planted in each of their lives. They are dreaming of peace. They are practicing kindness. Can you hear their prayers?
Play Kurt Bestor’s “Prayer of the Children”