God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear …
though the mountains should shake
in the heart of the sea. - Psalm 46:1-2 (NRSV)
In a recent pastoral letter, the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts told this story: A man was caught in an earthquake. Stricken with terror, he tried to pray but couldn’t find any words. He’d recited countless prayers all his life, but in his panic, he couldn’t recall a single one. So he recited the only thing that came into his head. He prayed the alphabet. “A, b, c, d, e, f, g…” he offered fervently, “…h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p…” It was the most genuine prayer of his life, and there can be no doubt God heard him.
These days, lots of us can’t focus. We forget what day it is sometimes. Things that once came naturally to us seem unfamiliar and require concentration we don’t have. The ground beneath us is shaky. The danger is real. So is the dread.
We cope with it by paying loving attention to the details of daily life, observing the rules of confinement, sharing our resources, being patient, and mustering hope and good cheer. This is what life is now, and it’s good. It’s also exhausting.
This is no time to be worried about finding the right words or looking good or getting a hundred on the quiz. It’s not the moment, if there ever was one, to prove anything to anyone. It’s a time to be real, and to let that be the good thing it is.
We’re all praying the alphabet as the world shakes. It’s all we can manage. And it’s fine.
Hear my prayer, O God: a, b, c, d, e, f, g….
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.