Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Space of a Preposition

What a difference a preposition makes.

When we say, "Save us from the time of trial" in the Lord's Prayer, what do we mean? What are our assumptions about God and the way the divine love interacts with time? What is the time of trial? Is it any time of trial? Or is it something special?

When the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was being developed, this phrase in the Zebra book read, "Save us in the time of trial."

Every time I hear this prayer recited in public I find myself wishing that the Zebra version had ended up as the final version. Maybe this is due to ignorance of the process but I try to listen with the ears of someone hearing for the first time, and I know very well that God is not going to save me from the time of trial in the sense either of preventing trials or snatching me from them. Auschwitz and other horrors have taught us to refine our formerly crude ideas about an interventionist God, but the phrase in the 1979 book seems to want to keep us at that simplistic level.

Of course it may be that the compilers of the 1979 book were thinking about the Day of Judgment, or the Apocalypse, but isn't every trial infused with the end times, what we used to call "realized eschatology?" None of us is going to escape the end times, existentially or any other way, now, or then. If our lives are infused with beholding we know that all times are conflated into the present moment.

It is the knowledge that God is in the trial with me that sustains me, that in this time of transition (for example) grace is available to help me listen with an open heart and inform decisions. Sometimes this grace arises from within; sometimes it comes through the words of wise friends; sometimes (mostly) it is imperceptible, working invisibly, mostly unseen but at times glimpsed in retrospect.

Can I say I wish God had saved me from this particular trial? I don't think I have the perspective to make this or any similar judgment. That it has been traumatic and remains traumatic there is no question. No one wants to be homeless or stare into the black hole of a future without adequate funds, especially in the last years of life.

At the same time I am learning much: about human nature, both good and bad; about myself, ditto. I am grateful that the need to dismantle my life came at a time when I could do it decently and in order so as not to leave a mess, as opposed to becoming incapacitated and having to burden someone else.

I'm amazed at the power of adrenaline, how in the crunch it can kick in and push you into a certain kind of flow. How I ever sold the house, redid all my legal affairs, sorted, catalogued and shipped what is to be sold and dispersed the rest, all in five and a half weeks, seems almost miraculous. All is grace. The trial has been instructive; I have been saved in it but not from it. And it is not my place to say whether I should have been saved from it.

This attitude in no way justifies the negative behavior of others and its consequences that caused the crisis in the first place. But the task is to go forward, to receive the next moment of grace, and to pursue the necessary remedies. A kind friend who came up to Alaska from Oregon to help with the books left me with Abba Benjamin, who, when he was dying, said, "Rejoice always, pray constantly, and in all circumstances give thanks."

Save me in the time of trial, not from it.



Anonymous Crescens said...

Sorry, Maggie, you missed the deeper eschatology of the Lord's Prayer:

"Give us sustenance on that (last) Day" (not "daily bread")

"Save us from the time of trial" was the end-time when the legend was that one would undergo a testing by Satan.

(And on that Day) "Deliver us from the evil One" (not "from evil")

4:59 pm, May 14, 2009  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Actually I think you missed the point of what I said (I am aware of the issues you raise), which is how it sounds to the theologically uneducated ear....

5:24 pm, May 14, 2009  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

To expand: we spend far too much time talking to ourselves, which is why people are leaving or not coming in. You and I may be aware of the theological subtleties but the many of the churched and certainly unchurched people are not trained to read metaphorically and in today's rushed atmosphere are going to take away what they hear at an everyday level.

The problem of so much of our liturgy is that we have lost the psychology of Christianity which reached the point of terminal decline in the 15th c. Our liturgies are inconsistent, contradictory, and our translations pedantic (when they're not being smug and complacent)instead of transfiguring. Institutional self-perpetuation appears to be the main goal.

My post reflected the point of view of the bum-in-pew, not what I would write if I were in an Oxford seminar or challenging your insularity.

5:31 pm, May 14, 2009  
Anonymous Laura said...

Maggie Ross,
This is the first time I have read your articles. I have reaad some of your books. I am undergoing chemotreatment for metastasized breast cancer. My prayer is definitely "Save me in the time of trial". Your thoughts confirmed the direction I sense God is calling me and hearing the divine voice of comfort. Thank you

2:24 am, May 19, 2009  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Bless you, Laura. My prayer is with you.

3:07 pm, May 19, 2009  

Post a Comment

<< Home