Reflection for Sunday – October 16, 2022
Readings: Ezekiel 17: 8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke: 18: 1-8
Preacher: Gloria Ulterino
The persistent widow! Bold, pesky, and persistent. Constantly contesting the unjust judge at every turn. She knows what’s right! And she insists upon it! As it turns out, I know her well. For she was my mother. Not the soft, gentle mother so often described in poetry and song, but a woman who was strong and knew her mind. Even now, she continues to teach me a great deal.
Why does Jesus offer this widow as a prime example of what it means to pray always, with persistence? What is Jesus getting at here? It occurs to me that we might often consider prayer as something we do. A thing, important as that is. And yet, as I walk around in this story, there’s so much more involved. This widow, not unlike my mother, is in a relationship, with the unjust judge and the God of her life. She may be poor, on the margins of life, officially uneducated, but she knows what’s right. And she’s gritty enough to pursue it. After all, as my mother would sometimes say, she’s learned from “the school of hard knocks.” While I don’t know the “in’s and out’s” of her prayer life, I do know this: her believing only grew stronger over the years.
It also occurs to me that the meaning and depth of prayer is as varied as we are, each and every one of us. For example, my husband and I just returned from our yearly few days at Weston Priory in Vermont. This time of the year the multi-hued green mountains are brilliantly becoming lush shades of rose and orange! And Evening Prayer—led by longtime Benedictine monks, now become friends— consists of sung Psalms, always gentle and nourishing. Their life-long, enduring relationship with God reveals a calming fortitude that fills our hearts.
I see prayer alive and well, again and again, in so many lives, where God-given gifts pursue dreams that simply cannot be put aside. While in Vermont, I finished reading Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson’s recounting of his life’s work. Growing up in that part of Delaware still touched by the effects of slavery, Stevenson became a brilliant Harvard law school graduate in the early 1980s. As an African American, his passion led him to work in the Deep South on behalf of so many indigent folks, most often Black, in a criminal justice system that was deeply flawed, even broken. Ultimately, he formed the Equal Justice Initiative, which attracted devoted attorneys to represent the most “down and out” folks. At one point, however, the intensity and seeming never-ending nature of the work led to his exhaustion, even his brokenness. And yet, it was precisely by entering into that dark place that he could emerge with a more profound sense of purpose and mission:
“All of a sudden, I felt stronger. I began thinking about what would happen if we all just acknowledged our brokenness, if we owned up to our weaknesses, our deficits, our biases, our fears. Maybe if we did, we wouldn’t want to kill the broken among us who have killed others. Maybe we would look harder for solutions to caring for the disabled, the abused, the neglected, and the traumatized. I had a notion that if we acknowledged our brokenness, we could no longer take pride in mass incarceration, in executing people, in our deliberate indifference to the most vulnerable.”
It can be said that he encountered God in the depths, “without a doubt.” (Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy, A Story of Justice and Redemption, New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015, pp. 290-291).
His words reminded me of the conversation I had, just the other day, with an African American woman who has served this city well in politics. In our conversation she described numerous experiences of prejudice, but remarkably, without rancor. She had come through the tough times, as an acknowledged person of prayer, with profound insights for us all.
Finally, I am reminded of today’s Richard Rohr column, highlighting the medieval Franciscan mystic, St. Clare. For her, as for Franciscans in general, prayer simply means to be deeply engaged in the ordinary experiences of life. For they are always where God is to be found.
How can we pray always? What does that look like for each of us, different as we are from one another? Won’t we see the gifts of God forever active in our lives?