Fr Charles Dilke sees prayer as a chance to ask his Maker a few hard questions
When I set myself to pray to You, I cannot speak like Job, who could demand a hearing, knowing as he did his own integrity. But even he eventually said, "I repent in dust and ashes". If he had to say that, how much more do I!
I have just read these verses from Isaiah (chapter 24) and they thunder in my ears: "See how Our Lord lays the earth waste, the earth is mourning, pining away, the earth is defiled by the feet of its inhabitants, for they have transgressed the laws, violated the decree, broken the Everlasting Covenant. That is why the inhabitants of the earth have been burnt up..."
Yet, Lord, I am going to complain, please forgive me! I easily identify with the "inhabitants of the earth", the term by which the prophet is accustomed to refer to the sinful race of mankind. I accept the verses as referring to the judgements to come and not just to calamities occurring a long time ago in the Middle East.
Not that You do not love the earth's inhabitants, children as we are of Father Adam and Mother Eve. Yet, though you chose daughter of Eve to be our new Mother, You showed Your love for her by making her holy, sinless, and You underlined this by making her a virgin, lowly, a model of those virtues we inhabitants of the earth shrink from, mortification, asceticism, self-forgetfulness.
Thus You endowed the woman whom You chose to love above all and to make worthy of being Your own Mother. Never for an instant, so dogma teaches us, was she classed among those inhabitants of the earth who have to hide themselves from the "wrath of the Lamb".
But, Lord, we, the inhabitants of the earth, love earthly things, things we can see and feel: making love, good food and drink, prosperity, prestige, comfort, the esteem of others, deference to ourselves, frequent sources of entertainment and amusement. Can such as we be God-friends?
Lord, if I may say so, it is not only hard to become a God-friend, it is extremely unattractive. I suppose actually, hard because extremely unattractive. I am tempted to resent the fact that You Yourself seem to have set things up in such a way that it is inevitable that so many of us cannot make it, or rather, will not make it, because I accept that it is their own free will in the last analysis that keeps the "inhabitants of the earth" where they are.
But can they, or rather we, not say with Mother Eve, "The serpent beguiled us"? OK it is our fault but there are "spiritual powers" ranged against us stronger and more subtle than we.
After all, we have to struggle just to survive in the face of the earth and naturally take our plea
sures where we find them. Survival is what most of us are pre-occupied with, that, and pleasure. Is this so very wrong that You have to thunder against us in Your Sermon on the Mount?
We seem to be expected to hate things we naturally love and while we grant that they may be much beneath You, still they are very nice for us... (excuse me, Lord, the telephone is ringing, I must answer ... Hullo? ... What's that? ...Nut known at this address?... OK, goodbye.) Postscript. The letter will not be finished or sent, because I have just heard from the Heavenly Post Office that the god to whom I addressed the letter, a god who delights in the suffering of his creatures, does not exist, or at least no longer lives in Heaven. Apparently he was evicted a long time ago. The Postman suggested I try Lower Regions Street, Gehenna, 666. I don't think I'll bother.