Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dark Litanies and Tolling Bells

This last Sunday, our little congregation's Prayers of the People went through a list.  It's a list we've been reading every week for months now, as we pray our way through the names of those who are in a long and sustained battle with illness.  It's a potent way to keep those ongoing struggles on our minds, but it can be hard to read and pray.

You don't want it to feel like an empty recitation, not at all.  We are not reading these names, after all.  We're praying them.  I've found myself reading them as couplets, like the ringing of two bells, and that's how I read them at the early service.  At the second, our liturgist delivered them as part of a raw, vulnerable, and lovely prayer, struggling to get through the list as the names connected with the persons she knew.

Listening to her read those names on Sunday, I found myself reminded that one year ago that very day, I went through another dark litany.  I'd had to scrap my Advent-themed sermon the night before, as the news from Newtown demanded my spiritual attention.

In the scrambled sermon rewrite, I found myself including a litany.  Every name, every age, every child.  Reading those names was like a tolling bell.

I went back to my sermon blog, and re-prayed those names to myself afterwards.  A year later, it's a mostly forgotten thing.  We have moved on, and nothing has changed.

But that's the purpose of a litany, and of ritual. It's a way of remembering.

So important, that is, in a culture that quickly forgets.

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