The Liturgical Reading
“The Nazi within me thinks it’s time to take charge.
The world’s a mess; people are crazy.
The Nazi within me wants windows shut tight,
new locks put on the doors. There’s too much
fresh air, too much coming and going.
The Nazi within me wants more respect. He wants
the only TV camera, the only bank account,
the only really pretty girl. The Nazi within me
wants to be boss of traffic and traffic lights.
People drive too fast; they take up too much space.
The Nazi within me thinks people are getting away
with murder. He wants to be boss of murder.
He wants to be boss of bananas, boss of white bread.
The Nazi within me wants uniforms for everyone.
He wants them to wash their hands, sit up straight,
pay strict attention. He wants to make certain
they say yes when he says yes, no when he says no.
He imagines everybody sitting in straight chairs.
Are you ready? He asks them. They say they are ready.
Are you ready to be happy? He asks them. They say
they are ready to be happy. The Nazi within me wants
everyone to be happy but not too happy and definitely
not noisy. No singing, no dancing, no carrying on.”
by Stephen Dobyns
In 2007, Katy and I took a trip
to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
We rented, sight unseen,
a cabin without electricity or running water
that sat near the edge of a dramatic cliff
on the far tip of the last gravel road
before there was nothing but wilderness
and no more roads.
The cabin did have propane lamps and a stove,
as well as water from a gravity system
from a nearby creek.
Otherwise this cabin had all the comforts of home.
It was awesome actually.
It had two rooms downstairs
and the upstairs was one room,
a kind of widow’s walk
with glass windows on all four sides
looking out at the ocean.
I guess the toilet and shower
might not have been like home
but since I don’t remember them all that well
they must not have been too horrible.
Anyway, you might remember the summer or 2007.
Looking back now
we know it was the gathering of a horrific storm
with a great sense of dis-ease all around.
It was the end of the Bush era
with presidential campaigns underway
and all manner of nastiness let loose in all directions.
While it may seem tame from where we bask
in the current political climate,
at the time it seemed quite fierce.
And then of course,
it was the beginning of the crash that would come,
with a sudden implosion in August
of a world-wide credit crunch.
For reasons that I never knew, then or now,
I had decided in advance of that vacation,
that I would engage in daily intercessory prayer.
Now you need to know
I am not a prayer-warrior.
I’m a pray-er in fits and starts, often crisis-oriented.
But even when I pray
it is typically the contemplative kind:
less words, fewer thoughts
and aimed at centering and listening
more than asking and petitioning.
So the idea of sitting on a cliff
engaging in intercessory prayer
was just plain weird in terms of my norm.
the idea of it took on the force of a mission,
a secret mission.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to be praying for
until one day it hit me:
a new wind to come and sweep the nation.
Honestly, I had no idea what that meant
but I decided that it was going to be my prayer
and I was going to pray it daily
out there in the middle of nowhere
on the tip of the continent.
Looking back on it, what an ego-prayer it was!
Praying for a new wind to come sweep the nation
as if I knew anything about what the nation needed
is ego-prayer at its most grotesque.
It’s like praying for our side to win the war
as if God is will be happier with more dead bodies
on their side than our side.
But in the summer of 2007
it sounded right to me
and I prayed it with earnestness.
“Come, Holy Spirit,” I prayed,
“and sweep this nation with a new wind.”
Well as arrogant as that sounds now,
it started with a good heart.
It even began as a generous, hopeful kind of prayer.
But as often happens,
it wasn’t long before the “Nazi within me”
got a hold of that prayer
and I found myself praying it
with all kinds of my own assumptions in the background,
like who was and wasn’t going to get swept away!
The “Nazi within me” knows who has been good
and who has been bad
and who should get coal in their stocking
and whose fortunes should be reversed,
and as I kept praying those same words
a malevolent spirit crept in.
No longer was it God’s wind
I was praying for
but God’s wind to do my bidding
that I was praying for.
I should not have been surprised
about how it would turn out though,
because our dreams often turn into God’s dream
at least in our own heads;
and our prayers
somehow become God’s prayers.
We begin with an earnest desire,
and maybe even some true humility
that understands the extreme distance
between our own agenda and God’s agenda,
but before we’re done, doggoneit,
those dang agendas get merged.
That’s what I did anyway,
took an open, generous, and hopeful prayer
and turned it into a command
for God to do what I wanted God to do.
Then an actual storm hit the little house
where we were staying.
It began late one night with a wind;
an honest-to-god wind.
The wind came in from the ocean.
Before the rain
and before the thunder
and before the lightening came the wind.
Now if you remember your geography,
that part of Nova Scotia juts out at the very end
of our continent into the ocean
so it is the bulkhead meeting the storm.
I have never felt such powerful wind.
It shook the cabin.
It bent tall trees.
It churned the ocean until waves
frothed like steamed milk.
Then the rain came
and it pounded the roof
and pelted the windows,
but the wind roared even louder.
I went up into the second floor conning tower
thinking it would be cool to watch the storm
from up there only to get unnerved
by how vulnerable we seemed.
All day long the wind blew
and all day long
wall after wall of waves
crashed the cliffs below the cabin.
At the golden hour the rain stopped.
The clouds broke
and parted into crowds of white
surrounded by a spread of blue.
But still the wind raged on.
We had been inside all day,
reading and wondering how terrible
and how long
the storm would be.
But now we could venture out.
I sat on my stump at the edge of the cliff
and felt the remnants of rain against my face…
and I went to say my prayer.
But now, after the storm,
the prayer for God to sweep our nation
and felt deeply unwise.
Allow me to leave my stump for a moment
and say something parenthetically about praying.
First of all, I am no expert on prayer.
And guess what?
There are no experts on prayer and praying.
There are all kinds of ways to pray
and teachers and techniques out the wazoo,
but no right way
and no one way
But here is a little something about prayer
that may or may not be helpful to you.
Take it for what it is worth.
We witness the landscape change with the seasons,
and if you practice a continuous prayer,
the kind of single-focused prayer
like I was praying,
or any routine intercessory prayer
for people and events,
there are also seasons.
You, the pray-er, and the prayer itself,
will have seasons that change over time
even if it is exactly the same prayer
prayed every day.
Praying the same prayer
over and over and over again
is not redundant
Such a prayer,
if it is an authentic prayer of the heart,
will change like the seasons.
Even the same words,
said over and over and over again,
will change meaning
as the seasons of the soul
moves through its cycles.
To pray a prayer,
the same one over and over and over again,
will change even when the words do not.
“The Nazi within us” comes and goes, hopefully,
and new characters and thoughts,
angels and demons of our variety of natures
arrive and disappear;
and then sometimes,
one more trustworthy, whispers through the noise.
And then it starts all over again.
If you have never prayed the same prayer
over and over again for a long time,
especially a prayer that is not a prayer for yourself
or for someone else you know,
then I highly recommend it.
Such a prayer can worm its way into your soul
and ripen and in ways that will amaze you.
But now, let’s go back to that somber moment
with me on my stump praying in the wind.
I was afraid to get too close to the edge of the cliff
for fear that a sudden gust would send me to my death
in the churning ocean below,
and then it hit me in my gut
what a terrible, fearsome thing
I had been praying for.
A new wind,
no matter how good or righteous in the end,
sweeps away the beloved along with the loathsome.
We cannot invite God to change us
without placing ourselves,
and all that we know,
at great risk.
We like to think of the “peace of God”
as a calm,
serene moment in which we feel held
down to our deepest roots.
such a warm encounter with the holy
can engender a sense of peacefulness.
But more often than not
such moments are preceded by crisis.
We associate the calm at the end of the storm
but we neglect to perceive
the intrinsic relationship
between the storm and the peace,
or between the crisis and God.
The “Nazi within us”
prays for the good guys to be rewarded
and the bad guys to “get theirs”
and all our pals to be healed.
But that is not how the planet
or the universe or the cosmos works.
That is how we want it to work
but there is no evidence whatsoever
that that is how it works.
Instead, the evidence suggests
that we are intimately connected to one another –
the good and the bad,
the right and the wrong,
the loved and the hated,
the just and the unjust,
and the wind that sweeps us clean
will sweep all of us
into a new order when it comes.
To pray for justice,
to work for equity,
to demand a better world,
to ask God for thy kingdom come,
is to place us all at great risk.
that is exactly what we have been asked to do:
pray for thy kingdom to come –
by thy will be done.
If we have any brains at all
we should know,
especially most of us sitting right here,
that such a prayer
is a prayer against our own self-interest.
And yet, that is exactly the prayer
we have been asked to pray
over and over and over and over again.
“Thy kingdom come –
but thy will be done.”
Ninety percent of the time,
six days out of seven,
we know that our will is not God’s will.
When the “Nazi within us” is not in charge,
we know darn well that praying
“thy kingdom come”
is praying for something
that will likely turn out
to be against our own self-interest.
that is what we have been asked to pray.
“Thy kingdom come –
but thy will be done.”