I woke up at 2 this morning thinking about hypothetical antonyms. Yes, i was pretty pissed about that.

Antonym prayers are a stock filler in worship; they’re always nicely poetic, easy to write, cute. As an example, I’m writing stuff for worship next week and in the quasi-confession there’s the stanza which has lines through it that go like this:

speak into our tiredness with your story of grace
speak into our wandering with your story of vision
speak into our impatience with your story of wisdom…

I use the genre to death. Sorry about that.

Anyway, long story short and all that… i was thinking at 2 this morning about the denials that are inherent in the stuff i write about faith – perhaps it’s not denials, perhaps it’s the unrealistic or dangerous things that we expect faith to do. I was talking at easter to a woman who’d just arrived in prison, and she was so relieved to be there, and be away from the relentless violence and resulting fear that defined her life… and i was thinking about her last night, and how easy it is for me to talk about hope transforming fear when the greatest fear i have is the huntsman spider outside my front door [it’s a big and ugly one]… That’s not quite true – I have other fears, of course, but i also have the luxury of being able to rationalise them away. If i’m unexpectedly unemployed i’ve got financial resources – and friends, who’ll feed me gruel and let me sleep on their sofas if that runs out… if i’m sick i’ve got access to doctors. If i’m lonely i have the skills to make friends. If i’m scared of love I can do the hard work required with a psychologist. The fears I have are largely hypothetical, or the leftover remnants of a previous experience, and can generally be rationalised into palatable, manageable size [with the exception of the huntsman spider, but spiders are objects of terror and shouldn’t be rationalised]. Praying my fears might be transformed into hope or life or whatever is a good thing…

But if i’m living in a warzone, waiting to see where the next bomb will fall… or if i’m going home tonight knowing that i’ll be beaten up, and that if i leave there’ll be retribution on my family… or if i’ve just stood up for an issue of women’s justice in Nepal and the government is seeking revenge, I should have fear. It’s a healthy, natural, necessary response – any physiologist and psychologist will tell us that… So in my little world, where faith is pretty much hypothetical, it’s all too easy for me to write a prayer about faith changing fear [grief fits into the same category]. It’s the trouble with not really needing faith to survive. It’s too easy to get it wrong.

I like the translation of the beatitudes that says ‘you have the right to speak of God when you are poor…’ [i have no idea who first told me that, i think Al Macrae]. Those who need hope as much as they need their next breath should be the only ones to speak of it. I’m thinking more and more that the rest of us should maybe just shut up.

But since i won’t do that, i have to work out an alternative. Maybe it’s to stop praying for emotions to change, and instead pray for them not to be the all-consuming reality… and perhaps it’s to stop writing quite so many prayers and start doing a few more acts of justice which might mean others don’t have to live in fear at all.