May 13, 2009 / Creative Writing
I watched Rebel Without a Cause on TV late one college night when I learned …
“How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!”—so begins the first verse of Lamentations, as its author grieves the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Lamentations is among the shorter books of the Bible, consisting of only five short poems for a total of 144 verses, but those verses exhibit intense despair. So much of what sixth-century Jews valued, so much of what determined their identity, lay in ruins, overrun by military enemies and inhabited now by jackals and hyenas. Although there are verses to remind readers that God is good, the book does not move from despair to hope. Instead, it chastises the people for their sins, and the author proposes that this time, this time, God may have truly abandoned them. Lamentations has no happy ending.
“How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!”—today, this sentence could describe New York City, Rome, Wuhan, Seoul, and many other cities, towns, and villages around the world. Viruses are neither military enemies nor wild beasts—they’re simply proteins seeking opportunities to mutate and replicate themselves, and this particular virus has seized that opportunity in our human bodies, not because we have sinned or because God has abandoned us, but simply because that’s the nature of viruses. Many of us are as anxious and afraid. It may feel as if God has forsaken us. Our fears are reasonable—we worry about our elderly parents, our infant children, our immunocompromised friends. We worry about doctors and nurses and aides and technicians, all those people we trust to help us stay well, as they are so overwhelmed and exposed. We worry about ourselves. We’re afraid we’ll die.
Emily Cool Greener has written the following prayer in the tradition of lament. Yet she goes beyond lament, evoking Isaiah and Psalms. This prayer, like all prayer, reminds us that God hears, that God remains with us even in this dire time. She doesn’t gesture toward a simplistic happy ending, but she doesn’t leave us alone with lament either. She reminds us that we’re not alone. We’re spiritually bound together even as we maintain physical separation, and we are all bound up in God.
For those who are lost,
For all that is broken,
we cry out.
With those who weep,
Suffering Servant, hear our prayer.
For all who are alone,
we invite your presence.
For we who are trapped inside,
we ask your freedom.
For those without a safe place,
we beg your protection.
Help of the helpless, shelter your people.
For those who labor on our behalf,
healing, tending, delivering,
we give thanks.
For those whose work has been taken,
we ask provision.
For those to whom the world looks for guidance,
we entreat your wisdom.
Shepherd, guide us through this shadow of death.
For all that is obscured,
we ask for light.
From all our selfishness,
From all our anxiety,
God of love, cast out our fear.
Emily Cool Greener
Emily Cool Greener reads, writes, prays, and works from a tiny desk littered with her children’s crayons and discarded crafts. This desk is located in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and three young children.
Lynn Domina is the author of several books, including two collections of poetry, Corporal Works and Framed in Silence. She is also the editor of a collection of essays, Poets on the Psalms. She earned an MDiv from the Earlham School of Religion, where she took courses in the ministry of writing. She currently serves as the head of the English Department at Northern Michigan University and lives in Marquette, Michigan.