March 27, 2020
Dear People of the Diocese of Massachusetts,
The story is told of a man caught in the turmoil of an earthquake. With the world falling down around him, he fell to his knees to pray. Fearful, stricken with dread, he could not form the words. A devout and lifelong person of faith, he had heard and spoken countless prayers, in public worship and in private. But in this moment of blind panic, neither the familiar words of the liturgy nor the extemporized plea of his heart took shape.
So he recited as prayer the only thing that came: he prayed the alphabet. “A, b, c, d, e, f, g …,” he offered fervently, “… h, i, j, k, …” On it went, this heartfelt petition, “… p, q, r, s, t, …,” to its ardent Amen.
The prayer was genuine. The prayer was offered. And the prayer, surely, was received. God knew precisely the prayer of this man’s heart.
As Saint Paul has promised, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” [Romans 8:26-27]
In these troublous times we find ourselves struggling for the right words to say to God and to one another. We search for the right forms, individual and communal. In our longing for normalcy, we may strive to replicate the most familiar ritual elements and routines. Other times we may seek fresh inspiration for our prayers and expressions of community. And sometimes we will need simply to know that for now we are fasting in the wilderness. Sacramentally and socially, we are fasting – yet we are doing that together with one another around the globe, which is its own gift and grace.
Dear friends in Christ, in these days of wilderness journey: Keep it simple. Focus on what matters most. Pace yourself for the long haul. Be patient, with yourself and with one another. Be genuine. Be generous. Be grateful. Love one another. Spare a word to the lonely. Contribute to the neediest among us.
Lean on God and pray. And know that your prayer is good enough, however it comes. A, b, c, d, …
Faithfully and fondly,
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates