On this First Day of Advent, The Great Litany has a new ring under an Obama presidency
That it may please thee so to rule the hearts of thy servants, the President of the United States, and all others in authority, that they may do justice, and love mercy, and walk in the ways of truth.
BY PAUL KAIHLA — That line in the six-page petition, or poem of loving kindness, called The Great Litany had a plaintive ring during the two Bush terms. But as churches across America chant it in procession at the beginning of Advent, marking the official start to a liturgical new year, it feels like a prayer that actually connects under an Obama presidency.
How did the prayers delivered in The Great Litany by tens of 1,000′s of congregations over the previous eight years sink in, anywhere, in the spirit of relief or reconciliation?
The meme of President Bush’s theism is that of the “dry drunk”: a psychologically-damaged person who presents as devout and apparently resurrected and remade. But he does so through a rigid, self-righteous and judgemental code, the force of a white-knuckled will, and a dose of denial about his inner demons. Inevitably, the denied stuff inside is externalized onto all the people in his external world.
What’s an alternative way of being? Say, allowing the winds of grace to pass through you, and open you up.
Barack Obama’s ego has a softer shell, and his devotion to unifying polarized factions in the U.S. polity, along with his distaste for Rove-Bush-Palin-style character assassinations, suggest that this prayer may be literally answered. For the first time this decade, the hope in the line feels like it aligns with the person who will hold the highest office.
The last time I experienced The Great Litany was at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, where the head priest touched on the 2008 massacre in Mumbai in his sermon.
“Evil is uncomfortably close to the sacred,” said Alan Jones, a gifted theologian and prolific author.
A suicide mission involves self-sacrifice, a quality which we value as good; but when it is used to commit murder, it is evil.
“The whole purpose of Advent and singing an antique litany is to blow apart the world and make us new,” Jones added. “Given the unraveling of the world we live in, the church calendar is right on schedule.”
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