Tuesday, October 17th 2017

“Rule the hearts of thy servants and the President of the United States”

On this First Day of Advent, The Great Litany has a new ring under an Obama presidency

obama_bow_japanThat 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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3 Comments on ““Rule the hearts of thy servants and the President of the United States””

  1. Prayers aren't always answered in the ways one hopes or wants. It is possible that all the prayers in the Great Litany have been answered, and that without them the last eight years would have been even more grim or bleak. I hope and believe that Barack Obama can be the figure of light that the world needs but it is useful to remember that eight years ago the current President represented a positive change for many people tired of the tawdry self satisfied sleaze of the Clinton years.

  2. When you translate the "Thee" of the Great Litany to "Pure Consciousness" we can only say "AMEN - May it be so" then do our individual (as a member of the collective) work to increase in our owns hearts and minds the "rule" of conscious awakened awareness. That it may be embodied in the leaders of ours and all the nations is "devoutly to be wished". And as Gandhi has said "Be what you hope for." Thank you, Paul for this.


  3. Barack to basics! There are many things I would judge poor George on, but a dry drunk?I'm not sure about. But he certainly was the King of Denial, the fact he thought denial was a river in Egypt says it all really.
    Poor George if he couldn't mispell it or mispronounce it, he just ignored it.
    As for the advent of Advent ,I think Christian, non Christian and Pagan alike, we are all awaiting the arrival of something I'm just not sure of its the second coming?Meanwhile I'm looking forward to a return to the"Light".Hark now I think I hear something?
    Sorry its just Danny Boy!

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