How Can I Pray About This Really Horrible Day?

With the events of these last few days, I’ve found it difficult to pray in my own words. “How Do We Respond to This Really Horrible Day?” I read in The Huffington Post, and I’ve been wondering too, “how can I pray about this really horrible day?”

Since I can’t seem to do that in my own words, I find myself turning to silence and to the simplicity of the Jesus prayer. In its classic form used for centuries, the prayer is: Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. The personal version I’ve been using lately is this:

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on all those who suffer
and need your peace.

Years ago, as part of Remember Lot’s Wife and Other Unnamed Women of the Bible, I wrote a reflection on Judges 5:1-31 that tells the story of a commander in the Canaanite army named Sisera and his unnamed mother.

The main story begins in Judges 4, which describes how the Israelite people had suffered under the Canaanites for 20 years, and how they finally break free. With the leadership of Deborah and Barak, the Israelites engage the Canaanites, and in the battle Sisera is forced to abandon his chariot and flee on foot. He seeks refuge among the Kenites who were supposed to be at peace with the Canaanites, but he is killed in his sleep by a Kenite woman named Jael.

At this point, the prose account of the battle ends. Then Judges 5 retells the story in the words of Deborah’s song of victory (v. 3):

Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
    to the Lord I will sing,
    I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel.

After the description of Sisera’s death, however, the song continues with an abrupt change of scene from Jael’s tent, where Sisera was killed, to Sisera’s own home.

There the mother of Sisera sits at her lattice-screened window, waiting and watching for her son’s return. As she worries over his delay, her attendants try to reassure her by imagining Sisera’s victory and the warriors dividing the spoils.

While this picture may seem relatively straightforward, commentators are divided on its meaning. Is Sisera’s mother portrayed as an understandably worried mother waiting in vain for her son? Or is she portrayed as a proud, unfeeling woman interested only in her son’s victory and her own material gain?

I Arose a Mother in Israel (Deborah). Copyright by Elspeth Young. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Al Young Studios.
I Arose a Mother in Israel (Deborah). Copyright by Elspeth Young. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Al Young Studios.

The wording of the Hebrew text makes it difficult to choose between these two alternatives, and it’s tempting to try to resolve the issue one way or the other and arrive at the “right” answer. But perhaps the very ambiguity of the passage is significant. After all, the account of Sisera’s mother appears only in the poetic version of the story — in poetic language, which is often more ambiguous and richly textured than prose. Human life itself is often a mixture of conflicting experiences and emotions. For these reasons, I think we need to hold on to the ambiguity in the text and learn from it.

This poetic snapshot of Sisera’s mother reminds me that the casualties of war are not only the men and women on the front lines, not only those who may be physically injured or killed in combat, but also the men, women, and children away from the battlefield who wait behind. Even a hard man like Sisera had someone waiting and worrying at home for him. The loss of his life was not only his loss.

War and other violence take a dreadful toll on those who are most directly involved. And the devastation affects countless unnamed men, women, and children on all sides. That was evident centuries ago for Sisera and his unnamed mother, and remains horribly true today.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on all those who suffer
and need your peace.


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