Hear my prayer

Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry come to you…
I am like an owl of the wilderness,
like a little owl of the waste places.
I lie awake;
I am like a lonely bird on the housetop…
My days are like an evening shadow;
I wither away like grass…
But you, O LORD… endure through all generations.
You will have compassion…
You will regard the prayer of the destitute,
and will not despise their prayer…
Let this be recorded for all generations to come…
that God came close to the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die…
–adapted from Psalm 102

Today is the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Today is a day to mourn that tragedy of our human story. Today is also a day to marvel at the lure toward redemption and healing that is powerfully at work in our world. I was surprised to read that this year is the first time the United States has sent an official representative to the Hiroshima memorial observance. And France and England are the same—they have never sent an official to Japan for this day of mourning and remembrance. This year, they have.

What all went into that tangle of time and politics? What mingles through the nations’ relations past the simplest of human tendencies: pride, shame, anger, denial, avoidance? I wonder. The fissures of disagreement, aggression, and war are wounds we all bear. Surely this corporate day of grief and remembrance is a healing opportunity for us all.

The “lonely bird on the housetop” awake in the deep night sad and alone from Psalm 102 is in each one of us. Hiroshima embodies that profound grief that we carry in us. No matter where people stood on the politics of that day, the explosion of poison destruction seeped into the life of every living thing. Death penetrates us; afflictions of body and mind can diminish our capacity to delight in what is beautiful about life. Knowing something like total destruction is possible overlays a distinctive texture on what it means to be alive.

Each of us, in our own way, asks the question about why life has to have such hard truth. My kids ask, “Why do we have to die?” I work hard to help them leave behind any terror associated with that natural part of living, growing, slowing down, and dying. Death does not have to be something we fear even if we don’t wish to hasten its arrival. The hardest truth for me is that life can be so brutal that we fear death will come too soon to us. Like a flower trampled just as it blossoms, children die. Like a fresh new morning turned red with fire, violence riddles the lives of innocents with permanent loss and newly discovered fear. And like the smallest of a litter being rejected by its mother because of its overwhelming need, injustice mangles the lives of those who most need someone to stand up for them. These cruel metaphors of our pain can be too much to bear.

Today, Hiroshima’s ashes have become a monument to some new kind of reconciliation, some new kind of hope. Today I pray for a new way to delight in life’s insistence to stretch beyond the shadows toward a ray of sun. Come Divine spark, Holy wash of light, life-giving promise, come close enough to set us free.

2 thoughts on “Hear my prayer”

  1. John says:

    Thank you for these words. Reconciliation does provide a new kind of hope. I pray that I can overcome afflictions in life with God’s helping hand and delight in all that living has to offer. Encouraging words. I am grateful to have read this post.

    1. Alicia Van riggs says:

      Kenzaburo Oe, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994, wrote this in NY Times Op-Ed on Aug 5:

      As for me, on the day last week when I learned about the revival of the nuclear-umbrella ideology [in current Japanese political leadership], I looked at myself sitting alone in my study in the dead of night . . . . . . and what I saw was an aged, powerless human being, motionless under the weight of this great outrage, just feeling the peculiarly concentrated tension, as if doing so (while doing nothing) were an art form in itself.


      I think the “doing nothing” Oe speaks of is not inaction [which of course is shunned as a Big Sin for most WASPY protestant culture] but instead a deeper cry of anguish silenced before it ever departs from the lips.

      Like the little owl.

      It takes great courage to not cover up the silenced cry, or explain it away, but instead to live authentically in our fractured and often very lonely lives, with those cries stuck in our throats, taking seriously the contours and dimensions of life’s experiences as they silt their way down to become the bedrock on which we stand to learn how to sing the cries into being.

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