Clergy from left, Deacon Cynthia Biddlecomb, retired; Pastor Nicolé Ferry, Associate Rector Lynn Finnegan and Pastor Deb Church. Courtesy picture
By Reverend Lynn Finnegan
The Episcopal Church in the United States
“Watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or mourn this night, and give charge to your angels of those who sleep. Take care of the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, have pity on the afflicted, protect the joyful; and all this for the love of your love.
This prayer, attributed to the 4th century saint, Augustine of Hippo, is in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and is prayed at the end of the day. I love its soothing rhythm. I find myself heaving a deep sigh when I pray. Slowly, slowly, my grip on all the cares in the world is loosening. I know that by praying, there will be those for whom the night will not be peaceful. Sometimes I am one of them.
However, one part of the prayer puzzled me. I mean, yes, Lord, please, PLEASE care for the sick and the dying, the suffering, the weeping and the weary, but “protect the joyful”? For a long time, I was intrigued by this sentence. Why do the joyful need protection? Saint Augustine left us no explanation for this apparently out of place part of the petition. One commenter felt it was a prayer of protection for revelers who partied “happily” at all hours of the night.
Maybe. But I think there is something more. I think joy needs to be protected because in the face of suffering, pain and illness, joy needs to be protected. Your son is about to get married and your best friend won’t be there because she’s undergoing chemo treatment. You have planned a great vacation and your neighbor has just lost her job. Your colleague announces that he is going to divorce on your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Your child’s birthday is the same day your sister had a miscarriage. Or maybe it’s someone else’s joy that needs to be protected from you: your jealousy, your competitive spirit, or your criticism. Life is messy and unpredictable, but it’s also wild and wonderful. When we suppress the joy or sabotage the joy of others, we doubt our ability to fully live the life God has given us.
“Here are the two best prayers I know,” author Anne Lamott wrote, “‘Help me, help me, help me’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’.” Watch, dear Lord. Every day, at the end of the day, we have the opportunity to pray Help! for our troubles, but also Thank you! for our joys, asking God to heal and bless, to pity, to appease and, yes, to protect. And then we unroll our fingers and let go.
Editor’s Note: ‘All Shall Be Well’ is a bimonthly column written by local women clergy (pastors and deacons), including ELCA Deacon Cynthia Biddlecomb, M.Div., retired ([email protected]); Nicolé Ferry, pastor, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bethlehem ([email protected]); Lynn Finnegan, Associate Rector, Holy Faith Episcopal Church, Santa Fe ([email protected]) and Deb Church, Pastor, White Rock Presbyterian Church ([email protected]).