Wednesday of Lent 4, April 3, 2019
“Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins. His mercy endures for ever.”
In this portion of the Litany of Penitence, the prayer shifts from confessing our sins to asking God to accept our repentance over these sins. Repentance, as a synonym for penitence, has a three-fold movement of recognizing and confessing sin, desiring to heal the wounded relationships that this sin caused, and intending to live differently from now on (Catechism: Prayer and Worship, BCP 857). While the prayer shifts in rhythm, the theme of the litany continues.
Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering,
and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.
Today and tomorrow, we look at how we miss opportunities to bring the pain of the world around us to God for healing. In this phrase of the prayer, we name two dispositions through which we wrong others: blindness and indifference of heart. Today, we look at our blindness to human need and suffering.
In our culture, it seems as if we have three kinds of blindness to the sufferings and needs of others: there’s the blindness that comes from truly being oblivious to the situations of others, there is the blindness due to being conditioned or trained to not look at certain situations that others find themselves in, and then there is the blindness that is the willful looking away.
Overcoming the blindness that comes from being oblivious requires a heart that is teachable and empathetic. We begin our repentance over this form of blindness with the gasp of “I never knew!” from a broken heart.
When have you experienced repentance over being made aware of the suffering or needs of others?
Our culture teaches us to be blind to the needs and sufferings of certain others by silencing portions of our nation’s history of systemic prejudice that catches generations of people in poverty or suppression. In other situations, we are blind to the needs of others because we are taught to look away from those who are different or who have needs that make us uncomfortable. Recognizing those needs and this suffering comes with a bit of shame … shame that we saw and shame that we don’t know what to do about the fact that we saw. Yet these are real needs and sufferings that should break our hearts as well.
What forms of suffering or needs have you been taught to ignore? Why?
And then we experience times where we intentionally look away … from the homeless, the beggar, the advertisements about helping the starving children in war-torn countries or those experiencing natural disasters. Our hearts may break but we give ourselves one of a myriad of reasons to turn away. Yet the suffering continues and the need is still there.
What forms of suffering or needs have you habitually turned away from? Why?
Our baptismal covenant calls each of us to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself” (BCP 305). Whether we were previously unaware, were trained to ignore, or have long since tried to steel ourselves against seeing these sufferings and needs, harm is being done. We are doing wrong by blinding ourselves: we wrong those who are suffering or in need and we wrong ourselves. We miss opportunities to pray and to serve, wronging those in need. We harden our hearts when we blind ourselves, and wrong ourselves by this self-inflicted wound so that we are less likely to respond in love the next time.
To what forms of suffering or need do you typically blind yourself?
What forms of suffering or need does your worshiping community choose not to see?
What kinds of suffering or needs do we as a diocese ignore?
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
(Collect from Evening Prayer, BCP 124)