I’ve always particularly enjoyed writing prayers for specific occasions–our annual Longest Night service, a close friend’s wedding, an interfaith meal, a funeral. There is a beautiful intimacy in being able to weave the words, stories, and imageries of a single family or seasonal theme or group of people into our conversation with God. Most Sunday prayers are fairly general, praying for the world, entire communities, and recent events (and those are good and important prayers!), but different conversations with God call for different tones. We have prayers of praise, prayers that God’s will be done (even if we don’t understand it), prayers for the wellbeing of ourselves and others, prayers of confession, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers for strength to do the right thing, and so on and so forth, all the way up to Heaven, where God will always hear. In case you missed it, I wanted to share with you this week parts of the prayer I wrote for the special St. Wilgefortis service I held in July (you can find links to both the full service video and an audio file of the story of Wilgefortis here).
God of the ages, since the beginning, people have called out to you when they were in need. No matter how bleak our futures seem, we trust in you. We add our prayers to those whispered by the saints of all the ages past. We remember Wilgefortis, who for centuries has inspired those encumbered by forced marriage, those seeking liberation from abuse, violence, and oppression, those who were ahead of their times, those who have not always been seen as valuable, those who have been met with scorn for not being beautiful enough, or graceful enough, or young enough, or dainty enough, or rich enough; those who have never measured up to the unrealistic standards they were judged by; those who have desperately wanted something more, something better; whether or not it was possible to reach; those who have heard your call but been held back; those who have died because they could not live without being true to themselves; those whom societies have backed away from in disgust; those who have been denied their dreams because they were seen as inconvenient or unnatural or unworthy or unlovable (as if any person could ever be beyond the scope of your love). We remember Wilgefortis, because as bizarre as her story may seem to us today, we hear in it the voices of all those who are still crying out for miracles even when it seems too late to clasp onto desperate hope because you will never let us go.
Loving God, in this season of loneliness, we remember those, like Wilgefortis, who feel isolated and alone, weighed down by guilt or grief by depression or despair by fear or suffering of any kind. Regardless of whatever situation might keep us physically apart, let us never forget or neglect our siblings in Christ who long to be welcomed into communion.
Compassionate God, turn our faces towards those who inhale injustice and fear with every breath. Forgive us for the times when we have been complicit and strengthen and encourage us to do right by the oppressed, to establish justice, to provide equal protection, and to offer opportunities to all people, regardless of the second- or third- class status that our society might give them regardless of our first impressions of them regardless of how alien their stories might sound to us.
Give us the courage to stand by our convictions and answer your call no matter the price. Help us to speak up for what is right and what we believe in even when it isn’t comfortable; even when it would be easier to keep quiet and just go along; even when we are being pushed to do what is easy, rather than what is right. Help us to make a world in which women are celebrated for their faith and not crucified for it; a world in which young people have options set before them and the freedom to choose their own paths. Help us to remember the stories of figures like Wilgefortis who inspire the people on the margins and who challenge us to consider the other kinds of stories we might not be familiar with.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who, like Wilgefortis, was hung on a cross, and who often surprises us in the company he keeps, in the people he embraces, and in the unexpected and occasionally hairy ways he sometimes answers prayers. Amen.