Prayer is a crazy business. I am a professional, but like most professionals hired to teach others I often forget to teach the way beneath the techniques.
Prayer is a crazy business because it is talking to God. God! It is always an act of faith, even the foxhole blurts and the beggars blessings. We act in faith when we lean into God, but religious people are always in danger of saying stuff that sounds like prayer but isn’t. You know what I mean. The pastor’s prayer that is really a reiteration of the sermon. The holy aunt’s grace that is more of a rubbing in the face of her own holy righteousness.
To cuss is to use impolite words. I separate cussing from cursing. To cuss is sometimes an act of impolite honesty, and sometimes just plain rude or inappropriate. I am not suggesting you take it up. But to curse is to will harm or evil upon another. It is the opposite of blessing. To bless is to invoke the manifestation of God and God’s will to good for another person. It is a profound act of healing and faith. I do suggest you take it up.
But my point today is to bless while you are still pushed to the point of cussing.
I want to talk about cussing prayers. The angry, hurt, desperate prayers that don’t usually make it into church. The prayers that come when the news rips out an organ and drops the floor beneath you. The aching prayers that define us and often leave us feeling guilty or blasphemous.
Have you ever prayed like that? I have. I still do. Often as a priest I want the freedom to just lay out exactly what I feel in four-letter words, but I am learning to communicate with more care. (Honestly, I have worked on that more because I have children than because of my collar. I would just cuss if it weren’t for the responsibility to raise children who can function better than their father.)
The door closes, and the doctor frowns. When the words have dropped and you cry out, it is too late to tell you what I want to say right now. God loves you and wants those prayers. God is not distant. God is not perfect in the immutable, unchangeable way that so many armchair theologians pronounce. They are wrong. God is in there with you, in the ache and the cold hospital room. God is in the gutter and the leather-accented office suite.
We have taken “God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” meaning faithful to promises, and we have let bad Roman neo-Platonism come creeping into Christian theology. God is not unchangeable. To say that God is immutable is to rip out some pretty significant pages of the Bible.
The people around their golden calf better rejoice that God can change, and at the prayers of Moses who had already by that point argued with God at the bush and hit the rock in anger. God turns aside so easily from wrath that one begins to wonder why the bluster. Now like Jonah you can sit under your withering plant or you can join Jesus on the side of grace.
God is a lot of things in the Bible, but thin-skinned isn’t one of them. God doesn’t have skin at all, except Jesus and the Spirit-people of baptism and eucharist. We incarnate God. It is true, read John. So then why do we think that God can’t handle our prayers and our cussing?
I suggest you try it out. Let God have it, all of it. It is one of the greatest acts of faith there is. God is with you wherever you are. If you trust that, cry out. God will hold you. God has reached out time and time again in Scripture, not usually to fed the things of this life, but to lead us through death into life. God often is closest in the darkest times of our lives, but we are trained only that God is light and don’t look into the deep inky loneliness for the those smoldering eyes of love.
Too bad. So often I have found God almost unbearably close in chalk-green rooms still echoing with the doctor’s worse. And often people don’t realize how close God is because we are taught that God comes to sanctuaries and Aunt Holy’s living room full of saints and saccharine. The faithful know otherwise, but they often don’t have words for that moment that sound religious.
It’s too bad. The Bible is full of them. Psalm 23 and . . . okay the Psalms. David, Moses, and the Cross. Paul and the letters all teach us that God is more than able to handle your cuss words. Bless God with cuss words still in your mouth. It is powerful practice.
You don’t need to go out and find a reason to cuss. The world will give you plenty of encouragement. But while you are still there, bless God and pray. You will find yourself a little more human and your God a little more intimate.