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Stringfellow, Prayer and Profanity

March 12, 2009

Ben Myers posted the William Stringfellow quotation below over on his excellent Faith and Theology blog as part of a mini-series on Stringfellow.

It’s brilliant. But if you are sensitive to profanity DON’T read on. You have been warned, but then which of us have not been where Stringfellow professes to be.

“The event of prayer, certain acts called prayer, the very word ‘prayer’ have gathered such ridiculous associations. That is not only the case with the obscene performances, which pass as public prayer, at inaugurations, in locker rooms, before Rotary luncheons, and in many churchly sanctuaries, but also the practice of private prayer is attended by gross profanity, the most primitive superstitions, and sentimentality which is truly asinine…. When I write that my own situation [during my illness] in those months of pain and decision can be described as prayer, I do not only recall that during that time I sometimes read the Psalms and they became my psalms, or that, as I have also mentioned, I occasionally cried ‘Jesus’ and that name was my prayer, but I mean that I also at times would shout ‘Fuck!’ and that was no obscenity, but a most earnest prayerful utterance” (A Second Birthday, pp. 99, 108-9).

Stringfellow goes on to say, following a close encounter with death due to illness,

“To endure pain is to suffer anticipation of death, in both mind and body. It must be acknowledged, confronted, suffered, and survived on its own terms, as it were, as the very aggression of death against life. What must be faced and felt, in the uttermost of a person’s being, is that assault of the power of death feigning to be sovereign over life—over the particular life of a particular person and over all of existence throughout all of history.

“It is, so to speak, only then and there—where there is no equivocation or escape possible from the fullness of death’s vigor and brutality, when a person is exposed to absolute vulnerability—that life can be beheld and welcomed as the gift which life is.”

From → Formation, Reflection

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