Artwork by Tobi Lee
Read Daniel 9:3-19, a prayer that Daniel prays on behalf of the Jewish people during their long exile in the 6th century BC.
“Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. Righteousness is on your side, O Lord, but open shame, as at this day, falls on us, the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. Open shame, O Lord, falls on us, our kings, our officials, and our ancestors, because we have sinned against you…” –Daniel 9:3-8
Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his supplication, and for your own sake, Lord, let your face shine upon your desolated sanctuary. Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name!” –Daniel 9:17-19
Soundtrack: The Brilliance, “Now and at the Hour”
I usually observe Lent by reflecting on my own shortcomings while abstaining from something that I determine to be unproductive or distracting (e.g. sugar, screen time). In recent years, I’ve added a Scripture reading schedule in the hope my reflection and diligence on the text would bring me closer to God’s will for us through the death and life of Jesus. My observation of Lent is a hopeful attempt to move away from the reality of my sin and mortality (the “Profane”) and draw closer to redemption and life (the “Sacred”).
However, Daniel’s prayer convicts me to re-examine my observation of Lent for this season. The self-reflection and self-diligence I have been practicing has been self-centered, meaning that attempts to move only myself and no one else from the Profane and towards the Sacred. To be clear, self-centering is important because taking the time to examine one’s own limitations allows for a further effective examination of society at large. But my self-centered Lenten observation failed to reflect on the notion that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was and is for the world (see John 3:16-17).
Honestly, it is both incredulous and overwhelming for me to believe that I, as an individual, have the ability to move my community from the Profane to the Sacred. Thankfully, this passage shows us how we might re-center our reflections from self to community, and begin to lift our community towards the Sacred through prayer.
Daniel’s posture in this prayer – that is, turning to God through “prayer and supplication with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” – is the individual posture we can follow when we mourn the Profane. With this humble posture, Daniel deeply laments the Profane wrongdoings of his community, and in particular, those in power (in this case the literal patriarchy – “our kings, our princes, our officials, our ancestors”). He acknowledges his own complicity in “rebellion” when he confesses “we have sinned and done wrong.”
Daniel’s willingness to call out his personal shame in addition to the shame of greater systems of power is why the prayer moves him and his community from the Profane to the Sacred. We see Daniel’s faith in a “great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love” when he reminds God that his people still make up the “city that bears Your name” despite their Profane shortcomings. This prayer reflects the belief that an individual like Daniel can invoke God’s mercy and forgiveness for collective abuses of power. This prayer believes that one person’s prayer can lift an entire community out of the “desolated sanctuary” of the Profane and towards the “ground of [the] great mercies” of the Sacred.
While we need to reflect and act from a place where we acknowledge on our individual limitations, the supplication of the Lord’s Prayer that “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” cannot happen unless we begin to think deeply about the collective sins of the greater systems of power around us. As individuals, we can each acknowledge and mourn where our respective communities, organizations, governments, etc… perpetuate a “profane” disobedience.
We can approach God and lift up our community’s limitations with honesty and humility, knowing that They are merciful, forgiving, and faithful to those who bear Their name. We can thank God for the hope and redemption that comes to all with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
Take a moment to acknowledge, with mourning and remorse if appropriate, the limitations we face collectively that impede God’s will in this world. How might you have contributed to these limitations? In what ways might you be complicit in any abuses of systemic power that you have identified?
Pray a prayer like Daniel’s, one in which you approach God on behalf of yourself as an individual and as part of a community/organization/nation.
O Parent, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pause today to mourn our mortality, our mistakes, and shortcomings. We acknowledge the limitations of the humanity of which we are part, where we have abused or misused the power, strength, and responsibilities that You have bestowed upon us, where we all have caused harm, pain, exploitation, and broken relationships. We pray that you lift us up away from ourselves and towards You. We ask for the peace and collective action that comes with the hope of Christ. As Daniel exhorts, O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For Your own sake, O my God, because Your city and Your people bear Your name!