Contemplating dependence

One of my Lenten disciplines for this year will be to mediate on the Prayer Book collects appointed for daily use. (And when I say Prayer Book I really mean that these are written out in the Lesser Feasts and Fasts.) I may not write about it every day, but I did write today. This is the collect for today:

Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The collect for Thursday after Ash Wednesday is not long, and it contains some of the usual language we expect in our collects (otherwise known as prayers) but also is very specific in its petition. Sometimes it is hard to pay attention to what the collects are really about, however, because of the way they conform to the something like a template (address, petition, praise) and employ familiar wording (especially the Trinitarian endings). By rearranging a few clauses and paraphrasing others the collect for today seems to say this:

We wish for everlasting life with God, which is and has been given to us by God's mercy and only by God's mercy. In recognition of that gift as well as that wish, we should give glory to God. So please, God, show us how to act in the world (because it is through our actions - actions of mercy and generosity, of peacemaking and almsgiving and standing up for those who are not able to stand up for themselves -  that we give that glory to God) and give us your help so that we can do what you have shown us we ought to do because we are sometimes inconstant or lacking in will or courage or discipline.  And keep us mindful that all we have and all we do begins and ends with you because that's something that frankly we often forget. Amen.

During Lent, one of the themes we return to again and again is our inability to save ourselves. This begins with the Great Litany (which we'll explore on Sunday) in which we petition God to save us from every calamity but it continues throughout the season. For privileged people who are able to provide for themselves through their wealth or employment necessities like housing, health care, food, clothing etc., the idea that all comes from God and should be used for the glory of God seems optional. We can provide for ourselves, thank you. We can depend on ourselves, thank you. And as Americans, we were raised on the milk of Emerson (who didn't read Self-reliance in our formative years?) and the glorious myth that we all can or should or did pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. 

This is why the image of the people who were delivered out of Egypt were actually formed into the people of God by their sojourn in the wilderness is so important. It was in the wilderness that they had the collective experience of literally depending on God to send them food (manna and quail) and provide water (which came out of a rock in the desert) because otherwise they were not going to make it. Most of us simply have not had that kind of experience, and yet it is what we pray regularly, that we depend on God for life.