Tuesday, January 25, 2022
The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
My Neighbor’s Prayer: The Vocabulary of Blessing as Common Bond
I’ve had a few conversations lately about whether grief or joy bring a deeper connection to the divine. For some it is the mountain top experiences of delight, kindness, laughter, and peace that forge connection to God (new babies, fresh love, long friendship). For others the moments of crisis, worry, churning upheaval, and even death, loss, and grief that bring one into intimate relation with the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Maybe some of us find ourselves equally in tune with the sacred in both joy and sorrow.
I went searching for prayers today in one of the most ancient texts, The Epic of Gilgamesh. The passage that felt most prayerful comes from a time of deep grief for Gilgamesh. Near the end of this four thousand year old tale, Gilgamesh is mourning his best friend. Not only has his friend died, but his friend’s death is sacrificial; Gilgamesh is alive because Enkidu is not. In his sorrow he cries out to Utnapishtim, the fabled now-immortal survivor of the great flood (that same ancient near eastern flood we know from Noah’s ark). Utnapishtim holds the secrets of eternal life, and while once mortal, is now god-like—raised to divine status and set to rule “the place where rivers start.” He knows the secret of immortality and ultimately helps Gilgamesh find the plant of eternal life (which Gilgamesh foolishly leaves at the edge of a pool and is stolen by a snake, what a doofus).
But the prayer below is what brings Utnapishtim and Gilgamesh together. Gilgamesh comes to Utnapishtim humbled, searching, longing to connect with his friend who has died, wondering why everything has fallen apart. Nothing has gone right. His world is upside down. All is lost. He is drowning in sorrow and searching for a way through. Below is his prayer, most urgent, to Utnapishtim. It is confessional. It shows the sleeplessness of grief. It is a prayer prayed in search of consolation, in search of rest, in search of a way through. I am encouraged by the way this ancient text articulates something that seems so very true today too, connecting us as humans in search of one another and the divine across the many millennia.
My Neighbor’s Prayer
Oh myth-filled god,
I have traveled many roads,
crossed many rivers and mountains.
I never rested.
I never slept.
Grief consumes me.
The Epic of Gilgamesh