One of the interesting things that we find within religious institutions is a type of prayer that expresses a deep love for God, the world and even ones enemies. Indeed it can often be the case that a group will pray all the more fervently in this way when confronted by oppression and difficulties, seeking forgiveness and grace for those who would seek to do them harm.
From this perspective statements such as the one found in Psalm 137 can seem inappropriate and without place in the church,
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us - he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
However, such prayers might have a deeply important place in the life of faith. To understand this let us take the rather mundane example of a young woman who has had a bad day at work and wants to express this to her partner. Let us also imagine that her partner stops her in the midst of her diatribe, informing her that she is being unreasonable and ungracious in her comments, even attempting to get her to see the other people’s perspective.
In such a scenario we can imagine the woman getting frustrated. Such a situation can quickly degenerate because the man is making a fundamental mistake. His mistake is neither in pointing out that his partner is being unreasonable and ungracious. Nor is it in mistaking what she is explicitly saying as unreasonable and ungracious. But rather in seeing the unreasonable and ungracious discourse as unreasonable and ungracious.
The point here is that, while what the woman said may well have the structure of being unreasonable and ungracious, the underlying meaning is “I am frustrated, tired and need to get this off my chest.” By the other person ignoring the real meaning of the words and concentrating purely on the explicit content they fundamentally miss the idea that such communication can actually have nothing to do with a hatred of the other or an inability to see things from their perspective, but can be more about the need to speak out a frustration and work it through.
In light of the man saying that she is being unreasonable and ungracious the woman could thus respond, “Is that the way you see me? Taking my unreasonable and ungracious diatribe as unreasonable and ungracious?”
The woman is not here disagreeing that what was said was unreasonable and ungracious, but rather she is reacting to the way that the unreasonable and ungracious statement was misunderstood as unreasonable and ungracious.
This is what we see play out when someone responds to the demand of their lover “I want you to leave,” by getting up and walking out. For often such a message communicates an opposite demand, namely, “I want you to fight to stay.”
The person who asks their lover to leave can’t communicate the true content of the demand directly for the simple reason that the other is being asked to respond to the true message without directly hearing it. In other words, it is not a demand being directed to the others ego (the image the person has of themselves), but rather to the others desires as such.
Hence it cannot be a message addressed to the ego. If it is directly spoken then it can be obeyed without the others subjective commitment. In short, the message thus reaches the wrong address. The message must rather be communicated in an indirect, ciphered, way for it to have a chance of ending up in the right place. While this might be seen as game playing it is in fact the only way for people to communicate to and expose the desires of the other directly.
The point here is that, when it comes to prayer, we must be free to express the full range of the moans that lie within us. While we might be inclined to think that these moans express directly what we think, more often than not they simply express a cluster of frustrations and fears that will do more damage if not given space; frustrations and fears that can be worked through only as they are expressed.
By praying out what we are holding without reserve we can actually be doing the very opposite of what the express language communicates. This becomes evident in those who, by expressing themselves in this way, work through their feelings and act in more reasonable and gracious ways in the aftermath of the unfettered expression.
There are, of course, groups that seek to oppress minorities (typically based on gender, sexuality or religious identity) and halt the expansion of human rights. Such groups will often pray their hatred of the other out directly. Yet in these groups there is a tendency to express this hatred in terms of love and a genuine desire for the wellbeing of the other; often praying for those who they feel are persecuting the community for staying true to the Divine Will.
So even here the idea of people expressing their feelings devoid of any loving language is progress, because the people might come to know themselves better, be shocked by what they find and begin to work it through. Or they might not. But at least then it will be revealed to all what lies within the doubletalk of love and forgiveness. The hatred will be robbed of its seemingly reasonable and gracious rationalisation and be exposed for the truly unreasonable and ungracious discourse that it is.