Gathering to Give Life to Victims | Imaginary Visions of True Peace

Andrew Marr has a good essay on a mimetic reading of the liturgy, particularly the eucharist and the Daily Office, titled Gathering to Give Life to Victims.

The Daily Office (aka the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office, Morning Prayer/Evening Prayer, Lauds/Vespers/etc) is a practice of blessing time by means of ordered daily prayer. Its primary text is the psalter, supplemented by canticles from both the Shared Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures; it also includes other short readings from scripture, hymns, and prayers. The book that defines the readings and gives the other texts is generally called the breviary, at least in Catholic parlance. The Liturgy of the Hours is primarily practiced by ordained clergy and vowed religious, for whom it is an obligation, but it is permitted and (in theory, although rarely in practice) encouraged for the laity as well. The Eastern Orthodox and Anglican churches also have a lively tradition of the daily office, following their own liturgical books and forms.

It’s fairly obvious how the eucharist has a mimetic reading that points towards the victim: it is a ritual centered on the death of Christ, after all. But the victim-orientation of the daily office was less clear to me, until Andrew’s helpful essay articulated something I had been almost but not quite noticing:

Much can be said of the psalms but the thing that jumps out at anyone who prays them with any frequency is the many outcries of victims. “They surrounded me like bees; they blazed like a fire of thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off! I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me.” (Ps. 118: 11-13) Verses such as these raise the question of whether we gather “like bees” around another person, or if we are entering the circle of bees in solidarity with the victim. Being a victim tempts us to anger, bitterness and violence. “Cutting off” our assailants in “the name of the Lord” is the reflex reaction, but is the opposite of what Jesus himself did in the same position. These rough verses help us renew our awareness of our own violent reactions to being victimized, even (especially!) petty matters such as being slighted by another.

One of my favorite sayings is, In most of the bible, God speaks to us; in the psalms, we speak to God. The psalms give voice to human experience: from joy, hope, and trust, to sorrow, despair, and anger. Like the rest of the bible, the psalter is a “text in travail.” The psalms include both the voices of victims, and the voices of would-be victimizers calling down God’s vengeance on their enemies; in the psalms, these are often the cry of the same person. Both voices call us to meditate on the example of the forgiving victim, Jesus Christ, with whom we pray and whom we are called to imitate.

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