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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A prayer that's over ten years old 

Tony Kushner's "Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness" is an excellent collection of writings (essays, a play, poems, and a prayer). I picked it up at the same time I bought the script to "Homebody/Kabul" which is the best thing I've seen performed on the stage. If you haven't seen anything by Kushner, the HBO version of "Angels in America" is remarkable and moving and available on DVD.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from Kushner's prayer given on October 9, 1994 for the Episcopalian National Day of Prayer for AIDS:

Dearly beloved, let us pray.

God:

A cure would be nice. Rid those infected by this insatiable unappeasable murder of its lethal presence. Reconstitute the shattered, restore to health all those whose bodies, beleaguered, have betrayed them, whose defenses have permitted entrance to illnesses formerly at home only in cattle, in swine and in birds. Return to the cattle, the swine, and the birds the intestinal parasite, the invader of lungs, the eye-blinder, the brain-devourer, the detacher of retinas. Rid even the cattle and birds of these terrors; heal the whole world. Now. Now. Now. Now.

Grant us an end that is not fatal: Protect: the injection drug user, the baby with AIDS, the sex worker, the woman whose lover was infected, the gay man whose lover was infected; protect the infected lover, protect the casual contact, the one-night stand, the pick-up, the put-down, protect the fools who don't protect themselves, who don’t protect others: YOU protect them. The misguided, too and the misinformed, the ambivalent about living, show them life, not death; the kid who thinks that immortality is part of the luminous glory of sex. Who didn't believe this, once, discovering sex? Everyone did. Protect this kid, let this kid learn otherwise, and live past the learning; protect all kids, make them wiser but, until wise, make them immortal.

Enlighten the unenlightened: The Pope, the cardinals, archbishops and priests, even John O'Connor, teach him how Christ's kindness worked: remind him, he's forgotten. Make them all remember, replace the ice-water in their veins with the blood of Christ, let it pound in their temples: the insurance executive as well as the priest, the congressional representative, the Justice and the judge, the pharmaceutical profiteer, the doctor, the cop, the anchorwoman and the televangelist, make their heads throb with memoryake them see with new eyes Christ's wounds as KS lesions, Christ's thin body AIDS-thin, his shrunken chest, pneumonia-deflated, his broken limbs, his pierced hands: stigmata of this unholy plague. Let the spilled blood which angels gathered, Christ's blood be understood: it is shared and infected blood.

Even Bob Dole, Guiliani and Gingrich, Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson - tear open their hearts, let them burn with compassion, stun them with understanding, ravish their violent, politick, cynical souls, make them wiser, better, braver people. You can. You, after all, are God. This is not too much to ask.

Grant us an end to this pandemic: Why after all, a pandemic? Why now? Give aid to the needy, not AIDS, give assistance to those seeking justice, not further impediment. Find some other way to teach us your lessons; we’re eager to learn, we are only reluctant to die.

Bring back our dead, all our dead, give us certain knowledge of the future recovery of all those we've lost, restitution of all those we've lost, in Paradise if not on earth, but guarantee it. Don't ask faith of people who have lost so much. Don't dare.

Manifest yourself now. With a cure, now. With a treatment, now. With a treatment that isn't more snakebite venom, more spider bite poison, which is all that fourteen years of prayers and waiting and searching have given us. Reveal yourself with an imminent medical miracle. Announce it on the evening news: something, finally, that doesn't fail to live up to its promise by morning of the following day. Reagan is gone, more or less, and Bush is gone, and Nixon and the Cold War are finally gone, and apartheid is gone, but AIDS is still here. And we are waiting. For the end of it.

Hear our prayer.

Your silence, again, is outrageous to me, it places you impossibly among the ranks of the monstrously indifferent, no better than a Washington politician, not better that an Albany Republican, Alfonse D'Amato, something that meager, that immured against Justice. Where you must not be placed.

Must grace fall so unevenly on the earth? Must goodness precipitate from sky to ground so infrequently? We are parched for goodness, we perish for lack of lively rain; there’s a drought for want of grace, everywhere. Surely this has not escaped your notice? All life hesitates now, wondering: In the night which has descended, in the dry endless night that's fallen instead of the expected rain: Where are you?

If prayer is beseeching, a seeking after the hidden heart and face of God, then this peremptory, querulous, insistent demanding, this pounding at your door cannot be called a prayer. This importunate sleeve-tugging while you are distracted, concerned, perhaps with something more important, holding the earth to its orbit, perhaps, keeping it from careening into the sun; or perhaps you tend another world other than ours, and do a better job with that one, where there is nothing like AIDS, and your tutelage is gentler, and the lessons are easier to learn.

I am in the habit of hoping. But it's become wrong to draw hope from this conflagration: If holocaust alone is the only lesson we attend to, then what batwinged butcher angel is our teacher, and towards what conceivable future, along the banks of what river of the fead, do we make our way?

I am in the habit to ask small things of you: one of the guilty who hasn't done enough, one of the lucky, the survivors by accident. When I was ten an uncle told me you didn't exist: we descend from apes, he said, the universe will end, and there is no God. I believed the ape part - my uncle had thick black hair on his arms and knuckles, so apes was easy - and the universe became a nulliverse, that too was scary fun - and since his well-meaning instruction I have not known your existence, as some friends of mine do; but you have left bread crumb traces inside of me. Rapacious birds swoop down and obscure the traces, but the path is recoverable. It can be discovered again.

So a cure for AIDS. For racism too. For homophobia and sexism, and an end to war, to nationalism and capitalism, to work as such and to hatreds of the flesh. Restore the despoiled world, end the pandemic of breast cancer too, bring back Danitra Vance, and Audre Lorde, and Sigrid Wurschmidt, dead at 36, and my mother, dead at 65. Or at least guarantee that loss is not irrecoverable, so that life can be endured. But above all, since this is my job today, a cure.

If you cannot do these things for us, we will do them for ourselves, but slowly, because we can’t see far ahead. At least give us time to accomplish the future. We had a pact; you engendered us. Don't expect that we will forgive you if you allow us to be endangered. Forgiveness, too, is a lesson loss doesn't teach.

I almost know you are there: I think Wordsworth was right, and you are our home. At present we are homeless, or imagine ourselves to be. Bleeding life in the universe of wounds. Be thou more sheltering, God. Pay more attention.

- Tony Kushner

If you want to read more, here's Kushner's commencement speech given at Columbia in 2004 (and introduced to me from someone I never got to thank properly...)

-Ziggy Stardust  02:13 EST | |

About us:

This weblog is an ongoing, if periodic, effort by several friends to stay in touch, in reading material, and in ideas.

Lucky Luciano is a former Italian Stallion real estate hustler and Benedict Arnold CEO turned shady lawyer-to-be. He lives in Denver.

Ben is a Paramedic and would-be philantropist who lives in Denver. He knows everything about nothing.

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Matt is a pariah, iconoclast, and professor of gambling living in Oakland.

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Paul just smoked my eyelids and punched my cigarette.

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