November 14, 2013

Praying Angry as a Reformatory or Revolutionary Act

 [Editor’s Note: This post is in response to “Praying Angry” by Robert Orsi.]

A German perspective on “praying angry” as a reformatory or revolutionary speech act.

Robert Orsi’s essay, “Praying Angry,” addresses a specific theme that emerged from a series of interviews he conducted with survivors of sexual abuse committed by priests. At the center of Orsi’s analysis  is a specific “theodicy of praying angry.” This is represented by a certain “Frank H.,” who has become a spiritual advisor to many survivors.

I would like to concentrate on the following passage from Robert Orsi’s text:

Frank’s theodicy of praying angry directly addresses this reality. “What more can God do to you?” he says. To have seen God at God’s worst is to be liberated from the old relationship with an omnipotent God, and this opens a way for a new relationship. Survivors are free not only to express their doubts, their sense of betrayal, and their anger with God, but also to consider the articulation of these feelings as prayer. There is a hard edge to Frank’s theodicy of prayer. Survivors have got God’s number; they meet God without illusions about God. But this does not drive them away from God, or it need not do so in Frank’s theology. Rather, it permits them to pray fearlessly and freely, to pray as they really are as persons, to open their inner lives in all their turmoil and anger to God who must take them as they are.


October 24, 2013

Praying Angry—A Jewish View

 [Editor’s Note: This post is in response to “Praying Angry” by Robert Orsi.]

Bob Orsi’s “Praying Angry” shows a sensitivity to the victims of clerical abuse within the Catholic Church that is much needed. Based on interviews with a circle of survivors, and particularly with a former priest, Frank, Orsi sets forth some of the difficulties such survivors have with prayer and he presents Frank’s advice to survivors.

The core of the problem for Catholic survivors of clerical abuse is the teaching that the Catholic priest is an alter Christus, someone who is elevated, as Orsi puts it, “to higher ontological levels than other humans.” This makes clerical abuse not only a human betrayal, but betrayal in the spiritual life of the believer, even if the believer continues to believe and to participate in Catholic liturgy. Jews have a completely different relationship to their clergy: Rabbis are hired, and fired, by the congregation. No one would dream of thinking of his or her rabbi as alter Deus. Rabbis are people, and they are as subject to sin as anyone else. If they sin, they need to repent, and that usually includes punishment. Clergy abuse is wrong; guilty clergy should be handled by psychotherapy and/or prosecution. Any attempt to cover up clergy abuse is wrong, and should be handled by civil suit. This is largely what actually happens in the various Jewish communities, although resistance runs higher in some than in others. It is true that spiritual leaders, beginning with Moses, face higher expectations; but they are not alter Deus.


October 22, 2013

Praying Angry and Surviving Abuse

[Editor’s Note: This post is in response to Praying Angry, a piece by Robert Orsi...]

Robert Orsi, in his sensitive and insightful piece, brings out how “praying angry” is a necessary spiritual exercise for many who have been touched by God and abused by life. I say “many,” because abuse convinces some to give up on God. They trusted God to “be there” for them, to protect them from the worst that we can suffer, be, or do. They cried to the Lord in their trouble. But no rescue was forthcoming. For some, abuse makes belief in God psychologically impossible. Others conclude that even if God exists, God is not the kind of person they want to have anything to do with. Abuse is evidence that God is a deadbeat deity, that God is aloof and doesn’t care, that God is callous or cruel, even that God hates us. Still, for whatever psycho-spiritual reason, many who have been touched by God and abused by life, find themselves unable to let go. They are hurt. They feel abandoned and betrayed by God. But they aren’t finished with God. They can’t heal without confronting the authorities that allowed the abuse to happen. In imitation of the bible’s Job, praying angry calls God to account.


August 27, 2013

Praying Angry

I discovered during my first conversation with adult survivors of clerical sexual abuse that the study of “prayer” in this context presents highly charged questions of language and definition. The group I was meeting with had been affiliated in the early 1990s with the Linkup, a national organization based in Chicago that offered spiritual support for survivors who were coming forward to tell their stories publicly. Many of the survivors at the first Linkup meetings were just beginning to acknowledge to themselves that they had been abused. The Linkup, which also worked with survivors’ families, was founded by two women, one whose son had been abused by a Chicago priest, the other a highly regarded director of religious education in the diocese who was permanently blacklisted for her efforts in having this priest removed from contact with children. (He was eventually convicted and imprisoned; she was unable ever to work again as a religious educator in the church.) The Linkup has since disbanded but the group has been meeting monthly for more than twenty years.