During the prayers at a Eucharist, just after the Lord’s Prayer, the priest adds the following: “Protect us from all anxiety …”
In English it is not so clear what this prayer means. Is not some anxiety good for us? Can we ever really be free of all anxiety? Would we want to be? Some priests, sensing these questions, try to improve the prayer by qualifying it with things like: “protect us from all useless and needless anxiety.” But that, sincere though it is, still misses the point of the prayer.
There is something to that phrase that merits ferreting out. I was struck recently at a German mass by the phrasing that they have. In German the prayer goes this way: “and protect us from all BOSEN”. I remember enough German from my youth to know what that means. In German BOSEN (pronounced: basen) means anger and it means a particular kind of anger, namely, a paranoid kind, an ugly and a self-pitying kind. To be BOSE, “angry”, is to have a chip on one’s shoulder and a negative attitude towards the world. As kids we used use that of somebody who, as we said then, was “mad at the world”.
Understood in this light, that prayer might well be rendered this way: “Protect us, Lord, from going through life with a chip on our shoulders, angry at the world, full of paranoia, looking for someone to blame for our unhappiness.” Said like that, it makes sense to pray it, as we do, just before the sign of peace.
And, put that way, it is makes sense too that we pray it always and everywhere. In Mark’s gospel, the first words that come from Jesus’ mouth, like an overture to the whole gospel, are the words: “The time is at hand, repent and believe in the good news.” However, this phrase also needs some explanation regarding language in order to see the full meaning that it carries. Understood as the English reads on the surface, the word “repent” implies that someone has done something wrong and needs to give that up and grieve that wrong. But that is not really what the Greek implies.
To call us to repentance, Jesus uses the word METANOIA, a word that literally means to do a 180 degree turn. But what are we called to turn from? In Greek, the word METANOIA makes somewhat of a pun (in terms of opposites) with the word PARANOIA, METANOIA is UNPARANOIA. Hence what Jesus is saying at the beginning of the gospel might be put something like this: “Become unparanoid and believe that it is good news!”
That, at the end of the day, is the real challenge we face as adults, to be unparanoid, to not be filled with BOSEN, to be mellow of heart.
Simply put, for all of us, adults, it is hard to be mellow, and easy to be bitter; it is hard to be embracing, and easy to be suspicious; it is hard to be open to delight, and easy to be angry; it is hard to be truly concerned about the wounds of others, and easy to be filled with self-pity; it is hard to be able to admire beauty, gift, and success in others; and easy to be jealous; it is hard to have a universal heart, and easy to be petty; it is hard to be honest about our own weaknesses and brokenness, and easy to blame; it is hard to be trustful, and easy to be suspicious; it is hard to be have hope, and easy to be cynical; it is hard to have good manners, and easy to be uncouth; it is hard to be gentle, and easy to be harsh; it is hard to be gracious, and it is easy to go through life with a negative attitude; and it is hard to truly give another the sign of peace.
A couple of years ago, I was at a conference where the topic was aging. At one point a man asked the speaker (a priest psychologist) this question: “Why do so many people age badly? Why do so many people get angrier as they get older?” His answer: “It is not a question of people getting angry as they get older. No. It is rather a question of angry people getting older!”
As we age, and precisely grow to see and understand things more deeply, daily, it becomes harder not to fill with anger, resentment, and paranoia. Inside of us, there is a near constant pressure that says: “I have every right to be angry!” We do.
But we also have a right to our own greatness and part of that greatness is to be women and men, adults, who walk this earth, gray-haired but gracious, full of warmth, mellow of heart, unsuspicious of each other, believing that it is good news = free from all anxiety.