(Lead me Lord,) As my counselor in perplexity
Our world can be a bewildering place to be. Sociologist and Lutheran theologian Peter Berger has written convincingly about the “homeless mind” suffered by many who are dislocated by the rapid pace of modern change [ Peter Berger et al, Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness]. We frequently encounter complex issues which leave us perplexed about how to respond. Thus, our pilgrim’s prayer asks that the Lord help us by being our counselor in perplexity. Perhaps you will remember this phrase from the liturgy of marriage. After vows are made and rings exchanged a prayer is offered which includes these words:
Give them wisdom and devotion
in their common life,
that each may be to the other
a strength in need,
a counselor in perplexity,
a comfort in sorrow,
and a companion in joy.
We find the metaphor of marriage throughout scripture with God often equated with a bridegroom celebrating and honoring the bride. Perhaps scripture so often turns to the marriage relationship to speak about our relationship with God because it points to a commitment between people to live in loving fidelity with one another always. It also points to the need for life-long discovery of the other. Relationships are complex and changeable things and that may never be more obvious than in the context of marriage. We can live together and share life together for decades and still find that there are new things to discover and appreciate in our spouse. One sign of trouble in a life-long relationship is when we cease exploring questions with the other either because we are too lazy to remain engaged, or because we fear the answer to the questions we might ask.
In Merton’s No Man Is An Island he writes in the opening pages a description of his world in the mid 20th century America and his description has an eery prescience with our own circumstance.
There is a natural laziness that moves us to accept the easiest solutions—the ones that have common currency among our friends. That is why an optimistic view of life is not necessarily always a virtuous thing. In a time like ours, only the coarse grained still have enough resistance to preserve their fair-weather principles unclouded by anxiety. Such optimism may be comfortable: but is it safe? In a world where every lie has currency, is not anxiety the more real and the more human reaction?
Now anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity. It is the fruit of unanswered questions. But questions cannot go unanswered unless they first be asked. And there is a far worse anxiety, a far worse insecurity, which comes from being afraid to ask the right questions— because they might turn out to have no answer. One of the moral diseases we communicate to one another in society comes from huddling together in the pale light of an insufficient answer to a question we are afraid to ask.
The scene Merton describes at the end of that, “huddling together in the pale light of an insufficient answer to a question we are afraid to ask” is a powerful image. We ask that the Lord be our counselor in perplexity so that we are not afraid to ask the hard questions and to explore complex answers with God. The temptation to reduce our life with God to a few safe certitudes is real. Pilgrims resist that impulse to remain in safe certitudes and choose, in contrast, to travel into a bewildering world with God. We do that trusting that God will be our counselor in perplexity.
Daily Collect: Lord, our faithful companion; you are a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy. You go with us as we navigate the bewildering pace of change in the modern world. Give us courage to embrace the complexities of life trusting that your presence with us in the midst of asking hard questions will lead us to a fuller understanding of and love for you and our neighbors. In the name of Jesus, Amen.