Lately, I’ve been praying a prayer similar to the one Jane prays to conclude the opening scene of the premier episode of season two of The Handmaid’s Tale.
After the handmaids have endured one more injustice, one more persecution, one more instance of the Bible being misquoted to keep them down, Jane looks up to the heavens. “Our Father who art in heaven,” she prays, “Seriously? What the actual f-bomb?”
To some, Jane’s prayer sounds blasphemous, sacrilegious, wrong. Hearing that prayer during a global pandemic, however, reminded me that it’s downright biblical.
Prayers of the heart
There are sections of scripture where WTAF prayers are fairly frequent.
Some of the psalms are laments, which contain things like, “My God, why have you left me all alone?” (Psalm 22) and, “How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? … How long will my enemy keep defeating me?” (Psalm 13).
The book of Lamentations contains several lengthy WTAF prayers, as does the book of Job. Elijah is so troubled by God’s unwillingness to protect him, he asks to be allowed to die (1 Kings 19). Even Father Abraham has a couple of dust ups with God, arguing over God’s ‘plans.’
The language is prettier, but the sentiment is the same. “Dear God, Seriously?”
Not the prayers we’re proud of
That’s not how you’re supposed to pray, we think. Many may even tell us it’s not how we are supposed to feel as people of faith.
I get it. Prayers of thanksgiving for medical professionals, grocery workers and other essential employees are much more pious. Asking God what we can learn from the situation feels more faithful.
But sometimes, it’s important to recognize we’re in the wilderness, that life feels (is?) chaotic and unfair. We are wise to be fully present to our situation, even when it contains pain, struggle and hardship. Denying the dark night of the soul, pretending things aren’t that bad or convincing ourselves that as people of faith we just need to “keep our chins up,” is disingenuous.
Gut-wrenching prayers filled with pain, doubt, anxiety, questions, and disbelief are part of our canon.
Jane’s prayer is not likely to be part of your online worship this Sunday. But maybe it should be. We’re attending worship online for goodness sake, because of a global pandemic! Seriously, God?
There are many things for which to be grateful, but there is also a lot of pain and hardship for many. So alongside our prayers of thanksgiving, it might be beneficial to pray, WTAF?
I, for one, am disoriented and confused by our circumstances. If there is a divine plan, I don’t understand it. Seriously, God?
Uplifting scriptures and inspirational memes about faith, helpers and the good God may bring out of all this have their place.
But for now, I’m over here in my appropriately socially-distanced corner of the world praying with Jane.
“Our Father who art in heaven, Seriously? What the actual f-bomb?”