When I was a very young child, my mother taught me to pray. We’d kneel at my bed and she would feed me lines that I would repeat. “God bless Uncle Ralph and Aunt Odette and Cousin Pat and Cousin Shelly. God bless Grandma and Grandpa Gudim. God bless Grandma and Grandpa Lehman,” and so on, through the roster of relatives. I’d add prayers for my friends and for my pets. Last, I would say, “God bless me.” Then we’d end with the Lord’s prayer.
These days, narcissism seems pretty wide-spread throughout the world. It goes hand in hand with the hubris destroying the planet. The desire for power coupled with an all-consuming self focus and a cut-throat emphasis on me and mine is doing us in. It’s not that we don’t care about the melting of the ice caps and the extinction of the polar bear; it’s just that we care less about that than we do about taking the car to work because we need to get there on time.
John the Baptist would say, “repent.” Turn around, turn completely around, so that you are facing in a different direction. What is in this direction? Why, it’s towards God.
God does not take care of Grandma and Grandpa in the way that I as a small child expected. After all, Grandma and Grandpa died. God takes care of them in a more essential way. God stands in a never-ending relationship with us, a relationship in which we are one with everything that exists. God offers us a peace that passes human understanding. God offers us a being-ness that answers the me, me, me longing and makes us whole. When we pray for everybody important to us, finishing, “God bless me,” we are handing over the need for total self-focus and placing ourselves in the bosom of the whole human race.
The story in today’s Gospel lesson about Herod, Herodias, and Salome is a tale of narcissism run amok. Herodias, suffering the narcissistic wound of John’s rejection, asks for his head on a platter. Salome, with a sure sense of which side her bread is buttered-on, acquiesces to her mother’s need. Herod does not want to lose face, which would be a terrible fate for a narcissist, and so he goes along with the wish to kill John.
Where are these voices in each of us, and how do we find the moral resolve to both claim them and face them down? For, if we don’t, they’ll ooze out of us unconsciously, damaging our relationships and making a terrible mess out of our corner of the world.
Bottom line: relationship with God. No matter where we are in our reach for communion with God, the fact of our focus on it brings us out of isolation and into balance. Sons and daughters of the Creator, we need not fear estrangement or the lack of love. But do we know it? That’s the big question. We are helped by prayer.