The prayer of the prophet in Daniel chapter 9 is an intriguing thing. His own diligent study leads him to state: “I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” I picture Daniel like that scene from The Lord of the Rings were Gandalf leaves the Shire to go consult the dusty archives of Gondor to learn what he can about Sauron and the ring. “History makers” according to theologian Walter Brueggemann, have a “capacity for discerning social analysis and criticism.”
Let’s imagine, as I believe we can, that Daniel reads Jeremiah’s prophecy with both faith in God and confidence in Jeremiah. He can calculate the years. He believes that the exiles’ liberation is close at hand. How would you expect Daniel to respond? Surely he would celebrate. Surely he would go spread the good news. “Take up those harps that you laid by the rivers of Babylon. Restring them. Tune them to a Hebraic tonality. We are going to sing again!”
Instead, Daniel tells us, “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (v. 3). What?!
The prayer of Daniel 9 is the prayer of unfinished business. There is work that Daniel must do, and do on behalf of his people. “Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong” (v. 4-5). Later the angel Gabriel comes and seems to confirm that there was something necessary about Daniel’s prayer: “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed” (v. 22-23)
Daniel’s petition was also, apparently, the prayer of invisible battle. In the next chapter, Gabriel inserts his fellow archangel Michael and demonic forces (“the prince of the Persian kingdom”) into the history of Daniel’s prayer:
Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come” (10:12-14).
You know, we read these stories from the Bible and we marvel at them, but we rarely imagine that we can be such people. Nonetheless, we too can read the Scriptures and inquire of the Holy Spirit who indwells us: “What does this mean for our age?” We too, by the gifts given to the Church, have the “capacity for discerning social analysis and criticism.” Surely we can make the long trek to Gondor since there is so much at stake. What if we sat down to write our own prayer for our own time?
My friend Tim Peverill has done just that.
Before we get to Tim’s prayer however, there is still one last intriguing component to Daniel’s petition. He claimed to be “confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel.” Are you allowed to do that? Are you allowed to confess another’s sin? Apparently so. It’s part of the mystery of prayer that God himself confers a priesthood upon us (c.f. I Peter 2:9). We are expected to “stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30). Confessing your own sins is hard enough, but confessing the sins of your people will feel very strange. Like me, you likely don’t have much experience in a priestly role where you proactively choose to identify with your group even in their transgressions, so that out of your own individual mouth emerge the words, “We confess,” as compared to “I confess.” Your head and your heart are going to have a debate between themselves over whether it “makes sense” that you should confess something that “those people did” or that “those people did back then.” Your head rebels: “I’m not a racist!” Your heart, reassured by God's great forgiveness, rejoins, “Of course you are. All human beings are.” But just as importantly, for the sake of unfinished business and invisible battle, you can temporarily choose to identify as a racist, so that God may finally hear the prayer of a repentant one, and this on behalf of your people enslaved by sin and death. Be prepared for some push back from others who may interpret your actions as impugning the nobility of your country or your people group. (Daniel may not have had to pay the price; but Jeremiah sure did.)
I knew that my friend Tim had been working on this prayer. He was writing and revising it. He struggled over individual phrases. I also know that it emerged from a period of strenuous study about prayer, about racism, and about “faithful presence.” He published the prayer on Saturday. I won’t say much about his credentials—since the prayer must stand on its own—but I say of Tim what Gabriel says of Daniel: he is “highly esteemed” by me.
I recommend that you make the prayer the basis of a short little Lenten retreat. Read it through first, without praying it. What phrases speak most meaningfully to you? What triggers you? If you find yourself resisting something, be curious why. Even inquire of God: “Father, what are trying to say to me in this line or that?” When you are ready to pray the prayer, give some thought to circumstances and posture. Daniel fasted and wore sackcloth and ashes. Francois-Barthelemy-Marius Abel drew the figure in the prayer’s background as someone kneeling, his face buried in his forearms. Gabriel described Daniel’s actions as “setting your mind to gain understanding” and as “humbling yourself before your God” (10:12). What posture or setting would convey for you this sense of humility, this sense of understanding the severity of our desperation? Then having prayed the prayer once, consider praying it regularly throughout the Lenten season.
Tim has given us permission to print out his prayer from these .jpeg files and to disseminate it wherever we wish. I don’t know about you but I am sick and tired of our own exile in Babylon. This prayer feels like unfinished business, invisible battle, and priestly calling. It’s time to help marshal the heavenly host. “Do not forsake us Lord, nor let us settle apart from your tent in this land of anger/ Have mercy. Have mercy on us we pray.”