Prayer and “The Quartet of The Vulnerable”
Today on his blog Experimental Theology, Richard Beck posted about a delightful phrase he came across in Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book, Justice: “The quartet of the vulnerable.” He uses it to describe the Biblical injunction to care for the poor, the foreigners, the fatherless, and the widows. As Beck says, “The quartet is mentioned, in bits and pieces, all through the Old Testament. One passage where the whole quartet appears:”
“Zechariah 7:9-10a This is what the Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.”
“The quartet of the vulnerable.” I like that. These are the ones who lack the securities that the established of society take for granted. It’s interesting to think how the community is urged to extend compassion and support in their time of lack. In my own work I’ve been reading a great deal about the paradox of salvation (the loss of self that leads to the finding of self), and it strikes me that this movement of support being given to those who lack conventional support is formally identical to the practice of contemplative prayer.
In this form of prayer one intentionally induces the vulnerability that is described here. The usual mental securities (which are, more often than not, false securities) are released. We become the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner and the poor in prayer. And it is here, in this place of desolation, that we are encountered and supported by the God who is beyond our fathers, husbands, national structures, and financial security.
If the mental motions of prayer and the physical movements of justice are thus identical, I think here we can see that solitude and action need not be thought of as in opposition, but rather as two manifestations of the same divine movement.