God of our longing: Reflections on loss

A prayer candle in Ethiopia CAFOD

As we approach November, the month of remembrance, Kathleen O’Brien from our Theology team explains how the prayer “God of our longing” speaks to those who have lost somebody they love.

When I lost my dad some years ago to a sudden and unexpected heart attack, there were times when I didn’t know how to pray. I wish I’d had a copy then of this beautiful prayer, “God of our longing”, written for CAFOD by Annabel Shilson-Thomas.

As I numbly boarded a train from London back up north to be with my mum, the first verse could have reminded me that God hears all my prayers, even when they are no more than a sigh of loss.

God of our longing,
hear our prayers
protect our dreams
and listen to our silent hopes

This prayer does not pretend that everything is fine. It gently acknowledges that sadness and pain are inevitable when we lose someone we love.

Deal gently with our pain,
speak to our sadness,
and remove the barriers
that imprison our spirit.

It acknowledges the shadows but looks towards the light, with a hope that feels honest and real.

Shed your light
where shadows are cast,
that we may feel your warmth
and know your presence.

Find a remembrance prayer to comfort and inspire you during a time of loss

And I love that the prayer finishes with a sense of determination to move forward and make a difference. My dad was an active member of our parish SVP, despite holding down a full-time teaching job that involved lots of weekend work, and he had a strong sense of justice.

A portrait by Kathleen of her dad
A portrait by Kathleen of her dad.

Only a few weeks ago my sister’s boyfriend, one of dad’s pupils, shared that in Year 7 he had told my dad about being beaten up the previous evening outside the local shop on his way home from school. That evening, when he reached the shop, my dad was standing outside – just keeping an eye out.

I still miss my dad, but the final verse of this prayer inspires me to be determined, as he was, and grasp those opportunities to make the world a better, more just place.

Give us courage
to hold fast to our vision
that we may build our world
and create our future

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