The front page of the New York Daily News shouted to the nation: “God isn’t fixing this.” Clearly it was a call to political action to deal with the numbers of terror-producing mass shooting in the United States. The article described the many post-San Bernadino comments, particularly from Republican presidential candidates, offering their prayers for the victims, their families and the first responders who run towards danger on behalf of others. The twitter-verse and Facebook posts were flying with criticism. Defending prayer. Defending God. A church member at a meeting last night told us that the headline … that people would discount the power of prayer on the front page of a national newspaper … is one more blatant sign of the fall of our Christian culture.
I’m writing this post in the hair salon. My stylist hadn’t heard of the headline, but told me her response to the San Bernadino shootings: “this is proof that the devil is alive and well.” I heard her comment, not as an indictment of Gods inability to “fix” this problem, but an acknowledgement of the need for God’s intervention.
What is God’s intervention, though, other than the bold action of people? What is prayer other than the communication of the desires of the people with the Spirit of God? and the conversation between the Essence of God and the heart of the people? Prayer in and of itself can be transformative, but that transformation is only real when it leads to a change in attitude, a change in politics, a change in spending, a change in how we treat those who are different from us, etc.
There is a cultural misunderstanding of prayer. Our culture tends to give prayer a magical quality. We think of it as a tool to get what we want. When we claim that “prayer works,” we feed into this kind of misunderstanding. Our prayers to God worked, we say, when a loved one is cured or when we got the good report from the doctor or the interview for the job we really want. How often do we claim prayer works when it leads us to change our mind, to call that friend who’s been diagnosed with lymphoma, to reach out to a Muslim barista with a huge smile and kind words.
This magical notion of prayer separates the work of God from the work God calls us to. In fact it separates God from the world. This kind of prayer calls upon God to come in from “out there” to fix things for us here. The Good News of Christ is that God is HERE, God is everywhere: within us, among us, as well as beyond us.
I pray. When tragedies like the terror in San Bernadino or Colorado Springs or Paris or Charleston occur .. I cry. I cry with God, I yell at God. I give voice to the fear I feel. I dwell in the stories of the people affected and I think of the heroic acts that helped the violence be stopped and some healing begin. Most often I listen deeply. When I pray, at these times, I am filled with a sense of my own limits, my shortcomings, my part in the brokenness around me. I am also filled with a hopefulness that feeds my idealism. I am energized to do something. I am often called to write, to speak, to give, to change. Prayer helps me see the world differently, to enter into the “amongness” of God here, and to join in the people who are also working for the oneness of all of God’s people.
This is the message that Stephen Colbert shared when he talked about his thinking and praying in response to acts of violence and tragedy. He said our thoughts and prayers are a way to “share the burden of grief.” But, like the NY Daily News, we cannot and should not stop there. That there is something to be done, and we should do it.