Prayers of the People

When one person is shot in an urban area, it’s horrific. I can only imagine–and I don’t want to imagine this–what it’s like to be part of the emergency response to dozens being shot.

The dead. Their bullet-speckled bodies. The trails of their dreams littered the packed corners of a club. The families forever impacted and immediately spun into the dizzying unbelievable grief of this type of death. The injured, still alive and, in a way, immeasurably lifeless. Emergency personnel and medical providers who “are professional” and who are also almost immediately depersonalized in the process. The offender permanently affixed in our minds for the last of his sins.

There is a whole lot wrong with the world as seen in this latest tragedy. I heard the snip of the story out of Orlando this morning and didn’t really see anything until this afternoon. And today is Sunday. Today is the Lord’s day in Christian parlance. It’s the primary day we gather to worship, to reflect, to listen, and to pray. Though all those things are parts of a Christian’s daily life, Sunday is the day we do those things together, side by side, hearing and being heard by our relatives in the faith. Sunday is the day that we, together, rehearse the promise that, though things like this happen now, they will not always be.

I’m sitting here, heading to a church function, thinking about my prayers in the church service, thinking about what I said and what I didn’t say. I’m thinking about how this was precisely the reason I stopped watching the news late into every Saturday night. It was a part of my religious practice actually, watching and listening so that I could give words to what I’d say on Sunday mornings when I led any parts of worship. I stopped because I didn’t want all these images informing my prayers. Even while the news was exactly what needed to frame the language of my prayers.

It’s bruising to pray well. It’s hard to pray honestly. It’s hard because you have to pray about the bald-faced evil that terrorizes people for no good reason. It’s one thing to pray for the long-stretched out problems that will really take God to change. It’s another thing to pray for things that God has left for us to do.

When I was in seminary, I learned a particular way to pray. We’d gather in the Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful and offer prayers of the people. In the church of my upbringing, we had altar call and altar prayer and extemporaneous prayer. But we didn’t have this explicitly framed prayers of the people. It’s essentially a list of prayers–often written out thoughtfully by the prayer leader before service–that is read and held by all the people in the gathered space. The prayers of the people were both a reminder to God what things we needed and a reminder to us what we needed to be.

I hope that people prayed today. I hope that people who never prayed did. I hope that church people and non-church people said something to God. And I hope that the intense tragedies like these make us into a more prayerful people. I’m sure nothing bad can come from praying. I’m sure change and grace can result in fact. I hope you’re praying. I hope you say something to God about what you see today and what we all saw, again, with this latest unmentionable terror.


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