Violence and suffering continue to rage in Palestine. On Tuesday of this week, as Christians and people of faith around the world were fasting and praying for peace, a bomb exploded in the courtyard of Al Ahli Hospital, one of the largest hospital complexes in Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinian bodies were obliterated, lives lost, at the hospital operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
I shared the news on social media, and someone earnestly and aptly asked what is the point of fasting and praying if God doesn’t answer our prayers and acts of piety (my paraphrase of their inquiry). I didn’t respond, because there isn’t an easy answer to that question, at least one that is honest enough. What is the point of praying, when violence and injustice and chaos seem to prevail time after time?
Once again, as many times before through countless school shootings, racial-motivated violence, wars, and natural disasters, I asked myself similar questions.
I can only share with you why I keep praying, and why I hope you will, too. Here are some of my biggest reasons:
Prayer grounds me for action. With prayer, I pause and breathe. I remember that I am right here. I recall the origins of all creation in God’s goodness, generations of faithful people who have worked for the world’s healing in times past, and the fact that I was born and called to live faithfully in this time. I am here. So are you. Whatever else I may be called to do will flow from this grounding in my own being, nested in God.
Prayer connects me to hope. Hope fuels my persistence. The options are: keep going or give up. In prayer, I summon stories of God’s faithfulness and heralds of God’s promise to make the world new. I remember my call to share in that project, not as a lone voice or a solitary individual, but as one walking and working alongside God and God’s people to engage when we can, where we can, and how we can.
Prayer animates resilience. When the blows seem to keep coming, when we can hardly catch our breath or stand back up before another wave of disaster, praying – even with a simple word like “help” or a pained belly groan of despair – often summons within me the courage and strength to stand up again and take another step. Because if we stop getting up, we stop being. Period.
Prayer acknowledges possibilities, potential, and a power greater than myself. If I could fix all this, it would already be done. The same, I believe, is true about humanity. In prayer, I am opening the door to abilities and knowledge and abilities that we haven’t already tapped into. As a Christian, I pray to God through Jesus. Others pray to God in other ways or have alternative conceptions of a higher power. However it is for each of us, my experience of prayer keeps me open to the possibility that healing, peace and love can still come where it hasn’t been possible up to now.
Prayer binds us together. When I pray, I remember that I am not alone. The silos to which we often retreat–silos based on ideology, on history, on identity, on class, etc.–can often leave us feeling like we are alone and that the weight of the world is on my shoulders or yours. In prayer, I remember that I am connected with others. I remember that my hopes and longings for this world, and my fears and doubts about the future, are held together and lifted with yours. When we pray, whether alone on a walk or together in the church, I know others lift their hearts as I lift mine: a community staying connected in prayer and purpose.
I am sorry I can’t offer more answers about why prayer doesn’t “work” the way we want it to. But I hope you’ll keep doing it, however you can. Because it something central to who we are as people of faith in community. In times like these, we can start where we are. Right here. Together.
The Rev. R. Scott Painter, Rector