Prayer Shaming and Today’s Gospel

Posted by on July 24, 2016

CVRCH3SWoAUQKqY-1This past week saw the wave of violence continue both at home in Baton Rouge, and abroad in Munich, to name just two instances. But what also surfaced again this week in some circles was the phenomenon of “prayer shaming.” I don’t know if you’ve heard about this trend, but it basically discourages people from responding with prayer to acts of violence and terror, and urges them to action, as if the two were mutually opposed. “Prayer-shamers” seem to think that when believers pray we somehow ignore or neglect our earthly responsibilities, our charge to build a more just society. How lucky we are then, to be given the gospel reading this weekend from Luke 11, where Jesus teaches his disciples what prayer really is and by implication, what it isn’t. It isn’t an escape from reality; it isn’t an abdication of our responsibilities; it isn’t a naïve wish that God will do for us something we should be doing ourselves. Prayer—with all of its humility-inducing, perseverance-building, trust-inviting, hope-bestowing force—isn’t meant to give us what we think is best or even what we think we need. It isn’t meant to give us anything, per se, but to align us with the will of God, to draw us closer and closer to him. I can’t imagine that when believers pray, they think that when they open their eyes, the world is going to suddenly embody some utopian ideal of peace and justice. God never promised a perfect world to begin with. But when believers pray, their eyes are opened to a complex matrix of human and divine activity, where we suddenly become aware that God was acting all the while, even when we didn’t think it possible; that God was present, even when we were convinced of his absence. When you throw a line from a boat to the dock and pull, you’re not pulling the dock closer to yourself. The dock doesn’t move at all. Isn’t it the case that with each tug the boat moves? That by pulling on the line I get closer and closer to the dock? Prayer isn’t about tugging on God until he moves, giving us what we want. Prayer is the bold and conscious decision to tether ourselves to God in a hectic and chaotic world, not that we can escape it, but that we can live abundantly in it, and hopefully drag it along with us, a little closer each time, to shore…

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