Prayer and Risking Love at Christmas

Prayer candleBy Dan Wootton

I admit dismay when I first saw the front cover image of the New York Daily News earlier this month. It proclaimed “God Isn’t Fixing This” and was in direct response to social media postings by American government representatives following the shootings in San Bernardino.  According to the newspaper, those tweeting to pray for the victims were the very people with the power to change the gun laws.  The suggestion was that the call to prayer was repetitive and meaningless.

The essence of the call to prayer certainly involves repetition, yet it is far from meaningless. This is particularly relevant as we approach a significant date in the Christian calendar, the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Prayer can unify, particularly in moments of turbulence. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in the aftermath of the Paris terrorism attack when the social media hashtag #prayforparis resonated globally.  The challenge for us all is to remember that many for whom we pray continue to suffer long after they leave the front page headlines we hungrily consume.

Prayer can be an effective spiritual ‘weapon’ against violence and injustice, but first it needs to be used with deliberate aim – not just with a vague aspiration for peace and security.

We need to look deeply. This involves intense examination of the something or someone so that the distinction between us and what we are observing, disappears. Unless we ‘see’ like this, we cannot love. The more we see the more we love.

A starting point is the need to admit that the violence and injustice in the world is not outside us but inside us.  Each one of us forms the world.

For those who feel the urge to offer prayer in a very public manner, I would recommend careful analysis of the motives.  Sometimes we have a tendency to justify ourselves in our own eyes and in the eyes of so-called decent people.

An action-point of prayer is the need to bring to the surface the hidden tension. Misguided and selfish public opinion can fuel the decision making of those with the power to make change.

The violence plaguing our world is the result of our failure to see the other person or group of people as fully human as ourselves. All human beings are relevant to our lives – by and large, I don’t think we believe this.

It’s a matter of not being afraid to look into the depths of suffering. Love always involves risk.

As Christmas approaches, there will be much focus on the historic birth of Christ. But the real focus should be on the birth of love – and suffering is the ground on which love is born. If we haven’t suffered, that is if we haven’t seen the suffering of other people, we won’t begin to understand what it means to love.

Image by Dean via Flickr.

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