The day after the Vegas shootings, I dreamed that I was in the pulpit doing the “Prayers of the People” and decided not to stop until I could tell that my prayers were having some positive effect on the world. I ended up being at the pulpit for days on end without eating or sleeping or anything else. People from the congregation were holding me up so I wouldn’t quit. But as much as I prayed for the well being of all people, there was always someone getting angry on some “other side” saying that they were being left out. Finally it go to point where it was pretty clear that I was going to die at the pulpit and several people at the congregation were also virtually spent. And still, it seemed to have done nothing. Then just as I was apologizing to my family for wasting our life praying for no reason, I became aware of the tiniest shift in consciousness. People were starting to question why they were fighting so hard to be divisive. It was too late for me, but I was dying with a glimmer of hope.
I’ve been thinking about the dream ever since and really asking myself why I pray for people who didn’t ask for it. For years I have maintained that I do it because it is the Jesus-y thing to do. And, maybe it is. That being said, I can sense that doing so has taken a toll on me all of my Christian life. I get headaches trying to wrestle my mind from going the way of spiritual gravity. Over the years I’ve lost sleep praying for friends who turned on me, politicians who lie through their teeth like it is breathing, people with low self esteem who take the emptiness in their lives out on the most vulnerable, racists, murdering police, and even people who use the name of Jesus to take advantage of those who trust them. Now, after all of these years, I am starting to wonder if my praying was actually for the people I thought I was praying for or if it was only for me.
As a minister, I sometimes feel this pressure to see hope in almost every situation no matter how despairing. It is not external social or religious pressure in the conventional sense, but rather the pressure I put on myself because I am convicted by the awareness that were it not for my choice to believe that Jesus was able to forgive on that cross, I would be one angry fool. Without this belief, I don’t think I could deal with things like what happened in Vegas, the reactions to Puerto Rico by some of us, or listening to people profess Christ while having little or no compassion for those who Jesus–according the book they say they take literally–directed them to love . This also goes for those of us who profess to follow him, but don’t even struggle with the instruction to love our enemies. He gives me space to breathe through witnessing how so many of us show blatant disregard for everything this spiritual master taught by making idols of nearly everything we come in contact with–our nation and flag included.
Obviously I am not the faith police, but sometimes I feel real physical pain watching how we treat each other. It hurts because I am trying my best to not pass judgment on a world that I know to still be in process. And it is hard. In order to do this I have to pray constantly and tell myself that God indeed is beyond all of this stuff that we mis-create in the name of the One, who the Christian scriptures say is Love. When it comes down to it, I just don’t think hating should be this easy if we say we love God and it really trips me out that the ones who are the loudest about their religion end up being the first ones to talk about who they hate. It trips me out, but I refuse to give in to hating them or passing final judgement on them because it is not my calling to do so.
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. — 1 John 4:20
Ultimately, I believe that we know when we are acting contrary to what we profess and that regardless of what we say, the spiritual disparity takes a psychic and physical toll on us. In other words, there are consequences. I don’t mean punishments, but simply natural consequences much like there would be natural consequences to your vehicle if you were to put the pedal to the metal and then suddenly throw the car in reverse. This consequence is something that no amount of denial can help us avoid.
I can tell you from personal experience that I have met many people who, in a moment of clarity, have admitted to me that they knew exactly what they were doing when they were lying to themselves and others. And yet somehow, with full knowledge of their lies, when confronted they were adamant that they believed the things they were saying. I totally don’t get that, but I accept it and actually feel compassion for the people who struggle in this space. The fact is that one day we will be forced to be still and I imagine that in that moment, all of our BS is going to rush in. And I believe it is going to suck to be in a situation of consciousness where denial is no longer an option. I think the person we pretended to be is going to be confronted with the person we have really been.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” — Luke 6:37,38
So maybe that is why I pray so hard. I don’t want to face my own judgement. If this is the case, perhaps my prayers really are more for me than they are for those for whom I believe myself to be praying. Only God knows. But perhaps that’s a good thing to realize. I remember as a child I told myself that the only way I’d ever know if what Jesus said was real was if I tried it out on myself. Since that time my life has been one long faith experiment. Along the way I have had some epic failures. But I have also been the recipient of epic grace. So whether or not my prayers are having an effect on others or not, I will keep praying, because at a minimum it reminds me that there is still hope.
Will you pray with me?