When the news hit me of the mass shooting in Orlando, I was stricken by a sense of powerlessness in the face of so much violence and grief. It is hard to know how to respond to trauma on this scale without feeling that what we do is an empty gesture. One acquaintance of mine rawly declared that "thoughts and prayers" are a trite and perfunctory response to tragedy. "My prayers are with you in this terrible moment," is the sort of thing people feel socially obligated to say. After hearing it so many times, the words, however sincere they may be, lose their impact for the grieving. After all, people are devastated and terrified; they need something more concrete and actionable than a formulaic expression of solidarity.
I struggled with this. There was a very big part of me that resonated with my friend's sobering challenge. Are my thoughts and prayers just an easy, phone-it-in response that doesn't ask much of me? It doesn't inconvenience me, or make me go out of my way. It doesn't force me to change the pattern of my daily routine. It costs me nothing. I realized, though, that prayer--as unsatisfying as it may be for some people--is the foundational Christian response to everything in life, including tragedy. Our main job as Christians IS to pray. The whole pattern of our faith is grounded in prayer: the Daily Office, the Eucharist on Sunday, anointing, marrying, burying. It is all prayer. We pray for God's presence and activity among us in all of the moments of our existence; we call upon God's power to transform us when our own resources fail us.
|Rachel's lament over her children.|
|Jesus gathering the Holy Innocents to himself.|