Tonight, on Ashland University’s quad, we’ll gather to honor the victims of violence and make silent protest to recent threats of violence. Prayer and community can be powerful strategies in times of terror.
The recent uproar over “prayer shaming” (we would do well to recognize our own constant struggles moving from good intention to appropriate action) misunderstands the purpose and function of prayer. Still, in this time of social upheaval and national angst, those of us who pray may wonder if we’re doing it right. We may wonder if we are talking, like Ginsberg, to ourselves again.
I tend to think of my prayers as rough drafts. I don’t really expect them to be acted upon, but appreciate the opportunity to try them out. I also recognize that prayer—like a candlelight vigil or a moment of silence--might address problems bigger than myself. Certainly really small problems don’t require prayer. Moderate sized problems, my colleagues believe, are best solved by forming a committee. What, then, is the purview of prayer, if not really big problems?
Tonight, on Ashland University’s quad, we’ll gather to solve a really big problem. What to do about a perpetual spree of mass shootings; what to do about terrorism and religious extremism; what to do about guns and gun safety. If I had any solutions or knew what to do, I wouldn’t need to attend.
The other motivation I have—besides hoping to repair my admitted state of ignorance--has to do with sharing and community. I’m particular about my get togethers and hope you are, too. I can’t abide the use of tragedy for the purpose of shoring up some common ingroup identity or to scapegoat outsiders. Jerry Falwell, Jr’s recent instruction to Liberty University students to “end those Muslims before they [walk] in” and “teach them a lesson if they ever show up here” is not only hateful but, to point out the obvious, threatens the students’ abilities to partner with American Muslims. We must work to create partnerships with folks different than ourselves.
I long to see Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Nihad Awad break bread together. We could sit Phyllis Schlafly beside Madalyn Murray O’Hair--push their chairs in nice and close. Bono would give the toast. Here’s a place for you. Would you like to say grace?
Tonight, on Ashland University’s quad, we’ll be standing in silence. We’ll be singing. We’ll be celebrating Hanukkah and Advent and any other holiday you care to draw strength from. No one will make you pray. I’ll shake your hand so you might know I’m not concealing any weapons. And I’ll hold your hand, but you should know my expectations are very high. We are now responsible for what happens next.