The news of the latest school shooting swept over me with a sense of despair. Somewhere in my watching I heard one of the high school students say something like, “I’m not surprised. Sooner or later it was bound to happen here.” My heart staggers in grief at such resignation. With people of good will across America, I wonder how we who call ourselves Christ followers might best respond. The anxious tug to action grapples with my judgment and intentions. The phrase “our thoughts and prayers” has become trite and almost meaningless. Something needs desperately to change. I just am not sure what that “something” is. (To be up-front with you, I have my own hunches and even convictions, but I am sure that I do not have the full answer.) In the context of my wondering despair, I do find myself turning to prayer once more, but perhaps in a deeper way. You see, in times of trouble it is easy to go to God in prayer with an attitude of “come on God, bail us out; do us a favor; tend to our will and wants.” In my more reflective reading of Holy Scripture and meditative seeking for divine guidance, such a casual, even pagan, attitude of prayer is woefully bereft of either comfort or help. A few years ago, I taught a class with Rev. Joseph Nader and Megan Davidson-Danner in a combined UT-Arlington and TCU Campus Ministry setting. One of the books we looked at was entitled Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, written by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. A brief but powerful quote comes gliding back into my memory as if a gift from God.
“Prayer is not so much about convincing God to do what we want God to do as it is about convincing ourselves to do what God wants us to do. Mother Teresa was once asked in an interview, “What do you say when you pray?” She replied, “Nothing, I just listen.” So then the reporter asked, “Well then, what does God say to you?” Her answer: “Nothing much, He just listens.” The saints say prayer is less about what we say and more about being with the one we love. Prayer is about having a romance with the Divine. The more deeply we are in love with someone, the less we have to say. In fact, a sure sign that we know someone deeply is the ability to enjoy one another without words – to simple admire each other.” (Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers: Prayers for Ordinary Radicals; Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, pg. 11-12)I suspect that prayer is far more radical than we tend to believe. It forms the launching platform in societal transforming Christian discipleship. Deep, transforming prayer begins in personal and political subjugation before God (rather than parroting the party or policy preferences we already have). Radical, action oriented, transformational prayer is welded to the prayer of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. “Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, not my will but your will must be done” (Luke 22:42). In such prayer true listening to God becomes its own sacred call to action. On a related issue, as The United Methodist Church prepares to receive the Commission on the Way Forward Report from the Council of Bishops, moves through our Annual Conference gathers, and prepares for the Called General Conference in February of 2019 which may well decide the future of the United Methodist Church, we are call us all as faithful Christians to pray our way forward. I invite and urge your careful attention to the following press release from the Council of Bishops.